It is 4:30 in the morning and I cannot sleep in London…I think it is mostly jet lag, but if we are being completely honest the Miami Hurricanes have more to do with it than they should.
It’s been a long road friends.
Al Golden. Randy Shannon.
Kirby Freeman. Jacory Harris.
Nevis Shapiro. Mark Emmert.
I spent a lot of it writing in this space. I wrote about moral victories. I wrote about the promise of next year. I bought in to every shitty slogan, every false positive.
The ‘Canes would start 3-0, including a win over a bad Nebraska team (or something) and the announcers would inevitably ask “is The U back?”
And every single time I convinced myself the answer was “yes,” blinded by the sort of optimism that can only be born into someone as a 13 year old ‘Canes fan in 2001.
I watched a pretty terrible set of Miami teams in the late 90s, and then one day, we were the best team the world had ever seen. It happened almost overnight.
And if it happened then, why couldn’t it happen now?
It turns out, there are a lot of reasons.
Bad coaching. Lazy administrators. NCAA malice.
And after however many Novembers in a row of watching crappy games between Georgia Tech and Duke and PRAYING that the outcomes bounced the exact right way for whatever ridiculous scenario Miami needed to get into a winnable tie break for the right to go and get slaughtered by FSU or Clemson in the ACC Championship game, and hearing that same damn “is Miami back” conversation, I just ran out of gas.
Once you’ve written every angle there is for every possible version of the same mediocrity over ten years, what else is there to say?
I was optimistic about Richt, but I had been optimistic about Shannon and Golden too. Might as well wait and see.
Well I waited, and I saw, and I am here this morning because for the first time since before I went off to college, the ‘Canes are back. Truly, legitimately “Back.” So why shouldn’t I be?
What they did the last two weekends to the 2 toughest opponents on the schedule was reminiscent of the good old days, when Syracuse and Washington came down to Miami for back to back revenge games in primetime and took hellacious beatings for their efforts.
And it feels fucking GREAT.
I watched ESPN’s Gameday in Coral Gables (!) on Saturday morning and teared up half a dozen times…not because of the images (although they were great) but because of the meaning behind this spectacle.
After 10 years of shit, we mattered again, and everyone had to recognize it.
And yet, the disrespect.
Undefeated and atop the best conference in college football, yet ranked 7th. Close wins written off as ‘lucky’ rather than ‘earned’, as they are for the Old Money.
Picked to lose by every single pundit (except my boy Des).
There is one inescapable fact about this team, though; they don’t rattle easy. The longer the odds, the better they play. There is no occasion they cannot rise to.
A real, actual hurricane shut down campus and their season for 2 weeks. They spent one of those weeks huddled in Orlando. They won 4 straight games against ACC teams by a total of 18 points, including a walk off win on the road against FSU just when they thought they had beaten us for an eighth straight year.
Those struggles paved the way for a team which is now, it can truly be said, perhaps the best in the country, with a resume second to none and truly EXCITING PLAYERS, that have been in close games and learned how to win, with new heroes emerging every week.
Braxton Berrios. JaQuan Johnson. Chad Thomas. Malik Rosier. RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton. Chris Herndon. Trent Harris. Mark Walton. McDermott and Darling. Those guys were all here for the bad years with Golden. They know what that looked like, and it has molded them. In many ways, there are the fans facsimile on the field…they made it through, and now they are basking in the glory of playing up to their abilities.
Ahmmon Richards. Joe Jackson. Trajan Bandy. Jon Garvin. Shaq Quarterman. Mike Pinckney. Jeff Thomas. Deejay Dallas. Travis Homer. Malek Young. Zach McCloud.Those guys came in expecting to win, without the baggage of the Golden Era, and they are already setting the tone for the next era of dominance upon which we are embarking.
Darrell Langham. Michael Jackson. Hayden Mahoney. Malik Rosier. These guys were all transfer candidates, written off as dead weight. Each has come through with legendary moments this season, to the point that we can’t imagine this team without them.
