There’s a big showdown this Saturday night in the SEC between Mississippi State and LSU.
There’s a big showdown this Saturday night in the SEC between Mississippi State and LSU.
Unfortunately problems and the Southern Methodist University Mustangs football program cannot separate from one another. After being a doormat in the Southwest Conference in the 1970′s, SMU quickly rose to prominence in the early 1980′s. SMU’s rise to prominence came with a hefty price as they were hit with the dreaded “Death Penalty” by the NCAA for consistently paying student athletes in spite of numerous warnings from the NCAA to stop. Thus SMU would lose its football program for 1987 and 1988 which was the beginning of the end for the SWC as the conference lost valuable television money due to the Mustangs not being allowed to field a team. Once SMU’s football program started back up in 1989, the Mustangs would not have a winning season until 1997. And when the Southwest Conference folded in 1996, SMU would join the now defunct Western Athletic Conference. The marriage between SMU and the WAC would last until 2004 when the Mustangs would join Conference USA. SMU is now in their second season in the American Athletic Conference, but they are still unable to escape problems on the gridiron.
In 2008 after nine years as the head football coach at the University of Hawaii, June Jones was lured to Dallas to coach SMU. During his time at Hawaii, Jones had taken the football program to new heights which culminated in a bid to the Sugar Bowl in his final season there.
In Jones’ first season at SMU, the Mustangs were 1-11. But by the next season SMU would go 8-5 and win their first bowl game since 1984. Jones would go on to become the first and only head football coach at SMU to lead the Mustangs to four consecutive bowl games. Last year in their first year in the AAC, SMU would go 5-7. This season SMU got off to a terrible start as they lost their first two games of the year to Baylor and North Texas respectively by a combined score of 88-6. Jones had seen enough and once you factor in that he wasn’t getting the proper help that he needed from SMU, he stepped down. Former SMU running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson chimed in recently as he felt that the school didn’t give Jones enough resources to be successful.
Things have changed drastically for the SMU football program since Dickerson was a part of the “Pony Express” in the early 1980′s. The NCAA sanctions that were levied on SMU in 1986 mean that still to this day the Mustangs must run a squeaky clean program due to the fear of any further penalties being handed down. In the days of the Southwest Conference, SMU primarily only had to compete with the schools inside of the State of Texas in order to get the top recruits within the Lone Star State. But now with power conferences such as the Pac-12, Big 12, and Southeastern Conferences that have lucrative television deals that produce big dollars for their institutions, schools outside of Texas continuously swoop in and raid talent away that would normally play for a school such as SMU. Southern Methodist has unfortunately been caught in the wash and they simply have been unable to get the top players from talent rich Texas.
In order for the Mustangs to become relevant they will need to really embrace their former players along with bringing in a head football coach the understands the region. During the 1980′s, SMU sent talent to the National Football League in the form of Dickerson, Craig James, and Michael Carter just to name a few on a consistent basis. And in order for the Mustangs to once again be good in football. these gentleman need to consistently be around the SMU football program once again. Mack Brown and Houston Nutt could both be itching to get back in coaching while current Texas State head football coach Dennis Franchione would also be a great fit for SMU.
Brown spent the past 16 years as the head football coach at the University of Texas and he was not pleased with how his time ended in Austin. Brown knows the State of Texas like the back of his hand. And Brown’s name alone would get the support of alumni while also luring talent to Dallas. Nutt is very familiar with region as well. Nutt began his college football playing career at the University of Arkansas in 1976 when the school was a part of the SWC. Nutt transferred in 1977 and he finished up at Oklahoma State. From 1998-2007, Nutt would be the head football coach at Arkansas where he would compile a record 75-48 including two appearances in the SEC Championship Game. From 2008-2011, Nutt was the head football coach at Ole Miss and like Brown he understands recruiting in the region that SMU calls home. Franchione is a bit controversial, but he understands recruiting in the State of Texas along with winning there. Two stops along the way during Franchione’s time as a head football coach were at TCU and Texas A&M respectively. But Franchione unfortunately knows how to burn bridges.
Whoever the next head football coach at SMU will be must be able to recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex before anything else can be done for the Mustangs. And like previously stated there must be a strong commitment from the SMU community towards the new head football coach. Things are also set up for the Mustangs to have success in the AAC if they are able to get some talent from within Texas. The people at SMU do not realize it yet, but they are sitting on an oil field of football talent in Dallas.
The Texas Longhorns football program is one of the most historic in the nation. The Longhorns have won 825 games while also laying claim to four national titles. From 1957-1976, Texas head football coach Darrell Royal led the Longhorns and under his watch they never had a losing season. Since Royal retired in 1976, Texas has only had six losing seasons which is commendable in this era of college football of parody. This season is shaping up to be a difficult one for new Texas head football coach Charlie Strong, but he is working hard to get the job done.
