What is success, at Tennessee?

Success is a relative term.  Merely going to a bowl game is a success for one team and a given for another.  Some schools expect to compete for conference and national championships; others just hope.  What does that success look like at each school?  Over a player’s four years in school, what is the measure of success?

Today, we look at Tennessee.  If you haven’t been following the Vols for very long, you may have a lower expectation for success than the Vol faithful.  The Tennessee program is one of the elite programs, not only in the SEC but in the nation.  They are among the Top 10 in all time wins, have 6 national championships and 13 SEC crowns.  They’ve been good.

Of course, they haven’t been that good lately.  Since the end of the Phil Fulmer era success has been sporadic and fleeting.  If you want to see what is expected in Tennessee, look at the end of the 1990s.  11-1, 10-2, 11-2, 13-0, 9-3.  That’s what success looks like in Knoxville.  But for the recent years of struggles that would be the standard.  However, the last few years have instilled some patience and tempered expectations, so here they are.

Tennessee expects to be one of the dominant teams in the SEC East.  Along with Florida and Georgia they expect to be one of the Big Three.  They have no patience for teams that finish behind Missouri or South Carolina.  For years they were an Eastern power, and they expect to be again.  That means every year they expect to be in the hunt for the SEC East, and they expect to win their fair share, which is to say about 2 every 4 years.

To win at that level Tennessee must beat some of its rivals.  They always play Alabama the UT_Volunteers_logo.svgThird Saturday in October, and that game is incredibly important to them.  They don’t need to dominate the rivalry, but they do need to compete.  Given where the Crimson Tide is now, that means splitting with Alabama every four years.  It’s a lofty goal.

In the East, Tennessee expects the same with Georgia and Florida.  Split with them over the course of four years.  When those wins fall just right they’ll win the East because they don’t expect to lose to anyone else.  UT has long series with both Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but don’t confuse frequency and proximity with parity or rivalry.  Those games should be won every year, as should the games against Missouri and South Carolina.

In the bigger picture the Vols expect to be a nationally prominent program.  They play a schedule indicative of this belief.  In 2016 they play Virginia Tech.  In recent years they’ve played home and home series with Oklahoma, Oregon and UCLA.  They expect wins there, too.  Each year they should be winning 9-10+ games.  New Year’s Bowls are expected, and in the era of the playoff they don’t expect to be left behind.

The Volunteers are in an interesting position this year.  The rebuilding job should be nearing completion, and the SEC East crown is clearly a goal.  If UT manages to miss out on Atlanta this year, especially if they lose to Florida again, watch what happens in Knoxville.  How much pressure will be brought to bear on Butch Jones?  Are the expectations still as high as they once were?

Previous Level of Success:

Next: Georgia

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What is success, at Florida?

Success is a relative term.  Merely going to a bowl game is a success for one team and a given for another.  Some schools expect to compete for conference and national championships; others just hope.  What does that success look like at each school?  Over a player’s four years in school, what is the measure of success?


Florida_Gators_logo.svgToday, we look at Florida.  Gainesville has had so much historic success.  In the last 20 years they have 3 national titles, several SEC titles and even more East crowns.  The bar is high in Florida even if it hasn’t been met consistently in the last few years.

The Gators demand that they be a premier program nationally.  At least once very four years they must win the SEC and be in the national title hunt.  They want to win it all, but they must be in contention for it.  It can’t happen every year, but once in every player’s career is expected.  If a coach fails to do this, he will quickly be out of a job.  It is a high bar to clear, but it is expected.

In addition to winning the SEC, Florida expects to be in contention to win the East every year, and understanding the reality of competition, they can expect to win it half the time.  That translates to two SEC East titles every four years.  In fact, that might be selling the expectations short.  Since 1990 Florida has had two coaches it considers to be successes: Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.  Spurrier won the East 7 out of 10 years.  Meyer won it 3 out of 6 years.  That’s a combined 10/16 or 62.5% of the time.  The remaining coaches: 1/8.

