Archive for September, 2011

September 29, 2011

Let the real games begin … 2011 Big Ten Season Preview.

Written Ramblings by DJ

Welcome to the Big Ten Taylor Martinez!

No more Akron, South Dakota State or Middle Tennessee State.  It is time for the conference season.  The Big Ten season is unique this year.  There is no player named Pittman or Wells on the running back depth chart for Ohio State.  Heck, Ohio State probably won’t be in a BCS bowl game for a change.  Illinois is ranked to begin the conference season. Michigan has no defense … wait, scratch that.  Their defense has been horrible for four years now.

I am not about to break down each team’s defensive/offensive schemes.  You can get that from Todd McShay and Urban Meyer on Saturday mornings.  Urban Meyer is secretly hoping for Florida to choke away the rest of the season so he doesn’t regret his decision to leave but the Gator defense might actually be better under Muschamp.   And I have no clue why Todd McShay is talking about College Football.  He’d rather be analyzing the body fat percentage of every player in the SEC and their 40 yard speed during the NFL combine.  Anyway, that’s enough about the SEC and NFL.  Let’s break down the Big Ten … legends and leaders style.  (The names aren’t that bad!)

IOWA

There was no way they were going to whoop their rival Cyclones by 35 points again like last season.  Iowa State isn’t too shabby at home so that was a tough game as expected.  Pittsburgh seems to blow leads (against ND last week) so I am not surprised Iowa was handed that win at home after being down most of the game.  The road games are winnable; the toughest one being at Nebraska.  They don’t play Bucky or the Buckeyes which should help.  The NFL coaching rumors won’t be around if Ferentz can’t win at least five games with this schedule.

Prediction:  5-3 or maybe 6-2 if their defense shows up.  

DENARD ROBINSON MICHIGAN

They can’t stop anybody and Denard can’t throw consistently against good defensive teams.  Sure, he did that against Notre Dame but the Irish defense might be worse.  It won’t work during the conference season against faster defenses who will force him to throw most of the time.  Same story as last year but Hoke is no D!@# Rod.  Dan Patrick asked him about the specific play call at the end of the Notre Dame game and he had no idea.  He doesn’t even wear a headset b/c he only deals with defense and that ought to be a good sign for a Michigan fan.

Apparently the Big House has been sold out for 240 games consecutively.  But they still continue to set new attendance record every year.  It doesn’t really add up.

Prediction: 3-5 or 4-4.  They will handle Minny and Purdue but the key game will be @ Northwestern on October 8th.  Hoke needs to win those types of games to spark a turnaround.  I think they beat one of their rivals this year, OSU or Michigan State.

MICHIGAN STATE

They blew out cupcakes during the non-conference season.  Sparty football is similar Illinois basketball in the Big Ten … completely unpredictable and has received too much preseason hype over the last the four to five years.  Their schedule is absolutely brutal.  They need to win all of their home games to get to seven wins.  Wisconsin at home won’t be fun but it is a night game so they could pull it off.

Prediction: No more than 4 win this year.  3-5 is more realistic but 4-4 if they hold home field.

MINNESOTA

I looked up Jerry Kill’s background to see if he came up through the Purdue coaching system.  He looks like a Purdue head coaching candidate … bald head and a bad!@$ ‘stache.  The ‘stache is in par with Joe Tiller (coached Drew Brees) and Danny Hope (current Purdue coach).

Yea, this is how much I know or care about Minnesota football this year.

Prediction: “They are who we thought they were.”  They won’t win more than 2 games.  1-2 wins tops.  They might beat Purdue and the losing head coach might have to shave off the ‘stache.

NORTHWESTERN

Well we know that they will continue to play that weird “wildcat” sound in Ryan Field every time they score or make a big play.  It is the sound that’s played in Anchorman when Brian Fantana picks out the “Sex Panther” cologne.  That’s about all I know about this team so far.  A healthy Dan Persa will help but won’t make a huge difference.   They run the same freaking set of 5-6 plays with any quarterback out there anyway.

Prediction: Fitz is always a tough out at home.  My guess is 3-4 or 4-4 at best if they win at home.

NEBRASKA

The media seems to put a “do or die” tone to their matchup with Bucky this weekend.  It is a great matchup but that won’t decide the Husker season.  Taylor Martinez can define himself has the next Eric Crouch (with an arm) during the next eight games.  They should clean up at home but the key stretch is @ Michigan State, @ Michigan and @ Penn State.  They need two wins during that stretch in order to play in the BT championship game.

