Curator & Coach - Week 1
We are excited to once again be offering our flagship publication at ABG CFB, Curator and Coach. We'll once again be presenting our weekly preview and giving some commentary on the progression of the season. We start this season of C & C by discussing a few teams we are excited or at least interested to see this year. These may be up and coming, or in transition, or in some other way they have our attention.
Thanks for reading along.
Football in the Trenches
At ABG CFB, we like to pride ourselves that we take a bit of a different approach to the coverage of the game. You can turn on ESPN or even your nightly news and see plenty of running backs reaching the end zone, quarterbacks throwing a frozen rope downfield to a fleet-footed receiver who carries it in for 6, and even crafty defensive ends who swim and sweep their way to a sack and then a celebratory dance. What you don't see is what makes the first two happen and prevents the third one from happening every play.
There is an amazing fact about football. On defense, you can arrange and distribute your 11 players however you wish, as long as they are all on the field at the right time. On offense, you can opt to have five receivers or no receivers. You can run a full house backfield, or empty it. You don't even have to have a true quarterback on any given play. The only positions you are required to have, by rule, is five offensive linemen. Oh, you can spread them out, you can run four of them way off to the side in that ridiculous "Lonesome Possum" formation, but you will have five interior linemen on the field or you will be penalized.
Barring a few rare circumstances, an offensive lineman cannot catch a pass. Barring even rarer circumstances he will not be running with the ball. He's probably not going to get a highlight on SportsCenter. But he's the guy who moves the ball. But he doesn't get the credit for it.
What if I told you there was a six time pro bowler who has a Super Bowl ring, and holds several records after 16 years in the league but is not in the Hall of Fame? Ray Donaldson of Rome, Georgia was likely the first black player to start at center in the NFL. He played 16 seasons for the Colts, Seahawks, and Cowboys. He started in 60 consecutive games, started in a 228 of his 244 games. All of that without even playing center until his sophomore year at Georgia. You've probably heard of Eric Dickerson and Emmit Smith. But did you realize Ray Donaldson was clearing the way for them? I used to stand and look at his retired 88 jersey in my high school trophy case. It was an offensive lineman's dream inspiration.
To anyone that would argue that the offensive line is not exciting or doesn't require much skill, I'd argue that you've never noticed guards pulling around the corner looking to crush corner backs on a sweep play. You've never seen the look of surprise on the face of a defensive tackle when the center steps down, he sees the guard emerge from the other side, and knows he's caught in the trap and can only brace for impact.
So here's a friendly reminder. This season if you see Bryce Love powering into the secondary before making contact with a defender, there was someone who got him there. If Jake Fromm has an extra second to find the open receiver, his linemen were moving their feet like they've been taught to. If you see a linebacker suddenly turn his nose to the sky, he had help getting that way.
Furthermore, if you want to take your experience to the next level, watch the line play. Look for traps, pulls, crosses. Watch how the line adjusts to cover stunts. During pass protection, watch the linemen's feet and how they keep their hips under them while keeping themselves between the quarterback and the pass rush. On the runs, watch who comes downfield to pick up the linebacker. Any nitwit who has never seen the game can tell you when a quarterback throws a pass or a running back takes a hand off. Learn to appreciate the men who really get the job done. This is where you begin to draw the line between a football fan and a connoisseur.
And the South has produced some greats. I've already mentioned Georgia great, Ray Donaldson. There's a Tar Heel by the name of Jeff Saturday you may have heard of. Dolphins Hall of Famer Larry Little was born in Savannah and played high school ball in Miami before starring at Bethune Cookman. Probably my favorite was Patriots and Crimson Tide great John Hannah, who was born in Canton, Georgia. There are plenty more where they came from. I'll be looking for them on the college fields this season, just like I do every season.
And So It Begins...
Most of the press is directed at next weekend but the truth is, there is college football today. Before we reached this point we have already waded through the nasty scandals at Ohio State and Maryland. The drama surrounding CTE and other brain-injury-related illness continues to cast its shadow. But now it is time to put the ball on the tee and kick it down the field. It's time to play football.
