Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Analysis and breakdown of Orioles acquiring Bud Norris

For the second year in a row, the Baltimore Orioles are in the playoff hunt.  In 2013, the team has relied on an offense that is 4th in the major leagues in runs scored.  The pitching, however, has struggled and currently has a 4.30 team ERA - 26th in all of baseball.

So, upgrading the starting rotation was definitely a trade deadline target.  Although Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have been good, Jason Hammel has struggled, thus increasing the need for a veteran starter.  The 28 year old Norris is 6-9 with a 3.93 ERA for Houston this year, while being their most successful starter.

Houston, after dealing outfielder Justin Maxwell just minutes earlier, acquire AAA outfielder LJ Hoes from Baltimore.  The 24 year old is hitting .304/.406/.403 for the Norfolk Tides and has spent brief stints in Baltimore the last 2 seasons.  He is most likely a 4th outfielder in the big leagues.

Baltimore gives up a solid prospect in Hoes, their compensatory pick, and young lefty Josh Hader, but if they are going to make a run at Tampa and Boston, they needed more quality starting pitching to match up with what those two teams are running out there.

Expect Hoes to fill the spot of Justin Maxwell in Houston as the Astros deal away another one of their regulars, this time their staff ace.  Hader is only 19, and the 6'3 lefty is having a good season at Delmarva with a 2.65 ERA in 17 starts but is several years away from the big leagues at best.

On pace for 54 wins coming into today, the 'Stros may not make 50 now.  Besides the Baltimore rotation, the big winner here may be Texas, who still has 10 games remaining against what is now essentially a AAA Houston team.

Ian Kennedy to Padres trade breakdown and analysis

Two years ago it was hard to imagine Arizona giving up Ian Kennedy, who was enjoying a 21-4 season for the playoff bound D-Backs. At age 26 and under team control, he was an asset all MLB teams covet.

Fast forward to 2013, and Arizona is 7-14 in Kennedy's 21 starts and he has only 3 wins all year.  Patrick Corbin is now the ace of the staff and Wade Miley is having a strong season as well.  at 54-52 and 3.5 games behind LA, the D-Backs are at a point now where trading Kennedy makes sense.

With Corbin and Miley heading the rotation and injured starters Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill due to return to action very soon, Kennedy became expendable.  He still has some value at age 28 and an affordable salary for a club needing a starter, but the D-Backs really needed a lefty reliever and are comfortable with young starters Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado filling the #5 starter role.

With lefty reliever Matt Reynolds injured since June and fellow lefty Tony Sipp giving up homers in two of his last 3 outings, getting a premier lefty like Joe Thatcher will help Arizona down the stretch. Trying to gun down the red hot Dodgers will take a strong lefty to get Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier out.  Thatcher has a 2.10 ERA in 50 games this year, so the D-Backs get a lefty reliever to help out righties Brad Ziegler, Will Harris, Heath Bell, Josh Collmenter, and JJ Putz.

San Diego gets Kennedy to help out a rotation that has been underwhelming all year.  Eric Stults has been a pleasant surprise and Andrew Cashner is a promising youg starter, but Edison Volquez and Jason Marquis have been inconsistent.  Kennedy will give the Pads some needed depth and experience in their rotation.

The D-Backs are also getting a compensatory draft pick and San Diego's AA closer in Matt Stites.  Stites has 14 saves and a 2.08 ERA for the San Antonio Missions and could be the D-Backs closer of the future.

Arizona has 2 quality starters coming back soon and 2 young capable starters to fill the rotations back -end, so dealing the struggling Kennedy made sense while he still has value.  Plus, getting a premier lefty reliever was a necessity for Arizona as they make a run at the division this fall.  The addition of Stites and the draft pick are a plus too.

San Diego sees a young starter just 2 years removed from finishing 4th in Cy Young voting as a future front line starter as Kennedy is still just 28.  The Pads also traded from a strength as they have one of the leagues best bullpens and could afford to part with the 31 year old Thatcher.

Will it be enough for Arizona to make a legit run at LA?  Stay tuned...

Jake Peavy to Boston trade breakdown

East coast fans that went to bed early woke up this morning with the news that Jake Peavy was dealt to the Red Sox.  A 3-team deal, each had different motives in the trade and all 3 should be pleased with the results.  Although, as chronicled here, trade deadline deals are certainly buyer beware.  

The Red Sox acquired Peavy, who has a $15 million dollar player option next season, along with reliever Brayan Villarral from Detroit.  Peavy will help fill the Clay Buchholz void as the Red Sox deemed Peavy healthy and worth the investment.  The 32 year old Peavy is still effective, but no where near his 2007 Cy Young form.  He made the All Star team last year, but has limped to a 4.28 ERA in 2013 and is #3 or #4 starter at this point, although his experience is valuable in the Boston rotation.  

Villarreal had a very good 2012 season as well, posting a 2.63 ERA in 50 games, but has been sidelined with an injury for most of 2013.  His loss was part of the overall issues with the Tigers bullpen, but when he returns can be a key guy in the Boston pen.

Detroit's need to get in this trade was to get shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox.  It appears regular shortstop Jhonny Peralta will receive a heavy suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and Iglesias will help fill that role.  A .330 hitter this year in 215 at bats, Iglesias got off to a tremendous start for Boston playing a utility role.  He's slumped back down a bit since, but as a career .257 minor league hitter, he's an asset more for his defense.  The slick fielder was expendable because of the organizational depth at shortstop that Boston possesses.  Xander Bogaerts is one of the games top prospects at short, and Will Middlebrooks will come back up to fill the Iglesias role.  

The White Sox are in rebuilding mode and moved Peavy and Villareal to acquire some young talent.  Their prize is a big right handed outfield bat in Avisail Garcia.  Garcia hit .380/.460/.561 in 39 minor league games this season before Detroit called him up.  Baseball America listed Garcia as the Tigers best minor league power hitter headed into 2013. At 6'4, 240 pounds, Garcia is a corner outfielder who has 2 home runs for Detroit in 2013 playing at age 22.

The White Sox also added 2 young pitchers from Boston in the deal.  Francelis Montas is a 20 year old righty with 96 strikeouts in 85 innings in A ball.  He features an upper 90's fastball and with improved command could turn into a big time prospect.  JB Wendelken, out of South Effingham High and Middle Georgia College, is a reliever with a 2.77 ERA in 27 games this year in A ball.  

The final piece Chicago received was Cleulius Rondon, an infield prospect hitting .276 in short season A ball.

Overall, this trade will be judged by Red Sox fans on how Peavy performs this year and next, but his first 7-8 starts will go a long way in determining how this trade panned out in the short term for Boston.

Detroit will love Iglesias's glove, just don't expect a .330 hitter or someone that will hit anywhere close to Peralta's level.  But giving up Garcia was a fair price for the talent they are receiving.  

As for Chicago, they project Garcia as a big time power hitting outfielder that will be a cornerstone of their current rebuilding situation.  Montas could also turn out to be a big time contributor as well.

No way to determine the winner at this point, but the marquee name in Peavy was acquired by dealing a major league level player from a position of strength and 3 lower-level prospects.  Pretty good deal for Boston considering Peavy's contract and injury situation as there are not a lot of starting pitchers available this trade deadline.  No way they would give up a guy like Bogaerts for Peavy, so getting a veteran of his caliber for the pennant race seems like a necessary move.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Can Seahawks overcome loss of Harvin?

