September 13, 2008

Maryland Beats Cal

I think I speak for all Maryland fans when I say we didn't see this coming. I didn't talk to anyone who thought the Terps had a shot at winning the game. Most people thought the 14 point spread wasn't big enough.

To understand why this game came as such a surprise, let's review what happened the past two weeks:

  • Maryland beat 1-AA Delaware by 7.
  • Maryland lost to Middle Tennessee State
  • Cal won 66-3 at Washington State
  • The ACC isn't very good
  • The PAC10 is one of the best conferences in the country
None of that instilled much confidence in the Maryland faithful, but things changed very quickly once the game started. Maryland jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, and the game was never as close as its 35-27 final score.

The Terps looked like a totally different team than the one who lost at MTSU last week. They played with confidence and attacked the Bears from the opening whistle.
  • Chris Turner showed that, while inconsistent, he can turn in an incredible performance when he needs to. He won the QB battle today, especially with his play on 3rd down.
  • Speaking of third downs, the defense was amazing in stopping Cal on every 3rd down play until the second half. When the defense can get off the field like that, it makes the game a lot easier to win.

  • Da'Rel Scott looks like a star. He's a strong runner and I will never understand why he didn't get more carries last week. Hopfefully his shoulder is OK.
  • After not getting a sack last week against MTSU, the defense was able to get great pressure on Kevin Riley, including 5 sacks. Most of the pressure came with only a 4 man rush, which is a good sign for the rest of the season.
  • The ACC has been bad this year, and now Maryland has the ACC's worst out-of-conference loss (MTSU) and its best out-of-conference win (Cal).
  • A lot of the complaints about the coaching staff will obviously get a lot quieter following a huge win like this, but the Terps seem to go into a soft defense far to early in a lot of games. They let Cal get back into the game late because they didn't get any pressure and the defensive backs weren't able to break up enough passes. Chris Cosh needs to stick with what works instead of going conservative and letting a beaten opponent sniff a victory.
  • Obi Egekeze had a chance to really put the game away late with a short field goal that missed badly to the left. He's now 0-for-5 this season. Now, I know Nick Novak started out really bad before he became one of the great clutch kickers in Maryland history, but I think Egekeze is done. He has no confidence now and Fridge needs to start giving that freshman kicker some opportunities on extra points, at least.
  • The big question now for the Terps is which team will show up the rest of the season. Based on the past few seasons, we'll probably see a mixture of both. Maryland will lose some games they should win, but they'll also surprise some pretty good teams. Hopefully it will be enough to net a bowl game.
  • In the ACC this year, a victory like that is enough to make fans start thinking about a berth in the ACC Championship game. If the Terps play like they did today, that's not out of the question.
UPDATE: Mr. Irrelevant has a video of one of the best hits you'll see.

September 12, 2008

Week 2 NFL Picks

Brien (3-2-0)
Week 2, or "Overreaction Week" as I like to call it.  We don't know a whole lot more than we did in week 1, but a lot of people are going to take the one good data point they have (the week 1 results) and think they can extrapolate from there.  People who got killed betting last week will quickly jump ship to look for winners, and people who won big will think they've found this year's sleeper teams.  Vegas Watch  has a nice post on this phenomenon.

TAMPA BAY (-7.5) over Atlanta - This one has people overreacting both ways.  The Bucs didn't cover last week and the Falcons were surprisingly good.  

JACKSONVILLE (-5.5) over Buffalo - The Jags lost a tough game at Tennessee last week, but they're still one of the best teams in the AFC.

New England (+2) over NY JETS - The Jets looked good last week and the Pats lost Brady, but this line is absurd.

Baltimore (+5) over HOUSTON - The Ravens have to travel into a hurricane, but the Texans have family and friends affected by the storm.  (I may be overreacting to last week on this one)

Indianapolis (-2) over MINNESOTA - The Colts aren't nearly as bad as they looked last week.


Jason (2-3-0)

We still don't know anything, only now we can easily be tricked into THINKING we do. That makes Week 2 especially dangerous, but it also leads to some bargain lines.

Indianapolis (-2) over MINNESOTA - I expect Peyton to bounce back fast, even on the road.

New Orleans (+1) over WASHINGTON - This spread makes no sense, and that scares me. I just can't see the Skins' weak tackling keeping them in this.

