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Inside College Football
Posted: Tuesday November 03, 1998 05:26 PM
By Ivan Maisel
Andy Katzenmoyer and Dre' Bly no longer dominate on defense
Hard as it is to believe, Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer and North Carolina cornerback Dre' Bly, two of the premier defensive players in college football in 1996 and '97, may not repeat as All-Americas. Katzenmoyer, a 6'4", 255-pound junior who was last season's Butkus Award winner, won't win bubkes this year. He didn't get his first sack of the season until last Saturday in the Buckeyes' 38-7 victory over Indiana, and through eight games he had just nine tackles for a loss.
Katzenmoyer's numbers declined slightly last year, and they have fallen further this season, now that he's flanked by Na'il Diggs and Jerry Rudzinski. Diggs, who possesses an NFL-worthy combination of power and quickness, has outdone Katzenmoyer statistically, with 50 tackles (to 49), 10 tackles for a loss and four sacks. And whereas Katzenmoyer got the majority of the blitz calls in the past, more of them this season have gone to Rudzinski, who in the absence of defensive ends with strong outside moves is being asked to come off the flank. Katzenmoyer's job is to stay home and react.
There may be more to Katzenmoyer's statistical drop-off, however, than changes in strategy and personnel. An NFL scouting director who has seen him play this season says, "Down in, down out, you have questions about his instincts. He gets blocked from the side. He doesn't see the tight end that well. He gets caught in traffic. But once he goes, he goes."
On Oct. 27 Katzenmoyer was taken to task by former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce in The Columbus Dispatch. "He's not making plays," Bruce was quoted as saying. "He's not making tackles. I don't think he's playing up to his capability."
Responding to Bruce and other detractors, Katzenmoyer says, "Let them come in and watch the film. They watch the game from a spectator's standpoint. They're not in there grading film, and they're not out there calling defensive signals."
As for Bly, during his two All-America seasons he intercepted 16 passes and broke up 17; this year he has intercepted two and broken up seven.
Eight members of last season's North Carolina defense are now in the NFL, and the pass rush that forced quarterbacks to throw mistakes in Bly's direction is gone. He also has three new starters alongside him in the secondary. With so much inexperience, the Tar Heels have used a lot of zone coverage, which doesn't lend itself to big defensive plays.
Bly bulked up in the off-season to improve against the run, but the extra weight made him slower. Recently he has slimmed down. From his high of 198 pounds in September, he has dropped back to his 1997 playing weight of 190. "That's where I need to be," Bly says. "I don't need to be at 200 pounds. I felt I wasn't as quick as I used to be, and I wasn't making plays. I was like, Yo, I've got to do something."
A few days after the first Bowl Championship Series ratings came out on Oct. 26, college football's official math geek lamented that they had been released. "I was the conservative," SEC commissioner Roy Kramer said. "I don't think the ratings are tremendously accurate until we get eight or nine games in."
College football now anxiously awaits the release of the ratings on Monday afternoon. This week Ohio State and Tennessee are in, UCLA is in the wings, and Kansas State continues to study the Sugar Bowl brochure.
Kramer, who spearheaded the development of the formula that will determine which two teams play in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title, rattles off terms like "adjusted deviation" and "quartile" as if they were part of the football lexiconwhich, thanks to him, they are. It's no mystery why the commissioners of the conferences in the Bowl Championship Series chose Kramer to come up with the rating. He is a former chair of the NCAA Infractions Committee and a onetime football coach (Central Michigan, 1967-77) who headed the Division I men's basketball tournament selection committee, and he has a reputation for fairness and honesty, even though his tendency to hoard power causes colleagues to smirk. One commissioner, asked why the Bowl Championship Series committee shouldn't just lock itself in a room and choose two teams for the title game, said, "Then Roy wouldn't be in charge."
"I bet he would," says Dave Cawood, the former NCAA official who's now a vice president at Host Communications, the company that does the NCAA's marketing. "He has such great integrity that people believe he'll be fair in whatever is done. People know that he does his research and thoroughly studies an issue before he takes a position. This is a case in point."
