True spread, apexing

An interesting article out of CBS Sports:

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -The spread isn’t dead, but Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says the offense isn’t thriving like it was in recent seasons in the Big 12 and the rest of college football.

Defenses appear to be catching up to the dinking and dunking of the quick-pass offense, meaning it might not be long before a new fad crops up.

“It’s not based on empirical evidence, but I just sense so many people run versions of the spread offense – even I-formation teams – that people are getting better at defending it because they see it all the time,” Pinkel said Monday.

Pinkel’s comment came two days after his Tigers’ spread was limited to 99 yards passing in a 41-7 home loss to third-ranked Texas. Missouri, which had been averaging 405 total yards, generated 173 against the Longhorns.

Oklahoma and Nebraska also have shown a knack for slowing down the spread, but no one is doing it better than Texas of late.

The Longhorns have allowed an average of 166 total yards and 2.9 yards per play in their last four games, each against spread attacks.

Texas coach Mack Brown has made the recruitment of anti-spread defenders an emphasis.

He said all players in the secondary, safeties included, must be able to be shut down receivers in man coverage. Linebackers have to be fast and able to cover running backs or receivers coming out of five-receiver sets. The linemen all must be effective pass rushers so the need for blitzing is reduced.

So if the spread goes away, what will be the next hot offensive trend?

Maybe it’ll be the spread option, a descendent of the triple-option that Tom Osborne used at Nebraska to hammer opponents for 25 years.

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads tried without much success to defend Navy’s spread option when he was defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh two years ago. The father of the spread option, Paul Johnson, was coaching Navy then, and the Midshipmen rolled up 497 yards.

Johnson now coaches 11th-ranked Georgia Tech, which ran on 71 of 79 plays while beating Virginia Tech 34-9 last Saturday.

“I don’t care what level of football,” Rhoads said, “that offense has a chance to be successful and it could indeed be more commonplace as we move forward.”

Texas’ Brown said he’s not so sure fans would accept the spread option because they have been so accustomed to the excitement of passing offenses.

There also is another drawback, he said: “Would you be able to come from behind if you got down three touchdowns?”

I don’t think that the spread option or flexbone will become that popular. (Though a part of me wishes it did, just to hear the NFL guys long for the days when colleges were producing QBs who threw it forty times a game from the shotgun. Didn’t know how good they had it.) But I think Mack Brown’s comments are instructive: If he can get top talent at every defensive position, and each of his defenders is better than the guy across from him, what do you gain by spreading him out to get a one-on-one? The answer is not much. Indeed I discussed this a few years ago:**

The offense has arguably become the opposite of an equalizer, it has become an amplifier: if you are talented you can really rack up the points because no one can cover Vince Young, Ted Ginn or the like one-on-one. But if you’re not, you just get sacked and no one gets open.

This is not to say that all “spreading” is out. I think there’s been a real change in the game, and athletes in space is never going out of style. I do think there already is a theme of contraction where certain players, like H-backs and the like are useful because they add blocking dimensions (both for running and pass protection) and can still leak out into pass routes. The spread stuff will be gobbled up into the whole but will still be present. But I think Pinkel is right that it doesn’t pay to just be four and five wide every single play. You become too predictable.

**FN: I looked back at that January 2006 article and saw that I said this: “(If I had to predict something [to be the wave of the future] I would say the jet/fly offense, but it has not caught on as much as I’d thought.” Was I right? Hello Wildcat!

(H/t Blutarsky.)

Reggie Bush, superfluous?

ReggieBushShutdown Corner wondered aloud recently whether Reggie Bush, whose role in the New Orleans Saints offense has rapidly diminished, hasn’t been relegated to just a peripheral role? Consider that Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas have carried the rushing load and that Drew Brees has a plethora of surehanded receivers. But I still like Bush as a valuable weapon — though in his newer, more limited role.

