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At What Price 06/18/2010

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The new Longhorn League, er, Big 12 logo

The Big XII survived. After Colorado left for the Pac 10 and Nebraska joined the Big Ten, it seemed that the conference was history. Reports had Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State negotiating with the Pac 10, and Texas A&M talking to the Pac 10 and the SEC. That would have left the futures of ‘the little 5’ in doubt. At the last minute, Fox Sports and ESPN sweetened the TV money, and the little five ponied up promises of cash to keep the conference together.

The little five (Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor) apparently offered to cede any penalty monies collected from the Buffs and Huskers to Texas, TAM and Oklahoma. In addition, there are reports that the little five would make up for any potential revenue loss suffered by those schools for staying in the Big XII instead of going to the Pac 10. Additionally, Texas gets to form its own network, a dream they would have been made to forgo in a move to the Pac 10. And people thought that Texas had too much power in the old arrangement!?! The little five made these concessions for two reasons. They were afraid of becoming irrelevant, of being left out of the BCS picture. (Good luck beating Texas with the advantages they now have!) They also argued that with 10 teams, their cut of the pie would be bigger, even with the extortion, er, good will payments. That may have been true, but it is only one week past the agreement and there are already storm clouds on the horizon. The Knight commission looking into college sports recommended earlier this week to lessen payouts to conferences for BCS participation and NCAA hoops participation. If these were to come to pass, the potential financial loss to the schools would be significant. Perhaps an even more ominous threat is the one coming from the Texas state legislature. It seems that they want to force this Texas-centric league to add Houston and perhaps even TCU. So much for the bigger slices of the pie.

The little five were afraid of joining the Mountain West, or another smaller conference, so they sold their souls to Texas. The reports were wrong. The Big XII is dead. Welcome to the Longhorn Conference! Long live Texas!

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viKINGS 01/15/2010

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The time has come.  This is the reason that Brett Favre manipulated his way into Minnesota.  The journey begins now, and is a 3 game or bust scenario.  All Favre wants is another chance on the NFL’s biggest stage.  All Vikings fans want is to once and for all get the big game monkey off of their back.  All in all, not much to ask for.

We will not explore again all the events that brought Favre to Minnesota.  Lets just say that this journey has tarnished his reputation, and nothing short of a Super Bowl

The Vikings are looking for their first Super Bowl appearance since the Purple People Eaters lead teams of the 1970's

 victory will put the luster back on Favre’s career.  He is a Hall of Famer, to be sure, after he stays away for 5 seasons.  But two years ago he would forever have been known as the gunslinger.  Now, unless he can reach the mountaintop once more, his legacy will be that of the diva.  Just another self-centered manipulator who could only win the big game once.  That fact seems to get lost in all the Favre hype.  He has only led his team to the Super Bowl victory once, defeating the Patriots in SB 31, and becoming one of the biggest favorites to lose the big game in dropping SB 32 to the Broncos.  Favre could have been remembered as one of the greats to win once.  With luminaries such as Steve Young and Joe Theisman.  But the self-centered manipulation of the past few years will drop him into the likes of  Doug Williams and Jeff Hostetler.  Good signal callers to be sure, but not names that come up in any conversation about all time great QB’s.  Two years ago, Favre would have been in that conversation unequivocally.  Now, his name will elicit a “yes, but….” in the conversation.  The gunslinger turned diva needs a return to the top.  It is going to be an uphill climb.

The Vikings have not won an NFL championship since Bud Grant lead them to the league title in 1969.  For those of

Will former Packer Favre help the Vikings finally hoist the Lombardi trophy

you who are too young, that’s  pre Super Bowl.  The long-suffering Vikings fans watched their team drop 4 of the first 11 Super Bowls, and have not been back to the big game since 1977.   Not exactly loveable losers, the Vikings, in fact, have 26 playoff appearances since they joined the NFL in 1961, including 18 division championships.  But the first decade of the 21st century has been their worst decade so far.  After their playoff appearance in 2000, the Vikings made the playoffs only once until the 2008 season.  The Vikings won the NFC North in  ’08 for their first division crown in 8 seasons.   They had a good defense and one of the best running backs in the league in Adrian Peterson, but were lacking an established QB.  Coach Brad Childress had worked with Favre when he was a coach with the Vikings hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers.  Childress tried to land Favre a season earlier, but did not get Favre to the Twin Cities until this season.  Now, with a second consecutive division title in hand,  the Viking fans are rooting for perhaps their most hated rival to lead them to the promised land.  And you thought politics made for strange bed fellows. 

