Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's Time To Dump The Darlings

Will the media ever dump the darlings for Michael Beasley? If a powerful performance against the second ranked Jayhawks isn’t enough, then I don’t know what is. It took an upset victory, and the snapping of a 24 year home win streak against his Wildcats for Mr. Beasley to even make the ESPN highlights. It’s one thing, if he played beyond himself for one game against a team in the national spotlight, but he didn’t do anything he hasn’t done all season.

The college player of the year award is much like the college football fashion show we’ve come to know as the “Heisman Trophy”. The favorite isn’t a reflection of their overall individual performance on the court, but has a lot to do with the performance and ranking of the team. Those players most televised and playing in more premiere games are going to be the first names to roll off your tongue. This doesn’t make them the most impressive or most impact players in the nation, it just makes them the most watched.

North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, UCLA’s Kevin Love, Indiana’s Eric Gordon, and a host of other players for highly ranked teams get the sportscenter highlights and all the accolade, and then you’ll probably hear an analyst say “and don’t forget about that guy at Kansas State”. If he didn’t make your daily highlight reel, then you’ve already forgot about him. His numbers are obviously not that important to you, if his team doesn’t have a number in the top 10.

The 6’9 Wildcats forward is 4th in the nation in scoring, and first in rebounding. Can I get some highlights? You want to point your cameras at programs and their players, but how about aiming at a player that's making a program? Why not show me the future first round pick In the 2008 NBA draft? Why not dump some of your media darlings on the back pages, to make more room for Michael Beasley, the best college basketball has to offer this season?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rutgers? Are You Serious?

Rutgers University made a name for themselves in football, but seriously, when do we ever mention Rutgers on the hardwood and not refer to players that have breasts? The Scarlet Knights' mens team spent the past week playing the role of "giant killers". First they take down No. 18 Villanova, and follow it up with the toppling of No. 13 Pittsburgh. We are talking about Rutgers, right?

The Pittsburgh victory represents the highest ranked opponent the Scarlet Knights have ever beaten on the road in their history. The two victories bring Rutgers to 10-11 on the season, and 2-6 in the Big East. If we pattern this to football, who's the next Big East surprise, South Florida?

Run out of the gym: After starting the year 16-0, Vanderbilt is now 7-3, and with the way the Gators ran them out of the gym, they aren't deserving of any ranking digits preceding their name. I'm not sure which was more embarrassing this weekend, the 23-0 run Florida put on Vandy, or Kansas proving they are far greater than Nebraska, in an 84-49 rout. I guess it would be the Kansas/Nebraska game, because a 23-0 run is embarrassing, but a 40 minute a$$ whoopin' is just painful.

No Place Like Home: UCLA's Kevin Love made his first trip to Oregon, since rejecting his home program and choosing the Bruins instead. The fans were quick to show they have no love for Love, as he was greeted with a chorus of boos. But sticks and stones may break his bones, but the Ducks can never hurt him. The Bruins got the victory, as Love got the last laugh. To make matters worse, Oregon then turned around and lost to USC, giving the Southern California teams a sweep in the State of Oregon. The lowly Beavers proved to be even less of a match, getting their a$$es handed to them by both squads.

Will The Real Contender Please Stand Up: Does the Big 10 have a favorite? If they do, can they make themselves known. Initially, I thought it was the Spartans. Then it was Indiana. Suddenly it became Wisconsin, before going back to the first thought, Michigan State. Looking over the field of the 10+1, I would say the Spartans have the better build to make a final four run. But looking at the schedules and records, whoever reps the 10 will have a tough road, because I doubt any will hold top seeds.

The Digits
AP Top 25
1. Memphis (46) 19-0 1,774
2. Kansas (26) 20-0 1,754
3. Duke 17-1 1,625
4. North Carolina 19-1 1,596
5. UCLA 18-2 1,500
6. Georgetown 16-2 1,377
7. Tennessee 17-2 1,339
8. Michigan State 18-2 1,320
9. Washington State 17-2 1,261
10. Texas 16-3 1,129
11. Indiana 17-2 1,065
12. Butler 19-2 948
13. Wisconsin 16-3 848
14. Stanford 16-3 786
15. Xavier 17-4 638
16. Drake 18-1 616
17. Marquette 14-4 513
18. Pittsburgh 16-4 464
19. Vanderbilt 17-3 397
20. Florida 18-3 374
21. Saint Mary's 17-2 310
22. Kansas State 14-4 281
23. Texas A&M 16-4 277
24. Mississippi 15-3 217
25. Baylor 16-3 166

Others Receiving Votes
Mississippi State 112, Connecticut 108, Arizona 102, Dayton 69, Notre Dame 63, USC 63, West Virginia 63, Louisville 40, Purdue 34, Oklahoma 28, Villanova 27, South Alabama 22, Clemson 20, Rhode Island 17, Gonzaga 17, Arizona State 16, Houston 9, Miami (FL) 7, UNLV 4, Saint Joseph's 3, Virginia Commonwealth 1.

Dropped From Rankings
Dayton 16, Villanova 18, Arizona State 24.

ESPN/USA Today Poll
1. Memphis (20) 19-0 764
2. Kansas (11) 20-0 755
3. Duke 17-1 700
4. North Carolina 19-1 663
5. UCLA 18-2 650
6. Georgetown 16-2 605
7. Michigan State 18-2 584
8. Tennessee 17-2 567
9. Washington State 17-2 515
10. Texas 16-3 473
11. Indiana 17-2 450
12. Butler 19-2 405
13. Wisconsin 16-3 395
14. Stanford 16-3 348
15. Xavier 17-4 252
16. Marquette 14-4 223
17. Drake 18-1 220
18. Vanderbilt 17-3 219
19. Florida 18-3 201
20. Saint Mary's 17-2 183
21. Pittsburgh 16-4 165
22. Mississippi 15-3 157
23. Texas A&M 16-4 136
24. Kansas State 14-4 62
25. Mississippi State 14-5 60

Others Receiving Votes
Arizona 40, Connecticut 35, Notre Dame 35, Baylor 30, Rhode Island 29, USC 29, Villanova 25, West Virginia 25, Louisville 18, Gonzaga 10, Purdue 9, Miami (FL) 8, South Alabama 6, UNLV 5, Arizona State 5, Davidson 3, Clemson 3, Kent State 3, Dayton 2, Brigham Young 2, Houston 1.

Dropped From Rankings
Villanova 18, Dayton 19, Clemson 25.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pounded Beavers And Sitting Ducks

Trojan cagers are riding a 3 game road win streak. What began with a victory over UCLA, continues with a sweep of Oregon. After pounding the hapless Oregon State Beavers on thursday night, by a score of 68-44, the Men of Troy completed the sweep with an overtime victory over the ducks. USC blew a 10 point lead with 2 minutes to play, giving Oregon an end of regulation tie. But after putting up 21 points in the overtime period, the Trojans rebounded to a 95-86 win.

The Trojans are rolling, with what seems to be like a different contributor each night. Of course, there's always O.J Mayo, but Jefferson and Hackett stepped up and chipped in over the weekend. USC currently stands in a 3 way tie for 4th in the Pac 10, and will be hosting the Arizona schools in the coming week.

You may not like the Oregon Ducks, their team, mascot or colors, but their rah rah girls are unbelievably hot. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post a babe, so there you have it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Trojans Already One Up On Chow

In the midst of all my worries about UCLA's new offensive genius (Norm Chow) robbing USC for talent in days to come, the Trojans have quelled some of those worries. Matt Barkley, the top QB prospect for 2009, announced his commitment to Pete Carroll and the Southern Cal Trojans. The 6'4, 222 lbs, quarterback from Mater Dei, gave USC a jump start in the '09 recruiting, while also representing an offseason victory over rivals seeking the same talent. The announcement came as somewhat of a surprise, as recent reports stated Barkeley talked to UCLA, after the announced hiring of Norm Chow.

Hopefully Barkley can follow in the footsteps of former greats from his high school, which are Heisman Winner Matt Leinart, Heisman finalist Colt Brennan, and Notre Dame's John Huarte.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who Gives A Sh#t About Hoops Rankings?

College basketball actually settles everything on the floor. They play a single elimination tournament that invites a whopping 64 teams to participate. In a two week period, they go from 64 to a final four, and the AP and anyone else has nothing to say about it. Hell, in college basketball, you can be .500 or under, but if you win your conference tournament you still receive the automatic bid and enter the playoffs. Who cares about one upset? Who cares about any midseason slide, if you can peak at just the right time? Who gives a sh#t about rankings?

