Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Regular Season Rushing Success

As I did for the preseason, and as prep work for a post on Total Titans that will be going up tomorrow (Tuesday), it's time to run rushing success numbers for the Titans:

BackWeekCarriesYardsSuccess Rate
White1154040.0%
2185950.0%
3164943.8%
4111336.4%
Tot.6016143.3%
Johnson1159340.0%
21910942.1%
3167437.5%
4176152.9%
Tot.6733743.3%
Hall23966.7%
31199.9%
Tot.41075.0%
TEAM13013340.0%
24017747.5%
33312442.4%
4287446.4%
Tot.13150844.3%


Analysis will come in the Total Titans piece when it goes up. The most interesting pieces are the situational information. Preview for that: Johnson's numbers suggest he's worse than he is because he gets a lot of the bad situations.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Total Titans

My first post in what I hope to be a weekly series, Player Game Analysis, is now up over at Total Titans. It's a detailed look at LT Michael Roos's game against the Texans, hopefully in the model of the Football Outsiders column Cover-3, formerly Every Play Counts. The first entry certainly isn't up to that level, but I'll see what I can do in the future. Feedback is appreciated.

UPDATE (9/28/08 1946 CT): Woo, I groveled my way into a FO Extra Point. Thanks, Bill!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Miscellanea

Been a while since I've done this, and I have a ton of links. I'll spread these out into a couple posts.

Bob Daive, of all people, with a useful piece on what is zone blocking.

Roger Rex's plan for a longer regular season: just another example of being in bed with the deep pocketed owners? Per Roger Rex, it could happen as soon as 2010. I have a really bad feeling about the future of the NFL, starting in 2010.

The best players by team since 1950, AFC edition, using PFR's AV statistic. Eddie George ranks ahead of Earl Campbell. See also the NFC.

Stuff that would never happen today: the Texas coaching staff taught Oklahoma the wishbone.

Fun story from Andrew Brandt of Ahman Green and how he ended up a Texan. Green Bay definitely has the college style of love for players that I just criticized Nashville for.

How the Redskins hired their defensive coordinator, from Mike Wise of the WaPo. Excellent reporting, assuming it's, y'know, true.

Biz of Football interviewed Andrew Brandt about National Football Post and some of the financial issues in the NFL these days.

Draft yapping: a preseason look at top prospects on offense and defense.

More hatred for Roger Rex: bad timing on a suspension.

Credit where credit is due: Music City Miracles scored an interview with Jeff Diamond.

Finally, since I can't leave a competitor the last word, thoughts on the passing of Gene Upshaw from Andrew Brandt.

Total Titans

I have a post on on last weekend's trip to Nashville. I also did, but didn't note here some preview thoughts for last weekend's game, and a post on the Titans' starting quarterback. Some thoughts on fandom that I decided not to put in the post on Nashville:

The Auburn grad referenced in the post noted that Titans games have more of a college-type environment. Not really having been to any big-time college games, I can't really comment on that, but the profusion of the Pro Bowl jerseys, which I've always regarded as stupid gimmicks, struck me as somewhat illustrative of a broader attitude. In my attitude to games, I try not to treat NFL and college players the same-the demands, rewards, and expectations are necessarily harsher on NFL players. College players, I criticize on here, but I try to temper that criticism, keep it relatively impersonal and reasonable. NFL players, though, deserve no such leniency. Nashville, Tennessee, the Mid-South region that's home to the Titans-that's college football country. They're still fundamentally college football fans-the Auburn guy recognized it, and I recognize it. There's a certain ruthlessness, a lack of sentimentality required in being a true pro sports fan-a recognition that players come and go. Nashville, though, doesn't have this mentality. Take, for example, last Sunday. Before the game, Kevin Dyson was honored.

Now, Dyson was involved in two of the most memorable plays in franchise history-Home Run Throwback, and getting tackled at the 1, but he's better known around the league as "the guy taken ahead of Randy Moss," and that's not selling Dyson's career short. He had a couple memorable plays, but was never a particularly good nor productive NFL wideout. And he got a really nice ovation, and he's not the only guy. Eddie, another hero. McNair, another local hero. The love for Wycheck is even worse, but let's go back to Dyson. If the Titans had taken the flier on Moss, I don't think it's crazy to suggest they could easily have won at least 1, and possibly as many as 3 Super Bowls, yet freakin' Dyson gets a really nice ovation without ever being a key part of a particularly good pass offense. It just doesn't make sense, unless you think of it as a college team. A college player's career only lasts a couple season, and a season can easily be defined by a couple key plays, much more so than in the NFL. Van Tiffin is still a household name in Alabama for a kick to win the Iron Bowl, and who cares if he was a mediocre kicker for his career. That's what a college career is. For pro teams, though, you need a better idea of what is, and isn't, actually good, and Dyson was never good. The media can be soft on players everywhere, and is, but the fans, well, fans aren't always nice. I'm not saying they need to be Philly fans, but a little ruthlessness is a good thing, and Tennesseans don't seem to have it. Maybe this speaks highly of them and less so of me, maybe this will change as the Titans begin what is really the second era in Nashville, but it's an attitude that just seems wrong to me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thoughts on College Football: Week Four

