Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Back up to speed

Apologies, but a planned weekend trip followed by an unplanned early-week bout with the flu caused my blog to once again fall dormant for an extended period.

As the straggling virus bodies still swimming around in my head are making it difficult for me to concentrate long enough to pen a coherent full-length column on a single subject, let me just offer up a few thoughts on the most recent newsworthy sports stories:

1. BCS Title Game ... ick

At first I thought Jim Tressel was on to something with this whole "do exactly the opposite of what you did last year against Florida" thing. He opened the floodgates, let Todd Boeckman pass downfield on first down, and used that to set up the run. It looked like a genius move when Chris Wells scampered 65 yards for one of his patented objects-in-mirror-may-be-faster-than-they-appear touchdowns.

Alas, reality soon set in, and when the Bucks had to settle for a field goal and a 10-0 lead instead of a touchdown and a 14-0 lead, I could feel the air starting to leave the sails. The rest of the way, LSU looked composed and confident, while the Buckeyes -- especially Boeckman -- looked like the little team on the big stage.

Ohio State was an athletically overmatched team Monday night. Even if you are Big Ten to the bone and loathe all things SEC, you have to admit that Monday's game pretty much signed, sealed and delivered everything you wanted to disprove about the two conferences.

Monday, it sure as heck looked like the best the Big Ten has to offer couldn't hang with the best the SEC has to offer. You can counter-argue with Michigan over Florida in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, but that appears to be the exception -- not to mention Michigan was trying to send Lloyd Carr out a winner.

The Big Ten teams that made it to BCS games were manhandled. Like the Buckeyes, Illinois didn't deserve to be in their game. It was embarrassing for the entire conference to watch Illinois get smoked by USC in the Rose Bowl.

Monday, it sure as heck looked like the only reason Ohio State made it to the BCS title game was by eating snack food for a non-conference schedule and then beating up on inferior Big Ten competition the rest of the way. Everything you wanted to believe wasn't true was, in fact, as real as the nose on your face.

This year, with its upsets and world-turned-upside-down rankings, was quite possibly the best argument for a playoff system yet. If it prevents Ohio State from being held up as a national title contender when they are certainly not, I'm all for it.

2. GMAC Bowl ... ick-squared

I guess I can't complain. Bowling Green has won five of their last seven bowl appearances, which already gives them a higher winning percentage than Ohio State. But .... losing 63-7. To Tulsa. On the eve of what would prove to be a miserable BCS title game. It's just too much.

The game was supposed to be a match-up of high-powered offenses. Double-40s for a final score wasn't out of the question. Of course, Tulsa had the best offense in the nation this year -- historically great, actually, as they became the first NCAA team ever to post a 5,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher.

I've watched Mid-American Conference football for seven years. I covered it for one season as a student reporter at BGSU. And there is one prejudice I don't know if I will ever overcome after seeing this debacle.

MAC teams can't play any friggin' defense. Nope. Show me all the stats you want. I'll never believe that there has ever been such a thing as an "elite" MAC defense. In the MAC, defenses are placeholders intended to give the offense time to breathe between possessions.

I have a crackpot theory about this: When a major-conference school recruits Johnny Blue-Chip QB from Anytown High School, U.S.A., they might want to switch Johnny to safety or cornerback. They might want Johnny to start out on special teams and get a better idea of where he fits in.

When a midmajor school like those in the MAC recruit Johnny, the only real trump card they have over the Ohio States and Michigans of the world is they can guarantee Johnny he will stay a QB. Hence, all the top-notch talent that can make a MAC football team competitive is at the choice positions like QB and receiver, because that's how a MAC school gets Big Ten-level talent into their program.

Translation: contending MAC teams score and score some more. But it wasn't happening for BG. Not Sunday, anyway.

3. Chud, Romeo and Mr. Anderson

If reports on Wednesday are true, we know three things about the 2008 Browns: Romeo Crennel will enter the season with a nice extra wad of cash thanks to a new contract extension, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will do the same, and Derek Anderson will open training camp as the starting quarterback with a new deal of his own.

