Archive for September, 2008

The Yankees of the Atlantic League

September 30, 2008

by John Furgele

There is no greater sport than baseball.  Yes, football is more popular and some may argue that it is a better game, but baseball has more going for it.  For starters, the playoffs are much more dramatic and even late season regular season games are often filled with drama—all you had to do was watch the Mets-Marlins finale on Sunday, where Met fans were sobbing as their beloved team choked away a potential playoff berth for the second straight season.

The other thing baseball has going for it is tons of minor and independent leagues, which play in new stadiums.  Of the independent leagues, the Atlantic League is probably the best.  Unlike the 90 to 100 game seasons that most independent leagues play, the Atlantic League plays a real schedule of 140 games and last night, the Somerset Patriots captured their fourth championship in 11 seasons, all under manager and former big leaguer Sparky Lyle.   That is a Yankee like run and ironcially the team is managed by a former Yankee, who now has as many championships as former Yankee manager Joe Torre

Below is a recap of Somerset’s win, from Marc Russinoff and the Atlantic League website.

ANDERSON’S WALK OFF WINS IT ALL

Patriots Are The 2008 Champs

by Marc Russinoff

Bridgewater, NJ – Somerset Patriots catcher Travis Anderson hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Patriots a 3-2 win in Game Four of the Atlantic League Championship at Commerce Bank Ballpark on Monday night to clinch the team’s fourth Atlantic League Championship in 11 seasons.Somerset rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning. Center fielder Sean Smith doubled and scored on an RBI single by shortstop Teuris Olivares. After first baseman Josh Pressley drew a walk, designated hitter Jason Belcher was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Second baseman Matt Hagen was then hit by a pitch to bring home Olivares and tie the game up 2-2.

The Riversharks took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning. Catcher Josh Arhart doubled and scored on an RBI single by center fielder L.J. Biernbaum.

Camden added a run to the lead in the top of the eighth inning. Biernbaum singled and would later score on an error to give the Riversharks a 2-0 lead.

Patriots reliever Brian Reith (1-0) picked up the win with a scoreless ninth inning and three strikeouts. Reith also had three saves in the post season. Camden reliever Alec Zumwalt (1-1) suffered the loss, allowing an earned run on one hit in 0.1 innings pitched.

Patriots third baseman Brandon Larson was named the series MVP, hitting .458 for the series with three home runs and seven RBI in five games played.

The win was Somerset’s fourth Atlantic League title, having won in 2001, 2003, and 2005. The Patriots are the only team in the league with more than three titles.

The Four Time Atlantic League Champion Somerset Patriots will play their next home game in Spring 2009. For more information, stop by the Patriots Ticket Office located at the ballpark, call (908) 252-0700, or visit http://www.somersetpatriots.com.

 

On College Football: Week 4

September 29, 2008

by John Furgele

Those who had USC running the table for an easy berth in the BCS Championship Game, please check your ego and your sanity at the door.  Just because a team (USC) looks great one week (their win over Ohio State), doesn’t mean it will carry over to the next week or game.  Not to play the Kevin Bacon game, but if Penn State demoilshed Oregon State and Oregon State beat USC, then how good is Penn State?  Let’s review the week that was.

1)  Is Time Up for Tommy?  The Clemson Tigers, fearful that head coach Tommy Bowden might leave Death Valley for Arkansas, signed him to a contract extension.  But, Bowden’s Tigers are once again failing to live up to expectations.  After getting throttled by Alabama in Week 1, the Tigers were upended by the now feisty Maryland Terrapins at home.  This happens every year at Clemson.  They are hyped up as ACC/BCS bowl contenders, lose a couple key games, but finish strong with a nice bowl win, setting the stage for the following year.  Expectations are unrealistic at Clemson, mainly because they had the magical year in 1981 when they won a national title.  At Clemson, they should take 8-4, and if they could go 9-3, they should sign in a heartbeat.  And, for the most part, that’s what Bowden has delivered in his tenure.  But, that’s not good enough for the IPTAY crowd, so Bowden better watch out.

2)  Nick Saban Knows What He’s Doing  Say what you want about Nick Saban, but the man is already ahead of schedule at Alabama and Saturday, he simply outclassed Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs.  Saban is right, uniform colors really don’t matter, and if you notice, the great programs never change colors, but that was an old fashioned whippin’ that Bama laid on Georgia.  Georgia is a good team, but all one has to do is look at their schedule to realize that getting to the SEC Championship Game let alone the BCS Championship Game is a tall, tall order.  Will Alabama lose some games?  WIll Georgia wim many more.  The answer is yes and the reason is because it is the SEC. 

3)  Oh, I forgot Houston Nutt Wasn’t Good Enough for Arkansas.  Like Clemson, the expectations at Arkansas are much too lofty for what Arkansas brings to the table.  In Fayetteville, an 8-4 regular season should be more than acceptable.  In 2006, Nutt led Arkansas to a 10-2 regular season record (10-4 after losing the SEC Championship Game and the Capital One Bowl), and last year, the Hogs were 8-4 in the regular season (8-5 overall after losing in the Cotton Bowl), but that wasn’t good enough for Arkansas, who brought in carpetbagger Bobby Petrino as head coach.  Nutt proved his worth by leading Mississippi to a 31-30 win at Florida.  And, by the way, Arkansas is terrible, losing 52-10 to Texas in a game that had former Southwest Conference commissioners spinning in their graves.  It should be very interesting on October 25, when Ole Miss visits Arkansas. 

4)  Not Everyone Should Run the Spread.  Every team thinks that the spread offense is the best way to recruit athletes and win foootball games.  But, not all teams should run it.  Auburn is one team that wants to run it but shouldn’t.  Their offense was so good in their 14-12 win over Tennessee that they’re going to be starting another quarterback in their next game.  As more teams run the spread, there should be just as many who scrap it.  When run right, it is fun to watch, but if every team runs a version of it, defenses will undoubtedly catch on.  There is still a place for other offenses, isn’ t there? 