Florida’s level of expectations are high.  That translates to rivalry games as well.  The Gators don’t expect to keep pace with their rivals like some of the other teams we’ve covered (South Carolina, Kentucky); they expect to beat them.  So, a coach needs to win 3 out of 4 against both Florida State and Georgia.  They don’t play Miami often enough for that to be a measuring stick game.  It goes without saying 3 out of 4 applies to Tennessee as well, especially since the Vols have been wandering in the desert in the post-Fulmer era.

Along with the titles and rivalry games, Florida expects to be great every year.  They need 10 win seasons and New Year’s Day bowl games.  This is another area where the standard may actually be higher.  In the Spurrier years 10 win years became commonplace and were themselves disappointing without the titles to go with them,  It has been said that this attitude, this level of expectation, helped push the legendary coach to the Washington Redskins.  That being said, anyone who expects more than 10 win seasons and New Year’s Bowl games is expecting a little much.

Coach Jim McElwain has the benefit of following the lackluster years of Will Muschamp, but he would be deluding himself to think the standard isn’t still high.  If he wants to appease the blue and orange he’ll need to win at a high level.  An East title in the first year is a great start, but as we’ve laid out, there is more to do.


Previous Level of Success:

South Carolina


Monday: Tennessee

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What is success, at Kentucky?

Success is a relative term.  Merely going to a bowl game is a success for one team and a given for another.  Some schools expect to compete for conference and national championships; others just hope.  What does that success look like at each school?  Over a player’s four years in school, what is the measure of success?


Kentucky_Wildcats_logo_2015Today, we look at Kentucky.  The standard in Lexington is a bowl game.  The recent success of the Rich Brooks era set the bar.  Every year the Wildcats should win six games.  Typically the formula has been win four out of conference games and two SEC games.  That’s good for 6-6 and a bowl berth.  If a coach isn’t doing that (Mark Stoops), he isn’t succeeding.

In addition to going to a bowl game every year, Kentucky expects to have an 8 win or better season twice in the four year span of a player.  The last coach to do that was Rich Brooks, but it is a reasonable goal for UK.  An 8 win season means the Wildcats would be flirting with the Top 25, depending on how the bowl game and other teams.  That’s success.

Kentucky usually doesn’t compete for SEC East championships.  Of course they aspire to, but that’s not where the program is right now.  For now they have slightly less ambitious goals.  They want to knock off one of Tennessee or Georgia, or failing that, they’ll settle for South Carolina.  It win over one of the programs ahead of them in the standings, and key if they want to make steps forward to compete for more.

Speaking of teams who matter in Lexington, Kentucky needs to keep pace with Louisville.  The Cardinals have turned themselves into legitimate ACC contenders, and Kentucky has to have success against their instate rival.  They don’t have to win every game every four years, but they do need to be competitive, and they need to not go on five game losing streaks.  If they simply split with the Cardinals over a four year period, that’d be good.

How many Wildcat fans would take the above for the next four years?  Go to a bowl every year (which they haven’t done since 2010), win 8 games twice, beat Louisville twice, and knock off another SEC “power” each season.  That would certainly validate the Mark Stoops era.

Previous Level of Success: South Carolina

Tomorrow: Florida

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What is Success, at South Carolina?

Success is a relative term.  Merely going to a bowl game is a success for one team and a given for another.  Some schools expect to compete for conference and national championships; others just hope.  What does that success look like at each school?  Over a player’s four years in school, what is the measure of success?


Today, we look at South Carolina.  The Gamecocks are a program that has not had much success.  A lone conference championship from 1969 in the ACC is the only title to their credit.  There have been periods of some success, but sustained excellence has not made a home in Columbia.  Of course that doesn’t mean USC doesn’t have ambitions; they’ve just fallen short more than they have realized them.

