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Sunday, January 31, 2010

3 Ways to liven up the NFL Pro Bowl

With the 2010 NFL Pro Bowl less than an hour away, I have some suggestions for commissioner Roger Goodell on how to make the game and weekend more fan friendly:

  • Make player participation mandatory. That means any player that is healthy enough to play in his team's final game, and so happens to be elected to the Pro Bowl, is also healthy enough to play in the Pro Bowl. The fans are not paying more than they would during the regular season to see second rate talent. So, for example, Tom Brady was able to play the entire game in the Patriots loss to Baltimore during the wild card round of the AFC Playoffs. Then there should be no reason why he can't take a few snaps under center for the Pro Bowl either. We're not talking an entire game, and we all know they players are not going 100% on every play anyway.
  • Going for two should also be mandatory. Sorry placekickers, but the extra point has to be the most boring play in all of football. If you really want to get in the game, try lobbying the head coach to kick a field goal on third and long inside the thirty and let me know how that works out. But I would like to see the coaches' strategies once they know the conversion after the touchdown is not automatic.
  • Finally, the NFL should create a contest in which the winner gets to call an entire offensive or defensive series for the AFC or NFC. Just winning tickets to the Pro Bowl has become so passe. Make one lucky fan part of the game and now we're talking. Plus, it would be a great way to show us monday morning quarterbacks how difficult it really is to devise a winning game plan.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hicks decision huge blow to Ohio State recruiting class

The decision by Lakota West High School(West Chester, Ohio) linebacker Jordan Hicks to accept a scholarship offer at the University of Texas rather than Ohio State is a huge blow for OSU's 2010 recruiting class. Hicks, regarded as the top linebacker prospect in the country, is the first Ohio recruit to agree to play football for Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns. This is significant for a couple of reasons. That Jim Tressel was unable to convince the state's premier high school prospect to stay in state to play collegiate ball may be the start of an omnious trend for future OSU recruiting classes. Not only that, but it had been widely reported that Ohio State had placed the majority of its recruiting efforts into landing Hicks, only to be rebuffed by Hicks at the 11th hour. Ohio State is not accustomed to losing top rated in state prospects to other programs, especially programs as far away as Texas. While I would argue that Jordan Hicks' decision puts a damper on OSU's 2010 class, the Buckeyes could and should use this as a lesson for future recruiting classes. For Ohio State recruiting to continue to be successful in years to come, it must ensure that top national prospects from the state of Ohio like Hicks choose the Buckeyes before any other program.

Tim Tebow- not an NFL quarterback

For all the awards and accomplishments that Tim Tebow has on the collegiate level, I do not believe that will translate into success in the NFL. No one can argue that what he did at the University of Florida has to place him not only among the top college quarterbacks of all time but also among the top college athletes of all time. But does that necessarily mean he is ready to make the leap to NFL quarterback? In a word, no. The first hurdle he has yet to clear is taking a snap under center, something he has struggled with during practice for Saturday's upcoming Senior Bowl. That he took only less than a handful of snaps under center while at Florida certainly did not help. More importantly, however, is whether he can make the necessary throws under intense duress-something he rarely encountered while at Florida. And when he did encounter such pressure, ala the SEC Championship versus Alabama, Tebow showed he can be easily rattled. Tim Tebow will find that he won't be able to stand in the pocket and lock on to his top receiver like he has been accustomed to. That doesn't mean I believe he will not play in the NFL. My prediction for Tebow is that he will become a situational quarterback like Kordell Stewart, Brad Smith, Pat White, and yes, even Michael Vick. Let's be honest, out of the former heisman trophy winning quarterbacks of recent history, only one has a starting job: Carson Palmer. And Palmer played on Pete Carrol's pro style offense for USC. Hopefully Tebow's struggles will serve as a lesson for asipiring NFL quartebacks still in college.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Calling Commissioner Stern: do the right thing

Recent events in the NBA have given its commissioner, David Stern, a lot to think about in the coming months and in 2010 in general. First their is the situation regarding Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, and, more importantly, the place guns have in the league in general. Next on the agenda is the upcoming All-Star game next month. Finally, there is the looming lockout in 2011 if he can't get the players and owners to agree on a new barganing agreement. Those three things may seem like daunting tasks, but I have some simple solutions for the commish. The first is to ban both Arenas and Crittendon from the NBA indefinitely for an idiotic prank. Next, he should create incentives for superstars such as Lebron and Kobe to participate in All-Star weekend festivities other than the game. Finally, with the possibly headed for a lockout of its own, Commissioner Stern should do everything in his power to make sure the owners do force a lockout of the 2011 season in the NBA.

