Schedule Bliss, The Bye Week Blues & Sam Keller’s Impending Doom on Amateurism

If you’re a daily LTP reader then by now you know my hot-buttons inside and out. You already know that I loathe the FCS week game for many reasons. However I this particular year on this particular week, I think the South Dakota game couldn’t be more perfectly scheduled.  After beating three “name” opponents in the first three weeks, we still have so many unanswered questions and as Fitz would say “a lot to clean up”.  I don’t think I’m wired to overlook an opponent, but I will tell you that I’m at the point where I do expect us to take care of business against South Dakota on Saturday (2:30 pm ct, BTN).

As an NU  fan, this game is usually one that you hope delivers on three separate points; 1)we get to enjoy a win by a large margin and not leave the stadium exhausted by Cardiac ‘Cat-induced stress 2)no one gets hurt and 3)your favorite player and/or the team gets to pad their stats. This game, though, feels different.

There are so many things that intrigue me and still baffle me about the 2012 ‘Cats that I can’t wait for Saturday. As we discussed yesterday, Fitz has seemingly turned a new leaf, acknowledging and accepting that he was too loyal to upper classmen last year and that his loyalty may have prevented him from putting the guys with the most talent on the field. He’s also opened up the starting positions on offense for all but three guys (center Brandon Vitabile, LG Brian Mulroe and LT Patrick Ward). Whether it is a psychological ploy, or a genuine game week competition, I can tell you it has my attention.  Here are the handful of things I’ll be looking for:

  • QB snap distribution. Fitz has said this week will determine who will start at QB.  Regardless, both will play. Personally, I’d love to see Trevor get a stretch of 3-to-4 consecutive series, a luxury he has yet to really have, to see what kind of in-game improved rhythm he can develop. The 70/30 mantra that fans are wishing for (70% of snaps for one QB/30% for the other) is here to stay and that’s a good thing. Opposing defensive coordinators are going to lose lots of sleep preparing for essentially two different offenses.
  • Traveon Henry at safety – In case you were wondering , Traveon is #10. He’s the guy that had the entire Ryan Field “oohing” with three separate vicious hits/blocks/tackles on special teams last week. The most pronounced one was on Hunter Bates’ PR after we held BC to a three-and-out on their 1-yard line. It was such a bone-crushing block, in addition to springing Bates free for a return that gave us great field position, Fitz ran over and gave him the 2012 version of the chest bump, where the two leap in the air, turn and graze one another’s backs.  He burned his redshirt to play special teams and is practicing with the first team defense. He’s huge, he’s fast and seems to have that Chi Chi-like nose for the ball.  I’d love to see him play the whole day alongside Ibraheim.
  • Venric Mark – How healthy is he? Venric never returned after he got popped with the ball-jarring hit that thankfully Brandon Vitabile plucked out of the air late in the third quarter. I saw him on the bike on the sidelines during the 4th, slowly pedaling. He’s listed as the starter and is practicing despite the acknowledgement he suffered a “lower body injury”.  Will he have the same Venric bounce? How bad is he? I’m hoping his effort on Saturday can assuage any fears.
  • Mike Trumpy – The ‘Cats are seeking their first consecutive three game stretch of a 100-yard RB performance in five years. Trumpy’s fourth quarter clinic last week accounted for the majority of his 106 rushing yards. He pounded BC between the tackles and even stretched the “D” with a few option rushes along the sidelines. You could see his confidence growing within the game. The injury plagued junior seems to be fully recovered from his ACL surgery.  It’s clear he’s part of the thunder and lightning equation, along with Venric, we’ll need to succeed in the Big Ten season. I’m excited to see what he can do with the wind of last week at his back.
  • The freshmen DEs – Dean Lowry has been a pleasant surprise to ‘Cats fans (but not Fitz & co.). The true freshman DE from Rockford, IL has made his presence felt early and often this season. It’s clear he is going to be a mainstay as he’s been involved, already, in some huge plays. This week, I’m hoping highly hyped fellow frosh, Ifeadi Odenigbo, will be able to get some serious minutes. He’s admittedly undersized for where NU needs him to be, but his talent was just too good to not have him on the field. You get the sense Fitz is ramping him up with a very intentional strategy of having him peaking during Big Ten season.
  • Dan Vitale – Another freshman, this time at superback. He’s been borderline fantastic on the year, almost always picking up his block when he’s in the backfield, and he’s been pretty sure-handed on balls thrown his way. Fitz said yesterday that Vitale is further ahead than superback Drake Dunsmore was at this point.
  • Zack Oliver – I believe Teddy Greenstein said it best when he speculated that NU fans really want to see a third QB, Zack Oliver, because it will mean that the game is well in hand. Oliver reportedly throws a fantastic deep ball and I’d love to get a sample of what he can do. The challenge is, if we were fortunate enough to be up to the point where he is in, Fitz normally goes so ultra-conservative, we may just see a bunch of hand-offs.

