September 2008


Game of the Week: Alabama at Georgia

BY: BRENNAN MARKS, SZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER

     vs.    

TV: ESPN, 7:45 PM ET

Last Week: Georgia defeated Arizona State, Alabama beat Arkansas

     Ray Charles once had Georgia on his mind. This week, the entire scope of the college football nation will have Georgia on their mind because of a top 10 conference match-up between traditional college football powerhouses (so-to-speak), Alabama and Georgia. For the two people who actually read this column: yes, I did say that I would probably write about an SEC game for consecutive weeks, and yes, I already wrote about Alabama in their first game versus Clemson in an unpublished column (which obviously doesn’t mean anything to the readers because it was never published, but I have alluded to it in my previous columns). Also, I must now admit that I actually am an Alabama football fan. Despite my biases, however, it is clear that this is THE game of the week. For example, CBSSports.com has a countdown clock to the game on its college football section of the website (http://www.sportsline.com/collegefootball ), and the game is not even on CBS. Of course, it is necessary to mention that the program which can arguably claim to be the primary indicator for magnitudes of games will be in Athens on Saturday, ESPN’s College Gameday.

     Now that I have established that this game does indeed merit “game of the week” status, it is important to note why this game is so big. Well for starters, it is a match-up between the # 3 (Georgia) and # 8 (Alabama) ranked teams in the country (who are both undefeated, by the way) and a conference game. But, beyond that, both teams can make a statement by winning this game. Georgia began the season ranked # 1 in the preseason polls but fell to # 3 from a combination of lackluster game performances (despite winning all of their games) and impressive victories by the current # 1 -2 teams, USC and Oklahoma. If Georgia wins an a monumental fashion, it strengthens their case for a chance to move up in the polls, which has a direct effect on whether or not they will play in the BCS title game and will obviously keep the Bulldogs undefeated, which is even more important for Georgia’s ability to play for the championship.

     If Alabama wins, they obviously will be able to realistically continue to compete to play in the national championship, but perhaps more profoundly, they will reveal how good of a team they truly are at this point in the season. No one is truly sure what to make of them right now. They began the season at the bottom of the top 25, destroyed preseason top 10 team Clemson in the first game and have essentially dominated the other opponents on the schedule. Theoretically, it can be argued that Alabama deserves its current # 8 AP ranking based on their performance in their first four games. However, observers might question the strength of each opponent on the schedule, even Clemson, especially in comparison to Georgia and other SEC competition. Georgia figures to be the Crimson Tide’s first true test on the schedule, and the outcome of this game will say a lot about the progress Alabama is making under second year head coach Nick Saban.

     The game itself has many interesting storylines as well in addition to the underlying importance of the outcome of the game to each team. Alabama’s defense has surprised many football fans so far. It has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season and has allowed 3 touchdowns total (all, coincidentally, on 4th down attempts). Many believed the defense was too young and inexperienced to pose a serious threat to top tier SEC teams, but perhaps they underestimated the newcomers in the secondary, the speed of the defense overall, and undeniable impact of 365 pound JC transfer nose tackle, Terrence Cody, affectionately called Mt. Cody by many Alabama fans. In the previous games, Cody has been able to consistently take on two blockers which has allowed other players on the defense to pressure the quarterback and make plays, and he has clogged the middle which has hurt the opponents inside running game. Of course, it is unfair to say that Cody has been solely responsible for the reemergence of the Tide’s defense this season. The 10 other men on the field have made big plays when needed (four timely interceptions by the secondary against Arkansas was crucial to the victory), and Cody cannot play on every play for conditioning reasons. Still, his impact has been profound, and this week, he will be lined up against a freshman center (Ben Jones).

     Perhaps that will be the most intriguing battle within the game: Will Alabama’s defensive line be able to beat Georgia’s young but talented offensive line? Of course, the line of scrimmage battle always has an effect on the outcome of the game, and if, hypothetically, Alabama’s defensive line can get pass the offensive line, can Georgia’s skill players find a way to win the game? It will depend on just how well Alabama’s d-line plays. For instance, if their performance can be described as “dominating,” then Georgia’s skill players will likely have had a rough day. But if not, even if Alabama “wins” the battle, Georgia’s offensive skill players are among the best in the country and can make plays in open and sometimes closed space.

     Which players am I talking about? Analysts consider quarterback Matthew Stafford one of the best, if not the best, NFL prospect in the country and arguably the best pure quarterback in the SEC (ranks 1st in pass efficiency within the conference and 2nd in passing yards per game). Heisman candidate Running back Knowshon Moreno leads the SEC in touchdowns and is 2nd in rushing yard per game. Freshman WR AJ Green has made a case for SEC offensive freshman of the year through the first few games. So, yeah, Georgia has some pretty skilled skill players on the offensive side of the ball.

     Alabama has some talented offensive players as well, most importantly the offensive line and running backs. The Tide currently leads the SEC in rushing. Georgia, however, appears to be the team to stop the Crimson Tide, as they lead the SEC in rushing defense. This game will be a measuring stick for the quality of Bama’s rushing offense and Georgia’s rushing defense. One might argue that Georgia has played against opponents who do not utilize the running game often or effectively, and Alabama has not played against a team who was poised to stop their power running game. If Georgia can stop Alabama’s running game, it will be interesting to see what senior quarterback John Parker Wilson can do.

