Archive for October, 2008

The Right Teams Made It

October 22, 2008

by John Furgele

In the next two weeks, there will be three themes in baseball.  First, is the Tampa Bay Rays.  If the Rays win the World Series, they will be the 21st century version of the 1969 Mets and will be called the greatest turnaround/upset in professional sports.  Of course, it still would not overtake “Miracle on Ice”, in 1980.

Theme number two would be the Phiilies.  Should they win, it will end the 25 year title drought for the sports crazy city of Philadelphia.  Of course, all apologies to Jon Bon Jovi and his Arena Football Soul, the American Hockey League Philadlephia Phantoms and MISL Philadelphia Kixx.  The last team to win a title was the 1982-1983 “We Owe You One” 76ers, who despite Moses Malone’s predictions of “fo, fo, fo (three four game playoff sweeps) went four, five, four, and finished it off by sweeping the Lakers in the 1983 Finals.  The city is starving and certainly doesn’t want the drought to continue by losing to a team that has been playing for only 11 years and has changed names and playing surfaces at theior domed stadium. 

Theme number three will be the lamenting of the football drinking sports talk hosts that will not watch the Word Series because there aren’t “national teams” involved.  Remember, sports talk around the nation is football centered, mainly because if these hosts don’t talk about football 90 percent of the timem, they will face sanctioning by the powerful National Football League.  If Tampa Bay played Buffalo in the Super Bowl, these hosts would be drooling and would use words like “overcome,: “against the odds,” “unity,” and “odds defying.”  But, in baseball, it’s small market Tampa Bay and provincial Philadlephia so why bother?  In sum, the hosts are too lazy to watch and study baseball to actually know what they’re talking about, so they use the old “Fox didn’t want this matchup,” and “America is not captivated by Rays-Phillies,” as an excuse not to watch.  They’re thinking is simple.  If America doesn’t watch, then I don’t have to and furthermore, I don’t have to talk about on my show the next day.”  But, they’ll discuss if Jerry Jones should fire Wade Phillips 22 more times before the week ends.

Sports talk has become theme centered.  It is much easier to talk about the woes of the Dallas Cowboys, the woes of the Cincinnati Bengals, the pretenders and the contenders and should this coach be fired than it is to actually break down teams like the Rays and the Phillies, and with football, it is easy because they play once a week and in our ADHD society that plays better.  Following baseball, basketball and hockey requires work because they play GAMES and that makes it harder to do a theme based show.  It would have been easier to promote Dodgers-Red Sox, because there would have been a theme to sell—The Manny Ramirez  Saga.  That saga would be easier to break down than breaking down who the Rays will use as their closer in the World Series.

But, the two best teams are here.  The Rays won the AL East, and outscored, outhit and outpitched the Red Sox in what turned out to be a thrilling seven game ALCS.  The Cubs may have had the better record in the National League, but you can’t call a team the best when they can’t even win one Division Series game.  The Phillies were better than Milwaukee and simply outclassed the Ramirez led Dodgers in the NLCS, winning 80 percent of the games in their 4-1 series win. 

Yes, the series will likely not be a ratings winner, unless it is competitive.  If the teams spilt the first two games, then head to Game 5 tied 2-2, the series will pick up viewers, and if there is a Game 7, America will be there.  Even though football is the new king, Americans still hold onto baseball because it has been around the longest and they will never completey abandon it.  And, let’s remember that the 1985, 1987, 1991 and 1997 World Series remain four of the five highest rated series since 1985 and none of those series had big, national teams with Royals-Cardinals in 1985; Twins-Cardinals in 1987; Twins-Braves in 1991; and Marlins-Indians in 1997.  The one theme  in those series was each had a Game 7 and with the exception of Royals-Cardinals in 1985, each series was tied at 2-2 heading into Game 5.  The Royals trailed the Cards 3-1, but won Game 5 in St. Louis, won Game 6 with some help from Don Denkinger, and then took the series in Game 7. 

And, finally aren’t there over four million people living in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area?  Back in 1977, this was a smaller market, but not anymore.  People still think of the old Northeast as population hubs, but think about it, which area is growing faster:  Philadelphia or Tampa Bay?  Doesn’t everybody that lives in the Northeast or Midwest know somebody who has moved to Florida, Arizona or Las Vegas by now? 

