Author Archives: William Martin

2017 Week 13 NFL Picks

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Will the New Orleans be able to dominate the Carolina Panthers for the second time this year?

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Where Does Tennessee Go From Here?

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Greg Schiano

A few days ago the Tennessee Volunteers were set to hire Ohio State Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as their next head football coach. Schiano was set to take over at Tennessee after Butch Jones was fired after a 4-6 start during this college football season. But Tennessee would back track from their decision to hire Schiano amid protests from fans as well as politicians within the state. This decision was the result of Schiano being associated with the Penn State Nittany Lions football program for six years during the tenure of Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 on 45 counts of sexually assaulting boys on Penn State’s campus during his time as the school’s defensive coordinator, and then while he was ran his Second Mile charity. Schiano’s name became associated with this tragedy during a civil case between former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary and the school last year when it became known that McQueary testified that he let defensive coordinator Tom Bradley know of seeing Sandusky in the shower with a boy in 2001. In his testimony McQueary also claimed that Bradley heard similar stories from Schiano during his tenure at the school.

These are allegations that both Bradley and Schiano have denied, and for the most they appear to be hearsay. But for the folks in Knoxville, this was enough for some of them to voice their displeasure in the attempted hire of Schiano by Tennessee athletic director John Currie. And what the Vols now have on their hands in a public relations nightmare.

Tennessee has won 13 Southeastern Conference Championships and they’ve also claimed six national championships with the most recent one coming in 1998. Tennessee’s program has a storied tradition as they’ve also produced Pro Football Hall of Famers which includes defensive end Reggie White and quarterback Peyton Manning. But since 2007, the Volunteers only have four winning seasons with no SEC Titles to show for it while they have a combined four victories versus the Georgia Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Florida Gators over that stretch. These three teams are Tennessee’s top rivals in the SEC, but the Vol Nation has had to sit by and watch their beloved team get the breaks consistently beaten by the top teams in the SEC.

The folks in Knoxville want you to believe that the Tennessee coaching job isn’t just another coaching gig and it is not. Neyland Stadium in Knoxville seats more than 102,000 as it has the fifth largest seating capacity in college football. Tennessee’s football program also has some of the best facilities in the nation. But playing college football in Knoxville is not as attractive as it once was and the blame for that falls into the laps of the powers that be there.

When Tennessee decided to part with longtime head football Philip Fulmer in 2007, they did so as they felt that the game had passed him by. Fulmer only had two losing seasons at Tennessee while he had a national championship to his credit, as well as six top ten finishes in the Associated Press Poll. But Fulmer was up against the wave of dominance of Florida, while another one was about to begin with Alabama. And although that some people feel that it was time for Tennessee to move on from Fulmer, it is clear that they never had an adequate plan B.

Since Fulmer’s departure, Tennessee has had five different head coaches, five losing seasons, no conference titles, and no top ten finishes. And whereas the job at Tennessee should be looked at as being a premier job, it no longer is.

The Volunteers have become the butt of many jokes due to their bungling of the hire of Schiano. Aside from everything Schiano would have never succeeded at Tennessee as his “New Jersey swag” would have never gone together with Knoxville. But the real kicker is that Schiano was not Tennessee’s first choice to take over the program.

Jon Gruden

The Volunteers have also been linked to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and Oregon Ducks head football coach Chip Kelly who opted to join the UCLA Bruins. And after the Schiano fiasco, Tennessee turned to former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe who refused to leave the comfort of his post as the head football coach of the Duke Blue Devils. Tennessee was seeking to get Oklahoma State Cowboys head football coach Mike Gundy to leave Stillwater, but to no avail. Current Purdue Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm was also courted by Tennessee and that went nowhere which led them to focus on North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren.  And just like the other candidates, Doeren decided to remain where he was at. Then there was the courtship of Washington State Cougars head football coach Mike Leach as Tennessee athletic director John Currie appeared to be set to hire him. But since then Currie has been let go as Tennessee’s athletic director with multiple reports coming out that Fulmer has been sabotaging the coaching search as he is seeking to become the school’s new AD. At this point whoever Tennessee hires is going to be a head scratcher because it will be a head coach in which they had to settle on.

And at this point for Tennessee, the only two hires that could allow them to save some face would be bringing in either Tee Martin or Les Miles.

