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Stadium and Main: January 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Problems with a “Plus-One”

Some are obvious, but worth noting...

The Pac-10 and SEC will benefit, the Big Ten and others will not

Let’s get this out there first, so maybe 17 years from now, the mainstream media will finally realize it: A “plus-one” would put the Big Ten at a competitive disadvantage. I’m not saying I’m against it. Actually, I’m all for it. I’m just saying it will probably hurt the Big Ten more than any other conference.

Under the current bowl/BCS system, Big Ten teams are playing virtual road games in bowls seemingly every year (OSU vs. LSU in New Orleans, Michigan vs. Florida in Orlando, Illinois vs. USC in Pasadena, Penn State vs. Texas A&M in San Antonio – and that’s just this season!). But imagine the 2014 college football postseason, where Michigan has to play USC in the Rose Bowl, and if they win, they get to play Miami in Miami for the national championship. Sweet!

There are other conferences that would feel the effects, too. The Big East (with the exception of South Florida), and to a lesser extent the Big 12 (unless the Cotton Bowl is included in any sort of plus-one plan – that would be great for Texas, OU, etc.). There would be an impact on the ACC, too, but Miami and Florida State would likely benefit.

If the plus-one thing happens, no matter how they set it up, then it will hurt fans who have to travel long distances for bowl games. Having 2 games in the first few weeks of January will really hurt the attendance for any Big Ten team ranked at or near the top of the polls. For instance, if the plus-one system means we go back to the old bowl setup, with an extra Championship Game afterwards, a #8 USC team might fill up the Rose Bowl with Trojan fans for a game vs. #1 Michigan. After all, that will be USC’s last game, it’s in LA, it’s against the top team in the country, etc. But Michigan fans would probably be reluctant to travel to a Rose Bowl game that they expect to win, when they are probably planning on going to the championship game the next week (or 2 weeks later, or however they set it up). Bump USC’s ranking up to #4 in the above scenario, and change the scenario to a "seeded" plus-one (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3, with the winners facing off) and the Trojans would still dominate the stands, this time because they’re playing in their backyard in a virtual playoff game. The Michigan fan's dilemma remains the same: go to the USC game, wait and hope for the National Championship game, or spend a ton of money and (possibly) go to both.

In general, Pac-10 fans would have ownership of the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl locations. The SEC would control the Orange Bowl (along with Miami and FSU) and the Sugar Bowl. All of these statements have some level of truth to them now, but would be even more obvious under a plus-one system. The “semi-finals” of any plus-one game (seeded or unseeded, old bowl system or new) would essentially be a home game for any local team. The same could be said for the National Championship Game, although maybe to a lesser extent (my personal preferences might be clouding my predictions here - I would rather go to the game for all the marbles than the semi-final). This sort of disadvantage can obviously be overcome (see Michigan vs. Florida this year), but over time, the team with the home-field advantage wins more games. Someone much smarter than me also concluded, “[i]n general, the home advantage is greater in college athletics than for professional sports.”

The Politics of 1 vs. 2

Stewart Mandel says:
"[I]f you do a "pure" plus-one and revert to traditional bowl pairings, the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs play in Pasadena every year just like they always did, and then you conduct a new poll after the bowl games to determine the title participants. That method would be far clunkier, and there would be probably be years where it muddles things more than it clears them up, but it may be the only way anything's going to change." (emphasis mine)
This may be the only way things will change because the Rose Bowl folks, along with the Big Ten and Pac-10, seem adamant that they get a traditional Big Ten – Pac-10 match up more often than not. Since the start of the BCS, the Rose Bowl has gotten a Big Ten vs. Pac-10 game only 6 of 10 years. The Big Ten champion has not set foot inside the stadium since January 1, 2005. The Rose Bowl has lost top-ranked teams like USC and Ohio State to the BCS Championship Game a few times, and they are not happy about it. So to “revert back to traditional bowl pairings” might be the only way a plus-one will work, because keeping things as they are now, seeding the top 4 teams, and just playing an extra game will not appease the Rose Bowl. As plenty of others have stated over the years, they are arguably the biggest roadblock on the plus-one path.

