Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to Fix the Pro Bowl

by Justin Rasile

The NFL Pro Bowl is an event in which the world’s greatest football (the real football) players meet up and play an “unforgettable” game. The truth is that this is the most forgettable game of the year.  There is a lack of effort from the players since nobody wants to play because of the possibility of getting hurt in a meaningless game, and coaches don’t want to waste their time trying to get a player to compete for the aforementioned reasons.  While so many people truly believe that the Pro Bowl should be cancelled, I have come up with an alternative that many may actually like.  The players should play a … FLAG FOOTBALL GAME.  What an idea.  But hear me out.  What do fans like to see? Offense. And in a game filled with incredibly gifted skill players, let them be loose and have fun.  Let the coaches and players create some ingenious and ridiculous plays that make the fans' jaws drop and crave more. Quadruple reverses, double screen laterals, and fumblerooskies.  This way we can let the offensive and defensive linemen rest and avoid catastrophic injury.  We all remember when LeBron James and Kevin Durant played a charity football game and how big of a hit it was. The players truly enjoyed it and people watched it, as noted by the hundreds of thousands of views.  Make this game a charity game where the NFL will pay $5,000 for every point scored in the game.  This will give the players more incentive to give a little elbow to the league while doing a good deed.  What about the money for the players? Currently, the players for the winning team of the Pro Bowl get $50,000 and the losers get $25,000.  I suggest changing that payout to $50,001 to the winning team and $49,999 to the losing team.  It will give the players some motivation to not be the losers because they don’t want other players hanging those two bucks over their heads for the whole next season.  Just my two cents on an irrelevant topic, but at least we aren’t talking about #deflategate.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Last Top Ten

1) Ohio State Buckeyes (14-1)
Post Season: Beat No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl 42-35; 
Beat No. 2 Oregon Ducks 42-20 in National Championship Game

2) TCU Horned Frogs (12-1)
Post Season: Beat No. 9 Ole Miss Runnin' Rebels 42-3 in the Peach Bowl

3) Oregon Ducks (13-2)
Post Season: Beat No. 3 Florida State Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl
Lost to No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes 20-42 in National Championship Game

4) Alabama Crimson Tide (12-2)
Post Season: Lost to No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes 35-42 in the Sugar Bowl

5) Michigan State Spartans (11-2)
Post Season: Beat No. 5 Baylor Bears 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl

6) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-3)
Post Season: Beat No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs 49-34 in the Orange Bowl

7) Florida State Seminoles (13-1)
Post Season: Lost to No. 2 Oregon Ducks 20-59 in the Rose Bowl

8) Wisconsin Badgers (11-3)
Post Season: Beat No. 19 Auburn Tigers 34-31 in the Outback Bowl

9) Georgia Bulldogs (10-3)
Post Season: Beat No. 21 Louisville Cardinals 37-14 in the Belk Bowl

10) UCLA Bruins (10-3)
Post Season: Beat No. 14 Kansas State Wildcats 40-35 in the Alamo Bowl

Biggest Surprise: Ohio State winning it all
I'm not trying to sound like a homer here, but in all honesty, did anyone who isn't an insane OSU fan really think they were going to win the championship this season? Even before the injury to Braxton Miller, I thought that the Buckeyes had a good shot of making the playoffs but still lagged a bit behind other teams like Florida State and Alabama. Clearly, I underestimated just how much of a genius Urban Meyer is. Like most people who were alive for the Kennedy assassination, I remember exactly where I was when I found out Braxton was done for the season. I remember rationalizing with myself that they could still win nine or ten games and that would be a successful season. My optimism waned after the Virginia Tech loss, but the coaching staff really came together and improved every facet of the team starting up front with the offensive line. A unit that was abused by the Hokies became the strength of the offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback JT Barrett had all the time in the world to throw while running back Ezekiel Elliot was running through lanes that an 18 wheeler could fit through. In his first season, JT Barrett thrived in Urban's system by throwing for 34 touchdowns and rushing for another 11 to set the B1G record for touchdowns in a season. After his injury against Michigan, the offense transitioned seamlessly to Cardale Jones who won of the biggest games of Urban's tenure at OSU. Considering this team was starting around a dozen underclassmen, no one thought that this team would be ready for the level of success that they achieved this season. With no underclassmen declaring for the draft, the Buckeyes could be utterly dominant in 2015.

Biggest Disappointment: Oklahoma Sooners
There were a few teams that I thought were worthy of being here, but it ultimately came down to Oklahoma or Auburn. I was leaning towards Auburn because I thought that they could beat out Alabama for a spot in the playoff, but looking back at the preseason rankings changed my mind. Oklahoma was ranked fourth in the country and actually had garnered two first place votes. Expectations for the Sooners were high after they dismantled Alabama in the previous year's Sugar Bowl. People thought that they were almost a lock for the playoffs. Things were looking like they were going according to plan through the first four games before they suffered their first loss at TCU. After that, this team was never able to put together a string of convincing games and lost four more throughout the rest of the season, including a crushing loss to Clemson in the Citrus Bowl. They also lost consecutive home games to both Kansas State and Baylor in horrific fashion. Kansas State won when Oklahoma's kicker missed an extra point that Kansas State capitalized on, one of the worst possible ways to lose a game. Baylor, on the other hand, came into Norman and scored 38 unanswered points to win 48-14. They were equally embarrassed by Clemson, losing 40-6 and gaining a mere 275 yards to cap off a pretty unspectacular season. This team returns a lot of talent in 2015, but they won't win many more games unless they see the improvement out of Trevor Knight they expected to see this year. Knight only threw for 2300 yards and 14 touchdowns against 12 picks and had games where he looked like he had never played before. They will probably rely on Samaje Perine heavily next season, but this team can be in contention next season if Knight makes the necessary improvements in his third year.