Strong took over this year at Texas for Mack Brown who was forced out by the powers that be (boosters) in Austin. In 16 seasons at Texas, Brown only had one losing season and he led the Longhorns to the national championship in 2005. Strong took over a very difficult situation at Texas and the people there need to be patient with him.
Last season Texas finished with a record of 8-5, but they were a senior laden team. No Longhorn players were drafted this past spring at the National Football League Draft which was the first time since 1937 that such a thing had occurred for the burnt orange. Strong has dismissed several Longhorn players from the team as they were not living up to his standards as there was too much of a right of entitlement last season from some players. After a good start in their season opener against North Texas, the Longhorns have dropped their last two games to BYU and UCLA respectively. Some rumblings have begun in the Longhorn family as Texas booster and former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs expressed his disapproval of the hire of Strong and he has never given him his full support. But people such as McCombs in the Lone Star State need to relax as this will not be a quick fix for the Longhorns.
Texas has the money and resources at their disposal that most schools could only dream of. But Strong and his coaching staff will have to work a little bit harder than his predecessors in Austin to get the top-tier talent in the state. Gone are the days where the name Texas alone would convince youngsters to put on the burnt orange. With the recent success of Baylor and Texas A&M in-state, the Longhorns have a fight hand on their hands to get the top players to come to Austin. Non-Texas schools such as Oregon and LSU get their fair share of talent from the Lone Star State as well while Oklahoma is always fighting to lure talent to the other side of the Red River.
In four seasons at Louisville, Strong was 37-15 and he never had a losing season. While at Louisville, Strong also sent his fair share of talent to the NFL and given time he will do the same thing at Texas. This season Texas played a tough non-conference schedule and their Big 12 Conference schedule is not easier. The Big 12 schedule also sees each school meeting each other. The Longhorns will begin conference play next Saturday when they host Kansas before consecutive games against Baylor and Oklahoma respectively. The Longhorns are currently 1-2 and there is the possibility that Strong could become the first Texas head football coach since Dana Bible in 1937 to have a losing campaign in his first year in Austin. But if everyone is patient with Strong while giving him their full support, the victories will come.
It is no secret that the Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the deepest teams in Major League Baseball which is evident by their payroll of $216 million this season. The Dodgers are currently leading the National League West as they are closing in on their second consecutive division title. But the Dodgers have not won the NL Pennant since 1988 which is tied for the longest stretch in franchise history without a World Series appearance. The Dodgers made the National League Championship Series last October, but they fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. The Dodgers had the talent, but the Cards had the experience and they knew how to seize the moment in that series as they were clicking on all cylinders. In the postseason runs tend to come at a premium and teams need to do anything possible to score those runs. But the Dodgers have a guy at the top of their lineup that can make things happen in second baseman Dee Gordon.
At 5’11″, 170 lbs., Gordon is all about pure speed. The Dodgers drafted Gordon in the fourth round of the 2008 MLB Draft and by 2011 he was ready for The Show. In his three previous years with the Dodgers, Gordon never played a full year primarily because he was unable to stay healthy. But Gordon is putting it altogether in 2014. Gordon has appeared in 136 games this season and he is leading the National League in stolen bases with 59. The Dodgers have not had a player that could steal bases like Gordon can since the days of current Dodgers first base coach Davey Lopes who played with the club from 1972-1981 and they will need him to be on point in the playoffs.
The Dodgers have power in the heart of their lineup in the form of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, along with outfielders Yasiel Puig, and Matt Kemp. As much as Gonzalez, Ramirez, Puig, and Kemp can hit the long ball, the home run is not as big if they are coming to the plate with the bases empty as the solo homer is not as effective as the three-run variety which is where Gordon comes into play. This season Gordon is batting .299 with a .329 on-base percentage, and 31 walks. Gordon’s speed on the bases allows the big boppers that are behind him in the the Dodgers lineup to see more fastballs at the plate which they can tee off on.
At 26-years of age Gordon is still learning plate discipline and he cannot be fazed by the big October stage as he is the son former MLB pitcher Tom Gordon who himself pitched in the MLB Playoffs for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies. The younger Gordon was on the Dodgers postseason roster last year, but he was used as a pinch runner as he only saw the field for two games. This time around Gordon has to be the table setter for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. But Gordon is rounding into someone that Mattingly can rely on. The days of Gordon being shipped down to AAA appear to be a thing of the past as he was selected to his first National League All-Star team this summer.
Heading into October, the Dodgers have one of the most complete teams in baseball. Los Angeles has good starting pitching in the form of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Relief pitcher Kenley Jansen is one the top closers in baseball while the Dodgers have one of the deepest lineups in MLB. But all of that could be mute if Gordon isn’t able to make the most of his four at-bats per game while getting the blood flowing for his Dodger teammates.
