Archives for July 2009

White Sox Get Jake Peavy

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By Soxman

What do you get when you combine Jake Peavy and Alexei Ramirez?  Answer: two of four healthy ankles.

Just minutes after the 4:00 p.m. Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline passed, the MLB network announced that Jake Peavy was headed to the Chicago White Sox…again, and this time its for real.

With the move, Kenny Williams once again proved the following:

1.    He always gets his man.
2.    He is not afraid to do whatever it takes to win now…and later.

For the most part, this trade involves the same names as version 1.0 did earlier in the season.

The difference?  Peavy is currently on the disabled list with a strained tendon in his ankle and won’t return until mid-August at the earliest.  Not more than two weeks ago, Padres’ GM Kevin Towers noted that Jake Peavy could be done for the remainder of the season, saying, “I think it’s 50-50 if Jake will pitch again this year.”

However, Kenny Williams told the MLB network minutes ago that he believes Peavy will begin a rehab assignment towards the middle of August and could return towards the end of the month possibly on-time for the Red Sox series.

The Padres did pretty well in this deal as they will receive Clayton Richard, Adam Russell, Dexter Carter and Aaron Poreda in return.  soxman1

Richard should immediately move into the Padre’s rotation.  While he is 4-3 with a 4.67 ERA, and a 1.47 WHIP on the season, he had a 1.12 ERA over his last two starts, helping the Sox get a crucial win over the Tigers on Sunday.

The key prospect in the trade for the Padres is likely southpaw Aaron Poreda.  In a limited bullpen stint with the White Sox, the 2007 first-round draft pick had a 2.45 ERA in ten IP.

For the White Sox, the move could be to win now, providing Peavy could return towards the end of August.  It could also be to solidify the Sox rotation for years to come. Peavy is under contract for at least three more years, with a club option for 2012.   In the economics of pitching, it could also be a long term bargain.  He’s due $15 million next year, $16 million in 2011 and $17 million in 2012 with a $4 million buyout on a $22 million club option.

Mark Buehrle is signed through 2011,and John Danks and Gavin Floyd are under the Sox control for at least three more seasons.

Even if he doesn’t throw another pitch in 2009, the White Sox get a proven 28-year old ace and Cy Young award winner (2007), who has a career ERA of 3.29. His ERA is likely to suffer somewhat moving to U.S. Cellular Field, but he should still pitch like a front of the rotation ace.

So why did Jake Peavy have a change of heart after turning down a trade in May?

“There’s no assurance that one of his (Peavy’s) prime target teams was going to take a shot at him in the offseason,” Barry Axelrod, Peavy’s agent said in an interview with Padres insider Tim Krasovic.

Peavy’s preferred teams were the Cubs and Dodgers.

In late May, he decided against accepting a trade to the White Sox.

Citing other factors, Axelrod told Krasovic that the White Sox (52-51 and 2.5 games behind the Tigers) are in better playoff contention than when Peavy nixed the deal in late May.

Should anyone be surprised?

Williams was somewhat forced to respond after the Detroit Tigers acquired Jarrod Washburn from the Mariners, and the Minnesota Twins solved their middle infield situation acquiring shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

He has admitted to coveting Peavy since July of last year, and has a proven track record of never giving up on his targets.  After almost acquiring Ken Griffey Jr. at the 2005 trade deadline, Williams finally got him in 2008.

In 2005 he almost traded Joe Crede to the Angels for Darin Erstad.  He later signed him as a free-agent before the start of the 2007 season.

While it somewhat edges away from Williams vow to develop his farm system, it is a good trade for both teams.

Providing the White Sox can stay in contention until Peavy returns healthy, he could easily add 2-3 wins down the stretch.  Did you hear that offense?  Now wake up…AGAIN.

Collective bargaining agreement highlights Packer shareholder meeting

2009 Packer shareholder meeting

By Jake McCormick

Editor’s note: More meeting photographs will be posted Monday

Packer OwnerA guy in full 1920s ACME Packer garb, a cheesehead with NFL OWNER tattooed on its side, a Minnesota license plate reading GBPCKRS, and beer served at 11 a.m. – sounds like a typical day at Lambeau Field.

Concerns were abound at the annual Green Bay Packer shareholder meeting, but the mood was light and optimistic compared to last year’s gathering. I’ll let you guess the reason why. If you don’t know, please stop reading. That’s like asking what the second highest selling beer in the country is behind Budweiser.

In a simulation of the start of the shareholder meeting Thursday, I’ll quickly remove the “1,000 lb white elephant in the room,” as Packer President Mark Murphy put it.

“The Brett Favre situation did severely test the organization,” he said, looking much more comfortable saying the name than he did last year. It reminded me of the King of the Hill episode where Peggy had to teach sexual education and struggled to say “penis” and “vagina.” When she got past that fear, her mouth was an open floodgate of genital names. Anyways…

“We wanted to be fair to him, but we felt we had to act in the best long-term interests of the Packers,” Murphy added, to a collective round of applause from the team “owners.”

He then drew the first of many ovations at the mention of current quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He expressed total confidence in Rodgers’ leadership abilities and future with the team. “I’m confident we’re set for the next decade under Aaron Rodgers,” Murphy said.

Murphy led the meeting and spent most of his time in front of the 7,500 Packer crowd addressing the upcoming issues surrounding the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL Players Union and team owners.

“This is the biggest issue we’ll face over the next two years,” Murphy said, before explaining the origins of the CBA and its evolution over time.

NFL team owners have chosen to opt out of the current agreement, citing concerns over increasing player salaries compared to team revenues and high pay for unproven rookies. If the agreement isn’t ratified by both sides by March 2010, Murphy said that season will go on without the salary cap. Although it sounds much more problematic for owners, Murphy was quick to point out the problems players will face if stuck without an agreement.

