Tag Archives: Peyton Manning

SEC Links: Ramblin’ Down That Coaches Highway (and a Bit of Lagniappe)

This week in SEC Links we will focus on coaches, their opinions, their salaries, and their preparation techniques. Also, we will take a look at the buzz around a former NFL legend who could, possibly, be jumping into the coaching ranks.

Bret Bielema (known as “Bert” here at Campus Pressbox) has never been one to shy away from controversial topics and he is keeping true to form this off-season. Bielema is gathering information toward, potentially, allowing undrafted college underclassmen to return to their alma maters if they are not chosen in the NFL draft, which is held each spring. The initial idea strikes me as a good one but there are potholes in that road back to State U as this piece from NFL.com outlines. It will be very interesting to see if this notion takes legs and winds up in the lap of the inept NCAA.

Just down the road in Oxford, MS, the Laremy Tunsil debacle and the oncoming NCAA issues continue to take center stage. As gifted an athlete as Tunsil is, you wonder if Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze rues the day he signed Laremy to a scholarship. Freeze now finds himself right square in the middle of this swirling chaos and is taking steps to try and protect himself, and the Rebel program, from potential problems in the event that he is deposed in the lawsuit between Tunsil and his stepfather.

Jump on I-55 and head further down the SEC coaching highway to Baton Rouge, LA where new LSU defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, is installing his system. Aranda is switching schemes from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Summertime is upon us and this is a critical season in terms of a football team bonding, developing chemistry, and working hard toward the dogs days of August, when fall camp begins. LSU is, most-assuredly, loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball, and how well Aranda is able to get those defenders on the same page and playing together, will be critical to the success of the Tigers this fall.

We then take I-10 east, to I-65 north, to I-85 north, and find ourselves on the Plains of East Alabama, where the success of the 2016 edition of the Auburn Tigers will depend, to an enormous degree, on the play of these Tigers’ quarterback. John Franklin III is very much in the center of that conversation, and guess who has been tutoring Franklin as of late? Unless you were already privy to this information, I’ll bet you didn’t guess Michael Vick. Well, boys and girls, that’s exactly who, along with his personal quarterbacks coach, Lionel Bozeman, has been tutoring JF III. Does Gus know about this? The thick plottens.

Yes, SEC coaches, be they assistants, or the top dog, have a mind-numbing array of moving parts to piece together in building a football team, and the approaching summer months are no exception. Now, with the whole satellite camp scramble in full swing, it gets even crazier.

So, just how well do the of SEC head men get compensated? Stan Chrapowicki, of Bleacher Report, has taken the SEC head football coaches salaries, and combined them with the compensation of their fellow head basketball coaches, to reveal what SEC schools are shucking out on their revenue-producing sports’ CEOs. The results might surprise you.

I recently alluded to the insane wages that FBS football coaches demand, and when you couple that with the basketball salaries, it becomes truly eye-popping. One could feed a small country with that kind of money. When you throw in how poorly paid the professors of these “student-athletes” are, something is badly amiss.

Lastly, there is a, now retired, NFL quarterback with time on his hands. Will he be joining the staff of an SEC team soon? Hmmmm… Andrew Olson, of Saturday Down South, pries into the matter. I, personally, love the idea. Let’s wait impatiently and see what happens.

110 days remain until Vanderbilt and South Carolina kick it off on Thursday, September 1.

Photo taken by Bird himself

My Favorite SEC Football Players of All-Time

Last week was a busy one for SEC football. Coaches wish it weren’t so, but it seems as though there is never a dull moment when it comes to headlines that don’t spotlight the positives in and around their programs.

Hugh Freeze got blindsided (pun intended) with the resurrection of the Laremy Tunsil debacle just as Ole Miss is about to hear from the NCAA and its investigation into their program. Also, it appears that Freeze and Jim Harbaugh will attend the same satellite camp in Mississippi.

As the football world turns. These soap operas are highly entertaining and they give people like me something to write about.

Speaking of smoking weed with a gas mask device, four Auburn players were arrested on the Plains Saturday night for, you guessed it, ganja possession, and much to the chagrin of Gus Malzahn and the rest of us in the Auburn family. How long, oh Lord?

Then there was the NFL draft. Ohio State had the most first round picks with five and Alabama had only one, which surprised many “experts”, but the SEC, once again, had more players drafted than any other conference. So there! Nanny nanny poo poo!

So much for all of that. In my last couple of blogs I, subjectively ranked, in order, SEC head coaching jobs and power rankings of the fourteen schools in the conference.

I like lists. From top tens to favorites to whatever. I think most people do enjoy these.

That being said, this week I’m going to give you my top ten favorite SEC players of all time, excluding Auburn. If I allowed my Tigers’ players on the list you would have Pat Sullivan, Terry Beasley, Bo Jackson, Cam Newton, Jimmy Sidle, Tucker Frederickson, Phil Gargis, James Brooks, Joe Cribbs, Cadillac Williams, Bobby Hunt, Travis Tidwell, and the like to dominate it.

Here we go! My top ten favorite non-Auburn players in SEC history. I will do them alphabetically.

Billy Cannon – LSU – 1957-59. Cannon is most remembered for his 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss, in Tiger Stadium on Halloween night in 1959, to give the Tigers a 7-3 win. He won the Heisman that year, as well. Cannon was also named the SEC player of the year in both 1958 and 1959. LSU won the National Championship in ’58.

Randall Cobb – Kentucky – 2008-10. Cobb was an electrifying player at multiple positions for the Wildcats including quarterback, wide receiver and return specialist. He could do it all.  He is not to be confused with boxer, Randall “Tex” Cobb. 

Archie Manning – Ole Miss – 1968-70. Archie is, actually, one of my favorite players in any sport at any level. I never enjoyed watching a player from a team, not named Auburn, more. Just go back and watch some of the old clips from his days as a Rebel. Simply amazing!

Peyton Manning – Tennessee – 1994-97. Does anyone really need to be familiarized with Peyton? He led the Vols to an SEC Championship in 1997. He was a consensus All-American that year and also won the Maxwell Award. He should have won the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M – 2012- 13.  Has there ever been a more exciting college football player than “Johnny Football”? Incredible. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The 2012 Heisman winner pulled off more incredible escapes than Houdini. I truly hope his story turns out to be one of redemption.

Darren McFadden – Arkansas – 2005-07. McFadden could flat out tote the rock. He rushed for 4,590 yards at a 5.8 yards per carry clip during his years as a Razorback.  He tied the SEC record for most yards rushing in one game, in 2007, with 321 against South Carolina. McFadden won the Doak Walker Award twice, 2006-07, and the Walter Camp Award, given to the nation’s best overall player, once, in 2007.

Joe Namath – Alabama – 1962-64. “Joe Willie”, “Broadway Joe.” These are two of the monikers that Namath was known by during his playing days with the Crimson Tide. I loved him. Most boys loved him. All the girls loved him. Bama won the National Championship, with Joe under center, in 1964. But he is most famous for guaranteeing that his New York Jets would win Super Bowl III, and they did.

Dak Prescott – Mississippi State. The best player in the history of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, no? He was a gifted athlete who could both run and throw the ball. He carried the Bulldogs to heights henceforth unknown as they topped the polls for several weeks during the 2014 season. That season he also passed for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns, and accumulated 4,435 total yards. He rushed for 2,411 yards in his time at State and that is third all-time, by a quarterback, in SEC history.

Steve Spurrier – Florida – 1964-66. Spurrier may be best known as the Head Ball Coach, but he was also a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the Gators in 1966. There may have never been a more competitive, driven player and coach in the annals of the SEC. Football, golf, tiddlywinks, Spurrier just wants to beat you. And, he was always good for a great quote.

