Leicester City Foxes Punch Through Paper Ceilings

Foxes

(Image Credit Rocky Fox, Kat Morgan & SI.com)

Beating incredible odds. Doing something not thought remotely possible. Overcoming all the naysayers. Fans of college basketball’s March Madness certainly saw their fair share of that in the last four days. (Condolences to you…and your brackets…)

Yet, even Middle Tennessee State’s upset of highly-touted Michigan State (my pick to win it all) completely pales in comparison to what is happening across the pond in English soccer’s Premier League.

During CBS’s coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament studio analyst Kenny Smith shared a story from his childhood. His father was a believer in life providing “paper ceilings” to overcome. Turns out Dad’s philosophy was Kenny would periodically be faced with what on the surface would appear to be barriers he could not rise above. However, he had to be ready and willing to punch through them…and would even be surprised how easily those “paper ceilings” would just give way if Kenny just gave the requisite effort to push against them.

The Premier League’s Leicester City Foxes have punched through most all imagined and real obstacles in their campaign this season and currently sit atop the League’s table five points clear of their closest opposition as the season winds down. They are in excellent position to win the Premier Championship with seven matches to go.

The best comparison I’ve seen so far to the sports world in the US comes from an American fanatic of the Foxes (name of Rocky Fox – I swear – who also proposed to his girlfriend on a recent trip to England to see the squad with a pair of stuffed foxes, one sporting an engagement ring):

It’s like one of our minor-league baseball teams being called up to play in…and then win…the World Series.

It’s that incredible a season.

Entering this season the British sports book title odds were listed at 5,000-1 for Leicester City…the same payout they offer for anyone discovering Elvis Presley is alive.

Other Premier teams have spent millions upon millions more to stock their rosters. But at least for this magical, mystical season the gigantic disparity in salary between those clubs and Leicester City has not paid off in trying to catch these Foxes.

Perhaps the reason for the impossible becoming probable is indeed supernatural. Consider this. King Richard III’s remains – undiscovered for five centuries – were unearthed in 2012 under a parking lot in Leicester and he was eventually interred in the local cathedral there last March 26th, precisely when the team began an amazing stretch of success just to escape relegation and stay in the Premier League for this current season.

Since good ol’ Richard’s bones were reburied the Foxes’ winning percentage in the Premier League is over 77%.

In their previous 29 League games it was 26%.

If you choose not to believe properly laying to rest the deceased last ruler of the House of York explains how modestly-compensated Leicester City is on the verge of toppling all the ultra-rich clubs in English soccer …believe in the Foxes’ lively ability to properly sense when to counter their opposition’s attack and push forward quickly to put the ball in the back of their net. Even with one of the lowest possession time averages in the Premier League and the absolute lowest pass-completion percentage they know precisely when to counter, fast break on their opponent to score…and then proceed to lock down and protect their own net to…well…the death.

I likely haven’t posted on Premier League soccer lately because I – like many – was waiting for the big spending, traditional powers to unearth themselves and bring Leicester City back to earth.

We non-believers are all still waiting.

On paper at the start of the season Leicester City’s roster didn’t in any way display they could possibly be on the verge of the most unlikely Championship in Premier League history. Their ceiling for success – on paper – was quite substantial and very much out of reach.

But it appears if you play soccer with patience, intelligence and fearlessness…turns out “paper ceilings” don’t stand a chance.

Posted in Barclays Premier League, Premier League, Pro Sports, Soccer, Sports, The Premier League | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

How To Get To Second Base

Utley Slide

(Image Credit USAToday.com)

“The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people – and especially of government – always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.”Rob Norton, Econlib.org

According to most accounts the first, most thorough analysis of the concept of unintended consequences was conducted in 1936 by an American sociologist named Robert K. Merton. He identified five types best described off-the-top as true ignorance, flat-out error, willful ignorance, values and self-defeating predictions (self-fulfilling prophecies).

Last October I wrote a post warning Major League Baseball might be inclined to change the way all of baseball is played because of but one play – Chase Utley’s “slide” into second base to break up a double play in the MLB post-season that resulted in a broken leg for Ruben Tejada. I feared they would overreact and do something stupid…surely introducing unintended consequences.

I was wrong.

They did multiple things stupid…just as they did when they took away the ability of catchers to block the plate and runners trying to dislodge a baseball from said catchers a couple of years ago.

For some reason baseball – accused for a century of not changing anything – is now seemingly willing to change just about everything.

It might have been acceptable if TPTB (The Powers That Be) just left it at clarifying what a “bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base” is…which is in part what they did. But they also now have made the very attempt of breaking up a double play a play subject to video review.

I can’t wait for all the side-by-side shots of plays where interference is called in games…and when it is not.

But we’re just getting started here.

TPTB in MLB essentially eliminated the “neighborhood play,” a fancy way of saying a middle infielder didn’t have to have their foot on second base while in possession of the ball to get an out call before attempting a double play. Middle infielders now have to have the ball and their foot on second base to record an out. Umpires have always given the middle infielder “credit” when a runner is approaching and not enforced making a “true out.” Look, it wasn’t my idea this became OK but it is how the game has been played for…ever. The rule book was “called out” at second base a long time ago. That doesn’t make it right…but it has been deemed right for as long as everyone in the sport now has been in the sport.

Geez, try to find a majority of umpires still, in 2016, who have the same strike zone. That ambiguity has seemed to be OK with everyone for…ever. (I just thought I’d throw that in…)

Oh…and it’s just piling on that TPTB have also now made the elimination of the “neighborhood play” a play subject to video review.

So let’s review…

We had a dirty slide at second base during an attempt for a double play occur in a playoff game last season and as a result…the definition of a legitimate slide has been expanded…those slides are now subject to a stoppage of play and a video review…middle infielders who are supposedly now being protected from illegal slides now have to keep a foot planted on the base with the ball to be credited for an out before even attempting a double play…those outs are now subject to a stoppage of play and a video review.

“We’re making a slide rule that keeps you on the bag. You’ve got to be near the bag. And now we’re making a decision on the neighborhood play that you’ve got to stay on the bag. You know what that’s going to mean? Someone is going to get their clocks cleaned.”Terry Collins, New York Mets Manager

“It’s hard, man. Change is hard. We’ve been playing this game for a long time under a certain set of rules. And these changes just feel awkward. I kind of feel like I knew how to play the game. And now we have to change that.” – Chase Headley, New York Yankees Third Baseman

In the interest of fairness there certainly have been those in baseball quoted either taking a wait-and-see approach or have already come out in full support of the changes stating anything that enhances the safety of players can’t be a bad thing…safety comes first, etc. I’m all for safety too. Really I am.

But as I said when the play-at-the-plate changes were first made all baseball had to do was enforce the rules they already had in place. These changes are even more extraordinary and certainly were not vetted properly.

I should add at the same time these changes were announced TPTB at MLB laughingly created two ways to speed up games by limiting coaching visit times on the mound while also shortening break times between innings. Great ideas both…but those sliding/double play replays will negate that effort.

No, I suspect they were simply motivated to make a token effort to cover all their bases regarding the law of unintended consequences…when they simple-mindedly chose to rewrite the law…on how to get to second base.

 

Posted in Baseball, MLB, Pro Baseball, Pro Sports, Sports | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

March Madness Is Survive And Advance – Luck Doesn’t Hurt Either (Quote Me)

NCAA Floor

(Image Credit CBSSports.com)

People attribute quotes to the wrong individuals. It’s not a deliberate, malicious thing. History often plays with our memories. Individually. Collectively.

I believe the phenomenon is known as the generation of misattributions. (I don’t know who said that…)

It’s when Person A expounds upon, summarizes, condenses or restates an opinion from Person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to Person B.

My interest in such events came about innocently enough via watching an episode of the television series “Scorpion.” A famous quote was offered in relation to the show’s team of geniuses beginning to change as individuals…thereby leading to the group dynamic evolving. The words in question apparently have often been assigned to Charles Darwin but in fact while the notion may have been Darwin’s the more notable quotation to fully express the theory is attributed to one Leon Megginson, a professor at LSU back in 1963.

The condensed version as you may have heard it assigned to Darwin:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable.”

A broader, more expansive version assigned to Megginson:

“Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the change wrought by the passage of time affects individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives. It is not the strongest that survives…but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

College basketball’s March Madness is often described in but three words…survive and advance. I happen to think the above quotation(s) apply to this Tournament nicely also. It isn’t the strongest team that always wins. It’s not even the smartest all the time. It is the team that successfully adapts and adjusts through each match-up and in each game best determines how to maximize its strengths and smarts…minimize its weaknesses…and simply find a way to keep winning.

You know of course March Madness doesn’t decide who the best team in the country is. Admirably, that’s what college football still tries to do albeit they have doubled down by watering down the process by now having a four team playoff instead of just two as when the BCS was around.

No, when you have a whopping 68 teams in a competition the survivor can’t be considered the best team. It’s only the best team at…well…surviving. Luck doesn’t hurt either.

Don’t get me wrong. March Madness is still pretty much my favorite sporting event. But it is a television show now as much as competition. Half the teams don’t even belong playing in what is billed as a championship event. As well, an arbitrary group of people assign the bracket positioning which often heavily favors those teams most highly-thought of, often affording them the chance in the first several rounds to stay as close to home as possible (and their fans).

As the bracket gets closer to its conclusion the facilities then morph from being basketball arenas to football stadiums. The Final Four is now most often played on temporary, raised-surface courts with about as bad a shooting background as could possibly be provided for the players.

Do I wish for the days when the field was half the size and all the games were played in actual, full-time basketball facilities? Sure.

But March Madness is still fun. You just have to keep it in perspective. You’re not crowning the best team. You’re crowning the team that best adapted. Luck doesn’t hurt either.

Predicting who will win? Luck be with us all in 2016. You can make a case for at least a dozen teams that, depending on their path and what happens along the way, might be cutting down the nets on April 4th in Houston.

This season alone three top-five ranked teams lost in one day. That was only the fourth time in the last two decades that happened. As I am typing this we still have a few days left in February and teams ranked in the top-five have collectively lost the second-most games ever at this point in a season.

Since I’m in Philly people have asked me about Villanova. With their recent history of coming up short once the Tournament begins do they have what it takes to go all the way this year?  Yes they do if statistics mean anything – which do and don’t depending on how strong you feel the competition is they’ve faced. The Wildcats have a top-five defense, are in the top-five in free throw shooting as well as shooting from inside the three-point line. I point out that line distinction only because one thing Villanova hasn’t done well is shoot 3’s…and we know how the 3-ball can quickly change the dynamics of a game. But they are talented…and can be considered a serious contender.

Yet…

In 2011 the Connecticut Huskies ended their regular season losing four of their last five games. They were ninth in the Big East at 9-9, It was madness to think they’d be invited to March Madness. Their only hope was to win five games in five days and win the Big East Tournament and that conference’s automatic bid. Only then would they be issued an invite – because then they had to receive one.

They amazingly did just that.

Connecticut then went on to inexplicably get to and win the Championship Game against Butler (in what was unfortunately one of the worst Finals ever played). They were far and away NOT the best team in college basketball that season. They did however adapt and adjust. They also got lucky. Luck plays into things when you have this big a field and so many games.

There’s simply no way to accurately predict how March Madness 2016 will play out, or any one of them for that matter. It won’t stop me or anyone else from trying however. It is perverse fun to fill out those brackets each year and see how quickly we make them into baskets…laying them up and in to our trash baskets.

Based on how this regular season in particular has gone in this year’s office competition that person who picks their March Madness bracket based on which mascot is allegedly tougher than the other or which color is their personal favorite has an excellent chance to pull off yet another victory this year. March Madness is always completely unpredictable. I think even more so in 2016.

