The Best Day In Football

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.22.2019


The Saturday Before Thanksgiving Showcases The Best The Sport Has To Offer

Most of us are already stressing over the travel, lines at the grocery store and mapping out a Black Friday attack. But in the midst of that I ask you to pause for a bit on Saturday and witness football in its truest form, playing for the love of the game.

Saturday features some of the oldest rivalries in all of sports. Lafayette v Lehigh will play the 155th time, Harvard will visit Yale for the 136th time and Montana will visit Montana State for,believe it or not, the 119th time. Not only is there a lot of history, not to mention some frigid temperatures, and some pretty good football.

 

The point here is that the overwhelming majority of the kids, seniors, who play in these games will never put on pads, line up and play the game of football again. Ever.

Think about that.

During the week you may play softball, basketball, tennis, even strap on pads for a pub hockey league but very, very few will ever practice, prepare and play a tackle football game again. Ever.

When most of us were 21 or 22 years old, we didn’t think of the finality of a part of our life ending. Probably don’t even think about it now. But all things come to an end and they certainly do on the field of play. No more early morning runs, weight lifting sessions, long bus rides or banter in the locker room. It all comes to an end and for most, it will be Saturday.

So this Saturday, take a minute to reflect and while you do, check out Harvard v Yale, USC v UCLA, Stanford v Cal, or Lafayette v Lehigh. You’ll see kids playing not because they’ll have a chance at the next level but because they love the game of football. Whether they admit it or not, they love the preparation,the travel, buckling up the chin strap a little tighter and lining up against the old school rival. It’s something to see and the last time you’ll see some of those kids ever play the game of football.

‘All of Nothing’ Drives Home Ruthlessness of NFL

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 7.8.2017

The second season of Amazon’s ‘All of Nothing’ series starts off with Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher informing the team that he was fired.  From here the show takes you through the ins and outs of the Rams 2016 season and finishing off with the hiring of a new coach and the 2017 NFL Draft. It’s a long journey and one that NFL Films tells very well.

The Rams 2016 season was teed up pretty well for the producers of ‘All or Nothing’. You had the move from St. Louis, the trade to get quarterback Jared Goff with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, young stars like running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald and a schedule that saw them log more miles than anyone during the 2016 season. Add in the unexpected firing of the head coach and you have enough material to fully flesh out 8 hour long episodes.

This series is not HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’. In fact ‘All or Nothing’ doesn’t even touch on training camp. It dives right into the season and does a pretty good job of avoiding the typical NFL game camera angles while it’s at it. There are solid shots from the sidelines and great sound from the coaches throughout the season. From their homes, to the meeting rooms to the sidelines.

One aspect of this show that was very interesting goes back to something that former Notre Dame head coach and ESPN analyst Lou Holtz once pointed out and that is when a coach is fired it’s not just him who is effected. It’s the assistants and their families too. ‘All or Nothing’ does a great job of driving that home. How the families deal with the never ending moves from city to city. For example, offensive coordinator Rob Boras ended up as the tight ends coach for the Buffalo Bills shortly after being let go by the Rams following the season. So in under a year he had moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles to Buffalo while his family was still in St. Louis. It gives you a great look at how much of grind an NFL season can be not just for the players but on the coaches.

This season of ‘All or Nothing’ is compelling and could be compelling for someone who isn’t the biggest football fan. It shows how difficult and ruthless this game can be on the players, the coaches and the families and how everything can change in an instant. It’s story telling at high level and worth checking out.

22 It

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 6.25.2017


The Canadian Football League (CFL) kicked off its 2017 season with a game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Montreal Alouettes this past Thursday. Unless you are a football fanatic like myself or a Canadian with a vested interest in the two teams on the field, you probably didn’t ever know the game was going on. My hope is that someone at the NFL office or at one of the NFL TV partners was watching so that they could be reminded about an angle that they are missing during their broadcasts. The wide angle or as they call it in America, the ’22’ angle.

Roughriders at Al’s CFL 2017 Opener.

