Basketball is really a wonderful sport. It's frenetic, up-tempo, full of energy. You can appreciate it because you've played it, near your house, against people bigger, smaller, or quicker. Anyone can improve either their game or their teamwork, and the more focused a group of players gets, and the more they work to exploit advantages, the better the game becomes, too.
Football's a wonderful sport, too, and it's become more popular than basketball in a lot of ways. In fact, it's become more like basketball than it was before, and less like the rugby match it was originally born from. 'Pioneers' of the game, from Chip Kelly to Urban Meyer, are really just adding all those elements that made basketball so fun in the first place. Here, it's more about rhythm than holding the ball; more about being explosive in a game where nobody can really 'stop' anybody.
And of course, at the core of both sports, at the core of every sport, is winning a championship. It's on that stage where those pioneers of football have faltered the most, unless they also had enough of the things that have always won championships in football: defense, ball control, and fundamentals. Amongst the champions, it becomes clear that, while tempo might rule the day, this game is still rooted in something more violent, more conservative, and more stubborn. But, good luck telling Chip Kelly that.
Kelly's rise to the NFL has been a fast one. In 2006, he was finishing his last season at the University of New Hampshire, as the team's offensive coordinator. His resume was a jumble of different positions, from running backs, the offensive line, special teams, secondary, linebackers, and defensive coordinator for one season at John Hopkins. In 2007, he took the Oregon Ducks' job, and after two seasons of that, he was the head coach. Four years from then, multiple NFL franchises offered him the keys. The New Hampshire graduate has so far succeeded where Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Lou Holtz all failed. In short, it would be unwise to second-guess him.
And yet, as brilliant as his Ducks teams turned out to be, they always seemed to be impaled by the fundamentals, or else another good, old-school football team. Even at their greatest (playing for the title in 2010), there was a team with a more physical defense that held them to 11 points through almost four quarters. Against a physical LSU defense the next year, they suffered 4 turnovers, two by De'Anthony Thomas in the first game of his college career. LSU led 33-13 in the fourth, before Oregon got comfortable enough in a physical match-up to score a few more points. In 2012, Stanford held them to 14 points in regulation and overtime. The Ducks have simply never proved they could beat an old-school team, if that team also had elite talent.
"I know Chip Kelly used to talk about how he loved the, quote-unquote, Hawaiian Chill Factor that Marcus Mariota brought, and he loved the calm that he brought, in that chaotic environment with that up-tempo environment with all those weapons around him," said Jesse Palmer. "I do agree, I think Marcus Mariota is big this year, he takes that next step as a leader, to really help this high-octane offense achieve its ultimate goal." In a way, Kelly has chased the calm of an empty gym, the psychology of a shooter unbothered by the moment or the defense. How do I get my athletes open in space? It usually works right up until a 235-pound linebacker is driving an Oregon Duck to the turf with enough malice to force the ball clean. It doesn't happen often - but it's happened enough. Can that approach, that mentality, really survive the climb up the mountain?
Doubts or not, it's a mentality the Ducks have fully embraced.
Coaches have said for months that little would differ in the Ducks' offense from the version ran since Kelly arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007. Yet the decision-making that prompted Kelly to average 29.5 fourth-down attempts per year as head coach wasn't necessarily expected to transfer cleanly to the style of Frost as a first-year play caller still getting comfortable.
Just one week into the regular season, however, it appears that "fourth-down territory" - like "huddle" and "fullback" before it - is a term that still is simply not used in No. 2 Oregon's vocabulary... Everywhere is OK for Oregon to go for it. Those within the program stress that going for it transcends a coach and illustrates the program's larger theme of confidence from the top down.
"It's about the attitude the program has," said Carson York, whose offensive line career at UO ended in 2012. "It's relentless, sort of bordering on reckless, that we're different, we do things differently." ... The decision is rooted in the week's preparation and enabled by a tempo that pushes pace and creates a belief that UO can wear down any defense. Last week all but one of Oregon's 10 scoring drives took fewer than two minutes.
Even among tempo teams, few dedicate themselves as fully to pushing the boundaries like the Ducks. 4th and goal at the four-yard line, against Stanford, in a 0-0 game? Better go for it, as the Ducks did in their last meeting, a game they trailed 26-0 going into the fourth but roared back and ultimately lost by six. Would a conversion there have meant a win, then?
All of the fundamentals that you thought you knew about football don't apply. After the loss to Stanford in 2012, one writer argued how "the Oregon Ducks would have beaten the Stanford Cardinal and won the Pac-12 North and a share in the BCS title game if they had kept going for it on fourth down." Does that work? How far from the old model - defense, field position, stopping the run, protecting the ball - can and should the Ducks go? How irrelevant is a turnover? How irrelevant are three points? And how much basketball can it take?
The New Ball Coach
Chip Kelly may not be Steve Spurrier, but he's developed a reputation for some entertaining moments. Here are some off-field highlights for the NFL coach.
When asked one too many times about the status of Nick Foles: "He's the starting QB for the next 1,000 years."
On Stanford: "I was kind of surprised with a school like this that they didn't have a lawnmower."
