Sunday, September 30, 2007

The East Falls!

Praise God- and not our strength for it.

Pretty Good Tulane!

Well, that wasn’t too bad: only down10-9 at the half, a one score game thru three quarters! On both sides of the ball, Tulane played damn hard and got after folks. Most importantly: it was entertaining- the first game in a long time that might actually bring some people back to the Dome on merit.

On ESPN2, it was fun! There was juice- a sense the proceedings mattered. I was one of those that was a little “who cares?” about the restoration of the Tulane-LSU series- a decade of potentially endless beatings at the hands of LSU- but I had forgotten how much program energy can come from playing a entertaining game with a big rival. Honestly, I could see a few thousand casual student fans/alumns who checked out the game saying “that was pretty all right, maybe I’ll come back again.”

I don’t think the result fundamentally changed the power dynamic between the two institutions; you’ll get no argument about “Tulane closing the gap” here. If they were to play again next week, the line would still be north of five touchdowns.

Consequently, I would just caution folks to be guarded in their optimism. For example, Tulane played well and LSU was a little barren- and they still cruised. Young Scelfo was courageous and protected the ball- but there was little about his performance that suggested we’d move up versus, say, Houston. Scelfo plays quarterback with charisma and a certain moxie- but the elite (or even good) C-USA quarterback is a big number character, generating 20+ yard plays consistently from the pocket type of player. Scelfo is correspondingly miscast. I mean, how do you win six C-USA conference games unless your quarterback is a threat to go for 300 yards every week? Don’t blame me, it is the League that demands it.

I do wish Matt Forte- senior and leader- would hold on to the ball. If I had told you, Tulane played courageous until a brutal turnover killed them- but left the offender anonymous- I bet you’d guess anyway.

But, heck, it was encouraging (particularly the defensive front). There are eight games left- and they could get three-four based on that effort yesterday. More would be hard. Two games strike me as problematic- and the defense/quarterback just aren’t consistent to “sweep” any five, six-game slate.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Prediction: Trouble

This morning, the New York Post puts LSU -40 over Tulane. Heavens- that is a big number!

I’m off to a good 2-0 start ATS: an easy pick with Houston and a tricky pick with the Bulldogs. But this game is a true conundrum. You can’t really apply football based rational to this one. It is a psychology experiment: Tulane is the subject!

If LSU is even semi-engaged, they can probably play “pick a score” here. Something like: Nick Saban is now 55 and I-10 runs through New Orleans toward Alabama- so boys, let’s go get a symbolic 55-10 win.

But if I-20 through Shreveport is assessed in Death Valley as more pertinent instead, you get your backdoor cover! It is hard, hard, hard. What exactly is LSU’s goal here: run the 1st team offense for three quarters? exercise the passing game to the point the Tigers score 60? Frankly, only El-hrair-rah knows what those Tigers are up to.

If Tulane can get even 10-13 points here- LSU would need to go north of 50(!!!) to get the necessary margin. I kinda think that is the wager here. If you think Tulane can get any sort of point total, again say 13-ish, you probably ought to take the 40, grit your teeth and root for the clock.

It is problematic. Barring pure luck or ennui, Tulane probably can’t do anything against LSU’s first-team defensive squads. They simply can’t block this front- so Tulane can’t expect to rush the football. Coach Annie has singularly failed to ready any of the quarterbacks for I-A play- so Tulane can’t pass either. And the Tulane defense could not stop SE Louisiana consistently.

Atill, it feels oh-so-tricky. The Wave will try until the end and could get a score late. The Elliott/Scelfo versus the “Tiger’s third team in the fourth quarter” match-up is a total mystery in terms of players, preparation and desire level. And the Tigers are probably not looking to really humiliate the Wave in this spot- working hard to hang 60 or so up there. The new clock rules from last year probably will cost LSU a possession in each half- particularly as they run, run, run the ball. And forty points to a blood rival is a lot(but maybe these two schools aren’t blood rivals anymore?).

