Thursday, September 30, 2010

Prediction Thursday- Rutgers

For the second week in a row, Prediction Thursday is a tricky proposition.

First, Tulane really took a physical beating last week- and I’m not sure about the health of quarterback Ryan Griffin. The back-up is definitely “out”- but unlike the Houston quarterback situation, I’m not sanguine about rolling our third option out there.

The second problem is that Vegas has caught up to the Green Wave’s under the radar improvement. Way back when, Mississippi was -21.5 over Tulane. Rutgers is clearly better than the Rebels (see here, and no FCS loss for one thing!)… figure they’d have been -27ish in that spot. Add in the venue switch, New Orleans to New Jersey- and this is a four TD game three weeks ago.

Now, it is Rutgers -15. Tulane is two TDs better now than "forecasted".

Of course, it means nothing in terms of actual wins and losses. But the outrageous bargain Tulane was against Mississippi... those days are over. Plus, Rutgers is, to quote a commentator on this blog, real “anonymous”. I feel I “know” Mississippi and our conference brethren. So, if it was gambling and luck last week (where I guessed right on the move around Houston -18.5/-19.5), this week it is real outright speculation.

Some bad intangibles here too. This is the third time in a row stepping up in class for Tulane- and I’m not sure the Green Wave roster is built for the stress of this sort of play week after week. But, this is also a classic trap game for Rutgers. A game sandwiched between North Carolina and an importnat Big East game with Connecticut. Does anyone doubt the Husky game film is loaded and ready in New Brunswick? I guess I sort of think they’ll break the Green Wave’s way- Tulane had a bye week in there, attitude is probably good in the locker room right now and it is still early in the season.

So, if Griffin plays, I am going to take the Wave here +15. Tulane has played back-to-back games with teams at the Rutgers level- and been in both contests late. So, until someone drills the Green Wave for a half-plus, I’m staying on the “Tulane is respectable” bandwagon.

Plus, Rutgers is no great shakes offensively: 13 versus North Carolina, 19(!!!) against FIU. I’m not sure QB Tom Savage would start at Tulane: 52% passer, 14 TDs in 285 attempts, sacked once in every eight attempts- not C-USA numbers, that is for sure. Hard to be a fifteen point favorite when the qb position is a draw at best. To be sure of reaching this kind of cover, Rutgers needs to score well into the 30s. That is just not likely to happen.

So we’ll try to stay perfect ATS (3-0), take Tulane +15 over Rutgers.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On The Banks

On The Banks has posted my guest post- check it out here.


Continuing a tradition on here, the blog is being turned over to On The Banks- a fellow BlogPoll member representing Tulane’s host this week: Rutgers. I thank him for his effort. I will be guest posting over at his blog later this week.

My questions are in italics.

It has been twelve years since Tulane has visited Rutgers- I hardly recognize the program. Where is Rutgers and Big East football going over the next decade?

The Rutgers football program should keep trending upward, although the pace of improvement can be frustrating. It's proven easier to jump from bad to average than to become established as a top 25 program.

Give us someone to watch- who is the most underrated football player(s) on your team?

The defense has several standout players who don't get much attention on the national level. Defensive tackle Scott Vallone is the defense's best player, and generates a lot of pass rush on the interior line.

I’m bringing a group to the game. Any pre-game stuff or tailgating or fun we should look out for?

That depends on what your group is looking for. Visiting fans usually park and tailgate at the campus basketball arena, which is a bus ride away from the football. Directly adjacent to the stadium is the Scarlet Lot, which has a reputation as being frequented by long-term season ticket holders.

The younger crowd has been known to frequent the Yellow, Purple, and (especially) Blue lots, but those have been overrun in recent years by more of an older group as interest in the Rutgers football program has grown. The younger fans and students have been pushed back more to the outer lots now that are a fair walking distance from the stadium.

