Monday, September 24, 2012

Dayne has not been great

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis made a splashy entrance as a recruiter when he successfully lured Notre Dame quarterback transfer Dayne Crist to Lawrence.  Any sensical KU fan knew that 2012 would be a rebuilding year for the program, what with the Turner Gill debacle not that far in the rear view mirror, but the promised arrival of Crist was supposed to ease the pain.  Even the most pessimistic of Jayhawk fans believed that the former five-star recruit would be a major upgrade over last year's QB, Jordan Webb, and that he may not have guys who could catch the ball but surely Crist would put his passes on the money.

We are now four games into the Weis-Crist era and fans are openly asking if they can get Webb back.  I don't mean this to be harsh on Crist, as he by all appearances is a wonderful student-athlete and acknowledged leader, but his play on the field has been close to abysmal.

There are many reasons why Kansas lost to Rice but the most visible was the poor decision by Crist, late in the game, to throw the ball off his back foot into double coverage instead of either taking the sack or throwing the ball away.  Either of the latter would have resulted in a Kansas punt, thus stretching the field for the Owls' comeback.  Instead, Rice had the ball and good field position and we all know what happened next.

This past Saturday, Kansas again had a lead going into the late stages of the game, on the road, against Northern Illinois.  All the KU offense needed was to hold the ball, make some first downs, and get close enough for a field goal to make the lead a touchdown possession game with limited time left.  Instead, the offense sputtered and found itself in a fourth-and-17 situation--too far away to kick a field goal and too close to punt.  Amazingly, Kansas receiver Kale Pick somehow got open long--and I don't mean just open, I mean open.  The problem was that Crist missed the wide open receiver with a throw which, when last seen, was headed for Chicago.

Weis now faces the toughest decision of his young tenure at Kansas--does he bench the guy he brought in and publicly built up, or does he stick with Crist and continue to ride him?  What makes the decision relatively easy is that the guy behind Crist, Michael Cummings, is a freshman who has yet to play a down of college football.  The third-string QB, Turner Baty, at least has played beyond high school as he was recruited in from a California junior college.  Neither, though, are likely to be reason enough for  Weis to bench Crist.

How Weis handles Crist's confidence and damaged ego will be an interesting test for the coach who has more than his share of skeptics.  And, Weis' handling of Crist impacts more than the QB--it impacts a team who'll be watching their head coach and his management of the highest profile player on the team.  Weis has got to finesse this or he risks losing a team who may view their head coach as having blinders on when it comes to his favorites.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Comings and goings

From the wacky world of sports:

- The Billy Clyde Gillispie reign at Texas Tech is over.  And, his departure begs the question, "is there a school in the country who has a more odd recent coaching mini-drama than the folks in Lubbock?"  We first were treated with the Bob Knight re-emergence out of exile and his sporting the O'Reilly Auto Parts sweater on the sideline at Tech.  That led to the coach-in-waiting evolution of Pat Knight, and his subsequent dismissal given a dismal record with the Red Raiders.  Gillispie comes in, the next troubled coach to re-emerge in Lubbock and that fitful era ended with the news of yesterday.  Over on the football side, the Pirate--Mike Leach--brought his wild spread offense to Lubbock and experienced solid success until he ran afoul of the family James of ESPN fame.  Tommy Tuberville, another re-emergent coach, assumes the football seat and we're still all waiting to see how that hiring decision plays out.  In sum, and again, is there a school in the U.S. with a more odd coaching lineage of late?

- Athlon's pre-season college basketball edition is out and two familiar teams are predicted to make the Final Four.  Athlon predicts that Kentucky will return to the Final Four as will Kansas--the two national championship finalists in 2012.

- Kansas may not be experiencing early-season success on the gridiron but they are off of the playing field.  Head coach Charlie Weis and staff are shoring up the Jayhawks defense by the commitments picked up this week.  Marcus Jenkins-Moore, an outside linebacker from Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, CA, picked KU after having had scholarship offers from the likes of Arkansas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.  Earlier in the week, defensive end Andrew Bolton, of Hinds Community College in Raymond, MS, committed to KU and had interest from several big-name programs.  The moves continue Weis' desire to immediately improve a defense which may be leading the nation in turnovers, but still is giving up way too much yardage per game.

- The Barclays Center, future home of the Brooklyn Nets, is having its ribbon-cutting ceremony today.  The arena will officially open to the public on Saturday night with a Jay-Z concert.  The music artist and mogul not only is a part-owner in the Nets but also helped design the new Nets logo and visual identity system.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week Two college football roundup

Well, that was more like it!  After a week one of college football action, which went straight to expectations, the second week of the best regular season in sports went, well, not so true to form.

Let's break down some of the highlights, lowlights and standout performances.

