Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week 1: College Football Kickoff

We're going to attempt to weed our way through week one of the College Football season avoiding all things penalty and punishment. That means no more about Coral Gables, Columbus bores me, and I'm side-stepping recent events in the 'Bayou. With that...

Let's get after it!

Who is the 2011 version of James Madison vs. Virginia Tech, a shocker in the early going?!? I'm going to go out on a limb and say with a ton of confidence that the preseason twelfth ranked Gamecocks of South Carolina should be on upset alert against East Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Forget that the Pirates of ECU return quarterback Dominque Davis, second to only Sooner signal caller Landry Jones in completions a season ago, they've got a ton going their way. (1) A neutral field, this one isn't in Columbia, SC they've got to meet in Charlotte. (2) Spurrier is still playing games with his quarterback, the oft-suspended Stephen Garcia. (3) You saw how great the Gamecocks handled hype last season, a 28-31 loss to Kentucky just a week after knocking off defending National Champions Alabama. (4) South Carolina has got a massive conference game with Georgia a week from Saturday, I'm guessing they've begun looking past East Carolina to Athens. And (5) Who's East Carolina?!? We know the Gamecocks and Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, and all-world corner Stephon Gilmore. Exactly my point, you don't know the Pirates and I'm sure they've been geeked out about this game for months?!? Sure, I'll put a little something on 20.5 point dogs.

All eyes on Cowboys Stadium, and it's not even a Sunday! The preseason #3 Oregon Ducks vs. #4 Bayou Bengals in week 1 at a neutral site?!?! Despite recent events in Baton Rouge, it shouldn't take away from the type of game we're going to see on Saturday night in primetime. We're talking two of the fastest teams in the country kicking off the college football season, that's how big this is. One of these two National Title contenders is going to wake-up on Sunday morning with their championship hopes vanished before they could get going. When is the last time we saw programs of this caliber laying their season on the line in week 1?!?! Kenjon Barner and Darron Thomas lit up New Mexico to the tune of 72-0 in week 1 last season en route to their National Championship appearance, that isn't happening on Saturday. New Mexico didn't have LSU senior safety Brandon Taylor, and John Chavis' amazingly fast defense. Ducks & Tigers put their necks on the chopping block on Saturday night. Quack, Quack.

Boise State, Kellen Moore @ The Georgia Dome vs the Dawgs. It's a man move for both teams. Georgia knows that a win against Boise State does nothing but help them in the polls as the Broncos rip through the rest of their schedule. For Boise, it's their annual move to give themselves relevance in the National Title bid at seasons end. Last season it was Virginia Tech (a win 33-30), in 2009 it was Oregon (a win 19-8), and now it's Georgia's turn. However, I'd caution Boise at stepping into the SEC looking to snag their weighted win. Alec Ogletree isn't garnering preseason hype in Athens just because he's switching positions to inside linebacker, he's that good. Heisman hopeful Kellen Moore better keep his head up and Boise State better take Georgia seriously. In his second full season under center at Georgia, Aaron Murray looks to improve on a season which saw him complete 61% of his passes while throwing only eight interceptions on top of twenty-four touchdowns. The Broncos get a win here, but it isn't walk in the park.

My big Heisman expectations; You thought I was going to see this season open without pushing all my chips into a Heisman candidate? While I don't believe he's even the best football player in his state, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones is the Heisman frontrunner. Jones will jump out very early when Oklahoma heads to Doak Campbell and Tallahassee against Florida State in two weeks. Against Florida State's secondary last season, the Sooner quarterback threw for well over three hundred yards and four touchdowns. Senior receiver Ryan Broyles and Jones will hook early and often this season separating himself from the Heisman pack and the contingent pulling for Boise's Kellen Moore and Standford's Andrew Luck.

