Friday, February 5, 2016

Super Bowl: How Denver Will Upset Carolina

Super Bowl 50 is commonly viewed as a David vs Goliath match, with the Carolina Panthers poised to crunch the Denver Broncos. Many experts predict a blowout, insisting the Broncos don't have a chance in hell.

Not so fast.

The underdog Broncos just might pull off the upset. The expeerts who are forecasting Denver's demise are either forgetting or downplaying the team's signature strength--its defense.This is not just a good defense, it's a great one, up there with the bone-crunching  Baltimore Ravens' crew that won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season.

The Broncos' stats are impressive. Their defense leads the league in yards allowed (283.1), passing yards per game (199.6) and sacks (52), and is third in rushing yards allowed (83.6). Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are the NFL's most lethal pass-rushing pair, teaming up for 18.5 sacks, The secondary, featuring CBs Chris Harris Jr. and Aqid Talib and safety Darian Stewart, is second to none. True, the Panthers boast the league's No.1 offense, scoring 31 points a game under the leadership of the top NFL QB, linebacker-sized Cam Newton, But the Panthers haven't had to contend with a defense this talented and this ferocious. They also have to contend with the baffling schemes of Denver's defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who's arguably the best in the business.

The Panthers have been elevated to this pedestal because they have just one loss and also because they looked so dominant in the playoffs, whipping Seattle, after jumping off to a 31-point lead, and embarrassing the Arizona Cardinals, who many thought were the best team in the playoffs. In retrospect, beating the Cardinals was no big deal. Their aging QB Carson Palmer was awful in both playoff games. Arizona's demolition by Carolina was more a function of Palmer's ineptness than the Panthers' skill.

Beating the Panthers won't be easy. They have a rugged, top-five ranked defense that should make it tough for Denver to gain much yardage. Ancient Bronco QB Peyton Manning has a dead arm and is hobbled by foot and rib injuries that make it hard for him to get any velocity on his passes. It doesn't help that the Denver running game is just passable. The Broncos will be lucky to score 17 points. But the Denver defense should keep the Panthers' offense in check and well below its scoring average.

This game shapes up to be a repeat of the 2007 Super Bowl, in which the undefeated, heavily-favored New England Patriots played the New York Giants, who were deemed dead meat.. But the Giants, behind a murderous defense and the clutch passing of QB Eli Manning, won 17-14. David, as it turned out, toppled Goliath. It can be done.

To beat the Panthers, the Broncos' defense has to rattle QB Newton, limit his running and scrambling, disrupt his rhythm, and clamp down on the Panther receivers, a task that, for this secondary, won't be that difficult. As a group, the Panther WRs are just modestly talented. Because of his speed, Ted Ginn Jr is the most dangerous of the lot. But he's inconsistent, tends to run so-so routes and is prone to dropping passes.
One huge advantage the Broncos have is Super Bowl experience. They were in the Super Bowl just two years ago, so the circus-like atmosphere is nothing new for many Denver players and coaches. However, this is a totally new experience for the Panthers, who are likely to get a case to the Super Bowl jitters and make some critical errors.

The way this game will play out is strength against strength, the Broncos' defense against the Panthers' offense. Edge to Broncos' defense.

Look for Denver to win a low-scoring game.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Six Reasons Why New England Will Beat Denver

Denver Bronco fans, enjoy Peyton Manning while you can in the AFC Championship game in Denver.. Surely the 39-year-old QB won't be back next season. So this will be his farewell performance. Denver won't be going to the Super Bowl this year. New England will see to that.

Here are six reasons why the Patriots will win:.

Reason No. 1:  Peyton Manning isn't Peyton Manning any more. He's a shell of the great QB he used to be. That gunslinger arm is more like a wet noodle now. He's not accurate beyond 15 yards. He's not a passing TD threat any more. These days, he throws more picks than TD passes. His INT total, 17, was second worst in the NFL during the regular season. In the past three games he hasn't had a completion longer than 34 yards. Defenses crowd the line of scrimmage against Denver because there is no deep threat, making it much easier to stop the Bronco offense. In their win over the Steelers last week, the Bronco receivers made things worse by dropping seven passes. Manning's  famed skill at reading defenses is still intact, but he can no longer execute like he once did. He's just a game manager now, and more of a liability than an asset.

