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Sunday Wrap-up: AFC Turned Upside Down

Yesterday was an interesting day around the NFL. The AFC in particular had an interesting day. The four teams that were expected to win their divisions (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and the San Diego Chargers) all lost yesterday. The Patriots and Chargers, who barely escaped upsets last Monday night, weren't so lucky in week 2 with the short week of rest. Both teams entered this season as division favorites and contenders for the Super Bowl, but through two games they have had to play catch up against "inferior" opponents. The Steelers also fell to 1-1 after losing to the Chicago Bears on a last minute field goal, one week after winning with a field goal in overtime. The vaunted Steelers defense was ineffective against the Bears, and couldn't make the big stops when needed. The Titans fell to 0-2 after losing to their division rival Houston Texans 34-31. The Titans were up 21-7 early in the 2nd quarter, and got over 280 yards of total offense from running back Chris Johnson, bu the Texans passing attack was too much for them to handle. Now a team that started this season with their eyes on the Super Bowl, now are just looking for a win.

What's even more surprising than who lost was who actually won yesterday. After two weeks only three AFC teams will start off the season 2-0 (the Colts will be the fourth if they win tonight). This is a bit surprising considering the AFC is considered the stronger overall conference (the NFC has five teams that are 2-0). What's even more surprising is who the three teams are with a spotless record in the AFC, the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. Now the Ravens aren't too surprising, they were a playoff team last year, and while they had some losses on defense their offense looked pretty strong entering the year. The Jets and the Broncos on the other hand are a bit more shocking. Both teams experienced a lot of turnover in the offseason. Each team bringing in among others, a new head coach and starting quarterback. The Broncos early success should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. They have faced the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, two teams that aren't exactly expected to be in the playoff hunt this season. The Broncos also would have lost to the Bengals if not for a fluke last second 87 yard touchdown. While its easy to question the staying power of the Broncos they are the division leader, and two wins are more than most teams have right now. The Jets on the other hand seem a bit more for real, and what's scary for the rest of the AFC East is they should only get better. The Jets decisively beat the Texans in Houston in week 1, a team that figured to be a playoff contender. New York followed that up knocking off the New England Patriots in week 2, and holding the Patriots high-powered offense to just 9 points. The Jets defense which hasn't allowed a touchdown in two weeks, should get better with a fully healthy DE Shaun Ellis, and the return of LB Calvin Pace after his four week suspension. On offense the Jets dual running attack has moved the ball effectively in both weeks. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has made major strides, and has put the Jets in a position to win both games. He hasn't dominated the competition by any means, but he has shown plenty of poise and the ability to make plays when needed. If he continues to mature throughout the season, the Jets could make a deep run into the playoffs.

While nothing can really be determined after two weeks, the AFC balance for power is not shaping up how anyone expected. Some of the conference's top contenders, are looking more and more like pretenders. While some of the teams that were overlooked going into the season, are looking like teams that need to be taken seriously for the remaining 14 weeks.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top 25 Matchup: (16) Oregon @ (14) Boise State

With both teams ranked in the top 25 and the higher seed (according to the AP poll, they are flipped in the USA Today poll) at home it would seem like the smart pick would be the Boise State Broncos, but I think the Cinderella team is going to have their hands full tonight. As much as I love the Broncos I can't pick them over the Ducks tonight. It boils down to one major 'BIG' reason, 6'2" 240 lbs. senior running back LeGarrette Blount. Despite sharing time with Jeremiah Johnson last year, Blount still managed to rush for over 1,000 yards and lead the team with 17 touchdowns. Blount's size makes him a power back, but before you label him a "three yards and a cloud of dust" running back, remember he averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season. Joining Blount on offense is the dual threat junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli proved last year that he could handle the Oregon offense and really sparked the Ducks success. The Ducks weakness on offense is their receivers, but Masoli finds a way to make big plays regardless of who he's throwing the ball to.

The Broncos aren't without hope though. They return one of the most intriguing college quarterbacks in redshirted sophomore Kellen Moore. Moore last season took the college world by storm, by throwing for almost 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was extremely efficient with a completion percentage of 69.4 that led to a 157.11 QB rating (which ranked 11th in the nation). They also have a pair of quick running backs that could give the Ducks some problems on the perimeter in juniors James Avery and D.J. Harper. The Boise State defense has some weaknesses in the front 7, but their strong secondary should give Masoli fits.

Overall I think Oregon's ground game will be too much for the Broncos to handle. I don't think they have the speed to contain Masoli, or the talent up front to stop Blount. While Moore and company should keep Boise State in the game, I think Oregon's talented line backing corps will stifle the Broncos' ground game. Also I think the Ducks should be able to get solid pressure on Moore that should keep him from being the winning quarterback. I think it will be a close high scoring game overall, with the Ducks coming out ahead 38-31.