For every negative there are numerous positives. Try watching some of the videos of walk-ons receiving their scholarships. Watch the Iowa fan with their new tradition of waving to the kids in the children's hospital that overlooks the stadium. Listen to the heartfelt stories of kids who overcame poverty, tragedy, illness, and injury to reach this point and get to pay for their education by playing a game they love.
There will always be negatives with any sport, activity, or interest. And college football may have more than its share. But it is also possible that it has more than its share of positives. It has a way of bringing people together, of forging lifelong friendships. We're reminded that Tim Tebo's parents had their first date at the Georgia-Florida game. One of the greatest players the game has seen would possibly not be with us if not for the sport.
So starting today, when Duquesne and Massachusetts kick things off for 2018, the goal will be to try to focus on what is happening on the field more than behind the scenes. We'll never completely avoid off-field drama but at least we now have the game to help moderate it. Our game coverage starts this week. And we couldn't be more excited.
Sam Burnham, Curator
While the ACC and SEC dominate the FBS football scene in the South, they don't hold a true monopoly on college football. So let's take a look elsewhere.
The Big Ten:
Looking at the poor counters up the the (mostly) Midwest, there is a lot of talk about the Eastern Division. Antagonists of the SEC like to point to this division as superior to the SEC West, elevating the entire conference to the toughest in football. But the Western Division looks pretty dismal with only one contender in Wisconsin and a possible in Northwestern. Let's take a deeper look.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes are mired in the investigation of the events that led to the firing of assistant coach Zach Smith and the endangerment of the career of head coach Urban Meyer. While the Buckeyes are an early favorite for the division, conference, and even national titles, the investigation is the major intangible that they will have to deal with. There is no way to know what the turmoil is doing to the team behind closed doors. While this is a very talented team, it is possible the entire season has been undermined even before the first kickoff.
Michigan: Here we go again. So much hype already. Jim Harbaugh is likely further over the hot seat than anyone realizes having failed to live up to the expectations he brought into his dream job. The Wolverines have a tough opener against Notre Dame and then that admittedly tough division schedule, including games against the Buckeyes and Spartans. Three losses won't get you to New Year's day or even to the 16 team playoff the Harbaugh has lobbied for.
Michigan State: The institution has seen it's share of controversy but head coach Mark Dantonio has dome well to keep the football team above it. He has led a veritable golden age of Spartan Football. I seem to have been outed by our resident coach as having a soft spot for the program. I like their style. They win. I don't see all the flash and attention that you see in Columbus and Ann Arbor. They do work, get Ws and move to the next game. They're my preseason favorite to win the Big Ten.
Wisconsin: Speaking of tough. This was a playoff level team last year, it just didn't shake out that way. That's football. But I fully expect them to be back, a little older, a little wiser, and a lot hungrier. They have a good path to the Big Ten Championship game. They face Michigan and Penn State from the East - no Spartans, no Buckeyes.
Penn State: What can you say bad about James Franklin? Apparently his peers have voted him the most overrated coach in the nation. But I don't remember too many of them rushing into the septic tank fire that was Penn State Football. The Sandusky scandal was the death blow. No one expected for Penn State to ever field a contender again. Some questioned if the school might even drop the program. But not only has Franklin brought them back to contender status, he won the conference in 2016. I expect no less from the Nittany Lions this fall.
Big 12 = This conference is going to be more of the Big 1, the Good 1, the Decent 2 and the Not Quite 8 Fillers. It is a pretty pitiful conference. Oklahoma will win it: I have no qualms about saying that. Their only real challenge will come from Iowa State, possibly the best-coached team in the nation. The Cyclones will be improved once again, but I still think the Sooners win out. Texas and TCU will have decent seasons but that's it.
