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Monday, December 30, 2013

Cleveland Browns Once Again Miss The Point

I'd love to be in a Cleveland Browns war room right now. I'd be tearing each one of those idiots in the so-called front office a new one so fast they'd have to call security to escort me out.

After writing earlier in the season that the Browns' organization was the NFL's version of the movie 'Groundhog Day,' I thought that, despite their struggles in 2013, this team was headed in the right direction. After all, one cannot expect a team to make the playoffs when you have poor quarterback play combined with a mediocre run game, can they?

Well, according to the Cleveland Browns' front office, it was win with mediocre talent or bust from the get-go for the now fired Rob Chudzinski.

Never mind that the three quarterbacks 'Chud' had to work with wouldn't be long term solutions for any other team in the league. Brian Hoyer did lead the team to a 3-2 record and had the Browns atop the AFC North before succumbing to an ACL injury against Buffalo that would end his season.

It's safe to say that Chud's alternatives at that point, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, couldn't lead a horse to water if their lives depended on it. Okay, maybe that is a little extreme but you get my point. Even if these guys had the talent of the Denver Broncos or the New England Patriots around them, they still wouldn't be able to lead the Browns to a winning record.

What made matters worse is that when the Browns got rid of their most marketable commodity, running back Trent Richardson, their solution was to bring in the over the hill Willis McGahee. McGahee would average a paltry 2.7 yards per carry in Richardson's place. Browns' fans knew that McGahee was merely a filler until the offseason, but they were still amazed at the ineptitude of the team's running attack.

Yet, after all the smoke cleared and the season was over, the Browns did not hesitate to pull the trigger on a coach who wasn't even given a fair shot to prove himself. Once again the Browns believe that they know better than the rest of the league, and their fans, how to build a winning team.

Or do they?

Conventional wisdom says that you win in the NFL by establishing consistency at the head coaching and quarterback positions. The Browns have yet to do either, and while they claim they are looking for long-term solutions for both jobs, their actions at this point clearly speak louder than their words.

Since rejoining the league in 1999, the Browns are the only team in the AFC North that hasn't won a division title. It's no coincidence that they are also the only team in the AFC North to have more head coaches (6) than winning seasons (2).

If you are a Browns season ticket holder, I am not sure how you don't demand a refund on your 2013 season from Jimmy Haslam and company at this point. I can remember him last season sitting with the fans and talking to them to get their perspective. I doubt the conversation went like this:

'Hey Jimmy, we're glad you have decided to buy the Browns and put all your efforts into making them a winner. Do whatever it takes to turn this team around. Even if that means firing the head coach you just hired when he fails to take the team to the playoffs. Let's git 'er done, Mr. Haslam.'

Instead, I can envision the back-and-forth between the diehard Cleveland fan and Mr. Haslam III going something like this:

'Mr. Haslam, congratulations on your purchase of the Cleveland Browns. We like the enthusiasm you bring to this organization and hope you can help turn this downtrodden franchise around. While I feel there are many areas where this team can improve, establishing some consistency at the head coach and quarterback positions would be my first order of business. Thanks for asking for my input.'

What a joke. The Browns are doomed to another 10 or 11 loss season next year. I have heard that management's replacement for Chud is Josh McDaniels, the man who didn't even last two years in Denver. Like I believe that he is going to last that long in Cleveland. And it might not be long before Tim Tebow is Cleveland's starting quarterback.

The bottom line is that, when it comes to professional sports (especially football), a winning culture is not built overnight. It takes time.  But that is something that will never happen if the establishment keeps trying to 'blow the whole thing up' every year or two.

Cleveland fans, those who live in the city, I sympathize with you, even though I haven't been to a game in over three years (Living three hours away, can you blame me? Why would I spend $60 and 10 hours on a Sunday--the time it takes to get to and from the stadium, plus the four hours spent watching the game--just to see the Browns lose, when I can watch them from my living room just the same?). Thing is, my patience with management is beginning to run very thin. And I don't trust they are building a winning team at all.

Enjoy your losing team. I guess it's better than no football at all. Yet it is becoming a train wreck that I'd rather not watch anymore.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Army vs. Navy: College Football's Dormant Rivalry

As another college football regular season comes to an end, we once again find ourselves in a familiar place. With all of the FBS conference championships decided, and the bowl matchups set, there is one game left to play.

Army vs. Navy. Tradition. Honor. History. Pageantry. Cadets. Midshipmen.

There are many sports fans who don't understand the rivalry, even as old as it is, simply because neither team has been nationally relevant since the mid 1960s. Yet as someone who is related to three alumni of the United States Naval Academy, I can tell you that few rivalries across the country are bigger than the one between the schools from Annapolis, Maryland, and West Point, New York.

