Wednesday, December 30

A fittingly stupid end to a stupid year:
That's So Urban!

As you read this, I'm most likely headed up to Tennessee for a one-two punch of New Year's Eve wedding and auld lang debauchery with Holly and all her rowdy friends. Since I'll most likely be too car-bound, too drunk, or too hungover to post anything between now and 2010, I'll leave you ingrates with this sampling from a TV pilot I just started working on with Holly, a docu-dramati-comic peek inside the life of the hardest-working man in college football. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you: "That's So Urban!"



A boardroom in the offices of the University of Florida Athletic Department. Assistant coaches CHUCK HEATER, DAN McCARNEY, and SCOT LOEFFLER sit around the table busily comparing notes and play diagrams; away from them, offensive coordinator and one-time interim head coach STEVE ADDAZIO idly bounces a tennis ball off the wall, ignoring them. Presently head coach URBAN MEYER enters the room, and every head except ADDAZIO's whips around as he does so.

HEATER, McCARNEY and LOEFFLER: Urban! You're back.

MEYER: Thanks, guys. It's good to be back, but before we get started today, I want to say two things: One, it's "Coach Meyer" unless I tell you otherwise.

(AUDIENCE: slightly uncomfortable laughter)

MEYER: Second, I think we should all thank Coach Addazio for his service while I was on my leave of absence. Steve, heard we had some damn fine drills the last couple months.

ADDAZIO: Yeah, they were good, I guess. I mean, I could coach some actual games and everything, but if you don't need me to, that's cool, I guess. I mean, whatever.

MEYER: No need. All right, men, what have you got for me?

HEATER: You sure you want to jump in right away, Coach? I mean, you want to talk about what you did on your vacation, or what you reflected on, or . . .

MEYER: Only the weak reflect, Heater. Let's get down to business. Loeffler, you've been working out with Brantley lately, how's he look? He gonna be ready to go against -- who we got opening day?

LOEFFLER: Citadel for the Deaf, sir. And, well, he's throwing the ball real well, but his pocket presence isn't great. We're really gonna have to redesign a lot of this stuff now that we don't have --

All action ceases as the phone on the conference table rings insistently. Everyone looks around to see who's going to pick it up, except MEYER, who stays radar-locked on his play diagrams. Presently McCARNEY sneaks a look at the caller ID window.

McCARNEY: Says "Meyer, N." 'S your daughter, Coach.

MEYER: 'F it's important she'll call back. (back to LOEFFLER) So what's his problem in the pocket? Footwork problems, is he staring down receivers, or . . .


MEYER: Yes to what?

LOEFFLER: (sheepishly) Uh . . . all of it?

(AUDIENCE: Whimsical laughter, except for the Gator fans)

LOEFFLER: I guess it's mainly his footwork -- jumps around trying to find an open receiver, and by the time he figures out there isn't one, he's too far behind the --

Another phone rings, this time the one in MEYER's pocket. Once again, everyone sits around waiting to see if it's going to get answered, and when MEYER finally notices all the eyes in the room are on him, he lets out a withering sigh and pulls out the phone.

MEYER: Hi, honey, and before you say anything you should probably know that I don't believe in hiding anything from my coaching staff, which means you're on speaker. Go.

NICOLE MEYER (V/O): Daddy, I've been carjacked!

MEYER: What?

NICOLE (V/O): I've been carjacked! I got turned around and ended up on the wrong side of downtown, and when I stopped to ask these guys for directions, they pulled me out of the car and drove off with it!

MEYER: Did you use the baseball bat I put in the trunk for you?

NICOLE (V/O): Daddy, they had guns!

MEYER: So it's a conditioning problem, then.

NICOLE (V/O): Daddy, you always do this! I'm sitting here at the police station, scared out of my wits, and you're giving me advice on how I should . . .

As NICOLE rails away, MEYER slowly slides the phone away from him, to the center of the table.

MEYER: Uh-huh. You're right, honey. Daddy's listening. (back to the coaches) All right, you were saying. If he's dancing around in the pocket, then we need to increase his regimen of footwork drills, and give him more quick-release stuff in the meantime . . . (back to phone) Uh-huh, honey, that's terrible . . . (back to coaches) We get Azzanni in here, see what he's got in the way of swings and short routes? . . .


The matriarch of the Meyer family, SHELLEY, stands at the kitchen island putting together a bowl of salad for dinner. She looks up when URBAN, wearing his characteristic furrowed brow, trudges in the back door of the house.

SHELLEY: You're home early!

MEYER: Don't remind me. One lousy cardiac incident and all of a sudden I got a doctor telling me I gotta start coming home at seven-thirty. Any earlier and I might as well be a frickin' Wal-Mart greeter.

SHELLEY: Well, maybe you should do that, it'd improve your attitude.

(AUDIENCE: Surprised, "Oh no she dih-ent!"-type laughter charged with female empowerment)

MEYER: Oh, you're gonna start in on me too now, is that it?

SHELLEY: Oh, come on. (gives URBAN a hug) You know what might help you wind down and do your heart some good in the process?

MEYER: Circumcising some Filipino kids with Tebow?

(AUDIENCE: Uproarious laughter quickly devolving into uncomfortable silence when they realize yeah, he'd probably do that)

SHELLEY: No, helping your son out with his science project. He's been sweating over it all afternoon.

MEYER: We have a son?

(AUDIENCE: "He-can't-be-serious"-type laughter)

SHELLEY: Nate, your 10-year-old??

MEYER: When did this happen?

(AUDIENCE: "He-really-can't-be-serious" laughter, followed by more awkward "Is-he-serious?"-type laughter)

SHELLEY: Do I need to start posting a roster on the fridge?

MEYER: That'd be a start, yeah.

The Meyers' 15-year-old daughter, GIGI, bursts into the kitchen from the den, earning the obligatory "WOOOOO!!!" and wolf-whistles from the male members of the audience. This continues until URBAN whips around, points at the audience, and stares them down into silence.

MEYER: You made me break the fourth wall. That was a bad deal. And next time, I'm going to make it a big deal.

GIGI: My life is over!


(AUDIENCE: Knowing, "Teenage-girls-are-such-histrionic-bitches"-type laughter)

GIGI: I was all set to ask Bobby Thompson to the Sadie Hawkins Dance at school in two weeks, but today I found out that Jamie, my so-called friend, already asked him. How could she do that? She knew I liked him!

URBAN and SHELLEY just look at each other while GIGI stews. Eventually SHELLEY urges URBAN over in their daughter's direction with her eyes.

MEYER: (sotto) What? This sounds like, you know, girl talk.

SHELLEY: (also sotto) Well, I'm busy, and this is a perfect opportunity for you to bond with a daughter you barely have time to say two words to in an average day, so go out there and be a father and do something besides drive me crazy.

MEYER: (pause) I bet Terry Saban doesn't talk to her husband like that. (to GIGI) Come on, uh, honey, you can tell your dad all about it, I guess.

URBAN leads his nonplused daughter into the family room to sit down with him on the couch.

MEYER: All right, tell your dad what's on your mind.

GIGI: (still wary) Uh . . . you really want to know about this stuff?

MEYER: Well, yeah, you're my daughter, so I guess it's my responsibility.

GIGI: (brightens) Oh my God! Dad! This is so awesome! I feel like I have my dad back! OK, so you know how I've had this crush on Bobby Thompson for, like, forever, right?

MEYER: Bobby Thompson, he's the, what, running back on your school's football team, right?

GIGI: Right! See, you have been paying attention! OK, so anyway, the first time I started talking to him was at one of the games last season. He had just run for this, like, 90-yard touchdown, and even though I was so nervous, I went up to him and I --

MEYER: Wait. Bobby Thompson did that?

GIGI: Well, yeah, he's like the fastest guy on the team. So anyway, I was so nervous I thought I was gonna throw up, but I went up to him after he'd come off the field, and . . .

MEYER: Did you get his number?

