Friday, July 1, 2016

2007 NHL Season Preview - Chicago Blackhawks

This once proud Chicago Blackhawk franchise has seen a lot of troubling times lately. They have not made the 2002 edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs and they were quickly dispatched by the St. Louis Blues. Since then, the Blackhawks have been an example of how an unsuccessful team plays in the NHL. Once again the ‘Hawks would have a subpar season in 2006-2007. But with another offseason of wheeling and dealing the team looked poised to try to take a significant step back to the kind of hockey that the once-proud Blackhawks can once again be proud of, can they be successful or will they fall flat on their face once again?

Chicago Blackhawks
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 31-42-9-71; Last in Central Division
2006 Postseason (if applicable): n/a
Coach Name (record w/team): Denis Savard; 24-30-7 (.444)
Key Additions: C Robert Lang (Detroit); C Yanic Perreault (Toronto); RW Sergei Samsonov; D Andrei Zyuzin (Calgary)
Key Subtractions: Michal Handzus (Los Angeles); RW Radim Vrbata (Phoenix); Adrian Aucoin (Calgary)

Offense: Some of the free-agent signings will be expected to give the team some added offensive punch. Veteran centers Robert Lang (Detroit) and Yanic Perreault (Toronto) will be expected to make plays in the offensive third of the ice, whether it’s setting up the plays of putting the puck in the net themselves.

Lang especially is big and strong and the Blackhawks want him to cause problems in the middle of the ice in front of the goaltender. They are not as fast as they once were, though, and this could affect the overall speed of the team. Martin Havlat disappointed a bit in his first season with the Blackhawks but the franchise believes it was an aberration and not the norm.

They expect Havlat to get closer to the 35 goal range while being the one of the top playmakers on this team. They are also still very young despite the added veteran presence. Tuomo Ruutu and Denis Arkhipov will need to provide more of an offensive punch for this team. Michael Handzus was a bust for the Blackhawks and he is long gone; only the youth remains and the need to step up and provide the production they expected from Handzus. From the blueline, Duncan Keith was their leading scorer with 29 assists. He’s got some good eyes and knows how to be a playmaker in transition and in offensive sets. The Blackhawks really get minimal production offensively from the defense.
Grade: B

Defense: Keith will be paired more than likely with another young defender, Brent Seabrook. They might be one of the younger top defensive pairings in the entire NHL. Both have upside defensively and provide a lot of potential on both sides of the ice, but their youth could also provide them a bit of a disadvantage when some plays happen and they are not sure how to react. However, these guys will learn well as the season goes on and they should be better as they move towards the end of the season. They are definitely the future of the ‘Hawks defense. The Blackhawks will rely on some youth throughout the defense though, and that could be interesting as the grind of the long season goes on. Their elder statesman on the blue line could be Andrei Zyuzin, a free-agent acquisition from Calgary. The youth of this squad allows them some room to grow, but it could be a little questionable as to how well they get through the season without making some big mistakes. Do not sleep on the abilities of their offensive forwards to get back, though. Guys like Lang and Perreault are veterans and know the importance of getting back on defense. Keep an eye on Cam Barker, another youngster that has the potential to be great in the near future.
Grade: B-

Goaltending: This is not the goaltending situation the Blackhawks had in mind when they signed Nikolai Khabibulin as a free-agent after four seasons in Tampa Bay. It really was not all his fault because of the youth and the ineffectiveness of the team in front of him, but he does have to have some accountability. Khabibulin is only 34 years old and really should be ready to come in and perform very well with the young team, but instead he’s really struggled. When on his game Khabibulin is nearly unbeatable. His glove hand is quick and makes some spectacular plays and there is almost no room for you to get the puck into the net around his blockers when they are on the ice. His backup, Patrick Lalime, is the model of inconsistent ability. Lalime is incredibly talented, but he has never been able to consistently put it together for a sustained period of time. Combined, they are solid but will need to play better more often for this team.
Grade: B-

Coaching: Denis Savard was a mid-season replacement but the team felt that its former star on the ice would be an adequate leader on the bench. Savard has been a coaching member of the organization since 1997 when he retired from the NHL as a player and he became the coach when Trent Yawney was fired during the last season. Savard is not far removed from his playing days and he knows how it is to play in a wide open league, something that is definitely relevant in today’s league. Savard will have the team ready to play; whether he has enough talent to win now is a different story.
Grade: B+

Bold Predictions
Points/Conference Standing: 65-75 points; 10th – 15th in conference
Team MVP: Martin Havlat
Prediction Notes: This is a young team with a lot of talent. Some of the veterans on the team will help them grow, but this will be probably a ‘growing’ season, where the team does show signs of improvement. It will be tough in the very competitive Western Conference and in the Central Division where the Red Wings reign supreme. The Blackhawks will make mistakes on defense and might not have enough offensive power to win shootouts. They will be better, but not playoff better.

Tags:2007 NHL Season Preview - Chicago Blackhawks

2007 NFL Season Preview - Chicago Bears

What does a stifling defense and a patient, yet potentially quick-strike offense get you? Well, if you ask the Chicago Bears this question the answer would probably be something along the lines of “not enough.” The Bears reached the height of the NFC plateau, but could not get over the final obstacle in losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl. Now, one year later, this team is the same, but still different.

Lance Briggs is unhappy but apparently will play this season. Gone is running back Thomas Jones, the most solid rusher the team has seen in quite some time and defensive tackle Tank Johnson. The Bears have made strides to get better, but can they continue to dominate the NFC? Will Rex Grossman put it together for an entire season or are the Bears doomed for another January/February collapse?

Chicago Bears
2006 Record (Standing): 13-3 (NFC North Champs)
2006 Postseason (If app.): Lost to Indianapolis (Super Bowl)
Head Coach (Career Record): Lovie Smith, 4th season (29-19)
Key Additions: S Adam Archuleta (trade; Washington), DT Anthony Adams (FA, San Francisco) TE Greg Olsen (draft; 1st round, 31st pick)
Key Losses: DT Tank Johnson (Cut; suspended by NFL), RB Thomas Jones (trade; New York Jets)

Positives: It might not beone of the first things you think about for successful offenses, but the Bears’ linemen are the main reason they are so successful in the first place. In the middle is the perennial Pro-Bowler Olin Kreutz. Kreutz is a stabilizing force on the line; 2006 was his fourth straight season starting every game for the Bears as their center. Kreutz is also the longest-tenured Bear, which means a lot in the locker room and in the huddle. He is as much of a leader for the Bears as anyone could be. On the field, he does not give anything up. He is solid in both running and passing formations and has an adept eye at picking up blitzes and making tough calls on the line regarding shifting protection.

He can be directly attributed to the reason as to how the Bears only allowed 25 sacks in 2006. Veteran John Tait at tackle and new starter Ruben Brown flanks his left side. Tait has been solid his entire NFL career and brought that tough run blocking ability to the Bears from Kansas City two seasons ago and has seamlessly fit into the line. Tait has more than help his own on Grossman’s blind side as well. Brown is another Pro Bowl lineman who just reports for work and does his job, and does it well.

On a line with 5 veteran starters, Brown has put in the most years of service in the NFL as he is going into his 13th season. The right side also stays status quo, with Robert Garza at guard and Fred Miller at tackle. Garza had his first full season as a starter and performed very well, while Miller gives the line another veteran with postseason experience on the line. This unit, coming back healthy and intact from 2006, should be one of the best in the league.

Along with the unit in Carolina, this Chicago Bears line is considered one of the best in the NFL. They do lose some of their talent on the line with the release of Tank Johnson, but this could be a situation where it is addition by subtraction. Gone is the distraction, and in is either Anthony Garay or Anthony Adams, a free agent signing from San Francisco. Adams never quite put it together consistently for the 49ers, and the change to the 3-4 scheme really shut him out of the rotation because of his lack of side to play the interior. Garay, meanwhile, has never seen significant action in the NFL but has been a Bears reserve for 2 years and probably better understands the play of the players beside him.

Edge, slightly, to Adams for NFL experience. Either way the Bears go, Tommie Harris lined up on the opposite side should make things easier for them. Harris, a Pro Bowler in 2006 despite a hand injury suffered in week 15, established a new career high with 5 sacks. Harris is simply a playmaker in the inside of the line; whether it’s getting to the quarterback up the middle or playing the run.

What is underrated is his agility and ability to rush the outside when the Bears run a stunt rush. The ends are also top notch as they line up Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown. Neither is a complete sack artist, but their combine 13.5 sacks are good production when you have an interior lineman like Harris to provide extra rush up the middle. Ogunleye especially is very proficient against the run as well. Brown, who registered career highs in sacks and interceptions, was an alternate Pro Bowler for the NFC.

If someone manages to get past this vaunted defensive line, then they have to deal with one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Together with the defensive line, this could be the strongest defensive front 7 in football. It starts and ends in the middle with Brian Urlacher. Urlacher is one of the game’s best linebackers. He patrols the middle of the field and gets sideline to sideline better than anyone in the NFL not named Ray Lewis. In fact, with the recent injury troubles that Lewis has suffered through, Urlacher may have indeed surpassed him as well.

Sometimes you have to stop and wonder if there is another person out there at the same time wearing his jersey because it seems like he’s everywhere. They key to that is: he really is everywhere. From plugging running holes to putting pressure on the quarterback, Urlacher does it all for them. It also helps when the other two linebackers are top performers in their own right.

Lance Briggs, who recently agreed to the one-year deal with Chicago after being tagged as their Franchise player, is a tackling machine. It’s a term used often with linebackers who are playmakers, but Briggs is the real deal. While Urlacher gets most of the attention, it is Briggs that makes the most plays.

No doubt that much of the havoc wrecked on an offense can be related to Urlacher, but the fact that Briggs is there to clean it all up is what makes them a good unit. Then, probably the unheralded member of this corps, Hunter Hillenmeyer, just does his job as the third linebacker on this unit. Hillenmeyer is the odd man out on passing sets, but he is the team’s strongside linebacker and plays the position quite well. While not as athletic as either Urlacher or Briggs, Hillenmeyer uses solid technique to be at the right spot at the right time.

Question Marks: Through an offseason of turmoil and criticism, the Bears are still resting their Super Bowl hopes on Rex Grossman. Does he have the mettle to get through a tumultuous summer? Not only have most NFL critics and columnists ripped him apart, but he also has to deal with the loss of the most stable running back behind him, Thomas Jones. To his credit, his stats were not horrible when examined as a complete body of work. In his first full season as the Bears’ starting quarterback, Grossman threw for 3,193 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading the Bears to an NFC best 13-3 record. However, 20 interceptions are too many for the quarterback of a Super Bowl contender.

The problem here is Grossman’s confidence in his own abilities. The exterior bravado you see in interviews sometimes does not translate in his play. Grossman can be seen at times throwing off his back foot. If you go back to the 2007 postseason, Grossman was rattled when pressure was constantly placed on him. In key spots Grossman has been known to make a bad decision or two. Too many times Grossman is throwing off his back foot and lofting balls to his receivers. They have been good, but it’s hard because they cannot constantly adjust to his high and floating throws.

At some point Grossman has to put it on the money more consistently. Among the top 32 qualifying quarterbacks, Grossman was ranked 28th in passing accuracy. Grossman was the worst of the quarterbacks of the qualifying postseason teams (next lowest was Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck, ranked 25th.