Martin was the Vols starting quarterback when they won the national championship in 1998. Martin is currently the offensive coordinator of the USC Trojans and he does not have any prior experience as a head coach. And although that Martin helped the Vols win a national championship as a player, is the State of Tennessee ready to have an African-American head coach lead their team?

In nearly 12 full seasons as the head football coach of LSU Tigers, Miles compiled a record of 114-34 which included going 62-28 within the Southeastern Conference. Miles won a national championship at LSU and he had a pipeline to the National Football League. Age could work against Miles as he is 64, but he has the charisma that could win over the fan base in Knoxville along with his ability to sell water to a whale if need be.

After the struggles of Tennessee under Jones this past season which included going winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in school history, I expected changes to be made. But I never expected that we would see a situation play out like this where Tennessee has been denied more than a door-to-door salesman. But this is the current state of Volunteers football as things are very rocky on Rocky Top.

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2017 Conference Championship Weekend Predictions

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Will the Georgia Bulldogs be able to rediscover their running game in their rematch with the Auburn Tigers?

 

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Not On Ohio State’s Radar

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When Jim Harbaugh became the head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines in 2015, he was greeted in Ann Arbor with a hero’s welcome. Harbaugh came to Michigan fresh off of a four-year stint as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football League where he compiled a record of 44-19-1 which included a Super Bowl berth and three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances. Prior to Harbaugh having success with the 49ers, he had reversed the fortunes of the Stanford Cardinal which included an Orange Bowl victory to culminate the 2010 college football season as the Cardinal finished with a record of 12-1. And the impact that Harbaugh had with both Stanford as well as the Niners made him a hot commodity on the coaching scene.

Upon coming to Michigan, Harbaugh was expected to restore a Michigan program that was a national power which had fallen on hard times. In Michigan’s prior six seasons, they had three losing campaigns, while they have not been able to win the Big Ten Conference since 2003.

Harbaugh was able to immediately restore some order for the Wolverines as in his first season he led Michigan to 10 wins. The Wolverines would follow this up in 2016 by going 10-3 for the second consecutive year and they finished in the top 10 of the Associated Press Poll for the first time since 2006. But as good as things have been for Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, there is a big storm cloud hanging over his head which is that school to the south.

You’d be hard pressed to find that many rivalries in college football which are more intense than the one that Michigan has with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Between Michigan and Ohio State, they have combined to win 77 Big Ten Championships which has also led to 34 Rose Bowl Game appearances. Michigan leads the all-time series 58-49-6, but this rivalry has recently been dominated by the Buckeyes.

Since 2001, Ohio State is 15-2 versus Michigan with the Wolverines not securing a victory since 2011, while they’ve failed to defeat the Buckeyes in Columbus since 2000.

For Harbaugh, he was supposed to be the guy that changed things around in this rivalry, but versus Ohio State he is 0-3, while he is only 1-2 versus the Michigan State Spartans, while losing both meetings in Ann Arbor versus the squad from East Lansing. And what this equates to is a Michigan team that is good, but not great which fairly or unfairly falls into the lap of Harbaugh.

The hype was immense for Harbaugh when he came to Michigan, and rightfully so due to his resume, but it is obvious that the complete turnaround in Ann Arbor won’t be as quick as it was initially anticipated to be. Harbuagh has brought in quality recruiting classes which is evident by the fact that Michigan consistently has had one of the top defenses under him. But that has not carried over to the offense which is supposed to be Harbaugh’s specialty.

The Wolverines are third in the nation this season in total defense, but this dominance has not carried over to their offense which is 101st in the nation in total offense. And these struggles on offense have shown up in the big games as in Michigan’s four losses this season they have combined to score 53 points.

Harbaugh has been deemed as a quarterback guru, but none of the three signal callers that he has used this season have been able to complete 60% of their respective passes. And combined, Michigan quarterbacks have only passed for 2,023 yards which is 112th in the nation as this is an issue that’ll continue to impede the progress of his team. This lack of having an impact player at quarterback is something that will continue to hurt Michigan as of their commits for next year, none of them are quarterbacks.

But even with that Michigan is 28-10 under Harbaugh, while they are 18-8 within the Big Ten. And Michigan can also take solace in knowing that the four teams that they lost to this season are a combined 41-7 with two of them in Ohio State and the Wisconsin Badgers set to meet for the Big Ten Championship this Saturday, while the other two in Penn State and Michigan State are in line to play in New Year’s Six Bowl Games.