Most Surprising Top 10 Finish: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech was an afterthought in the ACC this year, but they had their best season in five years  as they made it to the conference championship game and won the Orange Bowl against Mississippi State. Two back to back losses to Duke and UNC in the middle of their season derailed a playoff bid, but the way they closed out their season was incredible. They dominated Clemson, lost by two points to a Florida State team riding a 28 game win streak, and beat a team that was ranked first for a few weeks this season. Not only that, they beat their instate rival in overtime in an incredibly unlikely way for the first time in years. No one expected this team to get double digit wins this season, and they have set themselves up nicely for next season.

Team to Look Out For: TCU Horned Frogs
TCU is going to be ranked in the top three to start next season based on how they ended their season and the fact that they bring back a lot of young talent. The most important will be quarterback Trevone Boykin, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting this year and could be set up nicely for a huge year next season. TCU definitely had a case for the playoffs this year, but as of now it definitely looks like the committee made the right selection. They were way more deserving than Baylor was at least. They likely won't have a lot of competition in the Big 12 next year either. Baylor has to replace their leading receiver and break in a new quarterback while Oklahoma is a bit of a mystery and Texas is still a few years away. They open the season at Minnesota, but that will be before it starts snowing by the foot in Minneapolis. TCU should be able to outgun the Gophers in that game and won't face much of a challenge until late November in Norman. However, with the possibility of there being another split championship, TCU can't afford too many slip ups in conference play.

Best Player this Season: Wisconsin Running Back Melvin Gordon
My choice for this accolade came down to Gordon and Amari Cooper, but I decided to go with the running back for a few reasons. First of all, I think that Gordon was more deserving of the Heisman than Mariota was (I'll have an article on that later). Gordon was the face of the Badgers this year and is essentially the main reason why Wisconsin finished with double digit wins. He started the year off strong with 140 yards on 16 carries against LSU, but had to sit out the second half of the game with a hip injury. Once he took a seat on the bench, Wisconsin could not generate any sort of offense and eventually lost as LSU completed the comeback. He only got better as the season progressed and amassed a jaw-dropping 2587 yards and 29 touchdowns while maintaining a yards per carry average of 7.5. In fourteen games, he rushed for more than two hundred yards six times and had a legendary performance against Nebraska. He broke Ladainian Tomlinson's record for yards in a game by netting 408 yards on 25 carries. It was like a kid playing Madden set on rookie mode in that game. He was truly a man among boys, but did not get to relish in the feat for too long as his record was broken the next week by Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. Perine took more carries to do it and also played deep into the fourth quarter while Gordon was done after the third quarter. Outside of the Western Illinois game when he was still nursing an injury, the only time that he was held under one hundred yards was against Ohio State. When it became evident that the Buckeye defense was too athletic for Wisconsin's front to open lanes, the game was over. Gordon's ability to take over games is the reason Wisconsin made it as far as they did, and his name will go down in the record books behind only Barry Sanders.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Recap of the National Championship Game

All hail the king of college football. I know how good of a coach Nick Saban is and how he has won more titles than Urban has, but I honestly don't think that even he could have pulled off what Urban did this year with the quarterback situation. It is completely unprecedented for a team to go through three quarterbacks in a season and be as successful as Ohio State was this year. Despite an early season hiccup against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes were one of the most dominant teams in the country and put it fully on display during these last three games against Wisconsin, Alabama, and now Oregon. Ohio State beat those three teams by an average score of 48-17 and really, none of them ever felt close expect the very beginning and end of the Sugar Bowl. There are two things that I've noticed after this most frequent victory to cap the season. Urban Meyer has faced the reigning Heisman winner in each title game he has coached. He beat Troy Smith and Ohio State in 2006, Sam Bradford at Oklahoma in 2008, and now Mariota. His ability to game plan for any situation is totally unparalleled. The second is that he faced all three of the Heisman candidates in successive games and been able to contain all of them to relatively poor performances from the season norm. Melvin Gordon only gained 76 yards, Amari Cooper caught nine passes for 71 yards, albeit with two touchdown catches, and Mariota threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns, but didn't generate the big plays that Oregon needed. But it was much more than just Mariota that caused Oregon to stall in this game. Here's how the keys to the game played out for each team.

Ohio State Buckeyes

1) The offensive line
This unit deserves most of the praise for how the offense played in this game. Ezekiel Elliott had a big game and made a lot of huge plays, but for the most part he had big holes to run through all night. Oregon's defensive line and linebackers had no chance against Ohio State's offensive line which allowed Elliott to run for 246, a championship game record, and four touchdowns and was essentially the reason why the Buckeyes won. Elliott basically wasn't touched until he was already five yards up field. I don't have an exact stat to confirm this, but I don't think that any of his carries went for negative yards. The offensive line gave him a huge hole when Oregon had pinned Ohio State on their one yard line midway through the second quarter. In addition to running lanes, they kept Cardale protected for most of the night. He was hit on a few plays but was never given a clean shot as the tackles held up against two very good defensive ends. Cardale is big enough that he managed to shake off a lot of would be sacks, but they gave him a ton of time to go through his progressions and find the most open man. Four starters return to the front next season, so you can expect to see this kind of production contain for a long time.

