August 29, 2008

Fans Dressed as Empty Seats

Is there a more pathetic fanbase than Stanford?? With all the buzz about Stanford as a program on the rise, you would think they would have packed the place last night for the home opener. And yet I turned on the game, and what does the crowd look like?? Maybe 1/3 full at best. What a joke. They'd be better off using that stadium for Guitar Hero tournaments or women's tennis tournaments.

What percentage of Bay Area fans were even aware that college football season started?? 2%? 1?? Why do we play these guys every year?? They actually played well last night and won the game, but the lack of fan support is a joke.

Honestly, is there any program in the Pac 10 outside of Oregon with any level of loyal consistent support?? I would argue no. Even USC has trouble selling out all their games.

And West Coast fans wonder why there is an East Coast bias. If West Coast fans don't care about their teams, why should I?? Maybe I would actually care what West coast "fans" think about sports coverage if they showed up to the games in the first place. Until then, the College Gameday crew can stay east of the Rockies every week as far as I'm concerned.

As for the rest of college football, it's a sad day in Oxford, Ohio when Miami gets blown out at home by a Vandy program that they would have beaten in the Terry Hoeppner era. I think it might be time to acknowledge that Shane Montgomery is not that answer at Miami. The program has declined in his tenure and doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Good win for the Cincinnati Bearcats last year, and somewhere Matt is pumping his fist as the newest Jim Grobe disciple! Dominant win for Wake last night in their opener. Sleeper ACC Champions??

August 28, 2008

Ty Proffitt

Looks like Ty Proffitt has made the decision to transfer. In all honesty, it's probably for the best that he is moving on. After watching him in limited action last year, he was never really going to be a major contributor to this program. Proffitt is one of those guys who would have played in the McLeod era, but he probably doesn't belong in the Big East on an upper echelon program. He had a pretty nice shot and a steady game, but he's not the kind of guy who you want running the point in the Big East. I think the days of bringing in two star point guards like Proffit and Jimmy Dillon and even Ingelsby are probably behind us. Nothing against any of those guys, but Tory Jackson has given us a different element at the point that we lacked in the past. I'd like to see the next ND point guard in the Tory Jackson mold.

With a scholarship opening up, we probably need to get a point guard in this upcoming recruiting class. It's not a huge need for the next two years with Tory holding down the fort, but it would be nice to create a succession plan for 2010 after Tory is gone. If we pick up a good 3-4 star type recruit in the 2009 class, he would have a year to get ready to take over the point.

Just thinking about a potential 2009 and 2010 team:


PG - Tory Jackson (senior)
SG - Ben Hansborough (junior)
SF - Scott Martin (sophomore)
PF - Tyrone Nash (junior)
C - Luke Harangody (senior)

Bench: Jonathan Peoples (senior), Carleton Scott (junior), Tim Abromaitis (junior), Joey Brooks (freshman), Jack Cooley (freshman)

Wow, that team will be absolutely loaded, and I don't see any major weaknesses. Looks like we are going to have two great chances at Sweet 16 runs in 2008-09 and 2009-10.


PG - ??
SG - Ben Hansborough (senior)
SF - Scott Martin (junior)
PF - Tyrone Nash (senior)
C - Jack Cooley (sophomore)

Bench: Tim Abromaitis (senior), Carleton Scott (junior), Joey Brooks (sophomore) + 2-3 recruits

Bottom line is that ND hoops is in great hands these days, and we appear to have plenty of depth and talent to get a little NCAA Tournament streak going. If we can find a good young point guard, there's no reason why this program can't keeping rolling along for many years.

August 27, 2008

Week One: The Picks

With college football season beginning tomorrow, we are introducing a new weekly feature to for you college football fans out there. We are going to take a peek at the big games of the week and give you our picks against the spread (with the final score as well). If you want to get your picks from hacks like Mark May and Lee Corso, knock yourself out. We are hoping to give out a fans' perspective on these games, and I don't think anyone is afraid to tell it like it is. All picks are for entertainment purposes only of course. Look for the picks to come out every Thursday in time for the ESPN Thursday Night game.

Week One is a bye week for the Irish, but we have plenty of other big games on the docket. There are actually four neutral site nonconference matchups this weekend, so we could have some bowl game type atmospheres. Alabama-Clemson is probably the game of the weekend if you ask me, but it's also going to be a big weekend for the Big 10 with Illinois and Missouri getting together for their border state rivalry and Michigan State heading out to Berkeley to take on the Cal Bears.

It's a little disappointing that ND is not playing on Opening Weekend, but it will be nice to just relax and watch the games without being stressed out about the ND game (for good reason over the last 10+ years). I'm headed out to a wedding in Seattle this weekend, so hopefully the west coasters actually know the season is starting on Saturday. Do they have sports bars in Seattle or am I going to have to find some coffeehouse to get the scores on the internet?? The only nice thing about the west coast is that I'm assuming USC will be on instead of Michigan for that 3:30 game.

Let's get to the week 1 picks (all game times in Eastern Time):

Thursday August 30, 2008

NC State +12.5 at South Carolina (ESPN 8 pm)-

Matt: NC STATE +12.5

Down here in Wolfpack country everyone is really down on NC State. It's still early in his tenure there, but I don't think they can beat Spurrier in Columbia.

South Carolina 21 NC State 13


Notwithstanding the Ole Ball Coach’s poor mouthing about his offense this summer, S. Carolina’s strong defense should be able to shut down the offensively-challenged Pack handily and put up enough points at home to cover the spread with room to spare.


I kind of think NC State could be a decent team this year under Tom O'Brien, but in a packed house in front on a jacked up crowd in Columbia?? Nah. South Carolina just has more talent everywhere than NC State, and I expect them to roll in the opener.

South Carolina 27 NC State 10

Oregon State -3 at Stanford (ESPN2 9 pm) -


Gotta love the Pac-10. They just get right down to business on Week 1. I'm feeling the first upset of the season. Something about Jim Harbaugh inspires a little bit of confidence in me, so I'll pick Stanford in the mild upset.

Stanford 34 Oregon State 27


Hope springs eternal for Harbaugh and crew on the Farm this year, but too may question marks exist on offense against an underrated Oregon State team in the opener.


Give me the Cardinal and the points. Love Harbaugh this year. I think they are going to surprise some people. By the way, if the stadium isn't sold out for this game on Opening Night, Stanford fans should be ashamed of themselves. All those pansy Bay Area types are probably too busy playing Wii to bother with a college football game, but I'd like to see a packed house anyway.

Stanford 21 Oregon State 13

Saturday August 30, 2008

Hawaii +34.5 at Florida (ESPN GamePlan 12:30 pm) -

Matt: HAWAII +34.5

Urban puts his foot down against a June Jones and Colt Brennan-less team from the islands. Enjoy that flight home Hawaii.

Florida 49 Hawaii 17

Mike: HAWAII +34.5

Should be a laugher, but Hawaii will have enough offensive firepower and motivation to cover this enormous spread.

Doug: Hawaii +34.5

This seems like an awfully high line for a team like Hawaii that has a decent reputation, but Florida is on a mission this year. Urban has been in their ear all offseason, and I think the defense will be fixed. I think Florida wins the national title this year, so I see them getting off to a great start. Hawaii has a new QB and a new coach. Throw in about a 12 hour flight from Honolulu, and the game has blowout written all over it. Hawaii will probably score a couple tds to get the cover, but I don't expect a competitive game here.

Florida 45 Hawaii 17

USC -19.5 at Virginia (ABC 3:30 pm) -

Matt: USC -19.5

Mild intrigue at the QB position for USC. Shouldn't matter against UVA with the Trojan defense taking over.

USC 37 Virginia 13

Mike: VIRGINIA +19.5

Given USC’s injury issues and uncertainty at QB, this one should be closer than it would seem from a pure talent standpoint. I’m not expecting a squeaker, but 19.5 is too many points in an opening road game, even for the mighty Trojans.

Doug: USC - 19.5

This is a little bit of an intriguing game. USC is going to win with defense and athleticism, and I can't see UVA hanging in either area. I know it's been said a million times, but how gutsy is USC?? Opening on the road with Virginia is impressive considering the other games they have lined up.

USC 31 - 10

Utah +3.5 at Michigan (ABC 3:30 pm) -

Matt: Utah +3.5

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008 Michigan Wolverines! Don't sleep on the Utes and I'm on record as predicting a miserable season in Ann Arbor. They'll be lucky to get to .500

Utah 17 Michigan 14

Mike: UTAH +3.5

This may be a pure reflection of my virulent hatred for Michigan, but I think this experienced Utah team will take care of business at the Big House.

Doug: MICHIGAN -3.5

I know Utah is supposed to be good and that they are the trendy pick for the upset, but give me the Wolverines. They have been hearing the words "Appalachian State 2.0" all offseason, so I expect them to bring their "A" game against Utah. Michigan is certainly down and has a ton of new players to integrate, but I refuse to pick them to lose AT HOME to freaking Utah. I just can't do it. This is one of those games where everyone who is talking upset is cursing themselves when it is 21-3 in the second quarter, Michigan is cruising, the fans are happy, Hail to the Victors is playing every other down, and Utah has the deer in the headlights look going.