Adapt and adjust. Survive and advance. Luck doesn’t hurt either. As for luck… perhaps we should remember a quote from Roman philosopher Seneca:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

(I suppose it’s possible someone else might have said that also…)

 

Posted in Basketball, College Basketball, College Sports, Entertainment, Life, Media, NCAA, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Patience Virtue For New (Veteran) Phillies Manager Pete Mackanin

Pete Mackanin

(Image Credit BleacherReport.com)

A brief timeline to help one understand the unique promotion of Pete Mackanin to the position as Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies:

2012 season – Pete was among three of Charlie Manuel’s aides fired after Philadelphia’s final regular-season game. He was serving as Manuel’s bench coach at the time, having just concluded his fourth season in that role.

2013 season – Pete served as a scout for the New York Yankees. (He was a scout for them in 2008 also before joining the Phillies a year later)

2014 season – Pete served as a third-base coach for newly-hired Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg.

Middle of 2015 season – Pete is promoted from third-base coach to serve as Interim Manager after Sandberg’s “resignation.” Shortly thereafter baseball front-office lifer Andy MacPhail becomes the team’s President. It is logically, widely assumed Pete is gone at season’s end since he has no prior connection to MacPhail.

Today – Pete Mackanin is the Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies…Interim detached. He served as an Interim Manager at two other locales in his career…but never as THE Manager.

He is 64 years young and attending his 48th Spring Training. The “book” on Pete is he is a master communicator with his players…he also communicates in Spanish.

He was obviously successful communicating to MacPhail he was (still) the man for the job.

Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently relayed a quote by bench coach Larry Bowa about Mackanin’s performance last season as Interim Manager:

“He let guys know that he played and he understands how hard the game can be. Here’s an example: Cesar (Hernandez) missed first base and was called out, and when he came back to the dugout Pete looks at him and says in Spanish, ‘Hey Cesar, that’s what the bags are there for.’”

The “book” on Pete also reads he believes the game should be played “properly” and has a laser-like focus for rooting out and repairing weaknesses.

That should come in handy fairly quickly in 2016.

Many expect the Phillies to lose 100 games with relative ease. They have talent but it is woefully young and needs time to develop both in the bigs and the minors. Baseball America recently rated Philadelphia as having one of the ten best farm systems in baseball right now. That’s something.

But it is only potential, not reality.

One bit of reality…based on Pete’s recent history with this organization you can’t count him out towards still being around (in some capacity) when (hopefully) things turn around.

And so it begins…not just (again) for Pete but for all who love baseball.

Spring Training is here.

For Pete’s sake…“Play Ball!”

 

Posted in Baseball, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, Pro Baseball, Pro Sports, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Warming Up With Baseball – A Little Relief From Relief

Driveway

Baseball is like several sports – a game of inches. Makes all the difference in the world on balls and strikes…the base paths. Often…little or no margin for error.

There was another game of inches a couple of weeks ago with little or no margin for error when the wife and I actually got the tape measure out and evaluated the family truck (our Civic) as to how much ice-packed snow absolutely, positively needed to be plowed to forge a way out of our driveway. We didn’t want to have to move any more of the 25-plus inches of what was now ice pack than necessary. It was a relief we could plow away what we did. Speaking of relief…

I am sure many old-school baseball fans like me favored a guy back in the day that could pitch a complete game or at least go deep into one, only turning the ball over to a reliever in the ninth when he was completely gassed and just couldn’t close the deal.

The World Champion Kansas City Royals, according to a recent column by ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, finished 24th in the major leagues last year in starting-pitcher ERA. They were 26th in innings pitched by starting pitchers.

Get this. The last time a team that won the World Series in the expansion era wound up that close to the bottom in those two pitching categories was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds – the “Big Red Machine.” That would make sense since Manager Sparky Anderson was known in his day as “Captain Hook” and had a true affinity for swapping pitchers out right(y) and left(y).

Baseball analytic folks are starting to pile up solid evidence by the third time your starters face a lineup it just might be time to send them to the showers. And the Managers in the majors are certainly responding to those statistics.

There were 15,095 pitching changes made last season. That is the most ever, over 600 more than in 2014.

About 2,000 more pitching changes than just a decade ago…and about 4,000 more pitching changes than just two decades ago.

This is way more than a trend folks.

It’s an absolute way of life.

So here’s my proposal for major league baseball. Expand the active roster size so Managers can better scheme how best to field a team day-to-day. It would be a fun new strategy for all of us second-guessers as to who suits up, gets called up, etc. for each game. It certainly would help teams if games get out of hand or run into OT when baseball squads almost always have to play…the very next day.

Maybe Managers would load up on relievers, maybe not. That would be part of the intrigue. Give these guys some roster flexibility since the game has absolutely shifted in the direction of “relievers gone wild.”

OK, I lied. I actually have a second proposal. Do not allow Managers to visit the mound to make pitching changes or at least put a very small number on visiting it over the course of a game. Reduce all these unnecessary, traditional huddles on the hill.

Even if you think these two proposals are off-base I just wanted to talk baseball today if only to generate warm thoughts. After all, everyone’s team is undefeated so far in 2016. There’s that.

It’s supposed to be zero this weekend. The air temperature mind you, not the wind chill. Warmer weather…where are you?

Hopefully…about to come in from Mother Nature’s bullpen and provide some much-needed relief.

Posted in Baseball, MLB, Pro Baseball, Pro Sports, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Super Bowl 50 – Coldplay Welcomes Special Guests Carolina, Denver

Super Bowl 50
(Image Credit NBCBayArea.com)

Sir Isaac Newton is, even after his death way back in 1727, still considered by some to be the greatest genius who ever lived. In fact among physicists it’s probably neck-and-neck between him and Albert Einstein who’s Smart #1.

Fig Newtons were invented in part because many physicians at the time felt eating biscuits and fruit helped fight off digestion problems, considered to cause most illnesses (…and a shout out to our local native, baker and fig lover Charles Roser who patented the cookie cutter to make ’em way back in 1891).

Yet until several years ago – even after all those years – had you said the word Newton I would have immediately thought of Sir Isaac or Fig.

But now there’s Cam.

If you saw him play at Auburn you were likely amazed he looked like the biggest, fastest and most determined man on the field…and a quarterback at that.

At that time most of his detractors said he would get his comeuppance once he became a pro.

The last time I checked he still looks like the biggest, fastest and most determined man on the field. And still a quarterback…one who should be the shoo-in NFL MVP this season.

Cam Newton has accounted for almost 80 percent of the Carolina Panthers offensive TD’s this season. His ten rushing touchdowns – yep, as a quarterback – were just one shy of the NFL’s leaders…running backs Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, Jeremy Hill and DeAngelo Williams. He’s a big reason why Carolina has run for at least 100 yards in 31 straight games including post-season play. He’s a big reason why Carolina led the NFL in scoring this season averaging just over 31 points per game. His teammates rally around their bigger-than-life leader, making sure he’s been hit only 61 times this year, the third-lowest total in the league.

I recall telling my wife while watching him in college I’ve never seen a guy like him.

I still haven’t.

I’ll admit Cam’s showboating on the field and the sideline has not been my idea of good sportsmanship or of having respect for the game. I’m a Barry Sanders guy (Google if necessary) – make first downs without creating a scene, score a TD and hand the ball to the nearest official…and show you’re doing your well-paid, highly-compensated job in a professional manner.

But when he’s just playing football…he’s doing his job about as good as it gets in 2015.

The Denver Broncos (14-4) are about to get a full-on view of Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers (17-1) in Super Bowl 50.

Some facts give Denver hope in trying to not wind up like Seattle and Arizona, Carolina’s post-season victims (their chalk lines are still visible on the Panthers’ field in Charlotte). Denver’s defense generated pressure on opposing quarterbacks more than any in the NFL this season. They have allowed opposing offenses to crack 30 points or more just once. Their defense ranks first in fewest total yards of offense allowed. Only seven times this year has a team rushed for over 100 yards against them. They are nasty. They are quick. I noticed some of their defenders looking to not just take down New England Patriots last week but take them out. And…be forewarned whistles tend to stay unused in the Super Bowl.

But alas, there are things that surely give Denver pause…like the not-so-unimportant fact their offense is just not very good. If you can hear this above the violins playing about this being QB Peyton Manning’s last game ever, a huge shout-out to that defense that has been winning games for the Broncos all season long. There is a reason Denver is 11-3 this season in games decided by seven points or less. Their offense simply doesn’t cut it – Manning has been inefficient courtesy in no small part to a confused offensive line and the subsequent lack of a running game – and the Broncos defense often has to ride to the rescue. The pressure on the Denver defense has been relentless this season. They know they’ve got to win games – close games – and they’ve been quite good at it.

Carolina’s defense? They have thrived off of turnover differential, leading the NFL and also factoring into the offense’s success as they’ve been rewarded with favorable field position. But consider this…the Panthers defense on average has given up only about the same number of points per game as Denver. That’s the thing. As good as we know Denver’s D is…Carolina’s at best just a hair behind. Everyone’s talking about the Broncos defense. I suspect the Panthers defenders are a bit annoyed and looking to prove they’re worth talking about too.

And Newton can’t wait to help them out…

So it shouldn’t take a smart cookie to figure out…

Carolina 23, Denver 16.

Posted in Entertainment, Football, Media, Music, NFL, Pro Football, Pro Sports, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

2015 NFL Playoffs – Who Opens For Coldplay – Carolina, Denver Get Gig

Coldplay AMA

(Image Credit RollingStone.com)

Coldplay announced yesterday they will be embarking on a football stadium tour in support of their new LP “A Head Full Of Dreams” in what you can be sure is no coincidence whatsoever…and the punch line is this football stadium tour will end in early September at Levi’s Stadium, the home of Super Bowl 50.

The band will be able to use headlining the upcoming Super Bowl halftime show in order to practice for their tour. Well played, front man Chris Martin. NFL/Coldplay corporate synergy. Wouldn’t expect anything less…

Speaking of Chris…he’ll be appearing on CBS’ “The Late Late Show With James Corden” the week before the Super Bowl to do some “Carpool Karaoke,” a segment which has become somewhat of a viral hit from what I understand. (It’s possible some who weren’t so happy with Coldplay’s selection to headline halftime would have even settled for James Corden singing Karaoke as an alternative)

You may have heard by now the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will open for Coldplay at Super Bowl 50.

They’re scheduled to provide the encore as well…that looks to be a safe bet.

For those who might be unaware you can bet your hard-earned money on just about anything associated with the Super Bowl. The length of the National Anthem. The result of the coin flip. I suspect you’ll also be able to wager on what song Coldplay opens with or even how long they’re on stage before being joined by others. That all-important point spread for the contest right now seems to be fluctuating between Carolina -4 ½ to -5 ½. Therefore, the possibility exists if you are so inclined you might be betting on a line of exactly 5 points.

Some betting trivia you can impress your Super Bowl partiers with if that’s the case…in all the NFL regular-season games played this season on only 10 occasions was the final margin of victory 5 points. Furthermore, in 49 Super Bowls played only one ended in a victory margin of 5 points…that would be Super Bowl XVI where San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 26-21. Trivia that will be less impressive to pass along to your pals is that game is the only Super Bowl my wife and I were unable to watch together. I had to work…she did see the game.

I’ve been alive for all the Super Bowls and remember most all of what happened during them…even the one that involved Country Time Lemonade, grain alcohol, an extra large trash can and a tennis racket.

However, you might be surprised that for this football aficionado the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are quite tedious. I have always been a big fan of playing the Super Bowl the weekend immediately following the Conference Championships. Teams have momentum off their playoff runs. Players also have less time to stay stupid things, get arrested, etc. I literally have to step away from all the coverage until the pre-game show on Super Bowl Sunday because it’s just too much overkill for me. I’ve seen the teams play all year. No one is going to give me any more insight. My mind is made up…how this will go down. (Prediction in a future post…)

I do keep a keen eye on injuries…and on Monday Carolina’s star LB Thomas Davis had his broken right forearm opened up wide on an operating table. A plate was inserted and attached to his bones with screws. He still plans on being at and playing in the Super Bowl. Hey, this guy is the only NFL player I know of to ever recover and return from three ACL tears. He’s a very integral part of a very stout Panthers defense and you can count on him being at Super Bowl 50.

