Tag Archives: Editors Choice

Virginia Fans are Divided on Bronco Heading into Season 2

The start of fall football practice is just over a month away. It is no secret that Bronco Mendenhall has many hurdles to clear before Virginia football gets back to a winning groove. He has a new challenge this year. One of his own making. After one season, the Virginia fan base is split on the wisdom of bringing Bronco and his band of assistants to Charlottesville.

Posting a 2-10 record in his first season has many Virginia fans concerned. Opening the season with a convincing 17-point loss to University of Richmond took a lot of the optimistic winds out of Bronco’s sails. The team’s performances in the following weeks did little to build confidence in the direction of the program. The rotten cherry on the soured sundae was a thumping at the hands of Virginia Tech when Bronco deployed a ridiculous QB rotation that ended in utterly predictable failure.

The recruiting season has not brought tidings of joy to hardcore Virginia fans who spend the football off-season analyzing the whims of 18-year old high school footballers. While Bronco is filling his 2018 recruiting class at a brisk pace, the reality is that Bronco is bringing a different breed of cat to the program.

A standard measure of a recruit’s talent is always the “offer list”. Who else wanted a recruit to play for them? Over the Groh and London years Virginia landed many recruits with impressive offer lists. Fans were often giddy when Georgia, Penn State, USC, and Florida were vying for kids who decided to come play for Virginia. Unfortunately, those kids didn’t win that many games wearing the orange & blue.

A look at the offer lists of the 2018 recruiting class has many Virginia fans concerned. Bronco’s recent commits have offer lists that include Bucknell, Penn, Yale, and Cornell. Others have offers from Wake Forest, Vandy, and Boston College. Still others boast offers from Bowling Green St, Akron, and Florida Atlantic. Let’s recognize the obvious: Bronco is not recruiting the same kids as college football’s blue bloods…or even college football’s light-blue bloods. It sounds like his guys might do well as contestants on “Jeopardy”, but can they beat Clemson & Miami? Heck, can they beat Richmond & UConn?

The Virginia fan base is split into two camps: those who believe in Bronco and his system. They look at his past performance. His BYU recruiting classes were littered with castoffs from Southern Cal, UCLA, and Oregon. Bronco won a lot of games with those players. Many of them went on to play in the NFL.  Virginia’s “system” fans are convinced that Bronco’ can succeed in similar fashion at Virginia.

There is evidence to support this position. Jim Harbaugh was a “system” coach at Stanford. Harbaugh came to Stanford after a 1-11 season in 2006. The talent pool at Stanford was not deep when Harbaugh arrived. Rivals ranked Stanford’s 2004-2008 recruiting classes in the middle of the pack at best:

2004 57th

2005 41st

2006 54th

2007 51st

2008 50th

Yet in 2007, Harbaugh improved Stanford’s record to 4-8. He went 5-7 in 2008, 8-5 in 2009, and then reached his zenith at Stanford with a 12-1 season in 2010. Think about the redshirt juniors and seniors that led the 2009 & 2010 teams. They were kids from the middling recruiting classes that averaged 50.6 in national recruiting rankings. I recognize that one of those recruits in the 50.6 ranked classes was Andrew Luck. Got it. He’s a stud. However, his supporting cast on offense and defense was made up of “system guys” who developed during the years at Stanford and thrived in the Harbaugh system.

The system fans believe in Bronco. They believe in player development and past performance as a predictor of future success. I get the “system” fans’ argument. There have been several successful programs that back their stance. Paul Johnson at Ga. Tech is the consummate system coach. Ga. Tech has won a lot of football games while Virginia has floundered the past 10 years. I want to believe the system fans. I want to be optimistic, until I hear from the “athletes” crowd.