Better late than never, that's my motto. Thoughts on Week 4:

Louisville 38 - Kansas State 29
Wow, this game was a week ago, and not very memorable. The rest of the Big 12 seems to have caught up to and passed the Wildcats, as a previously moribund Louisville offense was able to put up a ton of points. Naturally, this came not on the arm of "star" senior QB Hunter Cantwell, but on over 300 yards rushing. I've started feeling sorry for K-State QB Josh Freeman, and not just because he goes to school in Manhattan.

Colorado 17 - West Virginia 14
I take back anything non-derogatory I've ever thought about West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. He's the worst hire in the past 5 years at any level of football, and not even the talents of Pat White and Noel Devine have been able to make up for his deficiencies.

NC State 30 - East Carolina 24
I don't know what it is, but NC State suddenly started looking like a real football team. East Carolina also provided an object lesson in the difference between a mid-major team (even the best aren't normally that great) and a BCS school-the level of competition on a weekly basis matters.

Virginia Tech 20 - North Carolina 17
Stupid quarterback injury. The Tar Heels were up
T.J. Yates was injured, and Mike Paulus, younger brother of the Duke basketball player, came in. Paulus lived up to the quality implied in his last name (i.e., he sucked).

Michigan State 23 - Notre Dammit 7
Thankfully, Notre Dame went back to losing. I was grateful.

Florida 30 - Tennessee 6
I was glad I stayed in my hotel room in Nashville to see this, as the Vol fans were mighty disappointed in this result. One said in the airport bar on Sunday that the Florida fans stopped mocking them toward the end of the game-probably because Tennessee no longer seems like a serious threat to Florida in the SEC East.

Texas 52 - Rice 10
I only caught a couple minutes of this game, and then glimpses of the rest of it was I was watching the later games. This was a clear mismatch, exactly what Longhorn fans were hoping to see.

Wake Forest 12 - Florida State 3
Florida State offense: still offensive. Not much to say about this game.

LSU 26 - Auburn 21
Auburn's offense was better than I expected-I thought their absolute max was 14, plus a defensive score, and they hit that exactly with 21 including 7 on a pick-6. If LSU had good quarterbacking, this game wouldn't have been as close as it was. As is, I'm not sure that Andrew Hatch knows where he is yet, and I still think Jarret Lee is as likely to throw the game-killing interception (see this game, 1st half) as pick up a key completion (this game, 2nd half).

Georgia 27 - Arizona State 10
Just to put this result into perspective, Arizona State had lost the previous week to UNLV. No, not to Jerry Tarkanian's basketball team. To its football team. Coached by whoever the coach is (Mike Sanford, apparently). That said, freshman WR A.J. Green looks like a real player, though most all of his damage was done in the first half.

I'll be at home this week, so the possibility exists for more interesting game watching, but the early slate of games is mostly mediocre. Three ranked matchups later in the day, headed by Alabama-Georgia, should make for a pleasant evening, though.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thoughts on College Football: Week Three

Week 3 of the 2008 college football season is in the books, which means it's time for another installment of Tom's thoughts on the college football games he watched some (generally, at least 5 minutes) of.

North Carolina 44 - Rutgers 12
The bloom is definitely off the rose that was Greg Schiano's coaching career. Craig James kept talking about how Schiano was such a good defensive coach. Evidence of that has been almost completely lacking of late. In particular, the safeties are incredibly awful. Ever since the upset win against unbeaten Louisville in 2006, Rutgers has been on a fairly consistent downward spiral, to about the level of Glen Mason's Minnesota teams.

