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College Football Drills in Wintertime February 28, 2013

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We are still in the winter season, normally associated with basketball, wrestling (the non-pro kind!) and Winter Olympic-related sports.  The Super Bowl has been concluded for almost a month by now, and the college football bowl games have been over for almost two.  But do not think that nothing is going on in the world of college football; things are anything but sleepy in that world right now, and I don’t mean the latest developments in the Fulmer Cup, either!

The truth is, college football is very active right now, just not active in the way that ordinary fans, hard-core and casual alike, can readily see or discern.  That is because fans do not see the tough conditioning drills that players put themselves through (scratch that, that COACHES put players through) during the week, often at very inconvenient times of day, to get them ready for Spring Ball.

Conditioning is the game, here.  The NCAA restricts coaches to 15 spring practice sessions, so there’s no time to waste on gassers or the like when there’s plenty of schematic options to explore to see how they play out and to try to install new offensive stuff for the regular season come Fall.

That means that these boys need to be in shape for all of that.  What is truly interesting is all the different approaches that coaching staffs take towards these conditioning sessions, starting with what their nomenclature.  One generic, all-purpose term is “winter conditioning drills,” since they last from early February, usually, to early March, though that alone varies from program to program.  Another term some teams use is “mat drills,” since some of the conditioning drills take place on wrestling mats or a similar playing surface.  At Purdue, we just called them “6 AM’s”, since that’s when these drills officially began.

Six-AM’s are a royal pain in the ass.  There, I said it.  Some coaches seem to agree, with is why schools of thought differ even on this approach, since some programs WISELY undertake these conditioning sessions in the AFTERNOON (why, what a novel idea!).  As disastrous a head coach as Jim Colletto was while at Purdue, one of the few bright spots during an otherwise dark time for the program was that he had said conditioning drills held in the afternoon, when normal people are still, you know, functional.  Coach Joe Tiller, however, in a hasty move to — otherwise commendably — change the tone of the program (and goodness knows it needed a change of tone at the time) had them in the morning, hence the term at the beginning of this paragraph.

But Purdue is not the only one; many a program from UConn to USC has had these sessions at 06:00, for whatever reason.  Luckily, there are voices of reason at big-time programs that still have them in the afternoon.  Take Georgia, for example (this policy alone strengthens my faith in Mark Richt’s adept leadership):

FYI, those human-centipede push-ups are a lot harder than they look!  Notice the presence of a red mat in the middle of the indoor practice field, though.  We never used a mat for drills on the astroturf playing field of Mollenkopf Athletic Center (field turf was finally installed in there in 2006), which might account for the absence of the mat drill term within our organizational lexicon.

Still, another interesting thing to marvel is what sort of combination of drills the coaches prefer to get their players into shape.  We never did the human-centipede push-up drill at Purdue, for example, but one constant one will find from program to program are all sorts of directional drills.  Those are simply where the coaches have players run or side-shuffle in one direction then instantly turn to run in a different direction and so on.  Players would go to various drill stations throughout the session and about four or five-minute intervals, and variations of directional drills were usually two out of several of said stations.  Because two stories of staircases leading to the coaches’ offices were located close to the indoor field, another station was to have players run up and down said stairs — ensuring that endurance and power were covered!

Clemson is considered a big-time program, but sadly they still cling to the out-dated notion of having drills pre-dawn. North Texas, an inconsistent contender in the Sun Belt, also still have their sessions before sunrise.

Notice the good examples of directional drills show in the above video.  The tug-of-war drill is no doubt a cool idea!  Another constant one sees during these drills from program to program are the puke buckets.  Part of the job of the managers are to set up these drills (meaning they must report around 5:30 AM), and part of the setting-up is placing those plastic, dark gray garbage cans in, er, strategic areas for players to conveniently access in the split second before they blow hash.  On further review, one advantage to running before dawn is that one needs not to worry about losing one’s breakfast!

At Purdue, after the players were thoroughly worn out from all the drills, to cap things off, the coaches had them run 100-yard wind sprints repeatedly.  After all of that, the session would not be completed until all the players on the team did positioning drills (lie on your back, the whistle blows, then you instantly switch to lying on your chest, etc.) to the coaches’ satisfaction.  Doing these twice a week to start out seemed manageable.  Three times a week and it wears considerably on you; but at four times a week, it pushes you towards the brink of insanity, and makes you jump for joy when it comes time for spring practices to commence.  At least we could brag, though, that we practiced while [normal] people slept!

Addendum, 04-03-13:  Yes, by now, spring practices are in full-swing all across the land, but I just came across a video of Purdue’s 6 AM drills for 2013, and naturally found that to be a great fit for the article — enjoy!