     Despite breaking multiple passing records at Alabama, Wilson’s career has been defined by crucial mistakes in games and a mediocre overall record. So far this year, he has been mistake free and has won all his games, but his passing numbers are down. This, of course, is because of the emergence of the running game, but if Georgia can force Alabama to pass the ball, it’s nearly impossible to foresee what Wilson will do. Luckily, he is facing the 11th ranked pass defense in the SEC (albeit the numbers are inflated because Georgia has played pass-happy teams, just like the numbers for Georgia’s rushing defense are possibly inflated in the opposite direction) and is helped by talented receivers including two senior tight ends, and freshmen sensation Julio Jones (Julio was typically ranked # 1 by recruiting services, AJ Green was # 2). If , and a big if at that, Wilson makes the right decisions and makes accurate throws, Georgia could be in for a long day, even if they stop the run.

     As always, special teams and intangibles can have a huge impact on the game. As far as special teams goes, I don’t have much to say. Both teams have poor kickoff coverage units, but I’d give the edge to Alabama in the return game, with electrifying return man Javier Arenas fielding kickoffs and punts. As far as intangibles, basically all are in Georgia’s favor. (The only one not in their favor is penalties, as Alabama is among tops in the SEC in fewest penalties and penalty yards, whereas Georgia is a cellar-dweller in that statistical category). First of all, Georgia plays at home, which always has an effect on the game. Secondly, their legendary radio broadcaster, Larry Munson, retired earlier this week, meaning he called Georgia’s last game vs. Arizona State but abruptly decided to call it quits before the Bama game. Perhaps his retirement will lead to an even more emotionally charged Bulldog team. Lastly and most intriguingly, Georgia will don black jerseys for the third time in school history. Coach Mark Richt called for a “blackout” asking the fans to wear black while the team wears black as well. The previous occasions where Georgia has worn black include two blow-out victories versus Auburn and Hawaii last year, so theoretically, history is on their side. Now, I don’t think Alabama’s players will be extremely affected by Georgia’s fashion statements, but it is another interesting aspect of this monumental early season college football game.

 

Prediction: I really, really, really, want to pick Alabama to win this game. I do think they can because of the strength of their offensive and defensive lines. I’m not really sure how well they can play against Georgia, but I expect them to because they are playing with a ton of confidence and swagger. However, Georgia is an extremely talented team- there’s a reason they were ranked # 1 in the preseason. I’ll pick Georgia to win 24-17. Not only are they the safe pick and the home team, but also, I don’t want to be seen as an “Alabama homer,” even though I’m a fan. I still seriously considered picking them.

Look Back: Well it wasn’t the defensive struggle I projected, but it was an entertaining game and I got the winning team right. Auburn will need a lot of help to get back into the SEC championship picture, while LSU looks like they might have a quarterback.

 

BY: BRENNAN MARKS, SZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

An Analysis of the Big Player Transactions During the Off-Season

By: Sean Speirs

     As we finish the month of September and enjoy the last dwindling days of the MLB and the beginning of the NFL season, believe it or not the 2008-2009 NBA season is right around the corner.  Official Pre-Season games start the first week of October, with the season hitting full-on by the end of October and early November. 

     However, there was still the presumptuous off-season, where teams in both the Western and Eastern Conferences accepted the arrival of new teammates (through trades or free-agency) while also bidding farewell to old ones. 

     Here on the SportsZone blog I will go through/analyze the teams in both conferences and honor those who made the biggest moves that will not only change the face of their organization, but also add to their game-style in a positive manner. 

     I will also go through the teams who pulled the biggest flops of the summer and did not attempt to strive for the best transaction when they needed one the most and/or made a transaction that did not satisfy their needs in the end.

     For this week, I will begin with teams in all of the divisions in the Western Conference.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

THE GOOD:

1.  Houston Rockets

          Notable Additions: Ron Artest, Brent Barry, Joey Dorsey (Rookie Forward)

          Notable Loss: Bobby Jackson

     Result:  With the acquisition of Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings this summer, the Houston Rockets finally have a “Big Three” to call their own (Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, and Ron Artest).  Although Artest has not been the perfect off-court athlete in recent history, he still has pent-up basketball talent that could potentially deem him a superstar (if he were to ever leave the rapping behind and play serious basketball).

     In 57 games with the deteriorating Sacramento Kings last season, Artest was still able to produce season averages of 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.  Artest also fills the shooting/power forward position Houston has needed for years.  He will ultimately bring in the ability to drive to the hoop, hit the outside shot, create space, rebound, and draw defenders away from other Houston players, such as Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.  All in all, this is the time for redemption for Artest.

     The Rockets also were able to acquire veteran-guard Brent Barry, who will come off the bench and be another outside sharp-shooting threat alongside PG Rafer Alston.  With all of these acquisitions, the Rockets only main loss (besides potential young talent) was vet guard Bobby Jackson, who went back to Sacramento in the Artest deal.  In actuality, it was not a big loss for the team, since Jackson has passed his prime a long time ago (only averaged 8.7 pts, 1.5 assists and 1.7 rebounds last season) and was actually dragging down the back-up guard spot behind Alston.

     If you are a Rockets fan, the only thing you should worry about is whether or not this Big Three will be able to stay healthy.  McGrady (back), Yao (foot), and Artest (back, hamstring, knees) are probably the three biggest injury prone athletes in the Western Conference, let alone the NBA.  With this in mind, the Rockets did take a risk in getting Artest.  However, something needed to be done so that the Rockets can be a serious contender in the powerful Western Conference.

     It finally looks like they will be.

