Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ball State preview.

Ball State Cardinals
2007 record: 5-4
2007 Sagarin: 71 (IU is #77)
2006 record: 5-7
2006 Sagarin: 98
Series: IU leads 3-0
Last IU win: 2006 (24-23 in Muncie)
Last Ball State win: never
Last IU win in Bloomington: 1999 (21-9)
As I noted before the season, IU's record against the MAC is remarkably good. IU last lost to a MAC school in 1977 (Miami). From 1978 to present, all Big Ten schools other than Michigan, Ohio State, and IU have lost to the MAC. I bring this up at the beginning of each football season, but with some trepidation. OSU and Michigan are great programs with five star talent at nearly every position, but there's no rational explanation for why IU is on a 30-year MAC winning streak yet Joe Tiller has lost to MAC schools twice during his successful tenure at Purdue. My only guess, as posited in the post linked above:
One theory I have tossed around is that in the typical MAC-Big Ten matchup, the MAC team has nothing to lose and the Big Ten team may be a bit casual about the whole thing. When a MAC team sees IU on the schedule, that game is automatically circled ("If Toledo can beat Penn State, we should beat Indiana by 40!"). When oddsmakers and sportswriters see an IU-MAC game on the schedule, it's an instant "upset special." IU's games against the MAC may turn the tables: the MAC team may be overconfident, and IU, the nominal favorite, ends up with a chip on its shoulder. (enough sportswriter cliches in there for you? It's a half-baked theory, I know).
I'm a little nervous that no one seems to be picking Ball State in this game. However fortunate IU has been against the MAC, Ball State is the flip side of the coin. Despite some solid teams and close calls, BSU is one of the few MAC schools without a BCS conference scalp. As I did for IU's two other MAC opponents, Western Michigan and Akron, here's a look at Ball State's record against BCS conference opponents (not counting wins against teams such as Connecticut in their pre-BCS days):
Auburn: 0-2 (2001, 2005)
Boston College: 0-3 (2003-05)
Clemson: 0-2 (1992, 2002)
Florida: 0-1 (2000)
Illinois: 0-1 (2007)
Indiana: 0-3 (1997, 1999, 2006)
Iowa: 0-1 (2005)
Iowa State: 0-1 (1998)
Kansas: 0-2 (1992, 1996)
Kansas State: 0-1 (2000)
Kentucky: 0-1 (2001)
Michigan: 0-1 (2006)
Minnesota: 0-2 (1995, 1996)
Missouri: 0-3 (2002-04)
Nebraska: 0-1 (2007)
Pitt: 0-1 (2003)
Purdue: 0-7 (1985-86; 1994-95; 1997, 2004, 2006)
Rutgers: 0-0-1 (1989, 31-31 at Rutgers)
South Carolina: 0-1 (1998)
Syracuse: 0-1 (1993)
Washington State: 0-1 (1984)
West Virginia: 0-2 (1989, 1994)
Wisconsin: 0-3 (1987, 1990, 1999)
By my count, that's 0-41-1. The Cardinals' closest calls have been against Boston College (19-14 loss in Muncie in 2004); IU (24-23 in Muncie last year); Kentucky (28-20 road loss in 2001); Michigan (34-28 road loss in 2006); 26-23 at Minnesota in 1996; Nebraska (41-40 a couple of weeks ago); 16-14 at Washington State in 1984; and 16-14 at West Virginia in 1994. It is noteworthy that Ball State has been competitive in all games against BCS conference teams in the last two seasons. In 2006, BSU lost to IU by 1, at Purdue by 10, and at Michigan by 8. This season, the Cards have lost at Nebraska by 1 and at Illinois by 11.
So, who are these Cardinals? They have an explosive offense, let by QB Nate Davis. Although his completion percentage (55 percent) isn't overwhelming, everything else is (276 yards per game, 21TD/4INT). He has been sacked 14 times but still has managed a new of 209 rushing yards. Frank Edmonds (451 yards, 4.0 per) and MiQuale Lewis (447 yards, 4.9 per) lead the rushing attack, while Dante Love (59/789, 7 TD) and Darius Hill (44/655, 7TD) lead the receiving corps.
The team stats are fairly comparable. Both teams average about 32 points per game offensively; BSU averages 439 yards per game to 391; both teams produce more with the pass than the run. Defensively, Ball State allows 431 yards per game and 26.3 points. The Cards lead the MAC with 14 interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Ball State allows 5.3 yards per carry and 227 yards per game. Opponents have completed 66 percent of their passes against Ball State for over 200 yards per game, but again, only 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. IU is allowing 27 points per game and 391 yards per game. The Hoosiers have 12 interceptions and are allowing 4.0 yards per rush for about 178 yards a game. IU allows a 59.6 completion percentage and over 200 yards a game, and has given up 14 TDs to 12 INT. Ball State has only 15 sacks, as compared to IU's 36, slowing down but still #2 nationally. As noted above, the computer rankings now favor Ball State, however slightly.
The good news for IU fans is that Ball State doesn't much resemble the teams that have defeated IU. Illinois, MSU, Penn State, and Wisconsin won by running down our throats, by pressuring Kellen Lewis, and by stopping us from developing any traditional running game. Those would not appear to be Ball State's strengths. On the other hand, this may be the most wide open, explosive offense that IU has faced. It should be interesting, and unlike any IU game this season.

Blogpoll ballot.

Yes, again, no time for revisions. I watched IU-Wisconsin and not much else.

1 Ohio State --
2 Boston College --
3 Arizona State --
4 Kansas --
5 LSU --
6 Oregon 1
7 Oklahoma 1
8 Virginia Tech --
9 Missouri 1
10 West Virginia 1
11 Texas 6
12 Georgia 8
13 Michigan 3
14 Southern Cal 2
15 Connecticut 11
16 Alabama 7
17 Florida 4
18 South Carolina 4
19 Hawaii --
20 Tennessee 6
21 Auburn 4
22 Wake Forest 4
23 Clemson 3
24 Kentucky 9
25 South Florida 16

Dropped Out: California (#18), Penn State (#21), Virginia (#22), Rutgers (#24).

Senderoff fallout.

Mike DeCourcy, Andy Katz, and various other seem to be jumping on the "Senderoff as fall guy" bandwagon. Inside the Hall also suggests that the Senderoff dismissal was botched and also mentions Greenspan's characterization of Senderoff's resignation as "voluntary." There are a few points to consider. First, as Greenspan noted, Senderoff and IU have entered a severance agreement. Those agreements don't appear out of thin air. The Ice Miller report makes clear that Senderoff hired an attorney months ago, and it's safe to assume that his attorney has been involved in recent days. It's possible that IU always was going to get rid of Senderoff, but the terms of the severance hadn't been fully agreed upon two weeks ago. It's also possible that Greenspan got additional pressure from above. President McRobbie seems to have been in the loop from the beginning, but the trustees and big donors may not have been. Finally, it may seem silly for Greenspan to claim that Senderoff resigned voluntarily, but a) almost certainly, the severance agreement requires him to say that, and b) that term is favorable to Senderoff. In a high profile personnel decision such as this one, where everyone "knows" what happened, perhaps it's of no value. But what if you were forced out by your employer? Would you prefer it be characterized as a resignation or a firing?
I suppose I'm less than troubled by this because from the beginning, I've been surprised that Senderoff could survive. Overall, I think he's a well-meaning guy and I expect he will land on his feet in the coaching profession, but his departure is in IU's interest. In any event, I think this story might look a bit different if we knew what was going on behind the scenes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IU releases NCAA reports (details and link).