2012-2013 Bowl Games of Moderate Interest (at best) December 14, 2012

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Bowl season is almost upon us once again.  Yes, friends, things kickoff early as usual, just as they have since roughly 2001.  But instead of the New Orleans Bowl doing the honors in getting things started this year, we have the New Mexico Bowl and the Idaho Potatoes Bowl (don’t laugh!) doing said honors this year.  The Big Easy Bowl does not commence until Dec. 22, oddly enough.

In any event, I have ranked the bowl games by category, with the major criterion being level of desirability to view, partly on my end, partly on the end of the average viewer who is NOT a certifiable college football addict like yours truly!

To find a complete bowl game schedule where each game is found in order of date and time each game is to be played, go here.

The first installment is of bowl games about which I am only moderately interested, at best (all times Eastern Standard):

Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise, Id.), Sat., Dec. 15, 4:30 PM EST

Toledo (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah State (10-2)

The de facto WAC champ takes on a respectable MAC team that finished 3rd in the western division.  The only interesting aspect about this game is that it will be an interesting test to see how strong the MAC truly is against the best of what is seen by most as a traditionally weak conference.

Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego) Sat., Dec. 15, 8:00 PM EST

BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)

The Cougars take on the de facto leader of the Mountain West, in what amounts to a glorified home game for the Aztecs.  Despite the numbers not matching, their records have interesting similarities in that both teams lost to at least one Pac-12 team, and both teams also lost to San Jose State (!).

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Fri., Dec. 21, 7:30 PM EST

Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4)

Both the Cardinals and the Golden Knights have nearly identical records, with UCF’s extra loss coming to Tulsa in the C-USA championship game.  The only interesting aspect to this game is how a MAC also-ran stacks up against the C-USA runner-up.  Everybody was bullish on the MAC this year for the apparent strength the conference hath shewn; now it is time to put up or shut up.

Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu, Hi.) Dec. 24, 8:00 PM EST

Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6)

This game used to have a little more of a mystique to it when it was called the Aloha Bowl, and was played on Christmas.  Just sayin’!  That said, it least this game is another glorified home game for Hawaii team, like it is half the time.  A Mountain West also-ran vs. a C-USA team barely eligible does seem to be a slight mismatch in the Bulldogs favor.  On the other hand, this will be an interesting homecoming for June Jones, albeit on the Mustangs side this time.

Little Caesars Bowl (Detroit), Wed., Dec. 26, 7:30 PM

Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)

It used to be they would pit a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team against the MAC champ.  Even then, the game was only moderately interesting, and only to the fan bases of the teams that got the bid to the Motor City.  Now, with a Sun Belt Conference also-ran against a plodding MAC team, it is even less interesting.  But credit the guys at EDSBS for reminding us that, given the game is in Detroit, the players, as a bonus, the players might get deeds to abandoned key real estate in their gift bags!

Military Bowl (Washington, D.C.), Thurs., Dec. 27, 3:00 PM

No. 24 San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)

WAC near-champ vs. MAC also-ran: we know what ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd would say; “not interested!”  Yes, the Trojans (the SJSU kind, not the USC kind) did take the WAC by storm this year, but it’s still the WAC.

Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.), Thurs., Dec. 27, 6:30 PM

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)

A decent Big East team takes on a barely-eligible ACC team.  That alone does not make most folks interested.  So what in addition to that dismal matchup engages anybody?  Answer:  the intrigue.  Who exactly will be coaching the Bearcats, anyhow?  And how will David Cutcliffe prepare the Blue Devils for a bowl game that might actually be winnable for them?

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.), Fri., Dec. 28, 2:00 PM

Ohio U (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)

Something negative, something positive to be said.  The negative is obvious if one knows anything at all about bowl history.  The Independence Bowl used to be one of the best matchups in the bowl lineup, pitting a Big XII team against an SEC team in a fairly even match.  Even before then, the 1995 Michigan State – LSU matchup was memorable, and the 1997 match between the Tigers and Notre Dame was even more so (both ended in the Bayou Bengals’ favor).  Remember the “Blizzard Bowl” between Mississippi State and Texas A&M in late 2000?  ‘Twas yet another great example of this great bowl game.  It is not anymore, though.  Now it pits MAC vs. Sun Belt.  The Cadillac has been reduced to a Chrysler K-car.  Positive:  lookee there, the Bobcats made it to a bowl game after all!

Russell Athletics Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Fri., Dec. 28, 5:30 PM

Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3)

The Hokies have under-performed all the year, and the Scarlet Knights might be a bit demoralized after losing at home to Louisville and losing out on the BCS in so doing.  So which team is going to show up?  Scratch that:  is either team going to show up?

