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Monday, July 30, 2012

College Previewkakke: Big 12 Minus 2 Edition


So the most recent round of expansion might not have made much sense. The Big East added San Diego State and Boise State, and those schools are east of… Japan? The Pac-12 added Utah and Colorado, which is like being the sole proprietor of the Taj Mahal then allowing a couple of hobos to live there. Missouri and Texas A&M? Those make more sense regionally, but they made more sense regionally where they were. We haven’t gotten to the B1G yet, but Nebraska is a perfect fit there. The best move in realignment so far, however, has to be the Big 12-2 adding West Virginia and TCU.

TCU not only fits regionally with its old Southwestern Conference brethren, they also run a very Big 12-esque system. As for WVU, the Big 12 lost Mike Leach, so what did they do? Added a Leach disciple. West Virginia, as a school and state, may have lost a few rivalries by leaving the Big East, but they gained a group of states and schools that mesh much better with that state. Seriously, do you think West Virginia has more in common with New York and Pennsylvania or Texas and Oklahoma? I rest my case.

Speaking of the hill people, WVU is poised to contend in this conference in their first year as a member. They run an offense (AIR GENO) that fits so snuggly into this conference it will seem like they were always there. Their defense, however, could leave the door open to other contenders. Oklahoma has a Heisman hopeful at quarterback (who I believe has played QB for them for at least 12 years now) and National Title aspirations. Texas is out to prove their lull is over. Baylor and Oklahoma State need to prove they can win without last year’s stars. Iowa State and Kansas State need to prove they can maintain their levels of success and build on them. SO MANY STORYLINES. It’s like a goddamned Gore Verbinski movie up in this conference.

So get ready for the longest preview: TEN TEAMS, one conference, MASS HYSTERIA. Here are your 100% true predictions for the Big 12 in 2012:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Your Start Kyle Orton Bears Training Camp Preview: The Defense

*- New to team

Defensive Ends: #90 Julius Peppers, #71 Israel Idonije, #99 Shea McClellin*, #94 Chauncey Davis, #98 Corey Wootton, #93 Thaddeus Gibson, #76 Cheta Ozougwu*

The first three spots are obviously set. Julius Peppers is the best pass rusher Chicago's had since Richard Dent and will continue to play nearly every snap on defense so long as he's healthy. Izzy is still solid against the run even if his pass rush declined considerably. He'll probably get the starting nod over McClellin for most of the year, but he'll lose nearly all of his 3rd down reps and more than that as the season goes along. McClellin will get every opportunity to play and play often. Try to remember 2006 Mark Anderson. That's the plan for McClellin.

The real interesting story here is whether Corey Wootton can hang on to a roster spot. The Bears had high hopes for Wootton before he lost nearly all of last season to injury. If he can show the talent that made him a potential first rounder in college before his injuries set in, he'll get an opportunity. If not, I'd expect the Bears to keep the solid, unimpressive Chauncey Davis, who was drafted by Atlanta when Phil Emery was a scout there. Gibson's a long shot over Davis and Wootton, and Ozougwu's awesome name won't be enough to get him to the final 53.

Defensive Tackles: #69 Henry Melton, #92 Stephen Paea, #75 Matt Toeiana, #78 Nate Collins*, #70 John McCargo*, #79 Ronnie Cameron*, #96 Jordan Miller*, #68 DeMario Pressley

The thinnest position on the depth chart, which is scary considering the importance of DTs in Lovie's scheme. I like the starters, as Henry Melton was my pick for breakout player last year and I think he'll be even better and more consistent this year. Paea will take a huge leap forward in year two. He's an absolute monster. Toeiana is a solid runstuffer.

The rest of the lineup is a bunch of flotsam and castoffs. McCargo is a former first round pick who has never done anything. Nate Collins is already suspended for the opener. Cameron, Miller, and Pressley are just bodies. I'd expect someone to be picked up before the season, but if not I assume we'll see plenty of situations where Izzy moves back inside on pass-rushing downs while McClellin takes over at end.

Linebackers: #54 Brian Urlacher, #55 Lance Briggs, #53 Nick Roach, #91 Geno Hayes*, #52 Blake Costanzo*, #58 Dom DeCicco,#97 JT Thomas, #64 Ronnie Thornton*, #59 Patrick Trahan, #95 Adrien Cole*, #57 Jabara Williams

Urlacher and Briggs will take every snap so long as they're healthy, obviously. Roach is chronically underrated and rarely makes a mistake, but Hayes can play all three spots and has more potential (and also makes a ton of mistakes), so that battle should be interesting.

The backup linebackers are all extremely important on special teams, so I'd have to believe the Bears didn't sign Costanzo only to make him compete for a roster spot. He's in. They seem to like Dom DeCicco quite a bit, so he's my best bet as well. The Bears sometimes keep five linebackers and other times keep six, so Thomas and the others will have to show something in order to stay on. I'm guessing Patrick Trahan is most likely to stick out of that group.

Cornerbacks: #33 Charles Tillman, #26 Tim Jennings, #30 DJ Moore, #24 Kelvin Hayden*, #27 Jonathan Wilhite*, #36 Cornelius Brown*, #31 Isaiah Frey*, #39 Greg McCoy, 

Tillman and DJ are locked in as the starters at LCB and Nickel, respectively, and they should be. Tillman's one of the best Cover 2 corners...ever. Moore has so far been the best nickelback of the Lovie Era.

The battle between Jennings and Hayden should be extremely interesting. Jennings is younger and healthier and was solid in coverage last year. He didn't come up with turnovers, however, and that's key in this system. Hayden, when healthy, is a playmaker, and Lovie's coveted him for quite some time. Hayden's been injured often the last couple of years, however, so we'll see if he can crack the lineup. His roster spot is safe, regardless, and he adds quality depth.

Only one of the Wilhite, Brown, Frey, and McCoy group will make it, I believe. The Bears rarely carry six corners, and I think they'll be more inclined to keep six receivers again this year. Wilhite has a slight edge since he's a veteran that they targeted in the offseason, but Frey is the kind of big, physical corner Lovie wants. McCoy's greatest asset is his ability as a returner, and that's a tough way to crack this roster. He seems like a strong candidate for the practice squad or the IR/Redshirt. Cornelius is named Cornelius, so that's something.

Safeties: #47 Chris Conte, #27 Major Wright, #20 Craig Steltz, #35 Brandon Hardin*, #43 Trevor Coston*, #46 Jeremy Jones*, #37 Anthony Walters.

