Archive for September, 2009

Coming of Age

Already in the young college football season, we have seen one program which appeared to be in turmoil be revived on the shoulders of a true freshman quarterback, and another program, which has been a powerhouse and supposed to be in a “rebuilding” stage of sorts keep their national title hopes alive on a drive led by a true freshman quarterback.

These two QB’s, Tate Forcier of Michigan, and Matt Barkley of USC led two of the best drives to lead their teams to victory in the young football season over Notre Dame and Ohio State, respectively. The poise of these young men were amazing, especially in the final seconds of two of the biggest rivalries in their school’s history.

With Forcier, he was the new QB of a Michigan program who had one of their worst seasons in recent memory. In a game against another program that has fallen on some hard times, Notre Dame, Forcier marched the Wolverines down the field and threw the game-winning touchdown pass, his second of the game, with 11 seconds left and led Michigan to a 38-34 win over the Fighting Irish. The poise he had in a stadium of 110,000+ holding their breath and hoping for a miracle was amazing, especially for an 18-yr old true freshman. Many thought he could not do it, but he did. He will be one special player for this Michigan program for years to come.

Matt Barkley, the true freshman for USC, took the reigns at QB when Aaron Corp could not come back, and it appears he is not going to let go of the job. At Ohio State, with 106,000 fans going against him, he showed up in the fourth quarter, and delivered a huge 18-15 win over the Buckeyes. Barkley led the Trojans on an 86 yard drive that took over six minutes off the clock and USC won it’s 10th straight game over a Big Ten opponent, and kept their National Championship hopes alive. Joe McKnight gained 53 yards on that final drive and was a key, along with the USC defense doing its part on defense, but for a 19 year old to come in, and take over in a hostile environment and play like an upperclassman was amazing. Barkley has two more hostile environments this season, as he has to go up against Oregon at the Autzen Zoo and will have to face Cal in Berkley, and the crowd there will definitely be ready.

The future of Michigan and USC is bright with these two young stars, and it will be great when their paths cross in the future. At the rate they are going, we may see them sooner than you think.

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The Madden Curse Strikes Again

The curse is back and you may not necessarily believe in them, but really. Are all these injuries that occur to the Madden NFL Cover Athletes a coincidence? Let’s look at the facts:

Troy Polamalu is on the cover of the latest installment in the Madden NFL series, Madden NFL 10, from EA Sports. Late in the first half, Polamalu left the game with an apparent knee injury. The injury kept him questionable for the second half, and eventually shelved him for the rest of the game.

Then the bad news came: Polamalu was going to be out three to six weeks with a sprained MCL in his knee. This means Polamalu joins the likes of Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Vince Young, and Brett Favre. Polamalu shares the cover with Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, so fantasy owners will have to cross their fingers and hope that the curse does not hit him and the desert. Fitzgerald has prayed that the curse avoids him, and is one of the very first players to actually acknowledge the curse and what it can do.

Many people wonder: why be on the cover? Well, the money is always nice for one, you get more exposure as a player, and these players are going to go about everyday lives. Madden is so popular that it is the only NFL simulation on the market. Nobody has been able to compete with that game for years. It has blown up so big that there are Madden tournaments not just among fans, but the players as well.

If Fitzgerald does end up on the sidelines, maybe it will be time to really start thinking that it’s time to put John Madden back on the cover of the game. At least players stayed healthy and weren’t getting hurt the season after they were on the cover of the game.

But with the exposure and money that comes along with it, how hard is it to resist?

The Answer to the Memphis Blues?

The Memphis Grizzlies officially announced the signing of G Allen Iverson today. The contract is for one year and is worth $3.5M, and it raises a lot of eyebrows on if this arrangement can work. Apparently for Iverson, it was clear that he would have to accept a bench role to play, considering he did not want to come off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers, and despised the idea of coming off the bench in Detroit.

Iverson signed with the team because there was virtually nowhere else to go, and the place where he probably would’ve been a starter, in Charlotte with the Bobcats, did not work because the ‘Cats are strapped for cash. No contender wanted him, due to the Detroit experience, his ego was bigger than the team concept. He swallowed his pride, and has agreed to come off the bench, and let the young guys (Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, and O.J. Mayo) be the feature points of the offense. The Answer can provide a lot of wisdom to these young guys, and add this with the determination to prove that he has plenty of basketball left in him after a season with career-low numbers, and appearing to have no steps, this is something that has a chance to work.

