Friday, June 12, 2009

Off-Season Potpouri

A collection of quick hits from this, the dreaded off-season for intercollegiate athletics:

I got a chance to meet Tim Walsh (right), Joe O'Brien's new assistant coach, at the Brian Reems Memorial three-on-three tournament last weekend. All of the Bengal players were there serving as officials and the coaches came out in the rain to support the effort. Walsh, who worked with O'Brien in the junior college ranks, brings a long history and deep recruiting ties to the Midwest, where O'Brien seems most comfortable doing his recruiting. Walsh, O'Brien and I talked a lot about Illinois high school basketball, with Walsh having coached at Quincy, one of the premier high school programs in the country, and I having grown up in Collinsville, one of Quincy's top rivals back in the "good old days" several decades ago. While Walsh took a dip into coaching junior college basketball in Arizona a couple of seasons ago, he returned to his Midwest roots last year as an assistant at Wisconsin-Green Bay. His hiring tells me O'Brien will likely continue to focus his recruiting efforts in that neck of the woods.

Speaking of recruiting, O'Brien told me the Bengals are still in the market for another player for the upcoming season in light of Phyllip Taylor's academic ineligiblity. He said they're currently looking at a 6-4 high school guard who might fit the bill. As we noted recently, while the letter of intent period ended in May, recruits can still sign scholarship agreements.

Recruiting for the class of 2010 kicks into high gear in a couple of weeks, when the July evaluation period opens. That's when coaches can watch recruits in person at a number of summer tournaments around the country. Many top Division I programs already have commitments from recruits for 2010, but it typically takes at least until mid-summer before recruits start getting serious about lowered-tiered schools like Idaho State. The Bengals will have at least seven scholarships to give out for next season. The early signing period is in November, and O'Brien has said he'd like to get about half of his recruits in that period and the other half in April, with a ratio of high school to junior college players about 50-50 as well.
New Rules Announced

While we're on the topic of college basketball, the NCAA announced several changes in playing rules for next season (,169027). The most interesting is the effort to try to better define what is a blocking foul and what is a charge. Beginning this year, secondary defenders cannot position themselves in the area between the front of the rim and the backboard to draw a charging foul. That will cut down on traffic under the basket somewhat, but it still allows a primary defender to pick up a charge under the basket. I'd still much rather see the NCAA go to the NBA rule, where an arc is established under the basket and a defender standing in that arc is automatically guilty of a charge in the event of a collision, whether they are primary or secondary.

Other new rules changes include allowing an opposing coach to select who will substitute for an injured free throw shooter, rather than the coach of the injured player, and that substitute must come from one of the other four players on the court at the time of the foul; and allowing officials to use video replay to determine if a player was guilty of a flagrant foul that would result in ejection.

Earlier, the rules committee suggested points of emphasis including no taunting among players, and closer scrutiny of elbow throwing and three-second lane violators.

Bengals Lose Out on Potential Walk-On

According to the Post Register, Blackfoot's Jordan Bjornberg, a 6-5 all-state forward, was all set to walk on at Idaho State when Westminster College called to offer him a partial scholarship ( Bjornberg, who averaged 19.7 points and 7 rebounds a game as a senior, would have been an intriguing addition to the ISU roster. It's very difficult to assess how good Idaho high school players can be on the college level because, quite frankly, they simply don't play against good enough competition, night-in and night-out.

David Schroeder was a great example of how hard it is to evaluate Idaho players -- ISU didn't offer him a scholarship until a JC recruit washed out academically the summer between David's senior season and when he entered ISU. He turned out to be a star, of course, but dozens of other Idaho players have tried to make it as walk-ons over the years, but quickly found out they weren't athletic enough to compete for consistent playing time. What category will Bjornberg fall into?

His comments to the Post Register seem to indicate he sees the Westminster offer as more of a tryout for a Division I scholarship than a four-year commitment. "I anticipate getting a lot better there," he said. "...If I stay four years, great. If I get good enough and bigger schools are willing to offer, that's an option..."

Montana Signs up for Big Games Against FCS Heavyweights

The University of Montana announced this week that the Griz have signed long-term deals to play home-and-home football games with two other FCS heavyweights -- Applachian State and McNeese State These kinds of FCS battles are highly unusual, for a couple of reasons: 1) Most FCS schools would rather play their non-conference games against FBS schools for a major pay-day; and 2) If they're going to play another FCS non-conference game, the schools would prefer to play somebody they feel confident about beating.
Instead of a the half-million-dollar or more payday these FCS powers would generate from FBS teams, Montana and Appy will guarantee each other $100,000 to cover travel expenses. Since both Appy and Montana already play to packed houses every week anyway, the great matchups won't generate much more in gate revenues for the participants.
So congratulations to the Griz, the Mountaineers and the Cowboys for having the guts to play at a high level within the FCS without a big pay day, and here's hoping you can convince ESPN to pick up your games on national television. But don't expect too many of your FCS brethern to follow suit.
By the way, Pat Forde of ESPN has an excellent analysis of college football scheduling these days. It's written from the view of the "big boys," but talks about how smaller schools are getting more leverage to extract large payouts to play body bag games (
Boise Burn Update
Two former Bengals, defensive back Ernie James and defensive tackle Mark Weivoda, are making significant contributions to a red-hot Boise Burn arena football team. The Burn, (8-2), are off to their best start in team history, and their defense is a big part of their success. The Burn ranks third in the high-scoring league in scoring defense (40.2 per game). James has 21 tackles and 2 interceptions, and Weivoda has 4.5 sacks as part of that defense.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Looking Ahead No. 1: Arizona State

With the summer doldrums upon us, now is a good time to start taking a sneak peak at Idaho State's opponents for the upcoming football season. Each week, I'll give you a quick look at a different foe, in order of appearance on the schedule. We start today with the Arizona State Sun Devils, who will host the Bengals on Sept. 5 in Tempe.