Although I think it’s quite possible that the Saints left several wins on the field the last few years by not going with a more trusty back between the tackles, I don’t think that devalues Bush, it just confirms what he is not: an every down back. Indeed, I look at him as basically the same as he was in high school: a wing-t wingback. That translates to the NFL as a third-down/scatback for spread sets and as a receiver, and as a slot receiver or otherwise split receiver who can motion into or out of the backfield. He is best used off misdirection as his impressive reverse and leap for a touchdown against the Dolphins showed, and as an outlet receiver. He runs fairly good option routes when covered in man-to-man by linebackers (though he gets too cute, as he does with so much else, by hopping around instead of just running a sound route), and he has averaged around ten touches a game. In his second year, by contrast, he averaged around 19 touches a game; in his first and third years he averaged closer to fifteen touches per game. I think ten is the more appropriate number. Most of the reduction has been in his rushing attempts, though his receptions has gone down too. Ultimately, I think they should continue using him as they are though maybe with a bit more motion and the like to get him favorable matchups, and this offseason he should really focus on becoming a better receiver and route runner.

The boys at the PFR Blog point out that players similar to Bush — good athletes, good receiving prowess, but little aptitude as every down, between the tackles runners — have switched to wide receiver and had success. (See also this post by Chase Stuart about Frank Gifford, Lenny Moore, Bobby Mitchell, and Charley Taylor: four of only a few players who have gone to the pro bowl as both runningbacks and wide receivers.) I agree with the sentiment if not the prescription. In modern football you don’t need to switch roles so dramatically, but the name of the modern game is versatility and “hybrid” guys give you that.

Ultimately, I think Bush’s future would be as (best case scenario) a cross between Marshall Faulk and an excellent slot receiver like Wes Welker or Brandon Stokely. Obviously Bush has more speed than all of those guys, but he hasn’t yet developed their awareness on the field. I know this sounds like the worst of all worlds but if you did it right Reggie Bush could play almost the whole game and simply move from halfback, to third-down back, to split receiver, to wing-back, all within Sean Payton’s versatile system. Now, the Saints have a lot of good players, but I’m not ready to relegate Bush to purely being an ornament. He’s just a different type of player. A big factor in his development, however, is likely whether he learns to embrace that more limited role.

Smart Notes 10/28/2009

Totally unnecessary, but nevertheless, I approve. High school quarterback throws a behind the back pass to convert a two-point try. Of course, he could have just turned and thrown it to them, but where’s the fun in that? (H/t Totalsports.)

Of course, former Redskins great Sonny Jurgensen could throw behind the back passes better than most NFL quarterbacks could throw normal passes (I once saw an NFL films clip with Jurgensen taking a five-step drop and throwing fifteen yard out cuts with timing and on the money — all behind the back). Indeed, Jurgensen even completed one of those in an all-star game and once in college.

- Buckeye analysis. There’s a new, promising site dedicated to Ohio State football, modeled after the great Trojan Football Analysis, which is dedicated to Southern Cal football. One of the earliest posts is about pass protection, and it has a very good video showing the basics of how “slide” or “gap protection” works — i.e. each lineman or blocker steps to their “gap” (though shouldn’t step so fast that they let someone shoot through the space they are vacating) and block whomever tries to come through. It is a true “zone” pass protection, and its advantage is that the defense can throw whatever stunt or inside blitz it wants and the line should be able to bottle it up. Its disadvantages are that a defense can overload one side or another, the offense usually has to preassign a few potential receivers to stay in and block, and sometimes those gap assignments can result in mismatches — i.e. a runningback on a defensive lineman. Nevertheless, it is a useful protection scheme to have.

- Does replay in the SEC work? The Clarion-Ledger asked four SEC coaches what they thought. (H/t TheWiz.)

- More on the NFL and brain injuries. The questioning didn’t go so well for the NFL, though it remains unclear whether anything will come of it. The NFL especially was criticized for basically making up its own study to try and discredit the outside studies that have shown a strong link between football and brain injuries, particularly injuries taking affect in later life.