Meinecke Car Care Bowl (Houston), Fri., Dec. 28, 9:00 PM

Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Okay, at least it involves a Big Ten vs. Big XII matchup.  The only problem is, one team squeaked by into this game while in a conference that is down this year, and the other is facing leadership turmoil in the wake of Tommy Tuberville’s abrupt departure.  On paper, the Red Raiders are the clear favorite, but don’t underestimate the power of demoralization.

Armed Forces Bowl (Ft. Worth, Texas), Sat., Dec. 29, 11:45 AM

Rice (6-6) vs Air Force (6-6)

Both teams squeaked into a bowl game.  Which one is happier to be there?  The happier team is a bit more focused on preparation, which will make the difference come game time.  Seriously; it should be called the “Ethics Bowl,” and the fact that I imply derision in that observation is a very sad commentary on our society.  On the other hand, Air Force’s triple option ‘grittitude’ is always a pleasure to see for those of us who like real football.

Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.), Mon., Dec. 31, 3:30 PM

Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)

The Cyclones have had some flashes of brilliance this year.  The question becomes, will this be enough to overcome the C-USA champs?

Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas), Mon., Dec. 31, 2:00 PM

USC (7-5) vs Georgia Tech (6-7)

My bowl pick for “they shoot horses, don’t they?”  Why?  Because it is pointless.  The Trojans come in to El Paso only 7-5 because they have yet to muster up the discipline needed to take things to the next level, while the Yellow Jackets already have a losing season. Still, the offensive contrast should be interesting to watch, if nothing else.

Next installment:  Bowl Games of More Interest

College Football Week 10 Awards November 5, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 10, pre-week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Nick Saban, Alabama
Glad I’m not him: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Lucky guy: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Poor guy: Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
Desperately seeking a wake-up call:  Tom O’Brien, N.C. State
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking … anything:  DeWayne Walker, New Mexico State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Stanford (beat Colorado 48-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (beat Missouri 14-7)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Temple (lost to No. 11 Louisville 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Pittsburgh (lost to No. 4 Notre Dame, 29-26, 3 OT)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Vanderbilt (beat Kentucky 40-0)

Dang, they’re good: Texas A&M
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue
Can’t stand prosperity:  Arizona (lost to UCLA 66-10)

Did the season start?  Missouri
Can the season end?  Memphis
Can the season never end?  Louisville

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 21, No. 5 LSU* 17
Never play this again: Northern Illinois 63, UMass 0
What? No. 16 Texas A&M* 38, No. 15 Mississippi State* 13
Huh? No. 23 Texas* 31, No. 18 Texas Tech* 22
Are you kidding me? TCU 39, No. 21 West Virginia* 38, OT
Oh – my – God:  UCLA 66, No. 22 Arizona* 10

* rankings are from Week 10 as opposed to Week 11

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 15 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Alabama
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (no really good match-ups)
Best non-Big Six matchup: Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas State
Upset alert: No. 11 Louisville @ Syracuse

Must win: No. 22 Mississippi State @ No. 9 LSU
Offensive explosion: Baylor @ No. 14 Oklahoma (or Tulsa @ Houston)
Defensive struggle: Missouri @ Tennessee
Great game no one is talking about: No. 13 Oregon State @ No. 16 Stanford

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gary Patterson of TCU vs.  Bill Snyder of No. 2 Kansas State
Special Election Night Special: Ball State @ Toledo (Red vs. Blue)

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 4 Notre Dame @ Boston College

Why are they playing? Louisiana-Lafayette @ No. 7 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: UMass @ Akron (notwithstanding Tulane @ Memphis)

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Army @ Rutgers

Week 10 in Review:

Bama passes the test:  Last week’s “Ticket to die for” certainly lived up to its billing, as The Crimson Tide duked it out with the Bayou Bengals in Death Valley.  A normally mistake-free Alabama reversed that trend throughout much of the game and started making more mistakes than usual.  Top-notch opponents tend bring out more mistakes than usual, to be sure.  In the end, Bama’s offense finally decided to start executing.  This sudden development clearly caught LSU’s defense off guard, and The Tide easily scored a TD when all they needed was a field goal to tie.  With only a minute to go, LSU failed to score on the second Hail Mary play.  Bama passed the test against what might be its toughest opponent of the entire regular season.

