Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The College Football Blog: 2010 Week 1 Betting Lines

Week 1 Betting Lines

As always I will be making picks each week of the college football season this year. However, I’m going to do things a little differently this season. I always end up betting on each game just so that I have some interest in every score. In the interest of saving money, this year I’m going to pick every game that has a spread each week of the season on this blog. I’m still going to designate the 10 biggest games of each week, and for those games I will make comments. For the rest of the games I will just make a pick. If I’m picking an underdog to not only cover but win straight up I will specify that I am going with the upset. As always I will be getting all lines from Covers.com.

Week 1 Preview: There are a number of interesting games on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of this first week. Several of the games are being played at neutral sites. As always there are quite a few mismatches in the opening week. In fact, many of the games this weekend will not have legit spreads, as there are plenty of FCS teams getting paid to scrimmage the big boys. However, there are some fairly big week 1 matchups this year. As you might expect, there is a ton of movement on these lines, as there is so much unknown going into week 1. These lines may look very different by kickoff time.


Game 1: Pittsburgh (+3) @ Utah

Pick: Utah covers

Comment: The last and only meeting between these two teams was in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl when Utah smashed Pitt, 35-7, as the first non-BCS conference team to play in a BCS bowl. Pitt has struggled early in the season under Dave Wannstedt, and the Panthers will be playing with an inexperienced quarterback. The Utes are 44-8 at home since 2001, and they have won 17 straight home games. Utah is an astonishing 15-0 vs. BCS teams in non-road games since 2001. And the Utes will have a QB who started the last 5 games of last season.


Game 2: Illinois (+11) vs. Missouri (St. Louis)

Pick: Missouri covers

Comment: The Tigers have won all 5 games in this rivalry since the series moved to St. Louis in 2002, by an average of 13 points. Neither team has been great against the spread in recent years but Mizzu has beaten the spread against Illinois in each of the last 3 seasons. The one issue is that Mizzu’s leading rusher Derrick Washington has been suspended due to sexual assault charges.

Game 3: Kentucky (-3.5) @ Louisville

Pick: Kentucky covers

Comment: After losing 7 of 8 to the Cardinals, the Wildcats have now won 3 straight over their in-state rivals. 2 of the last 3 have been barn burners, but the last game in Louisville was a 27-2 Kentucky beat down. Kentucky was 3-1 on the road last season and 4-0 against the spread on the road. Both teams have first year coaches but they are not strangers. Joker Phillips had been the coach in waiting at Kentucky for the last 2 years, and Charlie Strong was a defensive coordinator in the SEC for over a decade prior to taking the job at Louisville.

Game 4: Connecticut (+3) @ Michigan

Pick: U Conn pulls off the upset

Comment: U Conn is just 6-6 on the road over the last 2 seasons but that has actually been a step up. They went 6-0 ATS on the road last year and they were 3-0 in non-conference road games. They are 2-0 vs. the Big Ten (but both against Indiana). There have been many stunning developments during Michigan’s recent fall from the ranks of the best in college football. Among those is the fact that Michigan had won 16 of 17 home openers prior to losing back to back home openers to Appalachian State and Utah in 2007 and 2008. The Wolverines are just 7-8 at home under Rich Rodriguez and 5-9 ATS at home (that doesn’t include the loss to App State when there was no line!).

Game 5: Purdue (+11.5) @ Notre Dame

Pick: Purdue beats the spread

Comment: Purdue has lost 11 of 12 at South Bend (only win came in 2004). Purdue nearly won last season, and the Boilermakers defeated the Irish in 2007. Purdue was 0-5 on the road last year. Notre Dame was 8-5 at home the last 2 years but just 5-8 ATS at home. The Irish were just 1-7 ATS as favorites last year. Before last year’s 3 point contest, the previous 6 matchups had been decided by an average of 17 points, with no game closer than 13 points. Still, my heart tells me that the Irish will struggle.

Game 6: Washington (+3) @ BYU

Pick: Washington beats the spread

Comment: This could be one of the most interesting games of the opening weekend. The last meeting was certainly interesting, as Washington nearly pulled off a miraculous win, only to be screwed over by the refs on a bogus unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The hideous flag on a last second touchdown run by Jake Locker led to the Huskies having to take a long extra point that was blocked, giving the Cougars a 28-27 win. The Huskies never recovered. Locker is now a senior and the Huskies are looking to take the next step after improving from 0-12 to 5-7 last year. They have still lost 12 straight and 14 of 15 on the road. They were just 2-8 ATS on the road over the last 2 years. They have lost their first game away from home in 6 of the last 7 seasons. BYU is 22-2 at home since 2006 but the Cougars have not had as much success against BCS teams as their instate rivals from Salt Lake have had. And this time Washington has a big time QB edge. It’s too close to call.

Game 7: Oregon State (+13.5) vs. TCU (Arlington)

Pick: Oregon State beats the spread

Comment: TCU is 9-2 vs. BCS teams since 2005 (with the only 2 losses coming at Texas and at Oklahoma). The Horned Frogs have gone 16-8 ATS over the last 2 years. This spread seems a bit high, despite the fact that TCU is a legit national power and will have a major edge in the QB matchup.

Game 8: LSU (-3) vs. UNC (Atlanta)

Pick: LSU covers

Comment: This is the most interesting game of opening week in my opinion. LSU has been a team on the decline over the last couple of seasons, while the Tar Heels come into this season with 19 returning starters and one of the most talented defenses in recent memory. However, the Tar Heels are not experienced in big games. The Tigers, on the other hand, are used to playing big games, and they absolutely love the Georgia Dome. LSU is 6-1 at the Dome since 2001, and their fans will have a major edge in the stadium for this one. The Tigers have won 12 of their last 13 openers, and 13 straight September games.

Game 9: Cincinnati (+2.5) @ Fresno State

Pick: Fresno State covers

Comment: This is a tough one to call. Last year the Bulldogs hung around but eventually lost at Cinci, 28-20. The Bearcats are playing under a new head coach but they were 16-3 on the road over the last 3 years, and 7-1 ATS as underdogs over the last 3 years. Fresno State has won 10 of their last 11 home openers. The Bulldogs always rise to the challenge of playing BCS foes, but they often come up short in the end.


Game 10: Boise State (-2.5) vs. Virginia Tech (Landover)

Pick: Boise State covers

Comment: This is clearly the biggest game of week 1. Boise State has played very well against BCS opponents in recent years, but this will be a different experience for the Broncos, as they will actually be favored and will have all the pressure. Virginia Tech has a number of question marks this season and they have struggled early in recent years. Virginia Tech should have the edge in the crowd, but Boise State is very experienced and very talented.

Other Games


Marshall (+28.5) @ Ohio State (Ohio State covers)
Minnesota (-3) @ Middle Tennessee State (MTS pulls off the upset)
Southern Mississippi (+14) @ South Carolina (Southern Miss beats the spread)
Northern Illinois (+4) @ Iowa State (NIU pulls off the upset)
Florida Atlantic (+14.5) @ UAB (FAU beats the spread)
USC (-21) @ Hawaii (USC covers)


Arizona (-14.5) @ Toledo (Toledo beats the spread)


Miami (Ohio) (+35) @ Florida (Florida covers)
Western Michigan (+22.5) @ Michigan State (Michigan State covers)
Louisiana-Lafayette (+28) @ Georgia (Georgia covers)
Colorado (-12) vs. Colorado State (Denver) (Colorado State beats the spread)
North Texas (+23.5) @ Clemson (Clemson covers)
UCLA (+2) @ Kansas State (KSU covers)
Texas (-29) @ Rice (Texas covers)
New Mexico (+34) @ Oregon (Oregon covers)
Syracuse (-8.5) @ Akron (Akron beats the spread)
Washington State (+15.5) @ Oklahoma State (Okie State covers)
Utah State (+34) @ Oklahoma (Oklahoma covers)
Bowling Green (+14) @ Troy (BG beats the spread)
San Jose State (+38.5) @ Alabama (Bama covers)
Memphis (+21.5) @ Mississippi State (Miss State covers)
Army (-9.5) @ Eastern Michigan (Army covers)
Western Kentucky (+37.5) @ Nebraska (Nebraska covers)
Arkansas State (+31) @ Auburn (Auburn covers)
Northwestern (-5.5) @ Vanderbilt (NW covers)
Wisconsin (-20.5) @ UNLV (UNLV beats the spread)


Tulsa (-8) @ East Carolina (Tulsa covers)
SMU (+14) @ Texas Tech (SMU beats the spread)


Navy (-6.5) vs. Maryland (Baltimore) (Navy covers)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The NFL Blog: 2010 Preseason Power Rankings

2010 Preseason Power Rankings

1. Minnesota
2. New Orleans
3. Baltimore
4. Indianapolis
5. Dallas
6. Green Bay
7. New York Jets
8. Cincinnati
9. New England
10. San Diego
11. New York Giants
12. Atlanta
13. San Francisco
14. Pittsburgh
15. Miami
16. Tennessee
17. Philadelphia
18. Washington
19. Houston
20. Chicago
21. Arizona
22. Carolina
23. Oakland
24. Kansas City
25. Jacksonville
26. Seattle
27. Tampa Bay
28. Denver
29. Cleveland
30. Detroit
31. Buffalo
32. St. Louis

Explanation: I’ve been doing these power rankings for college and pro football for a few years now and I’ve noticed a strange trend. For some reason it seems like the NFL rankings are always harder to do than the college rankings before the start of the season, and easier to do as the season progresses. It seems like just the opposite should be the case, as there is so much turnover in college football with some players going to the draft, some players arriving as freshman, and many formerly little known players stepping up and becoming well known. In the NFL we are basically familiar with the entire universe of players. Of course there are rookies, but with so much coverage of the draft these days, we often know much more about 5th round draft picks than we do about the best player on a team from the WAC. Plus, most rookies don’t have a major impact. Still, for some reason it’s harder for me to rank NFL teams in the preseason than it is for me to rank college teams. It’s because the NFL is built for parity, while the college game naturally favors the established programs with the most tradition and the most resources. During the season, the college football rankings get a bit more difficult because 19 and 20 year olds don’t usually play at the same level from week to week. In the NFL, things may change dramatically from the start of the season to the end, but from week to week things are usually less chaotic than the college game.

You may notice that my rankings don’t always match up with my actual predictions. There are several reasons for this, but the schedule is the biggest factor. Injuries and just plain luck have a big impact on the NFL season, but the schedule has an even bigger effect. Each team plays 6 of their 16 games against division foes, 4 of their games against another division from within the conference, and 4 of their games against another division from outside the conference. Under this structure, schedules can vary dramatically in level of difficulty from one team to another. There are also things like injuries and playoff reputations to consider. And sometimes you just have to go with your gut, because history shows that there are almost always a few seemingly illogical results over the course of the NFL season.