After all…you didn’t think he would miss Coldplay, do you?

Posted in Entertainment, Football, Media, Music, NFL, Pro Football, Pro Sports, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Amherst College – Mascot For Hire

Lord Jeff

(Image Credit MassLive.com)

Our friends at Amherst College, according to the Associated Press, are currently window shopping for a new mascot for their institution of higher learning. The trustees there believe using “Lord Jeff” as the unofficial/official mascot has now created too much negative buzz since it is named for 18th-century British General Jeffery Amherst…who in his historical bio among other things was credited with the idea to deliver blankets infected with smallpox to Native Americans. As is usual in muddled matters of mascots there are alumni, faculty and students on both sides of the argument whether or not to keep “Lord Jeff” around.

I recapped the above story for my wife as she was standing on the other side of our living room last evening. Her immediate response was, “You said the mascot is Lord Jeff right?”

“Yes.”

“And he’s based on Jeffery Amherst.”

“Yes.”

“Well, what are they doing about the name of the school?”

(Crickets…)

Posted in College Sports, Humor, Life, NCAA, News, Opinion, Sports, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

2015 NFL Playoffs – Who Opens For Coldplay – Conference Championships

Coldplay Simpsons

(Image Credit Simpsons.Wikia.com)

The final auditions are set for this weekend to see who opens for Coldplay at Super Bowl 50.

Are these indeed the best four teams in football this season?  Yes. They’ve all had to face trials and tribulations but held up very well. That being said none are the same team that started the season. Cumulative bumps, bruises, collisions, concussions, tears and tears have all left their collective marks on each.

There is a boatload of favorable statistics one can quote at this point when you’re looking at four teams with a combined record of 56-12. There is certain logic to over-analyzing those twelve losses, trying to ascertain where some weakness lies. All four coaching staffs are spending the week pouring over footage of when their opponent didn’t play so well…didn’t win.

Yet as we know sports comes down to match-ups. Figuring out what your personnel can do best against the opposition – how to exploit their weaknesses with your talent. Figuring out where your talent may need reinforcement – the opposition is looking to exploit your weaknesses.

And then there were four…

New England (13-4) at Denver (13-4) – (Forecast calls for showers and temps in the mid-forties) Denver hosted and defeated New England 30-24 in OT November 29th. It ended the Patriots up-til-then-undefeated season. Brock Osweiler was the Broncos QB. New England star TE Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game late with a knee injury. Patriots WR’s Danny Amandola (knee) and Julian Edelman (foot) didn’t even play.

I see New England having certain advantages heading into the rematch. First, the fact they already played. Denver’s Head Coach Gary Kubiak has never inspired great confidence in me and Patriots HC Bill Belichick is a better strategist and way more experienced at this whole going-to-the-Super Bowl stuff than Gary. Bill will have a chance to analyze that first meeting and hone in on how to best attack and defend his opposition…of course while reminding his team all the while how much that loss after winning their first ten games stung. Not to mention another Patriots loss two years ago…Denver beat New England 26-16 in Denver to advance to the Super Bowl. That one stung even more for those players still on the roster…including one QB named Tom Brady.

Secondly, the Broncos will be starting Peyton Manning at QB. Talk all you want about his experience and savvy but you cannot ignore his poor play this season or the anemic offense Denver has put forth with or without him. Even though the Broncos managed to run for 179 yards in their first meeting RB’s C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman as well as the O-line have been wildly inconsistent. They will have to throw to win this game and with Manning no deep threat exists. I believe starting Peyton may benefit New England – it’s a team game but Manning’s playoff record is 12-13…and that’s when he was the “old” Peyton. Tom Brady has been a starting QB for a record twenty-two playoff wins. He’s got a bit of experience and savvy too…but unlike Manning he’s still playing at a high level, can offer up a deep ball…and now has all his weapons at his disposal. The Patriots can’t run the ball (due to all their injuries) but they’re used to playing that way by now.

Denver DL Antonio Smith thinks Tom Brady is a cry-baby based on comments this week. “I’ve never seen any quarterback look to the referee right after he gets sacked more than Brady. Every time he gets sacked he looks at the ref like, “You see him sack me? Was that supposed to happen? He did it a little hard. Please throw a 15-yard penalty on him. Get him fined.”” Denver LB Brandon Marshall thinks Rob Gronkowski gets away with things based on comments this week. “I say because he pushes off. I mean, he pushes off and he gets away with it about 98 percent of the time.” Denver DB Chris Harris Jr. decided to share this week the best way to stop Gronkowski is, “You gotta hit him low man. Hit him in the knees. That’s the best chance you got of hitting him.”

This sounds like New England may already be in Denver’s heads a bit…not so much looking forward to this rematch…even though the Patriots have not always had their finest hours in Denver. This sounds like a defense that knows they were a bit lucky they didn’t lose at home last week to a disarmed Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t even have Antonio Brown to throw to. This sounds like a defense who knows beating New England twice looks like a “Mile High” challenge unless they rise up and play at the higher level they played at most of this season – first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, fewest passing yards allowed …and sacks.

The Broncos have the home field. They have a solid defense. But they’ve been quite fortunate to win a lot of close games in spite of that sputtering offense and I think their “winning formula” catches up to them here. I think a fired-up Tom Brady and Company get themselves enough points to win.

WINNER – NEW ENGLAND

Arizona (14-3) at Carolina (16-1) – (Forecast calls for clear skies with temps dropping into the thirties) Speaking of rematches…this is a repeat of last year’s Wild-Card Game, also in Charlotte, where the Panthers won 27-16. Arizona QB Carson Palmer didn’t play in that game…and quite frankly if he doesn’t show up and play great in this weekend’s game Carolina will win again.

The Cardinals offense was definitely one of the league’s finest during this season. Yet…you can easily make the case their last two games have been among their worst on that side of the ball, especially Palmer. The Panthers are going to go after him just like they did Seattle QB Russell Wilson last week. Arizona’s best chance to win is, unfortunately for Palmer, to throw often. Their running game only got 40 yards on 19 carries last week and that was against Green Bay. They have arguably the best group of receivers in football and can hurt Carolina when Carson has a pocket…but I have little confidence in Palmer’s ability to withstand the pressure headed his way and/or correctly read the coverages the Panthers always spread the field with. The Carolina defense covers a lot of ground and loves to compete with their own offense for who can score the most points.

Cam Newton is the no-doubt league MVP for 2015. His top RB, Jonathan Stewart, is healthy again and took the fight to the stellar Seahawks defense from the jump last week with his 59-yard run to open the game. His TE, Greg Olsen, left that game late with what initially appeared to be a serious injury but returned after missing but one series. His presence and performance will be a must. After missing a couple of games backup RB Fozzy Whittaker (ankle) looks like he’s a go. Arizona likes to pressure the opposing QB also and he could be quite valuable as a safety valve for that pressure. Fortunately for the Panthers, Can Newton elevates everyone’s play at the other offensive positions no matter who takes the field. This is the highest-scoring offense in the NFL and he’s a big part why…along with their aggressive defense setting the table for him with turnovers and good field position.

The Cardinals really struggled against the Packers last week while the Panthers pounded the Seahawks for one half and then held on for another.

Carolina is at home with a solid, opportunistic defense…and an MVP QB. I think Arizona will give that defense opportunities…and Cam will help turn them into points.

WINNER – CAROLINA

I know Coldplay has been very anxious to see who will be their opening act. At least we know now it was a good idea to not leave some or all of it up to a national call-in vote and instead let these auditions play out on the football field.

In any competition… isn’t having the most deserving finalists get to the end something worth singing about?

 

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National Pastime Has Potential Problem – National League

Will Venable

(Image Credit Arizona.SBNation.com)

The other day Fangraphs.com projected their 2016 regular-season results for all of Major League Baseball and the six worst records for both run differential and won-lost standings were all owned by teams…that play in the National League.

The Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Reds, Padres and Rockies are by their metrics supposed to be…well…not good.

Jayson Stark of ESPN pointed out if for some reason these far-off projections are spot-on…

  1. It would be the first season ever – since the formation of the American League – the six teams with the worst records in baseball would all come from one league.
  2. Even more significantly it would mean only nine teams would be fighting for five playoff spots in the NL.

Jayson has talked to a number of executives in both Leagues and there is concern Major League Baseball is heading towards the other major sports in terms of teams tanking seasons in order to rebuild for the future. Some baseball teams apparently feel others are doing that already.

The Houston Astros have been blessed with being the spark that created this brush fire of criticism, having stripped their payroll to the bone and averaging 108 losses a year for three years. That entitled them to be the first baseball club ever to hold the first draft pick three years in a row.

Next thing you know…the Astros go from 111 losses to a playoff spot in a couple more seasons.

Here in Philadelphia the bottom fell out simply as a case of hoping as stars aged they could stay at the top of their games.  Collectively, they did not.  The strategy supremely failed and the shelves are now bare as far as finding new ingredients for immediate success right now.

In the case of each of those other NL franchises mentioned to project poorly in 2016 it’s a mixed bag as well. In any case I am not convinced the scenario of the Houston Astros is going to become a new strategy for success going forward because, as Commissioner Rob Manfred was quoted in Jayson’s article…

“Obviously, you don’t want to have too many teams in a rebuilding cycle at one time in one league and I accept that. But the fact of the matter is, when you have 30 teams, it’s not unusual that you have five or six in a rebuilding cycle. I think if you look back historically that would not be a number that’s out of line.”

“I believe all our teams are pursuing strategies over some period of time to make them a winner. And occasionally those strategies involve rebuilding. Our teams don’t tank.”

You have the realities of the market (code for money you have available and/or willing to spend) as well as who is on roster and down on the farm (system). But to be honest, as far as the baseball draft is concerned as long as you have a good development system you should be able to do well with anyone drafted early on.

The Houston Astros moved a number of veterans to acquire a slew of prospects and it worked out. It took a few years and a lot of losses. But they moved to acquire assets in their process.

This is the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. I am positive both sides will be keeping a close eye on how teams in disarray try to find their way back to a better day.

I know from living in a city where the pro basketball team literally announced they were going to stop trying for awhile what tanking really is all about. Trust me…the Houston Astros did not tank.

It certainly does look like there are some bad baseball teams in the NL in 2016.

Let’s watch their player movements and determine their final rankings…before we accuse any of tanking.

That is a word that should not be “pitched” around lightly.

 

 

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Eagles Hire Doug Pederson – Andy Reid Wasn’t Available

Philadelphia Eagles
(Image Credit Sports-Logos-Screensavers.com)

When I was first asked what I thought of the Philadelphia Eagles hiring former QB and assistant Doug Pederson as Head Coach I had two immediate reactions…a) I was grateful it wasn’t Ben McAdoo, the assistant to Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants who Eli Manning got promoted to their HC job after kicking Coughlin to the curb and…b) Doug will blissfully already be totally prepared for what it is like to be booed here because he was as both a QB and an assistant. He knows the fans, he knows the media.

It’s like Andy Reid was a boxed jigsaw puzzle who Owner Jeff Lurie slowly took apart as Andy’s coaching era fell apart, eventually putting all the pieces back in the box and hiding it within his closet when Chip Kelly was hired. With Kelly now dispatched, Lurie hurriedly has taken the box from his closet, opened it up and is frantically trying to put the image of Reid back together again through the hiring of Doug Pederson.

Doug came to Philadelphia via Reid at the age of 31…after struggling mightily to stay in the NFL as an undrafted, unqualified quarterback. Even though the Eagles had drafted Donovan McNabb, Andy stubbornly declared Pederson the starter to help install the West Coast offense and mentor McNabb… and didn’t insert Donovan into the fray until the season was shot at 2-7 and Doug being unable to go out in public.

