Football Friday 9/14/18

It is Football Friday once again.  So, let me get to it and start with college football …

For about the last 15 years, I have tracked the football fortunes of Linfield College – a Division III program in McMinnville OR.  The reason I do that is that Linfield has had a winning record in football in every season since 1956; if they do that again this year, it will be their 63rd consecutive winning season; that is the longest stretch of its kind in North American sports.  Last weekend, the Linfield Wildcats lost their opening game on the road to Carroll (Montana) by a score of 21-14.  Division III schools play a 9-game regular season schedule; so, there is still room for Linfield to recover and post a winning record.

This week the Wildcats are at home to host the Redlands Bulldogs.  Redlands brings a 2-0 record to the field.  This is Linfield’s final out-of-conference game for the season.  Go Wildcats!

Last week, SMU led TCU 9-0 at the end of the first quarter.  At that point, my Six-Pack selection from last week (SMU +23) was looking good.  However, the fact is that TCU is much the better team and the Horned Frogs woke up starting in the second quarter.  The final score had TCU on top 42-12; SMU was shut out in the second half.

My most significant take away from the Clemson/Texas A&M game was that the Clemson DL is REALLY good.   Long before the movie, Remember the Titans, Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson was credited with saying that he liked his defenders to be “agile, mobile and hostile”.  Well, that is a good description of the Clemson defensive linemen in 2018!

Both Clemson and Texas A&M showed that they are good teams that are well coached.  Any time I have a chance to see them play quality opponents this year, I will be tuning in…

Ohio St. beat Rutgers 52-3.  Going into this game, the cumulative score for the last two “games” between these schools was Ohio St. 114 and Rutgers ZERO.  Maybe the Big-10 needs to consider installing a mercy rule?

Mississippi St. beat Kansas St. in Manhattan, KS last week 31-10.  K-state is not a patsy at home by any means, so this may be an indication that Mississippi St. is a team to watch even though it must play in the SEC West – the Division of Death.

Meanwhile, Kansas won a game and did it on the road.  That is a milestone because Kansas had lost 46 consecutive road games before last week.  Before anyone gets too elated here, the victory came at the expense of Central Michigan – not a school in a Power 5 conference.  Hey, at least C. Michigan is a Division 1-A school.

Another of the “directional Michigan schools”, Eastern Michigan upset Purdue 20-19 last week and it was a home game for Purdue.  It is an impressive win whenever a team from the MAC beats a team from the Big-10.

The MAC had another good showing last week – even though it did not result in a win over a team in a Power 5 conference.  Northern Illinois played Utah to a standstill for about 55 minutes; at that point, a Pick-6 put the game out of reach for the Huskies.  Utah won 17-6 but the game was close from the start until that late interception.

Notre Dame took on a MAC opponent last week and beat Ball St.24-16.  The Irish led 24-6 to start the 4th quarter and held on as Ball St. rallied in the 4th quarter.  Notre Dame was a 35-point favorite here; they never had a chance to cover that number.

Scott Frost’s opening game as the head coach at Nebraska – where he is viewed as the guy who will bring Nebraska back to national prominence in football – was a disaster.  Old rival, Colorado, came to Lincoln and beat the Cornhuskers 33-28.  I do not know if there is a town in Nebraska called Mudville – – although it would be an appropriate name; if there is, I assure you there is no joy in Mudville, NE either…

Oklahoma beat UCLA like a drum 49-21.  The Chip Kelly Era at UCLA is off to a sputtering start and one problem is that Kelly has not found either a QB or a featured RB that fits what he tries to do on offense.  To the folks in Westwood, this is going to take a while…

Penn St. beat Pitt 51-6.  Actually, it was not nearly that close.

Going into last week’s game, Kentucky had lost 31 straight times to Florida.  The Gators were 14-point favorites at home and lost the game 27-16.  I saw parts of the game and my impression was that Kentucky was the better team on both offense and defense.  As is the case in Westwood, it is going to take time to get things right in Gainesville…

Arizona lost to Houston 45-18 meaning that Kevin Sumlin’s first two games with Arizona have been losses.  This game was a spanking; Houston led 31-0 at the half.  Sumlin did not take over a disastrously bad program; Arizona won 7 games last year and they have a QB that some thought might be a Heisman contender.  [I did not; but that is beside the point since I do not have a vote.]  Arizona hosts Southern Utah this week; they need a blowout win – badly.

Colorado St. was 0-2 going into last week’s game against Arkansas – an SEC team and those losses came by a combined 41 points.  Yes, the game was in Colorado Springs and yes, Arkansas is not nearly the cream of the crop in the SEC.  Nonetheless, the Rams won this game in a dramatic way.  Arkansas led 27-9 in the 3rd quarter and Colorado State rallied to win the game 34-27.  The Rams scored on their final four possessions of the game and won it with 8 seconds on the clock with a 1-yard TD run.  It could be a LONG year for Arkansas’ fans…

Arizona St. beat Michigan St. in Tempe last week.  The temperature on the field at kickoff was 105 degrees; and it was a night game.  There was an interesting stratagem used by Herm Edwards and Arizona St at the end of the game:

  • The score was tied with 2 minutes to play.
  • Michigan St. was out of timeouts.
  • Arizona St had the ball inside the Michigan St. 10 yardline.  Instead of trying to score a TD – which would have given the ball back to Michigan St with a chance to tie the game – Arizona St. took a knee to run the clock down to nothing.
  • The Sun Devils called one of their timeouts and kicked the game winning field goal with nothing left for Michigan St.

It may not be “normal practice” for football teams in that circumstance, but Herm Edwards had faith in his kicker and as Edwards always said, “You play to win the game.”  They do not award style points…

Games of Interest This Week: 

UTEP at Tennessee – 31 (47.5):  UTEP is miserable; they could well be in my fanciful end-of-season SHOE Tournament.  Tennessee hopes to regain some status in the SEC above that of doormat/laughingstock.  This game sets up as a huge feelgood blowout at home.  We shall see…

Ball St. at Indiana – 14.5 (57.5):  The oddsmakers seem to think that the Notre Dame game last week was an aberration for Ball St.  We shall see…

Miami – 10 at Toledo (57):  Miami’s offense has not looked good so far this year.  Is this the game where it comes to life?  Or … is this another chance for a MAC team to upset a Power 5 school?

UCF – 11 at UNC:  This game has been postponed due to Hurricane Florence.  Frankly, that may be a blessing for UNC coach, Larry Fedora whose team might have gotten their doors blown off here.

Rutgers at Kansas – 2.5 (44.5):  Tis a rare occasion indeed where Kansas is a favorite over a Power 5 school.  Rutgers should be mightily offended…  The loser here should be mortified.  There is an important reason not to bet on this game.  If you did, you would feel compelled to watch it – – and if you watch it, that would require eye-bleach.

Michigan at Buffalo – 4 (53.5): Last week, E. Michigan went on the road to beat Purdue. (See above).  They must feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of college football with this line; they are underdogs to Buffalo?

UMass at Florida Int’l – 4 (60):  This game is interesting to me because either or both of these teams might be in the SHOE Tournament down the line…

Georgia Tech – 4 at Pitt (52.5):  Both teams come off a loss.  Tech lost to USF and gave up 49 points in the process; Pitt gave up 51 to Penn State.

SMU at Michigan – 35.5 (53.5):  It is time to see a Jim Harbaugh team show offensive prowess and this is a team they can do that against.

Colorado St at Florida – 20.5 (56):  This is two SEC opponents in a row for Colorado St.  Are they auditioning?

Oregon St. at Nevada – 4 (70):  It would be an embarrassment to the PAC-12 for Oregon St. to get pounded here…

Houston – 1 at Texas Tech (71):  Call this a Kardashian Family Reunion Game – – there should be no absence of scoring…

Vandy at Notre Dame – 14 (52):  Vandy is 2-0 and the combined margin of victory here is 59 points.  The Irish represent a totally different level of competition.  Interesting to see how good Vandy might be.

 

This Week’s College Football Six-Pack

Last week the Six-Pack went 2-4 bringing the season record to 5-7.  I’ll try and do better this week.  Nonetheless, anyone taking these selections – or the ones that follow in the NFL Sis-Pack – as the basis for making a real world wager involving real money is dumb enough to believe that “bacteria” is the rear entrance to the cafeteria.

Florida St. – 3 at Syracuse (68):  I do not get this line at all.  If the Total is going to be that high, then FSU is going to have to play lots better offense than they have shown so far this year.  If they do that, they should handle Syracuse comfortably.  If this is a “field-goal game” I can’t see where the 69th point would come from; the game should be comfortably UNDER.  Syracuse comes to the game with a 2-0 record but those wins came over Wagner and W. Michigan – – neither to be confused with big-time football programs.  I’ll go with pedigree here and take Florida St. on the road and lay the points.  If FSU loses here, I expect that the hounds will be baying for Seminoles’ coach Willie Taggert to be drawn and quartered.

LSU at Auburn – 10.5 (45):  I agree with the oddsmaker that this should be a low scoring game.  That being the case, I like LSU plus the points.

North Texas at Arkansas – 7 (70):  Arkansas had to learn something from that disastrous come-from-ahead loss last week to Colorado State, no? (See above).  The coaches should have them fired up for this home game.  I like Arkansas to win and cover.

USC at Texas – 3.5 (48):  I like this game to go OVER.  I am not impressed with the Texas defense at all.  Reports say that “pressure is mounting” on Texas coach, Tom Herman.  Losing this one at home will take things to DEFCON 3…

Ohio St. – 12.5 vs. TCU (60) [Game is in Arlington, TX]:  I mean no disrespect to TCU at all; the Horned Frogs are a very good team.  Having said that, I think Ohio St. is a much better team.  I’ll take Ohio St, on the road to win and cover.

Washington – 6.5 at Utah (47):  Utah is tough at home and Utah has a good defense.  This should be a low-scoring game.  Therefore, I will take Utah plus the points.

[Aside: I have seen two prognosticators say that Ole Miss will not only cover the 21-point spread in that game but that Ole Miss will beat Alabama outright.  If  you believe these two “pickers”, the Money Line odds on Ole Miss are +1040 this morning.]