By the way, doesn’t Bo Pelini look like the crazy serial killer dude from Fargo??  It reminds me of that guy with an accent from the movie every time I see him scowl on the sidelines.  This is the character that kills the highway cop in the movie and shreds the body in the cabin.

Prediction:  If the defense is up to “Pelini standards”, they will win 6 games.  6-2 if they can beat Iowa at home to end their first Big Ten season.

WISCONSIN

I was playing NCAA College Football ‘08 a couple years ago in my apartment.  My roommate (hardcore Badger fan) and I were getting ready for Thirsty Thursdays as usual.  My QB just busted a 75 yard touchdown run in the game.

Roommate: “Whoa, nice run.  Who is your team?”

Me: “Wisconsin dude!  My QB is super athletic and is a favorite for the Heisman.”

Roommate: “What?? Athletic quarterback at Wisconsin?? And a Heisman favorite?!  haha, this game is so freaking unrealistic.”

Me: “Well, I am in the Dynasty mode and I recruited this guy.  Technically this is the 2016 season.”

The game did not turn out to be that unrealistic after all. It is only 2011 and Wisconsin has an athletic quarterback who is on every Heisman list right now.  Russell Wilson is worth all the hype.  How good is their defense?  We’ll find out this weekend.  On a side note, is Camp Randall the toughest place to play a night game in primetime in the conference right now?  I can’t remember the last time they lost a game at night especially to a top 25 opponent.  Camp Randall is not close to the “white out” at Penn State night games but their track record definitely makes a case for the toughest home crowd.  I wouldn’t say they have the toughest home crowd at night in the country.  That would be LSU … they bring a freaking Tiger out to the sidelines.

Wisconsin is used to the “underdog’ tag, not the favorite one.  This season will speak volumes about Bret Beilema. The last time they were ranked in the top 10 this early in the season was 2007.  They lost to Illinois on the road leading to a couple losses but ended up with a solid season albeit underachieving compared to the preseason expectations.

Prediction: Their key stretch includes three tough road games – Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois.  Both the OSU and MSU games are at night which isn’t easy.  Two wins out of that stretch should get them to a 6-2 season at least.  7-1 is definitely possible if they beat Nebraska on Saturday (and they will).

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September 19, 2011

The Times They are a-Changing …

Written Ramblings by DJ

Vito always had a plan to stay ahead of the curve ...

Oklahoma handled the War Chant and Florida State on the road to cement their top ranking on Saturday.  But two schools that were not even ranked in the top 25 stole their thunder.  Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East for the ACC.  Everybody was mulling over the Texas A/M move to the SEC but nobody saw this coming a week ago.  They pulled a fast one.  Conference realignment is bound to happen.  I will not get into the details behind expansion b/c it involves analyzing the millions of dollars involved with each move.  The Big 12 conference is chaotic but there is a new player on the block stealing all the attention – ACC.  Change is inevitable and I hope the Big Ten makes the right moves.  It will make good decisions but b/c it has been doing that for decades.  But can it keep up with the frantic pace?  I sure hope so, especially after what happened over the weekend.  Syracuse and Pittsburgh were potential targets for the Big Ten.  The conference is interested to expand their base out East rather than worry about going down South.  But it needs to move faster to remain competitive.

The Big Ten has always been ahead of the curve compared to the others.  The schools have great traditions and have actively steered college sports for decades.  The stadiums have been around forever and season tickets are a generational affair within each fan base.  The games have been on TV long before ESPN took over the broadcasting world.  ABC has shown BT games for ages before other conferences such as SEC got on board.  Other conferences have their own networks– SEC and Big 12.  CBS is the unofficial SEC network but none of them can match the ratings of BT games.  Big Ten Network has enjoyed huge success b/c of the alumni presence all over the country.  The conference takes pride in its academic standards.  Academics on average are significantly better than the other schools specifically in the Big 12 and the SEC.  The fans are loyal and travel very well on the road.  The SEC fan will argue that they have a better traveling fan base but let’s see how they turn up to a bowl game to a bowl game on January 4th if it were held in Chicago.  All the bowl games are held down south in warmer weather but the Midwest oriented fans travel better than other school out east.  BCS bowls love to get these schools b/c they are guaranteed packed houses and high revenues.  Illinois got the invite to the 2007 Rose Bowl despite two or three other teams that deserved it more (Missouri, Kansas) only b/c of their traveling fan base.  The Forbes’ list of top revenue generating schools include five or six BT programs in the top ten perennially.  All of these positives make it an elite conference but it also introduces a sense of arrogance.  This arrogance and a “legacy” attitude can hurt a program or an entire group of schools in college sports.