Pederson finished out his career as a journeyman QB and then spent several years as a high school HC (Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport) in Louisiana before Reid made him the Eagles offensive quality control coach in 2009. Two years later he became Philly’s QB coach. When Andy finally got terminated here, Doug followed him to Kansas City as an offensive coordinator.

Some of the legitimate questions Lurie will have to answer about this hire include why he hired a man no other teams seemed to be interested in interviewing, why he hired a man who has only ever worked with one HC…and why he hired a man who has never regularly called plays from the sidelines.

It has been rumored the Eagles most wanted McAdoo or Chicago Bears assistant Adam Gase, the new HC in Miami, before they settled on Pederson. A choice many fans might not make at all…now appearing as a choice being settled for…does not admittedly make for a great first impression.

Doug turns 48 on January 31st. I suspect once the Chiefs season is over and this announcement can be made formal he’s going to feel much older after his first few press conferences in Philadelphia.

But here’s the thing…if guys who have never been HC’s in the NFL like Gase, McAdoo and Pederson can motivate pro players and ensure the offensive and defensive coordinators on either side of them are solid, veteran coaches who know what the hell they’re doing anything is possible. At least Pederson has more life and football experience under his belt than those other two…guys who are much younger and have resumes barely one page long. That’s why I said what I said earlier about at least feeling better about Pederson than McAdoo (or Gase). I’m big on life experience.

The older you are the more crap you’ve seen. The older you are the more likely you have seen how many ways “employees” can “act out.” (In pro sports that’s a management skill set all its own…)

But most definitely this hire was not only made because Jeff Lurie hoped to run straight back to the warm comfort of Andy Reid’s era through Doug Pederson…it was made because of his re-promoting of best friend Howie Roseman to being in charge of personnel after Kelly decimated the roster with a series of stunningly bad decisions. It may be several prospects were turned off to interview with the Eagles because of the Lurie-Roseman personnel dynamic which will leave Pederson to coach – at least early on – more so who he’s given (and inherited, a key point here) instead of who he himself wants. Those other candidates may have wanted a significant say in personnel from the jump.

After Chip Kelly (who is headed to the Niners now), there was no way on God’s green turf that was going to happen in Philadelphia.

Oh…and by the way, players play…and coaches coach. The quality of one’s personnel tends to be in direct proportion to how “well” they coach. I see already our “Philly friends” up at ESPN have rated Pederson’s hire the worst so far. Really?

Good luck San Francisco.

Doug Pederson’s hire is absolutely, without question, the “safest” decision Lurie could have made without getting Reid back here himself.

Come on, don’t we all reach for our favorite “binky” when we’re under the weather? That familiar, fluffy blanket makes everything feel better.

So you’re reading this far in and have reached a conclusion I’m now about to put the hammer down on this hire and go nuclear?

No.

History has shown time and again we don’t know how someone is going to perform as an NFL Head Coach until he gets his chance. Pederson’s arrival reminds me of Reid’s. That’s a good thing in that…consider some of the people in Andy Reid’s “coaching tree.” John Harbaugh won a Super Bowl, Ron Rivera lost one game while at the helm of Carolina this season…and this year Todd Bowles almost got the New York Jets into the post-season.

Reid stayed here too long…but while he was here had the Eagles in the post-season on almost a regular basis. And when he was hired…well, it sounds an awful lot like Pederson’s arrival.

After the shrill, obnoxious, Napoleon-like Chip Kelly experience this fan is going to give Doug Pederson a chance. First and foremost…Jeff, Howie and Doug need to solve the puzzle and piece together a solid roster after Kelly took a jigsaw to it.

Doug Pederson arrives very much behind the very large shadow of Andy Reid.

For the Philadelphia Eagles…what was old…is new again.

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First Baseball Post Of 2016 – Oddities Of 2015

Thinking baseball set

Jayson Stark is a Philadelphia-born baseball writer who currently works for ESPN. He’s got a few years on me but I suspect I still have read almost everything he’s written over most of his career. He worked at the local Philadelphia Inquirer before “going national.”

One of the things I always look forward to at the end of any baseball season is when he compiles his “Strange But True Feats” from the year just ended…regular and post-season alike.

He unearths the bizarre in baseball.

For my first baseball post of 2016 I thought it fun to comb through some of his findings and see if you recall these “highlights” from 2015…

The first rain delay of 2015 occurred in Miami, in a park that had never had a rain delay before. (The Marlins couldn’t get their roof closed in time)

From Opening Day through September 12th there wasn’t a single game in which a team was down by at least three runs with two outs and nobody on in the ninth…and then won the game.

On September 13th both the New York Mets and Houston Astros did just that.

The San Diego Padres lost three games in 48 hours…with three different managers.

Chase Utley played 13 seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies and was on a team that got no-hit once.

After being sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers they were promptly no-hit twice in his first nine games.

Better yet, the same three Dodgers made the last three outs in both those no-hitters: Utley…his former teammate in Philadelphia Jimmy Rollins…and Justin Turner.

Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner was the starter on June 1 against the Mets. He got only 14 outs but still managed to strike out 12 batters…and give up 11 hits…on his box score line. That meant he faced 25 hitters and 23 struck out…or got a hit.

That was the first game in the entire history of baseball where a pitcher piled up at least 10 strikeouts and 10 hits without making it through the fifth inning. We’re talking 140 seasons of the sport for it to happen once.

The next night, also in Petco Park, Mets starter Noah Syndergaard did it too.

In 2015 there were a whopping 27 games where a position player pitched. That’s the most in any baseball season in history.

In addition, no position player had ever pitched in a post-season game until Cliff Pennington did it for the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 4 of the ALCS. Get this – his fastball was gunned at 90.7 mph – 7 mph faster than their starter that game, R.A. Dickey.

Speaking of the post-season, the World Champion Kansas City Royals played 53 innings in the 2015 World Series. They held a lead after only 13 of them. Know how many teams had ever won a five-game Series while holding a lead for that few innings?

None.

Ah, last season’s World Series…I still feel for you Mets fans. The Royals came from behind to defeat the Mets in three different games where they trailed in the eighth inning or later.

That had never, ever happened.

The exclamation point to that is this – the Mets led after almost twice as many innings (24) in the World Series as the Royals…and lost.

Before last season the most innings any team had ever led on its way to losing a five (or four) game World Series was 15.

The call for “Pitchers and Catchers report to camp” doesn’t seem quite so far away after reading through all of Jayson’s findings…which can be found on the links above.

Let’s see if 2016 raises the bar…for the bizarre.

 

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2015 NFL Playoffs – Who Opens For Coldplay – Divisional Round

Elite Eight

(Image Credit ESPN.com)

I saw the film “Concussion” the day before the NFL Playoffs began. Perhaps that wasn’t good timing after suffering through watching that debacle unfold in Cincinnati last Saturday night where both Pittsburgh and the Bengals seemed more intent on head-butting than heading in the direction of Super Bowl 50. The less said about that the better here but I did want to note in case you were not aware…the officiating crew for that fiasco were the same people who let these two squads swing away at each other in the very same venue in Week 14, a contest that resulted in multiple fines thereafter. The NFL is always consistent with fining people after games…not so much interested in ejecting people during games…maybe they should look into that…and how they select officiating crews. In fact that crew was ranked fourth among all NFL crews in not handing out “behavior” penalties in the regular season.

By the way, if you dismissed seeing the film because it’s “just another football movie” perhaps rethink that. It is part love-story, a tale of professional and private courage…but admittedly you will quickly understand why the invention of football would never have come with approval of the medical community for some very basic, sound, easy-to-digest reasoning.

So…last weekend for the first time in Wild-Card Weekend history all four road teams won. We shall move forward keeping in mind in Divisional Round Weekend history only 14 of the prior 44 Wild-Card road winners managed to win a second time on the road and get to the Conference Championship Round.

Anything can happen…it’s that kind of year. Nothing can be taken for granted. (I’m looking at you, Minnesota Vikings fans. That was a very cold way to lose…temperatures notwithstanding)

First up this weekend we get Kansas City (12-5) visiting New England (12-4). The forecast currently calls for some rain, some falling temps…you know, New England weather in January.

Kansas City has won seven of the ten games they’ve played on the road this season – six of those were against playoff teams. KC has won eleven games in a row. KC led the AFC in turnover differential, a +14. KC finished third in the NFL in scoring defense. Counting last weekend’s 30-0 win against Houston the Chiefs have given up more than twenty points in only one of their last thirteen games. They are built for post-season success in that they run the ball, play tough D and take the ball from the opponent. Very logical to like KC here.

But their star WR Jeremy Maclin has a sprained ankle that may not let him get on the field and may hamper him even if he does…while New England has a number of key players on both sides of the ball who had an extra week to heal from their injuries…who weren’t around as the Patriots stumbled towards the regular-season finish line.

New England was third in the league in scoring. QB Tom Brady has, like fellow signal-caller Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, had to play behind a mind-numbing number of offensive line combinations. At times towards season’s end the Patriots seemed to be resorting to a “chuck and duck” like the Packers have been for most all of their season. The loss of RB’s LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis really, really hurt this squad. The Patriots can’t run the ball well. New England has become, like Green Bay, one-dimensional on offense. But know this…they still manage to not give the ball away and that is what feeds KC’s defensive success.

I rarely go back to a prior year to look for signs or think one year removed has a thing to do with another. But do you recall sixteen months ago when the Patriots went to Kansas City and got crushed 41-14? Everyone pronounced New England and Tom Brady done – he was actually pulled from the game. Then they won the Super Bowl. The Patriots still around this season, wounded or not, have to be super-motivated to win this game.

Under Head Coach Bill Belichick at home in the post-season New England is 14-2. Logic might say KC, magic rolls with NE.

I believe in magic here.

WINNER – NEW ENGLAND

Next it’s off to the dome in the desert as Green Bay (11-6) visits Arizona (13-3)…the Cardinals having defeated the Packers during Week 16 in the same locale to the tune of 38-8. Arizona scored a couple of TD’s on strip-sack fumbles from Rodgers in that game. They had nine sacks overall. And…it was just one week after losing the centerpiece of their defense when Tyrann Mathieu, the “Honey Badger,” blew out an ACL. This week off has allowed several key Cardinals starters to get healthy.

Rodgers and WR James Jones were both in a cocky, “I told you so” mood after their win in Washington last weekend. They apparently decided lighting up one of the worst defenses in the league means the “Pack Is Back.” The offense still primarily consists of taking the center snap and Rodgers scurrying about, looking for which schoolyard route someone got open on.

The Packers, like New England, are one-dimensional on offense. The line is atrocious – I think it will be worse than it was in the first meeting – and any running game they generated against Washington was…against Washington.

Green Bay’s defense? Not so hot. They have been better than in prior years but are like many defenses rush-dependent. Sometimes the blitz wins…sometimes the blitz blows up in your face.

Arizona’s offense? The NFL’s best. Their defense? Fifth best…they are really solid. If they protect QB Carson Palmer and run the ball efficiently…the Packers will be defenseless on defense.

Arizona…ain’t Washington.

WINNER – ARIZONA

The next day it’s off to Charlotte to see a team who has been in the last two Super Bowls, Seattle (11-6), visit Carolina (15-1). The weather at present looks like a chance of showers with temps in the mid-40’s. I am sure Seattle, unhappy at having to travel cross-country for a second week, will be quite happy with “warm” weather. (Everyone was “purple” with cold in Minnesota during that win over the Vikings…)

Carolina has won eleven games in a row at home. They defeated the Seahawks in Seattle back on October 18th by 27-23. TE Greg Olsen caught the game-winner from QB Cam Newton with 32 seconds remaining…capping a comeback after the Seahawks had outplayed the Panthers for the first three quarters. The Panthers are expecting both RB Jonathan Stewart and WE Ted Ginn Jr. to play – Stewart has missed the last three games with a sprained foot; Ginn missed last week with a knee injury. They have been the team’s playmakers outside of Olsen…and Cam of course.

