Sunday, January 19, 2014

To Win, Others Must Lose

I can't believe it has been nearly a year since my last blog post!  I am really slacking with my blog duties, but several things have changed since my last post.  My family and I bought a new, larger home to accommodate those growing children.  I took some of the money from selling the old house and purchased a laptop to make it more convenient for me to post blogs with more frequency.  That idea hasn't seemed to come to fruition yet, but I hope this post will get me into some kind of groove so that inspiration will flow into my head like the rivers of Hell's Canyon.

I'm hesitant to admit that I recently watched a movie called Battle Royale.  This is a film based on a novel written by the Japanese author, Koushun Takami, who finished this novel in 1996, but not published until 1999.  This story is set a couple years after a class of seventh graders mistreat one of their teachers in junior high.  This said teacher gets a chance for revenge against that seventh grade class when the government becomes concerned with the changing trend of how disrespectful children are getting and makes a law to remind the youth who it is that is really in charge in the country.  Two years later, this class reunites for an overnight field trip.  Next thing you know, the kids have been gassed and taken to a deserted island where they find themselves surrounded by armed military servicemen when they come-to in the classroom of some rundown building.  They were shocked when they see two unknown boys, who volunteered to be there, and then their seventh grade teacher walks into the room.  He begins to inform them that they were brought there to participate in a game.  The 42 students learned that in order to win the game and go home, everyone else needed to be dead within the next three days.  One by one, after the teacher killed two in the classroom (one got a knife in the head for whispering), they were called by name to receive their bag that contained a map, water, some food, and a random weapon.  Some weapons were knives, guns, hatchet, cross bow, GPS, binoculars, and the main character had a garbage can lid.  Each student had a collar around their neck to track their locations and monitor their conversations.  It didn't take long for some kids to take it seriously and just go berserk and do things they normally wouldn't do due to fear of dying.  One of the volunteers ends up killing a large amount of the students while the other ends up helping the main character and the girl he ends up grouping with.  Those three kids end up seeing a lot of death and wrong-doing on their path to cheat the game and end up all leaving the island alive.

This movie reminds me a lot of a book I've read by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games".  This novel was published in 2008 and has two additional sequels to it.  The first two books have now been made into movies, as well.  This is about a 16 year old girl named Katniss Everdeen, who is played by a very popular actress, Jennifer Lawrence.  She lives in a post-apocalyptic country that contains 12 districts that have been sentenced to suffer for their rebellion 74 years prior.  Each year, the government, in district one (The Capitol), has a "reaping" in each district to choose one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 to go to The Capitol to be introduced to the nation on television only to fight to the death until one person remains alive.  The extremely organized "Hunger Games" has all 24 children start in the same randomized locale at the same time with nothing in their hands, but stare at the cornucopia full of bags with survival gear, hand weapons of all kinds, and other protective gear.  This cornucopia is essentially bait for a blood bath to begin and weed-out the weaker participants.  Katniss, from district 12 (farthest from The Capitol), ends up surviving many trials and outsmarts many other teens to only end up killing a few kids by her hand, or arrow, which is her weapon of choice.  She ends up teaming up with her male counterpart from district 12 and cheated the system (government) to force the two kids an unimaginable ending with both winning.  The book does a better job at expressing the disgust Katniss has with the whole "Games" and how she feels about not wanting to harm anyone, but is frightened to see some of the kids from the inner most districts who train how to kill their whole life to prepare solely for the purpose to compete in the "Games" and win.

The similarity of these two novels (movies) with the concept of kids killing each other until one person is left alive is a bit disturbing, but it reminds me of some of the results that a few major college football conferences go through in a season to find the conference champion.  I noticed this last season where the Pac-12 conference beat up on each other more so than prior years.  We saw a less-than-impressive Utah team beat a very good Stanford team.  Then this Stanford team goes and gets a win against the favored Oregon Ducks in a near-flawless game.  Oregon not only lost the game, but also lost the desire to win-out the remainder of the season with the idea of not getting an invitation to play for the national title with one loss.  Stanford then lost to USC, who had a couple losses already.  Oregon lost to Arizona like the Ducks were actually Portland State.  Arizona State had a great season until they lost to Stanford in their conference championship matchup.  UCLA had a successful season, but the back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon, respectively, hurt.  The loss to Arizona State kept the Bruins out of the conference title game.  Washington State was more competitive than prior years by beating USC for the first time in many years and losing to the national champion runner-up, Auburn (at Auburn) by only seven points in a very poorly officiated game favoring the home team.  What I'm trying to say, is that the conference was so competitive and deep this past year, that all the teams ended with more than one loss to keep each other from playing for the final BCS national title.  It's like all the other 39 kids dying while trying to survive to win the game, while the winner, who turns out not really being a winner after all - to see many of your best friends from school die and be killed is not a winning feeling to live with for the rest or your life.

The Pac-12 conference looked better than it has for several years with some great non-conference match-ups that had the Pac-12 coming out on top a majority of the time.  The big losses were to some highly ranked teams like Ohio State and Auburn, but there were two losses to Notre Dame and a loss to FCS power, Eastern Washington.  However, there were many wins that helped the conference by beating the likes of Nebraska, Wisconsin, Tennessee, BYU, Boise State, Boston College, and one win against Notre Dame.  The conference went 6-3 in bowl games this year, meaning that 9 of the 12 teams earned a bowl bid; which is tougher for the Pac-12 and Big 12 teams to do with only three non-conference games and nine conference games.  It's easier for the other conferences that play four non-conference games to pad your win column to "earn" a bowl bid.  Anyway, to avoid going down that tangent, I will say it is sad to see the Pac-12 look so good throughout the season but feel like your the only one on the planet that felt that way after seeing the final polls.  The top Pac-12 team was Oregon after beating Texas in their bowl game and ended the season at #9.  For a first time ever head coach, #9 final ranking is extraordinary; however, when the nation sees four SEC schools ranked higher than that (who had a less than stellar season - in SEC expectations), it makes the whole season look like a wash - especially being ranked lower than Alabama who lost their last two games.  Alabama hadn't won a game since they beat the crap out of Chattanooga on November 23rd, but yet they remain in the top 10 in the final polls?!?  That only happens in the SEC.  The nose of the SEC is so far up the media's dark orifice down below that when the media blinks, all they see is SEC snot.  The only winner of such bias, is... well, the SEC.  The SEC gets the TV deals, the money, 1/3 of the top blue chip recruits each year, championship opportunities, best coaches, and all the glory without needing to earn it.  I know what you're thinking (to those SEC faithful), and I agree, I am jealous.  I'm jealous that I'm not getting any sips of that SEC Kool-Aid and have to suffer the fact that there are other conferences worthy of mention, but don't get that same recognition as each school in the SEC.  My rose colored SEC glasses have not come in the mail yet, so I have to still base my ideas on facts.  That's a really hard way to go, so, yes, I am jealous that giving the crown to the SEC each year when the teams are all 0-0 is not in my mental capacity of thinking (or lack thereof) yet.

Before I get into the topic of recruiting, I would like to congratulate the Florida State Seminoles for a perfect year and a wonderful win over Auburn who tried to bring the Sears trophy back to the state of Alabama for the fifth straight year.  I saw it fitting that FSU played in the first and last BCS national title games.  I thought the recruiting that Jimbo Fischer was doing was ridiculous before winning the title, now I can only imagine how many top recruits may be swayed from a nearby SEC school and jump to the Seminoles instead.

This recruiting thing has gotten me a little nervous with less than three weeks left until the national letter of intent day and in the last day or so, the team that I am hoping the most success for because I have two siblings that graduated from the school, Oregon, has lost a verbal commitment from Budda Baker, the #5 Safety in the nation; and the verbal commitment from Arrion Springs, the #9 Cornerback in the nation, has become a soft verbal.  These are two of the best athletes that had committed to the Ducks for 2014 and losing one or both of them does not  bode well for the program.  Oregon doesn't traditionally sign a huge load of high profile recruits at all.  This class was shaping up to be one of the best in the history of Oregon football.  Oregon must end the last two weeks strong and I have a good idea of who I'd like to see sign on with the Ducks on February 5th.  I read the wish list from the Bleacher Report and agree totally with John "Juju" Smith for sure, Trey Lealaimatafao is a needed Defensive Tackle that Oregon hasn't pursued in many years, Nick Gates from Nevada would be a nice catch at the Offensive Tackle position that Oregon needs to get to that next level of consistency, and Tony James was the fifth on the wish list because the Bleacher Report is afraid that he will ultimately stay closer to home (even though he has stayed solid with his verbal commitment). I'll tell you who I think should commit to the Ducks and I can't understand why they wouldn't:  I would include the first four on the Bleacher Report's wish list because they haven't committed and add; 1) Adoree Jackson, a five-star Cornerback that is a track star as well who doesn't seem to know that Eugene, OR, is nicknamed Tracktown, USA, 2) Budda Baker (again), who planned to play offense as Wide Receiver for the Ducks, 3) Glen Ihenacho, another Safety that needs to make a solid commitment and sign with the Ducks, 4) Chandler Leniu, a four-star Middle Linebacker from California that is considering Cal, Fresno State, and Washington State, 5) Petera Wilson, another Middle Linebacker from Tennessee who might choose Oregon as his future football program, 6) Outside Linebacker, Joey Alfieri, who is currently committed to Stanford, so Oregon needs to find a way to get the local Portland kid to flip his decision within two week's time, 7) ,8), & 9) are three five-star Defensive Ends that have the Ducks deep down their lists; Solomon Thomas from Texas, Lorenzo Carter from Georgia, and Malik McDowell from Michigan, all need to take serious consideration in traveling several hundreds of miles to Eugene to make their homes and start their amazing football careers at a school where they will get playing time from the start, 10) Poona Ford, who opened up his search again recently that could make a serious impact on a needy defensive line, 11) Casey Tucker at Offensive Tackle from Arizona would be a huge pickup for the Ducks and bolster an offensive line that could open up huge holes for the uber-talented Running Backs, 12) Kaleb McGary would also be a nice addition to the offensive line, a four-star Offensive Tackle from Washington, 13) Michiah Quick would be a great compliment to committed Jalen Brown as the #'s 6 and 7 Wide Receivers in the nation.  If Oregon brought in half of this list, they will do well with recruiting for the 2014 year.

I would just like to understand why there aren't more blue-chippers knocking on Oregon's door, begging to be a part of their amazing program and fascinating offense.  Especially the offensive linemen that could make a major impact on how well Oregon would be able to make a physical push in the trenches in the fourth quarter to keep the ball going forward in tight games.  I would love to see some of the amazing defensive linemen be a part of a quick, physical defense that the Ducks have been known for the past few years.  It has been the lack of a stout, tough Defensive Tackle that clogs up the middle that prevents the large offensive lines to grind out the clock if Oregon's offense needs to get back on the field for a quick score.  Do people really forget the impact Haloti Ngata had on Oregon's defense in the early mid-2000's.  He has really made a name for himself in the NFL now too.

