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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cleveland Browns Coaching Dilemma: The Time For Rebuilding is Over

The Cleveland Browns are set to finish what has become yet another disappointing season in 2012 today at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh against their hated rivals, the Steelers.

And while it is almost a certainty that after the season incumbent general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur will be given the axe, the future direction of the team is somewhat uncertain.

There have been many theories that have popped up in recent weeks as to who should/will replace the aforementioned individuals. Many people believe that Michael Lombardi will take over for Heckert, while someone like Josh McDaniels will be brought in to replace Shurmur.

But as much as Cleveland and its fans want to think that a new regime will bring different results, there is no guarantee that Cleveland will be a contender anytime soon.

From a talent standpoint, the Browns might be in the best situation yet since returning to the league in 1999. Rookie running back Trent Richardson, whose 3.6 yard per carry average is not overly impressive, has shown a knack for finding the endzone. Fellow rookie Josh Gordon appears to be emerging as the number one wide receiver Cleveland has lacked for quite some time. And even quarterback Brandon Weeden has shown signs of promise this season. Weeden's final passer rating of 72.6 is one full point better than Peyton Manning's rookie rating (71.2 in case you were wondering. FYI, Weeden also threw for 3385 yards thru 15 games this season. Manning, playing a full 16 game schedule during his rookie campaign, threw for 3739 yards.)

Defensively, Dick Jauron's 4-3 scheme appeared to be gaining traction toward the latter half of 2012. The Browns have recorded almost twice as many interceptions in 2012 (17) as they did in 2011 (9), and they are +7 in turnover differential as well. Of the Browns 10 losses, seven of them were by 10 points or less.

At this point, you're probably wondering to yourself, so what? I am glad you asked. It is at this point the Browns' brass needs to understand they have a good nucleus in place, and not to go in with the attitude of 'blowing the whole thing up.' Four years ago, when Randy Lerner brought in George Kokinis and Eric Mangini to replace Romeo Crennel, that is exactly what happened. The results were somewhat mixed, and, after Mike Holmgren was brought in to replace Kokinis, the Browns once again started from scratch.

So, four years later, what have Browns' fans had to look forward to? Four consecutive seasons with 10 or more losses and zero playoff berths.

But good teams in the NFL aren't built from scratch every two seasons. It takes time to develop the proper chemistry and personnel needed for success. So while owner Jimmy Haslam and company will be looking to the guy who can finally get them over the hump, they also need to bring in a guy who isn't necessarily going to 'rock the boat', either.

The offense is a few player(s) away from being in the upper half of the league. There is plenty of young talent on defense (especially the line), and a switch from the 4-3 to a 3-4 defense would be a mistake. Sure there are holes to be addressed, most notably in the secondary and linebacker corps, but those are things that should be upgraded via the draft and free agency in the coming years.

So the bottom line is that while the Browns search for head coach, they need to make sure they select one who doesn't view this as a rebuilding project. He should have a proven track record, and realize this team is only a few pieces away from greatness. He also should be willing to let his assistants call the plays, so he isn't trying to micromanage the team.

If Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner fail to heed this advice, however, the Browns will be in rebuild mode once again. Of course, Mr. Haslam, don't the fans deserve better?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

College Football Bowl Mania: Let the Madness Begin!

What a wild ride it has been for college football in 2012. From the return of Urban Meyer to the sidelines to Notre Dame's resurgence to prominence to the first ever freshman to win the Heisman trophy, there has been no shortage of interesting storylines this fall.

And, as we are about to close the books on another year of breathtaking plays, unbelievable wins, and heartbreaking losses, J-Rod's Sportszone would like to take this opportunity to preview college football's bowl season. And, while I am quite aware there are a couple of games already underway, I would like to apologize to the fanbases of those respective universities. Because at the end of the day, I don't really know enough about the four schools playing today to give my honest thoughts on those games.

So, while there are over 30 games to be played over the next month, I will only preview a select handful, as there are many schools I just don't know enough about. Without further ado, here is my take on some of the top bowls of 2012:

AT&T Cotton Bowl (Played at Jerry Jones Stadium in Dallas Texas): Texas A&M versus Oklahoma

First off, let me begin by saying how disillusioned I have become with the whole commercialization of these bowl games. Yes, I understand that if it weren't for the sponsors none of the schools involved would be getting these large payouts. And yes, I also understand the bowls, like any other businesses, are out to make a profit. I just think, however, there are some Bowls that should never be renamed regardless of the circumstance. And the Cotton Bowl, its history and tradition somewhat older than many of the games to be played, falls into this category. The same goes for the Rose Bowl, Gator Bowl, and Orange Bowl among others.

Moving along, let's break down this game. Texas A&M, at 10-2, has to be the one of the more surprising teams in 2012. Not only did it lose quarterback Ryan Tannehill to graduation, the Aggies also had to deal with their first season in the Southeastern conference, a tall task for any team. At the end of the day, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel not only won the heisman, but also helped the Aggies become the only team to defeat Alabama this season. That in itself is impressive.

On the other side of the ball, the Oklahoma Sooners come into this game with a chip on their shoulder after not being selected as the Big 12's second representative in the BCS. Quarterback Landry Jones will be looking to cement himself as a top 15 draft pick next April after returning for his senior season. Bob Stoops also figures to use Blake Bell in Oklahoma's version of the Wildcat to mix it up a little bit as well.

This game appears to be a high scoring affair, and, more than likely one of the most interesting non-BCS bowl games. The winner may just end up being the team that has possession of the ball last. I am predicting that Jones and the Sooners get the best of Johnny football, but not by much. Oklahoma 38, Texas A&M 35.

Outback Bowl (Played in somewhere in Florida, I think): Michigan vs. South Carolina:

These two teams come into this game headed in somewhat different directions. The Wolverines are looking to end the season on a high note after losing to hated rival Ohio State to end their regular season. A five loss season would be somewhat of a letdown for the faithful of the Maize and Blue, especially since Brady Hokes' squad had won 11 games in 2011.

The Gamecocks, however, seem to be playing their best ball of the season despite having lost star tailback Marcus Lattimore in the game against Tennessee. They will not only be looking to win 11 games for the second consecutive season, but also for their second consecutive bowl victory over a Big Ten opponent.

The key to this game will be how Michigan's offensive line handles the defensive front of South Carolina, especially defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Wolverines will need to give Devin Gardner time to set up the play action that appeared to work so well for them at the end of the season.

I think this game could be closer than the experts think, as Michigan is a team with something to prove. The defensive of South Carolina is too much for UM to handle, however, as the Gamecocks win this one 24-17. Gator Bowl (Played in Gainesville, Fla, right? Sounds good to me): Northwestern vs. Mississippi State:

Have I mentioned how the Gator Bowl should have never been renamed? I did? Well, let me say it again. I don't care how much this sponsor paid for the naming rights they should just call it the Gator Bowl. Why don't they just call it the Doritos Super Bowl? No? How about the NBA Finals? That's no good either?  Well, enough about that. you get my point.

As much as I hate to admit this, this might be the best opportunity this season for the Big Ten to upset the Southeastern Conference. Northwestern's Venric Mark appears to have SEC speed at times, or maybe the rest of the Big Ten is so slow that it just looks that way. And I myself thought there was no way the Wildcats would be relevant following the departure of Dan Persa, but Pat Fitzgerald and company had other plans. Heck, if it weren't for heartbreaking losses to Nebraska (29-28) and Michigan (38-31 in OT) the Wildcats might be in the Rose Bowl playing Stanford.

Mississippi State, however, seems to be a team headed in the opposite direction. Undefeated headed into their showdown with then top-ranked Alabama, their loss to the Crimson Tide would send them into a season ending tailspin. In fact, they would go on to lose three of their next four games, including the season finale against rival Ole Miss. Of course Dan Mullen, a pupil of Urban Meyer, understands what it takes to comeback from adversity, so he should have the bulldogs ready.

In the end I am giving the slight nod to the Wildcats, 27-23.

Discover BCS National Championship (To Be Played in Miami, Florida. This time I am positive about the location) : Notre Dame versus Alabama

This should be one heck of a game, the sponsors notwithstanding. There aren't two more tradition rich schools in college football. Well, almost. The Crimson Tide have proven they are relevant regardless of the decade, as the rest of us have come to dread the phrase Roll Tide.