1. Minnesota Vikings

The Good: Mercifully, the Brett Favre “will he or won’t he” saga is over for another 6 or 7 months. Now that we know Favre will be the QB for the Vikes, and not Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenthal, we can confidently install Minnesota as a certain Super Bowl contender. With Favre leading the offense last year we learned that the Vikings actually had a lot of offensive weapons. They also have an improving offensive line and one of the few elite running backs in the league. Speaking of Adrian Peterson, I have a feeling he will be motivated to fix his fumbling issues this season. Defensively the Vikings are as strong as any team in the NFL. They are solid at each level and this year they should have a better secondary. The defensive line is the backbone of the Minnesota defense, led by Jared Allen, one of the premier defensive ends in the game. The Vikes also have a very good special teams unit.

The Bad: On paper the Vikings are the best team in the NFL, but there are plenty of questions. Favre’s health has to be a major concern. Even if he doesn’t suffer a serious injury, he is a year older, and it will be hard for him to have another stellar season in his 40’s. If there are any struggles, team chemistry could become an issue. It appears that Favre doesn’t trust Brad Childress as a head coach, and while Childress was able to avoid a power struggle with Favre last season, that might not be the case in 2010. The other problem is that Favre is probably right to question Childress. At times he seems out of his league. Resentment towards Favre from the other Viking players hasn’t been an issue so far, but that could change if his level of play drops off. The Vikings made a lot of big plays last season that masked some of the problems they had offensively late in the year. There is also the question of the health of Percy Harvin. He was a big time weapon for the Vikings last season and they will miss him if he is out for any length of time.

Forecast: A lot of things went right for the Vikings last season and they may not be as fortunate in 2010. However, they are as capable as any team in the league and they should be among the best in the NFL again this year. If they can stay healthy and stay united, they could get back to the NFC Championship Game and perhaps win it all this time.

2. New Orleans Saints

The Good: While it still seems weird to think of the Saints as one of the elite teams in the NFL, at this point we have to admit that they are for real. Their offense is unstoppable at times. Drew Brees is perhaps the most accurate passer in the league when he has time, and he normally has time because he plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. He has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, and with all the attention focused on containing the passing attack, the Saints are able to run the ball effectively. The Saints play an aggressive, opportunistic brand of defense, and they are able to do this because they have a strong secondary. They are well coached and at times seem to have a true strategic advantage with Sean Payton running the show.

The Bad: Like the Vikings, the Saints had a whole lot of things go their way last season. Both offensively and defensively, the Saints benefited from big plays that changed the outcome of certain games. They didn’t always dominate the action on the field the way that the score suggested. The NFC Championship Game was a perfect example, as the Saints were largely outplayed by Minnesota, but they ended up winning thanks in large part to unforced errors by the Vikings and flat out luck. The Saints made a big improvement from 2008 to 2009 and they are due to fall back to earth at least somewhat. Plus, they will now have a big target on their backs, and it will be harder to find motivation after such a magical season last year. The high risk/high reward style of defense that the Saints play worked well last season because they had good luck with turnovers, but it might not work out that way this year. The weak spot in the New Orleans defense is the line backing core, and teams have been planning and plotting all off-season for ways to exploit the Saints’ defense.

Forecast: Despite these concerns, the Saints should continue to be among the NFL’s top teams as long as they have Sean Payton and Drew Brees. They are the defending Super Bowl champs, and if they are motivated to repeat, it could be hard to keep them from doing so.

3. Baltimore Ravens

The Good: The Ravens were one of the better teams in the AFC last year and they made major upgrades to their offense during the off-season. Joe Flacco will be entering his 3rd season and could be poised to take his place among the top tier of NFL QB’s. Flacco is protected by a great offensive line and surrounded by excellent backs and pass catchers. The addition of Anquan Boldin could make the Ravens one of the most feared offenses in 2010. It’s hard to find a weakness on the Baltimore squad. They have one of the great young coaches in the NFL in John Harbaugh. As always, the Ravens should have a super defense this year.

The Bad: The Ravens are not great at special teams. More importantly, age is catching up to the leaders of Baltimore’s great defense, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. They are not the dominant players they once were.

Forecast: The presence of Baltimore’s defensive leaders is still crucial to the team’s success. If Lewis and Reed can stay on the field and produce for one more year, the stars could align for Baltimore in 2010.

4. Indianapolis Colts

The Good: There have been times over the last few years when the Colts seemed ripe for a bit of slip from the ranks of the best in the NFL. But is hasn’t happened. It now appears that the Colts are prepared to maintain their place among the elite teams in the game for many years to come. Tony Dungy’s retirement had no effect on the team, and this was really not much of a surprise to the few people who are not blinded by Lord Dungy’s immaculate light of righteousness. The Colts are probably always going to be formidable as long as they have Peyton Manning and his set of pass catching threats. Defensively, the Colts are led by perhaps the best set of bookend DE’s in the league, and when Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are healthy they can be a legitimately great defensive team. The Colts also have a very good secondary, and when Bob Sanders is on the field the defense can be elite.

The Bad: Of course Mathis, Freeney, and Sanders are often not healthy, and when they aren’t on the field the Colts’ defense becomes ordinary very quickly. In addition, the Colts are consistently weak in special teams. Offensively, while Peyton Manning and the pass catchers are difficult to stop, the Indianapolis rushing attack is not very strong. And while the Colts didn’t lose anything in terms of strategic advantage when Tony Dungy quit, Jim Caldwell doesn’t bring much to the table either.

Forecast: The Colts have been a constant atop the standings throughout Manning’s career, and there’s really no reason to expect things to be different in 2010.

5. Dallas Cowboys

The Good: Because the Cowboys are always surrounded by hype and expectation, it can be easy to look for reasons why Dallas will not be good. However, when you get past the natural urge to root against them, one has to admit that they are among the most talented teams in the NFL. Despite his shortcomings, Tony Romo is not the worst guy to have taking snaps. The Boys are loaded at the skill positions on offense. The Cowboys have also built an elite defense, strong at all levels, and led by one of the best line backing corps in the game.

The Bad: The questions for Dallas are the same as always. The offensive line looks good at times but in some big games they have had problems. And of course the coaching questions are still there. Wade Phillips has yet to take a team deep into the playoffs.

Forecast: Dallas is as loaded as any team out there on paper, but they will have to prove it on the field.

6. Green Bay Packers

The Good: The Packers were one of the hottest teams in the NFL going into the playoffs last season but they were shocked by the Cardinals in the first round. Aaron Rodgers is one of the most capable passers in the game and he has a number of talented receivers to throw to. Green Bay is also very strong defensively; in fact it was the defense that led the Pack on their 2nd half surge last year. The Packers have one of the best secondaries around, led by last season’s Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson.

The Bad: While Rodgers and his receivers are dangerous, the Green Bay offensive line has at times struggled to give the QB time. And as good as the passing offense can be, Green Bay is fairly limited as a rushing team. The Packers do not have a great special teams unit. Green Bay made a big improvement in wins last season and they may take a step back this season. They are unlikely to be as fortunate in the turnover department this season.

Forecast: The Packers are a team on the rise, and they are a legit challenge to the Vikings in the NFC North.

7. New York Jets

The Good: Somehow the 2nd team from the Big Apple has become the most talked about team in the National Football League. At least once a day we are given some sort of update on Rex Ryan and the drama going on at Jets camp. It’s not all hype. The Jets had the best defense in the league last season and they made the AFC Championship Game. Mark Sanchez should be better in his 2nd season but he’s still very young. They have a great running game with a couple of good backs and an excellent offensive line. And they have really upgraded the receiver position since the start of last year.

The Bad: There are some questions. For starters, we don’t know how the Jets will handle the expectations, and we do know that everyone will be gunning for them. There is also the issue of Darrelle Revis’ holdout, which doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon. That’s going to be a problem, as Revis is virtually universally considered to be by far the best cover corner in the game. In addition, one of Sanchez’s new weapons, Santonio Holmes, will begin the season serving a suspension. And while the Jets are rock solid defensively, they aren’t great at special teams.

Forecast: There’s a chance that the Jets go down as a big bust. It shouldn’t end up that way, however, as they have a ton of talent.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

The Good: The coverage of the Bengals has also been a bit puzzling. They’ve basically decided to be the modern version of the old Oakland Raiders, signing any and every player available who has ever had a history of arrests, confrontations, attitude problems, psychological issues, or any other sort of behavioral problem. Once you get past all of that, you remember that the Bengals were actually a pretty damn good team last year. With Carson Palmer’s injury problems now seemingly behind him and a good offensive line protecting him, Cinci should have a decent offense. They were a good running team last year and they have some talented (and mouthy) receivers. And amazingly defense is now a strength for the Bengals.

The Bad: It’s still dicey to predict big things from the Bengals, simply because they are the Bengals. I still question the coaching of Marvin Lewis and whether he will be able to handle this group if they go through a rough patch. The Bengals don’t play good special teams, and they are a bit injury prone at some key positions (quarter back, running back). They could be due for a step back after making a big leap up last year.

Forecast: If things go Cinci’s way they could again be a playoff contender.

9. New England Patriots

The Good: I have to admit that I have a tendency to expect more from the Patriots than perhaps I should because of my regard for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Still, New England is always in the mix, and they could be a bit of a sleeper this year with most people now considering them the 2nd best team in the AFC East. Remember, Brady is now 2 full years removed from the knee injury, so he could be primed for a big season. Randy Moss can still be one of the most explosive weapons around, and if Wes Welker is able to come back at even 85% from his injury the Pats will be hard to stop. The offensive line is experienced and the defense and special teams should be improved.

The Bad: Welker’s health is certainly one of the major questions facing the Patriots. Another is the age of New England’s offensive line. Also, while Belichick is still (in my opinion) the best coach in the game, his coaching staff has been gutted over the last 7 or 8 years. And the defense is still a question mark because the Patriots have had such a major turnover on that side of the ball in recent seasons.

Forecast: I don’t think the Patriots have fallen as far as many others think. In fact, I believe that by the end of the season they will be very, very dangerous.

10. San Diego Chargers

The Good: The Chargers were 13-3 last season, but most of the news about them in this off-season has been a bit negative. If they can work out their situation with disgruntled wideouts they should again have a good offense led by Philip Rivers. The media has seized upon the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson, but in reality it is a minor issue. The Chargers drafted Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews who is a stud. San Diego’s offensive line should be improved this season and Antonio Gates will be back. San Diego is always among the leaders in special teams and they have a lot of talent on defense, especially at linebacker.

The Bad: There are reasons to expect a bit of a down year for the Chargers. They made a major improvement in wins last season from 8 to 13, so they could be due for a step back. That record was also much better than their yard per game indicated it should be, and they scored more points and allowed fewer points than their yards gained and allowed said they should have. They were sort of exposed in the playoffs against the Jets. The secondary has major questions and so does the defensive line. And they are still coached by Norv Turner.

Forecast: The Chargers are very talented, they are always in the hunt, and they play in a horrible division, so they should have another great regular season.

