Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wisconsin Badgers: College football's most overlooked team?

Who is the most overlooked team in college football today?

For now, it could be the Wisconsin Badgers.

Sure, the Badgers went their typical 3-0 in non-conference games by beating teams they were supposed to.

But Wisconsin’s impressive 38-30 win over Michigan State in last week's Big Ten opener (the Badgers led by 21 points late in the game) showed that they might be a team to reckon with in 2009.

Of course, the Badgers will find out a lot about themselves in the next two weeks when they play their first road games of the season at Minnesota and The Ohio State. Yet with the way this young team is playing right now, don’t be surprised if Wisconsin beats Minnesota and gives Ohio State all that it can handle.

What’s most noteworthy about the Badgers is that they are winning with a very young team.

Junior QB Scott Tolzien has completed two-thirds of his 99 passes for eight TDs with just two interceptions. Sophomore running back John Clay is averaging 99.5 yards per game and has four TDs.

Sophomore wide receiver Nick Toon (18 catches-236 yards-2 TDs) is the son of former NFL standout Al Toon. Tight end Garrett Graham, one of the few senior starters on the team, has 16 catches including four TDs.

And if you watched the Badgers on ESPN last week, you noticed No. 53 was all over the field on defense. He’s linebacker Mike Taylor, a freshman.

Wisconsin received enough votes (20) to be 32nd in this week’s Associated Press poll, one spot ahead of Notre Dame.

The Badgers may not have made a name for themselves yet, but they could very well do so in the next two weeks.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chargers should prevail again in AFC West

Here we go again.

It looks like the Denver Broncos might challenge the San Diego Chargers for the AFC West title again ... but it isn’t going to happen.

Just like last year; when the Broncos lost three straight and the Chargers won four in a row at the end; Denver is going to fade.

Believe it or not, the Chargers have an easier road by playing a "first place" schedule than Denver does by playing a "second place" schedule.

The teams have 14 games in common. The two exceptions are that the Chargers play Miami and Tennessee, both division champs last year but winless this season. In turn, Denver gets to play Indianapolis (3-0) and New England (2-1).

The Chargers are going to get better when LaDainian Tomlinson returns. They are the worst running team in the NFL now, yet LT will make them much better after he comes back likely for the Denver game at home on Monday night, Oct. 19.

So much for those who thought the team could get along without him.

With LT on the sidelines, the team’s best "rusher" might be Philip Rivers. The slow QB is the only Charger to score a rushing touchdown the past two weeks.

With LT eventually on the way back ... and Denver having a tougher schedule ... the Chargers should prevail again in the AFC West.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Detroit Lions will upset Washington Redskins!

You heard it here first. The Detroit Lions will win for the first time in two years when they beat the sad-sack Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Other upsets?

The Tennessee Titans can’t afford to start 0-3, so they will beat the undefeated New York Jets. Look for Kerry Collins to have a better day than Jets’ rookie QB Mark Sanchez.

The Cincinnati Bengals will be pumped up at home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. Look for Carson Palmer and mates to pull this one off.

As for the banged-up San Diego Chargers, they should play like a wounded animal at home vs. the Miami Dolphins.

The Chargers will be without three of their mainstays of the past several seasons: running back LaDainian Tomlinson, center Nick Hardwick and defensive lineman Jamal Williams.

This is a game where the unexpected will step up. Look for the Chargers to throw a lot, with WRs Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee coming through big time.

San Diego is favored … and it should win by a field goal. The Dolphins lost precious preparation time by playing Monday night, then having to travel cross-country on Saturday.

San Diego 23, Miami 20

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jamal Williams' loss could bring Chargers down

The loss of Jamal Williams to a triceps injury could be devastating to the San Diego Chargers in 2009. The demotion of Chris Chambers could be a positive if it happened.

More than anyone (including Shawne Merriman when he was healthy), Williams is the key to the Chargers’ defense. At nose tackle, he’s normally taking on two people and freeing up someone else to (hopefully) make the tackle.

From 2005-07, Williams’ peers recognized him as an All-Pro. That was no surprise. The only surprise was that he did not get named a Pro Bowler sooner in his career.

The impact of Williams was certainly never displayed more than in the 2002 season. The Chargers were 8-4 and probably on their way to the playoffs before a cheap shot by Denver Broncos offensive lineman Steve Herndon ended Williams’ season. Without Williams, the Chargers lost their last four games and headed home for the postseason.

It was no coincidence that when Williams went down, so did the Chargers.

As for Chambers, his best days at wide receiver seem to be behind him. He’s gone from 82 receptions and 11 touchdowns for the Miami Dolphins in 2005 to 33 catches and 5 TDs for the Chargers last season … and this year looks worse so far.