Bye Bye Blues

Our schedule has been awesome, especially when you consider the home start times. All those in favor of 2:30 kickoffs…yay? Against….? Crickets, just what I thought. Well, that luxury comes to a screeching halt as four of our next five games – Indiana, @Penn State, @Minnesota, Iowa (homecoming) will all be 11 am ct starts. Fans are already hyperventilating about the potential of a 7-0 NU hosting Nebraska on October 20 (can you imagine THAT atmosphere?).   Obviously, a looooooong way to go to get there.

I did want to point out what seems to be an out-of-our-control scheduling quirk.  The bye week. South Dakota has enjoyed a bye week leading up to our game (their last game was a win over Colgate on 9/8).  That’s fine. However, Indiana has a bye week this week giving them two weeks to prepare for us. OK, that happens. But then, Minnesota, has two weeks to prepare for us.  That’s three opponents in four weeks with two weeks to prepare for Northwestern. But wait, there’s more. Nebraska gets a bye week before us. That’s four teams in five weeks. But, wait, even more – Michigan State gets a bye week before us.  One half of the B1G scheduled teams have a damn bye week leading in to the Northwestern game. We have four teams enjoying bye weeks to prep for us and it is the most in the conference. Northwestern’s bye week, comes at a great time, in my opinion.We have November 3 off, after Iowa and before our road game at the Big House. However, if you want a silver lining, be sure to check out the case study on the performance of bye week teams their next week thanks to this WSJ link from NUHighlights which essentially debunks the myth of this alleged advantage. From 2002-early 2010, Big Ten teams went just 17-32 after their bye weeks. So after reading this, I think we should be sending flowers to Park Ridge.

Sam Keller & The EA Suit

Yesterday cemented my opinion that the class action lawsuit against EA Sports will be a plot on the timeline of amateurism.  This one was first brought to light when former Arizona State QB, Sam Keller, led a class action suit for use of his likeness for commercial exploitation with the very popular video game.  Darren Rovell harped on this quite a bit at the time and it sort of faded to the background over the past couple of years. Until now. This ESPN Outside The Lines report has really riled things up and will increasingly become a subject of hot debate today and several days moving forward.

With the backdrop of the recent Penn State scandal combined with the Taylor Branch controversy, the money and stakes of college athletics, and the raging debate over whether or not players should be paid seems to be constantly on at least simmer at all times. Well, check out this report on which just looks bad. In case you’re not familiar with the case, EA Sports has college football and college basketball games that use everything about the likeness of a player but his name (ex –NU football will have a 5-8 African-American RB who wears #5 and just happens to have Venric Mark’s stats. He’ll also return punts and kickoffs).  It’s such a “known” thing by fans of the game that a minor controversy popped up earlier this year when Kain Colter’s likeness was actually a white QB.

Emails unearthed on Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), show internal correspondence on how they use the actual names on the video game players, but only as a reference point (they remove the names before completing the game).  Said emails talk about how bad it would look if this ever got out to the media. Zing.

