Friday, December 21, 2007

On Vacation...

Hey all, just wanted to let those of you who check the site regularly that I am going to be on vacation from Saturday the 22nd of December through Sunday the 6th of January.

If I get a chance to post something while I'm away I will, otherwise check back in January for more Quick Hits.

Happy Holidays.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

What's Going On...

So much has happened this week in the wild world of sports, I figured it best to fire off some Quick Hits on all that has gone down.

The Mitchell Report:

After spending the last few days pouring over the more than 400-page report composed by former Sen. George Mitchell on the steroid era in baseball and listening to all the rhetoric spewed by Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, I've come to the conclusion that baseball is no closer to solving the steroid problem than they were last week, last month or last year.

The Mitchell Report took the aggressive step of naming names, including stars like Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada, and at first blush that seemed to send a major shock wave through the baseball world.

But when you examine the report a bit closer you find that nearly all of the "evidence" against the players in question is little more than hearsay or the words of already outed steroid users and providers.

That is not to say that the players named in the report are innocent, but the lack of solid evidence against most of them does little to shed any extra light on the larger issue. And to be fair, the lack of subpoena power for Mitchell and his committee greatly hindered their ability to obtain more compelling information.

We all knew that steroid use has been widespread in baseball over the last 15-plus years and including the names of several dozen players in a report on the problem is nothing more than an affirmation of that previously held knowledge.

Moreover the response from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was neither ground breaking nor impressive, with the biggest news being that he intended to punish those named in the report after further exploration on a case-by-case basis.

Well great, that should only take another few years to iron out, good on ya Bud. I have to say it amazes me how little of the blame Selig seems willing to take, especially with the report placing much of the blame on the shoulders of the league itself.

Predictably the stance taken by the head of the Players Association, Donald Fehr, was predominately defensive and filled with lawyer-speak. Although I can hardly blame Fehr for going that route given Major League Baseball's practice of witch hunting in an attempt to shine a more positive light on themselves.

In the end the Mitchell Report did manage to crack the door open a bit more on the steroid-era and all that it encompassed, and that is a good thing. But until a lot more solid evidence is brought to the forefront and a reliable test for human growth hormone is developed there will always be uncertainty, and that is a bad thing.

Rodriguez to Michigan:

Last week's defection of Bobby Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons to the University of Arkansas was gutless as I pointed out in a previous piece.

The move from West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez to the University of Michigan is a bit more understandable, but still a bit heartless and fairly risky if you ask me.

To his credit Rodriguez did not completely rule out the possibility of switching jobs and in doing so took himself out of Saban-territory in terms of his overall integrity and character. However after signing a deal through the 2013 season to remain at West Virginia, a move that ultimately helped land uber-recruit Noel Devine, Rodriguez has done those kids a major disservice.

What I really don't understand about this move is what makes Michigan at this point so much more attractive to a guy like Rodriguez. Sure it's Michigan, the Big House, the maize and blue and all that, but from a strictly football standpoint it doesn't make a lot of sense, especially in the short term.

As it stands today, West Virginia is a better football team than Michigan. They have the talent to beat the Wolverines and their ascension into the ranks of the elite had them poised to play in the National Championship game before a stunning loss to rival Pittsburgh in the season finale.

On top of that is the 180-degree shift in offensive philosophy that Rodriguez will be taking to Michigan. At West Virginia Rodriguez was known for his use of the spread option that requires an athletic, running quarterback.

Michigan's top recruit from 2007 was the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Ryan Mallett who will not in any way remind people of Rodriguez's former prodigy, Pat White. In fact I'd be shocked if Mallett isn't already considering his options in terms of a transfer.

In addition the tradition of Michigan being a top school for wide receivers will no doubt take a major hit. In 2007 West Virginia's top receiver, Darius Reynaud, only had 691 yards receiving and 11 of the teams 13 total receiving touchdowns.

By comparison Michigan had two receivers, Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham, who eclipsed the yardage total of Reynaud.

On the positive side the move by Rodriguez to Michigan does put Terrelle Pryor, the nation's top dual-threat quarterback, on the Wolverine's recruiting radar and given Rodriguez's prowess as a recruiter they should be considered a favorite to land him.

As always I feel sorry for the kids left behind by Rodriguez and for West Virginia as a program who now has to struggle to fill that spot and maintain the positive momentum created by Rodriguez over the past several years.

It should be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out for both schools and I would warn fans of the Wolverines and Mountaineers to have patience through the changes that are on the way.

Winless No More:

Take that Jim Rome, the Miami Dolphins staved off history with their win over the Baltimore Ravens, avoiding the first 0-16 season in NFL history.

I have to admit for a while I really wanted to see a team go undefeated (Patriots) and another go winless, but after seeing the reaction from the Dolphins players, coaches and fans I have to say I am really happy for them that they were able to get the monkey off their back.

A team that lost six games by three points or less, the Dolphins and their first-year head coach Cam Cameron never gave up and more importantly never gave up on each other as easy as that would have been.

Congrats to the Dolphins and their fans, you deserve it.

Rowand to the Giants:

Truly I did not see this one coming. I was hoping for Torii Hunter and would have settled for Andruw Jones, but as a Giants fan I am very pleased to now have Aaron Rowand patrolling center field for the San Fancisco Giants.

Coming off the best season on his career, the 30-year-old Rowand is a perfect fit for a Giants team looking to rebuild an offense after the departure of Barry Bonds. He's not exactly a thumper, but he does have good power and AT&T Park is much friendlier to right-handed hitters.

His defensive prowess goes without saying and more than anything he brings a toughness and all-out hustle that Giants fans will no doubt love to see.

The biggest win for the Giants in this one is that they made it without having to give up top starting pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. For weeks Giants fans were sweating as a deal for Toronto's Alex Rios seemed to be creeping closer to completion and had that happened it would have no doubt included either Lincecum or Cain.

I know as well as any other honest Giants fan that there is still a long way to go personnel-wise before they can be competitive in the NL West, but signing a talented player like Rowand is a big-time step in the right direction.

Tiger Woods is Still Good and Rory Sabbatini is Still a Jackass:

OK, so there was little doubt that the best golfer in the world would be just fine after the longest self-imposed layoff of his career, but the manner in which he made sure all doubts were put to rest was vintage Tiger as he strolled to a seven shot win at the Target World Challenge.

The win was highlighted by a second-round 62 which set the course record and came after a first round that was derailed by a double bogey on the 18th hole.

He followed that performance up with a 67 in round three which gave him a six shot lead. Of course it wasn't all good for Woods who struggled early in the final round, bogeying two of the first nine holes and allowing playing partner Jim Furyk to close within two shots of the lead.

In typical Tiger fashion of course he birdied the 10th while Furyk bogeyed and the rout was back on. The win was Woods' eighth overall in 2007 and was sealed by a kiss from his adorable baby girl Sam who was waiting for her daddy at the 18th green dressed in the customary lucky color red.

Meanwhile one of golf's more loathsome characters, Rory Sabbatini, withdrew from the tournament which is hosted by Woods, citing at first "personal reasons" and later shin splints.

Of course Sabbatini's second round 81, followed by a third round 76, may have had something to do with his wanting to high-tail it out of town. See, Sabbatini is spending the holidays in Maui and apparently felt it was in his best interests to get there sooner rather than later.

It will be interesting to see if Sabbatini, who earlier in the year prodded Woods with a few backhanded criticisms, will cash the $170,000 check he still earned just by showing up to Tiger's tournament.

Woods, as has become his custom, will donate his entire winners share ($1.35 million) to his Tiger Woods Foundation and I think if Rory has any decency at all will do the same.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Gutless Wonder

So the big NFL news of the day comes from the Atlanta Falcons and surprisingly this time it had nothing to do with Michael Vick.

No this time it's their brand spanking new head coach Bobby Petrino who apparently decided in Saban-esque fashion that he wasn't cut out for the flaming hot glare of the spotlight that is the NFL.

So instead of honoring the five-year, $24 million contract he signed, Petrino has decided to high tail it out of town and return to the comfort of the college game at the University of Arkansas.

