Thursday, February 18, 2010

Here we go...

The 2010 Horned Frog baseball team's journey to Omaha gets underway tomorrow night, with the first pitch against Sam Houston State set for 6:30pm. After last year's success, all of the returning starters and the addition of the Rangers' 1st round draft pick Matt Purke have expectations sky-high, as evidenced earlier in this very paragraph with the implication that a trip to the College World Series (where TCU has never been before) is imminent.

But with 56 scheduled regular season games and the possibility of up to a dozen or more in the postseason, you have to expect that there will be some bumps in the road along the way. That is especially true early in the season, as Jim Schlossnagle has again assembled a very tough non-conference schedule to counter the relatively weak conference in the eyes of the computers that compile the RPI rankings as well as the NCAA Tournament Committee.

Just as GP often talks about breaking down the football schedule into quadrants, let's first look at just the seven games on the docket for February. Right off the starting gun, you need to think again if you're taking SHSU lightly. The Bearkats have been to the NCAA Regionals three consecutive years after winning the Southland Conference tournament in each year they've been coached by Mark Johnson, who came to SHSU after being head coach at A&M for 21 years. Their preseason All-America second basemen, Braeden Riley, hit .387 last year and led the NCAA hit 111 hits. This weekend is easily their biggest 3-game set, so you know they'll be focused. Winning the series against the Bearkats will be tough, and a sweep would be a major accomplishment.

Then you've got the midweek game at Baylor next Wednesday afternoon. The Bears are unranked and were picked just 6th in the Big 12 preseason poll, but then again the Big 12 is one of the very best baseball leagues in the nation. Baylor and TCU have always played each other tough, and last year the green & gold got the best of both match ups- including a 15-4 win in Waco.

As if that weren't tough enough, the Frogs head west next weekend for a series against Cal-State Fullerton...the #4 team in the country. Like TCU, Fullerton has a deep pitching staff and a young, mostly untested lineup- so this series will be a major test for them as well. The Frogs did manage to take 2 of 3 from the Titans out there last year, but duplicating that feat will be a tall order.

I don't mean to seem like a major pessimist, because in reality I'm anything but. Just don't think that the preseason hype around this team is going to instantly equal a 7-0 February. I'm looking at these games like a best-of-seven series, so winning four would make it a successful Black History Month in my eyes.

Thursday Conversation with MWC Commish Craig Thompson

For the past two seasons, all eyes have been on the Mountain West Conference as it’s tried to make a push from the ranks of the nonautomatic qualifiers to the automatic qualifiers.
The conference tried its hand at reforming the BCS system after the 2009 season, and now is trying to earn one of the coveted automatic bids by thriving during the BCS’ four-year evaluation period, which is already two years in.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson indulged me with an e-mail Q&A session (that’s why charts are included). He gives his thoughts on the conference’s progress toward being an AQ conference and possible Pac-10 and Big Ten expansion.
The conference ended its second consecutive season with three teams ranked in the Top 25.
What do you think that says about your conference and how on par it is with some of the conferences with automatic bids?
Craig Thompson: The MWC has consistently taken the position the BCS should be performance-based. It is clear from the head-to-head competition numbers the MWC is performing at the same level as the AQ conferences.

