Friday, May 29

I Need to Start Writing About the Nats Again

Let's be honest; this place has been pretty dead lately. Writing about the inglorious trainwreck that is the Washington Nati(o)nals would at least pass the time. To some extent, I could just start writing about the Nats again on here and I don't think anyone would really notice. (Well, at least not until August. Or whenever James and I finally get around to unveiling the multiple ideas we have for blog - yes, we have IDEAS. We'll see if anything actually comes of them.) Still, I don't think that would really do them justice.

Here's what it comes down to - I'm a bit arrogant about my writing. I have the ability to be a pretty decent writer when I put my mind to it. Admittedly, that doesn't happen as much as I'd like it to, and lord knows that I've been prone to mail it in on some occasions. (Check the weekly ACC posts from last year for that, although I'm not going to lie - the profanity-riddled awesomeness of writing those posts was fun, even if the post's readability resembled that of a Fanhouse commentator) In a vacuum, this doesn't mean anything, but I feel the background's needed for a couple of reasons. The first reason is writing about the Nats gives me a relevant topic during the college football offseason. The second - and this is the big one - is that there are some terrible writers out there writing about the Nats.

I'd say that the two most prominent writers associated with the Nats' blogosphere (the wilted flower that it is) both have this problem. At this point, I'm convinced that one of them has a broken caps lock key; it's the only explanation for his random capitalization of words that either don't deserve capitalization or don't deserve emphasis. The other ...well, the other found these two magic formatting functions called bold and italic, but he has no idea how they work, so he just kind of uses them on their own. It's jarring, and quite frankly that site is unreadable (he also does the random ellipses thing, which I find more annoying than most - we're not all 15 anymore, guys. You're writing on the 'net, you don't have to make it sound like you're trailing off). Also, it looks like he's picked up random quotation marks, making him have something in common with Finger Quotin' Margo. Obviously those aren't the only two guys; there are more than a few out there, but since Needham folded up shop and is now freelancing for NBC Washington on the side and MissC went into her current role there's been a dearth of decent content. (NFA Brian is still out there doing his thing, which is quality but I'm not sure I'd classify it as following the Nats in the sense I mean.)

What this means to me is there's a void of quality writers covering the Nats. In theory it wouldn't be hard to ascend the ranks of Nats bloggers, although there's still the sticky issue of generating content and getting people here. (Obviously those are both issues I haven't figured out how to get around yet, although this site has directly and indirectly led to a couple of writing gigs for the staff here, so that's a plus.)

There's also a second, bigger issue: this team is terrible. God-awful. Announcers openly speculating about the #1 pick being on the big-league team in July terrible. 3 games up on the race for the #1 overall pick in 2010 already bad. 11.5 back of first place already (and 6 games back of 4th) and the only ML team under .350 bad. They're the worst-fielding team in MLB according to UZR and RZR. If you prefer traditional metrics, they have the worst ERA in the majors as well. The offense hasn't been bad, but half the power bats are in the lineup at the expense of the defense - Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Ronnie Belliard, and to a lesser extent Elijah Dukes and Willie Harris (CF versions only) have all been god-awful in the field. Functionally, there's not a lot you can do when you're handcuffed that badly on defense - and if the Nats didn't know that Dunn and Willingham were both butchers they did a worse job scouting than even I can imagine. I haven't even begun to bitch about the relievers, who make the defense seem palpable. No lead is safe puts it mildly.

So we'll see if I'm compelled to write about the Nats; my instinct says no. It's bad enough to see a terrible team blow game after game, but it's another matter entirely to have to write about it day after day (or week after week). I started writing this post a few days ago; since then, they haven't won a game. At this point, it's morbid curiosity to see if they can challenge the elusive 41-win mark. Maybe I'll follow it.

Thursday, May 28

Rebuild or Reload?

Porn in college football statistics form has picked up its pre-season pace, and two interesting statistics were released this week: percent of yardage returning on offense and percent of tackles returning on defense.

Of course, this neglects any changes to the offensive line, in a way double-counts passing yardage, and neglects turnovers recovered by the defense. But nobody's claiming this is a great predictor of success. (at the top of one list, UCF returns 100% of their offensive yardage - from an offense that ranked 7th-worst in scoring last season) What it may be useful for is identifying teams who should be able to build upon what they accomplished last season - returning 11 starters means that units should be no weaker than it was a season ago... versus those who might have to play a bit of catch-up to get back to the same level - say, losing your starting QB and top two RBs.

