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What is a Ute?

(Editorial note: I posted this video BEFORE a prior Cal vs. Utah game… and it didn’t turn out so well.  So from now on, you’ll only see this feature after a Cal victory.)

I must think of this movie scene at least 10 times during each Utah game.

Random Monday morning thoughts

Things that have been bouncing around in my head that are not worthy of a post by themselves:

  • A reminder to everyone thinking about the Cal/Texas rematch: Cal could have still won last years game even if Texas had made the extra point.  Not only would the game still have only been tied, there was still 1:11 on the clock when Cal got the ball back.  Cal had already had 3 touchdown drives shorter than 1:11 in the game and the Texas defense was pretty tired at that point.  It’s reasonable to think that Cal would have won the game in regulation, to say nothing of the coin-flip likelihood that Cal could have won in overtime.  I say this because there’s this wide misconception that the ONLY reason Cal won was because of the missed extra point.
  • I’ve been trying to understand the math behind why a neutral site game is more profitable to Cal and it finally hit me: It’s because the revenue sharing for the Pac-12 TV contract has no incentive to host non-conference games.  If Cal had 3 road games for it’s non-conference slate, the money it would get from the TV contract would be the same as if it had all 3 games at home.  So, effectively, what these 3rd party games do is effectively rob a game from the TV contract and then create a new separate TV contract for the single game, where the TV revenue is not split between the 12 teams, but instead only split between the two participating teams.  And since the TV money is WAAAAY more than the ticket sales (particularly for a weak non-conference game), it’s a no-brainer why the money works out for Cal.  (That said, I wonder what it costs the conference?)
  • A bit of an off-topic statement: but medal counting at the Olympics really gets under my skin because there’s so much apples vs. oranges going on.  In some cases it’s that a college’s medal counts are per person (so having 3 people on the water polo team counts for 3 medals) vs. a countries being per event (so a whole team of water polo players get one medal).  In other cases it’s the fact that certain sports (swimming and track and field in particular) have lots of medals to win where-as others allow for only one metal per Olympics and then calling the one with lots of medals “the greatest”.  It’s just a bunch of false comparisons and over stated rhetoric.
  • Nevertheless, way to go Cal by being among the top colleges represented at the Olympics, no matter what metric one uses.
  • Back to football, I’m starting to really worry about the back-side of the defense.  Between the attrition at linebacker last off-season and now losing Drew in the secondary, Cal better be ready to score a lot of points if it hopes to win games.

Common opponent comparison for Big Game

(Sorry for my lack of posting this week.  I only got to watch snippets of the OSU game due to connectivity problems and this week has been so busy I haven’t been able to do the re-watch.  I wanted to complete the re-watch before commenting, but that’s just not going to happen.)

As I predicted, the most important game as a precursor to the Big Game was in Palo Alto, not in Berkeley.  Cal decisively beat OSU to gain bowl eligibility, but who can say what that really means?  Cal was expected to win big over a weak OSU team and they did.

But in Palo Alto we found out two things:

  1. Stanford is vulnerable.  They can be beat.
  2. Oregon is really a very different team than they were in the early to mid-season and that Cal lost to them is not so much about Cal being weak but instead about how much better Oregon has gotten.

Now the question becomes, how do we judge the Big Game?  To that end, let’s do a common opponent analysis:

Washington State:

  • Cal won small
  • Stanford won even smaller, needing a missed field goal by WSU at the end to hold on
  • Conclusion: WSU is much better than we thought early and this turns out to be Cal’s best win of the season.  It suggests against an offense like Cal’s, Stanford can be beat, although it won’t be easy.

Washington:

  • Cal won small
  • Stanford won medium
  • Conclusion: Stanford was better positioned to win a grind it out power game, so it made it easy for Stanford to win.  Not much to learn from this common opponent other than to say Cal was able to be competitive against a power team.

UCLA

  • Cal lost big
  • Stanford won big
  • Conclusion: Without a doubt, the most troubling common opponent of the season.  If you want to be optimistic you can chock this up to Cal having their worst performance of the year.

USC

  • Cal lost small
  • Stanford won medium
  • Conclusion: Definitely a game in Stanford’s favor, but Cal played competitively against another power team and kept it close.  Nevertheless, if one ignores UCLA, this becomes the most troubling common opponent.

Oregon

  • Cal lost medium-large
  • Stanford lost small
  • Conclusion #1: It turns out that Oregon is playing the best football late in the season in the North and Cal’s loss doesn’t look so bad.
  • Conclusion #2: The teams Cal has been most vulnerable to are the fast spread teams, like Oregon and UCLA, and not the power teams, like USC, Utah, and Washington.