Look at Navy.  Because they are one of the few teams that run the old triple option, they still can’t be stopped, and their 24-17 win over Wake Forest was a shocker and proved that.  Former coach Paul Johnson took the option with success to Georgia Tech, but Navy apparently hasn’t missed a beat.  Even though Rutgers is slumping, beating them and Wake Forest are two very good wins for the Middies.   As shocking as Navy’s win was, what about Duke’s?  The Blue Devils snapped a 25 game ACC losing streak by not only beating Virginia, but humiliating them 31-3.  When people thought Steve Spurrier was overrated, somebody always said, “yes, but he won at Duke.”  Is David Cutcliffe going to be next “he won at Duke guy?”  The Dukies are 3-1, and play at 3-1 Georgia Tech this Saturday.

5)  Easy on Oklahoma.  Now that USC and Georgia have lost, we will now see Oklahoma be superhyped, but let’s be careful.  The Sooners are 4-0, but have played nobody and won’t be challenged until they play Texas on October 11 and Kansas on October 18.  They should get by Baylor this weekend, and then the hype will begin as they prepare to play Texas.  Should the lose, everybody will be in shock.  Everybody but OCF.  Even if things go well for the Sooners, there is the problem at the end of the season—-BCS bowl games.

6)  Hope for Army.  They lost to a mediocre at best Texas A&M squad, but they did two things right.  One, they were competitive and close in a game for the first time this season.  Two, and most important, head coach Stan Brock finally got the Black Knights running the triple option, like they did in the Bob Sutton heydays.  For Army to be competitive, the option is the best offense for them.  It works at Navy, and works at Air Force.  Against the Aggies, they ran the ball 65 times for 280 yards and passed only four times for four yards.  Texas A&M, a Big 12 team could not stop them, so can the likes of Louisiana Tech and Rice stop it?  Army’s next two games are at Tulane and versus Eastern Michigan and those are winnable games for the Black Knights.  Just keep running the option, boys. 

Finally, our hearts are really pulling for the Indiana State Sycamores.  They have lost their last 15 games, including a 24-21 loss at the hands of Southeast Missouri State over the weekend.   Up next, a home game versus Illinois State.  To their credit, they played two 1-A opponents, but for some reason, Army was not one of them.  But, along with Army, we’ll be rooting for ISU to get in the win column sometime this season.

Until next week.

Remembering the Day That Rocked the World

September 24, 2008

by John Furgele

Friday, September 24, 1988.  The field is in the blocks for the 100 meter final at the 24th Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.  Carl Lewis has an inside lane, with Ben Johnson out to his right.  One year earlier, at the World Track and Field Championships, Johnson ran 9.83, which beat Lewis’s 9.93.  The stage was set. 

Lewis was the American Golden Boy.  In 1984, he equaled Jesse Owens’ feat of winning the 100, 200, Long Jump and 4 x 100 meter relay.  But, for many reasons, Lewis had failed to capitalize commercially on his feat.  Maybe the American public didn’t like the fact that he passed on several jumps and decided it was better to rest than pursue Bob Beamon’s world record in the long jump.  Maybe it was because he was so arrogant and cocky.  Maybe it was because there were whispers of his sexuality, and when he was once asked by Roy Firestone, he replied that “he had his own personal friends.”  Remember, this was 1984, long before rights for same sex couples and the like.  In addition, every time Lewis lost a race to Johnson, who had won the bronze at the 1984 games, he hinted that his conquerer might be taking more than vitamins and Gatorade. 

The runners were in their blocks.  The late Charlie Jones was behind the mike as the track and field announcer for NBC.  I was a 20 year college sophomore, and like many of my contemporaries, was waiting with great anticipation for this race.  Even my father, never a big fan of track and field, was home waiting for the gun. 

The gun.  As usual, Lewis got off to a slow start, though, not as slowly as normal, but this race was no contest.  Johnson surged and powered to line, winning the most coveted title in the Olympic Games.  His time was 9.79 seconds, a new world record.  The most amazing part was that Johnson shut it down at 90 meters, looked to his left to find Lewis, raised his index finger and STILL ran 9.79 seconds.  We recently saw Usain Bolt shut it down at about 80 meters and run 9.69 seconds, but for some reason, I found Johnson’s race more impressive.  Perhaps it’s because today’s tracks are harder and much more sprinter friendly than they were 20 years ago. 

The Mortimer Hall dorm at SUNY Brockport was buzzing as people howled in amazement at Johnson’s performance.  My phone rang.  I knew who it was before I answered and when I did it was my father, who was howling because he was rooting for Johnson, as was I.  I think Carl Lewis is the greatest Olympian of all-time, but for some reason, I never warmed up to him, and for some reason, I thought of Johnson as the underdog, and I almost always root for the underdog. 

Because I was a member of the track team, people came up to me and asked me what I thought about the 100 meter race.  I simply said it was the greatest performance that I had seen in my 20 years.  I remember Johnson jogging over to his supporters and seeing Carl Lewis jog over and offer a cold, congratulatory handshake.  When he was interviewed, Lewis didn’t offer much.  Sprinters never say things like, “the better man won,” or I have to “tip my cap.”  Sprinters don’t—and can’t—do that because even in defeat, they have to keep the bravado, they cannot break.  I could also tell that Lewis didn’t think Johnson’s performance was clean, but he bit his lip and took the silver. 

Fast forward to Monday, September 27, 1988.  Breaking news.  Ben Johnson had been stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for steroids and was sent home immediately.  Even the Canadian media, which beamed with pride on Friday, was now referring to Johnson as “the disgraced Jamaican sprinter.”  I remember how stunning the news was.  Now, Lewis was elevated to the Gold, but how hollow is it when you win by default?  It would be like seeing somebody win the United States Open tennis title because one of the players had to withdraw after winning the first set.  Personally, I would rather see the title be listed as vacated as a lesson for our youth.  But, the IOC says otherwise. 