Medians were around 71% returning yardage, 66% returning tackles.

Of our likely BCS contenders:
Alabama: 42% yardage, 85% tackles
Florida: 76% yardage, 99% tackles
Mississippi: 89% yardage, 66% tackles
Ohio State: 50% yardage, 58% tackles
Oklahoma: 80% yardage, 80% tackles
Oklahoma State: 89% yardage, 68% tackles
Penn State: 69% yardage, 56% tackles
Texas: 80% yardage, 76% tackles
USC: 55% yardage, 46% tackles

... I'm actually not going to talk about the ACC/Big East, since it looks like 8-4 might be good enough to land a BCS bid there. Oh, and lest I forget:
Baylor: 88% yardage, 81% tackles. Cream, bitches. Shitty December bowl.

Florida is a whole 8% above the next-highest school in returning tackles, and 14% ahead of the next-highest school that actually had a competent defense last season (Alabama). UF had a defense ranked around 4th last season... all 11 starters and most of the backups are back again in 2009. This should be a fearsome unit.

Oklahoma State and Mississippi are in the similar situations of being sleeper teams, arguably the third-best in their conferences - conferences that both got at-large bids last season and are likely to produce two BCS teams again. Both return essentially all of their offensive production, while both just barely return an above-average amount of tackles.

More interesting are the four teams that have definite concerns.

Alabama, while their defense should be on a similar level as last season, is 99th nationally in returning offense. I'm not sure that losing John Wilson is much of a loss, aside from his ability to manage a game - which I expect any Nick Saban quarterback to be able to do. (Watching 10 hours of game film a day does that. Free time's for pussies.) Losing Glen Coffee and Andre Smith will be tougher to deal with. Overall, I expect this offense to be about the same as last year.

Penn State will be hurting the most of the four. While Darryll Clark and Evan Royster return, PSU loses their entire receiving corps, including Derrick Williams who also scored 3 TDs on special teams. The defense is in shambles with the entire secondary gone as well as two NFL draft picks at DE. Penn State has an extremely easy nonconference schedule, they face Ohio State at home, and if you believe this team will be good - they also face Iowa at home. I wouldn't rule out a BCS season for those reasons. But this team will not be the same quality it was in 2008, and we saw what that got them in the Rose Bowl.

Our last two teams are Ohio State and USC, near-perennial BCS representatives who have dominated their conferences - USC in particular. This game was surprisingly lopsided last season, as USC showcased not only higher skill, but a complete dominance of the game planning and adjusting. Buckeye fans are licking their chops at the opportunity to see Terelle Pryor take on a USC defense that will be losing 9 starters. But what of their own team?

Ohio State loses experienced QB Todd Boeckman, although he is replaced by a more gifted athlete in Terrelle Pryor. While this will be mostly positive, I'm not sure that the Buckeyes won't miss his experience at some point, as it still remains true that every BCS champion has featured a Jr or Sr starting QB. More concerning are the losses of Beanie Wells, Maurice Wells, Hartline, Robiskie, and Rory Nicol. That's just the lost production. Boone, Rehring, and Person will be gone from the line. This offense should have one heck of a learning curve, but against many opponents Pryor's legs may be able to bail them out. Then there's the defense. The LB corps is depleted with the losses of Laurinaitis and Freeman. Thorpe winner Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Washington are gone from the secondary. Nader Abdallah leaves a big hole to fill up front. Let me be clear that, were it not for Terrelle Pryor, I'd expect this team to drop. With Pryor, who knows - OSU is helped by the fact that their closest Big Ten rival is in a similar predicament and they face USC after just one game with a completely new Trojan defense. But I'm highly skeptical of a perfect season.

Three seasons ago, USC lost Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White but still won 11 games and would have faced _Buckeye_ for a national championship were it not for a bizarre loss to rival UCLA. That is the kind of quality recruiting that goes on at this program. For example, Aaron Corp should be an upgrade from Mark Sanchez at QB - mobile enough to evade and improvise even if his skills/their system won't have him producing much as far as rushing totals. Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton were never dominant receivers the way Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett were, and USC has plenty of depth that can step in and maintain that level. The entire RB corps (Joe McKnight baby!) and offensive line return. Suddenly, that 55% returning yardage sounds more like 95%. Defense is another story. In 2008, USC fielded a defense that was easily the program's best of the BCS era. Pete Carroll has got one hell of a pipeline going, but there is no reason to believe a second Rey Maualuga is waiting in the wings - not this season anyway. Six of the front seven that made this defense go have graduated or left, along with both starting corners. The lone bright side is the return of Taylor Mays, probably one of the top two safeties in the country. I don't know what the statistics will bear out, since the Washingtons may still not be good enough to qualify for the FCS tournament, but the defense is hurting for experience if not talent, and I do not expect it to be a top 10 unit. Their truest tests will come against teams fielding mobile QBs, where lane discipline and containment become more important.