“Not only does the cap go away, but free agency changes and player benefits will go away,” he said. “So there’s definitely an incentive on both sides to get a deal done.”

Ted ThompsonGeneral Manager Ted Thompson gave his “state of the team” address and went through each position while making comments about each player on the depth chart without giving too much information. As Thompson jokingly put it, “Where else will people come out in the rain to listen to me talk and not really say anything?” Obviously with players checking into St. Norbert dorms today, there isn’t too much to report in terms of team progression.

Looking around the stands filled with Packer “owners” from all across the country listening intently to cut-and-dry reports on the financial stability of their organization, I realized the unique structure of the Green Bay Packer franchise. Sure, Jerry Jones gives Dallas Cowboy fans his “State of the Cowboys” address, but would he ever stand and meet each of those fans and listen to their concerns about the franchise as if he were a senator?

After the meeting, Murphy and Thompson trekked over to the Don Hutson Center to meet and greet with shareholders. Packer fans aren’t afraid to speak their minds about their team, especially when it concerns Brett Favre, and last year Thompson heard it from a lot of angry “owners.” But the President and GM both received nothing but words of encouragement as they signed souvenirs and answered questions about players and coaches.

Green Bay Packer shareThe concept of being a Packer “owner” works much like the representative democracy of the United States. Each shareholder has an opportunity to voice their opinions about the team’s direction to its leaders, but the real action is ultimately in the hands of the administration. So shareholders collectively own the team, but they cannot change anything by any means other than voting and protesting.

Would you prefer to have at least some say in your favorite team’s operating procedures or have one owner who doesn’t have to answer to anyone, like a dictatorship? I’ll take the former, and I think the Packers’ unique system could be beneficial to other teams. Obviously there is a higher chance of alien contact on the Moon than seeing someone like Ralph Brown sell the Bills in public shares, but knowing you’re more to a team than just a fan is a feeling that most people should be allowed to experience.

What did I miss?: First week edition

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By H. Jose Bosch

We here at The Sports Bank understand how difficult it can be to keep up with your favorite sports teams. Sometimes life gets in the way. Your boss keeps you late at work, the Internet cuts outs or your child needs you to create their entire sixth-grade science project the night before it’s due. Whatever the reason, you might miss something funny, interesting, sad or in the case of the Detroit Lions all three.

That’s why every Friday morning/afternoon The Sports Bank will throw up some of the more interesting stories that have happened over the last week (Monday-Friday) involving your favorite teams in the NFC North and Big Ten footprint.

Now, let’s be honest, not every team has interesting news every week. But we are equal opportunity here so we will try very hard to touch any and everything worth talking about. But, if you’d like to share something you thought was left out, please feel free to start a discussion in our comment section.

Now, on to some of the highlights, or lowlights of this past week:

So it looks like Brett Favre will actually stay retired and this awful saga has finally come to a close. But, um, someone should tell the Chinese about it.

It’s so cute when a player and his agent form a bond stronger than that of a mother and child. Unfortunately Joel Segal is erasing all that good will by not getting his client signed before the start of training camp. Facing drug use charges head on was easy. Facing your teammates after holding out, um, not so easy.

Allegedly Brain Urlacher called Jay Cutler a word that rhymes with wussy. But in denying it, Urlacher definitely called the radio station that mentioned it a bunch of wussies.

I’m not sure what should excite Lions fans more about the Matt Stafford era: an insightful two-part feature on him or these vacations pictures. The journalist in us say the feautre but let’s be honest, those pictures are pretty awesome.

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MLB’s trade deadline is still hours away and as of this writing the rumored Orlando Cabrera to the Twins deal wasn’t official. But if the Twins complete the deal,  you can credit their stars for calling out management earlier in the week.

Speaking of the deadline, the Tigers opened the first salvo on the American League Central by acquiring Jarrod Washburn today.

And a day after leading the Cubs to a 12-3 win, Kevin Hart was traded to the lowly Pirates for John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. Thanks for the win Kevin, now we’re sending you to baseball hell.
No one has had a more clutch week than Dewayne Wise. First his amazing catch last Thursday and now a game-winning hit a week later. Will his stock ever be higher?

Ozzie thinks all 104 names in 2003 report should be released at once.

And to end this on a lighter note, check out Everyday Should be Saturday’s post on Rich Rodriguez’s meeting with Jamie Foxx. (We’re not kidding; the two of them actually met and hung out while Rodriguez was in Chicago). Also check out an interesting story about official Major League Baseball scorekeepers.

So this was our first week of “What did I miss?” Imagine a beta tag next to this. This feature will surely mutate and evolve over the next few weeks but it will always be available sometime between Friday morning and afternoon.

If you have any comments, suggestions or tips for our feature, please send them to whatdidimiss09 [at] gmail [dot] com.

NFC North Predictions

Packers Cowboys Football

By the The Sports Bank Staff

1. Chicago (10-6) Jay Cutler hoopla aside, remember one thing, this division isn’t very good. Best Quarterback=best chance at winning week to week. Yes, I know their receivers and overall pass rush is a hot mess, but who else really has the talent to beat a team that was 9-7 last year and greatly improved themselves?

2. Minnesota (9-7) Purple Jesus will have to carry the load on offense, unlike Baby Jesus, the star of the Minnesota baseball team. He has more support in generating offense. What’s with people in the land of 10,000 Lakes nicknaming their sports stars after Jesus? I thought the “Bible Belt” was in the South?

3. Green Bay (7-9)
I like Aaron Rodgers, but I don’t think he’ll have a better season than Culter. The Pack’s season will hinge on 1.) The job that new Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers does 2.) How quickly his players adjust from the 4-3 to the 3-4.

4. Detroit (3-13) Much of the old regime is gone, so that’s a good thing, right? Like the title character in “What About Bob?” said “baby steps, baby steps.” Their pathetic excuse for a ground game has been improving and I like 3rd pick DL Cliff Avril. Look for this sleeper pick to augment the pass rush.

Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgersbearscover

Defensive MVP: Lance Briggs

–PAUL M. BANKS

DAVID KAY:

1. Packers- Keeping my homering in mind, doesn’t it seem like people are sleeping on the Pack?  All the talk has been around Favre and the Vikes, Cutler and the Bears, and GB has flown under the radar this off-season.  Consider they lost 7 games last season by five points or less, dealt with the pre-season Favre circus, had a first year QB in Aaron Rodgers who exceeded expectations, and a running back who held out and then battled injuries all year, and this team should be much better.

2. Vikings- No matter what they say at camp, you can’t tell me Tavaris Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels have any confidence in themselves right now… No way.

3. Bears- I am just not buying this whole “Jay Cutler is our savior” thing going on in Chicago.  They have no receivers and an aging defense.

4. Lions- I saw Matt Millen at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.  He was in line behind me getting food.  He told me that he could put mustard and onions on anything and it would taste good.  Because of his butchering of the Lions franchise, I couldn’t even take his food choices seriously and instead put mayo on my sandwich, no onions.  I know that has nothing to do with this year’s Detroit team, but who really cares about the Lions in this division?

OPY: Aaron Rodgers-
Again, accuse me of homering.  I’m okay with it.  But assuming AP can’t stay healthy for the whole season when the Vikes give him 35 carries a game because their quarterback can’t complete a five-yard out route, Rodgers should be able to top his 4,038 yards and 28 TD’s from a year ago.  (I was really tempted to pick Brett Favre by the way, just to piss people off.)

DPY: Jared Allen- Just because if I didn’t pick him and he happened to see this, I would be terrified that he would shoot me with a hunting bow and then eat my carcass raw.  But seriously, I think he is an animal on the field and that he would be a fun guy to grab a beer with.

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SHAYMUS MCLAUGHLIN:

1.) Minnesota Vikings 11-5

They won the division last year with a Tarvaris-Jackson-Gus Frerotte combo at QB. There’s no reason to think they can’t win again with Sage Rosenfels (a better QB than either of the other two) at the helm. A RB that the Bears can’t stop, plus a solid WR corps led by Berrian and a bounce-back Sidney Rice; throw in Percy Harvin and the Wildcat and things become much more dynamic on offense. They have to get over the loss of Matt Birk, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem. On defense, they’ll be as strong as usual, especially with EJ Henderson coming back from injury. Safety is the biggest concern, with the oft-injured but talented Madieu Williams and second-year player Tyrell Johnson (who filled in respectably last year) defending the pass. Overall, a solid team that got more explosive offensively and didn’t lose much this offseason.

2) Green Bay Packers 8-8

Aaron Rodgers is a very solid young QB, and he has a couple fantastic WRs in Driver and Jennings. Their O-line is decent, but not great, and the running game scares me. I don’t think Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson are helping the offense much. Their defense should be pretty good, with a solid LB duo in Barnett and Hawk, a good D-Line bolstered by 1st round draft pick BJ Raji, and a veteran group of CBs with great press coverage. Those corners are getting up there in age though, and they’re a bit thin so they need to stay healthy. It’s a solid team that probably lost a couple more than it should have last year.

3) Chicago Bears 8-8

Yes, they added their first legitimate QB in years with Jay Cutler. Yes Matt Forte is already one of the best all-around RBs in the league (He will be Brian Westbrook, minus the injuries- in a couple years.). Yes, they have patched up their offensive line nicely with Orlando Pace, 2008 first round pick Chris Williams, and the extremely underrated Kevin Shaffer. What about the receivers? Rashied Davis and rookie Juaquin Iglesias are not going to cut it, and Hester is nothing but a fly pattern runner. I don’t see this offense moving that well game-in, game-out. They will have some great games, but a few stinkers as well. millen

On the defensive side, their CBs haven’t stayed healthy in years and their starting safeties are some combination of Craig Steltz, Danieal Manning, Kevin Payne, and FA signee Josh Bullocks, the latter of which was let go by the Saints, who had one of the worst defenses in the league. Their LBs are always good, but a bit on the slower side, and their pass rush last year was nearly non-existent (especially with former rookie stud Mark Anderson disappearing).

4) Detroit Lions 4-12

They’re on the right track, but they still have quite a ways to go. Stafford should sit this year behind Daunte Culpepper and learn the playbook. Culpepper is not a bad QB either, and the Lions picked up a great playmaking TE in Brandon Pettigrew via the draft to help complement Calvin Johnson on offense. Their line still needs some work and the running game isn’t great, but they are at least moving in a direction. They just need to be patient with Stafford this year. On defense, they have a couple solid playmakers (Ernie Sims, new arrival Larry Foote, and the aging Philip Buchanan) but have way too many holes to stop even some of the weakest offenses. I’m not sure where a pass rush is going to come from, and the secondary is pretty unimpressive outside of Buchanan. It’s a work in progress for the Lions.

OPOY: Adrian Peterson (with Forte right behind…I love that kid)

DPOY: Jared Allen


DAVID PALMER

1.  Minnesota (11-5): The ‘Queens are a very balanced team with no real gaping holes on either side of the ball.  The offensive line will have to play better than expected to make a real run in the playoffs, but with a healthy Keith Farwell, EJ Henderson and Jared Allen will only help.

2. Green Bay (10-6):
A disappointing last season will see a rebound with Aaron Rodgers able to focus knowing he’s the starter this preseason; Still a very good defense behind Al Harris, AJ Hawk, Nick Barnett and Aaron Kampman. The running game is a big question mark with Ryan Grant as the primary ball carrier.  They must throw their way into the playoffs.

3. Chicago (8-8):
Even with Jay Cutler, they are going to inconsistent at best.  Charles Tillman is already hurt and he’s their best CB.  I think they have one of the most overrated defenses in the league anyway.  Great linebackers, but nobody scares me on their D-Line.  And I’m still not sure who will be catching Cutler’s throws, Hester?  Combine that with his first year in the system and I see a struggle to finish .500.

