Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What We Learned in the TCU Game

There is something about being a BYU fan that allows for rugged optimism and hope in the face of diminishing possibility. There nearly always remains a way to win, a path to victory, or some combination of great playmaking, lucky breaks, and a touch of magic that keeps the dream alive. Yet, despite this, at some point the possibilities and optimal combinations become no longer viable. For fans of some teams, this may have happened early in the first quarter down 14-0, or at half time down 21-7, or even when TCU went up 31-7 ten minutes into the third quarter. But for BYU fans, it likely wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter when defeat was acknowledged. They stay until the end of the game. They believe in the possibilities.

Here is what we learned this week in response to last week’s questions:

Can Max Hall get rid of the ball in time? For the most part. There was quite a bit of pressure on the pocket, but Hall seemingly had enough time to get rid of the ball, and despite a couple of sacks, for most part was able to do so. The real issue seemed to be that there were no open receivers to throw to, resulting in coverage sacks or dumps for short to no gain.

Will the BYU defensive front seven be able to contain the TCU run game and still get some pressure on Andy Dalton? Yes and no. Run game contained? Check. Pressure on Andy Dalton? Non-existent. For the third week in a row, BYU was able to contain the running game (giving up 127 yards on 37 carries to TCU is respectable). But until late in the game, there was almost no pressure on Dalton, allowing him to take his time waiting for something to open up. In the fourth quarter, when pressure was finally applied via blitz, Dalton threw several bad passes and looked flustered. And although too little too late, hopefully the coaches will identify this and incorporate it into future game plans a bit earlier.

Has the BYU defense learned to adapt to the Wildcat and can it contain Jeremy Kerley? Yes. Kerley was held to 12 yards on 3 carries.

What impact will the return of the injured have? Slightly positive. The return of Tonga improved the running game. With several players back special teams coverage was improved. The secondary, with a still hurt Johnson playing and flu-recovered Bradley, was not significantly better. McKay Jacobsen, still out with a hamstring, would have made a difference in this game, but did not play.

Will BYU win the turnover battle? No. BYU 2, TCU 0. I wrote last week, “whichever team wins the turnover battle on Saturday is likely to win the game.” The interception in the opening drive of the third quarter leading to a TCU field goal was ominously reminiscent of a similar outcome in the FSU game. The best way for BYU to come back at that point was to get a few turnovers, but it never happened as the Cougars gave up a fumble to go with it.

Will BYU’s running game find success? Not when it counts. The total yards were decent (Harvey had 123), but much of it came near the end of the game, when (surprise) TCU was giving up some room to run. The greater question is why BYU was running at that point. When it mattered most—on third downs, short distances, etc.—the run game was essentially shut down. What really hurt is that the passing game, was similarly stymied, and as mentioned already, the receivers appeared unable to get open when they needed to.

Will BYU have the emotional intensity to match TCU without letting it interfere with their execution? Mostly. TCU did not appear to dominate the emotional battle as they obviously did last year. Nor did it seem to be primarily lack of execution that lost the game as it did in the FSU game (missed tackles, turnovers, etc.). BYU seemed focused and prepared to play, but matched up with an superior team (at least on this night) and with a few bad breaks, got behind early and was unable to overcome the deficit.

A few other things of note:
• Looks like the Poinsettia Bowl for the Cougars this year. The Vegas Bowl has already said that they would like to change it up and fans feel the same way, so with a BCS game out of the question, San Diego seems the likely destination. For your Holiday planning, that game will be played on Wednesday, December 23 at 5pm (PST) on ESPN. This will be the fifth year of that bowl game (first played in 2005), with the MWC playing in it each year, going 3-1. Interestingly, BYU has played in the Vegas Bowl all four years of the Poinsettia Bowl’s existence.

• Good time for a bye week. McKay Jacobsen will likely be back to full speed by the Wyoming game on Nov 7.

• Fans will always question the coaches’ decisions and play calling. But there are some plays and decisions that are easier to question than others. In particular, I thought it curious that they called a running play on third and eleven when we were within scoring range and that they decided to punt on fourth and two near midfield, down big in the second half…

Friday, October 23, 2009

What to Watch for Against TCU

If Gary Patterson thought last year’s game was a media circus, he is likely to expand his horizons a bit this weekend, as the ESPN Game Day event has become the talk of the town in fan circles and Provo has become the town of the talk on the national scene. The nation will be watching. All day. The Cougars may actually be able to undo some of the damage done in the Florida State game by showing up on Saturday and showing what they have shown in the last couple of games. Yes, underneath all of the hype and hoopla, there is an actual game being played, and yes, it should be a good one. It seems almost a distraction right now to focus on elements of the game when there are clever signs to be made, television images to be aware of, and talking heads to analyze. But let’s do it anyway.

Can Max Hall get rid of the ball in time? Having enough time to throw is relative. If you have a lot of time, you can throw it deep, where it takes some time for plays and patterns to develop. If you don’t have time, you need to throw dump it quickly. Max (and Anae) have been much better at dumping it off this season, introducing a screen pass and throwing more underneath routes.

Will the BYU defensive front seven be able to contain the TCU run game and still get some pressure on Andy Dalton? Aside from the Florida State game, BYU has been able to contain the run in nearly every game this season. However, last week, despite holding SDSU to only 20 yards rushing, there was almost no pressure on the quarterback and Lindley looked like an all-american. Dalton is a better runner and passer, and if given time, will be able to do more damage.

Has the BYU defense learned to adapt to the Wildcat and can it contain Jeremy Kerley? Last season Jeremy Kerley ran seemingly untouched every time he lined up behind center. This season he has been dangerous as well on special teams.

What impact will the return of the injured have? Last week several players were out with injuries, as well as another half dozen or so playing under the influence of influenza. Manase Tonga (knee) should immediately upgrade the run game. Improvement from Scott Johnson (ankle) and Brandon Bradley (flu) should improve the secondary. McKay Jacobsen (hamstring) will be a game time decision. Several special teams players are also back.

Will BYU win the turnover battle? Whichever team wins the turnover battle on Saturday is likely to win the game. Both teams are so evenly matched that an extra possession or improved field position could be the difference. It was the 5 turnovers against Florida State that was the Cougar’s undoing as much as anything.

Will BYU’s running game find success? The passing game will be there. Will there be a complimentary running game. If so, the Cougars will be in good shape. If not, this one could easily become a battle to the wire or worse.

Will BYU have the emotional intensity to match TCU without letting it interfere with their execution? That is something that all of us will be watching. It was obvious last year in Ft. Worth, that the BYU team had no idea what had just hit them. After the first possession, it will be clear again, which team showed up for the emotional battle. But key to that will be maintaining focus and execution at the same time—Bronco said that he has never seen his players as fired up as they were prior to the FSU game, but that lead to missed assignments and lack of focus, as football fans across the country are well aware.

I am putting on my Cosmo head right now and picking the Cougars to win this one. The coaches will have a great game plan for this one and do what is necessary to get the team up for the game. BYU stays focused and avoids big mistakes. The defense contains TCU’s run game and BYU is able to get 100+ yards on the ground opening up the passing game even more. Max gets rid of the ball when under pressure, limits turnovers, and guides the team to its second victory over a top 10 opponent this season. BYU 34 TCU 27.

Feel free to add your thoughts on what to watch for and your predictions below.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Updated Comparison of Conference TV Contracts

[Note: This article was originally published on this site and philsteele.com on September 18, 2009 and this updated version (with regards to the Big East and Notre Dame) supersedes all that was written previously.]

Once again, the Mountain West is taking collateral damage from its TV partners in the standoff between Direct TV and Comcast over Versus, and has raised the issue of conference television contracts to the forefront. Of particular note is the fact that ESPN Game Day will be in Provo to catch the excitement of the BYU vs. TCU game, while Versus will actually be broadcasting the game, but just not into any homes with Direct TV (most college football fans, and especially out-of-footprint MWC fans).

However, it is not just the MWC that desires more from its TV partners. I wrote a piece comparing the TV contracts with each conference back in September prior to the Florida State game. That article has been one of the most widely cited, searched, and seen publications on this site. It was pointed out that Notre Dame had not been included and that I had not considered the basketball schools from the Big East. I have addressed both of those concerns in this updated view.

With that introduction, let’s take a closer look at the MWC TV contract relative to the other conferences’ contracts, including the pros and cons of each.

[I should note that I am a non-MWC footprint Direct TV subscriber, and a relatively happy one at that. This year and last year have offered great access to all of the BYU games as well as most other conference games—almost enough good times to help me forget the years of purgatory, when in 2006 and 2007 many of the games were not available to me at any price. It was during those lean times that I purchased a Slingbox, which has merely acted as my emergency backup during the recent fat times, but may be called upon to come through in the clutch this weekend due to the Versus contract disputes.]

Conf   Teams $/Year  $/Yr/Tm   TV Partners
SEC       12     $205.0     $17.1     CBS, ESPN
Big 10    11     $174.0     $15.8     BTN, ABC/ESPN, CBS*
ND          1      $11.0       $11.0    NBC, Big East*
Big 12    12     $79.5       $6.6      ABC/ESPN, FSN
ACC       12     $66.9       $5.6      ABC/ESPN, Raycom*
Pac 10    10     $53.2       $5.3     ABC/ESPN, FSN, ABC/ESPN*
Big East  8^     $45.3       $3.7     ABC/ESPN, CBS*
MWC      9      $12.0       $1.3     CBSC/Mtn.
CUSA     12     $11.3       $0.9     CBSC, ESPN
WAC       9       $4.0        $0.4     ESPN
MAC       13      $1.4        $0.1     ESPN
Sunbelt    9       $0.0       $0.0     ESPN, Cox/Charter

*Separate basketball contracts
^Big East has 16 schools, only 8 of which participate in football and receive $1.7M each for football only; All 16 schools receive an additional $2.0M per year for basketball

When it comes to taking a closer look at the contracts, there are essentially four tiers—The Haves, The Wannabe Haves, The Not-Quite Have-Nots, and the Have-Nots. It is interesting to note that every conference, with the exception of the MWC, has some sort of arrangement with ESPN.

Upon closer consideration (and in light of the SEC/ESPN domino), it appears that the trend is toward larger, longer contracts for the conferences with the biggest TV draws, which leaves fewer slots and dollars for the rest of the football world. The MWC and Big Ten have chosen to create their own networks in an effort to combat that trend. The Big 12, ACC, Pac 10 are exploring that option now. Notre Dame has watched helplessly as it relinquished its title as king of college football television, as all SEC teams now make more than it does, yes, even Vanderbilt. The Big East is hanging on to what it has (primarily stemming from legacy efforts and basketball prowess) and looking to improve its lineup for the next go-around. Conference USA is heading back down to the have-nots and the WAC is hoping to move up to the not-quite have-nots. Overall, the MWC package is better than any of the alternatives its non-AQ brethren have by a long shot.

The Haves
The SEC and Big 10 are a head and shoulders above everyone else. The bar has been set and other conferences that want to keep up are scrambling to find a way to match the TV revenue that they are going to bring in over the next 15 years.

1. SEC
The SEC has an $825M, 15 year contract with CBS, for an exclusive time slot and first pick of games (14 regular season and championship game). The league made headlines earlier this summer when it signed a second 15 year deal for $2.25B with ESPN. ESPN gets its pick of the rest of the games, some of which are sublicensed to regional carriers. It is hard to find any issues with these arrangements. This large investment by ESPN will ensure that college football fans continue to hear about the “dominance” of the SEC from the Sports Leader for years to come, and due to limited time slots, will also preclude other leagues from signing similarly valued deals with ESPN.

2. Big 10
The Big Ten Network launched last year and is projected to bring in $2.8B over the next 25 years; this also guarantees coverage for all of the leagues games. In addition, there is a $1.0B, 10 year contract with ABC/ESPN, and a $20M, 10 year basketball deal with CBS. When the SEC is essentially using ESPN as its own conference network, the Big 10 did the next best thing by starting its own, and has a high enough profile to generate more viewers and dollars than the Mtn.

3. Notre Dame
Notre Dame was once the king of the college football television world and it wasn’t even close. However, recently, it must find itself looking up at the Big 10 and SEC with envy and imagining the implications of being left behind. Despite this, it still brings in almost double the next closest school, and so remains one of the “haves” but could be quickly relegated to “wannabe have” status in the next 3-5 years. The school agreed to a 5 year contract extension with its football TV partner NBC this summer, and although terms have not been disclosed, they are believed to be in the same neighborhood as the previous contract, which would put it at about $9.0M per year. For basketball, the Irish are affiliated with the Big East and bring in another $2.0M per year or so. If Notre Dame ever decides to end its independent status, it will be because of its inability to remain relevant and draw viewers (and thus TV dollars) while being left out of the ongoing BCS and conference supremacy debate.

The Wannabe Haves
The Big 12, ACC, and Pac 10 feel an urgency to keep up with the Joneses. Rumors of creation of joint TV networks between Big 12 and ACC or Pac 10 and ACC have been flying. The Pac 10 brought in a new commissioner with the primary task of working out a more favorable TV arrangement (Pac 10 expansion may even be a possibility).

4. Big 12
There is a $480M, 8 year deal with ABC to show first pick of up to 19 games per season (and ESPN has rights to all basketball games). FSN has a 4 year, $78M deal to show the rest. Of those, FSN has sublicensed 7 games to ESPN and 5 to Versus. Overall good exposure, but significantly less compensation for the effort than the SEC or Big 10.

5. ACC
The addition of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College has not quite played out in TV market land as was hoped. The ACC has a 7 year, $258M contract with ABC/ESPN that is expiring soon. In that deal, ABC gets first pick, then ESPN/ESPN2, then Raycom (as part of basketball deal), and lastly ESPNU. Raycom has a subordinate deal with them for 10 years for $300M for basketball. The ESPN contract requires a marquee game on Labor Day each year. It is obvious that the conference is exploring all avenues as it has been linked to nearly all of the mega conference TV network deal rumors.