Seattle should have all eleven starters ready to go on their star-studded defense for a change…a D that has only given up one touchdown in their last six road contests. But Carolina’s defense doesn’t have to take a backseat to the Seahawks…the Panthers led the entire NFL in turnover differential, a net of +20. One key player that will be missing is Carolina’s DB Charles Tillman who blew up an ACL in the Panthers’ regular-season finale.

Seattle might have a key player missing also…as the story out of Seattle last week was confusing at best. Star RB Marshawn Lynch took most all the first-team reps before last week’s game in Minnesota but then decided his abdomen, or the rest of him for that matter, wasn’t good to make the trip. Perhaps playing in the third-coldest game in NFL post-season history wasn’t a selling point. Maybe the forecast for Charlotte will be more to his liking but it remains to be seen how effective he would be or if HC Pete Carroll would trust him at this point.

Besides, this team is in “Wilson Mode” now, not “Beast Mode.” Seahawks QB Russell Wilson pulled off another spectacular play last weekend to help Seattle survive and advance…but a missed chip-shot field goal didn’t hurt either. Wilson has indeed been awesome in the second half of the season. Cam Newton’s year…the first QB in NFL history to throw at least thirty TD passes and rush for more than 500 yards in one season. He’s put this team on his back all season, much like Wilson has with Seattle since mid-season.

Carolina is averaging 33 points a game at home this season. Haven’t lost a game there. I wonder how they will react in a close contest. This comes down to Wilson vs. Newton for me…against those rough, tough defenses.

One thing that nags at me about Seattle…as in the first meeting with Carolina this season… they blow fourth quarter leads. They’ve actually had the lead at some point in sixteen of their seventeen games this season in the final period. That’s more than a pattern…that’s a problem. Especially against a team that has lost once…and already beaten them in similar fashion on their own field.

WINNER – CAROLINA

And speaking of surviving and advancing we will end the Divisional Round wondering what toll that MMA match in Cincinnati last weekend took on Pittsburgh (11-6) as they visit Denver (12-4).

The forecast now calls for sunny skies and temps in the high thirties. At altitude, will Pittsburgh’s suspect defense have the same attitude…yet ground all the stupidity during and after the whistles from a week ago?  The Denver defense can be a very, very testy group also. The Broncos are already mad at Pittsburgh for something that happened during their December 20th, 34-27 loss in Pittsburgh when Steelers C Cody Wallace allegedly targeted the head of Denver DB David Bruton Jr. after a play’s result was already determined. I’m not saying we have another bloodbath on our hands like Pittsburgh-Cincinnati but watch early on to see how feisty these teams are. One note about that Steelers win over the Broncos in mid-December in Pittsburgh…Denver did have a  27-13 lead at the half. That was with Brock Osweiler as their signal-caller…

The Broncos have QB Peyton Manning back after sitting out several weeks with his foot issue. The Steelers have QB Ben Roethlisberger back after sitting out a few minutes of last week’s win over the Bengals with his shoulder issue.

Speaking of injuries, was Steelers WR Antonio Brown actually concussed at game’s end? Bengals DB “Pacman” Jones doesn’t think so. He says Brown winked at him as the medical personnel were helping Antonio away. Is actually-injured Pittsburgh RB DeAngelo Williams ready to go with a foot injury that has kept him sidelined and, if so, how effective will he be against Denver’s stout defense?

Denver has won eight games by seven points or fewer. Three of their wins were in overtime. They wouldn’t have gotten the top-seed otherwise. They are used to playing games close to the vest.

I dislike Pittsburgh defense, which must have a highly-effective pass rush (common theme) to cover up a woeful secondary. A veteran like Manning will be able to get the ball out quickly and take advantage but this is his first start in a couple of months and accuracy wasn’t exactly his calling card when healthy. They will therefore need a balanced attack. They might not even need that much offense. The Denver defenders have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL and had the most sacks and we know Roethlisberger takes a lot of sacks even when healthy.

With his injury Big Ben will likely be as much of a “statue” as Manning and that means neither team will have a deep game, relying on short passes and breakaway plays. I have seen Roethlisberger try to jump-start their offense with brief pass routes since people started to take the deep ball away from Pittsburgh late in the year. I have not been impressed. I’m not even sure he can throw a deep ball now after last week’s injury so his arm may be as “short” as Peyton’s…another equalizer between the QB’s there. Pittsburgh’s alleged awesome offense hasn’t been so awesome aside from that second-half comeback in December at home against…Denver.

But the Steelers are beat up, the Broncos not-so-much…and the fans should be “Mile High” in Denver.

WINNER – DENVER

Will all four home teams win considering how close these games should play out?

Maybe taking all four teams at home is my easy way out?

An easier, safer prediction might be none of these games should be easy for the winners.

Whomever is going to advance one step closer to opening for Coldplay will earn their way…especially this weekend…the hard way.

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2016 National Championship – Alabama Crimson, Clemson Orange Color The Desert

National Championship

(Image Credit CFP)

There have been more than seventy small earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past week. The prevailing theory is this is not due to the fact Clemson defeated Oklahoma in one of college football’s Playoff Semifinals New Year’s Eve.

Apparently they have quite a bit of hydraulic fracturing and injection well activity going on in Oklahoma. That injected water changes the friction of naturally occurring fault lines…which can in turn cause an increased frequency in earthquakes.

I’ll readily admit I thought I’d be here picking Alabama over Oklahoma for the upcoming 2016 National Championship Game so kudos to the Clemson Tigers…but I’m not THAT shook up. Those Tigers were the talk of college football fans everywhere after their 37-17 Semifinal win over the favored Sooners…for all of 240 minutes…before the Crimson Tide’s 38-0 trouncing of Michigan State in the other Semifinal.

Alabama’s demolition of the Spartans quickly put Clemson (14-0) back in the underdog role leading into this Championship showdown Monday night in the desert of Glendale, Arizona.

The Tide (13-1) proved in its Semifinal success if you take away their punishing running game led by Heisman RB Derrick Henry you just get to deal with pin-point accurate QB Jake Coker and a nice receiving corps led by WR’s Calvin Ridley and Richard Mullaney. And then there’s their D…

If the team in Crimson has success against those in Orange like they played a week before…Orange will be the new Black…and Blue.

Alabama has the best offensive line in the country. The Tide rotates eight different defensive linemen in three slots and it’s hard to tell their All-American from the rest of the bunch. If football is indeed won at the lines of scrimmage you might already color this win in.

Clemson’s Head Coach Dabo Swinney was born and grew up in the state of Alabama. He played WR at Alabama. He spent eight years as a grad assistant and an assistant coach at Alabama. He knows what he’s up against here. This is also a huge stage. Alabama HC Nick Saban has been here a lot. Swinney…not.

In order to become the first team in major college history to finish 15-0 and gain their college’s first National Championship since 1981 (when former Alabama player and assistant coach Danny Ford was HC)…Swinney has to shake things up and out game-plan Saban. It’s that simple.

Swinney does have one advantage going in. Saban’s teams have historically had issues with up-tempo, spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks which Clemson possesses. The Tigers will not be able to run the ball straight ahead. Clemson will have to use QB Deshaun Watson, one of the nation’s best, all over the field. Swinney’s game plan has to have him in scramble-mode to confuse and confound one of the best defenses Saban has ever coached…quite the compliment. The Tigers have to be aggressive and literally spread their spread offense across the field, side-to-side in order to go forward. Watson will have to play a near-perfect game by forcing the Tide to break coverage and lose discipline. He’ll also have to go deep when he can. Alabama’s defense is almost perfect…almost all the time.

Swinney does not possess such a built-in advantage on defense. Saban will want to run the ball straight ahead initially and try to win a slugfest. If Clemson attempts Michigan State’s tactic of stuffing the box and not allowing Henry to run amok that means Coker will be aiming to throw…and we saw how happy he was to do so against the Spartans. The Tigers’ secondary isn’t shabby but if they pull back to cover the passing game and Saban then is allowed to play chess with Henry and Coker alternating run/pass Clemson will be hard-pressed to swim against a rolling Tide.

I like Alabama in this game…but if Clemson doesn’t have reasons to get discouraged early on…they could keep it interesting late. They earned much respect from a lot of us New Year’s Eve. Color me impressed with the Tigers. They truly belong in this duel in the desert.

But late Monday night Saban and the Crimson Tide will likely be up on the podium celebrating yet another National Championship for Alabama.

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2015 NFL Playoffs – Who Opens For Coldplay – Wild-Card Weekend

American Football Golden Icon

About one-half second after it was announced British band Coldplay would headline Halftime at Super Bowl 50 all heck broke loose across “social” media with opinion, mostly negative. This is not unusual for such an outpouring of reaction because as we know for most people who watch the Super Bowl the game is secondary to Halftime. The two teams are inconsequential.

And you can’t please ever-y one. Ever.

I don’t happen to be one of those folks infatuated with Halftime at the Super Bowl. I’d be good with a marching band. I don’t have a beef with Coldplay – I like some of their songs.

But an awful lot of people do have a problem with them. One presented a rationale why Hip-Hop artists would be more appropriate. Bob Lefsetz of Variety pointed out music actually “lives” on streaming services and in fact, Drake is a bigger mover of music than Adele. Drake has five Number 1 hits in his career. Coldplay has one. He also wasn’t moved by the fact Beyonce and Bruno Mars were thrown into the performing mix after the initial Halftime performer announcement. His disgust at the NFL’s choice not reflecting these music metrics was best reflected in a singular quote:

“Music is all about marketing and sports are all about protecting the past and taking no risks – at a time when society is living on the cutting edge, knowing what happens today probably won’t be remembered tomorrow.”

This IS the 50th Super Bowl. In a society where we put so much emphasis on the Super Bowl being one of the most important global events on God’s Day Planner this anniversary means a little bit more to the NFL. They don’t want to screw this up. Enter Coldplay.

If not screwing this Super Bowl up was indeed high up on the priority list in the League’s offices I still haven’t figured out why the NFL is playing this one in Levi’s Stadium where, having just opened in 2014, folks now find themselves discussing putting in fake grass for 2016…because grass doesn’t root for long. We will root for the NFL to install a quality turf that can handle The Big Game. We will root weather doesn’t cause an issue with it. Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News has a theory the architectural design of Levi’s Stadium features suite windows angled toward the fields which latch onto the morning sun and scorches real grass mercilessly. That design also has made it quite interesting in warm weather periods for fans in one part of the stadium that deal with that sunshine due to a lack of overhangs. Godspeed Santa Clara as you prepare for the universe to tune in.

And on that note let’s take a closer look at NFL Wild Card Weekend as we begin to find out who gets to open for Coldplay.

Kansas City (11-5) at Houston (9-7) – It certainly figures after this wacky season the hottest team in football (10 straight wins) would start the NFL post-season without a bye…and on the road. Ironically it is exactly where the Kansas City Chiefs started the 2015 season, winning 27-20. Remember Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles? He led the Chiefs that day. Houston QB Brian Hoyer has had enough concussions this season to forget he was benched during that opener. Kudos for Texans HC Bill O’Brien for producing amazing results without RB Arian Foster…but even though they appear to be peaking now…we can’t ignore they played in the AFC South. Kansas City is a reflection of their HC Andy Reid. They take the ball away from you and they protect the ball when they have it. They grind it out on offense and make you grind it out on defense. Wait…that’s pretty much how Houston rolls now too. One note from a guy who has seen a lot of Reid…he was famous in Philly for not making in-game or halftime adjustments. If O’Brien throws a few wrinkles in early and the Texans get ahead that might be the difference. A low-scoring affair? Likely. The law of averages (so many close, consecutive wins) catching up with the Chiefs? Possibly. Can Houston win this game? Definitely. Will they win this game? I think not. I like Kansas City in a nail-biter.

