Thursday, November 29, 2012

wrestling badgers

When you think about it, the badger is a pretty apt mascot for Wisconsin's sports teams.  Badgers are gonna do what badgers do, because badgers are stubborn little bastards.  If you're gonna fight the badger, you're gonna have to beat it at its own game.  (Or run the hell away.  They ain't fast.)  So that's what the Hoos did.

There's really nothing pretty about two teams playing fundamentally sound, lock-down defense.  When people say they want exciting basketball games, "exciting" is an old Latin word for "no defense."  But there is a certain attraction to effort, poise, and baskets that really matter.  Thus you have last night's game.  On a very hostile court, UVA silenced the crowd and looked like a veteran team.  Even more enjoyably, they looked like a team that never thought they would lose.  Nothing - absolutely nothing - that Wisconsin did rattled them.  Not the defense they played, not hitting consecutive three-pointers, nothing.  They out-fundamentaled one of the best fundamental coaches in all of basketball.  I think Tony Bennett, somewhere along the line, figured out how to coach.

Also somewhere along the line, separately but also in the last two years, Joe Harris figured out how to play basketball.  Harris plays better defense than he has in the past (or at least, he did last night) and has developed into one of those guys who just scores.  1-for-7 from three and he still racked up 22 points, and frankly I had no idea he was so bad from behind the arc last night.  From his freshman year Harris has always had surprising ball skills, but sometimes a guy hits his ceiling and then tries to be the primary scoring option, and the results aren't pretty.  Harris has taken to his new role exceedingly well.  There was leadership in the huddle and during play, and it was something to see.

If Wisconsin is as good as I thought before the game, UVA just earned its dance ticket.  Basically all they have to do is go 9-9 in the conference, although beating Tennessee wouldn't hurt either.  Remember, the committee is likely to discount the CAA losses since they came without a key player.  I don't know if Wisconsin is that good any more.  First off, their defense wasn't actually all that fundamentally sound after all.  Maybe UVA's just made them look bad by comparison, but they didn't help very well, allowed too many backdoors, and didn't close outwell on threes.  And even as we were beating Wisconsin, one of Wisconsin's "good" losses (Creighton) was in the process of getting blown out on their own floor by Boise State.  Boise might be pretty good, but it still doesn't speak well of Wisconsin.

Further thoughts in brief:

-- Thank you thank you thank you ESPN for finally hiring a woman announcer because she's actually a good announcer.  Thanks to what you have foisted on us in the past, I now associate women with horrible announcing.  Doris Burke may just reverse that; she is a smart cookie who knows hoops (how often do you hear any announcer talking about elevator screens?) and doesn't babble about stupid crap or get overexcited.  I officially look forward to any game she calls.

-- Teven Jones made almost no impact on the stat sheet, but he really does pass the eye test, doesn't he?  "Plays within himself" is the phrase that comes to mind.  I don't know what his future is at point guard, since UVA kind of recruited over him with Devon Hall and London Perrantes, but he'll be a big part of this season and looks like he'll make it very hard for anyone to bump him from the rotation in the future.

-- This combination of Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins looks like a real ace in the hole for UVA.  Everywhere I look I've seen Atkins described as "active."  They've both figured out the whole "put the ball through the hoop" thing, and on defense, they almost completely neutralized Jared Berggren in the paint.  Berggren was a nonfactor, at least down low where he scored only four points on two-point buckets, and it helped reduce Wisconsin to purely a jump-shooting team.  Wisconsin players were credited with 18 rebounds; Mitchell and Atkins combined for 17.

-- I have game highlights!  Here.


-- I also have some supplemental thoughts on the coaching staff situation at ITA.

-- I totally forgot, yesterday, to mention the ACC's lawsuit against Maryland, to try and collect every penny of the $52 million owed the conference.  This is a smart thing.  It's the only thing.  There are some who'd say the ACC should just settle, but let's face it: settling is losing.  There is no difference between getting zero dollars and getting $15 million; both put the future of the conference in much direr straits.  I'm no lawyer, but I think the ACC has a strong case.  Maryland's case will be that they voted against the exit fee; the ACC will probably counter with the fact that membership in the conference is an agreement to abide by the decisions of the majority, and no doubt they can point to instances in the past where Maryland benefitted from being on the winning side of a decision.  For example, Maryland "forced" Duke and UNC to agree to allow Miami, BC, and VT into the conference.

-- Read ye this excellent article on the TV bubble that is driving the realignment bus.  The A-bomb picture is a little overwrought, but still.

little shuffle, big shuffle

I picked a good day, yesterday, to leave my Twitter feed running.  I don't do that usually, but occasionally do, and stuff kept coming across it and I just couldn't help myself.  We'll just consider this morning's Louisville news an extension of a very busy Tuesday, and go from there.

The smaller news was the beginning of the coaching staff shuffle.  Running backs coach Mike Faragalli's departure, it's fair to call that unexpected.  RB coach is a pretty benign position.  It's hard to have a lot of effect, positive or negative, on a team's fortunes.  You usually put a recruiter there.  Michigan's got this guy who's been there 21 years and survived three separate coaching changes.  Mike London portrayed the move as stemming from disappointment in the running game, and if Faragalli was the guy who turned Perry Jones into a dancer when he used to be a lot more decisive, then I can see that.  Otherwise I think most of us blamed the O-line for the lack of a run game; that and the occasional bizarre attempt to use Jones as a short-yardage hammer.

After that, I don't know exactly where we go.  Marques Hagans probably stays on as Faragalli's replacement, but in what capacity I don't know.  He and Shawn Moore will take on some combination of the skill positions, except for quarterback which I would guess is likely to stay with Bill Lazor.  I'd like to see Hagans take the receivers off of Lazor's plate so he can focus more on OC duties.

There's still the matter of the O-line, and nothing has been forthcoming from the official camp, but you'd have a hard time finding anyone who thinks Scott Wachenheim's job is secure.  I once again register this blog's endorsement of Jim Bollman.


Now, the news you were waiting for.  In more circles than you might guess, people are wondering if the ACC didn't just accidentally become a stronger conference by trading Maryland for Louisville.  Certainly it depends on how you look at it.  Maryland is a much better school, academical-wise.  If you think TV markets are all that matters, we lost out there too, but then again, perhaps not; UVA and VT still provide a presence in the DC market, after all.  Louisville has a better football and basketball program than Maryland (and baseball, too, for what that matters), with the caveat that much of their football success will be up in the air if and when Charlie Strong leaves.  (That said, Randy Edsall is still employed at Maryland.)  Can the marginally better attractiveness of Louisville's athletic programs outweigh the reduced TV presence in a very large market?

At least there's this: The more I think about it, the more I prefer Louisville to the other finalist, UConn.  To start with, Louisville isn't coastal, no, but it is southern, the latter of which is just as important to the ACC's traditional identity as the former.  It's also more important to the schools that have a lot of weight these days, namely Florida State and Clemson.  And let's face it.  I don't know if the rumor is true that FSU, Clemson, and maybe others, insisted on Louisville while the Tobacco Road schools (at least initially) wanted Connecticut.  But I've read it in enough different and reasonably credible places that I buy it.  And it would have been stupidity of epic proportions to continue to northernize the league when the schools you depend on for the league's strength are telling you not to do that.

