Quarterback U?

College Football, Sports history, Uncategorized

Here’s the thing.  My very astute son, a sports fan whose grasp of sports facts is encyclopedic, was not able to respond to what I thought was a simple question.  “Since Ohio State football has been among the four or five most dominant programs over the course of the last fifty years, which of the many Buckeye quarerbacks have gone on to find significant success in the NFL?”

A quick romp through the rosters reveals the sad truth that Buckeyes might clog the top ten draft choices and the Hall of Fame, but not at quarterback.  Here goes, ranked by fans as the OSU Bluebloods, the ten best of all time:

Troy Smith, Duane Haskins, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barret, Justin Fields, Rex Kern, Craig Krenzel, Joe Germaine, Art Schlicter, Cardale Jones.

I know, there must be stars the fans have overlooked, and there are some names to conjure with:  Kirk Herbstreit (#16), Tom Tupa (QB AND punter), and Tom Matte. Matte’s career in the NFL should put him on the top of the list.  Primarily a running back, Matte led the NFL in total rushing yards in 1969, was named to the Pro Bowl twice, and in 1965 stepped in as quarterback for the Baltimore Colts when Johnny Unitas was injured at the end of a season that took the Colts to a playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.  Matte still holds the record for the highest per-carry rushing average in a Super Bowl game (10.5), and ended his career with 4,464 yards and 45 touchdowns.

Still … in the pantheon of quarterbacks, OSU not really in the mix.

The NFL’s top 50 quarterbacks of all time spring from a plethora of college programs, only a few of which can claim superiority as a breeding ground of superior QBs.

Brady (Michigan), Brees (Purdue), Manning (Tennessee), Marino (Pittsburgh), Montana (Notre Dame), Young (Brigham Young), Rodgers (Cal), Favre (Southern Mississippi), Graham (Northwestern), Roethlisberger (Miami University), Wilson (North Carolina State), Rivers (North Carolina State), Starr (Alabama), Unitas (Louisville), Elway (Stanford), Tarkenton (Georgia), Baugh (Texas Christian), Warner (Northern Iowa), Staubach (Annapolis), Jurgensen (Duke), Moon (Washington), Kelly (Miami), Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech), Luckman (Columbia), Aikman (UCLA), Fouts (Oregon), Tittle (LSU), Van Brocklin (Oregon), Blanda (Kentucky), Dawson (Purdue),  Griese (Purdue), Layne (Texas), Stabler (Alabama), Waterfield (UCLA).

QB Central?  Purdue (Brees, Dawson, Grese), North Carolina State (Wilson, Rivers), Alabama (Starr, Stabler), UCLA (Aikman, Waterfield), and Oregon (Fouts, Van Brockin).  Yeah, but … QB conference? Pac 12 (Cal, Stanford, Washington, UCLA x 2, Oregon x2). Highest SATs? Columbia.  

The NFL is all about quarterbacks.  A franchise without a franchise quarterback has very little chance of climbing to the top; college football looks very different.  Champions since 2000 include Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Florida, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Alabama, Florida State,  Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Alabama, Clemson. No Purdue there. No North Carolina State. No UCLA. No Oregon.

Changing offenses in the NFL seem to favor quarterbacks arriving from systems that develop skills necessary to operating in a pass-happy league.  It’s still a big-boy league in which the average defensive tackle is 6’5 and weighs 309 pounds. Daunting enough, but that tackle also runs the 40 in about 5.2 seconds.  There are some speedy and shifty quarterbacks, of course, virtually all of whom end up on injured reserve by the end of their second year in the league. 

Oklahoma has provided two first draft pick quarterbacks in the last two years.  The hope, clearly, is that their skill sets will animate a high speed offense. They come from the offense-loaded Big 12.  The ideal prospect, however, may be more likely to come from a team that has faced a speedy and enormous defensive line and speedy and athletic safeties.  Even the best scout can’t measure immeasurable abilities – judgment, poise, resilience – but accuracy under pressure, quickness of release, recovery from broken pays, number of interceptions can be measured.  