Jim Delaney, the BT commissioner can use the conference’s history to his advantage but should not take it for granted.  The conference can “sell itself” but in this day and age, the sales pitch still needs to be there.   We observe this nonchalant behavior hurting the big schools within the conference.  Michigan and Ohio State don’t have the same recruiting edge from 20 years ago.  What is their selling point … great TV exposure?  SEC has its own network (and CBS).  The Texas games are shown on a separate ESPN channel.  Pac-12 games are shown all over Fox Sports and every team out east is on TV if they can field a decent team.  What’s the next selling point, stadiums?  Every school has enough funding within the alumni base to build large stadiums now unlike 30 years ago.  The Big House and The Horseshoe are unique but so are the Tennessee stadium and The Swamp.  It is obvious that the other conferences have caught up to the BT especially in football.  The SEC is clearly in the leader in football in every aspect: recruiting, talent, rankings and revenue.  Academics can be a selling point right?  Let’s not be naïve; the “student athlete” is mostly concerned about the athletic program than the academic ratings.  What about facilities?  Every school realizes they need to field a good set of facilities in order to continue recruiting top talent.  You will get burnt in college sports if you don’t keep up with the times and call yourself “elite” without putting forth the effort.  Let’s use Notre Dame Football as an example to understand the perils of such attitude.

Notre Dame still thinks they are a top football program.  They are the only ones who believe that … and NBC b/c they have a long term TV contract with them.  The players certainly don’t believe that.  Dame consistently loses top recruits to other schools.  Even coaches don’t buy it.  Ask Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Nick Saban about their opinion.  All of them declined jobs with the Irish despite huge offers.  History and tradition are great selling points for a school but they need to be backed up with a marketing pitch … a conscious effort.  Michigan got rejected by Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles.  Ohio State might face reality next year when Urban Meyer turns them down.  The overall conference might be getting to that same state.  Delaney’s team actually needs to sell the positives of the league to other potential targets and they need to do it soon.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh would have booted for the BT instead but they needed to be approached first.  The conference is analogous to the Corleone family from The Godfather.  The other conferences can be compared to the Barzinis or the Tattalgias in terms of their market share, albeit not their intentions to eliminate Vito’s family.  The Corleones set up the Olive Oil business from ground up and established themselves as the premier mob family before anybody else.  They helped bring up the Barzinis and the other three families.  They incur some collateral damage (Santino is shot) b/c they don’t keep up with the times and Vito’s health issues.  But Michael keeps them at the top b/c he reinvents the family business.  Instead of joining the Narcotics business, they go out west to build Vegas into an empire as they wrap up their business out east.  Despite some setbacks, they still have enough muscle and creativity to keep their business rolling.  This legendary conference still has that “muscle” but they need to act fast.  What is the next move that will separate them from the pack?  Do they have something brewing and we just don’t know??  Michael had a plan in mind but he waited until Connie’s kid’s baptism to bring the five families together to remind them about his strength.  I might be giving Jim Delaney too much credit by comparing him to Vito or Michael but he still has a great alumni base and twelve excellent universities.  They just need to make a serious effort to sell and the schools will respond.  You can’t doubt their moves over the last 20 years.  Penn State was a natural fit and so is Nebraska.  Neither team hesitated to join the conference when presented with the opportunity.  Once Notre Dame realizes they are not Notre Dame, they will join as well.  Missouri just wants to be asked the question and they will pounce on it.  Great businesses need to keep up with the times to stay on top.  The Corleones did that.  Stringer Bell from The Wire had the same foresight but Avon Barksdale was too arrogant to let his “corners” go.  What will the Big Ten do?  I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now but their time is running out.  They want to “honor legends and build leaders” but they better not be stuck on the legends for too long and rest on their laurels.  The times are changing and they need to keep up.

September 12, 2011

Program Saviors – Quarterback or a Strong Safety?

Written Ramblings by DJ

Stoops didn't revive the Oklahoma program with a 5 star quarterback ...

