Week 7 College Football Picks & Analysis

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Just for fun, here are my picks and some analysis against the spread for week 2014.

Yes, I know there are more games than listed here. These are my cherry picks.

Washington State +16.5 at Stanford

Wazzu is a wildcard and Stanford is tough, especially on defense. However, I have confidence in Mike Leach. The guy makes adjustments that make a difference. I don’t see the Cougars losing badly. The last 3 weeks, the Cougs lost to Oregon by a mere 7 points, beat a very good Utah squad and put up 59 against Cal.

Fresno State -9.5 at UNLV

UNLV is a doormat and has done nothing to dispel that label. Fresno State puts up points. This is one is as simple as that.

Miami -17 @ home vs Cincinnati

Cincy’s starting QB is out. Miami is making strides and will have no mercy on the Bearcats.

Army pk @ home vs Rice

Army at home is a good bet. Rice doesn’t present a huge problem though they have some talent. Army should have enough in the tank to get by a hard luck Rice program.

James Madison -7.5 over Towson

This one could get ugly. JMU has a prolific quick strike offense that will overwhelm Towson who has struggled to put points up. -7 is very generous.

Charleston Southern +25 at Vanderbilt

Charleston Southern has won several games this season while cracking the top 25 FCS rankings. Granted their wins have not been against SEC-caliber teams but Vandy is struggling this year. I like Southern’s use of an option offense to keep the chains moving. I don’t expect Vandy to lose but I’m banking on Southern being able to make a game of it.

Dartmouth +9 at Yale

Yale’s offensive juggernaut seems unstoppable so long as RB Tyler Varga is healthy. The problem is their defense is a sieve. Dartmouth is usually undependable to cover but this year’s team has a killer instinct. They just might win this one outright and knock Yale down a peg.

Holy Cross +2.5 at Brown

Holy Cross is a good team that has played a treacherous schedule thus far. Brown has proven nothing at all except being error prone and very beatable. Despite home advantage, they don’t qualify as a favorite in this one.

Colgate +4.5 @ home vs Princeton

Princeton has big points capability and is tough to stop when on a roll. Colgate is more of ball control, run first offense. That will work in their favor to chew up clock while their tough D grinds down the Tigers.

Maine +3 at Stony Brook

Stony Brook has had a tough schedule thus far and is coming off a solid win at Towson last weekend. However, Maine is the better team. Look for a talented Maine squad to rebound after playing well but losing to a very strong Villanova team last weekend.

Indiana State +9.5 @ home vs Illinois St

Illinois State has blown out everyone they have faced thus far but Indiana State has not been far behind, winning consistently. The Sycamores are a classic spoiler team, even beating vaunted North Dakota State (twice in different seasons). I like them to cover at home.

Colorado State +2.5 at Nevada

Nevada is a tough home opponent and has won some games this season. Colorado State is no slouch though and will keep this one close as they always do against Nevada.

Wyoming +5 at Hawaii

Though the teams have comparable stats, Hawaii has done absolutely nothing this season while Wyoming is showing a competitive edge. Home field will not be a big deal for Wyo to overcome as they come in fresh off a bye week. Take the points. The Cowboys will win it outright.

Blowout City

Harvard -32 @ home over Cornell

Another blowout looms for Cornell after getting dismantled by Yale last week. The Big Red is punchless. Even if the Crimson take their foot off the gas they will keep scoring.

Sacred Heart -21 @ home over Robert Morris

Sacred Heart is coming off a big win against a ranked Delaware squad and is holding teams to under 60 yards rushing per game. Robert Morris on the other hand has been consistently blown out and has scored all of their points in garbage time. If Sacred Heart smells blood they will run up the score in this one. Their offense has the personnel to do it. Robert Morris isn’t without some ability but Sacred Heart will make quick work of them here.

Prime Time Picks

TCU +8 at Baylor

Baylor is national powerhouse that racks up a lot of points. After beating Oklahoma last week TCU has reclaimed the mantle of dark horse spoiler they usually enjoy. They also traditionally play Baylor very close, sometimes even winning. TCU will be up for this game.

This spread moved from -10 to -8.5 which is kind of small for a Baylor spread The linemakers are showing TCU some respect. Thus far, Baylor has torn SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo, Iowa State and Texas to shreds. Now they get to play a team that will give them problems.

Alabama -9 at Arkansas

It is a good bet Alabama will rebound after losing to Ole Miss last weekend. It is very unlikely ‘Bama will lose 2 in a row. Arkansas at home won’t be intimidated. The problem is they don’t have the stuff of a quality team and they rarely move the ball effectively. Alabama has destroyed the Razorbacks 142-14 over the past 3 seasons. That pattern will continue this weekend.

Streaming College Football the Geek Way

I am having fun with taking streaming media and reincorporating it into quadrants on an HTML page.  The last few weeks I have been experimenting with taking HTML code for various college football games and creating my own local page with quadrants so I could watch 4 games at a time on a single monitor.  I tried it with 2 other monitors so I was actually able to simultaneously watch up to 12 games at a time.  Of course, any time you are streaming media you run into all kinds of issues.  Bandwidth for one and then lack of control over the stream itself.  It’s an imperfect solution but something I thought was kind of cool.