Back to Mandel’s quote. By “clunkier,” Mandel is likely talking about the possibility of having #1 USC vs. #2 Michigan play in the Rose Bowl, before the plus-one game. And maybe you would fall into other political shadiness, like this: The Fiesta (Big 12), Orange (ACC), and Sugar (SEC) all have conference tie-ins, but the Big East is a free agent of sorts, and their champion can be selected by any BCS bowl depending on how the other selections go. Under the “pure” (as Mandel calls it) or “unseeded” (as I call it) plus-one system, we could have a scenario where #1 West Virginia is available to the Orange Bowl, but the Orange Bowl folks are getting pressure from the Big East and the BCS to pass on WVU, since #2 Virginia Tech is already automatically slotted in the Orange. So what happens there? Which politicians prevail? In the scenario above, the Orange Bowl could theoretically be forced to pass up a 1 vs. 2 match up in favor of #2 Virginia Tech vs. #10 Hawaii (or some other stinker).

Since the only bowl with two automatic bids is the Rose Bowl, the other bowls would be crazy to sign on for any sort of system that allows the Rose Bowl a 1 vs. 2 game in the “semi-final” round while denying such a game to all other bowls, as in the WVU-VT scenario above. This is just one of many potential sticking points that I've yet to see discussed, even though we’ve been talking about a plus-one for about 5 years now!

It would be great if we could go to a “seeded” plus-one, which would help minimize or eliminate the political factors. But the Rose Bowl would almost certainly not sign off on that, since it would mean more non-traditional bowl pairings, as discussed above. And when you read stuff like this:
Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said last summer that a plus-one would be grounds for his conference pulling out of the BCS. Ohio State president Gordon Gee said in mid-December that a playoff would have to be "pried out of my cold, dead hands."
… well, that just makes you realize that things aren’t likely to change any time soon. And as a fan of college football, that just stinks. I'd rather have Michigan be forced to play three road games at on-campus locations to win the National Championship than continue under the ridiculous system that's currently in place.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A few things about 2008

The first 5 weeks of 2008

It's a mini-tradition of mine to look ahead at each team's upcoming schedule as soon as a season is in the books. Here are some of the non-conference games that caught my eye:

August 30th

Southern Cal @ Virginia
Clemson vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Hawaii @ Florida
Michigan State @ Cal
Tulsa @ Texas Tech
Fresno State @ UCLA
Utah @ Michigan

September 6th

Auburn @ West Virginia
Tennessee @ UCLA
Miami @ Florida
Cincinnati @ Oklahoma
Oregon State @ Penn State

September 13th

Ohio State @ Southern Cal
Michigan @ Notre Dame
Arkansas @ Texas
Oregon @ Purdue
Kansas @ South Florida
Cal @ Maryland
Oklahoma @ Washington
Wisconsin @ Fresno State
Hawaii @ Oregon State
UCLA @ BYU (again)

September 20th

Georgia @ Arizona State
Iowa @ Pitt
Colorado @ Florida State
Miami @ Texas A&M
Boise State @ Oregon
Notre Dame @ Michigan State

September 27th

Virginia Tech @ Nebraska
West Virginia @ Colorado
Purdue @ Notre Dame

Death to all who call them the “Fighting Zookers”

Illinois had a very respectable year, even including the blowout loss against USC in the Rose Bowl. But I think we’ll find out how good they really are next season, when the schedule is a bit tougher, including:
8/30 – vs. Missouri (in St. Louis)
9/27 – @ Penn State
10/4 – @ Michigan
10/25 – @ Wisconsin
11/15 – Ohio State
They also have a potential trap game at home against Iowa on Nov. 1st (between Wisconsin and OSU). The Hawkeyes beat Illinois this past year. So could the Illini be looking at, say, 5 regular season losses? With Rashard Mendenhall going pro, I think Illinois will be taking a step back in 2008.

Speaking of Iowa, they have a fairly easy schedule next season, so a bounce-back should be in order. The Hawkeyes have "as many as 18 total starters" back, according to this extra-early Wikipedia page.

For the people who have never heard of

Here's Michigan’s 2008 Schedule:

8/30 – Utah
9/6 – Miami (OH)
9/13 - @ Notre Dame
9/20 - BYE
9/27 – Wisconsin
10/4 – Illinois (Homecoming)
10/11 – Toledo
10/18 - @ Penn State
10/25 – Michigan State
11/1 - @ Purdue
11/8 - @ Minnesota
11/15 – Northwestern
11/22 - @ Ohio State

In terms of difficulty, that's probably an average Michigan schedule. Is 4 losses the current over/under until the QB situation gets resolved? Steven Threet gotta eat!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Win Won it for Lloyd!

Slow ride... take it easy!This is going to be all over the place, and a lot of it isn’t even about the game itself:

Before I get started…

Raise your hand if you thought “here we go…” after Brandon Minor caught the ball with a foot out of bounds at the 7 yard line to open the game. I was so dispirited about the whole thing that I was actually happy we got a good spot on that play. The close-up showed that he stepped out at the 6.