Reason No. 2: The Patriots have their main receivers back. When Denver beat the Patriots 30-24 in OT on Nov 29, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were hurt and Rob Gronkowski went down late in the game, so QB Tom Brady had no weapons in OT. This time Brady is fully armed. No team can adequately cover the best clutch receiving corps in the NFL. Denver won't be able to do it. The Patriots lack a scary running attack because of injuries, but that doesn't matter. That Patriot passing game will be enough.

Reason No. 3: The Patriots have a considerable edge in coaching, with Bill Bilichick towering over Denver's Gary Kubiak. Coaches are responsible for assorted adjustments and strategies during the course of a game. Nobody is better at that than Belichick. 

Reason No. 4: The Bronco defense is overrated--very good but not in a class with the great Ravens' defenses or the Seahawks defenses that carried Seattle to back-to back Super Bowls. Last week, without super receiver Antonio Brown, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger, limited by a bum throwing arm, torched the Bronco secondary for 339 yards. What do you think a healthy Patriot passing attack will do to that secondary?

Reason No. 5:  To beat the Patriots, Denver will need turnovers--lots of them in key situations. That's not likely to happen. New England led the league with just 14 turnovers. In the last four games, the Patriots have turned the ball only three times. 

Reason No. 6 : The Patriots' superior offensive line, which is among the best at pass-protection, will slow down the Broncos' vaunted pass rush and give Brady time to throw. In the second half of the season, the Denver pass rush, ferocious in the first half, hasn't been nearly as effective. The only way to stop Brady is with a killer pass rush. Downgraded to merely very good, the Denver pass rush won't get the job done against the Pats' offensive line.

In betting terms, the Patriots are favored by three. But the game is essentially a pick 'em.  Denver gets three points for playing at home, which wipes out the Pats' three-point edge, evening things up.

Smart money, though, is on New England.

Monday, January 11, 2016

How Underdog Clemson Can Beat Alabama

Remember how Texas QB Vince Young, an awesome runner and a capable passer, destroyed USC  in the national championship game, a 41-38 thriller, in January, 2006?. Something similar could happen in today's game, with Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson,  going all Vince-Young on Alabama.

Watson, who's just a sophomore, is the reincarnation of Young, The ACC's Watson is the best player in the country, though bullish Bama RB Derrick Henry won the Heisman, thanks to the usual SEC bias. Watson is the best running QB since Young, superior to Heisman winners Manziel, Tebow and Mariota.

This championship game comes down to Watson vs the great Bama front seven, the best in college football. Can they contain him? In the playoff battle on New Year's Eve,  tough, talented Oklahoma couldn't handle Watson and fell pretty easily 37-17. But the Sooners' front seven is no where near as good as Bama's, which is big, fast and particularly skilled at ranging side-to-side and pressuring QBs, having recorded 50 sacks, tops in the country. Watson controlled that game with his scrambling and rushing, piling up145 yards on 24 carries, part of Clemson's whopping 550 total.

Watson will have plenty of help. The Clemson offensive line, which doesn't get nearly enough attention, is among the nation's elite. They can hold their own against the Bama defensive front and give Watson room to work.

Bama's offense, featuring Henry's rushing, is underwhelming, particularly its poor passing game. The Bama QB Jake Coker is, at best, average,  The Tide won't kill you with passing or long drives, ranking a pitiful 96th nationally in 3rd down conversions. Clemson's game plan is obvious--stack the line to stop Henry and dare Coker to beat you with this passing, which he can't.

Coach Dabo Swinney's Clemson has won all its 14 games this season and is on a 17-game win streak, beginning late last season. Nick Saban's Alabama team has lost just once, falling to Ole Miss last September in Tuscaloosa, 43-37, mainly because the Rebels won the turnover battle 5-0.

Bama is a 6.5 favorite over Clemson. Much of that is based on the Tide's 38-0 massacre of Michigan State in the semi-final game. Experts are giving that easy victory way too much weight. MSU, with its lame offense, didn't belong in that final-four game.