Michigan 23 Utah 17

Oklahoma State -7 vs. Washington State (at Seattle, WA) (FSN 3:30 pm) -


Interesting non-conference game. I'll admit I don't know a whole lot about Wazzu. But I know all I need to know about the Cowboys. They won't do 'everything right', but there won't be any need to 'downgrade or belittle' them after this game.

Oklahoma State 34 Wash St. 24


Confusing line here. This seems like way too many points for a ‘Pokes program that has never shown itself to be anything but a Big 12 also-ran under coach Mike Gundy. I think the talent of these two teams is somewhat similar and the Cougs should be plenty fired up in their opener under new coach Paul Wulff in front of the (sort of) home crowd.


On paper, is there really that much of a difference between Washington State and Oklahoma State?? Aren't they essentially the same program?? They both have occasionally good teams, but generally stick in the middle of the pack in the conference. I just don't see any reason to give Oklahoma State seven points in this game for no reason. They aren't a good enough team to get 7 points on the road. The game is in Seattle, so I expect most of the fans to be cheering for the Cougars. Both teams have good offenses, so I'm expecting a shootout.

Washington State 34 Oklahoma State 30

Appalachian State at LSU (ESPN 5 pm) - (picking winners only since there's no line)

Matt: LSU

I would love to see App State keep it close, but I just think there is going to WAY too much speed on the field for them to keep up with. Will be interesting to see how the QB situation plays out this year under The Hat

LSU 41 App State 17

Mike: LSU

I refuse to take the bait here.

Doug: LSU

My buddy Rhett might be disappointed that I'm picking the LSU Tigers over his beloved Applachian State Mountaineers, but I really can't see any way that App State pulls the shocker again. LSU is breaking in the new QB, but they are too loaded on defense and at the skill positions to lose this game. Armanti Edwards is a great player and I would not be stunned to see this game get slightly interesting, but LSU has too much talent to lose at home to App State. App State is not sneaking up on anyone this year, so I expect LSU to be ready for them.

LSU 31 Appalachian State 13

Michigan State +5 at California (ABC 8 pm) -


Another game where I would love to pick an upset, but I think Cal finds a way to get the W at home, although Sparty covers. Don't sleep on Michigan State this year. If somehow the Buckeyes falter I think MSU will be right there at the end of the season.

Cal 34 Michigan State 31


While I am generally bullish on Sparty this year, I think it’s asking too much for them to travel out West and beat a talented Cal team on the road. Cal will move the ball through the air against the Spartans’ undermanned secondary and take care of business at home.

Doug: Cal -5

I may end up regretting this pick, but I just can't take a Big 10 team in a big nonconference game until they prove to me that they are capable of doing it. Everything about this game points to MSU. They're hungry, they have veterans back in key positions, and Dantonio is a good coach.

I just can't do it though. Cal spanked Tennessee in the opener last year, and I'm assuming they are looking to prove themselves as much as Michigan State is. Cal has the firepower and weapons to put up points on anyone.

Cal 37 Michigan State 24

Alabama +5 vs. Clemson (at Atlanta, Georgia) (ABC 8 pm) -

Matt: ALABAMA +5

Game of the weekend! I would love to see both of these teams appear on ND's schedule in the near future. I'm disobeying two big rules in college football - don't underestimate a Saban coached team and don't bet on Clemson in a big game. I don't know if Clemson lives up the preseason hype - but I think for at least this week they pass their first test. Too much Cullen Harper, Spiller and Davis.

Clemson 27 Alabama 24

Mike: CLEMSON -5

I believe that Alabama will improve over this year under Saban and there are obvious concerns of whether Clemson will finally live up to its lofty expectations. Clemson, however, is the more talented team on both sides of the ball and they should be able to handle Alabama in this neutral site affair.

Doug: ALABAMA +5

Probably the one game I am most excited about this weekend. WOW. What an opener! Two heavyweights going toe to toe in the Georgia Dome. This game is going to be a war. Matt, I'm assuming that you are fired up to be living south of the Mason-Dixon line since that game will be coming on instead of Cal-MSU. Maybe Clemson is for real this year, but I'm looking at these coaching matchups and going with Bama all the way. Saban vs. Tommy Bowden with an offseason to prepare?? Give me Saban all day. Saban has now had a whole season to implement his system, and I expect to see a much better Alabama team this year. Clemson has a very experienced team that may be for real, but I just don't trust Clemson in a big game. The next big game that Tommy Bowden wins will be his first. Watch out for Alabama freshman sensation Julio Jones.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer!!

Alabama 21 Clemson 17

Illinois +9 vs. Missouri (at St. Louis, Missouri) (ESPN 8:30 pm) -


I don't know why. He's a gutty player and has really been improving. But I'm just not sold on Juice Williams. I think Illinois has a nice year, but don't see them as a legitimate BCS contender.

Missouri 31 Illinois 17


I’m not particularly comfortable laying this many points in a rivalry game against a talented opponent at a neutral site. Nonetheless, I think Chase Daniel and company will light up the scoreboard against Illinois’ defense, thus forcing the Illini offense to abandon their running game and rely upon the passing ability (or lack thereof) of Juice Williams.

Doug: Illinois +9

I'm not in love with Illinois this year, but I just can't give 9 points to Missouri against a team with comparable talent. There is no reason for Illinois to get blown out in this game. They have Juice Williams and Benn back, some of their better defensive players are back, and they played Missouri down to the wire last year. I honestly could see Illinois winning this game outright, but will take Missouri in a competitive game with the Illini covering the spread. If Illinois gets spanked in this game, the luster of the 2007 Rose Bowl season will have worn off quickly. I think 2008 is a big season for Illinois to prove that last year was not a fluke, but I'm not sure how much faith I have in Ron Zook at this point. I think he's done a real nice job, but they need to keep the momentum going this year if he's going to be successful at Illinois.

Missouri 30 Illinois 24

Washington +14 at Oregon (FSN 10 pm) -

Matt: OREGON -14

The first stop on the Tyrone Willingham Farewell Tour!

Oregon 52 Washington 27

Mike: OREGON -14

I pity Washington fans.


Am I crazy to pick Willingham here?? Washington is going to stink this year and probably will have many let downs, but Ty is one of those coaches who will have his guys sky high for about 3 games a year. You just have to pick those three games. Wouldn't the opener be a logical pick?? I think Willingham is going "all in" for the opener. He's had the entire offseason to think about Oregon, it's a rivalry game, and they absolutely need to get off to a good start if he's going to have a shot at saving his job. If there was ever a game for Willingham to have his guys ready, it will be this game. Jake Locker will probably be the best player on the field in this game, so he alone can keep them competitive. Oregon is breaking in some key new offensive players, so I could see Washington going to Eugene and keeping this game competitive.

For the record, if Washington plays well in this game (or dare I say, wins it), they are a mortal lock to follow it up with a complete dud the next couple weeks. That's the Willingham way.

Oregon 28 Washington 20

Sunday August 31:

Kentucky +4 at Louisville (ESPN 3:30 pm) -


Yikes. Two teams in their first game with new QB's. I really don't know which way to lean, but something just doesn't seem right with the Louisville program under Steve Kragthorpe. I'm going to have to see the resurgence before I go predicting big things from them.

Kentucky 27 Louisville 21


Not crazy about laying the points in this Governors Cup matchup, but these are two teams that have gone in opposite directions since the end of last year. Kentucky will be starting a first-time signal caller in Mike Hartline (who would have been a backup if not for the repeated off-field transgressions of Curtis Pulley) and they will be replacing departing star players at RB, WR and TE. Although Louisville is similarly green at the skill positions, they feature a future star at QB in Hunter Cantwell and their defense should improve immediately under new defensive coordinator Ron English.


The battle of Kentucky is always an entertaining game. My wife hails from Lexington, Kentucky and I do support UK sports, but I can't see Kentucky winning this game. I just don't think they'll be very good this year. Kentucky lost a lot of players, including Andre Woodson. I'm not sure about Louisville with Kragthorpe, but they probably will be hungry to win this game.

Louisville 27 Kentucky 20

Colorado State +11.5 vs. Colorado (at Denver, Colorado) (FSN 7:30 pm) -
Matt: COLORADO -11.5

Two programs headed in different directions. Where have you gone Sonny Lubick? Dan Hawkins has Colorado ready to roll.

Colorado 47 Colorado State 16


Margins of victory in the last six CU-CSU matchups: 3, 4, 3, 3, 7, 5. I think I’ll take the points.


Throw out the records!! Was Colorado State really that bad last year that they are 11.5 point dogs to a team that went 6-7 last year in a rivalry game on a neutral field?? I just think that's waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many points in a rivalry game. I think Colorado is a bit of a sleeper this year, but I can't see a blowout here. Case in point, the last six Colorado-Colorado State games have been decided by 7 points or fewer. Love the Sunday night idea for this game by the way. Sonny Lubick would not be proud of what has happened to CSU football, but I still like them to cover in a wild game.