Much has been said of the Arenas/Crittenton fiasco as of late, but one opinion that has been seldom voiced is that of a lifetime ban for each player. If you are not aware, both Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, guards for the NBA's Washington Wizards, were recently suspended for not only bringing guns to practice but drawing them out of their bags and pointing them at each other over a gambling dispute. I will contend that the punishment meted out to these two does not go far enough; they should be banned from the game for life. Basketball stars today, like it or not Charles Barkley, are role models for young kids; as such many kids imitate what they see their NBA heroes doing. This is more so than in the NFL, as every kid wants to "be like Mike." We cannot be sending a message to the current youth that bringing guns to practice or a game will be tolerated in any form. These kids today are too impresionable. They see Gilbert Arenas bring a gun to practice one day and the next they think it's okay for them to do it. Commissioner Stern, its time to send a message not only to your players but also to today's youth that the basketball court is no place for guns. And the most effective way you can do this is by imposing a lifetime ban on both Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for their actions earlier this season.

Commissioner Stern, you need a way to improve attendance at the slam dunk and three point competitions during all-star week, you say? I have a simple solution: create incentives for player participation to entice superstars such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant to participate. There are a number of reason these players do not wish to participate in such events ranging from they need the rest to the potential that they could get hurt. But make it worth their while to participate, and everyone wins. The players win because of course they have a reason to participate. The fans win because they get to see their favorite players perform in these contests. And the NBA wins in turn because of an increase in not only fan attendance at these events but also television viewership as well.

Finally, you need to do everything you can to avoid the impending lockout in 2011, Commissioner Stern. There is a possibility that the NFL could have its own lockout that year as well, but even without one, a lockout is a headache you don't need. Especially since the league has gone into damage control with the Gilbert Arenas debacle. You need to do anything you can to bring more fans to the NBA; while averting a lockout does not guarantee this, it does guarantee that you will not lose the fans you already have.

Speaking of the Olympics...

While we're on the subject of the Olympics, I have an idea for an event that should be added to the 2012 Summer Games in London: Mixed Martial Arts competition. I understand that this may be a controversial addition to the games for a variety of reasons, but I also believe that it is necessary for several reasons. The first reason they should add it is the increasing popularity of a sport that has begun to rival boxing ( Ulitmate Fighting Championship's current heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar, was 96 on Business Week's Power 100 in sports, as compared to boxing welterweight great Floyd Mayweather Jr., who came in slightly ahead of him at 91, according to For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Business Week's Power 100 is a list of athletes who are not only at the top of their sport but also help their sport sell billions of dollars as well) . In addition, mixed martial arts has gained world wide appeal, with fighters coming from North America, South America, Asia, and even Europe/Russia. Critics of mixed martial arts would argue that it is a more violent sport than boxing, and therefore should not be added to the games. I would counter that argument by saying that boxing can be very violent itself, and the International Olympic Committee can always add stipulations to the sport (such as making headgear necessary, shortening the length of the rounds) to limit its brutality. Finally, detractors of MMA would argue that it is too barbaric to be considered an olympic sport. Well, I would say it is no more barbaric than boxing itself, and, actually, there is more skill necessary to win an MMA event than a boxing event. I believe the best example of this would be Anderson Silva, a middleweight from Brazil who not only utilizes a devastating karate kick but superior boxing skills to wear down his opponents.

Winter Olympics are here: why should I care?

Well, its almost February, and that means its time for the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game. It also means that the 2010 Winter Olympics are coming up as well from Vancouver, Canada. But pardon me if I really could care less. I mean, the Summer Olympics have events such as men's basketball, soccer, track and field, and swimming to keep me interested. But beyond men's ice hockey(in which the US again has no chance of winning, thank you very much), I have no real interest in watching any other sporting event in this year's Winter Olympics. You say I should turn in for curling? Yawn. Figure skating? Boring. The biathlon? C'mon now, I have some paint I need to watch dry. If NBC is hoping that the 2010 Olympics gather near the ratings that the 2008 games in Beijing did, they had better start promoting the heck out of some event like it did with Michael Phelps quest for 8 gold medals, or fan indifference like mine will become the norm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Basketball fan in Kansas get jobbed

Hey sports fans, any of you watch today's top ten plays on Sportscenter? Did you see the top play yesterday?
If you didn't, I will fill you in: a high school basketball fan in Kansas gets the opportunity during halftime of the game to win tickets to this year's Final Four. All he has to do is make a half-court shot. The guy swishes the shot, only to find out the high school does not have the tickets for him because they didn't believe he would make the shot. Instead, as a consolation prize they give him a gift certificate to a Mexican restaurant. Are you kidding me?!! Nothing says final four like a tortilla, right? Wrong. In my opinion, there are five events that if given the chance no sports fan should pass up (in no particular order): the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Daytona 500, the Rose Bowl, and the Final Four. And this guy was denied a chance to go to the final four all because no one believed he would make the shot? I am not sure how dinner at a Mexican restaurant makes up for final four tickets, but, in my opinion, it does not. But then again, I do not live in Kansas either.

Hard times in Minnesota

The NFC Championship game was as much about the team that lost as it was who won. Sure the Saints deserve to go to the Super Bowl. Sure it is also a great story that a town ravaged by Hurricane Katrina gets to celebrate its hometown football team's first appearance in the aforementioned game. But after all is said and done, this game will be remembered more for the chances that the Minnesota Vikings squandered than anything the New Orleans Saints did. Many people want to blame Brett Favre and his attempt at late game heroics for Minnesota's ultimate downfall. Others will point to Adrian Peterson's fumbles. I would argue that neither are the real reason Minnesota lost its chance to punch its ticket to Miami; rather, I place the blame squarely upon the shoulders of its head coach, Brad Childress.

