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January 21, 2013

Ketch's 10 thoughts from the weekend



Sometimes the answer really is rocket science. Or at least something headed in that direction.

In the ever-going conversation of the current Texas football program and the problems that have existed, and in some cases still exist, it's not as simple as a one-word, one-sentence or one-paragraph answer (that would be a hell of a long paragraph if you tried). It's not as simple as blaming Mack Brown or Greg Davis or the football gods. The frustrations of losing to Oklahoma by unmentionable scores and underperforming as a whole for almost every season of experience that any of the current players have ever known while wearing a Longhorn uniform have made talking nuances pretty boring.

For a lot of folks out there, a succinct two-word retort is all that's needed (just pick any four-letter F-word ranging from fired to…uh… nevermind) in the ongoing conversation. However, who could be better at creating a more involved discussion than the guy who cranks out 5,000 words ever Monday and expects you to read all of them, right? Exactly my thinking.

Therefore, when I received a TicketCity Locker Room question via email this week and when developing the first half of the answer took multiple days and several pages of copy that would appear to dwarf the rest of the article, I decided that I would move the question to a column that is a little more breezy (4…5...6…10,000 words… who cares?).

Here's a look at the email:

"You like to do things in 10s, so can you give us the top 10 mistakes of the Mack Brown era that have led us to the point we are in now? Where did it all start in your mind?

Before we get into the meat of the answer to the first and primary question, let's address the latter question first. Contrary to popular opinion, my belief about the current struggles and issues that face the Longhorn program is that they didn't begin in the season or two leading up to the 2010 season, rather my starting point begins in 2006, right after the Longhorns won the national title over USC behind the strength of Vince Young's incredible skill-set.

It might seem like just yesterday to some, but that was a full seven seasons ago.

My thesis statement on this subject has always been that the greatest trick the devil ever played on the Longhorn program was convincing the fan base that the foundation of the program was rock solid in the midst of a two-year national championship contending run when the truth of the matter is that it a lot of the issues that still haunt the Longhorns to this day found their origin in the middle of championship-level seasons. What makes coaching college football really difficult is that there's always an ongoing balance between coaching for the now and preparing for the future. The truth in this answer is that Rome started to slowly burn during one of the greatest two-year stretches of winning in the program's history.

Therefore, I'm going to warn you now. If you're one of those fans that wants to remember the 2008-09 seasons in only a fond fashion, you might just move on to the second half of this column because it's impossible to talk about the last three seasons without talking about what was going on behind the scenes and away from the actual games in those seasons. There isn't a single point in the discussion that I believe to be paramount in the discussion over any of the others because it took an incredible combination of factors to collide all at one time to help create the shift that took place in the program so suddenly.

Let's just look at them one at a time.

1. The evolvement of early recruiting.

Everyone knows that Mack Brown is the Godfather in early recruiting, and while he might not have invented the practice, he's the guy that took the idea of the practice to places that people never thought possible when he first arrived in Austin. I'll never forget the days in and around the Texas spring game that followed the first Rose Bowl win over Michigan in January of 2005 because it was the moment that recruiting in the Lone Star State changed forever. In a span of hours, Mack Brown received commitments from the No. 1 (Sergio Kindle), No. 2 (Eddie Jones) and No. 4 (Deon Beasley) players in the state. Up until that moment, it was incredibly rare for the elite of the elite to commit 10-12 months from signing day and in one incredible flurry the Longhorns swooped in and changed the game.

Kindle was the last to commit of the group, putting an end to his recruitment on April 8 and when he joined the party, it gave the Longhorns a total of 15 commitments before Tax Day. Now consider that the first commitment in the previous recruiting class in 2005 didn't occur until May 25 and you'll understand the magnitude of what happened in the span of 10 months and some change.

Two straight Rose Bowls created the nuclear situation in recruiting for the Longhorns and when the moment presented itself, Mack Brown attacked it like a man convinced he had found the Holy Grail.

2. Failed selections/evaluations in early recruiting

Early recruiting on its own isn't a main culprit in the systematic breakdown that occurred because it's hard to find total fault in a process that delivers top five prospects to the cupboard in recruiting. The two core issues that the Longhorns had with putting pedal to the metal in recruiting back in first month directly after their first Rose Bowl win were the following:

a. Suddenly, the Longhorns were in a position where everyone wanted in the program and offering a young man a scholarship meant taking his commitment in most situations.
b. Making decisions on prospects at a faster rate with quite a bit less information than previously used in their evaluation.

As fate would have it, the coaching staff as a whole wasn't really ready for either occurrence. Consider that in the previous recruiting class, which featured only three commitments before Labor Day, the Longhorns produced a 15-man recruiting class that featured direct hits on 10 of the prospects, with the likes of Colt McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Roy Miller, Jermichael Finley, Quan Cosby, Roddrick Muckelroy and Henry Melton … none of which were among the three players that committed before Labor Day.