Wednesday, May 20

Random CFB Musings (01) - Because September is Just Around the Corner

With Steele's College Football Preview set to hit stores June 9th (you may now Jizz. In. Your Pants.), it's officially time to start the four-month tailgate that is preseason blogging. It's the second-longest pre-kickoff tailgate nationally, bested only by the one that started in Baton Rouge last January.

First, a harrowing personal story: This past April, I moved from the beautiful suburbs of Denver into the heart of Washington, DC. Nothing against life in our nation's capital; contrarily, it's quite pleasant once you learn to block out the sirens that blare 24/7. (As a side note, last night I watched the local news for the first time since moving here. Top stories: murder, murder, gang warfare, sexual assault, child assault, murder, Disney to open new park in National Harbor, murder.) There's that, the sky-high cost of living, and the oppressive summer humidity, but the rest is gravy. Bonus for functional public transportation.

No, the problem is that I've moved into ACC country. The three places I'd lived before this were Plano, TX - the SWC/Big 12 including the last decade of the Nebraska glory years, then Oxford, OH - Ben Roethlisberger's years at Miami U and Ohio State's national championship team, then Boulder/Denver, CO - more Big 12, this time with a dash of Pac 10. The hidden gem was all the Mountain West coverage. Back to the present situation - the ACC is 2-9 in BCS Bowls, with their only win in the last nine trips being last season's *thrilling* Va Tech/Cincy Orange Bowl. That's right, they're 2-9 despite being matched up against the depleted Big East. I figure to get my share of Ohio State, USC, and the SEC... but the odds of seeing much Big 12 action or for that matter whatever Pac 10 team rises up just enough to pretend to challenge the Trojans' 35 consecutive conference titles (Quack On, Oregon) are surely slim. Instead, I'll be watching the Awkward Terrapins square off against the Cavalcade of Fail. Surely this warrants an fml. Keep this in mind if fall's postings take on a bitter tone.


The GMAC Mobile Bowl has decided to match the MAC champions against the #9 seed from the ACC. If that doesn't strike you as odd, what it means is that 75% of the teams in the conference would have to win 50% of their games. Last season, 10 ACC teams were bowl eligible because nobody managed to go better than 5-3 in conference, so as a result only one team was worse than 3-5. This means that teams like NC State can go 2-2 out of conference, or that Maryland can drop that game to Middle Tennessee State, and still be bowl eligible. Indeed, if Virginia hadn't been the only team in the conference to lose to Dook, there would have been 11 teams floundering around on national television after November (13 if we double-count the two in the conference championship game). By actually giving an automatic invite to the #9 seed, the Mobile Bowl is saying they expect the status quo - where all teams are equally bad - to remain firmly intact. fml.

Obama tore into Notre Dame football in a speech in Indianapolis. Previously, Obama has said that if he could change one thing in all of sports, it would be to give college football a playoff. He's done a March Madness bracket and created a fantasy football team with some high-profile writer. The guy's a real sports fan. (Not to be confused with a true fackin sparts fan.)

College basketball mega-phenom Greg Paulus is enrolling at Syracuse for grad school and plans to play quarterback. My only comment here is that he'll probably be more successful at a position where he doesn't have to play defense. Also it's tough to see Syracuse getting much worse, particularly those 121.5 passing yards per game which ranked 7th-worst nationally, so hey. The bottom six were the three service academies (option offense), Georgia Tech (option offense), UCF (.333 midmajor), and Wyoming (barely beat Tennessee).

Preseason polls are out. Lots of em. The consensus is Florida followed by Texas. (hey, it's what should have been the BCS Championship game!) Three Big 12 teams in the top 6, four SEC teams in the top 10. A 9-spot gap between USC and their closest conference contender, Ohio State and Penn State dwarfing the nine... dwarfs... in the Big Eleven. So the prognosis is a repeat of 2008?