In Favre, they found an egocentric 40-year-old who has developed the habit of late of melting down the stretch.  He did it at the end in Green Bay.  He did it in New York.  In Minnesota, the Vikings started 11-1, but finished 2-3 down the stretch.   All is not bleak, however.  The Vikes secured the # 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.  That gave the Vikings a first round bye, and guarantee that they would play no cold weather games during the playoffs.  Their two NFC games will be in domes (theirs or New Orleans) and the Super Bowl, should they get there, is in Miami.  Still, the Vikings have pinned their Super Bowl hopes on a quarterback who has a  3-7  record in his last 10 playoff starts.  He has 16 touchdowns in those 10 games, but he also has 16 interceptions.  Now, the Vikings are looking to him for 3 straight playoff wins.

Anything short of the Super Bowl will be a failure of the Favre experiment for Minnesota.  The diva may need a victory in the big game to once again become the gunslinger.

Kelly Green (and GOLDEN?) 12/11/2009

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Notre Dame got its man. 

The Irish introduced their new football head coach today.  Brian Kelly is leaving Cincinnati to come to Notre Dame.  Kelly, an Irish Catholic, is leaving a team that he 

Brian Kelly is introduced as the new ND football head coach

 built into the 5th ranked team in the nation.  The Bearcats were 12-0 this season and earned a BCS berth with a Sugar Bowl bid.  His 3 year record at Cincinnati was 34-6.  Notre Dame finished 6-6 under Charlie Weis this season. 

When Weis was hired 5 years ago, he was the 3 time Super Bowl champion offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.  He came to Notre Dame with no head coaching experience.  Kelly arrives in South Bend with a career 171-57-2 record as a head coach, including stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati.  That experience as a head coach should give him an advantage over his predecessor.  Kelly is a high energy coach who appears to be able to recruit.  He seems to be a good fit for Notre Dame.  He is an offensive coach, and Nore Dame had a good offense this season.  Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate have declared that they will be moving on to the NFL, but there is talent here and Kelly had no problem getting offensive talent to Cincinnati and should be able to get talent to South Bend.  The first thing he needs to do, however, is to find a quality defensive coordinator.  I do not know what assistant coaches he plans to bring from his Bearcat staff, but the defense that gave up 45 points to UCONN, 36 to Illinois and 44 to Pitt in their last 4 games will not get it done in South Bend.  As Weis found out, the Irish need a stout defense.  The Irish ranked 64th in the NCAA’s FBS subdivision, surrendering almost 26 points a game.  Cincinnati was 24th in the nation, allowing just under 21 points per game.  Kelly will need to find a way to surrender fewer points than either of those squads gave up this season. 

There is also pressure on Kelly to produce for another reason.  While Notre Dame has a contract with NBC to televise all their 

Will the peacock continue to be the home of the Golden Dome after 2015?

home games through 2015, the TV situation and the ratings Notre Dame receives may make another extension difficult.  The Irish will receive a reported $15 million a year for the TV rights.  That money, and the windfall of $4 million plus for a BCS Bowl appearance is what has allowed ND to remain independent.  While the school has joined the Big East for basketball, etc., the football team is a member of no conference.  The trouble is that there has not been a BCS bowl for Notre Dame since the 2006 season, and only 3 total appearances since the BCS began in 1998.  Couple that with sagging ratings for ND games on NBC, and the combination  may make another re-up with NBC difficult.  The Irish drew an average of 3.7 million viewers per game this season.  While that was up from 3.2 million last season, it is down from the 5.2 million viewers the Irish commanded just 5 years ago.  The viewership out drew cable giant ESPN’s  (2.87 million) per game coverage average this season but was far less than games televised by broadcast networks ABC (6.1 million) and CBS (7 million).  

