Friday, December 18, 2009

The Pac-10: College Football's Flagship Conference

Given the recent buzz over the Big Ten's search for a twelfth member, it's no surprise that the Pac-10 has followed suit in saying that it will examine possible additions that would, if added, most likely being Pac-10 play in 2012 (the Pac-10's TV contracts expire after the 2011-2012 season).

Doing so, however, would be incredibly foolish.

"There's a pretty high hurdle for us, academically, athletically, geographically," commissioner Larry Scott commented in a press conference held earlier today. "We're hard-pressed to really see how you improve upon the structure of the Pac-10 as it is with five sets of natural rivals in four states."

Scott couldn't be more right in having reservations about conference expansion, specifically for the Pac-10. Of all the conferences in the FBS, the Pac-10 is the one that actually got things right in terms of balancing academics, quality football and conference structure.

The Pac-10 takes the term "student-athlete" seriously: five of its schools are ranked in the top-50 in the US News "Best Colleges" rankings (including Stanford at #4), which places them in a tie for second with the Big Ten (the ACC has six schools). Both the ACC and Pac-10 also have four teams ranked in the top-30, but all four of the Pac-10 schools are bowl-bound this season, whereas only UNC will be representing the ACC in the postseason this year. The SEC has two top-50 schools, Florida and Vanderbilt, and Texas is the only representative from the Big XII.

Quality Football
USC has won two (nearly three) of the last six national championships.  Stanford-Cal, USC-UCLA, Washington-Washington State and Oregon-Oregon State are all celebrated rivalry games. Ten Heisman winners have come from the Pac-10, and its schools have claimed 20 national championships over the course of college football history.  Over 200 former Pac-10 players currently hold roster spots in the NFL, accounting for more than 10% of the league.  In the last six years, the Pac-10 is 22-11 in bowl games.  Stadiums like the LA Coliseum, the Autzen Zoo, Husky Stadium, Sun Devil Stadium and the Rose Bowl provide storied venues in which one can see great football played.  Given the atmosphere, the history and the talent on the field, the Pac-10 gives fans one of the best college football tickets around.

Conference Structure
The Pac-10 has ten teams from a well-defined geographic region. There are clearly defined rivalries for every team, and each team plays every other team round-robin style in order to determine the conference champion, something that no other conference of its size (or larger) guarantees.  For example, in 2005, Georgia went 10-3 en route to an SEC Championship and a loss to West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl.  Georgia's conference record (the factor that sent them to the SEC Championship) was 6-2, including wins over SEC West opponents Arkansas and Mississippi State, both of whom had losing records.  Florida beat Georgia in '05 but ended up 5-3 in conference with losses to SEC West Opponents Alabama and LSU, both of whom had winning records.

Did Georgia really win the SEC East that season? Many would say yes, but the argument can be made that things might have been different if Florida and Georgia had both been forced to play the same schedule.  With the Pac-10, scheduling arguments like this one are irrelevant because everyone plays the same schedule.  This is the advantage of a 10-team league: everyone plays everyone else, there is still room for a few non-conference matchups, and the conference champion is undisputed. (Even the Big 10, with 11 teams, could do this, but they choose to have more non-conference games instead, which muddies the waters of conference champion talk in many years.)

So What?
If the Pac-10 were to expand, who would they take? BYU and Air Force seem like good candidates, given their competitive academics and recently resurgent programs, but the Mountain West Conference wouldn't be too keen on giving up two of their better competitors, especially when they are statistically very close to being eligible for a BCS spot. From a competition standpoint, Boise State and Fresno State would be two teams worth looking at from the Western Athletic Conference, but that risks watering down the academic standards of the conference. Hawaii, Nevada and UNLV would open the Pac-10 up to more TV markets (Honolulu, Reno and Las Vegas), but only Nevada has proven itself to be a consistently decent team as of late, and only once since 2000 have they won the WAC title.

The only reason for the Pac-10 to expand is the money they might be able to garner if they hold a championship game. According to data provided by the US Department of Education, the Pac-10 brought in approximately $255 million in revenue last year, which is on par with the figure given for the ACC, a conference that already has a championship game. That's not to say that the Pac-10 is rollin' in the dough (according to ESPN's Tim Griffin, they're not in the top four in conference revenue sharing, and they're also way behind the non-championship Big Ten's revenue total), but considering that the Pac-10 is keeping up with a conference that already holds a championship game, they aren't doing too badly.

I'm sure you can make the argument that you can find better football in the SEC, better scholarship in the Big Ten and a better game structure in the FCS playoff system, but nowhere will you come as close to getting all three in the same place as you will in the Pac-10.  It would be great to get the revenue from an additional school or two, but realistically, the Pac-10's drive for dollars would be shortchanging itself in regard to football and academics.  Whatever cents a twelve team conference may make, it wouldn't make sense for the Pac-10 - they already have all the ingredients to market themselves as the conference that best exemplifies the ideals of college football.

Monday, December 7, 2009

MMA: Monday Morning Address, 12/7/09

1) What the Raiders are doing these days is nuts. 27-24 over the Steelers in Pittsburgh?! Absolutely bonkers. Bruce Gradkowski (20/33, 308 yards, 3 TDs) is doing a better Brett Favre imitation than I've seen anyone do in a long time - did you see the 23-yard wounded duck he threw to Louis Murphy to set up the winning touchdown? Steelers corner Ike Taylor needs some serious pine time. 'Atta boy, Bruce!

2) I cannot believe UNC lost to Calipari's 'Cats. I'm gonna be sick.  What a bad week for the ACC - Duke can't get past Wisconsin (granted, the Badgers are good at home, but c'mon, this is Duke we're talking about here) the Heels lose a stinker in Lexington and the Terps turn it over 19 times in a 9-point loss to No. 3 Villanova that was otherwise a decent game. Yuck.

3) We should all feel awful for TCU and Boise State, but worse for Cincinnati.  They pulled off a furious comeback to win the Big East crown over Pitt and what did they gain? A non-championship bowl berth against Tim Tebow and the Gators in Florida after Alabama made Tebow cry on national television.  That game will be a blow-out however it turns out: either Tebow gets mad like he did after the loss to Ole Miss last year, or he throws in the towel to keep himself healthy and his draft stock high. I'm not a betting man, but I'd put my money on Tebow to come out and dominate.

4) Anquan Boldin proved once again last night why he's the most devastating No. 2 receiver in the league. He's got an easy job playing second fiddle to Larry Fitzgerald, but I can see why he want's out of Arizona - he's got all the skills every NFL coach from Oakland to Tampa Bay is dying to have.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tiny Terps 2010: Despite Youth, Maryland Should Be "Dancing" Next Year


I know what you're thinking, and I'm thinking the same thing.

It's been a while since the Maryland Terrapins had a decent basketball recruiting class.

At the moment, Gary Williams' Terps stand 5-2 heading into a weak stretch in their non-conference schedule (besides their matchup against Villanova on Sunday). The bad news is that the Terps will likely have to win the rest of their non-conference games (and they should) to have a shot at the NCAA tournament in case conference play goes badly.  The good news is that the Terps are playing well right now: seniors Greivis Vazquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne are all averaging double-digit point totals, and freshmen forwards Jordan Williams and James Padgett are collecting over 13 rebounds per game between the two of them.  The even better news? The freshmen will be supplied with some quality helping hands next year.  At least, that's how things look from here.

According to a major basketball recruiting website, Maryland has gained commitments from four players for the 2010 season.  These commitments include point guard Terrell Stoglin, shooting guard Terrence Ross, small forward Mychal Parker and power forward Ashton Pankey, all of whom are rated as three- or four-star prospects (out of five).  The last time the Terps signed that many quality recruits was in 2007, when the incoming class included guard Adrian Bowie (currently averaging 3.4 points per game) and wing Cliff Tucker (5.7 PPG).

The obvious follow-up question becomes "Will these kids be as good as the experts predict?" The 2002 recruiting class, coming on the heels of a national championship, included many players of similar caliber as this year's recruits.  Maryland fans remember names like Travis Garrison, Chris McCray, Nik Caner-Medley and Mike Jones, all of whom were solid players but never achieved the high marks set by the likes of Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake and Byron Mouton in '02.

To say the least, it's going to be difficult for the 2010 squad to replicate whatever success this year's team will have.  Hayes is a sure-handed three-point shooter and passer and Milbourne is a lanky rebounder who also has touch from outside the paint.  Vazquez is the kind of do-it-all player that is incredibly hard to replace if your school is not named Duke or North Carolina. It's not unreasonable to project the Terrapins to be ACC bottom-feeders next fall, but given the young talent on next year's presumed roster, they have the potential to be good. Will this next incoming class have success in year 1? I think so. 