Clemson is a much better all-around team, with a monster at QB. If you're betting, take the underdog. You're betting on Watson pulling a Vince-Young.

He just might do it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cal Re-signs Football Coach Sonny Dykes--Dumb Move

Cal fans who were hoping the football team would be rid of a blight named Sonny Dykes are now submerged in gloom. The head coach didn't, as the haters hoped, sign with another school. Instead he did what the haters prayed he wouldn't do--sign a long contract extension with the Bears, through 2019, with a juicy raise, bumping his salary to an annual average of $2.85 million.

So, Dykes haters, shelve that bottle of celebratory champagne. Unfortunately it won't be needed. But do get yourself some hard liquor--whatever it takes to drown your sorrows, to ease the pain of the realization that you're stuck with this clown for many years.

The Dykes drama began not long after Cal came from behind on Nov. 28 in its final regular season game to beat Arizona State. 48-46, finishing 7-5 and getting a bid to play Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on Dec 29, the Bears' first bowl bid since the glory days of the Jeff.Tedford era.

This was the best record in Dykes' three-year tenure, which began with a miserable one-win season. Following this season, though, something was gnawing at Sonny.  He wanted more money--a contract extension and a raise. Insiders say he had been moping all season, feeling underpaid at just under $2 million annually, the lowest salary of any PAC 12 head coach.

When this season ended, Sonny's bosses didn't leap to give Sonny what he wanted. Feeling under appreciated, Dykes was pissed off. So he went job-hunting, first interviewing at Missouri. Also there were rumors he was in the running for openings at South Carolina and Virginia.  But Sonny didn't get any of those plum jobs. The athletic directors at those schools aren't dummies. They know a stiff when they see one. Sonny simply isn't good enough.

For that reason, Cal was slow to re-sign him. Many fans and boosters didn't want him back. Cal, they argued, could do much better. According to sources in the athletic department, the Sonny haters clashed with the Sonny supporters. The battle was apparently ugly. Arguing that Sonny's Cal teams improved each year, the supporters triumphed.

Here's why the haters are hating. Sonny is a one trick pony--an offensive wizard but a lousy head coach. His teams are record-breaking, offensive juggernauts because he smartly recruits and develops offensive players. His work with QB Jared Goff is a prime example. But defensively, the Bears are dreadful. The defenses in his first two years were a mess, the worst in Cal history.

This season the defense was improved but still awful, particularly that klutzy secondary. The Bears win by outscoring other teams in shootouts or preying on other horrible defenses. Cal's defensive players are poor tacklers, often out of position, easy to outwit and.unsure of their roles, They only won the Arizona State game because, in the second half, the ASU defense was, if  you can believe it, worse than Cal's.

To build a good defense you need quality players. That's where Dykes is a liability. When trying to sign defensive players Cal gets killed on the recruiting trail because the word is out that Sonny is soft on defense. If you're a hot-shot defensive prospect looking to maximize your potential, you steer clear of Cal, where you won't get the best coaching or be part of a Grade A unit. So Cal, due to Dykes' rep, is always stuck with average defensive players. Without first-rate coaching, those players never develop into anything special.

Lacking a top-level defense, the Bears will never crack the PAC 12 elite. Teams like Stanford, USC, UCLA and Oregon, which usually have strong defenses, will always be better. During Sonny's reign Cal will, at best, win seven, maybe eight games and go to some minor bowl,.

That's not good enough, insist the detractors. That's aiming low.

How about Cal going to the Rose Bowl or occasionally cracking the national Top 10? With Dismal Dykes and his dreadful defenses?

No Way

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

USC Hires Clay Helton--Another Blunder

This is USC's record for hiring head football coaches in recent years:
Lane Kiffin--blunder.
Steve Sarkisian--blunder
Clay Helton--blunder

Yes, the SC powers did it again, naming interim coach Helton, promoted in October from offensive coordinator, as permanent head coach, awarding him a five-year contract..

Many Trojan fans and boosters, rightfully, are not happy with this choice. They had visions of  blue-chip prospects dancing in their heads. That's because the SC head coaching position is one of the Top 10 in college football. So does the school hire someone in a league with Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Nick Saban and Chip Kelly? No, they get Helton, a lifetime assistant with no significant head coaching experience. Simply not good enough.

