Archive for December, 2008

Quarterback, Quarterback, Quarterback

December 31, 2008

by John Furgele

When it comes to buying real estate, the old axiom is location, location, location.  When it comes to NFL head coaches keeping their jobs, it comes down to quarterback, quarterback, quarterback.  Simply, if a coach has the quarterback, he can keep his job.  If not, so long and good luck.

Since Sunday, several coaches have lost their jobs, and most of them can be attributed to inconsistent, unsettled or downright poor play by the quarterbacks.  In Detroit, the Lions went 0-16, costing Rod Marrinelli his job.  The lack of wins alone did him in, but Buccaneer coach John McKay survived an 0-14 1976 season and a 0-12 start to the 1977 season, so there “might have ben hope for Marrinelli.”  But, with Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky, did Marrinelli really have a shot to win games?

In New York, the emotionless and drab Eric Mangini was let go by Jet owner Woody Johnson.  Once touted as the “Mangenius,” Mangini was done in by—-quarterback play.  In 2006, he had a healthy Chad Pennington and the Jets went 10-6 and qualified for the playoffs.  In 2007, Pennington was hurt, but Mangini decided that he couldn’t get to the next level with him, so he went with the strong armed  but in-over-his-head Kellen Clemens.  The result was a 4-12 campaign.  In 2008, Pennington was waived as the Jets brought in the savior Brett Favre, who wilted down the stretch in a 9-7 meltdown.  While Pennington was resurrecting Miami from 1-15 to 11-5, Favre was the captain of the Titanic.

In Cleveland, Romeo Crennel got a magic 2007 season from lightly touted Derek Anderson and even though the Browns missed the playoffs, they went 10-6 and had so much promise that network TV scheduled five prime time games for them in 2008.  Well, this year, Anderson came back down to earth, former number one pick Brady Quinn got hurt, and Crennel was forced to play Ken Dorsey, a nice college quarterback who couldn’t get the Browns into the end zone for nearly a month.   The result:  the firing of Crennel.

The Buffalo Bills have announced that Dick Jauron, who in his stewardship has guided the Bills to three consecutive 7-9 seasons, is coming back.  Western New York football fans may be outraged, and the Buffalo News, whose agenda is to see Jauron fired, says that keeping Jauron may lead to many not renewing their season tickets for the 2009 season.  Perhaps that may be true, but might the recession have something to do with this? 

Why did the Bills keep Jauron?  The answer is that they believe in the quarterback, Trent Edwards.  Because they do, they do not want Edwards to get a new coach and regress.  They think Edwards is on he verge of being a top tier NFL quarterback.  Of course, this remains to be seen, but if management believes that they have the right quarterback, they are more apt to let the coach stick around and see.  Detroit, New York and Cleveland have serious quarterback questions, so they have decided to go after both new quarterbacks and new coaches.  If Edwards fails, Jauron will be gone.

The wrinkle in the bedsheet is Denver, which after 14 seasons, fired Mike Shanahan.  Many thought Shanahan earned a free pass for life after leading the Broncos, who were 0-4 in the Super Bowl to two straight titles in 1997 and 1998.  And, unlike the above examples, the Broncos appear to have their franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler.  But, Shanahan is suffering from “Joe Torre Syndrome.”  JTS is when you win early and then don’t win again.  Torre won four world titles in his first five years, then made the playoffs seven more times, but never won it all again.  Same for Shanahan.  He last won in 1998, but in the next nine seasons, he made the playoffs four more times, but only won one playoff game. 

And, why did he not win more?  Because, he didn’t have the quarterback.  In 1997 and 1998, he had the aging but still Hall of Famer in John Elway.  After Elway, he made the playoffs with Brian Griese and Jake “Snake” Plummer, both solid, but inconsistent quarterbacks.  You can win games with these guys, but you can’t win the BIG games with them. 

It appeared that with Cutler, Shanahan felt that he had “another Elway,” or someone close to another Elway, but Bronco management felt that the lack of playoff success and the meltdown over the final three games of 2008 was enough to let the genius go after 14 quality seasons. 