Notre Dame considers their independent status to be helpful because it allows for national recruiting.  Some think that joining a conference will limit Notre Dame’s ability to recruit outside of that conferences ‘footprint.’  But that is bunk.  There are players from California and Texas and New Jersey, for example, playing in the Big Ten.  Notre Dame will still be able to compete for recruits across the nation.  If Kelly does not turn the Irish around quickly, their TV revenue may dry up after 2015.  While it is true that ND would have to split bowl money with conference members, they will also receive a split from other league teams that attend bowls.  If the Irish were in the Big Ten this season, for example, they would be receiving splits from 7 bowl games, including 2 BCS games,  instead of no bowl income because the Irish are not going to a bowl this season.  The financial landscape of college football will soon force Notre Dame to join a conference.  Only a quick turnaround by Kelly, and multiple BCS appearances will stop this from happening.  Even that may not be enough.  

Kelly will be the next Notre Dame football coach.  He will probably also be the coach that ushers in the end of independence for Irish football.

Wake Up The Echoes 11/25/2009

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Speculation is rampant that Weis is out as Irish head coach

Speculation is rampant that Weis is out as Irish head coach

Word came out of South Bend, Indiana yesterday that Irish head coach Charlie Weis would return with the Notre Dame football team following the game at Stanford instead of staying in California to do some recruiting.  The speculation is that this is just the latest sign that Stanford will be the last game for Weis as Notre Dame head coach.  If this is the case, Notre Dame will take the field with its fourth coach since Lou Holtz was released after the 1996 season.  That number does not include either the O’Leary hire or the Baer bowl game.  (George O’Leary was hired in 2001 but never coached a game because of some issues with his resume, Kent Baer was the interim coach for the 2004 Insight Bowl after Tyrone Willingham was fires as Irish coach.)  That’s a lot of turnover for a ‘name’ program in 14 years. 

Notre Dame is still a ‘name’ program.  That can not be argued.  After all, how many teams have their own network? 

No Irish National Championships since Holtz's 1988 squad

None.  Notre Dame has enough clout, enough following to be the only NCAA football team televised on NBC.  But the question is, will that continue?  The Irish have won 11 national championships in their history.  However, they have won only one  since 1977  (in 1988).  Notre Dame currently has 33 alums on NFL rosters.  That is a lot, but not the highest.  By comparison, LSU has 50, USC has 43, and Florida has 35.  Even Iowa has 32.  So, there is still talent at Notre Dame.  But they have not been consistent big winners for a while.  Lou Holtz had teams that won 12 games in 1988 and 1989, ten wins in 1991, and 1992 and 11 in 1993.  Since then, Notre Dame has cracked double diget wins only twice, with 10 victories in 2002 and 2006. So with only 2 ten win seasons in the last 16, what is lacking in South Bend?  Could it be continuity?  Since Holtz finished at Notre Dame after 11 seasons, Bob Davie was given 5 seasons in South Bend, followed by 3 for Willingham and 4, so far, for Weis.

If Weis is let go after the Stanford game, where does Notre Dame go from here?  The last 3 coaches have been on short leashes.  The way Notre Dame has fired Davie, Willingham and, perhaps, Weis, what ‘name’ coach will want to leave an established job to take up the standard in South Bend?  Why would Bob Stoops leave Oklahoma for the pressure cooker in Indiana?  Would Urban Meyer leave the program he built in Florida?  I doubt it.  If  Notre Dame decides to go after the newest ‘up and coming coach’  in, say, Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly, will they give him the time he needs?  Would he even be interested?  The job in South Bend would be a definite step up, but they tried to get Urban Meyer out of Utah four years ago and he chose Florida instead.  The question is, would Notre Dame make a commitment to a coach and a direction?  Would any potential coach believe that commitment?

Notre Dame finds itself at a crossroads.  The Irish demand a winner.  There was a time when all Notre Dame had to do was choose what players it wants.  Almost everyone

The Golden Dome seems to have lost some of its luster

 wanted to go to Notre Dame.  It was a top five program.  Not so any more.  The players currently in high school have never known a winner in South Bend.  They know USC and Pete Caroll, or Meyer in Florida.  Why would they want to go to a small town in the upper Midwest?  Notre Dame has an active, vocal and loyal alumni base.  But are football players even BMOC on campus anymore?  I was in South Bend for the Syracuse game last year when the Irish student body mercilessly pelted their own team with snowballs throughout the entire game.  Apparently quarterback Jimmy Clausen was punched in the nose at a restaurant following their latest loss. 