Oregon State:

  • Cal won big
  • Stanford won big
  • Conclusion: Not much to take from this one.  OSU just isn’t very good and isn’t a good test for either team.

And that’s it.  Because of the way the scheduling work, Cal and Stanford will only ever have USC and UCLA as common south opponents in the same season.

So what’s the overall conclusion?

It says that Stanford is the better team, but by less than one would expect, particularly when you look at how Cal does against power teams (and when judging Cal against Stanford, we need to be more concerned with power than speed).  If you’re willing to chock up the UCLA game to a horrid Cal performance and suggest it is not a good comparison point for the Big Game, the margin of Stanford’s edge gets surprisingly small.

Thus, I think this game is going to be a lot closer than people think.

Expect a full preview post tomorrow.

Is WSU out of the doghouse?

Or should that be the basement?

In any case, the question going into this week is just how good (or bad) is WSU? Let’s take a quick look through their games to see:

WSU 24 – Auburn 31: A relatively close loss to a better than expected Auburn. Since the first game, Auburn has destroyed Arkansas St. and Mississippi St., neither of whom are any good, and then lost a close one to #6 LSU, which suggests that Auburn might not be half bad. Considering WSU lost that one on the road, this game alone suggests WSU might not be half bad. Parting thought: How does this compare to Cal’s 30-44 loss to Northwestern? Probably a bit stronger.

WSU 10 – USC 7: USC is an enigma. They look horrible against Hawaii and WSU, then look not-half-bad against Syracuse and Boston College, all of this led by their defense. Then their defense decides to disappear against ASU and they lose that one in a shootout. Overall, this win for WSU is not as impressive as it seemed at the time, but I think it does show two things: 1. WSU can be stopped by a good defense and 2. WSU’s defense isn’t terrible.

WSU 48 – S. Utah 10: Meaningless game versus a really crummy opponent. Portland state will crush SUU in a couple weeks.

WSU 42 – Idaho 0: If you thought SUU was bad, Idaho is 1-4 losing to North Texas, Wyoming, Northern Illinois, in addition to WSU. Their victory over Temple is a bit of a mystery. But again, not a lot one can take from this, although the zero says something about WSU’s defense.

WSU 17 – Stanford 55: Stanford is looking really good and they showed it against WSU. WSU had no answers. They gave 120% for a half to keep the score to 17-3 at halftime and then the wheels came off the bus. At the end they got some pity points, to make it look like the WSU offense wasn’t stifled, but they were.

After looking through it all, it’s hard not to see that WSU has improved significantly over years past. Leach is starting to make a dent up on the frozen potato patch. However, the Stanford game demonstrates that they’re not quite there yet. Both USC and Stanford showed that good defenses can shut them down (oh how I wish Cal had a good defense!?!). WSU’s defense is showing signs of life, but also has shown it has a way to go.

So are they still the Pac-12 north’s basement? I’d answer: maybe. We’ll know after they play both Cal and OSU. Their improvement is enough that it’s anyone’s guess, which is a positive sign for WSU fans and a warning for Cal fans. But until they show it on the grid-iron, it’s too soon to say they’re out of the basement.

Stanford’s “Horrible Call”

I am not one who feels questioning the refs is out of bounds, as I frequently comment on their performance. However, I think the outrage over the no-touchdown call at Notre Dame is pretty ridiculous.

First, was it reasonable that the on-the-field ref didn’t call it a touchdown? Of course it was. Taylor was stopped, rolled to the side and didn’t really look like he had reached as far as he had. Most of us thought he didn’t get in on first watch. It wasn’t until we saw a replay we thought he might have got in.

So the fact that it went to the booth called a non-touchdown shouldn’t outrage anyone.

Now, when it goes to the booth, there must be UNDISPUTED evidence to overturn the call. With that in mind, I ask you to watch the following youtube clip, starting at the 14 second mark and watch the LEFT ELBOW of Taylor:

As Taylor extends his body forward at the 18 second mark, the front of his body falls toward the turf. Between the 20 and 21 second mark, his fall is halted, his upper.right elbow jerks downward and his body bounces. At this point, the ball is clearly not over the goal line. He then reaches forward and places the ball over the goal line.

I submit to you that his left elbow hits the ground at that moment, when his fall was halted.

Now, you can’t see the elbow either in this angle or the higher on from the same size, because it is obscured by a Notre Dame player’s calf. Is it possible the bounce is from something else and his elbow didn’t touch?

Yes, it is.

But the burden of proof is on the other side, and it’s very reasonable to say his elbow hit right there, and that without proof to the contrary, then he’s down before the reach forward with the ball. And I’d go even further than the burden of proof to say it is more likely than not. There’s no other explanation I can see of why he bounced like that. He bounced because the elbow touched.