11. New York Giants

The Good: The G-Men come into the season flying under the radar for the first time since before their miraculous Super Bowl run in 2007. They aren’t even the most covered team in their own city anymore. But the Giants are still around to be sure. They fell from 12 wins to 8 wins last season, and they are better than an 8-8 squad, so they could be in line for a rise back to double digits. They have a strong offensive line and when their backs are healthy they have a punishing running attack. They are solid at the skill positions and Eli Manning is a capable QB. New York still has one of the best defensive lines when they are healthy and they have a good secondary.

The Bad: Injuries are a major question for the G-Men. Also, the defense has a weak spot at linebacker, and New York has lost several important assistant coaches over the last few years.

Forecast: The Giants could sneak up on people again this season, but as always it will be tough in the NFC East.

12. Atlanta Falcons

The Good: I’m obviously biased about the Birds but a lot of people think the Falcons will contend for the playoffs in the NFC again this season. The franchise got a huge monkey off of its back last season in finishing with a winning record in consecutive seasons for the first time in team history. They managed to get to 9-7 despite some fairly bad luck with injuries. Matt Ryan will be in his 3rd year in the league and will hopefully take the next step to becoming one of the great QB’s around. The biggest key to the offense will be the health of Michael Turner, who missed most of the 2nd half of last season. The Falcons have a tough and nasty offensive line that has a lot of experience together. Ryan has plenty of weapons on offense including Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White. They are quite capable offensively and they are very well coached.

The Bad: The problem with the Falcons is the defense. There are major question marks concerning the defensive line and the secondary. The Falcons also have some special teams questions.

Forecast: Depending on how healthy the Falcons stay on defense and how their rookies and 2nd year defensive players do the Falcons could either be a very good team or just a decent team.

13. San Francisco 49ers

The Good: The Niners appear to be on the right track behind Mike Singletary. I’ll be honest, I did not think it looked good a couple of years ago when Mike was getting ratted out for mooning the players at halftime. But last year San Fran was better. The defense is solid, led by a very good front 7. They play good special teams. The offensive line is improving and that’s good news for Frank Gore and the offense. It now looks like Alex Smith might actually be able to make it as a serviceable QB in the NFL. Vernon Davis has apparently grown up enough to play up to his potential as an elite pass catching tight end, and at Michael Crabtree is going to be a star.

The Bad: For me the questions for the Niners start with Alex Smith. I’m still not totally sold on him and it’s hard to be a really good team in the NFL without a really good quarterback. And is Mike Singletary really on his way to leading the Niners out of the darkness, or was last year just a reprieve? I like their team and I think they are on the right track, but if you look at the roster they are mediocre in a few areas.

Forecast: I think if Smith keeps developing this season the Niners could be really tough. At any rate, I think they are now the best team in the very weak NFC West.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Good: The Steelers are one of the hardest teams to project going into this season. Obviously all of the doubt begins with the Ben Roethlisberger situation. Ben will be back for at least 10 of the 16 games, and with their dominant defense and Big Ben leading the show, the Steelers have a chance to win any game.

The Bad: But the Roethlisberger situation is a problem. Without him the Steelers will be playing at least the first 4 games of the season with Byron Leftwich at QB. With Pittsburgh’s leaky offensive line Leftwich is about the last guy I would want back there, although I know he has had success filling in for the Steelers before. There was another casualty of the off-season, and that was Super Bowl XLIII hero Santonio Holmes. Unlike Big Ben, Holmes is gone for good, as repeated bud smoking citations led to the Steelers sending him away. That’s actually a major loss in my mind. Hines Ward will now have to be the #1 receiver and that may not work out well, as Hinesy is getting up there in years and his health is a question. And it’s not like the Steelers have that great, bruising Steeler rushing game to fall back on. The Steelers were already poor on special teams and Holmes was a major weapon as a returner.

Forecast: Pittsburgh has some problems but they could end up bouncing back from last season. Their defense alone makes them dangerous.

15. Miami Dolphins

The Good: It was not all that surprising to see the Dolphins come back to earth last year after going from 1 to 11 wins in 2008. The Wildcat was a total media overreaction but the Dolphins do have a very good running game, especially when both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are healthy. It’s not smoke and mirrors, they have a good offensive line. I also think that they could be on to something with Chad Henne at quarterback. He looks like he could be good, and this season he has one of the great weapons in all of football in Brandon Marshall. And if Henne were to go down, the Dolphins have one of the better backups in Chad Pennington. Marshall is a head case but I think he will be okay at least in the short run.

The Bad: The problems for Miami are on defense where they have had to go through a transition period. There are a lot of uncertainties on the defensive side. The Dolphins are not great on special teams either.

Forecast: If some leaders emerge on defense the Dolphins should be a decent team again in 2010.

16. Tennessee Titans

The Good: The Titans fell off from 13 wins to 8 wins last season but they could bounce right back this year if Vince Young can make plays and avoid hurting his team. Young will obviously be helped tremendously by the best running back in the NFL (Chris Johnson) and a solid offensive line.

The Bad: It seems strange to talk about defense and offensive line as question marks for the Titans but that is the case heading into 2010. They did lose some key guys from both the OL and the defense, and they are a bit long on the tooth on the defensive side as well.

Forecast: I have a lot regard for head coach Steve Fisher, who I believe has basically been a constant overachiever in Tennessee, and I have learned to expect the Titans to at least be decent.

17. Philadelphia Eagles

The Good: A lot of people are down on the Eagles this season but I think they could surprise. The main reason I’m not as down on the Eagles as some others is that I don’t think the loss of Donovan McNabb is that big of a deal. McNabb was always capable of making the big play but he was also inconsistent. McNabb was also injury prone. Kevin Kolb hasn’t played much but he’s looked pretty good whenever he has played. The Eagles are sold on him, and that’s why that let D-Mac go. Plus, Kolb has a ton of weapons at his disposal, such as LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and DeSean Jackson. Philly is strong in the area of special teams. The defensive line is another strength.

The Bad: On the other hand, this will be Kolb’s first time as the starter and he could have some growing pains. They had great luck with turnovers last year and that may not happen again in 2010. And while Andy Reid certainly seems to be a good personal guy, he clearly struggles with in game decisions and play calling. The Eagles defense was simply not the same last year after the death of Jim Johnson. There’s no replacing a defensive genius. Making matters worse, the Eagles have lost a lot of talent off of the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. They are also questionable at linebacker. And the Eagles still don’t have a traditional rushing game.

Forecast: The Eagles could drop off in 2010; it’s not hard to do in the NFC East. But at this point they should not be counted out.

18. Washington Redskins

The Good: It could be argued that the two most important positions in football are head coach and quarterback. With that in mind, it must be said that the Redskins have a great chance of being much better in 2010. They have gone from Jim Zorn to Mike Shanahan at head coach and from Jason Campbell to Donovan McNabb at quarterback. Obviously they should at least be much better at those 2 key spots. They are still figuring things out under Shanahan but he’s got much more to work with than a coach normally might when taking over a 4-12 team. They were much better than that record suggests last year and they should easily improve. Washington has a very good secondary and some talent at all levels on defense. The most talented defensive player for the Skins is probably Albert Haynesworth, but it remains to be seen whether he will be willing to play at his highest level for Washington. If he does give all out effort, he could be dominant again.

The Bad: Despite the addition of McNabb, the Skins are still a bit limited offensively. Their offensive line is still in rebuilding mode and their running backs are old and injury prone. They don’t have much at receiver either. McNabb is going from an offense that had as much big play potential as any team in the league, to an offense with almost no big play threats. Special teams is also an issue for the Skins.

Forecast: If Washington keeps McNabb healthy and Haynesworth shows up this season the Skins could challenge for the postseason. At the very least they will be a lot better than last year.

19. Houston Texans

The Good: A lot of people thought that the Texans would take the next step last season and get to the postseason for the first time. After back to back 8-8 seasons, the Texans did get their first winning record, finishing 9-7, but they were still unable to really put it all together. Somewhat surprisingly, Gary Kubiak kept his job and will get at least another shot at taking Houston to the playoffs. Matt Schaub rewarded Houston’s confidence in him last season by throwing for 4770 yards and 29 TD while completing 67.9 percent of his passes. Helping Schaub led the NFL in passing yards was Andre Johnson, who caught 101 passes and led the NFL in receiving yards with 1569. Johnson is truly a stud receiver when healthy. Mario Williams is still one of the more talented rush ends in the game, and Brian Cushing was the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year at linebacker.

The Bad: Unfortunately for Kubiak, I’m not sure this year’s Texans team is even as strong as last year’s underachieving team. Offensive line is still a big question for Houston and that makes the chances of Schaub starting every game again not a sure thing. Johnson also must be healthy for Houston’s offense to be elite. They don’t have much to speak of in terms of a rushing attack. On the other side of the ball, the secondary is a gaping hole. Also, Mario Williams looked primed to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate last year but instead he was hampered by injury and took a step back. Plus, Cushing will be suspended for the first 4 games of this season.

Forecast: Houston should be decent again, but they face a tougher schedule, and I don’t think this will be the year they get to the playoffs.

20. Chicago Bears

The Good: There are some reasons to think the Bears could have a better year this season. Jay Cutler’s first year in the Windy City was a bit of a disaster, so the Bears brought in Mike Martz to run the offense. The Bears also made one of the biggest acquisitions of the off-season, getting DE Julius Peppers. With Peppers on board and Brian Urlacher healthy, the Bears should have a very formidable front 7. Chicago still plays good special teams, despite the end of Devin Hester’s reign as the game’s best return man.

The Bad: Martz may eventually help Cutler succeed in Chicago but it’s unlikely to be a quick fix. And how will Martz end up getting along with Cutler? How will he get along with Lovie Smith for that matter? And Martz isn’t dealing with an offense that has the talent of the Greatest Show on Turf or even the Detroit Lions. There aren’t many weapons on the offensive side for Chicago. The receivers and running backs are below average. In addition, the Bears offensive line is a weak spot. I think Cutler is going to struggle again. On the other side of the ball the Bears are vulnerable in the secondary. And Lovie Smith is a somewhat questionable in-game coach in my opinion.

Forecast: The Bears should be a decent team this season but I don’t see them taking a major step forward.

21. Arizona Cardinals

The Good: Incredibly, the Cardinals come into the 2010 season as two time defending division champions. That’s ridiculous. The Cards have gotten a scare early in preseason, as Larry Fitzgerald is a bit banged up. Fitz must play for the Cards to be good, as he is the best receiver in the game when he is 100%. The Cards have some talent on offense, defense, and in the special teams department.

The Bad: I think most people are expecting the Cards to take a step back in 2010 and I have to agree. The loss of Kurt Warner is enormous. Matt Leinart may end up being a decent QB but he is not Warner and he never will be. In my opinion, he’s a bit of a spoiled punk bitch. The Cardinals also lost Anquan Boldin this off-season, taking one of their offensive weapons away. Arizona actually lost a ton this off-season. Along with Warner and Boldin, the Cards lost players from their offensive line, the defense, and special teams.