Lastly, is another perceived genius in Patriot headmaster Bill Belichick.  In Cleveland, he had one winning season when he had the guts to bench folk hero Bernie Kosar for Vinny Testaverde.  Browns fans seethed, but the result was an 11-5 season and a playoff apperance.  Testaverde eventually came back to earth and Belichick was canned. 

In New England, he was on the road to nowhere with Drew Bledsoe, but when Bledsoe got injured in week two of the 2001 season, Tom Brady fell on Belichick’s lap.  Brady became so good and the Pats won three Super Bowls, four AFC championships and earned the once loathed coach the title of legend. 

Like real estate is about location, coaching success is about the quarterback.  It’s the most important and worrisome position in all of professional sports.  If you have one, you have a shot to win every week, if you don’t you won’t.

The words “Have Quarterback, Will Travel,” have never been more accurate.


Nothing For Sure in Watered Down NFL; And That’s Good

December 29, 2008

by John Furgele

The NFL prefers the word parity, that every team has a chance to get it right and make a quick turnaround from a pretender to a contender.  And, even though this is mainly because the league is watered down, it does make for compelling drama and Week 17 might have been the ultimate week for that to happen.

The Miami Dolphins, a 1-15 team a year ago is the AFC East champion.  They did it with a new coach, a new quarterback, and a new Tuna in Bill Parcells.  The Baltimore Ravens, 5-11 in 2007, brought in a new coach in John Harbaugh and a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco and go 11-5 and secure an AFC Wild Card.  Their opponent next week—-Miami.

Last year, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback was going to jail and its coach secretly bolted for the University of Louisville.  So, this year, they bring in an unknown coach and a rookie quarterback and all they did was go 11-5 and secure an NFC Wild Card berth. 

So, there is hope for the Detroit Lions and their fans, which despite reports that they are none, there are.  In 2007, the Lions were 6-2 at the halfway point.  Since then, they are 1-23.  But, if Miami can go from 1-15 to 11-5, perhaps the Lions, provided they get somebody with a half a brain to run the team, could be the next Miami.

The perenially can’t-get-out-of-their-own-way Arizona Cardinals are 9-7 and in the playoffs.  So, we know that in the NFL, anything can happen.  And, this is why the NFL remains the most compelling major sport.  Baseball is a better sport than football, but clearly, in baseball, there are the haves and the have nots.

In Baltimore, the Orioles appear to be miles away from being a World Series contender.  They play in the American League East, where the Yankees just spent $421 million for three players.  But, in the NFL, the Ravens, if they draft properly and acquire the right free agents can go from 5-11 to 11-5 and make the NFL playoffs.

In Pittsburgh, the small market Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992.  Even with the state-of-the-art PNC Park, the Pirates remain bad, inept with no hope in sight.  But, the Steelers compete and compete well.  In 2005, they went from the number five seed in the AFC playoffs to NFL champions.

In Miami, the Florida Marlins have a payroll roughly the same as Alex Rodriguez’s and Derek Jeter’s, and even though they won two World Series titles in 1997 and 2003, they can’t sustain anything.  After winning it all in 1997, the ’98 Marlins went 54-108.  But, the Dolphins are the story of the year, and their quarterback, Chad Pennington, should be the NFL MVP this season.

In Kansas City, there is hope that the Royals can get over .500 (82-80 will suffice) in 2009, but 82-80 will more than likely keep the Royals out of the playoffs, but the Kansas City Chiefs could go from 2-14 to 9-7 in 2009 and that could be enough to get them into the playoffs.  This year, the San Diego Chargers WON the AFC West with an 8-8 record, and in Week 15 beat the Chiefs by one point.  At 2-14, the Chiefs were just six games behind the Chargers, so anything is possible in the topsy-turvy NFL.   Even at 2-14, the Chiefs are closer to an NFL championship than the Royals are to a World Series championship. 

Now, if you’re living in Buffalo, Cincinnati, St. Louis or Oakland, you may not believe this, but rest assured it can happen. 

It’s the NFL.