2) Receivers not named Devin Smith
Devin Smith had a relatively quiet game, but his one catch for 45 yards put Ohio State in a position to take the lead for good late in the first quarter. But what was more impressive was how so many other guys stepped up to make big plays, and come back more resilient after making mistakes. Corey Smith fumbled the ball in Oregon's territory that completely killed a promising drive while Jalin Marshall bobbled the ball directly into a linebackers hands again in Oregon territory. However, Marshall redeemed himself with five catches for 52 yards, beating his man routinely in the mid range routes. Smith had two catches for 76 yards, while Michael Thomas chipped in four catches for 53 yards. The receiving core really made Cardale's life a lot easier by getting open and giving him a huge window to throw into. He connected on 16 of his 23 passes and really moved the ball well down field outside of his two fumbles. And finally, after all of my begging, there was a tight end sighting. Nick Vannett had only two catches, but one was for a one yard touchdown that gave the permanent lead. You really couldn't have asked for a much better game out of this core despite the two mistakes that led to turnovers. They will lose some talent next year at this position, but there are plenty of guys in the wings. 

3) The conditioning of the defense
As good as the offensive line and Elliott played in this game, I still think that the defense is the biggest reason that Ohio State won this game. They kept a team that had been averaging 45 points a game to only 20 points, and in all honesty they were lucky to get those points. Every level of this defense played lights out, but I think the most impressive unit was the defensive line that harassed Mariota, never showing any signs of slowing down. He didn't always have time to throw before he was flushed out of the pocket and had to make a play on the run. They also did a great job of closing down running lanes and absolutely stuffing Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, who gained a mere 3.8 yards per carry. The linebackers, again led by redshirt freshman Darron Lee, had perfect gap assignment on the night, not allowing a run longer than 11 yards and keeping a dangerous dual threat quarterback to only 39 yards on ten carries. Ohio State got punched in the mouth early as Oregon went down field in less than three minutes, most plays being rushes, to take an early seven point lead. They responded by keeping Oregon out of the endzone twice on fourth down. They were put in compromising positions often as the offense turned it over four times, twice being in Ohio State's territory. The secondary only allowed one big play on the night, but otherwise was very impressive at containing big plays. Mariota completed 24 of his 37 passes, but just couldn't connect on a few big plays because of coverage. Redshirt freshman Eli Apple made one of the best plays by forcing a tight end out of bounds to make Oregon settle for a field goal. The defense is going to go through a few changes at key positions next year, but there is so much talent they really shouldn't skip a beat.

Oregon Ducks

1) The receivers
You can't blame Mariota for the drops. On two consecutive drives in the first quarter, drops on third down really slowed down whatever momentum they had built up. Dwayne Stanford dropped a thirty yard pass that he might have been able to take for a touchdown while Keanon Lowe dropped another sure fired first down. Both times, they just flat out dropped it. Byron Marshall was really the only reliable target for Mariota and even he was held in check for most of the night outside of one play. It was pretty obvious that they really missed the few guys that they were missing due to injury or suspension. Darren Carrington had caught 14 passes in the previous two games and had emerged as a reliable deep threat that can utilize both speed and his height. They were able to make some plays, but Mariota had a lot of bad angles to throw from since he was forced to move a lot on the night. This unit was one of the most disappointing for Oregon all night. The drops really cost them a chance to put up some points before Ohio State created an insurmountable lead. 

2) The front seven
As can be ascertained from the offensive line write up from above, the defensive line and linebackers really had a rough night. They couldn't pressure Cardale save for a few plays and got dominated in the run game. Urban Meyer could have given Elliott or Cardale the ball on every play to run and would've dominated this game even more. As has been the case a lot for Oregon against better teams, they looked soft on defense.

3) Head Coach Mark Helfrich
I heard on the radio the other day that Mark Helfrich doesn't believe in half time adjustments because he doesn't want to let the other team dictate his team. That logic got his team's ass kicked as he simply could not stop the two run plays that Urban had drawn up for the night. His defense had no answer for an offensive line that was more physical than they had seen, and the offense had superior athletes and execution. Urban really didn't do anything too crazy with trick plays or misdirections. He just straight up ran it at them and mixed in some easy throws for Cardale that generated big plays. Helfrich really didn't either and really tried to have Mariota dictate the game, but with Ohio State's defensive front seven playing so well against the run, Oregon lost a huge part of their offense. Ohio State was able to commit only four or five defensive backs most of the plays which made windows a lot smaller for Mariota's passes. After turning four Florida State turnovers into touchdowns, the Ducks were able to generate only 10 points off of Ohio State's four turnovers. Helfrich seems like a good coach and should be able to keep Oregon at a relatively high level of success, but there is no denying that he was completely overmatched in this game. Better luck next year, Ducks.

Final: Ohio State Buckeyes 42-20

Monday, January 12, 2015

National Championship Preview

The inaugural championship game coming under the playoff format has finally arrived with a bittersweet taste to it. One one hand, this should be a fantastic game where each team will likely score at least five touchdowns and you can expect a combined final close to one hundred points. On the other hand, it marks the end of what has been one of the best seasons of college football in the past five or so years. These two teams are very similar in a lot of ways and have played each other eight times throughout their history. Ohio State has won all eight of those, but this Oregon team is easily the best that they have ever seen. The last game between these two was the 2010 Rose Bowl that Ohio State won, but since then Oregon has been to a title game while Ohio State has still been seeking their first appearance in seven years. Oregon has been paced by their Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, a dual threat who is expected to be selected with the first or second pick in the upcoming draft. Containing him will be a very difficult challenge, but the Buckeyes benefit a bit by the suspension of star freshman receiver Darren Carrington, who could not wait to smoke pot until after the biggest game of his life. Instead of the typical type of article I've done for games, I'm give the three keys for each team to capture the trophy.

