All posts by Hayden Grove

Semi-Farewell to More Than a Fan

Well, the time has finally come. After just about two wonderful years, my “full” time role at More Than A Fan is coming to a close. As I begin a chapter anew as the Assistant Sports Director at BuckeyeTV- Ohio State’s television network- I will still be posting intermittently and will still be hosting Time and Change for the duration of Ohio State’s basketball season, but my thrice-or-twice weekly musings will be coming to an end.

For nearly two years, I’ve opined and whined on these hallowed pages and in doing so have been incredibly blessed with an opportunity that few could dream of.

I’d first like to start the seemingly endless but completely necessary thank you’s with More Than A Fan’s fearless leader, Josh Flagner.

Josh, you’ve allowed me to do just about anything I’ve desired in the realm of journalism over the past two years and it was truly an opportunity I’ll never get again. Most wouldn’t have put that trust in me, or anyone else for that matter, but you did. I know that decision changed my life and I hope that decision changed More Than a Fan for the better. I certainly think it did.

I owe just about everything I become- which may be something, but may also be nothing- to you. Thank you really isn’t enough. As I watch this website grow into a multi-faceted empire, it’s a testament to the man that you are. I’m truly in awe of this fortress you’ve built and I’m truly blessed to be a part of it.

While it was almost just you at the start, there was certainly another guy who came a long and played just as big a role in the maturation of More Than a Fan as anyone. I owe that man so much as well.

Damien, thank you for taking me under your wing. Upon the moment we met, you were always there for me, continued to teach me and included me in just about every way possible. You’ve helped me as much as anyone and have been there every step of the way, should I have needed anything. Again, thank you doesn’t really say enough.

You’ve certainly taken this website to the next level along with Josh and again, it is truly a testament to your work ethic and diligence. I have no doubt that as long as you are on the staff, More Than a Fan will continue to grow in leaps and bounds. Who knows, at this rate, maybe I’ll be along for the ride in the future as More Than A Fan becomes a national powerhouse… I hope you’d still have me around then.

Dan and Jeff, it’s a shame we didn’t get to work more closely than we did, but I’m so lucky to say I’ve worked with both of you guys in any capacity. Part of the reason I’ve loved working for Josh and Damien is that they understand who to bring in to make More Than A Fan a better place. When both of you were on board, I knew things would take a significant hike in the right direction. Congrats on all of your successes and I’m supremely confident, now that you’re on board, that More Than A Fan might have the best group of editors on the planet.

To my fellow writers, while Josh and Damien and Jeff and Dan are absolutely great, it is you guys who make the site what it is today. While it would be an incredibly fun activity to take part in, the daily lives of the fearsome foursome above don’t constitute what gets this site going. Instead, More Than a Fan runs on your hard work, your creativity and your analysis. It’s you guys and your incredible capacity to put out entertaining and intellectual work week-after-week that keep this site afloat and keep it’s popularity very, very high. I know that putting in all of this time and effort is incredibly hard to do without compensation, yet you guys do it with a burning passion that we’d never see from those who are paid. It has been an absolute pleasure writing, editing and talking with you on this journey.

Finally, to you, the readers of More Than a Fan, thank you, thank you, thank you. Gosh almighty I can’t say it enough, thank you enough for all of your unending support. At times you’ve been critical of my ideas, but in each and every instance you’ve been there, helping me each step of the way. From my first ever post on the site to this, my last of my regularly scheduled posts on the site, you guys have been here reading away and supporting young, naive up-and-comers like myself. When I said that the writers at More Than a Fan are the life bread that keeps everything afloat… I lied. Without a readership, More Than a Fan would be nothing. Without you, More Than a Fan doesn’t exist and More Than a Fan certainly doesn’t reach the tremendous heights that it has today. Thank you, thank you, thank you… a million times thank you… for reading, listening to and watching my work over the past couple of years. Your input has only helped me to become a better writer and has certainly helped me to cope with the challenges that come with putting myself out in the public realm. You all are really, truly amazing.

As this chapter takes a different turn, because it’s not quite over yet, I can’t wait to see what new things await in the near future for More Than a Fan. This website is truly something that I was/am incredibly proud and honored to be a part of and I hope that will only increasingly become the case as time goes on.

Josh, Damien, Jeff, Dan, fellow writers and readers of More Than a Fan, when I’m back in Cleveland (or if you’re ever in Columbus) for an extended period of time, we all have to grab some beers (I’ll be 21!). While you guys may not enjoy a young whippersnapper like me, I have certainly always enjoyed being around you.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this very special MTAF family. It’s been a journey for which I’ll be forever grateful.

 

The Campus Corner: The Indianapolis Experience

The past two Saturday’s have been remarkably similar yet incredibly opposite.

Two Saturday’s ago, I took to Ann Arbor to watch the Buckeyes narrowly escape the Wolverines in the 110th Anniversary of “The Game”. I wrote about that experience here.

This past Saturday, I went to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game and while I came home pretty broken-hearted, the experience was definitely worth sharing.

As the Big Ten Championship Game was set to begin at 8:15 pm, my friends and I decided that we would leave a little early to go check out the city of Indianapolis. That was a pretty brilliant decision.

We left Columbus at 11:30 and arrived in Indianapolis at about 3:30, but we made a quick stop in Dayton and hit about a half-hour’s worth of traffic. It was a very smooth trip there and once we arrived the traffic wasn’t really all that bad in the city.

We found a great garage downtown that we figured would set us back 30 dollars, but was more than worth it because of its proximity to everything. Low-and-behold, as we pulled up, the price was a mere 5$. You heard me right, we parked at the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, Indiana for just 5$.

