Tag Archives: sports

NCAAF-19: No Checkmate, As Saban-Swinney Plot Next Move In Champions Chess Match

13 Jan

Saban v. Swinney: In today‘s sporting America it may be the best thing going.

Baseball’s best player (Harper) is still unsigned;
NFL playoffs have more pretenders than a Platters reunion;
In its peak period, NHL is getting bumped for soccer gossip, and ..
The NBA has never been more passé with competition ebbing low.

But the praise is piling high for William Christopher “Dabo” Swinney, five days after he and his Clemson Tigers garnered their second CFP national championship in three seasons (2017 / 19), both titles coming with wins over the most highly regarded college football program in the land these past 15 years, arguably all-time, that being Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

And “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet might’ve said, the big question in all this Clemson euphoria: Who then exactly IS today’s top program?

While the gold standard in sport is measured in championship metallica, it is weighted by its karat-count in quality of competition. Put another way, “some Indians .. a tribe’s greatness is figured on how mighty its enemies be (D.Gue).”

Besting the top dog in Alabama, twice in their last three championship games, certainly qualifies as weighty competition. Add to that poundage, the fact that the Tide’s last victory in the this burgeoning rivalry was of the lesser semi-final variety (CFP-18). As we all know in the sporting world, it is the biggest stage (championship) that proves the toughest test then matters the most.

And those who follow college sport closely, know that the first and most important ingredient in the championship metallurgy process is successful recruitment. And therein lay the OTHER rub.

Before Clemson football can make a serious claim to supremecy, Dabo & Company must first create a public perception among high-school players, parents and principals that their school is #1. Two national titles in three years (3 total) are big steps in that direction.

But affecting perception goes deeper than displaying contemporary accolades.

The Tigers history is a long one (b.1896), and proud, but the Tide have one themselves (b.1892), claiming seventeen (17) national titles and a modern-era stature that is second to none, including that of Notre Dame’s (11), one which is fast losing its golden luster, having last won a national title in 88 (Holtz).

Another aspect of program perception is the image of its head coach, the master-mind behind all of the success. Players, even the great ones, will move on, the college variety especially quick today (2-3 yrs).

If there’s enough of success, what develops might be called a cult of personality, a money mood (not legal tender but valuation) that the coach will use to fuel the recruitment. Pete Carroll had it, as did John Wooden, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Summitt, Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson, Woody Hayes, Fielding Yost, Rod Dedeaux, Jerry York, Herb Brooks and Saban.

It’s a status that doesn’t necessarily remain, in its entirety, at the school where it began, but will leave, in some degree, with the coach if they happen to make an exit and as long as they keep winning (Saban: LSU > UA).

Swinney‘s cult is building fast.

So, what might he do to turn demigod, making top prospects tab Clemson as the coolest place to matriculate in the classroom and the gridiron? A third national title in the not too distant future is a necessity (many coaches have tallied, two), and if it forms a back-to-back dynasty (2019-20), so much the better.

Of no interest to Clemson folk but of great benefit to Swinney’s status would be moving on to a different school to take on the challenge of creating another championship program as did misters Saban and Urban Meyer (UF > OSU). But then it may be a bit early for such considerations.

Back to recruitment, it’s a little like the chicken-and-egg thing.

How do you consistently recruit the best until you are seen as the best, which you won’t be seen as until you recruit the best? All this made the more difficult when the current perceived best in Saban is still very much in the mix?

Yet, that’s exactly the kind of challenge a champion meets head on as they move to dethrone the current ruler of the roost, any difficulties be damned.

And if Dabo does one day rule the roost, you can be sure we’ll not mispronounce nor mis-spell his name ever again. One of the perks of being head rooster.