Ohio State's Keys to Victory

1) The offensive line
It is a cliche to say that games are won and lost in the trenches, but it is completely true and is a huge reason why the Buckeyes were able to knock off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The offensive line gave Cardale a lot of time to go through his progressions and throw with a clean pocket while providing a lot of open running room for him and Ezekiel Elliott. Alabama had one of the best defensive lines in the country and they were completely dominated on the ground by a group of offensive lineman who looked like a total liability after the Virginia Tech game. There were a few times were Alabama was able to get to Cardale, but it was not as often as I had thought going into the game. They paved the way for Elliot to run for 230 yards, the first time Saban had given up 200 yards to a single runner during his tenure at Bama. The offensive line is going to have to have a similarly dominant game to keep the Buckeyes in it. Oregon has some good athletes along their defensive line, but they are not nearly as physical as Alabama is. They were able to dominate the Seminoles front, but Florida State had struggled all year in that department. Urban trusted Cardale to throw the ball 36 times against the Tide, and time in the pocket was a big reason for him to throw for over 200 yards and a touchdown. With possible first round pick Arik Armstead lurking on the edges, the offensive line that has played so well since the second game needs to continue that streak.

2) Receivers not named Devin Smith
By now most people are already aware of the exploits of Devin Smith. Smith has turned a mere 30 receptions in 799 yards and 11 touchdowns. The danger he poses as a vertical threat is well documented, but in this game secondary and tertiary options are going to have to have big games. Ohio State caught a bit of a break in this matchup with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu not playing due to a torn ACL a few weeks ago. Cornerback Troy Hill has stepped into his place, and while he has played admirably there is no doubt there has been a drop off in play. Hill is expected to cover Smith frequently tonight, so that is going to leave the door open for guys like Michael Thomas and Evan Spencer to make some big plays. Thomas is a guy who can turn a routine catch into a long touchdown with his acceleration. If he can get the ball in space, it is tough to take him down. He was huge against Alabama with seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown on a trick play. Spencer was a bit quieter, catching only one pass but he also throw a dime to Thomas on the aforementioned trick play. I'm really hoping to see a lot more out of the tight ends tonight. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are both very good blockers, but they have good athleticism in the passing game and can really expose the defense down the seam. Oregon has some athletic linebackers, but with how rarely those two tight ends are used in the passing game, they might expect them break off the line down field. They cannot get overly dependent on Smith and the deep ball tonight and must distribute the ball accordingly.

3) The Conditioning of the Defense
I don't remember the exact quote by Urban, but paraphrased he said that you can't combat Oregon's speed, you combat fatigue. We will see just how in shape this unit is after a physically grueling battle against Alabama last week. Every layer of the defense is going to have to play a stellar game tonight to have a chance against one of the top ranked scoring offenses in the country. It is all going to start with the defensive line. They absolutely have to get pressure on Mariota and not allow him to break contain. His accuracy can be a bit streaky at times, but he is lethal if he is able to get into a rhythm and that offense is snapping the ball every 15 seconds. Joey Bosa, Steve Miller, and Rashad Frazier all need to keep him and running back Royce Freeman from getting to the perimeter. If Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett are able to collapse the pocket from the middle, Mariota will have to go through his progressions much quicker or make the decision to run. Just as importantly, the linebackers need to play soundly and not get out of position. They did well last week in gap assignment, but did allow a few long runs by Yeldon and Henry that Freeman can turn into a touchdown. They did a much better job of containing Sims to 29 yards on 10 rushes, but Mariota is so much more athletic. The secondary caught a break with Carrington out for suspension along with Devon Allen and tight end Pharaoh Brown out with injuries, but they cannot overlook what these other receivers are capable of. They will need to be disciplined to not bite on play action. This is easily the most improved unit since last season, ranking in the top twenty against the pass while being one of the worst last season. All of them need to be able to keep up with the face-paced offense.

Oregon's Keys to Victory

1) The Receivers
All of them. Whoever is left. Three of their top five targets are out this game for the reasons mentioned above which is going to put a big strain on the rest of the corps. Byron Marshall is the leading receiver with 66 catches for 834 yards, but only five touchdowns. He is a converted running back and is still learning some of the nuances of playing receiver. His route running is a bit raw, but he is explosive and can turn a ten yard reception into thirty yards in the blink of an eye. He will likely see corner Doran Grant tonight, a rangy senior who can make a play on the ball as evidenced by his five picks this year. On the season, Ohio State has picked off opposing quarterbacks 24 times, an average of almost two a game. Safety Vonn Bell has been the catalyst with six on the year and is a true asset playing that center fielder role for the Buckeyes. After Marshall, the next leading receiver in this game for Oregon will be Dwayne Stanford who has caught 39 passes for 578 yards and six touchdowns. He will likely be asked to play the role of deep threat with Carrington out and is going to have to make some big plays. Oregon is going to have a tall order, but the good thing for them is that Mariota rarely locks on to one receiver and force feed him the ball. He is great at going through his reads and finding the open man. Yet as I mentioned, his accuracy isn't always as great as you would think and he can miss some wide open receivers. His guys are going to have to run crisp routes tonight or Ohio State is going to be in a great position to defend passes and even pick off Mariota.

