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The Rebirth of Bay Area Football

Posted by William Martin on October 26, 2011

For nearly a decade professional football fans in The Bay Area have been waiting to see their teams emerge from dormancy. The San Francisco 49ers are currently leading The NFC West while this is the latest in the season that The Oakland Raiders have been over .500 since 2002. Both teams have first year head coaches in Jim Harbaugh (49ers) and Hue Jackson (Raiders) who have brought energy back to the region.

The Raiders lead The National Football League in rushing with 1115 yards and the combination of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush has become one of the best running back tandems in the league. McFadden provides the explosiveness to break long runs while Bush makes defenders think about what is most important to them as he runs over and through them. The Oakland Coliseum is a tough place for opponents to play at any point, especially when The Raiders are relevant.

The Raiders won their home opener against The New York Jets and “The Black Hole” was raucous. The Coliseum was even tougher for The Cleveland Browns who were the first visiting team to play in Oakland following the death of team owner Al Davis. In that game starting quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone which put the season in jeopardy. In typical Raider fashion, they pulled off a last minute trade just before the deadline. The Raiders acquired quarterback Carson Palmer from The Cincinnati Bengals. Palmer became disgruntled with The Bengal organization and he will now look to revitalize himself in Oakland.

The Niners have shocked everyone with their hot start which includes two road comebacks against The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions. If San Francisco did not have a fourth quarter collapse in week 2 versus The Dallas Cowboys, then I would be writing about this team being undefeated. For the last few seasons The 49ers have had a good defense led by middle linebacker Patrick Willis who is possibly the heir apparent to Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis as the best linebacker in the game. Willis now has help on the outside in the form rookie outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Through the team’s first six games Smith has 5.5 sacks and has made a living in the opponents backfield harassing quarterbacks.

Offensively a ton of credit must be directed in the direction of Harbaugh. After leaving Stanford University, Harbaugh decided to stay in Northern California and become head coach of The 49ers. Harbaugh has been able to do what many have failed to do before him, develop quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has seen his fair share of head coaches and offensive coordinators come and go in San Francisco. Harbaugh has restored the confidence of the former number one overall pick and Smith is turning into a decent NFL quarterback. Smith has only thrown eight touchdowns but more importantly Smith isn’t losing the game for The Niners. Since Smith has been in San Francisco, he has received a heavy dose of criticism from the fans and the media who have questioned his toughness and ability. Now Smith is showing character and ability that some though that he didn’t have.

Smith can’t do it all by himself as The 49ers have a quality offense for the first time since the days of Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens. San Francisco is able to spread opposing defenses out with tight end Vernon Davis and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree. This trio has been causing mismatches all seasons and week by week they are starting to gel into a good unit of receivers.

The 49ers and Raiders are now winning games the fans have become accustomed to seeing them lose. Now both teams have their sights set on the postseason and it is a very good possibility that they both can make the playoffs.

The Pac-12 is better than The NFC West this year as The 49ers have a stranglehold on the division with a 5-1 record. Seven wins won the division last season and San Francisco can accomplish that by showing up for the next few games and doing the tootsie roll. The win over Detroit was also big as it could be the difference in The Lions making the trip to The West Coast if these two meet in the playoffs. A rematch with The Lions could also be on the under card of Harbaugh-Schwartz II as Harbaugh and Lion head coach Jim Schwartz clashed after Schwartz took offense to Harbaugh’s post game reactions after The 49er victory.

The Raiders are in the thick of things in The AFC West. Oakland is only a half a game behind the division leading San Diego Chargers who they swept last season. These teams meet for the first time next month with the division lead more than likely at stake. The Raiders also hold tie-breakers  over The Jets, Browns, and Houston Texans due to defeating these teams this season which could loom large down the stretch in regards to The AFC Wild Card picture.

Raider Nation has always been supportive of their Raiders and now that loyalty is paying off as the team is competitive once again. For The 49ers, they struck gold 32 years ago when they made another Stanford head coach Bill Walsh the head coach of The Niners. Walsh went on to build a dynasty in leading San Francisco to three Super Bowl Titles. The script is not finished for either team, but they way that it is playing out, both teams are back on track for success.

 

Posted in Football, NFL | 73 Comments »

The Dolphins Are Still Searching for The Next Dan Marino

Posted by William Martin on October 10, 2011

With a record of 0-4 to start the season The Miami Dolphins have not gotten off on the right foot. Head coach Tony Sporano is worrying about his job security and quarterback Chad Henne is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Matt Moore is stepping in at quarterback to replace Henne. Moore will become the thirteenth starting quarterback for The Dolphins since Dan Marino retired in 1999. For 17 seasons Marino lit up The Miami skyline with amazing passing stats as he retired as one of the most prolific passers in National Football League history. The Dolphins were a consistent playoff contender and they made one Super Bowl appearance in 1984. Since Marino retired The Dolphins have made the playoffs three times and winning one playoff game.