So I like it about as well as I can muster liking anything in the stupid world of realignment.  It does require a little bit of rationalization, of course.  I'm under no illusions about what the ACC is doing here, which is to say, dropping a long-held standard, which must have pained a few presidents.  Namely, academics.  One of the most unfair things I've heard about Louisville is, "But it's a commuter school!"  Nonsense; it's not like it's a community college.  It does have a commuter aspect to it, and nevertheless has an endowment 98% the size of Maryland's despite being 15,000 students smaller.  But yes, it instantly becomes the "worst" academic school in the ACC, and probably not of the quality the ACC would have chosen without its backs against the wall.  (However, it's also one of the oldest.  Third-oldest, in fact; only Pitt and UNC are older.)

We're pretty much beyond caring about that, though.  The ACC can't afford to.  It's still in a position of strength, but must maintain a careful balancing act.  The next thing the FSUs of the conference might look for is divisional realignment.  They didn't want UConn because they didn't want a whole bunch of traveling north, and the football quality wasn't up to snuff.  Now they've got the football and they'll probably want less travel.  I'm OK with that.  UVA should nudge the conference in the direction of realignment as well, otherwise they'll just slot Louisville into Maryland's slot and that'll be our new permanent buddy.  Not that I don't want to play Louisville, but I do want to play the traditional ACC teams as often as possible.  (And if there's a magical way to do that without being in FSU's division, that'd be sweet too.  And a pony.  Don't forget the pony.)

Admittedly, now, we are seeing a Big Eastifying of the ACC.  Admittedly also, the Big Ten is a money-making dynamo, as is the SEC, and the ACC will not approach that for the foreseeable future.  This has a lot of people thinking we should be "proactive" and court Big Ten membership right now, supposedly before the bus leaves or the ship sinks or whatever.  Enough rumors flew around this past week that both UVA and UNC had to put out statements categorically denying any kind of interaction with the B1G.

However, our place is the ACC.  People assume we should chase the money, too, but we have zero need to do that.  UVA sits, financially, near the top of the ACC.  We have a head start on our competition that way.  In the B1G, with their schools that are three times as big as ours, colossal stadiums, enormous donor bases, we would be up against a lot of schools that can generate a lot of cash much better than we can.  We'd be near the bottom of the ladder.

UVA's best course of action is to work their asses off to preserve the ACC.  With one extra step: our president, whether that's Teresa Sullivan now or someone else in five or however many years, should be right in the hip pocket of UNC's chancellor, and vice versa.  We need to attach ourselves at the hip to UNC.  Why?  Because UNC and UVA are two of the nation's elite public schools, and closer collaboration with them is something no university president would turn down.  The idea that the B1G bus will leave without UVA if we're not next onboard is silly.  It's based on the idea that 16 teams is a magic number, above which no conference will ever dare tread.

Ask yourself this: What is the magical gravitational pull toward 16 teams?  What force in the universe decrees that a conference must get to 16 teams and stay there?  This is entirely a creation of message board imagination; it's a nice round number, people like nice round numbers, and so they imagine themselves a world where that happens.  Somehow they imagine for themselves perfect harmony, cohesion, and symmetry in a world (that of NCAA realignment) that couldn't be more chaotic and entropic if it tried.  Just as there is no magic force pushing conferences to get to 16 teams, there is no magic force that demands they stay there if they do get there.  We live in a world where there are 68 teams in the March Madness tourney, not 64.  The MAC seems to exist, somehow, with 13 teams.  The B1G had 11 for almost twenty years.  The ACC, if left alone, will sit on 15 for quite some time.

Now ask yourself this: Suppose the ACC fell apart in the way that everyone is foreboding for it.  FSU and Clemson go to the Big 12, NC State and VT go to the SEC.  UVA is left apparently adrift in a sinking conference; in that event, I'd probably have a lot of trouble clinging to the idea that the ACC is still the best place for our school.  Reluctantly, B1G membership appears to be the necessary lifeboat.  But wait; the "bus has left the station," because the B1G added two more schools in the interim.  Now suppose UVA, tied at the hip, as you'll recall, with UNC, knocks on the B1G's door.  Do you honestly believe that ACC presidents would say no to the chance to add two elite flagship schools, with a presence in large and growing TV markets, just because they already have 16 teams?

A silly thought.  UVA can afford to wait.  Or, if not "wait" exactly, it can afford to put its chips in with the success of the ACC.  There are too many good schools and good programs in the ACC for it to fail entirely, and UVA is too good a school for university presidents to snub, particularly if UNC is a companion school in whatever potential future changes there are.


-- So we won at bastyball today.  Yay for that!  More reaction later, but the very quick cliffnotes are that the poise the team played with, on the road in a tough place to win, was extremely impressive, and of course, you have to like the effect it could have on our tournament hopes.  In fact I'll tell you what right now: go 9-9 in the conference, and we're in.  Also, I will have highlights tomorrow.

-- Just as I talk about coaching shuffles, here comes more news down the pipeline: Bill Lazor interviewing for the head coaching job at Georgia State.  GSU will make the jump to the Sun Belt Conference in the not-too-distant future, so it's not a head-scratching move.  If Lazor leaves, Jim Bollman has extensive OC experience.  JUST SAYIN

-- News that Malcolm Brogdon will redshirt the season is not exactly exciting, but it does offer some welcome closure to that situation.  Losing Brogdon for the year takes away a potential future scoring option, but it settles the rotation some and cements Teven Jones (who looked very veteran-y tonight against Wisconsin) as the backup point guard (or starter until Bub is ready for all the minutes.)  The rotation looks as though it's set on nine, with Taylor Barnette the odd man out for now.

-- This article about the gross mismanagement of Maryland's finances is a must-read.  NC State fans might want to be worried about having Debbie Yow for an AD, and one must wonder that, even if the Big Ten offers a clean slate, how many of the issues Maryland had - and has - will be fixed so that they don't run themselves right back into debt.  And how many might be exacerbated.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

game preview: Wisconsin

Date/Time: Wednesday, November 28; 7:00


Record against the Badgers: 1-1

Last meeting: UW 66, UVA 56; 11/21/98, Fairbanks, AK

Last game: UVA 80, UNT 64 (11/20); UW 77, Ark. 70 (11/24)

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.2 (#345)
UW: 61.4 (#340)

UVA: 103.7 (#103)
UW: 114.5 (#9)

UVA: 91.0 (#27)
UW: 90.0 (#21)

UVA: .7919 (#54)
UW: .9222 (#10)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg)
SG: Paul Jesperson (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (15.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (11.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.7 apg)


PG: George Marshall (7.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SG: Ben Brust (11.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.2 apg)
SF: Ryan Evans (10.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.2 apg)
PF: Mike Bruesewitz (6.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Jared Berggren (15.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)

The ACC/B1G Challenge is one of the best parts of basketball season, so it's no surprise Jim Delany is doing his damndest to ruin that, too.  Lord knows what the future of this excellent mini-tournament is, but for now at least, we can still enjoy a traditional ACC team, in the ACC, playing a traditional Big Ten one, in the way God intended.

