Is Karma Coming To Get Bill O’Brien And Penn State?

Bill O’Brien has had a rough start at PSU

Bill O’Brien made a risky move in the off-season when he left the AFC champion Patriots as well as several potential head coaching positions in the NFL for the ehad job at Penn State.  O’Brien took the job before he even knew what sanctions would be levied down by the NCAA.  A bold move it was for O’Brien, maybe even a noble one,  but if he didn’t get reminded how hard the job was actually going to be when the NCAA leveled some of its toughest sanctions ever he certainly has in the first two weeks of the FBS season.

The Nittany Lions hosted Ohio in week 1.  While Ohio is not exactly a pushover it was a game that you expected Penn State to win.  Penn State got off to a good start in Happy Valley when they unveiled O’Brien’s pro-style offense and jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead.  In the 2nd half the Nittany Lions simply didn’t show up.  They were outscored 21-0 in the 2nd half en route to the 24-14 opening weekend loss.  Penn State almost looked like they didn’t want to be out there in the 2nd half…it was suddenly as if they couldn’t accomplish anything that they wanted to.  It was almost like karma came to get Penn State in that 2nd half.  But it wasn’t half as bad as the karma that they faced a week later.

Kicker Sam Ficken was the goat in PSU’s 2nd game

Penn State went to the University of Virginia for their week 2 game.  Again Virginia was a formidable yet beatable opponent.  It wasn’t so much that the entire team failed to show up for this one so much as one player – kicker Sam Ficken.  Ficken had an awful day missing an extra point and was 1 out of 3 on field goal attempts heading into the final drive.  Penn State moved the ball down to the 27-yard line to set up a 43-yard game winning field goal by Ficken, giving him a chance to redeem himself.  Ficken missed his 4th field goal of the day and Penn State lost the game by 1, 17-16.  Not only did he miss the game winning field goal but he also missed that extra point that would have put the game in overtime.  Last week, after the game, Penn State’s backup kicker walked off the team.  I guess if I couldn’t beat out that guy I would quit also.

Bill O’Brien will have to be patient at Penn State.  He will certainly be enticed by offers from other teams in both college and the pros over the next few seasons but it seems like O’Brien is legitimately interested in playing things out in Happy Valley.  Days like last Saturday and the one before will test his will but at the end of the day he needs to remember that it’s nothing personal and the football gods just need to take it out on somebody.  The karma will eventually go away, it’s just a question of when.

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Penn State Football Program Blown Up

The hammer dropped on Penn State University and its football program this morning when the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions on the University.  I see some people criticizing the NCAA for not instituting the “death penalty” on the Penn State football program but I bet some people over at PSU are wishing they had at this point.

NCAA President Mark Emmert dropped the hammer on Penn State football this morning

First off is the superficial stuff that would have come whether or not the NCAA instituted the death penalty.  Joe Paterno and Penn State had all of their wins striped away since 1998.  Paterno lost 111 wins, bringing his total from 409 career wins to 298.  He went from #2 to #12 on the all-time winningest coaches in college football history list.  Bobby Bowden reclaims the #1 spot from Paterno on the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA division 1 history list.  Penn State was also fined a cool $60 million by the NCAA.  $60 million represents roughly a full year’s net profit generated by the football program.  They are also likely to be fined by other branches of the NCAA for their ethics violations.

This is where the Penn State program was really hot hard – the NCAA reduced Penn State’s yearly scholarships from 25 per year to 15 (the division 1AA level) and banned them from postseason play (bowl games as well as the Big 10 championship game) for the next 4 years.  The post-season ban isn’t even that big of a deal considering that they will likely not be fielding a competitive team any time soon.  Not only did the NCAA remove any penalties for players who wish to transfer out of Penn State but they lifted scholarship and official visit limits for any other program wishing to recruit a Penn State player away.  They are basically openly encouraging Penn State’s football players to transfer.  Penn State will be left with giving scholarships to people who will be simply happy to play division 1 football at all.  For the next 4 years the Penn State football team will be basically adding 15 Rudy Ruettigers to scholarship.  It’s not over for Penn State either.  The Big 10 will be announcing sanctions against PSU this morning as well.

The moral of the story is simple – if you know that someone else is doing something not only illegal but abhorrently inhumane then you need to make sure that they are brought to justice for it.  It’s as common as common sense can get.  All these guys had to do was the right thing.  It hardly seems that tough.  Now Joe Paterno lost 111 wins not to mention his entire legacy.  Penn State had their once elite college football program crippled.  Was it all worth it?  I think the answer to that question is pretty simple at this point.