The Michigan – Notre Dame Game last Saturday night was an instant classic.  These are two storied programs trying to get back to the legendary status in college football.  The Fighting Irish haven’t won a bowl game in 15 years and the Wolverines won about four games in the Big Ten over the past three years.  The key personnel were hyped before the game:  Tommy Rees/Dayne Christ (ND QBs) and Denard Robinson (Michigan QB).  All eyes on the skill position players but no talk about defense.  This is the main reason behind the slow progress of these programs.

Everybody searches for the turning point or the “savior” during a rough patch for a football program.  These “saviors” can come in the form of a coach or a player.  The coach gets the brunt of the credit and blame but the fans usually scrutinize the skill position players.  During the offseason the Fighting Irish faithful were worried about Kelly’s offensive system and the quarterback: Christ or Rees.  The Michigan fans were concerned if Denard Robinson can stay healthy and continue to bust 70 yard touchdown runs.  But can a position player spark a program?  Brady Quinn/Golden Tate could only take Notre Dame to a certain level so why expect Tommy Rees/Michael Floyd to do any better?  Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson won the “September Heisman” over the last two seasons but the team could not sustain their success throughout the season. I don’t think the skill players can turn a program around by themselves.  The media and the fans are obsessed with them but this is not a good approach towards getting back into national title contention.  I am not talking about if these programs can come back to premier status again but how they can get there quickly.  If we look at the history of programs that rebound from tough patches, we notice that the saviors come in the form of Safeties or Linebackers … the names that you don’t hear or even remember over time.  Let’s examine such programs that have rebounded to become a consistent contender again.

Oklahoma wasn’t a national contender after Barry Schwitzer left for the National Football League (I think NFL would sue me if I don’t spell out the whole thing).  They hired Bob Stoops in the late 90s to revive the program and Oklahoma won the BCS championship in 2000.  They beat a stacked Florida State team with Heisman winner Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick (top five NFL pick).  Josh Huepel was their quarterback and he had half the talent of Rees or Christ.  But Roy Williams was an All American strong safety who led a defense that gave up less than 20 points the whole season.  University of Miami (The U) went through the probation period in the 90s and was itching for a comeback.  Butch Davis brought in a hard hitting attitude to the program before he left for a Sunday coaching job.  Larry Coker continued that group of players to appear in two BCS championship games with a quarter back who probably couldn’t bench more than his own weight – Ken Dorsey.  He was a “game manager” that overachieved but The U won the title by being a defensive menace.  The 2001 national championship team had Ed Reed (HOF safety), Philip Buchanan and Jonathan Vilma who ended up as first round NFL picks and enjoyed successful pro careers.  Nebraska could not cope up with the linebackers’ speed on the other side.  Their gimmicky option schemes were pointless.   Miami was part of a “dynasty” talk in 2002 but they lost to a surprising team in the BCS championship game – the Ohio State buckeyes.

OSU fired John Cooper in 2001 b/c he couldn’t beat Michigan and the Buckeyes weren’t really considered a national power. Jim Tressel turned it around in a couple years.  The program’s saviors weren’t quarterbacks or wide outs but once again, it was their linebackers and safeties.  Mike Doss (strong safety) and Matt Wilhelm (linebacker) surprised Miami with their speed and snuck up to win the title.  Their quarterback was Craig Krenzel who wanted to go to Medical school after graduation but had no interest in the NFL.  He would have been lucky to even get drafted.  Guess who dominated the BCS the next few years?  Another program that used a similar formula – South California!  USC couldn’t even win their rivalry games against UCLA in the 90s, let alone live up to national title expectations that they were accustomed to in the 80s.  A guy named Troy Polamalu headlined a ridiculous defense that shut down the likes of Oklahoma and Michigan to win titles in the early part of ‘00s.

A more recent example is Alabama who won their first national championship in about 20 years b/c they had defensive studs.  These players left the NFL scouts salivating.  You think their skill position players were their “saviors?”   In a fantasy draft with the college players, none of their offensive players (Greg McElroy, Julio Jones) would be drafted b/c they can’t give you consistent points.  I agree that the coach is a significant ingredient for change within a program especially one that is trying to make it back.  But the more important element is how that coach approaches the turnaround.  You can’t keep schools such as Michigan, USC, Alabama or Miami down for too long.  They can always recruit using their name but the type of players they recruit is the game changer.  Brian Kelly’s teams in Cincinnati were known for their offense.  Willingham and Weiss’ quarterbacks were under scrutiny, not their defensive group.  Rich Rod’s offensive schemes were analyzed, but not whether he can put up a defensive front that can stop the run against the rest of the Big Ten.  The fans worry about Denard’s ability to break a big run but he shouldn’t have to do that every game … not if Brady Hoke can recruit some linebackers to stop the run.  It shouldn’t matter if Rees is better than Christ; it matters if they can stop anybody in crunch time.