 

2.  New Orleans Hornets

          Notable Addition:  James Posey

          Notable Loss: Chris Andersen

     Result:  After a huge 2007-2008 season and becoming one of the most deadly teams in the West, GM Jeff Bower and the Hornets continued their momentum this summer, and may have acquired the final piece this team has thrived for during their playoff run in April/May…deadly swingman and 3-point sharpshooter James Posey.

     Posey (who has won two championships with the recent Boston Celtics and ‘05-‘06 Miami Heat) knows his way around the NBA when it comes to the playoffs and Finals.  He also knows when to step up, hit the big shots, and become a role-player when his team needs one.  With Peja Stojakovic and CP3, Posey will be another outside threat as a shooting forward who will specialize in finding the open spot for the three-ball.  Also, with three deadly outside shooters on the court, opposing teams will stretch out their defense, giving Center Tyson Chandler and Power Forward David West better opportunities underneath.

     Amongst this acquisition came the loss of F/C Chris Andersen to the Denver Nuggets.  Again, this is no big deal since he only played in five games last season averaging 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.  In the end, the Hornets did not lose anything major this off-season (they even extended CP3’s contract).

     The only question is whether or not Hornets Head Coach Byron Scott will position Posey as a starter or as the sixth-man off the bench to continue the high momentum of a game.  Although that answer may yet to be seen, it is obvious the Hornets are already thinking playoffs with their new addition (acquired someone who has experience with winning the rings), while some columnists are even seeing them winning the overall NBA Championship this season.

     If they do win it all, then the Hornets truly had a profitable summer. 

 

3.  Los Angeles Clippers

          Notable Additions: Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Jason Wiliams, Eric Gordon (Rookie Draft)

          Notable Loss: Elton Brand, Corey Maggette

     Result:  The Los Angeles Clippers are the only team on the “GOOD TRANSACTIONS” list that got hit hard with a dramatic off-season.  Their star PF Elton Brand looked like he was going to accept a contract extension with the team, especially after rumors reported that the Clippers got the interest of (and eventually signed) Golden State free agent PG Baron Davis.

     Unfortunately for the Clips, Brand left for the Philadelphia Sixers.  To top it all off, SG Corey Maggette also left for the Golden State Warriors.  This created a huge gap in the team.  It was obvious that the Clippers were in a bad situation that would set back the organization instead of moving forward.  They only had one star PG in Davis and one true big-man in Chris Kaman, while there were holes to be filled in the other positions.

     So what did GM Elgin Baylor do in response? 

     He acquired blocking machine Marcus Camby, Indiana rookie Eric Gordon, vet-guard Jason Williams, SG Ricky Davis and young prospects. 

     These transactions help fill the team, and give them a new beginning, a huge accomplishment for the organization/team.

     With the help of Camby inside to compliment Kaman, the Clippers are bound to continue crashing the boards and getting rebounds (as well as blocking—Camby averaged 13.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks last season).  So defensively the Clippers will continue to build, and ultimately become a force to be reckoned with.

     As for offensively, Baron Davis will lead a backcourt that will consist of Gordon and Ricky Davis, as well as Jason Williams, handling the bulk of the scoring for the team.  Baron Davis himself can carry a team, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Gordon responds and if he will be able to handle the different playing styles in the NBA.  Ricky Davis and Williams will also have to prove that they still have game left in them by keeping pressure offensively on the boards and around the perimeter.

     Also, is there a possible Clippers Big Three in the making (B.Davis,Camby, Gordon)?

     What’s amazing is that GM Baylor proved that any problem could be fixed, even if a team loses their superstars.  Also, it was obvious this off-season that the Clippers did not want to become another Memphis Grizzlies or Sacramento Kings in the league. 

     Good for them.  Next subject to tackle on the list…the shady coaching philosophy from Mike Dunleavy, but that is for another post.

     Nonetheless, the Clippers have a lot to prove (whether or not they will have an effective bench), but because of their bounce-back in the off-season, this team deserves to get high accolades when it comes to honoring those who made big moves in player transactions this summer. 

 

THE BAD:

1.  Denver Nuggets

          Notable Loss: Marcus Camby

          Additions: Chris Andersen

     Result:  After analyzing every-team in the Western Conference, the Nuggets get the most disappointing off-season award.  After such a promising rise in the last few years, acquiring star G Allen Iverson (AI), watching F Carmelo Anthony increase his skills, and making playoff appearances, one would think the Nuggets would have tried to make a strategic move this off-season that would not only increase their offensive power, but to also help out their big-men under the boards.

     Unfortunately the total opposite happened.  The Nuggets lost their Center and only defensive presence…Marcus Camby.  Camby ended up signing with the LA Clippers (above I have went through his amazing stats he averaged last season in terms of rebounds and blocks), leaving a huge gap in the Nuggets lineup. 

     In a time of what should be panic and fright, the Nuggets do not pull a “Clippers” and bounce back from this loss.  Instead, the Nuggets main acquisition (besides their not so good rookie draft pick) of the off-season is Chris “Birdman” Andersen. 

     Birdman Andersen?!?!?!

     Andersen was booted out of the NBA in 2006 due to drug abuse and violated the anti-drug policies of the league.  He was re-instated last year with the Hornets and only averaged 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds towards the end of the season.  Not saying that Birdman was not a good player back then, but as compared to today’s standards, it may take while for him to get back in the groove of things. 

     How will this guy fill the Camby gap?  As a matter of fact, the Nuggets STILL need to fill this gap (and trust me, Kenyon Martin is not the answer).

     If the Nuggets don’t act accordingly and search for a F/C that can be a true powerhouse underneath, expect to see this team crumble as there is no one able to step up and be a part of the AI and Anthony duo (and these two players will not be able to carry this team alone).

