Friday, August 31, 2012

Game of the Week. Can Michigan Beat Bama?

Does Michigan have any chance to upset Alabama in Dallas on Saturday in the game of the week--maybe even the game of the month? At best, an outside chance. If these two played ten games Bama would win eight or nine.

No question, Bama is the better team, both in talent and coaching, with Nick Saban, arguably the nation's best, at the helm. Early in the year, he was good enough to guide the Tide to a national championship over LSU with a little prep time.. But he's been getting ready for Michigan for months, ever since spring practice. So Bama will be well-prepared. Michigan's second-year-coach Brady Hoke has also had plenty of prep time but that doesn't matter. He's not in Saban's class.

Bama's biggest edge is on defense. In college football there's none better. However, this defense is not quite as Gibraltar-like as last season's, which may have been the best in the last decade, particularly at stopping the run. Bama lost some of those starters, but a solid nucleus returns. Running on last year's team was just about impossible. It won't be any easier this season, with Jesse Williams heading a three-man wall. Compare this corps of linebackers to last year's and, if you can believe it, they're faster and more athletic.

Of course, this is bad news for Michigan, whose best chance of winning lies in electrifying QB Dennard Robinson, who's on the top 10 list of Heisman candidates, having a super game. A nifty ball-handler and a shifty, speed-demon, he weaves through and outfoxes defenses, behind the blocking of towering tackle Taylor Lewan. Good luck getting the best of this tough Tide crew. As a passer, Robinson is no Tom Brady, but he might do some damage with a crisp short-and-medium pass attack.

Bama's other real plus is its awesome offensive line, anchored by center Barrett Jones, maybe the best blocker in college, and featuring a legion of future top draft choices. They'll pulverize Michigan's ordinary D line, which was hit hard by graduation. Bama has no dazzling RB, like Trent Richardson, this season but a journeyman could look like a Heisman-hopeful behind this line.

In Michigan's favor is that Bama isn't a scoring machine. With unspectacular QB AJ McCarron running the offense, it rarely gets out of second gear. But it does efficiently eat up time and doesn't make too many mistakes. What could also help Michigan is coach Hoke lifting the indefinite suspension of first-rate RB Fitz Toussaint, who was nailed on a DUI charge. Will he play Saturday? Hoke is saying it's a game-time decision.

Besides QB Robinson turning into Superman, what does Michigan need for an upset? Probably a crippling case of nerves by Bama's new players, which would translate into poor performances and critical errors. Don't count on Tide newcomers or any of its players succumbing to jitters. Saban teams are too savvy to beat themselves.

What Michigan does have a chance to beat, though, is the14-point spread. That would be no surprise. But a Michigan victory over this mighty Bama unit would be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

USC No. 1 in College Football? No Way

Who's No.1 in college football?

If your answer is USC, most likely you're a delusional LA homer who's wearing rose-colored glasses and is totally stoned on local media hype. That's not all. Members of the SC-Is-No.1 club clearly aren't tuned into the SEC.

Anybody who thinks SC tops college football is making several mistakes. First of all, placing
way too much emphasis on offense. No one is doubting that the SC offense is the nation's best. There are stars at every position, from QB Matt Barkley to wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee to RBs Curtis O'Neal and Silas Redd. The offensive line isn't as loaded as last year's but it's still among the nation's top five.

Great offenses, though, rarely will national titles. They pile up impressive stats and make headlines, but in the post season, it's defense that reigns. Why do you think the defense-minded SEC is on an unstoppable title run? An exception was the Auburn team two seasons ago that edged Oregon in the national title game. In a battle of two powerhouse offenses Auburn won. Why? Because of their defense. It wasn't top-notch, but it turned out to be better than Oregon's.

Second mistake made by the SC-Is-No.1 crew: forgetting how the Trojans' defense is remarkably thin and inexperienced on the defensive line, which is riddled with freshman. Coach Kiffin had the uneasy task of replacing three D-line starters. On top of that, superb defensive end Devon Kennard has been lost for the season. The rest of the starting defense is solid, though. Still, the SC super-boosters ignore the D-line issues. Also, quite foolishly, they swear it doesn't matter that senior CB Isiah Wiley, a first-rate starter last season, is academically ineligible. The secondary will really miss him.

