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Delaware, Eastern Washington will meet for FCS Championship

December 19, 2010 Leave a comment

As first predicted by LiveBall Sports in this article, the Eastern Washington Eagles and Delaware Blue Hens will meet for the Division I Football Championship.

These games went according to script.  Eastern Washington played like the team that was supposed to win their game over a dangerous, but mistake-prone opponent in Villanova.  Delaware was more fortunate: they were able to avoid a game with the William & Mary tribe, who beat the Blue Hens in the regular season.  Georgia Southern’s offense did not look good in this game.

Delaware has faced two different triple option offenses in the last four years, but they were both Navy offenses.  The triple option should have been a good match for the Delaware defense, but Georgia Southern moved the ball and made critical errors.  Ten points scored both overstates and understates the job they did.

Eastern Washington’s big plays, their identity, didn’t come from their downfield passing offense against Villanova, or long runs.  It was mostly a lot of screens that broke and bring special teams plays.  The Eagles defense kept them in the game, giving the Villanova quarterback fits in his reads, and keeping the Villanova passing game to short, ineffective attempts.

When these teams meet on January 7th in Frisco, Texas, Delaware’s defense will be the story of the game.  They didn’t look great against Georgia Southern one week after dominating New Hampshire’s spread attack, but were the benefactors of numerous turnovers.  Eastern Washington will give up those same turnovers, but this is a team that is trying to catch you in a poor defensive call and get a big play.  When Georgia Southern turned the ball over, they were shooting their own offense in the foot: this is a team that didn’t even complete a pass until late in the third quarter.

I fully expect Delaware’s defense to be the difference.  Their corners, led by 5th year senior Anthony Walters, have been great in this postseason.  By taking away the deep pass, it’s Delaware that has all the advantages going into this game.

This is the first season that the FCS Championship will be played the same weekend as the BCS Championship.  It’s an interesting marketing move, but I think it’s something that they need to do in order to hold relevancy.  Placed right in the midst of the BCS Bowls, the Championship gives itself the opportunity to compete with the big money games in terms of viewership, instead of playing the game in the early part of the bowl season, losing the competition to other Division I bowls.

When you don’t have mass media coverage like the top conferences have, a playoff field is inevitable.  But let’s look objectively at how Delaware and Eastern Washington got to this point.  Delaware was a highly rated team who lost it’s last game of the season in overtime to a team that wouldn’t have made the postseason if it had lost (Villanova).  If Delaware had won that game, they would have been the first seed in the tournament.  They weren’t.  Instead, that seed went to Appalachian State.  Appalachian State lost to Villanova in the quarterfinal.

This suggests that the FCS’ playoff field may be too large.  Villanova lost four games, got in, and got all the way to the National Semifinal because that’s how strong they were.  This is the equivalent of letting Alabama into a playoff field for the bowl teams this year.  Everyone knows that Alabama is strong enough to beat the best teams in college football this year, but with three losses in the regular season, how may more losses should they get before they are out of the National Championship picture?

One of the reasons a non-playoff system gives you a no. 1 and a no. 2 is because teams deflate the quality of their schedules, making the difference between an undefeated and a one loss team a big one.  It’s not the same way in the FCS.  Delaware could have been a zero loss team, or a three loss team.  Based on their playoff draw, they would still have reached the championship game.  Their regular season losses were, in hindsight, irrelevant.

But at the next level, there are elite teams at the top each year.  There are elite teams that would not be beaten in a playoff field by lesser seeds.  It’s not the NFL, where the 4th seeded team has a good shot to beat the 1st season in a playoff.  Stanford would comfortably handle Michigan State in the second round of a 16 team playoff, where Delaware doesn’t know exactly what Georgia Southern team is going to show up in a playoff there.  The difference is that the playoffs are necessary for the Championship series.  In the BCS system, they become a revenue-creating luxury.

