Thursday, July 31, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Notre Dame
2. Navy
3. Western Kentucky
4. Army

Weis leads a turnaround. It wasn't meant to be easy for Charlie Weis (pictured yelling), but he should see some rewards from last year as soon as, well, right now. The Irish went 3-9 a year ago. They lost eight of those nine games by double-digits, including home losses of 33-3, 31-14, 38-0, and 41-24. Weis smartly went with true freshman Jimmy Clausen at QB for nine starts. While the highly-touted Clausen did virtually nothing for most of the season, the experience he got should help him be a much better player this year. It'll also help that the offensive line is likely to yield fewer than 58 sacks this year, and the Irish are likely to gain more than 75 rushing yards per game. Look out for junior RB James Aldridge, who can't possibly be held out of the end zone again this year. Notre Dame was fairly competitive on defense for most of the season, especially when you consider how much time they spent on the field. New coordinator Jon Tenuta has some quality talent to work with this year.

Navy's coaching change. With Paul Johnson gone for Georgia Tech, Navy grabbed one of his offensive assistants. Ken Niumatalolo is the first Polynesian coach in Division I-A, and the former Navy offensive assistant plans to keep the option offense intact. The Midshipmen are lucky to return starting QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (right) for a third season at the helm. He accounted for over 1,700 yards of total offense and 20 touchdowns, but is recovering from offseason knee surgery and didn't do much in the spring. Shouldn't be a problem for the experienced starter. Of more concern is the work Niumatalolo has to do on the offensive line. Three starters are gone, and the Midshipmen are - as usual - badly undersized at the position. A bright spot on a defense that was terrible against the pass last year (opponents completed almost 70 percent of passes) is that all four starters return in the secondary, and there is plenty of experienced depth after an injury-riddled season.

Western Kentucky continues the transition. The Hilltoppers were a perennial power in Division I-AA, winning national titles in 2000 and 2002. Western Kentucky moved up to I-A beginning last year, and they will join the Sun Belt officially next year. WKU plays five games against Sun Belt teams this year, but they won't count in the league standings. This is a program that will probably take a step back this year, as they have stepped up the schedule from what they had a year ago, and they will miss four of their top six tacklers on defense. With trips to Indiana and Alabama in the season's first three weeks, coach and former WKU defensive coordinator David Elson can't waste much time building that defense back up. Elson gets his starting skill players back on offense. QB David Wolke, RB Tyrell Hayden (pictured), and WR Jake Gaebler should all improve their 2007 numbers.

Army returns to tradition. Coach Stan Brock closed down spring practice. No fans. No media. Why? Because it was time to overhaul the stagnant Black Knight offense. The old tradition of the option is back. It's a good thing for Army, as they have a ton of talented running backs, and now they have an offense that will utilize the depth at the position. Word is that freshman Paul McIntosh may have the upper hand on the QB job, beating out experienced junior Carson Williams (right), who worked in Army's pro-set offense a year ago. Small senior Carlo Sandiego may also have a shot at the job. Army averaged just 88 yards per game on the ground last year. Don't be surprised if that number comes close to tripling this year. Having Temple, New Hampshire, and Akron all at home to start the season will ease the transition. Army has worked hard to soften the schedule since their days in Conference USA. Texas A&M and Rutgers are the only teams from BCS conferences on this year's slate.

Offensive Player of the Year: Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, QB, Navy
Defensive Player of the Year: David Bruton, S, Notre Dame
Coach of the Year: Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Coach on the Hot Seat: Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame at USC, November 29
Worst Non-Conference Game: Towson at Navy, August 30


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Fresno State
2. Boise State
3. Nevada
4. New Mexico State
5. Louisiana Tech
6. Hawai'i
7. San Jose State
8. Idaho
9. Utah State

June Jones moves on. The biggest addition for Conference USA is the biggest loss for the WAC. Jones won 76 games in nine seasons at Hawai'i, taking the Warriors to the Sugar Bowl in his final season. Yes, the Warriors got worked by Georgia, 41-10, in the bowl, but the fact that Jones took a program on a shoestring budget ($50,000 for recruiting) as far as he did is a testament to his coaching abilities. Former UH defensive coordinator Greg McMackin takes over the head job, and he starts by making $300,000 more per year than Jones did (McMackin is slated to make $1.1 million). The longtime assistant coach has quite a task on his hands, as Hawai'i returns only nine starters from last year's 12-1 team. Early-season trips to Florida and Oregon State should only complicate the transition.

Fresno's BCS potential. As usual, Pat Hill has an interesting team in the Valley. The Bulldogs return 17 starters, including ten on offense, from a team that got hot late last season. Fresno won eight of their last ten games after a 1-2 start. They clearly found the QB to lead them into a potentially huge season in 2008, as Tom Brandstater (photo) hit nearly 63 percent of his throws and tossed just five picks in 337 attempts. He has all his skill players back. Feature back Ryan Mathews ran for 14 touchdowns, and top receivers Marlon Moore and Bear Pascoe combined for 93 catches and nine scores. Hill's defense was subpar a season ago, allowing over 400 yards per game and permitting 27 points per game. The schedule is also daunting, probably preventing Fresno from having a real shot at a BCS run. The Bulldogs play non-conference games at Rutgers, Toledo, and UCLA, host Wisconsin, and they also travel to Boise State November 28 for their WAC finale. It will take Hill's best coaching job yet to get this team to Boise with an 11-0 record, but it would be great to see a team like Fresno State rewarded for it's "anyone, anywhere, anytime" scheduling mentality.

The race for third. It appears Nevada is favored to end up third in the league. With WAC Freshman of the Year Colin Kaepernick (right) returning to run the Pistol offense, and all the offensive leaders back, Nevada should have little trouble topping the 33.5 points per game they averaged last season. Much like the rest of the WAC, Nevada's defense is leaky, and it likely keeps them from being a serious league title contender. Hawai'i has to replace record-setting QB Colt Brennan, three receivers who caught 90 or more passes last year, and offensive architect June Jones. New Mexico State has to be considered a threat to rise up the league standings. The Aggies return 14 starters, including seven on a defense that will benefit greatly from an improved offense. Hal Mumme's Air Raid offense was grounded by injuries to QB Chase Holbrook and WR Chris Williams. All the key pieces return on offense, so it's a matter of turning the ball over less and staying healthy. Holbrook is one of the more talented and accurate quarterbacks in the country, and he's all set up for a huge senior year. The other wild card in the WAC is Louisiana Tech. They have two transfers battling for the QB job, including last year's Georgia Tech starter, Taylor Bennett. Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger is also in the mix, as is sophomore Ross Jenkins. The Bulldogs won five games a year ago, despite a passing game that floundered under 200 yards per game. Improving the play out of the QB position will help LT a great deal. Getting more consistent defensive play would also be a good thing. Then again, that's a weakness all over the league.

Holbrook Chase-ing some attention. Yes, it's New Mexico State. Yes, it's Hal Mumme's gimmicky Air Raid offense. But Holbrook (right) is still something to watch. Despite battling injuries and throwing 18 interceptions, Holbrook hit 70 percent of his throws last year, and he's already the school's all-time leading passer by over 1,000 yards. Having a healthy Williams will help Holbrook (Williams caught over 90 passes in 2006), as will an improved offensive line and the experience of another year in Mumme's offense. The schedule shows visits from Boise State and Hawai'i, as well as a non-conference home game with rival New Mexico. Holbrook has a big arm, so anything he can do to impress NFL scouts is a bonus. He won't be a high draft pick because of Mumme's offense (he spends too much time in the shotgun), but his progress definitely bears watching. He's probably the highest-profile QB in this league.

Utah State continues to have problems. Try as he might, Brent Guy just can't right the ship in Logan, Utah. The fourth-year coach did lead his team to wins in each of their last two games a year ago, but that was after an 0-10 start that included losses by 51, 16, 15, and 52 points. The Aggies have to reconstruct the offense this year, as three-year starting QB Leon Jackson departs. Senior Sean Setzer and junior Jase McCormick appear to be the leaders to take over the position. A smallish USU defense allowed nearly 200 yards per game rushing, but they get back five of their front seven for this year. Guy also recruited DT Casey Davis from nearby Snow Junior College, hoping he can bolster the interior pass rush. The Aggies posted just 12 sacks last year, and no more than two in any single game. Winning more battles up front is a top priority for the defense. Opening at UNLV and Oregon, then at home against Utah, is not helpful. But Guy has the right attitude, and he continues to slowly improve the depth of the football team.

