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Friday, December 15, 2006

Sorry about late/crappy content today. I plead nasty cold/wake up late.

So BGS posted this thing. And I find it really irritating because it encapsulates much of the deeply irritating things about the nuttier outposts of the Irish worldview, which somehow manages to simultaneously claim that Notre Dame is the most important program in college football, citing copious media coverage, and that anti-ND bias is incredibly widespread and a major reason for everything wrong with the program. As someone who follows the exploits of more than one college football team and reads articles about teams other than Michigan, it seems clear to me that the reason it seems that lot of dumbly negative articles get published about Notre Dame is that a plurality of columnists can't do anything except write dumb, negative articles. Add in the natural tendency of fans to link anything negative wrote about their rivals or themselves and stupid negativity is the best way to get attention. (Anyone seeking confirmation of this in the wild need only go back a year or so to the Great Sissy Boy Blogger Slapfest.)

As a fan of a preseason top-5 team that finished 2005 7-5, let me reassure any ND fans out there that this happens to any prominent team or player that doesn't meet expectations. Poor Steve Breaston.

Anyway, the main thing I hate is dishonesty and the BGS article is dishonest. It starts with a brief intro and the Heisman results, then gets into its arguments that there was a concerted media backlash against Quinn because he's a very pretty man from Notre Dame:

Pundits engaged in a lot of purposive data-mining to criticize Quinn, while failing to mention glaring issues with other candidates. For instance, I can recall several talking heads arguing that Quinn played poorly against Southern Cal because he completed less than 50% of his passes. Anyone making this argument is either stupid or disingenuous. First, Quinn was barely under 50%, and had even one of the dropped passes that he laid in a receiver's hands been caught, he would have been over 50%. Second, Quinn put up 348 yards of total offense and three touchdowns without a single turnover.
Pot, this is kettle. Accuse away. Anyone arguing that Quinn performed adequately is either stupid, disingenuous, or high off paint fumes (Brent Musberger). One wonders if BGS bothered to watch the USC game -- it would have been reasonable not to given the results of Notre Dame's previous expedition against quality competition -- as Quinn's late surge towards respectable numbers came entirely in garbage time. Notre Dame got the ball back down 20 points with 7:30 left, a perfect prevent situation in which the defense doesn't really care if you score as long as you do it slowly. Notre Dame obliged, driving for a touchdown. Brian Cushing returned the ensuing onside kick for a game-sealing touchdown, then Quinn went to work again, game long decided.

Before the USC defense found itself in a situation where it didn't really care what ND did, Quinn's numbers: 13/31 for 163 yards, plus a mindblowing 60-yard scramble. Pretending that all yards, no matter how meaninglesss, are created equal is "purposive data-mining," not reasonably asserting that Quinn was something less than spectacular against the Trojan defense. Granted, Rhema McKnight is the suckiest suck who ever sucked and granted that a lot of quarterbacks have struggled against the Trojan defense, but the Heisman isn't an award for the most valiant struggler.

And when someone disregards the events on the field in favor of a pretty box score, no matter how shaky its meaning, you don't have to wonder at motivations. Note the artful insertion of "total offense," which helpfully includes Quinn's anomalous quarterback scramble that any quarterback faster than John Navarre could have accomplished. Also note the strawman: Quinn isn't competing for the award against Nate Longshore.

What are these glaring issues with the other candidates, I wonder? Smith didn't have a great game against Illinois or Penn State, but Quinn's main contribution against Georgia Tech was running the ball and he has those two clunkers against Michigan and USC. And while McFadden was roped in from time to time this year, he also drove a team with no passing game to the SEC title game. This is an accomplishment.
The same people that searched so hard for Quinn's flaws were just as quick with excuses for his competitors. That Darren McFadden could only manage 36 yards against USC on 11 touches was blamed entirely on his (self-induced) injury, if it was acknowledged at all. You would be hard pressed to find media criticism of Troy Smith's performance against Illinois, though it was statistically worse than the performance against Michigan that hung around Quinn's neck like a millstone.
There is a natural tendency of overlook Smith's ugly performance against Illinois (and don't forget Penn State) or McFadden's against USC when the two of them clearly dragged their teams forward the rest of the year. The Heisman is mostly about a player's performances in the really big games, and McFadden and Smith delivered multiple times this year (Auburn, Tennessee/Texas, Michigan). Quinn did not.