The participants in today's game may not hold such bitter feelings toward each other like the Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama rivalries. Both Navy and Army want to beat each other just as badly nonetheless.

The real problem with this rivalry is that, at least recently, it has been one-sided. In fact, Navy's current 11 game win streak over Army is the longest any FBS (Football Bowl Subdivison) school holds over its arch rival in the nation. It also represents the longest winning streak that either team has enjoyed in the 113 years this series has been played.

And while I might be a little biased in my projection, I believe this afternoon Navy will make it 12 straight victories over the Army Black Knights. The Midshipmen, led by sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds, boast a rushing attack that ranks third in the nation (Reynolds himself has rushed for 1,124 yards and 26 TDs ). Their record not only includes wins against Indiana, Air Force, and Pitt among others, but they also came within a touchdown of beating Notre Dame for the fourth time in seven years. If Army is to have any chance, they will need to get to Reynolds.

Yet things just don't look that promising for Army in this the 114th meeting between these two teams. While Navy, at 7-4, has already accepted a bid to the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (to be played on December 30th against Middle Tennessee), Army, at 3-8 will be once again spending the holidays at home. And while you can be sure the Black Knights will give the Middies everything they've got, in the end, it may not be enough for Rich Ellerson's squad.

Of course, the game isn't played on paper, and on any given Saturday anything could happen. While I personally don't want to see Ken Niumatalolo's Navy squad lose today, it could be just the thing to bring this currently dormant rivalry back to life.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

BCS Madness: SEC once Again Represented in NCG

In the aftermath of Ohio State's 34-24 loss to Michigan State last night, I was filled with emotion. I was calling for assistants to be fired. As I checked social media, I noticed many fans claiming head coach Urban Meyer to be overpaid. And, above all else, I was left wondering how in the world could a team like the Spartans, who barely managed 14 points the week before against Minnesota, could score 34 points against the Buckeyes.

As Auburn and Florida State would go on to win their respective championship games, the rest of sports world felt validated thinking the Buckeyes were indeed overrated. Truth be told, they may very well be.

But as I woke up this morning and wrapped my head around what had just transpired in the last 24 hours, a very calming thought came over me. I realized that Ohio State may not be the second best team in the nation, but that doesn't necessarily mean they underachieved this season. Or that they didn't put forth the best effort they could have on the field last night. In fact, it could be that Michigan State was the better team. That's the thing about college football, anything can happen on any given Saturday. If you need further proof, just ask Alabama.

And so it is that just as we have March Madness at the end of basketball season, at the end of the football season we have BCS Madness. Madness not because the the SEC is once again represented in the championship game, or that the state of Alabama is vying for its fifth straight BCS National Championship. Nor is it madness because the preseason favorites to win it all, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes, will be reduced to mere spectators come January 7, 2014. But it is madness because anyone who honestly thought they knew FSU and Auburn would be playing for the title are simply fooling themselves.

I have a simple message to all Buckeye fans: chill out. We all knew Urban Meyer's team was going to lose eventually, and, even though you'd hope it wasn't until next season, sometimes it just happens. To be honest, many of us have been brainwashed in to believing that Ohio State should win every contest just by showing up, that somehow the Big Ten doesn't have any talent outside of Columbus, Ohio( I wonder where someone would get an idea like that).

And if it really bothers you that much the SEC once again is playing for the national title, you need to get a life. I have long been a proponent of the theory that while the SEC is a good conference, it is not head and shoulders above the rest of the college football world like mainstream media (read:ESPN) would have you believe. If you don't agree with me, well, watch the 2013 bowl season and decide for yourself.

So enjoy this last year of BCS Madness, because next year we get to debate the fairness of the newly formed playoff system. And be glad that even if we have another team from the south in the championship game, at least it isn't Nick Saban's Crimson Tide again.

Friday, December 6, 2013

College Football, Conference Championship Edition: Urban Meyer's Quest

As the 2013 college football season slowly winds down, we finally get to put to rest which team (or conference for that matter) can lay claim to best in the nation. Or, if our team doesn't win this weekend, we can argue why next year's playoff system will prove they are the best team.

For Ohio State, it finally gets to play a meaningful game for the first time in two seasons. Try telling that to the Buckeye faithful, however, and you're sure to get an earful. But the national perception remains that the Buckeyes, winners of 24 straight games, have failed to play a single game of significance since the fall of 2011. Either their competition has been too inferior(read: weak nonconference schedule or inferior Big Ten opponents), or their bowl ban of 2012 didn't allow them to participate in the postseason.