Now, Lewis, who still was having difficulties marketing himself to the mainstream, had some validation.  He was always suspicious, but now, he had the proof.  Johnson was a cheat, and he was the purest and fastest sprinter in the world.  Now, people actually believed him. 

The Canadian Government formed the Dubin Inquiry, calling over 100 people to testify about doping in track and field.  Johnson claimed that somebody spiked his toothpaste, a charge nobody believed.  Eventually, his coach Charlie Francis admitted that he gave his athletes performance enhancing drugs and got them from a doctor based in St. Kitts.  Johnson broke down, admitted his use and received a ban from the sport.  Few people know that after his ban, he returned to competition and made the Canadian Olympic team in the 100 meters for the 1992 Barcelona Games.  He made it to the semifinals, but stumbled out of the blocks, and eased up, finishing his heat in 10.70 seconds. 

Unfortunately, Johnson’s positive test didn’t clean up the sport.  It did result in more out-of-competition testing and not showing up for a test is now considered a funked one.  The cheating has continued and in many ways, has ramped up as the cheaters try to stay ahead of the testers.  But, Johnson was the first and remains the only 100 meter champion to have his Gold medal taken away. 

It was a watershed moment, a transcending moment, and believe it or not, it happened 20 years ago today.

On College Football

September 22, 2008

by John Furgele

The best thing about college football is that you learn a lot in one week, and as ESPN says, “One week can change the season.”  That statement couldn’t be more accurate.  The first month is in the books, and we know that the SEC is dominant, the Big East is bad and soon, we will find out if all those rated Big 12 teams are legitimate as they will finally start playing each other.  Let’s recap the week that was.

1)  The Big East Woes Continue:  The worst thing that could have happened to West Virginia was their demolition over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  The Mountaineers won the game under interim coach Bill Stewart, and because of it, had to give him the job full-time.  Stewart is a character—his halftime chat last Thursday with ESPN’s Erin Andrews was classic—but there’s a reason why he has been an assistant coach his whole life.  There’s no shame in losing at Colorado, but the Mountaineers don’t look the same, in fact, they look slow and unimaginative.  Maybe because everybody runs the spread, it doesn’t scare opponents anymore.

Somebody please tell Rutgers to put the stadium expansion plans on hold.  The Scarlet Knights scrapped many sports to further emphasize football, thinking they could market themselves as New York City’s college football team.  The Knights lost to Navy, who last week lost at Duke.   This Rutgers team is looking like the ghosts of Rutgers past, which is not a good thing as Terry Shea is smiling somewhere.   Like beleaguered Syracuse, they host a 1-AA team in Morgan State, but you wonder how many empty seats will be at Rutgers Stadium for that game?  Probably plenty.

Syracuse “saved” Greg Robinson’s job if only on paper.  Syracuse beat 1-AA Northeastern 30-21 before about 15,000 at the Carrier Dome.  A win is a win, but they struggled against a 1-AA team that came in 0-2.  And, the Huskies totaled nearly 400 yards in total offense.  Even Rutgers is licking its chops.

2)   The Tale of the Floridas.  For those who thought Florida State was back after two wins against mediocre opponents, think again.  The Seminoles looked awful against Wake Forest, losing to the Demon Deacons for the third consecutive year.  Two years ago, Wake Forest blanked them in Tallahassee 30-0 and Saturday, again held them without a touchdown in a 12-3 victory.  What has happened to the once vaunted FSU offense remains puzzling, and future head coach Jimbo Fisher is the offensive coordinator. 

It also looks like Randy Shannon may know what he is doing at Miami.  Granted, the U beat an awful Texas A&M squad, but they beat them bad on the road, so that has to count for something.  Their offense did nothing at Florida, but the defense kept the Canes in the game through three quarters.  Patience is no longer practiced in sports anymore, but it might be worth waiting a bit longer for Shannon as he attempts to rebuild the once proud Hurricanes.

3)  Times Are Rocky in Tennessee:  Philip Fulmer has a national championship on his resume, but for the most part, he comes up small in big games, and did so again on Saturday at home versus Florida, losing 30-6.  Over the years, Fulmer has done many things to save his job.  He changes offensive coordinators annually to take the heat off of himself, but if the Vols keep playing like they have, the pressure on him will begin to build.  He brought in Dave Clawson, who had success as a head coach with 1-AA schools such as Fordham and Richmond, but thus far, the offense looks pedestrian.  They lost to what appears to be a bad UCLA team and were outclassed at home by Florida.  That can’t be good.

4)  The SEC Simply Has Athletes.  Some may say that the SEC gets too much credit, but all you had to do was watch the Disney family of networks from 7:45 to Midnight to see why.  LSU is so deep that late in the game they were rotating defensive lineman with the game on the line at Auburn.  In college football, that’s unheard of, but it worked as LSU forced Auburn to turn it over on downs to preserve a 26-21 victory.  Over on ABC, Georgia simply toyed with Arizona State, beating them like a drum, 27-10. 

It gets better this week as Georgia hosts Alabama, and Tennessee goes to Auburn.  Even Vanderbilt is 4-0 and ranked, but you can’t hide once the SEC schedule gets in gear.  The Commodores have a week off than play Auburn on October 4.  Vandy needs two more wins to become bowl eligible and probably three more to guarantee itself a bowl, and they do play Duke later in the season.  The SEC is a tough league for Vandy, but like Northwestern in the Big Ten, they’ll never leave because for them, it is the golden goose.  And, by the way, Northwestern is also 4-0 this year.