Boise State's offense continues to evolve. The Broncos have added a quicker tempo to their attack, and they're also using some spread stuff and some of Nevada's pistol offense. They still have All-America RB Ian Johnson, who battled injuries again last season. Dick Tomey led San Jose State to a bowl win in his second season, but the Spartans fell off last year. The return of RB Yonus Davis should help SJSU improve, but it means nothing if they can't replace productive QB Adam Tafralis, who graduated. If a team like Hawai'i, New Mexico State, or San Jose State falter, it is an opportunity for Idaho to surprise. Second-year coach Robb Akey should see his offense improve, thanks to ten returning starters. He'll benefit from the decision to play now-sophomore Nathan Enderle in nine games last year. That experience will pay off, as will the play of second-team All-WAC back Deonte' Jackson.


Offensive Player of the Year: Tom Brandstater, QB, Fresno State
Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Gingo, LB, Boise State
Coach of the Year: Hal Mumme, New Mexico State
Coach on the Hot Seat: Brent Guy, Utah State
Best Non-Conference Game: Wisconsin at Fresno State, September 13
Worst Non-Conference Game: Idaho State at Boise State, August 30

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Florida Atlantic
2. Louisiana-Monroe
3. Arkansas State
4. Louisiana-Lafayette
5. Troy
6. Middle Tennessee
7. North Texas
8. Florida International

Florida Atlantic is the class of the league. After their first conference title and first bowl berth last season, the Owls appear poised for a run at serious respect this year. I'm sure that the administration had visions of a successful program when they started up in 2001, but the fact they've come so far so fast is a tribute to legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger. Junior QB Rusty Smith (see photo) is the star of the show on the field, off a 32-touchdown season a year ago. Smith will be helped a great bit by the returns of feature back Charles Pierre and the top ten receivers from last year's team. Junior Cortez Gant is the top pass-catcher, as he topped 1,000 yards last year. FAU does need to get better on defense, where the Owls allowed well over 30 points per game while giving up 4.7 yards per carry and a 64.0 completion percentage to opponents. Schnellenberger is working on the team's ratcheted expectations this year by saying he feels they have a real chance in the opener at Texas. They might not win that game, but the schedule sets up well for nine or ten regular-season wins.

Can Louisiana-Monroe keep going after a 5-1 finish to 2007? Oh, and one of those wins was over Alabama. Not Alabama-Birmingham, Alabama State, or Alabama A&M. Alabama. The Crimson Tide. Anyway, the Warhawks did indeed finish the season 5-1, including that huge upset. For Charlie Weatherbie's club to carry it over, they have to replace three key players who have moved on. RB Calvin Dawson ran for over 1,400 yards and scored 12 times. CBs Darrius Battles and Quintez Secka combined for 20 pass breakups and played well in coverage for a good chunk of the season, standing out on a rather poor defense. QB Kinsmon Lancaster (right) returns after showing real progress a year ago, and the new spread offense incorporated by coordinator Steve Farmer really suits Lancaster's mobility and short-passing talents. If Weatherbie can steer this team through early-season games at Auburn and Arkansas, the Warhawks are poised to make a run at a bowl bid.

Biggest shoes to fill: Omar Haugabook. In 2005, Troy managed just 16 points per game on offense. They added a touchdown to that total in 2006, Haugabook's junior year. Last year, it ballooned to 34, as Haugabook accounted for 29 total touchdowns (18 passing). Only a home loss to Florida Atlantic in the season finale kept Troy from going to a bowl game. Now, Haugabook is gone, and the coaching staff is left with three candidates to replace him. Based on what I've read, sophomore Jamie Hampton has the upper hand on the job, and he'll be fortunate to be surrounded by a strong, experienced offensive line. In Troy's spread, Hampton's mobility will be a key, as will the play of new starting RB Maurice Greer, a Colorado transfer. Quickly reloading the offense will be a huge key to success for Troy, as will their ability to replace another first-round NFL draft pick on defense (CB Leodis McKelvin).

Experienced QBs all over. Yes, Haugabook is gone, but other teams are in great shape under center. Smith returns at FAU, and we already mentioned Lancaster at ULM. Also back are Michael Desormeaux at Louisiana-Lafayette, Corey Leonard from Arkansas State, Dwight Dasher and Joe Craddock (Middle Tennessee), Giovanni Vizza of North Texas, and Paul McCall from Florida International. The most intriguing position battle in the league may be at North Texas, where Vizza - off a solid freshman season - faces a serious challenge from freshman Riley Dodge. Riley's father, Todd Dodge, is the UNT head coach and architect of the Mean Green's version of the spread. It's an offense Riley knows well from his time playing for his dad at Southlake Carroll High School in Texas.

Desormeaux developing as a passer. For Louisiana-Lafayette to make a move this year, the senior has to continue improving as a throwing QB. With over 1,100 yards rushing last year and over 2,000 yards rushing in his ULL career, there's no question Desormeaux can run the ball. If he can't pass it, the Ragin Cajuns will not do much better than last year's 3-9 record. ULL has two experienced wideouts to work with, and coach Rickey Bustle has talked openly about improving the passing game this year. If they can find a way to get even a good passing game going, a rushing attack that averaged 252 yards per game last year will only improve, and so will Lafayette's record.

Arkansas State sports a new nickname (Red Wolves), but the same backfield they had last year. Leonard and RB Reggie Arnold (right) return after helping the offense improve by ten points per game over a miserable 2005. The Craddock-Dasher battle for the QB job at Middle Tennessee is going to be entertaining, and it might not be decided in fall camp. Craddock is a better passer, and Dasher a better athlete, leading MTU with 530 rushing yards last year. Besides Vizza vs. Dodge, the other top storyline at North Texas is the defense. They allowed a ghastly 45 points per game last year, giving up almost 500 yards per game. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it needs to improve if UNT is to make any kind of move back up the standings. A new on-campus stadium will probably be the highlight of the season for Florida International. They'll play five games in the new digs, and while the building process is underway, there is still much work to be done for Mario Cristobal. He gets 18 starters back, and many of them are quite young.

Offensive Player of the Year: Rusty Smith, QB, FAU
Defensive Player of the Year: Frantz Joseph, LB, FAU
Coach of the Year: Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe
Coach on the Hot Seat: Rickey Bustle, Louisiana-Lafayette
Best Non-Conference Game: UTEP at Louisiana-Lafayette, November 8
Worst Non-Conference Game: Alcorn State at Troy, September 13

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Georgia
2. Florida
3. Tennessee
4. South Carolina
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt

1. Auburn
2. LSU
3. Alabama
4. Mississippi
5. Arkansas
6. Mississippi State

Tebow "defends" the H*i*m*n. They'd rather he were defending the national championship, but Florida fans have to settle for having one of the most explosive players in recent history in college football. Tim Tebow (in the photograph) won the H*i*m*n because he led the best offense in the nation in the nation's toughest conference. Tebow totaled 55 touchdowns and threw just six picks in 350 passes. This year will be just as good for the Gators' offense, as USC transfer Emmanuel Moody bolsters the running game, and Tebow works with the likes of Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, and Cornelius Ingram in the passing attack. Sure, defenses now have 13 games worth of film with Tebow at QB, but Urban Meyer is a smart, innovative coach, and there aren't many QBs in the nation who are better-suited for their offenses than Tebow.

Troubles at Alabama. An obviously and somewhat understandably defensive coach Nick Saban addressed concerns over Alabama's offseason disciplinary issues at SEC Media Day. He's on track in saying that the media tends to forget about the positives, but they do that because the negatives usually outweigh them. Nothing angers a fanbase more than players in the program who haven't earned the right to represent the program. And if Saban doesn't stop losing games to Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State, his contract won't be fat enough to overcome further off-field problems. At Alabama, you're either winning or you're on the hot seat. There is no third direction.