Poinsettia Bowl Lives Up to Hype

December 26, 2008

by John Furgele

It was perhaps the best non-BCS bowl game of the season and the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, played in San Diego lived up to the hype as #11 Texas Christian beat #9 Boise State 17-16 before a disappointing crowd of 34,628 in San Diego.

TCU (11-2) came in as a slight favorite over the undefeated Boise State Broncos (12-1), who were trying to complete their second perfect season in three years.  The game featured hard hitting defense and timely offense and was, “a solid college football game.” 

The game was further proof that Boise State belongs in the Mountain West Conference, and pitting the Broncos against MWC heavyweights like Utah, Brigham Young, and TCU, as well as Colorado State, Air Force et al, would not only bolster the best non-BCS conference in the land, but would make Boise State even better than they already are.  Boise State is not a one trick pony either.  The Bronco basketball team made the NCAA Tournament in 2007-2008.

Notre Dame wore names on the back of the jerseys for the first time since the 1988 Cotton Bowl, and the Irish looked great in the Hawaii Bowl against Hawaii in a 49-21 victory, the first bowl win for Notre Dame since the 1994 Cotton Bowl.  There have already been newspaper columns  touting Notre Dame as a BCS threat in 2009.  Please, let’s wait a minute.  This is the same Notre Dame team that couldn’t beat Syracuse at home on Senior Day and couldn’t make a first down until late in the third quarter against USC, so to say that the Irish are on their way is a bit premature.  One thing is for certain in 2009 and it’s that there will be no excuses for Charlie Weis and the Irish next fall.  Your “young” team will now be a junior and senior laden lineup and if the Irish don’t go 8-4 or better, it will be because of talent, not youth.

The best bowl matchup this weekend will be the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which will pit 8-4 North Carolina against 8-4 West Virginia.  Both teams are coming in angry with a lot to prove.  North Carolina is rebuilding nicely under Butch Davis and if you told Davis his 2008 Tar Heels would finish the regular season 8-4, he would have secretly signed for it.  But, it was the way they finished that probably has him and the team steaming.  The Heels started 7-2, then dropped two straight before thumping Duke in their finale.  A win here probably gets them thinking of an ACC title in 2009.

As for West Virginia, they were a disappointing 8-4.  This was a team that had many starters coming back from a 11-2 team that thumped Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last January, an Oklahoma team that has been selected to play in the BCS Championship Game this year.   The Mountaineers have questions at the “coaching” position, mainly, is career assistant Bill Stewart capable of being a head coach?  Star quarterback Pat White is 3-0 in bowl games and he would like to end a frustrating season with a bowl game win.  Look for White to tote the ball a ton in a game that has sold out Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte.

Army has hired Rich Ellerson from Cal Poly to be its new head coach.  Ellerson took Cal Poly to the NCAA 1-AA playoffs this year and is considered an expert at running the triple option offense that Army wants to keep running, only run it better.  This year, Cal Poly played two 1-A opponents and could have won both games.  They beat  San Diego State 29-27 and in a one point loss at Wisconsin, their kicker missed three extra points and the Mustangs lost 36-35 in overtime.  In their 49-35 1-AA playoff loss against Weber State, Cal Poly rushed 52 times for 363 yards, and against Wisconsin, the Mustangs rushed 59 times for 276 yards, a 4.7 yard average. 

It’s a good move for Army.  The job is not big enough to lure high profile assistants from BCS schools, but has enough of a profile to get top 1-AA coaches who are looking to get a 1-A head coaching job.  Paul Johnson is the blueprint.  He won at 1-AA Georgia Southern, then moved to Navy and enjoyed success there (running the triple option) and now is leading a 9-3 Georgia Tech team.  Army will try this by hiring a successful 1-AA coach and see if he can work some magic at West Point.

Paterno: How Long Can He Go?

December 17, 2008

by John Furgele

Joe Paterno and Pennsylvania State University ended any doubt that the 81 year old coach would be back by announcing that he has signed a contract extension that will keep him in Happy Valley through the 2011 season, when the real old ball coach will be 85 years old.