Once we finished marveling at the deal we just made, we headed off to the center of the city. Indianapolis is a really beautiful city- clean, quiet and modern-yet-somewhat old-timey. It’s a beautiful mix of just about everything you could want.

At its center is a huge mall area with many nice restaurants and stores, all of which were jam-packed thanks to the festivities. We tried to eat at a couple of a attractive places, but we were denied as the reservations lists were incredibly long.

We walked around the mall for a while before heading to the Indianapolis Convention Center for the Big Ten Fan Fest- a perk that came with our student tickets. Well, the Fan Fest was absolutely jammed, but it was still a good time. Both bands played, we ate some decent and inexpensive food and watched some of the SEC Championship Game as well as the Ohio State basketball game.

The Convention Center was very close to Lucas Oil Stadium, so we caught a glimpse of its beauty from the outside, but when we entered the gates, we had no idea just how amazing it would be.

Lucas Oil Stadium is by far the nicest sports venue I have ever been inside of. I’ve visited the new Marlins Park, the old Fenway Park and many venues in-between. There is nothing, NOTHING, like Lucas Oil Stadium.

The stadium was absolutely monstrous, but in a good way. It wasn’t that there were so many seats, but that there was so much room for the fans.

By far my favorite part of the stadium was the overlook area just behind the goal posts. Staring out onto the stadium is a view unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Anyhow, Lucas Oil was filled with what looked like very local and unique restaurants, beautiful team shops and tributes to the man who essentially built the stadium, Mr. Peyton Manning. If you’re a massive Peyton Manning fan like me, it was an incredible tribute to the best quarterback to ever play the game. (Yes, to ever play the game.)

The game happened and it was all-too-exciting at parts, but also lead to my first loss as a student at The Ohio State University, but I guess that’s to be expected. The stadium was 70% Ohio State fans and thanks to it’s domed nature, it seemed as if it was twice that many students.

Michigan State fans, while only 30% of the stadium, were incredibly loud. I was very, very impressed with their turnout and their passion. Of course, winning probably helped, but nevertheless, the Spartans were well represented by their vocal nature if not by their overall numbers.

Upon leaving the game, I thought the traffic would be incredibly bad. As it turns out, Indianapolis is certainly not Ann Arbor. We were out of Indianapolis in half-an-hour, well on our way to Ohio by 12:45 and home by 4:00 in the morning. While we were very upset with the result of the game, we couldn’t have been more pleased with just about everything else.

Overall, Indianapolis was an incredible place that I’d love to visit again. If you’ve never been, you should definitely take advantage of the small-town, big-city feel of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Oh, and try to go to Lucas Oil Stadium for a game if at all possible. You won’t regret it.

 

Hayden's Bowl Picks

Well folks, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. A time of the year when rare college football match-ups captivate a rabid football audience and a season’s end is met with a new year. Ladies and gentlemen, it is bowl season!
Growing up, my grandfather and I, amongst our many talks, took a special day each year to breakdown the bowl schedule and make our selections on just who would take each-and-every bowl game. These talks, especially as his knowledge of college football decreased, were incredibly special to me and helped to feed my love for America’s greatest- if also the most corrupt- game- college football.
Just as I would with my grandpa, I am going to take us through each and every bowl game, make my pick and offer up some witty (or silly) remarks.
Let’s begin.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: 
Washington State vs. Colorado State
Both teams have high-powered offenses, but only one team has Mike Leach. In other words, advantage Cougars.
Washington State over Colorado State: 54-35
 
Royal Purpose Las Vegas Bowl: 
Fresno State vs. USC
Fresno State’s undefeated season was spoiled at the hands of the San Jose State, but a big win against USC could make the Bulldogs’ lone loss an easily forgettable one. With USC in the midst of so much transition, Derek Carr and the Bulldogs will take this one home.
Fresno State over USC: 35-17
 
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl:
Buffalo v. San Diego State
Well, well, well. Two Ohio State opponents facing off on the blue turf. Khalil Mack is the MAC’s top player and will single-handedly stall the San Diego State offense. If the Bulls can score at all, they’ll win pretty handily.
Buffalo over San Diego State: 24-7
 
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl:
Tulane v. Louisiana-Lafayette 
The Louisiana-Lafeyette season has been one of streaks. After starting out with two losses, the Ragin’ Cajuns rattled off eight straight wins before losing their final two games. I’m going to assume that this trend will continue and the Ragin’ Cajuns will take home the NOLA Bowl in what is a home game for the Tulane Green Wave.
Louisiana-Lafayette over Tulane: 24-16
 
Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl
East Carolina vs. Ohio
Ohio’s disappointing season will continue into Tropicana Field as the very impressive East Carolina Pirates finish a very successful campaign. The Ohio offense is a roller-coaster ride that will wind down as the season ends and ECU will certainly take advantage of it. Ultimately, Ohio is going to need an inspired effort from its senior leaders, Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship if its to end their season on a high note.
ECU over Ohio: 28-21
 
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Boise State vs. Oregon State
Boise State should enjoy the pristine beaches and warm weather of Hawaii before heading into a period of the unknown, as long-time head coach Chris Petersen is heading to Washington. Also, Oregon State’s quarterback is Sean Mannion and Sean Mannion is very, very talented. Bottomline: good luck to the Broncos.
Oregon State over Boise State: 54-21
 
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green
Bowling Green just came off maybe their biggest win in school history, while Pittsburgh just lost in the Backyard Brawl. Bowling Green is going to ride the momentum from the MAC Championship and win their second straight game at Ford Field.
Bowling Green over Pittsburgh: 27-14
 