In a matter of months, the change of ideology went from taking just a few early commitments before the summer to building the foundation of the program with them. To make the change work seamlessly, the coaches on staff needed to be absolute masters of evaluation, with less knowledge about the prospects available than they were previously used to working with. They were not and the consequences have been impacting the program ever since.

Consider the 10 commitments they received in 2006 prior to the commitments of Kindle, Jones and Beasley in the order that they committed: Buck Burnette, Montre Webber, Britt Mitchell, Steve Moore, Robert Joseph, Roy Watts, Vondrell McGee, Phillip Payne and J'Marcus Webb. In the very first class that the Longhorns began to use this February or Bust approach, the coaches produced a class that featured zero impact performers and one starter (Mitchell), The best player of the group was a criminal and the only NFL player made it to the league after flunking out of the program.

Compounding the matter is the fact that they weren't selecting the elite of the elite with these early commitments. Of the first 10 commitments in the 2006 class, four were ranked as three-stars by Rivals.com, while only two ranked among the Rivals 100 and four ranked in the Lone Star Recruiting Top 25 from that year (McGee and Webb were the only two in
the top 17). At a time when the Longhorns were starting to reach their peak in terms of Q-rating, they began to settle more and more in recruiting, rather than raising the standard of their offers.

It should be noted that the results of the February offers wasn't always a disaster, The following recruiting year (2007), the Longhorns took nine commitments in February following their national championship win over USC: Kyle Hix, Ben Wells, Keenan Robinson, Michael Huey, Aundre McGaskey, Earl Thomas, Curtis Brown, Andre Jones and Fozzy Whittaker. The difference between this group and the one taken the previous season can be found in the quality of the blue chip. All nine of the February commitments were ranked as four-star or higher prospects, with five ranking as Rivals 100 prospects and seven ranking in the state's top 25. As a byproduct, the foundation of the class produced six quality players, including four that are still on NFL rosters.

The very next year, the Texas staff took 14 of the 20 commitments before March 1: Aaron Williams, Mark Buchanan, Dan Buckner, Brock Fitzhenry, Justin Tucker, David Snow, Ryan Roberson, DJ Monroe, Jeremy Hills, Emmanuel Acho, Luke Poehlmann, Antoine Hicks, Tre Newton and Kheeston Randall. From that group of 14, seven were ranked as three-stars, while three ranked in the Rivals100 and six were ranked in the top 25 of the LSR Top 100. The six highest-rated prospects from this crop of 40 were Williams, Buckner, Monroe, Randall, Buchanan and Snow.

In the final year of the four-year recruiting window from 2006-09 that really set the program back, the Longhorns took 15 commitments before March 6: Garrett Gilbert, Marcus Davis, Chris Whaley, Greg Timmons, Garrett Porter, Paden Kelley, Thomas Ashcraft, Kyle Kriegel, Dominique Jones, Patrick Nkwopara, Eryon Barnett, Kenny Vaccaro, Barrett Matthews, Trey Graham and Tariq Allen. From that group of 15, six were ranked as three-stars, while only three were ranked in the Rivals 100 and seven ranked in the top 25 of the LSR Top 100. A breakdown of the class shows that only one player from that group of 15 (Vaccaro) has been a true standout and only one more player (Chris Whaley) looks like a player capable of making an NFL roster. For the record, the six highest ranked players in this class were Gilbert, Whaley, Davis, Porter, Ashcraft and Timmons.

Now that we have the data in front of us, let's acknowledge a few things about it that is very important. The data has flaws. The sample size isn't ideal. Also, each and every year is its own snowflake, so you can't piece together the troubles from 2006 and say that they were the same reasons that caused the 2009 group to underperform. This is a nuanced conversation trying to squeeze itself from a glob into a cookie cutter shape and none of this is that easy. Plus, for the sake of time, this is the elevator portion of the discussion because a full inspection would require book form. Also, the number points and dates are a little arbitrary because it's a little difficult to use the same exact numbers from class to class.

All of that being said, let's examine some of the data from the 48 prospects we classified in this discussion:

1: Number of first-round draft picks (2.0%)
2: Number of five-star prospects (4.2%)
2: Number of three-star prospects that were multi-year starters (4.2%)
5: Number of players selected in the NFL Draft (10.4%)
11: Number of multi-year starters (22.9%)
12: Number of Rivals100 selections (25%)
17: Number of three-star prospects (35.4%)
20: Number of LSR Top 25 selections (41.7%)
23: Number of players that finish all four years of eligibility with Texas (47.8%)

Bottom line: The Longhorns took too many players as foundation blocks in the very earliest portions of their recruiting classes that weren't of the elite variety and almost all of them failed to pan out as the kind of players the program needed to remain an elite program.