Bad news out of Seattle today as Percy Harvin's hip requires surgery and he will be out for a huge chunk of the 2013 season.  So how big of a deal is this for the Seahawks?  Well, with one of the leagues top defenses returning most of its core, the main offseason concern was to improve the offense.  With QB and RB set, an upgrade at WR was an obvious target.  

Acquiring Harvin cost a lot, with a 6 year 67 million dollar contract and a 1st round pick paid out by Seattle.  The Seahawks made the playoffs last year as a wild card team, but hopes they will return to the postseason took a big hit today.

Sidney Rice and Golden Tate had around 50 catches last year, but there is still no game breaker at receiver.  Marshawn Lynch will again be the feature back, but he has 600 carries the last 2 years.  Russell Wilson is terrific, but how will he perform in his 2nd year?

Cliff Avril will bolster the pass rush and Antoine Winfield was a solid pick up for the secondary, but to dismiss the loss of Harvin is a mistake.  There are no guarantees in the NFL and Seattle knew they needed more firepower at receiver and a replacement for Leon Washington at returner.  Harvin was expected to excel at both those roles.

The Seahawks may stay in contention until Harvin returns, they may even be a playoff team without him.  But the thinking that the defense will definitely be top 5 again and the offense will move the ball consistently with coordinators having tape on Wilson now is very optimistic.

This team knew they needed Percy Harvin.  You could tell by the contract he signed and the premium pick Minnesota received.  I can't see Seattle brushing off this injury and steamrolling through their schedule as fans in the pacific northwest are still predicting.  

The NFL gives teams two main ways to improve their teams in the offseason...the draft and free agency.  Losing an acquisition like this that costs a lot of cap space and a first round pick is not something you brush off - it's the type of acquisition that leaves you out of the postseason.

Tuesday quick hits

Trade deadline will be central here tomorrow, check in for analysis of all the moves and see who is set up for a strong run this fall.

But for today's quick hits...

 1). I don't think Andre Johnson is getting his due as an all time elite receiver.  Maybe because he's not the best "Johnson" WR of his era and doesn't play for NY/Dallas/NE.  Anyway, he has 3 of the top 25 receiving yards seasons in history, more than the other Johnson, Rice, or anyone else.  Pretty good.  Another year like last, and he's in the top 15 all time for yards.  If he was a Cowboy, we would hear about him constantly, too bad he plays for the wrong Texas team.  His QB suffers from this too, as Schaub is almost identical to Romo in terms of stats.

2). Who I think are the top 5 best teams coming into the 2013 college football season... 5). Ohio State.  4). Oklahoma State 3). Georgia 2). Stanford. 1)  Alabama

3). Story came out today that Adrian Peterson is predicting he will break Emmitt Smith's rushing record in 2017.  I haven't read the article, but I'll make my own prediction based on what I know about RBs in the NFL.  He's at 8,849 at age 27 and is about 9,500 shy of Emmitt.  So...quick math, AP is expecting that in the next 5 years he will average right around 2,000 yards.  Peterson is the leagues best back right now, but is on the wrong side of his prime and has only 1 season so far above 1,760 yards.  Further, last year was his 1st time starting 16 games.  I'll say that at the end of the 2017 season, AP will have 16,150 yards - ahead of Barry, but not quite up to Payton and Emmitt.

4). Top 5 Fantasy QBs for 2013 - 1). Rodgers 2). Brees 3). Ryan. 4). Newton 5). Griffin

5).  A big congrats to Starr's Mill High grad and Royals prospect on his promotion to AAA on Monday.  He responded in his 1st game as an Omaha Storm Chaser with a home run.

Looks like their is Bud Norris news, time to get set up for the trade deadline!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Analysis of Braves trade for Scott Downs

Frank Wren and the Braves did not try to hide the fact that they wanted a left handed reliever before trade deadline.  So, some 50 hours before the deadline, the Braves have the top available left handed reliever on their roster.  You could see a deal happening soon, especially after Jose Veras was dealt to Detroit this morning and a Jesse Crain deal seems imminent as well.

So what does Atlanta get in Downs?  He became a dominant lefty reliever in Toronto in 2007 after not being able to maintain a spot in the Jays rotation.  He struggled in his last outing, taking the loss after giving up 2 runs to Oakland, but hadn't given up a run since May 1st before that.  Now, Downs isn't a 7th/8th inning guy, but the Braves have those roles filled.  He's a lefty specialist, rarely facing more than a batter or two.   This way, Luis Avilan can maintain his role as the 7th inning guy, while Downs can be available to get out a lefty at any point in the 6th/7th/8th inning.  

And with so many of the potential playoff teams featuring solid lefties, Downs can be used late in games to face these guys.  The most notable team is Cincinnati, as the trio of Choo/Bruce/Votto has been tough on the Braves this season.  The Dodgers feature Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, the Cards have Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay, and the Pirates most dangerous hitter is lefty Pedro Alvarez.  

What did Atlanta have to give up for a guy that will likely not top 25 innings pitched this regular season as a Brave?  Cory Rasmus, a supplemental 1st round pick from 2006 out of Russell County High School in Alabama.  He made his MLB debut this year for the Braves and has been dominant in Gwinnett as a reliever.  The 25 year old is just about ready to be a big league reliever and can really run it up with his mid-90's fastball. 

A good prospect, but that's necessary when acquiring a player the caliber of Scott Downs.  Frank Wren was able to trade from a strength and improve that same strength at the same time.  

This was a move that improved the Braves in the best way as no available starting pitcher was a good fit when it came to contract status.  I see this team heading into August with excellent starting pitching, beginning with Mike Minor and Julio Teheran.  Brandon Beachy returns tonight and Kris Medlen was sharp in his last outing.  

Now, the bullpen is even better than before, when they were the best in the majors.  And acquiring a reliever from the Angels worked last time with Jordan Walden, why not pluck another from them?  

Will the Cubs ever win again?

Here we go again.  The Cubs dealt Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano last week, with closer Kevin Gregg probably next on the list to be shipped off this month.   Once again the Cubbies are sellers in July and out of the playoff race.  When, if ever, will we see the Cubs get to the playoffs and be a factor  there?   After missing the playoffs from 1945-1984, the Cubs have made it back just 6 times in the last 30 years.  Granted, it is a lot easier in the Wildcard era to make the postseason, but only once in those 6 times did they win a series and never made a World Series (que Bartman joke).

But here they are again in late July, 7 games under .500 and not much hope for the immediate future.  The 2013 Cubs are in the middle of the pack when it comes to runs scored, runs allowed, and run differential, but don't seem to have any type of aura around them to make you think they are close to becoming a contender.  They have a lineup featuring a lot of utility players and 4th outfielders that doesn't scare many MLB pitchers.  Anthony Rizzo is a good young player and Starlin Castro will be there for a while, but the lineup certainly needs more.  The rotation has been pretty solid, with Jeff Samardzija running up high K totals and Travis Wood putting up great start after great start.  But the rest of the staff has struggled, and it won't get any better now with Garza gone.  

There have been some good Cubs teams over the years, most notably 1984 and 2003.  The Kerry Wood/Mark Prior duo seemed ready to take the Cubbies to the next level, but both flamed out shortly after their run in 2003. 