If Notre Dame wishes to regain their footing, I am not sure firing Weis is the answer.  What is needed in South Bend is some continuity.  If Weis goes, the next hire must remain in place long enough to allow his system to take hold.  Notre Dame can be a power again.  Look at Florida and USC.  Both schools had their down times but are riding atop the wave recently.  In order for the revival to take hold in South Bend, the coaching revolving door must end.

Excuses 11/13/2009

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It is time to stop making excuses.  Hester ran the wrong pattern.  The o-line is not protecting him.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  It is time to face the truth.  Jay Cutler is

cutler

Cutler on the bench Thursday following one of his 5 interceptions

 not a franchise quarterback.  Not yet.  Perhaps not ever.  How many ‘franchise quarterbacks’ do you know that win only 45% of their games?  Facts are facts, and the facts are that Cutler is not a winner.  Period.  He is 21-25 as a starter in the NFL.  He has lost 8 of his last 12 starts.  Last season, the Denver Broncos had a 3 game lead in the AFC West with 3 games left.  Under Cutler, they lost the last 3 and missed the playoffs.  Now in Chicago, the Bears are 4-5 under Cutler.  Their season is done.  And yet the excuses continue.  He has no line.   He has no receivers.  Poor Jay, if only he had some talent around him, he could win.

49er Michael Lewis seals the win by intercepting Cutlers last pass in the end zone

49er Michael Lewis interceps Cutler's last pass Thursday night, sealing the SF win

Really?  Seems to me that he played in Denver with one of the best offensive lines in football last season.  I seem to recall that he had great wide outs in Denver last season.  Guess the problem there was the defense.  Thats what we heard.  Thats what we believed.  While Denver had a terrible D last season, the inconvenient truth is that the cry baby quarterback has a million dollar arm, but with apologies to Crash Davis, he also has a five cent head.  The problem with Cutler is that he can not execute in the Red Zone.  When most quarterbacks are earning their paychecks, Cutler is melting down.  Denver was one of the worst teams at scoring touch downs while inside the Red Zone last season.  Chicago has the same problem this year.  Last night, for example, the Bears lost to the San Francisco 49ers 10-7.  Cutler tossed TWO Red Zone interceptions.  One to a triple covered receiver in the end zone during the first half, and one in the end zone with time running out at the end of the game.  Hell, even if he just throws the balls away and Chicago kicks 2 field goals they win the game.  The even bigger problem is that the kid from Santa Claus, Indiana, gives out more gifts than St Nick on December 24th.  Last season in Denver, with all that talent around him, the kid threw 18 interceptions.  Through 9 games in Chicago this season, he has thrown 17.  SEVENTEEN!!  That is the 3rd highest total through nine games in NFL history.  He threw 4 opening night at Green Bay earlier this season.  That was ok because he and his receivers were not yet on the same page.  Well, it’s 9 weeks later now and he threw 5 last night.  That must be one damn big page!

The Bears gave Cutler a big contract extention 2 weeks ago.  He is going to be in Chicago for a while.  With 3, 4 and 5 interception games so far this season, one has to wonder why.  Chicago went into the season with delusions of being a contender.  So far, their new quarterback has shown himself to be a pretender.

Surviving Youth 10/18/2009

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Iowa spotted Wisconsin 10 points, then defeated the Badgers by a score of  20-10 in Wisconsin Saturday.  Iowa also received a gift in the form of Purdue’s upset of Ohio State to place

Defense leads the way for this Iowa squad, as exemplified here by this blocked pass

Defense leads the way for this Iowa squad, as exemplified here by this blocked pass

 the Hawkeyes solidly in the driver’s seat in the Big 10 race.  Iowa, at 7-0 and 3-0, is the only undefeated Big 10 team.