Herschel Walker – Walker is,  arguably, the greatest running back in the history of college football. Bo Jackson is my choice for the greatest athlete of all-time, but Herschel, both a Heisman winner and a national champion, carried the mail. He rushed for 5,259 yards in only three years as a Bulldog. And he was a sprinter, mixed martial artist and bobsledder!

There is my list of favorite non-Auburn players in SEC history. Why not come up with your own list? I am also open to suggestions for future lists as they are a lot of fun, and great conversation centerpieces at home, or at your favorite sports bar.

Now, who was the greatest fighter that ever lived? 😉

Harassment in College Sports – “Boys Being Boys” is No Excuse

Peyton Manning won Super Bowl 50 and is riding off into the sunset. That sunset is a self-made, paint by numbers landscape that is peddled by die hard Tennessee Volunteer fans.

In case you didn’t know, Manning harassed a Tennessee trainer, Dr. Jamie Naughright, while he was the quarterback for the Volunteers. This is not a new revelation to most us, but New York Daily News writer, Shaun King, recently placed a spotlight on the incident and everything that transpired after the initial transgression occurred.

Here is a description of the incident that took place between Manning and Naughright:

On Feb. 29 of that year, Naughright, at that point the university’s director of health and wellness, was in a training room, examining what she thought might be a possible stress fracture in Manning’s foot. At 6 feet, 5 inches, his feet dangled off the edge of the table. Manning allegedly then proceeded to scoot down the training table while Naughright examined his foot. At that point, she said, he forcefully maneuvered his naked testicles and rectum directly on her face with his penis on top of her head. Shocked, disgusted, and offended, Naughright pushed Manning away, removing her head out from under him.

Again, this is not old news to most of us, but the travesty is that nobody seems to have taken it seriously at the time it occurred and nobody seems to want to take it seriously now. In the list of people who want to trivialize the entire situation, you can add the Manning family to that list.

The Mannings and Naughright signed a confidentiality agreement and all parties agreed to remain silent on the situation. Then in 2001, Archie Manning wrote a book and included commentary on the situation that had taken place. And yet Peyton Manning continued, to this day, to live in his “good old boy” bubble.

For Volunteer fans, it is unfathomable that Manning could possibly be guilty of this. He’s just too darn pure for this sort of behavior. He’s been on Saturday Night Live and he endorses a long list of products. I mean, he’s just so likable. And because he’s a likable athlete, that somehow equates to honesty and moral integrity. These same fans probably believe that Manning has never been in the same room as HGH. I guess they don’t want a visit from his hired goons.

As I said, this is old news but this story supports a larger issue found in society. That issue is how flippant most of us are when it comes to athletes and sexual harassment. We say that we take sexual harassment seriously, but time and time again the facts suggest otherwise.

Let’s single the University of Tennessee out once again. In November 2014, Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams were accusing of raping a female Tennessee student. In a new lawsuit, Tennessee football players are accused of assaulting their teammate, Dre Bowles. The issue that these players had with Bowles is that Bowles attempted to help the alleged rape victim. The lawsuit also accuses the University of Tennesse of being “deliberately indifferent” to the allegations and with creating a “hostile sexual environment” on campus.

Tennessee football coaches were allegedly present for the assault on Bowles and teammate Geraldo Orta had this to say about Bowles and his role in the situation:

“Bowles had betrayed the team and that where he (Orta) came from, people got shot for doing what Bowles did.”

All of the southern charm in the world shouldn’t make this acceptable, but it seems to be working out just fine for Tennessee. It’s astounding what people will tolerate when athletes are involved.

Baylor is at the top of a mountain that nobody would want to be perched on top of. If there is one campus in the country that takes the rape culture narrative and makes it a real story, it is Baylor. ESPN’s Outside The Lines has been on top of the story even though they, like the alleged rape victims, have been stonewalled as much as possible.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, if Baylor wasn’t a football powerhouse, every news agency from ESPN to Rolling Stone would be all over this. Society took down Duke over a lacrosse scandal that was based largely on taking down a bunch of privileged white boys. The accused lacrosse players were all falsely accused. Rolling Stone went after a Virginia fraternity and accused them of supporting a rape culture. The story was false and the fraternity is suing Rolling Stone.

But Baylor football has legitimate smoke surrounding its program and nobody wants to truly dig into the story. Remember that the Duke and Virginia cases were about privileged white boys. But the narrative is different for Baylor. For Baylor, the narrative is that they are a Baptist institution and a religious institution would never allow or tolerate this sort of behavior. Yes, I know the irony is that Duke is also a religious institution, but it’s about the narrative. Never forget the narrative.

As the examples of these situations continue to rise, all I see in response to them is faux outrage that seems to be rationalized as “athletes being athletes.” Title IX, like any other piece of regulatory procedure, can be manipulated like any other piece of regulation.

What has gone on at Tennessee and Baylor in particular has been disturbing and not a thing will happen to these schools or the coaches who are responsible for creating an environment that does not support self control. Remember, it’s about winning and Tennessee is poised for a big 2016 season and Baylor continues to be one of the dominating teams in the Big 12.

Neither Butch Jones or Art Briles will be held responsible for the environments that they have helped create at their institutions. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, they are just the next coach up in a series of coaches who set the foundation for this type of behavior long before either stepped foot in Knoxville or Waco.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Featured image courtest of en.wikipedia.org

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

Successful Next Man Up Means Next Round in NFL

This season in the NFL seems to carry a constant theme. Press conferences, media commentary, play on the field and even front office success carries the theme “Next Man Up.” A simple three word phrase when broken down further can explain the NFL and the teams able to rise above. When you apply this phrase to individual teams it’s more evident a team’s success is based on this motto.

The Denver Broncos are no exception. Their reaction to injuries can explain their success AND the hole that could be their downfall

Manning-Osweiler

The quarterback situation is THE biggest “Next Man Up” example for the Denver Broncos. When an aging first ballot hall of famer come up lame and your back up not only contributes BUT advances your division and playoff seeding that is the best case of “Next Man Up” available. The Dallas Cowboys similar situation ended in a completely different way. Tony Romo went down and Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore were disastrous. The defense was the anchor of the Broncos but Brock Osweiler steered the ship well.

Defensive Replacements

This defense will lead the Broncos where they are going to end up. Their success with “Next Man Up” was a big part of this. Whether it was Shaq Barrett or Shane Ray filling in for Demarcus Ware or Bradley Roby stepping in for Chris Harris Jr in the AFC Divisional game this side of the ball had an answer for fallen teammates. An example of how poorly this could have gone would be the Baltimore Ravens. A Super Bowl pick by some but losses of Chris Canty, Terrell Suggs and Matt Elam hurt them tremendously. They are now picking 6th in the upcoming draft.

Offensive Line

This is where “Next Man Up” falters with the Broncos. It was and still remains the main weakness looming, ready to haunt a promising team. Injuries to two left tackles, a left guard and having only one right guard on the depth chart is the main culprit of this ghost. It has posed challenges for an average offense. Throwing the ball down the field, opening running lanes and sustaining long drives are issues impeding the offensive success of this team. All issues stem from poor offensive line play and not enough talent for “Next Man Up” to be successful. It will also be the issue that determines how far this team can go in the playoffs.

“Next Man Up” is a rousing phrase for fans and players alike to be ready and know their number could be called at any time. It is inspiring and simple but if the player coming into the game is Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden the phrase means high draft picks are in your future. A team has to acquire the right players to make “Next Man Up” work. Depth is huge in the NFL. If you don’t have quality depth you will not maintain high performance on the field. The Broncos capable fill-ins are a direct cause of the front office drafting and signing the right players. Brock Osweiler, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, Darrien Stewart and Bradley Roby all filled in well AND even excelled. They were also drafted and signed by the Broncos. A strong organization from the front office down makes “Next Man Up” effective. The void of capable offensive linemen ready to step in and maintain is also the front office’s fault. This lack of depth could lead to an earlier than hoped exit from the 2016 playoffs.

