As promised, here is the actual transcript of yesterday's conference call related to the Stanford coaching search:
This is your conference bridge operator. We have all parties on the line at this time. Mr. Bowlsby, please proceed.
BB: Thank you. This is Bob - could we do a roll call?
DHR: Good after...I'm sorry, morning. This is DHR International in Chicago.
SM: This is Summer McNamara.
BB: This is who?
SM: Summer McNamara. I'm a volunteer student intern in President Hennessy's office, and he asked me...well he didn't ask me himself but someone in his office asked me to...
JA: This is John Arrillaga, and I'm paying for this freaking call and the chair you're sitting in, Bob, and just about everything else on this camp..."
BB: (pushes mute) John, are you on a cell? You're not coming through. OK, why don't you guys in Chicago start us off.
DHR: Thank you, Mr. Bowlsby. As all of you know DHR has been retained to assist with the search for the new Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football for Leland Stanford....
BB: Thank you, yes, we know.
DHR: Of course. We've prepared a short power-point presentation for our conversation today, if you'll follow along on the webcast while we narrate. First, a word about DHR's qualifications. We are the fifth largest executive search firm in the US, and have recently concluded successful searches for The Gap, the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, and the University of Toledo School of Medicine.
BB: Um, any searches related to...sports?
DHR: Oh, yes. In 2005, DHR placed the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at the NCAA headquarters.
DHR: And that was a very exciting process. Moving onto the next slide, you will see a very complicated chart of intersecting bubbles, each containing a popular buzzword such as "integrity" or, well, I guess most of them have to do with integrity. At the center of the bubbles is a slightly larger bubble with a nifty animation thing going on. See that? How it sort of pulsates? Well, that's where we believe Stanford will find its new Bradford M. Freeman...
BB: Inside the glowing bubble?
BB: (pause) Please move on.
DHR: On the next several slides we expand upon this paradigm and detail a SWOT analysis of Stanford's present situation. I trust you are familiar with SWOT analysis ....in the upper left hand box, under Strengths, we have listed weather. Moving on to the upper right hand box, under Weaknesses, we have....well there's a lot of things...academic standards, losing tradition, alumni apathy, etc. Mr. Bowlsby, we're scheduled for 45 minutes on this call, correct?
BB: (impatient) Move on.
DHR: On the next slide we have listed some of the specific criteria for Stanford to consider in hiring its new coach. First, of course, is diversity.
SM: Um, excuse me? I know I'm just an intern, but why is that number one?
DHR: It's always #1, per NCAA guidelines established by its new Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. #2 is a commitment to meeting Stanford's high standards for integrity and academic excellence. #3 is an ability to mix and mingle in University and alumni social circles and a working knowledge of California wines, preferably in the area of old-growth Zinfandel. Moving on, the #4-#10 criteria involve football terms that are frankly a little outside our expertise, but I'm sure they're familiar to you.
JA: (off mute) ...million fucking dollars I spend and for what? An empty stadium and these search-firm monkeys? How about I shove this presentation up...(muted)
BB: Let's get to the candidates, shall we? Where do we stand?
DHR: Well, looking at the criteria, and the bubble thingy on slide 2, and reviewing our initial contacts with candidates, we're down to...well...we haven't many positive responses, I'm afraid.
BB: What about DeWayne Walker?
DHR: He said no. Academic standards.
BB: Mike Leach? Dick Tomey?
DHR: No and no. These academic standards seem to something of an impediment in the eyes of...well, everyone outside of University administration, I'm afraid. We have had several unsolicited contacts from the Ivy League, though, and Jim Harbaugh remains a possibility.
SM: Omigod, I met him when he visited for his, um, interview thingy. He is sooo cute, and he seemed really interested in what I had to say. He wanted to know where my sorority sisters and I were going after...
BB: Thank you, Summer. So you're telling me that Jim Harbaugh is the best we can do?
DHR: Well, after Jim Fassel fell asleep during his interview, yes. There is another candidate, though we're not sure he would be interested. You'll find his picture on slide 14. We at DHR believe he represents the best mix of Stanford qualities - integrity, academic excellence, high moral standards and of course, diversity...and while we're not familiar with his entire resume just yet, we have on excellent advice that his buyout at the University of Washington is quite reasonable.
BB: (long pause; opens desk drawer for bottle) Mary, hold my calls.
We've been using the past few days as a palate cleanser after the Bears' bad, bad loss to San Diego. (but we'll have that Furman preview up Monday!)