The bottom line is that Hall of Fame quarterbacks reveal themselves somewhere in their second or third season; they have to survive the physical beating that comes in their first starting season with original skills intact and with the capacity to read a defense. 

Quarterback U?  The NFL.





Gee, Coach, We’re Sorry!

College Football, Uncategorized

Look,  when I get a chance to lob a few grenades in the direction of Nick Saban, I’m certainly not going to hold back.  I can’t take issue with his coaching, his coaching staff, or his teams; Alabama football is the most successful program in the nation, year and year out.  Saban deserves his spot in the pantheon of great collegiate coaches, right up there with Rockne, Bryant, Yost, Robinson, Gagliardi, Leahy, Stagg, and Camp.

But, securely atop the national polls, standing 4-0 with a good chance of running the table unless Georgia gets frisky, Saban delivered an ill-tempered screed aimed at Alabama’s students, essentially calling out the undergraduates who did not attend home games in the number he expected and who did not make enough noise when (if) they did attend.  This was not the first time Saban had railed against what he sees as an unresponsive student population, and his language in speaking to and about them has been consistently dismissive.

Here’s an open letter to Coach Saban –

Sorry to hear that you live with disappointment, Nick.  You mashed Louisiana Lafayette, retain the top spot in every poll, and have the respect of friends and foes.  You are clearly top dog.  And yet … this is where you go in post-game interviews:

“I can honestly say I was a little disappointed there weren’t more students at the last game, I think we’re trying to address that. I don’t think they’re entitled to anything, either.”

Not entitled.

Well, Nick, actually, you see, they are the university.  You are a hired gun.

When I say hired, what I mean is you pull down $7,000,000.00 per year in salary and another $4,000,000.00 in assorted other job related income.  Oh, and you get a $700,000.00 incentive bonus if Alabama reaches the college football championship.  To give your salary a bit of perspective, Nick, the governor of your state earns $119,950.00 a year and the President of your university gets by with $717,000.00

But, go ahead, knock the kids who pay tuition, do the classroom thing, get up on a Saturday morning in order to watch ‘Bama rock the snot out of Louisiana-Lafayette.  Let’s take a moment to remember that more than 100,000 fans packed the stadium as Alabama played the Ragin’ Cajuns, coasting to a 56-14 easy victory, playing the third team for much of the second half.  Up 28-0 at the end of the first quarter.

This was clearly a blowout, and, Nick, not a lot of fun to watch.

“When I first came here, you used to play that tradition thing up there and everybody was cheering and excited and happy and there was great spirit,.  Now, they don’t even cheer. They introduce our players, and nobody even cheers.”

I saw the same movies you did, Nick – “…that tradition video thing”?  I’m pretty sure none of the coaches who inspired us counted on “that tradition video thing” to animate the crowd.  No, the coaches with whom you would like to be compared were actually more than executive mechanics.  They knew that their team was an important part of something larger.  They knew that coaching is in its own way a calling.  Coach shows up on Friday night by the bonfire, Rockne crouches by the Gipper’s bedside, Herman Boone literally pulls the Titans together, Coach Lengyel meets Marshall’s grief head on, Burt Cotton listens to Sandra Bullock, Molly McGrath pulls the Wildcats from obscurity.

You are miffed when students don’t show up, so you made the university end block seating.  You really don’t like spectators who leave halfway through your team’s performance.  Your point is that the players put in 60 minutes of gut busting play on the field; spectators should be expected to invest the time it takes for the team to do its work.

“Everybody else should have the same sort of commitment. You don’t have to do the work all week, you don’t have to practice, you don’t have to come in at 7 in the morning and leave at 11 at night, you don’t have to do any of that stuff.”


Nick, you do understand  how these institutions of higher learning actually work, right?  You and your guys do football.  You get the eleven million and your players attend the university for free.  The best of your players are showcased, ending up as well compensated athletes in the NFL.  The students join the band or the cheer squad, or they get involved with any number of other activities, and may take the opportunity to sit in the stands as you do your thing.