For the uninitiated, the CFL has 3 downs, 12 men aside and unlimited motion. Which means that at least three of the receivers get a head start on their routes before the ball is ever snapped. This requires the TV cameramen to get a wider shot of the field because you don’t know where these guys are going. It’s not a genuine ’22’ angle but you have a better view of what the receivers are doing and how the defense is lined up to defend them.

Why would the NFL or college football widen out the camera shot and show more of the field? Well it could be a source of revenue. Most of us, believe it or not, don’t care about the close up of Tom Brady or the coach on the sideline. We care about how the formation and who is on the field.

The down side is that you may reveal a bunch of empty seats at the stadium caused in no small part by a teams performance and high ticket prices. The upside is that nerdy football fans like myself would pay a fee to get just this angle.

ESPN Megacast during the 2014 National Championship game

The reason why a portion of us would pay for this is that we want to see for ourselves how the defense is lining up, who is coming in and out of the game and have a visual representation of where our team is on the field which let’s guess what our team should or should not do. We don’t want an analyst telling us after the fact or being burden by replays when a team goes without a huddle and we miss the beginning of the next play.

Eventually, having graphics overlay that one could turn on and off would be nice as well. I don’t mean your stats of total yards, etc but a marker on a player so that while viewing the ’22’ angle, a mark or flag can pop up over a player as they come on and off the field which is turned on and off automatically by when they cross the sidelines into the field of play.

While there is a lot of talk about how to improve the in-game experience for fans (none of this talk includes lowering ticket prices or beer mind you), very little is talked about improving the home viewing experience. These are two things could improve the viewing experience immediately. While the graphics overlay may take some doing, it’s hard to believe that having a camera zoom out would be much of a technological feat. Extra costs, I think I pointed out earlier that there are plenty of us who would give you money for this.

Chip’s Revenge

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 2.9.2017

Arguably the best coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, may have inadvertently pulled a page out of his friend Chip Kelly’s book to win Super Bowl 51. Belichick’s team didn’t run a no-huddle, up tempo style however the amount of plays they ran and dominate time of possession had to of put a smile on Kelly’s face as the New England Patriots went on to win their fifth NFL title.

 

KELLYKelly may have been fired from two NFL head coaching jobs in under a year but some of his philosophies are grounded in truth. If your team has the ball then the other teams offensive isn’t on the field. If you run more plays than your opponent then odds are that in the 4th quarter that defense will be tired. Both proved true during the Patriots win over the Atlanta Falcons.

The Patriots ran 93 offensive plays to the high powered Falcons 42 and dominated the time of possession. They had the football for over 40 minutes while the Falcons had it for just a little over 23. While Kelly’s teams would normally reflect the the Falcons time of possession, the Patriots were able to adapt Kelly’s philosophy on their way to victory.

Super Bowl 51 TOPAt one point Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck pointed out that the Falcons offense had not been on the field in over an hour (that included the extended halftime). You add that up and it’s no wonder the Falcons defense seemed powerless to stop the Patriots offense in the last quarter plus of the game.

While you can point to several factors as to why the Patriots defeated the Falcons for their fifth title, you cannot deny that time of possession and the amount of offensive plays that the Patriots ran was a major factor in the outcome. It’s one that Kelly would be right to be proud of.

More Mouse Davis Than Bill Walsh

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.10.2017

Over the years we’ve written quite a bit about Chip Kelly. We’ve written how he wasn’t right for the NFL and we’ve written that he could be the next Bill Walsh. With many things, the truth falls somewhere in between.

Chip Kelly 49ersChip Kelly was fired from two NFL jobs in little over a year. The second wasn’t his fault as he was dealt an absolute oil spill but the first was his fault. More importantly there has been some talk out there that Kelly wasn’t able to adjust to the NFL. He didn’t disguise his looks and become, in a word, predictable.

NFL defenses may have figured out a way to stop Kelly’s ‘blur’ offense but the NFL also adopted some of his ideas and methods.

While at Oregon, Kelly made trips to New England to talk about the hurry-up offense with Bill Belichick and his staff. Belichick and Kelly have become good friends and there is a possibility, however remote, that Kelly could slide into the OC spot if current Patriots OC Josh McDaniels gets another head coaching gig with, ironically enough, the San Francisco 49ers.