Notre Dame preview Plus Top 25

With College Football season upon us, we will be previewing the 6 BCS conferences as well as Notre Dame. We will rank each conference on how we see it finishing up, and give a little preview of why the top teams can compete for their conference title. First up we will look at Notre Dame, obviously their isn’t a conference title at stake here, but they are a top 25 team with some serious bowl aspirations. Then I’ll give my top 25 as season begins.

Notre Dame Fighing Irish

Why They Will Contend: The Irish return a very upperclassmen laden team. The Golden Domers have a top notch offensive line led by Sr tackle Sam Young. They will be blocking for 3rd year quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who looks to build upon his 3,000 yard season. Clausen will need to cut down on the interceptions, but when he does find a Notre Dame wideout he has some play makers to work with. Junior Golden Tate and sophomore Michael Floyd are two excellent receivers, and one of the best tandems in the nation. Both guys are threats to always get in the end zone any time they have the ball. On defense the Irish return six starters including three in the defensive backfield. The safety tandem of junior FS Harrison Smith and senior SS Kyle McCarthy should be the Irish’s backbone this year. Junior OLB Brian Smith is the team leader and a force from the outside.

Why They Won’t Contend: Clausen is a nice QB prospect, but he’s been a nice prospect for three years now. With the targets that he has he should be among the top 5-15 quarterbacks in the nation, but he hasn’t been anywhere close to that. His interceptions were back-breakers last season, and he will need to get them under control to take the Irish to the next level. Another issue for Notre Dame is their running game. Even though they return their top 3 rushers and have a good offensive line they averaged just over 3 yards a carry last season. On defense the Irish are solid across the board and have a lot of potential, but they will need some guys to step up. Right now they have too many athletes and not enough players, especially in the front 7.

Offensive Player to Watch: WR Michael Floyd. This could have just as easily been Golden Tate as both are incredible play makers. I think Floyd with his combination of size and speed is going to be a breakout candidate this year.

Defensive Player to Watch: OLB Brian Smith. Smith is a play maker that always is around the ball. He can play inside and outside, but looks to be a full time starter on the outside now. Smith should cause a lot of problems in the backfield for opposing teams.

Top 25:

  1. Florida
  2. Texas
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Ohio State
  5. Mississippi
  6. USC
  7. Virginia Tech
  8. LSU
  9. Alabama
  10. Boise State
  11. Penn State
  12. Oregon
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. Georgia Tech
  15. Georgia
  16. TCU
  17. Florida State
  18. Notre Dame
  19. California
  20. Utah
  21. Nebraska
  22. BYU
  23. Pittsburgh
  24. Iowa
  25. North Carolina

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rubio Stays On The Other Side of the Pond

The Minnesota Timberwolves received troubling news yesterday with the announcement that the 5th overall pick in June's draft PG Ricky Rubio will be staying in Spain another two years. The T-wolves GM David Kahn tried to negotiate a buyout from Rubio's team DKV Joventut, but those efforts ended yesterday when Rubio was traded to FC Barcelona for cash. Under NBA rules the T-wolves couldn't offer more than $500,000 and Rubio would have been forced to pay the rest of the $8 million buyout. Now Rubio won't be free to come to the NBA until the 2011 season.

Minnesota's rebuilding efforts took a dramatic hit with the loss of the 18 year old Rubio. They'll retain his rights, but waiting two years for a player that some considered to be the 2nd best in the draft is a body blow for Minnesota. When he was drafted Rubio seemed like the perfect compliment to the Timberwolves big men F/C Al Jefferson and F/C Kevin Love. Rubio, only a teenager, is considered a very refined player, with excellent ball handling skills. Rubio was considered the 'steal of the draft' when he fell to the 5th pick, now 'robs' the Timberwolves of the savior that they were going to build their team around.

Now a move that was widely panned on draft day may come through and help save the T-wolves season. After drafting Rubio 5th overall, Minnesota took another PG Jonny Flynn with the very next pick. At the time the move seemed extremely odd, there were additional options available and Flynn was considered a true point guard just like Rubio. Flynn doesn't have the shooting ability to be a combo guard, and having them on the floor at the same time was going to be redundant. It seemed like a waste of talent and a waste of a pick, but now that redundancy still gives the T-wolves a top flight prospect at PG.