GIGI: Oh, god, no, I was way too nervous to ask him for that the very first time I talked to him, but later on that week, while we were changing classes, we exchanged e-mail addresses, and so we started --

MEYER: What's his e-mail address?

GIGI: Oh, something funny like speeddemon49 at yahoo or something like that. Anyway, we started e-mailing each other back and forth, and I didn't tell him straight-out that I liked him, but I mean the way I was talking to him he probably kinda knew I liked him, and besides, I had been telling my friend Jamie about this the whole --

GIGI stops talking as she notices that her father has surreptitiously pulled out his BlackBerry and begun typing on it with one thumb.

MEYER: Keep talking, honey, Daddy's listening.

GIGI: No you're not, you're typing on your BlackBerry. What are you doing?

MEYER: Just trying to get in touch with Bobby, that's all.

GIGI: Oh my God! You're not telling him what we're talking about, are you?

MEYER: Pffft, honey, I'd never tell somebody something like that.

GIGI: OK. Good.

MEYER: I'm trying to find out if he's gotten offered by anybody yet. Can't believe I let someone like this fly under my radar. Kid sounds like a stud.

GIGI: Oh my God, that is so gross! Forget it, I don't even know why I bothered talking to you about this! You don't understand anything!

GIGI storms upstairs, leaving her dad sitting there, BlackBerry still in hand.

MEYER: Jeez, this house is a tougher crowd than Tiger Stadium.


A lonely, troubled-looking MEYER trudges outside into the chilly air and wanders around his backyard for a bit. He stops at the back fence, behind which his neighbor WILSON is chopping away at something. We can only see WILSON from about the nose up.

MEYER: The hell are you doing back there, Wilson?

WILSON: Well! My neighbor has a second name, it's M-E-Y-E-R. Howdy-ho, Urban. I'm just chopping up some bay leaves for my bath.

MEYER: You got especially dirty bay leaves or something?

WILSON: (chuckles) Nooo-ho-ho-ho, Gator Neighbor, you throw these in steaming-hot water and it makes a very nice soak. Clears the sinuses, good for tense muscles . . . it's really quite relaxing.

MEYER: Man. Well then chop up some for me while you're at it.

WILSON: Do I sense some stress emanating from Gator Country, Coach M?

MEYER: Ehhhh, it's just, you know, I got a job to do, I got a top-ranked football team to run, and on top of that I got my wife and kids nagging me to help them out with every damn thing as soon as I get home. I mean, I only got so many hours in the day, you know?

WILSON: Weeeh-heh-heh-heeelll, Urban, I'm kind of surprised you'd be so frustrated by that. Seems like a guy such as yourself would take that as a compliment.

MEYER: Whaaaa . . . ?

WILSON: You're familiar with the concept of the "medicine man" in Native American culture, aren't you, Urban? Well, the medicine man was more than a healer, he was an advice-giver, a leader of men. And your position as the head football coach of one of the grandest football teams in the land puts you in a similar position. You're seen as a bright guy, someone who finds ways around problems, so it's only natural that your family would come to you for --

MEYER: Yeah, I tell you what, Wilson, all this Indian history is fascinating and everything, but I just thought of some new direct-snap formations that might be a temporary way around this whole Brantley thing. Thanks for the pep talk, you keep . . . uh, choppin' em up, or whatever it is you're doing.

URBAN turns and jogs back into his house. WILSON just stands there watching him.

WILSON: (shakes his head) Urban, Urban, Urban. If there's any justice in this universe, the Dawgs'll lay 60 on your ass this year.

WILSON shakes his head again and goes back to his chopping.


The darkened master suite of the Meyers' home. The door opens and all we can see is the silhouette of URBAN in the doorway.

MEYER: Honey? You in here?

SHELLEY: I sure am, hon.

MEYER: Well let me turn on a light, for Chrissakes, I can't even see you.

SHELLEY: No, don't --

URBAN snaps on the room light to reveal SHELLEY stretched out on the king-sized bed wearing a very revealing negligee. Obligatory "WOOOOO!!!!" from the crowd, which URBAN is too shocked to even admonish.

SHELLEY: Well, so much for the mood lighting.

MEYER: Uh, wow. What's the occasion?

SHELLEY: Oh, nothing -- you just seemed really stressed out and preoccupied with work lately, and I thought I might be able to help you relax.

MEYER: Really? 'Cause you know, Wilson out back was telling me about this thing you could do with basil or something, I didn't really catch all of it . . .

SHELLEY: This'll work way better. C'mere.

URBAN crosses the room to his side of the bed, where SHELLEY immediately envelops him in a passionate embrace.

SHELLEY: You think you kind of got the idea here?

MEYER: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.

MEYER plants a long kiss on his wife's mouth and moves his hand slowly up her thigh, prompting an even more fervent "WOOOO!!!!" and some scattered applause from the audience. They make out for a few moments, and then, with his left hand up on the back of SHELLEY's neck, URBAN glances at his watch. He immediately pulls himself off his wife and jumps off the bed.

MEYER: OK then. We good? I thought that was pretty good.

SHELLEY: "Pretty good"? Neither one of us is any less dressed than we were when we started.

(AUDIENCE: Condescending, smutty chortling from the ladies; pruriently sympathetic "I'd-hit-that!"-type belly laughs from the guys.)

MEYER: Ehh, we start taking clothes off and it's just more stuff we gotta put back on later. Besides, I'm supposed to meet Addazio and Loeffler in -- (checks watch again) seven minutes and twenty seconds, and it usually takes eight-thirty-five to get to the athletic building. I think I'm plenty relaxed for right now, can we, I don't know, take a raincheck or something?

SHELLEY: The team never has to take a raincheck!

MEYER: The team kicks off against Citadel for the Deaf in just -- (checks watch yet again) five months, seven days, fourteen hours and seven minutes. You think that gameplan's just gonna right itself? With a first-year starting quarterback?

SHELLEY: (as URBAN turns to go) Well, what am I supposed to do while you're gone?

MEYER: You're smart, you'll think of something!

MEYER gives a "goodbye" point-and-stare to his wife and hurries off. SHELLEY sighs dejectedly and stares straight ahead.

SHELLEY: Well, I guess I'll do what I always do.

SHELLEY reaches into her bedside table and pulls out a black plastic . . . remote control, which she points at the TV and turns it on. She hits a few more buttons and retrieves a TiVo'd recording of one of her husband's football games: the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

VERNE LUNDQUIST (V/O): First and goal for the Gators, they need a score here and badly. Tebow back to pass, looks right and throws for the end zone -- INTERCEPTED! Tebow was looking for Jeff Demps in the end zone but Javier Arenas was right there! Boy, what a blow to this Florida team, and I'll tell you, Gary, that's the kind of ill-advised throw you're just not accustomed to seeing Tebow make . . .

SHELLEY: (smiling) Oh, Verne, you always know just what to say to a girl.


"That's So Urban!" was filmed before a live studio audience.

Tuesday, December 29

That's it, the end,
but you'll get over it, my friend.

The Indy Bowl was the maiden voyage for the new #24 jersey I got for Christmas. All things considered, it went pretty well.

You'll recall that I sounded hopeful notes following our bowl wins to end the 2007 and 2008 seasons; I won't make the same mistake this time. I know this season, despite the bowl win, still qualifies as a "lost" season in many Dawg fans' eyes, and even as I was driving around Monday afternoon, taking advantage of a few post-Christmas sales before heading home to gear up for the bowl, I realized that the bowl game itself didn't matter much. A win would be nice, sure, but even if we lost -- even if we got blown out by a fairly embarrassing margin -- we could just chalk it up to the turmoil on the coaching staff, close the door on the season, and start preparing for 2010.

I don't know that an assessment as fatalistic as all that necessarily brought me any peace, though, so it was nice to see the team overcome a rather slow start, slough off all the potential disappointments and motivation-killers that had no doubt dogged them throughout the preparations for a less-than-fully-whelming bowl game, and rise up to pound the Aggies every bit as badly as they should have. It certainly wasn't a perfect effort -- no more perfect than 471 yards and 26 first downs would suggest -- but we all figured that this was going to be kind of a track meet anyhow. Give the defensive players (and particularly their thrown-together coaching staff) credit for allowing A&M to spin all that into only 20 points, rarely breaking even after bending that much.