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl 
Utah State vs. Northern Illinois
Much the opposite of Bowling Green, quite literally, the Huskies undefeated season was ruined, as were Jordan Lynch’s Heisman Trophy chances, in the MAC Championship Game. That being said, Northern Illinois is a much more talented team and Lynch will ride off into the San Diego sunset before beginning his NFL career.
Northern Illinois over Utah State: 49- 24
 
Military Bowl Presented by Northrup Grumman
Marshall vs. Maryland
Marshall’s offense and Rakeem Cato are very special. The senior quarterback has put together an incredible season in which he’s thrown for 3,579 yards and 36 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions. In just his junior season, Cato has lead one of the most prolific offenses in college football and will continue to do so against the Terrapins in Annapolis.
Marshall over Maryland: 63-35
 
Texas Bowl
Syracuse vs. Minnesota
Jerry Kill and the Minnesota Golden Gophers have had an inspiring season while Syracuse has struggled in its first season in the ACC. This game should finish the wonderful ride for the Gophers while ending the madness for the Orangemen.
Minnesota over Syracuse: 24-10
 
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
BYU vs. Washington
This is a great matchup and a tough one for me to pick, as both teams certainly have their merits. Washington’s Keith Price is maybe my favorite quarterback in college football, but the Huskies just lost their head coach to USC. BYU and Bronco Mendenhall boast a solid rushing attack, but have taken a step-back after a strong start. It’s going to be a close one… but I’ll take Mr. Price over a triple-option attack any day.
Washington over BYU: 30-27
 
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
In what is the final game of the Tommy Rees era, the Fighting Irish will take out the Rutgers Scarlet Knights handily before Rutgers heads to the Big Ten. While the loss of Rees will certainly put a smile on the face of the Notre Dame faithful, they will also miss some of college football’s best defensive linemen in Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo. Next season will be a much better one for Notre Dame, while I can’t promise the same for Rutgers.
Notre Dame over Rutgers: 27-21
 
Belk Bowl
Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
North Carolina almost beat Duke and Cincinnati lost handily to Illinois. While these things happened at very different times, I can’t really put it past either of them. These games shouldn’t matter all that much, especially after the Bearcats put up a great fight against Louisville, but I think they will.
North Carolina over Cincinnati: 21-17
 
Russell Athletic Bowl
Miami vs. Louisville
Despite losing just one game to a BCS-bound UCF team, Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fell straight off the map. They did win their final three games against Houston, Memphis and Cincinnati by only a touchdown in each instance, but a one-loss season is impressive nonetheless. As for the Hurricanes, an undefeated start was ruined by FSU and losses to Virginia Tech and Duke just furthered the damage. Louisville should take this one handily, but with Miami’s offense, you never know.
Louisville over Miami: 38-34
 
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Michigan vs. Kansas State
Kansas State has beaten all of the teams they should have beaten and lost to the elite of the Big 12. Michigan has underachieved yet again in Brady Hoke’s third year under the helm. Somehow, however, the Wolverines seem to be the favorite in this game. Bill Snyder will coach circles around Brady Hoke, but ultimately Jeremy Gallon and the Wolverines may be too much for the Wildcats to handle.
Michigan over Kansas State: 21-20
 
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Navy
The Navy Midshipmen have proven to be a very formidable foe, beating Indiana, Pittsburgh and Hawai’i, but still have a game left to play against Army in one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. Middle Tennessee hasn’t beaten much of anyone outside of Marshall. The edge goes to the Midshipmen.
Navy over Middle Tennessee: 58-49
 
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Ole Miss v. Georgia Tech
Ole Miss has battled through a tough SEC schedule just enough to become bowl eligible while Georgia Tech has struggled through the ACC. This game might look good, but realistically it’s going to be a blowout.
Ole Miss over Georgia Tech: 48-21
 
Valero Alamo Bowl
Oregon vs. Texas
Why is this a game? Oregon is an angry two-loss team with one of college football’s best offenses. Texas is a lackluster four-loss team with struggles across the board. A couple of years ago, this may be one of the best match-ups of the bowl season. IN the present, however, this may be the biggest blowout of the bowl season.
Oregon over Texas: 63-31
 
National University Holiday Bowl
Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
Another bad matchup. Arizona State is a very good team that has only two losses to Stanford and one loss to Notre Dame. Texas Tech started off with seven straight wins before losing five straight games. Arizona State should wipe the floor with Texas Tech, but don’t be surprised if Kliff Kingsbury’s offense comes ready to play.
Arizona State over Texas Tech: 38-21
 
AdvoCare V100 Bowl
Arizona v. Boston College
Boston College is essentially one player. That one player is running back Andre Williams. Williams, who was hurt for the Eagles as the regular season ended, will be back for the bowl game and will bring all 2,102 yards with him. Arizona and Rich Rodriguez have had a resurgence that was capped off with a huge win over the Oregon Ducks and are looking to carry the momentum into next season. An irresistible force-momentum- against an immovable object- Andre Williams. This matchup should be a great one.
Boston College over Arizona: 34-31
 
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Virginia Tech vs. UCLA
Virginia Tech exceeded expectations this season while UCLA failed to meet them. The Hokies finished the season with an 8-4 record while the Bruins put together a 9-3 mark, yet their seasons seem to be remarkably different. Ultimately, the Logan Thomas-Brett Hundley faceoff will make this game incredibly watchable. Expect some fireworks.
UCLA over Virginia Tech: 30-24
 
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Rice
Unfortunately, this is where the SEC bias comes very much into play. The Bulldogs showed their might against teams like Alabama while Rice’s toughest opponent might have been Marshall. All I can say is… YIKES!
Mississippi State over Rice: 28-7
 