6. Pac 10
The main contract here is $125M with ABC/ESPN for 20 games per year over 5 years ending in 2011. There is another contract with FSN for 5 years and $97M—5 of those games have been sublicensed to Versus, keeping 13 windows for games on FSN. The remainder of the games end up on a hodgepodge of Fox regional networks such as FSN Northwest, Fox Sports West, Fox Sports Arizona, Oregon Sports Netowrk, CSN Bay Area, etc. The prime gripe here is that most games are not readily available to a national audience. New conference commissioner Larry Scott was able to raise the profile of the Women’s Tennis Tour through savvy TV contracts and was hired to do the same with the Pac 10.

The Not-Quite Have-Nots
The Big East, Mountain West and Conference USA find themselves with real TV contracts that actually compensate them for the product (differentiating them from the WAC, MAC and Sunbelt), but for annual amounts and levels of exposure that don’t qualify them to be in the same grouping with the previous four conferences. It leaves them looking up with envy, but also looking down knowing it could be worse. The Big East is by far the best off of these three, and could be argued that it deserves to be with the group above based on total revenue, but since more than half of its money comes from basketball, leaving football only TV revenue of $1.7M (which is close to what the MWC makes), and the fact that it has been forced to play games at rather fringe start times, the Big East has been placed in this group. It is also unlikely that the Big East will be able to maintain that level of revenue in its next contract unless some significant changes are made.

7. Big East
The Big East has a 6 year, roughly $218M deal with ESPN ($80M for football split 8 ways and $138M for basketball split 16 ways) running through 2013, which appears to be a Mike Tranghese boondoggle. In any case, the league is getting paid and has 17 games guaranteed to be on ABC or ESPN, with at least 3 on ABC. In order to achieve that the conference had to agree to up to 4 games on Thursdays, 2 on Sundays and mutually agreeable Friday games. 5 additional games can appear on ESPNU. Given that this is only an 8 team league, there are not that many games to begin with, especially in conference, and only 37% of these televised games ended up being played on Saturdays, effectively ensuring no marquee Big East games on the sport’s biggest day. The conference also has a 6 year $54M contract with CBS that pays another $9M per year (but must be split 16 ways). So football schools make $3.7M per year ($1.7M from football and $2.0M from basketball), while the basketball only schools get roughly $2.0M each). This is the only conference that makes more from televising its basketball games than it does from its football games, and likely owes its status as an AQ-BCS football conference to its perception as the number one basketball conference. With the recent beating the conference has taken in the media and from fans, there are rumors that the Big East is again looking to expand (Memphis or an ACC reverse raid), in order to improve its profile and reputation and cling to its football TV revenue.

8. Mountain West
After leaving ESPN, for increased revenue and regular game times, the Mountain West television situation is finally settling down. What was originally a 12 year, $120M contract with CSTV, added Comcast the day after it was announced, and was since sold to CBS College Sports. The Mtn. was created and Versus (which is owned by Comcast) was given 8 games per year (as part of the contract 8 games per year must be distributed to a national audience of 70 million homes or more). CBSC has the rights to up to 24 games per year (and has selected 11 this year). Overall, the national footprint/access is improving as is the quality of the product; however, what suffers is the exposure on ESPN—both on TV and online, as the station does not have any vested interest in developing the leauge’s profile. There is also no web streaming available.

9. Conference USA
There is a legacy contract with ESPN/ESPN2 for 10 games per season paying $45.8M and another with CBSC for $22M over 6 years for its pick of the remainder of the games. Both contracts end at the end of the 2010 football season, and were originally set up pre-Big East raid of Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida, and pre-MWC raid of TCU. Many games required to be played on weeknights, in order to get on TV. When these contracts end, the conference will likely take a major hit on the revenue and exposure side of things.

The Have-Nots
10. WAC
The conference moves from its $1M per year contract with ESPN to one paying closer to $4M per year starting in 2010-11. The old deal allows ESPN/ESPN2 rights to a minimum of 8 games and the new deal requires a minimum of 10. The new deal also requires at least 6 games on ESPNU. Many of the games on ESPN/ESPN2 will be played on weeknights in order to find TV time. The silver lining in all of this is the online streaming and rights retained by schools for games not televised. This contract leaves a lot to be desired, but it is something and provides the exposure that is desperately needed by a conference trying to raise its profile. Should Boise no longer be a member of this conference during the next round of negotiations, look for the TV situation to take a step backwards.

11. MAC
The MAC will take what it can get. It has an 8 year, roughly $11M deal with ESPN to televise a minimum of 11 games—6 on ESPN/ESPN2 and 5 on ESPNU. Nearly all of these games will be played on weeknights. The bright spot for the MAC is that the creation of the Big Ten Network and the removal of Big Ten games from regional networks is that there is a demand for sports programming on many of the regional networks and many MAC games are being syndicated regionally.

12. Sunbelt
Its not easy being at the bottom of the college football food chain. The Sunbelt has a 3 year contract with ESPN to show at least 2 games per year. These games must be willing to allow for a 12 day advance scheduling window and play on weeknights. It isn’t clear if the league even receives any meaningful compensation for its product, but is looking for exposure however it can get it. Comcast/Charter Sports own the regional rights.

Note: Here are a few links to other sources covering TV contracts…
1. http://mattsarzsports.blogspot.com/2009/08/discussing-conferences-thyeir-tv.html
2. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/stewart_mandel/07/24/tv-deals/index.html
3. http://www.ncaabbs.com/printthread.php?tid=350645

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

BYU's Effective Rankings--Week 7

BYU moved up several spots in each of the major polls this week, as we are all aware at this point, and combined to debut at number 16 pretty much across the board—AP, Coaches, Harris, BCS. However, the relative “rank” is not what matters in these polls, as was pointed out last week in my introduction to the “effective” rankings (www.byucougs.com/2009/10/inside-polls-byus-effective-ranking.html). All that really matters is the votes received and the percentage of votes of the total possible votes. Keeping in mind that each 4% gain in votes is one increase in “rank”, and that the “effective” rank can also be thought of as the average ballot slot given by voters. Based on this approach, I have updated the rankings to reflect BYU’s actual positioning each week and provided the effective AP poll.

wk opponent  record  rank votes  %votes    gain      eff
P   ----            0-0     20    267    17.8%    ----      21.55
1   Oklahoma   1-0      9     984    65.6%    47.8%   9.60
2   Tulane        2-0      7    1122    74.8%   9.2%     7.30
3   Florida St    2-1     19   349    23.3%   -51.5%  20.18
4   CSU            3-1     20   349    23.3%    0.0%     20.18
5   Utah St       4-1     18   403    26.9%    3.6%     19.28
6   UNLV          5-1     18   490    32.7%    5.8%     17.83
7   SDSU          6-1     16   601    40.1%    7.4%     15.98

The effective increase was just under two spots, putting BYU above 40% for the first time in 5 weeks. And the second consecutive week of significant gains in votes.