As a team that needs to work its way up to the bubble, let alone into the tournament, UVA faces what you could call a must-win in Madison.  It's up for debate whether UVA would have made the NCAA tourney last year without a huge win over eventual-three-seed Michigan.  On the road, against one of the many formidable teams the Big Ten offers, we have a similar opportunity, but a much tougher one.

-- UVA on offense

Though he's only seen 13.3 minutes a game, Mike Tobey might well get a start and some serious minutes against Wisconsin.  That's because the number one challenge UVA's offense faces is the likelihood of seeing at least one tree on the court at all times.  Center Jared Berggren is one of those matchup boogeymen who, on the defense end, is averaging two and a half blocks a game.  Four of his fifteen blocks were against Arkansas, so we're not talking about someone who just beats up on tiny teams from the Southland Conference.  Berggren is six-foot-ten, legit, and will spend a lot of time on the court occupying space in the middle and making it very difficult for the Hoos to score inside.

The other really big guy Wisconsin has is Frank Kaminsky, off the bench at 6'11".  Wisconsin lists him as a forward, though, and he's started two games alongside Berggren to give the Badgers two tall guys inside.  Kaminsky played a very limited role last year as a freshman, which is only being slowly expanded (only 12 minutes a game) so despite his height he's not a major obstacle.

System-wise, UVA will be facing something very familiar: stifling, clogging, intended to limit shots ... this is no surprise, as Tony Bennett once worked under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin as a holdover from his dad's staff.  Ryan used a lot of Dick Bennett's principles, and so does Tony.  The question is how well Wisconsin will execute that system; Grantland broke down their game against Florida and pointed out a number of defensive breakdowns, coming to the conclusion that they miss Josh Gasser (their starting point guard, out for the season with a torn ACL) more than you might guess.  The problem is that we don't have Florida's athleticism to take advantage.  And since then, Wisconsin has successfully shut down much of their opposition, holding three teams under 50 points.

So it's more likely than not that UVA will find the going tough.  The interior will only be available in fits and starts, so the shooting has to be there.  If the Hoos can force switches, it may be that Wisconsin's help defense breaks down for some backdoor stuff as it did against Florida, but Ryan is one of the country's better coaches so it's a safer bet that UVA will find the going as tough as they try to make it on everyone else.

-- UVA on defense

Yeah, we're going to have to start with Berggren again.  Berggren sports an astounding O-rating of 139.9.  He's a terrific free-throw shooter, and if you don't pay attention, he'll shoot threes too.  Even with Tobey on the court, UVA will likely have no answer for Berggren on defense other than to collapse aggressively and force him to return the ball to the outside.  Even that might not work.

The other two main offensive threats are shooting guard Ben Brust, and freshman forward Sam Dekker, who comes off the bench.  Brust is a smallish guard with a deadly three point shot; Dekker can also knock 'em down, and is shooting .532 overall.  The fourth Badger scorer in double digits is Ryan Evans, but his O-rating is a measly 89.9, which is to say he's probably hurting more than he's helping.  Evans has always been a volume scorer, and is the kind of player who shoots threes and shouldn't.

Where UVA will have its biggest advantage in the game is at the point guard matchup.  Jontel Evans - yes, he'll play - will find some fresh meat in redshirt freshman George Marshall, who is much less of a participant in the offense than a point guard normally is.  If Evans can hound Marshall into a few turnovers, or even just into losing a little confidence, Wisconsin will be forced to make Brust handle the ball more, where he's not as comfortable.

The second advantage: Size.  Even though Berggren exists, UVA will otherwise have a slight size advantage, which will be more useful on this end than the other.  Wisconsin, for the most part, lacks players in the mid-big range from 6'7"-6'9", with only sixth-man Dekker fitting that bill.  The 6'6" Jesperson guarding 6'1" Brust is one of those mismatches, and Brust is not athletic enough to run waterbug circles around Pauly J.  With a lengthy lineup on the court that might include Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, or Evan Nolte, the Hoos have a chance to frustrate Wisconsin with size and the pack-line.

However, with sharpshooters like Brust and Dekker running around, UVA must be sure not to allow themselves to be sucked in too deep.  Wisconsin forces you to pick your poison between Berggren and their shooters, and playing too hard on one will let the other run amok.  That's a tricky balancing act.  Wisconsin forces you to try and win individual matchups, and with a guy like Berggren, they will have an ace in the hole before they even start.

-- Outlook

UVA has a few avenues it can use to engineer the upset, namely Evans's defense, and perhaps, offensive combinations, like Evans playing with some of these very talented freshman, that Wisconsin can't have scouted because they haven't happened.  But we're up against a much more established version of our own program.  Look five years into UVA's future and you just might see present-day Wisconsin.  And while defense is Wisconsin's calling card, they can excel on the offensive end.

Naturally, the joke is that the game will probably end up 35-33, given the tempo-choking paces both these teams are known for.  Not falling in a hole early is vital for both teams, obviously.  KenPom gives UVA about a 15% chance of winning, which I think is about right.  It wouldn't be an earth-rattling upset, but the Hoos have an uphill climb.

Final score: UW 56, UVA 51


Stuff went down today, and I meant to have a section right here to blab about it, but stuff got so big that it's post-worthy all by itself.  Tomorrow, then.  Coaching staff upheavals and conference upheavals all to be included.

weekend review

Kicked off with a ballot:

This week saw quite a few teams removed from the pool for losing and dropping to 7-5 - that explains two of the three dropouts - and almost as many teams added, all but two of which were non-Big Five teams.  And as you might notice, three of those made the ballot.  The biggest surprise: San Jose State.  They will not be ranked so high by the poll at large (although one loony has them 12th) but my system weights each game 1-12 evenly, and the bottom end of SJSU's wins list is largely indistinguishable from a team that you might put in the 10-15 range.  It helps that they're 10-2 with one of their losses being a three-pointer to also-10-2 Stanford.

Next week, teams playing in conference championship games get a little reward.  Instead of stacking up 13 games and giving the vast majority of teams a "bye," the winners of the CCGs will have their worst win replaced with the CCG, and the losers, their worst loss.  UCLA is an example of a team that'll get a big benefit; either their weak win over Wazzu or blowout loss to Cal disappears from their resume.


Basketball reaction from the past week is short and sweet.  Is it amazing what happens when we field an actual point guard?  Yes, it is amazing what happens when we field an actual point guard.  Huge caveats about the level of competition (Seattle, North Texas, Lamar) apply.  Lamar in particular was winless until scraping out a win over IUPUI.  (Pronounced "yoo-pwee" around these parts because it's fun.)

But the scores were also exactly what you'd hope to see out of a tournament-contending ACC team when playing that sort of competition.  Teven Jones got into the lineup for heavy minutes.  His stat lines weren't even that great.  You wouldn't know he'd made any impact.  (13 points against UNT wasn't too shabby, though, but four assists against three turnovers was fairly average.)  But the offense just works better.  There are more assists, total.  The A/T ratio is better.  You can look it up; the difference is palpable.  And that's just with a redshirt freshman running the joint.