Rubio made the decision to not risk his own money now for the chance to play in the NBA and reach free agency (and the mega deal that comes with it) two years sooner. It is hard to fully fault him since if his career derailed due to injury or ineffectiveness that big pay day might never have come. Which would have meant Rubio would have given up over $7 million of his own money with nothing in return. He'll still be in the NBA by the time he is 20 and could get that pay day yet. The problem is he probably did make a mistake by not accepting the buyout. He won't ever make as much money as he would have if he came to the NBA this year, given his youth and marketability. Now Rubio is the one waiting to see if he made the right decision. Not only does the money play a factor, but also the play of Jonny Flynn. If Flynn reaches his potential Minnesota can always trade Rubio's rights to another team in two years. Rubio went from knowing the situation that he was going to, a young rebuilding team with star talent, to the unknown. The T-Wolves could trade Rubio to a worse rebuilding situation down the road. We won't know the true outcome for awhile, but right now it looks like Minnesota wasted their draft pick and Rubio wasted the chance to become the NBA's next teenage phenom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

USC Tabs Freshman Barkley As Starting QB

USC Head Coach Pete Carroll made a surprise move yesterday when he announced that true freshman Matt Barkley would open the season as the starting quarterback. This is shocking for multiple reasons, the least of which might be that a true freshman has never opened the season as a starter for the Trojans. What is also interesting about this move is that a year ago everyone assumed that Barkley would be redshirted in 2009, since USC starting quarterback Mark Sanchez had one more year of eligibility. That all changed when Sanchez left early and went to the NFL. Now the 4th ranked Trojans, whose measure of success is measured in Championships, will rely on a 19 year old to lead them back to the promised land.

Barkely wasn't handed the job when Sanchez left, he had to beat out two other quarterbacks who both saw time last season. Redshirted Junior Mitch Mustain was Sanchez's primary backup in 2008 and saw time in six games. Redshirted Sophomore Aaron Corp entered the spring as the heir apparent to Sanchez, but missed time this summer with a knee injury that allowed Barkley to vault ahead to the top spot. While Barkley may be the top freshman quarterback recruit according to ESPN, he has to battle with two former top prospects. Both Corp and Mustain were 5-star recruits when they entered college, and Mustain was also considered the top prospect in nation.

I actually feel a little bad for Mustain since this is the 2nd time a team has buried him on the depth chart. In 2006 the Springdale High School Arkansas product chose his home state Razorbacks. He started 8 games that season and threw for 894 yards with 10 touchdowns, before being replaced late in the season by Sophomore Casey Dick. Mustain transferred after the season to USC, due to the benching and the fact that the Razorbacks stuck with a run-oriented offense (Mustain's H.S. coach was the offensive coordinator, but left due to disagreements with head coach Houston Nutt). Mustain had to sit out 2007 and be redshirted, but seemed likely to take over for Sanchez when he left. Now after four years of college, Mustain with two years of eligibility left, Mustain is passed over again, this time by a freshman.

Barkley won't have to wait long to prove that he is worthy of the number one status. USC goes to Columbus for a Top 10 match-up with the Buckeyes on Sept. 12th. If Barkley beats Ohio State then Pete Carroll will look like a genius and the Trojans will look unstoppable. If Barkley struggles, Carroll could be second guessed since that loss could knock USC out of the National Championship picture. If he needs to make a change Carroll has some good options, but right now the most prestigious open QB job in the nation goes to the new kid on the block.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Favre-Vikings Rift, Real or a Media Creation?

Its been one week and already the stories about Favre being a problem in the Vikings locker room have started. I find this story to be more of the circus that comes with the Brett Favre saga, than an actual issue in the locker room. The report basically states that some players think that either Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels would give Minnesota a better chance to win. If you ask every single player in camp (remember there are still 80 players in camp right now) I'm sure you'll find a player or three that have a differing opinion. I bet if you ask every player you will find some who think Chester Taylor deserves a few extra carries, or that Percy Harvin should be the number 1 wideout.

This just seems like such a ridiculous story how can anyone say with a straight face that Jackson or Rosenfels would improve the Vikings number in the win column over Favre? Rosenfels has shown himself to be a capable backup and could have been a solid starter, but he's not who I want leading an offense down by 5 with two minutes to go. Jackson has been given opportunities to start and so far its been a mixed bag. His indecision and erratic play, are the reason the Vikes traded for Rosenfels and signed Favre in the first place. Jackson couldn't beat out Gus Frerotte last season, yet now he is suddenly a better option than Favre? Come on, this might not be the Brett Favre of old, but do we really want to bet against him? I'd still have him among the top-10 quarterbacks in the league for this next season.