Is this a good thing?  A bad thing?  An indifferent thing?  Paterno has been great for college football.  He is honest, makes his players attend class and graduate, and has stayed free of the recruiting wars that have caused many schools to go on probabtion.  There have been some recent incidents that have flowered his once flawless reputation, but in today’s society, that is inevitable.

He has always advocated for a playoff, and twice had undefeated teams that did not win at least a share of a national poll title.  But, he never really complained or bellyached that his teams were wrongly penalized by not getting that share.  Deep down, I think Paterno doesn’t really care about winning national titles.  He has always wanted to coach and teach young men, win some football games, and do the best that he can do.  He has always been about the next game, whether that’s taking a 7-4 team to the Liberty Bowl, an 11-0 team to the Rose Bowl or an 9-3 team to the Fiesta Bowl.

His 1986 team beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl, a win that gave Penn State the AP and UPI Championships.  It remains the most watched college football game ever, with over 82 million viewers.  He also bagged the AP and UPI titles in 1982 when his Todd Blackledge led team beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.  Even after winning, Paterno didn’t gloat, it was just another win for the school, the program.  If Penn State beats USC in the Rose Bowl, he will finish the season 12-1, and will have the same number of losses as the BCS champion, and deep down Paterno will reason that his 12-1 team could beat 13-1 Florida or 13-1 Oklahoma.  Having a “title” doesn’t mean you’re a better team, not in the world that refers to itself as the “bowl subdivision.”

Saying Paterno is too old is unfair.  We could all live to 100 or we could go tomorrow, that’s life and if Paterno feels like coaching and has sound mind, body, and energy, why not let him keep going?  I will assume that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not have a mandatory retirement age, and since Paterno donates much of his salary back to the university, if they do, they probably overlook it. 

There are a lot of programs that are hated in college football, but can anybody really hate Penn State and Paterno? He has been tremendous for college football and having him around for more years is nothing but good.

Auburn, NCAA Do Wrong Thing—Again

December 16, 2008

by John Furgele

Auburn University hired Gene Chizik to be its next head football coach after letting the highly successful Tommy Tuberville go after ten seasons.  Chizik has coached at Iowa State the past two seasons, compiling a dismal 5-19 record at the Big 12 school.  And, what does he get for that record?  A promotion to a bigger and better name school. 

Iowa State is a BCS school that plays in the top heavy Big 12 conference, but Auburn plays football in the best football conference in the land, the SEC.  Why would Auburn entrust its struggling program (5-7 this year) to a guy who has had trouble winning football games the past two seasons?

Because, he’s white.  Auburn sources say that Buffalo coach Turner Gill interviewed for the job, but it was determined that the white Chizik was the better candidate.  Gill took over a laughingstock Buffalo program, a program that was 10-69, a program that wasn’t even winning at the 1-AA level and the past two seasons went 5-7 and 8-5, with this year’s team winning the MAC Championship Game and getting an invite to the International Bowl. 

Gill is considered a hot candidate, but thus far has been passed over at schools like Syracuse, Auburn and Mississippi State.  That just doesn’t make sense.  Syracuse and Mississippi State hired people that have never been head coaches at the collegiate level, and Auburn hired a guy that has a 5-19 career record.  Mississippi State gets a pass because Sylvester Croom, who is black, did run the team for five years, so the Bulldogs cannot be accused as being racist when it comes to its hiring practices.

Charles Barkley, who went to Auburn but we’re not sure he graduated said that the Gill was not hired because he was black.  We all know that Barkley says what he feels, but I believe him on this one. 

The NCAA should be ashamed of themselves for its record on minority hiring.  There are 120 Division 1-A schools and just four black head coaches.  Does there need to be a Rooney Rule in place?  Do we have to force these schools to hire minorities?  I certainly hope not, but I’m beginning to wonder.

The Good Ol’ White Boys fraternity will remain a tough one to crack.  Schools are now hiring “coaches-in-waiting,” who will take over when the current head coach steps down.  To me, this is another way of preventing qualified minority coaches from getting a chance to get a head coaching job.  It is as if they are saying, “we are open to minority candidates, but we feel that our current defensive coordinator will be a great head coach, so we’ll make him our coach-in-waiting so he doesn’t go someplace else.” 