So, if Sports Talk Nation wants to take the easy way out, go ahead and use the nobody is watching theme.  If you did your homework—like you’re supposed to do—you know that the best two teams are here.

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On College Football: Week 8

October 22, 2008

by John Furgele

It must be October.  Baseball, NFL, the NBA, the NHL and for the die-hards the start of the Major League Soccer playoffs.  But, the monumental event of the month:  the BCS standings have begun.  Why everybody makes such a big deal about them is beyond reason?  Does FSN really need a 30 minute BCS unveiling show?  The biggest problem with the BCS ratings is the projections that everybody makes.  Some have Alabama and Texas already playing for the BCS title (it does sound good, though), while others say that if Penn State goes undefeated, they may lose out to a team with one loss in the BCS Championship Game.  Simply, it is way too early to speculate because there is way too much football to be played.  Let’s review.

1)  Is Alabama That Good.  The Tide has re-emerged under Nick “The Dictator” Saban, to the delight of the Alabama faithful.  In many ways, this team reminds you of the the 1992 team under Gene Stallings that kept winning close games, never looked great, but never lost, crushing Miami in the Sugar Bowl in the game where George Teague stole the ball away from Lamar Thomas.  Even Alabama boosters are worried about this team even though the keep winning.  But, the worries may be for real as the Tide still has to play at Tennessee, at LSU and will end the season at home against Aubrun, a team they haven’t been able to beat in recent years.

2)  Missouri Exposed.  We know two things about Missouri.  One, they are not that great and after beating up on weak sisters, they have been beaten up soundly the last two weeks.  Two, Chase Daniel is a system quarterback who does not have the arm strength to succeed at the next level.  The spread offense was fun when it was run by a handful of teams, but no sport is more copycat that college or pro football.  The defenses now know how to contain Missouri’s “vaunted” attack, and logic suggests that Texas will be able to expose Texas Tech’s pass happy spread when they play on November 1 in Lubbock.  But first, a test this Saturday versus Oklahoma State.  The spread may be fun, but can it really be counted on against the big time opponent?  So far, Missouri has played two big-timers and is 0-2.  To me, the answer is no. 

3)  Can Utah Make a Second BCS Bowl:  The Utah Utes are number 12 in the BCS standings and in order to automatically qualify for a BCS bowl, they have to end up eighth or higher.  If the Utes finish 12-0 and say, 10th, the BCS powers-that-be, rather than hear from Congress, will probably take the Utes and put them in the Fiesta Bowl.  The question is can the Utes run the table?  Currently 8-0, the Utes play at (4-4) New Mexico; host 7-1 Texas Christian, which just pounded Brigham Young; at 1-6 San Diego State; and finish the season hosting 6-1 Brigham Young.  If BYU and Utah came into the final game undefeated, it would be for a BCS bowl, but TCU is a very good football team and they may be the best team in the Mountain West.  If TCU could beat Utah and finish 11-1 with their only loss at Oklahoma, would that be enough for the Frogs to make a BCS bowl?  I would think that Utah’s BCS rankings would increase enough by virture of wins over TCU and BYU, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves—again.  One thing is for sure.  If Utah goes 12-0, they are in.  Book it.  Why Kyle Whittingham’s name is not being mentioned for head coaching openings is puzzling.  This guy is getting it done in Utah. 

4)  The Problem With Bowl Tie-Ins.  What if Utah doesn’t make a BCS bowl?  What about the other currently undefeated teams like Ball State, Boise State and Tulsa?  The chance that all four of the teams will run the table is slim, and even if all do, only one would make it to a BCS bowl, but there is another problem.  If Ball State ends up 13-0, they will likely play in the International Bowl, the GMAC Bowl, the Motor City Bowl or some other third tier exhibition game.  Their opponent might be Big 10 #7, Big 12 #6 or SEC #9.  The same for Tulsa.  They likely destination is the Liberty Bowl against SEC #7.  Is that really fair to a 11-1 Tulsa team or a Ball State team?  One of the better matchups in recent bowl memory was the Liberty Bowl of a few years ago.  Boise State, the WAC Champion played then Conference USA champion Louisville.  Both were conference champions and both had the swagger of a conference champion and the game lived up to the teams records.  I would love these smaller bowl games to pit conference champion against conference champion.  Wouldn’t the MWC champion facing the CUSA champion be better than last year’s Las Vegas Bowl matchup between 10-2 BYU and 6-6 UCLA?  It’s lose-lose for the these teams.  Beat the 6-6, 7-5 team and you beat a mediocre team.  Lose to them and you and your conference are overrated. 

