My Tuesday Take: Oct. 23, 2018

The Big Ten reestablished itself as one of the best conferences in college football over the last few years with strong campaigns in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Four teams finished in the top 10 in 2016 and five in the top 17 in 2017. However, this season has been a disappointment. Five teams were ranked in the top 14, including an overrated Wisconsin from an extremely weak Big Ten West at #4 ahead of Ohio State in the stronger Big Ten East. Now, as Week 9 approaches, only one of those teams is ranked in the top 10. That one team is a surprisingly strong Michigan.

Michigan has only one loss this year, and that was to Notre Dame, who is currently undefeated and ranked as the third best team in the country. The #5 Wolverines are now, most likely, the Big Ten’s last hope to be represented in this year’s College Football Playoff after #2 Ohio State was blown out by an unranked Purdue and dropped to #11. Michigan faces two ranked opponents in their final four games, a struggling and shaky Penn State at home and the #11 Buckeyes in Columbus. They should take care of the #17 Nittany Lions, as well as the always terrible Rutgers and a .500 Indiana. Their only challenge should be “The Game” in Columbus, and they absolutely have to win it because the CFP committee hasn’t put a two-loss team in the top 14 yet. The saying is that “defense travels” and, boy, do the Wolverines have a good defense.* It will give them a good shot at winning their final game.

 

*Michigan State was held to 94 total yards last week. NINETY FOUR!!!! That’s not a typo.

It’s Time to Rank App St.

It’s time to put the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the AP and Coaches’ polls. Actually, it’s way overdue. App St has only lost one game this year, and they took currently number eight Penn State into overtime. It’s also the only time their defense has given up more than nine points. All they’ve done since that one loss on September 1st is steam roll opponents by an average of over 42 points per game.

Some may say their schedule is too weak. I’ll tell those people to look at Alabama’s schedule. Alabama has a weak schedule. In fact, it’s the weakest of the top three teams in the country. It includes a Louisville team that is not the same without former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and The Citadel in the second-to-last week of the season when teams from other conferences will be playing conference games.

Both teams beat Arkansas St. App St won that game by 24 points. The Mountaineers face Louisiana next week and should have no trouble doing exactly what Alabama did when they faced them.

Let me break it down for you. App St quarterback Zac Thomas is the real deal. He will be in the NFL in a couple of years. Thomas, through the first five games of the season, is completing 62.5% of his passes and has thrown for over 1,000 yards. He also has thrown 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

I saw Thomas in person against Penn State, and nothing scares him. He will stand in the pocket and make the throw every time. Also, he has the ability to run and gain a chunk of yards if the play breaks down.

App St has one of the best defenses in the entire FBS. This includes the ranked teams. Only three of the top 12 teams give up less yards per game than App St. The Mountaineers are ranked seventh in yards per game. Alabama is way down the list at 25.

Poll committees, it’s time to rank Appalachian State. I don’t care where they end up as long as they’re in the top 25. They’ve earned it. Now, let them keep it.

Final Note: Teams ranked in the top 10 should never play App St on September 1st. Just ask Michigan.

Drew Brees the GOAT?

Everyone talks about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, or Brett Favre as the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady, Bradshaw, and Montana may have 13 Super Bowl victories between them, but rings aren’t the only thing that defines a great quarterback. Since rings aren’t the only thing, there should be one more name added to this list: Drew Brees.

New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees only needs 201 passing yards to break Peyton Manning’s record, and he could easily pass that mark on Monday night against the Washington Redskins. Along with the fact that he will eventually own this record, he also owns the record for completions (Brady isn’t even close) and completion percentage for a season at 72%. He also has three of the four most accurate passing seasons ever. The man who has more 5,000+ yard passing seasons than anyone else in the history of the NFL has completed almost 76% of his throws this season is on pace for 5,180 yards.

Brees has had the odds stacked against him for most of his career, and he has been able and willing to overcome most of the challenges he’s faced. He is very short for a quarterback at only six feet, and most general managers look for a quarterback that is at least 6’3″. The one-time Super Bowl champion also has had a very poor defense in New Orleans for most of his career. He could easily have two or three rings if the defense was at least average.

Drew Brees at the very least needs to be in consideration for the greatest of all time. He has arguably had the best years of his career as it comes to a close and not even a torn labrum he suffered with San Diego had the ability to slow him down.

Bud Light & Baker

The greatest sports promotion is now over because the Cleveland Browns won on Thursday night. Yes, you read that right.

Tyrod Taylor exited the game against the New York Jets towards the end of the second quarter with a concussion after completing just four of 14 passes for 19 yards. Number one overall pick Baker Mayfield came in and led the Browns down the field to kick a field goal before the half. Newly signed kicker Greg Joseph added another field goal in the third quarter. Later, Carlos Hyde ran in for a touchdown, and the Browns ran their version of the Philly Special to convert the two-point conversion that tied the game. Mayfield’s first taste of the end zone was a catch thrown by lefty receiver Jarvis Landry. Cleveland’s defense held the Jets to a field goal in the fourth quarter, their only score of the second half. Then, Mayfield took the Browns 75 yards down the field to score what would be the game-winning touchdown and the Browns’ first win since Christmas Eve 2016.