The BCS’ issue is that they have a two team playoff, and that’s a poor number in most years: you ideally want to keep playing until every team has a loss.  A playoff becomes relevant when you can pair Boise State and TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, ensuring one would lose.  In that 2009 field, you’d lean towards desiring a four team playoff because it’s the only way to ensure that the non-champions lose.  If you have only one undefeated team throughout the year, the match-up between one and two is highly unnecessary.  The FCS didn’t even have two zero OR one loss teams.  That’s what made this playoff field meaningful: hard schedules, hard conferences.  What didn’t make it meaningful was not knowing who the best teams were.

LiveBall Sports wished for the best team in the CAA, Delaware, to go up against the best team out of the Big Sky Conference, in the FCS Championship game.  Now fans know for a fact this will happen.

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A Postseason Glance at Some of the Best Quarterback Prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment
RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 28: Christian Ponder  of the Florida State Seminoles drops back to throw a pass in pressure with Terrell Manning  of the North Carolina State Wolfpack giving chase during their game at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 28, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This is a pretty fascinating QB draft class.  I’ll give you three reasons why — even though I’m sure that I’ve said that every year — this time, I’m right:

  1. The NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (or lack thereof) means that while the draft will progress as normal, there will be signing complications regarding the drafted players.
  2. The senior class is very week in terms of well rounded prospects.
  3. The young QB development in the NFL has been horrendous going back to 2006.

NFL teams aren’t developing their good, young quarterbacks anymore, not to mention that they aren’t even trying to find players playing in other leagues anymore.  With NFL Europe a thing of the past, and the UFL turning to re-treads to lead their teams, it’s on current franchises to make sure practice reps are had by promising players.  Instead, Derek Anderson, Bruce Gradkowski, and Charlie Whitehurst ended up starting for NFL teams who have or had legitimate playoff aspirations this year.  Those spots would have previously been used to discover QB talent like Jake Delhomme, Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia etc.  Now, not only are franchise QBs not “found” by front offices, but even NFL first rounders are struggling to get a fair shake at development.

Three years ago, QB demand was at an all-time low.  Players like Jeff Garcia (Tampa Bay), Daunte Culpepper (Oakland), and Cleo Lemon (Miami) were fighting with prospective rookies such as Kevin Kolb, Troy Smith, Josh Johnson, Nate Davis, and Dennis Dixon for a roster opportunity.  Three years later, we know very little about those young players as NFL-level quarterbacks, while a retirement crunch of the old guard has created voids across the league at the QB position.  Once again, NFL passers are in great demand.

Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, Garcia, Culpepper, Kerry Collins, Jon Kitna, Mark Brunell, Kyle Boller, David Carr, Patrick Ramsey, Chad Pennington, Chris Simms, Todd Collins, and Matt Hasselbeck will all be leaving the game within a year, making this a mass retirement crunch at the position.  While I propose that the pool of young QBs to choose from has never been deeper than it is currently, the lack of development at the position means that the draft value of a young quarterback is going to be driven up this coming April.

And right on cue, we have a Senior class of college quarterbacks that is…nothing to write home about.  There are two players at the top of the senior class, Delaware’s Pat Devlin and Florida State’s Christian Ponder, who could get first round grades from me.  Both, however, are too flawed to take in the top ten, and would probably be viewed as “system” players by NFL coaches.  What this class features in spades is an endless supply of intriguing prospects who badly need development that the NFL refuses to offer.  There are potential franchise players in Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi, Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien, Alabama’s Greg McElroy, TCU’s Andy Dalton, and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor.  I’d also throw in much maligned college players Jerrod Johnson (Texas A&M), and T.J. Yates (North Carolina) to the same group.  Then there’s small school players such as Northwest Missouri State’s Blake Bolles, Hillsdale’s Troy Weatherhead, and Alex Tanney from Monmouth (IL).  It’s a banner year for small school QBs.  Adding in Washington’s Jake Locker, that’s 14 players from the senior class who deserve draft consideration, but only two who I’d feel comfortable recommending in the first round.