Childress's first mistake was not taking out Adrian Peterson after he committed his second fumble(and lets be honest folks, Minnesota's first fumble was not on Favre, if you watch the replay Peterson is ready to take off before he secures the football.) Peterson more than likely will turn out to be a hall of fame running back. However, winning the turnover battle takes on ten times the importance during a playoff game(and especially a championship game) than it does during the regular season. And Chester Taylor has proven himself to be a more than capable backup to Peterson. Bottom line: with so much at stake Childress should have bet on sure hands rather than potential, in my opinion.

The second mistake (and history may reveal this to be more costly) Brad Childress made was calling a conservative game plan during the Vikings last offensive possesion. I believe that this led Brett to force a throw into coverage he normally would not because he did not believe they would get the yardage necessary to kick the winning field goal any other way. And even if it did not, the Vikings did not appear to be taking the chances necessary to win the game. I must confess, after the got the ball back with a little over two minutes left I thought they might be playing for overtime: the first few plays were a couple of runs and some safe passes. There is an unwritten rule in sports that says if you are the home team play for overtime, and if you are the road team go for the win. Why on earth would you then dial up a conservative game plan if you are trying to win the game? Even if the Vikings go down the field and score a quick touchdown, there is no guarantee that the Saints would be able to answer with a score of their own, as most of their scores came from a shortened field as the result of Vikings' turnovers.

There are many people who believe that Brett Favre is like the Phil Mickelson of the NFL: a guy who has tremendous talent but chokes on the big stage. While that may or may not be true, in my opinion, if anyone is to blame for the Vikings lost last Sunday look no further than its head coach.

Friday, January 22, 2010

NFL Conference Championships Preview

The divisonal round of the NFL playoffs revealed many things. The first thing we learned is that when it comes to predicting winners I pretty much suck. But that is not going to stop me from predicting who will be in the Super Bowl, as we all know that forecasting sporting events is far from an exact science. The next is that based on last week's results, the rest over rust debate has been settled, with rest triumphing over rust for both the Colts and the Saints. Both the Colts and the Saints won their respective games in convincing fashion, despite having a week off as the number one seeds in their respective conference. The Colts were on the hot seat even more after head coach Jim Caldwell decided to bench his regulars during a week 16 game against the Jets rather than go for an undefeated season, only to next week wait until wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark each got their 100th catch before pulling them. Brett Favre also showed us again why he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, helping the Minnesota Vikings thwart the Dallas Cowboys playoff hopes. And Darelle Revis and the New York Jets reminded us to never count out the underdog, as the Jets were the only visting team to walk away last Sunday with a victory. However, when the dust finally settles, I believe it will be the Indianapolis Colts with NFL MVP Peyton Manning versus the Minnesota Vikings and their already legendary quarterback, Brett Favre, playing in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

The big winner last Sunday had to be the Indianapolis Colts. First year Colts head coach Jim Caldwell was heavily criticized for his decision to pull his first string players midway through the second half of their week 16 game against the New York Jets, the team who they coincidentally enough happen to play this weekend in the AFC championship. The Colts, who were 14-0 at the time, were up 15-10 when Caldwell pulled his starters; the Colts lost the game, thus ending their quest to be the only team to go 19-0. Caldwell responded to his critics by saying that the health of his players during playoff time mattered more than any record ever could. Caldwell, did not help his cause, however, the next week, when he waited until both wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark each had their 100th catch of the season before sitting them. None of this mattered last Sunday, as the Colts dominated the Ravens on the way to winning 20-3. How impressive was this victory? Manning threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns despite not being able to throw to either Marvin Harrison, now retired, nor slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez, a second year player from Ohio State who has shown promise but missed the majority of this season after suffering a knee injury in week one vs. Jacksonville. Not only that, but the defense showed its teeth, too. The Colts defense, led by defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, held the Ravens to 87 yards and forced quarterback Joe Flacco into two interceptions. And this was done despite not having their defensive leader the past few years, safety Bob Sanders, who along with Gonzalez was put on injured reserve after missing half the season. The defensive show the Colts put on last week definitely made me a believer.

If the Colts had something to prove last weekend, then so did the Vikings. The Vikings, who started the season 11-1, had the tag Super Bowl contender placed on them as soon as it was announced that Brett Favre would join their training camp last summer. Those expectations were some what lowered when the Vikings lost three of their last four regular season games to finish 12-4. Their performance Sunday against the Cowboys has once again lifted the Vikings back into the Super Bowl debate. Quarterback Brett Favre played the game of his life, throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions. And the defense, led by DE's Jared Allen and Ray Edwards, gave qb Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense fits all day. In the end, the Vikings 34-3 victory over Dallas answered the questions of many of their critics.