On the surface some might say that the move was predictable given his struggles through 13 games as an NFL coach and if his heart wasn't in it then good riddance.

I'd agree with that to a point, but all of this contract breaking by coaches who realize the harsh reality of life in the NFL has got to stop. It seems to me that no player would be allowed to switch teams less than a year into a freshly signed contract.

That is they wouldn't without a prolonged hold out that would inevitably paint that player as a malcontent in the court of public opinion and ultimately drive his value down. Starting to see the hypocrisy in all this?

For coaches who want to try their hand at the big leagues, contracts might as well be replaced by secret handshakes because they seemingly have no meaning besides stipulating what that coach may make in a particular year if he decides to stick around.

Players have to force trades, coaches trade themselves (albeit down a level), and for some reason in my little brain that seems wrong.

Think about it, how different is this move by Petrino to say Chester Taylor, a year after signing a contract to be the feature back for the Vikings, deciding that he doesn't want to play second fiddle to rookie sensation Adrian Peterson and deciding to take his skills elsewhere? That sounds outrageous, but honestly what's the difference?

Taylor signed on to be the man and then the team decided it's going to stake it's future on a younger, more explosive player, why can't he negotiate elsewhere to be the starting tailback? I don't understand why coaches are able to make these sort of unilateral decisions without ramification or compensation, while players are held like precious commodities by the franchises that sign them.

Aside from the obvious double standard when it comes to a move like this, consider the ramifications it has across the board on players left behind on teams and players on their way into a program.

Don't forget that Petrino left a very talented Louisville team that massively underachieved with new head coach Steve Kragthorpe at the helm. What could have those players accomplished with Petrino guiding the ship and allowing kids that he recruited and coached for several years to keep the system rolling?

Think about the disservice he did to a guy like Brian Brohm who spent his entire collegiate career up to that point perfecting his ability to execute Petrino's system and then has to start over with a new head coach his senior year. How is that fair to him or any of the other upperclassmen that started the year with National Championship hopes and ended it 6-6 and without a bowl bid altogether?

Oh yeah, did I mention Petrino signed a 10-year extension with Louisville a year before he jumped ship and left the college game for the pros? That's special.

Think about the guys on the Atlanta Falcons who have had to struggle and fight daily battles on the football field as well as away from it in the wake of the Vick dog fighting case that left the team without its biggest star.

Those are grown men who are going to have to learn a new scheme for the second time in two years, a fact I'm sure not lost on them. Players in the NFL get criticized and even cut for poor performance and sometimes the culprit for the poor play is as simple as not picking things up quick enough.

In that case we're talking about people's livelihoods on the line, and while I know it can be difficult to feel sorry for high-paid professional athletes, it's still a job and they can get fired just like the rest of us. Remember, there are no guaranteed contracts in the pros.

Then think about the players that Petrino will be recruiting to join him at Arkansas. Impressionable kids who can and will be lured by the promise of playing time and gridiron glory at a tradition rich school like Arkansas.

But how can any of those kids or their parents believe a word that comes out of Petrino's mouth? Why on earth would you send your child to play for a guy who clearly has one foot out the door at all times?

The sad part is that most likely Petrino will get his blue-chip prospects and build himself a nice little powerhouse in the always tough SEC. Life will go on and all will be merry for Petrino and the Razorback faithful.

But watching Petrino whoop it up at his press conference with the cries of "pig suey" was more than a little annoying and if I were good old Bobby Ball Coach I wouldn't dare show my face in the state of Georgia for at least six months.

Now I know coaches changing jobs is a part of life, and generally speaking I have absolutely no problem with that. But when a guy like Petrino makes a long-term commitment as he's done twice now in the last two years and then backs out, I have to seriously question his character and his integrity.

That said, I hope all you Razorback fans take the time to enjoy the Bobby Petrino era, it could be over before you know it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Up, Up and Away

Excitement, exuberance, excellence.

If you've had the pleasure of seeing Tim Tebow play in his first two seasons at the University of Florida you understand just how synonymous he is with those three words.

After Saturday night however his name will forever be preceded by these three words: "Heisman Trophy winner".

In a season of upsets and shockers, where no favorite was safe, it was the guy most thought would take home the game's most coveted individual award that did just that and in the process became the first sophomore to win the Heisman.

While everyone will of course point to the ridiculous touchdown numbers both rushing and passing, what impressed me most with Tebow was his ability to lead and motivate with passion and sincerity.

Watching the 20-year-old's mile-a-minute acceptance speech in which he thanked everybody but myself and maybe two other dudes, you got a glimpse into why teammates call him a dream to play with and his coaches gush when his name comes up.

He's college football's Peyton Manning complete with all the "gee, gosh and heck" that football fans love and marketing people covet. An unassuming superstar with all the talent and charisma necessary to win over any crowd.

At this point it would be easy for Tebow to big-time people, shun the media and act the fool on a campus full of coeds falling over themselves to be the Lois Lane to his Superman.

Instead you get the feeling he'll be that guy on a sweltering August day at an NFL training camp, standing around for an hour making sure he signs every last autograph.

On the field it's impossible to ignore his ultra-unique style that's equal parts broad sword and battering ram. Maybe it's a lefty thing, those guys are always quirky, but mostly it's an all-out approach to the game that makes you think if he ever stops playing quarterback he might have a future as a linebacker.

Like very few before him (Michael Vick and Vince Young come to mind) it's Tebow's inability to be compared to his professional counterparts that ultimately makes him such a compelling figure on the football field.

With a National Championship and now a Heisman on his resume, Tebow's status as the next big thing has officially been overtaken by his current status as college football's "it" player.

A big shout out to Ms. Ann Malling for her support for and downright obsession with Tim Tebow. At least one more year on campus Ann and then you can make him your fantasy team's number one draft pick.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beyond the Heisman

Now that the four finalists for the biggest individual prize in the college game have been named, I thought it would be interesting to break down the pro potential of each of them.

Of course everyone knows with past winners like Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier that winning the Heisman absolutely does not guarantee success when it's time to get paid to play.

This year however there is next-level talent in each of the finalists, even though one of them (Tim Tebow) can't even declare for the NFL Draft until after next season.

Colt Brennan - QB - Hawaii:

Maybe no player in the country has had his skills scrutinized and his ability to play at the next level doubted by pro scouts more than Hawaii's Colt Brennan. They say he's a "system quarterback" who like many before him could struggle with the complexity of the NFL.

They say his three-quarter, almost sidearm delivery will get him in trouble at the next level where defensive lineman are all big and athletic enough to get their hands in passing lanes.

Some even doubt his character after some poor decisions early in his collegiate career ended his stay at Colorado and landed him in Hawaii alongside fellow castoffs taken in by Warriors head coach June Jones.

That's what "they" see when they look at Brennan and attempt to project him in the NFL.

What I see is a kid who has overcome those bad decisions to lead his team to an undefeated season and a BCS bowl game. A kid who has completed over 70% of his passes despite throwing it over 470 times in each of his three seasons as a starter.

I see an ultra-quick delivery with enough arm strength to make all the throws necessary to play at the next level and an uncanny ability to put his team on his back and carry them to the victory.

At 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds he's plenty big enough to survive in the pro game and has shown surprising quickness when he's forced to run. In fact he reminds me of former Buffalo quarterback, Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who ran the "K-Gun" offense for the Bills and led them to four straight Super Bowls in the 90's.

Brennan plays with guts, determination and heart and despite the fact that none of us can see it, of all the quarterbacks projected to go in April's NFL Draft I think Brennan has the strongest "it" factor.

In my opinion it would be a mistake for whatever team drafts Brennan to try and change who he is as a quarterback, and that's a guy who has the instinct and nerve to make plays and win football games. I think he deserves to go in the late first round, but inevitably questions about his transition to the pro game will probably land him in the second or third round.

Darren McFadden - RB - Arkansas:

1,197 yards and a 6.5 yard per carry average to go along with 10 touchdowns in just 10 games as an NFL football player. That's what Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson has accomplished since being picked 7th overall by everyone's favorite purple-clad franchise.

