Monday, November 29, 2010

It Is Time

Over eight years here, only once have I argued for the head of an executive authority figure. Frankly, I am not a big fan of firing coaches. At a place like Tulane, there is no guarantee the new guy will be any better. Tulane football doesn’t attract the hot assistant, the guy looking for the next step up. Thus, the associated drama, the lost recruiting class, normally isn’t worth it- the “clear and present danger” standard is necessary.

In my opinion, the problems with Bob Toledo are clear and present. Accordingly, Tulane should remove Bob Toledo from his duties as head coach.

The current analysis on Toledo is largely backward looking- yet a coaching change should be predicated on the future. A new coach is hired to elevate existing talent, find new talent and rebuild fan base. Bob Toledo’s record is surely indefensible on those matters. His FBS record is a horrid 10-35 in a four year span- a span where every other C-USA team has played a Bowl game. But ultimately it doesn’t matter unless the new guy can advance the program.

The hypothetical “average Tulane football coach” should be able to do four things: win 4-7 regular season FBS games a year, play a bowl game every few years, graduate tons of players, have zero program embarrassments. The last time things were “normal” at Tulane was the brief stretch between Terry Bowden and the unholy duopoly of Katrina and Athletic Review- and the thoroughly mediocre Chris Scelfo made those targets.

The second half of the Scelfo tenure did not meet those goals. But I argued for his retention on the grounds above- that no one of any real merit would take this job on the heels of losing, Katrina and program review. Rather than attracting a hot SEC property (Tommy Bowden), the Wave was reduced to position coaches at North Carolina and busted coordinators at New Mexico. But now, as the Review and Katrina fades, only the losing remains. A higher class of coach could consequently be recruited to Tulane.

So what exactly about the Toledo regime does Tulane want to continue? I can’t figure that one out.

One semi-popular notion that needs to be totally disabused is that the underclassmen are increasing in talent- that Coach Toledo and staff have turned the corner there. That is simply wrong.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year writing about the disproportionate impact from the down roster player in our League. I had been trying to figure out what exactly gets a bad C-USA team to six wins. All C-USA outfits have a few quality players. But re-populating those next roster spots, the spots after the guys who clearly belong in I-A, the spots from fifteen to forty on the dress chart, with real FBS players- and subsequently removing guys who would be assets at Southern, is key. So Frank helps You Think It All Out has looked at the second tier guys and their production, trying to tear eyes away from Mackey and Smith and Griffin and Wacha.

It is not encouraging. Start with some easy, clear examples. C-USA is a quarterback League. Your second quarterback is definitely one of those guys populating the roster in the fifteen to forty range. Heck, many good-looking underclassmen prospects are already playing against Tulane this season. Well, where are ours? Do you think Toledo would be playing a barely adequate senior, with no future in the program, if he had any viable alternatives with a pulse?

Casey Robottom got hurt. This is a skill position League- so the second, third, fourth, fifth wideouts are important members of the 15 thru 40 club. Lots of room, lots of opportunity to step up. And Banks, Grant, etc. were unable to make a sustained contribution. Sure, they make an occasional play when Tulane can find a similar character on Rice or UTEP or Marshall who also should be at McNeese. Still, which of these down roster guys are as good as Chris Bush?

Same thing at running back. Orleans Darkwa can play- but who else? Of twenty or so skill players in the program- maybe two project to something north of decent, something better than Andre Anderson.

There is no renaissance here. There is no talent surge coming from this roster next year. Give me a potential skill position axis as good as the Jeremy Williams, Andre Anderson, Casey Robottom? Who are the secondary, good prospect quarterbacks like Richard Irvin and Scott Elliott? They don’t exist. And as we watched the defense decay, desperate for a youthful infusion, we learned many other positions are even worse.

Toledo couldn’t coach up the talent he inherited- Tulane has yet to win even the modest four I-A games Toldeo in inherited in 2007. He cannot find new talent. And the increasingly vacant Dome speaks volumes about his program building.

An underreported story of the Toledo era is just how exasperating mainstream fans, the quiet majority, find him. From day one, excuses and sulking and odd character acts- from obtuse lectures on teaching Tulane to win, to blaming fans for canceling the parking lot walk through, to throwing players out of practice before a McNeese State tilt, insisting on summer weight programs as if they were the problem. On and on- who doesn’t have a headshaking moment? The fact that Toledo thinks this nonsense is relevant to his underperformance suggests he just doesn’t get the job he is trying to do.