This one's pretty easy. Conte and Wright will start until Hardin takes Wright's job somewhere around week five. Steltz is an excellent special teamer and can play both spots (and played both of them well last year, which I'm still not convinced wasn't an aberration), so he's the primary backup. Walters played well and special teams last year and should get the nod over Jones and Coston for the fifth safety spot.

My prediction for the depth chart, barring injury and the likely free agent signing at defensive tackle:

RDE: Peppers/Wootton
LDE: Idonije/McClellin
3 Technique: Melton/Collins
Nose Tackle: Paea/Toeina/McCargo
WLB: Briggs/Trahan
MLB: Urlacher/DeCicco
SLB: Roach/Hayes
CB: Tillman/Moore/Frey
CB: Jennings/Hayden
FS: Conte/Steltz
SS: Wright/Hardin/Walters

That makes 25. Throw in the 25 I predicted on offense yesterday and add the locks on special teams in Robbie Gould, Adam Podlesh, and Patrick Mannelly and you have your 53 man roster. Seems like a damn fine team.

Go Bears.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Your Start Kyle Orton Bears Training Camp Preview: The Offense

Bears camp begins this week, so it's time for my annual look at the camp roster to try and shake out what the Bears will look like come opening day and what we might expect from those 53 guys. Today we start with the offense.

A brief recap: when we last left our heroes they were grinding out a meaningless season finale win over Minnesota that only resulted in Brian Urlacher getting injured on a Hail Mary...wait, Hail Mary......CHIEFS GAME...fuck...Chiefs...AFC West...TEBOW...MARION BARBER. CALEB HANIE. GAHHHHH. Why is there all this blood everywhere? Who put this dead horse in my bed? OH MY GOD, THAT'S NO HORSE, IT'S JOHN ELWAY...*wakes up in cold sweat* Jesus. Okay, where was I?

Oh yes, the Bears ended last season at 8-8 following an excellent 7-3 start and a horrifing 1-5 finish. Since then they've replaced the GM, overturned the talent at the offensive skill positions, took care of several headaches by re-signing Lance Briggs and Matt Forte, and now enter training camp free of controversy and full of optimism. This should be good. Let's see who gets to have fun in Bourbonnais over the next month:

*- New to team.

QUARTERBACKS: #6 Jay Cutler, #2 Jason Campbell*, #12 Josh McCown, #4 Matt Blanchard*

No surprises expected here, of course. Cutler will start so long as he stays healthy, which will hopefully be all 16 games, and the franchise goes as he goes. Even ESPN has come around to the idea that they were wrong about him, since the addition of actual talent on offense means Jay will finally put up numbers they can't ignore. This will be his best year yet.

Jason Campbell, not long ago, was the type of guy Bears fans would have worshipped: slightly above average. He's more than capable of keeping the ship upright if Cutler goes down again. Ideally you never have to use him, but even if the exact same scenario as last year should happen again (Cutler out for 5-6 weeks, team simply needs to go .500 to keep playoff hopes alive) the Bears are in an infinitely better situation than they were a year ago thanks to Jason.

McCown makes a lot of sense as the third stringer. Considering the team will likely only get to him if the offensive line is so bad that it gets both Cutler and Campbell knocked out, it's not a bad idea to have a guy who can run for his life back there.

Matt Blanchard went to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I hope he enjoys his two week break from working as a kayaking instructor, which I assume is the only degree available at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Obviously the depth chart here is set and Blanchard's just a camp arm. Overall this is the best depth chart the Bears have had at QB since Johnny Lujack and Sid Luckman were both on the roster.  Hopefully they don't need it, but it's nice to know it's there.

HALFBACKS: #22 Matt Forte, #29 Michael Bush*, #32 Kahlil Bell, #25 Armando Allen, #38 Lorenzo Booker*, #45 Harvey Unga

Forte and Bush are locks and will get about 90% of the touches. Forte is the best runningback the Bears have had in my lifetime (sorry, Neal Anderson and Thomas Jones), and I'm glad he's been extended. Bush is attempt #3 at finding a highly paid complement to Forte. Marion Barber, statistically, wasn't bad, but was oft-injured and fell out of favor after the Denver game. Bush should easily exceed Barber's production and should outproduce Chester Taylor's 2010 season somewhere around the third preseason game.

Kahlil Bell was tendered as a restricted free agent, and should make the roster as the #3 back, but he may have some competition as the Bears signed veteran Lorenzo Booker last week. Booker has some more experience on special teams than Bell, and the Bears may want to go cheaper at the #3 HB spot since they've invested so much in Forte and Bush. Bell himself may want an opportunity to earn more carries on a team with a less crowded depth chart.

I don't expect Armando Allen to make the roster. that's really all I have to say about him. I forgot all about Harvey Unga, who the Bears took in the supplemental draft in 2010 and who has now been injured or dismissed for personal reasons for two seasons. He'll be cut as well.

FULLBACKS: #44 Tyler Clutts
Clutts is overrated by meatballs who were just happy to have a fullback again, but it looks like he's here to stay.  Oh well. At least we'll get more horrible puns every time another checkdown pass bounces off of his stone hands.

WIDE RECEIVERS: #15 Brandon Marshall*, #17 Alshon Jeffery*, #80 Earl Bennett, #23 Devin Hester, #14 Eric Weems*, #11 Devin Thomas*, #13 Johnny Knox, #18 Dane Sanzenbacher, #81 Terrien Crump*, #82 Britten Golden*, #19 Joseph Anderson*, #83 Chris Summers*

This is the most vastly upgraded unit on the Bears roster, and maybe the most improved receiving corps in the NFL.

The top four are clear: Marshall is the big, game-changing receiver the Bears haven't had, well, ever. Jeffery has the potential to be Brandon Marshall. The BBE, who will hopefully stay healthy this year, is an outstanding slot/possession guy who can also play outside the hashes opposite of Marshall when the Bears stick Hester in the slot to work him deep (something they'll do more this year than they ever have). Hester is now a role-player, something he was always meant to be.

The real question comes after those four. How many receivers will the Bears keep? Last year they kept six, the first time in the Lovie Era where they've kept more than five. They'll probably keep six again this year as Eric Weems is a lock for the roster as well, but probably won't see any reps at wide receiver since he's simply a poor man's Devin Hester.