IU has released the documents that it submitted to the NCAA. The Herald-Times has posted (free of charge) the .pdf of IU's report to the NCAA. I haven't yet seen the .pdf of the other documents, but will link it if I find it. Here are my quick thoughts as I go through the report (page numbers refer to the report, not to the .pdf document):
  • The director of the Infractions Committee is named "Shep Cooper." That sounds like the name of an SEC athletic director or a kindly old Kentucky booster known for $100 handshakes. Maybe he'll go easy on us. (Yes, I recognize the irony. I'm writing a post about NCAA violations that occurred at IU and making "Kentucky cheats" jokes. Are such jokes now off limits? Nah. Maybe when a bundle of cash falls out of a FedEx envelope).
  • There is a list of attachments (p. ii) that are not included in the .pdf.
  • The report begins with a discussion of IU's adoption, upon hiring of Sampson, of Oklahoma's self-imposed sanctions. Of course, on May 25, 2006, the NCAA handed down harsher penalties than originally imposed by OU and IU. (pp. 1-4).
  • Weekly compliance meetings (p. 4). The compliance office met weekly with the director of basketball operations (now Dan Dakich; former Tennessee coach Jerry Green for most of the relevant period; I will use "DBA" for short.). Those meetings included a review of handwritten and online call log information, Sampson's personal schedule, and the like.
  • Monitoring of phone calls (p.5): The DBA collected the coaches' phone logs on a weekly basis and gave them to Compliance. The handwritten logs were entered by clerical staff into a program called "Cybersports." Coaches were required to sign statements declaring which phones they had used for recruiting during that week. Compliance staff reviewed the logs for possible violations. The Compliance office was responsible for cross-referencing the logs and the office and cell phone records of the coaches. Because he could make no calls, Sampson did not keep logs, but Compliance did compare his office and cell records to the compliance data in Cybersports (which apparently includes contact info for recruits). They note that the system improved over the months, some nice CYA language to set up what is to come, I'm sure.
  • Monitoring of off-campus recruiting (p. 7): same procedure as above. Handwritten logs--->Cybersports. They also checked Sampson's schedule to ensure that he wasn't participating in off-campus recruiting, per the sanctions.
  • Monitoring Sampson's public appearances (p. 7). The compliance office kept detailed records of all of Sampson's appearances. As has been reported before, IU went so far as to prohibit Sampson for speaking when there were high school-aged students, even non-athletes, present.
  • List of weekly compliance meetings (p. 8). Here, we see a list of each weekly meeting, including the date, topics, and attendees. It continues to page 12. I'm sure we will refer back to the list. There is a further discussion of the general steps generally taken by the AD re meetings, tests, etc., and then we seem to get to the juicy stuff.
  • Review of calls contrary to the sanctions (p. 13-15). First, there is a discussion of the chronology, and the discovery by an intern of a three way calling pattern involving Rob Senderoff's cell phone and Sampson's home phone. Two calls were discovered on July 10. Within 24 hours, the AD, the president, and Ice Miller were involved. Buried in a footnote on page 14 is an indication that IU received a clarifying e-mail concerning three way calls on June 13, 2006. This is a bit confusing. Apparently all coaches certified that they did not use their home phones to recruit. Obviously, Senderoff's records showed this not to be the case. The report says that Sampson's home phone records show no three way or recruiting calls on his home line. Is this consistent with the indication that Senderoff placed three way calls to Sampson's home? Hopefully that will become clear. After consulting with counsel, Senderoff produced home phone records that demonstrated, contrary to his signed statements to Compliance, he had been using his home phone to a significant degree. Jeff Meyer placed ten calls from his home, several of which violated the sanctions and one of which violated NCAA rules. Ray McCallum made one call from his home, and it was a permissible call. It's worth noting, as we go forward, that there were sanctions on the staff in general that went beyond limiting Sampson personally. This hasn't been discussed much, but could be crucial.
  • Three way calls involving Sampson (p. 15): The report mentions 10-18 calls. It should be noted that indeterminate calls have been presumed by IU to be impermissible. First, it notes that then ten calls were outgoing calls, i.e., calls made by the assistant, not to the assistant. That seems different from what we had been led to believe. Note on page 16 that the June 13, 2006 clarification of the three way calls was requested by the coaches. Senderoff initiated all of the outgoing calls.
  • Explanations for three way calls (p. 17): They note that Sampson did not instruct Senderoff to make these calls, and on one occasion believe, but was not certain, that Senderoff had initiated the call. All of the calls occurred in the evening. Sampson does not give out his home number to recruits, given that not all will be offered or will enroll at IU. He lives several miles out of town and has spotty cell phone reception. Senderoff apparently believed he was in a gray area and that by acting as an operator, he apparently did not realize he was violating the sanctions. Contrary to Sampson's and Senderoff's assertions, at least two of the recipients of the calls are adamant that both Sampson and Senderoff were participating in the entirety of the conversation.
  • Other impermissible calls (p. 20). The review of the home records had the effect of rendering some properly logged calls impermissible. On page 21, we see a chart of calls by coach. Obviously, there is some overlap between NCAA violations and sanctions: Senderoff: 101 calls (99 violated sanctions, 34 violated NCAA rules). Jeff Meyer: 4 calls (4 violated sanctions, one violated NCAA rules); Sampson: 2 calls (2 violated sanctions, 0 violated NCAA rules). As to Sampson, it should be noted that his improper calls were not made during the period that he was prohibited from making any calls, but rather occurred either before or after the one year call ban, during the period in which certain call limitations applied to the IU staff generally. Also, one of the calls was rendered improper because of a previous, unrecorded call by Senderoff. In other words, Sampson had no way of knowing that call was improper when he made it.
  • Senderoff apparently had no real explanation for why he didn't log the calls from his home phone. He indicated that it was his practice to generate phone logs by reviewing the history on his cell phone. The staff also did not seem to realize, prior to the May 25, 2006 report, that they were restricted from making calls in any way other than by NCAA rules.
  • The report concludes with a list of the sanctions. It seems to me that the additional restriction on Sampson (he can call juniors once every other month instead of once a month) wasn't mentioned before, although the cover letter to the report is dated October 3, 2007.

Well, not much time now. It seems to me that overall, this isn't the end of the world, but there are some red flags here. More discussion later, possibly much later tonight.

EDIT: Originally, I was under the impression that IU was going to be releasing a report prepared by Ice Miller for IU, as well as the documents prepared for the NCAA. I seem to have been mistaken. The detailed report to the NCAA, summarized above, is the only lengthy report that has been released. It may be that this was the only report ever prepared. In any event, the H-T also has posted the exhibits to the report as well as the NCAA "self-reports," which are shorter documents prepared on NCAA forms relating to the violations described in the narrative report. Go here for links to the exhibits.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Basketball Big Ten media day and other thoughts.

Not surprisingly, lots of media coverage today of the Big Ten's basketball media extravaganza in Chicago yesterday, much of which is noted in Mike Pegram's Hoosier Newsstand. As numerous sources report, the prognosticators expect Michigan State to win the Big Ten and IU to finish second. Also not surprisingly, much of the IU coverage focuses on the additional improper phone calls. According to the Daily Herald, Sampson's friend Tom Izzo is supportive:

"Not to make fun of anything, but to follow all the rules right now you almost need a personal secretary riding around with you," Izzo said. "I don't know all the situation, so I'm not going to try to be judge and jury. From what I've heard and what I've read, it seems like pretty tough punishment when I've seen other schools maybe not punished as strongly for things I think are a lot worse."

Frankly, I don't think it's that hard. My profession requires me to write down everything I do and it becomes surprisingly routine. I think Izzo's last sentence should be the most encouraging to IU fans. Not surprisingly, bosom buddies Matt Painter and Bruce Weber are not supportive. Perhaps the biggest surprise in that article was Bruce Weber's admission that he is not perfect, which should have been the headline. Much as it pains me, however, I have to agree with Painter and Weber on this one. It's understandable that impermissible phone calls will occur occasionally, but given IU's circumstances, slavish adherence to the phone call rules simply had to be a top priority. At the very least, it wasn't a priority to one particular assistant, Rob Senderoff, and the athletic department staff and the head coach failed to effectively instill this priority in the staff. Speaking of Senderoff, when this news broke, I wondered how, presuming that IU effectively communicated the interpretation on three way calls to the assistant coaches, Senderoff could still have a job. Today, it appears likely that he doesn't have a job. According to Hoosier Scoop, IU spokesman Larry McIntyre could not confirm that Senderoff remains employed by IU. It would seem a safe bet that "I don't know" means that the answer will be "no" in the near future.

I certainly don't want anyone to think that my silence on the issue of the last couple of weeks has anything to do with an effort to avoid or bury the issue. First of all, it's really depressing. If IU wins the NCAA championship next spring, "Phonegate" will be in the first paragraph of every news article. That sickens me, and it was an unforced error by IU and the coaching staff. Second, it would be premature for me to write 2000 words about what IU should do regarding Sampson when the information released by IU has been so sketchy. Hoosier Scoop also reports that IU soon will release the Ice Miller report on the new violations. Based on what I have read so far, while I might be willing to hop in the time machine and stop IU from hiring Sampson back in April 2006, I haven't seen anything that makes me think he should be fired. But I'm not going to firmly state a position until I have read the Ice Miller report and the NCAA's ultimate conclusions. IU's first exhibition game is Sunday at noon, so I hope to discuss some real live basketball stuff this week.

Wisconsin ugliness.

Here's the box score, and like the MSU game, there aren't many or even any positives to take from yesterday. After spotting UW a 17-0 lead, the defense began to play better, but I don't know if that would have been the case absent PJ Hill's injury. Austin Starr has emerged as one of the best kickers in the country. Other than that, this was pretty ugly. IU lost the turnover battle 5-2, was outgained by 150 yards, clealry outpaced in yards per play (5.6 to 4.1), and really just couldn't get anything done. As I said last week, when a team has a chance to beat a marginally but not overwhelmingly better team, it's best to capitalize. Wisconsin played well, IU didn't, and now the Hoosiers have followed a 5-1 start with a 3 game losing streak. A few thoughts:
So, how is the bowl outlook after today?
  • Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin have seven or more wins. Illinois and Penn State are conditionally eligible with six wins. Penn State plays Temple, so they really have seven wins. Minnesota has eight losses.
  • Michigan State is in trouble. The Spartans are 5-4 with games against Michigan, at Purdue, and at home against Penn State. MSU could win any of those games, but getting to six is no guarantee, and getting to seven will require a couple of significant upsets.
  • Iowa improved its prospects with a win against MSU. Iowa is 4-5 with games at Northwestern, and then at home against Minnesota and Western Michigan. The Hawkeyes are substantially likely to get to six wins, but can they win out and get to seven wins? It certainly seems possible.
  • IU, of course, has a must win against Ball State at home this weekend, and then plays at Northwestern and Purdue at home.
  • Northwestern is 5-4 with Iowa and IU at home and Illinois on the road. NU certainly has a good shot at a seven win season, but certainly could lose all three.
  • Illinois is an interesting case. The Illini have won six already, and play at dog-awful Minnesota this weekend. If the Gophers rise up and steal a Big Ten win, then the Illini have to travel to OSU, and then would be playing for quite a bit in their home finale against Northwestern. It seems overwhelmingly likely that Illinois will get to seven wins, but it's not impossible that they could stumble.

Of course, the Hoosiers' distressing trendline in recent weeks certainly has reminded IU fans that we have, in essence, an interim coach. I'm not going to engage in candidate speculation at this point. In part, it would be unfair to the team, which still has a chance to make 2007 IU's best season in ages. Mostly, however, it would be silly to speculate about a search that will be airtight. During his tenure at IU, Rick Greenspan has run two high-profile coaching searches: the 2004 football coaching search and the 2006 basketball coaching search. In each case, Greenspan kept his cards close to the vest. The news of Hoeppner's hiring leaked from Miami after he told his players that he was leaving. Similarly, none of the talking heads were mentioning Kelvin Sampson until the news broke that he would be hired. Anyone who claims to have any insight into the process probably doesn't.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Guest post.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Random thoughts.

Busy week, but here are a few thoughts:
  • Hoosier Scoop, as always, has excellent coverage of this afternoon's open basketball practice. It sounds like a bit of a mob scene at the end when Sampson opened the court for autographs. IU's first exhibition game in a week from Sunday, and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. I am going to have to get moving on basketball soon.
  • Like some of IU's other Big Ten series, the overall record against Wisconsin narrowed during the Mallory years but IU hasn't fared well during the era of darkness. Wisconsin leads the series 33-18-2 and has won eight of ten. IU won five in a row against Wisconsin from 1986 to 1992, but have only two wins since the Badgers won their first Alvarez-era Big Ten title. The Badgers have broken the 40 point barrier in five of the last ten games, including in last year's 52-17 win in Bloomington.
  • I was watching a game in another stadium during IU's 63-32 win at Camp Randall in 2001. Imagine my surprise when I heard over the PA: "in the first quarter, Indiana 32, Wisconsin 0." I was so thoroughly disillusioned with Cam Cameron by then that I said to a buddy who was with me at the other game: "I guarantee that score is wrong. And even if it's right, we'll still find a way to blow the game." That didn't happen, of course, and I still have never seen one of IU's best performances of the last couple of decades. Maybe the BTN will come through at some point with one of its classic game broadcasts. Here's a Milwaukee J-S article from that day that I found while looking for a photo of Levron Williams. I had forgotten that IU didn't have a win that season. The Hoosier began that year with an embarrassing loss at NC State on national TV. The Kentucky game, which IU ultimately won, was postponed because of 9/11. IU botched a two point conversion and lost to Utah, and then lost the Big Ten opener to OSU.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

BTB Roundtable: wishful thinking.

Pretend for a moment you're the little Japanese guy on Heroes. You can close your eyes, clench your fists, crap your pants and go back in time. If you could go back and change one play for your team this season, what would it be?
I don't have to go back too far for this one. I would have Tracy Porter field that punt on the 30. With less than two minutes remaining and trailing Penn State, Porter allowed a fieldable punt to bounce to the 5. There's no guarantee that IU would have won, but some field position might have put PSU on its heels a bit.