Ultimately, that is just it. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get non-BCS football. You can’t be a program CEO if you are clueless as to the nature of the business. He doesn’t get how to recuit the right players- even Rice, UAB, Memphis and Marshall win with their recruits on occasion. He doesn’t get the nature of offense in this League. He doesn’t get the raw importance of program development, how to be a public face. In his head, he is still the coach at UCLA.

Unlike four years ago, Tulane is not coming off real external disaster. Coupled with a repeated, demonstrated university commitment to give new coaches multiple years to get the program even semi-pointed in the right direction (back to Greg Davis really), this is a better job than four years ago. So, frankly, let’s give Tulane another chance with another coach. This experiment has run its course.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prediction Thursday- Marshall

Lost amid the holiday hubbub, a pretty important game looms for the Tulane Green Wave Saturday up at Marshall. Let’s take a second to remember where we were back in August:
From an off-season prediction standpoint, this off-season has been a hard one for the Tulane faithful. Forecasters have been brutal to the Green Wave. A bevy of national publications pick Tulane to be truly horrible. Sports Illustrated reportedly has them dead last- in the entire country! The Orlando Sentinal has them 116 out of 120 BCS Division outfits. Lindy, Athlon, TSN, USA Today and Phil Steele have Tulane picked for last in C-USA West.
A fifth win, and a third conference victory, would be a pretty nifty turnaround from a team widely viewed as the very worst in the country.

The New York post fails to share the optimism, listing the Herd -9 over Tulane this morning.

If you avail yourself of the link above that takes you to the blog article that quote comes from, you will see I pooh-poohed the idea of a finish that horrid. I pointed out that no one with decent quarterbacking, which Tulane absolutely had in Ryan Griffin, could be rock bottom.

Unfortunately, Tulane’s problems now begin at quarterback. Heck, I don’t know who is going to play? And with a reserve, possibly three deep (DJ Ponder I guess?), doing the pitching, the defense a burnt out wreck- we need to entertain the idea Tulane is back at rock bottom.

None of the major second half story lines have been encouraging, eating at the vitals of the early success. The defense seems tired- and the lack of reinforcements from the bench is glaring from a team whose recruiting had supposedly picked up (where are those guys?). Good helpful play at quarterback has disappeared, the wide receivers are poor. Only the tailback seems capable of a decent cartoon offensive number.

Marshall isn’t great. But they seem to have a few more players- particularly on defense. They Herd has won three of their last four- defeating UTEP, UAB, Memphis- holding all three under 17.

That is probably where Tulane is on offense right now too- rock bottom in C-USA. Add in the zapped defense- and this engaged Marshall team ought to roll comfortably here. So Marshall -9 over Tulane to run the ATS mark to 8-4.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BlogPoll Week 13

You people figure out the Big 12.


Monday, November 22, 2010


Let’s say you were a mad scientist- and, in a fit of cruelty, decided to recreate the end of the 2009 Tulane football experience?

Perhaps you might start with this year’s football team. Then, remove Ryan Griffin, and re-instate the spotty quarterback play. Take the current defense, pound on them until they are simply worn out, a shell of the unit that took the field earlier in the season versus Rutgers. The empty Dome and horrid special teams are already in place.


Tulane and the fans are right back to the brutal end of last season- a crushing blowout, an exact repeat of last year’s UCF mess.

This is a game, like Rice last week, where Tulane needed to score to keep up, protect the defense, cover for both turnover and special teams woes. Kevin Moore just isn’t that guy, particularly playing from way behind with no one any good to throw too: DJ Banks zero catches (benched?), Ryan Grant four catches, one turnover. Plus, if Kemp is going to be a limited player at the quarterback position, he can’t be turning the ball over three times. This was going to be a tough game no matter what- but losing the turnover battle four-love made it hopeless.

The Wave could run it- a bright spot. Orleans Darkwa continued his nice rookie campaign with 129 yards, plus 13 carries for a nifty 63 in the first half, saved a bit perhaps by not losing either of his two fumbles. Sure, that sort of production is irrelevant based in an environment where you need to game plan to score six, seven touchdowns to just sort of be in it. Still, the RB position figures to be a plus next year- and unlike this campaign, at least one skill position figures to forecast better than average coming in to the 2011 season.

Bottom line, the defense just doesn’t have much left- an unreal 156 total points have been scored versus Tulane in the past three tilts. That is unreal- coming four years in to the Toledo regime. Surely the 'nauts cannot argue Toledo has "improved the defense".