Chick-Fil-A Bowl 
Duke vs. Texas A&M
Surprisingly, this is one of my favorite bowl games on the slate. Duke put together a historic 10-win season while the Aggies struggled to put together eight W’s and yet, Duke is still a massive underdog. Still, I think the Blue Devils will put up a tremendous fight against Johnny Football in his last game as an Aggie and how America that Durham, North Carolina is known for a little more than good basketball.
Texas A&M over Duke: 54-48
 
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Nebraska vs. Georgia
Two teams coming off of horrible seasons, at least in their minds, facing off actually makes for a good matchup. The injury-laden Bulldogs without Aaron Murray will have a monstrous task in front of them, but can still run the ball with the best of them. If Nebraska can’t put together a win, will Bo Pelini have coached his last game in Lincoln? I think it’s a definite possibility.
Georgia over Nebraska: 26-17
 
Heart of Dallas Bowl
UNLV vs. North Texas
Put this game in the “yuck” category, but be happy that your New Year’s Day football watching can begin at 12:00. UNLV lost five games this season, and all but two were against quality opponents. North Texas lost to University of Texas San Antonio by eight. UNLV should take this nasty, nasty matchup in a landslide.
UNLV over North Texas: 54-21
 
Capital One Bowl
Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Finally, we get into the heart of the bowl season, starting with a great showdown between two teams with very different outlooks. For Wisconsin, a chance to play against South Carolina is a chance to upend one of the SEC’s elite programs. For South Carolina, Jadaveon Clowney’s last game as a Gamecock and the lack of a BCS bowl berth put a sour taste in their mouth. This game has all of the signs of an upset for the Big Ten.
Wisconsin over South Carolina: 24-20
 
Outback Bowl
Iowa vs. LSU
Weirdly, I like this matchup. With Zach Mettenberger on the mend, LSU is not as strong as they showed throughout the season. Iowa isn’t great yet, but showed signs of massive improvement, including wins against Michigan and Minnesota. While this could be a blowout for the Tigers, expect the Hawkeyes to put up a fight, at least early on.
LSU over Iowa: 30-17
 
Cotton Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Missouri
Yes! Another tremendous matchup! Two high-powered offenses that were disappointed in their conference championship games will make for an insane Cotton Bowl match-up between ex-Big 12 foes. Clint Chelf and James Franklin will light up the scoreboards for each side as Gary Pinkel and Mike Gundy face off yet again. I guess this will be yet another test to see just how good the SEC is compared to the Big 12. Reminder: this could have very easily been a BCS matchup, if not for a disappointing Saturday for each school.
Missouri over Oklahoma State: 48-45
 
BBVA Compass Bowl
Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Ugh, after such promise, we get back to another iffy showdown. Again, this is where the SEC will flex its massive muscles while the American Athletic Conference shows why its maybe the weakest of the “big time” conferences. Ultimately, while Vanderbilt’s season was a bit disappointing, the Commodores will gain some momentum to try to turn things around going into next season.
Vanderbilt over Houston: 28-10
 
GoDaddy.com Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Ball State
This looks like a bad matchup, but Ball State is a very entertaining football team. Quarterback Keith Wenning has solidified himself as one of the best passers in the nation, putting together 3,933 yards and 34 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Ball State has only two losses on the season, one of which came against Northern Illinois and the other of which came in an upset against North Texas. Arkansas State probably doesn’t belong in this game, with a 7-5 record on the year, and Wenning will prove exactly why.
Ball State over Arkansas State: 42-17
BCS Bowl Games
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO
Stanford vs. Michigan State
Old-school football- great defense, great rushing and solid passing- will be the norm in the 100th anniversary of the historic Rose Bowl and I promise it will be 2014 not 1950 on January 1st.  Michigan State and their stellar defense will certainly be riding high after a big win against the Ohio State Buckeyes, while Stanford somehow made it into the game with two losses. Ultimately, Michigan State is a much more impressive football team on both sides of the ball and will show their might against an overrated Stanford group. This game should provide the perfect homage to the most classic of all of the college football games.
Michigan State over Stanford: 28-14
 
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
UCF vs. Baylor
Just the opposite of the Rose Bowl, the ball will be flying through the Glendale night as the Baylor Bears bring in their fantastic offense to a big BCS Game. Many will argue that UCF doesn’t belong in this game, but I think they’ll be ready for the challenge that awaits them. Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson are two of the more underrated weapons in college football today and may just have their coming out party in front of America on New Year’s Day.
Baylor over UCF: 36-31
 
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Oh, no. This matchup will get very, very ugly. Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide were one fluke away from competing in the SEC Championship Game and likely heading to their fourth National Championship Game in five years. Instead, Auburn took their spot and the Tide will be angry. Oklahoma, on the other hand, backed into the BCS despite a terrible showing against Baylor and a big loss to Texas early in the season. Alabama will roll over Oklahoma on the way to yet another BCS bowl game victory.
Alabama over Oklahoma: 42-10
 
Discover Orange Bowl
Ohio State vs. Clemson
Some may call this a matchup of the two most overrated teams in college football, but it will be wildly entertaining nonetheless. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes will look to avenge the loss and make the most of this season with an Orange Bowl victory. Clemson, on the other hand, will look to salvage what is left of a disappointing 2013 season, while sending Tajh Boyd well on his merry way to the NFL. This game will provide plenty of fireworks, as both teams boast explosive offenses and no defense and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Clemson allows another 70-points in an Orange Bowl Game.
Ohio State over Clemson: 63-51
 