BYU in Coaches
wk opponent   record   rank  votes  %votes    gain       eff
P    ----            0-0       24    178     12.1%    ----       22.98
1    Oklahoma   1-0      12    755     51.2%    39.1%   13.20
2    Tulane         2-0      9     941     63.8%    12.6%   10.05
3    Florida St    2-1      20    279     18.9%   -44.9%  21.27
4    CSU            3-1      21    298     20.2%    1.3%    20.95
5    Utah St       4-1      20    353     23.9%    3.7%    20.02
6    UNLV          5-1     19     441     29.9%    6.0%    18.53
7    SDSU          6-1     16     577     39.1%    9.2%    16.22

Of the three major polls, BYU is effectively ranked the lowest in the Coaches Poll at 16.22, but also experienced the largest increase in the Coaches poll gaining 9.2% over last week.

BYU in Harris
wk   opponent      record   rank  votes  %votes    gain    eff
4     Colorado St    3-1       19     796    27.9%    ----     19.02
5     Utah St          4-1      17      847    29.7%    1.8%   18.57
6     UNLV             5-1      17      963    33.8%    4.1%   17.55
7     SDSU             6-1      16     1210    42.5%    8.7%   15.39

Although ranked similarly in the Harris Poll as the other two polls at #16, BYU is effectively still ranked highest in this poll at 15.39 with 42.5% of the vote, effectively offsetting the Coaches poll in the BCS rankings. Also, despite only moving up only one official spot, they gained 8.7%, which is effectively more than two places.

Effective AP Rankings
Eff     Team        Votes   AP  Last
1.88  Alabama   1447     1    2.17
2.10  Florida      1434     2   1.17
3.25  Texas        1365     3   2.75
5.78  USC          1213     4   6.65
6.62  Cincinnati  1163     5   8.70
6.73  Boise St    1156     6   6.02
7.80  Iowa         1092     7  10.68
8.40  Miami       1056     8    9.83
9.10  LSU          1014    9   10.22
9.32  TCU          1001   10  10.72
11.65 GA Tech    861   11   18.45
11.85 Oregon      849    12   13.07
13.45 Penn State  753   13   16.05
14.50 Okla State  690   14   16.68
14.60 VA Tech      684   15     4.62
15.98 BYU            601   16    17.83
18.03 Houston      478   17   22.80
19.78 Ohio State   373  18    8.53
20.17 Utah            350  19    24.73
20.50 Pittsburgh    330   20      --
21.23 Texas Tech  286   21      --
22.58 West VA      205   22      --
23.35 So Carolina 159   23    20.68
24.00 Kansas        120   24    16.82
24.05 Oklahoma    117   25    18.80

The biggest changes were at the top and bottom of the poll. Alabama didn’t move up as much as Florida moved down. Texas, despite remaining #3, dropped a half a spot. Cincinnati, Iowa, and Georgia Tech had the largest gains. The gap between BYU and the team ahead of it widened from about 1.2 to 1.4.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What We Learned in the San Diego State Game

In a game that played out much closer than most expected, the Cougars put San Diego State behind them with an offense that played just below its UNLV performance (best of the season) and a defense that was barely better than its Florida State performance (worst of the season).

Last week I wrote:
“BYU will come out focused and meet SDSU’s preparation with preparation and execution. After a tight first quarter and a close first half, BYU pulls away in the third quarter and plays the subs in the fourth. Records fall, experience is gained, and the Cougars can finally focus on TCU.”

That was a reasonably accurate assessment of the first half, although in the second half the Cougs didn’t really pull away until the fourth quarter. Hall and Pitta did make their move up the record charts, and the team learned some lessons that will hopefully wake them up for this week’s game.   Here is a review of what we watched for in this game:

• Health—Success. Despite several players fighting a flu bug, and not playing at 100%, there were no major injuries.

• Box Score Victory—Draw. The score was closer than it needed to be as BYU didn’t cover the spread, however, given the number of losses in the top 25 this week, it didn’t really matter.

• Another Clean Game—Offense yes, Defense no. As mentioned last week, it would take a combination of several significant mistakes—key turnovers, meaningful penalties, blown coverages, special teams meltdowns, etc—for BYU to lose this game. And as the offense held up its share of the bargain, the defense alone was not able to make enough mistakes to lose the game. That said, there were some blown coverages and 1 or 2 meaningful penalties. There were a few questionable penalties as well—as I was in attendance at the game, I have not had a chance to review most of the calls, but several seemed suspect at the time (as well as 2-3 obvious no-calls) and Bronco seems to agree, having submitted at least two calls to the league for review.

• Max Protection—Max played a great game. There were a few moments where he felt the pressure and was able to escape. He ended up with 14 runs for 47 yards, and had another 42 yarder called back on a penalty.

• Scott Johnson—Played. There was some question as to whether he would play and how that would impact the game. Johnson played and had a key tackle and interception at the goal line.

• Eenie, meenie, minie, moe, to which receiver will Hall throw? All of them. Despite 346 passing yards, as has become common this season, no single receiver filled the stat sheets, but it was Andrew George, Dennis Pitta and JJ DiLuigi that came up with the big plays when they were needed.

• Secondary Impact Games—OU close loss. TCU big win. The stage is set for another top 10 battle this Saturday in Provo, complete with Game Day on hand. I find it interesting to note that BYU had already been in discussions with ESPN regarding Game Day for several days prior to Sunday’s announcement. It is likely hard not to overlook a game when you are already making plans predicated on victory. I wonder how that impacted the team or staff, if at all (and to the extent they were aware of it—at the very least I imagine Bronco was).

• Player Records—Done. Hall passed McMahon for third place in passing and total offense. Pitta passed college-football-hall-of-famer Gordon Hudson to become all-time leader for receiving yards by a tight end, as well as moved into third place for receptions and sixth for yards among all BYU receivers.

A few other items of note:

• Overall seemingly poor officiating—inconsistency, long delays, late calls, non calls, questionable calls.

• Hall looked great on his feet, but at some point is going to pay a price for that

• In a curious decision by the coaches, the defense only sent three rushers for most of the game, giving SDSU QB Lindley enough time to throw that he looked like an All-American.

• Several of the big plays given up by the defense were not a matter of defenders being out of position or even beat really, but rather was an issue of how the defender played the receiver at the point of reception—often seemingly not even aware the ball was coming, only to make a tackle after a catch that could/should have been denied.

• As it was my first time in Qualcomm Stadium, my first impression was the vast emptiness of the seats. Otherwise, it was nice, with reasonable parking and easy access to the various levels.

• The running game seemed to lack a bit of creativity and impact, but was likely hampered by the loss of Manase Tonga’s lead blocking skills. It was also curious to see JJ DiLuigi given the ball on two critical short down plays, where a power runner (or at least someone that can push through the first tackler) would seem to be more suited.

• The kick returners seem to have adopted a new practice of going half speed until the blockers have committed to the defenders—it didn’t seem especially effective and was rather frustrating to watch. Anyone have any insights as to what was going on there?