Moving on to the NFL, seven coaches debuted with their teams in Week 1; all seven of those new coaches lost; some of those losses were brutal. You will notice all of this in last week’s rundown…

The Steelers/Browns tie game should have been an interesting game because it was close (obviously) and because it is a rivalry game and because the Browns have not won a game in what seems like forever.  However, the fact that both teams missed eminently makeable field goals in the final minutes of overtime leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.  The Steelers turned the ball of 6 – – that’s SIX – – times.  The Browns were +5 in turnovers and did not win.  How unusual is that?  Here are ESPN reported data:

  • Since the Browns relaunched in the NFL in 1999, there have been 139 games where one team was +5 in turnovers.
  • The record for those “+5 teams” is 134-4-1.
  • The Browns have been one of those “+5 teams” on 5 occasions.
  • The Browns’ record in those “+5 games” is 2-2-1.

Amazing …

The Bills looked positively awful in Week 1 losing to the Ravens 47-3.  In the first half of the game – under the leadership of Nathan Peterman – the Bills generated all of 33 yards of offense.  As you might suspect, they failed to gain a first down in the first half.  Peterman was 5 for 18 for 24 yards with 2 INTs before getting the hook in favor of rookie Josh Allen.  I am still at a loss to understand how Peterman could possibly have beaten out AJ McCarron for the role of “Placeholder QB” as the team worked to develop Josh Allen.  Bills’ coach, Sean McDermott, gave up the pretense of a “Nathan Peterman Era” in Buffalo announcing this week that Josh Allen would start for the Bills this week.  The football situation in Buffalo is a hot mess at best.

The Lions looked almost as bad as the Bills did, losing to the Jets 48-17.  This was Matt Patricia’s first game at the helm for the Lions and it was an ugly debut; the Lions lost to a rookie QB by 31 points.  [Aside:  Matt Patricia was never “svelte”, but it looked to me as if he had put on a lot of weight over the summer.  He looked like a bearded version of Andy Reid.]  The Lions have the initials “WCF” on their uniform sleeves honoring William Clay Ford, Sr. who owned the Lions’ franchise until his death a few years ago.  If the team plays like this all year long, someone will photoshop that uniform and change the initials to “WTF”.  Just as the Browns invent ways to focus attention in their ineptitude (see stats above), the Lions do it too.  Consider:

  • On Monday night, the Lions allowed 31 points to the Jets in the 3rd quarter of the game.
  • The last time a team scored 31 points in the 3rd quarter of an NFL game was in October 1950.  [Point of reference: President Truman had not yet removed Ge. Douglass MacArthur from command in October 1950.]
  • The team last to give up 31 points (or more) in the 3rd quarter of an NFL game was – wait for it – the Detroit Lions.

Amazing…

In Frank Reich’s first game as head coach of the Colts, the Bengals handed the Colts a 34-23 loss.  A late 83-yard scoop-and-score magnified the margin of victory here but there was ample reason for Colts’ fans to be unhappy.  True, Andrew Luck was back on the field and he played very well throwing for 319 yards and 2 TDs.  Not bad for a guy who has been hors de combat for 20 months…  In addition, Adam Vinatieri converted a 51-yard field goal in the game which is not bad for a 45-year old guy who has been kicking in the NFL for 23 seasons.  [Somewhere in the cosmos, Ponce de Leon wonders if Vinatieri found what Ponce died looking for.]  The bad news for Colts’ fans is that they led 23-10 in the middle of the 3rd quarter and then found a way to lose the game from there.

Pat Shurmer’s opening game with the Giants resulted in a 20-16 loss to the Jags.  This was not an embarrassing loss – unless you focus on the Giants’ offensive line performance.  The margin of victory came on a 4th quarter tipped pass that turned into a Pick Six. The Giant’s defense dominated the second half; until the Jags final possession where they took a knee in victory formation, they Jags has 7 possessions and punted 7 times.

The Dolphins beat the Titans 27-20 spoiling Mike Vrabel’s first game on the Titans’ sidelines.  This game was delayed twice for lightening around the Dolphins’ stadium and took more than 7 hours to complete.  The Titans have lost TE Delanie Walker for the year; Marcus Mariotta is questionable for this week’s game and OT Taylor Lewan left the game with an injury that put him in the concussion protocol.

Matt Nagy saw his Bears’ team jump out to a 20-0 lead over the Packers in Green Bay; things were looking up for the new head man in Chicago.  When Aaron Rodgers had to be carted to the locker room – replaced by DeShone Kizer – you could have heard a mouse squeak in the stadium.  The problem for the Bears was that Rodgers was merely hurt and not injured sufficiently to keep him off the field; he returned and led the Packers to a 24-23 come-from-nowhere victory.  It almost felt like a “Willis Reed Moment”.

The most celebrated new NFL coach for 2018 has to be Jon Gruden by a mile.  His Raiders led the Rams 13-10 at halftime and fans in The Black Hole were celebrating as if the glory days of the Raiders’ franchise had returned.  Then they played the second half and the Rams won the second half 23-0.  Here are three questions and one observation from that game:

  1. Question:  Did the Raiders avoid throwing the ball in the direction of any of their WRs because the Rams had them covered like a baby in a crib?  WR, Amari Cooper was only targeted 3 times in the game.  Something is wrong there…
  2. Question:  Was the lack of a pass rush by the Raiders a testament to outstanding OL play by the Rams or are the Raiders incapable of generating a pass rush?
  3. Question:  What were the Raiders working on for the last six weeks in practice?  The Raiders had 10 penalties for 145 yards in the first half on Monday night.
  • Observation:  Jon Gruden’s “Chucky Stare” seems not to have had the same effect as “The Belichick Glower” has been having recently.

The Skins spoiled Steve Wilks’ debut with the Cards winning 24-6 and running the ball for 185 yards in the game.  This was an old-fashioned ass-kicking; there is no polite way to describe it.  In the first half, the Cards had a total of 11 yards passing.  When a team’s offense can be compared to a “Nathan Peterman Offense”, that is not a good thing.  The Cards played as if they were on Quaaludes…

The Broncos beat the Seahawks 27-24.  The Seattle O-Line remains a mess; Russell Wilson was sacked 6 times in this game; the Seahawks were a mere 2-12 on third down conversions.  Th Broncos did not look like world-beaters here, but they did what they needed to do to get the win.

The Panthers beat the Cowboys 16-8 and neither team looked all that impressive.   In the first half, the Cowboys never snapped the ball in the Panthers half of the field.  The Cowboys offensive line showed its injuries allowing Dak Prescott to be sacked 6 times.  Cam Newton led the Panthers is rushing; he ran the ball 13 times for 58 yards.

The Eagles beat the Falcons 18-12 last Thursday night.  The game felt like a replay of last year’s meeting between these teams in the playoffs when the Eagles prevailed 15-10.  In both games, it was the Eagles’ defense that carried the day.  When the teams left the field at halftime with the Falcons leading 6-3, the Philly fans booed, and the announcing team seemed surprised that the Super Bowl champs would be booed after only a half of play.  Remember, the fans at The Linc last week are the spawn of the fans who booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs at Franklin Field.  To paraphrase Denny Greene:

  • They are what we know they are…

The Vikes beat the Niners 24-16.  Already, after only one week of the 2018 season, one of my pre-season predictions has come to pass.  Jimmy Garoppolo has lost a game as a starting NFL QB.  Ta-dah…  The Vikes’ defense was the star of the show here forcing Jimmy G to throw 3 INTs.  Meanwhile, the Vikes’ new QB, Kirk Cousins, put up a workmanlike performance with 244 yards passing and 2 TDs.

The Bucs beat the Saints 48-40.  What happened to the Saints’ defense that was so improved last year?  Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and 4 TDs in this game.  Yes … THAT Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson each had more than 145 yards receiving.  The Total Line for the game was 49.5 points; the game went OVER before halftime.

The Pats beat the Texans 27-20.  Father Time must have been a guest in Robert Kraft’s owner’s box for the game.  Tom Brady showed no signs of aging/slowing down throwing for 277 yards and 3 TDs.

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 38-28.  In a losing effort, the Chargers produced 541 yards of offense; normally, that level of output produces a victory.  You can pin this loss on the Chargers’ special teams without fear of contradiction:

  • Chargers gave up a 91-yard punt return for a TD.  (7 points)
  • Fumbled a punt in the 4th quarter giving the Chiefs possession inside the Chargers 5 yardline.  (7 points)
  • Missed a field goal.  (3 points)
  • Those plays effected a 17-point swing and the Chargers lost by 10.

Case closed.

Here are some quick comments on this week’s games outside the NFL Six-Pack:

  • Panthers/Falcons:  This is an important division game early in the season.  A Panthers win here gives them a 2-game lead on the Falcons.  Falcons lost safety Keanu Neal for the season last week.
  • Vikes/Packers:  This is the best game of the week – assuming that Aaron Rodgers is somewhere near 100 %.  If he can’t play, this could be ugly.
  • Chargers/Bills:  Both teams have “things to work on” this week.  (See above) This is also a long way to travel for the Chargers.  It is appropriate at this point to offer condolences to Josh Allen.  Call this one the Dog-Breath Game of the Week
  • Dolphins/Jets:  Both teams won as underdogs last week.  One of these teams is likely to be 2-0 on Sunday night.  Wow…
  • Eagles/Bucs:  Eagles should score more than 18 points this week.  Bucs should score fewer than 48 points this week.
  • Browns/Saints: Who would have guessed that the Browns would take the field here with the better record?
  • Cards/Rams:  This is the only double-digit spread on the card this week.  The Rams play on a short week; it should not matter.
  • Pats/Jags:  This will be the best game of the week if Aaron Rodgers is not at full strength.  The Total Line here is 45.5 and I was tempted to take it UNDER.
  • Giants/Cowboys:  A division game between two teams that lost their opening games in a somnambulant fashion.  If the Cowboys stink it up here, I expect to see steam coming out of Jerry Jones’ ears.

Without further ado, here is the This Week’s NFL Six-Pack:

Indy at Washington – 5.5 (48):  The Skins’ running game was most impressive last week and looks to stay on track against a mediocre Colts’ defense here.  Keeping Andrew Luck in check will be more difficult than what the Skins faced last week but that running game should keep Luck on the sidelines enough to secure a win.  Luck threw the ball 53 times last week; he is obviously not on a pitch-count after his injury  I like the Skins to win and cover at home. 

Houston – 2 at Tennessee (45):  This line did not go up until mid-week and the fact that it is at 2 points says that Marcus Mariotta will be on the field and in condition to play.  Nevertheless, I think the Texans are the better team and I think they lost to a tougher opponent last week.  I’ll take the Texans on the road and lay the points.   [Caveat:  If Hurricane Florence turns this game into a “monsoon game” or if the field is a swamp, change this pick to UNDER.]