So what has been the problem?  Ownership has given the team flexibility to spend, with a payroll in MLB's to half most seasons, including over 100 million in 2013. There have been free agent misses, most notably Alfonso Soriano, Todd Hundley, and Milton Bradley.  They let Greg Maddux walk in free agency in 1993, and released Jamie Moyer 25 years before he stopped becoming an effective lefty starter, and let Luis Gonzalez go before he led Arizona to a World Series title.

But where the Cubs have missed the most is the MLB Draft.  The draft is set up to help make the weaker teams stronger by giving them the chance to draft the top amateur players.  And while the draft is certainly not an exact science in baseball, you have to hit on more first round picks than the Cubs have recently.

But what is interesting is that when you look at the Cubs 1st round picks over the years, you see a lot of names of players that turned out to be really good.  Just not for the Cubs.  Andrew Cashner (2008) is a very good starter for San Diego,  Jon Garland has 136 wins in 13 seasons but 0 for the Cubs, and Josh Donaldson is starring for the 1st place A's this year.

While several other 1st rounders never made it to Wrigley, here is a list of the Cubs worst 1st round picks in the last 15 years.

5) Ben Christensen, 26th overall in 1999 - Known more for partially blinding an Evansville player while in college, Christensen was a character risk from the beginning.  Then, after 6 highly ineffective minor league seasons, he was out of pro ball.

4). Lou Montanez, 3rd overall in 2000 - Not that the 2000 draft was anything spectacular, but Montanez has 68 career hits in the bigs, most notably a HR in his 1st at bat.  Still hanging on, Montanez was signed last month by the Angels as he attempts to get back to the major leagues.

3). Hayden Simpson, 16th overall in 2010 - Simpson has had trouble getting pro hitters out ever since he signed with Chicago.  He has a 15.95 ERA in 2013 for an Independent league team after being released by the Cubs not even 3 years after being picked in the 1st half of the 1st round out of Southern Arkansas University.  Making things worse, other college pitchers taken in top half of the 1st in 2010 like Chris Sale and Matt Harvey are now MLB All Stars.

2). Matt Pawalek, 20th overall in 2005 - If there was a year not to whiff on your 1st rounder, it was 2005, where 37 of the 48 picks made the big leagues.  But the Cubs missed badly on Pawalek, a 6'3 lefty who was out of baseball by 2010 and his career included just 18 appearances above low A ball.  Looking for a starting pitcher with this pick, the Cubs could have taken Matt Garza, who was taken a few spots later by Minnesota.

1).  Ryan Harvey, 6th overall in 2003 - Another good draft with 27 of the 37 1st rounders reaching the majors, the 6th overall pick played just 16 games above A ball with the Cubs.  An outfielder with power, Harvey hit some home runs, but never hit for average and struck out at alarming rates.  The next 2 picks in the draft were Nick Markakis and Paul Maholm, who have turned into longtime major
league starters.

Now don't get me wrong here, every team misses on draft picks.  This is just a look at one team that has struggled over the years and an overview of what maybe led to some of their misfortunes.

On the bright side, it looks like the recent Cubs 1st rounders may produce some future stars.  I love their most recent pick in Kris Bryant who was the best hitter in the 2013 draft.  First rounder from 2012 Albert Almora is having a great year at Kane County and Javy Baez, the 9th pick in 2011 may be the clubs top prospect.  Plus, there is still hope 2007 top pick Josh Vitters could still make an impact.

So even with several misses, the latest group of Cub prospects may be the group that gets them headed back to the playoffs.  And maybe in a few years we can enjoy a trade deadline period where the beloved Cubbies are using a deep and talented farm system to be the ones acquiring a veteran star for a long awaited playoff run.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2013 NFL awards and Super Bowl Predictions

Here we are, part 3 of our 2013 NFL Predictions.  We broke down the divisions earlier, now let's see who will advance as well as who takes home the awards trophies this season.

MVP:  Arian Foster, Houston - He will be 27 when the season starts, but has just over 1,000 career carries and will enter the season as the feature guy for Houston and should be healthy, assuming he's over the calf injury from OTAs.

Defensive POY - Geno Atkins, Cincinnati - Atkins is no longer off the radar as a defensive force.  He registered 12.5 sacks in 2012 as a DT, and is a huge run stuffer in the middle as well.  More outside pass rush with James Harrison to go along with the return of Michael Johnson will allow Big Geno to wreak havoc this season.

Offensive ROY - Tavon Austin, St Louis - The Rams moved up for Austin in the draft and have been desperate for a playmaking WR.  Austin will be the #1 guy for Sam Bradford and I think he goes for 60+ catches and 1,000 yards as a rookie.

Defensive ROY - Bjoern Werner, Indianapolis - Werner will pick up where Dwight Freeney left off and could approach double figure sacks.  His presence will be key in the Colts season as their D must improve if they want to advance in the postseason.



WC Round:

Houston over NE
Baltimore over Miami

Division Round:

Houston over Denver
Cincinnati over Baltimore

AFC Championship Game:

Cincinnati over Houston


WC Round:

Green Bay over Seattle
Washington over Chicago

Division Round:

Green Bay over San Francisco
Atlanta over Washington

NFC Championship Game

Atlanta over Green Bay

Super Bowl

Atlanta over Cincinnati

2013 NFL Predictions Part 2

On to the AFC this morning, before wrapping up predictions week with awards, playoff teams, and the Super Bowl champ.

AFC West

1).  Denver - The Broncos have a strong squad back, even if there is no Von Miller until October.  The Wes Welker and Ryan Clady additions will help the offense, and the D needs to stay healthy to help Payton & company out.

2). Kansas City - I really like what KC has done since last year.  The Andy Reid hire was a great start, as was getting Sean Smith from Miami.  He will now team up with Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry to form one of the leagues best secondaries.  Alex Smith was brought in to play QB, and resigning Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Albert were key moves as well.  Throw in the big #1 overall pick in Eric Fisher coupled with a healthy Jamaal Charles and you have an AFC West contender.

3). San Diego - The Chargers shored up their OL with Max Starks and DJ Fluker which should help out Philip Rivers this year.  Keenan Allen is a potential steal as a 3rd rounder and the D needs new acquisitions Manti T'eo and Dwight Freeney to be productive.

4). Oakland - Candidate #1 in the JeDeveon Clowney sweepstakes is the Raiders.  Matt Flynn is now the QB and a new OC may help Darren McFadden finally get going.  The D is rebuilt, but still shaky, even with the return of Charles Woodson

AFC South

1). Houston - The Texans return an outstanding defense and still have weapons in Arian Foster and Andre Johnson on offense.  I liked the pick of DeAndre Hopkins to give QB Matt Schaub another playmaking target.

2). Indianapolis - Indy rebuilt their OL to help protect franchise QB Andrew Luck a little better this year.  He will also need the trio of Vic Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Donald Brown to give the Colts some sort of running game.  The defense is still a question mark and is now without longtime leader Dwight Freeney.  They'll need Bjoern Werner to be good right away to help with the pass rush.

3). Tennessee - If Jake Locker stays healthy, this could be a decent offensive team with the 2 back attack of Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene.  Drafting Chance Warmack will help a revamped OL as well.

4). Jacksonville - Candidate #2 for Clowney, the Jags are still a mess.  They're younger and more talented, especially on D, but big time QB issues will keep them from getting past the 3-4 win mark.