Some of them might be playing volleyball or basketball in Foster Hall, the  university’s auditorium, capable of seating 3,800 vocal fans.  Your spring game attracted more than 70,000 fans.  In searching for information about athletics at Alabama, I found that virtually every article was about football.  You’re the main attraction.  How’d you like to coach football at Duke, where basketball is king?

Or, since we’re discussing school spirit …  well … not school spirit so much as vocal enthusiasm for your team, perhaps you’d like to coach at Kent State, your alma mater?  Coaching salaries are on the rise in the MAC; newly appointed coach, Sean Lewis, will earn $440,000.00 this year for coaching your Golden Flashes.  Dix Stadium holds just over 29,000 spectators in its three grandstands, but averages about 13,000 per game.  Of course, the big bucks for Kent State football come when the Flashes travel to Clemson (56-3) or Penn State (63-10).

That might be fun.

I’m not sure they have a tradition video thing, but I’ve seen the footage of Sean Lewis and the Kent State coaching staff for all sports at the Welcome Week Pep Rally.  Looked like a great event, the stands were packed, all 6,362 seats at the MAC Center were filled.

And nobody left halfway through.


OK, Maybe Michigan IS the Texas of the North

College Football

I write for a Michigan fan site.  It’s what a fan who writes might do, if, as is the case with me, that fan lives thousands of miles from Ann Arbor, can’t get to the Big House, and needs some connection with a legendary football program that essentially provides all the excitement and validation he is likely to get in the course of the year.  To be a fan is to  experience the seasonal roller coaster; one year your team wins the big ones, the next they can’t dress themselves and get lost on their way from the locker room.

And, but, then … Michigan, a program that has won more football games than any team in the nation, sputters, coughs up a sequence of hairballs, and loses to Ohio State in fourteen of the last eighteen games.  Ohio State’s latest streak stands at six in a row.  There are worse things in life than losing to Ohio State; my perspective is not entirely grotesque.  Many worse things.  But still, it hurts bad.

The pre-season buzz about Michigan remains oddly animated, as if the results of the past year don’t count when it comes to legendary programs; Michigan is often ranked in the top ten or fifteen. And, but, then … week by week, its highly recruited players, highly paid and frequently canonized coach, and the best helmets in football take the field, muck around for a bit, and limp back to Ann Arbor with a 5-4 record in the Big Ten.

The current season began with a humiliating loss to Notre Dame followed by somewhat encouraging victories over Western Michigan, SMU, and Nebraska.  Heartened (suckered), I wrote a jolly and optimistic piece for that fan site, predicting a run away stomping of a Northwestern team that had recently lost to Akron.

My current assessment of Michigan is notably less jolly.  Here’s what I sent to the site this  morning:

If you took Michigan football and fourteen points against Northwestern, you lost.  If you took Michigan and four points, you lost.  The Wolverines squeezed out a last-minute victory over a team that lost to Akron and Duke, and once again Michigan fans endured a brutal first quarter, yet another questionable first half, and then saw Michigan outscore Northwestern 13-0 in the second half, with six of those points coming from Quinn Nordin’s field goals.

Let’s not forget that Michigan football is a team seeking a conference championship, a team still ranked in the top 20 in the nation.  Top-ranked teams do not get pushed around by teams that lose to Akron.  Top ranked teams improve game-by-game.  Top ranked teams showcase top recruits improving game-by-game.  Right now, Michigan looks a lot like the other perfectly ok teams that play big time football.  Texas, Florida, NC State, Colorado, Virginia Tech.  Perfectly ok, but none of them are heading to a conference championship, and for sure, none of them are going to be playing for a national championship.

Once again, the stats seem to indicate a strong performance by the Wolverines, racking up 376 yards on offense to Northwestern’s 202, 180 yards rushing to the Wildcat’s 28, nearly 10 more minutes of possession, and yet, the game was still in question throughout the second half.  In the first quarter, Michigan could not move  the chains while Northwestern piled up 105 yards and 17 points.  A stat that doesn’t reflect well on the team and its preparation are the 11 penalties, only one of which was from Mars.