You could argue that LSU might be flat- coming off a stout fight with the Gamecocks. And Tulane precedes a brutal stretch for the Tigers: Florida, Kentucky, Auburn, Alabama.

But ultimately... sigh... Tulane just isn’t in the Tigers’ league. And both previous out of their depth squads- Mississippi State and Middle Tennessee- were taken past the six TD barrier. It isn’t a safe pick- there is psychology, garbage time follies and a staggering ignorance of the Tiger’s third team worked in here. I’ll be rooting for Tulane like crazy- but I'm taking the Tigers- and giving the 40.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Prepare The William Penn Jersey!

Here at “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”, we are big fans of the mantra featured in the underrated “Bowfinger”: Keep It Together.

Yes, yes, keep those crazy thoughts down: Modell’s employees secretly sewing a giant pinstriped jersey for William Penn, just where the Citizen bank Park management is keeping the red, white and blue bunting, whether Hamels or Kendricks will get the ball for Game One.

But it is admittedly getting harder and harder and harder. The Phillies last night officially overcame their 4-11 start- and now share first place in National League East with the New York Mets. The magic number is 4

I don’t know if the Phillies can win the East outright in the regular season; it is less than 50-50- and a tie seems pretty plausible. Florida is much worse than Washington- and between the Phillies and Mets, I know which three starting pitchers I’d rather having going this week. At the very least, the Mets ain’t running Eaton out there this weekend. But of course, the Phillies don’t have Jose Reyes sulking through a dozen at-bats. In September, everyone has a challenge.

Since their horrid start, the Phillies have put together a nifty mark of 83-61. That projects to barely north of 90 wins over a full season- which is probably closer to wild card territory than division winner. After that start, any scenario featuring the Phillies overhauling the Mets involved a New York semi-collapse- a sustained series of sub-.500 baseball (Septmeber!). To the Phillies credit, they’ve played well enough to take advantage. But the story here is the Mets; the Phillies months of pretty good play only had them seven back in the loss column two weeks ago.

But to pass’em Philadelphia first had to catch’em. And I have to admit, on May 25th I never thought the biggest game in New York this weekend would not be the Eagles visiting the Giants.


Monday, September 24, 2007

The Death Star

A joyous mob- well, joyous after we got our booing of McNabb out of our system and the touchdowns started raining down- got to imagine a raspy voiced Andy Reid intoning the magic words: Now witness the power of this fully operational battle station!

Well, that was encouraging people! Consequently, this will be a short post because, after all, what was there to complain about. Like what can I write after that: how to achieve more style points?

I mean, yes, sometimes the head coach- bless him- needs to be firmly reminded he has one of the two, three best offensive lines in professional football. And surely kudos must go to the beleaguered quarterback: McNabb went 21-for-26 for 381 yards with four touchdowns- completing eighteen balls in a row at one point.

But a lot of credit has to go the creation and execution of a scheme that allowed the offensive line to really get after people. The game was made “easy to play” for them: running on first down, pass blocking out of play-action sets that weren’t total frauds due to throwing every play, getting the more mobile members out on screens and stretch runs to the perimeter- lots of change of pace, style and tendencies. For example, they actually ran like five plays for the fullback in short yardage situations! The guys up front responded to playing downhill- and add big days from McNabb and Westbrook- and the situation for the Lions quickly got out of hand.

The Loins did get a ton of yards- generated some big plays in the passing game. I don’t know. The Eagles were missing both Dawkins and Sheppard, the Lions do have skilled wide outs and I don’t know how to maintain the requisite intensity up four scores most of the time. And the Lions did keep Kitna out there pitching until the absolute bitter end. Still a lot of mysteries on that side of the ball- but in this sort of rout I am not sure if there are relevant lessons- short of “Watch out New England!”

