Sorry Tim, it’s just not happening

December 12, 2009

Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. This week he became the first person to be a finalist for the award three years in a row.

But he’s going to leave New York City disappointed. The award isn’t headed this way.

The reasons are simple and uncomplicated.

A: Mark Ingram’s dominating performance against Tebow in the most important game of the season. Tebow look tentative and confused against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, while Ingram was stellar. With Colt McCoy’s lackluster performance against Nebraska, Ingram suddenly emerged as the leading contender. Tebow lost in 2008 even though he had an amazing game against Alabama that propelled the Gators into the national title game.

B: Tebow’s battle isn’t just against the other players, it is against history. He was going to need to have an outstanding year in order for voters to actually give him a second Heisman trophy and match Archie Griffin.

C: The geographical bias that exists among Heisman voters. As I explained last year when Tebow didn’t win – the entire Heisman proces is rigged. Each region gets 145 media votes but some regions such as the South are diluted because they are actually split into different regions. North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are lumped into the mid-Atlantic region. Added to the media votes are the votes from former Heisman Trophy winners. (Wonder who Tebow is going to vote for?) Additionally, there is no rhyme or reason as to how the media representatives are chosen. There is no balance it appears in regards to population or even the number of Division 1 schools.

I’m sure that Tebow will be gracious in his defeat on Saturday night. But I’m sure that he also knows that the stars are aligned against him.

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5 reasons the Gators will lose

December 5, 2009

UPDATE – Suffice to say, the game wasn’t dull. But all the reasons that I cited why Bama would win proved to come true. And I couldn’t have been more wrong about Greg McElroy, the Bama quarterback. He looked poised and smooth and was incredibly effective.

It’s already been billed as the defacto national championship game, but today’s SEC Championship Game probably will be exceedingly dull.

Why? Because I find it highly unlikely that either team will find a way to generate a whole lot of offense. This means the game will be decided by the defense and a whole lot of other intangibles along the way. But there are some reasons that I think that Bama will knock off the Gators this season.

1. Alabama knows how to win tight close games. While some may see the close scores in recent Bama games as a sign of weakness, I think just the opposite. Moving down the field in the closing moments of the Auburn game means that the Bama squad is disciplined and confident that it can win a game despite what has happened in the previous 57 minutes.

2. Tennessee and South Carolina have already given the Crimson Tide a road map on how to shut down the Gators offense. The lack of a playmaker like Percy Harvin has been a big factor this season in why the Gators have struggled at times. Tim Tebow under pressure is not a pretty sight and no one should view his effort against Florida State as a sign of things to come. FSU’s defense this year has been awful. Bama is second in the nation against the run. If the Gators can’t run the ball it’s hard to imagine they can win this game.

3. Don’t underestimate the impact that the suspension of defensive end Carlos Dunlap could have on the Gators ability to contain the Bama running attack. Mark Ingram was in the Heisman Trophy hunt for a reason.

4. Bama’s kicking game has been better than Florida this season. One of the excuses is that three of Caleb Sturgis’ misses came on long tries, but the last time when the Gators were in a close game against South Carolina he failed on three field goals.

5. Nick Saban has probably has had his whole gameplan this season centered around this game. He will want Bama to run the ball and keep the ball away from the Gators. And he will look for ways to frustrate Tebow so that he makes some mistakes like he did earlier this season. It would not surprise me if Saban purposely held some things in check the final games of the season just to bring out some looks that the Gators haven’t seen yet.

Ok, to be fair there are some reasons that the Gators could win:

1. Tebow, Tebow, Tebow. If Tebow runs with the authority he has shown in the past – and can pick up first downs – then Bama will be in trouble. Once Tebow runs, he then opens up the passing attack to Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez.

2. Speed, speed, speed. While Bama has been very good at shutting down the run inside, if the Gators can get the two blazing fast running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey to the outside then it could cause problems for the Tide.

3. Brandon James. So far most teams have settled for giving the Gators the ball at the 35 yard line instead of punting it deep to James. But who knows? Bama could tempt fate by giving the ball to James.

4. Greg McElroy is probably not the type of quarterback who can do a lot against the Gators. He hasn’t made a lot of mistakes so far this season, but if Bama has to rely on McElroy in order to win then the Gators could have the edge.


Stepping down is the right decision, but Fisher still needs to prove himself

December 1, 2009

In many ways the entire Bobby Bowden saga has played out like a classic tragedy.

 There’s the image of the conqueror laid low by age and betrayals trying in vain to hold on to his pride and to accomplish one last victory before he exits the stage forever. The conqueror has been betrayed by those younger than he, by those unable to appreciate the conquests and the glory that he has brought to everyone. Yet at the same time he mistakes loyalty for wisdom and his mind is clouded with hubris and he stumbles in the end.

There are those, of course, who say that Bowden deserves better, like say Dick Vitale, who insist that the 80-year-old Bowden deserves one last victory lap.