Notre Dame has a tradition that goes back well, to the early 20th century. And they have been riding the coattails of that legacy for the past 20 years, waiting for their chance to dance with the big boys. Well now they have got their chance.

This just may be college football's version of a tale of two cities, only one could rename it a tale of two teams. No doubt Alabama has one of the top defenses in the nation, but everyone knows their strength is on offense. They have two linemen, DJ Fluker and Barrett Jones, who could be top 20 picks in next April's NFL draft. Their running backs could start most anywhere in the nation. And AJ McCarron may be one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has to be considered a defensive team. Manti Te'o leads a squad that held opponents to an average of a little more than 10 points a game. This team in many ways resembles the 2002 Ohio State squad in that they have had several close calls, and they almost seem to be a team of destiny.

So who wins this contest? I'm taking Alabama, but not by much. 21-13. Saban's teams are too good with a month to prepare, but Brian Kelly's squad shows its defense is legitimate.

  In other Bowl games:

Rose Bowl (You know where its played): Wisconsin vs. Stanford: Badgers put up a decent showing for Coach Alvarez, named interim head coach for this game only. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Stanford's defense, holding opponents to just over 2.8 yards per rushing attempt, plays a bit better. Stanford 24, Wisconsin 14

Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Fl, I think? Or is it Tampa): Georgia vs. Nebraska: Aaron Murray throws for three TDs and runs for another as Bulldogs roll 38-17.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (in Tempe, Arizona. Yeah, I'm sure about that one): Oregon vs Kansas State: In what could be the most interesting BCS game this season, these two teams combine for over 100 points. With Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense accounting for 65 of them. Oregon 65, Kansas State, 40

Allstate  Sugar Bowl (In the heart of the Bayou): Florida versus Louisville: Can Touchdown Tedy(I just made that up, cause it sounds cool) Bridgewater pull off the upset of this Bowl Season? Stranger things have happened. But not this year Florida 35, Louisville 24

Discover Orange Bowl:  Northern Illinois versus Florida State: Attention everyone, this won't even be close. Seminoles a lot, Huskies not so much. Kirk Herbstreit has a point when he says no one wants to see this game. Doesn't matter that West Virginia beat Clemson 70-33 last season. This could be lowest rated BCS game ever. Of course there is always the chance that FSU plays down to its opponent like it did against NC State and Georgia Tech. And there is also the chance that pigs fly tomorrow. But I wouldn't bet on either of those things happening.

Hyundai Sun Bowl (Somewhere warm): USC versus Georgia Tech: Matt Barkley is healthy. Enough said. USC 28, Georgia Tech 14

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Oklahoma State versus Purdue: First, the Boilermakers lose their head coach, now they...just lose. And badly. Ok St 53, Purdue 14.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl LSU versus Clemson: (Clemson) Tigers remembering what it felt like last season to be embarrassed in the BCS, won't let it happen again. Unfortunately, LSU's defense is too much. LSU 17, Clemson 14

Upset special: Meineke Car Care Bowl: Minnesota 45, Texas Tech 41. Just a gut feeling.

Upset Special II: Belk Bowl Duke 31, Cincinnati 28

Sunday, December 2, 2012

BCS Mess: Wisconsin's Luck, Georgia's Heartbreak

In a few hours the BCS selection committee will announce its matchups for the 2012-2013 bowl season. It is expected that Notre Dame and Alabama will meet in the BCS National Championship game in Miami, while the other known game is the Rose Bowl, where Wisconsin will meet Stanford in Pasadena, California.

Unfortunately the loser of last night's SEC championship, Georgia, won't be playing in the BCS. That spot will more than likely go to Florida, who, like Alabama last year, didn't even make it to the conference championship game.

And never mind that Wisconsin, the Big Ten's participant in the Rose Bowl the last two years, didn't even finish first in their own division. Actually at 4-4 in the Big Ten, they barely finished third in the Leaders division, a game a head of Purdue (3-5), two games behind Penn State (6-2), and three games behind Leaders division champs Ohio State (8-0).

But wait a minute, how is this possible? A team that struggled to finish with a .500 record in its own conference, has an 8-5 overall record, and has had three different starting quarterbacks during the season is going to the Rose Bowl? While undefeated Ohio State (12-0) will be watching at home?

The short answer is simple: Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play, thus making Wisconsin the Leaders Division's representative in last night's Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. And Wisconsin went on to win the championship game by defeating a Nebraska team that believes the word defense is not in their vocabulary.

The longer answer, however, is a bit more complex. You see, Ohio State was banned from postseason play this year because its former head coach, Jim Tressel, lied to the NCAA. And the NCAA, not wanting to be embarrassed itself, decided to make an example out of Ohio State. Never mind the fact that the suit-wearing individual who levied the bowl ban more than likely doesn't watch football. Nor does he realize that the revenue of a potential OSU-ND national championship game would dwarf that of a Stanford-Wisconsin Rose Bowl. Ohio State broke the rules, so they must pay the consequences.

But it makes me absolutely sick that Wisconsin is going back to the Rose Bowl for a third straight season. And it doesn't even matter that Ohio State will be watching from home this January. Look I get it, the last two seasons, like it or not, the Badgers deserved to be there. In 2010, they tied Ohio State for the Big Ten Title, but, because they had already beaten them head to head, they went to the Rose Bowl. Then, last season, not only were they clearly Big Ten Champions at 11-1 but they were one Kirk Cousins hail mary away from playing LSU in the BCS National Championship.

Watching last night's conference championship between the Badgers and Huskers, however, made my stomach turn. Not only did Bret Bielema's team finish third in their division, but they backed their way into the title game, losing two of their last three games. Not to mention if you asked over 70% of college football fans in the nation to name Wisconsin's starting quarterback they probably wouldn't get it right. That's because during the course of the season they had started three different guys at the position, and the guy who played last night, Curt Phillips (a fifth-year senior), was starting in only the fourth game of his college career.

All of this happened only a few hours after Georgia, who would probably knock the tar out of both Nebraska and Wisconsin (and will more than likely face Nebraska on New Year's Day), lost their only chance to play in the BCS when they fell 32-28 to Alabama in the SEC championship. And though it should be known I don't particularly care for teams from the SEC, I do have respect for teams that play well.

So while fans argue if Alabama and Notre Dame should be in the BCS Championship, if an undefeated Ohio State squad deserves consideration for the AP National Title, or if Ohio State could beat either Alabama or Notre Dame, I have another question for my readers. Does a Wisconsin squad that didn't even finish above .500 in its conference deserve a BCS bid over an 11 win Georgia team that quite possibly gave No. 2 ranked Alabama its toughest game all season?

It's going to be very hard for me to watch any of the Big Ten bowl games this season, but not because Ohio State won't be there. There is a definite possibility that the Big Ten only wins one or two bowl games this season and even that is in doubt. And there might be a few things worse than sending the conference's fifth best squad to the Rose Bowl, but you won't hear me mention them here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Memo To David Stern: Please leave Pop, Spurs Alone

So in case you've been living under a rock for the last 24 hours, NBA commissioner David Stern has threatened to impose some sort of sanction against the San Antonio Spurs or their head coach, Gregg Popovich, in light of recent events.

And, in case your not familiar with what those events were, I will be happy to refresh your memory. Popovich sat starters Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker in last night's game against the Miami Heat. Popovich was trying to give his stars, who had just played four games in the last five nights, a breather before their home contest Sunday versus Memphis. Although San Antonio would eventually lose the game, the 105-100 result was more than likely closer than expected.

So now Stern and his cronies want to punish the Spurs for an action that was clearly the coach's discretion. I mean, come on, I understand the fans pay good money to see a quality product on the court. But I was wondering if someone could please explain to me how a five-point contest isn't a quality product?

Look, if we're going suspend/fine/otherwise punish coaches/teams for doing what is in their best interest, I have a few other suggestions. About 10 years ago or so I went to a Lakers-Celtics contest in Los Angeles but I didn't get to see Shaquille O'Neal play because he was hurt. How about giving me and the rest of the people who bought a ticket that night a refund? No? Well, I also went to see the Spurs play the Wizards a few years before that, but David Robinson didn't play because he was hurt. C'mon commish, you need to punish the Spurs for that, too. I'm pretty sure if Pop wasn't the coach he was at least the GM at that point.

What's that, Commissioner Stern, cat got your tongue? That's what I thought. The proposals I made are just as ludicrous as the proposed sanctions you are about to levy on today's Spurs. I will admit, I am not a huge pro basketball fan, but if I do watch I sometimes root for the Spurs. Most people don't like them because they aren't flashy enough, but, as I have said before, I like the fact they play fundamentally sound team ball for the most part.

