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.