Let's get to it already!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Out In Front

Put on your big boy pants, it's Red Sox vs. Yankees mid-week. I'm picking this up in the fourth inning of the first of three at Boston's historic Fenway Park, with five games left between these two American League East heavyweights, what does the road ahead look like for the both of them!?!?

First up, (3) burning questions . . .

Q.) Do the Yankees need a definitive #2 frontline starter to win the World Series?!?!

A.) You can chalk this up as a good problem to have. Sabathia has notched 17-wins, while the Yanks have hung another 63 up in the standings. Do I think it's important, of course but this is a question you ask yourselves when you've guaranteed a postseason ticket already and with a month remains. All sarcasm aside, the Yankees have a second starter in 24-year old Dominican born Ivan Nova. There is enough veterans on this team to carry them if Nova enters his first postseason and flops in his first or second start. If Sabathia has to battle the likes of Verlander, I'm comfortable with the Yankees offense and a strong six innings from Nova.

Q.) Do the Red Sox need a return of the injured Clay Bucholz to lock up their rotation for the post season?!

A.) No. It's something they took care of before the deadline by acquiring Eric Bedard. When you can roll out the best offense top to bottom in the major leagues and Jon Lester paired with Josh Beckett as your #1 and #2 respectively, you're set. Bedard and John Lackey will battle out the remainder of the season to see who gets the ball in the number three slot, my money is on John Lackey. However, with the ability to roll out Alfredo Aceves (2.86 ERA) in the event that either of them lets it go early and you still have a veteran like Tim Wakefield with veteran playoff experience, you've covered all your questions in the rotation.

Q.) Is there a worthy opponent for the only two 80-win American League East frontrunners in the postseason?!?

Excluding the National League and the Philadelphia Phillies (85 wins), I don't buy it. While the eventual American League Central champion Tigers have the hottest pitcher in the A.L., ace Justin Verlander, they've gone 4-8 against New York and Boston respectively. As far as Texas goes, they've got an offense that can mash with anyone but in the Red Sox most recent series against Texas, they took three of four from them in Arlington. This weekend the Rangers visit Boston with three of their 10-win starters going, we'll have a better idea if they are legitimately a contender by Monday morning.

- - - - - - - -

Now to the Yankees. After wrapping up Sabathia's first win against Boston this season earlier tonight, the Yankees have got to feel pretty good about themselves. Taking two wins in Boston this week is critical for New York. While they'll get a boost from Alex Rodriguez once he returns from his thumb injury, they're a different group led by a different core. Gone are the days of Jeter, Posada, Rivera and Pettitte. This 2011 Yankees team are lead by second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielder Curtis Granderson in the midst of two outstanding seasons. The twenty-eight year old Cano is one of the toughest outs in the majors at this point. As far as Granderson goes, he's a legit MVP candidate. Granderson is atop the leaerboard in both homeruns and RBI. On pace to have career highs in nearly every offensive category, Granderson is much more than a table setter for the Yankees, he's the centerpiece of their lineup in 2011. The ageless Mariano Rivera has already hung 35 saves, good for second in the A.L., and 26-year old right hander David Robertson has given the Yankees a very strong set-up man who has allowed just eight earned runs in over 55 appearances. If New York can improve their season record against Boston from 2-10 heading into this series to say 7-11, they'll feel great going forward and into the postseason.

In Boston, things are just as good. Both Beckett and Lester appear to be healthy and pitching very well heading into September. A rejuvenated David Ortiz has had a excellent 2011 with a .313 batting average while slugging 27-homers. The previously mentioned Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon lock down a Red Sox bullpen that has been on top of their game all season long. With Adrian Gonzalez finding his homerun swing in Texas last week, All-Star Kevin Youkilis expected back from injury any day now, and Carl Crawford showing signs of life as of late, the Red Sox look to be headed into September looking fantastic. Pleasantly surprised by the play of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in his first full season behind the plate in Boston and that of utility outfielder Josh Reddick who has supplanted the injured J.D. Drew as the everyday right fielder, the Red Sox are getting help all over. Needing to go just 18-10 in their final twenty-eight games to reach 100 wins, the Red Sox are right on pace to where they thought they'd be heading into this season. Now imagine if they hadn't started out with a 2-10 record?