StevenKeys
MacroSport
Photo credit: chess-game, checkmate, wc.cca; D.Swinney, wc, 10.31.15, Lambeau-Leap80; N.Saban, wc, 10.13.07, Crassic; macroecono, wc, lambcasinoroyal, 2011
Posted: 1.12 @ 7:58pE, edit 1.13; Copyright © 2019

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NFL19 Wild Cherry Picks: A Showcase of Styles On the Evolving (Devolving) Pro-QB

5 Jan

If you think this 2019 NFL Wild Card playoff round looks like the makings of a quarterback revolution, I’d hold off on that thought for now. Think more like a less taxing, not as angry, Whiskey Rebellion (1791-94). That doesn’t make complete sense, either, but it ain’t a revolution, not yet, anyway.

The quarterback landscape is changing pretty rapid these days. With the college football ranks filling faster on flash quarterbacks than a tackle does on mashed potatoes (NO GARLIC, PLEASE!!), they’ve gotta’ end up somewhere, right? Canada’s one destination (CFL), but south of the 49th parallel north, the National Football League venue is every amateur’s biggest dream.

Couple that with the NFL’s need to replenish its ranks with capable signal-callers and it only stands to reason that the modern single-wing tailback would become plentiful at the pro-level, too, where, unfortunately, the real quarterback training in field assessment and development of serious intestinal fortitude begins.

Be that as it may, the pocket-passer will remain an NFL fixture, even if it becomes the exception, rather than rule, or ruler, as it were (See; SB).

As the run-quarterback operates largely on rabbit-sense, i.e., fear-flight, it will always be the master matriculaor, the ones who show poise behind the line, withstand hits in the face of pressure to connect consistently with receiver corps and in the most critical of times (red-zone), that will always be favored, not just by coaches, GMs and teammates but most by football fans who like courage and lots and lots of scoring.

And it’s the pocket-passer that will be one of the featured styles on both days of this weekend’s Wild Card slate, along with every other variety of quarterbacking style you can imagine, with the exception of maybe the wounded-duck form of field generaling. They may be gone forever.

Those were the guys like Billy Kilmer (Redskins) and Joe Kapp (Vikings) who never did perfect the spiral but generally got the job done on guts & semi-skill.

Here’s how the play-callers have been playing it:

Andrew Luck, pocket passer. Andy used to motor pretty well but recent injuries have curtailed that and the results, so far, are looking good.

DeShaun Watson, run-QB: He takes off at the drop of a hat but with an excellent C% (68+) and ypa (8.2). So the worry on scamper isn’t so much that he’s passing up opportunities in the air (red-zone blues?), but the injury risk.

Russell Wilson, mobile-manager: He has mobility to avoid the rush when the line breaks down and likes to roll-out. Russ’ earned an A+ in his biggest test in SB46 win over Denver, rambling a mere three (3) times, all early-on.

Dak Prescott, mobile-manager: Averages about 4.5 rushes per contest, finding the end-zone with regularity (6-TD). Level-headed and physically solid (“The Fortress” nickname fits), his motor has been tested in 2018 with a leaky Dallas O-line (56-sk), but can Coach Garrett deliver the Dude a game-plan?

Philip Rivers, pocket-passer: The old veteran (37 yrs) and sentimental favorite in this years early playoff round (37 yrs). Passing yards are down a bit but INTs reasonable (12) on pretty fair protection (32sk). His run-mates Ekeler (groin) and Gordon (ankle) are aching, so can Coach Lynn come up with a pass-heavy scheme that can compensate, on the road in Crabcake City (gulp)?

Lamar Jackson, run-QB: A Ravens post-season without Joe Flacco starting under center? Seems odd, but you go with what gets you there, right, and the young Mister Jackson (turns 22 on Monday) got the guys going in the right direction (6-1, 6t-3i, 695y-rush). The Bolts know offense, of course, but they also know defense this time around. Does Harbaugh know HIS offense, yet?

Nick Foles, pocket-passer: It’s a stand-tall-in-the-pocket tandem in Philly (+Wentz), together averaging a 70-C%, even as sacks are on higher side in 2018 (40). The Super Bowl winning Foles, who started the season slow, gave-way to Wentz and then got the call again, is like that race-horse who runs best in the stretch where the action intensifies and the stakes are highest.