5)  The Mountain West Continues to Roll.  The MWC has three teams ranked in the top 25 in BYU, TCU and Utah, compared to one from the Big East, one from the PAC 10 and two from the ACC.  And, unranked Air Force is a team nobody wants to play and UNLV followed up their overtime win at Arizona State by beating another BCS school in Iowa State.  The big MWC games are 10/16 when BYU plays at TCU; 11/6 when TCU travels to Utah; and 11/22 when BYU goes to Utah.  With the Big East and ACC down so much, hopefully the BCS folks will take a good look at the MWC provided its teams have great overall records.  But, in order for the MWC to get a strong look, this week, TCU will have to do the conference proud.  The Horned Frogs are at Oklahoma and this is a game that they have to play well in.  You can’t go 11-1 or 10-2 and lose 48-20 at Oklahoma and cry about being overlooked.  For the non-BCS leagues, these nonconference games are crucial. 

6)  Army Continues to Depress.  When you look at Army’s schedule, you see opponents that are from scary; opponents that say “this game should be competitive,” but thus far, Army has played three games, all at home, and have been outscored by an 85-20 margin.  On Saturday, they were drubbed by Akron, 22-3.  Akron!  Nothing against the Zips, they won at Syracuse this year, but for the Zips to batter the Knights as they did, makes me think that Army is more like a Division II school than the 1-AA division that they should play in.  Furthermore, Army didn’t know what it is doing.  They used one QB for running/option plays, then used another one for passing plays.  Do you think that fooled the defense?  Besides being outclassed, Army coach Stan Brock appears to be in over his head.  The sevice academies need everything to go right to win games, but if you have a great coach, it can be done.  Sadly, Army has nothing going right and throw in bad coaching, and it is recipe for disaster.

Until next week.

On College Football: Week Three

September 15, 2008

by John Furgele

Three weeks are in the books, and as expected, there were many twists and turns.  Before long, the leaves will begin falling and the landscape will begin to take shape.  Here is what we have learned through three weeks.

1)  It’s Three Strikes and You’re Out for Ohio State:  The Buckeyes have probably been the nation’s most successful team this decade, but this was the third straight time they laid an egg in the big game.  The first two came in the BCS Championship Games in 2006 and 2007, and we saw the third last Saturday at USC.  They looked impressive in their first drive, but settling for the field goal hurt them tremendously.  It would not have mattered, but the lack of aggression certainly didn’t help.  Unless the Bucks go 11-1 and are the only team in the land with one loss, they’re not getting another shot for the BCS title.  If there are five teams with one loss, Ohio State will be ranked number five.  As good as they have been, the nation has tired of them.

2)  This Week the PAC-10 Takes a Hit:  As good as USC looked in their thrashing of Ohio State, the rest of the conference looked awful.  Based on what we saw, is there a PAC 10 team that can beat the Trojans? The PAC 10 went 3-7 this week and were blown out in some of these games.  Oregon picked up a nice come-from-behind win at Purdue, 32-26 and Oregon State, which is far from a good team, drubbed Hawaii 45-7.  Other than that, it was a week to forget for the PAC 10 brethern.  UCLA was humiliated at BYU, losing 59-0 against a team that they have now played three times in less than a year.  The Jim Harbaugh Era continues to be a stuggle as the Trees were smothered by TCU.  Oklahoma drubbed Washington 55-14; UNLV beat Arizona State in overtime, ruining next week’s showdown versus Georgia; Maryland looked reinvented in a 35-27 win over California.  New Mexico beat Arizona, and lowly Baylor beat Washington State.  The ACC and the Big East have taken the week one and two hits, now it’s the Pac 10s turn.

3)  The Mountain West Beats Up The Pac 10:  The MWC continues to be the best non-BCS conference.  BYU is for real and they have a legitimate shot to play in a BCS bowl game even if they lose one game.  The Cougars clicked on all cylinders in their win against UCLA.  How much better can they get?  Not only did the MWC go 7-1 this week (Colorado State was idle), they went 4-0 against the PAC 10 with New Mexico, TCU, BYU, and UNLV beating Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State respectively.  Maybe the best football west of the Mississippi is played in the Rockies.

4)  Buffalo and Temple Are Building Programs:  The key to success in college football is to build a program, a machine.  That’s what the powerhouses do.  USC, LSU, Ohio State, Alabama and many others have been able to do this.  When you build a program, kids want to play there, they want to send tapes there and they want to be wooed by these schools.  And, when the coach of the program called, the recruit listened and listened intently.  If you were a kid being recruited by Penn State, Ohio State and Pitt, you laughed when Temple called.  If you were being recruited by USC and UCLA, you laughed when Cal or Washington State called.  For most of this decade, Buffalo and Temple were arguably the two worst (service academy excluded) teams in the country.  But now, things are beginning to change.  Both Turner Gill at Buffalo and Al Golden at Temple are building the positive culture that may lead to an actual program.  In one of the best games of the day, Buffalo beat Temple 30-28, when Bulls QB Drew Willy hit Naaman Roosevelt on a 35 yard “Hail Mary” with no time left on the clock.  ABC analyst Craig James said, “can you believe we’re showing Buffalo-Temple highlights.:”  That was a step in the right direction.  Now, instead of being hung up on and forced to recruit players better suited for 1-AA, kids should be willing to listen when Temple and Buffalo call. 

5)  Syracuse, Rutgers in Deep:  Most agree that the Syracuse program is in sad and sorry shape.  Penn State drubbed the Orabne 55-13 and probably could have scored 75 points had they wished.  The Orange do nothing well.  They can’t throw, they can’t run and they can’t tackle.  This week, they host 1-AA Northeastern and they will have their hands full against the 0-2 Huskies.  Why?  Because Syracuse is playing with 1-AA players that are 1-A in name only.  This might be the only chance for an Orange victory this season, a season which will ultimately result in a coaching change.

