Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green (Roomed)

Now that Cam Cameron has hitched his star to Ted Ginn's bandwagon and Brady Quinn is a Brown, let's examine the happenings of Saturday.

First off, include me among those who don't believe Quinn's draft position reflects poorly on him or on ND in general. If a number of teams who needed QB's passed on him, that'd be one thing. But only one did, and they're being eviscerated in the press and by their own fans right now. If a number of QB's had been selected in front of him, that might have been a strong indictment. But only one was, and Quinn can probably be thankful he didn't get sucked into the career-destroying vortex that is the Oakland Raiders organization. Yes, Charlie Weis went to bat for Quinn and may have overstated his case. But I'd rather see the coach go too far in support of his player than not going far enough. Players should know the coach has their back.

But having said that, let's examine what the talking heads said about Quinn. Some of it has some basis, while some does not, with the truth, as usual, sitting smack-dab in the middle.

Accuracy. 60+ percent passing in his junior and senior seasons is nothing to sneeze at, nor is his TD-to-interception ratio. Quinn obviously makes good decisions and sees the field well. But it seems every game there was a pass or two that had us wiping our brows because it didn't quite go where it was intended. The first pick against Michigan this past season comes to mind -- the ball that bounced of an ND player's trailing shoulder before finding its way into the end zone courtesy of a Michigan defender. While most of Quinn's throws were on the money (especially the over-the-middle tosses to Carlson that always seemed to go for big gains), I also can recall a number of times where receivers would have to reach back for the ball, disrupting their rhythm and reducing the potential yards made after the catch, or would have to leave their feet to make the completion. Searching for such pinpoint accuracy may be a nitpick on my part, but it's not like unease on the subject is coming out of left field.

Arm strength. My one knock on BQ has always been the long ball. To me, a lot of passes over 20 yards ended up being jump balls between the Irish receiver and the defensive back covering him. When you had guys with tremendous leaping ability like Mo Stovall on the other end, the results usually ended up good. This season, with McKnight and Samardzija going up for the pigskin, the results were, as a noted Irish fan would say, good but not great. When your receiver has to camp out under the ball, it neutralizes whatever separation speed he brings to the table. Hitting a guy in stride on those 35-yard strikes allows him to make use of his talents more.

Blitz handling. This is one where I don't see the talking heads' point. I do remember a number of times the OL had to go to max protect mode to make sure Quinn had enough time, but I think this said a lot more about ND's OL quality and depth than it did Quinn's ability to handle it, not to mention the lack of a starting fullback for most of the season to help in pass protection. If Quinn was indeed bad at handling the blitz, I would have expected to see a lot more interceptions thrown and/or a poorer completion percentage, and we saw neither. I don't think Quinn's decision-making is an issue.

Now, do I also believe (a) all these applicable issues are correctable, and (b) BQ has both the intelligence and the work ethic to make that happen in relatively short order? You betcha. Do I believe Miami was stupid for passing on him given those things? Right again. And do I believe Quinn has the chutzpah that so many quality NFL quarterbacks have, which is a quality in high demand? Three for three. It all adds up to him being a value pick where he was, and I believe his career will validate that.

I also think it's probative the quarterback that was chosen first spent the last season throwing to two wideouts that were taken in the first round of the draft. Samardzija's decision to play baseball and Carlson's return to ND for his final year aside, none of Quinn's targets have been drafted yet. McKnight and Walker's names weren't called on Saturday, and both hope to be tagged on Sunday. But one must wonder -- give Quinn Russell's receiving corps, and would he have gone first instead?

All that matters now is Quinn's performance on the NFL stage. He'll probably have to step in sooner rather than later, and I have no doubt he's up to the task. Good luck to him.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cheese also comes from dopey coaches

Beware, gentle readers: All is not well in Wisconsin, land of cheese and driving the speed limit in the passing lane.

