Saturday, March 04, 2006

Rumph joins staff as spring practice begins

As expected, former Memphis assistant Chris Rumph has been hired to coach the defensive line at Clemson. The news came as the Tigers opened spring practice today.

* More on Proctor: From the Spartanburg Herald Journal.

* So close, and so far: The excellent blogger at College Football Resource points out an Atlanta Journal Constitution article on Clemson's receivers. CFR highlights a quote from Tommy Bowden about how Clemson was just 14 points and a few breaks away from having a special season in 2005. CFR's response is interesting, and a bit puzzling:

Can you imagine the respect Clemson would have earned last year had a few more breaks gone their way and achieved a spotless or near-spotless record? Yet for anyone watching their team, it was brutally obvious they weren't an elite team. This is another example of how records can be deceptive and why voters and fans need to go out of their way to be as informed as possible about contending teams.

I would have felt terrible for the teams Clemson leapfrogged had they gone say, 10-2 last year when in fact their level of play was fairly well reflected by their record---good, not great. Just sayin'.

I can't really quibble with the opinion that Clemson in 2005 wasn't an elite team. Elite teams don't lose to Wake Forest, and they figure out a way to score more than nine points against Georgia Tech. But say Clemson had gone 10-2 in 2005, with our two losses being overtime affairs to two pretty good teams -- Miami and Boston College.

Looking at the final AP poll of 2005, where Clemson finished 21st, I think we would have wound up anywhere from 13th to 17th -- pretty much where Miami and Boston College finished their seasons. That hardly seems unfair to other teams with similar records.

Yes, Miami and BC each beat Clemson in overtime. They also each lost to eventual ACC champion Florida State, a team Clemson demolished 35-14. The Seminoles finished the season with five losses, yet were still ranked 23rd in the final poll. Maybe because they had some great wins over ranked teams such as Miami, BC and Virginia Tech.

Heck, let's extend this thought experiment. Suppose Clemson had managed to defeat Boston College, and the Tigers' lone blemish in 2005 was a triple-overtime loss to Miami. I think we could fairly claim a spot in the lower end of the top 10. And, if we'd somehow beaten the Hurricanes, I think we would have totally deserved a spot in the top five -- the lower end of the top five, but still.

Perhaps that idealized 10-1/11-0 Clemson team would have been revealed for the "sham" it was in a higher-tier bowl game. Instead of facing a reeling Colorado squad in the Champs Sports Bowl, perhaps we would have faced a more worthy opponent and gotten beaten -- badly.

It's certainly possible, especially if we'd come up against a truly "elite" team such as Texas, Southern Cal, Penn State or Ohio State. I think either the Horns or the Trojans would have thrashed us, and I'm pretty sure the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes would have won, too.

But then again, what if that worthy opponent uncharacteristically committed too many turnovers and lost? Or what if Clemson played a perfect game and won? Would we still be undeserving of a high ranking?

Or, what if we were matched up in a bowl against a team such as fifth-ranked West Virginia, which went 11-1 against a pretty weak schedule? (Their only opponent of any real quality during the regular season, Virginia Tech, beat them 34-17.) I think even a 7-4 Clemson team would have a good shot at winning that matchup, or at least playing an extremely competitive game.

If CFR's point is that polls aren't completely fair, I certainly can't argue with that. But I think it's an odd argument to say that a 10-2 or 11-1 Clemson team would be undeserving of a ranking higher than 21st in the country.

UPDATE: I just realized the perfect example of a team that CFR might have felt "leapfrogged" other, more deserving teams en route to a national championship: Georgia, 1980. An offense centered on just one star player (albeit one of the all-time greats), a non-dominating, bend-but-don't-break defense, and the uncanny ability to pull a win out of their asses week after week despite being beaten in most statistical categories.

(The 1980 Clemson-Georgia game is a microcosm of the Bulldogs' championship season. In that contest, Georgia was vastly outgained in yardage and way behind in time of possession, but won because Scott Woerner had the game of his life. He returned a punt for a touchdown and ran an interception back 98 yards to set up another score as the Dogs triumphed, 20-16. By the way, Clemson finished 6-5 that season. Not exactly a "quality" win.)

The 1980 Dawgs certainly weren't an all-conquering dynasty. Yet when the dust settled on New Year's Day, Georgia was the undefeated national champion.

You're free to feel terrible for Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Michigan, etc. As for myself, I tip my hat to the Dogs, and raise a glass to the insane, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring stuff that actually happens on the field, as opposed to what's supposed to happen based on a regression analysis of statistical trends and box scores.

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