Defense wins the Grace Under Ridiculous Pressure Award, if there is such a thing.

This morning on the AJC's Web site, Tony Barnhart said that Mark Richt "faces the biggest offseason of his time in Athens as he must hire a new defensive coordinator and develop a starting quarterback for 2010. This was a very good win to start that process." I don't know that I buy the second half of that statement -- this win didn't have any more to do with that "process" than, say, our even more significant (and less expected) regular-season-ending win over Georgia Tech -- after which, you'll recall, we still saw fit to unload three coaches. The Independence Bowl was a fun and inspiring end to a season from which, nevertheless, we will be carrying over very little in terms of attitude or mentality.

But that leads into the first part of Barnart's statement, which is absolutely correct: This is the biggest offseason (well, second-biggest after 2001) of Richt's head-coaching tenure. In 2001, Richt took over a program that seemed to have hit a ceiling on offense, largely stagnated on defense, and had consistently recruited loads of blue-chip talent only to fail to develop them into the kind of winners who believed they could compete, and defeat, the best the SEC had to offer; in short, he took over a program that seemed to have run out of ideas. The situation is not quite as dire in 2009-10 -- Richt obviously starts from a much stronger and more stable foundation now, one that he built himself -- but many of the conditions he's operating under are similar to what he faced in 2001. We're still recruiting great talent, but they're not being molded into players with the mentality of champions. I hate to toss out a phrase as vague and clichéd as "They need to get the fire back," but . . . well, that's what I'm gonna throw out there unless someone comes up with a better idea.

In 2001-02, all the talk was about how Richt had led the way in "knocking the lid off" a program loaded with unfulfilled potential. Somehow, in between our run of division titles and now, the lid has been screwed back on, and it needs to get knocked off again. Bringing in a fiery, hard-charging defensive coordinator is a piece of that process, but it's not the whole thing. I hope that over the course of this off-season, Richt and his coaches will take a look back at the transformation that took place in 2001 and 2002, reacquaint themselves with the changes they brought about both in how the players played and how they thought, and use that as a starting point for what needs to happen as we put the gears in motion again to prepare for 2010.

My memories of this are still pretty vivid.

Granted, the conditions in the SEC are not quite the same now as they were when Richt first arrived. The level of competition, I think we can all agree, is higher; Kentucky and Vanderbilt have gone from automatic Ws to teams we have to sweat over just like everyone else. Tennessee had hit the crest of a slope in 2001 and were starting to head downward; in 2009, they've gone through a trough and are once again headed upward, as much as we all might like to deny it. And the SEC West has gone from being the weak-sister division in the conference to being able to make a case that it's the stronger of the two.

But in the short term, the SEC East will be as wide-open as it's ever been. Florida will have lost its once-in-a-generation quarterback and elite coordinators on both sides of the ball -- precisely the kinds of losses that turned USC from a worldbeater into an also-ran this year -- and even their head-coaching situation has taken a turn for the bizarre. Tennessee will have to replace basically both lines in their entirety and their two most critical offensive skill players. Kentucky will likely be breaking in a first-time head coach; South Carolina, of all teams, might have the best shot at being the division's sleeper champion, but . . . well, we've heard that song and dance before. Georgia's not going to be competing for the national title next season, but if we want to make a statement that we've put our recent disappointments behind us and intend to be right back on top of the East in short order, 2010 would be a damn near perfect time to make it.

So let's pat ourselves on the back over an Independence Bowl well played, but let's not act like it really means that much in terms of momentum for 2010. Let's find ourselves some excellent new defensive coaches, but not expect them to be the ones to snap their fingers and solve all our problems. The task of turning us back into championship contenders is too big and complicated for any one player, coach, or game to solve, and it certainly isn't one that can be completed instantaneously; we really won't have any idea how much progress we've made toward completing it until we put toe to leather on September 4 of next year.

But whereas there were times this past season when I found myself dreading that game and the ones that would follow, I'm looking forward to it again, which is how it should be. Now go forth, Mark Richt, and do good.

And Go Dawgs.

Richt and senior DL Jeff "Huggy Killbear" Owens -- two Damn Good Dawgs.

Monday, December 28

Indy Bowl roundtable: a man-to-12th-man talk.

So close to "GATA," and yet . . .

One of the nice things about getting plugged into the wider community of sports bloggers is you make some pretty knowledgeable friends and acquaintances. This past summer, I consulted with Coach Beergut of Texas A&M blog I Am the 12th Man on coach Mike Sherman's employment status heading into 2009; five months or so later, guess who Georgia gets matched up with in a bowl game. Given the mutual curiosities between our two fanbases -- we haven't played the Aggies since the national-championship season of 1980, and have played them like all of four times throughout history -- he was more than happy to participate in a little Q&A exchange leading up to the Independence Bowl. My answers to his questions are up on his blog now, and his answers to my questions follow.

1. A&M is a program with a lot of heritage and a lot of proud traditions, but this decade hasn't been especially kind to the Aggies. Where does A&M see itself in the college-football firmament, and does a bid to this year's Independence Bowl qualify as a disappointment (as a lot of Georgia fans see it), or as a sign that things are looking up?

I believe we Aggies see ourselves as one of the top 20 porgrams in the nation, histoircally speaking. We are one of the top 20 winningest programs in college football history, we have a solid winning tradition, we have won a national title and boast a Heisman Trophy winner in our past, so we had the tradition to back up this claim. We are one of the programs where it is capable to win a national championship in any given year; we are one of the destination college football jobs where a coach can come and win big.

The bid to the Independence Bowl is not a disappointment in that I believe going to a bowl game and making the postseason was one of our preseason goals after the losing season we had in 2008. We made a poor hire in bringing Dennis Franchione to our program in 2002, and we are still recovering from that five-year mistake. When you spend half a decade standing still or moving backwards, you have a lot of catching up to do, and we are still trying to do that on the field. Making the postseason this year is a sign of progress, but only a small one in that we have merely accomplished a goal, not surpassed one.

Yeah, the rest of the country joins you in wondering what the hell happened with that one.

2. The Aggies have fielded an impressively balanced offense this year, which a lot of Georgia fans no doubt watched hitting on all cylinders against Texas on Thanksgiving. Of the many talented skill-position players in your arsenal, which one is the one you would recommend Georgia spend the most time watching out for?

Quarterback Jerrod Johnson is probably our most dangerous player, simply because the ball is in his hands on every single play, and he is the triggerman for our offense. If you slow down Jerrod, you slow down our offense, period. Moving away fromt he quarterback position, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu (coaches and teammates call him "EZ") is one of our most explosive players, scoring TDs through the air and on the ground. EZ averages 18 yards per catch, has 6 TD receptions this season, and 1 rushing TD.

Prince? Bryan? Have fun defending this, fellas.

3. At the same time, there have been games in which the Aggie offense has exploded (Texas, TTU) and times when the explosion was more like a backfire (Arkansas, Kansas State). Do you have any idea where the source of that inconsistency lies?

During the Arkansas and Kansas State games, we were still shuffling our offensive line around, and were trying to find the perfect lineup to throw out there. The result was poor pass protection for Jerrod, which helped those teams shut down our offense. The Kansas State game was the first true road game for a young team where everything that could go wrong did, and the result just snowballed. The Arkansas game was a game where we went up early, they made some adjustments, and once they got their pass rush going, we weren't able to protect Johnson.

4. On the flip side, which of Georgia's offensive players scares you the most in terms of what they might be able to do to the Aggies? (And does anyone scare you on our defense?)

All of your RBs scare me, because I watched y'all rush for over 300 yards against Georgia Tech in your win, and we don't have much of a defense. Washaun Ealey and Caleb King really worry me, because I am concerned y'all will be able to control the game on the ground, and keep the ball away from our offense.