KC at Pittsburgh – 4.5 (52.5):  The Chiefs play their second road game of the season here a sweep in those two games would give the Chiefs a leg up in the AFC West race.  I think the Chiefs’ offense will score against the Steelers’ defense and I think the Steelers’ offense will score against the Chiefs’ defense.  The Total Line opened at 50; it jumped to 52 almost immediately and then added another half-point.  I would not be surprised to see it keep rising.  I like the game to go OVER.   [Caveat:  If Ben Roethlisberger is not fit to play, this wager goes by the board.  If Josh Dobbs is the starting QB, I’ll take KC plus the points.]

Detroit at SF – 6 (48):  The Lions lost at home to a rookie QB by 31 points last week.  The Niners lost on the road to a team that many think will play for the NFC Championship next January.  The Lions must travel after a Monday night game.  I like the Niners to win and cover. 

Oakland at Denver – 6 (46):  The Broncos are tough at home; the Raiders do not always show up on the road and make this trip on a short week.  If the Raiders front seven cannot pressure Case Keenum – as they failed to do last week against Jared Goff – the Broncos will feast on the Raiders’ secondary.  It is going to be a long season for Raiders’ fans.  I’ll take the Broncos at home to win and cover.

Seattle at Chicago – 3 (43):  The Seahawks were on the road last week and travel again this week.  The Bears succumbed to the “Aaron Rodgers magic” last week and need to keep Russell Wilson in check here.  I think the Bears’ front seven overmatches the Seahawks’ offensive line by a wide margin.  I like the Bears to win and cover at home.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The Jockacracy

Most of yesterday’s rant dealt with NFL Franchise QBs and it came from a lunchtime discussion with an old friend who was back in town.  Well, we discussed other topics too and I will deal with another of them today.

My friend said that he basically agreed with my position from a couple of weeks ago that great players do not make great coaches or GMs.  He said that he thought I should have extended that concept to broadcasters.  He remembers when Howard Cosell would rail against what he called “The Jockocracy” – meaning that top flight athletes were given broadcasting jobs after they retired even though those athletes were not journalists nor were they particularly polished behind the mic.  It is easy to point to Cosell’s remarks as self-serving/self-interested since he was a journalist/broadcaster but had never played any of the games he covered.  If you were a “Cosell-hater” – and there were plenty of them back in the day – one could pass all of that off as unabashed protectionism for his job territory.

However, Cosell had a point.  Forgetting his idealistic stance that would assure that every broadcaster was previously proven to be a serious journalist, the fact is that some athletes-turned-broadcasters are not nearly as good at talking about their sport as they were at playing their sport.  I spent the last several days making a list of the current/recent athletes-turned-broadcasters and trying to come up with categorizations for them.  My list is obviously incomplete since I did not go Internet-hunting to gather up lists of all the broadcasters doing sports on TV recently.  Moreover, after I looked at the list I had compiled, I noted that there are gaps in the sports covered here.  Some reasons for this are:

  • When I watch golf on TV – not all that often – I really don’t pay attention to the announcers because they rarely have much to say that I find interesting.
  • When I watch soccer on TV, most of the games are international games and I have no idea what the background of any of the announcers might be.’
  • When I watch track and field on TV – not all that often – I often do it without any sound at all.
  • I do not watch lots of other sports on TV – NASCAR, beach volleyball, gymnastics, ice skating etc. – so I have no idea who the broadcasters may be.

So, with all of those limitations, here are former athletes who are now doing – or who recently did –  TV coverage of sports.  They are the recent/current members of Howard Cosell’s jockocracy if you will.  I have put them into three categories:  The Good  The Bad and The Ugly.  [Hat tip to Sergio Leone]

THE GOOD:

  • Troy Aikman:  He and Joe Buck are very good together on NFL telecasts.  He may not be hyper-critical in his analysis, but he lets you know which players and which coaching decisions are better than others.  And no; he does not hate your team or any other team except the Cowboys!  Get over it.
  • Charles Barkley:  Once you realize that Barkley is going to take his commentary over-the-top at least 90% of the time, you can sit back and listen to him and enjoy his comedic antics.  [See Kenny Smith below …]
  • Jay Bilas:  He is excellent in the studio and as a color analyst for games.  He is a much better broadcaster than he was a basketball player.  I suspect that even Howard Cosell would approve of Jay Bilas on TV.
  • Nate Burleson:  I like his enthusiasm – – and I hope that he does not take that style so far that it becomes a schtick because that would be annoying as Hell.
  • Mary Carillo:  I think she is outstanding.  I cannot think of another tennis announcer I would prefer to listen to.
  • Cris Colinsworth:  He is obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable about football.  Moreover, he does not shrink from criticizing things he sees on the field.  And no; he does not hate your favorite team.  Get over it.
  • Kirk Herbstreit:  Like Jay Bilas, he is excellent in the studio and as a color analyst for games.  When it comes to college football, “Herbie” reminds me of the old E.F. Hutton ads.  When Herbstreit talks, people listen…
  • Tom Jackson:  He and Chris Berman were a perfect pair together…
  • “Moose” Johnson:  Sometimes, he can be long-winded but more often than not he has something add when he speaks.
  • Joel Klatt:  The closest thing to Kirk Herbstreit as a college football maven.  I like him in studio settings and during games.
  • Howie Long:  He is logical and rational.  I have called him the Mr. Spock of NFL pre-game television.
  • Tony Romo:  With exactly no previous broadcasting experience, CBS paired him with Jim Nantz as the #1 NFL broadcasting team.  Romo could have flamed out badly but he did just the opposite.  What I like is that he is unafraid to say what a team is going to do/ought to do before the fact.
  • Phil Simms:  He is much better in the studio than he was as a color analyst.
  • Kenny Smith:  He plays “Abbot” to Charles Barkley’s “Costello” beautifully.
  • John Smoltz:  He has a soothing voice and an excellent ability to explain pitching strategy.  I recall hearing him paired with Bob Costas on play-by-play and it was about as good as it gets.  Yes, I know it is heresy to some folks but those two were more enjoyable to listen to than Vin Scully.

THE BAD:

  • Terry Bradshaw:  If he were half as funny as he thinks he is, he might be tolerable.
  • Gary Danielson:  I find his voice annoying and that is a difficult hurdle to overcome.
  • Boomer Esiason:  I find his entire persona annoying and that is impossible to overcome.
  • Chris Evert:  She is as bland as oatmeal.
  • Alexi Lalas:  He comes across as a smug know-it-all.  That is not a good look…
  • Ray Lewis:  He brings the same sort of “intensity” to the microphone that he brought to the field as a middle linebacker.  That is unnecessary.
  • Dan Marino:  His “analysis” was about as deep as a parking lot puddle.
  • John McEnroe:  The only reason to listen to him is to see if he is going to go ape over some incident and how much trouble that might get him into.
  • Jessica Mendoza:  If she would just let a pitch go by without feeling the need to chime in with something to add, it would be a plus.  More than a couple of times I have hit the mute button in the third or fourth inning of an ESPN game she is doing.
  • Joe Morgan:  His commentary became repetitious which is bad enough.  It was also incessant.  That is a bad exacta.
  • Shaquille O’Neal:  Someday, he will say something insightful.  Until then he is the class clown in a studio show setting.
  • Deion Sanders:  He was entertaining for a while but now his schtick has become annoying.

THE UGLY:

  • Michael Irvin:  Boy, can he learn a thing or three from former teammates like Troy Aikman or “Moose” Johnson.
  • Alex Rodriguez:  He is hyper-critical; he never shuts up; he is a smug know-it all.  The bottom line is that he is an annoying presence on TV.
  • Joe Theismann:  He began more than half of his replay comments with, “Let me tell you what happened here…”  The problem is that I already saw what happened there; it was a damned replay!
  • Bill Walton:  If he is doing the color analysis, I instantly hit the mute button.  He is turrrible…
  • Chris Webber:  He is candid in his criticism of players, coaches and refs; he thinks they should be “accountable”.  And yet, he has never been candid or accountable about his own foibles and actions back in college.  I have trouble dealing with the hypocrisy here.

Howard Cosell was not happy with the rise of the jockocracy; but ironically, he was part of the best three-man announcing team ever on ABC’s Monday Night Football.  His two partners were both esteemed members of the jockocracy:

  • Frank Gifford – Hall of Fame running back for the NY Giants
  • “Dandy” Don Meredith – Hall of Fame announcer/commentator and NFL All-Pro QB.

Finally, sports broadcasters too often rely on catch phrases and clichés as they try to make their points.  Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this comment where he strung together a bunch of the highly overused phrases:

“Inspired by veteran scribes Bruce Jenkins and Jack McCallum, I devised an all-purpose statement anyone can use for any speech, debate or barroom discussion. Simply insert appropriate nouns and adverbs: ‘So, worst-case scenario, it’s all part of the narrative, although this is a small sample size. Look, I mean, to be perfectly frank, I want to double down at this time, check all the boxes. Trust me, I have zero tolerance, and they know who they are, but at the end of the day I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. It is what it is, going forward’.”

Phew…

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

 

Who Is A “Franchise QB”?

I guess you could say that the baseball playoff season has begun.  The Boston Red Sox have a footnote after their name in the standings this morning indicating that they have made the playoffs; we may not know all the seedings; but as of today, we know that the Red Sox will be in the bracket somewhere.

For several weeks now, we have known about teams that will not be participating in the playoffs.  On the day that the Red Sox guaranteed themselves a shot at the World Series, there are 6 teams in the American League and 3 teams in the National League that are mathematically eliminated from post season action.

One of the long-term readers of these rants moved away from this area about 3 years ago; it had been a long time since we had had lunch together.  He was back here taking care of some real estate issues and we had lunch earlier this week.  I think we spent a little over 3 hours at lunch – about half an hour catching up and the rest of the time chatting about sports issues.  It’s a guy thing…

In my friend’s lexicon, an NFL franchise QB is a player who has demonstrated on the field that he is in the top quartile of starting QBs AND he is someone who can be counted on to be with that team for the next 5 years barring injury.  Using his definition, both Tom Brady and Drew Brees are not “franchise QBs” because they fail the second criterion there; Aaron Rodgers is right on the cusp of his definition.  [He acknowledges that both Brady and Brees might play 5 more years, but he says – correctly – that the teams cannot count on them to play well for that period of time.]