Bubble teams care about rankings. The difference between watching the NCAA tournament and actually playing in it can come down to your RPI rating. The RPI ranks the power of a team, based on win/loss record and strength of opponents. To increase your RPI, you either need a national ranking or victories over ranked opponents. The RPI is most important to schools from less powerful conferences. Unlike the past, today you see Richmond, Dayton, Southern Illinois and some others, taking on college basketball heavyweights early. Build your RPI early, before it begins to decline in conference play, and may have a good standing on selection day.

Contenders care about rankings. If you're an undefeated Kansas or Memphis, you wouldn't think it mattered if you were ranked among the top 5 in the country, because it would take complete collapse to not make the field of 64 at this point. But as a serious contender, the tournament seeding matters. The tops seeds don't always win the Championship, but their road to the final four is paved a bit smoother than the lower seeds.

It takes 6 consecutive victories to be crowned the NCAA basketball champion. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, since the tournament expanded to 64. The 1 seed rarely struggles with the 16 seed. So, if you manage to gain a top seed, now you only have to win 5 consecutive games, after playing that first round "exhibition" match. If you're the No. 1 overall seed, you're playing the winner of the "play in" game, meaning they had to play one more game just to meet you. They usually play that one game just 2 nights earlier, then come out overmatched against a well rested and talented squad.

the No. 1 overall seed is also guaranteed to play tournament games in their region of the country. Meaning you can have 2 teams from the same conference picking up No. 1 seeds, but the lower of the two is going to be shipped to another region of the country. For example, Georgetown is a No. 1 overall seed, coming out of the Big East, and will represent the East region in games played in New York. Then you have Pittsburg, another No. 1 seed from the big east, but a lower overall seed than Georgetown. Pittsburg is shipped out to San Francisco, as the No. 1 Seed in the west region.

Gonzaga and Memphis care about rankings. For years, the Zags complained about how difficult it was for their program to reach the final four, because they were disrespected in the tournament seedings. Memphis once had the same argument, as both teams were penalized for the weakness of their conferences. Now with the opportunity to increase their RPI and grab a higher seeding, the Zags and Tigers power up against out of conference foes, before going into WCC and Conference-USA play.

So to answer the question, "who gives a sh#t about hoops rankings", the answer is that many fans and programs do. The rankings may not appear to mean much, and the regular season less spectacular, with the cagers having a playoff format (and people wonder why football doesn't want one). But where a team ends up, and how difficult the games may be, are all determined by the AP and coaches rankings, which are ingredients to the RPI.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Steve Smith Plays For 3rd Championship In 6 Years

Steve Smith somehow manages to repeatedly contribute on championship caliber teams. Superbowl XLII could represent his third championship in 6 years, including his time at USC. It will also represent his fourth attempt in the same span, playing in 3 title collegiate games in college and losing one. In retrospect, veteran Randy Moss will be getting a taste of the championship atmosphere for the first time in his career.

The rookie hasn't put up huge numbers, but has made key receptions in clutch moments to assist the Giants in victory. In Smith's first collegiate title game, he went for 113 yards and 3 scores, as USC routed Oklahoma. But he was a bit more subdued in the second outing against Texas, catching just 3 passes for 29 yards.

The Giants will face the Patriots in the Superbowl and I'm torn between the two teams. Unable to root for Seau or Smith, I'll just wish for them both to have great performances, regardless of who is the victor. Either way, both will make me proud.

Chow Accepts UCLA Job

This is the worst news of this new year. I heard it, an automatically I saw the recruiting base shrinking before my eyes. USC is now in a position where they'll have to share the local talent. Share the talent? That's blasphemy! How can Norm do this? Better yet, how can UCLA afford to do this? Just how much money did they stack in Norm's palm? Will those powder puff enemies across town suddenly be..umm....COMPETITIVE???

The top quarterback talent in California, and maybe across the entire U.S, will be drawn to this man. I think back and imagine if Chow wasn't at USC. Would the Trojans still receive commitments from John David Booty and Mark Sanchez? USC's Steve Sarkisian was the understudy to Norm Chow. The teacher is GREATER than the understudy!

Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Matt Leinart are just a few quarterbacks developed by Norm Chow. Three of those names are Heisman Trophy winners. Two of those names are Superbowl Winning quarterbacks. Who is the next great Norm Chow QB? UCLA's Ben Olsen? That's horrible!

Spreading The Wealth Out West- College basketball rankings (1/21)

For the first time this season, the North Carolina Tarheels find themselves looking up at others. After holding the top spot for 11 weeks, the heels have dropped to No. 5 in the latest AP poll. Meanwhile, another slain giant(UCLA) fell 4 spots to No. 8, following the home loss to USC.

The nation's new No. 1 is a team that should have been atop the mountain a long time ago. The Memphis Tigers staked their claim to No. 1, and should have easy sailing, with only tough games remaining with Gonzaga and Tennesse. Unfairly, the Tigers are often judged according to their conference, and impressive out of conference wins are soon forgotten and discredited. Before going into Conference-USA play, the Tigers picked up victories over Richmond, Oklahoma, Connecticut, USC, Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Arizona. The future in-state meeting with Tennessee will test the best in the SEC, before the madness begins. Have the Tigers managed to remain undefeated with a schedule holding less weight? I would say not.

No. 2 Kansas has a legitimate argument for the top spot, as they remain one of only two unbeaten programs in the country. The Jayhawks are separated from the Tigers by just 11 points in the new coaches poll, and will have the tougher road to season perfection, coming out of the Big 12. Depending on which opinions you read or who you talk to, either Kansas or Memphis will be considered the best team in the country. Does anyone else belong in the argument?

AP Top 25

1. Memphis (49) 17-0 1,777

2. Kansas (23) 18-0 1,751

3. Tennessee 16-1 1,591

4. Duke 15-1 1,543

5. North Carolina 18-1 1,536

6. Washington State 16-1 1,442

7. Indiana 16-1 1,351

8. UCLA 16-2 1,312

9. Georgetown 14-2 1,235

10. Michigan State 16-2 1,175

11. Wisconsin 15-2 1,048

12. Texas 14-3 887

13. Pittsburgh 15-3 781

14. Vanderbilt 17-2 748

15. Butler 17-2 742

16. Dayton 14-2 567

17. Mississippi 15-2 529

18. Villanova 13-3 502

18. Texas A&M 15-3 502

20. Stanford 15-3 444

21. Marquette 13-4 332

22. Drake 16-1 313

23. Xavier 15-4 230

24. Arizona State 14-3 182

25. Baylor 15-2 173

Others Receiving Votes

Saint Mary's 144, Clemson 136, Kansas State 120, West Virginia 90, Florida 49, Massachusetts 47, Gonzaga 32, USC 26, Rhode Island 17, Miami (FL) 15, Louisville 7, Cincinnati 5, South Alabama 5, Oklahoma 4, New Mexico 3, Mississippi State 2, Akron 2, Cleveland State 1, Creighton 1, Maryland 1.

Dropped From Rankings

Miami (FL) 21, Rhode Island 23, Clemson 24.

ESPN/USA Today Poll

1. Memphis (21) 17-0 765

2. Kansas (10) 18-0 754

3. Duke 15-1 682

4. North Carolina 18-1 666

5. Tennessee 16-1 653

6. Washington State 16-1 620

7. UCLA 16-2 581

8. Indiana 16-1 565

9. Georgetown 14-2 543

10. Michigan State 16-2 517

11. Wisconsin 15-2 443

12. Texas 14-3 381

13. Vanderbilt 17-2 336

14. Butler 17-2 316

15. Mississippi 15-2 284

16. Texas A&M 15-3 280

17. Pittsburgh 15-3 267

18. Villanova 13-3 257

19. Dayton 14-2 203

20. Marquette 13-4 158

21. Stanford 15-3 151

22. Xavier 15-4 112

23. Drake 16-1 92

24. Saint Mary's 15-2 89

25. Clemson 14-4 84

Others Receiving Votes

Arizona State 61, Florida 56, West Virginia 42, Rhode Island 24, Gonzaga 14, USC 12, Baylor 11, Massachusetts 9, Kansas State 8, Louisville 7, San Diego State 7, Connecticut 5, Mississippi State 4, South Alabama 3, UNLV 3, Oregon 2, Miami (FL) 2, Arizona 2, Illinois State 2, Cincinnati 1, Houston 1.

Dropped From Rankings

Rhode Island 21, Miami (FL) 24, Arizona State 25.

The Pac 10 has been rated the top basketball conference in the country for 2007, and though they can put up a strong argument for best conference, it would be more difficult to name the best team. The early favorite to win the Pac was UCLA, but after watching the Bruins fall on their own floor, it's clear there is no favorite.

