October 17, 2009

Maryland to the Big East? An Examination.

Over the summer, there was some idle chatter about the possibility of Maryland moving to the Big East. Such a move couldn't take place until 2015, at the earliest.

As a lifelong Marylander and proud Terp, my initial reaction to this was shock and horror. Maryland is a charter member of the ACC, dating back to 1953. Prior to that, we had been a member of the Southern Conference, along with Wake, Duke, NC State, UNC, Clemson, Duke, and South Carolina (South Carolina came to the ACC in 1953 and left in 1971). My point is simply that for the better part of nine decades, Maryland has been in the same athletic conference as five of their current ACC brethren. Maryland's athletic history is indelibly interwoven with the Demon Deacons, the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack, the Tigers, and the Blue Devils.

The more I got to thinking about this, and the more I discussed this with friends who have attended Big East schools, the more it begins to make sense from a fan's perspective. Here's why, I submit to you ECB readers, a move to the Big East might not be so horrific.

Football

The Big East presently has eight teams for football, seven of them are set forth above (University of South Florida is the outlier down in Tampa). The Terps would be very much geographically in the middle of the conference with UConn, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, WVU, Cincinnati, and Louisville. There would be four road schools within an easy drive to go to away games (Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, WVU), and there would be a road trip to a nice warm weather destination (Tampa).

More importantly, as stated, presently the Big East has 8 teams for football. The Terps would add a ninth team. One of the best things about the ACC pre-expansion was the 9-team league, which meant that every year you played all 8 other teams and rotated home-away each season with those 8 teams. Joining the Big East would bring this back for the Terps.

ACC football is mired in mediocrity (as is the Big East). There wouldn't really be anything lost by going to the Big East. In fact, the lack of a conference championship game in the Big East might make it easier for the Terps to make a long shot BCS appearance, just as the Terps were able to do in 2002, pre-ACC expansion.

Also, in football, the Terps have no true "rival." UVA is the closest thing that Maryland has. I could easily see the Terps forming a football rivalry with Syracuse, another school with a historically strong football program, who lacks a football "rival" in-conference. Think about it - trading ACC football for Big East football - not so horrible.

Basketball


Now this is where we get very sensitive, as Terps fans. We care like nothing else for ACC basketball. We treasure our history in the 70s against NC State. We treasure our rivalry games of late against Duke and UNC. Our history as Terp basketball fans is measured by watching those ACC tournament games in Greensboro Coliseum.
spacer
But I ask you to take a second and look at those teams above. Yes, I know, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Rutgers, South Florida, and DePaul don't do too much for you as a college basketball fan. But neither likely do Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, or Miami.
spacer
How about these teams - Syracuse, Villanova, St. Johns, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, and Pitt - does that spur your interest as a college basketball fan? As much as Duke, UNC, NC State, and Wake Forest? How about a conference tournament every year in Madison Square Garden in New York? Does that inspire you as much, if not more, than a rotating conference tournament that returns to Greensboro every other year and goes to Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte, and the highly occasional stop in DC in the other years? I do have some concern that the Big East tournament doesn't invite every team. However, if you're so low in the conference that you're not getting invited to the tournament, you'd probably lose the first game of any conference tournament in the country, including the ACC Tourney.
spacer
For recruiting purposes, I think we wouldn't have any problem getting kids as inspired to come play for a Big East school as we do getting them inspired to play for an ACC school. For rivalry purposes, can you even begin to fathom the animosity that a Terps-Georgetown basketball rivalry would create? It would make the Terps-Duke relationship suitable for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. We wouldn't lose any television exposure, in fact we'd likely gain television exposure.
spacer
The ACC has truly suffered in basketball post-expansion. The Big East has gained. My one concern is it's almost unwieldy size. So, you separate into Big East North and Big East South and you play half the teams home-and-home (twice a year) and the other half of the teams once a year, alternating home and road year-by-year. It could work.
spacer
Lacrosse
Bet you didn't think about this one, did you? Let's talk about it. The ACC presently has a four-team lacrosse league, comprised of UNC, Duke, UVA, and the Terps. There is even a four-team conference tournament at the end of the season. A Big East lacrosse league could easily be formed with Notre Dame, Syracuse, Georgetown, Rutgers, and Maryland. I don't think any Terp lacrosse fans would mind getting to play Syracuse every season. In fact, I think we'd gladly give up our ACC schedule for any schedule that gave us Syracuse on the calendar every season.
So, there we have it - some of the case (a blog post that explains in full detail would be way longer than appropriate for this blog) why in my own mind, after much deliberation, I conclude that a move by the Terps from the ACC to the Big East might not necessarily be so horrific - it might actually be desirable. I know that many Terp fans will claim heresy at this one. That's part of our job as bloggers, I suppose.