It is very difficult for any team to win in professional football when they have constant turnover at the quarterback position. The Dolphins have continuously made the mistake of bringing in quarterbacks to stop the bleeding instead of trying to develop a franchise guy. The list reads from players such as Cleo Lemon to A.J. Feeley and we cannot forget about Joey Harrington. These are some of the stop-gap guys brought in to fill Marino’s shoes. The jury is still out on Henne and the shoulder injury puts everyone in a bind. There aren’t any guarantees that Sporano will be back next season as majority owner Stephen Ross was courting then Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh about bringing his talents to South Beach in January. Harbaugh stayed in The Bay Area and signed with The San Francisco 49ers. Ross took a ton of backlash in the media and subsequently gave Sporano an extension to his contract which was basically “hush money” as it was Ross’ way to say we goofed by looking for a head coach when we still had one under contract.

The Dolphins drafted Henne in the second round in 2008. Since The Dolphins drafted Marino in the first round of The 1983 NFL Draft, The New Orleans Saints are the only team in The NFL that have not drafted a quarterback in the first round. Fans want to get behind this team and the organization needs that franchise quarterback to sell the public on. If Ross fires Sporano, then a new regime will more than likely want to draft a quarterback and start fresh. The Dolphins look like a team that will pick in the top ten of next April’s NFL Draft unless they get things turned around soon. The more that they lose, the more the  people in South Florida will start talking about current college quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Landry Jones, and Matt Barkley as possible replacement in Miami.

Attendance is down at Sun Life Stadium and The Dolphins record doesn’t help the situation. The Dolphins won only one home game last season and it was another inconsistent season from the quarterback position as Henne threw 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The Dolphins are trying to catch up to division rivals The New York Jets and New England Patriots who have their franchise quarterbacks in Mark Sanchez and Tom Brady respectively. Marino was that man for so long and he casts a large shadow over The Dolphins. Many quarterbacks have come and gone and not been able to step in and come close to Marino’s greatness. The Miami Dolphins are long overdue in finding that guy to return them to prominence in The AFC.

Posted in NFL | 48 Comments »

Is Texas A&M SEC Worthy?

Posted by William Martin on September 28, 2011

The Texas A&M Aggies finally had their wish granted as they are now members of The Southeastern Conference. Texas A&M president Dr. R. Bowen Loftin can say whatever he wants to say publicly about doing what is best for the institution, but this is all about money and with The O’Jays performing in College Station, The Aggies got the payday that they always wanted. In the process they got away from the shadow of The Texas Longhorns. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side and The Aggies will soon realize this as it relates to football.

When you think of Texas A&M football, you think of a team that continuously takes a back seat to The Longhorns. The Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996 and The Aggies found early success by winning The Big 12 South in 1997 and 1998. In ’98 The Aggies defeated The Kansas State Wildcats for their only Big 12 Title. Since then The Big 12 South was dominated by The Longhorns and The Oklahoma Sooners as both schools represented The Big 12 South every year in the title game until 2010.

The Big 12 has always been a top heavy conference with Oklahoma and Texas carrying the banner of success. The Aggies have found themselves in the middle of the pack in The Big 12. Now they will travel to The SEC which has produced the last five BCS Champions as well as being a much tougher football conference. The Aggies will most likely be placed in The SEC West along with The Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers and LSU Tigers. These three teams have won three of those five BCS crowns.

Teams are rarely able to make consecutive SEC Championship Games due to the competitive nature of the conference. If a team slips up they have several teams nipping at their heels to knock them down a peg. In 2009 The Tide went undefeated as BCS Champs. Last year they suffered three conference losses. The Tide then showed their dominance by steamrolling The Michigan State Spartans in The Capital One Bowl 49-7. If The Tide were in another conference like The Big 12 they probably would have qualified for a BCS bowl game. This season the defending BCS Champs Auburn have already lost a game before conference play as LSU and ‘Bama are ready to overtake them in the division.

Since 2000, The Aggies have met four SEC schools in bowl games and lost each game by a combined score of 146-92. Last season’s Cotton Bowl displayed that LSU had too much team speed for Texas A&M as The Tigers won 41-24. In the last two seasons, The Aggies have played another SEC team The Arkansas Razorbacks at Cowboys Stadium only to lose both contests. To add fuel to the fire, A&M’s Big 12 brethren Oklahoma and Texas have lost three BCS Championship Games to The SEC which proves the talent gap etween both conferences.

If you’re going to beg the prom queen to dance with her, then you need to be able to keep up. The Aggies are staring at 7-5 consistently in The SEC. This is only The Western Division as The Florida Gators will consistently be waiting in Atlanta at The SEC Championship Game if A&M can run the gauntlet in The West. For me this poses the question why would anyone want to join The SEC? Bottom feeders in the conference such as The Vanderbilt Commodores and Ole Miss Rebels are thankful for 6-6 which is a testament to them surviving the conference.

A&M had a good thing going in The Big 12 as they are starting to pick up steam under head coach Mike Sherman. Sherman is making The Aggies respectable once again as they are becoming a team that expects to play on New Year’s Day every year. The glory days of former Aggie head coach R.C. Slocum and “The Wrecking Crew” defense in The Southwest Conference are gone. I understand that The Aggies are tired of being pushed around by Texas on and off the field, but a winning season in The Big 12 along with a trip to The Holiday Bowl will look great once A&M is struggling to make The Independence Bowl in The SEC. The Aggies were not happy with the revenue sharing for all teams in The Big 12. The Longhorns launched The Longhorn Network which was expected to provide funding for all Big 12 schools. Loftin wanted a payout that he feels will help his school and kicked the tradition of constantly losing to Texas aside for a chance to be dominated by The Crimson Tide. Loftin will always be remembered in College Station for this move, how people remember him is yet to be seen.