VIZIO BCS National Championship
Florida State vs. Auburn
Something is making me very uneasy about this National Championship Game. Everything seems too easy for FSU. Jameis Winston will easily take home the Heisman Trophy and the Noles will be well on their way to an absolutely flawless season in Pasadena. Yet, I’m nervous. Somehow, another SEC team from Alabama found their way back into yet another National Championship Game and something is telling me there is a reason that they did. Auburn’s defense shouldn’t be able to contain Jameis and the FSU offense, yet they will. Auburn’s rushing attack shouldn’t be able to penetrate the dominant Florida State defense, yet it will. There’s just something about the “dadgum” SEC, and winning National Championship games. It just doesn’t make sense and that’s what scares me. I don’t know how, I don’t know why and I hate it, but Auburn is going to bring the final BCS National Championship Game back home to the SEC.
Auburn over Florida State: 28-27

2013 SEC Championship Game Preview

If you would have told the national public that Florida would be ineligible to play in a bowl game, Georgia would finish unranked, Jadaveon Clowney would have just three sacks, Johnny Football would have four losses at the end of this year and that Alabama would not finish undefeated, you would have been laughed at.
These instances describe just what a topsy-turvy year it has been for America’s most dominant football conference- the SEC.
Saturday’s 2013 SEC Championship Game will feature two teams that started the year outside the AP Top 25 and moved up all the way to the top 5. One of those teams was in the Big 12 just two years ago and is only a year removed from a 5-7 season in which they lost to Vanderbilt and Syracuse amongst some of the SEC’s best. The other team touts a quarterback just out of junior college, a brand-spankin’-new head coach and a 3-win season in 2012.
The former: the Missouri Tigers. The latter: the Auburn Tigers.
For each school, it’s been a relatively under-the-radar journey to the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn lost just their second SEC game of the season to LSU before putting together a magical run of eight straight wins, two of which coming on unbelievable plays.
Missouri, on the other hand, started off strong, winning each of their first seven games before losing to South Carolina in overtime. Since that loss, however, Missouri has had a relatively smooth road as they’ve trampled Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
So in the battle of the Tigers, who wins? Will Auburn get the job done and find themselves in the National Championship Game? Will Missouri and James Franklin pull off the upset and find themselves in the thick of the hunt for the Crystal Ball?
The key for Auburn will be to keep the status quo. In the past weeks, the Tigers have put together a great game-plan: run the football and find ways- all be it incredible ways- to win.
Right now, Auburn’s rushing offense is 5th in the nation, as they average 318.3 yards per game. The majority of those yards come from Tre Mason, the 5-10, 205 lb running back from West Palm Beach, Florida.
Mason has put together an amazing season, rushing for 1,317 yards on just 237 attempts and 18 touchdowns, but he’s certainly not the only one who can get it done on the ground for the Tigers.
Nick Marshall, Auburn’s JuCo transfer of a quarterback, has rushed for 922 yards on just 140 carries for 10 touchdowns of his own. While his passing numbers have been suspect, Marshall’s effectiveness on the ground has certainly more than made up for his ineffectiveness through the air.
On the other side, the Missouri Tigers possess the opposite threat. Quarterback James Franklin and receiver-extraordinaire Dorial Green-Beckham have combined to give the Tigers one of the nation’s most lethal passing attacks. Missouri is currently ranked 42nd in the nation in passing, only because of their reliance on freshman quarterback Maty Mauk in the middle of the year, and will try to show just how effective they are when passing the football.
If Mizzou is to win, they must slow down the Auburn run game and must hope that they’re able to utilize Franklin and Green-Beckham to the maximum on offense.
Auburn must do the exact opposite: thwart the pass and run it down their throats. It’s just that simple.
For two teams that are so similar- both have a loss, both are coming off of bad seasons, both are in the SEC Championship Game- their path to victory is very, very different.
Either way, it will be a tremendously entertaining game between two teams that almost nobody expected to be here.

The Campus Corner: The Ann Arbor Experience

As many Ohio State fans do, two of my friends and I took the trip from Columbus to Ann Arbor to take in the Ohio State-Michigan game last Saturday afternoon.

While many fans say that the Ann Arbor experience is an enjoyable one, we certainly had our qualms.

Getting there was incredibly easy. I woke up at 5:00 AM, got my friends up at 5:30 and we were on the road by 6:15. After a few bathroom, coffee and food breaks, we arrived in Ann Arbor at about 9:30 with no issues. We easily got on campus and were able to find a relatively decent parking spot close to the stadium. So far, Ann Arbor was a dream.

As we bought our tickets from a friend of ours who is a student at Michigan, we figured we would hang out at his fraternity and tailgate before the game started. The atmosphere was great as were the people. Of course, being Ohio State fans, we were easy targets and ridicule, but there was nothing over-the-line. In fact, everyone we met was incredibly nice and more than accommodating. My friends certainly enjoyed themselves and after a couple of hours, it was finally time to head into the vaunted Big House.

This is where the problems began.

Having bought tickets off of our friend in the student section, we thought it would be relatively easy to get in and get a decent seat, despite wearing scarlet in a sea of maize. As it turns out, non-Michigan students who purchase student tickets have to pay an additional fee to enter the game. That fee, this being the Ohio State-Michigan game, was 55$ a piece. While it wasn’t all that big of a deal, that’s an extra 165$ that we should have back in our pockets.

Anyhow, we get into the game and we notice that there are lines EVERYWHERE for EVERYTHING. The line to get in the bathroom was endless. The line to get into the section was endless. There were lines for everything and I couldn’t understand why.

Then, as we entered into our section, I understood. The Big House can hold 113,000 people because they pack them in like sardines. There is little-to-no room in any section, so you better know the person next to you. It’s not to say that it was extremely uncomfortable, as it wasn’t, but it certainly wasn’t spacey at all.

As the game started, there were no problems… until we needed to use the restroom. My friend and I waited for almost a half an hour- DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST QUARTER- to use the bathroom. We couldn’t hear at all what was going on, but maybe it was best we didn’t. At that point, Michigan took a commanding lead. The bathrooms were incredibly small and, again, I could understand why the line was endless.