Remembering Peyton Manning and the Orange Wave

The world as it existed in 1997 is gone, and it’s not coming back.

This seems like a terrible, and even a wrong-headed, statement to make. The Earth still revolves around the sun, after all. Birds still fly, children still learn how to walk, and people continue to get up in the morning and do whatever it is they do every day. All of this is undeniably true.

But think about the last time the Northwestern Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers played against each other in a college football game, back on New Year’s Day, 1997. The Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida was the venue, and the final score–Tennessee 48, Northwestern 28–doesn’t fully reflect how lopsided the game was. I know, because I was there that day.

I’m willing to stroll down Memory Lane like this for two simple reasons: to introduce myself to the readers of this fine website, and to remind everyone–Cats fans, Vols fans, and everybody else–that it’s not 1997 anymore.

A blowout victory back then doesn’t put a single point on the board for Tennessee in 2016, nor does whatever the betting line on the game is in Vegas right now. I’ve seen many Vols fans on Twitter acting like they have this game in the bag already. Maybe it’s some overblown SEC bravado, or maybe they think the ghost of Peyton Manning will take the field in Tampa on January 1. Whatever the reason, it’s misguided and it needs to stop.

The common link between the 1996 Northwestern team and this year’s edition is Pat Fitzgerald. He was the captain of the defense on the field back then, and today he’s the leader of the team on the sidelines. He, along with Darnell Autry, Steve Schnur, Brian Musso and the others, resurrected Northwestern from a football laughingstock to a national power. And for me and my fellow 1980s Northwestern classmates, that was no small accomplishment.

At old Dyche Stadium, throwing marshmallows at each other in the stands during football games was all we could do to take our minds off what was happening on the field. In 1989, my last year on campus, the team went 0-11. It was the third time in the 1980s that the Wildcats went winless for an entire season, but it hasn’t happened since, and hopefully it won’t ever happen again. As long as Coach Fitz is on the sidelines, I can’t imagine that it will.

The Citrus Bowl was the only bowl game that Fitz the player took part in, since he missed the Rose Bowl against USC with a broken leg. And while the 1996 Wildcats couldn’t possibly touch the 1995 season in terms of their unexpected rise to success, it was the end of the line for the core group that had made it all happen. It was the Juniors who took the Purple to Pasadena, and the Seniors couldn’t match that, especially not after losing their opening game in 1996 to Wake Forest.

After missing out on all the 1995 hoopla, I decided to get season tickets for the Wildcats’ home games in 1996. This was done in order to get bowl tickets, of course, because there was no way that Fitz and Company wouldn’t end up going someplace warm to end their college careers. And following a 9-2 campaign that included an electrifying comeback win over Michigan–a magical game if there ever was one–the Cats found themselves heading to the Florida sunshine for New Year’s day. Life couldn’t have been any sweeter.

The Cats’ 9-2 record in 1996 was something on a letdown after a 10-1 record the previous year, but it’s also an indication of how much has changed since 1997. Teams don’t play 11 games in the regular season anymore, with 12 games now being the norm, and 13 for the teams who play for a conference championship. Conference title games were still a long way away back in the late 20th century, at least for the Big Ten.

FloridaCitrusBowl2Corporate sponsorship of bowl games was still a pretty new concept back in the 1990s, too. In fact, the sponsor of the 1997 Citrus Bowl–Comp USA–doesn’t exist anymore, having closed up in 2012. Their logo lives on in the shirt I bought at the game that day, but after a long stretch as the Capital One Bowl, the game is now known as the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. And nineteen years from now, who knows what it will be called?

I realize that the Cats and the Vols aren’t playing in Orlando on New Year’s day this year. But the differences from then to now are still pretty significant.  Take Tampa and the site of this year’s game, for example. The stadium that hosted the Outback Bowl back in 1997, known then as Houlihan’s Stadium, was torn down less than two years later. The Bowl itself still has the same sponsor as it did 19 years ago, and it still matches an SEC and a Big Ten Team together, but don’t go looking for the physical site of the game back then, because it’s long gone now.

On New Year’s eve that year, I remember being excited that I could go out and about without a hat or a coat or a pair of gloves. December was still the cold season in Chicago back then, and a Florida bowl game meant a bit or sunshine and warm weather to break up winter’s grip. Tomorrow, in early December in Chicago, the high temperature is supposed to reach 59 degrees. What it will be here for New Year’s eve I don’t know, but chances are I won’t need a hat or some gloves, either. There’s another example of just how different the world is from what it was 19 years ago.

Before the game started, the only place that I–and 98% of America–could go to discuss the game was America Online. We laugh about AOL now, like it was some silly fad that we would rather not be reminded of anymore. But that was the Internet for me back in those days. The NU and UT message boards were the place to go to talk some smack about the other team, or express concern at what the ugly purple-and-orange bruise of a stadium was going to look like on New Year’s day. There were no hashtags, no meme generators, and no blogs in those days, either. Like Robinson Caruso, it was primitive as could be back in late 1996.

The game itself was pretty much a blur, except for the otherworldly performance of Peyton Manning. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another…in the first half. As good as the Wildcat defense was in those days–not quite as dominating as the 1995 team, but still better than most other teams in the country–they were no match for Peyton Manning that day. And that made the scene at the end of the game perfectly understandable.

Manning still had a year of college eligibility left after that game, but nobody who witnessed what he did against Northwestern could deny that he was ready for the NFL. But Volunteer fans weren’t ready to let him go just yet. When the game ended and the players and coaches started exchanging handshakes on the field, there was an extended cheer–more of a plea in unison–that went up from the Tennessee fans. They wanted him back for one more year, to make a run at a national championship. I thought to myself, “This kid could be crowned the king of Tennessee, and nobody would object to it one bit.” It had to be a pretty heady moment for a guy in his early twenties.

Manning did come back to Tennessee, bypassing the life of an NFL star for one more season in Knoxville. He didn’t win the national championship (although a guy named Tee Martin did lead them there shortly thereafter), but he must have been treated like a god everywhere he went in 1997. And his NFL career hasn’t had too many equals, either. I never again saw Peyton Manning play live after that game, but I’ll never forget his dominance that day in Orlando.

So don’t tell me that playing against Tennessee doesn’t mean something to Pat Fitzgerald, the defensive captain who watched as Peyton Manning made the Citrus Bowl into his own personal video game.  I’m sure he’ll deny any special motivation against Tennessee, not wanting to take anything away from Dan Vitale and Nick VanHoose and all the other seniors who will be ending their college career in the Florida sun, exactly the way he did nineteen years ago. But Tennessee had their way with Fitzgerald’s defense that day, and who knows if he’ll ever have another chance to settle that score?

I say this again, to all Tennessee and Northwestern fans who might be reading this: Peyton Manning will be far away from Tampa on January 1. He’s still trying to keep his NFL career afloat, and holding off Brock Osweiler is where his focus will be. But another meaningful player from Citrus Bowl ’97 will be in the house, and he may be looking for some vindication when that first kick goes sailing through the Tampa sky.

And one more thing: The Wildcats could have a variety of uniforms at their disposal for the Outback Bowl, but I promise you they won’t be wearing black for this romp in the Florida sunshine. That lesson was learned nineteen years ago.

And one last thing: Go Cats!