And if Arkansas' Darren McFadden is given the type of opportunity that Peterson has I believe he can put up comparable numbers, he's that damn good.

Like Peterson, the biggest knock on McFadden right now is his somewhat upright running style. A style that has led to him taking quite a lot of punishment from SEC defenders hell-bent on slowing down the Razorbacks' one man band.

Unlike Peterson however, McFadden is a natural pass-catcher, who along with his 300 carries and time spent as the Arkansas quarterback found time to catch 21 passes in 2007 for nearly eight yards per reception.

Also unlike the likely rookie of the year, McFadden does not put the ball on the ground. In three years and 764 carries McFadden has lost a grand total of zero fumbles. Peterson has already lost three in what has otherwise been a stellar rookie campaign.

Perhaps McFadden's most impressive trait as a runner is his initial burst through the hole and ability to reach the next level almost immediately, leaving a trail of defensive backs in his wake on his way to 40 rushing touchdowns in his collegiate career.

In short, he's everything a feature-back in the NFL is supposed to be and should have an immediate impact at the professional level. I would be shocked if McFadden is not one of the first two or three players off the board.

Chase Daniel - QB - Missouri:

It's possible, and given the disappointing finish to the Tigers' season likely, that Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel will return for his senior season and opt for the NFL Draft in 2009. If he does decide to turn pro however he would add to an already impressive group of signal callers projected hear their names called in April.

Like fellow Heisman finalist Colt Brennan, the thing that stands out for me with Daniel is his uncanny accuracy. Daniel's stellar 69.7 completion percentage came on an eye-popping 534 pass attempts.

The player most often compared to Daniel is New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees who starred at Purdue and was picked in the second round by the San Diego Chargers.

That comparison is very fair in my opinion as like Brees, Daniel will have to answer questions about his size at barely six feet tall. But like Brees, Daniel has shown the ability in his time at Missouri to make all the necessary throws and guide his team to several impressive wins.

Playing his high school ball at powerhouse Southlake Carroll(TX) High School, Daniel is a winner first and foremost which is something that cannot be overlooked. With teams becoming less and less enamored with quarterbacks who look the part, Daniel could prove to be yet another example of a guy who just needs a chance to show he can perform.

Given the strength of this year's quarterback class, it might be best for Daniel to stick around campus for his senior season. Whenever he comes out however he'll more than likely be a third or fourth round pick for a team with the time and patience to groom an eventual replacement at quarterback.

Tim Tebow - QB - Florida:

They call him Superman and in Gainesville he's reached hero status in just two seasons on campus, so it's no wonder that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is the leading contender for the Heisman as a true sophomore.

As impressive as his 29 passing and 22 rushing touchdown season was, I think Tebow is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he's capable of. And yes, that means I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that next year he becomes the first player to go 30/30.

Of course he'll have wait at least one more year before he can take the "S" on his chest to the NFL, and there are plenty of things he needs to work on before he makes that jump.

At this point in his development Tebow reminds me of where Vince Young was in 2004 as a redshirt sophomore, except for the fact that Tebow is far more accurate as a passer than Vince was.

Mostly I look at Tebow and his ability to single-handedly win football games as the biggest similarity between he and Young who was once called, "the greatest quarterback to ever play college football" by Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott.

As a runner Tebow has few equals at the quarterback position. Faster than he is quick, Tebow is just as likely to run over a guy as he is to try and go around him, which opens him up to injury and is definitely something he'll have to tweak at the next level.

As a passer Tebow will have to prove on a more consistent basis that he can make quality reads and find his secondary targets when his primary ones are covered up. He's got a very live arm but is prone to throwing into traffic when things break down.

Should Tebow decide to enter the NFL Draft in 2009 I think he will go in the first round because of his unique blend of size, arm strength and ability to make plays on the move. Plus another year at the collegiate level should help his overall maturity and understanding of the game.

Like Young before him, some team will be enamored by Tebow's skill set and undeniable star power and make him their top draft choice. In my opinion that team will not be disappointed.

Friday, November 30, 2007

What Happens Next?

OK Twins fans, you can and should be very happy about new GM Bill Smith's first major trade as the head man for your favorite baseball team. Prying former uber-prospect Delmon Young from the Tampa Bay Rays was impressive, even at the expense of a talent like Matt Garza.

Still, while you revel in your shiny new three-hole hitter you have to be wondering where all this is going.

It's common knowledge by now that unless Twins owner Carl Pohlad suddenly undergoes a Scrooge-esque experience, the best pitcher in baseball is going to be wearing another team's uniform in 2008.

Of course I'm talking about one Johan Santana and the trade rumors that continue to run rampant involving the lefty. If there was ever a guy you were going to pay top dollar to make sure he stays, it's Santana. Yet in typical Twins form they've managed to convince people that it's for the best that they get what they can for him now because they can't afford him.

My bad, they can afford him, they just choose not too.

So okay, Santana's out the door and in his place should be a nice little collection of young talent to pair with the aforementioned Young. A little chemistry building in a locker room revered for it's close knit atmosphere, perhaps Francisco Liriano gets healthy and returns to his dominating form and all is right with the world.

Of course there's always the other scenario, the one the Twins and their fans seem more than a little reluctant to consider.

In that scenario the hot-headed Young, taking the place of team leader and Twins icon Torii Hunter, shakes up the happy-go-lucky locker room and infuses it with a little good old fashioned diva attitude.

Liriano's recovery takes longer than expected and his stuff isn't nearly as un-hittable as the mental and physical hurdles prove too much for the young guy. On top of that the young players received in the Santana trade turn out to be a year or two away from really being good and manager Ron Gardenhire is left to juggle his roster all year.

Not only that, but the team's struggles support the front office's idea that it's a good idea to move closer Joe Nathan before he becomes a free agent and so they do just that and get less than market value for a guy who has to be considered one of the three or four best closers in the game.

You see where I'm going with this right? Where does it stop? When is it not good enough for a franchise with the second richest owner in all of sports is more willing to trade their best players than sign them?

Yes the Twins minor league system has been strong over the years and against all odds they've managed to run a successful organization built primarily on home-grown talent. But that kind of success can't last forever and at some point you need to start throwing some money around.

What are the top guys coming up in the Twins system supposed to think? At this point they can be reasonably sure that if they do make it to the show and perform well that they should keep their bags packed come contract time, and that's sad.

A look ahead at the top players on the Twins roster reveals that former AL MVP Justin Morneau could be next to go, followed by right fielder Michael Cuddyer and even the newly acquired Young if he doesn't get the kind of money I'm sure he believes he's worth from the Twins.

With a beautiful new ballpark on the horizon and sagging interest in both the Vikings and Timberwolves, now is the time for the Twins to step it up and claim their place as Minnesota's top draw.

Instead they seem content to spend less money than the Kansas City Royals and hope that things work out. I don't know about you, but like the Twins themselves, I'm not buying it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Forget for a minute that Sean Taylor was a star at the University of Miami, a first-round draft pick and a stud in the Washington Redskins secondary on his way to cementing his status as one of the game's very best.

Forget that Taylor had money or that he had a history of run-ins with the law and a less-than-stellar on-field reputation stemming from several incidents early on in his career.

In the end a family, both in blood and in profession, lost a brother, son, father, teammate and loved one in a senseless act of violence at the age of just 24. The same age as my baby sister, Alexis.

One man's death does not and should not overshadow the deaths of people around the world that you and I have never heard of, but the fact that a well-known public figure had to lose his life this way should remind us all just how random and fragile anyone's life can be.

By all accounts Taylor was a guy who had undergone major changes in a life once threatened by his own poor judgment and was on his way to grown-ass-man status.

He leaves behind a one-year-old daughter who now will be forced to grow up without a father in a world where too many kids do the same. Sure, her future should be intact financially thanks to her daddy's prowess on a football field, but her memories of him will sadly have to come from outside sources instead of from within.