Some more confusing information that I don't understand is how two of the best recruiting programs in Ohio State and Alabama could both lose their last two games and still continue to gather in the top-ten players at each position.  They have been practicing this recruiting technique for years - especially Alabama, so how on earth could they lose any game?  On paper, no other program in the nation can come close to the talent level that Alabama has on its roster year in and year out.  I understand that Auburn, a huge rival for decades in the Iron Bowl was able to beat Alabama by some fluke special teams play, but to see Oklahoma take The Tide down in a huge game is hard to fathom.  And yet, Nick Saban is still able to bring in a group of athletes that would make any coach's mouth water with anticipation.  Alabama does such a great job recruiting that they can't even keep all the talent they sign to begin with.  For example, the news just came out that one of the four top 15 Running Backs that 'Bama stashed away last year has announced he's transferring.  If Alvin Kamara would have listened to me (or read my blog last year), he never would have signed with The Tide to begin with.  He should have know that TJ Yeldon was going to start the 2013 season as a true sophomore with another season, at least, after that.  Then put in three other top caliber Running Backs in the very same class and you find too much depth and a difficult time in keeping all the egos happy unless they changed the position they played.  Alvin should consider a program that doesn't recruit so many backs that they don't know what to do with them all, like Clemson that I like or Tennessee that I like, but he just needs to stay out of trouble - like the five-star early enrollee at 'Bama that was just arrested.  Some schools just don't know how to utilize those special backs when they recruit them.  I've seen many times where a top back goes to a particular school that is already loaded or doesn't use the running game as much or just lacks the offensive line to give the Running Back the chance to get free (like Barry Sanders playing for the Detroit Lions - just think how great he could have been if his offensive line was above average).

So, all I have to say is that the Pac-12 came out real competitive and did some real good things this last year and showed some major signs of improvement as a complete conference and the recruiting scene has not reflected the success they had and will continue to have in the future.  Even though the SEC did NOT win the national championship game, it continues to dominate recruiting beyond the years of all the winning they had the last seven years prior.  As of this moment, according to, the SEC has 29 commitments in the top-100 football players in the nation.  Now, this is astonishing in its own right, but this is without 23 of those top-100 players who haven't even committed yet; and at least half of them will pick the SEC as their school of choice, which will give the SEC around 40% of the top-100 football players in the whole country.  Outrageous!  Why not?  ESPN has a serious crush on the SEC and the nation-wide voters of all the polls have sucked down gallons of this SEC dominance Kool-Aid and followed suit by voting so many SEC schools in the top-25 each week so high in the polls.  How else does one conference end the year with four top-7 teams in all polls?  Over half?  Really?!?  Obviously, it doesn't matter if there are 42 students ready to fight to the death in the SEC, there will always be three that manager to survive and be crowned winners, thanks to the media (ESPN) and all those mindless voters who don't know how to stand up to their own convictions and vote their hearts - just follow the rest of the nation and make it look easy.  Now for the Pac-12, there will never be a winner with 24 teens coming to a cornucopia to fight for their best-used weapons, and even if two survive, they are still only from the 12th district and never will be taken seriously like those Capitol participants who obviously represent the SEC.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sometimes It's Not The Right Fit

I've lived in my current house for over 11 years and with two children more since, it seems that our foresight when we chose this house so long ago, was not as insightful as we thought.  We thought we were so smart and so prepared to grow into a house that we didn't have to stretch too much to afford.  Over a decade has passed and my wife and I have found ourselves desiring a new and larger home to raise our growing kids.  We love most things about our current home, especially the neighbors we have and the neighborhood itself.  We are both close to our jobs and the two younger kids don't have to go very far for school.  It's just a great location with many other young families nearby.  If it were possible to uproot our current house and just place a more pleasing house in the same plot, we would be so happy and wouldn't have to lose the perks of great neighbors and convenient location.

So, with this recent desire of a larger home, we have tried to make efforts in seeing what is out there in regards to something larger, yet, still within our price range.  As you can imagine, this is not easy.  We see these beautiful homes which seem to be perfect for our family and turn out to be about $200,000 above our maximum price range.  This makes things difficult for seeking a dream house, so we may have to settling for what reality will give us.  There has to be a happy medium out there somewhere.

The first step was narrowing down the areas of town we were willing to settle down.  We searched particular neighborhoods that we feel would be desirable to live without being too far from our jobs.  The children are still young enough that a change of schools wouldn't be the "worst day of my life" worthy.  Our parental status should stay intact.

The second step was getting someone to get us into the houses that are for sale by using a real estate agent that has access to the information of all the homes and the key to get into all the homes that we may be interested in seeing.

The third step is actually going out and seeing the houses that fit our criteria of the next home that we think we need to make us happy.  In a short time, we have seen several houses and have opinions on all of them.  We get to look at the photos that are posted online prior to choosing if that might be a good fit for our family or not and then have the agent set up an appointment to go see it.

The fourth step is the next step that we haven't gotten to yet.  We need to select the new family home and put in an offer and hope that it's accepted and then start all the paper work and wait to be approved and finally close on the sale to move in.  This whole process is very nerve-racking and stressful.  We have to think about how each of the houses will fit for our particular family.  Our family is original and how we would like to utilize our home is unique, as well.  We have to think about past issues with the house whether there has been water damage to walls or floors or basements; or an underground pool in the back yard that was filled in; whether the sewer pipes have flow problems; or if updates were done properly and not done cheaply.  There are some prerequisites that my wife and I have going into the search that we have learned are necessary for the future.

Just a brief update of the houses that we have gone through and pondered upon; we have noticed that when we walk into a house, it may be real impressive in some regards and then disappoint in others.  For example, the entry of a house I saw was amazing with a high ceiling and a feeling of openness.  Then, I peaked outside and saw an open lot behind the fence where there will be a bunch of houses built in the future that will block the view and the yard didn't seem very big and no place to park a future boat or camper.  So, I looked at a house where there was a huge garage specifically for an RV to put that future camper, and after looking through the house, I had no desire to even open up the 16 foot tall doors to see inside.  Searching for the right kitchen alone, this time around, could be a make or break kind of deal for us.  Our current, small kitchen has lost its cuteness because we just need more cupboard space and counter space and just more room.  So far, in our search, it is hard to imagine that there will be a "perfect" house out there for our family that will be in our price range where we may be forced to "settle" on a house that lacks one or more of our initial criteria for our happiness.

Like the search of a new home can be stressful and make one feel they can't find the perfect fit, high school football players have a similar challenge when searching for the right university to begin their collegiate football careers.  As there are some good parts of a house and some not-so-great parts of a house that might not fit just right, there are schools out there that these young men are looking at that have some great qualities to them while other qualities may be less intriguing.  Finding the perfect fit in a new home and in a new school are challenges that warrant a closer look to educate the populous.

So, when these great high school football players feel that a college football career may be in the future, they need to find out their chances of getting a scholarship to various universities.  Some instances, the athlete has already gotten offers from schools that are near by; and in rare situations, the talent is so great that schools dotting the country may be interested and offer a full scholarship.

The first step, like narrowing down the area of town to find a new home, is that the athlete needs to narrow down (or expand) their view of where they would like to settle down for next three to five years.  Like a new home, this is a big commitment and should be looked at seriously.

Like a real estate agent that gets connections to the homes, the second step for the athletes is talking to coaches and assistant coaches to arrange official visits to the campuses of interest.  For football players, the way of getting contacts from coaches is sometimes sending video footage of their highlights in various games including information of measurements and statistics from the season.

The third step is getting the chance to make all of the official visits allowed, which may be five these days.  Like finding the right fit for a new home, searching for the right fit for a university in football should be essential.  If the program looks real good and has been successful, but the coaches don't seem to mesh to personalities, then it may indicate an improper fit.  Sometimes the coaches are great and accommodating, but the program hasn't been the top of the conference for decades, the fit may not be the greatest.  There are also times when the program is excellent and the coaches are top notch, but the particular position that the athlete is being recruited for is flooded with talent - this may not be the best fit either.

Like making an offer on a house, recruiting needs the athlete to commit to a university to try to seal the deal and eventually complete the paper work which creates the contract of the athlete and school.  Some athletes verbally commit early in the process and some wait until the National Letter of Intent Day to make their awaited decision and fax in their signature to the school's athletic department.

I'll say it up front:  I was never an uber-athlete that had various schools frothing at the mouth before I left high school.  So, I have no clue what these kids are going through at such a young age and influential time in their lives.  It must feel real good being wanted so desperately and difficult to stay grounded and not letting all the attention go to your head.  Again, I wouldn't know anything about that!  So, I can only ask questions and wonder what each athlete is thinking without knowing anything about their personal lives and background and interests beyond football.  As I ask some questions, (mostly, "Why did he chose that school over any other school?) I look to see where they live currently and the position they potentially will play in college and see their short list of schools of interest and try to imagine where I would prefer to go from those standpoints.  Many times I am wrong and left wondering why a different route wasn't taken.  When I can't figure it out and see only negative reasons why that athlete chose that particular university, I put them in the Shrine Dog Award classification because the choice doesn't make any obvious sense.  The Shrine Dog Award is explained in a previous post in this blog, which can be referred to if it's confusing in this post.  Basically, the Shrine Dog Award goes to clueless kids that are not listening to the right people in their lives and jump into a situation that was based on something influential that didn't include common sense.

Let me clear things up by demonstrating what I see, which is available to the public without cost, and explain my point of view.  When I see a highly touted athlete that plays running back in Indiana, first I think that he might want to stay close to home.  As a 4 or 5-star football player, I immediately think he could go to any FBS school if his studies are up to par.  Indiana is very close to many Big Ten schools that would most likely recruit a local running back with certain skills.  So, this kid would most likely have close contact with the likes of Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Boston College, to name a few.  Then there might be some schools recruiting this Indiana kid from outlying members of the conference(s) that have closest ties with him, like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse.  The interest may dip into other conferences by measure of taking away a great athlete from other conferences just to secure their weakness of recruiting, like West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and even USC or UCLA.  So, when I think of these factors just based on where he currently lives, it takes just a couple seconds to process the thought of where he might want to go that's close to home.  Then I look at his specific position that he is being recruited for and think of who has done real well at recruiting that position recently and what they do to prepare the kids that play that position for the NFL.  For example, Ohio State usually puts out really good running backs and can recruit that position to bring in blue chip athletes each year, so if the Indiana kid wants to start right away, then he may lean toward another school who may not be as strong or hasn't recruited high caliber talent in that position for a couple years.  So, I look closely into that on and look up to four years prior to see who the competition might be for the incoming freshman.  Is(Are) the starter(s) from last year coming back?  How many upperclassmen will there be when he gets to campus?  Now, when signing day arrives and this top 20 running back in the nation from Indiana, who could go anywhere, signs his letter of intent to play for Kansas, my first thought becomes, "Did he get confused with basketball?"  Did he really choose to play for the Jayhawks?  Does he have family there or does he not care about winning?  He will definitely be the starter from the get go, but life is so much easier on running backs if there is an offensive line significant enough to break open holes to allow you to demonstrate why you were so highly recommended coming out of high school.  Indiana boy just claimed himself a Shrine Dog Award!  Congratulations and good luck in Kansas!