2) The Front Seven
Cardale Jones is a pretty solid quarterback, but Urban is going to rely on Ezekiel Elliott a lot tonight to keep the offense humming. I've already outlined just how well Ohio State's offensive line and Elliott have been playing over the last two weeks, and I get the feeling that could continue in this game. Oregon allowed freshman star Dalvin Cook to have a big game on the ground last week as he ran for 103 yards on 15 carries before being benched for fumbling twice. The Ducks have given up over 150 yards on the ground this season but really haven't seen anyone as good as Elliott. The Ducks are also going to have to be aware of Cardale Jones, who can grind out tough yards and break tackles that a smaller quarterback wouldn't be able to. The defensive line needs to create pressure and shut down running lanes before Elliott or Cardale is able to hit them. Elliott has ripped off two runs longer than 80 yards in the last two games, so one player out of position for Oregon could mean the end. They will also have to have great eye discipline as Urban is sure to go into his bag of tricks and use a lot of misdirections. I'm not sure if they can stop the rush attack, but they need to try and keep Ohio State collectively under 200 yards.

3) Head Coach Mark Helfrich
Helfich has never been in a game of this magnitude before. The Rose Bowl is one thing, and it was an incredible performance, but this is a whole new league for a second year head coach. This isn't like the previous fifteen years where coaches have almost a full month to prepare of the title game. Helfrich has had just under two weeks to try and match wits against Urban and throw some wrinkles that the Buckeyes have never seen. It will be interesting to see how he responds to this tall order. Urban was a psychology major in college and by all accounts this gives him a huge advantage because he is able to keep his kids calm and loose while still maintaining a high level of focus. The same cannot be said for Helfrich, but there is no denying that he has picked up right where Chip Kelly left off and has this program among one of the nations's elite. I'm very curious to see how he handles a few things tonight. Does he have Mariota throw the ball 25 times or more with so many of their receivers out of the game? Does he split carries between Freeman and Thomas Tyner, or does he force feed one of them to try and get them going? How does he react on defense if Ohio State starts to pull away? It is a lot to ask of a coach making his first championship game appearance, but I truly do believe Helfrich is ready and won't let the moment get too big. He was the offensive coordinator under Kelly that took them to a title game against Auburn, so he should have at least an idea of what to expect. Still, it is hard to bet against Urban after he put up 42 on the vaunted Tide defense.

Prediction: 42-40, Oregon Ducks

That's right, I'm picking the Ducks in this one. I've picked against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game and in the Sugar Bowl, and I'm not going to stop now. Maybe it is superstition or maybe it is me not trying to get my hopes up too high for this game. Make no mistake, I think that if this game is played ten times the Buckeyes would split the series evenly. As shown by the score, I definitely believe this will be a high scoring shoot out. Both teams' offenses are simply too good to be kept out of the endzone, so this will likely come down which team makes the critical mistake. Mariota has thrown an other-worldly forty touchdowns to just three picks, but he had some difficulties against Florida State and has a well documented fumbling issue. However, Cardale is making just his third start of his career, each becoming exponentially more important than the previous. If he can eliminate the mistakes, Ohio State's chances of winning this improve drastically. And I know that Oregon has choked a lot in games like this recently, but this team just has a slightly different feel to it than the previous ones. Either way, this has all the makings of an instant classic. That being said, Go Bucks.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Predicting the Rest of the Playoffs

by Justin Rasile

We are almost there!  We are right around the corner from crowning a Super Bowl Championship. 

How will the playoffs play out?  This is my best guess (as I went away from picking chalk) so don’t castrate me if I’m wrong.

Possible upset- Dallas Cowboys over Green Bay Packers- Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a firm believer that the Packers are the second best team in the league (currently behind the Seattle Seahawks).  Although with the report coming out that Aaron Rodgers has a slight tear in his calf (to go along with his calf strain), I find this game to be a very tough hill to climb for the Pack.  Rodgers will have a difficult time rolling outside the pocket, extending plays with his legs and chucking the deep ball to Jordy Nelson.  If he gets sacked, who knows if he will be able to get up and continue playing.  I wouldn’t put it behind Rodgers and Mike McCarthy to devise an ingenious game plan to best suit what Rodgers can do but the freezing conditions that are expected at Lambeau will prove to be another hurdle that will hinder him.  The Cowboys on the other hand are fairly healthy and have the innate ability to run the ball on a Green Bay defense that has allowed more than a 100-yard rusher in 12 of the 16 games this season.  Dallas has been on a roll as of late and they present quite the matchup for Green Bay.

Biggest Upset- Baltimore Ravens over New England Patriots- The Patriots are playing at a very high level and are currently the best team in the AFC, but anything can happen in the NFL.  The Baltimore Ravens looked dominate in their win over Pittsburgh last weekend and have the formula to beat the Patriots in Foxborough.  They are running the ball extremely well, the defense is clicking as a unit, and Joe Flacco is playing at a surprisingly elite level.  Flacco has the most playoff victories since entering the league back in 2008.  Of his 10 playoff wins, 7 of them have come on the road (most in NFL history!!).  Perhaps the telling stat for Flacco and this weekend is that of his current 5 game playoff winning streak, Joe Cool has 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Pretty impressive and surprising stuff.  In the three matchups between Flacco and Tom Brady, the golden boy has completed only 56% of his passes with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  This alludes more to the Ravens running the ball and their vaunted defense being better than the Patriots D but still shocking nonetheless.  Brady has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns against the Purple and Black and I expect it to happen once again.

The “Confidence” Game- Denver Broncos over Indianapolis Colts- Looking at this game on paper all signs point to the Broncos beating the Colts.  BUT. Peyton Manning.  I have a hard time trusting him in crunch time when he is usually the go to guy but this postseason will be different for Manning.  He is being undervalued, and that can be a scary factor in the playoffs.  Plus, his running back has been phenomenal since taking over the starting job back in early November.  CJ Anderson has 1,057 total yards in the 8 games he has started.  As long as Peyton takes care of the ball and the defense doesn’t allow the big play from Andrew Luck to TY Hilton, Anderson should run this team to victory and possibly another run to the Super Bowl.   Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, if only he had a running game, more receivers than TY, an offensive line, and a defense, then I just may have taken the Colts in this game.  Until Luck starts getting more talent on his teams, he will be very limited as to how far he can take his team into January.  Although crazier things have happened and I have seen how Andrew Luck can will his team to victory.  I just don’t think it will be enough this year.

