NBA Finals exceeding expectations

It’s been 11 months since LeBron James’ famed “decision”.  At the time of it, the Miami Heat were instantly locked in as NBA title favorites.  However, a month into the season, they looked out of sync managing to be only two games over .500.

But did anyone really think the 3-headed monster of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be mediocre the whole season?  The NBA is a prime example of where talent almost always wins out.  So in the end, it’s not a surprise at all the Heat are in the finals.

The Dallas Mavericks are just as deserving of their spot in the title fight as Miami.  Dirk Nowitzki will always generate points in multiple ways.  He may be the purest scorer we have in the NBA.  But it’s defensive minded players like Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion who have really given the Mavericks a lift late in the season and into the postseason.

There is no question Nowitzki has carried this team in the playoffs.  He’s actually carried the whole organization the past decade.  Even with exceptional performances by J.J. Barea and Jason Terry against the Lakers, the mainstay has always been Dirk.

 What makes this series so intriguing is we undoubtably have the two best teams in the NBA.  Dallas emphatically knocked off the two-time defending champs in L.A. by sweeping them.  The Heat ran through perennial Eastern Conference Champion Boston and literally shutdown MVP Derrick Rose of the Bulls.

It’s not a shock that LeBron James is stealing headlines in this series.  It’s just how he’s doing it.  Most of the vibe is that James has taken his foot off the pedal in the fourth quarter of the finals.  Ok, I guess I buy that seeing he’s only scored a combined 9 points in those quarters.  His defense, which is top-notch in this league, even failed him in game four.  ESPN’s Rick Bucher went so far as to call him a “glue guy”.

People, relax.  Not only is the criticism unwarranted, it’s downright laughable.  There’s a reason James hasn’t had the ball in critical stretches for the Heat.  Dwyane Wade.  There is not one player on Dallas that can match up with him.  Jason Kidd is 38, and Jason Terry has never been known as a defender.  On top of that, Shawn Marion, the man in charge of containing James is an excellent on-ball defender.  LeBron has yet to score more than 25 points against Dallas this season.

This series has had every bit of entertainment.  It feels like the Heat have been “freely dunking” on the Dallas.  We’ve already had a comeback for the ages in game two.  Nowitzski willed his team to a game 4 victory despite a body temperature of 101.  How about three straight games decided by three points or less?  A feat which hasn’t happened in the NBA finals since 1948.

This is the first NBA finals in a long time I have sat down and watched every single game wire to wire.  If things keep to form, something tells me this trend will continue.

Barcelona v Man Utd Preview

When club sides Barcelona and Manchester United take the pitch tomorrow it will be the most watched sporting event of this year outside of the 2010 World Cup.  Should it not be considering it’s the biggest club match of the year in the world’s most popular sport?  The encounter will take place two years after these sides met in the Champions League final in Rome.

That match was pitted as United’s all-world player Cristiano Ronaldo versus Barcelona star Lionel Messi.  Ronaldo, is now gone.  But Messi will look to stake his claim once again as the world’s greatest footballer.

United was running rampant the first ten minutes of the match with Ronaldo smashing the crossbar early on.  However, Samuel E’to’o’s goal in the tenth minute quickly turned the game around and the Catalans never looked back as they cruised to a 2-0 victory.

The Red Devils now get a chance at redemption, although heavy underdogs.

What makes this spectacle of an event so intriguing?

How often is it that you get the two best teams in a sport competing for the ultimate prize?  Rarely do the top seeds from the NFL, NBA, and MLB square up against each for the championship.  The NCAA tournament hardly features that.  The BCS surely has its flaws.

But in this Champions League final matchup, Manchester United and Barcelona have proven they’re a step above the rest of the world when it comes to the beautiful game.  They each won their respective leagues with games to spare.  Both cruised through the knockout stages of the Champions League with relative ease.

Tactically, some say United manager Sir Alex Ferguson got it wrong 2 years ago.  It didn’t help the cause that mid-fielder Darren Fletcher missed the match due to suspension.  Thus causing Ferguson to start Anderson in his place, who quite frankly didn’t play well.  So the question for Sir Alex this year is not only who to start, but what formation to play them in.

For Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, the decision is much easier.  He’ll have the best midfield pair in the world with Xavi and Andres Iniesta.  David Villa and Pedro Hernandez will play up front out wide.  Sergi Busquets will act as the holding midfielder with Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Dani Alves, and possibly Javier Mascherano at the back.  Messi will act as the “false nine” dropping back from the center foward position picking the ball up all over the United half of the pitch.  Victor Valdes will hope to continue his outstanding season as the Barca keeper.