Posted in College Football, Football, NCAA | 1,377 Comments »

Will The Baltimore Orioles ever Win Again?

Posted by William Martin on September 21, 2011

Once upon a time in Major League Baseball teams wanted to emulate The Baltimore Orioles. From 1964 to 1983 The Orioles won 90 or more games 16 times. During that time The Orioles made the playoffs eight times while winning The World Series three times. Now if The Orioles were to win 75 games we would see a parade around Camden Yards.

Baltimore last made the playoffs in 1997 and have since become second class citizens to The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in The American League East. The Orioles have suffered through long losing streaks against both teams. The Orioles had a span over several years in the 2000′s in which they had a winning record versus every other division in baseball except for The AL East.

Teams besides The Yankees and Red Sox can win in this division as The Tampa Bay Rays have proven this by making the playoffs twice since 2008 including a trip to The World Series. The Rays have been able to develop their minor league talent while The Orioles have not. Instead of developing talent, The Orioles have gone the way of bringing in high paid players that are washed up or just couldn’t get The Orioles out of the rut..

In 2004 The Orioles signed free agent shortstop Miguel Tejada as he was looked at as being the big bat in the middle of the lineup. Tejada won an MVP award as a member of The Oakland Athletics in 2002 and put up similar numbers in his first few seasons in Baltimore. Tejada couldn’t carry the load by himself as the lineup around him was putrid and subsequently The Orioles still floundered in futility.

In 2005 Baltimore traded for right-fielder Sammy Sosa. Sosa was brought in from The Chicago Cubs as many in The Oriole organization thought that Sosa still had something left in the tank and that he would improve ticket sales. All Sosa did was show that once “the juice” wasn’t in him anymore that he didn’t have the pop in his bat. Sosa finished the season with 14 home runs and another dreadful season had plagued Baltimore.

All of the futility can be attributed to Oriole owner Peter Angelos. Angelos became the owner in 1993 and since that time The Orioles have only won a division title once. The Orioles have a history of producing Hall of Famers such as Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, and Jim Palmer. When these players came through the organization it was no surprise that the team won. One factor behind The Orioles not winning is the fact that they have not had any starting pitching.

This season The Orioles pitching staff ranks last in earned run average in The American League at 4.88 Mike Mussina was the last dominant Oriole pitcher at the top of the rotation and he bolted town to play for The Yankees in 2001. The fans of The Orioles want to see the team get back to “The Oriole Way” which was all about them winning.

Current manager Buck Showalter is trying to change the culture but it is a tough task when players are accustomed to losing. Baltimore has promise in catcher Matt Weiters who was the team’s first round pick in 2007. Weiters has 20 home runs in 2011 and has the ability to be a 30 home run player in the lineup. Center-fielder Adam Jones is another player that gives The Orioles hope for the future with his ability to cover ground in the outfield and his performance at the plate. Jones won a Gold Glove in 2009 and made The All-Star Game that season.

Jones and Weiters cannot do it by themselves as this team needs pitching. In order to compete with The Yankees and The Red Sox they must address this. The Rays have been able to develop pitchers such as David Price, James Shields, and Matt Garza which has allowed them to be a thorn in the sides of Boston and New York. Showalter knows that his guys are competing, but they have to get over that hump with the pitching. Until they do Baltimore will continue to flounder in the cellar of The AL East.

Posted in Baseball, MLB | 1,060 Comments »

Farewell to The Big East

Posted by William Martin on September 19, 2011

When The Big East Conference was formed in 1979 it was built on tough basketball teams and more importantly tradition. That tradition went out the window when The Syracuse Orange and Pittsburgh Panthers decided to leave The Big East in favor of The Atlantic Coast Conference. The almighty dollar rules the landscape of college sports despite school presidents saying otherwise. There is no loyalty to the fans, only to the bank accounts of schools presidents.

The Big East was dealt a blow in 2004 and 2005 when The Miami Hurricanes, Boston College Eagles, and Virginia Tech Hokies left The Big East in favor of The ACC. The move was strictly a football move for The ACC to have the 12 teams required for a conference championship game. Of the three schools Boston College was the only team that had deep ties to The Big East as it is a school located in The Northeast which is flooded with schools from The Big East.

The Big East was able to take the blow as former commissioner Mike Tranghese was able to lure The Cincinnati Bearcats, Louisville Cardinals, Marquette Golden Eagles, South Florida Bulls, and DePaul Blue Demons away from Conference USA. The move was needed to keep the conference alive in football and it made the conference a basketball superpower. These teams would join with the likes of The UCONN Huskies, Georgetown Hoyas, as well as Pitt and Syracuse to make The Big East one of the toughest conferences in America for college basketball.