May 25, 2011 is a day that will go down in Major League Baseball infamy. That night San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle which ended his year. Posey sustained this injury as he was attempting to block the plate against Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins. The Giants and the fans in San Francisco alike were outraged as they had lost their best player. Since then MLB has thrown around the idea of possibly changing the rules involving catchers and their ability to block the plate. That came to fruition this past winter when MLB implemented rules in regards to blocking the plate.
The current rule allows for a collision if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the runner’s direct path to the plate or if the catcher goes into the base path to field a throw to the plate. The rule has been implemented as a one-year experiment by Major League Baseball and being that is has caused more problems that anything else it should be scrapped altogether.
Too often this season we have seen instances where managers have challenged plays at the plate not to determine whether or not that a runner was safe or out. But to determine whether or not that a catcher blocked the plate and impeded a runner from scoring or that the base runner himself interfered with the catcher. Last month the Giants were hosting the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of seventh inning, Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco was called out at the plate. Giants manager Bruce Bochy challenged the play and the umpires overturned the call. An incensed White Sox manager Robin Ventura immediately charged out of dugout to argue the call and he was ejected as managers cannot dispute the call. What made matters worse was that the night before Ventura challenged a similar call against the Giants and the umps ruled in favor of San Francisco.
This is just one example of a rule that has produced a huge gray area for managers, players, umpires, broadcasters, and fans alike as these people are simply confused. Recently MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre attempted to clarify the rule by sending a memo to the umpires on the matter. But the best thing for MLB to do in regards to Rule 7:13 is to send it packing for 2015.
Earlier this season New York Mets broadcaster and former MLB player Keith Hernandez made a tremendous point on the matter when he let it be known that if it had been a backup catcher for the Giants and not Posey who was the 2012 National League MVP that had gotten hurt, then no one would have said anything about protecting catchers. Catchers blocking the plate has been around Major League Baseball for the longest time just like injuries. Baseball Hall of Fame catchers such as Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Yogi Berra made a living blocking the plate and they also took a beating behind the plate. Major League Baseball like other professional sports leagues is attempting to take new steps in preventing head injuries in sports. But baseball isn’t like the National Football League where players are being hit on every play. As a catcher the chance of being hit by a foul ball or the follow through by a hitter’s bat are still there and MLB is not attempting to change that.
MLB did what too many other institutions are doing which is that they pushed the panic button in regards to Posey’s injury from a few years ago. If a respective MLB team does not want their catcher to block the plate, then that should fall on them. In the case of the Giants and Posey, Bochy was a former MLB catcher who should be able to school his All-Star catcher on the necessary defensive skills behind the plate. We are a few months away from MLB’s winter meeting where this matter of blocking the plate will be a hot topic and it is a topic that should be sent on its way just like to old “cookie cutter” ballparks.
Will Eli Manning and the New York Giants be able to right the ship this Sunday?
One month ago the Oakland Athletics were sitting on top of the baseball world. The A’s owned a record of 72-44 which was the best in Major League Baseball and they appeared to be a lock for the postseason. But in a matter of a month things have changed drastically. The Athletics are 9-20 in their last 29 games and the team that has been in first place in the American League West for the majority of the season is now in second place and they’re nine games behind the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s are currently holding onto the top wild card spot in the AL, but even that is tentative as they are only mere percentage points ahead of the Detroit Tigers and two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners.
Oakland had been cruising along, but in a surprise move just prior to the MLB trade deadline, A’s general manager Billy Beane acquired starting pitcher Jon Lester and utility man Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for Lester and Gomes, Beane sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox. Cespedes was vital in the middle of the Athletics batting order has he had 17 home runs and 67 runs batted in to go along with him making his American League All-Star team this year. Cespedes’ arm was also stellar in the outfield as he dared runners to advance on him as he has a howitzer for an arm.
Beane gave up a valuable piece to his team for a player in Lester that is a rental. Lester is set to become an unrestricted free agent this winter and the small market A’s are not going to be able to afford his services. Beane has also tinkered with something that is extremely valuable in the world of sports which is team chemistry.
Since August 10, Oakland has only won two series and they are fading fast. In a key four-game series against the Angels at the end of August, the A’s were swept. The A’s followed this up by losing two of three games to the M’s while doing the same over the weekend against the lowly Houston Astros. The Athletics got their seven-game road trip started on the wrong foot last night when they lost in extra innings to the Chicago White Sox. In their last 13 games Oakland is 3-10 and they have only managed to score 40 runs which is not going to cut it. Offensively the Athletics are 12th in the AL in batting average at .247 which is not going to get it done either. This team lives and dies by the three-run homer as they are tied for fourth on the Junior Circuit in home runs with 139. But if players are not getting on base, the home run is not as powerful.
