Since it is the end of NCAA football, and the start of the NFL playoffs, let me begin with football. There is a lot to write about with this topic, so I will start with the NFL, and then get to the NCAA, by the time I get done covering the NFL, I should be agitated enough to talk college.
I am a Detroit Lions fan. Yes, those Detroit Lions. The ones that are the butts of every joke you can imagine. They went 0-16 this year, the only team in NFL history that has ever accomplished that dubious feat. You really have to try to lose all 16. Most teams get at least one or two wins a year purely by accident. Detroit had a purpose this year though, and refused to disappoint. Lets be honest. The Lions are bad. Real bad. Years of poor draft picks, bad coaches, bad management have taken their toll. The Lions refused to learn from the other Detroit area teams, refused to pay attention to what made them better after being horrible. The Detroit Pistons weren't any good in the second half of the 90s, but owner Bill Davidson saw talent in a completely unproven General Manager named Joe Dumars, a former player for the Pistons, and very little has gone wrong for the team ever since, including an NBA title and a record 6 consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons have been consistently good. The Detroit Red Wings were also horrible when Mike Ilitch purchased the team, but, he saw talent in a previously unknown GM named Ken Holland, who, along with former coach Scotty Bowman, turned the Dead Wings into the most consistently good team in the entire NHL. After going Stanley Cup-less since 1955, ever since 1995, the Detroit Red Wings have been the best team in the league overall, appeared in 5 Stanley Cup finals, won 4 Stanley Cups, won numerous division titles, and has pretty much made the entire NHL hate them for their success in the same way the New York Yankees are hated. Success breeds contempt, and the Red Wings are damn successful. The Detroit Tigers, after being bottom dwellers for a long time, gave Detroit fans hope over the last few years, even appearing in the World Series.
This leads us back to the Lions. Let me make something clear. Matt Millen is no Joe Dumars, Ken Holland, or Dave Dombrowski. Why William Clay Ford hired him in the first place remains a complete mystery to me. His drafts were a complete joke, drafting players with names, rather than players the team needed. Taking Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, for example. Of the coaches he hired, Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci and Rod Marinelli, only Mariucci had previous head coaching experience, and he was the one that Millen drove out of town. Steve Mariucci was the best coach the Lions have had in decades, and Millen drove him out. Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli made me utter the phrase "I miss Wayne Fontes" far too many times for any Lions fan to be comfortable with. I hope he looks back at his tenure in Detroit, after collecting his millions of dollars for making the team worse than it was, and is embarrassed. His legacy isn't going to be as a great NFL player, it will be as the worst General Manager in the entire history of American sports. I hope you are proud at what you have accomplished, Matt.
Enough about dwelling in the past though. I have to look at next year in a positive light. I am a Lions fan. What that means, is that while I don't think I will predicting my usual 9-7 or 10-6 record, I can say something that fans of other NFL teams cannot. I can say my team can't possibly finish with a worse record next year. The Lions are guaranteed to either finish with the same or better record than this year. Whoever the next head coach is has a lot of work to do. However, he is going to know that even if the Lions only finish 4-12 or something, that is a marked improvement over this year. Basically, the next head coach has absolutely nothing to lose. Who is that coach going to be though? Personally, I want someone who is a hardass. I want someone that is going to be a lot tougher on the players. I want a Brian Billick, a Bill Cowher, or a Tom Coughlin (obviously, Coughlin isn't leaving New York, I just say that to demonstrate the type of coach) Perhaps a Mike Shanahan. What I do not want is another unproven coordinator getting his first head coaching job. The Lions need a coach with a proven track record.
For the draft, having the first pick is a dubious honor. You get your pick of the entire pool of players, but, to get that pick, you had to be the worst team. Not only that, but the cost of signing that first pick is very rarely worth what you get out of him. You end up with a rookie making way too much money before they have proven a damn thing on the field. If the NFL were to go to a rookie salary cap type thing, with mandated salaries for rookies, I would be all in favor of it. It would eliminate rookie holdouts entirely, helping to ensure that rookies are in camp, on time, learning what they need to learn in order to get ready for the season. If every rookie is paid the same, regardless of draft positioning, there is no reason to holdout anymore. Only after a player has a chance to prove how valuable they are should they get paid like the veterans. All rookies should make the NFL minimum for two years. It doesn't matter if you are a QB, WR, RB, CB or DT, you start out on an equal playing field. If during those two years, you prove you are worth the investment, THEN you get the high priced contract from the team that drafted you, or you become a FA, free to sign with any team that thinks you are going to be a star. No more rookies earning 8 million dollars to do nothing but hold a clipboard.
With that being said...The Lions need to spend BOTH of their first round draft picks very wisely. With their two first round picks, they need to draft an LT to replace Backus, so they can move him to Guard, and a Linebacker *coughlaurenitiscough* to compliment Ernie Sims. NO QBs! NO WRs! They will no doubt be tempted to take Matt Stafford or Tim Tebow (if he comes out) based on the success Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have had this year, but, what good is a stud QB, if the OL can't protect him? Jon Kitna is not a great QB. But, on those few occasions the Lions Offensive Line gave him time, the Lions offense worked. If the OL is as bad as it was this year, it doesn't matter if you are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Dan Orlovsky. The results will be the same. Sacks, and INTs caused by having to get rid of the ball too early. Skill players are great to have, obviously...however, you have to build the foundation first, or you are crippling them before they ever set foot on the field.