For the Aggie fans out there who may have missed the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, here's a bit of what Beergut's referring to.

Defensively, anyone who can pressure the QB concerns me, so Justin Houston and Cornelius Washington worry me. I am hoping the loss of your defensive staff will help us here, but I'm not optimistic.

5. When I talked to you about Mike Sherman's status back in the summer, you said his job was pretty safe, with the minimum expectations being 6-6 and a bowl bid. Now that he's cleared that bar, what are the expectations for the bowl game, and for the 2010 season?

Well, I hope we can win the bowl game, but I don't expect to. Georgia was a top-10 team in the preseason, so y'all have some talent, and beating y'all will be tough. As for the 2010 season, we return a lot of people, so expectations to win 9 games and compete for the Big 12 South are reasonable.

(Thanks to Coach Beergut for participating in this. Good luck, and good health, to both teams this evening.)

Saturday, December 26

Holiday in Cambodia: The Texas A&M preview.

Hometown: College Station, Texas.

Last season: Head coach Mike Sherman's very first game with the Aggies was an 18-14 home loss to Arkansas State, the Red Wolves' first-ever win over a Big XII team, and it just got worse from there, with the Ags squeaking by New Mexico and Army and getting drilled by Miami before entering the gauntlet of their conference slate. A&M won only two Big XII games all year, not coincidentally the only two conference games in which they allowed fewer than 40 points, and finished the season 4-8 and unranked.

This season: No losses to Sun Belt teams, thank God, and things actually looked pretty good for the Aggies as they rolled to a 3-0 start, but that got blown up in a 47-19 loss to Arkansas at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium. A&M's conference slate ran the gamut from a horrendous 62-14 loss to a bad Kansas State team to a 52-30 upset over Texas Tech; they finished the regular season 6-6 but only 3-5 in Big XII play.

Hate index, 1 being Ron Franklin, 10 being Thom Brennaman: Seven and a half. I have a long-standing policy whereby any school that sent me a "yes" letter when I applied to them back in high school earns secondary-rooting-interest status; that means I am a de facto Texas fan, so guess what, Aggies, that means you're dead to me. Sorry; it's just business. Though I have to admit that even if I had no feelings for the Longhorns one way or the other, y'all would still be a difficult team to root for. The "Yell leaders," the whole military-cadet thing -- that's just weird, not to mention redolent with cryptofascistic overtones. You do have a really pretty dog, though.

Associated hottie: If you've gone hunting for pictures of the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Tiger Woods over the past few weeks, chances are you've stumbled upon some extremely spicy photographs of A&M alumna Kim Hiott, a Playboy Cyber Girl in the summer of 2002 and one of their "Girls of the Big 12" later that fall. Somehow she got confused with Elin Nordegren after that, which is sort of ironic, as Hiott appears to be one of exactly twenty-three women in all of North America whom Tiger hasn't had sex with. Well, his loss.

What excites me: How to put this politely? Texas A&M's defense kind of, well, sucks. They finished the season ranked 87th against the run (168.6 yards allowed per game), 111th against the pass (262.8), and 107th overall. In nine games against teams from BCS conferences, they've allowed fewer than 30 points only twice -- 10 points to Iowa State and three to Robert Griffin-less Baylor, both of which ranked in the bottom 20 nationally in scoring offense. And those two games are surely balanced out by the two times they allowed 60-plus points (to Kansas State, currently ranked 82d nationally in scoring and staying home for bowl season, and Sam Bradford-less Oklahoma). It doesn't matter whether the opponent is good, bad, or just so-so, the Aggies are in danger of getting scored on. A lot.

And for the most part, our greatest vulnerabilities on offense are not ones which their defense has proven any particularly great ability to exploit. Sure, Joe Cox has thrown a bunch of interceptions this season, but against Georgia Tech -- whose run defense is actually better than A&M's statistically -- we proved we can still put up big offensive numbers even when we're only passing the ball sparingly. And even if we do go to the air, the Aggies have only picked off 11 passes all season, and we'll have A.J. Green back as a further hedge against ill-advised passes. The one thing A&M's defense is demonstrably good at is QB pressure -- they rank eighth in the nation with 35 sacks on the year -- but Georgia has protected the QB better than all but 11 teams in DI-A. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of A&M's takedowns came against New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Colorado, and Baylor, not coincidentally the only teams on the Aggies' '09 schedule with losing records.

Great job getting revenge against Baylor, though! (Yes, I said "revenge.")

On special teams, the Ags average 22.6 yards per kickoff return but a mere six and a quarter on punt returns, which against the nation's best punter means we should be dealing TAMU some rough field position in the event we don't score. In the highly likely event that we do score, of course, our rotten kickoff coverage means the Aggies will probably make out just fine, but maybe having fired the coach primarily responsible for our special teams means we've got a fighting chance there. Who knows.

What worries me: Yeah, about those coach-firings. As you've no doubt heard by now, Willie Martinez, DE/special-teams coach Jon Fabris, and linebackers coach John Jancek all declined the option to stay with the team and coach through the bowl game, which is a pretty big wild-card, all things considered. Sure, I've heard all the jokes about how our defense was so bad this year that we won't even notice that any coordinators are missing; and this being a bowl game, where crazy things are known to happen, I guess it's possible that our defensive players will take an "us against the world" attitude, play way over their heads, and have a "Rudy"-like performance stopping the Aggies cold in Shreveport. Logic, however, tells me that all other things being equal, a defensive coordinator is kind of a good thing to have, and is probably preferable to an interim-tagged DTs coach (however good he may be) and a hastily assembled group of graduate assistants.

I have nightmare visions of this scene playing itself out at Butts-Mehre a couple weeks ago.

Particularly when we're going up against the fifth-ranked offense in the entire country, which is motoring right along at 465 yards and change per game. The Aggies aren't necessarily the most consistent bunch in the world -- I don't know how you go from scoring only 10 points on Oklahoma to unloading 39 on a Texas defense that's just as good, if not better -- but their offense is every bit as poised for a big breakout performance as their defense is for a collapse.

Against our defense, which finished in the bottom half of the SEC in pretty much every category except the run, I am very, very worried about what A&M is capable of doing. They've got an excellent quarterback in Jerrod Johnson, who's sixth nationwide in total offense and maintaining a QB rating of 140.7; he hammered the formidable Texas defense for 342 yards, four TDs, and one pick on 26-of-33 passing. They're also extremely well-balanced, with running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray combining for an average of 132 yards per game. A&M fortunately doesn't use the kind of spread offense that's given our defense so many fits over the past few years, but their system is very similar in a lot of ways to what Arkansas used to ring us up for 485 yards and 41 points early in the season. They're also likely to bring a lot of the uptempo, misdirection-based stuff that Tennessee embarrassed us with a month later. I know Mark Richt kept Rodney Garner around for a reason, and the coaches and players alike have been saying all the right things about staying focused and prepared, but between A&M's offensive prowess and our chaotic coaching situation, there's a good chance we end up in a shootout on Monday.

Player who needs to step up: SS Bacarri Rambo. When number 18 gets to Shreveport, he'll be taking the field for the first time since sacrificing himself to save the game against Auburn on November 14. And he will find, if he hasn't already, that the hopes and dreams of the fan base have begun to rest on him as the guy to inject some passion and leadership into a pass defense that languished badly for the better part of this season. Hopefully his return will energize his teammates and give them an emotional boost as they face one of the most difficult situations of their Georgia careers.

What does it all mean? As much as I hate to see Georgia fans not show up for a game, be it a home game, away game, bowl game or whatever, I don't blame anyone for not electing to make the trip to Shreveport this year. It's a long way to go to a city few of us would have any inclination to visit otherwise, and it makes that much more of a disruption in personal schedules that are frequently stretched to the breaking point to begin with this time of year.