Coach Don Brown ran a remedial diagramming session during halftime to pull the defense back into reasonable shape, and Chase Winovich had his best game hauling down 8 solo tackles and a sack.  Winovich was called out by Brown last year; he wanted to see Winovich bring leadership to the defense.  Mission accomplished.  Nevertheless,  Northwestern’s speedy offensive sets in the first half threw off a defense that has been touted as one of the best in the nation.  Penalties in the secondary continued to add yards and opportunities that ought not to have been given the Cats.

The offense has improved, thanks to Karan Higdon, a bull at full speed, who picked up 110 yards and 2 TDs, essentially pulling the Wolverines’ to a victory.  Patterson made some good throws.  Gentry looked solid… in the second half.  A slow start against Northwestern, a 17 point deficit to Northwestern – scary but possible.  A slow start against the tough teams looming ahead?


Twenty Four Days Until Kickoff

College Football, Sports history

I receive the occasional urgent message from and about University of Michigan sports, primarily alerting me to the importance of the next football, hockey, basketball, or volleyball game.  I scan them all, which is odd in that I did not attend the University of Michigan, have not sent children to the University of Michigan, and have very few friends or acquaintances who are connected with the University of Michigan.  And yet…. on game days I sit in my living room in Oregon wearing my lucky Wolverine cap and any one of my Michigan t-shirts or jerseys.  I wear a less lucky, sweat stained Michigan cap out in the world, responding to those who recognize and share my fondness for the university with a hearty “Go Blue!”.  Two of my children have grown up with my elaborate game day rituals and have become Michigan fans, slightly less likely to wear Michigan gear and much less likely to stop strangers on the street to talk Michigan football, but loyal to the Blue nonetheless.

I’m not entirely sure how it is that sports keep me sane, and my game day behavior certainly does not look like measured sanity, but for a few moments I’m not keeping track of global warming, the loss of species, political chicanery,  inequality, injustice, and the looting of America.  Thoughtful observers of my quasi-fanaticism will argue that we’re talking more than a few moments, as I do enjoy the four-day ramp up to the next game and allow myself a day or two of celebration or consolation after the last game.  I enjoy those pick up conversations as well, some of which are with fans of other programs.  I don’t have much in common with several acquaintances, but I do know that they are as captivated by sport as I am.  I know who their team faces on Saturday and am more than willing to run through their lineup even if we never get around to my current favorite topic: Michigan’s chances in the opening game against Notre Dame.

I’m not stupid.  I know that Michigan’s chances against Notre Dame aren’t great.  Well,  I know, but how can I?  Who really knows?  Hope springs eternal.  One leg at a time.  And so on.

I experience a second level of puzzling emotional instability even as I name Notre Dame or more frequently, Ohio State.  I do have friends with attachments to those universities.  They are good people; they have not poisoned my pets or stolen my identity.  And yet I loathe their alma maters with unvarnished ferocity.  This does seem marginally unreasonable.  And yet …

I’ve lived in each quadrant of the United States and have found that with one exception, each asks a newcomer to commit.  Duke or Carolina?  Alabama or Auburn?  Florida or Georgia?  I grew up in New England where state universities served their constituents well but had not attached themselves to signature athletic programs at the national level.  As I travelled through the greater world then, I had no ready rejoinder when put on the spot.  I have significant memories of the years I lived and worked in Michigan.  One of my children was born there.  Ann Arbor was within easy driving distance and season ticket holders were generous, inviting me to Michigan’s stadium, The Big House.  I sat with 107,601 rabid wolverines and gave my heart away.

It’s been a bleak summer here in Oregon; the heat is brutal and fires continue to funnel smoke into the Rogue Valley.  The Red Sox are running away with the division title and LeBron is going to the Lakers.  Bleak, I say,  and unlikely to change, but when the “24 Days to Kickoff: alert hits my mailbox, the fog lifts, the clouds part, and for a moment, all is right with the world.