If Flethcer is fit, he’ll surely get the nod for United.  However, he’ll have the daunting task of trying to halt the pairing of Xavi and Iniesta.  The other midfielder will be Michael Carrick, who simply was left chasing the Barcelona midfielders in ’09.

Ji-Sung Park should start on the left wing to combat and track Dani Alves, although watch for him to be all over the pitch trying to disrupt Barca’s fluid passing.  The back four for United is strong featuring arguably the best center pairing in the world with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.  Patrice Evra will look to make his usual bursting runs down the left side of the pitch.  The right back position should feature Rafael da Silva, who will be wanting to makeup for his sending off last season in the Champions League versus Bayern Munich.

Wayne Rooney is a must up front for United.  Look for him to be all over Barcelona’s half trying to breakup the rhythm of their passing.  The two remaining outfield players will be a tougher decision for Ferguson.  If he decides to go 4-2-3-1, that will most likely leave the young Mexican Javier Hernandez out of the lineup.  This would be a difficult decision for Ferguson considering “Chicharito” has scored 20 goals in all competitions this season.

Leaving Nani out of the starting lineup would also be hard for Ferguson.  The Portuguese international has been one of the side’s best players this season.  However, the boss seems to favor Antonio Valencia who has come back very well after his gruesome leg injury in September.

In goal for United will be the Dutch veteran Edwin van der Sar.  The 40-year-old will be making his last appearance in club football as he has announced his retirement at the end of the season.  Despite his age, he is still one of the top keepers in the world.

United will definitely be comfortable with the ground they’re playing on, Wembley Stadium in London.  This is the home turf for the English national team, a pitch players like Rooney, Carrick, and Ferdinand have played on numerous times.  Not to mention this is where the FA and Carling Cups are played, finals which many United players have played in.

In the end, the final score will be determined by the 22 players on the field.  And regardless of that score, Barcelona will almost assuredly have more possession of the ball.  Since 2006, their possession percentage has risen every year in the Champions League.  It’s at an astounding 73% this year.  What United must not do is concede early as they did two years ago.  While Ferdinand and Vidic are rocks at the back together, if one of them gets caught one on one with a Barcelona attacker, it could spell trouble for United. 

United will hope to find breaks on the counter attack and expose Barcelona’s back four.  This is easier said than done, but Carrick and Valencia do have the ability to move the ball up the field quickly.  And if Ferguson decides to start Hernandez, he has more than enough pace to get behind either Puyol or Mascherano.  Not to mention Barca are a team who like to bring players foward, thus making them susceptible to the counter.

For me, the X-factor for Barcelona is Busquets.  Xavi has called him the best one-touch player on the team.  A very high compliment considering how much quality is in their side.  He’ll be in charge of starting Barca’s attack, moving the ball forward to players like Iniesta and Xavi.  Messi will try and make his usual runs towards the penalty area, a spectacular sight to see.  One pundit said the Argentine “can walk on the beach and not leave a single footprint.”  Alluding to the star’s spectacular control with the ball at his feet.

Ultimately there is something monumental at stake for both sides.  United, who secured their 19th domestic league title this year can solidify their position back atop European soccer.  A win for Barcelona means this Catalan side has a legitimate argument of being one of the top club squads to have ever stepped on the field together.

(Kick-off is set for 1:45 p.m. central on FOX from Wembley Stadium in London, England)

College football roundup (11/16)

The top two teams in the nation faced scares on Saturday.  TCU had a devastating weekend.  The SEC championship is set, and it appears the winner of the Bedlam rivalry will meet Nebraska for the Big 12 title.

Amidst all the allegations facing him, Cam Newton once again proved why he’s college football’s best player.  Georgia simply had no answer for him.  Don’t be fooled either, this was a Bulldog defense with plenty of talent and speed to contain Newton.  But like every other team who has face no. 2, he shredded them. 

Cam Newton greets the Auburn students before the game Saturday against Georgia

To his team, Cam Newton may be the most valuable player college football has seen in the past decade.  Auburn has at least three losses without him.

Auburn’s defense looked porous in the first half as they were torched by A.J. Green.  But, they came up big in the second half allowing only 10 points.  Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray looked outstanding at times.  This kid will be an absolute star next year in college football. 

The game ended on a sour note for Auburn as two defensive starters, Mike Blanc and Michael Goggans were ejected from the game and will subsequently miss the first half of the Alabama game.  By the way, this year’s Iron Bowl might be the best game of the year.  Can you imagine Cam Newton going up against Alabama’s stingy defense?