Friday, October 16, 2009

What to Watch for Against San Diego State

Coming off of the most complete game of the season, it will be hard for the Cougars not to regress somewhat, at least statistically (611 yards is hard to live up to), while at the same time trying to string together back-to-back complete games. San Diego State is going to put a better defense on the field than UNLV did, although the SDSU offense is likely inferior to what BYU faced last week. With that in mind, the outcome of the game is not as much in question as to how it is achieved. Here are a few things to watch for as you assess the “how” on Saturday afternoon:

Health—Aside from winning the game, the number one goal for the team in this game is to come out with everyone at full strength for next week’s match with what will be a top 10 TCU team (if they win on Saturday). Should BYU get a big lead, watch for the bench to be cleared sooner than later.

Box Score Victory—Just as last week, no one not wearing BYU blue is going to be watching this game and thus the team needs to look good in the box score as well for voters that will make decisions based on what they find. To do that, the spread is 17.5 and needs to be covered at a minimum. Holding SDSU to under 20 points would also contribute to that perception.

Another Clean Game—It would take a combination of significant mistakes—several key turnovers, meaningful penalties, blown coverages, special teams meltdowns, etc—for BYU to lose this game. But, aside from playing well enough to win, the team needs to prove its own identity to itself, that it really is the team that showed up last week, and building confidence in consistently clean play.

Max Protection—SDSU has had a bye week to prepare for this game and on top of that, Rocky Long has historically been successful at limiting BYU’s offense. Watch for SDSU to try to disrupt the passing game with stunts and blitzes in an attempt to keep Max from getting into a rhythm. If Max Hall is constantly throwing on the run, getting flushed from the pocket, or dropped for a loss, then it will be working for the Aztecs. But should Max get into a groove early and the passing game and running game get off to a good start in the first quarter, it is going to be a long afternoon for the hometown team.

Scott Johnson—The senior free safety is the quarterback of the defense making coverage calls and making sure everyone is on the same page. Due to his experience and knowledge, he has been likened to another coach on the field. He is coming off of a two pick game (his first two), but also tweaked his ankle and will be a game time decision. The last game he missed was with Florida State, and we know how that one turned out. Hopefully he is good to go, but if not, watch to see how the defense performs in his absence.

Eenie, meenie, minie, moe, to which receiver will Hall throw? Jacobsen is still out, so who will fill in for his production from the wideout spot? Last week it was freshman Brett Thompson with a big game. The week before it was junior Luke Ashworth. Will they repeat? Will Hafoka or Chambers come up big? Since these are all capable options, the SDSU defense has no more idea of who it will be than fans do—a positive factor for the benefitting receiver.

Secondary Impact Games—As you change the channels during commercials, a few games outcomes that will impact BYU this week are Oklahoma/Texas and TCU/Colorado State. An Oklahoma win would help to recall BYU’s opening game performance to the collective national memory. A TCU win is needed to ensure that BYU faces its second top 10 ranked opponent next week in Provo, and provide the game with more luster to capture some additional national attention.

Player Records—Hall , Pitta, and Unga will continue their assault on the career record books--watch for Dennis Pitta and Max Hall in particular to move up this week.

     o Max Hall—with 8 yards passing and 37 of total offense, Hall will move into third place all-time in both of those categories, passing Jim McMahon and trailing only Ty Detmer and John Beck.

     o Dennis Pitta—with 14 yards receiving, Pitta will pass Gordon Hudson to become the all-time leader in receiving yards among tight ends, at the same time he will move into sixth place among all receivers. With 78 yards, he will pass Phil Odle for fifth place. Pitta, already the all-time leader in receptions by a tight end, will pass Margin Hooks and move into third place among all receivers with 2 receptions this week, trailing only Austin Collie and Matt Bellini.

I think the team will come out focused and meet SDSU’s preparation with preparation and execution. After a tight first quarter and a close first half, BYU pulls away in the third quarter and plays the subs in the fourth. Records fall, experience is gained, and the Cougars can finally focus on TCU.  BYU 45 SDSU 17.

What else should be watched for?  What is your prediciton? 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Inside the Polls: BYU's Effective Ranking

With the official BCS standings scheduled to be released on Sunday for the first time this season, it seems like an appropriate time to take a closer look at the major polls included in that system—providing both a context to make sense of them and a framework for interpreting them. Then, we will see that the apparent lack of love for the Cougars from the pollsters in recent weeks is not what it seems.

The Context
Rankings, by definition, are relative. A team’s ranking then, merely says that a team is supposedly better than all teams ranked below it and not as good as those ranked above it. A ranking does not quantify the difference between teams. For that, the total votes relative to other teams is the key, which provides a much more accurate assessment of how a team is viewed by voters in any given poll. The BCS standings, to their credit, only use the votes and not the ranking, in its calculations. Fans, then, should not be paying as much attention to a team’s rank when the polls come out on Sunday afternoon, as to the number of votes received and the change over the prior week.

The Framework
Since the votes are the more accurate assessment of how a team is perceived by voters in a given poll, here is an easy way to quickly assess the impact of votes:

1. Magic number is 4%—Each voter ranks 25 teams, and then “votes” are awarded based on that ranking with 25 points given to the top team, 24 to the second and so on. Not news to you. But what that means is that each rank is given 4% more points than the one after it (1/25=4%). Therefore, if a team gains 4% more votes than the previous week it has effectively moved up on average by one spot on voters’ ballots.

2. Total voters equals 4%—The number of first place votes given (60 for AP, 59 for USA Today, 114 for Harris, etc) will tell you how many ballots are submitted in each poll and represents how many votes are needed to get to 4%, or effectively “move up” one ranking spot. So if a team gains 90 votes in the AP poll (on 60 ballots), it effectively “moves up” 1.5 spots regardless of whether its actual ranking moves up or down, and is thus listed on the average ballot 1.5 spots higher than the previous week.

With this context and framework in mind below is how the Effective AP Poll (as I am calling it) would look after week 6. The effective rank can also be thought of as the average rank given on voter’s ballots. When there are several teams clumped closely together in the final vote tally, it leads to the team in the front being ranked higher than its votes justify and the team in the back, being ranked lower than its votes justify. For example, TCU is ranked 12th, despite an average ballot placement of 10.72. And conversely, Penn State is ranked 14th, despite an average ballot placement of 16.05. To use an accounting analogy, TCU is sitting on some rankings receivables (an asset, having done the work without receiving payment yet) and Penn State is sitting on some unearned rankings (a liability, having received the payment and not yet done the work).

Rank    Team              Votes   AP
1.17     Florida            1490     1
2.17     Alabama         1430     2
2.75     Texas              1395     3
4.62     Virginia Tech    1283    4
6.02     Boise State      1199    5
6.65     USC                 1161    6
8.53     Ohio State        1048   7
8.70     Cincinnati         1038   8
9.83     Miami (FL)       970     9
10.22   LSU                  947    10
10.68   Iowa                 919    11
10.72   TCU                 917    12
13.07   Oregon             776    13
16.05   Penn State        597    14
16.40   Nebraska          576    15
16.68   Oklahoma St     559    16
16.82   Kansas              551    17
17.83   BYU                  490    18
18.45   Georgia Tech     453    19
18.80   Oklahoma         432    20
20.50   South Florida     330    21
20.68   So Carolina        319    22
22.80   Houston             192   23
24.73   Utah                   76    24
24.75   Notre Dame        75    25

Impact on BYU
With that in mind, it is interesting to note how BYU has fared in the effective rankings. Despite seemingly going nowhere in the rankings that last several weeks, BYU has in fact been moving up the effective rankings and is sitting on some “rankings receivables” in the AP and USA Today polls, and a rankings liability in the Harris poll.