Then I discovered a professional solution: http://www.digital-nirvana.com/products/media-monitoring/monitoriq/

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Now that is pretty fargin’ cool.

However, the problem is this professional solution is designed for quality streams, not crappy streams through Internet even under the best of conditions.  That is just the reality of video streaming at the current stage of the Internet.  Maybe Google Fiber will change that sometime soon.

So, I am going to stick with my static HTML page, directed through a TV thanks to Rocku and fire up my experiment at a local Silicon Valley Friday beer bash.  There are a few monitors I can think of that are itching for attention.

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Not that anyone cares about college football at these events but the timing of a few games on Friday has inspired me to experiment.  Why not just put the game on through regular cable TV?  After all, the games are broadcast nationally.  Well, that wouldn’t be much fun.  This is the land of innovation.  I feel like geeking out on Friday afternoon.  I will hit the gym in the morning so I don’t feel so guilty indulging in the beer bash and obligatory snackalicious catering we are so spoiled by in Silicon Valley.

Here is the slate of games I have picked out for my own interest to stream this weekend (there is no way I will watch all of them, probably less than half):

(all games are Pacific Time)

Fri Oct 3, 2o14
3:30PM Lafayette @ Fordham
4PM Louisville @ Syracuse
7PM San Diego State @ Fresno State
7:15 Utah St @ BYU
Sat Oct 4th, 2014
9AM Ball St vs Army
9AM Harvard vs Georgetown
9:30AM Princeton @ Columbia
9:30AM Yale @ Cornell
9:30AM Villanova @ Maine
9:30AM  VA Tech @ North Carolina
10AM Holy Cross @ Colgate
10:30 Penn @ Dartmouth
11:30 Montana vs North Dakota
12PM South Dakota State @ Illinois State
12:30 Oklahoma @ TCU
12:30 Stony Brook @ Towson
12:30 Alabama @ Ole Miss
12:30 Baylor @ Texas
12:30 Stanford @ Notre Dame
12:30 Navy @ Air Force
4PM Coastal Carolina @ Furman
4PM Michigan @ Rutgers
4PM Texas Tech @ Kansas State
4PM UAB @ Western Kentucky
5PM Nebraska @ Michigan State
7:30 Boise State @ Nevada

FCS Roundup September 20th 2014

FCS

I am home this Saturday nursing an injury so I was inspired to fire up a streaming media command center.  Lots of early games so I streamed them in quad sections on separate monitors.  I will give my impressions of all the games I watched simultaneously but first, a recap of Friday night’s contest between Harvard and Holy Cross.

Harvard 41

Holy Cross 18

This game was much closer than the score indicates.  In fact, Holy Cross was only down by 2 at half time.  Holy Cross traditionally plays Harvard close but doesn’t beat them often.  I will give a ton of credit to the Holy Cross coaching staff for putting together an excellent game plan which the players put into action very well. This contest was one of attrition.  Harvard is very deep so you will need to either match them roster for roster or have a second level accelerator to keep up with their frequent substitution patterns.

All told, the Holy Cross game plan was essentially a blueprint for what has to be done in order to have a chance against Harvard.

You need big bodies to match up to Harvard’s interior offensive & defensive lines.  You are not going to do anything unless you  have the ability to drive defensive linemen backwards and gain first downs with your running game.  On defense, you need to push their offensive linemen back and get to the QB.  Holy Cross did this early, knocking Harvard’s star QB out until the second half (his return just might have saved the game for Harvard).

On offense, stretch the defense by throwing outlet passes and 10-15 yard crossing routes behind the linebackers.  Most important is having a go to receiver or 2 that creates matchup problems.  Keep going to the well and make them key on your standout receivers.  Once you have the defensr keying on your big yardage guy then you have flexibility to change things up and keep them guessing.
Bottom line is you need an excellent offensive playbook.  Make Harvard chase sideline to sideline, wear them down with long drives.  Time of possession was in Holy Cross’ favor most of the game.  Second half fumbles giving up field position led to 2 Harvard TDs which completely deflated momentum when they had been close to that point.
Fordham 49

Columbia 7 

This one went pretty much according to script.  Though Columbia played well to start the game, they eventually ceded control to a Fordham Rams program that is much further ahead than they are.  Scholarships, skills and talent just don’t add up on the Columbia side.  There were very few opportunities for Columbia to do much.  The offensive line was much better than last season and star QB Brett Nottingham made it out of this game in one piece,  Something that did not happen last year.

Villanova 49

James Madison 31

This was an excellent game of heavyweights.  JMU is a very tough program and they had their opportunities in this game.  Villanova had trouble stopping JMU’s quick strike offense.   Ultimately, Villanova proved too much with so many offensive weapons clicking for them.