Monday Morning Breeze: Football in Week 9 (or maybe 10)

College Football Portion of the Program

Annoyingly, ESPN and every major media outlet brushed the dust from last year’s “Separation Saturday” graphic and proceeded to splash the tired phrase off the ears and eyes nationwide all day. I’m sorry on their behalf. By the way, I’d love if enterprising individuals in unhappy relationships took the liberty to use this “Separation Saturday” motif to their advantage, and necessary-but-difficult break-ups fell like oversized JENGA towers today, and every “Separation Saturday” from here on out. I love Love, though.

Despite the tread-worn SS being thrown around by talking heads like a damn pigskin at Thanksgiving, it did live up to the hype, delivering a number of Top 25 upsets and helping illuminate the probable roadmap for conference championships and ultimately, the playoff picture. Clemson proved it deserves the initial top spot in the CFB Playoff Ranking by beating FSU, Alabama showed the playoff committee’s prescience as they mercilessly whooped LSU, Oklahoma State kept the offensive pyrotechnics going and handily stunned TCU, and Michigan State suffered a reversal of fate, getting upset at Nebraska under the cloud of a potential officiating gaffe and another controversial ending.

Laterals, man. laterals. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the acronym “ILS”, but it means “Invisible Lat Syndrome” and refers to those dipshit dudes that walk around life like they have coolers stuffed under their arms because their backs/lats are so developed, but actually they’re just peacock-style inflating their upper body size. AKA “bowing up” as a scared individual does before a fistfight happens. Well, after the last two weeks of this college football season have unfolded we may have to consider inventing “VLS” or “Visible Lateral Syndrome”, referring to the damage done to fanbases of programs that’ve lost heartbreaking games on plays that involve ridiculous, lateral-induced defeats. The Satan of Sideways struck Duke during their last-second loss to Miami last week, and we thought it was an anomaly…until this week’s Arkansas-Ole Miss fantastic finish featuring, you guessed it, Lucifer’s Ludicrous Laterals.

College Football Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Mizzou FB team “athletes of color” boycotting current school president, won’t play until change made!?…Terrible news, as Miss. St. father/son football combo killed in car crash…First CFB Official Playoff Rankings released, and does Alabama deserve a spot in the top 4 (yes, now clear to all)…The rise of ND’s DeShone Kizer…At halftime of the USC-Arizona game, ESPN’s Danny Kannell referred to ‘Bama’s win over LSU as, “…a curb-stomp. You can’t really call it anything else.” While I agree Alabama forcefully defeated the Tigers, can we all agree using the phrase “curb-stomp” in any context is disgusting, especially when referring to a college football game, especially when we all know this horrifying moment from the racially charged movie “American History X” is what popularized the term.

College Game of the Week: #2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama

This game would decide much in the heated race for the beast that is the SEC West. Would LSU continue to run Leonard Fournette to the Heisman and Lesticles’ second National Championship? Or would ‘Bama continue to rebound from their early-season loss to Ole Miss (which looks even worse now) and keep rolling opponents enroute to another SEC title?

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Well, it was the latter. Alabama whooped LSU 30-16 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a matchup of two of the top four teams in CFB’s initial Playoff Rankings. Bama’s D controlled LSU’s run game, Bama’s O rolled out a dominant, Derrick Henry-led rushing attack, and Saban skated off with another huge win over grass-eating Les-is-Less Miles. Three point summary:

Alabama Won the Trenches
There’s a man named A’shawn Robinson that roams the nose/D-tackle spot for Alabama. He’s nearly impossible to block, and, if you like, here’s a great feature on Robinson. He, along with the rest of Alabama’s O and D-lines, beat the hell out of LSU. This game boiled down to Alabama’s complete control of the line of scrimmage, which always determines these Tide-Tiger matchups. Roll Tide, for tonight.

Leonard Fournette Lost Heisman Ground
I hate that this is true, because I love Fournette and the transcendent beauty he’s brought CFB this year and LSU’s morbid passing game did nothing to help clear the box against the Tide, but this game did some damage to what was once his peerless Heisman campaign. In the game many billed as a battle of the backs in Fournette vs. Derrick Henry, Henry clearly came out on top. Fournette was stymied all day by ‘Bama’s fierce D-line, being held to a season-low 31 yards on 19 carries, well below his 193 yards/game average for the year. Henry meanwhile, bulldozed his way to 3 TD’s and 210 yards, looking unstoppable at times. With TCU’s Trevone Boykin throwing 4 picks and suffering his first loss of the year, the Heisman hierarchy was shaken up a bit this weekend. Now I’d say Henry’s near the top of the heap along with Clemson’s commander QB Deshaun Watson, Ohio State’s stud RB Ezekiel Elliot, and Stanford’s darting dynamo Christian McCaffrey.

Alabama Will Win the National Championship
It’s ridiculous to make predictions anytime, and especially this year given the crazy climate surrounding college football with controversy and madness now the norm, and no team rising head and shoulders above the rest, yet. It’s also silly to put the crown on Alabama’s head given their still-questionable QB Jake Coker and a defense that tends to doo doo in the bed versus spread teams, not to mention all the football that’s left to be played. But let’s get crazy. Let’s throw caution to the wind. ‘Bama just has the feel (and dominant running game, dominant line play, athletic D, competent QB) of a special team that was galvanized by their early-season loss to Ole Miss, and now’s on a mission. Preseason’s darling Ohio State has been building steam this year, but they still look nothing like the team that buzzsawed through last year’s playoff, and while Clemson appear to have gotten rid of their pesky penchant for dropping winnable games, I still don’t trust them. So I’m putting my neck out there and saying this: Ladies and Gentleman, Alabama will be your 2015 College Football National Champion.

At the End of the Day: CFB’s Top 25 Went this Way (All Rankings from College Football Playoff Poll)

#6 Baylor vs. Kansas State (Thursday, Nov. 6th)
Bears survive scare from Snyder’s frat ‘Cats, keep playoff dreams alive

#20 Miss. St. vs. Missouri (Thursday, Nov. 6th)
‘Dogs dump Tigers, Tigers Wish to Dump School President

#22 Temple vs. SMU (Friday, Nov. 7th)
Owls forget they’re supposed to lose to Dallas dudes, instead say “Who?” and bruise ‘Stangs

#10 Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Gators barely beat Vandy, clinch SEC East and keep Commodores least

#5 Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh
Kizer So Says, “Come with me!”, as the Irish stiff Pitt

#21 Northwestern vs. Penn State
We’ve reached the point in reality where it’s not surprising Northwestern beat Penn State. Bizarre.

#11 Stanford vs. Colorado
McCaffrey’s kid keeps rolling as Card roughs up Buffs

#25 Houston vs. Cincinnati
Cougars roast Bearcats, go searching for next young victims

#1 Clemson vs. #16 FSU
Dabo’s Dabos Dabo Wabo Seminoles, proving Dabo deserves to be top Dabo

#9 Iowa vs. Indiana
Hawkeyes keep playoff hopes alive, peck Hoosiers’ I’s out

#17 Michigan vs. Rutgers
Jim’s Joe’s smoke Red Knights

#8 TCU vs. #14 Oklahoma State
Cowboys shoot through swiss-cheese Frogs D, propelling OSU into playoff pic

#18 Ole Miss vs. Arkansas
More casual, late-game chaos brings Bielema’s Hogs rebelliously erotic joy, topping Mr. Ms. Miss

#23 UCLA vs. Oregon State
Bruins ruin OSU, leave it (losing) to Beavers

#13 Memphis vs. Navy
Midshipmen mush Memphis, dashing distant Playoff dreams

#7 Michigan State vs. Nebraska
Sparty falls from unbeaten ranks, skanked late by the Huskers and refs

#15 Oklahoma vs. Iowa State
Stoops’ Troops score sooner and later, smash Cyclones

#19 Texas A&M vs. Auburn
Tigers aggravate Aggies, A&M burned, upset

#12 Utah vs. Washington
Huskies a bit too “big-boned”, Utes race past Peterson’s Puppies

#3 Ohio State vs. Minnesota
Ezekiel 3:14 “Thou shalt never lose to Gophers Faux-Golden”…Bucks truck those with buck-teeth

#2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama
Bayside’s Bayou Bengals Bludgeoned by Alabama Man, Men

Duke vs. North Carolina
Tarholes dash Duke’s ACC dreams, demolish Devils

National Football League Portion of the Program

NFL Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Graphic photos of Greg Hardy’s alleged domestic violence victim surfaced this week, yet he plays on…Hardy was justly skewered (along with some other players/coaches) in these funny updated Madden RatingsFormer Raider charged with grisly murders in California…On the BRIGHTER SIDE, a nice piece on the ascent of Cam Newton.