Third mistake: downplaying the overall effect of having only 75 scholarship players, a result of sanctions which limit scholarships. Behind SC's super starting team is a lot of untested four-and-five-star talent. If starters go down, the quality of play at that position goes down too. For instance, behind Barkley looms two raw freshman backups. If a bell-ringing sack knocks him out for a quarter or two, the Trojan offense is likely to sputter. Injuries are part of the game. Will the Trojans dodge the injury bug? Like every other team, they'll get stung. But they have no remedy.

The Trojans' machine-gun offense, by the way, creates problems for the defense. The quick-striking offense will score fast and often, forcing the defense to rack up many, many minutes. The D is likely to buckle under the strain.
Fourth mistake: ignoring the SEC. I have contacts who are SEC fanatics. I've seen many tapes of the best of that conference--Bama, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. They're all good--really, really good. In the Pac 12 only USC and Oregon have a chance against them. Offensively none of the SEC powers can't touch SC but defensively all could slow the Trojans considerably.

Smart gamblers know, when the season ends, SC could easily be a battered shell of the team that starts the season. The word in gambling circles is that, for the national title, big money is going with either Bama or LSU, both of which sport monster defenses, and not offensive power SC.

Again, what wins titles, defense or offense? Follow the smart money.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sanchez or Tebow? Neither

"His head is oatmeal"

That's how one of the New York Jets, texting a buddy who's the source for this story, described the team's starting QB Mark Sanchez on Saturday hours before the big intercity-rivalry game with the New York Giants. That wasn't all.

"He looks scared. No confidence. That Tebow thing has him rattled. He's about to have a crap game."

That player, a backup, was right on the money. In the game, which the Jets blew 26-3, Sanchez was a mess, doing just about everything wrong. He was overthrowing and under throwing, holding on to the ball too long, looking tentative, coming across as anything but a leader. His worst pass, ridiculously under thrown, was picked off by rookie Jayron Hosley and returned for a 76-yard TD. Not only was it off target but it was badly telegraphed. In his shaky state, it's a miracle Sanchez completed any passes, Nine, though, were on target. Still, his passing stats, were ugly--9 out of 11, for a paltry 59 yards, with one INT, for a 51.1 ratiing.

With Sanchez playing like a jittery rookie, you'd think backup Tim Tebow would gobble up that starting QB spot. Not so fast. In this game, you'd never confuse him with Drew Brees. Here's Tebow's feeble stat line---5/11, for 69 yards, with a 56.3 rating. The Giants front seven, maybe the best in the NFL, battered him, sacking him four times. Despite some miserable plays, he did have some nifty throws, showcasing his arm strength. Two drops by Stephen Hill and Josh Barker, damaged his stats. Tebow does have problems. His passing form, still awash with glitches, needs polish and he has nothing resembling a quick release. Overall, though, he really was better than Sanchez.

In defense of both QBs, the overall Jets offense, which hasn't scored in two preseason games, is in tatters.
The best wide receivers, Santonio Holmes and Chaz Schilens, didn't play. The offensive line, particularly right tackle Wayne Hunter, was trampled by the Giants defense, which stampeded both OBs.

The Jets' player, texting to my source, summed the QB quandary nicely. "Tebow is tough, a good leader, with no skills. Sanchez has the skills but he's soft and scared. This Tebow thing has destroyed his head. We need another QB--badly."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Usain Bolt Could Learn From Muhammad Ali

Usain Bolt is the best sprinter in the world. No contest there. But in another critical area--hard-core, no-holds-barred bragging-- he thinks he's world-class, but he's just a rank amateur.  Next to former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, the King Kong of bragging, Bolt is strictly bargain basement.

Are you, like me, sick to death of Bolt's ego-drenched, self-hyping spiels? Here's an example of one, delivered Saturday at the London Olympics just after he ran a scorching anchor leg for the Jamaica team that set the world-record, 36.84 seconds, in the 400-meter relay.

"Who's number One? Who's still a legend? Who's number One? Everyday, all day! Believe me!"

That was the highlight of a long, ragged rant. Enough already. Bolt may be the best sprinter in the world but as a braggart--he's a bust. There's no zest or sparkle in his delivery. There should be a sprightly comic edge to his lines, some creativity, a sense that he's joking and merrily letting us in on the joke. But his self-congratulatory monologues fall flat. There's an uneasy harshness to them, a snooty, I'm-better-than-you-are feel that feels antagonistic. Bolt's rants don't make him lovable. They just make him seem like an obnoxious ass who's full of himself.

