Friday, January 11, 2008

NFL Picks: Divisional Round

Apologies for the lack of postings. My brain has been in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. This isn’t a political blog, so I’ll quit there.

We have a set of four good games this weekend. Anything can happen, and probably will.

Last Week: 3-1
Season: 173-79

Jacksonville at New England: Patriots return after a bye week as 13 ½ point favorites over a good Jacksonville team. The scary thought: Vegas is probably right. The Jaguars are solid, but they can’t stop the Pats on a cold January night in Foxboro. Pick: Patriots

San Diego at Indianapolis: The Chargers have had a nice run, including a crazy win over the Colts earlier in the season in San Diego. However, the jig ends here. The Colts are rested and relatively healthy, while the Chargers are missing their leading receiver, TE Antonio Gates. Colts win. Pick: Indianapolis

Seattle at Green Bay: The Packers have been the surprise of the year. Brett Favre has had a season for the ages. The Seahawks have kept a low profile in the Northwest, but pounded the Redskins last week. The visiting team usually wins one of these games. This is the best chance for that. Pick: Seattle

New York Giants at Dallas: The Cowboys have swept both games this year. Dallas now comes off of a virtual two-week layoff, having rested several starters in the season-ending game against Washington. The Giants have shown strength in the last two weeks, playing the Patriots tough two weeks ago, and getting a road win in Tampa last week. They have a good chance to win this week. But, did Tony Romo have too much fun in Cabo last week? I don’t think so. Pick: Dallas

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Coaching Carousel, Part 3

It’s been a few weeks since this blog covered the coaching merry-go-round, but the hires are almost complete. What are some of these schools doing? Actually, some of them improved their programs in the process. Here are a few schools with new football coaches:

UCLA: The Bruins fired Karl Dorrell and brought Rick Neuheisel back to Westwood, where he won a Rose Bowl as quarterback. Neuheisel drug Colorado (probation) and Washington (small-time NCAA tournament pool) into the mud, but went into the NFL as an assistant coach before getting the UCLA gig. Neuheisel will recruit well and coach well. UCLA is neither a small-time, nor big-time football program. Think USC basketball. SC is getting better in hoops in the shadow of UCLA. UCLA will improve in football in spite of crosstown rival USC.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers went through a soap opera after the departure of Rich Rodriguez. WVU was rumored to be chasing Terry Bowden, Florida State assistant Jimbo Fisher, and Florida assistant Doc Holliday. All of them had West Virginia connections, but none were able to win the favor of all of the different factions of boosters. The governor even got into the search process. Meanwhile, the team went to the Fiesta Bowl and thumped Oklahoma. The following morning, interim head coach Bill Stewart became the permanent head coach. While one night in Arizona made the school’s search easier, will this help the ‘Eers long term? The jury is still out on that one. The coaching graveyard is littered with the carcasses of “players’ coaches” who rode the players’ sentiments to a permanent gig, only to be fired a few years later. Still, West Virginia should be one of the top two schools in the Big East every year.

SMU: This is the home run. The Mustangs waited almost two months after firing Phil Bennett, but were able to hire June Jones away from Hawaii. Jones performed a miracle in the islands, taking Hawaii from 0-12 to a BCS bowl in nine years. This was done with inferior facilities and a very low recruiting budget. The recruiting budget at Hawaii was so low, their coaches could not personally visit recruits on the mainland. Jones tried for years to get raises for his assistants and to improve their facilities. When the administration attempted to put the BCS bowl money into the general fund, Jones balked. Enter SMU, with $2 million per year of old Dallas money. Jones now gets to perform the impossible: turning SMU into a winner. If the administration on the Hilltop cooperates with him, he can do just that. This hire appears to be well worth the wait for the Mustangs.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Same Song, Second Verse

In another uneventful BCS national championship game, the LSU Tigers became the first two-time BCS national champion, with a 38-17 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State was drilled for the second time in a row in the BCS national championship game. This was the Buckeyes’ third appearance in the championship game in six years. Most schools would kill for that kind of success. But, it’s a Ricky Bobby world out there. Meaning, if you’re not first, you’re last.

It has become obvious that the Big Ten is not preparing tOSU for the next level. Ohio State has become the cream of a so-so Big Ten crop. However, when they get to a bowl game, they run into the brick wall known as the SEC. tOSU is now 0-9 in bowl games against the SEC.

LSU was a team of density. Actually, they were a team of destiny. The Tigers won several close games, and lost two games in triple overtime.

Monday, January 07, 2008

NFL Highway, Wild Card Weekend

The NFL highway has turned into a dead end for all but eight teams. What happened in the wonderful world of professional football this weekend?

On Saturday, the Washington Redskins did the expected and laid an egg in the Great Northwest, losing to Seattle, 35-14. The Seahawks returned two interceptions for touchdowns in this game. The Seahawks earned a trip to Mike Holmgren’s former home in Green Bay to face the Packers. Seattle is flying under the radar, but is a team to be reckoned with.

The best game of the weekend was Saturday night in Pittsburgh. There was no snow, only cold weather. Jacksonville won at Heinz Field for the second time in four weeks, 31-29. The Jaguars had a 28-10 lead in the third quarter. Pittsburgh came back with a vengeance, even taking a 29-28 lead before Jacksonville was able to earn a field goal and the victory. The Jags now earn the privilege of a Saturday night game in beautiful Foxboro, Massachusetts against the New England Patriots.

Another road team won on Sunday, as the New York Football Giants flexed their muscle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a 24-14 victory. Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes for the Giants. The G-men now get a chance to play the Dallas Cowboys for the third time next Sunday at the stadium with a hole in the roof. The Bucs had the automatic bid from the NFC South, the NFL’s equivalent to the Mid-American Conference. They were promptly dispatched by a team from the greatest division in football, the NFC East, winners of 10 and participants in 18 Super Bowls.

In Sunday’s nightcap, the San Diego Chargers struggled for the first two and a half quarters against the Tennessee Titans. The Chargers finally broke through for two touchdowns, and won their first playoff game in 13 years with a 17-6 win over the Titans. LaDainian Tomlinson was held to 42 yards on 21 carries, but the Chargers were able to win in spite of that. The Chargers move on to a date on Sunday with Peyton Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis.