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Saturday, September 24, 2016

College Football, Week 4: Five Guarantees

It's week four of the 2016 college football season, and that means it is time for me to unveil my new column: Five Guarantees.

But you said it was week four, Jarrod. That's right, I did indeed.

So why not go with Four Guarantees? I 'don't know, I think that five is a nice round number. If you don't like it, well...I encourage you to write your own blog.

Enough about that, however. On to the meat of the article, which is my Five Guarantees of the college football season.

1 Ohio State is the best team in college football this year. Period.

That is not to say they will win the national championship. Or even the Big Ten. But if the Buckeyes are playing the type of football they did this past Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma, no one in the nation will beat them. Not Alabama. Not Louisville. No One.

You may say I am biased  being that I am a Buckeyes fan. And I do have  a bit of an OSU bias. However, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you would have noticed I refrained from predicting whether the Buckeyes would even win the Big Ten in my season preview edition. And I'll admit they did not play a perfect game last Saturday. Far from it, to be exact.

The Buckeyes still went on the road and soundly defeated a quality opponent on a nationally televised stage. For all the hoopla surrounding Louisville's domination of FSU, that game was in fact played in Louisville. And Alabama played USC in a neutral site, one they are familiar with--the stadium Jerry Jones paid for in Arlington, TX.

Not only did the Buckeyes win in convincing fashion, but they did so returning only six starters from last year's team. That's right, only six. Disagree with me if you like. But wait until January and then tell me who is wrong.

2 Lamar Jackson is the best player in college football.

Why don't we save everyone the suspense and just give him the trophy already? You know, he might have a letdown versus Clemson or Houston, or (should the Cardinals make it that far) the ACC Championship game. Yet I believe when it is all said and done he will have set some blistering FBS single season offensive records. Which one poor game cannot erase.

So instead of waiting until the middle of December at the Touchdown Club in NYC, why not just ship this year's Heisman to Louisville, Ky.

3 Alabama will once again get in to the college football playoff.

As much as I dislike the Crimson and Tide, there is no debating how good this team really is. And while I still feel that OSU has the more talented team, as long as 'Bama wins the SEC they are in. Right now I don't see anyone dethroning them. as the Rebels missed their one shot last week.

4 Christian McCaffrey might actually be the best player in the nation, but he won't win the Heisman.

Since 1988 (I think) only three players who were neither quarterbacks nor running backs have won the Heisman: Tim Brown, Desmond Howard, and Charles Woodson.  While McCaffrey does play some running back, he is more of a hybrid back than a true tailback. And in any case, he might need Stanford to win out in order to take home the hardware. If both Louisville and Stanford finish with one loss, I'm still picking Jackson to win the Heisman.

5 The Big 12 will not have a participant in this year's college football playoff.

Oklahoma looked like the odds on favorite to make it to a New Year's Six Bowl. With two losses on their schedule they are all but eliminated from playoff contention. And after the Sooners the rest of the Big 12 isn't much to brag about. Baylor has looked good thus far but I'd like to see them play a legitimate defense for a change.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

College Football, Week 3: Kendall's Guarantee

I have a personal connection to the Ohio State-Oklahoma game tonight.

Ok, it’s not really that personal, but I have been hearing about this Austin Kendall kid for almost three years now. Yes, the same Austin Kendall kid who guaranteed that Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield would ‘light up Ohio State’s basic defense.’

You see, Kendall’s grandfather, Neal, works alongside my friend Josh Whitmer. I met Neal around three years ago while watching the beginning of the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament. Neal told me his grandson, a sophomore quarterback for a small high school in North Carolina, was one of the top recruits in the country. He also said that Austin had a strong desire to play for Ohio State.

The only problem was that the Ohio State football team did not really recruit Austin. In fact, to hear Neal tell it, Michigan made a stronger push to sign the younger Kendall than the Buckeyes did. Austin would consider the University of Tennessee, among other schools, before finally deciding to take his talents to Norman.