Cat fight! There are two sets of Tigers in the SEC. One of them just won a second national championship in five years. The other is averaging ten wins over the last ten years, and is probably a slight favorite in the SEC West this year. We'll start with defending national champion LSU. These Tigers probably lost too much top-end talent to be favored to repeat. Another strong QB, Matt Flynn, is gone, as are top rusher Jacob Hester, athletic Early Doucet, along with leading tacklers Craig Steltz, Ali Highsmith, and line star Glenn Dorsey. If they're to be in the SEC title game again, it's going to be on the back of their new starting QB, likely to be either Andrew Hatch or Jarrett Lee. The two split time in the spring game. Auburn, meanwhile, returns a load of experience from a team that won four of its last five after a last-second loss to LSU. Tommy Tuberville's Tigers bring back 16 starters, including leading rusher Ben Tate and top receiver Rodgeriqus Smith. Kodi Burns and Chris Todd will have a great battle in camp for the starting QB job, with Burns presenting more athletic ability. Whoever wins the job has plenty to work with in the new spread offense.

Spurrier's quarterback problem. The offense implemented and mastered by Steve Spurrier (right) needs top-notch QB play leading it. If South Carolina's spring game is any indication, this could be a rough year for the Gamecocks. The most talented of Spurrier's bunch this year is redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, but he's suspended until August 15 and is unlikely to steal the starting job in less than two weeks of practice. That is, unless sophomore Chris Smelley and junior Tommy Beecher continue to underwhelm. As you can see, Spurrier has a problem on his hands. The defense is in place for Carolina to make a run, and there is plenty of skill-position talent, but if Spurrier can't solve the quandary under center, the Gamecocks will be on the edge of bowl eligibility again.

Nutt or Petrino? Arkansas got rid of Houston Nutt for really no good reason. There were some issues in the program, but it wasn't anything that caused the team to be bad, and the Razorbacks weren't loaded with troublemaking players. However, talented backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones parlayed 1,000-yard seasons in Nutt's offense into first-round status in the NFL Draft. If there's anything good about the turnover, it means Bobby Petrino can more easily transition into his wide-open offense. Petrino quit on the Atlanta Falcons, and he deserved every bit of criticism he got for the move. However, his decision was born out of the mistake he made in leaving college football to begin with. Petrino has to build his offense around the iffy Casey Dick this fall, but he should have no trouble eventually making a winner out of the Razorbacks. Nutt moved to Ole Miss to replace the fired Ed Orgeron. While Orgeron wasn't much of a game coach, he did prove himself as a recruiter, and Nutt will benefit from that. I don't have the guts to pick them ahead of Alabama, because I'd still like to think Saban can win nine games with even an average football team. However, it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Nutt get the Rebels to the upper half of the West Division in short order.

Georgia figures to be a preseason number one team, thanks to the play of QB Matt Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno (pictured), and defenders like Geno Atkins, Dannell Ellerbe, and C.J. Byrd. The Bulldogs have to survive early-season trips to South Carolina and Arizona State, but they're a top contender in the SEC and in the country. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe left for Duke, so Tennessee reloads with new coordinator Dave Clawson and tries to replace long-time starting QB Erik Ainge. The Volunteers struggled for much of the year on defense, and that may be the key to their season. Losing top-notch talents like QB Andre Woodson and RB Rafael Little hurts Kentucky a great deal. The Wildcats just don't have the depth in their program to replace both. Struggling Vanderbilt replaces 13 starters, including top receiver Earl Bennett, but the administration has shown great patience with coach Bobby Johnson. He's really doing a solid job, despite his 20-50 record. How far they've come without reaching a postseason game should show how bad this program truly was before Johnson arrived. It was a pleasant surprise to see Mississippi State in a bowl game last year, but it will be a tough task to repeat the feat. They scraped by in three of their regular-season wins, and still got blown out by LSU, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Sylvester Croom gets 14 starters back, but this team could easily post an inferior record while playing better football.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Defensive Player of the Year: Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Houston Nutt, Mississippi
Coach on the Hot Seat: Nick Saban, Alabama
Best Non-Conference Game: Auburn at West Virginia, October 23
Worst Non-Conference Game: Tennessee-Martin at Auburn, November 8


Packers head coach Mike McCarthy held his pre-camp press conference Saturday in Green Bay. The first ten minutes went by without a single question unrelated to that Favre guy.

Obviously, this is the big story surrounding the Packers. However, he's not on the football team, and there's no guarantee he'll ever be again. It's not quite like asking a coach about a player who is holding out, or a guy who is injured and trying to get healthy before camp starts.

Reporters want to know what's going on with Favre. Perhaps they should try asking him. Then again, unless it's a neutered environment with a buddy in the media, Favre's not likely talking.

Not surprisingly, McCarthy seemed a bit perturbed by this. Hard to blame him.
"Well, it has gone on so long for me personally I can't really recall if I was surprised," McCarthy said. "But the way it has gone has been disappointing, I'll say that. You can say that is a surprise."

When asked to expound on that, McCarthy said: "I don't think this is necessary, why we're here today and just the course it has gone."

Also, McCarthy said the June 20th conversation he had with Favre, in which the quarterback said he was told the team was moving on and didn't want him back, wasn't quite as definitive as Favre described.

..."It's not like Brett Favre called me up and I said, 'No way you can't come back.' That wasn't the case."
Surely, no one in the Packers organization wanted this. At the same time, after watching Favre hold them over a barrel for three straight years with this retire-or-not-retire stuff, they can't be terribly surprised.

With Favre apparently threatening to report to camp, the Packers are in an interesting bind.

What do you do?

ESPN's Michael Smith made an idiot of himself on SportsCenter, saying that he didn't think the Packers could trade Favre. Of course, he didn't bother to lay out a way to make "Favre on the roster" work, and only a complete buffoon would think the Packers are going to release Favre knowing he wants to play for the Vikings.

It's really easy to say that the Packers can't trade Favre, but they've committed to Aaron Rodgers, and they're committed to keeping their word. I find it hard to believe anyone could fault the Packers for that with a straight face, but it seems many are setting themselves up to do just that.


Longtime readers of this blog know how much a fan I have not been of Mike Sherman.

His reign in Green Bay got off to a promising start, but between Michael Vick, Fourth and 26, Randy Moss, Mike McKenzie, and Javon Walker, there wasn't much that Sherman handled well, either as a coach or a general manager.

I believe we're quickly learning that Sherman also didn't handle the quarterback position very well. Brett Favre should have been in the prime of his career during Sherman's tenure. Instead, his numbers largely plateaued before the big-time regression in 2005 (29 picks and mostly bad decision-making).

What's happened since Mike McCarthy took over? A supposedly aging Favre posted the highest completion percentage and highest average yards per attempt of his career in 2007, while posting his lowest interception percentage since 2000.

Amazing what you can coax out of a guy like Favre when you actually coach him, right?

With that in mind, I've long before come to the conclusion that Sherman didn't bother to coach Favre. We go back to 2005 for this:
You have failed, miserably, to rein in Brett Favre. I know his reputation is that of the "old gunslinger". But Favre is at his best when his coaches are keeping him somewhat under control. The Packers are losing right now, in large part, because Favre has made a bad habit out of throwing uncatchable deep balls that get intercepted. He's back to 1993 form, where he constantly made bad decisions and was often bailed out by butter-fingered defensive backs. It's something he can work himself out of, but he won't do it under this coaching staff. This coaching staff has made it clear that they're not going to try to get Favre under more control. At least, they haven't yet. And it's Week 16. You'd think they would have done it by now.
So, yeah. McCarthy did something that Sherman was either unable or unwilling to do. It's a big part of why Sherman lost his job after this miserable 2005 season, but how much of a role does it play now?

If you believe what I'm saying, that Sherman didn't do his job, could Favre simply be tired of coaching? Is it possible that Brett is done with McCarthy getting in his grill whenever he throws a pick in practice? Did last year take so much out of Favre that he refuses to prepare and study that hard again?

One obvious response that debunks this theory is "Think about where he wants to go". While I don't think a ton of Brad Childress as a head coach just yet, one thing I don't think he's going to do is let Favre play the "WTF? Chuck it deep" offense Sherman had him running in 2005. It doesn't fit the Vikings' personnel or Childress' personality. Same goes for Jon Gruden and Tampa Bay. Gruden would stare a hole right through Favre if he threw picks like the ones he threw in 2005.

So while there might not be much going on here, I still do believe that Sherman's lax style, which runs in direct contrast to what McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have been known for, had a terribly negative influence on Favre. And Favre's comfort in that style has led to much angst with Thompson.

And remember one more thing. When the reports of Favre's return began to surface, I was the first one to tell you that Aaron Rodgers was the Packers' starter. You probably thought I was nuts.