South Florida 37 - Kansas 34
For my money, the best game of the weekend. This was a real back-and-forth contest, as KU went up early, USF battled back to take the lead, KU tied the game at 34, then was driving for the winning score when USF intercepted and returned the ball to set up the game-winning FG as time expired. I liked Kansas last year, and was excited to see them play, so the result was a disappointing one for me. Here's what I saw:
1. Todd Reesing is probably the best QB in the country if you're not allowed to throw the ball more than 10 yards downfield. He's incredibly accurate on short passes, and is even excellent with placement.
2. Reesing's arms look like mine. I hardly ever work out, and when I do it's cardio, not lift. The lack of arm strength showed on the key interception-the ball just took too long to get 25 yards downfield and was a little underthrown to boot.
3. It's a good thing Reesing doesn't aspire to playing in the NFL, because he doesn't have a future as an NFL quarterback. I love the guy, but he just doesn't.
4. Kansas needs Anthony Collier back. The USF defensive ends, George Selvie in particular, were just destroying the Jayhawk offensive tackles all night.
5. Kansas needs Aqib Talib back-they simply don't have enough talent, and in particular speed, on defense. KU also failed to catch Matt Grothe's attempted gift-wrapped interceptions in the first half, which ultimately helped cost them the game.

Illinois 20 - Louisiana-Lafayette 17
Fodder for my belief the Illini aren't nearly as good this year as a #24 ranking and the hype they've received would support.

Maryland 35 - Cal 27
I missed Cal's 4th quarter heroics, so to me this was a 28-6 game. It looked about like that, too, as the Twerps vastly outplayed the Bears in the first half. Blame an early start and traveling 3 time zones if you like, but the Bears just didn't have it early in the game. Then again, maybe they're not nearly as good as we think they might be.

BYU 59 - UCLA 0
Wow, what should we think of Tennessee after this game? I know the Vols beat UAB, 35-3, this weekend, but this was an impressive shellacking by the Cougars.

Oregon 32 - Purdue 26 (2OT)
I missed the third quarter of this game, when Oregon made their comeback from a halftime deficit. Purdue was dominating this game early, shredding the Oregon defense, but that stopped. PU was up 20-6 at the half, but UO was nearly even in things like yards and time of possession. I don't really know what to think about either of these teams-Curtis Painter still doesn't look like an NFL QB to me, and Oregon is just, uh, I don't know, I've never been able to figure them out.

Notre Dame 35 - Michigan 17
You know that Michigan defense that was supposed to be pretty good this year? Uh, yeah, forget about that. Right now, my Golden Domer hatred outweighs my ability to give them any credit. I'm also trying to limit my sadism, so I'm resisting the urge to laugh at Charlie Weis for getting injured.

Georgia 14 - South Carolina 7
This was a much less impressive performance against the Gamecocks than that turned in by Vanderbilt last week. I don't know if Spurrier is continuing the hex he had over the Dawgs, but they never seem to play well against him. They didn't lose like they did last year, but SC fumbled in the 4th quarter going into the end zone and was intercepted near the goalline at the end of the game. One of these weeks, I need to pay close attention to a Georgia game so I can get a good read on Matt Stafford and refine my opinion of him as an NFL quarterback. He had one simply marvelous, #1 pick-type throw, but finished the game averaging under 10 yards per completion. He's also not a read-option quarterback.

Auburn 3 - Mississippi State 2
No, that score is not a typo. Auburn got some crazy levels of hype from SEC fans this year, based solely on "OMG Tommy Tuberville always has a really good team even if he pulls it all out of his ass". The Tiger offense this game, though, made you yearn for the days of Brandon Cox. Yes, I do remember he once completed as many passes to Georgia as he did to his own teammates. The only consolation is that Mississippi State's offense was, if possible, even worse. The Bulldogs' longest play through 58 minutes was 13 yards, and they failed to convert on 3rd down a single time for the entire game. The key strategic decision was going for it on 4&15 just on the Auburn side of the field rather than trying to punt the ball and pin Auburn deep in hopes of obtaining another safety. Yeah, it was that kind of game.

Oklahoma 55 - Washington 14
Oklahoma is much, much, much, MUCH better than Washington. Not a surprise, of course, but this was an absolute shellacking. Tough to get much of a read on Oklahoma, as they were mostly content to run the ball. Easy thing to do when your running backs are getting 5 yards downfield without being touched.

USC 35 - Ohio State 3
An anticipated game, but one that didn't live up to its billing. USC just dominated the Buckeyes in all phases of the game. Ohio State has a bunch of problems, a couple personnel related and a couple related to coaching. The personnel ones are (i) the lack of a big-play threat on offense, ever since the departure of Ted Ginn, and (ii) the lack of an elite edge rusher. Gholston served that purpose last year, but they don't have anybody this year. They'd be a much better team with a guy like the aforementioned George Selvie. Oh, btw, Todd Boeckman still sucks.