Let’s reward these teams from the non-BCS conferences by matching them up in bowl games.  Let Big 12 #7 play Big 10 #7 in the Motor City Bowl and let Ball State play Tulsa and Boise State play Utah/BYU/TCU in a better, higher profile game.  With a playoff system still decades away, the BCS/NCAA can still tweak things up to make it a bit more fair for all 119 Division 1-A football schools.  If I’m 12-1 Ball State, I don’t think I would be that pumped up for 7-5 Connecticut.

5)  Army and Indiana State Updates.  Army led Buffalo 24-10 in the fourth quarter, then 24-17.  They stopped the Bulls on a 4th and 3 at their 16 and looked poise for their third straight win.  On the next play, fullback Collin Mooney broke through for a 20 yard run, but fumbled the ball—his second fourth quarter fumble in as many weeks—and the Bulls recovered, scored to force overtime, then won it 27-24.  The Bulls had the ball first and made a 37 yard field goal.  Army’s possession went in retreat as they lost nine yards on three plays, then watched a 51 yard field goal said wide right.  Army (2-5) continues to run the ball impressively (Mooney had 172 rushing yards) and will host Louisiana Tech this Saturday. 

Indiana State is in shambles.  The Fightin’ Sycamores were blanked 56-0 at Western Illinois last Saturday.  In seven games, they are 0-7 and have been outscored 275-40.  Up next, is South Dakota State and things won’t get prettier.  It would be a shock if Indiana State doesn’t finish 0-12.  My only hope is that the school sticks with the program because one has to believe that talk of discontinuing football has been at least discussed in Terre Haute. 

Until next week.

Say It Ain’t So

October 19, 2008

by John Furgele

Now, the pressure’s on.  The Tampa Bay Rays are now one devastating loss away from suffering a collapse that may linger into 2009 and beyond.  The Red Sox 4-2 Game 6 victory in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series puts the Rays one loss away from baseball immortality, and not good baseball immortality. 

They were cruising.  Up three games to one and up 7-0 entering the bottom of the seventh against a Red Sox that was ready to go into submission.  But then, the magic happened and since that epic comeback, the Rays look like a team with a pulse that has nearly flatlined.  In the 33 inning stretch from Game 2 through the sixth inning of Game 5, the young Rays scored 38 runs.  Since the seventh inning of Game 5, they have scored just two, with both coming on solo homers.  No rallies, no lead off singles or doubles, no pressure applied to the Red Sox at all. 

They can deny that they’re tight, deny that they’re feeling more pressure, but they are tight and they are feeling pressure.  It’s only natural.  Even the mighty Red Sox, the 2000s version of the late 1990s Yankees feel pressure.  It’s a part of the postseason., just like the four hour game is.  And, trailing 4-2 in the late going of Game 6, the thoughts of Game 5 had to be in their heads. 

The Red Sox just won’t die and just don’t want to be eliminated.  But, should they come back—and that’s still a big if—this would be different.  Last year, they were down three games to one and faced elimination at Cleveland, but they cruised 7-1 behind Josh Beckett in Game 5, then broke open Game 6 thanks to a Grand Slam home run by J.D. Drew, then pulled away late in Game 7.  They never faced death liked they faced in Game 5 last Thursday. 

Their 2004 comeback against the Yankees might even pale in comparison.  In that series, they were only one one run down when Kevin Millar walked, pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second and then scored on the hit by Bill Mueller.  Sure, they were down three games to none and were facing the great closer, Mariano Rivera, but teams often rally down one run in a baseball game.  Heck, the Arizona Diamondbacks did that in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series when they rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win 3-2 against—Mariano Rivera. 