- The big headline from the weekend was the outcome of the SEC's scheduling match-ups of former Big 12 schools Missouri and Texas A&M playing at home against Georgia and Florida.  Both MU and A&M failed to hold onto leads against these traditional SEC powers and entered play in their new league with losses.  Picking MU over Georgia was the trendy pick with many pointing to the Tigers' 4-1 record against the SEC since 2000.  What that record failed to point out were that the four wins were against Ole Miss (twice), South Carolina (in a 2005 bowl game), and a 1-1 record against Arkansas--teams named Florida, LSU, Georgia and Auburn weren't on that list of recent opponents.  If you dissect the numbers heading into this weekend, Gary Pinkel has a 6-14 record over the past five years against BCS teams that finished above .500 in their conference that year.  The Tigers also have struggled against SEC-like defenses, i.e., those D's with a combination of power and speed.  Pinkel was 2-11 against Oklahoma and Texas--the only two teams in the Big 12 who typically had the defensive speed and power of teams like Alabama, LSU and the SEC in general.  It all adds up to data which supported Georgia being the favorite against Mizzou and, of course, the outcome.

- I've heard some Kansas fans saying, "well, even though we lost against Rice, we're still better than we were during Turner Gill's two years."  That may be so but there's no way to paint yesterday's game as anything but a huge disappointment.  Rice had one of the longest road losing records in college football and sported a 17-31 record since 2007.  On the plus side, this Kansas defense is more opportunistic and has caused seven turnovers after two games.  Yet, missed open field tackling continues to vex the Jayhawks and played a huge part in the loss when not one, but two, Jayhawks failed to make the tackle on a key 4th and 4 pass play by Rice in the final 1:30 of the game.  As for the offense, let's focus on how Charlie Weis trumpeted the arrival of Dayne Crist and has raised expectations about the unit's play in the spring and during fall practice.  Crist thus far has a 51.6 completion percentage, a 4.9 yards per pass average, and has thrown three picks and only two touchdowns, all against competition which pales in comparison to what begins next week when TCU comes to town.  Crist and his offensive mates could not control the ball late and then gave TCU great field position on an ill-advised throw on KU's last possession.  There is no doubt that this Kansas team is better coached than what happened under Gill.  But, candidly, couldn't we say that about most any head coach in Division I football who might've landed in Lawrence?  The loss to TCU is an enormous blow to this program as now the question is "where else this season can Kansas sneak out a victory?"

- We can officially annoint Kansas State as the third best team in the Big 12, with a bullet.  KSU laid a big hurt on Miami yesterday in Manhattan and, with Oklahoma State's loss, look to only trail Oklahoma and West Virginia in the league, with perhaps a challenge from Texas.  The 'Cats will be 3-0, after beating North Texas next week, headed into that prime-time match-up against Oklahoma in Norman on September 22.  KSU then has an open date before playing Kansas which is bad news for Weis and Company--Wildcat head coach Bill Snyder simply does not lose games played after the annual open date in his team's schedule.

- Disappointments of the weekend:  Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Colorado, Miami, Arkansas and Nebraska.

- If you're a Nebraska fan, don't you secretly wish that Frank Solich was still in Lincoln and not in Athens, OH?

- Performances of the weekend:  UCLA, Oregon State, Georgia, Sacramento State, Louisiana-Monroe, Denard Robinson of Michigan, Collin Klein of Kansas State.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week one in college football

There's an old coaches' saying which says that, in college football, the most improvement occurs between game one and game two.  After this weekend, there are a lot of teams out there hoping that's the case.

Let's take a look at what happened in weekend one of the best regular season in sports.

Kansas Jayhawks:  We'll start locally with the Kansas Jayhawks, led by new coach Charlie Weis.  The good news is that Kansas won; the bad news is that it was against South Dakota State.  Yet, the optimists among us will point out that the opening game in the Turner Gill regime didn't start so well and that, for a football program in need of a big injection of confidence, a win is a win.

Our star of the game award goes to Tony Pierson, who showcased his quick start and blazing speed with two rushing touchdowns and 124 yards on 20 carries.  On the defensive side of the ball, Bradley McDougald looked like the four-star recruit he was coming out of high school--two interceptions, a pass break-up, and one tackle for a loss.  The much-hyped Dayne Crist was average, at best, and admittedly played a poor game.  Let's hope that it was Crist's rust and adrenaline which caused him to miss a wide-open Daymond Patterson in the end zone, and make a couple of bad reads which would have resulted in picks against a Big 12 defense.

Roll, Tide, Roll:  The anticipated match-up between Alabama and Michigan in Arlington, TX became just the latest proof that the best in the SEC is much, much better than the best in the Big Ten.  The game also derailed Denard Robinson's Heisman campaign--the Michigan QB was 11 of 26 with two interceptions and gained only 27 yards on the ground.

Best Game:  In a battle of great Journalism Schools, Northwestern came back against Syracuse and won 42-41.  The 'Cuse had 596 total yards and scored 28 straight points to take the lead, but could not hold on late.

Disappointments:  The list is long--Georgia was unimpressive in beating Buffalo; Randy Edsall's Maryland club beat William and Mary by one, 7-6; Iowa once again under-performed in a non-conference game, beating Northern Illinois 18-17; the Mike Leech era at Washington State started with a thud--a 30-6 loser to BYU; Florida had to come back in the second half to beat Bowling Green; and Penn State could not harness the emotion of finally playing football, losing to a good Ohio team, 24-14.

Underrated:  Speaking of Ohio, let's give it up for the job former Nebraska coach Frank Solich is doing in Athens.  The Bobcats are definitely the favorite in the MAC.

Next week:  Were Missouri fans licking their chops as they watched Georgia struggle against Buffalo?  The best game next weekend will be the Tigers' opening SEC conference game and it'll be played in Columbia.