Our respite was rudely interrupted by the apparently reliable news that Duke forward Jamal Boykin plans to transfer to Cal. Boykin (6'7"/230), a former California POY out of Fairfax, saw limited action in this first year and three games with the Blue Devils. He was sidelined by mononucleosis last month, and informed Duke officials he would not be returning.
By all accounts he's a good kid and a hard worker who leaves no burned bridges behind in Durham. Assuming the transfer goes through, Boykin would be eligible in a year's time to join the Cal team and face off against fellow Duke transfer Eric Boateng of ASU and the rest of the Pac-10. Nice get, Ben. You're still in the doghouse, but nice get.
A little bit later today we'll have some very exclusive intelligence on the Stanford coaching search, obtained through use of sophisticated eavesdropping equipment and a series of paid informants in the Arrillaga Center.
But this next bit is too good to leave for midday. Yesterday Atlanta Falcons head coach Jim Mora achieved a rare daily double - throwing Ty Willingham and the Falcons' entire fan base under the bus in just under a minute of priceless radio. Here's the link; the good stuff starts at the 13:24 mark. Mora is responding to a question from KJR radio in Seattle about whether he'd ever coach the Huskies in the event of a vacancy:
Mora: Well, I really have a lot of respect for Ty and I know he'll do a great job, but if he ever decides to move on...if that job's open you will find me at the friggin' head of the line with my resume in my hand ready to take that job.
KJR: What...if you're available?
Mora: Doesn't even matter if I'm available....I want to see Ty succeed, and I want to see that program succeed, but if he decided at some point that he's ready to move on and they want me, I will be there. I don't care if we're in the middle of a playoff run, I'm packing my stuff and coming back to Seattle. I'm dead serious and I'm sincere that...the further I get away from that the more I'm drawn to it....you know, it's just...that's the job I want.
On Tuesday we posted our nominations for the BlogPoll Awards, and as it turns out we were a wee bit hasty. For in the past week, a CFB website has been launched that is...well, it's just perfect.
It won't make any sense to you unless you've read this and this (and probably this), and listened to this, and know the definition of "Lemsday." Even if you have read those things, it might not make any sense. But you will laugh, and that's the important thing.
#16 - BOB HERWIG - CENTER (1935-1937) OK, how many of you are saying "Who?" That's what we love most about the 50 Greatest exercise - we uncover all sorts of great stories about Golden Bears whose legends have been lost to history.
Let's just say that Herwig was perhaps the toughest Golden Bear of them all. Everyone played both ways back then, but not everyone played sixty minutes. Herwig did, leading the Golden Bears in minutes played in both 1935 and 1937. He was by most accounts Cal's best tackler on a 1937 Rose Bowl champion team that allowed five touchdowns and 33 points all season. On offense, he was a superb snapper in an era when the the center was called on to snap the ball to any one of four potential ball handlers. He made one of the great hustle plays in pre-war Cal history when he took a lateral from teammate Willard Dolman in for the winning score in Cal's 13-7 upset of USC in Los Angeles in 1936.
Bill Leiser wrote this about Herwig and his mates in The Chronicle following their conquest of USC in 1937: "Along with the 75,000 who watched, the Trojans themselves are wondering where, if anywhere in the land, is a team which can stop the roll of California's Thunder Team.'' The thunder started up front with Bob Herwig. Three times Herwig was voted all-PCC, and twice he was named to the first team All-America team. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1964.
Still not convinced? OK, Herwig is also perhaps the most decorated Golden Bear athlete in military history. He won the Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf clusters for gallant service in the South Pacific. This Time Magazine article briefly details his heroics in Okinawa and Guam during the War. A tough guy, a hero, and a great Golden Bear.
We're remiss here for not noting that Cal CB Daymeion Hughes became the third winner of the Lott Trophy last week, awarded to the best defensive player in the nation according to Ronnie Lott and a bunch of his friends. Daymeion is shown above having apparently just come from his junior prom to accept the award from #42 himself. In the tradition of the Lott Trophy, Hughes removed the top portion of his left pinkie finger following the ceremony.
Up next for national consideration is DeSean Jackson, who hopes to win the coveted Golden Glock at the Randy Moss Return Man awards ceremony, to be held January 13 at whatever after-hours club Mr. Moss and posse choose to frequent that evening.
We love recruiting season, but we love it in its proper place, which is the month of madness between bowl season and LOI day. Just don't have the energy right now to worry about 3-star linebackers from Crespi, but we will. Oh, very soon...we will.