A little over a week ago Helton seemed out of the running for the job. SC was crushed by Oregon, looking unprepared, unmotivated, demoralized and disorganized. The tackling was pitiful and the blocking was pathetic and the line play, on both sides of the ball, abysmal. How could SC hire a guy responsible for that debacle?

But somehow Helton got the job. What the hell happened?

All that happened is that SC whipped UCLA, 40-21, last Saturday. Does one win, even if it's over your arch-rival,  make all that difference? Does that lone victory wipe out the stench of the Oregon loss? Aside from the UCLA win,  Helton has done nothing worth getting excited about. Sure, SC did beat Utah, when that team was in the Top Five, but in retrospect, the Utes were way overrated..

Since Helton, a six-year SC coach, took over from Steve Sarkisian, the team is 5-2, but hasn't been particularly impressive. Helton's most notable accomplishment is changing SC from an uptempo, pass-happy outfit to a slower paced running team. Other blemishes on his resume--the loss to hated rival Notre Dame and the struggles with teams, like Colorado, with inferior talent. Nothing he's done makes you think he's a superior coach or that he has the makings of one.

Is Helton the best coach available? Not by a long shot. There are many out there who are much more qualified and who could do a better job. At the moment though, the SC head coaching position doesn't have its usual luster. According to sources close to the SC powers, the school has put out plenty of feelers, only to find out that big-name coaches or budding stars weren't interested. The problem is AD Pat Haden, who has been on shaky ground since his prominent role in the Sarkisian mess. No heavyweight coach wants to be hired by an AD who seems to be on his way out--and Haden, who also has health issues, is definitely on his way out. Who wants to step into an uncertain situation like that?.

If SC was going to hire Helton, this was the optimal time, after the biggest victory of his career and SC's biggest of the season. That's why the SC bosses rushed to sign him now. What it does, though, is piles on the pressure.

On Saturday SC plays Stanford for the PAC 12 championship. Beating a highly motivated and talented Stanford team in Palo Alto won't be easy. This season SC, which has already lost to Stanford, hasn't played well outside the Coliseum. If the Trojans lose, the hire looks even more stupid.

Signing Helton looks like a big mistake. If he's going to prove skeptics wrong, winning Saturday is the place to start.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

In Defense Of Niner QB Colin Kaepernick

Is QB Colin Kaepernick finished as a 49er? Maybe not.

Is he finished in the NFL? Definitely not.

This is a hellish time for Kaepernick, who just a few years ago, was considered one of the best QBs in the league. He led the Niners to the Super Bowl in February, 2013, which they barely lost to Baltimore. But, since then, he's been on a slow, shocking downward spiral. A few weeks ago he lost his starting job to Blaine Gabbert, an inept journeyman who's really not good enough to be a starting NFL QB. Then, this weekend, the Niners announced that Kaepernick is out for the season because of surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

Skeptics are predicting that he'll never play QB for the Niners again. Haters insist he'll never play in the league again.

But don't put the final nails in Colin's coffin just yet.

First of all, he just might play for the Niners next season. There will no doubt be a new coach and a new coaching staff running the team then. The current head coach, Jim Tomsula, is an inexperienced defensive line coach hired early this year when the owner and the GM dumped the great Jim Harbaugh. in way over his head. His staff isn't much either. The team just plain stinks. No question, Tomsula and his crummy crew won't be back.

Possibly, however, the new coach and his staff might want to keep Kaepernick. It would be a smart move.

Just 28, the five-year-vet is a decent QB--a superlative runner and, under the right circumstances, a good passer. A few years ago, the entire NFL was drooling over him, gushing about his skills and proclaiming him the model for the QB of the future. So all of a sudden he's no good? How stupid.

Not too long ago, the Niners were one of the top three teams, with a great coach, a top-notch defense, a formidable offensive line and a superb running back. But the team surprisingly collapsed, through injuries, defections, dumb trades, retirements, coaching changes and run-ins with the law. Suddenly, Kaepernick was surrounded by a lousy team and inferior coaches.

His confidence plummeted. His skills, because he was working with grade C talent, eroded. Now he's on the NFL scrap-heap, down there with the also-rans.