The Saints and Jets also made their claims to be championship contenders as well. The Saints, not only looking to host their first NFC championship game but also to make their first trip to the Super Bowl, made short work of the Cardinals in their 45-14 victory. Quarterback Drew Brees looked like the all-pro player we have expected of him. The Saints defense confused Arizona qb Kurt Warner all afternoon, so much so that it appeared Warner would get into an argument with head coach Ken Wisenhunt during the third quarter. The Saints, the sentimental favorite because of their work with hurricane Katrina victims, certainly made their case.

Then there is the Jets, the lone darkhorse in this playoff race. The Jets defense, led by cornerback Darelle Revis, once again contained another potent offense, this time the San Diego juggernaut led by Phillip Rivers. The Jets offense has also showed signs of life in the last few weeks, with quarterback Mark Sanchez catching fire and fellow rookie Shonn Greene running like a man on a mission. Should the Jets make the Super Bowl, it would be hard to argue that their head coach Rex Ryan wasn't more deserving of coach of the year honors than the actual recipient, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

On to the championship previews. In the NFC, I see the Vikings pulling away from the Saints after what will be a close first half. I think that Favre has rediscovered the form he had earlier this season, and the pressure that Jared Allen and the Viking's D put on Drew Brees and company will be their undoing. And I disagree with Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw, who USA Today quoted him as saying that Brett Favre is playing out of a desire to "exact revenge on the Green Bay Packers." Favre is a football player, and,as such, wants what most other players want: to win the Super Bowl. Watching him react after the Vikings won last weekend only reaffirms my opinion. In the AFC, I see a much closer contest, with the Colts ultimately prevailing. Manning has turned players such as Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie into household names; he has seen the 3-4 defense enough to know how to beat it. Darelle Revis and company will make it hard for him, but ultimately when the smoke settles Manning will one step closer to his second Super Bowl victory, which some historians claim he must get if he is to be considered the all-time greatest quarterback in NFL history. In my opinion, he may already be the greatest ever. And if Indy and Minnesota both win on Sunday, we will have a Super Bowl matchup of the two greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

David Lighty:OSU's unsung hero

Much has been made of late of the return of Evan Turner to the Ohio State men's basketball program, and with good reason. Turner has been nothing short of spectacular this season and is sure to be a finalist for both the Naismith and Wooden awards honoring the best college basketball player in the nation. But I would argue that withouth the play of another player, David Lighty, the Buckeyes would not be in the hunt for another Big Ten championship.

David Lighty, a small forward, was one of the first players to sign from the super class that included Michael Conley, Daequan Cook, and Greg Oden. Fittingly, Lighty was they only one to stay four years at OSU, and possibly five if he decides not to enter the NBA draft this spring. Last season it was Lighty, not Turner who was sidelined with an injury, and they chatter centered on who would step up in Lighty's absence. This year has been a different story, with OSU losing its star point guard, Evan Turner, for six games with a back injury. The question then became who would step up for the Buckeyes in Turner's absence. Lighty, who has been known more during his career as a defensive player, was ready to answer the call. During Turner's absence, Lighty averaged 16 pts and 6 rebounds per game.

The biggest benefit Lighty adds to OSU, however, is the tenacity that he brings to each game. He is undoubtedly one of the hardest workers on the team at both ends of the floor and it shows. Lighty is always willing to take a charge/dive for a loose ball on the defensive end to help his team. On the offensive end he has not been as quite as productive, but this has been his best season by far. On Saturday versus Wisconsin, Lighty actually outscored and outrebounded Turner (18 and 4 to 15 and 1), something I am sure Turner does not mind as long as it means a Buckeyes victory. In order for Ohio State to be successful against Northwestern tonight, they will need another strong performance from David Lighty.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Does Mark McGwire belong in the Hall of Fame?

Major League Baseball's announcement of its 2010 Hall of Fame class did not pass without controversy. Very few fans of the sport would argue with the Hall's selection of former outfielder Andre Dawson, who made a name for himself with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs. There are those who would argue that second baseman Roberto Alomar(who was most known for his days with the Baltimore Orioles) should have been a first ballot member, though. However, neither of those storylines seemed as compelling as the other annoucement that would follow Cooperstown's only a few days later: the admission by former Oakland Athletics' and St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman Mark McGwire that he used steroids for a majority of his playing career. His admission not only brings into question his worthiness for induction to MLB's Hall of Fame, but it also has serious repercussions for current players who might be thinking that they are worthy enough to get into Cooperstown. In order to examine McGwire's merits (or lack thereof) for the Hall of Fame, we must look at several factors: his body of work as a first baseman for the A's and Cardinals, his steroid use and how it affected his performance, and how he stacks up amongst his peers in light of his current admission and what that might mean for future HOF candidates.