Mitchell Trubisky, run-QB: This season, like most since 1919, defense is key in Chicago, which took some pressure off the 2nd-year from UNC (b.Ohio). Mitch carried his end well on nice C% (67), fair INTs (12) and enthusiasm, something that’d been missing on the Midway (JC), though, it does get a smidgen silly at times (post-TD). Run-game helps (Howard-Cohen-MT) but fumblitis (15).

NFL Wild Cherry Picks: Road Warriors

Indy @ Texans: 1.5 Disney 4:35E: Colts
Seahawks @ Cowboys: Fox 8:15: Seattle
Chargers @ Baltimore: 1.6 CBS 1:05: Bolts
Philadelphia @ Chicago: NBC 4:40: Eagles

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; R.Wilson, wc.cca, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; N.Foles, wc, T-Sgt-Walker, Dover, USAF; J.Kapp, wc, Ellensburg-Daily, 12.26.69
Posted: 1.5 @ 4:03pE; Copyright © 2019

NFL18 Cherry Picks W17: Christmas Is Over But Carroll-ing Time Knows No Season

30 Dec

A Pete Carroll team won’t stay bad for long.

That may not read like much, but in today’s wild n’ wacky NFL where things can change faster than a Florida forecast, it’s a pretty fair compliment.

In his nine (9) seasons with Seattle, Pete’s first two were losers, both 7-9, the rest all winners, including Halas hoisting at the close of the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

This year the Seahawks started slow at 0-2, rebounded on successive wins, then a close loss to the rising Rams, two more wins, another two loses, a season-saving four game win streak, a stumble against lowly 2018 division rival San Francisco and last Sunday’s confidence-builder victory at home against AFC Super-hopeful, Kansas City. Phew!

Fickle football: In a nutshell, that is what characterizes this 2018 NFL season. I’d have to list over half the teams as qualifiers for the tag, including the Seattle Seahawks. One never knows what to expect these days, even from apparent stalwarts like New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, the Packers who will miss the post-season, again, the Patriots and Steelers who, one week, can look ready for a title run, the next, their QBs ready for retirement talk.

But with a playoff spot locked-up, posting one of the best 2d-half marks in the League (overlooking W15’s loss to the Niners), a #6 offense (pts) that can pass (Wilson: 34-6i) and run (Carson-Davis), a defense that lacks Boom but ranks top half (Wagner), a reliable May (MD) – Dec (SJ) kick game, still plenty of players remaining who sport a championship ring (SB48) and head coach in Carroll who understands the stakes, Seattle might just be that under-the-radar club that has enough of the pieces to put a title run together.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 17

Dolphins @ Buffalo: 12.30 CBS 1pE: Bills
Atlanta @ Buccaneers: Fox 1p: Falcons
Dallas @ NYGiants: Fox 1p: Cowboys
Carolina @ NewOrleans: Fox 1p: Saints
NYJets @ NewEngland: CBS 1p: Pats
Jaguars @ Texans: CBS 1p: Houston
Detroit @ GreenBay: Fox 1p: Packers
Philly @ Washington: Fox 4:25: Eagles
LosAngeles @ Denver: CBS 4+: Broncos
Oakland @ Kansas City: CBS 4+: Raiders
Chicago @ Minnesota: Fox 4+: Vikings
Cleveland @ Baltimore: CBS 4+: Ravens
SanFrancisco @ LosAngeles: Fox 4+: Rams
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh: CBS 4+: Steelers
Cardinals @ Seahawks: Fox 4+: Seattle
Indianapolis @ Tennessee: NBC 8+: Colts

Record: 52 – 46

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; P.Carroll, wc.cca, K.Allison, 10.6.14; cherries, wc, picdrome, 06-2011; J.Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 12.30 @ 12:54aE; Copyright © 2018

MLB18 Chin Music: Baines Just Latest Cooperstown Confection In Hall of Good & Plenty

24 Dec

Journalist and junior-media alike expressed great bewilderment last week upon hearing the annoucement that long-time Chicago White Sox’ batsman Harold Baines had been elected to the 2019 baseball Hall of Fame class of induction.