We're now two-thirds of the way through the season. Everyone likes to debate who will be the Big Ten Coach of the Year. I want to know which Big Ten coach is a complete moron that should be demoted back to fullbacks coach on a team that runs the spread offense?
Kirk Ferentz. Just a few years ago, the Hawkeyes appeared to be headed for national prominence. Instead, a year after a 2-6 Big Ten finish, Iowa likely will miss a bowl game entirely, has been blown out by IU and Purdue, and gifted a horrible Iowa State team its only win. I haven't studied the Iowa situation in detail, and as long as they provide IU an opportunity to climb out of the cellar, I don't care why it has happened, but Iowa's decline was a terrible waste of resources and momentum.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. But the Bible doesn't say anything about your rival. Which current Big Ten player do you most wish played for your team?
As I have noted on many occasions, I'm a big fan of Bryan Payton and think that Marcus Thigpen can add another dimension to IU's offense. While I'm tempted to select a run-stopping DT, if IU could throw Mike Hart in the backfield with Kellen Lewis, the run defense wouldn't matter.

Bonus Question
It's probably too early to start thinking about next year. Well, unless you're Minnesota in which case you've been thinking about next year for a month or so already. Assess your team's future. Was this year your chance to make a run or is this just a rebuilding year with greater expectations in 2008? Or do you plan to suck in 2008 just as much as you suck now?
This question is nearly impossible for an IU fan to answer. Even though we seem likely to end our 13 year bowl drought, we really have no idea who will coach this team next year. One of the reasons I wouldn't mind seeing Bill Lynch get a long-term deal is because of the potential of next year's team. Certainly, IU will lose some important players: James Hardy will almost certainly enter the NFL Draft, Tracy Porter, DL Joe Kremer, OL Charlie Emerson, but ultimately, IU returns a ton of players. Certainly, we haven't seen what Kellen Lewis can do without Hardy, but IU has a deep and talented receiving corps. Plus, the schedule is likely to be easy again: the non-conference schedule will be BCS-free, and we don't play OSU or Michigan. But for all we know, it could be a rebuilding year with a new coach.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Wisconsin Badgers
2007 record: 6-2 (2-2)
2007 Sagarin: 55 (IU is #57)
2006 record: 12-1 (defeated Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl)
2006 Sagarin: 9
Series: Wisconsin leads 33-18-2
Last IU win: 2002 (32-29 in Bloomington)
Last Wisconsin win: 2006 (52-17 in Bloomington)
Last IU win in Madison: 2001 (63-32)

Before the season, a wise man said:

Although the Blogpoll isn't as out of line as the AP and coaches' polls (which both rank the Badgers #7), I still think that Wisconsin is overrated and will not be anywhere near the top 10. One of the Blogpoll directives is that schedule-based prognostication is discouraged. I may be breaking that rule, but I don't think so, because schedule (the absence of Ohio State, the absence of any meaningful nonconference competition) was such a significant part of Wisconsin's one-loss 2006 season. The Badgers lost two of their three most important offensive players, including an experienced quarterback and the best offensive lineman in the country, and now play each of the Big Three, including two on the road, and I'm supposed to believe that the Badgers, a school with only three one-loss seasons in the last half-century, are going to waltz into championship contention? I'm not seeing it. Certainly, as an Indiana fan, gearing up to watch the Hoosiers play a non-conference slate of Indiana State, Akron, Western Michigan, and Ball State, not to mention missing Michigan and Ohio State for the next two years, I'm in no position to criticize anyone's schedule, but I do think Wisconsin's 11-1 last season was a bit illusory.
Actually, it wasn't a wise man. It was me. To avenge my lucky prognostication, maybe the Badgers will hang half a hundred on IU this weekend. Of course, to the extent I was right, I was right for the wrong reasons. For the most part, the Badger offense has been fine, and Tyler Donovan has done a passable job as John Stocco's successor (59 pct., 213 ypg, 12TD/8INT). In the Badgers' two losses and a close call to Michigan State, Wisconsin's rushing defense has been completely ineffective. It just so happens that Wisconsin's last three conference games have been against the three teams that have defeated IU (MSU, Penn State, Illinois), so we already know that all of those teams run the ball quite effectively. In team statistics, Wisconsin has a slight edge in total offense (417 yards per game to IU's 408); IU has about 200 more passing yards than Wisconsin and the opposite is true for rushing yards; Wisconsin averages 4.4 yards per carry to IU's 4.2. Defensively, Wisconsin allows 23 points per game to IU's 26.6; Wisconsin allows only 343 yards per game to IU's 385; despite the poor performances against MSU and Illinois, IU has the edge in YPC allowed (3.8 to Wisconsin's 4.2). PJ Hill already has rushed for 1000 yards this season and averages fie yards per carry. The Hoosiers haven't yet stopped a quality runner.

Statistically, this is an evenly matched game, although Wisconsin, the home team and the team with the better track record, is a 7 point favorite. We will see if the Hoosiers can hold on to the ball and upset the Badgers. The last time the Hoosiers won at Camp Randall, Levron Williams scored a school and conference record 6 touchdowns. Let's hope someone can recreate that magic on Saturday (James Hardy, perhaps?).

Blogpoll ballot.

1Ohio State--
2Boston College 1
3Arizona State 1
4Kansas 4
6Oklahoma 5
7Oregon 3
8Virginia Tech 6
9South Florida 7
10Missouri 2
11West Virginia 2
12Southern Cal 4
13Florida 2
14South Carolina 8
15Kentucky 8
16Michigan 6
17Texas 7
18California 9
20Georgia 5
21Penn State 5
22Virginia 4
23Alabama 3
24Rutgers 2
25Auburn 8

Dropped Out: Tennessee (#18), Cincinnati (#20), Texas Tech (#21), Kansas State (#23).

I watched IU-Penn State, and parts of ND-USC, Kentucky-Florida, and Kansas-Colorado. I'm surprised at how little respect the Jayhawks are getting. KU hasn't played a tough schedule, but they have a couple of solid road wins (K-State, Colorado) and have absolutely brutalized everyone else (321-71 scoring on the season).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bowl thoughts.

I probably shouldn't jinx it by bringing it up, but this isn't meant to be a look ahead. I fully acknowledge that every team remaining on IU's schedule could beat us.
Consider this: IU's last bowl game was in 1993. IU was bowl eligible in 1994 but did not receive an invite. In 1994, IU began the season 5-1 and then dropped four consecutive games before beating Purdue to finish 6-5. At the time, the Big Ten had only four bowl tie-ins (Rose, Citrus, Holiday, Hall of Fame). A quick trip through the greatest website in the world, College Football Data Warehouse, suggests that since the 1994 Hoosiers, no bowl-eligible Big Ten team has stayed home. But I digress. IU never even came within a game of bowl eligibility from 1995 to 2005 (the 2001 team finished 5-6 but won its last two games). In 2006, IU improved to 5-4 after beating MSU, but lost to Minnesota, Michigan, and Purdue to finish 5-7. This season, IU began 5-1 but has now lost two in a row. My point? Since IU's last bowl game, the Hoosiers have gone 1-9 in games with the elusive sixth win on the line. Enough already.
But moving back to the subject, a point that hasn't been made clearly (either here or in the media), but that requires some consideration, is that being bowl eligible at 6-6 is not the same thing as being bowl eligible with 7 or more wins. Here's an excerpt from the NCAA's Postseason Handbook (.pdf):
Per bylaw exception an institution with a record of six wins and six losses may be selected for participation in a bowl game if 1) the institution or its conference has a primary contractual affiliation which existed prior to the first contest of the applicable season, with the sponsoring bowl organization. In the case of a conference contractual affiliation, all conference teams with winning records must be placed in one of the contracted bowl games before any institution with a record of six wins and six losses may be placed in a contracted bowl game; and 2) all contractual affiliations have been fulfilled and all institutions with winning records have received bowl invitations (either through a contractual affiliation or as an at-large selection.
Although I didn't see it, apparently on the BTN's nightly show, Howard Griffith suggested that he expected IU to finish 8-4, but that IU would be passed over for a bowl bid in favor 6-6 Iowa. The above makes clear that such a move is not possible. A 6-6 team is eligible for one of its conference's contractually guaranteed bowl slots only if all teams with winning records have been accommodated. If a 6-6 team isn't given one of its conference's bowl slots, then the 6-6 team is in the at-large pool but can only be selected if every I-A team with a winning record already has received a bowl bid. In sum, a team with 7 or more bowl bids is bowl eligible; a team with 6 wins really is only conditionally eligible. Again, this point has been blurred, certainly in the media and probably here.
Still, it's quite possible that the Big Ten will have a glut of bowl-eligible teams and that one or more eligible teams will be home for the holidays.
Here are the Big Ten standings today:
  1. Ohio State (4-0) (8-0)
  2. Michigan (4-0) (6-2)
  3. Illinois (3-2) (5-3)
  4. Penn State (3-2) (6-2)
  5. Purdue (2-2) (6-2)
  6. Wisconsin (2-2) (6-2)
  7. Northwestern (2-2) (5-3)
  8. Indiana (2-3) (5-3)
  9. Michigan State (1-3) (5-3)
  10. Iowa (1-4) (3-5)
  11. Minnesota (0-4) (1-7)

