Sunday, December 10, 2006

Walkers Rants, Back in the Sadle

The Heisman Ceremony was about as boring as they get. Congrats Troy Smith. Now that I got that out the way, let’s get this party started with Walker’s Rants back in the saddle.

The NFC might be the best mediocre conference in the history of sports….

The Giants will not make the playoffs…

Rex Grossman will cost the Bears a shot at a Super Bowl….

The BCS committee got it right, well sort of. Florida is the right team to take on Ohio State. At least they got 1 thing right out of a bad system…

Michigan, USC Big 10 vs. Pac 10 in the Rose Bowl, that game could be something special… Well Michigan will have to pull their head out of their asses and stop crying about the BCS Snub first…

Georgetown already out of the top 25 after starting at 8? If that was Old man John Thompson coaching that team, they would be doing laps on the Beltway right now…

The “Hot Stove Meetings” Worse television ever. Baseball has no business on TV in December….

If someone is willing to pay Barry Bonds 16 million bucks then let him get paid. Like you would turn down that much money….

Why’d they even have a ceremony for the Heisman this year? Troy Smith has been the crowned winner since about October…

Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl… That still doesn’t sound right…

A.I. wants out of Philly, yet another moment in time that Philly fans can mark as a lost opportunity and heart break…

That damn Gilbert Arenas may be the best player in NBA that most fans outside the Beltway have never heard of…

Coach Groh extension? Ahhahahahaha……

Who reminded Jeff Garcia how to play? Maybe he should be the started in Philly…

Vince Young: not bad at all….

Hockey: yup still too cold to go watch….

The Div 1-AA and DII and DIII playoffs, they are pretty fun to watch check them out if you can…
Indiana v. Kentucky, UCLA v. Texas A&M, Washington v. Gonzaga, Wisconsin v. Marquette; all examples of why NC2A got it right. Give them a tourney and more top teams are willing to play more often….

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Walker Rants part 7

It’s Sunday, and Walker is back and I feel liking complaining. So sit down and Shhh cause I have something Id like to say. Walker’s Rant 7th edition starts now.

The Pats could be a scary team to play, especially if they gain any type of home field advantage. No one wants to go to the Northeast to play them in the playoffs...

Monday Night Football, it’s snowing, and Brett Favre was playing…. That the way football is meant to be…

I think Brett played better when it was snowing….

ACC-Big 10 challenge, just another example why College basketball got it right, and college football missed the ship…

Jake the Snake out in comes Jay Cutler. I love this move, look at my draft board from last season I’ve been singing his praises since he left Vandy…

The ACC is by far the best conference in the NC2A basketball…

Vince Young is growing up slowly but surely… Now if he can just play the Giants defense each week, we can start clearing him a shelf in Canton…

Tony Romo is not dating Jessica Simpson….

The entire Atlantic division in the NBA should be relocated to play the remainder of this season in the D-League…

Shawn Merrimen, Vernon Davis, both from UM products, both missed time out of this season, I think they were both juicing….

If you give teams enough time, the bad ones fall to the wayside, isn’t that right USC?

Florida has a legit claim to play in the BCS Championship, I don’t care what anyone says…

Big Ben needs to sit and get some rest, pack it up for the year and just start planning for next season…

Wake Forest, ACC Champions; that just sounds wrong….

McNabb, Get out of Philly, that city will destroy what is left of your career…

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Walkers Rants Part 4

Here we are again week 4 of Walker-Sports rants. We have basketball, football, hockey (like I’d talk about that). So here we go, and lets see what I can come up with for this week.

The ending to the Cowboys vs., Redskins game was insane. Three last second field goal attempts in 20 seconds, its not every day that you get to see that…

The refs cost the Boys the game. That was a five yard face mask not a 15 yarder

The Steelers are reeling. 2-6. Looks like the drive to win a ring for the second hand will be postponed for 1 more season. Maybe the lost of Randle-El was bigger than they thought? Most teams don’t go through 3 punt return men in 8 weeks….

Chris Henry… bitch. He left Carson Palmer out to dry. Kind of how the whole Cincinnati Bengalis team has all season.

The Nationals found a manager… good job Jim Bowden and company. Now how do you fix that Soriano mishap?

Why am I talking about baseball in November?

Hockey… NHL… well its cold I guess….

Eton Thomas and Brandon Haywood get into a fight after practice…Now Brenda wants to get angry too bad his lazy attitude cost him his job in the off season…

Let’s face it LeBron punked out and walked out on his team. If that had been one the “NBA bad boys” we would have crucified him. He doesn’t deserve a free pass just because he makes some good Nike commercials….

College basketball season is here… Hope the Cavaliers are ready, because they are going right into the fire. Who opens a new stadium against the 10th ranked team in the country? Stupid…

UNC tops the pre-season polls…ummm yeah they have what it takes to go wire to wire…

Fantasy football is ruining my life….

When did Maryland football get so good? Man it sucks being the turn around game for a teams season (UVA)…

Texas and Auburn are out…Why do I have a terrible feeling that a 1 lost Notre Dame team makes the BCS Championship?

College football needs Steve Spurrier to be successful. It’s just not the same without seeing him on my TV every weekend…

Lets go Maze and Blue, Lets see if Lloyd Carr and get it together one more time and get by OSU this upcoming weekend… If not he might as well keep on going right out of town and find a new job…

walkers Rants Part 3

Here we are yet again, ready for another edition of Walker’s rants. It’s been a good week, so let’s see what I had to say about it.

That Tony Romo kid is pretty good. I’ll admit he out preformed my expectations. Now its time to see if he was a 1 hit wonder or the real deal.

Big Ben does not need to be playing football. I am pretty sure he sold his soul to the devil for that ring. Well least he got more of a deal than Johnny did with that fiddle of gold…

Oakland has two wins…. That’s unacceptable. I want to see a team hit that perfect mark 0-16 that will impress me more than going 16-0…

The Nationals need a manager and soon. What are they waiting for?

Gary Sheffield is an idiot….However, if being disgruntled means he will purposely cause eras in the field again, I am all about seeing that…

Red, you were a living legend amongst those in your sport. You were a living legend here in the community. I know I will miss seeing your Silver Mercedes cutting across town. You did more for basketball and American culture than anyone will ever know. I pray that you are in a happier place now, God Bless you.

The NBA season is here… Yay…..

If the Wiz kids can only lose by 3 to the Cavs and Gilbert only has 7 points, then it may not be a bad season in DC.


I am glad that refs are calling carries and traveling, because LeBron we all witnessed you traveled last year.

Well guess WVU wasn’t as good as I thought they were. But I still don’t think that Louisville plays for a Championship if they go undefeated…

Tuesday night football sucks…

Congrats to my teammates Tui and PJ for making their first starts for the U.S. Eagles 7’s team and scoring tries in their first game. With athletes of their caliber on the team, I know the USA has a chance to makes some noise in the world of 7’s

Walkers Rants Part 1

Welcome to the second edition of Walker’s rants. Yall know the drill by now. As you can guess I have plenty to talk about, so let’s not waste anytime and get right to the fun.

Three game winning field goals on Sunday to cap off upset victories…Yeah that went over real well for me in my office pool….

A 62 yard field goal, damn that’s really far. Too bad he is still a kicker and not a real football player….

Big Ben just can’t catch a break. I’m not even sure if Karma is with him, or working against him at this point….

T.O. is horrible. There’s no other way to cut it. He makes being a Cowboy fan near impossible….

Well here comes Tony Romo; if nothing else this should be interesting….

The Redskins have to do something with Mark Brunell; I cannot take another call dealing with Skins fans belching over his inabilities to play the game. I never thought I’d see a player get old right before our eyes.

This World Series is painful to watch….Its like watching the Tigers just give it away. Well the Cards aren’t exactly looking like superstars in the own right. More of a who wants it least attitude around this one…

Florida sitting atop the poll to start the season; that’s like giving them the kiss of death right now so they won’t win the championship

Charlie Weis, SHUT UP….

NBA season is around the corner; guess I’ll start watching come Feburary…

UVA racks up another win, too bad they still won’t make a Bowl game….

Maryland may win the ACC with a 6-6 record, now that’s just a shame. ..

USC takes a tough L, finally will you people admit they are not the same USC of the past few seasons and rank them accordingly?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

UVA We Have a QB

The Virginia Cavaliers in action on Saturday, making their home debut against the visiting Wyoming Cowboys. After an embarrassing season opener on the road at Pitt, the Hoos needed to come out strong, and put on a show for the home crowd. By the time the dust settled, many fans left the stadium happy with the victory, but leery about how the Cav’s earned it, and what direction the team will take in the next few weeks.

The theme of Saturday’s game was missed opportunities. The Cav’s played bend but don’t break defense, throughout the duration of the game. Wyoming was able to move the ball up and down the field seemingly at will. However, the Virginia defense was able to tighten up in time, to hold the Cowboys to just three first half points, and three second half points.

The Cowboys racked up 313 total yards of offense, 168 yards on the ground, and 145 yards in the air. They dominated the Cavaliers in every offensive category. Despite low totals in yards, the Cowboys were able to find gaps in the Cavalier defense, whenever they needed to. This included a fourth down conversion in overtime that nearly sent the game into a second OT, if not for a horrible miscue by the kicker when he missed the extra point causing the Cowboys to fall 1 point shy.

The best aspect of the game for Virginia was their special teams play. Kicker Chris Gould converted on two of three field goal attempts, including one from 34 yards out that would tie the game, and eventually send the game to overtime. More importantly was the job done, while punting the ball. On several occasions he was able to pin Wyoming at or inside their own 10 yard line. From their it was either a break down in the defense, that let the Cowboys move the ball beyond the shadows of the uprights, or the Virginia offense was in capable of moving the mall even with good field position.

The biggest move of the game came with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, with Virginia trailing 6-3. To begin the drive Coach Groh turned to junior QB Kevin McCabe to replace Senior and Captain Chris Olsen. When McCabe entered the game, the atmosphere around the stadium instantly changed. There was a charge that went through the crowd as everyone anticipated what the young McCabe could bring to the table. One thing we all knew for sure was after the poor performance over the past two weeks, the level of production from the QB could not get any worse.

