The Hive Presents Ask Dr. Football
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Different people take different approaches to getting ready for the start of another season of college football. I boot up the personal computer and start writing. My friend the Chiliman updates his recipe book. Mark Bradley, of course, buys a new pair of kneepads for his interviews with Mark Richt (when Bradley gives a Hummer to Mark Richt, we're not talking about an SUV).
Whatever path we take, here we are for the beginning of the 2005 season. To provide a little change of pace for my readers, I wanted to bring in a guest commentator to give us some outside perspective on the program. I thought the perfect choice would be Chris Berman of ESPN, the sportscaster who's given more nicknames to more athletes than anyone in the history of broadcasting – some of his classics include Bruce "Eggs" Benedict, Scott "Tallulah" Bankhead, and Rob "Acey" Ducey. For some reason, though, Chris wouldn't return my phone calls to Bristol, Conn., so I will give you the best rendition I can of what Berman WOULD HAVE said about Tech's upcoming season:
Tech's success will hinge upon the ability of Reggie "Lucille" Ball to make better decisions at quarterback but even if Ball bounces, there are quality running backs like P. J. "Jack" Daniels, Rashaun "Ulysses S." Grant, Chris "Tiger" Woods and Tashard "Pro" Choice. Tech needs to put together an effective group of offensive lineman from the likes of Andrew "The Constant" Gardner, Matt "The Colossus of" Rhodes, Eddy "Sarah Jessica" Parker, and George "Mini" Cooper. The Jackets have the most exciting wide receiver in college football with Calvin "Lyndon Baines" Johnson, but who's going to line up with him? Pat "Lewis and" Clark?
On defense, Tech has a very smart coordinator drawing up the schemes in Jon "Judy" Tenuta, and some head-knocking pass rushers like Eric "Florence" Henderson and Joe "Honolulu" Anoai. Phillip "Four" Wheeler and Gerris "Bud" Wilkinson can make the plays at linebacker, but there's no question that Tech will miss the presence of Reuben "Whitney" Houston in the defensive backfield. Even so, Tech can depend on Dennis "Bette" Davis, Jamal "Huey" Lewis, Chris "Pee Wee" Reis, Kenny "Agnes" Scott, and Dawan "Tom" Landry to handle the pass coverage. If they need to kick a field goal, they can call on Travis "Taco" Bell.
Let's give a shout-out to Chris "Shelley" Berman for that analysis. Let's also try to answer some of your questions.
Q. It has been 10 years since the GT football program began its rise from the ashes that was the 92-94 seasons. There have been many highs (Joe's 13-13 second half vs FSU, 51-48, Gator Bowl victory over Notre Dame) and some rather crushing lows (55-7, Carol Moore lack of institutional control, Woody Dantzler running scott-free down North Avenue). What are yours?
A. I could list a hundred items in both categories, but it's hard to top the drama of Brad Chambers hitting that last-second field goal in 1998 to beat Georgia in Athens and end that seven-game losing streak. The 17-3 win over Auburn to dedicate the enlarged Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field would also have to rank up there. On a more personal level, I was very moved and saddened by the sight of Kim King, who epitomized the best qualities of the Tech person, being driven around the field one last time at halftime of last year's Miami game, just days before he passed away. Kim, we all miss you.
Q. Many are concerned about the GT QB? I am awfully worried about the OL giving the QB enough time to make a good decision. How do you see the OL shaping up this year?
A. At the end of last season, when I was admittedly feeling a lot of disappointment from the Georgia loss, I wrote that Chan Gailey had to do several things before we would see any improvement in 2005: get the quarterback position stabilized, hire a qualified offensive coordinator who could put together a game plan and call the plays, hire a new offensive line coach, and put someone else in charge of coaching the quarterbacks.
It appears as if the quarterback situation has stabilized with Reggie Ball the clear choice as starter heading into the season opener. As for the other points, unfortunately, Chan Gailey's head is as hard as a bull's pecker. He hasn't made any of those changes on offense, and the situation is actually worse on the defensive side of the ball where we all assumed Tech would be in good shape. Darryl Richard and Travis Parker won't be manning the defensive tackle slots, and Reuben Houston's legal problems will keep him from playing defensive back. Where the coaches had moved Mansfield Wrotto to try to shore up the offensive line, they were forced to return him to defense, killing the prospects for improved pass blocking.