Success at South Carolina over a four year period means winning records and bowl games each year.  The program has reached the point where there can be no seasons (like last year) where the team doesn’t go to a bowl game.  It only takes six wins.  Three out of conference games are usually gimmes.  Kentucky and Vanderbilt are always on the schedule, too.  That’s five games that should be won by even the most basic Gamecock squad.  Winning one more to get to a bowl is expected.

South_Carolina_Gamecocks_Block_C_logo.svgSuccess means beating your rival(s).  It doesn’t mean beating Clemson or Georgia every year.  It means beating Clemson as much as losing to them, so a 2-2 record every four years is perfectly acceptable in Columbia.  2-2 against Georgia is also a goal, although 1-3 with a win or two over Tennessee and Florida is probably acceptable as well.

Success means having a 10 or 10+ win season twice every four years.  Steve Spurrier raised the program to that level.  Three 11 win seasons showed that it can be done, and it can be done consecutively and repeatedly, but it doesn’t have to be.  Given the competition in the SEC East, a 10 win season may not be a first or second place finish, but it’s important, nonetheless.  Speaking of the East…

Success means winning the East once every four years.  This is the most ambitious standard for the Gamecocks.  The lone time they’ve won the East in 2009 came in a year where they only won 9 games.  Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all had less than stellar years, and a 5-3 (in conference) Gamecock squad went to Atlanta.  They haven’t been back, yet.

Notice that winning the SEC Championship is not on the list.  Although it is a goal, it is not an expectation (as of 2016).  USC needs more success.  They need to make a habit of going to Atlanta before they can say they expect to win in Atlanta.  Of course, any year they go that is a possibility, but an SEC title would clearly exceed expectations, not merely meet them.

Is there a Gamecock fan who would not sign on to a cycle described above?  If Will Muschamp starts off his tenure like that will he be hailed as the next Spurrier?  Everyone in Garnet and Black would be pretty happy if in the next four years the Gamecocks win the East once, win 10 or more games twice, beat Clemson twice and go to a bowl game every year.  That is success in Columbia.

Wednesday: Kentucky.

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South Carolina’s Spring Practice

Will Muschamp gave a press conference on Monday, and we can infer what’s going on in Columbia behind the scenes.  The whole article is up at Dixieland Sports.

There have been plenty of years where South Carolina had some good skill position players, but they were less effective than expected because of a lack of a strong offensive line to open holes or protect the quarterback.  The line will be the strength of this year’s offense, and a good offensive line can cover up a lot of mistakes.

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Lessons from March Madness

March-madness-articleCollege football is new to this selection committee and playoff thing.  It can learn from the mistakes and shortcomings of basketball’s March Madness.

Tournament results do not rectify selection mistakes.  The College Football Playoff Committee should have already learned this lesson with Ohio State, but if they have not, here is Syracuse to remind them.  The Orangemen probably should not be in the tournament.  Their resume was not compatible with being selected to the field of 64.  The only way they were deserving of a berth is if the committee discounted the time their head coach was suspended for breaking NCAA rules.  Otherwise they shouldn’t be there.

Now, some people may disagree, and truth be told there is some room for argument.  Most observers come down on the side of the Syracuse shouldn’t have been invited side, but reasonable people disagree.  Those who disagree may point to the Orangemen’s strength of schedule, their finish in the ACC or point out that some of their bad games came without their coach.  What they cannot point to to support their argument is the run to the Final Four.

Of course Syracuse is good enough to go to the Final Four, but that has nothing to do with whether they are deserving of having that opportunity.  In college basketball, like college football, there are more teams who are capable of winning in the tournament than there are teams who are invited.  Being good enough isn’t the standard for being included in the field.  Being deserving is.

This is an incredibly important point.  Too often debates about “who’s in” take into account who the “best” team is.  Why is that not the question?  There are two reasons.  First, who the best team is is necessarily a matter of speculation.  It’s usually based on the eye test and opinion.  That’s no way to choose who gets to play for the national championship.  Second, it devalues on the field results.  It is how you explain away losses.  “Well, we didn’t have our starting quarterback” or “That was early, look how good we are now”.  It shifts the focus from what actually happened on the field to a fantasy realm where the team is actually better than what they showed.  It makes the selection a popularity contest.