This was no egregious call. Ted Miller, the guys on the Pac-12 network including Neuheisel, and others have been ranting and raving about this call as if the video evidence is conclusive. It’s not. It was a marginal call that could have gone either way and is very defensible being called down.

But, by all means, since we’re playing Stanford on Saturday, keep this going. I’d like Stanford to be consumed by this call for the next 6 days until they have something new to complain about Saturday evening.

I thought Cal fans were bad

Stanford fans are FREAKING OUT today.

It continues to amaze me how binary sports fans are in their emotions… at least that’s the way it seems online. The team is either great or horrible, there’s very little in between.

Stanford is a rebuilding team this year, who could have not known that? Who could have not realized that the win over USC did not instantly change reality? When you’ve got a young QB, he’s going to struggle. He’ll struggle both in the odd game you don’t expect and he’ll struggle on the road. This is just a fact of life.

Even Andrew Luck went 5-7 in his first year. Err… looks like he went 8-4 (and lost the bowl game, 8-5) in his first year. It was 2008 when Stanford went 5-7.

So today it is Washington’s turn to act triumphant and invincible. They have finally arrived, having beaten #8. They’re a north division contender, don’t you know. That is of course until 8 days from now when they travel to Oregon.

If my reading of the tea-leaves is any good (and I thought that Washington was going to give Stanford a good game, so I’m not entirely off), Oregon will win that one solidly. At that point there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in Seattle.

And so the roller coaster goes.

We should do this!

From Ted Miller’s “Worst Case Scenario” for Stanford:

as players are vigilantly studying their playbooks on team-issued iPads, the screens become pixilated and blurry. Then they dissolve into the Cal logo.

“You’ve been hacked by Oski!” it scrolls across the screen over a laughing, dancing Oski. “Tell Schwartzstein to never compare Kissinger to anything at Cal ever again!”

Ten minutes later, Stanford’s entire playbook is on Wiki Leaks.

The Big Game belongs to California, 28-21, as Zach Maynard throws two touchdown passes and the Bears roll up 210 yards on the ground against a rugged Stanford defense.

Seriously, how hard could it be? They’ve probably got sequential serial numbers and network identifiers. All we have to do is get one and the rest won’t be far away. Then we get CGB to hack into “Rule of Tree” and embed some content that when downloaded to an iPad with the right identifiers, waits for the key moment in October.

Transitive property at its worst

OK, I admit it, I haven’t given 30 seconds thought to Nevada until today.

So I go look up their results to date and I find out two interesting things:

  1. Nevada is leading the nation in total offense (yards gained) at 592/game. But that’s not what this post is about despite it being interesting since the Bears are leading the nation with the least yards allowed at 160/game.
  2. We already have a psuedo-common opponent in Colorado State (the point of this post).

As we all know, the transitive property (Team A beat Team C, yet Team B lost to Team C, means Team A is better than Team B) doesn’t work consistently. It’s triple-trouble when you’re using margin of victory, when both teams either beat or lost to a common opponent. Therefore it’s got to be an order of magnitude more trouble to compare a team that only one of you played but the other one played as a common opponent.

But I’m going to do it anyway… :)

So, using the dubious transitive property, if Nevada beat Colorado State 51-6 and Colorado beat CSU 24-3, that means Nevada is better than CU. But we beat CU 52-7, so what’s the math for how much we would have beat CSU by? Is it more than 51-6? Could one just take margin of victory, so we’d beat CSU by 66 points?

In any case, I think the most aggressive thing to say about this odd connection point is that Nevada is likely a better team than Colorado, something many people were already saying, and we’ve got to face them on the road, a more difficult task.

So it does look like our “A” game this year is Nevada, not Colorado.

Put me in the “over” crowd

There was an interesting set of posts over at CGB about how many games the Bears will win in 2010 and they got feedback from everyone asking what they thought the percentage chance that the Bears win each game from a bunch of people. End result was that the consensus was 8-4 with a likely loss to USC, 50-50 shot at Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and UW (slightly better than that for UW, but close enough), accounting for 2 losses, and us likely losing to one of ASU, UCLA, Stanford or Nevada (i.e. a 75% chance of beating each). That more or less get’s one 8-4.