But he's salvageable. With the right team and capable coaching,  he can be a productive NFL QB again--maybe even with the Niners.

So don't write Kaepernick off just yet.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Why Coach Pitino Isn't Sweating The Louisville Sex Scandal

First of all let's dispense with a primary question in the University of Louisville sex scandal.
Head basketball coach Rick Pitino claims he didn't know anything about the campus sex parties, featuring paid escorts, organized by then director of basketball operations Andre McGee for players, recruits and others between 2010-14, costing $10,000. The details surfaced recently in a book, "Breaking Cardinal Rules,"  by Katina Powell, who organized the parties.

Face it, Pitino knew. Naturally, he says he didn't know, but he most certainly did..

There's no way those activities could have happened for years without Pitino, an obsessive control freak who keeps close track of everything involving his program, knowing about them.  If you're talking a few isolated parties that cost chump change, maybe they might have happened behind his back. But years worth of parties involving thousands of dollars, something that could topple his regime? No way he didn't know.

Sources at Louisville said those parties were so notorious, people outside the sports department knew about them, and wished they were invited. According to the sources, the parties detailed by Powell in her book were just the tip of the iceberg. There were more women and drugs and money involved. But investigators will probably never catch the others. The cover-up began as soon as word leaked out about the book.

The fact that college athletes and those surrounding them are treated to sex parties is no surprise. The only surprise is that Louisville was dumb enough to get caught.

Sex and drugs are integral parts of most college basketball programs, particularly the bigger ones, like Louisville. Those parties have long been considered one of the perks of being part of the basketball program. Reports an ex-player for an SEC team:

"Sluts and pot, they go hand in hand with college basketball. It's one way of paying the players  We get a little money under the table and occasionally girls and pot, That's college basketball. Even after you graduate you can get in on those sex and drug goodies. That's the way it is everywhere. Nobody wants it to go away. Everybody keeps it quiet and enjoys the hell out of it. The bitch who wrote that book about the Louisville parties ruined it for everybody--for a while anyway. Those parties won't be happening on any campuses til this dies down. But they will be back."

What about Pitino?  Is he in any danger of being fired?

It's doubtful. McGee, the coach who set up the parties, has been working for the University of Missouri--Kansas City in the past year. He has already resigned that post. Looks like he's the Louisville fall-guy. Every school has a plan in place to protect the head coach, who is carefully isolated from the dirty, illegal essentials. The filthy footprints never lead to his door. When the crap hits the fan, the layers of protection are so well set up that the head coach, particularly at the top schools, is never soiled.

But this case is a little different. Powell, who served as the madam for the Louisville parties, is peddling a book, so she's on the major media circuit. Consequently this scandal, unlike most, has legs and may snowball into something big enough to knock down Pitino.

But if he is forced to resign from Louisville it could be a blessing for him  He wouldn't be unemployed for long..Athletic directors from many colleges, waving fat contracts, will line up to hire him. He'll be tainted but so what? Those schools won't care.

Bottom line, he's one of the top five coaches in the college game. In the end, the way things are, that's all that matters.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fire SC Athletic Director Pat Haden, Now !

Southern Cal's athletic director Pat Haden is toast. 

It's not official yet, but he's finished. You don't royally screw up the way Haden has in the Steve Sarkisian mess--angering fans and big-money boosters--and keep your job.

Two years ago, Haden hired a football coach who should never have been hired--Steve Sarkisian, a former SC assistant in the Pete Carroll era who, as head coach, had turned around the sagging U of Washington program.

Sarkisian, sadly, is an alcoholic.

You can bet Haden, who is no dummy, knew about Sark's problem, but figured it was manageable. Haden downplayed the problem because he was anxious to hire another link to the Pete Carroll era--just like Lane Kiffin, who Sark replaced. Sark's drinking problem was apparently no secret in Seattle, so there is little chance Haden didn't know about it. That was one of many reasons Sark wasn't that popular up there. Word is many fans and boosters were happy to see him go.