In the next few days and weeks we may learn that Taylor's death was not a random act of violence but rather retaliation for a previous transgression. An unfortunate reality of a life lived in the fast lane of big time collegiate and professional sports.

Whatever the facts of the case may be, nothing changes the fact that a young man in the prime of his life was taken away far too soon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who Wants It?

It's only fitting given how ridiculously crazy college football has been this year in terms of the standings, that the race for the Heisman Trophy is as wide open as I can ever remember it being.

No fewer than six guys have a legitimate argument that can be made on their behalf, and with exactly zero undefeated major conference teams (sorry Hawaii) there is no one on the Heisman radar who can claim "best player on the best team" honors.

Since not even I can decide who should win the Heisman, I've decided to make arguments for each and let you the reader vote for who you think should take home the big trophy.

Chase Daniel - QB - Missouri: Anybody who watched Daniel dismantle the Kansas Jayhawks this past Saturday night, in a game the moved the Tigers in position to potentially play in the National Championship game, had to be impressed.

He showed poise, confidence and uncanny accuracy, going 40-of-49 for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Of course this is nothing new for Daniel who is completing over 70% of his passes through 12 games, including 36 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

Even more impressive than that has been Daniel's ability to raise his game late in the season with everything on the line. In his last four games Daniel is 121-for-169 for 1,418 yards with 15 touchdowns and only one interception.

Only once all season did Daniel throw more interceptions than touchdowns in a game. That happened in the team's lone loss to Oklahoma in mid-October, and in that game he was 37-of-47 for 361 yards.

If Daniel and Missouri can beat Oklahoma this week in the Big 12 Championship, it would be tough for me to say that Daniel's all-around performance from start to finish was not Heisman-worthy.

Tim Tebow - QB - Florida: When you're the only player in the history of college football to throw for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns, that's pretty special. When you do it as a true sophomore in the best conference in the country you're downright scary.

Many believe that Tebow's gaudy offensive numbers and hard-nozed style has him positioned as the front-runner for the Heisman, and I can't say I disagree with that.

The one knock against Tebow however is how he performed against some of the toughest teams on Florida's schedule. In a loss to LSU Tebow's completion percentage was a paltry 46.2, and in a loss to Georgia he was held to minus-15 yards rushing; his only negative rushing day all season.

Outside of those two games however Tebow was brilliant, solidifying his status as arguably the most difficult player in the country to defend. At the age of 20 Tebow's legend grows larger by the day, and soon that legend may include a Heisman Trophy.

Darren McFadden - RB - Arkansas: There are big games, and then there are statement games, and McFadden's performance in an upset win over top-ranked LSU was the ultimate statement game.

All McFadden did on that Friday night in Baton Rouge was rush for 206 yards and three touchdowns and go 3-of-6 passing for 34 yards and a touchdown. All against one of the best defenses in the country who knew going in that they had to stop #5.

Of course one game does not make a season, and in McFadden's case for the Heisman, nothing could be more true. Three times this season McFadden was given fewer than 20 carries in a game and still he managed to rush for 1,725 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Those numbers eclipse the numbers from his sophomore campaign when he was the runner-up to Ohio State QB Troy Smith in the Heisman voting.

If McFadden does indeed turn pro, as many have speculated that he will, there will be one statistic that should wow NFL scouts in their evaluation of the Razorback running back. Want a hint?

Think zero.

As in zero fumbles lost in three season in the SEC. That's 764 carries, 46 catches and 22 pass attempts without putting the ball on the ground. To me that's all you need to know about the best running back in the country and possibly the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.

Colt Brennan - QB - Hawaii: Fans of the run-and-shoot offense employed by Hawaii and head coach June Jones will remember fondly the last time a product of that system won the Heisman.

The year was 1989 and the player was Houston QB Andre Ware. That season Ware threw for 4,299 yards and 44 touchdowns on his way to the big prize.

While Brennan can't boast those type of numbers in 2007, the fact that his Hawaii Warriors are one win away from a perfect 13-0 season and a trip to a BCS bowl game has to count for something.

Of course that's not to say Brennan's numbers aren't impressive. Five times Brennan threw for more than 400 yards in a game in 2007, including a 495-yard performance in the season's biggest game for Hawaii this past Friday against Boise State.

Brennan was injured twice during the season and basically didn't play in either of those games (he did throw two passes against Nevada, but didn't start). Missing those two games will hurt Brennan's chances at winning the Heisman, but I for one think he's been impressive enough to deserve strong consideration for the award.

Glenn Dorsey - DT - LSU: The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the best player in the country and for my money the best player, regardless of position, is LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

No defensive player has been a more consistent, disruptive force than the effervescent Dorsey who has spent more time in offensive backfields than some running backs.

With 61 total tackles and six sacks, Dorsey's numbers are hardly the type of jaw-dropping stats that usually win Heisman's. Add to that the fact LSU is no longer a factor in the National Championship picture and Dorsey is a long shot.

However if the Heisman committee is doing its job it will include Dorsey in the ceremony scheduled for December 8th. Of course Dorsey can always take comfort in the fact that he's likely to be a top-3 pick in next April's NFL Draft.

Pat White - QB - West Virginia: Like Chase Daniel at Missouri, West Virginia's rise to the top of the BCS standings can only help the Heisman chances of their dual-threat quarterback Pat White.

Of all the quarterbacks on this list White is clearly the best runner by virtue of his 1,144 yards on the ground with one game left to play. Conversely he is by far the least effective passer of the bunch.

White's completion percentage has gone up and his interceptions have gone down since 2006, a sign that he is becoming a better passer. And his 26 total touchdowns are impressive. But White's true value comes in his ability to guide his team to within one win of a berth in the National Championship.

White may have to wait a year before he wins a Heisman because of the competition this year, but his role in the elevation of the Mountaineer program deserves recognition, perhaps with a big, stiff-arming trophy.

So there it is, that's the list. You've noticed that I've included a second poll to go along with this article. Feel free to voice your opinion on this year's Heisman race.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Been Lazy Lately...

As I'm sure at least a few of you have noticed, I have been very lazy lately when it comes to posting new content here on Quick Hits. My bad.

This will change soon as I will be committing myself to at least three new articles each week, and most likely more than that.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Don't Pull That Trigger

A report from the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday indicated that the San Francisco Giants have been aggressive in their pursuit of Florida Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera who is widely regarded as one of the top-5 hitters in all of baseball.

On the surface one would think that this type of news would be sweet music to the ears of Giants fans everywhere, myself included. However the realization that the Giants would most likely have to include either staff ace Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum in the deal makes me flinch like a hitter seeing Lincecum's curveball for the first time.

I am a firm believer that you have to have pitching to win, and while the Giants have done very little winning of late, it's been their stockpiling of quality arms like Cain and Lincecum that has given me hope for the future of the franchise.

That said, Cabrera's resume is awfully impressive. At age 24 Cabrera has already amassed 138 homeruns as well as an OPS of .930 to go along with a .313 career batting average. While the baseball world is focused on Alex Rodriguez's march toward nearly every important career batting record, they fail to mention that Cabrera is beating a very similar path.

Both players saw their first significant action in the big leagues at age 20. A-Rod played in a combined 54 games in 1994 and 1995, while Cabrera as a rookie in 2003 played in 87 games and was a key member of the Marlins team that won the World Series that year.

From 1996 through 1999, A-Rod hit 143 homeruns and drove in 442 runs on 747 total hits. Cabrera meanwhile from 2004 through 2007 has swatted 126 homers and driven in 461 runs on 758 total hits.

Clearly Cabrera has a long way to go to rival the extended production of A-Rod, but given his age it's not crazy to think he might be the next guy in line to challenge the records that may be set by Rodriguez.

The only thing that worries me about Cabrera is his lack of physical fitness, which not only could expose him to injuries down the road, but move him off of third base and into left field. He's already not a very good defensive player at the hot corner and his overall value takes a bigger hit if he is forced to play the outfield.

Perhaps the better comparison for Cabrera is Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who like Cabrera is an all-around hitter who cares a little less about his physique and defense than his prowess at the plate.