As fellow blogs dissect their teams' early returns and the Cyberbears chat room mysteriously creeps toward 200 participants on "off days," we thought we'd put these stars in perspective. With a hat tip to reader Pete Morris, here's a perfectly acceptable Pac-10 all-star team that we'd put up against any other:
QB: Alex Brink, Washington State (2nd team All Pac 10) RB: Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State (1st team) FB: Byron Storer, California (all-academic) WR: Jason Hill, Washington State (2nd team); Robert Jordan, California (HM) TE: Dante Rosario, Oregon (HM) OL: Max Unger, Oregon (2nd team); Alex Mack, California (1st team); Enoka Lucas, Oregon (1st team); Adam Koets, Oregon State (2nd team); Erik Robertson, California (HM)
DE: Mkristo Bruce, Washington State (1st team); Jeff Van Orsow, Oregon State (HM - the guy who knocked down Booty's pass) DT: Yaniv Barnett, Arizona (HM); Ben Siegert, Oregon State (HM) LB: Oscar Lua, USC (HM); Spencer Larson, Arizona (2nd team); Blair Phillips, Oregon (HM) CB: Antoine Cason, Arizona (1st team); Brandon Harrison, Stanford (HM) S: C.J. Wallace, Washington (1st team); Eric Frampton, Washington State (1st team)
P: Nick Folk, Arizona (1st team) K: Mario Danelo, USC (HM) ST: Wopamo Osaisai, Stanford (1st team)
Pretty good team, eh? These players have one thing in common - none of them received as many as 3 stars from Scout.com coming out of high school.
The truth of recruiting is that, in most instances, four star guys are indeed better than two star guys. But the idea of ranking teams based on their average star rating is crap. If you're reading this and you're worried that Scout has Cal at only #23 in the nation, you're paying attention to the wrong things. If you care about what creepy Tom Lemming says about Cal, the Pac 10, or anything, you should seek professional help.
Knows nothing; made of plastic
The questions to ask are: did my team address immediate needs? How about depth? Is the class balanced? (ask UW how they feel about Neuheisel's classes filled with four-star receivers and no linemen) How big/fast are our commits? Do the linemen have large enough frames to add weight without sacrificing quickness? Did any of our recruits switch positions in HS, limiting their star appeal? And, most important, has the coaching staff been able to coax better performance from players through instruction? (in other words, is your coach not named Bob Toledo?) Answering those questions gives you a better idea about your team's future than reading whatever Tom Lemming scribbles down between chemical peels.
#17 - STEVE BARTKOWSKI - QUARTERBACK (1972 - 1974) There's no harder player to rate than #17 on our 50 Greatest countdown. Steve Bartkowski is, of course, the only Golden Bear to be picked #1 in the NFL draft. No quarterback in the school's history possessed the arm strength of #10, who was reported by assistant coach Paul Hackett to have thrown a football 100 yards in the air at practices. Few if any players matched his overall athletic ability; Bartkowski was also a magnificent baseball player who made All-America as a 1st baseman in 1973.
At the same time, Bartkowski had but one magnificent season in Berkeley - in his first two years he split time with Vince Ferragamo and was frankly a disappointment when he got the starting job. To be fair, the teams around him stunk on ice - the 1973 version of the Golden Bears might be the worst 4-7 team in CFB history, having surrendered 60+ points to UCLA and Alabama.
But in his senior year of 1974, Bartkowski put it all together once he got to work with Hackett, a punchline of a head coach who was nevertheless a gifted tutor of quarterbacks. He convinced Bartkowski to trade velocity for accuracy, and the results were spectacular. Despite playing through the pain of a separated shoulder, Bart led the nation with 2,580 yards passing and earned consensus All-America honors for the 7-3-1 Bears. He topped the 300 yard mark four times (Washington, WSU, UCLA, Stanford); each of those efforts came after the shoulder injury, suffered in a 31-14 upset win over #14 Illinois in Champaign. Bartkowski finished 10th in voting for the Heisman that year, and would almost surely have ranked higher had he received even a modest amount of pre-season hype.
The NFL Draft was not yet a 24/7 TV event in 1975, so it came as something of a surprise to Bartkowski that the Atlanta Falcons expressed early interest in making him the #1 overall pick. Setting a trend, Bartkowski decided he needed representation prior to the draft to guide the negotiations with Atlanta and the fledgling WFL. Lacking many contacts in the legal world, he turned to his former dorm counselor at Dwight Derby, who had just graduated from Boalt Hall and had remained a friend. Bartkowski of course went on to rewrite the Falcons' record book, and his friend - Leigh Steinberg - carved out a nice career for himself as the first sports super-agent.