Now, Ali--there was a braggart cum laud. In his heyday in the 1960s, when he was the best boxer, he knew he was supreme and didn't mind telling the world, joyously blowing his own horn. "I'm the greatest, I'm the greatest!," he'd howl, thumping his chest, King-Kong style. Or he'd do some dazzling footwork, demonstrating how he danced around his opponents, how he'd "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." He'd deliver his spiels with the touch of an ace comedian. You never felt like he was stuffing his superiority down your throat. When Ali was barking "I'm the greatest!" we loved hearing it. Sure he was doing some high-level boasting, but he was, at the same time, being an amiable clown.

Ali had something else going for him. Back in the 1960s when blacks' equal rights battle was raging in this country, he was, with his egomanical chatter, in a way, thumbing his nose at the Establishment. So he wasn't just bragging, but also making sort of a political statement. He was more than a braggart but also a hero, a champion of people of color and millions of leftists. So his aggressive self-hype had another meaty layer, which his many fans, world-wide, simply gobbled up

Bolt, who has no deeper layer, needs to learn a lesson from Ali. The key to effective bragging and over-the-top self promotion is to tell everybody how great you are but, at the same time, while they're eating up the hype, do it in a ingratiating way to make them love you. Ali was the master of this kind of smart, irresistible flamboyance.

With his lame, clumsy stabs at showmanship Bolt isn't in the same stratosphere as Ali. What Bolt should do is get tape and film of Ali's egotistical blasts, study them and use them as guides. Bolt will never be as charming and riveting as Ali but, with some modification and a lighter touch, he could become considerably less insufferable,

Friday, August 3, 2012

Forgive Fumbling 49er Kyle Williams? Hell No

Forgive and forget, sayeth the Lord.. Don't hold grudges. If someone does you wrong, take the high road. Forgive them. Wish them well. Extinguish that flame of hate.

Hogwash. That high-road crap doesn't work.

That's why I can't look at Kyle Williams without my blood boiling. You're probably wondering, who's he? If you're a San Francisco 49er fan, like me, you wouldn't be asking that question.  For Niner fans, Williams is infamous, heading their black lists.

He's the butter-fingered punt-returner who single-handedly ruined the team's chances to get to the Super Bowl last January, derailing an epic comeback season. He made two bone-headed fumbles in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 22 in San Francisco, paving the way for the New York Giants to win in overtime, 20-17, and move on to the Super Bowl.

Blunder #1:  Late in the fourth quarter, with the Niners nursing a 14-10 lead, he let a punt bounce off his knee, giving the Giants the ball on the SF 29. The Giants scored, took a brief lead but the Niners forced overtime. Then Williams struck again.  Blunder #2:  He fumbled a punt at the 49er 24-yard line, setting up an easy, 29-yard field goal, gift-wrapping the 20-17 victory.

What was maddening was that the Niners had been so great at avoiding mistakes. During the season, they tied an NFL record with only 10 giveaways. Even more impressive, there were zero giveaways by special teams. Williams, a 5 ft, 10-inch, 186-pound, second year-man from Arizona State, was a backup who was elevated to No. 1 punt-returner because Ted Ginn Jr. had been injured the previous week in that thrilling win over the New Orleans Saints. Clearly, inexperienced Williams crumbled under pressure. Most likely, the veteran Ginn would have maintained the special-teams' error-free record.

My problem is that I can't look at Williams and not think about those monster mistakes. Arguably, the 49ers were the NFL's best team last season, with a marvelous defense and an opportunistic offense that  scored just enough and avoided killer fumbles and picks. But those formidable units got sabotaged by that special teams' blunderer Kyle Williams.

Will Williams ever get out of my dog house? Could it be that I'll turn into a version of a neighbor I had back when I was a kid in Philadelphia. This young Italian named Rocco--I forget his last name--was a die-hard Brooklyn Dodger fan who went to New York for that famous baseball game against the Giants on Oct. 3, 1951 at the Polo Grounds. In one of the most dramatic moments in the sport's history,  the Giants' Bobby Thomson hit a ninth-inning, walk-off, three-run homer to KO the Dodgers, 5-4, and put the Giants in the World Series. It was Ralph Branca who tossed Thomson that gopher ball. From then on Jerry was haunted by that loss, hated Branca and shared his pain, again and again, with anyone who'd listen.

Am I destined to become another Jerry? I hope not. So, here goes. I forgive you, Kyle.  Forgive and forget, forgive and forget, forgive....

Damn, it's not working.