     At least the other teams in the Western Conference have nothing to worry about in Denver.

 

2.  Sacramento Kings

            Notable Loss: Ron Artest

            Addition: Bobby Jackson

     Result:  Believe it or not, once you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Sacramento Kings, it did this summer.  The organization basically handed Artest away to Houston, and in return received Bobby Jackson (who will most likely end his career in Sacramento, unless traded again). Now while some fans might enjoy the fact Jackson is back with the Kings, in actuality, it will slow down the Kings.

     It is sad to see that Artest, the Kings only player worth some value on the trading block only brought the Kings a C-List player in return, rather than a mid-to-high B-List player.  Did GM Geoff Petrie even try selling Artest on the market? 

     It seems like this team just enjoys giving away players for nothing in return.

     Trading star PG Mike Bibby to the Atlanta Hawks was bad enough for the Kings last season.  Now they truly have no one to carry the momentum of the team (do you really think Brad Miller, Kevin Martin, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are a powerful enough trio?), which is now filled with, at best, mediocre talented players who will continue to be pressured to performing well throughout the season.  Although rookie Jason Thompson might show promise this year, he won’t be able to make a huge impact without adequate help around him.

     The Kings need to act accordingly before/during the season or they will continue to be forgotten in the NBA, especially in the star-studded Western Conference.

 

3.  Memphis Grizzlies

          Notable Loss: Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Kevin Love

          Additions: O.J. Mayo, Marko Jaric

     Result:  I don’t think anyone has any idea where the Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace’s mind is.  After giving up the Grizzlies only star Pau Gasol to the Lakers last season for star-less Kwame Brown, the Grizzlies could’ve only gone up the ladder of redemption.  However, it seems they went a few rungs down.

     This summer, the Grizzlies continued to shock the world by proving how they cannot partake in any player transactions.  However, they did get hopeful rookie-sensation O.J. Mayo from Minnesota in a huge deal after the Rookie Draft in exchange for veteran Brian Cardinal, sharp-shooter Mike Miller, and to-be rookie-sensation powerhouse Kevin Love.

     In actuality, the Grizzlies may have been better off keeping Love and Cardinal since they only have Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother) as their only force under the boards.  The acquisition of Mayo was gutsy, but this team already has enough shooting forwards and guards.  What they really needed were power forwards and centers.

     On paper, the Grizzlies did not make a dramatic move this summer like they needed to.  However, like I said before, no one knows what GM Wallace is thinking, and in the end this could all be part of a master plan that could actually be the start of the Grizzlies changing for the better. 

     Or at least Wallace and die-hard Grizzle fans believe such a radical idea.

     In all of this mess, the only good move the Grizzlies pulled off was that of losing Kwame Brown, and that wasn’t even a move.  Brown was a free-agent.

———

     Keep a lookout on the SZ Blog as I analyze the teams who made it big and/or flopped in the Eastern Conference this NBA off-season (as well as an overall look at the teams who were “in-between good and bad” during this player movement period).

 

BY: SEAN SPEIRS

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM AND NBA.COM

             

 

 

 

Game of the Week: LSU at Auburn

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

     vs    

TV: ESPN, 7:45 PM ET

Last Week: Auburn defeated Mississippi State; LSU beat North Texas

     This week marks a change in the nature of this blog. For the past columns, I have examined non-conference match ups as “games of the week.” This week’s column will look at a conference game, LSU at Auburn. Because many of the more intriguing non-conference games have been played, the trend will likely continue. (Note: You might also see more columns concerning SEC games because a). There are currently 5 top 10 teams in the SEC and b). I have more inherent knowledge of the SEC than any other conference. Of course, I will try to shake things up and look at some other conferences if there are marquee games, but don’t be shocked if you see another SEC preview next week…)

     Anyway, LSU-Auburn intrigues me (and hopefully other college football fans) on several different levels. Obviously, the fact that this is a top 10 match up makes it worthy of this column. As well, this game has been quite fascinating historically. For instance, in 1988, LSU defeated Auburn on a late touchdown, and the eruption from the LSU fans (the game was played in Baton Rouge) was so intense that it literally caused an earthquake. More importantly, this game is huge for divisional implications in the SEC West as both teams were predicted to be and should be the class of the SEC West. The winner of the SEC typically plays role in the national championship picture, and the winner of this game will have a clearer path to become the SEC champion. First, however, a slight review of each team’s path to the game is necessary.

     Both teams opened the season with uncertainty at the quintessential quarterback position. Last May, LSU coach Les Miles dismissed likely starting quarterback and dual-threat player Ryan Perriloux for multiple violations of team rules and “not fulfilling his obligation” as a student-athlete. The Perriloux situation gave way for inexperienced quarterbacks Andrew Hatch (transfer from Harvard) and Jarrett Lee to compete for the starting positions. Both have played this season, with Hatch starting. In Auburn’s case, the major shift with their team occurred largely with the coaching hire of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who runs a spread offense. He actually arrived at Auburn a few weeks before the Chick Fil-A Bowl versus Clemson and installed his offense in preparation for the game. Then freshman Kodi Burns, another dual threat quarterback, shared snaps with then senior Brandon Cox and stole the spotlight by scoring the game winning touchdown in overtime. With the win, excitement rushed through the hearts of Auburn fans as the spread offense appeared to be the answer to some of Auburn’s offensive woes. However, the pre-season brought about a quarterback controversy with the emergence of junior college transfer and former Texas-Tech commit, Chris Todd. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville announced that both quarterbacks would play but did not announce who would be the actual starter until right before Auburn’s first game against Louisiana Monroe (Kodi Burns).