Wisconsin 13 - Fresno State 10
Fresno State hits its wheelhouse again, losing a game it easily could have won to a BCS team. I think Wisconsin's QB slide continues, as Stocco > Donovan > Everage. P.J. Hill is also fairly unimpressive in a Ron Dayne-style bruising way. Fresno's senior QB at least didn't seem to make all the senior mistakes Paul Pinegar did, but, man, their wideouts really are WAC-caliber players. FSU was also the beneficiary of some hometown replay reviews, most notably an early 4th quarter fumble that was somehow ruled an incomplete pass.

I know these game recaps probably aren't up to my usual, or perhaps aspired-to, standard, but I wanted to get them in tonight while the memories are relatively fresh, plus I'm tired. Writing blog posts with your eyes closed is something that makes you grateful for being a touch typist. With that, that's all on this week. I'll be out of town next weekend, but will probably watch a fair bit of college football anyway and post about it on my return.

UPDATE (9/15/08 0027 CT): Inspiration for this Doc Saturday's take.

Total Titans

I have a couple posts up at Total Titans: I asked questions of MVN's Bengals blogger, and replied to his questions about the Titans. I also finally got around to a long-ish post on Vince Young, though without the links I thought I might include.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Total Titans

Have you cost your employer almost $600,000 lately? Somebody in the Titans front office did, as my recent post on Total Titans describes.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Chris Simms Signing

Since Total Titans is down right now, here's a post that was going to go there and will go up whenever I can put it up...

Chris Simms will be the newest member of the Tennessee Titans, assuming he passes a physical tomorrow. Simms missed out on the Buccaneers' quarterback derby in the preseason, and last appeared in a regular season game in Week 3 of the 2006 season, when he finished the game despite a major spleen injury.

Simms played in the 3 of Tampa Bay's preseason games this year, completing 19 of 30 for 155 yards and 1 interception. While I'm confident Kerry Collins can be serviceable, if he gets hurt before VY recovers or has aged precipitously, it's difficult to know exactly what to expect from Simms given how much time he's spent on the bench. This move qualifies as at least a minor surprise, given the Titans had Ingle Martin on their practice squad. Once the Titans called Simms and had him flown out of Kansas City, though, the Chiefs went ahead and signed Martin. Simms does, however, continue the pipeline from Austin to Nashville that's brought to the Titans Ahmard Hall, Bo Scaife, and Michael Griffin in addition to VY.

It's unclear right now how the Titans will clear a roster space for Simms' signing. While Andrew speculated OT Michael Otto would be the first one cut, I expect RB Quinton Ganther or LB Colin Allred to be the player to go.

Did anybody see Chris Simms play in the 2008 preseason? Why would the Titans sign an unfamiliar play like Simms who has to be rusty over somebody like Martin who knows at least some of the playbook? Who should make way for Simms on the 53-man roster?

UPDATE (9/9/08, 2337 CT): Total Titans is back up, so this post is now there.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Thoughts on College Football: Week Two

Week 2 of the college football season is almost in the books, so it's time for another weekend's worth of thoughts. Not as many games this week, thanks to channel lethargy and a lack of compelling matchups.

Vanderbilt 24 - South Carolina 17
I missed most of this game watching the NFL season opener, but, yeesh, South Carolina sure wasn't impressive at all. In particular, the vaunted defense looked mediocre. Looked like a couple mediocre teams.

Ohio State 26 - Ohio 14
Good defense (7 points on a fumble by Boeckman on a sack following a bad snap near the goalline), mediocre offense (last 7 points came on a punt return). This looked like a game without Clarett from 2002-think the 23-19 game against Cincinnati. The biggest surprise of this game, for me, was how mediocre the receivers looked. Jenkins, Holmes, Ginn, Gonzalez-these guys were very good or better college wideouts, with serious NFL-type athleticism. A scouting profile I read of Robiskie had him projected as a 5th-6th round pick, though, and he looked it today. Hartline's maybe a couple rounds higher, but not a #1 pick like the guys I listed earlier were.

Michigan 16 - Miami-OH 6
You know why you don't see more upsets of BCS teams? It's because the non-BCS teams, to be honest, suck. Miami's projected as the #2 team in the MAC East by Phil Steele, but that doesn't mean they're very good.

BYU 28 - Washington 27
Two teams that looked surprisingly even-not a great sign for BYU's BCS hopes, but they did what they needed to do in winning. Controversial ending to this game, as Locker tosses the ball well into the air after scoring the TD to get to 28-27 with :02 left. Unsportsmanlike conduct is called, of course, as that's a violation this year, and BYU blocks the potential game-tying PAT.

Notre Dame 21 - San Diego State 13
Notre Dame's better than San Diego State, but didn't look all that much better. The Aztecs had played, albeit in a loss to Cal Poly-SLO, which may explain some of that, but that's still not an encouraging sign for the Irish. ND's +8 yard pass attack seemed to consist mostly of jump balls/fades to not particularly tall players, which strikes me as not particularly wise, even if it is a relatively common college strategy.