AFC North

1). Cincinnati - It's time for the current version of the Bengals to put it all together.  They are led by their D, which was kept intact and added more pass rush with James Harrison ans monster DL Margus Hunt.  Dre Kirkpatrick is back and healthy with Terrance Newman around for depth.  If Andy Dalton progresses this season, this could be a 12-13 win team.

2). Baltimore - The offseason personnel losses for the SB champs are well chronicled.  However, this will still be a good offensive team and studs like Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata return and Lardarius Webb returns from injury.

3). Pittsburgh - Although several veterans are gone from last years team, this is still an old team attempting to get younger and better.  This transition will likely lead to a 7-8 win season as Pittsburgh won't be as good on either side of the ball as last season.

4). Cleveland - Another candidate for Clowney, the Browns still do not have any real offensive threats.  Paul Kruger will help improve the defense, but the new Cleveland regime is counting on Brandon Weeden to really improve from his rookie campaign.

NFC East

1). Miami - Like Cincy, I think the Dolphins had an excellent offseason and are my pick to win the NFC East.  I'm a fan of Ryan Tanneyhill and he's got 2 solid weapons at WR now in Hartline and Mike Wallace.  New additions to the OL will help as well and the Dolphins D should be solid again.  Dion Jordan and Brent Grimes will be counted on to contribute immediately to help interrupt the Pats current run of division titles.

2). New England - We will get a true sense of Tom Brady's greatness this year as he's been stripped of his main weapons.  Danny Amendola was a good pick up, but Belichick's D will need to get the Pats some W's this year.

3). Buffalo - Doug Marrone inherits a talented but inconsistent group in Buffalo.  New QB Kevin Kolb will try to feed CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson as much as possible and hope the D can be better than last year.

4). NY Jets - The countdown to the Geno Smith era is on as this will once again be a subpar offensive team with Mark Sanchez running things.  Defense will be good, not great as the Jets will hope their big DL can keep teams out of the end zone.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 NFC Predictions

Time to go on record with NFL Predictions as we inch ever so close to the Hall of Fame game.  There's some really good young teams heading into this season and as good a group of QBs as we've seen in a while.  We will start today with the NFC, predict the AFC later today, and finally do playoff and award predictions.

NFC East

1). Washington - Griffin will be back week 1 and the Skins also get Brandon Meriwether and Brian Orakpo back on D.
2). Dallas - Most talent in the division but they've made it impossible to pick them to win anything lately.  They need huge year from Romo and have his top 3 targets stay healthy.
3) NY Giants - Offense will keep them in the WC hunt, but G-Men miss postseason again
4). Philly - Chip Kelly will have a tough learning year but I think we will see some potential here.

NFC West

1). San Francisco - Great depth and talent on defense and Kaepernick is dangerous on the other side, especially now with the Crabtree/Boldin duo outside.
2). Seattle - Loved the Harvin signing and the secondary will be the NFL's best.  They can beat out SF here if they get a strong pass rush and Wilson continues to progress.
3).  Arizona - I don't think the Cards are that far away from competing with the top 2 here.  They'll need their 2 big veteran newcomers, Carson Palmer and Rashad Mendenhall to stay healthy and perform well to help the offense.  The defense should be very good and deep, maybe top 5 in the NFC.
4). St. Louis - It's time for Sam Bradford to become a top 15 QB if the Rams are going to stay out of the cellar.  The running game will be tough to get going with the loss of Steven Jackson.

NFC South

1). Atlanta - The Falcons offense will be even better with Steven Jackson, but there is a bit of a worry at OL.  If the new group can mesh, the only real question mark becomes pass rush.  Although Osi Umenyiora shoud be an upgrade from John Abraham, more will be needed from some of the young DL as well.
2). New Orleans - The Saints will see an improvement with Coach Payton returning, but their defense  is still a mess.  Now in a 3-4, Will Smith is now a stand up rush linebacker and John Jenkins was drafted to take up space in the middle.
3). Carolina - Carolina should be improved from 2012 with a strong nucleus returning.  They'll need the defense to be better, but draft pick Star Lotelelei will definitely help.
4). Tampa - There's some reason for optimism in Tampa with Doug Martin's rookie season and the Darrelle Revis acquisition.  Problem with Tampa is they haven't been able to get any consistency from Josh Freeman.  Another slow start could mark the beginning of the Mike Glennon era.

NFC North

1). Green Bay - An improved running game will help offset the loss of Greg Jennings.  Too many teams in this division have big time areas of concern to take anyone but Aaron Rodgers team here.
2).  Chicago - With Alshon Jeffery poised to break out opposite Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler and company  could have an offense to match their always tough D.
3). Minnesota - The AP chase for 2,500 will be fun to watch, but it's tough to trust Christian Ponder, especially with the loss of Harvin.  Jennings and the addition of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson were nice, but Harvin was a veteran home run threat the Vikes needed to take some pressure off AP,
4). Detroit -The Lions are still a bit of a mess even with their QB recently extended.  The secondary is still scary and the D will need the Suh/Fairley combo to really be stout.

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Urban Meyer players in trouble

News broke today that Ohio State starting running back Carlos Hyde has been dismissed from the Ohio State football team for allegedly assaulting a woman at a Columbus bar.   In addition, starting corner Bradley Roby has his spot on the Buckeye squad in doubt after being detained by bouncers a night club.

More trouble for Urban Meyer's players?  As the NY Times reported earlier this month, Meyer had major issues with arrests during his tenure in Gainesville, with many of the arrests being very serious crimes.  Now, in the same calendar month that Meyer had to field questions about Aaron Hernandez, he has to deal with two separate incidents on the same night in Columbus with two of his marquee players.

Not good news for a coach and a team that expects to repeat their unbeaten season from 2012 and have a shot at the BCS Title game next January.  

Now at running back Ohio State will have to turn to RS Junior Rod Smith, who played 75 offensive snaps last year, and Bri'Onte Dunn, a sophomore with potential but only 133 career rushing yards.

If Roby is dismissed, that could be even more difficult for Ohio State to overcome than the loss of Hyde.  Roby's experience is expected in the secondary to help offset the loss of Travis Howard.  If Roby does not return, Adam Griffin and Doran Grant will be the only 2 corners with any real experience and will certainly hurt the Buckeyes depth at corner. 

The Hyde loss though hurts for sure, as he came up just 30 yards shy of becoming Meyer's 1st 1,000 yard back ever.  His presence as a runner was really going to help take some pressure off of Braxton Miller.

So I guess it's a good thing Meyer is used to winning without a top notch runner, as he won a national title one year without having a runner eclipse even 700 yards.  

And it's also a good thing he's used to dealing with questions about legal issues when it comes to his players - because more are coming.

5 Sleeper Heisman Contenders

Every college football fan loves a good Heisman Trophy debate, but determining pre-season candidates is never as easy as it seems.  Today we will look at 5 under the radar guys that could spring into Heisman contention this fall.

We all know about JaDeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater, Todd Gurley, and the other common names that have come up in Heisman candidate conversations.

But who had Manziel on their watch list last July?  It was supposed to be a Matt Barkley/Landry Jones/Montee Ball race to New York.  RG3 was far from a household name in the summer of 2011, with Kellen Moore, Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, and Trent Richardson getting the hype.  Cam Newton came from virtually nowhere in 2010 with returning winner Mark Ingram most people's pre-season pick.