In regards to a possible automatic bid, how is that going and how far off do you believe the conference is from achieving that goal?
CT: After the first two years of this four-year evaluation period, the Mountain West would have a very strong case for inclusion as an automatic-qualifying conference.
After the push for BCS reform last year, it seemed like there was a lot of pressure on the conference to perform well. How do you feel like your conference handled that pressure?
CT: The results speak for themselves. For a second consecutive year, the MWC had three teams ranked in the final BCS standings, including the highest ranking ever for a non-automatic qualifier [No. 4], and earned a spot in a BCS game. Combine that with our 4-1 bowl record and becoming the only conference to win the Bowl Challenge Cup for the third time. Our coaches and student-athletes are continuing to prove it on the field.
The top three teams in the conference -- TCU, BYU and Utah -- seem to be maintaining their high level of play, what does the rest of the conference need to do to catch up?
CT: There is a misperception that the Mountain West is a three-team league and doesn’t have the depth of other conferences. The reality is every conference’s standings have a top, middle and bottom. The teams that currently follow TCU, BYU and Utah in the MWC standings are every bit as competitive as the teams that are similarly positioned in their conferences standings.
In fact, these MWC teams have contributed wins against AQ opponents as noted above [e.g. Wyoming at Tennessee, Arizona at New Mexico, UNLV at Arizona State, Iowa State at UNLV, Colorado State at Colorado -- all MWC wins in the last two seasons]. These “other” teams have also contributed to the MWC’s nation-leading bowl record over the last few years.
Clearly the BYU, TCU and Utah programs have created a blueprint for sustained success that has set the bar in the Mountain West. We are confident the other programs in the league are headed in the right direction with the commitments that have been made to facilities, scheduling, coaching staffs, recruiting, etc.
With all this talk of expansion and teams such as Utah, BYU and TCU being mentioned as possibly moving to other conferences, are you concerned about the future of the conference?
CT: Certainly, it is important to be cognizant of the changing landscape. We are continuing what has been an ongoing process of evaluating our options. However, we are not going to overreact to rumors and speculation. We have positioned the MWC to be as successful as possible and have made great progress. The Mountain West is a very attractive conference that I believe people want to be a part of.
Do you feel that losing one or more of those teams would adversely affect the Mountain West’s push for a BCS automatic berth? And does the conference have a plan should one of those teams move to a different conference?
CT: Conference membership clearly impacts your ability to reach the automatic-qualification threshold under the current four-year BCS evaluation system. A change in membership could affect an automatic BCS berth in any number of ways. We would be prepared tomorrow for any number of scenarios. We've always been proactive, are doing the necessary research, and looking at all options.

2010 Recruiting Class Intros - Mash Up, the Finale

Alright, so now that signing day is officially two weeks complete, I'll finally close up the book on it. Really, I've just already taken it this far so I may as well finish it. I'm diligent and thorough like that. And, here to help me out in this final chapter is renowned analyst/therapist, Dr. Tobias Funke!

Elisha Olabode. Safety, 5'10", 170. Cedar Hill (Cedar Hill HS).

One of the later additions to the 2010 recruiting class, Olabode is a local product out of Cedar Hill, a team that was favored to win state heading into the playoffs until falling to eventual champion Abilene - can I get a what what, lenetownfizzle? It does seem like we have a lot of potential safeties in this class - not to mention last year's - but with the 4-2-5, I suppose that's an alright problem to have. Elisha is a strong tackler and isn't afraid to light someone up; I suppose growing up with a name like Elisha will bring the animosity out in a man. He also has great leaping ability and while he may not be an interception machine - and be honest, who on our team would you consider such a thing? - he's more than capable of going up over receivers who have several inches on him and breaking up passes. I could easily see him being a free safety for the Frogs over his career.

Dr. Funke's words of encouragement to male athletes who have been christened with names better suited for their female counterparts - "For there's a man inside me, and only when he's finally out, I can walk free of pain."

Blake Roberts. Linebacker, 6'4", 225. Tyler (Tyler Lee HS).

Unlike Olabode, Blake Roberts has been with the Frogs practically since day one, has never wavered in his commitment and, despite him attending one of the rival high schools from my day, I'm glad to have him. The best thing about Roberts is, obviously, his size. To be that big in high school is rare, and I bet the strength coaches are already fired up about how much bulk they can add to Roberts large frame. The 45th ranked linebacker in the state, Roberts packs a lot more punch than his pedigree would suggest. He may not knock holes in opponents souls like fellow classmate Jonathan Anderson, but Roberts will certainly make runners think twice about taking him head on. He can also fly for a white guy - 4.5 speed - and accelerates at the point of impact which will increase his chances of causing fumbles or disrupting catches. Also, with his height and edge rushing abilities, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the staff give him a shot at defensive end before he settles into an established role. He's going to be a fun one to watch develop.

Dr. Funke's advice to Blake Roberts, who is not only an aspiring football player, but an aspiring filmmaker as well (alright, so that was entirely fabricated in order to serve my end game - "Well, I've always wanted to remake Annie Hall. Except, I wouldn't want to get in bed with a green producer like a Sofia Coppola, though. Oh, but give me an old pro like a Robert Redford. Oh, I'd jump into bed with him in a second. And I wouldn't just lie there, (Blake Roberts), if that's what you're thinking."

Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson. C, 6'4", 315. Farmersville (Farmersville HS).

Already one of GP's favorites from the new class, Michael Thompson brings tremendous size to an offensive line that is in need of some capable backups, not to mention replacements for all of the seniors who will be departing after this season. His stated position is at center, and he could do a lot worse than learning for a year under All-Conference performer Jake Kirkpatrick who learned from former AC Center Blake Schlueter. He's very strong - benches 400 and squats 600 - and was all over just about every All-3A list for the entire state, despite being ranked 18th at his position. I'm sure Michael will take a red shirt season this year, but already sitting at 315 pounds, and with a year of strength work under his belt, he could easily challenge for a starting role in 2011.

Dr. Funke's outlook on signing offensive linemen to your recruiting class - " Even if it means me taking a chubby, I will suck it up."

Nykiren Wellington

Nykiren Wellington. OT, 6'6", 275. San Antonio (Holmes HS).

Wellington arrives in Fort Worth after considering Utah and Colorado and, based on his above picture, the kid's head is in the right place. The obvious given here is, standing 6'6", Nykiren has the size and long arms that coaches look for in an offensive tackle. He's not the behemoth that Marcus Cannon is, but let's hope he skews more towards that mountain rather than our former, underachieving one, Nic Richmond.

Dr. Funke's impression of how Utah and Colorado felt when Wellington bolted them for Fort Worth - "Oh, come on. Don't leave your uncle T-bag hanging."

Kevin White. CB, 5"10", 170. Round Rock (Stony Point, HS).

Rounding out the 2010 class is Kevin White, a cornerback out of the outlet mall and chain restaurant capital of Texas, Round Rock. An all-5A first teamer, White fielded offers from MWC schools Wyoming and Air Force before deciding on the Frogs, which was probably the least complex decision he's made in his entire life, preceding, "should I breathe today?" With our lack of cornerback depth, if White is able to produce quickly, he could see some playing time in the fall, although with Travaras Battle-Smith already on campus, he's going to be several steps behind. Still, the more capable corner backs we have, the better because it's definitely an area of need.

No set up, just a hilarious damned quote - "Although, if I may, let me take off my assistant’s skirt and put on my Barbra Streisand in The Prince of Tides ass-masking therapist pantsuit."

Bonus Quote!! - "Here he comes. Here comes John Wayne. I'm not gonna cry about my pa. I'm gonna buy an airport, put my name on it. Why, Michael? So you can fly away from your feelings? You can keep them bottled up, Michael, but they will come out. Sometimes in the most unexpected-Hey, where the fuck are my hard-boiled eggs?"

So that brings us to the end of our 2010 class intros, although based on the lack of comments it looks like most of you got your fill in a more timely manner from Rivals. I'd like to thank Dr. Tobias Funke for being here not only to shed some light on out latest batch of Horned Frogs, but also to further alienate our readers who may not be familiar with most of my humor. But, in any case, I hope I at least inspired one of you to become excited about a player you may not have been familiar with. We have less than 200 days to go. Keep fighting the good fight, Spitblooders, and soldier on through the abyss known as baseball season.

What to Watch for in the MWC: TCU

From ESPN College Football Blog:

Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
Replacing All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes will be a big task, but TCU has a history of finding diamonds in the rough. In fact, when Hughes replaced Chase Ortiz, no one knew who he was. D.J. Yendrey, who played defensive tackle last season, and Braylon Broughton, who was
Hughes’ backup, will compete for the starting role.
The Horned Frogs will look for a replacement for Clint Gresham at deep snapper. Gresham was the team’s deep snapper for the past three seasons and in that time TCU never had a bad snap.
Aundre Dean, a running back transfer from UCLA will work at strong safety this spring. He worked out at strong safety some last season, but now the move will likely be permanent. It’s just as well. The Horned Frogs have a quite a few running backs lining up for playing time.

Morning Dump

Cannon received high marks from Kiper

Bears invite TCU's Richmond for visit ESPN

Regional projections: The preseason edition
Yahoo! Sports

Three strikes: The preseason edition Baseball America

Arlington Martin playmaker can do it all