Here’s the truth: FSU’s success has been entirely due to Bowden. Nothing that happens now can take away the 2 national titles, the extraordinary run of Top 5 finishes, or the amazing string of bowl appearances.

But here’s the rest of the story: Bowden has been given fame and fortune in exchange for his extraordinary work. And his decisions in the last few years have damaged greatly the winning tradition that Bowden himself established. Bowden acted as if nothing he did, whether it was give his son a crucial important job, or hiring other coaches out of loyalty, could diminish his life’s work.

There’s part of me that continues to wonder if Bowden’s rage, rage against the dying light is due to his fear that he will go out the same way his idol Bear Bryant did. Bryant died just weeks after coaching his last game at Alabama.

Stepping down, however, is the right decision, no matter how clumsy the university may have handled it. If Bowden truly loves FSU as he said he does then he must realize that another year of this mess won’t help anyone. There’s no more of a guarantee that a national title is in the offing than there was this year. And what’s the point anyway? If FSU were a contender, then everyone would say it’s because Jimbo Fisher was given more say, given more leeway over the team. It’s a no-win situation for Bowden.

Bowden has already proven he’s a winner time and time again. In a few years no one will remember this last year. Instead what they will remember are the titles, the Heisman Trophy winners and the bowl wins.

And of course that’s what Coach Fisher needs to realize. He has been handed the keys to the kingdom over the objections of Bowden. Fisher will have no more excuses. Despite never having been a head coach, Fisher has been given the job of a lifetime. And while everyone has raved about his offensive success, let’s not forget that Bowen was once considered a genius on that side of the ball as well.

In my mind Fisher was given something before he truly proved it belonged to him. And while much of the problems this year were not of his doing, he made enough mistakes along the way – such as poor clock management against Miami – to raise doubts about his abilities.

Bowden’s departure will finally give FSU fans a chance to see whether or not Fisher is up to task, or whether his hiring is another decision that they will soon regret.


FSU vs. UF: 2 programs headed in different directions

November 24, 2009

It is totally understandable that FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is emphasizing the handful of good plays that Florida State managed to achieve in last Saturday’s last second win over 2-9 Maryland.

Because I think everyone instinctively knows what is coming next. And that’s a total drubbing at the hands of chief rival Florida.

If you want to see two programs moving in completely different directions it will be this Saturday in the Swamp. And there’s no amount of sugarcoating that will change that fact.

If Christian Ponder was still the quarterback then FSU could have had a chance to shock the world. I happen to think that the Gators have actually not faced a competent passing team the entire season. They have geared both their offense – and defense – to the largely boring style of the SEC. Yes, every now and then there is a moment of excitement, but for the most part SEC teams use the spread, use the option, use the dive to move the ball on the ground.

A team that can quickly and methodically move the ball down the field in the air would be the perfect antidote for the Gators.

That’s not going to happen on Saturday. For all of his talent E.J. Manuel struggled last weekend against Maryland. It won’t get any easier against one of the nation’s top defenses. And FSU won’t have any answers for Heisman hopeful Tim Tebow and the rest of the crew. This game will probably get ugly and out of hand quickly.

Now I  know that some will say that FSU has a bright future looking ahead to next year. Lots of talent will be returning and Fisher’s offense was actually among the most productive in the ACC. There’s also the argument that everyone should give head coach Bobby Bowden the graceful exit that he deserves.

Well think about that after Saturday. Florida – winner of two national championships in the last three years – will rip apart FSU. Tebow will be gone next year, but the Gators will be loaded again with talent and again be a national contender.

Meanwhile, FSU still has given no clues about who the next defensive coordinator is going to be, whether Fisher indeed will have the final say over the preferred candidate, and so on and so on. There is likely to be continued drama and chaos in the FSU program in the coming year unless there is a decision to make a clean start.

FSU fans may have to accept the fact that their team right now is the fourth best in the state. And that could trigger an ongoing decline as the Seminoles find themselves losing superior talent to both Florida and Miami and even USF in the years to come. What FSU fans may have to accept is that a 6-5 season is about to become the status quo.


Pro Bowl choices are few this year

November 14, 2009

(UPDATE – The news that Ronnie Brown is out for the rest of the season alters this list tremendously.)

The NFL has opened up its 2010 Pro Bowl voting, but unfortunately it looks like there probably won’t be a lot of players attending the contest in Miami who hail from Florida teams.

When two of your three NFL teams stumble through the season it’s hard to expect that they will beat out the talents of other 29 teams in the league.

But here’s some players who I believe deserve serious Pro Bowl consideration.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Ok, so I was sort of wrong about Mojo. He has had a great season stats wise as the feature running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He leads the league with 11 rushing TDs and is third in the AFC in rushing yards. This may not be surprising since Mojo is basically the only good thing going on with the Jags offense. But while I was wrong about whether or not Mojo could handle a full-time load – I also predicted that he couldn’t turn around the fortunes of the Jaguars. And that has turned out to be dead on.