Colorado 35 Colorado State 30

Monday September 1

Fresno State +5 at Rutgers (ESPN 4 pm) -

Matt: RUTGERS -5

Really tempted to pick the Fresno upset. You know Pat Hill will have them ready to go. I just think Rutgers at home has to find a way to get it done. Probably my least confident pick of the weekend though.

Rutgers 28 Fresno 21

Mike: RUTGERS -5

Very tough game to call. Fresno returns a veteran QB, as well as plenty of other experienced players this year, and Pat Hill’s teams have shown a propensity for the upset in past years. Having said that, Rutgers possesses a talent edge on both sides of the ball and I don’t think Fresno’s defense will be able to stop Mike Teel and the Scarlet Knights’ veteran receiving corps.


Always a good feeling when the team you think is going to straight up win this game is an underdog getting 5 points. Love everything about the fighting Pat Hills. They are always one of the gutsiest teams in the country when it comes to scheduling, and they have no reason to be intimidated by the pomp and circumstances on the banks of the Raritan. Big game for Rutgers. They probably need to find a way to win this one if they are going bowling this year. The post-Ray Rice era begins, but Teel is a solid QB and they have a good WR corps. I think Rutgers has done some nice things the last few years, but I can't shake the feeling that they peaked as a program two years ago and now are on the downswing. Fresno has just as much talent as Rutgers, and I seem them bouncing back this year from a disappointing 2007 season. Give me Fresno in this one.

Fresno 24 Rutgers 23

Tennessee -7 at UCLA (ESPN 8 pm)

Matt: Tennessee -7

You've got to give Phil Fulmer a little credit because this is the second year in a row they've headed west to play a Pac-10 team. I think this year fly home happier than the trip home from Berkeley last year.

Tennessee 31 UCLA 21

Mike: UCLA +7

Another tough one. UCLA has been beset by injuries, especially at QB where Kevin Craft will be starting his first college game. Moreover, Tennessee features a strong offensive line and a stable of dynamic skill position players. Vols will be starting a first time QB on the road and many defensive newcomers, however, and I expect the Bruins to be well prepared in their debut for coach Neuheisel and his excellent coordinators, Norm Chow and DeWayne Walker. Tennessee will have the better team over the course of the season, but there is too much inexperience to lay 7 points on the road.


I really want to pick UCLA in this one and probably would have if Olsen hadn't been injured, but I can't do it if they are going to be starting one of those stiff backups that played against ND last year. UCLA is on the rise with Neuheisel and Norm Chow, but Tennessee has a lot of players back and should be looking to make a statement. I'll admit that I don't trust Phil Fulmer here and that UCLA could easily win this game, but I feel like Tennessee has too much at stake to blow this game. If they play up to their capabilities, the Vols should roll.

Tennessee 24 UCLA 10

Season Totals:

Matt: 0-0-0

Mike: 0-0-0

Doug: 0-0-0

Comin to your city

Good news Irish hoops fans. According to NDNation, it looks like College Gameday is coming to South Bend on January 24 for the UConn-ND game. Color me pumped. Might start looking for tickets to that one now.

While we're here, can't believe no one has ever posted this on the blog. With college football just over 24 hours away, one run through some Big N Rich is all I need to get fired up for football season.

August 23, 2008

TomaHawk Down

With college football season right around the corner, I just wanted to revisit the sad state of affairs in Braves Nation one more time before I turn my attention to the pigskin. Where did it all go wrong? One year ago the Braves were experiencing a rejuvenation under Mark Teixeira and were chasing down the Mets and Phillies in what was shaping up to be an unbelievable run to the postseason under a dynamic offense. Well, that fizzled out, Teixeira is long gone, and most of the Braves have taken a HUGE step back, leaving doubts as to the long-term direction of America's Team. Last night's embarrassing 18-3 loss to the Cardinals just affirmed what I've been seeing all along. The Braves are about to undergo a massive but overdue rebuilding process.

So where did it go wrong? A few thoughts...

1. Injuries - How many teams can lose their ace (Smoltz), closer (Soriano), setup man (Moylan), co-ace (Hudson) and 3rd starter (Glavine) and still remain competitive? Not many. So obviously this hasn't helped, but apparently the Braves were a flawed team even before the injuries set in.

2. Underperformance - 'The Natural', Jeff Francoeur has been an embarrassment. There, I said it. I like the guy, but his either failed development or sheer stubbornness to not lay off the outside breaking ball is threatening to end his career. And I'm not overexaggerating. The guy is totally clueless at the plate and can be pitched to by a high school pitcher at this point. He's hitting .228 with 10 homers and a .280 OBP. Atrocious. At this point the Braves have to seriously question if he can just be penciled in as the starting RF for 2009. They would not be doing due diligence if they didn't ask that. Consider this - the Braves have 23 homers TOTAL from their outfielders. 23!! Many major league teams have a guy with that many by himself. The next lowest team total is San Fran with 33. The major league average is just below 50. Throw in the failed progression of Yunel Escobar and the regression of Kelly Johnson and that is a huge chunk of the lineup that is not performing up to par.

3. Pitching - When Dr. James Andrews keeps moving his way up the office speed dial, you know you are in for some trouble. It was a risky strategy to go into the season with a rotation featuring Smoltz and Glavine and featuring Hampton (sounds like the name of a blues band or something) and it obviously backfired big time. Now Frank Wren has a tough decision whether to go down that road again (BTW I would feel a hell of a lot more confident if John Montgomery Schuerholz was still calling the shots...). Both Smoltz and Glavine will avoid TJ surgery and expressed interest in returning next year. Tim Hudson, who was doing his usual Tim Hudson thing this year, is out until next August. Jair Jurrjens has been awesome, a total fleecing of the Tigers in the Renteria offseason deal. By passing on Teixeira, the Braves seem to be sending the message that they will be big spenders for a free agent deal or two. There is no reason they shouldn't be in on the Sabathia sweepstakes, and AJ Burnett wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. JJ Reyes and Chuck Morton have been typical rookies - one good start, two horendous - but at this point they need to keep developing. The Artist Formerly Known As Chuck James should never wear the Braves uniform again. In fact, I'm willing to bet he's a Kansas City Royal next year.

4. Clubhouse Chemistry - This is something new in a Bobby Cox clubhouse, but it's something that there have been whispers about the past month or two from various Braves beat writers and even from some quotes from the players themselves. Losing Smoltz, Glavine and Hudson, 3 strong veterans, has definitely hurt. Early in the year the Braves released backup catcher Brayan Pena, who was Escobar's best friend from their childhood days in Cuba. A baseball decision, although why they kept Corky Miller's fat .093 hitting corpse instead is a mystery. But Escobar was devastated and has not seemed right this year. Also, there has been innuendo that the young players have not approached the game the right way (whatever that means in baseball speak) and some of the veterans have felt that they are not taking the losing personally.
And finally, there was the whole Jeff Francoeur demotion. Here was his take on it:
"After three years, after playing hurt, playing every day, going in every day whether I got a hit and never complaining, I just played because Bobby [Cox] kept putting me in the lineup," Francoeur told the newspaper. "But I just felt like a little three-minute thing -- 'Hey, you're going down' -- I feel like after three years, I was owed a little more of an explanation. But that's Frank's deal and that's what I guess they decided to do."
Here was Chipper's take on it: "Everybody struggles — we all do," Jones said. "But this is a game of adjustments, and pitchers have made an adjustment on Frenchy. And he has to make an adjustment back. It's got to do with pitch recognition. It's got to do with using the whole field." I'm sure everybody in the clubhouse likes Francoeur, but at some point the frustration with his lack of adjustments and poor production is going to reach a boiling level.

Looking ahead to next year, the Braves have exactly two building blocks for the future. Jair Jurrjens, who should slot nicely into the #2 starter spot for a long time. And Brian McCann, who has shown that he is the best catcher in the National League. Chipper will still be manning 3rd, but at this point in his career it is impossible to label him a building block for the future. The jury is still out on Casey Kotchman (an abysmal performance in an admittedly small sample size wearing the Tomahawk), and upgrades must at least be considered for second base and right field. Jordan Schafer, he of the steroids bust, should be in center field - which is should bring excitement but also a high degree of uncertainty. Upgrades are mandatory for left field, where the Braves could be in the Manny sweepstakes and at the very least make a run at Pat Burrell.

Behind Jurrjens are 4 question marks in the rotation. One free agent pitcher is necessary, two is preferred. I could see AJ Burnett in a Braves uniform along with a guy like Kyle Lohse. The bottom line is that it's rebuilding time at Turner Field, as the gap is bridged from the Chipper, Smoltz, Glavine Braves to the future. Now, wake me up for spring training's college football season!

August 21, 2008

The Big 12: Over/Unders

The Big 12 is admittedly the one conference that I follow the least, but here goes the over/under picks for the Big 12. Should be an interesting year in the league with upstarts like Kansas and Missouri trying to stay on top of the mountain and floundering programs like Texas A&M and Nebraska trying to get back to where they belong.

On another note, I did a fantasy draft yesterday, and we were allowed to draft from four of the Big 12 teams (Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Missouri). Might as well toss in some fantasy thoughts on those teams while we're here.