3. The circling of the wagons in recruiting

Everyone remembers Mack Brown standing on the winner's stage in Pasadena with a crystal football held high over his head and his very first remarks centering on the importance of the Texas high school coaches and the prospects that they deliver. Ironically, a strong case can be made that the decision to hitch all of the wagons to a dominant in-state ideology was another key layer of the recruiting problems that existed during the era we're discussing.

First, it's important to note that two of the major recruiting shifts occurred during Mack's tenure that helped lead us into the heart of why not being more aggressive in the other 49 states was another key problem in the bigger discussion.

The first major shift in recruiting occurred in 2003-04 following the flameouts of players like Marquise Johnson, Robert Timmons and Edorian McCulloch, along with the departure of ace out of state recruiter Tim Brewster. When Mack first arrived in Austin, he spent the first four full recruiting cycles in full greed mode, as he went wherever the talent might be, whether it was in California, Colorado, New Jersey, Oklahoma or Illinois. In addition to having an aggressive out of state attitude during those years, he also spent a little less time worrying about the character make-up of the talent coming in. Beginning with the 2003 class and its first commitment (Dallas Griffin), the coaching staff really started to focus as much energy as possible in prospects it viewed to be less risky in terms of academics and off-the-field. That's not to say the coaches didn't make those kinds of mistakes moving forward, but it was the beginning of them truly making an effort to exit the days of the Wild West.

The second major shift occurred following the 2005 recruiting year when the likes of Ryan Perrilloux, Martellus Bennett and Fred Rouse left Mack looking for another modification of recruiting ideology, one that focused hugely on wanting prospects that wanted more than anything else to be a Longhorn. If the Longhorns started out as the No. 3 school in someone's list, they just didn't bother trying in most cases, instead focusing around the concept of building a foundation full of die-hard-Longhorns, first and foremost. The first recruiting class that featured both of these principles grouped together was in 2006 … the first of the four-year cycle that was hugely responsible for the recent slide of the program.

In theory, if Texas was going to narrow the pool of prospects that it select to recruit from its primary region by removing two poison pill elements (character risks and unwilling early on to declare Texas a clear front-runner) within their overall selection numbers, it would seem to make sense that some sort of additional compensation from out of state would be needed to supplement what might be lost from removal of the in-state poison pill candidates.

However, in a six-year recruiting window from 2003-09, the Longhorns only took commitments from five out of state prospects out of the 127 players they signed. How big of a change was this from the early years under Mack? The Longhorns landed five out of state recruits in the Class of 2002. Also, it's interesting to note that 11 of Kevin Sumlin's 34 commitments in this year's class are from outside of Texas, which means that the Longhorns took less than half of the number of prospects that he's taken in just one season during a six-year stretch that featured four BCS bowls, a national championship and the school's peak in national notoriety.

4. The offensive line problem

I'm not sure that there was an assistant coach in the Mack Era not named Greg Davis that ever caught as much heat as Tim Nunez did in his four seasons as the first offensive line coach under Mack. As we crawl into this portion of the conversation, it is very important to note for the record that in his time at Texas, Nunez was responsible for recruiting/landing the likes of Mike Williams, Antwan-Kirk-Hughes, Derrick Dockery, Will Allen, Jonathan Scott, Lyle Sendlein, and Justin Blalock. For whatever Nunez's issues might have had, he found a way to bring in a bunch of really quality players that made a bunch of money at the game they were recruited out of high school to play.

Despite all of the talent, Nunez was removed following the 2001 season and Mac McWhorter was brought in from Georgia Tech to take a talented group of linemen and help them get to the next step as players. Along the way, Mack Brown pretty much turned McWhorter loose as a recruiter and allowed him to be the ultimate decision-maker and shot-caller on his group of guys. Gone were the big 300+ pound monsters of the Nunez area and in was the idea of taking leaner, more athletic guys that could be built up within the program.

Here is a look at the offensive linemen signed by the Longhorns from 2003-09:

2003: Dallas Griffin and Kyle Thornton
2004: Cedric Dockery, Greg Dolan and Adam Ulatoski
2005: Charlie Tanner and Chris Hall
2006: Buck Burnette, Steve Moore, Roy Watts and J'Marcus Webb
2007: Aundre McGaskey, Kyle Hix, Michael Huey and Trey Allen
2008: Mark Buchanan, Luke Poehlmann and David Snow
2009: Paden Kelley, Garrett Porter, Mason Walters and Thomas Ashcraft

Although we're still waiting on Mason Walters to put the finishing touches on his book in Austin, there are 22 names on McWhorter's resume and the only player from the group to emerge as an NFL Draft choice actually flunked out of school following his freshman season. The only player from the list that played under McWhorter that emerged as an NFL player is Snow, who was an undrafted rookie free agent for Buffalo. The only lineman that was drafted during the McWhorter era from the players that started learning their craft under his watch was five-star prospect Tony Hills, who was recruited by Tim Brewster as a tight end/athlete in 2003 and ended up switching to offensive tackle following a near career-ending injury.