The Bears have tried to make things easier for him, including tailoring the calls for Grossman’s strengths and even drafting a very dynamic tight end, Greg Olson, from the University of Miami. Grossman will need to protect the football though or this could be an even longer season. Expect there to be some talk about veteran Brian Griese to step in and take some snaps with the first-team, but do not expect him to be named the starter. It’s hard to discredit a 13-3 season, no matter how poor the postseason performance was.

Can Cedric Benson handle the entire running load now that Thomas Jones was traded to the New York Jets? For all the money that Benson is making, this season will mark the first time that Benson will be the feature back for the Bears. There are some pluses with Benson; he takes care of the ball (did not fumble once in 2006) and he is a quick runner that can avoid defenders.

We all know that Benson has a lot of the physical tools, but the questions revolve around his durability and some of the other aspects of his style. For instance, Benson does not have the breakaway speed to get away once in the open field. The Bears seem to be sure that Benson can carry the load, but it’s going to need to be proven this season. Benson has to prove that he can carry that kind of load in the NFL and be consistent. If he can do so, the Bears will not miss Thomas Jones at all. Benson will be key if the Bears to recreate the success they had in 2006.

Offensive Grade: Every aspect of the offense should be solid, but there are going to be legitimate concerns with the running game and Rex Grossman to succeed. The fact remains that as long as a team and creates pressure and get to Rex Grossman, and then he can be rattled and tends to struggle. Grossman’s worst games this season coincide with teams that have been able to get into the backfield and disrupt his timing. When he gets time and is able to follow his receivers, then he can pick apart even the best secondaries in the NFL. The running game also needs to be consistent.

This is an offense that depends on the consistency of the running game and lean heavily on the offense getting consistent gains from a back. Cedric Benson will have to be that back. He’s got the physical tools, but the mental toughness needs to be there. The top two receivers, though not flashy or loud, get open and make plays. Mushin Muhammad will get open and make big catches for solid gains, while Bernard Berrian can beat the defense. There seems to be some question marks with the rest of the group, but rookie Greg Olsen should have an immediate impact for this team. The offensive line has proven to be one of the best units in the NFL.
Overall Grade: A-

Defensive Grade: Although statistically there were better defenses in the NFL, there weren’t very many, if any at all, that were as intimidating as the Chicago defense. You knew that if this defense was on their game, the Bears’ offense had enough power to outscore you and you would probably lose. The unit would like to see Adewale Ogunleye 100% healthy because he is one of the keys to their pass rush. Alex Brown is a good end, but he’s a bit more suited for the run defense. Ogunleye does the more consistent job of getting to the quarterback and is the closest thing to an elite rusher for the Bears.

Inside, they will have to see who will pair with Pro Bowler Tommie Harris. The linebackers might be the best group in the NFL. Lance Briggs has decided to play this season out, so the group remains intact from last season. Brian Urlacher, Hunter Hillenmeyer, and Briggs all play solidly behind the defensive line. Hillenmeyer is the guy always in position, Urlacher gets himself there, and Briggs just follows the ball. The secondary fits the defensive scheme perfectly. Both Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher are good zone corners that can play the pass well and help support the run defense. Adam Archuleta comes from the Redskins and should return to the form he was since he’s rejoining his former defensive coordinator from St. Louis.
Overall Grade: A

Special Teams: Robbie Gould was a solidifying force as the Bears kicker in 2006. He hit 88.9% of his field goal attempts (32-36) and was perfect on extra point opportunities. The question still remains whether or not he can be consistent in long-range situations, especially with the weather problems in Chicago as the season heads into the winter months. The Bears do not doubt his leg as Gould serves as the team’s kickoff specialist as well, but it’s interesting to see that Gould has never taken even an attempt for that range. Brad Maynard is a key part of this team when they are playing the “defense and field position” game with teams.

Maynard is a master at placing the ball; especially inside the opponents’ own 20-yard line. Out of 77 punts in 2006, the opposing team returned only attempted returns on 38 of them. In the return game, there is only one name to say: Devin Hester. Hester took the NFL by storm in 2006 and already stamped his name on the game as the most dynamic kick returner in the NFL. We have not seen a returned this game-breaking since Dante Hall in that period between 2002-2004, and Hester is well on his way to surpassing those numbers considering he is the Bears’ kickoff and punt returner. Hester set a league record with 6 returns (2 KR, 3 PR, and 1 missed FG return) for touchdowns and is poised to be an even bigger contributor this season.
Overall Grade: A

Coaching Staff: Lovie Smith has proven that he is indeed one of the better coaches and motivators in the NFL. Like his mentor from his Tampa days Tony Dungy, Smith is a players’ coach who also understands the value of discipline and control but remains in the favor of his players. He demands a lot, but also gives a lot in return to the players under his watch.

As far as the on the field development is concerned, Smith had a huge role in working with the defense along with now departed defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Without Rivera and with new defensive coordinator Bob Babich, they look to make this as seamless of a transition as possible. Babich came over from St. Louis with Smith and has worked with the linebackers for the past three seasons, so the players are comfortable with Babich and Babich knows the basic philosophies for his personnel.

It will be interesting to see the way they game plan, though. A big part of being a defensive coordinator is scheming against other offenses and it remains to be seen if Babich can handle those responsibilities. Meanwhile, the offensive coordinator Ron Turner is experiencing a turnaround of his own. After being maligned for much of the 2005 season for an anemic offense, the Bears exploded in 2006 and Rivera was heralded as one of the reasons this happened.

Like his brother Norv Turner, offensive coordinator for San Francisco last season and new San Diego head coach, they use a strong, power running game to develop the offense. With Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, the Bears were able to pound the ball before going over the top with the passing game. Expect more of the same with the Bears, even with the departure of Jones. Turner will not deviate from the scheme, especially when they believe that Benson can carry this load sufficiently.
Overall Grade: A-

Bold Predictions
Record: 12-4, NFC North Champions
Offensive MVP: Bernard Berrian
Defensive MVP: Tommie Harris
Notes: The Bears are still easily the best team in the NFC North. WIth the lack of real improvement in the NFC, they could easily return to the Super Bowl in 2007.

Tags:2007 NFL Season Preview - Chicago Bears

2007 NFL Draft Surprises

Miami drafts Ted Ginn, Jr. at #9. Miami was sitting with 15 minutes on the clock and the list of top-flight available players including Patrick Willis, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, Brady Quinn and Greg Olsen, they decided to take an injured special teams player in Ginn, Jr. The uproar on their selection was two-fold: Ginn was considered one of the riskiest picks in the first round. He isn’t a polished receiver, he’s coming off an injury late in the season that affects his speed and agility, and a kick returner is rarely a big part of a team turning their fortunes around (Dante Hall keep the Chiefs an average team and Devin Hester didn’t affect Chicago being a top team). The other side of the argument was Miami’s need for a solid quarterback talent at the time (Quinn), a solid linebacker because Zach Thomas isn’t going to be around forever (Willis) and every team’s need for more solid secondary help (Nelson, Hall). The total evaluation of this selection won’t be determined for a few years, but with the Patriots and Jets always a challenge withing the division, Miami needed an instant impact, something Ginn, Jr. could be lacking in 2007.

Brady Quinn drops to #22. Cleveland either knew something in their war room or they just lucked out. They were thought to be interested in Quinn at #3, but went with stud linemen Joe Thomas. After Miami at #9, everyone knew that Quinn could fall a long way (ala Aaron Rodgers). Buffalo or the Jets were the only really possibilities in the next 12 picks and neither pulled the trigger. Cleveland traded their 1st round pick next year to get Quinn at #22. The 2008 selection would have been a top 15 pick probably, but Cleveland got the QB they wanted and a player to help them starting this year, not 2008. Quinn may turn out to be like Randy Moss or Matt Leinart, a top player who passed by a lot of teams that failed to pick up a future star.

Kevin Kolb at #36 to Philadelphia. With McNabb rehabbing after another injury, selecting a QB with their first pick in the draft this year didn’t help the rumors and speculation about the All-Pro’s future with the team. The team stated the pick was picking the best player available to fit their system, but quarterback is one of those positions that an cause quite a stir if there’s already a proven starter on the team.

Michael Bush 1st pick, 4th round to Oakland. Even with all the rumors of lingering injuries to Bush, he was supposed to be a day 1 selection. Without injuries, Bush could have been a 1st round pick, possibly the 1st running back taken in a weak class in 2007. Atlanta and a few other teams were talked about having immense interest in the power back, probably in the third round. Everyone passed on Bush, and with a night to rewrite their draft boards, the Raiders took the best player left on the board – Michael Bush of Louisville. After the draft, besides New England getting Randy Moss for a 4th round pick from the Oakland, Bush has to be seen as one of the steals.

Chris Houston #41 to Atlanta. Houston was graded as possibly the best cover corner in the draft. He is tremendously physical, can support the run and react well to the ball. Instead of being picked in the teens, he fell into Atlanta’s lap in the middle of the 2nd round to play opposite of Deangelo Hall.

Mason Crosby #193 to Green Bay. Kicking can win 2-3 games a year. The Packers grabbed the #1 kicker in this year’s draft in the middle of the 6th round. Crosby has one of the strongest legs in recent memory coming out of college and kicked in rough weather in Colorado, so he should transition well to Wisconsin.

Tags:2007 NFL Draft Surprises

2007 NFL Preview: New York Giants

I’ve recently been getting requests from my fellow AC producers to write previews for the upcoming 2007 NFL Season regarding the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns. The reason I haven’t done so yet? Simple. Chances are this is going to be a very painful season for me as a football fan. Nevertheless, here is my outlook on what the future holds for the 2007 edition of the New York (football) Giants.

Anybody looking for a perfect analogy for the 2007 Giants need look no further than Sunday’s preseason contest in which the Giants faced off against Baltimore on the road. At times the Giants looked pitiful. Quarterback Eli Manning once again showcased that “dazed and confused” expression that Giants’ fans have learned to lament and mock through the years and Manning was also responsible for a lost fumble when he dropped the ball after taking the snap. There was no reason, no pass rush, no slippery surface. Eli just dropped the ball. Literally. Manning also put his talent on display, though, completing ten of thirteen attempts for 114 yards and a touchdown.

The defense was much more impressive against the Ravens than they were in the first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. Against Carolina the Giants looked, for lack of a better description, pathetic on defense. The team missed tackles, blew coverage assignments, and brought up water-cooler discussions amongst fans on whether or not Rutgers would be able to drive down the field for a touchdown against the Giants. Last Sunday the Giants were far more aggressive on defense, executing well-timed blitzes and actually wrapping up ball carriers, a pleasant surprise for fans everywhere. The Giants even picked off Steve McNair on a nice play by cornerback Sam Madison.

However the Giants’ victory on Sunday didn’t come without some losses. Safety Will Demps went down with a dislocated elbow and Madison pulled a hamstring. The offense suffered two blows to wide receivers. Rookie Steve Smith suffered a concussion and Michael Jennings ruptured his Achilles tendon, effectively ending his 2007 season before it even began. All in all it was a day full of ups and downs.

What better way to describe this team as a whole?

Once again the Giants will begin the season with Eli Manning having to prove that he can be the elite quarterback that New York fans have been hoping for since the draft fiasco of 2004. With the very publicized retirement of star running back Tiki Barber the offense now completely belongs to Manning, who must prove that he can lead the Giants without a future Hall of Famer in the backfield. Barber will be replaced by Brandon Jacobs, a 260+ pound back used mostly in short yardage situations last season and Cleveland cast-off Reuben Droughns. Needless to say these two have large shoes to fill, replacing the greatest running back in the history of the Giants. Unfortunately they will be running behind an offensive line that is shaky and inconsistent.