For the Grizzlies, it generates fan interest. Even though the franchise has experienced down times as of late and have not made the playoffs since 2006, and never even won a single postseason game, the empty seats at the FedEx Forum spoke volumes. Not only does A.I. put the fans back in the seats, he will generate a lot of jersey sales nationwide, simply because there are plenty of Iverson fans left. This one year deal puts the team and owner Michael Heisley in a better position financially.

Iverson will have to finally learn how to be a better team player, and prove to the naysayers that he can let other players take the lead. The team will have to give him reason to do that. These young players have a chance to be better, due to Iverson. The Grizzlies have a chance to market themselves and really make a profit. Both sides have to do their part and earn their trust.

This is a one-shot deal for A.I. to prove himself to be a team player, and maybe open up a new opportunity with a contender, or see where things go with Memphis. It’s also a one-shot deal for Memphis to boost attendance and financial figures. If things are as harmonious as the announcement of his signing, good things are to come.

From Revival to Burnout

After ten straight losing seasons and being perennial cellar dwellers, the Tampa Bay Rays experienced a revival in 2008. They smashed numerous franchise records, and won 97 games en route to the first ever AL East crown, becoming the first team since 1997 not named the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to win it all.

As the Rays kept winning, the fever and euphoria of the success was felt all over Tampa. For the front office, it was years of stockpiling young talent through the MLB Draft finally paying off, and taking “Devil” off the team name and changing a new look and image was the goal of the team from the announcement. For Joe Maddon and his players, it was a rewarding feeling seeing all the hard work from Spring Training pay off. For the long time Rays like Carl Crawford, it was a weight off his shoulders after experiencing the pain of losing for years.

The Rays phenomenon swept past Tampa, and into the rest of the country (except for the teams Tampa Bay beat in the playoffs). The team won its first playoff game, and then their first playoff series, en route to its first AL Pennant. The young team was not used to playing this late into the season, and despite the poise of veteran-like team, the joy and great feeling and being in awe of being in the World Series was taken advantage of by an experienced and hungry Philadelphia Phillies team who was looking for their first World Series in 28 years and the city’s first championship in 25.

This season, the Rays stayed in contention for most of the season, and are currently nine games behind Boston with 22 left to play. It appears that even though the Yankees made significant improvements, and the Red Sox have played well throughout the season. The Rays have played hard like the defending champions, but they just look burnt out. The ups and downs and the inconsistencies of the team have reflected it, and the current 72-68 record and eight game losing streak has shown that this team will just need to recharge and look forward to next season.

Tampa Bay is still going to be a great team for years to come, Maddon’s managerial style and the team play has turned them from laughingstock to relevant. The players have shown that a team bond and a farm system pays off, as they get used to each other coming in the system. It has been a model that has resulted in lots of suffering, but the end result has paid off. The joy and jubilation of 2008 was a hangover into 2009, but the Rays will still be a contender in 2010, depending on the moves that they make in the offseason (if any), and if payroll increases.

Barring a systematic collapse by the Red Sox and the Texas Rangers, this is the recovery period that is needed for this team. It will help them out in the long term, and make them motivated to prove that 2008 was not a fluke. Just look at the fact that they are not in last place in the division. That speaks in its own right.

Capitalizing On Success

The NHL experienced some of its best action during the 2008-2009 season last year. The ratings for the biggest game, The Winter Classic went up, the revival of the Chicago Blackhawks, an Original Six franchise captivated the city of Chicago and NHL purists everywhere, the success of the Stanley Cup rematch, and watching the game’s biggest player win his first Stanley Cup. The NHL season was full of great action and memorable moments all season long, and this is the golden opportunity for the NHL to make next season even better.

The things the NHL did right in the offseason was not make TWO Winter Classic games. The outdoor game, usually played in a baseball/football venue of some historical significance, should just be one game that is played once a year instead of making it a double header. The Stanley Cup playoffs had some of the greatest action seen in a long time, especially with the drama of the Carolina Hurricanes and their wins over New Jersey and the Boston Bruins. The game’s two biggest stars lived up to the hype in their postseason battle with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The action was fierce, and electric throughout.