While McWhorter gets a lot of credit for helping mold the 2004-06 lines into the best in the Mack era by about 10 miles, there's no getting around the fact that the players he recruited to Austin were not successful by elite standards, almost to a man. Not all of the blame can fall on McWhorter's shoulders, as it's important to note that Mack has had three offensive line coaches in his time in Austin and none have been able to perform at an elite level thus far and there are only two common threads between all of them, Mack and…

5. Mad Dog

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this subject because I just don't have enough time in the day to go deep into some of the failures of the strength and conditioning program and so much of the explanation of what wasn't right in the developmental parts of the program are highlighted by the numbers in all of these other sections.

Like McWhorter, you can specifically point to a lot of success that occurred under Jeff Madden's watch as strength and conditioning coach, but the failures are also fairly glaring. For the better part of an entire decade, the big men that were recruited to the program failed to develop at an elite level, which was one of the primary responsibilities of Madden's.

It's hard to pin-point exactly when Madden started to truly fail at his craft, but I'll point to the moment he was forced to put Dick Tomey and McWhorter in charge of football workouts in the 2004 off-season. That should have been an obvious tell right then and there, but Madden remained in the same role through the 2010 season.

6. Quarterback recruiting in 2007 and 2008

One of the ironies of the Colt McCoy Era from 2006-09 is that it originated from such a stressful beginning. People often forget the details, but the Longhorns entered the 2006 season following a national championship win with a true freshman (Jevan Snead) and a redshirt freshman (McCoy) fighting for the job because of the recruiting sins committed in 2003-04 when the Longhorns didn't take a single quarterback in either class, leaving only McCoy from the Class of 2005 to compete for the job before Snead enrolled in January of 2006, but only after Urban Meyer stabbed Snead in the back by taking Tim Tebow's commitment after telling Snead he would only take one quarterback in the class.

This little history lesson is important because of what happened after McCoy's eligibility expired following the 2009 season and the Longhorns were left in a position where Garrett Gilbert was the only true option available.

So, what criminal mistake occurred? Once Snead transferred following the 2006 season and the Longhorns had only McCoy and Sherrod Harris on campus, they essentially repeated the results of 2003-04 once again in 2007-08 when they were left with zero quarterback options from these years once G.J. Kinne transferred after about five minutes and John Chiles proved to be a failed project.

The most glaring error of all was without question the decision in 2008 not to offer any quarterbacks at all because of Gilbert's presence in the 2009 class, a decision that was made despite the fact that Kinne was never considered a true future starting candidate for the Longhorns. That means that Mack Brown willingly signed off with going all-in during the 2010 season with a second-year quarterback, regardless of the numerous risks involved. That means that when Andrew Luck was the state's top quarterback in 2008, the Longhorns never offered the day he visited and never dared to fight for him. That means that when Robert Griffin III was playing playoff games 20 minutes from campus during his senior season in high school, the Longhorns never looked at him as a quarterback.

More than anything else, it means that when Gilbert proved unready for the task of being the starter, the Longhorns were suddenly in a desperate and dangerous position that never had to exist with more strategic planning.

7. Skill position recruiting

I have to warn you right now that the results from the running back, wide receiver and tight end from 2006-09 are pretty ugly. While McWhorter's offensive line results were rough in a lot of aspects, at least he recruited and coached a few success stories. When one looks at the skill position recruiting efforts from 2006-10 classes, you'll find results that will make you long for McWhorter's success rate.

First the running backs:

2006: Vondrell McGee and Antwan Cobb
2007: Cody Johnson and Fozzy Whittaker
2008: Brock Fitzhenry, Tre Newton, Jeremy Hills and Ryan Roberson
2009: Chris Whaley

Now let's look at the wide receivers:

2006: Phillip Payne, Montre Webber and Josh Marshall
2007: John Chiles, Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins
2008: Antoine Hicks, Dan Buckner, D.J. Grant, DeSean Hales
2009: Greg Timmons

And finally, the tight ends:

2006: Greg Smith and Britt Mitchell
2007: Blaine Irby, Ian Harris and Ahmard Howard
2008: None
2009: Barrett Matthews and Trey Graham

That is four classes of skill players in consecutive years, featuring a total of 28 players and there's not a single all-American, all-Conference or draftable performer, unless you want to count Chris Whaley as a possible defensive tackle prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft.

