Friday mailbag (July 21)
Amber in Tampa: Aside from the voluntary workouts and the 7-on-7s and weight lifting that we're always hearing about, what have been some of the bigger changes in the offseason training of football players you've seen in the last few years?
Feldman: About a decade ago, martial arts was among the "hot" things many players were doing during the summer, and many still are because it can be very beneficial, especially for linemen in improving their hands. From talking to some coaches, it sounds like yoga really has become a factor for many programs now. Last month I wrote about how Mississippi State has embraced it as a big part of the Bulldogs' summer workouts and last Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a big story on Ga. Tech's commitment to it.
The AJC story really caught my eye for two reasons. One, because it mentions that the Jackets are being trained by former pro wrestling star Diamond Dallas Page ("Do you own Notre Dame or what?" Page yells at the Jackets during a workout.)
The other reason is because Page's business partner is a former college football player from my hometown who happened to be best friends with the older brother of one of my childhood best friends. When I saw the name Craig Aaron and a later reference that he played at Lafayette and Union, I almost dropped my laptop. Aaron has gone from small-college defensive end to Yoga Doc. (It has probably been 15 years since I had seen or heard his name.)
Anyhow, I e-mailed him to get a better gauge on how much more receptive football players and coaches have become towards yoga just in the last year or two.
"A few years ago, we had to shove yoga down the pros throats," Aaron says. "My first year, we had Hines Ward, Wayne Gandy, Dwayne Rudd, Jamal Lewis, Dorsey Levens, Deshea Townsend, Scott McCready and a few others do a blistering one-hour class.
"They hated it but many found themselves more flexible and relaxed after the class. This year, I have had athletes request a yoga trainer for individual classes. Ravens fullback Ovie Mughelli is on his way to work with me right now. The pros realize that if they work on their flexibility, it could prolong their careers. They have also mentioned greater core strength, balance and breath control, which helps them concentrate."
The training community is actually a relatively well-connected one I think and word tends to circulate fast when people find something they like since everyone is always looking for that edge. Tech players really bought in, Aaron says, after they took his yoga class that began in May, 2005 and ran through Christmas break. They found that they had fewer injuries than before. As I said last month, I really believe you'll hear about more and more programs incorporating yoga into what they do.
LJ in Los Angeles, Calif: What is ESPN's obsession with Iowa? You'd think all of ESPN's college football columnists went to the University of Iowa. Remember what happened last year to the Hawks? What makes you think they're any better this year after losing [Chad] Greenway and [Abdul] Hodge? Why don't you focus on the better story out of Iowa: the Iowa State Cyclones and their potential with caliber players like [Bret] Meyer and [Todd] Blythe? There is another team in Iowa besides the Hawkeyes and last time I checked it was a Cyclone State: 23-3.
Feldman: I can't speak for the rest of ESPN's columnists. I mean I could, but they probably wouldn't appreciate it. For whatever it's worth, the only Hawkeye grad I know of in the company now is Wayne Drehs and I don't think he's written anything about Iowa football making a title run recently.
Anyhow, my opinion on Iowa is based on the feeling that its offense is one of the most potent out there and now that RB Albert Young and the O-line have matured, they will be a very dangerous team. Plus, their schedule is about as favorable as you will find in the Big Ten. (A road trip to Michigan is the only road game they have a chance of being an underdog in, and Ohio State, ISU and Wisconsin are the best teams on the home slate.)
Ricky in Richmond, Va.: Ohio State should be the clear cut No. 1 team; nobody else is even close. West Virginia snuck up on everyone last year because they were so young but now everyone knows what they can do and will be ready for them. They will probably go undefeated though just because their schedule is so pathetic.
Feldman: I did an ESPN Radio show based in Nebraska the other day and the hosts asked me which fans felt the most slighted by my preseason top 16 the other day. It amazed me, and them, to answer this, but I said Ohio State. And I had the Buckeyes, a team that lost its best WR, its best O-linemen, nine defensive starters, including the most complete defensive player in the whole country last year, and have an early-season road date with the defending national champs waiting for them, at No. 2. Two! Nothing is clear cut this time of year. In fact, the closest I can recall in a very long time to any preseason poll being clear cut was last year, and we saw how that turned out.