One could certainly make the case that Mark McGwire's record as a member of both the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals makes him Hall of Fame worthy. His 70 home runs in a season have only been bettered by one individual, outfielder Barry Bonds, who hit 73. I am a person, however, who believes that no one season or no one record should make a Hall of Famer. Nonetheless, there are other stats fans and media alike would point to and say that those make him Hall of Fame material. His career stats include 583 total home runs, over 1600 hits and over 1400 RBI (runs batted in). He was selected to Major League Baseball's All-Star game 12 times, and he won American League Rookie of the year honors in 1987 and a Gold Glove award for the American League in 1990. Taking these factors into account it would be hard to deny him entry into Cooperstown.

McGwire's recent admission of steroid use as early as 1993 not only calls into question the validity of these records, but also the validity of his career in general. McGwire himself denies that taking steroids helped him hit a single home run; I myself, with little knowledge or expertise in this area, would have to defer to McGwire on this issue. Others, such as McGwire's former teammate David Howard(a shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals during the the 1998 and 1999 seasons), disagree. Howard contends that using steroids could make the bat feel lighter, and thus help the batter wait longer for the right pitch to hit the home run. Even if steroids were not directly responsible for an increase in McGwire's home run production, McGwire's use might still have given him an unfair advantage over other Major League Baseball players. McGwire claims that he used steroids in part to stay on the field; we will never know how long his career would have been had he not used them. Everyone is well aware that taking certain steroids can aid in muscle recovery; in McGwire's interview with ESPN's Bob Ley( he not only hints at but flat out says he took steroids because his body began to break down. I would argue this gave him an unfair advantage over players such as pitcher Randy Johnson(who won over 300 games in his own right) and the oft-injured outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. (who has still managed to hit 630 home runs), neither of whom have ever tested positive for nor admitted steroid use. You have to wonder how many more games these two would have been able to play(and Griffey is still not done playing) had they taken steroids. And even if it comes out that Griffey and Johnson did take steroids, does mean we should include McGwire among indviduals such as Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, etc. Hall of Famers who played well before performance enhancing drugs were available? In my opinion, if Mark McGwire used steroids in order to obtain any type of competitive advantage his peers did not have, and it appears he did, he should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame.

Finally, we must examine the impact McGwire's admission will have on baseball's future hall of fame candidates. Many of today's top players, such as New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Boston RedSox outfielder David Ortiz, and Los Angeles Dodgers' outfielder Manny Ramirez have either admitted to or tested positive for steroids. The question then becomes, if McGwire is not allowed into the HOF because of steroid use, where do we draw the line? Are all baseball players who used steroids banned from the Hall? Or just the ones who did not admit to using them while playing? In the end, I think the only way we can determine who is and who is not Hall of Fame worthy is to look at their career on a case by case basis. In Mark McGwire's case, he used steroids as a recovery aid and covered it up because by doing so he knew he would be able to get away with it, by his own admission in the aforementioned interview. That admission alone I believe should eliminate him from HOF consideration.

Mark McGwire's admission to using steroids has certainly changed the discourse on whether he should be admitted into Major League Baseball's hall of fame. For me, I believe that, based on his own admissions regarding steroid use, Mark McGwire should never be voted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Buckeyes ride Turner, defense to key road win against Purdue.

The OSU men's basketball team needed this victory tonight. After missing their start point-forward, Evan Turner, for more than 6 games, and losing three of their first four games in Big Ten play both Turner and Ohio State showed why you shouldn't count them out as Ohio State pulled out a stunning 70-66 upset of the No.6 Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Turner the Buckeyes with 32 points, a career high and nine rebounds, putting to rest any doubts that he still might be feeling the effects of the fractured vertebrae he suffered earlier in the season in a victory against Eastern Michigan. William Buford would add 19 for OSU in what can only be described as a seesaw battle of two halves. The Buckeyes, who were clearly outplayed in the first half, giving up 29 points to forward Robbie Hummel, let it be known that they will not go down with out a fight clawing their way back from an 11 point deficit with under 10 minutes to go to take the lead for good at 66-64 with under a minute remaining. And give credit where credit is due. Certainly Evan Turner deserves a lot of the praise, but coach Thad Matta also deserves to be praised to for his decision to go to the full court press in the latter stages of the game. That gamble allowed the OSU to mount a 23-6 run late in the second half that would ultimately be the difference in the game.

Although this is only one game, the importance of this win for the Buckeyes season should not be minimized. After their disapointing loss Saturday on the road to Minnesota, there were questions as to when if ever would the Buckeyes be able to win a conference road game this season. In addition, Saturday's loss has brought up chatter among fans and media alike whether the team could finish the Big Ten play with a .500 conference record, let alone make the NCAA tournament. This win may not totally allay those fears, but it just might be the confidence boost the Bucks needed to make another run at the Big Ten title. To understand how significant this win is one need only look at consider this: this is only Purdue's second loss all season(its first home loss), with Purdue having defeated schools such as Tennessee, Wake Forest, and West Virginia earlier. And if that wasn't enough, the last time these teams met in West Lafayette, Ohio State left with a 25 point defeat. Hopefully they will be able to carry this momentum to their rematch with Wisconsin at the Schott on Saturday and start a conference win streak.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yes we're talkin' playoffs

Playoffs?!!! Playoffs?!!! Are you kidding me? Don't talk to me about playoffs! Playoffs?!!! Jim Mora Sr.'s infamous rant has got to be one of my favorite press conferences of all time. But unlike Coach Mora, I am talkin playoffs. The NFL's wildcard round just finished and its time to find out who the big winners were and who needs to go back to the drawing board. And it is also time to preview next weeks divisonal matchups.