Nebraska chancellor Harvey Pearlman also had correspondence to the NCAA how this could possibly NOT be an intellectual property violation.  Texas AD of women’s sports, Chris Plonsky, sure doesn’t come off well in this report, in my opinion by trying to dismiss this as hypocritical. She claims “We now have threatening student athletes — many of whom, based on grad rates of the ’80s and ’90s, sucked a whole lot off the college athletics pipe — and now want to  buckle the system at the knees of the expense of today’s student-athletes.”

Folks, this case is going to get nasty. It’s going to pick-up steam and will truly be a potential land mine in the amateurism debate. Given the recent landscape shifts in collegiate sports it couldn’t come at a better time for those in favor of pay-for-play and a worse time for those clinging to the scholarships and love of the game side of things.

Speaking of Context….

How about this piece by the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh creating parallels to Northwestern and Notre Dame (ND has its first 3-0 start in 10 years) and their seemingly trajectory to potentially great seasons?  He plays the “doing it the right way” angle against the context of the never-ending CFB scandals and issues to essentially take a similar theme that I have pounded since last November.  Embracing the character kids, the seemingly  obstacle of top-notch students and the like is a marketing tact, that if nothing else is a differentiator.  As much as I loathe Notre Dame, you have to respect the team’s performance to date. Personally, I’d love nothing more than a January 1 date or a BCS game with the Irish. With TTFSB on the schedule in 2014 and 2018 along with our mutual misery connection having both be tied for the longest bowl losing streak (9), I say bring it.

Birthday Board

A shout out to Jack Marshall’s mom, Joanna, for a belated birthday. She’s a key contributor to LTP, ensuring that those awesome photos of Jack’s drawings make it every week. She’s also a dead ringer for Monica Potter of Parenthood fame. Happy birthday!

  • UVA Cat

    Small piece of trivia for this week…the first game played in the new Dyche Stadium back in 1926?

    It was NU vs. Univ of South Dakota. NU won, 34-0. I’ll take a repeat of that result this weekend!

  • Nebraska also has an off week before coming to Evanston, so it is half of the B1G schedule plus South Dakota.

    • Here’s a good read on performances following off weeks.

      From 2002 to 2009, BCS teams had a winning percentage of just .480 in conference games following off weeks. It was even worse in the Big Ten at just .347.

      • Sasser

        That stat actually sounds pretty good to me… I just want it to be .000 for our opponents this year, though :-P

      • Fantastic call! Thanks for the link, what an awesome, awesome stat. And, how did I leave out Nebraska?!!! Thanks for the correction. Now corrected.

      • UVA Cat

        Just curious, but shouldn’t the long-run aggregate winning percentage for all teams within a given conference be 0.500 (in theory, at least), since they all play each other so half the teams have to win and the other half lose? And this would hold true if there were no such thing as a “bye” week. So, I’m not sure 0.480 winning pct following “bye” weeks equates to a significant difference from what would be expected.

        • No, since just one team in a given game may be coming off of a bye.

          • UVA Cat

            But, let’s say there is no such thing as a bye week–every team plays all 8 conference games, 8 weeks in a row. The expected mean winning percentage for all teams would be 0.500 (obviously, some higher and some lower). So, I don’t see how 0.48, given the bye week condition, is that much different.

          • David

            The point is that there is not an advantage. Plain and simple.

        • Doug

          Thats the whole point. The fans/media tend to assume that having a bye week preceeding a game is an advantage. But the statistics show that it is NOT an advantage. Whether its a disadvantage is open for debate.

          • Agreed, though the study didn’t account for quality of opponent in a given game so it’s had to really tell, although if it was an advantage I’d expect winning rates over 50%.

  • DarkSide

    Work. Beat South Dakota. Go ‘Cats.

  • If there ever is a “gotcha” game it is Saturday – Fitz is running the “tryouts” to avoid having a letdown after 3 wins.

    And what is this MSU was the ONLY team in the BCS running. Our Cats are still 3-0 and what happens when we’re 7-0 and beat Nebraska? Sliced Liver?