4 Pac 10 teams appear in this week's top 25, with a 5th on the cusp. Surprisingly, Washington State is the highest ranked (6th), and Oregon and Arizona have no rank at all. Arizona State climbed into the top 25 this week, adding more to the conference shake up, and it should be a wild western ride down the stretch. I can't say who will emerge as the Pac 10 champion, but I'll say it will probably be one of the least likely preseason selections.

Building Blocks: The Oakland Raiders

Conference: AFC West
2007 Record: 4-12
Current draft position: tied 3rd

History: The Oakland Raiders operate under the motto of “commitment to excellence” and “Just win baby”, but have recently delivered neither for the franchise and fan base. In 2002, the Raiders posted an 11-5 record and made a Superbowl appearance. Since that time, the Raiders have rolled off 5 consecutive losing seasons, winning a total of 19 games in the span.

Since that successful 2002 season, the Raiders had 4 different head coaches on the sidelines, and numerous personnel changes on the field, yet the misery has continued. They will again enter another offseason searching for a formula for success, with past ingredients only bringing a continuation of failure.

Notable Free Agents:

RB Justin Fargas
QB Dante Culpepper
CB Nnamdi Asomugha

Though Justin Fargas had a breakout season, the most important free agent is the lockdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha. The loss of Asomugha would be greater than the loss of Fargas, for the lack of a worthy replacement. In my opinion, this would be like the Denver Broncos allowing Champ Bailey to walk away, to secure one of many horses in the stable. The backs are in abundance, where talented corners rarely appear. There has been speculation that Asomugha would be “franchise” tagged, and that action would be in the best interest of the team.

The Raiders have also sought quick fixes through free agency and trades. Al Davis has chased the big names, both young and old. Since 2001, the Raiders added Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp, Dominique Rhodes, and Donte Culpepper to the roster. And let us not forget the Randy Moss project, and how quickly it went sour.

2007 Draft:

QB Jamarcus Russell
TE Zach Miller
DE Quentin Moses
OT Mario Henderson
WR Johnny Lee Higgins
RB Michael Bush
CB John Bowie
DE Jay Richardson
SS Eric Frampton
FB Oren O’Neil
WR Jonathan Holland

The Raiders selected quarterback Jamarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. After an extended hold out, Russell rarely saw the field, and failed to start a game, until the final week of the season. Russell represents someone the Raiders are hoping to be their franchise QB. With the second pick, the offensive minded Lane Kiffin selected a target for his new passer, choosing Zach Miller out of Arizona State. Miller received playing time, and can become a better tight end as the offense improves.

Michael Bush was a 4th round pick, and we’ve yet to see his worth. Still recovering from a broken leg suffered in his junior year at Louisville, he was unable to showcase his talents in the NFL. The addition of Bush gave the Raiders depth at running back, in what was already a crowded backfield.


Defensive Tackle- With the retirement of Warren Sapp, the Raiders are left with a gaping hole in the defensive middle. And despite Sapp’s presence in 2007, Oakland allowed the opposition to trample them, ranking 31st in the NFL against the run. If you can’t stop the run, then you can’t win many games, and the Raiders may be shopping for a big body in ’08.

Wide Receiver- Offensively, the Raiders are without a big play wide receiver, and have been for quite some time. In the midst of the offensive woes of 2007, they failed to have a 1000 yard receiver or anyone appearing as a threat to opposing defenses. To get full value of a new franchise quarterback, and a load off the running game, they are in need of a “go to” playmaker outside. 164.4 represents the passing yards per game for Oakland in ‘07, 31st in the NFL.

Offensive Tackle- The Oakland run blocking was fair, but they struggled with pass protection. The NFL average for sacks is 34 for the season, and the Raiders’ quarterbacks were sacked 41 times. It may not seem alarming to be just 7 above the average, especially with the Falcons and Chiefs each surrendering 55. But when you compare those numbers to teams that lived in the air, New England (21), Cincinnati (17), and New Orleans (16), Raiders quarterbacks are eating turf nearly twice as much, while attempting fewer passes.

Defensive End- Not only did the Raiders defensive line struggle to stop the run, they also put little pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Oakland recorded 27 sacks on the season, which places them 28th in the league. The Raiders attempted to strengthen the pass rush in the 2007 draft, selecting DE Quentin Moses out of Georgia in the third round. The result was a wasted pick, as Moses failed to make the roster. Derrick Burgess produced 8 of the team’s sack total, but received no help from the other side.

Special Teams- Averaging just 5.5 yards per punt return, the raiders suffer a severe disadvantage in a game of field position.

’08 Prospect Rankings

Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
Jake Long, OT, Michigan
Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Desean Jackson, WR, Cal
Chris Long, DE, Virginia

*Projection: At this point, the exact position of the Raiders is uncertain. They will pick no lower than 5th and no higher than 3rd, so much is pending on the first selections by Miami and St. Louis. My determination is Dorsey and Jake Long will be unavailable when the Raiders are on the clock, leaving the next 4 prospects on my list.

Darren McFadden- Despite the desperation of having to fill holes in the defensive line, I believe Al Davis will look to fill seats, with the flash and flare of Darren McFadden. The Raiders have historically targeted, and often received, some of the biggest names in football, and there is no bigger offensive name in this draft class than Darren McFadden. Along with the star power of McFadden, his versatility would allow Oakland to utilize his talents in 2 of the alert areas. McFadden can be used a conventional back, split out wide as a receiving threat, and improve the return game with his speed and elusiveness.

Sedrick Ellis- If Dorsey is unavailable, the Raiders can select the next best thing to Glenn, which would be Southern Cal’s Sedrick Ellis. Lane Kiffin has a relationship with Sedrick Ellis, from his coaching days at USC. Ellis would represent that much needed big body on the defensive line, adding to the run support and pushing forward to force quarterbacks from the comfort of their pockets.

Desean Jackson- For the past 3 years, Desean Jackson and the Oakland Raiders have been neighbors in the California Bay area. Outside of the Niners, no other NFL team is as familiar with the Berkeley talent. Coach Kiffin also spent 2 years on the college sidelines with Jackson representing the opposition. Though I have a problem with his size (6’, 170), there is no question to his speed (4.3, 40). Jackson is most effective in space, which would be a treasure in the return game, but may find space more difficult to come by in the receiving game. The 2007 NFL draft saw Calvin Johnson go second overall to the Detroit Lions, representing the first receiver taken. His rare combination of speed and a large frame made him valuable. Two Buckeyes receivers were also selected in that first round, bumping 2 bigger name Trojans, with more catches, to the second round. The pattern didn’t show and NFL need for great hands, as much as it revealed the NFL’s love for speed.

Chris Long- Not only is Chris Long the top defensive end of the class, but he also represents another Raider link. His father, Howie Long, made a name for himself on the Oakland Defensive line. The NFL expectation is “like father, like son”, and the younger Long would be a great addition to the silver and black.

Conclusion: Look for Darren McFadden to be the primary first round target for Oakland. This would mean not re-signing Justin Fargas and any questions surrounding his recovery from a torn ACL. This would leave the Raiders addressing the other needs in free agency or through trades. Dominique Rhodes, Lamont Jordan, and Michael Bush can be potential offerings in trade packages, disassembling the stable and making room for the new face of McFadden. McFadden may not be the best pick, but is definitely a Raider selection, as the big names are seldom passed over by Al Davis. No running back has been selected first overall since the Bengals chose Kijana Carter with the first pick in the 1995 draft. I'm expecting that trend to continue.

*projections are subject to adjustments accordingly.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

No. 1 Down and No. 4 Follows

Sometimes you get those annoying houseguests, those that do more than make themselves at home, but end up owning the house. Two such visitors showed up in the homes of top 5 teams on Saturday, and each made themselves very comfortable in picking up cozy upset victories over their higher ranked opponents.

The No. 1 ranked Tarheels hosted the Maryland Terrapins, and looked to defend an 18 game winning streak. But some guests just can’t take a hint, and don’t know when to leave, despite all the hints. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough gave a 17 point 14 rebound performance, but the visitors insisted on hanging around. In the end, the Terps left on their own terms, with Bambale Osby scoring a go ahead bucket, with 21 seconds remaining, to seal Maryland’s 82-80 upset road victory.

The victory was unexpected, and must have come as quite a shock to the home team. Maryland screams “fear the turtle”, but mostly gave nothing to fear. They went in to Chapel Hill with a record of 12-7, going 2-2 in the ACC. This was a team that suffered embarrassing losses to Virginia Commonwealth, American University, and Ohio. Coming in, they weren’t given a second thought, but going out, they leave the Tarheels and their fans a lot to think about.

Let’s Take It To The Hardwood

The USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins extended their rivalry, this time taking it to the hardwood of Pauley Pavillion. The home Bruins were 4th ranked in the country, and appeared to be peaking. UCLA had suffered just one loss on the season, falling only to Texas, while they awaited the return of key players. All players were present on Saturday for the cross town battle, but the visitors had more desire.