I am surprised that several pre-season publications actually listed Tech among their Top 25. The Jackets are also hovering just outside the Top 25 in the major polls. They are a lot more confident about the team's chances than I am.
Maybe Reggie will play all season like he played in the Syracuse game, maybe the offensive line will actually block somebody, and maybe the defense can overcome the loss of Parker, Richard and Houston. It's entirely possible that all of that will happen and Tech will finish 8-3 or somewhere in that vicinity.
But it sure does feel like trying to draw to an inside straight.
My most realistic estimate is that Tech has five winnable home games: UNC, Connecticut, N.C. State, Clemson, and Wake Forest. It will be favored to beat Duke on the road. That's six wins right there. The pattern of Gailey's tenure has been that Tech usually wins one game it is not expected to win. Maybe that will be Auburn, maybe Georgia. Tech also has a habit of losing a game it is expected to win. The most likely candidates there are N.C. State or Clemson. If that happens, it still leaves them with a 6-5 record and a pre-January 1 bowl invitation. Somehow, I don't think that is going to satisfy many of the alumni and fans.
Q. What about that Athens Correctional Institute? How will they do this year?
A. For those Tech fans whose favorite team is the Jackets and "whoever's playing Georgia," this season looks very promising indeed because Georgia is headed for a dropoff with the loss of many key playmakers and the arrest or suspension of half the remaining players on the roster. The list of perpetrators and criminal incidents involving the program has become so lengthy, in fact, that they should consider changing the name of the weekly highlights program from "The Mark Richt Show" to "CSI: Athens." There is also an out-of-conference opening game that, for once, will actually require Georgia to play a team above the level of an Arkansas State.
I would guess the Trembling Chihuahuas will end up with a record no better than 8-3 and possibly at 7-4. The best they can hope to finish in the SEC's Eastern Division is third, behind Tennessee and Florida, and they'll finish fourth if Steve Spurrier can figure out a way for South Carolina to beat them.
Q. How many guys on the Tech roster are named Johnson? Are they all related?
A. I don't believe any of them are directly related to each other, but they are a talented group with wide receivers Calvin and James Johnson, and freshman defensive end Michael Johnson. You could accurately say that Georgia Tech has the most impressive set of Johnsons in college football.
Q. Will we have any running backs who can pick up the blitz and block it besides P. J. Daniels?
A. I think Mike Cox is more than capable of doing the job at fullback.
Q. Now that they've both got 12 teams on board, how do you think the ACC and the SEC stack up against each other?
A. As long as they play college football, southern fans will be arguing over this. Just for the sake of keeping the argument going, I will cite the pre-season computer power ratings compiled by Jeff Sagarin for USA Today. Jeff doesn't have a bias toward either the ACC or SEC, as best I can tell, so I think he qualifies as a neutral observer here.
The Sagarin ratings for the conferences put the ACC in the number one position with a "central mean" rating of 80.55. He rates the PAC-10 in second place with a rating of 79.42, while the SEC is in third place at 78.92. Those are small differences, to be sure, and the numbers will change once the schools start actually playing games, but this neutral, computer-based assessment of the conferences rates the ACC as slightly more powerful than the SEC.
Let's take Sagarin's ratings for the individual schools and look at how the ACC and the SEC compare from top to bottom. Sagarin's pre-season rankings of all Division I-A schools has Miami in third place (93.76 power rating) and FSU in fourth place (90.28 rating). You don't see the SEC's two top-rated school until you get to Auburn in sixth place (89.30 rating) and Georgia in seventh place (88.95 rating).
The SEC's third-ranked school is LSU, which is in eighth place on the Sagarin list with a power rating of 87.79. The third-best ACC school is Virginia Tech, which is in ninth place on Sagarin with an 87.29 rating.
Thus, within the top nine slots in the Sagarin rankings you'll find three ACC schools and three SEC schools, with power ratings that are separated from each other by small margins. This tells me the top-tier schools in each conference compare very favorably.