NFL Quick ‘Cap Game of the Week: Green Bay at Carolina

Cam Can Cam Like Cam:Carolina jumped out to 27-7 lead at half, behind an unstoppable aerial attack and Cam Newtom playing like, well, superCam. The Panthers gave the Pack GB’s largest home deficit since 12/15/13

Thomas Davis SR is the Seniorest Sr.: TD Sr. had a number of nifty plays, including a nice, line-busting sack of A-Rod just before halftime and the game-sealing INT of A-Rod at the end. Davis SR is playing on his 16th ACL of the year, and why does Carolina seem to be the only breeding ground for guys tough/cool enough to use the SR tag on their last names, a la Steve Smith Sr. and now Mr. Davis Sr.?

Pack’s Second Half Comeback Squelched: GB scored quick in the 2nd half with a Rodgers-Cobb long TD pass early in the 2nd quarter leading to a furious rally in 2nd half to get it to 37-29. A-Rod drove Green Bay deep into Carolina territory late in the 4th quarter and, scrambling on 4th down and goal got picked by the man, THE SR Davis, to end the Pack threat and clinch Carolina’s best start ever. Is Carolina for real? It seems so, and their stranglehold on the NFC South is secure for now.

NFL Longer Lust Game of the Week 2: Denver at Carolina

This past week, Indianapolis fired their once-successful Offensive Coordinator, Pep Hamilton, due to the Colts’ early-season struggles on offense relative to the major investment (draft/free agency) the team made on that side of the ball in the offseason. It’s been spun in major outlets that this firing was largely a result of Andrew Luck’s ineffectiveness (injured ribs or not) so far this year, including MMQB’s own Peter King challenging Luck to step up and accept responsibility for being the reason Hamilton was fired, and questioning how Luck would respond in the face of such pressure.

It looked like Luck would have the toughest of times responding to a major shake-up on the offensive coaching staff facing a Denver Broncos D that was dominating the NFL so far. It looked like Luck was seriously suffering from some injury, whether it was the supposedly-kept-under-wraps rib injury or something else, as this year his typically picturesque form and performance had been relegated to rollercoaster status on a weekly basis. It looked like Peyton Manning’s sand-arm and the Elway Broncos would head into Peyton’s Old Oil Dome and dominate the Colts, keeping their undefeated record alive and sending the Horseshoes further into a tailspin, though remaining atop the weak-ass AFC South.

As it turns out, looks, and Luck, can be deceiving.  Colts win 27-24.  The game’s 3 pressure points:

Luck Don’t Throw No Wounded Ducks: It’s clear something’s been ailing Andy all season, and too see the media hop on his back lately has been interesting. Andrew Luck is a selfless beast that more often than not puts the Colts in a position to win. He may not be Peyton, but that’s a good and bad thing. This week, Luck and his new coordinator were on track early putting Indy up 17 through the first half and keeping things going well enough in the second to hang on for the win. Everyone else needs to get back on the Luck bandwagon; there’s plenty of neck hair to go around, keeping us all warm and entertained for the remainder of the year.

Last Game in Lucas Oil? Peyton Throws a Pretty Ball Too: Manning hit a bomb to Emmanuel Sanders early in the 3rd quarter to cut Indy’s lead to 17-14, and played well enough throughout. Emmanuel Sanders is impossible to cover, and Manning’s demise has been waaaaaay too overblown in the media this season. The man can still play, no matter how sad and old his face looked at the end of this one. However, in what may be his last game ever in the Lucas Oil Dome, Peyton suffered a surprising loss. In the end, that doesn’t mean to much as history holds Peyton as probably the greatest Colts’ QB ever, but it seemed refreshing and necessary for the young upstart Luck to get a win tonight, leading Indy into the near and distant future.

Peyton’s Path to History Paused: Mr. Manning finished the game just 3 measly passing yards shy of the all-time career passing yardage mark in NFL history. It would’ve been as fitting as a birthday suit for Peyton the Perfectionist to set one of the greatest records in NFL history in the home stadium of the team that drafted and reaped the rewards of Manning’s greatness for the majority of his career, before oddly jettisoning him because of concerns about his neck. However, due to a bizarre holding call late when Denver’s defense was called for the infraction defending an Indy FG kick, Peyton never got the final chance to get the mark in Indianapolis. Perhaps it’s better he’ll surely set the mark in his new home of Mile High, in Denver, next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

NFL Hyper-Headline Roundup

Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
Bengals bust Browns’ balls as Manziel hits sixth ring of hell, oh well

https://vine.co/v/eLgY6OLwYH6

Denver vs. Indianapolis
Andy punts Peyton’s pursuit of all-time passing yards record, as Colts become first to beat Broncos

Atlanta vs. San Francisco
Niners’ new QB sets offense free, sinks Falcons further south in NFC

NY Giants vs. Tampa Bay
Coughlin’s Cadets Crush Winston’s Regrets

Oakland vs. Pittsburgh
Raiders fall short late, Big Ben goes on an injury date, and Steelers win slim at the end

Miami vs. Buffalo
Rex says “Interim heads roll” and controls ‘Fins, as Bills win

Jacksonville vs. NY Jets
Jets set Jags back to the days pre-hot tub, rub South Florida the wrong/right way

Tennessee vs. New Orleans
Marcus the Hawaiian leads Titanic Dicaprios to OT victory over the Saints which must fire Roby Ryan train

St. Louis vs. Minnesota
Vikings ram Rams into FG submission

New England vs. Washington
Brady’s Bunch Native American burns the Snyders

Philadelphia vs. Dallas
Eagles fly, Eagles fly, right by Big D’s dysfunction in OT on Sunday night’s football flight

Commercial Skewering and Randoms

Tweets I Sent Cuz Drinks

Weekly Fantasy Football Insight/Tips/Updates/XXX Advice

Rob’s 2015 NFL Season Predictions

It’s that time of year again, it’s time for football and I am back on More Than a Fan for a special NFL 2015 Season preview with my picks to win each division and my picks to advance to the Super Bowl round by round until we crown a winner at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara. Before I do that, here are FIVE bold predictions for the season.