That’s because the strength of this group comes from the underclassmen, where up to FIVE guys can come out with first round grades.  The problem is, it’s likely you’ll get just two of them to come out, in my opinion.  The guy who every NFL GM is salivating over being able to choose is Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who may be as close to a sure thing as I’ve ever seen in all my years of draft preparation (no, I wasn’t around for the Peyton Manning draft).  Luck, as Adam Schefter has pointed out on Twitter, is unlikely to leave Stanford before his fourth year, and nothing he’s said or done indicates that either head coach Jim Harbaugh or Luck is going to leave Stanford prior to 2011.  Sorry, personnel guys.

It’s very likely that two underclassmen will go draft eligible this year: Auburn’s Cameron Newton and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett.  I’ll throw in Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Arizona’s Nick Foles as two guys who might go pro on a whim, but likely will be sticking around one more year in college.  If Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) took it to the next level after the Sugar Bowl, that would be a stunner.  He’s eligible to do so.

Newton and Mallett can be safely put into the draft class, I believe, but at this poing what we are really dealing with is a big supply-demand logic puzzle.  Mallett is a solid first rounder, likely to be the first quarterback off the board.  Newton could go anywhere between the first overall pick and the fourth round.  I have no feel for how he’s perceived in NFL circles.  Either way, we’re looking at a max of four players (more likely three) who are capable of fulfilling first round draft promise on a reasonable time table.

Newton is a statistically similar college quarterback to Mark Sanchez, an observation first made by Football Outsiders’ Bill Barnwell.  Sanchez rocketed up draft boards all the way to no. 5 overall.  It would have helped Newton had former college teammate Tim Tebow enjoyed some success as a rookie.  As far as Gus Malzahn quarterbacks go, we have no meaningful record to fall back on.  Maybe our best indication to date of his impact on passers is how spectacularly disappointing they’ve been at the next level without him: Mitch Mustain (Springdale (AR) HS) at Arkansas then USC, and then the failure of either Paul Smith or David Johnson (Tulsa) to make an NFL roster, even as a third quarterback with spectacular passing numbers.  Malzahn may simply be one more in the line of elite college coaches that can shred defenses with unspectacular talent.  Malzahn’s offense added 2.2 yards per attempt to Chris Todd’s college numbers before he could have even made a dent in terms of recruiting.

Along with the college starts, none of that really shapes out in Newton’s favor at the pro level.  Mark Sanchez played most of his college snaps with Steve Sarkisian bringing in the plays.  One criticism that absolutely will not hold up about Newton at the next level is that he’s just a runner.  This guy, from his community college days on, was a passing oriented player.  His running this year on his Heisman trophy campaign was likely out of necessity, which is also what made it a lethal weapon.  I project success for Cam Newton at the next level, but only relative success.  He’s not the next Eli Manning or Matt Ryan, and with that in mind, I think that there is a part of the draft where it will be too high to take Newton.

Complications of Quarterbacking

The NFC West race is going to have a significant outcome on who is positioned to land a quarterback in the upcoming draft.  Division winners, even bad ones, are playoff teams.  And playoff teams, even ones with poor records, don’t pick in the top half of the draft.  If St. Louis wins the NFC West, both San Francisco and Seattle will be in position to take a quarterback, and then it’s the team that has the higher draft selection that can get all the spoils, leaving scraps for the other.  But if St. Louis doesn’t win it, we’re looking at one of the two other contenders, San Francisco and Seattle, one of them being completely out of position in the draft to land the player that they want (although if the player they want is Pat Devlin or Christian Ponder, they might get lucky).  The other one is going to be likely up drafting inside the top ten picks, and could be in position to target the passer they want.