The 2010 Terps will return with Bowie, Tucker, Padgett, Williams and knockdown shooter Sean Mosley (13.1 PPG this season) in addition to the four-man recruiting class.  Mosley will be the dominant offensive force, but he won't be the only one that opposing teams have to stop.  Stoglin is a scoring guard who should be able to take some of the pressure off Mosley, and Ross could be a dangerous secondary three-point shooter.

I know this is a long way away, but, if things fall into place and all four of these players matriculate to College Park, I see no reason why the Terps won't get a bid to the NCAA tournament in the spring of 2011.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pure Thriller, No Vanilla

We have seen some crazy last-second passes this football season.  One of them was certainly Brett Favre's pass to Greg Lewis to beat the 49ers a few weeks back.  Another was Brandon Stokley's "immaculate reception" to beat the Bengals. None, however, competes with Vince Young's game winner to Kenny Britt to beat the Cardinals last night.  What separates this play is the gravity of the completion - it was the culmination of a 99-yard two-minute drill during which Young converted three fourth downs to keep the drive alive, including the touchdown pass as time expired.  The touchdown was the capstone to a 387 yard performance during which Young completed 62% of his passes, including 10 completions on the comeback drive. Young threw zero interceptions and, excluding the final play of the first half (during which he was sacked as the half finished), consistently demonstrated the poise and escapability that are absolutely vital to any quarterback's survival in the NFL.  The win is the Titans' fifth in a row after losing their first six games; all of the wins have come with Young at the helm, but this is the first in which Young took matters into his own hands rather than relying on others to make plays.  I don't know if it is too soon to say VY has arrived, but it's pretty difficult to think of any other way to describe such a performance.  These Titans are legitimate heavyweights, too - second-year running back Chris Johnson leads the league in rushing and compiled his sixth straight 130-yard game, and rookie wideout Kenny Britt demonstrated his worth by catching seven balls for 128 yards, including the victory strike.  Being a Titans fan by association, I will surely be pulling for Tennessee the rest of the way, and if the Ravens somehow fail to make the playoffs, I think it would be spectacular to see Young lead this team to the postseason again.

Lost in the gleam of Young's pyrotechnics was the first good performance regular season performance by Cardinals QB Matt Leinart in more than two years.  Leinart (21/31, 220 yards) didn't do anything highlight-worthy, but he didn't make mistakes and he was able to lead his team on a nine play, 80-yard lead-changing drive in the fourth quarter to put the Cardinals up by four.  I still believe both quarterbacks, former combatants in the 2006 BCS National Championship, can be starters in the NFL, but LP Field sure looked a lot like the Rose Bowl on Sunday.

Now to more important things: Ravens 20, Steelers 17, final in OT.  They did it! They saved the season, and they did it in much the way I suggested before the game.  Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (95 yards rushing) was able to alleviate some of the strain placed on replacement QB Dennis Dixon, but it wasn't quite enough.  Although they were not able to sack  Dixon, they did put pressure on him all night and eventually forced his only mistake, an overtime interception, through the use of Pittsburgh's own zone blitz.  Dixon played incredibly well for someone who had previously attempted one pass in his career. His final line (12/26, 145 yards, 1 TD/1 INT) does not speak to how well he handled himself in the pocket.  He consistently was able to extend plays with his legs and, on two occasions (one of which was negated due to a penalty), scrambled for more than twenty yards in a manner which can only be compared to Michael Vick.  Kudos to him for playing a pretty damn good game in a tough atmosphere.

On offense, the Ravens did a great job of balancing distribution.  WR Mark Clayton caught seven passes for 129 yards (including a sweet 54 yard vertical completion), RB Ray Rice had 5 for 62, and wideout Derrick Mason pulled in 5 grabs for 67 yards, including a very athletic leaping grab on a fade route to the endzone for the Ravens' 2nd touchdown of the game.  Backups Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee carried a combined nine times (compared to Rice's 19) for a total of 46 yards and one touchdown (compared to Rice's 88 yards and no scores).  Billy Cundiff made the game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter and came up just 3 yards short on a 56-yard attempt at the buzzer, which he had previously admitted was not in his range.  He redeemed himself with a 29-yarder in overtime to win the game, courtesy of rookie Paul Kruger's interception, a fantastic play for someone who has only played in portions of three games this season.

As if the NFL action were not enough, Texas A&M went blow for blow with Texas until the Longhorns pulled out a late Turkey Day victory to preserve their undefeated season.  On Friday, the Iron Bowl proved an important test for SEC West leader Alabama, as it squeaked by Auburn with a late touchdown to keep their national title hopes alive.  To add to the fury, Tiger Woods got in a car accident early Friday morning which some are calling a domestic violence-related incident.  While Woods is stone cold on the course, this shakeup in his personal life has surely damaged his image as an ambassador of the game and upstanding human being.  Whatever happened, Woods appears OK and has not sustained any serious injuries. Let's hope we can say the same thing for his marriage.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ravens-Colts Pre-Game Notes

By Tyler Springs

Injuries (includes only those players who are unlikely to play)

LB Terrell Suggs (Out)
TE Todd Heap (Questionable)

S Antoine Bethea (Questionable)

Significance: Heap is not a big deal, at least not compared to others at his position who will be key performers in this game (i.e. Dallas Clark).  He's had less than five catches in each of his last three games and has been held under 50 yards receiving in all of them, so don't expect hm to have much of an impact.  He hasn't scored since week 2, but saying that he's due to have a TD is optimistic.

Bethea's having a banner season thus far (64 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles), so it would make things a lot easier on the Ravens' receivers if he were on the sideline.  With backup Aaron Francisco officially listed as "out" on the injury report, losing Bethea could be a real blow to the Colts' D if he were to aggravate his foot injury.

Suggs is the real concern on this list.  His stats aren't great this year, but he's a focal point of the Ravens' pass rush, and without him, Jarret Johnson and Trevor Pryce will have to work harder to free themselves in pressure situations.  The Colts have the best passing offense in the league, and damage control should be Baltimore's primary concern against the headcase that is Peyton Manning.  If they can keep the Colts under 30 points, they will have done their job.

Other Concerns

It worries me somewhat that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison doesn't think the defense needs to do anything special to combat the Colts' prolific air attack. In games against pass-heavy teams so far this season (Chargers, Vikings, Patriots), the Ravens are 1-2.  Manning hasn't lost to the Ravens since 2001, including a 2006 playoff battle with the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.  However you slice it, this situation doesn't look favorable to John Harbaugh at the moment.  It's about time that Ed Reed and Fabian Washington rose to the occasion: if they don't contribute when the Ravens really need them, they'll have difficulty helping the team much at all for the next six weeks.

Prediction: Colts 34, Ravens 23.  Billy Cundiff hits 3 field goals in his debut, and the Ravens manage to save face offensively in a game that was otherwise a forgone conclusion at kickoff.  The Bengals play Oakland and the Steelers face the Chiefs, so if there's gonna be a change in the standings this week, it will be the Ravens falling farther behind. Let's hope they make a decent game of it and nobody gets hurt.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quick Hits

1) I'm not sure whether it's the system, the hype or the player, but Darrius Heyward-Bey has to change something, and quick.  The No. 7 overall draft pick has only 6 catches in 9 games and has yet to break 100 total yards for the season, much less have a 100-yard game.  I know everybody said he was drafted too high when the Raiders took him, but I hate seeing him disappoint like this.  I watched him play against my high school when he was a senior, and unfortunately, I saw what a lot of people saw: he was fast, sure, but for he got outjumped by a 5'11" kid (DHB is 6'2") and never showcased the homerun capability that he actually displayed for a little while at Maryland.  Maybe he's not being used the right way; Maryland got him the ball on a lot reverses and trick plays that let him use his speed in the open field, and I haven't really seen that in Oakland. Maybe he doesn't quite click with Jamarcus Russell, but you would think they would get along, a strong-armed passer with a fleet-footed receiver, both of whom are under a lot of pressure.  Whatever it is, he's not gonna have a j-o-b if he doesn't start putting up numbers soon.

2)  This whole business with protecting the quarterback is getting out of hand, especially considering the things quarterbacks are now doing to opposing players. Consider Brady Quinn's low block on Terrell Suggs on Monday Night Football. Yes, Quinn got flagged and fined, but only after consider commotion from Ravens players who were understandably irate when they found out that Suggs had partially torn his MCL and couldn't play this coming Sunday against the Colts.  If we're talking about protecting people, defenseless receivers should be the ones keeping coaches awake at night.  They're the ones skying for balls ten feet in the air without being able to see who's coming to hit them.  They're the ones whose eyes are always tracking a moving object, tracking, tracking, tracking.......til BOOM! They're on the ground courtesy of the opposing safety.  Ask a player whether he would rather run a pattern across the middle or drop back in the pocket, and I bet you he takes the pocket most of the time.