After pulling out Game 4, the Sox won an extra inning white knuckler in Game 5, then headed to New York to face a Yankee team that was running out of healthy pitchers.  They cruised in Game 6 and roughed up the Yankees in Game 7.  Once again, they came back, but they didn’t come back like they did in Game 5 of this ALCS.  They played from ahead in both those games at Yankee Stadium.

The Rays just looked like a team that was still getting a standing 8 count.  James Shields was okay, but left after 5 2/3 innings trailing.  At the plate, it seemed like every Ray was uppercutting, trying to go deep.  They were facing a clearly injured Josh Beckett, who labored through five innings on curves and changeups.  Most of his fastballs were in the 87-90 range, with many at 88.  Still, the Rays could not get any rallies going, with their two runs coming on solo blasts by B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett.  Even late, when they were trailing, they never seemed interested in getting a rally going.  When you’re down two runs, a solo homer helps, but it doesn’t start a rally–or tie the game. 

Tomorrow should be a special night as history will be made one way or the other.  If the Red Sox win, they get ready to host the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series.  Would they run the table again, like they did after their ALCS rallies in 2004 and 2007?  Since that time, Boston has played eight World Series games and have won them all.  Does anybody think the hard luck Phillies, with one championship in 126 seasons are going to stop them?  If Boston wins, it will be said that the 2008 postseason literally turned on a dime, the seventh inning dime of Game 5. 

The dime has made appeareances before.  In 2003, the playoffs turned when Moises Alou was prevented from catching a ball by a Chicago Cub fan with the Cubs up 3-0 in Game 6, needing just five outs to win the National League pennant.  Cub fans still forget that after Alou’s anger, the next ball was a tailor made double play ball that was booted by shortstop Alex Gonzalez.  But, alas, the dime was there, the series turned, the Marlins won the NL flag and then won the World Series. 

Now, if Tampa Bay wins Game 7, it will be a great story, a story of a team that overcame some demons and was able to regroup, rebound and revive to win the AL pennant.  Remember, Tampa Bay hasn’t blown anything yet.  Being on the verge is not the same, close, but not the same. 

As a baseball fan, you almost have to root for the Rays.  You don’t want to see that team haunted by “Game 5” until they win a championship.  As a baseball fan, you can justify rooting for the Rays because you can use the old, “Boston has two championships since 2004 and it’s time for somebody else to win.”  Now, if you’re a Red Sox fan, or you like this kind of misery/drama, then you will probably disagree. 

Should Tampa Bay lose, you just don’t know if they can come back for there are no guarantees.  Look at the New York Mets.  They were one big hit away from advancing to the 2006 World Series, but lost 3-1to St. Louis in Game 7 at Shea Stadium.  In 2007, they blew a seven game lead with 17 games to play and in 2008, they lost a 3.5 game lead with 17 to play.  Not only have the Mets not come back, they haven’t made the playoffs or won 90 games in each of the last two seasons.  As for the Cubs, that’s all that is needed to say, we have seen their act since 2003. 

A Rays loss might linger for quite some time.  There are those who think that this team is a one hit wonder.  Now, I don’t really believe that, but look at the division they play in.   The AL East is a dog fight, the home of the 3 1/2 hour 2-1 game and the 4 hour plus anything else division.  The Red Sox, the New Empire sit in this division.  The Old Empire, the New York Yankees sit in this division and the one thing we know about them is that they are angry at missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.  The Old Empire is going to to do whatever it takes to get back to the playoffs.  And, the Toronto Blue Jays have a billionaire owner who is sick and tired of coming in third and fourth behind the New and Old.  They just might sign Manny Ramirez, knowing that they have to play 37 or 38 games against the Yanks and the Sox.  And, you never know, one of these days, the once proud Balitmore Orioles might find some magic and remind people that they still have a team in the American League. 

So, the Rays almost have to get by Boston later this evening not only for their present but for their future.   If they don’t, they might be so shellshocked that they may not recover for years.  They may win 88 games next year, but that would probably be good enough for third place in the AL East.  They might as well win tomorrow and get it out of the way.

But, the Red Sox might not be willing to let that happen.  We just have to wait and see how it plays out.

On College Football: Week 7

October 14, 2008

by John Furgele

Is the Big 12 the best football conference in America?  Will BYU-Utah be a battle of the unbeatens with a BCS bowl berth on the line?  Is Penn State a threat to play in the BCS Championship Game?  These are just a few items of intruigue that took place on Week 7 of college football.

