Sunday, September 23, 2007

Believe it or Not?

Believe it or Not is written in dedication to those audacious claims(and those who make them) which so wholly occupy the collective consciousness of sports society. Browse through any major sports website or flip it on ESPN or Fox Sports for 5 minutes and you are guaranteed to hear an assembly of columnists, broadcasters, analysts and the like boldly proclaiming their robust knowledge of said sport. In most cases these claims hold as much water as the cone shaped pixie cups which come with purified water dispensers. My job is to analyze, probe, correct and every so often possibly agree.

1)Believe it or not: The Southern Cal defense is for real?

Not. Any fan that even remotely follows recruiting is well aware of the immense amount of talent the Trojans possess on either side of the ball. In all likelihood their 3rd and 4th string players could probably take it to half the teams in the nation. With guys like Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing, Sedrick Ellis and Taylor Mays, it’s hard to imagine this D not being a success. And that’s just scratching the surface. Priding themselves on stopping the run and forcing the opposition into mistakes, Pete Carroll’s schemes are some of the best in college football. In fact, what makes their defense unique amongst others in the Pac-10 is the physical brand they play. Until recently, USC was really the only Pac 10 team that would come up and hit its opponents in the mouth.

Considering all this, how could any sane person vote “not”? The answer is injuries. Ask any coach what it takes to win a championship, and it won’t be long before you hear the words “Stay Healthy”. In recent weeks the Trojans secondary (more specifically the corners) have taken a considerable hit. Josh Pinkard, largely considered one of the most talented players on the team, blew out his knee and will be unavailable for the rest of the year. Vincent Joseph, the nickel back, went down in the Nebraska game and had to be carted off the field on a stretcher. He suffered a bruised larynx and his return is up in the air. Cary Harris, who replaced Pinkard, separated his shoulder in last evening’s game against Washington State. Kevin Thomas, another solid contributor, is also likely out of the year. In fact, the Trojans haven’t made it a week yet without a corner going out due to injury.

This leaves Terrell Thomas, an experienced veteran starter, and young but uber talented Shareece Wright manning the corners. Yet Carroll still has to scamper, due to the imminence of the spread offense in modern college football. Mozique McCurtis has been moved from back-up safety to back-up corner. True freshman Marshall Jones is likely to have his red shirt burned, just to instill some depth into the corner position.

This raises serious concern for the Trojans who play in the most pass happy conference in the nation. Their stout running game should help keep their defense off the field for long periods of time, but it will certainly be of concern when playing against teams who love to spread it out and open things up (Oregon, Cal). While their defense is immensely talented, the lack of depth will prove costly as their season progresses.

2)Believe it or not: There are four elite teams in college football?

Not. Everyone is well aware of the christening of USC, LSU, OU and Florida as the top four teams in all the land. While I can admit these 4 have perhaps been the most dominant, it’s a bit early to roll out the horse and pony show for college football’s elite. Last time I checked National Championships aren’t won in September and I’m dually sure that coaches Carroll, Miles, Stoops and Meyer have been the quickest to remind their players of this.

Dozens of teams start out the year on fire, but it’s the ones that finish strong that determine the BCS. While these four have been particularly dominant, Oregon’s offense has looked just as, if not more so, unstoppable than Florida’s. While Texas hasn’t been overly impressive, you can throw out all the rules when the Red River Rivalry rolls around. The Kentucky squad is quietly ascending the rankings and has the fortune of playing both Florida and LSU at home, in potential trap games for two of the “Elite”. USC still has undefeated Cal on the road and that aforementioned Oregon squad in dreadful Eugene. West Virginia has maybe 3 difficult games left, one of which being this week on the road against a surging South Florida team. They could very easily make a sweep of their competition and end up at the top of the tier before the year is said and done.

3)Believe it or not: Darren McFadden isn’t tough?

Not. I heard this tossed around a bit by the so called “experts” and I had to chuckle. As a predominant force on the field, everyone and their mother knows when Arkansas comes to play, D-mac will probably touch the ball 40 some odd times (rushes, throws, receptions, returns). He doesn’t shy from contact and single handedly elevates his team to a different level. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch the film of his game against Bama. Arkansas would have never made that come back without number 5. People are quick to point out, “Yeah, but he has Felix Jones and Jones is just as good.” Think again. Jones is a nice player, but he excels mostly because teams are primarily focused on how to stop number 5. Trust me when I say, if McFadden isn’t on the field, it’s for more than good reason. No one should ever question any guy who does everything for his team.

4)Believe it or not: The Yankees are for real?

Not. Their rise to the top is unquestionably impressive. Their offense pounds out runs at alarming rate, led by Alex Rodriguez and his monster looming contract questions. But I can’t buy it. Let me clarify: I can’t buy it lasting until the World Series. Beyond Chien-Ming Wang, who hasn’t been nearly as impressive as “experts” would like you to believe, who else will toss the rock for the Yanks? Everyone is counting on Pettitte, Mussina and Clemens to come around, but isn’t that just because their names are Pettitte, Mussina and Clemens? I’m a believer in momentum, and just like the Cardinals late season surge last year, I can see why many would be excited about this club. But what people fail to realize is that St. Louis’ pitching took a drastic turn at the end of the year. The Yanks has not. The surge of late can be credited almost exclusively to the offense, and while they may overtake Boston for the AL East lead, they will be outmatched against far superior teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Their offense won’t be able to bail out bad pitching performances in the postseason.

5)Believe it or Not: The Indianapolis Colts are better than they were last year?

Not. The Colts are off to a fast start after easily blowing by the Saints, and squeezing by the Titans and Texans. Undoubtedly, winning two straight division road games deserves a pat on the back. But have they been tested yet? High expectations abounded in New Orleans, but those have since been squashed after 2 straight porous performances by the lackluster Saints. The Titans are a good ball club, and Vince Young possibly the hardest single player in the NFL to defend, but he can’t win games by himself in the NFL like he did in college. The Texans are a good story after their fast 2-0 start, but everyone in the league knows they don’t have the talent to really compete yet.

The questions about the Colts are, as always, on the defensive side of the football. They broke the bank to re-sign overhyped Dwight Freeney, making him the highest paid defensive player in the history of the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, Freeney is a nice player, but they paid 72 million for a spin move. He’s a one dimensional pass rusher, who has amassed through 3 games a whopping 6 tackles and zero sacks. Nay-sayers will point to him being double teamed and what that opens up for the rest of the defense, but the Colts rank 22nd in the league in sacks. It seems that if he is opening up the line for the other players, they aren’t taking advantage.

While the presence of Peyton Manning and the Colts virtually unstoppable offense will always make this team difficult to beat, I’d like to see their D battle tested against a strong passing offense before anointing them as better than their championship winning predecessors.

6)Believe it or Not: Arsenal is the class of the premiership?

Not. Yet. After their dominating play in recent weeks and unscathed record, it would be quick and easy to anoint them the “class” of English soccer this year. However, just as mentioned regarding the “elite” college football teams, it’s a long season. Can Arsenal’s defense remain impenetrable? Will their young attack continue to pour it on the opposition? Can Arsene Wenger keep his young talent focused? Or will they fold to much more experienced foes such as Chelsea and Man United? Much remains to be seen for the rest of the season, but as of right now, they are certainly setting the tone.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Good blog, I too think it's to early to tell who the four best college football teams are. Out of the top four at least one will have one loss, and most likely either two losses or two of those top four will have one loss each with FU and LSU playing each other once, and most likey twice.