We’ve seen the Green Wave wear down before. The lack of down roster talent, the roster spots after the first fifteen, is particularly painful now, late in the schedule. These are the guys that populate the woeful special teams, the guys you turn to when some rejuvenating fresh legs just about anywhere would help. But Tulane just doesn’t have them- so the kicking game is a wreck and there are no reinforcements for the weary.

Add in a well-coached, well-motivated opposition, and trouble was likely.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Vegas Knows The Wrong Quarterback Is Playing

This blurb ran in the New York Post this morning:

The Giants will try to go point-for-point with the Eagles with three starters — center Shaun O’Hara, left tackle David Diehl and receiver Steve Smith — again unable to play and another starter, left tackle Shawn Andrews, possibly out with a sore back.

Manning showed some edge this week... He didn’t buy for one moment that the Giants should be concerned with the injuries to hit the offensive line or that rookie Duke Calhoun would have to play a more prominent role with Smith sidelined and Ramses Barden out for the remainder of the season. “Duke’s the only guy that doesn’t have any playing experience,” Manning said. “Everybody else has played and done some good stuff.”

What about Kevin Boothe, who last week was activated for the first time all season and has to start at left tackle? “He’s played in the past,” Manning said. What about Will Beatty, who will have to start if Andrews can’t play? “Started for us,” Manning said.

Looking at last week’s results- Eagles humiliating Washington, New York being humiliated by Dallas- is anyone else shocked that the Eagles are only -3 over the Giants? A line implying a toss-up at a neutral site?

I’m not. Because both Vegas and I know the Eagles are playing the wrong quarterback.

Sure, the Eagles looked very nifty destroying an increasing mess in Washington behind those twenty Vick completions.

But Vegas and I know that consistent low completion total is an issue. Heck, let's cast back a mere week. Against Indianapolis, a mere step up to “decent” on defense from Washington, those twenty-ish completions led to a very Vick like 2 TDs, and only one TD over the last 58 minutes. People who make these lines know how the League works. A quarterback who can't complete passes can't routinely score 24 points against decent pro outifts.

Playing the non-comatose Giants defense, figure a likely revert back for Vick- to two scores versus seven- and Eli Manning looks likely, 50-50, to keep up. Vegas certainly sees no advantage in having Vick’s two touchdown capacity in there versus Manning.

Otherwise, how do you explain it? I know it sounds nuts- but there is the proof in black and white from people who know how the game works.

Psst... if Kolb were starting, would this game be even in Vegas? Hardly. The Eagles would be -6 over New York.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prediction Thursday- UCF

Of all the teams in C-USA, UCF seems the most anonymous. Tulane has only played this team once since Chris Scelfo left- which, I think we can all agree, seems like an eon ago. It was a desultory, 10-9 win in an empty Dome that made a lot of people mad because victory made firing the coach harder.... an atmosphere we can totally recreate Saturday!

That single game in the Toledo "era" was last year’s rout. Coach Toledo has given us many, many low points- but that whipping last year was perhaps the lowest. I ranted:
This is embarrassing- this display in Florida. I’ve never been ashamed of Tulane- but this effort today... it is hard not to be furious.

I remember those Toledo-nauts belittling the doubters- “Coach Toledo is teaching Tulane how to win”. Remember that ‘nauts!? Well, he sure as heck taught them to quit. Toledo is a joke.

Quitters. Quit on their school, fans, coach and families.

We fans don't quit. We send money, attend repeated ruthless beatings... and this "performance" is the result. Are you kidding me Toledo?

UCF is not 50 points better than Tulane. Period. It takes laying down like dogs to get beat like that by this mediocre C-USA outfit.
Perhaps colored by that beating, the New York Post generously puts UCF -17 over Tulane this morning.

This line has seesawed all over the place, jumping between 15 to 20 markers, largely due to the unknown status of Tulane’s improving quarterback Ryan Griffin. Consequently, one has to make that determination first, and I am supposing that Ryan Griffin won’t play.

Which sort of pushed this game out of the realm of an x’s and o’s question to a psychological test: can Tulane put together the sort of effort required to hang around here?

I’m not encouraged. Frankly, the Rice win was not the mark of anything resembling momentum or improvement. There was nothing there indicative of football things that Tulane could recreate routinely in the absence of the Rice Owls: the impact wide receivers, the numerous turnovers. The two remaining late season story lines emerging are not encouraging: the wide outs aren’t very good and the defense looks increasingly worn down. Let's remember the meltdown in the second half versus SMU and the astonishing 95 points scored on the Wave the last two games.