That rule needs to be outlawed, because it offers too much protection.  As for Gill, I’m sure he will say all the right things.  The good part is that he has a job at Buffalo, a job he can keep if he so chooses.  Give Buffalo credit for hiring him.  I won’t say taking a chance because that’s a racist as what Auburn has done by hiring an unsuccessful coach like Chizik.

Gill can stay at Buffalo if he chooses, but as of right now, it doesn’t look like he will have any choices, and that just ain’t right.

Tiger: Do the Right Thing

December 16, 2008

by John Furgele

Has there ever been a more annoying caddie than Steve Williams, the bag carrier of Tiger Woods?  In addtion to yelling at patrons, breaking their cameras and all the other things  he’s done, he now says in an interview that Phil Mickelson is a “prick.”   Why he was interviewed in the first place remains a mystery, but he needs to be stopped.

Let’s hope that Tiger Woods suspends Williams for a few tournaments when he comes back from his knee injury.  Woods doesn’t say much and never says or does anything controversial, so I don’t expect him to do or say much here, but he should do the right thing.  Talk to Williams, explain that this behavior will not be tolerated and suspend him for a month or so with no pay.  I would consider firing Williams outright, but in the end, a suspension is warranted. 

Allowing this to go with no consequences is bad for Woods, bad for golf and bad in general.  Come on, Mr. Woods, show everybody your above the fray here and suspend you caddie.

Changing College Football

December 15, 2008

by John Furgele

The College Football Bowl Season is five days away when the bowl lidlifter will feature Navy and Wake Forest in the Eagle Bank Bowl.  College Football needs to change and it will change.  No, there won’t be a Division 1-AA playoff system anytme soon, but there can be some positive changes.

Both the SEC Championship Game and the Big 12 Championship Game served as de facto semifinal playoff games.  The winner of Alabama-Florida got into the BCS Championship Game, and Florida it is.  In the Big 12, an Oklahoma win got them in; had they lost, perhaps Texas or maybe even USC would have gotten in. 

The losers here are the Big Ten, Pac 10 and in some ways, the Big East.  Penn State ends its season at 11-1, but because there is no conference championship game, there is no way for Penn State to ever move back into BCS title game position.  Ditto for USC.  After losing to Oregon State, they were never really considered for the BCS title game. 

But, why was Florida given another chance?  Because they were able to get a repreive against 12-0 Alabama in the SEC title game.  Florida finished the regular season at 11-1, losing at HOME to 8-4 Mississippi.  Penn State also finished the season 11-1, and lost on the ROAD to 8-4 Iowa.  USC finished 11-1 and lost on the ROAD to Oregon State, a team that ended the year, 8-4.  Why was Florida rewarded for losing at HOME, while the other teams were penalized for losing on the road to teams that all ended up with the same record? 

Cincinnati finished the season (10-2,  really 11-2 because they beat Hawaii), but if they had a conference title tilt as game number 13, they may have had an opportunity to play up in some way.    Yes, the conference championship games can hurt.  If the 9-3 team beats  the 12-0 team, then the conference doesn’t get its champion into the BCS Championship Game, so there is some risk/reward here. 

Texas coach Mack Brown wants a playoff system, but he doesn’t like conference championship games.  Of course, Mack probably didn’t want a playoff system a few years ago when all he had to do was beat Colorado to get a BCS title game slot against USC.  Sorry, coach, you can’t  have it both ways.

The Pac 10 is the angriest.  First, they believe in the East Coast bias, and second, their conference champ has to go undefeated to get into the BCS title game.  In 2003, LSU played Oklahoma—a team that was routed by Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game—in the BCS Championship Game, even though the Trojans were ranked number one.  USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and “won” the AP Championship, while LSU took home the BCS Championship.

Look for the BCS/NCAA to ask that all six conferences play championship games.  This would require the Big Ten, Pac 10 and Big East to expand to 12 teams.  Here is what they should do.