This is quickly becoming my favorite ‘Canes team of all time. They are good, and they know it, and they aren’t afraid to clap back at their critics in this age of social media.
They are sick of old, dumb stereotypes being applied…but if you insist, they will play into them on the field, where it matters.
And the fans are more than happy to reward excellence, making a stadium an hour from campus feel almost as electric as the Orange Bowl at its peak.
Most of the students there don’t get it. But there are a ton of people from that Saturday night crowd that remember the Orange Bowl. They were there for every minute of the 58-0 loss to Clemson two years ago.
And I guarantee you they feel exactly the same way I do…cathartic. There have almost certainly been a lot of grown man ugly tears shed the past few days. And who can blame them?
One final thing: I was afraid writing this would be a jinx, but my friend said it best: “I think we’re beyond that at this point.”
Friday, December 23, 2016
This is the final entry in my series on relegation in college football, bringing us up to current.
In the first season of the Mark Richt Era, the Hurricanes were a Top 25 team based on F/+ but the success on the field was open to interpretation. One the one hand, the ‘Canes outscored their opponent by double digits in all 8 wins and were within a score of winning in 3 of the 4 losses. Read that way, this team was unlucky and could easily have been 11-1 heading into the conference championship game.
On the other hand, before the season started everyone on the planet circled the 4 games stretch of FSU-UNC- Virginia Tech- Notre Dame as the most important of the season, and Miami lost all 4 games.
My personal read is that Richt struggled with something we see a lot of English Premiere League coaches…even the great ones, like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola currently…struggle with in their first year at a club: how do you find the proper on-field alignment to accommodate the prior coach’s players while at the same time implementing your future system?
That’s all well and good, and an optimistic read on the situation, but I don’t think Miami would have been any better off in the Big 10 this season. Ohio State, Michigan, Ped State and Wisconsin were all kickass teams this season, and Iowa, Pitt, Arkansas and Nebraska were tough in their own right. On top of that, mediocre teams like Michigan State and Northwestern are always well coached, and when you are in a transition period…as Miami was…coaching matters. To wit: there were only 4 coaches on the ‘Canes schedule this year I would put at or near the level of Mark Richt, and Miami lost to all 4 of them.
Elsewhere in FBS, this was the first time we saw a true tire fire at the bottom of the SEC, while the ACC saw Ohio and Cincinnati battle to the death. Arizona was relegated for the first time, while Bowling Green and Marshall saw their way out.
On the other hand, Colorado had a massive resurgence and finished the regular season ranked in the Top 10, which would have been enough to easily win them promotion out of the Mountain West. Western Michigan dominated the MAC and finished undefeated, with wins over Big 10 schools Northwesten and Illinois confirming their ability to play with the big boys. Memphis won a surprisingly tough competition against Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest to win our version of Conference USA, and Appalachian State won promotion roughly 5 years after joining FBS. Washington State came out of the at-large playoff, knocking off Troy and then Minnesota.
In the expansion draft, the SEC grabs Memphis, the Big 10 gets a big win by replacing Bowling Green with Colorado, the ACC gets Appalachian State, the Pac 12 reclaims Washington State and the Big 12 gets a surprisingly still-PJ Fleck-coached Western Michigan.
And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this experiment.
Going back to our original questions, how different does college football look? A LOT is pretty much the same. The core of these conferences didn’t really change; no surprise. Sure, you get your big names here and there that drop off, but whether through a flaw in this experiment or personal bias or the reality of the conference setup, most of them end up back home. The biggest points of controversy would have been the fluky promotions, which again, are completely on-brand for college football, the silliest sport ever created.
Did this system help the little guys that earned it? In the EPL, about 40% of teams that are promoted stay up for more than one season. In this experiment, it was actually more like 55%....these numbers don't square up, but then again, the gap between the teams at the bottom of the BCS conferences and the teams at the top of the lesser tier is probably not as big as the gap between Premiere League and Championship squads.
