Reinventing the Wheel

August 31, 2008


Mr. Magic

Mr. Magic

For the second successive year, the Michigan Wolverines suffered an opening-week defeat at the hands of a team they should’ve beaten.  Last year, it was the mountain men from Appalachian State who ran through the Big House on their way to a I-AA three-peat; this year, however, it was a relatively unheralded Utah team who spoiled Rich Rodriguez’s maize-and-blue debut.


While many commentators will no doubt harp upon this loss as a singular indictment of Rich Rodriguez’s overrated status, I am viewing it in a much broader light: For me, the loss is a testament to now-all-too-common phenomenon that I like to call Reinventing the Wheel.

For an illustration of what happens when coaches try to overhaul already-effective systems, let’s consider one notable example:

The Nebraska Cornhuskers of the 1990s were scary.  Tom Osborne and company established a legacy of success that would extend from the untouchable Frazier-Phillips duo to the video-game ridiculousness of Eric Crouch.

Why were they so good? Well, it’s the same reason that I could never beat Dan “Cool As” Schmidt in Gamebreaker: the option.  When the Huskers were running the option offense, you knew that every game–without fail–was going to feature 300+ yards on the ground; even if you knew exactly what was coming, there was little you could do to stop it.

Enter Bill Callahan, and the overrated “West Coast Offense” (woohoo–it took the lousy Raiders to the Super Bowl, where they were outclassed by the defensive juggernaut of Tampa Bay), and suddenly Nebraska has become a thoroughly mediocre team.  Now, they’re just like every other team who recruits above-average “normal”-style players: They might win 7 or 8 games, but they could easily lose just as many.

I’d be willing to bet that if the Cornhuskers still recruited specifically for an option offense, they’d stand a much better chance of contending on the national stage.  Unfortunately, they tried to reinvent the wheel, and have since experienced a free-fall into irrelevance.  

In much the same way, Rich Rodriguez is riding on the illusion that his success at West Virginia came from his system, whereas I would argue that the Mountaineers’ string of solid seasons was a direct result of Pat White and Steve Slaton; in other words, there were players who met a system that fit them perfectly.

Michigan, arguably the Biggest 1 of the Big 10, is not West Virginia, and the Big 10 is not the Big East.  Wolverines, Buckeyes, and Nittany Lions don’t play flashy, spread-happy football.  Quite the opposite: They recruit 300-pound corn-fed monsters who carry running backs to yards, touchdowns, and Heisman trophies.  It’s smashmouth football, a haven of 10-7 nail-biters and running between the tackles.

I, for one, don’t see the Michigan faithful jumping on the Rich Rodriguez bandwagon anytime soon–and why should they?  The Wolverine style has been successful for years, while Rodriguez’s spread offense led a better-than-good team to relative (yet national title-less) success.

In some instances, such as with Urban Meyer, consistent results justify wholesale reinvention.  When a guy turns wins 10 games at Bowling Green and leads Utah to an undefeated season, he earns the right to place his footprint upon any program he takes over (Keep in mind, too that Meyer did not exactly reinvent the Gators’ offense; the Old Ball Coach established a precedent for high-octane theatrics).  However, when a one-trick pony gets a job at one of the 4 or 5 most storied programs in the history of college football, it’s not necessarily the best idea to have him completely alter the identity of the program.  

There’s a reason that the option doesn’t work in the NFL; and now, there may be a reason that the spread offense proves unsuccessful in Ann Arbor.  A leopard can’t change its stripes–and perhaps a wolverine can’t change its horns.

In a nutshell, I hope Michigan goes 2-9.



August 31, 2008


With Darren Bent’s equalizer just moments before half-time, Tottenham drew even with Chelsea and managed its first point of the young season at Stamford Bridge. Juliano Belletti’s twenty-eighth minute goal gave the home side an early lead but the Spurs striker tallied his first score of the year and kept any single Premier League side from going without a point through the first three rounds.

Elsewhere, Man City welcomed back Shaun Wright-Phillips and he returned the favor by scoring twice in the second half to send the visitors to victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Stephen Ireland scored just before half for City’s first score.

Liverpool’s unsteady start to 2008/2009 continued with a nil-nil draw at Villa Park. For more on the Reds, see Rusty’s comments from last night, which after today’s match are even more apt.

Chelsea 1 – Tottenham 1
Man City 3 – Sunderland 0
Aston Villa 0 – Liverpool 0

With Chelsea and Liverpool both drawing even today, they remain tied atop the table with seven points through three weeks. Man City, Arsenal, West Ham and Boro are tied with six points each and it goes down from there.

Bad Start for Clemson

August 31, 2008


Those of you who thought Clemson would be undefeated and would have national title chances can go ahead and put that away for this year. The Tigers were absolutely awful last night in Atlanta getting crushed by what was supposed to be only an ok Alabama team. The supposedly young defense of Bama totally shut down James Davis and CJ Spiller to the tune of twenty combined rushing yards. Meanwhile the Tide offense racked up almost five hundred yards while Clempson couldn’t even muster two hundred. The final was 34-10 and Clemson’s only touchdown was on the opening kickoff of the second half.

A few other games piqued my interest yesterday.