As for Rutgers, they might be a fraud as well.  They have played two home games and have been routed in both, losing to Fresno State, then getting absolutely drubbed by so-so North Carolina 44-12.  There are ambitious plans in New Jersey for a school that really has one game to lay claim to.  When they beat Louisville on that Thursday night two years ago, many thought that was going to be the landmark moment for a team that had struggled for decades.  But, what has Rutgers done since that?  They won a Texas Bowl against a sub-par Kansas State team, then went 7-5 in 2007 and beat a MAC team in the International Bowl.  Does that qualify them as a big time school?  Certainly not.  The problem with Rutgers is that coach Greg Schiano and company talk like they are a perennial top 15 school, which they are very far from being.  Of course, after they beat Navy and 1-AA Morgan State, they will be 2-2 and likely be chirping again—until they get drubbed by the likes of South Florida and West Virginia.

The only Big East team that is playing solid football is South Florida, which beat a good Kansas team on Friday night.  West Virginia is pretty solid and Connecticut is solid, but after that, the conference is well below average. 

Finally, the Ivy League teams start their 2008 seasons this weekend.  There was once a time when the Yales and Harvards ruled the college football world, but those days are long gone.  But, you have to respect a conference that waits until students actually get settled into classes before playing football games.  College football has become a huge industry, which has delighted many and disgusted others, but regardless of which side you are on, you have to admit that the Ivy League has maintained its pride and integrity and more importantly, its independence.

Until next week.

Don’t Count Out Buckeyes

September 13, 2008

by John Furgele

Before the college football season started, many of the experts said that USC was young and inexperienced and that the experienced Ohio State Buckeyes would go to Los Angeles and probably beat the Trojans.  But, because Ohio State looked shaky in a 26-14 victory over the Ohio Bobcats, these same experts are now predicting a double digit Trojan blowout victory.  My, how things change.

Ohio State showed nothing in wins against overmatched opponents Youngstown State and Ohio.  They ran a basic offense and came away with two wins.  Yes, they struggled against Ohio, but was the outcome of that game ever in doubt?  Coach Jim Tressel used freshman Terrel Pryor less against Ohio than he did in week 1.  Why?  Because tonight, he will unveil his real offense.  Why give the Trojans too much to view on films.  Tressel played it close to the vest against Ohio so not to give USC too much to look at and prepare for.  The result was a harder than expected victory over the feisty Bobcats, but a win nonetheless, a point that many have seemed to have forgotten.

What about USC?  They looked great in their week one win at Virginia, but the Cavaliers are far from a good football team.  Last week, they (Virginia) were leading 1-AA Richmond 3-0 late in the third quarter before pulling away for a 16-0 win.  Virginia may only be slightly better than Ohio.  And, that was the Trojans only game as they had their first bye of the season last week. 

Ohio State has become the Buffalo Bills of college football.  They continue to get knocked and labeled as a “bad top team,” because they haven’t played well in the last two BCS Championship Games.  But, like the Bills, they did a lot of winning along the way and HAVE played in two consecutive BCS title games.  That has to mean something.  It’s almost like people are rooting against the Buckeyes because they don’t want to see them get blown out of yet another BCS title encounter.  We saw the same sentiments when the Buffalo Bills were lining up to play in a fourth consecutive Super Bowl. 

Florida did blow out Ohio State in the 2006 BCS Championship Game, but last year, the Buckeyes played LSU even for most of the first half, and late in the third quarter, that game was still in doubt, a fact that many have forgotten about.   But, for some reason, going 12-1 and 11-2 and  losing two title games in a row means you’re not a worthy team anymore.

I’ll take those records and I’ll take teams like that any day of the week.  And, I’ll also take the Buckeyes tonight against USC.

Mock Schedule: Navy and Army in 1-AA CAA.

September 12, 2008

by John Furgele

Both Army and Navy have announced plans to drop to Division 1-AA and join the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).  The CAA, which currently has two divisions and 12 teams, will now have 14 teams in its two divisions.  Army will play out of the CAA North, while the Middies will toil in the CAA South.  Despite being in different divisions, Army and Navy will play each other every year, however, that game will be moved up to the Saturday before Thanksgiving to accommodate the 1-AA playoffs.  Here are the schedules.

Navy

South Division opponents:  James Madison, Delaware, Richmond, Villanova, William and Mary, Towson

Crossovers:  Army, Rhode Island.

Nonconference:  Air Force, Notre Dame, Duke, Southern Methodist.

How many game would the Middies win?

 

Army

CAA North Opponents:  Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Hofstra, Maine, Northeastern, Rhode Island.

Crossovers:  Navy, Villanova.

Nonconference:  Tulane, Texas A&M, Buffalo, Rutgers

How many games would the Black Knights win?

Army Unveils 1-AA Plans

September 8, 2008

by John Furgele

First off, it is not happening, but the headline is a pretty good tease, isn’t it?  Last Saturday, Army was beaten soundly by 1-AA power New Hampshire 28-10.  On paper, it looks like a bad loss because anytime a 1-AA team beats a 1-A team, it always looks bad.  But, New Hampshire is a 1-AA power, a team capable of playing for the 1-AA championship come mid-December. 

But, this is not your father’s—or grandfather’s—Army football team anymore.  The Black Knights, nee Cadets, are probably more like a Division II team than they are a 1-A or even 1-AA team.  New Hampshire, like most 1-AA teams, can have 63 scholarship players on its roster.  Everybody who plays at Army is on scholarship because every STUDENT at the U.S. Military Academy is on government scholarship.  After graduation, each cadet goes on active duty for five years, then reserve duty for three more, so there is a price to pay for going to the academy for free. 