On to the picks:

Nebraska - 7 wins - OVER - MARK IT DOWN RIGHT NOW!!! Nebraska is winning the Big 12 North this year. You heard it here first on

I couldn't be more fired up about the Bo Pelini era. Love everything about him. Former captain at Ohio State as a safety, best buds with Kirk Herbstreit, great career as an assistant at Nebraska and LSU, very fiery but also a players coach who played the game at the major college level, and he understands the culture of Nebraska football. Tom Osborne is back in the fold, and they are bringing back the great tradition of Nebraska football.

Nebraska is going to win under Bo Pelini. Everyone is talking up Missouri and Kansas as the premier teams in the Big 12 North, but at the end of the day, Nebraska has more talent than either of them. If they get it in gear, they can win in a hurry. Bill Callahan was a Willingham-esque figure who did major damage to Nebraska football, but I have faith that Bo P. is the right man for the job. Watching them play in that bowl game a few years ago when he was going nuts on the sideline and leading them on to a win was great stuff. I expect to see Nebraska playing with that kind of intensity and energy all the time.

Mark your calendars and your TIVOS: September 27. Virginia Tech comes to Lincoln to take on the Huskers in front of 75,000 crazy-eyed Husker maniacs looking to bring back the Husker Nation to greatness. I have goosebumps just typing it!! The word "ELECTRIC" comes to mind immediately.

Let's just say that Mr. Witt, Young Tom Witt, and Norm Witt are fired up about the state of Nebraska football. I'm hoping we get a game with Nebraska someday so that we can tailgate with the Witt family again.

Texas A&M - 7 wins - OVER - Texas A&M is another school with a new coach. Could be interesting to see how the Mike Sherman era turns out. I don't remember him being all that remarkable at Green Bay and only really remember him as a Brett Favre toadie, but I looked through a couple Texas newspapers and the locals down in College Station seem to be excited about him. Sherman is bringing an aggressive defense and a pro-style offensive attack to Aggie Country. They could be a minor sleeper this year. A&M is sort of a sleeping giant with access to some great talent down there in Texas, so they could be on the rise if Mike Sherman pans out.

Stephen McGee is back for his 15th season at Texas A&M, and they always have a solid defense. Their schedule is somewhat manageable with no Nebraska, Kansas, or Missouri on there, Miami(FL) at home, and Texas Tech at home. Honestly, I only see two lock losses on their schedule. Somewhere Bob Davie is apologizing to all things Aggie and singing the praises of the Wrecking Crew.

Speaking of College Station, Kyle Field is probably in my top five for stadiums I would like to visit someday. It just seems like a cool place to watch a game with all the military tradition, the 12th man, and all the other stuff that goes on at A&M.

Baylor - 3 wins - UNDER - Since I'm not going to pretend to know anything about Baylor football, I'll turn attention to a great ESPN The Magazine article (yes, I used the word "great" and "ESPN The Magazine in the same sentence. You know you love The Mag, and I know all you bashers out there are grinning from ear to ear when the Mag arrives in your mailbox every other Friday.) about Baylor track star Jeremy Wariner. I had no idea until reading the story that Baylor is like the USC of track and field, and that Michael Johnson is also a Baylor alum. Anyway, this Wariner guy is a freak, and he's white!! When was the last time there was ever a great white sprinter?? Looking forward to his performance in the 400 in Beijing.

Oklahoma State - 7 wins - UNDER - I don't think we could do an Oklahoma State preview without putting this clip in there.

It'S GARBAGE! Coach Gundy is 40 and he's a man and he's DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT these days, so I think they can get to a bowl game. By the way, is T. Boone Pickens the first college sports owner?? Isn't that essentially what he did when he made that ridiculously huge donation?? He bought Oklahoma State. Every decision in their athletic department now goes through him. I wonder if it will start a trend at other schools.

Texas Tech - 9 wins - UNDER - I'm expecting an angry response from Matt as the resident Mike Leach apologist of the blog, but I'm sticking with my pick. SELL on Texas Tech this year. It's Texas Tech. Their offense is explosive, but it's still Texas Tech. They don't have the material to hang with the big boys, they don't play any defense, and they proved it again last year by getting spanked by Texas and Missouri. I know they beat Oklahoma, but I think that win was more of a product of Oklahoma not showing up to play. You can't win a conference title if you don't play any defense.

As usual, Texas Tech plays a PATHETIC nonconference schedule (they are among the worst offenders), so they should be 4-0 heading into conference play. Their schedule is not all that bad, but they do have road games at A&M, Kansas, KSU, and Oklahoma plus home games with Texas and Nebraska. I see them losing at least 4 of those games. Give me 8-4 on the Red Raiders. Fire away Lubbock. I'm prepared for your responses.

Texas Tech is one of the teams that we were able to pick from in my fantasy league, so their players are always valuable. Graham Herrell was the #1 pick overall and should put up absurd numbers again this year (as TT QBs do every year). Then there's Michael Crabtree. Good god, 134 catches, 1962 yards, and 22 TDs last year. That is INSANE. He practically doubles every other fantasy college receiver. I was all set to take him in the first round, but he went in the top 4 (deservedly so). Should put up incredible numbers again this year.

Iowa State - 3 wins - OVER - I honestly have nothing on Iowa State, so I'm not even going to pretend to know anything about them. Maybe a Cyclone fan will stumble upon this blog and rip off a 2000 word post on the state of Iowa State football and the demise of the program since Seneca Wallace graduated (I'm just assuming that he did actually graduate here.) I'd welcome it.

Why am I giving Iowa State the over and feeling good about it if I know nothing about them?? Well, they actually got better in the second half of the year and beat Kansas State and Colorado down the stretch. Their nonconference schedule is cupcake city with South Dakota State, Kent State, UNLV, and the rivalry game with Iowa. If they win even one conference game (I'll say they win 2-3), they are beating the over easily.

Missouri - 9.5 wins - UNDER - Call me a skeptic on Missouri as well, but I'm just not buying 10 wins out of them either. These one-year wonder teams rarely stay on top, and the other teams most likely studied them all offseason.

On paper, they have all the pieces in place to be a great team. Chase Daniel is back again this year, and star receiver Jeremy Maclin also returns. Should be an interesting opener on August 30 between Missouri and Illinois in St. Louis. I love all these neutral site games by the way. It's sort of fun to see good teams coming together in neutral cities. In other news, ND is trying to line up neutral games with Baylor and Army in the next few years. Good times.

I think Missouri gets beat in Lincoln and in Austin, and I'm willing to bet that they find another loss on that schedule (although it doesn't look all that imposing).

Chase Daniel is a legit 1st round pick for fantasy purposes since he is an effective run-pass guy, and Maclin is probably the #2 fantasy receiver in the country behind Crabtree. They also are loaded at tight end with Chase Coffman, and it appears that Derrick Washington is going to get the carries in a crowded backfield.

Kansas State - 6.5 wins - UNDER - Another school that I don't know much about, but I have to say that I sort of like their Mike Tice wannabe coach, Ron Prince. I've only watched KSU play a couple times in the last two years (The upset win over Texas and the game they lost at Auburn last year), but Coach Prince seems like a fiery, entertaining guy.

They've had a lot of roster turnover, and their schedule could be pretty difficult with a trip to Louisville in the nonconference and trips to A&M, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri in conference play.

Kansas - 8 wins - OVER - I'm assuming Kevin will be ready to weigh in on the Jayhawks and fill us in with what to expect in Lawrence, but my initial thoughts on Kansas are that they might be emerging as the "White Man's All-Star Team."

Is Kansas the Moneyball college football team?? While everyone else is grabbing all the flashier athletes, KU is heading down into Texas and stealing these productive, undersized white guys who don't run a 4.4 40 but can play some serious ball. It's sort of an interesting approach to recruiting. Mangino seems like a sharp guy, and I don't see any reason why Kansas won't be good again.

Their schedule is really not all that bad with a road game at South Florida and a fairly manageable conference schedule. I am a little leery about taking Kansas to win 8+ games now that other teams have had a whole offseason to study them and take them seriously, but I think they can go at least 5-3 in the league this year.


You gotta love Dan Hawkins. Colorado could be a mini-sleeper this year. They have a really tough schedule with West Virginia, Florida State (in Jacksonville), Texas, Kansas, Missouri, A&M, and Nebraska, but I think they can find a way to get to 6 wins.

They got on the map a little last year with the win over Oklahoma, and they get another crack at making a splash on the national stage with West Virginia coming to Boulder on September 18. Could be an interesting game.

Texas - 9 wins - OVER - This is the first time in a long time that Texas isn't overhyped as one of the top teams in the country, so you might be able to get them at good odds this year. I've seen them on other sites at 8 wins. For all his shortcomings, Mack Brown wins 10 games every year. They lost a lot of good skill players, but Colt McCoy is back and their whole o-line is back. If your line is back, you usually have a good foundation for a good offense. They brought in a new d-coordinator (Will Muschamp) who is widely considered to be one of the top coaching prospects in America. I don't see any reason why Texas won't be right back around 10 wins again this year. Texas has better players on their second team than Texas Tech does on their first team, so I expect the Longhorns to go into Lubbock and win that game.

