Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Franklin Era Retrospective

There’s no easy way to say goodbye.

Just over three years ago, James Franklin stepped onto Vanderbilt’s campus as a second option to Gus Malzahn. But still, the dynamic, young coach—little known outside of Maryland football circles—managed to do what no one had ever done at Vanderbilt.

Which is to say, win, essentially.

We’ve all heard it a million times, but it doesn’t make the transformation any less incredible: Franklin inherited an SEC doormat that went 2-10 two years in a row and won 24 games in three years.

He did it at a school that made four bowl games in the previous 107 years. At a school that hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915—eighteen years before the formation of the SEC. At a school that doesn’t have winning football.

James Franklin put Vanderbilt on the college football map through tireless coaching and incredible salesmanship. Selling to recruits that this school was the place to be, selling to players that they were capable of great things, and selling to fans that this program was worth caring about. He did amazing things to Vanderbilt’s campus that many thought would never happen.

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On a personal note, covering James Franklin for two years has made me a much better journalist. You need to ask the right questions to avoid his coaching rhetoric.

So why does it all feel so empty now that he’s gone?

It’s hard not to feel spurned now that Franklin left for Penn State after just three years. A large part of that is the things he said while at Vanderbilt.

His big pitch to recruits was always to build a new legacy instead of borrowing from someone else’s. That’s not possible at Penn State.

He said the only three conferences that matter in football are the AFC, NFC, and SEC. Those conferences do not include Penn State.

According to (former) Vanderbilt commit Mikale Wilbon, “he was telling me he wanted to make it into a dynasty there, like Nick Saban at Alabama, like Joe Paterno at Penn State.” For obvious reasons, it’s going to be hard to duplicate a dynasty at his new school.

He said that players who decommitted from Vanderbilt were not “men of honor” and “men of integrity.” Well he left in the middle of his own contract, and now he’s trying to take these men without honor and integrity with him to Penn State.

But that’s college football: full of rhetoric. Coaches want to sell their current program as best they can. Just look at how eerily/nauseatingly similar Franklin’s introductory press conferences were at Vanderbilt and Penn State.

I think what hurts most about Franklin leaving is that we now know Vanderbilt was always a stepping-stone. Once his star was big enough, he was going to leave, and he didn’t really mean it when he said he wanted to build a dynasty in Nashville. Vanderbilt reportedly offered him $50 million over 10 years compared to his $27 million, six-year deal at Penn State—even a larger paycheck wouldn’t help him stay.

It’s not upsetting that Franklin left, per se; it would be hard not to support him leaving to a top-five college job like Texas or USC, both of which were available this winter. But Penn State—a mid-tier Big 10 school mired in controversy and riddled by sanctions—seems like such a lateral move, even if he grew up in Pennsylvania.

Sure, once Penn State’s bowl ban and scholarship restrictions are lifted, it may become a good job again, but that’s years away, and there will be much better openings in the near future. Florida, or maybe even a Michigan or Georgia.

Vanderbilt fans will be bitter towards Franklin for all sorts of reasons, and the way he exited certainly didn’t help.

After not addressing whether he’d stay or not (to be fair, if he was never leaving, why would he interview at all?), he reportedly flirted with the Penn State job for a whole week before finally telling the team he was leaving on Saturday morning. Fans and players alike felt dragged along by his decision.

But really, the fact that Franklin’s exit elicited so much animosity shows how far Vanderbilt’s football program has come. If Bobby Johnson or Robbie Caldwell left for another job three and four years ago, no one would have batted an eye. On the other side of the coin, three or four years ago, it would’ve been crazy to think a Vanderbilt coach would have the clout to get hired at Penn State.

Vanderbilt, just like private schools such as Stanford and Northwestern, has always been a viable football school. It took James Franklin to show that.

Vanderbilt football will be just fine, even without the man who turned this program around at the helm. A football program is bigger than one man. This is the most talented group of student athletes West End has ever seen, and Vice Chancellor David Williams will hire a great head coach in the coming days.

The two names that come up the most in Williams’ search for a new head coach are Clemson’s offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Stanford’s defensive coordinator Derek Mason. Each would be a fantastic hire. Three years ago, though? They would have never considered Vanderbilt.

Four hours after Franklin announced to his players that he was leaving for Penn State, Williams held a press conference to talk about the search for a new head coach. In that short span of time, already 20-25 people reached out to him about the opening, including five who turned down Vanderbilt just three years ago.

And that is James Franklin’s legacy: Vanderbilt is finally on the college football map—no longer an SEC doormat—as a place where you can win and a place that demands respect nationally.

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Divisional Round NFL Picks – Vegas Can Kick Rocks

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve made NFL picks because I’ve been busy over winter break with vacation and following the crazy James Franklin saga, but I’m back for the second round of NFL picks.

Although this season has been… tough to say the least, I’ve actually been historically really good in the playoffs. Just last season, I was 7-1 and made 160 apples, and last week, I was 2-2 but still made 25 apples.

If you’re like me and are tired off all this college football drama, here are my picks for this weekend’s slate of games. Now that we’re out of the regular season, I promise you’ll make a killing off these picks.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

Chargers (+9.5) over BRONCOS

I’ll admit this off the bat: I’ve never been a huge Peyton Manning fan. But this pick doesn’t have to do with hatred, it has to do with stone cold facts.