So who is off the radar in 2013?  Here are some guys on some teams that can contend that could become the next household name in college football.

5). Blake Bell, Oklahoma - Although Bell has not officially been named the starter in Norman, it's believed that the former head of the "Belldozer" package will be Coach Bob Stoops guy this fall.  At 6'6, 265, Bell is an excellent athlete that can throw the ball well, despite only making 16 throws in 2012.  Bell had 11 rushing TDs last year and appears ready to take the reigns from Landry Jones and possibly make a run at a Heisman Trophy as well.

4). Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida - Already one of the top returning DBs in the SEC, Coach Will Muschamp has mentioned this summer that Purifoy will also have a role on offense.  This will give Purifoy, a tremendous athlete, a chance to shine in many different ways this fall.  If the Gators start fast, the Heisman hype will follow.  And as you can see in the clip below, he's not bad on special teams either.

3). Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska - Abdullah appears to be the top rushing option for a Huskers team that wants to run and should be in the Big 10 title hunt again in '13.  Abdullah was spectacular last season, running for 1,137 yards and 8 TDs while averaging 5 yards per carry.  No OSU on the schedule this year coupled with 5 home games to start the season means Abdullah could quickly get in the Heisman hunt with a quick start.

2). Rakeem Cato, Marshall - Cato is a guy who is really off the radar, but is a phenomenal player.  Cato topped 4,000 yards and threw 37 TDs last season and was named C-USA Player of the Year.  His top 2 targets are back as well, meaning Cato should once again be slinging the ball up and down the field, and another strong conference run may push him onto the Heisman map.

1). Brett Hundley, UCLA - Hundley had a very strong rookie season last year, leading the Bruins to the PAC-12 Title game while throwing for 3,700 yards and 29 TDs.  While Marcus Mariota will receive most of the Pac-12 hype, expect Hundley to improve in '13 and have UCLA back in the hunt for a BCS game.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

5 Sleeper National Title Contenders

Most of the national media has given us the BCS title game contenders as well as Heisman candidates, preseason All-Americans, and other award nominees.  But who is being overlooked?  Not many had Collin Klein and Kansas State making serious runs at the Heisman and title game last year.  Notre Dame wasn't on many lists either.  I don't seem to recall Auburn and Cam Newton getting much preseason love in 2010.

Let's run down some candidates for the BCS title that the talking heads may be overlooking.

Oregon State -  The Beavers started strong in '12 and bring back 15 starters, including both experienced QBs, Storm Woods, and Brandin Cooks on offense.  The defense will really miss Jordan Poyer, but the other 3 returning starters in the secondary will help offset his loss.  The schedule sets up nicely too with Stanford and USC at home.  Maybe the Civil War in Eugene could have national championship implications on OSU's side this year.  

Miami (FL) - Stop me if you've heard this before - the 'Canes have a ton of talent stockpiled in South Florida.  With almost every starter back, Miami is still young, but there is some experience there.  Miami also avoids Clemson on the schedule, but has to travel to Tallahassee on November 2nd.  

Michigan - It's strange to see the Wolverines on a sleeper list, but that's what Michigan is this year.  Ohio State is getting all the Big 10 hype, while Michigan just happens to have a really good team back as well.  I'm a big fan of Devin Gardner and he has Fitzgerald Toussaint back to run the ball as well.  The OL needs to be rebuilt but the skill position players are there and the defense will be solid. Don't rule out OSU-Michigan replicating their 2006 battle of the unbeatens.

Louisville - As we mentioned here, Louisville has the talent and the schedule to make an unbeaten run in 2013 as well.  They also have a beat down of SEC power Florida in last year's Orange Bowl to point to for additional credibility.  Charlie Strong turned down bigger jobs to stay at U of L and part of that reasoning was the opportunity the Cards have in 2013.

Texas - Another strange entry to a sleeper list, Texas has a ton of talent back on both sides of the ball.  Coming off 5 and 4 loss seasons, the Horns have fallen a bit out of the spotlight but seem to have a strong mix of players for 2013.  An experienced line coupled with returners at key positions in David Ash and Johnathan Gray gives Texas fans lots of hope for this season.  Their toughest road game of the year is TCU, and the Horns have a bye week before heading to Fort Worth.

There you have it, 5 off the radar national title contenders for 2013.  Coming up next, our sleeper Heisman candidates.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Top 10 Returning Running Backs in college football

Part 2 of our countdown gives us the top 10 running backs heading into the 2013 season.  There were a ton of big-time ball carriers that have moved on to pro careers from 2012.  Some of the best to move on from last season include La'Veon Bell (MSU), Rex Burkhead (Nebraska), Eddie Lacy (Alabama), Montee Ball (Wisconsin), Gio Bernard (UNC), Stephon Jefferson (Nevada), Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina), and Jonathan Franklin (UCLA) among many others.

Who is next up in the elite group of running backs?  Here are 10 names that you'll need to know before the 2013 season kicks off.

10). Bishop Sankey, Washington - Sankey really came on in 2012, taking over for Chris Polk, the schools #2 all-time rusher.  The 5'10, 200 pound back ran for 1,439 yards and 16 TDs, including 205 in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 9)   Johnathan Gray, Texas - Gray is poised for a breakthrough 2013 after being eased into the role as a feature back in 2012.  The former blue chip recruit ran for 700 yards on 150 carries last season and could double those marks in 2013. 8).  Venric Mark, Northwestern - This is a guy that I love to watch run the ball.   A slippery back at 5'8, Mark posted 7 100+ yard games in 2012 for the 10 win Wildcats.  Mark has a great chance to better his 1,366 yards and make a run at a 1,500 yard season while challenging to be the Big Tens leading rusher. 7).  Duke Johnson, Miami (FL) - Randy "Duke" Johnson becomes the 2nd sophomore to make the list after an excellent rookie campaign for the U.  A blazing sub 4.4 runner, Johnson came up just short of a 1,000 yard freshman campaign and appears to be the cream of the crop when it comes to runners in the ACC this season. 6).  James White, Wisconsin - A big play running back, White will get a chance to shine in 2013 with no more Montee Ball in the Badger backfield.  White will still share carries with sophomore Melvin Gordon, but White has been shining despite rarely being "the" feature runner on his team, even in high school. 5).  Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona - Carey was the NCAA leader in rushing yards in 2012 with 1,939, highlighted by a 366 yard - 5 TD game against Colorado.  Carey is a very explosive runner that finds plenty of space in Rich Rod's offense.

4).  De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon - Another big play back, Thomas has only 147 carries his 1st 2 seasons but has been a huge threat in the Oregon passing game.  Always a threat to bust a big run, Thomas may be the most dangerous player in college football with his game-breaking ability. 

3)   Lache Seastrunk, Baylor - The Baylor Bears were the winners in the Oregon "recruiting services" scandal as they were able to land Seastrunk.   While not seeing a lot of action early on the 2012 season, the Baylor upset of Kansas State really sprung Lache onto the college football map. After gashing K-State for 185 yards, Seastrunk topped 135 yards in his final 3 games as well and found the endzone 5 times in his final 5 games.