The Hawkeyes came into the contest ranked 11th in the nation in the AP poll.  Surely, they will find themselves in the top 8 this week.  They won this game in the same way they have won every game so far.  This team relies on its defense.  It relies on dominating the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively.  If an opponent is going to get to this team, they better do it early.  Wisconsin learned that Saturday.  The Badgers were able to move the ball early.  Their first 3 drives resulted in a punt, field goal and touchdown.  They amassed 164 yards of offense and a 10 point lead.  Midway through the second quarter, however, Iowa’s defensive line began to get consistent penetration, and the Badgers managed only 68 yards the rest of the way.  The pressure also resulted in 3 Hawkeye interceptions.  That ability of Iowa to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, usually with only a 4 man rush, has helped Iowa to lead the nation in interceptions with 15.  The Hawkeyes are also the 16th best scoring defense, allowing only 15 points per contest.   Offensively, the opposite happens.  Iowa’s first 3 possessions against the Badgers netted only 35 yards.  Then, as the o-line gained control of the line of scrimmage, Iowa went on to gain 250 yards and score 20 points.

The amazing thing about Iowa’s defense is not that they are good.  It is that they are young.  The 2 deep depth chart for this weeks game at Wisconsin included only 4 seniors, linebackers Pat Angerer and A. J. Edds, lineman Travis Meade and safety Joe Conklin.  Amazingly, there are 8 sophomores listed among the 22 players.  Defensive

Iowa's D celebrates one of 3 interceptions against Wisconsin Saturday

Iowa's D celebrates one of 3 interceptions against Wisconsin Saturday

mainstays Tyler Sash (tied for the national lead with 5 interceptions) and end Broderick Binns ( a mainstay on the line with 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks) are included in that group.  Binns also is credited with one of the two blocked kicks that saved the UNI game. There are also 9 freshmen or sophomores listed in the offensive 2 deep this week.  This is a good young team.  I point to the youth of this team because there are some heady things being bandied about in Iowa City.  There is a lot of talk about a Rose Bowl or even a National Championship Game birth for the Hawkeyes.  It is important that this young team remain focused, because there is a lot of work ahead for the Hawkeyes.  Road games at Michigan State Saturday, and at Ohio State in November will not be easy.  In addition, the Hawkeyes still must host Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota in Iowa City.  Iowa must remain undefeated to have a shot at the Championship game.  They can probably survive a loss and still be the Big Ten champion.  It is hard enough for a veteran team to remain focused on the task at hand.  It is that much more difficult to keep a youthful team from looking ahead.  The margin for error is miniscule.  You want this team to play in the championship game or Rose Bowl Hawkeye fans?  Then do them a favor and quit talking about it.  Allow them to focus on the Spartans.  Then on the Hoosiers, Wildcats, Buckeyes and Gophers in turn.  It is way too early to be looking to Bowl season. 

If this team remains focused and takes care of business each week, the rewards will be there at the end.

Sorry, Brett 09/28/2009

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Bret Favre pulled out a miracle win against the San Francisco 49ers yesterday in his first home game with the Minnesota Vikings.  Favre connected with Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone for a 32 yard touchdown with 2 seconds left to pull out a 27-24 victory.  The gunslinger is

Monnesota's Gregg Lewis makes the game winning TD catch

Monnesota's Gregg Lewis makes the game winning TD catch

 back.  All is well in the great purple north.  I had spoken out on many occasions against the Vikings acquisition of Favre.  But the Vikings are 3-0.  All is well in Minnesota.  I owe the Vikings and Favre an apology.

I’m sorry for doubting you, Brett.  The Vikings need you.

PSYCH!!  Just kidding.  Does anyone remember the Jets of last season?  They got off to a

Can this soon to be 40 year old last the entire season and playoffs?