Still, no matter how impressive the win, I wrote last week that it means little if they can’t carry it over to beat a Giants’ team that is one step better than, say, a “mess”. But more accurately, they probably need to get two of the next three: Giants (A), Jets (A), Bears (H)- to feel like they’ve righted themselves. Even with Dallas increasingly looking like a real danger to flirt with eleven win territory, they probably could lose one of those three and still be in the divisional mix- but they’d be looking at having to complete an outright, and problematic, Dallas sweep.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Prediction

Confidently, I predict Tulane had better win.

Seriously, there is no line- and I know nothing about the Southeastern Louisiana Lions- other than they are clearly willing to travel to play I-A teams for a check. Kentucky Wesleyan probably regrets scheduling them too.

So I have no real “pick”- no way to run the mark ATS for 2007 to 3-0.

As to the game... well, Southeastern was able to rush the football against New Mexico State- which suggests they’ll both be definitely trying to and probably able to rush it against Tulane. Some sort of similar, or better, 37 carries-for-137 yards effort will keep the clock moving- and the number of Tulane possessions down. The Lions had 34 minutes ToP, which along with four turnovers, kept New Mexico State from getting a crazy number offensively. I expect Tulane will struggle to put 28+ points up to- which means SE Louisiana could hang around.

If we get the Tulane effort of this year- multiple selfish penalties, three fustian quarterbacks, Forte turnovers- even then, I can’t see the Wave dropping this game. NMS had four interceptions and still breezed in this spot. Frankly, this is a no excuses spot. Southeastern is here to be beaten.

The three areas above are what this tune-up is about. It is a chance to play a quick, crisp game: get Forte going with 25 veteran savvy touches, no idiocy, and see Elliott (and only Elliott please Coach Sullivan) move up from his decent Mississippi State effort.

In fact, I bet Elliott goes for a good day here. In 2005, Tulane played Rice- a spot where Jovon and Matt could run the ball and the Wave could protect- and Scott went for something like 300 yards and three TDs. You would think this is a spot where Tulane could recreate that good rushing attack and pass protection- and Elliott could generate that exact good day. I’ve always been sort of bullish on Scott since that game versus Rice- that he could be a competent ball distributor given a modicum of help. Consequently, I’m interested to see his upcoming efforts versus Southeastern and Army- games where Tulane figures to be physically competitive up front and Forte figures to have success.

Lastly, I am very glad to see Casey Robottom get the start Saturday. He was one of the best players on the field Saturday- let’s see if he’s for real- a real chance to upgrade an important position. If Robottom is adept, Tulane has a chance to put three/four legit C-USA skill players on the field capable of cartoon numbers. In a League with almost a total absence of sagacious defensive backs, that is a recipe for the “score four-five-six TDs offense” Tulane will need to be in most League games with this defense.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The Eagles’ loss last night was the worst kind- a home division beating to a team ticketed for something like .500. Even Hillary appears disgusted. The Nats savaging the Mets provided little in the way of solace.

It was a weird, boring affair- a game that sort of turned a lot of stuff we know about the League on its head. How can you play a game where you rush for 100 yards, commit no turnovers, make all your kicks, get a turnover of your own- and still lose by two scores at home?

Well, most NFL games ultimately come down to two factors: who makes fewer mistakes/commits fewer idiocies- there wasn’t much advantage there for either side last night- and who gets the better quarterback play. Campbell whipped McNabb badly last night. All facets too: big third down plays, big plays in the red zone, etc. As long as Campbell is two whole tiers better than McNabb- and Washington generates a darn tight game elsewhere, this is now a problematic match up for Philadelphia.

The Eagles sort of were able to hang around. Gibbs continues to be a bourgeois- and continues to run this banal offense. Only Washington can run the ball effectively, get real quality quarterback play- and still need a sort of malaise from its opponents to crack 17 points. As a result, any sort of Eagles effort, coupled with zero turnovers, sort of guaranteed Philadelphia would be in it until the final gun. The Eagles showed a little life on offense late- the defense came up the key stop. But in the end, all they could do was rely on Washington’s shackled offense to keep them close.