Forecast: Arizona still has a lot of talent and they are used to winning now. They also play in a weak division. But I don’t think Arizona will be anywhere near the team they have been over the two previous seasons.

22. Carolina Panthers

The Good: The Panthers fell way off last year and they could bounce back this season. They finally made the decision to set Jake Delhomme adrift and they still have the best pair of running backs in the NFL and a good offensive line. I also have a high regard for the abilities of John Fox. Inexplicably, Fox has been on the so-called “hot seat” at times over the last few years, but when the Panthers have disappointed it has often been injuries and suicidal QB play that has been the culprit. Some might scoff but I think Fox has been an overachiever.

The Bad: While Delhomme had to go, the QB’s currently on the Carolina roster are either short on talent or experience. The attitude and commitment of Julius Peppers was questioned at times but with him gone the Carolina defensive line looks like one of the worst in the league. Defense is a major question for Carolina going into this season. The Panthers also have one of the worst special teams units in the game.

Forecast: Fox is a great coach and Carolina’s running game alone will make them a formidable opponent, but I don’t see a major bounce back year coming in 2010.

23. Oakland Raiders

The Good: I may have the Raiders ranked a little higher than a lot of others, but they were better than 5 or 6 teams last season, and the subtraction of JaMarcus Russell should be enough alone to move them ahead of a few more teams. It sounds strange to talk about Jason Campbell as a major upgrade at quarterback, but Russell was the worst quarterback in the entire National Football League. Oakland has a decent set of linebackers and a pretty good secondary. They are also very solid in the special teams department.

The Bad: I doubt the Raiders will ever again be among the best in the NFL until Al Davis finally lets go. I don’t think you can be overly critical of Tom Cable but it would also be hard to call him an asset at head coach. While the offense should be a lot less impotent with Campbell at QB, they still have no line, and very little in the backfield and at receiver. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is a liability.

Forecast: The Raiders have shocked some of the better teams in the NFL in recent years, and if they could play that way all the time they could flirt with a .500 record, as they do play in the weak AFC West. I don’t see that happening in 2010, but they ought to be able to end their streak of 7 consecutive seasons with at least 11 losses.

24. Kansas City Chiefs

The Good: For some reason a fair amount of people are claiming the Chiefs will make a big improvement this year. There is some rationality behind this. The Chiefs did play better towards the end of last season and they were 2-7 in games decided by 7 points or less. Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel are now the coordinators for the franchise that can truly be called “New England Midwest.” Matt Cassel has now started for essentially 2 full seasons. They are improved at running back and they play good special teams.

The Bad: I’m still skeptical of Todd Haley as a head coach. The offensive line is still a major issue and the Chiefs don’t have a lot of pass catching weapons. They should have one of the worst defenses again in 2010.

Forecast: I think the Chiefs will definitely be better but I don’t see a dramatic breakthrough. They were awful last season and they’ll be less awful this year, but they still won’t be very good.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Good: Maurice Jones Drew remains one of the more versatile and dynamic backs in the NFL.

The Bad: The Jags don’t have all that much more to brag about. Quite frankly, I’m not sure what’s going on with these franchise. Jack Del Rio seemed to have worn out his welcome years ago, and yet he will return for an 8th season. The fan support is perhaps the worst in the country. I wonder what the atmosphere and morale of the team is at this point. David Garrard has had some success with the Jags in the past but he’s not one of the better QB’s in the game. There’s not much for him to work with aside from MJD. His offensive line is weak and the receivers are lacking. Defense will also be a question for the Jags this season, as the secondary will likely be a major problem. The Jags are also poor at special teams.

Forecast: I think the Jags will be about as good as they have been the last couple of years, which is to say below mediocre but not awful.

26. Seattle Seahawks

The Good: So Pete Carroll took over as head coach and the Seahawks suddenly went from one of the most ignored and anonymous franchises in the league to one of great interest for people in the press. Carroll is an upgrade at coach over Jim Mora Jr. and he might be the right guy for a team needed inspiration and a lift in morale. They also got high marks from “experts” for their draft and post-draft off-season moves.

The Bad: Unfortunately, the roster that Carroll inherited had less talent than some of his USC squads. Plus, Carroll was not a smashing success in either of his 2 previous jobs at the NFL level, and he’s been out of the game for more than a decade. Quarterback is still a major issue with Matt Hasselback’s health still a question mark and Charlie Whitehurst being Charlie Whitehurst. They have nothing at running back or receiver. The offensive line is not very good. The defensive line is weak and the secondary is vulnerable.

Forecast: The Seahawks do have a nice homefield advantage, and they play in a weak division, and they will play an easy schedule, but they don’t have many assets on the roster.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Good: The Bucs should be better in 2010. To begin with, they weren’t quite as bad as they seemed last year, and they should improve just with better luck. Josh Freeman will be in his 2nd year as quarterback and he is talented. Tampa still has a decent secondary and they play special teams well.

The Bad: Other than Freeman, the Bucs don’t have much talent at the skill positions on offense. While the secondary remains strong, Tampa’s front 7 is a major weakness. And I personally think Raheem Morris is at least one level over his head.

Forecast: The Bucs won’t be pushovers most of the time but they won’t be very good either.

28. Denver Broncos

The Good: I’m a bit biased because I’ve come to hate the Broncos with a passion. That being said, it’s not really a stretch to expect Denver to suck this season. I thought they were going to suck last year but they started the season 6-0. Then reality kicked in and they lost 8 of 10. Denver’s secondary is still good but there aren’t many other strengths.

The Bad: The Broncos have lost a ton of talent over the last few years. Their biggest weapon, Brandon Marshall, is now gone, and they have the limited Kyle Orton at QB. Eddie Royal is a solid receiver but he could feel the absence of Marshall as much as Orton. Knowshon Moreno is talented but undersized and he’s a liability as a pass blocker. Making matters worse, Denver’s offensive line is in rebuilding mode. The major weakness on defense is at defensive line. Now that Elvis Dumervil is out for the year you have to say that linebacker is a bit of a problem spot for the Broncos as well. Denver does not play special teams well. And I really believe that the guy running the ship in Denver is a buffoon. Josh McDaniel’s draft this season was an exercise in idiocy in my opinion. That little publicity stunt they staged in drafting Tim Tebow in the first round is not going to help them much on the field this season. In fact I don’t think he will ever help them much other than as an occasional gimmick or as a short yardage runner.

Forecast: Denver has the advantage of playing at high altitude and they play in a garbage division, but they should be one of the worst teams in the league this year.

29. Cleveland Browns

The Good: I think the Browns are in better hands these days with Mike Holmgren coming aboard in the same capacity as Bill Parcels with the Dolphins. That could become a trend around the league. Cleveland had horrible luck with turnovers in 2009 and they will most likely be more fortunate this year. The Browns have a definite strength at offensive line and that can make a lot of things possible offensively. And Cleveland has perhaps the best special teams unit in the NFL.

The Bad: The Browns went on a stunning win streak late last season that saved Eric Mangini’s job. Unfortunately, I think the Browns would have been better off letting Mangini go. The Browns won more games than they probably should have based on their yards gained vs. yards allowed, not to mention the fact that they won the majority of their games over teams who had more or less packed it in. That could say something good for Mangini, but it also probably means that they were closer to the team that started 1-11 (with a 6-3 win over Buffalo) than they team that won their last 4 games. Jake Delhomme could end up being a positive at quarterback, as he is definitely experienced and tough, but he could also end up floundering. As we all know, Delhomme has a tendency to make mistakes, and that will be devastating for an offense that has a lot of trouble moving the ball and scoring points. They are limited at running back and receiver. On the other side, the Browns are a disaster. They will again struggle to stop offenses in 2010.

Forecast: I think the Browns could actually be slightly better overall this season, but they still play in a very tough division. I expect it to be another miserable year for Browns fans, and I don’t expect Mangini to survive this time.

30. Detroit Lions

The Good: Detroit should take another baby step forward this season. They were crushed by turnovers last season and that should improve. Matt Stafford will be a 2nd year QB and he and Calvin Johnson should eventually be a potent passing tandem. While it might take some time for Ndamukong Suh to find his way in the NFL, I believe he will be a dominant force at some point.

The Bad: The Lions are still a long way from moving out of the bottom of the NFL. The offensive line is not good and is going to limit anything that Stafford could do. They don’t have a running game. Defensively the Lions are terrible at linebacker and in the secondary. They do not play special teams well either.

Forecast: Detroit will be slightly better but they’ll mostly be the same old Lions in 2010.

31. Buffalo Bills

The Good: The Bills were 6-10 last season and they could easily have finished at 8-8 if they hadn’t gone 1-3 in games decided by 3 points or less. The Bills have a good secondary and a good special teams unit. They have some talent at running back.

The Bad: I think the Bills are in trouble. They seem to be heading the wrong way. They have one of the worst offensive lines in football. That basically negates any strength they might have with Fred Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, and CJ Spiller in the backfield. There isn’t a starting QB on the roster, and the most capable one (Trent Edwards) has a history of concussions and that won’t get any better behind this line. The Bills have one of the weaker receiving groups as well. The Bills front 7 on defense is very poor. And this is just the roster. Don’t forget that they also settled on Chan Gailey as the new head coach. Both coordinators are new. Oh yeah, and the Bills play in the AFC East, are facing a nightmarish schedule, and will have to play one of their home games in Toronto.

Forecast: So, who’s #1 on Mel Kiper’s early big board?

32. St. Louis Rams

The Good: The Rams are almost guaranteed to improve this season, although that’s not really a compliment, as they virtually can’t get any worse. The Rams had back luck in a number of areas last season, including turnovers, and so they will likely be more fortunate this year. The Rams do play good special teams and they have a legit weapon in Steven Jackson when he is healthy.

The Bad: There was a point last year when I was watching a Rams game, and I realized that they had more guys I had never heard of getting regular playing time than any NFL team I had ever watched. It was like some old computer game that got the rights to the team names, colors, and logos, but not the rights to use the players’ likes and images so they had to use fictitious names. There’s still not much talent on the Rams roster. I have never been big on Sam Bradford’s prospects as an NFL QB but at least he makes them more talented. However, the Rams should not even think about having Bradford be the main starting QB this season. For starters, he’s not that well prepared for NFL style defenses and for running an NFL offense. He rarely got touched at Oklahoma and yet he still proved to be brittle and easily broken. The majority of the time he faced no pressure and threw to targets that were wide open. Now he joins a team with an absolutely brutal offensive line and no pass catchers. His confidence and his safety will be in jeopardy if they send him out there to start the year. The Rams are even worse on defense. They are poor at all levels of the defense: defensive line, linebacker, and secondary.