The targets that Eli Manning will be throwing to are good but not great. Jeremy Shockey, the much talked-about and often talking tight end of the Giants, had a stellar season in 2006. Shockey pulled down 66 balls and six touchdowns last season. Wide-outs Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress can be either excellent or terrible depending on the day. Michael Jennings and Steve Smith showed plenty of promise this preseason before their injuries. Smith should return at some point but the season is over for Jennings after Sunday’s game.

All the talk about the Giants’ defense has centered around whether or not Michael Strahan will return to the team. Strahan opted not to attend training camp and has been away from the Giants since the end of the 2006 season. Reports are coming in that he is leaning towards returning to the team and may very well do so before this article is even published. Nevertheless, the entire episode has been a distraction to the defensive squad and the team as a whole. His return is welcomed but will not be without the added headaches of waiting for Strahan to get back into “game shape” as well as dealing with the fines that Strahan has accumulated from missing out on practices, camps, and preseason games thus far.

The defense is full of more questions than answers at this point with Strahan being at the top of the list. Sam Madison missed four games last season due to injury. How will the injury he suffered on Sunday night affect him this year? Can the defensive unit improve on it’s lackluster tackling and coverage schemes? Last season the team seemed to lack basic fundamentals. The unit will need to vastly improve for this team to go anywhere.

The 2006 season was a roller coaster ride for the New York Giants. The Giants started hot, going 6-2 before they lost four straight games. The team ended the season 8-8 overall and limped into the playoffs before losing to the Eagles in the Wild Card round. Simply stated 8-8 won’t get the job done in the NFC East this season. Most experts are envisioning a down year for the G-men. Can the Giants exceed expectations?

Probably not. Too many questions surround practically every position of this team. Than there’s the whole Tom Coughlin situation. Can the players unite behind a coach that they cannot stand? Coughlin was given a one-year extension in the off-season, mostly because there were no suitable candidates to take his place. This is Coughlin’s final chance to prove what he can do in New York.

Overall, things look bleak for the Giants. I’m going to go out on a limb and pick the Giants to finish 7-9 this season. My gut, brains, and mind know better than to think this team will be even that good but I just can’t bring myself to completely give up on Manning just yet. Besides, Strahan may be all over the record books but he still doesn’t have that ring. That should motivate him. I hope.

Prediction: A generous 7-9

Tags:2007 NFL Preview: New York Giants

2007 SEC Conference NCAA Football Predictions

With the addition of Nick Saban to the Alabama Crimson Tide’s sidelines, the SEC has become a who’s who of coaches. Four coaches currently coaching in the league have won national titles, and a fifth in Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville has gone undefeated.

Add the great coaching to the already stacked talent base and it’s easy to see why the SEC is considered by many to be the nation’s top conference.

The top teams aren’t quite as strong as in past years for 2007 except perhaps LSU, but the league’s depth should be even better with teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt finally fielding competitive squads.

Here is how I believe the league will shake out by year’s end:

SEC East-

1. Florida Gators-

Many SEC fans thought Urban Meyer’s gimmicky offense wouldn’t work in the tough defensive league, but he proved them wrong last year. This year should be an even stronger year for the offense as sophomore QB Tim Tebow takes the reins.

While Tebow doesn’t have a ton of experience throwing the ball, he’s a perfect fit for Meyer’s attack-from-all-angles system and has the arm and smarts to be successful through the air.

Dallas Baker is gone as the number one receiver but Percy Harvin is a game-breaking weapon who will have an increased role. He also happened to be UF’s third-leading rusher last year. Andre Caldwell is a dependable receiver who will be a reliable option all year as well.

The running game will be servicable thanks to a stout offensive line, even though a number one back still must be found.

Defense is the big question mark, but Florida will have plenty of athletes to fill in the gaps, and pass-rushing DE Derrick Harvey returns after notching 11 sacks last year to give the defense a bookend playmaker to disrupt opponents’ passing attacks.

2. Georgia Bulldogs-

QB Matthew Stafford played a lot as a freshman and head coach Mark Richt expects a much more consistent year in 2007 which will go a long way towards making the Bulldogs a contender again in the East.

The backfield is stacked with veterans Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown in addition to phenom incoming freshman Caleb King, so expect the Bulldogs to continue to play power football and play it well.

The front seven on defense looks a bit green but the secondary is solid, led by SS Kelin Johnson and CB Bryan Evans.

3. Tennessee Volunteers-

The Vols have been solid but unspectacular in recent years, and fans in Knoxville haven’t been too happy with head coach Phil Fulmer’s conservative style. Erik Ainge had a bounceback year in 2006 and should be one of the league’s best signal callers, but he doesn’t many experienced targets to throw to this season so he could take a step back.

The schedule starts out tough trips to Florida and California early and then calms down in the middle part of the year, but the Vols have had a tendency to play down to their opposition in recent years so a lesser opponent could trip them up and knock them out of the race if they aren’t careful.

4. South Carolina-

It’s tempting to put Steve Spurrier’s bunch higher due to their prolific passing attack and emerging young defense, but the schedule is brutal with trips to LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas this season.

Jasper Brinkley is a stud for the defense at linebacker but the offensive line is a bit shaky and you get the feeling Spurrier isn’t sold on Blake Mitchell as his starting QB.

5. Kentucky Wildcats-

Led by their dynamic passing attack featuring Andre Woodson, one of the nation’s most underrated QB’s, and Keenan Burton, a speed demon at WR, Kentucky has the weapons to scare if not knock off the other SEC powers this season. But the defense is the worst in the SEC on paper so it will be tough to achieve anything other than another lower-tier bowl.

6. Vanderbilt Commordores-

The Commodores are finally a legitimate SEC team under Bobby Johnson, but they don’t have enough playmakers right now to compete on a consistent basis with the top dogs. With 19 starters back, however, don’t be shocked if they squeeze into a bowl game.

Chris Nickson can make plays at QB but also makes plenty of bad ones, although that was expected last year from the first-time starter.

Earl Bennett is the best WR in a conference filled with good ones but seems to fly under the radar.

SEC West-

1. LSU Tigers-

Many are touting the Tigers as a national title contender, and while they have title-caliber talent easily, they have two big questions at the top.

First is quarterback, which probably shouldn’t be as big of a question mark as it’s made out to be. Matt Flynn is a smart, scrappy leader with a better arm than most people give him credit for, and he’s had experience in big games before such as the drubbing of Miami in the Peach Bowl two seasons ago. Ryan Perriloux is a big-time talent who might also get a shot. If he does, that’s a good sign that he’s matured and is progressing.

The second question and the biggest one in my mind is the coaching staff. Les Miles is a Bo Schembechler disciple and as a Michigan fan, I can tell you from experience that it means he has a tendency to get conservative and unimaginative at the worst times, costing his team games. How else do you explain an LSU offense with JaMarcus Russell and Dwayne Bowe only scoring 10 points combined against Florida and Auburn last year?

At any rate, this team is still way too talented to not reach the SEC title game in Atlanta. The offense has a stable of explosive running backs, a good offensive line, and one of the SEC’s fastest and best WR’s in Early Doucet.

The defense is strong up front in line with recent top LSU teams, led by pass-rusher Tyson Jackson and potential top-5 NFL Draft pick Glenn Dorset at DT.

2.- Auburn Tigers-

With so many teams bunched up in the middle of the division, I give a slight edge to Auburn for second place because Tommy Tuberville is adept at making the right calls at the right time to give his team a chance to pull out close games. Plus, Auburn is usually good on special teams.

Brandon Cox has taken a lot of heat at QB but has also battled numerous injuries, and Tuberville predicts a good year from the senior in 2007.

DE Quentin Groves anchors a very good defensive line for a defense that should keep the Tigers in every game.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide-

A bit of a surprise pick here, but Nick Saban is already making his presence felt as head coach and he will have this team a more disciplined, crafty unit than in the past.

Once again, coaching counts for a lot in the SEC and Alabama will be able to pull out more close games with Saban at the helm.

John Parker Wilson is a solid QB and DJ Hall and Keith Brown are good targets for him to throw to out of an offense that should utilize more three and four-wide receiver sets to mix things up and generate offense.

The offensive line is also a strength for a team that played under its potential last season.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks-

The Hogs kind of snuck up on the league last year, and then flushed any good karma they may have had down the toilet by bickering amongst themselves for most of the off-season.

Without a reliable quarterback, teams will be able to key on Darren McFadden and Felix Jones this year and slow down Arkansas’ vaunted running attack. QB holdover Casey Dick will be the starter now that Mitch Mustain is gone, and he completed less than 50% of his passes last year despite a great running game and a terrific WR to throw to in Marcus Monk.

A ridiculously easy non-conference schedule will hurt them come conference season and cause them to drop a game or two to a lesser opponent.

5. Ole Miss Rebels-

Ole Miss is led by a strong offensive line and the power running of bruising former Indiana transfer RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis, but the defense isn’t good enough to allow them to play the ball control style they would like, and they will be forced to come from behind a little too often to come back against good opponents.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs-

Sly Croom’s team brings back 10 starters on offense giving some reasons for optimism, but the defense is weak. The rebuilding process has been slow because of the tough competition the Bulldogs face week in and week out and a lack of playmakers.

Tags:2007 SEC Conference NCAA Football Predictions

2007 NHL Season Preview - Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks made moves after barely missing the playoffs two seasons ago. A new goaltender and focus and the team went from postseason also-rans to Northwest Division Champions. They ran into a very good and hot Anaheim team and ended up watching the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs from home, but they learned a lot about their own team and what else they needed to do in order to take the next step. However, the Canucks remained very quiet during the offseason and watched as a lot of the teams around them made moves to improve.

Where does that leave the Canucks now? With the improving teams around them in the conference combined with the teams that are still better on paper, have the Canucks made headway by staying still, or are they sitting idle and watching the rest of the conference either catch up or pass them by completely? If the Canucks want to make a bigger dent in the Western Conference pecking order, will they have enough weapons and pieces in place to do so or are they lacking?

Vancouver Canucks
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 49-26-7-105; Northwest Division Champs
2006 Postseason (if applicable): Lost in Western Conf. Semis (4-1 to Anaheim)
Coach Name (record w/team): Alain Vigneault; 49-26-7 (.653)
Key Additions: D Aaron Miller (Los Angeles)
Key Subtractions: C Bryan Smolinski (Montreal); D Brent Sopel (Detroit)

Offense: This team was offensively in the middle of the pack, but they were near the bottom out of all the teams. In fact, of the 16 teams in the playoffs in the postseason last year, they ranked 15th in scored goals (only New Jersey scored fewer goals).

This team is also pretty balanced on offense, but there is a bit of a gap on offense between their top players and some of the roleplayers. The Canucks will need for them to narrow that gap a bit for them to continue to keep up with the rest of the league. The team relies on the top guys, especially the Sedin twins.

They have finally gotten to the level that they were expected to perform at for the past couple of years and they will continue to have the team leaning on them. Daniel is the scorer; he tallied 84 points and 36 of them were goals. Daniel is also a little more balanced than his brother Henrik. Henrik is more of a playmaker; 71 assists and only 10 goals.