So I don’t really know what else to say. The losses aren’t a tactical or strategic question that can be answered. I mean, the Eagles’ defense gets a pass, right? They’ve allowed two total touchdowns in eight quarters. I mean- what is excellence here? one total touchdown? I suppose you can point to the wide-outs- or to some protection breakdowns with the offensive line- but really, it doesn’t matter. This crew proved last year they could move the ball- it is the quarterback that is the problem. The last year or so- they have lost when he played and won when he did not. Period. And until he gets fixed, it won’t get fixed- and when he does get fixed, they’ll score more than enough to win most Sundays.

And you know, if you were killing Reid for taking a quarterback with his first selection this year, you just a whole glassful of why it was both the right idea and why the Eagles manage the roster as a whole with a degree of competence.

Is Detroit now a must win? I don’t know- obviously if they want play-off home games- they gotta start winning games soon. But if you agree with my 10-6, second year of rebuilding effort projection… well then, they’re in that realm of capacity until they lose that seventh game. I actually think the Giants game is a more do-or-die affair. No matter what happens in the Detroit game- if they lose that Giants game it will be hard to say they’re going in anything resembling the right direction.

Look, they got problems- but they were worse last year (McNabb going down against the Titans) and below .500 into the second half of the season. Then Andy got it figured out and began administering bad whippings to all and sundry. Don’t panic yet.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Anne Sullivan Assumes Command

Tulane’s loss to Houston Saturday was not unexpected. Neither maybe was the completely uncompetitive nature of the defeat. But the moronic, dirty play was dispiriting- the multiple quarterbacks sandwiched between endless personal fouls- so I’m sour on the head coach today. I'm just not getting the Bob Toledo thing. I was never crazy about it- always thought he was more the best we could do, rather than the best- and I am getting less crazy by the week.

I realize it is only two games- so the sample size is small and incomplete. However, good portions of the Tulane community spent the summer lauding Bob Toledo as a modern day Anne Sullivan- and I don’t see it. Just where is that the legion of fans who went on and on and on about what a great job Coach Anne, I mean Bob Toledo, was doing. The sharp players enjoying sharp practices- improving leaps and bounds over what that idiot Scelfo could do?

In Tulane land, people are whining over some bad behavior by Houston after a Tulane injury... but you know, I'd be a lot more sympathetic if the Wave did not spend then evening committing seemingly endless late hit, poor sportsmanship type fouls. If Tulane needs ideas on picking up an easy 60 yards of field position, how about looking into that? Tulane played a pretty dirty, ill-disciplined game- both with penalties and turnovers.

I guess my point is that Scelfo could be pilloried for failing to gather and/or elevate the talent pool- why does Bob get a total and utter pass? His first class was largely devoid of guys who would get long looks at, say, Troy State- and he sure as heck hasn't elevated the roster so far.

The good news is that Anne ain't gettin' a pass here. Be fair. If you were on here or here or here last year hollering about how players didn't improve, the team was undisciplined and Scelfo was a game day idiot... well, what part of the game day experience is better? point to one player who has improved? one game-time area that has been coached up? I realize Scelfo left little talent- but you know, on game day Chris seemed to find a way to play an on-field competitive game versus Mississippi State?

It isn’t enough to be undefeated in practice. Toledo has got to do better. And Coach Annie better figure something out this week.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Please, Not the Cougars

Sigh. I'll be honest. This Houston-Tulane tilt doesn’t strike me as a difficult pick. Houston has simply evolved into a different tier program than Tulane. The Green Wave was not in this team’s class last year- and defensively Tulane is categorically still not. Offensively, the Wave features a nice mixture of health and competence questions at quarterback- which means Matt Forte will see little relief from stacked fronts. And Houston has that off-week, which is a huge intangible at this point in the season. Imagine the terrible plans they have for the Wave!

And being honest, it is hard to sort of, well, dislike Houston. The Cougars are the perfect emblem of the sort of mixture our League actually gets from C-USA football: fun & good & creative quarterback play, big points and clever offensive game plans- all in front of snoozing crowds numbering 15,000 or so!