The fact is that a lot of teams, college and pro, use some of Kelly’s principals in their offenses. It’s a lot like how every one criticized Mouse Davis’s Run’N’Shoot offense when it debuted in the NFL way back in 1989.

Many criticized the offense and in it’s purest form wasn’t very successful at the NFL level. However aspects of the offense have made it into just about every current NFL offense. Using the pass to set up the run, single back sets and having wide receivers read the coverage along with the quarterback.

Kelly’s offense and training methods are seeing a similar bubbling up across the league. Kelly embraced sports science and employed a ‘sport science coordinator’ while with the Eagles. Other NFL teams have begun to embrace the idea of maximizing athletes performance after Kelly blazed the way.

Teams have also incorporated some zone read plays, allowed their quarterback to run more often, and of course using the hurry-up or no huddle offense throughout the game instead of just at end of a half.

While Kelly may not have revolutionized the game like the late Bill Walsh did so many years ago, he did influence it significantly like Mouse Davis did back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Kelly’s NFL career will be judged by wins and losses but he has contributed much more than that.

 

SF 49ers: Digging To The Bottom of the NFL

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.3.2016

The San Francisco 49ers will be on their fourth head coach in as many years and the first team in almost 40 years to fire coaches in back-to-back years after just one season. The Cleveland Browns haven’t even done that. Add to it that the owner, Jed York, said in his press conference on Monday, ‘I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners.‘ The 49ers were once the envy of every North American sports organization. Now, they are a laughing stock and paying millions of dollars to their former coaches with little hope for a winning team anytime soon.

Jed YorkIt’s almost scary what’s happening to the 49ers. They seemed to be on the right track when Jed York and then GM Trent Baalke convinced Jim Harbaugh to take over as head coach. He had immediate success and was within an inch of winning a Super Bowl. But Harbaugh and Baalke clashed and York, essentially, sided with Baalke which led to the dismissal of Harbaugh after an 8-8 season.

The 49ers have yet to win 8 games total since letting Harbaugh go.

To add insult to injury, the organization is going to have to pay between $30 million to $70 million to former coaches to not coach. This includes having to pay the next three years of former head coach Chip Kelly’s deal. Kelly never had a chance with the hand he was dealt but no matter, he’ll get paid handsomely for his one year with the team.

The fact is that Jed York should be fired. Can you imagine running a company where you have fired the leadership over the last years and will lose at least $30 million to pay former employees to not do their job?

It would be nice to say that there is some hope for the 49er faithful. The fact is that there isn’t. They have had multiple terrible drafts, lost potential hall of fame players to retirement or injury and have arguably the worse roster in the league. It will take several solid drafts, free agent signings and a lot of luck for the 49ers to make the playoffs again. So strap in 49er faithful, this is a long term plan.

3 Star = Pro Bowl

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.22.2016

The 2017 Pro Bowl roster was announced this week and while the game is becoming increasingly meaningless, a few outlets point out how there are more former 3-Star college recruits and lower than anyone else on the roster. Proving again that the recruiting star system is also increasingly irrelevant.

Recruiting stars are no guarantee of NFL success or collegiate success for that matter. There are many more three, two, one and no star recruits than there ever are five and four star recruits but most people presume that five or four star players are significantly better than three and below.

While the star rankings do not give the best indicator to future success, it does show that three and lower are just as good if not better than the four and five players if put in the right situation and coached up.

If you look at the no star recruits coming out of high school and now in the 2017 Pro Bowl, two of those players, Antonio Brown and Tom Brady, are arguably the best at their position. Brady is a lock for the Hall of Fame and Brown is probably the most feared receiver in the NFL over the last two seasons. Brown was a sixth round pick out of Central Michigan. He didn’t ‘fit’ the ‘typical’ NFL wide receiver. All he does now is make plays and score touchdowns and has become an indispensable part of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

As college football teams go into the final recruiting push early next year, it’s important for those three star and lower kids to recognize that the coaches and so-called ‘experts’ may not know talent when they see it. Proving them wrong is better than any star from.