McCabe came into the game and looked prepared to take on whatever the Wyoming defense threw at him. McCabe completed his first pass for 20 yards to Jonathon Stupar. He never turned back from that moment. While in the pocket Kevin McCabe looked calm and full of poise. He felt the Wyoming pressure and was able to buy time with his feat. McCabe was able to move with the pocket, keeping his head up, and his eyes down field. On several plays, this bought him enough time to look downfield and make a play to keep the Cavalier offense moving. The mechanics on Kevin McCabe’s throwing motion looked impressive also. Take the time to set his feet in before throwing, he ensured he was well balanced, and be able to keep his passes under control and not let them float. He also showed a knack for reading though his progressions. This was useful on three third down conversions, when McCabe made his reads and found the open receiver on the out routes, and worked the sidelines.

In Overtime, Kevin McCabe threw a strike to Kevin Ogletree that put the Hoos up in OT, after the converted extra point form Gould. For the first time all day UVA appeared to have a swagger to them when running the offense, which is something they have lacked all season.
While McCabe may be the answer for the Cavalier passing attack, however an answer for the problems of the running game has yet to be found. Jason Sneiling was out of action this weekend due to injury. This left the burden of the rushing attack on second year player Cedric Peerman. He was simply unable to carry the load. Peerman netted 44 yards rushing for the game, and as a team the Hoo’s netted 32 yards on the ground. It does not matter who is under center for Virginia, if they cannot get their rushing numbers up they will never be able to move the offense down field. Teams will be able to key in on the inexperienced QB’s and dominate the Cavalier offense.

Now it appears the Cavaliers have found a starting QB for the rest of the season. McCabe has the potential to turn into a solid two year starter for the program. Stability is something the Cavaliers need as they continue to search for an identity for this young team. At least this may be the end to one question for the Cavaliers, but there are still plenty more to be answered.

A win is always a good thing, and it’s great that the Cavaliers have made it back to .500, but they need more work. The schedule will only become more difficult as Virginia enters the ACC schedule. It is difficult to say what the future will hold for the Cavaliers, but if Saturday is any indication, Cavalier fans better prepare for what will be a long season.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rebuilding is harder than you think.

Who knew rebuilding could be so difficult? Well, University of Virginia of fans are finding out just how difficult it can be. On Saturday, the Cavaliers kicked off their fall season on the road, at the University of Pittsburgh. The trip up and back, may have been the only successful part of the weekend the Hoo’s.From the opening drive, Virginia appeared to be in trouble. Pitt marched right down the field converting 2 third and longs as they attacked the Cav’s defense right up the middle. The drive was capped off, with one of the most perfectly executed play-action calls this writer has ever seen. After faking the handoff, Pitt QB Tyler Palko, had clear space to run into endzone, but instead he threw a shot-put style pass to his open receiver standing in the endzone, adding to the embarrassment of the Virginia defense. After a shaky first drive, the Hoo’s settled down, and began to play some football with the Panthers. Both teams went back and forth during the first half. Entering halftime Virginia trailed 17-10, but they had seized a large chunk of momentum following a pick late in first half.That was the end of the good news for the Cavaliers. The second half was full of mental lapses, poor decisions, and bonehead plays. Down 17-10, with a chance to move the ball downfield and tie the game up, the Cav’s botched the punt return when two players collided into each other. This gave Pitt an opportunity to down the ball on the Cavaliers 1 yard line. The next play QB Chris Olson’s pass was picked off, and the Panthers were ready to pour the route on. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cavaliers struggled, to stop the basic run plays. Pittsburgh used a textbook game plan to defeat Virginia. In the first half, Pitt ran the ball right at the Virginia defense. Using its strength to overpower UVA’s 3-4 schemes. On the D-Line the front 3 of Virginia was not big enough to hold up the Pitt O’Line. The linebackers were not quick enough to scrape off the backs of the D’Line and make plays. As result everyone was moving back and catching, no good. When third and long situations came about, UVA brought one of the weakest blitz packages imaginable. The Hoo’s had no pass rush and the seasoned QB Palko had plenty of time to pick apart a weak secondary. In the second half Pitt went to the play action pass. The Virginia corners had become so accustomed to pressing up to cover the run that they bit at any hint of a run. The Panthers were able to go over the top and catch the Hoo’s sleeping, almost at will during the second half.As the final buzzer went off, and the Cavaliers left the field in a 38-13 defeat, there were plenty of emotions running through my mind. Naturally as a fan, there’s a sense of pain that comes with a lost, especially one of this magnitude. But I began to remember what I heard everyone saying throughout the summer and during the game, “This is a rebuilding year.” That’s when I got to thinking what does that really mean? 38-13 is what it means apparently.Then again, what can you say, 2 QB’s 2 RB’s, 5 OL, 2 LB’s and 2 DL’s., that’s the personnel losses for the Cavaliers over the past 2 years. That’s just the players who left the program to the NFL. Those are numbers that the OSU’s and Miami’s of the world are used to. However, they do an excellent job of continually bringing in top notch players to replace the ones who have left. Al Groh and company have failed to do that. Saturday night Virginia saw the debut of the Chris Olsen era. Chris is a fifth year transfer and getting his first playing time of his career, and on Saturday he showed that inexperience. Olsen guided the offense to 211 yards of offense, terrible. Virginia showcased a new offensive line that provided no holes, for what is still a talented group of backs. However, unless your name is Barry Sanders it is near impossible for a back to gain yards without a solid blocking scheme in front of them.Rebuilding truly will be more difficult than anyone ever thought. Next week is Wyoming; Virginia will be at home and has a chance to get to .500. These are the games Virginia must win this season. They cannot afford to give away anything as this season will be an uphill battle.

Who Platoons a Backup QB?

This may be the worse or at least the strangest QB situation that the NFL has seen in years. The Washington Redskins are struggling, not with finding a starting QB; it’s the backup QB that is posing a problem for the Skins. The veteran Todd Collins or the second year player Jason Campbell; both are fighting for the right to backup starting QB Mark Brunell.

Throughout the preseason Campbell and Collins have gone back in forth in attempting to earn the role of back up. Collins is offensive coordinators Al Saunders favorite pick for the job. Todd Collins has been a backup QB for the Kansas City Chiefs and Al Saunders for years now. He is the only player on the Redskins roster that understands the entire 700 page playbook that Saunders plans on utilizing this season. Great pick for a backup QB on paper. The problem with Collins, is when he took the field in the preseason, he was terrible. Continually he appeared to be lost in the pocket, and incapable of completing passes to any of his receivers on the deep or the shallow routes.

Enter Jason Campbell, the young gunslinger from Auburn, who led his team to an undefeated season as a senior in college. The Skins spent three picks, just to move up high enough into the draft to pick him up two years ago. So far, he has yet to see the field in anything more than a pre-season exhibition. Campbell is a big boy, with a live arm, and the ability to avoid pressure in the pocket, and make plays happen with his feet. Problem; as Al Saunders said, he is incapable of grasping the entire playbook that he wants to install, and therefore a poor pick as the backup.

This leaves head coach Joe Gibbs with a dilemma entering the regular season. Who does he go with? The seasoned veteran, who may not be physically able to execute the plays that he can call so deftly, and your offensive coordinator, loves, or the young gunslinger who may not understand the play call that but has the physical tools to get the job done.

Well, the Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs is in the Hall for a reason, and he found a way to fix this situation that would have made any D.C. politician proud. Gibbs has instituted what may be the first ever platoon backup QB. It goes something like this: If the starter Brunell goes down with an injury during the game, then Todd Collins will come in and take over at QB. However, if Brunell is hurt, and is slated to miss the entire week leading into a game, the Jason Campbell will take all the snap in practice, and he will be the starting QB the following weekend.

Now this situation leaves plenty of questions that need to be answered. In my years of following football, I have never seen anything like this, and think it may be one of the worse ideas ever. However, it is somehow fitting that the Washington Redskins. The skins have the largest coaching staff ever, with multiple assistant coaches, and head coaches of this and that. They have five RB’s on the roster. A platoon backup QB just shows the continual disarray the Skins have in trying to find a path for the future.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tiger's Emotional Day

Sunday Morning Eastern Standard Time, we saw the return of Tiger Woods to the realm of greatness as he fought off the attempts of his competitors to win the 2006 British Open. Tiger’s victory on Sunday marked several important occasions in his now 10 year career.

Perhaps the most import part of Sundays win was it marked an appropriate ending to one of the most emotional days I have ever witnessed in sporting history. As Tiger walked the last few holes of the back 9 at Royal Liverpool you could see and feel the emotion welling within him, but Tiger was not the only golfer vying for a championship on Sunday while carrying a heavy heart.

Tiger’s top competition for the British Open Championship did not come from the Hefty Lefty, The wonder kid Sergio, or Mr. Els; it was Chris DiMarco who remained hot on Wood’s trail throughout Sunday. What made this so special was DiMarco was carrying his own set of personal baggage as he took the course this past weekend. Chris DiMarco’s mother passed on July 4, 2006 suddenly while she was on vacation with her husband. This was a tremendous lost to DiMarco and now here he was trying to compose himself to march on and win a Major Championship less than a month later.

Chris DiMarco surrounded himself with family, flying his father and son over to join him in Liverpool England. Flanked by two generations of DiMarco’s Chris made a strong surge giving Tiger everything he could handle till the final two holes of the tournament. It took a 40 foot putt for birdie and 25 footer for par at 14 for DiMarco to remain on the pace, but he appeared ready for the challenge throughout the entire day. After completing his round DiMarco remarked that he could feel his mom watching over him and guiding him through the final round.