The teams in bold are eligible. The teams in italics are conditionally eligible. And here is the remaining Big Ten schedule, with the most likely winner in bold

Oct. 27

Ball State @ Illinois

IU @ Wisconsin

Northwestern @ Purdue

MSU @ Iowa

Minnesota @ Michigan

Ohio State @ Penn State

November 3

Ball State @ IU

Purdue @ Penn State

Wisconsin @ OSU

Michigan @ MSU

Iowa @ Northwestern

Illinois @ Minnesota

November 10

PSU @ Temple

MSU @ Purdue

Illinois @ Ohio State

Michigan @ Wisconsin

IU @ Northwestern

Minnesota @ Iowa

November 17

Penn State @ MSU

OSU @ Michigan

Purdue @ IU

Northwestern @ Illinois

Wisconsin @ Minnesota

Western Mich @ Iowa

Now, I don't want to quibble about any of these predictions. This is just my best shot at a plausible outcome. Many of these games would not be significant upsets if they went the other way. The scenario above would leave us with the following standings:

  1. Ohio State (8-0) (12-0)
  2. Michigan (7-1) (9-3)
  3. Penn State (5-3) (9-3)
  4. Purdue (5-3) (9-3)
  5. Wisconsin (5-3) (9-3)
  6. Illinois (5-3) (8-4)
  7. Indiana (3-5) (7-5)
  8. Northwestern (3-5) (6-6)
  9. Michigan State (2-6) (6-6)
  10. Iowa (2-6) (5-7)
  11. Minnesota (0-8) (1-11)

Under this specific scenario, IU would be headed for sunny Detroit, but it doesn't require much creativity to imagine a scenario in which IU could be shut out of Big Ten-affiliated bowls. For instance, the team that would seem to be the toughest to forecast (this year, every year) is Michigan State. I have MSU winning at Iowa, losing at Purdue, and losing at home to Michigan and Penn State. MSU could win or lose any of those games. If everything stays the same but MSU wins at home against Michigan, then MSU would have the same record as IU, a head-to-head win, a tougher schedule, and loads of fans near Detroit. In that case, IU would be at the mercy of the unpredictable at-large market. Less likely, but still possible, is that Iowa could win out. Iowa has MSU at home, plays Northwestern, and hosts Minnesota and Western Michigan. Even as unremarkable as Iowa has been, the last two games are locks, and neither of the first two would be a huge upset. In that case, Iowa would not have the head-to-head advantage over IU, but does have a much better fan following. On the other hand, if the Motor City Bowl is deciding between IU and Iowa, the proximity of Indiana may make a difference, as will the fact that IU fans and players would be much more excited about the Motor City than would be Iowa fans, who have become accustomed to warmer climes. Still, while Howard Griffith is wrong about the rules, IU could be shut out with seven or more wins.

Penn State post-mortem.

Honest, I haven't been pouting. I've been busy, although I'm sure I would have found the time to say something before now if IU had managed to win Saturday. First, let me say that Penn State won because the Nittany Lions are the better team. Not vastly better, but good enough to beat IU six or seven times if they played ten. Still, the Hoosiers dropped to 0-11 all-time against PSU and, in all likelihood, blew their last best chance to get a win against JoePa. The story of the game, as anyone who watched it or read any of the coverage knows, was the failure of Kellen Lewis and Tracy Porter, IU's offensive and defensive leaders, respectively, to hold on to the ball. Porter played well defensively, and the IU defense as a whole was good in the second half. He did, however, botch three punts. The first, a behind-the-head catch of a punt, he got away with. Unfortunately, he fumbled on a similar play later in the game, and on IU's last possession of the game, inexplicably declined to field a punt that he could have caught on about the 30. Instead, it rolled to the five yard line, putting IU, then down five, in a nearly impossible position. Kellen Lewis, ordinarily reliable, fumbled three times. In fairness to the opposition, the fumbles were a direct result of Penn State's success in reaching Lewis and containing his running ability (at least until the fourth quarter). Still, this was not a game in which the Hoosiers looked overmatched. They did in some respects, of course, but so did the Penn State secondary in its effort to contain James Hardy, who increased his season reception total by 45 percent, adding 14 catches to the 31 he had before the game.
Statistics? Here's the box. According to the IU box, Penn State outgained IU by a yard and they averaged 4.9 yards per play. Penn State largely stymied the rushing game all day (Kellen Lewis's TD run accounted for nearly all of IU's net rushing yards). Neither Bryan Payton nor Marcus Thigpen did much up the middle, but Thigpen did manage 58 receiving yards out of the backfield, definitely a positive development. The story of this game is pretty simple. It was fairly even statistically. IU lost four fumbles in Penn State territory, and each of those fumbles resulted in a four play "drive" resulting in a field goal. Had the defense not stood firm on those possessions, Penn State would have run away with it. If IU had held onto the ball, IU would have won.
Now, with four games, left, IU has two should-wins (Ball State, Northwestern) and two could-wins (Wisconsin, Purdue). Unfortunately, IU missed a golden opportunity to move up the ladder in the Big Ten. Hopefully, IU will take care of things in the two "easier" games and will be presented with similar opportunities against Wisconsin and Purdue. As I watch the MNF game (apparently the Jags' 3-9 record against the Colts all-time in division play makes this a hot rivalry in which the Jags always play the Colts tough), I may work through a post on bowl issues for IU and the Big Ten.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Penn State in-game thread.