The teams I thought that stood out the most after the dust settled Sunday evening were the Ravens and the Cowboys. The Ravens dominated the Patriots from start to finish, and that is with quarterback Joe Flacco's abysmal 4-10 performance that left many people shaking their heads wondering if a 10.0 rating was even possible. But the Ravens did not need a strong performance from Flacco, instead getting a boost from the run game (if you didn't know Ray Rice's name before, you do now) and a strong defensive performance again led by linebacker Ray Lewis and Safety Ed Reed. The Ravens were harassing Tom Brady all afternoon forcing him into four turnovers, and sacking him 3 times. I can't remember the last time a defense held a Patriot's offense led by Tom Brady to under 200 yards, let alone in the playoffs. Lookout Colts, the Ravens haven't begun to peak. I wonder if Colts head Coach Jim Caldwell would have benched his regulars during the third quarter in week 17 if he knew then that he would be facing Ray Lewis and the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs two weeks later.

The other team I thought played particularly well on both sides of the ball was the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday night. Offensively, they seemed to have a great game plan, with the three headed running back monster committee of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice certainly doing their part to get the 'Boys going. In addition, Tony Romo played like the quarterback people expected him to be in the playoffs. On the defensive side of the ball defensive end Demarcus Ware and linebacker Bradie James were forcing Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb into rushing decisions all night. Even Dallas linebacker Bobby Carpenter, an Ohio State graduate, got in on the action making two tackles, and more importantly, recovering two Philadelphia fumbles. This game should have been billed the "We're so over Terrell Owens, we're in the playoffs, and he's at home in Buffalo" given the fact that TO's last two teams were Philadelphia and Dallas, respectively. Owen's absence from Dallas' lineup made Romo's perfomance even more impressive, considering his main target was Miles Austin, someone who when you say his name sounds more like a jazz musician than a wide receiver. In the end, however, it was Austin and the Cowboys, not the Eagles and their speedy receiver Desean Jackson, that made the big plays. Look out Minnesota, too, not only does it appear the Cowboys have solved the December curse, they are also peaking when it counts most, playoff time. How 'bout them Cowboys?!

The biggest disappointment this postseason has to belong to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals. The Bengals had the look of a team who might be a Super Bowl contender after starting the season 9-3; after losing 4 of their last 5 (inlcuding Saturday night's playoff game against the Jets) coaches, players and fans, must be scratching their heads after this one. It included a 169 yard performance by rb Cedric Benson, Carson Palmer looking like he was the rookie qb, not Jets qb Mark Sanchez, and the normally outspoken Chad Ochocinco quieted for the second straight week by Jets cb Darelle Revis. Certainly missing players had taken a toll on Cincinnati, without star rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga, who was injured, and wide receiver Chris Henry, who sadly and unexpected died earlier this season, but doesn't every team have to deal with replacing players at one position or another at this time of season? More importantly, who is going to replace Shayne Graham, who missed two field goals that were almost so close as to be extra points? I must say I for one expected more from the Bengals. I think Cincinnati fans are too, no longer just content with being the best NFL team from the state of Ohio. But their championship dreams will once again have to wait until next season.

The Green Bay Packers have to be scratching their heads, too, after playing their butts off for 60+ minutes agains the Arizona Cardinals only to fumble away their chance to leave town with the victory in overtime. The Packers, down 24-10 at half, clawed their way back to tie the game at 45 under what can only be described as one of the greatest performances by a losing quarterback in the playoffs. Yes that is right, Aaron Rodgers showed why Green Bay chose him over Brett Favre with a performance that I am not even sure Brett himself could duplicate: over 300 yards passing and 4 TDs. But what impressed me more than anything that will show up in a stat sheet seemed to be that Rodgers was making, harder, crisper throws than his predecessor. And if that wasn't enough, he led them into overtime despite an out of this world performance by Arizona qb Kurt Warner, his 152.8 rating falling just short of perfect. Again it fell to a placekicker, this time Arizona's Neil Rackers, who could have clinched the game by making a 34 yard field goal with 4 seconds, missed, sending the game into overtime. But Rodgers brilliant performance couldn't erase his fumble right into the hands of Carlos Dansby, who proceeded to race into the endzone to secure the Cardinals victory. The game left many watching thinking how good will Aaron Rodgers be, yet left Packers fans and players wondering what could have been.