Chris DiMarco has no reason to he hang his head from his second place performance. After sinking a tremendous putt for par to pull within 1 stroke of Woods, Tiger went on a tear. Sinking Birdies on 14, 15, and 16, no shame in losing to that, it was just Tiger being Tiger, and there’s not much anyone can do with that. Unlike so many others Chris DiMarco did not wilt under the Tiger mystique but stayed strong and simply just did not have enough in the tank to keep up with Tiger.

Despite Chris DiMarco’s valiant effort the day belonged to Tiger Woods. Woods played a near flawless round, and a near flawless tournament for that mater. As he walked to the 18th green it was all said and done for Mr. Woods. Carrying a two stroke lead he had fought off the best attempts from DiMarco and simply needed to two putts to notch his third British Open Championship.

Yet this one would be far different from his previous championship runs. It had been a year since Tiger hoisted an Open trophy over his head. Tiger played the first two Majors of the 2006 season (The Masters and U.S. Open) with a heavy heart. In Augusta Tiger knew he was spending his last days with his father Earl Woods. At the U.S. Open he was trying to come back after the death of his mentor and best friend. Almost as if he was making a curtsey appearance rather than a serious attempt Tiger missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open. The first time he missed a cut in a Major Championship.

Tiger Woods needed to win the 2006 British Open. Not to keep on pace and catch Jack Nicholas and his records, but to put his career and life back in order. Tiger has taken plenty of criticism for the changes in his game over the past few months and he has never been one to take to criticism well (just ask the countless reporters he now shuns). His swing has been under attack for months now. Add to that a drought in the Majors including his poorest performance to date at the 2006 U.S. Finally top it off by the lost of his father and Tiger was reeling. He needed something to help him regain his focus to golf and re-establish himself as the dominate force that he is.

That’s exactly what Mr. Woods did on Sunday, and he did it in a unique fashion. Tiger put the driver away for the British Open and instead relied on his irons, approach shots and putting to dominate the field. Woods was first in fairways hit, second in greens in regulation. His precision on and around the greens could not be touched. Tiger managed to focus all his energy into the British Open. All the distractions, all the criticisms Tiger took and funneled them into a fury that no one could match on the golf course.

After sinking the final putt on 18 to clench the 2006 British Open Tiger raised his hands to the sky let out a yell before sub coming to the tears. As his caddie held him on the 18th green you could feel the emotions coming from him. Perhaps the most touching moment came as Tiger wept with his caddie and his wife in memory of his father, and at the clubhouse Chris DiMarco watched on with Mike Terrico. As DiMarco watched Tigers celebration you could see the emotion welling within him. At that time you could see that DiMarco felt every emotion that Tiger was feeling at that moment. Though there were not together at the time both men seemed to have a common bond and a shared moment. It was a cathartic experience for anyone who watched as these two warriors gave it their all, and shared a moment that even a person who has never seen a golf course could share.

Sunday was a day that reminded me of why I love sports. It’s not about the records or the championships but it’s about the stories. The moments where a fan can connect to an athlete they’ve never met and completely understand and feel what they are going through.

Thank you, Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco for reminding all of us of what makes sports so special.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Concerned Cavalier Fan

With fall practice just a few weeks to say, I must admit that as the most opportunistic Cavalier fan you will find I am nervous about the upcoming season. The Virginia Cavaliers are at a major crossroads, and need to step up big in the 06 season or the future of Cavalier football may become very bleak.

The Hoos are entering the sixth year of Al Groh’s tenure as a head coach. During that time he has compiled a 37-26 record, not bad but not what fans bargained for when they the Virginia Alumni was brought back into the fold a few years ago. The Groh era has been interesting to say the lease with extreme highs and terrible lows. At the beginning Groh was the overachiever who won with a team that did not belong. Then he brought in two massive recruiting classes that produced many quality players for the NFL. Too bad they never really came through as colligate players wearing the Orange and Blue.

Entering the 2006 season all the top recruits are gone. The entire offensive line is in the pros. For the first time since arriving in Charlottesville Groh has to groom a new QB. In the past Groh has had the pleasure of have experience QB’s with gifted talents, Schaub and Hagans both made it to the NFL. Now it is Chris Olsen’s turn to step in and lead the attack. He will have a new backfield behind him. Michal Smith will attempt to finally live up to the hype he has carried for the past three seasons, and Jason Sneiling (perhaps the best player on the field) will pull double duty playing both FB and Tailback.

This is a scary prognosis on offense. UVA has suffered from an inept passing game even when they had talented QB’s. Now the QB’s are gone and the receivers have not improved. With no serious threat in the backfield (Lundy, Perman both in the pros) defenses will be able to load up people in the box and punish a young offensive line and dare the Cavs to throw the ball.

This is going to be a hard year for the Cavs, what makes it even more disheartening is the fact that Groh needs a big year. He has brought success to the Hoos, but with all the talent he has cycled through the program he has yet to yield the needed results. The Cavaliers routinely struggle against the top teams in the conference, with the exception of a win over FSU, UVA has not been competitive against the top teams (see last years Va Tech game). That gap between Virginia and the rest of the haves will continue to grow. This is unacceptable.

Groh was brought in to bring the Hoos to the next level, and he has yet to do that. This season will not be a step in the right direction and simply put that is a shame.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

German Soccer Coach Resigns

German soccer coach Juergen Klinsmann announced on Tuesday his resignation as head coach of the German national team. This announcement comes on the heels of Klinsmann leading the German squad to a third place finish in this year’s World Cup. However, the announcement does not come as a surprise, as speculation of Klinsmann resignation from his post have been rapid since the second round of the Cup.

Juergen Klinsmann was brought in to coach a German program that was in need of building two years ago. In that short time he was able to breathe new life into the stagnant team, and the results were born out with this years surprise performance in front of the home crowd.

What made Klinsmann so successful where his recent predecessors had failed was his approach to the game. Taking over the German program at 39 years of age he was a youthful face and he would bring youthful players into the program. Klinsmann went into the German development leagues to find the base for what would be his World Cup squad. What he came back with was a crop of young players who have earned exceptional international experience at a young age, and are already being called the favorites for the 2010 Cup. Young talents such as Philip Lahm and Lukas Podolski now have substantial international experience under their belts and they are not even 20 years old yet.

Another upgrade Klinsmann brought to the German program was a faster open style of play, that the Germans were able to show glimpses of throughout the Cup. Klinsmann had his players playing aggressive on offense pushing the ball down field, and trying to go over the top to find open attackers. This made the game more exciting and gave his team a chance to show off their newfound youth and athleticism on the wings and in the middle.

Finally Juergen Klinsmann brought an “American approach” to the game of soccer off the field to the German program. Klinsmann was very much in tune with the mental state of his players. Klinsmann brought relaxation techniques and a looseness to his team. A drastic change from the usual rigidity we find in German sports.

Now the question is what will Klinsmann do next? At 41 years old he still has plenty of years of coaching left in him. He is also currently the hottest manager in the world right now after leading his team deep into the Cup when many thought they would barely make it out of pool play.

The rumors are being circulated that Klinsmann could make a return to the U.S. and take over the United States team. After a terrible showing by the U.S. squad it is apparent that changes need to be made the most obvious of which is the removal of Bruce Arena as head coach. Klinsmann’s name has been mentioned in several circles.

Personally I think he would be a great fit and perfect choice for the U.S. Klinsmann has proven he knows how to win with young players who are on the cusp of becoming the world’s elite. The United States is full of players are at that level, and need the extra push and guidance to get them over the edge. A major problem with the U.S. team during the 06 Cup was the conservative play on offense and an apparent lack of enthusiasm or heart while playing. Klinsmann enjoys a faster paced game so that will play into the favor of many of the American players. More importantly anyone who watched Klinsmann coach during a match saw how intense and into the matches he was. When a player looks onto the sideline and sees their coach jumping up and down screaming with emotions and joy and anger, it has to invigorate that player and give them a charge to push a little bit harder. At least it should excite them more than watching there manager lean back with his arms folded over his head.

So I say Juergen Klinsmann you are welcome and we are ready for you take the U.S. team to the heights we thought were possible just a few months ago.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How I Became a Soccer Fan for a Day

I’ve never been a fan of soccer. There is no better or straighter forward way to put says it other than that. Yeah, I played a little bit of soccer in grade school, but what person in the U.S. who is in their early to mid 20’s now did not play soccer as a kid. That was all there was to do for kids. Once I was done playing and found football, basketball, and anything else with a ball and I could use my hands I never turned back to soccer. Even growing up in a hot bed of soccer and watching the University of Virginia win 4 national titles, and then D.C. United threepeat still was not enough to make me a fan. Bottom line is you could not force me to watch a game. Well that’s exactly what happened to me this past weekend. I was forced to watch a game, and that game happened to be at the World Cup and it was Germany v. Sweden. Well my outlook about soccer may have changed now, well at least for a day.

This past weekend in Munich Germany was an eye opening experience, and if there is a way to watch soccer that the appropriate setting. Munich was alive with German pride from the moment we arrived on Friday. Oddly enough the most prideful people we first met were English, but it made no difference they were still ready for Germany to make a big statement against the Swedes. Sitting out in the town square drinking beers, and getting a crash course in soccer is how I spent my Friday night in Munich. Too bad I failed to remember a single bit of what my English friends told me.

Saturday was game day and Munich was out early, not as early as my 7 AM start time, but early. The town was buzzing with fans from around the world. The flag was flying everywhere the eye could see. Imagine Marti Gras, best way I can think of to imagine the athomesphere. We spent the day in front of Munich’s famous clock tower sipping adult beverages and taking pictures with anyone who was willing to stop.

Despite the importance of the game fans from both sides were very friendly to each other, and to us confused Americans. There were no signs of the stereotypical soccer hooligans, or extreme national pride that would cause a riot. There were just masses of people gathering in a spot to celebrate the accomplishments of both their respective teams, and gearing up for what would be the biggest game in the next four years for both teams.

The scene around Allianz Stadium was one that would make any American Football fan proud. Fans sprawled out across the parking lot, big screens around the stadium for fans viewing pleasure and tailgates minus the cars. Inside the stadium the buzz was electric. Moments before kickoff fans in the South end of the stadium held up signs creating the German flag, and showing headshots of the key players.