8. The HCIW decision

The funny thing about the program's decision to name Will Muschamp as the head-coach-in-waiting at the tail end of the 2008 season is that it wasn't anything that anyone expected coming from a mile away.

On the day they announced the move, I reported it on Orangebloods about an hour before the announcement and when I arrived for the press conference, I'll never forget the confused looks on the members of the media who were unsure why the press conference had been called in the first place.

The end result was that the Longhorns were able to keep Muschamp for two national championship contending runs, but along the way Mack lost his mojo and way. While the team was achieving great success in 2008-09, Mack started to cede some of the power within his own program to his understudy, which meant less time on the road as the face of the program and less grinding away in the off-season in preparation for the 2010 season.

Whether it was his intention or not, the decision to name a HCIW unintentionally undermined Mack's authority as the ultimate general in the program and he's been trying to get his mojo back in that capacity ever since November 8 of 2008. Even when the 2011 rebuild job took place, the narrative of the storyline was that Mack was hiring a bunch of young coaches to help the program gets its juice back, which means that Bryan Harsin, Manny Diaz and Major Applewhite have been as front and center when selling the program as Mack.

Meanwhile, Mack gets frustrated by the constant rumors of his retirement, but those never existed until the HCIW situation emerged and the discussion became a daily topic in Austin. The Longhorns created that problem themselves.

9. The decision to change the offense following the 2009 season

The greatest success that Mack has ever known occurred from 2004-09 when the Longhorns used a shotgun-based spread offense that featured the zone-read and the quarterback's legs as a principle part of the offense to lead them to four BCS bowls, two national title game appearances and a single national title.

For a variety of reasons that don't make any more sense today than they did when the decision was made, the Texas coaches decided following the 2009 season that they wanted to go away from the offense that had lifted the program to great heights and thirsted to become the type of power-football team on offense that only a few of the SEC's elite programs are capable of achieving.

There's been a lot of theorizing that Mack made the decision following the loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS title game, but the truth of the matter is that the decision to go in that direction was already underway in the bowl workouts leading up to the game and the results of the game only emboldened Mack even more that it was a step that needed to be taken.

The core problem with the idea was that the Longhorns didn't have the offensive personnel needed to make the transition without a significant drop-off. It's a problem that didn't simply cause the end of the Davis era to occur with a thud, as it has also been a problem that caused speed bumps for Bryan Harsin along the way.

Fast-forward to today and the Longhorns have recruited dual-threat quarterbacks in consecutive classes in 2013-14, suggesting that the team is going away from a critical failed idea.

10. Unneeded Distractions

The Internet isn't something that needs to be obsessed over. Neither is anything written in the newspaper.

What matters are the details of the job in the first nine sections of this 10-chapter discussion that don't receive attention when the clutter takes over.

For too long, the clutter has been an evil and unnecessary distraction. Basically, if the office is on fire, the time to read the notes in the complaint box is after the moment the fire is extinguished.

No. 2 - Scattershooting on the Longhorns …

… The smart money has the Longhorns landing a commitment from Contra Costa Community College offensive lineman Desmond Harrison on Monday and if it goes down as expected, the addition of the 6-8, 305-pound Harrison will change the dynamics of the Longhorn offensive line going into next season.

At worst, the Longhorns will have more depth at offensive tackle that wouldn't have otherwise existed going into the season, making even the worst-case scenario a key positive development. At best, the Longhorns will have a piece of talent that could allow them to slide the left side of the starting line down a slot (Donald Hawkins to guard and Trey Hopkins to center), which would allow the interior of the line to add the kind of quality depth and options that it might not otherwise have.

Harrison has a chance to be as impactful as any player in this class.

… The Longhorns hosted Irving offensive lineman Rami Hammad, who might be ranked as a three-star prospect, but more important than his rating is the fact that he brings the type of size and power to the field that Stacy Searels is looking for and doesn't currently have enough of. For those wondering, I have Hamaad ranked as a three-star prospect and one of the last five players left off the list in the recent Lone Star Recruiting Top 100 Update.

… Reps at quarterback this spring will be fascinating to chart because the Longhorns have five quarterbacks on campus and there really aren't enough quality reps to be consistently found for that many quarterbacks. Of course, true freshman Tyrone Swoopes will be in observation mode for much of his first couple of months on campus, but the division of the reps between Case McCoy, Conner Brewer and Jalen Overstreet will be tricky to handle, if keeping all five quarterbacks happy is a goal.

… If the Longhorns can hold on to A'Shawn Robinson and close with Andrew Billings, the strength of the 2013 recruiting class will center around a big man class on both sides of the ball that also features Harrison, Kent Perkins, Darius James and Jake Raulerson. That would be one heck of a six-man class of beef to help build around for the future. The key is to close with both because the defensive line class already lacks speed off the edge and it will lack depth inside if they can't get them both.