That is exactly what happened during Saturday’s game.  Neither team could stop each other during the 4th quarter which resulted in three touchdowns over the last two minutes.  Denard was a hero once again but there is NO WAY the offensive coordinator calls a pass play with eight seconds left against a top 30 ranked defense such as Ohio State or Wisconsin.  Bo Schembechler’s name came up repeatedly during Saturday night’s broadcast.  He didn’t care about the “spread offense” or if his quarterbacks could execute complicated plays.  Michigan was known for their vaunted defensive units during their best years.  I remember being at the Illinois – Michigan game in 2000 and was in awe of the Wolverines.   Victor Hobson, the middle linebacker looked like an Illinois defensive tackle and possessed a running back’s speed.  Illinois players looked like a high school team trying to run the ball against Michigan.  That kind of a defensive player is not there anymore.  The skill players will come but they should search for that defensive stud and more importantly, that tough mentality.  Hoke was a defensive coordinator at Michigan and hopefully he will install an intense system.  The Michigan and Notre Dame fans should stop worrying about their quarterbacks and worry about their team’s ability to tackle (ND’s issue) or cover the best receiver on the opposing team (Michigan’s glaring problem).  Program saviors don’t always come in the form of quarterbacks but a defense whose intensity is contagious.  This formula has worked in the past. Hoke and Kelly can ask Carroll, Saban and Stoops how they were able to win quickly despite the unrealistic expectations.

September 7, 2011

Fr-enemies – Can you root for your rival??

Written Ramblings by DJ

Big Ten fans outside of Ann Arbor will miss having Rich Rod around.



I was at Duffy’s, a Michigan bar in Lakeview about two years ago to watch Michigan – Notre Dame with my wife.  We were there two hours before kickoff to get a table and the packed bar already had something to celebrate.  A top 20 ranked Michigan State team was about to lose to Eastern Michigan.  I didn’t quite understand this behavior.  Traditional Big Ten powers such as Michigan and Penn State were going through a rough patch.  The Buckeyes were holding steady on cruise control as usual but they were about to lose to USC that weekend.  The conference needed other teams to step up and Sparty was one of the designated teams to pick up the slack.  Why is this group of Michigan obsessed alumni rooting against a fellow Big Ten team especially during their own tough patch?

Most of the Big Ten loved destroying Rich Rod’s squad during the conference season after years of dominance.  Part of me doesn’t blame them for that.  Conference seasons are about payback.  For my math nerd friends, rivalries are almost “path dependent.”  Lloyd Carr of Michigan dominated John Cooper/Ohio State for years in the mid to late 90s.  After Tressel took over, payback was on because he owned Carr and Rodriguez.  Hoke might repeat the trend again over the next few years.  But for rest of the conference sans Wisconsin or Penn State, the payback was not always there.  So when Michigan couldn’t figure out how to stop any team from racking up 500 yards on them, everybody in the Big Ten feasted on them; especially in Ann Arbor.  But this hurt the overall state of the conference.

Votes matter a big deal in College Football.  The voters (coaches and media) have jobs that demand 60-70 hours a week so they can’t watch every single game or follow every single team.  Voters can be analogous to fund analysts who rate certain stocks.  They tend to focus on the Sector (e.g. Retail, Banking) rather than every single stock.  If a sector’s demand is on the rise, then most of the firms within the sector will get a good recommendation.  The sector’s rating also depends heavily on how the big hitters perform.  If a big bank isn’t doing well, it can hurt the sector and the mid to smaller firms’ stock prices will tend to drop despite their individual performance.  Power conferences are similar to Sectors.   Each conference’s image depends on its big name programs.  Don’t be shocked, the media does not always recognize the emerging programs of any conference unless they put together seven to eight consistent seasons.  If you want proof, turn on NBC on Saturdays to figure out why a team that has not won a Bowl Game in over 15 years still has their own network.  In the Big Ten, the powerhouses include Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State (until Paterno is around).  Even though the Badgers whip up consistent winning seasons, they are still considered a sideshow on a national scale.