The energy drastically changed in FirstEnergy Stadium when the rookie entered the game. The fans gained life, and the players ran to the huddle with a newly found belief and pep in their step. I know the Browns said that they don’t want to play Baker Mayfield at all this year, but they would be stupid not to. Tyrod Taylor is a great guy and good player, but he’s not willing to take the risk of throwing the ball long to Antonio Callaway, and risk is exactly what the Browns need now. The organization that passed on Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz cannot afford to have another guy in the backfield that holds them back. The Browns and GM John Dorsey added Jarvis Landry and Chris Hubbard, as well as solidified their defense this offseason. Their time is now to stop being the joke of the NFL, and the person to lead them is Baker Mayfield. Dilly. Dilly.

My Tuesday Take: Sept. 18, 2018

Dear Pittsburgh Steelers,

You hired Mike Tomlin to be your head coach in 2007 because he was a defensive guy. Well, I have news for you. He stinks at being a head coach. Tomlin inherited a championship team from Bill Cowher. Now, as there is only one player left on the Steelers from Cowher’s reign, Tomlin’s true colors are starting to shine. He got rid of longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and then tried to cover his tracks by hiring and then recently firing offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who should’ve never been hired in the first place. There is too much talent on the offensive side of the ball for one of the most historic franchises in the NFL to not have been in a Super Bowl for eight years.

So how does a defense get this bad for someone who was hired because he was a defensive coordinator for the Vikings? There are two answers to this question. The first is because he thinks Big Ben and Antonio Brown can bail him out. I’m sorry,  but Ben should not have to throw 60 passes in a game. No quarterback should. The second is the lack of discipline. James Harrison, who we all see with his insane workout videos, has said himself that there is no discipline whatsoever. Just look at Brown’s frustration on the sideline during the Chiefs game this past weekend. Tomlin came into Pittsburgh as the youngest head coach ever and wanted everyone to like him. He thought that is how he would earn their respect. Respect is earned, not given, and I wonder how many people still respect him when the defense has been their Achilles’ heel since the Super Bowl against Green Bay.

Sincerely,

Your frustrated fans

Is Penn State Becoming DBU?

On September 11, 2018, Joey Porter Jr., son of former Steelers’ linebacker Joey Porter and four-star safety prospect, committed to Penn State. Porter Jr. is the top-ranked player in Pennsylvania for the 2019 class and excites a lot of people with his size at 6’2″. Jr. attended the Nittany Lions beat down of the Pitt Panthers on Saturday, and it must’ve been the deciding factor in what he called a “no-brainer” decision. He also plans on attending Penn State’s annual White Out game against #4 Ohio State on September 29.

Joey Porter Jr.’s commitment begs the question: Is Penn State, the school known as Linebacker U, becoming DBU? Coach James Franklin quickly established himself at PSU with his ability to recruit some of the most talented players around. Franklin is keeping Linebacker U alive with Micah Parsons, who was a five-star prospect a year ago, but the linebackers aren’t the star of the show anymore. Along with Parsons last year, Franklin was able to get defensive backs Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields. Wade was a five-star recruit and was considered the number one overall player in Pennsylvania. Castro-Fields also held his own as a four-star safety in Maryland.

It may be too early to tell as Wade switched to safety during the offseason, but the fact that PSU’s entire secondary was invited to the combine last year and three of the four players were drafted is a very good sign for Penn State’s future. The Nittany Lions’ defense could be scary good in two or three years, especially if Wade, Castro-Fields, and Porter Jr. live up to the hype.

 

Nittany Lions Finally Find Their Stride

Last night the #13 Penn State Nittany Lions faced the Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field for their 99th all-time meeting. Penn State ended up blowing out Pitt 51 to 6, but it was ugly in the beginning. The Nittany Lions, whose tackling struggles continued from last week against Appalachian St, finally learned how to wrap up a guy.

Pitt’s struggles gave PSU the confidence they needed. Pitt’s miscues started on their first and only touchdown drive, where they failed to even attempt the extra point. This was followed by a missed field goal that would’ve been a chip shot in better weather, an interception, and a key failed fourth down attempt.

New offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne started aggressive by calling passing plays in the pouring down rain. Trace McSorely threw the ball quite well despite the fact he went 14 for 30. DeAndre Thompkins dropped three or four passes that hit him right in the hands. Pittsburgh native Miles Sanders had a career night with 118 rushing yards. KJ Hamler has become a star for the Nittany Lions with his kick return ability and knack for the end zone, including a rushing touchdown for 32 yards. Defensive tackle Kevin Givens, who was suspended for violation of team rules last week, showed how valuable he is to the team with seven tackles and two tackles for loss.