October 16, 2009

NFL Week 6 Picks

Wow, aside from maybe two games on the schedule, Week 6 brutalizes us with some horrible football games.  The only thing that could make it palatable for 90% of NFL fans is playing fantasy or having money on the game.  Which is where we come in...

Brien (14-11-0)
With that slow start behind me, I managed to take the lead this week.  That means I'm due for an 0-5 week.

CINCINNATI (-4.5) over Houston - The Bengals are actually looking pretty good this year, even though I don't think they'll manage to win the division.

Carolina (-3.5) over TAMPA BAY - This is a battle of some awful teams, but I have to believe the Panthers are better than the Bucs.

Denver (+4) over SAN DIEGO - The Broncos are undefeated, both straight up and against the spread, and they're getting points?  Yes, please.

ATLANTA (-3.5) over Chicago - The Falcons' win over the 49ers really impressed me.

Arizona (+2.5) over SEATTLE - The only wins the Seahawks have are over really, really bad teams.


Jason (13-12-0)

I ate it this past week with a 1-4. A ton of home favorites this week.

PITTSBURGH (-14) over Cleveland - Most years, these two teams play each other in surprisingly close games. I have a bad feeling that Mendenhall has finally gotten his sea legs back though.

Denver (+4) over SAN DIEGO - Okay, I'll believe in Denver just long enough for them to lay an egg on national television.

NY Giants (+3.5) over NEW ORLEANS - This should be a great game, but the extra half point puts me towards the Giants.

NEW ENGLAND (-9) over Tennessee - New England has had back-to-back tough games, but I think this is a good punching bag.

Philadelphia (-14) over OAKLAND - Philly is all business right now.



Jeremy (10-15-0)

Finally the type of week that ECB readers have come to expect from Jeremy.  4-1.  Marching back towards respectability.

Kansas City (+6.5) over WASHINGTON - Your WTF line of the week.  Or maybe the line that Vegas hopes catches people who base their bets purely on the team's won-loss record and not actual strength of team. 

SEATTLE (-2.5) over Arizona - Seattle is not an easy road game and the Seahawks looked like a completely different team with Hasselbeck under center last week.

CINCINNATI (-4.5) over Houston - I would have expected a much larger line on this game with the Bengals being home and playing as well as they have been. 

MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Baltimore - I was very tempted to pick the Ravens to win outright until I remembered just how bad Brett Favre will likely pick apart the Ravens' secondary (25th in the league in pass defense).

Philadelphia (-14) over OAKLAND - This is a huge line for an East Coast team to cover that has to travel 3,000 miles and play in the Black Hole.  However, expect the Eagles multi-faceted offense to feast on the Raiders nonexistent defense.


Magic 8 Ball (8-17-0)
Finally a week above .500 for the Magic 8 Ball.

WASHINGTON (-6.5) over Kansas City - "My sources say yes." (Redskins will beat the spread)
SEATTLE (-2.5) over Arizona - "My sources say yes." (Seahawks will beat the spread)
Houston (+4.5) over CINCINNATI - "Don't count on it." (Bengals won't beat the spread)
MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Baltimore - "Yes." (Vikings will beat the spread)
Philadelphia (-14) over OAKLAND - "Don't count on it." (Raiders won't beat the spread)


Russell (12-13-0)
And that's the type of week our readers know to expect from me in NFL picks. 1-4.  Sliding back toward the basement.

Kansas City (+6.5) over WASHINGTON
- After a 9-7 victory over the Rams and a loss to Carolina, the Skins shouldn't be favored over anyone.

Denver (+4) over SAN DIEGO
- Either the Broncos lose or this pick is right.  Either way, I win.

NY JETS (-9.5) over Buffalo
- What does a 6-3 loss to the Browns mean to you?  Obviously, the no-huddle offense was not the answer, with or without TO.

MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Baltimore
- If everyone knows how bad the Ravens' nickel and dime corners are, don't you think Brett will take advantage of that?

SEATTLE (-2.5) over Arizona
- The Seahawks may turn out to be the best-kept secret in the league.  And the Cards haven't impressed lately.