The small pocket of Swedish fans had no chance. Out of an announced crowd of 66,000 there may have been 3,000 Swedes. Despite that they were proud in their pocket of the stands where bright yellow and screaming as loud as they could despite the fact no one could here them.

Their cheers would soon fade away as the Germans scored their first goal at the 8 minute mark and again at the 12 minute mark. Lois Podolski would be the hero of Germany racking up both goals. After establishing a 2-0 lead the Germans put the game into cruise control as the Swedish team was shaken and completely unable to regroup from the onslaught brought on by Podolski.

One thing I will say is if you think slow down football or the old four corner offense ran by Dean Smith is boring, check out slow down soccer. With Germany stalling to burn out the clock to end the first half I found myself falling asleep in the stands. The soothing murmur of the crowd lulled me sleep.

Luckily the second half went by fast. Very little stoppage time, and the ball kept moving with both teams getting legit shots on goal. As time ran out the German team ran towards the stands and gave curtain calls for the fans. As they changed Berlin Berlin Frada an Berlin, Berlin Berlin we’re driving on to Berlin the site of the World Cup Championship.
The city would be electric all night as chants of German pride could be heard across the town and at every Beer Garden and pub and bar you could find.

It really was a great experience to watch a country come together and show so much pride for a national team. With the failures of the U.S. National team this Cup I felt robbed of the opportunity to celebrate like the Germans, British and so many others did as their teamed advanced. No other sport brings together a country as much as soccer does, and as a result we rarely get the opportunity to join together in celebration as Americans. Winning the World Basketball Championship just doesn’t hold the same level of prestige.

For one day I was a fan of the footy. I cannot say Ill be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the next shot on goal… but maybe I will if its Podolski take the shot. While soccer will never replace my American sports or even my rugby, it has earned a bit of respect. If nothing else the fans have earned my respect as the best tailgate and the best all around fans you can meet. The World Cup generates an amazing athomesphere that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. For that reason alone it is an event that is worth watching even if you can’t stand the sport.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What to do with A.I.

The rumor mill is in full motion yet again, and this time the man at the center of the storm is Allen Iverson. It’s hard to imagine a Philly team without the little warrior running the show for them, but according to all indications from within 76’ers camp that is exactly what they want to do. According to sources the 76’ers front office has mentioned they want are ready to move the All-Star.

Now moving Iverson seems like a strange idea, just the thought of seeing him in a different jersey. A.I. is one of those players who are synonymous with his team. When people think of Philadelphia athletics Allen Iverson often times is the first image that comes to peoples mind. There is not questioning how good of an athlete, and what a tenacious player A.I. is. However, the NBA is business and as with any experiment those in charge must take inventory at the end of the day and see where they stand.

Currently the A.I. experiment in Philly is looking bleak. Iverson has been in the league for 10 seasons now, and he has yielded mixed results. On an individual level he has been one of the best players in the NBA over the past decade. A career average of 28.1 ppg, 2.34 steals, and 6.1 assist are all numbers to be proud of. With those numbers alone any team would be happy to have A.I. play as a member of their squad but there is more to A.I. than just numbers.

Iverson is a shoot first pass second point guard, if not for a lack of size (6’1 with shoes, and 165 pnds soaking wet with his old high school shoulder pads on) he could move to the 2 guard position. This is actually where Iverson was most effect when he moved to the 2 and Eric Snow ran the point, the 76’ers made it to the 2001 NBA Finals before bowing out to the Lakers in 5. However, Iverson has routinely shunned the idea of playing off the ball, preferring to keep the ball in hand where he has the ability to make a play at will.

This trigger happy mentality shown by A.I. has turned him into a very difficult teammate. The 76’ers have been rebuilt three times since the arrival of A.I. with the same results and the same constant. There was a time when Allen Iverson and Jerry Stackhouse roamed the backcourt together. The potential of a 50 plus pt a game back court yet there were not enough balls to go around and so Stackhouse had to leave town. Then there were the Larry Brown years. Mutombo in the middle, Snow at the point and a plethora of role players working to make Iverson. This group of men made it to the NBA Finals, but it was too much for Brown to keep Iverson in check and they had to part ways and when Brown left so did the supporting cast. Finally we found the current Philadelphia squad under the leadership of Maurice Cheeks. This was Chris Webber resurrecting his career and joining A.I. That duo couldn’t even make the playoffs this past season.

So here we stand now and its time to reconstruct the 76’ers and this time management realizes that The Answer isn’t the right solution to every problem. So dealing a superstar point guard should be easy right? Wrong. Shipping A.I. will prove to be a more difficult task for Philadelphia than holding on to him till his contract is up.

Due to the way A.I. plays the game he becomes a difficult trade. A.I. is not the answer for a team who is just 1 player away from a championship team. A mater of fact any team that has an established based of scoring players or a superstar cannot possibly bring in A.I. he would become an instant cancer on that squad.

Plus there is the price that Iverson garners on a trade market. Any team that wants to take him on has to be willing to ship out there top player. This means we are talking about deals such as Iverson to Minnesota for K.G. A.I. to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal, or something of that nature nonetheless we are talking a massive deal. Plus for a team to take on those trades it means a complete change in their offensive philosophy as they shift from a big man team to small ball.

Any team who is bad enough that they are willing to shift the team philosophy to pick up Iverson, does not have enough in their coffers to offer to Philly to make it a viable deal.

Perhaps the best move for Philly to make if they are so set on shipping Iverson, is call up New York. I am sure Thomas is willing to make a deal to put A.I. Starbury and Franchise in the same court.

Chew on that for a while.

What Mark Cuban Said

According to a Miami Harold columnist Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban not hurled profanity in the direction of NBA officials and Commissioner David Stern. It is also reported that Cuban went on to yell, “Your league is fixed,” in the direction of the commissioner. Cuban has made no comments regarding rather or not the event has happened. As reported on ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning it appears the Miami reporter only received news of the tirade via a third party source. All of this puts the validity of the statement into question.

More importantly the comment true or false may be the best ally the Dallas Mavericks have going into tonight’s game six back home in Dallas. What was meant to be a small article in a local paper has exploded onto the national scene, and I’m sure that Dallas fans have gotten word of the article via an ESPN affiliate. This means the Dallas crowd will go into the game with a chip on their shoulder aimed at the refs.

The NBA Finals have become a very physical series, with plenty of questionable calls that could have gone either way. When the series began in Dallas, the calls went in Dallas’s favor. Dirk and company were able to get to the foul line at will. Once the series shifted to Miami so did the foul calls. Miami has taken over 25 more attempts from the line in the last three games than the Mavs. That’s why they call it home cooking.

In tonight’s Game 6 the refs are going to be under fire from the moment they take the court. If the game starts to get out of hand in Miami’s favor and there are any questionable calls, you can bet the Dallas fans will be ready to explode. That influence of a hostile crowd will shift the calls back into the hometown team’s favor.

The conspiracy theories have to be flying. If not I’m willing to start them. The NBA needs Dallas to win tonight in order for the league to save face. The only way it is acceptable for Miami to win is if they flat out, out play the Mavs and win by a large margin. If it’s a close game and there are any close calls that could be disastrous for the NBA.

NBA refs are human and they hear and see what is in the media. I’m whatever crew takes the floor tonight will be aware of the Miami Harold article. There’s a good chance they will call the game closer in Dallas’s favor and never realize it, just to avoid looking Miami bias.

Rather Mark Cuban made the remarks or not, the fact they were picked up by the national media will have enough of an impact on Tuesday’s game. That one article may have more of an impact on the outcome of the game and the series than any coaching adjustment or play called.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup Bust

On the biggest stage in American soccer history the United States soccer team laid an egg against the Czech Rep. The U.S. team made their 2006 World Cup appearance in Germany on Monday, and for those of you who took a long break from work to watch the game, I apologize, because what you saw was an absolute disgraceful performance. This was supposed to be the U.S.’s coming out party to the world. The best team the country has put together for international play in history, yet on the field they looked like the same squad that finished dead last in the 1998 World Cup.

Czech Rep. Striker Jan Koller got the ball moving for the Czechs with a goal in the fifth minute of the game off a header. The Czechs never looked back from that point, piling on two more goals in route to a 3-0 victory over the U.S. team. Many of us on this side of the pond in America forgot that the Czechs were ranked second in the world, and the we all got a reminder of that, through their dominate play.

The U.S. is coming off the biggest soccer build up in the country’s history. After the debacle in 1998, everyone was up in arms, and the U.S. changed the way they looked at soccer. Money was being dumped into programs at all levels to help create a program that could hoist the American flag with pride. In the 2002 World Cup, we saw the begging of the fruits from the buildups effort. The Americans stunned Portugal in their opening game and advanced to the Quarter Finals.

2006 was to be the next big for American soccer, and while they still have a chance to make history, the U.S. soccer team dug themselves into a massive hole. Going into the Cup Group E that the U.S. is playing in was labeled “the group of death” with USA Czech Rep, Italy and Ghana playing in it. The top 2 teams advance into the next round. Italy is a squad under a lot of adversity due to scandals in the lower leagues, but they will be a formidable opponent for anyone to face. The U.S. needed to split their games between Czech and Italy and win against Ghana in order to advance. Now they much win out and get a little bit help from some other teams.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was not the fact the U.S. lost, but in the manor they did. Anyone who saw the match saw an U.S. team that was hesitant and lackadaisical on the pitch. There was no sense of urgency from the American players. Once the Czech team jumped out to a 1-0 lead the Americans never got back on track.

The only legitimate attempt at a shot on goal for the U.S. came in the 29th minute courtesy of National team veteran Reyna. Reyna’s shot curved by an outstretched goalie and bounced off the post. That goal would have tied the game at 1-1. A typical occurrence it seems for the American Soccer program. Rather than tieing the game at 1 a piece, the U.S. let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers. The result was you could feel the energy escape from the stadium and the U.S. team seemed to give up from that point on never mounting a serious attack from then on.