But to this fan, it was the sizable squawk that proved positively bewildering.

Created in 1936 in central New York State in a town founded in 1786 by William Cooper, father of famed author James Fenimore Cooper, the Cooperstown HOF has had an open-door policy on enshrinement for quite some time now.

When names like Ryne Sandberg, Mike Piazza, Bert Blyleven, Orlando Cepeda, Barry Larkin and John Smoltz get in without nary a squawk, even as Curt Schilling and Fred McGriff get a collective cold shoulder, you have to feel the HOF door has been propped wide open, letting in good but less-than-great ballplayers to keep the fun times rolling (promotions, parades, etc.).

For the past 20 years, the typical inductee has been a guy who had great moments, even a great year, but didn’t inspire thoughts of greatness during their lengthy careers, except amongst kids and sabrmetrically-inclined who always seem to think their heroes can walk on water.

Named on less than 5% of writer ballots in his last year of eligibility (2011), Harold was elected instead by the Veterans Committee based, I believe, on these career batting numbers (rank in brackets): In 22 seasons with five teams, 2866 hits (46), 1628 RBI (34), 1299 runs (128), 384 HR (65), .289 BA (T-408), 6-time All-Star, led AL one-time in one category (SLG%-84) and in 31 post-season games hit .324 with 16 RBI, 5 HR and 14 runs. All good, but great? I guess so.

— — —

But the bemoaners will want to save some gripe for when Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens gain entrance (< 5 years), because THAT is when the Hall will no longer be the Hall of Fame, but rather, the Hall of Shame, or Sham, if you prefer.

Like today’s fat Olympic fields, Halls are diluting on steady-stream of marginal inductees as younger, collectible-crazed voters turn what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good & Plenty.

It’s a little like when Charles Schulz expanded his franchise and grew his Peanuts gallery with Woodstock and Peppermint Patty, or when Fred Flintstone found a new friend from outer space, Gazoo. The funnies just weren’t the same.

Was Harold Baines a user of performance enhancing drugs himself? Who the Sam Hell knows. We, the mass of baseball followers, like to think not. But with all the liars and cheats around today, it’s hard to know who to trust.

With the field of great HOF candidates so small, coupled with the current PED-testing policy that players have filled with holes you could drive a Mack truck through, beggers can’t be choosers. Baines will have to do.

If Harold was clean his entire career, it’s a cloud-of-doubt hanging overhead that seems unfair. But that’s the price he and his retired-MLBPA membership must pay for staying silent and NOT demanding the highest, Olympic form of testing.

— — —

There are two battles raging today over baseball’s Hall of Fame composition: One is the long-standing issue of quality control, i.e., is the candidate truly great, of a stature such that it separates him from his peers, as say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election in a campaign for votes.

The other battle is of a more recent development, PEDs, were the emerging standard among junior media and collectors goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Ooooh, brother.

Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ then by that absurd line of logic, bad boys Pete Rose and Joe Jackson should get induction because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up with the gamble and game-fixing.

Okay, so the Hall is growing fat on suspect inductees and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, etc.), but at least we have the baseball record book, right, a safe harbor for greatness buffered from the winds of changing mores and personal extremes? Wrong.

Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s record rolls are now tainted, with some of its most cherished marks held by seriously-suspected or proven performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence.

— — —

Soon, those voters who grew on a steady diet of ESPN (Disney) news on Barry and Roger will make-up the majority of the BBWAA. Unfortunately, they’ve shown a collective lack of judgment capability with a boyish, sabrmetric bent as evidenced in their 2018 National League Cy Young awarding to the Mets Jacob deGrom (10-9 / 1.73e / 217i / MVP-5th) over the Nationals’ Max Scherzer. They are that same group which watched in awe as Bonds piled MVPs, Roger garnered CYs and they filled binders of memorabilia.