Villanova looks like a serious playoff threat.

Albany 37

Rhode Island 20

Albany started slow, getting behind 14-0 early to a questionable Rhode Island team.  Albany is proving they are a resiliant foe this season.  After winning just 1 game last year they are showing something this season.

Georgetown 17

Brown 3

This was the biggest surprise of the day.  Georgetown is known as one of the weakest FCS programs out there but every now and again they pull one out.  Brown is a quality program and should have put up at least 3 TDs.  They had plenty of red zone opportunities but either got in their own way or the Hoyas shut them down.

Colgate 27

Cornell 12

No surprise at all.  Colgate is an excellent team this year and could roll into the playoffs where they have had success in the not to distant past.

Yale 54

Lehigh 43

Lehigh had every opportunity to finish off the Bulldogs but Yale hung tough, scoring 2 very late TDs to retake the lead for good.  This one was a barnburner with neither team able to establish strong defense.

Jacksonville 34

Penn 31

This one hurts badly for Penn.  They were ahead just about the entire game only to lose on the road to the Dolphins of Jacksonville, FL.

San Diego 39

Princeton 29

San Diego is a wildcard.  You just never know what to expect.  At home against the Ivy champs of Princeton, this one was never in doubt.  Princeton was humbled and the Toreros showed who’s the boss on the west coast.

Eastern Washington 52

Montana State 51

This just might have been the best game of the day.  Eastern Washington is a dragon slayer and a sure bet playoff contender.  Montana State put up stiff resistance.  The Eagles were lucky to pull this one out but it was not easy.

New Hampshire 29

Richmond 26

Another unexpected close game.  New Hampshire is typically a powerhouse that would mow down a team such as Richmond.  Not today where it took a late, long drive for a TD to win it.

North Dakota State 22

Montana 10

No one will beat North Dakota State this year unless someone can slow down their offensive machine.  Montana did exceptionally well to keep them to 22 points.  However, they were smothered on defense.  Still, NDSU opponents will scour the tape for clues to crack the Bison dynasty.

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Some Early Season Columbia Opponents

I am certainly no expert on FCS football.   You’d have to be a really dedicated fan to follow most of those teams. However, over the last several weeks I have looked a bit closer at some opponents Columbia will face in 2014.

Albany (NY) may have one of the coolest mascots in all of college sports. The Great Danes are coming off a one win season in 2013 and have already surpassed that in 2014 with a 2-0 record thus far.

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Last week, the Great Danes lucked out by returning a fumble for a TD in the waning seconds. Holy Cross will be forever lamenting their decision to run up the middle instead of running out the clock.

This past weekend I watched a bit of Albany versus Central Connecticut State.   CCSU did not look impressive at all. It could have been the bad weather or maybe, as I suspect, they are really just out of shape second and third tier talent. They were good at rushing the passer for which Albany had no answer. Other than that I saw nothing notable in CCSU football to ever watch them again.

Albany on the other hand are an impressive team. They have trouble scoring (both of their passing TDs against CCSU burned the same small DB). Their defense is very big, in great shape, fast and athletic. Their pass rush is excellent and their pass coverage is very quick and prepared. Their special teams is an avalanche. The Great Danes also have an excellent RB but he earned every scrap of yard against the fattys of CCSU guarding the line of scrimmage.

Columbia will play Albany early in the season and they will have trouble with them.

Strangely, CCSU beat Towson last week, perhaps the biggest upset win in CCSU’s entire football history. In looking a bit closer at Towson and why they may be ranked #7 in the FCS, that must be carryover from last year’s national championship run (which they lost to a steamroller North Dakota State team in the final). Last year Towson had an amazing RB – Terrance West (who just racked up a rookie opening day for the Cleveland Browns with over 100 yards against the Steelers). West tallied over 2,500 yards in his Towson career. Now Towson is struggling without him and they should not have scheduled West Virginia who torched them for over 50 points last week.

But the real story is Fordham’s horrendous 50-6 loss to Villanova. ‘Nova is a powerhouse and did not sully their uniforms in trouncing a Fordham team that was touting themselves as potential National Championship caliber prior to the game.

While ‘Nova had no trouble at all, Fordham looked apprehensive and out of sorts. Again, it could have been the bad weather or maybe Fordham has lost their mojo. Their excellent QB made some bad decisions and their defense could not stop ‘Nova’s crafty play calling and execution.

I would expect Fordham to take its frustration out on Columbia September 20th.

When the Grim Gets Grimmer

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Just when a faint breeze of optimism wafted through all things Columbia football, the tide turns just as suddenly.  Right on cue, the incoming freshmen class was announced and then the roster was updated to reflect some notable upperclassmen omissions.  Attrition is expected in any football program but the leakage here could be catastrophic.  It’s not that a lot of players won’t be returning for the 2014 season, it is the value of those players that stings.