SEC Breathers:  Between this and upcoming Saturday and the one to follow, it seems as though the bulk of the SEC, stud and cellar-dweller alike, will take a breather from beating up on one-another and instead focus their brutal energies on lesser opponents, be they, say, fodder from the Sun Belt Conference (e.g., Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida), or FCS teams.  Case in point:  Samford ventures up to Lexington to play Kentucky in two weeks.  Alabama will no doubt easily dispatch with Western Carolina that same day.  Missouri is somewhat an exception in that they will play middle-of-the-road Big East foe Syracuse.  A curious annual constant is Wofford getting annihilated by South Carolina.  Tennessee already had their little break with Troy.  Vandy will conclude its season by taking its respective break against Wake Forest.  Arkansas barely escaped from their little breather, beating Tulsa only 19-15.  Auburn’s break, though, also comes two Saturdays from now when Alabama A&M comes to the Loveliest Little Village on the Plains.  Even Texas A&M is getting in on the act and playing Sam Houston State on the 17th.  Curiously, no such break comes for Ole Miss, Mississippi State, or LSU.  Still, do the teams that are taking a break, either this week or next, feel that their conference schedule is so brutal that they think they need such breaks before it is time for the ol’ sprint to the finish?  As a suggestion for improvement, surely Notre Dame could be squeezed in to one of these schedules, as the Irish feel they are “back,” and could be given an opportunity to test that idea.  It would give the fans a lot more excitement than Wofford or Sam Houston State, that’s for sure.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Longhorns:  At first, it seemed as though Texas was caught off guard by West Virginia’s high-powered offense and narrowly lost in a high-scoring game.  That idea quickly vanished in Dallas the following week when the Horns got embarrassed by Oklahoma.  Squeaking by Baylor in an even more high-scoring affair than that against the Mountaineers raised further concerns about Texas’ defensive woes (poor fundamentals, inability to make basic tackles, etc.).  Then, inexplicably, they win on the road.  And not just on the road, but in Lubbock, against Texas Tech, which in recent years has been one of the toughest places to play in the Big XII Conference.  Even more inexplicable is, while Texas did have occasional recurring issues with their defense (the same sort that has visibly plagued the Longhorns for the last month), by virtue of holding the Red Raiders to only 22 points, the defense clearly made key stops this time.

Granted, Texas Tech’s offense has been a tad inconsistent this year, scoring 49 points one week then being held to 24 the next, and so on.  Nevertheless, they walloped West Virginia and won in a shootout over TCU, making everyone take notice of their high-powered offense.

The “so-what” in all of this is that one of the hallmarks of a well-coached team is that you know what sort of performance to expect from week to week.  Was the past  month a temporary slump for Texas, or are they to be up for one week, down for the next?  Time will tell if their defeat of Texas Tech has halted the bleeding, or if they will perpetrate the apparent “Jekyll-and-Hyde” mystery with a sub-par performance against Iowa State next week.  Conversely, if they obliterate the Cyclones at home next week, it will bode well for the rest of the season, when they will need it the most against TCU, followed by No. 2 Kansas State.

Quietly undefeated:  The Louisville Cardinals are 9-0 for the first time in program history.  Not even Bobby Petrino managed such a feat when he put the Cards on the map and coached them to their first ever Orange Bowl-berth/victory.  The only team that defeated them in that memorable 2006-2007 season was Rutgers, in Piscataway, N.J.  Interestingly enough, that is where Louisville concludes its regular season this year, potentially for all the marbles in the Big East.  But before the Cards look too far ahead, they need to focus on the next game.  Syracuse is their next opponent, and Louisville takes them on in the Carrier Dome, where they are tough (though not impossible) to beat.  Coach Charlie Strong would be well-served to remind his sophomore-dominated team that this upcoming match-up is a potential trap game, and that they must focus their preparations accordingly.

Another one bites the dust:  The University of Kentucky opened up the floodgates in 1996 for a whole slew of coaching changes at years end when they fired Bill Curry.  Soon after that, the inept Jim Colletto of Purdue resigned, and at season’s end, so did Lou Holtz and Notre Dame and even Gene Stallings at Alabama, just to name a few.  Could UK have started a similar apparent chain reaction in 2012, having just fired Joker Phillips?  Time will tell.  Joker was, by all accounts, an honorable representative of the Wildcats, and A.D. Mitch Barnhart was lavish in his praise of the man in an open letter on UK’s official website.  Ultimately, it was a business decision.  Phillips simply lacked the skill set to effectively lead the largest revenue generating division of UK’s athletic brand (he was 12-23).  At best, only about 10,000 fans showed up at Commonwealth Stadium to see the Wildcats get trounced by traditional conference bottom-feeder Vandy.  Obviously the program has been headed in the wrong direction for the past couple of years, and Mitch Barnhart made a prudent business decision to try to rectify this problem.