11:34. Damn. I wish I could say I saw that drive coming. We took whatever we wanted. Getting a lead in this game is big. 7-0 IU.
9:41. Big third down stop at midfield after PSU made some hay.
8:27. I like that play to Thigpen much better than the runs up the middle.
8:19. Damn, a score on this drive would have been nice, obviously.
7:28. That first ground scramble by Morelli could be crucial in this game. Unfortunate he got away.
6:44. And that's the Morelli we needed to see today. Thanks, Anthony!
5:52. Let's hope they quasi-single cover Hardy all day.
It's only fair to note that I love what they are doing with Thigpen today.
4:29. Well, at least we pinned them, but they are going to come alive at some point.
49. Nice third down plays for PSU on this drive.
FIRST QUARTER STATS: Pretty even, really. That INT into the interception was crucial, and now IU's defense is in a red zone spot again.
14:16. Nice third down TD pass my Morelli, but they missed the PAT. PSU did not bring its best game today. This is a golden opportunity.
12:51. Nice call on 4th down. The typical outcome for a punt there is a touchback, which is a 12 yard net. I respect a coach who understands that, but again, a squandered opportunity.
11:11 Big stop. We needed the defense off the field quickly, for once.
7:41 TD Thigpen. Love, love, ,love what they are doing with him today.
3:39 Disappointing. That was the Penn State I've expected to see all day. Now let's try to stick ona score before halftime.
2:48. Crucial sack. At the very least, we needed to run the clock out or pin them back. Now, they will have a good shot. They get thje ball in the second half, so this is a crucial moment.
:39. Out chance to win this game just decreased significantly. We had the ball with 3:39, and exactly three minutes later, they are in the end zone. Unacceptable. If they do something silly like squib kick, we need to take a shot.
HALFTIME STATS: Penn State has a comfortable lead in total yards, 266-197. IU has three rushing yards, which is a bit deceiving given the three sacks, but not much. Thigpen is 9-21 and Payton is 3-8. And IU has had some success with the short passing game. Still, IU had a chance to build a cushion in the first quarter and couldn't do so, and now we're up against the wall. A stop on the first PSU possession will allow IU to compete. Otherwise, look out.

13:48. Third and nine, key penalty, and we let them off the hook. I hope the team has more hope than I do right now.
12:33 I'm a sissy. Nice stop guys, now let's get that league back.
11:55. Breathtakingly awful decision by a senior and a four year starter. This one's over.
Lucky to dodge a bullet there, but Porter's decision made it a two possession game.
8:16 Really need to get the defense off the field, but yet another sack.
5:35 Really disappointing performance by the offense since the first couple of drives. I know we needed the three at some point, but geez. 2nd and 1?
5:35. Painfully stupid decision. A 15 yard penalty after the kickoff.
Well, Bryan Payton is fast.

13:57. Not Lewis's finest hour. Throw it away.
12:30 It's a shame, because the defense has played well in the second half.
What a letdown. The stats aren't going to tell the story of Lewis's performance today.

Friday, October 19, 2007

BTB Roundtable: roundup.

I'm glad that my questions spurred some good discussion, but I didn't provide much opportunity for sound bytes. Right now, the real world beckons, but I'll get back later this afternoon or this evening to post some highlights. For now, here are links to all of the responses. If I missed anyone, drop me an e-mail or a comment.
Evening edit: here are some highlights:
1. Call your shot. We are halfway through the Big Ten season (or, at least, most of us are). What will be your team's final record? Where, if anywhere, will your team be spending late December/early January? Who will win the Big Ten?
Maize-n-Brew breaks it down game by game, and says the Wolverines will be undefeated in the Big Ten when they play OSU and will play on January 1. MSC is slightly less optimistic, listing 9-3 as the best case scenario and 7-5 as the worst.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, PJS acknowledges that tomorrow's game against North Dakota State is likely the Gophers' last win of the season. He likes Michigan to win the Big Ten, given OSU's tough road route through Ann Arbor and State College. Gopher Nation acknowledges the bad news and hopes for recruiting success. He says that Ohio State will win it.
LTP says the Wildcats will rally to finish 7-5, and will finish the season in Ford Field, where they are playing Eastern Michigan as I write this post. He says Michigan will defend its home field against the Buckeyes and win the Big Ten.
The Buckeye Blog is very, very confident that Ohio State will run the table. I'm almost afraid to disagree.
BSD, while expressing the requisite concern about Morelli, says PSU will win out and finish second in the conference to Michigan. Nittany Line says second at 9-3, while There is no Name on my Jersey is with BSD.
Off the Tracks sticks with his prediction of 9-3 for the Boilers, and picks OSU.
2. How is your team's coaching situation? Clearly, this varies from school to school, with some coaches approaching retirement (Carr/Paterno), some who are just starting out (Brewster/Fitzgerald), the unique case of Bill Lynch, and others who seem to be in their primes. If your coach is on the tail end of his career, where do you see things going from here? If he's still early in his tenure, any buyer's remorse? If he's in he's somewhere in the middle, are you happy or wishing things would go a different direction? How does your view correspond to the "majority" view among your school's fans?
Maize-n-Brew endorses the conventional wisdom that Carr will be gone regardless. If that results in Michigan's first true coaching search in nearly 40 years, that will be something to see. MSC entertains the idea that Carr could be back if Michigan finishes strong, but also endorses an outside search.
From the end of the road to the beginning: PJS isn't giving up on Tim Brewster yet, but notes:

I will say though that I'm somewhat troubled at the fact that Brewster doesn't seem to be an offensive or defensive guru. He was a tight ends coach and recruiter. He cedes all play calling to coordinators Everett Withers and Mike Dunbar. On Saturdays, I'd like to see Brewster take a little more control over the games.

Gopher Nation has this to say:
He uses words like passionate and tremendous each and every time that he has a microphone in front of him. And everything that happens to this team is "positive". Like I said, this is rubbing some people the wrong way. From day 1 he was talking about winning and winning now. So people were expecting that NOW. There have been growing pains and Brewster's initial optimism has set him up for people to be disappointed.
LTP is bullish on Pat Fitzgerald:
I look at this as a undervalued blue chip stock with consistent return on investment once it gets out of start-up mode and into growth mode. His passion, enthusiasm and character are the perfect fit for the program. As he matures, his coach speak will likely transition into more genuine, less drill-sargeanty language and make him even more likeable to newcomers.
...but notes that NU fans will expect some staff changes in the offseason.
There's no coach in the Big Ten, perhaps no coach in the country, as secure as Jim Tressel, and the comments of the Buckeye Blog reflect that.
BSD predicts that Paterno will be back for one more year, and has some interesting speculation on the replacement. The Nittany line wants to see JoePa leave after a title. Jersey says JoePa should leave on his own timetable, period.
Off the Tracks acknowledges Tiller's success but hopes for a smooth transition sooner rather than later. Personally, I would love to see Purdue handle it just like the basketball situation, but I can imagine why Purdue fans wouldn't go along.
BONUS BASKETBALL QUESTION: If you plan to cover basketball, give us a brief outlook for your team. Who is your best player? What do you expect from the team?
Maize-n-Brew is all in for basketball, and looking forward to John Beilein's approach. MSC says:
I just want to see the players do their best and not look lost out there. Before with Tommy Amaker, it would look like players weren't even coached and weren't ready to play, but now with Beilein, I expect to see improvement in each game as the season goes on.
Wouldn't seem too much to ask, would it? It's a sad year for the rest of the Big Ten. We loved Amaker.
It's a new day all around in Minneapolis. PJS notes that the talent level is down, but optimism high with Tubby Smith in town. With the same infectuous optimism that caused him to predict a Gopher blowout win in Bloomington, Gopher Nation says that Tubby's boys will sneak into the field of 65. Is is possible that GN is Tim Brewster?
You know, I tried to be sporting about OSU's run to the final game on the backs of two recruits from the heart of Indiana. Hell, I wouldn't blame anyone for running away from Mike Davis. Still, there was something wrong about seeing two football schools square off for the NCAA title, as if the fans didn't quite appreciate it. The Buckeye Blog seemed almost offended that I brought up basketball, days after practice began and just a couple of weeks before the exhibition games begin. Sigh.
BSD notes that last year was a big step back for Penn State, and that a postseason bid may be required to save DeChellis's job. Nittany Line hopes for a NIT bid.
Off the Tracks has lots to say about Purdue's impressive incoming recruits, and is looking a couple of years down the road already.