The opposing camp of Virginia fans feels that Bronco is doomed for failure at worst and mediocrity at best. As noted in an earlier column, it is not hard to conclude that Virginia simply does not have the athletes to compete and win in the rising tide of ACC football. Pick a team, any team from the George Welsh era and compare those players (their recruiting rank and NFL potential) with the players Virginia has on the roster now and more importantly with the players Bronco is bringing to the program. These fans will tell you, with great passion, that we can have the best system and player development on the planet, but unless you have the horses that can run with Clemson and Florida State, Virginia is going to be a perpetual bottom tier program.

Last season’s performance combined with Bronco’s recruiting strategy has created this fissure in the Virginia fan base. The gotta-have-the-athletes crowd is biding their time with Bronco, waiting for him to flame out with his players that belong in the Ivy League or the Patriot League. The System fans ask for patience and pray for at least 5 wins this season.

Only time will tell which position is correct. I tend to think that Bronco’s system has done very well in the past and deserves more time. I think it can succeed at Virginia, but I worry about a low ceiling for success and settling for 6 wins a year as the measure of a successful program. I also worry that if the system breaks down, we don’t have any one fast enough to run down the next Deshawn Watson or Lamar Jackson. It’s hard to consistently “out-system” the thoroughbreds coming to play at other programs in the ACC.

My bigger concern is that Virginia football needs all the help it can get returning to respectability. One of the assets Virginia needs is an optimistic and enthusiastic fan base. I am worried that a divided fan base likely spends more time in the West Lot than in the stands, which is not good for anyone, except the bourbon distillers.

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E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Alabama Football is Too Big To Fail

As the NCAA was peering over the shoulder of Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss football coach was consistent in his vehement refutation of all of the claims against him and his program. Freeze went as far as to imply that the NCAA’s investigation was based on religious persecution as he compared himself to his Lord and Savior. Motivation aside, the NCAA has accused Freeze of having a lack of institutional control to go along with 15 Level I violations.

Paying recruits is among the specific allegations that comprise Freeze’s alleged transgressions on the recruiting trail. This allegation becomes stickier when one of those recruits in question didn’t make Ole Miss his home. A logical assumption is that if the recruit accepted payment from a program that he turned down that it’s easy to believe that the same recruit accepted money from the program that he ultimately chose to play for. This is what’s been suggested to have occurred with Leo Lewis. Lewis allegedly accepted money from Ole Miss only to turn around and commit to Mississippi State. And it’s at this point that the NCAA finds itself in the same philosophical dilemma that it has placed itself in time and time again.

As a governing body, the NCAA has been anything but fair and balanced. The NCAA has a history of playing favorites and turning a blind eye to justice when the member institution is considered to be a blue-blood program. To say that the NCAA has shown a lack of institutional control when levying justice is an understatement. This certainly doesn’t make the NCAA judiciary arm different from any other governing body but that also doesn’t excuse its practice of selective enforcement.

Alabama has been a recent beneficiary of the NCAA’s protocol of selective enforcement. There was a long paper trail documenting the funneling of benefits between former Crimson Tide player Luther Davis and D.J. Fluker. Davis acted as the go-between for Fluker, NFL agents, and financial advisors.

Yahoo Sports was able to authenticate text message records, Western Union fund transfers, banking statements, flight receipts and other financial material linking both Davis and the five college football players. Yahoo Sports also found that three NFL agents and three financial advisers engaged Davis in transactions totaling $45,550. The three agents were Andy Simms, Peter Schaffer and John Phillips. The financial advisers were Jason Jernigan, Mike Rowan and Hodge Brahmbhatt.

Even with the case that could be made against Alabama and some of the individuals close to the program, the NCAA lacked the time to go after Nick Saban and Alabama. And that poses the million-dollar question; what is the NCAA afraid of? To me, that’s an easy question to answer. The NCAA is afraid of going after one of its blue-bloods because it’s afraid of what that could mean to its overall brand. Alabama is worth too much to bring down what Saban has built in Tuscaloosa.

It is true that the NCAA placed Alabama football on probation once before, but that wasn’t under the shadow of the current economic landscape of college football. Alabama has too much market and intrinsic value in the modern day business model. Simply put, Alabama football is considered too big to fail and, because of that, the Crimson Tide are essentially allowed to make its own rules.