If this was week 8 and the Vikings were off to a 3-5 start then maybe I buy this story as an actual problem. But one week after Favre arrives in camp, this story seems to be more show than substance. I'm sure there are a few Viking players who have been put off by the hoopla surrounding Favre this off season. But as much if not more blame should be placed on the Vikings organization, than Favre for that debacle. This seems to be more of a sensationalist story, than anything really affecting the day to day activities of Vikings. I mean one person reportedly said Favre had caused a "schism" in the Vikings locker room. Really, a "schism" that's the best way to describe the effect Favre has had after one week? Not a division, disagreement or split, its a 'schism'. This has to be one of the worse cases of hyperbole I've ever seen. There might be issues, but that is way too extreme of a label to use to describe them. I think we should let Favre and the Vikings play football, and stop scrutinizing their every move.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"March" Madness

Apparently the first demonstration in Philadelphia about Michael Vick, is for Michael Vick. The local chapter of the NAACP along with other civil rights groups are planning to 'march' on Lincoln Financial Center when Vick takes the field tomorrow.
"We believe Michael Vick has served his time, paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance and the animal rights groups want to hold him hostage for the rest of his life," J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said Wednesday. "We think that's patently unfair. It denies Michael Vick's basic civil rights, denies him his ability to make a living."
Look this would make sense if Vick's civil rights had been or were going to be infringed upon. Michael Vick may have served his jail sentence and done what was required by the court, but his record wasn't expunged. The fact that people and animal rights activists may want to protest against Michael Vick is their civil right (it should be noted that so far there hasn't been any major call to protest/boycott Vick and the Eagles). Also, even if they do exercise their Freedom of Speech, Michael Vick wasn't banished from the NFL. Had he been expelled from the league Vick had opportunities to play in other professional football leagues, such as the UFL and CFL. Furthermore, playing in professional sports leagues has always been seen as a privilege not a 'right'. And to have that privilege one must live by a standard set forth by the league. Michael Vick failed in his responsibility to live up the standard (not to mention basic nature principles of not killing dogs). He deserves whatever punishment is handed down. Also, if Vick's chosen profession was a lawyer, teacher, doctor or any number of other jobs he would have lost his license because of his conviction. Vick is actually getting preferential treatment for being a professional athlete than what he'd have to deal with in the "real world".

I think this 'preemptive march' is a bit excessive. If you are a Vick supporter defend him, and if you are a Vick hater, boycott him that is your right. But to attack each other on baseless claims is cheap and petty. The problem with this demonstration is that its being had for the wrong reasons. To suggest that Vick's accusers and detractors are 'denying Vick his basic civil rights', is scurrilous and malicious and that is one 'right' that these supporters don't have.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chargers Lock up Rivers For 6 Years

Its been a good off season to be a quarterback, as Phillip Rivers is set to become the third QB to sign an extension averaging at least $10 million (not to mention the monster rookie salaries for Stafford and Sanchez). Rivers deal will guarantee him about $38 million, and have a total value of $92 million over the next 6 years. While it doesn't exceed Eli Manning's new deal (6 years $97.5 million) in overall value, it does give Rivers the leg up in one area, guaranteed money (Manning only has about $35 million guaranteed). These two players will always be linked to one another after the draft day drama that ensued in 2004. Five years later Rivers still can't get the best of Manning. Rivers has the stats, but Manning has the all important ring (plus the money).

San Diego had to make this deal to lock up Rivers. Last year he was one of the top quarterbacks in the league and he was entering the final year of his rookie deal. Had they not signed him now his price would have only gone up. Although they could have kept him with a Franchise tag next year, it would have cost well over what they will be paying him now. The Chargers did a good job not panicking and overpaying Rivers. Given his stats there is a case to be made that he should have made more or at least just as much as Manning did in his deal. San Diego held firm and saved themselves a few million for their trouble.

Rivers will now need to take the Chargers to the next level and bring home a Super Bowl victory to show that he really is a "Franchise Quarterback". This deal also shows how 2004 may be close to replacing 1983 as the "Year of the Quarterback". With all the respect in the world to Elway, Marino, and Kelly, they could very well be out'classed' (bad pun I know). Though they are three Hall of Famers, set records and went to a combined 10 Super Bowls, the class of '83 managed to win just two rings (both by Elway). Already the class of 2004 have won 3 of the 5 Super Bowls since they were drafted (2 by Ben Roethlisberger to go along with Manning's) and they are just getting started. Roethlisberger, Manning and and Rivers are among the elite quarterbacks in the league (not to mention highest paid), and all lead perennial playoff contenders. When its all said and done, the 2004 draft class will shape the first two decades of the 21st century, more than '83 class shaped the 80's and 90's.