Henrik sets them up, and Daniel puts the puck in the net. Meanwhile, besides the two twins, the Canucks still have Markus Naslund on the team. He did not produce as much as he usually did and he’s shown a steady decline over the past two seasons but he is still a dangerous player when not adequately attended to. After those guys, they get some production from a number of other guys: players like Brendan Morrison, Taylor Pratt, and Trevor Linden need to produce on a semi-consistent basis for teams to stop applying constant pressure to the top line.

If they cannot produce, this team will have a hard-time scoring goals. Although the defense is solid and their goaltending is superb, they will still have games where they need to put up goals in bunches and if they cannot do it, it will be difficult to consistently win. On the back line, the Canucks get production from Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo. They expect bigger things from Bieksa especially.
Grade: C

Defense: Kevin Bieksa was nothing more than a guy who would have been the fifth or sixth defender for a team before last season; yet his performance for the Canucks last season brought him to the forefront of the Canuck defensive rotation. The question is whether or not he can be consistent for the Canucks this year or if last season was just an abnormality.

Meanwhile, Willie Mitchell was the team’s top defender; he was brought in for his leadership and veteran spirit, yet he was key for them as a solid defender. With Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo, the Canucks have a very solid top-four on the blue line. They will shuffle a few options on their roster as the third pairing. The unit will have to prove that they were more than a one-year wonder.
Grade: B+

Goaltending: Roberto Luongo was everything that the Canucks thought he would be and so much more. There was not a single person in the NHL who was not aware of his impact on the Canucks. Suddenly, the Canucks were winning games that they were losing just a season before. He was keeping them in close games and stealing games when their offense was struggling. His glove is as quick as there is in the NHL, while he is a great lateral goaltender.

With Luongo in goal, the Canucks do not have to worry about too much of a drop off. This season should be more of the same, although Luongo will be hard-pressed to carry this team on his back without any improved offensive help.
Grade: A

Coaching: Alain Vigneault came into the Canucks situation after watching Marc Crawford lose his job for a poor finish two seasons ago. However, Vigneault did not want to repeat the same performance. Although it is a bit easier when your goaltender is all-world and playing like Roberto Luongo did last year, there still cannot be enough said about the job the head coach did in turning this team around.

Not only did they get into the playoffs this year, they won their division title and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Vigneault is looking for more consistent production this year from the veterans on the team; he wants them to be more aggressive, especially offensively. He will need to get them going in order for the Canucks to have a shot at getting the necessary offense.
Grade: B+

Bold Predictions
Points/Conference Standing: 90 – 100 pts; middle of Western Conference; (4th – 10th)
Team MVP: Roberto Luongo
Prediction Notes: It’s a bit disheartening to see that the Canucks did not make any big moves to try and get better after last season’s success. The team almost seems to be willing to go to war with the same faces. However, when you’ve got Roberto Luongo playing like he did, it’s hard to convince the Vancouver Canucks that their strategy is a bad one. However, their offense still lacks punch and the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers have made strides to catch up and close the gap. It will be a struggle between Colorado and Vancouver all season, but the Canucks have more than enough defense and goaltending to get into the postseason.

Tags:2007 NHL Season Preview - Vancouver Canucks

2007 NHL Season Preview - New York Rangers

The pressure is never greater than it is for New York sports. Whether you play for the Knicks, the Giants, the Yankees, or any of the other professional sports franchises in the Big Apple, the pressure to win and be successful is on. Being good is not enough; it’s about championships and looking good.

With the Rangers, they took some big strides last season in getting back to the playoffs and getting to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But in the land of New York, that is simply not enough. The Rangers need to win; so a big spending offseason ensued. Where do the Rangers sit now? Are they at the cusp of a championship or have they once again thrown around money in futile efforts to improve this team?

New York Rangers
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 42-30-10-94; 3rd in Atlantic Division
2006 Postseason (if applicable): Lost in Eastern Conf. Semis (4-2 to Buffalo)
Coach Name (record w/team): Tom Renney; 91-71-0 (22 ties; .561)
Key Additions: C Chris Drury (Buffalo); C Scott Gomez (New Jersey); D Andrew Hutchinson
Key Subtractions: G Kevin Weekes (New Jersey); C Michael Nylander (Washington); C Matt Cullen (Carolina)

Offense: The team brought in some names I am sure you’ve heard of before if you are a big NHL fan: Scott Gomez from division rival New Jersey and Chris Drury from Buffalo. With the addition of those two players, the offensive burden shifts a bit to their shoulders. The Rangers did watch Michael Nylander leave for Washington, so the tandem of Nylander and Jaromir Jagr is no more in Madison Square Garden.

Can either one of these guys, Drury or Gomez, jump in and establish a chemistry with Jagr and help get him the puck? Even with this question mark, there is plenty for the Rangers to be excited about on offense. With either Drury or Gomez, the other offensive players on the team will see immediate results in increased scoring chances and ability to make plays.

Veterans like Brendan Shanahan, Petr Prucha, and Martin Straka will all benefit from the addition of these players. Shanahan was especially effective on offense for the special teams and the new centers could be a boon to him in regular situations. The Rangers have enough talent to throw two legitimate top lines at you and a third line that could be a top line for some of the other teams in the NHL. From the blue line the Rangers have some playmakers but the scoring goals will be difficult from the back line.

Michal Rozsival had 30 assists last season; other defenders like Marek Malik could get some opportunities to see increases with their point production. Teams will have to account for everyone pushing forward and the opportunities for the defenders to make plays will open up. The team should have the ability to put goals on the board in bunches.
Grade: A

Defense: This defense lacks a real top defender to lean on and eat up ice time. Instead, the Rangers will rely on getting the pairings shuffling on and off the ice and finding the right rotation to keep their defenders fresh and working hard. Their top guy is Michal Rozsival; he led the defenders in ice time a season ago and will more than likely do so again. He’s able to give the Rangers production offensively while playing solid in front of their net. There will be a platoon of guys coming in to try and eat up ice time and provide bodies in front of opposing attacks.

Names like Marek Malik and Paul Mara will see their fair share of ice time for the Rangers alongside Rozsival. Then the team wants to see the successful recovery of young defender Fedor Tyutin. He is considered to be one of the defenders that the Rangers could lean on in the future and his recovery from injury could prove to be pivotal to his status with the team.
Grade: B+

Goaltending: After having a slow start last season, second-year netminder Henrik Lundqvist showed the talent and ability that everyone seemed to lean on during his first season with the club. There is still a bit of inconsistency, but with the added offensive prowess that the Rangers have should take some of the pressure off Lundqvist. There is no competition behind him, which could be considered a bad thing if something happens to him or he needs rest, but the Rangers are fairly comfortable in putting all of their eggs in one basket. For the second consecutive season, Lundquist was a Vezina candidate and nothing should stop him from having another solid season.
Grade: A

Coaching: Tom Renney has been the coach of the Rangers since 2004 and he has steadily brought this team back to the cusp of the contention in the Eastern Conference. With the people that he has around him and the talent that the franchise has provided him, Renney’s biggest problem was getting enough time for everyone on the team and making the right combinations. He struck gold with Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr, but Nylander is now gone and Renney will need to find a new catalyst to add to Jagr to keep him optimally productive. Renney will also need to get the defensive unit playing well in front of Lundquist because the offense should provide ample goal support for the team.
Grade: B+

Bold Predictions
Points/Conference Standing: 95 – 110 pts; top of Eastern Conference (1st – 4th in conference)
Team MVP: Henrik Lundqvist
Prediction Notes: This is the year that the Rangers and the Devils go down to the wire; they seem to be close in terms of talent, and the edge on offense will probably be with the Rangers. The offense will have the opportunity to put big numbers up on most of the teams in the Eastern Conference and their goaltending is top-notch with Lundqvist. The biggest question mark is the defense and if they can be solid enough to stop the onslaught of other teams. They should be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Tags:2007 NHL Season Preview - New York Rangers

2007 NHL Season Preview - Los Angeles Kings

Some would call the Pacific division very top heavy with Anaheim, San Jose, and Dallas all fighting for the top spot in the division and the conference. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings have almost quietly put together an offseason where they really overhauled a lot of their team and are looking to improve their standing last season.

68 points was not nearly a good performance, and head coach Marc Crawford will be looking for them to get better with the new pieces. Can the Kings make up the gap between the top of the division and where the Kings were last season, or will this team continue to fall short?

Los Angeles Kings
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 27-41-14-68; 4th in Pacific Division
2006 Postseason (if applicable): n/a
Coach Name (record w/team): Marc Crawford; 27-41-14 (.397)
Key Additions: D Brad Stuart (Calgary); LW Kyle Calder (Detroit); LW Ladislav Nagy (Dallas); C Michal Handzus (Chicago); D Tom Preissing (Ottawa); D Dan Klemm (Dallas)
Key Subtractions: D Aaron Miller (Vancouver); G Mathieu Garon (Edmonton)

Offense: There is a lot of potential on this team on offense to put some goals on the board. Both with some of the names that GM Dean Lombardi brought in and with some of the players the team already has. For instance, both Ladislav Nagy and Michal Handzus have the potential to be dynamic on offense. Nagy has been a top goal scorer before and coming over from division rival Dallas means he’s familiar with the division (Nagy was with Phoenix before, also in the Pacific Division.

Nagy is a good playmaker, but he was also a bit of a threat to score on occasion and he knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. Meanwhile, Handzus’ first season in Chicago was over really before it got going. He only played 8 games for them before going down with a knee injury. Handzus can give them a great two-way presence, but he’s definitely got the ability to help put points on the board. Looking across the roster, there are some dynamic names there that could be big goal producers.

Mike Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov, both 30-goal scorers, will benefit from the additions of these guys, as well as offensive-minded defenders in Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing. Veteran Kyle Calder has the ability to also stretch the ice and score for them. Meanwhile, Anze Kopitar is a really good player; watch out for him, this really could be the breakout season for them with other moves they made. Lubomir Visnovsky and Rob Blake lead a very offensive defense; they will be joined by Stuart and Preissing. Their offense will be solid.
Grade: B+

Defense: Potential is there, but you have to wonder how this unit will work together early in the season. They have some pieces in place, like Visnovsky, Blake, and possible Calder Trophy candidate Jack Johnson; they will have those free agent signings, Stuart, Preissing, and Jon Klemm, to add to those guys. It will be interesting to see how quickly they all get on the same page. Visnovsky, Stuart, and Blake make them a pretty dangerous offensive team.

Even Preissing and Johnson have skills to offer when it comes to offense. The question is whether they can really stop teams from scoring. Rob Blake is a longtime vet that knows how to play defense, but the rest of the guys will need to play with the same urgency and focus that Blake brings to the ice. Stuart was a defensive liability at times in his previous stops, and Jon Klemm is getting up there in age. The mixing of these guys must be solid or the Kings could allow as many, or more, goals than they score early in the season.
Grade: B

Goaltending: Do the Kings even have their goaltending situation settled? It seems as though the team will definitely go with Jason Labarbera as the starting goaltender, but he really has not yet proven that he’s going to be able to assume that role and perform as a capable NHL goaltender. He is not without talent; he was once named Player of the Year in the AHL with Hartford, but the team is still unsure whether or not that success will translate into the NHL.