However getting moral victories is not what Michigan football is all about which means that Harbaugh must find a way to consistently win the big games; especially when it comes to facing Ohio State.

The Big Ten Championship has been in place since 2011 and yet one of the conference’s premier football programs in Michigan has yet to make its way to Indianapolis. Harbaugh is still a revered and respected figure in Ann Arbor, but the honeymoon period appears to be over as another loss to the Buckeyes in 2018 will have the folks who follow the maize and blue beginning to question the direction in which their program is heading.

Source: Sports-reference.com

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Unrealistic Expectations For A&M

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Kevin Sumlin

The end of the line has come for Kevin Sumlin as the head football coach of the Texas A&M Aggies. In six seasons at A&M, Sumlin was 51-26 and in the process he became the first head football coach in school history since Dana Bible to have a winning record in each season at College Station. But what ultimately did Sumlin in were the unrealistic expectations which are thrust on the football program at A&M.

Sumlin took over at Texas A&M in 2012 on the heels of the Aggies joining the Southeastern Conference. That season A&M would go 11-2 which included defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide and winning the Cotton Bowl as they were paced by quarterback Johnny Manziel who won the Heisman Trophy. Since then the Aggies were never able to rekindle that magic as they’ve gone 8-5 in the last three seasons. Under Sumlin the Aggies are only 25-22 within the Southeastern Conference which includes being just 4-14 versus the Auburn Tigers, LSU Tigers, and Alabama as these are consistently the top three teams in the SEC West which ultimately was his undoing.

Boosters and school officials at A&M have left no stone unturned in regards to giving the Aggies some of the best football facilities in the nation. Kyle Field has undergone an extensive renovation, while the State of Texas is littered with some of the top high school football players in the nation. Under Sumlin, the Aggies have produced several first-round picks in the National Football League Draft which includes Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Jake Mattews and Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. But even with that A&M has been unable to take that next step as a football program.

Under Sumlin, Texas A&M has generally ranked near the bottom of total defense in the nation in spite of the fact that defensive coordinator John Chavis is earning more than $1.5 million annually. This season the Aggies are ranked 60th in the nation in total defense which is actually an improvement, but they still came up short against Auburn and Alabama while surrendering more than 600 yards to LSU this past Saturday.

Sumlin has also played musical chairs at quarterback. Since 2014, the Aggies have had eight different starting quarterbacks. And in the case of Kyler Murray, Kenny Hill, and Kyle Allen, they all transferred to other Football Bowl Subdivision programs where they have seen playing time. Earlier this year Sumlin also missed out on bringing in quarterback Jarrett Stidham who was seeking to revive his college football career after sitting out last season after starting off with the Baylor Bears. Stidham left Baylor’s football program once the school parted ways with Art Briles as their head football coach. Stidham wanted to come to A&M, but Sumlin ultimately passed on him. Stidham would ultimately join Auburn and his first season with the Tigers has seen him help the program contend for another title in the Southeastern Conference, while the Aggies are 69th in the nation in total offense.

Sumlin also missed out on quarterback Jalen Hurts who is from Channelview, Texas as he ultimately decided on joining Alabama. And at Alabama, Hurts has turned into a household name by helping the Crimson Tide remain in contention for the national championship.

So now that the powers that be a Texas A&M will look towards hiring a new head football coach who’ll be able to keep up with the Joneses in the Southeastern Conference, will they find someone who’ll be capable of doing it? When A&M left the Big 12 Conference in favor of the SEC, it was all about getting out of the shadow of the Texas Longhorns. However while in the Big 12, the Aggies only secured one outright conference title, and you have to go back to 1999 to find the last time in which A&M finished three consecutive seasons ranked.

These are not the days of R.C. Slocum at College Station and whether it was the Southwest Conference, or the Big 12, the Aggies are no longer in a football conference that is simply dominated by two or three teams. I understand that money is being spent ferociously by Texas A&M in order to compete, but being able to go 1-2 versus Alabama, Auburn, and LSU each year is a win in itself. A&M got a boatload money from the Southeastern Conference to join, but the conference itself won out as they now have a media market in Texas which has also given Alabama, Auburn and LSU an even better opportunity to get the top high school football talent from the Longhorn State.

Whomever the new head football coach at Texas A&M will be will also have to deal with the fact that Texas is back on the upswing, while he’ll also have to fend off the Oklahoma Sooners for talent within the State of Texas which is never an easy task.