Bear Bryant spent a grand total of four years in College Station, coaching only 41 games. He arrived in 1954, having left Kentucky to escape the shadow of Adolph Rupp. He left for Tuscaloosa and immortality in late 1957 when "mama called" him home. Despite his brief stay, Bryant's methods and success had a lasting impact on the culture of Aggie football.
Bryant was already a famous coach by the time he arrived in Texas, having brought both Maryland and Kentucky to unprecedented heights during brief tenures. Texas A&M had fallen on hard times after experiencing great success in the late 30s and early 1940s. That the program's fall paralleled the rise of Texas Longhorn football was almost too much to bear for Aggies whose mission in life was beating "tu." Since 1939, A&M had won only one game in fourteen tries against Texas. The program was crawling with over-enthusiastic boosters who meddled in coaching decisions over strategy and playing time.
Again, we recommend the Junction Boys by Jim Dent for a review of Bryant's early days at A&M. In it, he describes a memorable rally introducing A&M's new head coach in early 1954:
Bryant ripped off his suit coat and glared at the crowd like a man ready for a back-alley fight. He slammed the expensive fabric down on the stage and stomped it with both shoes. Whipping off his tie, he twirled it above his head and threw it down. He kicked and stomped the tie like a menacing rattlesnake and then danced around it. He mimicked the yell leaders by rolling up his sleeves almost to the elbows. Then he cradled the silver microphone in both hands and waited for the silence. "Boys," he drawled deeply and resonantly and then paused. "It's time to win some damn football games."
Dent goes on to write that A&M end Bill Schroeder turned to teammate Gene Stallings, who would go on to be a coach of some renown, and shouted "Bebes, we've been saved!"
Dent has been criticized for dramatizing elements of Bryant's first camp at Junction, TX, and who knows whether he did. Some of the facts, however, are beyond dispute. Bryant's first order of business was segregating the Aggies from their fellow students and meddling boosters. He did so by taking his new team by bus to Junction, a small town west of College Station situated in a fairly desolate landscape.
It's interesting that the official Junction website makes no mention of its most famous visitor; perhaps that's because Bryant chose Junction for its lack of charms. The place was oppressively hot in summer, and Bryant practiced the Ags on a patch of briar-filled dirt for the first several days. The camp was famed for its attrition rate, though the exact number of quitters is in dispute.
Bryant inherited a team of about 100 players, of whom he cut a good number before the team even left for Junction. Assuming he arrived in Junction with 75 men, he lost a little more than half during the camp. As Gene Stallings, one of the 30 or so who stuck it out, said "we went out in two buses and came back in one."
The brutality of those Junction practices is described in vivid detail by Dent. Bryant before his first Junction workout:
"First, I'm going to whip your butts into shape. Second, I want you to become a team. We're gonna turn this love boat around...Just to show you I ain't kidding, I want you boys to form one line over by that pile of rocks. We're gonna start this beautiful mornin' off with a few gassers. Coach Owens, line 'em up."
The sun had climbed far into the pale blue sky and the gravel pit known as the practice field was dotted with orange juice stains when the eighty-yard wind sprints, also known as gassers, finally ended. More than twenty times the boys had chugged to the other end of the field, taken a short break, then wobbled back, stirring up clouds of thick dust. Just as Bryant predicted, the boys were vomiting everything in their stomachs - the orange juice, vitamins and salt tablets. Bryant seemed happy to see the boys bent over and puking so early in the morning.
The temperature was consistently above 100 degrees, and Bryant did forbid his players from drinking water during practice. But some players and coaches, including assistant Bum Phillips, dispute Dent's claims that Bryant hit players and left injuries untreated. The legendary head-butt that Bryant supposedly applied to an un-helmeted Henry Clark apparently never happened. In fact, it's not at all clear that Bryant's practices were any worse than Frank Kush's legendary Camp Tontozona (aside from the oppressive heat, which can be verified).
What is clear is that Bryant forever changed the self-image of the A&M program. The boys he brought back to College Station were too few in number to compete effectively in 1954 - the Aggies finished a dismal 1-9 that year. The next year, however, they finished 7-2-1 and in 1956 they nearly won the national championship at 9-0-1.