Recap
Brien: CIN, CAR, DEN, ATL, ARI
Jason: PIT, DEN, NYG, NE, PHI
Jeremy: CIN, MIN, PHI, SEA, KC
Russell: NYJ, MIN, DEN, SEA, KC




October 15, 2009

An Instant "Fix" for the Ravens at Cornerback

The Ravens remain solid in the front seven, even if the defense is getting accustomed to new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Both safeties are strong too, with All-Pro Ed Reed supported by Dawan Landry. The corners though....oh the corners.


The Ravens rely on Dominique Foxworth and Fabian Washington (formerly of the Broncos and Raiders respectively) as their starting cornerbacks. Samari Rolle is still on the PUP list, presumably still trying to find the right mix on his epilepsy medication. Chris McAllister is persona non grata in Baltimore, for reasons known only to the staff and team.

It's Week 6, and the Ravens have a problem. They aren't accustomed to giving up points, but with these cornerbacks, that could be an issue. One fix would be to send riskier blitz packages, but that obviously would leave them open to big strikes. Plus, the new quarterback protection rules add many opportunities to pick up 15-yard penalties through no fault of the pass rusher.

But there is a man formerly known as Pacman.

Adam Jones was last seen with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, but they cut ties with him last month after he made comments referring to the league as the United Football League. He also was vocal about his desire to skip out on the CFL as soon as an NFL team called.

Yeah, he has some problems. Lots and lots and lots of problems. He doesn't seem very bright, and he doesn't seem like he has fully learned his lessons. He should be humbled by his fall, but as recently as last month, he was still putting his foot in his mouth.

But, he can play. He can probably play now, and he is probably better than what the Ravens have. Is he worth the headache? Who knows? Michael Vick certainly didn't cause the uproar that was predicted. Some others have settled in and fallen back under the radar. If Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can hold Jones in check, maybe he is the answer.

October 14, 2009

NFL's Most Annoying Fans - NFC West

This is the second in a running feature at ECB. We'll be rating NFL Fanbases by annoyingness and picking a winner for each division. After that, we'll select wild card teams, and have ourselves a little playoff. If you have suggestions for upcoming divisions or wildcard selections, send them to [email protected]


St. Louis Rams


Quick Reaction: Seriously, Google Image the phrase "St. Louis Rams fans" and see what you get. You find one picture of St. Louis fans holding fake Lombardi trophies from a 1999 home game and a few pictures of St. Louis fans wearing paper bags on their heads at a road game in Arizona last year. That's it. That about says it all.

Rams fans enjoyed the "Greatest Show on Turf" and a Super Bowl win. They were out in droves after the team moved from L.A. and replaced the relocated Cardinals. Lately they've suffered nothing but pain, victimized by the fact that Kyle Boller is their fill-in starting QB and now dealing with a bid by Rush Limbaugh to purchase the team. And the worst part for the Rams is that even a 2-14 or 1-15 finish this year might not get them the #1 overall pick next year.

We feel for Rams fans. That's why we'll just give them the picture above and end this discussion.


Arizona Cardinals


Quick Reaction: It's understandable that the Cardinals had trouble filling Sun Devil Stadium in September when it was 110+ degrees and fans got to sit on metal bleachers. However, the above picture was taken at a game in November. Arizona in November = beautiful.

Suddenly the Cardinals become decent, enjoy a flash-in-the-pan 9-7 season and Super Bowl appearance and the NFL can't sell Boldin and Fitzgerald jerseys fast enough. I'd venture to guess most Cardinals "fans" couldn't tell you where the team used to be located. Or who Kurt Warner won a prior Super Bowl with.

Wait until the 6-10 seasons start up again. That flashy new stadium will only be filled for Super Bowl games.


San Francisco 49ers


Quick Reaction: You really do have to admire 49ers fans, even though there are many jokes that I could make about the picture above given San Francisco's stereotypical acceptance of alternative lifestyles and the presence of 9 men squeezing up against each other while wearing leather.

They stuck with the team through the really down late 90s and 2000s after the insanely good Montana and Steve Young years. They still fill the decrepit Candlestick Park (formerly Monster Park, formerly 3Com Park, formerly Candlestick Park) Sunday in and Sunday out.

And 49ers fans can take solace that no matter how bad things get, Al Davis is safely ensconsced across the Bay in Oakland, running that team into the ground.


Seattle Seahawks


Quick Reaction: You'd think that Seahawks fans would be latte-sipping alt-rock loving peaceniks. Not so fast, my friends.

Seahawks fans turn Qwest Field into one of the loudest, if not the loudest and hostile venues for opposing teams to visit. A friend of mine who visited Qwest Field for a Redskins-Seahawks game a few years ago swears that he was treated more harshly by Seahawks fans than Eagles fans. Not in terms of physical assaults, but in terms of constant verbal barrage of creative and well-thought-out insults, both personal and addressing the Redskins.