And yes, as a fan, if I was in Miami (not entirely out of the question, as I spent the last week two hours northwest of South Beach. Of course, I didn't get a ticket, as I was unaware the two teams played) and I had gone to the game, I would be upset that some of my favorite players were not even dressing. But at the end of the day, I would be happy that my team was in a position to possibly win the game.

So, commissioner Stern, leave Pop and the Spurs alone. There is no rule that says a NBA head coach can't sit his stars if he feels its in the best interest of the team. This is just another attempt by you to unnecessarily throw your weight around, and another reason why once avid fans like myself are becoming more indifferent by the day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The NFL Needs a New Thanksgiving Tradition

So with it technically being Thanksgiving and all, let me be the first to wish all my loyal readers a Happy Thanksgiving. J-Rod's Sportszone is thankful for those readers loyal to his blog, people who have just stumbled onto his blog, and those who have yet to stumble onto it. He is also extremely grateful for all sports, especially football in the falls. Many people don't get my obsession with this game but, like so many other things for other people, it is my happy diversion from the routine of daily life.

Also, with this Saturday marking the renewal of so many rivalries in college football, I would like to take an opportunity to suggest at least one sports-related Thanksgiving tradition that should be changed. That is the NFL's decision to broadcast only games hosted by either the Detroit Lions or the Dallas Cowboys on this day.

Now I do understand that later this evening(since it is technically Thursday morning) the New York Jets and the New England Patriots will play each other, but that is not the same thing. First, it will be broadcast on the NFL Network, which, in my humble opinion, might just be the worst invention in all of sports. I mean forget the fact that if my cable company didn't offer a free premium channel preview this weekend I wouldn't get to see Jets-Pats. I would rather watch the Big Ten Network than NFL Net. Ouch indeed.

But on to the point at hand. Despite pleas from Yahoo! that the Lions and Cowboys on Thanksgiving is a tradition not to be messed with, I don't agree. Certainly, however, I am not arguing for the Browns to be broadcast on this day, but, with Cleveland playing Pittsburgh this week, that might have been a better draw, seeing as that is one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL.

Or what about the Patriots and the Colts on Turkey Day? Certainly last Sunday's contest wasn't an edge-of-your-seat affair, but what if you put them in front of a national audience on a short week? Or how about the thriller that was Denver versus New England a few weeks earlier?

Or what about the most heated rivalry in all of professional sports, the Chicago Bears versus the Green Bay Packers? I don't know if you can go anywhere in the continental United States without running into a cheesehead or someone whose license plates reads 'Da Bears.' Wouldn't that game be more exciting than the Lions and the Texans?

And as much as the Cowboys may have been 'America's Team' in the late 80s and the 90s, I think their owner, Jerry Jones, has turned them into one of the most vilified franchises in the nation currently.  Isn't it quite possible, NFL, that by giving us a reprieve from the 'Boys on this holiday dedicated to food and football, it will allow those of us who aren't Dallas fans to bury the hatchet?

The point being is that, for the NFL anyway, today marks the largest captive television audience they will have all season. Yet they continue to squander such an opportunity for the sake of a tradition not nearly as old as the game of football itself.  Especially when they have already messed with two other hallowed traditions, namely kickoffs and overtimes, in the last two seasons.

It's time for the NFL to take a hint from the college ranks on this one. As conferences in collegiate football expand, some rivalries, like Oklahoma vs Nebraska, have died, while others, such as Nebraska vs Wisconsin, are born. So too, with the expansion of the NFL fanbase, should some of the old NFL traditions make way for new ones. And what better tradition to start anew than Thanksgiving Day programming.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why Ohio State Fans Should Root For Notre Dame

So it is with a heavy hand that I write this. Okay, so not really, but I had debated about writing on the Duke men's basketball team or the NFL's resident blowhard, Rex Ryan, before settling on this topic.

However, seeing as the Ohio State football team's season is coming to a close, in it's annual renewal of 'The Game' versus their hated rivals from That School Up North, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to comment on what has been on everyone's mind the last few days.

Make no bones about it, I don't like that team up north. Of course, I wouldn't go as far as ex-Buckeye Roy Hall, whom, if you listened to local Columbus radio 97.1  The Fan this afternoon, took his hatred for everything Maize and Blue to a whole other level. It was kind of comical. In case you missed it, you might want to go to youtube and type in 'Roy Hall T-Bone Michigan Week interview."

But I digress. The point being is that despite my dislike for Ohio State's opponent this week, I have to respect the ability they possess on the field, both offensively and defensively. It will be a challenge for this defense to stop a better than average passing quarterback in Devin Gardner, and Denard Robinson, if healthy, may be more of a threat in the Wolverines backfield than Fitzgerald Toussaint would have ever been. Needless to say, it won't be easy for the Bucks when they try to become only the sixth team in school history to finish a season undefeated.

What is interesting is that I actually admitted to one of my closest friends that if Ohio State had lost to Wisconsin last week I would have no reason to watch OSU vs. Michigan this weekend. To which he looked at me like I had gone mad. Of course I was going to watch the game, and root for the Buckeyes nonetheless, but the point was that without the potential to go to a bowl game or go undefeated, a victory over the Wolverines would seem somewhat hollow. I guess I have reached the point where beating U of M just isn't good enough; only perfection will do.

Which brings me to the ultimate point of this article. Many fans have wondered what Ohio State's fate would be had they self-imposed a bowl ban last season. Would the NCAA allow them to compete in postseason play this year? Well, hindsight is 20/20, and we can only deal with current realities. So OSU's bowl game is this Saturday, and I while I expect the first season of the Urban Meyer to end just as it began, with a victory, I am taking nothing for granted. Nor should any other OSU fan.

In that vein, OSU fans should stop wondering 'what if' Ohio State were to play Notre Dame in the BCS championship, and, instead, start rooting for the Blue and Gold to actually win it all. For starters, there is the distinct possibility that OSU could lose such a matchup, and the end result might not be pretty. Notre Dame has played an ostensibly better schedule than Ohio State, and held its two toughest opponents, Stanford and Oklahoma, to a combined total of 26 points. On the flip side, Ohio State has given up a combined total of 77 points to Inidana and Cal, two teams whose combined record is 7-16.

So, unlike some overzealous fans on Facebook, I do not think the Buckeyes would roll over the Irish. And I will admit I have been somewhat harder on the Irish than the pollsters. A part of me thinks that, despite playing the toughest schedule in the nation, they just don't measure up when it comes to the 'eye test.' And the other part of my assessment of Notre Dame lies on my preconceived notion that the media builds this program up year after year, only to see them let everyone down in the end. But could they actually be legit?

Well, seeing as how I have been burned horribly the last two weeks, I will not predict the outcome of this Saturday's clash between the Irish and the Trojans. I will, however, urge all Buckeye fans, after they have cheered the home team to victory, to root for Notre Dame to win out. Forget about your hatred of Notre Dame and Lou Holtz. The Irish may have the best chance to stop the SEC's BCS run at six. Which I believe is more important anyway.

What has been almost a nonissue this season is the mediocre play of the SEC. Alabama isn't the juggernaut it has been in the past. Not only did they lose to the Aggies, but they should have lost to LSU as well. An LSU team whose offense is boring as a Jim Tressel coached team. Seriously. Watch more than two minutes of LSU play, and I dare you to tell me that Les Miles isn't Jim Tressel Lite. No imagination on offense, and the only reason he is able to compete with the big boys is that, unlike Tressel, he is able to recruit speed on defense.

Even Florida has had issues moving the ball this season. Just ask Louisiana-Lafayette(whom I'm not even sure is a NCAA Division IA school), who almost upset the Gators. In Gainesville.

So, while it goes against almost every instinct that I have, I will be rooting for the football team from South Bend, Indiana, to win their next two games. Because, in the end, in order for the myth of SEC superiority to die, someone has to beat them in a meaningful contest.

Friday, November 16, 2012

College Football Week 12 Preview: Is Oregon No. 1?

So it looks like I bombed last week with my prediction that Alabama would remain undefeated. And now it appears that rather than the SEC winning another mythical national championship, a more likely scenario has them winning another heisman trophy.