 

 

Bowl Mania Guide

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.16.2016

With the Holiday’s comes college football bowl season. Yes, there are too many bowl games (42 in all) and too many undeserving teams (19 teams are .500 or worse ). Yet we will still watch a vast majority of them if no other reason than to escape arguments about this year’s Presidential election. So here are the best bets when it comes to which games to watch.

*All times are Pacific

December 17th

Donnel PumphreyLas Vegas Bowl | Houston vs San Diego State | 12:30pM ABC: Yes Houston lost their head coach to Texas but the OC and DC are still there and the OC, Major Applewhite, is the new head coach and they still have Greg Ward at QB. The Aztecs count with senior running back Donnel Pumphrey who with a solid rushing game could become the nation’s #2 all-time leading rusher.

Camellia Bowl | Appalachian State vs Toledo | 2:30pm ESPN:  Seriously, this is a good game. App State is better than their 9-3 record would indicate and so is Toledo. App State won their first ever bowl game a year ago on a last second field goal after being down 24-7 at halftime.

December 20th

Boca Raton Bowl | Memphis vs Western Kentucky | 4pm ESPN:  Offense, offense and more offense. Western Kentucky averages 517 yards per game while Memphis averages 461. Did we mention offense?

December 21st

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl | BYU vs Wyoming | 6pm ESPN: This is a rivalry game renewed. These two haven’t played each other since 2010 when BYU left the Mountain West Conference and BYU leads the all-time series 44-30-3. Be ready for old school football here.

December 27th

National Funding Holiday Bowl | Minnesota vs Washington State | 4pm ESPN:  Two teams that kind of tripped up towards the end of the season but two solid teams none the less. Wazzu’s Luke Falk is something to see. He was 4th in the country with 4204 passing yards this season. Of course this is only a game if  Minnesota players actually play. 

December 28th

Russell Athletic Bowl | West Virginia vs Miami | 2:30pm ESPN: These two can light up the scoreboard if things go right. West Virginia probably deserves a better bowl game and Miami has junior QB Brad Kaaya and is playing closer to home than the Mountaineers are.

December 29th

Valero Alamo Bowl | Oklahoma State vs Colorado | 6pm ESPN: This might be the best game of bowl season not to mention the fact that this bowl game always seems to be high scoring shootout every year.

 

December 30th

dobbsFranklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl | Nebraska vs Tennessee | 12:30pm ESPN: These two couldn’t stop a nose bleed in their last game of the season. They do have multifaceted QB’s who can hurt you with their arm or their legs. Josh Dobbs for Tennessee and Tommy Armstrong JR for Nebraska. One player to watch is Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. He’ll be a top 5 NFL draft pick if he decides to forgo his senior season.

Capital One Orange Bowl | Michigan vs Florida State | 5pm ESPN: Two teams with loads of talent on both sides of the football. This game will be all about the offensive and defensive lines.

December 31st

College Football Playoff Semifinal | Washington vs Alabama | Noon ESPN:  Look, this playoff is Alabama’s to lose but UW head coach Chris Pederson is known for having a trick or two up his sleeve.

College Football Playoff Semifinal | Ohio State vs Clemson | 4pm ESPN:  All about the QB’s in this one. Ohio State has been here before and it’s hard to bet against Urban Meyer. Then again Clemson was here a year ago and dominated.

January 2nd

Rose Bowl | USC vs Penn State | 2pm ESPN: Two head coaches who were on the hot seat over the last 12 months have their teams in one of the biggest bowl games of all. Not bad. Let’s just hope it’s better than last years blowout of Iowa delivered at the hands of Christian McCaffery and Stanford.

The Battle Ground State

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.14.2016

Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis. These are a few of the folks who will be new head coaches in college football next season in the state of Florida. Add in the three big schools in the state, Florida, Florida State and Miami, and you have a fierce recruiting battle in the Sunshine State.