So who is the sixth man? Knox is easily taken care of, as they're not going to throw him out there before he's 100% healthy and they may not want him anymore as it is. He'll likely hit the injured reserve, or maybe the PUP list, and the Bears will make their decision on whether to cut or keep him after he's in playing shape again.

The camp bodies don't stand a chance, so ignore Crump, Golden, Anderson, and Summers, even if Crump has an awesome name.

It all boils down to a battle between Devin Thomas and Sanzenfucker for the last roster spot. Thomas is a 6'2, 221 former second round pick who may have some untapped potential on offense and has played very well on special teams in the NFL. Sanzenfucker is a roughly 4'8", 97 lb undrafted schmuck who didn't make an impact on special teams last year and only made the roster as Martz's little toy. He got some playing time when Bennett was hurt and committed the cardinal sin of white wide receiverdom by dropping six passes. My point, basically, is Sanzenfucker is gone and I will dance and bathe in the meatball asshurt the day he is cut. Welcome to the Bears, Devin Thomas!

TIGHT ENDS:#87 Kellen Davis, #89 Matt Spaeth, #88 Evan Rodriguez*, #86 Kyle Adams, #84 Draylen Ross*, #85 Brandon Venson*

In Ron Turner's last two years the Bears had one of the deepest tight end corps in the NFL, with Greg Olsen and the vastly underrated Dez Clark combining for nearly 1000 yds each year and Kellen Davis as the third string TE. After two years of transition under Martz, the Bears tight ends will once more be featured as receivers between the twenties.

Kellen Davis will start, and I'm confident he'll perform adequately in a much bigger role this year. I'd think 400-500 yds receiving and anywhere from 5-8 touchdowns would make sense. He'll lose some reps on third down to Rodriguez, who will also play in two tight end sets. I'd expect Rodriguez to chip in somewhere around 400 or so yards this year as well before earning more reps in year two. Spaeth may get some reps at fullback and is solely a blocking specialist. He may fit into a role similar to that of Jim Kleinsasser in Minnesota during Tice's Vikings years.

I don't think the Bears will break camp with more than 3 tight ends this year, so expect Kyle Adams to continue bouncing back and forth between the practice squad, the waiver wire, and the roster as he did last year. Draylen Ross and Brandon Venson will most likely never be heard from again.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES: #72 Gabe Carimi, #73 J'Marcus Webb, #74 Chris Williams, #75 AJ Greene*, #76 Brandon Cory*, #79 Tyler Hendrickson*

Carimi is the key to damn near everything this year. If he stays healthy and plays as well as most believe him capable off, the entire line will stabilize. If the line is stable, there'll be very little that can stop the Bears offense this year thanks to their additions at wide receiver and runningback. If Carimi goes down again? Let's just not discuss it. For the record, I think he'll be a great player.

Left tackle is still J'Marcus Webb's job to lose. Unfortunately, I think he's more than capable of losing it to Chris Williams. Williams was really coming along at guard before he went down, so moving him back to tackle is somewhat irritating. It's hard to say Williams was a bust at LT, though, since he started just seven games there between 09-10 before he was injured and later moved to guard. Whoever wins will benefit from a coordinator that places less emphasis on the left tackle as an isolated blocker. I think the Bears will make something work with these two this year and will avoid the disasters of the past, but I think a true standout will be their top priority next offseason.

The Bears usually carry only three tackles, so I'd expect Greene, Cory, and Hendrickson all to get cut. One of them will make their way to the practice squad of course.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: #63 Roberto Garza, #67 Chris Spencer, #60 Lance Louis, #70 Edwin Williams, #62 Chilo Rachal, #78 James Brown, #64 Ricky Henry, #68 Nick Pieschel.

Garza and Carimi are the only two players locked into starting jobs on the offensive line at the moment. I think Spencer and Louis are the likely starters at guard, which makes sense. Louis has always played well at guard but has suffered from injuries and a move to right tackle forced by the awfulness of Frank Omiyale. While Louis was wildly inconsistent on the outside, he's earned the right to start on the interior. Spencer played very well last year and also deserves to begin the season as a starter.

The  main backup should be Rachal, who is a dominating run blocker (the best run-blocking guard in all of football in 2010 according to ProFootballFocus), but extremely inconsistent in pass protection. If Tice can tap the potential that made Rachal a 2nd round pick in 2008 I'd expect him to force his way into the lineup. Edwin Williams played extremely well last year after Chris Williams went down, so there's no reason to expect him not to make the roster. I'd also not be surprised if the Bears go younger soon and drop Garza in favor of shifting Spencer to center and making room for Rachal or Eddie at guard. Either way, the Bears will be as capable on the interior as they were last year when they paved the way for over 2,000 rushing yards.

Henry and Pieschel are just guys, but James Brown is highly intriguing prospect from Troy who was at one point a potential second-third rounder at tackle. His versatility makes him difficult to cut, as the Bears may not be able to sneak him onto the practice squad. He may make the roster as a backup at both guard and tackle, or the Bears may try their injured reserve redshirt.

If you were keeping track, my expected depth chart on offense is this:

QB: Cutler/Campbell/McCown
HB: Forte/Bush/Bell
FB: Clutts
WR: Marshall/Jeffery/Bennett/Hester/Weems/Thomas
TE: Davis/Spaeth/Rodriguez
LG:Spencer/E. Williams
C: Garza/Spencer
RT: Carimi/Brown

That's a total of 25 players if they opt to keep Brown on the roster.

As a whole, this offense should, provided the key players stay healthy, be the most productive unit the Bears have fielded since 1995. I probably could have just typed "JAY CUTLER TO BRANDON MARSHALL, TOUCHDOWN BEARS" and your pants would have exploded. I know mine just did.

Go Bears. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Preseason Colleg Previewkakke: SEC West Division and Championship


Onto the SEC West, home to the winners of four of the last five National Championships. Remember when Mike Shula coached Alabama? Ah, the good days. Alas, all good things are destined to end, and Nick Saban ended up turning not one, but TWO SEC West universities into juggernauts. First a national title with LSU, then a short dalliance with the Miami Dolphins, then a quick and humorously lie-filled exit (Alabama? What’s that?) which saw him retreat back to the same freaking division as the college team he had left merely two years prior. Now? A damned dynasty wherein the man whose name is eerily similar to a certain fiery demon wins a title every couple years.