Anyone who is a fan of college basketball enjoys The Big East Tournament as rivals clash for a week at The Garden and now those rivalries are dead. In the early years of the conference, Syracuse clashed with Georgetown and The St. John’s Red Storm. In the 90′s The Huskies would go at it with Syracuse, St. John’s and The Villanova Wildcats. For the 2000′s Pitt and UCONN staged epic battles in The Big East Championship. We also cannot forget about great individual performances from Gerry McNamara putting Syracuse on his back in 2005 as a nine seed on the way to the conference title. UCONN guard Kemba Walker recently outdid McNamara by leading The Huskies to The Big East Title by winning five games in five days at MSG last season.

When Pitt and Syracuse decided to bolt for a payday, it was indeed the day that college basketball died. This would have never been thought of when Lou Carneseca, John Thompson, and Rollie Massimino roamed the sidelines in The Big East.

For Pitt and Syracuse they will soon realize that the move was a mistake. These two teams bring a large contingent of fans with them to New York City. Both schools have plenty of alumni that work in the area as well. It is a common practice for fans to work in the morning and head over to The Garden for the games in the afternoon and evening. Good luck with that now as The ACC Tournament is generally held in North Carolina in the backyard of The North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils.

Pitt and Syracuse should look long and hard at Boston College as The Eagles were constantly in the mix for a conference crown while in The Big East. They made the move to Tobacco Road and The Eagles are now an afterthought. The Panthers and Orange will be able to win in The ACC, but the sizzle that was created when these two played the likes of St. John’s, Georgetown, UCONN, and Villanova is gone. For college basketball it is the equivalent of not seeing The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys in the same division. Rivalries are what make sports successful and we have seen some great ones wiped away. The Big East “was” a great conference for college basketball.

Posted in Basketball, College Basketball, NCAA | 58 Comments »

The Tigers are Gearing Up for a World Series Run

Posted by William Martin on September 14, 2011

In the constant carousel at the the top of The American League Central Division, The Detroit Tigers have emerged with their sights set on fall baseball. In 2006 The Tigers surprised everyone by winning The American League Pennant before bowing out to The St. Louis Cardinals in The World Series. 2009 saw The Tigers blow the division lead down the stretch to The Minnesota Twins. The Tigers are in better shape this time. They have an ace at the top of the pitching rotation in Justin Verlander. They also have a manager who is a winner in Jim Leyland, a big bat in the middle of the lineup in the form of first baseman Miguel Cabrera and a strong supporting cast.

All Verlander has done all season is become one of the best pitchers in the game. Verlander’s record is 23-5 and he is closing in on baseball’s triple crown for pitching as he leads The American League in wins, strikeouts (238), and earned run average (2.36). Verlander will more than likely win The AL Cy Young Award this season as well as pitch Game 1 of The American League Division Series for Detroit.

Verlander has pitched at least six innings in every start this season which is appreciated by the bullpen. The Tigers do have relief in the bullpen in the form of closer Jose Valverde. Valverde is 43/43 in save chances this season and his electric fastball can make the best hitters look like little leaguers. The combination of middle relievers Daniel Schlereth and Joaquin Benoit have solidified the seventh and eight innings as the duo has combined for 34 holds before turning things over to Valverde.

The key for Detroit is someone else besides Verlander in the starting rotation needs to  provide a solid effort. Verlander can only pitch twice maybe three times in a playoff series depending of how far The Tigers go. Right-hander Rick Porcello has started to shake off the inconsistency that plagued him during the first half off the season. In his last four starts, Porcello has given The Tigers four solid outings by pitching at least six innings in those games. In those outings The Tigers have won all four games with Porcello picking up the win in three of those games. The Tigers will also need more consistency from right-hander Max Scherzer. Scherzer has been up and down with an earned run average that has remained above four for the majority of the season.

Miguel Cabrera is having a typical season which finds him in the top ten for home runs (26), runs batted in (97), and batting average (.332). Cabrera is not doing it by himself this year as catcher Victor Martinez has provided protection for him in the lineup as Martinez is hitting (.324). Going into the postseason The Tigers will need a better offensive output from center fielder Austin Jackson. Jackson burst onto the scene in 2010 as he had a batting average of .293 and finished second in the voting for The American League Rookie of The Year. Jackson’s average has hovered around .250 for the season, but he has 11 triples this season. Going forward it will be key for Jackson to get on base as he is a threat to steal bases and he can put more pressure on opposing pitchers who are trying to pitch to Cabrera and Martinez.

Manager Jim Leyland is a winner as he is doing his magic again. Leyland’s teams in Pittsburgh fell just short of The World Series in the early 90′s. Leyland won it all with The Florida Marlins in 1997 and took The Tigers to The World Series in 2006. Leyland’s Tigers were the best team in The American League in 2006 until they limped to the finish line. They made it as a wild card and ran through The New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics.
This Tiger team can do the same if not better. They have separated themselves from The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians and now it is just a matter of time before they can clinch the division. Verlander’s season ranks up there with great Tiger pitchers such as Denny McLain and Jack Morris who both helped The Tigers win The World Series.

Verlander has already solidified himself in the regular season, now for him and his teammates it is time to do it in October. For the potential teams to make the playoffs in The American League, The Tigers will be one tough team to eliminate.