On to the predictions for next week. In the AFC, I see the Ravens and the Chargers advancing. The Ravens are just too hot, and the Colts never do well with two weeks of rest against an agressive defense. Just ask the Patriots, whom the Colts couldn't beat until 2006, the year they actually had to play a wild card game. The Chargers advance on the simple fact that they are able to stretch the field in the way Cincinnati could not; Darelle Revis will not be able to cover Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, and Antonio Gates at the same time. In the NFC, I think it is a little harder to predict. But I am going with the visiting teams in each game, as I believe Dallas is the hot team and Arizona is starting to rediscover the form that led them to the Super Bowl last year.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hiring Holmgren, retaining Mangini are good moves by Browns

The Cleveland Browns finished the 2009 season in manner that has become familiar for the franchise since rejoining the league in 1999: with double digit losses and another high first round draft pick. Their 5-11 record has many fans and media outlets wondering if owner Randy Lerner will ever be able to turn them into a contender. I will even admit that at the beginning of the season I was one of these disbelievers. However, I feel that in the last several weeks the Browns have made several decisions that should propel them into a playoff contender in the next couple of seasons. The big reasons I believe the Browns are beginning to right the ship for 2010 are the hiring of Mike Holmgren as team president and his subsequent decision to retain the services of Eric Mangini as head coach for at least next season.

Hiring Mike Holmgren to serve as team president will serve the Cleveland Browns well for many reasons. Having been an assistant under Bill Walsh at San Francisco, and leading both Green Bay and Seattle to Super Bowls as a head coach, Holmgren knows what it will take from not only his players but also his coaches to turn the Browns into a legitimate contender. He was also general manager in Seattle, so he has the ability to look at the task of making personnel decisions from both the coaching and front office perspectives. I also like the enthusiasm he brings to the table having watched his introductory press conference on the Cleveland Browns website. The main thing that impressed me, however, about that press conference was that he did not pretend to have all the answers before starting the job but that he would gather as much information about this organization he could and make the best possible decision based on that information. I think this is important because I believe other regimes have come into Cleveland with a predetermined mindset of how to make this franchise successful only to see the Browns come up short. But Holmgren's knowledge of the game and willingness to learn about this franchise make him a refreshing departure from the norm.

Holmgren's first act as team president, deciding to retain head coach Eric Mangini and his staff for 2010, is certainly not without controversy but one that I applaud. This is certainly a departure from my belief earlier this season, when I felt that Mangini could have possibly been the worst coach the Browns ever had. Mangini did not help his case when the Browns lost 10 of their first 11(including their first four), and had waffled on who would be the starting qb after stating publicly during the preseason that whomever he named starter would remain the starter for the duration of the season. Several things happened however, that made me change my mind. The first was beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, something this team had not done in its past 12 tries and also something his predecessor Romeo Crennel had never accomplished(it is also worth noting that Crennel, only game better than Mangini at 6-10, was retained for more than one season.) The next was that he was able to coach his team to victories in each of their last four contests, something not done by a Browns head coach since Bill Belichick in 1994 and not at the end of the season since Marty Schottenhemier's Browns in 1986, who then went on to play in the AFC championship against Denver. There are some though that would question the strength of the Browns schedule during that time period with wins over Kansas City and Oakland; lets not forget that two of their wins came against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, both teams fighting for a spot in the playoffs. And despite the offensive struggles his team had, his staff was able to help the Browns improve to the 11th ranked rushing offense in the league, with Jerome Harrison leading the way with 862 yards despite only starting for less than half of the team's games.

The biggest reason I believe Mangini should stay, though, is that the players are starting to believe in him, something which is key for any winning organization. Even Joshua Cribbs, the special teams extraoridnaire who might not be in Cleveland next year due to contract disputes, still supports Coach Mangini. That's saying alot. In this day and age of win now or watch your back it is sometimes hard for players to adjust to numerous coaching changes. Mangini is the fourth coach hired since returning to the league; the Steelers and Ravens by contrast have only had two in the same time period, and even the Bengals have gone through less coaches. How are the Browns supposed to get better if they keep changing who is running the show year after year? The one area I feel Mangini needs to improve upon is making better personnel decisions, which is why I believe Holmgren was brought in.

The Browns have endured tough times since rejoining the league more than 10 years ago, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel. If the recent hiring of Mike Holmgren and his decision to keep Eric Mangini as head coach are any indication, good times for Browns fans and media might be as close as next season.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BCS gets it right for a change; National Champ prediction