Wk Opponent       Rec     Rk  votes   %votes    gain    effective
P     ----               0-0     20    267    17.8%      ---         21.55
1     Oklahoma      1-0      9      984    65.6%    47.8%      9.60
2     Tulane            2-0     7     1122   74.8%    9.2%        7.30
3     Florida St       2-1     19    349     23.3%   -51.5%    20.18
4     Colorado St     3-1     20   349     23.3%    0.0%      20.18
5     Utah St.          4-1     18   403     26.9%    3.6%      19.28
6     UNLV              5-1     18   490     32.7%    5.8%      17.83

AP—The rankings slip from #19 to #20 in week four after the CSU game, was relative only, as the team held steady at 20.18 in the effective rankings. This last week, BYU did not move up at all in the relative rankings, remaining at #18, however that is misleading since the team experienced a large jump in the votes (effective rankings) moving up 6% or roughly 1.5 spots.

USA Today/Coaches
Wk Opponent      Record   rk  votes   %votes     gain     effective
P   ------               0-0      24   178     12.1%       ---         22.98
1   Oklahoma        1-0      12    755     51.2%     39.1%     13.20
2   Tulane              2-0        9    941     63.8%     12.6%     10.05
3   Florida St.        2-1      20    279     18.9%    -44.9%     21.27
4   Colorado St      3-1      21    298     20.2%     1.3%       20.95
5   Utah St.           4-1      20    353     23.9%     3.7%       20.02
6   UNLV               5-1      19    441    29.9%      6.0%       18.53

USA Today—Despite dropping from #20 to #21 in week 4, the team actually moved up about a half spot from 21.27 to 20.95. And what appeared to only be a jump of one spot this last week, was actually 1.5 spots (6%).

Harris Poll
Wk Opponent    Rec   rk   votes   %votes     gain    effective
4   Colorado St    3-1   19   796      27.9%               19.02
5   Utah St.         4-1   17   847      29.7%    1.8%    18.57
6   UNLV             5-1   17   963      33.8%    4.1%    17.55

Harris—BYU was sitting on some unearned ranking in the Harris poll last week, and so despite gaining more than one spot in the effective rankings (4.1%, 18.57 to 17.55), they teams official rank of 17 remained unchanged.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What We Learned in the UNLV Game

After perhaps the most complete game of the year against perhaps the worst team played against so far, it is time to assess where improvement was made. Last week I wrote:

“UNLV will come out swinging in the first half, play a good game, but will be outmatched by BYU’s talent. The Cougar offense will cut down on the turnovers (but likely still have at least one) and get into the end zone more than last week as they pull away in the second half. BYU ends up winning big and Sanford is out of a job before Monday. BYU 52, UNLV 13.”

I was essentially short a kickoff return TD for each team and only premature on the formality of Sanford’s resignation/dismissal, but otherwise, was pretty close in what I thought at the time was a rather gutsy call. Here is the outcome of the things to watch for:

• A Clean Game—BYU played its cleanest game of the year. Zero turnovers. Eight of eleven on third downs. Relatively few penalties. Not only was it clean, but the level of play was maintained for all four quarters, as the team scored a touchdown in all four for the first time this season.

• Health and Concussions—There were no serious injuries, although Scott Johnson left the game with a sprained ankle, and Manase Tonga suffered a knee injury. Both players status remains in question for the game with San Diego St. The absence of five players on special teams primarily due to injury was a likely contributor to the UNLV kickoff TD.

• More than Cover the Spread—Check. The spread was 16.5. The MOV was 38.

• Rushing and Total Offense—The box score victory was also secured as the offense and defense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Harvey Unga (20 carries, 149 yds, 3 TD) continued to improve and had his best game of the season, including a 52 yard TD, the longest Cougar rushing TD since 2006. Overall the team had 611 yards of total offense (320 passing, 291 rushing), well above the 500 or so total needed to solidify the win on paper.

• Filling in for McKay Jacobsen—Due to the lopsided nature of the game and the success of the running game, the receivers were never really tested. That said, Hafoka and Ashworth were relatively quiet with 1 and 2 catches each. It was Brett Thompson that stood out with 52 yards on only 2 catches, with a 46 yarder on a beautiful cut into a wide open post.

• Dennis Pitta Encore—Pitta had a solid, if unspectacular game with 2 catches for 60 yards and one touchdown (Andrew George also had a great game from the TE spot going for 61 yards on 3 catches). Pitta continues to lead all tight ends nationally in receptions (28) and yards (399); he is third in touchdowns (4).

• Mike Sanford’s Final Game—UNLV never appeared to give up (and so Sanford will likely coach again this weekend against Utah), but they did not deliver the job-saving performance that was needed. After five years, it is apparent that Sanford has not been able to turn the program around and no doubt the UNLV athletic director is already compiling a short list of replacement targets.

A couple of other notes from this game:

• In the second half, Max Hall threw a pass to Andrew George on the left side of the field that was overthrown and uncatchable. I realized as I watched that and thought about how long it had been since that had happened, how rare it was to see him overthrow someone, and that it has become easy to take his accuracy for granted.

• It was good to see Hall finally break his streak of interceptions.

• The rankings appear on the surface to not have given the Cougars any love, but in reality they gained a significant number of votes in each of the polls.

• O'Neil Chambers' 97 yard kickoff return was a long time in waiting, and as he has guaranteed a TD return, almost made good on his promise.

• The kicking game was much improved over the beginning of the season, as several kickoffs went into the endzone, and all of the PATs and the long field goal sailed through the uprights without any drama. Surprisingly, it was the punting in this game that was below par.

• The defense came through with a big game (aside from giving up the 75 yard TD pass), and managed three game changing interceptions—Pendleton’s in particular was an incredibly athletic and on-the-ball move to make the catch and stay in bounds.

• Manase Tonga, prior to getting injured looked better than he has all season, a positive sign that he is working hard and regaining his playing shape. He actually had a nice run in the second half where he outran several linebackers, something I didn’t think I would see him do this season.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What to Watch for Against UNLV

Saturday night’s game against UNLV will be the third of four games that could be considered “trap games” for the BYU football team (you could possibly argue that the Florida State game actually fell into that category as well, making this the fifth of six) where there is very little for the Cougars to gain and yet significant benefit that will accrue to the opponent should they pull off the upset. Considering UNLV’s performance last week, and that Coach Mike Sanford is literally fighting for his career this weekend, watch for UNLV to come out with their A game, as they find themselves in a similar scenario to Florida State prior to the Seminoles playing the Cougars. This will be their chance to right the ship, prove the doubters wrong, turn the season around, and save their general. Or it will be the last hurrah. Here are a few things to keep an eye on as you watch this drama unfold on Saturday night:

A Clean Game—BYU can give the ball up as they have been doing and still come away with a victory. However, as turnovers and mistakes have been a focus in practice this week, the team needs to come out and play a clean game in order to show that it is improving and ready to take on TCU in two weeks.