The Blowout Game- Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers- The Seahawks are on a mission to be the first back to back Super Bowl Champs in over ten years and they are in a position do it.  The offense is back to the ground and pound style of football that got to them to the big game last year and Marshawn Lynch has shown no signs of slowing down.  Russell Wilson plays his best games in the spotlight, as does the rest of the team with their record of 12-1 in primetime games under Carroll.  Wilson is averaging an ungodly 7.2 yards per rushing attempt and has helped lead Seattle to an average of 172 yards a game on the ground.  The “Seafence” is on a roll and is healthy at the right time of the season.  Cam Newton is still not healthy and that Seattle front hits hard and often.   If the Panthers have any shot of winning this game, Luke Kuechly and Jonathan Stewart have to be unstoppable.  Kuechly has to turn the ball over, which he has had an issue doing this year and Stewart needs to keep up what he has been doing since early December.

Dallas over Green Bay (31- 24)
Baltimore over New England (27-24)- last minute field goal by Justin Tucker
Denver over Indianapolis (34-20)
Seattle over Carolina (31-17)

Conference Championship Games
Seattle over Dallas (34-30)
Baltimore over Denver (27-24)

Super Bowl
Seattle over Baltimore (30-20)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

And then there were Two

Well I think that it is safe to say that the implementation of the playoffs has been a tremendous success. While you can argue that TCU or Baylor had a claim to the final playoff spot that Ohio State secured, there is no denying that the playoffs have made the postseason much more fair and competitive. Under the BCS system, Florida State would have played Alabama. As you are well aware, both of those teams will be watching the championship game from their couches. Ohio State and Oregon each won their games in impressive fashion and are on their way to Dallas for what could turn out to be an instant classic. Here's how they did it.

Rose Bowl
No. 2 Oregon Ducks beat No. 3 Florida State Seminoles 59-20

Oregon's 2015 National Championship Jerseys
This game was total domination on both sides for the Ducks who completely embarrassed the Seminoles and ended their 29 game win streak. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston figure to go in the top two picks of this year's draft, but their order is undetermined. If you were going off of just this game, Mariota would be the first overall pick. He completely annihilated Florida State's defense, especially in the secondary as he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns against only one pick. On he ground, he picked up another 62 yards and a touchdown on one carry. He was in command of the offense from the opening drive. They only managed 18 points by half time, but the second half was a completely different story as they scored five touchdowns unanswered in the third quarter and into the fourth. His receivers did a better job of finding space and Mariota was able to get into a rhythm and just picked apart the secondary. Freshman receiver Darren Carrington had the game of his life as he hauled in 7 passes for two touchdowns and 165 yards. He was practically uncoverable against a very athletic secondary that had some issues this year. Outside of him, tight end Evan Baylis was his most reliable target with six catches and 73 yards. The Ducks were equally dangerous on the ground as they ran for 301 yards and five touchdowns against a weak front seven. I figured that Royce Freeman would have the biggest game out of all the rushers, but this time it goes to Thomas Tyner. Tyner put in easily his best game of the season when given the touches in this game. He carried the ball 13 times for 124 times and two touchdowns. Florida State's front seven had been exposed numerous times this year, so it wasn't inconceivable for one of Oregon's backs to have a big night. Freeman only managed 44 yards on twelve carries, but still managed to reach the endzone twice. It took them a while to do it, but eventually Oregon's offensive line and tempo was able to wear down on the Seminoles front seven. If this team gets into their rhythm, it will be a tall order for Ohio State to stop.

Defensively, Oregon played a great game of bend but don't break. Florida State still managed to rack up 528 yards of offense, but that translated to only 20 points. For all the mistakes he made, Jameis Winston threw for 348 yards and a touchdown, but was also picked off. He had a really tough day as the offensive line that has had so many issues wasn't able to protect Winston on a fair amount of his dropbacks. The front seven also forced two turnovers that really put Oregon ahead in this game. Dalvin Cook fumbled twice in this game after two long runs that killed very promising drives. Karlos Williams played a bit better than I predicted, but wasn't able to find space consistently. You could tell the Ducks really missed Ifo at cornerback, but were able to prevent most of Jameis's shots down the field. His longest pass only went for 24 yards since he didn't have much time to throw nor a lot of room for his passes. Oregon is going to have a much more difficult time going up against an Ohio State offense that has averaged 45 points and 509 yards per game. Their knack for explosive plays could prove too much for a slightly depleted defense.