The expectations endured, but the success on the field did not. Following Bryant's departure to Tuscaloosa in 1957, the Aggies endured eight straight losing seasons. Their 7-4 mark in 1967 - under Bryant protege Gene Stallings - was A&M's only winning season between 1958 and 1974. But Aggies who lived through the roman candle of Bryant's career in College Station never lost their expectation that A&M would eventually return to national prominence. They did shortly after Emory Bellard, the architect of the wishbone, left Austin for College Station in 1972. We'll review 'modern' A&M football history - from Bellard to the Wrecking Crew - in an upcoming post.
The last time Cal visited the Holiday Bowl, it faced a team from Texas that ran an unconventional offense the Golden Bears had not seen during the regular season. We know how that turned out. This year, the Bears won't have to worry about too many five wide receiver sets. But to win the Holiday Bowl, its defense must cope with a new look and contain Texas A&M's brutally efficient option run offense.
The Aggies will often start games with a base option attack running out of an I formation, with either Michael Goodson or Javorskie Lane as the I-back. For football historians, the attack out of this formation looks similar to the old Nebraska teams under Tom Osborne.
Depending on the defense's formation and tendencies, they will mix in a number of variations on the zone read option out of shotgun. They will occasionally show a true spread with four or five receivers wide, though this is not a base formation. More often they will feature a single back and an H-back/tight end (Martellus Bennett), or split backs flanking QB Stephen McGee. From any of these formations, the Ags run an option that looks an awful lot like Oregon, though they throw far less than the Ducks.
The following clip from A&M's winning drive against Texas shows how effective the Aggies can be from all of these looks:
So, how do you beat these sets? Let's start with the I-back option. Defending the option successfully is difficult because it requires discipline and restraint. Defenders cannot simply attack the line of scrimmage; they must play assignment football and stay within their roles.
The option assignments include the dive to the fullback, the quarterback keeper off tackle, and finally the wide pitch to the tailback. In Cal's base 4-3 defense, the primary responsibility for the dive would fall to the tackles and Mike linebacker. The quarterback is most often the responsibility of the defensive ends, and the pitch man is taken by the outside backer (Sam or Willie). If the defense keeps to these assignments and tackles soundly, the I-back option cannot generate enough yardage to sustain drives, and A&M will be forced into play-action.
The zone read option is different in that the quarterback and tailback often move in completely different directions at the snap. The pressure here is especially on the linebackers, who must read through ball fakes and respect the short passing game. McGee often takes a short drop as if to throw, and then tucks the ball under his arm and becomes a runner a la Vince Young. The keys to stopping this formation are disciplined linebacker play, good communication and (of course) good tackling.
Keys for each team Texas A&M - 1. Establish the passing threat. The option is most successfully run when offenses can establish the threat of the pass, and prevent the corners and safeties from cheating up for run support. If A&M can hit some quick passes out of either the I or spread formations, they will soften up Cal's back seven for the run game. If not, Cal will undoubtedly cheat these men up and show what looks like a seven or eight man front. 2. Block the corners. In some ways, the most important blocking assignments out of the option are the receivers on the corners; if corners can shed blocks and converge quickly on the pitch man, they can go a long ways toward neutering the third option. This all assumes, of course, that Cal's front four can take away the first two options and force the Aggies to pitch the ball. 3. Ball security. A&M only averages one turnover per game, though nine have come by way of fumble. Turnovers in the run game could yield quick Cal scores, and A&M is not a terribly proficient quick-strike team.
Cal: 1. DEs must raise their game. We know Cal's ends struggle to generate a consistent pass rush; it's an open question whether they can shed blocks and cover the QB. If they cannot, the outside backer is put in the untenable position of choosing between the QB and the pitch man. 2. Disciplined play. While Cal's linebackers are very athletic and physical, they are not always models of discipline. Mickey Pimentel, in particular, must resist the temptation to go for the big hit and respect the pitch man on the I-back option. In the zone read option, Cal's LBs must read ball fakes and trust their ability to pursue and close on ball carriers. 3. Be efficient on offense. When A&M is rolling, they limit the number of touches for the opposition - in the Ags' 12-7 victory over Texas, they limited Texas to 24 minutes of possession. Cal can't afford wasting series as the Longhorns did last month.