But with bowl games more so than any other type of game, I always have to wonder how much fan apathy rubs off on the players. Like I said, the Bulldogs have been saying all the right things about staying motivated and being anxious to show the world their determination to rise above the recent turmoil, and I don't doubt that a lot of them are telling the truth. But let's be real here: Just as none of our fans started off the season hoping for a trip to Shreveport at the end of it, I can't imagine any of our players did, either. And between player frustrations and the general lack of Georgia interest, the news stories of which I gotta believe at least a few of our guys have read, there's a danger of them simply calling this one a wash and looking forward to the offseason. In the past I've termed this kind of attitude "Kansas State Syndrome," but it's happened to plenty of other teams in the past. This is only A&M's fourth bowl trip in the past eight seasons, and the first of Mike Sherman's tenure; I don't think it's an unfounded assumption to say that this game means more to the Aggies than it does to us, and in December and January, sometimes discrepancies like that make the difference between wins and losses.

And I don't need to remind anybody about this one, do I?

Now, do I think we're the better team? All of this season's disappointments aside, yes, I do. We've played a much tougher schedule and done better against it. I think we've got more talent overall. The question is whether they're motivated enough to overcome a skeleton coaching staff on defense and the memories of a frustrating season.

Will they? I don't know enough about our players' psyches to dare make a prediction, so I don't mean it as a comment on their motivation, or potential lack of same, when I predict that we're likely to get caught in a shootout against the Aggies. They did it to Oklahoma State, they did it to Texas, they can do it to us. And for that reason -- even taking into account what I said earlier about Bacarri Rambo in the step-up category -- I think this game rests in large part upon what Joe Cox is able to do in his final game in a Georgia uniform. A&M has let seven different QBs throw for more than 250 yards this season (four of them for more than 300), putting up a 19:6 TD:INT ratio in the process. So it stands to reason that the Ginger Ninja could put up some big numbers in Shreveport. Yes, he has had some awful games this season, but -- and this should get a nomination for Backhanded Compliment of the Decade -- against the lesser pass defenses he's played this season, he's been remarkably efficient (a combined 36-52-1 for 591 yards and 8 TDs against Arkansas, Tennessee Tech, and Georgia Tech, the three teams on our '09 slate with pass-efficiency defenses worse than A&M's). If our play-calling against GT is any indication, he still may not be asked to do too much, but with A.J. Green back and Joe facing his final opportunity to leave a good impression in the minds of Bulldog Nation, I think he'll end his Georgia career with a fine performance.

The Ginger Ninja after tying a school record with five TDs against Arkansas. Really wouldn't mind it a bit if you did that again, Joe.

Fine enough to win a shootout, though? He did in Fayetteville, where it should be added he didn't get much help from our turnover margin (-2 in that game) or, for that matter, our running game (which averaged only 2.1 yards per carry if you took away Richard Samuel's 80-yard TD run in the second quarter). There's no reason for Georgia not to go over 30 points in this game, which we would've done in five of our last six games but for one extraordinarily ill-timed red-zone turnover against Kentucky.

I'll be honest with you: I've gone back and forth many, many times on this game, with my first (and third, and fourth, and I think also sixth) inclination being to brace myself for an A&M upset. Between the danger of a letdown in a second-tier bowl and the upheaval on the coaching staff, I could easily see the Aggies -- who have managed to get up for a few big games this season, even if their final record doesn't seem to reflect it -- taking advantage and carpet-bombing us to a sixth loss. I still think this one's going to be a shootout, and you're crazy if you don't think likewise; both teams have been so inconsistent for most of this season that you could practically flip a coin here. Indeed, if we succumb to the same turnover affliction that hamstrung us in so many early games this season, as well as the later game against Kentucky, this will not be a fun game to watch. But if we stay even or on the plus side in turnover margin, as we've done in three of our last four victories (the one exception being Tennessee Tech, with the one turnover coming way past the point at which the game had already been decided), then we should be able to fire away at them with A.J., Washaun, and Caleb, while our better-than-it's-been-given-credit-for run defense renders A&M one-dimensional (OK, one-and-a-half-dimensional) in a way that they really won't be able to do back to us.

I think both teams will break 30 points on the scoreboard. Really, I wouldn't be surprised to see both teams break 40. But I think we'll pull ahead in the second half, make the critical big stop toward the end of the game to seal the win, and cap off a difficult season with an eighth victory. No, it's not New Orleans, it's certainly not Pasadena, and it's not even Atlanta, but it'd be a win. And I think it's one we'd all be happy to take.

And then it's RIVERBOAT GAMBLIN' 'til the clock strikes 2010!

If you're trash-talking: Georgia and Texas A&M do not exactly have a lengthy tradition of intense rivalry on the gridiron; I think you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we've faced each other. But the last time that happened, the Bulldogs destroyed the Aggies 42-0. That Georgia team, incidentally, went on to win the 1980 national championship; A&M, for all their tradition and alleged football heritage, hasn't won a consensus national title since 1939, and their non-consensus or "retroactive" titles go back even further into the bowels of history.

And let's talk about those traditions for a second. Now granted, most of what I know about A&M traditions I've learned from Longhorn fans, who are not exactly unbiased observers here, but even from a purely objective standpoint, some of this "Aggie tradition" is just surreal. The whole "corps of cadets" thing? I've been dubious about that one for a while, because frankly, it looks like a lot of those guys are just playing dress-up, but apparently A&M does send a lot of graduates on to become military officers so I'll give those guys a pass. The "Yell Leaders"? Hey, anyone can shout gibberish for three and a half hours, that doesn't make them a cheerleader. For example, when I lived in Atlanta there was a guy on my regular subway ride to work who did that, and I don't remember anyone's spirits being raised by it; mainly it just sort of made everyone uncomfortable.

And then there's this.

Yes, this is what has come to be known as "The Squeeze," which the Aggie cadets supposedly do at critical junctures in games so that they can "take the pain" for their football team. I would like to point out to these young men that pain is not a zero-sum game, and their arbitrarily inflicting damage upon their genitalia does not actually do anything to lessen the suffering of their football players. But even if it did, it's a wonder A&M still exists -- that video was recorded toward the end of the A&M-Texas Tech game in 2006, and the Ags are 22-24 since then, so that's a whole lot of pain to be taking, fellas. If things don't get much better in College Station, this "tradition" is going to result in the eradication of entire future generations of potential Aggies.

I will run up and down the street in front of my house wearing nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions if: Georgia scores more than 50 points (in a victory, obviously). We may need every one of those points to outlast the A&M offense, but whether we actually end up needing them or not, we might as well end this season with a bang, fellas. Go Dawgs!

Friday, December 25

Merry Christmas.

As difficult as things have been over the past year or so, I've periodically had to remind myself that I actually have it pretty good -- roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my belly, a loving family who's willing to give me a helping hand when I need it -- and that's especially true around this time of year. Whereas 90 percent of the world would probably be happy with a sanitary place to live or an extra piece of bread in tomorrow's meal, I've got it good enough that I can afford to ask for stuff like Legos and Wii games for Christmas. Unemployment issues and whatever else aside, I must be doing all right.

But the most important thing I'm blessed with is the people in my life, and that includes my those of you who grace me with a little time out of your day to read this blog. Thank you, and Merry Christmas -- or Hanukkah, or Kwaanza, or winter solstice, or whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year; I hope that your holiday is blessed with as much love and companionship as mine has been, and I hope that the new year brings all of us as many additional blessings as we need.

Monday, December 21

SEC Power Poll All-SEC Team: the receivers.

As a voter in Team Speed Kills' SEC Power Poll and, subsequently, their inaugural All-SEC Team balloting, I've been tapped to participate in the rollout that began today with the quarterbacks over at Florida blog Alligator Army. I get the honor of revealing the winning receivers, which is a particular pleasure given that the top vote-getter was . . .