Steve in Baltimore, Md.: Big East big enough? --- Bruce, Vegas betting lines are great and all, but I tend to think performance might be a better indicator. As I recall, Virginia Tech beat both WVU and Louisville pretty easily last year.
Feldman: You're right, but that Tech-WVU game was really the first time Steve Slaton played in a college game. In fact, it wasn't till the second half when Slaton was inserted and started running past the Hokies that the Mountaineer staff realized he was ready and they had to play him now. Patrick White also had just taken the reins then, too. They aren't freshmen any more and Tech lost quite a few good players on both sides of the ball since then.
Then again, if I'm a Tech fan I'm happy people aren't talking up this year's Hokies. They always seem to get in trouble when the expectations mount and are much better when no one outside the program buys in.
Matt in Reading, Pa.: Bruce, I doubt the SEC will say much about the Big East's weak schedule after what went down in the Sugar Bowl. At least until the sting wears off.
Feldman: Sorry Matt, I probably got 50 e-mails in the last three days already carping about this.
Tim in San Francisco: Read your blog about the EA rankings in NCAA Football 2007. You closed with a comment about individual stats and not knowing in preseason how things will turn out. I'm wondering if EA might actually update those stats in mid season. One of the beauties of the Xbox 360 is being able to update games via download. 2K Sports has posted updates to major league rosters in their MLB 2K6 game. It sure would keep the game fresh and relevant as the season progressed if EA did something similar. Don't you think?
Feldman: Personally, the way I keep what little sanity I have is by not messing with these stat/build a dynasty features, etc. I have PlayStation 2 and conceded not to buy any memory card because if I did, I probably would emerge from my room one day looking either like that Nick Nolte mug shot or like Tom Hanks in "Castaway".
But to answer your question, EA Sports does update Madden and NBA rosters monthly because they're pro athletes and we have player union deals. The NCAA game is different (hence no last names.) However, it is pretty standard I'm told for hardcore fans to enter the names of every single player in the game and update their stats on a weekly basis, which can be shared over the Internet and put onto a memory stick to use in the game.
Adam in Davis, Calif.: I'd be curious to see the effect of actually getting into college on recruiting class rankings. On one end, you've got FSU, who was expected to lose several recruits to grades, but didn't really (one to grades and one to baseball, out of 30 I think). Then I saw your mention USF who lost eight of them. This sort of attrition hits smaller schools harder I would expect, but every year there must be some big name programs who lose big long after the dust settled. So who is it this year?
Feldman: Virginia appears to be this year's recipient of football's toilet paper sombrero. Just today, it was reported by the Richmond Times that LB George Johnson, who was the first football player in the Class of 2006 to commit to the University of Virginia, is heading to Rutgers after not getting in to UVA. Of the 24 players who signed with UVA in February, a whopping eight failed to clear admissions.
• Moving on to some more upbeat news, I give you Illinois football. (No snickering, I'm serious). The Illini seniors were looking for a way to do something this offseason that would be great for team building and they also wanted to find some way to help their community. Illini SID Cassie Arner suggested working with the Cunningham Children's Home, which is a place for kids that are wards of the state. The players' initiative included a charity supply drive at the stadium, where they successfully raised more than $13,000 in goods and cash for the home. Two weeks later, they invited the kids from the home over to the stadium to watch a movie on the JumboTron. Because it rained, they moved to the team room and watched "Glory Road" in there. "It was such a great feeling to look at their faces," says o-lineman Matt Maddox. "They had the biggest smiles I'd ever seen."
On Wednesday, the players put the kids though a "Fun Fest," with seven different skill stations for the kids to come in and test their football talent.
Later this summer, a pool party is planned. "It's been so much better than we had even hoped," says Maddox. "Plus, I really do think it has brought the team closer together. I really hope our team continues to work with these kids."
• Huge pickup for Georgia Tech: Top DL Jacoby Monroe committed to the Jackets over FSU, the Times-Union reports:
Recruited by Georgia Tech assistant coach Buddy Geis, the father of Sandalwood High School coach Adam Geis, Monroe has made an unofficial visit to the Atlanta campus and plans to make a return trip this fall as his only official visit. "I know if I graduate and don't go to the NFL, I'll be able to get a really good job," Monroe told the paper. "I've always liked Florida State, and I always will, but this was a life decision, not just about football. That was a big part of it."