Then again, so did I. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. USC
2. Oregon
3. California
4. Arizona State
5. Arizona
7. Oregon State
8. Washington
9. Stanford
10. Washington State

Serious losses at Cal, Oregon. The job of chasing down USC atop the league certainly became more difficult for the two next-best teams in the league. There's no question that Jeff Tedford still has a talented team in Berkeley, but the Bears are going to have to make due without leading rusher Justin Forsett (1,546 yards, 15 TD), along with the top five pass receivers. That list includes DeSean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins, who combined for 127 catches a year ago. They doubled as Cal's top punt and kickoff returners, respectively. Nate Longshore is back under center, and everyone is high on sophomore RB Jahvid Best (pictured), who averaged 7.6 yards per carry in spot duty last year. Meanwhile, Mike Bellotti doesn't have it much easier. QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart, who combined for almost 4,500 yards from scrimmage and 40 touchdowns last year, have both moved on. There is talent abound at both positions (including impressive-looking sophomore QB Nathan Costa (among seven candidates in the spring) and senior RB Jeremiah Johnson, but the Ducks have to find a way to integrate the new starters quickly, as Washington, Purdue (away), and Boise State are among their first four games.

No one schedules better. More schedule whining here. When I wrote up this idea, I was astounded to see how much better the Pac-10 was at non-conference scheduling when compared to everyone else in the country. Even the league's worst programs in recent years (Arizona, Washington, and Stanford) have done a pretty good job. Arizona plays solid mid-major Toledo and travels to New Mexico. Washington gets BYU, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame (!) at home. Stanford hits the road for TCU and Notre Dame. That's not bad. The only Pac-10 team to play a I-AA (er, FCS) opponent is Arizona State (Northern Arizona), and they make up for that by hosting possible preseason #1 Georgia September 20. Other marquee matchups include Ohio State-USC, California-Maryland, Oregon-Purdue, Oregon State-Penn State, and Tennessee-UCLA. Other leagues should be ashamed of their scheduling, especially considering they have an extra non-conference game (the Pac-10 plays a nine-game league schedule, meaning teams only have three NC games to schedule).

The hot seat returns for Ty Willingham. He never seemed to get off it at Notre Dame, and now he has to deal with it at Washington. Willingham (pictured) took over a mess of a program when Keith Gilbertson got fired, and while he's made some progress in three years, a step back in 2007 leaves his future in doubt. A promising 2-0 start was quickly shot to hell by six straight losses, including four at home. Willingham is 11-25 at UW, and he probably needs a bowl appearance to feel good about things. That will be a problem, thanks to that aforementioned non-conference gauntlet, along with five road games in league play. While the seat is hot for Arizona's Mike Stoops, he is probably in better shape. The hiring of Sonny Dykes to coordinate the offense worked out last year, and ten starters return. Among them is senior QB Willie Tuitama, who's been through quite a bit in his first three years. Leading rusher Nicholas Grigsby and 1,000-yard receiver Mike Thomas are both back, along with four offensive line starters. If Stoops can make something of a depleted defense that was abused in Pac-10 play last year, the Wildcats should go bowling for the first time since 1998.

Rick Neuheisel returns to coaching. I'm sure Washington fans will welcome him back to Seattle with open arms on November 15. Well, open arms and middle fingers, that is. Neuheisel, who caused a few problems at Washington in his last college head-coaching gig, is now at UCLA, where success might not be immediate, but it's probably imminent. If nothing else, Neuheisel has two of the top coordinators in the game. He got Norm Chow back to college football to run his offense, and DeWayne Walker sticks around to handle the defense after coaching the Bruins in their bowl game. Last year's team was jam-packed with experience, so there is some building to do, but it won't take long to get this program going strong. USC now has competition in Los Angeles, though Neuheisel has some work to do before people start confusing him for Pete Carroll.

USC reloads on offense. The league champs (again) and Rose Bowl champs (again) have never had any serious problems replacing star players. Matt Leinart stepped in for Carson Palmer. John David Booty followed their act. Chauncey Washington got some serious help over the last two years filling in for Reggie Bush and LenDale White. This year, they're going to do it again. Booty is gone, giving way to Mark Sanchez, who will be shadowed by Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain. Washington leaves, but Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight (pictured) lead the charge to be the Trojans' feature back. While leading receiver Fred Davis, a tight end, is gone, the top wideouts all return for Sanchez. Where Carroll's recruiting magic better have worked is along the offensive line, where only LG Jeff Byers returns from last year. Of course, the Trojans return enough great players to field the league's best defense, and if that happens, Sanchez can go ahead and play with a blindfold on and it probably won't keep USC from winning nine or ten games again.

If Arizona State gets it done against Georgia, look out. The Sun Devils are deep and talented at the skill positions. While they're still a bit smallish up front on defense, they could be a darkhorse threat to win the league. Five returnees in the Oregon State secondary have combined for 98 career starts. The bad news? That's pretty much it for experience on defense. Re-energizing a passing attack that flat-out stunk last year has to be a priority for the Beavers' offensive coaches. While Jim Harbaugh led Stanford to a world-shocking win over USC last year, the Cardinal did still manage to finish 4-8, and they lost to one of the worst Notre Dame teams any of us will ever see. Don't be shocked if Michigan transfer Jason Forcier gets a shot at unseating incumbent starter Tavita Pritchard if the latter struggles early. Welcome to big-time college football, Paul Wulff. The former Eastern Washington coach takes over at Washington State this year. His program lost eight scholarships because of another bad APR. Legal problems have taken a few other guys away. Only 36 letterwinners return from a 2007 team that underachieved and ended up 5-7. Wulff will need time to fix up his alma mater.

Offensive Player of the Year: Rudy Carpenter, QB, Arizona State
Defensive Player of the Year: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Coach of the Year: Mike Bellotti, Oregon
Coach on the Hot Seat: Mike Stoops, Arizona, and Tyrone Willingham, Washington
Best Non-Conference Game: Ohio State at USC, September 13
Worst Non-Conference Game: Northern Arizona at Arizona State, August 30

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Thanks to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, we bring you an update on the saga of former Army S Caleb Campbell.

Campbell was taken by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. While past pro prospects from the service academies were forced to serve a military commitment before being cleared to play pro football, Campbell was going to benefit from a new rule.
In the past, athletes from West Point were required to serve five years of active duty in the military before they could begin their professional careers, but military rules have changed, and cadets with the ability to play sports professionally are now allowed to do so while helping out with recruiting efforts for two years.
However, in a surprising and poorly-timed flip-flop akin to a political campaign, Campbell has been informed that he will not be allowed to play for the Lions this season. Or next.
In a letter to Lions president Matt Millen dated Wednesday, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jonathan P. Liba wrote that Campbell has been ordered to give up professional football for "full-time traditional military duties."

Liba wrote that 2nd Lt. Campbell may ask to be released from his active duty obligations in May 2010.

Liba said Campbell was allowed to enter the draft "in good faith."
If I'm Millen, I'm livid about this.

Yes, Campbell was a seventh-round pick, and he was probably a better bet to make the practice squad than he was to be a significant player for the Lions this season. That's not the point here.

The point is that the military allowed Campbell to enter the draft, allowed the Lions to choose him, and then pulled the rug out from under both.

As a result, a player who could have taken Campbell's roster spot through the minicamps and organized practices earlier this summer is instead unemployed. Not only that, but the Lions, who invested many hours into preparing Campbell for his first NFL training camp, are now short a safety at a time where it could be difficult to find one of NFL caliber.

Frankly, the Lions should be allowed to seek financial restitution from the military, in the amount of whatever it costs to sign a player for Campbell's spot on the roster.

Just because the military is a part of our government doesn't mean they have to act like the snakes who run our government.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. BYU
2. TCU
3. Utah
4. New Mexico
5. Wyoming
7. Air Force
8. Colorado State
9. San Diego State

BYU = BCS? Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has coined the phrase "Quest for Perfection" to describe the upcoming season. They've won ten in a row since a loss to Tulsa in their third game of 2007. Efficient, accurate QB Max Hall now has 13 starts under his belt. The top rusher and top four receivers return. Things are setting up well in Provo. Hall (right) threw 26 touchdowns a year ago, and he gets to throw to Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, and Michael Reed again. Harvey Unga returns as feature back after compiling over 1,800 yards from scrimmage last year. Mendenhall does have to patch together a defense, but he gets to build it around athletic DE Jan Jorgensen, who picked up 14 sacks last year. MLB David Dixon is the only returning starter who doesn't play on the defensive line. Guys like Scott Johnson, Brandon Howard, and G Pittman aren't experienced corners, but they're plenty talented to handle starting assignments.