There are simply too many teams who will be drafting in the top ten this year who are going to go for a quarterback for teams who have 7 or more wins to be in position.  One of the reasons that I feel, ultimately, that Foles or Gabbert might declare for the draft leaving an excellent opportunity at a conference championship as a senior on the table is that both of those guys might go in the first ten picks if they come out this year.  Right now, the top ten picks in the NFL draft are as follows:

  1. Carolina
  2. Cincinnati
  3. Denver
  4. Buffalo
  5. Detroit
  6. Arizona
  7. Dallas
  8. San Francisco
  9. Minnesota
  10. Tennessee

All of that is subject to change.  Carolina could choose to stick with Jimmy Clausen for his second year, but the timing is bad: how often do you actually get to pick first overall.  Heck, the last time Carolina finished with one win they got to pick second because Houston was an expansion team.  Cincinnati is bound to start over if the guy they want is available at quarterback (for that offense, seems like that would be Mallett).  Denver is fine one way or another at the position.  Buffalo is the other team likely to take a guy they like if he’s there, but they are not a danger to reach for one of the seniors with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing more than adequately.  Detroit isn’t taking a quarterback in this draft, not to mention that they are likely to get to 4 or 5 wins.  Arizona’s need at the position probably trumps everything else, and at no. 6 (more likely no. 4 or 5), they become a likely candidate to trade up to no. 1 especially if Carolina is willing to stick with Clausen.  Dallas is fine, obviously.

San Francisco has a great need, but now at this point, may not have a choice.  No players who are graded as top five players are going to slide out of the top five, so either San Francisco would have to avoid the position until the second round, reach for the next best guy, or make someone like Buffalo an offer they can’t refuse to trade up (read: 2012 first rounder).  And if Andrew Luck really does stay in school, every team without legitimate playoff aspirations wants to closely clutch that 2012 lottery ticket.  Carolina wins that lottery this year if he comes out, but in 2012, he becomes that much more valuable.

There may be nothing but scraps left for the Titans when they pick: a re-tread like Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, or Brady Quinn could be the best option there if they cannot mend fences with Vince Young.  Which is one of the many reasons that firing Jeff Fisher and handing the team back to Young could be a far superior option to letting Fisher win his standoff with the franchise’s quarterback.

I think ultimately, this quarterback class will be defined by how the late rounders do, and the strength at the top defined by whether Luck, Gabbert, and Foles commit.  If none of them commit, we’re looking at 2012 being an all-time great quarterback draft class.  Here’s the problem (and for Jake Locker, the thing that justifies waiting a year): those teams need those quarterbacks right now.  Patience may be the greatest virtue, but in the NFL, it can get you fired.

Figuring Out Who May Contend in the NCAA Football Division I Playoffs

November 29, 2010 1 comment
GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  DeAndre Presley #2 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers drops back to throw a pass against the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Greenville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

2010 may be the most parity-driven year in college football, and it goes beyond the big-money power conferences and bowl football in general.  We can look at the fact that just this past Friday, a national title contender, Boise State, lost a conference game for the first time since 2008.  They lost on the road in heartbreaking fashion to a great-but-still-inferior Nevada team, who has now propelled itself into discussion for a pretty good bowl.  That’s parity: Boise State now splits the WAC title in a year where Boise State was expected as of last week to be in good probability to play for the National Championship.

This concept of parity isn’t just exclusive to elite college football in 2010.  There is only one team in the entire Division I – Football Championship Subdivision who made it through their schedule with fewer than 1 loss: the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, a school that might be better known for its band than its football team.  While fans clamor angrily for a playoff in the Bowl Subdivision, imagine if coaches had to vote on the two most deserving teams in a subdivision where all the best teams have two losses.

The favorites to win the bracket this year are all the usual suspects: Appalachian State, William & Mary, Delaware, Montana State, Villanova, and Eastern Washington.

Delaware Blue Hens

The Delaware Blue Hens received the most favorable draw in the playoff bracket as the third seed.  They will face Lehigh at home next Saturday in a play-in type game.

Delaware is the highest rated team in the entire FCS subdivision per statistician Jeff Sagarin, who also is responsible for drawing up one of the six computer formulas that make up that division of the FCS equation.  Even after an overtime loss to neighboring Villanova, the Blue Hens have to be one of the playoff favorites.  Sagarin’s Pure Points system, which synthesizes margin of victory (or defeat) against the schedule a team has played this year ranks Delaware as the 56th best team in the nation, and they would likely be bowl eligible playing a C-USA schedule instead of the arguably more difficult Colonial Athletic Association.