4.  Detroit (3-13):
Well, they can’t do worse than last year.  Stafford will go through some growing pains no doubt, but probably also show some signs by the end of the year.  Having Calvin Johnson can only help his development, but there are just too many holes to win many games.  No way that offense keeps up with all the points their porous defense will give up.badasses

Offensive MVP: The great Adrian Peterson.

Defensive MVP: Jared Allen.  He’s healthy after playing with one arm for the second half of last season and still compiling 14.5 sacks.

DAVID BOUCHER:

Personnel changes affect every team every off-season, but the magnitude and frequency of those in the NFC North the past few months have earned the attention of the entire nation. With Brett Favre turning over the same leaf, Green Bay changing their defensive scheme, Chicago landing a new face for the franchise, and Detroit generally puttering along in another new direction, the black and blue division has been the most dynamic in football in 2009.

However, the team with the least amount of turnover will actually fare the best: Minnesota. Even without the future HOF-er holding the reins, the team still has the most potent weapon in football. Adrian Peterson will continue to live up to his nickname, scoring “All Day” for the Vikings and earning the conference MVP award on offense, while Jared Allen paces an explosive and run-stuffing defense. The fight for second will be the most interesting, however. Although Jay Cutler could hit Devin Hester in the Lambeau end zone from Lake Shore Drive, the Packers offense has more talent from top to bottom. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson present far bigger problems for defenses than the former CB Hester and the untested Earl Bennett. Even with the Pack-Attacks’s switch to the 3-4 on defense, Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk have more lateral movement and play-making ability than the aged Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs. Barnett will need to have a career-year in order for the new scheme to pay dividends, and I think he will, becoming the Defensive MVP in the North.lions1

Which leaves us with the Lions. I wish I could say they would make it to 8-8… or even 6-10. But that’s just wishful thinking. I’ll give them five wins because I’ve been a life-long fan, but their new system, traditionally shoddy defense, and the perpetual spotlight shinning on Daunte-Stafford drama just leave too many question marks.
They’ve gotten a little better, though; Julian Peterson has got to be worth at least two wins, right?

MINNESOTA: 11-5
GREEN BAY: 10-6
CHICAGO: 9-7
DETROIT: 5-11 (Please, PLEASE let me be wrong here!)

Big Ten Predictions

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By the TSB Staff

1.Ohio St.
2. Michigan State
3. Penn St.

It will be tight at the top once again this year.  Ohio State’s Terrell Pryor is going to come into his own this year; combined with an always stout defense, the Buckeyes will be hard to keep from the title.   Michigan St. returns 14 starters and will compete for the title if they can find suitable replacements at quarterback and tailback.  Penn St. will have a solid year, but overall their losses on defense will be too much to overcome unless young players step up quickly.

Offensive Player of the Year: Terrell Pryor-QB-OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Greg Jones-LB-MSU

–JAKE FOWLER

SAM SVOBODA:

1. Ohio State, 2. Penn State, 3. Northwestern

Offensive Player of the Year: Terrelle Pryor, QB, OSU.

Defensive Player of the year Navorro Bowman, LB, PSU

OK, so my picks for conference champ and runner-up are not exactly un-orthodox, but can you blame me?

Last year’s top two have lost some key players to the NFL, but are still loaded with talent- highlighted by my picks for Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. There’s a reason that Buckeye sophomore Pryor has received so much hype over the past few year. I expect him to be a force both running and passing. Bowman, a junior, is coming off a breakout year in which he was consensus All-Big 10 and can only benefit from the healthy return of fellow linebacker and team captain Sean Lee. south-park-jim-tressel1

After the “Big 2”, it looks like a bit of a toss-up for third place. Maybe it’s a Chicago bias, but I’m going with Northwestern. The Wildcats were impressive last year and coach Pat Fitzgerald seems to be doing a great job with the program. Scheduling could be another plus- NU doesn’t face Ohio State and gets to play Penn State in Evanston. They’re certainly not expected to challenge for the conference title, but the Wildcats definitely can grab 3rd.


H. JOSE BOSCH:

Ohio State is a slight favorite because they get Illinois at home and don’t have to play Michigan State. Even though they travel to Penn State, I think they take the title. Penn State is No. 2. The third spot for me is tricky. People love Illinois, but they have a wicked stretch of games (@Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State) that they won’t survive. I think Michigan State surprises at No. 3. Terrelle Pryor is going to dominate and be the conference’s top offensive player. Sean Lee will be the best defender.

PAUL M. BANKS:

For my predictions, see my power rankings.

CLEYANA MAYWEATHER:

The big question in the Big Ten Conference this year is: will the conference rise again to be what it was in previous decades? Last year, the Big Ten recorded a 1-6 bowl record and the Big Ten has also lost the Rose Bowl (and by more than just a few points) the last three years.  So will this year see resurgence? Probably not.

But Penn State and Ohio State are sure to go head-to-head once again for the Big Ten title.  The big difference between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes is that the Nittany Lions have an easier schedule.  Their non-conference opponents include Temple, Akron, Syracuse, and Eastern Michigan.  While the Buckeyes have to play the reigning Rose Bowl champions, the USC Trojans.  With Iowa, Michigan St. and Northwestern all capable of having a winning season, Big Ten fans should find plenty to cheer about this upcoming season.

TOM LEA:ill4

The Ohio State University will once again sit atop the pedestal (as low as that may be in national perception) of the Big Ten conference, when all is said and done this fall. Even though they lose a multitude of key players: Beanie Wells, James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, the team still has the mega-hyped Terrelle Pryor entering his second season. At times last year, it seemed as though Pryor had no idea what he was doing yet still made plays. Imagine what will happen when he actually has a clue as to what’s going on.