Here are the notable omissions:

DL Chad Washington
QB Kelly Hillinski
DL Charles Melka
LB Mark Cieslak
WR Jake Wanamaker
TE Connor Spears
LB Parker Tobia

Hillinski I can understand.  As a freshman he was forced into action much too soon. It is too easy to ruin a prospect by throwing him to the wolves.   The problem of course was the offensive line providing inadequate protection, getting starter Brett Nottingham injured in just the first game of the 2013 season.  The rest of the season gave QB backups Hillinski and Trevor McDonagh alternating shots to make lemonade out of sieving lemons.  As we know, 2013 didn’t work out well at all for the Columbia offense.  Whatever the reasons why he is not coming back, Kelly Hillinski is hopefully off to greener pastures to realize his immense potential as a collegiate QB.  He deserves better coaching than what he received at Columbia.

Jake Wanamaker was on the roster last season but I don’t think he played. His loss has been felt already.  There are so few talented receivers on the roster as it is, losing Wanamaker definitely hurts.  I don’t know why he is gone but if it was a matter of the coaching staff turning him away as Columbia football supporters have been led to believe then that is inexcusable.  Same for the departure of 6’6″ rangy TE Connor Spears.  Why turn away productive talent?  The coaching staff has to be held accountable for these failures.

In fact, we are seeing a disturbing trend of talented players either leaving the program or not being invited back.  This is not the first season this trend has been in play.  This year the numbers are increased!

I don’t know the reasons for their departure but losing such promising defensive talent as Charles Melka, Mark Cieslak and Parker Tobia puts the defense in the hole.  In fact, to add to the grim outlook, their best pass rusher, Chad Washington, has also been dropped.

Chad has made his share of off the field mistakes for sure but why he is not playing for what would be his senior season is ridiculous.

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Apparently, a small rules infraction at the University led to Chad’s dismissal.  Yea, rules are rules, just like if you are .01 cents over your credit limit the system flags your account and your credit rating drops a few points.  Isn’t life exciting when you are a victim of rules that are pathetically stupid?

Let’s be clear, Columbia needs Chad Washington very badly.  Players like Chad are rare.  You need strong and effective defensive ends to pressure the QB and shut down the edge.  Where Columbia will be able to backfill Chad’s talent is unknown.  Unless a bunch of key freshmen step up, there are holes all over a defense that was already in need of repair.

Whatever the reasons for players making decisions to leave or have had those decisions made for them, what we are seeing is a disintegration of a football program rather than a steady improvement.  The drumbeats to purge head coach Pete Mangurian and his staff have slowed this offseason because there is no chance the powers that be will make such a move just yet. This is shaping up to be a lame duck coaching season that could very well end up a second straight 0-10 campaign.

More must be done to revitalize this program.  New leadership is needed and a competent search committee with wisdom.  A new head coach must have the latitude to recruit a quality staff.  The only way to bring a winning program together is if the process is simplified and policies improved to bring in the right people to get things to work as they need to be.  The money is there.  Now is the time to finally get it right.  Come November when Pete Mangurian and staff are reeling from defeat, the Columbia athletic administration needs to have a plan in place to recruit the right people to fix this problem once and for all.  They have already run out of second, third and fourth chances.

 

What does Google have to do with Columbia Football?

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In a previous post it looks like I spoke too soon regarding Pete Mangurian’s physical deterioration. I was going by photos I had seen of him during the ’13 season and during ’14 spring training. In a recent video (linked below), he looks refreshed, even a splash of acknowledgement that his detractors are mistaken as to predicting his demise.

This is a good thing – a very good thing. See, I’m a California boy since 1990, originally from New York. My eating habits were terrible as a kid. Only my athletic calorie burn saved me. Then as an adult as I fell into a working world routine, I succumbed to paunchy middle age. Now, I have my powerhouse physique all back. I am in better shape now than I was at age 19. And…I would destroy anyone on the basketball court to prove it!

Health is key to a happy life and that is my first concern with anyone. That is why I find it so amusing that Larry Page, founder of Google, is so desperate to stave off his declining years he has invested hundreds of millions in a startup company to unlock a medical cure for aging. Please spare us a phony altruistic rationale. He’s not doing this out of the kindness of his heart.  He’s doing it to save himself – out of FEAR. That is always the reason for actions by people like him.

Now, before I get much deeper into this rant, let me clarify a) this is not about jealousy or spite, and b) yes, this article will connect the dots to Columbia football.

I have been a Silicon Valley success myself and have made my money. I have nothing to gain by trashing Larry. I just use him as a shining example of what money cannot buy (and by the way, solving the anti-aging concept will fail). I doubt Larry has ever been in a gym or has any real connection to physical fitness. My bet is he would rather try to buy or brainstorm his way out of a problem – such as a vocal paralysis condition he suffers from.

Now…the subject came up among Columbia football supporters recently regarding why a high school football recruit would want to be part of the Columbia football program. The argument is centered around the immense difficulty in getting into an Ivy League school. Football is a pathway through that door.