#18 - RON RIVERA - LINEBACKER (1980-1983) It's fitting to look at Ron Rivera with Texas A&M upcoming on the schedule, since Rivera will forever be defined (at least to our thinking) by the A&M game his senior year. With 1:20 left in that game, Cal and the Aggies were tied at 17 and Cal had the ball deep in A&M territory. On 4th and short, the Bears set up for an easy field goal attempt, and Randy Pratt knocked it through for a three-point lead and, apparently, the win. Then Joe Kapp lost his mind.
The Aggies had jumped offside, and for some reason Kapp took the points off the board to go for a touchdown. This was the precise moment when Old Blues looked at each other and realized that this coaching experiment would not work out. On the next snap from center Gale Gilbert lost the handle and A&M recovered the fumble at their own two yard line. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle to our fourteen-year old eyes.
A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill called a toss sweep - a dumb call deep in your own territory, but not quite Kapp-esque. The ball arrived to Hawkins at approximately the same time as Rivera, who was coming on a run blitz. Rivera was traveling a bit faster than the pigskin, and he knocked Hawkins backwards into the A&M end zone for an improbable safety - and the upset win for Cal.
Rivera had many more shining moments as Cal's best defender of the early 1980s. He was named team captain as a sophomore, and led the Golden Bears in tackles from 1981 to 1983. In 1983 he set a record that still stands with 26.5 tackles for loss including 13 sacks. For his efforts Rivera was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac 10 and was a consensus choice for All-America at linebacker. He was also the first Golden Bear to become a finalist for the Lombardi Award.
Rivera was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft, and became the first Puerto Rican to play professional football. Following his retirement in 1992, Rivera entered the coaching ranks and is now the highly-regarded defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears.
Last week we had our own Pac 10 awards show live from Bertola's in Oakland. At least, we believe we did since there is html evidence of the event; we're a little fuzzy on the details even now. Apparently the CFB blogosphere is mature enough to host its own self-congratulatory extravaganza, and interested bloggers such as ourselves have been invited to submit our picks. You, the regular readers of Tightwad Hill, are of course encouraged to visit these fine blogs, if for no other reason than to pump up our link count so we're eventually noticed.
OK, here goes:
The Dr. Z Award FOR: Cogent, interesting analysis. CHOICE (tie): Sunday Morning QB, MGoBlog and The Blue Gray Sky. The former is the best all-purpose CFB blog around. MGoBlog, in addition to being the birthplace of the BlogPoll, has a great feature that analyzes each Michigan offensive and defensive series, calling out personnel and formations. Blue Gray Sky is the best blog I've seen for historical research, bar none.
The Trev Alberts Quits To Do Construction Award FOR: comic relief; overall hilarity. CHOICE: Every Day Should be Saturday. I'll be surprised if it's not unanimous. Although, to be fair, nothing tops their output in late 2005, where they gave us 52 reasons ESPN sucks and Phil Fullmer's apology letter for calling the NCAA on Alabama. That latter post is the funniest thing we've ever read on the Internet.
The Sports Fans Don't Cry Award FOR: The blog that has suffered through its chosen team's dismal season with the most dignity. CHOICE: State Fans Nation. The boys in Raleigh were extraordinarily calm and level-headed about their plans to chop Chuck Amato's head off.
The Keith Jackson Circa 1995 Award FOR: The blog with the most consistently expressive and excellent writing. CHOICE: Blue Gray Sky. The only CFB blog I've read that is actually immersive; makes you feel far more sympathetic to the Domers.
The Brady Quinn Award FOR: The prettiest blog. CHOICE: The House Rock Built. Hi-res scans, and lots of them. Also a nice layout.
Best New Blog FOR: The best new college football blog. CHOICE: Dunno, how 'bout House of Heat - a new ASU blog. Good to see the Devils representing.
The LOL, MSM Award FOR: The blog with the most astute media criticism. CHOICE: Sunday Morning QB, especially the Chris Fowler diaries.
The Communal Blog Award FOR: The blog with the best community interaction. CHOICE: Our old friends at Bruins Nation, the Lord of the Flies of the CFB blogosphere. Great interaction, even if they all share the same mission. Like a political blog, actually.
The Tyrone Prothro Award FOR: The finest individual post of the college football year. CHOICE: EDSBS's imagined recruiting visits by Jim Tressel and Lloyd Carr.
The Chris Berman Antimatter Award FOR: The best contribution to the lingo of our little interniche, be it a nickname, neologism, or catchy phrase. CHOICE: Not that they need more recognition, but Deadspin gets it for introducing the world to Carl Monday, investigative journalist.
The Old Faithful Award FOR: The best recurring feature of the year. CHOICE: EDSBS, for the coaching death-match series.