The lost on Monday will be a tremendous blow to American soccer on the whole. Soccer is a growing sport that has struggled to gain attention on the national level. The World Cup gave American soccer players a chance to showcase themselves for international fans, but more important the common American sports fan the opportunity to watch and follow the sport. Soccer needed the exposure of a successful appearance. Instead the worse circumstance took place.

The U.S. needed a respectable showing. Of course ideally a win would have been great, but a tie, or a close lost would have been fine. The sporting public loves heartbreak stories of near fortune, close games, and bouncing back from adversity. What the typical American fan does not like is a team that lacks heart, or fails to play hard. There is no quicker way to gain the ire of the American fan than to quite while on the playing field. The Americans quite on Monday, there was no effort, and short of a small handful of players it appeared there was a complete lack of caring. Americans love the Rocky story, but Rocky never gave up.

With a sport that already has an image of being soft, and if often considered weak because of the flops and lapse of physical contact, it could not afford the questions of lack of heart. American soccer has dug itself into a deep hole due to the abysmal showing on Monday. Now it reaches a critical point in the sports history. A monumental effort will be needed on Saturday to beat Italy. An early exit from the World Cup could mean an early and permanent record from the American fans consciousness.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Poise Counts

“If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, poise counts…..” Such a true statement in life and it stands true in the realm of sports, especially in regards to the NBA Finals.

The 2006 NBA Finals got started last night, with the Dallas Mavericks coming out strong and defending home court in game 1 to take 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat. On a night where Dirk Nowitzki shot just 4-14 from the field, the Mavs were led to victory by an unusual suspect on Thursday night. Jason Terry stepped up yet again in this years playoffs to provide the boast for the Dallas squad.

We first got a good look at Jason Terry when he exploded onto our television sets during the San Antonio series. He used his speed and athleticism to outplay Tony Parker at his own game. During the Western Conference Finals he was out shined and out dueled by league MVP Steve Nash. Now against sub-par talent at the point guard position Jason Terry is ready to shine against the Miami Heat.

While spending the early part of his career lost in the obscurity of Atlanta Hawks basketball, Jason Terry never made the playoffs or came close for that matter. During those seasons, Terry would buy tickets to sit court side at NBA playoff games and NBA Finals. Not because he wanted to be seen by the television cameras. He wanted to see what the environment was like around a playoff game. Feel the intensity, and the pressure that surrounds the Finals. Well it seems that all those dollars spent have paid off. Terry showed no signs of being scared of the pressure of NBA Finals Basketball.

Terry seemed unstoppable last night on the court. He went 13-18 from the floor shooting 72% racking up 32 points and leading all scorers. 20 of those points came in the first half while Dallas was struggling just to remain in the game. During the third quarter Terry did not take a shot, stating that he wanted to work the ball around and try to get Dirk involved in the game since he was having an off night. Whenever the Mavs needed a lift it was Terry who stepped up to make the big plays, never allowing the magnitude of the moment to fluster him. Poise counts.

Oddly enough one of Terry’s few missed shots came off an open lay up during the fourth quarter of the game. At a time when Dallas was up 10 and had a chance to stretch the lead to 12 with 5 minutes to go in the game, Terry came up short. On an open break he got caught somewhere between a dunk and a lay up and ended up getting neither. Before he realized what happened, Shaq had two dunks and we are in a timeout with the Heat down six and pushing. The crowd at American Airlines Arena was antsy and ready to turn their backs on the home team. That’s when Terry came fourth yet again with a big play. He forced an offense foul on O’Neal, and converting on the ensuing possession. Then he got a steal from Wade, to put the Mavs back up by six allowing them to hold on for the eventual 10 point win. Poise counts.

While the Mavericks were putting on a clinic on what to do on the court, and how to perform in the biggest game of your career, the Miami Heat showed exactly what happens when teams fail to execute at the basic aspects of the game.

The Heat were only able to muster 12 fourth quarter points, in what was a close game that they had several opportunities to take control of and win. What hurt the Heat most was their ability to shoot. Miami was ice cold from the floor during the fourth, with all their points coming from the paint or the line during the fourth quarter. Yes, Shaq can still be a dominate force, but late in a game in the fourth quarter is not Shaq’s time to shine anymore. He needs help from Flash, Walker and the rest of the assembled talent. They have to be able to step up and hit open jump shots. Then O’Neal gets space in the paint to roam. Instead of that, last night we saw Terry sneaking down into the paint to play help side defense on O’Neal and forcing the big man into ticky tack fouls. The role players have to step up and make their shots. Poise Counts.

Foul shots are often times referred to as freebees, and for the Miami Heat on Thursday night they were anything but that. As a team the Heat went 7-19 from the line, good enough for a 36% average. While most of this can be attributed to Shaq who went 1-9 from the line, the rest is Dwayne Wades fault who shot 6-10. If the Heat can get just a little help from the charity stripe, this is a different game. Once again poise counts.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

McNair is Dealt

Finally, the end is near. After months of speculation, and one of the strangest off seasons in recent memory the Tennessee Titians have figured out what to do with franchise QB Steve McNair. On Wednesday the Titians worked out a deal that will ship the face of their team off to Baltimore, for a fourth round draft pick. While a physical is still pending, the deal puts to rest what has undoubtedly been the oddest chain of events in McNair’s playing career.

At the beginning of the off season Steve McNair was banned from entering the Titians practice facilities in fear he may injure himself. McNair was due 23 million dollars that was left on his contract and due to his injury prone history the Titians did not want to risk a mishap during off season workouts that would burden the team with having to pay all his salary without receiving his services.

Back in April during the NFL Draft the Titians gave Steve McNair’s agent Bus Cook permission to pursue a deal for McNair. It is rumored that Cook worked out a deal with the Ravens at that time that would have given the QB 11 million dollars plus a 1 million dollar signing bonus. This deal was worth more than the 9 million dollars McNair was slated to make in 2006 with the Titians.

The impact of this deal will be felt immediately next season. The Titians dealing McNair clears a space for top draft pick Vince Young. However, Young looks to McNair as a mentor and now he will miss out on spending time as an apprentice to his favorite QB. On the upside for Young, he now has the opportunity to compete for a starting job in Tennessee from the start.

For the Baltimore Ravens the deal may be the kick in the pants the franchise has been seeking since their 2001 Super Bowl victory. Current Ravens starting QB Kyle Boller has had an inconsistent career to say the least. He was brought in to be the pet project of Coach Brian Billick. Now he may be the pet that cost Billick to get evicted. Yet, there have been moments including the tail end of last season that Boller seems to grasp the offense and has potential to be a solid starter. The signing of Steve McNair is a double edged sword for Boller. With the arrival of McNair Boller is automatically dropped to a second string position. Yet the arrival of a Pro-Bowl QB could provide the kick in the ass Boller needs to jump start his career and work to achieve the potential Billick saw in him a few years ago.

That being said, Steve McNair is a Pro-Bowl caliber QB. Even when injured he has the talent and the heart to lift a team onto his shoulders. His ability to understand offenses will allow him to quickly adapt to the complex schemes Coach Billick prefers to run. Also with the guidance of Jim Fossil as his offensive coordinator McNair inherits a brain trust of coaching talent around him. McNair’s ability to stretch the field with his arm will open up space downfield for receivers like Derrick Mason. Also in doing that he will create holes over the middle and in the flats for Pro-Bowl TE Todd Heap to roam, and make big plays. Finally with a QB who is able to pass for over 100 yrds a game the Ravens will not have to rely on RB Jamal Lewis. This means teams will not be able to stack 8 men in the box to stop the run. This should allow Lewis the opportunity to find more holes to attack from the line of scrimmage. Despite being slowed by injury McNair still has a powerful arm that is very accurate. While he may not return to his MVP form of a few seasons ago, he has the potential to return Pro-Bowl talent and be an upgrade for a stagnant offense.

For the Baltimore Ravens signing Steve McNair is an instant upgrade in what is becoming one of the most competitive divisions in football. Currently the AFC North is home to the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals are widely considered one of the best teams in the league (if Palmer is healthy), and the Browns are improving each day under Coach Cornnel. The Ravens needed an upgrade just to keep pace with their division rivals. Not to mention signing McNair may be enough of a bold move to help keep outspoken and insanely talented linebacker Ray Lewis quiet going into camp. At least now the Ravens have a fighting chance.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Driving a Story into the Ground

On Tuesday June 6, Roger Clemens made his return to Single A baseball. Yeah that’s right the future first ballot Hall of Famer was playing Single A ball down in Lexington Kentucky with the Lexington Legends. The starting assignment would be the first of what should be three warm ups Clemens will go through before making his return to the big leagues at the end of June.

Now baseball players going down to play minor league ball while working on rehab assignments, or in Clemens case getting in their spring pitching is completely normal. What is not normal is LIVE coverage of the game courtesy of ESPN. This is slightly excessive coverage to put it mildly.

From about 7 pm to 8 pm ESPN stopped all other sports coverage and placed four members of their Baseball Tonight Crew. Granted the programming scheduled for that time slot was Poker, so we did not miss out on too much, but there are still more important stories than a typical pitching appearance by Roger Clemens that needs to be discussed. More often than not, it is becoming evident that ESPN is wielding their power as the World Wide Leader of Sports to dictate to the viewer and the rest of the media what are the important stories that need to be covered.

The Lexington Legends are a Single A team that probably averages between 5-7,000 fans a night. I’d venture out and guess there may be one video camera there from the local news station to get a few shots for the evening news. Last night ESPN brought in their crew to bring live coverage to the rest of the known world. I am pretty sure that was the first time in Legends team history that a production truck was sitting out in the parking lot.

Perhaps the worse part of the live coverage was the quality of it. I know that the Lexington park is not equipped for live coverage, but watching the video coverage of Tuesday night’s game was enough to make me motion sick. The video looked like someone was filming it with a hand held camera while they were kneeling on the third baseline. The poor quality of the production alone was yet another sign that the game should not have been covered.