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Football teams, brain injuries, and independent doctors

From The New York Times, reporting on Congressional hearings regarding head-injuries by NFL players:

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, defended the league’s response to the issue of concussions and the care of retired players before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in a hearing called to discuss the long-term effects of head injuries in football.

Goodell joined a chorus of voices discussing the issue at the daylong hearing. While DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the N.F.L. players association, called for more independent study of head injuries and promised that players’ safety would not be a bargaining issue with the league, a former N.F.L. team executive, Gay Culverhouse, made an impassioned plea for doctors independent of the teams to oversee care of the players.

It was Goodell, however, who was the focus of interest for Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, the committee’s chairman. Conyers pressed Goodell to address the link between concussions sustained while playing football and long-term brain deterioration. The N.F.L., mostly through the comments of Dr. Ira Casson, the head of the league’s concussion committee, has frequently played down studies that have made such a link and cited the need for further study.

Asked by Conyers whether he believed there was a link between concussions and dementia, Goodell replied, “The answer is, medical experts would know better than I do.” He went on to say that he encouraged the debate and that the league was adjusting rules and standards of care to make the game safer even before the answer is found. . . .

“In a matter of public health, I do not think it’s acceptable for the league and the players association to hide behind the collective bargaining agreement,” Conyers said. “These are life-and-death issues that go to the heart of our most popular sport.”. . .

In his opening remarks, Smith, the director of the players union, did not directly take issue with the N.F.L.’s approach, although in the statement he filed with the committee he assailed the N.F.L. for “denigrating, suppressing and ignoring” research that has linked football concussions to long-term cognitive degeneration. He did, however, declare that medical issues should not be subject to negotiation in the collective bargaining agreement.

“The players of the N.F.L. will not bargain for medical care,” he said. “We will not bargain for safety. We will continue to bargain with the league, but medical care is not a bargaining issue.” . . .

Dr. Robert Cantu, a researcher from Boston University’s School of Medicine, said he believed there was “ongoing and convincing evidence” of a link between sports concussions and long-term illness. Culverhouse, former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and daughter of the franchise’s original owner, made the most emotional plea in her opening statement, choosing to focus on the status of team doctors. She called for independent doctors to work at games, caring for players on both sidelines.

“What this committee has to understand is, the team doctor is hired by the coach and paid by the front office,” Culverhouse said. “This team doctor is not an advocate for the players. That doctor’s role is to get those players back on the field. I have seen a wall of players surround a player as he has his knee injected so he can get back on the field.

“The players get to a point where they refuse to tell the team doctor they have suffered a concussion. They do not self-report because they know there is a backup player on the bench ready to take their position. The team doctor dresses as a coach on the sideline and he acts in many ways as a coach on the sideline. If a player chooses independent medical counsel he is considered ‘not a team player.’ He becomes a pariah. We need to stop that.” . . .

I thought this was interesting, especially this latter part. Here’s my question: Why hasn’t the players’ union hired independent (at least independent of the NFL and individual franchise) doctors to be on hand? They could be paid with union dues and they could negotiate in their collective bargaining agreement that the NFL allow these doctors full access. It’d be a second-opinion for every player, and seems like a good check. I don’t mean to impugn doctors here, but when a normal employee gets an injury or illness he doesn’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) go solely to his company provided clinician to determine whether he can work or not.

I don’t know if it’d fix these other issues, but I’d like to see teams have more independent doctors, and the players union could furnish them. Colleges and high schools have fewer choices for this, unfortunately.

Is coaching overrated?

So asks Gregg Easterbrook, in an article titled “Coaching is Overrated”:

Changing the playcaller sure helped the Redskins!

In the cult of football, surely few things are more overrated than play calling. Much football commentary, from high school stands to the NFL in prime time, boils down to: “If they ran they should have passed, and if they passed they should have run.” Other commentary boils down to: “If it worked, it was a good call, if it failed, it was a bad call,” though the call is only one of many factors in a football play. Good calls are better than bad calls — this column exerts considerable effort documenting the difference. But it’s nonsensical to think that replacing a guy who calls a lot of runs to the left with a guy who calls a lot of runs to the right will transform a team.