It seems now-second-year UW football coach Bret Bielema is a little cranky. Four months after the games were played and two days before his program's spring game, Bielema is still pissed off his team didn't get a BCS bid.

And who does he blame for that? Notre Dame, of course.

Bielema is still smoldering because his 12-1 team was left out of the Bowl Championship Series last year even after outperforming the Fighting Irish, a team Bielema says is virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year....

Bielema knows the rule exists so the BCS has an open spot for each of the major-conference champions. But he wonders why BCS rules treat Notre Dame, an independent, nearly the same as a conference champion.

"I understand why certain teams get exemptions; I don't understand why Notre Dame does," Bielema said. "If they want to play by conference rules, join a conference. They don't take, maybe, into consideration past bowl history. Notre Dame hasn't won in the last nine bowl appearances, or whatever it is. And to me, we've proven over time that we deserve the opportunity."

I expect this level of dumb from Integer fans, but when it start to bleed into the coaching staffs, we've got trouble in River City. There's so much wrong in there, I hardly know where to start. So we may as well begin the beguine at the beginning.

"...the Fighting Irish, a team Bielema says is virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year."

There aren't any quotes around that sentiment, so I'm left having to pray Bielema didn't actually say something that dumb. No, Bret, Notre Dame is not "virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year". They have to do the same things you do -- win a minimum of nine games (although that's not always guaranteed to get them in) and finish ranked in the top 12 of the BCS poll. If they were "virtually guaranteed a BCS berth every year", I imagine they'd have more than three appearances in the ten seasons the BCS has been in effect.

In fact, it's more difficult for them to get into the BCS than it is for you because they have to depend on sentiment and how the other teams do. All you have to do is win your (sometimes crappy) conference. Ask some of those nine-win Integer squads that made it to the BCS in recent years how tough that was. Or query some of the Pac10 teams before SC got their checkbook out. Go check out the roster for the 2002 season BCS games and get back to us how "guaranteed" ND's position is.

"Bielema knows the rule exists so the BCS has an open spot for each of the major-conference champions."

If so, he doesn't "know" much. The rule doesn't exist to protect major-conference champions. All of them already have a bid, so the number of overall teams doesn't matter.

The rule exists because of the payout schedule for BCS appearances. Neither the Integer nor any of the other conferences wanted both second-school payouts to go to the same league, so they set that maximum to ensure the widest spreading of wealth possible. Typical of the Communistic practices conferences usually engage in, which is why I'm glad ND isn't in one for football.

Bret obviously still has post-seasonal traumatic disorder and is looking for someone to blame. Instead of the Notre Dame strawman, Bret should target his anger at some other targets, like....

His conference. The Integer power brokers agreed to the two-team rule to protect their bank balance. They also set up the unbalanced schedule that didn't give the Badgers a shot at Ohio State. Complain to your conference commissioner, provided he's not too busy sending bizarre press releases about recruiting classes and investigating phantom boogeymen who are talking down one of his crappiest programs.

The BCS voters. You know, the guys that voted Michigan ahead of you even after they got pounded by the Buckeyes. Your league pumped up the "Battle of the Century" crap so high, the Wolverines didn't fall like they should have after that loss and your Badgers paid the price.

Himself. Personal accountability, there's a novel concept. Hey Bret, how about you take responsibility for your team not being able to keep its foot on Michigan's throat after they came out completely flat against you in September. Or taking responsibility for playing a horse-manure schedule, particularly out of conference, that most likely cost you precious BCS points. Or how about just saying, "The buck stops here, if we missed the BCS, it's because we didn't get it done when it counted". That's what Charlie Weis would say, after all.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Miss a little, miss a lot

One of the downsides to not being a very big ESPN fan is you miss donnybrooks like the post I've linked in the title above. It's very much worth viewing the posts and responses on the blog itself, but I'll give a quick synopsis:

Last Thursday, Colin Cowherd, who hosts ESPN radio's late morning show, talked about denial of service attacks -- planned attacks on websites where so many people overwhelm the site's servers with requests that the server crashes or is otherwise made unavailable. He rhetorically asked if it would be a good thing if he could send all his listeners to a site and effectively carry out such an attack. Then he mentioned a specific blog, The Big Lead, telling his listeners go to there. I can't tell if it was just the audience overload or someone in his listening crowd actually executed a DoS script/program, but the result was The Big Lead was out of commission for a while.