Posted in Baseball, MLB | 77 Comments »

The Next Step for The New York Mets

Posted by William Martin on September 2, 2011

Day by day it seems that The New York Mets remain snake bitten. The newest chapter shows us that a potential deal that would have made David Einhorn a minority owner of the team has fallen through. Einhorn was expected to pay Met owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon an estimated $200 million for a 25 to 33 percent stake in the team. The Wilpons would have used the money as an infusion to the cash strapped team. Now The Wilpons look like me after a weekend in Atlantic City as they are trying to get bus fare home. More importantly, the failed deal cannot help the fragile mindset of Met fans.

Met fans have stayed away from Citi Field since the park opened in 2009. The only time that The Mets are able to fill the stadium is when they play their two rivals in The Philadelphia Phillies or The New York Yankees who are two of the better traveling teams in Major League Baseball. Since The Mets moved into Citi Field they have only laid eggs and have become an afterthought as far as making the postseason. Unfortunately for The Mets and The Wilpons, New York City is a proud and knowledgeable sports town with fans that want to see a competitive franchise on the field. When you win you’re loved and if you lose you’re the evil stepchild that nobody wants.

This season The Mets are fourteenth in attendance in baseball according to ESPN.com. The Mets are averaging 30,465 fans per game. The paid attendance number is deceiving as it appears to be closer to 20,000 fans in attendance at home games.

Reports are surfacing that the team’s debt could be above $500 million by the end of the season. If that is the case then how will The Mets be able to re-sign shortstop Jose Reyes? Reyes’ contract is up at the end of the year and he is a fan favorite. Filling seats in 2012 will only be tougher if Reyes is not in a Met uniform.

The saving grace for The Mets is that Sandy Alderson is the general manager of the team. Alderson knows the team is cash strapped and he is trying everything to give the team payroll flexibility. Alderson was able to trade outfielder Carlos Beltran to The San Francisco Giants and closer Francisco Rodriguez to The Milwaukee Brewers. Beltran’s contract was up after this season while The Mets were looking at paying Rodriguez $17 million next year which is insane for a closer. Alderson wants to provide a winner but he knows the team cannot afford to take on another big contract especially with $40 million committed to the underachieving left fielder Jason Bay and the injury plagued pitcher Johan Santana for next season. With that said it is imperative for The Wilpons to find a partner or get hot at the tables at Foxwoods to get some money coming in. Going forward The Wilpons are not the answer for The Mets.

Fred Wilpon made the mistake of buying out his partner Nelson Doubleday in 2002. Doubleday had the baseball mind that made the team go. Now this team is in a financial rut as they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Fred Wilpon needs that partner to give him a different viewpoint on what the team needs. The Wilpons were backing on fans flocking to Citi Field as a huge source of revenue and it hasn’t happened. The Mets are in the largest market in the country and they aren’t making money. The Mets don’t want to exceed the luxury tax threshold handed down by Major League Baseball like the crosstown Yankees constantly do. Right now they have to approach things like a small market team and that is absurd.

The Mets had their chance from 2006 to 2008 and came up short. The Mets acquired Santana and the departed closer Francisco Rodriguez a year too late. 2009 found them with an injury plagued team and as the wheels fell off they have never been able to be put back on. Now they must rebuild and that isn’t going over well with an impatient fan base. The Mets are playing out the schedule for 2011. Much credit has to go in the direction of manager Terry Collins as he has not allowed his team to be distracted by what has gone on in the front office. Entering the season The Mets were expected to lose 90 games for the second time in three years. The Mets won’t make the playoffs but they have hovered around .500 for most of the season. A strong finish is imperative for this team. If The Mets can finish with 80 wins it will give the fans hope for the future. Young players such as right fielder Lucas Duda, pitcher Dillion Gee, and second baseman Justin Turner are making the most of their opportunities with the club. All-Star third baseman David Wright has returned from injury and is starting to find is rhythm. First baseman Ike Davis is expected to return next year from his season-ending ankle injury and provide a lineup in the middle of the lineup. If The Mets can re-sign Reyes along with developing these young players, the fans will start to come out. The more fans that come to the game means that the team will see more money coming in and that is the best way for any team to rid itself of financial woes.

Posted in Baseball, MLB | 58 Comments »

2011 Will be Business as Usual for USC

Posted by William Martin on August 31, 2011

The USC Trojans will finish the season without a bowl appearance but that doesn’t mean that the season will be a wash for them. Behind The Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal, The Trojans are the best team in The Pac-12. Due to The Trojans being on probation they are prohibited from participating in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. The Trojans follow in the footsteps of their head coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is no-nonsense and will do whatever it takes to win.

In Kiffin’s first year in Los Angeles, The Trojans finished the season with a record of 8-5 which included a 21-point home loss to Oregon. In those five losses, four opponents scored over 30 points. Going forward with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin that shouldn’t be the case this season. Trojan opponents converted almost 44 percent on third down which was up seven percent from 2009. Monte Kiffin’s defensive scheme relies on the strong play from the linebackers to cover the entire field. That could be the case in 2011 with incoming freshman Lamar Dawson. Dawson is continuing The USC tradition of linebackers wearing number 55. Dawson will try to follow in the footsteps of Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, and Chris Claiborne. The Trojans don’t have a ton of senior leadership at linebacker and Dawson will be looked upon to come in and bring some swagger.