Speaking of popularity contests, is there anything more maddening than the way the NCAA c01-sline-logo-30_001-4_3committee explains away their arbitrary decisions to include some teams over others?  Florida State always comes to mind when I hear the committee chairman march out some line of BS to justify the darts his committee just threw at the wall.  One year it is the out of conference RPI that’s important; another year it’s the conference standings; Top 50 wins matter for this team; bad losses matter for this team.  It’s arbitrary at best.

The college football committee has the same problem because they, like their basketball counterparts, are told to give their opinion.  They give some factors that they are going to consider, but then they are going to do what they want (or put more charitably what they think is best).  They are beholden to no one; there is no appeal.  They just choose and we go on.  Anyone who argues with them is a sore loser, and besides, why didn’t they go undefeated, huh, huh?

Syracuse is a 10 seed in this year’s tournament, and they were a bubble team on Selection Sunday.  Usually the memory of their controversial choice is forgotten by the time the final four comes around.  Usually everyone has forgotten about the teams in the NIT and the teams that got in.  Vanderbilt got into the tournament and promptly lost.  They were probably chosen over South Carolina, who lost in the second round of the NIT.  No one cares about that now, nor should they, and the reason that matters is that we quickly forget the committee’s mistakes and caprice.  We are enamored with the great spectacle that is the tournament itself.  This year Syracuse forces us to remember because they are still there, even if they don’t deserve to be.

The college football committee won’t have that luxury.  There aren’t 67 games to drown out the mistakes they make.  There are only 3.  Ohio State was a controversial pick two years ago, but they weren’t wholly undeserving.  Last season could not have been any neater for the committee.  The big test will come from them when there are more than 4 deserving teams, or less.  How will they handle it then, what will they make up, who gets left out?

In many ways the playoff is much better than the BCS that preceded it.  It gives fans three games with four teams, and it has been a great success.  In one key area it is a terrible regression: lack of certainty.  Proponents will howl that a four team playoff gives us certainty, but I argue it does not.  The sacrosanct ideal that the champion is decided on the field is false if the teams who are allowed to play on the field are chosen by lot or popularity.

The BCS had a formula.  The games were played, the numbers calculated and we had two teams ready to play.  There was no wow factor in the final week; no one looked at the names on the jerseys to see who should get the nod.  It was math, numbers and on the field results.  That’s where the BCS’s strength lay.  Now it has been abandoned.

The playoff should learn while they can and implement some objective formulas for choosing their playoff participants.  Want to favor conference champions? Add it in the formula.  Want teams to play better out of conference?  Add it to the formula.  There’s no reason to pretend that we can’t do better than a committee.  We watch the basketball committee fail every year, and we get lost in the glamor and pageantry of the Final Four.  We won’t have that same luxury when the college football committee makes the same mistakes.

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5th Down means one thing

On Oct. 6, 1990, a football game was stolen, and the culprit was … the fates. It was a day when math teachers lost count and sure runners slipped and fell. It was a day when telephones went unanswered and a down marker played tricks with people’s minds. If there were an easy explanation, it would’ve been explained by now. If there were any one villain, he would’ve surfaced. The consensus, 20 years later, is that it was a once-in-a-lifetime accident, that there will never be another football game that ends on Fifth Down. But only one man from that day is still on the playing field, only one can make sure it never happens again — at least in his own stadium.

They’re talking about the Missouri – Colorado game, of course.  Colorado scored on 5th down, won the game and eventually a share of the national championship.  Without two third downs, the Buffalos lose.  There’s more to the story, consider this:

Just as McCartney had hoped, Louderback and his crew had halted the clock for six full seconds to let the players unpile. The Missouri bench was incensed; the Tigers could see no clear evidence of their players holding Bieniemy or Buffaloes linemen down. They felt the game clock should’ve expired. But Johnson now had time to take the snap and down the ball … with two seconds left, the two seconds Louderback had restored what seemed like years earlier.