Can this soon to be 40 year old last the entire season and playoffs?

pretty good start, too.  Then Favre went into the crapper and they missed the playoffs.  I have news for you, the Vikings were not the best team on the Metrodome turf yesterday.  The 49ers out played them for most of the game.  Yes, it was an exciting win.  Yes, it was an incredible win.  But the 49ers made the same mistake that Cincinnati made in week one, and it cost both of them a win.  The current trend in the NFL is not to employ a prevent defense.  I agree in principle with that philosophy.  But, when the game is down to the last few snaps and you are defending the lead, you CAN NOT allow anyone on the offense to get deeper than your safety’s.  If you have a lead of 3 points or more, you MUST keep defenders deep to prevent a touchdown.  Cincinnati forgot that against Denver, and lost because of it.  San Francisco forgot that against Minnesota and lost because of it.  The issues in Minnesota are deeper than this one game, however.  Favre was brought to Minnesota for one reason, and one reason only, to lead this team to the Super Bowl.  Anything less will be failure.  After all, this Vikings team won the division and made the playoffs last season.  This team needed a leader.  But this was and is Adrian Peterson’s team.  Or is it? 

There is a disturbing trend developing in Minnesota.  I know that the season is young, but if it is not addressed, potential disaster awaits the Vikings.  Peterson is one of the best runners in the game today.  This

Peterson holds the key to the Vikings season

Peterson holds the key to the Vikings season

 is his team.  For Peterson to be successful, he needs to carry the ball an average of  22 to 25 times a game.  Last season, Peterson averaged 22.75 rushing attempts per game.  Through the first 3 games this season, he has averaged 19.67 rushing attempts.   In the first 3 games, Peterson has run for  180, 92 and 85 yards. Peterson rush attempts to Favre pass attempts were 25 to 21 in week one, 15 to 27 in week two and 19 to 46 in week 3.   Those numbers are trending in the wrong direction.  I understand the Vikings are currently 3-0.  So were the Jets last season at this time.  The Jets missed the playoffs.  If things continue this way in Minnesota, they may suffer the same fate.  Favre has tailed off towards the end of the season for several years now.  It is only natural.  He will be 40 in a couple of weeks.  He has said, both before he signed with the Vikings and since, that he is not sure he can last a 16 game season, let alone an additional 3 playoff games.  What happens when/if his body breaks down?  Coach Brad Childress has already undermined his back up quarterbacks with the way he handled the public flirtation of Favre before he signed.  How can this team have faith in either Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson if needed?  Now, the chemistry of the team is being changed.  Peterson is being diminished before our very eyes if this continues. 

Mr. I could teach this offense so I don’t need training camp always starts well.  But you don’t win the Super Bowl in September or October.  Where will Favre and the Vikings be in December or January?  That is the question.   Favre and the Vikings need to take a look at another Hall of Fame quarterback who was in a similar situation at the end of his career.  John Elway had been to 3 Super Bowls, but had a long drought towards the end of his career.  He was then paired with the best weapon he ever played with in Terell Davis.  Elway rode Davis to 2 straight Super Bowl wins to end his career.  Elway was fine with that.  His ego did not get in the way.  He left the game on top.  Favre has retired twice in the last 2 years.  He needs to search his memory.  See, the first of those back to back Super Bowl wins that closed out Elways career was against  the Green Bay Packers who had a quarterback named Favre.  Like Elway, Favre now finds himself with the best weapon he has ever played with in Peterson.  Learn the lesson.  Do not make this about Favre, make it about the Vikings.  Just as Elway made it about the Broncos.  If you do that, you may find it easier to stay retired the next time.

Nittany Nightmare 09/26/2009

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109,000 Screaming Fans.  Almost all of them dressed in white.  A driving rainstorm with the temp in the mid 50’s.  The 5th ranked team in the nation.  That’s what Iowa faced Saturday night as they visited  Penn State.  All that going against then,  then they got punched squarely in the mouth.

Iowa took the opening kickoff and quickly went 3 and out.  On the first play following the punt, Penn St went for the early knock out blow, and it

109 thousand, white clad, screaming fans packed Beaver Stadiun Saturday

109 thousand, white clad, screaming fans packed Beaver Stadiun Saturday

 connected.  Penn St quarterback Darryl Clark had his worst game of the season last year in a loss to Iowa.  He wanted revenge, and he got it on the Nittany Lions first offensive play.  Clark faked a handoff, the play action drawing Iowa up to stop the run.  He then dropped back and hit wide out Chaz Powell perfectly in stride.  The play covered 79 yards, and the Lions had a 7-0 lead.  It was a right cross to the jaw.  The Hawkeyes were staggered.  Could they respond? 