3) Watch out for Memphis basketball this season. And no, I'm not living in the past - at least not that past.  The "past" I'm thinking of is Josh Pastner, newly appointed savior/coach of the now Calipari-less program.  Coaching as the head man in only his second game ever, Pastner managed to walk away from #1 Kansas with a two-point loss, which is pretty good for a team that looks nothing like the ones of the previous two years that have made deep runs in the NCAA tournament.  Pastner is enthusiastic, experienced and effective.  He's been coaching since he was 16 (he coached an AAU team to a national championship as a teenager), he's already recruited a top three class of seven players for next season, and his optimism is so overflowing it borders on the ridiculous.  What's not to like?  If guys like Pierre Henderson-Niles and Roburt Sallie can contribute on a regular basis, the Tigers will dominate Conference USA as if nothing changed between last spring and now.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Too Legit to Quit: Baltimore Ravens Midseason Report

For lack of better phrasing, this is awkward.

Clearly, the Ravens were not expected to be sitting in third place in the AFC North at 4-4 heading into Week 9.  The offense has been unexpectedly good; the defense, unexpectedly bad.  At times it seems that fate has conspired against John Harbaugh's team: Mark Clayton's hands were just a little slippery in New England; Steve Hauschka got a bit nervous in Minnesota; the officials may have been overzealous with their flags in the first Bengals game, although that wasn't necessarily the determining factor in the outcome of the game.  There have been moments where second-year players Joe Flacco and Ray Rice have looked spectacular, and others where they have disappeared or been flat out bad.  These are uncharted waters for a team that is used to relying on its defense to preserve games.  The offense is ranked in the top ten in the NFL in points per game and yards per game, but the normally top five defense has been less than impenetrable, falling all the way down to 19th in pass defense and 13th in average yards allowed.  Still, as much as Baltimoreans everywhere wanted to shoot their television sets during last Sunday's game in Cincinnati, there is reason to believe that things can turn around.  I was a skeptic like many others.  But having tried to analyze what happened to a supposedly good team in the last few games, I've found evidence that, although improvement is needed, this team can still make the playoffs.  Save that cyanide for at least two more weeks - there's football yet to be played.  I'll start with an issue that may be the most obvious, but still needs to be analyzed.

Staying Grounded
In every win so far, the Ravens have compiled more than 100 yards rushing and held their opponents under that mark.  The only instance in which those statistics did not lead to a win was the Week 4 matchup against the Patriots, and it's not a reach to say that the Ravens could have (and probably should have) won that game.  Whatever happens in the upcoming weeks, it is absolutely imperative that the Ravens get the ball to each of their three running backs, even if that means only handing off to McGahee and McClain a handful of times.  Ray Rice has been the workhorse of the three, but it's important that he stays fresh so he can still be effective later in the season.  Rice has carried more than 15 times only twice this season, in wins against Kansas City and Denver. However, be careful not to misconstrue this as him being the focus of the offense correlating to Baltimore wins, as the Ravens are only 2-3 when he gets 20 touches or more. 

Balance is important, and it's Cam Cameron's job to find and maintain that equilibrium in sharing carries and mixing runs with passes, but running comes first. In the last few weeks, it's been difficult for Cameron to maintain the pounding ground attack that Baltimore thrives on because the Ravens have fallen behind early and have been forced to pass in order to get back in the game.  In every loss, quarterback Joe Flacco has attempted more than 30 passes.  In the brilliant season he had last year, Flacco averaged just over 26 attempts per game, and although he has played well for a second-year player, he's still young and given enough chances, he will make mistakes.  As dumb as it may sound, Cameron has to control Flacco's opportunities...rein him in, so to speak.  Those extra opportunities are the ones that get him in trouble - he's not yet good enough to carry the team by himself, and if he tries to force things and hope for the best (a la Brett Favre, on occasion), he will get in trouble.

I know that stats should not define an offensive gameplan, and I'm not qualified enough to assess Cam Cameron's tendencies as an offensive coordinator, but when it's not clear whether he should call a run or a pass (e.g. 2nd and 5, or something to that effect), it's not a bad idea to keep the ball on the ground. It's safer, and it seems to be more effective.  Of the remaining teams on the Ravens' schedule, only two have run defenses ranked higher than 15th: Pittsburgh (1st) and Green Bay (4th).  Those games will be difficult, but previous contests against the Vikings and Bengals have shown that Baltimore can at least be competitive against highly ranked run defenses.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have to take care of business against opposing running backs.  They sorely missed the presence of hole-clogger Haloti Ngata, who did not play in last week's loss to Cincinnati because of an ankle injury; consequently, the Bengals rolled up more than 140 yards on the ground en route to a win.  Ngata's mammoth size (6'4", 345 lbs) allows the Ravens to play with only three down linemen, which creates more blitz opportunities for the linebackers.  Without the big fella, Baltimore tends to use a four-man front, which has not been as effective in controlling the line of scrimmage.  Ngata is questionable for tonight's game against the Browns, but regardless of whether or not he plays, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison must find a way to keep Cleveland running back Jamal Lewis contained.  Regardless of what happens against Cleveland, Ngata's playing time needs to be monitored and, if necessary, limited in the coming weeks in order to minimize the risk of exacerbating his injury; it may be risky for the Ravens to keep Ngata on the sidelines on third and short situations, but unless the play occurs at a crucial momentum turning point during the game, it's better to hold him back.  I'm not an expert on the Ravens' defensive scheme, but in a situation where Ngata is not on the field, it would seem logical for Mattison to use five or six players to control the line, depending on the situation.  The Packers are the only team left on the Ravens' calendar who are ranked in the top half of the NFL in rushing, which bodes well for the defense.  They have a bigger (although related) problem to worry about.

Pressuring the Quarterback
The injury to Ngata and the lack of youth on the defensive line has prevented the Ravens from getting much pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.  The defense has just 17 sacks so far, which is half the number accumulated to date by the league-leading Vikings.  In each of their wins, the Ravens have sacked the opposing quarterback at least twice, but that won't necessarily be enough to keep them in future games.  In games against teams who pass at least 30 times per game, the Ravens are 1-1 (lost to the Vikings, beat the Chargers), and four of their remaining opponents rank among the top twelve in the NFL in passing offense (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Green Bay, and Indianapolis). 

Whatever it takes to rattle the opposing passer, the Ravens have got to find a way to do it.  Clearly, the secondary is not as capable as those of years past, but playing more inept defenders in coverage is not going to help the situation.  This is where the D-line becomes vital to the survival of the team: if they can't rush the opposing quarterback's decision-making process, the Ravens secondary will look worse than a tomato going through a Cuisinart. Again, I can't say I have a bottomless knowledge of the intricacies of the Ravens defense, but given the personnel on the depth chart, it appears that the speedier linebackers and defensive backs would be the likely blitzers while the older D-line would serve to clog up the trenches.  The stats support this idea to an extent (Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs are among the top three sack leaders on the team), but Chris Carr is the only defensive back who has registered a sack this season.  Tonight's game against the Browns would be an ideal situation in which Mattison could test out a few blitzes that utilize the secondary, since Cleveland's offense is very weak (next to last in the NFL).  Dawan Landry has been a ghost this season, so why not use him and Carr to try and make an impact in some way other than defending the pass?

2nd Half Prospective
I've covered the two points that I think are most important.  Ravens fans are buzzing right now about Steve Hauschka's lack of execution, but I'm honestly not worried about him.  Harbaugh's a special teams coach, and he had faith enough in Hauschka to release the Ravens' all-time scoring leader before this season began.  The field goal against the Bengals was not as game-changing as people are making it out to be, and I think most of them will admit that.  The kicking will come around, and a game against the Browns should give Hauschka a good chance to get some confidence back with a few simple extra points.  Assuming he recovers from his recent woes, the plan for the rest of the season is plain, although not simple.  The Ravens need to go at least 6-2 in the second half, and that means running the table on non-conference opponents.  Basically, Baltimore needs to steal a win from Indianapolis or win one of their two meetings against Pittsburgh, neither of which will be easy.  But the Ravens got themselves into this mess, and it's time for them to mop it up, starting with Cleveland tonight.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Leaving Sooner? Oklahoma Media Hints Bob Stoops Hurt Sam Bradford's NFL Chances

Sam Bradford is not starting against Miami. This we know.