  • DR

    Glad we are all looking at this as a trap game, seems Fitz is very focused. South Dakota scores points (they give them up too), they are 1-1, they gave FCS #10 Montana everything they could at Montana in the season opener. Montana had to score three times in the second half to avoid the upset. So, amen to those of us who were there, or watched, the debacle that resulted from New Hampshire’s visit to Evanston a couple of years ago.

    Anybody know why there is no spread published yet?

    • Regarding the spread, Vegas sportsbooks do not post lines for games involving FCS/I-AA teams, though some online sportsbooks do so there may be a line floating around somewhere.

      Note that Montana is not the powerhouse it has been in recent seasons after a series of offseason incidents involving a player who was arrested for sexual assault and then cleaning house of the coaching staff who covered it up.

      Note that South Dakota is giving up a ton of yards on the ground (267/game) which plays right into NU’s strength (NU is averaging 203/game & ran for 292 last week). Also, SD wants to try to move the ball on the ground themselves, and we know the NU rush defense is performing very well (80 yds/game allowed, 16th nationally).

      • Doug

        Regarding Montana: They may not be the cream of the FCS, but they looked pretty darn good taking Liberty to the woodshed last weekend, and their current coach is the guy who brought them to prominance and won some national titles with them (however many years ago…). So if South Dakota gave them a game, that does worry me. I thought Montana looked very good…
        Also, in the LTP stadium wheelhouse, I noticed how close the stands are to the field at Montana’s stadium. It looks like it creates an awesome atmosphere. Hopefully Ryan Field renovations can eliminate some of that extra space (that is left over from the old track).

  • DR

    @LTP, great that you are bringing up the video game issue as well, while I don’t see the connection to PSU, this is a huge issue, and regardless of where you come down on the amateur vs. paid college athlete debate, there is no question that game developers make it a habit to steal IP when they use someone’s exact likeness, without attribution, to create revenues and profits. The chancellor from Texas should be ashamed of herself for her expressed perspective, IMO. Could you imagine if there was a dance/music game that featured the likeness of Madonna or an opera diva or jazz musician. The lawyers would be lined up for that – why not the same for our beloved college athletes (until now maybe). Could it be that the NCAA has squashed this over the years, in concert with universities? Where’s Shapiro on this question – we might want to get him to weigh in here at LTP.

    Please keep up posted on this topic – this is a smart community and the posts and commentary on this important issue should make for great reading and sharing!

    • Will do. The connection to PSU is that monumental scandal is the one that made everyone inside and outside of the college athletics business (and i mean business) step back, pause and say “what’s going on here with our priorities?” Granted it lasted a few weeks and we all jumped back in to QB controversies, coaching critiques and the like, but you get my point. The exploitation of athletes (and the incentives for execs to cling to amateurism at all costs) sentiment is likely different now post PSU than before. It’s not directly related, but it was a cataclysmic event that has got the average joe talking about the system as a whole. This is one of those issues in the system.

  • Mark

    OK, question: Who already paid the $10 for the right to buy tickets to the Big Ten Championship game in Indy? Who hasn’t but is going to? Who hasn’t but would like to but thinks they’ll jinx the Cats?

    • Love the jinx question. Biggest problem for the ingenious BTN business model on getting reserved B1G champ tix is superstition. Strong obstacle.

    • NorCalCat

      One way around the jinx question: pay the $10 every year regardless of how you expect the team to do.

  • cebpd

    On the BYE week schedule thing…That actually might work to Cats advantage. teams can be rusty after bye weeks, might not have their rhythym, might get lazy, etc. I think it actually helps us and puts us in a unique situation

  • gocatsgo2003

    Just one thing… I rewatched the game and the guy who makes the block to spring Bates is #19 Cameron Dickerson — the 0’s and 9’s are very hard to differentiate, but the guy making the block is much slimmer than Henry. That isn’t to say I didn’t like his play on the coverage teams and his potential as a big, hard-hitting safety, but let’s not give him credit for a block he didn’t throw.