A’s outfielder and leadoff hitter Coco Crisp has a six-game hitting streak, but he has only scored two runs over that stretch. The onus is now on the heart of the A’s lineup that includes third baseman Josh Donaldson and first baseman Brandon Moss to bring Crisp home. But since the Athletics traded Cespedes no one has been able to replace his contributions in the Oakland lineup.
Pitching was expected to carry the Athletics to the postseason and ultimately to a World Series Championship this season which has not been the case lately. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija was acquired from the Chicago Cubs earlier this season, but he left his 2.83 earned run average in the Windy City. Since joining the A’s, Samardzija is 4-5 with a 3.41 earned run average. A’s manager Bob Melvin now enters the ninth inning and he doesn’t have the same assurance that he once did being that relief pitcher Sean Doolittle has been on the disabled list since August 24 with an oblique injury as he has 20 saves in 23 opportunities.
But if the A’s are going to get out of their rut, now is the time. 11 of Oakland’s final 17 games are against teams that currently have losing records including a game today against the White Sox whom they have struggled against and seven games against the Texas Rangers who are the worst team in Major League Baseball this season. With 17 games left in the regular season and an nine-game deficit in the AL West, Oakland is not going to catch the Angels for the division crown. But what Melvin and his bunch can do is get back to the timely hitting and effective starting pitching that made them so dominant for most of the year. The Athletics are staring at playing in the Wild Card Game which means that they’ll have their hands full. If the A’s face the Mariners then you can bet that they’ll face starting pitcher Felix Hernandez who is a candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award this season. The Tigers have knocked the Athletics out of the postseason the past two years and the thought of Oakland having to meet either starting pitcher David Price or Max Scherzer of Detroit in a one-game playoff is not promising for the green and gold. The Athletics must find a way to get back to being the rambunctious bunch of players that has captivated Northern California or they won’t have an October to remember.
Kyle Flood and Rutgers will begin life in the Big Ten this weekend against Penn State
As we’re in the final month of the month of the Major League Baseball season, playoff races are taking shape and the same can be said about the MVP races in both leagues. But for my money the National League MVP race is an intriguing one between Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Kershaw is looking to become the first Dodgers player since Kirk Gibson in 1988 to be named as the NL MVP. Kershaw is also attempting to become the first pitcher since Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968 to be selected as NL MVP. The history of the Marlins dates back to 1993 and they have never had a player be selected as National League MVP and Stanton is looking to ascend to rare air. But between Kershaw and Stanton, who will win the coveted award in 2014?
This season Kershaw is 18-3 with an earned run average of 1.67 and 210 strikeouts. Kershaw is currently leading the NL in wins and ERA. Kershaw is doing all of this in spite of the fact that he has missed six weeks of the season with a back injury. Stanton is currently leading the NL in home runs (37), runs batted in (105), walks (91), slugging percentage (.560), and on-base plus slugging (.957). Stanton is also closing in on becoming the first Marlins player since Gary Sheffield in 1996 to hit 40 home runs in a single season.
Kershaw only sees the field every fifth day while Stanton is an everyday player. But Kershaw’s Dodgers are currently leading the NL West as they appear to be on their way to the postseason while Stanton’s Marlins are currently under .500 and the postseason appears to be a long shot. Both Kershaw and Stanton are extremely valuable to their respective teams, but the voters tend to side with players who are on contending teams. The Marlins current record of 70-72 will work against Stanton as not since Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs in 1959 has a player been named as National League MVP while playing for a team that finished the season with a losing record.
Kershaw also plays on one of the deepest and most expensive clubs in Major League Baseball while Stanton does not have that luxury. The Dodgers payroll of roughly $240 million is the highest in MLB which is evident by the talent around him. The Marlins on the other hand have a payroll of $50 million which is the lowest in baseball. But both players know how to put their respective teams on their backs. Since June 2, the Dodgers are 16-1 in games started by Kershaw and in the process he has lowered his earned run average from 3.32 to 1.67. Stanton’s season got off to a bang as he hit 8 home runs along with 29 runs batted in in the month of April. Overall this season Stanton has had three months in which he has hit at least 8 home runs and he is looking to finish strong. Already in the month of September, Stanton has hit 4 home runs to go along with 7 runs batted in.
In the end it will more than likely be Kershaw that will be named as the 2014 National League MVP. Kershaw plays in the bigger media market and the Dodgers simply have better teams as compared to the Marlins. Whereas Kershaw can take the mound at Dodger Stadium and know that he is going to consistently pitch in front of at least 40,000 fans, Stanton launches home runs at Marlins Park in Miami where one fan could have an entire section to his or herself. Kershaw should become the first Dodger to win the NL MVP since 1988, but it should not take away from the season that Stanton is currently having for the Marlins.
James Franklin and Penn State got some good news today.