It's a shame, sure. Here's a kid with all the potential in the world. He has won the Heisman. He led his team to the national championship game as a RS So, and then sprains his shoulder in the first half of the first game of what could be his final collegiate season. He's been on the bench since then.

So, what should we do? Should we lament the fact that he doesn't have a chance to win the Heisman Trophy two years in a row?

No, let's not do that. No need to cry over freshly spilt milk. Instead, let's cry over milk that was allegedly spilled a long, long time ago.

Sound like a bad idea? Then you can bet the media has it covered.

In a press conference held on Tuesday, head coach Bob Stoops was asked whether Bradford should have even come back to Oklahoma after all his success last season, insinuating that Stoops convinced the QB that returning to school was in his best interest.

It's likely, depending on the trajectory of Bradford's career from this point forward, that this question would have eventually come to pass. Were Bradford to return to play and have a terrible finish to the season and become an NFL bust, the second-guessing would be inevitable. Now, however, is not the time.

"Ridiculous," "insulting," and "foolish to say" were the three phrases Stoops used to describe the accusation against him.

"Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but for me to force a guy to go out and then what if it isn't the right decision? I don't need to tell you how things can always go in the draft," Stoops said, referring to the infamous uncertainty and guesswork involved in entering the draft.

"In the end, it's not my job to force a guy to come out. It's my job to educate my players on all the possibilities and then it's up to the individual and his family to make that decision."

Spoken like a true coach.

Just to give you some background, Bradford was finishing the spring of his third year when he decided to forgo the draft—he redshirted in 2006. He's a finance major, and an honor student at that. Last year he made the All-Big 12 Academic first team and ESPN the Magazine's Academic All-American second team. He's no dolt.

On the downside, returning to school would mean having to deal with professional autograph seekers pestering him constantly. He'd have to deal with all the hype of trying to match the success he had last year.

He'd also have to keep going to class, although that didn't seem particularly difficult. And in doing all this, he'd willingly take a pass on the seven-figure salary that was all but guaranteed should he have jumped to the NFL.

On the upside, he'd have a second shot at the BCS Championship.

Which would you pick?

In this age of take-the-money-and-run economics, a lot of players may have scrapped the schoolwork and taken the money while they still could. Bradford came back. He deliberately made a decision for which he knew he'd catch flak if he struggled.

Maybe he thought he wasn't ready. Maybe he wanted to spend the occasional spring weekend attempting to be lazy like the rest of us college kids. Maybe he wanted to get his degree. Whatever his reasoning, he's still in Norman, and that's admirable.

Which begs the question: Why the criticism?

Every year, more and more kids leave college early to play professional sports; American or foreign. Some don't even go to college before they try to get paid.

Then, when one of the superstars finally decides to stay, he gets criticized.

And it's such a mystery why we don't listen to our parents...

I'm getting off track. This whole incident is very wrong on at least two levels:

Firstly, why blame Stoops? Sure, he's a big influence on Bradford, but Sam's an adult, and he's making the decision.

Secondly, it's too soon! Who's to say he doesn't come back in the second half of the season and resurrect OU's bid for a BCS bowl with a bum shoulder? Another Oklahoma QB and Heisman winner, Jason White, made his reputation playing well on two bad knees.

For goodness sake, OU hasn't even started conference play! They can still run the table in the Big 12 and end up playing in January. This makes no mention of Bradford's NFL prospects were he to come back with a strong showing after his injury.

I'm a long way from being an Oklahoma fan, but my respect for Stoops just doubled. You can do what you like, but I'll be pulling for Bradford for as long as he's wearing crimson and cream. When many leave, he stayed, and he shouldn't be criticized for that. Especially not right now.


*Credit to and the Associated Press for quotations.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Sports Update

A few quick-hitters:

1) Boise State opened with a win over a good team. Nice goin', guys. Unfortunately, you'll still miss out on the BCS. Sorry, NCAA politics come first. The bigger story, as the press always manages to make it, was Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punching a Boise State player post-game. (Blount's stat line: 8 carries, negative five yards rushing.) Blount was the one talking smack before the game, but now he's the one being talked to. Blount was suspended for the remainder of his senior season, virtually nullifying his chances of being drafted into the NFL next year. I'm a little surprised that the punishment was so harsh, but if that's what it takes to maintain sportsmanship and healthy banter at the NCAA level, so be it. It's a sad story, but someone had to be the goat they made the example.

2) The Pittsburgh Steelers have solidified their place as "Peskiest Team in Football." They have a propensity for being able to come back and win the game, especially when given the ball with under two minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger has an uncanny ability to do one of two things on each passing play of the two-minute drill: A) Slip out of six tackles while buying roughly sixty seconds with which he can inevitably find an open receiver, or B) become hopelessly engulfed by a swarm of tacklers, only to fling the ball wildly as he is on his way down and INEVITABLY FIND AN OPEN RECEIVER. See the pattern here? It's very annoying. I wanted to laugh at Hines Ward sooooo badly, but now I can't. Why do we have to share a division with those guys? Baltimore teams have the worst luck in terms of opponents, at least this year: it's the Red Sox and Yankees in the spring and the Steelers in the fall. Give us a break! It makes me sick.

To end on a happy note, here are my two fantasy lineups for Sunday. (I picked the Ravens to beat the Chiefs in my Survival Football league. Don't let me down, boys.)

League 1
QB Kurt Warner
RB Michael Turner
RB Leon Washington
WR Derrick Mason
WR Jerricho Cotchery
WR Mushin Muhammad
TE Anthony Fasano
K Jason Elam
DEF Baltimore

Bench: QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Bernard Berrian, RB Pierre Thomas, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Earl Bennett, Washington Defense

League 2 

QB Phillip Rivers
RB Michael Turner
RB Ronnie Brown
WR Andre Johnson
WR Wes Welker
RB Leon Washington (flex position - WR or RB allowed)
TE Greg Olsen
K Jason Elam
DEF Pittsburgh (19 points already)

Bench: QB Jason Campbell, QB Jake Delhomme, RB Felix Jones, WR Derrick Mason, WR Anthony Gonzalez, San Diego Defense

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Manning" Up

Before school starts, a few diddlies on the NFL, as in (Peyton) "Manning" Up, and other sports-related events:

-Tomorrow begins one of the best sports weeks of the year for me: the Little League World Series. If you're wondering, yes, I was watching the regional final between Mass and Rhode Island and that was an epic walk-off grandslam the kid hit to win the game. That kind of magic can only happen when you're twelve years old. It's special. Who am I pulling for? Mercer Island, WA. Why the heck not? It's Little League, and it's awesome.

-Thank God Roger Goodell suspended Dante Stallworth for the season, but Plaxico Burress gets 2 years for shooting himself in the leg? Someone on ESPN said it best, something to the effect of "Jail is for people who do bad things," and Burress is not one of them. He shot himself, by accident. He didn't run a dogfighting business, and he certainly didn't kill another man with his car while driving drunk. Where is this world headed? This Burress thing should have been open and shut a while ago - 1 year max sentence, probably less, community service about gun violence. How difficult is that?

-Watch out for Oklahoma State on the gridiron. Can't exactly call 'em sleepers, but they could be in the BCS mix come January. The three-headed monster of Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant can prove nasty if they stay healthy. Offensive shootouts galore at the OK Corral. Go 'Pokes!

-Brett Favre will lose to the Packers at least once this season, but he will also lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship. 40 years old or not, torn bicep or whole, he will find a way. I'm sticking my neck out here, Brett. Get to it!

-Kentucky basketball fans, congratulations - you're about to be sick. Your fab five for this season are about to be trained and coached by the only coach to ever take two different schools to the Final Four and get in trouble for violations both times. Don't think you're immune, even if you do make the Final Four. You hired him, you have to live with him. Cal, you're a cheat, and your haircut belongs on a used car salesman. What goes around comes around, and it's coming to you, buddy. Just wait.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Josh Portis' Long, Strange Trip

Josh Portis is talented. He's never been questioned in that regard.

As a high school senior in 2004-2005, Portis made the all-state team in California, a state known for its bevy of gifted football players.

Considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, he threw for 36 touchdown passes in his senior season and ran for 13 more.

He received several D-I scholarship offers from schools like Florida, Maryland, Utah, Washington, and Kansas State. He could have taken any number of routes to play college football.

In choosing to commit to the Gators, Portis made a decision that was relatively safe—the UF football program carried a sense of real tradition and was poised for success year after year, even among the powerhouse schools of the SEC.