I understand that people who are spending their money want more bang for their buck, but like I always say, some of these college football programs would be better off being thankful for an 8-4 season and going to a second-tier bowl game instead of believing that they can compete for a conference crown and national title each year. A&M falls into that category as they entered the Southeastern Conference in search of fool’s gold which was only magnified by the attention that they received when Manziel was their starting quarterback. Now the search for finding a new head football coach in College Station has begun as the Aggies are going to be hard pressed finding someone who’ll be able to return the program to the glory days when they were still in the Southwestern Conference.

Source: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com

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2018 College Football Playoff Outlook Part Two

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Will the Alabama Crimson and Auburn Tigers have a rematch in the College Football Playoff?

 

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The NFL Is At The Crossroads

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For years the National Football League has found itself near or at the top of the charts in regards to American entertainment. There is no event in television history that has been more watched than the Super Bowl as it has grown into an international event. But when you bring basic physics into the equation, what goes up must come down and the NFL is not immune to that.

The National Football League’s television ratings are down from last season with a portion of that being attributed to some fans being upset with players using the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice in the US. But as the media wants to spin the anthem protest into being the main or only reason that the television ratings being down, think again.

The National Football League has become a victim of its own success. The NFL pulled in $14 billion last season which includes profit from merchandise sales as well as revenue from advertising. But the NFL is spreading itself too thin.

The National Football League is focused on putting a franchise in England and to do so, it is attempting to force its fan base in the United States to watch games that begin at 9:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. The National Football League is also hell bent on force feeding Thursday Night games down our throats each week which for the most part have been unwatchable. There is also a lack of quality play coming from the quarterback position while tackling on defense is optional. And with growing concern over player safety, the unbreakable facade of the NFL is beginning to crack with the best way to sum it up is that they are now victims of their own arrogance.

The owners of each National Football League team are a part of very elitist group of billionaires. The majority of these men are self made, and in order for them to make it to this point in life, they became accustomed to getting their way and taking no for an answer. As a whole the NFL owners not only view the players as mere employees that can replaced at the drop of a dime, but also as highly compensated muscle in shoulder pads. And because of that there is a huge disconnect between the owners and players.

Jerry Jones

Right now it is safe to refer to Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones as the “lead” owner. Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million after attaining success in the oil industry. Jones entered the ownership circle as a very wealthy man, but he was very low on the totem pole in regards to the respective team owners in the National Football League. At the time there were iconic owners around the NFL such as Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, and Al Davis of the Los Angeles Raiders. Mara and Modell played a big hand in the NFL’s merger with the American Football League in 1966, while Davis never backed down from battling the league office and former commissioner Pete Rozelle.

But since then these iconic owners have passed away along with other team owners and now Jones has become the senior man in the room. And after Jones spent years humbling himself, he is beginning to extend his influence.

Jones was influential in bringing the National Football League to Los Angeles after a 22-year hiatus in the second largest media market in the United States, while also being one of the mastermind of the league’s lockout of the players in 2011. When the NFL was attempting to suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in under inflating footballs for the 2014 AFC Championship Game, it was Jones who acted as one of the owners that forced the hand of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to drop the hammer on the star quarterback. Goodell would suspend Brady for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season; but this suspension would be appealed by the National Football League’s Player’s Association on behalf of Brady and the decision was overturned. Brady would play the entire 2015 season, but the NFL would take its case to another court where the decision was reversed. Brady would serve his suspension during the first four games of the 2016 season, however it would not prevent the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl this past February.

Jones forced Goodell’s hand in suspending Brady as he felt that no player is above the game, but now the shoe is on the other foot and the longtime owner of the Cowboys is not a fan of it.

In 2016, the National Football League opened an investigation into domestic violence accusations against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot that were made by his former girlfriend. The Columbus Police Department opened an investigation of their own and found that Elliot’s ex-girlfriend was not credible which resulted in no charges being field against the running back. This past August however, the NFL decided to suspend Elliot for six games after it was deemed that he violated the league’s personal conduct policy. What has ensued since then  was a back and forth in the court of law where the NFL continuously fought to uphold Elliot’s suspension, while the NFLPA continued to counter in order to get it overturned. Each party continued to seek out a court that would listen to their case as Elliot’s eligibility to play was being decided on week-to-week basis until the NFL won out which resulted in the Pro Bowl running back beginning his suspension on November 5.