I do have a life outside of Michigan football, one in which I care for my family, consider the great questions and think long thoughts.  I read a fair bit and write as well.  There’s the grounds work to do and dogs to romp.  After all, game day is just one day … except that I’ve just committed to writing for GBMWolverine again, bringing the older fan’s perspective to a young man’s game.  I think that will be ok; an hour or so a day is relatively easy to grab, especially as I have followed the Marie Kondo’s advice and actively begin the art of tidying up, keeping only those things that “spark joy”.  I’ve got another box of books in the car, mostly history books untouched since my college years.  I remember them fondly but not a lot of joy sparking when I took them down from the shelf.

I’m a work in progress.  Keep the flannel shirt?  Time to admit that I really don’t need three sets of golf clubs?  The Barbie Michigan Cheerleader set?

A work in progress.

About this championship idea …

College Football, Sports history, Uncategorized

New Year’s Eve –

Both of the championship semi-final bowl games will be played tomorrow, and I’ll be eager to see how the Georgia/Oklahoma matchup turns out.  Both teams contend for the national championship, a title more properly presented than it has been for some time.  Alabama and Clemson, the current champion, square off as well, and by the end of New Year’s Day, only two teams will be left on collegiate football’s center stage.  Any one of the four could take the title, although, surprisingly, Alabama may be the underdog this year.

It’s fun to have some meaningful college football after Christmas.

Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are the coulda-woulda-shoulda teams, each soundly thumping other teams considered playoff worthy in post-season play.  The three Big Ten teams knocked off USC, Miami, and Washington with relatively little difficulty.  Oh, and Michigan State thumped Washington State, Purdue beat Arizona, Northwestern beat Kentucky, and Iowa beat Boston College.  So, the current tally is Big Ten 7 – Rest of the world 0.

  • Day later.  Michigan, in the only consolation game I actually care about, blew a 16 point lead to allow the South Carolina Gamecocks to take the Outback Bowl.  Now Big Ten 7 – Rest of the world 1.  Michigan burrowing ever deeper into college football obscurity.

January 5

I’ll watch the last of the bowl games with interest.  OK,  watch the college bowl games with interest; I’ll pass up the NFL’s Pro Bowl for the thirtieth consecutive year, and I’ll forego my annual “who wrecked the conferences” rant because the  SEC and Big Ten emerge again  as truly powerful conferences, a reality confirming my conviction that the more things change, the more college football establishes something like parity among the thirty or thirty-five notable programs.

National championships?  Where are the champions of yesteryear?  I offer a quick look at “championships” by decade to identify the seismic shifts, the gradual decline of the Ivies and the service academies, and the steady improvement of programs once considered minor or marginal.

It’s easy to forget that no championships were determined by playoff until 1998.  After 1936, championships were bestowed upon teams by polling writers, coaches, the Associated Press, United Press International and specialized agencies.  Prior to 1936, championships were determined by consensus, often leading to contending claims.

From 1869 until 1927, Princeton, Yale, or Harvard had at least a share of the national title every year; Yale claims 27 and Princeton 28.  Lafayette shared the title with Princeton in 1896, never to appear at that lofty pinnacle again, but by 1901, Michigan had arrived as a consensus champion, wining 11 championships between 1901 and 1997.  LSU and Penn State had broken into the top tier by 1911, Army, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame by 1919.

In the next decade, both Cal and Stanford took top honors, and Alabama picked up the first of its 16 national championships.  By 1936, the reigning powers included Minnesota, USC, Texas A&M, and Pittsburgh.   In the 1940’s, Ohio State appeared for the first time although the dominant teams of that era were Army and Notre Dame.  Some now familiar programs emerged in the 1950s as Oklahoma, UCLA, Auburn, Iowa, Mississippi, and Syracuse entered the fray.  Texas, Arkansas, Michigan State, and Nebraska joined the club in the 1960’s, and Pittsburgh reemerged in the middle of the 1970’s.  By the start of the BCS era, Miami, Florida, Florida State, Washington, and Clemson had become perennial contenders.  In retrospect, Tennessee’s championship in the first BCS year, may be like Lafayette’s, an anomaly.