Tennessee ranks 14th in the Sagarin list with a 85.40 rating and Florida is 16th with a 85.08 rating. This means that Sagarin's top 20 schools include three ACC teams and five SEC teams. Advantage goes to the SEC.
In the ranking of schools from 20 to 30, Sagarin places Virginia at 23rd with an 82.24 rating, Maryland at 24th with 81.33, Georgia Tech in 25th at 80.90, N. C. State at 28th with an 80.30 rating, and Boston College at 29th with an 80.24 rating. We don't see another SEC school until we get to Arkansas in 30th place with an 80.05 rating.
Within Sagarin's top 30 schools, then, we find eight ACC schools and only six SEC schools. The SEC's seventh-best team, Alabama, clocks in at 41st in the Sagarin rankings (78.11 power rating) and the eighth-best team is Mississippi in 45th place (75.92). This would indicate the ACC's middle-tier schools are stronger than the SEC's middle-tier schools.
Here's how the ACC's four bottom teams finish in the Sagarin rankings: Clemson in 36th (78.82 rating), North Carolina in 56th (72.86), Wake Forest in 58th (72.69), and Duke in 89th (63.57). The SEC's four bottom teams are South Carolina in 48th place (74.83 rating), Kentucky in 80th (65.98), Mississippi State in 86th (64.20) and Vanderbilt all the way down in 94th place (with a 62.76 rating). Even though the ACC is stuck with Duke, its bottom-feeders are more highly ranked than the SEC's worst teams.
The most important indicator is how teams from the two conferences do in head-to-head matchups. There were five games in 2004 involving an ACC team against an SEC team, and the SEC teams won three of those five matchups: Florida defeated FSU, Auburn beat Virginia Tech, and Georgia defeated Georgia Tech. Clemson beat South Carolina and Miami defeated Florida.
Q. You keep seeing all these stories about the arrests of Georgia football players. Don't the administrators over there even care that these guys are giving the school a bad reputation?
A. Yes, they do. I was talking to one of the top officials at UGA the other day, and he told me the school was very concerned about what's been happening in recent months. "I'm shocked that a football player would physically assault one of our instructors in her classroom," the official said. "I'm even more shocked that a football player would actually BE in a classroom."
Q. Can you believe the NCAA would do something as stupid as try to prohibit the use of Native American nicknames and mascots?
A. These guys aren't the sharpest tomahawks in the teepee, and they're already retreating from that ultimatum by allowing FSU to continue using the Seminole nickname.
If the NCAA doesn't come to its senses on this issue, they're heading down a slippery slope that's going to lead to problems in other areas. If it's against NCAA rules to have a Native American mascot or nickname, then the organization will have to be consistent and rule that member schools can no longer have the names of states whose names of Native American derivation. That would eliminate Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The next logical step for the NCAA will be to prohibit schools from using the name of states with Spanish-derived names because that could be potentially offensive to Americans of Latino descent and stir up anti-immigrant tendencies in crowds at athletic events. There goes Florida, Colorado, California, Montana, Nevada and, of course, New Mexico.
Programs like the University of Georgia will be feeling the heat next, because PETA will surely be zeroing in on schools that exploit the feelings of defenseless animals by using them as mascots.
"The person who dresses up as 'Harry Dawg' and minces around the sidelines at Georgia games is a prime example of speciesism and an outrageous insult to the proud feelings of all Canine Americans," said PETA spokesperson Eugene "Bull" Connor. "On top of that, he looks like a silly ass."
Georgia Tech could also face a possible protest from the American Entomological Association over the use of "Yellow Jackets" as a mascot. What would a football game be like without the presence of our beloved "Buzz" bodysurfing through the freshman section? And what will we do when they go after Tech people like John "Spider" Salley?
The mind boggles.
Here are the picks for the opening week of the season – courtesy of Ralph Reed, world-famous oddsmaker for the Choctaw Indian gambling casino in Mississippi.
