North-going-to-south polls…One day, an enterprising young man sat back in his languor and decided to create a new monster. He called it "The Pre-Season Poll". He thought, this doesn't really need any research and – hey - you can just go by last year's records or even the tradition of the past decade, and you can influence the entire season with these glib and arbitrary rankings. The NCAA saw the signs, pronounced them as good, and… it's been all-downhill ever since.
Want some cold harsh truth? Check out the AP rankings at the beginning of this year. Who comes up with this stuff? Who actually looks at the teams and analyzes THIS YEAR'S squads? That's an easy answer. It's no one with a true understanding of college football. Take a look:
Week 1 AP Top 25
1. USC (60) 0-0 1,619
2. Texas (4) 0-0 1,500
3. Tennessee (13) 0-0 1,376
4. Michigan 0-0 1,329
5. LSU 0-0 1,291
6. Ohio State 0-0 1,205
7. Oklahoma 0-0 1,204
8. Virginia Tech 0-0 1,184
9. Miami 0-0 1,142
10. Florida 0-0 1,080
11. Iowa 0-0 1,011
12. Louisville (1) 0-0 892
13. Georgia 0-0 869
14. Florida State 0-0 764
15. Purdue 0-0 711
16. Auburn 0-0 650
17. Texas A&M 0-0 576
18. Boise State 0-0 375
19. California 0-0 358
20. Arizona State 0-0 313
21. Texas Tech 0-0 256
22. Boston College 0-0 232
23. Pittsburgh 0-0 211
24. Fresno State 0-0 196
25. Virginia 0-0 153
What do we make of these teams and the abjectly poor job that the pre-season pollsters did? First, they did all right on a couple (even a broken clock is right twice a day…). To this point, USC and Texas have remained #1 and #2 the entire season. After that, well…the polls go south.
Tennessee had a losing season and didn't even qualify for a bowl. The #3 team? Pish posh. Michigan was beaten by four teams and almost more and barely made the Top 25 at the end of the year. #4 team? Balderdash. Oklahoma at #7 and Louisville at #12 and Purdue at #15and Texas A&M at #17? Can you all say together with me now: OVERRATED!
These teams all got the published street cred because they are simply the usual suspects. Look at Pittsburgh. They were awful this year. And who really thought that Purdue was a Top Ten kind of team? Really. And what about the complete whiffs by the pollsters, the teams that they really didn't look at, at all? Like Penn State, now rated #5. Or Alabama which was once in the top three. Or Oregon, a Top Ten team that must be too far away to even get a rating.
One of the other insidious and inherent inequities about these pre-season jobs is that it is hard to move anyone down once they are "established" as early darlings. USC has had daring escapes, the defense has been porous, they have won in the last seconds and trailed badly at half. Texas has blown out everyone and beaten then #6 Ohio State. Yet Texas can't get past USC in the polls. Why? For the same lack of logic that these teams got assigned their arbitrary positions in the first place.
When will the NCAA seek true equity and worry more about how teams are playing at the end of the year rather than some artificial ranking at the beginning? If the NCAA were truly seeking equity, they would worry less about chasing mascots and more about creating PLAYOFFS!
Neutered Dame's schedule versus Ohio State's slate…And another thing: The sportswriters (yeah, same AP guys who got us on that pre-season poll stuff) are so anxious to create the next Rudy story that they will do almost anything to make Notre Dame back into the legend that they haven't been for two decades or more.
Think about this concerted effort. First, the Domers tried to bring class and integrity back to South Bend (those are code words for "we've been losing too much and our recruiting sucks"). So they hired George O'Leary, except George lied on his resume so they fired him a couple days later. They hired Ty Willingham next, pronounced him god-like – after he won his first eight games – and then fired him a couple season later when he couldn't win many more than that. All right, so much for the attempt at class and integrity.
Thus (switching gears in the program), for this season, they decided to go for a guy who could re-establish the winning tradition and pride at Notre Dame. Unfortunately, Urban Meyer turned them down so they went with yet another back-up choice: Charlie Weis.
Then Charlie goes 9-2 against a schedule that even a Minnesota could be 9-2 with. Once more, the god-like pronouncements. Until you realize – Weis' best "victory" was a close loss to USC. Hmmm…
Let's do more than the usual legend-licking pundits and actually look at that record: The anticipated tough games for the Irish were Pitt, Michigan, Purdue, SoCal, Tennessee and Stanford. Well, Pitt has it's worst team in memory (and is 5-6 with big wins against Youngstown State and hapless squads like Syracuse and Connecticut). Michigan is 7-4 and struggling to stay in the Top 25. Purdue is ninth in the Big Ten, posting a six-game losing streak. Tennessee was 4-6 after losing to Vanderbilt. In fact, Notre Dame's opponents' overall record is 57-59 despite USC's 11-0 mark thrown in; and with the obvious assist of some of this year's doormats like Navy, Syracuse and Washington.
Now, tell me again why Notre Dame is ranked ahead of OSU and a shoe-in for the Fiesta Bowl?
The Recruiting Buzz
Each year, ‘ol Mr. Bucknuts turns to his encyclopedic knowledge of recruiting, matches it with his crystal ball, tosses in some salacious gossip and random speculation, and passes the whole mess off as recruiting analysis. I used to do that on a regular weekly/monthly basis until we supplanted that effort with a professional look by staffers (Steve Helwagen, Duane Long and Gary Housteau), guys that really knew what they were talking about.
But one annual tradition at this time of year is to take in the Bucknuts' buzz. Looking forward to next year, the current recruiting crop and the 2007 possibilities – at least in Ohio. Over the next few weeks, I will take on 1-3 positions in each column and give you both the fast facts and glib opinions.