Baltimore (+5) over HOUSTON - The change in time and date should affect Houston more than the Ravens. Those players have houses and family to worry about.

Atlanta (+7.5) over TAMPA BAY - Matt Ryan v. Griese? That's a toss-up.

DENVER (+1.5) over San Diego - Denver is for real. They may be the second best AFC team. If I were betting cash, this is the only game I'd bet, and I'd bet it hard.


Jeremy (3-2-0)

Week 2 always proves that we know less than we think we learned during Week 1.  Fortunately, Vegas is much in the same shoes as we are.  After a serviceable opening week, here we go:

New England (+2) over NEW YORK JETS - Matt Cassel didn't exactly have bad numbers when he took over for Brady.  The weapons are still there for him and it wasn't too hard for Favre to look good against the Dolphins.

DENVER (+1.5) over San Diego - Color me impressed when Jay Cutler puts up 41 points, even on Oakland.  No Merriman is a huge loss for the San Diego D, playing at altitude.

Green Bay (-3) over DETROIT - Color me impressed with Aaron Rodgers hanging tough against a tough Vikings defense.  This game will test the Pack's secondary, unlike their last game.

SEATTLE (-7.5) over San Francisco - This is a lot of points to give up, but San Francisco has proved that aside from Frank Gore, they are just friggin horrible.  I wish my boy Vernon Davis landed someplace better.

New Orleans (+1) over WASHINGTON - I hate picking against my team, but I'm confident in this pick unfortunately, even without Colston, because my eyes saw a Redskins team that played so piss poor on September 4 that not even 10 days was enough to get them where they need to be.

Magic 8 Ball (2-3-0)
New England (+2) over NEW YORK JETS - "My answer is no." (Jets won't beat spread)
San Diego (-1.5) over DENVER - "My answer is no." (Broncos won't beat spread)
Green Bay (-3) over DETROIT - "No." (Lions won't beat spread)
SEATTLE (-7.5) over San Francisco - "Signs point to yes." (Seahawks will beat spread)
WASHINGTON (-1) over New Orleans - "Signs point to yes." (Redskins will beat spread)

Russell (3-2-0)
This week is all about judging the effect of Week 1 injuries, and figuring out how seriously to take Week 1's results.

New England (+2) over NEW YORK JETS - I see the Pats circling the wagons for this one.  They might lose some games later in the year, but they'll be out to prove that they're still contenders this week.  The Jets don't have a good scouting report on Cassel, and Favre will be good for a couple turnovers.

Tennessee (+1) over CINCINNATI - Kerry Collins has looked quite good leading the Titans, and the Titans' victory last week over a good Jags team seems to have been lost in the hubbub about Vince.  Look for them to take advantage of a bad Bengals team.

Green Bay (-3) over DETROIT - Good team to beat a bad team.  Rodgers looked sharp and confident, while the Lions got gashed by the Falcons last week.

San Francisco (+7.5) over SEATTLE - At this rate, the Seahawks will be holding "Invincable" style tryouts at WR.  The offense already looked crippled last week at Buffalo, and now Burleson's out for the year too?  The 49ers defense is good enough to keep them close in this game, even if they don't win.

ARIZONA (-6.5) over Miami - Arizona was excellent at home last year even against top-notch competition, and I see no reason why that would change against lesser competition this year.  And yes, I picked a home team!

Final note: If you like the over/under bet, I really like the under (42.5) for the Saints/Skins game.

Brien - TB, JAX, NE, BAL, IND
Jason - IND, NO, BAL, ATL, DEN
Jeremy - NE, DEN, GB, SEA, NO
Russell - NE, TEN, GB, SF, ARI
Magic 8 Ball - NE, SD, GB, SEA, WAS

September 10, 2008

College Football Picks - Week 3

Well, last week turned out to have some pretty good football, even though the matchups didn't look wonderful at first. Here's to hoping the big name matchups turn out to actually be entertaining games. Some of the traditional rivalries aren't quite as exciting this year (ND - Michigan), while other non-conference matchups are taking top billing (USC - Ohio St.). Without further ado, on to the picks.