Kramer, along with his top assistant at the SEC, Mark Womack, and conference media officer Charles Bloom, spent three or four hours a day for three months developing the formula. They looked at more than 40 computer ratings before choosing those produced by The New York Times; Michigan-based computer whiz Jeff Sagarin, whose rankings appear in USA Today; and The Seattle Times. Not only do the three ratings complement each other, but their geographical diversity is also politically correct. "Using Seattle helped with the Pac-10 a great deal," Kramer says.
He and his aides tested a dozen or so formulas by applying them to the past 10 seasons. They knew the answere.g., last season Michigan and Nebraska should finish first and secondand had to come up with a formula that would produce that answer. "We had to be able to get to a place that you could defend," Kramer says. The method on which they settled weighs equally a team's average standing in the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls and its average standing in the three computer ratings, then uses the BCS's own strength-of-schedule rating as a tiebreaker.
Among the years that proved the formula viable was 1989, when Colorado went 11-0 in the regular season and Alabama, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Tennessee finished with one loss. The formula rated eventual national champion Miami, which had beaten Notre Dame in the last game of the regular season and had lost only to eventual No. 5 Florida State, as the team to play Colorado in the theoretical title game.
Kramer says he has been flooded with mail from math professors stating that the formula incorrectly uses adjusted deviation (don't ask) to average the three computer ratings. He's experimenting with an alternative formula that may be more accurate (so far, he says, it hasn't contradicted the Bowl Championship Series rankings). Get ready to widen your football vocabulary next year: "You know what a trimean is?" Kramer asks.
Once touted as the superconference of the future, with 16 schools in four time zones, the wild WAC has become a wild mess. Last spring eight schoolsAir Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyomingannounced that they were leaving the WAC to start their own conference, effective July 1, 1999. As a result, the guaranteed payout from this year's WAC title game has been reduced from $1 million to $250,000 by the city of Las Vegas, its sponsor. (The contract had been for the next two WAC football and basketball championships; the conference breakup effectively nullified the deal.) Moreover, the Holiday Bowl won't extend its traditional invitation to the WAC champ. Instead, it will invite the Pac-10's runner-up and will take a WAC team only if that team is ranked higher than the Big 12's No. 3. That's unlikely: Five Big 12 teams are rated higher than No. 25 Air Force, the WAC's sole ranked team.
It's possible that the WAC champion will be shut out of a bowl entirely. The conference does have a pair of guaranteed slots, in the Las Vegas Bowl and the Aloha Christmas Classic, but the former is unlikely to take a team that played in Las Vegas just two weeks earlier in the WAC title game, and there's speculation that out of loyalty to Hawaii, the Aloha will invite one of the teams that plan to remain in the WAC rather than a breakaway school. The exception would be Air Force, which has a big following in Hawaii.
The name of the new conferencethe Mountain Westhasn't drawn raves. "It sounds like a trucking firm," says New Mexico basketball coach Dave Bliss. Sun Belt Conference commissioner Craig Thompson has been hired to assume that role with the Mountain West, which hopes to get a television contract and a guaranteed bowl bid for next season.
The future of the WAC looks bleak. Of its eight remaining schools (Fresno State, Hawaii, Rice, San Jose State, SMU, TCU, Tulsa and UTEP), not one has a football record of better than .500 this year. But commissioner Karl Benson says he has begun preliminary talks with schools wishing to enter the WAC (among the possibilities are Nevada and Utah State). "Obviously some serious damage has been done," says Benson. "I don't think it will cause the WAC to roll over and give up. You'll see an aggressive attempt from us to compete against the Mountain West and other conferences."
At Missouri's first practice after the Tigers lost to Nebraska two weeks ago, coach Larry Smith gathered his players in the indoor practice facility. As he was speaking, dozens of tennis balls suddenly dropped from the rafters and bounced off the players' helmets and shoulder pads. Smith asked every player to carry a ball with him all week and bounce it as a reminder of the Tigers' mission: Bounce back. It's an old Smith ploy, and it worked. Missouri rebounded last Saturday, handing Texas Tech its first home loss, 28-26. With Colorado, Texas A&M and Kansas State remaining on the schedule, the Tigers should keep those balls handy.