. . . A.J. Green, sophomore, Georgia (nine votes). Green was recruited out of Summerville High School in South Carolina as the game-breaking wide receiver that the Bulldogs had desperately needed ever since the graduation of Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson, and he didn't disappoint, setting a Georgia freshman record with 56 receptions his first year (for 963 yards, the third-best season total in Georgia history). This year, he's rolled up 751 yards on 47 catches and earned first-team All-SEC honors despite missing three full games due to a shoulder injury; that injury also caused Green to miss most of the Auburn game, but he still finished second in the SEC in both receptions per game (5.22) and yards per game (84.33).

Perhaps no single receiver in the country has been as vital to his team's success as Green has. He hauled in seven passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a wild early-season shootout at Arkansas, which Georgia won 52-41, and followed that up the very next week with a season-best 153 yards and a TD (should've been 157 yards and two TDs, but whatever) against Arizona State. Just for good measure, he blocked ASU's 37-yard go-ahead field-goal attempt with four and a half minutes left in the game. Without Green as an all-but-foolproof every-down option in the passing game, there's a good chance Georgia is 5-7 (or worse) and in full crisis mode right now.

The one player who topped Green in per-game stats? Shay Hodge, senior, Ole Miss (seven votes), who led the SEC with 63 catches for 1,023 yards; he was the only SEC player to record a thousand-yard receiving season in 2009. Hodge broke the hundred-yard mark in four games this season, including the upset against LSU, in which he caught the go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown from Jevan Snead; you may also remember him as the receiver who caught the go-ahead 86-yard pass from Snead against Florida last year, which helped deal the eventual national champions their only loss of the season.

For his career, Hodge has amassed 2,534 yards and 22 TDs on 166 receptions. He, like Green, was named an All-SEC first-teamer this year, and is projected as a mid-round pick in next year's NFL Draft.

Others receiving votes:

Brandon LaFell, senior, LSU (five votes) -- tied for first place among all SEC receivers with 10 touchdowns and finished eighth in the SEC in yards per game (58.8). Made critical touchdown grabs in close wins over Mississippi State and Arkansas. Has totaled 2,430 yards and 24 TDs for his career.

Darvin Adams, sophomore, Auburn (three votes) -- in a year in which Auburn's offense dramatically outperformed expectations, particularly in the passing game, Adams provided a spark for a receiving corps that had underachieved for years, leading the team with 855 yards on 48 catches. Tied LaFell's 10-TD mark and finished third in the SEC overall in yardage; highlights included a three-TD performance against West Virginia and a 72-yard touchdown catch against Alabama.

UPDATED: The full list of All-SEC players is as follows, along with links to the blogs presenting them:

Quarterback: Tim Tebow (Florida)
Offensive line: Mike Johnson (Alabama), Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), Ciron Black (LSU), Mike Pouncey (Florida), John Jerry (Ole Miss)
Running backs: Mark Ingram (Alabama), Dexter McCluster (Ole Miss)
Wide receivers: A.J. Green (Georgia), Shay Hodge (Ole Miss)
Defensive linemen: Terrence Cody (Alabama), Antonio Coleman (Auburn), Carlos Dunlap (Florida), Justin Houston (Georgia)/Cliff Matthews (South Carolina)
Linebackers: Rolando McClain (Alabama), Eric Norwood (South Carolina), Rennie Curran (Georgia)
Defensive backs: Eric Berry (Tennessee), Joe Haden (Florida), Javier Arenas (Alabama), Mark Barron (Alabama)
Special teams: P Drew Butler (Georgia), K Leigh Tiffin (Alabama), PR/KR Javier Arenas (Alabama)

Friday, December 18

The Friday Random Ten gives its annual salute.

Next week's Friday is Christmas Day, at which point y'all will certainly have more fulfilling things to do than read a blog post (I'm damn sure gonna have better things to do than write one), so the Friday Random Ten will almost certainly be taking a hiatus. So this week seemed like a perfect time for one of Hey Jenny Slater's annual traditions: a tribute to the Sexy Santa costume.

We begin with Lucy Pinder, Rosie Jones, and Chanelle Hayes, ringing in the holiday season the way the British do best.

Here's the beloved Tennessee Titans cheerleading squad, decked out for Christmas (and for an unholy mudhole-stomping of the Rams) last week.

Holly submits this teal-and-rhinestone'd take on the Sexy Santa outfit, as observed on the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders during the Jags-Colts game last night

Followed by Alessandra Ambrosio, also an annual HJS tradition, for obvious reasons.

And Katy Perry, whom Holly is gonna kill me for putting up here:

And . . . whoever these chicks are:

Finally, this might be stretching the definition of a Sexy Santa outfit somewhat, but hey, they're Australian and it's summer down there, so whatever.

Merry Christmas, everyone -- may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be low-cut and marabou-trimmed.

Here's the Ten:

1. De La Soul, "Say No Go"
2. Beck, "Replica"
3. The Who, "Squeeze Box"
4. Underworld, "Faxed Invitation"
5. R.E.M., "Daysleeper"
6. Beck, "High 5 (Rock the Catskills)"
7. Richard Cheese, "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
8. Peter Gabriel, "Steam"
9. Opus III, "It's a Fine Day"
10. Beck, "Soul of a Man"

It's the holidays, folks, so go nuts -- Random Tens, Christmas wishes, Sexy Santas to whom you might be partial -- in the comments.

Wednesday, December 16

The Old School Plus One tackles 2009.

Last spring I tossed out my own solution to the BCS/playoff dilemma with an idea I called the "old-school plus one," which dispensed with both the arbitrariness and obscurantism of the current BCS system and the cumbersome dead weight of an overly extensive playoff setup. Basically, it'd work like this: The elite-level bowls, after sending out their automatic invites to the various conference champions, get to invite whichever other teams they want. Rather than the ridiculously arcane selection process mandated by present BCS rules, the bowls could invite whichever teams they thought would sell the most tickets and/or create the most exciting matchup; it'd basically be the same free-for-all we had before the Bowl Coalition got started in the mid-'90s, with some teams potentially being sought after by multiple bowls and getting to pick the invite they preferred. After all the bowl games were played, the teams would be re-ranked -- simply going by the AP poll, no coaches trying to game the system or computer rankings needlessly complicating matters -- and the top two teams face off in a national-championship game.

For the most part, I think this system would've worked well in sorting out some of the thornier controversies of the BCS era, but I thought I'd try applying it to the 2009 season -- in which we still have five undefeated teams as of mid-December, but only two of them getting to play for BCS title honors -- to see if we could get better matchups and a more definitive path to the championship.

1. Alabama (13-0) -- SEC champion
2. Texas (13-0) -- Big XII champion
3. Texas Christian (12-0) -- Mountain West champion
4. Cincinnati (12-0) -- Big East champion
5. Florida (12-1)
6. Boise State (13-0) -- WAC champion
7. Oregon (10-2) -- Pac-10 champion
8. Ohio State (10-2) -- Big 10 champion
9. Georgia Tech (11-2) -- ACC champion
10. Iowa (10-2)

Rose: #7 Oregon (10-2) vs. #8 Ohio State (10-2)
The Rose Bowl goes with its traditional matchup of Big 10 and Pac-10 champions -- and completely removes itself from the national-title picture in the process. But that's never stopped them before.

Sugar: #1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #3 Texas Christian (12-0)
Alabama goes to New Orleans as the SEC champion, and the Sugar jumps on undefeated TCU rather than taking a more geographically distant Boise State team or setting up a Bama-Florida rematch.

Fiesta: #2 Texas (13-0) vs. #6 Boise State (13-0)
This one's tricky, because the Fiesta probably would be very interested in the prospect of a Lone Star State showdown between undefeated Texas and TCU teams. But Boise State's fan base has been very good to the Fiesta Bowl in the past (not to mention this year -- more than 80 percent of BSU's ticket allotment for the 2010 Fiesta had been snapped up within four days of Selection Sunday), and the bowl would still get an undefeated team even if the Sugar Bowl snapped up TCU first. Plus, given what happened the last time an undefeated Boise team met up with a Big XII champion in Glendale, this matchup would almost certainly generate a ton of media buzz.