Bonds and Clemens, once taboo to voters, have been steady risers the past five years in Hall of Fame vote percentage, corresponding directly with the steady decrease in the average voter age. As such, there’s no motive for either to ever come clean on PED use, for their lie is also their supporters lie.

Were they to come clean, overnight those supporters (voters) would turn into their harshest critics for their collectible stock would drop like a rock in water. For now, the fallacy keeps their cards marketable.

Could it be that ridiculous? Sure it could, sport.

Roger and Barry will win election to the Cooperstown Club in the not too distant future. They’ll jump for joy and their rookie cards will soar in value once again.

But in the court of rational, mature, baseball-loving public opinion, resentment will keep growing over their ‘getting away with it’ in tarnishing the game’s sacrosanct record book and Hall of Not-So-Greats.

Bonds and Clemens have a great opportunity to man-up, set the record straight and pay back to a game that which has given them both so much.

But it takes a great man to seize such an opportunity and the Hall of Fame is fast becoming the place where the less-than-greats are being given immortality.

StevenKeys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: baseball, 9.24.06, wc.cca, Tage-Olsin; H.Baines, wc, K.Allison, 2011; B.Bonds, wc, 7.21.07, guano; Can-of-corn
Posted: 12.23 @ 8:00pE, edit 12.25; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W14: St. Nick’s Maybe Memo to Packers, ‘Better a Big Fish Than Small Fry’

8 Dec

Fish n’ Chips

If there’s no news, then make some news. That could be a placard above the entrance to the managing editor’s office at SI.com.

Someone at the long-running magazine got it in their head this week to float the wobbly notion that Alabama football coach Nick Saban should become the next Packers guru to fill the vacancy created by the panic-driven firing of Super Bowl winning Mike McCarthy who’d been at the Green Bay helm for over a decade (06). Where there’s M&M (money & motivation), anything can happen.

But the Packers Executive Board doing what it takes to pry Nick away from UA where he rolls towards what could be his sixth national title in Tuscaloosa (7 + LSU), in money & position (club president), well, that’s about as likely as the forever frugal Brewers signing Bryce Harper to a 5-year deal: Not very.

There are plenty of reasons why someone of Saban’s caliber would never coach the green & yellow, starting with the fact the Packers would never go after someone with a celebrity carrying such a high price tag. That’s for the Yankees, Lakers and Cowboys of sportdom who like to throw money around.

Green Bay likes to think they can find diamonds in the rough, and they have, on occasion, but usually of the already cut variety (Wolf (OAK) – Holmgren (SF) – Lombardi (NYG)). Below the radar might be the better metaphor.

Besides that, the Packers Board of Directors ‘throw nickels around like manhole-covers (See also: Bears).’ But then all this has been common knowledge amongst real NFL fans for quite some time now.

And Saban himself might not like giving up the near reverential status he’s held in college football for about twenty years. At Alabama, Nick is becoming the John Wooden of college football (JW: 10 basketball titles @ UCLA). There’s Saban, and there’s everybody else, now that Urban Meyer has hung-up his head-set, again. The West Virginia native just might want to keep it that way, until he retires and goes into consulting and motivational speaking.

Though, it would not surprise that Saban has buried in the back of his mind a belief that he could do in Green Bay, or another NFL city, what Pete Carroll has done so marvelously in Seattle after his own great success at USC (2 titles 2003-04) and two brief NFL head-coaching stints with the New York Jets (94) and in New England (97-99 27-21), in winning back-to-back Halas trophies (NFCC 2014-15) with Wilson, Lynch and Legion of Boom. But such a build-from-scratch success story as Carroll fashioned is a rare feat indeed.

A Packers post means accepting the challenge of winning big in the Fox Valley. Key word there is ‘big.’ Winning’s not enough in Packerland. Titles must be won. That’s titles, plural. Once, as they said in the movies (75), is not enough.

Success in Green Bay does have its rewards.