The argument makes sense but to me it doesn’t sit right. Everyone knows Columbia football is a losing program. Whatever the multiple reasons are for this reality, chances are strong you are not going to be part of a winning program. So why bother? Is going to an Ivy League school really your overriding motivation or will you still pour your heart into football despite the odds? It could be both reasons but you know darn well motivation for the latter slips when the team starts losing.

It occurs to me that at the young age of being a high school senior, we tend to be in a bit of panic mode. All of a sudden we have to make decisions that will impact the rest of our respective lives. What interests me enough to study and what would be the right place to help make me successful at it? These are big choices and it’s almost impossible to know all of the answers. Even if you are sure of what you envision your life to be like, you are still taking a chance with what college to attend along with extra curriculars such as football.

The bottom line is you are going to take a gamble. This is what life is in all respects. Every choice we make is a gamble. Just because the allure of a big money career or making contacts to make big money looms as an incentive, we have to resist the urge to put that at the core of our motivation to do anything. Let me tell you why and I hope you believe me because I have lived through enormously huge money transactions. I also realize all you Ivy League geeks think you have all the answers but just like I would destroy you on the basketball court, my savvy with technology and selling software to the highest bidder would put you to shame. Ok, maybe not Bill Campbell but you get the idea.

Money is an illusion. Technology is an illusion. Wall Street is an illusion.

It’s all bullshit my friends, every last line of code, every little tick of the stock market is a false hope to try and convince you it can get you where you want to go.

Larry Page and his namesake Larry Ellison along with Zuckerburger and the faceless million/billionaires whose names don’t register on anyone’s radar are nothing and nobody. That’s a fact.

So I hope incoming freshmen to the Columbia football program have thought through the reasons why they are coming. I also hope they do so with the idea that every choice they make from here on out should be made for their self betterment, not the pursuit of capital. If you are true to this belief then the capital will find you.

As for Pete Mangurian, looking good buddy. Pushing 60 and not a shard of gray.  Now hit the gym and stay there. It’ll pay off.

 

 

Pete Speaks

Image Well, it’s a start.  Pete Mangurian, embattled head coach at Columbia University, posted a memo recently.  These are his first words to the alumni and football supporters since the end of the 2013 season other than a generic form letter sent to financial contributors a few weeks ago. Pete’s latest memo didn’t directly address all of the concerns critics and observers have been debating since the season wrapped up at 0-10 but he said enough to indicate he is aware of the criticism and perhaps even partially conceded some of it is warranted.  Primarily, followers of the program want to know what changes will be made to right the ship and prove he is capable of the demands of the job.

A shakeup of the assistant coaching staff did little to show us much.  Three good men left the staff (Mike Cooke, linebackers, Wendell Davis, receivers and Ed Argast, offensive line) and a few young coaches were “promoted” allegedly with more responsibility. With regard to Argast, the OL is one of the biggest problems so it was a much needed changing of the guard anyway.  Cooke and Davis were hardly a problem.  It is a concern that no significant names were added to the coaching staff.  What this tells us is Pete is not one to back down from the biggest coaching challenge of his career. In fact, there is so little talent on his coaching staff his mindset has to be he is hoisting everything on his shoulders.  He has navigated the choppy waters of his first two seasons by shrugging off a coup d’etat threat by alumni and managing to convince his employers to show patience.  If physical appearances count for anything, we can see the toll 3 wins in two seasons has taken on Pete in this demanding profession.  Pete does not cut the figure of a lean, mean fighting machine.  He has shown outward signs of disrepair as the 2013 season progressed and it has gotten worse by the conclusion of spring training 2014.

As we now look to July training camp the biggest question mark will be how a huge freshman class will be able to contribute right away.  Some alumni are upset the JV program was eliminated.  I don’t share that view. In a perfect world, a JV teams gives freshmen a chance to acclimate to the college game.  However, in the case of Columbia, I don’t think the varsity team stands a chance at winning any games in 2014 without an injection of a whole lot of athleticism, team speed, much needed depth and the key intangible of blissful ignorance of the problems of the past hanging over the heads.  The way this roster shapes up without the incoming freshmen class is just way too thin.  They would be stepping into the exact same position of weakness they left after going 0-10. Let’s start on offense.  We still don’t know for sure if big armed QB Brett Nottingham will be ready for the season.  He was knocked out of action the first game of last season as a result of a porous offensive line.  Without Nottingham, the Lions will likely go with Junior Trevor McDonagh, at least to get things started.  Whoever is at QB will need an OL that can pull it’s weight.  They absolutely have to find a solution that keeps the QB upright.

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Game planning and an innovative offense will also have to be significantly improved. At the least, Pete’s system needs to be something all players can digest and run with out of the gate.  Thus far the offense has been dismal under Offensive Coordinator Jamie Elizondo. Now, with all-world RB Marcorus Garrett graduating, there is even more pressure to find reliable ways to gain yards. The good news is several freshmen have potential to step in at RB and OL, perhaps even at QB.  We won’t know until July what this team is really made of with the freshmen infusion.