Either way, the thought of replacing the most dominant offensive player of our generation (Barry Bonds) with a guy who has the potential to be nearly as dangerous is very tempting. Which is what scares me most about the possibility of him landing in San Francisco in exchange for either Cain or Lincecum.

Giants GM Brian Sabean recently signed a contract extension through the 2009 season with a club option for 2010 and it's clear to most who follow the team that these next few years will be his last if he is not able to rebuild the team in the post-Bonds era.

What better way to make a splash than to go out and get yourself another marquee hitter to help spark what has been one of baseball's worst offenses over the last few seasons and put butts in the seats of AT&T Park? This time however the price is just too high.

Cain at age 22 is primed and ready to become a legitimate Cy Young candidate after suffering through a 7-16 record in 2007 despite an ERA of only 3.65.

Lincecum meanwhile showed flashes of pure dominance as a 23-year-old rookie, striking out more batters than innings pitched with an arsenal of pitches that rivals the very best in the game.

The value of that type of one-two punch at the top of a rotation cannot be overstated and I'd much rather see the team try to put together a more balanced offensive attack through free agency and their own minor league system, while allowing Cain and Lincecum to develop further.

Do you think the Braves would have been so good for so long had they traded John Smoltz in the mid-90's trying to find a quick fix offensively? I certainly don't think so and I for one would prefer that type of long term success which can only be achieved with solid starting pitching.

A quick look at the free agent crop in 2009 shows several quality position players available such as first baseman Mark Teixeira, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and outfielders like Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and Raul Ibanez.

Also the mere fact that Cabrera would be traded and not signed as a free agent would make me worried that at some point he'd want to sign elsewhere and then the Giants would be left with nothing to show for giving away one of the game's brightest young arms.

So please Brian Sabean, step away from the negotiating table, take a closer look at some of this year's crop of free agents and move forward with Cain and Lincecum as a part of the Giants future. Trust me, it's for the best.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Black Thursday

Nearly four years since Barry Bonds testified in front of a grand jury regarding his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, the federal government on Thursday finally indicted baseball's all-time home run king on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

I've read the indictment and my question, like many others, is why did this take so long?

Were they hoping his nagging injuries would finally get the best of him and his assault on the most hallowed record in sports would be stopped in its tracks?

Perhaps they thought Bonds would eventually fail a drug test which would of course end the chase for 755.

I'm sure all along they believed Bonds' personal trainer and friend Greg Anderson would eventually crack under the pressure of extended incarceration and provide them with the ammunition to take down the so-called "big fish" of the BALCO investigation.

Whatever the reason, I remain skeptical of the entire process while at the same time feeling a much stronger feeling of sadness and disappointment as it pertains to the greatest baseball player I have ever seen with my 27-year-old eyes.

As the sporting world has found out over the last few months with the outcomes of both the Michael Vick case as well as Marion Jones' admission of guilt, when the feds indict someone they most likely have a case that can be proved.

With that knowledge in hand I find myself still not questioning any of Bonds' on-field accomplishments, but certainly doubting his pride and arrogance as character issues that may ultimately send him to prison.

As bad as this is for the legacy of Barry Bonds, I still feel he is a Hall of Fame player. Whether or not he gets voted in is another issue altogether. But in an era of baseball where no one really knows how many players have used or are still using performance enhancing drugs, I can only conclude that the playing field on which Bonds performed was indeed level.

Unlike Vick and Jones however, I have an uneasy feeling that Bonds will fight this to the bitter end as he clearly believes in his heart and mind that he did nothing wrong. I suppose that belief could help him in the end beat the indictment, but clearly it has already damaged him irrevocably in the eyes of most.

The sad part about all of this is that it never had to get this far and the people who should be on trial for the steroid issue in baseball, namely the player's association and baseball itself, should be the ones with their reputations and livelihoods on the line.

It's always seemed terribly unfair to me that those in positions of power within the game turned a blind eye to performance enhancing drugs because at the time it suited their needs from a financial standpoint.

Now that the drugs that were allowed to infiltrate the great game of baseball by the game of baseball have cast a cloud of public rage and disappointment there's this rush to find some sort of "closure" to an issue that could have been dealt with much sooner.

Lets say Bonds is indeed found guilty of of the crimes he's been accused of and there is no longer doubt that he knew what he was doing when he used the cream and the clear and whatever else, are we supposed to believe that the whole steroid thing is over? Because it seems to me that's what baseball and the federal government would like us to believe.

My own father has served on a criminal grand jury, and it's usually a very black and white process in that if there is enough evidence to go forward, they go forward. If there isn't, they don't.

Still, in this case it apparently took not two, not three, but four years to come to the conclusion that they had enough evidence to move forward with the indictment. That fact in and of itself stinks if you ask me.

The fact that parts of the sealed testimony were leaked seems to me to be the perfect motive for the feds to make sure they got Bonds no matter what. They were so desperate at one point that they were trying to pin charges of tax evasion on Bonds, charges that they also knew would not stick, but they pursued because they just had to get him.

Since the beginning, the witch-hunt feeling to all of this has been the most troubling part in my opinion and today's news appears to confirm my feelings to that extent.

If Bonds is found to have perjured himself and the federal government finally gets their man then he will have to suffer the consequences of those actions. Until then I suppose there is nothing left to do but wait and see what comes of all of this.

I just hope that my favorite baseball team has the guts to not cower in a corner when this whole thing comes to a close. Regardless of what Bonds did he was the one who was primarily responsible for getting the beautiful ballpark built and basically resuscitating baseball in San Francisco, and he deserves to be given a proper ceremony retiring his number 25 as one of the all-time greats to ever wear a Giants uniform.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Don't Sleep on the Kid

"As with all the top receivers in the draft, the Vikings could be in the running for any of them. And while fans shudder at the thought of another semi-inexperienced South Carolina wideout, Rice could be a good fit at the top of the second round. He'd give the team a red zone threat and a quality player that should develop."

-Adam Doctolero from KFAN dot com's 2007 Draft Page

Lost in the hysteria that is Adrian Peterson has been the emergence of rookie wide receiver Sidney Rice as the legitimate threat the Vikings have been searching for ever since saying goodbye to superstar receiver Randy Moss.

Sure Peterson deserves the headlines for single handedly carrying the Vikings to two of their three wins, but I think most people would be surprised to know that Rice is tied for third among all rookie wideouts in catches with 18.

The guy he's tied with? None other than super-freak Calvin Johnson, the consensus "best player available" in the 2007 NFL Draft and second overall pick by the Detroit Lions. In all, six wide receivers were taken before Rice in the 2007 Draft

Rice's 212 receiving yards also place him fourth among rookie pass catchers and his two touchdowns trail only Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe for the rookie lead.

What's most impressive about Rice's performance thus far has been his ability to adjust and adapt to what has been a revolving door at quarterback for the Vikings. Trust me, going from the rocket arm of Tarvaris Jackson to the wet noodle of Brooks Bollinger is no easy task, but Rice has taken it all in stride.

We shouldn't be too surprised however that Rice has been able to succeed despite not knowing who will be throwing him the ball. In his two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Rice caught passes from five different quarterbacks and yet managed to haul in 23 touchdowns and 2,233 total receiving yards.

Somewhat surprising has been Rice's quick adjustment to the physical nature of the NFL. Coming out of college after his redshirt sophomore season at South Carolina, Rice has answered the questions about his toughness and slight stature and has drawn rave reviews from his coaches for his downfield blocking that has helped to spring Peterson for long gains.

Of course it hasn't been all good for the 21-year-old Rice who has struggled at times with dropping some very catchable balls and at times running less-than-stellar routes which has occasionally made it tough for him to get open.

To his credit though, the team's youngest player seems to making the adjustments necessary to take advantage of his big time skills. His 40-yard touchdown catch last week was the longest of the season for the rookie and showed off his ability to make plays down the field; a trait seemingly lost on the Vikings' other receivers.