Even with two CAA losses on the resume, it's reasonable to hope that if UVA puts together a bubble type of season, the committee will consider the absence of Jontel Evans as a major factor, and credit UVA accordingly.  But UVA will need to either beat Wisconsin, or go on an unlikely tear through the ACC schedule.  (A win over Tennessee may also help.)

Wisconsin, for their part, remains formidable competition, but has lost twice (to ranked teams, so don't get your hopes up too high) and didn't look good in either.  A preview of that game will appear in this very space, not long from now.


The coaching carousel spared the ACC last offseason, but not this time: two ACC coaches are out of a job, as Boston College and NC State parted ways with Frank Spaziani and Tom O'Brien.  That's probably the beginning and end of it, unless someone else (David Cutcliffe?) leaves for another open job somewhere else.

UVA's head coaching job is not going to open up this offseason, but a shuffle among the assistant staff is probably coming.  In this week's ITA article (linked as soon as it's posted) I dive into that possibility somewhat; the cliffnotes are that special teams suck worse than anything the universe has ever produced, including Kim Kardashian, and that a change at O-line coach is likely due as well.  O'Brien's ouster at NC State produced speculation that since Ron Mattes is now unemployed, he might be a good choice to replace Scott Wachenheim, this time as a real coach and not a GA.  This comes from people who forget that Mattes is at Elon, not NC State.  Might he still consider a return to Charlottesville?  Possibly.

But if we're looking to the ranks of fired coaching staffs, I have another idea that piques my interest even more: Jim Bollman.  If you go back a lot further than I do, you might remember the name.  Bollman coached the O-line under George Welsh for four years in the early '90s, and has Ray Roberts on his resume.  He ended up at Ohio State for the last 11 years before this season, has coached in the pros, and was OSU's OC for a time as well.  When we were originally hiring, Bollman was too firmly entrenched at Ohio State to be even a remote possibility.  Now with Spaziani fired at BC, and Bollman's ties to BC pretty tenuous to begin with, that's one phone call that ought to be made.

As for special teams, I totally forgot when I was ranting and raving in October, but guess what I wrote in the aftermath of the Peach Bowl?
Maybe I said the defense didn't completely suck because I was comparing it to the atomic fiasco that was the special teams. How many points do you suppose we gave up because of special teams? I count 22:

- 7 for the first blocked punt, which gave Auburn the ball in the red zone
- 7 for the onside kick, which gave Auburn the ball at our 41
- 3 because we couldn't execute a fake field goal
- 2 for the safety on the second blocked punt
- 3 for the field goal that came after Auburn's long return of the ensuing free kick

Anyone who comes through as unblocked as all that will block the punt. And - really? A rugby punt in the end zone? When you have one-third fewer yards to work with? Coaching failures brought on those blocked punts, and a coaching failure led the team to be unprepared for an onside kick. And the kick coverage has been trouble all year, not to mention kicking the ball out of bounds on the kickoff.

So that'll be your number one adjustment for the offseason. It's a tough situation because your special teams coach is none other than UVA legend Anthony Poindexter, whose recruiting chops are crucial to our success. But nobody else on the staff has ever been a special teams coach, either. Idea lobbed in from the back of the peanut gallery: have London take over special teams himself until eventually someone leaves the staff and someone with special-teams experience can be hired. Cause that might've been the worst game anyone in the country has played on special teams, all year long.
Emphasis added this time around.  Can't believe I forgot about that.  Man, that was a mess.  Now compare that to what I said, post-Maryland:
 UVA cannot afford one more week of Anthony Poindexter's totally ineffective coaching of the special teams. ... it's still time for a staff shuffle, starting with the special teams, which should be under the purview of the head coach for the rest of the year.
I retract what I said about Poindexter's other coaching abilities, because the defense has turned out such that I wouldn't change a thing about the defensive staff this offseason.  But special teams?  There is nothing redeemable about them.  We're at the bottom of the country in every conceivable category - most notably 123rd of 124 in allowing kick return yardage - and something spectacularly awful happens every game.  If I read the tea leaves right, they've attracted the attention of Craig Littlepage, which hopefully means Mike London is going to devote an hour or two this offseason to fixing them.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

i'm not mad, i'm just disappointed

OK, well.  I know I should be all kinds of disappointed this weekend, and, OK, I am, but instead of dwelling on the bad, we're going to start by accentuating the positive around here.  There'll be plenty of times later to recap the myriad ways in which this latest football game could've been won.  (No, one of them is not "more Phillip Sims" on a day when he was 3/7 for 10 yards.)

The larger point is that it could've been won.  And while that's not as good as "actually did win," it represents an improvement.  After nine games in a row, "an improvement" is consolation of the most miniscule sort, but there's a palpable difference between this and the other eight games that comprise this streak.  The last three, of course, have been blowouts, and they all left you with the feeling that not only was the rivalry securely in the wrong hands, it wasn't leaving any time soon.

The last time the game was this close was 2008, a near carbon-copy of this one, right down to the score, venue, and the game-sealing interception at the end.  The main difference: 2008 really felt like a gut punch, because our team was lousy, their team was good, and we had a real chance to pull off a colossal upset.  And it disappeared, and you knew it wasn't coming back because of the gimmicky fashion that got us that close in the first place; you'll remember 2008 as the game where Al Groh finally inserted Vic Hall as a quarterback, and Tech figured out only just in time how to stop him.  (Which turned out to be: make them put Verica back in.)

Mike London has yet to come up with as good a surprise as that, but he almost didn't have to this time.  Throw out the previous eight games and this one just doesn't have the gut-punch to it.  That's because for the first time since 2003, UVA went toe-to-toe with VT.  And for the first time since 2004, UVA lost, but without the ugly feeling of dread that next year will be no different.

Part of that has to do with VT, of course.  Is there a magical rebound in store for the Hokies next year?  They'll probably be better than 6-6, as their defense is still going to be good.  But their invincibility is gone; their O-line is unimpressive and getting worse, and if Logan Thomas bolts for the NFL, Mark Leal is the QB-in-waiting and he doesn't put the fear of God into anyone.

That said, UVA is still a program on an upward trajectory.  Sure, it might be hard to believe when you reverse an 8-4 record in one year, but you don't turn an oil tanker on a dime, either.  We'll get around to looking at what needs to happen to make sure that oil tanker doesn't turn into an oil spill, but the signs are still more positive than negative.  After all, even a down-trending VT is an upward nudge for UVA all by itself.

Further reactions in brief:

-- While the announcers and 90% of the fanbase made a thing of Mike London holding onto his timeouts after Rocco's interception, that bothers me less than you might guess.  If we had 45 or so seconds to march down the field (against the wind), do you really, in your heart of hearts, think we'd have been able to pull that off - particularly after throwing a pick on exactly the kind of pass that would need to be replicated several times in quick succession?  Also, Beamer would have been likely to try for a touchdown, given extra time and a chance to talk over a plan for it.