He wasn't the first Portis to go to school in the Sunshine State either, his cousin Clinton, now a Washington Redskin, played at the University of Miami.

As the Gators' only quarterback recruit, it seemed a near certainty that Portis would become the next signal caller after Chris Leak finished his career.

But things didn't play out that way.

As Leak's backup during the '05 season, Portis played only sparingly.

His best performance? Three for five for 45 yards against Mississippi State.

Regardless of whether or not he had enough opportunities to impress the coaches, the numbers spoke volumes: Portis was not the future of the Florida offense.

After seeing how much time the Gators were spending trying to lure top prospect Tim Tebow to Gainesville, Portis decided he'd had enough, choosing to transfer before the Gators even played their bowl game.

In Maryland, Portis found a school and coaching staff that had originally recruited him out of high school and a team in need of a consistent quarterback. Agreeing to sit out the 2006 season, Portis transferred to College Park and began practicing in order to learn the offense.

Following the season, Portis seemed ready. He set a school record for the quarterback position in the 40-yard dash, and he was recognized as the best player on the scout offense, throwing for 104 yards and a touchdown in the annual Red-White spring game. Finally, things were going his way.

September brought everything to a halt.

In a highly publicized report by the Baltimore Sun, Portis was found to have been suspended for the year for having cheated on a quiz during the spring of '07.

Everything that Portis had worked so hard to achieve came crashing down with one fatal mistake.

But Portis didn't quit. After sitting out the entire season (again), he continued to show signs of promise in the spring of '08, earning Iron Terp status for his work in the weight room. There was still hope, even as he was listed third on the depth chart for the upcoming season.

Portis managed to make it to the season opener against Cal without issue, and though he was still third on the depth chart, the possibility remained for him to prove himself.

Once again, he didn't get the chance. True, he played in eight games, more than he had at Florida. But in those eight games, how many times did Portis throw the ball?

Three. He completed one pass, gaining four yards. That's it.

Was he somewhat unlucky that Chris Turner played well enough to not be benched? Sure. Was it partially Portis' fault for not working hard enough to improve his position on the depth chart? It's possible.

Any way you slice it, the outcome remains the same; Josh Portis was leaving. Again.

This time, he'll be in California, but nowhere near an ocean. The California (PA) Vulcans, a Division II team, needed a quarterback, and Portis decided he was tired of sitting and waiting.

What will happen to Portis, now that he's practically fallen off the map? He may disappear almost entirely, as Ramonce Taylor did. He may be the next Rhett Bomar, who was recently drafted by the Giants. He may be neither one.

It's a little sad to consider all of Portis' wasted potential. Did he shoot himself in the foot? Yes. But to see someone with so much promise be relegated to anonymity is a bit depressing.

I realize that it's the way of the world, a capitalist mentality at work, but shouldn't we (or at the very least coaches) care about these guys as athletes and as people?

In this age of move-it-or-lose-it, there are many, many young Americans who are lost in the shuffle as coaches, professors, and bosses dismiss them if they don't see immediate output. Portis may not be the best or the brightest, but he's worked too hard for too long to become irrelevant.

For his sake, I hope he rises to some level above mediocrity, on the field or off of it. Anything less would be a real shame.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ravens Position Battles: Kelley Washington a Solid Fit at WR

Going into this week, the Baltimore Ravens’ receiving corps was deep in terms of personnel but on the shallow side talent-wise and very banged-up.

Primary target Derrick Mason, fresh off a superb 1,000-yard season, recently underwent surgery to repair his injured right shoulder and could be sidelined until Week 1.

Mason’s counterpart, five-year veteran Mark Clayton, has been limited in practice with an unspecified injury, and slot receiver Demetrius Williams is just beginning his return from the ankle surgery which kept him on the injured reserve list last season.

Behind those three, not one of the other eight wide-outs on the roster has more than two career NFL receptions.

Despite the confidence in the current receiving corps expressed by GM Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens asked three veteran receivers to participate in the three-day mini-camp held this past weekend, including the ex-Jaguar Jerry Porter, ex-Bengal Tab Perry, and former Patriot Kelley Washington.

Harbaugh expressed interest in signing at least one of the three.

Here’s a breakdown of the competition for that one roster spot:

To start, let’s eliminate Jerry Porter from the competition.

Is that a quick judgment? Yes, but it’s not altogether undeserved. Unless Porter shows flashes of the skills he had when he caught 14 touchdowns between 2004 and 2005, he won’t be tapped.

Porter played only sparingly last season with the Jags (11 catches) and he isn’t a good special teams player, which is an automatic deduction in Harbaugh’s eyes, a former special teams coach himself.

Now let’s compare Perry and Washington. Though both are good special teamers, Perry has the clear advantage, having set a Bengals single-season record for return yards.

Washington is more involved as a gunner on punts and kickoffs, and he has shown the ability to make plays.

Nonetheless, with Yamon Figurs struggling on returns this past season and the departure of Jim Leonhard, Perry gets the nod for being more suited to the Ravens’ needs in that category.

In comparing the receiving stats of Washington and Perry, it’s clear that although both have been in the NFL long enough to have established themselves as guys who know the game, neither one has caught many balls.

Washington has a career total of 73 catches for 896 yards and nine touchdowns, but he hasn’t caught more than 10 passes in a season since 2004.

Seen side-by-side with Washington, however, Perry pales in comparison. Despite his prowess in the return game, Perry has yet to catch more than 10 passes in any season in his short career.

So, what’s the conclusion? For me, the return game is very important, but it takes a back seat to the offense with all the injuries to the guys that actually play every possession.

Washington has shown he is capable of contributing to the offense, but he’s also ready, willing, and able to play special teams whenever necessary, and that’s a quality that should endear him somewhat to Harbaugh.

Also, Washington was rumored to have had a better tryout this weekend than Perry, so that helps his stock.

Moving forward, I see the Ravens doing one of two things; signing Washington or working with the current squad.

Ozzie Newsome is not known for signing a player just to fill a need if the player is not high quality to begin with, so I don’t think he’ll settle for anything less than someone guaranteed to contribute. Washington certainly fits that mold.

If none of the trio have done enough to improve their stock significantly through their tryouts this weekend, I wouldn’t rule out the Ravens pursuing another handful of available receivers, including Plaxico Burress (if he stays out of jail).

But that’s still a long way off. Let’s see if any of these three get signed. If we have to pick one, I’m pulling for Washington.

Where Will Plaxico Burress Go?

On June 15th, Plaxico Burress will appear in court to determine the outcome of the felony gun charges leveled against him following his accidental self-shooting last November.

The outcome of that hearing is by no means guaranteed one way or the other, and Burress could see prison time. However, if the charges are dropped or Burress agrees to a plea bargain, it might be possible for him to continue his NFL career in 2009.

I’m aware that those are very big “if” statements, but were they to come true, Burress could be signed or invited to participate in training camp by any team that lacks a go-to receiver and is willing to deal with the media frenzy that his arrival will undoubtedly precipitate.

Of the teams that need help at wide receiver, three stand out as possible candidates to sign Burress:

New York Jets Rex Ryan has already expressed measured interest in acquiring the talented but troubled receiver, contacting Drew Rosenhaus in case a deal might be in the making. Burress would be a good fit with the Jets–he provides Mark Sanchez with an alternative to Jerricho Cotchery and he would be able to remain in New York rather than taking up stakes and moving somewhere else.

Miami Dolphins Sunny south Florida appeals to just about everyone, and the Dolphins need a veteran wideout to tutor third year man Ted Ginn Jr. Chad Pennington would certainly welcome a proven player like Burress, who would keep defenses honest so they aren’t just worrying about Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat. Bill Parcells also knows how to keep his players in line, so I don’t think Burress would have any discipline issues if he landed in Miami.

Chicago Bears At the moment, Devin Hester is the only legitimate target for new helmsman Jay Cutler, and with Hester likely to handle the kick and punt return duties as well, he’ll need someone to take the pressure off him in the passing game. If Cutler can develop a rapport with Burress in training camp, the play-action pass could become a deadly part of an offense that currently focuses on Matt Forte.

Keep in mind, all of these possibilities are riding on Burress’ ability to get out of court relatively unscathed. If he doesn’t find a way out, we may not see him for a long time.

We have yet to see the full effect of extended jail time on one’s playing career (Michael Vick will be upgraded to house arrest this month), but with Burress on the wrong side of 30, it may be too late by the time he gets out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Orioles Update: A Post-April Lineup Evaluation

With a little more than one month in the books, the Orioles sit last in the AL East at 13-19, seven games behind division leader Toronto. After a sweet Opening Day rout of the Yankees and a hot 6-2 start, Baltimore’s fast pace slowed quickly, their record falling to .500 by the end of April.