Wake Forest 30 - Ole Miss 28
Is Ole Miss actually ... competent? Jevon Snead, transfer from Texas, had a surprisingly good game, and the Deacons needed a last-second field goal by Sam Swank to come away with a win. The Rebels had a good game against Florida last year, and may be a team to keep an eye on this year. Wake's offense looked ok enough, and may have the ACC's 2 best non-conference wins so far. Well, ok, last week was Baylor, so I'll just limit that to 2 BCS wins.

East Carolina 24 - West Virginia 3
Let the Bill Stewart Watch begin! Pat White, Noel Devine, and you score 3 points against East Carolina? VaTech was getting out lynch mobs after scoring 22 on the Pirates last week, and a team with some talented players can't get into the end zone? Awful, awful, awful. And this wasn't an undeserved result-from what I saw, ECU really did outplay the Mountaineers as much as the score would indicate.

Texas A & M 28 - New Mexico 22
I missed the last comeback (stopped flipping in at 28-10), so I can't say anything about that. What I saw was commensurate with the 28-10 lead, TAMU simply a much more talented team than the Lobos. See above re Miami-Michigan.

South Florida 31 - UCF 24 (OT)
USF annoys me-they're relatively recent in their rise to prominence, are pretty good, then do totally stupid things. QB Matt Grothe does this-scrambles away, and then throws a pass into triple coverage or takes an even worse sack (he had a howler into 2 defenders and 0 WRs). The Bulls shoot themselves in the foot with penalties. Jim Leavitt butchered the clock and the endgame situation-this game should never have gone to overtime. I want to like this team, but I just can't. UCF-let me know when you can complete a pass downfield with any degree of reliability. AFTER throwing the game-typing TD pass, the QB was 17/32 for 150 yards. 8.8 yards per completion, 4.7 yards per attempt-that won't cut it.

Florida 26 - Miami-FL 3
The Gators with 17 4th quarter points, including a field goal with 25 seconds left, to make the margin look better than it was. If Miami was any good, they could easily have won this game. If UF plays like they did tonight, they'll lose at 3 games this year. Oh, that field goal with :25 left? The line was UF by 21.5, so it resulted in a cover. UF could have just run the clock out, but Saint Urban had to appease the fanbase as well.

Texas 42 - UTEP 13
The Mike Price Watch is probably on, as UTEP never looked particularly competitive after ESPN2 switched to this game after the end of USF-UCF. The "best" moment was when Price opted to attempt a 65 yard field goal down 14-6. The field goal was short, and Texas player Quan Cosby was apparently the only player on the field who realized the kick was short and he could return it, as he was able to get to the Miner 30 on the return.

AND that's all I saw enough of to say anything about this week. Not quite the remote control overload of last week, but I still have another day of football to go. I don't plan to start doing posts like this for NFL games, though.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Total Titans

Another day, another post on Total Titans. This one is why the Titans won't win 10 games in 2008. My prediction: 8-8. I didn't include this, because I don't like to predict records, but here's how I see the AFC South in 2008:

IND 12-4
JAX 10-6
HOU 9-7
TEN 8-8

I expect JAX to take one wild card slot, #5 overall, and HOU to battle DEN, NYJ, and the 2nd place team in the North for the second wild card.

Total Titans

I have a preview of the Indianapolis Colts up on Total Titans. Bottom line: 12-4 and still tops in the AFC South. As a Titans fan, I'd much prefer to play the Colts earlier in the year than the end of October, as the offensive line should be in much better shape then.

I should also have a preview of the Titans' 2008 season up at Total Titans tomorrow evening, though I may put it in the can for another day.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Thoughts on College Football: Week One

Thoughts on Week 1 of the 2008 college football season. See, as always, SMQ's more cogent thoughts.

Rice 56 - SMU 27
I watched this Friday night thriller primarily because (i) I missed Thursday's CFB action because of the trip to Green Bay, (ii) I was quite tired after a long week of work and wanted to just veg out, and (iii) I was interested to see how June Jones did in his new coaching job. So far, about all I can definitively say is that SMU isn't very good. I picked this game up late in the second quarter, after SMU's intiial onslaught, and saw very little to make me think the Mustangs will return to any of their glory at any time soon. The offense was intermittently productive against a non-elite Owl defense, while the defense showed hardly any other signs of life against Rice's offense. Now, the Owls will probably win like 8 games and go to a lesser bowl, primarily because of their offense, but the nearly-complete absence of good plays by SMU's defense should still be cause for concern.