… If I'm Duane Akina, I'd make Darrion Johnson of Brenham my number one defensive back target for 2013 and I wouldn't wait another second if it hasn't already happened, with Tony Brown and Ed Paris likely headed elsewhere.

No.3 - Close but no cigar in the Erwin Center …

If the Longhorns weren't 0-4 in Big 12 play following Saturday's ultra-competitive game against No. 4 Kansas, there might be quite a bit to take from the contest because a lot of good things happened on the floor for Rick Barnes and Co. on Saturday.

But, we've seen this Texas team play hard before and we've seen it come close. We just haven't seen it win enough games during a season that has seen the Longhorns find the sub-.500 mark after 17 games.

In trying to think of what to say next about the current team, I suppose I'll end the discussion with this tweet rom the Longhorn Network following the game that I re-tweeted.

@LonghornNetwork
KU rallies to beat UT. Texas now 5-15 in conf games decided by 5 pts or fewer last five seasons.


No. 4 - Randomness on the Manti Te'o situation…

… I don't believe Manti Te'o. I don't believe Notre Dame. Period.

… I'm mystified that Notre Dame isn't catching more heat at this point for not calling the authorities when confronted with a three-year case of identity fraud against its best player and relying on an in-house investigation that featured zero interviews and zero paper records to confirm much of the truth.

In addition to the worst possible outcomes that could have potentially been on the other end of this story, there was a case of potential financial fraud that couldn't have been uncovered because of the university's failed investigation.

Consider what Mike Florio discovered and wrote about on Sunday:

"Early on, she said that she was going to send me money, actually," Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap. "And she wanted to send it and she wanted to directly deposit it into my account. So she wants to know my checking account number, which I didn't give her. . . . I'm not giving my checking account number. I don't care who you are. I'm not giving my checking account number out to you. Then she went on and asked my best friend, Robby. Hey, Rob, I want to help you guys out with groceries or help you guys pay for the bills for the house. I've saved up some money, you know. Give me your checking account number, and I'll put it in there. . . . I told him, whatever you do, do not give out your checking account number."

Te'o said that the "red flag" went away when he was told by the student credit union that someone who wants to put money in to his account couldn't take money out with the account numbers. But then he didn't provide the numbers, even though he no longer believed money could be taken from his account.

Still, the "national" firm Notre Dame hired didn't even know about the potential red flag, because the firm didn't ask Te'o about that. Or anything else. Or anyone else.


… How is it possible that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo hasn't been interviewed by police, investigators or the media at this point? How is it possible that we haven't had the full extent of the relationship between Tuiasosopo and Te'o explained?

… ESPN's role in all of this is sketchy at best. In addition to allegedly sitting on the story for 10 days until Deadspin was able to break the story first, it partially sold its journalistic souls by agreeing to not only let Te'o dictate the terms of his first interview (no video recording), but it allowed Jeremy Schaap to serve as an unofficial mark for the Te'o camp, as he stood alone on national television early Saturday morning, telling us how much he believed Te'o without any real evidence to support it. It was a complete failure.

… Don't we pretty much chalk Te'o up as the worst boyfriend that ever lived if his story is true and he never even considered visiting the love of his life following her death. It. Never. Crossed. His. Mind.

… Do yourself a favor and watch You've Got Mail and while you're watching the movie, insert Tuiasosopo as the Tom Hanks character and Te'o as Meg Ryan. The movie happened to be on some channel on Saturday and I found myself not only locked into the movie as always, but I enjoyed the laughs that arrived when imagining Tuiasosopo/Te'o in their cinematic inspirations.

No. 5 - It's going to be a long off-season in Atlanta…

Damn, I know that city will be feeling some serious depression on Monday morning.

With a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, every player, coach and fan will be staring in the mirror for the foreseeable future, as they ponder what could have been. The Super Bowl and a possible world championship were right on the fingertips, but they just didn't have enough to close the deal.

Don't get me wrong, it was an incredible game and the Falcons have nothing to be ashamed of, but deep down they know they wasted the kind of opportunity that doesn't grow on trees. A three-score lead at home in the NFC Championship Game might never happen again in Matt Ryan's career.

Actually, the smart money is probably on that sequence of events never occurring again if the history of the NFL is going to serve as any barometer. In the process, it's quite possible that in failing to close the deal, the Falcons allowed a new monster of the NFC to be created.

It pains my soul to admit this, but the 49ers are freaking loaded and if the clock never strikes midnight on Colin Kaepernick, this won't be the last Super Bowl the 49ers will be playing in during the course of the rest of this decade. Not with a coach that reminds me of Jimmy Johnson when he was at his best. Not with an offense that is loaded at the skill position and features the league's best offensive line. Not with a defense that ranks as one of the top two or three in the entire league. Not with all of that added up together.