1.) Ohio State
2.) Penn State
3.) Michigan State

Offensive Player of the Year: John Clay

Defensive Player of the Year: Sean Lee

DAVID BOUCHER:

Football pundits are once again drooling over the SEC and overlooking the Big Ten when discussing the best teams in the country. The top tier of the Big Ten can play with anyone in any conference, and they’re going to prove it once bowl season rolls around. Some schools have extended their schedules in order to cut down the time between their last game and a potential bowl game, while others have scheduled a more difficult non-conference schedule to show their talent in a national spotlight. However, the two best teams in the conference, Penn State and Ohio State, are simply going to beat almostgophercheerleader
every team they play.

They have more than enough talent in their respective stables to keep the success of both evil empires intact. It’s a coin flip between the two teams to see who finishes first, but I think the experience Terelle Pryor accrued last season will push the Buckeyes over the top.

The third place team is a little harder to find. Although Michigan State is the favorite, I think Northwestern can and will give them a run for their money. Although NU lost their QB, RB, and three WRs, MSU is without last year’s starting battery, Brian Hoyer and Javon Ringer in 2009. The replacements for the Wildcats, Mike Kafka and Stephen Simmons, both had extended playing time over the last two seasons.

As far as offensive and defensive MVPs go, Terelle Pryor of OSU and Greg Jones of MSU were awarded the pre-season titles. But there will be some surprises. Look for Juice Williams to run (and pass) wild all season long, putting up massive numbers, while watching his defense give up even more touchdowns in. He has the feet and the arm to lead his team to the endzone, and will do so with the same regularity as Pryor.hoosiers

On the other side of the ball, offensive tackles will practically disappear when the massive Corey Wootton runs through, or by them on his way to the quarterback. After a spectacular junior season, Wootton is only getting better, and has fully recovered from the Alamo Bowl knee injury, according to Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald.  This freakishly athletic bruiser should put up double digit sack numbers again on his way to the first day of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Bears Open Camp with Expectations, Controversy

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By Paul M. Banks

When the Chicago Bears reported to Camp Bourbonaiss today, with the first practice taking place tomorrow afternoon, they were greeted with both high expectations and manufactured controversy.

Perhaps no team had a more productive (or publicized) off-season than Chicago, as they swapped QBs with the Denver Broncos, essentially stealing Pro Bowl signal caller Jay Cutler out of the Rocky Mountain state. Your grandparents were in diapers the last time they had a QB this good, and given how that’s, you know, kind of an important position, this move was HUGE- especially considering that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is the only other legitimate starting NFL quarterback in the NFC North division.

The Bears also made tremendous upgrades to their Offensive Line in Orlando Pace and the underrated Kevin Shaffer, augmenting what was previously one of the team’s weakest units. The world of sports betting has taken notice, installing the Bears as the odds on favorite to win the NFC North.

Vegas also thinks the Bears have the best chance of any NFC North team to win both the NFC and the Super Bowl, as the “Monsters of the Midway” have the best odds among the four teams in both categories. When people start engaging in Monday night football betting this fall, they’ll only have one chance (December 28th when Chicago hosts division rival Minnesota) to attempt to capitalize on the Bears’ historic Monday night woes. Avoiding a Monday night road game (always trouble for Chicago) is one example of how their schedule looks very promising. brian-urlacher

“Bear Weather” is essentially a myth, no matter how many meatheads tell you otherwise, as the Bears’ December record is far from superlative compared against the rest of the season. But this year, the only extremely difficult game on paper is December 20th, when they visit the Baltimore Ravens.

But it wasn’t the easy 2009 schedule or the fruitful off-season that was on orange and blue minds when the preseason started. It was a non-story surrounding a case of “he said, he said.”

Minnesota Vikings receiver Bobby Wade stated on a Twin Cities radio station yesterday that while spending last weekend in Las Vegas with Bears star LB Brian Urlacher, the Bear used a disparaging word in describing Cutler as soft.

Cutler responded thusly: “We laughed about it. I didn’t put any stock into it. I know Brian didn’t. I think he was just sorry it even came out like that. Me and Brian have been on a good relationship since I got here, and I expect it to continue that way.”

Urlacher said he was simply misquoted by Wade. “I saw Bobby at a place somewhere, and I was talking to him, but I never said what I was quoted as saying. I have a lot of respect for Jay, and I think Jay knows that. There’s never been an issue about Jay and I. We have no problems. I’m excited about football starting, and I’m excited to have him as our quarterback.”
I know training camp can certainly be boring at times, especially when no one has even taken a snap, so this exchange seems to be nothing more than a way to give starved NFL fans (that just finished enduring a long off-season) something to talk about on a very slow football news day.

Write About Erin Andrews, Increase Your Blog Traffic!

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By Paul M. Banks

If you’re a start-up sports blogger, here’s a tip for you. It’s a way to increase traffic quicker and more effectively than any SEO (Search Engine Optimization) program or employing any social media consultant. Write and post pictures about Erin Andrews.

And this isn’t simply saying “sex sells” either. There’s something about her, and just her that seems to rev up the search engines of web geeks, bloggers, and horny sports nerds.

As the major buzz surrounding the peephole video conveyed, as did a half-dozen EA stories on the internet prior to that, no one else in sports has a cult following on the internet this large. But the question is, why the obsession with Erin Andrews? She’s good, but not great at her job, so it’s not that. And it’s not the eye candy thing either; as there’s plenty of other women who are just as beautiful on Eastern Seaboard Programming Network; and many more on competing networks.

Don’t get me wrong, I like blonde hair, boobs and booty as much as the next guy. And I’ll be the first to admit that EA is quite easy on the eyes…but she’s not a modern day Helen of Troy, who mythically possessed “the face that launched a thousand ships.”