Utah looks to rebound from injury-riddled season. Starting QB Brian Johnson (right) missed significant time and was probably never 100 percent. Starting RB Matt Asiata broke his leg in the season opener. Leading receiver Brent Casteel blew out his knee in the Utes' second game. As a result, it took quite some time for Utah's offense to find its footing. By the time it finally did, the Utes were staring up from a 1-3 hole. They finished by winning eight of their last nine, including a Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy. With that in mind, Johnson, Asiata, and Casteel are all going to be healthy. Add to that RB Darrell Mack (also pictured), who stepped in and ran for over 1,200 yards, and WR Brandon Godfrey, who caught 50 passes and is Utah's leading returning receiver. Oh, and Kyle Whittingham still has guys like DEs Koa Misi and Paul Kruger, along with OLB Stevenson Sylvester, on the defense. While this is likely to be a very good team again, their top-end players don't quite match up to BYU's.

Colorado State changes coaches. Sonny Lubick did great things in Fort Collins. He won 108 games in 15 years, led the Rams to nine bowl games, and he also won or shared six conference championships, most recently in 2002. Lubick struggled to get this program going in recent years, however. The Rams have won just sven games over two years, haven't won a bowl game since the 2001 New Orleans Bowl, and the administration convinced Lubick to retire after last season. Enter Steve Fairchild, a former CSU QB and most recently the offensive coordinator for the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Fairchild has quite a task in front of him, and making it tougher is the fact that the Rams return just 12 starters. In a way, this is a good thing, as Fairchild has no reason not to conduct a competition for most, if not all, starting positions. The offensive coaches took an unusual step to helping the new QBs out. They've programmed their passing plays into Madden 08 for the PlayStation 2, and the four candidates take turns playing it every day. Fairchild was a good hire, but this rebuild is going to take a while.

Wyoming tries to bounce back. The Cowboys' 2007 collapse was capped by coach Joe Glenn's embarrassing one-finger salute toward the Utah sideline after an onside kick. Glenn had guaranteed a win over Utah, and the Utes apparently decided a 43-0 lead wasn't enough. Your mileage may vary on the Utes' decision to onside, but you can't justify Glenn's inability to control his emotions. A 4-1 start crumbled away in a 1-6 finish. After the loss to Utah, Wyoming got blown out by BYU and upset by Colorado State. The talent exists for Glenn to engineer a turnaround. Junior QB Karsten Sween, senior RB Devin Moore (pictured), and junior WR Greg Bolling lead the offense, which sports all five starters from last year on the offensive line. Three junior linemen (Mitch Unrein, Fred Givens, and John Fletcher) and senior LB Ward Dobbs are the best players on defense. Glenn expects seniors Michael Ray and Quincy Rogers to provide stability in the secondary.

Air Force tries to follow a great year. Troy Calhoun maxed out the talents of his players a year ago, leading them to a nine-win season that included wins over Mountain West powers TCU and Utah. The Falcons have to find a way to follow up on that this year, and it is going to be potentially tougher than last year was for Calhoun. To do it again, he and his staff are going to have to max out the talents of 14 new starters, including a new QB, new RBs, and new receivers. Defensively, Air Force has to find new starting corners and replace most of its LB depth. The biggest loss is that of QB Shaun Carney, who totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and directed the offense to nearly 30 points per game, increasing production by nearly a touchdown per game from a year earlier.

Gary Patterson has won at least ten games four times in seven years at TCU, and this team has the talent to make it five out of eight. An uncharacteristically leaky defense should be healthier, and the Horned Frogs have plenty of experience on offense. Quick: Name the only Mountain West school to be bowl-eligible each of the last seven years. You probably got it wrong, as it's not likely you'd guess New Mexico. The Lobos snapped a 46-year bowl win drought last year with a 23-0 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, and Rocky Long hopes his young team can find a way to get back to the postseason this year. No seat is hotter than that of Mike Sanford at UNLV. The Rebels have won just six games in three years, though things are looking up this season. Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon are locked in a solid QB competition heading into fall camp. Sanford finally has some experienced receivers and runners to operate his spread offense. It's up to those players to stay healthy, and the defense to improve quicker than it has been. Losing a starting QB isn't something that is going to lead to higher expectations when your team is coming off a 4-8 season. San Diego State has to replace Kevin O'Connell, along with leading receivers Brett Swain and Chaz Schilens. Of course, a defense that allowed a staggering 34 points per game is going to have to come around for Chuck Long if his team is to climb into the upper division of this league.

Offensive Player of the Year: Max Hall, QB, BYU
Defensive Player of the Year: Jan Jorgensen, DE, BYU
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Coach on the Hot Seat: Mike Sanford, UNLV
Best Non-Conference Game: Utah at Michigan, August 30
Worst Non-Conference Game: Stephen F. Austin at TCU, September 6

Thursday, July 17, 2008


On the surface, this all appears to be kind of silly.

The Green Bay Packers, in the midst of one of the biggest quandaries in their long history, have decided to go on the offensive. The reasoning, method, and timing are all questionable, but their target is clear.

It's the Vikings.

Green Bay filed a tampering charge against the Vikings recently, claiming that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has had "inappropriate contact" (football related, we think) with Brett Favre.

Favre is retired, but he is still the property of the Packers, as he retired with years left on his contract. Therefore, any contact Favre has with officials from another team about the prospects of joining that team are considered against the rules.

Though it's unclear what the Packers have for evidence, they are probably alleging that Bevell and Favre, known to be good friends ever since Bevell was Favre's position coach in Green Bay, discussed the chances of Favre playing in Minnesota. The Packers' allegation, according to one report, goes so far as to claim the Vikings are the reason for Favre's sudden interest in a comeback.

Look: Favre and Bevell are friends. I would hate for NFL rules to restrict their ability to talk to each other, especially as Favre goes through a difficult time in his professional career. That said, I also understand why the league so greatly frowns on this stuff.

A few hot-button questions that I can answer:

1. Why does this rule apply to retired players? Because Favre is under contract. If you allowed teams to contact retired players from other teams, you'd have disgruntled players retiring to facilitate their own free agency. That would be a really bad thing.

2. What can happen to the Vikings? If the NFL finds them guilty, the organization could face fines or a loss of one or more draft picks.

3. Will this change the Packers strategy in this drama? Probably not. It would never have made sense to release Favre, even if you thought he would only go to the Lions. There's no reason to trade Favre until you get a stronger hint that he'll apply for reinstatement.

4. Is there any way Favre could end up with the Vikings? Not by trade. Ted Thompson would never do that. However, I do think it's possible that Favre will not apply for reinstatement until Week Six. If that happens, the Packers could very easily cut him instead of dealing with the BS and the distractions. Even if he signs with the Vikings, he's going to be at least two weeks away from jumping in as the starting QB.

Ah, soap operas. So much more fun involving sports.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Miami (Ohio)
2. Bowling Green
3. Buffalo
4. Temple
5. Kent State
6. Ohio
7. Akron

1. Ball State
2. Central Michigan
3. Western Michigan
4. Toledo
5. Northern Illinois
6. Eastern Michigan

Temple and Buffalo. There's no better way to describe this storyline than by simply saying "Temple and Buffalo". By themselves, and without any attached context, this means nothing to most of you. Temple hasn't had a winning season for 17 years. They haven't even won more than four games in a season since 1990. On its surface, a four-win season isn't anything special. But for Temple, who endured a myriad of injuries, started a slew of freshmen, and started 0-5, a 4-8 finish is something to build on. The Owls are the only Division I-A team to return all 11 starters on each side of the ball. A bowl game is not out of sight, believe it or not. The same could be said for Buffalo. The Bulls don't have 22 starters back, but they do have 18. They won five MAC games a year ago, matching their total from the previous four years combined. The Bulls have a senior QB in Drew Willy (pictured) who has started 28 games over three years. Coach Turner Gill appeared to be a favorite for the Nebraska job (his alma mater) before deciding to stay in Buffalo. He should reap the benefits of his decision this year, as the Bulls have the tools to at least be bowl-eligible, and they'll challenge Miami and Bowling Green for the league title.