Forecast: The Rams are the worst team in the NFL. They may not end up with the worst record, as they play in a weak division, but that will only end up hurting them because they could really use another #1 pick.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The NFL Blog: 2010 Season Predictions

2010 NFL Predictions

o Division champions are in bold italics; wild card teams are in bold; non-playoff teams with winning records are in italics.

o Teams with identical records are placed in order based on NFL tie-breaking procedures.

o Playoff teams are seeded based on NFL seeding and tie-breaking procedures. Each team is numbered in order of where I think they will finish in conference playoff standings. Playoff positions are to the right of each team in regular font within these little things: {#}.

o Team records are listed in regular font: #-#.

o I also rank each team from 1 to 32 and team rankings are listed to the right of each team in bold parentheses: (#); rankings are based on how I think each team compares with the rest of the league, without taking into consideration conference, division, or schedule; rankings do not indicate where I think they will finish in the standings.

o I also rank each division in the league from 1-8 in three different ways: Power Rank is based on the strength of the top two teams in the division; Depth Rank is based on the strength of the bottom two teams in the division; Overall Rank is based on the strength of all four teams in the division. Division rankings are in parenthesis to right of each division, along with number of teams with winning record; number of teams with 11 or more wins; and number of teams with 11 or more losses.


East [Power Rank: #4; Depth Rank: #4; Overall Rank: #4; (Winning Teams: 2); (11 Win Teams: 2); (11 Loss Teams: 1)]

1. New England 13-3 {2} (9)
2. New York Jets 12-4 {5} (7)
3. Miami 8-8 {8} (15)
4. Buffalo 3-13 {15} (31)

North [Power Rank: #2; Depth Rank: #2; Overall Rank: #2; (Winning Teams: 3); (11 Win Teams: 1); (11 Loss Teams: 1)]

1. Baltimore 12-4 {4} (3)
2. Cincinnati 10-6 {6} (8)
3. Pittsburgh 9-7 {7} (14)
4. Cleveland 3-13 {16} (29)

South [Power Rank: #6; Depth Rank: #3; Overall Rank: #6; (Winning Teams: 1); (11 Win Teams: 1); (11 Loss Teams: 0)]

1. Indianapolis 12-4 {3} (4)
2. Tennessee 8-8 {9} (16)
3. Houston 6-10 {11} (19)
4. Jacksonville 6-10 {12} (25)

West [Power Rank: #7; Depth Rank: #7; Overall Rank: #7; (Winning Teams: 1); (11 Win Teams: 1); (11 Loss Teams: 1)]

1. San Diego 13-3 {1} (10)
2. Kansas City 7-9 {10} (24)
3. Oakland 6-10 {13} (23)
4. Denver 4-12 {14} (28)


East [Power Rank: #5; Depth Rank: #1; Overall Rank: #1; (Winning Teams: 2); (11 Win Teams: 0); (11 Loss Teams: 0)]

1. Dallas 10-6 {3} (5)
2. New York Giants 9-7 {7} (11)
3. Philadelphia 8-8 {9} (17)
4. Washington 8-8 {10} (18)

North [Power Rank: #1; Depth Rank: #6; Overall Rank: #3; (Winning Teams: 2); (11 Win Teams: 1); (11 Loss Teams: 1)]

1. Minnesota 11-5 {2} (1)
2. Green Bay 10-6 {6} (6)
3. Chicago 8-8 {8} (20)
4. Detroit 2-14 {15} (30)

South [Power Rank: #3; Depth Rank: #5; Overall Rank: #5; (Winning Teams: 2); (11 Win Teams: 2); (11 Loss Teams: 1)]

1. New Orleans 12-4 {1} (2)
2. Atlanta 12-4 {5} (12)
3. Carolina 6-10 {12} (22)
4. Tampa Bay 5-11 {13} (27)

West [Power Rank: #8; Depth Rank: #8; Overall Rank: #8; (Winning Teams: 1); (11 Win Teams: 0); (11 Loss Teams: 2)]

1. San Francisco 9-7 {4} (13)
2. Arizona 7-9 {11} (21)
3. Seattle 5-11 {14} (26)
4. St. Louis 2-14 {16} (32)

NFL Playoffs

AFC Wild Card Round
#3 Indianapolis over #6 Cincinnati
#4 Baltimore over #5 New York Jets

AFC Divisional Round
#4 Baltimore over #1 San Diego
#2 New England over #3 Indianapolis

AFC Championship Game
#2 New England over #4 Baltimore

NFC Wild Card Round
#3 Dallas over #6 Green Bay
#5 Atlanta over #4 San Francisco

NFC Divisional Round
#1 New Orleans over #5 Atlanta
#2 Minnesota over #3 Dallas

NFC Championship Game
#2 Minnesota over #1 New Orleans

Super Bowl XLV
#2 New England over #2 Minnesota

Division/Conference/Super Bowl Winners
AFC East: New England
AFC North: Baltimore
AFC South: Indianapolis
AFC West: San Diego
NFC East: Dallas
NFC North: Minnesota
NFC South: New Orleans
NFC West: San Francisco
AFC Champion: New England
NFC Champion: Minnesota
Super Bowl Champion: New England

Conference Power Rankings
1. NFC North
2. AFC North
3. NFC South
4. AFC East
5. NFC East
6. AFC South
7. AFC West
8. NFC West

Conference Depth Rankings
1. NFC East
2. AFC North
3. AFC South
4. AFC East
5. NFC South
6. NFC North
7. AFC West
8. NFC West

Overall Conference Rankings
1. NFC East
2. AFC North
3. NFC North
4. AFC East
5. NFC South
6. AFC South
7. AFC West
8. NFC West

Awards and Honors
Super Bowl XLV MVP: Tom Brady-QB-New England
AP NFL Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh-Baltimore
AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Wes Welker-WR-New England
AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Jared Allen-DE-Minnesota
AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees-QB-New Orleans
AP NFL Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady-QB-New England
AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mathews-RB-San Diego
AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh-DT-Detroit

Predicted Stat Leaders
QB Rating: Drew Brees-New Orleans
Passing TD: Peyton Manning-Indianapolis
Passing Yards: Aaron Rodgers-Green Bay
Rushing Yards: Chris Johnson-Tennessee
Rushing TD: Michael Turner-Atlanta
Receptions: Brandon Marshall-Miami
Receiving Yards: Andre Johnson-Houston
Receiving TD: Randy Moss-New England
Sacks: Jared Allen-Minnesota
Tackles: Patrick Willis-San Francisco
Interceptions: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie-Arizona
Forced Fumbles: John Abraham-Atlanta

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Braves Blog: Gonads Series Preview

It’s been a very strange week for the Braves and their fans. It’s just a strange time. On the one hand, the Braves have finally gotten on a roll in the 2nd half and they continue to lead the NL East. This group of Braves has proven to be a team in the true sense of the word, and it is not cliché to say that these Braves do not quit and they do not say die. On the other hand, the Braves have lost the face of the team, a veteran leader, and most importantly, the most respected and feared bat in the lineup. They have lost their #3 hitter and their starting third baseman.

It would seem unlikely that the Braves could somehow hold off the Phillies to win the NL East, and they probably wouldn’t even be the logical favorite to win the Wild Card at this point. At the All-Star break fans could dream of a World Series championship. At this point, it’s hard to imagine how the Braves could reach the playoffs and then win 3 series against teams which on paper would appear to have the advantage. But for now, they just keep winning. It’s just a weird and unfamiliar situation.

Injuries aside, stranger things have happened. If any franchise understands the crapshoot that the MLB playoffs can be it is the Atlanta Braves. We’ve seen minimum payroll teams win the Wild Card and defeat the team with the highest payroll in the game in the World Series. We’ve seen teams lose in the playoffs as the #1 seed year after year and then finally win the World Series after sneaking into the playoffs with a record close to .500. We’ve seen miracles. That’s what we have to hope for. We have to hope that our team comes out on the right side of a totally perplexing final result. We have to hope that these Braves simply continue to win until there are no games left to play.

The Braves are now a season high 20 games over .500 at 69-49 (.585) and 2.5 games up on the Phillies in the NL East. Turner Field has been a magical place from the very 1st inning of this season, and the Braves are now 42-16 (.724) at the Ted. They are back to .500 (18-18) in 1-run games and extra inning games (6-6). The Braves are 17-14 in their last 31 games (17-13 in the 2nd half) but 10-4 in their last 14. They have won 4 straight series.

Injuries, offensive problems, and defensive mistakes have plagued the Braves in recent weeks. However, the starting pitching and middle relief—along with some timely hitting--has bailed the team out and turned a possible slump into a nice stretch. But now a bugaboo comes to a town. A bugaboo as annoying as the very word “bugaboo.” An irritating group of pesky pests, fittingly called the Nats.

Washington Series Preview

The Braves are just 4-5 in 9 games against the Gonads this season, having been outscored 32-29 over those 9 games. Back in early May the Braves dropped 2 of 3 at Washington, losing 6-3 in the opener, taking the next game 7-6 in 10 innings, and then losing the rubber match by a run, 3-2. In late June the Braves returned the favor, taking 2 of 3 from the Nats in Atlanta, winning 5-0 in the opener, losing 7-2 in the next game, but then taking the finale 4-1 to claim the series win. In late July the Braves again lost 2 of 3 in Washington, getting shutout in the opener 3-0, winning 3-1 the next day, but then dropping the last game 5-3 to lose the series. The Braves absolutely must win this series, and it wouldn’t hurt to take all 3 games.

The Nats are currently 16 games under .500 at 51-67 (.432) and in last place in the East, 18 games back of the Braves. They have been a very weak road team this season, going just 20-40 (.333) through their first 60 games away from home. The Nats are 16-20 in 1-run games and they have had no luck at all in extra inning games, coming away just 1-8 in 9 extra inning affairs this season. They are 12-17 in the 2nd half and just 2-6 in their last 8.

The Nats certainly have some dangerous hitters in their lineup, but Washington is just 14th in the NL in runs per game and 9th in homers. They do have some speed, as they are 3rd in the NL in stolen bases, as well as 5th in the NL with a 73% SB success rate. They really didn’t give away much of their offense at the trade deadline. They did trade Christian Guzman, but that probably makes them a better offensive team. The Braves do catch a break, as Nyjer Morgan is on the DL at the moment.

Washington’s pitching numbers aren’t that impressive. They are 11th in the NL in ERA, runs allowed per game, and WHIP. They are tied for 15th in Quality Starts and 13th in starter’s ERA. However, Washington’s bullpen is no longer a weak spot. They no longer have Matt Capps at the closer spot, but they have plenty of tough and talented arms left in the pen, and they are 4th in the NL in BP ERA this season.

The Nats still hurt themselves on defense a lot. They are 15th in the NL in errors and Fielding Percentage, and they are 11th in Defensive Efficiency. Ivan Rodriguez still does a good job limiting base stealers, but he is not the best backstop behind the plate at this point. Ian Desmond is a plus for the Nats as a batter, but is a liability in the field at shortstop. And, of course, Adam Dunn is the first baseman, although he is definitely improved in the field.