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NCAA Institutes Playoff

I know this is a little late but I’ve been busy and haven’t gotten around to mentioning it but I wanted to give my two cents.  Here are the details from (

A four-team playoff for college football has been formally approved by a presidential oversight committee, a dramatic change for the sport that will begin in 2014 and continue through the 2025 season. The four teams will be chosen by a selection committee, the semifinals will be held at current bowl sites and the national championship game will be awarded to the highest bidder.

Is this the best that they could have done?  4 teams?  That’s only two more teams than they had before.  It doesn’t seem all that much better.  I think that the NCAA needs to grow some balls and stand up to the big bowls and tell them they don’t care what they want and just implement the system that is best for college football.  The big bowls need to realize people don’t watch for the mystique and aura of the Orange Bowl et. al, they just want to sit and watch some good football on New Year’s weekend.  The most infuriating part is that if it was even only 8 teams I think I would have been satisfied.  This was the NCAA’s opportunity to show the big bowls their real place but they turned tail and bent over backwards for them.  Sure this is better than the current system but even with 4 teams someone is going to be left on the outside looking in.  I know that you could say that about any system but it sounds better when the 8th or 9th best teams gets left out instead of the 4th or 5th.  They can have a tournament and then do the big bowls separately and it wouldn’t make one shred of difference in terms or ratings and sponsorships.  Hopefully there is a clause that says that they can expand if they see fit between now and 2025 because this is a huge fail for the NCAA if they are locked into this format for the next 13 years.

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Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Some random thoughts on the last Sunday in March…

  • I’m enjoying this March Madness more than I have for the last few years.  Maybe it’s because I paid a bit more attention during the season but there have also been a lot of great storyline.  Ohio University went on a hell of a run.  As much as I’ll never be a Rick Pitino fan you’ve got to give it to him and his Louisville team for its run to the final four.  There’s been a lot of stand out performances from both well-known and not-so-well-known players from around the country.  There is a 1, two 2s, and a 4 seed in the Final Four.  It is not as varied as the field was last year in the Final Four but I expect some really good basketball this weekend.  I originally had Michigan State beating Kansas in the finals.  Kentucky looks awful tough though, I say Kentucky over Kansas next Monday night.

    Louisville coach Rick Pitino is headed to another Final Four

  • Baseball season is a little over a week away (three days if you are a fans of the A’s or the Mariners).  I suppose there is a lot of unanswered questions on paper for the Sox.  I’m not sure about the reports of dissension between Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington.  It seems like Bobby V. is content with leaving Iglesias and Lavarnway in AAA for the start of the season and let the veterans, Aviles and Shoppach, play themselves out of their jobs if they must.  As for the rotation I am sure that Ben and Bobby both agree that the best two will fill out the rotation.  From what I’ve seen the only slam dunk is Felix Doubront, who has been very solid all spring,  but right now I have Bard, Cook, Aceves in that order heading into the final week for the 5th start.
  • I’m interested to see how the bullpen comes together in the final week of spring training.  The Sox avoided a potential big injury when Franklin Morales’ medical issues were cleared up in Boston.  He’s poised for a big season out of the Sox pen this year.
  • So Peyton is in Denver, Tebow is in New York, Luck is going to Indianapolis, and RG3 is headed to Washington.  In the long run we may be saying that the Broncos got the best of this exchange if they can cash in what’s left of Manning’s productivity into a few deep playoff runs and maybe a championship.  I think RG3 will be a hell of a pro player but until the Redskins show some structure they’ll have to prove to me they can build a contender around him.  I think Luck will be great but that organization is basically re-starting from scratch.  I’m not sure what the hell the Jets are doing to be honest.
  • Ochocinco says he has "unfinished business" but may have to do it from rather far down on the Pats' depth chart

    Ochocinco restructured his deal to remain with the Patriots for 2012 at a reduced $1 million salary.  With Welker and Branch back in the fold and Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth joining them, it looks as though Ochocinco may be the most expensive cheerleader on the Patriots roster next season.

  • For those talking about the Bills becoming the Redskins or the Cowboys for giving out a monster contract to former #1 pick Mario Williams and a slightly above market contract to fellow DE Mark Anderson remember this – the NFL allowed teams to rollover salary cap from the previous year starting this off-season.  The Bills rolled over almost $20 million in room which they used to sign two guys at a position of great need (and a position that the Bills brass was less than thrilled at re-stocking with talent from this year’s NFL draft) as well as a plethora of their own guys.  The big market squads used to call out teams like the Bills for being cheap and sitting on revenue sharing money.  I see a very specific strategy in which the team built up its assets for three seasons to position themselves to supplement the core for the contending team almost all in one off-season.  It is very similar to what Danny Ainge did when he took over the Celtics.
  • I’m glad to see Celtics swingman Mickael Pietrus escaped from his scary injury on Friday night with apparently only a concussion.  Pietrus says that he hopes to be back playing soon.  He’ll wind up being an important player for the C’s during the stretch run and playoffs but I hope he makes sure he takes care of himself before thinking about basketball.