     Despite these concerns, critics and coaches both believe that each team merits a top 10 ranking, and perhaps the most important factor contributing to each team’s respective rankings derives from the quality of their defensive units. Auburn ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 5 points per game, and LSU gives up 8 points per game. Auburn comes in 3rd in total defense, and LSU is 4th (in the SEC). So, based on statistics alone, these teams are pretty good on defense. Now, the statistics are possibly slightly inflated due to the level of competition they have faced, but recent history and actual observation indicate that these teams have pretty good defenses.

     But back to offense. So far this season, Auburn has struggled mightily on offense. Kodi Burns did start the opening game, but Chris Todd usurped the starting position from him (in part because of a slight injury but Burns can still play). Neither QB has accomplished anything noteworthy this season, nor has there been any return on the investment of Tony Franklin’s spread offense. Auburn is ranked 11th in passing offense in the SEC and has thrown for one touchdown and two interceptions. They are a bit better in the running game averaging 204.7 yards per game but have lost six fumbles in three games this season. Their turnover ratio is – 2, and that’s only because their defense has forced 6 turnovers. (To illustrate the imbalance of Auburn’s offense-defense ratio, I have included this clip of their 3-2 win over Mississippi State. You can call it a “lowlight” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDdt3UBAi_Y).

     On the other hand, LSU’s offense has been slightly better. They are tied for the SEC lead in points per game and are 1st in rushing offense. Still, their passing game is a bit suspect. Each of their quarterbacks has thrown one interception, and neither of them has been particularly impressive. In addition, LSU has not truly been faced with a tough test all year. Their two games (North Texas and Appalachian State) were both at home, and LSU must travel to Auburn.

     On special teams, both teams have been adequate, although Auburn has missed a few field goals. There really isn’t much to say here, but one thing I do want to discuss quickly is intangibles. Last year, LSU was behind by one point late in the fourth quarter and could have advanced the ball and called a timeout to attempt the field goal. Instead, in a controversial call, Coach Les Miles decided to try a long pass to the end zone. LSU receiver Demetrius Byrd made a miraculous catch in the end zone, giving LSU the win. So karma theoretically is in Auburn’s favor as they are due for some type of miracle. Recent history is on Auburn’s side as well: the home team has won the past 8 games in the series.

Prediction: If a significant amount of offense occurs in this game, it will be the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor. LSU wins 4-2. LSU gets two safeties; Auburn gets one. (Of course, that was a rather silly prediction; I just wanted to emphasize the defensive ability relative to offensive ability of each team. I would still pick LSU and a score of 10-7 would be more reasonable).

Look Back: Ohio State has been exposed again. I know I picked a fairly close game with USC winning 35-28, but if I had any guts, I would have picked a USC blowout. Hopefully, Ohio State will not end up in the national championship game (sorry Buckeyes fans), even if they run the table for the rest of the year. As for USC, two things will hinder them on a quest to a national championship: a slip up a la Stanford last year or multiple undefeated teams who possibly have a better resume than USC. The second situation is unlikely, but even if it does occur, USC still might end up in the championship game because they are likely to be ranked # 1 in the polls.

 

By: Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Game of the Week: Ohio State @ USC

By Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

    vs.    

 

TV:  ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Ohio State beat Ohio; USC had a bye.  USC defeated Virginia week  1.

It’s finally here. The most anticipated nonconference matchup of the season has arrived. In case you didn’t know (or didn’t read the title), I’m talking about the top 10 matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Trojans of USC.

Instead of being a rebel and choosing an avant-garde game of the week, say Kansas at South Florida or UCLA at BYU or any game from a myriad of other intriguing matchups, I have sided with the status quo and will blog about the game everybody else is blogging about.  If you wanted originality, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Basically, here’s the premise.  Ohio State, two time defending national runner-up and epitome of everything that’s wrong with the BCS system, is, once again, in the national championship picture. If they are in the national championship picture at the end of the season, some of the poll voters (depending on the details of the regular season, of course) might boycott Ohio State and promote another contender, which could have an important effect on the BCS poll, which directly affects who plays in the national championship. 

On the other hand, USC sits atop both major polls right now and is currently the “darling” of college football, so-to-speak.  As far as football goes, USC’s strength is their defense.  In their game against Virginia, they gave up one touchdown. Of course, their offense put up 52 points, so I guess I should say they are extremely balanced.  QB Mark Sanchez, a question mark going into the season, passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the game versus Virginia. It is necessary to note that one game does not make a season, but many pundits believe that he will be a huge asset and nowhere near a liability.  He does have a running game to help him out, and with playmakers like Joe McKnight and CJ Gable in the backfield, his help is in full supply.

Moving back to Ohio State, they are a traditional Big-10 type team.  By that, I mean the pound the ball down your throat and play extremely defense -oriented football.  They can afford to do that with a playmaker like James Laurinaitis at linebacker.  Still, they have fairly good offensive players as well. The foremost among them is a running back named Chris “Beanie” Wells.   Because of a toe injury, no one knows whether or not he will play or if he does play, how long will he be able to endure the physicality of the game, but whatever his status is, his situation has stolen a lot of the hype for the actual game itself, a game which happens to have critical national implications.