The Hawkeyes second possession ended with an interception at the Penn State 21.  The Lions went on a 20 play, 68 yard drive that ended in a field goal.  That field goal, however, marked a turning of the tide.  Iowa’s defensive front became dominant, forced the kick, then allowed Penn State a total of -16 yards for their last 4 possessions of the half, including a safety that got Iowa on the board in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 10-2. Iowa added a field goal with about 4:40 left in the half and the two teams went to the locker rooms at the half with PSU leading 10-5.

The second half belonged to Iowa, especially their defense.  There was no scoring in the third quarter, and It was the Iowa defense that delivered

Iowa's defense pressured Penn State QB Clark all night

Iowa's defense pressured Penn State QB Clark all night

the knock out blow with just under 12 and 1/2 minutes left in the game.  Penn State was punting on the fateful 4th down play when Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn broke through the line, blocked the punt, picked the ball up on the bounce and out ran the stunned Lions for a 53 yard touchdown.  That gave Iowa the lead 11-10.  Iowa’s Adam Robinson scored on a 13 yard run on Iowa’s next possession, following another Iowa interception of Clark, to stretch the lead to 18-10.  A field goal with 8 seconds left made the final 21-10 Iowa.  Iowa’s offensive line took control in the second half, but the game belonged to the Hawkeye defense.  Penn States possessions in the second half ended in an interception, missed field goal, blocked punt, interception, fumble recovery, and interception.  Make no mistake about it, this is a special defense.

It was a gutsy, solid performance by the Hawkeyes.  Perhaps it was not pretty, but the Hawkeyes dominated the 5th ranked team in their house.  Iowa came in a double didget underdog.  They left with a doubble didget win.  Penn State managed 307 total yards, but were only able to cash in on that first big play.  The Lions gained 109 rushing yards, but Iowa answered with 163 of their own, most after halftime when their O-line took over the line of scrimage.  And Iowa’s defense forced four turn overs, had a safety and returned a blocked kick for six.  There are tough games ahead, but this team sent a message to the rest of the conference.  This team has a shot at the Big Ten title.

Hawkeye Clayborne's blocked punt changed the game

Hawkeye Clayborne's blocked punt changed the game

Orange Crush 09/21/2009

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So, anyone who took the under on the Broncos winning 5 games this season want to change their mind?

The Denver Broncos are 2-0 under new head coach Josh McDaniels.  The embattled McDaniels had a tumultuous off season, trading the

Josh McDaniels is 2-0 as Broncos Head Coach

Josh McDaniels is 2-0 as Broncos Head Coach

 ‘franchise cry baby, er, quarterback’ Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears for Kyle Orton and draft picks.  McDaniels has also had his best receiver demand a trade and serve an almost 2 week suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.  McDaniels has been lambasted in the media for the past few months, excoriated by fans on talk radio and in blogs.  Yet, here they are at 2-0.

Flying under the radar during the pre season love fest that has been Bronco Nation is perhaps the biggest move McDaniels made during the off season.  Without much fan fare or notice, he hired recently deposed 49er head coach Mike Nolan to be his defensive coordinator.  Nolan has 11 years of experience in the NFL as a d-coordinator, and is one of the best defensive minds in the league today.  Nolan has quietly gone about the task of reshaping the defense.  Gone is the old 4-3 scheme, replaced with the 3-4.  With the new scheme there needed to be new players.   On the current active roster there are 14 players on the defensive side of the ball who are in their first season with the Broncos.  Last season the Broncos were among the worst defenses around.  They allowed 448 points, third most in the league.  They had only 13 take aways all of last season.  In the first 2 games this season, the Broncos have allowed a total of 13 points to the opposition.  That total is less than half of their per game average of 28 points in 2008.  They have 5 take aways in the first 2 games, a 2.5 per game average, up from a .81 per game average last season.  Granted, the Broncos have not met the stiffest of competition so far, but Cleveland scored 20 points in week 1 against Minnesota and were held to 6 points against the Broncos.  Denver’s week one opponent, Cincinnati, scored only 7 points in a loss to the Broncos managed to put up 31 in a win over Green Bay in week 2.  Nolan’s defense is much improved.