So it’s no surprise that the Sooners backup quarterback would want his team to ‘light up’ the school that ultimately passed on him. Yet I’m not sure that was the best idea to go and tell that to the media.
Jack Nicholson's reaction to Austin Kendall's guarantee.

There is no doubt that Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer, who majored in psychology, used this information to motivate his players. In fact, he might have even called out a couple of underclassmen by name. Not that Sam Hubbard or Jalyn Holmes played poorly in the Buckeyes’ first two games. But Meyer may have suggested as much in order to light a metaphorical fire within each of them.

Before the season if you asked me which game I thought the Buckeyes would lose, I would have pointed to tonight’s contest as the one to watch. But I have a feeling that the Buckeyes make Kendall and the Sooners eat their words. Even JT Barrett and the OSU offense have something to prove in this one.

Ohio State wins comfortably, 34-17. And the nightmare for Kendall does not end there, as the youngster more than likely will be the starting quarterback for the Sooners when they come to Columbus next season. Win or lose this game, there’s no chance Meyer lets his team forget what Kendall said this week.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

College Football, Week Two: Overreaction Saturday?

Overreaction Saturday. That is what it is being called around the nation. Or at least that's what I am calling it. I mean sure I called Houston beating Oklahoma, but that doesn't mean I am the next Nostradamus. I mean come on, I did whiff on both LSU and Notre Dame, so I am not perfect.

Oh. Wait. That is what I was talking about anyway. No, I believe that this weekend should be called 'Overreaction Saturday' because of the general overreactions to every outcome last weekend.

Here are the five biggest overreactions to college football after week one:

1 Alabama is head and shoulders above the rest of the college football world:

Sure the 52-6 drubbing of USC--a ranked Power Five conference school---by the Crimson Tide is impressive. Very impressive. But until I see proof that the Trojans are indeed contenders in the PAC-12 South, I am not ready to crown 'Bama national champions yet again. They are, by virtue of being the defending champs, the top team in my Power 5 rankings (see below). Yet I don't know that they are somehow invincible after just one game.

2 The college football playoffs will not include either Oklahoma or LSU.

This reaction makes me nauseated, and it is not because either of those teams belong in the college football semifinals. I mean I am just tired of hearing about who the four teams that will make the CFB playoffs are before the halfway point of the 2016 season. As impressive as the victories in Ann Arbor and Columbus were, no one can say for sure that either of those two teams are locks for Tampa. Or that the Sooners or Tigers won't be there either. If  I'm not mistaken, Clemson was the only undefeated team in the semifinals last year. So it's not a stretch to say there will be at least two teams in Tampa this January that have at least one loss.

3 Texas is legitimately back in the conversation, and the Longhorns should be the favorites to win the Big 12.

The 'Horns victory over the Irish was impressive, even more so considering a true freshman played under center for part of the game for Texas. But I hesitated on this one for quite some time before admitting this might be an overreaction. After all, UT did beat the Sooners last season despite being near the bottom of the conference.

The good thing for Charlie Strong's squad is that they should have all the confidence in the world heading into week two and beyond. So it will be interesting indeed to see where the Longhorns finish this season.

4 Houston has no chance of making the college football playoffs

What did I say earlier about Tom Herman not getting enough respect nationally as a head coach? Say what you will about the Cougars, but I believe if UH is 12-0 at the end of the season they deserve an invite to Tampa. End. Of. Story.

5 Christian MCcaffrey has to be the favorite to win the Heisman after week one.

Again, this is another one of those premature statements. With so many outstanding performances on Saturday (and one by a freshman on Monday who is drawing comparisons to Jameis Winston) we really have no idea who the best player in the nation is.

My Power five teams after Week One:

1 Alabama

2 Clemson

3 Stanford

4 Houston

5 (tie) Michigan and Ohio State

This really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone but I think it's worth noting that neither Michigan or Ohio State created any distance from the other with their lopsided win (s). And that won't change until one of them wins convincingly over a ranked opponent or loses.