The Packers are one of the most storied franchises in American sport. The head coach is a big fish in a small pond. That means you can gobble up pretty much whatever and whomever you want whilst you swim in it. They’ll probably name a street after you if you win a Super Bowl. Make that two, at least, two Halas trophies (NFCC). But if you don’t win early and often, they’ll hand you your walking papers right quick and might even string-up your family pet if the rabble get riled-up enough (See; Dan Devine 70s).

A former NFL Coach of the Year, Ray Rhodes, lasted but one 8-8 season before getting his pink slip from the Packers, even as Brett Favre had a sore thumb on his throwing hand most of that 1999 season.

Now this unexpected, rather ignominious mid-season firing of McCarthy, and you tell me, would you want take the reins in Green Bay? And it’s not like they’re gonna’ fork out the big bucks to help you assume the risk. No sir-ee, Nick.

This is a recent statement made by Packers All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his relationship with Mike: “We would finish every time that we talked.”

And I know what Rodgers meant: Listening in kind. That means, hearing each other out and responding. Not always in agreement, but in understanding: That’s maturity, that’s respect and that’s not easy to find today anywhere.

The coach community is a club. They understand the ups and downs, risks and rewards that come along with being a head coach. Some of those risks are unanticipated, like getting fired in-season with a 125-77 overall. That then creates a community wide impression, and not a good one.

Another name that’s being bantered about for the Packers’ HC job in 2019 is Northwestern’s resourceful Pat Fitzgerald (95-70 / 3-5 (3-1 since 2012)).

Pat’s done a marvelous job in Evanston but the former All-American linebacker is a defensive specialist. And as any real football fan knows, while the HC must delegate duties to capable staffers, they must also have a near expert understanding of play on both sides of the ball. Not that the Pack couldn’t use a boost on the D side of things, but with a guy like Rodgers running the offense, it’s scoring that is Green Bay’s forte, at least in the forceable future.

And therein be the carrot on Packers President Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst’s stick, Mister Aaron Rodgers.

Sure, money is important to a coaching candidate but so too is the prospect of winning quickly and winning often so you can keep earning that money, and that’s what Mr. Matriculator gives his coach, in all likelihood.

But Aaron, future Cantonese he be, is no spring chicken, as he will be entering his fourteenth season come next summer training camp in 2019.

While his first three seasons were limited to clipboarding, the fact Rodgers has recently suffered two semi-serious injuries (broken clavicles), missing half of 2013 and 2017 seasons, makes one wonder if he‘s become … susceptible?

How many NFL seasons does the Berkeley Bear have left?

He’s not the type to play just to break records or get a paycheck. His endorsements have him set for life. But the beatings in the backfield take their toll, even with new rules in place to protect the field general. I’d say 4-6 year, and that may not be enough to pull in the biggest names.

Then there’s interim, Joe Philbin, who led the Dolphins for parts of four seasons, compiling a so-so record of 24-28 as Bullygate unfolded. Not impressive but capable enough to get a short-term deal as search goes on as needed, or not.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 14

Saints @ Tampa: 12.9 Fox 1:00pE: Saints
Patriots @ Dolphins: CBS 1:00: Pats
Baltimore @ KansasCity: CBS 1:00: KC
Indianapolis @ Houston: CBS 1:00: Colts
Atlanta @ Green Bay: Fox 1:00: Packers
Panthers @ Cleveland: Fox 1:00: Browns
Denver @ 49ers: CBS 4:05: Broncos
Cincinnati @ Chargers: CBS 4:05: Cincy
Detroit @ Arizona: Fox 4:25: Lions
Philadelphia @ Dallas: Fox 4:25: ‘Boys
LosAngeles @ Chicago: NBC 8:20: Rams
Vikes @ Seattle: 12.10 Disney 8:15: Hawks

Record: 44 – 42

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, 2011; Fish-and-Chips, wc.cca, Mathias-Meckel, Blackpool, 2018; N.Saban, wc, 8.18.09, Ramma-Jamma-Yella; cherries, B.Kua, wc, 6.1.08; Willie-Wood, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 12.7 @ 10:49pE, edit 12.8; Copyright © 2018

NCAAF-18: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, He’s At It Again!