1)  What Happens to Bob Stoops in the Big Games?  Texas is an excellent football team and their 45-35 victory over Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl certainly solidified that, but is something wrong with Bob Stoops in the big games?  His Sooners blew a couple of leads and now are no longer number one.  The good news is that the Sooners are far from out of it.  If they start winning again, capture the Big 12 championship, they could certainly snag one of the two spots in the BCS title game.  But, in their last three big games, they were duped by Boise State, trounced by West Virginia and humbled by Texas.  Will the Sooners get another chance to play another big game this year?

2)  He’s a Man, and He Won a Big One.  Perhaps the best team in the Sooner State is Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Sooners.  More known for his press conference tirade that would make Lee Elia proud, Gundy’s Cowboys were a step ahead of Chase Daniel and the Missouri Tigers.  Daniel put up good numbers, but his three interceptions killed his team chances for a BCS title and killed his Heisman chances as well.  Daniel is a great example of a system quarterback and his lack of velocity and arm strength were exposed by the Cowboys Saturday.  The win doesn’t guarantee anything for Oklahoma State, but with T. Boone Pickens pouring money into the program, and with Gundy’s sharp mine, Okie State could be in business.

3) Clemson Just Doesn’t Get It.  It doesn’t really matter whether Tommy Bowden stepped down or was fired, but the always overrated Tigers just don’t realize that Clemson is not an Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, or even an Auburn.  The expectations are high, but this is a program that should sign up for 9-3 each and every year, and should consider 8-4 a successful season.   They’re the second best program in the state and South Carolina is far from a great program.  Good luck to the next coach.  Is Danny Ford available? 

4) How Good is Penn State?  The Nittany Lions are explosive, but can they keep winning and get high enough to get one of the top two spots at season’s end.  They host Michigan this week—a game they should win—then travel to Ohio State on October 25 and close the season at home against #23 Michigan State.  Most think the Big 10 is down, so the Lions will not get the benefit of the doubt from the voters, but 12-0 is a possibility. 

5)  Notre Dame is Coming Around.  Yes, they lost at North Carolina, but things are looking up for the Fighting Irish, who are 4-2 with five winnable games coming up before traveling to USC the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Jimmy Clausen is maturing and even though he threw a bad pick that was returned for a TD, the sophomore showed a lot of poise and had Notre Dame moving the ball on the road.  We all know that patience is not a virtue in college football, but Charlie Weis may finally be getting some positive play out of those five star recruits.  The Irish are off this week, but should take care of Washington on Oct. 25, before hosting Pitt, a game that could determine a lot as far as bowl positioning goes.  They may not win a BCS title anytime soon, but 9-3 is certainly within reach.  The question:  is 9-3 good enough for a BCS bowl berth?  Probably not, but it is Notre Dame. 

Short Shots.  Army will never pass again.  The Black Knights are on a mini-roll, picking up their second straight win, a 17-13 home win versus Eastern Michigan.  In this game, they ran 59 times for 341 yards and went 0 of 3 passing.  The Knights go for three in a row, when they travel to somewhat disappointing Buffalo (2-4) this Saturday……The woes continue for our favorite 1-AA team, the Indiana State Sycamores as they were drubbed 60-7 by Southern Illinois, which scored 50 first half points.  That’s 20 straight losses for ISU.  Next up:  a visit to 4-2 Western Illinois, so number 21 is pending.

Until next week—-Go Phillies.

On College Football: Week 6

October 6, 2008

by John Furgele

For the most part, the nonconference games are officially done and conference play has begun in earnest as the crucial month of October has arrived.  There have been some surprises (Vanderbilt), disappointments (Auburn, Clemson), and under the radar flyers (Ball State).  But, from here on out, every week will tell us something major.  Here we go.

1)  Texas and Oklahoma Are Still Frauds.  That is a harsh word, but I use it knowing that the tag will end Saturday when the two teams get together in the Red River Shootout in Dallas.  Both teams are 5-0, but both have had cupcake schedules.  The loser is likely out of the BCS Championship picture, but that is far from a certainty.  The Sooners are more hyped, and more respected, but nobody is really sure how good both teams are.  This has to be a quality played football game.  The closer the game, the better it’s played, the better the Big 12 will look.  A win by Texas would really set them up to get in the BCS title hunt.  If they win Saturday, they host #3 Missouri on October 18, and should they beat the Tigers, they would likely be number one going into November.