As we went back to our seats, again waiting in a massive line, we saw that people were getting turned away. How on earth can that happen? I have no idea. Luckily, we had a certain wristband that allowed us to head back to our seats, but I can’t imagine what would have happened if we didn’t have those wristbands.

Finally, we arrived at our seats and immediately decided that we would not move for the rest of the game.

The game itself was incredible, as many of you watched, and the crowd was just fantastic. Michigan fans proved to be loud and created a great atmosphere throughout the game. The stadium, on the inside, is pretty spectacular. The press-boxes are extraordinarily daunting and the brick siding gives the stadium a nice touch. The seating area isn’t anything spectacular, its mostly just a big bowl, but it was filled to the brim nonetheless.

As the game ended, the biggest of the problems was still in front of us. The lines heading out of the stadium should have alerted us as to just what would be facing us in about a half an hour.

Getting back to the car was easy. It was a quick walk and we had no problems. As we got in the car and left the garage, however, all hell broke loose.

As it turns out, there are only like two major exits in Ann Arbor in order to get back to Ohio and both were completely and utterly jammed. We sat in traffic, I kid you not, for TWO HOURS before we were able to start moving and ultimately get back on the road. We tried to finagle our way out of the traffic through side streets and what not, but it was of no use. We were absolutely stuck.

Once we ate and arrived back home, it was almost 11:00 at night, giving us an exhausting, but worthwhile, 18 hour day.

Before you go to Ann Arbor here are some things you should adhere to:

  1. If you get there early, parking and getting to campus should be absolutely no problem. Be prepared to pay for parking, but it’s not a bad price.
  2. Once you’re there, enjoy the scenery. Michigan has a beautiful campus, great people and good tailgates. You should take the time to check it out.
  3. GET TO THE GAME EARLY! The earlier you get there, the less time it’ll take you to get to your seat and the less lines you’ll have to wait in.
  4. Don’t buy a student ticket unless you want to pay double the price.
  5. Don’t use the bathroom, period. Don’t try to leave your seat during the game, period.
  6. Enjoy the game! Michigan has a great football tradition with great fans and a great stadium. Take it all in, it’s definitely one of the better atmosphere’s in the country.
  7. Upon leaving the game, don’t leave. Go eat, go stay at a hotel, go do something. Wait until at least two hours after the game to get out of there. Trust me, it’s not worth it sitting in your car for 2 hours when you could be doing something much more fun or much more productive.
  8. Finally, enjoy a pretty quick and easy ride home once the traffic has subsided. It was easy getting to Ann Arbor and getting back- the ride is an enjoyable one.

If you ever plan on heading to Ann Arbor as an outsider, take this story into account so that you can have the best experience possible.

Browns: Get it Done or Get Out

Normally, when the Browns lose I get somewhat angry.

Not to the point where I’m throwing things, but maybe I’ll just be in a bad mood for an hour and then I’ll let it go.

Yesterday, a whole set of new and scary emotions came into play.

The first: embarrassment.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as embarrassed to be a Browns fan as I was yesterday. It wasn’t just that the Browns lost, it was the way in which they lost and to whom they lost.

Let us understand something: Jacksonville is a very, very bad football team.

Let us understand something else: Jacksonville thoroughly outplayed the Browns yesterday.

In fact, had it not been for Josh Gordon and his impending awesomeness, the Browns might have lost by two or three touchdowns yesterday to what has largely been considered the worst team in the NFL. That title, however, was overtaken yesterday by, yes, you guessed it, the Cleveland Browns.

This team is a complete an utter mess.

The Browns will more than likely start their fourth quarterback this season, as two have concussions and one tore his ACL, next Sunday against the Patriots. That quarterback could very well be a YouTube sensation that was an undrafted free agent signed just last week.

Yikes.

The running back situation is an absolute joke. Willis McGahee is undoubtedly a competitor, battling back from injury after injury, but for him to be a starting running back at this point in his career is laughable.

The offensive line is part of the reason for the concussions of Weeden and Campbell, as all of the sudden they forgot how to block.

The receivers outside of Josh Gordon are shoddy at best. Greg Little makes easy catches look difficult, but will often get lucky and haul in a Weeden-bullet.

The defense, which we thought was stout, all of the sudden can’t defend the run or pass. Joe Haden looks great on one play and gets torched the next. Our secondary outside of him is unable to cover anyone. Our front seven which looked so good at the beginning of the season is beginning to fade into indifference, as this team is no longer relevant.

All of these things are just embarrassing.

While I must say I haven’t been alive during a period of success from the Browns, from what I’ve studied and what I’ve learned, the tradition used to be one of excellence.

Now, it’s one of embarrassment.

The biggest problem of all is that I simply don’t see this team going anywhere. Right now, hope is literally the 2014 NFL Draft and we all know how well the Browns have gone about those things.

I just don’t know where to turn and I’m scared. Never before have I felt embarrassment as a Browns fan.

Indifference, sure. Anger, you bet. Disappointment, abounding.

But clear-cut embarrassment? Never, until now.

The worst part of it all is that I just don’t know what direction to take this team in. We’ve rebuilt time and time again to no avail. We’ve hired endless coaches and GM’s, yet nothing has come of it. Even with a new owner and a new regime, its worse than its ever been.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but maybe its time to sell. Maybe the Browns weren’t meant to comeback. Maybe football in Cleveland is over.

We must ask ourselves, do we really want this? Do we really want to be the laughing stock of the league year after year? Do we really need this embarrassment?

Wouldn’t it just be better to focus on the Indians and Cavaliers, which have had some success in recent history?