The suggestion that Quinn's wretched performance against Michigan shouldn't be a millstone around his neck -- he rifled the game's first pass high, inside, and hard, leading to a Michigan touchdown and setting the tone for the day, he led his team to something like two first downs before the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, he WOOP WOOP WOOP Lamarr Woodley touchdown -- is preposterous, especially when put into direct contrast with Smith's surgical dissection of the same defense. Of course it's relevant, far more so than an Illinois game that Ohio State wasn't really threatened in. More fuel for the fire that ND fans only tolerate the rest of college football because without other teams there would be no vehicle via which to glorify Notre Dame. If you watch the games and understand the context of the events in them (Arkansas goes from hopeless to the SEC championship game on the strength of Humanity Advanced, Smith lazily shreds a Michigan defense for the ages, leaving me speechless at halftime). If all you do is watch Notre Dame and look at boxscores, then, sure, Quinn has an argument.
Midway through the season, many commentators (including one ESPN Heisman Watch writer) offered Smith's superior TD-INT ratio as proof that he was the nation's best QB. When Quinn ultimately finished ahead of Smith in this statistic (recording the fifth best such ratio in CFB history), I can't recall the stat's previous champions acknowledging this.
Probably because that whole destroying-Michigan thing removed the need for a rickety justification like TD-INT ratio. And as long as we're going to statistical measures of quarterback play, we may as well take a look at quarterback rating:
  • 4. Troy Smith
  • 14. Brady Quinn
Statistician, heal thyself.
But what really gets me is the venom directed at Quinn. In a field of candidates that included an admitted NCAA rules violator and convicted criminal (Smith) and someone who put FnDC -- Fightin' 'n Da Club -- before his team (McFadden), many commentators acted like Quinn was the asshole, an overrated impostor who scammed his way into the conversation by virtue of his good looks and the ineluctable star power of the Notre Dame brand.
In a field of candidates including an admitted black guy and someone who put being black before his team, many commentators refused to acknowledge that Quinn was white!

Also: Irish fans are always talking about how they "are" college football, or the center of college football, or whatever, and then freak out when someone points out that maybe the disproportionate amount of media attention paid to ND has something to do with the prominence of a quarterback who wouldn't be anywhere near the Heisman converation if you changed his named to "Ian Scrofolski," transported him to Washington State, and had his team go 10-2 with two humiliating losses against the only above-average teams he faced all year.
Quinn's stumbles (or stumble, singular) was cause for great celebration. You might remember this representative article from Mike Freeman of CBS Sportsline, back in September:
C'mon, be honest. You chuckled when you heard Notre Dame got beat by Michigan one cajillion billion to seven, didn't you? You laughed. You giggled and burped. You frolicked around the house like you were being tickled on the feet by a supermodel in her skivvies. You spit mustard and bratwurst all over your shirt when you saw Brady Quinn's face planted in the turf and throwing sloppy interceptions like Kerry Collins. I can tell you loved it. I still see the smirk cemented on your face.

Introducing Brady Quinn. Fine gentleman, future NFL quarterback, and the most outlandishly overrated player in the history of college football...If I ask who the best college quarterback in the nation is right now and you answer Quinn and not Smith, then you are a brainwashed fool.
Furthermore, while Troy Smith's early indiscretions were being recast as an inspirational story of redemption -- look at what he had to overcome! -- Quinn's four-year odyssey from Diedrickian punching bag to the top of the Irish record books was all but forgotten.
We need to introduce the Freeman corollary to Godwin's law: Whenever you cite Mike Freeman as a representative sample of anything, you lose. Mike Freeman writes dumb columns for attention. He is, in internet terms, a troll. Earlier this year he wrote a story claiming that Chris Leak should be furious at Urban Meyer for denying him a chance at the Heisman by bringing in Tim Tebow.

Also, one article is not a trend.
During his time under the microscope at ND, especially during a rough and tumble two years where he was repeatedly thrown to the lions, Quinn never faltered or pouted. Whether he was taking his lumps under Willingham or besting Peyton Manning's marks under Weis, Quinn always carried himself with aplomb. In the volumes of quotes the media extracted from Quinn, you won't find a single damning word. He was never in trouble off the field. He was a good student.