If Sumo between coaches mattered, KU would be #1

Kansas (+3.5) over USF
- The victors of the Orange Bowl appear to be close to full strength, and are on the road against a strong Big East team. Even with the loss of Talib, I think KU is the better team, and the emotional letdown after USF's huge rivalry game (and OT victory) vs. UCF should help also. As long as KU's defense can keep Grothe contained, chalk one up for the Jayhawks. Hope you don't have Friday night plans.

Georgia (-7) over SOUTH CAROLINA - SC looks impressive in bursts but just can't seem to capitalize on it. The loss at Vandy was pretty poor, and their best WR McKinley is questionable to play this week. Without him, UGA can really focus on the run. Look for the better team to win this one. Smelley's not good enough to beat Georgia in the air.

Can the old ball coach shock the Dawgs?

Michigan (-1) over NOTRE DAME - It warms my heart to see these two teams struggling this much. I used to like Michigan, but the whole Carr-Miles-RichRod thing didn't sit right with me. Anyway, neither of these teams is good at all, but Michigan's actually played decent teams and competed with them. SDSU lost to Cal Poly and then had a lead at ND in the 4th. I think ND might be as bad as they were last year (fingers crossed). We'll see.

Georgia Tech (+7.5) over VIRGINIA TECH - Honestly, this one seems too easy to pick, and I'm getting worried about it and maybe being biased. GT won on the road against what I thought was a solid BC team, while VT was up 3-0 at the half on Furman. GT's defense looks really sturdy, and I think they will shut down the struggling VT offense and give the triple-option time to have a few productive possessions. If VT wins this game, I think special teams will be a big part of it. This is definitely my upset pick of the week.

California (-14) over MARYLAND - Only 2 TD's? Really? Vegas must be putting a lot of stock in the Terps' claims that they overlooked MTSU. That's not what I saw. I hope I'm wrong.

The next in a long line of Heisman-winning USC QB's?

Big game of the week!
USC (-10) over Ohio State - USC's better at almost every position on the field, and OSU has really struggled in games against the top teams lately (look at their BCS record over the past few years). Also, USC had a bye week and is at home, while OSU struggled with Ohio and has a dinged RB. I honestly thought this spread would be over 20. Look for USC to pull away in the 2nd half, if it takes that long.

Last Week: 2-1-0
Season: 6-3-0

September 9, 2008

A Sensible Approach to Dealing with College Students

I watched with shock and disgust footage on this evening's Sportscenter of East Carolina University campus police brutalizing students who were storming the field following the ECU upset victory over West Virginia.

Especially sick here is the footage of the officers beating the ever-loving crap out of some student who appears to be on the ground, already surrounded by three or four officers.

Amateur video shot of officers cuffing kids and physically restraining them.

An officer who instead of taking the more passive approach and standing menacingly behind Skip Holtz to protect Holtz while Holtz is giving an interview stating how happy he is that the ECU students are on the field celebrating, opts to, well, bravely throttle some kids.

I have a feeling that this issue resonates especially close to home for Brien, Russell, J-Red and I. One of the ways the four of us got to know each other really well at The University of Maryland was because of our insane fandom for Maryland sports, leading us to frequent the very front row of the student section at Terp football and basketball games.

At one game, I believe early in the season in 2002, the Terps pulled out a very unlikely victory back before we knew we were good. That season, for those of you who don't recall, was the season that the Terps went on to win the ACC Championship. Following the unlikely victory, the students stormed the field. And much like the students in the videos above, many Maryland students who stormed the field that day got the absolute shit kicked out of them by "event staff." I use quotation marks because on that day, the "event staff" acted like nothing more than goons who happened to be wearing yellow slickers giving them field access and the right to use unbridled force against anybody who happened to come onto the field. There were students being body-slammed to the ground, students being swung around violently, and there were actually quite a few battered, bloodied, and injured Terp students. If memory serves, Brien may have been one of them.

Some commentators love to say that there is no place for rushing the field in the game of college football. Well, those commentators are totally out of touch with reality. The reality is this. When you're sitting in the very front row of a section that goes 52 rows deep, each section seating about 1,000 students, and all 1,000 students are pressing against the row in front of them readying to surge onto the field the second the QB takes that final knee, it HURTS to be in that front row bearing the weight and pressure of all the bodies behind you. And frankly and truthfully speaking, there is absolutely no way that you would actually survive if you didn't fall forward onto the field. If not, you're dead. Crushed. Suffocated. That's it. Don't believe me? You've never been there.