1 Dec

Just when you think the magic has gone out of Pat Fitzgerald’s long success story at academic juggernaut Northwestern University (2006 >), he and his Wildcats go n’ pull another rabbit outta’ the college football hat.

The NU bunch have gone 8-4 in 2018 to win the Big Ten Western title (8-1), pitting them against perennial powerhouse Ohio State (11-1) on Saturday (8pE Fox) in a game with serious national title implications.

Patrick’s in his thirteen season at the Northwestern helm, his alma mater, where he was an All-American linebacker (1993-96), garnering an armload of personal hardware (Nagurski – Bednarik – B10-DPOY (2)) and helped lead Gary Barnett’s club to the 1996 Rose Bowl, a close, hard-fought loss against the Pac-10 champion USC Trojans (41-32), a game Fitzgerald missed due to a broken leg he’d sustained near the close of the Wildcats conference slate (Iowa).

His overall head coaching mark is a not-too-shabby 95-69, with a 3-5 bowl record, taking three of his last four holiday matchups. Fitzgerald has eight winning-seasons, one even-up and a 20-29 win-loss tally in his four losing campaigns. All this at a school where student-athlete still has meaning in fact. Not that their rosters are peppered with Rhodes scholar aspirants who help little old ladies cross busy Chicago intersections every day, but Pat’s employer Northwestern clearly puts education on the higher plain.

And you know something, I think what Mr. Fitzgerald has done in Evanston might be more, but at least AS impressive as the terrific jobs Nick Saban (Tuscaloosa (5 national titles)) and Urban Meyer (Columbus (1)) have done in their respective college towns. Not that it doesn’t take a great skill to marshal ample resources into a great results, it does, but to start from scratch when the athletic cupboard has, by tradition, been minimally stocked and then cook up a consistently competitive dish, well, that’s one heck of a chef.

Can the 21st-ranked Wildcats travel to Columbus to topple the 6th-ranked Buckeyes out of the CFP playoff picture and get back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1996? I was no Rhodes scholar in college, but any sport-minded grade school graduate with playground prowess could tell you, it’ll take a near perfectly executed Northwestern game-plan and at least a couple OSU turnovers to pull off this upset. And that’s why they play the games.

StevenKeys
MacroSport
Photo credit: Northwestern-University, seal, wc.cca, 6.17.1890; Pat-Fitzgerald, wc, 2008, Brian-Myers; macroecono, lamcasinoroyal, wc, 2011
Posted: 12.1 @ 12:09aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W12: Pegging the Pretenders In a Contender Poor Playoff Picture

22 Nov

They‘ve gotta’ pick SOMEBODY, right?

The Halls of Fame, the Oscar®, that Mark Twain thing, we can’t make everybody happy with these honors and award shows but we sure can try, right?

And at the end of each NFL regular season the owners hold a playoff to spread the joy, selecting as many post-season participants as they can stuff into that PS bird, satisfying regional interests and keeping those coffers filling fat.

That meant expansion, adding teams (1971 AFL-NFL merger), crafting cute little divisions and then adding the wild card clubs which rarely have any wild about ‘em at all. So far, that means two more playoff participants per Conference.

Those slots must be filled, even if half the clubs are, for most the NFL weekends, just about as likely to stink up the joint as they are to shine bright.

Like most seasons, there are about 6 to 8 teams that have a pretty fair chance of winning their respective Conference (Halas (NFC) / Hunt (AFC) trophy) and then taking the Super Bowl, teams that look sound, front (O) and back (D).

We’ve got a ways to go before the twelve (12) playoff berths are awarded (Please, no cork-popping just yet, fellas (oy vey)), but it’s not too early to sift out the pretenders, those who’ll show their weaker hand and falter before the regular season winds up, while others will pass the mettle-test, in win or loss.