This was the first time super freshmen Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo shared the college floor, and neither did disappoint. Love finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 steals for the Bruins. And though Mayo added 16 for the Trojans, with only 2 first half points, it was USC’s other freshman, Davon Jefferson, that went for 25. The Bruins fought back, after trailing early in the second half, but the Trojans held off the run and were able regain the lead and 72-63 victory.

USC had been inconsistent, jumping in and out of the top 25 all season. They suffered conference losses to Stanford, Cal, and Washington State, leaving Washington as their lone conference victory. Questions began to surround coach Tim Floyd and a basketball program that was picked as a Pac 10 contender. Today’s victory acts as a big step forward and a message to the rest of the conference, as the Trojans gave a look of preseason expectations.

How did the Trojans manage to upset the Bruins in Pauley? Floyd gave the Bruin offense a variety of different defensive looks, and held the team to 33% shooting, while the Trojans shot over 60% from the field. That’s how it’s done.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

USC Is Fielding 3 Top NFL Prospects For '09

With Rey Maualuga returning to USC for his senior season, the NFL is left salavating over 3 Trojan talents to be available in the 2009 draft. Rey's stock was incredibly high after the Rose Bowl, and would have been a sure first round pick, and possibly the first linebacker chosen in this year's upcoming draft. Now he'll be given another year under his belt, and will most likely challenge Ohio State's James Laurinaitis for the top linebacker ranking in 2009. Laurinitis and Maualuga will square off on September 13th, as the Trojans will welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to the coliseum.

Along with Maualuga, his fellow linebacker, Brian Cushing, should emerge as a first round pick in 2009. Slowed by injuries in 2007, Cushing wasn't the headliner he was in 2006, which was capped with his Rose Bowl defensive MVP award. A sure first round choice for this year wasn't even eligible. Sophmore Taylor Mays plays a safety position that's pretty damn dry in this year's draft class. Mays will have the option to enter next year, and the NFL will finally have a quality safety on the board, if Mays chooses to go.

Those projected NFL first rounders will be accompanied by the new faces of Chris Galippo and Everson Griffen, 2 young Trojans with enough talent to make them possible first round prospects for 2011.

King of The Frozen Tundra-NFC Championship Preview

We heard the stories, saw the lowlights, and witnessed the frustration on his face. He was washed up. The game had passed him by. Touchdown numbers were declining, while the number of interceptions were rising. His indecision on retirement was viewed as a man holding a franchise hostage. It was time to turn the page on an NFL legend, and allow our pens to flow the fresh ink of Aaron Rodgers. But 2007 revealed all that was unseen or forgotten, the heart, desire, and leadership that makes an aging NFL quarterback timeless. Surviving the scrutiny and criticisms of season's past, Brett Favre, the King of the frozen Tundra, now finds himself one Lambeau leap away from another Superbowl appearance.

New York Giants (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)
NFC Championship Game

Just as the AFC championship features a rematch of teams that met earlier in the season, the NFC gives us the same. And just like the AFC, the earlier meeting turned out to be lopsided, as the Packers routed the Giants by a score of 34-13. This time there is a venue change, and the Packers will be the frigid host to the traveling Gmen. The Giants are proven road warriors, winning 9 consecutive outings away from East Rutherford, but a January Green Bay playoff game will represent their stiffest test to date.

For the Giants, the road to the NFC title game went through Tampa Bay and Dallas. And as bumpy as the ride may have been, they managed to stay on their feet to reach the frozen sod of Lambeau Field. The Packers defended their home, overcoming mistakes and an early Seahawks lead, before literally running Seattle out of town. Now, two that stared from a distance, find themselves eye to eye, with the same visions and dreams of punching their ticket to the Superbowl.

Green Bay Offense: The early season knock against Green Bay was the lack of production in the running game. Though they continued to win games, most believed their inability to move the ball on the ground would eventually lead to playoff failure. Ryan Grant eventually emerged as that much needed ball carrying force, falling just shy of 1000 yards on the season, and plowing through the snow for 201 yards in last weekend's playoff victory against Seattle. When your back is averaging 5.1 yards per carry for the season, I'd say you've silenced the early criticisms and found a running game.

After throwing for 20 TDs and 29 picks in 2005, followed by 18 Tds and 18 INTs in '06, Brett Favre bounced back to throw for 28 scores and 15 interceptions in 2007. Despite two years of harsh criticism, Favre leads the NFL's 2nd ranked offense, averaging 370 yards a game, which is just 40 yards less than Tom Brady's patriots. As always, a favorite target, and one of the most dangerous after the catch, is Donald Driver. But not to go unnoticed, Greg Jennings has made the most of the attentiveness to his star teammate, and has capitalized with over 900 receiving yards of his own.

Green Bay Defense: The physical play of the Packers defense allows them to be somewhat more than their numbers indicate. The unit ranks 12th against the pass (207 yards per game) and 14th against the run (109 yards per game). It's old school defensive play, which includes jamming receivers and bumping routes. The pass rush doesn't represent anything fierce, but is efficient, and will force every yard gained to be completely earned.

New York Offense: Everyone expected to see a Manning in a conference championship game, but no one expected it to be Eli. After spending years in the shadow of his older brother, Eli Manning now steps into this game, and into the shadow of the opposing Brett Favre. It appears the Giants have made adjustments in the offensive passing game, which has reduced Manning's early season struggles and produced late season success. With the inconsistent play of the offensive line, the Giants are showing fewer 5 step drops and pocket collapses, and the more efficient and quick striking 3 step play calling. The ageless Amani Toomer provides support to a receiving corps headlined by Plaxico Burress, and their production will be key to softening a Packer defense to create more running lanes.

The Gmen lost a key piece to the offense, when Jeremy Shockey went down to injury, but a healthy rookie receiver, Steve Smith, has risen in the playoffs and provided some key receptions. As always, Manning is supported by a strong running attack. Surrounded by questions, after the departure of Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs gave the answer, going over 1000 yards on the season, and appearing as a force in the backfield.

New York Defense: The strength of the Giants is on the defensive side of the ball, and it was displayed in their playoff victory over the Cowboys, as they held the league's 4th ranked offense to 17 points, including just 3 in the second half. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora look to wreak havoc in opposing backfields and have compiled 23 sacks between them. The prognosis on CB Aaron Ross is "probable", and his services will be needed. This Giants secondary allowed Favre to go 18 of 21 for 147 yards in second half of the first meeting. Healthy bodies in the unit will be necessary to avoid a replay.

Analysis: The Packers will be facing a Giants team that has a different look, which won't make round two as easy. Those earlier Giants struggled with discipline issues, making costly mistakes that hurt their chances. The earlier Giants also didn't see Michael Strahan in season form, after spending the preseason away from the sidelines with a contract hold out. Eli Manning has experienced a season of maturity, and the team as a whole has learned to set aside personal battles, and those with the media, to focus and battle the upcoming opponents.

Both team styles appear built for the Wisconsin elements. There's isn't the flash and flare of wide open passing games. It's a sound running attack supported by smash mouth defense. It's a legend of the game versus a possible legend to be made. Favre vs. Manning, and men vs. the elements. It's throwback football at Lambeau Field. It's the NFC Championship game. It's the Giants and the Packers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Junior Snubs UCLA

Ken Norton Jr. will be remain the linebacker coach at USC. He either, didn't like what the cash the Bruins were offering or is a complete Trojan convert, proclaiming his love for USC football. But Neuheisel isn't finished with his list of Trojans past and present. Apparently he has contacted Norm Chow to inform him of UCLA's interest in him joining their staff. Norm is still apparently shocked over his firing in Tennessee. I can't imagine him playing second fiddle to Rick Neuheisel, when clearly Chow is the better of the two. The Titans are left with a $2 million buy out of Chow's contract, which gives him the leisure of spending quality time with his family, until he's approached for another head coaching position in college, which shouldn't take long.

Upon his hiring, Neuheisel has now approached 2 members that were critical to Pete Carroll's success at USC. What more does Ricky have to do to get under Pete's skin? Maybe he'll be looking to interview the USC tight end coach next, who just happens to be Brennan Carroll, the son of Pete.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

So BIG, Yet Plays So small

Thanks to ESPN, a nationwide audience was able to watch in amazement the 7'7 360 pound Kenny George of UNC-Ashville. Of course, UNC-Ashville would never be aired, if they weren't playing the top ranked Tarheels of North Carolina. And still, without their giant sophmore, there wouldn't have been enough interest in the game to air it nationwide. This game was played last week, and I'm still not able to get the images out of my head. I stand at 6 feet 4 inches myself, and rarely find myself looking up to anyone. But the Tarheels' superstar, Tyler Hansbrough, who stands 6'9, resembled a child beside the enormous Kenny George.