"I've worn the same practice visor since I got here in 2007... I'm just trying to save the school money."
On who Nick Aliotti talks to during games: "I don't know. Could be God."
"Play-calling is driven by the players that you have... you can't be a riverboat gambler if you are coaching the Little Giants."
On quarterbacks: "They are like a tea bag. You don't know what you are going to get until you put them in hot water."
"I'll answer any question, but every question is a stupid question."
When a reporter mispronounced De'Anthony Thomas's first name: "De'Anthony's pretty good. D'Angelo's is a great restaurant back East. They sell great subs."
"I was told there would be no math."
"The only thing we want to do is score points, and we're an equal opportunity scorer."
"Let me show you how to throw a football. You gotta flick it like a booger."
On if he's losing sleep over Stanford's run defense: "I haven't lost sleep for a long time."
On how De'Anthony Thomas looked: "He looks like a freshman that's been here for three days. That's exactly what he looks like." "Are you excited about him?" "I'm excited about everybody in the program, just as I'm excited about this interview."
"I actually tried to get a haircut on New Year's Day and couldn't really figure out why stores weren't open."
On cutting Friday practice short to go for a walk: "We went on a walk this morning. They were great on the walk."
Hitting the Links Is On The Road
Hm, now I don't know how to feel about that.
A combined 26 national titles and 63 conference titles.
If Florida does well, it will be at the expense of some other conference opponents. Missouri (12-2, 7-1) could take a step back; same with Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4), Auburn (12-2, 7-1), and Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4). Georgia (8-5, 5-3), another team trampled by injuries, also loses their starting QB. It might be crazy, but there is a window for Will Muschamp.
Among elite teams, an added challenge becomes handling what could be crippling departures gracefully. FSU has lost a couple receivers to the draft, their starting running back, the defensive coordinator, a star safety in Lamarcus Joyner, the Rimington Trophy winner in Bryan Stork, and the starting nose tackle in Timmy Jernigan. The Seminoles are still deep and talented, not to mention well-coached, but these are the challenges that come with the territory.
I enjoyed parts of this but it's a bit long. The Huskies managed to go 9-4 last year behind a second-round draft selection at running back (Bishop Sankey, 1870/5.7) and a record-setting quarterback (Keith Price, also off to the NFL). Before that, they went 7-6 three straight seasons, and 5-7 before that. The Huskies are probably not a 9-win team, and Petersen will have a rebuilding job in Seattle.
Even against Stanford, a game in which he performed admirably, there were obvious bad mistakes. In this context, I think his mistakes are a good sign that he is growing into his playmaking, and each mistake is something he's learning from.
There are about 1,284 miles between Rutgers and Nebraska; this is going to diversify the Big Ten a little bit, as this brief article and graphs show. And that clash of personality can be good for narratives, competition, and recruiting. Since the fall of Tennessee (their last 10-win season was in 2007, and they've gone 5-7 three straight years), and, more recently, Virginia Tech (15-11 the last two years after an amazing 8 straight 10-win seasons), there has been a bit of a void along the East coast that's been filled by Clemson, South Carolina, Duke, and Penn State.
I would not expect them to land Byron Cowart, but making some noise along the East coast bodes well.
This goes deep into the rosters for each team, looks at recruiting ramifications of playing in Texas, and even opens up the playbook a little bit.
It's a long climb for the Big Ten to get back respect nationally. Building takes time. There are no shortcuts or miraculous winning streaks against every good opponent. But at some point, no matter how close or how good a Big Ten team might have been, it's contingent to seal the deal and beat these teams. Then, in bowl season, beat them again.
Holtz will be leaving ESPN after 2014, while Brent Musberger, Jesse Palmer, and Joe Tessitore are all heading to the SEC Network. Chris Fowler, the host of College GameDay, will now be the voice of the College Football Playoff in addition to his GameDay duties. Mack Brown will fit in somewhere in all of this.
Steve Hutchinson makes it for Michigan. Pittsburgh and USC dominate the list, though. Even the University of Pennsylvania (an Ivy League school) has a contribution, from back in 1945. Historically, Michigan has actually fared the worst against the Ivy Leagues, because of their initial dominance.
To answer his question, Richard Sherman did get three stars by Rivals, and the same for Kam Chancellor. Sherman, a WR, played a key role in beating Pete Carroll in a famous 2007 matchup between the Cardinal and the Trojans. Harbaugh and Carroll have since taken their rivalry to the NFL.
This is pretty fun from the Big Ten's basketball site. There is also a nice thai restaurant about a half-block from Zingerman's called Siam Cuisine, and that's my secret Ann Arbor nugget.
An extended zone read option. It's in every playbook.
Just a freshman last year, he led the nation in kick return average and also runs track. He also looked pretty good against Wake Forest.
The order here is very much based on longevity and a proven resume of accomplishments; still, it was a good read. Jim Caldwell comes in at #22.
I have to imagine something like this would give the defensive coordinator fits. Being tough in the red zone, able to finish tackles, run defense - so much wrong here if you're Oregon.