Pac 12 - This is routinely the most overrated conference in the nation. Southern Cal always starts off highly rated and then slides their way down the ranks like a cat jumping up and grasping a greased pole. Oregon and UCLA are both in transition, probably the Ducks more than the Bruins. Chad Kelly will make a bigger splash than Mario Cristobal, at least initially. Stanford is my favorite to win the conference. I think David Shaw is one of the most solid coaches in the nation and the conference is favorable to him this year. Washington is going to put up a fight but I think the Cardinal come out on top.
Notre Dame - I never thought I'd catch myself saying this but the Irish's biggest obstacle this year will be their schedule. Michigan, Stanford, at Virginia Tech, FSU, and at USC. Their second biggest obstacle will be marring their traditions with those hideous uniforms in NYC in the Shamrock Series. Regardless, I'm still not convinced this is a top tier team. In a game or two? Yes. But putting the entire season together seems to elude them. I think they'll finish with a loss or two and that keeps them out of the playoff.
Group of 5 - The others to watch are, of course, self-proclaimed "national champs" Central Florida and also Memphis. UCF is getting all the press, mostly because of their amazing brashness in tooting their own horn. But keep an eye on Memphis. Memphis coach Mike Norvell will build on the recent success and you'll hear about the Tigers all season long.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I detest preseason polls and most preseason predictions. Getting too specific in choosing a champion or four particular playoff teams strikes me as hubris. I look at how many times the preseason #1 has fallen, sometimes completely out of the poll compared to how infrequently that chosen favorite has lived up to the expectations and won the title.
But discussing possibilities and predictions can be fun and the allure can be hard to resist. The trick is to not get silly or predictable with it. It is easy to say you are going to pick your playoff teams and then put Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Oregon in a hat to draw out 4 names. That surprises no one. It's predictable. But one thing fans love about college football is that it is unpredictable. Something crazy is bound to happen.
There are teams in each conference who will likely play a major role in the way this season plays out. While writers, TV personalities, radio call-in show hosts, and other specialists are focusing on Bama, UGA, Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma, I would like to point out the others, the upsets, the spoilers, the dark horses, those who can make a difference in one of the favorites making or missing the playoffs.
This conference in general is a dark horse. With the talk mostly circling around the SEC and the Big Ten, the ACC is being left in the shadows. Back in the 1980's, The conference was not a collegiate football powerhouse. The football season consisted of Clemson and some basketball schools. Occasionally Georgia Tech or another school might have a decent or even a strong year. But the only consistent power was Clemson. In the 1990's, Florida State joined up, Clemson seemed to falter a bit and the one team scenario continued. But expansion brought in Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Louisville. With two divisions and a championship game, the ACC took on a new importance.
While Clemson is the obvious favorite, they aren't going to go unchallenged.
Mark Richt has resurrected his alma mater's program and I expect the Hurricanes to be competitive for the ACC title this year.
With Florida State and Virginia Tech opening the season facing each other, the ACC will have an early jockeying for position in the dark horse race. Justin Fuente is going to have the Hokies ready. With Willie Taggart getting an opportunity with his dream job, he's going to want to make a strong first impression as well.
North Carolina State always hangs around. They usually disappoint the faithful before the season ends but not before messing things up for another contender. Head Coach Dave Doeren's staff has been hard at work strengthening the Wolfpack depth chart. If they have been successful, this could be the difference between playing spoiler and becoming an actual contender.
Don't write Clemson in ink yet, but pencil them in.
The talk in the conference is, understandably, all about Bama and UGA. If I just go with my gut, that's who you'll see in Atlanta, and perhaps at Levi's Stadium in January. But the ball bounces funny.
Jeremy Pruitt comes into Knoxville for his first head coaching assignment. No one can argue that he is one of the finest defensive minds in college football. His work as DC at Georgia and Alabama speaks for itself. But we've seen a lot of defensive coordinators that didn't pan out as head coaches. Will he be able to rise to the challenge? I think he will but I'm not expecting the sort of miracle that will be needed to get him to Atlanta in his first season.