2)  The SEC, Though Ballyhooed, is Soft.  The Big East could play six SEC top cats, beat them all, and still, most of the pundits will say—without thinking—that the SEC is the best conference in the land.  But, truth be told, the SEC has been soft this year.  Alabama has arrived, perhaps a year ahead of schedule, and LSU has been very good, but the rest of the teams are mediocre at best.  After  Alabama and LSU, the SEC West features Auburn, which doesn’t know what to do on offense; Mississippi, which shocked Florida, but couldn’t follow that up, losing to South Carolina, which isn’t very good either; and Arkansas and Mississippi State, which are very bad teams right now.  Very bad.

The SEC East is led by Vanderbilt, which no matter what their record is is not a great football team.  Deep down, the SEC leaders are hoping that the perennial weak sister loses a few games and fast.  They have to play Florida and Georgia, but the Gators couldn’t beat Mississippi at home and Georgia was throttled by Alabama.  The rest of the division features South Carolina,  Kentucky, and Tennessee, all mediocre teams.  Tennessee does nothing on offense and is only 2-3, with wins coming against UAB and Northern Illinois.  A week after losing 14-12 to Auburn, they barely beat Northern Illinois by a score of 13-9. 

In the end, things might be different, but right now the SEC is hurting.

3)  Patience Should Be Tried ala Pittsburgh.  Too often, we are quick to say this coach is in trouble and this coach should get fired, and Dave Wannstedt has certainly felt the wrath of those comments, but maybe Wannstedt knows what he’s doing at Pittsburgh.  After losing its opener to Bowling Green, the fans were calling for Wannstedt’s head.  In Week 2, the Panthers survived Buffalo, but then began to get rolling.  They got a nice win, beating Iowa 21-20, then survived at Syracuse 34-24, before making a statement with a 26-21 win at South Florida, the Big East frontrunner.  At 4-1 and 2-0 in conference play, the Panthers may have a Big East title in reach, but the next three games will be telling for the Wannstedt Era.  Beginning October 18, they play at Navy, a team that beat them last year and runs the tricky triple option; host Rutgers, then travel to Notre Dame to take on the resurgent Irish.  If the program is indeed on its way back, the Panthers should win all three games.  They should beat Navy by at least a touchdown, beat Rutgers at home by 10 points and if they’re worth their salt, should be able to pull out a white knuckler at Notre Dame.   If they win all three, they will get the attention thay crave, and at 7-1 will be in prime position.  Going 2-1 would be fine, but if they’re really back, they need a sweep.

4)  Army , Army, Army.  The Black Knights did it all last Saturday in a 44-13 victory at Tulane.  They blocked punts, ran the ball, and played solid defense and like good teams do (Army is not there, of course), they pulled away in the fourth quarter.  The one thing Army did not do this week(or last week) is throw the ball.  And, that’s a good sign as it indicates that the Knights have re-commited to the option.  In a 21-17 loss to Texas A&M on September 27, they ran for 280 yards on 65 rushes, and at Tulane rushed 44 times for 291 yards, an average of 6.6 yards per rush.  The only way Army is going to be competitive at the 1-A level is to schedule appropriately, and run the option offense.  And, it looks like coach Stan Brock has weaned them from Bobby Ross’ pro style to the triple option.  It took five weeks, but it looks like it is finally starting to take form.  Army hosts Eastern Michigan this Saturday at Michie Stadium and not only is this a winnable game, the Knights will likely be a slight favorite.  Watch out Navy, here they come.

6)  The Woes Continue for Indiana State.  Now that Army is in the win column, getting Indiana State a “W” is now high priority, but it won’t be easy.  The Sycamores lost another one Saturday, getting whipped by Illinois State 57-6, to fall to 0-5 on the season, after going 0-11 in 2007.  Things get no easier this weekend as ISU travels to 2-2 Southern Illinois.  We’ll keep rooting. 

Until next week.