LSU 41 - Appalachian State 13
With this game being moved because of Hurricane Gustav, we got an early look at whether or not the Mountaineers had a chance of repeating their 2007-opening upset of Michigan. The Tigers quickly answered that question-demonstrating their physical and football superiority early in a way the Wolverines had not been able to. Appy State may still be a I-AA national championship contender, but the early returns show they haven't yet been able to reload around Armanti Edwards.

Ohio State 43 - Youngstown State 0
Like LSU's game against Appy State, a glorified practice against a far-outclassed opponent. The most serious news out of this game of course is Beanie Wells' injury, which thankfully looks like it won't be serious enough to negatively impact his game for the showdown Sept. 13 against USC. The second-biggest story is the play of Terrell Pryor. He looked good-wasn't asked to do much in the passing game, but he was accurate for what he was asked to do. He scrambled well. The Penguins are a pretty good, but not great, I-AA team, so it's tough to say what that means against a competent team. If USC beats Ohio State, then I expect Pryor to be starting c. the end of September against Minnesota. If the Buckeyes win, they'll probably stick to a Florida c. 2006 rotation of Boeckman and Pryor.

Northwestern 30 - Syracuse 10
Wow, Syracuse is bad. I mean, really bad. Northwestern struggled early, more than you'd like against a team like the Orange, but eventually righted the ship. Bonus: the score at one point was SU 3 - Cats 2.

East Carolina 27 - Virginia Tech 22
I know this was the "best" of the early games, but I don't enjoy watching Virginia Tech play so I didn't see much of this game. From what I did see, the Hokies will struggle on offense all year. Redshirting Tyrod Taylor probably isn't a bad idea, tempting though it may be to play him this year, simply because the wideouts and running backs are unproven and not of the OMG Shirtless variety.

USC 52 - Virginia 7
Can we get this out of the way? Virginia sucks. Virginia under Al Groh has never been a good team, and will never be a good team. I don't understand why this is so-some of their players aren't too bad, as recent high draft picks Chris Long, Branden Albert, and D'Brickashaw Ferguson attest, but whenever they play another team with high draft picks, they get pounded, and so it was again on Saturday.

Utah 25 - Michigan 23
Michigan is, to me, the most interesting of the non-potentially-elite teams in college football this year. They're facing a level of talent exodus similar to that Notre Dame faced last year, while at the same time trying to implement a new offensive system, and without the OMG Shirtless recruit (ND had Jimmah Clausen, the aforementioned Pryor chose the Buckeyes). The Wolverine offense looked just as bad as you'd expect-the 23 points all came off the defense and special teams giving the offense a short field. The Wolverine defense was supposed to be pretty good. For the first half, though, that supposed defensive quality was almost altogether absent, as the Utes moved the ball up and down the field almost as well until they got to the red zone. With a little better luck, the Utes win the game by 3 scores even with the Wolverines' late comeback.

Oklahoma State 39 - Washington State 13
I kept forgetting about this game, only checking on it sporadically. The upshot was it's going to be another long year in Pullman. The Cougars simply aren't very good. The Cowboys had a much slower start than I expected, 3 in the first quarter and 15 in the first half.

TCU 26 - New Mexico 3
I saw about 2 minutes of this game, enough to see that New Mexico wasn't good enough to give TCU much of a challenge, and promptly completely ignored the rest of this game.

Louisiana Tech 22 - Mississippi State 13
The prime viewing time for this game, after the Utah-Michigan conclusion and before the prime time games, became my designated Saturday break from viewing. I did see a couple minutes of this, mostly late, but LaTech didn't look any worse that the Men of Croom. I want Mississippi State to be good, and Croom to show up Alabama for not hiring him, but the Bulldogs don't look like they'll be very good.

Minnesota 31 - Northern Illinois 27
Another game I only saw a couple minutes of. The Gophers aren't much better than the Huskies-not a surprise, but disappointing to Gopher fans. I'll have to talk to my designated Minnesota contact tomorrow to get a better read on this game.

Alabama 34 - Clemson 10
According to ESPN's coverage map, this game was supposed to be on WLS-TV 7 in the Chicago area. It wasn't. I was not pleased.

Cal 38 - Michigan State 31
This was the game on ABC in the Chicago area instead. Neither team is expected to be particularly great. The score is probably deceptively close, as I thought Cal had clearly the better of the play. MSU's defense is still lacking-somewhat surprising, given Dantonio's reputation as a defensive mastermind and his success as DC for Ohio State in their 2002 national championship season.