All of this results in Tulane being a stout 14.5 underdog in today’s New York Post. Tulane’s quarterback issues aside, I’ve never blinked once on this number. I had a real bad feeling last year. And I have a real bad feeling this year.

For one thing, I have zero confidence in the Green Wave defense. They couldn’t stop Alridge last year; Oregon couldn’t stop him this year. Add a seemingly improving, competent quarterback, an extra week to prep and an offensive squad that always seems prepared to make Tulane horrendous regardless... well, this is just a baaaaaad scene. Frankly, we are in a League that absolutely rewards touchdown makers by presenting defenses like Tulane’s- so seriously, why do we keep this team under 35-38? I can find no solace.

Therefore, for Tulane to sort of be in this thing- and that is really all that is required here to get to this number- you have to believe the offense can score some, say get into the 20s. Which sort of means you have to have confidence that Forte can get north of 130-150 yards of total offense and the quarterback has another day completing 60% of his balls, committing one turnover, that sort of day.

The problem is that I can see the Wave playing pretty well- and still getting handled on defense for a big number. And even if the defense can keep them out of the 40s- some things need to go right on offense for Tulane to approach the mid-20s. This game is problematic for Tulane, the quarterback issues make it no easier- I’ll take Houston, give 14.5 to anyone brave enough to take’em- and try to run my mark ATS to 2-0.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cursing Wildly At The Television

In Patton, George C. Scott bemoans a predicament of his own making, opining on how terrible consequences can from so small an oversight- the loss of an entire command for yelling at and manhandling a coward.

Andy Reid ought to take a moment and internalize that. We sit here and kvetch about pro football players and innate talent- but you know, like seven games in ten come down to turnovers and who plays “better” (or even less stupid).

By any measure, the Eagles are a successful NFL franchise with a good on-field product. But all the weaknesses of their approach- their contemptuous attitude toward the pre-season, their refusal to admit the talent mistakes they do make, the amazing correlation between situational importance and the likelihood someone bad (Tomas Tapeh or Greg Lewis) or mis-cast (Mr. Reed) will be handling the ball- were all on display Sunday.

Speaking of organizational weaknesses, Greg Lewis has got to go. This guy has now parlayed three decent-to-good games like three years ago into an NFL career seemingly without end. Somehow he’s become the most irreplaceable fourth wide-out in history. Also, it appears Reno Mahe is back- turning me into a liar. Someone get garlic and a stake, I can’t watch that character anymore. It isn’t so much he’s bad- he has just worn out his welcome with me. And it gives Reid another guy to scheme odd 4th-and-2 calls for.

It is so disappointing because the Eagles rarely lose games like this- games where they fumble punts repeatedly, fumble punts with a minute to go, general idiocy. Other teams do that playing them. Philadelphia is usually smart, heady- particularly in the waning moments of close games. I doubt they had the most talent in NFC East last year- but there is no doubt which was the smartest team in the division.

I mean, we have seen this script in Philadelphia for like years now. They get outplayed (1st quarter), or some breaks go against them (fumble a punt featuring an iffy uncalled interference call)- but they don’t do anything egregious. They hang around- turn the game into a one score, fourth quarter, who makes a mistake first kind of thing. Anyone who has watched the Eagles knew that Green Bay, with that flailing offense, was simply not going to generate big first downs on the defense. They got their late stop(s)- and now the script kicks in: the Eagles were going to generate mistake free offense for two first downs, Akers makes the kick like he always does and we all go home.

There is solace. The worrisome defense was, well, pretty great all day. Four brutal turnovers, plus a bad day from the quarterback- and the Packers still needed a miracle to rally for the win at home. The Eagles can go a long way to getting this behind them by whomping on the two weak sisters coming to the Linc and, of course, catching some punts.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Bob Toledo- Welcome to Football at Tulane.

Sigh... here we go again. Bob Toledo- Welcome to football at Tulane!