From a fantasy perspective, I think Colt McCoy is a bit of a sleeper. I drafted him in my college fantasy draft, and I think he is a good value in the middle rounds. With almost 500 yards rushing and good passing stats, he is a combo guy with big upside if he continues to mature and cuts down on the interceptions. The running back situation appears to be a committee with Vondrell McGee running with the first team at the moment. Fozzy Whitaker could be a late round steal at RB if he starts taking over for McGee. Quan Cosby looks like the go-to guy at WR, but this Jordan Shipley guy has some big play potential. Someone is going to emerge at WR for Texas, so it is a good position to monitor.

Oklahoma - 10 wins - OVER - From what I'm reading about Oklahoma, they seem like a team on a mission. While people are a little down on Bob Stoops, the guy still has 5 Big 12 titles in 9 years as coach of the Sooners. They are experimenting a little with a no-huddle offense, and it sounds like their defense has something to prove. I have no reason to think that OU won't be right back in the BCS again this year.

Sam Bradford has all the makings of being a star QB after putting on some weight in the offseason, and he should be a quality fantasy starter as well (especially if your league gives extra weight to TDs). DeMarco Murray has the potential to be a stud fantasy back, but injuries derailed him last year. If you draft Murray, you might want to grab Chris Brown as a backup RB for handcuff purposes. I drafted Juaquin Iglesias as a 2nd WR, and he could emerge as a star this year as OU's top target now that Malcolm Kelly is gone. With his speed and consistency, he should put up big numbers in that system. OU's defense is rated surprisingly low in some fantasy guides even though they had seven defensive touchdowns last year, so you might want to take a peek at them late in the draft if you're still looking for a defense.

August 19, 2008

Brady Strikes Back

Can I take back what I said about Derek Anderson in my last post about the Browns?? He looked awful last night, and resembled the Derek Anderson who looked really shaky down the stretch last season. Throwing behind receivers, melting down under pressure, no confidence, and bad body language. Now, he's got a concussion and a bruised hand. Spark up that QB controversy!! In contrast, Brady Quinn looked better last night than he did in the opener. He was getting the ball down the field a lot more frequently, making good decisions, and he had some nice escapes under pressure.

Derek Anderson is starting to emerge as a big time Jekyll & Hyde type QB. He looks good in certain situations, but also looks awful whenever he's not in his comfort zone. Unless he's in a groove or an ideal situation (at home, ball in opposing territory), he has issues. I watched most of his games last year, and he only seemed to lead the Browns to scoring drives when they had the ball in great field position. If you put him in a pressure situation or a tough road environment, he collapsed. Last night, Anderson was up against it in a hostile environment, and he completely fell apart. Not a good sign. His performance against the Jets in the preseason opener was an indication that he might have turned the corner, but yesterday confirms that Anderson is probably still the same streaky player that he was last year.

Just checking the Cleveland Plain Dealer website, the comments on the Browns game last night seem to indicate that the fans are ready to see what Brady Quinn can do in these next two preseason games. I agree. I think Brady should get an opportunity to start the game on Saturday in Detroit and play with the starting o-line and skill guys. It's tough to tell how well he is playing when he is going against 2nd and 3rd teamers, so why not give him a shot at starting while Anderson recuperates from the concussion?? Give Brady a chance to play behind Joe Thomas and Steinbach and throw to guys like Stallworth and The Soldier and Braylon (if healthy). If he goes up to Detroit and performs well, I think the fans are going to start calling for Brady to get another start in the final game against the Bears.

The Browns have all the weapons to be a great offensive team, but they need to get consistent play at the QB position. I think the jury is out on whether Anderson can be that guy. You can win games with Derek Anderson, but I wouldn't trust him in a big game or in a tough pressure situation. The Browns drafted Brady Quinn for a reason. He was supposed to be the franchise guy, and I still don't think that has changed. Anderson could be a very good backup QB, but I don't see him as a legitimate franchise QB. Considering that the Browns maybe could have received a 1st round pick for him in the offseason, there might be some serious regrets in the front office if Anderson turns out to be a bust.

As Cosmo Kramer would say, "Poise counts!!" Anderson struggles in the pocket under pressure and Brady Quinn doesn't. Anyone who watched Brady Quinn in college remembers a guy who always had a knack for avoiding pressure or staying in the pocket and making a tough throw under pressure. Pocket awareness is a gift. You can either do it or you can't. It's not something you can work on. Brady has it.

The question is whether Romeo Crennel has the guts to pull the trigger if it becomes clear that Anderson is not the answer and Brady is. Romeo has been really loyal to Anderson so far, so I feel like he will probably let Anderson completely tank before making any type of change. Perhaps Romeo should think to his New England days about another young QB who was clearly better than a veteran guy ahead of him on the depth chart.

August 18, 2008

The Numbers Game

Since it's been awhile without any ND football discussion, the updated numerical chart is out. It's always interesting to take a peek at some of the freshmen numbers. Sometimes you can almost predict how a player's career is going to turn out by looking at the jersey number.

First of all, you have to love Dayne Crist as #10. Apparently he is struggling mightily in camp with all the new terminology and info overload swimming around in his head and has a long way to go to catch up to Evan Sharpley (which is to be expected for a freshmen), but he's got every tool that you could possibly want in a QB. The guy is Brady Quinn Jr. in every way. I watched the Blue and Gold incoming recruits video a couple months ago, and the guys on the video were absolutely raving about him. He looked unbelievable in the video. Clausen is clearly the man for the next few years, but Crist looks like a superstar in the making. Would it be a decent idea to redshirt him this year?? If Crist redshirts, he'd have two years as the ND starter after Clausen graduates instead of one. We already have Evan Sharpley as a very solid backup QB, so it would be nice if we could convince Crist to redshirt this year. We would be absolutely set at QB for the next 5 years if that succession plan came into place.

Another freshmen who has "star" written all over him if he stays healthy is Deion Walker. Good god, he's the best athlete I've see on an ND roster in a long long time. Watching him in the Blue Gold video was like watching the guys you would normally see in the SEC. Could be a gamebreaker. It is fitting that he has the #1 jersey this year. Maybe he grew up as a Derrick Mayes fan or something. By the accounts of practice that I've been reading on the Rivals site, Deion Walker has been REALLY impressive (even more impressive than Floyd). That doesn't surprise me one bit. I'd love to see him emerge right away as a 3/4 receiver.

Michael Floyd is Mo Stovall Jr. with more polish and maybe a little more speed. Watching him go up for balls at the Army All-American Game was a thing of beauty. He is going to put up ridiculous numbers at ND. Just get him on the field starting right away against San Diego State. I already love that jersey number on him. #3. Can we just pretend that Demetrius Jones never had that number??

Joseph Fauria was another guy who caught my eye on the Blue Gold video. I'm pulling for Kyle Rudolph because he's a Cincy guy, but I was actually a little more impressed with Fauria than I was with Rudolph. Fauria is the total package...big, great hands, good speed, good blocker. He is going to be a stud tight end. Rudolph seems like an incredible athlete who had some spectacular catches on film, but most of his highlights were with him split out as a wide receiver. I don't doubt that Rudolph will be a great player, but I'd like to see how he looks lined next to the big uglies before having an opinion on him. Our tight end recruits are quite possibly the best in the nation. Both of those guys look like All-American type players.

Honestly, even though there was not a whole lot of fuss about Jonas Gray when he signed with ND, I thought he looked like a darn good back on video and it doesn't surprise me to see him showing off some talent in practice. Sounds like the coaches love him. He's not a gamebreaker, but he's one of those guys who always seems to find the crease for 5+ yards. I don't know how much time he will get at ND with our stable of running backs and Cierre Wood coming in, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he had a Tony Fisher type career at ND.

It sounds like the gem of this o-line class is Trevor Robinson, who is turning some heads in practice. How sad is it that we have true freshmen who are beating out juniors and seniors on the offensive line?? The Willingham era offensive line recruiting still wreaks havoc on this program. I was not blown away by our other freshmen o-line recruits, but the good news is that we have a ton of bodies at this point. Probably the key to this program over the next 5 years is how the o-linemen and d-linemen develop. We have more than enough skill guys, but we gotta get more physical and dominant up front. The guys on the video were saying that experience is everything on the o-line, so hopefully that area is significantly improved.

How about Ethan Johnson at #9?? Intriguing number. Always fun to see a defensive linemen who wears a number in the single digits. The practice reports on him and Kapron Lewis-Moore are pretty encouraging. When our defensive line is going to prominently feature the likes of guys like Morrice Richardson at 250 pounds and Justin Brown and John Ryan, there is plenty of room for a freshmen to get a lot of snaps this year.

I would not be surprised if the crown jewels of this 2008 class might be coming from the linebacker unit. Darius Fleming and Steve Filer are turning heads, and all the coaches seem to be raving about their athleticism. It is borderline scary to think about this linebacking corp in a few years with Brian Smith, Kerry Neal (who is just plain dominating in practice), Fleming, Filer, and McDonald. Upperclassmen like Toryan Smith better get it in gear, or they are going to be passed up quickly on the depth chart.