The Fluker accusations were not the only ones surrounding Alabama. There was also the situation that former assistant coach Bo Davis placed Alabama in. And when I say “placed Alabama in,” I really mean the situation that Davis placed himself in. Davis was accused of contacting recruits during the dead period and the NCAA did engage in a small investigation. Based on its lack of action against Alabama, the NCAA considered this a case of no-harm-no-foul once Davis resigned.

Davis submitted his resignation on April 28. He was then paid $316,666.66 on August 19. The reason given for this payment was “to resolve disputed claims related to his separation from the university.” Once that payment of $316,666.66 was factored in, Davis made more than the $475,000 that Alabama had set his 2016 compensation at. That strikes me as a payoff to keep his mouth shut about what he witnessed and took part in while on the Alabama coaching staff. But like I said, Alabama is considered too big to fail.

The NCAA has a rich and storied history when it comes to wielding its selective sword of justice. In addition to what the NCAA has allowed Alabama to get away with, there are numerous examples of the NCAA engaging in questionable enforcement procedures when it comes to its basketball programs.

Going all the way back to when Roy Williams was the basketball coach at the University of Kansas, the NCAA went easy on his Jayhawk program when investigating the ties between Tom Grant, Myron Piggie and JaRon Rush.

Once Williams left the Jayhawks for the North Carolina Tar Heel job, he played dumb as the NCAA questioned how he ran his Kansas program. Again, nothing substantial came out of this NCAA investigation.

How about the FBI investigation that Bill Self’s team found itself attached to? Yes, I said FBI investigation. Did this receive much attention from the NCAA? It did not.

And there was the ticket scandal that occurred at Kansas while Lew Perkins was the athletic director. This included the concealing of income statements that were provided to the NCAA. But, as you probably guessed, nothing came out of this.

The NCAA had an issue with one of its investigators, Abigail Grantstein. Grantstein, who graduated from Kansas, was eventually fired for bungling the investigations into UCLA recruit Shabazz Muhammad and Kansas recruit Josh Selby. Both UCLA and Kansas got off easy.

Perhaps the real cake topper in how the NCAA operates was on display as Miami basketball was being investigated. The NCAA had Nevin Shapiro’s attorney on its payroll as Maria Elena Perez was caught sharing privileged information with the NCAA.

The NCAA claims to stand for integrity and claims to support what is in the best interest of the college athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NCAA cares about itself and what it considers to be in its best interest. And what’s in the best interest of the NCAA is for its blue-bloods to remain successful.

If your school isn’t on par with Alabama football or Kansas basketball, you had better hope that your school doesn’t offer a recruit an impermissible cheeseburger. But if your school is on par with Alabama or Kansas? Let the payments and benefits flow.

This is what will help contain the damage that would have otherwise have been inflicted by an in-depth NCAA investigation into the former Ole Miss football recruits. We should expect the NCAA to go just far enough as to take down Ole Miss, but not far enough to clean the entire situation up. If the NCAA did go all the way with the investigation, a school like Alabama could get caught in the cross hairs. And that’s the last thing the NCAA wants.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Way Too Early Ohio State Predictions for 2017

National Signing Day has come and gone and we’re still two months away from the annual spring game, nevertheless, it’s time to make my early predictions for the 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes. Of course, these projections are subject to change.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who will be entering his sixth season in Columbus, landed what is widely recognized as the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class for 2017. Since Meyer took over in 2012, top-five recruiting classes have become quite routine. The 2017 class is the most heralded in Meyer’s tenure with the Buckeyes and includes five-star prospects Jeffrey Okudah (CB/Grand Prairie, TX), Baron Browning (OLB/Kennedale, TX) and Shaun Wade (CB/Jacksonville, FL).

Meyer has once again put Ohio State in position to compete for a playoff appearance and a national championship in 2017. With the season-opening kickoff still over six months away, here’s my early game-by-game predictions.