Delaware brings the best scoring defense in the nation, as well as the only quarterback in the entire subdivision who is likely to be drafted into the NFL next year, Pat Devlin.  Devlin is having a fantastic year: he’s completing a preposterous 67% of his passes, and has been intercepted just twice in 266 passing attempts with 14 TDs.  I had the opportunity and pleasure of analyzing Joe Flacco’s final college season with the Blue Hens, and with an arguably superior supporting cast, Flacco never posted numbers anywhere near this.

The real reason that the Blue Hens have been so dominant is because they haven’t had to do much on offense to win, the defense — so maligned in 2009 — has been beyond spectacular this season.  This is a team that has a great running game to lean on, and a great rush defense.  The pass rush has some issues stemming from the fact that their most active tacklers aren’t great pass rushers, so teams with dropback passing games can get time to find receivers against a tight secondary.

The one thing the Blue Hens had during their 2007 run that they don’t have now is a great, reliable kicking game.  Both of their losses have come on the margins with either a missed field goal or a decision not to attempt one that could have decided the game.  Otherwise, this team is already beyond the level of that team that made it to the Championship round of the 2007 FCS tournament.

William and Mary Tribe

The Tribe is responsible for one of Delaware’s two losses on the season. This is strictly a dropback passing team who didn’t post great rushing numbers on the year, but plays very strong defense and gets their plays in the passing game (7.33 YPA average, 14 TDs, 5 INTs).  In essence, they are a CAA team who is here because of what their defense does for them, like Delaware.

The only real difference is that William & Mary lost badly to North Carolina, and they are a two loss CAA team also among the 60 best teams in college football.  They are seeded 2nd in the tournament, behind only Appalachian State.  Their offense is run by two different quarterbacks: Mike Callahan, and Michael Paulus.  Callahan had the better year of the two, but Paulus won some big games, including the big Delaware win that gave William & Mary a share of the CAA title.

Villanova Wildcats

Villanova is the third rated AA team in the Sagarin rankings, behind only Delaware and William & Mary, it’s two CAA rivals.  Villanova is a four loss team, so they do not have a a great seed in this tournament, but one of the three losses came to a Temple team that entered the season as the MAC favorite, and two of the other losses came to teams in the FCS playoff field: New Hampshire and Williams & Mary.  The predictive difference between Villanova, Delaware, and William & Mary is basically nil: I’d take these three teams and give you the field in a gambling situation, but Villanova is really hurt by it’s tournament seed, having to start on the road at Stephen F. Austin, and then likely over to Appalachian State to keep playing for it.

Villanova is good enough to win both those games, possibly convincingly.  It’s still a tough draw, no matter how you look at it.  For Delaware and William & Mary, the worry is about being each other to advance to the Championship route.  Villanova has its toughest matchups before the semifinal.

The Wildcats are lead by dual threat rusher-runner Chris Whitney at quarterback, and their best offensive weapon is RB Aaron Ball, who is strictly a runner.  Villanova’s struggles with scoring defense are a cause for concern, because even though they can score points without great offensive numbers, this is still a team in a defense-first conference, and it’s the defense that will have to get them deep into the bracket.  Villanova has made just three field goals all season, which has helped in some ways because it’s given them four downs to get in the end zone, but it’s also why they have struggled in close games (2-4 in games decided by less than a TD).

Appalachian State Mountaineers

This year, perennial powerhouse Appalachian State may be number one purely on the strength of their rich history (and hey, someone who lost two games HAD to be number one), but this team has won a championship in a year which they had two regular season losses.  In fact, that year was the year they beat Michigan at the Big House.  They actually went on to lose to both Elon and Wofford before going undefeated in the postseason to take the title.

There’s a couple of troubling trends for this App. State team.  Number one: former QB Armanti Edwards was the most dynamic player in the subdivision for four consecutive seasons.  He’s in the NFL now.  Number two: Appalachian State was blown off the field in Gainesville by a Florida team that has struggled prior to, and since that game with even the most pedestrian conference opponents.  Their other loss came to a Georgia Southern team that is in the playoff field.