And unfortunately who are the first people who the event staff or campus police are going to grab when the field is stormed? Yup, you probably guessed it. It's those very first people onto the field - those from the very front rows who have no choice but to storm the field. I'll be honest and say that we probably wanted to storm the field anyway. But there was also no choice in the matter.

I am pleased with Scott Shelton, Chief of the ECU Police Department, who according to USA Today, has responded to the events as follows: "There is no denying what you saw on film is sickening in nature. You must treat people with dignity and respect. That is the attitude and demeanor our officers must have toward our fans." He has promised an investigation into all of the officers who were on the field that day, who apparently were made up of officers from multiple jurisdictions, not just ECU Campus Police.

I will applaud Maryland's efforts and approach to solving this issue. Now, if the students opt to charge the field at Byrd Stadium, event staff backs off and makes no effort to stop students from storming the field. However, event staff circle tightly around the goalposts and it's clearly understood by students, and event staff, that any student who ventures towards the goalpost does so at their own peril. Now, it's unlikely that Maryland students will have any reason to storm the field this year (I'll say it here to avoid the snide and inevitable comment). But the system works. Last year after the Boston College victory, me, my buddy Steve, and a lot of the young alumni in the Terrapin Club seating stormed the field along with the students. And it was a whole hell of a lot of fun. The players genuinely seemed to enjoy having the students out there. The students didn't get violent, didn't cause any problems, and knew their boundaries. Likewise, there was no observable problem in the interactions between students and event staff.

So bottom line is that for as disgusted as I am with the actions I saw police officers taking towards ECU students in those videos, especially because it hits so close to home, I am encouraged to hear that heads will likely roll and that policies at ECU will likely change. And to those who will inevitably say in the media that the students somehow deserved it for daring to storm the field - you're not only wrong, but you're stupid.

September 8, 2008

Lance Armstrong Coming Out of Retirement for 2009 Tour

In the biggest cycling news of the year, Lance Armstrong has decided to forego the pleasures of retirement and the company of hot celebrities to race the 2009 Tour de France. Reportedly, he will join the Astana team, and race a pretty full spring schedule including both major American races (California and Georgia) prior to the Tour next July. There are so many angles on this, it's hard to decide where to begin.

Get tired of kissing Kate Hudson, Lance?

First, can Lance still win? He's 37, and has been out of cycling for 3 years now. I know he's been doing marathons and mountain bike races, but it's not the same as road racing non-stop. That said, he's the best rider of our generation, and if he's back even close to his best form, he'll win next year.

Why is Lance coming back? Was Favre's victory in Week 1 that convincing? Or maybe the lack of a dominant star in the sport convinced him he could still win? Or maybe he wants to prove that he will pass the better drug tests? Or maybe he wants to give cycling another shot at his star power, to help it recover from all the doping scandals. Maybe we'll find out in the Vanity Fair article later this month, maybe never.

Lance might race until he runs out of fingers for his Tour titles.

Why team Astana? Astana is either the best or second-best professional cycling team right now, possibly behind CSC, but it did not ride in this year's Tour because of past doping issues, even though the current set of riders are clean. That current set of riders includes Alberto Contador, 2007 Tour champion, and Levi Leipheimer, perennial top-5 finisher and best American in the absence of Lance and Floyd. How will Lance fit in on a team with 2 stars already? Will he be a domestique for one of them, or will they pull the old man up Alpe d'Huez? Will it be an ongoing saga like it could have been this year for CSC with 3 riders in the top 6?

If this all happens, don't be swayed by poor results in the early races next year. Even in his prime, Lance never performed well in the warmup races, saving his best for the Tour. We won't know until the first mountain stages next July whether he still has it, but I can't wait.