Next week I’ll have a big baseball preview and recap of the Final Four.

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Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Some random sport thoughts on a Sunday afternoon…

  • I think John Elway really showed his hand this week when he aggressively went after Peyton Manning. He clearly does not see Tim Tebow as the long term answer at quarterback and saw an opportunity to replace Tebow with the only guy he could replace him with without causing a fan revolt. Now the question is what happens if Peyton goes somewhere else?
  • Arizona is the next stop on the Peyton Manning tour. A lot of people talk about Miami but unlike Miami the Cardinals actually play indoors and while Brandon Marshall is a good player Larry Fitzgerald is one of the top two receivers in football
  • The Redskins gave up a lot to secure the 2nd pick in the draft and Robert Griffin III. Griffin will now be the guy who makes or breaks Mike Shanahan’s tenure in Washington. One thing that is for sure is that the twice a year Vick/RG3 match-ups should be fun to watch.
  • How much will Miami overpay for Matt Flynn if they lose out on Manning?
  • It was a great championship week in college basketball and I can’t wait for the tournament to begin this week. Always one of the more fun times in sports
  • I’m already bored with preseason baseball. Can we get the actual games going already?
  • It would be a tough break for the Yankees and Rays, respectively, if they lost David Robertson or David Price for any long period of time due to fluke injuries. Somebody needs to tell Price to quit putting the towel around his neck
  • The NBA season seems to be going by way too fast. It’s tough to stay interested. That’s what happens when you lose games to a stoppage
  • The NHL season will be coming to an end soon and then the three month run to the Cup begins.
  • That’s all for now. More Red Sox previews next week as well as a tournament preview


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Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Today is reporting day for pitchers and catchers for the Red Sox in Fort Myers.  Baseball season is on the horizon and we are getting for the stretch run in hockey and basketball.  Here are some (almost) mindless sports thoughts for a Sunday morning/afternoon.

  • Wakefield ended 17 great years in Boston on Friday

    Tim Wakefield was classy until the end.  Wakefield closed out his Red Sox, and baseball career on Friday evening with a press conference in which Wake carried himself the same way he did for 17 years in Boston.  Wakefield brought it for 17 years for the Red Sox and carved out his own little place in Boston baseball lore.  Thank you Tim.  I saw you pitch live at Fenway more than maybe I wanted to but you did a lot for the organization, including win 2 rings.  I’m not sure if you can think of a better successor to Mike Andrews as chairman of the Jimmy Fund than Wakefield.

  • Listening to Bobby Valentine talk this morning it sounds like this truly is an evaluation period for everyone on the roster.  It sounds like Jose Iglesias has a legitimate shot to be the Sox’ every day shortstop.  Things that happened last year will probably be addressed but it seems to me that Valentine will make his own impression on the players by what he sees himself in the clubhouse and on the field.
  • My bold prediction on the first day of Sox’ spring training – Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront round out the rotation to start the regular season.
  • If fans in L.A. start hearing about Angels camp being “Camp Tranquility” just an FYI, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
  • Miguel Cabrera's transition to third base will be one to watch

    Some of the more interesting storylines heading into camp outside of Boston – how will the defending champs fair with former catcher Mike Matheny replacing Tony LaRussa, one of the most decorated managers of all-time, as manager of the Cardinals?  He did retain some key guys such as Jose Oquendo and Mark McGwire from LaRussa’s staff.  Also will be interesting to watch Miguel Cabrera’s transition from first base to third in Detroit camp.  He was never a good defensive first baseman so third base could be an adventure.  It looks like there is a clown show coming to Athletics camp this week as well and his name is Manny Ramirez.

  • In non-baseball news, the Andrew Luck show, I mean the NFL Scouting Combine is this week in Indianapolis.  The guy with the least amount of pressure on him might be Robert Griffith III, the consensus #2 QB to be taken in the draft.  Although he can conceivably go anywhere from picks #2-#6 to at least 3 different teams the focus will squarely be on future Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck as he works out for scouts in what will become his home stadium next season.  RG3 can just go out there and do his thing.
  • Negotiations with pending free agents should kick into gear next week in Indy.  There’s a lot of talent out there unsigned.  Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, Wes Welker, Jermichael Finley, Mario Williams, Cliff Avril, and Chris Carr just to name a few.  Negotiations between teams and free agents have been modest so far but teams and agents use the scouting combine to kick off serious talks.  The Buffalo Bills jumped ahead last week by exchanging numbers with the agent for WR Stevie Johnson and they hope to close the gap this week in Indy.
  • Is anyone else sick of Linsanity already?
  • Kevin Garnett and company are starting to show their age.