Onto a preview of this week's top matchups:

13 Louisville at Syracuse: Count quarterback Lamar Jackson as one of the guys on the outside looking in at the Heisman race. Just don't count me as sold on the Cardinals as a legit top 15 squad just yet. The Orange always seem to play tough at home. Louisville struggles in this one until the end.

Louisville 27, Syracuse 20

Virginia Tech at 17 Tennessee: Volunteers may escape another close call this weekend against the Hokies. Yet they may not either. Without Beamer Ball, who knows what is possible. 

Tennessee 24. Virginia Tech 17

Trap Game of the Week: Louisiana Monroe at 14 Oklahoma:

The Sooners should be plenty pissed after laying an egg in Texas last weekend. But one has to wonder if they will be focused on the Warhawks or whether they will be looking ahead to next week's tilt with the Buckeyes. My gut says the Sooners roll but this is definitely a contest to watch.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

College Football, Week One: Sooners on Upset Alert?

College football is back. Let the debate about which four teams will make the playoffs begin. While many people believe that Clemson and Alabama are favorites to return to the semifinals, there is no consensus on the other two teams.

One school of thought is that Oklahoma will be the third team to reach the playoffs. The Sooners return two Heisman candidates, quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Sam Perine, and they have to be considered the favorites to win the Big 12 this season. If they can navigate a schedule that includes FBS powers such as Houston and Ohio State we could see them playing on January 2nd.

Another school that has drawn attention as a possible playoff contender is Michigan. The Wolverines return several starters on both sides of the ball, including safety Jabrill Peppers. They also have a weak nonconference schedule that has led many to say they have an outside shot at going undefeated. Ohio State and Michigan State loom as the two biggest obstacles in their quest for perfection in coach Jim Harbaugh's second season.

Then there are schools such as LSU and Florida State, who might replace either Alabama or Clemson in the CFB Playoffs, provided they win their respective conference. Some people might argue that this is the season that two SEC schools could make the playoffs, but I say if that happens the committee might as well expand the field from four teams to eight teams.

Other schools that have been mentioned as having an outside shot to make the semifinals of the playoffs include UCLA, Stanford, Georgia, and Tennessee among others.

 But I digress.  While week one of the college football season won't tell us who has a legitimate shot at the national championship this season, it should provide us with some interesting matchups.

Here is a look at some of the top matchups this weekend:

Oklahoma at Houston The Sooners are among the favorites to reach the playoffs this season, and I certainly have them as favorites for week three against Ohio State. Yet this is week one, and as we all saw in the Tennessee-Appalachian State game, anything is possible. This game could end up a lot closer than many people expect. In fact, I still don't feel that the media truly respects the job that coach Tom Herman has done with the Cougars. A strong showing in this contest may change that. I may be totally wrong on this one, but I am making this one my upset special of the week. Greg Ward Jr makes his case for the Heisman against a ripe for the picking Sooner defense.

Houston 27, Oklahoma 24

LSU vs Wisconsin (at Lambeau field in Green Bay): Whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect the mad hatter's guts to travel up north to face a Power 5 nonconference opponent. While I think that LSU will need more than Leonard Fournette--Les Miles' teams often remind me of the Jim Tressel offense at Ohio State-- this season to win the SEC West, I am not sure they will struggle against the Badgers. The Tigers defense holds Wisconsin to a little more than two scores.

LSU 28, Wisconsin 17

Alabama vs USC: The Crimson Tide must replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and quarterback Blake Sims. USC also loses several starters, including qb Cody Kessler and safety Su'a Cravens. Would someone please tell me the last time 'Bama played meaningful nonconference game on the road?

Alabama 35, USC 20

Notre Dame vs Texas: Who will be the starting quarterback for the Irish? Malik Zaire? Deshone Kizer? The Gipper? At this point, does it really even matter? It should to Charlie Strong, who could be looking at his last season in the Lone Star State.

Notre Dame 42, Texas 14

That's all for now. See you next Thursday

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ohio State Football: 2016 Season Preview

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Happy Friday to all and I hope everyone reading today's post has a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.