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Perhaps it’s the geek factor. She’s described herself as a dork and homebody, despite what others may think, and perhaps all the web nerds identify with that. I’ve me Ms. Andrews once in person in the media room, before an Illinois-Wisconsin game. It was a very pleasant although uneventful exchange. She was quite polite, and probably a lot nicer in person than the “FSU Cowgirl” Jenn Sterger would be in person. You forgot who Jenn Sterger was? Yeah so did I, and the rest of the sports blogosphere.

I only bring her up because Sterger attacked Andrews on a Florida sports talks radio show about a year or so ago. The bitter and dejected Sterger devoted part of her slot to trying to figure out why there’s such a following surrounding Andrews, and then described herself as the “number one girl on the computer.” What metric she used for that remains unclear, but I’m sure Google Analytics is making no effort to copyright that technology. Andrews is the number one girl on the computer, period. And probably a big part of that is due to her seeming down to Earth and nto obsessed with herself, her image, her looks and her popularity. I can’t say the same about most of the sports blogosphere darlings. It seems like many of them never matured past the tenth grade.

Of course, how many of them once had to be fondled by the slimiest man alive, Bruce Pearl

For the NCAA, money takes precedent over players

Ed O'Bannon

By Jake McCormick

Facebook and the NCAA might have more in common than the obvious college student-athlete profiles. Excuse me, I meant to say athlete-student. Let’s not try to fool ourselves into thinking the NCAA actually cares if Terrelle Pryor, Tim Tebow or anyone on Florida State goes to class, just as long as they know that 11 players have to be on the football field at all times.

Recently, Facebook users have been circulating a message warning of the network’s abuse of power by means of an automatic agreement that it can use any user’s photograph in sidebar advertisements. It can easily be changed in the settings area of a person’s profile, but the issue at hand is that Facebook can make its own rules and answer to no one because people will continue Facebooking even if a minority of its users complain.

ncaaenhancedlogoThe NCAA is to Facebook as former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon is to the warning message. The NCAA has always been using game highlights and photographs of players whose careers amounted to nothing but a single tournament basket or last second touchdown catch. Even EA Sports gets into the mix by replicating classic NCAA championship teams in every way except their names, which opens a loophole so they don’t have to pay those players for their likenesses. In turn, players like Gerard Phelan, Lorenzo Charles, and the 1982 California Bear football team get nothing but a warm feeling when they see themselves on television unknowingly promoting NCAA interests. But unlike Facebook warnings, O’Bannon’s message can serve justice through monetary reparations.

O’Bannon, the Most Outstanding Player for the 1995 national champion UCLA basketball team and national player of the year for ’95, has been the main player in a class action lawsuit seeking an undisclosed amount of money for the league’s use of ex-player’s likenesses for commercial purposes, including video games. Seeing as the college sports industry is worth about $4 billion, I think the NCAA can afford to pay to use a player’s career highlight.

In a blog posted on LostLetterman.com, O’Bannon explains his reasoning behind the lawsuit, which has been a long time coming: “My biggest thing right now is, once we leave the university and are done playing in the NCAA, one would think we’d be able to leave with our likeness, … But we aren’t able to. If you don’t take your likeness with you, you should at least be compensated for every dime that is made off your name or likeness.”

"By 40 hours a week, I meant four. Oops...Must be my Oklahoma/Texas education."

"By 40 hours a week, I meant four. Oops...Must be my Oklahoma/Texas education."

Of course, the NCAA has no problem pulling a Bud Selig with scandals such as Florida State academics, the Wisconsin Badger ShoeBox scandal, and Rhett Bomar’s “job,” all of which are far more common than the league would admit. But as long as they prosper, it’s OK to hold off punishment and an investigation until it becomes an unavoidable problem. At least someone learned from Selig. But the NCAA thinks its completely justified for its athletes to buy the food, cook the meal, serve it on a golden platter, and sit in the corner while everyone else gets to eat. Sounds fair to me.

Even precedent works against the NCAA. The NFL Player’s Association lost a similar suit and were ordered to pay $28 million or more to ex-players for selling their likeness to EA Sports. Obviously the NFL doesn’t lack the funds to help retired players and it’s not like John Elway really needs the money, but that doesn’t mean it’s justified to exploit his accomplishments without sending him a paycheck. Ditto goes for the NCAA, where the issue is far more important because not every USC or Ohio State player becomes an NFL great. Even a couple thousand dollars could help players’ lives after college, especially in our current economic situation. If the NCAA really cares about its image it needs to prove that the players, not the money, are the most important cog in the system. Given the NFL’s reluctance to help ex-players with football-related problems after their careers end, I’m not confident in the NCAA’s ability to show its humanity.

Michigan Wolverines football preview part 1: The offense

11 PSU 1018 JRH

By H. Jose Bosch

Last season, Michigan’s traditional “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense transformed into 3 yards and I want to throw up. Actually, I may be giving them too much credit: most of the time it didn’t even feel like they could move the ball three yards at a time.

Michigan fans were warned of it. In Rodriguez’s first season with West Virginia he went just 3-8. We ignored it. This was Michigan. Rodriguez wasn’t going to fall the same way he did in puny West Virginia. We had the nation’s longest winning-seasons streak (40) and the longest bowl streak (33) on the line. But we’re haughty, supercilious and we brag about knowing the definition of words no one really uses to describe being arrogant.

upset_rodriguez1So the 3-9 season was a shock to the system. Not a surprise, but a shock. Rodriguez had not only broken the two aforementioned streaks but he also broke a nine-game winning streak over Penn State, a six-game winning streak over Michigan State and a 24-game winning streak over the Mid-American Conference. The only real good news for Rodriguez was that he wasn’t the coach who lost to Appalachian State.

Now that the Wolverines have thoroughly been beaten to a pulp, 2009 will hopefully be the year Michigan channels its inner phoenix and rises from its ashes. Rodriguez coached the Mountaineers to bowl eligibility the year after his 3-8 debut and since he has that experience there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again.