    The Celtics are looking their age already.  It’s tough to see them making a deep run into the playoffs this year.  They desperately need yo get younger next season.

  • I can’t believe that it’s time for bracketology already.  The bright side to that is it means that spring is right around the corner.
  • The Bruins are starting to get beat up.  They could use some reinforcements at the trading deadline but it seems like a situation like last year where they need to tinker rather than make a major move.  I still feel that this team can compete for another championship with their current core, they just need to add some guys in some tertiary moves.  They struck gold last year with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
  • For years it seems they’ve been trying to make a TV show about professional sports that is enjoyed by both fans and players alike.  Sure there was Friday Night Lights but that was a show about high school sports.  ESPN tried the controversial “Playmakers” years back but players thought the portrayal of edgy behavior of athletes off the field, while maybe accurate, was the part of the game that wasn’t for fans to see.  Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and Will Ferrell had a great idea a few years ago – make a parody so over the top that both players and fans would get a kick out of it.  They created Kenny Powers, an ignorant, insensitive, and masochistic cariacture, who was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball before bottoming out.  Tonight starts the third and final season of Eastbound and Down.  It’s probably the best sports comedy ever on TV.  Check it out at 10:00 PM EST if you have HBO.  Here’s a little Kenny for you:


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Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Some mindless Sunday musings from the week that was and the week that’s to come…

  • Baseball activities have started in Fort Myers.  The Red Sox have a lot to prove after what happened last year whether they are sorry or not, as I wrote about on Friday.  Jon Lester has headed many of the team activities during the first unofficial week.  Apology or no apology he gets it.  He was joined by Andrew Miller, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andrew Bailey, and injured pitchers Rich Hill and Daisuke Matsuzaka among others.  The fun begins today when new manager Bobby Valentine arrives in Fort Myers.  The official report date for pitchers and catchers is next weekend but you can expect more early arrivals during the course of the week.
  • Daisuke may be back in the Sox rotation sooner than later

    Speaking of Matsuzaka it now appears that he is still about a month ahead of schedule on his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  That would put his return to the Red Sox rotation sometime in May.  For all of the talk about a weak rotation Dice-K could be a wild card.  Perhaps the Red Sox are holding back when it comes to acquiring another starter in the hopes that one of the reclamation guys like Carlos Silva or Vicente Padilla can hold a spot until Dice-K is ready to re-join the rotation.  It will be also interesting to see the differences in how Valentine, a veteran of the Japanese baseball scene, differs in his approach in handling Dice-K from that of former manager Terry Francona.  Remember that Matsuzaka is in the final year of his contract and it could be an “all hands on deck” approach to his season when he is finally healthy.

  • It’s good to see Mass. native Rich Hill early and working hard to come back from Tommy John surgery himself.  He could be a useful member of the Sox bullpen when he is healthy.
  • I was sick of hearing about the Giants/Patriots Super Bowl match-up about a week into the prep and I am starting to get sick of the post coverage of the game as well.  Here’s the gist – Yes, Eli is elite, no, Brady’s legacy isn’t tarnished.  I’m not sure why so many pundits need something one way or the other.  Why can’t Tom Brady still be one of the best quarterbacks of all-time while we work Eli Manning into the conversation of upper echelon QB talents in the league?
  • Stanford Routt was the first of many Raider vets to be let go from their lucrative contracts

    Things should heat up in the next few weeks for the NFL off season with the combine and the cutting of veteran players.  Cornerback Stanford Routt, who was just signed to a 5-year, 51 million dollar extension before last season, was cut by the Raiders in what looks to be the first of many moves by the new Oakland management to overhaul the team.  Just because these guys are getting cut from their trademark crazy Al Davis-signed contracts doesn’t mean that they won’t be assets for other teams.  Routt has already received interest from at least 5 other teams and will be in Buffalo on Monday for a visit with the Bills.  New GM Reggie McKenzie will build the team his way which might flood an already full FA market full of vets from the silver and black.