Add to this the LSU Tigers, who hired Les Miles after Saban left, which has led to some of the most fantastic endings/games in college football history (And another national title for LSU). Add to that Arkansas, who just fired its bike-riding, daughter’s-age-girl-banging, Atlanta Falcons-leaving head coach… and replaced him with John L. Smith. John L. Smith inspired THIS. That is all.

Outside of those three incredible stories we also have three other coaches in transition. Gene Chizik at Auburn needs to prove he can win without Cam Newton. Dan Mullen needs to take the next step with Mississippi State. And Texas A&M needs to prove they can compete in the SEC when they struggled so mightily to do just that in the Big 12-2.

So what happens in the most storyline-laden division in the NCAA? Glad you asked! Because I happen to have a fresh batch of 100% truthful predictions right after the jump:

Predicting the Playbook

The Bears are rarely a team with an over-arching offensive philosophy. While Green Bay had Mike Holmgren, a West Coast purist if ever there was one, and followed him up with two more West Coast adherents in Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy (although McCarthy's obviously branched out and adapted many spread concepts thanks to Aaron Rodgers' incredible ability and his plethora of talented receivers), the Bears offensive coordinators throughout the years have mostly paid mere lip service to some over-arching scheme and have been pragmatic at best and clueless at worst.

Ron Turner claimed to be in the Don Coryell camp, but frequent injuries and talent deficiencies at quarterback often limited him to a more controlled short-passing scheme. Even when it worked, Turner's offense was hardly the deep-throw at all costs attack of Coryell disciples like Mike Martz. Ask any Bears fan or Bears opponent what Ron Turner wanted to do and the answer is quite simple: run the ball and throw off of play-action. It really was that simple.

Before Ron, Terry Shea spent one year trying to install Kansas City's version of the Martz offense, a more balanced and tight-end friendly alternative to Mike's original attack. It's really hard to describe Shea's offense as anything like Kansas City's at the time, since the offensive line was, recent history included, the worst in Bears history (66 sacks allowed) the receivers were, and stop me if you've heard this before, terrible, with David Terrell leading the pack, and the quarterbacks (Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson) that came in after Rex Grossman went down in week 3 were incapable of completing even a rudimentary quick slant.

I'll not spend much time describing John Shoop's offense, since his philosophy simply revolved around avoiding turnovers and praying the defense would win the game, which leads us to Gary Crowton, the last Bears offensive coordinator before Mike Martz to have a reputation as a unique offensive mind. Crowton of course brought the spread to the NFL (well before the Patriots) and somehow got over 4,000 yds passing out of Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, and Jim Miller before the league caught on in 2000 and ran Crowton off to a disappointing head coaching career at BYU.

Considering this history, it's no surprise that the Mike Martz experiment was quite a radical departure from normal Bears procedure. Martz is nothing if not a man with his a strong commitment to his offensive philosophy, and it's one that undoubtedly produces when he has the talent to do so. In Chicago he did not, and we all know how that ended.

This long-winded digression into the history of recent Bears offensive schemes leads me up to my question today, which is: what the hell are the 2012 Bears going to run on Sundays now that they, once again, appear to be without one clear philosophy?

The only answers the media provides are somewhat contradictory. Mike Wright of ESPN claimed the Bears, thanks to Jeremy Bates, were going to use the 2008 Broncos playbook verbatim, which of course would mean that the Bears were running Mike Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense, which he developed by altering the original West Coast scheme to fit the running talents of Steve Young and later John Elway (which is also why he drafted the mobile Jay Cutler).

The offensive coordinator, however, is Mike Tice, not Jeremy Bates, and Tice has his own history on offense from when he and Scott Linehan (now the OC for the Lions) had a very productive operation going in Minnesota in the first half of the decade. So one would have to assume the Bears offense would resemble the Vikings playbook from that time period, no?

Well, that doesn't seem to be the case either. Many Bears players have noted that the playbook, with the notable exception of the recently eliminated seven step drops, still contains anywhere from 50-75% of last year's playbook. So I'm forced to wonder how all three of these influences (the Ghost of Martz, Tice/Linehan, and Bates/Shanahan) are going to gel into one coherent offensive scheme this year. I've decided to take a guess and explore a couple of run and pass concepts from all three offenses that I think the team will make extensive use of: Mike Martz's Mesh concept, Mike Shanahan's Near/Solo Left QB Keep Pass Right (in English: play-action bootleg to the right), and the Inside Zone running play from the Tice/Linehan offense.

Mesh is an outstanding concept that Martz had great success with all the way back in his earliest days of coaching. It's a play that's also been popularized in college by the Air Raid offenses of my beloved Mike Leach and his disciples. The great thing about Mesh is that, while it's a Martz staple, it's a shallow cross concept and doesn't require one of the dreaded deep drops. Here is Mesh as drawn up in Martz's offense:
The image is a little small, but basically the key to Mesh is that the X receiver (Brandon Marshall) and the Y receiver (Earl Bennett) cross paths in the middle of the field on what's known as a rub (in practice coaches will sometimes make these two receives touch hands so they understand just how close they need to get together on the play) in order to confuse the defense and get one of them open. The Z receiver (either Alshon Jeffery or Devin Hester) runs a deep curl to the middle of the field in order to draw one of the linebackers away from the X and Y as the CB goes deep to cover the RB on the wheel route. The QB then reads (as the illustration shows) right to left, from X to Z to Y. 

This play is primarily designed to beat man coverage, but it can also be used against zone since the deep curl by the Z receiver will draw the MLB and the RB threatens both the flat and the sideline with the wheel route, keeping both the corner and safety in place on Cover 2. Martz's QBs have racked up hundreds of yards over the years on this play. The addition of a big, strong receiver in Marshall means that Jay should have no trouble turning this relatively short, easy throw into a big play.

2)Near/Solo Left Fake 15/35 QB Keep Pass Right
These two plays are basically identical, with the difference being that one has a fullback in the backfield who released into the flat and another has two tight ends, with the second tight end releasing into the flat. This is a concept that Shanahan/Bates have used to great effect with Steve Young, John Elway, Jake Plummer, and Jay Cutler (One of these things is not like the other...) and I would expect, given the repeated cries over the last three years for the Bears to take advantage of Cutler's ability to throw on the run, we will see it plenty this year:
This play is pretty self explanatory, really. Cutler fakes it to Forte and rolls right, while Marshall (X) runs a deep comeback to the play side (taking advantage of the gap between corner and safety, as the corner should stay to cover the second tight end (T) or the FB in the flats and the LB should be preoccupied with the first TE (Y) running the shallow cross) and the Z (Hester or Jeffery) runs either a deep post against Cover 2  in order to draw the safety deep or a deep dig against Cover 1 in order to get the safety to "sink" on the route. 