That felt about right to me. Then just because I was trying to escape the pile of work in front of me I watched both the Stanford and Arizona highlights that Danzig and crew put together and I think I’m a lot more optimistic on this season. Let me break it down:

I’ll concede the loss to USC and the 50/50 on both Oregon and Arizona. That gets us two losses. But here’s what I can say with confidence is NOT going to happen, in order of my confidence:

  1. We’re not going to lose to ASU in Berkeley. No way, no how. That team has nothing of note to build on and things just look ugly for the “getting too tired” Erickson. Looks like 2007 was his last hurrah and even that was a heavily schedule aided hurrah.
  2. We’re not going to lose to UCLA in Berkeley. 95% sure of that. We beat them in Pasadena last year to break the curse and they haven’t beat us in Berkeley going back a LONG ways, even including some Holmoe time. Add to that history that they’ve only got slightly more going for them than ASU and it’s just not going to happen.
  3. UW is the most over appreciated team in the conference and the reason is that they beat Cal at the end of the season. If they had lost that game, nobody would think them any better than UCLA or ASU. But they beat Cal in a game the Bears never showed up for. That’s there entire resume minus beating a WAY over confident USC who was without their QB early in the season and Arizona having players who’s shoes shoot the ball 15 feet in the air. By the time they get to Berkeley after Thanksgiving having been beaten down with their tough road schedule and still having no hope of bowl eligibility, the Bears will handle them easily, particularly after the cautionary tale of 2009. Call me 90% confident of that win.

So that leaves Stanford, Nevada and Oregon State. To be fair, I could see the Bears losing two of those, but in the end I don’t think it’s going to happen. A loss to OSU is the most likely but something says to me that the OSU run of over-achieving has ended and the Bears will be hungry. Nevada is likely over-feared by Bear fans, which is a good thing, but the Bears notoriously do well during the non-conference games. That leaves only Stanford, which I think 7-1 vs. 1-2 speaks volumes for. Stanford is my #2 for most over-ranked team in the conference. Everyone will be onto their shtick in 2010 and Toby was more important than people realize. Luck won’t be so lucky in 2010.

So from my vantage point, they lose one of those three games, not two, and this is a 9-3 team, with upsides to 10-2 and 8-4 being the floor of acceptability.

Going back to the Stanford and Arizona videos. I really believe that Vereen is a better running back for the Cal system than Best. Best was spectacular, but he didn’t “grind it out”, which is what Tedford wants from his run game. I think the O-Line responded better to Vereen than they did to Best, not because they didn’t like Best (Best was dearly loved by the whole team), but because Vereen was the sort of back that got their testosterone pumping. His style had them hitting harder and playing harder. And that helped Riley too on the passing downs. That’s what I saw in those videos and I think it’s the key to 2010.

Add that to a new defensive scheme that won’t hang our secondary out to dry and a number of the weaker areas of the last couple years having a bit more experience on them, and I’m more optimistic than most.

So if we’re going to do an over/under for the 2010 season and 8-4 is the benchmark, put my money firmly on the over side. I don’t have delusions of a Rose Bowl run (OK, maybe in that part of me that’s truly delusional), but I do think this Cal Bear team is better than people think.

Unbelievable Oregon vs. Boise St. game

I thought as a Cal fan I had seen some huge non-conference eggs laid, but Oregon takes the cake. Tennessee ’06? Maryland ’08? Air Force ’02? All were noble efforts compared to Oregon today. ZERO 1st downs in the 1st half? Only one TD? Remarkably bad performance.

But mark my words. Just as Cal went on to win 7 straight after Tennessee ’06, don’t count Oregon out yet. This could be a huge motivator for them. There’s still talent on this team and we’re about to find out if Chip Kelly knows how to be a head coach.

One final thing… I think what LeGarrette Blount, Oregon’s running back did at the end of the game was completely inexcusable. That was not some off-hand punch, that was a hard, completely intentional punt that was just BARELY provoked. Completely unacceptable. Then he can’t even get himself under control after that and lets the ribbing from the fans get so under his skin it took at gang of staff to hold him back, and not just for a few seconds, for MINUTES!?!

Blount should be suspended by the NCAA for at least a few games and I think Chip Kelly should seriously consider kicking him off the team permanently. What does everyone else think (answer the poll)?

UPDATE on 9-4-09 at 2:45 PM: Blount has been suspended for the season. He’ll get to practice with the team and participate in team activities, but won’t be able to dress/play. I think that’s a sufficient penalty. It might be a mistake to let a cancerous person stay around the team, but the penalty is reasonable. It shows the University doesn’t take this lightly.

Big Game revenue shaft

OK, before I get too deep into this, I’d better start with a disclaimer: I suspect there was many a year when Stanford was getting the shaft in this agreement. That said…

I read this article about revenue sharing for the Big Game and it really bugged me.

Turns out Cal and Stanford equally share the revenue from every Big Game, both home and away.