8/31 at Indiana

Ohio State’s trip to Bloomington will mark the first time in 41 years that the Buckeyes open the season against a Big Ten opponent (1976 vs. Michigan State). It will also be the third time that Ohio State begins the season on a Thursday night. The Buckeyes previously played Thursday night openers (2-0) in 1997 and 2010 at home against Wyoming and Marshall, respectively.

Ohio State will have no problem cruising to a comfortable victory in front of what should be a pro-Ohio State crowd. Meyer and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will show off an improved passing offense led by senior quarterback J.T. Barrett. Wilson will be coaching in his first game since he resigned from Indiana last season. Wilson will surely have extra motivation in his return to Bloomington and I suspect there may be a few added wrinkles to the offense in store for his former employer. Ohio State jumps out to an easy 1-0 start.

Ohio State 45, Indiana 17

9/9 Oklahoma

After being embarrassed in their own building a year earlier, quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Sooners will be out for revenge. Unfortunately for Oklahoma, the Sooners will be forced to deal with another September loss. Oklahoma’s pass defense was abysmal in 2016 and it won’t be much better in 2017, at least in the second game of the season. Barrett immediately enters the Heisman conversation and Ohio State wins in a back and forth shootout to improve to 2-0.

Ohio State 41, Oklahoma 34

9/16 Army

We’ve seen Ohio State struggle with Navy twice over the last decade (2009 and 2014) and I think Army will also put up a strong fight. This will be one of those games where the Buckeyes are just happy to get out of Ohio Stadium with a win, especially coming off such an emotional victory over Oklahoma the week before. Ohio State gets the win, but Army makes it interesting.

Ohio State 27, Army 19

9/23 UNLV

If there was ever a game to miss because of the unfortunate circumstance of attending the dreaded wedding during the Ohio State football season, this is it. UNLV will be outmatched in every phase of the game. Buckeyes win big.

Ohio State 63, UNLV 13

9/30 at Rutgers

Rutgers will surprisingly keep the game close in the first half, but then Ohio State’s talent will take over. The scoreboard may not indicate that it was actually a game into the second half.

Ohio State 38, Rutgers 21

10/7 Maryland

The Terps will be looking to avenge the 62-3 pummeling that Ohio State put on them last season in College Park. Maryland will make this a little close, but not by much.

Ohio State 58, Maryland 0

10/14 at Nebraska

Nebraska will also be seeking payback after Ohio State crushed the Cornhuskers by an identical 62-3 score. Barrett and the offense will struggle for much of the game and look more like the unit that regressed in 2016. The Silver Bullets keep Ohio State in the game and the Buckeyes pull out a close one late.

Ohio State 23, Nebraska 17

10/28 Penn State

Following the bye week, Ohio State can’t wait for this one. Other than the Michigan game of course, you can bet that the Buckeyes have Penn State circled on the schedule. The Nittany Lions will keep it competitive on the scoreboard for awhile, but Ohio State dominates the game from start to finish. Penn State played way over their heads in the second half of last season and I just don’t see the Happy Valley “magic” making its way to Columbus.

Ohio State 34, Penn State 16

11/4 at Iowa

In what would normally be a game I would worry about, I think it’s a game Ohio State comes out of unscathed. Kinnick Stadium is a tough place to play. Just ask Michigan. Ohio State dominates physically and the Buckeyes win a fairly tight contest that doesn’t really feel that close.

Ohio State 27, Iowa 23

11/11 Michigan State

Ohio State will look to defeat the Spartans in the Horseshoe for the first time since 2007, which was also the last time the home team was victorious in this series. As is usually the case, Michigan State will play Ohio State down to the wire, but Barrett will prove to be the difference in crunch time. Thankfully, 2017 will not be a year that Michigan State disrupts an undefeated season for Ohio State.

Ohio State 34, Michigan State 30

11/18 Illinois

There will be no looking ahead to The Game in this one. Ohio State will take care of business in their final tune-up prior to Michigan.