Recently, their performance has been less than spectacular winning just four of ten games in May, including three losses to start the month, completing a six game losing streak that started April 27th. The Birds’ run differential is -28, worst in the majors, but it’s not like the offense isn’t there. The O’s are ninth in runs scored, 11th in home runs, 10th in RBI, 12th in batting average, 14th in OPS, 11th in extra-base hits, and next to last in total strikeouts. In addition, Baltimore has a team batting average of .302 with runners in scoring position higher than every other team except St. Louis, Boston, and Toronto.

The offense may not be stellar, but with all of those stats in the top half of the 30 MLB teams, I’d say the Orioles’ bats are definitely better than middle of the road. If they had a pitching staff that boasted names like Sabathia, Halladay, or Matsuzaka they might have a better record.

Here’s how each starter has fared at the plate this season (in lineup order):

 Brian Roberts, 2B
The Orioles’ table-setter has played OK over the first 32 games, starting 31 and leading the team with 126 at bats. He’s hitting a solid .294 (.348 with runners in scoring position) and has scored 24 runs, good enough for ninth in the American League. However, his on base percentage is just .362 overall (an ugly .200 in May), down from .426 last month, and his batting average has dipped to an appalling .139 this month.

The good news: After tomorrow, the Birds have only one more day off this month, meaning B-Rob will have plenty of chances to get out of his current slump, and he’ll see good pitches with Jones and Markakis batting behind him.

Adam Jones, CF
A fleet-footed force in the outfield, Jones has opened the season on fire. Jones leads the team with a .353 batting average, second among all center fielders and fifth overall in the AL. Jones is also fifth in OPS and leads the American League in runs scored. His .348 average with runners in scoring position equals that of Roberts; conversely, Jones is playing as well this month as he was last. His play has been noticeably better in day games (.441 BA, 1.251 OPS), and he loves to face Yankee pitching (.421, 1.297).
The Orioles play another three-game set with New York this month, as well as five day games. Look for Jones to continue his quality performance with the lumber.

Nick Markakis, RFExpected to carry the Orioles’ offense this season, Markakis has done just that, hitting .347 to lead all right fielders. Markakis is tied with Jones for the AL lead in runs scored (33) and is sixth in RBI (30), 8th in OPS (1.016), and 13th in walks (17). Even better, he’s hitting .417 with runners in scoring position, which is exactly what the Orioles need from their best hitter. Admittedly, Markakis’ average against righties is over 100 points higher than his average against lefties, but he’s still hitting a respectable .279 against southpaws.

Markakis loves playing home games at night as well, and the Orioles have six more of those games in May. Barring an onslaught of lefty pitching, he looks poised to continue his offensive fireworks
Aubrey Huff, 1B
The O’s cleanup man is currently hitting a decent .268, but to his credit, he’s doing his job and doing it well, batting .406 with runners in scoring position and driving in 31, fourth best in the AL.

Like Markakis, Huff performs much better in home games at night. Something tells me it’s not a coincidence that the Orioles hold the worst record in the majors in day games, winning just two of eleven.

With five day games still to play this month, Huff needs to improve or O’s fans should hope that Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara are not pitching on those days, thereby preventing a good outing from being spoiled by poor hitting.

Melvin Mora, 3B
Mora is coming off a hamstring injury that occurred in mid April, which earned him a spot on the 15 day DL and greatly decreased his at bat total thus far.

Prior to the injury, Mora was in midseason form, hitting a cool .364 with nine RBI in 22 ABs. However, he’s been slow to recover, hitting just .139 in his 12 games post-injury.

That said, Mora’s value over his replacement during the injury (Ty Wigginton) is significant enough that his job is probably not in jeopardy. Let’s just hope he battles back quickly.

Luke Scott, LF/DH
The majority of Scott’s 98 at bats this season have been as a designated hitter, although he has spelled Felix Pie in left field a couple times. Scott’s .303 average and 15 RBI sound mediocre for a starting DH, but those don’t tell the whole story.

In his 20 ABs with runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .350 with nine RBI. Furthermore, 10 of those 20 ABs have come with two outs, and in those two out situations, Scott is batting a whopping .500 with five RBI, and a ridiculous 1.315 OPS. Now that’s clutch hitting!

Unfortunately for the O’s, Scott hurt his shoulder in Sunday’s game and could be headed to the DL.

Ty Wigginton DH/1B/3B
Added in the offseason as a reserve infielder, Wigginton was expected to play the corner infield spots and DH in the bottom of the order on occasion, but he saw increased playing time at third base when Mora was placed on the DL. In 101 at bats this season (63 at third base), Wigginton is hitting a lowly .198, the only Oriole with a triple digit AB total and an average below the Mendoza line (the next closest is Huff at .268).

Wigginton’s forced playing time clearly exposed his inability to be a consistent starter, but there wasn’t much the O’s could have done differently when Mora went down. For Wigginton’s sake and our own, we should pray that Mora stays healthy the rest of the way.

Gregg Zaun, C
Zaun has split time this season between the No.7 and No.8 slots in the lineup, but he is markedly better when he bats eighth, hitting .326 in 46 at bats, compared to his hideous .065 average in 31 ABs in the seven hole. Zaun was not acquired for his offense, so although it may hurt your eyes to see he’s hitting .158 with runners in scoring position, it should not be a surprise.

Zaun’s veteran presence was meant to be a stop gap measure while the O’s waited to bring top prospect Matt Wieters up from Triple-A Norfolk, but the process is taking longer than expected.

Until Wieters is ready, the O’s will have to make do. With Zaun, fans should clap for the ordinary or otherwise remain quiet.

Felix Pie, LF/CF
In two years with the Cubs, Pie never had more than 177 at bats in a season, so the concern this year was to get him as many opportunities as possible. Pie has played a fair amount, starting 17 games in left field and four in center field, but he hasn’t shown much when he’s stepped into the box. In 60 ABs, Pie has amassed only 11 hits (BA .183) and more than a quarter of his ABs have ended in strikeouts.

With Luke Scott possibly headed to the DL, Pie may be forced to hit his way out of his slump. Terry Crowley is a top-notch hitting coach and should be able to get more out of Pie’s talent, but that may take a while, and fans are known for their impatience.

Cesar Izturis, SS
Like Zaun, Izturis was not signed for his bat, as evidenced by his .260 career average and his 2004 NL Gold Glove with the Cardinals. Though he can bat from both sides of the plate, he is clearly better when he hits right handed, accumulating a .444 batting average and an OPS of 1.111, compared to a .159 average and .407 OPS from the left side.

This month, Izturis is hitting .286, up 44 points from his April average. He plays well at home, and having nine home games still to play in May should boost his confidence.

For better or for worse, Izturis will be the shortstop for the rest of the season, so hopefully he can continue to provide excellent defense and perhaps increase his OBP, thereby remaining a valuable contributor to the team.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

All the Rage

I. Hate. Steroids. Can't stand 'em. But let me clarify - when I say "steroids," I'm referring to the idea of steroids. The drugs themselves can actually be helpful when they are taken in the proper context and prescribed amount. The idea of steroids, however, has become so entangled and crushingly synonymous with America's pastime (not to be confused with America's sport, football) that it has squeezed almost all of the positive sentiment out of the concept of baseball. I hate them because they take the focus off the game. I hate them because they ignited a witch hunt the likes of which no one has seen since the Red Scare. I hate them because they got the government involved in something they have no business being involved in, considering the economic crisis at hand, recent rocky presidencies and, oh yeah, all those soldiers we have abroad. (For the record, if you ask a government official about the BCS, the NCAA tournament field, or any other controversial sports issue, the only acceptable response they should be allowed to give you is a blank stare. Thank you, Jon Stewart, for putting it in perspective.) I hate them because no one is safe from judgment now. I was reading Rick Reilly the other day and came across an email in which one reader actually had a solution that sounded plausible, which, as Reilly half-joked, is entirely too simple. No way Bud Selig would take a fan's suggestion and make it policy, even if it's simple and brilliant. I hate them because they destroyed so many role models for Little Leaguers that parents and coaches are now reluctant to point to any ballplayer and say "See? That's how it's done." It's downright awful. Don't get me wrong: I absolutely think that users should be punished, and repeat users should be punished repeatedly. I don't like playing on an unlevel field any more than the next guy, but just having the idea in the public eye erases any shred of credibility that a young player might have, even if the drugs were accidental or happened early on in his career or in the minors. These days, Pujols is all we have left. And if he gets skewered, we're really screwed.