Speaking of genius defensive coordinators that made poor head coaches, Will Muschamp has made some progress as South Carolina. But how long can it last before we see what we've already seen at Florida? Looking at his calloused and angry responses to the recent questions about the D.J. Durkin situation at Maryland, where one of the "unhappy players" is the one who died, I'd say it is a matter of time before Coach Boom melts down in Columbia. He's a strategic genius but lacks the people skills to be successful as a head coach. You just can't get players to win for you with that mindset at the helm.
Dan Mullen is looking pretty promising in Florida. He had Mississippi State looking stronger than expected and drew the attention to get one of the most coveted jobs in the sport. But his work in Starkeville, while impressive, did not return the Bulldogs to the level they enjoyed under Jackie Sherrill. To succeed in Gainesville (and stay employed there) he has to get beyond gloating around a celebratory cigar about sweeping recruits out from powerhouses like "UT-Chattanooga." Florida will offer him excellent opportunities to prove himself. That all being said, I think he has the best chance to play spoiler in the SEC this year.
I love Ed Orgeron. I mean, who wouldn't? And he seems like a fantastic fit in his home state of Louisiana. But he's been tossed around the conference before. And I am concerned that we've seen this story before at Ole Miss. The Tigers are hoping we'll see more of the interim head coach from Southern Cal. Frankly, I'd love to see that myself. I want to see him win at LSU. But I'm skeptical. We'll see how this season goes for him.
That's a good start on this topic. I'll be back to go through some more in the near future.
Fixing the Four Team Playoff
I was a proponent of a college football playoff...until there was one. Please don't dismiss this as just a manifestation of my contrary and curmudgeonly nature. This is more of a finding out what it really was and then saying it wasn't a great idea after all. Now there is a tendency to want to add more games. Jim Harbaugh has suggest 16 teams. I'd point out that his team still wouldn't make that field. I'd also like to point out that there's a much better way.
What the bowl system did was it made big regular season games de facto playoff games. In the 80's it was Notre Dame-Miami and Oklahoma-Nebraska. In the 90's it was Florida-Florida State. Recently, it has been the SEC Championship game. Teams finished the regular season, beat their rivals, and won their conference (or sometimes not) and then made their case to the bowl people. This usually left one bowl winner and then that number 3 team that had a case and then a bowl win. So the reasonable idea became a "Plus 1" game where that third team gets their shot. The problem is, the way things are now, there will always be one more team that deserves a shot.
There is one way to fix this problem. It will require cooperation and a true spirit of competition from the big teams, the perennial powers. I'm going to use an odd example here but I think it will help us to see what needs to be done. Let's look at this year's schedule for Notre Dame. Now, I'm no fan of the Fighting Irish and never will be. But their attempts to build a stronger football schedule are starting to bear fruit and potentially makes several new regular season playoff games.
It's not necessarily the strength of the schedule as much as it is the variety of the schedule. The Irish have begun playing a truncated ACC schedule that will have them facing, among others, Florida State and Virginia Tech. They open their season against Michigan. They also will have games vs Stanford and arch-rival Southern Cal. Throw in Vandy for good measure. On this schedule we see opponents from the Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, and SEC. Throw in a Texas, Baylor or TCU and you play all of the "Power 5" conferences. They aren't always playing the toughest teams in the conferences but they are playing different conferences.
That being said, I'm a fan of conferences. They allow teams to keep some regional rivalries and also, in most cases, allow teams to keep most of their travel in a region of the country. Establishing clear conference champions usually (read: should always) narrow the playoff field thereby creating a sort of regular season playoff. The trick is to mix things up a little between the conferences.
Last year we saw the Auburn-Clemson game early in the season. Bama took on FSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Florida and Florida State are going to play every year. So are Georgia and Georgia Tech. Likewise with Carolina and Clemson. There are some other long standing rivalries that cross conference lines. But go back a few years and look at Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno leading Bama and Penn State in some fantastic match ups. Then there was Earle Bruce bringing the Buckeyes to face Mike Archer's LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge. These are games that fans want to see. These are also games that will shake up the regular season and straighten out the playoff a little more thoroughly.