3)Inside Zone
This is a play that nearly every NFL team runs, and one that the Bears have already had a great deal of success with under Tice the last two years, but it's also a staple of the one-back offense that Tice/Linehan run and you'll see it plenty this year as well. 

When you hear people talk about "zone runs" vs. man or power runs, the difference is what an "uncovered" lineman does. If a guard lines up and there's a defensive tackle right in front of him obviously his assignment is to block that guy. If there's not a defensive player directly in front of him, however, the offensive lineman's job is to shift towards the playside and double team the nearest defensive lineman. Once that defensive player is blocked, one of the two offensive lineman then shifts off to the nearest defender in the "zone" of the play. It's not really rocket science.

In the above version of inside zone, for example, the TE, RT, RG, and C all block the person covering them. The zone blockers are the LT and LG, who shift to block the WLB and the Nose Tackle, respectively. The runningback aims for the outside hip of the RG and shoot between the RG and the RT. If there's no opening there, he makes one cut and shoots back between the RG and the C. It's a running play that's both simple and effective, and Matt Forte and 30 other runningbacks will hear it called every Sunday. Tice has admitted in the past that it is his favorite running play, as he coaxed a 1300 yd season out of Michael Bennett and several great seasons from the two-headed monster of Fred Taylor and MJD largely off of this play during his time in Minnesota and Jacksonville, respectively. 

So there you have it. I'm guessing the Bears offense will be very similar to the one they ran the last couple of years after the annual "Run the Damn Ball, Martz" intervention, with the biggest difference being a considerable increase in the amount of play-action passes and bootlegs, and fewer screens in response to pressure. These three plays, however, will almost certainly be locks for the gameplan every week. I apologize for the length of this post, but, shit, I really don't. If you're here, I assume you came to read.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Preseason College Previewkakke: SEC East Division


You may be asking yourself what order this round of previews is going in. If it were by national relevance, the SEC would obviously be the last conference previewed before the BCS Bowl prediction blowout. The SEC has won (approximately) the last 27 national titles and will, unless the SEC has 14 teams with at least 2 losses this season, send a minimum of one team to the National Championship. But this preview series is going in terms of relevance to our potential readership, and since anyone who cares about Chicago sports probably has a dog in either the Big 12-2 or B1G race, the SEC gets previewed before both of them.

What more can be said about the SEC? They’re dominant. They’ve had the undisputed champions in college football since 2007 and won it as well in 05 and 04 (05 Auburn was 13-0 despite not participating in the title game).

The most recent winners, however, lie in the West. That’s where LSU, Alabama, and Auburn (plus the ever-dangerous Arkansas) reside. The East is a division in transition. Florida was down last year, Tennessee has been down due to the Fulmer curse, Missouri is transitioning from the Big 12 minus 2, Vanderbilt has put together a couple top-25 recruiting classes and solid seasons, Mark Richt is regaining the respect of his fanbase, and Steve Spurrier is finally in contention for those titles his hiring promised.

Can any of these teams be relevant enough to contend for the SEC title (and thus the National Title)? Can any of them go unbeaten? How much credibility do I lose for what I’m about to say Vanderbilt will do? Let’s see! Here they are; 100% accurate predictions for the SEC East:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Paid the Man: Matt Forte Gets A Contract, Phil Emery Gets a Win, and Steve Rosenbloom is Still a Douche

In case you haven't heard, the Bears agreed to a four year, $32 million contract with Matt Forte today, with $18 million of that guaranteed. This is a good deal on so many levels, but I'm just going to note some of them:

1) The headache is gone. The effect of a distraction like this on a team is often as overrated as the idea of team chemistry. In this case, however, you can't help but be relieved that this story has gone away and the Bears, seemingly for the first time since the Superbowl in 2006, enter a season with mostly positive vibes and few major question marks. This is a good thing.

2) The Bears signed Matt Forte for below market value. Look at some of these contracts that runningbacks around the league signed in the last two years:

Frank Gore: 4 years, $26 million ($13.5 million guaranteed)
Marshawn Lynch: 4 years, $31 million ($17 million guaranteed)
LeSean McCoy: 6 years, $45.6 million ($20 million guaranteed)
DeAngelo Williams: 5 years, $43 million ($21 million guaranteed)
Arian Foster: 5 years, $43.5 million ($20.5 million guaranteed)q
Ray Rice (signed today after Forte): 5 years, $40 million ($24 million guaranteed)

I'm not even going to bother with the mega deals signed by Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson, since that's a whole different monster, but there's no way anyone could say the Bears didn't just get a bargain on Matt Forte. The only guy in the above list who makes less money than Forte is Frank Gore, who is considerably older and was clearly on a gradual decline before he even inked his deal. The most similar contract is Marshawn Lynch, which is a joke considering Lynch isn't even remotely the kind of receiving threat that Forte is, that he averages just 4.0 ypc for his career (Forte is at 4.2, with a career high 4.9 last year), and that he just had his first 1000 yd season since 2008.

The Forte contract especially looks good when you look at the ludicrous deal given to DeAngelo Williams, who played fewer than half of the Panther's snaps on offense last year and yet gets more money than Forte, who accounted for almost half of all of the Bears total yards from scrimmage.

Ray Rice is probably the player most similar to Forte on that list, and he was able to leverage his way to an extra year and $6 million more in guaranteed money.

3) Phil Emery held his ground. Jerry Angelo lowballed Forte with a contract offer similar to the Frank Gore deal. Forte was insulted and as recently as a few weeks ago was talking about a deal almost identical to what Ray Rice just got. Emery held his ground and refused to go past 18 million guaranteed (which is basically what Forte would have gotten playing on the franchise tag the next two years, only now the Bears have the flexibility to shift that cash around to play with the cap). Emery's other offseason moves, such as the Brandon Marshall trade, the signing of Michael Bush, and the drafting of Alshon Jeffery reduced the team's dependency on Forte and thus his leverage. Emery knew this and negotiated accordingly. Competence of this level from the general manager of the Bears is still mindboggling.

4) This deal apparently irritates Steve Rosenbloom, one of Chicago's most irritating and idiotic columnists. Rosenbloom criticized the deal on The Score, saying that Emery caved and overpaid a runningback in what is "a passing league."