-- It's that pass that chaps my ass the most.  This is why I think Bill Lazor's playcalling would be improved from the booth; the difficulty of completing that thing would've been much more apparent.  Throwing it across the wind like that makes it a major crapshoot.  Given our general inability to move the ball, the best thing would've been to play for overtime, thus putting us in scoring position automatically.  (And giving us the exact same wind, every time, that Tech had.)

-- I couldn't help but note the irony of seeing the ESPN ticker mention the NFL considering outlawing all blocks below the waist just as Brandon Phelps was being helped off the field after a legal block below the waist.  And I'm still not convinced the block on Brathwaite that took him off was completely legal.

-- Obligatory fake field goal thought: OK on the surface, but objectionable on the same principle whereby I hated the 4th-down plunge into the middle against UNC.  Know your team's weaknesses and stop assuming they'll be fixed in the next twenty seconds.  In this case, special teams is the reason we're not bowling this year, so why are you making them execute something that difficult?

Prediction summary:

-- Tech is held to less than 70 yards rushing.  Largely through volume, this did not come true; taking out the fake punt, VT could not even muster three yards a carry, but they ran the damn ball 57 times.

-- Logan Thomas completes at least one pass of 50+ yards.  Should've looked at the weather; if I had bothered to look at that there's no way I would've said this.  The wind kept everyone from trying anything particularly bold in the passing game.

-- Minus the largest play, Thomas's per-completion average falls well shy of his 14.2 average on the season.  This is where I get credit for correctly predicting a good day in pass defense.  One reason I say the future is bright is that, by and large, the very young secondary had a very good year, and this game was one of the better ones.  Thomas only completed 18 of 38 for a hideously bad per-attempt average of 3.1 and a per-completion average of half his season total.

-- Perry Jones gets five or six pass catches (or more) but is totally ineffective carrying the ball.  Half right - the latter half - but only three pass catches.

-- We lose, and a special teams play is easily pointed to as a major culprit.  I think it's perfectly fair to say a momentum-killing failed fake field goal fits the bill perfectly here.

So I finish the season 24-for-58, which is 41.4%.  Wanna know how I did last year?  To quote myself after last year's VT game: "Three for six gives me 36-of-88 in the regular season, which is a shade under 41%."  And here's the part where I award myself a million points for calling the precise final score.  Picking VT to win put me at 6-6 on the season, so I'm bowl-eligible for nothing at all, 2-7-1 against the spread.

Upcoming posts will include some seasonal postmortems, ACC basketball previews, one blast from last year's past that I just discovered, and a return to a mostly M-F posting schedule.  I have a few ideas for recapping the season, a few of which will be split off into ITA articles so I can fit them all in before hoops season picks up for good and real.  After an eight-loss season, I can't say I'm sorry to be shifting to winter mode.  Chances are I'll be even less sorry come February when the spring teams begin play.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, November 24; 12:00


Record against the Hokies: 37-51-5

Last game: VT 38, UVA 0; 11/26/11, Charlottesville

Last week: UNC 37, UVA 13; VT 30, BC 23

Injury report: (pending)

In three days football season will be over.  Therefore nothing else is at stake, except for one thing: Screw these guys.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 152 carries, 713 yards, 4.7 avg., 5 TDs
Perry Jones: 130 carries, 445 yards, 3.4 avg., 2 TDs

UVA offense:
137.45 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
93rd of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

VT defense:
149.64 yards/game, 3.86 yards/attempt
40th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

Let's start off with this right now: There is very little that's logical or rational about VT's performance against the run.  UNC absolutely gashed them.  OK, that happens.  Gio Bernard is good.  Pittsburgh also gashed them.  That does not happen.  They held FSU to -15 yards on 25 carries (non-sack-adjusted) and had a similarly good performance against Duke, and turned around a week after the FSU game and let Boston College move the ball on them.  That's "118th in the country with 2.8 yards a carry" Boston College.

Tech has very little rotation of their linebackers, unlike in previous years, with only Ronny Vandyke getting much time off the bench.  It's not a deep group, but Jack Tyler has emerged as a very solid player, and can make plays nearly anywhere on the field, including behind the line.  Bruce Taylor is also solid, and has been around a long time.  Up front, the best player on the line is DT Derrick Hopkins.  Hopkins is huge and strong, and exactly the kind of player that gives UVA quite a bit of trouble, much like Sylvester Williams last week.  Bill Lazor would be well advised not to run at him.  On running downs, Corey Marshall and James Gayle man the ends, and both are big run-stoppers, although Marshall hasn't been especially effective.

If UVA can get a hat on Alonzo Tweedy, they'll go places.  Tweedy plays outside linebacker and weighs a paltry 193 pounds.  Naturally, with that kind of size, he's got speed, but that's the direction UVA will want to run.  Tweedy probably won't have much trouble dealing with it if Perry Jones dances too much, but he won't be able to handle any pulling guards or any aspect of a power running game.

Because of Hopkins, and because Tech can go pretty large on the defensive line and rotate defensive tackles effectively, I don't expect UVA to be able to line it up and run right at 'em.  But they can pull off a worthwhile running game with the right playcalls; namely, finding a way to get to the edges with momentum.  I like pitchouts for this purpose, and off-tackle sweeps.  This would be a good day to not set off my pet peeve, which is wide running plays to the short side of the field.  I don't see Jones being too effective in a basic running game; he hasn't really been all season, with Parks being the clear best option.  If the Hoos can get Parks on the edge, running downhill, they'll move the ball.  If not, it'll be a long day.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Mike Rocco: 147/237, 62.0%; 1,740 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs; 7.34 yards/attempt
Phillip Sims: 111/196, 56.6%; 1,253 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.39 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Perry Jones: 46 rec., 379 yards, 0 TDs
Darius Jennings: 45 rec., 545 yards, 5 TDs

UVA offense:
275.4 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
82nd of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

VT defense:
206.5 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
33rd of 124 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

There's an inconsistency of a different kind here.  Virginia Tech is actually difficult to pass on.  Usually.  They're allowing a completion percentage of just 51.3%, which is just outside top five in the country.  That's not against schmo quarterbacks, either; Bryn Renner, Sean Renfree, and Tajh Boyd all had trouble moving the ball.

I would feel better if we had a truly mobile quarterback.  Boyd didn't have a great day, but the top two passing days Tech has allowed are to E.J. Manuel and Cincy's Munchie Legaux.  Legaux is inaccurate as hell, but rolled up nearly 400 passing yards on Tech's defense.  The Hokies gamble, and it burns them if the quarterback scrambles.  They make it hard to complete passes, but will also break down and allow a big play.

That gambling mentality is perfectly embodied in CB Antone Exum, who's got 15 PBUs and three picks (and flaps his mouth incessantly whenever he racks up another one of each), but also is prone to allowing big plays and isn't a great cover corner.  He makes his living baiting QBs into throwing at him and then using his size to make a play on the ball.  Kyle Fuller is better on coverage and doesn't get beat as often, but doesn't pile up the flashy plays.  Much steadier.