Pittsburgh (10-6) at Cincinnati (12-4) – The weather forecast for Saturday in Cincinnati is a 100% chance of rain with plunging temperatures. That’s worth mentioning because Pittsburgh RB DeAngelo Williams may not go and Cincinnati RB’s Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard haven’t provided much go. Elements aside…the Steelers and Bengals are probably both better off traveling through the air. That means Cincinnati QB AJ McCarron versus Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh wins, right? Not so fast. (For the record the teams each won on the other team’s field in the regular season) Big Ben, even with a ton of talent to throw to, has been pressing of late and making poor decisions. Since Andy Dalton got hurt trying to make a tackle during the home loss to the Steelers in Week 14 McCarron has been on-the-job-training as the Bengals have been scrapping for enough offense to get by. But the thing is…they don’t often need much. In fact Cincinnati has sort of become Kansas City…grind it out on offense and make you beat their very-solid defense. And the Bengals are also quite familiar taking the ball away much more than giving it away. The Steelers defense? Pass-wise they’re just about the worst around. If they don’t get turnovers…oh my. I know well the curse of Cincinnati HC Marvin Lewis and all the Bengals’ post-season failures…but they now get another shot to personally escort their rival out of the playoffs on their home turf (mind you Pittsburgh has won 14 of the last 17 the two have played in Cincy). The way the Steelers played at Baltimore in Week 16 was truly perplexing and, to be honest, they didn’t look truly inspired last week at Cleveland even in a win. If McCarron is allowed to throw enough and Lewis doesn’t curl up the Bengals offense in a corner Cincinnati wins…another nail-biter.

Seattle (10-6) at Minnesota (11-5) – Just a month ago Seattle went into Minnesota and won 38-7. The only score the Vikings had that day was on a 101-yard kick return. But it wasn’t zero degrees then. Yes, that’s the weather forecast for Minneapolis Sunday. Zero. The Vikings have looked really good since that home humiliation at the hands of the Seahawks, barely losing in Arizona followed by routing Chicago and the Giants at home before sailing into Green Bay last Sunday night and winning the NFC North…and the right for this rematch. Is it be careful what you wish for? Whether Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch returns this week or not is a bit irrelevant because this team has gone all Wilson-mode instead of Beast-mode. QB Russell Wilson has taken this team and put it on his back offensively. Their defense? In fine form, thank you. That being said if I am calling out Pittsburgh for their play in Week 16 let me do so regarding the Seahawks as well. Two weeks ago they lost at home to St. Louis – for the second time this year mind you. It was the only loss in their last seven games but it was extremely disappointing and made little sense. Minnesota has had a wonderful season but RB Adrian Peterson is going to have to have the game of his life and he temporarily had to back off of last week’s game against the Pack with his bothersome back. QB Teddy Bridgewater is usually quite careful (that’s code for low-risk) with the football but this week careful is just not going to cut it. The Seahawks have given up the fewest points in football and they have been scoring in bunches. The Vikings will need to throw the ball down the field and that’s just not something they do. I think even at ground zero (degrees) Seattle – who has made the last two Super Bowls and has shown fight considering a slow start this year – will warm to the occasion and win this game…not by as much as the first meeting but a convincing win nonetheless.

Green Bay (10-6) at Washington (9-7) – With that NFC North title on the line versus Minnesota at home Sunday night Green Bay continued to look bizarrely off on offense…and man did they look bad in Arizona the week before that. Granted the Vikings and the Cardinals play serious defense but Packers QB Aaron Rodgers looks confused, disgusted and out of sorts. You would be too if you were sacked 13 times over the past two, very important games they’ve played. When was the last time you found yourself saying the Packers defense might be ahead of their offense? Now. As for Washington, champions of the NFC East (yuck), at least they won their last four and took the title instead of bobbing softly on the surface of mediocrity. Truth is these Redskins are very good at home, which is where they find themselves due to the flawed function of the NFL playoff structure. QB Kirk Cousins (an unrestricted free agent at season’s end) has led an offense that finds themselves higher-ranked than Green Bay’s is. His enthusiasm sometimes leads him down “turnover alley” but more than not it leads Washington to points. Their defense leaves a bit to be desired – they have been known to give up an alarming number of yards – but the way the Packers offensive line has been playing that levels the playing field a bit. Here’s the thing…I have been saying for weeks – no – months…Green Bay has to be better than this but maybe it’s time to admit they aren’t who I thought they were. This will be the Packers seventh consecutive playoff appearance. Green Bay is way, way more experienced at this point in the year than the Redskins are. Yet, that is exactly what Minnesota didn’t have going for them when they went into “Titletown USA” several days removed and took the title from the Pack. The Packers aren’t who I thought they were…and now THEY know they aren’t who they thought they were. Stat courtesy of USA Today – over their past eight games (admittedly some versus division (yuck) opponents) the Redskins have managed to hold teams to a 33% third-down conversion mark which over a full season would rank second in the entire NFL. The Packers offense ranks 28th in favorably converting such situations and have failed to reach 30% six times this year. The weather forecast is for a 100% chance of rain on Sunday. I’ll go ahead and forecast a Washington win but that prediction is far from 100% certain. The one pick of these four I am least sure. If you have any nails left to bite…this too should be another nail-biter.

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Clemson On The Clock – Alabama Not So Much

clock

You’ll hear a lot of hype between now and Monday Night when Alabama and Clemson take to the field for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Rather than get into X’s and O’s about this match-up here I want to make sure you hear about some insanity regarding this event.

For the second consecutive season of this Playoff Series one team will get unlimited practice time, team meetings, etc. while the other must adhere to the NCAA’s “20-hour rule.”

All of this comes about because Alabama’s Spring Semester starts on January 13th, two days after the Game. Clemson’s Spring Semester begins on January 6th, several days prior to the Game.

According to the NCAA the Tigers, starting on the 6th, are limited to a maximum amount of four hours a day. Since the Crimson Tide’s next Semester starts after this contest they have no such restriction.

Last season Ohio State was able to conduct unlimited practices and team meetings while Oregon was bound to this absurd rule, again because of the academic schedules of the respective schools.

During the Bowl Season this 20-hour limitation hardly ever comes into play because colleges are on their Holiday break. Yet, even after this went down last season no one bothered to go back and modify the rule this year.

Weightlifting, film sessions, etc. all count as time spent.

This is nuts.

This is big-time college athletics as infected by the NCAA’s Rulebook.

ESPN quoted Ohio State LB Joshua Perry about last year’s situation – “I would say the one thing that was advantageous to us was we weren’t worried about getting a new syllabus or shaking a professor’s hand and trying to figure things out for a semester. Is that a huge advantage? No, because you go the whole season doing the same thing anyway. You’re in class and you’ve got to game plan.”

The point is it shouldn’t even be a discussion point.

I don’t know why the Power Conferences of college football haven’t already broken away from the NCAA and decided to set up shop doing their own thing supervisory-wise. I suspect they simply don’t want the overhead costs running themselves.

But if I was a Head Coach of a team in the National Championship Game you can bet your last dollar I would be breaking that rule daily and challenging the NCAA accordingly. You don’t know when or if you’ll ever be in this situation again. You have to at least be on a level practice field prior to playing on the Championship field.

This is just stupid…which just happens to be the one-word definition of the NCAA.

Posted in Bowls, College Football, College Sports, Football, NCAA, News, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Chip Kelly – Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Independence Hall Fireworks

How many times have you thought about making a major decision in your life and your nay-saying albeit well-intentioned family and friends have said…”you know the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side” and/or “be careful what you wish for.”

When we feel a need to make a significant change in the course of our own current events we can often curse ourselves with “paralysis by analysis.” We come up with so many scenarios how ways could go the wrong way doing nothing…becomes the thing.

And the song remains the same…

There were songs being sung, bells peeling and fireworks popping in Philadelphia when Chip Kelly was relieved of his duties as Head Coach of the Eagles earlier this week. Oh sure…there are folks pointing out it was not even a full year since Kelly received full control of all decisions relative to the product on the football field. They caution it takes more time to see a vision through. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

But Pompeii was destroyed in one.

And the Eagles were not far behind the latter time frame when Kelly was dismissed.

To those outside Philadelphia it probably is shocking. The national media, especially ESPN, loved Chip Kelly because he was great press. Ironically, by loathing press. He sneered and snickered his way through his time here, letting everyone know how little we all knew and how insignificant we were, reporters and fans alike. But more importantly…his arrogance extended to players…and eventually once allowed…roster evaluation.

He arrived here from fairly insulated circumstances, having had success at locations where the demands of both fans and media alike were not as white-hot as they are in these parts.

You may recall in the summer it came out Chip had been previously married for years. At that time a series of interviews subsequently revealed not only did his co-worker coaches not know that…they literally never talked to him about anything but football for the whole time they worked with him.

Philadelphia Eagles Owner Jeff Lurie’s HC search after disposing of Andy Reid in retrospect may have been sabotaged from the start if it was based in a significant way on the opinion of others.

Yet, there were so many inherent risks in choosing Chip easily visible to us all, not the least of which was his lack of experience leading grown men instead of college boys. Not the least of which was the afore-mentioned lack of experience in coming to a place where football is a form of fanatic fandom-religion. Not the least of which was his arrogant and self-assured personality he displayed when he made himself visible. Not the least of which was running more plays more quickly being more important to him than making each play a positive one. Not the least of which was his unique outlook the way you hydrate humans and cultivate culture ultimately wins more football games than talent.

Actions speak louder than words.

Jeff Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles in May of 1994 and has never stepped into the spotlight much. He usually gives his pre-season and post-season remarks on how things went from his prospective. His actions all these years indicate the likelihood he patiently lets his employees do their thing.

And since he didn’t give Chip Kelly total control of his team from Day One we can infer from that lack of action he had some concerns about giving him the total control Kelly assuredly wanted from Day One.

And after a couple of 10-6 seasons with a lot of points tallied within…Lurie for whatever reason caved in…and the action became giving Chip Kelly total control.

And that action was the beginning of the end.

Here’s a few snippets from Chip Kelly’s first-ever draft pick, right tackle Lane Johnson, after the announcement of Kelly’s firing. This from an interview with Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News:

Johnson – “Maybe the ego got in the way. Too much power. Control. Not being human about things. Not working together, with the team, instead of being a dictator.”

Hayes – “He (Johnson) said Kelly ignored complaints of overwork in practice. He excoriated Kelly’s “Machine Gun” scheme as too taxing, especially for big, every-down linemen such as himself. More than anything, Johnson cast Kelly as an autocrat unable to alter his vision and unwilling to accept input from players. Johnson painted a picture of paranoia, a locker room where criticism and complaint would be met with punishment of marginalization and, eventually, unemployment. Kelly preached a culture of self-sacrifice and professionalism but he created a culture in which players and coaches did not dare question anything, lest they be sent away as stars DeSean Jackson, Shady McCoy and Jeremy Maclin were. Kelly created a culture of…fear?”

Johnson – “To be honest, yeah. We’d tell our position coaches but I don’t know if it ever leaves that room…maybe there was an intimidation factor…after Shady and all those guys were (subtracted) it opened up some eyes.”

DeSean Jackson was sent away a year earlier. Once Kelly got full control three-quarters of the defensive backfield was swapped out, the best running back in the team’s history was dismissed along with a franchise receiver…as well as a top pass rusher and two starting guards. All almost at once.

The Eagles have lost four of their last six games. The two wins were a special-teams fueled victory over the broken and battered Patriots and a triumph over the stumbling, bumbling Buffalo Bills. In their four losses within that time the average margin of defeat has been 24 points, including getting humiliated on their home field against the Washington Redskins with an NFC East title (for what THAT’S worth) still on the line.

In a press conference the day before the end, after that embarrassing loss to rival Washington, Chip Kelly actually uttered the words “I’m not the general manager.”

Which this fan thinks is the precise, crystallizing moment Jeff Lurie, already ruminating over the worst business decision of his career in or out of football and deeply contemplating a change, decided to go all the way…and send Chip Kelly completely away.

Kelly was fired even before the final game of the season was played.

Jeff Lurie is obviously quite angry at Chip Kelly.

Jeff Lurie is obviously quite angry with Jeff Lurie.

Actions speak very, very loudly.