Chambers caught just 2 of 10 passes targeted to him (20%) in last week’s 31-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The remainder of the team caught nearly 80% of the passes thrown their way.

It’s too bad Williams had to go … but looking more and more like Chambers might need to do the same.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bad weekend for SoCal's 'elite' football teams

You could see the USC Trojans’ loss coming from a mile away over the weekend.

For the San Diego Chargers, you could see it from more like seven yards away (thanks Ray Lewis.)

The difference between the Chargers losing in the NFL and USC losing in the NCAA is huge: The Chargers could probably lose seven more games and still have a chance at winning the Super Bowl. USC is out of losses for a chance at the national championship.

Why is it that Pete Carroll can always win the big games at USC, yet the little one seems to escape him each year?

It happened with Stanford in 2007, Oregon State in 2008 and last weekend at the University of Washington.

Each year, that one stumble has kept/will keep the Trojans out of the title hunt.

It’s really too bad that the Trojans play on the West Coast because one loss and you’re out. Play in the more publicized Southeastern Conference or Big Ten and one loss keeps you in the hunt.

As for the Chargers, they’re in such a bad division that an 8-8 record likely gets them to the playoffs.

Still, that’s not excuse for the horrible play calling in the end with a fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore Ravens 15.

The Chargers had been averaging 2.5 yards per rush and were getting blown off the line of scrimmage with an injury-depleted offensive line. Yet coach Norv Turner still went with the run on the decisive play when everyone at Qualcomm Stadium (especially Ray Lewis) could see that it was going to be a run by Darren Sproles.

San Diego has still yet to block Lewis on that play.

It was a bad weekend for the Chargers; a horrible one for USC. See you next year, Trojans!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chargers' offensive line could be downfall

The last time the San Diego Chargers missed the playoffs, in 2005, it was because their offensive line was in shambles.

Say hello to déjà vu thus far in 2009.

Already, the team has lost center Nick Hardwick (ankle) and likely right guard Louis Vasquez (knee) for this week’s home opener vs. the Baltimore Ravens.

Add Jeromey Clary at right tackle along with the two injured players and you have a very weak right side of the line.

(Don’t you think the Ravens will exploit this on Sunday?)

Even left tackle Marcus McNeill (ankle) should have come out of Monday’s 24-20 win at Oakland in the fourth quarter, but he continued to play since the Chargers were flat out of reserve linemen.

So what does this mean for Sunday?

You’ll likely see Scott Mruczkowski (center) and guard Brandon Dombrowski (guard) make their first career NFL starts vs. Baltimore.

Does this bode well for the Chargers? Not really.

Ravens 23, Chargers 17

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Winning is all that counts in the NFL

Did you notice how the three most-touted AFC teams all played very poorly on the NFL’s Opening Weekend?

But did you notice how the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers all came out winners in Week 1?

If you were to watch the game tapes without knowing who won, you’d swear that all three lost. Yet so often in the NFL, the lesser teams play harder … but the better teams win.

(If you’re a fan of the Chargers, you’ll remember all those years when the team couldn’t hold a fourth-quarter lead to save its life.)

The Steelers were anything but dominating in their 13-10 overtime win vs. the Tennessee Titans. Yet a fumble by Hines Ward near the goal line at the end of regulation didn’t stop Ben Roethlisberger from engineering another winning drive in overtime.

Tom Brady and the Patriots looked absolutely horrible for 58 minutes vs. the Buffalo Bills. However, that didn’t stop the Patriots from scoring twice in the final 2:06 to escape with a 25-24 win.

The Chargers were getting pushed all around for much of the night by the Oakland Raiders. But in the end, Darren Sproles scored on a 5-yard run with 18 seconds remaining (while replacing the injured LaDainian Tomlinson) as San Diego survived 24-20.

There were other such stories throughout the NFL such as Baltimore needing two late touchdowns to beat Kansas City 38-24.

But it’s not how well you play; it’s whether you win or lose. That’s why the Steelers, Patriots and Chargers are all undefeated despite sub-par efforts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chargers have easiest path to playoffs

The San Diego Chargers certainly have the path of least resistance to the NFL playoffs.

Who wouldn’t want to be in a division with the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders (none ranked higher than 25th of 32 teams in ESPN’s preseason poll?)

The Chargers can definitely afford another 1-3 start because a 7-9 record could win this AFC West division.

But there’s no reason to start so slowly.

Tonight’s season opener at Oakland is a virtual gimmie; La Dainian Tomlinson eats these guys alive in the Black Hole.

Then there are home games vs. the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins; neither of which looked real strong on opening weekend.

Week 4 is at the Pittsburgh Steelers, before a bye week.