Now, the Indiana kid was just a made up example of what I see and what I'm looking for when I'm tracking the recruiting process of these top notch high school players; however, there are real examples in the past and near future who appear to have claimed this Shrine Dog Award from me.  Let's look back a few years!  I have a good example in 2011 recruiting class with Notre Dame recruiting so well in recent years that every athlete in the nation looks hard at South Bend, IN, and knows of the deep tradition of the Fighting Irish.  Sometimes these great schools that are tradition rich can get a huge load of players at certain positions, and in 2011, one of those positions happened to be at defensive end. keeps track of the date of the verbal commitment that each player announces to the public who they have verbally committed to.  Early on, the first two DE commitments were a couple of 3-star guys #66 and #50 in the nation at that position.  Then with less than a month before the National Letter of Intent Day, ND started reeling in the DE's in a large kind of way.  January 14, Notre Dame received a verbal commitment from the #4 guy overall, then the very next day received the commitment from the #2 DE overall bringing the position count to four.  Then, low and behold, two more days later, the #97 DE commits to the Fighting Irish, only to be outdone two more days later with, yet, another DE commitment from the #10 defensive end in the country.  Does one team need six defensive ends?  Yes!  In the same recruiting class?  Probably not, unless all the upperclassmen at that position suddenly died.  This scenario leaves me with no choice to give a Shrine Dog Award to one of them six defensive ends that kept his initial verbal commitment.  Do I choose the #50, 3-star from Florida?  He committed second, so he shouldn't feel bad, but he is coming from so far away only to be a practice dummy behind the three 5-stars that will play ahead of him.  Should I choose the #97, 3-star guy from Ohio?  Yes, Chase Hounshell could definitely deserve such an honor of Shrine Dog being the lowest ranked of the five (at the time) DE's that had committed.  Maybe, the Shrine Dog Award would go to #10, 5-star Stephon Tuitt because he is the sixth DE to commit in the same year for the same team who recruited three DE's the year before and traveling all the way from Georgia.  He may have a shot at a starting position in a few years.  I suppose he thinks he's better than the #2 and #4 DE's of that year.  I don't know!  Maybe both of the last two DE commits should each earn the award because they probably didn't consider if this is the best fit for them.  This is how it's done!  This is how it works!  The Shrine Dog Award will call them out and maybe someone will change their mind before it's too late, or just get the transfer papers filled out now if it is too late.

In the 2012 recruiting class, there are a few glaring Shrine Dog Award winners that leave people scratching their head.  In my opinion, the most obvious decision made by an incoming freshman is one of the seven defensive backs that committed to Texas Longhorns.  Two of the DB's are #'s 11 and 17 safeties in the nation, while the rest were cornerbacks.  Four of the CB's are in the top 21 in the nation and all 4-star athletes and all but one of them committed before January.  The fourth CB to commit to the Longhorns happened to be Kevin Vacarro, the #136, 2-star CB from the state of Texas.  The first sign that maybe committing to Texas would be the three 4-stars that are ranked way ahead of Kevin.  Then to see yet another top 18 CB committing a month later and seeing the two top 20 safeties committed as well would be a red flag for most.  However, Kevin dreamed of being a Longhorn since he knew how to hold a football, he didn't dare put the time in to research his chances of being able to actual "play" for the team in a game.  To make things worse, four top 21 DB's were recruited from the year prior (only one safety), and four top 15 DB's the year before that (only one CB).  Kevin didn't realize that the defensive backfield would have so much talent and depth only among the underclassmen alone?  C'mon!  Did Kevin even think to look into all the information about the team he chose and the position he plays and really consider this the best fit?  Based on the information I have, I would have to say no!  Congratulations, Kevin Vacarro!  You earned yourself a Shrine Dog Award!

I have to laugh a bit regarding a particular university in the 2013 recruiting year.  We saw a Mississippi State team recruit six wide receivers.  The final WR commitment came from a 4-star WR ranked #23 in all the country.  Maybe he should get the Shrine Dog Award, but I figured that one of the five 3-stars should get the reward.  I don't thinks it's wrong that one school should recruit six WR's in one recruiting class, but I take into consideration the past reputation of great quarterbacks.  I do not think of Mississippi State as a passing prowess team.  The Bulldogs have been known as a running team that pounds the ball down the throat of the opposing defenses, but passing?  Holy cow!  Who is making mistakes here?  Is it the athletes or is it the actual coaches thinking this is a good idea?  Maybe the Shrine Dog Award should go to the offensive recruiting team.  This scenario just makes me chuckle because it doesn't seem like a good fit for most of the athletes.  The positive thing is that there was only one 4-star athlete that was wasted at that school.

Finally, as the beginnings of the 2014 recruiting class begins to unfold into what could be an interesting recruiting year, I have focused on the top 30 running backs.  This is a skill position that the most talented RB's should take a close look at where a good fit would be based on whether the ultimate goal is getting to the level after college - mainly, the NFL.  First, I try to consider which schools really know how to turn out successful RB's into the NFL on a consistent level.  The recent schools I think of that have had success are schools like Miami, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, California, and Tennessee, to name a few.  Then there are some universities that do a great job at making their running backs look really good in college, but not necessarily translating into NFL success are schools like USC, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Oregon, and West Virginia.  So, when the top athletes at the running back position look elsewhere to be the starters, that's all they'll be, the starters - nothing more.  They may struggle shining in certain programs that aren't known for their stellar RB play.

Let me start with the positive decisions that these young athletes have made and state the reason why I feel that those decision may be the best (or closest to the best) choice they could make as the top running backs in the nation according to  First, the RB's that chose to stay close to home that will be playing in front of friends and family:  those are Joseph Yearby from Miami, committed to Miami; Jalen Hurd from Tennessee, committed to Tennessee; Bo Scarborough from Alabama, committed to Alabama; Parris Campbell from Ohio, committed to Ohio State, Dalvin Cook from Florida, committed from Florida; Jeffrey Jones from Minnesota, committed to Minnesota; Justin Jackson from Illinois, committed to Northwestern; Terence Williams from Texas, committed to Baylor; Donald Catalon from Houston, committed to Texas; Devon Thomas from Oklahoma, committed to Oklahoma State; Shaun Nixon from Austin, committed to Texas A&M; and Traevohn Wrench from Kansas, committed to Kansas.  I appreciate that these guys have chosen to stay near their homes and commend most of them for choosing wisely to make their mark at the next level.

Next, I will list those commitments that may not make much sense by seeing how much traveling those young men will be doing just to get to school.  These make less sense based on the information that I have, but there might be reasons of extended family members nearby the university or girlfriend or whatever unknown possibilities to choose where to play football.  These players are the following:  Sony Michel from Florida, committed to Georgia; Elijah Hood from North Carolina, committed to Notre Dame; Christian McCaffrey from Colorado, committed to Stanford; and Nick Wilson from California, committed to Arizona.  With Elijah Hood, I am assuming that he is committed to Notre Dame is because he attends a Catholic high school and would like to attend a Catholic college, so this may make some sense.  For Nick Wilson, Arizona doesn't always have a lot of great running backs within its state, so the Arizona schools must recruit hard in California for the best talent that is in very close proximity of the campus which makes some sense, too.  Now for Christian McCaffrey, the two main Colorado schools have not been real great at football as of late, and Christian may be very intelligent and searching to get a degree that he can use after football is all over, so Stanford makes sense.  It is tough to make the analysis on these athletes due to such randomness of choices; however, some universities like Notre Dame and Stanford are known for their ability to recruit nation-wide.

Finally, I would like to introduce the names, I feel, would make great candidates for the Shrine Dog Award for the running backs in the class of 2014.  I can't take any running back seriously when they are a top 30 RB in the nation and choose a university such as Minnesota, Florida, Northwestern, or Kansas.  Florida may surprise you to find itself here for me, but let me explain by saying that I can't remember when Florida had a great RB that rushed for over 1,000 in the season and just made an impact in the rugged SEC.  In the old Steve Spurrier days, the Gators were known for their high flying attack from great quarterbacks that flung the rock all day long.  The RB's are just used for short distance running and passing and didn't need someone super special carrying the pill.  Even lately, the best RB Florida has had was their QB who out-rushed everyone else on the team (Tim Tebow).  A true running back is not a luxury that Florida has had or they just haven't been able to utilize any talent at that position which would make playing for Florida as a highly touted RB a really unwise decision.  Minnesota?  Well, Minnesota hasn't had anyone special since their two best backs were sharing the field together back in 2003 and 2004 with Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III, then Maroney shated duties with Gary Russell in 2005.  That's it!  Nobody since.  So, why (unless you're the biggest Gophers fan) would anyone choose Minnesota as a top 30 RB in the nation?  Same goes for Northwestern and Kansas.  Northwestern has had some flashes of great RB's in the past with stinky offensive lines that have still been able to get decent yards, but it's hard work.  Kansas is a school that doesn't stick out to me as a power football university.  I'm sure if I thought long enough and browsed through my college football magazines that date back to 1997, I might be able to name one or two Jayhawk RB's that made an impact at Kansas.  Now, with Charlie Weis as the new head coach and his ability to recruit was proven at Notre Dame, but also proven at Notre Dame was his ability to lose games as the head coach - and that was with excellent talent flooding in to play for the Fighting Irish not caring who the head coach was, but Kansas?  Wow!  That's one Jayhawk fan that will leave college his senior year with some possible regrets.