  • The aggressiveness that the Bills have pursued Routt makes you wonder if GM Buddy Nix is changing his approach to the off season.  The Bills have shied away from an aggressive approach to free agency in Nix’s first two years on the job but you wonder if they think that they are close enough that a few big ticket guys and another draft away from getting over the hump.  That starts with keeping your own, an approach that Buddy Nix has stressed since he got the job, but Stevie Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler are big pieces of last year’s team that need to be addressed.  Still Nix has re-signed 3 starters (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Williams, and Erik Pears) and 2 key special teams players (kicker Rian Lindell and long snapper Garrison Sanborn).  If Nix can get Stevie and Chandler signed up it will be the first time in what seems like forever that the Bills will go into the off season not having to fill holes that opened up by letting their own players walk.  You could look around the league and put a playoff team full of free agents or traded players that the Bills have lost.  Guys like Marshawn Lynch, Jason Peters, Jabari Greer, Nate Clements, Donte Whitner, London Fletcher, the list goes on.
  • Linsanity is running wild in New York

    Linsanity is the talk of the NBA this week.  Jeremy Lin is a great story but spare me the comparisons to Tim Tebow.  Jeremy Lin wasn’t a blip on the radar when he played at Harvard.  He was waived by his first team, the Golden State Warriors, on the first day after the NBA lockout and barely stuck with the Knicks out of training camp.  Conversely Tim Tebow was one of the most celebrated athletes in college sports history, became a 1st round pick despite questions about how his talent would translate into the pros, and was a fan favorite from Day 1 in Denver, even as he was sitting on the bench.  It’s basically like comparing apples and oranges.  Lin is such a great story because he seemingly came from nowhere to star for the basketball team that plays in the biggest city in America.

  • The Celtics seem to be in a transitional phase right now.  The big 3 is still playing for a championship and there is not enough good teams in the Eastern Conference to push them out of contention.  They have many young players who are not quite ready to contribute but need the minutes to improve.  Avery Bradley and the two Purdue rookies, Etwaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, look like future contributors but how do you divide minutes while still trying to compete in the Eastern Conference?  They let the game against the Lakers slip away on Thursday night and then came out flat against the Raptors in Toronto the next night.  They are surely headed to the playoffs but they need another guy to step up and contribute.  Will it be Bradley, Moore, Johnson, or someone else?
  • Austin Rivers launches his buzzer beating shot against UNC

    This is probably the best college basketball season in a long time and nobody knows it.  I haven’t watched much myself but the big buzzer beating shot by Austin Rivers of Duke to defeat rivals North Carolina last week was a reminder of how great regular season college basketball can be.  Sure, everyone will be tuned in during Match Madness but the NCAA should find a way to market the regular season better.  The NCAA has opposite problems with football.  In football the fans love the regular season but they loathe the shoddy  and murky post-season bowl set-up.  In basketball all that anyone cares about is the playoff tournament.  Maybe both sides should get together and figure it all out.

  • The Bruins had a big win yesterday that can get you out of a slump.  Milan Lucic’s game-tying goal with less than two minutes remaining followed by a shoot out win is exactly the type of game ending scenario that can put this team on another run.  Still you get the feeling that this team will be no worse than a #3 seed by season’s end.  It’s all keeping healthy and in shape by time the run for a second straight cup begins in April.


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Joe Paterno 1926-2012

Joe Paterno passed away this morning at the age of 85.  Say what you will about the scandal involving his former defensive coordinator Gerry Sandusky and how he was or wasn’t involved but one thing is for certain – on Saturdays, Paterno was one of the best, if not the best football coach that there ever was.

Joe Paterno 1926-2012

Paterno was born on December 21, 1926 in Brooklyn, NY.  He spent a year in the army out of high school and then went to Brown University to play football.  He graduated from Brown in the class of 1950 and promptly took a job as assistant coach for Penn State who had just hired his own college coach, Rip Engle.  After spending 16 years as assistant coach under Engle he was elevated to head coach of Penn State upon Engle’s retirement.  Paterno was the head coach of Penn State from then until November 8, 2011 when the Penn State board of trustees voted to relieve Paterno of his duties in light of the Sandusy abuse scandal.

The saddest thing about the scandal was that Paterno was the last of a generation.  He didn’t need to get kids tattoos and hummers and big wads of cash to recruit.  He was just Joe Pa.  He could walk into a prospect’s living room and that’s all he needed.  Coaches these days bolt for the NFL for big money and when they fail they take more big money from their old school’s biggest rival.  Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and guys like that are great coaches but they’ll never be like a Joe Paterno or a Bobby Bowden.  Coaches these days chase the money and not the legacy.  Back in 1972 Paterno actually had an agreement with the New England Patriots to be their head football coach.  He backed out at the last minute, citing loyalty to Penn State.  That was the first and only flirtation with the NFL, 40 years ago.  Now all that’s left is guys like Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel who were jettisoned from the jobs because of NCAA violations.  And it was them and not other coaches because they were the ones that got caught.  The only thing close to a Paterno in college football now is Frank Beamer in Virginia Tech.  No disrespect to Beamer, he’s a great coach, but he’s no Bowden or Paterno.  That old school mentality in college football died when Paterno had to answer for his part in Sandusky’s scandal.