These conference ratings (or sector ratings) have a monetary impact for a current season and the future.  The monetary impact comes in the form of how they are ranked.  If there are two teams with identical records, the voters (or fund analysts) will be a biased in their vote towards the conference that has a better overall rating.  This is bound to happen so don’t hate the player here; that’s just how the game works.  Wisconsin went 11-1 three years ago but they were ranked below Auburn who had a similar record.  Badgers handed it to them on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl.  Urban Meyer should not have been even eligible to play in the first BCS championship b/c Michigan deserved to be there.  But the Gators nudged Michigan in BCS rankings preventing another Michigan – Ohio State showdown for the NC game.  Yes, the BCS takes into account strength of schedule but it also takes into the account the same polls that rank these teams subjectively.  We can argue who had a tougher schedule – Michigan or Florida but the votes still matter.  If Big Ten had a more impressive image than the SEC, I’d like to argue that Chris Leak and Tim Tebow would have never even had a chance to pummel Ohio State.  They certainly did embarrass Ohio State but we’ll save that for another day.

The conference ratings clearly impact recruiting.  A high school sophomore would much rather go to a middle of the pack SEC team such as Arkansas over a fourth or fifth best team in the Big Ten such as Iowa.  You expect the Wolverines and Buckeyes to recruit based on their history but an average team ought to want those legendary programs to stay up so they can get the 3-4 star recruits consistently.  That is why Michigan and Penn State need to come back to prominence in order for Illinois or Northwestern to continue recruiting the 3 star recruits.  And when Michigan is down, they better hope that the rest of the conference is picking up the slack.  The SEC – Big Ten record matters.  How the Big Ten teams perform in the non conference schedule matters especially when they get knocked off by a heavy underdog.  That’s the only way Northwestern and Iowa will get their due as one of the handful of teams with a winning bowl record against the SEC teams over the last five years.  That’s the only way Camp Randall will get its due for possibly surpassing Happy Valley as the toughest place to play a night game in the country.  But as long as Penn State gets their a@$ kicked (they will against Alabama this weekend), the media would rather talk about the downfall of a great program rather than emerging one such as Wisconsin.

I see no reason why Michigan fans should love Michigan State’s losses to Eastern Michigan.  I get it, they are rivals.  Rivalries are the bread and butter of the game so I don’t suggest turning it down.  But save that for the conference season.  During non conference season, the Big Ten fan regardless of their background ought to root for all the other eleven teams.  That’s why I care how Minnesota performs against USC despite being 24 point dogs.  That’s why I am happy that Northwestern continues to beat the average teams from other conferences such as Boston College despite losing their star quarterback.  That’s why I don’t want Ohio State to be down for too long.  The same applies to Indiana basketball (definitely worth another rant).

It is frustrating to see Michigan fans root against Michigan State in the non conference season or any Wisconsin fan that is happy for Ohio State to be in the dirt.  It is similar to Michael Corleone telling Fredo in Vegas “Fredo, I love you. But never take sides against the family.”  “Family” might be a big word to use but we need to stand up for Big Ten against other conferences and this will carry our own team further down the road.  We can all be rivals in during the conference season but against a team from another conference; we don’t need to be friends but we can at least be fr-enemies.  Fre-enemies are friends but there are certainly some differences between them.  I am going to Ann Arbor for Michigan – San Diego St this year but I would NEVER wear yellow (yea yea, I know it is “maize”).  I would root for Ohio State to suffer during the Big Ten season this year but there is no way I want them to lose to a depleted Miami squad this weekend!  So most of the fans from this great conference need to be like Lindsey Lohan and Rachel McAdams from Mean Girls and be fre-enemies during non conference and post season.  That’s all we have as Big Ten fans to stand up against the mighty SEC.  Or we can do something else … we can pay them more than the southern schools.  That might do the trick.

September 1, 2011

25 Years and Counting. Memories of the best pre-game show on TV.

Written Ramblings by DJ

The best pre-game show ever.

It is 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning; my cell phone alarm goes off. I try to turn it off.  There is a decent chance that I went to sleep around 2ish the night before.   I can usually still taste the pizza (or some random food) that I ate right before passing out.  I look at my phone again; it is 7:45.  I frantically wake up, do my thing and get in front of the TV.  While most people might think it is blasphemy to wake up that early on a weekend; I am where I need to be … time for College Gameday.