Before I crown Traevohn Wrench with the Shrine Dog Award for choosing Kansas, I would like to say that Traevohn is at least thinking that he is staying close to home and he will most likely be the starter within a year or two upon arriving on campus - if he doesn't make an immediate impact.  The unlikely candidate who I feel would be most deserving of this honor of one who is merely flattered by the scholarship offer and not looking thoroughly into what he is committing to is Bo Scarborough, who plans to attend Alabama.  It makes sense that a guy from Alabama who gets a scholarship offer from Alabama would just commit to Alabama.  That's in a perfect world, right?  Well, since when is it a perfect world?  If you dig a little deeper and find out who is currently on the running back roster for the Crimson Tide and who will be coming in the fall, Bo may have a change of heart.  Everybody knows that Eddie Lacy was the latest to pound his way through holes opened up by the beastly offensive line at Alabama who is now off to the NFL following his predecessors, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram (who won the Heisman Trophy).  Eddie's backup last year was a true freshman, T.J. Yeldon.  Between Eddie and T.J., there never seemed to be much of a drop-off, if any, when one came out and the other went in throughout most of the season.  When Bo gets to Tuscaloosa, T.J. will only be a junior and playing for possibly his last year, but there was another RB recruited in the same class as T.J. (#8 in 2012), Kenyan Drake (#17), who may be competing for playing time.  They will have a senior, Dee Hart (#8 in 2011), that may have a chance at some playing time, as well.  Now the kicker is the 2013 class that will be sophomores or redshirt freshmen when Bo gets to Alabama, which brought in four top 15 RB's.  Let me repeat that - FOUR top 15 running backs were recruited in the class of 2013!  Not only will Bo be competing for playing time against the potential starter, T.J. Yeldon, but some talented backups in Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake, but the four guys one year ahead of him who include:  the #15 Tyren Jones, #14 Altee Tenpenny, #12 Alvin Kamara, and the #4 (5-star) Derrick Henry, who could plow over any linebacker and defensive end, standing at over 6'3" and weighing over 240 pounds.  Yes, Bo is currently the #7 RB in his class, but going up against a solid and deep backfield, I have to feel that Bo's early decision has not been a very good one and may not seem like the right fit for his football future.  There are many schools that tend to create great running backs that still make it to the NFL that Bo can choose from, so at this point, all is not lost (unless he stays committed to the Crimson Tide).  There you have it!  Congratulations, Bo!  At this time, as you remain committed to Alabama, you have the honor of receiving the Shrine Dog Award.

So, as I continue my search for a new home and try to find one that will actually be the right fit, there will continue to be the high school athletes that make decisions that will not make sense as far as the right fit with where they live and the position that they play and where they end up committing themselves.  I feel that these blue chip football players should try to do more research on where they are thinking about going and find out for himself whether it would be the right fit or continue looking at universities that would be a better fit.  Sometimes you just have to find it yourself and feel right about it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Shrine Dog Awards

I went to college at Southern Oregon State College (now Southern Oregon University) and have to admit that I never found too many of the serious students that attended classes and studied in the library daily and focused on all that was academic.  My time was spent going to classes and studying occasionally at the student union and focused on socialization and learning where the cute girls went on Friday and Saturday nights.  I know it doesn't sound real aspiring for someone about to begin their university studies without an idea of what to study, but it's tough not to learn something.  There are so many activities that students can be involved in, especially if they live in the dorms for a year or two, that at the very least one can learn much about oneself.  I participated in many extra curricular activities, such as; the Greek Games, pageants, talents shows (with zero talent), etc.  It was fun getting involved with the student body and campus activities!  One cool thing about college, is you can take sports classes and get actual credits for them, so I enjoyed taking volleyball classes all the time.  Then finally, I tried something really different that I never intended.  I had a friend in the residence halls that was a rugby player.  He and I became good friends and he encouraged me to come to rugby practices and try it.  So, I went, and I liked it.  I played for the SOSC rugby club for a while until a shoulder injury kept me out.  However, Kai and I remained close friends throughout the year and I learned things about him and his quirks.  The thing that stuck with me was that he was from Beaverton, Oregon, and he lived close to a Shriner's Hospital.  It's a weird thing to remember, but I found out when I asked him why he kept calling people a Shriner.  He would tell me and all who would listen that he escaped from the Shriner's Hospital and that's why he acted the way he did with an awkward gait and eyes crossed.  Sensitive people will get offended, but it was just Kai and who he was.  Since leaving college, I have adopted the term Shriner and mostly calling myself such a name.  These days, I'm known at work by some by the nickname, "Shrine Dog".  It is a term of endearment because my other nicknames would have to be edited out of this post.  So this is how the title has come about.

Now, the Shrine Dog Awards is not necessarily a term of endearment in the sense of my meaning.  This self-acclaimed award will be what I give to recruits coming out of high school who may make a decision to attend a university that wouldn't really make sense to anybody but the coach recruiting the young man.  Before I go into some examples of who would be ideal candidates for this award and why I feel they would deserve this honor, I want to make sure that every reader knows that this term and type of award is solely for poking fun and helping me keep track of those schools who horde players at certain positions.  I have no intentions of offending anyone because it would offend me above all else due to the nickname I have gained at work - and I don't think it wise to call an award after my given name (that may be even more offensive than most other things).  So, from here on out, when I mention "Shrine Dog Award" or "Shrine Dog Candidate", my readers will know from where it derives and the meaning behind it.

In conclusion, I will give one example from a couple years ago in the class of 2011.  There were some pretty good quarterbacks out there that year and the number one, according to, was Jeff Driskel.  He was the man to get and the Florida Gators picked him up.  Well, the National Letter of Intent day arrived and passed and Mr. Driskel signed his letter of intent and waiting to be the next starter for the Gators.  Then, a few days after the NLI day, the number nine guy, Jacoby Brissett, wanted to finally end all speculation to sign his letter of intent.  Now, instead of signing on with the school that his mother begged him to sign with (Miami Hurricanes), who did not have a single quarterback sign with them that year and hadn't had a quality signal caller in a few years, Mr. Brissett signed on to Florida.  My thought immediately was, "Get your transfer papers ready, Jacoby."  Why would you sign on to a team that already has the number one guy in your class if you want to play and start for that team?  At the time, it did not make sense.  Even now, with Jacoby not with Florida anymore, it makes less sense.  So, for me, Jacoby Brissett is a Shrine Dog Award winner.  He should have listened to his mother and signed with Miami.  Someone needs to educate these high school kids about these huge decisions in life that may make a huge difference in their future.  So, if any of my readers have access to influence any of these highly sought after young men, I will be around to call them out to give them a Shrine Dog Award if they have not thought carefully and analyzed their decision of where to spend their college football career.  This decision making is not something new and I don't see it going away as I look at the 2013 class and the makings of the 2014 class shaping up.  I have some awards to pass out and you will be able to read them in my future blog posts.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oregon Ducks Need Love

Currently living in Spokane, WA, I was pleasantly surprised recently when I heard a friend of mine relating a story about running rapids in Southern Oregon on the Rogue River.  This wild and scenic part of the Rogue River remains my favorite white water rafting river that I've had the privilege to manipulate in my youth.  When Mat spoke about a very well known rapid, Blossom Bar, I knew exactly where he was referring to.  This particular place along the river wasn't always available as a river running possibility.  In the days when there was much mining and wood cutting in the area, the workers needed a pathway for the logs to flow down and not get hung up there.  Dynamite was necessary to create a small crease for logs, and later, rafters to flow through this scattering of large, house-sized rocks.  I recalled all the times we climbed the shear cliffs to scout the rapid before we plunged into unknown outcomes - whether we live another day or tip and drown or smash into one of the jagged rocks that infest this garden of boulders to puncture our raft and be left stranded.  The cliff that represented the bank of the river at this point was the final destiny of peace and calm before the terror and anxiety of this maneuvering challenge.  One last breath is always taken in the eddy on the left hand side of the river that leads the waters through the safest route of the first drop, then all chaos blurs the vision and intensity soars when you hope you remember the discussed oar strokes and shifting to point the front of the raft directly toward the next obstacle so you can use your power reverse stroke to pull you and your passengers away from the eminent danger of flipping - oh, and there's the next obstacle.  The adrenaline rushes just thinking about it!  My friend, Mat, probably had a different experience than all my trips because he wasn't in a cushy raft, but a small, vulnerable kayak.  At the time, his white water skills weren't equivalent to this real life test.  After a couple flips and a small delay, he was able to make it through to the end and have a story to tell about for years to come.  He wasn't sure whether he was wanting to continue this crazy trip or not, at one point or another.  He had a moment when he could have chose to get in the guide raft and just float the rest of Blossom Bar with the skilled guide, or get back in the water and brave the rest of the obstacle-laden rapid.  As the man that I've become to know, he chose the tougher decision and went for it.  Now, though he did not mention it, I know that he must have stopped at the lodge that rests a few kilometers down the river from Blossom Bar rapids called Paradise Lodge.  After surviving Blossom Bar, anything would be paradise.  Paradise Lodge is a nature feast with large fish swimming near the bank before climbing the trail to the building, and possibly seeing the black bear that they feed in the fenced area, and wandering deer passing through the property.  It's a thing of beauty - especially if you made it with all your gear intact and passengers in one piece and a raft that's not destroyed.  The Rogue River in Oregon is definitely my future destination spot some day where I would love to bring my kids along to show them, as I was shown, how wonderful it is.  Now, I don't want to take away any greatness from the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, because that is truly an amazing trip and quite overwhelming and intimidating, but the many little things in Oregon on the Rogue makes that place more special.

White water rafting is not the only special and meaningful thing in Oregon for me because I really enjoy college football from the small town of Eugene.  The Oregon Ducks have had quite a solid run, themselves.  Coach Mike Bellotti really got things started from an inconsistent program and worked many years into something more steady and dependable.  Then the four years with Chip Kelly saw all that potential really come together to find success in the Bowl Championship Series era.  Unfortunately, Oregon hasn't become the home of many elite athletes nationwide and missed out on big wins against significant teams.  Oregon's potential still looms and the football program has yet to peak.  Sure, the Ducks get the occasional star athlete that comes in and makes an impact, like Haloti Ngata and Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart and T.J. Ward and Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd and even back several years when Dan Fouts was the starting QB for Oregon.  Now we are seeing more and more Ducks being successful at the next level.  This shows that Oregon is really coaching up the talent they get from high schools.  Not so much now because the Ducks are able to recruit more highly skilled talent recently.

I have been studying the recruiting process more and more and have found many interesting trends that have happened in the past and what we find in today's recruiting practices.  The sure thing I found is that the Southeastern Conference definitely has the strong hold of elite talent every year.  I've said it once and I'll say it again, "The SEC should dominate every non-conference team they play every year and leave no doubts on the field who the better team is."  The non-conference games shouldn't ever be close, unless it's against USC or Ohio State or Florida State.  Based on recruiting and the pay that the coaches receive and the capacity of each stadium, the SEC schools are expected to dominate every facet of the game - in my eyes.  Luckily, they don't and I can find fault in their inadequacies and make claim that the conference is not as deep and powerful as advertised.  I can look at the previous decade of recruiting on and and see exactly why the SEC has won the national championship game seven years running.  Anyone with a brain can figure this out and it can't be denied, but how can there be any team out there that can be competitive with an elite SEC squad?  Yet, a few years back when the undefeated Auburn Tigers played an inferior Oregon Duck team in the national title game and Auburn needed a last minute field goal to break the tie and win the game by three points.  How could that game have been so close?  Very improbable, was the thought prior to the game.  Interesting to note, that since that year, the head coach of Oregon has been promoted to be an NFL coach the same year that Auburn's head coach was fired.  It reminds me of that song from that 80's group C+C Music Factory, "Things That Make You Go, Hmmm."