After one of their biggest wins in school history, the weekend couldn’t have been any worse for TCU.  After falling two touchdowns behind to San Diego St., the Horned Frogs rallied to score 37 straight before narrowly winning 40-35.  The Aztecs are a formidable opponent as they went wire to wire at Missouri, but this was a matchup TCU shouldn’t have struggled with.

TCU’s shellacking of Utah two weekends ago took a hit when Notre Dame beat the Utes on Saturday, 28-3.  Utah outgained the Irish, but had two costly turnovers.   My guess is that a Boise St. team that wins out will jump a TCU team that does the same.  After all, the Broncos did knock off TCU last year and returned virtually everybody.

Oregon gutted out a victory over a Cal team that gives up just over 200 yards a game at home.  Each season a championship-caliber team grits out a close win that perhaps shouldn’t be that close.  This was the Ducks’.  They definitely caught a few breaks from Cal playing their backup quarterback to an illegal motion penalty on a go-ahead field goal.  Which Cal’s Giorgio Tavecchio missed after the five yard penalty.

Oregon has two weeks to prepare for a visit from reeling Arizona, then travels to Corvallis for the annual “Civil War” matchup against Oregon St.  Expect Oregon to handle these two opponents easily en route to a BCS title berth.

Auburn knocking off Georgia solidified their position in the SEC championship game.  Their opponent would come from the winner of Florida-South Carolina. 

It was arguably the biggest game in South Carolina football history.  It was the ol’ ball coach returning to the “swamp”.  And it was all South Carolina. 

Florida returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.  But failed to score again until less than 8 minutes left in the contest, and by then it was hardly that.  Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore staked his claim as the nation’s best freshman by rushing for 212 yards on 40 carries to go along with three touchdowns. 

Florida managed only 226 yards of total offense and a meager 35 on the ground.  Going back to the beginning of the year I thought for Florida to compete in the SEC they had to run the ball efficiently.  They’ve failed to do so and are suffering their worst season since the Ron Zook era.

Oklahoma St. ended a 12 year draught against Texas as they thrashed the Longhorns in primetime Saturday night.  Brandon Weeden is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation.  He is deadly accurate and has a strong arm (hence his experience playing Minor League baseball). 

This game wasn’t even as close as the final score of 33-16 indicated.  By the end of the third quarter it was all but over as the Pokes had a controlling 33-3 lead.  Shouldn’t we have seen this coming?  It was the first time since 1999 that Texas was a home underdog.

Wide receiver Justin Blackmon continued his stellar season.  His 67- yard score in the second quarter was a microcosm of his ability.  He used his elusive speed to get past the coverage, then leveraged himself just enough to where the ball fell right into his arms for what he made look like a simple reception.

Just how good is Blackmon?  He’s averaged no less than 125 yards receiving in every game and has scored at least one touchdown in each.  His numbers are shaping up to be better than Dez Bryant’s in 2008 and a shade less than Michael Crabtree’s in 2007.  Not to mention Blackmon missed a game due to suspension.

NBA Power Rankings (1-15)


written by Tyler Merritt

With the NBA season now in full swing, the defending champs have put their stamp on the league yet again, the Hornets have surprised the league with a quick start, and Miami has growing pains.

Take a look at the top 15 teams in the NBA:

  1. Lakers (8-1) – The defending champs took a back seat to the TMZ show going on in Miami this offseason but took no time re-asserting their dominance.
  2. Hornets (7-0) – Chris Paul and first year head coach Monty Williams have the Hornets off to their best start in franchise history.
  3. Celtics (7-2) – Rajon Rondo continues to play at an elite level. They’ve beaten the Heat twice now, but have still dropped two games.
  4. Spurs (6-1) – The big 3 aren’t getting any younger, but their bench sure is. They’ve moved Manu into the starting lineup and Richard Jefferson is playing like the old RJ.
  5. Magic (5-2) – They were stomped by Miami early and let one slip away against Utah. They’ll need Jameer Nelson to take the next step if they hope to be a contender.
  6. Mavericks (5-2) – The Mavs are off to the same start as always. They’re undefeated on the road, but will need more contribution from Caron Butler and Jason Kidd.
  7. Jazz (5-3) – They’ve come back from huge deficits in their past 3 games on good teams. Let’s not forget though, they played bad enough to be down by that much too.
  8. Heat (5-4) – The Heat haven’t found their rhythm on offense, but they are playing strong defense and will continue to beat teams off of pure star power.
  9. Bulls (4-3) – Joakim Noah looks stronger and is making a large presence early this year. Look for them to get a big boost when Carlos Boozer gets back and up to speed.
  10. Trailblazers (6-3) – They’ve won big and lost big this season. They’ll need LaMarcus Aldridge to become a 20-10 player and Brandon Roy to start distributing the ball more.
  11. Hawks (6-3) – They ran through easy opponents to start, but have dropped three straight. Joe Johnson has more money but is giving less production. They have 6 guys averaging 10-plus points per game.
  12. Thunder (4-3) – They’ll beat a good team and lose to a bad one. They’re still young and looking for consistency. James Hardin is struggling early.
  13. Nuggets (5-4) – Despite an upset star player, they are still fighting and just had a big fourth quarter comeback on the Lakers.
  14. Warriors (6-3) – They lack depth, but Monte Ellis is playing at an all-star level.
  15. Pacers (3-3) – Danny Granger is coming off a superstar performance, but the Pacers still lack consistency. Look for them to be in a race for the 7th or 8th seed come season end.