2)  TJ Yeldon, Alabama - Yeldon is the next man up for Nick Saban's rushing attack.  After backing up Eddie Lacy in 2012 but still amassing 1108 yards, Yeldon should star in 2013 as a starter. 

1)   Todd Gurley, Georgia - Tailback U is back in Athens and Gurley is our #1 returning running back  in 2013.  With great vision, cutting ability, and power, Gurley is a guy that is deadly as a ball carrier. As a true freshman in the SEC last year, Gurley ran for 1,385 yards including 9 100+ yard games and 17 TDs.

Top 10 returning college quarterbacks in 2013

As we hit the 6 week mark today in the countdown to the 1st college football Saturday, we will continue our lists and previews today with the top 10 returning quarterbacks in college football.  This list is based on how good these QBs are in the college game, not on NFL Draft potential.  There are quite a few guys that just missed the cut on this list, like UNCs Bryn Renner, Derek Carr of Fresno State,  and Connor Shaw of South Carolina.  

10). David Fales - Fales is probably the least recognizable name on the list, but Fales led San Jose State to an 11-2 record last season, including a near upset in Palo Alto against Stanford.  He threw for almost 4200 yards at a 72.5% completion rate.  His 170.8 QB rating was only surpassed by AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray.

9). Taylor Martinez - A 4 year starter, Martinez has progressed nicely each season as the Cornhuskers signal caller.  Always a threat with his legs, Martinez could easily top 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 
rushing yards in 2013 and have the Huskers once again in the Big 10 title hunt.

8). Jordan Lynch - Lynch was the most dominating player in the MAC last year, throwing for over 3,000 yards and rushing for over 1,800 and accounting for 44 TDs.  While he struggled in the Orange Bowl against FSU, he remains a deadly dual-threat QB that should have his way with MAC defenses again this year.

7).  Marcus Mariota - Mariota was spectacular as a freshman, helping lead Oregon to a 12-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl win.  Oregon was once again close to getting into the BCS title game and were unbeaten in regulation (Les Miles was impressed).  The explosive Mariota averaged over 7 yards per rush, tallying over 700 yards on the ground while passing for 2,700 yards and 32 TDs to just 6 INTs.

6). Aaron Murray - A 4 year starter, Murray had the Dawgs within a few yards of a BCS title game appearance.  Murray has a shot at 4,000 passing yards this year with his entire OL back and a strong group of receivers.  He was the nations 2nd rated passer in 2012 and is on the brink of several SEC career records.

5). Tahj Boyd - While putting up 3,800+ passing yards in each of the past 2 seasons, Boyd has become the clear cut top QB in the ACC.  He has a chance to be remembered as one of the Tigers all time greats if he can accomplish 2 things.  Win the ACC and finally knock off the hated a Gamecocks.

4). AJ McCarron - Amazing that a 2 time national champion QB fails to make the top 3 on this list, especially when McCarron led the nation in passer rating last season.  Throwing for almost 3,000 yards with 30 TDs to only 3 INTs, McCarron has an excellent chance to make a run at a 3-Peat this season.

3). Teddy Bridgewater - The possible #1 overall pick in next years NFL Draft (sorry JaDeveon), Bridgewater has the great size and arm strength that scouts love.  And, he happens to also be a terrific college quarterback for the Louisville Cardinals.  Playing with a broken wrist and a sprained ankle for long stretches last season, Bridgewater still managed to lead the Cards to a BCS win and Big East title, throwing for 3,700 yards and 27 TDs.

2). Braxton Miller - Miller led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten season last year, and now that they are bowl eligible, we can possibly see Miller on some bigger stages.  A perfect fit for an Urban Meyer team, Miller really improved as a passer last season, topping 2,000 passing yards to go along with 1,200 on the ground.  He is expected to once again carry the load, so expect Ohio State's season successes and failures to fall on Miller.

1). Johnny Manziel - The top of the list heading into 2013 is the reigning Heisman winner, Johnny Football.  While he started 2012 with decent numbers in a loss to Florida, the redshirt freshman only improved throughout the season.  His Heisman moment came during the 1st half of the Alabama game, when he torched the Tide defense en route to the A&M victory.  He was even more dominant in the Cotton Bowl, ripping the Oklahoma defense to shreds in a blowout win.  Manziel finished his epic 2012 campaign with 1,400 rushing yards and threw for 3,700, accounting for a remarkable 47 TDs.

Friday, July 19, 2013

College Football Preview: LSU

LSU has been on quite a run the last decade.  Ever since Nick Saban's 2003 squad upset Oklahoma to win the national title, the Tigers have seemingly been in the title hunt each season. The '05 and '06 teams went 11-2 and in '07, Les Miles led his team to a national title as the first 2 loss champion.  After back to back 8 and 9 win seasons, the last 3 LSU squads have won 10+ games while the '11 team played for yet another Crystal ball.

So what do we expect of the '13 version of the Tigers?  The college football poll website does a consensus ranking that shows LSU with a ranking of 15.  A little low, but considering the talent and experience they lost, also seems fair.  LSU had more NFL Draft early entrants than any other school with 11, and while the losses of Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Brad Wing, and Chris Faulk can won't hurt too much, it's the losses on D that put LSU in a tough place.

But LSU always seems to reload on defense and even with the losses of Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, and Bennie Logan, they have some young players ready to step up.  First on that list is DT Anthony Johnson, who could go from back up to 1st round pick in 1 season.  He is joined by 3 other new starters on the D-Line but after the 1st string, no other Tiger DL has any game experience.

Several starters do return that will continue to have a huge impact, including Craig Alston, Jalen Mills, and Lamin Barrow.  But how this group meshes with a lot of new pieces will go a long towards determining the Tiger's fortunes in '13.

There is a chance that for the 1st time in a while, LSU may have to depend on its offense to win some big games.  Zach Mettenberger returns and while he threw for 2500+ yards, seemed to struggle in some of the Tiger's big games.  Although he did show some potential in the Alabama game,  LSU needs his arm to open up their running game, which is what they do best.

Four of the five starters on the OL return and while starting RB Jeremy Hill knocked a Baton Rouge man unconscious recently, Alfred Blue is coming back from an injury and can start as well.

Playmakers are available for Mettenberger in Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, which could make the offense much improved from '12, where they only averaged 18.8 points per game against teams that finished the season ranked and barely squeaked 12 points out against 0-8 Auburn.

Unfortunately for LSU, the schedule isn't much easier in '13.  Coach Les Miles reminded us all of this yesterday during his rant on SEC scheduling.  He knows his team once again has a much tougher road to Atlanta than Alabama and he let everyone know his displeasure at SEC Media days.

So is this a reloaded defense with young studs that won't miss a beat?  Is the offense much improved and ready to be the Tigers best unit?  Most importantly, can LSU make it through their brutal schedule?

All this being said, I'll get to the fun part now...making predictions.

I'm sure Coach Miles wishes he could start with an opponent other than dangerous TCU.  The Horned  Frogs return playmaking QB Trevone Boykin and his top target in Josh Boyce along with 10 returning starters on D. However, I don't see LSU losing back to back non-conference game and the Tigers squeak out a close one.

The next 2 home games against UAB and Kent St should be easy wins, but the following week at home against Auburn is worrisome.   The other Tigers almost upset LSU in 2012 and this game is a week before the LSU-UGA showdown in Athens.  Being at home should be enough to get LSU the W, but I expect it to be close again.