Texas A and M's Johnny Manziel is no Johnny come lately to the college football world, even though he is only a freshman quarterback for the Aggies. Prior to last Saturday's victory over the Crimson Tide, Manziel had passed for more than 2500 yards and run for over 900 yards for the Aggies, who, at 8-2, have surprised almost everyone in the first year in the SEC. It is probably not out of the question that Texas A and M head coach Kevin Sumlin might also be the frontrunner for coach of the year.

But enough about last week, on to week number 12. This week's biggest game features the Oregon Ducks, and their video game-like offense, versus Pac-12 rival Stanford, who is also fighting for a berth in this year's Pac-12 championship. The key to this game, of course, won't be whether the Cardinal can stop Chip Kelly's high powered offense; but it will come down to the play of Stanford's offense, led by senior tailback Stepfan Taylor. If the Cardinal can establish the run early, and keep Oregon's offense off the field, they have a chance.

So, will Saturday mark the second straight week that a top three team falls from the ranks of the unbeaten? As much as I'd like to see it, I just don't think it is going to happen. Chip Kelly runs one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, and quarterback Marcus Mariota might be one of the more underrated players in the game. Not that people in Pac-12 country think that, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone on the East Coast who is mentioning his name for Heisman.

Mariota has quitely passed for 2164 yards and 28 TDs, while only throwing 5 interceptions at the same time. He has also added another 516 yards and 3 TDs on the ground for the Ducks, who should remain undefeated, dispatching of the Cardinal 38-20.

In other top 25 action:

10 Florida State at Maryland: EJ Manuel and company inch one step closer to the ACC Atlantic Divison crown, rolling over the Terps, 54-3.

Iowa at 21 Michigan: Will the real Michigan please stand up? Please stand up? Please stand up? Wolverines let the Hawkeyes stay in this one until the end, winning 27-24.

22 Rutgers at Cincinnati: Butch Jones has once again resurrected a program that Brian Kelly left. Impressive indeed. But can I really root for a team whose starting quarterback is named Munchie? Of course I will. Bearcats, 24-21.

Western Carolina at 4 Alabama: Crimson Tide, still mad their undefeated season is lost, go easy on the Catamounts. If you consider 40-10 going easy on someone. Eddie Lacy runs for almost 250 in the win.

Jacksonville State at  6 Florida: After last week's near embarrassment, Will Muschamp's Gators let Jax State hang around too before pulling away 28-14.

Wofford at 9 South Carolina: Jedevon Clowney 14, Wofford 3. Yeah, I think that's all that needs to be said 'bout this one. Gamecocks roll. Oh, wait, that's the Crimson Tide line. Gamecocks still win big, though.

Georgia Southern at 5 Georgia: Cause I'm already over the powder puff teams the SEC plays this week, Bulldogs win.

25 Washington at Colorado:Do I even need to say it?

18 USC at 17 UCLA: In what could probably turn out to be an even more hotly contested game than Oregon-Stanford, Matt Barkley and the Trojans get the inside track to the Pac-12 South title, 24-17.

Wake Forest at 3 Notre Dame: If only the Irish could mount some offense, they might be dangerous. Notre Dame, 28-10.

Ole Miss at 7 LSU: Tigers win big.

Sam Houston State at 8 Texas A and M: Aggies need another big game from Johnny Football to pull this one out, 42-28.

North Carolina State at 11 Clemson: Tahj Boyd, Sammy Watkins and company come up big against the Wolfpack, but it is not enough to wrest first place in the Atlantic from FSU. Clemson 45-17.

Minnesota at 14 Nebraska: Cornhuskers are going to Rose Bowl. You heard it here first. Nebraska 38-17,

23 Texas Tech at 24 Oklahoma State: Red Raiders win one for Leach. What? He doesn't coach there anymore? Well Red Raiders just win. Texas Tech 35-31.

Ohio State (unranked in BCS, 10 in J-Rod Sportszone's top 10 to be revealed later in this column) at Wisconsin: Buckeyes don't need Miller to Smith heroics this time around, winning 27-17.

Upset special of the week West Virginia (home) over No. 12 Oklahoma: Geno Smith, once frontrunner for the Heisman, puts on one of his better perfomances for the Mountaineer fan base, as Sooners are beat 35-28.

J-Rod's Sportszone's Top 10:

1. Oregon

2. Kansas State

3. Alabama

4.  Georgia

5.  LSU

6. Notre Dame

7. Texas A and M

8.  Clemson

9. South Carolina

10. Ohio State

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NFL Fantasy Football: Go With Your Gut

So as week 10 of the NFL season approaches, J-Rod's Sportszone would like to take the time to drop some fantasy football knowledge on his readers. After all, while he missed the Alabama-Texas A and M game by a mile, he did finish second in 2011 in his work-related fantasy football league, despite drafting 10th out of 10 teams.

If I have learned anything from my years of playing fantasy football (2012 marks the seventh consecutive season I will have played in any fantasy football league, standard or custom), it is that when choosing players for your team, always trust your gut. Always.

To further illustrate what I mean, let us take a look at my starting lineup for week 10:

QB- Philip Rivers, San Diego  Chargers

WR- Malcolm Floyd, San Diego Chargers

WR- Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers

WR- Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys

RB- Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

RB- Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

TE- Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos

Flex- Desean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

K- Greg Zeuerlein, St. Louis Rams

Defense/Special Teams- Denver Broncos

Players on a bye this week: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals, and Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers

Not a bad lineup, eh? Well, let's take a look at some of the top players by position (total standard scoring in 2012) and compare them to where I drafted some of these same players.


 Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

RG III, Washington Redskins

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Now, consider where I took Rivers, my starting quarterback: in the fourth round, 38th overall. Of those quarterbacks, only Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger and Brady were selected ahead of Rivers. Manning and RGIII, coincidentally, were selected in the fifth round.

This is interesting because many of you might remember an article I wrote before the season hyping up Peyton Manning's return to football. (You can find that here ) Additionally, I was well aware of the potential of both Luck and RGIII, having covered their Heisman campaign(s) all of last season.

Moving along, let us look at another position:

Running Backs

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Arian Foster, Houston Texans

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

My starting running backs are Rice, whom I selected in the first round at No. 3 overall, and Jamaal Charles, whom I selected in the third round.

I doubt anyone would question my selection of Rice, arguably one of the top five backs in the league, even at No. 3.

As for Charles, there are many who said before the season started they would be hesitant to draft him due to his uncertainty surrounding is ACL. I even went against my own strategy in picking him, as before the draft I told myself that if Richardson (the Cleveland Browns' rookie who I saw play on more than one occasion for Alabama) was available in the second round, I would select him. Richardson ended up being the first selection of the third round.

Finally let us examine the top scoring receivers thru week 10 of the regular season:

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Victor Cruz, New York Giants

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

My top two receivers selected were Larry Fitzgerald, who is a top-tier receiver hamstrung by woefully inadequate play from the Cardinals' quarterback position, and Greg Jennings, Green Bay's No. 1 target who has been injured for most of this season.

Needless to say, if I had selected Trent Richardson in the second round instead of Larry Fitz, both Green and/or Cruz would have been available for me in the third round.

This is not to say all is lost for me, however. I currently stand fifth in my league at 5-4, and, last season I placed second despite being the last playoff team in.  My point is merely that, as you choose your fantasy squads for the rest of 2012, make sure that at the end of the day you go with your gut.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

College Football Week 11 Preview: Will Aggies Upset No.1 'Bama ?

Without the drama of rivalries such as Florida vs. Georgia, LSU vs. Alabama, Notre Dame vs. Stanford or even Texas Oklahoma, week 11 of the college football season is more about survival for the BCS undefeateds.

Foremost among minds of many fans is whether the Alabama Crimson Tide can finish the regular season undefeated in pursuit of its second mythical national championship in as many years. While those in or near Tuscaloosa hope the Tide roll, it is safe to say the rest of the nation would love to see Alabama trip up somewhere along the way.

This week Nick Saban's gang host the Aggies of Texas AM that feature a high-octane offense led by freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Aggies' offense is ranked third in the nation in scoring (44.7 ppg), and they have scored more than 48 points in five of their first nine games. Manziel also leads the team in rushing with 922 yards, leading one to wonder why his name isn't mentioned more often in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

So what are the prospects for an Aggie upset this Saturday afternoon? Not necessarily good. They have struggled against Florida and LSU, two teams that play a defense similar to 'Bama. Points will be at a premium, and it will be imperative that the Aggies don't turn the ball over. My prediction is the Tide remains perfect, 34- 17.