Joe Pa coached the Nittany Lions from 1965 to 2011

It was unfortunate how it ended and Paterno was rightfully punished for not blowing the whistle on the cover up.  But that doesn’t erase the legacy that came before that.  It’s not necessarily the man so much as the end of an era as I outlined above.  Watching ESPN this morning Mike Ditka talked about the time that Joe Paterno came to his house to recruit him to Penn State.  18-year old Mike Ditka at the kitchen table listening to Joe Pa.  Ditka won a Super Bowl as a head coach when I was 4 years old.  That’s how long he was around.

Paterno’s life seemed to end when he was displaced from Penn State.  He only lived 75 more days.  He wasn’t Bobby Bowden, who loves to talk and loves to be around people.  He didn’t have a post-career gig on ESPN like Bowden.  Even if he wanted to, it’s certainly wasn’t in the cards after how it ended for him in Penn State.  Lou Holtz said this morning that the day that Paterno was relieved of his duties after he did a segment on ESPN, he turned around to Mark May and said that he wouldn’t last 6 months.  He was right.  It’s not the first time.  Bear Bryant died just 28 days after coaching his last game.  Vince Lombardi died less than a year after he coached his NFL game.  Penn State was his life and when that was gone there was nothing left.

While I think Paterno should have been punished, and he was, I don’t think it should go any further than that.  He didn’t actually commit the crimes and he wasn’t part of the cover-up, he just didn’t follow up with the guys who were covering up as to why they didn’t act on the intel he gave them.  It wasn’t apparent in the midst of the scandal but becomes more apparent as his death brings closure – college football will never be the same again.  Paterno was the last of the old school coaches who came from a time where it was about legacy, not money.  That time is now gone.

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The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #4 – BCS Championship Game: Auburn vrs. Oregon, January 10, 2011

We have to go way back on our calendar for my #4 sports game of the year for 2011, the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers.  If it seems like it was a long time ago, it’s because it was.  Auburn’s starting quarterback that night, Cam Newton, has already broken the NFL single season rookie passing record held by Peyton Manning and the Tigers and Ducks have already played their full 2011 seasons since then.  A lot has happened in the sports world since this game was played on January 10 of this year but an exciting game with an ending that featured a brilliant play by a freshman running back puts this one at #4 on my list.

Neither team gave an inch in the early going

After defeating rivals Alabama on November 26th, 2010 by one point Auburn went on to romp South Carolina in the S.E.C. Championship and complete an undefeated regular season with a 13-0 record and earn a spot in the BCS title game.  On the other side the Ducks also had to go through their bitter in-state rivals, Oregon State, to secure a spot in the BCS Championship.  They defeated them handily by a score of 37-20 to complete their own perfect regular season at 12-0.  Oregon was a young team that featured sophomore stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas.  Auburn was led by sensation Cam Newton and a stout defense led by interior defensive lineman Nick Fairley.

The game started off with the two teams exchanging punts, managing only 1 first down between the two of them.  On the Ducks 2nd possession QB Darron Thomas was intercepted on the 5th play of the drive to give Auburn the ball at the Oregon 47.  They didn’t hold the ball for that long as Cam Newton was intercepted two plays later by cornerback Cliff Harris at the Oregon 25.  Harris returned the ball back 22 yards to their own 47.  Thomas took over looking to redeem himself for the earlier pick.  He took the team down the field in 7 plays all the way to the Auburn 20 yard line, mostly on rushes by LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.  With 1st and 10 from the 20 the Ducks were primed to get on the board first but Thomas was again picked off by the Auburn defense at the Auburn 14.  Auburn dodged a bullet but Newton could not make the Ducks pay as he and the Auburn offense could only manage 5 plays before punting the ball back to Oregon with a little over two minutes remaining in the 1st quarter.