IF he cannot stand up and get the job done, then where does the Kings organization go from there? Would they go with veteran Dan Cloutier, or will they look elsewhere for an answer at goaltender. Labarbera will be afforded every chance to succeed this season, but the Kings want to turn it around quickly and if they feel a goaltending change would facilitate that improvement, then they will not be afraid to pull the plug.
Grade: B-

Coaching: Marc Crawford won the Stanley Cup when he was the coach in Colorado, but that seems like it was ages ago. Crawford’s most recent headlines have more to do with the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident while he was the coach in Vancouver and being caught laughing on the bench. But Crawford is long gone from Vancouver, looking to get a new start with the Kings.

Last season did not go very well, but he’s got a lot more weapons in line this year for the Kings to try and make a run. We know that Crawford likes having a lot of weapons on offense, and he’s got some young talent at his disposal. Crawford has the ability to get this team back into contention within a couple of years. More than anything, this could be the beginning of his and the Kings’ redemption.
Grade: B+

Bold Predictions
Points/Conference Standing: 75 – 85 pts; bottom half of conference; 6th – 10th in conference)
Team MVP: Mike Cammalleri
Prediction Notes: With the potential offensive firepower combined with the mind of Marc Crawford and his natural aggressive style, it could mean a lot of goals for the Kings. Names like Cammalleri, Kopitar, Handzus, and Frolov could light it up early and often. It wills till be tough with the depth of the three teams in front of them in the division, but the Kings could battle for a bottom half playoff spot. If their defense and goaltending find themselves early, this could really be an interesting season for Crawford and the Kings. In the end, they will not have enough to make the playoffs, but the Kings will be competitive.

Tags:2007 NHL Season Preview - Los Angeles Kings

2007 NHL Season Preview - Atlanta Thrashers

The Thrashers made some great strides in their past few seasons under head coach Bob Hartley. In the 2006-2007 season, the NHL watched as the Thrashers made a bid at being at the top of the Eastern Conference with 97 points and a Southeast Division title. However, a disappointing sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers was disheartening for the team. They look to rebound in 2007-2008, but can they do it or will they be left behind?

Atlanta Thrashers
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 43-28-11-97, Southeast Division Champs
2006 Postseason (if applicable): lost in eastern quarterfinals (def. by New York Rangers 4-0)
Coach Name (record w/team): Bob Hartley; 137-112-13-24 (.550)
Key Additions: D Ken Klee (Colorado); C Todd White (Minnesota)
Key Subtractions: D Greg De Vries (Nashville); RW Scott Mellanby (retirement); LW Keith Tkachuk (St. Louis); C Eric Belanger (Minnesota); D Andy Sutton (New York Islanders)

Offense: At the top of the roster, their offense has some quality guys to make plays and put points on the board. Both Marion Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk are two players that know how to “tickle the twine” with the puck on more than a regular basis. Both guys put up 40+ goals and they should be able to do so again. With Hossa and Slava Kozlov they also have playmakers. They might need a little more production from traditionally better centers Bobby Holik and Steve Rucchin (when healthy), but they are both 36 years old and could be on that downhill trip towards the twilights of their careers. Atlanta only scored one more goal that they gave up during the regular season (246 scored v. 245 allowed) and the Rangers showcased what can happen when their offense cannot get a groove. Basically, the Thrashers will need consistent scoring from more than just those three players; Holik and Rucchin could provide the transition, but right now their offense really only has a little bite with the top line. Rucchin needs to prove that he can be healthy and get back into everyday shape before his return to the ice can even be contemplated. Todd White, the center signed from Minnesota, should provide a little bit more playmaking skills, but the scorers will need to be there to cash in. We know what the top provides; someone else on the bottom two lines will have to provide more support. They also need more consistent output from their power play to put pressure on opponents.
Grade: B-

Defense: Their defensive unit relies on a lot of names that are not necessarily among the top in terms of performance. The team takes a couple of hits with both Greg De Vries and Andy Sutton gone from last year’s team. Their top defenseman will be veteran Alexei Zhitnik, who spent time with three different teams last season, including the Thrashers. He provides a bit of veteran leadership, but it can only make you wonder why two other teams deemed him a “tradable commodity” when dealing him. Zhitnik is at best average offensively and he seems to have lost a bit back on the blue line. He could be a liability with his smaller frame against bigger, more physical teams. Free-agent signing Ken Klee will also factor into the defense. He resurrected a bit of his career last year with the Avalanche and this chance with Atlanta could be a solid opportunity. He might be the best defender on the roster in terms of his defensive ability. The depth leaves a question mark on the team; they will need to answer and account for the losses of De Vries and Sutton.
Grade: C+

Goaltending: Consistency will be the question on everyone’s mind when thinking about Kari Lehtonen. He’s been superb in world competition playing for Finland but now it needs to translate for an entire NHL season. The Thrashers went to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history due in part to Lehtonen’s strong play. He won 34 games, the most of any goalie in a single season for the Thrashers. His goals against were reasonable and his really did steal games for this team when the offense would falter. However, the playoffs provided a completely different story. Lehtonen was completely shelled by the Rangers in two games. backup Johan Hedberg faired better in the playoffs, but he will more than likely not be the goaltender of choice in Atlanta. Has Lehtonen’s psyche been damaged beyond repair? If he can play well early in the season and re-gain some confidence, the Thrashers can count on his fast glove and quick instincts to get them some victories.
Grade: B

Coaching: Bob Hartley came over about a month after being fired from his job with the Colorado Avalanche in January on 2003. Hartley has since done a good job with helping this team rise from their expansion beginning to a division champion after the Thrashers won the Southeast Division in ’06-’07. The Thrashers’ rise through the ranks has been due to Hartley’s approach, allowing the stars (Hossa and Kovalchuk especially) to open up their game much like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg did in Colorado. It was a bit questionable in the playoffs last season with the shuffling of goaltenders; that dropped him a few notches in grading.
Grade: B+

Bold Predictions
Points/Conference Standing: 85-95 pts, middle of conference (4-6 seed)
Team MVP: Marion Hossa
Prediction Notes: There might b some questions with the defense and the goaltending, and even though the game is to score more than the opponent, it can be difficult if you cannot stop them from scoring. That being said, the Thrashers are probably still one step above the Lightning, although that could really depend on the early play of Kari Lehtonen. Should he struggle, this could get very ugly quickly for the Thrashers. Best-case scenario, they get through it and the Thrashers build on the past season. My vote is for the middle ground. They will not be the worst, but they could struggle more than last season.

Tags:2007 NHL Season Preview - Atlanta Thrashers

2007 Summer Movie Guide Part 5

Captivity

A man stalks, drugs and kidnaps a young beautiful model. When she awakes, she finds herself locked inside of a cell. The sociopath then subjects her to what nightmares are made of. She soon finds though that she isn’t alone, a man is being held captive as well. Together they plot to find a way out. “Captivity” stars Elisha Cuthbert, Daniel Gillies, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Laz Alonso, Michael Harney and Rebekah Ryan. “Captivity” is directed by Roland Joffe. “Captivity” is to be released in theaters on Friday, July 13th.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

This fun comedy revolves around best friends, “Chuck Ford” and “Larry Allensworth” who are firefighters. They’d do anything for each other right? “Larry” requests an unusual favor from “Chuck”. He wants to name his children as his beneficiaries under his life insurance policy but he is unable to do so unless he obtains a domestic partner. Enter “Larry Allensworth”. The couple marry and attempt to pull off this rouse before anyone finds out. “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Steve Buscemi, Dan Aykroyd and Ving Rhames. It is directed by Dennis Dugan (“The Benchwarmers”). “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” will be released in theaters on July 20th.

No Reservations

This is based on the 2001 German film entitled, “Mostly Martha”. This romantic drama centers around chef “Kate Armstrong” who likes everything perfect. Her life is thrown into a tailspin when her sister passes away and she must be the sole guardian to her nine-year-old niece. “Kate” must cope with being a mother and getting along with a new chef who is the complete opposite of what she is. But opposites do attract right? “No Reservations” stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jenny Wade and Lily Rabe. It is directed by Scott Hicks (“Shine”). “No Reservations” will be released in theaters on July 27th.

I Know Who Killed Me

This creepy thriller revolves around the life of “Aubrey Fleming”. She is kidnapped and is subjected to torture but manages to survive by escaping a serial killer. When she awakes in the hospital after her ordeal, she claims she isn’t “Aubrey Fleming” but a woman named “Dakota Moss”. Will she be able to unravel this mystery? “I Know Who Killed Me” stars Lindsay Lohan, Neal McDonough, Julia Ormond, Brian Geraghty, Kenya Moore, Gregory Itzin and Jessica Rose. It is directed by Chris Siverston. “I Know Who Killed Me” will be released in theaters on July 27th.

Tags:2007 Summer Movie Guide Part 5

2007 NFL Training Camp Preview: Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys 2006 season ended abruptly when Tony Romo botched the field goal that would’ve put them ahead of the Seattle Seahawks late in the 4th quarter of last years NFC wildcard game. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1996 but hope to turn their fortunes around in 2007 under new head coach Wade Phillips. With the nucleus of the team will be returning and a key addition to the defense, the Cowboys will be ready to compete in the NFC East. The question is will they be able to live up to the expectations that are put on them by most of the media and owner Jerry Jones?

Quarterback
Tony Romo is the ninth quarterback since the retirement of Troy Aikman in 2000 and the Cowboys are putting all their trust into the un-drafted free agent to lead them to a championship. Romo’s first game as a starter came in week 8 against the Carolina Panthers in which he led the Cowboys to a 35-14 win. He would go on to win five of his first six games in the NFL. He started to look like a first year player towards the end of the season and during the playoffs, but his potential to become a better QB is very high. The front office found a reliable backup in Brad Johnson to be a mentor to Romo.
Rating: 3.5

Running Back
A possible deadly running back duo in the NFL will be Julius Jones and Marion Barber. In 2006, the duo totaled over 1,700 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. I expect both Barber and Jones to step their game up and produce bigger and better numbers this upcoming season.
Rating: 3.5

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Terrell Owens led the league with 13 touchdowns in 2006. He also had 17 drops that was due to an injured finger that he played with for most of the season. This season, T.O. will look to have a much better year alongside Terry Glenn who is also a big time playmaker for the Cowboys. Tight end Jason Witten is a pro bowl player and a big, reliable target for Tony Romo. However, he will have to score more than the one touchdown he had in 2006.
Rating: 4.0

Offensive Line
The boys up front for the offense may be the best O-line squad the Cowboys had since the early nineties. Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode were NFC pro bowlers in 2006. Kyle Kosier did a pretty good job replacing the departed Larry Allen. Jerry Jones felt the Leonard Davis was the missing piece of the puzzle so he went out and sign the former Arizona Cardinal and gave him a huge signing bonus.
Rating: 4.0

Defensive Line
Jason Ferguson was a solid player on the defensive line for the Cowboys, clogging the middle and making it difficult for opposing teams to run. Marcus Spears and Chris Canty were expected to be stout run stuffers and dominant pass rushers when they were drafted. So far, both linemen are yet to produce. They will need to step up big time in order to give the Cowboys a pass rush.
Rating: 3.0

Linebackers
Demarcus Ware has become the stud that the Cowboys expected when they drafted him in 2005. The problem is the rest of the linebacker corps who struggled in 2006. Akin Ayodele and Bradie James got exposed in the passing game and Bobby Carpenter looked like a wide eyed a rookie. Wade Phillips who is very defensive minded and will work on schemes that will put the linebackers in better positions in 2007.
Rating: 3.0

Secondary
In 2006 safety Roy Williams was exposed in the passing game more times than I can remember. His problem was not having another decent safety by his side. So this off-season, the Cowboys went out and snagged Ken Hamlin from the Seattle Seahawks. Hamlin will automatically boost the play of the secondary that also consist of underrated cornerback Terrence Newman who represented the Cowboys in the NFC pro bowl.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams
Martin Gramatica is now an old veteran kicker with a reliable leg. He took over after the Cowboys canned Mike Vanderjagt and went 6 for 8. Mat McBriar average a little over 48 yards a punt and earned a trip to the pro bowl.
Rating 4.0

The Dallas Cowboys seem to be in pretty good shape for the 2007 season and if everything goes as planned, this team could win 11 games. The problem is that the rest of the NFC East has improved as well and will be looking for the divisional title. It’s always been a tough battle in that division, but the Cowboys have the players to go to war.