Last week loss to Southern Miss aside, UCF is the class of the League this year. Unfortunately, the Knights also tons to play for here- which equates to good effort and scoring the ball. QB Jeff Godfrey is one of the top true freshmen in the whole country- and my pick as newcomer of the year in C-USA. He is one of those distribution quarterbacks (65% pass completion percentage) who is mobile (505 yards rushing) that make Tulane’s slow perimeter defenders look so terrible.

Opposing skill players have been just outrunning the Wave’s OLBs and corners to the play- and Jeff Godfrey is a guy who can either throw to the seams and flats or carry it there himself (ed. note: he is also the shortest, smallest quarterback I've seen in awhile). Add in talented RB Ronnie Weaver as a nifty complementary option (12 carries-112 yards last week) who can also easily get outside and I simply can’t find any reason, any executable agenda, that suggests this week is where the Wave defense rebounds, holds a team under 40.

And I worry about the offense. Kevin Moore isn’t terrible at all- he is actually a very good option as a back-up goes. He's experienced (400+ career attempts, 14 TDs), seen the elephant, won’t be scared. But who is he going to throw to in this motley assortment of receivers? UCF is going to have tons of guys in the box, targeting Darkwa. It will be a hard road to 20 points.

Add in the requisite special teams disasters, return game follies and this is a game where Tulane figures to get drilled. The Wave has simply not handled prosperity well the past two years, losing every game by two scores or more after a win this year and featuring really poor play in 2009 losses to Rice and Marshall last year after the Wave's two FBS wins. Feels like a whipping again. I’ll take UCF -17 over Tulane in the attempt to run the ATS mark to 7-4.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

BlogPoll Week 12

As we horseplayers say, a lot of form this weekend- not too much craziness at the top.

After UCF's disappointing performance, we're back to having Tulsa as C-USuckA charity representative.

I am not dinging SEC teams harshly any more for losing tough conference games. Someone who is top 25 is going to have four League losses. That same four loss team would beat Boise St. 50-50 at home.

I am very close to being convinced TCU is the best mid-major... I just don't think Boise State is as good as past iterations. The defense is suspect to me.

USC will finish in the top ten.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Our League's Entertaining Product Gone Awry

While grateful for the win, I am inclined to dismiss most of the tactical elements. I just can’t separate the good play from the general ineptitude- particularly of the Rice defense.

Ryan Grant can’t generate a big play all season- and suddenly he’s wide open sixty yards downfield with a minute to go? Cody Sparks can’t get open all season and suddenly he’s plucking balls from everywhere? Or is Rice that bad on pass defense? Beats me. Further, the picture to the upper left is indicative- powerful evidence the Tulane defense made a stop Saturday- otherwise who would believe it?

Still, it is hard to not give at least the Green Wave offense a solid grade. The coach, quarterback, rank and file, were all aggressive and opportunistic. Despite the aggression, they treated every possession as important: zero turnovers. They had a chance to hang their heads late- and instead generated a late super go and get it pitch and catch play.

Orleans Darkwa has a solid day- folding his 29 carries into the larger context of the offense. His 113 yards was even a little pedestrian- but I would argue it was also sensible. One can debate that a team can run the ball to 30 points- but certainly not racing to 50. Plus, Tulane was averaging 15.5 yards a completion, 9.4 yards per attempt. Consequently, Ryan Griffin had a very good day- lots of attempts with a turnover, lots of passing yards and big plays without sacks.

The best part of Griffin’s game was on display: that excellent risk/reward metric. He might not be “great”, but Ryan gives you good stuff without bad stuff- which elevates his paper totals, his intangible worth. Ryan also demonstrated that the ball distributor- Case Keenum style quarterbacking- is the real weapon in this League, versus say the big arm, etc. The last touchdown throw, the bomb to Grant, was all about making the right read, eschewing the checkdown at the right time, rather than dazzling with the big arm. The quarterback can generate 30 yard plays in our League by throwing the ball to the right guy rather than making the big power throw.

Frankly, Tulane can’t refuse that sort of safe production if the Wave is going to score seven TDs. With the Wave defensive woes, Tulane had to score and protect the ball. Good job.