2008 record: 3-9 (2-6 in the Big Ten)
Returning starters: 15 (10 offense, 5 defense)
Total Offense: 290.75 (109th in the nation, 11th in the Big Ten)
Scoring Offense: 20.25 (101st, 11th)
Rushing Offense: 147.58 (59th, 7th)
Passing Offense: 143.17 (108th, 11th)

Notable returns:
RB Brandon Minor WR, Martavious Odoms, LB Obi Ezeh, DE Brandon Graham, and  S Stevie Brown, TE Kevin Koger, WR Greg Mathews, P Zoltan Mesko, C David Molk, G David Moosman, LB Jonas Mouton, OT Stephen Schilling, WR Darryl Stonum, Donovan Warren

Key losses: S Brandon Harrison, DE Tim Jamison, DT Will Johnson, RB Sam McGuffie, DT Terrance Taylor, LB John Thompson, QB Steven Threet, CB Morgan Trent

Quarterbacks: Since Rodriguez came to a school with athletes ill-fitted for his system, he needed to go MacGyver if he had any chance of succeeding. There were times where a paper clip, rubber band and some tin foil might’ve been the better alternative behind center.

Tom and Jerry made a more intimidating duo than Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet. Neither was suited for the job and they couldn’t throw the ball beyond five yards with any semblance of accuracy.

Now that Threet is gone the No. 1 candidate to start on opening day is freshman Tate Forcier. He impressed everyone during the spring game and has the skills Rodriguez wants/needs for his system. Denard Robinson is the other new man on campus and he’s not too bad himself. Expect both to see time under center.

Running backs: The ground game was one of the few bright spots of last season and it was really more of a dull glow than anything else. Brandon Minor emerged as the team’s rushing leader and gave fans a glimpse of how good Michigan could be after career days against Penn State and Purdue. His game could be enhanced this year with a viable quarterback threat. That needed help was especially obvious in the Penn State game when the Nittany Lions finally figured out Michigan couldn’t pass the ball. Next thing you know, eight men in the box.

Minor won’t have his running partner in Sam McGuffie, who transferred to Rice, but he does have Carlos Brown. Brown didn’t look too shabby when both Minor and McGuffie were battling injuries last season and he ran for 115 yards against Northwestern.

Receivers: To really get a sense of the offensive drop off from 2007 to last season, one can look at the receivmartavious_odomsers. In 2007 Mario Manningham led the team with 1, 174 yards receiving. Last year Martavious Odoms led the team with just 443 yards. The lack of a good quarterback and two true freshman starters contributed to this drop in production.

This year the Wolverines don’t lose anyone of significance and they’ll likely have a better quarterback heaving the pigskin. This will bode well for the receiving core. While Rodriguez prefers a running spread, having Odoms, Darryl Stonum and Greg Matthews with a better quarterback could make the offense more dynamic.

Offensive line: Last season Rodriguez had to start from scratch with his o-line. He had to replace four starters. Of the remaining lineman, there were just 16 starts among them and Stephen Schilling accounted for 13 of them. Constant shuffling and injuries made matters worse. The line’s numbers fell (144 rushing ypg last season compared to 165 the year before) but the damage could’ve been worse. Somewhat surprisingly the sack totals dropped (22 last year compared to 28 in 2007). Part of that can be attributed to the various bootlegs Michigan ran but the point is despite everything going against them, the line didn’t perform half as badly as one would expect.

This season all five starters return and there are seven players who have four or more starts under their belt. Returning that many players is always welcomed but it’s especially crucial when you have little time to implement an entirely new system, like Rodriguez is doing now. This unit will benefit greatly from having a second year under Rodriguez and they can make life even easier for the new signal caller.

Overall this offense still isn’t what Rodriguez ideally wants but it’s getting there. Even if the Wolverines showed minimal improvement, all they have to do is cut down on turnovers and it could be a vastly different team. The key will be the quarterback and it will likely fall on Tate Forcier’s shoulders to get the Rich Rodriguez era moving in the right direction.

Big Ten Power Rankings

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By Paul M. Banks
Now that Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago are over, and the cases have been made for the strengths and weaknesses of the league’s 11 teams in the “City of Broad Shoulders,” it’s time to sort the league’s macho men from the weaklings. And, of course these rankings are highly subject to change.

Last year’s record (and when applicable, bowl appearance) is in parentheses


1.    Ohio State (10-3, 7-1, Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas)
Once again it’s re-loading not re-building in Columbus. With Boom Herron filling it for Beanie Wells and a whole slew of new talent filling in at key defensive positions, the scarlet and grey will have a new look this fall. Although the Bucks have looked terrible in January bowls lately, they’re still the class of the league, and look for the “sweater vest” to maintain that primary position again this season. Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Terrelle Pryor will be fun to watch.

2.    Penn State (11-2, 7-1, Rose Bowl loss to USC)
Like President Barack Obama said, “it’s not enough to change the players, you have to change the game” and the 82 year old Joe Paterno and his staff have innovated the “Spread HD” enough to make the Nittany Lions consistently win again in spite of turnover. Offseason defections hurt again, but there’s still plenty left. QB Darryl Clark, RB Evan Royster, LB Sean Lee and DT Jared Odrick are all ballers, and if this team can find some good replacements on the OL, and possibly another CB, the BCS could come calling.

3.    Michigan State (9-4, 6-2, Citrus Bowl loss to Georgia)
It all depends on how well they replace Javon Ringer. They’ll also be breaking in a new starter at Quarterback (Kirk Cousins or Keith Nichol) but you can tell the new QBs “Dude, you’re getting a Dell,” as in WR Mark Dell, one of the best in the league. With him, as well as an outstanding defense led by Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones, this team will be very good.

