Fiesta assumptions unmasked (Pt 4)

Part IV: A Model Approach

Lest readers think this is a witch hunt where some Ohio State homer has an axe to grind with a Ted Kacyznski manifesto, it is time to point out some well-written pieces leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. In scouring the Internet for articles leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, there were four whose articles were exemplary (in my most humble opinion). Matt Hayes (The Sporting News), Pete Fiutak (College Football News), Stewart Mandell (Sports Illustrated), and Darry Richards (Fox Sports) all penned excellent pieces for their publishers. When I was able to get my grubby hands on them, I did not judge them well written because they favored Ohio State. In fact, one of them (Stewart Mandel) picked Ohio State to lose. These articles were considered excellent because they serve as examples of reporting, investigating the teams, and interviewing individuals who knew football before making a decision on which team would win and why.

Quality Reporting

While I have my doubts of the veracity of this claim, journalism as a whole maintains that their positions and writings simply report the facts of a given situation. It is not about sensationalism or hype. It is about bringing the information to the people in an unbiased manner and allowing them to decide what to make of it.

While others did not live up to their profession's lofty ideals, these writers did. They were not about hype. They felt no need to tickle the fancy of readers. They felt no need to take verbal slaps at the Buckeyes or the Hurricanes. They simply reported and they reported accurately.

· "Krenzel won't remind anyone of Michael Vick, or even Bryan Randall, but Krenzel can make plays with his legs rushing for 287 yards this season. He's a clutch playmaker…"

· "If, IF, Clarett doesn't get knocked out and Will Smith and Darrion Scott get pressure on Dorsey, then OSU will win. Ohio State has the perfect type of team to beat Miami, or will at least keep this close…The OSU defense will come up with a 2001 Oklahoma Orange Bowl/Alabama 1993 Sugar Bowl performance, and the Buckeyes will be national champions. CFN Prediction: Ohio State 20…Miami 17"

· "Run the ball and stop the run. That's how Ohio State won its last national title in 1968 under legendary coach Woody Hayes, and the Buckeyes will do it the same way 34 years later."

· "Misdirection and draw plays also give Miami problems…"

· Hayes wrote: "The Buckeyes must beat initial contact at the line of scrimmage with stout defensive tackles Tim Anderson and Kenny Peterson. When that happens, the play will flow to physical, active linebackers Matt Wilhelm and Cie Grant, who are strong enough to take on lead or zone blocks. That will allow sure-tackling safeties Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey the scant seconds needed to recognize and react in run support. The Buckeyes are strong enough inside to take on Miami's middle three of Romberg and guards Chris Myers and Sherko Haji-Rasouli. The difference will be on the outside, where fast, physical defensive ends Darrion Scott and Will Smith must beat huge -- and slow -- tackles Carlos Joseph and Vernon Carey and pinch the play inside to the tackles and linebackers. Once McGahee is in check, Dorsey, a notoriously slow starter, will be forced to make plays in the passing game. Ohio State believes it can get pressure with Scott and Smith and won't gamble with too many blitzes. The Buckeyes will give up short routes to protect against big gains."

· Matt Hayes at The Sporting News - Prediction: OSU 17- Miami 9

· Joel Bushbaum - Who worked for Pro Football Weekly - Prior to his tragically young death on December 29, his last prediction was OSU 26 and Miami 24.

There is quality work here, and it shows. Each of these quotes reflects a familiarity with and command of the facts leading up to this contest. What predictions are offered are not given haughtily or with vague references such as "Miami will run up the score on Ohio State" or "Ohio State will throttle Miami." Details and support for the predictions are pro-offered. Hayes' work in particular is exemplary. His predictions are almost a dead ringer for what actually occurred on January 3. Had the Miami coaching staff and players read and taken to heart what Hayes' reported, this game would have almost certainly ended differently.

Quality Interviews with Excellent Sources

These reporters interviewed individuals who knew football. Since there were so many off-hand references to the 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide, Richards chased down their retired coach, Gene Stallings, and asked him his assessment of the situation. Not surprisingly, Stallings provided some serious jewels that should be placed in Richards' crown. Matt Hayes interviewed multiple Big East defensive coordinators since they had an intimate knowledge of the Hurricanes offensive schemes.