Army simply cannot recruit against other 1-A schools.  If you’re a star linebacker and you’re being recruited by Rutgers and Army, where are you going to go?  Rutgers, of course.  Most of the players who go to Army aren’t being recruited by other 1-A schools.  They’re being recruited by Army, Hofstra, Dartmouth, Bucknell, Albany, Central Connecticut, and probably a host of Division II and III schools.  Most of these kids have a love of country, so they would rather go to Army, play a bit undersized rather than go to Bucknell, or even a Williams College, a division III school.  Obviously, these kids have a higher calling than college football.  College football is something these kids do while in college, just like joining student government is something ordinary students do.

All that said, Army cannot compete with the top 1-AA schools, let alone 1-A schools.  If Army played in the 12 team 1-AA Colonial Athletic Association, they would lose to just about every school in that conference.  Delaware would beat them, New Hamsphire did beat them.  They would also lose to Massachusetts and James Madison, and would have the hands full with Richmond, Hofstra, and Villanova, Maine and everybody else in the CAA.

But, Army, which can’t compete in a top 1-AA conference, is playing 1-A football.  A few years ago, they dropped out of Conference USA because they couldn’t compete against those schools.  Now, they’re playing as an independent where they can massage the schedule to their liking.  They opened up at home against Temple, for years one of the bottom feeders in 1-A football.  And, Temple beat them like a drum, 35-7.  Nobody massages a schedule better than Navy, which usually plays a 1-AA school and just about every bottom feeder 1-A team they can get their hands on.  In 2008, Navy plays Duke, SMU, Northern Illinois, Ball State, Temple, and of course, Army.

Army took on Temple, New Hampshire, and will also face Akron, Tulane, Rice, Louisiana Tech and Eastern Michigan.  They scheduled Buffalo, figuring that would be an easy win, but no more.  This year, they will travel to Buffalo and they will likely have their hands handed to them.  Even massaging is not easy to do as the Army is finding out.

The problem with Army football is selling tickets to 40,000 seat Michie Stadium.  There has always been a loyal following by Army fans, but if the home team is no longer competitive, why go?  Fans will come to games if they feel like the home team has a chance to win, and if Army played a 1-AA schedule, fans would feel that their Knights would have a chance to win.

What should Army do?  They should drop down to 1-AA and play either as a 1-AA independent, or better, join the Patriot League.  The Patriot League currently has seven football schools:  Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette, Holy Cross, Fordham, and Georgetown.  At one time, every school besides Georgetown played Division I football.  All of these schools have high academics, low student bodies, perfect matches for what Army brings to the table.  And, with only seven schools, they would love to add an eighth member, and Army would be the perfect eighth member.

If Army played in the Patriot League, they could play seven league games and that would still leave four to five dates to schedule Navy, Air Force and two to three other nonconference games.  In addition to Air Force and Navy, they could play Massachusetts, Boston College, Rutgers and perhaps a New Hampshire or Hofstra.  A good balance and more importantly, a chance to be a competitive.  Also in play would be a potential 1-AA playoff appearance which goes to the Patriot League champion.  It makes perfect sense, but of course, it will NEVER happen.  There is too much pride in the Army athletic department to admit that they can’t compete with the big boys.  That would be like admitting that the real Army can’t beat Iraq, Iran or any other foreign antagonist.

They don’t fear wars, so why would they fear Akron?  Or Buffalo?  But, fans don’t want to come to Michie Stadium and see the Knights get creamed by the likes of the Temple Owls and New Hampshire Wildcats.  They will point to the success of their arch-enemy Navy, but Navy got a bit lucky when they found and hired Paul Johnson, who ran the triple option to success in Annapolis.  Now, that Johnson is gone, watch Navy drop like a stone in the future.

In sum, it’s too hard today in 1-A football for Army to succeed.  They admitted that when they left Conference USA.  Here’s hoping they will admit and leave 1-A for 1-AA.

On College Football: Week 2

September 8, 2008

by John Furgele

Two weeks are in the books and despite what looked like a non-interesting” schedule, there is never a non-interesting week in college football.  Another week, another boatload of stories

1)  The Big East is Really Bad:  There are six BCS conferences in college football, but it is clear that the Big East and the ACC are the worst.  Of course, the SEC is the top dog, followed by the Pac 10 and Big 12, after that, there is a drop.  The Big Ten is ranked fourth, but that’s mainly by default.  East Carolina is a good team, but to beat West Virginia 24-3 does not say much for the Mountaineers.  As mad as they Mounties fans were at RichRod for leaving, they probably wish he had stayed.  Bill Stewart will soon learn that winning one bowl game is much easier than stringing it together for 12 weeks.

Most say that Utah State is the worst of the 119 Division 1-A teams.  If that’s true let’s see them play Syracuse on a neutral field, becauese the Orange are horrible.  They lost their home opener to Akron, Gerry Faust’s old team, before a sparse crowd of 32,000 at the Carrier Dome.  The only gimme on the Syracuse schedule is 1-AA Northeastern, after Penn State makes a visit this Saturday.  It sure looks like this will be Greg Robinson’s last season at the helm, and if that’s the case, why not let him go now, turn it over to an assistant on an interim basis and let America know that you are looking for a top notch person to take over.

Pittsburgh was in a battle royale against MAC member Buffalo—could Pittsburgh win the MAC if they played there?  Cincinnati faced a juggernaut in Oklahoma, but if you’re a 10-3 team from a year ago, do you go into Norman and give up 52 points; the same as Chattanooga did last week?

2)  USF and UCF Should Continue Playing and Should Play Every Year:  USF’s overtime victory over UCF was the last game in a five year contract and that’s a shame.  This is a game that should be played every year ala Florida and Florida State and Georgia and Georgia Tech.  And, nobody wants to hear that South Florida can’t find room on their schedule for the Knights.  Because the Big East has only eight members, each team plays five nonconference games, so there is plenty of room for UCF on USF’s schedule.  These schools are less than 100 miles apart and UCF’s 45,000 seat Bright House Networks Stadium was sold out for last night’s game.  I’m sure USF will bring in a 1-AA team to make things a bit easier on themselves.  But, expect these two schools to hook up more down the road as I predict that Central Florida will eventually join the Big East in football and playing USF will likely be on Rivalry Weekend either before or after Thanksgiving.