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Can't Get Enough

Some may recuse themselves from discussions revolving around the most electric athlete in sports. My response to you: Do you let your vegan girlfriend lay out your clothes for you as well?!?!

With Monday evenings news coming out of Philadelphia, the Eagles inking quarterback Michael Vick to a six year estimated $100 million dollar deal, I'll just nod and applaud Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, well played my friend, well played.

Hard to imagine isn't it?!? 18-Months removed from being the third option on the Philadelphia depth chart, thankful to just be in the midst of his second chance opportunity in The League, how far Vick has come. As referred to in a May 21st, 2009 article from The Worldwide Leader, "penniless and reviled for running a vicious dogfighting ring, but hopeful for a second chance at his once-charmed life as a star NFL quarterback" Vick couldn't have dreamt of the day when he yet again inked his name to a contract offering him over $100 million dollars, the second of his career.

With more guaranteed money the second time around, (approximately $3 million more), Michael Vick sits again on the cusp of a career that has promised so very, very much and aside from glimpses, we've yet to seriously see. The first time, Vick sidelined a promising career with a 19-month stint in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for his role in an inter-state dog fighting ring. Not exactly what we were hoping for from the kid out of Virginia Tech who gave the vaunted '98-'99 National Champion Florida State Seminoles all they could handle in 'Nawlins. This time?!? I'm not sure much will stop him, and the Eagles.

At 31-years old, a very old thirty-one, Mike Vick is a more mature quarterback than he's ever been. There is a reason the veteran quarterback reached career highs in passing yards, passer rating, touchdown passes, and all the while doing it with fewer passing attempts than he did his final two seasons in Atlanta. His interceptions were way down, a staple of quarterbacks who've matured into a player who makes plays rather than ends drives.

So, what is realistic from our latest anti-hero?!? A sure-to-be million dollar endorsement deal with Nike?!? Check. An NFL franchise throwing their entire off-season into improving every position around Vick?!?!? Check. An NFL owner foregoing the years taken off Falcons owner Arthur Blank's life?!? Check. A Super Bowl?!? To be continued.

And you wonder what it'll be like when Tiger Woods rocks the color red and sports a three-shot lead on a Sunday at a major?!?! I'm guessing something like this.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011


No, this isn't a quick post about the presidential candidacy of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, but about Raiders owner Al Davis!

Upon hearing that Davis was the only owner in the NFL to make a selection in Monday afternoon's NFL supplemental draft, I knew what had happened. A 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at his pro day and at six feet six inches tall, Al Davis was simply blown away by a very athletic problem child. This time, it was outcasted former Ohio State wunderkinds, quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Giving up their 3rd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, despite not having a pick in rounds two and four already, the Oakland Raiders reached for an athlete who makes what some would refer to as questionable decisions at best. Makes sense huh!?!

With veteran projects Jason Campbell (60+ NFL games under his belt), Kyle Boller (65+ games), and Trent Edwards (35+ games) all on board, another project quarterback was exactly what Oakland needed. In the dementia stage of his tenure as Raiders owner, Al Davis has pulled off another head scratcher at best.

(1) I can't say it enough, do you know what the most important attribute for NFL quarterbacks to have in order to be successful in this league is? Being a good decision-maker. Accepting money for autographs, exchanging Big Ten Championship rings for tattoos, and tip-toeing around receiving numerous other illicit benefits, all bad decisions. Trust me, it matters; see Michael Vick's pre-prison sentence career.

(2) If you have said the sentence, "Terrelle Pryor is going to learn to be a receiver / h-back in the NFL," you're way overpaying by selecting him and giving up your 2012 third-round pick. He's missed a ton of time already, has a pending five-game suspension, and furthermore has anyone seen him catch passes yet?