James celebrates his TD catch

Oregon finally got the ball rolling on offense as the opening quarter was coming to a close.  They ran 8 offensive plays to close out the quarter and had the ball with a 3rd and 2 at the Auburn 3 as the 1st quarter came to a close.  The third down play broke down and Thomas ran backwards for a loss of 6 yards and Oregon settled for a chip shot field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.  Newton came out prepared to shake off his disappointing start.  With Stanford sophomore Andrew Luck declaring that he would not enter the NFL draft before the game it gave Newton the opportunity to become the #1 pick if he could prove to scouts both here and at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was worth that top pick.  He started on the Tigers’ 1st drive of the 2nd quarter.  He took Auburn down the field on 8 plays and capped off the drive with a 35 yard touchdown strike to running back Kodi Burns for the first touchdown of the game and a 7-3 lead.  That got the ball rolling.  The first play of Oregon’s next drive was an 81 yard pass from Thomas to receiver Jeff Maehl to set the Ducks up at the Auburn 12.  Three plays later Thomas hit James for a touchdown.  The Ducks faked the extra point and kicker Rob Beard ran the ball in for a surprise 2-point conversion to give the Ducks an 11-7 lead.  Newton and the Tigers got the ball back determined to slow down the pace and went on a 16 play drive that ended at the Oregon 1 yard line after an incomplete pass by Newton on 4th and goal from the 1.  Auburn’s defense picked up Newton and the offense by not allowing James to get out of the end zone on 1st down when they tackled him for a safety to make the score 11-9.  Newton took advantage of the free kick in 6 plays, hitting receiver Emory Blake with a 30 yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 16-11 lead.  Oregon and Auburn exchanged punts to close out the first half with a score of Auburn 16, Oregon 11.

Newton and the Auburn offense opened the second half with the ball and went 8 plays down to the Oregon 11 until they were stopped on 3rd down, leading to a 28 yard Wes Bynum field goal to give them a 19-11 lead.  Oregon’s next drive stalled at the Auburn 40 and they were forced to punt the ball back.  Auburn couldn’t manage anything on the next drive, going 3-and-out.  Oregon took over at their own 27 and Thomas engineered his own 10 play drive deep into Auburn territory.  Like Auburn earlier in the game Oregon was 4th and goal from the Auburn 1 yard line, trailing by 8 points.  Chip Kelly decided to go for it, like Gene Chizik did earlier.  Oregon called a run and Kenjon Barner was stuffed at the 1 yard line, turning the ball over to Auburn on downs.  Auburn took over at the 1 but Newton called his own number and ran for three yards to give the Tigers breathing room.  Auburn started to move the ball up field and had settled at their own 24 yard line with a 2nd and 9 as the third quarter came to a close.  They were one quarter away from winning a National Championship.

Matthews forced a Newton fumble to set up Oregon's tying TD

Newton and company moved the ball out to their own 47 yard line before the drive stalled but they had taken up valuable time and turned the field position over.  Oregon got the ball back at their own 16.  Thomas and company moved the ball down field but their drive stalled at the Auburn 46 and it was their turn to punt.  Punter Jackson Rice could only manage to pin Auburn back to their own 21 yard line.  Oregon had squandered an opportunity to pin Auburn back and it was up to the Tigers to take advantage.  They again slowly moved the ball up the field but their drive stalled at the Oregon 42 and they punted the ball back to the Ducks.  Auburn did a better job of pinning the Ducks, dropping the punt at the Oregon 14 with 6:34 left in the game.  Once again the Ducks could not muster any offense and punted the ball back to Auburn with 5:05 left.  It was Newton’s time to shine and earn that #1 draft status.  Oregon had different plans however and on a 2nd down run by Newton the ball was stripped from him by linebacker Casey Matthews and recovered by the Ducks at the Auburn 40 yard line.  A dumb personal foul penalty sent them back 15 yard but they were still at their own 45 with 4:54 remaining, needing  a touchdown and another two-point conversion to tie the game.  Thomas started to lead Oregon down the field but was quickly face with a 4th and 5 at the Auburn 40.  Darron Thomas came up with a big 29 yard pass to receiver D.J. Davis to give Oregon a 1st and 10 at the Auburn 11.  Three plays later Thomas connected with James on a two yard touchdown pass, getting the Ducks within two points.  Those two points came on the next play when Thomas connected with Maehl to tie the game at 19-19 with 2:33 left.

Dyers' miracle run sealed the game and championship for Auburn

There was 2:33 left and Auburn needed a field goal to win the game.  After Newton had fumbled on the last possession it would mean that a lot of the ball handling would be done by freshman running back Michael Dyer.  After opening with a 15 yard pass from Newton to Emory Blake the Tigers called Dyer’s number on 1st down with an off tackle play.  Dyer was dragged down after gaining 6 or 7 yards.  Dyer hopped up and he and everyone else on the field thought that the play was over but the whistle hadn’t blown.  The coaches were yelling from the sidelines to Dyer to keep running.  So Dyer started running, he ran the ball all the way down to the Oregon 23 yard line.  Much to the shock of everyone in the stands as well as everyone watching at home and the players for both teams the play stood.  The ref had never blown the whistle and Dyer’s knee had never hit the ground.  The Tigers were close to field goal range, if not already there yet.  Dyer decided to make an encore on 3rd down by running it 16 yards down to the Oregon 1 and stopping before scoring a touchdown so they could kick the ball as time expired and not give Oregon a chance to make a miracle play on a kick return or a throwback pass.  Auburn kicker Wes Bynum kicked the game winning field goal as time expired and Auburn won their first National Championship in 53 years.