Having already emerged as the team's best and most explosive option at the wide receiver position, Rice's continued development alongside Peterson should give Vikings fans plenty to look forward to in the coming years.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Good Game, But So What?

The so-called "game of the century" between the Patriots and Colts was pretty damn good, I have to admit. It included all the necessary ingredients from a long touchdown run to an acrobatic interception and even a big time fourth quarter comeback engineered by likely league MVP Tom Brady.

And in the end what did we learn from this clash of NFL titans? Absolutely nothing.

That's right, the game some people were calling the biggest regular season game of all time amounted to little more than an interesting matchup between two quality teams, both on their way to high seeds in the AFC playoffs.

In fact I'd argue that the Browns/Seahawks game playing opposite the Pats/Colts was a better and more important game. Seattle failing to widen its lead atop the NFC West and the upstart Browns going to 5-3 and just a game in the loss column behind division leader Pittsburgh, provided the type of drama and impact most thought would come from the league's two best teams going head-to-head.

I know Pats/Colts was sexier for all the big names and undefeated records involved, but in the grand scheme of things the matchup of these two teams will only mean something should it happen again in January; until then I couldn't care less.

It's a lot like the 50 Cent/Kanye West battle over record sales a couple of months ago. Who really gives a crap except magazines who need to sell more copies and terrible music television shows who could broadcast monkeys playing the drums and maintain their core audience?

Ultimately both of them made more money in a month than I'll probably see in my lifetime and last time I checked no one even gives a rip at this point.

If you really think about it, what did the Pats really accomplish? They barely scraped by against the defending Super Bowl champs who were missing their best receiver (Marvin Harrison), their starting left tackle (Tony Ugoh) and for the most part their slot guy (Anthony Gonzalez).

The fact that they came from behind doesn't make me even more impressed by New England, it makes me want to see if they can beat the Colts at closer to 100%. Do I think less of the Colts as a top team? Of course not, in fact I think they proved that they're the most well-equipped team in the league to handle the Pats come playoff time.

A look at the stats shows both teams averaged less than four yards per carry, hardly impressive, and the combined 171 penalty yards is pretty ugly.

So too were the three combined interceptions thrown by both Brady and Peyton Manning, and if not for Brady's fourth quarter flurry this game might have been remembered for the underwhelming play of the league's two top signal callers.

Clearly the thing that turned me off to this particular game was the hype. I tried to go into it with an open mind, hoping I suppose for a shootout of epic proportions in which Brady and Manning matched each other touchdown-for-touchdown. I didn't get that, and given how wonderful and exciting this game was supposed to be, it wasn't enough.

If there's one thing I hate it's being disappointed by a game everyone is sure will be great, because so rarely is that prediction ever true. It's the reason people not affiliated with the teams involved watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than for the game itself.

In the interest of self-promotion, you need only read my #1 reason why college football is better than the NFL to figure out why there were no fewer than three games played on Saturday that truly deserved the type of hype that the Pats/Colts tilt received.

In the end there really isn't anything we can do to stop or even slow down the hype machine when it gets rolling, my only advice would be to steer clear.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Devil's Advocate: Alex Rodriguez

In this week's edition of the "Devil's Advocate" we stand up for free agent third baseman and the poster boy for money-grubbing athletes everywhere, Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez.

It's easy to hate on A-Rod right now, there's no question about that. Us normal human beings can't wrap our brains around the thought of opting out of a contract with $72 million in guaranteed money tied to it, but when you're the best baseball player on the planet, backed by arguably the most powerful man in baseball, you can do that.

Sure it was cheezy for him to basically quit over voicemail and the timing of the announcement left something to be desired with the World Series going on, but consider that on the same day the Minnesota Twins announced they were picking up the option on closer Joe Nathan and no one bashed the timing of that.

It's a bit of an apples and oranges argument I know, but is it A-Rod's fault that he is who he is and that somewhere along the way someone decided to make him the highest paid player in he game? Last I checked no one stood over Texas Rangers' management with a loaded pistol when they first signed A-Rod to the 10-year $252 million deal.

Is the money out of control in professional sports? The answer is a resounding yes. However the numbers aren't going to come down any time soon and I can't bring myself to criticize a person for getting as much out of their personal situation as they can. I'm guessing if someone plunked down $25 million per year in front of you, you'd take it and run with no thought of whether you were worth it or not.

Which brings me to my next point on A-Rod which is the fact that he is the only player in the game today you could argue is worth that kind of money. Take away all the excess stuff that comes along with being A-Rod and what you have left is one hell of a baseball player.

Over his 14 year career A-Rod is averaging 44 homeruns, 128 RBIs and a .967 OPS. Those are numbers that place him among the five or ten best players in the history of the game. The best player of my generation, Barry Bonds, has averaged 41 HRs, 108 RBIs and a .742 OPS in his glorious career.

Ask yourself how differently you would view A-Rod if instead of being traded to the Yankees in 2004, he ended up with the Boston Red Sox and helped lead them to their first World Series since 1918. Don't forget that a deal for A-Rod to join the Red Sox was all but done until it fell through at the last minute.

Would you hate him so much if he wasn't the richest player playing for the richest team? Will you hate him as much now that he's destined for a team not nicknamed the "Evil Empire"?

I seem to remember A-Rod being little more than an afterthought as he toiled away in Texas. Sure his contract was big news, but the harsh glare of the New York spotlight seemed to add a certain venom to most people's opinions of the talented superstar.

So stop hating on A-Rod America, he's just a guy trying to make an honest living after all, and you can't knock a guy for that.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How to Lose a Season in 15 Days

Supporters call them the Cubs of college football, so I guess it's appropriate that the California Golden Bears share a species with the lovable losers from the Windy City. And while I'm not so sure how lovable they are, the one thing I know them to be is frustrating.

Sure Cal has only recently reversed its fortunes to become one of the more talented teams in the country and maybe we should have seen this coming with the Pac-10 quickly becoming the SEC of the west. But that doesn't change the fact that a little more than two weeks ago this team was one freshman mistake away from being the #1 team in all the land.

That fact, combined with the fact that no team in the Pac-10 has gone more years since an appearance in a Rose Bowl than Cal (since 1959 to be exact) and you have one of the most frustrating and annoying seasons this Cal fan has had to endure in a while.

When they were bad, they were bad, and we could all live with that. It wasn't any fun getting beaten up by the likes of Stanford and UCLA, among others, but no one had any delusions that this team was any good.

In 2001 they were 1-10 and things looked worse than ever. Then came current head coach Jeff Tedford and everything changed. The offense got more dynamic, recruiting picked up and in the not-so-distant future there will be a shiny new Stadium that will help put Cal on par facility-wise with the Oregon's of the world.

However with all the recent success has come a feeling among the faithful that this team could make some real noise on the national stage. And up until a couple of weeks ago that feeling was being confirmed by a team who had already notched wins over Tennessee and Oregon and were sitting pretty as the #2 team in the country.

Then came that night in Berkeley against an Oregon State squad that most thought would get run off the field by the more talented Bears. Sure redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley was forced to start due to an injury to starter Nate Longshore, but with so many weapons and momentum on their side it was supposed to be easy.

Of course no one told that to the Beavers who put up a great fight in the first half, and were benefited greatly when the Pac-10 officiating crew deemed a play in which Beavers QB Sean Canfield crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing an incomplete pass, inconsequential.

Nothing could have been further from the truth of course, as the Beavers took advantage of the extra down and set up kicker Alexis Serna for a field goal which made it a one point game going into halftime.

I'll admit, at the time I thought little of it, but as the game wore on the impending feeling of doom got stronger and stronger. Meanwhile Riley played well, overcoming a fumble by freshman Jahvid Best that allowed OSU to go up by 10 late in the game, and leading a stunning 79-yard touchdown drive in only 55 seconds to pull Cal within three points.

Three points, that's all they needed, three measly points. And then it happened.

12 seconds to play, Cal down by three inside the Beavers 15 yard-line, Riley looking for all the world like Joe Montana in fourth quarter comeback mode. But instead of Joe Cool, he turned into Rex Grossman in the matter of a few seconds. Forgetting to throw the ball away, Riley scrambled into the middle of the field and was taken down with no timeouts remaining.