Now, seven touchdowns! Ridiculous?! But ultimately, in C-USA team have to be able to win this sort of shootout. The League is constructed, recruited and officiated to torture defenses- and everyone throws out real stinkers on occasion: see Rice-Houston. To get to seven, eight wins you have to able to win different types of games- and one type is not going home at the half if the C-USA defense is on track to allow 500 yards, 40+ points. In the SEC or Big Ten, that kind of production equals a loss. In C-USA, teams have got to move a few of those games out of the loss column.

Strategically, the fourth win officially crowns this Tulane team as, in spite of pre-season expectations, “improved”.

Tulane has won both games- Rice and Southeastern Louisiana- they have played against teams representative of the bottom 20. If nothing else, it validates Tulane ain’t one of the worst twenty outfits in the country for the first time in Toledo's tenure.

If building program credibility is a goal around uptown New Orleans, Tulane simply cannot lose to Rice, simply cannot lose to Southeastern. The stakes Saturday afternoon weren’t big, but they also are not irrelevant, so one cannot act as if the result does not matter.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prediction Thursday

Wow, will the full flower of Coach Toledo and his Toledo-nauts be on display this weekend or what? 2500 literally chillin' in the Dome, a desperate struggle with one of the worst ten teams in the country. The 'nauts asked for this by demanding Scelfo's head. Hope they are enjoying it.

Earlier this week, when the line opened at Tulane -6.5 over Rice, I was pretty sure I would be grabbing the Owls. I was simply going to recite one of my internal handicapping maxims- if you’re getting a touchdown and you think the ‘dog can win outright, grab it- add in some filler, and call it a pick. But the line has now drifted to -4.5- as Vegas gravitates to this “either team can win” idea.

The problem with this game is that Tulane is like Rice- and vice versa. Roster spots 15 through 35 are a problem. By that, I mean the guys that populate the special teams and problem areas on defense are real liabilities capable of shocking let downs. Both teams have enough I-A players that, if they can avoid mistakes, avoid exposing the second tier guys in the return game, etc., they are capable of a decent result: Tulane beat Rutgers, Rice defeated Houston.

But just a regularly, the teams generate a result where a reserve has two fumbles, or the special teams allow repeated, and I mean repeated, big returns. It is seemingly random- up one week versus UTEP, disastrous the next versus Army. Beats me who will melt down more, but the exception is probably your winner.

Tulane probably rates a narrow fave in most minds because the Wave defense has been good in spots while Rice is a 2006 Tulane-style wreck: thirty or more points every single game this season. Also, the Tulane quarterback position is more settled.

In my head, I sort of figure that both outfits have an equal chance to be a mess: Tulane will cover if Rice is a disaster, Rice will win outright if Tulane is terrible and a push probably favors the Wave enough to justify 4.5.

But I’m real concerned about the paper advantage Tulane holds at quarterback. If the first story of the season was Tulane’s semi-rise to defensive competence, the second half has been the utter futility of the receiving corps. Subtract Casey Robottom from the mix, and Tulane has the worst wide receivers corps in C-USA. With no one to throw to, how does Tulane exploit that edge?

DJ Banks is probably the season’s biggest disappointment. By default, he is the number two receiver. But for all the yammering about the triple threat, big play option he is, he doesn’t generate any whatsoever: 2 TDs, his longest reception is 24 yards. Banks seemingly can’t get open (39 catches) which is particularly depressing because, whatever you say about Griffin, he completes passes, he gives guys consistently a chance to make plays at the second level. Kemp has been a bust at receiver (13 catches). Ryan Grant has seen action- but increasingly looks like he is just not that good.

Fortunately, this is the one spot where Tulane might just be able to get away with it. Rice doesn’t bring crazy firepower. So this is a rare League game where the Green Wave does not need to score five TDs to cover, so they will get away with riding Orleans Darkwa.

And the Tulane defense has played well against teams it can control physically. Defensively, they tend to be in it or out- no middle ground. Given a team like Rutgers, playing passively to protect problematic quarterbacks, featuring no dominant running game, Tulane seems to step up more than expected. Last week aside, Sam McGuffie is a very pedestrian League tailback; Rice is featuring multiple quarterbacks not because both can play but due to issues. Tulane controls them.

So barring guys, like Van Hoover and other assorted down roster candidates, having terrible days, this is one the Wave probably should win by a score. Plus, should the game go in to OT, the line under one score keeps you in it. Nervous yet hopeful, we’ll try to take the mark ATS to 6-4 with Tulane -4.5 over Rice.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BlogPoll Week Eleven

I am not voting for Nevada edition.