Well, any loss is disappointing- even to Tulane fans inured, maybe even habituated, to this sort of thing. But as I wrote in my preview below, even if you had Tulane at seven-eight wins, this is one you probably had in the “probable loss” bucket. For Tulane, this season really isn’t about September. Short of losing to Southeastern, the goal is to survive until the Army game, win it, and take dead aim on the seven conference games that conclude the slate. This loss does little to change that.

As to the game itself, I don’t understand the unhappiness with young Scott Elliott from some circles. Mississippi State may be a bad football team- but their defense is not the reason. There are enough athletes over there to be a solid, middle of the road, I-A defense (and Tulane won’t see that but four times this year)- a defense that further really controlled teams like Mississippi, Alabama- and semi-controlled Arkansas, the latter half of last year.

In his first start, the quarterback completed 58% of his passes (good). He generated 200 yards in a mere 27 snaps (very good). If he averages but one pick per 26 throws all season, well, who wouldn’t sign for that now? And he only took one sack!- which you know has been a real problem around here for like, well, forever.

Yes, he didn’t throw the ball downfield effectively- but one thing at a time. Frankly, due to Forte’s day, how many down-and-distance situations did the quarterback really have to hazard shots downfield? With a rookie qb, I doubt coach wanted him looking down the field against the nickel/dime all the time at 3rd and 10? Tulane wants him looking at 2nd and 4 without all those extra DBs gamboling around- more favorable situations for success. And that wasn’t Tulane Saturday.

Bottom line, if he completes 60% of his passes with one turnover/one sack against, say Rice and Army, he is doing more than enough to help this team win as a first year quarterback. Frankly, Lester didn’t do that, do enough to help the team win say eight Saturdays, as a senior!

Matt Forte. Look, I don’t today want to rehash whether Forte is an elite C-USA player (ed.- he’s not!). And Matt simply isn’t a fumbler- so he’ll get that cleaned up. I think, however, we can all agree our worst play can’t be the one where Tulane “hands the football to Matt”. As to the offensive line- well, I will gently point out that Tulane allowed one sack, and averaged around seven yards a snap when Matt was not handed said ball (which is pretty darn good)- so someone was blocking and executing pretty well against a competent I-A defense. I know the “o” tailed off measurably in the second half- but that was more a function of indifferent/poor field position, not having the ball much, and playing from behind.

With Elliot not taking sacks, completing passes, protecting the ball, I was heartened to see the coach let the kid play. Who would have thought we’d have more passes than rushes? Wasn’t it a little fun to watch the kid grow a little, take his lumps and keep chucking? Letting the kid play now will pay dividends in the second half of the season. If Scott keeps completing 60% of his balls- work in some modest downfield success- and keep protecting the ball- teams won’t be able to play us one dimensional for long.

Lastly, and seriously, didn’t the punter look like he had real promise? Good leg, smooth.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

First Up: Mississippi State

Mississippi State is first up for Tulane this year- and the official line in the New York Post has State -6 over Tulane. While it is not surprising to see MSU favored, the Bulldogs learned last year they better bring their jock and be interested. I mean, when say, was Pitt's last road win in the SEC?

In 2006, Tulane opened with two stone lay-ups ATS. There was no way Tulane could keep Kolb under 35, making Houston an easy pick favored by anything less than three touchdowns. Next up, the Bulldogs were -11 over Tulane based mostly on the Wave’s uncompetitive performance in said Houston affair. Again, that disaster was more Houston being sort of uniquely designed to torment Tulane, than Tulane being truly horrid. So- an easy 2-0 ATS start!

Tulane +6 is a lot more fair than either of those first two spreads from last year- and I think this is a tricky pick- particularly since we haven’t seen Tulane at all this year.

There are a lot of “worries” here. Short of lining up the corners as down linemen, Mississippi State is absolutely going to load up to stop the veteran Matt Forte. Our line couldn’t block standard fronts last year consistently; how are they going to deal with this pressure? Elliott is going to have to throw the ball- perhaps not great, but certainly semi-effectively. I’d have a lot more confidence in young Scott if this wasn’t his absolute very first start in an absolutely new offense.

