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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blue Jackets look to have breakout season

On the eve of the season opener for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the goal is simple: win. Win enough games to earn a playoff spot. Win enough games to earn one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference, assuring them home ice advantage at in the first round of the playoffs at least.

With a potential line that includes Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno David Clarkson, the newly acquired Brandon Saad, and (when he returns from injury) defender Ryan Murray, that doesn't sound too hard (at least on paper). After all, last season the CBJ were able to amass 42 wins despite the fact they were one of the most injured squads in the NHL.

So it should be easy for the Jackets to take the next step and have the kind of breakout season fans are expecting, right? Not exactly. For whatever reason, it seems that the Blue Jackets (playoffs or not) are notorious for getting off to slow starts. And for a team that is looking to secure one of the top four seeds in the East, you just can't do that. Fans and experts will point to injuries (time missed by goalie Bob- Sergei Bobrovsky was certainly huge) and unfufilled expectations (see former Blue Jacket alums Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter, among others) as reasons the CBJ just can't seem to break through.

But whatever the reason, the fact remains that Columbus can ill afford to have a slow start again. Especially considering the fact that they not only missed the playoffs by nine points last season, but they also only finished five points better than Philadelphia. It's not going to be easy as the Jackets face the New York Rangers(a team that they lost the season series to in '14-15) in the first to games.

This year will be different. At least Todd Richards and the Blue Jacket faithful hope so.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ohio State Football: 5 Things

As the college football landscape has moved from the BCS to a playoff system, it appears more emphasis has been placed on who the top four teams in the nation are rather than the top 25. The Ohio State Buckeyes remained no. 1 in several polls this morning, but clearly there is debate as to whether they are truly the best team in the nation.

In the heat of the moment yesterday afternoon, I texted my buddies there was no way Ohio State deserved to be ranked no. 1 after their up and down performance against Indiana. As the rest of the games shook out and teams like Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and UCLA all lost, I cannot say that statement is totally accurate. As a matter of fact, I only know three things for certain: Ohio State is still undefeated; they did not play like the no. 1 team in the nation; they have a lot of room for improvement. Having said that here are my 5 biggest takeaways from yesterday's contest:

1. Turnovers, not poor play-calling, appear to be the core of the Buckeyes' offensive woes.
Through five games this season, the Buckeyes are -4 in turnover margin, turning the ball over 13 times. Compare that to last season when the Buckeyes were +3 in turnover differential. As a matter of fact, dating back to the national championship, Ohio State is now -8 in turnover margin. Championship teams do not turn the ball over, and even though the margin would suggest otherwise most experts would agree that the Bucks were fortunate to beat Oregon in last season's finale despite committing four turnovers. If they don't learn how to protect the football better, there's no way they will punch a ticket to Dallas or Miami.

2. The Buckeyes compounded the turnover issue with boneheaded penalties.
Yesterday against Indiana alone, Ohio State committed 8 penalties for 109 yards. Truth of the matter is there are very few games will be played mistake free. But many of the penalties, especially on the defensive side, were clearly unnecessary. They extended several Indiana drives and (along with the aforementioned turnovers) made the score look closer than it should have been.

3. On a positive note the Buckeyes finally got Zeke Elliot going, a trend they hope to continue next week against Maryland.
Elliot had the game Ohio State faithful were waiting for, rushing for 274 yards and 3 TDs. While they don't need 200+ yards from him every week, it is important they get him going early. Had Zeke scored at least two of those TDs in the first half they would have likely broken Indiana's spirit.

4.Cardale Jones might be operating on a short leash as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback.
The fourth-year junior has now thrown five interceptions and five TDs through five games. Looking back at last season, I noticed that J.T. Barrett had also thrown five picks through his first five games. The difference is that many times Jones appears to indecisive, which has in large part contributed to Ohio State's ineffectiveness. Barrett also had some growing pains last year as a freshman, but he was able to work past them. I'm not going to say Cardale can't get past these issues; whether Urban Meyer lets him do so is a totally different story altogether.

5. There is still a lot of football to be played, so everyone needs to be patient.
Fans and experts alike want to argue that Ohio State isn't the best team in the nation. And they didn't play like it yesterday afternoon in Bloomington. But it is also true that many people had written off the Buckeyes last season after their loss to Virginia Tech. With nine more weeks until the selection committee decides which four teams will participate in the second college football playoff, anything can happen.

Friday, October 2, 2015

College Football, Week 5: Playoff Contenders Emerge

As we move into conference play portion of the 2015 college football portion, the playoff contenders and pretenders begin to separate themselves. And while last week unofficially eliminated Oregon from the title picture, you can be sure that there will be more pretenders revealed this Saturday afternoon.

Chief among those games that will decide the playoff contenders and pretenders is the tilt between Clemson and Notre Dame. While it may be argued that neither team can lose this game, this contest may be more important to the Irish. Because the lack of a conference championship certainly means Notre Dame more than likely has to run the table to get invited to Miami or Dallas.

(As a side note while most teams play conference games this week Notre Dame versus Clemson is a no conference game due to the Irish's status as an independent. Atlthough technically they are a member of the ACC. But I don't have time for that debate today.)

Of course, that is not to say the Tigers won't be prepared for this contest. Deshaun Watson hopes to live up to the hype he garnered from high school with a victory in this marquee matchup. And they don't want to let down the Clemson faithful at home.

So the Irish hope their luck will continue for another week behind backup quarterback Deshone Kiser. But this just might be the week their luck runs out My prediction is Clemson 27, Notre Dame 17

Other teams in action:

1 Ohio State at Indiana: Buckeyes finally begin to put it together on offense. Ohio State 52, Indiana 25

3 Ole Miss at 25 Florida: In 2006 the Rebels handed would-be national champion Florida their only loss of the season. Gators hope to repay the favor but fall short. Ole Miss 20, Florida 19

13 Alabama at 8 Georgia: Nick Chubb's heisman effort isn't enough to in this battle of SEC West vs
SEC East.  Alabama 28, Georgia 21

Arizona State at 7 UCLA: Bruins continue their march toward one of the four playoff spots.  UCLA  42, Arizona State 14

Bonus pick:

Navy over Air Force: Mids get payback after losing commander in chief trophy last year, and in doing so put themselves in position to bring the trophy to Annapolis.