They have another top dual-threat QB in DeAndre Presley, who leads the team in both rushing and passing, and RB Travis Cadet is having a great season on the ground.  This offense is still the best in the field.  The defense is not up to the standard of a great App. State defense, which you probably figured when this Florida offense hung 40+ on them.

Montana State Bobcats

It’s difficult to find any information about a team that doesn’t keep it’s own stats, but this team played a lot of quality opponents this year.  They lost a bad one point decision to Pac-10 also-ran Washington State, but they convincingly beat Eastern Washington, who is the 5th seed in this tournament, and they will likely have a rematch at the same location next week, provided both teams win.

Montana State has a bunch of close wins over inferior opponents this year, and they are probably overseeded in this bracket based on the head to head result with Eastern Washington.  This team was blown out by Northern Arizona, and they rank 104th in the Sagarin Pure Points poll.

Eastern Washington Eagles

This is the team of the red turf fame who is probably the best bet to come out of their half of the bracket and make the Champhionship round.  They don’t have a great draw in front of them, but SE Missouri State and Montana State aren’t powerhouses, and then if they do have to go to Appalachian State for the national semifinal, they are rated just behind them in the Sagarin poll.  If they match-up with Villanova in the semis, Villanova has to travel all the way across the country to get to them.  Overall, that’s pretty good position.

Eastern Washington features a superstar back, Taiwan Jones, who has rushed for 1344 yards on 176 carries and has 11 TDs.  Their passing game is deceptive: they have 25 passing TDs, which is a lot, but inflated by their weaker opponents.  In the playoffs, they will lean heavily on Jones to get them to where they want to go.

The Eagles are strictly a big-play high-risk offense.  They outscore their opponents on average by 5 PPG.  They, however, give up more first downs both on the ground, and through the air than their opponents.  Big play offenses tend to shine in the playoffs, so as long as they keep doing their thing, Eastern Washington is a team that could go all the way.

Liveball’s Pick

Your writer likes the Eastern Washington Eagles to come out of their bracket on the strength of a Villanova upset against the Appalachian State Mountaineers, hosting the National Semifinal in Cheney, Wash.  The Championship game is as far as they will go.  The CAA is the SEC of this subdivision, and given the success that that conference has had, it’d be foolish to not take a CAA powerhouse to go all the way.

My pick is that the Delaware Blue Hens will defeat the William & Mary Tribe in the National Semifinal in a revenge game, and then beat the EWU Eagles to win the NCAA Div-I FCS National Championship.

Is Pat Devlin a First Round Prospect? Are the Blue Hens FCS Contenders?

May 25, 2010 4 comments

This story really begins when University of Delaware Quarterback Pat Devlin was still setting Pennsylvania high school football passing records, in 2005.  That year, a former three-star recruit by the name of Joe Flacco transferred from the University of Pittsburgh back closer to home at Delaware.  Unable to secure his release from his scholarship at Pitt, Flacco’s third college season went the way of his first two: nowhere.

Twenty three months after his transfer, Flacco was still a relatively unknown college quarterback, though well entrenched as the Blue Hens’ starter with 2,800 passing yards, 18 TDs, and just 10 INTs.  Thanks to a pretty remarkable 2007 playoff run, and the depth and magnitude of scouting in the NFL (leaving no stone unturned in the search for players to throw millions of dollars at), Flacco went from “the FCS QB who put up 50 beat Navy” on Halloween 2007, to a battle tested playoff QB (in college!), to a combine star, and then 6 months from his victory against Navy: Baltimore Ravens franchise player.

Flacco didn’t just turn the Blue Hens into a 2007 FCS runner-up, and himself into a professional, though he did both those things that year.  He also helped turn Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler into something of a QB guru, and the program into a destination for out-of-favor blue chippers to come and potentially build a pro career.