Who They Lose: Really, nobody. One could argue that they lose Brandon Schnittker, but Brandon wasn't really a tailback and the evidence of that abounds.
Who's Back: The backs that are back next year will include starter Antonio Pittman (a junior – all class denominations will be as of next year's eligibility…), Erik Haw (sophomore), and Maurice Wells (sophomore).
Who's Coming: It's the big one: Chris Wells. He is the biggest name in Ohio backs since Maurice Clarett. The biggest difference? This is a good kid. As I write this, Chris is but 16 years old. He is 6'2" and 230 pounds and should be enrolling in January (just like Clarett). He is the big back, the hammer, OSU has been missing and that Tressel's offense needs.
In 2007: There are numerous Ohio backs but no big hammers and none (yet) with the buzz of Chris Wells.
The Bucknuts Buzz: The Buckeyes finally have a big back (Chris Wells), a fast back with size (Haw), a super quick fast back (Maurice Wells) and the proven terrific back (Pittman). That is a full arsenal. All these guys can play and the problem is: just one football. If the Buckeyes can keep them here (see: JaJa Riley, Sammy Maldonado), they can have the great spacing that Clarett screwed up for us with his cloud of psychosis. Recruiting even in 2007 – despite the youth of this posse – will be easy because coaches can say, "Hey, Chris will probably leave early. You can red-shirt the first year and then you are Da Man". As an aside, they have even greater depth when you factor in red-shirting freshman Anderson Russell and gray-shirting Freddie Lenix, should he conclude his studies successfully this year.
Or Iso-Back or maybe H-Back but more realistically Third Offensive Tackle…
Who They Lose: Definitely, nobody (see Schnittker explanation above…)
Who's Back: Stan White will be returning for one final season and Dionte Johnson will be a junior. Ryan Franzinger (walk-on) could get a shot. Small buzz: Austin Spitler is a good aggressive-but a-step-slow middle linebacker candidate that might be turned into a good aggressive-but a-step-slow fullback.
Who's coming: Probably no one but from the available pool of discussable candidates, we note Henry Hynoski and Aram Olson, neither of whom have an OSU offer at this juncture.
The Bucknuts Buzz: This position is in danger of becoming an anachronism (kind of like your appendix) A vestige of a bygone day. I would rather see something of the old "Pony Express" backfield where both Wells and Pittman (or Wells and Wells or, well…you get the picture) both play at the same time. But IF the Buckeyes stay with a fullback formation and IF Spitler (or others) don't transfer over and IF they don't bring in a specimen this year, that leaves Dionte Johnson as a senior and our only fullback! Thus, they will have to get 1-2 this year and/or next.
This is a fun position to analyze (and rather self-evident) much like the tailback discussion. Avoiding premature career terminations here (transfers, injuries, arrests), they finally have the proper spacing at this position.
Who's Back: Troy Smith and Justin Zwick reprise their roles for one more go-around. Todd Boeckman will be a sophomore (fourth year!) and Rob Schoenhoft will be a second-year freshman.
Who's Coming:Antonio Henton will remind you of a softer-spoken Troy Smith. Great physical tools.
In 2007: Early on, there are two terrific Ohio candidates at QB: Northmont's Clay Belton and Chris Smith. But remember – at this time last year, they couldn't decide between Mike Hartline, Miles Schilchter, Rudy Kirbus and Arvell Nelson. The on-field senior year is a big deal in order to get a Buckeye offer.
The Bucknuts Buzz: The buzz around Boeckman is hot – the buzz around Schoenhoft is hotter. But remember, the most popular guy in Columbus has always been the back-up quarterback. If they perform "in sequence", Boeckman will start in 2007 with Schoenhoft as his back-up and Henton to run the "true" spread if needed. Also needed will be a fourth quarterback fermenting as a freshman. Early signs point to either Belton or Smith, unless JT decides the future is a dual threat guy.
The great Mixing Bowl – of politics…Start from the understanding that the BCS was created purely as a system of determining which teams should play in the national championship. Sure, they butcher that objective most years; but if you understand the premise, you then understand that the rest of the BCS is really a mix of ABC-S and pure BS. That is, it's about television ratings.
In that light, OSU has an inherent advantage as Buckeye Nation is truly nation-wide and uniquely deep. The team "travels well" and gives great TV. So, it should be a given that OSU is a match made in heaven for the made-for-TV Notre Dame boys in the Fiesta Bowl. First off, it's revealing that no one even questions The Irish's right to appear even though they can't hold a candle to the OSU season and even though their schedule is as weak as Oregon's with a worse overall record (see previous rant above…). That tells you all you need to know. But then Oregon's pathetic quacking about pushing aside Ohio State resonates as well to knowledgeable fans as the humiliating begging Mack Brown did last year to get into the Rose Bowl. The only difference? Texas is a top-tier program and Oregon is not.
Here are some other political considerations as you muse over the politics of the Fiesta Bowl:
1. Oregon already traveled twice to Arizona this year. Even the few fans they have will probably say "Enough of the desert". 2. The OSU Athletic Director, Gene Smith, is from Arizona State. He has served on the Fiesta Bowl committee. His stadium there is used for the game. Do we assume that he still has some clout with those folks? 3. The President of the Fiesta Bowl is John Junker. He is an Ohio native as well as the current chair of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix Charitable organizations. That bodes well for both the Buckeyes and the Irish, eh?
I was openly rooting for Alabama not to collapse (they did) and become the second SEC team in a row to be undefeated yet shunned in the BCS process. The whole thing, after all, is not about fairness. If it was, they would be having play-offs, right?
To answer those tautologies (and other patently obvious questions with equally obvious answers), don't hesitate to contact Mr. Bucknuts at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com