The little guys ended up being big winners here, and not just the usual suspects like TCU, Boise, Utah and BYU, but also teams like Navy, Troy, Central Michigan and Hawaii that had extended runs among the big timers. That is a lot of money coming into their Athletic Department coffers, which ostensibly would add on benefits to their Olympic sports programs in addition to the football teams.
Were the big boys held accountable for losing? One thing the EPL does have in common with my experiment is the following: it is REALLY hard to drop down a level and immediacy come back up. In the EPL, 80% of the time a relegated team stays down for multiple seasons, similar to our numbers.
Miami, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, UCLA, Stanford, Texas A&M, Washington...those are BIG names, and they all spent at least one season at the lower level. For the fan bases of those schools, I would argue that relegation would have been a great thing (in theory). Almost every one of these schools held on to a coach for one or two seasons too long. Whether it is Al Golden, Houston Nutt, Derek Dooley, Rick Neuheisel or Mike Sherman, this system seems likely to have weeded those coaches out in a hurry.
Finally, how did Miami end up?
I would argue playing in the Big 10 is probably more interesting than playing in the ACC in terms of conference play. Assuming the FSU rivalry would continue uninterrupted, which in this day and age is not a strong assumption, I see no downside other than travel for fans. Bloomington, Indiana in November is no one's idea of fun.
It would have sucked to have to watch Miami play in the Sun Belt for a year. BUT Miami fans spent the last decade ranting and raving about mediocrity, an unsupportive administration, mis-allocation of talent and resources...and were mostly ignored.
Trying to fill Landshark Stadium against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State? That might have gotten Donna Shalala's attention.
Losing recruits because no one wants to play for a Sun Belt team? That might have convinced Randy Shannon or Al Golden to change tactics.
Or maybe, it would have convinced the administration to pony up for Gary Patterson in 2007, or Brett Bielema in 2011. And think where we might be now if THAT had happened.
No Al Golden. We all win.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
This is the tenth and penultimate entry in my series on relegation in college football.
The year Al Golden met his maker. Deliverance.
Big 10- Syracuse
Big 12 - Kansas
PAC 12- Oregon State
SEC - Louisiana Tech
Some interesting names here, including UCF, winless and statistically one of the worst teams in the history of college football. Syracuse and Kansas, 2 great basketball powers, find themselves back in the Suck, and Louisiana Tech finds its stay in the SEC to be a short one.
Conference USA - Western Kentucky
MAC - Bowling Green
Mountain West - San Diego State
Sun Belt - USF
At-large - Cal (also in the mix: Memphis, Minnesota, Appalachian State)
Big time to be a football fan in Northern Kentucky / Southern Ohio. Big ups! Also a warm welcome back to USF and the Tampa market, or as we like to call it in my household, America's UTI.
The SEC gets Tampa into its footprint, while the dregs are divvied up as follows: Western Kentucky to the ACC, Cal to the PAC 12, Bowling Green to the Big 10 and San Diego State to the Big 12. Hard luck for both SDSU and the Big 12...in any other year SDSU would have gotten its dream birth in the PAC 12, while the Big 12 is spread even further out, adding a small media market when the preference would have been USF.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
This is the ninth entry in my series on relegation in college football (you should read the preceding posts first).
The first year of the College Football Playoff...think it is safe to say Miami, who finished 6-7 in the ACC, would not have qualified.
SMU continues our realignment by bailing on the ACC for Big 12, a natural fit for the conference, along with Houston and a newly pursued Kansas, giving the Big 12 further presence in the Dallas and Houston markets after the departure of Texas A&M as the conference looks to expand to the 12 it needs for a championship game.