Overall as a team, The Trojans have a chip on their shoulders that is the size of Mount Rushmore. When The NCAA placed The Trojans on probation they took their lumps in 2010 and tried to appeal the postseason ban in 2011. The decision was upheld and thus The Men of Troy won’t be apart of the bowl caravan for consecutive years. Lane Kiffin’s strategy has changed a little as The Trojans have an “us against the world” mentality.

I expect USC to win The Pac-12 South but since they cannot play in the postseason they will look to shatter the dreams of teams with bigger plans. The Trojans start the campaign by hosting The Minnesota Golden Gophers and they would love to have new Gopher head coach Jerry Kill’s tenure start with a loss. In the following week, The Utah Utes will play their first game as a member of The Pac-12 versus USC and The Trojans won’t look to treat their house guests kindly. Both Arizona and Arizona State are licking their chops as each one will look to slip into the title game and take USC’s spot as The South’s representative. Each team must face The Trojans who will be primed and ready. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame have dreams of making a BCS bowl and The Trojans have not forgotten about last season when The Irish came to The Los Angeles Coliseum and shocked USC by defeating them 20-16. USC will host Stanford in a game that might keep The Cardinal from an undefeated season. To top it all off The Trojans finish up the season with their crosstown rival The UCLA Bruins. Bruin head coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat and a loss to USC won’t help the situation.

Junior quarterback Matt Barkley has the look of a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Barkley came to USC as the top prospect of his recruiting class and hasn’t disappointed since he’s been there. If Barkley can keep his interceptions in single digits for this season it will be great as Barkley improved his completion percentage last year by nearly three percentage points to 62.6.

Running back Marc Tyler should be back from suspension to help the running game as he will look to add on to his 913 rushing yards from last season. There’s nothing worse for The Pac-12 Conference than a focused USC team. Under former head coach Pete Carroll, The Trojans cake walked through The Pac-10 winning seven consecutive conference titles. The Trojans went 9-4 in Carroll’s last season and mediocrity is something that they are not accustomed to in Los Angeles. USC is taking the body blows that The NCAA delivered and now they are preparing to hit everyone in college football with a serious combination of rights and lefts. I wouldn’t want to be in the cleats of Minnesota this Saturday at The Coliseum.

Posted in College Football, Football | 44 Comments »

All-Time Quarterbacks

Posted by William Martin on August 27, 2011

Throughout the illustrious history of The National Football League, the position of quarterback has been the glamor position. From Joe Namath to Don Meredith the quarterback is the one that gets all of the media attention and all of the women. Hands down it is the toughest position on the football field as the quarterback is responsible for knowing the assignments for all 22 players on the field. The game has produced playboys as well as some of the toughest guys to walk The Earth. For my all-time quarterbacks it comes down to winning, motivating his teammates, and showing up to play on every Sunday; with that here are my all-time quarterbacks.

1. Joe Montana 1979-1994 (San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs)

When Joe Montana took the field you knew that both The Niners and Chiefs were in good hands. In The Super Bowl era, Montana is the only three-time Super Bowl MVP. Montana was drafted in the third round by San Francisco in 1979 out of Notre Dame. Critics felt that at 6’1″ that he wasn’t big enough and that his throwing arm wasn’t that strong. What 49er head coach Bill Walsh saw was a man that was accurate and knew how to execute The West Coast offense. Montana made a name for himself by leading game winning drives in the playoffs. In The 1981 NFC Championship Game Montana led San Francisco down the field on a 92-yard drive that ended with Montana finding Dwight Clark for a touchdown pass versus The Dallas Cowboys. This is when The Cowboys were truly “America’s Team” and the nation was not accustomed to seeing The Cowboys losing a big game when they had a lead. Montana’s drive led to a changing of the guard in The NFC as The Niners would go on to be the team of the 80s. In Super Bowl 23 Montana pulled his magic once again as he lead San Francisco on another 92-yard touchdown drive which culminated with Montana finding wide receiver John Taylor in the endzone for a touchdown with under one minute remaining in the game. Montana may not hold some of the big passing records, but on Super Bowl Sunday he is undefeated and that is the best stat.

2. Johnny Unitas 1956-1973 (Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers)

Years had gone by before modern era quarterbacks broke some of Unitas’ passing records. Unitas did it in an era where defenses had more freedom to be aggressive and he got it done. Unitas will always be remembered for The 1958 NFL Championship Game versus The New York Giants. Unitas led The Baltimore on a game tying touchdown in regulation and and the game winning touchdown in overtime. The Giant defense consisted of future Hall of Famers Andy Robustelli and Sam Huff along with defensive coordinator Tom Landry. Unitas called his own plays which is something that most quarterbacks do not do currently. At the end of every college football season, The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is awarded to the top quarterback in the nation. During his career, Unitas threw a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games which still remains a record.