One factor here is the Illusion of Coaching. We want to believe that coaches are super-ultra-masterminds in control of events, and coaches do not mind encouraging that belief. But coaching is a secondary force in sports; the athletes themselves are always more important. TMQ’s immutable Law of 10 Percent holds that good coaching can improve a team by 10 percent, bad coaching can subtract from performance by 10 percent — but the rest will always be on the players themselves, their athletic ability and level of devotion, plus luck. If the players are no good or out of sync, it won’t matter what plays are called; if the players are talented and dedicated, they will succeed no matter what the sideline signals in. Unless they have bad luck, which no one can control.

Yes and no. I wholeheartedly agree that playcalling is overrated, and he is right that much of the commentary after games involves a lot of second-guessing full of hindsight bias. Few ever pose the “should he have done X?” question in terms of the probabilities and tendencies at the time, or in the context of the 10 or so seconds available to make such calls. Indeed, I have even argued that there’s a case to be made that the best playcalling might be a controlled but randomized “mixed-strategy.”

The other coaching bogeyman is the aura surrounding “in-game adjustments” or “halftime adjustments,” both of which are supposed to be the “hallmarks of good coaching.” This is another thing where there’s a kernel of truth surrounding by a lot of speculation. Yes, a good coach will not do the same thing over and over again if it isn’t working, or if the other team has figured it out. And yes, coaching a game involves an ongoing process of what the other team is doing (this is one reason why I think, even if adjustments are part of the game, “halftime adjustments” are very much overrated). But if you want to see a bad coach then I’ll show you one who tries to “adjust” to everything the other team is doing with new schemes and ideas built-in midgame. Instead, teams with good coaching pretty much run only things within their plan — i.e. stuff they had practiced during the week. Indeed, much of what fans or commentators will pick out as an “adjustment” was something in the original gameplan that just didn’t get called until the second half because of the flow of the game. Yet how can good coaches both “adjust” throughout a game and also not deviate from what they have practiced?

This brings me to where I depart from Easterbrook, that coaching is minor. (I don’t really know how to judge “overrated” — in relation to what? overrated by whom?) While playcalling is definitely overhyped (hey, the talking heads get paid to talk about something), preparation is extremely important, and much of a gameplan involves contingency planning. It also means that the “base stuff” should have the counters built in, the constraint plays are already there, and the defensive adjustments are easy to make because they are a part of the system. A good offense “implies the counter,” meaning that if a defense adjusts in some way, then playcalling is simple because there’s an obvious counter play to be called. On defense you take away the other team’s best stuff, and focus on other things as it comes, though by dictating to the offense through aggressiveness and by trying to confuse it. Unlike Easterbrook I can’t hang a number on how many wins or losses “coaching” is responsible for (and if I could I’d imagine it varies by level), I can safely say that I think weekly preparation is underrated, because it is rarely talked about — other than platitudes like “we had a great week of practice” — has a long-tail in terms of continual refinement of technique and effort that can only improve incrementally, and that everything run in the games is stuff that has been practiced over and over and over.

Two final points on the Redskins situation. (more…)

Blogpoll ballot

Rank Team Delta
1 Texas 2
2 Alabama
3 Florida 1
4 Cincinnati 1
5 Iowa 1
6 TCU 1
7 Boise State 1
8 Southern Cal 3
9 LSU
10 Georgia Tech 2
11 Penn State 2
12 Oregon 2
13 Oklahoma State 4
14 Houston 2
15 Virginia Tech
16 Utah 2
17 Miami (Florida) 7
18 Pittsburgh 1
19 West Virginia 1
20 Ohio State
21 Central Michigan
22 Brigham Young
23 Arizona 1
24 California
25 Wisconsin
Last week’s ballot
Dropped Out: New Mexico (#1), Texas Tech (#21), South Florida (#23), Idaho (#24), Kansas (#25).