Yes we are talking about Roger Clemens, and he will be a Hall of Famer, but what did he really do yesterday? Has he been out of baseball for an extremely long time? No. He missed the first two months of the season. Remember he did pitch 2 games in the World Baseball Championships. So, it’s not like he has been gone from the sport that long. Clemens is not returning from an injury. His legs wore out on him last year in the World Series, but that was a fatigue factor, it is not as though he is coming back from Tommy John surgery. So why all the focus on his first game back?

Granted, the Baseball Tonight crew brought their expertise opinion in analyzing Clemens pitching performance. Yet, we have to remember a Big Leaguer who goes down to pitch a minor league game is almost always a lose-lose for the Big Leaguer. Yesterday for Clemens he was working on his location and his control. The guys he was facing were working on getting a hit off Clemens. Meaning, these kids don’t have the discipline of the average big leaguer. They are willing to chase, and hack away at pitches even if it is not a good one. This means they will strike out more often, but on the converse side it means there is a good chance they can get lucky and slap a shot into the outfield.

So Roger Clemens survived his stint in Single A and only gave up 1 homer. Now it’s on to Double A. My only hope is that the World Wide Leader keeps his second appearance in the realm of reality. Meaning, talk about it for a segment or two on SportsCenter but not for the full show.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Michelle Falls Short Again

Monday Michelle Wie was within one stroke of qualifying for the PGA U.S. Open. It was an incredible feat, and refreshing to see Wie go about perusing her goals in the proper manor. A few months back I wrote an article where I complained about Michelle Wie playing on the PGA Tour via sponsor’s exemptions. I caught a lot of flack for that article (but I still stand by my assertion). That being said, I am appreciative and proud for what Michelle Wie accomplished on Monday.

The difference between what happened Monday, and what happened in January is the way that Wie went about entering the PGA. In her previous attempts Michelle Wie has entered PGA events based on a sponsor’s exemption. Now, I never had a problem with her being there because she was female. I am not one of those Stone Age old school golf enthusiasts. The problem I had was making a minor into a side show on the tour. (In some ways that happened at qualifying on Monday)

Wie just turned 16 years old, and she has been in the public’s eye since she was 13. She is a very talented prospect. Probably the most talented young star we have seen since Tiger was in the amateur ranks. After watching her on Monday I have no doubt in my mind that once allowed to play full time on the LPGA she will take it by storm, and maybe have a chance to be a contender in some of the smaller PGA tour events some day.

That being said, when she entered PGA events in the past she was severely overmatched. The pressure was on her from every angle. Any event she entered was guaranteed headline coverage on ESPN. Even on Monday the AP covered and told us when she took off her sweater, opting for a short sleeved look. Wie’s presence created a circus of attention that was not positive for her or the sport of golf as a whole, men’s or women’s.

On Monday Michelle Wie went about it the right way. She wanted to play in the U.S. Open so she went to qualifying, and made it to the semifinals. I do not care who you are male or female, I am more than okay with that. She played hard and put herself into a position to make the cut. She showed she has the potential to make the PGA. I am glad to see her going through the steps, and doing it the right way, earning her keep based on her merit, and not her money earning ability as a novelty act.

After Wie’s performance on Monday one major factor about it became apparent, she has a terrible problem closing out. Wie was within one stroke of making the cut going into her final 9 on Monday before collapsing coming down the stretch. This is becoming a trend in her young career. Despite her age, and all the popularity she has, Wie has not won an event since the amateur open in 2003. Since then she has collapsed three times on the final day of that tournament including an 82 on the final day in 2004 when going into the day with the lead.

Michelle Wie is a proven competitor, but the question to be asked is, Is Michelle Wie a winner?

At this point of her career Wie has not proven to have the eye of the tiger (pardon the pun). Michelle Wie had plenty of opportunities to make the cut on Monday. What killed her was her putting. Wie was incapable of converting her Birdie putts when they mattered. Eventually she gave in to fatigue as her long and mid range game left her coming down the stretch.

This is the problem with Michelle Wie continually entering or attempting to enter PGA events. It is not that she does not belong, or that she is incapable of performing at that level. She has the talent, potential, and physical attributes to make it. What she lacks is the mental fortitude to perform at that level. She is able to come out of the gates smoking and play well, but as the tournaments wear on she cannot hold up under the spotlight.

This is where playing with players on your level, and age group becomes important. Much like the basketball players who dominated high school then made the jump to the NBA and failed, because they were not mentally ready for the wear and tear. They needed to be in college experience that lifestyle on and off the court before moving to the next level. Just because a person is physically ready to play at the next level does not mean the complete package their.

Michelle Wie needs to gain that winners edge. Playing in more amateur tournaments would give Wie the chance to play against competition that she is more talented than, but she would need to strengthen her mental toughness to be successful at that level.

However right now it seems that Wie is more interested in making a name being the first, than she is making a name for herself being a winner. That being said, at what point do we get tired of seeing her fall just short time and time again, when she could easily fix the problem by practicing her mental toughness.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Storylines for the NBA Finals

The 2006 NBA Finals are set, with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks squaring off in a seven game series for the NBA Championship. There is plenty to talk about in regards to the on the court activities. The match ups, game planning and the X’s and O’s are all important, and we’ll get to that in another article. Right now though we are going to focus on the off the court happenings, the storylines that are formulating going into this series.

The most obvious and the biggest of these storylines in every sense is Shaquille O’Neal making his return to the NBA Finals in the post Kobe Bryant era. Since his exodus from L.A. a season ago Shaq has made no excuses about his goals of reaching the NBA Finals and winning a championship without Kobe. As he put it in an interview a earlier in the season, he is ready to make the book of his career a great book, and winning a fourth NBA Title would do exactly that.

There have been criticisms surrounding Shaq since he and the rest of the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. We have all heard the stories about how he is too fat, and too old. When he first arrived in South Beach for the press conference to announce his signing, Shaq looked lean and ready, then the season came, and we soon saw the same old Shaq. His performance was slowed by injuries and old age.

This season has been an up and down story for the Diesel. A coaching change and Shaq got the coach he wanted in Pat Riley. As the regular season toiled on, Shaq was up and down, and then came the spring. The last month of the regular season and into the playoffs, and we all saw a new Shaquille O’Neal. He seemed to have dropped weight almost magically. Once the playoffs started we saw a Shaq that we have not seen in years. He seems to be down to a trim 325 pnds, and he has found quick feet. In each of the closeout games the Heat have faced Shaq has stepped up with big performances.

Now the Diesel is back in the NBA Finals. He is a bit older, and wiser than the last time we saw him there wearing Laker yellow and purple. Shaq wants this ring, and in many ways a championship this season in needed to vindicate Shaq’s career. No one questions that he was and is the most dominate player in the game. However, he needs a ring to put that final bit of distance between himself and Kobe. He needs a ring to vindicate the hijacking of Stan Van Gundy. If he falls short of winning a ring, Shaq will have lost his last two trips to the finals. That narrow window that is the end of Shaq’s career closes just a little bit more.

Another storyline emerging from these finals as mentioned above is the Pat Riley factor. Pat Riley took the Heat to an Eastern Conference game 7 lost to a dominate Chicago Bulls squad, but that was the 90’s. The Heat made the transition and became Stan Van Gundy’s team. All Stan did was take the Heat to the second round before the arrival of Shaq, and a game 7 lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals with an injured Dwayne Wade.

He was promptly thanked for his success by being booted by his boss, Pat Riley. Pat Riley’s ego could not be kept in check. After watching his team come so close to making the finals last season, Riley blew up the squad shipping out the role players to bring in vets Gary Peyton, Jason Williams, and Antoine Walker. Riley created his own super team, and before Van Gundy had a chance to succeed or fail with the squad Riley took it over.

Now Riley’s reputation is on the line. If he wins a title with the Heat, he stakes his claim as one of the all time greats. Leading teams to the NBA Finals in three different eras of basketball and winning in two of them. If Riley loses, then he looks like an ego maniac. We would be forced to really examine his legacy and what he has really accomplished. A lost in this years finals would mean Riley is 20 years removed from his last NBA title. Ten years removed from his last trip to the finals, where his Kicks went down in seven to the Rockets. Now looking at that, how many second chances do we give a coach? Or do we continue to let this particular coach slide because of his reputation of running the Showtime Lakers of the 80’s.

This years Miami Heat team was custom designed by Riley and in the image that he desired. He must come through with a championship, or he will look like the fool of the NBA.

Yet another factor for the 2006 NBA Finals is Mark Cuban…. But we will get into him at a later time…

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Coaching Counts

Despite leading the New York Knicks to their worse record in team history, Larry Brown still looks like a genius right now. How is that possible you might ask? Simple, look at Brown’s former team the Detroit Pistons. Possibly the most talented and well rounded team in the league, once again on the brink of elimination from the 2006 Playoffs.

Coming into the 2005-06 season the Pistons were bitter because from a game 7 lost in last years NBA finals and they were ready to reclaim what was theirs. Many of the players on the Pistons went as far as to claim the Spurs were just holding the trophy for the year till Detroit could take back what was theirs.

The Pistons team from last season to this season is the exact same, except one piece of personnel. Larry Brown.

Larry Brown left Detroit in anything but a quiet manor. Coincidentally his replacement had left his job in an unceremonious manor just a few months before. Flip Saunders was the coach who never could during his stint in Minnesota. Despite all the talent he was given in several different arrangements he only guided the Twolves to one Western Conference Finals and never saw the NBA Finals.

The result of all this coaching movement was a cast of bitter Piston players who wanted to prove their merit without Brown, and an underachieving coach ready to prove that he knew how take a team to the next level. Throughout the regular season Flip Saunders and the Pistons were doing exactly that. The Pistons rolled through the regular season. Four of their starters made the All-Star team, and they finished the year with the leagues best record.

On the sidelines people applauded Saunders for giving the Pistons what appeared to be a new breath of life. Scoring was up the tempo of the game was up. The Pistons suddenly were capable of scoring 100 points in a game without overtime. Chauncey Billups was being mentioned as a MVP candidate due to his scoring production.