My perception of “NFL franchise QB” is less quantitative; it does not involve quartiles or projections of performance for 5 years hence.  Here are the elements that I consider when I think of the label “NFL franchise QB”:

  1. In terms of performance, the QB-in-question is one who would be signed in a heartbeat by various other teams in the NFL if he were an unrestricted free agent.
  2. However, that rush to signing him cannot be weighted too heavily in terms of potential identified by scouts; there must be a body of NFL work leading to that signing rush.
  3. The QB-in-question is an off-field asset for the team too; the fanbase for his team must have adopted him and he must be “the face of the franchise” – or at least one of the two or three “faces of the franchise”.  [I add that last caveat because – for example – Jerry Jones will always be one of the “faces of the franchise” in Dallas no matter who the QB is or who any of the other players are.]

So, using my definition, I went through the starting QBs in the NFL and sorted them into categories related to their “franchise-ness”.  I will indicate my friend’s short list of franchise QBs by highlighting those names in bold:

Here are my Franchise QBs.  I think there is no doubt about these folks:

  1. Tom Brady (Pats)
  2. Drew Brees (Saints)
  3. Andrew Luck (Colts)
  4. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
  5. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
  6. Russell Wilson (Seahawks)

Here are QBs who are close to being “Franchise QBs”; and if you were to argue that they belonged in the top category, I would not be violently opposed:

  1. David Carr (Raiders)
  2. Philip Rivers (Chargers)
  3. Matt Ryan (Falcons)

Here are QBs that belong in a category somewhere – – but I am not sure where it is.  I do know that they are not in the top category today:

  1. Kirk Cousins (Vikings)
  2. Eli Manning (Giants)
  3. Cam Newton (Panthers)
  4. Alex Smith (Skins)
  5. Matthew Stafford (Lions)

Here are QBs that are beloved by their fanbases who have shown flashes of brilliance – but all the precincts have not reported in yet:

  1. Jimmy Garoppolo (Niners)
  2. Jared Goff (Rams)
  3. Dak Prescott (Cowboys)
  4. Mitchell Trubisky (Bears)
  5. Deshaun Watson (Texans)
  6. Carson Wentz (Eagles)

Here are QBs who – as of today – are not in the running to be considered franchise QBs:

  1. Josh Allen (Bills) – not nearly enough data yet [N.B. I will not even consider discussion of Nathan Peterman here.]
  2. Blake Bortles (Jags) – the team wins in spite of him too often
  3. Sam Bradford (Cardinals) – nope
  4. Andy Dalton (Bengals) – must win a playoff game first
  5. Sam Darnold (Jets) – notwithstanding his great first outing; need more data
  6. Joe Flacco (Ravens) – notwithstanding that one great year leading to a Super Bowl win.
  7. Case Keenum (Broncos) – generally underrated but not an elite QB
  8. Pat Mahomes (Chiefs) – not enough data yet
  9. Marcus Mariotta (Titans) – lacks consistency
  10. Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) – nope
  11. Tyrod Taylor (Browns) – nope
  12. Jameis Winston (Bucs) – nope

Finally, since I have spent most of today talking about NFL QBs, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about one of those QBs:

“Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers — who just agreed to a 4-year, $134 million contract extension — is coming out with his own line of cheese, we hear.

“It’s called Packers Gold.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

The Sorry-Assed Orioles…

The Baltimore Orioles lost their 100th game of the season with 21 games still to play.  As of this morning, the O’s record stands at 41-102; they have lost their last 4 games, and they have lost 8 of their last 10 games.  This is an epically bad year for the franchise.  Based on their winning percentage at the moment, the Orioles project a final season record of 46-116.

The Orioles’ franchise has been around since 1954; that was the year that the hapless St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore.  The Browns/Orioles at the time were a pretty sorry lot and in that first season in Baltimore, the team won only 54 games finishing the season at 54-100.  [That was before MLB expanded the season from 154 games to 162 games.]

The other low-water mark for the Orioles’ franchise came in 1988 when the team lost its first 21 games of the season.  As you might imagine, it was a bit difficult for that Orioles’ team to climb out of a hole that deep; the team never really did that and finished the year with a record of 54-107.

The Orioles have never had a season where the won fewer than 54 games since they started play in Baltimore and this year’s team would need a Hollywood ending to get to 54 wins.  There are 19 games left on the Orioles’ schedule – and with Hurricane Florence threatening to interfere with MLB schedules over the next week or so – it is not a certainty that the Orioles will play all 162 of their scheduled games.  None of the remaining games matter to the O’s; six of their remaining games are against the White Sox or the Blue Jays and none of those six games matter to the opponents.  Any rainouts there could well be ignored by the end of the season.

All of this is to say that the Orioles “best case scenario” to win 54 games this year to avoid being the worst team in franchise history is for them to win 13 of their last 19 games.  That would ask the team to play at a winning percentage of .684 when they have been playing at a winning percentage of .287.  It is not impossible – – but highly unlikely.

Looking for a ray of hope in that mess, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Baltimore motorists are the worst in the nation, according to a new study.

“No wonder the Orioles barely cracked the top 25 when it comes to runs driven in.”

When a team is in the midst of a season that bad, one of the things to ponder is the likelihood that the manager will be around for the next season.  Before going any further, I want to state categorically that the Orioles’ miserable showing in 2018 is NOT the fault of managerial actions taken or not taken by Buck Showalter.  Baseball fans should recall times when teams solidly overachieved because several players on the team all had “career years” in the same season.  What has happened to the O’s in 2018 is the mirror image of that situation; just about everyone on the Orioles’ squad has underperformed the norm and, in some cases, has underperformed the norm by a lot.  None of that is the manager’s doing…

Obviously, I would not part company with Buck Showalter if I were the owner of the Orioles – – but I am not the team owner.  The owner in Baltimore is Peter Angelos and some of his decisions in the past have been mercurial to say the least.  In my mind, there is a much more fundamental question that needs to be considered when thinking about Buck Showalter’s future with the team:

  • Does Buck Showalter – at age 62 – want to sign on to a total tear down and rebuild of a team?

Make no mistake; that is what the Orioles immediate future has in store for the manager and the GM.  A well-plotted rebuild married with the good fortune of no serious injuries to any of the top developmental players is going to take 3 years or more.  I am not suggesting that Showalter is ready for a rocking chair and the early-bird specials in Boca Raton, but it is fair to ask if he wants to put up with plenty of losing for the next several years at this point in his life/career.

As soon as the MLB season is over, the stories and rumors of managerial movements will kick into high gear.  John Gibbons is not coming back with the Blue Jays next year; that is pretty much cast in stone; my suspicion is that Gibbons realizes that the Jays need to embark on a strategic rebuilding project and that he does not want to be organizer of that sort of goat rodeo.

I will be interested to see how Mike Scioscia fares in this off-season.  Scioscia has been the Angels manager since 2000; he guided the Angels to a World Series win in 2002.  However, since 2010, the Angels have been in the playoffs only one time and if they finish below .500 in 2018, that will be the 3rd year in a row the team has done that.  Normally, that gets a manager fired, but normally a manager does not stay in the same job for 18 seasons…

There is an interesting stat to consider this morning in the NL East.  The Phillies are 3.5 games ahead of the Nats in the standings.  For the season, the Nats have outscored their opponents by 70 runs despite a barely sub-.500 record of 71-72.  Meanwhile, the Phillies have been outscored by their opponents by 13 runs over the course of the season but find themselves with a positive 74-68 record.  The only other team in MLB over .500 with a negative run differential for the season is the Seattle Mariners.

Finally, this baseball note about the Washington Nationals comes courtesy of Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“The Washington Nationals have been 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 9-9, 10-10, 16-16, 17-17, 42-42, 43-43, 45-45, 46-46, 47-47, 48-48, 49-49, 51-51, 52-52, 53-53, 60-60, 61-61, 62-62, 63-63, 64-64, 66-66, 67-67, 68-69 and 69-69 this season.

“In a related story, the Nats have just been named the official baseball team of the Indianapolis 500.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Two Readers Have Wishes Granted Today …

A former colleague and long-term reader of these rants is a tennis player and a tennis fan.  He is not so much a football fan; and when I introduced “Football Friday” as a concept ere, he lobbied for “Tennis Tuesday”.  Another reader’s son and daughter were college level tennis players; he too has lobbied for more “tennis focus” over time.  My response to them has always been pretty simple:

  • I really do not follow tennis closely at all – – because – –
  • I really do not enjoy watching tennis.

Today, two readers will get their wishes granted.  The women’s final match of the US Open produced a controversial event that is worth a comment.  Let me do a reset for those who – like me – tend to ignore tennis tournaments.

  • Serena Williams lost the final match in the US Open to Naomi Osaka.
  • Williams received a warning and two penalties from the chair referee.

I have never officiated a tennis match, but I have officiated various other sports over a period of 37 years; my comments here come from a basis as a referee in the generic sense.

The warning to Serena Williams came when the chair told her that she was being coached from the stands and – for reasons that are not clear to me – that is against the rules.  In an interview, her coach admitted he was doing that; tennis commentators say it is done all the time.  If the coach in the stands was “coaching” and it is against the rules, then the chair was justified in issuing the warning to Serena Williams.  If the commentators are correct that it happens all the time, then the chair was being petty simultaneous to being justified.  Serena Williams did not take the warning well at all; she told the chair several times that she was not cheating and has never cheated to win.  She took the warning personally.

Later, in frustration over happenings in the match, Serena Williams took out her frustration on her tennis racket smashing it to the ground and destroying it.  According to tennis commentators, that behavior runs afoul of the “abuse rule” and since there had been a prior warning – – for coaching – – the second rules violation led to Williams losing a point.  If she took the first warning poorly, she took this one even less well.  She said that the chair had stolen a point from her.

As her “displeasure” with the way things were going grew, she took a very logical – but very wrong – next step.  Since she was convinced that the chair had “stolen a point” from her; she proceeded to call the chair referee “a thief”.  Hey, if he stole something, then he is a thief, right?  The problem there is that she now attacked the referee as a person and not his decisions and that is across the line.  The chair then penalized her a game in the set and that decision was upheld by the tournament director when Serena Williams appealed to him.