It is that time of year again! College football has started once again!! Time for everyone to once again believe that on any given Saturday their team can make a run at greatness.

With that in mind, I am setting out today to preview the Ohio State Buckeyes 2016 season. My preview is cutting it a little close to the Buckeyes opener against Bowling Green; I will not be going into a game-by-game preview of the season. I would like to apologize for that oversight.

To say the Buckeyes are a young team might be a bit of an understatement. The offensive line returns only two starters(a thanks goes out to my friend Brad Koebel--who pointed out that both Billy Price and Pat Elflein started in 2015), and true freshman Michael B. Jordan will start at left guard--the last true freshman to start on the offensive line for the Buckeyes in his first game was Orlando Pace in 1994. How the o-line plays will ultimately determine whether the Buckeyes make their second trip to the college football playoff in three years.

As far as the backs and receivers go, Buckeye fans can rest a little easier knowing that junior J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. The running back competition appears a little jumbled for now, but it should sort itself out before Big Ten play. There is plenty of hype surrounding freshman Mike Weber, and it will be interesting to see how he plays tomorrow. The wide receiver corps might be the biggest question mark for the Buckeyes offense, as sophomore Noah Brown will be counted on to lead a very inexperienced group. (As I write this I realize that the depth chart for both the OSU backs and receivers will be very thin, and staying healthy will be key to the team making and Big Ten title run.)

There will be a lot of new faces on the defense as well. Joey Bosa's little (if you can call a 6-4, 265lb true freshman little) brother Nick should see some playing time tomorrow. The line may have the most experience to replace following the departure of  Adolphus Washington and the elder Bosa. A player to watch in tomorrow's game will be Sam Hubbard, defensive end from Cincinnati Moeller. A few experts at ESPN believe Hubbard can break surpass Bosa's 2015 sack numbers. Interestingly enough, on this morning's talk show on 97.1 THE FAN in Columbus, hosted by Tim Hall and Beanie Wells, I called in and let them know I thought Hubbard could get at least 3 sacks in tomorrow's game. A little bold perhaps, but I think given the opponent (Bowling Green) it's possible. I will be at the game tomorrow, so you can be sure I will be focused on No. 6 for the Scarlett and Gray.

Other returning players on defense include junior Raekwon McMillan. Despite leading the team in tackles last season, there are many who believe this former 5-star recruit hasn't lived up to the hype. In order for the Buckeyes to shine this year, they will need outstanding play from Raekwon. The secondary also appears to be somewhat inexperienced, but if safety Malik Hooker plays like he did in the Spring Game that may not be an issue.

So, where do I think the Buckeyes will finish in 2016? I believe if they can beat Oklahoma, they could run the table. The problem is I think they are too young to go into Norman and come away with a victory. I see them going 11-1 in the regular season and then beating Iowa for the Big Ten Championship.

That's all for now, tune in tomorrow for my week 1 college football preview. (Which will normally run on Thursday).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016 Summer Olympics: A guide to watching

Hello all,

It's been a while since my last post. I guess I have finally come back down to earth from the high that was Cleveland winning its first professional championship in over 50 years. Heck, prior to the Cavs winning the NBA finals this past June, the last major professional sports team to win a championship for the State of Ohio were the Cincinnati Reds in 1990. (My apologies go out to those of you who are Columbus Crew fans; I know they have won an MLS title this century but they aren't quite as popular as the other sports. Yet. They are getting there though)

Anyway, I digress. As last night officially opened the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the reasons these games might be worth watching. So, without further ado, here are the top attractions for the Rio Summer Games:

Russia has turned the Summer Games into a scandal bigger than the US presidential elections.
I know by this point everyone is tired of talking about the two candidates who could be our country's next leader. But how about this doping scandal that has hit the Russian National Team? The International Olympic Committee (IOC for short) has come under quite a bit of fire for even allowing some of the Russians to participate, so it will be interesting to see how Russia fares in the final medal count. And I know it might not be passe to pass off this conspiracy theory, but you have to wonder if there were indeed any payoffs.