At free safety, Detrick Bonner is good in pass coverage, but the Hokies will miss Michael Cole, who's likely to miss the game with the neck injury (no, not the paralyzing kind) suffered against Florida State.  Kyshoen Jarrett plays "rover" which is Bud Foster's fancy-pants name for a strong safety, and does so in a run-stopping role.  Without Cole there is no real depth at safety besides those two.  Desmond Frye is a true freshman and very lightly used, more of a special teams player, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is a senior that's never been able to hold onto a starting role.  Gouveia-Winslow is more of a liability than anything, so Tech will have to run with Jarrett and Bonner, and depend on their corners to hold it down in man coverage.  Tech's linebackers are not pass defenders.

Tech has the kind of out-of-everywhere pass rush that gives UVA fits.  Pass rush specialist Tyrel Wilson, DT Luther Maddy, and DE James Gayle all have four-plus sacks, and Tech likes to blitz Bruce Taylor as well, who has four sacks of his own.  None are especially terrifying on their own, but you can't focus attention in any one place or you'll pay for it.

It will be worth testing VT deep early to see if we can make it click.  A stop-and-go route with a pump fake on Exum's side would be the way to go.  But let's be warned, too: Exum is exactly the kind of cornerback that can really burn Mike Rocco.  He's a big guy for a cornerback, too (224 pounds) with good athleticism, and one of the biggest worries should be Rocco tossing a pick-six his way.  Get behind Exum, though, and you're in good shape if you connect.  Fuller will likely do a solid job holding down his side, and UVA's passing game is likely to work best when connecting with someone like Jake McGee or E.J. Scott as a third receiver.  And yes, expect a full dose of the platoon again.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Logan Thomas: 137 carries, 442 yards, 3.2 avg., 8 TDs
J.C. Coleman: 89 carries, 450 yards, 5.1 avg., 2 TDs

VT offense:
156.27 yards/game, 4.11 yards/attempt
74th of 124 (national), 6th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
142.27 yards/game, 4.13 yards/attempt
67th of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

This is really not an effective rushing attack.  Don't be too taken in by J.C. Coleman's 5.1 ypc average; it drops a full yard when you take out the 86-yarder he broke against Duke, one of the worst run defenses in the conference.  Coleman is a good running back, but he's simply been swarmed most of the season because VT is starting to feel the effects of poor O-line recruiting.

That 86-yard run, in fact, is Coleman's only run longer than 20 yards this season.  Partially that's due to the splitting of carries; David Wilson isn't walking through that door, and the Hokies have turned to a rotation that includes Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes.  The ineffective run-blocking, however, has made it awfully hard to distinguish among the three.

Of course, Logan Thomas is also an option; in fact, their primary one.  Tech runs a lot of read-option, and Thomas has a propensity to keep on that play.  He's got that tight-end size that makes him hard to bring down, but like the running backs, if you swarm, you win.  Defending the read option will be the primary wrinkle that UVA has not yet seen this season, and if Billy Schautz can be healthy and ready to go, it'll be a big help in that department because defensive end positioning is one of the major keys to both running and defending the read option.

Otherwise, UVA should not fear the Hokie run game.  We flat-out have a better defensive line than they have an O-line; not to the levels of domination that we saw against NC State, but the Hoos should be able to win most of the battles.  Not to mention Marcus Davis's Superman blocking skills.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Logan Thomas: 187/352, 53.1%; 2,654, 16 TDs, 14 INTs; 7.54 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Marcus Davis: 43 rec., 858 yards, 5 TDs
Corey Fuller: 38 rec., 743 yards, 5 TDs

VT offense:
243.6 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
60th of 124 (national), 6th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
215.6 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
37th of 124 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

Chances are, by now, you've formed your opinion of Logan Thomas as a quarterback.  And chances are that opinion is that he'd make a fine tight end.  You're probably right.  Thomas can move the ball, and is, in fact, dangerous because he can do it in big chunks.  But those are interspersed among stretches of inaccuracy and just plain bad decision-making.

When he's on his game, the Hokies are very dangerous.  Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller make for a very, very good pair of receivers that can get deep and get Tech down the field in a hurry.  Both have excellent size for receivers, particularly Davis at 6'4", 232.  (Seriously, if that dude would ever block he might be good at it just because of that.)  Those two are Thomas's primary targets, and he leans on them heavily.  Tech's offense depends on them getting open downfield; they do it well.

Other than that, they'll use Dyrell Roberts, but mainly as a possession receiver, and Demetri Knowles and TE Ryan Malleck get occasional looks.  Tech hardly bothers with the running backs; maybe twice a game.  The story here is Davis and Fuller.

Which leads me to something you probably don't want to hear: the way to win this matchup is to play that soft man-coverage that so infuriated people against UNC.  Let the safeties focus on watching the deep routes, and try and force Logan Thomas to dink and dunk his way downfield.  Bryn Renner is adept at that; Logan Thomas isn't.  Sooner or later, Thomas will make a mistake if you make him get yards 7 at a time.

At some point, maybe a couple some points, I expect things will break down.  Thomas knows how to create a big play and frustratingly can keep plays alive with his feet.  The key is to limit that, and try and get some turnovers.  Thomas has thrown 10 TDs and 2 picks in Tech's wins; 6 TDs and 12 picks in their losses.

-- Outlook

The big picture is that Tech's defense is good, if not the smothering juggernaut it has been in the past, and their offense is precisely why they need this win to get bowl eligible.  I didn't really want that latter situation; we didn't need to give them any extra reason to get up for the game.  But the fact is they do need this win, or they don't go bowling.  That's a far cry from the Tech of the past decade and gives us one of our best chances at a win in years.

It's a question, then, of which teams show up.  The fact that it's at home is a huge plus for Tech; all their losses but one have been on the road, and that one was Florida State and they gave FSU all they could handle.  UVA was dominant against NC State and played awfully well against Miami, too (mostly) and then turned around and fell flat on their faces on the big Thursday night stage.  Special teams, obviously, are going to be the same dealbreaker they have been all season.  Tech will be up for this game; if UVA is not, they'll get their doors blown off again.  If not, it'll be a major, major dogfight.

-- Prediction summary:

-- Tech is held to less than 70 yards rushing.
-- Logan Thomas completes at least one pass of 50+ yards.
-- Minus the largest play, Thomas's per-completion average falls well shy of his 14.2 average on the season.
-- Perry Jones gets five or six pass catches (or more) but is totally ineffective carrying the ball.
-- We lose, and a special teams play is easily pointed to as a major culprit.

Final score: VT 17, UVA 14

-- Rest of the ACC:

Georgia Tech at Georgia, 12:00: Clean, old-fashioned hate.

Miami at Duke, 12:30: Stripped of any meaning when Miami self-banned again.

Boston College at NC State, 3:00: Stripped of any meaning when BC started blowing chunks.

Maryland at North Carolina, 3:00: Somebody will be left grumbling about basketball season.

Florida State vs. Florida, 3:30: UF doesn't have a great offense, and with the game in Tallahassee, the ACC has a chance to score a nice upset.

Wake Forest vs. Vanderbilt, 3:30: Wake is also trying to get bowl-eligible.