Fortunately, the defense is in a lot better shape with some excellent returnees.  That may sound ridiculous considering the vast amount of points conceded.  However, the problem last season was too much time on the field as a result of the offense being so inefficient.  If they can balance that out the defense has a fighting chance to stabilize.

Perhaps Pete really is getting in tune with what is really necessary to make this program click.  We can only hope there are no more break of dawn practices.  Whatever fitness and nutrition program that is in place has to be reinforced by the University.  It can’t just be an educational overall body maintenance program.  To get the most of every athlete requires a lot of discipline on the part of the players and the means to help them achieve their goals. This is easier said than done.  It is no secret the very campus of Columbia as well as its practice and fitness facilities location doesn’t make it easy to coordinate all of their needs in synch with a very demanding academic environment.  On top of this, they lost a top shelf strength and fitness coach to Stanford. They have yet to backfill that role. One way or the other, it’s a big challenge to bring all the needful together into a well oiled machine capable of winning games in the very competitive FCS and Ivy League football conference.

At least Pete Mangurian has offered the olive branch, despite nasty criticism tossed his way.  On the other hand, maybe he is just doing the bare minimum required to communicate with football supporters and he really would rather continue to hunker down and dismiss the football supporters as an enemy.  He’ll never admit to either viewpoint whatever the truth may be but a little information is better than the nothing we had been getting since November ’13.

The Pete Mangurian Reign at Columbia

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There is no question when Pete Mangurian took over as head football coach at Columbia in 2012 he was brimming with enthusiasm and optimism.  He was excited to address the campus community as well as the media to get his message across.  That being the program will not be defined by its past.  Who can argue with such a sentiment?  That is what we would all do in such a situation – push forward into a new era without regard for where the program has been.

The problem for Pete was he was handed a big pair of shoes to fill – literally. His predecessor, Norries Wilson is a giant of a man. Out of any Columbia head coach, Wilson looked the part of a leader, ready to tackle the immense challenge of turning around the program.  Wilson did everything he could to turn things around, even if the job turned out to be a little too much for him to succeed at. In 2006 he led the team to a 5-5 overall record.  He tacked on two 4 win seasons but at the end of the 2011 campaign, he was out.

There are varying points of view whether Wilson did or did not achieve successful recruiting classes in his final few seasons. If you asked Pete Mangurian, he would privately tell you the cupboard was a bit bare. He may have had a point. In Pete’s second season, the team regressed to levels not seen since the dark age of Columbia football of the 80’s and the 44 game losing streak.

So what happened here for such a rapid plummet? Was Pete Mangurian the wrong choice for the job?  It’s a little late to debate the outcome but it is widely viewed that Columbia Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy hired Mangurian because of their working relationship when Pete was head coach at Cornell from 1998-2000. On the surface, it is easy to see Pete’s credentials. He has had a long career both in college and pro ranks. However, as professional a demeanor as Pete carries off the field, he is a tough nut to his players.  He has clashed with players in every pro job he has been in.  His abrasiveness was reported as the reason why he was dismissed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to landing the Columbia post.

Keep in mind, as an Ivy League head coach, Pete didn’t do too badly in his 3 year stint at Cornell. In fact, he went 16-14 overall and 11-10 in the Ivy League before re-joining his friend Dan Reeves in the NFL.  That didn’t turn out too badly either as he and Reeves took the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl.

It has been much different at Columbia where he is 3-17 overall thus far.

Pete’s relations with Columbia alumni are frosty as he is continually criticized by a small but vocal alumni community. It has gotten so bad, at least one prominent football alumnus has asked for his Columbia athletics Hall of Fame membership to be removed. It has gotten so bad, Pete has all but abandoned his social media outreach to football supporters at large. It has gotten so bad, an alumni group has organized to oust Ms. Murphy (and of course Pete).  In their place, the alumni want to hire a consulting group to help the athletic department find a foundation .

Things are so bad, the typically merciless New York media feels sorry for the program.

Can anyone blame the football alumni and constituent supporters for being fed up with losing and being fed up with the lack of an aggressive strategy to turn things around for all athletics at the university? Not that the powers that be don’t really care.  The issue is they don’t care all that much. M. Dianne Murphy was supposed to bring credibility to the role of Athletic Director. Instead, she has drawn ire from the vocal segment of alumni. It’s not for lack of effort. There are plenty of positives to Ms. Murphy’s reign, just none that are significant enough to point to strong confidence in her leadership.

Though if you believe University President/Emperor Lee Bollinger, athletics and football in particular are on the right track. What is so odd is how he, a distinguished man of letters, can expect the alumni to truly believe such a cardboard sentiment in the face of reality.

So is the currently degraded state of Columbia football really Pete Mangurian’s mess or did he bequeath an untenable situation from Norries Wilson?  Did Dianne Murphy make a political hire with Pete because of her prior professional relationship with him ? We know there were plenty of other capable candidates who would have been a better fit.  Why would a head coach with a track record of poor communication with professional players be counted on to motivate  and lead student athletes?