– The Couch Potato Coach –

Tags:2007 NFL Training Camp Preview: Dallas Cowboys

2007 Spring Fashion Trends

With the holidays (finally) over, it’s time to start thinking about your Spring wardrobe. The following five trends showed up all over Fashion Week and are a must for any fashionista.

Hello Sailor! Gene and Frank will be oh so proud. (Anchors Aweigh, anyone?) True, the nautical look is always popular for spring, however, if it’s your thing it’s time to indulge. Wide leg trousers and navy blue stripes not your cup of tea? Look for pants and skirts with button detailing at the front pockets. Feeling a little adventurous? Choose a bright red or yellow pant over a boring safe color.

Our Suggestion: Anthropologie’s Bartolomeu Trousers in Cherry. These babies look great with your bikini top and favorite flip flops.

Patterned Silk Head Scarves. Yep, like the ones grandma ties over her perm on those rainy Sundays after church. However, if Nana’s way makes you feel a little matronly, tie one around your neck or favorite purse. Got a pair of oversized sunglasses? (of course you do!) Wear them and drape a longer scarf over the top of your head and around your neck and pay homage to Jackie O.

Our Suggestion: Thrift Stores! However, if you absolutely must splurge, visit your local Hermes boutique.

Pouf or Petal Sleeves. And unfortunately no, this still doesn’t mean you can dust off the circa 1990 taffeta bridesmaid gown. (You still have that thing?) Anyways, feminine detailing showed up all over Spring Fashion Week which means you’ll want it all over your wardrobe. But faster than you can say “shoulder pads,” you need to be wary of excessive bulkiness-think delicate over linebacker.

Our Suggestion: J. Crew’s Striped Melanie Blouse. Feminize your jeans and Keds sneakers with this lovely top.

Sequins. Before you give up hope on the trend (and our poor little paragraph) we highly recommend adding some bling to your wardrobe. And no, we’re not talking about those tacky neon colored hobo bags, either. Stick with monochromatic, preferably black or silver, garments or accessories. Intrigued but not 100% sold? Play it subtle and add a sequined cummerbund to your favorite pant suit and white oxford.

Our Suggestion: ASOS.com’s Mischa Sequin Drape Top. The blousy tank will look fab with your favorite pair of skinny jeans and boots.

Loose Racer Back Tanks. This awesome trend will turn any boring tank top into a funky favorite. Look for braided or crocheted detailing to show off your back and shoulder blades. Whether you go braless or a la Carrie Bradshaw (visible black bra underneath), pair the tank with bermudas and a cabbie hat.

Our Suggestion: Joie’s Feather Print Born Free Tank available at shopbop.com. The empire waist, flowy fabric and feminine print make this the ultimate spring tank.

Tags:2007 Spring Fashion Trends

2007 Summer Foot Fashion: Choosing the Perfect Footwear This Season

Summer is quickly upon us and of course the ladies can’t wait to show off their gorgeous pedicures. Whether you’re having lunch with the girls or curling up on the waterfront with a good book, thankfully when the mercury rises we aren’t limited to just rubber flip-flops. From slides to wedges to stilettos, we now have a variety of pain-free ways to accent our feet.

Slides are the most popular of all the summer shoes because they’re so very comfortable and come in a variety of heel heights, from flat and the one-inch kitten heel, to two and three-inch stacked heels. Notable shoe designers like Joan and David as well as Franco Sarto are showing off their slides this season with accent buckles in gold and silver on their latest designs. Companies like Merrill and Easy Spirit are far behind on the fashion trend. They specialize in comfort shoes but that hasn’t stopped them from creating fun designs that incorporate the luxurious comfort they’re known for. Want to boost your style? Move a pair of slides up to the top of your summer shopping list. The prices run the gamut from inexpensive to top of the line, but most of all the slide allows you to do what you desire to this summer, ease your foot right into them, grab your bag and go.

Wedge-heel sandals could be called the miracle shoe. They can turn a simple cotton sun dress into what feels like a weekend getaway. Considered by some to be a retro-throwback, wedge heels first appeared in the early 60’s and were incorporated into some platform shoe designs of that era. Still chic after all those years designers like Steve Madden, Carlos Santana and Charles David can’t seem to get enough of the flexible designs that are preferred by women who’d rather not teeter around in spiky heels and opt instead for an even balance. Shoe designers are currently showcasing their designs in online stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Saks and Dillard’s and although cork designs are widely available, many appear to favor covering the heel in woven fabric for that visiting a villa in Tuscany espadrille feel. While wedges are available in a variety of heel heights the most fashionable and sought after are the two to three inch wedge heels sandals. Women prefer them because they instantly add height, elongate the legs and give a hip and edgy feel–perfect for when you don’t want to appear too casual and seek to maintain a little femininity. Take along a light sweater for that evening chill and you’re all set in your sun dress and wedges.

Stylists often say that no wardrobe is complete without a pair of heels, preferably stilettos. A glamorous pair of stiletto heels is essential for jazzing up any evening or Sunday outfit and there are varying heights for every taste too. Gone are the days when heels, pinched, squeezed and prodded us into tossing them into the back of our closet. Stilettos are now designed for the more comfort-conscious woman who doesn’t necessarily want to relinquish her fashion-sense. You can find stilettos with a cushioned foot bed that adds comfort as you walk. Rubber soles in lieu of the traditional leather ones are also available and decreases the impact of walking for long periods of time as does the short one-inch platform that spare the balls of the feet. Unfortunately heels are still heels and can aggravate some existing foot problems, but having your feet measured whenever you purchase a pair of shoes coupled with the new provisions designed to enhance overall comfort, stilettos will offer a polished, manageable upgrade to any wardrobe. So, enjoy your stilettos and maximize the benefit by choosing them for times when you know you won’t be on your feet too long. Your feet will thank you.

TIP: When choosing the perfect footwear to accessorize your outfit don’t forget this quick tip for shoes that don’t have skid-free rubber soles; lightly rub across the slick sole with sandpaper to prevent slipping prior to the first wear–now you’re ready to be safe and fashion-wise by putting your best foot forward.

Tags:2007 Summer Foot Fashion: Choosing the Perfect Footwear This Season

2007 Non Traditional Holiday Events for Sacramento, California

Sacramento, California loves to go all out when it comes to the holiday season. There are several events that break out of the traditional gift box when it comes to experiencing the season of giving and all the joy that comes with it. Here is a list of the not-so-normal activities you and your family can participate in if you are in Sacramento during the holiday season.

1. A Polar Express Train Ride! Just like the movie, the Polar Express is a specially designed train ride that takes you through the North Pole. You can enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, and listen to the story being told. Each ride is an hour long and you get complimentary access to the train museum after the trip!

This ride takes place in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park (downtown off of “I” Street) which you can access through local public transportation or even Amtrak. Tickets are $24 for adults, $16 for children. It is recommended you get them ahead of time and schedule your ride! The Polar Express will ride Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays four times a day from November 30 through December 16. If you have any further questions, feel free to call.

2. Come See A Boat Parade! The Capitol City Yacht Club gets all dazzled up and hosts a boat parade once a year. This year it will be on December 1st at 6:30pm. The cost is free, which is a pretty good price to see a lot of big yachts decorated with Christmas lights from stern to bow. Take a look here to see an example. Your best view is along the waterfront, and boats will be judged for creativity.

3. Watch A Pony Express Christmas Card Delivery! The Gold Rush History Center gives visitors an insight into the life and times during the California Gold Rush. Part of those times was the Pony Express, a mail delivery that was done by horseback. On the 8th of December, the National Pony Express Association will deliver greeting cards with authentic “Pony Express” stamps on them and head for Folsom, California for delivery. They leave at 10:00 am, and the event is free!

4. Mix Winter, Wine, Surf and Sand! If you’re a surfer and you love the holidays but not the cold, the California Christmas Party is for you. For $15 per person, you can participate in a wine tasting dressed in your favorite combination of surf and holiday d├ęcor. Santa will be there with his sunglasses and surf shorts. The party takes place on December 13th from 5pm to 8pm. Go to the discovercal.com website for more details. Hang Ten, dude!

Tags:2007 Non Traditional Holiday Events for Sacramento, California

2008 College Basketball Season: Coaching Changes to Know

It seems every year schools are more and more obsessed with having a winning basketball team. Schools expect their coaches to come in, win right away and if they don’t they’ll be fired. There are an increasingly large number of coaches changing schools every year. This year 55 schools have new coaches. To go over all of the coaching changes would take way too long but these are some of the key coaching changes.

The biggest coaching position that opened up this year was the Kentucky head coaching job. Tubby Smith immediately won a National Championship but fans grew restless when he didn’t even make a Final Four appearance in his final nine years. Now Tubby Smith is going to Minnesota where the Gophers have had several disappointing seasons.

Replacing Tubby Smith will be Billy Gillispie. Gillispie coached the Texas A&M Aggies last season and led them to as high as #6, the highest ranking in school history. Gillispie should have even better resources to work with in Kentucky.

The Minnesota head coaching job was available for Tubby Smith because former coach Dan Monson resigned. Now Monson is the head coach of Long Beach State.

Since Billy Gillispie is no longer the head coach of Texas A&M that means they need a new head coach and they hired Mark Turgeon. Previously Mark Turgeon was the head coach at Wichita State where he took the Shockers to three straight NIT Tournaments before making the NCAA Tournament last season.

Wichita’s State new head coach will be Winthrop’s Greg Marshall. Winthrop will replace Greg Marshall with Randy Peele.

Another big head coaching change is Bob Huggins leaving Kansas State and going to West Virginia. Huggins led Kansas State to a 20 win season but they were left out of the NCAA Tournament.

Bob Huggins will be replacing John Beilein at West Virginia. Beilein led West Virginia to a 104 – 60 record in five seasons including three 20 win season. Beilein will now be the head coach at Michigan where he will be replacing Tommy Amaker.

The once proud Michigan Wolverines didn’t make the Final Four in Tommy Amaker’s entire tenure so he’ll now be coaching for Harvard.

That is still just the tip of the iceberg. Stan Heath once led Kent State to the Elite Eight but couldn’t get Arkansas past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Now Stan Heath will move on and coach the South Florida Bulls.

Stan Heath will be replaced by John Pelphrey. Replacing John Pelphrey at South Alabama will be Ronnie Arrow.

Other notable coaching changes will be Jeff Bezdelik taking over for Colorado, Todd Lickliter replacing Steve Alford at Iowa, Steve Alford taking over at New Mexico and Rick Majerus taking over at Saint Louis.