Plus, there's serious Microsoft money behind the Seahawks. I'm a PC, so I like that.


The Big Winner

Arizona Cardinals -
In a division that is largely irrelevant and not known for its rabid fanbases, somebody has to be the "winner." We at ECB have no tolerance for bandwagon fans who couldn't give the time of day to a team for year after year, then suddenly profess long-standing fandom for that team as soon as they enjoy a modicum of success.

Next week one of us will tackle the AFC South.

College Football Picks - Week 7

More on time this week, the Red River rivalry, Touchdown Jesus vs. the Spoiled Children, and the battle of the Techs highlight the schedule.

Cincinnati (-2.5) over SOUTH FLORIDA - USF's best two victories are over FSU and Syracuse. While the Noles used to be good, they're not what they used to be. The Bearcats roll in this game, continuing my projection that they will win the Big East again.

Pitt (-3) over RUTGERS - This spread is ridiculous. Rutgers is 4-1 with victories over Howard, FIU (by 8), Maryland, and Texas Southern. Meanwhile, Pitt has beaten L'ville, UConn, and Navy, and lost a close game to NC State. Until Rutgers can pass the ball against a legitimate opponent, they'll get crushed like they did against the Bearcats.

Oklahoma (+3.5) over TEXAS - The Horns are struggling to run the ball and struggling to beat lesser opponents. Check out their scores at halftime vs Wyoming and Colorado. Meanwhile, the Sooners have Bradford back and have lost to 2 very good teams.

NOTRE DAME (+10) over Usc - The best programs don't rebuild, they reload. But this year, USC is taking a little longer than normal to get back to form. Claussen and the Irish are good enough to keep this close, with a little help from Touchdown Jesus and the home crowd.

Virginia (-3.5) over MARYLAND - Virginia dominated a BCS conference opponent last week. Maryland was down 35-10 at the half. I'm not sure Wake is that much better than Indiana. Even Maryland's victory over Clemson wasn't particularly convincing, and losing to Rutgers... see my thoughts on Rutgers above.

Virginia Tech (-3) over GEORGIA TECH - The concern here is GT's defense. 44 pts to FSU with zero stops in the first half, ugliness vs Miami, a couple bad quarters against Clemson... I don't anticipate the option putting up 49 on the Hokies' D, so Derrick Morgan and the rest of the Wreck defense need to have the game of their lives to stay in the ACC Championship discussion. Otherwise Ryan Williams and Tyrod will run wild in Atlanta.

Stanford (+4.5) over ARIZONA - I still like the Cardinal even after a pounding by the Beavers.

Last week: 5-3
Season: 22-20

October 12, 2009

Throwing a Flag on Excessive Celebration



Much has been made in recent weeks about stupid penalties for excessive celebration in college football that have had a direct impact on the games.

You want to talk about truly excessive celebration? Well, I ask you, what do each of the pictures above have in common? No, they are not pictures of the Angels and Yankees celebrating winning their respective division titles. Yes, they are pictures from the aftermath of games yesterday wherein the Angels and Yankees both clinched victories in the WILD CARD ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS.

All that the Angels and Yankees clinched yesterday was the right to play for the right to play in the World Series. That's it. They clinched getting into the second round out of three of the MLB playoffs.

In what other professional sport does this type of idiocy take place? Answer - none. You don't see teams giving the coach a Gatorade bath and shooting off champagne following a wild card round victory in the NFL. You don't see NHL teams shooting off champagne in the locker room following any other round of the playoffs but for the Stanley Cup. Occasionally an NBA team will spray champagne around the locker room for making it to the NBA finals. Or maybe because it's a routine Saturday night. Hell, even in the NCAA's, they cut down the nets for making it to the Final Four, but that's only after they've made it through four rounds of the tournament.

So Major League Baseball, stop already. Really the only people who you're keeping happy are the California vintners. To the rest of us, you look like a bunch of morons.

October 11, 2009

Proof the NFL Is Completely Unpredictable

The miracle tipped-ball touchdown scored by Brandon Stokely in Week 1 to lift the Broncos over the Bengals might decide home field advantage in the AFC.

Ravens Victimized by Referee's Objective Error Again

Every team's fans gripe about officiating, especially when they've lost a couple. The Ravens, though, have been the victims of two officiating mistakes that resulted not from a judgment call, but from a blatant misapplication of the rules.


