follow me on twitter

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.