National Football Conference

Serious Contenders: Saints, Rams, Seahawks and Packers

We know New Orleans and Los Angeles have offense, but Saints are near top half in defense (Rams middle), while Hawks and Packers rank respectable on both sides, kinda-sorta.’ Even as their clubs sit around .500 each, I like the experience of Wilson & Rodgers, the latter whose club has a nice remaining slate. GB’s lost three close contests on the road vs top dogs, are better than half the clubs with winning marks and going 5-1 gets ’em into the PS where anything can happen.

Possible pretenders: Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, Washington

Bears got growl that’s been hibernating since Lovie days and it’s not just Mack. Second-year QB Trubisky, like AFC counterpart Mahomes, has high confidence, though, with fewer weapons at his disposal. But Mitch also has a rabbit-habit which will cost him and his club dearly as quality of competition and game-importance grows. Cats and Vikes O&D ranks are respectable but both compete for 2018’s Fickle Franchise Award (+ Titans, etc.), while Washington’s solid season went down with Alex Smith’s broken leg in W11 action.

American Football Conference

Serious Contenders: New England, Pittsburgh and Houston

Houston (7-3): Texans started slow (0-3) but’ve found their mojo since (6-0), albeit on maybe the NFL’s easiest schedule. Nice win at DC in W11.

Possible Pretenders: Chargers, Colts, Ravens, Titans, Dolphins and Chiefs

Bolts loss at home to 3-6 Denver was telling and their remaining schedule, besides AZ (W12), is a bear. Indy, on the other hand, while a slow start has an easy remainder but probably won‘t gel soon enough to impact. Maybe 2019, if Andy can stay healthy. Baltimore is not better with Flacco floundering. Get him healthy again and back on track and we’ll talk about contending.

And the much touted Chiefs? They get their own separate breakdown.

The last Monday Night Football fiasco makes it clear (Rams 54-51 KC), the NFL, all four major American sports, for that matter, are now just about offense. Kids and the Jr.-media, especially the sabrheads who voted Mets’ deGrom NL-CY last week, just adore score. We adults like it too but, if unbridled, it makes us nervous because we understand that old adage, ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘careful what ya’ wish for, you just may get it.’

Defense, football, was born in a much more brutal time when boxing was big. Bad still happens today, of course. Selfishness, greed, dishonesty and cowardice abound, but your average fan, player and coach, are just not built that way, not like Chuck Bednarik and Lawrence Taylor. They loved to stick, to punish.

Today’s team must score early, often and be comeback capable. No pouting when your D miscues. Your offense must pull on their big-boy pants, get back out there and put another TD on the board, not settling for FGs. It’s a fair measure that the club with higher Super Bowl potential is the one that’s scoring proficient and at least defense capable, rather than the other way around (top D, so-so O).

The Chiefs clearly have offense, scoring well against some of the better Ds in early going (PIT, DEN, JAX, LAC). Keep in mind that those same teams will, as season progresses, figure better the habits of a newcomer like Mahomes which were unfamiliar in earlier weeks of play.

But KC’s own defense is atrocious, even when you adjust for the MNF disaster, which will haunt them in this final regular stretch and the playoffs where the level of competition is more clear and certain.

Kansas City is on their bye this Thanksgiving week to lick wounds and afford Reid & Co. time to figure a new plan. And don’t count on it. Andy is one of NFL’s senior gurus and made a Super Bowl with the Eagles, but defense has never been his stronger suit. The HC must delegate duties (DC), but it all starts at the top.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 12

Falcons @ NO: 11.22 NBC 8:20pE: A-Birds
Jaguars @ Bills: 11.25 CBS 1:00: Jacksonville
Hawks @ Carolina (GOTD): Fox 1:00: Seattle
New York @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Dolphins @ Indianapolis: CBS 4:25: Colts
Pittsburgh @ Denver: CBS 4:25: Steelers
GreenBay @ Minnesota: NBC 8:20: Vikings
Titans @ Houston: 11.26 Disney 8:15: Tenn

Record: 40 – 38

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; D.Welniak-A.Reid, wc, J.Beall, 12.31.17, KCTV5; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Jim-Marshall, TCG, 1970
Posted: 11.22 @ 5:07pE; Copyright © 2018