Before or after the game, your best bet for activities or a restaurant would be in downtown New Brunswick near the main Rutgers campus on College Avenue. That's where the train station is located. The football stadium is located at the other side of the Raritan River in Piscataway, on the school's Busch campus, and you will have to take a shuttle bus to travel between New Brunswick and Piscataway or vice versa. Most of the moderate-to-upscale options are located around George Street (a good portion of which is closed right now due to ongoing construction). If you want standard greasy spoon college fare (for the most part) and bars, then go west of College Avenue to Easton Avenue.

If none of that is to your liking, then there are countless major roadways that run through or near the area. Every major city in the Northeast is just a short train ride away too.

Your game prediction?

Tulane showed some life last week, but Houston is pretty beat up right now, and Tulane came out of that game with some injuries of their own. Rutgers is a very bad offensive team right now, but they have a good defense, and can force turnovers on that side of the ball or on special teams. Throw in home field advantage, and the Scarlet Knights should win this game comfortably.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Disagree

I am continuing to sit here concerned about the Michael Vick experiment in Philadelphia. See this good piece from ESPN:

Vick has started games against the teams with the two worst pass defense DVOAs in the league last season: Detroit and Jacksonville. And neither has shown much to suggest improvement this season. For these sorts of teams, 270 yards and two touchdowns is an average performance, not a good one. And Vick has averaged 285 yards and 2.5 TDs per game -- slightly above average. But he also has had the league's 12th-best passing offense from a year ago to work with.

On Philly's first four drives, Vick tossed a 61-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson but otherwise went 2-of-8 for 6 yards with a sack. After an effective two-minute drill to get an 11-point lead, Vick led two possessions that combined for seven plays by going 2-of-4 for 22 yards and a sack, with both completions coming on third-and-long and ending up short of the sticks, leading to punts. He was only particularly effective once he got the ball back again, with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
I’m not ungrateful; I enjoy the winning. And I realize no plan survives first contact. It is hard to pitch a stone rebuilding year in this “future can be now” weak division.

But as the blurb indicates, can we back off a little patting ourselves on the back over Michael Vick? And still be open to the idea that this is not the right move? Pulling the plug on a multi-year quarterback development project (Kevin Kolb) who had one bad half and de-emphasizing other rebuilding projects simply isn’t validated by wins over bad Jacksonville and Detroit outfits.

This change is a success only if:

1. The Eagles win the Super Bowl this year.
2. Or, going forward, Vick resigns after this season, wins a lot as the new franchise quarterback and forgoes trouble.

Even a one year deep play-off run doesn’t justify sacrificing an entire year of development time, if not also the asset of Kolb himself (I’d ask for a trade if I were him), if Vick takes this opportunity to market himself and leaves short of a Championship. The Eagles are very close to developing someone else’s asset over an asset they control for years (at a very good price).

Plus, am I the only who noticed the "amazing" Vick only completed 17 balls last week? That has been the knock against Vick from day one- he doesn't give you volume in the passing attack. The guy is way more likely to complete 14 passes or fewer than he is to complete 22 or more. Hard to win in this league with only 17-ish positive results from your passing game. And, as the note above says, that was against a pretty shabby Jacksonville defense surrounded by outstanding receiving targets.

Mark my words, if Vick starts thirteen more games, he will complete a fourteen or fewer balls in at least three of them. Those will be hard games to win- given the Eagles suspect running backs and offensive line.


Monday, September 27, 2010

BlogPoll Week 5

No, Tulane did not make it- again- this week.

1. I'm leaving Alabama and Florida one and two until they sort it out next week. I'm not sure if I'm moving the loser out of the number two spot either.

2. The team I am most certain will reach its conference championship game- in the entire country- is Nebraska. Houston might be second. But I'm positive the Cornhuskers will.

3. I've moved Boise ahead of USC. I think USC will win the Pac-10 (they have a dozen future NFL players on their roster depsite their woes)- but Boise has been more impressive and now has a Pac 10 scalp of their own.

4. Auburn and Arkansas are good. Either could win the Big East. Easily.

5. I have a cluster of Big Ten teams 20 thru 24. One could justify any order. I moved PSU ahead of the pack because, this week, I liked their win over a spirited (and not bad) Temple Owl team.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Morning After An Odd Affair

Now, really, that was an odd affair. Tulane and Houston- alternately real good and very bad.