I don’t know what the answer to those questions is, but the more I look at it, the more signs are pointing to this team moving?

This time, however, it may be because we want them to move.

I’m going to give the Browns one more chance. They’ve stockpiled draft picks in a deep draft next year and I’m going to see whether or not they can get it together. Sure, I’m not expecting them to win games next season, but I’m expecting to see legitimate, tangible progress.

If they whiff on a quarterback and don’t add some quality pieces, consider me out. I won’t switch my allegiance, I won’t have an allegiance at all.

The embarrassment has been enough. Its time for the Browns to get it together or get out.

Rivalry Week: Ohio State vs Michigan

What does Michigan mean to me?

Well, it’s funny really. I’m an Ohio State student, a Buckeye to my core, yet Michigan means a lot of different things to me. Most of those things involve no disdain, hatred or even a dislike of That School Up North.

Growing up, my grandfather taught me to root for Michigan 364 days-a-year. “That way,” he said, “it’ll mean more when we beat ‘em.”

While this was certainly true, he continually told me how pretty Ann Arbor was and how he and his buddies would take a trip up there now and then just to enjoy the atmosphere. In fact, it was these trips that converted one of my own into a Wolverine.

My Uncle Ray tagged along on one too many trips to Ann Arbor and was sold. The Buckeye-fandom of his youth was no more and he became a Wolverine, eventually buying season tickets and becoming a generous booster to the university. We pick on each other often.

My own mother, my dear, beloved mother, divulged to me just months ago that it was her dream as a child to go to Michigan. She tagged along with my Grandfather as well, admiring the beautiful campus and dreaming of one day becoming a Wolverine.

My sister almost caught the Wolverine fever as well. Whether or not it was simply an attempt to butt heads with her Buckeye brother might always be a mystery, but earlier this summer my sister- a senior in high school- was seriously considering applying to Michigan. A trip to Ann Arbor squashed that idea, as the massive campus wasn’t to her liking, but again, my families connection with Michigan continued.

And then there’s me.

I remember being very little, with no idea what the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry meant. My mom would have it on at home and say, “Look Hayden, Ohio State’s beating Michigan.”

Of course, I had no idea how I was supposed to feel about that- other than happy that the Buckeyes were winning-  but as I grew older, I certainly had a deep and special appreciation for the rivalry thanks to one of my best friends.

When I was in fourth grade, a boy came to my school named Ali- yes, like Muhammed Ali.

Having been a student at the same school for six years up to that point- (I finished with 14 years under my belt)- I came to be very comfortable with everyone. I really felt as if I was an ambassador for the school and when there was a new kid around, I tried to be as friendly as possible to make him or her feel welcome. In this particular case, Ali and I hit it off quickly and became good, good friends.

You see, Ali was from Detroit, Michigan.

Finally, there was someone I could relate to. My family was from Cleveland, his family was from Detroit. We understood the Midwestern culture and we had a deep and burning passion for it.

Nobody else in our school could truly understand exactly where Ali was coming from- nobody, that is, except for me.

I’m not saying that I was Ali’s best friend, but we were very close because we both held a deep appreciation for our “home away from home.” While the glitz-and-glam of our spring break destination of a home surrounded us, Ali and I dreamed of our snowy Rust Belt.

I know, we’re weird.

Anyways, it was a special bond between Ali and I and it was through that unique friendship that my relationship with Michigan truly blossomed.

In South Florida, there is a chain of bars-and-grilles known as Bru’s Room. “Bru” is short for Bob Brudzinski, the former Ohio State and Miami Dolphin linebacker who owns these restaurants and has made a fortune off of some amazing wings.

Welcome to Michigan!! (Photo: Flickr/timtonjes)
Welcome to Michigan!! (Photo: Flickr/timtonjes)

As an Ohio State graduate, Brudzinski designated one of his South Florida bars as the official gathering spot of the South Florida Ohio State Alumni Association. Week-after-week, the Bru’s Room in Margate, Florida was packed with the Buckeye faithful of South Florida. Local DJ’s spun TBDBITL’s greatest hits, alumni walked around the bar with the world reknown Buckeye beads and the men of Scarlet and Gray were proudly on display on movie-theater sized big screens.

It was almost as if we were in Ohio Stadium, just thousands of miles away.

Being in South Florida, there wasn’t really a place to watch Ohio State games, outside of Bru’s Room, so that’s where we went- my Grandpa and I, my mom and I, my siblings and I- almost every single Saturday throughout the fall.

Eventually, after getting to know the people there, all of whom were friendly, I decided that I was going to bring Ali to Bru’s Room to watch the Michigan game.

While it was an Ohio State bar and Ali was reluctant at first, he agreed to come and an amazing tradition was born.

Ali was always treated kindly at Bru’s and year-after-year, no matter the result of the game, Ali and I would make the trip to Bru’s Room for the Ohio State-Michigan game.

The culmination of our annual tradition was in 2006 when Ohio State and Michigan met at the top of the college football world in Columbus. It was that game that afforded us the understanding that this thing, this relationship through this rivalry, was special.

It was our thing. No one understood what we loved so much about the Midwest and no one understood what was so special about this rivalry.

I didn’t want anyone else to be a part of it.

For four or five years in a row, Ali was the most respectful and kind fan in the world- the only kid I ever know that could take the seven consecutive losses with such dignity and grace.

My mom would often comment, “why does Ali come to Bru’s room even though Michigan loses every year?”. “It’s because,” I said, “this is special. We’re going to look back upon this and remember these times. There’s going to be a time when we can’t be together to watch the game.”

Eventually that time came.

During our senior year of high school, the last year we would be able to watch the game together, we couldn’t. I don’t remember the circumstances, but something kept us both away from Bru’s Room.