BTB Roundtable: my answers.

1. Call your shot. We are halfway through the Big Ten season (or, at least, most of us are). What will be your team's final record? Where, if anywhere, will your team be spending late December/early January? Who will win the Big Ten?
I think that IU will finish 7-5 (3-5 in the conference). IU will beat Ball State and I think the Hoosiers will win at Northwestern. An IU win is possible in any of the other three Big Ten games (Penn State, @ Wisconsin, Purdue) and a loss is possible at Northwestern and remotely possible against Ball State. I wish I could say that I saw more wins, and I hope the Hoosiers start proving me wrong tomorrow. Ohio State will run the table and win the conference.
That makes the bowl scenario interesting. I did a quick run through the remaining Big Ten schedule, and the most likely scenario gives the Big Ten nine bowl eligible teams. Only Minnesota's cause seems hopeless. Further, ten seems more likely than eight. Under my scenario, IU would be bowl eligible, but behind OSU, Michigan, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan State, and ahead of Northwestern. Of that group, only Northwestern is less of an attendance draw than the Hoosiers. Considering that the Big Ten has only seven tie-ins, this scenario probably would place the Hoosiers wherever some other conference can't provide an eligible team.
Buckeye fans won't want to hear this, but the best bowl outcome for the conference would be for Michigan (presuming Michigan enters the Big Game with no more than one conference loss) to beat an undefeated Ohio State team. OSU is the only Big Ten team that could qualify for a BCS at large spot, and that would move all the other Big Ten teams up a rung and would guarantee eight bowl berths for the conference.

2. How is your team's coaching situation? Clearly, this varies from school to school, with some coaches approaching retirement (Carr/Paterno), some who are just starting out (Brewster/Fitzgerald), the unique case of Bill Lynch, and others who seem to be in their primes. If your coach is on the tail end of his career, where do you see things going from here? If he's still early in his tenure, any buyer's remorse? If he's in he's somewhere in the middle, are you happy or wishing things would go a different direction? How does your view correspond to the "majority" view among your school's fans?
Bill Lynch's circumstances are unique in recent history. IU has eschewed the interim label, but clearly, that's what he is. It seems likely that IU will be bowl eligible for the first time in 13 years, but it's possible that bowl eligible will be of the 6-6(2-6) variety against a schedule that did not include the conference's likely champion and runner-up. Is that the sort of performance that jusitifes a long-term deal for a coach who once was fired by Ball State? My sincere hope is that Lynch will take the decision out of IU's hands by winning eight or nine games, but that won't be easy. There seems to be quite a split among IU fans on this issue. Some have raised the specter of Mike Davis, although I think that's unfair: Lynch is a competent, classy guy who loves IU and has spent 15 years as a college head coach. He many not be the right guy, but he's not over his head. Others have contended from the beginning that Lynch should be hired. I think I'm closer to the latter group than the former. If Lynch gets to 7-5 (3-5), I would give him the job for the long term, given the uncertainties of finding a coach who can win at IU and who wants the job. IU has some nice talent on hand and a well-regarded staff, so unless the bottom falls out, I would be inclined to give Lynch a shot.

BONUS BASKETBALL QUESTION: If you plan to cover basketball, give us a brief outlook for your team. Who is your best player? What do you expect from the team?
It hasn't been a good week for the IU basketball program, but following the lead of Sampson's press conference last week, I'm here to discuss the team, not the sanctions. I and most IU fans expect a return to national prominence this season. I'm not going to throw down arbitrary benchmarks like "Big Ten championship" or "Final Four." MSU is tough, and anything can happen in the tournament. I do expect, on March 1, that the Hoosiers will be among the ten or twelve teams considered legitimate contenders for the NCAA championship. Anything less will be a disappointment. Clearly, DJ White is IU's best returning player, and Eric Gordon is IU's most heralded recruit since Jared Jeffries. One guy to watch out for is Juco transfer Jamarcus Ellis. Ellis was a top 20-type kid as a high school recruit, and with AJ Ratliff academically ineligible for the first semester, he could be a key to non-conference success.

Malicious Internet Interrogation with Black Shoe Diaries.

Mike of Black Shoe Diaries and I have been going back and forth this week via e-mail in anticipation of tomorrow's game. You can find Part 1 of our exchange here. Part two is below, with my comments in crimson and BSD's in blue:
I'll come up with another real football question before we finish this, but I have to ask: did you come up with the name "Black Shoe Diaries"? I think it's the best name I've seen for a college sports blog. It's memorable on its own, and has a semi-obscure reference that only Penn State fans or hardcore college football fans would get, plus the semi-obscure reference to the old Cinemax show (not at all obscure to the college football blog demographic, of course). Well done.
Well thank you. I actually did come up with the name for the blog on my own. I wanted something different. The (insert team color or mascot) Nation thing is way overdone. You're correct that it's a play on the old Cinemax show "Red Shoe Diaries". I think the word "Diaries" fits perfectly for a blog because our blogs are really a record of history. They contain our memories, our thoughts, and our emotions as they pertain to our teams. Since black shoes are a signature trademark of the football team and our legendary head coach, Black Shoe Diaries seemed to make perfect sense. Some people think it's corny. People that never saw the Cinemax show don't get it. So reaction to the name has been mixed. But it's hard to forget the name so I guess that's what counts.

Now can we get back to football? I need to know about the Hoosier defense. I see the Hoosiers are leading the nation in sacks. I'll say that again. The Hoosiers are leading the nation in sacks. The Hoosiers. Leading the nation in a defensive category. Last year they only had a total of 14 sacks. This year they are already up to 32 sacks. What is the reason for the turnaround?

I don't think it's possible to fully explain how in one year, a team can go from being one of the worst in the country in a statistical category to the best. IU's two sack leaders, Greg Middleton (second in I-A with 9.5 sacks) and Jammie Kirlew (4.5) are sophomores. Number three is Ryan Marando, a redshirt junior DE who began his career as a linebacker. To some degree, it can be explained as talented young guys improving their play. If there's a scheme-based reason, it's beyond my competence to figure that out. Those explanations can explain improvement, but worst-to-first improvement? Hard to figure, but I'm not complaining.

The Penn State defense has been formidable this year, even in losses. Other than some garbage time-skewed stats from the Buffalo game, the defense hasn't had a bad game. Does the PSU defense have a weakness? In other words, if you had to figure out a way to score against Penn State, what would you do?

Other than Illinois, nobody has had success against this defense. Michigan managed to win when our offense gifted them a touchdown. Other than that they had one good Mike Hart drive for a score. Illinois had success running the option against us which scares me to death with Indiana and Kellen Lewis. But Illinois has Rashard Mendenhall to give them a second threat in the backfield to worry about. From what I've seen of Indiana they lack a similar threat so the defense should be able to key on Lewis in the running game and just react when Thigpen and Payton get the ball.