However amid all this success there was a monster lurking in the darkness. The once heralded Pistons defense was slipping. The past two seasons Detroit had been ranked first or second in team defense. It was their defense that lifted them over the Lakers in the finals a few years ago, and pushed San Antonio to a game 7. It was the trademark lockdown defense and slowdown offense that gave the Pistons their success. This season they slipped back to the middle of pack under Saunders watch. But no one noticed or simply did not care because during the regular season the Pistons were able to win.

Then the Playoffs arrived. After blowing out a Milwaukie team that should not have been in the post season the Pistons struggled against a young Cleveland team. I know LeBron James is good, but he should not have been able to lift his team to a game 7 against the mighty Pistons. At times during the series, the Pistons looked disorganized, confused, and flat out uninterested.

The Pistons and Saunders survived the LeBron scare and moved on to the Big Daddy and Flash down in South Beach. Despite having home court advantage the Pistons are in a 3-1 deficit. Rasheed is going off, standing by himself during timeouts, being outspoken, brash and a complete disrespect for the higher ups. (Not that this is new) Ben Wallace is telling the media that the Pistons need to get back to defense, and after watching the beginning of this series he is right.

So with the Pistons on the brink of the greatest collapse this side of the Roman Empire one has to ask themselves what is the difference between this year and last year? Sheed is complaining and running off at the mouth, but that’s nothing new. Rasheed has made his living being outspoken and brash. But, there is a difference between last years outspoken Sheed and this years Sheed.

For the past two seasons when Sheed began to act out he was always reigned back in by Larry Brown. That’s what a great coach does. They understand their personnel, and how to manage it properly based on their personalities. Brown let Rasheed have his occasional rant and temper tantrums, but Brown had Wallace focused enough that he could quickly bring him back to the task at hand and make him into a focused player. Phil Jackson would do this with Denis Rodman, giving him enough rope so he can feel free, but not enough to hang himself.

That’s the job of a NBA coach to manage talent, not to coach it up and make it into something great. Just manage the talent, know what they do best and then exploit that to make them the best team possible.

The Pistons are built to be a defensive team. Their most recognizable player doesn’t average 10 pts a game, but has been defensive player of the year three times. The entire organizations tradition is built off of stout defense. Remember the Bad Boys? That being said the Pistons should focus on their defense, and not trying to become an offensive force.

This is where Flip Saunders has failed as a head coach. He is trying to make the Pistons into an upbeat team that will run and gun. He has let the players run amuck and lost their respect. A true coach understands his team’s strengths, and Flip has seemed to ignore the Pistons strength completely. Once again Flip is failing to do his job.

So the question left to answer is how did Larry Brown make the Pistons look so good and Flip Saunders makes them look so disorganized. The answer is coaching matters in the NBA. I don’t care what people might tell you, it does matter. NBA coaches may not need to build up a player, or create a great scheme, but they do need to analyze and manage their talent to get maximum performance. Brown can do that (why do you think he is willing to walk away from NYC?).

Flip Saunders had routinely shown he is incapable of doing that. He had some great team at Minnesota and never got them anywhere. That was sad, but it is a shame that this Detroit Pistons team will fall short of every expectation they had for themselves and everyone else had for them. Flip Saunders reminds me of the kid in high school whose parents gave him a new sports car for their 16 birthday, and the kid promptly went out and wrecked the car, because he could not handle it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Perfection is so sweet for the Champs

Entering the 2006 spring season the University of Virginia Men’s Lacrosse team had one goal in mind. Avenge last years heart breaking lost in the National Semi-Finals to John Hopkins, and more importantly win a national title. While UVA never met John Hopkins in the post season, they were able to take care of the big piece of the puzzle on Memorial Day when they won the 2006 National Championship.

The Virginia Cavaliers were a juggernaut all season, steamrolling everything in their path, and waltzing into the post season undefeated. Georgetown was the first team to face the wrath of Virginia in the post season, and they were promptly dismantled in a 20-8 romp.

Next was traditional powerhouse Syracuse. Syracuse was a fitting opponent for Virginia as they have heard the compressions to the dominant 1990 Syracuse team all season. The Hoos disposed of the Orangemen with a 17-10 victory in the National Semi-Finals. Finally the Hoos got over the hurdle and they were ready to take the next step and play in the National Championship game on Memorial Day.

Despite being a dominant team all season, Monday’s game had all the setup for a colossal upset. UMass is a storied program that never had what it took to take the next step and win a national title. Coming into this year’s tournament UMass was not supposed to win a game but back to back wins against top ranked Hofstra and Maryland. Just getting to the Championship game was an accomplishment. In the city of Rocky Philadelphia was ready for an underdog story and UMass was prepared to be Rocky while UVA went down like Apollo Creed.

Throughout the first half and into the third period it appeared that little UMass had what it took to pull the upset. With 9 minute to go in the third quarter UMass was only down one point and had the Hoos on the ropes. That would be as close as the Minutemen would get. The Cavaliers woke up and fired off six unanswered goals, as they proceeded to bury the Minutemen in a 15-7 romp.

For the Virginia Cavaliers this was a fitting end to a season and to a career for the seniors on the squad. Seniors Matt Poskay, Matt Ward, and Kyle Dixon led the way as they were the ones who started the Hoos run late in the third period. For these three men, Monday’s championship was extra special.

The seniors at Virginia began their colligate career accustomed to winning. They all sported warm-up t-shirts that sported the slogan “buckle up,” and it was a wild ride all the way to a national championship in 2003. The next year was not as sweet for the Cavs when they went 5-8 down the stretch and missed the NC2A playoffs. Back for their junior years and this time wearing shirts with the slogan “family” the Virginia Cavs lost one of the most memorable games in NC2A history, falling to Johns Hopkins in OT on a last second goal.

In 2006, there would be no mistakes. Preseason number 1 ranking, the Cavs lived up to every bit of billing. The only close game the Cavs faced was a 7-6 win over Princeton back in March. The Cavaliers averaged 15 points a game, an ungodly talented offense that was one of the most high power units in lax history. The Cavaliers steamrolled through the regular season, and into the playoffs, this time sporting warm-ups that said “harder.” The team moniker because they always felt they could play harder, goes harder, and trains harder. This was a perfect slogan for a Cavalier team that often seemed bored with the amount of ease they went through the season.

This Cavalier team was a special group of young men who came together at the right time. The 17 victories in a season is a NC2A record. Three players who are possible of player of the year candidates, a supporting cast of young players who were hungry to step in and play hard at every opportunity. Virginia hoisted its fourth lacrosse national title, and second this decade, taking one more step to establish themselves as NC2A powerhouse.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bonds Joins the Ranks of the Immortals

On Sunday May 28, 2006 Barry Bonds took the final swing at etching his name into the Mount Rushmore of Baseball. That’s right mister controversy himself just stirred up a whole new pot of trouble when he stepped to the plate Sunday afternoon and walked into the history books by pelting number 715 over the center field wall at SBC Park in San Francisco.

The victim was Byung-Hyun Kim who is no stranger to giving up big homers (check his playoff performances in 01 and -02). Unlike number 714 that barely worked its way over the wall 715 was a monstrous 445 foot blast over center field, and was good for two runs. Possibly the most important factor outside the number itself was this shot came at home in San Fran, before a sellout crowd that was ready to shower Barry with admiration and the accolades he deserves.

The milestone homer finally puts some much needed distance between Barry Bonds and the legendary Babe Ruth who has loomed over Bonds like a shadow till this point of the season. Now Bonds has the chance to step ahead of Ruth and stand in second place alone. More importantly with Hit King Hank Aaron 41 homers ahead of Bonds it is unlike he will reach Aaron in the near future. This means no more BSPN. The intense spotlight on Barry Bonds should die down and he slip back into a moderate form of obscurity which is how Barry likes it.

Number 715 puts Barry Bonds in a league of his own. While he remains second on the All-Time Homerun list, the compilation of Bond’s career stats cannot be ignored. 715 career homeruns and 506 stolen bases. The only member of the 500 &500 club, he is the only member of the 400&400 club. Bonds is a seven time Gold Glove winner showcasing his defensive skills while playing right field. Bonds is also a six time MVP, the most in MLB history.

However, the hardware won does not tell the full story. Bonds has been walked more times in the past decade than anyone else has in the history of the game. His plate discipline is legendary. Over the pass five seasons Barry Bonds has broken his own walks-per-season record three times.

No matter what the overall public perception of Bonds may be, it is clear how his contemporaries view the man. "He's the greatest -- in my era -- home run hitter I have ever seen." (Atlanta Braves Pitcher John Smotz)

Many people doubt the validity of Bond’s record because of the steroid scandal that surrounds him. They want to places the blunt of steroids on his shoulders and force him to bow down. Yet, those people must remember the age that Bonds racked up his numbers in. There is no denying that the mid 1990’s through the turn of the century was a juiced era. Pitchers, catchers and everyone in between were using steroids it was becoming the norm in baseball.

That being said, they were all legal within the league guidelines at the time. MLB made no effort to stop players from using these substances despite the fact they were banded by U.S. law.

The only trust we know from that era is that steroids were used in MLB. The only players who have been caught have been dealt with in the past year. None of those players are Barry Lamar Bonds. Till he test positive for a steroid, it is impossible to condemn him or mar the records and achievements he has reached.

Congratulations Barry Bonds. You have reached a milestone that will not be touched for a long time. You have the right to hold your head high and take your place amongst the legends of baseball.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Show of Unity

Once again here we are talking Lacrosse here at Walker-Sports. This time it’s the Duke Women’s Lacrosse team making the headlines in Durham. Duke’s women’s lacrosse team has had a storybook season amid all the extra curricular distractions on campus this spring, and they have made their way to the NCAA Final Four beginning on Friday. While this was an expected outcome for a team that was stacked with talent, the women’s team will show their support and solidarity to their male counterparts by wearing wristbands with the word “innocent” written on them.