Big East:  Add Buffalo, Central Florida, Memphis and Houston

Big Ten:  Add Notre Dame (although Buffalo would be my choice)

Pac 10:  Add Utah and Boise State. 

The other conferences would adjust, but all would survive.  The Big East would have a basketball situation on its hands, and would have to break up an already unwieldy 16 team league, but right now, there are eight football/basketball schools and eight basketball only schools, so splitting that should not be too difficult.  And, with 34 basketball conferences, phasing one out would get the NCAA Tournament back to 33 automatic bids and 31 at-large bids, back to 64 teams and the elimination of the silly play-in game that exists today. 

Conference championship games would be good for college football because they would make it easier for the BCS to come up with the best two teams to play for their hollow-but not-going-away crystal.  It also ends a call for the “plus-one” game that would come after the bowl games.  That’s like playing another game after the Super Bowl, like the Pro Bowl.  It takes away too much from the four big bowls and the BCS Championship Game.

The plus-one scenario will gain a lot of steam because the Cotton Bowl could become a major bowl game again after they move to the Dallas Cowboys new stadium.  There, you would have five major bowls (same as there are now), in the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Cotton, then then two highest rated teams after those bowls could come back in one of the five bowl sites (they already do this with four bowls) and the BCS Championship Game would still be played.  Like they do now, the BCS Championship Game would rotate between these five sites.

But, by adding three more conference championship games, this can be avoided.  Let the conference championship games help to sort out the polls, the computers and all the other flaws in the current system.  If there were six conference championship games, teams like Boise State and if they had finished undefeated, Ball State would have had a much better chance to get into a BCS bowl.  Had the Big Ten had a conference title game, only Penn State or Ohio State would have made it, but not both.

And, if you think the NCAA basketball committee would balk, think again.  College football blows college basketball away when it comes to ratings and media attention.  And the college basketball regular season is like a run away freight train.  It’s so out-of control that nobody can keep track of it and hardly anybody even cares about it anymore. 

Colllege football is the second most popular sport in the land now, behind the NFL.  The BCS bowls will enjoy good ratings and the BCS Championship Game will likely get a 20.0 or higher rating.  Last year, even with America angry that Ohio State backed in, the game got a 17.3 rating.  The World Series can’t even get 10s, and only Celtics-Lakers can get 10 plus ratings in the NBA Finals.    Even with this flawed system, people watch.  Adding conference championship games would only cause people to watch more.

Big Ten Should Take Buffalo as 12th Member

December 10, 2008

by John Furgele

The Big Ten is an oxymoron—I think.  They have 11 members, but they call themselves the Big Ten.  They also used to go by “Big 10,” but now they prefer “Big Ten.”  But, the Big Ten needs to do something,  and that something is adding a 12th team, which would split the conference into two six team divisions and provide it with a  conference championship game in football.

First, they need to find that 12th member.  Most believe that the conference is saving the coveted 12th spot for Notre Dame, which would make for a natural fit.  The Irish are close to Chicago, already play several Big Ten teams each year, and travel would be convenient.  But, how long should the Big Ten wait, and will Notre Dame ever break down and join a football conference?

There is one school that shouldn’t wait for Notre Dame, or any other school for that matter.  That school is the University at Buffalo, the Bulls, and they should apply to the Big Ten for membership and they should do it now, not later. 

The Big Ten is made up of big schools:  Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State and Northwestern.  With the exception of Northwestern, a private school, all are land grant state universities that receive millions in state-aid each year.  All have enrollements of 30,000 or over.  Even “little” Northwestern boasts over 16,000 students, so the Big Ten really is big. With over 30,000 students, Buffalo is certainly big enough to fit in with their future Big Ten brothers. 

Buffalo would be a tremendous fit.  Geographically, it is close to most of the other schools.  A flight from Buffalo to Detroit takes no more than 45 minutes and most of the schools are within a half-day’s bus ride.  Like Ohio State, Buffalo is the largest public state university in New York.  In New York, schools are named after the towns they are in and are part of the State University of New York, or SUNY.  SUNY Buffalo is one of 64 state university campuses, but like Ohio State, it is the biggest university in the Empire State system.