I am also a Michigan Wolverine fan. This year was hard to watch. Unlike with the Lions, I expect good season after good season from the Wolverines. I get mad at 8-4. 8-4 is a horrible year for a Michigan fan. Some teams, like MSU, pray to have consistent 8-4 seasons. For Michigan, 8-4 is a rebuilding year. So you can imagine how much fun it was to see Michigan go 3-8. Getting back to my comments on the Lions, you CANNOT win if you don't have the right players for the system. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan were no where close to being the QBs Rich Rodriguez needs for his Spread Option offense to work. I can only wonder what might have been had Terrell Pryor chosen Michigan instead of Ohio State, because he would have been a perfect fit. But, he didn't come to Michigan, and you have to play the cards you are dealt. To that, while part of me wants to say the season was as bad as it was because RR simply didn't have the right players, excusing him, I also know that when you know you don't have the right players, you have to adjust to the players you have. Again, you play the cards you are dealt. Rich Rodriguez was too inflexible in his offense. I understand that a hybrid Lloyd Carr/Rich Rod styled offense would mean players would have to relearn it each year for the next few years until Carr's players are gone, and all that are left are Rodriguez's, but at the same time, the players on the Michigan roster were much better suited for a Carr style traditional Michigan offense. Surely, Rodriguez could have found some kind of balance between them, to take advantage of the players he had, and at the same time getting the returning players accustomed to the Spread, so they would be better prepared for the next season. A hybrid offense would have allowed Threet and Sheridan to play a little more in their comfort zone, and perhaps had he been planning on that, we wouldn't have had to replace Ryan Mallett...who actually had taken a few snaps last year. With all that being said, if Michigan goes 3-8 next year, heads will roll. Michigan DOES NOT TOLERATE losing football teams. Rodriguez gets a few years to bring the team back. Michigan will not show him the same amount of patience the Lions showed to Matt Millen. If after next year, there isn't marked improvement, and Michigan is not contending for the Big Ten title in the third year, Rich Rodriguez will not be kept. Michigan has a low tolerance for failure. We expect a lot out of our football team. Previous coaches were able to meet those expectations.
Its BCS bowl time. What a joke. What an utter joke. I despise the BCS. I hate it with all of my heart. Nothing against either Oklahoma or Florida, but, the winner of that game will still finish with a worse record than the Utah Utes. Utah finished its season last night by thrashing Alabama, a team that spent a quarter of the NCAA football season ranked #1 in the country. Utah is also a team that beat Oregon State, the same team that prevented USC from finishing undefeated. Now, since Penn State also beat Oregon State, and USC demolished them, you can't say based on that, that Utah is at the same level as USC as a football powerhouse. However, looking at their schedule, and their win over Alabama, and you can't say that Utah, if it got reaaaaaaaally hot, could upset any team in the country. The NCAA basketball tournament is all about teams getting on streaks. We have George Masons competing with the big boys, and they get their chance to win the NCAA Basketball championship. I am not saying Utah could run the table in a football tournament, but, I am saying they at least deserved to have the chance, even if it was a small one. Nobody really thinks George Mason is going to beat UNC or Duke in the Final Four either...but, at least they have the opportunity to prove everyone wrong. What does Utah have? A win over one of the best teams in the country, a perfect record, and no chance at all of winning, nay...of ever being considered to even play for a National Championship. Utah beat teams from the Big Ten, SEC and Pac 10, three of the BCS conferences. All I am arguing is that teams that go undefeated in Division 1 football deserve to at least have a chance to play for the title. The fact that Utah at 12-0 had no shot at playing for the championship, yet two 12-1 teams do, teams that finished with worse records, is testament to the flaws of the BCS. The BCS Conference commissioners that oppose a playoff are shortsighted. They claim its about money, but who really believes that? Is there anyone that can seriously tell me that an NCAA football playoff wouldn't get astronomical ratings? Can someone seriously tell me that a playoff featuring the 8 best teams in college football wouldn't make more money than the BCS bowl games would? Instead of only one bowl game that really matters, you would have seven. Further, a playoff would give teams the chance. I can't say if Auburn would have won had they had the chance to play in the BCS title game, but, in a playoffs, they would have gotten a chance to play. Playoffs are far less messy. You win, or you go home. The last team standing is the champion. Even if there is debate about the lowest seed making it, if that seed wins, they would have had to beat 3 top 8 teams in consecutive weeks to do it. I don't care who you are, if you can beat three top 8 teams in three straight weeks, you earned it. Opponents of the playoffs say it will ruin the bowl atmosphere...why, I ask? Why does a playoff ruin the Motor City Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Hawai'i Bowl? How are they affected? Keep all of the non-BCS Bowl games around as a reward for the other teams...just take the BCS bowls, and make them something different. Make each BCS Bowl game matter, not just the one designated as the championship game. Rotate which BCS game hosts the title game, just like it is now, but make the other BCS Bowl games have a say in who makes it to that game. Make Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Utah, etc prove they are the best on the field, not just because a group of sportswriters, coaches and computers say so.
As long as the NCAA refuses to sanction a playoff for Division 1 (excuse me, FBS) I am going to continue to root for chaos, I am going to continue to root for the Utahs, Boise States, multiple undefeated teams, etc, anything to create controversy with the BCS. I am glad that USC is out there claiming they are the best, throwing down a challenge to Oklahoma and Florida. I am glad that undefeated Utah is out there, I am glad that there was an undefeated Auburn team that got excluded for no other reason than there were two other unbeaten teams too. I am glad that every year, the NCAA manages to somehow get it wrong.