· "If you can control how often their offense gets on the field by holding onto (the ball) with your offense, you've got a much better chance of getting the game to the fourth quarter," says one rival Big East defensive coordinator. "If the game gets that late and you're still around, they're just like any other team. Pressure gets to everyone."

· "There's no secret, really," says another Big East defensive coordinator. "They run well in the front seven, and you've got to get them to overpursue. When that happens, they slow down and they're out of their scheme. Then you go right at them."

· Darryl Richards on - interviewed Stallings. Among the gems are:

o "They aren't scoring a lot, but they are winning," Stallings said. "Probably, they have yet to play their best game. They get a little better each week. I predicted a while back that if Ohio State plays Miami in the national championship game, Ohio State would win."

o "Stallings chuckled at the notion that Ohio State couldn't keep up with the ultra-fast Hurricanes."

o "The only thing that matters is whether you win or not," Stalling said. "Usually the best team wins."

I defy readers to find such quality information in most Fiesta Bowl articles. Most lazily relied on stats to tell the story, citing them as if they were a charm to spell doom for the Buckeyes. They did not conduct interviews unless it was with a couple of players here and there or a 10 word sound byte from the teams' head coaches.

How bad was it?

In a point - counterpoint article designed to give viewers reasons why the game would/would not be a blowout, Stewart Mandell stated, "You'll have to excuse our friend, Mr. Donovan. Normally our baseball guy, he's been too busy…to actually watch Miami or Ohio State play this season. To be honest, I think he showed up in Tempe, read some stats packets and decided, like so many others, that these two teams aren't on the same level."

By way of contrast, what these men offered were not opinions offered in a vacuum but well thought out and researched conclusions. There is a HUGE difference between a properly reached conclusion and an opinion. One (hopefully) implies a gathering of facts before making a comment, while the other might just be based in personal perception. One (again - hopefully) implies a careful process with time for contemplation and consideration, while the other may just reflect the personal whim of an individual on that particular day. One is based on what an individual knows while the other is simply what someone thinks.

Quality Research

These journalists researched and then wrote. They did not appear to start with a presupposition but rather mined their sources for facts. They boiled the facts they mined, distilled them, allowed them to cool a bit, and then they wrote what they felt would happen. These men were not lazy and took no short cuts. They put some work into their articles, and, again, it showed.

· "Having seen Miami play seven times this season, in person or on television, and Ohio State six, the only discrepancy I see is between these two teams and the remaining 115 I-A teams."

· "The CFN predictions process is normally a democratic one, but I get the final say on picks and after all the analysis, number crunching and tape watching, Ohio State is either going to win the Fiesta Bowl, or come really, really close."

· "A healthy Clarett had 230 yards in a September 14 blowout of Washington State, which finished seventh nationally in run defense."

· "You need a mobile quarterback: Florida State's Chris Rix rushed for 33 yards. WVU's Rasheed Marshall ran for 93 yards and a touchdown. Pittsburgh's Rod Rutherford ran for 69 yards and a score. OSU's Craig Krenzel is mobile rushing for 287 yards this year."

· "Miami's schedule strength is 19th while Ohio State's is 20th, but the Buckeyes beat three teams in the BCS rankings: Washington State (6th), Michigan (11th), and Penn State (12th)."

· "This Ohio State defense has only allowed more than twenty points once, and that was to Texas Tech in garbage time…The spread is 13 points, but OSU only gave up more than 13 in seven of its games, and only twice in its last seven (16 to Illinois and 14 to Wisconsin)."

· Mandel had a number of gems including, "His favorite target (Dorsey) is TE Kellen Winslow streaking across the middle…QB Craig Krenzel is deceptively mobile…It's easy to look at Miami's three year dominance and Ohio State's many close calls against several mediocre Big Ten teams and think this will be a blowout from the start. Think again. The Buckeye's defense is too good to let McGahee run all over them…"

Clearly some of the information offered above meant digging around a bit. Take a look at what these men unearthed. Citations of the rushing defense rankings of Washington State, tape watching, the numbers for four mobile quarterbacks that played Miami in 2002, recognition that Winslow across the middle would be a key battle… While some of this may seem elementary in retrospect, this was uncommonly uncommon fare prior to the Fiesta Bowl on January 3.