Last Year

Coaching gypsy Dennis Erickson's second season in the Valley of the Sun was a real come-down after he went 10-3 in his debut. The Sun Devils started the season as a likely top 25 team, led by four-year starter Rudy Carpenter returning at quarterback. But they finished the season out of the bowl picture with a 5-7 record that was heavy on victories over lightweights (Northern Arizona, Stanford, Washington, Washington State and UCLA), and no signature wins to be found. They weren't blown out often, losing to then-No. 3 Georgia just 27-10 and to eighth-rated USC 28-0, but they couldn't find a breakthrough win.

Pre-Season Outlook

ASU returns 14 starters from last year's team, as well as all the specialists. The Sun Devils also have a very manageable early season schedule, with home games against ISU and Louisiana-Monroe sandwiched around a bye. They do have to play at Georgia in game three, but then they get four winnable PAC 10 games in a row: Oregon State and Washington at home, and Washington State and Stanford on the road. With experience on both sides of the football and that schedule, it's conceivable ASU could be 6-1 before Cal and USC come to Tempe Oct. 31 and Nov. 7, respectively.


ASU's brightest star is defensive end Dexter Davis (above), a 6-2, 252-pound senior who has started every game since his redshirt freshman season. He's recorded 27.5 sacks in his career, including 11 last season. (You can read Dexter's "sack lunch" blog here: Davis is the biggest name on a veteran defensive front, which also includes Lawrence Guy, who stepped in as a starting defensive tackle as a true freshman last season, and recorded 10 tackles for a loss and two sacks.

Also on defense, linebacker Mike Nixon, a 227-pound senior, tied for the PAC 10 lead with five interceptions and recorded 90 tackles on the season; cornerback Omar Bolden, a junior, broke up seven passes and had two picks; and linebacker Travis Goethel was third on the team with 71 tackles and intercepted two passes.

Offensively, ASU appears to lack true "home run hitters," at least with experience. Wideout Chris McGaha has caught 112 passes in his career, but has scored only five touchdowns in three seasons. WR Kyle Williams appears to be more of a big-play threat, averaging 19 yards a catch last year, but he only caught 19 balls with four touchdowns. Dimitri Nance, their most experienced running back, averaged less than 4 yards a carry in accumulating his 410 yards last season.

But ASU recruits to a PAC 10 level, and that means depth -- and incoming freshmen who could make an immediate impact. On the depth front, Ryan Bass, who was rated as the No. 2 running back recruit in the nation by Rivals last year, averaged 4.6 yards a carry as a true freshman while playing in seven games for ASU last season. The Devils also brought in three freshmen backs who could compete for playing time.

Not to be forgotten is probably ASU's most legitimate All-American candidate -- placekicker Thomas Weber, who has converted on 86 percent of his field goal attempts in his two seasons, including a 24-25 performance as a freshman All-American. Weber is 10 for 14 on field goal attempts of 40 yards or longer, and 2-for-2 over 50.

The Big Question Mark

The burning question in Tempe come August camp will be: Who will replace Carpenter at quarterback? As of the end of spring football, senior Danny Sullivan, 6-4, 242, was listed atop the depth chart. A native of Los Gatos, Calif., the same town that produced Bengal All-American Jared Allen, Sullivan has played in 25 games over three seasons, throwing for 409 yards and three touchdowns. He'll continue to compete with sophomore Samson Szakacsy, a much more athletic QB, and Brock Osweiler, a Montana high school legend, in the fall. Osweiler, a 6-8, 237-pounder from Kalispell, was recruited by both major college football and basketball programs. He graduated from high school in December so he could take part in spring football this year. (To see an interview with him, go here:

How the Bengals Match Up

The good news is that while ASU has a lot of experience on both sides of the football, the Sun Devils don't really boast any first-team PAC 10 or All-American caliber players, with the notable exceptions of Davis, the defensive end and Weber, the kicer. The other good news is that ASU will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, which hopefully means the playbook will be somewhat limited when ISU comes to town for the season opener.

The bad news is that ASU, while lacking true headliner talent, is very deep and athletic. ASU lists six different running backs on its spring depth chart -- and that's before the three highly-recruited freshmen hit the campus. They list 12 candidates at wide receiver and four tight ends. Then consider that ISU had one healthy scholarship tailback during spring football. This will definitely be an athletic mismatch.

ISU, who entered spring with a giant hole at the key left tackle slot, will also have to figure out how to keep Davis off the Bengal quarterback. Putting together a running game against that veteran ASU front seven will certainly be a challenge.

And ISU's lack of depth, along with what may be 90-degree or greater heat at the 6 p.m. kickoff will likely take its toll on the Bengal special teams, creating big play opportunities for the Devils.

Still, with ASU being inexperienced at quarterback and in only early-season rhythm offensively, this won't be the worst matchup of the season for Idaho State. That comes next week, when we preview....Oklahoma.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.