This season, Sark's second, after his respectable 9-4 debut, was supposed to the big one, with the Trojans trumpeted as strong PAC 12 title contenders. Instead, it's been a two-loss disaster, beginning with his drunken speech at an SC fan event in late August and culminating with a Coliseum loss, 17-12, last week to his old school, Washington. Word is leaking out that Sark smelled of booze, at games and practices, often during the season. According to sources close to two players, the team knew about his alcohol excesses and some players were disturbed by it and questioned him as a leader. No question, Sark's problem had a negative effect on the team. A responsible AD would have been on top of the situation and taken action. Haden did not.

With that August incident, Sark embarrassed himself, the team and the university. Haden should have dumped him then. Even though the coach was reportedly hung over and in no condition to coach a practice last Sunday, Haden still didn't act decisively, but just placed him on indefinite leave. It was the outrage of the SC nation and big boosters that finally forced Haden to fire him the next day. Offensive coordinator Clay Felton will lead the team for the rest of the season. Once again SC had to fire a head coach mid-season. This time the blame falls solely on Haden.

Sark wasn't Haden's lone coaching-hire misfire. The other black mark against him is basketball coach Andy Enfield. In two years he has coached the Trojans to consecutive last-place PAC 12 finishes. They are the laughing-stock of the conference.

Enfield was hot for a minute a few years ago when he coached obscure Florida Gulf Coast, of the Atlantic Sun Conference, to the Sweet 16, the first 15-seed in tournament history to get that far. His main accomplishment in that 2012-13 tourney? Just winning two games, over two good teams, Georgetown and San Diego State, to reach the regional semis. Bottom line, he was a coach in a rinky-dink conference. He's simply not PAC 12 coaching material and is in way over his head. Blame Haden for that foolish hire too.

Haden has proved he's lousy at picking head coaches. Is this the guy the SC nation wants choosing the next coach? Don't think so.

According to inside sources, the pressure from some big-money boosters is mounting to can Haden. The feeling is that he's in a shaky position and any coach he hires will be in a shaky position too. If Haden is fired where does that leave the new coach? So, with Haden in charge, top coaches might shy away from SC, realizing they might wind up working for a different AD. Also, with Haden still in charge, you know recruiters from rival schools will use that against SC, painting a bleak picture of a program in chaos..

The USC ship has sprung a leak. It desperately needs a new captain..


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

49ers' Win Over Vikings Misleading? Maybe

As usual. the NFL's opening weekend was loaded with shocking wins and losses, because transitioning from meaningless exhibition games to meaningful games isn't as easy as it looks. Some teams need a wake-up call. One of the sleepyheads is the Minnesota Vikings, who got trampled, 20-3, Monday night by the San Francisco 49ers..

It was possibly the biggest stunner of all..

The consensus was that the 49ers are ticketed for the NFL scrap heap while the Vikes are headed to the playoffs. Did the experts blow it? Don't think so. The results just might be misleading. After examining the game tape closely here's what happened.

The game was a miserably-played mess, full of bad blocking, bad tackling, bad quarterbacking, bad everything. The Niners won but they were awful. The Vikings, though, were worse. For some reason they simply didn't show up..

After several years of success, the Niners, who struggled through the exhibition games, figured to be horrible this season.. They have nothing going for them, a star-studded team that suddenly lost nearly all its stars, A team that had one of the best head coaches in the league, Jim Harbaugh, is now run by a rookie, Jim Tomsula, who appears to be in way over his head. The biggest problem, though, is that QB Colin Kaepernick, has been in regression mode since the start of last season.

In Monday's game Kaepernick didn't do much, but that was the plan. He became Trent Dilfer--hand the ball off, through the occasional short pass and don't make a mistake. He was a supporting player in the Carlos Hyde show. The second-year RB had the game of his career, rushing 26 times for 168 yards, carrying the offense just as the departed Frank Gore had done for so many years,. The defense, bolstered by the return of LB NaVorro Bowman, essentially won the game for the Niners, keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.

But the defense wasn't really taxed. QB Teddy Bridgewater was in a fog, missing open receivers, making bad decisions. The passing game was supposed to set the stage for the running game, the star of the offense, featuring RB Adrian Peterson, the best in the league. But Peterson, returning to the team after missing most of last season grappling with child abuse charges, wasn't ready. Reeking of rust, he carried just 10 times for a measly31 yards,

So, Niner fans,don't read so much into what happened Monday night. What most likely happened was that the 49ers ran into a superior team having a lousy night.