LeFevour fever. A 1-3 start, featuring blowout losses to Kansas, Purdue, and North Dakota State (!), left the Chippewas reeling under first-year coach Butch Jones. CMU rallied, winning five of six, claiming the West Division title, and blowing by Miami in the MAC title game. Despite a porous defense, the Chips gave Purdue all they could handle in the Motor City Bowl thanks to QB Dan LeFevour (right), who is the latest in a long line of elite MAC QBs. He threw for 300 or more yards in four games, topped 3,600 yards passing, and chipped in over 1,100 yards on the ground. LeFevour's 46 total TDs included 19 scores on the ground, placing him only behind Tim Tebow among Division I-A quarterbacks. LeFevour has already started 26 games, and he's mastered the Chippewas' spread offense. Expect more big numbers this year, as CMU returns all their top skill-position players and four starters on the offensive line.

QB experience all over the MAC. While many of the MAC's 13 teams struggled to generate a consistent passing game last year, they'll all have a great opportunity to improve in 2008. 12 of the league's 13 teams return their starting quarterback from 2007. Among them are West Division stars LeFevour and Nate Davis (Ball State). Tim Hiller (Western Michigan) disappointed coaches with some of his decision-making, but he returns for another season. Toledo's Aaron Opelt needs to stay healthy. Tyler Sheehan (Bowling Green) should become an Omar Jacobs-like star this year. Willy and Adam DiMichele (Temple) both have the chance to continue their teams' respective surges. Daniel Raudabaugh (Miami) may have to fend off a freshman (Clay Belton) to even keep his job. Ohio is the only team that has to replace last year's starter.

Ball State's offense should continue to shine. Off their first winning season since 1996, the Cardinals have the goods to make the leap atop the MAC West this season. QB Nate Davis has room to improve (completion percentage around 57), but he takes care of the football (nine picks in over 700 career attempts). He's the triggerman for an offense that is as formidable as any in this league. Ball State gets all eleven starters back, including 100-catch WR Dante Love, a TE in Darius Hill who scored 11 times last year. The Cardinals need to get more consistency out of the running game (held under 100 yards in four of their last six regular-season games), and they're banking on the idea that seven returning starters will bolster a defense that was flat-out abused against the run (204 yards per game, including over 200 yards in six of 13 games). Phil Steele wants to point out that the Cardinals were plus-17 in turnover ratio last year, meaning they're likely in for a less fortunate season, too. That said, they're ready to make the leap, and this year might be their best chance.

MAC woes continue. Despite some on-field success and more exciting offenses, the MAC continues to struggle against the big boys. In 2007, the MAC went 5-37 against teams from BCS conferences, but didn't win a single game against a BCS team that finished with a winning record. They also went 0-3 in bowl games, including Bowling Green's 63-7 waxing at the hands of Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl. This year doesn't look good, with such doozies as Miami at Michigan, Miami at Cincinnati, Temple at Penn State, Bowling Green at Pittsburgh, Ohio at Ohio State, Akron at Wisconsin, Boston College at Kent State, Central Michigan at Georgia, etc. Good luck, MAC. Hopefully, your improved football teams can spring an upset or two.

I mentioned the potential QB controversy at Miami, as Belton tries to snatch some snaps away from Raudabaugh, who struggled mightily at times last year. Whoever gets the job has talent to throw to, led by sophomore Eugene Harris and junior Dustin Woods. The RedHawks will battle Bowling Green for the East Division title again. Sheehan (right) is an accurate thrower in an offense that demands accuracy. The Falcons' spread attack does rely on the ability to run the ball and keep the offense diverse, and they didn't do such a good job of that last year, averaging 40 pass attempts per game (50 or more in four of their first five games). Kent State won their opener at Iowa State last year, started 2-1, and finished the season 3-9 thanks to a scattershot passing game and a secondary that seemed to get worse throughout the season. To improve, it would be super if they could stay healthy at QB, where four different players started games last year. Frank Solich seems to have the offense tuned up at Ohio, as the Bobcats topped 30 points a game last year. A defense that allowed 30 or more points in five of six losses sunk their bowl hopes. Solich hopes senior LB Michael Brown will lead an improvement. A rebuilding process is underway at Akron, where the Zips will play in the Rubber Bowl for the last time this year. Coach JD Brookhart seeks improvement from QB Chris Jacquemain, who leads a passing game that has to get something positive going without leading receiver Jabari Arthur. There are too many losses on defense for the Zips to be much of an East Division factor. If Hiller doesn't watch out, sophomore Drew Burdi might wrestle the QB job away from him at Western Michigan. He has a top target in Jamarko Simmons to go along with the emerging Schneider Julien. The Broncos are another team that needs to show improvement on defense. A late-season upset at Iowa last year may help propel WMU to the bowl picture. Tom Amstutz has hit a bump in the road at Toledo for the first time. Injuries have ravaged the QB position, and now they have to deal with the loss of leading rusher Jalen Parmele. Amstutz knows the run defense has to improve after finishing last in the MAC (215 yards per game allowed), and his team also has to survive a brutal schedule (at Arizona, vs. Fresno State, at Michigan in non-conference play). Jerry Kill comes from a successful Southern Illinois program to take over at Northern Illinois. The cupboard isn't bare with the departure of Joe Novak, as the Huskies have a staggering 21 starters back. If Kill can guide this team through the first five games (four on the road) without their confidence taking a hit, they could be a surprise team. The seat is warming quickly for Jeff Genyk at Eastern Michigan. Genyk is very optimistic about the upcoming year, but the odds of EMU earning their first postseason trip since 1987 are not good. If they're going to build a winner, expect it to be done with an improved offense. QB Andy Schmitt needs to stay healthy and improve his consistency. If he doesn't, sophomore Kyle McMahon has the edge in mobility and may steal the job.

Offensive Player of the Year: Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan
Defensive Player of the Year: Larry English, DE, Northern Illinois
Coach of the Year: Turner Gill, Buffalo
Coach on the Hot Seat: Jeff Genyk, Eastern Michigan
Best Non-Conference Game: UTEP at Buffalo, August 28
Worst Non-Conference Game: Northeastern at Ball State, August 28

Monday, July 14, 2008


For the sake of Brett Favre, let's hope he's inhaled some fumes from that tractor of his.

Everyone in Wisconsin appreciates what Favre did for the Green Bay Packers. Even Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Favre refuses to understand this, instead evidently choosing to believe that Thompson especially has been trying to push him out the door since 2005.

After requesting his release last week, Favre has given an interview to Packers shareholder Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. In the interview, Favre shows signs of senility, apparently believing the Packers are stupid.
...while Favre said the Packers asked him for a list of teams to which he would accept a trade, he wants to be released to make sure he ends up on a competitive club.
Wait. You want to pick your team, but only on your terms?

Screw that!

The Packers are responsible for one thing here, and that's not Brett Lorenzo Favre. It's the Green Bay Packers.

And in this instance, what's best for Brett isn't what's best for the Packers.

Favre wants a release because he "didn't feel welcome". Typical BS athlete whining.

The truth is that Brett Favre decided he didn't want to play football anymore. He did this on his own, 44 days after a crushing end to the season that was largely his fault (see right). No one pushed him to retire. To the contrary, the Packers made it clear that they wanted him back.

Favre wanted out. He got out. He could have come back in March, but backed out.

Now, it's too late.

Aaron Rodgers is starting. Favre gets to take part in an open competition for the job in a best-case scenario in Green Bay, and he doesn't feel he should have to do that.

Understandable, but it means Favre has to go elsewhere.

With that in mind, does he really think the Packers are going to release him so he can sign with the Vikings or Bears? Instead, his best option is to find teams that are interested in him, narrow down the list to the most competitive franchises, and work out a deal.

It's the most amicable way out of Green Bay, which was what agent Bus Cook said they wanted. Instead, Favre, Cook, and their inner circle seem to have brokered the most acrimonious situation possible. They allowed this to go public, basically forced the Packers to respond in public, and have now seen this issue reel out of control.

This is July. Nothing happens in July. They had to know this would happen.