So, why is it that according to, that of the last 11 years, an SEC school was ranked #1 or #2 or both in 10 years?  To me, it's obvious, but it may have something to do with the schools' locations are considered to be in the best parts of the country and the coeds are prettier there than anywhere on earth.  I suppose I was just born in the wrong part of the country.  That's too bad!  There is talent galore in so many states in the south like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  Plus they can dip into Texas and the Carolinas for additional talent, but sometimes California kids are swept away to the East coast.  Who wouldn't want to?  They win championships over there, right?

The other research that I've been doing is trying to determine which schools are recruiting hot-beds and get athletes to flock there for football and determine why.  I wanted to know whether a winning tradition is a huge part, or whether it is the coaches that work so diligently for elite recruits, or if it is consistency and an upward trend to improve that has these kids picking one university over the others.  I looked up on for some statistics that might enlighten me with a brilliant discovery, but found more confusion than anything else.  I also found that is very up to date on its information because when I searched to find the highest winning percentages over the last 16 years, schools that were penalized with sanctions and had to vacate wins in the past, like USC, Alabama, Ohio State, North Carolina, and Penn State (hit the hardest) were already calculated in the percentages.  The 16 years represents the BCS era and seemed like a good starting point to search for consistency in a program.  Now, with Boise State at #1, TCU at #10 and Utah at #17, the rest were huge schools with a great winning tradition in the top 20.  I saw some surprises due to the current trend of winning or losing in recent years, for instance, Alabama was not found in the top 20, but probably would have been without the vacated wins that would have put them just above Utah.  Another example was Tennessee at #20.  With it's current state of winning, or rather, not winning, they didn't seem to be someone that would be found so high up in the rankings, but I reminded myself that there were a few years early on in the BCS era when they won a national title and came close a couple other years.  Another surprise was seeing Oregon all the way up at #8.  Even without the vacated wins, USC would still show more losses than Oregon during that span.  Interesting.

With this discovery of information that I have searched, pondered, and p... wait, that might be heading somewhere else.  Anyway, I find it very interesting that Oregon has fewer losses than USC during the BCS era; even fewer losses than Alabama and Michigan and FSU and LSU.  All those aforementioned schools, with exception to Michigan, have won the national title at least once during this span.  This is crazy!  So why is it that Oregon has only been able to break the top 20 in recruiting classes since 2003 only six times and the top ten only once according to rivals?  Over that span of recruiting for Oregon, the Ducks have never topped the conference in elite athletes.  The Ducks have had the second best recruiting efforts in the Pac-12 three times behind USC each time.  On average, Oregon places at fourth or fifth in conference in recruiting each year.  The recruiting dilemma is why so many SEC schools repeatedly have several schools out-recruiting Oregon every year - even, Tennessee, Ol' Miss, and Vanderbilt recruited better than the Ducks this year in 2012.  Vanderbilt?!?  Really?  Is Oregon that bad?  Maybe it's the thought of Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL that has gotten recruits nervous about the program, or the potential sanctions that may be coming to Eugene soon.  Maybe these high school athletes are feeling a little like Mat's kayak, vulnerable and not in a cushy place and afraid to tip over a couple times.  Or maybe they don't think they can work as hard in practice as the Ducks do when they get dozens of repetitions every practice.  Maybe they are just afraid to win lots of games in college and choose Mississippi (remember how good Jeremiah Masoli was at Oregon, then his stupid off-the-field acts got him kicked off the team and he transferred to Ol' Miss where he wasn't effective at all and appeared like he lacked quarterbacking skills).  These recruits shouldn't have any reservations about Oregon and the potential Paradise Lodge that draws near after the hard fought battle of Blossom Bar's rocky sanctions.  Maybe the athletes are up on that high cliff and looking down on Oregon and analyzing the future and what's in store.  When in reality, even if there are a couple of flips in the early rapids, all one needs to do is what Mat did, that is, get back in the water and finish the ride and set your sights on that Paradise Lodge to celebrate the victory.  Mike Bellotti blasted that place with dynamite many years ago and now the Ducks are in easier flowing waters now with Chip Kelly departing and now Mark Helfrich finds himself in the same position Coach Kelly was in four years ago - Chip had never been a head coach and merely an offensive coordinator.  The last 16 years should prove that Oregon is here to stay with its longevity and consistency.

The last couple years of recruiting for Oregon have been solid and saw a couple shining stars changing from one great university to decide on signing with the Ducks on National Letter of Intent day.  I feel that Oregon has been on the brink of recruiting greatness but hasn't found that last springboard to get to that level of recruiting that is found in the SEC.  Oregon has needs at certain positions that can get them to win those big games, especially defensive tackle.  Haloti Ngata was the last dominant DT Oregon has had that is big enough to plug the holes in the middle and strong enough to push the offensive line back to cause a large disruption in the backfield.  With the 3-4 scheme the Ducks use, it would be ideal to get that beast-like athlete in the center of the trenches because there is so much speed flying around everywhere else.  I feel that Oregon needs to go after more tackles similar to Ngata and get depth.

Currently, Oregon has not offered scholarships to very many of the kids of the 2014 recruiting class that I feel they should be going after.  Coach Helfrich has decided to stay closer to home with most of the recruits and find the future starters in Washington and California.  California is an ocean of talent waiting to be discovered and Oregon has had much success with the players they pick up there.  The state of Oregon is not very helpful when it comes to elite high school talent that can demonstrate their skills at the next level from day one.  Arizona is another state that Oregon can tap into for many blue-chippers; however, I have noticed on that most Arizona kids who look at the schools in Oregon, seem to favor Oregon State and not even have the Ducks listed in their schools of interest.  I find that really strange.  I don't want to question Coach Helfrich and his tactics on recruiting ideas, but knowing that Oregon is #8 in average wins over the last 16 years tells me that it is time to expect the blue-chippers from all over the country to want to attend the University of Oregon and play football.  Don't undersell yourself, Coach!  It's a great university and it's in the Conference of Champions where football is gradually improving to be a consistent shareholder in the most anticipated BCS bowl games.  The facilities are in place to attract the best of the best.  It's time to be confident that Oregon will manipulate the obstacles and maneuver around the large boulders and get to Paradise Lodge, or that national title that has been elusive to the Ducks' consideration of being a powerhouse football program.

I can't compliment the perks of floating the Rogue River enough with mention of the Blossom Bar rapids and there's also a stop at Zane Grey's cabin, and touring the Rogue River Ranch is a must-see when you ascend to the lush, green field that you cross to reach the main house; however, I don't hear much about this river from river runners from most parts of the country and yet it remains this solid, technical river that should be ran by the best rafters.  Now, the same can go for Oregon Ducks and the nationwide blue-chip football players coming out of high school in 2014, where Oregon is solid and technical and should be getting those most elite players from anywhere.  Players like Da'Shawn Hand (DE from Virginia), Cameron Robinson (OT from Louisiana), Lorenzo Carter (DE from Georgia), Tony Brown (CB from Texas), Braden Smith (OT from Kansas), Leonard Fournette (RB from Louisiana), Jabrill Peppers (CB from New Jersey), Kain Daub (MLB from Florida), Khairi Clark (DT from Florida), Jamal Adams (S from Texas), Malik McDowell (DE from Michigan), Sam Mustipher (OG from Maryland), Elisha Shaw (DT from Georgia), and Deshaun Watson (QB from Georgia) should be giving Oregon a serious look because a combination of a few of them might make the difference between playing in a BCS bowl and playing in the BCS National Title game and winning it.  Oregon is now one of those programs that impact high school youth when they receive an offer in the mail.  The choices are difficult and the pressure is great for these young athletes to make such an enormous decision, but it seems that you can't go wrong with a solid, consistent program that has set the dynamite into the obstacles and blown the path to Paradise and will allow anyone a chance to start and play at any time, like Oregon has become.

So, to my friend, Mat, I thank you for your story of your experience on the Blossom Bar Rapids because of the fond memories that I have of that same place.  I am glad that your experience was similar to mine even though your trip was years after my most recent trip.  Like Oregon's football team over the years, the Rogue River has remained constant and solid.  As I am sure that Paradise Lodge was a welcomed sight for you and me both, Oregon is now ready to welcome those elite blue-chippers to get that elusive crystal ball that the BCS title games offer the winning team each year.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Analyzing the AP Poll

I remember way back in the eighties when the "parachute pants" were such a cool thing to wear.  Later, they were often referred to as "M.C. Hammer pants" (or just "Hammer" pants), for those are the type of pants he wore in his music videos that flooded MTV for about a year, solid.  They were made of a light material (parachute-like) that fit in the butt and then loosened up in the thighs with a zipper that revealed additional material (commonly a different color than the outside pant color) and slowly tapered down to hug the ankles.

As a youth, my single mom could not afford new clothing for the four of us children, so most of the time, my brother and I had to scrounge up odd jobs or paper routes to earn money to buy "special" clothing for ourselves.  I had done so the summer before seventh grade and purchased the sweetest pair of parachute pants.  They were a royal blue and instead of zippers, I had snaps on the sides that exposed a black material.  I just knew the chicks would flock to me the first day of school, which ultimately turned out to be the only day of school I wore my Hammer pants.  Middle school-aged kids are very cruel to begin with, but when you are a newer kid in town (one year) and not very popular and in a small town where Wranglers and Levi's are the norm (for decades), it was inevitable to get the non-parachute-donned, popular boys to tease in all ways imaginable to humiliate me in front of those potentially swarming girls that now wouldn't even look in my direction.  At the time, it was an awesome idea and I thought I could predict how people would react to wearing such sweet attire, but I was quickly put into reality when the test finally came.  I'm sure that there were some parts of the country that these Hammer pants were more accepted by peers in middle school, but in the rustic cowboy town in Central Oregon, it was not meant to be.

My optimistic view of parachute pants and the reality check I experienced in the seventh grade remind me of the grossly inconsistent adjustments made from week to week by the AP poll voters.  I feel like they are voting for teams like how I felt when purchasing those royal blue beauties.  It seems like a good idea at the time, but the real test hasn't occurred yet and reality hasn't hit.

First of all, those voters have a stewardship over their pre-season votes and have to stick with them, or do they?  They are responsible to provide accurate accounts of all the FBS schools in the nation.  All the teams must be monitored closely and fairly represented in the weekly top 25 with respect to the teams' success (or failure).  So, as I glance through the first couple weeks of the AP top 25, I see some accurate representation of some schools and others where they may seem to be way off due to how things have unfolded thus far.  It's like a work in progress for the voters.  They need to make necessary adjustments each week and fess-up when they don't make the wisest decision one week and change it immediately for the following week.