George represented the tallest player in the college ranks, and unlike former NBA player Manute Bole, who had the 7'7 length, George also came equipped with bulk. Though he did finish the game with 4 blocks, I expected a more dominating performance from him. Size shouldn't always equate to greatness, but my first thought, if I was an opposing center would be something along the lines of, "Oh $h!t". But as I watched, the more obvious came into play. I watched a young man struggle to pull his body, and drag is size 28 shoes, from end to end. The Ashville offense would already be running a play, before he crossed midcourt.

The game moved on, and more and more it appeared to be an exhibition of one player, rather than a spotlighted game on the ESPN calendar. And once George became posterized, with the much smaller Hansbrough rising above him and slamming it through, I thought maybe the Ashville coach would call a timeout to substitute George for the bearded lady. But the ESPN ploy was effective, because I tuned in to that $h!tty game thinking size may bring an upset.

George has 2 more years to become a player, but I think in this instance his size presents a physical handicap. His court expressions often made me believe he was bored, like the kid forced into a sport he doesn't enjoy, just because of his height. Hell, I hear it several times myself. "Wow, you're tall. You play basketball?" Actually, I did, but that's besides the point. Are all short people playing mini golf?

But in all seriousness, I wish the kid the best, but I'm also hoping ESPN and other networks won't continue to use him as a sideshow act.

Titans Deviate From The Norm

In a move that I find shocking, the Tennessee Titans fired offensive coordinator Norm Chow. I guess the reasoning behind this is the Titans wanting Vince Young to be transformed overnight into an NFL elite quarterback. Young's progression has been slower than the Tennessee expectations, and they've placed fault on the man designated to teach him. It appears that ownership didn't want to point fingers at themselves for selecting Vince Young 3rd overall in the 2006 draft, so they instead fingered Chow, who wanted Matt Leinart.

Before the firing, Chow had interviewed for some college jobs, and his name was still being tossed around by UCLA. Nick Saban and Alabama also have interest in the offensive wizardry of Chow, since the announcement of his firing. I'd much rather see Chow in Tuscaloosa than in Westwood. In a perfect world, he would return to USC to develop the new corps of receivers ready to take the field. But in this less than perfect world, there's no way in hell that happens.

I'm not sure if UCLA would invest that kind of money in an offensive coordinator, but I know Bama would. If Alabama would happen to land Norm Chow, all I can say is, "Look out SEC!".

Monday, January 14, 2008

Power Rankings are Bull$h!#- A Continuation Of My BCS Gripe

When you have a team sport that survives on a rankings system, how can I not unload my frustrations? Especially after watching another week of the NFL, and the big boys giving me something to compare. If the NFL didn't exist, or any other team sport, for that matter, the BCS would be comfortably in command, and I would submit to its greatness. But as a spectator, and umm...spectating the outcome of NFL games, I can't help but shake my head in disbelief that certain powers that be are not seeing the same as I, or just not caring.

When the NFL regular season ended, I gave my little gripe and comparison of Pro and college football. In a BCS system, the regular NFL season ends, and the New England Patriots would automatically advance to the Superbowl to meet the Dallas Cowboys, with the Indianapolis Colts locked out and asking "what about us". Sound familiar? I bet it does. But fortunate for the NFL, and fans of said league, they play it on the field and not on rankings in media and coaches polls.

Here's another example of power rankings losing all credibility. At regular season's end, the AFC South was ranked as the strongest division in the NFL. After 2 weekends of trying to prove it on a playing field, of the 3 AFC southern teams qualifying for the playoffs (Jags, Colts, and Titans), there are none left. The AFC South didn't pick up a single playoff victory. In comparison, 2 of the so called "weaker" divisions, the AFC East and West, will be represented in the AFC Championship game. The New England Patriots (AFC East) and San Diego Chargers (AFC West) wiped out all 3 teams from that "power conference" of the south.

And it doesn't end there, because I managed to glance one of the college basketball conference power rankings. And despite having a team win the past two NCAA basketball championships, the SEC is ranked dead last. Why? That's easy. Outside of Kentucky, the SEC is viewed as a "football conference". The ACC, Pac 10 and Big East will always get more respect, because these are supposedly your basketball "power" conferences. Hell, In my opinion, the best team in the country isn't even a member of any of the big money pompous conferences that snag all the media attention. I think the best team in America is playing in Conference-USA, and that team is the Memphis Tigers. Unfortunately for Memphis, I don't get a vote in any of those media polls and rankings. But let it be known to the Tigers, the Horse has your back.

Looking back, how many of the so called "experts" chose Florida to win it all in their first run? Look back again, and how many of those same experts still didn't choose Florida, after they returned for a second run with the same roster? But college hoops has a tournament to show how wrong or right the rankings can be, and in football we're left with those figure skating rules, with judges awarding numbers for synchronization, costume, and dance routines. So just know that your teams weren't left out of the BCS for the lack of performance, but it's because they didn't stick the landing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Eyes On The Prize-AFC Championship Game Preview

You're riding high, bouncing back from early season disappointment, and ripping off 8 straight victories. A team has peaked, a roster has gelled, and a first year coach is somewhat vindicated. You've snapped a 10 year slump of playoff defeat. You've withstood the chants of "Marty", making him a ghost of season's past. You've stepped into the home of the defending champs, and left them without an opportunity to repeat. And what is the jus reward, the offering of the NFL Gods? You now draw the undefeated, record breaking, top seeded New England Patriots.

San Diego (11-5) at New England (16-0)
AFC Championship Game

The AFC championship game gives us a rematch of not only a matchup from earlier this season, but also a rematch of two teams that collided in last year's playoffs. If you're a Bolts fan, such as myself, it's a toss up of which was uglier to watch. You have the divisional round from last year, with the Chargers blowing an opportunity late in the fourth quarter or the regular season a$$ whoopin' we took in Foxboro. For myself, the close losses are always the most painful.

Now we open a new chapter, and the word "history" will line the pages. San Diego will enter this game as the biggest underdog in playoff history. New England has secured their 16-0 mark, and will look to continue their march to the claim of "greatest team in NFL history", or maybe in all of sports. A San Diego upset would forever link the Chargers and Patriots in the record books, and be assured of replays for decades to come.

NFL Defensive Leaders

1. Pittsburgh
2. Tampa Bay
3. Indianapolis
4. New England
5. Tennessee
6. Baltimore
7. NY Giants
8. Washington
9. Dallas
10. Philadelphia

New England Defense: With the Patriots being an offensive explosion, the area often overlooked is the defense. You want to know how to have a perfect season? How about being the best overall offense and being supported by the 4th overall defense in the NFL? The Patriots appear in the top 10 in most defensive categories. They rank 6th against the pass, allowing opponents less than 200 yards per game, and 10th against the run, allowing just over 98 yards per game. They don't create many turnovers, but are a very disciplined, experienced, and battle tested group. Offense will spring the fans from their seats, but defense will add victories to the win column.

New England offense: As you look at the NFL's defensive leader board, there's something else that can be seen at a glance, and it has nothing to do with the Patriots defense. Of the 10 top defenses in the NFL, New England has faced 7 of them this season. Your defensive leader board gives more example of the potency of the Patriots offense. With some of the teams represented on the list, the Pats could easily submit highlight reels to ESPN, creating their own sports reality version of "You Got Punk'd". Do I have to mention Randy Moss and Tom Brady? If you know nothing about the record breaking success of this duo by now, then you shouldn't even be reading this, because you don't watch the NFL. But a big key to the Pats offense, and the most underrated receiver in the NFL, is Wes Welker. Playing on a field with Randy Moss, Welker hasn't just prospered, he has starred.

San Diego Offense: The Chargers will enter the game with the league's leading rusher, in Ladainian Tomlinson, though he's a bit banged up. But the Bolts displayed a capable stable of backs in Sunday's victory over the colts, with Darren Sproles and Michael Turner stepping in to add to the ground production. The Bolts rank 7th in the league in rushing, which represents the only offensive edge they have over the Pats.

The key to the Chargers resurgence is without a doubt the addition of wide receiver Chris Chambers to the roster. When comparing early season pass production with the late numbers, it's obvious that a big play receiver, or lack thereof, will either make or break QB Phillip Rivers*.

Chambers provided a spark in the passing game, giving the bolts the ability to stretch the field and keep the defenses honest, by not allowing the luxury of stacking the box for LT. Immediately, the run and pass productions were increased. The Big target, Antonio Gates, is nursing a sore toe but expected to play, as is Tomlinson with a sore knee. The latest listing on Rivers is "day to day".