As for the relegations:
ACC - UConn
Big 10 - Bowling Green
Big 12 - SMU
PAC 12 - Washington State
SEC - Vanderbilt
Karma swings around on the Mustangs, who bailed on the ACC for the more competitive Big 12, leaving behind a conference that included bottom-feeders UConn and Virginia, both of whom could have provided a buffer.
Conference USA- Louisiana Tech
Mountain West- Colorado State
Sun Belt- Arkansas
At-large- Temple (also in the mix: Air Force, Memphis, Georgia Southern)
This was the most boring year for promotions and relegations, with no big names (or quite frankly even any other interesting names) other than Arkansas going either way.
The Big 10 grabs Arkansas to expand south and slap the SEC after celebrating Ohio State's title, the PAC 12 takes in Colorado State, the SEC stays regional with Louisiana Tech, the ACC grabs another Northeastern school in a big market with Temple, and the Big 12 is (regrettably) left with Toledo, a school that makes no sense for them despite a solid program.
This year wasn't fun, so while we're here, let's do the Top 12 TV shows of 2016 (in no order):
Atlanta (FX) - Absolutely brilliant
American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX) - Travolta's hairline alone...
OJ Simpson: Made in America (ESPN) - One of the best commentaries on race relations in America ever done
Quarry (Cinemax) - Feels like you are actually in 1972 Memphis, and the last episode might be the best 90 minutes of TV made this year
Veep (HBO) - The Queen stays The Queen
The Americans (FX) - Habitually underrated
Black Mirror (Netflix) - Starting to feel like a documentary
Game of Thrones (HBO) - The best movie of the year
Full Frontal w/ Samantha Bee (TBS) - Stepped up and took Jon Stewart's throne as a biting critic during this election season
Last Week Tonight w/ John Oliver (HBO) - Sam Bee was the most biting voice but Oliver was perhaps the hardest hitting, with an extra 8 minutes per night due to HBO's lack of ads
Stranger Things (Netflix) - Pure fun
The Night Of (HBO) - A true crime mini-series in which the "whodunnit" is the least interesting aspect
You're The Worst (FXX)
High Maintenance (HBO)
Better Things (FX)
Fleabag (Amazon Prime)
Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)
The Night Manager (AMC)
Broad City (Comedy Central)
Broad City (Comedy Central)
This is the eighth entry in my series on relegation in college football (I recommend reading the preceding posts first).
We start the year with some more conference realignment moves.
In order to keep up the numbers, The Big East (henceforth known as the American Athletic Conference, no longer to retain its status as a "Power" conference starting next season) courts Memphis and Temple to join for its final season.
Meanwhile, Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati reach agreement to join the ACC for the 2014 season...although all 3 would have been in play for the Big 12 as well. Who ever would have though these three schools would have so many suitors?
As for the actual play on the field, the ACC stands out for FSU winning the championship, and the bottom of the conference being a remarkable shit show, as SMU, FIU, Ohio, Troy and UCF bring up the rear of the conference in a relegation battle that could only be described as very ‘ACC Coastal’.
In the end, FIU loses. They finished as statistically the worst team in all of college football.
The ACC, ladies and gentlemen!
This was the season when Miami started off 7-0 and then fell apart. Or as I know it, "when I began to realize Al Golden was not worth a contract extension and learned to love the bomb."
I think Miami would have been roughly as good as Nebraska that season, so they probably would have finished with something like a 9-3 or 8-4 record, depending on whether they were in the Legends or Leaders division.
(Those were actual division names. No one does pomposity like the Big 10.)
Anyway, here are the relegations:
ACC - FIU
AAC (fka Big East) - Temple (San Diego State, Memphis and Arkansas State are following them out the door with no conference to join)
Big 10 - Rutgers
Big 12 - Tulsa
PAC 12 - Cal
SEC - Arkansas
Arkansas and Cal are brand name programs, while Rutgers is in the biggest TV market. Meanwhile, Tulsa ends an 8 year run among the big boys. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Conference USA - Washington State
MAC- Bowling Green
Mountain West- Texas Tech
Sun Belt- Tennessee
At-large - Marshall (also in the mix: Fresno State, East Carolina, Minnesota)
Some big names here, as well as Marshall, with Rakeem Cato at quarterback.