Next week will really prove if the Nittany Lions have finally found their stride when they face Kent State at Beaver Stadium. This will be their last non-conference game before they face Illinois, where they tend to play down to their competition, on the following Friday night.

Final note: KL Hamler’s performance over the last two weeks may only be upstaged by his parents’ rap that has gone viral. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the Hamler Rap.

The NFL is Back

The Eagles and Falcons opened the NFL regular season with a bang on Thursday. Every play from the Philly Special to the final play of the game, where Matt Ryan and Julio Jones failed to connect in the end zone as time expired, had fans sitting on the edge of their seats. The beginning of every season brings predictions, and here are my predictions for the winner of each division.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

This is pretty easy. The Steelers have some of the best players in the league on their offense. How far they go depends on their defense and how well they fill the void left at inside linebacker. The Ravens are in rebuilding mode and put pressure on Joe Flacco to stay healthy by drafting Lamar Jackson. It’s hard to be successful though when their best player is kicker Justin Tucker. The Browns could easily win five or six games just by the talent they added this offseason with Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor. It also helps that Josh Gordon is back and seems to be on the right track. John Dorsey is a genius at GM, but Hue Jackson and that coaching staff are holding the team back. The Bengals are a mess. Yes, they have one of the best receivers in the league with AJ Green, but everyone else is average, and average doesn’t win championships. Coach Marvin Lewis, who has never won a playoff game in the 15 years he’s been in Cincinnati, needs to go. He was getting ready to finally step down after last season and then suddenly had a new deal to stay.

AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars

This is a toss up. A healthy Houston Texans team with Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt could easily be at the top, but health is not on either player’s side. Jacksonville’s defense is one to be reckoned with. Defense travels, and it wins championships. The Colts are rebuilding. Andrew Luck is finally back, but they are still missing a few pieces in the defense and on the offensive line. Tennessee Titans have a new coach, and every player is average.

AFC East: New England Patriots

This is very obvious. It’s the Brady and Belichick. They win, and calls go in their favor more times than not.

AFC West: LA Chargers

The Chargers could’ve easily been a playoff team if they had started last year with a good kicker, but it could be anyone’s division. Denver always has a solid defense, and they upgraded the quarterback position by signing Chase Keenum, who took Minnesota to the NFC Championship last season. Pat Mahomes is the wild card for Kansas City. The Chiefs believed in him enough to trade Alex Smith, but every player has growing pains. The Raiders brought back John Gruden as the head coach, but they also traded Khalil Mack. I believe the expectations for Oakland are just too high.

NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

They made it to the NFC Championship last year and upgraded the one position they felt was weakest – quarterback. It’s basically Super Bowl or bust for Cousins this year. Chicago Bears got a new coach and beefed up that defense with Roquan Smith and Khalil Mack. These are major steps taken to win the division, but they still need a year or two to be competitive. The Packers have arguably the best quarterback in football with Aaron Rodgers, but their secondary is weak. Even with a few new coaches, I still stand by that statement until proven otherwise. Detroit also has a new coach, one who was a defensive coordinator. He did not look comfortable in the preseason, and the defense looked even worse.

NFC South: New Orleans Saints

This may be the toughest division again this year. Three NFC South teams could make the playoffs, but I believe my pick for MVP, Drew Brees, is the difference. They were one play away from the NFC Championship last year and had the offensive and defensive rookies of the year. Look for them to build off this. The Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills last year, and they haven’t had a solid receiver since. Maybe DJ Moore is the answer. The Atlanta Falcons took a major blow on Thursday with Keanu Neal tearing his ACL. Tampa Bay took a chance drafting Jameis Winston, and it has not paid off. It also doesn’t help that they start the season facing three playoff teams from last year, and Winston is suspended for those games.

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

The Super Bowl champs have done nothing but acquire more depth this offseason. They should be able to win a relatively weak conference. The New York Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the number two overall pick this year. Barkley’s ability to run, block, and catch out of the backfield, along with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., will really prove whether or not Eli Manning’s best days are behind him. The Washington Redskins did acquire a solid quarterback in Alex Smith this offseason, but their receivers will need to prove themselves. The Cowboys are missing a defense that can come up with the big stops and give Dak and Zeke a chance on offense.

NFC West: LA Rams

Two names: Gurley and Donald. They were respectfully offensive and defensive players of the year, and the team paid them big money to keep it going. They also added some big names on defense and Brandin Cooks at receiver. The Legion of Boom is gone in Seattle, and they haven’t done anything to protect their franchise guy, Russel Wilson. The 49ers just don’t have the defensive line to apply consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Arizona has three brand new quarterbacks on their roster, and two of them, Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen, aren’t known for staying healthy. The real question for the Cardinals is when Rosen gets his chance.

 

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