Something else to keep in mind is Pete took over a healthy Cornell program in 1998.  His predecessor, Jim Hofher, had a 44-36 overall record (35-25 in the Ivy League), including an Ivy League championship in 1990.  Pete’s Cornell years maintained stability with a steady pipeline of strong recruits.  In such a situation, there is no question a good coach can win some games. Pete is a good coach.  He’s just not the best fit for every situation, as we are discovering heading into his third season at Columbia.

But there is more to the story of course.  Pete is as old school as old school gets.  He played at LSU in the mid 70’s.  He was a knock heads, grind it out in the trenches type of offensive lineman.  You know, let’s give credit to those guys who played in the era with paper thin helmets.  As a coach, he stands by what he has learned.  The problem is he does not seem to be very innovative or flexible in adapting.  What he learned from one of his mentors, Bill Arnsbarger at LSU, is for linemen to cut down on weight.  Actually, let’s be fair.  Arnsbarger’s strategy was demanding body fat ratios of 15% for linemen, 10% for backs and tight ends, 6% to 8% for the skill positions.  Every player must meet the requirements by the start of fall practice.  This policy gained college football fame as Arnsparger’s LSU Lunch Bunch transformed into the LSU Lean Machine.

Taking nothing away from the legendary Bill Arnsparger, it’s just good defense that made his coaching successful, not what the players ate for lunch. The same gimmicky notoriety can be said for Arnsparger’s “No Name” defense with the Miami Dolphins and the “Killer B’s” where it so happened the majority of defensive players had last names beginning with B.  His book, Coaching Defensive Football, is excellent by the way.

Though Arnsparger officially retired in 1995, he was the special teams coach and a key asset to Pete’s brain trust at Cornell.

Of course, combining intense fitness with skill is what athletics thrive on but let’s not go overboard.  You need weight to store energy and compete.  You need a calorie burn in practices and games.  That is normal and proven body mechanics for top athletes.  As a coaching staff you have to be flexible.  You can’t force players to cut down on weight to the point where they lose strength.  You can’t sacrifice weight reduction for the sake of a policy or you get hammered. You have to design policies for each athlete to help them achieve peak fitness.

Having such an excellent mentor as Bill Arsparger and a great old school friend as Dan Reeves has shaped Pete Mangurian as a head coach.  The problem is it’s all a poor fit at Columbia. It seems in Pete’s old school mind, players are to be held accountable to the same standard as every player he has ever coached regardless of the situation. Maybe that is the hard knocks of the NFL – players are just tools and coaches have a myopic directive to keep the fire lit under them regardless of a players’ experience level, fitness needs, stature, stats, injuries or anything else.  That strategy may even be normal for some college programs.  Columbia needs something different.

Everywhere he has been Pete is the same gruff coach entrenched in his ways, slow to adapt to what’s outside the box.  He falls into a class of coach who attempts to execute according to what he wants to do, not what is best suited to his personnel. That is how Columbia games have looked in wrenching defeat under Pete. Coaches only look great when their mantra works but really, adapting your personnel, accounting for tendencies in your opponents and most importantly, your ability to get players prepared by taking advantage of their strengths is what will make a coach successful.  Has Pete Mangurian done that at Columbia?  Not by a longshot.

Season 3 of Pete’s reign will tell the story how well an old dog can learn new tricks.

The Old Men Will Always Think They Know It All

There are some who believe you can’t move forward unless you know where you’ve been. Many people are stuck in that kind of thinking. They keep re-living the past because they can’t let it go. I was that way for a few years covering the Oakland Raiders in a blog. Then Al Davis died and things progressively became extremely less interesting. In fact, the franchise bored me to death and I completely lost interest.

Although I never blogged on the NY Jets, I was a lifelong fan growing up near NYC. They too bored me to death, especially in the 80’s.

Then there is Columbia football, the first football team I ever saw play live. I don’t even remember who they played against. I remember going with my Dad to Baker Field and enjoying the atmosphere. Sure, the stadium is not the most modern, it is hard to get to and the Lions rarely won but they became my team. That decision was made in the late 1970’s.

Columbia kept losing and losing badly, despite strong talent at key positions (see this great article from SI).

I moved from New York to Northern California. The Lions kept losing. A few spikes in performance here and there. I actually liked the reign of head coach Ray Tellier. Many people didn’t. To me he was just a good guy. Maybe not the top of the class as far as football coaches go but his heart was always in the right place, at least I thought so. He tells it like it is.

I never got involved in understanding the internal difficulties Columbia had with running their athletic department but clearly something was amiss. Other colleges with losing programs, Ivy and other conferences with limited or no scholarships, managed to turn it around. Columbia never did.

Then Columbia hired Bob Shoop as head coach. What could go wrong with a talented, young, innovative leader? He lasted 3 seasons in the position.  The first year went ok but he just could not amass victories.  His successor, Norries Wilson, met a similar fate.