The That’s Not Really Real Award FOR: The best photoshop or other counterfeit gag of the year. CHOICE: MGoBlog, for the On Notice Board, which is wonderfully 'shopped.
The You Talkin’ To Me Award FOR: The best back and forth between rival blogs the week before a rivalry game. CHOICE: The exchange between Bruins Nation and the House Rock Built leading up to the Notre Dame game, especially the question about how to fire a minority coach and get away with it in the press.
Best ACC Blog FOR: The best blog covering an ACC team or the ACC in general. CHOICE: (tie) Danny Ford is God, a very funny Clemson blog, and State Fans Nation.
Best Big Ten Blog FOR: The best blog covering a Big Ten team or the Big Ten in general. CHOICE: MGoBlog.
Best Big Twelve Blog FOR: The best blog covering a Big Twelve team or the Big Twelve in general. CHOICE: Burnt Orange Nation, which is so good it almost makes us forget 2004, and Double Extra Point, a fine Nebraska blog.
Best Big East Blog FOR: The best blog covering a Big East team, the Big East in general, or Notre Dame. CHOICE: Blue Gray Sky.
Best SEC Blog FOR: The best blog covering an SEC team or the SEC as a whole. CHOICE: The Georgia Sports Report, if only for the fact that its author is a big Replacements fan.
UCLA has had its moments since the Wizard retired, even winning a national championship, but they weren't really UCLA. You knew their coach would eventually crash and burn, and that their players would check out at key moments. Year after year, the Pac 10 was still Arizona's conference to lose.
That era has ended - Ben Howland is now in charge. We knew that Howland was different when we saw what he did with Ryan Hollins - transforming him from a sullen loser into a shot-blocking dervish who played with fire in his eyes. He is exactly what the Bruins program needed, a tonic for the feel-good Lavin era where the inmates ran the asylum. UCLA frankly didn't deserve him, given how long they ignored Lavin's mismanagement, but what's past is past. The future for Ben's gutty little Bruins looks bright indeed, and if they fix their foul shooting it would not be a surprise to see them cutting down the nets in Atlanta next April.
Good News: It starts with defense - UCLA plays the best D in the conference. Nobody gets out on shooters like the Bruins, who almost never allow an uncontested three. Their help D is very good, and they are very difficult to screen because of sound fundamentals and good communication. Offensively, they have the potential to be more explosive than last year's national runners-up because Josh Shipp is back in the starting lineup. Shipp, who last year's run with an injury, is averaging 14.4 ppg in the early going, second to Aaron Afflalo among Bruin starters. For his part, Afflalo (left) is as complete a two-guard as any in the country, though he's prone to shooting slumps. The "big question" with the Bruins has apparently been answered as Darren Collison has played very well as the replacement for Jordan Farmar. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (below) is a monster on the glass (and the one guy we'd most love to get on Cal's roster for this season). The Bruins can also go pretty deep, with 3-point specialist Michael Roll, Alfred Aboya and others provided needed experience off the bench.
Bad News: Lorenzo Mata starts at the five. The Bruins don't ask him to do much more than screen on offense, and he's a fine defender and rebounder who can pick up second-chance points. Still, if there's a weakness on this team, he's it. The Bruins can occasionally struggle on offense, but no team in the conference is quicker to shake off an in-game slump than UCLA. Howland's team is so disciplined that they eventually find the right shooter in the right spot to make a run-killing basket.
Oh, there is one bit of bad news, and it's a doozy: UCLA is shooting 60% from the foul line - an absurd number for a team of this caliber. Left unchecked, their foul shooting will eventually cost them any number of close games and perhaps a burst blood vessel in Howland's ever-tightening neck veins. BTW, we would pay money to watch the foul shooting portion of UCLA's practices.
New Faces: The two immediate contributors among UCLA's freshmen are guard Russell Westbrook and power forward James Keefe. Westbrook is averaging eight minutes in early going, and Keefe is a physical player who has 15 boards in 57 minutes of court time. He will be scary once he learns how to play Ben Howland defense. Nikola Dragovic is due to return to the lineup this month after serving a suspension related to his transfer from the Mega Irshana club in Belgrade - he has great range on his jumper and will see as much court time as his Euro-defense allows.