One more interesting tidbit about the game involves Ohio States quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor.  Boeckman is the experienced starter and top-notch quarterback, but he has not performed well in big games, like last year’s national championship game, for instance.  Pryor is the freshmen sensation, top recruit in the nation, dual threat quarterback who everybody (media, fans, and some players) are hyping up as the be-all, end-all and the “chosen by God” quarterback who can’t possibly lose or make any freshmen mistakes.  And even if he does make mistakes, (which won’t happen), his pure talent will cancel them out.  Now, personally, I’m not buying that much hype, but I’m buying a little, and I think he is very talented. Whether he should play or Boeckman should play- I think the course of the game should determine that.

Prediction: Before I give my prediction, I want for all readers to pray that this game will live up to the hype as far as excitement goes, and it won’t be a blowout by either team. Now, personally, I believe USC will win 35-28.  First of all, USC has home field advantage.  Secondly, I think they are a better team. Here’s what will happen after the game: Ohio State will win all of their remaining games; USC will somehow lose to weaker Pac 10 opponents. The two -loss winner of the SEC will dominate Ohio State in the championship game.  Such is the consequence of the BCS. (Note: that wasn’t really a real prediction about the rest of the season, more of an observation.)

Look Back: Last week, the ECU-West Virginia game was the game of the week.  My prediction was horribly wrong, as  ECU destroyed West Virginia. ECU has created a national storyline; if they run the table in Conference USA, which is harder than it probably sound, they should at least play for a BCS Bowl, and depending on the other elite teams, they could play for the national championship. That’s something to keep an eye on.  As for West Virginia, I hope they can regroup and get back into contention for a BCS bowl birth.  I’m not a fan of West Virginia, but I am a big Pat White fan, and I hope he can get back on track.

 

By Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

NBA Free Agents Deciding to Play in Europe; Change is to Come

By: Sean Speirs

            Money is everything.

            Professional European basketball teams have started to show up on the doorstep of some free-agent NBA athletes this off-season, offering them better contracts and overall salaries that just simply cannot be comparable to any offers the NBA could have proposed to a restricted free agent.

            And money is all it took to convince these athletes to move.

            Although Europe has always been a contender in past NBA off-seasons, premier European teams have started to realize this summer that they can offer better contracts to restricted free agents who may not have the same economic opportunity with an NBA career.

            The biggest transition deal so far has been from the Greek basketball club Olympiacos, who has signed Atlanta Hawks Forward Josh Childress for a three-year $20 million contract after taxes.  This deal also marked the biggest contract in Euroleague history.   

            25-year-old Childress, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, was the Hawks main force off the bench all throughout the 2007-2008 season.  As his contract expired this summer, the Hawks GM Rick Sund was able to match any offer from any NBA team.  However, due to the collective bargaining agreement, the Hawks could not match an offer from any international club.

            It has not been known yet how much the Hawks tried to offer Childress back, but due to the salary cap in the NBA, it was impossible to match Greece’s overall proposal.

            In the midst of Childress’ transaction, other NBA players who were restricted free agents this summer have been following the trend.  Such players include:

            -Earl Boykins:  The 5’5” guard is headed to Italy’s Virtus Bologna for a one-year, $3.5 million contract, making him Italy’s highest-paid player.

            -Nenad Krstic:  The once New Jersey Net center signed a two-year contract with Triumph Moscow worth $9 million.

            -Jannero Pargo:  The 28-year-old guard has signed a one-year deal with Dynamo Moscow worth $3.5 million.

            So far, these players who have decided to transition over to Europe may seem like mere role-players (not even) to any typical NBA team.  An NBA fan might even go to say “go ahead, there is no reason to keep these non-producing players in the NBA anyway.” 

            Unfortunately, for such a case, the bigger picture is not being seen. 

            When dealt in Europe, the Childress’ and Boykins’ of the NBA will have and probably continue to be treated as stars both publically and financially.  They will receive countryside recognition that may possibly be equal to that of any NBA athlete superstar here in the United States.

            Which brings about the main problem that is bound to hit the NBA. 

            What if the superstar’s in the NBA, come their restricted free-agency time in the league, want to not only receive a better salary the NBA cannot offer, but also a greater fan-base that extends worldwide?

            NBA superstars such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, whose contracts expire in 2010 and 2011 respectively, have jokingly pondered about the thought of relocating. 

            But when the joke becomes a serious matter, how will it affect the NBA?

            There have already been written articles that compare possible future contract moves (that may send a Bryant, James, or Wade to Europe) with the move that brought European soccer sensation David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy.  An NBA superstar outcome to Europe would be just as big as Beckham’s, at least for American’s, since we seem to follow the NBA and its players more closely. 

            Although most of the NBA’s superstars are already somewhat big names in Europe, the experience of playing against new forms of competition and living in a different country could be something worthwhile and appealing to the athlete.

            When the chips are set, the overall outcome will always come down to money.  It ultimately did for the restricted free agents this summer, and probably will for one of the NBA’s super-stars in off-seasons to come. 

            At least the NBA has time to think of a way to keep their game-selling stars in the league, or else a possible Bryant-less and James-less future is in sight.  And without them or other superstar moneymakers, then there will be no money, sales, or profit driving the NBA.

            And money…is everything.

BY: Sean Speirs

IMAGE COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Hello once more from the wide world of sports. Yes football season has just started and maybe one day I will get to finish my AFC Preview (probably not because I am just too lazy to analyze the remaining 16 teams). However, with the NY Football Giants effectively embarrassing the Washington Redskins last night in East Rutherford, I would like to present you the ten most compelling story lines for the upcoming season and my thought provoking/dead-on/genius analysis.