3. Tom Brady 2000-Present (New England Patriots)

Fans of both The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts may not want to hear it, but yes Tom Brady is that good. I am still surprised that Brady was drafted in the sixth round in 2000. I remember seeing Brady playing in college and Michigan and I saw a tough minded quarterback. In 1997 Brady was the backup to senior Brian Griese who went on to lead The Wolverines to a national championship. In 1998 Brady was named the starter for a Michigan team that came into the season ranked #5. The Wolverines lost the first two games of the season and everyone was calling for freshman phenom Drew Henson. Brady responded by leading The Wolverines on an eight-game winning streak and finished the season by leading Michigan to a Citrus Bowl win over The Arkansas Razorbacks. In 1999, Brady had to constantly look over his shoulder as Henson was trying to take his job. Brady remained a cool customer as he led The Wolverines to an Orange Bowl win over The Alabama Crimson Tide and earned The Orange Bowl MVP.
In week two of The 2001 NFL season, Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots lost the game to The Jets and most figured that the season was over. Before you knew it The Patriots were in the playoffs. At first critics felt that Brady won because on The Patriot defense. After “the snow game” in The Divisional Playoffs versus The Oakland Raiders that saw the infamous “tuck rule” people felt that Brady was lucky. Brady and The Patriots then upset the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36 with Brady earning The Super Bowl MVP. Brady followed this up by leading New England to consecutive Super Bowl wins in 2003 and 2004. The Patriots became the first team to win 14 games in consecutive seasons in NFL history. For an encore Brady was the quarterback of the most prolific offense in NFL history in 2007. Brady passed for over 4,800 yards with 50 touchdowns that season in helping The Patriots to become the first team to go undefeated in the regular season since The 1972 Miami Dolphins. Yes for this era Tom Brady is the face of NFL quarterbacks.

4. Otto Graham 1946-1955 (Cleveland Browns)

Some young bucks my wonder about this, but Otto Graham led The Cleveland Browns to The Championship Game every year that he played.  During his career, Graham was a three-time NFL MVP and led The Browns to three NFL Titles. Graham’s career record as a starter was 105-17-4.

5. John Elway 1983-1998 (Denver Broncos)

It’s hard to believe that John Elway only passed for over 4,000 once in his career. Elway was busy shattering the playoff dreams of teams in The AFC, especially The Cleveland Browns. Elway led The Broncos to three victories over The Cleveland Browns in The AFC Championship Game over a four-year span.  Elway’s crowning moment was in The 1986 AFC Championship Game in which Elway led The Broncos on a 98-yard to drive to tie the game and The Broncos won in overtime. When the drive started, Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium was going crazy as fans had visions of heading to Pasadena, California for The Super Bowl. Once Elway was done the place sounded like a funeral as he buried The Browns. During his career, Elway led The Broncos to 34 fourth quarter comebacks. Elway was one of the few players selected first overall that was able to live up to the hype. Elway was drafted by The Baltimore Colts and refused to play for the organization. Elway was traded to The Broncos and the rest is history. Elway is one of four quarterbacks to pass for over 50,000 yards in his NFL career. Elway played in five Super Bowls, winning twice and was a one-time Super Bowl MVP.

6. Sammy Baugh 1937-1952 (Washington Redskins)

“Slingin” Sammy Baugh is considered by many as the father of the forward pass. Baugh played in an era where quarterbacks didn’t have facemasks and they actually got hit by defenders. Baugh led The Redskins to The NFL Championship is his rookie season. Baugh passed for 335 yards in The NFL Championship Game versus The Chicago Bears which is a record for a rookie. Baugh always dreamed of playing football in the modern era as he would have loved to torched defenses.

7. Peyton Manning 1998-Present (Indianapolis Colts)

From the moment that The Indianapolis Colts made Peyton Manning the first overall selection in 1998, Manning has been a student of the game. Manning is arguably one of the hardest workers that the game has ever seen. Manning strives for perfection and he expects his teammates to put forth the same effort. In 11 of his 13 seasons, Manning has passed for over 4,000 yards. Manning’s hard work made the combination with wide receiver Marvin Harrison one of the best in history as the duo hooked up on 112 touchdowns which is the best of any quarterback-wide receiver duo. In 2009 Manning set a record with seven fourth quarter comebacks. Before each season starts for The Colts, you can pencil them in for at least 12 wins with Manning under center.

8. Roger Staubach 1969-1979 (Dallas Cowboys)

People talk about Tom Brady being overlooked as a sixth round pick, but Roger Staubach wasn’t taken until the tenth round. Some of that had to do with Staubach’s commitment to The Navy after his collegiate days. Staubach was given the nickname “Captain Comeback” as he constantly brought The Cowboys back especially in big games. In 1972, The Cowboys were trailing The San Francisco 49ers 28-13 in the fourth quarter in The Divisional Round. Staubach led The Cowboys on a comeback to win 30-28. In 1975 Staubach defeated The Minnesota Vikings on a “Hail Mary” pass which propelled The Cowboys to a Super Bowl appearance. During his career, Staubach directed 23 fourth quarter game winning drives. Staubach is one of four players along with Desmond Howard, Jim Plunkett, and Marcus Allen to be a Super Bowl MVP and win The Heisman Trophy. Staubach helped The Cowboys reach four Super Bowls as a starter winning twice.