Florida is a little different than most places when it comes to recruiting. According to a CBSSports.com article, one in 99 players in Florida sign to an FBS scholarship out of high school. That’s an extraordinarily high rate and one that shows that there is enough talent to go around between all of these FBS schools and then some. Year after year the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama, Nebraska and just about everyone else comes down south and snatches up players.

Lane Kiffin FAUNow the head coaches in state may, how are already great recruiters, just need to convince a 17 year old to stay closer to home. Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Mark Richt at Miami and Jim McElwain at Florida are all top notch recruiters and coaches. Their skills will be put to the test as Strong, Kiffin and Davis recruit from the same talent pool.

These new guys have NFL experience, run Power 5 programs, developed players for the next level and have the rings to show for it. The question now becomes, who can recruit a one or two star player and coach him up. Gut feeling on that is Charlie Strong now at South Florida.

Charlie StrongWhile Kiffin, Davis, Fisher, Richt and McElwain all have selling points about their programs, Strong is the only African American FBS head coach in this state. Along with his strong moral character and strong ties to the state (he coached at Florida on three different occasions), I see him winning out in the long haul. It may take him a year or two but he’s the only one of the three new coaches who has some talent leftover from the previous regime to work with.

Every college football season is a good college football season but this stretch run recruiting season maybe the start of something crazy. Something so crazy that it will probably end up as series on Netflix. Fisher, McElwain, Richt, Kiffin, Davis and Strong competing for the state’s best talent, let the games begin!

Choices and Patience

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.29.2016

After the 2012 college football season, some fairly big jobs opened up. Two of the coaches looking to move up to a Power 5 school were Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones and San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre. Jones was doing the proverbial tour. He interviewed at Purdue and Colorado before taking the Tennessee job. MacIntyre was lower on the tier and Colorado ‘settled’ for him. Fast forward four years and MacIntyre’s Buffaloes are playing for a Pac-12 title and Tennessee is again 8-4 and not playing for a conference title. So which one was right?

Butch JonesUnder Butch Jones, Tennessee has shown continual improvement in his first three years going from 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4. With sky high expectations this year, the Vols were never able to put together a complete game. While they did beat Florida, Georgia, and Virginia Tech they also lost to two teams they should have beaten handily in South Carolina and Vanderbilt not to mention being blown out by Alabama. The 8-4 regular season record still qualifies Tennessee for a quality bowl game but the season is seen as failure in the eyes of many.

Mike MacIntyreOut west Mike MacIntyre has not shown continual improvement in Colorado’s record. Going 4-8, 2-10 and 4-9 in his first three seasons in Boulder, only the hardcore football fan could see light at the end of the tunnel. The improvement was incremental but it wasn’t reflected in the record. This season MacIntyre put it all together and turned the 2016 season into a PAC-12 South divisional title.

The Buffaloes got off to a fast start by dominating their in state rivals Colorado State in the season opener. The Buffs built off of that and were able to rattle off some impressive wins even with a backup quarterback under center for three games. Tennessee meanwhile needed overtime and a whole lot of luck to beat a quality Appalachian State team. Both openers were a precursor of things to come.

Both coaches were hired at the same time. While Jones teams showed more promise early on, MacIntyre’s didn’t. Credit to Colorado for giving MacIntyre time to build the program back from the oil spill it was under previous regimes. While he started off on a ‘lukewarm seat’ this season, MacIntyre quickly erased any doubts about his job status as his team rattled off impressive win after impressive win. Jones will need some of that patience from Tennessee as he searches for answers going into year five.

Jones went from being the second coming in Knoxville to ‘is this guy any better than a 8 or 9 win coach?’ His job status will be questioned over the next several months not only because Tennessee didn’t live up to expectations this year with a senior quarterback and highly thought of defense but also because he will have a new boss come summer as current athletic director Dave Hart steps down.

Was Jones the right choice for Tennessee? At the time yes. They needed someone to put out the dumpster fire that Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley left behind. MacIntyre was the right choice at Colorado too. He has built a program with NFL quality talent and a belief that they can compete with and beat the best teams in the country.

While both are right for their jobs, it’s clear that both coaches are at the same crossroad. Both need to go to the next level but momentum seems to only be on Colorado’s side.