1. What will Brett Farve do in Jets green?

Nobody really knows what to expect from Farve. Will he be the Brett from last year when he led the Packers to a 13-3 record with a berth in the NFC Championship game or the gunslinger from 2005 and 2006 who had a 38:47 TD to INT ratio and looked more finished than grandma’s overcooked Christmas turkey? I believe he will be a mixture of the two. The Jets will be better, maybe even compete for a playoff spot, but nothing really beyond that. And really, its not what he does during the season, its what he does after that is important for THE Brett Farve Network/ESPN.

2. Can Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers to the playoffs?

Ladies and Gentleman, YES HE CAN! Aaron Rodgers, if you remember was a pretty good quarterback at Cal and was expected to be a top ten pick. He then fell to the Packers and was lucky enough to rot on the bench for a few years until he was ready. Well, he is now ready. Look for the mountain man to put up good numbers this year as he leads the Packers back to the NFC Championship game (which he will also lose).

3. Can the Patriots go unbeaten again this season?

No. I can not be more emphatic in my answer. I have always believed in Karma and I trust that the Football G-Ds are going to seek revenge on the New England Patriots for running up the score and cheating their way to glory. They are still the best team in the AFC East, but the gap has closed significantly. And lets be honest, this team is a ticking time bomb. Lets look at the checklist: Over-inflated ego head coach (check!), celebrity QB (check!), aging defense (check), and one crazy drama driven receiver (CHECK!). The Giants exposed the Patriots in the Super Bowl for having an offensive line that was prone to pressure. And this rattled Tom Brady. I think teams are going to realize that giving him time to pick you apart is a bad idea. As long as you limit his throws to underneath routes to the TE’s and Wes Welker, they are beatable because this team is one-dimensional on offense (paging Laurence Maroney). Also, Randy Moss is a head case waiting to happen. Once he stops catching all of those touchdowns, he is going to go into crazy Randy Moss mode. I can’t wait to see/hear/read about Bill Simmons crying about the downfall of the Patriots (and Sports guy, how about you write about something other than your Boston teams. I thought you were supposed to be a national columnist.)

4. Will the Cowboys actually win a playoff game this year?

No, they won’t. Tony Romo, while a nice quarterback, doesn’t seem to have the testicular fortitude to will his team to a tough late season victory. They have the greatest collection of talent south of the Mason-Dixon line and yet they assume that because they are so good, they should just be handed the championship. Gentlemen, you must earn this trophy. That is why teams who play hard every game win it (Steelers and Giants come to mind). They will be good again, but they just aren’t tough enough to win games in the playoffs.

5. Will the New Orleans Saints turn into the 2006 Saints because of Hurricane Gustav?

I think the better question is will the Saints home field be under attack every hurricane season and force them to turn into football nomads? I believe the Saints will be much better this year. I really like their skill position players and their division is up for grabs. They will probably have a season similar to the 2006 post-Katrina season, so, yes, they will turn into the 2006 Saints.

6. Why are the Giants getting no respect after winning the Superbowl last year?

Because everyone thought that last year was a fluke. That they were lucky to be there. However, they proved them wrong but are still getting the same treatment this season. This year the experts see the loss of Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to injury are too great to overcome. I say hogwash. This team is loaded at running back and the defensive line. Eli Manning is ready to make a jump to elite status and Plaxico Burress is a top five wide receiver. By the end of the season, the pundits will all be saying how the Giants came out of nowhere again this year. Maybe then they will stop underestimating the number one team from New York.

7. Will any teams flirt with losing all 16 games?

Yes and they will be the Falcons, Dolphins, Ravens, and St. Louis. Each of these teams has glaring holes and so many issues that I could not possibly name them all, so I will just same one from each team. The Falcons and Ravens are starting rookie quarterbacks (more on that later) who are going to wish they had never been drafted. St. Louis has one of the worst head coaches of all time in Scott Linehan and the Dolphins just plain suck. Now, if any of you have watched the show, this past episode, I called my colleague Justin Fensterman an idiot (among many other things) because he said the Dolphins had a chance at making the playoffs. Theoretically, yes they do, but in reality, where most of us live, they have no chance in hell in winning more than 4 games this year. None of these teams will win more than 5 games this year and the Falcons and Dolphins will battle it out again for who is the worst team in all of football.

8. Which rookie quarterback is going to have a better season: Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco?

While neither of these players are going to be very good this year, I believe that Matt Ryan is going to have a better year statistically and Joe Flacco will win one or two more games (I know, I’m taking the middle ground, sorry). Both are going to throw more interceptions than touchdowns and have a completion percentage hover around 55 percent. But Matt Ryan also has better receivers (Roddy White is better than all of the Ravens wide outs put together) and Michael “Burner” Turner is going to have a breakout year. He is in a better position to play a little better than Flacco right now. Long term, lets just hope they don’t develop David Carr Syndrome.

9. How much will Peyton Manning’s removed bursa sac affect his game?

I don’t really know because I’m not much a medical guy. But if he says he is fine, I am going to take his word for it. I think that he is the best quarterback in the game and I am still picking him in fantasy drafts. What concerns me more about the Colts is the injury bug that still hasn’t left them. Now Jeff Saturday, their all-pro center is out and its going to be tough to replace him. However, Peyton will be fine and I look forward to the Colts reclaiming their status as the class of the AFC.

10. How crazy is Chad Ocho Cinco?

Britney Spears Crazy. Who changes their name from Chad Johnson to Chad Ocho Cinco? He has literally gone into the deep end. But I feel bad for him. He obviously does not have the pysche to withstand the daily pressures of playing football and being held to certain expectations. There was a reason the Bengals didn’t trade him this summer: nobody wanted his crazy ass on their team. And the only team that did want him would only have taken him if he changed his last name to Jones to fit in with the rest of the roster. Folks, stay away from Chad Ocho Cinco. He is crazy!