Think of how rekindling old rivalries could help. Conference realignment has been given as an excuse for discontinuing Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Georgia-Clemson, Miami-Florida.
What is the deal that the Aggies and Longhorns quit playing? The fans were upset when a tragedy cast a pall on the bonfire tradition at A&M. Now they don't play at all? What does this say about the tradition of football in the State of Texas that these two just don't play each other?
Do you realize that from Sanford Stadium Clemson Memorial Stadium is only five miles further than Bobby Dodd? Sanford is half, HALF, the distance from Clemson compared to Williams Brice. These two have played 64 times since 1897. Von Gammon played in the first UGA-Clemson game, that's how old the rivalry is. Put these two on the field this season, someone has to win and someone gets eliminated. It cleans up the playoff picture. You can still schedule Furman and Arkansas State. You just might have to cut out Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel.
You think the Midwest and the West Coast fans wouldn't get excited about more regular season games between the Big Ten and Pac-12? Ohio State opens with Oregon State. That's a start. But where's the beef? How about a Southern Cal-Michigan home & home?
In short, the fans want to see these games. These games will generate incredible revenue for the programs, the playoff picture could get much more defined, and so many of the potential games just make sense. There are a lot of lame excuses for why it can't be done but there are no good reasons. Put down one cupcake and pick up one steak.
For the last several years there has been a growing conversation about compensation for college athletes. We hear the explanations of how many millions of dollars players earn for the schools and how they get nothing in return, that this is some modern day plantation where executives are made wealthy on the backs of slaves.
But there are are other considerations that must be made. There are truths that this broad brush approach may whitewash over but that can’t be removed.
1) Not every school is raking it in.
Alabama, Florida State, Southern Cal, Norte Dame, there are schools that are making millions of dollars. A constant supply of money flows in in torrents .
But then there’s another category. Louisiana-Monroe, UAB, Akron, Utah State, these schools get big paydays when they get scheduled to play one of those big names. These big check games make the difference in a school’s athletic budget.
2) This money is spent elsewhere.
Once a decision is made that players are to be paid, all of them have to be paid. Tennis, track, golf, swimming. These sports, including almost all women’s sports at every NCAA school, have expenses that far exceed any revenue they may generate on their own. These sports are typically funded by the money made by the football program.
Thats not a popular fact, but it’s a fact. When it comes to collegiate athletics, Title IX is bankrolled by football. So while it’s easy to look at Alabama or Ohio State and see dollar signs everywhere, you have to consider how Toledo is going to pay their football players, and every other athlete, and still fund their women’s tennis program.
3) The players are paid. Handsomely.
You're 18 years old. You have no post secondary education. You land a job that will cover your housing, your food, much of your healthcare, Grant you admission to a university you have neither the grades nor the test scores to be admitted to otherwise, and you’ll have tutors to assist you with every class, and the position will pay that tuition in full. You have the opportunity to leave with a degree that you don’t owe anyone a dime for. It’ll be paid for. Completely.
How many people can say that? No loans. No student debt. If you factor in a degree from the likes of Duke, Stanford, Norte Dame, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, when you only met the minimum NCAA requirements that’s quite a deal. A degree from one of these schools could set someone back by a couple hundred thousand dollars, easy. Not many 20 year old high school graduates can afford that kind of price tag. But an athlete can.
So don’t listen to the lies that players aren’t paid. Are there some problems with NCAA regulations? Yes, there are some serious ones that need to be addressed. These include the licensing and marketing of a player’s likeness, autograph, etc. And yes, there are more. I suspect we’ll address those further in the future. But for now you can rest assured knowing that your favorite Heisman candidates are getting compensated justly.
The Curator and other knowledgeable voices...mostly Southerners... on the subject