But I digress. The latest word on the street: A-Rod's now being suspected of continuing his sterioid use while in New York. (Can you blame him? It's a slightly more pressurized situation.) However, what I found more interesting was this morning's poll that drew attention to the fact that he was accused of intentionallly tipping pitches to opponents when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt or when the batter needed to get his stats up. Readers vote 63%-37% that 'roids were a worse offense, but I'm intrigued by the pitch tipping allegations. First off, if his team knew, how did they feel about it? Yeah, it keeps the fan's attention maybe, but you risk losing the game. And it hurts your own pitcher's stats, which affects salary, which affects literally everything. Who does this, really? Is there a batters/pitchers divide that fans aren't aware of? If you're the catcher, exactly how do you deal with that conflict of interest? Having played in high school, I know we would steal signs on occasion (or try to), but giving them away? Nuts. I understand the value of keeping fans in the seats, but I'd be offended if I wasn't watching an honest game. After all, how do you combat that? I'm just bewildered, frankly.

And 1
Stumbled across an sneak peek at Madden NFL 10. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Heroes, Woes and Throwin 'Bows

The Capitals finally got it right. After switching goalies and taking a solid week to warm up to playoff hockey, Washington posted a tight 2-1 home victory last night at the Verizon Center, courtesy of a Sergei Federov "pull-up" top corner wrister with five and change to play. And to think, I used to hate that guy when he was a Red Wing. Varlamov had a super game (again!) and the Caps owned the night until being upstaged a little later by the Hurricanes' final minute comeback to top the Devils in Jersey. Nonetheless, a great series, if a little close for comfort. Brashear's absence was not a factor. Can't wait to take it to Sid the Kid on Saturday.

Orioles lost again today to negate a good 6 IP by Uehara (4 hits, 1 ER) before giving up 2 jacks in the 7th and leaving the game after being hit with a line drive. (He'll be fine. He has to be fine. We can't afford for him to be anything else.) I know it's a day game after a night game, but seriously, 1 run? We can do better. When you're 1-3 hitters are hitting over .350 and the next closest is .272, you know you need more balance. Especially with this rotation.

And 1
The buzz surrounding two egregioius fouls committed in last night's NBA games is off the charts. In case you didn't know, Dwight Howard
's already been suspended for the mean right elbow he threw Sam Dalembert in the opening quarter. (Howard was not ejected and went on to be the difference maker in the gme, which the Magic won.) Rajon Rondo committed a foul in similar bad taste on Brad Miller to prevent Miller's game tying lay-up. To distinguish, Rondo's foul was in the final seconds of the game, but if you foul someone who's about a foot taller and 60 lbs heavier, you must have gone all out to do it. And he did. Miller came up spitting blood. Howard's foul was definitely worse, being totally unprovoked and not relevant to the situaton (the game gets loose during the last few ticks), but Rondo doesn't get off the hook for being the lesser of two evils. The NBA has stated the foul will stand as it was called, although I think he deserves at least a flagrant 1 or 2 - he practically slapped the guy! C'mon, now. Wanna know who said what to whom? Here's a transcript of all the dialogue immediately post-assault:

Brad "Cameron Frye" Miller: Why'd you hit me?
Rajon "Ferris Bueller" Rondo: Where's your brain?
Miller: Why'd you hit me?
Rondo: Where's your brain?
Miller: Why'd you hit me?
Rondo: Where's your brain?
Miller: I asked you first!
Rondo: Did you really just attempt to take it to the hole underhanded? With the game on the line? LEBRON doesn't take it underhanded EVER! What was I supposed to do?
Miller: I spared you from having to defend another ludicrous Ben Gordon floater, and you flipped out.
Rondo: I lightly slapped you.
Miller: You hit me. Look, just don't guard Gordon if you don't want me to participate in your stupid crap. You made me look bad in front of John Paxson - that man could squash my nuts into oblivion! A-a-a-and then, then, because of you, I miss the free throw. Wonderful.

(Ok, you got me. I just needed an excuse to squeeze the phrase "squash my nuts into oblivion" into my post. I gotta watch that again soon - too many good lines.)

Pulled an all-nighter last night to finish that Humanities paper and I am just WIPED. Gotta make it to Friday and I might be alright. Spanish presentation in the morning and then an insane amount of stuff to do this weekend. Might try to make it out to Memphis in May (Memphis' annual music festival) for one night, but probably not. My finals are all blitzing me in the same 48 hour window next Monday through Wednesday and then I'm free. Sort of. Don't get home til the 18th and no O's games til the week after that. You watch, though - my goal is to make at least 4 games in the 28 days I have before I'm off to my summer job. We'll see. Hang tight.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Big One

To be clear, I don't like NASCAR. I don't get the whole fascination with spending an afternoon watching cars make left turns at high speeds (in NASCAR's defense, it's a lot more interesting than drag racing). I can appreciate some of the nuances, like watching people pass one another in a certain stretch through adept maneuvering and use of drafting; nonetheless, I find the biggest attraction of that kind of racing (as opposed to road-course or off-road racing) to be the anticipation/occurrence of a violent, large-scale accident involving multiple cars (dubbed by racing fans as "The Big One"). The latest "Big One" occurred on Sunday at Talladega, a track notorious for its brutal collisions. In a post-race interview, Carl Edwards (who's car collided with the retaining wall while airborne) bashed the use of the restrictor plates by NASCAR as a method of capping the top speed of the cars as a safety measure, later implying that it would take someone's death for NASCAR to revisit changing the use of restrictor plates.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here a little bit, so if you disagree/know more than I do, please speak up. My question is, how has the use of restrictor plates gone on this long without being more closely examined? I was only 11 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. died at Daytona in 2001, but to me at the time, he was NASCAR, along with Jeff Gordon, and looking back on it, I can't see why they didn't do away with the plates right then. Bobby Allison disagrees with Edwards, citing the fact that "the risk [inherent to driving with restrictor plates] is part of the attraction" and that drivers are very aware of the danger, but I think Allison's ability to voice that opinion has a lot to do with the fact that he survived his own crash at Talladega in 1987 without any major injuries. I don't know a great deal about the mechanics of a car, but knowing how much a car's performance can be enhanced by tweaking parts of it makes me wonder whether restrictor plates are a good idea. Theoretically, these are experienced racers who know how to handle fast cars: if they know that, they probably are aware of their own limitations, and racing without plates would be to their advantage because they can control what they do according to their experience. The use of plates, while decreasing speed, increases the level of danger by bunching the drivers together in packs; furthermore, racing in a pack punishes the smallest of mistakes with the possibility of spinning out and hitting other cars on the way.

If there are no restrictor plates, there's a better chance that that a car will not be as close to the pack when he screws up and therefore will only bring damage on himself if it happens. If you choose to go fast at one of the faster tracks (Talladega or Daytona), that's your choice and you make it while understanding the risk you take. NASCAR should not force everyone to be subjected to unnecessary peril - if they're smart, the drivers can "police themselves" by not making dumb decisions that could cost them their lives or someone else's.

Allison likened the risk associated with restrictor plates to being hit in the head and killed by a wayward shot at a hockey rink or a foul ball at a baseball stadium. He's half right: NASCAR, like baseball or hockey, could be considered a "sport" or "game" (although that too is debatable) because it involves some amount of skill. He's dead wrong about the other half (emphasis on dead): you have a slightly higher chance of being killed by a 3,000 lb. piece of twisted metal traveling at breakneck speed than a 9 oz. leather sphere, wouldn't ya say?

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Donald Brashear's vicious hit on Blair Betts in the first period of Sunday's game was awesome, but maybe not worth the price. He's been suspended for five games for that hit and a sixth for a different incident, meaning he won't be available for the all-important Game 7 of the quarterfinals on Tuesday night in DC. So much for sending a message.

Jacoby The Jet

Ok, I realize I'm supposed to be hard at work at the moment, but this is ridiculous (probably my favorite adjective). Updating my update from earlier this evening, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 4-1 to sweep the series. Let me set the stage for the best play of the game:

Bottom 5
2 outs
Bases loaded
Andy Pettitte pitching to JD Drew with a 1-0 count
Sox lead 2-1

And then Jacoby Ellsbury channels Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez

Reasons this play is RIDICULOUS:
1) You're in a tight game against your archrivals, in a situation where you have a chance to go up by 3, 4 or even 5 with one swing. (Don't forget, Drew is ahead in the count, probably expecting a decent pitch to hit, and has no idea Ellsbury is planning on stealing). You pull a move like that, you risk costing your team a lot of insurance runs and possibly getting your pitcher mad at you for being selfish and wanting to make a highlight-reel play.