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND:

1. Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton: Which one is starting in midseason? Kyle Orton.

2. WIll Wade Phillips lose his job after this season? Yes.

3. Playoff Picks? AFC: Patriots, Cleveland, Indy, San Diego, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh. NFC: Cowboys, Packers, Saints, Arizona, Giants, and Eagles.

4. Championship Picks: AFC: Indy over Jacksonville. NFC: Packers over Giants

5. Superbowl Pick: Indy over Packers

6. Will Brett Farve retire at the end of the year? Undoubtedly.

BEARD

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Game of the Week: West Virginia @ East Carolina

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

TV: ESPN, 4:30 PM ET

 

      vs.        

 

Last Week: West Virginia defeated Villanova, East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech

            College football began not with a bang but a whimper, especially compared to last year.  There were very few exciting games, no once in a lifetime upsets, and the marquee matchup turned out to be a 34-10 blowout. However, there was at least one upset, and that upset has set the stage for this week’s game of the week.

            East Carolina coached by Lou Holtz’s son Skip, out-“Beamered” the Hokies of Virginia Tech.  By out-“Beamered,” I mean that Virginia Tech, a team renowned for its special teams prowess under coach Frank Beamer, gave up the game winning touchdown on a blocked punt. Perhaps, this is just one aspect of the poetic justice currently being served to the ACC.  In case you don’t know, several years ago, the ACC greedily invited several teams from the Big East (namely Miami) to a) make more money and b) to become a deeper and more talented football conference to compete with the likes of the SEC and Big 12, instead of crowning Florida State as conference champions, perennially.  Although they have earned more money, their football part of the plan has backfired.  Miami and other former Big East “football powers” have struggled, and Florida State has been mediocre at best. Arguably, their two most formidable teams, Clemson and Virginia Tech, both lost to underdogs causing pundits to condemn their conference altogether, and for me personally, to question their right to have a BCS bowl birth for the conference champion over the champion of the WAC, MWC or Conference USA, especially if the champion of Conference USA beats one of their “elite” programs. Luckily, the ACC is one of the premiere basketball conferences in the nation, and programs such as Florida State and Miami have the ability to rise from the ashes and become prominent national football programs once again.

            The Big East is another solid basketball conference, which has had a rough start to the football season. Rutgers lost to a WAC team. Kentucky humiliated Louisville.  Northwestern dominated Syracuse.  Pittsburgh was embarrassed by Bowling Green.  In contrast to the ACC, however, the Big East’s one national championship contender is still alive, and that team is West Virginia.

            Led by Heisman candidate dual-threat quarterback Pat White, West Virginia enters its first full season under new coach Bill Stewart.  If you recall correctly, after Rich Rodriguez bolted to Michigan, Bill Stewart became interim head coach and led West Virginia to a Fiesta Bowl win over a heavily favored Oklahoma team.  If the first game is any indication, West Virginia will run a more pass-oriented offense than they were previously, as Pat White threw for five touchdown passes.  Personally, I don’t think that the first game was any indication of how their offense will look, especially considering the playmaking abilities of Pat White and running back Noel Devine on the ground.  Still, West Virginia looks to have a more balanced attack, and with a more balanced attack, perhaps a more potent and dangerous offense.

            On the other side of the spectrum, East Carolina wants to win three consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time in school history (# 22 Boise State in Hawaii Bowl, # 17 Virginia Tech last week, and # 8 West Virginia).  Quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who went 19-23 for 211 yards with a passing and a rushing touchdown, leads the Pirates. They also appear to be strong on special teams, as they scored the game-winning touchdown vs. Virginia Tech on a blocked punt.

            This game means a lot for both teams.  For West Virginia, it is another stepping stone for their national championship hunt, and a loss here would not only hurt their team’s reputation as well as the Big East’s reputation, but also it would essentially eliminate their quest for a national championship. On the other hand, East Carolina has nothing to lose (except their coach) and everything to gain. By everything, I mean respect (moreso than their win vs. Virginia Tech, possibly a top 10 ranking and most certainly a top 15 ranking) and a distinct possibility of a playing in a BCS Bowl.

            On a side note, weather could interfere with the game as tropical storm Hanna is expected to hit the southeast this weekend.  However, it is unlikely, as East Carolina’s athletic director Terry Holland called rescheduling the game a “last resort.” Now on to the prediction…

            Prediction:  I’ve spent some time referring to each team’s offense, because neither team has much excitement of the defensive side of the ball. Defensively, both teams are prone to give up some big plays and touchdowns, but Pat White and company might be too hard for East Carolina to handle.  East Carolina does have home field advantage, but West Virginia has too much firepower.  I think it will be a fairly high scoring game with West Virginia winning 35-21. 

Look Back:  Last week, I wrote my first blog entry for the website: a preview of the Alabama – Clemson game. Unfortunately, the column was not posted due to technical difficulties. I’m not sure if it will be published “posthumously” so to speak (by this I mean after the game has “died,” not me), but in that article, I predicted Alabama to win 21-17.  Well, I was right about the team, but way off on the score.  However, I don’t think anyone expected Alabama to win in the manner in which they did. Time will tell on how each team’s season to progress, but Alabama certainly has a bright future ahead.


-Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

IMAGES COURTESY OF SPORTS.YAHOO.COM