San Diego Defense: The Chargers show a gambling defense, ranked 14th overall. What's most impressive is the +24 turnover margin, which leads the NFL. Sometimes when you gamble, you pay the price, but it's the way of the bolts. They'll bring multiple blitz packages to keep opposing QBs out of their comfort zone. The secondary is filled with ball hawks, including league interceptions leader Antonio Cromartie. This is a defense that was humiliated in the early season meeting between these teams, but they spent a lot of time on the field, with the dismal play of the offensive unit.

Analysis: After watching the Patriots play this season, it's hard to believe anyone can defeat them. But upon observation, there were some noticable errors in the play calling of opponents. With the Patriots, you can't go out and play their game. And if you're a quick strike offense, you can't even play your game. You stop Tom Brady and company by keeping them on the sidelines. You move the sticks and manage the clock, hoping to still be in striking distance by the fourth. The key to a Chargers victory would be the ability to consistently move the ball on the ground, and not be in a position where your hopes weigh on the arm of your quarterback.

That's easier said than done, because Billicheck will always look to eliminate the weapons of an opposing offense. His in-game adjustments are a work of art, and the playing field is his canvas. It's the final step before walking on the big stage. They are a determined team with everything to lose, playing against and underdog that is expected to lose. It's your biblical matchup of "David and Goliath". It's the AFC championship game. It's the Chargers and Patriots.

*Note: Someone should explain to Phillip Rivers that the underdog doesn't bark, they go out and bite. As a long time Charger fan, his antics in the past few weeks embarrass me. I grew up watching Dan Fouts play, and he would never reduce himself to verbally battle fans in opposing stadiums. Opposing fans are silenced by a visiting "team's" play on the field, and not by a hobbled QB that allows spectators to get inside his head.

May the best team win...hopefully it's mine.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rey Watch

Reportedly, Rey Maualuga took a trip to his home town to get more clarity on his decision to stay at USC or move on the the NFL. At the moment, it looks like Rey will stay true to his earliest words and return for his senior year. With his draft projection so high (first or second round), it's a tough choice, and usually not one to work in favor of the Universities.

Goodbye Chilo

Chilo Rachal declared himself for the NFL draft, meaning we'll lose 4 of the big guys up front. I'm not sure which round the NFL scouts projected him, but you surely can't go wrong in using a Trojan for protection. I wish him the best, wherever he may end up.

Ken Norton seems to be close to sealing a deal that would make him the Bruin assistant coach. As much as I hate to see him go, I can't say I blame him. If coaching has become his love, then what better way to climb in the coaching ranks.

Still no word on Rey's decision to stay or go to the NFL. Is that a good thing? This is his last weekend to ponder, as tuesday is the deadline for declarations.

Friday, January 11, 2008

SEC vs. All Comers

The season ends with the same tired debate, "my team can beat your team, because (insert team name) beat (insert team name) and you lost to them." Even better, "my team comes from this conference, which is better than your conference, so my team is superior to yours." What a crock of $h!t it's all turned out to be! Then you have rankings come into play, but only when a debater finds use for them. If you've ever paid attention to ranking discussions, those go something like this, "my conference is greater, because it has more ranked teams, meaning we play more ranked opponents." Good argument? Maybe. But it's a horrible argument when you then state that someone outside your conference is overrated, and not deserving of a ranking. If the voters get it right, when ranking the teams in your conference, how are those same voters suddenly wrong about everyone else? You either agree or disagree with the total rankings, meaning if you determine a team outside your conference is ranked too high, there's a possibility that teams inside your conference are wrongfully ranked as well. I found out as a child that just because I was the toughest kid on my street didn't mean I was the toughest kid in the neighborhood. Sometimes you have to think outside the box, which is exactly what I decided to do in this conference war.

The SEC is considered the superior conference in college football. The media spreads it, we embrace it, and I even repeat it. Its history is long and accompanied with greatness. From legendary coaches to legendary players, there is no doubt that very few, if any conference, can match the historical achievements and power of the SEC. But Modernly, is the SEC as dominant as its made out to be? If we began to disect the games and opponents of today's SEC, you would actually get a different look. First, take a look at the overall record of the SEC vs. the other 5 BCS conferences:

SEC vs. ACC: 905-747-83

SEC vs. Big 12: 314-305-24

SEC vs. Big East: 112-71-11

SEC vs. Big 10: 89-95-7

SEC vs. Pac 10: 65-41-7

As shown, the SEC holds a lead over 4 or the 5 BCS conferences in all time series play, but actually trails the Big 10. Overall, the SEC is also .500 against Notre Dame, posting an all time series record of 9-9-2.

But what happens when we come up to speed and stop living in the past? How have the other conferences faired against the SEC in the 10 year era of the BCS? Is there any truth to what the media has been telling us? Let's see:

The BCS Era

SEC vs. ACC: 42-37

The SEC holds a 5 game lead over the ACC in the past 10 years, but it should be noted that lowly Duke went 0-7 in that stretch. The numbers are tallied according to current conference alignment, so Miami's total of 5-2 is included in the ACC's total.

SEC vs. Big 10: 19-15

With the SEC's recent blowouts of Ohio State in the National championship game, you would think the gap would be wider, especially with how the Big 10 is criticized for being slow and outdated. The Buckeyes went 0-4 during this period, and the Hoosiers posted a mark of 2-6. Oddly enough, Lloyd Carr was criticized for his failures to win the Big 10 and Beat Ohio State, but when you include his final coaching performance, his Michigan Wolverines are 6-1 against SEC opponents.

SEC vs. Big 12: 18-16

Both Texas and OU are 3-2 against the SEC, and neither represents the heavy hitter. In the past 10 years, Missouri is 4-1 against the Southeastern Conference.

SEC vs. Big East: 13-15

The Big East holds a 2 game lead on the SEC, partly because of Louisville's addition to the conference, and the Cardinals posting a 7-3 mark, with wins mostly over Kentucky. West Virginia has never lost to an SEC team, and has a record of 4-0 for the period. South Florida's first year of football was just one year before the BCS. In their early years, they collided with Alabama and Auburn, and came out 0-4, before finally notching the win against Auburn this past season.

SEC vs. Pac 10: 6-9

Because of Southern Cal, this seems to be the most preferred conference for the SEC conference to attack. "It's easy, and plays no D." Isn't that the painted picture of the Pac 10 conference? In the past 10 years Southern Cal, Oregon, and UCLA have jumped in and out of SEC play, and each time they've finished with an unblemished record. USC is 4-0, with Oregon and UCLA winning 2 games each. Arizona has the worst showing, going 0-2.

SEC vs. Notre Dame: 3-3

Even with the recent struggles of the Irish, nothing has changed as far as their matching up with the SEC. Notre Dame has continued to play the conference even. They are 1-1 against LSU, and 2-2 against Tennessee.

The all time mark for the SEC vs BCS conferences stands at 1,485-1,259. Does that reflect superiority? Maybe. Maybe not. But when you look at the game today, and the results of the past 10 years, 98-92, what I see is parity.

Exhale......For Now

It looks like Pete Carroll will remain the head man at USC, at least for now. It's still a long offseason, and I won't feel relieved until all NFL head coaching positions are filled by someone not named Carroll. ESPN is reporting that Blank and Carroll are still in discussion. I'm not sure what there is to keep talking about, but hopefully it pertains to the quality of one of the Trojans that will be on the 2008 draft board, and not about season tickets to Braves games to make the head coaching position more appealing.

If that's not good enough news for you, how about this one? Oregon's Jonathan Stewart has declared for the NFL draft. The Ducks emerged as a force in 2007, and finally defeated my beloved USC. But this latest declaration removes the entire backfield from Oregon, with Dixon graduating and Stewart now looking to play on Sundays. At the moment, Oregon doesn't appear to pose a threat in 2008, unless they have some major weapons on the bench or arriving as recruits that I don't know about.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spring Cleaning Comes Early In Ann Arbor

I'm not sure what the expectations are for the Michigan Fanbase and boosters that wanted Lloyd Carr out, and celebrated when Rich Rodriguez came in, but Kickoff 2008 isn't painting a pretty picture, and we're only in January. Spring cleaning has come early, and there won't be many recognizable names and faces on the Wolverine spring roster.

With Carr stepping down, which is a nicer way of saying "forced out", it didn't take long for the incoming coach to fire the rest of the Michigan staff and replace them with a more qualified group (friends of Rodriguez). This comes as Senior stars Jake Long, Mike Hart, and Chad Henne are saying goodbye to the Wolverines and hello to the NFL. Any hopes of salvaging the remainder of the team was flushed on Wednsday, when Juniors Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington announced their declaration for the NFL draft, and Freshman Ryan Mallett announced his transfer.