An obvious example that we witnessed already this season, is the pre-season #10 team, Arkansas.  Of course this is a pre-season #10 team!  The Hogs are in the SEC!  'Nuff said, right?  Well, for me, that's not good enough.  They just lost their offensive guru and head coach in the off season.  Arkansas was starting a new season with a new coach that hasn't really glistened with success, but with the talent that flows to the SEC, anybody would be successful, right?  Well, that #10 team jumped two spots by beating that hard-nosed, bruising team from Jacksonville State (yes, sarcasm was intended) with a score of 49-24, who put up 322 yards on an SEC defense.  Yikes!  The good thing was that Tyler Wilson, arguably the best QB in the conference, needed to play only two and a half quarters and Arkansas still put up 564 yards.  Jacksonville State had garbage points and yards in the second half while the starters were resting and letting the second and third stringers get some reps.  The following week is when the tragedy happened.  Louisiana-Monroe came to town and put up a real fight.  They hung in long enough to be able to get a last minute score to force overtime with 21 unanswered points.  Arkansas made a field goal in overtime.  Then the shocking thing happened when the Warhawks QB seemed to have muffed up a play but found himself with a huge amount of green in front of him to sprint into the endzone.  Ouch!  This is when Coach Smith should have put in his bankruptcy papers.  He'll be lucky to have a job by season's end.  Now, Arkansas may have started off ranked too high with a new coach, but the voters were seeing stars or unicorns chasing rainbows or something to advance Arkansas more than one spot to fill in the Michigan loss after the Razorbacks' initial win.  However, the voters got it right when they tucked in their pride and took Arkansas completely out of the top 25.  That's got to be hard for the voters to put a team at #8 one week and the next, leave that same team unranked.  Like my mom never told me, doing the right thing is not always easy.  So, Arkansas was definitely a pair of those parachute pants that made it to the second day of school and now is a nice, classic pair of Wranglers like everyone else that doesn't find themselves in the top 25.  Now if only that second game of the season would have been Alabama and the Tide would have slapped them around a few hours and humiliated them, that would have been expected and the Hogs would have dropped a few spots, but not completely out of the top 25.  Unfortunately, it happened to be a much, much lesser team.  This will not look good when conference play begins unless Coach Smith can make a total one-eighty and utilize the talent he has on this squad.

There are many questions I have for the voters besides, "How can I get your job?"  Some of the placements of rankings each week draw my finger to the temple of my head and make me say, "Hmmm."  Let me mention a few of those now.  The obvious one, is why would anybody vote USC at number one?  A great team? Yes!  (My favorite.)  However, with the NCAA sanctions, USC lacks the depth to make it a whole season without injuries in key areas that could potentially find them struggling to win games - especially with the increasingly competitive conference of the Pac-12 and the nine conference games that the conference schedules every year (of course, Colorado is developing into the Duke and Vanderbilt of the Pac-12 - a.k.a. "bye week").  A top ten ranking would suffice, but #1 is really pushing it.  Same with my second favorite Pac-12 team, Oregon - ranked too high.  Hello!  They lost the starting QB and have to start either a sophomore or a freshman, and they lost arguably the best running back the Ducks have ever had with Heisman finalist, LaMichael James.  Again, near the top ten is feasible, but top five?  C'mon!  Let the teams who lose personnel and star players prove themselves a few times first.  Another team is Florida.  Why are they ranked at all?  This is the same team that had Urban Meyer at the helm two seasons ago as one of the best recruiters, ever.  The cupboards were left full of talent, with some stored in the pantry, as well.  You just need to be a decent coach to win 10 games with all that talent.  Well, Will Muschamp's 7-6 record was a huge disappointment, and he does NOT recruit better than Coach Meyer, so I have no idea how Coach Muschamp will improve from the 7-6 record in his first year as a head coach and who he paid off to find the Gators in the top 25.  I hope they prove me wrong, but this trend doesn't bode well for the Florida faithful.

After week two of the 2012 season, I learned a few things in regards to how things are perceived by the voters in the AP poll.  First thing I learned was, I'm not the only person in the world that regrettably purchased a pair of parachute pants in middle school.  I saw four top 20 teams lose to unranked teams and found themselves on the outside looking in.  I mentioned Arkansas falling like the net worth of its coach, but then there was the offensively anemic Wisconsin team with the best returning running back in the nation ranked at #13, who couldn't score against a questionable Oregon State team until less than two minutes left in THE GAME.  Now the media wants to make a big stink about the call on the on-side kick?  Really?  Do you think the Badgers suddenly had super momentum to score a "quick one" in just over a minute left from the 50-yard line?  Please!!  Maybe the Beavers really played defense or Wisconsin needs to get rid of the offensive line coach (oh, wait!  The latter did occur), or maybe it was actually a combination of both.  With the game against Nichols State being postponed, Oregon State essentially had more than one week to prepare for the Badgers.  Is it really that far fetched?  The third team that lost was the #16 Nebraska squad that played in the Rose bowl against UCLA.  The Huskers left LA as losers by six, even with the huge 92-yard run by Martinez.  The Red Shirts defense didn't corral Johnathan Franklin and let him go on a 217 yard day.  The Husker defense kept Franklin out of the endzone until the short pass in the fourth quarter.  The fourth team that left their high-profile offense home was the Oklahoma State Cowboys when they traveled to the deserts of Arizona.  The Wildcats tried their best to give the Pokes a taste of their own medicine when Oklahoma State put up 84 points the week prior on the lowly Savannah State.  The Cowboys went from shutting out one team the first week to getting 59 pasted on them the next.  As a Pac-12 fan, the second week of the 2012 season went like a dream - of the four unranked Pac-12 teams playing ranked, non-conference foes, three came out winners (the only loss was Washington losing - badly - to the #3 ranked LSU Tigers).  So, besides Washington not showing up and Colorado looking like a community college and Utah losing their starting QB and a rare game to Utah State, the conference was well represented with wins against mostly BCS conference opponents.  So, keeping up with the annual standards of the AP poll, an SEC school loses its way out of the top 25 (although, replaced by Tennessee) while Pac-12 teams have to win their way in with the additions of UCLA at #22 and Arizona at #24.  It's weird not to see the other team, Oregon State, who had the biggest upset of the three to not break into the top 25.

In conclusion, the AP poll is very inconsistent with how they vote the weekly top 25.  Each time I look at a new week of the poll, I feel like I'm a Wrangler-wearing cool kid watching a parachute pants-wearing kid walking onto the playground at middle school and saying to myself, "What was that kid thinking when he bought those?"  I'm sure at the time the vote seemed like it made sense and would be popular with the ladies, but ultimately that will be the last time the vote will be like that again.  As long as the correct adjustments are made throughout the season, everything should all work out in the end, right?

Monday, July 30, 2012

There's A Lot of Good Out There

  A few days ago my family and I went for a bike ride to go get some ice cream.  We got ourselves all prepared and ready for a safe and fun ride.  We had two $2 gift cards to help with the cost of that yummy goodness that we were looking forward to on a warm summer day.  We all had our helmets on and my son even had elbow and knee pads donned.  The trip to Baskin Robbins is not quite two miles one way, so the kids would work up just enough sweat to earn their ice cream and be able to work it off with the ride back home.  When we arrived at the ice cream parlor there were only a few people inside getting their orders, including two attractive women with a cute, older teenager (maybe in her early 20's) tasting flavors and browsing a bit.  So, the young gal behind the counter finished with the departing couple to help me and my family.  Of course, my children either decide on something plain and boring or take forever deciding what special flavor they want to try.  My kids get their ice creams first and head outside so we don't leave a drippy mess on the floor of the shop.  My wife gets the ice cream that we will share and follows the children.  Then I'm left to pay the bill and open my wallet to get out my debit card when the young thing behind the counter tells me that they don't take any cards, only cash and check.  What?  Are you kidding me?  Are we living in the 80's?  I'm sure my face was priceless.  My head went wild thinking of alternatives of how to pay for this expensive treat.  I knew we didn't have the check book because my wife didn't want to bring her purse or wallet on a bike ride.  I knew that I hardly ever have cash in my wallet and if I did, it was for my pre-season college football magazines that I buy this time of year.  What the heck was I suppose to do?  So, with my best attempt of getting the retarded look off my face to try to save it, I hand over those two $2 gift cards and hope that the $4 will cover most of it.  The total now comes to $7.11.  As I slowly open my wallet, I offer a silent prayer that I had some cash in it.  I open to reveal a $5 bill and with a big sigh of relief, I draw the bills out to count the rest.  I count, five, six, seven....  Let me count again, five, six, seven....  Really?  I have $7 and knew that I don't have an ash tray on my bike where I keep loose change for parking meters, etc.  Crap!  To stall while I think of another solution to come up with $0.11, I check all 23 pockets of my khaki cargo shorts one at a time wishing I could gesture to my wife to come and help me out so I don't have to go through this humiliation alone.  I think my pathetic glance toward the window was too much to bare on one of those women, who was now finishing up their business, who said, "I think I have $0.11."  Oh, you wonderful woman!  I think I love you!  "Really?" I reply.  Then the girl behind the counter says that she has eleven cents too.  Now I'm rolling in it!  The lady next to me gets her wallet and shuffles through a bit and scares me for an instant when she says, "Nope."  Then quickly says, "Oh, here's some."  Phew!  I mention the extreme embarrassment of the situation and graciously thank this stranger.  She kindly shrugs it off as no big deal.  Well, yes, $0.11 doesn't seem like a big deal, but I went from thinking I had to march outside and take away my wife's ice cream and return it, to getting the whole bill paid for, it is a big deal (my wife would have killed me).  My gratitude for this kind act of service from a stranger made me wonder if I'm doing enough to help out people in need.  I questioned whether I'm being an example of good for those to see (and there were plenty of people to see this woman's kindness because the place was packed by the time I paid for the order).  Her small, simple act is what we are all capable of if we can stop long enough being self-consumed with our own daily problems and challenges and not being concerned whether someone is trying to take advantage of us or not.  I doubt this stranger will ever read this blog posted under the college football theme, but I will still say thank you, again, for showing me your kindness.  Even in a world of so much evil and extreme hatred that fills some people, I was reminded that there is a lot of good out there.

     I know you are wondering what this has got to do with college football, yet again.  The kind woman in Baskin Robbins showed me that there is good left in people, while observing a possible trend in college football recruiting shows me that there is good left in the Pacific 12 conference.  Well, as I browse through (nearly) daily and seeing the latest on the college football recruiting scene, it has helped confirm what I feel is coming in the near future to change the outlook of NCAA football as we know it now. All the years that I've been following the recruiting process, the Southeastern conference has dominated like no other.  It is very clear that they have a strangle-hold on getting the top blue-chips in the country year after year.  Sure, occasionally there will be a Florida State, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Oklahoma, or Notre Dame finding themselves at the top of the heap after the national letter of intent signing day in February; however, it is always the SEC schools jamming their football programs with excessive talent that carry two full teams of starters apiece that compete with elite teams across the nation.  When tallying the 4 and 5-star athletes each year, it is that conference that picks up roughly twice the number of elite athletes than the next best recruiting conference.  Double!  That is amazing!  The SEC is reaping the recruiting rewards by winning the championship annually for the past several years straight.  I don't believe anyone who claims that recruiting high school kids is not a big deal.  Just ask the SEC schools how they feel about the importance of recruiting.