It's the final Olympics for two of the Games finest athletes, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.
How many more medals can Phelps add to his already record count? Does his past marijuana use lessen your opinion of him as an Olympic athlete. How will the time off affect his performance in these games?

Can Usain Bolt win a gold medal in a third straight Olympics? Has the Jamaican sprinter surpassed Carl Lewis as the GOAT (greatest of all time) or is that even a question? Can Bolt set a new world record in the 100 meter dash once again?

What is the current state of the Olympic Village in Rio, and how many athletes are staying there?
There has been much joking about the Zika virus in Brazil, and that many athletes have gone on record to say they won't participate due Zika concerns. But all joking aside, this seems to be a real concern for the host country. And even though American woman soccer player Hope Solo has come under fire recently for her thoughts on the matter, she may have a valid point.

Can the host country bring home the gold in the sport it is most well known for? It's no secret that being host to the Summer or Olympic Winter games can boost your country's overall medal count. But Neymar Jr and others on the Brazilian national team hope they can earn a gold in the one sport every Brazilian will be watching.

Have another reason why the 2016 Summer Games are worth watching? Let me know in the comment section.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cleveland Rocks!!!

(If you know who this guy is then you know more about Cleveland history than I, and for that I tip my cap).

“All the little chicks with the crimson lips go…Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Rocks!!”

For almost a decade this tune was forever synonymous in my head with the Drew Carey show, for which it was the theme song. Until today I thought it was written specifically for the show, only to find out (when I googled the song to make sure the aforementioned lyrics were accurate) it was written by Ian Hunter almost 40 years ago. Who is Ian Hunter, you ask? I don’t know, maybe my parents do. But I digress.

The song later held even more meaning for me as Cleveland became home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a town that would celebrate the history of rock, it is only apropos that Cleveland does indeed rock. (As side note if you have never been to the RRHOF I suggest you go. I went for the first time last summer and you could spend days there and still not take it all in. The large IMAX projection screens showing rock legends collaborating on their hits is worth the price of admission by itself).

But prior to last night, if you were to tell me that Cleveland Rocks because it is an awesome sports town, I’d have simply laughed in your face and shook my head. Not quite 40 years old yet, I hadn’t seen the city win a professional championship prior to last night. I had however, seen my share of the ‘ole Lucy pulling the football from under Charlie Brown’s feet’ several times, however. Whether it was the Drive, The Fumble, Jose Mesa’s One Out from Hell, or the Cavs playoff woes, Cleveland was destined to be the laughingstock of the sports world.

That is until last night. Following the Cleveland Cavaliers game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, I can now say that I have witnessed a pro team from Northeast Ohio win it all in my lifetime. And ‘Cleveland Rocks!!’ in the sports world as well as contemporary society as well.

The Cavs forged a new legacy last night, but last night wasn’t about just an individual. It was about a team that, after falling behind in the series 2-0 and then 3-1, clawing its way back to three straight victories. It was about several individuals letting go of their need to be the go to guy (as they might have been on their previous teams) and settling into the role that best helped the team. And it was about an owner (Dan Gilbert) and a coach (Tyronn Lue) having the faith and humility necessary to help guide this team to a championship.

And while I admit I didn’t think the Cavs could beat the Warriors, especially after the way they were blown out in the first two games in Oakland, I couldn’t be happier that they proved me wrong. I have had a lot of people call me out as being a doubter, but, given the aforementioned heartbreak Cleveland sports teams have put me through, didn’t I have a right to be a little skeptical? As the clock raced under 30 seconds, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Cleveland was going to celebrate its first pro title in more than five decades. And even though I am not from the area, I feel like I can empathize. After all, living in Central Ohio, if it weren’t for the OSU Buckeyes, I would find myself in the same situation.  (And that my father lived there for a brief period of time during his young adult years allows me unofficially adopt the city as my own, too.)

So congratulations to the Cleveland Cavaliers for winning their first ever NBA title. And Cleveland fans you can rest a bit easier now.  Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Rocks!!!....Ohio!!!