Draft King Analysis|
November 23, 2014
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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The long-overdue addition of a playoff system (albeit a fun size version) has finally arrived this season for Division I-A/FBS college football. Four teams is woefully inadequate, but it certainly trumps the deservedly maligned BCS, which in turn replaced the even worse pre-1998 mess that allowed for split national championships and the like.
Progress can be incremental when it comes to changing an entrenched system, and even though hearing talking heads drone on and on about it can be tedious, it sure beats the droning about the BCS that used to clog the airways -- particularly when people blindly defended it. The BCS era is yet another reminder of the power of the status quo.
The term "Group of Five" for the lower-tiered I-A/BCS conferences is a properly generic name, though I prefer the term "Have Nots" since that's the truth. At least one of them is guaranteed a berth in a major bowl game, though that also leads to more ponderous droning about who is deserving of earning a big bowl payday.
Despite all of this, what we have today is the best system that major college football has ever had. A move to an eight-team playoff is inevitable, which with five major conferences (the Power Five) should have been obvious from the drop to anyone with even the slightest concept of math. Having two teams from one conference (Alabama and Mississippi State) make it this year I hope would serve to expedite the process, though it might be a longer wait that many hope for on that. We'll see.
Of course, Dan Wetzel already laid out a logical 16-team playoff system that would solve these problems in his outstanding book Death to the BCS. But, sadly, we're still many years away from that becoming a reality.
My friend and former WSAZ overnight news producing teammate Ryan Epling used P5/G5 as a distinction between the haves and have-nots. I like that even better. P5 for Power 5 and G5 for... Gated? I'm going with that. There aren't any good synonyms for snubbed, excluded, jobbed out, etc. that begin with the letter G, at least not that I can find early on a Sunday morning. And it makes as much sense as saying FBS and FCS instead of I-A and I-AA or counting bowl game stats toward season/career records but not applying them retroactively.
Marcus Mariota has emerged as the clear-cut #1 NFL QB prospect, and look for him to win the Heisman Trophy and be one of the first players drafted into the NFL late April -- if not the number one overall pick. Through this weekend's action, Mariota on the season is completing more than 67% of his passes and has thrown for 28 touchdowns against just two interceptions for Oregon.
Accuracy in the modern NFL is more important than ever. Turnovers have killed teams since the dawn of the sport, but in particular now having both the proper reads and accurate delivery are so critical with the table being tilted severely in favor of teams with strong passing attacks. Purists don't like it, I know, but it's either protect wide receivers going over the middle or let them continue to "get their bell rung" and develop severe brain injury leading to considerable health problems and suicidal behavior.
If Mariota were allowed to enter the league as an unrestricted free agent right out of college, how much guaranteed money do you think he could get? Sam Bradford has the high water mark for a rookie, $50 million guaranteed in 2010, the final year before the current CBA was negotiated. I know why the current rookie pay restrictions were put into place, particularly with busts turning into long-term financial calamities for teams and disrupting the giant magnet that pulls every NFL team toward 8-8, but from a hypothetical standpoint it would be interesting to know.
The days of the game manager QB winning Super Bowls with superior defenses are gone. Trent Dilfer 2000 and Brad Johnson 2002 won't have modern day equivalents, at least barring something truly unexpected happening. And even when effective defensive tactics are developed, like Seattle loading up on physical defensive backs and defensive linemen with exceptional pass-rushing skills, all it takes is an off-season emphasis of a given rule (in this case clamping down on illegal contact) to tilt the game back in favor of a solid passing attack.
Demand for top-level quarterbacks has led to teams making some foolish decisions. The most recent example of that is what happened with the Arizona Cardinals, who signed the almost 35-year-old Carson Palmer to a contract extension with $20 million guaranteed just two days before he tore the ACL in his left knee.
Here's what I wrote on October 17, 2014 in a projection of UCLA QB Brett Hundley to Arizona:
There is talk that the Cardinals want to sign Carson Palmer to a contract extension. Considering his age and injury issues, I'm not sure how wise that is. If that happens, maybe the Cardinals don't go QB here. If not, Hundley would seem like a good fit.
Predicting that an aging NFL QB with a history of injuries could get hurt again doesn't exactly make me Nostradamus, but it serves as evidence to the lengths that teams will go to lock up quarterback talent. And can you blame the Cardinals? The era between Kurt Warner's retirement and trading for Carson Palmer was a dark one, in large part due to extended poor play from the quarterback position.
On the college level, Georgia RB Todd Gurley's season-ending knee injury was especially frustrating considering that it came in his first game back from an NCAA four-game suspension for being compensated for autographing merchandise. The disconnect between highly paid coaches and conferences with massive television contracts and players who aren't allowed to even make a few bucks off of their own likeness is striking.
And, not to put myself over, but here's what I wrote about Gurley on November 11, 2014:
How messed up is the NCAA/NFL talent development system? Gurley's suspension over being paid for autographing merchandise actually boosted his draft stock since it meant less wear-and-tear and, in particular, less risk of injury. If I were him, I would have gone into all-out NFL training mode and told the critics to piss off.
The charade of the concept of the student-athlete is a farce in the college football money machine where coaches make ungodly sums of money while the players are told to be happy with a scholarship -- and a mandatory three-year wait for NFL eligibility. The sordid saga of Marcus Lattimore should be a cautionary tale for any and all top-tier running backs in college football. Don't let them own you.
In hindsight, I sure wish Gurley would have taken my advice.
The NFL sure isn't going to push to allow younger players into the league, nor is the NFLPA, which would be cannibalizing itself with the inevitable loss of jobs by current players (repped by the NFLPA) by new players who aren't yet part of the union. But until that changes, or something like my brother Matt suggested in setting up a special committee for truly rare talents (Jadeveon Clowney types) to be allowed a special dispensation to enter the NFL early, don't expect any alterations to be made.
Maurice Clarett's failed legal challenge to the NFL/NCAA collusion was, in many ways, the last/best chance for an individual to make a change. And until the CFL starts paying big money or a new league debuts to utilize those not-yet-NFL-eligible players with the cash to make it worth their while, the current system is going to stay in place.