These were not articles hastily typed and forgotten in the search to meet an editor's deadline. These may not have even been articles where the research was conducted on the employer's time. These men simply decided they were going to do it right or not do it at all. Whether or not the rest of their work rises to these standards on a daily basis has not been decided, but at least on this occasion it did.

They deserve high praise for their desire to provide insightful coverage and the willingness to put in the necessary time in order to do so.

Concluding Thoughts…

I hope you have enjoyed the examination of the Fiesta Bowl Coverage. Again, none of the articles used were intended to embarrass anyone. My desire was merely to examine the quotes and question the presuppositions behind them. My hope is that writers learned a great deal from the professional embarrassment they suffered when some of their comments came back to them like a boomerang with an attitude. I am also hopeful that in the future, other reporters will take after Richards, Hayes, Fiutack, and Mandel - who appear to have been diligent in their efforts to shed light on the matchup and provide information to insatiable fans.

Sources Used:

Tim Brando, "Some Things are Worth Seeing Twice." The Sporting News, November 20, 2002.

Bob Wojnowski, "Hey OSU Fans: UM Would do you a Favor by Winning." The Detroit News, November 22, 2002.

Ron Rappaport, "Ohio State could be Toast-itos in title game." The Chicago Sun-Times. November 25, 2002.

Rappaport, "Name callers aside, OSU fans know the Truth." The Chicago Sun-Times. November 27, 2002.

Martin Fennelly, "UM can be beat; Now It's Ohio State's Turn to Try." TBO Sports, Dec 8 2002.

Matthew Zemek, "Monday Morning Quarterback: Attention, Big Ten Fans: Look to Stillwater and LA." College Football News, December 2, 2002.

Dan Lebatard, "With So Many Stars, Call Them Team Heisman." Miami Herald Dec 8 2002.

David Whitley, "Who Can Beat Miami? Only ‘Canes Themselves." Orlando Sentinal, December 8 2002.

Rick Telander, "Miami will Run Away With It." Chicago Sun Times, December 9, 2002.

Dick Weiss, "Miami: We'll bowl ‘em Over." NY Daily News. December 9, 2002.

Jay Mariotti, "Empty Bowls -- Again." Chicago Sun-times, December 9, 2002..

Jon Saraceno, "Bowls Botched Again." USA Today, December 10, 2002.

Tim Brando. "'Canes Have it All Over the Buckeyes." The Sporting News, December 11, 2002.

Chris Dufresne, "The Time's Rankings." L.A. Times December 12, 2002.

Jeff Miller, "Buckeyes use the Rhetoric of Big Underdogs." Miami Herald, December 17, 2002.

Wann Smith, "28 Minus 1 Equals 0…and Smith's Bowl Picks." Pigskin, December 18, 2002.

Omar Kelly, "UM's Gore Just Being Frank." Orlando Sentinal, December 24, 2002.

Scott Martineau, "Fiesta Bowl Game Plan." Miami Insiders Network. December 27, 2002.

Mike Bianchi, "Warning Flags up for Ohio State." Orlando Sentinal, December 29, 2002.

Darryl Richards, "Stallings believes in the Buckeyes." December 29, 2002.

Chris Bello, "It's Still a Canes Thing…" Miami Insiders Network, December 31, 2002.

Matt Hayes, "Part 1: It's the Buckeyes' Party," The Sporting News, December 31, 2002.

Matt Hayes, "Part 2: It's the Buckeyes' Party," The Sporting News, December 31, 2002.

Stewart Mandell, "Marquee Matchup:'s Stewart Mandel Breaks Down the Fiesta Bowl.", December 31, 2002.

Pete Fiutak, "2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview: 13 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win." CFN, No date provided.

John Donovan, "Blowout City." CNN/, Jan 2, 2003.

Stewart Mandel, "Closer than you think.", Jan 2, 2003.

Richard Rosenblatt, "The Case for Miami: Speed Kills Buckeyes in 41-14 Loss." AP writer. January 3, 2003.

CFN staff "2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview: Ohio State vs. Miami" CFN, January 3, 2003.

Jim Donnan. ESPN chat. January 3, 2003.

* Joel Bushbaum - who worked for Pro Football Weekly. Prior to his tragically young death on December 29, his last prediction was OSU 26 and Miami 24.

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