 

Posted in Entertainment, Football, Media, NFL, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Eagles, Pro Football, Pro Sports, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

NFL Week 17 – Cozy Coaching Causes Chaos

Cozy Christmas

At the conclusion of the NFL’s last week of its regular season the end immediately comes for all but a dozen teams. Of course the aspirations for success in 2015 among the twenty finishing up finished up quite some time ago for most…just this past week for others.

I projected who would make the post-season prior to Week 13 and was correct in the NFC on all but the New York Giants, who should have fired way-too-cozy Head Coach Tom Coughlin long before now. Those two Super Bowl rings from the past don’t quite shine as brightly now against missing the playoffs four consecutive years. In twelve seasons as the Giants’ HC he’s only had six winning seasons with the team. New York’s co-owner John Mara said 2015 would essentially be a make-or-break season. Consider it broken.

And “Hail” to those Washington Redskins who instead walked in the front door of the NFC East title by walking all over the Philadelphia Eagles…in Philadelphia no less. I’ll have more on the demise of the hometown Birds in a future post but let’s just say that even while being humiliated once again way-too-cozy HC Chip Kelly continues to imply he’s the man for the job…

“Anybody in my situation, if they’re worried about getting fired they probably already should have been fired. It’s not good enough but I’m going to continue to work.”

He’s essentially challenging Owner Jeff Lurie to fire him because as we all know Chip is always the smartest guy in the room…even when the room is on fire and he’s the only one still standing in it.

Meanwhile out in Kansas City the guy the Eagles jettisoned for Kelly – Andy Reid – has fashioned just about the hottest team in football. Especially on defense. I saw a stat that was eye-popping…since the start of Week 5 the KC D has allowed a total of 145 points, an average of 13.2 over 11 games. No other team is within three points of that. And here’s the exclamation point on that…just five defenses have been better in that regard from the fifth through their fifteenth games since 2001.

I did project the Chiefs a few weeks ago to make the playoffs. I also had Indianapolis and Pittsburgh making the cut. Oops. In the “battle” for the AFC South title between the Houston Texans and those Colts the Houston D has been the difference maker between two teams trying to win with any quarterbacks they can find in the stands at this point. The Indianapolis offensive line should be fined for being so offensive knowing they had a banged-up 40-year old QB Matt Hasselbeck at the helm…getting not only him but his backup hurt against the Miami Dolphins of all folks.

Which brings us to the sad state of affairs in Pittsburgh. We don’t get many earthquakes in Pennsylvania so that rumbling around 4:30 pm Sunday afternoon was quite unsettling as the western part of our state was in quite a state over their beloved Steelers losing to a Baltimore Ravens team led by QB Ryan Mallett…a guy the Texans of all teams cut earlier this season when they were as thin at the position as a team could be.

My sources tell me chat rooms and message boards in the Steel City are filled with something far less than the joy of the Holidays. They were simply not ready to play against Baltimore. That starts with way-too-cozy HC Mike Tomlin…and doesn’t end with QB Ben Roethlisberger…but it was indeed an embarrassment for all Pittsburgh fans.

The post-season door has now swung open for the New York Jets…let’s see what I said about their chances before Week 13…

“The Jets and Bills appear to have some “want” and I think it is possible…possible…one makes the post-season.”

“Oh…and the last week of the season it’s Jets at Bills. That might mean something extra than the usual between these two franchises.”

And here we are. After New England HC Bill Belichick decided for whatever reason he’d like to see New York have the football to start their overtime game Sunday and Tom Brady wound up having to wait until practice later today to get his hands back on the football…we will now have the Jets former HC Rex Ryan standing across the field from the biggest game they’ve played in some time.

Rex might just sell out his soul to Satan to ruin New York’s miracle campaign. Jets HC Todd Bowles took over Ryan’s 4-12 mess from 2014 and now they have a chance to determine their own playoff fate…against Ryan. In Buffalo. And the Bills won in New York earlier this season. I’m looking forward to this one. You should also.

And just in case someone didn’t show a lot of smarts at your Holiday gathering over the weekend let me give you an example of how money and fame doesn’t make you smart either…

After the St. Louis Rams went into Seattle and defeated the allegedly red-hot Seahawks, sweeping both games this season, their defensive end Michael Bennett decided to take a couple of verbal shots at both the player who factored greatly in their defeat and the team that just beat them. In essence…making him look more ridiculous in the locker room than his favored team had just done on the field.

On Rams Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley…who ranks third in rushing this season (despite missing the team’s first two games…including the Seattle loss in St. Louis) and had 85 yards with the winning TD…“He’s average to me, personally. I’ve seen better running backs.” On St. Louis as a team…“The Rams, they play good football against us. They just don’t play good football against everybody else.”

Thank you Michael Bennett. You just made everyone who was “off their game” at their Yuletide parties feel just a little more cozy about themselves.

 

Posted in Entertainment, Football, Media, NFL, Pro Football, Pro Sports, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Lindsey Vonn – Greatest Female Athlete Ever?

Lindsey Vonn

(Image Credit RedBull.com)

I no sooner came up with the idea for this post than the latest issue of Sports Illustrated arrived announcing Serena Williams as the Sportsperson of the Year.

Not since track and field star Mary Decker back in 1983 had a female athlete been so honored with the magazine’s award all by herself.

Well…my original post idea remains intact…suggesting alpine skier Lindsey Vonn may be the greatest female athlete ever.

Two weekends ago Vonn captured her 71st World Cup win of her career. She’s going for her fifth World Cup Overall title this season…currently second in points. Lindsey has won four races already this season. No female skier in history has won as many World Cup races and her sights are now squarely set on breaking Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time mark of 86 World Cup wins.

All this at the age of 31…after multiple, serious injuries…still the greatest skier in the sport…males included? Topic for discussion…

Attractive, personable and outgoing on the outside, she is obviously equal-part battle-ready, combative and competitive on the inside to have lasted so long – and been so successful – in what is often considered a young person’s sport.

She has a new book scheduled to come out next year titled, “Strong Is The New Beautiful.” One of her main efforts off the slopes has been convincing women of all ages their focus should be on feeling and being healthy through nutrition, exercise…and a focused view health and strength is what truly breeds self-confidence and beauty.

She also recently launched a non-profit foundation that helps girls empower themselves and realize their dreams whether sports-related or not.

Trying to document all her physical injuries and personal setbacks while becoming one of only six women to ever have won World Cup races in each of the five traditional disciplines of alpine skiing – Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom and Super Combined – would be daunting indeed. Suffice to say alpine skiing is among the most dangerous things one can do and have it still be considered a “sport.”

In fact she was recently quoted as saying she wished more people would watch skiing live. “You can’t see on TV how fast we are going and how dangerous the sport is. I think if people understood how totally thrilling ski racing is they would like it better.”

I’ve been watching World Cup racing (sadly only on TV, never in person…) for many years and have never seen anything like the way Vonn attacks courses regardless of their set-up, the ever-changing mountain weather, the course conditions, etc. Lindsey consistently blocks out the pressure of already being the best of all-time and goes all out…every time out.

In the US alpine skiing is deep on the back-burner of public consciousness except for when the Olympics arrive every four years. There really is World Cup skiing each and every year in between those Olympics folks. I think Lindsey’s accomplishments are masked by the fact the US doesn’t celebrate this sport and its accomplishments like the rest of the globe.

By the way…World Cup ski racing currently can be found on Universal HD and – on occasion – NBC Sports Network.

That’s been a huge part of the problem convincing the masses Vonn should be at least considered among the best female athletes ever. We’re so bombarded with coverage of other sports – whose seasons never seem to end – and I don’t think skiing gets its due.

And to think how Lindsey’s historic resume has been hindered by injury. A horrible crash at the February 2013 World Championships left her with a torn ACL/MCL and a tibial plateau fracture. Fighting back from that she then crashed in November of the same year while in training. Vonn still attempted to continue on to reach her goal of representing the US in the 2014 Olympics just weeks away at that point…but after another big hit grudgingly called it a season. That’s an awful lot of lost win opportunities within that stretch of time alone…and there have been other injuries along the way since her World Cup debut in November of 2000 at the age of 16.

The native of Twin Cities, Minnesota has gotten her fair share of press from all those World Cup victories, winning the US a 2010 Olympic Downhill Gold, numerous World Championship medals, photo shoots, etc. but admittedly acquired almost as much notoriety recently for a now-ended romantic relationship with one of golf’s all-timers, Tiger Woods.

She’s no longer Woods’ girlfriend but be advised she’s still making headlines…returning to the slopes since late 2014 and just crushing it…continuing to rack up record-breaking results.

Danger is always right around the corner in this sport but we’re talking about a woman who has for years skied with braces and breaks alike. Regardless of how difficult this sport is to master and stay in one piece it looks like Lindsey will be done skiing when she’s ready to go, on her own terms, in her own time.

Her body of work is timeless…and yet still growing.

Serena Williams had a year for the ages. A record of 53-3 with Australian, French and Wimbledon titles all at the age of 34…in a sport also favored towards youth. The best female tennis player of all-time.

One can also absolutely make the case she is the greatest female athlete ever.

There is another athlete I would like to submit for consideration…excelling off-the-radar…obscured by icy clouds and snow-capped mountains.

Lindsey Vonn.

Posted in Health, Life, Olympics, Pro Sports, Skiing, Sports, Winter Olympics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

College Football Bowls 2015-16 – Season’s Greetings If Guests Got Game

Business situationAnybody who followed the 2015 college football season knows a handful of improbable, wacky plays could have ushered several other teams into the College Football Playoff than the Final Four eventually invited…Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma.

As for the overall Bowl system it remains bloated and brimming with unworthy teams. There were too many Bowls created too long ago to even remember where it all went so very wrong. At one time a Bowl was about awarding a school for a successful season and not these Power Conferences looking for additional money and a couple extra weeks for their teams to prepare for next season’s “Dash for the Cash.” It was bad enough when teams winning but half their games started to get invites. This year we have three – yes three – teams that went 5-7.

(Didn’t we just have a national debate earlier THIS YEAR about giving out “participation trophies” to children…?)

As well…Head Coaches get fired right and left as the pressure has boiled over on producing immediate results so many are waiting for a call to be rewarded or removed…their assistants are scrambling to figure out if their families will be in the same city come a couple months from now…some disgruntled players are playing out the string in a Bowl much lesser than hoped for…or are eyeing transfer opportunities elsewhere.

You know hard-core predictions are in short supply on this site. Make me a double when it comes to Bowl games. Some teams are thrilled to be playing in these exhibitions while others can’t wait for the final whistle to move on to the next season, the next school, the next chapter, etc.

My goal here is solely to give even the most uninformed individual one or two things they can chat about if suddenly ambushed by an individual at a Holiday gathering who actually knows something about any or all of these games. You’ll sound so cool…like you know what you’re talking about…at least until you can excuse yourself to go get more “cheer.”

Cure Bowl – Orlando, Florida – San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6) – This is Georgia State’s first Bowl after six years of playing FBS (big-time) ball.  The Panthers enter the game on a four-game winning streak after starting out 1-4.

New Mexico Bowl – Albuquerque, New Mexico – Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5) – Arizona has lost four of its last five contests. That’s not good. Neither is having to play this Bowl on New Mexico’s home field.

Las Vegas Bowl – Las Vegas, Nevada – BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3) – Their campuses are 43 miles apart and they call playing each other “The Holy War.” This is BYU’s HC Bronco Mendenhall’s finale before leaving for the top job at Virginia. Utah started out 6-0.

Camellia Bowl – Montgomery, Alabama – Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2) – Ohio enters this Bowl on a three-game win streak…as does Appalachian State, who is appearing in their first FBS Bowl.

New Orleans Bowl – New Orleans, Louisiana – Louisiana Tech (8-4) vs. Arkansas State (9-3) – These teams are meeting for the first time since 1998. Louisiana Tech is led by Florida Gator transfer QB Jeff Driskel. Arkansas State has scored over fifty points in each of their last three games and has won eight straight.