What a huge win

I’m not talking about a huge win for Carr or the seniors. I’m talking about national perception. Fair or not, Michigan was being viewed as a program that was “slipping.” The losses to OSU, the bowl losses – 3 (maybe 4) straight years of offseason negativity following some disappointing finishes. So to come out and beat a media darling program like Florida, with its “genius” coach and Heisman-winning QB – that is a big win.

Let’s post an incorrect headline and then not back it up with actual info (because we can’t)!

The Express is a free mini-newspaper published by the Washington Post. In today’s edition, one headline on page 13 read “Michigan’s Passing Attack Torches Florida.” Fair enough. Right next to it, another headline read, “Vols Continue SEC’s Dominance Over the Big Ten.” And they wonder why they’re losing subscribers. This is the Washington Post, not the Tuscaloosa News. So, I guess the SEC has “dominated” the Big Ten by going 6-7 against its teams in bowl games over the past 5 seasons? You can make fun of the Jim Delany press release all you want (and deservedly so, especially regarding the academics argument), but the bottom line is that the Big Ten and SEC are generally on par with each other. The numbers don’t lie. Mainstream media: Enough of this crap!

Florida: Lloyd’s second-favorite state?

Michigan was 5-2 under Carr in the Florida bowl games (Outback, Citrus, and Orange). They had 2 wins over Florida (in Florida, remember – a virtual road game for us). And the only losses were to Alabama in Gene Stallings’ last game, and to the 2001 Tennessee team, which was probably a Top-3 team and should have been in the BCS.

Get me that DVD!

Somebody who is smarter than me needs to pass this along to the media folks at U of M. I’m sure they’ve already thought about this, but in case they haven’t: Michigan needs to release a DVD of this game, complete with extras, interviews, locker room speeches, everything. In the past few years, Michigan has sent out a DVD to season ticket holders. A fully-loaded DVD of the Michigan-Florida game would be fitting. I don’t want a season recap (too many low points) – I want a DVD of this game, because you know that ESPN Classic ain’t gonna show it.

Big Ten SPEED kills

1 – TE Carson Butler running down the sidelines like Antonio Gates on the clear.

2 – CB Morgan Trent coming from outside of the frame to track down and tackle super-speedy Florida RB/WR Percy Harvin. This play saved Michigan 7 points, as Florida ended up getting a FG blocked.

3 – WR Mario Manningham reversing field on the entire Gator defense.

A few thoughts on the last few minutes

- The defense at the end of the game was a thing of beauty. That felt and looked like a Michigan defense: 8 plays, 4 yards, zero first downs, sustained pressure, and a bunch of incompletions: Game Over.

- On offense, of course I was one of those people hoping that Lloyd would go for the jugular instead of the last field goal. And in hindsight, it appears he might have tried to. After re-watching our final 3rd-down play a few times, I think that Henne checked into the draw to Minor. My guess is primarily based on this logic: If the draw was the original call, why was Minor in for Hart? In fact, one final Lloyd nitpick: Why was Minor in for Hart under any circumstances?

- After the last FG put us up by 6, I said to my friend Ben, “the boards and the blogs are going to melt down after we lose by 1.” It was a similar situation to OSU 2005, where a first down seals the game but you get the sinking feeling that Lloyd would rather “play it safe.” The difference? In 2005, there was virtually no argument for playing it safe. Against Florida there was a legitimate one, all things considered (score, timeouts, field position, FG kicker, etc.) Thankfully it worked out, because I was ready for Brian’s head to explode. Part of me is convinced that Lopata’s kick was blocked and returned for a TD, and that I’m currently living in some sort of psychotic dream where we won, Lloyd got carried off the field, and snowflakes are actually little bits of vanilla ice cream.


You’ve probably read this AP article somewhere today. I found it funny that the middle-aged white dude who wrote it (Larry Lage) thought they were saying “Lloyd, take off your coat,” instead of clothes. He’s not a DJ Assault fan? Shocking! Anyway, that’s comical stuff and a good article.

This was just a great football game – and isn’t it nice to end the season on a high note for what feels like the first time in forever? Wasn’t it great to see our team playing with passion and intensity (well, except for Minor’s brain fart on the opening kickoff)? A few times I was worried that we’d get flagged for all of the fake gator chomping and post-whistle jostling. Maybe I just should have taken Ron English's approach: "(Bleep) that! We're doing it for Coach Carr!" They did it, alright. Hail to the Victors!

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