Well, the much ballyhooed BCS National Title game is upon us and its time for the age old question: should college football stick with the BCS to determine its national champ or adopt a playoff system similar to college basketball? I for one argue that they should adopt a playoff for a number of reasons, the main being that it will allow teams to settle this on the field rather than it being decided by a poll. I would also argue that the reason teams like Boise State and TCU are forced to play each other is monetary, but it's not for the monetary reason that mainstream sports journalists would argue they are excluded. Nevertheless, I believe this year the selection committee got the top two teams in the nation playing for the national championship, thus validating their system until at least the end of next season.
Before I go into the reasons why I feel the BCS correctly matched No. 1 vs No 2, I think it is important to look at why Boise State and TCU were chosen to play each other in their BCS game. Mainstream media would argue that Boise State and TCU are excluded from playing a big conference team because these teams don't travel well, thus bringing in less revenue than one of the major conferences. But I would argue there is another reason behind it: the teams in the BCS conferences don't want to share the BCS revenue with non-BCS schools. If either school knocked off a major conference school they would have to look at including mid majors as a regular part of the BCS, and they don't want to share that money with non-BCS schools. If you look at it this year, the BCS has two non BCS schools in the dance and that is without Notre Dame. The BCS selection committee paired BSU and TCU in the hopes that this will be the last year in a while that both these teams make the BCS. And in the event one of them makes the BCS in the future and knocks off a major conference school, the BCS can chalk it up as an one year abberration, thus reinforcing the validity of their system. The only flaw in that is that Boise State continues to win BCS games; sooner or later the BCS will have to seriously consider the possibiltiy of including mid major conferences in their tournament.
But I digress. On to the matter at hand, that the BCS got nos 1 and 2 right this year. There has been much discussion as to who is actually number 1 and who is number 2 this year and rightly so with five teams ending the season undefeated. Some would say Cincinnati had the biggest reason to be upset at the end of the season, with their schedule being almost as strong as
Texas. However, the blowout loss the Bearcats suffered at the hands of the Florida Gators all but eliminates any claim they wold have to the national championship game. But what about Boise State and TCU? Aren't they worthy opponents? To determine that, I would argue you have to look at two factors: their non-conference opponents' records vs. the records of the nonconference opponents of Alabama and Texas; and, the record of each team's respective conference in Bowl Games.
The first litmus test is the record of the non conference opponents each team played. I did some research and found that TCU's non conference opponents had the best record at 26-20. The next best team was Texas, whose non conference opponents had a record of .500 at 25-25. This would indicate that TCU should be playing Texas for the national title. Not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso would say, because it has already been proven that Boise State is better than TCU this year in the Fiesta Bowl. So looking at the other two, Boise State slightly edged Alabama with a .480 opponent record to Bama's .460 record. Advantage, Boise State and Texas.
The next litmus test are the conference records in Bowl games. TCU has been eliminated, so its down to Alabama Texas, and Boise. Boise State's WAC conference has concluded the bowl season 2-2; the SEC is currently 5-4, and the Big 12 is 3-3. Given that these records do not show any dramatic reason why Boise State should be vaulted above either Texas or Alabama, I would conclude the BCS got it right this year. Now on to the game prediction.
My prediction for the game: pain. (Ha ha, just a little Rocky III humor for those who remember the reference) Seriously, I think it should be a great game. We have two coaches who have been there before and won it all before. The teams are ready. I believe Alabama wins in a game closer than most people think.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Turner returns to OSU lineup; Buckeyes roll vs. Indiana

It appears that the return of Evan Turner was just what the doctor ordered for the OSU men's basketball team. Turner, who had not played nor practiced for the Buckeyes since fracturing two vertebrae in his back Dec. 5th in a game vs Eastern Michigan, scored 8 points and added 5 assists in 20 minutes of play as Ohio State rolled to a 79-54 win vs. Indiana at Value City Arena.
But it seemed that the impact his presence on the court had on his teammates was far greater than any contribution his stat sheet might have shown. Teammates Jon Diebler and William Buford were the biggest beneficiaries of Turner's return, with Diebler scoring 21 points on 6 of 10 shooting (including 5 of 8 from behind the arc) and Buford 16 himself. The Buckeyes attacked the basket all night long in a manner similar to the way Turner attacked it in the first two minutes. And if there were any doubts about Turner's back, those doubts were put to rest early in the first half as he threw down a breakaway dunk. Ohio State's defense gave Indiana fits, forcing them into 12 turnovers in the first half alone and 23 for the game. Even P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons, sharing duties at the point while Turner was recuperating, contributed to this lopsided win.
This was certainly a much need win for OSU after losing two of their last three, including starting the Big Ten season at 0-2, but the Buckeyes must not get complacent. After such a lopsided win their has to be some discussion about how good of a team Indiana is without their frosh phenom Maurice Creek, who was averaging a little over 16 ppg. In addition, Ohio State's next two games are on the road, where they have lost three straight, @ Minnesota and then @ No. 4 Purdue. If Ohio State is to have a chance in these games Diebler must continue to step up like he did tonight. One thing that has been apparent in Turner's absence is that Diebler has trouble getting his own shot; this may not be entirely his fault. There are some people who see Diebler as an overrated high school phenom who shoots too much; I like to think of him as a better shooting version of Chris Jent, someone we all know worked hard at both ends of the floor. Turner's absence not only means that their have been less drive and kick out opportunities for Diebler, but this also means opposing defenses have been putting their best defender on Diebler, thus limiting the open number of looks he has. And the other thing that I liked about tonight is the way OSU continually attacked the basket, especially William Buford and PJ Hill. If they can continue to do this it will not only lead to easy buckets for them but also increased opportunites for Diebler, Turner, etc. And to come home from their next road trip at least 1-1, the Buckeyes will need to make the most of all the opportunities they get.