Don't let Pryor's super-agent Drew Rosenhaus fool you, there is no way Pryor is "tickled" to be headed to Oakland, no chance. Let alone the simple fact that a best case scenario would have been to get selected by a team with clear intentions for what to do with your athleticism, any team with an owner who opted for PowerPoint presentations over overhead projections would have been nice. Too bad for Pryor, really I mean that. As ESPN draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. attempt to sound off on what the Raiders might do with Pryor, don't bother listening because not even Oakland knows what they'll do yet.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Death Penalty!

With Yahoo! Sports breaking the bombshell story on allegations on the receipt of improper benefits involving more than 72 players for the better part of the last decade at the University of Miami, the ACC should be quaking. Given the troubles on South Beach and with the Southeastern Conference sniffing around in Tallahassee and Death Valley, is Atlantic Coast Conference football on its way out?!?!

Former Miami Hurricane booster, convicted felon Nevin Shapiro, could quite possibly bring down the entire Hurricane athletic program. Shapiro's claims that he not only paid players and coaches but also gave them any and every benefit from jewelry and cars to prostitutes and cash are about as serious as things can get. There are pictures, receipts, and countless hours of Shapiro blowing the whistle on everything he did as a booster of the Miami Hurricanes athletic program. A man whom has nothing to gain from his story, already sentenced to years in federal prison for his involvement ($930 Million) in a Ponzi scheme, Shapiro is just a man with an axe to grind. This leads us to ask the question, what will and should become of The U?!?

The Death Penalty; The NCAA has the power to ban schools from competing in a sport without any preliminary sanctions in cases of particularly serious violations.

We've already spent twenty-years glorifying the acts of the 1980's Hurricanes who did what they want, when they want. Ask yourselves, are we going to spend the next twenty years referring to The 2000's as just another decade of blind-eyed, Hurricanes playing by their own rules?!? I don't have to paint a picture for us on this one, Nevin Shapiro is doing that all his own . . the Hurricanes are D-O-A.

Now to the fallout, The Atlantic Coast Conference.

If you are a fan of ACC football, as am myself, the reality is that it is very much in jeopardy. With Miami in peril, the Seminoles and Clemson Tigers undoubtedly to be courted by the Southeastern Conference into 2012, what's to come of this hoops conference with a football addiction? Winners of the last five national championships, the Southeastern Conference would like nothing more than to raid the ACC of Florida State and Clemson. You thought 'Noles v. Gators meant something before?!? How about Gamecocks v. Tigers?!? Could doomsday in Coral Gables mean death for the ACC?!?! Stay tuned. . .

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Remember Me?!?

We're on the eve of a slew of preseason football games, so I should warn you we won't be talking about football here, not tonight. With the Pirates moving out the back door of the National League Central, the Yankees recovering from their rocky trip to New England, I'm all over America's past time.

Get After It!

0-4 Against American League East division rival Boston, 16-2 against the rest of baseball, Do the Red Sox have Yankee C.C. Sabathia's number?!? It's a good question giving Sabathia's most recent six inning / seven hit performance in New York's 10-4 loss to Boston this weekend. An earned run average north of 7.00 against the Red Sox potent offense, paired with his win-loss record against said Red Sox would be enough to respond soundly, yes Sabathia has a major problem with Boston. However, it isn't just a Sabathia issue. Cy Young front runner Jered Weaver (who we're getting to, keep reading), has an earned run average of 1.78 this season, yet in his one start against Boston, he allowed three runs over six innings for a 4.50 ERA. Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, in two starts against the Red Sox, he's allowed eight runs in 13 innings for a 5.40 ERA. So, it isn't just C.C. Sabathia, it's the entire American League. The Red Sox team OBP, OPS, slugging percentage, and team batting average are all tops in baseball. They've scored more runs than any other team, have more hits, and have forced free bases 427 times this season. For an offense that can score runs and work a count, they're doom and gloom for any ace, this side of Justin Verlander anyway.