In the expansion draft, a major shakeup occurs: the ACC gets first dibs! They don't waste it, nabbing Tennessee to become a bedrock program for a league desperately in need of one.
(Well, in theory. I would hope in this scenario Tennessee would hire someone more inspiring than Butch Jones, aka SEC Golden.)
This double whammy for the SEC turns out ok, as they scoop up Texas Tech with the next selection, but it is pretty obvious that anyone would prefer the Vols. The PAC 12 ends up with Washington State, the Big 10 gets Bowling Green and the Big 12 ends up with Marshall.
Monday, December 19, 2016
This is the seventh entry in my series on relegation in college football (I recommend reading the preceding posts first).
More shakeups before the season.
Utah and Colorado to the PAC 10. The goal here is pretty clear: these leagues want to get to at least 12 teams in order to establish a conference championship game, which is another property for the league to license to sponsors like Dr. Pepper and TV networks like FOX. And, more teams means more games to air on PAC 12 Network (your home for early season Washington State vs. Idaho action!) and to stream on their website. Amateurism!
Maryland moves to the Big 10, and the Big 12 does some looting of its own, stealing Tulsa from the SEC and lassoing an ascendant Houston from the Group of 5.
Here's the new reality. The PAC 12, Big 10 and SEC are all very secure, while the Big 12, ACC and Big East are fighting for 2 spots. They all know it, and they are going to start acting accordingly.
Meanwhile, Miami plays its second season under Al Golden as a member of the Big 10.
There was one good team in the Big 10 this season, Ohio State. They went undefeated but were banned from the postseason. The rest of the conference was largely mediocre, as evidenced by the conference championship game, a Wisconsin blowout of Nebraska. Wisconsin, by the way, was 7-5 going into that game. Not exactly a dominant conference champion.
I hate to say it, but if Miami had been in the Big 10, Al Golden might have actually looked decent, especially this season. I can't even imagine the contract extension we would have thrown at Al if he had somehow managed to emerge from this shit show and made the conference championship game. Has anyone ever signed a 40 year extension? We could have been trendsetters.
ACC - Southern Miss
Big East - USF
Big 10 - Miami (OH)
Big 12 - Iowa State
PAC 10 - Colorado
SEC - Kentucky
Iowa State gets 1 year of respite and then is immediately sent back packing. THAT is the law of the jungle.
Southern Miss has the worst year to year decline I saw in all of the research I did for this project, falling almost 100 spots in F/+. They were bad in Conference USA...I imagine they would have been worse in the ACC, although to be fair, their competition would have included Troy, Ohio, FIU, Duke and Wake Forest, none of which were among the Top 70 teams in the country in F/+.
I found a picture of this competition:
Conference USA - SMU
MAC - Syracuse
Mountain West - Utah State
Sun Belt - Ole Miss
WAC - UCLA
At-large - Arkansas State (also in the mix: San Jose State, Kent State, Texas Tech)
Ole Miss fights their way back again, and once again they are in the SEC. UCLA and Syracuse, representing Los Angeles and New York, end up in the PAC 10 and Big 10, respectively, as the Big 10 corners the market in the Northeast with Syracuse, Rutgers and Penn State, as well as Navy and Maryland. The Big 12 goes into the Rocky Mountains with Utah State, while the ACC gets into the Houston market with SMU. Arkansas State is left to the Big East, a conference which later in the offseason announces the end of its run as a football conference starting in 2014. The 2 events are ‘unrelated’.
Friday, December 16, 2016
This is the sixth entry in my series on relegation in college football (I recommend reading the preceding posts first).
The year of conference realignment.