4.    Northwestern (9-4, 5-3, Alamo Bowl loss to Missouri)
Sure, they have to replace everybody at the offensive skill positions, but the new starter at QB, Mike Kafka, is an upgrade in my opinion. With a QB rushing record already on his resume, he’s more of a dual threat (and less of an interception risk) than C.J. Bacher. Not to mention the heart and soul of this team (the defense) returns mostly in tact from last year’s campaign- when they set a school record for stopping the run. And the easy schedule (Towson, Eastern Michigan, no Ohio State or Michigan) just screams ten win season.mikekafka

5.    Iowa (9-4, 5-3, Outback Bowl victory over South Carolina)
Wow! Do they have some big, dominating corn-fed boys on the O line. Their hogs up front can go to-to-toe with just about any front seven. But losing some of their playmakers on defense (and trying to replace Shonn Greene with Jewel Hampton) will take its toll. If their Jewel is IGI Certified and not a Cubic Zirconia then another 8-4 looks reasonable.

6.    Illinois (5-7, 3-5)
This program has no consistency at all. The orange and blue often falter under high expectations and only seem to thrive when people don’t take them seriously. This fall, projections are mixed/somewhat positive so 7-5 and a third-tier bowl sounds about right. With the combination of QB Isaiah “Juice” Williams and WR Arrelious “Rejus” Benn (go to 7-to-9.com), the offense will shine brighter than the diamond in Juice’s right ear. However, the defense was lacking last season, and lost its best playmakers, so mediocrity is imminent.

7.    Wisconsin (7-6, 3-5, Champs Bowl loss to Florida St.)
Can you feel that seat getting warmer and warmer, Mr. Bielema? Wisco will once again have plenty of talent at the RB and TE positions, but questions abound at QB and all-over-the-place on the defensive side of the ball. They have enough talent to surprise, but another 6-6 level season looks more likely.

8.    Michigan (3-9, 2-6) There is talent on this roster, but there’s also a hot mess at numerous positions; including quarterback which as you know, is quite an important position. They’ll take a step forward this year, but then again how could they really take a step back?gophercheer

9.    Minnesota (7-6, 3-5, Insight Bowl loss to Kansas)
It’s hard to find a team that had a more bipolar season than the Gophers in ’08. They were golden in the first 8 games, but far from a precious metal in November and the postseason. With local boy and baseball star Eric Decker at WR they have one of the best offensive players in the league, and the guy throwing to the Big Ten’s Wes Welker, Adam Weber isn’t half-bad either. But after that, the roster isn’t that overwhelmingly impressive.

10.    Purdue (4-8, 2-6)
Transitions are very tough, but they don’t often last very long. Joe Tiller left a very favorable mark on this program, and there is lots of “Hope” for Danny his successor, just not this year. I’m not sold on QB Joey Elliot, the least signal-caller we’ve seen in West Lafayette in quite some time. Don’t expect anything resembling “basketball on grass” this fall.

11.    Indiana (3-9, 1-7) It looks bleak for the two Big Ten football teams in “the crossroads of America.” But hey, it’s a basketball state anyway. At least the Hoosiers can boast quite possibly the most interesting man in college football. DE Jammie Kirlew, is more than just a stud lineman, he’s spent summers interning for the Obama campaign, producing movies, and learning Italian while studying abroad in Florence. By far, my favorite part of media days was discussing the Renaissance and European culture with him. Seriously.

Mark Buerhle Breaks MLB Record- Retires 45 Straight!

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By Paul M. Banks

Mark Buerhle is not done yet. Following a perfect game last Thursday afternoon over the Tampa Bay Rays, supplementing his no-hitter he threw two years ago against Texas no less, Buerhle pitched a “perfect game” for the first 5 2/3 innings of his next start. In doing so, he broke a Major League Baseball record by retiring 45 straight batters.

The old record of 41 consecutive batters retired was held by two men. One is a teammate: currently embattled closer Bobby Jenks in 2007; the second was Jim Parr of the 1972 San Francisco Giants. When Jenks tied the record in ’07, it was one of the most under-publicized records in baseball history. Only the seamheads and most die hard of Sox die-hards celebrated it. This was partially due to the fact that the Sox were practically eliminated from playoff contention by Memorial Day that season. This time, however the lights will shine brighter. Buerhle’s feat comes the night after he appeared on David Letterman to deliver a Top Ten list in his honor (in case you missed it, the vid is below).

This accomplishment comes in the thick of a pennant race, at the stadium of the Sox most hated rival, the Minnesota Twins, who are right there with them in the standings. Despite the Twins being to the Sox what the Giants are to the Dodgers, or what the Yankees are to the Red Sox, the Twins fans gave Buerhle a standing ovation twice: when he broke the record and also when upon exiting the game. Sure, the wheels came off after Buerhle’s re-Mark-able streak ended, as the Twins took the lead the next inning. And then the Sox bullpen pitched like a bunch of bushers making things even worse. However, the Twins fans appreciating Buerhle’s record as much as us Sox fans do was 1.) very classy 2.) shows they like baseball in general as much as they like their team.

Bobcats Losers in Swap of Big Men

okafor_ap

By: David Kay

In a move that seemingly came from nowhere, the Hornets and Bobcats have agreed to swap big men.  Tyson Chandler will now call Charlotte home while Emeka Okafor will team up with CP3 in New Orleans.

Why this makes sense for the New Orleans:

Swapping Chandler for Okafor is a slight up-grade in terms of talent.  Okafor is a little more well-rounded on the offensive end and provides the same amount of rebounding, shot blocking, and physicality that Chandler brought down low for the Hornets.  Naw’lins does lose Chandler’s ability to run the floor which complimented Chris Paul’s game quite well.

Why this makes sense for Charlotte:
This move only makes sense from a financial standpoint.  Chandler only has one guaranteed year left on his deal with a player option for 2010-2011 that would pay him almost $12.8 million.  Other than that, this is a bit of a head scratcher.

Click here to read the entire analysis

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