Scott is going to face duress. Mississippi State isn’t hopeless, there are athletes on this defense who beat Alabama last year- and held teams like Arkansas and Mississippi to respectable totals. While this is a winnable game, maybe it would be a better game seven weeks from now, with a more mature quarterback?

Despite Mississippi State’s well chronicled offensive woes, I don’t trust the Tulane defense at all. Everyone, other than a disinterested UCF, goes for at least high 20's- so MSU can get a requisite total to cover this number.

Tulane can win this game- it is a hazardous pick cause the favorite probably isn’t very good. But it feels to me a little like last year, in the sense that getting routed- and looking bad- against LSU counts for nothing here. Tulane looked bad against Houston in 2005- but it meant nothing in the context of the MSU game simply because Houston was just a bad match-up for the defense. Same thing here- the Bulldogs’ one dimensional offense was just a bad match-up for the dialed in, swift LSU defense. It says little about what the Bulldogs can do this week.

Frankly, if Croom doesn’t have their full attention this week- coming off both a bad loss to LSU and a loss to the Green Wave last year- when will he? Tulane ain’t sneakin’ up on anyone here- and, in thoroughbred parlance, MSU figures to move up with a race under its belt coupled with a drop in class.

You know, even if you have Tulane at something like 7-8 wins, this is one you probably are carrying in the “probable loss” bucket. It is a hard spot for Tulane- one that I would feel better about in November. So I am going to officially take Mississippi State -6 over Tulane- but it is chancy enough that I don’t feel you’re wasting time going to the Dome rooting for an upset.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Your 2007 NFC East Champions!

Sitting here, pondering- no deep feelings appear. Frankly? The Philadelphia Eagles just don’t feel like any sort of great mystery this year. The facts are straightforward. Late last season during the play-off stretch drive, Philadelphia played all three division opponents on the road- and defeated each in increasingly capable performances. Moreover, they defeated the Giants in a tough overtime play-off game. Taken together, it seems compelling evidence that the rebuilding project, off the 2005 disappointment, continues apace.

The play-off loss in New Orleans- on the road, six day week, with the back-up quarterback- was encouraging as well. Honestly, I am not sure if New Orleans or Chicago would have been favored in a play-off game in Philadelphia. Was there ultimately much difference between the top teams in the NFC last year?

And to be frank, I’m pretty sure that is true again this year. With the return of McNabb, I will take a lot of convincing to believe that any of the NFC East teams have closed the gap. The Eagles would likely be favored to win this division even if Feeley was the quarterback. I imagine the Eagles are square in the mix with what passes for an NFC power these days- and still a clear step behind the AFC elite.

But past that, essentially a sort of repeat of 2006- resounding division championship, in the NFC mix- I am less confident. Looking back at my post mortem for the 2005 campaign, I was struck at just how big the rebuilding job was. And it simply isn’t finished yet. Of the major areas of concern: defensive front, linebacker, wide receiver, kick returners and interior offensive line- only the offensive needs seems addressed in total (particularly the offensive line).

The defensive front is short a few productive bodies. Worse, some of the existing bodies are either injury prone or young and unproven. It probably is a bad unit. The linebackers are certainly better than 2005- but lack seasoning and are counting on some “hope” in both the injury and experience department- and are probably short a body here too. Add questions about Considine- particularly in the problematic run-stuffing effort- and it is hard to see the defense being a good unit. Teams won’t be able to generate big plays in the passing game regularly against the secondary- which will mitigate any real bad tendencies. But the defense’s upside is merely “okay-plus”- and more likely will be exposed some Sundays.