As a Cowboys fan that desperately wants the 49ers to remain stuck on five championship wins, all I can muster is, "Gulp."

No. 6 - It's Joe Flacco's World…

We now live in a world where Joe Flacco is not only the new Eli manning of the AFC, he's also the best big game quarterback in the sport during the last two seasons.

If there's anything that stood out more than anything else on Sunday night, it was that this is Flacco's world (along with Kaepernick) and we're all just living in it. How else do you explain a three-touchdown performance on the road in Boston that allowed him to finish his three-game run in the playoffs with the following numbers: 51 of 93 for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Damn, that's good.

In the process, Ray Lewis and Co. continue a ride that is starting to feel like one of destiny. Between Flacco, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin and every single player on that defense, this just looks like a group of veterans that refuses to lose. Considering that this team was left for dead by most about six weeks ago, the run that it's pulled off is up there with any in NFL history. Seriously, the Ravens just became the first team in history to beat Tom Brady on the road when he's leading at halftime.

An incredible 67-0 stat just took one on the chin with the Super Bowl on the line.

As for Brady and The Hoodie, this is going to be a tough one to swallow for a very long time. Starting with the botched drive in the final moments of the first half, Brady just seemed to crumble as the game went along and the Patriots couldn't put any points on the board in the second half. Is this also a good time to mention that Brady has thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions during his career when playing in AFC Championship games?

No. 7 - My initial Super Bowl thoughts …

The Harbaugh Bowl has to be one of the greatest stories in the history of organized professional sports. Two brothers coaching against each other as head coaches? We'll all be tired of the story by the time the game rolls around, but it really is an incredible story.

With two weeks to prepare for Kaepernick, my initial thought on the game is that San Francisco is the better team, but the Ravens will use the extra time to find a way to win.

I'm not picking against Team Ray until this thing is over.

Baltimore 29 San Francisco 27

No.8 - Five more sports thoughts before I go …

I. Novak Djokovic is the man. I caught the tail end of his five-set marathon against 15th-seed Stanislas Wawrinka on Sunday in the Australian Open and there's just something about that guy that enabled him to swallow physical stress whole in these epic matches in the last few years, regardless of the opponent. He's emerging as a possible all-timer on the heels of two other all-timers in Nadal/Federer. Of course, I might have just jinxed him with my words of kindness and he'll lose in the net round.

II. After watching Vitor Belfort knock out Michael Bisping on Saturday night, I'm not sure who in the heck is going to fight Anderson Silva in the coming months. The 185-pound division just doesn't have many interesting fights available for arguably the sport's greatest champion.

III. R.I.P. Stan The Man. They don't make baseball heroes like him anymore.

IV. I know that Mark Helfrich was the popular in-house hire, but I don't know what he's done for me to think he can handle what could become a very difficult job in the coming years. That program WAS Chip Kelly and hiring his No. 2 might not be good enough.

V. I watched a college basketball, some UFC, a little boxing and even some tennis in a 24-hour window without football this weekend, and yet I had zero interest in what's going on in the NHL.

No. 9 - Pop goes the culture because the culture goes pop.…

… Hottie of the Week: Happy V-Day, Rosie Huntington-Whitley

… Sign that the Apocalypse is Upon Us: 'Django' Slave Toys DISCONTINUED

… Tease of the Weekend: Jennifer Love-Hewitt gets naked, but we can't see

… Underrated Over-40 Celeb of the Week : Nicole Kidman gets sexier and sexier every year

… 100-Words (or less) Movie Review: Gangster Squad (C+)

Director Ruben Fleischer needs to go sit in a corner and give some serious thought to the mess he made of a meal that gave him some incredible ingredients. If Dick Tracy and a poor man's L.A. Confidential got together and had a mutant baby, this is the creation that would exist. Amazingly, my wife loved it, but I just couldn't hide the disappointment from the waste of Penn, Brolin and Gosling. All three off those dudes can a-c-t and they were completely misused by a director that should have made this a cartoon instead of this complete disappointment.

… 100-Words (or less) Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty (A+)

Rough. Dirty. Tense. Roll those three words together and you have a one-of-a-kind movie experience that will take you outside of the normal Hollywood experience and deliver something to you that you're not quite sure you're prepared for. Jessica Chastain gives us a performance that could inspire DDL, while Kathryn Bigelow delivers a directing class in an effort that tops The Hurt Locker. It might just be the most powerful two-woman show that Hollywood has ever delivered. It also delivered the movie quite of the year, when Maya delivers what will-be-iconic, "I'm the MF that found this place, sir." Awesome flick.

… If I had a vote that mattered (Oscar-style)…

(These are my updated Academy Award picks based on movies I have actually seen in 2012-13.)