In a matter of months, Michigan has gone from a team that bounced back from an opening day loss to Appalachian State and finished the season with an impressive bowl win over Florida, to a team that is questionable to beat Utah in the 2008 kickoff. If you look at the losses on the roster, you have a Michigan team that dropped just 3 games, and a had a top 25 finish in 2007, that may be battling next season to just be bowl eligible.

With Mallet's transfer, it's obvious the Wolverines won't be undergoing a transitional change in offense, slowly moving from pro style to the spread, as Belotti did in Oregon. It's a sudden impact switch, with 2 months to recruit players to run it, after spending many years of handing out scholarships to players that can't. The recent departures may have freed up some needed scholarships for an incoming spread class, but what about all those pro style scholarships that are locked in for more years?

When people came screaming for Lloyd Carr's head, were they also accepting of the program's decline before rising again? Unless Rich Rodriguez is a miracle worker, that seems to be the direction they're heading in. I feel every coach deserves ample time to turn a program around, but unlike some of the others, Michigan wasn't exactly dead in the water. Michigan wants victories over Ohio State, BCS bowl appearances, and a shot at the national title. With the cupboards now bare, I wouldn't be expecting any of those achievements to be reached very soon.

Carr leaves Michigan with the bar set at 1 national championship and 5 Big 10 titles. His teams appeared in 5 BCS bowl games, and had 5 top 10 AP finishes in his 12 years as head coach. The sooner Rodriguez can beat Tressel, the sooner Ann Arbor can stop the groaning. But whatever happens next year, If Rodriguez loses to Notre Dame in that third game next season, the headlines will either read "Notre Dame is Back" or "Michigan Stinks". I would choose the latter.
2008 Michigan Football Schedule

Aug. 30 Utah
Sept. 6 Miami (OH.)
Sept. 13 at Notre Dame
Sept. 27 Wisconsin*
Oct. 4 Illinois*
Oct. 11 Toledo
Oct. 18 at Penn State* (HC)
Oct. 25 Michigan State
Nov. 1 at Purdue*
Nov. 8 at Minnesota*
Nov. 15 Northwestern*
Nov. 22 at Ohio State*

Here We Go Again

We might as well get used to it. Anytime there is an end of season job opening in the NFL, GMs will come gunning for Pete Carroll. It doesn't even feel like the offseason, if this isn't happening. Typically, The Trojans always lose someone from their great coaching staff, and UCLA has already targeted Ken Norton Jr. (Hopefully he won't return to his alma mater). But as much as I hate to see coaches move on, the most nerve racking is waiting for Pete Carroll to finally blow off a new hunter.

I'm not sure what kind of interest Pete would have in Atlanta. They've offered him autonomy, which was the Dolphins' offer last year, and still Pete turned down Miami. The Falcons are in shambles, and their newly hired coach from the college ranks abandoned them to return to the amateur game. The Redskins are another team rumored to have interest in Carroll. The skins offer a better block for building, but Pete doesn't strike me as the D.C type of guy. After turning down the Chargers, Raiders, and Niners here in Cali, I can't imagine Carroll accepting one of those east coast gigs. I think it all depends on what's being offered. Hell, everyone can be made an offer that can't be refused. It also depends on the measure of boredom. If he feels he's accomplished everything possible at USC, and has become bored with the same routine, I can see him leaving just for a challenge.

His USC salary is undisclosed, but despite not knowing the numbers, hopefully Pete will look beyond the dollar signs and realize he is the King of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Does Ohio State Put The 'O' in Overrated?

We all know the chant. It's become a common cry in college sports, used as a humiliating tool against opponents the AP and coaches said were either greater or in the same class as you. It echoed throughout the Superdome, while then No. 4 Georgia was dismantling No. 10 Hawaii. Just as it was heard in Kentucky, as the Wildcats topped the LSU Tigers in triple overtime. But if we look back at the opening preseason poll and compare it to the end product, which were the overrated and underrated teams of 2007?

At first thought, after witnessing the Buckeyes being soundly defeated in the BCS championship game, some will draw the conclusion that they were overrated. You have no argument, if we focus strictly on that one game, but going into the 2007 season, the Ohio State Buckeyes ranked 11th in the AP and 10th in the coaches poll. When you compare their end position of 5th and 4th, the Buckeyes climbed, making them slightly underrated for the season.

Our National Champion LSU Tigers are the easiest to figure. They ranked second in both preseason polls, and finished first. The preseason No. 1 Team, USC, finished 3rd in the AP and 2nd in the coaches poll. LSU slightly underrated, and USC was slightly overrated. Ironically, the first poll to number LSU and USC correctly was the AP, which jumped the Tigers ahead of the Trojans in week 5. This is the same AP that the folks in Louisiana, and down in SEC country, frowned upon, after they crowned USC the champions in 2003. I'm sure once the AP jumped the Trojans in week 5, those same people weren't insinuating that the media didn't know what they were talking about. Funny how that works. But hey, that's college football.

But enough of the slight, let's look at the most overrated and underrated teams of 2007. Some are easy to figure, such as Cal failing to finish in the top 25, after starting as No. 12. Michigan moved from 5 to 18 in the AP, after fighting back from the media boot they received with the loss to Appalachian State. Not only did Michigan go from No. 5 to completely off the board with that first week loss, but Appalachian State picked up AP votes. Louisville, Rutgers, UCLA, Florida State, TCU, Nebraska and Texas A&M would complete our list of the most overrated teams. The most underrated are fairly obvious. Missouri and Kansas didn't appear on either preseason poll. In fact, of the original list of teams in the AP top 10, 6 reappeared in the end of season 10. Mizzou, Kansas, Georgia, and Ohio State replaced Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Louisville.

This is the first year that fans didn't have the opportunity to debate the ranking of Notre Dame. year after year the talk was about Notre Dame being the overrated media darling. I've said it once or twice myself. Truth revealed is that over the past 10 years, according to beginning and ending positions in the polls, Notre Dame is neither over or underrated. They usually live up to their preseason projection. I'll give you the overrated culprits, and I'm sure the revelation will be accompanied by grimaces.

7 past BCS champions top the overrated list for the past 10 years. I guess it's easy to say that when you win it all the bar is set high and the expectations become much more. But as I look at some of the teams appearing on the list, I can easily point out Florida teams that continually failed to meet the preseason projection under coach Ron Zook. I also see Tennessee teams that underachieved, and Miami and Nebraska programs that began to slide. A great history can slap a high ranking on your back, but programs have a new look every year, and too often the polls don't look at today, but will keep looking in the rear view.

Most overrated teams in last 10 years:

1. Florida State (-70)
2. Tennessee (-55)
3. Washington (-42)
4. Florida (-40 1/2)
5. Nebraska (-40)
6. Michigan (-38)
7. Miami (-35)
T8. Ohio State (-30)
T8. Texas (-30)
10. Clemson (-17)

As you can see, the numbers show Florida State as the most overrated team of the past 10 years, based on preseason ranking and final poll position.

The most underrated teams are again the easiest to predict. These are teams that usually won't see a poll until the season has began. These teams aren't projected in the top 10 every year, and if they do touch a poll, their climb begins from the bottom.

Most underrated teams in last 10 years:

1. Washington St. (+51)
2. Boise State (+46)
3. Oregon (+35 1/2)
4. Boston College (+32)
5. Arkansas (+21)
T6. Iowa (+17)
T6. Maryland (+17)
8. TCU (+14)
9. Wisconsin (+6)
10. Louisville (+5)

And when we break it down again by conference, again it shows the obvious. The Pac 10 is usually the most disrespected conference. Outside of USC, voters don't expect anything from from the rest. The Pac has spent most of the last ten years adding teams to the top 25, rather than dropping them. According to the calculations, the ACC is the most overrated conference, which only extends an ongoing debate, considering their 10 years of bowl performances.

BCS Conferences:

1. Pac-10 (+60 1/2)
2. Big East (+9)
3. Big 10 (+3)
4. SEC (-12 1/2)
5. Big 12 (-78 1/2)
6. ACC (-102)

LSU defeated the eventual ACC champion before going on to win the SEC, finally ending the season as the crowned Kings. West Virginia is a Big East champion that made easy work of the Big 12 Champion. Georgia failed to win their conference, without ever getting a shot at the Tigers, and USC was forced to mow down what the bowl committees placed before them. There is no true power ranking of teams, since not enough of the college football powers are facing each other to make that determination. We live and die by poll positions. These polls carry us through the season, before crowning our champion. There's obviously a better way than coaches and media opinion, but the NCAA refuses to give us that satisfaction. Coaches sell their teams, friends, and conferences. The media sells us games, promoting upcoming battles and extending the hype with a ranking. The NCAA recognizes no champions for the sport of football, yet the schools stuff their pockets by marketing "championship" events through the use of the media.