Scott Olsen vs. Mike Minor

I think I speak for all Braves fans when I say that I’m tired of facing Scott Olsen. I don’t ever need to see him again. The tall left hander is now 3-4 on the season in 11 starts with a 5.11 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. The Nats are 5-6 in his starts and he has 5 Quality Starts. He has been better in 5 starts on the road this season, going 1-1 with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He has 2 QS on the road and the Nats are 2-3 in his 5 road starts.

The Braves used to handle Olsen, but in recent times he has befuddled the Atlanta lineup. In 15 career appearances against the Braves, 14 as a starter, Olsen is 4-5 with a 5.65 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. However, in his last 3 starts against the Braves Olsen is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with 14 K over 22 innings. The Nats have won all 3 of those games and he has posted a QS in each of them.

Back on May 6th in Washington, Olsen went 7.1 innings and allowed just 2 runs (1 earned) on 2 hits and a walk with 8 K, taking a no-decision in a game the Nats eventually won 3-2. Just a few weeks ago Olsen went 6 against the Braves in Washington and held them to 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks with a K to get the win in a 5-3 Nats victory. Olsen’s last 2 starts coming into this game have not gone well, as he went 0-2, allowing 12 runs on 15 hits and 3 walks over 7.1 innings, giving up 3 dingers. One thing for the Braves to feel confident about is that they know Olsen well. Also, he has not been very tough on left handed batters this season.

Mike Minor will be taking the mound at Turner Field for the first time in his career on Tuesday. He pitched well despite terrible luck in his MLB debut at Houston back on August 9th. Minor wound up going 6 innings and allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits with just 1 walk and 5 K. He hit a batter and surrendered 3 doubles but more than half of the hits allowed were cheap bloops. He got the no-decision in a game the Braves let get out of hand, losing 10-4. He threw 64 of 94 pitches for strikes. I for one was very impressed.


Livan Hernandez vs. Tim Hudson

Yeah, I don’t need to see Livan again either. He’s now 8-8 with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 24 starts in 2010. He has thrown 2 CG and a SHO. The Nats are 13-11 with Hernandez on the mound, and he has an impressive 17 QS in 24 tries. Livan is 4-4 in 11 road starts with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. The Nats are just 4-7 in those 11 games, but Hernandez has a CG and 8 QS away from home.

Livan has been pretty consistent all year. In his last 3 starts he is 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 20.2 innings. All 3 of those starts were QS but the Nats are just 1-2 in those games. The Braves have seen Livan twice already this season. On May 4th in Washington, Hernandez went just 5.1 innings but held the Braves to 2 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits and 5 walks with a K to get the win in a 6-3 Nats victory. On July 28th at Nationals Park the Braves knocked Hernandez out early again, this time getting 3 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks as Livan left after 4.1 innings. He took the loss as the Braves won 3-1.

I don’t really want to say too much about Huddy. He’s been spectacular. He’s 14-5 in 24 starts with a 2.13 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He has 1 CG and 20 QS, though the Braves are a relatively mediocre 15-9 in his starts considering how consistently good he has been. Huddy has been dominant at home, going 9-3 in 12 starts at the Ted with a 1.81 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. He has 11 QS in 12 home starts.

Over his last 5 starts, Huddy is 5-0 with a 0.49 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP over 36.2 innings. During that stretch he has struck out 26 while walking 7, has not allowed a homer, and has held batters to .183/.237/.206/.443 hitting. Obviously all 5 of those starts were QS. Hudson has faced the Nats 3 times already in 2010 and he has posted a QS each time, though the Braves are only 2-1 in those games. He has a 2-0 record in 3 starts vs. the Nats this year with a 1.25 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and 17 K over 21.2 innings.


John Lannan vs. Derek Lowe

Lannan will be the 2nd lefty to face the Braves in this series, but left handed batters have faired well against him this year too. He is 4-5 in 17 starts with a 5.23 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. He has 9 QS in 17 tries and the Nats are 9-8 with him on the mound. In 9 starts on the road this year Lannan is 3-3 with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. He has thrown 4 QS on the road and the Nats are 4-5 in his 9 starts away from home. Lannan has pitched well over his last 3 outings, going 2-0 and posting a 3.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP over 18 innings. 2 of those last 3 starts have been QS and the Nats are 2-1 in those games.

Lowe is basically Lowe. You never know quite what you’re going to get. You can bet it won’t be great, but it might be good enough to win. He is now 11-10 in 25 starts with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 2010. He has only 11 QS and the Braves are just 12-13 with him on the mound. Lowe has been much better at Turner Field, going 8-4 in 13 starts with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. He has thrown 6 QS at home and the Braves are 8-5 in his 13 starts at the Ted.

Lowe has been decent over his last 3 games, going 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP over 17.1 innings. He has walked just 2 and has not allowed a homer over his last 3 outings. 2 of his last 3 appearances have been QS, but the Braves are only 1-2 in those games. This will be Lowe’s 3rd start against the Nats in 2010. Unfortunately, his first 2 tries have been poor. On June 29th at Atlanta Lowe allowed 4 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with 5 K over 5.2 innings and took the loss as the Braves fell 7-2. A few weeks ago in Washington Lowe gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 3 K over just 5 innings, again taking the loss as the Braves dropped the game 5-3. Combined against the Nats this season, Lowe is 0-2 in 2 starts and has allowed 8 earned runs on 13 hits and 3 walks with 8 K over just 10.2 innings.


The Braves get a boost going into this series as Martin Prado has been activated and is expected to be back in the lineup for the opener. However, Martin is not yet 100% and I am actually a bit concerned that he is coming back too soon. Let’s hope I’m wrong. Prado will also be playing 3rd, so they are asking a lot of the guy. While none of the pitchers facing the Braves in this series is intimidating, the Braves will be facing a pair of lefties, one of whom has given them a lot of trouble recently. And you know Livan will keep the Nats in the game. On the other hand, the Braves have Minor making just his 2nd start in the big leagues and his first at home in the opener. And in the finale the Braves have the always shaky Lowe. A horrifying stat is that the Braves are just 20-25 against the Nats since the start of the 2008 season. Still, the Braves should be able to win this series, and they should aim to sweep, as they are clearly the better team and they are playing at home.

The College Football Blog: 2010 Preseason Power Rankings

2010 Preseason Power Rankings

Note about the power rankings: If you’re reading this then by now you are familiar with how these rankings work. I base my power rankings purely on team strength. In other words, which team I believe would win a head to head matchup on a neutral field. My power rankings have nothing to do with where I think each team will finish the season. I do not consider team schedules at all. I ignore all non-season ending injuries and suspensions.

1. Alabama
2. Florida
3. Oklahoma
4. Ohio State
5. Boise State
6. TCU
7. Texas
8. Iowa
9. Oregon
10. North Carolina
11. Nebraska
12. Georgia
13. Virginia Tech
14. Miami
15. Wisconsin

Other teams considered

Florida State
Penn State
South Carolina

Explanation: In each of the last few seasons I have gone into the year with a strong sense of who I thought the top few teams in the country were. That is not the case this season. I really don’t feel great about these preseason rankings. In the last few years I have stuck to my guns deep into the year, but I could see this list looking very different by the middle of October.

Honestly, I think this could be a wide open year. I mean, every college football season is relatively wide open, but this year the pool of potential National Title contenders seems to be bigger than usual. On the other hand, there aren’t as many sure bets as there normally are.

1. Alabama. When in doubt, I normally turn to the SEC. And the defending national champion is not a bad place to start when looking for a preseason #1. Bama went 14-0 last year and they are 24-0 in the regular season over the last 2 years. They have 8 starters back on offense, including a senior QB in Greg McElroy, a returning Heisman winner at running back in Mark Ingram, and a star receiver in Julio Jones. Sophomore RB Trent Richardson (784 yards, 8 TD) also returns. The offensive line is inexperienced, but they were inexperienced last season and they ended up dominating.

On the other hand, the Tide returns only 2 starters from last year’s stellar defense. Again, however, there is plenty of talent, and Nick Saban seems to be able to mold new stars to replace old ones. In addition, an impact defender from last season returns at every level of the defense (DE Marcell Dareus; MLB Dont’a Hightower; SS Mark Barron). One other area of concern is on special teams, where Bama will basically have to replace everyone.

It seems strange to say this about a team I’m calling the best in the country, but Bama could end up struggling if they don’t find people to step up on defense, ST, and the O-line. However, I don’t see that happening. I expect at the end of the year there will be new well known names on defense, and new offensive linemen on NFL watch lists.

2. Florida. Again, when in doubt I usually turn to the SEC, and the Gators are usually a safe bet to be among the best teams in college football. Florida is 26-2 over the last 2 seasons (1 point loss to Mississippi in ‘08 and a loss to Bama in the SEC Championship Game last year). Obviously the Gators will no longer have Tim Tebow, and that is an enormous loss. As much as I dislike the guy personally, he was a hell of a football player.

The bad news for anyone who isn’t a Gator fan is that Jr QB John Brantley has been dynamite whenever given the chance (36 of 48 for 410 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT last season). Tebow is gone but 6 other starters return on offense. The top 2 receivers from last year are gone, but all the backs return, and Brantley will be protected by a veteran line.

Florida has some major losses on defense as well, but they do return 5 starters, and while inexperienced, they are loaded with talent. The Gators return their kicker and punter, and will no doubt be able to replace return man Brandon James.

I’m going to make a statement that may seem more than a little ridiculous, but I promise you I am completely serious: As a Georgia fan, I was more excited to see Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong leave Florida than Tim Tebow. I truly think Strong’s absence will have an effect on the Gators. However, whether you want to admit it or not, Urban Meyer has proven to be one of the top offensive minds and head coaches in college football, and there is a ton of top young talent in Gainesville.

3. Oklahoma. I know what some of you are thinking: I still haven’t been able to accept that last year’s team bombed. That’s partly true. And I don’t think I have to point out to you how incredibly unlucky the Sooners were health wise last season. Sam Bradford is gone, but he basically missed last season, and 8 starters return on offense. Landry Jones is now an experienced sophomore who should be one of the best QB’s in the country. And you know the Oklahoma offense will be prolific, with RB DeMarco Murray back for his senior season and WR Ryan Broyles returning as well. Most importantly, despite losing their stud LT Trent Williams, the offensive line is much more experienced and should be among the best in the country.

Oklahoma returns 5 starters on defense and they are loaded on that side of the ball. They don’t lose anything in special teams. The Sooners lost a lot this offseason in terms of individual talent, but the team remains very solid.