9. Brett Favre 1991-2010 (Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings)

Brett Favre might be remembered as a player who constantly wavered about retiring, but no one can deny he was one of the best quarterbacks that the game has ever seen. Favre always had that “gunslinger” mentality. Favre was always one to take risks throwing the ball and wound up with over 70,000 passing yards which is a National Football League record.. Favre may have won a Super Bowl, but his best moment may have come in 2003. Favre’s father Earl died and Favre still played on Monday night and torched The Oakland Raiders in a 41-7 victory for The Packers. Favre is a three-time NFL MVP and despite changing teams in the past few seasons, Favre will always be remembered as a Packer.

10. Dan Marino 1983-1999 (Miami Dolphins)

When Dan Marino took the field, fans of The Miami Dolphins were thrilled while opponents cringed. Marino was an assassin as a quarterback and he knew how to make opponents look bad. Marino made the laid back fans of South Florida embrace him with his play. In his second year, Marino led The Dolphins to a Super Bowl appearance. The Dolphins fell short and many including Marino figured that they would be back consistently. It didn’t work out that way, but Marino still put up great performances in the 80s and 90s. 1993 saw Marino go down to an achilles injury which put his career in jeopardy. Marino returned in 1994 with a bang. In the opener Marino went at it with New England Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The two combined for 894 passing yards and Miami won the game 39-35. That same season The Dolphins trailed The New York Jets 24-6 in the third quarter. The score was 24-21 with The Dolphins driving. Marino faked the spike and surprised The Jets with a pass to Mark Ingram. When Marino retired, he was the all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. both records have since been passed but that cannot diminish Marino’s accomplishments.

Just missed the cut: Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Terry Bradshaw

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The Young Rams Are Poised for a Division Title

Posted by William Martin on August 24, 2011

Momentum changes in The National Football League as quick as it does on Wall Street. Within a flash you can go from the outhouse to the penthouse. This scenario applies to The St. Louis Rams. In 2009 The Rams finished the season with a record of 1-15 under first year head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams earned the first overall pick and drafted Oklahoma Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford. Last season The Rams enjoyed a turnaround which left them one game shy of the playoffs with a 7-9 record. If The Rams had defeated The Seattle Seahawks in the final game of the regular season they would have been playoff bound. When the season started, not too many figured The Rams would have that chance, even in a weak NFC West.
Bradford enjoyed a good rookie campaign in which the former Heisman Trophy winner and reigning Offensive Rookie of The Year threw for over 3,500 yards. Although Bradford is only in his second year, he might be the leader of the quarterback crop in this division. The Seahawks are trying to decide on Tavaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst which isn’t much of a debate as both quarterbacks are career backups. Aside from having to avoid gunshots on game day, The San Francisco 49ers are still in search of a quarterback as Alex Smith just isn’t the guy. The Arizona Cardinals just acquired Kevin Kolb from The Philadelphia Eagles and I am not ready to drink the kool-aid on Kolb. Seven wins won this division last year and there’s a good chance that nine could do it this season. Bradford has taken the next step in his maturation process by assuming the play calling as far adjustments for his offensive line. Bradford is the leader of the offense and his teammates are responding to him.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left to become the head coach of The Cleveland Browns and Josh McDaniels steps in to fill the void. McDaniels may not have been the best head coach during his short time with The Denver Broncos, but he was the coordinator for the most prolific offense in history with The 2007 New England Patriots that racked up 589 points. Now McDaniels is responsible for helping Bradford’s progression as a quarterback.
The Rams had the opportunity to sign wide receiver Sidney Rice before he chose Seattle. The Rams were able to lure Mike Sims-Walker away from The Jacksonville Jaguars to be an outside target for Bradford. Last season The Rams finished 26th in the league on converting third downs and the arrival of Sims-Walker should help that as he knows how to move the chains. The Rams drafted wide receiver Austin Pettis in the third round this year. Pettis ran away from defenders on the blue turf during his collegiate days at Boise State and now he is indoors at The Edward Jones Dome which should not be a problem.
As always The Rams will rely on Steven Jackson at running back. Jackson only averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season and The Rams will need a bigger output from him and his dreadlocks. Jackson won’t have to carry the load by himself this year. Former Atlanta Falcon Jerious Norwood will team with Jackson in the backfield. Jackson carried the ball 330 times in 2010. If Jackson can cut that down to about 270 this year he should be fresher for the finish of the season.
Defensively The Rams finished last season with 43 sacks in Spagnuolo’s blitz happy system . Chris Long switched from right defensive end to left defensive and enjoyed a career high in sacks with 8.5. Road Warrior Animal is proud to see that his son James Laurinaitis took his intensity from the wrestling ring to the gridiron. Through two seasons Laurinaitis has 205 tackles. The linebacker corps are deeper this year with the acquisitions of Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber to provide The Rams with veteran leadership.
The key for The Rams is to weather the storm which is the first half of the season. In the first seven games, three of the opponents have won three out of the last four Super Bowls in The New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, and Green Bay Packers. The second half of the schedule is loaded with divisional opponents which gives The Rams a chance to catch their breath and make a playoff run. With all the heavy hitters in the other three divisions of The NFC such as The Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, and Chicago Bears, it is imperative for The Rams to win their division as it most likely the only way for them to make the postseason for the first time since 2004. This young team in St. Louis is poised and ready for that.

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