Orange: #4 Cincinnati (12-0) vs. #5 Florida (12-1)
The Orange Bowl has the option of picking either the Big East champ or the ACC champ for its automatic tie-in, and I think they'd go with the higher-ranked, undefeated Bearcats over Georgia Tech, given how loath ACC fans have been to even travel as far as Jacksonville or Tampa for a conference-title game (and how Cincy fans snapped up a much greater percentage of their ticket allotment than Virginia Tech fans did for last year's bowl).

WHAT (I THINK) HAPPENS: Oregon dispenses with Ohio State in an ultimately irrelevant game. In the shocker of the postseason, an Alabama team whose defensive coordinator signed a contract to become Georgia's DC two weeks prior feels a strong sense of deja vu as they walk into the Superdome, take another undefeated Mountain West squad for granted, and get upset by TCU, 24-20. Texas also does one of their usual early-game sleepwalks but manages to survive their mid-major opponent in a shootout. And Florida's defense powers them to a win over Cincinnati. (Subplot: Would Brian Kelly stick around to coach the Bearcats through the postseason, regardless of his intentions to take the Notre Dame job, if he thought UC still had a glimmer of hope for a national title?)

After the bowl games shake up the rankings, Texas is #1, followed by TCU, Alabama, Florida, and Oregon. The two Texas teams thus get sent to Pasadena (hey, the in-state battle ended up happening after all), where the Horned Frogs score the potential tying touchdown in the final 90 seconds of the national-title game, then eschew the extra-point kick for a shot at a two-point conversion and the win -- and make it, winning 29-28 and bringing home the national-championship trophy.

Now, all this is conjecture, and do I really think TCU would upset Alabama or Texas? I don't know; depends on what day you ask me. And you'll also notice that only two of the matchups are actually different from what we've ended up with in 2009 -- Alabama and Texas each have to face a mid-major before getting a shot at the national title, rather than just shunting TCU and Boise State to face each other at the BCS's "kids' table." But I threw the TCU upsets into my hypothetical situation to shed light on a couple of larger points -- first, with four of the five undefeated teams paired up against each other in bowl games, you'd really have to work hard to come up with a way to explain why the "plus-one" winner shouldn't be crowned the national champion. Second, with the mid-major "BCS busters" having an actual shot at the national title, rather than just being set off to the side to play a glorified exhibition game, you'd silence the Orrin Hatches of the world who, accurately or inaccurately, think their states' teams are being unfairly excluded from the process.

The only real possibility for a monkeywrench to get thrown into the works here is if Cincinnati upsets Florida, meaning that there'd still be one 13-0 BCS-conference team (which, like Alabama, had knocked off the Gators) still "on the outside looking in" with respect to the national-championship game. But I think my larger purpose still has been served: If the top bowls were freed from the strictures of computer rankings, automatic qualifiers, and the BCS's ridiculously convoluted rules for which bowls get to pick teams in which order, we'd not only get better, more meaningful games, but we'd also get an even more definitive national champion.

Your comments and suggestions, as always, are welcome in the comments, and that goes for any differences of opinion you might have on the bowl matchups themselves.

Strong advice.

OK, it seems a few people may have missed the point of the thought exercise I posted yesterday (and yes, the Mystery Defensive Coordinator I described was indeed Charlie Strong). The point wasn't to compare Charlie Strong unfavorably to Bud Foster (or to any of the people who've been talked up as candidates for our vacant DC position), and it definitely wasn't to make any comment one way or another on Strong's race. The point really wasn't about Charlie Strong at all; mainly, it was to show just how easy it is to twist facts a certain way when you're talking about a given coach's suitability for a given job. "Facts," as Ronald Reagan once may or may not have meant to say, "are stupid things."

With every candidate who's been mentioned for our DC position, Bud Foster being only the latest, there are any number of members of Bulldog Nation who will step forward to voice their dissatisfaction by picking out bad individual games that candidate had or a less-than-sterling record against a certain opponent. I realize that no candidate is going to satisfy everybody, but at the same time, no candidate is going to be perfect, either. Any coach or coordinator can be selectively portrayed as deficient or downright incompetent if you pick out the right info to tar him with; hell, Charlie Strong is a guy for whom I think any one of us would've been willing to auction off one of our nieces or nephews, yet if all you knew about him was what I told you in yesterday's post, you'd think he was a borderline mental defective best suited for Division III, if that.

By the same token, if all I told you about Willie Martinez was this, this, this, this, and this, you'd be begging us to not only hire Willie Martinez back but give him a raise and a ten-year contract extension. But as David Hale makes clear, Mark Richt didn't let his knee jerk based on individual games when making the (very difficult) decision to fire his longtime assistant and friend. Rather, he did what many of us bloggers have done -- he looked at Martinez's overall body of work over five years, saw the consistently negative trends in terms of yards and points, and did what needed to be done. It was a hard-fought, well-thought-through decision, and I have every confidence that the hiring of Martinez's replacement will be just as thoroughly considered (even more so after reading Hale's post). I hope the rest of Bulldog Nation will be, too.

That includes considering every candidate's body of work as a whole, rather than just deciding "I don't like the look of that guy" and then cherry-picking individual performances to show what a schmuck he is. Everett Withers's UNC defense got clocked by FSU and N.C. State? He still directs the sixth-ranked defense in the country (and managed to help the Tarheels to eight wins despite an offense barely averaging 310 yards a game). Vic Koenning got 66 points dropped on him by Texas Tech earlier this year? He still pulled K-State's wretched defense from 117th in the nation last year to 40th this year (and if never getting unloaded on by Texas Tech is a criterion for being a good DC, Dick Bumpas and Will Muschamp would both be off the list).

It also includes having some faith that Richt is going to make the right decision and not just throw a contract at the first DC who bats his eyes at us. Whether or not you think he's the absolute best choice out there, the fact that we've reached out to (and come so close to snagging) a guy like Bud Foster -- one of the most respected names in the business and a guy whose professional relationship with Frank Beamer stretches back more than 30 years -- shows that we're very serious about this hire and are prepared to spare no expense or effort in finding the top guy. We can debate the pros and cons of individual candidates or suggestions to our hearts' content, but there's no point in panicking or bringing the wrath of god down on any of them (particularly when three out of any four rumored candidates circulated in the mainstream media or blogosphere were probably pulled right out of some writer's ass to begin with).

I leave you with one more thought exercise: Would you be happy with a defensive-coordinator hire whose only previous DC jobs had been at Central Florida, Central Michigan, and DI-AA Western Illinois, and who was rumored to be a job-hopper we might not be able to keep more than three or four years anyway? I'm just saying, it might not be as bad as you think.

Tuesday, December 15

Thought exercise.

While I work on a playoff-related post, and while Georgia continues to hunt down a defensive coordinator, I've got a thought experiment I'd like to try out on y'all, particularly if you're of the Dawg persuasion. This was inspired by the recent news (since put to rest) that highly respected Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster was officially in the mix for Georgia's DC job, and more specifically the reaction of one of my friends to the news. I'll explain the point of this in a subsequent post later on this week, but for now I just want y'all to ponder one question.

It's December 2, we've just fired Willie Martinez, we're casting about for a new DC, and there's a guy who's been bandied about as a prospect for the job. He's coached in the SEC for the vast majority of his career, including the last 10 years straight. In his first defensive-coordinator job, his team didn't win a game all season long. At the second program where he served as DC, his team won two conference titles in seven years, but they lost to LSU four times, Auburn twice, Tennessee twice, and Ole Miss three times; he's even managed to lose to Mississippi State. (Just for good measure, he's also lost to Georgia twice.) In one season, his defense gave up 30 or more points in five different games, including a bowl-game loss to a Big 10 team; he's 2-3 against the Big 10 and a so-so 7-5 against the ACC. Every year he's talked about for a number of head-coaching openings at DI-A programs, but he never seems to get any of them. And the last game he coached for his current program was a three-TD loss to an SEC rival in which his team gave up more than 30 points.