Still, it's possible the Niners, with this new cast of players and coaches, are much improved. Maybe coach Tomsula has some Bill Belichick in him and can wring wins out of a team loaded with inferior talent. We'll know more after Sunday, when the 49ers travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Pittsburgh's game plan. Armed with a tape of Monday's game, they will plot to gang up in the rushing lanes to stop Hyde and force Kaepernick to beat them. The Niner defense will have to slow down a solid offense lead by QB Ben Roethlisberger, who's much better than Bridgewater.

The Steelers are favored by five. If the Niners win or come close to beating a tough opponent on the road, then there will be real reason for SF fans to make plans for a decent season.

But not until then.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PAC 12 Football--Shaky Start

All we've been hearing this year, since the PAC 12 beat the pants off the other power conferences in the last bowl season, is loud chest-thumping from league fans and players, crowing about how the PAC 12 is the best in college football.

All of a sudden, though, you don't hear a peep out of those PAC 12 braggarts. What happened? A disastrous weekend, that's what.

The worst thing was that mess at Oregon, which is the No 1 team in the conference and No. 7 nationally. Oh, the Ducks won, scoring at will, piling up 61 points on 731 yards, on a northwest patsy, Eastern Washington. But here's the ugly part. EWU scored 42 points and gained 549 yards. Could it be that the PAC 12 big dog has a lousy defense? Looking at that game, it seemed like lack of talent, rather than lack of effort, was the problem.

But Oregon was just one part of the PAC 12 meltdown. No.15 Arizona State got whipped, 38-17, by an unranked SEC team, Texas A&M.  No. 21 Stanford didn't even score a TD in its 16-6 stumble against a minor Big Ten team, Northwestern. No. 22 Arizona didn't  look very strong sneaking past a very weak opponent, Texas San Antonio, 42-32. Even the PAC 12 bottom feeders stunk, with Washington State losing  to pitiful Portland State, 24-17, and Colorado not being able to handle horrible Hawaii, bowing 28-20.  .

It wasn't all bad, though, for the PAC 12. Utah did triumph, 24-17, over Michigan, but the Wolverines, under new coach Jim Harbaugh, aren't very good and don't have a quality quarterback. The top 25 Los Angeles teams did win big, However, SC trampling little Arkansas State, 55-6, means nothing and UCLA beating a so-so ACC team, Virginia, 34-16, isn't anything to crow about. Bruin freshman QB Josh Rosen was impressive but that Virginia secondary that was supposed to be so stellar looked like one of the sieves in the Mountain West conference. Rosen could be a superstar but let's hold judgement until he faces a tougher opponent.

The other second-tier PAC 12 teams had so-what victories. Cal beating up on poor Grambling State, 73-14, and Oregon State whipping Weber State, 28-7,  is nothing for PAC fans to get worked up about.

Bottom line. Two of the PAC 12's six Top 25 teams, Stanford and Arizona State, lost and two others, Oregon and Arizona, won but looked wobbly doing so,  playing crappy defense against lowly teams.
You can't tell much about PAC 12 strength from the wins by SC and UCLA.

But you will be able to tell something about the PAC 12 after Saturday, following the biggest game of the early season, a battle of  Top10 powers, Oregon playing Michigan State in East Lansing.

For MSU, still smarting from last season's infamous 48-17 loss to the Ducks, this is a revenge game. The Spartans are coming off a lazy 37-24 win over Western Michigan in which their pass defense seemed suspect..Neither the Oregon nor the Michigan State defense looks to be superior, but MSU lives off its defense, while Oregon, with that explosive offense, can often get by with an average defense..

 This game means more to Oregon because they are the PAC 12 kingpin. If they lose to MSU,  the PAC 12 rep goes down with them. The Big Ten rep, however, lives and dies with Ohio State, not MSU.

Michigan State is favored by 3 1/2. Who wins?. I'm betting on the Oregon offense and multi-talented new QB Vernon Adams. After Saturday,  PAC 12 fans, quiet this week, will be roaring again.