Friedgen - Foot-in-Mouth Hall of Fame Inductee

"We have been to Northern Illinois. We have been to Eastern Michigan; had to pull that one out. Last year, we scored 14 points at FIU and went to sleep the rest of the game. Personally, I would rather play somebody pretty good, myself."
- Ralph Friedgen, University of Maryland
Nicely said Ralph. I think Cal probably feels the same way right about now. I mean, how stupid can you be? You say after the game that you're warning the team all week long leading up to the game about how this is on the road and a trap game. Yet you let this slip out of your mouth before the game? Yeah, somehow I'm guessing this found it's way up on the MTSU locker room bulletin board. Hypocrite? Check.
It's OK Ralph. You've just been inaugurated into the ECB Foot-in-Mouth Football Hall of Fame. Your selection for entry into the foot-in-mouth HOF is a true honor, bestowed upon those in sports who make a guarantee or statement that comes back to bite that speaker horribly in the ass, in the form of an embarrassing loss that makes it impossible that the speaker will ever be able to live down those words. Your colleagues from the world of football include:
"We want the ball, and we're gonna score."
- Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks
Delivered after the Seahawks won the coin toss in their divisional playoff game at Green Bay and the ref asked Matt, as captain of the Seahawks, whether they'd kick or receive in overtime. Well, at least Matt made the right decision to receive. Unfortunately, he didn't make the same decisions on the field and wasn't able to come through on the second part of his statement. That is, unless he was actually a Green Bay Packer. You see the above result of Hasselbeck's guarantee - he promptly threw a pick-6 to Al Harris of the Packers and the Seahawks season was over.
"We're going to win... Yeah, I can guarantee a win."
- Anthony Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers
Well Anthony... the Patriots did finish the season 16-0, not 15-1. And I seem to remember that the Patriots gained 399 passing yards and four touchdowns that game (well, not exactly offhand, with a little help from Google). Smith was a second-year safety for the Steelers when he made this statement about the Patriots juggernaut. Clearly from the picture above, during his rookie season, he did similar things to piss off the Steelers coaching staff. Only Bill Cowher reacted a little more emotionally than Mike Tomlin.

"This was brought to me by a mother... of children."
""Come after me! I'm a man! I'm 40!"
- Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State University
This doesn't quite fit the classic mold of an inductee to the ECB Foot-in-Mouth Hall of Fame. In fact, the quote was given after a win. But Mike Gundy (who many Terp fans may forget was a coach on the Terrapin staff under Ron Vanderlinden from 1997-2000), will never, ever, ever be able to live this down. In fact, just trust me... go to YouTube, find the video, and you'll get off to a chuckle on this Monday morning.
J-Red, Brien, Russell... did I miss anybody?

September 7, 2008

NFL Week 1 Quick Hitters

This was a great Week 1 in the NFL, with plenty of unexpected outcomes. Here are some quick hitters.

Welcome to the Show - That wisdom about letting QBs learn on the sidelines for three years is looking less and less brilliant. The Falcons' rookie QB Matt Ryan connected with Michael Jenkins on his first professional pass for a touchdown. The Ravens' rookie QB Joe Flacco played extremely well against the Bengals, avoiding any turnovers or sacks and turning a broken play into a 38-yard touchdown run. Flacco, pressed into premature service because of injuries to Kyle Boller and Troy Smith, should have had a more impressive win than the 17-10 final tally. Fellow rookie Ray Rice fumbled a pitch in the 4th quarter when the Ravens were in scoring range. Yamon Figurs had a punt return for a TD called back for a questionable block in the back call. Todd Heap dropped a TD pass in the end zone. Matt Stover missed a 40+ yard field goal attempt. This could have easily been 34-3.
blahblahblblahblah This goofball is undefeated as an NFL QB.

Friendly Faces in New Places - RB Michael Turner languished in the shadows of LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, but showed plenty of ability when he got onto the field. He made the most of his debut as the feature back in Atlanta, going for over 200 yards and three TDs. Brett Favre, of course, threw for two TDs in his Jets' debut. Chad Pennington, now a Dolphin, played well in the loss to Favre, though he threw a coffin-closing interception in the end zone in their loss. FB Lorenzo Neal, long the lead blocker for Tomlinson, is now a Raven. With Neal leading the way, the Ravens ran for 238 yards, including 86 for FB LeRon McClain (serving as the primary HB today) and 70 for rookie Ray Rice. He's had a lot to do with Flacco avoiding any sacks, too.