The next 6 weeks are what will make or break the Tigers season.  At UGA, at Mississippi St, vs Florida, at Ole Miss, vs Furman, at Alabama.  Wow.  Thankfully LSU has a bye after the Bama game, but that's as tough a stretch as you will see.

I see LSU falling to UGA, knocking off MSU (making 14 straight), but losing again to Florida.  The Ole Miss game is scary because the Rebs are 2-2 their last 4 in the series and almost won in Baton Rouge last year.  I say Mississippi takes this one.  Furman will be a blowout and Bama will get its 3rd straight against the Tigers.

After the bye week, LSU gets it rolling again and knocks off Texas A&M and Arkansas to finish their season at 8-4.

But again, this is LSU football.  With so many toss up games, they could easily use the UGA game to springboard them to another championship run.  However, lose the opener and it could be a long season.

Hopefully for Tiger fans, the wins will come in bunches as those in Baton Rouge have become accustomed to watching their team finish in the top 10 and they still have a sour taste from the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

But you can certainly never count out Les Miles, as he has shown over the years the old Mad Hatter can strike at any time.  He may squeak out 2-3 extra wins this year with an onside kick here and there, fake field goals, and other special teams surprises.  That's part of what makes this team so intriguing heading into 2013.

The '03 National title helped the Tigers geaux on a remarkable 10 year run.  Will 2013 be the start of another or signal the end of an era?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Impact of Recent Trade Deadline deals

For many years, the MLB trade deadline has provided contenders in both leagues an opportunity to acquire help in needed areas for the final few months of the season. While we mostly hear about the big names headed to contenders each summer, we often forget about the prospects involved in the deal that in some cases turn into stars.

Most baseball fans know some of the famous ones: Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell, Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano for AJ Pierzynski among many others. But recently, there have been quite a few trades that have netted bottom-dwellers big time players that are starting to become household MLB names.

Here's a few of the names involved in recent trades that are shining, but not yet playing for a contender.

 1). 2012 - Blue Jays send Eric Thames to Seattle for Steve Delebar - a simple 1-for-1 deal last year turned into a landslide win for Toronto. Delebar is 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA and was an All-Star in 2013 while Seattle designated Thames for assignment last month

 2). 2012 - Brewers trade Zach Greinke to Anaheim for Jean Segura - Greinke is still a quality pitcher, but he only made 13 starts for Anaheim and Milwaukee wasn't going to resign him anyway. Instead, they flipped him to a desperate Angels club at the end of July and now have one of the top shortstops in the game.

 3). 2011 - Mets trade Carlos Beltran to SF for Zack Wheeler - Beltran played 44 games as a Giant as SF missed the postseason, and Wheeler is now with the big league club in NY as one of the games top young starters.

But quite a few more deals have had a direct impact on the pennant races so far in '13. All the trades listed came during June/July of 08-13, but there were certainly other deals in the offseason that had a huge impact this season as well, like Baltimore getting Adam Jones for Erik Bedard in 2008. 

 Here is a list of the top 5 trade deadline deals the last 5 years by "sellers" where the prospects they received are fueling their current October run. 

 5). Cleveland trades Victor Martinez to Boston for Nick Hagadone, Bryan Price, and Justin Masterson - The Indians used the trade deadline in 09 to acquire their current staff ace in Masterson. Cleveland didn't have the resources to resign V-Mart and used the Red Sox to help them acquire a guy that has led them to 51 wins in the 1st half in '13. Masterson has 3 shutouts this year in 29 starts, including a team high 10 wins. 

 4). Pirates send Nate McLouth to Atlanta for Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke - While McLouth flamed out in Atlanta, the Pirates got the starting pitching they needed to become a legit contender. Morton has been strong again this year in his 1st 6 starts since coming off the DL and Locke is 8-2, 2.15 ERA and was an All Star anchoring the 56 win Pirates. 

 3). Arizona trades Dan Haren to Anaheim for Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez, and Patrick Corbin - The D-Backs parted ways with an ace in Haren, but he was up for a big contract and Zona was in the midst of a 97 loss season. So, why not move him and stockpile young pitching? Arizona ended up doing better than that, getting Corbin, the 24 year old All Star who is 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA for the division leading D-Backs. 

 2). A's send Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to Chicago for Eric Patterson, Matt Murton, Sean Gallagher, and Josh Donaldson - This trade deadline deal in 08 netted Oakland 3B Donaldson, who is an MVP candidate this year for the 1st place A's and is currently hitting .310/.379/.522. 

 1). Baltimore moves Koji Uehara to Texas for Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis - Davis was a big power guy in Texas, but was always high strikeouts/low average at the same time.  The Orioles took a chance on the big 1B at the 2011 trade deadline and he's helped power the O's to a contender in the loaded AL East. This looked like a steal last year when Davis hit 33 HR, but the lefty swinger is on a torrid pace in '13, on pace to top 60 HR and 160 RBI. 

Now of course guys like Hunter Pence, acquired last year by SF, can help lead their new teams to World Series victories. And, of course, not all prospects amount to much...just ask Cleveland fans 
about Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald. 

But it's interesting to look back at these deals and see what veterans gave their team a mid-season lift and which prospects turned into All-Stars. 

Either way, it's that time of year again with the trade deadline now less than 2 weeks away.  And if your team isn't acquiring an arm or bat for the stretch run, take solace in knowing that by dealing one of your veterans, you may end up with a future star.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Louisville Athletics run may not be over

The Louisville Cardinals Athletic department oversaw a tremendous run of accomplishments during the 2012-13 school year.  The Cardinals won 8 conference championships, highlighted by Football, Men's Basketball, and Baseball.  However, it's what the Cardinals did in the post season that made the Louisville sports season so remarkable.  And this may be just the beginning...

You could sense the 12-13 sports year could be a good one last summer.  The football team had assembled a ton of talent under Charlie Strong and although they finished 2011 with a 7-6 record and a bowl loss to NC State, you got the feeling that the program was headed in the right direction.  The baseball team lost in the Tucson, AZ regional, but the Arizona team that elimated the Cardinals was the eventual national champion.

The men's basketball team was inching closer and closer to a national title, reaching the Final 4 in 10-11 before falling to rival and champion Kentucky.  The women's team bowed out in the 2nd round to Maryland, but the young squad played the Terps close and was certainly bound for bigger and better things.

When midnight struck to bring in 2013, things had begun to roll.  The football team was preparing for the Orange Bowl, men's basketball had just knocked off Kentucky, and all signs pointed towards great things during the 2nd semester.

Then it started.  Terrell Floyd intercepted the 1st Florida Gator pass of the game and returned it for a TD thus setting the tone for a 33-23 Orange Bowl win that wasn't as close as the score reflected.

Men's basketball continued their run despite a 3 game losing streak at the end of January.  Then, after losing to Notre Dame in the game of the year in men's college hoops, the Cards won their next 17 games, netting them Big East and National Champion honors.

Crazy thing is the Louisville women's team also participated in the game of the year in women's hoops, but this one didn't go into overtime.  The Lady Cards knocked off heavy tournament favorite Baylor in the Sweet 16 82-81.  They would go on to beat down perennial power Tennessee to reach the Final 4 and advance to the national title game before falling to UConn.