Clemson vs. South Carolina, 7:00: A little bit of luck and the ACC could get a clean sweep against the SEC.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

stormy waters

Probably the most upsetting thing about Maryland's departure is that the ACC, for a brief time thought to have joined the unpoachables, is now potentially the largest target of opportunity in the insane arms race that conference realignment has become.  Both the prohibitive buyout and the notion that the dust was settling turned out to be false hope.  Jim Delany is officially an unhinged madman, having essentially admitted the reason the Big Ten expanded was "other people were doing it."  Not even joking about that.  And truth be told, people think once a conference reaches 16 teams, it's done expanding, and I don't know why they think that.  If Delany is madman enough to add Rutgers, he's madman enough to create a 24-team monstrosity just to be the biggest and baddest.  He's clearly not being discriminating.

With the Big East almost entirely picked over, the wolves are sniffing around the ACC's door.  If you think the Big 12 is content not having a championship game, you're beyond naive.  The SEC would probably take a couple more teams, given the right opportunity.  The Borg Ten are heading for Sector 001.  This would not be a problem if everyone were happy in the ACC.  Let's assume, for just a second here, that what we want the most is to keep the ACC together.  Whose ass should everyone be kissing?  Let's look at this in reverse order.

14. Wake Forest
Potential destinations: None

Nobody is going to poach Wake Forest, and they're pretty much going to vote how everyone else tells them.  In a Brave New ACC-Less World, Wake Forest is in Conference USA.

13. Pittsburgh
Potential destinations: B1G

If the B1G really wanted Pitt, they'd be there already.  Pitt might eventually find a home there, but only in the same apocalypse that makes Wake a mid-major.

12. Miami
Potential destinations: None

This entry and the next one will probably come as surprises to see them so low, but scandal-ridden Miami is more or less poison right now.  If the SEC wants another Florida team, Miami is obviously not the first choice.  The Miami star is fading, and even though they sit in a major metropolitan area, it's not attractive for the B1G.  It's a better school than you think, but even the criminally insane Delany followed the B1G's expansion rules: AAU members in contiguous states.  Miami brings neither.

11. Georgia Tech
Potential destinations: B1G, Big 12, SEC

Georgia Tech is sometimes mentioned in conjunction with the B1G, but it's not contiguous (yet.)  And if the Big 12 looked eastward again, there are other schools they have their eye on.  If GT goes that way, it'd be with a much larger contingent, not by themselves.  The SEC, right now, is in a mood where their presidents like to block instate expansion moves, meaning UGA would probably say forget it.

10. Boston College
Potential destinations: B1G

While we probably would not hugely miss BC from an athletic competition standpoint, the BTN would probably like to have a Boston/New England presence.  It's a very small school, though, which would temper the enthusiasm somewhat.

9. Syracuse
Potential destinations: B1G

If the BTN hits snags in trying to enter the NY/NJ market, on account of nobody giving two effs about Rutgers, this is their next target.  Culturally, Syracuse likes the ACC.  Financially, they may get stars in their eyes.

8. Duke
Potential destinations: B1G

Yup.  Duke is very near the bottom of schools whose butts need to be buttered up.  We haven't really gotten to the actual threats yet.  Football is king, you know.  Would the B1G like to have Duke as a package deal with UNC?  Possibly.  Would they just take UNC and leave Duke?  Even more possible.

7. NC State
Potential destinations: SEC

Academically speaking, NC State is a relative bottom-feeder in the ACC.  They would be so in the B1G, too (remember, even Delany has to answer to school presidents), and if the B1G decides North Carolina is a good place to be, they'd probably view NC State the same way they view Pitt and Iowa State: unnecessary.  The SEC is the threat here.  If they decide they want to expand into North Carolina, NC State would listen very hard while their Tobacco Road brethren would probably sniff and sneer.

6. Virginia Tech
Potential destination: SEC

Similar to NC State, but with somewhat better academics, and the SEC already recruits North Carolina heavily, while the only school with much traction in Virginia is Alabama.  I do not think the Hokies are especially attractive to the B1G.

5. Clemson
Potential destinations: Big 12, SEC

The SEC would have similar issues with Clemson as it does with GT, but more easily overcome as Clemson is a more attractive football program.  Their flirtations with the Big 12 make them worth paying attention to.

4. North Carolina
Potential destinations: B1G, SEC

Of all the schools mentioned in the B1G's-not-done rumor mill, one of the two that's most often mentioned is UNC.  Geographically, of course, this is silly as hell, but we don't care about that any more, do we?  UNC perfectly fits the profile of what the B1G wants: a flagship school that carries plenty of media clout and is in the AAU with impeccable academic credentials.  (Ignore the scandal they have going; it puts a spot on their reputation, but they're still North Carolina.)

3. Virginia
Potential destinations: B1G, SEC

I said UNC is one of the two.  Guess who the other one is.  And guess who's contiguous now?  If the B1G wants to own, and not just have a presence in, the DC market, there's another piece to the puzzle besides Maryland.  Our smaller alumni base is more than made up for by being one of the academic crown jewels of the conference.  We've been in the AAU since before there was a Big Ten.  I suspect UVA will work very hard at keeping the ACC together; we have some of the best financials in the conference and don't need the B1G's money to stay solvent, or even to compete, or for that matter to excel.  We already do.

Because of that, we have a great deal of independence, which in turn gives us leverage.  There are only two schools in the conference where, if they make clucking noises about leaving, we will have to worry.  The reason is that if the B1G gets all expandy again, their first call won't be to Syracuse, or Boston College, or Georgia Tech, or Pitt, or Kansas, or Texas.  It'll be to Charlottesville.  The B1G's school presidents would covet the addition of that kind of academic firepower, and that would overrule any concerns the evil-eyed Delany has about market size.  I would also expect us to listen to SEC overtures; Vanderbilt would probably lead the charge as they're likely tired of being the token academic superstar.  I would rather keep the ACC together, so it's not like we could just hear Clemson or NC State talk about greener pastures and respond by speed-dialing Delany, but the plain truth is, the ACC now needs us more than we need the ACC.

2. Florida State
Potential destinations: Big 12, SEC

Florida wouldn't especially like the idea of having FSU in their conference, but I suspect professional courtesy among presidents is the only thing that kept the SEC from calling FSU and not Missouri when it needed to figure out how to cleanly add Texas A&M to the conference.  I don't doubt that the Big 12 smoke earlier this year had a tiny bit of fire behind it; FSU is close to their wits' end with the Carolina-centrism of the conference, and they don't need to worry about the value-added-ness of any potential new conference because they're the ones adding the value.  It's not a stretch to suggest that half the value of the ACC's current TV deal resides in Tallahassee.

1. Notre Dame
Potential destinations: B1G, Big 12

It's the openest secret in the world that the B1G covets Notre Dame.  It's the second-most openest that Notre Dame doesn't seem to want to go.  But if they ever change their mind....

At any rate, I suspect the league could weather the loss of FSU only slightly better than it could weather the loss of Notre Dame before the Domers even got here, which is your best indication of how important their addition is.  If we lost FSU (and probably Clemson after that) the league could still have a chance to survive by transforming itself from a southern league with a northern presence to a northern league with a southern presence.  Essentially it would be as if a few ACC teams had joined the Big East of ten years ago, and not the other way around.  If we lost Notre Dame, we'd lose quite a bit of our attraction in the northern half of the country and still be vulnerable in the south.