Ohio State 52, Illinois 17

11/25 at Michigan

The Buckeyes take a perfect 11-0 record up to the Big House with a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and the college football playoff on the line. Michigan will enter The Game with one loss, setting up a winner-take-all matchup for the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes and Wolverines play out another classic, but it will be Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh who exact revenge on the Buckeyes in heartbreak fashion.

It will be a bitter pill to swallow for Buckeye Nation, but it’s almost karma after the way The Game unfolded in Columbus last season. Harbaugh will finally win the last game of the regular season after starting his Michigan tenure 0-2 against Ohio State and enjoy a big glass of milk afterwards.

Michigan 28, Ohio State 27

That’s how I see the 2017 regular season unfolding for Ohio State. The devastating loss to Michigan means there will be no Big Ten title game and no CFP for the Buckeyes. Instead, Ohio State will participate in a quality New Year’s Six Bowl with just the one loss.

These are way too early projections and a lot concerning Ohio State football will probably change between now and then. In any case, Ohio State has reloaded the cupboard and is primed for another legitimate run at the playoff.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25.

Photo by Paula R. Lively

Five Way Too Early Predictions for SEC Football in 2017

I know we still have a while to go until we get our beloved SEC football Saturdays back, but I just can’t wait. SEC football is on my mind all the time. So here are just a few of my recurring thoughts about this coming season.

Georgia will be the team to beat in the East

Let’s be honest, Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens was a little underwhelming. The worst moment of the season for the Dawgs had to be that last-minute loss to the Vols at home. Just when Jacob Eason had led them down the field to take the lead, Josh Dobbs and Jauan Jennings connected for an unbelievable Hail Mary. I fully expect Georgia fans to be able to put that pain behind them next season. Eason will have more experience, the defense will have more experience, and coach Smart will also have more head coaching experience.

South Carolina will have more than one good upset win

This past season wasn’t particularly impressive for South Carolina in its first year under Will Muschamp. But, the Gamecocks did manage to get a pretty nice upset win over the Vols. They were a huge part of why Tennessee never made it to Atlanta. The Gamecocks showed promise in most games, even many of the losses. The only game they might want to erase from memory is that Clemson thrashing at the end of the season. But with another year under Muschamp’s guidance and with his recruits coming in, I anticipate two upset wins out of the Gamecocks this season.

Butch Jones will get run out of Knoxville

This call may be a little early. But with all his press conference clichés, I think this might be the year Tennessee fans grab their pitchforks and run Jones out of town. Heck, after that Vanderbilt loss to end the regular season my dad had decided not to renew his season tickets for 2017. Guess he doesn’t want to be part of another championship of life. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that five-star heart. All this being said, the Vols may be in trouble next season. Their defense is a huge question mark and now they have a question mark starting at quarterback too. Just ask the Gators how well that second question mark works out in the SEC.

Alabama will win the West…again

No other team was truly a tough match for Alabama in the West last year, with the biggest challenges coming from LSU and Ole Miss. Ole Miss later lost star quarterback Chad Kelly to injury and its season tanked. The Rebels were more of a pretender than an actual contender. LSU had a slow start, but ended up in some good games under then-interim (now head) coach Ed Orgeron. But at the end of the day, Alabama was still dominant in the SEC. Alabama dominated all the way until the national championship game that it lost to Clemson. That loss may sting, but with quarterback Jalen Hurts having more experience, I expect Alabama to be number one in the West and headed right back to Atlanta again in December. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alabama still has Nick Saban.

But LSU will make it close

The LSU Tigers had arguably one of the most interesting seasons out of the entire SEC in 2016. Les Miles was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron led the team to a 5-2 finish (after starting the season 2-2 under Miles). Additionally, LSU dominated Louisville and its Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. On top of all this, Orgeron put together a top ten recruiting class in his first time recruiting as LSU’s head coach. With Orgeron leading, talent returning, and talent coming in, the Tigers are poised to finish second in the SEC West and maybe even give the Crimson Tide a run for its money.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Image courtesy of Sean Davis, Flickr.