Both teams were featuring reserve quarterbacks- which means some outright bad decisions and a level of play best described as raw. Teams don’t get a chance to get enough snaps to get the first guy ready, let alone blood the alternatives.

In fact, that sort of effect is evidenced up and down the Tulane roster. I have suggested that, particularly on defense, the talent level is in the upswing. But there is such a severe disparity in talent level- a roster that combines some plus C-USA defenders (Ponce de Leon, Mackey, Smith) with some guys who wouldn’t start at Se Louisiana. Some of the perimeter defenders- OLB, CB, nickel/dime backs- are real suspect.

I think that sort of accounts for Tulane’s early game woes. It takes Tulane a couple dozen snaps to figure out who is merely a problem versus simply uncompetitive (and needs help). The Green Wave fan has been screaming for in-game adjustments forever- and finally, the defensive staff seems to have both the ability to change AND a few assets good enough they can “cheat on defense” with.

So the Wave got dumped on early- the OLBs and CBs couldn’t tackle the run, flat routes or QB Broadway. So, Tulane moved reinforcements closer to the line of scrimmage and into the box to increase the pressure on the young quarterback, add more guys to tackle in the running game and increase pass pressure options… and trust (i.e. cheat) their quality safety to keep potentially disasterous up the field options under control. Adjustments- and players who can handle extraordinary assignments. Shakiel Smith is a tackling machine and is going to be all C-USA- just what team is in question.

Assuming Ryan Griffin is healthy, he has to remain the quarterback. You can’t end a pretty good experiment after eight passing attempts. Kemp played credibly for a back-up. But 12-for-26, turnovers…. He just isn’t accurate enough to really thrive in this style offense.

Other bits and pieces: the o-line blocked the running game well for a number of RB options. Devin Figaro, who was a touted recruit, surely had a disappointing freshman campaign- but wow, he seems to be able to get separation down field. I want to see more of that guy.

Five sacks: Justin Adams has a motor, worried about his size- maybe a true situational player? Dezman Moses looks like he could join the three "plus" defenders as a fourth quality C-USA defensive starter. There was time to throw some deep balls- and some connections (everyone in C-USA has some shaky DB play). All with this background: Houston has genuine top C-USA talent up and down the roster.

I’m real tired of the dirty play. It is always Tulane bringing out fake place-kicking tees, hitting late- now disrupting signals? It is always an unsporting style foul every game. That is the culture; it should change.

Lastly, the two punters… boy, there was some leg on display.

Ultimately, like the Mississippi game, you can’t get too up or down. Tulane did not win- but conversely, this is two games in a row where history suggested a rout was possible, even likely, that did not materialize. This is simply not one of the worst ten-fifteen teams in the country.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prediction Thursday

Via a backdoor cover, Tulane covered the 21 points last week versus Ole Miss fairly easily, moving the mark to 2-0 ATS. Frankly, never was anything worse than a push threatened. Honestly, that game was about as close to a lay-up as you’ll find- particularly once some of the dimmer bulbs on started to forecast an unreal blowout. Ole Miss, carrying a loss to an FCS program, should not have been favored by three scores over anyone- and Tulane’s improved defense was still a secret to Vegas.

This week is not so easy. Oddsmakers have caught up to the fact that Tulane has a little pulse. Even with their woes, Houston still rates over the Rebels. Tulane moves to the road. But Houston gets a smaller number? The Cougars are -18.5 over Tulane. The Green Wave picked up something like a TD in Vegas over last week’s “win”.

Consequently, this week’s spread is a lot saner. Add in the mystery surrounding Houston’s new quarterback, Terrance Broadway (5-8-84-0 versus UCLA), and this game is a real stumper. You’re really gambling this week. Nevertheless...

I’m not real caught up in whether this is Houston second, third or fourth quarterback. This isn’t like the NFL- where quarterbacks, due to lineage, plenty of practice time and pre-season, slot very nicely into depth charts. In college, there are barely enough practice snaps to get the first guy ready, let alone to pigeonhole other guys in an orderly manner (it almost always a seniority call in an emergency). It is enough to say he isn’t the super Case Keenum. Again, that is all I can confidently say about Broadway. I am going to rely that Vegas has the talent disparity between Tulane and Houston priced correctly.