Tick, tick, tick, ballgame. Goodbye #1 ranking.

OK fine, freshman mistake, it happened and it's over with. There's still a shot at the Pac-10 title and trip to the Rose Bowl, especially with games against highly ranked teams like USC and Arizona State coming up.

Again, someone forgot to tell Cal's next opponent, the UCLA Bruins, about the team's Rose Bowl plans. In a game that can only be described as "aaarrrggghhhh", Longshore returned only to show the country why he might be the most overrated signal caller in the country.

Another 14-13 lead heading into halftime made the whole thing seem a bit too eerie for yours truly, but again I figured Cal had the weapons and experience to pull it out and beat an inferior team. Wrong again.

Needing only a field goal to win, Best atoned for his mistake in the Oregon State game and set up the Bears with great field position on the UCLA 35 after a 53-yard kick return. Everything seemed to be OK, that was until Longshore stared down DeSean Jackson on a third down pass which was promptly picked off and returned for a touchdown.

Thanks Nate. Final score UCLA 30 Cal 21.

Another stunning loss to an unranked team and still there was hope. With the rest of the Pac-10 eating itself alive, the early November showdown between Cal and USC could still decide who goes to the Rose Bowl.

As the seconds ticked off of a second loss by USC, this time to Oregon, I suppose I should have known something terrible was about to happen later that night as Cal traveled to the Valley of the Sun to take on the fourth-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils.

20 first half points and a six point lead belied the fact that the game wasn't that close, with Cal dominating the opening 30 minutes but allowing ASU to hang around thanks to spotty quarterback play and a lack of offensive aggressiveness.

The second half saw Longshore up to his old tricks, missing open receivers, throwing interceptions and generally disappearing from sight as the high-powered Cal offense was shut out over the final 30 minutes, losing 31-20.

If it sounds like I'm piling on Longshore, I am. I'll admit that some of the blame has to fall on Tedford's shoulders for allowing his injured signal caller to take the field, but at some point a guy has to know when he's no longer helping his football team.

Against ASU Longshore threw two of the worst interceptions I've seen in a while, both of which could be directly related to his injured ankle. The first was a badly under thrown ball to a wide open Jackson, the second a stick throw in the middle of the field, both of which lacked the necessary velocity due to Longshore's inability to push off with his right foot.

Over the span of the three losses there were other problems as well. The offense taking its collective foot off the pedal after leading in the first half of each game. The defense refusing to keep the pressure on three sub-par quarterbacks who they held to 566 passing yards and only two touchdowns in the three games combined.

I guess the most frustrating part is that it never had to be like this. Ask anyone who knows what they're talking about and they will tell you that Cal is a better team than any of the three they lost their season to, but obviously that's not what counts.

In the meantime a team that was a handful of plays away from being the top dog will ultimately have to claw and scratch just to make another Holiday Bowl appearance. Go Bears!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh God, Where Art Thou?

Just read a very interesting piece from ESPN the Magazine about Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna and the religious beliefs that guide his life, and in his opinion allow him to perform on Sunday afternoons.

What strikes me about Kitna is his unblinking devotion to the almighty and it got me to thinking, does God really have any impact on athletes and the sports they play?

Now I have to preface this by saying I am about the most non-religious person you're going to talk to. At this point in my life I can't say that I really believe in any sort of higher power and I certainly have had my issues with organized religion as a whole.

I also have to make it clear that whatever you believe is OK with me. It's not my or anyone else's place to tell people what they should and should not believe. That's where I stand, take it or leave it.

Which brings me back to Kitna and the issue of praising God after every win and every big play, while sometimes giving all the credit to a higher power. I suppose I don't necessarily have a problem with guys who choose to do this, but I do think some guys have taken it too far.

Kitna, for example, called his ability to play in the fourth quarter of a win over the Vikings after suffering a concussion a "miracle". Lots of guys have returned to game action after suffering all sorts of injuries before, how exactly does Kitna's situation differ from that of say Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals?

Are we to believe that Kitna's powers of recovery are somehow divine in nature? That's not to say that Kitna shouldn't believe whatever he wants to about how he got back in the game, but by not keeping that kind of statement to himself he unintentionally waters down his faith in the eyes of the skeptical.

To his credit however, what I learned about Kitna from the ESPN article was that while he is open and forthright about his faith, he does not force it on his teammates or anyone else. For that I admire the man, even if he does frequently wear hats and t-shirts adorned with a cross, because apparently the one around his neck just isn't enough.

But for every Kitna who seems truly sincere about his devotion to God, there are so many more in my opinion who have managed to turn their devotion into little more than a cliche.

Maybe the most annoying show of so-called personal faith is the constant pointing to the sky. Get a base hit, point. Get drafted by an NFL team, point. Run out onto the court during pre-game introductions, pound the chest, point.

Honestly, no one is going to think any more or less of you whether you point to the sky or not, so all you're really doing is drawing attention to yourself in a not-so-subtle way. Sure some guys do it to remember someone important to them that's passed on, but is it really necessary to do it at every turn?

No one seems to want to take credit any more for their own athletic prowess as athletes in every sport seem to feel it's necessary to defer to God in their moments of triumph. If so much of the credit for good performances goes to the man/woman upstairs, my question is why aren't guys blaming God for their defeats?

On that note, here is a list of things you won't hear after a tough loss:

  • "I thought we played well today, but apparently God didn't have our backs tonight."
  • "I have to blame God for my 0-for-5 tonight, he just didn't bless me with the ability to get the job done."
  • "God lost this one for us tonight, plain and simple."
I could go on an on with this list, but you get the idea.

Another major question I have is with so much going on in the world from genocide to wildfires, is it really necessary to bring God into games which are basically insignificant in the grand scheme of things?

What I see in the world of sports and entertainment that bothers me most about this trend is that it has become just that, a trend. It's almost the "cool" thing to do to praise God in every interview which in my opinion is more than a little disingenuous.

All that to say, I do think there is a time and place for athletes to call upon their faith in a constructive and genuine manner. When Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett laid motionless on the field several weeks ago with a life-threatening injury, it was more than appropriate for players on both teams to gather in prayer for their fallen comrade.

Many teams and stadiums full of fans observe moments of silence on a regular basis whenever a tragedy of some sort occurs, giving people a moment to quietly commune with their personal god, whatever that may be.

In both instances real life situations of a serious nature certainly allow for shows of religious faith on and off the field of play.

Ultimately I suppose it just seems to me that calling on ones faith should be saved for those moments which are more important than touchdowns and home runs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The More Things Change...

Years from now when we look back on the 2007 season in college football we will no doubt remember it for the absolute carnage that started in the season's first week when Appalachian State ripped the heart from the chests of Michigan fans everywhere.

What we may forget however is how certain the experts were prior to the season that the two best teams without a shadow of a doubt were USC and LSU. Certainly each had it's challenges to overcome along the way, but few thought anything would come between those two powerhouse programs and a trip to the BCS Championship Game.

Yet here we are in late October and both LSU and USC have suffered losses and find themselves on the outside looking in at Ohio State and Boston College who are currently #1 and #2 respectively in the BCS standings.

If there's one thing this season has taught us it's that anything can happen and everyone can be beaten. With that knowledge in hand I can come to only one conclusion; USC and LSU will play for the National Championship come January.

Nonsense you say? Never fear, I'll explain.

As it stands right now, LSU is third in the BCS standings which puts them in prime position to move into the top two should either Boston College or Ohio State slip. With BC on the road this Thursday night in Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech, LSU's ascension to #2 could happen as early as this week.

Not to mention the fact that even if BC gets past the Hokies they have to play several dangerous teams down the stretch like Clemson, Florida State and Miami, I just can't see them staying among the undefeated much longer.

LSU's remaining schedule includes one more tough test at Alabama this weekend, but gets much easier after that with games against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Arkansas before the SEC Championship game. My guess is that they're more focused than ever on the fact that they are still in the hunt and the Tigers will not be denied the rest of the way.