And so, three years after the last Delaware appearance in the NCAA FCS Football Championship, here comes the test of the idea that a mid-level D-I FCS program can operate, quietly, as an NFL quarterback factory.  Pat Devlin, after losing the battle for the starting QB job at Penn State transferred out of the program to small-town Newark, DE, and enters his senior season as the most accomplished passer in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2009, and arguably the best professional prospect in all of the FCS.  He also leads a team that hasn’t posted seven wins since going 11-4 under Flacco in 2007, and hasn’t even won so many as 6 conference games in a season since leaving the Atlantic 10 in 2007.

There are two very separate questions here:

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  • Will Devlin establish himself as the next 1st round quarterback from the University of Delaware?
  • Can the Blue Hens put together some semblance of a meaningful playoff season with Devlin, or is this a team that’s just not ready to compete?

In any case, I’ll try to address these questions in reverse order.  Pat Devlin is probably a better pure passer than Joe Flacco, based on their respective high school careers, recruiting hype, and first year statistics at Delaware.  The biggest difference in between their two seasons is probably the number of passes attempted.  It’s not like Devlin wasn’t the unquestioned QB of the Blue Hens last year; only 7 attempted passes last year by the team were not thrown by him.  Still, he threw about 70 fewer passes than Flacco did, and was sacked 26 times, more sacks in 2009 than Flacco had in his Blue Hen career.

The other factor here is that by my accounts, Flacco had the better pieces.  RB Omar Cuff, in four years at Delaware — the last two with Flacco — never failed to average at least 4.4 yards per carry, and truth be told, his 5.0 YPC senior season led the Blue Hens offense.  Flacco really just managed it and converted third downs.  Cuff scored 39 (!) offensive touchdowns that year.  Devlin inherits no such running game.  The offensive line should be improved this year, but last year, UDel runners combined to average fewer than 3.5 yards per carry (team total of 3.1 includes Devlin sacks), and just 16 TDs, which matched Devlin’s personal total.  Things will be better this year, to an extent, but what won’t change is that unlike Flacco’s senior season, what is accomplished by the Hens will be accomplished by Devlin.

Delaware returns a pretty strong pass defense, which in theory, would lend itself to winning the shootouts they are sure to be in, but thanks to college clock rules, teams that get themselves in an early hole can keep running if they can eat up 5-6 yard chunks on the ground, they will not ever need to put the ball in the air to catch up.  That run defense is another reason that Devlin has fewer attempts than Flacco: less time of possession.  Teams that can’t stop the Delaware passing attack can at least keep it off the field.

Devlin appears poised to blow away all of Flacco’s records from 2007, but the Hens are not as good of a team as they were that year.  They are a good bet to get to the postseason on the strength of a 4500 yard passing season from Devlin in which he obliterates the school passing TD record, but they aren’t the best team in the CAA by any stretch, and are looking at a 7-4 or 8-3 season.  They have a brutal road schedule (though a very favorable home slate), having to face FCS powers Richmond, James Madison, William & Mary, and UMass all away from home.

As for Devlin himself, he’s currently rated the third best Senior QB by NFL Draft Scout, a distant third behind Jake Locker, and Christian Ponder.  Ponder has certainly made up a lot of ground since their recruiting days of 2005, while Locker was originally classified as a “dual-threat” quarterback.  If Devlin is to have his late first round draft status threatened, it will come from an early draft commit.  Ryan Mallett is a virtual certainty to leave Arkansas and enter the 2011 NFL Draft, and probably the main competition for Devlin to be a pro prospect.  Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, Arizona’s Nick Foles, and Miami’s Jacory Harris are all darkhorses to do the same, and Devlin’s prospect status requires that he shatter the records this year, and lower his high sack rate to outpace these younger talents.

Can he hold those players off?  Well, I don’t think any of the third year college players are likely to commit to the draft unless they are reasonably certain to be the first pick.  That leaves just four players in the race to be the first quarterback taken: Locker, Ponder, Mallett, and Devlin.  At this point, those are good odds for Devlin, who is, along with Ponder, the most accurate prospect in the class.