Now there is a new stadium, new facilities. It’s not all peachy keen perfect but it’s an upgrade. Still, the athletic department just can’t get it right. Losing must be someone else’s fault, right? It’s no secret coaches bear the burden of a losing record but so too should the AD.

That is of course unless you are Columbia University. Let’s just look at the recent past to define what this means. University President Lee Bollinger has raised billions through fundraising. He has done so well the Board of Trustees extended his reign. He may as well be Emperor of Columbia University. The money raised feeds the entire campus and satellites. Everybody associated with the University is extremely happy with this accomplishment. However, we have a caveat to this scenario. Mr. Bollinger does not care a wink about athletics, let alone the brutish sport of football. He does not take a strong hand in ensuring correct guidance – perhaps because it is beyond his capabilities.  Though, alumni insist he needs to take a stronger hand.  For better or worse, football provides flagship visibility for all schools of higher education that can afford to fund a team at all. Football at Columbia is not a revenue generator but the program has existed for well over a century.  It is now a well known football joke, even for people who are not football fans.

Clearly, there is a stigma associated with the University. This stigma is evident even from within the University itself where football is perceived as a  joke. Yet, all is well because opponents of football sit beyond the range of public perception. It is an insular environment within those walls. Very few people actually care about any sports because the University is so healthy otherwise – academically, financially, every which way. Life is good in Morningside Heights if you are lucky enough to have your slice of academics fully funded. What more would you really care about?

Certainly, losing has not stopped football recruits from all across the U.S from attending CU and seeking out a great education. Naturally, making the decision to attend Columbia is not all about football but I have a hard time believing these recruits don’t care about the reputation of the program.

Even today with a shaky coaching staff there are some perks to entice student athletes to be part of the program. There are new facilities financed by Robert Kraft and Bill Campbell – he of the last championship football team from 1960 something.  Uncle Bill threw in a swanky new athletic center with meeting rooms, workout facilities and wow, even an area for student-athletes to play video games. A sign of the times no doubt.

So what is next for Columbia football? More of the same? Another influx of fresh-faced freshmen eager to be part of change, buying into whatever mantra is being sold only to struggle collectively as a team? Then by the end of their freshman season there is a deflation in expectations. A “what the hey, I’m gonna get out of here with a Columbia degree and end up with a pretty good job somewhere. Maybe losing isn’t so bad…” type of attitude. Not that they stop trying to win. It just doesn’t happen very often.

Funny and on point, incoming freshman Nick Surges has the header “The old men will always think they know it all” on his Twitter account. Of course, a quick check reveals that to be a Kenny Chesney song. Buuuuut, we all know what he really means.

Prove us wrong laddie.

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Why is Columbia Football Unsuccessful?

In case you don’t know, Columbia is in the Ivy League and has been playing college football for quite some time.  Their heyday was winning the Rose Bowl against Stanford in 1930 something.  Ok, it was only a 7-0 win but they also won the Ivy League Championship in 1960 something.  Unfortunately, that’s it.  Just a handful of winning seasons and some signs of progress in that entire span of time only to slink back to futility.  Not to say good players have not been part of the program because plenty have.  People have been trying to dissect reasons why the futility persists for decades on end.  One reason stands out – the right people have not been making the decision as who to hire to lead the program.

It’s not for a lack of money.  Columbia has plenty of that at hand.  They have some very generous boosters, a new stadium, some new facilities overall, a renewed game day experience to generate fan support.  Despite the drawbacks of a practice facility requiring a bus ride, playing in an urban environment non-conducive to outdoor sports, good recruits do manage to make their way to Morningside Heights in New York City.  And if it really needs to be spelled out, if you are a good enough student to attend Columbia, you will receive a great education and be fully equipped for whatever career you decide to pursue afterwards.  Football is a big part of the experience but overall, it is not the sole reason student-athletes attend Columbia.  Unlike the big money football programs, Columbia has its priorities elsewhere.  Yet, so do many institutions of higher learning such as the other Ivies and many, many other quality universities – most of whom have good football programs.

Still, despite some earnest attempts, the right leadership has never emerged for the Columbia football program going back to the 60’s.  So what is it that makes coaches fail at Columbia?  One former coach likened it to the players having an addiction to losing.  But that could not explain away the fresh minds and bodies coming into the program with high expectations.  No one plays a college sport to lose.  You don’t sign up to be part of losing.  You are not affected by  negativity – at least not at first.  Maybe it trickles down from the upperclassmen as the futility mounts.

To the alumni supporters, this is not a satisfactory scenario.  It is just unacceptable to be a losing program for such stretches of time without a vigilant effort to turn things around.  Yet, good men have come in and tried their best only to be humbled.

There is a case to be made that Columbia simply does not have the right people in place to make decisions in the best interest of Columbia football and perhaps all of Columbia athletics.

This blog will ruminate and hopefully, coincide with the mythical turnaround expected by supporters of the CU football program.

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The 1930 something Columbia Rose Bowl squad