Finally, I absolutely love everything about Gary Gary as #4. That is a perfect number for him. I know he's not a freshmen, but I'm still excited to see him on the field for the first time. Sounds like Lambert and McNeil will be starting, but Gray is going to be a major improvement over guys like Leo Ferrine and Ambrose Wooden as a 3rd corner. He's another one of those guys with "SEC speed" as Kirk Herbstreit loves to say, so I expect him to play well this year.

Couldn't be more excited about the future of ND football. The talent that Weis is bringing in is going to pay off. We now have legitimate competition at every position on the roster, and there is not one guy who has a job handed to him. If you get complacent, you get replaced. I love it. USC has claimed that their practice competition is more intense than their games, and I would like to see that someday at ND. As Beano Cook would say, it's all about "the material"!!

August 16, 2008

Go Away Chris Thomas

I really tried to bite my tongue and let this recent SB Tribune article (published 8/3, but it's already archived - lame) pass without making a big deal about it. But the more it kicked around in my head, the more upset it made me. Tom Noie, the Tribune's outstanding ND hoops beat writer, caught up with Chris Thomas four years after graduating to reflect upon his years under the Dome. Since then, he's been patchworking a decent pro career across Europe. Good for him, I suppose. Maybe the distance has allowed him an opportunity to reflect on his roller coaster ND career. But reading some of Thomas' quotes, it still seems like the irked star with a chip on his shoulder talking.

On how his basketball life became too stressful at school: "I was sort of the star off the court, too. All the time I've got to be the star, I never had time to rest. I never shared the spotlight."

On how his game has evolved since college: "I'm definitely not the scorer I used to be. When I was here, I could do a couple guys' roles just by taking a lot of shots and demanding the ball."

These two quotes are emblematic of exactly what you don't want, and can't have, from your point guard. He was wired wrong, expecting things to be given to him just because he had some skills - a high school mentality that he never grew out of. But my favorite quote:

On if the game ever lost its fun while at Notre Dame: "I think I lost the ability to show my love, for sure, because of the injuries and dealing with the added pressure to play well...When I was the one that everyone else looked to, I was injured. I wasn't able to work on my game because I was doing rehab."

Way to throw out the injured card for why you couldn't be a team leader. Guys get injured. It's part of the game. It's how you deal with it and encourage and inspire your teammates despite injuries that make teams stronger. None of this was in CT's playbook.

The former Mr. Basketball of Indiana registered Notre Dame's first triple-double in his very first collegiate game (vs. New Hampshire, but impressive regardless). Playing with a veteran cast of teammates in Ryan Humphrey, Matt Carroll, David Graves and Harold Swanagan, Thomas was the young Energizer bunny that made the team go. Recall this team pressed Duke to the limit in their foiled Sweet 16 bid of 2002. When Carroll and Thomas came back the next year with new star freshman Torin Francis, the team scaled new heights, beating Illinois, with Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Brian Cook, to advance to the Sweet 16. Thomas looked like he was putting things together, spreading things around to everyone around him while making things difficult for the opposing defense.

With Carroll's graduation, Thomas assumed alpha dog status his junior season and the power trip went to his head. Instead of continuing his development as a playmaker, he decided that the offense needed his scoring more than his penetration and creativity. His assists per game went from 7.6 and 6.9 respectively his first two seasons to a pedestrian 4.7 his junior year. Talk about regression. Field Goal, Free Throw and 3-Point percentages all dropped precipitously between sophomore and junior years. But the numbers only told half the story. Thomas never cared much about defense, but was helped greatly his first couple years by the interior presence of Humphrey and Swanagan. Once they were gone, his defensive woes were magnified. Any, and I can't emphasize any enough, point guard could drive around him at will or post him up without a problem. I'm sure the opposing coach's scouting report prepped his point guard by telling him he'd score a season high that night. Sure, Thomas holds the career mark for steals, but that was more a case of him gambling on passes than staying in front of his man and making life difficult. As many times as he got a steal, he ended up leaving his man wide open in the lane with his teammates left to clean up his mess. It made a sane fan want to pull their hair out.

Thomas' legacy looks great at face value with glitzy records and career marks. Yet below the surface reveals a tarnished career to people who watched the player and his teams compete. In my eyes, he will forever be the poster child of spoiled players who think they're bigger than the team. It's no coincidence his last game ended ignominiously losing to Holy Cross in front of a sparsely filled Joyce Center crowd. Thomas' assertion that he deserved better from the people in South Bend summed up his sorry, selfish career, reflecting more the fans' apathy toward Thomas and the cancer he had spread through the team. Somehow, he got it in his head that he wasn't going to acquiesce to anything Coach Brey asked of him. It was going to be Thomas' way or no way at all.

In his final two years, you could read the emotions of the players before they started the game. The fun had been sapped from the game. Thomas ignored his role as a team leader and his responsibility to make everyone around him better. That's what point guards do. If you take a look at the best PGs in the NBA right now (Nash, Paul, Williams, Kidd) their teams thrive when they involve the entire team and play with passion. Thomas thrived on shooting and getting his own stats - never the right mixture for a winning team.

For what a point guard is supposed to do for his team, look no further than below. Tory Jackson has come out trying to prove himself from day one. He plays with heart and emotion, involves his teammates, penetrates and keeps defenses guessing, creates easy baskets, delivers clutch baskets and plays suffocating defense. Nothing from that sentence can be found in Chris Thomas' illustrious player bio.

In this case, #2 is head and shoulders better than #1. And that's why we can be excited for the future of ND basketball. Good luck, Chris, in Europe. Please stay.

August 13, 2008

Big Ten - Over/Unders

As most people who know me are well aware, I'm a Midwest guy, so I grew up watching Big 10 games just like any other kid who grew up in the Great Lakes region. I root for the Big 10 teams to do well, and I enjoy a Brent Musberger Big 10 telecast as much as anyone.

On that note, even though Big 10 fans have been trying to deny it, it has been a rough stretch for the Big 10 the last few years. With all the bad conconferecne losses and bad bowl game performances, the Big 10 has been getting killed nationally. As Kirk Herbstreit has been saying all offseason (much to the dismay of the people here in town) if you go to any other part of the country, the Big 10 is viewed as a joke. Part of it is envy of all the attention that it receives compared to conferences in other regions of the country, but the vast majority of the Big 10 hatred is just that fans are tired of seeing Big 10 teams getting run off the field in high-profile games (the Illinois Rose Bowl game, the back to back blowout losses by Ohio State in BCS Championship Games, and Michigan getting destroyed at home by Oregon).

With "Big 10 fatigue" sweeping the nation, 2008 is a big year for the league. So where is this league headed over the next few years?? Well, there are a couple big factors, so let's start with the bad news. My biggest concern about the Big 10 is whether the league can sustain its reputation with the changing demographics in this country. Massive population losses in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania on a yearly basis make me wonder if the talent that used to grow up in the Midwest will now be coming out of places like Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. If all these people graduating from Big 10 schools are fleeing the Midwest and moving to places like Phoenix, isn't it a logical conclusion that future Hawkeyes and Gophers and Hoosiers coaches will have less talent to recruit in their states?? Can the Big 10 schools continue to hang with the SEC and PAC 10 teams that appear to have more overall talent??

The good news is that high school football is still a huge deal in the Midwest, and the sophistication of high school football in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania means that players coming out of these states have a leg up on the raw talent that is coming out of less organized high school football programs in the fast-growing states of the South and West. Football is still king in the Midwest, and it probably always will be. The best athletes in this part of the country are generally playing football, so there is still plenty of hope for the Midwest programs if they can continue to bring in those types of players.

Another positive sign for the Big 10 has been the infusion of coaches like Rich Rodriguez, Ron Zook, and Mark Dantonio into the league. All three coaches have brought some new blood and increased competition to the Big 10, which could pay off well for the league over the next few years.

One other note, Kirk Herbstreit (who has been killing the Big 10 the last couple years) has a local radio show with Chris Spielman (who is essentially a Big 10 cheerleader) and he's surprisingly high on the league this year. With all of the experience back in the league, he seems to think the Big 10 is flying under the radar.

The Big 10 Network is also something to keep an eye on in future years. The network is probably going to increase exposure to Big 10 sports to places around the country, and it appears that it is going to be a huge revenue source for these schools. For those of you in Ohio, it appears that there is no deal in sight between the Big Ten Network and Time Warner Cable, so get ready for another year of watching Big 10 football and basketball at your local sports bar.

Let's get to the teams -

Iowa - 7.5 - UNDER - Holy cow, that is a high over/under for an Iowa team that flat out stunk last year and lost home games to the likes of Indiana and Western Michigan. Iowa was awful last year, and probably was fortunate to go 6-6.

I would have been all set to plunk down the under on Iowa without even thinking twice about it, but a chance meeting at Ravi's wedding with a diehard Iowa fan (I'm assuming everyone who reads this blog had a lengthy talk with him as well) has me thinking about my pick again. Iowa has somehow avoided Ohio State and Michigan on the schedule this year, and they get Penn State and Wisconsin at home. How is that possible?? How does Iowa avoid Ohio State and Michigan?? Aren't there only two teams that you don't play every year in the Big 10 rotation?? That shouldn't happen in the Big 10. A key game for Iowa could be that early nonconference game at Pitt. If they somehow win that game, they could be in for good year.