Yet few outside Buckeye Nation can truly appreciate the job Urban Meyer has done in his two years as head coach of Ohio State. A man who many OSU fans had mixed feelings about--his detractors worried that he would bolt for a better job at the first chance--I think he has won over even his harshest critics in Columbus nowadays. Winning 24 straight games tends to have that effect--regardless of mainstream media's opinion about him.

Nationally, Meyer's winning streak is not taken seriously for several reasons. First and foremost, it is assumed that Ohio State--who must play a schedule weaker than teams in the SEC, PAC-12, and even the ACC--would not be able to go undefeated if they played outside the Big Ten. Yet I would counter that even Alabama would find it hard to run the table two straight seasons in the Big Ten. Let's not forget that most teams in the SEC never have to worry about playing in adverse weather, let alone traveling outside the southeast.

Then there is the misconception that Meyer is constantly politicking for his team to be amongst the BCS championship contenders. I don't know where that rumor started(maybe it is someone holding a grudge from his days at Florida) but in my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the only thing I have really heard Meyer definitively say about the BCS is that it is a flawed system, something I think we can all agree on.

In fact, with all the distractions that have been placed in front of Urban Meyer and his team, it is quite impressive that they have once again reached the 12-0 mark. At the beginning of the season off-the-field scandals involving Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby threatened to derail the Buckeyes' season before they even played a single snap. Then an injury to Braxton Miller (and the subsequent stellar play of backup Kenny Guiton) led many to wonder whether there was a quarterback controversy in Columbus. And, as if those weren't enough, a season ending injury to safety and senior captain Christian Bryant dealt a serious blow to what was considered the Scarlet and Gray's biggest strength on defense, the secondary.

Yet here the Buckeyes are, two games away from a possible eighth national championship, and a 26 game win streak. And it is all because Meyer doesn't care what the media thinks of him. He doesn't care whether Florida State or Auburn win their respective games. And, when his Buckeyes step onto Lucas Oil Field at 8:15 p.m Saturday night, he will care even less about who is playing in the NCG (National Championship Game). Love him or hate him, you have to respect Urban Meyer, not just for the job he has done at Ohio State, but for what he has meant to college football in general.

On to Conference Championship Saturday Predictions:

17 Oklahoma at 6 Oklahoma State(Not the official Big 12 Championship, but if OSU wins they win the Big 12): Not sure how a team that got embarrassed by a now unranked West Virginia squad can be considered a top 10 team, but maybe that is a discussion for another time. The Cowboys not only ended Baylor's quest for a national title two weeks ago, but they also humbled them in the process. Plus it always seems this rivalry goes for OSU when the game is played in Stillwater. Oklahoma State 40, Oklahoma 17 

16 UCF at Southern Methodist: Many believe that George O'Leary should be the unanimous choice for coach of the year honors, due in part to his turnaround of the Knights' football program. Yet he also hasn't had to deal with the national scrutiny that an Urban Meyer or Jimbo Fisher has had. UCF 35, SMU 10

25 Texas at 9 Baylor (Baylor can win the Big 12 with a win and a loss by Oklahoma State earlier in the day): Bryce Petty announces he is returning for his senior season. A prominent University of Texas athletic booster assures the public that Mack Brown isn't going anywhere. Neither announcement actually means that the Longhorns have a legitimate shot of pulling off the upset. Baylor 42, Texas 24

5 Missouri vs. 3 Auburn (SEC Championship): The Tigers are a team of destiny this season, knocking off defending champ Alabama and Georgia on last second plays. The Tigers are also the victims of very poor timing, as an injury to starting quarterback James Franklin earlier in the season might have cost them a shot at the national title. So I'm picking the Tigers to win this one. What's that you say, both schools are the Tigers? Well, I think you knew this was coming, but this is my upset special. James Franklin delivers another stellar performance. Missouri 31, Auburn 24

7 Stanford at 11 Arizona State (Pac-12 Championship): I haven't really seen the Sun Devils play, but they seem to be rolling. I look for it to continue. ASU 17, Stanford 14

20 Duke vs 1 Florida State: Seminoles are second upset... sorry Duke, this isn't basketball. Although you will have home field advantage(the game is played in Charlotte), I think you'll need more than a raucous crowd to help you. But I do think it will be a competitive game. Florida State 34, Duke 21

2 Ohio State vs 10 Michigan State: Hard for me to pick against the Buckeyes, even if the Spartans do have the best defense in the Big Ten. No one in the conference has been able to stop Carlos Hyde. Michigan State saw the Wolverines blueprint for beating the Buckeyes, but unfortunately they don't have the players to win a shootout.  Ohio State 27, Michigan State 16