3)  The Fall of Maryland.  Seven years ago, Ralph Fridgen was being hailed as the savior of Maryland football.  He led the Terps to an ACC title and a BCS Orange Bowl berth, but now, his turtles have hit the skids.  They barely beat 1-AA Delaware in week one, and Saturday night lost at Middle Tennessee, a team whose only BCS opponent win was Vanderbilt.  The Fridge is a good guy and knows Xs and Os as good as anybody, but his recruiting classes and his particular struggle to find a quality quarterback may lead to his demise.  Being a successful head college coach is more than Xs and Os  and it took Fridgen a long, long time to get a head coaching gig.  We may be finding out why it took so long.

4)  Notre Dame Still Looks Slow.  Forget about what Rivals.com and every other recruting publication says about the quality of Notre Dame recruits.  Simply, they are not that good.  Once again, the Irish looked slow in Saturday’s 21-13 win over a San Diego State squad that lost its opener to 1-AA Cal Poly.  If not for a fumble on the Irish goal line, Weis and company may be 0-1.  Watch the SEC and the Pac 10 and then watch Notre Dame.  If you don’t notice the difference in speed between the teams, give me a call. 

5)  Miami—Where Has the Offense Gone.  Yes, the Hurricanes are young, but what has happened to the once proud Hurricane offense?  Ken Dorsey graduated in 2003, that’s five seasons ago!  Defensively, Miami hung in there and in the fourth quarter, they were trailing Florida by a 9-3 score, but the Cane offense is downright embarrassing.  What are Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson doing?  Can’t one of them go down there and work with the quarterbacks?

6)  Kudos to Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech.  A few people scoffed when Georgia Tech hired Paul Johnson from Navy to lead the Jackets.  More scoffed when Johnson said that he was bringing his option offense with him.  With more teams running the spread, the fear is that college football will mirror the NFL.  When everybody runs the same offense, then it gets easier to defense, thus resulting in lower scores, something true college football fans don’t want to see.  As a result, you have to root for Johnson and his offense to succeed and so far so good.  The Rambling Wreck is 2-0 with a nice win at Boston College in their cap.

7)  Oh, the Army.  Was anybody surprised that 1-AA power New Hamsphire went into Army and won 28-10?  Of course not, but this is going to be another woeful season for the Black Knights of the Hudson.  The old saying was that Army and the New Hamsphires of the world fought for the same players, but that’s not true anymore.  New Hamsphire is getting better athletes and to be honest, Army is probably fighting the Ivy and Patriot Leagues for their players.  The problem is that the Bucknells and Cornells play each other, while Army clings to the hope that they are legitimate 1-A school by playing other 1-A schools.  It used to be that Army would throw in a 1-AA school to get a win, only now they can’t even compete with the scholarship giving 1-AA schools such as New Hampshire.  We’ll keep our eyes on the Army and when they win, we’ll give them some love.  But, the fear is that they may not get one in 2008.  The Patriot League has only seven members and it has always been my belief that they are holding slots eight and nine for Army and Navy.  Army would fit in nicely as the eighth member, but we know it will never happen.  Playing the seven other Patriot League schools and five nonconference games would be the perfect scenario for Army.  I just wonder if anybody at the Military Academy has ever brought it up?

8)  Please Change the Celebration Rule.  By now, everybody has seen it.  Trailing 28-21, Washington QB Jake Locker scrambles in for a touchdown with three seconds left against BYU.  After he scores, he flips the ball into the air and immediately jumps into the arms of one of his teammates.  But because he threw the ball up into the air, he was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The extra point try was now going to be from 35 yards out and it was blocked and BYU escaped 28-27.  By rule, the referees made the RIGHT call, but from a common sense standpoint, it was not the right call.  That said, there is no excuse for getting the 35 yard PAT blocked.  If the Huskies were down one and it was a 35 yard field goal that got blocked, the naysayers would have been out in force.  But, Locker did not taunt or tease anybody.  He showed exhuberance and because he excitedly flipped the ball into the air, it cost the Huskies an overtime shot. 

Let’s hope the NCAA changes the interpretation of the rule soon—very soon.

Until next week.

On College Football: Week 1

September 1, 2008

by John Furgele

For many, Chrsitmas came on August 30 at Noon EST as the 2008 College Football season “officially” began.  For most, it is the beginning of a 12 game schedule, with one to two more depending on conference affiliation and bowl games.  Of course, for Division 1-AA teams, many will play a 12 game (instead of 11) regular season, then, hopefully four postseason games for a total of 15.  From the hot summer of August to the cold, snowy Novembers, it is four month joyride.

Week 1 was full of intruigue, if not surprises.  Let’s take a closer look

1)  The ACC is not very good:  It was a tough start for the ACC.  North Carolina State trailed South Carolina 3-0 at halftime before getting drubbed 34-0 to a no better than average Gamecock squad.  The ACC-SEC Challenge is kind of like the Metro Atlantic-Big East college basketball challenge, and the ACC is the Metro Atlantic.  Virginia Tech got a dose of itsa own medicine when it got beat by a blocked punt at East Carolina, a Conference USA school.  Then, there was the performance by Clemson, which we will be mentioned later.

Not only did the ACC struggle, but Maryland struggled mightily to beat 1-AA Delaware.  The Blue Hens are very good and they were the 1-AA runner-up in 2007, but they were breaking in a new quarterback and had the ball at their own 35 late in the game against a usually solid ACC/BCS team.