I'm just not buying it though. Iowa had all kinds of problems off the field in the offseason, and I feel like they are a clear notch behind teams like Illinois, MSU, and even Purdue. Iowa's recruiting has really tailed off, and I guess I just don't see a big year out of them even if they have a weaker conference schedule. I could see them losing 4 or 5 road games next year, and I think they'll lose a game or two at home.

Northwestern - 6.5 wins - OVER - I really want to get excited about Pat Fitzgerald as head coach of Northwestern. I enjoyed his career at Northwestern, and that 1995 Northwestern team is one of the great Cinderella teams of all time. I know he took over the program under very difficult circumstances after the tragic death of Randy Walker, so maybe he'll begin to make his mark on the program this year. Northwestern has had a randomly entertaining fooball program over the last 15 years or so, so there is potential for him to carve out a niche in the upper middle class of the Big 10.

Northwestern had a strange year last year. They lost to Duke at home, but also won a game at Michigan State. The Wildcats did not have a lot of great performances last year. Even their wins over bottom feeders like Minnesota and Nevada were squeakers.

Tyrell Sutton is still at Northwestern?? Wow, it seems like he has been a Wildcat forever. He should be one of the better backs in the Big 10, and the Wildcats return most of their defense. Their nonconference schedule is a joke, so they really need to find a way to beat Syracuse and Duke to get to 4-0 in the nonconference. If they win three games in the Big 10, they are going bowling this year.

Minnesota - 4.5 wins - UNDER - It's never a good sign when you take over a moderately respectable program and immediately run them into the ground. Tim Brewster has shown that he likes to recruit, but can he coach?? Minnesota was half-decent under Glen Mason, and at least they posed the threat of a dangerous running game. It seems like one of those situations where Minnesota bit off more than they could chew. They had a nice little run and decided that they could do better than Glen Mason. Unfortunately, they forgot that they're Minnesota!! You are never going to have elite talent at Minnesota, so the only way to win is with a great scheme and great coaching. Brewster has made it clear that he plans to out-talent people at Minnesota through recruiting, but he's never going to get the talent to do that no matter how hard he works on the recruiting trail.

Considering that Minnesota was the worst team in the Big 10 before Glen Mason arrived and now is the worst team in the Big 10 after he left, shouldn't there be a little more appreciation for what Mason did there?? Brewster seems like he has a little Gregg Robinson in him, which should be concerning. Apparently, Brewster has convinced himself that he can just recruit big at Minnesota and that the wins will come from there. That is not a winning formula at a place like Minnesota.

The Gophers have a ridiculously easy nonconference schedule ahead this year, but they are coming off a season where they lost at North Dakota State, Bowling Green, and Florida Atlantic plus all their Big 10 games. I don't see them making the leap to 5 wins this year.

Indiana - 5 wins - OVER - You can count on one thing with IU football this year. No matter what games are on at the same time, Ravi will find his way to the corner of the bar to tune into the Big 10 network's coverage of that IU-Murray State game!!

I didn't really expect to be taking any "overs" with the Hoosiers, but there's no reason they shouldn't go to a bowl game this year. Kellen Lewis is one of the better QBs in the Big 10, and their schedule is something out of the Kevin White playbook. They also don't play Ohio State or Michigan this year. Terry Hoeppner laid the foundation for some success in Bloomington, and Bill Lynch should be able to ride those coattails for another year or so and lead the Hoosiers to a bowl game.

Speaking of Indiana, I don't mean to pile on Indiana when they are down (especially since it's likely that Tom Crean will have them rolling in a few years), but how ugly is the 2008-09 season going to be in Bloomington?? Do they have anyone left?? Yikes. I'm usually a believer in the "front of the uniform" as Dick Vitale would say, but it's going to be awfully tough for IU to make the NIT this year. Give me 15-14 with IU turning down the NIT bid (much to Ravi's delight!).

Purdue - 6.5 wins - OVER - The fighting snout brooms!! Purdue is getting a little buzz as a Big 10 sleeper with Curtis Painter back at QB, but I don't really care what the preseason talk is with the Boilermakers. Purdue is incapable of winning anything more than 7-8 games. It's just not a program designed for a Big 10 title. Purdue gets the leftovers in the Midwest that ND, OSU, Michigan, Penn State, Illinois, and even Michigan State don't want. They are what they are. An overachieving program that can beat you when you are down but doesn't have the horses to go toe to toe with the big boys. Everyone was hyping up Purdue before their game with Ohio State last year, and they got blown off the field.

Joe Tiller gets laughed at a lot around college football, but I don't think the guy gets nearly enough credit. When has Purdue ever been bad since he's been there?? He wins about 7-8 games and goes to a mid-tier bowl game every year. Isn't that all you can ask for at Purdue?? Mark it down, Purdue is going to struggle when Tiller leaves. He was a much better coach than a lot of people realize. 2008 is his last season, so I would imagine that the players will be giving it their all to send him out with a winning season. Their nonconference schedule is pretty tough (Oregon and Notre Dame), but I still see Purdue fighting to 7 wins.

Since they are an ND opponent every year, I feel like I pay an inordinate amount of attention to Purdue. Memo to the athletic department, I'd be perfectly happy to give up following Purdue football to get some different teams on the schedule.

Michigan State - 7 wins - OVER - I can't make up my mind whether I should be buying or selling on Michigan State this year. I think they are certainly going to be better under Dantonio than they were under John L. Smith, but people are starting to talk about MSU like they are a sleeper for the conference championship this year. I think highly of Dantonio, and Ohio State's defense hasn't been quite as good since he left as defensive coordinator for the head job at Cincinnati. Dantonio made UC competitive, and it's entirely possible that he could have had the same success last year at UC that Brian Kelly did (I don't totally endorse that idea though). Michigan State currently has the 7th ranked recruiting class for 2009 on, so Dantonio appears to have them headed in the right direction going forward.

A lot of coaches really start to make their impact on a program in their second year, so 2008 could be a big statement year for the Dantonio era. They have a veteran QB with Brian Hoyer and Jevon Ringer back as a standout running back, so the pieces could be in place for a breakthrough year. MSU has some quality defensive players returning, and Cincinnati transfer Trevor Anderson sounds like he could be a big time pass rusher for the Spartans.

Michigan State opens the year at Cal, which could be a huge game for both schools. Very interesting game. Who do you all like in that one?? Probably Cal, but Michigan State is always frisky early in the year. If MSU wins that game, they could be in for a great year. Michigan State's season will come down to how many of their "big games" they can win this year: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. If they win 2-3 of those games, they could be in for a nice year.

Just looking at Sparty from an ND perspective, I feel like that game at Michigan State could be our 2nd toughest game this year.

Illinois - 8 wins - UNDER - OVERRATED ALERT!! Illinois is on the rise as a program, and I think their overall strength is a good thing for the league. When teams like Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa are competitive, it makes the Big 10 a much more respectable league. I just don't know about 8 wins for them this year with a very tough schedule and some key personnel losses. Illinois plays at Michigan, at Penn State, at Wisconsin, Missouri in St. Louis, plus Ohio State at home. I'm not sure I see them winning any of those games. There is no margin for error with them if they want to get to 8 wins.

Don't get me wrong, I think Ron Zook is doing an outstanding job at Illinois and he continues to recruit well. I just think that everyone expecting Illinois to keep rolling along with 9 wins is getting a little carried away. They are going to have a target on their backs this year, and it's not going to be as easy to sneak up on people. Illinois still has less overall talent than the big boys in the Big 10, so I see them falling back to the pack a little bit.

As far as personnel, Mendenhall is a huge loss, but they have some major weapons back. Arrelious Benn is an absolute stud and probably will be the best WR in the Big 10 this year. They need to find a way to get him the ball as many times as possible. I think Juice Williams will play better this year, but I'm still not sure I'd trust putting the entire offense in his hands. If they can run the ball effectively again this year, their offense should be pretty solid.

Michigan - 8 wins - UNDER - A lot of people are talking about a 3-9 type season at Michigan, but I think we're headed for one of two seasons in Ann Arbor:

1) Michigan comes out like gang busters, circles the wagons, surprises everyone with a new offensive scheme that throws everyone off guard, plays with a chip on their shoulder, and wins 9-10 games

2) Michigan is very up and down with some very shaky moments and also some occasionally inspired play. Their offense looks really spotty at times but shows some potential on the way to around 7-8 wins.

Is it possible that Michigan is going to be awful and win 3-4 games?? I guess, but I'm not seeing it. They've been a little down, but it's not like Lloyd Carr wasn't still bringing in good recruiting classes and talented players. Michigan is still Michigan, and they didn't have some Ty Willingham gap that killed off all their talent. I know they lost all their skill guys from last year and that Mallett transferred, but there are still a lot of solid pieces in place. They have a lot of players back in their defensive front seven, and they are always going to have talented skill guys stepping in.