Elsewhere, in top 25 action:

Arkansas vs. No. 8 South Carolina: The Razorback athletic department stands behind its decision to fire Bobby Petrino. The Razorback players not so much. Gamecocks don't miss Marcus Lattimore at all today, winning 41-7.

No 9 Louisville at Syracuse: When will the magic run out for Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals. Not today. Louisville 30-17.

No. 24 Northwestern at Michigan: Wildcats give Wolverines all they can handle on the road but fall short. Michigan 28, Northwestern 25

No. 11 Oregon State vs. No. 14 Stanford: Oregon State wins a nail biter here, setting up a showdown with the Ducks in two weeks for the Pac-12 North title.

No. 4 Notre Dame at Boston College: Irish eyes are smiling once again on Notre Dame, as they pull out a closer than expected victory.

No. 3 Oregon vs California: Ducks get upse...ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, I couldn't even finish that one without rolling on the floor laughing.  Oregon 48, California 20

Well, there you have it folks. If I get any of these wrong, well...then I am just like every other football pundit out there trying to make a prediction.

Friday, November 9, 2012

College Basketball Tip-Off: Is Louisville No. 1?

Tonight the 2012-2013 NCAA Division I men's college basketball season tips off, headlined by the Carrier Classic (featuring Ohio State vs Marquette off the deck of the USS Yorktown docked in Charleston, SC) and Maryland versus Kentucky, among others.

So I figured it would be fitting to provide my overview on how I think this season might play out. It seems everyone and their mother has Indiana at No. 1, and, while I can see their point, I don't necessarily agree. They are talented, and Cody Zeller might be the best player in the nation, but they seemed a bit streaky last season. Plus, Zeller's 6.6 rebounds per game isn't very impressive, either. As a matter of fact, I think on the whole Indiana wasn't very good rebounding the ball last season, another reason I can't put them at No. 1.

Kentucky is fairly young, but loaded with freshman talent.  Center Nerlens Noel might be even better than Anthony Davis was offensively for the Wildcats last season. If he can be half as good as Davis on the other side of the ball, UK may make another deep tournament run. Right now, however, I think it is too early and the team is too young to be called No. 1 in the nation.

Ohio State and Michigan are both loaded with potential but are very inexperienced. The Buckeyes have some big shoes to fill in Jared Sullinger and William Buford. If they can get help from sophomores Laquinton Ross and Amir Williams, among others, they could do some damage come tourney time.

The Wolverines are in a similar situation to the Buckeyes, as they must replace the loss of veterans Evan Smotrycz (transfer) and Zack Novak (graduated). Returning for Michigan are freshman of the year point guard Trey Burke and guard Tim Hardaway junior, both of whom will be hard to stop. It will be interesting to see how these guys mesh with incoming freshman Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.

But, when it comes down to it, who ultimately is No. 1 then? Well, Wildcat fans may not like to hear this, but I believe that Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals are the best team in the nation right now. Guards Petyon Siva and Russ Smith return to lead one of the nation's best backcourts this season. Center Gorgui Deng's 9.1 rebounds per games were among the top in the Big East last year. Could this be the year Pitino's squad finally cuts down the nets? Quite Possibly.

Of course, this is just my opinion, and like everyone else, it is highly subjective. Especially when you consider the fact that I haven't seen any of these teams play yet this year. But I figure hey, if the other guys can do it (and not that well I might add) I can't be any worse.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

College Football Top 25- Week 11

Week 10 of the college football season was exhilarating. Alabama and LSU did battle in another SEC West Classic, Oregon outlasted USC in a shootout in Los Angeles, and Notre Dame's perfect season continued with a triple overtime win over Stanford.

At the end of the day, LSU's loss once again shook the landscape in both the BCS and AP Top 25 polls. However, I would like to challenge both the AP and the BCS with my first weekly College football Top 25 poll.

Yes, I understand that with 10 weeks of the season behind us, I am a little behind the eight ball. But right now I don't care, I am adding this poll to the blog. I also hope to add a college basketball Top 25 as well.

Without further ado, here are my rankings:

1. Alabama- The Crimson Tide continue to roll through the SEC portion of their schedule with an impressive come from behind victory at LSU. Right now it appears that Alabama should not face another challenge until the SEC title game, likely against Georgia.

2. Oregon- Ducks prove once again they have the most explosive offense in the nation in defeating USC. Unfortunately for Oregon, they haven't faced a defense like Alabama yet. Still, they remain the best threat to unseat the defending national champions thus far.

3. Kansas State- Collin Klein delivers an average performance (if you consider 309 yards of total offense average) in the Wildcats blowout win over Oklahoma State. Klein easily the favorite for Heisman right now. K-State the alternate for BCS championship should Oregon or Alabama fall.

4. Georgia- Bulldogs have begun to peak since defeating rival Florida in the World's Largest, er, 'Gathering' two weeks ago. Georgia defensive lineman Javaris James making a push to be the No. 1 overall selection in next April's NFL Draft.

5. Florida- Gators bounce back from aforementioned loss to Georgia by holding Missouri to seven points. Will Mushcamp's squad needs to find its offense, however, if they want to remain in the top 10. We're sending Hannibal, BA, and the rest of the A-Team on the case.

6. Louisiana State- The media has a problem ranking a two-loss squad this high. J-Rod's Sportszone doesn't really care what the mainstream media thinks. The eye test shows that the Tigers are a top five squad, and they are sixth currently due to the loss to the Gators earlier this season.

7. South Carolina- The loss of Marcus Lattimore was certainly huge for Steve Spurrier's squad, but not insurmountable. This team still has enough talent on both sides of the ball to finish with 10 wins.

8. Florida State- Now that it appears the Seminoles 'trap' game is out of the way, FSU is looking for its first 11 win season under head coach Jimbo Fisher. Whether they get there depends largely on the play of quarterback EJ Manuel.

9. Oregon State- The Beavers have a healthy Sean Mannion back at QB, and still hope to supplant Oregon as the North representative in the Pac-12 Championship. They must defeat Stanford before they meet the Ducks, however.

10. Texas A&M- The Aggies have adjusted nicely to SEC play thus far, and, quarterback John Manziel might end up being better than Ryan Tannehill after it's all said and done.

11. Notre Dame- The Irish are wondering what in the world they did to have three two loss teams ranked ahead of them. Well, they almost lost at least three different games to opponents they were huge favorites over, including last Saturday's triple overtime thriller against Pitt. How much longer can Irish eyes continue to smile on Brian Kelly's squad? Something tells me the season ending game versus USC could spoil a 12-0 season, although a trip to a BCS Bowl is almost a lock.

12. Ohio State- J-Rod's Sportszone doesn't care that the Buckeyes are banned from BCS consideration this season. J-Rod's Sportszone also doesn't care OSU is the best team in the Big Ten. Buckeyes' defense is a couple of years away from being championship caliber. Braxton Miller should finish in the top three in Heisman voting.

13. Louisville- The only other undefeated team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Cardinals suffer from playing in the Big (L)East conference.  If Cardinals win at least 10 games and win the Big East, they guarantee they won't be the laughing stock of the BCS this season. That title could go to the winner of the Big Ten Championship (which won't be OSU, btw).

14. Oklahoma- The Sooners were preseason favorites to win the Big 12. Now they are looking to get into a New Year's Day Bowl at least, with an outside shot at a BCS at-large spot.

15.  Clemson- Tahj Boyd and company need a little help from Florida State's remaining opponents if they are to make it back to the ACC championship game. If Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame, and KSU go undefeated, they may need even more help to make it as a BCS at-large team.

16. Stanford- The good news for the Cardinal: they still control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South, as they advance to the Pac-12 title game if they win out. The bad news: Stanford faces Oregon State and Oregon in the next two weeks. If they lose both of those games they may fall to the bottom of these rankings.

17. Nebraska- With wins in consecutive weeks over Michigan and Michigan State, the Cornhuskers control their own destiny in the Legends Division of the Big Ten.

18. UCLA- Bruins, with an impressive win on Saturday over Arizona, are in the drivers seat for the Pac-12 South. If only they didn't have to play Oregon in the title game.

19. USC- Matt Barkley can kiss the national championship, more than likely the Pac-12 championship, the Heisman, and the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft goodbye. But hey, at least he can say he got his college degree.