Miami Beach Bowl – Miami, Florida – South Florida (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (11-2) – Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty leads the FBS with 45 TD passes this season. The Hilltoppers average 44 points per game and have won their last five. South Florida is on a four-game win streak. The Bulls have a chance for their first nine win season since 2007.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Boise, Idaho – Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6) – Akron is on a four-game winning streak. This is their first winning season since 2005. Utah State was undefeated at home until losing their last game of the season to BYU. Obviously they didn’t do so well on the road…but they do get injured star QB Chuckie Keeton back for this one.

Boca Raton Bowl – Boca Raton, Florida – Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2) – Temple used to be a member of the Mid-American Conference which Toledo represents. Both teams started out their seasons on fire at 7-0. The Owls feature the nation’s top tackler, LB Tyler Matakevich. Toledo doesn’t feature HC Matt Campbell who left for Iowa State. Jason Candle, the offensive coordinator the last seven years with the Rockets, is the new HC.

Poinsettia Bowl – San Diego, California – Northern Illinois (8-5) vs. Boise State (8-4) – This is the first time these two teams have ever met. Northern Illinois has lost their last three Bowl games. Boise State – as you might have heard – does pretty well in Bowls. Both defenses rank among the country’s leaders in forcing turnovers.

GoDaddy Bowl – Mobile, Alabama – Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Georgia Southern (8-4) – Bowling Green lost HC Dino Babers to Syracuse so defensive coordinator Brian Ward will coach the Falcons. This is the first Bowl for Georgia Southern after they stepped up to the FBS level.

Bahamas Bowl – Nassau, Bahamas – Middle Tennessee State (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-5) – Middle Tennessee State is on a four game win streak. Both teams score well…and give up scores equally as well.

Hawaii Bowl – Honolulu, Hawaii – Cincinnati (7-5) vs. San Diego State (10-3) – San Diego State has won their last nine games after a 1-3 start. Cincinnati is one of the best teams in the nation in passing offense even while featuring a fairly balanced attack.

St. Petersburg Bowl – St. Petersburg, Florida – Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3) – Marshall will be looking for their third straight Bowl win is as many seasons. Connecticut won three of their final four contests …including knocking off previously-undefeated Houston.

Sun Bowl – El Paso, Texas – Miami (Florida) (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4) – Al Golden was fired as Miami’s HC after a 58-0 loss to Clemson in mid-season. Interim leader Larry Scott then guided the Hurricanes to four wins in five games. Washington State is in their second Bowl in the last three seasons.

Heart of Dallas Bowl – Dallas, Texas – Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (9-4) – Southern Miss only won three games a year ago and rebuilt their program after going completely winless in 2012. Washington was a rude host to rival Washington State 45-10 in both teams’ regular-season finales. The Huskies have the best defense in the pass-happy Pac-12.

Pinstripe Bowl – New York, New York – Duke (7-5) vs. Indiana (6-6) – Indiana will be in their first Bowl since 2007. They had been tied with Colorado for the most years without a Bowl appearance. Duke is in a Bowl for the fourth straight season. They had a common opponent this season…both teams defeated Wake Forest (for whatever that’s worth since Wake was 3-9).

Independence Bowl – Shreveport, Louisiana – Tulsa (6-6) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6) – Legendary HC Frank Beamer leads Virginia Tech into his final game after piloting the Hokies for 29 years. They have been to a Bowl game for 23 consecutive seasons, the second longest such streak. Tulsa likes to throw but has trouble stopping the other team from doing so.

Foster Farms Bowl – Santa Clara, California – Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4) – Nebraska upset Playoff-bound Michigan State 39-38 in an otherwise disappointing first season under new HC Mike Riley. UCLA started out 4-0.

Military Bowl – Annapolis, Maryland – Navy (10-2) vs. Pittsburgh (8-4) – Navy’s QB Keenan Reynolds has 85 career TD runs, an FBS record. He should have been in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and a legit candidate. The Panthers come in losing three of their final five games after a 6-1 start…as well as coming in to Navy’s stadium for this Bowl.

Quick Lane Bowl – Detroit, Michigan – Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7) – Minnesota enters this Bowl having lost five of their last six. Central Michigan has won five of their last six.

Armed Forces Bowl – Fort Worth, Texas – California (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-5) – These two teams played in the 2007 edition of this Bowl when California rallied for a 42-36 win. Cal started this season 5-0.

Russell Athletic Bowl – Orlando, Florida – North Carolina (11-2) vs. Baylor (9-3) – These two teams are playing for the first time. Baylor was 8-0 before literally running out of QB’s. North Carolina would have made things very interesting for the Playoff Committee had they managed to defeat Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Arizona Bowl – Tucson, Arizona – Nevada (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-5) – This Bowl is, believe it or not, between two teams from the very same Conference. Yes…that’s how silly things have gotten when it comes to the number of Bowls. Oh wait…this game is also only going to be available for viewing online and with mobile devices. That’s even more ridiculous.

Texas Bowl – Houston, Texas – Texas Tech (7-5) vs. LSU (8-3) – Texas Tech is second in the nation in passing offense averaging almost 390 yards per game. LSU got off to a 7-0 start before the wheels completely came off and almost cost HC Les Miles his job.

Birmingham Bowl – Birmingham, Alabama – Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) – Auburn travels for two hours to play this Bowl. Tigers versus Tigers. Auburn’s DC Will Muschamp is now the HC at South Carolina and Memphis’ HC Justin Fuente has left for Virginia Tech. Memphis will be coached by Darrell Dickey. A win gives these Tigers their first 10-win season in program history.

Belk Bowl – Charlotte, North Carolina – N.C. State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4) – N.C. State’s QB Jacoby Prescott is one of only four players in FBS history to throw for 60 TD’s and rush for 40. The likely better known QB is across the field in the Bulldogs’ very talented Dak Prescott. N.C. State started the year 4-0.

Music City Bowl – Nashville, Tennessee – Louisville (7-5) vs. Texas A & M (8-4) – Texas A & M won its first five before the bottom fell out and the Aggies dropped four of their last seven contests. Louisville…on the other hand…bounced back from a 0-3 start. Impressive.

Holiday Bowl – San Diego, California – Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Southern California (8-5) – This is USC’s second straight visit here…last year they defeated Nebraska. Wisconsin is making their fourteenth straight Bowl appearance, the longest active streak in the Big Ten. The Badgers have the top-ranked scoring defense in the country allowing about 13 points per game.

Peach Bowl – Atlanta, Georgia – Florida State (10-2) vs. Houston (12-1) – Florida State holds the nation’s longest consecutive Bowl streak at 34 seasons. The Seminoles were National Champs two years ago and made the Playoff last season. Houston gets into a “big-time Bowl” as the best of the “second tier” Conferences pathetically called the “Group of Five” instead of the “Power Five”…but I digress. The Cougars only lost to Connecticut when their star QB Greg Ward Jr. got hurt.

Orange Bowl – Miami Gardens, Florida – Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1) – College Football Playoff Semifinal. The Tigers looked bored down the stretch and Oklahoma did not. It’s still hard to explain the Sooners’ 24-17 loss to Texas in mid-season. Clemson’s QB Deshaun Watson is a dynamic force meeting a defense that averages over three sacks a game. Oklahoma’s QB Baker Mayfield is a gutsy force meeting a defense that is probably the best “third-down, get-off-the-field” group in the nation.

Cotton Bowl – Arlington, Texas – Alabama (12-1) vs. Michigan State (12-1) – College Football Playoff Semifinal. Both teams were packing lucky charms this year as the Tide got into the SEC Championship when Ole Miss lost in bizarre fashion to Arkansas while the Spartans won in bizarre fashion against Michigan. Alabama RB Derrick Henry – the Heisman Trophy winner – is 240 pounds of pure power that represents just about all of the Tide’s offense. Michigan State’s defense just got done stuffing Ohio State and Iowa’s rushing attacks. It would be helpful if their QB Connor Cook heals completely before facing Alabama…whose defense has allowed only 13 drives into the red zone since their upset loss to Ole Miss. Michigan State’s loss…an equally upsetting performance against Nebraska.

Outback Bowl – Tampa, Florida – Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4) – Two teams with five game win streaks. Northwestern’s streak features four of those contests being decided by seven points or less. Tennessee’s four losses this season were by a combined total of only 17 points. Note…the Volunteers lost two of those games to College Football Playoff teams Alabama and Oklahoma…and not by much on either occasion.

Citrus Bowl – Orlando, Florida – Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3) – This is the third time these two teams have met with Michigan winning both previous encounters. Michigan got hammered in their finale against rival Ohio State…Florida encountered much the same fate against Florida State, then struggled against Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Gators’ season would likely have been much different had QB Will Grier not been suspended a year for a positive performance-enhancing test in October. Michigan’s season might have been much different had their punter not tossed the ball to Michigan State at their game’s end.

Fiesta Bowl – Glendale, Arizona – Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1) – Both of these teams suffered crushing late-season losses. Defending National Champ Ohio State lost at the buzzer at home to Michigan State. Notre Dame left too much time on the clock and came up short in the final seconds at Stanford.  Ohio State’s DE Joey Bosa is absolutely one of the best players in college football. The Buckeyes’ inconsistency at QB with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett has been fortunately offset by star RB Ezekiel Elliott. QB DeShone Kizer saved the season for Notre Dame after starter Malik Zaire was injured for the season in Week 2.  Yet…it is the Irish defense that has eyes smiling led by DT Sheldon Day and LB Jaylon Smith.

Rose Bowl – Pasadena, California – Iowa (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2) – Iowa’s undefeated season and College Football Playoff berth was lost in the final seconds to Michigan State but at least the Hawkeyes now get to attend the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1991. The Cardinal lost both their opener at Northwestern 16-6 and towards the end of the year at home to Oregon 38-36…which dashed their hopes of making the Playoff even as Pac-12 Champion. All-purpose weapon Christian McCaffrey is the best player in the nation in my opinion. Stanford plays the run very well led by DE Solomon Thomas. Iowa’s QB C.J. Beathard has been inconsistent. LB Josey Jewell has not been, playing the run especially well.

Sugar Bowl – New Orleans, Louisiana – Mississippi (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2) – This is the third time these teams have met in a Bowl since 2004 and Ole Miss won both games…both Cotton Bowls. The Rebels were the only team to defeat Playoff-bound Alabama…at Alabama no less. Oklahoma State reeled off ten wins before losing their final two to Baylor and Oklahoma to end their Playoff hopes…the Cowboys had the Final Four in their sights but couldn’t close the deal.

TaxSlayer Bowl – Jacksonville, Florida – Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3) – This is the first time these teams have met since the 1983 Sugar Bowl when the Nittany Lions defeated Herschel Walker and the Bulldogs to win the 1982 National Championship. Penn State has lost three in a row. Georgia has won four in a row but still fired HC Mark Richt, who has since returned to his alma mater Miami (Florida). Georgia has been to a Bowl for nineteen consecutive seasons, the third-longest streak of its kind. This is the second time in three years the Bulldogs have been in this Bowl.

Liberty Bowl – Memphis, Tennessee – Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5) – Kansas State won its final three games while Arkansas won six of their last eight after a slow start…including the insanity that was their 53-52 OT win at/against Mississippi when a fourth-and-25 lateral play bounced their way…and helped Alabama into the SEC Championship game…and the Playoff of course.

Alamo Bowl – San Antonio, Texas – TCU (10-2) vs. Oregon (9-3) – Two teams with pre-season National Championship aspirations still wound up both averaging over 40 points per game. Oregon is on a six-game win streak. The Horned Frogs’ losses were to Oklahoma (Playoff team) and Oklahoma State (almost Playoff team).

Cactus Bowl – Phoenix, Arizona – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6) – Arizona State will travel about 10 miles to play at Chase Field, home of the baseball Diamondbacks. This Bowl is usually played on their home field but it is undergoing renovations. West Virginia has won four of their last five. Arizona State has lost four of their last six.

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