The Chargers should be at least 2-2 at their bye; most likely 3-1. But again, no matter what the record early on, making the playoffs should be a breeze. (After all, five games against the AFC West from Oct. 19-Nov. 29 should put distance between the Chargers and the rest of the division.)

The big question marks with this team are pass defense, offensive line, and running back depth considering Tomlinson’s health the past two years.

But all things considered, with six games against the Weak Weak AFC West, the Chargers should finish 10-6 or better this season.

It would be enough to earn at least one home game in the playoffs, and then we go from there.

The ride should be smooth; until January. Then, the real season begins.

Chargers 27, Raiders 7

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Patriots over Eagles in Super Bowl?

Tom Brady is back. That means so are the New England Patriots.

Michael Vick is back. The Philadelphia Eagles should go to the Super Bowl; but that doesn’t mean because of him.

As the NFL season kicks off, the pick from this corner is for the Patriots to defeat the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

Sure, there are other contenders.

The San Diego Chargers are in such a weak division that they should cakewalk to the playoffs. (ESPN predicts any of 24 teams could win the AFC West if they were included with Denver, Kansas City and Oakland.)

You can never discount the Pittsburgh Steelers. After all, they are the defending champs.

In the NFC, Drew Brees could surprise and lead the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl. (Don’t expect as much from Brett Favre in Minnesota; if the Vikings go all the way, it might be despite him.)

Of course, there are always surprises. So let’s get to our 2009 predictions:

AFC West:
San Diego, Kansas City, Denver, Oakland.

AFC East:
New England, Miami, New York Jets, Buffalo.

AFC North:
Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Cleveland.

AFC South:
Houston, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville.

NFC West:
Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis.

NFC East:
Philadelphia, New York Giants, Dallas, Washington.

NFC North:
Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit.

NFC South:
New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay.

AFC Wildcards:
Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

NFC Wildcards:
New York Giants and Minnesota.

AFC Championship:
New England over San Diego.

NFC Championship:
Philadelphia over New Orleans.

Super Bowl:
New England over Philadelphia.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mountain West among the best in college football

One week into the college football season, the Mountain West Conference is already showing why it is among the best.

Or did you not notice that the conference was 2-0 vs. the Big 12 as:

BYU beat the then No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners, 14-13 (and knocked out returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford for quite some time.)

Colorado State upset the home team Colorado Buffaloes, 23-17.

Sure, it’s only one week; and there is a long way to go.

What does this prove?

Among other things, the Mountain West should be included in the BCS.

Sadly, the Big East Conference – which did not have a ranked team going into the season – gets an automatic BCS berth.

The Mountain West has three teams better than anybody in the Big East: BYU, Texas Christian and Utah.

It’s unfair that any one of those teams will have to go undefeated to get into a BCS game … yet an 8-4 team out of the Big East is an automatic BCS entrant.

Until college football goes to a playoff to determine the national champion … and includes the Mountain West in the BCS … the postseason must be considered a joke.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chargers' Norv Turner: AFC West coaching genius

Norv Turner has taken more than his share of abuse as (allegedly) a poor head football coach.

But when you look around, Turner is by far the best coach in the AFC West.

That has nothing to do with the fact that he’s won three playoff games in two years with the San Diego Chargers … or that he has by far the division’s best talent with the Chargers.

Just take a look at the other head coaches and you’ll understand why Turner stands out:

Tom Cable of the Oakland Raiders sucker punched an assistant coach early in training camp.

Todd Haley of the Kansas City Chiefs fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in the exhibition season (now Haley is the coordinator.)

Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos has lost star QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall … not to mention the attention of the rest of his team.

Yes; compared to those guys, Norv Turner looks like a genius!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Do Dodgers have enough pitching for playoffs?

The Philadelphia Phillies added Cliff Lee to their pitching staff for the pennant drive.

The Los Angeles Dodgers added … Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland?

Can those two journeymen actually help the Dodgers make a dent in the playoffs?

Maybe so.

After all, on the season-long pitching staff, Randy Wolf could make a good argument as the Dodgers’ top starting pitcher.

And he’s no spring chicken, himself.

The Dodgers certainly were not going to win it all with their former starting staff of Wolf, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and the injured Hiroki Kuroda.

With the addition of Padilla and Garland, they have two veterans possibly able to at least make a dent in the playoffs.

(Not to mention reliever George Sherrill acquired from the Baltimore Orioles, giving the Dodgers a sorely needed left-hander in the bullpen.)

The Dodgers actually have the best winning percentage in the NL, just ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and Phillies.

Even so, it’s hard to believe they would have gone very far in the playoffs with their pitching staff the way it was.

Could Garland and/or Padilla make the difference?

We’ll see.