Health and Concussions—The team needs to avoid injuries, as several key players have gone down in recent weeks. In particular, concussions has become a recurring problem this season (can anyone remember a season that featured more head injuries?). There were two last week as Steven Thomas and Tucker Lamb both were knocked out in special teams play—neither will play this week. In addition, we lost Matt Bauman in the Oklahoma game and Scott Johnson in the Tulane game both to concussions. Four players in five games is staring to border on a serious issue. Will the team avoid a concussion this week?

More than Cover the Spread—As this is a prime time game on the Mtn, the voters will not be watching and will only see the box score when all is said and done. In order to continue to move up the rankings, BYU needs to beat the teams it is supposed to and in a manner that is expected (whether fair or not). That means covering the spread at a minimum which is 16.5.

Rushing and Total Offense—Harvey Unga looked quick and effective last week. Can he keep it up this week? UNLV gave up 559 yards rushing and 773 total yards to a winless Nevada team last week. Watch for Harvey and the other backs to exploit this and for BYU to go over 500 yards. Again whether fair or not, 773 is the number in the backs of all of the box score viewers minds…

• Filling in for McKay Jacobsen—after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injured while stretching in warm-ups, it was determined earlier this week that it is more serious than expected and Jacobsen will be out 4-6 weeks recovering. Ashworth filled in nicely last week. Hafoka seemed to be in the dog house after fumbling the first catch of the game. Watch for both of these receivers to have good games as the offense gets rolling.

• Dennis Pitta Encore—After his biggest game of the year last week and being named the John Mackey Award Tight End of the Week, Pitta could take advantage of the spotlight by adding to his stats and overall frontrunner status this week against a soft UNLV defense.

• Mike Sanford’s Final Game—Should UNLV get down early and give up on their head coach as they did last week, this will likely be Sanford’s last game in Sam Boyd Stadium. In order to keep his job, the Rebels don’t have to win the game, but they need to play hard from beginning to end. Anything less and Sanford might as well begin dusting off his golf clubs.

I think UNLV will come out swinging in the first half, play a good game, but will be outmatched by BYU’s talent. The Cougar offense will cut down on the turnovers (but likely still have at least one) and get into the end zone more than last week as they pull away in the second half. BYU ends up winning big and Sanford is out of a job before Monday. BYU 52, UNLV 13.

How do you see it playing out?  Post your own take and prediction below.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pitta Solidifies Frontrunner Status--Week 5 Update

Dennis Pitta (5 catches, 83 yards, 2 TD) was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week for week 5, collecting the honor for the third time (after being named twice last year). He is the sixth player to have received the weekly award at least three times (last year’s winner Chase Coffman of Missouri also had won the weekly award three times). Last week I gave an update on the race for the Mackey Award and profiled five players that I consider the frontrunners, five contenders, and five dark horses (you can read that article at http://www.byucougs.com/2009/10/pittas-march-toward-mackey-award.html). Here is an update on the five frontrunners after week 5:

Player, Class, School           G    Rec   Yds  TD   rec/g   yds/rec  yds/g
Dennis Pitta, Sr, BYU          5     26     339   3    5.20     13.0      67.8
Ed Dickson, Sr, Oregon       5    22     309   4    4.40     14.0       61.8
Cody Slate, Sr, Marshall      5     26     289   2    5.20     11.1      57.8
Garrett Graham, Sr, Wisc   5     23     268   4    4.60     11.7      53.6
Jamie McCoy, Sr, TA&M      4     18     209   0    4.50     11.6      52.3

McCoy seems to be slipping behind the top four who are all very close at this point, and Pitta strengthened his frontrunner status this week as he is now leading in receptions (tied with Marshall’s Slate), total yards, and yards per game (although he trails Erik Highsmith of North Carolina who averages 72.5 yards/game).

An offical mid-season watch list will be released by the Nassau County Sports Commission on Monday, Oct 19.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What We Learned in the Utah State Game

With a solid defensive performance (despite a late scoring drive that muddied the box score), and a now familiar offensive performance (good, but mistake prone), BYU controlled the game and ticked off another win in its second of four “no-win situation” games as the team awaits a chance to make a statement against TCU on Oct 24. Along the way, the team helped answer the following questions:

1. Will Max Hall avoid throwing an interception? Two in a row… on what looked like very similar plays. Max now has 10 picks—no other QB in the country has more (Bo Mitchell of SMU is now tied)—and pushed his streak to 8 games in a row. You might expect that from a 50% accuracy passer, but since Hall is a 65-70% passer, it is somewhat surprising. So rather than just poorly thrown balls, they tend to be poor decisions, often trying to squeeze a ball into an all-too-narrow lane, or miscommunications on routes with his receivers.

2. Will Jan Jorgensen get a sack? Finally. He answered the call with his first sack of the season. The defense turned in three sacks total, a season high, now totaling 9 through 5 games.

3. Can we manage to keep the ball for 30 minutes or longer? It’s about… time. Despite an early fumble and two quick picks to start the second half, and with the gratitude of the defense, the offense held onto the ball for 31:15. In the past two games Florida State and Colorado State both seemed focused on winning the time of possession battle as a core game strategy, and used it to successfully mitigate the defense.

4. Will there be a special teams or defensive touchdown? Not this time.

5. Can the offense score a touchdown in all four quarters? 3 out of 4. Scoreless in the third quarter as the interceptions ended what would have likely been scoring drives.

6. Will we get to see more balls thrown to Spencer Hafoka? That depends. As if on cue after reading this column, Hafoka had the first catch of the game, as he was starting in place of McKay Jacobsen (who pulled a hamstring in warm-ups). He then promptly fumbled it, causing the coaches to replace him with Luke Ashworth who proceeded to have a breakout game with 5 catches for 91 yards.

7. Will Riley Nelson see the game? Three plays. One that seemed a bit out of sorts and ended with an illegal procedure penalty. Another that went for 13 yards and a first down on a play designed for him to sneak up the middle. A third—taking a knee on the last play of the game. Perhaps what Bronco meant when telling the media that Nelson would be inserted despite game situation, was that there would be specifically designed one-off plays such as this.

8. How many passes will be thrown at Brian Logan? None. Logan missed a team walk through and did not start, as he was replaced by Robbie Buckner.

9. Will Riley Stephenson ever have to punt and if so will he be able to stay #1 in the country in net punting yards? Yes and no. 3 punts and a 37 yard average, was not enough to stay at the top, dropping to #6 with a 41.92 average.

10. Will the USU fans in attendance be able to come up with any witty, clever, or jabbing signs, chants, or t-shirts for the home team? I am sure they did. The Mtn. was unable to capture it for the viewing audiences. If you were there and can share your stories, please do!