I have three thoughts. Sure, Houston really struggled offensively versus UCLA. But go back a previous game to UTEP (a more realistic proxy for Tulane), the Cougars ran the ball like crazy (42-308)- and unfortunately, the ever competent Bryce Beall is still available. In fact, playing for a quarter without Casey, Houston still managed to hang 17 points up in fifteen-ish minutes. Tulane has never been able to control the Houston fronts on either side of the ball. I doubt Tulane will be either able to run it (thus move the clock) or stop the run.

Second, the best way for a big underdog to hang in is a disinterested opposition. Coming off a loss to UCLA and playing a deep back-up at quarterback, Houston ain’t sleep-walking here. That is a big situational risk taken off the table.

Third, the total (over/under) is 60- one of six games on the entire college slate with a sixty handle. Someone thinks there is going to be bunches of scoring- and let’s face it, it ain’t going to be coming from Tulane.

Houston is the best team on the 2010 schedule (still getting votes for Top 25 despite the UCLA and Keenum loss)- and although Tulane is improved, they are just not in this class. Away from home, motivated opposition, opposition that has proven it can score bunches against mediocre C-USA resistance without the starting quarterback. Feels like trouble. I’ll take the Cougars -18.5

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Its Michael Vick

I admit I am surprised that Michael Vick has been named the starter. Gosh Andy, the ink was even dry on yesterday's rant.

I would suggest the following:

1. Pre-season, I (and I am sure the Coach secretly agreed) thought there was no way to get to the NFC Championship game. By week 3, if Vick is the real deal and the division is as bad as it looks, Reid thinks he will win this division by two games, get a home game, and he is in the conference mix. With the level of play exhibited by Dallas, New York and Washington, they figure they can try now. I don't think it is even arguable; there is more onus, more capacity and more potential to win now than two week ago.

2. Vick is “fixed”. I, Andy Reid, have turned Vick into a pocket passer weapon capable of completing the 20+ balls a game needed to win in this League. I have no doubt that Coach could believe that.

Reid made Jeff Garcia a pro-Bowler. AJ Feeley was 7-1 as a starter- traded for a high second round pick. Now Reid think he has trained and fixed Vick- and like Garcia, he has a pro-Bowler behind center, perfect to try and re-create that 2006 run.

3. Vick is better behind this leaky o-line. If you can’t run the standard offense, rather than meekly failing, change the status quo. Pre-season, with the o-line healthy and stable, Kolb was the better option. Now, with injuries and an emergency OT, maybe they need some escape-ability and playmaking.

Too a lesser degree:

Coach Reid is secure. He can experiment- and he can also pull the plug. If the ten-win, division title scenario doesn't flower- then Reid can move on back to Kolb. Basically, he re-assessed the division- changed his approach due to opportunity.

There is something to cultivating a “culture of meritocracy”. Mess around- get out Andrews brothers. Play well- get rewarded. There are no favorites, no “me’s”, when the Coach benches his pet. Andy admits mistakes- they do not fester.

Kolb will get another chance. It is the NFL. He’s is 60-40 to start multiple games this year. Surplus quarterbacking never lasts.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Play Kolb

Kolb versus Vick. Sounds like a monster movie from the UHF days.

It is a quarterback controversy because it defies an easy answer. I am in no mood to rehash the usual rejoinders. I get it. Lectures that Vick against Detroit was better than Kolb versus Green Bay get real circular quick (as Kolb was better last year versus the Chiefs than Vick was last week).

There are two considerations Coach Reid cannot get around:

1. This year, the Philadelphia Eagles are not winning the Super Bowl.
2. Barring catastrophic injury, Kevin Kolb is the starting quarterback in 2011.

Item one semi-frees the Eagles from immediate win-loss consequences. Yes, losing rarely helps. But sacrificing a few games to Kolb’s development as the franchise quarterback for the rest of this decade isn’t outrageous. It is a trade-off every team must make at some time- best not to do it when you have a Super Bowl ready team (see Mark Sanchez or Joe Flacco). Playing Kolb with an eye toward future success is not undefendable.