It’s not even the smaller stadium part that bugs me, it’s the number of fans. So in 2005, when there were 50k Cal fans and 35k Standford fans in the old Stanford stadium, Stanford got half the money!?! And the next year when there were 55k Cal fans and 15k Stanford fans in Memorial Stadium, Stanford STILL got half!?!

It’s one thing when a stadium doesn’t hold many people and that’s the limitation on how much revenue one can bring in, at least then the school that is benefitting is living under their own limitations the rest of the season. But it’s something else entirely when one school brings at least two-thirds of the fans every year and only gets half the money. Heck, if anything, I think the arrangement is more fair with the smaller Stanford stadium when they’re at least bringing 35k to Cal’s 15k when the game is in Palo Alto.

In any case… no big deal, just thought it was worth a quick rant.

The other side of past turnovers

Ragnarok over at The California Golden blogs has a good post about turnovers and winning percentage. Everything he says, minus a portion of his conclusion, is dead on accurate. There’s no better way to lose a game than turning of the ball and no better way to win a game that protecting it well. But Ragnarok makes a conclusion from it that I wouldn’t (the part in bold):

Still, despite the last two games, Cal still leads the Pac-10 with 18 turnovers recovered and a +7 turnover margin, and their 11 turnovers given up is tied for the fewest in the conference with Oregon, Arizona State, and Stanford. (Really? Stanford leads the conference in something?) This should give us hope going forward that Cal remains a team that is both able to take care of the ball on offense and create takeaways on defense. If this is indeed the case, I like the Bears chances to win Pac-10 games down the stretch (especially against USC, which has coughed up the ball 17 times this season and has a -4 turnover margin).

To be clear about what I’m saying, I completely agree that I think Cal has a big upside in that it has a history of taking care of the football and if they can get back to that trend, the Bears have a great shot at absolutely dominanting the majority of their remaining games. What I don’t agree about is that USC is vulnerable because of their past bad turnover performance.

While I completely understand his perspective, the way I see it, the teams with a high turnover ratio are the ones to fear, not the ones to be confident about. In my view of the world turnovers are mistakes more than 90% of the time, instead of being induced by good defenses (although there is no doubt that the best defenses find a way to force them) or even overall weakness of the team making the mistakes. Mistakes can be corrected much easier than an undersized offensive line or poor conditioning. Running backs can be taught to better hold onto the ball. Quarterbacks can be taught to avoid bad throwing situations. It’s much harder to tell a player to “run faster!” As such, a team that has losses because of turnovers is a team that if they clean up their act may have the potential to be VERY strong.

As evidence of this I present to you a quote from my Rivals Oregon State preview:

The other meaningful statistic is the 3.8 turnovers per game the Beavers are giving up. Of course this statistic is a bad one for Oregon State fans, but it should also be a warning to Bears fans that Oregon State could be playing a lot better football without the mistakes. In Oregon State’s other blowout loss outside of UCLA, a non-conference romp by Cincinnati, Oregon State turned the ball over 9 times including 6 interceptions, a fumble and two special teams mistakes including a blocked punt for a touchdown.

There is no question that Oregon State will be unable to win this game if they continue to make mistakes like they did against Cincinnati. However, if they can reduce those mistakes, something that can be more easily fixed in practice than an undersized offensive line or a slow set of defensive backs, the Beavers might just have a shot at upsetting the Bears.

We all know how that turned out…

So for me, when I see that ASU hasn’t turned the ball over much and is winning their games that says to me that they’re more vulnerable than their final results indicate… they’re a few mistakes away from some big upsets but when USC has a horrible turnover ratio it says to me that this a VERY dangerous team if they can get their act together. Said another way, USC is a couple of turnovers away from being undefeated and #1 in the country. That makes me really nervous come November 10th.

Stanford 24, USC 23

Thanks for the birthday present, Jim Harbaugh. And I didn’t get you anything.

Tennessee to use no-huddle against Cal

I was reading the various articles on the upcoming matchup and I saw that Tennessee is actually going to use the no-huddle pretty much all day versus Cal. I had seen in previous articles that they were toying with using it as far back as spring practice but I had never thought they were going to convert the whole offense to it.

Perhaps this is all a bluff or over-emphasis of a much smaller change but if Tennessee ever starts busting out the no-huddle, us Cal fans need to consider it a life-changingly important moment to scream at the top of our lungs. I’m not talking the regular “Ooooooooooo” and stuff. I’m talking that deep bowel voice combined with ear piercing wail that we managed to generate versus Oregon last October.

Listen, it’s no secret that SEC fans in general and Tennessee fans in particular think us Cal fans are weak. Saturday we have a chance to prove them wrong. Bring your A-Game voice.