Sugar Bowl
No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes beat No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide 42-35

All hail King Cardale! All hail E-Z-E! It doesn't matter who is under center or who is running the ball for Ohio State because Urban Meyer can turn them into a star. Ohio State completely dominated Alabama's defense and roared back from a 21-6 deficit to score four unanswered touchdowns that gave them the lead for good. The star of this game was true sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who put up some monster numbers and set a couple of firsts against Alabama. His start line for the day reads twenty carries for 230 yards (11.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He is the first running back to go for over the century mark on Alabama this season and the first to rush for over two hundred yards against the Tide in over a decade. From the very first serious, he was able to rip off big chunks of yards as his early fifty yard run resulted in a field goal and gave the Buckeyes all the confidence they needed against a defense that had been exposed a bit against faster offense. Even when he wasn't hitting home runs, Elliot was able to pick up four or five yards on first down on most series that really made it easier for the rest of the offense to play efficiently and open up the playbook. But easily his biggest carry of the night came with only three and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Sweeping left, he found the tiniest of creases and was able to pull away from the secondary for an 85 yard touchdown that almost assuredly closed the door on the Tide. This made the game 42-28 and put a huge burden on Alabama's offense. King Cardale didn't have the best day statistically as he completed only 51% of their passes and threw a pick. However, he connected on 18 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, so most of his passes were moving the chains throughout the game. Some of his drives stalled and you could tell he was being a bit overly cautious during the first half, but eventually he was finding targets down field every other play. Devin Smith had another big game, turning two receptions into 83 yards and a touchdown that gave Ohio State the lead for good early in the third quarter. Michael Thomas had the biggest game out of all the receivers after he hauled in seven passes and 66 yards with a circus catch for a touchdown on a trick play. Thomas beat his man to the sideline and then kept his left foot in by less than an inch which closed the lead to one just before halftime. With the way the offense was hitting on all cylinders, you can expect this national championship to be a shoot out.

Ohio State's 2015 National Championship Jersey
The defense played a great game that is slightly misrepresented by the box score. They played a hell of a game and got put in some pretty tough situations early on. A fumble to Elliot and a pick thrown by Cardale put them in a tough spot to defend early in the game right after they had gotten off the field. Outside of those two gifts, Alabama only scored one more time in the half and was kept out of the endzone until the end of the third quarter. Every unit of the defense played well, but the most outstanding was the secondary which limited Blake Sims to just 237 yards through the air. He threw two touchdowns to a wide open Amari Cooper, but he also tossed three picks. All of those came in the second half and completely changed the momentum of the game. His first came when Alabama took over at Ohio State's 23 yard line, but was immediately picked by Vonn Bell while trying to throw to OJ Howard. His second was a real morale crusher as he didn't see defensive end Steve Miller drop back into coverage. Miller stepped right in front of Cooper and returned the pick 41 yards for a touchdown to make the game 34-21. Sims's last pick came on the hail mary at the end of regulation that sealed their fate. For the most part, the secondary was able to contain Cooper who caught nine passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He definitely made some plays, but was kept in check for a lot of the game. No other receiver had more than three receptions. Alabama was more successful on the ground, but they couldn't always rely on it to convert third downs. Yeldon wasn't at full health and Derrick Henry got too few touches once the Buckeyes got the lead. The linebackers played very sound defense and made some good plays in open space which they will have to do against Oregon. If the secondary or defensive line is able to generate even a single turnover in this game, it could mean the difference. The whole defense has been great at generating turnovers this whole season and I don't expect that to stop against the Ducks.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Preview of the National Semis

Hope everyone had a terrific Christmas or Hanukkah. While it is called the season of giving, these games are going to be all for the taking. These two upcoming games will be remembered forever as the very first in a new era of college football. They will be remembered as a symbol of change as college football breaks out of its archaic formula of using polls to determine two teams to play for a championship. And in all honesty, you could not ask for two better match ups than the ones the committee has selected for you to enjoy on New Years Day. On one hand, you have the last two Heisman trophy winners squaring off in Pasadena. Not only are they the last two Heisman winners, but they are projected to be the first selections in the 2015 draft, although the order in which they go is as uncertain as the outcome of this game. On the other hand, you the greatest coach going against arguably the second greatest coach in the country. Saban and Meyer have only played each other three times, but it feels like one hundred with the amount of respect and the reputation that proceeds each coach. It isn't the championship game, but New Years day is going to feel like the biggest day in all of football. So while you're nursing that champagne hangover, sit your ass on the couch with lots of snacks and enjoy this new era of college football.

The Sugar Bowl
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Played at the Superdome, New Orleans, at 8:30 PM

As a Buckeye fan and alum, I could not be more excited for this game. Make no mistake, I fully expect Alabama to beat us, but there is no denying how incredible it feels to be a part of a school that made it to the first ever college football playoffs. But with that said, I have the utmost faith in Urban Meyer to keep this game competitive and, under the right and fortunate circumstances, pull off the upset win. Ohio State received some mixed news in between the BIG Championship Game and now when it was announced that offensive coordinator Tom Hermann was taking the Houston job, but he is still going to coach this game. It is a shame, because when those two guys are together, it doesn't matter who the quarterback is. Cardale Jones had the game of his life against Wisconsin, but he is going to have a much bigger challenge against Alabama's defense. Alabama has a tough defense, but they are not impregnable as the Iron Bowl showed. Urban has beaten Saban before, and it is going to take a big night from Cardale Jones to make this game competitive. The key to beating Alabama is having a quarterback with good football IQ and be a true dual threat. Jones showed that he can make a lot of difficult throws and his strong arm is going to give him an advantage against Alabama's defensive backs. His top target is going to be Devon Smith, a 6'1 receiver who absolutely torched Wisconsin to the tune of four catches for three touchdowns, all on long passes of over thirty yards. Saban's defense is more vulnerable to the deep pass this year than they have been recently, and a few of those are going to have to connect to keep them in this game. Ohio State has some good secondary receivers, but none of them have really had very consistent play. I expect Smith to see a lot of double teams, so it is going to be up to Jalin Marshall, Jeff Heuerman, and Michael Thomas to do Cardale a favor and beat their man on the majority of plays. The unit that will be tested most is the offensive line which has the task of opening lanes and protecting Cardale from a relentless pass rush. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott is going to have to find space to run and rip off a couple of long runs to keep the defense on their heels. He has had some big games against staunch defenses, but this will easily be his biggest test of the year. I would also expect Urban to use true freshman Samuel Curtis at running to back as he should be fully healthy after the couple of weeks off. As long as Ohio State is able to keep Alabama from dominating one phase of the offense, Ohio State will definitely have a chance to put up some points on another tough defense. 