Tags:2008 College Basketball Season: Coaching Changes to Know

2008 Annual High Sierra Music Festival

The 18th annual High Sierra Music Festival will shine upon Quincy California July 3rd through July 6th 2008. The festival has grown into an incredible concoction of music, arts, crafts, food, and so much more since it first began in 1991. The event is held annually during the weekend of July 4th, giving an opportunity for people to pack their things together and join in on the fun. This isn’t your average music festival however. The event is created for everyone, including children.

Although the main focus of the High Sierra Music Festival is music, the event also showcases a large variety of activities and workshops such as exercise, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. The music featured at the festival primarily is made up of jam bands and artists who incorporate roots rock and funk styles. Over the years there have been incredible annual performances by bands such as Bela Fleck & The Fleck Tones, Bob Weir & RatDog, Bruce Hornsby, Widespread Panic, and so many more.

The 2008 music festival will continue its long standing tradition. A list of scheduled performers for the 2008 festival once again will feature incredible music from Gov’t Mule, Built To Spill, The Slip, and Robben Ford. The 4 day event will showcase well over 75 performers across 5 stages. The unique schedule of the High Sierra Music Festival spreads performances across both day and night stages. There is always something fun to do at any given time during the festival, making it quite enjoyable for those who enjoy a little variety.

The High Sierra Music Festival website provides an impressive amount of details for everyone interested in attending the event. You’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how things work at the festival. Camping at the event is quite popular, and there is a list of rules and regulations along with festival guidelines that should be followed if you are interested in camping. First come first served on-site camping is included in the cost of a festival ticket. There are multiple camping options created to accommodate visitors, such as disabled campsites, family campsites, as well as on-site designated areas for RV and vehicle parking.

No worries if camping isn’t your thing. You can find a list of lodging alternatives at the website, or visit the area’s visitor bureau for suggestions. Do keep in mind that lodging in the area does sell out quickly, so it is in your best interest to plan well in advance if you plan to attend the festival. You’ll find some great festival tips and suggestions at the official festival website as well. Important details such as maps, transportation information, and schedules are also provided. You can obtain plenty of information that will make your High Sierra Music Festival experience an enjoyable one.

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2008 Baseball Awards Predictions

The 2008 regular baseball season has ended and the playoffs are on there way. As the series begin to get into full swing as the first round, let’s take a look at the players who will come away with the regular season hardware, specifically the MVP and Cy Young awards.

MVP American League

One of the more contested races for the 2008 season is for the MVP award in the American League. The late season favorite, Chicago’s Carlos Quentin, was an automatic lock for the award until he suffered a season ending injury in August. With Quentin out, this opened the door for several players whose own seasons were being obscured by the success Quentin was having. Previous MVP winner, Justin Morneau, staked his claim to the award by putting the Twins on his back and helping them make a serious run at a playoff berth. Morneau finished the 2008 season with solid offensive number across the board; he had a .300 average, 23 home runs, 97 runs scored, while driving in 129 runs. The next player became a household name in 2008 and was an integral part of the Boston Red Sox’s success is second baseman Dustin Pedoria. His performance at the plate and in the field has provided the Red Sox with a jolt of energy while the team was dealing with injuries to their other star players. Pedoria finished the 2008 season with a .326 batting average, 18 homeruns, scored 118 runs, drove in 83 runs, and swiped 20 stolen bases, while helping the Red Sox reach the playoffs as the American League wildcard.

The last player to receive consideration for the MVP award is the Anaheim Angel’s closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Majority of the time, pitchers do not receive consideration for the MVP award because they only participate in 30 to 40 games in a season. But there has never been a reliever before like Rodriguez. During the 2008 season, he pitched in 76 games where he stuck out 77 hitters, posted a 2.24 earned run average, held opponent’s to a .216 batting average, while creating a new major league baseball record by recording 62 saves in a season. When you take a hard look at each of these players, the MVP award should go to Justin Morneau. He plays on a small market team who nobody thought would be able to compete and make a run for the playoffs when their ace left for the Big Apple. The Twins would have been lost if it was not for his timely hitting and leadership on and off the field.

Cy Young American League

The race for the American League Cy Young award appears closer on paper than it does among the ranks of the media members. Despite playing for a third place team, the Cleveland Indians, Cliff Lee had one of the most memorable seasons since Dwight Gooden’s 1985 campaign. He compiled a 22 – 3 record while maintaining a 2.54 earned run average to go along with 170 strikeouts and a 1.11 Whip ratio. These numbers earned Lee the American league lead in wins and earned run average while playing for a team who finished with a .500 record. The Toronto Blue Jays Roy Halladay had a remarkable season that has been over shadowed by Lee’s performance. During the 2008 season, Halladay managed a 20 – 11 record while sustaining a 2.74 earned run average with 207 strikeouts and a 1.05 whip ratio. Halladay lead the league with 9 complete games, an amazing statistics when you consider the modern approach to baseball.

The last pitcher who should receive consideration for the Cy Young award is a name previously mentioned, the Angels Francisco Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s 2008 season will go down as one of the best ever for a reliever. The Angels won a total of 100 games during the season and Rodriguez saved the victory in 62 of them. Each time he entered the game in the ninth inning when the game was on the line. Even though Rodriguez and Halladay had incredible seasons, Cliff Lee should be awarded the American League Cy Young Award. This is a once in a life time season for Lee. He may continue to have success on the mound, but it will be quite some time before we see another pitcher with such an amazing winning percentage.

MVP National League

The race for the National League MVP did not begin to pick up steam until the bats began to heat up when August came around and playoff berths were on the line. The first contender for the MVP award is Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard started the season slow but became to pick up the pace after the All-Star break. By the time the 2008 season was done, Howard ended the season with 48 home runs, scored 105 runs, with 146 runs brought in to go along with a pedestrian .251 batting average. This low batting average could be a possible reason why Howard will not receive the award. Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals did his best to keep his team competitive through the entire season. He was able to do this by hitting 37 home runs, scoring 100 times, bringing in 116 runs, while maintaining a .357 batting average. Though the Cardinals faltered towards the end of the season and did not make the playoffs in a tough National League Central Division, Pujols made his presence known each and every at bat.

The last contender is Houston Astros, Lance Berkman, who had a career year in 2008. Berkman started the 2008 season on a tear and ended with 29 home runs, 114 runs scored, 106 runs brought in, and 18 stolen bases to go along with a .312 batting average. In the end, the nod has to go to Pujols who has already won the award once in his career. For a power hitter, Pujols showed discipline at the plate by striking out 54 times in 524 plate appearance. This was something Howard and Berkman struggled with in 2008.

Cy Young National League

Unlike the American league, there was no clear cut winner for the Cy Young in the National league where it seemed the hitters dominated the season. The first pitcher to be thrown into the competition is the San Francisco Giants Tim Linecum. In his first full year as the Giants starter, Linecum compiled an 18 – 5 record with a 2.62 earned run average to go with his 265 strikeouts and 1.17 whip ratio. What made this even more impressive, aside from the winning percentage, is the Giants only won 72 games. Another pitcher who dominated the National league was the Arizona Diamondbacks, Brandon Webb. Webb remains one of the elite who put up a solid season in 2008. He finished with a 22 – 7 record while allowing a 3.30 earned run average, 183 strikeouts, and a 1.20 whip ratio. If it was not for Webb’s performance, the Diamondbacks would have not been competing for the National League West division late in the season

The last pitcher to be considered for the Cy Young award in the National league is someone who was traded halfway through the season from the American League. C.C. Sabathia was brought over to the Milwaukee Brewers to make a playoff run. During the limited 130 innings he pitched for the Brewers, Sabathia finished with an 11 – 2 record, a 1.65 earned run average, 128 strikeouts, and a 1.00 whip ratio. To help the Brewers earn the wildcard berth, Sabathia pitched his last 3 games on 3 days rest each. When it is all said and done, Linecum should be awarded the Cy Young award for his performance on a team that lacked any real threat at the plate and had a less than adequate defensive presence in the field.

Tags:2008 Baseball Awards Predictions

2008 - 2009 College Bowl Picks - Part 3

Humanitarian Bowl

December 30th

Nevada vs. Maryland

Trivia Question- What school finished second in the country in rushing with 294.7 yards per game? If you’re a football fanatic you know Nevada is the correct answer and they have a QB named quarterback Colin Kaepernick who ran for 1,000 yards and threw for over 2,400. The Wolf Pack is 12-3 ATS off one or more straight Overs. Maryland was more unstable than patient on Celebrity Rehab. The Terps were 7-4 ATS if you bet against the role they are placed. Maryland stunk it up late, but is 6-0 ATS off a road loss over the last two seasons. Both Nevada and Maryland are bad bowl bets at 1-4 and 5-8-1 ATS respectively. Expect the Wolf Pack to have more urgency and they play better run defense.

Recent NEVADA Bowl Trends

* * NEVADA is on a 1-4 ATS slide in bowl games.

* Underdogs have been the correct side in three of L4 NEVADA bowl games.

* As a bowl game favorite or pick em’, NEVADA is 2-1 SU but 0-3 ATS.

Recent MARYLAND Bowl Trends

* MARYLAND is 3-1 SU & ATS in its L4 bowl games.

* MARYLAND has allowed just 38 points in its L4 bowl games.

* The UNDER has converted in four straight MARYLAND bowl games.

Prediction: Maryland 41, Nevada 28

Texas Bowl

December 30th

Western Michigan vs. Rice

With two top 10 passing offenses and two shaky pass defenses, points will not be an issue in the Texas Bowl. Why bother to view this contest? Rice QB Chase Clement and receiver Jarett Dillard have more touchdown connections than any duo in NCAA history. Also, Western Michigan QB Tim Hiller has

thrown for 3,527 yards and 34 touchdowns and has favorite target in WR Jamarko Simmons. There seems to be little reason not to believe the total won’t go Over. The Broncos are 8-1 OVER as an underdog and 10-2 OVER in non-conference games. Rice is 8-1 OVER after a playing a game where 80 total points or more were scored and 10-1 OVER off a cover. The Owls 8-2 ATS when the total is 63 or more points.

Recent WESTERN MICHIGAN Bowl Trends

* W MICHIGAN is the only team in ’08 with bowl experience to have never won.

* W MICHIGAN won ATS in its only prior lined bowl game.

* W MICHIGAN’s first totaled bowl game went OVER.

Recent RICE Bowl Trends

* RICE is on a 4-bowl game losing streak, dating back to ’57.

* RICE has scored just 37 points in its L4 bowl games.

* RICE is 0-1 ATS in lined bowl games, losing to TROY ST in ’06 as favorite.

Prediction: Western Michigan 34, Rice 33

Holiday Bowl

December 30th

Oklahoma State vs. Oregon

Oklahoma State may be favored, but one of the most dangerous offenses in the country this side of Norman invades San Diego. The Oregon Ducks are averaging 45 points per game in last five, with a running game totaling 281.6 YPG during the same period. The Ducks are 11-3 ATS after leading by 14 or more points at the half in two straight games. Oklahoma State’s only fault this season was being in wrong division. Like Oregon, these Cowboys will want to run and are 21-8 ATS when they rush for 200 to 250 yards. Oklahoma State is among your better bowl teams to play with 12-6 record and sporting outstanding 7-1-1 ATS mark as favorite. The Ducks are 5-3 ATS as dogs and 6-5 ATS under coach Bellotti.