And for such a well-known celebrity, he was exceedingly modest. When Chris Fowler greeted Brady on stage to present him the Maxwell Award, the first thing out of Fowler's mouth wasn't "Congratulations", but, "So, do you consider this an upset, since everyone expected Troy Smith to win?" Quinn might have been shocked, and he might have been forgiven for snapping off some snide retort. But he humbly deflected the slam, and instead praised Smith, calling him a "great player" and saying that "he should do just fine for himself" on Saturday at the Downtown Athletic Club.
Aaand now the Heisman is recast as some sort of Academic All-American award that cares about what you do off the field; McFadden and Smith are recast as unworthy of the award because of minor indiscretions in their past -- Smith's last misstep was over two years ago.
That combination of stellar talent and grounded character is so rare in a sport where it seems just about everyone black?
has a checkered past. Quinn's everything you'd want in a college football player, both on and off the field.
Unless you want to stay within 20 of a major opponent.
Everybody, regardless of alma mater, would love to have this guy on their team, wouldn't they? In our "Villains" piece, we stated that we had to respect John McKay because the only reason he gave to dislike him was the success he had against the Irish; he was a consummate class act. I would have thought fans of other programs would feel the same way about Quinn, but obviously I was wrong.
You mistake disdain for dislike. Arguing that Quinn doesn't deserve the Heisman is not dislike. It is not venom. (Note that hell, yes, there is venom here about Quinn, but we aren't arguing about me. Also, there would be venom about Smith... but what am I supposed to say? "I'm taller than you" is about all I can come up with.)
Such was the season for Notre Dame in the media: we really took it on the chin, over and over.
They don't call it "Weis media bukkake" for nothing.
The voters who put ND way up at #2 at the beginning of the season and the reporters who touted Brady as the preseason Heisman leader fell over themselves to tear Quinn and Notre Dame from that perch when the season didn't go as predicted. The national mood changed almost immediately as the season began, and it never recovered. As ND struggled (but won) against Georgia Tech (and Ohio State was busy beating Texas), that #2 ranking suddenly seemed terribly undeserved, even if it were the writers and voters who put the Irish there in the first place. The Michigan loss sealed it.

The backlash was ferocious, a negative feedback loop that devoured itself. An offhand comment by Charlie to local reporters about ND's place in the BCS rankings turns into a full-fledged brouhaha, with Charlie portrayed as a big whiner; when Urban Meyer goes on the PR offensive to lobby for the Gators, he's praised for being the squeaky wheel that got the grease.
Yes, Urban Meyer's proactive media stance was met with nothing but effusive praise.
While many top BCS squads are feasting on vastly inferior teams (including some really embarrassing matchups, like Florida-Western Carolina), it's ND that's pilloried for playing -- stop me if you've heard this -- three service academies in one year. The Heisman race becomes a zero-sum game; it is not enough for Troy Smith to win, but Brady Quinn must lose (in fact, it is not enough for Brady Quinn to lose; he must be eviscerated in the process).
The "evisceration" is an article by Jemele Hill about how Troy Smith should be the top pick in the NFL draft. There is a section comparing Quinn and Smith. This is your "evisceration":
On the other side of it, Quinn's coach and his offensive system are already the most overrated traits of any prospect. I'm not trying to take anything away from Quinn, who put up the numbers to justify his being the No. 1 pick in April, but there were very few games in which his presence alone was responsible for the Irish's winning. You never got the feeling he won the game.
If this serves as evisceration, then Jack the Ripper lurks in every graf that mentions the Irish.
Other teams lose to inferior opponents on their schedule and suffer lesser consequence; Notre Dame loses to two of the top five teams in the country and is saddled with disdain. And when that 10-2 Notre Dame team gets selected for a BCS bowl, it is, of course, unfair; yet by the BCS's own rules Notre Dame is a clear and proper choice for selection. Such was 2006 for Brady Quinn and the Irish.

But the book on the season isn't closed just yet. There's one chapter left. Maybe a win over LSU will knock the anti-ND narrative off its rail, and recast this Irish team as something more worthy in the eyes of the college football punditry. Oh wouldn't it be nice...

On the other hand, who cares. To hell with the pundits. Let's win it for the only group that matters. Let's win it for us.
It would. Because LSU is badass, and Weis beating LSU would give him a win over a ranked team (his first). The reason so many are skeptical about Notre Dame is this: two non-competitive losses versus USC and Michigan. Two miraculous wins over mediocre opponents in MSU and UCLA. A narrow win over a team quarterbacked by Reggie Ball. Only the PSU win gives an indication of much quality.

Anyway: any team in the country could have composed a flimsy bitch about media bias like this if the author chose to cherry-pick negative articles after a disappointing season.