1. I couldn’t have been happier with East Carolina beating Virginia Tech in Charlotte on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. The old taste of your own was great and hopefully the Hokies will not rebound from this loss when they host Furman next weekend.

2. Virginia got destroyed at home against Southern Cal. I never expected a win or even for it to be all that close, but 52-7 is worse than I could’ve imagined. This might be a very long year for the Wahoos.

3. Mizzou was impressive in outscoring Illinois in St. Louis, though I didn’t really think Illinois is as good as people thought. Yes, they went to the Rose Bowl last year but a) they got crushed b) their best player is gone (Rashard Mendenhall) c) Ron Zook is their coach. That said, Chase Daniel has a rocket for an arm and really looked good last night. Maybe Mizzou will want to shore up their defense a little though.

4. Duke finally won another game, after beating Northwestern early last year, against JMU last night in Durham. 31-7 was the final, a very surprising result to me as JMU has a really solid 1-AA club. We’ll see if Duke can use it as momentum, but I still say they win no more than three games.

5. A few thoughts about an esteemed colleague: Pitt 17 – Bowling Green 27. Also, Florida Atlantic 10 – Texas 52. Yikes.

The Red Scare

August 30, 2008


Go Reds!!!

Go Reds!!!

With the EPL regular season and Champions League qualifying both recently underway, the venerable Reds of Liverpool have exquisitely lived up to their reputation as one of the most frustrating, confusing sports teams in the world.  

In their opening Premiership contest, Rafa Benitez’s side were rescued by Fernando Torres’ 83rd-minute effort, which alongside his still-talked-about Euro 2008 performance will serve to bolster his status as one of the top 2 or 3 players in the world at present.

Following this near disaster, Liverpool came inexcusably close to plummeting out of the Champions League at the hands of a team that sounds more like an oil company than a football club.  Fortunately, Dirk Kuyt, the oft-forgotten Dutchman who is often lost amidst plaudits for Torres, new-boy Robbie Keane, etc., produced a 118th-minute strike that will long live in Liverpool lore.

When I chose to follow the Merseysiders as my EPL team of the year, I knew what I was getting into — and, thus far, they have not disappointed.  There’s something to be said for uncertainty, especially the kind of uncertainty displayed by a talent-heavy team that sometimes looks like Real Madrid, and at others looks like Real Salt Lake.

Without question, the Red Ride will be a bumpy one this season.  I, for one, am excitedly looking forward to the ups and downs, the inevitable Benitez managerial saga, the talismanic passion of Steven Gerrard, the heroics of Fernando Torres, and the utterly wide spectrum of possibilities that lay before Liverpool.  They could easily pull a double (or treble), and they could by the same token finish 6th in the table and fail to bring home a single trophy.  One can never be sure.

Arsenal Down Toon, 3-0

August 30, 2008

van persieRobin van Persie scored twice, including a penalty, and Denilson added to the damage as Arsenal easily routed visiting Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium in Saturday’s late contest. The clean sheet against Toon greatly stunts the progress of the visitors who had a surprisingly nice start to the season.

Struggling Clubs Big Winners in Early Action

August 30, 2008

HeskeyPortsmouth 3 – Everton 0
Middlesbrough 2 – Stoke City 1
West Ham 4 – Blackburn 1
Bolton 0 – West Brom 0
Wigan 5 – Hull City 0

Pompey finally get points on the table after two Jermaine Defoe (hooray for my fantasy side!) goals sandwiching a Glen Johnson strike. The defeat of Everton away is a step in the right direction for Portsmouth after losing each of its first two matches.

At the Riverside, Afonso Alves scored his first goal of the season and an eighty-fifth minute goal by Tuncay Tuncay Sanli gave Boro a home win over Stoke City. A Justin Hoyte own-goal evened the score in the seventy-first minute for the visitors, who have yet to win a Premier League match.

Rovers had a second first half goal disallowed for offsides, a call that was erroneous, and Blackburn fell 4-1 at Upton Park. West Ham scored twice in the first twenty minutes before Jason Roberts brought one back for the visitors. Rovers could not complete several open opportunities in the second half and Craig Bellamy and Carlton Cole both scored in extra time to run the score to 4-1.

A nil-nil draw at the Reebok gave West Brom its first point of the season, a result that must have been disappointing for the home side who now carry four points through three matches.

Surprising Hull City came crashing back to earth in a 5-0 destruction at home to struggling Wigan. An own-goal started the scoring for the visitors which was quickly followed by Luis Antonio Valencia’s goal leaving a 2-0 score at half. Two Amr Zaki goals bookended an Emile Heskey score for the complete domination by Wigan.

Premiership Predictions – Week 3

August 29, 2008

EPLWell apparently I’m even worse at this than I first thought. But here still are my picks for the third round of the English Premier League:

Portsmouth @ Everton – Everton
Stoke City @ Middlesbrough – Boro
Blackburn @ West Ham – Blackburn
West Brom @ Bolton – Bolton
Wigan @ Hull City – Hull City
Newcastle @ Arsenal – Arsenal

Tottenham @ Chelsea – Chelsea
Man City @ Sunderland – Man City
Liverpool @ Aston Villa – Liverpool

Fulham @ Man United – Postponed