At every step in the escalation of tensions here, there was a logical/predictable set of events and outcomes.  Once the “warning for coaching” was issued, things went downhill.  The “abuse violation” was clear; there was a destroyed racket on the court in plain view of everyone; absent the “coaching warning” that would not have cost Serena Williams a point and things could well have ended on a warning for violation of the “abuse rule”.  Even at that point, things could have been contained until it all got personal with the chair referee.

I have probably officiated 2500 “games” in various sports.  I have been criticized for “missing” at least 100,000 calls; I have let the vast majority of those protests slide.  I can recall about a dozen incidents where a coach or player went beyond protesting a call and made their protest personal.  One particularly frustrated coach – a man in his 50s who was an educator in his real life – lost it and called me a fellator loud enough to be heard throughout the gym.  I tossed him from the game instantly.  There is a difference between telling me I missed a call or misinterpreted a rule and getting personal.  That was where the drama at the US Open went off the rails.

Enough tennis …  I do not want to overreact to the first game of the NFL season, but something bothered me as I was watching the Falcons/Eagles game last Thursday night.  Something seemed “wrong” with Matt Ryan; there was no zip on the ball when he threw; even his completions downfield seemed to take forever to get where they were going.  Pitchers in baseball talk about having a “dead arm”; if there is such a thing for a QB, it seemed to me that Ryan may have encountered it.

This is not an overreaction because I brought up this issue in my NFL predictions for every team.  I watched much of the Ravens/Bills debacle yesterday even though the outcome was not in doubt for the last three quarters of play.  I watched it the way one might be mesmerized by the progress of a multi-car pileup at the bottom of an icy hill.  The Bills played terribly, and I am sure that some folks somewhere have already concluded that they will be the 2018 team that goes winless for the season.  I’ll stand back from that for now, but I do have to wonder again what the thought process was in Buffalo during the offseason:

  • The Bills made the playoffs last year as the second wild-card in the AFC.
  • So, why did they blow up the team?  They let their QB walk; they did a total makeover of their O-Line; they signed AJ McCarron to a 2-year contract and then traded him to Oakland for a 5th round pick; they assembled a WR corps that cannot even be called “plain vanilla”.
  • They said that Nathan Peterman won the starting job in training camp beating out AJ McCarron.  If you watched even two series of yesterday’s game, you have to wonder what the Hell was going on in that training camp that could have led to that conclusion.  Peterman was below awful in the hierarchy of adjectives.
  • This is not a case where a new GM and a new coach have come to town and are in the process of putting their stamp on the team and the roster; those guys were there last year when the team made the playoffs.
  • To the extent that there was a grand strategic plan behind all the moves made by the Bills in the last off-season, I just do not get it.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A man and two women are on the loose in Silver Spring, Md., after they stole an $80 wig from a store.

“Police profilers describe the suspects as huge fans of artificial turf.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Football Friday 9/7/18

It’s Friday.  So, this will be the second iteration of Football Friday – – only this time we have both college football and NFL football to contemplate.  Let’s begin with a few comments about last week’s college football action.

I am sure that things could have been worse for the PAC-12 but Godzilla stayed at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and did not come ashore and stomp all over a half dozen or so campuses in that conference.  Washington – the class of the PAC-12 North – lost to Auburn.  There is no shame in that, but given some of the other stuff that happened, the conference could have used a win there.  Oregon St. – a PAC-12 cellar-dweller – went to Ohio State and got depantsed 77-31.  It was not that close.  UCLA inaugurated the Chip Kelly Era with a loss to Cincy – a team that managed to win all of 4 games last year.  And Arizona found a way to lose to BYU – another 4-win team from last year – in Kevin Sumlin’s first game at the helm.

Things were even worse for the Big-12 last week.  Ole Miss rolled over Texas Tech by 20 points.  The Tech defense was not very good last year but it returned 10 starters and the narrative was that the Tech defense would take a big step forward this year.  Forget that; Ole Miss averaged 9.1 yards per offensive play.  Oh, but that was the good news for the Big 12:

  • Texas went for its “revenge game” against Maryland – – and lost.  That makes it two years in a row that Texas has lost to this Big-10 doormat – two years in a row that Tom Herman’s team starts the season by soiling the sheets.  Making it worse, the Longhorns led at the end of the 3rd quarter so this was a come-from-ahead loss.  Here is a stat for you.  Since 2011, Maryland has played 24 games against “ranked opponents”.  Maryland’s record in those games is 2-22; the 2 wins were the ones over Texas last year and last week.
  • [Aside:  Two years ago, Tom Herman was the “hot hire” in college coaching and Texas lured him to Austin with a 5-year deal worth $29M.]
  • Kansas St. needed a furious 4th quarter rally to beat South Dakota by a field goal at home.  Hey, a win is a win, right?
  • Making the Texas and Texas Tech losses seem trivial, Kansas lost in OT to a Division 1-AA school, Nichols St.  I said in my college football preview that Kansas coach, David Beaty was on a hot seat.  Well, now you can label him as “Dead Man Coaching”.  His record at Kansas as of this morning is 3-34.

After the Kansas/Nichols St. game, Coach Beaty said:

“… this team is going to continue to work toward the goals they have set.”

Really?  I would have to believe that one of the goals they had set for themselves was not to lose to a Division 1-AA team.  What nonsense…

Here is a serious question.  When Kansas goes shopping for a new coach sometime in late November of this year, what should be the view of potential hires:

  1. Kansas is THE worst coaching job at any Power 5 school in the US, so the money had better be good because my résumé is going to take a hit by going there.   Or …
  2. Kansas is a golden opportunity.  They have stunk for so long that there is nowhere to go but up.  If I can turn that team into a .500 club in 2 years, I’ll be labeled a young up-and-coming coach who will be sought out by schools with real football programs.

I mentioned that the Chip Kelly Era at UCLA started out with a stink bomb.  It does not get any easier for the Bruins this week as they travel to Norman, OK to play the Sooners.  Believe it or not, UCLA is a 30-point underdog in the game…

Remember that Cardinals’ coach, Bobby Petrino, guaranteed that Louisville was going to beat Alabama in the opening game of the season.  Well, Louisville came up just a tad short; Alabama won the game 51-14.

  • Memo for Coach Petrino:  Do not poke the bear…

Liberty U is stepping up to Division 1-A in football this year.  It won its opener over Old Dominion handily by a score of 52-10 and shut out ODU in the second half of the game.  Unless Liberty is the sleeper-of-the-year, it could be a long season for the folks in the Norfolk area…

I kinda thought that Florida Atlantic would be able to score on Oklahoma and keep it within the 3-touchdown spread.  Forget that; the score was 42-0 at the half and 63-14 when the final whistle mercifully blew.

West Virginia beat Tennessee 40-14.  I saw the replay of the game and it looked to me as if Mountaineers’ QB, Will Grier was aiming to be the overall #1 pick in the NFL Draft next spring.  He threw for 429 yards and 5 TDs and was hitting his receivers in stride all day long.

Michigan lost to Notre Dame meaning that Michigan – under Jim Harbaugh – is 9-9 in its last 18 games.  The Notre Dame defense looked outstanding in the game.  I mention this as a way to lead into the next item.

Virginia Tech used a throttling defense to beat Florida State last week – holding the Seminoles without a TD for the first time since 2008.  VA Tech and Notre Dame play one another in Blacksburg VA on October 6.  If those defenses are as good as they looked last week, the Total Line for that game could be in the low-40s…

The LSU defense rendered anything Miami tried to do moot.  If Miami has real offensive problems, then looking ahead to the Miami/Florida St. game is not a pleasant thought.

One more comment about the Florida State debacle last week…  The football program in Tallahassee is one of the better programs in the country over the past 30 years or so.  When Jimbo Fisher bolted the team last year, the Seminoles hired Willie Taggert to lead the program.  After watching Florida St. stumble all over itself last week – – I know; it’s only one game – – I wonder if the Seminoles reached too far.  Consider:

  • Taggert had a losing record in his 3 years at W. Kentucky.
  • Taggert had a losing record in his 4 years at USF.
  • Taggert was 7-5 last year in his only year at Oregon.
  • Taggert has an overall record of 47-51 as a college football coach.

Willie Taggert had 1 year of experience in a Power 5 conference and he managed a 7-5 record there.  Somehow, that and an overall losing record enticed a school with the stature of Florida State to hire him?  Really?

In the Auburn/Washington game, I saw that Auburn has a tight end named Sal Canella.  I wonder if he is related to Sal Monella – from Brooklyn.  You have probably met Sal sometime in your life – – possibly after eating Grandma’s potato salad which has been sitting out in the sun for a few hours at a family picnic.

Looking ahead to Week 2 in college football, there are not nearly as many interesting games as there were in Week 1.  But I’ll give it a try:

Liberty at Army – 8 (59):  This is interesting because of the drubbing Liberty put on ODU last week.  Is Liberty for real or is ODU that bad or what?

W. Michigan at Michigan – 28 (56.5): The Michigan offense better put on a show for the fans in Ann Arbor here after laying an egg against Notre Dame last week.

Duke at Northwestern – 3 (49):  The OVER/UNDER for the median SAT score here is 1250…

Kansas at C. Michigan – 5 (49.5):  Clearly the easiest game left on the Kansas schedule and they are the underdog here.  Oh my…

Rice at Hawaii – 17 (70):  Hawaii is 2-0 and beat Navy last week.  Rice flew about 4000 miles one way for this game.

So, here is my College Six-Pack for the week.  Last week, the Six-Pack was 3-3.  Meh…

(Tonite) TCU – 23 at SMU (59):  These schools are next-door neighbors.  TCU is the much better team – – but TCU just might be in a trap-game situation with Ohio State on tap for next week.  Purely a hunch, I’ll take SMU plus the points here.

Penn St. – 9 at Pitt (55):  Penn State needed OT to beat Appalachian St. last week and this is a big rivalry game from a long time ago.  I like Pitt plus the points.

USC at Stanford – 6 (56):  This is an important game that could be the deciding factor in the PAC-12 South race for the year.  I think Stanford will find ways to confuse USC’s freshman QB; I think USC will find ways to prevent Bryce Love from running amok.  I like this game to stay UNDER.

Clemson – 12 at Texas A&M (54):  This one is Dabo versus Jimbo.  Somewhere in the cosmos, Bo Schembechler offers a tip of the cap…  Call it what you want, this is the best game of the weekend.  Clemson prides itself on being a great road team.  The “money folks” at A&M who ponied up huge money to lure Jimbo Fisher to College Station look at this game as an indication of how their “investment” may pan out in the future.  I like Clemson to win and cover here.