11. Finally, can Oklahoma beat Miami and solve our transitive property strength of schedule issues? Almost doesn’t count. Miami now owns both Oklahoma and Florida State, doing what the Cougars were unable to do.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What to Watch for Against Utah State

There have been a few close games with Utah State over the years. I remember as a teenager in 1993, coming home from a production of Saturday’s Warrior with my parents and listening to Paul James call the second half of the 58-56 shootout (as the game was not on local TV). Then in 2002 while living and working in Dallas, driving up to Denton with my brother, where there was a high spot in a Waffle House parking lot where we could pick up KSL on the car radio (as there was no Mtn or Slingbox ) and listened to the biggest comeback in Cougar history and Curtis Brown’s coming out party as BYU won 35-34. Despite those two close games, BYU has dominated this series for the last 30 years and it is unlikely that the outcome tonight will be any different. However, there are always a few things to watch for in how they win, that will reveal how much the team has improved over last week. There are also a few things to watch for just to keep it interesting.

Will Max Hall avoid throwing an interception? With 8 toss-aways Hall has more picks than any other quarterback in the country right now, and has thrown a pick for 7 straight games.

Will Jan Jorgensen get a sack? He does a good job and is often double teamed, but hopefully he can avoid the Fresno State syndrome (all hype, no results) and get the sack monkey off his back.

Can we manage to keep the ball for 30 minutes or longer? A lopsided time of possession has demoralized our defense in both of the last two games, and is primarily a function of allowing the other team to get long sustained, chip-away-at-us drives. Utah State has a potent offense but an equally impotent defense. The Cougs need to keep them off the field. Watch to see if the 3-and-out defense from the OU and Tulane games makes an appearance.

• Will there be a special teams or defensive touchdown? The Utah State game has traditionally been a game where the non-offensive players add to their scoring stats.

• Can the offense score a touchdown in all four quarters? After failing to score a TD in the first quarter in any of the first three games, last week the team made up for that by scoring three… and then promptly dozing off during the second quarter.

Will we get to see more balls thrown to Spencer Hafoka? After an exciting 24 yard touchdown catch and run near the end of the CSU game that included a bit of fancy footwork, fans would like to see more of him.

Will Riley Nelson see the game? As a much discussed USU transfer, it would be nice to see him get into the game. And, Bronco reaffirmed this week that he would still like to see Nelson get 10-12 quarters of work this season. Since he only has two with 8 games remaining, he is going to have to start inserting him more than in mop-up duty. And while there is mop-up-duty potential this week, Bronco also stated that he would insert him regardless of the game situation (read: doesn’t need to be a blowout).

How many passes will be thrown at Brian Logan? He is third in the country in passes defended with 9 and fist overall in the nation in passes broken up with 7. A nice JC addition for BYU.

Will Riley Stephenson ever have to punt and if so will he be able to stay #1 in the country in net punting yards?

Will the USU fans in attendance be able to come up with any witty, clever, or jabbing signs, chants, or t-shirts for the home team? USU fans have developed a bit of a personality to make up for their shortcomings in other areas (victories) and have become quite adept at it. Remember last year when they chanted overrated as the clock ticked off on a 20 point loss?

Finally, can Oklahoma beat Miami and solve our transitive property strength of schedule issues?  Miami beat FSU who beat BYU who beat Oklahoma who beat Miami???

I think the offense will find their rhythm, move the ball well and score a lot of points, against a defense that has no answer for them. The Cougar defense will be solid at times, but in the end will give up a lot of yards and more points than they should to the Aggies. Final score BYU 47 USU 27.

Feel free to add your own predictions and things you are watching for in the comments section below.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pitta's March toward the Mackey Award

Prior to the season, several Cougars were named to national award watch lists. A quick start to the season focused that lens on Max Hall in particular, who came in a consensus third, fourth, or fifth in Heisman forecasts by national pundits through the second week of the season. However now that we are entering week 5, it seems that Dennis Pitta has the only legitimate shot at a national award this year, but with his two primary competitors out for the season (Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski and Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham) he may very well be the frontrunner for the John Mackey Award given to the “best collegiate tight end” each year by the Nassau County Sports Commission. It is still very early, but here is how the competition breaks out so far, and the players to keep your eye on:

These are upperclassmen playing on winning teams that were nominated to the preseason watch list and are in the top 10 in receiving yards per game.

Player, Class, School              G   Rec   Yds  TD   rec/g  yds/rec  yds/g
Dennis Pitta, Sr, BYU             4    21    256    1     5.25   12.2       64.0
Jamie McCoy, Sr, Tx A&M      3    13    169    0     4.33   13.0      56.3
Ed Dickson, Sr, Oregon          4    15    206    3     3.75   13.7      51.5
Cody Slate, Sr, Marshall         4    17    201    2     4.25   11.8      50.3
Garrett Graham, Sr, Wis        4    16    200    4     4.00    12.5     50.0

Dennis Pitta leads the nation in tight end receptions, while Garrett Graham leads in touchdowns by a tight end. Dennis Pitta and Cody Slate were were consensus top 5 tight ends in preseason fantasy football rankings (along with Gresham, Gronkowski, and Arkansas’ DJ Williams), with Garret Graham usually showing up in the top 10. Cody Slate and Ed Dickson were named 2009 Mackey Player of the Week for week 1 and week 4 respectively. Dennis Pitta was twice named Mackey Player of the Week in 2008.

These are nominees on the preseason watch list that are either playing on teams with losing records or are underclassmen, as well as un-nominated players that are in the top 10 in yards per game or receptions.

Player, Class, School          G    Rec Yds  TD rec/g   yds/rec  yds/g
Erik Highsmith, Fr, N Car   3    16   279   2    5.33   17.4      93.0
Jason Harmon, Sr, Fl Atl     3    16   197   0    5.33   12.3      65.7
Riar Geer, Sr, Colorado      4    21   232   1    5.25   11.0      58.0
Kyle Rudolph, So, ND          4    17   214   2    4.25   12.6      53.5
Aaron Hernandez, Jr, Fla    4    15   198   2    3.75   13.2      49.5

Erik Highsmith is only a freshman and is the backup to the injured Zack Pianalto (Jr, North Carolina, who was named the Mackey Player of the Week in week two) and leads the nation in receiving yards by a tight end, yards/reception, and yards per game, all while only playing in three games. Jason Harmon was not nominated in the preseason but is second in the country in yards per game. Riar Greer is tied with Dennis Pitta for most receptions, but plays on team with a losing record. Kyle Rudolph was nominated preseason, and named Mackey Player of the Week in week three, but is only a sophomore. Aaron Henandez was also nominated preseason, but is just outside the top 10 in receiving yard per game at number 11.

These are players that were nominated to the preseason watch list and are ranked in the top 25 in receiving yards per game.

Player, Class, School               Rec  Yds   TD   rec/g   yds/rec  yds/g
Tony Moeaki, Sr, Iowa          2    11     87     1    5.50      7.9      43.5
Anthony McCoy, Sr, USC       4     7     160     0    1.75     22.9     40.0
Weslye Saunders, Jr, S Car   4    14    156     0    3.50     11.1     39.0
Dorin Dickerson, Sr, Pitt       4    17    155     4    4.25      9.1      38.8
Jeffery Anderson, Jr, UAB     5    12    179     3    2.40    14.9      35.8

Because they already have somewhat of a spotlight on them by virtue of being named in the pre-season, with a couple of big games and/or special seasons for their respective teams, these players could move into contender status.