Hosting a regional in 2013, the Cardinals baseball team swept through their regional and traveled to Nashville as heavy underdogs against #2 overall seed Vanderbilt.  The tough competition didn't get in Louisville's way with a sweep of a loaded Commodores team.  And while they went 0 for 2 in the College World Series, a trip to Omaha is a great season and experience for a program. the 4 major college sports in the 2012-13 school year, Louisville won a BCS Bowl game against a mighty SEC power, won the national championship in men's basketball, was national runner-up in women's basketball, and went to the College World Series.  A remarkable achievement and an unprecedented run in these 4 sports in the BCS era.

How can Louisville top the 12-13 sports season?  Well, for starters they have the schedule, star power, pre-season hype, and head coach to make a run at what every major college covets, a BCS National Title.

The schedule?  I'll let you see for yourself how Louisville will be favored in every game they play in 2013.

The defense returns 10 starters, and while the one they lost is a big one, I like my chances with that kind of experience on D and Charlie Strong coaching them up.  As for the offense, they should be able to put up plenty of points with potential top NFL pick Teddy Bridgewater back with top target DeVante Parker.

What better way to follow up an historic 12-13 athletic season?  Rival UK fans may have a new football coach and a great recruiting class, but the top athletic program in the state is clearly Louisville at this point.  Next up is a chance to join Florida as the only programs to currently hold national championships in men's basketball and football.

Can they pull it off?  The cards seem to all be lining up.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How do you determine a great sports city?

It is certainly a tough task to determine what cities are "good" sports towns and which are "bad" sports towns.  There have been numerous lists over the years attempting to rank the best and worst sports towns, but when this topic comes up, there always seems to be cheap shots towards Atlanta sports fans being some of the worst.

One such article was printed last year by Rob Parker, known more for saying that RGIII didn't have enough "Blackness" than any piece of journalism he ever published.  This piece brought up this topic of "Great Sports Cities" and was on ESPN New York, detailing why the Falcons did not deserve to beat the NY Giants in the 2011 NFL Playoffs because the "City of Atlanta doesn't deserve to win." 

A couple bullet points on his arguments on why NY is such a great sports town and Atlanta is the worst:

1)  Giants fans live and die with their team, Atlanta fans are likely transplants and don't even know there is a game
2)  NY Yankees are standard of excellence when it comes to fans, Atlanta across the board is the worst
3)  Hawks had trouble selling out playoff games during their "thrilling" run a few years back
4)  Best pitching staff in the 90's and fans shouldn't have missed a pitch but there were empty seats at playoff games
5)  Braves fan base did not care after the team collapsed in 2011 in September and should have been trying to fire Fredi Gonzalez.
6)  Lost 2 NHL Teams

We will use Rob's points to get this topic rolling, as these seem to be the points that ESPN anchors, journalists, and other media types usually trot out as their reasoning behind Atlanta being such a poor sports town.

So, let's regroup.  New York is the greatest sports town because of their die-hard fans and passion, while Atlanta doesn't care and no one shows up at the games even though the teams have been good.  Rob Parker then took these ideas and wrote an article on how the Falcons don't deserve to win because their fans are so lousy.

Before getting deeper into the "Bad Sports Town" argument, I'll debunk some myths about Atlanta and why this article and the whole idea that Atlanta is a bad sports town is an old and outdated argument.

This next part is for everyone in the Northeast, Midwest, West Coast, and who has/does/will ever work at ESPN.

The article and the bullet points above are very adamant about certain things, like the Braves have empty seats at playoff games when there were great in the 90's.  Well, the Braves sold out every single playoff game in the 90's.  The 2000's?  Yes, the data there is accurate, there were a select few games at the end of the 14 year division title streak where fans did not sell out playoff games because of the heartbreak and shortcomings of previous teams.  Just like the Yankees did last year when they left 10,000 seats empty in their playoff series against Baltimore.

As for the NFL, sure the Giants fans deserve the game more because they are die-hard and live and die with the Giants.  No one even knows when the Falcons play.  That is, except for the 72,000 plus that have filled the Georgia Dome during its current 48 game stretch of consecutive sellouts that is in no danger of ending anytime soon.

My favorite argument is the lack of a backlash by Braves fans after their collapse.  So, because ESPN does 100 stories on Terry Francona's job security, impact of the Sox collapse, and daily updates on Big Papi quotes, the Braves fans didn't care about their similar collapse?  Nonsense.

And how about the Hawks having trouble selling tickets during their "Thrilling" playoff run a few years ago?  Oh you mean the Boston series when a 37-45 Hawks team made it into the NBA Playoffs
as a #8 seed and lost to the eventual champions in 7 games?  Yea, every game sold out and that place was electric.

The NHL thing?  Sure, if you want to say Atlanta is a bad Hockey town, I'll agree with you.  But even the reason behind the Thrashers leaving had way more to do with their ownership group than the fan base.

You can list attendance figures and talk about how the Braves have been around 10th-14th the last decade (averaging around 30,000 per game) or while the Yankees have been as high as 52,000 per game in 08 but have slumped to under 40,000 in 2013.  You can mock the Hawks attendance figures as they averaged just over 15,000 a game last year while the mighty Knicks with Melo were less than
4,000 a game ahead of that number.  We could list numbers like the 2012 Falcons filling the GA Dome to 98.4% capacity, higher than the die-hard Giants fans.

But I'll save the number crunching until later.

What if Atlanta sports fans #1 sports passion isn't a pro sport?  Does that make them worse fans because as you just read they have done a fine job supporting pro teams?

Atlanta just happens to be the college football capitol of the world.  It is the future home of the College Football Hall of Fame, the SEC Championship Game, and within a hour or 2 drive to many of the greatest sports venues in the country.

Most Atlantans these days are not transplants from the north but alumni or fans of College Football powerhouses in the SEC and ACC.  That means a lot of time and money is spent to travel from Atlanta to Tuscalosa, Clemson, Auburn, Athens, Columbia, Tallahassee, Knoxville, Gainesville, and a host of other towns.

The 3 FBS schools in New York combined to average just over 80,000 a contest, just a few thousand more than Atlanta schools GT and Ga State averaged, at least 10 thousand less than a single game at UGA, Bama, Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson, or South Carolina.

The great sports fans of LA couldn't sell out a UCLA-USC game just a few years ago.  Los Angeles has 2 MLB teams and 2 NBA teams, but you can support those numbers with its size and a lack of an NFL team, the nations most popular sport.

The legendary Boston sports fans couldn't fill 44,000 seat Alumni Stadium to 80% capacity last year.

While St Louis may be a great baseball city, they once lost an NFL team and haven't had the NBA in almost 50 years, losing the Hawks to...Atlanta.

Put any of the College Football powers within 300 miles of Atlanta up against SE Wyoming Technical Institute and you'll see 90+ thousand strong any hour of the day.

Need more proof Atlanta is not the worst, but one of the best sports towns in America?  Where else can you go for the best Bowl game each December, SEC and ACC basketball tournaments, Final Fours, and Super Bowls?  Each packed to the rafters with die hard sports fans.

In summary, there is not nearly enough actual evidence or argument that Atlanta is a bad, let alone the worst sports city.  We don't like Hockey, so continue to be nuts for the Bruins, Blues, and Rangers, but the other 3 major sports are supported quite well with a 6 million metro area population.  

And when it comes to college football, maybe the city of New York doesn't deserve to win.