Ricky Williams all but locked up the Heisman by rushing for 150 yards as Texas snapped Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak with a 20-16 victory. But as good as Williams is, the Longhorns (6-2) have won their last five games because their defense has grown up. The same team that gave up 35 points and 379 yards in the first half while losing 49-31 to UCLA on Sept. 12 and was crushed by Kansas State 48-7 a week later, limited Nebraska to 311 yards and one touchdown.
With 14 freshmen and sophomores on Texas's two-deep roster, defensive coordinator Carl Reese has kept it simple. He didn't introduce nickel or dime defenses in practices until mid-October. "They didn't have a clue about tempo," coach Mack Brown says. "If something bad happened, they'd let three other bad things happen."
Now, if something good happens, the Longhorns feed off it. After the defense held the Huskers to 16 yards on their first eight snaps, its confidence surged. Tackle Casey Hampton, a 6'1", 300-pound sophomore and Texas's strongest player, plugged up the middle, limiting Nebraska fullback Joel Makovicka to 11 yards on seven carries.
It helps to have Williams controlling the ball on offense. Brown jokes that Williams should win the Heisman and the Nagurski Award, which goes to the nation's top defender. "I said before the season that he would be the best defensive player on the team," Brown says. "When our defense is on the sideline, he's moving the chains. He's giving this team a lot of confidence."
With a 16-6 home victory over Washington University of St. Louis last Saturday, the University of Chicago (6-2, 3-0) clinched at least a tie for the University Athletic Association title in Division III. It's the first championship for the Maroons since they won the Big Tenyep, the Big Tenin 1924....
Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, bowing to pressure from the student body, said last week that next season the school will change its policy under which tickets sold to students and not picked up by the Wednesday before each game are resold to the public, with no refund to the students (SI, Oct. 12). Details of the change won't be decided on until next year....
New Hampshire senior Jerry Azumah, who earlier this season became Division I-AA's alltime leading rusher, added the division's career records for scoring and all-purpose yardage last Saturday in a 27-26 loss to Massachusetts. Azumah has rushed for 5,677 yards, scored 394 points and gained 7,780 all-purpose yards....
Texas A&M is 8-1 largely because it has held five opponents to 10 points or less. The Aggies' offense also has converted 12 of 14 fourth downs. You can win a lot of close games doing that.
Bennie Alexander, Florida
Nate Brooks, Miami
John Engelberger, Virginia Tech
Damon Gourdine, San Diego State
Royce Huffman, TCU
Sebastian Janikowski, Florida State
Joe Jarzynka, Washington
Brandon Knowles, Kansas State
Joe Kristosik, UNLV
Shane Lechler, Texas A&M
Washington (5-3) at Oregon (6-2)
Oregon resents Washington's arrogance, which developed as the Huskies beat the Ducks 17 times between 1974 and '93. However, Oregon has won three of the last four meetings and, behind star quarterback Akili Smith, should do so again on Saturday.
Ole Miss (6-2) at Arkansas (7-0)
Penn State (6-1) at Michigan (6-2)
Southern Cal freshman quarterback Carson Palmer has had difficulty reading play signals from the sidelineso much so that for Palmer's first start, last Saturday, coach Paul Hackett had the Trojans' most complex plays printed on Palmer's wristband. Palmer completed 18 of 31 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown in USC's 33-10 rout of Washington, but before a 57-yard TD pass to Billy Miller in the first quarter, Palmer again misread the sideline signal. He recounts the fortunate mistake.
I was just starting to get into the flow of the game and was feeling good about getting the signals right. We run the West Coast offense, which is complex, and we have signals for everything. I looked at quarterbacks coach Ken O'Brien and thought I saw the signal for Billy to run a deep post. I guess I turned around too soon, because he was supposed to run a deep out. I missed the last part of the signal.
I thought Ken had signaled for a play called Cowboy: If the safety stayed back, I was supposed to look off Billy and and hit another guy over the middle, but if the safety bit and came in, I would go to Billy on the post route. The safety came in, and Billy was wide-open, so I got it to him, and he went in for the touchdown. When I got to the sideline, Coach O'Brien said, "Nice call." I didn't know what he was talking about until he told me I had gotten the play wrong.
We only used the wristband four or five times in the game. There's a ton of stuff you have to know in Coach Hackett's offense, and it's taken awhile for me to get used to it. Now I think I'm getting the hang of it.
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