Recent OREGON Bowl Trends

* OREGON is 5-1 ATS as a bowl game underdog since ’99.

* Underdogs have dominated OREGON bowl games, 7-2 SU & 8-1 ATS in L9.

* Four of L6 OREGON bowl games have been decided by 21 points or more.

Recent OKLAHOMA ST Bowl Trends

* OKLAHOMA ST is 5-3 SU & 4-2-2 ATS in its L8 bowl games.

* As a bowl game favorite, OKLAHOMA ST is 3-1-1 ATS in its L5 chances.

* OKLAHOMA ST is 12-6 in bowl games, at 67%, the best winning % in the Big 12.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 40, Oregon 37

Armed Forces Bowl

December 31st

Air Force vs. Houston

This bowl contest is a marvelous matchup in contrast in styles. Air Force uses the option ground game to rack up 268.9 yards per game and Houston prefers spread attack with the pass in totaling 413.5 YPG. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Falcons, being one of the youngest teams in the country. They exceeded expectations with 8-4 and 7-4 ATS record and are 13-4 ATS in road games with two or more weeks off. Houston’s defense cost them C-USA title shot and they are only 4-13

ATS after allowing 50 or more points. Air Force may be just 8-9-1 in bowls; nevertheless a 10-5 ATS record makes them attractive potential play. Houston is 6-6 ATS in a dozen tries in the postseason.

Recent AIR FORCE Bowl Trends

* Air Force is 3-1 ATS in its L4 bowl games

* Three of L4 Air Force bowl games have gone OVER the total.

* Air Force defense has yielded 36.2 PPG in L6 bowl games.

Recent HOUSTON Bowl Trends

* HOUSTON hasn’t won a bowl game since ’80, going 0-8 SU & 2-6 ATS.

* HOUSTON’s defense has allowed 37.4 PPG in its L8 bowl games.

* The favorite is 8-1 SU & 6-3 ATS in HOUSTON’s prior 9 bowl games.

Prediction: Houston 33, Air Force 27

Sun Bowl

December 31st

Pittsburgh vs. Oregon State

The Sun Bowl was able to secure two Top 25 teams and has one of the better non-BCS matchups. If freshman Jacquizz Rodgers is healthy for Oregon State, this will set up a hookup between two of the nation’s most exciting running backs. Pittsburgh’s LeSean McCoy is sensational and totaled 21 TD’s. Both squads overcame slow starts to finish strong. The Panthers closed 4-1 SU and ATS, but were sloppy with the ball and are 3-16 ATS after consecutive games committing 3 or more turnovers. The Beavers were a busy 8-2 ATS after losing first two, and are 8-0 ATS after covering the spread in 2 of last 3 games. Oregon State is on 4-0 and 3-1 in recent bowls, Pitt plays in one for first time since 2002.

Recent PITTSBURGH Bowl Trends

* PITTSBURGH last met Oregon State in ’02 Insight Bowl, winning 38-13.

* The L2 PITTSBURGH bowl games have gone UNDER the total by 20.0 PPG.

* PITTSBURGH is 3-2 SU & ATS in L5 bowl games vs. fellow BCS leagues.

Recent OREGON ST Bowl Trends

* OREGON ST boasts a 4-game SU bowl game winning streak, all as favorite.

* The OVER is 4-1 in OREGON ST’s L5 totaled bowl games.

* OREGON ST continues a trend of never having been a bowl game underdog.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Oregon State 28

Music City Bowl

December 31st

Boston College vs. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt waited 26 years to play first bowl game and they don’t even get to leave Nashville playing in Music City bowl. The Commodores come in among the coldest bowl teams, losing six of last seven encounters. The offense caused this to happen, finishing 117th in total yards. Vandy is 22-7 ATS away from home after playing their last game on the road. Boston College suffered a second straight ACC title game defeat and motivation will come into question. With two defensive teams, this conflict could go Under. B.C. 22-9 UNDER on the road after ATS loss and Vanderbilt is 17-6 UNDER in all games over the last 2 seasons. The Eagles had reeled off nine bowl covers in a row before losing last two.

Recent BOSTON COLLEGE Bowl Trends

* Boston College has won 8 straight bowl games SU, going 6-2 ATS.

* On totals, the OVER is on a 4-2 run in Boston College bowl games.

* Boston College is 4-2 ATS in L6 as bowl game favorite, but 0-2 ATS in L2.

Recent VANDERBILT Bowl Trends

* VANDERBILT is playing in its first postseason game since ’82.

* VANDERBILT has not won a bowl game outright in 53 years.

* VANDERBILT lost its only lined bowl game as a 9-point favorite, both SU & ATS

Prediction: Boston College 24, Vanderbilt 17

Insight Bowl

December 31st

Minnesota vs. Kansas

Though Minnesota finished with four straight losses, this bowl experience should be cherished after 1-10 2007 campaign. The Golden Gophers have real deficiencies in the offensive line and are 3-12 ATS after gaining 125 or less rushing yards in four straight games. Minnesota was 81st in points scored and figures to have to do better against potent Kansas offense. Possibly the defense can get after talented Kansas QB Todd Reesing, who was sacked frequently (92nd overall) in 2008. The Jayhawks schedule was tougher and the talent not quite as good, however the upset of rival Missouri had to be satisfying. Kansas is 17-6 ATS in all lined games over the last two years and 12-3 ATS as chalk.

Recent MINNESOTA Bowl Trends

* The underdog is 5-4 SU & 7-2 ATS in MINNESOTA’s L9 bowl games.

* The L4 MINNESOTA bowl games have been decided by four points or less.

* MINNESOTA is 3-1 ATS in its L4 bowl games as an underdog.

Recent KANSAS Bowl Trends

* KANSAS has never played a bowl game vs. a Big Ten conference team.

* KANSAS is 4-1 SU & ATS in its L5 bowl games.

* On totals, the OVER is 3-1 in the L4 bowl games.

Prediction: Kansas 38, Minnesota 20

Chik-Fil-A Bowl

December 31st

LSU vs. Georgia Tech

Nobody would have expected the final records of these two clubs, heading into this bowl matchup. The thought of LSU allowing 30 or more points in half their games in ridiculous, yet it occurred. The Tigers were the first consensus national champion since Ohio State in 1943 to follow their national title with a losing conference record and are 2-10 ATS when playing against a team with a winning record. The wisdom in hiring Paul Johnson to run option offense with the speed of ACC players was questioned, yet Georgia Tech led the league in total offense. The Yellow Jackets were 8-2 ATS this season and are 7-0 ATS off a close road win by 3 points or less. LSU is 4-1 SU and ATS in last 5 bowls.

Recent LSU Bowl Trends

* LSU is on a nice run of 9-2 SU & 8-3 ATS in bowl games.

* OVER the total is 5-2 in LSU’s L7 bowl games.

* As a bowl game underdog, LSU is 3-1 SU & ATS in its L4 chances.

Recent GEORGIA TECH Bowl Trends

* GEORGIA TECH has gone OVER the total in six straight bowl games.

* The underdog is 5-3 SU & 6-2 ATS in GEORGIA TECH’s L8 bowl games.

* GEORGIA TECH is 2-4 SU & ATS in its L6 bowl games when favored.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, LSU 24

Outback Bowl

January 1st

Iowa vs. South Carolina

More than one eyebrow was raised when this contest was announced to start the New Year’s Day bowl festivities. This makes this a more compelling meeting for each, looking to erase doubts. Iowa started 3-3, with three defeats by 9 points. The Hawkeyes put it together, culminating in an upset of Penn State. After 55-0 drubbing of Minnesota, Iowa is 17-5 ATS after a game committing no turnovers. The vaunted South Carolina defense caved in for 87 points in last two losses, with zero help from offense. With Iowa solid defensively, surprisingly the Gamecocks are 5-1 ATS vs teams who give up 14 or less PPG. The Hawkeyes are meager 2-6 ATS as bowl favorite, with USC having won SU & ATS in its last three bowl chances as dogs.

Recent IOWA Bowl Trends

* Underdog has dominated IOWA bowl games, 7-2 SU & 8-1 ATS in L9.

* IOWA is 2-1 SU & ATS in bowl games vs. SEC since ’04.

* IOWA is 0-2 SU & ATS in L2 chances as a bowl game favorite

Recent SOUTH CAROLINA Bowl Trends

* S CAROLINA is on a 4-1 SU & ATS stretch in bowl games.

* As a bowl game underdog, S CAROLINA is 3-0 SU & ATS since ’95.

* OVER’s have been the result on totals in four of L5 S CAROLINA bowl games.

Prediction: Iowa 24, South Carolina 20

Gator Bowl

January 1st

Clemson vs. Nebraska

Clemson University rewarded Dabo Swinney with head coaching position, for making the best of difficult situation and guiding the Tigers to 3 wins to close the season. Clemson finally lived up to preseason hype, with defense that was ranked 15th overall. They will be called on again against high-powered Nebraska offense that scores 36.2 PPG. The Tigers are 0-6 ATS allowing 28 or more points. The Cornhuskers made strides to return to the past with 8 wins this season. Nebraska is a ball hog on offense, holding it for over 33 minutes a game. The Huskers out-played Colorado in final home game, yet is 0-7 ATS after out-gaining foe by 125 or more total yards. Oddly, Nebraska is 15-15 ATS in bowls.

Recent CLEMSON Bowl Trends

* CLEMSON is on a 4-8 SU & 3-8-1 ATS slide in bowl games.

* CLEMSON is 1-6 ATS in its L7 as a bowl game favorite.

* The UNDER has been the winning total in 10 of L12 CLEMSON bowl games.

Recent NEBRASKA Bowl Trends

* NEBRASKA is 4-0 ATS in its L4 bowl games played in state of Florida.

* Favorites hold the edge in NEBRASKA bowl games, 11-3 SU & 10-4 ATS in L14.

* Four of L5 NEBRASKA bowl games have gone UNDER the total.

Prediction: Nebraska 37, Clemson 23

Capital One Bowl

January 1st

Georgia vs. Michigan State

Michigan State is playing in a New Year’s Day bowl for the first time in nine seasons as they believe they are on the right track to make this annual event. The Spartans were waxed 49-18 by Penn State in their finale, but that’s nothing new and coach Dantonio teams are 9-1 ATS after a loss by 17 or more points. Possibly Georgia could have lived up to the preseason hype of number one if they could have fielded the team they thought they had in July, but injuries took care of any dreams. Coach

Richt teams traditionally have been good away from home, 15-6 ATS playing against a team with 75% or higher win percentage. The Bulldogs are good 15-11 ATS in bowls, with Spartans 5-4 ATS as underdogs.

Recent MICHIGAN ST Bowl Trends

* MICHIGAN ST is 3-1 ATS in its L4 bowl games, all as underdog.

* MICHIGAN ST has allowed 34.9 PPG in its L7 bowl games.

* In its L6 bowl games vs. BCS-conference teams, MICHIGAN ST is 1-5 SU & 2-4 ATS.

Recent GEORGIA Bowl Trends

* GEORGIA is 5-0 SU & 4-1 ATS in its L5 bowl games vs. the Big Ten.

* OVER the total is 4-1 in GEORGIA’s L5 bowl games.

* GEORGIA is 7-1 SU & 6-2 ATS in its L8 non-BCS bowl games.

Prediction: Georgia 39, Michigan State 27

Tags:2008 - 2009 College Bowl Picks - Part 3

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