It was an emotional day and that was when we knew that it was truly the end of an era.

Those were memories that I know we both cherish to this day. Every time the Scarlet and Gray face off against the Maize and Blue, I think of Ali and the incredible times we had.

It was thanks to those memories and thanks to Ali that I gained an appreciation for the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and as the years went by, I brought it upon myself to learn as much as I could about “the Game”. I learned about the origins of the battle, of the great generals who lead their teams into battle and the soldiers who made the battles so historic.

Every year before “the Game”, I would sit and watch documentaries about the rivalry. I learned why the game meant so much over the years. I learned to truly embody that respect that my grandfather taught me as a child.

I understood that Ohio State was nothing without Michigan and Michigan was nothing without Ohio State. They’re one in the same.

Now that I have been blessed with the opportunity to attend the Ohio State University, the Rivalry has taken on a new chapter, but that may be for another time…

The bottom-line is this: I love so many people who have a connection to Michigan in one way or another. How am I supposed to hate a school that’s special to so many around me?

Michigan is my best friend. It may not be me, it may not be my family, but Michigan someone I appreciate and love with all my heart.

For three hours, we’re bitter enemies. For the rest, we’re best of friends.

That is what Michigan means to me.

Go Bucks!

A Lesson in Expectations

This winter was supposed to be filled with optimism.

The Browns were supposed to improve upon their measly 4-12 record of a year ago, as a new regime came into place, and the Cavs were supposed to compete for a playoff spot with numerous new additions and another year of development under their belts.

As of right now, the Browns look as bad as ever with a 4-7 record and the Cavs don’t look much better, their mark at 4-10 to this point.

With so much losing and so little improvement, what is the problem?

I think its us, the fans of the Browns and Cavs. I think our expectations were far too high for both of these teams.

First of all, how on earth could we have believed that the Browns were going to be 8-8 this season?

Even if Brandon Weeden improved tenfold, I still doubt this team would be at .500 up to this point.

The Browns currently have no running game whatsoever, two talented skill players in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron and multiple bummy quarterbacks who play in completely contrasting styles and are yet equally as inefficient.

Defensively, they’re a solid group overall, but still have glaring holes in the defensive backfield and at the inside linebacker position.

Riddle me this, how are the Browns supposed to win football games if they can’t run and they don’t have sufficient quarterback play?

It’s simple: it can’t be done.

The only hope for this Browns season was Brian Hoyer and I think he was precisely the problem with expectations and excitement.

Had Hoyer never played a down, the Browns might be a 1-10 football team right now, well on their way to the number one overall pick. Fans would have been unexcited for the Bengals and Steelers games and sights would have already been set towards drafting a quarterback.

Instead, the Browns got a couple of extra weeks of relevance before showing their ineptitude against two below average football teams.

Again, fans clamoring for the playoffs should have ceased those thoughts as Brian Hoyer fell towards the sideline and grabbed his knee.

At that point, this season was over.

Next season, the cycle will begin anew as the new regime brings about more change and another rookie quarterback takes the helm. Until there are drastic changes at the offensive skill positions as well as the defensive backfield, however, expectations should still be curtailed.

Remember when we all thought the Browns were close to becoming a contender in the AFC North?

Think again folks, next year starts the rebuilding again.

I guess the overall expectations of the Browns were less than the Cavs however, and therefore much less disappointing.

After bringing in Mike Brown, Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix this offseason, expectations for the Cavaliers were abounding.

Playoffs were being thrown around as if they were all but a given. Kyrie would take the next step towards super stardom, Dion Waiters would come closer to becoming much like another DW in Miami, Anderson Varejao would be his typical self, Tristan Thompson’s hand switch would be a major catalyst in what would become a breakout season for him and Anthony Bennett would be the sleeper superstar that no one else in the league saw in the 2013 NBA Draft.

All but one of those things has failed miserably up to this point.

Tristan’s game is FAR improved thanks to a switching of the hands, but overall, everything else is a train wreck.

Kyrie acts like a superstar, holding onto the ball selfishly for large parts of the game, but hasn’t taken the Cavaliers near where they want to go. Its even been so bad that Dion Waiters, who was supposed to be Kyrie’s “Robin”, has allegedly punched “Batman” in the face. Anthony Bennett is an overweight asthmatic with sleep apnea who seems completely unready to face the challenges of the NBA. And Anderson Varejao, poor Andy, has lost a step or two thanks to some brutal and serious injuries last season.

All-in-all its been a disaster for the Cavs so far, yet we’re supposed to be patient.

Again, the problem is partly us.

How were we to believe that Chris Grant would make an intelligent choice with the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft?

How were we to believe that Mike Brown could teach a team of young kids how to play defense and how to be mentally tough in just one season?

How were we to expect that Kyrie, who is barely old enough to drink, could be an accountable leader and help to bring the best out of his team and not out of himself?

How were we to believe that Andrew Bynum would just come back to being his old self and playing significant minutes each and every night?

While the Cavs do have time to right the ship, I absolutely do not expect them to do so and all expectations of playoffs are already thrown out the window.

This team is far too young and has a far too terrible mindset to win games right now.

My question is, how do we come up with these things, Browns and Cavs fans? How do we continually believe that change will come and things will get better, when it’s literally the same ole’, same ole’ on repeat? It makes absolutely no sense.

As the Browns puke all over the rest of this season and the Cavs dumpster fire continues to burn, maybe we should all learn to lower our expectations.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be fierce in our demands of change for this city’s sports teams. Rather, when the time comes to play the game, maybe we shouldn’t get so excited and instead look at the situation realistically.

At least that way, we won’t be so disappointed when things continue to develop in the complete opposite direction.