20.  Texas- If Mack Brown's squad can win two of their next three, his job is safe. Well, let's be honest, his job is probably safe anyway, the folks in Austin have started to get used to mediocrity.

21. Louisiana Tech- I'd be more impressed with this squad if they had actually beaten the Aggies a few weeks ago.

22. Mississippi State- Bulldogs still trying to be a top-tier SEC team. They are not quite there yet.

23. Rutgers- What bowl game this team lands is anyone's guess.

24. Northwestern- Bet you if I said name the three ranked Big Ten squads,  you would have never guessed the Wildcats would be one of them.

25 Kent State- Because the Golden Flashes are the Mid American squad with the more impressive victory (Rutgers).

There you have it, my top 25 for week 11. Please feel free to drop me a line if you disagree. Or just to compliment me on how much fairer my rankings are than the BCS or AP Top 25. Thanks

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

OSU Basketball: Thad Matta's Championship Problem

Well, with only a few more weeks left 'til the end of the college football season, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share my thoughts on The Ohio State University men's basketball team. I understand that many of you prefer football to basketball anyway, but I don't care.

So as I was listening to the Buckeye cagers' only exhibition game versus Walsh last night (yeah, it wasn't on TV because the Big Ten Network is so lame they would rather show a rerun of a football game played last weekend) it got me excited about the team's chances this season. Sure, when they play for real a week from tomorrow against Marquette they will look nowhere near the No. 4 team in the nation, but they do have talent.

That got me to thinking, the Buckeyes have had an awful lot of talent come through their program the last few years, but, ultimately, they have come up short in their quest for a national championship. Last season they came oh so close to getting an opportunity to be bested by the Kentucky Wildcats once again, only to fall to the Kansas Jayhawks in the national semifinal.

On the surface, the loss to Kansas can be easily explained, as in the end Ohio State had neither the height nor the depth needed to move on to the national championship game.

But why does Ohio State, seemingly advancing farther in the tournament each season, fall short of the ultimate goal each year?

On the one hand, there are those who would point the finger directly at head coach Thad Matta. They argue Matta's reluctance to play more than five or six guys on any given night leads to tired legs come tournament time. Matta has insisted that until his guys learn to play defense, they won't see the court. Critics then wonder why Deshaun Thomas played so many minutes last season when defense didn't seem to be a word in his vocabulary.

Then there are the Matta apologists, who would point to his overall record, consecutive 20 win seasons,  number of Big Ten Championships, and the fact that he has taken his team to two final four appearances in eight seasons, something more than 75% of all NCAA Division I head coaches cannot claim.

Yet both Mike Krzysewski (sp) and Roy Williams could say the same thing. So what makes them elite coaches? That's right, they both have won multiple national championships.

So we again come to the question, why does Matta's Buckeyes fall short year after year?

Maybe a look at last year's champions, the Kentucky Wildcats, could provide some clues. While personally I can't stand head coach John Calipari( or Cal as he is often referred to) I have to give him credit. Not only did he assemble a group of 19 and 20 year olds that could possibly beat the Charlotte Bobcats, he also got them to believe in the good of the team before individual glory.

That in itself should be considered a coup for Cal, more so especially given the fact Kentucky is assumed to be a one year farm system for the NBA. Coincidentally, folks who believe that UK only recruits athletes with questionable academic backgrounds might be surprised to learn of the story of Brandon Knight, former Wildcat point guard who only played one season for Calipari. I have it on good authority from someone who scouted Knight in high school that he had the grades to play anywhere in the nation. Yet at the end of the day he chose to call Lexington, Kentucky his home for a year. Not that there is anything wrong with UK academically; but it certainly doesn't carry the reputation of a Duke or North Carolina.

But I digress. The point is that Kentucky did not win on talent alone; each team member had to sacrifice a little something of himself along the way.

I think that is a key point because it is why I believe Thad Matta's Buckeyes' do not have a championship. In recent years, Ohio State like Kentucky, has had its share of players who have only stuck around for a season or two before moving along to the NBA. Most of them, like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger, etc, have bought into the concept of team first.

But I believe Matta's greatest failure to date may be that he cannot convince all of his players to buy into the 'team first' philosophy. Take the example of former Buckeyes center BJ Mullens, for instance. It was clear that Mullens already had one eye on the NBA even before the Big Ten Tournament rolled around during his freshman season. Matta tried to bench him in an effort to convince Mullens he wasn't ready for the pros, but, ultimately, that was a lesson BJ would have to learn on his own.

Going further back, we can also look at the story of Daequan Cook. Part of the 'Thad Five' recruiting class that included Mike Conley, Greg Oden, Dave Lighty, and Othello Hunter, Cook was considered a lottery pick even before lacing them up for the Buckeyes. Cook would see signficant playing time at the beginning of the 2007 season; ultimately Matta relegated him to a reserve role after he realized the Dayton native wasn't going to play ball.

Finally, let's consider the plight of sophomore swing guard Laquinton Ross last season. Ross, who wouldn't join the team until mid season due to academic issues, was touted as one of the top recruits in the nation out of high school. The hype surrounding this kid was almost surreal, with former OSU point guard Scoonie Penn  calling him 'the best Buckeye on the court, hands down.' Naturally, all the press would go to Ross' head, leading him to issue a tweet whining for more playing time. After a conversation with the coach, Ross would delete the tweet, but by then the damage was done. From that point on the only playing time the freshman would see was at the end of a blowout.

All of this behavior would seem more befitting of Kentucky than Ohio State. Yet when the NBA collective bargaining agreement states amateur athletes must spend one year in college before entering the draft, even the Buckeyes can find it hard to avoid such players. Unfortunately for Thad Matta, until he can convince some of these guys that 'the present' is more important than 'their future', a championship may elude Ohio State.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lance Armstrong's Last Stand: Unfairly Convicted, His Legacy Still Intact

The news that recently former American cyclist Lance Armstrong gave up his fight against accusations that he illegally doped during his seven year reign as Tour de France champion has rocked the sports world.

The man has been drug tested more times in the last decade than any athlete in the world, past or present. It is also likely that no one in the future will be under the microscope as often, either.

Not one time did Armstrong test positive for performance enhancing drugs. It has been reported that one time the French cycling union even asked for a urine sample while Lance was in the hospital with his wife awaiting the birth of their second child. If there was ever a moment where he would have been unable to mask his alleged use of banned substances, you'd think that would be it. But even then the sample he returned tested negative for banned substances.

Yet despite his repeated denials, and the negative tests, the United States Anti-Doping Agency has seemed hell-bent on proving that Armstrong did indeed cheat. They claim they have significant evidence against him (none of which is physical in nature, either). So they once again asked Armstrong to prove, for like the 1000th time, that he did not dope.

For Armstrong, the decision he came to regarding the most recent charges wasn't easy. When he wasn't defending his Tour de France title, he was either raising money for cancer research or defending his name. In fact, no one public figure who has given so much to charity(he's probably raised more money for cancer research than all other celebrities combined) has also been so vilified by certain segments of society.

So in the end, Armstrong decided the best thing for him, his family, and his cancer foundation was to give up the fight. He knew that even if he won this round, there could be another lawsuit waiting in the wings for him. So he decided enough was enough.

But by doing so, he has allowed the USADA to call him a liar and a cheater. They went on to then strip him of his record seven Tour de France titles(although the international cycling union disputes whether they even have the authority to do so), and ban him from competitive cycling for life. Not that he cares what USADA thinks, but no one really embraces being called a liar or a cheater, either.

He spent over a decade defending his good name. Fighting for himself and those people suffering from cancer who couldn't fight for themselves. Yet none of that matters to USADA CEO Tavis Tygart, who yesterday (in an interview with ESPN's Scott Van Pelt) claimed that Armstrong's decision confirmed his assertion all along that he had cheated. Never mind that the only evidence Tygart has are the testimonies of Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, former teammates of Armstrong whose motives and credibility might not be pure.

Look, I work for one of the largest pharmaceutical distributors in the country, and I have been drug tested over a half a dozen times in the past several years, to include pre-employment screenings, random testing, and post accident screenings. Not once did I test positive, either. Yet if I were to test positive, I just lose my job. In so doing I let down my family and friends, but, at the end of the day, I pick up the pieces of my life and move on.

In Lance's case he has been a role model of integrity for so many people. It wouldn't just be his family and friends he let down. Nor just the cycling community at large. Nor just cancer survivors in the United States. But his lying would be felt around the world.