If I were an offensive coordinator my first task would be slowing down the linebackers. You'll see the Penn State linebackers are extremely active before the snap. They'll show blitz and back off or they'll shift around from left to right. Penn State does this to confuse the quarterback, offensive line, and running backs so they don't know where the pressure is going to come from. The Lions love to blitz Connor and Lee so the Hoosiers have to slow that down. Notre Dame was effective in doing this with a lot of screen passes early on. The Penn State corners are not great at tackling, so if you can get the ball outside the potential is there to break a tackle and get a large gain. Illinois slowed down the linebackers through a lot of play action and misdirection counters. The secondary can be exploited if the Hoosiers can keep the pressure off of Lewis.

It seemed like the Hoosiers were cruising along averaging well over 400 yards of offense until the Michigan State game. What did the Spartans do to stunt the Indiana offense to just 193 yards of offense?

MSU looked absolutely possessed in that game. They did a good job of putting pressure on Lewis to a degree that no one else has this year and also stymied any other rushing attack. The 193 yards, however, probably overstates the offense's futility. IU's defense was horrid, and MSU had the ball for 41:05. IU ran only 36 offensive plays, so the 193 yards (even skewed by Kellen Lewis's 59 yard run on IU's first play) isn't as futile as it sounds. IU fumbled a kickoff, had a couple of nice kickoff returns, and returned a fumble for a touchdown. IU did punt five times on 13 possessions, so it wasn't a good game, but is wasn't Akron v. Ohio State bad, either.

So, Anthony Morelli. I don't care about Penn State, but he even makes me nervous. As we've discuss, Penn State, with OSU at home and a bunch of games in which PSU will be the favorite, is in a reasonable position to run the table. Can you guys get through the season without Mirelli doing what he did against Illinois? I don't know anything about the rest of your QB depth chart. Has there been any controversy this year?

If by controversy you mean likenesses of Anthony Morelli burning in effigy all over campus, then yeah...we have controversy. I wish I knew how many picks Morelli planned on throwing the rest of the year. Obviously you never draw up a play with the intention of the quarterback throwing an interception so they're impossible to predict.

Morelli's problem is he trusts his arm too much. He holds the ball too long and tries to force it through the coverage. He's gotten smarter about taking dumb sacks and throwing balls up for grabs. But he still has a boneheaded moment or two. Usually these mental lapses come in the second half for whatever reason. Unfortunately, Penn State doesn't really have a viable second option. Daryll Clark is the backup. He's what they call an "athletic" quarterback, so he has a completely different style of play. But so far he hasn't shown any consistency in the passing game. Pat Devlin is probably the future of the program, but he's a freshman and not really ready to play. So for now it appears we're stuck dancing with the girl we brought to the prom.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Possible progress for the BTN.

Via Brian of mgoblog's AOL column, we see that Fox may be trying to place the BTN by bundling it with the renewal of other Fox-owned networks. I hadn't considered that angle, but it sounds promising. With basketball season fast approaching, I have a feeling that the AT&T Uverse and satellite installers are going to be busy around in here in the next couple of weeks unless Comcast does something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Penn State.

Penn State Nittany Lions
2007 record: 5-2 (2-2)
2007 Sagarin: 24 (IU is #52)
2006 record: 9-4 (5-3), defeated Tennessee in Outback Bowl
2006 Sagarin: 18
Series: Penn State leads 10-0
Last IU win: never
Last Penn State win: 2004 (22-18 in Bloomington)
Last Penn State win in Bloomington: see above
Penn State is represented by several outstanding blogs, linked on the right. Of particular note, Mike of Black Shoe Diaries and I currently are going back and forth via e-mail and will cross-post the exchange on both blogs later in the week.
After a disappointing performance last weekend at Michigan State, the Hoosiers, not willing to schedule soft for homecoming, will attempt to defeat Penn State for the first time ever. In both of IU's losses this season, powerful running backs have made the Hoosier defense look silly. Unfortunately, Penn State has run the ball successfully, particularly in recent weeks, and this game will be a big test for the IU coaching staff, as they try to figure out a way to do to Penn State what IU couldn't do to Illinois and MSU.
Statistically, for the entire season, Penn State and IU look fairly comparable offensively, although IU certainly has played a weaker schedule. IU has scored 36 points a game to Penn State's 32.7, averages 411 yards in total offense per game to Penn State's 408, and the two teams are within 100 yards of each other in rushing and passing. Defensively, Penn State has been much more stingy than IU, allowing only 12 points per game to IU's 25, and allowing only 264 yards to IU's 384.
Penn State's second leading rusher, Austin Scott, is suspended because of a rape allegation. Evan Royster has 225 yards and 6.8 per carry in only four games played. Kinlaw and Royster both have averaged over five yards per carry in the Lions' wins over Iowa and Wisconsin, two once-respectable defensive teams. Anthony Morelli, who was fairly erratic in his first year as a starter in 2006 (53 percent, 11 TD, 8 INT) has been okay this year. He has increased his percentage to about 58 percent and has matched his 11 TD total of 2006, but also has 6 interceptions. Three of Morelli's interceptions came in the loss to Illinois, and he threw two more in the win over Iowa, but took care of the ball last week. I'm sure the Penn State coaches would love nothing more than to gain about 300 yards on the ground and keep the game out of Morelli's hands. Unless the Hoosiers find a way to defend the run, that may well happen.
I felt better about this game before last weekend. IU's recent weakness and Penn State's recent strength match up all too well. Still, we've had a few close calls in the 10 games of this series, and let's hope the Hoosiers find a way.

Big Ten Bloggers Roundtable questions, Week 8.

After such a wonderful weekend for the IU athletic department, how fortuitous that this is my week to host the Big Ten Bloggers' Roundtable. For those of you who haven't noticed, check the feed on the left and the blogroll on the right for quality comentary from the perspective of other schools.
I apologize for the delay, but here are this week's questions:
1. Call your shot. We are halfway through the Big Ten season (or, at least, most of us are). What will be your team's final record? Where, if anywhere, will your team be spending late December/early January? Who will win the Big Ten?

2. How is your team's coaching situation? Clearly, this varies from school to school, with some coaches approaching retirement (Carr/Paterno), some who are just starting out (Brewster/Fitzgerald), the unique case of Bill Lynch, and others who seem to be in their primes. If your coach is on the tail end of his career, where do you see things going from here? If he's still early in his tenure, any buyer's remorse? If he's in he's somewhere in the middle, are you happy or wishing things would go a different direction? How does your view correspond to the "majority" view among your school's fans?
BONUS BASKETBALL QUESTION: If you plan to cover basketball, give us a brief outlook for your team. Who is your best player? What do you expect from the team?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blogpoll draft ballot.

Here it is. I watched IU-MSU, Notre Dame-BC, parts of Michigan-Purdue, parts of UK-LSU, parts of Penn State-Wisconsin. I really struggled about what I should do with the three one-loss SEC teams. LSU beat South Carolina which beat Kentucky which beat LSU. Ultimately, I went with LSU-So Car-Kentucky based on some amorphous combination of preseason expectations, hunch about where the teams will end up, and impressiveness of the win against whichever one loss team.

1Ohio State 2
2South Florida 2
3Boston College 2
4Arizona State 3
5LSU 4
6South Carolina 2
7Kentucky 13
8Kansas 3
9California 7
10Oregon 1
11Oklahoma 1
12Missouri 6
13West Virginia--
14Virginia Tech 4
15Florida 2
16Southern Cal 1
17Auburn 1
18Tennessee 5
20Cincinnati 8
21Texas Tech 4
22Michigan 4
23Kansas State 3
24Texas 2
25Georgia 1

Dropped Out: Illinois (#14), Florida State (#21), Wisconsin (#22), Purdue (#24).