A little movement at the top: I thought Texas looked the best, while Alabama struggled with Tennessee (hail Cody!) and Florida again looked less than superior, at least on offense (defense played great, again). (And I don’t think anyone who watched the UF-Miss. State game thought it was just a defensive struggle and that, in actual fact, the football was a superior brand.) After that I still like the undefeateds hanging around. I moved TCU ahead of Boise because they have looked great. Not entirely fair, but, hey, that’s polling. Cincy continues to look dominant within the domain of the Big East, even with its backup quarterback, and so hold off a one-loss Southern Cal team. GT continues to be a tough, tough team — many wrote them off as underrated early, and they probably were, but they have responded to the Miami game and have done all you could ask for. The next batch of teams will have to continue winning to stay up there or rise, and in the case of teams like Oklahoma State, that would involve huge upset victories over Texas and if they can do that, the sky is the limit (though likely not the BCS title game). The same goes for Oregon, who faces Southern Cal this weekend.

Central Michigan made it on here as my underappreciated team. They managed to beat Michigan State in excruciating fashion (much as everyone else has seemed to do). Cal and Wisconsin snuck back in after earlier stumbles and have a chance of moving up if they continue to play well.

Smart Notes 10/27/09

Paul Johnson don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t get much better than this. Frank Beamer is still steaming from his team’s 28-23 loss to the Yellow Jackets two weeks ago. The Virginia Tech coaches sent in about eleven plays that they believed constituted illegal blocks that should have been flagged — a fairly routine thing to do, though the Hokie coaches believed several of those blocks came on game changing plays. Apparently the ACC officials confirmed that at least four plays included illegal blocks, though that news was leaked by Beamer rather than the ACC itself. Paul Johnson is not impressed:

Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson, a man with a reputation for bristling at criticism, fired back after his team’s practice Monday.

“They got out-schemed. So, it’s illegal to out-scheme them, I guess,” he said. “We blocked them the same way we blocked them a year ago and they weren’t complaining when they won.”

Zing! A different article quotes Johnson saying, “That’s a joke. Put the tape on and watch. Tyler Melton cracked the free safety. He doesn’t even block him. He shields him.”

“They got out-schemed. So it’s illegal to out-scheme them, I guess.” Somewhat supporting Johnson was the ACC saying Beamer should not have disclosed the results:

Doug Rhoads, who oversees the league’s officials, said the Hokies coaches shouldn’t have disclosed the conference’s admission of mistakes and he wouldn’t specify the number of missed calls.

“I would only say that Virginia Tech, just as every team on that weekend, submitted plays for my review,” Rhoads said. “Out of those plays, there are a few the officials missed, a few that were the right call and a few that were judgment calls somewhere in the middle. ”

Johnson said he also submitted about a dozen plays to the ACC that he thought should have been called holding on the Hokies.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “Nobody from the conference called and told us that we did anything illegal.”

Two non-committal comments. One, Paul Johnson’s offense has always relied on “cut blocks,” which are legal, but when done improperly can result in being illegal “chop blocks.” The line is a thin one, and is not always easy to call. The relevant parts of the rules state:

e. Blocking below the waist is permitted except as follows (A.R. 9-1-2-IV-XI):

1. Offensive linemen at the snap positioned more than seven yards from the middle lineman of the offensive formation are prohibited from blocking below the waist toward the original position of the ball in or behind the neutral zone and within 10 yards beyond the neutral zone.

2. Backs at the snap positioned completely outside the normal tackle (second player from the snapper) position in either direction toward a sideline, or in motion at the snap, are prohibited from blocking below the waist toward the original position of the ball in or behind the neutral zone and within 10 yards beyond the neutral zone (A.R. 9-1-2-XXVI). . . .