Prediction: 1st place. We see a bigger gap between UCLA and the other top contenders ('Zona, UW, maybe Oregon) than many others. The other guys have too many questions, and are counting on young guns like Hawes and Budinger to step up huge in conference play. The Bruins, by contrast, are led by veterans who experienced last year's run to the national final. They're far from a perfect team, but if they improve from the foul line they should be in good shape to enter March Madness as a #1 seed.
In our last installment of the Cultural Guide to Aggieland we poked gentle fun at the Ags for their sillier traditions - yell practice, spearing frogs and magical dogs. But this second installment of the Guide will be done in a more serious tone, befitting the greatest tradition in the history of college football - the 12th Man.
The story's pretty well known by now, but is worth repeating. In 1921, Texas A&M completed a successful 5-1-2 season and accepted an invitation to play Centre College of Kentucky in the Dixie Classic - a Dallas bowl game that begat the Cotton Bowl. Centre entered the game ranked #1 in the nation at 10-0, having outscored its opponents 320-6 on the season.
The underdog Aggies fought valiantly and led 22-14 in the second half. The battle, however, had claimed many casualties on the Texas side, and coach D.X. Bible was down to only a handful of reserves. Spotting former player E. King Gill in the student section, Coach Bible asked whether he would suit up as an insurance policy of sorts. Gill did, to the delight of his teammates and Aggie fans. When the final gun sounded, A&M had its 22-14 upset and E. King Gill was the only substitute left standing on their sideline.
Still ready for duty
Gill later said "I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me.”
The magnitude of the victory ensured that Gill would go down in Aggie lore as the "12th man." Soon, the concept of the 12th man was extended to include all Aggies, who were expected to support the team as Gill had done. The genius of this tradition is that it isn't tied to a single game, a trophy or a ritual. The 12th man is an "always-on" tradition that informs all aspects of the A&M football program and campus life.
When Jackie Sherrill led Texas A&M in the 1980s, he decided to take the 12th man to another level. He had to do something - a disappointing 5-6 campaign in 1982 had boosters sharpening their axes. To build some political capital with Aggie Nation, Sherrill held auditions for interested members of the student body and formed an all-walk on kick coverage unit. They debuted on September 3, 1983 against a team that was recently notorious for its kick return game - the California Golden Bears.
#19 - MIKE PAWLAWSKI - QUARTERBACK (1988-1991) Nobody ever wanted Mike Pawlawski. Poor mechanics, limited arm strength, no reputation coming out of high school - not your Pac-10 prototype. No one knew what we were getting when he took over the reins of the Cal offense from Troy Taylor in 1990. What we got was a winner who molded the team in his image - talking tough and hitting through the whistle, willing to sacrifice style points for the all-important win. Pawlawski turned out to be the Anglo Joe Kapp; running, throwing and hitting opponents whenever he got the chance.
He was also a pretty fair quarterback. In that junior season of 1990 Pawlawski completed 194 of 325 passes for 2,241 yards and 18 TDs. More importantly, he led Cal to its first Bowl victory in 52 years, a 17-15 win over Wyoming in the Copper Bowl. In his senior season, Pawlawski almost took Cal all the way to the top. He was voted co-offensive POY in the Pac-10 in 1991 after completing 60.4 % of his passes for 2,517 yards and 21 touchdowns for the 10-2 Golden Bears. In that year's 37-13 Citrus Bowl victory over Clemson, he hit on 21 of 32 passes for 230 yards.
But the numbers didn't measure Pawlawski. His true contribution to Golden Bear football was leadership - the one-star quarterback who willed his more decorated teammates to higher and higher levels of performance. Occasionally those Bears teams would talk too much trash, and earn too many penalties. But just like their leader, they never backed down from a fight and they won - 17 times in 24 tries during Pawlawski's career as a starter.
Pawlawski later played one NFL season with Tampa Bay before starring for the Albany Firebirds in the Arena Football League for several years. He was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
Something tells us that Joe Lunardi is going to say the following sentence sometime between now and March: "Cal - a good record, did pretty well in a surprisingly tough Pac-10, but they have that bad loss to San Diego at home that could keep them out of the tourney."
We know they're college kids, and thus prone to the occasional poor performance. No worries there. We do have worries when our defenders can't stop dribble penetration against a middle-of-the-road WCC team who lost to Texas-San Antonio at home by fifteen. That's not execution, that's effort. And that's coaching.
Oh well, there's still the bowl game....and football recruiting....and spring practice.
An ongoing discussion of California Golden Bears football and basketball...Other college football and basketball news filtered through a west coast bias...Like the actual Tightwad Hill, a bit messy and disorganized, but free!