Buffalo offers more intercollegiate sports than Northwestern and have been competitive in many of them.  Buffalo is considered a small market by professional sports standards, but for college, Buffalo could become the next Columbus.  Buffalo sports fans are passionate and will cheer hard for any uniform that says “BUFFALO” across the front of it.  After beating previously unbeaten Ball State in the MAC Championship Game, the win drew plenty of media attention and took some of the heat off the baffling Buffalo Bills. 

The Bulls would need some facility upgrades, and more seats to the current 29,000 seat UB Stadium is a must, but Buffalo can play games in the 73,000 seat Ralph Wilson Stadium while the on campus site is expanded.  That would not be unusual as Miami and Pittsburgh also play games in NFL stadiums.  Can you imagine the Ohio State Buckeyes running out of the tunnel at Wilson Stadium before 73,000 Bulls fans clad in blue and white? Or, the Indiana Hoosiers playing before 16,000 fans at HSBC Arena, the current home of the Buffalo Sabres, and a team that would love to have a tenant use the place 10-14 times per year? 

Buffalo is a strong academic school that would not have to take a backseat to any of its Big Ten brethern when it comes to research and pumping out future leaders in industry, medicine, law and education.  Buffalo is perhaps even overqualified than some of the universities in the conference already. 

Membership in the Big Ten would lead to a larger endowment, more applications and more students than the already 30,000.  Membership would create more professional jobs, construction jobs, administration jobs, maintenance jobs, secretarial jobs and so on.  After graduating, many Buffalo grads would stay in Buffalo and work there, live there, raise families there and buy tickets to Buffalo football and basketball games there.  The possibilities are truly endless.

It would also allow Buffalo to keep a coach like Turner Gill.  Why would Gill leave Buffalo for say, Auburn, when he can make the $2 million salary that Big Ten Buffalo can offer? 

Deep down, the Big Ten knows Buffalo is an outstanding fit for its 12th member.  Despite what we read about New York’s population, only California and Texas have more people residing in it than New York State, but Texas has the University of Texas at Austin and California has UCLA (USC is private) as its signature sports state universities.  New York needs a school to carry that flag and Buffalo has the profile, the people and the passion to be this school. 

The University at Buffalo needs to call the Big Ten and schedule a time that to make the presentation that will ultimately lead to its inclusion into the conference.  Don’t ask for a time, make a time and come out swinging.  The Big Ten will be wondering why they didn’t bring in Buffalo sooner.

More Conference Championship Games Needed

December 10, 2008

by John Furgele

No matter how much complaining is done, the current system in college football is not changing anytime soon.  I have asked for people to remain calm and accept the BCS for what it is.  But, over the past several years, many conferences have added teams and now have conference championship games.  The SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida was a de facto semifinal playoff game, while the Big 12 Championship Game was more of a play-in/elimination game for Oklahoma. 

Along with the SEC and Big 12, the ACC, Conference USA and Mid American Conference all have championship games, but the six other conferences do not.  That needs to change, and it is my opinion that all 11 should have conference title games, but the governing body of college football has to help out.

For starters, eliminate the stipulation that says that conferences have to have 12 teams in order to stage a conference championship game.  Why that number?  Why can’t the 10 team Pac-10 or the 11 team Big Ten have a title game?  The NCAA allows the Division 1-AA 10 team SWAC to have one, so why can’t 10 be the number?

Only the PAC 10 and Big East has its members play a true round-robin of conference games.  Ten teams, nine games, three non-conference games for the Pac 10;  eight, seven and five for the Big East.  The Big 10, which is not divided into divisions plays eight conference games, which means that there could be two 8-0 teams that tie for the conference title.  There could also be two 7-1 teams that didn’t play each other during the regular season as well.  Is that fair?  Why not have two divisions, one with six teams, the other with five and play a championship game between the division winners?  Even better, find a 12th team so there would be two six team divisions.