This is the part we're I puff out my chest as a fan of those Boston Red Sox. While the rest of the media, including that in 'The Hub,' are downplaying the Red Sox 10-2 record against the New York Yankees, I'm not about to do that, not at all. In my "not-so-humble" opinion, the Yankees were one bad inning from Red Sox ace Jon Lester away from being swept back to the Bronx down three games in the A.L. East, they got away with one as far as I'm concerned. There isn't a pitcher, not legendary closer Mariano Rivera nor staff standout C.C. Sabathia that strikes fear in the Red Sox patient offense. No amount of hits or homeruns from the likes of Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, or Mark Teixeira can dig too deep a hole for the offense in Boston not to climb out of. From Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia through Alex Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz, no offense is as tough one through five as the Red Sox, none. What did this weekend prove? What does a 10-2 record against the American Leagues toughest competition prove? It proves that at 72-43 the Red Sox are the front runners, and given their reaction to their late night heroics on Sunday night, it means something for this team to beat the Yankees each and every time out.

Are Angels front of the rotation aces Dan Haren and Jered Weaver the most under the radar tandem in baseball?!? In a word, YES! Dan Haren has been outstanding for the Angels this season, flat out. In twenty-five starts Haren has walked just (26) hitters, twelve less than Tigers ace Justin Verlander and twenty less than Yankee hurler C.C. Sabathia. With a sub 3.00 earned run average and three of his teams last four victories in which he started coming against potential playoff race opponents New York, Texas, and Detroit, Dan Haren is possibly the games best #2 starter this season. As for the Angels ace, twenty-eight year old Jered Weaver, he's been unhittable. Weaver has pitched four complete games this season en route to a 14-5 record through August 5th. His ERA, an unthinkable 1.78 good enough for tops in the majors, his WHIP (stat geeks - walks & hits per innings pitched) is a stunning 0.94 only bested by fellow aces of contending teams Boston's Josh Beckett and Detroit's Justin Verlander. With twenty-six wins between them, it's a shock not more people are talking about the possibility of the Angels chasing down the American League West leading Rangers and maybe even the Wild Card leading Yankees?!?

Hagerstown, Maryland~ This might be the only time I ever mention this small town approximately seventy-two miles northwest of Charm City (Baltimore, MD). Why?!?! Because our 'National' Treasure, 23-year old hard throwing righty Stephen Strasburg, is on his way back starting in Hagerstown on Monday night. With more hype surrounding the Washington Nationals top selection of 2009 than that of both Mark Prior and Brien Taylor combined, Strasburg has his work cut out for him when he returns from Tommy John surgery which sidelined him after a mind numbing start to his career just a season ago. In twelve appearences in 2010, Strasburg recorded 92 strikeouts, a 2.91 earned run average, and in doing so began to show glimpses of how bright the Nationals future may be. So, when Strasburg fanned four batters in an inning and two-thirds for the single 'A' Hagerstown Suns, we are of course going to begin to speculate, pontificate, and flat out obsess over a pitcher whom by all accounts looks to be the next big thing. Next stop: Woodbridge, VA on Friday night.

Side Note: I haven't been this excited to follow minor league baseball since 1994 and the year of the Birmingham Barons.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are the Eagles that team?

At this point, it's an honest question. With the biggest prize in a post-lockout NFL under contract, it's arguable that Michael Vick's Philadelphia Eagles are every bit ready to make Andy Reid a Super Bowl winning head coach at last, isn't it?