We watch it. We cheer for it. And we anticipate the first preseason poll. We live for the game, while at the same time whining about the system. It's how it is, and how it looks to continue to be. But just once, I'd like to see a season end, and like all other team sports, have nothing left but silence.

2000 Yards And Running

It's an amazing single season accomplishment to surpass the 2000 yard rushing mark, especially when you take into consideration that you're given only 12 or 13 games to do it at the collegiate level. Even with all the publicity and trophies on his shelf, Darren McFadden has never rushed for over 2000 in a single season. Taking a look back on the Career of Heisman winner Reggie Bush, he also failed to reach this mark. Even with all the greatness of Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, who carried the load for the Sooners, he also never rushed for 2000. And if you want to gain an understanding of just how remarkable of a college career Barry Sanders had, 20 years later, his 2,628 yards remains the record, and he achieved the yardage in only 11 games.

In 2007, a pair of Junior runners carried their teams on their backs, with each running for over 2000 yards. Each quickly followed up the accomplishment by making a dash for the NFL. With Ray Rice of Rutgers and Kevin Smith of Central Florida, the NFL will now have two workhorse backs on the board. To put their achievements in perspective, Smith's 2,567 rushing yards, and Rice's 2,012 rushing yards are greater than the total yards gained on the ground by 66 division 1-A teams. And though it may not be surprising that each rushed for more yards than a struggling Notre Dame offense, it's an eye opener when you consider their yardage was greater than the total rushing yardage for programs like Alabama, Florida State, Miami, and Nebraska.

Kevin Smith's 2,567 yards left him just 61 shy of breaking the single season mark set by Barry Sanders. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry, leading to an astronomical 183per game. Smith was the Central Florida offense, also accounting for 29 touchdowns. It didn't take long for Smith to retract his original statement about returning for his senior year at UCF. Representing a Mid Major program that exists outside the public eye, rushing for 2000 yards becomes the bold lettering of your pro resume, and anything less than equalling that performance would only decrease his stock. The time is right, and that time is now for Smith.

Ray Rice is the more recognizable of the two, considering he gets the national coverage of playing in a BCS conference. Rice isn't the surprise that Smith has come to be, as he has spent the last two seasons chewing up big numbers on the turf. In his final season, Rice averaged 159 yards a game. His 280 yards in his last game, against Ball State in the International Bowl, pushed him over the 2000 yard mark for the season. Rice is one of the most underappreciated backs in college football, with less productive runners often creating bigger headlines.

In all, 13 backs have rushed for over 2000 yards in the history of division 1-A. And if you add Tulane's Matt Forte, 3 running backs reached that mark during the 2007 season. Of the 10 to record 2000 plus yards before 2007, seven were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft, with none picked as the No. 1 overall. Iowa State's Troy Davis is the only player to rush for 2000 yards in two separate seasons, yet he was picked in the 3rd round. Texas Tech's Byron Hanspard and Cal's J.J Arrington both went on to become second round draft picks.

Without the Heisman invitations and many of the other collegiate accolades, the number 2000 can act as the stepping stone to launch both Rice and Smith into first day selections in the 2008 NFL draft.

2000 yard single season rushing performances in Div. 1-A

1988 Barry Sanders, Okla St.- 2,628
2007 Kevin Smith, UCF- 2,567
1981 Marcus Allen, So. Cal.- 2,342
1996 Troy Davis, Iowa St.- 2,185
2000 LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU- 2,158
1983 Mike Rozier, Neb.- 2,148
2007 Matt Forte, Tulane- 2,127
1998 Ricky Williams, Texas- 2,124
2002 Larry Johnson, Penn St.- 2,087
1996 Byron Hanspard, Texas Tech- 2,084
1994 Rashaan Salaam, Col.- 2,055
2004 J.J. Arrington, California- 2,018
1995 Troy Davis, Iowa St. 11-2,010

Monday, January 7, 2008

Twice Bitten-The Buckeyes Fail Again

For the second consecutive year, the Ohio State Buckeyes embarked on what was to be a battle between the nation's two best teams. And for the second consecutive year, the Buckeyes proved they didn't belong in the game. Ohio State followed up the 2007 beat down in Arizona by receiving a good old fashioned a$$ whoopin' in New Orleans. Hats off, and a big congratulations to LSU, who represented their conference well, leaving no doubt that they were the better team on the field.

It's become more clear, over the past two seasons, that Ohio State has fielded teams built to win the Big 10, and faced off against Florida and LSU teams that were built to win national championships. It's not even a question of coaching, when clearly Tressel doesn't possess the athletes to compete in such a battle. Is the SEC faster than the Big 10? Your guess is as good as mine. But without a doubt, the Tigers are faster than the Buckeyes, especially in the defensive secondary.

This new year has given us 5 BCS Bowl games, including the national title match, and 4 of the 5 turned out to be lopsided. The BCS pairings have been a mess. The BCS system is a mess. With the Tigers winning on Monday night, we're left with six "2 loss" teams, and a single one loss team in Kansas. We're left with all the "what ifs" and "why not us". What's the point? All those questions have no answer. The Tigers found the answer, by qualifying for the big game, and embarrassing their opponent, giving them not only the strongest leg to stand on, but the biggest pair of balls in the BCS era.

Check it out, Ann Arbor. Les Miles can beat Ohio State.

Congratulations to the 2007 LSU Tigers. The only two time BCS Champion.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

International Clocks Should Be Turned Back One Week

Rutgers, and Ray Rice, dominated the International bowl. But guess what? I didn't see it. The NCAA can be criticized for bowl tie ins bringing poor matchups, and they can even come under fire for the BCS selection process, but nothing irks me more than the International and GMAC bowl games. I have nothing against Rutgers, Ball State, Tulsa or Bowling Green. It's just that I don't want to see these teams after New Year's day, unless they're playing in a BCS game.

The whole idea is to start slow, giving us a teaser after a two week layoff, and then progressively become more attractive, as we work our way towards the National Championship game. In other words, you don't put together and All Star musical event, and then put William Hung on stage, just before the final act. The scheduling of the International and GMAC bowls equate to an intermission. Those games are scheduled during the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs, as if they were asking to be overshadowed.

I'm guilty. I'm a college football fan that didn't watch the International Bowl. I watched the Under Armour High School All American game, but didn't watch Rutgers play. I preferred to watch the nation's next group of talent, rather than watch a current talent in Ray Rice. I anticipated the announcements of high school seniors to college programs, and didn't care much for the announcement of the final score in Canada.

If the GMAC and International bowls were scheduled earlier in the season, I certainly would have watched from beginning to end. But seeing that I've been mathematically eliminated from my bowl pick'em pool, I honestly couldn't give two $h!ts about it. On December 29th, I needed a Rutgers victory, but on January 5th, it didn't matter if they played. Isn't it time to turn back the International clock?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Waiting Game

As quickly as we receive that beautiful sunset on the Pacific ocean, is about as quickly as a Bowl victory celebration will end in Southern California. Another Rose Bowl, another victim, another top 5 finish, another top 5 preseason projection, and another race to land a top 5 recruiting class. But within hours of glory, we are left with the bitter task of waiting for underclassmen to make their announcements, to give us a more clear picture of what the next roster will be.

It took less than 24 hours for Chilo Rachal to announce his interest in the NFL money, stating a family hardship, which includes a needed surgery for his mother. As much as I would like to see players stay the full years of eligibility, I'm very aware that the program creates an earning potential that the average reasonable person could not resist. It's a rags to riches stories, with players performing for scraps, before eventually being compensated for their worth. Rachal is just one of 5 Trojans sitting in the NFL waiting room, as Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Kyle Moore, and Cary Harris will each have similar decisions to make.

Of the 5, the NFL would be most tempting to Rey Maualuga, though he stated earlier, along with Brian Cushing, that he would return for his senior year. But Maualuga's stock is high right now, maybe even higher than senior teammate Keith Rivers who is being projected in the first round. Down the stretch, and into the bowls, I don't think there was a bigger linebacking name in the country, with maybe the exception of James Laurinaitis. Staying in school becomes a gamble, not knowing if he can avoid injury or even maintain his NFL stock for another season. We've seen Miami's Calais Campbell and TCU's Tommy Blake's stock fall from one season to the next, but we've also seen Glenn Dorsey rise to the top.

Selfishly, I hope they'll all decide to keep the cardinal and gold for another year. But realistically, I feel we'll lose at least a pair from the list. But regardless of their final decisions, and regardless of the colors they'll bear in 2008, they are forever Trojans. Committed to excellence, striving for perfection, all in Trojan spirit....Fight on.