Admittedly, I was disappointed by the elite talent that did not show interest in Oregon after they lost by three points to Auburn for the national title a couple years ago.  There was only a slight increase of 4 and 5-star players that had Oregon on their short list of schools they were interested in.  Only a small number of these great players ended up finally choosing Oregon to play for.  DeAnthony Thomas was a huge pick-up that year and was evident on the field where he demonstrated his electrifying speed and all-around talent with the ball.  USC has had to deal with players leaving and post season bans and now scholarship limitations due to some violations USC committed several years ago.  This has had an impact on how well USC has been able to draw in high-talented players to keep the program strong.  But it's still USC and some kids just want to go there.  There was a slight drop in quantity of talent with the fear of all the sanctions surrounding the program, but now the bowl ban is raised and USC will have a chance of increasing the amount of talent coming in, once again (except the limitations of 75 scholarships allowed in each of the next three years when it will then return to 85 again).  During the Jim Harbough days at Stanford, the recruiting efforts grew tremendously and saw the level of competitiveness jump up immensely.  There was fear of a drop-off in recruiting after Coach Harbough went off to the NFL, but David Shaw didn't miss a beat.  Stanford is still solid in the recruiting efforts.  Under Rick Neuheisel, the recruiting for UCLA was decent, but I think the high school kids noticed that those superstar athletes weren't getting on the field to play there in the Rose Bowl each Saturday.  I'm still asking myself where all those elite players went.  Now UCLA has Jim Mora who has come in with a winning attitude and will bring a "Harbough effect" on the program with better recruiting and ability to utilize the great talent to become great again.  The rest of the Pac 12 conference with respect to recruiting is just good to okay.

I predict that overall recruiting for the Pac 12 conference will improve dramatically over the next few years.  Not many people want to rush into programs that have new head coaches like Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and Washington State have all inherited this last off season.  These new coaches will have to prove themselves first before they can bring in some additional elite talent.  I feel that the offensively-minded athletes may lean a little toward Arizona and Washington State where Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach have both excelled at with past coaching stops.  Rich Rodriguez will not have to chase off a Ryan Mallett-type talent at Arizona because the Wildcats will be better suited for his offensive needs.  Mike Leach has a great foundation, thanks to Paul Wolff and his recruiting efforts after he inherited a bare talent pool in Pullman (thanks to Bill Doba).  Mike Leach will be able to work around the talents of Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday behind center and the superstar Marquess Wilson catching the majority of the passes thrown.  I've already mentioned UCLA and its immediate impact on recruiting, so that leaves Arizona State as the wild card and the unknown future of that program.  Todd Graham at ASU will have to earn his stripes in this conference with only a few significant coaching years in the Big East conference.

There are five schools I have not mentioned yet in regards to recruiting because you have the four universities that are holding their own with USC, Stanford, UCLA, and Oregon, while Arizona, Arizona State, and Washington State had question marks even before they brought in first-year head coaches, so that leaves California, Colorado, Oregon State, Utah, and Washington.  Jeff Tedford of Cal, Mike Riley of OSU, and Kyle Whittingham of Utah are each starting their eighth year or more at their designated universities (Tedford is the most senior in the conference with 2012 being his 12th year).  These three coaches are all settled and steady and consistent with what they bring to the table.  The Golden Bears have had some very successful years of recruiting under Tedford with some big names now in the NFL and having success at the toughest level.  Oregon State is a difficult place to recruit to.  Corvallis is not a big city with overwhelming social outlets for these young kids to flock to, but Portland is a couple hours' drive away from campus; however, Riley really knows how to get the best out of his athletes and makes me wonder what he could do if he ever did get a top ten recruiting class.  Now with UofO having a ton of success recently, most elite athletes in Oregon will go to Eugene instead of Corvallis.  This makes the hard for Oregon State even harder to recruit great prospects.  As far as the Utes are concerned, the move from the Mountain West conference to the Pac12 may have given them a recruiting advantage.  The automatic qualifying conference will lead some of the fence riders in Utah to choose red over the independent blue of BYU.

Just recently, USC picked up their final commitment that will be allotted them in 2013.  It is because they committed only 13 players in 2012, that they were able to get 18 commits for the following year and it seemed like almost a race at the end who would be the last athlete to pledge himself to the Trojans.  This is very cool and exciting!  According to, USC has an oral commitment from only one single 3-star athlete; although, that player is rated #2 at his position.  The rest are 4 and 5-star athletes leaving the Trojans with an astounding 4.28-star average with its 18 commits.  If the top recruiting university is based on the star average, then Southern California would win 2013 with ease.  However, the lack of quantity will not allow USC to tackle the number one position in February (if all commitments stay firm).  This point system gives quantity a way of topping those who have better quality recruits overall.  The best part about the 18 athletes that have pledged to USC is that the Trojans didn't just pick up these young men from California.  Coach Kiffin was able to stretch out to Texas, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland.  These are top athletes that are NOT choosing the SEC and being closer to home; but they want to be Trojans and play in the Pac 12 conference.

Last year's recruiting class from Stanford was an initial sign of what the Pac 12 has potential of doing, or taking away from other conferences.  Stanford pulled in top talent from places like Oklahoma, Minnesota, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.  Even Oregon pulled guys from Colorado, Texas, and Ohio.  New Jersey and Pennsylvania were a couple other states that had top talent that chose the Pac-12 as well.  This is not a fluke!  I say that there is a trend that has begun and the Pac 12 conference will be able to reap the rewards of future talent that will flock from all over the country and be able to keep most of the local talent in the process.  Sure, the SEC will be keeping a lot of the talent in the Southeastern part of the US, but will see more and more of their targets heading West.  Now, with USC unable to pick up any more recruits, the benefactors should be the Pac 12 teams that are at or nearing the top of the conference, including Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Washington.  I would love to see more of the conference schools getting the blue-chip talent too, but these four programs will most likely be the top choices of the high school football players everywhere.

I can hear it now.  "The SEC rules and will never let go."  "The Pac 12 is the 5th best conference, at best."  "The SEC is so dominant that no other conference will come close to its worst teams."  Blah, blah, blah.  Uh huh!  Anyway, back to reality.  College football, like most things in life, is cyclical - meaning, there is a cycle that it will follow.  Even the BCS era has proven to be cyclical starting with the Bowden bowl (or Bowden Championship Series) each of the first three years, then it was the Big XII that couldn't be denied for a few years (or the Big XII Championship Series), then the USC era, and since it's been the SEC.  It's not to last forever (sorry SEC lovers).  It is a tremendous run (and I'm not sure if it's over yet) and will always be compared to from now on, but change is eminent.  I'm telling you now that there are signs on the wall - if you look hard enough.  I'm not saying that USC having six pledges from the top 19 athletes is the only sign, though a really big one, but that it is still early for the 2013 graduates to select their university of choice.  A game for the 2012 season hasn't been played yet and there is still over six months left before national letter of intent signing day and a lot of things can change in that time, but I am predicting more very highly touted athletes will make the choice to play in the Pac 12 conference when they also have offers from some SEC schools in the other hand.  I can see that there is a lot of good out there, like my experience at Baskin Robbins.

Monday, August 29, 2011

There's No Such Thing As East Coast Bias

Just a little over a week ago, my family and I returned from visiting Oahu, Hawaii, for about a week. It was amazing! It was all and more that I ever dreamed Hawaii would be. I'm not sure if it was the palm trees in the skyline that reminded me of my fond months in the Dominican Republic, or the tolerable weather that allowed us to do whatever we wanted, or the shallow waters in the coves and beaches that took you into the native fish inhabitants, or the warm ocean water that you could spend the whole day and night in, or the fine sand that felt like walking in flour on some beaches of the west part of the island, or the breathtaking panoramic views of sheer mountains with green vegetation lying so close to the infinite waters of blue, or the numerous visions of beautiful people - male and female, or the many stops to learn about history and different cultures.

I can't really pinpoint one thing that made our vacation so wonderful, but I feel sorry for all my future vacations because they will never measure up - unless it is a trip back to the islands in the Pacific without children. Only because I'm a guy and have a one-track mind, Hawaii - especially Oahu - had me thinking of one thing and wishing that my kids would be left behind. It's a little embarrassing and difficult to mention on a blog, but I have to admit, the environment in Honolulu gave me a bad desire. Well, it was just... I needed, uh... I had to see the Aloha stadium and buy me a University of Hawaii hat. Every Wednesday and Saturday (when there's not a home game), the Aloha stadium hosts a swap meet with hundreds of vendors selling all sorts of trinkets and clothes and jewelry. I was able to get a great deal on a lei and feel the vibes of football around the stadium. It was so great! I wasn't there just to do some bargain shopping on tourist items, but to be close to a college football stadium with a rich history of some great games. Later, I bought a U of H hat at the Navy Exchange Mall for under ten bucks. My trip was complete! Oh, I suppose the seafood dish at Duke's Canoe Club on Waikiki beach was nice, too.

So, with that Warriors hat on my head and fresh memories of the Samoan at the Polynesian Cultural Center that had me rolling from laughter during the entire presentation, I wondered to myself, "Why don't football teams from the East Coast come play Hawaii in Hawaii?" It seems that Hawaii plays some of the teams on the other side of the Mississippi River, but the Warriors have to do the traveling, usually. For the University of Hawaii to have an away game, they travel by plane for 4-6 hours just to get to the mainland - let alone, to get to their actual destination. What a huge disadvantage for them! There are so many schools in the east that really don't have to travel very far to play quality opponents.

Speaking of quality opponents, I've been looking at the preseason rankings by the AP and the Coaches' polls. It sure seems that voters believe that the only quality opponents are found in the east. I figured with the addition of two more teams in the newly formed Pacific 12 conference, that there may be an increase of one school placed in the preseason polls' top 25. History shows that there will be 3-4 teams from the Pac-10 that would be honored in the top 25 of the preseason; so logically, expecting 4-5 Pac-12 schools to be in it seemed reasonable. Boy was I wrong! In the AP poll, they were generous to put USC in the 25 spot to give the Pac-12 a whopping THREE teams in the top 25. Unfortunately, the Coaches' poll can't vote for USC until they have paid their debt to the sanctions gods, because the coaches seem to think that there are only two teams worthy to be in the top 25 from the Pac-12. Are you kidding me? I looked a little more in depth and found that the ACC, surprisingly, was treated the same with two teams from their 12-school conference made it in the top 25. The Big East made one team. Dang! The Mountain West Conference even got two! What the heck is wrong with the Pac-12, ACC, and Big East? Well, they sure are not the other three major conferences because the 12-teamed Big Ten conference has 4 and 5 teams in the top 25, while the 10-teamed Big XII has 4 and 5 schools in the top 25 (half the conference in the Coaches' poll). However, nobody can out-due the huge representation that the "top conference in the nation" has with 75% of it's 12 members in the top 25 preseason polls. Actually, that's not entirely true. They have 8 of the 12 schools in the top 23! With that many teams in the top 23 and only two of those teams playing competitive teams to open their season, while the unranked SEC schools start their seasons playing teams like; Elon, Western Kentucky, Montana, and BYU, there could potentially be 11 SEC schools in the top 25 polls after week one.