Alabama has had an offensive resurgence with Lane Kiffin calling the plays which has really taken them to a new level when they are in sync. By far, their most valuable asset is wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper is as important to his team as anyone else in the nation, and it really isn't even close. Kiffin calls his number on almost every passing play which has paid insane dividends. Cooper has posted a ridiculous line of 115 catches, 1656 receiving yards, and 14 of Blake Sims's 26 touchdown passes. Cooper can get open on almost any route and can make a lot of contested receptions, but he ca occasionally drop some routine passes. Still, he has burned pretty much every corner he has gone up against, but goes up against a defense which has the best deep pass defense in the country. Blake Sims has to play a cleaner game than he has recently. He has only seven picks on the year, but three came against Auburn which gave him a lot of trouble with their pressure. Ohio State has a terrific defensive line which is led by Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett. They will have to do a good job of containing Sims who has been able to make a surprising amount of plays with his feet this year. He isn't a burner, but he has a great feel for where his blockers are and where the pressure is coming from. Sims has some other receiving targets in DeAndrew White and tight end OJ Howard, but they will only get their number called a few times in this game. The Buckeyes did a great job of bottling up Heisman runner up Melvin Gordon, but Alabama's stable of backs is a different beast. TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined for 1827 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. It seemed that now matter how poorly one back would be playing, the other would be finding lanes all over. They are a great complement to one another and are both very dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. Ohio State's linebackers are going to have to play perfect gap assignment in order to limit the damage Yeldon and Henry can do. If they are able to keep Ohio State from stacking the box, they should find a good amount of success against a talented by young secondary.

Prediction: Alabama, 35-26

Rose Bowl
No. 2 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 3 Florida State Seminoles
Played at Rose Bowl, Pasadena, at 5:00 PM

I think that this is going to be the ultimate test for Marcus Mariota. He has shredded every defense that he has gone up against and the one loss on their season wasn't primarily his fault. He has played almost flawlessly this season, and yet he still has to win a big game in order to really validate the hype. Florida State's defense has been down by a wide margin compared to last year, but they still have a tremendous amount of athletes at every level of the defense that can neutralize an up tempo offense. The offense starts and ends with Mariota, although his number of carries this year wasn't particularly high. The Seminoles pass rush is much better than their run defense, so Mariota will have to get rid of the ball or start to run with it in a shorter amount of time than he is used to. Their linebackers are young and inexperienced, so if Mariota can get passed the first wave of defenders he can rip of some big yards in this game. His receiving corps isn't at full strength without their tight end Pharaoh Brown, but Mariota does a great job of distributing the ball to everyone at his disposal. Four players had more than 500 receiving yards and five players had at least five touchdowns. Mariota's receivers are going to have to beat a very athletic secondary, but Mariota himself is going to have to make a lot of very difficult passes. He is used to throwing into a lot of wide open windows, but he hasn't faced a secondary that can completely shut down a quarterback when they are clicking. One of his receivers is going to have to really step up and consistently gain separation to make Mariota's job a bit easier. Mariota is great at running the ball on keepers, but he doesn't keep it as often as he did last year. I expect him to take off a bit more this game as Florida State has the athletes to get pressure on him. You'll see him move around in the pocket a lot more, but he won't be afraid to take off if he has a good lane. But as I mentioned, with how weak the Seminoles run defense is Oregon should have a very balanced attack on offense. Royce Freeman is a tremendous running back for being only a freshman and has performed very well in some of Oregon's toughest games. Head coach Mark Helfrich cannot be afraid to get him involved and keep feeding him even if he isn't finding much room to run. He is a threat to score on any possession and has to get a lot of touches to keep the Noles honest on defense.

On the other side, Florida State carries the longest win streak in the country into their national semifinal game and is looking to add another win. Their offense will flow through their quarterback, the infamous Jameis Winston. Winston has not been nearly as effective this season as he was last year, but he has still had some incredibly gutsy performances to pull his team to victory. One of the biggest problems is their line which has not afforded him the protection that he had last year. This has caused him to have more picks, but he just has this knack for carrying the team and getting the win. His line is going to have to have a better game today as Oregon has a tremendous pass rusher in Arik Armstead. However, he should find a lot of success through the air as Oregon's star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu went down for the season with a torn ACL and will obviously not have him for this game. None of the other corners are that proven, so Winston should be able to have some solid windows to make his throws. With Ifo out, receiver Rashad Greene should have a big day. Greene lines up all over the field and is easily their best threat on offense. He is adept at running any route, and I think that this will allow him to post over 100 yards today. The Seminoles have some other young receivers, but none of them are very proven and have been incredibly inconsistent. After tight end Nick O'Leary, no other receiver has more than 500 yards or four touchdowns. Either Travis Rudolph or Jesus Wilson is going to need to become a reliably secondary target for Winston today. But as was the case with Oregon, I think that Florida State's success really will hinge on their premier freshman running back Dalvin Cook. Jimbo Fisher really tried to get make Karlos Williams the primary running back this year, but he just isn't as explosive as Dalvin is. Cook has been averaging close to six yards a carry and has eight rushing touchdowns on the season. If Winston is able to connect on some passes deep, Cook should find a lot of space to run and really keep Oregon from getting into a rhythm defensively. If Winston struggles, it could equal a long day for Cook as well. 

Prediction: Florida State, 31-30