Ronnie Brown: If the Miami Dolphins make the playoffs again this season it will of course be due primarily to Brown. He is the heart and soul of the Dolphins offense whether he’s running the Wildcat or taking the handoff from Chad Henne. He is 7th in the AFC in rushing, but that’s because he is dividing his rushes with Ricky Williams (who is also having a pretty decent season).

Jason Taylor: After a one-year exile with the Redskins, Taylor has been a welcome addition to the Dolphins defense. The 35-year-old veteran has already has 5 and a half sacks for the season and has forced two fumbles.

Aqib Talib: Talib has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has five interceptions on the year, which ties him for third in the entire NFL.

Beyond these four players, there are a handful of others who I think you could make an argument for, including Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Sims-Walker, a 2nd year pro, has helped out the Jags much more than their acquisition of Torry Holt. Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud has had a solid season as well and ranks 8th in the league with 68 tackles. Ruud also has an interception. Ted Ginn Jr. deserves some consideration because of his kick-returning skills, but we’ll have to see whether or not his 2 tds against the N.Y. Jets was a one-week wonder. Right now he’s not even on the Pro Bowl ballot as a returner.


So what now for FSU?

November 10, 2009

The devastating news that Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will miss the rest of the season seems unfortunately like a fitting end to this dismal season for the Seminoles.

Without their top offensive player, it seems all but certain that FSU will be unable to muster the 2 wins it needs in order to become bowl eligible. It’ s hard to imagine that this team can put together an effective enough offensive attack to win on the road at either Wake Forest or Florida.

So now Ponder is gone for the rest of the year. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is leaving after this season. And…..what’s next?

While FSU officials have said they will evaluate the direction of the program after the season, head coach Bobby Bowden has sent signals that he wants one more year at the helm. Bowden has also suggested that he should have a say in who should replace Andrews.

This is just a recipe for another disaster in the coming year.

At some point there has to be some accountability. At some point Bowden – who preaches the need for teamwork – has to realize it’s not about him anymore. It’s about the team, it’s about the program, it’s about the university. He has been duly rewarded with money, with fame, with honors during his masterful coaching career.

But at the end of the day what signal does it send to young players that some people don’t have to worry about their performance? Doesn’t that go against everything that football supposedly teaches? Why I should have to try hard if the coach doesn’t.

There’s no doubt that Bowden is owed tremendous amounts of gratitude by the FSU faithful. But if FSU ends the season without a bowl, without a winning season, then it is time to say thank you and move on. FSU can’t afford yet another season like this one if it wants to remain one of the top college football programs in America.


Tim Tebow vs. Christian Ponder: Who should be a Heisman contender?

November 2, 2009

While Tim Tebow had a masterful dominating performance on Saturday, let me ask you a question.

What should matter more when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and other honors – the number of wins you rack up, regardless of your performance, or how well you play week in and week out?

That’s because I think an argument can be made that Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder is having a much better season than Tebow has so far.

But right now Ponder isn’t anywhere on the national radar screen when it comes to various postseason honors. Tebow’s 4 touchdown performance against Georgia helped brush aside the last few weeks of mediocrity and keep him in the hunt for the Heisman trophy. ESPN, for example, has Tebow ranked 3rd on its Heisman watch list. Tebow, along with University of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, is also a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Yet I think there’s a good argument to be made that the Gators have remained undefeated this season in spite of Tebow, not because of Tebow. The Gators defense has repeatedly clamped down on teams and has kept them in ballgames where the offense has struggled.

Meanwhile, Ponder has racked up 2,453 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and only 3 picks. He’s also rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Ponder is currently ranked 5th in the nation in total passing yards, which is higher than any other Heisman contender except Houston’s Case Keenum. He does closely trail Tebow in overall quarterback rating, but that is a bit of a mystery since Tebow actually has more interceptions than Ponder does. (Tebow has four vs. Ponder’s three.) Ponder also has a much higher completion percentage.

(And to make this QB rating even more mysterious – UM’s Harris score is a .03 points higher yet he has less yards and 8 more picks than Ponder.)

Let’s face it. The fact that FSU is 4-4 is not Ponder’s fault. Now I would agree that the offense had trouble getting revved up in a couple of games this season. But it’s hard for a quarterback to win every week when he’s under pressure to score 40 points because the Seminoles defense is so suspect.

Do I think that Ponder deserves the Heisman Trophy? Probably not. But I think there’s an argument to be made he’s having as stellar a season as his downstate counterpart. Now Ponder’s overall career doesn’t come close to Tebow’s as evidenced by Tebow setting the SEC rushing record against the Bulldogs.

But in this season I think Ponder is getting shorted, while Tebow may be getting more credit than he deserves.