Now we can truly see what a horrible strength of schedule the Pac-12 has with only two ranked teams. What a bunch of cupcakes! The definition of powerhouse IS the SEC. Every week of conference games displays at least two ranked teams for each game - probably three in some instances - to demonstrate the grossly under-rated strength of schedule that each SEC school has. No wonder the non-conference slate has to include schools like Elon, Coastal Carolina, Samford, Southern Illinois, UT Martin, Missouri State, Northwestern State, Western Kentucky, North Texas, Georgia Southern, The Citadel, Furman, Buffalo, Montana, and Jacksonville State. Those are necessities when ALL your conference games are against ranked opponents. That puts a lot of wear and tear on your team week in and week out. No other conference experiences that. Surely, there could never be any talk about playing a nine conference game season like the Pac-12 does and what the Big Ten will start doing in 2013. That would be immediate overload for each SEC team and make it impossible for any team to come out unscathed and undefeated to play for the national title 19 seasons straight. No way! (OK! You may have sensed a little sarcasm in the last paragraph- actually I intended for the whole paragraph to be sarcastic!)

That's right! The major media and poll voters are drinking a lot of that SEC Kool-Aid to give a huge number of schools in the conference the "vote" of confidence that they will all have winning seasons to play in a bowl no matter what the teams are bringing in from the previous year. However, all I see in the polls is the lack of equal distribution and focus on other worthy and deserving teams that have actually shown signs of growth and improvement in the past years that keeps the spotlight shining bright in one area of the country that has definitely earned its recognition in the football world. Although the SEC has been the dominant conference for several years straight, the voters need to focus on their responsibilities as representatives of a national voting process, not just a southern or eastern American voting process. Do some homework BEFORE you vote! Don't just vote trendy and popular!

With the lack of equal distribution of the nation's teams, it is glaringly obvious that the strength of schedule will overwhelmingly be in favor of the SEC. Even if LSU and Georgia lose their openers against Oregon and Boise State, respectively, they won't drop far (if at all) in the polls because they play highly ranked teams while the other ranked SEC schools play easy games and get wins to "justify" the votes. Then you look at the ACC and Pac-12 conferences and will notice the strength of schedule will perceive to be very easy because nobody is ranked in those conferences. How absurd! How do you ignore the fact that Arizona State may have the best defense in its conference and not get enough votes to be in the top 25? I see that Sports Illustrated gets it by having ASU clear up at #17 in their college preview magazine. Unfortunately, I don't think SI gets any say in what the strength of schedule will be for the year.

I implore the voters to do homework before they make their votes! I say this because either the majority of the voters are ignorant about football or they didn't look into the teams' stats and facts very thoroughly before deciding that a team or two may be great. I have some serious question marks regarding several teams and why they would be good enough to be considered in the top 25. My initial question is,"Why is Arkansas ranked so high (or at all)?" Sure they had a great season last year only to fall to Ohio State in the Sugar bowl, but they lost three offensive linemen who protected the departed Ryan Mallett. How do you replace Ryan Mallett? Sure, Tyler Wilson will have all the same top four receivers from a year ago, but he has zero starting experience. Even in mop-up duty for Ryan, Wilson threw 3 interceptions with only 4 TD's. That ratio has to change dramatically for Wilson to be close to Mallett who went 8-5 in '09. Tyler needs to pray now that his three new starters on the line will come together quickly to protect him. All these things come to mind for me and don't tell me, "Yes! Arkansas is definitely number 14 in the nation." C'mon! Really? Only two starting linemen back and no Ryan Mallett? Now to make things worse, the SEC leading rusher, Knile Davis, was lost for the season to put a ton of pressure on Arkansas' other running backs to help block and catch and take the pressure off the first-time starting QB. Hmm. Is Arkansas a questionable call? I think so.

Another questionable call is voting Auburn anywhere in the top 25. This is the defending national champs, yes, but their team was depleted by graduation and the NFL draft. Auburn has recruited supremely well the last couple years; however, when any team returns two or three offensive players and three defensive players, the outlook is very grim. Auburn lost offensive star and Heisman trophy winner, Cam Newton, AND defensive star, Nick Fairly, who basically won the national title for the Tigers in January. You don't just plug in eight new starters on offense and defense, each, and expect to be a top 25 squad. I don't care if you just won the title or not. You will NOT repeat with those statistical challenges. Urban Meyer or Nick Saban can't do it, so Gene Chizik will not be able to do it, either. Auburn will be out of the top 25 after week two when Mississippi State destroys and humiliates them on their home field. (Mississippi State should be ranked higher!) So, why were there so many votes for Auburn? Homework for the voters?

Another questionable school that hails from the almighty conference of the SEC would be the Florida Gators. This is a team that went 8-5 last year under Urban Meyer. They struggled at running back and quarterback and the decent defense loses 7 of the top 9 tacklers from a year ago. Although Florida has recruited amazingly at defense, they still return only four starters from last year. This will force these young freshmen and sophomores to go through some serious growing pains to gain experience. The best scenario, the young guys will gel by the end of the season and be really good, but I see it more like next year for a full season working together to make a defensive impact in the SEC. This year? Nope! Plus, Urban Meyer, arguably the best young coach ever, has left the university and Florida replaced his head coaching resume for a stellar defensive coordinator of a different program, who doesn't have a head coaching resume. More growing pains? Yes! Will Muschamp's defense may fair better than the head coach this year. It's not easy to jump from D-coordinator to Head Coach (and that's merely mentioning those that were already in the system, not to mention a completely different conference entirely)! So, to statistically and logically consider Florida a top 25 team in the nation, is pure ignorance of the sport. If Urban Meyer was still at the helm, then it makes sense to have Florida at #22, but a brand new head coach? Dumb!

I must mention another questionable call on the highly touted top 25 list from the SEC. As much as I love Georgia and Mark Richt, they did not have a good season at all. Only because they won a home game against Idaho State were they able to participate in a bowl game and lost to Central Florida. Mark Richt was among the top five coaches mentioned with "hot seat" throughout the entire off season. However, the Bulldogs are not falling any farther! Last year was definitely the cellar of where Georgia will go. They go up from there. How far up is still to be determined. So, to put an unknown team, that went 6-7 last year, into the preseason top 25 for this year makes me wonder what the heck people are thinking. I would LOVE to see Coach Richt take his Bulldogs to the SEC championship game this year, but he is returning five offensive starters and seven defensive starters and replacing most of the departed starters with freshmen and sophomores and junior college (JUCO) transfers. How can a voter put that much confidence into that knowledge and place that team in the top 25? I don't get it! Speaking of sophomores for Georgia, Aaron Murray will be the bright spot on the offense by being the best QB in the conference this year. He will need a ton of help losing his top two targets (including AJ Green) and will rely on true freshman, Isaiah Crowell, to take over the rushing duties and the three new starters on the line will have to step up rapidly! What does this recipe smell like? It's not a preseason top 25 voting, but it is potential. Potential doesn't equal one of the best teams in the nation, though.

So, I mentioned four SEC teams that "earned" a place among the preseason top 25 that I feel the voters have done them a disservice by placing them somewhere they don't belong. Then again, who does? It's all relative and speculative and based on future expectations because we haven't seen anybody on the field against an opponent yet. However, if you have the responsibility to vote for the nation's best football teams, then you have the responsibility to do it right and research the topic at hand to most accurately represent the universities that actually have a chance at staying within the top 25 - not who is currently trendy and cool. There are too many teams from the SEC that are in the 2011 preseason top 25 AP and Coaches' polls. It is ridiculous!

I've mentioned four schools that shouldn't be in the preseason polls, so now I will call on a few teams that were maybe mentioned with a couple votes or less that I feel should get more national attention due to what they've done and what they are bringing back to start a new season. I've already mentioned one: Arizona State. They have gradually been building a stout defense around the nasty, Vontaze Burfict, who is now a junior that has a knack for the location of the ball. The quarterback has plenty of experience and standing at 6'8", he'll be able to see well over the four returning starting linemen. The receiving corps got a boost with Oregon transfer, Aaron Pflugrad. Arizona State lost by 1 point against both Wisconsin and USC last year. Dennis Erickson is not new to head coaching with some impressive wins during his time at Miami. This squad should be in the top half of the league this year.

Another team that is barely on the list of vote receivers, is Northwestern. This is NOT a trendy pick! They are not flashy and popular. They are just outright getting better! They return an amazing QB in Dan Persa who touted a ridiculous 73.5% completion last year and rushed for over 500 yards. The top tailback returns along with seven other starters from a year ago. The sacks leader, Vince Browne, returns at his defensive end spot. They went to a bowl each of the last three years and went 7-6 and are just getting started and will improve.

Tulsa is another team that should be considered with a very potent offense that ranked #5 in total offense last year. They went 10-3 and if the defense improves, they will easily get to 10 wins again this year. The QB-receiver combo of G.J. Kinne to Damaris Johnson will be something to watch. We'll get a taste of what they can do when they open up their season at Norman, OK, September 3rd. The Sooners will start the tough road of non-conference games for Tulsa.

You can't rule out June Jones and what he's done at SMU. They have improved dramatically winning at least 7 games in each of the last two years and return 10 offensive starters and eight defensive starters. SMU had their first 8-win season since the mid-'80's before the "Death Penalty" was enforced. Watch for them to take off!

The Orange from Syracuse have seemingly become significant out of the blue. The defense has become very stout over the course of last season and they return eight of their offensive starters. This could very well be a team that went 8-5 last year to a 10-win season this year. Last year's winning record was the first since 2001 for Syracuse.

As great as it would be to have your entire favorite conference in the preseason top 25 polls, it sure doesn't make any sense because it shuts out the rest of the nation when there's more parity in D-IA football now than there ever has been. I think that I have reasonably explained why at least four of the SEC teams should not be ranked in the top 25; although, the 2010 season ended with six SEC schools finishing in the top 25 spots in the AP poll (but still, eight? Before a game has been played yet?). I'm really and generally concerned about the voters of these polls and makes me wonder about the integrity of their responsibility to the college football fans out there that take the polls so literally. I'm sure it evens out (mostly) as the season progresses; however, it gives a clear advantage over a particular conference or area of the country when it comes to strength of schedule which is based on pure speculation when all teams have a 0-0 record. So, I'll just sit here quiet and contemplate those beaches of Oahu, feeling the energy from the Aloha stadium, while the season passes on and the SEC schools trickle out of the polls slowly while the Pac-12 and ACC teams have to actually earn their way slowly into the polls.