This is stupid on so many levels. One, Emery did not cave in any way. Forte got a deal that was both below market value and well below what he was asking for. How the hell did Emery cave?

Two, f*&k the "passing league" comment. The NFL isn't a passing league. It's a scoring league. The fact that teams like the Patriots, Packers, and Lions score a lot of points and get a lot of yards solely by throwing the ball doesn't somehow invalidate the benefit of a good running game. When the Bears had both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last year, they were 6th in the NFL in scoring at 26 ppg. During the last five games, with Cutler, when Forte got 20 or more carries in nearly every game, the team was averaging 32 PPG. It would be foolish for the Bears to argue they don't need Matt Forte because it is a "passing league." Their offense is best when they have a running game and it could be argued that they'd be better off than Green Bay or Detroit, both of whom paid for their lack of a running game when it gave teams more time on the clock to take advantage of their shitty secondaries.

Simply put, the Bears locked up Forte for less than he deserved, based on the state of runningbacks around the league, and checked off another item on Phil Emery's very impressive first offseason. The Bears head into training camp now with nothing to worry about besides winning football games. They'll do plenty of that in 2012, and Matt Forte should be a big part of it.

Go Bears.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Preseason College Previewkakke: Pac-12 North and Championship

Still a bit surprised something came up in Google Image Search when I typed in "Flying Cougar"

And now we move into the Northern half of the Pac 12. When conferences construct divisions these days they should do it with one thing in mind: “For the love of God, don’t make the Big 12 North.” The mistake the Big 12 made there was assuming that Nebraska could carry an entire division forever, and do it well enough to beat the best team out of Texas/Oklahoma/Texas A&M once every couple years. As everyone saw, this simply didn’t end up working out. Every big program has lulls, and when Nebraska went into a lull there was nobody in the Big 12 North who could realistically step up and contend with the South. This made for some real snoozers as far as Championship games go, culminating in the South winning every championship from 2004 to 2010 (when the championship could no longer be played).

Herein lies the problem with the Pac 12 as it is currently divided. The only power in the South is USC. Yes, that is one hell of a power, but history has shown that no program can sustain this level of success indefinitely. Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Miami (currently!), etc., have all gone through significant periods of time in which they produced mediocre teams. More proof? It happened to USC! From 1996-2001 USC won more than 6 games just one time.

When USC goes into a lull, who will step up? Arizona State? Utah? UCLA? Colorado? Sounds a lot like Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas, and… Colorado… to me. The Pac 12 North, however, has one team that could cement itself as a USC-type elite program in Eugene, OR (Thanks, Nike!), two teams with coaches building teams to contend for many years (the Washingtons; Mike Leach and Steve Sarkisian), one team that has shown the ability to contend at the highest level recently (Stanford) and two teams who have shown the ability to contend historically (Oregon State and Cal). What happens when USC goes down? Well… last year’s title game, basically. Good luck, USC! The only hope for a competitive Pac 12 title game rests with you!

So in this intensely competitive Pac 12 North, who will emerge victorious? How about the Ducks, with their menagerie of ever-changing uniforms? Can Stanford maintain their recent level of success? Can Mike Leach do for WSU what he did for Texas Tech (Hint: Yes)? Once again, with 100% accuracy, your 2012 Pac 12 North final standings:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Preseason College Previewkakke: Pac-12 South Division

I wish Barkley would stop making me like him.

Moving on to a slightly more interesting conference, we start in the Pac-12 (Ah, the west coast, where the number after the conference name is accurate) South division. Unlike the ACC, most people actually know which teams are in the Pac-12 and care about what they do. Sometimes this is because they have a national title contender, sometimes it’s because of the crazy shit they do, but most of the time it’s because both of those things combine and form USC.

So here we have the Trojans, emerging anew from the cocoon of NCAA sanctions and bowl bans with the probable #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, a young coach who perhaps has enough experience to no longer be considered young, and national title aspirations. Last season USC couldn’t represent the Pac-12 South in the Pac-12 Championship or a bowl, and that ended up proving what pretty much everyone knew; this division is USC and a bunch of teams who are going to get beaten by USC. After a massive logjam the regular season ended with 6-6 UCLA winning this division. That earned them an ass-kicking at the hands of Oregon in the title game (Final score was 49-31, and it was worse than that, trust me) then a bowl bid… at 6-7… where they Fought Hunger in a bowl game sponsored by cheese… and lost to an equally undeserving Illinois team 20-14.

There is no question USC will return respectability to the division this fall, but are there other contenders that can push USC? This division has FOUR new coaches out of six, which should illustrate how terrible it was last season, and oh boy, are the four new coaches juicy. RichRod at Arizona attempting to resuscitate his career after the biggest disaster in Michigan history, Todd Graham at Arizona State after ditching Pittsburgh in the biggest asshole way possible, Jim Mora Jr. (HAHAHA) at UCLA which is… Jesus Christ UCLA… and a new head coach named who-fucking-cares at Colorado, where winning a single game should be considered a major accomplishment. Great pickup with Colorado, Pac-12. Real winners, they are.

So without further ado, venture beyond the jump for the 100% accurate predictions for the Pac-12 South:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No, YOUR Pass Defense Sucks: The Myth of the Bears Awful Secondary

For two straight years now I've heard that the secondary is a potential weakness keeping the Bears from Superbowl contention. Now, this irritates me for a couple of reasons. For one, when people tend to say _____ is keeping someone from Superbowl contention, they're usually basing that on some illusory concept of the ideal Superbowl champion rather than assessing the league as a whole and basing their opinion on that comparison. Those are the kinds of people who would never have imagined the 2007 or 2011 Giants winning the Superbowl, or that it was possible that the 32 ranked rushing offense (2009 Colts) or the 32nd ranked defense (2011 Patriots) would get a team all the way to the big game. So when I hear that the Bears secondary is a question mark for the team, I look at several other teams considered to be contenders, like the Packers, Patriots, and Lions, and wonder how the hell people get that idea.

Now, I'll admit the safety play on last year's team concerned me and I've addressed that before. Things were considerably better once Chris Conte replaced Chris Harris/Brandon Meriweather, and even Major Wright was adequate when healthy. With Conte, Steltz, Wright,and Hardin in the mix I'm optimistic that the disastrous pass defense of the first 5 games last year is long gone. I don't expect the starting duo for the Bears to consist of two hall of famers, but they'll be capable of limiting big gains and making the occasional play.

