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I Heart the Sagarin Rankings

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Over at USAToday Sports, they have the latest Sagarin Rankings for College Football.  Interestingly, the rankings come 2 ways:  By Team and by Conference.

Some notes on the rankings:

Quality wins are represented in the rankings with a weight given to Top 15 wins and Top 30 wins.

Strength of current schedule is a contributor.  So, if a team beats #1 in week 1, and that #1 team falls to #45 over the season, that win won’t matter come the end of the season.

ALL teams are ranked to compute these rankings.

Home field advantage is part of the rankings and predictions for the following week’s games. 

Margin of victory is unimportant in one measure, and points scored are all that matters in another measure.  These 2 measures combine to make the final rating.

Over the course of the season, all teams willl be connected by who they have played and who has played them- giving a ranking based solely on points scored and win-loss outcomes on the field.

The results as of week 2?

1  USC

2  BYU

3  Boise State

4  Alabama

5  Ohio State

6  LSU

7  California

8  Oklahoma

9  Texas

10  Virginia Tech

11  Florida 

12  TCU 

13  Missouri

14  Oregon  

15  Miami-Florida

16  Utah

17  Penn State

18  Oklahoma State 

19  Houston

20  Michigan

21  Georgia

22  UCLA  

23  Iowa

24  North Carolina   

25  Clemson

The team results of week 2 in college football are already well indicated by these rankings, in my opinion:

1)  It pays to play against good competition, win or lose

2)  It pays to score points

3)  Every team will be connected by performance and success

For the doubters, the conference rankings may or may not give you some comfort.  Looking inside the conferences is interesting as well.  Florida sits at #3 within the SEC.

It will be interesting to follow these rankings throughout the year and see how they predict outcomes.


Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

USC Down Season

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USC came back in impressive fashion to defeat Ohio State in the Horseshoe Saturday night.  The late-game drive was defining for the team.  It showed their toughness and resolve to get together and get a win.

Unfortunately, it showed their weakness as well.

That late-game drive against a questionable Ohio State defense required that Joe McKnight put the team on his back and carry the Trojans to the 1-yard line, where Stefan Johnson could polish it off. 

Where was Matt Barkley?  He contributed- on 3rd and long on their own side of the field, he threw a gimme flare route to McKnight to pick up 21 yards.  The next time he threw, he floated a strike to his tight end Anthony McCoy in the seam for a large chunk of 26 yards- really the only tough throw he had to make in the drive.  He hit one more pass- a slant for 8 yards.  Finally, he hit Joe McKnight on a bubble screen to go ahead by 3.  Not bad- 4 for 6 and 55 yards passing on the final drive.

I’m not so optimistic.  Joe McKnight accounted for 72 yards of the scoring drive, receiving and rushing.  What’s wrong with that?  The rushing yards came to hard all day for the Trojans:

3.0 yards per carry over the course of the game.

The passing yards came too difficult as well:

15 of 32 for 6.1 yards per completion.

Conclusion:  The offense is broke.  Well, maybe not the offense, but the new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, has a ways to go to fill recent shoes.  And I leave Lane Kiffin out of the list of shoes to fill.

That last drive had some imaginative play calling, and specific calls to exploit the defense.  That didn’t happen all game.  It was like watching an SEC matchup where each coach is simply trying to prove how hard their offensive line can push the other.

The playcalling was generally so entirely predictable and bland for a USC team that it was hard to imagine this team competing for a National Title.  They looked like an SEC team-  Great defense, inability to consistently move the ball.  This is glaringly different from years of yore at USC.

Too many zone running plays on first down- not enough play action, screens, quick shots to get WR one-on-one on the sideline.

Too much running at an 8-9 man box- not enough play action.

Too little QB movement- an obviously athletic QB did not get moved around much and felt the heat because of it, not to mention tweaked his shoulder.

Too few quick passes.

No examples of exploiting a defense- not until the 4th quarter, 3rd and 8 on their own 19 yard line and Joe McKnight easily gets past the linebacker coming up to cover him.  A gimme pass.

Too much defense- the defense was out on the field for way too long.  Ohio State actually began to formulate a way to get down the field after a while there.  No defense can play that much and survive unbeaten. 

In the end, Pete Carroll was on camera all over the offensive play calling.  Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was predictable and unimaginative with the talent he has control of. 

So, on to the point of this article:

3 Games the Trojans have a good chance of losing:

September 19, at WASHINGTON

Watch for previous OC Steve Sarkisian to wear the USC defense down and put up points.  Also, former USC Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt knows the USC D inside and out.  It could be a barn burner.

October 3, at CALIFORNIA

Cal looks silly good so far.  But they are doing damage mostly on the ground.  That could play to USC’s strength.  But if USC’s Defense can’t get off the field and the offense can’t score, look for Cal to wear down USC and run away with it.

Either October 17 at NOTRE DAME, November 28th vs. UCLA, or December 5 vs. ARIZONA

Notre Dame is obviously much improved and just might come out to win

UCLA could come in and surprise the Trojans in the battle of the L.A. basin, though QB woes make that less likely.

Arizona should be good this year and could ambush USC at the end of the year.

Why could USC drop these games?

1.  Offensive production is suspect for the reasons listed above: The coordiantor and his strategy are suspect.

2.  Expect the defense to play more snaps, take more hits, and give up more points.

3.  The opposition is up this year.  Competition is greater.

4.  Matt Barkley will, and I mean WILL disappoint.  It’s not his fault, he’s simply made some very, very stupid mistakes already and I think he’ll make a few more before USC switches to Aaron Corp mid-season.