Particularly in light of the second item. Item two addresses the development question directly. Listen: there is no way Michael Vick is on this team next year.

The Eagles are not franchising him- putting the tag on (they aren't paying him any average salary that involves guys like Manning and Brady). As an outright free agent, should Vick play well, he isn’t getting a zillion dollars to stay from Philadelphia. There is no forthcoming franchise level dollar commitment coming from this organization. Frankly, a few good starts don’t justify the risk of giving a felon with a history of curious decisions the keys to your team. Great, he has managed to avoid a probation violation (barely)- but if the lights come back on, and the clubbing weekends commence with $30 million in his pocket... the Eagles aren’t taking that risk.

So every snap he takes now takes away from “finding out” about Kolb. The Eagles cannot let this linger into a JP Losman, Partick Ramsey situation- high draft picks who never got sustained looks, lingering, keeping their teams set on permanent “what if?” status at the most important position in pro sports. Finding out about Kevin Kolb in 2010 is the overriding theme of 2010.

Do not get sidetracked. Follow the plan.

Kolb showed enough last year to deserve an uninterrupted look. Yes, he had a horrid half versus the Packers. But a lot of quarterbacks had horrid halves week one: Flacco, Sanchez, Romo. Many defenses were ahead of offenses across the League as the elephant showed up- and by many accounts, Green Bay figures to have one of the best defenses in the NFC. You simply cannot blow up a multi-year franchise quarterback experiment, one with much promise, because of a bad half in week one. That is panic- not strategy, not development.

To deviate from said multi-year plan, you need a reason more compelling than the marginal cost of beating Jacksonville this weekend. For example, I would be willing to deviate from that plan if either the Eagles could win a championship or Vick had a decent chance of starting here next year (Let alone thru 2015).

Neither is true. Play Kolb.

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BlogPoll Week4


Thursday, September 16, 2010


This weekend the reputable Philadelphia papers were agog with “confirmed rumors” that Villanova has been offered a BCS football conference bid.

If Villanova want its football program to move up from the Football Championship Subdivision level to join the Big East, all the university has to do is say yes. The Daily News has learned that the Big East, one of six BCS conferences, has asked the Wildcats to make the jump.

And the school is officially considering the offer.

"The Big East very recently communicated its interest in adding Villanova as a football member," Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro told the Daily News yesterday. "As a result, we have decided to embark on an in-depth evaluation of this opportunity.
Regular readers of Frank Helps You Think It All Out know I feel the Big Five occasionally has real relevance for how to Tulane runs its athletic programs. Here we have Villanova- which shares some similarities with Tulane, right? A leafy, yet urban, private school with 6500 undergrads that, on paper, is hemorrhaging money* on a FCS football program that no one nationally really cares about (Quick: who is the 2009 FCS champion?), buried behind a wildly popular NFL franchise and Penn State. The Wildcats care about their reputation- so student athletes need to go to class and be citizens. Their stadium situation isn’t good- looking at playing I-A games in an 18K soccer stadium (PPL Park in Chester) a good 20 miles from campus.

Yet, they’re in…. if they want?

One could lazily point to the fact they’re in the League for basketball… but I’m unsure. They were passed over in earlier expansions (including for Temple!)- so they needed to demonstrate something else, something additional, besides the serendipity to join this little Catholic basketball league a generation ago.

Which probably indicates there are lessons here for Tulane moving forward in terms of “improving” their visage to suitors in this upcoming decade of consolidation and looting of second tier leagues.

Villanova can’t point to attendance, specific alumni interest, realistic stadium option or facilities; neither can Tulane (except for the Superdome). But it can point to success in the two things that matter- the almighty revenue sports: men’s basketball and football. The Wildcats have run successful programs in track and wrestling- but they count for little outside the immediate stakeholders and a handful of alumni. But they can demonstrate competence in wringing dollars and success from the revenue engines.