In the end, Favre thinks he's owed free agency by the Packers. It's insane. Favre signed a ten-year contract seven years ago. He did it because he wanted to finish his career in Green Bay, and the Packers offered him a deal he couldn't pass up. Now, he wants out of that deal for convenience. He thinks the Packers should up and release a contracted player, setting him up to go wherever he wants without compensation.

As bad as we all think Kevin McHale is, at least he didn't release Kevin Garnett.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers continues to do something Favre was apparently allergic to. He's being a teammate and being "one of the guys". Despite the insistence of many Favre loyalists, who assume the veterans want Favre back, this behavior appears to be rubbing off on the other players, and Rodgers is getting some support.
Rodgers said he has received supportive calls and text messages from numerous teammates over the past couple of days, including offensive linemen Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton and wideout Greg Jennings. He also has shown his leadership skills by actively mentoring Brohm and Flynn, a stark contrast to the chilly reception he got from Favre after joining the team.

“I’ve been trying to be as open as I can possibly be,” Rodgers said. “I told both Brian and Matt from the start that if they have any questions, they should come to me and I’ll help them in any way I can. Because making them better is making our team better.”
Maybe Favre can try this "teammate" thing in his new locale.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Central Florida
2. Marshall
3. East Carolina
4. Memphis
5. Southern Mississippi
6. UAB

1. Tulsa
2. SMU
3. Houston
4. Rice
6. Tulane

June Jones to the Metroplex. There was probably no bigger coaching change in college football than this one. SMU's program has been a joke since the Death Penalty sanctions imposed by the NCAA a little more than 20 years ago. They haven't been to a bowl since 1984, and athletic director Steve Orsini finally had enough. He fired Phil Bennett after a 1-6 start to the 2007 season. Then, at the end of the year, he found a way to get June Jones to join his program from Hawai'i. Jones had probably accomplished all he could with the Warriors, thanks to a shoestring budget he was saddled with. At SMU, he'll make some $2 million per year, he has a relatively new on-campus football stadium, and he has a job in one of the richest recruiting bases in the country. So, yeah, this won't take long. Short-term, the prognosis is good. He's got some speed to work with at the skill positions, and he has a junior QB in Justin Willis who has already started 22 games. Shoring up a defense that allowed over 300 passing yards per game last year is the first priority.

Central Florida gets it done with defense. They're going to have to. The two rocks of the Knights' offense last year were RB Kevin Smith (2,567 yards, 30 total TD) and QB Kyle Israel (2,173 yards, 15 TD). Michael Greco, who transferred from NC State in 2005, seems to have the inside track on replacing Israel. Smith's old job is wide-open, with upwards of six players in line for a shot at it in the fall. Meanwhile, George O'Leary has no such problems on the other side of the ball. The Knights return nine starters on what could be Conference USA's top defense, including their top seven tacklers. Also back are the co-leaders in interceptions from a year ago, CBs Joe Burnett (right) and Johnell Neal. The experienced, talented secondary features four senior starters who have already combined to start an astounding 134 games at UCF. If the Knights can find a way to generate enough pass rush, the secondary will likely put up some great numbers.

Is Mark Snyder in trouble? Longtime head coach Bob Pruett retired in 2004, just as Marshall was up against some NCAA sanctions and a move to a tougher conference (leaving the MAC for Conference USA). A program used to bowl appearances, conference titles, and NFL-caliber talent (Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Randy Moss, etc.) wasn't going to take well to rebuilding, but that was in the cards. Snyder is just 12-23 in three seasons, including 3-9 a year ago. However, things are looking up. Marshall returns 17 starters, 33 players on the roster who have started a game, and 41 total letterwinners back. The Herd need to replace a starting QB in Bernard Moore, but the coaches like redshirt freshman Mark Cann, who currently sits atop the depth chart. Improvement will be expected if Marshall is to win games this season, and a big part of that will be a defense that was destroyed last year. The Herd allowed 34 points per game, couldn't stop anyone running or passing the ball. Snyder's job security is in question, and results are needed this year, in all likelihood.

Where did all the runners go? A look at Conference USA shows a startling number of star RBs gone from last year. Marcus Thomas (UTEP), Anthony Aldridge (Houston), Matt Forte (Tulane), Chris Johnson (ECU), Smith (UCF), and Joseph Doss (Memphis) are all gone, and they take 9,686 yards and 104 rushing TDs (118 total) with them. And that's just the 2007 total. Needless to say, there are a ton of teams in Conference USA with top runners to replace, with UCF and Tulane the most hurt, as Smith and Forte each cleared 2,000 yards a year ago. Perhaps this is a nod to Southern Miss (Damion Fletcher) and Tulsa (Tarrion Adams), both of whom return 1,000-yard rushers from last season. Or maybe it's a sign that Conference USA will lean more toward air attacks this season than ever before.

Tulsa reloads. For the first time since 2004, Paul Smith will not be under center (or in the shotgun) for the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa has plenty of talent surrounding the new starter, who will be senior David Johnson. WRs Trae Johnson(right) and Charles Clay combined for 139 catches last year, and while Brennan Marion only caught 39 passes, he averaged a record 31.9 (!) yards per catch. Adams returns in the backfield, and he's a solid receiver. Johnson should be well-protected by a solid offensive line. The schedule is favorable, with only a home date against New Mexico posing any major issues among Tulsa's first five games. With that in mind, Johnson should be well-established before an October 11 game at SMU.

East Carolina should threaten for the top spot in the East, thanks to a strong defense and improved passing attack. However, replacing a key player like Johnson may be too much to ask for this offense. Believe it or not, Tommy West of Memphis is the longest-tenured head coach in the league. He's been there since 2001. If they can figure out the defensive issues that plagued them throughout the season, Memphis should also be a factor in the East. Southern Miss made the most controversial coaching change, letting Jeff Bower go after 17 seasons. Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora gets the job, and he'll bring his no-huddle attack with him. Fletcher should benefit greatly in this offense. Neil Calloway fielded a thin football team last year, but the second-year UAB coach did it out of necessity. He flushed the bad apples out of the program, and now has quite the rebuilding project. The numbers indicate that this will be another rough year in Birmingham, but the Blazers will continue to improve gradually. New Houston coach Kevin Sumlin is highly-regarded and probably not long for this job. While he's there, expect the Cougars to continue with their high-flying offense. With Sumlin's background as a recruiter at schools like Oklahoma and Texas A&M, UH's profile on the national scene is likely to rise considerably. Rice was running the wishbone as recently as 2005. Now, the Owls have a passing attack that is top-notch, thanks to QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard. Expect Rice to return to bowl contention this year after a 3-9 season in David Bailiff's debut. If sophomore QB Trevor Vittatoe can build off a 31-touchdown freshman season, UTEP should improve off their 4-8 record from 2007. Much will also be decided by whether they can find a RB to replace Thomas, who was a huge part of the offense last year. No team in the league has to replace a player as important as Forte. Bob Toledo returns a ton of players from last year's team, but for Tulane to get any better in a tough division, all the skill-position players have to perform better in Forte's absence. That's probably too much to ask.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tarrion Adams, RB, Tulsa
Defensive Player of the Year: Joe Burnett, CB, UCF
Coach of the Year: June Jones, SMU
Coach on the Hot Seat: Mark Snyder, Marshall
Best Non-Conference Game: South Florida at Central Florida, September 6
Worst Non-Conference Game: Central Arkansas at Tulsa, September 27

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


In a move that is designed to secure his long-term future in NASCAR, Tony Stewart has gotten out of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, effective at the end of the season. "Smoke", as they call him, has had his eye on team ownership for some time, it seems, and he's going to make the move next year to become an owner/driver.

Stewart's buying into Haas/CNC Racing to the tune of a 50 percent share. It's expected that the new team will be called Stewart Haas Racing, with Stewart driving one car and another driver - reportedly Ryan Newman - being brought in for the other. Stewart has apparently lined up some serious sponsors, including Office Depot (their deal with Carl Edwards is up and will apparently not be renewed). Possibly of even greater importance to Stewart will be his return to driving Chevrolet racecars.

Obviously, Stewart is not doing this to win a championship in 2009. He's doing it because of the long-term opportunities that come with team ownership. While Haas/CNC has struggled this year, there's no reason to believe they'll continue to with two big-name drivers. Stewart gives them immediate credibility. So would Newman.