This was a year of major changes to the fundamental landscape of college football, almost entirely driven by TV. I was torn on how to handle. On the one hand, it seems like expansion would be a death blow to the relegation/promotion system...if a team gets booted but a conference is able to immediately bring them back, then what's the point?
On the other hand, more teams getting a shot at the top level is ultimately the point of this process, so as long as 6 teams continue to get promoted, then what does it matter? As long as the schools and the NCAA are alright with diluting the talent pool, then why shouldn't I be?
Here are the moves that were agreed to, all to take effect for the 2012 season:
Nebraska to the Big 10
Pitt to the ACC
West Virginia to the Big 12
Mizzou and Texas A&M to the SEC
Mountain West and WAC consolidate to one conference
Syracuse would have ordinarily agreed to move to the ACC, but given the fact that the school was in the middle of its own sexual assault scandal at the time and is currently a middling MAC team in this scenario, I have them being left alone. Remember, the more people in the conference, the more teams split the TV money.
Meanwhile, I have the following hypothetical moves occurring:
Illinois agrees to re-join the Big 10 immediately.
The ACC, in a state of desperation as rivals expand and its bottom third fills with undesirable markets and teams, steals UCF, a move that serves to potentially cripple the Big 12 when combined with Illinois' departure and...
Miami agrees to move to the Big 10.
Look, Miami never would fit in with a bunch of state schools in the Great Plains. Meanwhile, the Big 10 features high caliber, historic athletics programs, its own TV network, and schools like Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Navy and Indiana that would appeal to Donna Shalala's academic sensibilities.
Pitt, in light of the shake ups, pulls out of its agreement to join the ACC and instead opts for the more natural geographic and ideological fit, the Big 10, to re-establish old rivalries with Miami and Penn State.
And just like that, the Big 10 establishes itself as the SEC's main rival and the ACC and Big 12 are left in dire situations.
I also have the ACC agreeing to terms to get Duke and Wake Forest back on board, to at least lock down its "Tobacco Road" legacy and identity. If you’re trying to start a channel, that’s a good pitch to distributors.
As for the relegations:
ACC - Troy
Big East - East Carolina
Big 10 - Purdue
Big 12- Texas Tech
PAC 10 - Nevada
SEC - Tennessee
Tennessee and Texas Tech are big programs...the rest is the embodiment of mediocre.
Conference USA - Southern Miss
MAC - Rutgers
Mountain West - Iowa State
Sun Belt - Vanderbilt
WAC - Arizona State
At-large - NIU (also in the mix: Louisiana Tech, Houston, Arkansas State)
Some prestige programs available here for the expansion draft. Arizona State had a team of goons this season, coached by Dennis Erickson and lead by Vontaze Burfict. They struggled to win games in the PAC 10 but with that talent in a weaker conference, their F/+ ranking suggests an easier path to promotion.
Meanwhile, people will forget this, but Vanderbilt was really good under James Franklin, and Southern Miss was good enough that Larry Fedora ended up getting hired to coach UNC.
In the expansion draft the SEC kicks off by picking Vanderbilt. The Big 12 welcomes back Iowa State, as does the PAC 10 with Arizona State. The Big 10 gets a big school from a major media market in Rutgers, while once again the Big East and ACC pick up the scraps...NIU and Southern Miss, respectively.
The Big 12 might have gone for Rutgers in an attempt to claw back some TV negotiating leverage, but I imagine that after getting looted before the season, the conference would have required a prospective member to agree to sign a non-exit agreement before agreeing to bring them aboard. Kind of like when an NFL team refuses to draft someone first if they don't agree to contract terms before the draft. And, given the Big12's weakness, I could see Rutgers going full Jersey and refusing...they were holding out for the Big 10 the whole time.
And therefore, the Big 12 goes for the weaker program in Iowa State, although publicly they would spin it as being glad to add an original member back into the fold.
This shit's chess, it ain't checkers.