What college football needs to do is set 10 as the number to have a championship game.  This means that the Big East needs to find two more teams, and Conference USA could lose two teams and still have 10 to play a title tilt.  This would also mean that the Mountain West would need to find a team as would the WAC and the Sun Belt.  Boise State would be a perfect fit for the Mountain West as they appear to have outgrown the WAC.  Even the Bronco basketball team made the NCAA tournament in 2007-2008. 

Of course, moving teams from conference to conference is a dizzying affair, and I won’t confuse, but it should be noted that Western Kentucky (the 120th Division 1 school) is slated to join the Sun Belt and there are three independents—Army, Navy and Notre Dame—sitting there conference-less.  As long as NBC keeps wasting, err, throwing money at Notre Dame, the Irish will never join a conference, even though it is time that the Domers cave in and join one.  Notre Dame, even though it makes a lot of money by staying independent is doing their football players a disservice by not being in one.  They compete in the Big East in every other sport and those athletes get fitted for rings, but not the football players.  Michigan can afford a loss to Notre Dame, because they have eight conference games that will determine what bowl game they go to, therefore the game means much more to Notre Dame than it does to Michigan.  Not sure if that’s fair for the Notre Dame players. 

Having 11 conference championship games would be fun and they could be spread out over the last Saturday in November and the first Saturday (or Friday) in December. 

We may never get that playoff, but we could and should have more conference championship games.

Bowl Preview: 1st Edition

December 9, 2008

by John Furgele

The college football bowl games are set and the extravaganza begins on Saturday, December 20 with four games.  The first game is the Eagle Bank Bowl, which will see Navy play Wake Forest.  The Middies had another fine season, finishing an 8-4 season with a 34-0 rout over Army.  Navy will run the triple option and when their running game struggles, they will run the triple option some more.  This is the sixth straight bowl game for Navy.  Last year, the Middies were beaten 34-32 by Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Wake Forest expected more, but ended up 7-5 in the very competitive ACC.  The Demon Deacons are led by quarterback Riley Skinner, a savvy leader.  This should be a close game and something tells me that Navy will pull out the victory.

The New Mexico Bowl is next on December 20 with Colorado State (6-6) playing Fresno State (7-5).  The Rams, based on a .500 record, have had an up and down season, and after a promising start, Fresno State faded, and were beaten badly by Boise State in their season finale.  I’m not sure this is what we would call “appointment television.”

The inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays and will pit South Florida (7-5) and Memphis (6-6).  The Bulls, like Fresno State, faded badly down the stretch and went just 2-5 in the Big East, but in this day of 68 bowl teams, a 7-5 record is a virtual guarantee for a bowl game.  Despite its name, South Florida is located in Tampa, and should enjoy a home crowd advantage, provided there is a crowd.

The December 21 nightcap is the Las Vegas Bowl, which usually features the Mountain West champions and a Pac 10 also-ran.  This year, because Utah is in the BCS Sugar Bowl, the MWC sent its number three team, the BYU Cougars, which finished 10-2, losing to Utah and TCU. 

It’s a no win situation for BYU.  If they win, they beat a lower division team from a major conference; if they lose, critics will say that the Mountain West’s elite teams aren’t as good as the lower tier teams from the big leagues.  See what I mean?

The Pac 10 also-ran is Arizona, a 7-5 team that does appear to be improving under Mike Stoops.  Still, I’m not sure why the Mountain West champ can’t play the Conference USA champ in a bowl game.  The Conference USA champ usually goes to the Liberty Bowl and plays a SEC also-ran.  I have a better idea.  Put the conference champions together and let the SEC also-ran play the Pac 10 also-ran.  Bowl games are too slotted and they could certainly do a better job of matching up teams.  The Poinsettia Bowl matchup of WAC champion Boise State (12-0) and TCU (10-2) is a beauty, and it would be nice to see more of this type of matchup. 

On Sunday, December 21, an NFL Sunday,the bowls will wait to the evening and will give us the New Orleans Bowl, which is a matchup of the Sun Belt champion and a team from Conference USA.  This year, Troy (7-5) will play Southern Mississippi (6-6) in a Superdome that will have plenty of good tickets available. 

We are off and running, five down and 29 to go.  Enjoy.