Over the years, great rivalries have emerged outside of conference play as programs have contended for national recognition.  The Notre Dame/Army games from the 20’s to the 40’s were widely followed, broadcast on radio, earning headlines across the country in regional papers.  When Notre Dame modulated its privileged status as an independent program, a conference unto itself, it joined the ACC in most sports but retained a few traditional rivalries, keeping USC, Stanford, and Navy, alternating Michigan State, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.

Looking to the past again, the decades reveal strength of rival programs.

Back at the start, Princeton/Rutgers was not only the first football game but the first rivalry.  The only programs that intruded on the dominance of the Ivies in the first decade were Michigan and Minnesota, quickly followed by Wisconsin.  We think of Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU as football’s preeminent programs in the south, but in the first decade of the 20th Century, the ranked southern schools were Vanderbilt and Sewanee, neither of which could get past the decade’s powerhouse, Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago Maroon.

The 1920’s were considered the golden age of sports (Ruth, Dempsey, Cobb, Gehrig, Grange, Tilden) and football came of age with Red Grange’s heart stopping breakaway runs at Illinois and  great contests such as the 1922 Rose Bowl game in which 10-1 USC hit the big time beating Penn State at about the same time that Notre Dame climbed out of regional play.  Pittsburgh, Michigan, and Minnesota remained threatening throughout the 20’s and 30’s, joined by teams that enjoyed a short burst of notoriety, Fordham, Duke, and Santa Clara as Hardin Simmons was to do in the 1940’s; meanwhile,  Alabama and Tennessee climbed steadily.

In the annals of college sports, the Army/Notre Dame rivalry was a perennial favorite, culminating in a  tilt for the national championship, in 1945.  By the 1950’s and 60’s, the landscape had changed again.  Syracuse Orange football put Jim Brown, a force of nature, on the field in the middle of the decade, winning the national championship in 1959 with the future first African-American winner of the Heisman, Ernie Davis.  Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, and UCLA topped the ranks of teams in the 1950’s, but Bear Bryant was on his way to Tuscaloosa.

‘Bama  won three championships in the 1960′ and almost won a fourth.  The decade ended with controversy as Texas and Arkansas, played one of the great games between unbeaten teams.  Texas won, went on the the Cotton Bowl, beat Notre Dame, and was named champion by President Richard Nixon, even though Penn State’s fans felt their undefeated team coached by Joe Paterno had equal right to the crown.  The ’70’s belonged to Alabama again (103-16-1 over the decade) followed closely by Nebraska, USC, Michigan, and Texas.

Stagg and Rockne had been coaches with considerable clout in their day, but the 70’s brought huge television bounty to college football and established the cult of coaches that remains.  The power programs remain the power programs because they recruit and stockpile recruits based on the charisma of coaches and the strength of national reputation.  There wasn’t much room at the top anymore; teams had to scrap to make a place for themselves.  In the same way the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels swiped a spot in the national conversation in basketball, football’s bad boys from the “U” and the only slightly less raucous Seminoles of FSU edged in at the end of the 1980’s.  In the 1980’s, FSU went 109-13, top four every year from 1987 to 1999.  Oklahoma and Texas ruled the first decade of the 21st Century, but both Virginia Tech and LSU joined the clubs at the top.

So, where are we now?  Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma this year, with very strong representation from the Big Ten, Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.  Notre Dame is often contending, but Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Purdue, and Nebraska have fallen fast.  The PAC 12 had a contender in Oregon and recently in Washington, but both USC and UCLA are inconsistent, and Stanford, arguably the best of the bunch in conference play, stumbles in big games outside the conference.

Who’s next?  Can Michigan come back from ignominy?  Do teams such as UCF, Memphis, TCU, or Oklahoma State have a chance to bust out?  Or, as those weary of SEC boasting might fear, is the end of this decade doomed to belong to Alabama?  Is Penn State poised for a run?  How many quarterbacks does Urban Meyer have in reserve?

Let’s just enjoy Alabama/Georgia and see what happens.