This is an excellent piece throughout, and without any real college football news today, you may want to check it out.

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ACC Network looks Dead on Arrival

After the Big Ten, SEC and Pac12 conferences put together television networks other major conferences, the ACC in particular, wondered when they would get nearly unlimited coverage of their network.  Fans wanted to see more of their teams and wanted the big pay days that schools in the SEC and Big Ten were getting.

However, the Pac12 stood as a cautionary tale, and thus far the ACC is nowhere close to having its own network.  Although the Pac12 Network has made some money, it pales in comparison to what the SEC and Big Ten networks have done.  The Big Ten and SEC partnered with Fox and ESPN, respectively, in order to create, promote and distribute their networks.  That worked well.  The Pac12 tried to create their own wholly owned group of networks and things haven’t gone well.

Why does all this matter for the ACC?  The lesson they’ve learned from the other networks is that they need a powerful partner to create, promote and distribute any network.   The ACC, like several other conferences, is closely tied to ESPN, who would be an ideal partner for the conference.  However things look very different for ESPN and its business model than it has before.  In a piece at Gridiron Now, Chadd Scott writes:

ESPN has been hit particularly hard by cord-cutters and as the ACC’s primary media rights partner, the company likely doesn’t have the same gusto for launching an ACC Network as it did the SEC Network.

Cable companies no longer are interested in adding more sports networks and passing the costs on to consumers who, in large numbers, don’t want them.

This is not to say that ACC fans will never get to see as much of their school’s teams as they would like.  That may well be coming, but it would probably not be on the same model the SEC and Big Ten have had so much success with.  Scott gets into that in his article as well.

For those fans who want to be able to switch channels to see all their conference’s baseball games or other sports, that may not be happening.  The ACC is the victim of timing.  If they had tried to launch their network four years ago, could it have worked?  Maybe, but it appears dead in any traditional form at this point.

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When in doubt, it is a foul

A bad rule gets worse.

On Tuesday the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel decided that the targeting penalty had been such a huge success that the only thing they needed was more targeting penalties.

More TargetingThe Panel voted to allow replay officials “to stop the game and create a targeting foul.”  You remember the replay officials don’t you?  They’re the ones sitting in a booth who get to take their time and review calls in slow motion, repeatedly, from different angles.  Then, despite all this, they routinely blow calls that everyone watching at home can see.  Yeah, those guys.  They are going to get to stop the game and make up calls now.

Routinely?  Isn’t that taking it a bit far?  I don’t think so.  In the NCAA’s own release look at what they say:

The NCAA Football Rules Committee believes players were incorrectly disqualified from games in a small number of cases last season.

The Committee acknowledges that the rule penalized people that it should not have.  So what do they do?  Do they decide to make the rule more clear? No.  Do they decide to rewrite the rule? No.  Do they take out the language that makes every hit a foul unless proven otherwise? No.  They are going to make sure more people get called for targeting.

Officials are humans, and they make mistakes.  The general feeling is that those mistakes will even themselves out over a period of time.  For all the targeting calls that get improperly made, there will be others that are missed.  Not anymore.  Now the NCAA wants more targeting fouls called.  This is insanity.

The targeting rule (actually two rules 9-1-3 and 9-1-4) has some terrible language written into it.  The language is “when in question, it is a foul”.  Scant attention has been paid to this expansive language, which is a shame because it is one of the big issues with the foul.

Whenever a coach complains to an official about a missed call, he almost always gets the same explanation.  The official will explain that he “calls what he sees” or he “calls them like he sees them”.  This is standard practice for all fouls.  There isn’t a foul for holding unless the official sees holding.  There’s no offsides unless the official sees it.  The assumption by the officials is that there is no foul unless they see it.  This is correct.