So the basic gist is it is illegal if it is a block “back” towards where the ball was snapped from. It’s completely legal on the edge, however, or any inside-to-out block. The way Johnson using his wingbacks and tackles to block downfield can result in gray areas. Again, not necessarily bad or illegal or even unsportsmanlike, but not always easy when the defender is a moving target.

The second thought here is just that it appears to be the season for complaining about calls, particularly in the SEC but also elsewhere. I can say I’ve seen some really horrible calls this year — many documented on film — but I do hope this isn’t a larger trend. It’s not just coaches too. I’m tired of seeing receivers stand up and look for/beg for a flag after every incompletion, and quarterbacks turn into kickers acting for the personal foul penalties for hitting them. The NFL has proposed a rule that would make it a personal foul to grandstand for a flag to be thrown. That’s a rule I could support, though its enforcement too would be difficult.

- Jimmy Clausen, great quarterback? This is not really newsy — he is second in the country in pass efficiency and eighth in yards per pass attempt — but Jimmy Clausen is playing very, very well this year. Indeed, maybe his weakest performance of the year came last week against Boston College, and he still threw for 246 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. For anyone who watched him the last two years, however, this is very interesting: Clausen came in with a lot of recruiting hype, but how did he suddenly morph from befuddled underclassmen into a real playmaker? One answer of course is the exceptional Golden Tate, but there is no question that Clausen has both hit a lot of big plays and protected the football. As Art from Trojan Football Analysis remarked after USC’s win over Notre Dame,

[W]hat caught my attention in the recent Notre Dame game was how easily the Irish appeared to move the ball in the second half through the air. When this happens fans and the media usually jump on the staff for making poor adjustments…Or they vaguely complain about “zone schemes” or “prevent defenses”. Sometimes the criticism is right and sometimes it is just arm chair quarterbacking mixed in with the benefit of hindsight and second guessing.

. . . Only once on these 13 big pass plays did USC run anything resembling a true prevent defense with 3 DL rushing and 8 men dropping into coverage. Clausen escaped the 3 man pressure on that play, scrambled and found an open man. Conversely, USC did run some type of +1 or +2 blitz on 5 of the 13 plays — all five saw completions by Clausen. Notre Dame had two completions in the game of over 21 yards. One came on a trick fake FG play that caught USC off guard. The other come with cornerback #36 Pinkard in straight man coverage versus WR #23 for the Irish [Golden Tate]. Clausen made some very good throws and reads in the game. I doubt USC will face a QB of his caliber again this season unless something funny happens in the BCS rankings. Jimmy Clausen strikes me as very improved compared to the previous two seasons and clearly had more talent around him this season than the previous contests. My respect for his skill level is considerably up after this most recent game.

Art backs it up with analysis of the thirteen plays he mentioned, along with video of those completions, shown below. I particularly liked the very first pass. It looks simple but USC showed a straight “Cover Two” look with the corners in press coverage to take away short, quick routes. It turned out to be a zone-blitz though, with the cornerback blitzing. Clausen saw it, as did Tate, and they hooked up for a simple hitch pass that Tate turned into a first down. A big key to good quarterbacking is in making those kinds of plays look easy. I guess with Charlie Weis, there’s a long-tail in quarterback development, but you can’t say he hasn’t gotten Clausen to that point.

- Crabtree’s debut. I, like many others, was very interested in Michael Crabtree’s debut. And like just about everyone else I came away pretty impressed:
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My take on Penn State’s old school/new school D

Check it out on Yahoo! here. Thanks again to the Doc. Hope you all enjoy it.