Georgia Tech at Auburn. If I remember correctly, Auburn was originally supposed to play Tech last year but backed out and substituted a game against the Citadel instead. Bad luck for Auburn, good luck for Tech. Auburn probably would have defeated the Jackets, and that additional I-A victory might have put them in the mythical national championship game. Instead of playing Auburn in a year when they were 13-0, Tech gets to play them after Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Jason Campbell and several other stars have departed. Can Reggie Ball help Tech pull off another upset like he did as a freshman? Maybe so.
Boise State at Georgia. A lot of Tech fans are pulling for a Boise State upset here, but it's not likely to happen. The typical southern weather of high temperatures and humidity will kill Boise, like it does every West Coast team that travels to the deep south. While Boise State probably won't win, maybe they can rough up the Chihuahuas and be like the little kid who pops the schoolyard bully in the nose and brings him down a couple of notches. That would give me the chance to use this joke I've been saving: What do O. J. Simpson and the University of Georgia football team have in common? They both left blood on the Bronco.
Southern Cal at Hawaii. Hawaii has two coaches who were failures as the head man of the Atlanta Falcons: June Jones and the school's new defensive coordinator, Jerry Glanville. Whatever happens in this game, you can be sure of this: even if Southern Cal scores 65 points against Glanville's defensive schemes, Atlanta talk radio host "Beau Bock" will be on the air Monday morning gushing that Jerry Glanville is a genius.
Central Florida at South Carolina. Steve Spurrier proves that he's one of those "flappers" as he gets the Gamecocks off to a successful start against that fat blowhard who thought he was too good for Georgia Tech and now finds himself holding an eleven-game losing streak at a second-rate school. Hey, George – you still think you made a good decision taking that Notre Dame offer?
Oregon at Houston. Oregon deserves to lose if for no other reason than those hideous neon-yellow uniforms they've been wearing, but probably won't.
Buffalo at Connecticut. The Huskies and their head coach Randy Edsall, who may be coaching an Atlanta-area college football team by this time next year, should be able to cover the spread against the 119th best program in Division I-A.
Arizona at Utah. Kyle Whittingham, the new coach at Utah, discovers that life without Alex Smith is not quite as easy. Still, the Native Americans of vermilion hue should pick up a win.
Bowling Green at Wisconsin. With Omar Jacobs at quarterback for Bowling Green, I see a chance for a Mid-American upset over a Big Ten team. Wisconsin is only favored by about four – I'd take those points.
Kent State at Michigan State. My friend Mike is a serious Kent fan, in part because his father teaches there, and I really wish I could pick the Golden Flashes as the upset special this week. Sorry, Mike.
Temple at Arizona State. Didn't they vote to kick Temple out of the Big East a couple of years ago? Is it too late to vote them out of Division I-A entirely?
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest. The first ACC-SEC matchup of the season goes to the Demon Deacs.
Duke at East Carolina. Duke needs to win these kinds of OOC games if they want Coach Ted Roof to keep his job.
Alabama-Birmingham at Tennessee. Another opener, another victory for the fat orange toadstool. Georgia fans love to call talk radio shows and blab about how stupid Pat Phil Fulmer is, but last I checked he still had an 8-4 record against the Trembling Chihuahuas.
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh. The Panthers should win this one, so maybe George O'Leary will eventually get another shot at the Irish job.
Navy at Maryland. In this battle of Chesapeake Bay, you've got two head coaches with experience at Georgia institutions (Ralph Friedgen and Paul Johnson). After last year's 5-6 record, Friedgen doesn't look like quite such a genius anymore. He'll need to win this one to start restoring that image, but I'm not so sure Paul Johnson will accommodate him.
Texas A&M at Clemson. I would be tempted to say that if the Tigers lose, its "Bye-bye, Bowden," but I've been saying that for the past three years and Tommy Bowden still keeps getting contract extensions. I give up, Tommy. You're in for life.
Virginia Tech at N.C. State. The Hokies are only a 5.5-point favorite in this ACC opener. I'm not sure I understand why the spread isn't larger. Maybe Wolfpack Coach Chuck "The Chest" Amato has added another inch to his upper-body measurements.
Miami at Florida State. The Hurricanes kick off what should be the last season of the Bobby Bowden era with a victory over FSU. Bye-bye, Bowden. And this time I really mean it.
Dr Football Kicks Off the Season
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