Mizzou 52 - Illinois 42
I'm not looking forward to going to work tomorrow, in part simply because I'll have to hear about how Juice Williams is so much improved as a passer. If by "improved," my interlocutors mean "can throw deep jump balls", then I'll agree with them. If they mean "able to throw the ball accurately and timely", then we'll just have to be at loggerheads. Like the Rose Bowl, I never thought Illinois had a particularly serious chance to win this game, though I'm confident my interlocutors will disagree.

Oregon 44 - Washington 10
I feel bad for UW QB Jake Locker. With a competent team around him, he'd be one of the most exciting players in the country to watch, and would be a darkhorse candidate for the H-----n. Alas, he plays for Ty Willingham and the Huskies, which means his receivers can't catch, his running backs can't run, his offensive line can't block, and his defense can't stop anybody. Still, with the decline of Hawaii, he represents the best hope for interesting late night college football watching.

Kentucky 27 - Louisville 2
Steve Kragthorpe looks like the worst hire since Bill Callahan at Nebraska. Louisville's offense has completely disintegrated, and the defense has lost all delusions of competence. I believe Hunter Cantwell was at one point touted as a likely first round draft pick and could be #1 overall. Never likely, of course, but after 20 of 43 for 152 yards and 3 INTs, he's looking at an Andre' Woodson-esque precipitous fall.

Colorado 38 - Colorado State 17
This is never a particularly good game, particularly lately, but I admit to having a soft spot for it, as it's the only major college football game I've ever attended in person, back when the Buffaloes ran all over CSU in 2001. A boring game, mostly, but redeemed by back-to-back second quarter kickoff returns.

Fresno State 24 - Rutgers 7
Another game I picked up in the third quarter. What most surprised me about this game is Rutgers' defense. It wasn't that long ago the Scarlet Knights (as of October) had a very outside shot at appearing in a national championship game behind the running of Ray Rice and a good defense that keyed an upset of Louisville. Now, though, the defense has work to do-the Bulldogs' first TD was set up by a breakdown in pass defense, another was set up by more poor pass defense, and they were also able to gash the defense for big runs in the 4th quarter. Offensively, Mike Teel was unable to make enough plays in the pass game to make up for Rice's absence.

I'll probably be back later tonight with thoughts on UCLA-Tennessee.

UPDATE (9/4/08 0010 CT): Ah, finally an update...
UCLA 27 - Tennessee 24 (OT)
What's either fun or incredibly aggravating about college football, or both, based on your perspective, is the wild swings in performance you see. This game presented a good example of that. In the first half, UCLA QB Kevin Craft was 7 of 18 for 66 yards and 4 INTs, 3 of which I called when he threw the ball. That's ridiculously atrocious. In the second half, though, he somehow stopped throwing the ball to the other team, and started throwing the ball to his own team. Tennessee really should have won this game-they ran the ball fairly successfully most of the game, but kept having Jonathan Crompton stand in the pocket and try to throw the ball. Dumb, dumb, dumb strategy. Plus, Fulmer kept trying 50+ field goals-this may be an ok strategy, and the kicker has the leg for it, but he kept missing them. It's this "Maroon Zone" where going for it is a perfectly acceptable option. The Vols lost the game on a missed field goal in overtime, when a kick from the left hash didn't curve nearly enough to make it through the uprights. Poor strategy.

It's tough to know what to make of either of these teams-I think Tennessee's defense is better than "giving up 24 points to UCLA", and 7 of these came off a blocked punt, and they can run the ball successfully. But, Crompton can't do for them the positive things Erik Ainge did last year, and unless and until they realize that, it could be a long year. For UCLA, well, I have no idea. If Craft plays like he does in the first half, it'll be a long year for Rick Neuheisel in Westwood. If he plays like he did the second half, they'll probably win a few games-not that he was great, but he made some plays and wasn't a liability, and that's frequently enough in the realm of the unpaid.

Book Review: Pro Football Prospectus 2008

It's difficult for me to objectively review Pro Football Prospectus 2008 by Aaron Schatz and the rest of the people at Football Outsiders. After all, I am thanked by name, as I was in the 2007 edition, for the poorly-compensated labor I provided to them as a game charter. They also published a book review I did, and I've contributed to both the 1995 and ongoing 1994 PBP transcription projects. Not much of a surprise, given it was earlier today I wrote a post using one of FO's methods, but just so you know what you're getting.

As the existence of a prior book (or prior books, as the case may actually be) and a year in the title would indicate, PFP is an annual publication. The context in 2008, as with the previous editions, is primarily a look at what each team did in 2007 and what we can expect from them in 2008, complete with FO's advanced stats for defensive players and tendency information, much of it gleaned from the game charting project, that you simply can't get from any other publicly available source. There's just way too much good stuff in each team's profile for me to summarize it successfully.