While most of the news coming out of Durham in the wake of recent accusations has been anything but surprising, this bit of information is intriguing enough to raise the eyebrows of most readers. First off the fact that women’s team has stepped forward to show such staunch support becomes a point of interest.

When the accusations of rape first emerged in Durham at the very least the trail became a gender based issue. It was gender based before race, politics or class issues moved to the forefront. Rape is one of the most heinous crimes known to man. There is no quicker way to gain the attention of female activist and support groups than when rape allegations are brought forth. At the bare minimum women have typically bonded together to support one another via a common bond.

The unity shown by Duke’s lacrosse team becomes a point of interest. They have abandoned the bonds of sisterhood rather to reinforce the bonds between classmates, teammates, and brethren of sport. Making the teams protest an even bolder statement.

In another interesting turn of events, is the silence coming from the administration at Duke University. When this whole case fist broke back in March the administration at Duke was quick to make decisions and reactions to gain control over their athletic program and teams. They suspended the men’s team before any charges were pressed and well before a grand jury was connived. The university pressured Coach Mike Pressler into retirement. For over a month now the school has held a strong line, supporting the law, and allowing the authorities to do their business, while keeping the university out of the way.

Now at what could be a crucial moment for Duke University the administration is remaining silent. When the women’s lacrosse team takes the field on Friday, they will be wearing a Duke University uniform. No mater what they may claim that team will be representing their school in a public setting. If every player on that team comes forth and is wearing a wristband that says ‘innocent’, then the wristbands become a part of the Duke uniform and the impression to the general public becomes the ‘innocent’ stance is the official stance of the university.

Sometimes silence can be worth 1000 words.

Watch as the investigation moves into a trial and see how the university changes its stance.

Finally do not get me wrong. I am glad the women’s lacrosse team is sticking together with their brethren. As a member of a sporting fraternity that is often misunderstood, and having been through my own scrutiny as a result, I understand the need to stick together. The side of me that believes in social protest appreciates the fact that these women are using their public platform as an opportunity to state their case. It is good to see that in this modern age when sports marketing and entertainment is more important than the individuals. We live in a P.C. age where players are unwilling to take a stand for anything more than making more money. As a result of that it is good to see there is still a social pulse in sports. I don’t agree with what these ladies are standing up for, but at least they are making an effort.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

College Preseason Top 25

Yeah, its late may, and yeah spring football has been over for the past month, and fall practice is a long way off but who cares it is never too early to talk college football. That’s right at Walker Sports we are all about football all the time, and now we’re ranking the nations top 25 post-spring practice. So what there are 1000 things that can change between now and August when these teams take the field to resume practice? We’ll re-rank them then. Right now it just feels good to talk football again.

Remember this is not an exact science

1)The Ohio State University
: The offense is going to be high octane, who said the Big 10 was all about 10 yrds and a cloud of dust. The Bucs lost an entire linebacking core to the NFL, but when has Coach Tressel not put together a solid D.

2) Oklahoma Sooners: Boomer Sooner baby, the Sooners got off to a shaky start in 05 but finished strong. Look for them to pick up where they left off in their Bowl victory over Oregon. Sophomore QB Rhett Bomar finally gets it and has grown into his role as a starter. And oh yeah Adrian Peterson… remember him?

3) Notre Dame: Brady Quinn is the top QB in the nation and looking for a Heisman Trophy. Jeff Samardzija is a top receiver who knows how to make the big play. Two questions that will plague the Irish the season: Painful schedule, once again the Irish may have bitten off more than they can chew. Second, is defense, ole Charlie is an offensive man remember?

4) West Virginia: Yeah, this feels strange saying this but you have to remember a few things. The Mountaineers played a hell of a game against UGA in the Sugar Bowl and look to build on that. Remember they play in the Big East the worse major conference in NC2A, so making a BCS game is not improbable.

5) Auburn: Looking for just a few small pieces in the blocking department. Other than that this is an experienced squad on both sides of the ball. What will hurt the Tigers is the same thing that hurts every SEC team the conference is too deep to produce a legit BCS Championship contender.

6) USC: Pete Carroll is still there and that is good for 3 wins alone. Throw in the Pac 10 factor and you can add another 3 wins and now you are well on your way to solid season and the players haven’t kicked in yet. If QB John David Booty stays healthy going into the fall there are still enough weapons around him to make him a productive QB. The biggest question will be how much longer can Carroll hold this empire together as the arrows of scrutiny and investigations begin to rain down.

7) Texas: If one player had come back the Longhorns would have been the hands down number one team in the country. There are plenty of weapons left in the arsenal. RB Jamal Charles and safety Michal Griffin will anchor both sides of the ball respectively. Texas is lacking experience at QB neither of their prospect have taken an NC2A snap that could cause the Horns to drop quickly.

8) LSU: There’s a lot of talent of on offense for this team JaMarcus Russell should return from his nagging injuries to be productive and be an instant standout. Once again the brutal schedule of the SEC will prove to be the downfall for the Tigers. Playing on the road at Auburn, Tennessee, and in the Swamp at Florida is enough to test any team.

9) California: RB Rashard Lynch and WR DeSean Jackson return as the cornerstones of a high power offense. They also have the choice of two successful QB’s in Nate Longshore who ran took snaps last season, and Joe Ayob who ended up losing the job last year. New offensive Coordinator Mike Dunbar has installed elements of the spread offense and Ayob has flourished. Look for the Bears to make a move on a weak Pac 10.

10) Michigan: The Wolverines are an interesting team to look at for the 06 season. Coach Lloyd Carr must come up with a big season in the newly expanded Big House. Chris Henne is returning as the starting QB and this should be the season it all clicks for him and joins the ranks of standout Michigan QB’s. RB Mike Hart is also healthy and looks to bounce back to the form he had in 04. Throw in defensive coordinator Ron English to revamp the defense and the Wolverines have the chance to make some big noise in the Big 10.

11) Florida: The Gators are in year two under Urban Myer. Chris Leak is returning for his senior year in what has been a colorful colligate career to say the least. In any other offense Leak would be the best QB in the nation however the Myer is sill not a perfect fit for him. Don’t be surprised if frosh Tim Tebow gets some snaps. Despite all that he is a smart enough player and, Myer is a smart coach with enough weapons around them (Dallas Baker and Cornelius Ingram) to overcome shortcomings to be a powerful offensive team. Now let’s see if they can take care of business on what will be a brutal schedule.

12) Louisville: The biggest returning star for this program last season was Bobby Patrino turning down the Oakland Raiders offer. Louisville had a great season going till QB Brian Brohm hurt his knee. From all indications he is recovery quickly and ahead of schedule. Throw in the addition of Michal Bush who may be the best RB in the country and you have another dominate offense brewing down in Kentucky that most the world will never get the opportunity to see.

13) Florida State: Every team at the top of the ACC has the same problems and FSU is no exception but may be the best of them. Returning QB Drew Weatherford has made major strides during winter workouts and spring training. This will be his second year as the starter and he’s ready to make his mark on the FSU football tradition. The defense is once again stout as the Noles were deeper than anyone thought last season.

14) Georgia: The Dawgs have a tenacious defense returning for the upcoming season. The will look to ride that defense and the legs of RB’s Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin. Now if they can find someone to play QB…

15) Nebraska: It has been a long time since we could rank a Cornhuskers team this high but it appears the storied program is finally turning the corner. QB Zac Taylor showed in spring training that he has made the adaptation to the west coast offense. There is also a solid running game split between Lucky and Glenn at tailback. Throw in a weak Big 12 North and the Cornhuskers can make a run.

16) Oregon: The Ducks have flown under the radar for a long time now. They showed off a solid defense last season, and have rode that so far through the spring. QB Dixon is returning and the possible addition of former USC signee Derrick Jones at WR and the Ducks are poised for a big year.

17) Clemson: The Tigers have what should be a loaded offense. WR/RB Rendrick Taylor had an outstanding spring game piling up 174 yards of offense. Add in RB James Davis and new QB Will Proctor is a kid being giving the keys to a new Mercedes.

18) Iowa: There are a lot of people who think the Hawkeye’s are the second best team in the Big 10 behind OSU. (Not us, go Big Blue) Drew Tate is another great QB coming out the Big 10 (where’d all these Midwest QB’s come from?) Add in a strong defensive line and talented safeties and Iowa can make some noise.

19) Miami: The Canes are sporting their best defense in years, which is scary. They will need that defense to dominate to make up for an offense that is rebuilding. New offensive coordinators, slow tailbacks and Kyle Wright are enough to hamper any offense. Luckily it’s a slow year in the ACC.

20) TCU: The Horned Frogs have the potential to be the next non BCS team to break through. That will be determined if they can survive their first month of play (Baylor, Texas Tech, BYU and Utah). To help with survival the Frogs showcase a deep backfield with a power running attack that is enough to hurt most any defense.

21) Boston College: The Eagles have quietly put together a great program under Coach O’Brian. Their success is based around one of the best offensive lines in the country. BC controls the ball on offense and therefore often controls the game.

22) Penn State: Joe Pa proved last year he still had a little left in the tank. Now the 2006 season will not be as story book as 05 was, losing 13 starters is never easy for any coach. Joe Pa will be happy that he got all those freshmen last season will come in handy as he will be looking for experience anywhere he can find it in the fall.

23) Va Tech: Coach Beamer always showcases a stiff defense and this year will be no exception with the return of Chris Ellis, Xavier Adibi, and Vince Hall. Now if he can overcome the scandals, the lost of four assistants, solid offensive production and late season choke jobs, Beamer and the Hokies will be able to make moves in the ACC.

24) Arizona State: Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter could be the best QB combo in the country. Throw in WR Terry Richardson and the Sun Devils will be prolific on offense. Good thing no one plays defense on the left coast.

25) Utah: QB Brad Ratliff and WR Brian Hernandez both had coming out parties in last years bowl game when they torched Ga. Tech. The Utes proved they still know how to run the spread even without Urban Myer. They will be able to put up points against any opponent they play out west.