Right now, neither Haas car is regularly qualifying for races, as both sit outside the top 35 in Sprint Cup owner points. Scott Riggs has been driving the 66 car this season, and he hasn't posted any finish higher than 16th. They're 36th in owner points, meaning Riggs has to make races on speed, as only the top 35 in owner points qualify automatically for each race. The other Haas car, number 70, is primarily driven by Johnny Sauter. That one is even worse off in owner points, ranked 44th, and Sauter's best finish is 28th. Jason Leffler, who is having a fine season in the Nationwide Series, will attempt to qualify the 70 for Saturday's race at Chicagoland.

This leads me to my big question.

While I don't expect Stewart or Newman to win championships right away, I do expect them to be in the top 35. That is going to put a lot of pressure on other drivers who are currently gaining automatic entry into the races.

Of those in the lower reaches of the top 35, I see guys like Regan Smith, Michael McDowell, and Reed Sorensen really having to step up their game next season. I don't think Sam Hornish will stay where he is (35th in owner points) for very much longer, though the season-long struggles of Penske Racing in general might hurt him in his effort to climb the standings.

Another team that will be under tremendous pressure will be the Pettys. Kyle Petty's 45 car is having a miserable year, no matter who drives it. They need to find a way to turn that around, because they aren't helping anything in the company by missing races, and they're in danger of doing that because Terry Labonte is running out of champion's provisionals to use.


Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.

1. Missouri
2. Kansas
3. Nebraska
4. Colorado
5. Kansas State
6. Iowa State

1. Oklahoma
2. Texas Tech
3. Texas
4. Oklahoma State
5. Texas A&M
6. Baylor

More struggles at Baylor. Every school in the Big 12 has been to at least three bowl games since the calendar flipped to the year 2000. Well, every school except one has. Baylor has not seen the college football postseason since 1994. They've not won a bowl game since 1992. Guy Morriss was allowed five years to try to turn things around after being hired away from Kentucky, where he nursed the program through the worst of the Hal Mumme fallout. At Baylor, Morriss never won more than five games in a season, and he won just 18 games total. Even at a place that has become known as the Big 12's weakest sister, this isn't going to be accepted forever. Now, accomplished coach Art Briles takes over. He brings his funky spread-style offense from Houston, where he posted a so-so 34-28 record, but did guide the Cougars to four bowl bids in five years. Surely, Briles will be allowed more than a couple years at BU, and if he gets the resources he needs, the Bears should begin to improve as quickly as this year.

Is Kansas a flash in the pan? Last year's version of the Jayhawks did everything you could ask them to do, outside of beating Missouri. They rung up some serious point totals, including that 76-point outburst against Nebraska. Their defense was great throughout most of the year, holding opponents under 100 rush yards per game and keeping four teams from reaching double figures in points. They shocked many (evidently, we all thought KU would have "Just happy to be there" syndrome) by beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. So, can Mark Mangino engineer another magical season? They probably won't be 12-1 again, but they should be very good. Todd Reesing is back to run the offense at peak efficiency. RB Brandon McAnderson has to be replaced, but KU returns three starting linemen and two top receivers. The defense should be among the Big 12's best again. Nine starters are back, including the top four tacklers. Mangino's team has no fewer than six seniors starting on defense, and if Kendrick Harper can step up his game in departed CB Aqib Talib's spot, the Jayhawks won't miss a beat. 12-1 looks out of reach, but the Jayhawks only play four true road games all season long, and they bear watching once again.

Chase-ing the H*i*m*n. Chase Daniel (right) returns to lead North Division champion Missouri's attack. He loses top receiver Martin Rucker and leading rusher Tony Temple, but freshman All-American Jeremy Maclin is back to catch passes and return kicks, and safety blanket Chase Coffman returns. Daniel threw for over 4,300 yards and 33 scores last year. He topped 300 yards in nine of 14 games. The Tigers might not win another division title, but they're favored, and the senior QB is a big reason why. Daniel is pretty much everyone's pick for the league's Offensive Player of the Year in the preseason. With Maclin, Coffman, and Tommy Saunders all back to catch the ball, and with a loaded offensive line, Daniel will put up some serious numbers again this year.

Oklahoma's defense looks to rebound. The Sooners were flat-out embarrassed in their Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia. Before that fateful night in Glendale, the OU run defense hadn't once yielded 200 yards to an opponent. Only Oklahoma State's 195 even came close, and that was in a 49-17 OU win. West Virginia ran for 349 yards and averaged 8.9 yards per carry in a 48-28 romp. The 349 yards exceeded the total Oklahoma allowed in their first five games (338). It was an awful way to end a superb season. The Sooners lose six starters from that defense, but they get back three starters on the line, while stud SS Nic Harris anchors the secondary. If Bob Stoops can find a replacement for departed feature back Allen Patrick, the offense won't miss a beat after averaging 42 points per game in 2007. Instead, the ultimate fate of this season rests on the defense. Can they rebound and play like a confident unit after the thrashing they got from WVU?

This is Texas Tech's time. For Mike Leach, it probably doesn't get any simpler than this season. He has a senior QB in Graham Harrell who is set to obliterate any remaining school passing records (he's less than 2,000 yards from Kliff Kingsbury's career mark, meaning he may set that before the Big 12 opener October 4). He has three solid dual-threat RBs to choose from, including sophomores Aaron Crawford and Baron Batch. WR Michael Crabtree (right) won the Biletnikoff Award as a freshman last year, catching 134 passes and falling 38 yards short of 2,000 for the season. Oh, and Leach's defense returns eight starters. The schedule shows tough road games against Kansas and Oklahoma, but the other really tough Big 12 games are in Lubbock, including Nebraska and Texas. If they're ever going to climb the mountain, it's going to be this season. The best part? No matter the record, there isn't a more entertaining team in all of college football.

Nebraska brings back Bo Pelini, this time for a longer head-coaching stint (he coached the team in the Alamo Bowl the year Frank Solich got fired). His first task is to rebuild the image of the Blackshirts defense, which gave up a rather ghastly 37 points and 477 yards per game last year. 80,000 people paid to watch the spring game, so you know they're excited in Lincoln. The coach's son looks to improve on a solid freshman season in Boulder. Cody Hawkins (right), son of Dan, leads the Colorado offense, which improved by leaps and bounds - and by nearly 100 yards per game - over a dismal 2006. Cody threw 17 picks in 13 starts, however, and that can't happen again. The Buffaloes upset Oklahoma a year ago, and with West Virginia, Florida State, Texas, and Oklahoma State all visiting Boulder this season, they may need to pull another upset or two to reach a bowl game for the second straight year. You think Ron Prince senses trouble at Kansas State? He brought in 19 JUCO kids in this year's class, hoping to supplement a roster that returns only 12 starters from a disappointing 2007. The Wildcats fell off badly, losing their last four games by a total of 86 points. The offense has to find a way to replace leading receiver Jordy Nelson and leading rusher James Johnson. Good luck. If anything positive can be taken out of the debut season for Gene Chizik at Iowa State, it's that they played some good football towards the end of the season. The Cyclones beat bowl-bound Colorado and also dealt a crippling blow to Kansas State's postseason hopes. Chizik gets 14 starters back and should field an improved team capable of winning four or five games. Texas lost an uncharacteristic three Big 12 games last year, but recovered to blow out Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. The defense fell off terribly from when Chizik led the way, and now they have to replace seven starters this year. A favorable early-season schedule should get the Longhorns off to a fast start, but they don't appear to be strong enough to contend in the South. Mike Gundy made headlines for his anti-media rant last year, but the Oklahoma State coach made the right move in starting Zac Robinson ahead of Bobby Reid. The Cowboys are a secondary away from being a sleeper in the South, as Robinson will continue to lead the offense to serious numbers. Former Packers coach Mike Sherman takes over at Texas A&M. While I was no fan of his work in Green Bay, I think he will be fine in the college game. The problem will be trying to sort through the mess Dennis Franchione left him. While Sherman's smarts and play-calling acumen should serve him well with the offense, I'm not sure how the hell they're going to field a defense that doesn't get destroyed.

Offensive Player of the Year: Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri
Defensive Player of the Year: William Moore, S, Missouri
Coach of the Year: Mike Leach, Texas Tech
Coach on the Hot Seat: Ron Prince, Kansas State
Best Non-Conference Game: Illinois vs Missouri at St. Louis, August 30
Worst Non-Conference Game: SE Missouri at Missouri, September 6