The targeting rule changes that.  It sets out the elements of a targeting foul and then adds that bad language.  If an official isn’t sure if someone is offsides, he doesn’t throw the flag.  If an official isn’t sure if it’s targeting, he is directed to throw the flag.  “When in question…”  That means if a hit is questionably targeting a flag should be thrown.  Not only should it be thrown, but according to the letter of the law, it is a foul.  That’s a poorly written rule that has led to poor application and more than its share of controversy.  It boggles the mind to understand why the NCAA wants more of this.

According to a strict reading of the rule any hit on the field that is unquestionably not targeting, is a foul, and a player needs to be ejected.  Now replay officials will get to get in on the action too.  There will be more fouls, including more incorrect ones.  That will be great for the game.

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24 Hours of College Football

It’s never to early to start looking forward to opening day.  The college football off season is a grueling 233 day slog.  This season we’ve only gotten through 57 days so far, but instead of dwelling on that, let’s fantasize about what opening day could look like.

For eight years college basketball has showed us the way.  Aided by ESPN they start the season with a megadose of the sport to get everyone going.  They play games around the clock for 24 hours.  College football could do that too.  Looking at this year’s schedule, here’s how.

Friday, September 2, 2016, 12:00 pm local time, 12:00 pm EDT





Some teams will not want to play at noon on a Friday, even if it is the Friday before a long weekend.  Other teams are very willing to kickoff the season on national tv.  A Big 12 – SEC matchup would be a big enough draw to start the season, and teams like West Virginia and Missouri would probably be willing to move kickoff to suit television.

Friday, September 2, 2016: 2:30 pm local time, 3:3o pm EDT




This is the kind of game where the teams may not want to move.  Clemson and Auburn is going to be on national television regardless of the kickoff time.  They may not be willing to play on a Friday afternoon, but they have both played their share of Thursday night games, so they may.  An exclusive window would also be a nice carrot to entice a big Friday afternoon matchup.

Friday, September 2, 2016, 6:00 pm local time, 7:00 pm EDT





Here is another major national game where the teams may be reluctant to move, but Friday night is an easier sell than Friday afternoon.  Notre Dame has traveled to Ireland and played at odd times before, so this could work too.

Friday, September 2, 2016, 7:30 pm local time, 10:30 pm EDT







West coast teams talk about East Coast bias and relish opportunities to have both a normal kickoff time and East Coast exposure.  Even though it’s on a Friday night, this game accomplishes both.  It’s another great opening match that should draw some interest.

Saturday, September 3, 2016, 6:00 pm local time, 2:00 am EDT





This game is already slated to be played to open the season.  The kickoff team hasn’t been announced, so this would be doable.  The teams have agreed to travel to Australia to play.  Kickoff time would then be a minor detail.  It’s not must see tv for everyone, but for 2 am on the east coast, it’s pretty good.

Saturday, September 3, 2016, 11:30 am local time, 5:30 am EDT






This is the hardest time slot to fill.  There aren’t many places where the game can be played during normal game times where there would be much of an audience.  Continental Europe is the best bet.  Most of the European soccer stadiums could host.  Paris, Rome or Berlin could all work.

In order to draw any sort of international crowd there would need to be some teams with name recognition.  Alabama and Southern Cal are about as big as it gets.  That should help with attendance, but the big name means these programs don’t have to travel if they don’t want to.  It could be a tough sell, but can you imagine what would happen if the Crimson Tide fans descended on Paris?  How much fun would the Finebaum show be the next Monday, “Paul, we took the boat into Normandy, like we usually do…”

Saturday, September 3, 2016, 1:00 pm local time, 9:00 am EDT





This game is already scheduled to be played in Dublin, so it’s just a matter of kickoff time.  Like the game in Australia, this game shows that 24 hours of football with some international sites is feasible.

Saturday, noon eastern.

It would now be time for all of the regular, Saturday schedule.  Depending on what time the west coast games finish it may end up being closer to 36 or 38 hours of college football to kickoff the season.

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