For starters, this entire thing hinges on #7 under center. At 31-years old, Michael Vick is still the most electric player in the sport, no questions asked. 8-4 As a starter just a season ago, Vick was showing much more than flashes of his former game, he was reinventing it. With career highs in completion percentage, quarterback rating, passing yards, and touchdown passes, Michael Vick is no longer the player who threw 26 interceptions over two seasons ('05-'06), he's efficient. Could this have worked out any better for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie?!? Taking a flyer and notable risk on a post-prison Michael Vick in the summer of 2009, Lurie is being paid off just two years later as Vick leads a charged-up young core of offensive weapons to an early season favorite to reach Lucas Oil Stadium and the Super Bowl. Just take caution, the health of Michael Vick is as important to Philadelphia as Manning in Indianapolis, Brady in New England, and Brees in New Orleans, it is.

Now to their off-season work:

While I criticized Philadelphia for not getting more from top available quarterback, former Philadelphia back-up turned Arizona starter Kevin Kolb, they had a plan. That plan you ask?!? To move on from overpaid cornerbank Asante Samuel and upgrade the secondary at the same time. With Kolb, the Eagles got a 2012 draft pick (2nd rounder to boot) and corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. The 26-year old cornerback needs work, he's not a great tackling corner but he'll get plenty of opportunities playing opposite the newly acquired off season prize Nnamdi Asomugha. Between all-world cornerback, Asomugha, and Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles have moved on from Asante Samuel and in doing so, upgraded their secondary. Samuel is a holdover from a secondary which gave up 31-passing touchdowns a season ago and is sure to improve with their new additions. Asante's proclamation on his own 'big-play making ability' is an overstatement to say the least. Philadelphia seems to have come out with one conclusion from watching game tape all off-season, the cover 2 cornerback Samuel isn't where they want this team to be headed. Philadelphia wants to get up on receivers and get after the quarterback. If Samuel is a trading chip at this point, they're still in very good position with Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha.

The secondary wasn't the only place where Philadelphia got better. After securing their pass defense, the Eagles went after their defensive line adding veterans Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin. Babin has a history in Philadelphia having played for them back in 2009 and is sure to bolster a defensive line that recorded 39 sacks last year, Babin alone recorded 12.5 in Tennessee. Sixth in sacks last season Babin will be back under the direction of Jim Washburn in Philadelphia. Then there is Cullen Jenkins, a player Philadelphia must have had their eyes on for a long time because the moment he became available to them, they went after it and signed him for a very low risk contract. Jenkins gives them size up front and is going to really solidify their defensive line. From jump this off season, Philadelphia has made moves to revamp their entire defense. Starting with the firing of Sean McDermott and virtually the entire Eagles defensive coaches, Reid is set to move forward with a defense that he believes will be the top in the NFC. For Reid, it wasn't just about adding new players. Aside from firing defensive coaches and choosing not renew contracts, he's getting rid of key players to a very poor defense in 2010. Quintin Mikell and Stewart Bradley are both already gone after Brodrick Bunkley was dealt as well, with Samuel rumoured to be the next, Philadelphia has really made changes on defense to pair with their high-powered offense.

Back to their offense. In less high-profile moves, Philadelphia added former Dolphin running back Ronnie Brown on a one year deal and former Bronco offensive tackle Ryan Harris. It's possible that Harris could be a Pro Bowler in Philadelphia system. In Philadelphia Harris is going to compete against long time Eagle tackle Winston Justice for that right side position, the blind side to the left handed Michael Vick, making him all the more important going forward. As for Ronnie Brown, I loved this signing for Philadelphia and for Ronnie Brown. It's never been Brown's decision to play in a wildcat offense and going to Philadelphia is going to showcase his ability to catch out of the backfield and spell LeSean McCoy in a more north and south running back position than he played in Miami. Harris and Brown both can have impact on an offense that is sure to be one of the more exciting offenses in the entire league.

I do believe that Philadelphia has made a ton of moves in this preseason that will make them better going forward, but buyer beware, this team still hinges on Michael Vick as we pointed out earlier and till I see DeSean Jackson in camp, I'm not going to think he's any different than the self indulgent wide receivers that we've yet to see win a Super Bowl; Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, etc.