Note: The Hornets, Spurs, and Mavericks are each a league best 3-0 on the road.

The Rockets will not be a threat in the Western Conference until they split ties with Yao Ming.

A healthy Spurs team could be the biggest threat to the Lakers throne when the playoffs arrive. Greg Popovich will rest his stars throughout the season and give his young bench a chance to establish themselves.

Why TCU should not play in the BCS title game

As always, we love dissent in the sports world. Here is one of our contributor’s thoughts on TCU

written by Tyler Merritt

It appears after a win over Utah and an Alabama loss at LSU, the team in waiting for a BCS title shot is clearly TCU. It appears the media has accepted TCU as a serious title contender now that Alabama has two losses. But why?

Let’s step back for a minute…tap the brakes on this TCU bandwagon and look at some facts. The facts are in the schedule. I know, same ol’ same ol’ argument. I myself got tired of it. So let’s take a different approach. We’ll evaluate the teams that are their “key wins” for what they are by looking at the numbers. Their top four wins are Oregon State, Baylor, Air Force, and most notably Utah. I’ll start from the beginning:

Oregon St: For starters, their 4-4. They don’t even have a winning record. Out of those four wins, one was over Louisville by seven and another over ASU (4-5) by three. This would be comparative to LSU beating Mississippi State. You wouldn’t even look at the final because you know they’ll win.

Oregon States national rankings in Points for and Points Against are: 59th and 65th respectively.
They just flat out are NOT IMPRESSIVE.

Baylor: Who is this Baylor team? I’ll admit this Baylor isn’t the same Baylor that has been getting curb stopped for years by everyone in the Big 12. They’ve got a very talented dual-threat quarterback in Robert Griffin who can cause a headache for a lot of teams. Baylor also boasts an impressive 7-3 record which includes wins over ONE…ONE team with a winning record (Kansas State). Put the “bear paws” back down Baylor, you’re still Baylor.

Air Force: STOP… just STOP. If you thought Air force’s ranking earlier this season was legit, then I guess you still think OJ’s innocent, that Mike Vick loves dogs, and the Cowboys still got a shot at the playoffs. They’re 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the coveted MWC. That’s enough about that.

Which leads me to Utah; TCU’s eye opening blowout victory on the road against the #5 team in the country. This is my favorite part!

UTAH: The Ute’s had walked their way through the season up until they met TCU. They opened with an OT victory over Pitt (whose most notable victory is Syracuse), and then followed by stomping the teams who followed. These teams were:
UNLV (1-8): 115th points for 115th points against
New Mexico (1-8): 114th points for 118th points against
San Jose State (1-8): 120th points for 102nd points against
Iowa State (5-5): 79th points for 85th points against
Wyoming (2-8): 113th points for 97th points against
Colorado State (3-7): 107th points for 98th points against
Air Force (6-4): See Above for thoughts

TCU has had years of chances to schedule strong out of conference opponents, and have been too cowardly to do so. They continually refuse to play top opponents and then at the end of the season hold their hands out like the hobo sitting at your local intersection. Not willing to work for it, but hoping you will give them a chance. So please, spare me the tears when America doesn’t care to put their two cents in your cup.

NFL midseason thoughts

Peyton Manning has thrown a touchdown pass to six different players

Now that every team has played at least half their games, let’s recap…

Offensive MVP
Peyton Manning, QB Indianapolis – Put any receiver or tight end in no. 18’s arsenal and he finds a way to get them the ball. Manning’s completing 65% of his passes and has an outstanding four to one touchdown to interception ratio. The veteran quarterback is doing this while the Colts’ running game is averaging a meager 3.7 yards per carry.