According to a number of blogs covering the situation, Cowherd got his hand slapped by ESPN's media ombudsman for the toolish behavior and issued an on-air apology. The Big Lead guys are considering a lawsuit (the merits or lack thereof for which are very well summarized here), and once again, the cold-war-like conflict between traditional and electronic media erupts into an actual battle before subsiding into the current tension.

I'm fortunate to know a number of guys (and girls) in the print media, most of whom work for major metropolitan newspapers (and none of whom are named Kent). Some are assholes, but the majority of them are good people. I also know a number of guys (and girls) on the electronic side of the aisle at places like Scout, Rivals, and some independent blogs. Some are assholes, but the majority of them are good people.

And for the most part, at least below the surface, they all hate each other.

The print folks don't respect (or, in some cases, even like) the electronic folks, thinking the bitmasters didn't have to pay their dues like the inksters did. The electronic folks chalk it up to jealousy over money and viewership and give back as good as they get, citing the number of blogs written by newspaper columnists that have popped up in the last year.

Both sides, I think, have a point.

Barriers to entry tends to create a de facto quality in any marketplace. If it costs you to get something started, you're not going to do it unless you truly have a gift or can make it worth your effort. But when there aren't any costs, people who shouldn't be doing it end up doing it anyway. After all, if I can put together a blog, any schmuck can do it.

But I also feel the electronic marketplace is the ultimate in efficiency. The Chicago Sun Times, for example, can hire a talentless douchebag to write columns for it, and that douchebag will gain a following thanks to the imprimatur of the paper and the access and other perks that job entails (along, perhaps, with access to the lowest common denominator of readership, but that's a conversation for another day). A web site operator or blog writer, on the other hand, must earn whatever influence they gain on public opinion via their writing or their coding or their reporting, often without assistance from any large group. It truly is capitalism at its finest.

The Internet, of course, is still feeling itself out as a medium, trying to find the proper balance between speed and accuracy. This represents a paradigm shift in media, which has always valued speed but never imagined the speed at which the Internet can move information. The true shelf life of information has never been defined so precisely as it has in the Internet Age, where a verbal agreement of 10 minutes ago might no longer be in effect, but there's still a blog entry about it hanging around in the electronic ether to give it an air of permanency. Who-what-where-when-and-why, in computer parlance, has gone from a semi-static state to a multi-dimensional array whose values are not only all known but also dependent on what the clock says.

This is a tough time for traditional media, as the Chicago Tribune buyout saga illustrated. They're trying to battle a speed they can't match, as not even the ESPN's of the world can get info out as fast as Joe Blogger in some cases. But none of it is an excuse for what Cowherd did (which was wrong and should go beyond the bullshit apology he offered on the air recently), and it's also not an excuse for the disrespect a lot of print mavens show their electronic counterparts.

It's also a tough time for electronic media. It's still the Wild Wild West era, for the most part, and the wheat is trying to separate itself from the chaff without getting choked by it. But that's no excuse for sites looking to make names for themselves trampling all over people, figuring it's easier to apologize later than show maturity now. The Big Lead didn't do this to Cowherd, but there are other sites out there that have no compunction for the practice.

Both sides of this debate need to get together. The market is changing, like it or not, and those changes can either go roughly or smoothly. It's all up to the participants. Traditional folks need to stop looking down their noses at websites. SiteOps need to adopt the requisite level of professionalism.

Ben Franklin once said something about hanging together or hanging separately. It fits.

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