4. Ohio State. The Buckeyes finished 11-2 last season, ending the year on a 6 game win streak (including a win @ PSU; a win over Iowa; and a dominant win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl). They return 15 starters, 9 on offense, including Jr QB Terrelle Pryor who looked to be coming into his own late last season and is a Heisman front runner going into 2010. All of the backs and receivers return, and the Buckeyes will have an experienced and talented offensive line.

Defensively, Ohio State again has some super linebackers, as well as 3 starters back in the secondary. Special teams is a question mark because the Buckeyes will have to replace everyone. If Pryor lives up to the hype the Buckeyes should be among the best teams in the country this year.

5. Boise State. Amazingly, the Broncos might be the closest thing to a sure bet this season. They have gone 26-1 over the last 2 seasons (only loss a 1 point defeat to TCU in the ’08 Poinsettia Bowl). This season they return 20 starters—10 on offense and 10 on defense—as well as the entire special teams unit. Kellen Moore has been spectacular in his first 2 seasons and he is now a junior. Boise State is perhaps the most experienced offensive team in the country, with seniors littering the running back and receiver ranks.

The Boise State defense is very experienced and very deep. They have an excellent secondary and an experienced and strong linebacking corps. In addition, Boise State’s special teams are among the best in the game.

There seems to be a political movement to put either Boise State or some Mountain West Conference team in the National Championship Game this season. Some people have even claimed that Boise State should open the season as the #1 ranked team. I think Boise State is really, really good, but I’m not ready to say that they would beat the best team from the BCS conferences in the National Title Game. I’m not saying they couldn’t, but I wouldn’t bet on it. We may not find out how good Boise State really is until/unless they do play in the NC Game.

6. TCU. The Horned Frogs were the real deal last season, but for whatever reason, they didn’t play their best in the bowl game against Boise State. They are 23-3 over the last 2 seasons (losses @ Oklahoma and @ Utah in 2008; and vs. Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl last year). TCU returns 16 starters this season. They return 9 on offense, including Sr QB Andy Dalton and all of the top receivers. The offensive line has 4 returning starters.

7 starters return on defense, and although they do lose Jerry Hughes, the rest of the D-line is back. They have great LB’s and a very experienced secondary. All key members from a super special teams unit return. I don’t know if TCU will be as good as last year or not, but they should again be among the best teams in college football, regardless of conference.

7. Texas. This might not seem high enough for some, as the Longhorns have gone 25-2 over the last 2 years (lost @ Texas Tech on last second miracle in ’08; and to Alabama in the NC Game last season with Colt McCoy gone for most of the game). Texas has to replace a lot on offense this season. McCoy is gone and the relatively inexperienced Garrett Gilbert takes his place. Gilbert was thrown into the fire in the NC Game, but he still comes into this season as a sophomore with 66 career attempts. WR and return ace Jordan Shipley is also gone, and the Horns need a new place kicker. The Longhorns lose 3 starters off of the offensive line, but the replacements are very talented.

7 starters are back on the Texas defense, but the 4 starters lost were all super players. On the bright side, both defensive tackles are back, and the defensive ends are young studs. They have a very experienced set of LB’s, as well as 4 of 5 starters back from an elite secondary. Texas could easily end up going undefeated and making it back to the title game.

8. Iowa. This pick could bust. On the other hand, the Hawkeyes could shock Ohio State in the Big Ten. Iowa is 15-2 in their last 17 games (losses late last season against NW when Stanzi went down, and @ Ohio State in OT without Stanzi). They return 14 starters, including Sr QB Rick Stanzi, all the running backs, and the top 2 receivers. The main issue on offense is the inexperienced and questionable offensive line.

The heart of last year’s defense, LB Pat Angerer, is gone this season, but the Hawkeyes get back DE Adrian Clayborn and SS Tyler Sash, both studs. 8 starters return on defense, as well as everyone from a very strong special teams unit. The defensive line returns intact and will be elite. 3 of 4 starters return in the secondary, which will again be top notch.

Obviously offensive line is a bad place to have question marks, and that’s the only thing that scares me about Iowa. Well, that and Stanzi, who will hopefully take better care of the ball as a senior.

9. Oregon. Everyone had to step back and rethink the Ducks after QB Jeremiah Masoli was suspended and eventually left school this offseason. With Masoli coming back Oregon looked like a top 5 team. They have gone 10-3 in each of the last 2 seasons, and they return 17 starters this season. Despite the loss of Masoli, as well as running back LeGarrette Blount, Oregon still looks good offensively, with 9 returning starters, including star RB LaMichael James. In addition, some great new RB’s should contribute. Most importantly, the entire talented, deep, and very experienced O-line is back.

8 starters return on defense, including 4 from a very experienced and quality secondary. It’s hard to know what to make of Oregon under Chip Kelly. They’ve been very successful under his watch. On the other hand they’ve had more off the field issues than perhaps any team in the country over the last few years. On the field, Masoli’s absence is huge, as he was a very capable passer, and the 2nd leading rusher on the team. One of the young QB’s left on the depth chart will have to step up in Masoli’s absence, but no matter what happens, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to run the offense as well as Masoli did.

10. North Carolina. Yeah, I’ve got the Tar Heels in my top 10. It seems like a major reach, as the Heels haven’t been great since Mack Brown was coach, and they’ve never really contended for anything serious. But to be honest, I expected Butch Davis to turn UNC into one of the best teams in the ACC, and I’m really just surprised it took this long. He’s had some personal issues, as well as terrible luck with injuries on the field. The Heels have also had tough luck in close games. They were 8-5 in each of the last 2 seasons, but they went 2-7 over that time in games decided by 3 points or less. This season Davis has his most talented team, and with 19 returning starters, they are at least capable of making some noise.

It’s all based around this defense, which returns 9 starters. Look, barring ineligibilities or trouble with the NCAA (which is a possibility), I just don’t see how UNC’s defense isn’t going to be one of the very best in the country. According to many college and pro analysts, the Heels have the top defensive tackle, the top defensive end, the top inside linebacker, and the top outside linebacker…in the country!!! They have the top defensive line and the top linebacking corps in the nation, as well as 4 starters back from a top 10 secondary. In addition, the entire special teams unit returns.

It seems like the offense is going to determine whether the Heels are a good team with a great defense or something more. 10 starters return on offense, led by an improved and experienced O-line. They have good talent at receiver and a 3-year starter at QB in senior TJ Yates. However, Yates will need to play much better to hold off some talented youngsters challenging for his job. If the offense does anything, I think the Heels will be really dangerous.

11. Nebraska. I’m a little worried about this pick. The Cornhuskers have gone 9-4 and 10-4 in Bo Pelini’s first 2 seasons as head coach, and they could have been much better (2 losses to Virginia Tech by a total of 6 points; @ Texas Tech in OT in 2008; vs. #4 Mizzu and @ #4 Oklahoma in ’08; to Iowa State by 2 when they turned it over 8 times last year; to Texas by 1 in the conference title game last year). They have 15 returning starters and 59 returning lettermen. On the other hand, it’s hard to know just how large an impact the departure of Ndamukong Suh will have on the defense.

Nebraska has Zac Lee returning at QB for his senior year, but he will have to improve in order to hold his job. In fact, Lee is another thing that has me worried about this team. He has single handedly held down the Cornhusker offense at times. On the other hand, Nebraska has a very experienced O-line that should be much improved, and they get 9 starters back on offense.

The defense has 6 starters back, but of course Suh is gone. They do have an excellent special teams unit returning. The DL should still be very solid and they have an excellent secondary, but it’s tough to know how good the Black Shirts will be without Suh.

12. Georgia. I know you’re thinking that I’m letting my love for the Dawgs get in the way of objectivity here. Perhaps, but this pick is not without reason. The Dawgs have 15 returning starters, a stable of talented backs returning, the best special teams unit in the land, and should have the top offensive line in all of college football. They return 10 starters on offense, including the best wide receiver in the country.

Of course the one spot where they don’t return a starter on offense is fairly important: quarterback. The Dawgs will start a red shirt freshman at QB, and that’s never a good thing in the SEC. However, Aaron Murray is a talented red shirt freshman, and he’ll have a lot of help on offense.

The defense is also a major question mark, but they have a new defensive coordinator, and the positives of a more aggressive, intelligent scheme should out weigh any negatives that come from having to adjust to a new system. The Dawgs have talent and experience at linebacker. The D-line and the secondary are major question marks, but hopefully under a new system some of the talent will emerge and play up to potential. The Dawgs have had awful luck with injuries, but if they stay healthy this season I believe they will be very good, and by the end of the year they may be much higher in these rankings.

13. Virginia Tech. VT has been a team mentioned as a NC contender since the end of last season. I’m not going that far because the Hokies have rarely been able to put it all together and challenge for the national title. They are 14-3 over their last 17 games (losses to Bama in the Dome; @ GT by 5; and vs. UNC by 3) but they return only 12 starters this year.

Another reason I am not as high on the Hokies is that I have never really been a big Tyrod Taylor fan, but the QB is very talented and he will be a senior this season. They also have a pair of stud running backs returning in Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. All the receivers are back, but they have to replace the entire left side of the offensive line.

VT always reloads on defense, but they do have only 4 returning starters on that side. They are always among the top teams in the country in special teams, but they must replace their kicker and punter this season. I’m sure the defense will be solid, as they are talented and well coached, but they are very inexperienced.

14. Miami. The U is still not back. They went 9-4 last year but they were 3-1 in games decided by 4 points or less (including 1 point wins over Oklahoma and Wake Forrest). This season they return only 13 starters, and I’m still not sold on Randy Shannon as a coach or Jacory Harris as a QB.

The Canes return 6 on offense, including the junior Harris, as well as all the receivers. They have some talented RB’s but they are inexperienced, and RB/return man Greg Cooper is a question mark after tearing his ACL in the bowl game. The Canes must replace both tackles and the center off the O-line.

Miami’s defense is of course talented, and they have some experience throughout the defense, with 7 starters returning. All of the key members from the special teams unit return (with the return man Cooper questionable). It may come down to the development of Jacory Harris and whether they can survive their ridiculous schedule.

15. Wisconsin. This may be a surprise for some, but the Badgers are usually a safe bet to be a solid team. They were 10-3 last season (losses @ Ohio State, vs. Iowa, and @ NW by 2) and they have 16 starters back in 2010. The offense should be very good, with 10 starters back, led by Sr QB Scott Tolzien and classic Badger tailback John Clay. WR Nick Toon and stud TE Lance Kendricks also return. They have a huge, talented, and very experienced offensive line.

The entire special teams unit returns along with 6 defensive starters. The Badgers lose a couple of key players from the defense but they have a very solid set of linebackers and a an experienced secondary. If the defensive line can recover from the loss of O’Brien Schofield, Wisconsin could be a surprise contender in the Big Ten.

Other Teams

Florida State. Bobby Bowden is gone, but I actually think that could be a positive. They return 15 starters, including Sr QB Christian Ponder. The entire offensive line is back and should be much better. The O-line has talent and is now experienced, and if Ponder gets protection he could win the Heisman. All of the running backs return to help out on offense. The Seminoles were excellent on special teams last year and everyone is back. The defense is questionable but it must be improved. A talented group of linebackers should lead the Noles back from the abyss on that side of the ball.