In today's game against Cincinnati, Joe Flacco completed a short pass to receiver Mark Clayton on the right side of the field. Clayton was brought down at the 25, losing the ball as his knee struck the ground. The officials correctly ruled him down by contact, and the play was upheld on review. In the replay, Clayton clearly was tackled directly on the breast cancer awareness ribbon at the 25 yard line.

Referee Terry McAuly is the culprit this time.

When the ball was spotted after the review, the officials placed it at the 20, not the 25. The Ravens faced 3rd and 16, rather than 3rd and 11. Cincinnati promptly jumped offsides, which should have resulted in a Ravens 3rd and 6 at the 30. The Ravens, with a 3rd and 11 deep in their own end, failed to convert and had to punt with 2:44 remaining.

Would they have converted the 3rd and 6 and sustained a scoring drive? Who can say? The point is that there is absolutely no excuse for a seven-man on-field officiating crew to steal yards from a team. They didn't even place the ball at the previous line of scrimmage, they actually placed it one yard farther back. Had the Ravens lodged a protest, the league might have been placed in the embarrassing position of having to replay the game from that point forward.

Last year, the Ravens also suffered an objectively incorrect application of the rules. In the fourth quarter, Kerry Collins and the Titans were driving to try to take the lead. Check out the official gamebook explanation of the game-changing play:

(5:57) (Shotgun) 5-K.Collins pass incomplete deep right to 19-J.McCareins. PENALTY on BLT-55-T.Suggs, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at TEN 20 - No Play. Penalty on TEN-71-M.Roos, False Start, superseded.

No, that isn't what was called. The officials called Suggs for roughing the passer after he grazed Collins' helmet. The play never happened. There was a false start. By definition, there cannot be a roughing the passer call on a play that never happened, and thus no pass was thrown. We see flags picked up all the time for fouls that occurred after a dead ball foul, such as a false start or delay of game. Some personal fouls can be assessed even if they occur between plays, but not one where the condition precedent is that the quarterback throws a valid forward pass.

Not only did the officials blow the call and the interpretation, the NFL actually manipulated the gamebook to make the call look like unnecessary roughness, which would have been valid.

With the 15 yards (a 15-yard penalty supersedes a 5-yard penalty) and the automatic first down, the drive stayed alive and the Titans won.

How will the NFL change the gamebook this time? As it stands right now, this is the official entry from today's game:

(3:01) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass short right to 89-M.Clayton to BLT 20 for -1 yards (41-C.Ndukwe). Cincinnati challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was Upheld. (Timeout #2.)

Let's see what happens. I'll check it next Sunday.

Ravens Lose to Bengals Before Game Starts

How do you lose a game before the opening kickoff? The Ravens came into today's home game against the Cincinnati Bengals with an offensive game plan that aimed to stay away from Cincinnati's strength - cornerback Leon Hall, instead of playing to their own strengths. Derrick Mason was targeted zero times. The entire offensive consisted of delayed handoffs to Ray Rice and short passes to Rice and Heap. Other than a play made entirely by Rice, the offense was worthless all day, relying on Ed Reed's interception return for a touchdown.


The bottom line is that the Ravens should have respected that the Bengals had played four close games already. This is not a game they wanted in 13-10 or 17-14 range. They wanted this game in the 20s or 30s. By playing conservatively, the Ravens put their suspect secondary one breakdown away from losing for the entire game.

In fact, they want every game in the 20s and 30s this year. The Ravens have very good depth at every position except DB. In nickelback situations, the Ravens are forced to put Chris Carr and Frank Walker on the field. Carr contributed an illegal contact and Walker contributed a pass interference on Carson Palmer's last 80-yard game-winning drive.

Of course, the officiating was again atrocious. On the game-winning drive, Ochocinco literally tackled Dominique Foxworth on an overthrown ball. I mean he actually wrapped him up and took him down. In the second quarter, following a failed Cincinnati challenge, the officials inexplicably misspotted the ball at the 20 rather than the 25. The announcers were all over it, but no one on the Ravens sideline was jumping up and down.

It is possible the Ravens did not give the Bengals's front seven adequate respect in planning this game. Marvin Lewis has what he's been searching for since arriving in Cincinnati. He now has playmakers on all three levels of the defense, Odom on the line, Maleuga as a backer, and Leon Hall in the secondary. Every great defense either has one playmaker on each level, or three playmakers in one level. The Bengals have the formula, and a healthy Carson Palmer with a viable running game. They are a real threat to win 10-12 games this season, plus they've now beaten Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh let the officials and New England beat them twice. That cannot continue if they hope to go the places they expect to go this season.