College Gameday turns 25 this year.  It has been a part of my life for about 11 years now.  My roommate freshman year hated me for waking up that early (and  in general I think) so I would just roll into one of my buddies’ dorm rooms next door to turn on the show around 930.  All of us were still half asleep but woke up as soon as Illinois and rest of the Big Ten was mentioned during the show.  It was fine as long as Herbstreit/Corso picked Illinois to win otherwise we just yelled at them for not knowing their crap about the game (they didn’t pick Illini much, can’t blame them).   Over the years, Gameday has become a staple of my weekends even after I left College.   Just like many parts of our lives that are routine, we tend to forget the show’s contribution to the world of college sports, not just football (see Gameday for basketball).

Gameday is the best in studio pre-game show for any sport on the major networks.  They have an ex-player in Herbstreit who tries to be objective for the most part despite his Big Ten background but the hardcore college football fan values his opinion.  Erin Andrews is not your basic sideline reporter who lets the audience know about injuries and drop the usual sports cliché once in a while.  Most sideline reporters come and go once their fifteen minutes are done (see Jill Arrington of CBS or any NFL sideline reporter) but she has managed to stick around.  It is a matter of time before she moves into the studio and it has already begun with her own segment of Gameday leading into Fowler’s time slot.  Chris Fowler is what sets this show apart for me from others. Stewart Mandel of SI compared Gameday to TNT’s “Inside the NBA” as the best pre-game show.  Both Fowler and Ernie Johnson know as much about their respective sport as any other analyst.  Fowler could move into the analyst chair and the show would not skip a beat.  He comes from the same tree as the old school anchors from the 90s such as Bob Costas or Dan Patrick.  Costas’ knowledge about baseball can match up with most of the established writers of the sport.  Dan Patrick is just a genuine fan and then a sports anchor.  These guys don’t just rely on their notes and teleprompters to talk about the sport; they can “wing” it b/c they follow the sport as a fan.  Fowler buys into everything that CFB represents and this naturally translates to the flow of the show.  Desmond Howard is still in the transition phase but is a solid ex-player picked to be on the show.  Then there is Lee Corso.

Several fans might say Corso’s picks are never surprising and he sticks with the traditional powers most of the time.  Another analyst he can be compared to is Dick Vitale of college hoops.  Sure, he might not give the football superfans something that they don’t already know but the guy is over 70 years old.  If I ever get to 70, I’d be happy to be half as excited about college sports as Corso.  I’ll be satisfied at that age if I can match the energy of the thousands of rowdy fans behind the set who camp out for hours before the show begins.  Corso isn’t there to break down the Xs and Os.  He is there to “bring it” to every show and he never fails to deliver.

What does all of this mean to me?  Why am I writing about a pre-game show?  Because the show represents the intangibles of the sport.  Football Saturdays was a way for me to bond with my buddies over the years and it started in college.  Waking up early and getting ready for the kickoff is a ritual for most kids in school.  It wasn’t just about watching a TV show and going to the games.  It was about hanging out and forming friendships for life.    Certain phases in life or events (sporting/movies/concerts) stick with us.  I still say Terminator 2 was the most intense movie theater experience of my life.  I was 10 years old and I snuck into an R rated movie with my friends!  Most of the folks around my age who grew up watching cartoons in the late 80s or early 90s could still recite the words to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song (I might be the only one actually).  Watching Gameday is no different than waking up on weekends to watch cartoons as the parents try to get chores down around the house.  You don’t forget these experiences and your friends from certain phases in life.  Gameday brings the “inner child” out of most of the fans.  This is true about College Sports.  The energy of the sport is contagious whether you are around the campus for a game or in a bar with other alumni or just in front of the TV with your buddies.

The time I spend with the games and the show has gone down over the years due to basic space time continuum (copyright Dr. Emmett Brown).  I tried to resist it over the last couple years but I am at peace with that now mainly because I am content with my time so far.  I have had the luxury of watching this show and going through a decade of college football.  I formed great relationships over the years that will not be forgotten.  I was even fortunate to see Herbie and the guys last year when Gameday came to Wrigley.  I was glad to check that off the bucket list.  I’ll take any Saturday I can get to watch  this crew and appreciate what I have in life … peaceful/relaxing day after an honest week of work where I can kick it with the people close to me and college football.  I am even more fortunate b/c my wife digs the show and tries to wake up by 10:30 in the morning to catch the last ½ hour just in time to see Corso’s headgear antics.  So I’ll be heading over to my buddy’s place on Saturday to watch these guys and celebrate the start of the new season with a few beverages.

Happy Birthday College Gameday!