2) You're running on a veteran pitcher/catcher battery AND the batter is left-handed. You have got to be incredibly lucky to pull that off without either party recognizing what's going on, especially Posada, who has an unobstructed view of the third base line. How they didn't pick up on that, I have no idea.

3) If you watch the slow-mo replay, Ellsbury practically falls down on his way to the plate, tripping just inside the batter's circle. If you're gonna attempt something like that, you better make sure you don't make a fool of yourself on national television, and he came perilously close.

All that said, my respect for Ellsbury just tripled. The man has serious cajones. Props, dude. As they say in Beantown, "That's wickid hahd."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

U(ehara), Me, and Dupree

Not a bad weekend for Baltimore area sports. However, I think my work as draft scout may be finished.

My prediction that they would take a WR with their first round pick (which, admittedly, has been a bust for them in years past), the Ravens' front office surprised just about everybody by drafting standout Ole Miss left tackle Michael Oher, presumably as Jared Gaither's partner in crime and Jonathan Ogden's long-awaited heir apparent. What surprised me most was that Oher was one of the Ravens' 15 highest rated prospects; additionally, it appeared that Brandon Pettigrew (TE, Oklahoma State) had been our first priority before he was drafted by the Lions. Far be it from to me to question Ozzie, though - the man is dynamite in the war room.

A quick follow-up: The youngest O-line in the NFL last season just got younger, and better. The second round saw the Purple and Black add Utah DE Paul Kruger to the roster, giving us yet another versalite defender for the 3-4. CB Lardarius Webb (Southern Miss/Nicholls State) will add depth and compete for time on kick returns, as well as contributing on special teams. Linebacker Jason Phillips (TCU) will play a supporting role, and TE Davon Drew (East Carolina) provides us with another pass-catching tight end. RB Cedric Peerman (UVA) will back up McGahee/Rice and has the chance to help on special teams.

As for my picks, the Texans took Brian Cushing at fifteen, Clay Matthews went 26th to Green Bay, and Maualuga slipped all the way into the 2nd round, taken by the Bengals with the sixth pick (38th overall). Hakeem Nicks went 29th to the Giants and Darrius Heyward-Bey went seventh to the Oakland Raiders, ahead of better prospects like Michael Crabtree (who went tenth to San Francisco) and Jeremy Maclin (nineteenth, Philadelphia). ESPN showed a telling graphic of seven of Al Davis' most recently drafted players, all of whom had one thing in common: a sub 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash. Speed kills, but it's not everything. I feel terrible for Heyward-Bey - with Crabtree also in the Bay Area, he'll be relentlessly scrutinized in comparison and will be forever labeled as a bust if he doesn't perform. I hope for his sake that he plays out of his mind or gets traded faster than General Motors' stock; if he doesn't, Davis' unreasonable standards and fan expectations will ruin him.

Having blown successfully blown the 4-1 lead I mentioned they held on Friday night (and wasted a good outing by Uehara), the
O's continued their losing streak Saturday, nearly salvaging an ugly start by Mark Hendrickson (4.1 IP, 8 H, 5 ER w/ 4 HR) before losing, 6-5. We finally righted the ship today, erasing a 5-1 deficit with homers from Brian Roberts and Adam Jones to secure an 8-5 victory.

AL East

Toronto 14-6 (just won their sixth series of the season today)
Boston 11-6, 1.5 games back (playing tonight vs. Yankees)
New York 9-8, 3.5 GB (playing tonight vs. Red Sox)
ORIOLES 9-10, 4.5 GB (a -23 run differential? Ouch!)
Tampa Bay 7-12, 6.5 GB (2 wins at home thus far)

Biggest news from College Park: reserve center Braxton Dupree is transferring. Not surprising, considering his lack of playing time this season, but a little disappointing. Dupree played at Calvert Hall, not far from my high school, and I like to see kids from our league do well. My buddy Ed played with him @ CHC and once took a charge that gave him a concussion (Ed now plays with a helmet-like covering, a la Petr Cech), and he thinks Braxton will catch on somewhere, possibly at Loyola (MD), which has been a popular destination for ex-Terps in recent years. Oh, and Greivis Vazquez declared for the draft. No surprise there - he's not hiring an agent, and I think we'll see him back for next season.

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Lastly, the Caps dropped 5 on the Rangers this afternoon at MSG, sending the series back to DC for Game 7. Having not watched a whole lot of hockey in recent years, I may be behind in this praise, but I'd like to commend NBC Sports on their telecast - although I've come to prefer Gary Thorne (given his Orioles stint), "Doc" and "Enzo" do a pretty good job, and Pierre McGuire's sideline reporting is the most insightful and least entrapment-like of any sport I've watched in the last few months. Kudos.

Back to work. Due to the fact that Memphis (where my school is) had a weekend of gorgeous weather, I've managed to get through... about 5% of all the stuff I had planned this weekend. Still to go: a Humanities paper, revising some Fiction Writing story attempts, finishing a Spanish project, and oodles of Philosophy exercises. Estimated bedtime: 4:30AM (Central).

Have a wonderful Monday.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Post 1

Orioles 4, Rangers 2, top 7 - we'll see if that holds. Starter Koji Uehara's still in the game, hanging in there pretty well w/ 6 Ks. Just gave up a HR to Hank Blalock though. O's started 6-2 on the year but have since fallen to 8-8. Once again, our pitching's gonna be the dealbreaker this year - behind Jeremy Guthrie, we don't have a quality starter. Cross your fingers. We'll pick up some more run support once they call up Matt Wieters from Triple-A Norfolk, but we've gotta hang in there til then.

Yanks beatin the BoSox 2-1, bottom 5
Toronto's already hung 4 on the ChiSox, bottom 3
Tampa Bay plays later @ Oakland

Everybody's fired up about the draft tomorrow (4PM Eastern, ESPN). Ravens have pick #26 in the first round and 2 more in the top hundred (57 & 88), as well as one each in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Experts are saying our needs are at wideout, linebacker, defensive end and DB, but Ozzie Newsome's a believer in taking the best guy on the board, so I wouldn't be surprised if we took none of those positions (we have a bad history w/ wideouts anyway - see Travis Taylor, Practice All-Star). If I had my druthers, I'd go w/ WR Hakeem Nicks of UNC. He's not a burner, but he does have great hands and does the little things well. I love guys that pass the eye test, and he definitely does. If not him, I like Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland or any of the USC linebackers (Cushing, Maualuga, Matthews) that might still be on the board. Heyward-Bey ran the best 40 yd dash at the combine - the knock on him is, if he's not going deep, he's not nearly as effective. I watched him firsthand a few years ago when my school played his (shout out to the MIAA, St. Paul's and McDonough) and it would be cool to have a kid from the Baltimore area; however, Eric DeCosta demands that the guys he picks have intense passion for the game, and Heyward-Bey originally started playing football just as a way to stay in shape for track. Make of that what you will, but I like Nicks.

P.S. If you think we'll trade for Anquan Boldin, keep your shorts on. DeCosta's whole scheme involves having as many draft picks as possible, and there's no way we'd give Arizona a first and third rounder, even if Boldin is a Pro-Bowl caliber player. Apparently, the Cardinals have just lowered their demands to a second rounder, so it may be a workable deal. More on that as it develops.

P.P.S. I'm not sold on Matt Stafford. The Lions have got to get it right with the first pick, and I think Jason Smith is the safer bet. I hope for their sake that three years from now Stafford hasn't joined the Joey Harrington club.

Not much since both basketball teams lost in the NCAA tournament. Gary Williams has 2 recruits lined up for next season (both in the Top 150 for 2009), so that'll definitely help our rebounding presence (the kids are 6'7" and 6'10"). Lance Stephenson, ranked #11, still has yet to decide, but Maryland's in the running, and that would take a huge weight off Greivis Vazquez if we could get another scoring guard on the roster.

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That a baby, Caps! Washington's up 4-0 on the Rangers w/ 5 to go in the third period. We hang on & we can get the series back to 3-2. Ovechkin's scored in his second straight game. Keep truckin', buddy.

Got a ton of work tomorrow - last classes are on Wednesday w/ exams starting next week, so I'll do my best to post when I can, but no guarantees. Keep it real.

What's Up

My name is Tyler, and I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I'm just finishing my first year of college and I figured that the sooner I start at least attempting to write on a regular basis, the better I'll be by the time I graduate. I'm also a sports fan, so pro and college sporting events will occupy a lot of my posts. I'll do my best to keep up, but occasionally writing will get pushed aside in favor of living. Other than that, I hope for a steady stream of...whatever. It'll be what it'll be.