Georgia – 10.5 at S. Carolina (56.5):  I know that Georgia is the better team, but the Gamecocks can be tough at home and they will bring a reasonable defense to the field.  I like this game to stay UNDER.

Appalachian St – 13 at UNC-Charlotte (48):  App St. took Penn St. to overtime last week and Charlotte is a bottom-feeder.  Even accounting for a letdown, I like App St to win and cover here.

Turning to the NFL, there was lots of sturm und drang in evidence early last week as commentators and fanboys all over the country lamented various moves made by teams in cutting down to the 53-man limit.  Perusing a few of the message boards, you would have thought that some of the cuts were as outrageous as throwing a bowling ball to a drowning person.  Calm down folks…

I will leave the final decision here to REAL NFL historians – – such as Dan Daly and/or Ray Didinger – – but here is what I think was the biggest cutdown “blunder” ever in the NFL:

  • In 1955, the Pittsburg Steelers used a late round draft pick on John Unitas.  After training camp, they cut him.  The Steelers kept Jim Finks and Ted Marchiborda as their QBs.  Both Finks and Marchibroda had long careers in the NFL after their playing days were over but neither one was a star on the field.
  • No other team signed Johnny U and so he spent a hear playing semi-pro football.
  • In 1956, the Baltimore Colts signed John Unitas as a free agent and put him in a backfield with rookie Lenny Moore and second year player Alan Ameche and gave him a guy named Raymond Berry to throw the ball to.  You know how that worked out…

For the first week of MNF, ESPN will depart from previous tradition.  Normally, ESPN puts its main broadcast team on the early game of the Monday double header; this year Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland will do the late game (Rams/Raiders).  That means Jason Witten’s debut on a game that means something will involve Jon Gruden – – the guy he is replacing in the broadcast booth.  That could be an interesting storyline, but I don’t think that is why the ESPN suits made their decision.  I think they wanted to put their “A-Team” on the better game – – and the early game is the Jets/Lions which could be a real ho-hum affair.

Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding MNF’s innovation for this season:

“New ‘Monday Night Football’ sideline reporter Booger McFarland will ride up and down the sidelines on a motorized cart dubbed ‘The Booger Mobile.’

“It’s believed to be the greatest innovation on wheels since the Pinto, the Corvair and the Edsel — take your pick.”

Last night’s kickoff game in Philly was a nail-biter to the end.  With the Eagles leading by 6 points, the Falcons had 5 shots at the end zone in the final 30 seconds to win the game but could not make it happen.  There was not a lot of offense in the game and both teams looked as if they could have used more practice time than the current CBA permits, but the game was exciting down to the end.

Here are thumbnail comments on the games this week that are not part of the NFL Six-Pack:

  • Jags/Giants:  Jalen Ramsey versus Odell Beckham, Jr. in OBJ’s first game back from injury; that should provide sparks.  It is also Saquon Barkley’s first game in front of the home fans.  It is also the return to NYC of Tom Coughlin in his exec role with the Jags.  Plenty of storylines here…The Jags probably think they can make a playoff run this year; we shall see.
  • Niners/Vikes:  Can Jimmy G stay undefeated as a starting QB?  Also, look for the Vikes to benefit from the return of RB, Dalvin Cook from injury.
  • Titans/Dolphins:  I have spent about 24 hours trying to find a reason to care about this game.  If you have one, let me know…
  • Seahawks/Broncos:  Seahawks are notoriously bad on the road; Broncos are really good at home.  However, who knows what to expect from the Seahawks totally revamped roster this year – – other than the OL will be substandard.
  • Chiefs/Chargers:  An important divisional game right out of the gate thanks to the schedule-makers.  We have a newbie QB in KC and an old hand at QB in LA.  Andy Reid teams usually start the season well…
  • Cowboys/Panthers:  One of these teams might be good this year.  Don’t know if that is true or which one it might be.
  • Skins/Cardinals:  Neither of these teams will be good this year.  This is the Dog Breath Game of the Week.
  • Bears/Packers:  This rivalry goes back to the origins of professional football in America.  It is a division game to start the season.  What’s not to like?
  • Jets/Lions:  This is the debut of Sam Darnold.  It is still September; so, the Lions have not been eliminated from the playoffs yet.  That’s all I got …

Here is the NFL Six-Pack for the week – with a seventh pick thrown in at no extra charge:

Pittsburgh – 4 at Cleveland (44):  It is fashionable to pick the Browns to win this game outright and end their 18-game losing streak.  Well, Curmudgeon Central is not a fashionable locale by any stretch of the imagination; my long-suffering wife will testify to that.  The Steelers have the better QB; the better set of playmakers and the Browns – – well they are the Browns.  I’ll take the Steelers and lay the points.

Tampa at New Orleans – 9.5 (49.5):  This is the largest spread of the week – – for a reason.  The Saints aspire to play in the Super Bowl this year; if the Bucs think that way, they are delusional.  The Saints will start Drew Brees; the Bucs will start Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Even with Mark Ingram sitting out a suspension, I like the Saints to win and cover here.

Houston at New England – 6.5 (51):  This is the best game of the weekend between two heavyweight teams; both squads should be in the playoffs come January.  This is the return game for Deshaun Watson, JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus.  I like the Texans plus the points here.  [Aside:  I was tempted to take the Texans on the money line here at +220 but I am not going to go that far taking a young QB to win outright in Foxboro.]

Buffalo at Baltimore – 7.5 (40.5):  I am neither a Joe Flacco fanboy nor a Joe Flacco hater but given the choice of backing a team led by Joe Flacco or Nathan Peterman, I’ll take Joe Flacco.  I wish that half-point hook was not on the spread, but I’ll ignore that and take the Ravens to win and cover.  Also, I like this game to go OVER.

Cincy at Indy – 2.5 (48):  I like the fact that Andrew Luck in back and able to play.  Notwithstanding the Colts advantage at QB if Luck is even at 80% of what he was, the Bengals are the better team here and they are getting points.  I like the Bengals plus the points here.

(Monday Nite) Rams – 4 at Oakland (49):  This is the first game of the Jon Gruden Era and already there are grumblings among the Raider faithful given the trade of Khalil Mack.  This game features two franchises that are perpetually peripatetic.  The Rams started out in Cleveland, moved to LA then moved to St. Louis and now they are back in LA.  The Raiders started out in Oakland, moved to LA, threatened to move to Irwindale, moved back to Oakland and are on their way to Las Vegas.  The game should be sponsored by Mayflower Moving Company…  I think the Rams are the better team by far; I like them to win and cover here.

Finally, Brad Rock had this comment in the Deseret News recently going to see the Cleveland Browns play football:

“A woman directed a profane Facebook rant at family and friends for failing to finance her $60,000 ‘Kardashian wedding’.

“She reportedly asked guests to pay $1500 apiece to attend.

“That’s outrageous, but seriously, worse than charging $200 to see the Cleveland Browns?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Today Is Mishmash Day

Here is a headline from yesterday at CBSSports.com:

  • “What deGrom needs to do to get ERA below Gooden’s 1.53.”

I was not sufficiently enticed by that headline to click on the link, because I thought I knew the answer off the top of my head:

  • Do not allow any earned runs in September.

Brad Dickson, humor writer formerly with the Omaha World-Herald tweeted out his perspective on the Nike/Colin Kaepernick kerfuffle:

“Well, I’m glad that Nike finally found a spokes-person who’s non-polarizing. Second and third choices were Julian Assange and Kim Jong Un.”

It is a good thing when a “big controversy” gets to the point where we can make fun of it in addition to venting spleen over it…

Believe it or not, there are TWO high school football things to talk about this morning.  Often, I can go through an entire football season without mentioning two high school football happenings but that is not the case today.

The highest scoring high school football game in Iowa happened earlier this year.  Council Bluffs Jefferson beat Sioux City North by a score of 99-81.  [Aside:  No truth to the rumor that both defensive coordinators bet the OVER.]  At halftime, Council Bluffs led 57-21; Sioux City North won the second half 60-42.  The QB for the LOSING side threw for 310 yards and 9 TDs in the game.  The winning side ran the ball for 749 yards (67 attempts) and one runner scored 8 TDs.

I presume that these two teams will meet on a basketball court sometime this winter.  I suspect there will be fewer points scored in the basketball game than were scored in this football game.

The other high school football note is captured in this comment by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Turning out: During a high school football game last weekend in Little Rock, Ark., false reports of gunfire sent 38,000 panicked people scrambling for the exits. That’s right, a high school game in Arkansas attracted 38,000 spectators.”

I suspect that in many parts of Texas, a crowd of 38,000 for a high school football game would be an indicator that the game was played in a torrential downpour…  There are indeed parts of the country where youth sports are much more important then they are here in the DC suburbs.

Allow me to tell a story here.  In my real career before ranting on the Internet, there was a time when I had to travel to Joplin, MO about once a month/every six weeks.  On the first of my visits there, I asked the people who lived there with whom I was transacting business what I ought to do for entertainment in the evening.  Most of the trips there were 2 or possibly 3 days in duration.  My colleague asked me if I liked baseball; of course, I said I did.  He said that he and his wife were going to the game that evening and that I should consider meeting them at the park; there are always tickets available at the walk-up window.  I thought that was a great idea and he gave me directions to get from my motel to the park.  [Aside: I doubt that anyone had even dreamt of GPS at that point in history.]

I went back to the motel and changed clothes and started to head to the park.  I was trying to think in what minor league Joplin had a team; none came to mind; I assumed that meant it was going to be A-ball or maybe a rookie league.  I was wrong…

My colleague and his wife – and about a thousand other folks – were there to watch a Little League doubleheader.  During my time when visits to Joplin, MO were happening on a regular basis, I took in several other Little League doubleheaders to pass the time on summer evenings.  The crowds were always about the same size.

As a point of reference, if a Little League team in the DC area counted the attendance at all of their games for an entire season, I doubt that it would come anywhere near 1000 souls…

Great players – in general – do not make very good coaches/GMs.  The counter-example here would be Larry Bird who was a great player and a good coach.  [Bill Russell’s tenure with the Celtics does not count because he was a player-coach and “Coach Russell” had the “Great Player” Russell on the court.]  Perhaps, we are seeing an example of this phenomenon unfold in the NFL.  John Elway was a great QB to anyone who saw him play.  John Elway has been less than successful in finding QBs for his Denver Broncos.  [Do not count “finding” Peyton Manning on the free-agent market after he was released by the Colts.  Everyone knew Manning was a great QB; the question was if his body could hold up throughout a season.]