I don't want you to guess the identity of this coach. All I want you to do is answer the question, Do you want this guy to be our next defensive coordinator?

Wednesday, December 9

Better know a defensive-coordinator candidate, part II: the wild-cards.

After last week's initial rundown of defensive-coordinator candidates ranging from the exciting to the unrealistic to the just plain suicidal, I perused the resulting comments thread, along with a few other blogs that have been speculating on the coaching search. And I came across enough new names that it seemed like a good time for a second round of DC candidates. Most of these guys are unknown-enough quantities (to me, anyway) that I didn't feel confident slotting them into the "want"/"don't want" categories from last time, though, so instead I'm just throwing them all out there as possibilities and letting y'all fill in the blanks in the comments, if you've got any enlightening info or strong opinions one way or the other.

I can, however, take two names I've seen thrown around and strike them off the list post-haste. First, Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster has no Georgia ties that I'm aware of and has been a Frank Beamer disciple for basically his entire career; he's a virtual lock to at least be interviewed for the VT head-coaching job whenever Beamer retires, and even if he doesn't get it, there will be plenty of HC offers coming his way, enough that he doesn't have to worry about making a lateral move. Sorry, but he ain't comin' to Athens. I've also seen people mention Ron Zook, who is, against all conceivable logic, still employed by Illinois, and was mediocre enough as Florida's DC that Steve Spurrier -- whose disinterest in anything other than offense was already well-known -- saw fit to demote him to special teams. I am quite relieved to say we don't need to expend much mental energy hashing out the chances that he'll be coming to Athens, either.

But here are some guys who might yet be on the table:

Manny Diaz
I heard a rumor today that Diaz, the DC at Middle Tennessee State, was on our list of candidates for secondary coach but possibly even for DC. Diaz is currently in his first year as a coordinator after having coached some excellent defensive units at N.C. State under both Chuck Amato and Tom O'Brien.
Pros: He's young and energetic, the kind of guy who could stay at Georgia a long time (assuming someone else didn't try to snap him up first, either for a DC job or a head-coaching position). He's done well in his first year in Murfreesboro, taking a Blue Raider defense that had been frequently awful over the last few seasons and fashioning it into a squad that finished first in the Sun Belt in passing yards allowed, pass efficiency, and scoring D. Not a big name yet, but consider that Brian VanGorder's last three DC jobs before coming to Athens were at Central Florida, Central Michigan, and DI-AA Western Illinois.
Cons: A "diamond in the rough" though he may be, he still doesn't have much experience under his belt, which would make him a puzzling choice for a brand-name program supposedly capable of opening up the checkbook and bringing in a well-established coach. It's a long way from the Sun Belt to the complex schemes and elite-level talent that the offenses of guys like Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn, and Bobby Petrino would be throwing at him.

Ellis Johnson
Johnson was brought in two seasons ago to turn around a South Carolina defense that had started to sputter. He's also served as the DC at Mississippi State (2004-07, during which time his defenses were about the only thing the Bizarro Bulldogs had going for them) and Alabama (1997-2000).
Pros: With all due respect to Dawgsports' MaconDawg, I think he underestimates Johnson's body of work at South Carolina a little. The Gamecocks were 110th in the country in run defense the year before he arrived -- remember Darren McFadden going over three bills against them in November '07? -- and were all the way back up to 43d after one year of his coaching. Both of his first two South Carolina defenses finished in the top 15 nationally in yards allowed.
Cons: Johnson's defenses may have been the brightest spot on the field for Sylvester Croom's Mississippi State program, but that's not saying much; his best finish in the SEC was fifth overall in terms of yards allowed. And as many good games as he's had at South Carolina, he's also had some real clunkers (56 points allowed to Florida last year; 41 this year to a Georgia team operating at nowhere near full efficiency).

Travis Jones
You may remember Jones as a four-year letter-winner as a defensive lineman for the Bulldogs during the Ray Goff era; he graduated in 1995 and returned two years later as a grad assistant, where he coached future superstars Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud as freshmen. Currently the assistant defensive line coach for the (undefeated) New Orleans Saints.
Pros: Well, there's the pull of the ol' alma mater, for one. Jones also worked as the DL coach and recruiting coordinator for LSU in 2003 and '04, during which time he coached guys like Chad Lavalais and Marcus Spears on the way to a national title. His recruiting chops would be a huge benefit if, as many people predict, we lose Rodney Garner over the course of this defensive reorganization.
Cons: Would the pull of the alma mater be enough to tear a guy away from a Saints team that's 12-0 and has every reason to think it'll be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl? He may not be interested in even talking to us until mid-January, and that's a long time to be leaving our recruiting efforts twisting in the wind. Has been in the NFL ever since joining Nick Saban's jump from LSU to the Miami Dolphins in '05 and may have his eye on an upward path through the pro, rather than college, ranks at this point.

Vic Koenning
Currently the co-defensive coordinator and DBs coach at Kansas State, Koenning's experience on the defensive side of the ball stretches back nearly 20 years and includes stops at Wyoming, Troy, and Clemson.
Pros: Koenning's defenses at Troy, Clemson, and K-State have all been terrific. Only twice have his squads finished outside the top 20 nationally in total defense -- his first year at Troy, which was only the program's third year in DI-A, and this year at KSU, in which he still managed to haul the Wildcats from 117th in the country in total D up to 39th. Has probably gained at least a passing familiarity with our recruiting area from four seasons at Clemson.
Cons: Supposedly he bolted Clemson for KSU because Clemson wouldn't give him the head-coaching job; that and his three years of experience as Wyoming's head coach (even though he only went 5-29) lead me to believe he'd only be interested in upward moves from here on out -- particularly now that he's coaching at his alma mater and thus has a good shot at the Wildcats' top job once Bill Snyder, who just turned 70, retires.

Mike MacIntyre
Second-year defensive coordinator at Duke University and, as of November 18, your reigning National Assistant Coach of the Year. Was a grad assistant at UGA while earning his master's here in 1990 and '91.
Pros: Well, the National Assistant Coach of the Year thing is a pretty big one. Duke's national ranking of 66th in total yards allowed isn't spectacular, but it's not bad considering the paucity of talent on the Blue Devils' roster, and it's a damn sight better than where they were before he arrived (92d in the nation, giving up 424 yards per game; that figure is down by more than 50 yards for '09). Also coached under Bill Parcells for four years with the Dallas Cowboys.
Cons: Do we really want to hire a guy who only has two years of experience as a coordinator? Do we really want to go poaching anyone off of Duke's coaching staff at all? And grad degree notwithstanding, do we want to hire a guy who got his bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech (and played there as a free safety and punt returner in '87 and '88)?

Bob Sanders
Presently serving as defensive coordinator (though who knows for how long, now that Dick Jauron has been fired) with the Buffalo Bills; before that, he was defensive coordinator and DEs coach for the Green Bay Packers. Before that, he spent 11 seasons on Steve Spurrier's staff at Florida, where his defensive lines ground us into hamburger on a regular basis.
Pros: In his capacity as a DL coach, his lines have been almost uniformly terrific; mentored a trio of NFL first-rounders (Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, and Huey Richardson) with the Gators. Soon to be available, too, given the state of flux in Buffalo.
Cons: Hasn't coached college ball since 2000, and as we've seen, success in the NFL doesn't necessarily translate into (and has been, in some cases, a hindrance to) success at the college level. Less consistent as a coordinator than he was as a DLs or LBs coach; the Bills, for instance, are dead last in the NFL in run defense at the moment and only midpack in QB sacks. Also has the taint of a stint at Georgia Tech on his record, even if it was a long time ago (heh, "taint"), and at 56 years old he may not be the kind of energetic firebrand we're looking for.

So there are a few more names for you to toss around -- I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on them in the comments, along with, as always, any new suggestions you might have. With recruiting heating up and ratcheting up the importance of getting a name locked down, I expect we'll be hearing rumors ramp up accordingly over the next couple weeks.