Orton has yet to throw an interception this season

Orton has yet to throw an interception this season

As for the ‘poor’ quarterback now playing in Denver, all Orton has done in the first 2 games is complete 36 of 65 passes for 506 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He has thrown no interceptions so far this season.  Orton has a respectable 90.9 quarterback rating through the first 2 games.  He has done all this while wearing a glove on his passing hand to protect a lacerated index finger, injured during the 3rd pre season game. To be sure, those numbers pale compared to the gaudy numbers produced by Cutler for the Broncos last season.  But, still, you can not do much better than 2-0.  And there is a new coach, a new offensive concept, and a new attitude in Denver.  My preseason prediction of 7-8 wins seemed outlandish compared to what many were predicting.  Now it seems it may have been too conservative.  Only time will tell about that.  But all of you who predicted only 3-5 wins want a Mulligan?

Any of the haters ready to change their mind about McDaniels?

Also Sunday, Former Bronco Shannon Sharpe was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame.  Sharpe won 2 Super Bowl rings while with the Broncos (and a third with Baltimore).  He redefined the position of  tight end in the NFL.  Sharpe was not voted into the NFL Hall of Fame last season in his first time on the ballot.  It WILL happen.  In true Sharpe fashion, he arrived at Invesco Field by parachuting into the stadium during pregame with the game ball.  Congratulations on the honor, Shannon!

Shannon Sharpe arrives at Invesco Field

Shannon Sharpe arrives at Invesco Field

It’s For Real 09/09/2009

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Something will be different for Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton this week.  Now, if I could just put a finger on it…..

Week one of the regular season is finally here.  And it will certainly feel different for Orton.  He took reps at practice yesterday wearing a glove

Orton wor a glove during practice Tuesday to protect his finger

Orton wor a glove during practice Tuesday to protect his finger

 on his throwing hand to protect the stitches on his dislocated index finger.  No decision yet on if he will start at Cincinnati Sunday (he will), or if he will wear the glove during game action (he probably will).  The feel of the football in his hand is not the only reason Sunday will feel different for the new Broncos signal caller.  It will be the first time he will have all his weapons at his disposal.

First round draft pick running back Knowshon Moreno will be in the same backfield with

Knowshon Moreno will make his NFL debut Sunday

Knowshon Moreno will make his NFL debut Sunday

Orton for the first time since the first quarter of the first preseason game.  Moreno, recovering from a sprained knee ligament, is not 100% but  is expected to see action Sunday.  And there will be more introductions in the Broncos offensive huddle.  Disgruntled wide out Brandon Marshall, fresh from his team suspension for disrespect and lack of effort, is expected to start.  Marshall did not appear in any preseason game with the Broncos.  He was not even allowed to practice with the team during his suspension.  Hopefully, he now realizes that his actions and attitude are harming his ability to be paid well on any new contract he signs.  His whole act has been about money, and perhaps he now realizes that he needs to perform well during this, his contract season.  The upshot of all of this is that the offense may struggle early, but Denver still has many weapons to move the ball. 

The defense, among the worst in the NFL last season, has also been revamped.  And while preseason

Will Marshall return to pro bowl form or continue to pout?

Will Marshall return to pro bowl form or continue to pout?

 is not much of a true test, it appears that new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s  new 3-4 rework will be improved over last season.  They have looked impressive against the run in preseason.  It is still a work in process, but almost anything will be an improvement over last season’s defense.  This squad will be better.

I understand the turmoil of the off season.  I know this team has been through a lot.  Along with a new head coach and assistants, the offensive philosophy and defensive scheme have been changed.  And there will be a new quarterback.  But there is still talent on this team.  The offense has weapons.  I hear people talking about a 2-14 season.  Or 4-12.  Honestly, I just don’t see it.  Sure, the schedule is tough.  But KC is still there twice.  As well as Oakland.  Cincinnati is beatable, and so is Cleveland.  I’m not saying that Denver will win all 6 of those games, but I also think that losses are not given in each of the remaining 10.  I think Denver will finish 7-9 or 8-8.