As for the cornerbacks, I've already spent time defending the two best cornerbacks in the NFC North, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, who both allowed less than 60% completions and allowed only one gain of at least 47 yards. They're not flashy and they aren't going to blanket someone like Revis, but they're not asked to do so and they'll provide plenty of turnovers (well, P'Nut will).

So where does this idea that the Bears have a weak secondary really come from? An outdated concept like basing defenses on yardage allowed. The Bears finished 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, with 4065 yards allowed (254 ypg). That looks bad. But let's take a closer look:

1) The Bears were really good at stopping the run. After an awful and extremely atypical slow start against the run last year (135 ypg in the first 5), the Bears pulled Anthony Adams out of the nose tackle position (the key run stopper in the Cover 2) and replaced him with a Polynesian rotation of Paea and Toeiana. That switch led to a stingy run defense that allowed just 78 yards per game over the final 11 contests (consider also that in two of the mere 3 games in which they allowed over 100 yards rushing in that span, they faced Michael Vick and Tim Tebow). That was just a yard behind the 77 ypg allowed by the 49ers, the NFL's top run defense, during that time period.

What has this got to do with the pass defense? Well, futility in the run game forced teams to chuck it a lot against the Bears defense, for a whopping 631 attempts, good for 2nd in the NFL in most passing attempt against. Teams are naturally going to get a good amount of yardage on 631 attempts.

2) What did they do with those attempts, though? Well, 4065/631 equals just 6.4 YPA. In case you need a reference, that's like telling someone they're going to go up against Shane Matthews every game. They'll take it. That 6.4 YPA attempt against is good for 3rd best in the NFL, right up there with the Ravens. Something tells me no one's saying their secondary is going to keep them out of the Superbowl. Everyone knows that's Joe Flacco.

3)Interceptions. The Bears got 20 of them. Tied for 6th most in the NFL. They allowed 22 touchdown passes, good for 13th fewest in the NFL.

4)Opponent Passer Rating. Passer rating is a flawed stat, but the Bears still held opponents to just a 79.8 rating, good for 8th best in the NFL.

5) The Bears had to face Aaron Rodgers (2x), Matthew Stafford (2x), Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, and Michael Vick last year, the only team in the NFL to face that particular gamut. That's 9 games against 7 of the top 11 passing yardage leaders in the NFL last year. They went 5-4 in those 9 games.

The only thing the Bears didn't do particularly well in pass defense last year was get after the quarterback. Although Melton and Peppers both had fine pass-rushing seasons, the Bears know they need another DE who can get after Aaron Rodgers and they drafted Shea McClellin to do so. I think people will see this year that, as usual, yards don't mean a damn thing against Lovie's defense.

So if the Bears secondary doesn't suck, do those same excuses apply to New England, Detroit, or Green Bay? No. Those teams aren't Cover 2 teams, and their secondaries, frankly, just plain suck. Look at the stats for opposing passers vs. those teams compared to the Bears stat line:

Chicago: 383/631 (60.7%), 4065 yds, 22 TDs, 20 INTs, 254 YPG, 6.4 YPA, 79.8 Rating
Green Bay: 390/637 (61.2%), 4796 yds, 29 TDs, 31 INTs, 299.8 YPG, 7.5 YPA, 80.6 Rating.
Detroit: 376/604 (62.3%), 3831 yds, 26 TDs, 21 INTs, 239.4 YPG, 6.4 YPA, 82.1 Rating
New England: 386/619 (62.4%), 4703 yd, 26 TDs, 23 INTS, 293.4 YPG, 7.6 YPA, 86.1 Rating.

As you can see, all of those teams were worse than the Bears in nearly every category. The Lions lower yardage total can also be somewhat excused by the fact that their run defense (23rd in the NFL) was downright shitty, so they're much easier to attack in multiple ways. Now, I'm not saying those teams aren't Superbowl contenders (well, Detroit isn't), but simply that the Bears secondary is certainly looks much better when you compare it to several other contenders who give up plenty of yards, and touchdowns, in schemes that aren't designed to allow short yardage passes like the Bears defense is.

So, once more, I say: No, YOUR pass defense sucks.

Preseason College Previewkakke: ACC Atlantic Division

This is why you go first, ACC.

ACC, part deux! The Atlantic finds itself in a situation oddly similar to the one it found itself in last season. FSU is supposed to be a title contender, there are a couple teams that could jump into a contending role, and Clemson is… Clemson. As they always are!

Largely due to an injury to E.J. Manuel Florida State lost to Oklahoma and Clemson. Not due to that injury, FSU lost to Wake Forest and Virginia. So, basically, Florida State did exactly what they’ve done every season since they joined the ACC; garner high expectations then fail to meet them. In the mean time a new head coach and some superiorly skilled offensive players jettisoned Clemson to an ACC Championship. Can FSU return to power? Can Clemson build using their young talent and their recent acquisition of the #1 prospect in the nation? Will NC State rally behind their potential first-round QB? And what of the equally mysterious seasons from Wake Forest, BC, and Maryland last year? Without further ado, your 100% accurate final standings for the ACC Atlantic division after the jump:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Preseason College Previewkakke: ACC Coastal Division

College football season (and thus the prognostication bukkake) begins on August 30th, so over the next 56 days I will be providing previews of each major NCAA conference (sorry Big East, you don’t count anymore) and the National Championship picture. Code Red will add Phil Ste-errr-his own short takes and you can bet we’ll be keeping track of this throughout the year.

ACC Coastal Divison Preview:

Might as well start with the least interesting division in the conference readers probably care the least about! This is also maybe the one area Code Red will have unintentional blindness for, being as his beloved Georgia Tech with their beloved Triple Option reside in this division.

So, let me guess. All you know about the ACC is that they play basketball well and that college football on the east coast is a bigger clusterfuck than the BCS. The only consistent thing in the conference from year to year is that Virginia Tech will lose two games early for absolutely no reason then destroy the rest of the conference just to make sure nobody really cares about the ACC nationally.

And that segues nicely into the Coastal division, which just so happens to cradle Virginia Tech ever so lovingly in its bosom. The aforementioned clusterfuck generally leads to some serious intrigue right down to the last week of the season, and last year was no exception. Virginia Tech’s early season loss was an ass-whooping provided by Clemson (23-3), who in turn lost to Georgia Tech for no reason, who in turn lost to Virginia Tech, upstart Virginia, AND Miami. Virginia Tech didn’t lose another regular season game and marched into the ACC title game to face Clemson with a chance to avenge their only loss of the season.