Finally, the Stanley Cup final between the Red Wings and Penguins. The numerous storylines, and the Penguins being able to topple the mighty Red Wings. Marian Hossa, who left the Penguins and their lucrative contract offer to play for one year in Detroit to win a Cup, ended up being a non-factor for the Wings, and Pittsburgh wins at Joe Louis Arena, and Sidney Crosby raising the Cup for the first time in his career. The NHL experienced high ratings for the Stanley Cup finals, it’s highest in years, and it really shows that the league is going in a right direction.

With these success from 2008-2009, it will be a tough year to follow up on, but with the Olympics in 2010, it will be useful for NBC to cross-promote the Winter Olympics and the NHL, and keep the interest going.

Up In Smoke?

The Oklahoma Sooners lost a lot of players due to graduation and/or the NFL, and when Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford came back for one more year at OU, the Sooners were one of the favorites to win the coveted National Championship.

After Saturday, could these title hopes have gone up in smoke, along with Bradford’s season?

With one hit, Oklahoma’s game vs. BYU– and season changed in an instant. BYU Linebacker Coleby Clawson went through the inexperienced offensive line with four new starters virtually untouched and made a clean hit on Bradford and Bradford lands on his shoulder. The update is reportedly a sprained AC joint, and it now has Oklahoma scrambling for a new plan to try to deal with this major loss.

There is no set timetable for Bradford’s return, and now Oklahoma has to turn to backup QB Landry Jones, and this offensive line, which committed a lot of penalties in the game last night will need to do a lot better in terms of discipline, and giving the redshirt freshman to at least have some kind of chance for success. The time is crucial for the Sooners, especially since TE Jermaine Gresham is out with cartilage damage to his knee. With out two of their key players, the question is how will OU fare without two of their stars and another one will be who is going to step their game up and somewhat fill the void left. The Sooners are a powerhouse, and stay loaded with talent, so it will not be too big of a problem.

With one hit, Oklahoma went from title contenders to answering a whole lot of questions. Although Idaho State at home is a winnable game, they face in-state foe Tulsa, who is not afraid of the big time, and then a trip to Miami on Oct. 3rd could mean that OU can go into conference play in jeopardy. For BYU, this is not only a confidence booster, but it is huge in their road to a potential BCS bid.

In time, the smoke will clear, and these questions will be answered, but right now, the future of the 2009 Oklahoma sooners season is up in smoke.

AFC West Preview- San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers won the AFC West on the final game of the regular season against the Denver Broncos. It was a win at the right time and the Chargers peaked to the AFC Divisional Playoff before getting eliminated. With LaDanian Tomlinson back healthy, and Shawne Merriman back from injury and fully healed, the Chargers have a clear road to the AFC West championship. It is clear that the only team that can stop the Chargers is… the Chargers.

The team is loaded with talent, and Phillip Rivers showed that he can lead the way and take over most of the load when their main workhorse LT went out with an injury. He led the Chargers on a great run to rally and win the AFC West with great receiver play from Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates. Expect Darren Sproles to have a bigger role on offense and take a lot of the running load off LT, especially since he was tagged as a franchise player. The Chargers again have one of the better offenses in the AFC and the NFL, and they can really dominate if they put all those weapons to work. Norv Turner knows this and will call the right plays as he has been, and he has brought out the better side of Phillip Rivers and has made him better, and showed that he can lead this team when Tomlinson is down.

On defense, Shawne Merriman is back, and that is such a huge boost to a defense that just lacked the rush to get sacks on the quarterback. The Chargers did draft Larry English as an alternative for Merriman in case he does not get fully healed or goes back down with another injury. The secondary is one of the best in the league, and Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie who are two of the best cornerbacks are ready to take interceptions back to the house. This defense is very good and when they are on, they are on.

The Chargers again have the easy road to the AFC West championship. Of course the games are played on the field and not on paper, but with two teams transitioning and rebuilding, and the other team looking to mesh and continue to the improve, out of all the teams in the division, the Chargers are the most complete team, and can go deep in the playoffs.