2)  Watch Out for Turner Gill and the Buffalo Bulls:  Last year, the Buffalo Bulls finished 5-7, hardly a great record.  But, if you know your college football, you know that it was a spectacular job done by the former Nebraska quarterback.  For years, the Bulls were ranked dead last in 1-A football and their 42-17 pasting of the Mike Price coached UTEP Miners was a statement game.  The Bulls have a very good coaching and a senior quarterback in Drew Willy who does more than manage games.  Nebraska wanted a top assistant from a major program, so they chose Bo Pellini.  They may regret the fact that they did not select Gill.  Next up for Buffalo is a trip to Pittsburgh, a team that lost to MAC rival Bowling Green.

3)  Sad Times for Syracuse:  The Greg Robinson Era at Syracuse has shown no improvement at all.  The Orange were trounced by mediocre Northwestern, and quarterback Andrew Robinson appears to have regressed.  Greg Robinson has tried to install the West Coast Offense, but it looks more futile each game.  The offense is so conservative, but the biggest problem is Andrew Robinson.  In order to run the West Coast, the QB has to be accurate, and Young Robinson was not even close on most of his throws.  And, the usual cry of wait ’till basketball season is not a good one, as the hoopsters are coming off back-to-back NIT appearances. 

4)  Beware the Heisman:  The Heisman hype is not really worth mentioning, but we will mention it nonetheless.  Many picked Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells as a favorite, but he hurt his ankle against Youngstown State.  Last year, many were giving the trophy to Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, then he tore his ACL and was done for the season.  Can we please wait until November?

5)  The Fraud That Is Clemson:  Every year, many in the media fall in love with the Clemson Tigers and every year, they fall short of expectations.  They opened the season against Alabama in the Georgia Dome, far from a gimme.  The Tigers were outplayed, outcoached and clearly outclassed by the rising Crimson Tide, who are clearly moving forward with Nick Saban.  Clemson fans think its 1981, with Danny Ford breaking all the rules to get players, and Homer Jordan is looking downfield for Perry Tuttle.  Tommy Bowden is a decent coach, but there is pressure for him to get at least to the ACC Champiionship Game this season.  Clemson is an 8-4 team, but the boosters are thinking 11-1. 10-2 all the time, and the reality is they are not an top tier program.

6)  The Mountain West Is a Solid Conference:  The Mountain West is clearly the best non-BCS conference in the nation, and it could be better than the ACC.  Utah not only beat Michigan at Michigan, they were in control for most of the game even though they only won 25-23.  And, the Utes may  only be the third best team in the nine team league behind Brigham Young and Texas Christian.  Air Force can give you fits, and New Mexico went 9-4 last season. Most BCS teams simply do not want to schedule MWC teams, so give Michigan credit for taking on the Utes.  This week, San Diego State visits Notre Dame.  The Aztecs are young and should be there for Notre Dame’s taking, but it should be noted that the Irish dropped a BCS opponent and replaced them with San Diego State.  Should the Aztecs win, that will be splashed across all the media.

The true shame of the college bowl system is that the winner of the MWC goes to the Las Vegas Bowl and plays the fourth or fifth place team from the PAC 10.  This conference deserves a better slot than that.

7)  USC vs. Ohio State:  These two teams, who seemingly played in every Rose Bowl from 1966-1976 will hook up at the LA Colisieum on September 13.  Many thought the Trojans, who are a bot young and inexperienced might be fodder for the veteran Buckeyes, but no more.  Mark Sanchez looked like all the understudys do—Leinhart for Palmer, Booty for Leinhart and now Sanchex for Booty.  USC was expected to win, after all Virginia is in the ACC, but the licking they put on the Cavs was quite impressive.  The good thing is that the loser of the game is not necessarily out of the BCS title race. 

8)  1-AA versus 1-A:  With the addition of the 12th regular season game, most 1-A teams like to fill it with a 1-AA opponent.  The move serves several purposes.  First, it gives the 1-A team in essence, a pre-season game and the seventh home game.  Second, if they win, they only have to win five more games to be considered for a bowl game.  Third, it gives the 1-AA program some money, some exposure and a chance to pull off the dream and upset the big brother.  Last year, we saw the mother of all 1-AA/1-A upsets when Appalachian State won at Michigan.  But, there should be more thought put into some of these matchups.  You can certainly see Youngstown State playing Ohio State and Western Illinois-Illinois (just an example).  But what was Coastal Carolina doing playing at Penn State?  That one made as much sense as Eastern Washington visiting West Virginia and Norfolk State playing at Rutgers last year.  If you’re a 1-A team and want to play a 1-AA opponent, use your noodle—and a map.  We can see Penn State hosting Villanova; we can see Rutgers hosting Hofstra and we can see Boston College hosting Massachusetts.  In fact, the Delaware-Maryland game made great sense.  Not only is Delaware a top 1-AA team, but the states border one another, and that may be a game that may help a recruit decide if they want to play for 1-A Maryland or 1-AA Delaware.  And, let’s not forget that it is an easy road trip for the Delaware fans to make.   It’s alright to schedule a 1-AA opponent, but it should make sense. 

9)  Poor Old Army:  Speaking of 1-AA, Army should be there.  Of course, I have been saying this every year, beginning in 2000, but Army just can’t compete at the 1-A level.  They will argue that Navy and Air Force face the same challenges and flourish, but Air Force has different academic requirements (easier) and Navy plays a well conceived schedule.  And, there are 119 1-A teams in the land—they can’t all go 6-6/7-5 and be eligible for bowls.  Army, of course, is too proud and will never concede and move down, but they would certainly be more competitive at the 1-AA level.  Losing to Temple is no longer insulting as the Owls have improved, but getting rolled 35-7 at home before a half empty Michie Stadium is.  Next week, Army plays host to New Hampshire, one of the top 1-AA teams in the nation.  It would be an upset if Army wins.  If that doesn’t tell the leadership at the Military Academy anything, what will?

Until next week, enjoy the games.