The book also contains FO's projections for the upcoming season. The most interesting of these are the team projections, which will also go up on the site in their final form on Wednesday, before Thursday's season-opening. The most controversial of these is probably that Baltimore will win the AFC North thanks to an improved defense. I'll just say I'm skeptical. I'm less so that Green Bay will probably be pretty good again, and that Houston has a good chance to finish ahead of the Titans and take the second AFC wild card slot.

The book also, of course, contains projections for all of the offensive "skill position" (aka fantasy) players. Alas, this is one of my bigger quibbles: a team's section includes an analysis of it overall, its offensive, its strategic tendencies, its offensive line, its defensive front seven, its defensive secondary, special teams, and coaching, but not its quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends. To see what FO thinks these players will do, you have to flip to the respective section in the back of the book. I know why FO does it this way-to make it easier for fantasy football players, but as a non-fantasy player, it's ridiculously annoying to have to flip pages 8 times to see what FO thinks of Tennessee's offensive skill position players.

In addition to the 2008-specific info, there are brief essays that focus on more general subjects. Sometimes these are good and interesting-Will Carroll's piece on painkillers and Rob Pitzer's essay on wide receiver body types particularly stand out in this year's edition. Others, though, are more lackluster-see, for instance, Bill Barnwell's piece on running back "Speed Score," which helpfully predicted LaDainian Tomlinson, Justin Fargas, Ronnie Brown, and Chris Henry to be good NFL players and Travis Henry, Lamar Gordon, Brian Westbrook, and Brian Calhoun wouldn't be very good. There are also pieces in some of the team chapters looking at something that applies to that particular team-bad special teams games in a past book, or the running back "breather effect" and specifically what we can expect from Michael Turner in this year's Atlanta chapter. These are generally better than the essays at the back of the book, though of less general relevance.

Another nit: a particularly close observer of a team will almost certainly find at least two things that are wrong about their team. This is, alas, unavoidable when you have people other than a particularly close observer of a particular team writing about that team. As I realized about five or six years ago, it's simply too hard for somebody to keep perfect track of more than one team, or possibly two at the outside.

For reviews by people are who less biased than I, see Yakuza Rich and John Morgan. On Morgan's review, see particularly the long comment at the end of his post by FO's Doug Farrar. I'll also second Morgan's compliments toward the writing of Doug Farrar and Mike Tanier in particular. One general point that is worth noting is that all of FO's work, both that which appears in PFP's various incarnations, must be read "in the context of everything else." There's simply too much going on in a football game that's interdependent to make definitive statements the way you can with a simple game like baseball. If you can't get over that, there's not much point in buying PFP or even reading FO's work, and you're the worse for it.

Preseason Rushing Success Rate

I posted the Success Rate table a couple weeks ago, and have updated it with the results of the two more recent games, but it's time for some more comprehensive thoughts on Success Rate.

One thing I didn't do is link to the article that explains what exactly success rate is. The basic problem is that raw yardage stats suck, because the point of getting yards in football is not to be able to get yards, but to reach the goal. The most proximate goal is to get another first down, or to improve your chances of getting a first down. A carry is a success if it results in a first down or an increased chance of getting a first down, and a failure if it's not. Now, in what I'm giving you, success rate is a binary calculation. A more nuanced view is appropriate, but I'm not going to replicate DVOA, or even just VOA.

I feel dumb posting the same thing twice, so I won't re-post the chart I linked above, but will make the following observations:
  • Unsurprisingly, running became harder as the preseason went on. The Titans ran the ball best against mostly the Rams scrubs Week 1, and worst against the Falcons starters Week 3.

  • One of the biggest concerns is the absence of big plays in the running game as the preseason went on. It's not in the table, but the Titans had 8 runs of 10+ yards against the Rams, 6 against the Raiders, then 0 against the Falcons and 1 against the Packers. Consistent success is valuable in part because it's hard to do, and the nice thing about big plays is they mean you don't have to have consistent success.

  • Contra the trend above, Chris Johnson's success rate went up each week. Note, though, that his YPC also went down each week. Maybe a good sign, maybe not.

  • Each Titans rush on 1st and <10 was a success in the preseason. On 1&10, the Titans overall had a 51.8% Success Rate.

  • One of the Titans' big problem areas was 2&long. On 2&4 or more, the Titans' success rate was only 19%. On 2&3 or less, it was 78%.

  • On 3&long(5+), the Titans threw the ball every time. The only exception was a give-up draw on 3&24 against the Rams. When they did run the ball on 3rd down, though, the Titans were successful-67% on 3&4 or less, 78% on 3&2 or 3&1.