Defensive MVP
Clay Matthews, LB Green Bay – Not a very tough pick here. The second-year guy out of USC has been terrorizing opponents in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. Even sitting out a game due to injury, Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with 10.5. He added to his impressive stat line last week by returning an interception for a touchdown against Dallas.

Offensive Rookie
Jahvid Best, RB Detroit – Hmm… it’s hard to find an offensive rookie lighting up the stat sheet. Dez Bryant has yet to surpass 100 yards receiving in a game. Sam Bradford is showing potential, but is in the bottom third of the league in passer rating. Best is on pace to have over 1300 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns and is a big reason the Lions offense can score with anyone.

Defensive Rookie
Ndamukong Suh, DT Detroit – Not bad to have two potential rookie awards on the same team. Suh is starting to come on strong for a Lions team that has a very bright future. Over the past three games he has four sacks including a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Did anyone see his PAT attempt last week against the Jets?

Biggest Surprise
Kansas City Chiefs – I thought this team would be very competitive with its young talent. But 5-3 at the half-way point? The Chiefs could easily be 7-1 as they had heartbreaking losses at Houston and Oakland. With San Diego playing well, the AFC West race is one to follow as the season ends. Todd Haley is a coach of the year candidate.

Biggest Disappointment
Cincinnati Bengals – For the sake of time and space I won’t mention Jerry’s team. Considering the Bengals were a playoff team last year, they have to be upset with a 2-6 start. After Cedric Benson’s career appeared to be revived, he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Carson Palmer is one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the league. The lone bright spot? Ironically the guy who causes locker room drama is having a pro bowl type season. Yes, I’m talking about Terrell Owens who has 770 yards receiving to go along with 7 touchdowns.

Best Team
Pittsburgh Steelers – Tempting to put the Packers here, but I’ll stick with the best defense in the league and an offense that looks to be coming together with Ben Roethlisberger back. The stingy defense gives up less than 60 yards a game rushing. Rashard Mendenhall is one of the better running backs in the game. Receiver Mike Wallace leads the NFL in yards per catch at 23 a clip. Their only two losses are to Baltimore minus Roethlisberger and on the road at New Orleans. The remaining schedule is very favorable.

Worst Team
Buffalo Bills – Probably the least talented team in the league, it’s no surprise at the 0-8 start. However, they’ve had legitimate shots to win six of the eight games they’ve competed in. They appear to have two winnable games left on the schedule against Detroit and Cleveland. And with the effort the Bills put out each week I wouldn’t expect them to go winless. I hope Andrew Luck likes Buffalo because that’s where he’s headed in April’s draft.

Other rants

– Dallas should do everything in its power to draft cornerback Patrick Peterson of LSU.

– Brad Childress has absolutely lost it. He blew the Randy Moss deal, and is continually taking shots at Brett Favre.

– The Texans look to be headed down the same path. Great offense, no defense. Gary Kubiak’s in trouble if this team doesn’t make the playoffs.

– Has there ever been more parody in the NFL? Every division is up for grabs and about eight teams have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl.

– Adrian Peterson (knock on wood) hasn’t fumbled this season.

Weekend’s games shakeup college football

The play of quarterback Andy Dalton has made TCU a legit title contender.

Perhaps two of the biggest results of the season occurred Saturday in college football. Many people (myself included) predicted an Alabama win, and a close game between TCU and Utah. The opposite took place thus shaking up the BCS title landscape.

Alabama losing Saturday at LSU knocks them out of the championship picture. TCU absolutely thrashing Utah on the road makes them a legit title contender. Can anyone remember the last time a top five team lost by 40 points at home?

So what exactly do these two results mean? By Alabama losing, it appears as though a one loss SEC team will not be in the national championship. As good as LSU looked on Saturday they need Auburn to lose twice in their two remaining SEC games to even make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship. That’s unlikely.

As for Auburn, if they lose at Alabama in their final regular season game, don’t be surprised if they are jumped by TCU in the BCS standings. And the fact that Auburn’s potential opponent in the SEC championship will be ranked outside of the top 15 doesn’t help either.

Scoring margin doesn’t factor into the BCS computers. After TCU’s big win this weekend, it should be a vital part of it. If TCU wins this game on a late field goal it’s still a very nice win. But to win by 40 on the road with your quarterback having a career day passing has to mean something, right? I’ve never been a fan of non-AQ teams being a part of the national championship, but this team is the real deal.