Jones has expressed frustration publicly over the case as he feels that this was an attempt by Goodell to make an over correction after the debacle of the Ray Rice suspension in 2014. This along with the anthem protest by some players has the full attention of Jones. Jones wants the players to stand as he feels that it is “good for business”, while he also believes that the kneeling players are turning fans off. And if less fans are attending games as well as watching them on television, it is messing with the bottom line for Jones which is the almighty dollar.

This has led Jones to attempt to block Goodell’s opportunity to receive an extension from the National Football League and he has the support of some team owners on this issue as well. Jones has even threatened to sue the NFL if he does not get his way. However Jones’ power play has blown up in his face as there was a contingency of team owners who countered by threatening him by forcing him to sell his beloved Cowboys if he continued to impede the talks with Goodell as his actions were deemed as “conduct detrimental to the league”. Jones was not a member of the compensation committee and he drew the ire of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank who is leading that charge. And although that Jones is the senior man in the room, he is now seething as he isn’t getting his own way on the matters of Elliot or Goodell.

But Jones is not the only National Football League team owner that Goodell or the league must worry about. At a recent meeting between some players and owners, there was an attempt to find a resolution that each side has over the issue in regards to the anthem. During that meeting Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was quoted as saying “we can’t have inmates running the prison”. This statement by McNair caused immense public outcry which also included several Houston players walking out of practice. McNair has since apologized for his remarks, but in the eyes of many people, the ship has already left the port. And McNair’s comments led to the majority of the Texans team taking a knee in their next contest versus the Seattle Seahawks.

Aside with issues of the anthem, the National Football League has also alienated some fan bases. Prior to moving back to Los Angeles, Rams owner Stan Kronke rebuffed several offers from the City of St. Louis to build a new stadium on the waterfront. And now that the folks of St. Louis have now had two NFL franchises leave town on them within less than 30 years, I doubt that we’ll ever see another franchise there again. For more than 50 years the Chargers called the City of San Diego home, but once team owner Dean Spanos was unable to secure public funding for a new stadium, he decided to pack up his team and move to Los Angeles. What ensued was a bitter divorce as lifelong Chargers fans poured out into the streets with outrage which included the act of some folks burning and destroying their beloved team merchandise. Like the Rams and Chargers, the Raiders are ready to bid farewell to their longtime home. The Raiders are in the midst of their second stint in the City of Oakland. And like Kroenke and Spanos, once Raiders team owner Mark Davis didn’t get what he wanted, he decided to move his club to Las Vegas. But the real kicker in the case of the Raiders is that they will continue to play in Oakland until there new stadium is built in Vegas which is a real slap in the face to the Raiders fans in the Bay Area.

Issues in regards to player safety are not going away anytime. There is a growing concern in regards to CTE as this is a medical condition that has been found in numerous former players as the years of heavy blows to the brain have debilitated some of these men. The National Football League continues to claim that its all about player safety. However having a Thursday night game each week as well as travelling to London has cut down on the opportunity for players to rest and recover physically and it is only going to get worse.

There are solutions for the National Football League to recover from this myriad time that they are currently in, but I doubt that the team owners will check their egos enough to do it. The NFL should on only have one Thursday game in the months of September-November with the month of December dedicated to having games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. By doing so it would make Thursday Night Football a more marquee event, while it would also give the league an opportunity to showcase its marquee teams. The first Thursday of the season is focused on having the defending Super Bowl Champion open up at home, while the rest and recovery aspect doesn’t come into vogue then since all 32 teams are fresh out of training camp.

But having a Thursday night game each week has taken away from another marquee day for the National Football League which is Thanksgiving. The NFL had three games on Thanksgiving Day this year and for the most part they were all boring. The Cowboys are not the same team without Elliot, while the injuries that both the New York Giants and Washington Redskins have had to deal with this season meant that somebody was going to win their meeting by accident.

The National Football League needs to go back to what made their brand successful which was quality over quantity. There was a time when Monday Night Football was reserved for the marquee teams, but now everyone gets a crack at the honey pot. The NFL has also gone overboard in turning its draft into a glorified circus that is only missing P.T. Barnum as this event that was once a two-day affair, is now drug out over three days with constant features that nobody cares about.

But things will never get better for the National Football League as more than ever today’s team owners only cares about their respective bottom line which is making money like a true capitalist. And at some point in my lifetime, this naive approach will ultimately be the undoing of the shield.

 

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