Top 5 Movies on Still-Need-To-See List: Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Amour, The Sessions and The Impossible

Best picture

1. Lincoln
2. Argo
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Les Miserables
5. Flight

Best Director

1. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
2. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
3. Ben Affleck (Argo)
4. Tom Hooper (Les Miserables)
5. Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)

Best actor

1. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
2. Denzel Washington (Flight)
3. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
4. Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
5. Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe)

Best actress

1. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
2. Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
3. TBA

Best supporting actor

1. Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained)
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
3. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
4. Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths)
5. Alan Arkin (Argo)

Best supporting actress

1. Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
2. Sally Field (Lincoln)
3. Amy Adams (The Master)
4. Kerry Washington (Django Unchained)
5. Samantha Banks (Les Miserables)

No. 10 - The List: Elton John

I'm not going to lie, two weeks of Elton John has me on tilt. It's not that I don't like the Rocket Man, it's actually quite the contrary, but two full weeks of going through the entire 30+ CD catalog would probably wear Elton out.

It was just too much Elton, although I'm glad I decided to take my time in featuring him because I discovered a lot of great songs that I hadn't spent a lot of time listening to prior to the last two weeks.

That being said, let's take a look at how things break out:

Songs seriously considered:

Last five songs out: The One, Candle in the Wind, Sad Songs (Say So Much), I've Seen That Movie Too and I'm Still Standing.

Ok, let's get on with the list… (Listen to the entire list by Subscribing via Spotify

10. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

It's a beautiful, catchy little ballad that has been stuck in my head for two full weeks.

9. Your Song

Historically, this is probably the first great song that Elton ever recorded and it's one of the best ballads ever recorded. You can make a case that I have this song too low on the list, but this is where it ranks personally for me.

8. That's What Friends Are For

We're talking about a song that features Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer-Sager, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder. That's called bringing the heat.

7. Can You Feel The Love Tonight

Yes, it's pretty hard to ignore one of the greatest songs from a movie soundtrack ever performed, as this 1994 recording won both an Oscar and a Grammy. Plus, I love The Lion King.

6. It Ain't Gonna Be Easy

This my favorite under-the-radar song in the Elton catalog. From the 1978 album A Single man, this bluesy classic features Elton showing off on the mic. In fact, if you ever want to know just how skilled his singing chops were back in his prime, just listen to the incredibly high falsettos at the end of the song. I'm serious, he just showing off in this one.

5. Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me

You can make a case that the best version of this song is his duet with George Michael, but it was written in the 70s and is one of the songs he sings he sings that is much better live than it is in album format.

4. I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues

The 1980s represented a strange period of music for Elton, but this easily my favorite song of his in the entire decade if for no other reason that Stevie Wonder is playing on the harmonica.

3. Bennie and the Jets

Elton took this bad boy to Soul Train (see the video) and after he was done, he had created his first song to pop No. 1 on the R&B charts. This is one of the three songs that jump out in my mind when I think of Elton John.

2. Rocket Man

It's the man's signature song and arguably his No. 1 song, but I had to go with another…

1. Tiny Dancer

I'm not sure if it's because of the movie Almost Famous or not, but if I could only listen to one Elton John song for the rest of my life, this would be the song I'd choose. It's Elton in his prime and at his best.

Previous Lists: 2-Pac, Aerosmith, Beastie Boys, Beethoven, Biggie Smalls, Boyz II Men, Chuck Brown, Jeff Buckley, Cartoon themes, Eva Cassidy,CCR, Phil Collins, Sam Cooke, The Eagles, Joe Ely, Al Green, Guns N' Roses, Hall and Oats, HBO Shows, Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Ice Cube, Janis Joplin, Jodeci, Kool and the Gang, Led Zeppelin, Amos Lee, Bob Marley, Metallica, George Michael, Mo-Town, Bill Murray, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks, Nirvana, One-hit Wonders from the 1990's, Outkast, Pink Floyd, Prince, Queen, Reba, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Scarface, Sexiest Women of All-Time, Snoop Dogg , Bruce Springsteen, Gary Stewart , George Strait, The Strokes, TV Themes, UGK, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hank Williams Sr.

Previous Lists on Spotify: 2-Pac, Aerosmith, Beastie Boys, Beethoven, Biggie Smalls, Boyz II Men, Jeff Buckley, CCR, Phil Collins, Sam Cooke, Joe Ely, Al Green, Guns N' Roses, Hall and Oats, Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Ice Cube, Janis Joplin, Jodeci, Amos Lee, Bob Marley, George Michael, Mo-Town, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks, Nirvana, One-hit Wonders from the 1990's, Prince, Prince (After Hours), Outkast, Queen, Reba, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Scarface, Snoop Dogg . Bruce Springsteen, Gary Stewart , George Strait, The Strokes, UGK, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hank Williams Sr.


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