Obviously, the ACC also has to find a replacement for Maryland.  13 football teams is not a logistically workable situation unless you're the MAC.  The usual suspects would be UConn and Louisville, with Cincy, UCF, Navy, and USF as potential dark horses.  I don't know whether the Florida schools prefer to add another one to their numbers, or prefer not to add another one, but I'd guess either way the preference is strong.  Between Louisville and UConn, I would guess it's not long until Louisville finds its way into the Big 12 if it doesn't get an ACC bid, whereas UConn is likely to be around a little longer, depending on how rapacious the B1G gets in the upcoming months.

Other wild ideas, which are probably too imaginative for the ACC to consider, might involve Georgetown, St. John's, or Villanova.  I would not go that route myself; you might as well go with Temple, which doesn't have to build a whole new football infrastructure. 

Better yet: put out feelers in the directions of Vanderbilt and/or Kentucky.  The attraction for Vandy would be a greatly improved academic environment.  The attraction for UK would be, believe it or not, that they could actually improve the stature of both their football and basketball programs.  Basketball for obvious reasons.  Football, because they're a complete afterthought in the SEC and will never have any real success there.

The downside for either would be the loss of millions of dollars per year in revenue, although in Kentucky's case it could be mitigated because the networks would be terribly interested in the right to show the game every time UK played Duke and UNC.  It'd be a huge gamble for the ACC though.  They'd be going all-in on hoops, which worked so well for the Big East.  And there's the risk that teams like FSU would not appreciate the further basketballifying of the conference, not to mention the fact that the SEC would be royally pissed and almost certainly try and replace UK from the ACC's ranks.  (Or take Louisville and improve their own football product.)  Pilfering Kentucky would be fun, but a colossal gamble, and would require all members to actually approve the idea and promise they won't be the SEC's return spoils, and not just vote yes because everyone else is.  (Also, Kentucky isn't much academically.  Then again, neither is Louisville.)

Partnering with the B1G is another potentially attractive option.  It was pointed out in the comments that one of the reasons the B1G expanded was because the Pac-12 partnership fell through.  There's truth in that.  And if not the Big Ten itself, maybe the Big Ten Network.  If the BTN could find its way into cable boxes up and down the entire Atlantic Coast, would it pay us more for ACC programming than Raycom would?  John Swofford should at least have a conversation with Jim Delany, the gist of which is, look, what would it take for you to stop stealing our shit off the front porch, and how can we, the ACC, improve your value and get something in return so you don't steal our shit off the front porch?

Or we could just invite Connecticut and pray.


The last item to deal with is logistical.  Also known as: are they really gonna make us play UConn every fucking year in football?  One thing that I haven't seen get a lot of discussion is the fact that we need a new cross-division rival.  Same for hoops: we had two very logical "permanent scheduling partners" that we were guaranteed to play twice a year in Maryland and VT.  Now we have one.  In both sports, the easiest thing is to replace Maryland with whoever is the new ACC member and leave it at that.  That's sort of OK for hoops, I guess, although either way it's going to stick us with someone very, very good.  (That said, Virginia-Louisville holds more interest for me than Virginia-UConn, but that is only the merest matter of opinion.)  Pitt is the other affected team.

Another, perhaps better, idea for hoops would be to give us Pitt and VT, and reshuffle some of the other matchups.  Better for us, I mean, since Pitt is much closer than either of the two prime addition suspects.  Or else find a way to give us another "real" ACC team.  They're not going to break up the North Carolina foursome, so we can forget that.

Football, though, is more worrisome; why do you think I think we're the team that's most hurt by Maryland leaving?  I don't have to completely go gentle into that good night when it comes to matchups, and rather than accept Connecticut as our special buddy, which would suck, we're much better off pushing for a complete reshuffling of the divisions.  We can do this because we can, and because we can probably get FSU on our side.  Even though they would probably try and wall it off south and north and make us be in the Big East, they might at least be convinced that there's a way to improve things from their perspective without a complete retreat into geographical divisions.  I might devote a later post to this, but as likely as not it'll be obsolete and pointless within 8 months, so I might not.

At any rate, the ACC should be made well aware that making us play a Big East schedule in football removes one major objection to Big Ten membership for UVA.  You can posit that to your friends who are fans of other ACC teams and they will laugh, because we are 4-7 and soon to be 4-8, but the presidents of the other schools have "football wins and losses record" a lot farther down their lists of desirable criteria for a member school.

blogpoll ballot, week 12

In a probably-futile effort to retain some sense of normalcy in these oh-so-trying times, here is the Blogpoll ballot.  It's not exactly in the spirit of transparency since there's no longer a chance to change it, but that's not completely my fault either now that they publish the final deal on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.

There's very little change in the composition of the ballot.  Wisconsin couldn't sustain any success, and was replaced by Penn State.  Truthfully, that's probably the least change we've seen all year; in fact it's about the minimum you'll ever see.  It comes more from minute changes in the way I view the various wins and losses on a team's resume than anything else.

The eligible pool gained four teams and lost one.  Louisiana Tech was upset by Utah State, and without a qualifying Big Five win, 9-2 isn't a good enough record.  Penn State, Washington, and UNC won their way back to qualification with 7-4 records and a qualifying win, and there was one surprise team: Middle Tennessee.  Technically they're eligible for this ballot now; Georgia Tech, whom they beat, has a winning record.  I had very low expectations for Middle Tennessee's chances, and they failed spectacularly to meet them.  But I figured I'd include them just for giggles.  With 33 teams under consideration and 11 games on most everyone's resume, the maximum number of points you can get in my system this week was 363.  MTSU had 354.  Team number 32 (Louisville) had 297.  Lots of points are bad.  Next week I'm invoking the same imaginary corollary I used to kick out Ohio, and booting the Blue Raiders too.

The final poll has Alabama #2, which shows only that Blogpollers are susceptible to many of the same biases as the regular voters.  Putting them above Florida is only barely justifiable.  They have two common opponents (Missouri and Tennessee) where Alabama was clearly better, and Alabama has a much better OOC game on their list.  That said, Texas A&M as a common opponent carries much more weight than who beat who by more points.  Florida's top three wins are a drubbing of South Carolina, then A&M, and LSU.  Alabama's best is LSU, and third-best is the semi-fraudulent Mississippi State, which isn't even part of the eligible pool under the rules I use.  (They haven't beaten anyone with a winning record, except for Middle Tennessee.)  Alabama might very well beat Florida in a game, should they play each other, but they don't have the better resume.

Hanging around at #26 and #27 are Kent State and Northern Illinois, who actually tied in points this week and were only two behind Rutgers.  Either could worm into the ballot next week, particularly Kent State, who plays Ohio and thus has a chance to add a very nice (for the MAC) win to their resume.  They're both also on a collision course for the MAC title game.

Next week, it'll be important to remember that 7-5 teams are ineligible, which puts seven teams at risk of dropping out, and that 10-2 is good enough without a qualifying win, which means not only that the two MAC teams are assured of staying in the pool, but there are five other mid-majors that could rise to get a look as well.