I just can’t shake the feeling that this merely is year two of the two year reconstruction- that this team is pointed toward runs in 2008 and 2009. I know certainty is an impossible thing is professional sports. But I also know that Reid is all about the plan- and Andy is quite capable of convincing himself and acting accordingly (perhaps correctly) that the “best” window is still a year or two ahead. The turnover in key nucleus talent only has had but one campaign in which to be evaluated and tweaked. Maybe this is a year to further establish the young corps at wide receiver, offensive line, figure exactly which of these guys on the defensive front seven can play- and who needs to be replaced by the impact free agent. The quarterback can still make one more run- let’s get to 2008 before we push all the chips, make the big signing.

I went into camp thinking 11-12 wins- but as Rich Hoffman says, August has not been too kind and special teams questions at punter, long snapper and the return game will cost them one, even two games, this season. So now, I am square on nine, maybe ten wins. Don’t get me wrong. The NFC isn’t strong- so the Eagles very real professional competence makes them a player in the conference picture- particularly if they get thirty starts from Westbrook and McNabb combined. But there isn’t enough here to dominate NFC or anything past that.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

2007 Tulane Football Preview

Avert your eyes people! It is the 2007 Tulane Football Preview.

A few weeks ago, glowing with hope and expectation, I entered the Barnes & Noble and leafed through a multitude of pre-season guides projecting Tulane in C-USA: twelfth, twelfth, eleventh, twelfth. Ugh, I get it.

But to me, picking Tulane dead last feels merely like an easy pick- a little lazy. Surely, they are not going to be good. But dead last in C-USA is an utter disaster, right?

Last year- coming off the 2005 season, which featured Hurricane Katrina and a 2-win campaign, Tulane was a trendy pick for further disaster. But as the season played out, while the Green Wave was certainly not "good", Tulane was a pretty clear step above awful. They won four games. They beat an SEC team on the road. Okay, it was Mississippi State- but MSU did not schedule Tulane thinking they could lose that game. Tulane whipped a Rice outfit having a "once in a generation" good season. Likewise, the Wave won a pair of games over real bad teams- which further confirms Tulane was probably not real bad themselves.

Take out the two true sacrificial games on the 2006 schedule (at Auburn, at LSU)- and Tulane was 4-6 in the competitive part of their schedule. Not too bad- say, more than enough to elevate them off a list of the worst quarter of teams in I-A.

On offense, Tulane will go as the quarterback goes. There is enough at the skill position to be more than competitive in C-USA. TB Matt Forte and WR Jeremy Williams should provide above average veteran skill position play in a league that rewards featuring players capable of cartoon-like numbers on offense when things are gong right. At the very least, the line ought not be overwhelmed facing the bottom half of the schedule. But the quarterback position simply doesn’t project strength- at least from week one- with redshirt junior Scott Elliot (13-30-132, 1 INT, 0TD) seemingly holding off a myriad of challengers. Unfortunately for Tulane, it is one of those competitions driven by a lack of established options instead of a plethora: a nice mix of complete unknowns and raw recruits.

The defense features eight returning starters, including two of the best on the defensive line (DE Antonio Harris and DT Frank Morton)- but that might not exactly be a positive. All those returning starters also means that the same cast that could not stop anyone last year is merely back for another try. All in, Tulane conceded an astonishing 400 points. Eight teams scored 30 or more. Frankly, the Green Wave defense could allow 100 points fewer- and still be terrible. They do figure to be improved- but probably not enough to really matter. New coach Toledo will still have to game plan to score four/five touchdowns- just to be sort of be in it.

So, on the vaguest canvas, the defense figures to be a little better. Tulane gets players up front back, and I can't imagine the `backers being any worse. The offense figures a little worse- the quarterback might only give the team three/four productive games versus six. But Forte gives them a credible rushing attack most Saturdays.

Figure then the Green Wave could be right around a similar level again this year- and that level just isn't dead last in C-USA. They could sneak up and surprise someone decent in their League, win a couple against the real bad teams on the schedule. Further replace Auburn with a home I-AA game, and I just don't think a one-, two-win disaster is in the cards. It feels a little better than that- I think 3.5 wins would be a fair over/under.

You can see my projection here too. A small discussion of my projection on a Tulane chat board is here.

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