With that being said here is the case for five teams who have title hopes…

The Ducks are on the verge of setting a record for points scored in a season. Scoring 53 points this past week versus Washington actually brought their points per game average down. They have a Heisman candidate at running back in LaMichael James and their quarterback doesn’t make mistakes. What concerns me is that they are giving up over 24 points a game in conference play. But does that even matter when your offense is putting up more than 54 a game? The toughest test remaining is the annual “Civil War” game at Oregon St.
They’ll be in if … All they have to do is win out.

TCU’s annihilation of Utah on Saturday may mean the Tigers have to go undefeated for a shot at the BCS crown. A victory over Georgia this week guarantees Auburn a spot in the SEC championship game. Two of the last three national champions from the SEC had at least one loss during the regular season. Auburn at least has that going for them. However, when people look at Auburn they wouldn’t compare them to Florida in 2008. There’s no question Auburn has one of the best players in recent college football history with Cam Newton. Their defense however is average. It took overtime for the Tigers to knock off Clemson at home. They beat an average Mississippi St. team by three and needed a last second field goal to salvage a win over Kentucky.
They’ll be in if … They win out. If they lose at Alabama they need a TCU slip up which isn’t likely.

This is the best non-AQ team since the birth of the BCS in 1998. The defense has a legitimate six players that could be drafted in April. The offense is led by a fifth year senior who is playing like an elite college quarterback. The win at Utah may be the most impressive win any team has had this year. They may also have the stat of the year. The TCU defense has held eight of its opponents to their season low in scoring this year. If you want to complain about their conference schedule, fine. They can’t help that though. But their non-league schedule included a solid Oregon St. team, and a surprisingly good Baylor team which they beat handily 45-10.
They’ll be in if … They win out and either Oregon or Auburn loses.

Boise St.
The win over Virginia Tech is looking good again as the Hokies appear to be set for a date in the Orange Bowl. The Broncos are led by a veteran squad and have a quarterback in Kellen Moore who will probably wind up in New York City as a Heisman finalist. The TCU triumph over Utah also hurt Boise St. Two teams from non-AQ conferences will not play in the national title game. And it now appears people’s hearts are set on TCU. I like Boise going on the road to play Virginia Tech and the home win against Oregon St. is nice. But you can’t schedule Wyoming and Toledo as your other two non-conference games and expect to receive the same praise of other top teams.
They’ll be in if … They need a lot of help. An Oregon or Auburn loss is a must. A loss by TCU is also needed.

The Bengal Tigers are on the outside looking in. The defense is one of the best in the country with draft prospects scattered across it. However, the upset of Alabama was caused by the play of the two LSU quarterbacks, Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. What’s scary about this LSU team is they could win every game they’re a part of if their quarterbacks play as well as they did Saturday. As we’ve seen throughout the season though, that may be too much to ask. The Tigers have an NCAA best four wins over ranked opponents. Their mediocre offense means they have trouble blowing teams out. But the outstanding defense also means they can play with anyone in the country. A win at Arkansas in their last game would add even more glamour to their season. But will it be enough?
They’ll be in if … The best case scenario is Auburn losing to Georgia and Alabama, thus vaulting LSU into SEC championship game. Assuming they win that, I think either Oregon or TCU will have to drop a game as well. As for this week, LSU fans will be pulling hard for Georgia.

The Randy Moss saga

Many opinions have been formed about Randy Moss over the past few days. But why should it surprise anyone? Moss’ temperament has been well documented throughout his career. Why else would he have fallen to the Vikings at number 21 in the 1998 draft? Lou Holtz has reiterated his thoughts on Moss calling him the greatest high school football player he’s ever seen. And while the stud receiver is not in his prime anymore, he is still elite.

Moss was his happiest in Minnesota when he had a mentor, Chris Carter. Which is why a few years after Carter’s retirement, Moss was dealt to the hopeless Raiders. Randy Moss is the type of player that has to play on a team with great leadership from a player (i.e. Carter) or coach (Bill Belichick). It’s no secret that Moss plays when he wants to. At the end of his first stint with Minnesota he literally walked around the field on called running plays. In a road game at Washington he again trotted off the field with less than a minute left in a one-possession game.

The media seems to think Moss was swiftly cut from the Vikings this week because of his tirade on a food catering service. This could not be further from truth. While the act itself was immature, you don’t release a hall of fame player because of it. If this was the case Moss would have been cut immediately after he virtually ran over a parking attendant in 2004.

Instead Moss’ comments regarding his “love” for the Patriots seemed to be the telling factor that he wasn’t happy in Minnesota. Randy could not have been in a better situation than he was at New England. He had the perfect coach, a star quarterback, and the team was winning. The biggest mistake wasn’t the Vikings releasing Moss, but Moss himself finding his way out of a Patriot uniform.