So that takes care of LSU's part of the national championship picture. As for USC, well suffice it to say they're going to need a little more help. Help that I think they're going to get.

Yes, the 24-23 loss to the lowly Stanford Cardinal hurt the Trojans' chances greatly at getting back in the title game, but it did not kill them altogether. Should USC win out, as I think they will, they will have beaten three teams in the BCS top-25 (Cal, Oregon and Arizona State) as well as as tough UCLA team.

Those wins should be enough to propel the Trojans up the BCS standings, but that won't be enough on its own. There are several teams in the way of Pete Carroll's bunch, but all of them have it tough down the stretch and I think they will all lose.

West Virginia has games left against Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati and UConn and I can't see them getting through unscathed which would give them two losses and drop them from contention.

Oklahoma is a popular pick to be among the teams left standing, but despite a soft schedule the rest of the way, they have the Big 12 Championship to play in early December, a game I believe they will lose to a Missouri team looking for revenge.

The aforementioned Virginia Tech Hokies currently sit at #8 in the BCS, but games against Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and Virginia will prove too much for true freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies to overcome. Welcome to the two-loss club Blacksburg, see you next year.

Kansas has been a great story all year, but the ride will come to an end in the season finale against a very tough Missouri squad who will have eyes on the Big 12 Championship with a win over the Jayhawks. Kansas finishes with just one loss, but they're weak overall schedule will hurt them too much to reach the title game with one loss.

The season's other great story is of course South Florida and their run at a possible Big East Championship. However after a deflating loss to Rutgers last Thursday night I think they are in line to lose one more time with games against UConn, Louisville and Cincinnati left.

The defending champion Florida Gators reside one spot ahead of the Trojans in the BCS, but that won't last. Not only do the Gators already have two losses under their belts, they've got several difficult tests ahead of them against teams like Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State. Even if they win out in the regular season their reward will be an SEC Championship Game meeting with LSU.

All of that brings us to The Ohio State University and their current status as the number one team in the country. So far the Buckeyes have beaten pretty much nobody, but the real tests start this week as they travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State.

I believe they'll take care of business against Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions and go on to beat their next two opponents, Wisconsin and Illinois. Should they win those games it'll mean a young and relatively inexperienced Ohio State team will have to travel to Ann Arbor and beat their bitter rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, in order to play for all the marbles.

With their season destroyed almost before it even began, you know the Wolverines and their trio of senior stars have had this game circled as their last chance at glory. I can't see Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Jake Long allowing the resurgent Wolverines to lose on their home field to their most hated rival, so I'll call it right now:

Michigan 27 Ohio State 23

The outcome of that game, combined with the fact that I believe USC will have risen to the #3 spot in the BCS by then will inexplicably return the college football world right back to where it all started, with USC and LSU battling for the ultimate prize.

It seems outlandish, improbable and downright confusing I know, but what would be a better finish to one of the greatest seasons in college football history? They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. And in a season of ultimate change no truer words have ever been spoken.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Way To Go Joe

It's now been seven years since the Evil Empire lifted the World Series trophy as the undisputed kings of the baseball world, a fact that was not lost on Yankees ownership who all but guaranteed that manager Joe Torre would be the scapegoat of another post-season loss.

That Torre seemed on his way out of New York was not overly surprising given the fact that anything short of a World Series win is considered a failure by the Yankees. What was surprising was the manner in which a man who has led his team to the playoffs every year since being hired and won four titles along the way was treated.

Ask anyone who has spent any time around Torre and they'll most likely gush over his class and dignity as a man and as the leader of a team. In fact in the 12 years since Torre has been the man for the Yanks, I don't think I've ever heard a negative word uttered in his general direction.

That is of course except for the jabbing of Yankees brass and the constant threats to fire a man who has done nothing short of define an entire generation of Yankees baseball.

Shouldn't he be above all this? I'll tell you right now that if Torre had managed the San Francisco Giants for the last 12 years and did as much winning as he's done, they would have erected a statue of the man right next to the one of Giants legend Willie Mays.

That's why it brought a giant smile to my face when the news came down on Thursday that Torre had turned down the one-year offer from the team to return for a 13th season. No longer will Torre be jerked around by his unappreciative bosses, and I say good for him.

The bottom line is that the Yankees, whether they know it or not, need Torre a lot more than he needs them and I applaud the man for finally saying enough is enough.

What's interesting is that the Yankees seem poised to enter another period in their history where they will be led by younger, up-and-coming players, much like they were when Torre took over in 1996.

Back then it was the likes of a Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez who carried the Yanks to four World Series wins in five years led by the steady hand of Torre.

Now with the Yankees focusing more on building from within as they did in the mid-90's it'll have to be guys like Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain who lead the Bronx Bombers back to the top of the heap. Only this time they'll have to do it without arguably the best manager in the game.

The Yankees, as usual, brought this on themselves as instead of building teams in the image of their leader they went the mercenary route in what can only be described as a blind rage over losing in the 2001 and 2003 World Series to two expansion teams (D-Backs and Marlins respectively).

Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, the list goes on and on of guys brought in with the express purpose of delivering a championship and yet it was the scrappy, defense and pitching first teams of Torre's first few years that brought home all the hardware. Funny that.

So the question now is what's next for the veteran skipper? He could be great on television either as an in-game or studio analyst, but something tells me a man with his type of competitive nature will find it hard to stay away from the game he's given his entire life to.

My suggestion would be for him to go the TV route for a year or so and then take over for Joe Maddon as the manager of none other than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Sounds crazy I know, but bear with me.

This past year Baseball America ranked the Rays as the top overall organization in terms of talent in the minor leagues. That after four straight years of being in the top ten of those rankings.

Like the Yankees in 1996, the Rays in say 2009 will have a plethora of young talent with major league experience at their disposal and what better guy to hand the reigns to than Torre whose opening day roster could look something like this:

C - Dioner Navarro - Interestingly a former Yankee top prospect, didn't have the best year but is only 23 and is loaded with talent.
1B - Carlos Pena - Swatted a career-high 46 home runs in 2007 at 29 years old.
2B - B.J. Upton - Hit .300 with 24 HRs as a 22-year-old in 2007. Played centerfield in 2007, and could move back there if Rocco Baldelli can't get healthy.
3B - Evan Longoria - One of the game's top 10 overall prospects who could be the Rays opening day third baseman in 2008 at age 22.
SS - Reid Brignac - Another of Tampa's big time prospects who has been compared to Jeter because of his skills, leadership and makeup. Look for him in 2009.
LF - Carl Crawford - Will be 27 come 2009 and the team has club options on his contract for both 2009 and 2010.
CF - Rocco Baldelli - Will also be 27 in 2009 and if he can overcome a string of injuries could return to his form of 2004 when he hit 16 HRs and stole 17 bases as a 22-year-old.
RF - Delmon Young - All Young did as a 21-year-old in 2007 was play in 162 games while hitting .288 with 93 RBIs. One of the game's brightest young talents.
DH - Akinori Iwamura - The Japanese import hit .285 this year with a .770 OPS and could fill in at three of the four infield spots and left field if someone needs a day off.

SP - Scott Kazmir - At 23 Kazmir has established himself as one of the top lefty starters in baseball. If they can re-sign him he could be Torre's new Pettitte.
SP - James Shields - 25-year-old Shields is the perfect compliment to Kazmir, would form a killer short-series duo for Torre. All he did was post a 184/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2007.

I don't know about you, but if I was a manager with a proven track record of success with young players and a bit of a bone to pick with a divisional rival I would be begging for the Tampa Bay job.

Not to mention the fact that signing a guy like Torre would probably accelerate plans to get the Rays out of the dump that is Tropicana Field as well as attract a few top flight free agents to sure up the bullpen and provide depth to an already talent-laden roster.

Who knows what the future holds, but for my money Torre is one of my all-time favorite coaches right alongside guys like Bill Walsh, Tyrone Willingham and Mike Krzyzewski.