With so much at stake, why would he then go to such great lengths to prove he was innocent if he indeed wasn't? Even when he made his final comeback two years ago, he said it wasn't for him, but to raise awareness for his foundation. It just doesn't make sense then that he would go through all the tests (over 500 of them, mind you) and spend all that money on litigation over the past decade, if he wasn't innocent.

My point is that he's innocent. This is nothing more than a witch-hunt by the US Anti-Doping Agency aimed at smearing the record of a global icon so their company will grow in stature. After all is said and done, Armstrong supporters know that he didn't cheat.

But it is a sad day when a man can be called guilty when so much of the evidence overwhelmingly points to his innocence.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Random thoughts on the Red Sox, the Jets backup QB, and...SEC dominance

So much has been made recently of the Boston Red Sox struggles. Now I will admit that I am not a Red Sox fan, and in fact, I actually prefer the Yankees. But I feel I have to say a few things about this topic.

First off, I want to make it clear that I think Red Sox fans have become spoiled. If their team doesn't have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs, they whine like no other fan base I know. Look, I get it, being a Cleveland fan I understand you want your team to win. Heck, I think fellow Cleveland sports fans can agree with me when I say we want our teams to be competitive.

But I digress. The point I am trying to make is that you need to give manager Bobby Valentine a chance. Don't blame Dustin Pedroia or Josh Beckett's struggles on a divided clubhouse, saying if the front office hired a different manager things would be better. He hasn't even had a full season, and this is the same team a few years removed from a World Series title. I'll be honest, I don't fully understand the impact a manager has on team chemistry in baseball, but I think it would be rash to fire any manager after one bad season unless he won less than 20 percent of his games(and this is not the case.)

So my advice to all the Sox fans is suck it up, your stuck with Bobby V for another year. And if you aren't, well don't complain when Mike Hargrove(hired as his replacement for 2013) can't right the ship in a year's time either. If you really want someone to blame, how about a front office that paid 100 million way back when to Japan just for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. So what has your ace been up to recently? He has a record of 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA in 5 starts. And to think a few years ago Boston management ponied up 100 large just for the rights to negotiate with him.

Bottom line is that whatever is wrong with Red Sox Nation now, firing Bobby Valentine isn't the solution.

...Moving right along, I have had enough of the talk about the Jets backup quarterback. So much so that this is the last time I talk about him. Ever. In fact I am so fed up, that, while not mentioning his name, I told Skip Bayless to tell ESPN to take their hero worship of a guy who will be a career backup elsewhere, the nation tires of it. The Broncos won last season because they ran the ball well, and despite everyone's knock on their defense, they actually stepped up when it counted. Peyton Manning will improve Denver, no doubt. But that is for another blog.

Finally, when will the SEC dominance in college football end? I wasn't aware it had ever begun. Yes, teams like Alabama and Florida have won four of the last seven national championships, but, taken as a whole, the SEC is not much better than the rest of the nation. As a matter of fact, the SEC was slightly better than the BIG 10 last year in bowl games, going 5-3 vs the latter's 3-4 record.

Fact of the matter is, because the Southeast has won the last six national titles, they are automatically considered the premiere conference in that nation. But let's go a little bit deeper into the conference. A Georgia squad that was a preseason title favorite in 2011 lost an overtime thriller to Big Ten runner up Michigan State. Florida, playing in the Gator Bowl against Ohio State(a rematch of their '06 BCS title game), ended up a 24-17 winner over a Buckeye squad featuring one of the worst offenses in the nation last year. Arkansas won rather handily over Kansas State.  Finally, while Auburn beat Virginia handily, Vanderbilt would fall to Big East champ Cincinnati.

But because they keep winning the big one, the media will continue to harp on the SEC as the elite league in the FBS. And while I am supposed to root for USC to end their dominance, I am not feeling it. Especially for a team that has its scholarships cut and then uses a loophole created by the NCAA to offer a scholarship to former PSU running back Silas Redd. But for all the talent they have on offense, the Trojans had better have watched last season's BCS title game. Cause offense wasn't really the reason Bama won their second title in three years.

So, when will the SEC's dominance of college football come to an end? I am not entirely sure. One thing is for certain: even if they don't win the BCS this season, don't expect them to all of a sudden fade into the background.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic Sized Hangover??

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, have finally come to an end.

Let the debate begin, but there is one thing we can all agree on: despite this feeling like the longest two weeks of the calendar year, it still seems like it went way too fast.

Many of us will wait and wonder how long it will be until we see someone win more than the 8 gold medals that Michael Phelps won in the 2008 games in Beijing, China.

Others will debate that this year's version of the USA basketball dream, despite its close margin of victories, would have been able to beat the 1992 squad that won gold in Barcelona rather easily.

Then there are others who would marvel at the people who underwent great personal struggle just to make it to these olympic games. One person that stands out among others is Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter and double leg amputee who competed not only in the 400 meter dash but also the 4x400 meter relay for his home country. Maybe more shocking than the fact that Pistorius was able to make it to London was that many people argued that his prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage when running these races. I myself am no doctor, but having been a former long distance runner, I can't begin to fathom how prosthetics would be better than real legs, unless of course they were bionic.

Maybe, however, the biggest regret that I have, and I am sure I am not alone in this, is that Americans as whole have become biased to celebrate only those athletes who win gold for our country.

We don't get excited for Jessica Ennis, the gold medalist for home country Great Britain in the heptathlon, and currently the unofficial greatest female athlete in the world.

Nor do we raise an eyebrow for fellow countryman Mo Farah, winner of both the men's 10000m and 5000 m runs-someone who pulled off an enormous double in his own right.

Then there is Jamaica's Usain Bolt. Fastest man in the world, he claims to be as dominant in his sport as Muhammad Ali was in his, or Michael Jordan was in his. Critics such as former US Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis take offense to such statements, claiming Bolt must have been on steroids. Other athletes would argue that 100 meter dash is not as technical as boxing or basketball, so you really can't compare the sports.

Of course, at the end of the day, all of this talk seems to leave us with an Olympic Sized Hangover, as we can't wait for the next round of  Summer Games to begin in Rio in 2012. We don't care what analysts think Michael Phelps will do, we want to see for ourselves that he has really gone into hibernation. We loved watching May-Treanor and Walsh-Jennings dominate the sand across the pond so much we hope their already thinking of South America four years from now.

And finally, just as Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman entertained us in this the 30th Olympiad, we can't wait for the show-stoppers of the 31st. Olympiad.

What was your favorite moment of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games? I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Lebron James isn't or will ever be a true Champion

So Lebron James finally won his first NBA Championship last night, as the Miami Heat easily dispatched of the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five to win the best of seven series 4-1.

As the confetti and trophy presenation to James, Dwyane Wade, and their Miami cohorts began, it got me to thinking: Is Lebron James one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball?

If you look at what he has accomplished to date, all the accolades would indicate that he is, in fact, among the best to ever lace them up. Multiple regular season MVP.  MVP of the all-star game. And, as we all saw last night, he can now add another title to his resume: NBA Champion.

But does Lebron really deserve to be called a champion?

No, and it's not even close.

Do champions run away when the going gets tough? No. Lebron felt that it was ultimately too hard to win a championship in Cleveland, and decided the alternative, moving to Miami to team with the Heat's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, was what he needed to get over the hump. Never mind that in the history of the NBA, only one other person has ever won a championship leaving the team that drafted him in his prime: Shaquille O'Neal.

O'Neal, unlike James, did not make a spectacle when he moved from Orlando to Los Angeles. He also did not claim he would win multiple titles upon arriving in LA even before he had his first ring. He went out and played ball, and would go on to win three titles with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. It was never about him, just about the team.

That was the big thing that angered me last night and prompted me to write this post today. It seemed that last night was less about the Miami Heat winning, and more about Lebron James getting his first title. Even ABC decided to get in on the act, paying homage to the struggle that Lebron had to finally become an NBA Champion.

But was it really that much of a struggle? Lebron had been pampered throughout high school, playing on the best AAU teams during the summer. He would go on to put his school, Akron St.-Vincent-St. Mary, on the basketball map with his stellar play.

Then it was on to the NBA. Within a few years of joining the Cavaliers, he had them in the playoffs.  A couple years after that, he even had them in the NBA finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Despite getting swept by the Spurs in that series, 4-0, it was assumed the experience he gained would allow him to take the next step and bring Cleveland its first ever NBA title.