Pat Devlin’s chances of being an NFL pro aren’t as good as Flacco’s were heading into draft day, but they are better than Flacco’s were at this time three years ago.  His team’s chances of being a playoff threat aren’t all that good — in many ways, he’s kind of his own show out there for the Blue Hens.  It’s going to be an interesting story to track, as certainly, Delaware is going to collect a bunch of wins over lesser programs, and be in the hunt come December.  Devlin should have his stage to showcase his skills at that point — as Joe Flacco did before him.  He’ll get to finish the story that Flacco, inadvertently, began writing.

College Football Over/Under: Delaware

September 4, 2009 2 comments
flickr.com/Saquan Stimpson

flickr.com/Saquan Stimpson

Reppin’ our Division-1 FCS fans with a quick look at the Delaware Blue Hens, and whether or not they will over/under 8.5 wins.

If you are not familiar with D-I FCS football, they have a 16-team playoff.  Before this becomes a “we need a playoff in ALL levels of college football” post comments section, it’s worth pointing out that the relative lack of media coverage makes their system successful.  Because the best teams in FCS are often two loss teams in the better conferences, a bowl system would never work.

No one thinks the bowl system is dysfunctional in big-time college football, just that it needs to be reformed.

Well, two years ago, the Blue Hens were a harmless No. 8 seed in the 2007-2008 FCS playoffs, bound to win a game and get knocked off by no. 1 seed, the University of Northern Iowa.  But that’s not exactly what happened.  After beating cross-state rival Delaware state in the first round, the Blue Hens led the Panthers from the second quarter on in a win that would have been considered a major college upset  at a higher level.  As it was, it set up a National Semifinal in Carbondale, Illinois, where the play of Flacco lead them to another playoff win.

The dream died against Appalachian State in the national championship, in a game that could best be described as a beatdown by the team who had beaten Michigan earlier in the year.  Delaware suffered major offensive graduations after the game, Flacco ended up heading to the Ravens in the first round, and a 4 year starter at RB–Omar Cuff–also graduated along with a pair of lineman and two of the top receivers.

In, 2008, the Hens went with Robbie Schoenhoft at quarterback, but he just looked in over his head against Maryland in a nationally televised game, the only one they would play last season.  The Hens didn’t improve a struggling defense despite maturing talent, and limped to a disappointing 4-8 overall record, the NC runner up season a distant memory.

flickr.com/Saquan Stimpson

flickr.com/Saquan Stimpson

Enter the program savior.  Pat Devlin, the highly recruited D-I quarterback got beat out by Darryl Clark at Penn State, and opted to transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.  So head coach K.C. Keeler went back to the transfer well one more time, and now adds arguably the best pocket passer in the entire FCS division.  It’s a pickup that Delaware had their eye on since the middle of last season, and it could be a season-maker.

So is it enough for Delaware to return to the playoffs?  They’ll have to do well in the Colonial Athletic Association (formerly the Atlantic-10), widely regarded as the most powerful conference in the division.  Their strongest competition, in no particular order: UMass, Richmond, James Madison, and a backyard brawl against Villanova.  It’s not a bad schedule draw this year, because they miss perennial powerhouse New Hampshire.

flickr.com/radio rover

flickr.com/radio rover

Whether or not they beat the over/under and make the playoffs could come down to their ability to beat Navy, the only FBS team on their schedule.  Flacco did it, it might have been his crowning regular season achievement for a team that started 8-1.  But even though Navy can’t recruit like a true FBS team because of service academy limitations, they still have to be considered a favorite over this Delaware team, who was not able to handle Paul Johnson’s triple option attack in 2007.  Though Flacco out shot the Midshipmen, that team was good enough to beat Notre Dame later in the year.

Ultimately, I think Delaware takes care of business against Villanova and UMass, as well as the rest of the CAA, and I think they plug their way to a 9-3 record, and return to the FCS champions bracket as a 7-9 seed.  They might not be able to make it two straight over Navy, but they don’t necessarily have to.  Over.