5.  Finally, like I mentioned before, USC looks like an SEC team- strong defense, bland offensive play-calling.  They are predictable and ripe for the picking.

Being a life-long USC fan, I think this year will be infuriating, like I felt 2007 was with John David Booty starting for Lane Kiffin and Mark Sanchez waiting in the wings.  USC is like any other school, though.  Coaches have their politics- they have their favorites.  No matter what you read about USC this year, and especially this week- do not believe the hype.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

How BYU got to Sam Bradford

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The reigning Heisman athlete in college football, Sam Bradford, was literally coached into the ground. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a shame to see an all-American kid like him get hurt. These things happen in football.

So how did BYU get to Sam Bradford?

The Spread

The interesting thing about the spread offense in football is that it tries to level the playing field. If you can put your athletes in one-on-one matchups or scheme them into large holes in zone coverage, you can win with less talent or put up ridiculous points with more talent.

At the same time, this strategy puts enormous pressure on the offensive line and Quarterback because they, too are put in more one-on-one matchups. If the defense can figure out how to get number advantages in the small areas between linemen, and can figure out how to cover the field with less defensive backs, the offense can be in for a long day.

Such is the case with Oklahoma and BYU.

This article focuses on BYU’s pressure and coverage package. Oklahoma runs a standard 4-3 defense and put a cover two and cover four shell behind it most of the time. And they could match up man-for-man to pressure because of a distinct talent advantage. So there is nothing interesting about them.

What’s more, the Oklahoma offense was disadvantaged only one NFL-quality tight end. They had the rest of their starting talent on the field. Talent that should be able to put a Mountain West Conference team like BYU in its place.

So what is intriguing is what the underdog did to take down the more talented big dog.

BYU’s Pressure Package

BYU’s defense was impressive all-around. Run support was phenomenal, though sometimes spotty. Most impressive was BYU’s commitment and success in pressuring the passer.

BYU’s successful pressure package took the form of a number of zone blitzes. BYU doesn’t match up man-for-man with Oklahoma’s receivers, so it is necessary for BYU to utilize zone support underneath Oklahoma’s pass schemes, even when pressuring.

What is impressive about BYU’s pressure is that it necessitated vacating one zone coverage defender in order to put an extra player into a blitz. Oklahoma never seemed to find that opening. One particular zone blitz was extremely effective and ended up putting the hurt on Oklahoma, literally.


In this blitz scheme, BYU came from the boundary side. This was also the QB backside, so it was less conspicuous to a right-handed QB like Bradford.

Defensive Line Play

The defensive line was in BYU’s “even” front- a shift of the whole defensive line one man over.

Ends (E) are lined up with one over the tight end or over where the tight end would be, and the other End lining up over the backside Guard.

The Nose Tackle (N) is lined up over the call side guard.

The outside linebacker (S) will then fill in to make an even look, taking a position over the tight end, if present, or over where the tight end would line up, if not present.

The End on the blitz side takes an outside leverage rush, taking the left tackle wide.

The Nose Tackle slants hard away from the blitz, aiming hard for the A gap ad taking the Guard wide away as well.

The other End now takes a hard slant away to control the B and C gaps on the away side, either applying pressure upfield or playing a pseudo-zone position on the edge to discourage a QB scramble and to discourage a quick pass to the short hook/curl zone.

Linebacker Play

The Will (W) and Buc (B) linebackers will be pressuring in this case. Buc strikes first to occupy the Left Guard or Running Back on the blitz side. On this play, it was the running back.

Will follows through, looping inside the End/left tackle and having a free path to the QB if there is no remaining blocker.

The Mike (M) linebacker checks run and then runs hard for the No. 2 defender on the blitz side- a long way to cover. Mike will have responsibility for walling and shadowing under #2 in covering the hook/curl zones on the blitz side.

The Sam (S) linebacker checks run as well and then breaks fast for the No. 2 receiver to wall and shadow No. 2 underneath and cover curl, flat and wheel zones.

Mike and Sam make up the only underneath support coverage.

Safety Play

The Safeties in this scheme cover deep halves and the Corners cover flat and wheel zones in cover-two fashion.


In the instance of Bradford’s injury, the running back came up to block the Buc linebacker and Will ran past the reach of the left tackle, who tried to get back to close his inside gap. Bradford half-rolled away from pressure, but the Will caught him just at release and the rest is history.

Sam Bradford was leveled at least two times from this blitz on his final drive of the game. The second time he left the game with a shoulder sprain. BYU continued to run this blitz against the backup, Landry Jones, who was hit by the free linebacker as well.


It is interesting to note that in one of BYU’s greatest accomplishments as a football team, head coach Bronco Mendenhall found his defensive Coordinator, Jaime Hill, after the game and gave him a big hug.

Why? BYU was well-prepared and well-coached for this game and it showed. They did not waste a single player in space, putting everyone in a position to cover someone and make a play.

Most football teams have a goal defensively to hold opponents to 17 or fewer points per game. That’s two touchdowns and a field goal. Against the likes of Oklahoma, such a goal seams out of reach.

Thirteen points later (1 TD, 2 FG), the story of the day was BYU’s defense. It seems that Bob Stoops was outcoached again.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 10, 2009 at 10:29 pm