As we all saw in the National Championship, it isn’t easy to beat a team twice in one season. And this is Virginia Tech! They finish strong! So obviously they’ll recover and… huh. Clemson destroyed VaTech 38-10, you say? Damnit, ACC. So how does the Coastal shake out this year? I struggled through every game for every team this season and came up with a completely scientific calculation of their records, and Code Red will be happy to include Phil Steel-oops- his, point of view for the division as well. Without further ado, my completely, 100% accurate ACC Coastal division predictions:

Team Overall W-L Conference W-L

Virginia Tech 11-1 (7-1)

Georgia Tech 9-3 (6-2)

Virginia 8-4 (5-3)

North Carolina 6-6 (3-5)

Miami (FL) 5-7 (3-5)

Duke 2-10 (0-8)

Virginia Tech: Pardon me if you’ve seen this story before, but the Hokies are going to go 11-1 with their one loss coming at Clemson on October 20. I was tempted to pencil them in for a loss at home against the Ramblin’ Wreck being as that’s the first game of the season for both teams, but the Georgia Tech offense simply plays too easily into Virginia Tech’s defense. With another year of experience for Logan Thomas this has all the potential to be a fantastic season for Virginia Tech, but I’m more comfortable concluding that Tech will do exactly as Tech does. Best possible inaccuracy: Tech plays at Pittsburgh their third game of the season (Sept. 15). This is a classic setup for a Virginia Tech loss.

Georgia Tech: Are you aware Georgia Tech did not throw a TD pass in any of their final seven games last year? That happened. After starting 6-0 the ‘jackets ended the season 2-5, failing to beat Virginia Tech at home and losing at a bad Miami team 24-7. I have Tech beating Clemson again (because, y’know, it’s still Clemson) but losing at North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The whole season is dependent on game one. Best possible inaccuracy: That first game. If Georgia Tech wins that could set the tone for the whole season.

Virginia: So was Virginia better or worse than their record last year? Haters would point to close wins against FSU, Idaho in overtime, Georgia Tech, and Miami as a sign that they could have easily ended up 4-8. Optimists would point to their 28(!) turnovers and say they could have easily beaten Southern Miss and UNC to go 10-2. I think they finished about where they should have last season. Their offense should hold strong this year, while their defense has a bit of rebuilding to do. They have four near-guaranteed losses at VaTech, at GaTech, at TCU, and at NC State (What a road slate), but the other 8 games are beyond winnable with only 1 other game on the road (at Duke). Best possible inaccuracy: Their best shot at a non-Duke road win will be at NC State on November 3, but I think it’s more likely they lose a home game to Wake Forest (Oct. 20) or North Carolina (Nov. 15) to finish the year at 7-5 or 6-6.

North Carolina: This team has been through a lot. The whole Butch Davis thing put UNC into recovery mode for at least this season. Expect UNC to have a very ACC-like season. You might be tempted to think having Georgia Tech and VaTech come to Tobacco Road is a good thing, but all that means is UNC has to play evenly matched teams like Wake Forest, Virginia, Louisville, and Miami in their houses, and that does not bode well for the Tarheels. Best possible inaccuracy: I have UNC beating Georgia Tech at home in an upset; there’s a good chance that doesn’t happen. It just seems the logical choice for the strange game Georgia Tech will lose. The game takes place on Nov. 10, giving UNC enough time to take their lumps and finish strong.

Miami (FL): The Nevin Shapiro scandal, a new quarterback (or two), not to mention Miami was mediocre to begin with? This won’t be a pleasant season. Best possible inaccuracy: They will have to win one of these games: @Kansas State Sept. 8, @Georgia Tech Sept. 22, vs. NC State Sept. 29, @Notre Dame Oct. 6, vs. FSU Oct. 20, vs. VaTech Nov. 1, and @Virginia Nov. 10. Honestly, I think the biggest chance for me to be wrong here is that Miami loses at Boston College week 1 (Sept. 1) rather than them winning any of those games.

Duke: Duke is Duke, plain and simple. Do you really need a deeper analysis than that? Best possible inaccuracy: They get Miami at home for the last game of the season (Nov. 24). That may be their only shot at an ACC win.


The exact standings will be as follows:

VT: 10-2, 6-2 Conference, with losses to Florida State and on the road at Clemson. I do believe, however, they will avenge their loss to FSU in the ACC Title game (SPOILER ALERT?). Iggins! pretty accurately summed up Virginia Tech, however. I also would love to have them penciled in for a loss against GT in the opener, but Frank Beamer with an entire spring and summer of practices to prepare his defense for Paul Johnson’s offense=not a good day for Georgia Tech.

UNC: 10-2, 6-2 Conference with losses to Virginia Tech and the standard inexplicable ACC upset. The chaos at North Carolina will make you look down on their chances, but after two straight seasons of uproar they’re used to it by now. They have a fantastic quarterback in Bryn Renner and serious experience and talent on both sides of the ball. I can’t technically pick them first since they’re barred from the ACC Title game this year, but they’re going to be very good in a wasted effort.

Georgia Tech: 9-3, 6-2 Conference, with losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina on the road. I actually think this is Paul Johnson’s best team, as Tevin Washington is a senior, they return most of their runningbacks, their offensive line is the most experienced that Johnson’s ever had, and they manage to avoid Florida State out of the Atlantic. As Iggins! said, their entire season hinges on that first game against VT. I wish I could pull the trigger on them, but alas, I still see a 10 win season in the offing.

Virginia: 6-6, 3-5 Conference with losses to GT, Duke, NC State, UNC, and VT. Virginia way overachieved last year and is a less experienced team this year. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell they hit 8 wins again.

Duke: 5-7, 2-6 Conference, with losses to GT, Clemson, FSU, UNC, VT, Wake Forest. I think this is actually the best Duke team that Cutcliffe has had in his tenure, but they draw an absolutely brutal conference schedule and would need one huge motherf*&king upset to get to a bowl.

Miami (FL) 4-8, 2-6 Conference. Simply put, not enough talent. Never thought I’d say that about Miami.

FINAL ANALYSIS: So basically I’m riding the Virginia pony and Red thinks UNC will rebound from a 7-6 season despite being bowl ineligible. Intriguing! ACC Atlantic division analysis and championship predictions coming soon…