  1. THE AFC EAST HAS 3 PLAYOFF TEAMS: For years the AFC East has been looked at as a joke. But this season the talk of that could change as the Dolphins ad Bills are set to make noise and the Patriots now find themselves with some healthy competition.
  2. THE CARDINALS WIN THE WEST: Everyone is on the Seahawks bandwagon but what some fail to realize is despite what they are saying; the stress of two straight Super Bowl appearances will be their downfall. The Seahawks still make the playoffs but the division goes to the Cards this year.
  3. THE REDSKINS GET THE NUMBER 1 PICK: The Redskins are a joke and will prove how much of a joke they are by winning the number one pick by losing a majority of their games. The Only question is whether they go quarterback again.
  4. THE OAKLAND RAIDERS IMPROVE: Believe it or not, despite the record I have posted for them, I would not be the least surprised if they did significantly better. The Raiders have the pieces now for a foundation which we couldn’t say last season.
  5. THE RAMS AND RAIDERS MOVE BACK TO LA: You know it’s happening everyone. The Rams and the Raiders are both going to be in Los Angeles by this point next year. The only thing in the way of it happening are now both dead. Stan Kroenke has bought some land in Los Angeles and he intends to build a new stadium and the Raiders have no deal pending in Oakland. The only team that gets screwed here is the Chargers as they are forced to stay in San Diego with a fan base that knows they wanted to leave.
Peyton Manning gets one more shot and one more hope at a Super Bowl this season. (AP Images)
Peyton Manning gets one more shot and one more hope at a Super Bowl this season. (AP Images)

We’re going to start with each division and go from there starting with the AFC West.

AFC West

  1. DENVER BRONCOS 11-5: No surprise here. The Broncos win the division on the last day of the season by beating San Diego and advance to the playoffs for yet another season. They won’t be unstoppable this year but will be there when the postseason calls. Manning has enough left in the tank for a good run.
  2. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 9-7: The Chargers miss the playoffs by inches as they are eliminated in the final weekend in a loss to the Broncos. The Chargers have questions on both sides o the trenches and don’t know how well Melvin Gordon will be able to perform.
  3. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 7-9: The Chiefs don’t have the firepower or the depth to keep up with their western rivals. They will be able to steal a game from the Broncos but will not be able to handle their heavy workload which includes a showdown at Lambeau Field against the Packers, an opening week battle against the Texans and of course games with the Ravens, Steelers and the London battle with the Lions.
  4. OAKLAND RAIDERS 5-11: The Raiders will be better this season but still will struggle as they need more depth. I think the real story will have to do with whether they will be moving back to Los Angeles which almost looks imminent.

AFC North

  1. BALTIMORE RAVENS 11-5: The Ravens have probably the best balanced team in the AFC when they are firing on all cylinders. How their defensive backfield deals with pressure will determine how far they go but I have them sorting out the kinks and making a deep run.
  2. Joe Flacco is back to lead the Ravens to an AFC North title and another deep playoff run. (AP Images)
    Joe Flacco is back to lead the Ravens to an AFC North title and another deep playoff run. (AP Images)

    PITTSBURGH STEELERS 9-7: The Steelers will get eliminated from postseason contention on the last day of the season. Missing LeVeon Bell for the first two games will hurt as will a defense that is still young and inexperienced. Their offense will win a lot of games for them.

  3. CINICNNNATI BENGALS 7-9: They won’t lose in the playoffs this season because they won’t be there to lose in the playoffs this time. With a daunting schedule that features the NFC West and AFC West, winning games is going to be a challenge for a team that might be changing quarterbacks and possibly coaches by season’s end.
  4. CLEVELAND BROWNS 6-10: The Browns still don’t know where they are going. I can tell you exactly where they are going; another last place finish. With a pathetic offense and a defense that is going to get run all over, this team has some holes and it’s going to get exploited weekly.

AFC South

  1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 12-4: The Colts didn’t do much to shore up their run defense but did add depth to what is probably the best receiving core in football. With one of the best young quarterbacks in football in Andrew Luck, the Colts will be firing on all systems at all times. This Colts team is similar to the model of the Green Bay Packers where they utilize turnovers and an elite quarterback to win games. That will be the only way the Colts take the next step
    It's time for Andrew Luck to take the next step and that step is the Super Bowl. (Celebrity Networth)
    It’s time for Andrew Luck to take the next step and that step is the Super Bowl. (Celebrity Networth)

    this season. I see four losses all season; the Steelers, the Bills, the Dolphins and the Panthers.

  2. HOUSTON TEXANS 8-8: I wanted to pick the Texans as a trendy pick to win the division and make the playoffs but their quarterback and running back situation is so iffy. Brian Hoyer is not really a name you are going to talk about and Alfred Blue is a pretty mediocre backup for Arian Foster who is dealing with yet another groin injury. The Texans could easily be a great team and maybe even a Super Bowl Champion if even a decent or good quarterback like Joe Flacco was their quarterback. Sadly for them, they have to make do with what they have.
  3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 5-11: The Jaguars are improving but losing their top draft pick to an injury for the entire season hurts and we are still not sure what Blake Bortles is going to be like. T.J. Yeldon looks like a solid future piece but will the line allow him any room to run. The Defense must get consistent on all levels.
  4. TENNESSEE TITANS 3-13: I don’t see Marcus Mariota succeeding at all. I want him to but I just do not see it happening especially with this team and the rigors of the NFL. The Titans have a long way to go before getting back to respectability.

AFC EAST

  1. MIAMI DOLPHINS 11-5: Surprise!!!! The Patriots do not win the division (they come close). A new and improved defense for the Dolphins does it along with a core of young receivers and an improved Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins also have a talented running back in Lamar Miller.
  2. Suh will be the main difference in Miami as the Dolphins emerge as division champions.  (AP Images)
    Suh will be the main difference in Miami as the Dolphins emerge as division champions. (AP Images)

    NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 11-5: Believe it or not, the last time the Patriots did not win the division this was their record and they were tied with the Dolphins who did win the division via tiebreaker. I’m not going to be predictable, I am taking a chance. The Patriots will lose five games and I will call them right here; the Bills, the Colts, the Broncos, the New York Giants and the Dolphins.

  3. BUFFALO BILLS 9-7: The Bills barely make the playoffs by an eyelash as good fortune finally swings their way. The Bills still are searching for a permanent quarterback and their schedule early is daunting as they face the Colts and Patriots.
  4. NEW YORK JETS 3-13: It’s a rebuild year in East Rutherford and the Jets have their work cut out for them if they want to contend in this division which contrary to popular belief is not soft.

 

NFC WEST

  1. ARIZONA CARDINALS 10-6: The Cards win the division that they should have won last season. There will be issues as always like pass blocking but the final game of the season (conveniently against the Seahawks) will crown a division winner. Carson Palmer needs to stay healthy the entire season for that to happen and this go round, I think he will.
  2. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 10-6: Some will think I am crazy for giving the Seahawks so many losses but take a look at their schedule. They face the AFC North and NFC North and also have games with the Panthers and Cowboys. Their first two games are road games against a team that did beat them last year (The Rams) and a team that should have beaten them (the Packers). The Hawks were very lucky to even be in the Super Bowl with their sloppy play in the NFC Championship game and will be lucky to make it back there again with everyone gunning for them.
  3. A full season by Carson Palmer will work wonders for the Cardinals as they win the NFC West. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    A full season by Carson Palmer will work wonders for the Cardinals as they win the NFC West. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    ST LOUIS RAMS 7-9: The Rams will be distracted all season with the rumors of coming back to Los Angeles. I expect the defense to be amazing and the offense to be inconsistent. A lot will hinge on the health of Todd Gurley who is already missing Week 1 against the Seahawks. The Rams will need to win a lot of games they usually lose. In this case, the losing record will be attributed to a division rival.

  4. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 5-11: The 49ers will win five games at the worst. Believe it or not, two of those five wins are going to come at the hands of the Rams. The 49ers lost more than a coach last season; they lost more than four star players. They lost something else along the way; they lost their heart. Like the old song ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, that is the perfect way to describe this team that seems to have trouble finding something and sticking with it.