Minnesota should’ve known what they were going to get with Moss. Yes it’s nice to have safeties at an absurd 15-20 yards off the line of scrimmage to open up running lanes for Adrian Peterson. But to virtually use Moss as a decoy was brainless by Brad Childress. Can you really blame Moss for being unhappy back in purple?

I don’t know how Randy Moss will perform at Tennessee. I have no clue. What I do know is that Titan coach Jeff Fisher will keep him in line. The downside is Moss doesn’t have a capable quarterback to throw him the ball. Belichick and New England once again look like geniuses for stealing a third round pick from Minnesota. Now, the Vikings are reeling and head coach Brad Childress’ job looks in question.

Crucial conference games highlight weekend

LSU may need a "heisman-like" performance from star Patrick Peterson to defeat Alabama

Last week’s slate of games featuring top 5 teams were a bit one sided. Iowa obliterated Michigan St. at home. Oregon continued their offensive clinic by running through USC. Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. ran for a Husker record 307 yards. And Auburn’s Cam Newton showed his versatility by catching a pass for a touchdown.

This Saturday’s schedule should prove to be one of the better ones of the year, really though…

Alabama at LSU

Outside of a potential SEC West deciding title game between Alabama-Auburn, this is the most intriguing matchup of the SEC season. Tiger fans still haven’t forgotten about the Nick Saban debacle. Unlike two years ago where I felt Alabama was far better than LSU (that game went into OT in Death Valley), this year’s game should be close again. But why? LSU could easily have three losses, and many analysts still feel Alabama is the best team in the nation. Yes the LSU offense is sub-par averaging only 139 yards a game through the air (113th in NCAA). But the defense has NFL potential all over it, which will keep them in the game. If you’ve read me before you know how much I like Tiger corner Patrick Peterson. Some scouts say he is the best cornerback to come out of college football since Charles Woodson. And believe me he is that good. Drake Nevis anchors a defensive front which has dominated every game with the exception of Auburn, but then again who has played well against them. The LSU defense is giving up less than 16 points a game and it wouldn’t surprise me if they continued that trend on Saturday. Which means it will be up to the offense to generate some big plays, or perhaps Peterson on special teams.

Alabama will be happy to be coming off a bye week going into Tiger Stadium. And as good as the LSU defense is the Crimson Tide’s unit is just as strong. Alabama will look to pound the ball with the duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Receiver Julio Jones had his best outing as a Crimson Tide player against Tennessee going for 221 yards on 12 catches. Look for a low-scoring game as it was two years ago. Whichever quarterback makes the fewest mistakes will be the deciding factor. And we all know LSU has instability at the postion…

The pick… Alabama … 20 LSU … 17

TCU at Utah

LSU can make a statement knocking off what many people think is the best one-loss team in the nation. TCU can make an even bigger one by winning on the road at a very good Utah team.

First off, this game features two outstanding coaches in Gary Patterson of TCU and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. TCU is 0-3 playing in Salt Lake City and will be looking to avenge a 13-10 loss in 2008, one that propelled Utah to a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. The Horned Frog defense is allowing less than nine points a game which is tops in the nation. Considering they lost Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington to the NFL, this is an impressive stat. What I like even more about TCU is they are led by 5th year senior Andy Dalton at quarterback. Dalton rarely makes mistakes and can beat you with his legs as well as his accurate arm. They also run the ball very well and have one of the more unknown playmakers in the country in receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley.

Utah is led by the nation’s 6th best defense in terms of points allowed. However, the play of sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynne has vaulted the Utes into the top 5. The running attack is balanced by Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata who complement each other very well. Both these teams have convincing wins over Big 12 foes. With the season Baylor is having, TCU’s 45-10 thrashing of the Bears is looking more and more impressive. And Utah absolutely clobbered Iowa State on the road putting up 68 points. Both of these teams are top 10 in the nation in scoring offense and defense. Something’s got to give right?

The pick … Utah … 31 TCU … 27

Arizona at Stanford

This is an intriguing matchup because both teams are still in the running for the Pac-10 title. Arizona actually controls its own destiny in the conference because they’ve yet to play Oregon, while Stanford needs a win and a bit of help.

Arizona quarterback Nick Foles should be healthy enough to play in this game which is a huge positive. The Wildcat offense likes to stretch the field vertically with play-making receiver Juron Criner. The junior is averaging better than 16 yards a catch and helps lead a passing attack that musters over 300 yards a game. In a league known for its scoring, I love Arizona’s defense which yields less than 14 points a game. Cornerback Trevin Wade has the ability to lock down one half of the field. However, putting pressure on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be a must.