Tulane ought not to forget this- the baseball team is, ultimately a distraction and indulgence, as are the other sports. They ought to be funded accordingly.

*Villanova admits to a $4M football loss on $5M revenues in another article last weekend


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mostly Okay

I have to admit, I’m encouraged by the play of the Tulane Green Wave. Frankly, I have no idea what CBS Sportsline is thinking ranking them fourth from the bottom: how can the Wave be behind Akron? No offense, but the landscape is littered with teams that lost their FCS tune up or couldn’t play within four TDs of Ole Miss and their nifty quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. This squad has an outright pulse. In fact, while I’m not moving off my pick of three-four wins, the preponderance of evidence increasingly suggests something potentially north of there.

Anecdotally- like, real high level soft thinking- if you put three "above average", a few outright "average", and another few "below average" C-USA defenders out there, you probably net out to something like an average C-USA defense.

Well, don’t look now, but after a generation of futility, the Wave is sort of edging to that average territory. They have outright three above average defensive players: Ponce de Leon, Mackey, Smith. A few of the linemen look pretty darn servicable. Good health too.

Ole Miss is better than all but maybe one or two teams on our schedule- and the Wave kept them to sane numbers, even controlled them for long stretches in the second half. I mean, try this on for size: Mississippi could not run it a lick. They really, really tried- and could not do it. That is two weeks a row of serviceable, middle of the road C-USA style defensive competence… rather than the not normal, yet seemingly routine 500 yards and 42 points. Tulane is simply better over there than last year…. and increasingly, dare I say it, average?

And I thought Ryan Griffin played well again too. What do the detractors want? 21-for-30, 203 yards. A 70% completion percentage is FANTASTIC. It is also necessary in an offense where you eschew the run frequently, thus giving up the traditional device for consistently creating favorable down and distance situations. Plus, one pick in 56 attempts! That is no fluke either, his career number is seven picks in 278 attempts.

People grumble. He does fumble too much- and yes, Tulane isn’t getting enough of the big, 25-yard pass play. Going forward, they need to flip field position and score some cheap ones. But the big pass play in this offense is generated via hitting the receivers in stride, or in the seam, or on the double move- not gunning a deep out. I do not possess any insights about whether he is throwing to the right guys in stride. But I suspect the totals will pick up when Griffin starts seeing some more suspect defensive secondaries with DB problems, ie. most of C-USA plus Army. Hooray!

I will also point out this red shirt sophomore is doing this all without a single serious candidate for even third team all C-USA on offense.

The red zone issues are harder to solve. I’m not sure they are part and parcel of the quarterback really. Tulane really doesn’t have the talent to rush the football when they opponent knows it is coming- particularly in the increasingly cramped box as the offense approaches the goal. Also, who is the big, in traffic receiver- the pro-set style tight end? Tulane doesn’t really recruit that spot- and it shows when our tight ends can’t get open or block the red zone offense. The biggest on-field failure of this regime is the inability to recruit and develop top skill players- and it hurts when they need a guy to win a one on one assignment to get a sliver of space to score (thus the goal line trickery).

But, Coach Toledo has done a good job this year. No one dogged the coach more than this blog. But man, he has shut his mouth. No more complaints about the lack of support at parking lot parades, no more speeches about teaching us how to win, thus no more built in player excuses.

His run/pass mix was 29 rushes/36 passes- better and better. He is learning. His game plans showed an eye toward the conference schedule- some of the more vanilla plays and looks were designed situationally: see if any of the o-line could push the pile third and one, give some young skill players more touches than warranted to figure out exactly what you have. The quarterback is secure, not looking over his shoulder and developing nicely for the thirty-plus starts he has left in his career here.

Bottom line- the defense increasingly strikes me as an outfit that can keep a good C-USA offense between 28-35, unlike the 40+ disasters of previous years. And I think the offense can score 20+ consistently- which means not only are the days of horrific blow outs potentially over, but also some games with mediocre C-USA teams might be in play. An average offense plus an average defense means a chance to run at .500 in the League.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

BlogPoll Week 3

Can I now non-subjectively mark Boise State down?