NFC NORTH

  1. GREEN BAY PACKERS 12-4: The Pack are angry, real angry. They want what they feel is rightfully theirs. They won’t choke this time around. Green Bay intends to get the home field advantage and then they will beat the Seahawks this time around. Jordy Nelson is out for the season but the positive being that the Packers have depth and the best quarterback in football and this happened before the season giving them ample time to prepare.
  2. MINNESOTA VIKINGS 8-8: The Vikings will be improved but can Teddy Bridgewater take the next step? Adrian Peterson is back but if he the same beast he was before? The Vikings have a lot of questions to answer before they move into their beautiful new stadium next year.
  3. DETROIT LIONS 8-8: The Lions take a step back this year as the loss of Suh and Fairley will hurt but their offense will still be potent. They have to run the ball better and the drafting of Abdullah might help them get there.
  4. CHICAGO BEARS 5-11: John Fox is only one man and it’s going to take more than a man to solve this issue in Chicago.
Aaron Rodgers gets that second ring this season as the Packers get back to the Super Bowl. (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Aaron Rodgers gets that second ring this season as the Packers get back to the Super Bowl. (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

NFC SOUTH

  1. CAROLINA PANTHERS 9-7: The Panthers at least have a winning record this time around. They will be the first NFC South team to win the division three years in a row. There are still huge issues on the line and the loss of Kelvin Benjamin will hurt. I see them winning a lot with their soft schedule but also losing games they shouldn’t have any business losing.
  2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 9-7: The Saints inch back to the playoffs with a 9-7 finish behind a rejuvenated Drew Brees and a solid albeit inconsistent defense. However, their shortcomings will simply be better competition as this is probably the last chance Brees has of winning another title.
  3. ATLANTA FALCONS 7-9: A poor defense will be their undoing but Matt Ryan will keep them in and win them a lot of games. They need to improve their run game and get off to early leads if they want to win more.
  4. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 6-10: The Bucs will be improved. They have talent but their depth is porous. One injury to a key player and they sink like a paper boat. Time will tell if Jameis Winston is a boom or a bust.

NFC East

  1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 11-5: Chip Kelly’s gamble pays off and the Eagles improve and make the playoffs as division champions. They also hook a 2 seed and get a first round bye. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews form a solid backfield and enable the Eagles to prosper.
  2. NEW YORK GIANTS 9-7: The Giants improve thanks to Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. as well as an improved defense. The Giants do barely miss the playoffs thanks to tiebreakers thus missing the chance for another Super Bowl in the fourth year (they won it in 2008 and 2012).
  3. Cam Newton will lead the Panthers to a third straight division title but can he lead them to the Promised Land?  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Cam Newton will lead the Panthers to a third straight division title but can he lead them to the Promised Land? (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    DALLAS COWBOYS 8-8: Say what you want about that offensive line but the running game also needs talent to make it work and the three men assigned to replace Murray don’t fit the bill. Tony Romo is amazing as a quarterback but even he cannot save a team that will give up big plays constantly. The Cowboys need to come out of the gate and be aggressive.

  4. WASHINGTON REDSKINS 3-13: The biggest joke in the NFL. The Redskins are so bad that they beat themselves.

PLAYOFFS

WILDCARD ROUND

  • Ravens Beat Bills
  • Patriots Beat Dolphins on the Road a week after losing to them in Week 17.
  • Cardinals Beat Saints
  • Seahawks Beat Panthers on the Road after losing to them at home during the regular season.

DIVISIONAL ROUND

  • Ravens Upset the Broncos in Denver avenging a Week 1 shellacking and knocking Denver out of the playoffs for the second time in four seasons.
  • Colts Beat Patriots finally knocking the Monkey off their back.
  • Packers Beat the Seahawks ending all talk of back to back to back Super Bowl appearances.
  • Chip Kelly's gambles will pay off and the Eagles will win the NFC East with a number 2 seed. (Matt Rourke)
    Chip Kelly’s gambles will pay off and the Eagles will win the NFC East with a number 2 seed. (Matt Rourke)

    Eagles Beat the Cardinals.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES

  • Colts Beat the Ravens in the AFC Title Game at home and finally take the next step.
  • Packers Beat the Eagles getting back to the Super Bowl.

SUPER BOWL

My Super Bowl Pick is

PACKERS 31, COLTS 27: The Packers come full circle and win the Super Bowl an Aaron Rodgers takes home MVP for the second time. Andrew Luck is heroic but falls short as the Lombardi Trophy eludes him once again.

Zone-Blocking Is Back With Kubiak Back in Denver

Peyton Manning doesn’t need to be told, I’m sure. No one wins without help. It’s a fact of life in the National Football League. Few, if any, team in the NFL can win without a quarterback, but no one will ever accuse a team that employs #18 of suffering that dilemma. Manning doesn’t need an all-star ensemble of receivers, though he always seems to be blessed with a corps that draws envy from around the league. Simply put, the guy needs a solid enough running game to keep defenses honest with his arm, which clearly is not what it used to be.

In John Fox, he had a coach that knew how to play to his strengths; in Denver’s case, it was the defense, before and after Manning signed with the Broncos via free agency, after he was released by the Colts in 2012. Casual fans tend to make the mistake of branding a guy as offensive or defensive, based on how one climbs the coaching ladder to the rank of head coach, but the best head coaches are simply coaches of the game, regardless of how long they spend as specialists on one side of the ball or the other. Fox left it to his lieutenants, Mike McCoy and then Adam Gase to engineer an offense to its own strengths, with varied levels of success. For failing to return to the Super Bowl or even the conference championship, Fox was shown the door, and Gase wasn’t far behind.

Enter Gary Kubiak, stage left. Kubiak is a Denver Bronco, through and through. From being drafted by the team late in the 1983 Draft and being John Elway’s understudy until he retired from playing in 1991, to returning to Mike Shanahan’s staff as an assistant in 1995 after winning a Super Bowl as Steve Young’s quarterbacks coach in San Francisco, to returning to the Rockies for the job that always felt like his destiny, no one will ever question Kubiak’s familiarity with the organization. Two years before Shanahan and the Broncos parted ways, Kubiak was named the head coach in Houston, where we improved the team overall, right up until a brutal 2-11 start cost him his job before the end of the 2013 season. A lot of things that worked in Denver ended up not translating to other organizations, but the zone blocking scheme (ZBS) the Broncos ran worked with an undeniable level of success for Kubiak and the Texans.

Even with the stable of weapons that Manning has to catch the ball, their success tends to hang in the balance, based on whether or not they can run the football well. With few exceptions, you need that type of balance to succeed in the NFL. In CJ Anderson, many believe the Broncos have their man to pound the rock and open things up downfield for the likes of Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker. Manning isn’t foreign to the idea of help, nor was his boss in the front office, John Elway, before him. There’s a difference between a quarterback making you very good and quarterback with the right complimentary pieces making you great. For Elway, it was the difference between handing the ball to Sammy Winder for 700 yard seasons and Terrell Davis for 1500+ yard seasons. It was the difference between being AFC Champs and the World Champions.

Now, Manning got into his own way a lot in Indianapolis. So, let’s not smear Edgerrin James in pointing out that Joseph Addai’s efforts as a rookie in 2006 and contribution to the offense in the subsequent post-season played a definite role in getting Manning his only Super Bowl ring to date. James was a fierce competitor and a certain upgrade from the likes of James Mungro and Dominic Rhodes, but he had the unfortunate distinction of watching his former teams play in Super Bowls. Addai split carries with Donald Brown, but still had the lion’s share of the touches on offense, catching 40 passes for 325 yards, to accompany his 1000 yards or so on the ground. In the years after the Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, the support from the running game wasn’t there, and it showed the most in Manning’s final game as a Colt, a 2011 Wildcard Game loss to the Jets.