The household name of the Cardinal is quarterback Andrew Luck. The potential top pick in the upcoming draft can make every throw. His savvy and poise in the pocket reminds me of a Drew Brees, only with better size. Don’t sleep on Stanford’s running game though which is averaging over 223 yards a game. And while Luck can easily beat you through the air, he is capable of tucking the ball and running. After a loss at Oregon (which Stanford led big early on) this team is clicking on all cylinders. And with Stanford only allowing three sacks in eight games, Luck should have all day to throw. With that being said…

The pick … Stanford … 34 Arizona … 24

Will top teams fall on Halloween weekend?

Will Cam Newton and Auburn be the next no. 1 to stumble?

Going into the last weekend of October, four top 10 teams face stiff challenges away from home. If this week follows the trend of the last few, in which no. 1 has fallen, Halloween will be a nightmare for the top undefeated teams. With that being said, here goes my “attempt” to prove why Auburn, Oregon, Michigan St. and Missouri could all drop their first game.

Missouri at Nebraska
If Missouri can pull off the upset (they are eight point underdogs) they should be undefeated going into the Big 12 Championship. The Tiger defense is allowing only a shade over 13 points a game, but faces its toughest offense to date in Nebraska who is averaging over 38 a game. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is a big reason why the Huskers offense has been so potent. In week 6 at Kansas St. he ran wild the tune of 241 yards, a record for a Nebraska quarterback. And that’s saying something considering they’ve had guys like Tommy Frazier and Eric Crouch who perfected the option attack. Missouri is coming off an impressive win over then no. 1 Oklahoma, but playing on the road in Lincoln is a different platform. By the way, Missouri hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road in over eight years.

The pick: Nebraska 35 … Missouri … 27

Michigan St. at Iowa

After narrowly escaping defeat against Northwestern last week, the Spartans may need a few more trick plays to get past a stingy Iowa team. Their most impressive win is at Michigan who have fallen off after an impressive start. It took a fake field goal in overtime to edge a bad Notre Dame team. Sparty does have an outstanding quarterback in Kirk Cousins, but Iowa’s defense should take away the run and make things one-dimensional for Michigan St. Is there a reason Hawkeye gunslinger Ricky Stanzi isn’t a Heisman candidate. Many people have Boise State’s Kellen Moore in their top 3. Comparing their stats, Stanzi is just a shade behind Moore in completion percentage and touchdown tosses. The other factor? Oh yea, Iowa plays in the third best conference in the nation as opposed to the WAC.

The pick: Iowa … 27 Michigan St. … 21

Oregon at USC

This is a “tricky” one to pick. You know what you’re going to get with Oregon. A fast paced offense with multiple threats. USC has the talent on defense to keep up with Oregon, or at least contain them. Duck running back LaMichael James is averaging a ridiculous 7.2 yards per carry. It appears as though losing Jeremiah Masoli (who I’ll get to later) hasn’t slowed down this offense one bit. USC quarterback Matt Barkley is having a very solid sophomore season. The Trojan offense is balanced and should be able to score on Oregon. The question is will it be enough? I just don’t see anyone slowing this Oregon machine down. USC has been too inconsistent this year. They’ll have to be hitting on all cylinders to pull off the upset.

The pick: Oregon … 38 USC … 31

Auburn at Ole Miss

The last time a no.1 ranked team came to Oxford was LSU in 2007. That Tiger team handled the Rebels with ease. Ole Miss historically plays Auburn close at home, but I’m not sure if a player of Cam Newton’s caliber has ever played at Vaught-Hemingway stadium in the past decade. Maybe Tim Tebow in 2007 was better. Either way the Rebels’ defense will have their hands full with an Auburn offense that rushed for over 400 yards a week ago against LSU. Who by the way were giving up less than 100 yards on the ground before Auburn dismantled them. Meanwhile the Ole Miss defense hasn’t exactly been spectacular giving up 32 points a game. Not quite the recipe for an upset. Or is it? You’d be hard pressed to find a no. 1 ranked team this late into the season only favored by seven to a 3-4 opponent. For Ole Miss to win Jeremiah Masoli will have to match Cameron Newton. Outside of defensive lineman Nick Fairley the Auburn defense is average at best. So the Rebels should be able to generate points. And while their defense has been porous at times, they have shown glimpses of being stout versus Kentucky for three quarters and at Alabama. The key for Ole Miss will be to avoid giving up the big play. Houston Nutt always seems to win a game his teams shouldn’t and after a long day in the grove (5 p.m. kickoff) the fans should be ready to go.

The pick: Ole Miss … 34 Auburn … 31

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