The best sentences I read today

As I continue to watch Michigan’s quarterback run the read option against the [Minnesota] Gophers, I now find myself wondering if this play is authentically simple or quietly complex. The read option is a combination of three rudimentary elements of football: spreading the field, running a back off tackle, and the quarterback keeper. It would be an easy play to teach and a safe play to run, even for junior high kids. But it’s still new. It didn’t really exist in the 1970s and ’80s, and when I first saw it employed in the late ’90s, it seemed like an idiotic innovation. It seemed like a way to get your quarterback killed without taking advantage of your tailback. I had always believed teams could not succeed by running the ball out of the shotgun formation. I thought it would never happen. But I was wrong. And I suspect the reason I was wrong was not because I didn’t understand what was happening on this specific play; I suspect it was because I felt like I already understood football. I had played football and written about football and watched it exhaustively for twenty years, so I thought I knew certain inalienable truths about the game. And I was wrong. What I knew were the assumed truths, which are not the same thing. I had brainwashed myself. I was unwilling to admit that my traditional, conservative football values were imaginary and symbolic. They belonged to a game I wasn’t actually watching but was still trying to see. . . .

. . . Barry Sanders running to daylight. Earl Campbell running to darkness. Settling for a field goal late in the first half. Playing for field position when the weather is inclement. Blocking sleds. Salt tablets. Richard Nixon’s favorite sport. That’s what football is, always — and if we stopped believing that, it would seem to matter less.

But that isn’t what football is.

It isn’t. It changes more often than any sport we have. Football was Nixon’s favorite sport, but it was Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite, too. Football coaches will try anything. They’re gonzo. . . .

. . . I don’t know what I see when I watch football. It must be something insane, because I should not enjoy it as much as I do. I must be seeing something so personal and so universal that understanding this question would tell me everything I need to know about who I am, and maybe I don’t want that to happen. But perhaps it’s simply this: Football allows the intellectual part of my brain to evolve, but it allows the emotional part to remain unchanged. It has a liberal cerebellum and a reactionary heart. And this is all I want from everything, all the time, always.

The above is from an excerpt from Chuck Klosterman’s new book, Eating the Dinosaur, that appeared on ESPN.com You can find many more good sentences at the link.

Blogpoll Ballot

Rank Team
1 New Mexico
2 Alabama
3 Texas
4 Florida
5 Cincinnati
6 Iowa
7 TCU
8 Boise State
9 LSU
10 Miami (Florida)
11 Southern Cal
12 Georgia Tech
13 Penn State
14 Oregon
15 Virginia Tech
16 Houston
17 Oklahoma State
18 Utah
19 Pittsburgh
20 West Virginia
21 Texas Tech
22 Arizona
23 South Florida
24 Idaho
25 Kansas

Okay, so the obvious thing is I ranked New Mexico #1. This was a protest vote, as I initially tried to make my ballot with the #1 slot empty. It kicked it back to me so I had to remake the ballot all over again. I watched all three of the “top three” teams last weekend — Texas, Florida, and Alabama — and am not impressed by any of them. Well that’s not totally fair. All three defenses look solid overall, with Florida’s putting in the weakest performance by far (I think Arkansas runningback Dennis Johnson is somewhere still breaking tackles), and Mark Ingram is a difference maker for the Crimson Tide. Yet none has distinguished themselves — and the next batch of undefeateds have serious questions about their strength of competition — so I picked a hopeless team to be a placeholder, Mike Locksley’s inept New Mexico squad. Again, were the software to let me leave it blank, I would have.

From there, much of the debate recently was about USC’s low spot with the computers when the BCS poll came out. Well count me with them. They lost to Washington, which means they have no right to complain about anything, and they haven’t exactly looked dominant in their other wins. (And it doesn’t help that Ohio State looked awful against Purdue, Washington lost to Arizona State, and USC nearly let Notre Dame fight back.) They have time to recover — I’m looking forward to the USC-Oregon game — but for right now, they are where they are. If nothing else, both Miami and LSU have “better” losses than does USC.

From there, the biggest difference is I probably have Houston higher than many. For the moment I’m willing to forgive their fluke loss to UTEP, though I reserve the right to penalize them again later. They’ve looked quite good otherwise, and their offense will keep them competitive in any game they play.

Finally, I felt dirty leaving Kansas in the poll after they lost to Colorado, but felt I didn’t have much choice. I did let Idaho sneak in there — the Vandals are 6-1 and deserve it as much as any of the other teams in the 20-30 range.