Rex Ryan’s defense continually forced Manning to check down to the run, and Addai and Rhodes weren’t up to the task. They combined for 93 yards on 17 carries in a game where Manning completed just 18 passes on 26 attempts. It all equaled a 1-point defeat, and with Manning’s neck issues, he never suited up for Indianapolis again. In three seasons in Denver, he’s had a caravan of running backs behind him, most notably Knowshon Moreno, who left for Miami via free agency before the 2014 season. When Moreno was on, 18 didn’t have to throw for 400 yards to keep his offense on the field and his team in the game. When he wasn’t, the whole thing went plop, and it was most notable in a 43-8 Super Bowl loss to Seattle.

Now, even with a lot of the pieces returning to the 53, Denver has a new identity. They have the personnel to do it, but the Kubiak factor cannot be overlooked here. It took him a few years to get everyone to buy-in in Houston, but after inheriting Ron Dayne and Wali Lundy for the first two seasons, he made Steve Slaton a thousand-yard back and ultimately made Arian Foster a household name. After some tough breaks in Texas, Kubiak needed to take a stepping-stone job as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, and 1200 Justin Forsett rushing yards later, he was on Pat Bowlen’s short list to replace Fox in Denver. His first task in Denver, now that Manning confirmed his intention to return, must be to get a new group to buy into zone-blocking.

The sample size is small with Anderson, but it came during gut-check time. As the weather got worse, Anderson got more carries and led the team in most rushing categories, seeing his success play out over the second half of the season. We’ve seen this work with Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and Reuben Droughns in Denver before, and CJ Anderson is more than just a warm body. He’s a legitimate guy to watch, and Gase even ran some zone-blocking in 2014, so the idea isn’t completely new to anyone involved.

Behind Anderson, the Broncos have options. Montee Ball was expected to back-fill the production lost in Moreno’s departure, but injuries and fumbles have factored into him being a disappointment. Speaking of hit-and-miss, Ronnie Hillman remains an enigma. Hillman has had his flashes of brilliance, but it’s tough to judge who exactly he is, since he missed time to injury in 2014. Still, the former regime liked him, and with good reason. More Than A Fan’s own Dan Armelli explains on Denver’s Fansided page, Predominately Orange.

The Broncos will also be returning Ronnie Hillman, who gained the necessary weight in effort to become more durable. In a cruel twist of fate, he ended up missing the same amount of games in 2014 as he did in his first two years combined (8).

Even still, Hillman showed great improvement and proved to be an asset on this team. He can play on any down (though probably not every down), averaging a career high 4.1 yards per carry. Most of his 434 yards on the season came at a point where the Broncos offensive line could not run block worth a lick. Hillman was the perfect back at the time with his ability to bounce runs outside if and when it got messy between the tackles.

He was also able to earn the coaches’ trust on 3rd downs and passing situations. According to Pro Football Reference, Hillman improved on his pass block efficiency (which calculates how efficient a RB is when it comes to limiting sacks, hits, and hurries) from 88.5% in 2013 to 93.8% in 2014. Moreover, Hillman was targeted more in 2014 (34) than in his first two years combined (12, 14).

In another reboot of sorts for the Broncos, former head coach Wade Phillips will return to the charge of Kubiak, after serving as his defensive coordinator for three years in Houston, serving in the same role with Denver. If you’ve experienced the trauma of Phillips being your head coach, try to understand that he’s out of the way enough calling the defense, and he does that well. Jack Del Rio is a big loss for the players, but Phillips will have the unit ready to go without missing a beat once September rolls around. Overall, you expect some improvement from the 2015 Broncos.

They might even be able to afford some of the anticipated regression from Peyton Manning, and still be a better team, thanks to what Kubiak and the ZBS bring to the table.

Sports + Saturday Night Live = Pure Gold.

For the past 40 years, Saturday Night Live has entertained millions of people all over the nation. They have many memorable sketches that can never be forgotten such as “More Cowbell” featuring Christopher Walken, Chippendales Audition featuring Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze, “Like Buttah” featuring Barbara Streissand, The Weekend Update, and you will see the political spoofs of Bill Clinton, both George Bush and George W. Bush, Al Gore, Barack Obama, and various other political figures.

With last nights celebration of Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary, you watched many of those iconic sketches that I just mentioned. Pop culture has played a huge part of Saturday Night Live sketches throughout the shows 40 years of air. It seemed no one was safe from a joke or two, The sports world was no exception.

Many professional athletes and sports icons were also a huge part of the success of Saturday Night Live. Many athletes either made cameos in sketches, and there were some that turned out to be pretty darn good hosts of the show once or as many as three times, in which Dwayne Johnson and Charles Barkley have hosted three times, and all of them were willing to come onto the show and humiliate themselves to make people laugh. And when the sports world was mixed in with Saturday Night Live, the result, was mostly, pure gold.

Here are some of the most memorable sports moments of Saturday Night Live.

 

Derek Jeter: Yankee Wives: ‘The Captain’ wasn’t afraid to show off his comedy chops back on December 1, 2001 when he hosted the show for his first and only time. He had skits on the show that were outstanding, this skit is possibly the best skit he had when he performed on the show.

https://screen.yahoo.com/yankee-wives-000000820.html

 

Michael Jordan on Bill Swerski’s Super Fans: ‘Bill Swerski’s Super Fans’ skit made many appearances throughout the shows history. Bill Swerski (George Wendt) hosted the show along with Todd O’Connor (Christ Farley), Pat Arnold (Mike Myers) and Carl Wollarski (Robert Smigel). The show took place in Chicago at a restaurant/bar. The gang loved anything and everything that had to do with the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Bulls. As you can imagine, when Michael Jordan stopped by, the sketch was one of the most memorable sports moments.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/bill-swerskis-super-fans/n10094

 

Tim Meadows as O.J. Simpson: I the wake of the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, Saturday Night Live didn’t shy away by cracking a few jokes about such a serious issue going on at the time. O.J. Simpson, played by Tim Meadows, decides to ‘admit his guilt’ during an on-field interview with then Bills coach Marv Levy, played by Will Ferrell, which left the coach very uncomfortable.

https://screen.yahoo.com/o-j-simpson-cold-opening-000000362.html

 

“B.Y.O.B—Bring Your Own Booyah: When Ray Romano hosted the show back in March of 1999, he delivered one of the best sports skits along with Tim Meadows to parody ‘Sportscenter’. Romano played the new sports anchor of the show, Chet Harper, and Tim Meadows played the late Stuart Scott.

https://screen.yahoo.com/sports-center-ray-romano-000000679.html

 

Will Ferrell as Harry Caray: Will Ferrell played many iconic characters and impersonated many pop culture icons during his tenure on the show. One of those many impersonations that he played throughout his years with the show was his impersonation of the late Cub announcer Harry Caray.

https://screen.yahoo.com/harry-caray-space-infinite-frontier-000000505.html

 

Jay Pharoah as Stephen A. Smith: Thank God someone imitated Stephen A. Smith and how much he is infatuated with the Miami Heat during the Lebron era. This who impersonation is spot on.

https://screen.yahoo.com/weekend-stephen-smith-miami-heat-000000825.html

 

Eli Manning as host: Just soon after his first Super Bowl win, the very shy and non-spoken Eli Manning joined the list of many athletes that have hosted Saturday Night Live. Many thought that the show wasn’t going to be all that great. It turns out that the majority of the people were wrong.

 

Peyton Manning: Whoever thought that Peyton Manning could be so funny? The older brother of Eli certainly proved he has a sense of humor when he hosted the show for his first time. He certainly left that night with one of the funniest and most memorable sketches in the shows history.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/united-way/n12129