The QBs he has taken in the draft have ranged from “decidedly mediocre” to “outright awful”.

  • Trevor Siemian – a 7th round pick – is probably the best of the lot.  He will back up Kirk Cousins for the Vikes this season.
  • Brock Osweiler – a 2nd round pick – is starting his 7th season in the league and has yet to do anything marginally impressive.
  • Paxton Lynch – a 1st round pick – lasted 3 years with the Broncos where he started 5 games.  He was released by the team in this year’s cutdown.

I think the reason great players make less than great coaches/GMs is that they were able to things naturally/instinctively that others could not.  You cannot teach “instinct” and – even worse – a great player turned coach/GM might just assume that everyone has the same instincts that he does/did.  The fact is that most players do not have innate greatness and perhaps those great players turned coaches/GMs are on a fool’s errand looking for young players who will just like they were.  Just a thought…

Finally, let me close with another Tweet from Brad Dickson:

“This morning I learned that John McCain and Michael Jackson were born on the same day. So much for astrology.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Nike’s New Marketing Campaign

I guess I have to start today with Nike’s corporate decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of their 30th anniversary of Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It”.  Many columnists this morning have lauded Nike for “taking a side” in the ongoing dispute between Kaepernick and the NFL.  Actually, I don’t think they took a side at all.  Remember just as Nike will pay Kaepernick to use his image and his person as the basis of their new ad campaign, Nike also is paying the NFL to be its official athletic shoe and it also is selling uniform jerseys to the NFL teams.  What Nike did was to make a business decision and now people who have already made up their mind on the “Kaepernick/NFL Kerfuffle” are acting out.

  1. People who think Kaepernick and his anthem protests were right and proper hail this as a victory – – and some predict that this will be a landslide that engulfs the NFL and its owners.
  2. People who think Kaepernick’s anthem protests were an affront to the United States see this as more pandering to the protesters and they have taken to the streets to burn Nike gear and shoes.

No one had their mind changed by Nike’s decision – – and if anyone thinks that Nike did not take all of this into account before launching this campaign, he/she is delusional.  And for the record, the entire athletic shoe and apparel industry – including Nike and all its competitors – got a business boost in the past 48 hours.  When large numbers of people burn up shoes and jerseys, that creates demand in the industry.  Nike competitors will get the business of folks who burned the shoes; Nike will get the business of people who think the company did a courageous and righteous thing.  It is quite transactional…

Allow me to make two quick baseball observations here.  We are at the point in the MLB season where rosters are expanded, and managers now have 40 bodies in the dugout to use in game situations.  Do not be surprised if games in September – particularly ones involving teams that are not in the running for anything – start to take longer to complete.  Up until September 1, MLB teams carry 12 or 13 pitchers on the active roster.  In September, managers may have 15 or 20 arms available to them.  It takes a smidgen of planning ahead when it comes to managing a bullpen in the early part of the season; in September, managers can change pitchers on a whim.

Therefore, things to look for in September include:

  • Time of game entries in box scores longer than 3:30
  • Games where the total number of pitchers used by both teams is 12 or more.

The Miami Marlins made an announcement of a business decision of their own last week.  For those who thought that Nike made a bad decision, please ruminate on this one for a moment.

  • Next year, the Marlins will set aside sections in the stands for fans who want to bring noisemakers to the game.

As of this morning, the Marlins average attendance for 2018 home games is 10,014.  Last year, the Marlins drew just over 20,000 per home game; so, attendance this year is about half of what it was last year.  Obviously, the decision by the Marlins to slash payroll and trade off all but one of their top players is the principal cause of that attendance debacle.  Nonetheless, I wonder about the thought processes of the Marlins’ braintrust if they think adding sections full of noisemakers – – think vuvuzelas – – will attract thousands of fans per game to the stadium.

Niners’ CB, Richard Sherman, is in the news for something other than his play on the field.  Sherman will launch a Daily Fantasy Sports website that offers a different way to play daily fantasy sports.  Since I never played them “the old way”, I am no position to tell you how new and different Sherman’s approach to that form of gambling might be.  Buried in the announcement of the launch of Daily Number is the fact that it plans to launch in 23 states meaning that this endeavor is going to seek a national presence in the daily fantasy sports landscape.  Here is a link to a report at legalsportsreport.com that explains how the app will work and what the marketing plan for it is.

Given my apathy about daily fantasy sports in general, consider this a public service announcement …

After those of you who care about daily fantasy sports have digested the nuances of this new approach to that form of gambling entertainment, ponder for a moment what might have been the reaction of Roger Goodell to this announcement just a year ago.  After he recovered from the apoplexy he would have suffered …

Having mentioned fantasy sports, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald on the subject:

“It’s fantasy draft weekend: Has your league had its fantasy draft yet? Better get to it, with NFL season opening this Thursday night. Only sure bet with fantasy drafts? You’ll think your team is a lot better than it really is. Me, too.”

Finally, here is a tidbit of football history from Peter King’s Football Morning In America column at NBCSports.com earlier this week:

“The Bears and the Packers, fittingly, will open the 100th season of professional football in Green Bay Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

“They have met 196 times previously—194 in the regular season, twice in the playoffs. In those 196 games, this is the composite score:

“Green Bay 3,377, Chicago 3,377.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

The Last Month Of MLB – 2018

When I was a kid, Labor Day meant that school would start later that week and that meant summer was over.  The calendar said summer wasn’t over and there was a big part of summer that wasn’t over yet – – the baseball season.  I have long since ceased to be concerned with the start of a new school year, but Labor Day remains a good point in the baseball season to see how things stack up for the homestretch.

  • The AL East:  As expected, the Yankees and the Red Sox have dominated this division from the start.  The Red Sox have a comfortable 7.5 game lead this morning.  More interestingly, if the Red Sox were to lose every game from here on out, I think they would still be the second wild card team in the AL playoffs.  The Red Sox have won 94 games so far; to miss out on the second wild card slot, the Mariners would have to finish the season 19-6.  I suspect that neither condition will be met…
  • The AL Central:  Such a yawn…  The Indians lead the Twins by 14 games as of this morning and the Twins are a less-than-impressive 10 games under .500.  On the tension/drama scale, this “race” is comparable to a prune smoothie.
  • The AL West:  The Astros lead the A’s by 2.5 games this morning and the A’s are as hot as any team in MLB.  Meanwhile, if the A’s were to “regress to the mean” sharply in September, the Mariners are still within shouting distance.  AL fans should focus their attention here…
  • The NL East:  The Atlanta Braves are on top and they look like the best team in the division – but their lead is only 4 games over a Phillies’ team that continues to win with smoke and mirrors.  The “big story” here is the dreadful showing by the Nationals for 2018
  • The NL Central:  The Cubs are on top today with the Brewers 5 games behind and the Cardinals 5.5 games behind.  The Cubs and Brewers play 6 times in September and the Cubs play the Cardinals 3 times between now and the end of the season.
  • The NL West:  In terms of a division race, this is where the excitement is.  As of this morning, the Dodgers lead the Rockies by half-a-game and lead the Diamondbacks by 1 game.  The Dodgers play the Rockies 6 times this month and they play the Diamondbacks 3 times.  Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks and Rockies will face off 7 times in September and the D-Backs also have to play the Cubs and the Astros this month.  Stay tuned …

But wait; there’s more …  The wild card race in the NL is indeed wild.  For the sake of simplicity, I will assume here that the Cubs go on to win their division and that the Braves are the NL East winners.  Even eliminating those two teams from any participation in the wild card chase, here is how it looks today:

  1. Brewers  77 – 61
  2. Cardinals  76 – 61  0.5 GB
  3. Dodgers  75 – 62  1.5 GB
  4. Rockies  74 – 62  2.0 GB
  5. D-Backs  74 – 63  2.5 GB
  6. Phillies  72 – 64  4.0  GB

I know the football season is underway – at the college level – and that NFL games start this week.  Nonetheless, keep paying attention to the baseball box scores because there is the potential for some interesting fireworks there.  With the ascension of advanced analytics in baseball, however, there is one sort of “fireworks” we are not likely to see so long as the computers dictate strategy.  In 2018, managers view a stolen base attempt with the sort of disdain shown for someone trying to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on a kazoo.  The MLB leader in stolen bases in 2018 is Trea Turner; he has 35 steals.  Only 3 players – – Turner, Dee Gordon and Starling Marte – – have attempted to steal 40 or more times in the season.

Granted, none of these guys is Rickey Henderson on the bases but just for comparison, consider Henderson’s stats.  In 1982, he led MLB in steals with 130 and he attempted 172 steals.  Henderson played in 149 games that year, so he attempted 1.15 steals per game.  For his career, Henderson attempted 1741 steals and was successful 1406 times.  Modern day managers would be horrified with those numbers – – but Henderson scored more runs in his career than anyone else in baseball history (He crossed the plate 2295 times.) and the last time I checked, that was the object of the game.

Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week regarding another modern baseball stratagem dictated by analytics:

“One and only: Ted Williams, who would have turned 100 on Friday, batted against infield shifts that were used just for him and still hit better than .300. Today, many of the shifts are employed to stop .200 hitters. I think the Splendid Splinter might have found that funny.”

Finally, let me close with a baseball-themed comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez says he injured his finger by getting it caught in a suitcase.

“That’s what he gets for not bringing in a closer.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Football Friday – Weekend Of 8/31/18

Football is about to begin for real.  There have been a few college games so far, but the meat of the college season starts this weekend.  The NFL pretend games have mercifully ended with kickoff for the games that matter scheduled for 6 September at 8:20 PM EDT.  With the arrival of football season, I will commence Football Friday which is not to be taken literally.  Here is what I hope to do with Football Friday:

  • Starting with the week of Sept.29, follow the progress of the Division 3 Linfield College Wildcats as they seek yet another winning football season.  They have done that every year since 1956.
  • Present some general comments related to college football and the NFL pertinent – hopefully – to some of the upcoming games on the weekend.
  • Comment on wagering opportunities for games of interest in college and NFL football.
  • Present two “Six-Packs” … six college games and six NFL games worthy of a “sporting investment”.  That is likely going to be a stretch for me since I rarely think there are 6 NFL games worth betting – – but I’ll give it a shot here.