Don't Call It a Comeback - Remember when Donovan McNabb was a fantasy stud? Even without Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, McNabb exploded for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, giving three different receivers, Hank Baskett, rookie DeSean Jackson and Greg Lewis, 100-yard days. Five other receivers caught passes as well. Pittsburgh RB Willie Parker, believed to be a fantasy also-ran when the Steelers added Mendenhall, had 136 and three touchdowns. Parker and Mendenhall combined for 35 carries, proving that once again the Steelers will adapt with their tools. Favre, as described above, did well also. Ray Lewis stripped a fumble the Ravens and Chris McAllister had an interception. Arizona QB Kurt Warner started slow, but along with Edgerrin James led the Cardinals to a convincing win. Jake Delhomme led the Panthers back with a last-second touchdown, giving them a win that will look even better when Steve Smith returns.

We Don't Know Jack - Tom Brady is apparently out for the season. St. Louis' offense is apparently as inept as their D now. Home teams won for the most part, except on the West Coast. Actually, teams west of the Mississippi are winless except for the Cardinals, who got to play another West Coast team. The Louisiana Superdome is technically simultaneously east, west and north of the Mississippi, but it's on what is known as the East Bank of the river. Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville, Washington and Seattle do not look anything like potential playoff teams. Check back next week to see how little of that seems to matter.

Well, we can be sure of one thing. The Redskins made a HUGE mistake when they hired Jim Zorn...and then promoted him after failing to secure any of the head coaches they actually wanted. When asked in the locker room after the Skins' brain-meltingly boring loss to the Giants, Zorn was asked why the Skins weren't in a bigger hurry when they got the ball with about six minutes to go. First Zorn corrected Sonny Jurgensen, telling him there were eight minutes left. Then he explained that he didn't want to give the Giants the ball back with too much time. Umm, ok. Except the score was 16-7. This means one of three things - Zorn just wanted to cover the spread, Zorn thinks there is a nine-point play in pro football, or, and this is the theory that is gaining the most steam, Zorn thought 16 minus 7 is 8. Ouch. Not a good start in Zorn's stint coaching the "black and gold" (as he described the Skins when he was first hired). Now that I think about it, maybe he's just not very bright.

Photo credit - Dr. Ralph Lebron
News of the Weird - Chad Javon Ocho Cinco nee Johnson got approval from the NFL to have his new legal name on his back. As you can see in the photo above, he wore that name in warmups. Unfortunately, the league forgot to check with their bosses, the sponsors. Reebok apparently has a contractual commitment from Chad that requires Johnson goes on his back. In the game, he wore his former surname.

In other news, the Ravens scored on a true double reverse. Flacco faked a handoff left to Rice (Direction 1), he then turned and gave the ball to a receiver coming on an end around to the right (Direction 2). That receiver pitched the ball to WR Mark Clayton moving right to left (Direction 3) who scored thanks to a nice block downfield from Flacco.

The Bills scored two touchdowns on special teams. One came the traditional way from a Roscoe Parrish return. The other came on a fake field goal, with punter Brian Moorman throwing a TD pass to a defensive end. It was the first TD pass by a punter in half a decade.

Brady Out for Season with ACL

Following the low hit on Tom Brady's left leg, reports are surfacing that Tom Brady has a torn ACL and might not play again this year. This changes the entire landscape of the NFL season before the first weekend is even over.

Left legs don't bend that way naturally. (AP Photo)

First, I don't think you can rule out the Patriots immediately. Cassel looked sharp in relief of Brady, and there's obviously a good supporting cast if you're able to win 18 straight last year. Cassel can just throw it deep and Moss will come down with it half the time. But seriously, Cassel has had a lot of time backing up some really good QBs (Leinart, Palmer, Brady), so if he can execute on the things he's learned, the Pats will still win a lot of games. Don't forget they have a really easy schedule.

Can Cassel flex his muscles as the Pats starter?

So with the Patriots vulnerable, who stands to benefit the most? The obvious thought is the Colts and Chargers, the best two other teams in the AFC the last couple years. If Cassel's starting in the playoffs, you have to think that tilts things in their favor. More immediately, the Jets and Bills can start thinking about the division. The Jets with the ageless Favre host the limping Pats next week, and that game will be extremely telling for both teams.

The other losers are the fantasy owners. Tom Brady was a first or second round pick in every league and his loss will be crippling to most of those teams.

If this happens on the first week, what can we expect the rest of the year?