Crennel and Anderson made fans chafe at times this season, and there was some grinding of teeth over Chud's reported interview for the Baltimore Ravens' vacant head coaching job last week. But all in all, I'd have to say that stability is a very good thing for the Browns, who haven't seen a lot of it.

Too often, fans get caught up in what moves it will take to get the team to the "next level." Even as this 10-6 season wound down, there were fans convinced that Crennel wasn't the right man for the job, or that Anderson should be ushered out of town to make way for Quinn.

But sometimes, experience is the main ingredient needed to turn a competitive team into a perennial playoff contender. This year was a stepping stone, but the Browns won't be able to build on it if certain key parts of the team are tossed back to square one.

I still think Brady Quinn is the long-term solution at quarterback. I still don't know if Crennel's retirement or Browns football in late January will arrive first. But for an organization that just experienced it's first non-disastrous football season in quite a while, I say stay the course for now. The time for change will make itself evident. There's no need to hasten it.

4. It's about time, Cavs

As I'm writing this post, the Cavs just finished laying a nice, stinky egg in Atlanta. But even with that performance against an admittedly-improved Hawks team on the second night of back-to-backs, you can't argue with six wins in eight games.

This is the Eastern Conference championship club I knew from last year. The starting lineup of Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron, Drew Gooden and Z is the best Mike Brown can trot out there, and it's set up a nice bench rotation of Andy Varejao, Devin Brown, Boobie Gibson and Damon Jones.

Danny Ferry did right in playing hardball with Andy and not caving to his contract demands. But with the impact Varejao has had in solidifying the Cavs bench, Ferry had better be prepared to offer him a substantial extension next year. Andy is very important to this team. He is to the bench bunch what LeBron is to the starters. He's the enging that makes them go.

As an aside: Mike Bibby again? If it didn't mess with the Cavs' main rotation, maybe. If it involves Drew Gooden or Boobie, I would respectfully decline. I would also pay for the boot to kick Ferry in the rump if he accepted.

2 comments:

Hurm said...

Papa Cass,

I don't necessarily agree that the Browns should 'stay the course' – The Bengals have stayed the course for the last two season since the 11-5 playoff year and things have gotten progressively worse. (Thanks Mike and Marvin).

If the Browns want to compete with the best of the AFC, they have to stay agressive and build around the future. The Browns have a young, solid offensive core. Derek Anderson is an average to above average QB with limited potential. He won't get the Browns to the Super Bowl next season.

Why waste a year's contract of Edwards, Winslow, Quinn? That's a 2010 Super Bowl capable core (pending no injuries to the offensive line/above average running back). If the Browns didn't think so they wouldn't have given up their first-round pick for Quinn. The kid's got unlimited potential.

The current quarterback market is about as lousy as the current housing market. Derek Anderson could get the Browns good value now. Build for the future and get some depth for the defense/add that extra receiver. Don't waste his trade value and stunt Quinn's progress by keeing Anderson around.

Nice blog buddy. Hope the brakes on you car are working well. Wasn't that a fun time?!

Erik said...

Hurm! I saw you posting on Zach and Joel's blogs, and was wondering when you were going to stop by over here. Don't be a stranger.

When are you going to start your own blog? I need a Cincy blog I can link to.

As far as what you said about the Browns, I'm all in favor of preventing stagnation, but as much upheaval as the Browns have had to endure the past nine years, I don't think keeping the status quo for one more season is stagnation; it's stability. It's an offseason of not having to wonder what the direction of the team is going to be come training camp.

And if Anderson is even average, the market for him won't dry up in a year's time. There is always a team that needs a QB upgrade.

If nothing else, Anderson knows that if his game takes a dump next year, his replacement is right behind him, so he'd better stay sharp.

The Bengals are an example of stability becoming stagnation, but the Bengals more closely compare to the Indians than the Browns --they don't ever add jack-diddly-squat in free agency. If the draft is basically the only way you add to your team every year, your bell curve for improvement is probably going to turn into a gentle slope in short order.

When is someone finally going to wrestle that franchise away from Mike Brown?