The reason I said above not to take Football Friday literally is because I already know that life events are going to intervene to force schedule changes.  Sometimes, these offerings will be out on a Thursday; sometimes, they will not happen at all as I will be about 6 time zones away from Curmudgeon Central on a trip with my long-suffering wife.  I’ll just take them a week at a time – – the same way that football coaches always take things one game at a time.

It is fair to say that there are more than a few folks out there who believe that Urban Meyer dodged a bullet when all he got was a 3-game suspension from Ohio State.  One of the university trustees has resigned that position in protest.  If you care to read the case for why Urban Meyer should have been fired from his job, here is a link to Sally Jenkins’ column today in the Washington Post.  As is her wont, Jenkins pulls no punches in this column; here is her lead sentence:

“Read the public documents Ohio State collected in its investigation of Urban Meyer and you will never again be able to view him as anything but boneless.”

And that is the nice part of her column…

Tomorrow on FOX, the game between Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic should be entertaining – unless of course you like defense dominated games where field position dictates the action.  Lane Kiffin and Lincoln Riley are generally regarded as offensive innovators.  Kiffin has most of his offensive starters back from last year’s team that won its final 10 games of the season and scored 40 or more points in a game 8 times last year.  Riley’s offense was piloted by Baker Mayfield last year; to say it was prolific would be to soft-pedal the praise.  Mayfield is gone now – the first overall pick in the NFL Draft – and he is replaced by Kyler Murray.  Normally, that would signal caution on the part of coaches and fans, but Murray brings an interesting résumé to the field:

  • Two years ago, he began the season as the backup QB at Texas A&M but won the starting job in mid-season.
  • He transferred to Oklahoma at the end of the 2015 season and was Baker Mayfield’s backup last year.
  • He is also a baseball player who was drafted #9 overall by the Oakland A’s and he has signed a contract with the A’s that gave him a $4.5M signing bonus.  After this season, he plans to forego his senior season of eligibility for football and report to Spring Training with the A’s.

The Oklahoma/FAU game opened with a Total Line of 65.5; this morning the Total Line is 72.  People are expecting offensive fireworks here despite the fact that is the first game of the year for both teams.

There is a game this weekend that might qualify as the Game of the Week if it were on the card sometime in late October or early November.  Both Michigan and Notre Dame have lofty aspirations for the 2018 season.  They play each other tomorrow at Notre Dame; the losing side here will be very disappointed. The oddsmakers see a close game and a defensive game.  Notre Dame is favored by 1.5 points and the Total Line is a very modest 46.5.

Louisville visits Alabama tomorrow night.  In a press conference a couple of weeks ago, Louisville coach, Bobby Petrino said flat out that Louisville was going to beat Alabama in Game 1 of this season.  Tomorrow is Game 1.  The oddsmakers have a different view of this game.  As of this morning, Alabama is a 24-point favorite and if you want to take Petrino at his word and bet Louisville to win the game outright, the Money Line is at a cozy +1425.

[Aside:  If you like trends, the last time Alabama lost its opening game of the season, it was 2001.  The game took place 10 days before the hijacked aircraft took down the twin towers in NYC.]

I understand why some schools take on games where the team is overmatched to generate revenue for the athletic department.  However, I think that New Mexico State has taken that tactic and raised it to an art form.  The Aggies are one of the Independents in Division 1-A football after they were invited to leave the Sun Belt Conference at the end of last year.  Filling a schedule for an Independent school is not a trivial undertaking – unless the school is Notre Dame – but here is what New Mexico State did for this season:

  • Last Saturday, August 25th, the Aggies played Wyoming and lost 29-7.  Looking at the stats for the game, it was probably not that close – but I did not see the game, so I cannot be certain of that.
  • Last night, August 30th, the Aggies traveled about 1500 miles to play Minnesota in the Twin Cities.  Not surprisingly, they got hammered 48-10.

It is one thing to take on bigger opponents for a payday and another to schedule your team to play 2 games in 5 days in August with 1500 miles of one-way travel involved…

For the NFL, this is “Cutdown Weekend”; lots of roster movement and player movement will happen in the next 24-36 hours as teams must be down to the 53-man roster by 4:00PM EDT tomorrow.  There were trades this week involving backup QBs in advance of the free-agent scrum that will happen as soon as the cuts are announced.

  • The Packers sent backup QB, Brent Hundley to the Seahawks where he will carry a clipboard for Russell Wilson instead of Aaron Rodgers.  Hundley showed last season that he might someday become a journeyman QB who will not throw up on his shoes.  The scary thing about this trade is that the Packers chose to keep DeShone Kizer over Hundley.  Hundley was hugely unimpressive, but Kizer looked even worse.
  • The Jets sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints.  With Sam Darnold named as the starter for the Jets and with Josh McCown uninjured in the exhibition season, there was no need for the Jets to keep Bridgewater and by trading him – vice releasing him tomorrow – they scored a 3rd round draft pick next year.  The Jets need draft picks; that roster is anything but “loaded”.  The Saints’ decision here tells me that the braintrust in New Orleans thinks they have a shot to go deep in the playoffs this year and are willing to spend a draft pick to buy some insurance.

From reading various “camp reports”, there are several players who could be free agents as of tomorrow and who ought to be able to find homes somewhere in the NFL.  Here are five of them:

  1. Ameer Abdullah – RB:  He came to the Lions in the second round of the 2015 draft.  He has been with the Lions for 3 seasons and has never rushed for 100 yards in a game.  [Aside:  The last Lion to rush for 100 yards in a game was Reggie Bush and he did that in 2013.]  The team signed LeGarrette Blount in the off-season to be the “big back” and they drafted Kerryon Johnson too.
  2. Josh Dobbs – QB:  The Steelers are not likely to keep 4 QBs on the roster.  Ben Roethlisberger is the starter and the team just drafted Mason Rudolph 4 months ago.  The other two QBs on the roster are Dobbs and Landry Jones.  I doubt that teams would want to give up anything to get Jones, but Dobbs might attract offers because he is only 23 years old.  If Dobbs is cut, I suspect he finds a job somewhere in the league.
  3. Mike Gillislee – RB:  The Pats signed him to be their “big back” last year after LeGarrette Blount signed with the Eagles.  Somehow, Gillislee worked his way lower and lower on the Pats’ totem pole to the point that he was not even dressed for about a half-dozen games at the end of the season.  He is only 27 years old, so he should find a home somewhere.
  4. Robert Griffin III – QB:  The question for the Ravens is simple.  Do they carry 3 QBs or only 2?  Joe Flacco is the starter; Lamar Jackson is a first-round pick from this year’s draft for whom the Ravens traded up to get.  They are making the team.  RG3 played well in the exhibition games so maybe his career gets extended somewhere?
  5. Paxton Lynch – QB:  The Broncos only have 3 QBs on the roster and Lynch appears to be the odd-man out.  While his performances to date have been tepid-at-best, he is only 24 years old and he fits the mold of a “developmental asset” that many teams use for their backup QBs.

College Football Games of Interest: 

(Friday Nite) San Diego St. at Stanford – 13.5 (48.5):  This is a revenge game for Stanford; last year they visited San Diego St. and lost 20-17.  The Aztecs had the nation’s leading rusher last year in Rashaad Penny; he is gone.  The Cardinal still have Bryce Love carrying the football for them.  I think the Aztecs are in for a long evening of football…

Ole Miss at Texas Tech – 3 (67):  Ole Miss is still on probation and cannot go to a bowl game this year; they are “playing for pride” in Oxford, MS this year.  Texas Tech has been disappointing the last several seasons and more than a few commentators think that Kliff Kingsbury could be out of a job without significant improvement this year.  The game could be interesting…

Texas – 13.5 at Maryland (53):  This is a revenge game for Texas; they lost in Austin last year to Maryland 51-41.  The Maryland program is in turmoil with the coach suspended and an investigation ongoing into an alleged “toxic culture” in the football program that may have played a part in the death of a young athlete during a practice.

Army at Duke – 13.5 (46):  Army won 10 games last year; this is a game of interest specifically to see if they are on track to do that again.

 

 College Football Six-Pack:

  • [Make no mistake, these picks do not derive on the basis of any inside information or hours of research.  No one should risk any real money on any of these picks solely on the fact that they are here.  Anyone who did that would also think that “fast food” is what you get when you run over a deer at 75 mph.]

West Virginia – 9 at Tennessee (63):  Tennessee cleaned house after last season and then went through the most bizarre coaching search ever leading to student protests over the announced hire leading to the withdrawal of the offer to hire.  The new coach is Jeremy Pruitt and he comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree; that is the good news.  The bad news is that Tennessee does not have the same level of talent that Alabama does.  Meanwhile, West Virginia is led by QB, Will Grier who is an early contender for the Heisman Trophy and who averaged 300+ yards per game passing last year.  I like West Virginia to win and cover.

Washington vs. Auburn – 2.5 (48) [Game is in Atlanta]:  If the Michigan/Notre Dame game is not the best game of the week, then this one surely is.  The Huskies look to be the class of the PAC-12; they have experienced leaders on offense and a very good defense.  Auburn is a top-shelf SEC school and will win plenty of games this year.  Interestingly, Auburn played 2 games in Atlanta last year and lost both of them.  I like Washington plus the points here.

Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma – 21 (72):  I mentioned this game above.   Call this a “Chris Christie Line” – – it looks fat to me.  I’ll take FAU plus the points.

(Monday Nite) VA Tech at Florida State – 7.5 (54.5):  Florida State has a new coaching staff and a new system while VA Tech brings one of the top-rated defenses to the field.  I like Tech plus the points here. 

Miami – 3 at LSU (46.5) [Game is in Arlington, TX]:  If this game were in Baton Rouge as the opening game of the season, I would jump on LSU immediately.  However, on a neutral field, I like the Miami defense to throttle the typically bland LSU offense.  I’ll take Miami and lay the points. 

Appalachian St. at Penn St. – 24 (54):  Saquon Barkley is not in Happy Valley anymore.  I do not expect Penn State to lose this game, but I do think that is a boatload of points to give to one of the better teams outside of the Power 5 Conferences.  I’ll take App St and the points.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times was clearly looking ahead into the college football season with this comment:

“The Cactus Bowl has been rebranded the Cheez-its Bowl.

“You’ve got to like Wisconsin’s chances of getting the first invite.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………