However, three years later Lebron and the Cavs still were without rings. The time had come for James to make what would be the hardest decision of his career to that point. How would he handle it? With the humility of a champion? Hardly, unless you consider an hour long special dedicated to a decision that could have been issued via a 30 second press release humble. But at least there was the glimmer of hope that the greatest athlete state of Ohio had ever seen would tough it out to bring his hometown a championship.

Yet there's the rub. James decided, in fact, it wasn't going to be easy to win a title in Cleveland, and thus bolted for Miami to team up with his buddy Dwyane.  Of course, there are many who felt that David Robinson would never win a championship with the Spurs. Robinson's loyalty would be rewarded, as he would finally get his first ring in 2003.

And everyone thinks that all this hatred for Lebron revolves around his decision to leave his 'hometown.' Certainly that has something to do with it. I mean, at the very least he could have thanked the city of Cleveland for its support after he left town, but did he do so? No, to this day he has hardly acknowledged the role Cleveland and the Cavs played in his development as a player.

Then there is the infamous pep rally held in Miami that would lead the rest of the nation (save for south beach) to pile on the list of the king's haters.

But the real reason Lebron isn't, or will never be, a champion? He took the easy way out. He could have stayed in Cleveland, and tried to make it work with the team that drafted him. Even if he had never won a title at least he would have gone down as one of the all time greats. Yet he left his former team, one that bent over backwards trying to make him happy, for one that had amassed a collection of superstars built to win a championship. So the question then wasn't if he would win a title but when. Sure he has worked on his game, but maybe not as much as if he stayed on the Cavs.  He has also made his teammates around him better players as well. But it is much easier to do when you team up with two other all-star players.

So Heat fans(including those who joined the bandwagon in 2010) you can rejoice that Lebron has finally won his first title.  Because he is definitely one of the great players. But a champion? Not necessarily.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Memorial Tournament: Tiger Woods is Human, Just Like the Rest Of Us

As the Memorial Tournament, held in Dublin, Ohio, not far from where I currently live, came to a close yesterday, the big story revolved around the PGA's most popular (and, according to whom you talk to, its most polarizing) player, one Tiger Woods. Not only did Woods' fifth victory at Murifield Country Club set a tournament record, but, he also tied the immortal Jack Nicklaus with his 73rd victory in professional golf, and, at the age of 36, in 10 fewer years than the 'Golden Bear' did.

Yet despite such a dramatic comeback, there are still people that have trouble separating Tiger Woods the golfer from Tiger Woods the man. While many people are aware of the spectacular birdie saving chip shot Woods made on the 16th hole on Sunday, that ultimately help propel him to victory, few may be aware of the drama that awaited him on the 17th, where he would miss an attempt for a second consecutive birdie. I could be mistaken, but it has come to my knowledge that while the majority of the gallery was silent after this miss, one person took particular joy in this failure. So much so that it rose to the level of heckling, where this person was almost escorted off the premises.

I bring this instance up for two reasons: the first is to illustrate the proper decorum for attending a golf tournament. Many of you have seen the movie 'Happy Gilmore' starring Adam Sandler(if you haven't I suggest you do so now), where Sandler's title character gets heckled repeatedly. Well, that only works in the movie. No matter how much you dislike a golfer, it is an unwritten rule that as a fan you should not yell 'you suck, jackass!' or anything similar to a professional golfer at a live event. It is also not cool to climb the TV tower to get a better view, no matter how much you want to be on TV or how much you have had to drink. Such things might be tolerated at other sporting events such as a basketball, baseball, or football game, but in golf, the so called 'gentelman's game' they are forbidden, part of the unwritten code of etiquette.

The next is to rehash a topic that will be brought up whenever talking about Tiger Woods from now to the end of time, that is his personal life. It is understandable that people should be angry at Tiger for the way he behaved in his personal life. However, we have to remember that he is human, and he has apologized for his trangressions to his fans and his family. If you no longer want to be a fan, then so be it. But what purpose does continuous heckling of this man serve? If I surveyed my readers I am sure I would find that no one is perfect themselves. Matter of fact, I will admit I am far from perfect, that I have made my share of mistakes and asked for forgiveness when I needed to do so.

Athletes are human, like the rest of us, and they are prone to mistakes. Many people would be shocked to know that the man the call 'Larry Legend', the one and only Larry Bird, fathered a daughter out of wedlock and had ignored her existence for a number of years. Bird was one of my favorite athletes growing up as a child, and even though this revelation is saddening, he remains among my favorite basketball players. Michael Jordan, called the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) by many, divorced his wife several years ago. Even guys like Joe Dimaggio and Babe Ruth had their dark sides, as both were known as womanizers for starters.

The question then becomes, are professional athletes role models? My answer to that question is yes AND no. Yes, as figures in the public spotlight, they should carry themselves with a certain amount of professionalism and class. What they do on and off the field, course, diamond, rink, etc can have an impact on the lives of fans of all ages. On the other hand, athletes are human, like the rest of us, and, as such, they are not perfect. Shouldn't it be up to parents to ultimately instill a sense of right and wrong in their children? Can we not root for an athlete while not necessarily condoning the choices that he or she may have made in their personal lives?

Bottom line is if you don't like Tiger Woods, then don't root for him. But heckling him is not only in poor taste, it also goes against the unwritten rules of golf.  And as fans, we can root for whomever we like, but we also have to abide by the rules each sport has set forth for spectactors.

Monday, May 28, 2012

NBA Playoffs: San Antonio Spurs not flashy, just fundamental

Welcome back, fans. It has been a nine month hiatus since my last post, and for that I apologize.

The NBA playoffs are now down to their version of the final four, and in the west, there couldn't be two more contrasting styles of ball.

On the one hand you have the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by the high octane offense of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And the passionate play of sixth man of the year James Harden and center Kendrick Perkins

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is the San Antonio Spurs, 101-98 winners of last night's game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. They aren't flashy, as you more than likely won't see them on a ESPN Sportscenter highlight reel. The Spurs big three, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli, are as humble a trio you'll find in the league, each deferring to the other during post game interviews. And to round out the team you will find role players like Thiago Splitter, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner, guys who might not make the starting rosters of half the teams in the NBA this season, yet who are essential to the Spurs starting the playoffs 9-0 and two series away from their fifth championship in franchise history.

That's right folks. Of the remaining four teams, the one that fans, media, coaches, and even other players don't want to see win it all isn't the Miami Heat. Not by a long shot. No that would be the Spurs. A team that plays a brand of ball that is as drab as some as the black and white uniforms they wear. Whose star players have personalities as about exciting as their head coach, Greg Poppovich, who can be seen walking the sidelines with the same stoic expression whether San Antonio is winning or losing. Maybe one day after he has retired from the game 'Pop' as his players call him will enter the World Series of Poker.

Yet of all the four teams remaining, the San Antonio Spurs are also the ones I'll be rooting for to cut down the nets next month. In this day and age where it seems basketball, especially at the professional level, has become a collection of one on one battles, the Spurs still play the game the way it was designed to be played. As a team. The spread the ball around the court, looking for the best available shot. They play team defense, not measured by the number of blocks or steals they garner, but rather by rebounding and taking away their opponents' path to the basket.  And, last night's game notwithstanding, they understand that limiting turnovers goes a long way to winning a basketball game.

So the Spurs, just like their big man, Tim Duncan, aka 'Big Fundamental,' play fundamentally sound team basketball. So what? Flashy is in. Rim shaking dunks and blocked shots are what make the NBA fun to watch, right? That is what is wrong with the game, however. Fundamentally sound basketball is now a punchline, rather than something that gets proper attention. Of course a thunderous dunk every now and then is exciting, but  how about going back to the other end of the court to play defense once in a while? How about making free throws in the crucial moments of the game rather than complain about officiating?

And teams from other leagues can learn from the Spurs as well. The NFL is a prime example. Guys like James Harrison and Brandon Merriweather can complain all day long the league is out to get them, yet at the end of the day if they practiced fundamentally sound tackling there wouldn't be an issue. Proper form tacking requires the defender to wrap the guy with two arms, his head up, driving his shoulder into the offensive player. How hard is that? The kind of thing they taught me in middle school football over 20 years ago.

So while the rest of the nation(save for the city of San Antonio) roots for OKC vs Miami, I will be quitely hoping the Spurs' big three get what could be their last chance for a championship.