Missouri. The Tigers return 16 starters, 8 on each side of the ball. Jr QB Blaine Gabbert should be one of the best QB’s in the Big XII this year, and the Tigers return all of their running backs. They have a super kicker and they will be much more experienced at offensive line and on defense this year. However, they will have to replace their best player on each side of the ball (WR Danario Alexander and MLB Sean Weatherspoon).

Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 29-5 in their last 34 games (3 losses to Ohio State, 2 losses to Iowa). They return only 13 starters, and while they do bring 8 starters back on offense, replacing QB Daryll Clark could be the key to the season. Star RB Evan Royster is back and the O-line is experienced and should be improved. PSU suffers some major losses on defense, with the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick gone from the line, and their 2 great linebackers also gone. However, the front 7 is still very talented, if inexperienced, and the secondary is very good and very experienced.

Auburn. The Tigers have 15 returning starters, 7 on offense and 8 on defense. They have an inexperienced QB, but they have great receivers and a very good, very experienced O-line. They have strong LB’s and a solid secondary. They are now in the 2nd year of Gene Chizik’s system.

Arkansas. Arkansas is the trendy pick to be an SEC upstart in 2010, but I’m not convinced. They showed some potential last year, going 8-5, with a 3 point loss @ Florida and a 3 point loss @ LSU in OT. They have 59 returning lettermen, 17 returning starters (10 on offense, 7 on defense), and they are in the 3rd year of Bobby Petrino’s system. Jr QB Ryan Mallett is among the most talented passers in the country and now has a full season in Petrino’s system under his belt. All the receivers return to form perhaps the best receiving corps in the country. And the offensive line is among the most experienced in the country. The Hogs defense is experienced and should be much improved, and they return the entire special teams unit. Despite all of this, they are coached by a slimy snake. And they are Arkansas.

South Carolina. Yes, I know you’ve heard it before: “This could be the year that Spurrier takes South Carolina, blah, blah, blah…” But this could be the year. The Cocks have 16 starters back (9 on offense, 7 on defense) and Jr QB Stephen Garcia may be on the verge of a breakthrough season. All of the top RB’s are back and this is the best set of receivers Spurrier has had to play with since coming to SC. The offensive line is experienced. On defense, the Cocks lose their top LB but DE Cliff Matthews returns for his senior season. The secondary is experienced and solid. The special teams unit returns intact. And yet, Spurrier still hasn’t won more than 8 games in a season at South Carolina.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The College Football Blog: 2010 Season Preview

2010 Season Preview

*Note: The season preview will not be seen this year. The ugliness of the off-season has sapped my excitement for the upcoming year and hindered my ability to create any sort of preview. Therefore, the 2010 season preview will be replaced by the 2010 off-season review.

2010 Off-season Review

As you know, I am a sports freak. Of all the different sports that I follow, I enjoy college football the most. Actually, I need to clarify that. There’s no sport I enjoy more during the season than college football. From the first game of the year to the final bowl game I am completely wrapped up in the sport and enjoy (almost) every minute. The strange thing is that from the day after the so-called national championship game to the day before the regular season begins I really don’t like college football. It’s not that my love for the game or my interest in the sport wanes during the spring and summer months. The problem is that as much as I love the on-field action of college football, I detest almost all of the off-field action. I loathe the NCAA. I have disdain for the university presidents and the conference commissioners. I wish ill will toward agents and “advisers.” I am sickened by the recruitment process. The inevitable suspensions and sanctions and ineligibilities eat away at the excitement that should be building up as the season nears.

However, the 2010 off-season was different because for once there was no turmoil or controversy, and the powers that be let everyone else be, at least for the most part. I mean, there were some exceptions...

Crusades and Imaginary Plagues

First, some sinister and meddling outfit calling itself the Rules Committee gathered together and proved to the world that they were dead fucking serious about putting an end to the thing which has been plaguing college football for the last few years: taunting. I mean it’s almost ruined the sport, hasn’t it? All of those brawls we’ve seen; the elaborate end zone celebrations; the classless showmanship that almost ever player displays, etc. It had gotten out of control.

Oh wait; we haven’t actually seen any of that stuff, have we? Now I remember: it was actually the misguided actions of officials ruling against non-existent examples of taunting that had become a bit of a problem. The good news is that in 2011 the officials will be able to affect the outcome of the game more than ever before, as any action that draws a penalty for taunting will be a 15 yard penalty from the spot of the foul…EVEN IF THE PLAY ULTIMATELY RESULTS IN A TOUCHDOWN!!! Yes, the points will come off the board. And the best part is, taunting will carry that most dreaded of all labels. Penalizing displays of taunting will be (foreboding sound effect) a point of emphasis! So we have that to look forward to a year from now.

Concussions: The New AIDS

The Rules Committee also focused on the prevention of Global Warming—er, sorry, I mean the prevention of concussions. At this point if there is even a chance that a player may be on the verge of coming close to showing the signs of what might be a possible concussion, that player must come out of the game and cannot reenter the game or ever step onto the field again until a panel of doctors who think that football is a blood sport have determined that the player is safe to resume playing. Any other player who that player may have come into contact with before, during, or after it was determined that there was a chance that the player might be on the verge of showing the signs of what might have a chance to be a concussion must also be cleared by the panel. And of course the panel’s decision has to be ratified by the Committee on Global Concussion Scare and Related Hot Button Topics at a special meeting held every other month. All of the importance placed on prevention and treatment of concussionish like symptoms guarantees that the ridiculous and disruptive penalties for touching another player’s helmet will continue and no doubt increase.

Manifest Destiny Deferred

The next few groups of boogey men to gather together and stir up trouble were the school presidents, the AD’s, and the conference commissioners. Suddenly it was determined that there would have to be some widespread realignment and expansion among conferences across college football. It was just something that had to happen. Everyone eventually came around to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be for a few teams to move conferences, and do so in a way that might improve things in their new conference, but would certainly take away from their former conferences. Just when the Mountain West had proven to be worthy of an automatic BCS bid, it was decided that Utah should move to be in a conference with a bunch of schools from California and the Pacific Northwest. Boise State, universally accepted as a true college football powerhouse, would then leave the WAC to take Utah’s place in the MWC, thereby making the WAC about as relevant as, well, the MAC.

Furthermore, it was decided that Colorado and Nebraska should both go to conferences made up of teams from completely different time zones. The Big Ten, which of course has been made up of 11 teams since the early 90’s, would now have 12 teams and could have a conference championship game. The Pac-10 would now have 12 teams, and that just made sense, not to mention the fact that it too could now have a conference championship game. Meanwhile, the Big XII, which had held a conference title for almost as long as the SEC, would now have 10 teams. Again, this only seemed logical. Plus, now the Big XII wouldn’t have a conference title game, so progress was made across the sport really. Things are now greatly improved and make so much more sense:

The Big Ten = 12 teams
The Pac-10 = 12 teams
The Big XII = 10 teams
The Mountain West Conference = 1 good team in, 1 good team out
The WAC = The MAC

The wisest action taken during the entire period of musical chairs was the Big XII’s decision to structure the conference so that certain member schools would take a larger portion of the profits made by the conference than other member schools. Essentially this move was made to ensure fairness and balance within the conference.

Continuing on the theme of fairness and logic, the most crucial outcome of all of this adding and subtracting was that Notre Dame was allowed to retain their independence and their ability to operate under a completely different set of rules and guidelines than the rest of college football. This was very important for everyone involved, because everyone realizes that Notre Dame is special and has to be treated that way. Obviously ND has been the most successful program over the last 20 years and they have earned the right to basically make their own rules. Expecting Notre Dame to join a conference and be subject to the same standards as the rest of the teams in college football would simply be unreasonable. Fortunately for everyone, Notre Dame avoided being forced to join a conference. Thankfully, they still have their own set of rules concerning the BCS which ensures that if Notre Dame manages to not suck they will go to one of the high profile bowls that they deserve to be in.

I Didn't Expect the Spanish Inquisition

Not to be outdone, just as the presidents and commissioners were completing their business, the great and powerful NCAA took the stage. After a lengthy and thorough investigation, the NCAA announced their findings on violations committed by USC in recent years. Basically the NCAA was not able to point to very many clear and proven violations by the Trojans, whether minor or otherwise. However, they were able to say that an agent claimed to have paid for property and travel expenses for the parents of Reggie Bush when he was at USC. Granted, if those allegations were true, they still didn’t have anything to do with Bush deciding to come to USC, and they didn’t keep him in school, as left for the pros as soon as he was eligible. But that’s really beside the point. The important thing was that the parents of one of USC’s players allegedly made a secret deal with someone unaffiliated with the program--which was only discovered after the agent sued the player’s parents for not upholding their end of the secret agreement—and USC allowed it all to happen by not maintaining complete and total supervision of the financial states of each and every family member, friend, and acquaintance of each and ever player on the team.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against USC was the NCAA’s sense that there was a loose atmosphere around the football program. Another key element to the NCAA’s case against USC was a tactic which seemed simple and obvious after the fact, but was truly a stroke of genius. The NCAA was able to make it clear to everyone how out of line USC’s football program had been by pointing to all of the egregious violations committed by USC’s basketball program under Tim Floyd. The fact that O.J. Mayo’s decision to play his 1 season of college basketball for USC was influenced by money was the thing that really put the nail in the coffin of Pete Carroll’s football program. Floyd’s shady recruiting of Mayo to the USC basketball team amounted to DNA evidence linking Carroll’s football program to rampant violations of a very serious nature. It was a clear warning to football coaches around the country that if they want to keep their program from being put on probation, they better make damn sure that the school’s basketball program stays clean.

The NCAA was thus able to bring down the hammer upon the Trojan football program, drastically limiting their number of scholarships for the next few years, and making them ineligible for bowl games, rankings, conference championships, and the national championship. And as always there were wins to vacate and banners to take down. In the end it was a tremendous victory for the NCAA, as they were once again able to alter history, while at the same time meting out fair and just punishments. In one fowl swoop, the NCAA was able to muddy history and call into question the validity of the achievements of the single greatest program of the last decade, and keep what figures to be one of the best teams in the country over the next few years from being considered a part of the sport in any meaningful way. It was masterful.

And the NCAA served notice that their mission of purging the sport of college football was only just beginning. Indeed, new investigations into possible violations and infractions seemed to pop up every day for the remainder of the off-season. Numerous schools and a slew of the most impactful players in the sport were put on notice and placed in limbo. No one was safe; nothing was certain. The NCAA racked up a number of impressive achievements this off-season, but their single greatest accomplishment may well have been their ability to keep anyone and everyone from being able to look toward the upcoming season with any sort of idea about which teams or players would be eligible.