Facts like Peyton Manning being 11-12 when the temperature is under 40 degrees at kickoff.

Facts like Peyton Manning being 9-11 in the playoffs.

Facts like Peyton Manning being 0-73 when his team has less points at the end of the game.

There’s a funny feeling to this Chargers team. And not just because Philip Rivers has brought bolo tie fashion to San Diego or because two weird trends say they will win the Super Bowl. Rivers is having a career year–partly thanks to Offensive Rookie of the Year co-favorite Keenan Allen–and the shockingly good combo of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead has combined for 2,478 yards at running back.

There are certainly red flags in this game for San Diego–their defensive line is ranked last in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, and they’ve given up the 4th-most passing yards in the league. But at the same time, this Broncos team is slowly falling apart with Von Miller, Ryan Clady, Rahim Moore, and Kevin Vickerson all on the IR.

We’ve already seen that the Chargers can hang with the Broncos–they lost 28-20 at home in Week 10 and won 27-20 in Denver in Week 15–so I don’t think it’s out of the question for them to win. And pardon me for questioning John Fox playoff teams coming off a bye. (No, I don’t actually think you can draw any conclusions from one game, but I’m still bitter about 2009.)

In the end, I think that Denver’s offense is a little to strong for San Diego to keep up with, but this 9.5-point spread seems a bit high.

Prediction: Broncos 31 Chargers 27

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

PATRIOTS (-7) over Colts

Somehow, the Patriots and Colts have only faced each other in the playoffs three times (2004, 2005, and 2007), but each time, the home team went on to win the Super Bowl. Something tells me that trend ends this year.

Even as a noted Patriots homer, I’ve still been very vocal in saying the Patriots will not win the Super Bowl this year now that they’ve lost Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski. But that’s not to say you should count out Touchdown Tom.

The Colts have been one of the most bizarre teams all year, beating the Niners, Seahawks, and Broncos, yet losing to the Dolphins, Rams, and Cardinals. They don’t have a single rusher over 550 yards on the season, and T.Y. Hilton is their best receiver. Their defense is a reinvigorated Robert Mathis and that’s it.

Although Tom Brady has had far from his best year, he’s had an excellent 70.6 QBR since his bye, if you exclude the weird Week 17 game. I really like Andrew Luck, but I’ll still take Brady in the playoffs, especially at Gillette, where he’s 11-4. The Patriots running game has really picked up lately, watch out for LeGarrette Blount, and that could be the difference in this game, since Denver is 26th in the NFL against the run.

Prediction: Patriots 30 Colts 20

KFC Double Down Games:

SEAHAWKS (-8) over Saints

I was tempted to pick the Saints here for a while, but then I thought better of it. Eight points is a large spread, but the Seahawks are incredibly good at home, and Percy Harvin should finally be healthy.

Most people agree that the Seahawks are the Super Bowl favorites between Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, their incredible defensive front, huge (roiding) cornerbacks, and steady QB play from Russell Wilson. But the bigger scare to me here is that the Saints’ passing attack is so good that Drew Brees could easily pull a backdoor cover.

Despite having a nearly absent running game all season, Brees has still flourished. Part of that is thanks to Jimmy Graham finally breaking out and Kenny Stills becoming the next in a long line of successful, young Sean Payton receivers, but his season is still impressive nonetheless. So impressive that he didn’t have a QBR under 50 until Week 13. Of course, Week 13 was against Seattle.

Seattle is the top team against the pass, largely because they have two 6’3″ defensive backs, another at 6’1″, and three-time Pro Bowler Earl Thomas as the last starter. That helps prevents mismatches against teams with tall receivers like, say, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, and Robert Meachem.

We’ve seen how this game plays out in that Week 13 matchup–the Seahawks ran away with it 34-7 coming off a bye. It won’t be so lopsided, but New Orleans just doesn’t have much luck in the Emerald City.

Prediction: Seahawks 31 Saints 17

Cook Out Drive-Thru Lock o’ the Week:

PANTHERS (+1) over Niners

I’m upset that the Panthers are underdogs in this game. That’s just disrespectful. Carolina went into Candlestick Park and held the Niners to 9 points, and then Vegas pulls this?

You’re damn right I’m going to fill this section up with fan propaganda.

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I’ll just leave you with this picture.

Sure, the Niners are getting back Michael Crabtree, and Aldon Smith only played limited snaps last game, but last time they played wasn’t even the Panthers’ best effort. The Panthers sacked Colin Kaepernick six times, and Greg Hardy wasn’t even included in that barrage. Now he said he’s going to break Kaepernick’s face.

The Panthers might just have the best front seven in the league–even after trading Jon Beason for pocket change–and we’ve seen them hold Kaepernick to 91 yards passing.

The Panthers have become a dominant team when Cam Newton plays well. They’re 8-2 with a +121 point differential when Cam has a QBR over 50, and they’re 5-2 with a +49 point differential when he doesn’t turn the ball over. With more consistent play and a strong running attack (they’re the only team to rush for at least 80 yards every game), this Panthers team is just complete across the board.

So you can kick rocks, Vegas.

Prediction: Panthers 24 Niners 16

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