I'll be interested to see how their offense looks this year. Are they going to be effective in the spread?? Is it going to take a couple years?? Who is going to play QB?? Are they going to run with the QB or have some sort of hybrid spread scheme?? I think the adjustment period with their offense might take a little while, but I could also see them being really dangerous once it starts to take off. Rodriguez is bringing a new mentality to the Big 10 that you would normally see down in the SEC. He is bringing new schemes, new philosophies, and new ideas to an old-fashioned league. Once he starts getting the players he needs, look out. Should be interesting, especially since he is at one of the more old-school stodgy programs out there. It will be strange to see Michigan in a spread, no-huddle type scheme, but that might be the best thing for that program. He is bringing a 2008 attitude to a 1970s program. I'm not discounting the possibility that Rodriguez could be a complete failure at Michigan, but then I think back to his West Virginia teams that just shredded people with less talent than what Rodriguez will have at his disposal at Michigan. I think Rodriguez will eventually put together some very explosive teams at Michigan if the fans let him grow into the job.

Game to watch: Utah at Michigan on August 30. Could be Appalachian State Part Deux. Still, I have to think that the Wolverines are going to be really cranked up for that game since it kicks off the Rich Rodriguez era. Could be a game that really builds some momentum for Michigan, or a potential disaster that sends them into a tailspin.

I'm certainly taking the under on Michigan, but I don't think they'll be awful by any stretch.

Wisconsin - 8.5 wins - OVER - It is somewhat of a shame to make this pick since Wisconsin's schedule is an absolute embarrassment, but the "over" for Wisconsin is the easiest pick in the Big 10 this year.

Honestly, Wisconsin has a very legitimate chance to run the table this year. Their toughest nonconference game is on the road at Fresno State (could be an interesting game), and they have to go to Michigan in early September. If they win those two games, everything could come down to that 8 pm showdown in Madison against the Buckeyes. Judging by past night game atmospheres in Madison, that is going to be a raucous crowd.

As always, Wisconsin is going to pound the ball with PJ Hill and Zach Brown, they are going to find some scrappy white guy who can barely throw to run the show at the QB position, and they are going to be tough and physical on defense. I'm surprised there isn't a Stocco brother out there for the Badgers to throw in at the QB spot.

Wisconsin is usually a very tough team to beat at home, so they are in for a great season with Ohio State and Penn State at home this year. I think 10+ wins is a very safe pick for the Badgers with the experience that they have back. I've always wanted to get up to Madison for a game. Sounds like it would be a blast. A Saturday Wisconsin game in Madison followed by a Sunday Packers game in Green Bay would be awesome. If we have any Wisconsin readers out there, feel free to weigh in on the possibilities of making that happen. If there is any available couch space, I'm in.

Penn State - 8.5 wins Penn State - UNDER - Ahh, Penn State. One of my favorite programs to discuss. Maybe I'm overly harsh toward the Nittany Lions, but I just don't see what there is to be excited about this program. Penn State fans, are you happy with where your program is at?? You've settled into the middle of the pack in the Big 10, and you can't really talk about your program being on the rise with an 80 year old coach.

Other than the one successful 2005 team (which was very fortunate to have a ridiculously easy schedule), Penn State has been a very mediocre program for a decade. They are right around 8-4 every year and usually lose to Michigan and Ohio State. They have been pulling in decent top 15-20ish recruiting classes, but nothing extraordinary. Penn State is not even the 3rd best program in the conference at this point. Again, this is the same Penn State that was dominant in the 70s and 80s and pretty much locked up the best talent in Pennsylvania every year. Penn State has the resources and potential to be a powerhouse type team that dominates mediocre/bad teams, wins big games, and competes for the best talent. They don't do any of those things these days. They should be top 10-15 every year, but instead they have become the equivalent of an NFL team that goes around 9-7 every year and loses in the first round of the playoffs. They aren't bad, but they are far from becoming a dominant program. If I was a Penn State fan, I'd be incredibly frustrated that the program has basically flatlined just so Joe Paterno can have something to do to keep himself busy. The fact that Terrelle Pryor from the heart of Penn State country is going to play his college ball at Ohio State is all you need to know about Penn State these days.

The good news is that Anthony Morelli is gone, and it sounds like whoever replaces him will be an upgrade. Penn State should be really good defensively, and their o-line sounds like it is going to be much better as well. Penn State's nonconference schedule is fairly favorable with their toughest game at home against Oregon State. I don't see them losing that game, so 4-0 looks reasonable heading into conference play.

One of the things I've noticed about Penn State in recent years is that they are an awful team on the road. They play like a completely different team on the road than they do at home. They will almost certainly lose on the road to Wisconsin and Ohio State, and I think they'll have some real problems winning at Iowa and Purdue. Put me down for 8-4 on the Nittany Lions and feeling good about it.

Ohio State - 10 wins - OVER - I think there are legitimate reasons for people to question an "over" pick, but I used this logic. If you put a gun to my head, am I really going to say that Ohio State is going 9-3 this year?? Nah. I think a worst case scenario for Ohio State is 10-2 this year, so you are talking about a push at worst.

Everyone is dwelling on the back to back BCS Championship game blowout losses, but the reality is that Ohio State has dominated the Big 10 in the Tressel era. The Vest is 45-11 in the Big 10. They have 18 starters back, several star players (Lauranaitis, Jenkins, Robiskie, Boone) decided to come back for their senior years, Beanie Wells is as good as any running back in the country, Tressel will get the most out of his players, they have plenty of motivation, and their schedule is not that bad with Michigan and Penn State at home. And that's before you get to Terrelle Pryor and whatever impact he might bring to the team. I don't see any reason why they won't win the Big 10 again this year. That game at Wisconsin could be tricky and maybe the Illinois game, but I would be very surprised if they lost more than one game in the Big 10 this year.

Ohio State fans have been pointing to this season for a couple years, so the expectations are as high as ever. The only question for OSU is whether they can run the table and get back to the BCS Championship game. That is the goal for this team, and I get the impression around town that anything less would be a disappointment. Those are ridiculously high standards and probably unfair, but that is the nature of the beast I guess. A few questions:

1) Todd Boeckman - While I won't go ahead and call Boeckman a liability, I think there are some serious questions about how good he is as a quarterback. He was solid for the first half of last year, but he really looked shaky down the stretch and threw 6 picks in the final three games. Boeckman doesn't throw a bad ball when he has time, but he needs to find a way to limit his mistakes. Boeckman apparently had a couple interceptions in the spring game, so I don't know what he'll look like this year. Even though he is a veteran guy, I think OSU fans are little nervous about how he will perform. Even if he struggles, I don't think there is any way that Terrelle Pryor takes over this veteran team as a freshman.

Boeckman will be fine against most of this schedule, but it will be a different animal on September 13.

Which leads me to my next question....

2) USC - The game of the year for the Buckeyes will be the trip to LA to meet up with the Trojans at the LA Colisseum. It is a big game for Ohio State if they want to rebuild their reputation in the college football world, and it will have major national title implications. If they get blown out in that game, it will deliver a serious blow to OSU's credibility and probably add fuel to the fire for all the Big 10 detractors. If they beat USC, they will have a clear path to the title game.

Needless to say, Ohio State will be geared up for this game and don't play anyone else noteworthy in the nonconference, but will it be enough?? USC has made their reputation by pounding midwestern teams into the ground, and I would imagine that Pete Carroll will have them sky high for that game. With USC's talent and weapons, it is going to be a daunting task for Ohio State.

What type of game plan will Tressel have for this game?? If he's planning to play conservative Jim Tressel ball and rely on his defense to get stops, he's kidding himself. They are going to need an aggressive game plan. How will Todd Boeckman perform under the bright lights?? Tough to say, but he can't turn it over and give the Trojans a short field.

Either way, Brent Musberger will be fired up for that one, and it should be quite an atmosphere.

3) Tressel - As I have said many times, I think Tressel is an outstanding coach who almost always gets the most out of his players, but I think that Ohio State will need him to come through with a more aggressive game plan if they want to beat USC or a prominent SEC team in a bowl game. Ohio State has been gliding through the Big 10 against lesser teams, and I think that the lack of quality teams in the Big 10 has hurt their ability to prepare for the big bowl games. There are so many great teams in the SEC that these programs are going against the best of the best coaches week in and week out. If you are not bringing an aggressive game plan every week, you are going to lose in that league. By the time they get to a bowl game, those teams have seen everything.

Tressel had a very passive "bend but don't break" style game plan in both bowl game losses, and they paid the price for it. LSU essentially did whatever they wanted in marching down the field for multiple scores. You simply cannot sit back in a zone all day against the top teams because they will gash you for big chunks of yardage. The only way to effectively stop a great team in college football is to get pressure on the QB with blitzes and aggressive schemes to force bad decisions and turnovers. LSU clearly had great talent on offense, but Tressel did not have a winning gameplan in that game. With all of the first round draft picks on their roster, it is hard to cite lack of speed or talent as the only reason why Ohio State gave up 38 and 41 points in back to back bowl games. Tressel needs to probably pop in a tape of the 2002 National Title game and recreate that type of gameplan for his next big game.

Tressel is beloved in Columbus and will probably never hear any real serious grumbling from fans if he continues to dominate the Big 10 and beat Michigan more often than not, but I can say that he will lose some of his luster if his team gets run off the field at USC this year. At the very least, Ohio State fans would like to see a competitive game out there, and they are counting on Tressel to have the team ready.