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11 athletes who broke out in 2011

Every year there is a group of athletes that have break-out performance.  Some were previous disappointments who found their way.  Some were no names who put themselves on the map.  You thought some of them were pretty good but it turned out they were really good.  Some just have a great story.  Here are 11 athletes who broke out in 2011:

Red Sox Center Fielder Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder, Boston Red Sox – Ellsbury went from goat to hero in the span of two seasons.  After coming up from the minors and helping the Sox win a World Series in 2007 Red Sox fans have been patiently waiting for Ellsbury to become the star player he was expected to be.  It reached a breaking point in 2010 when he was moved from center to left field in favor of free agent pick-up Mike Cameron.  When injuries held Ellsbury to only 18 games fans and the media wondered if he was really too injured to play.  Even some of his own teammates question why he wasn’t rehabbing with the team.  When Ellsbury bounced back in 2011 even his biggest supporters couldn’t predict what he would accomplish.  He posted a line of .321/.376/.928, all career highs.  He hit 32 home runs, 21 over his previous career high of 9 and 105 RBI, 55 more than his previous career high of 60.  He also added 39 stolen bases and a Gold Glove.  Will Ellsbury continue this torrid pace?  Maybe not but remember one thing – he’s got three more years of arbitration and Scott Boras is his agent.  I’m thinking that the production doesn’t dip too much.

Royals Left Fielder Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon, Left Fielder, Kansas City Royals – Gordon was supposed to be the center piece of the Royals’ re-build when he was drafted 2nd overall in the 2005 MLB draft.  Things didn’t turn out that way.  After a disappointing rookie season in 2007 Gordon was either too hurt or too ineffective to stick with the major league roster for a full season.  The natural third baseman also became a man without a position after the Royals started moving him around the diamond, from shortstop to first base, to the outfield and back.  Gordon entered spring training in 2010 and 2011 on the roster bubble.  He seemed like he’d be another high rated pick that couldn’t get it done in the small market and would need a change of scenery if he wanted a chance to succeed.  Manager Ned Yost decided to give that change of scenery to Gordon himself by declaring Alex Gordon his starting left fielder for the 2011 season and Gordon rewarded Yost’s faith with his best season yet.  He had a .303/.376/.879 line, all career highs (his previous high in batting average was .260).  His 23 home runs were 7 better than his previous best of 16 and his 87 RBI were 27 better than his previous career best of 60.  Like Ellsbury, Gordon was also awarded a Gold Glove for his prowess in the field.  Will the Royals ever complete their perpetual rebuild?  If they do one thing is for sure – Alex Gordon will be playing left field for the Kansas City Royals.

Saints Tight End Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints – Jimmy Graham’s mother left him at a foster home when he was 11 years old.  Since then he went to the University of Miami to play basketball, got a degree with a double major in marketing and management, joined the football team in his fifth year in school while he was taking post-grad classes, was drafted to the NFL and became the favorite target of one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  Who says that the system is broken?  When he knew that he wasn’t going to make the NBA he just decided to play football in his extra year of eligibility.  He only caught 17 passes in his year playing with the Hurricanes but 5 of them were for touchdowns.  The New Orleans Saints made him the 95th pick in the 2010 NFL draft.  He would play behind former Hurricane stand-out tight end Jeremy Shockey.  In his rookie year he caught 31 balls from All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, including 5 touchdowns and a paltry 11.5 average yards per reception.  In the off season Shockey was traded to the Carolina Panthers and Graham was promoted to the starting lineup.  Through 14 games in 2011 only Wes Welker has more receptions than him.  He already has 87 receptions for a whooping 1,171 yards and 9 touchdowns.  He still has two more games to add on that total.  He’s been a huge part in Drew Brees attempting to break Dan Marino’s long standing yards in a season record.  He’s only in his 2nd year.  Graham looks like he’s going to stick around in New Orleans for a long time coming.  It’s not too bad for a guy who just decided one day to play some football.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor Bears – Life is good for the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.  Why wouldn’t it be?  When people keep their expectations low it’s not hard to exceed them, especially if you are Griffin.  His Baylor Bear football team wasn’t expected to do much this year.  Ask TCU, Oklahoma, and Texas (all ranked teams that Baylor defeated) how much they’ve done this year.  When Heisman time came all of the talk leading up was about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Alabama running back Trent Richardson.  In swooped Griffin on the last week of the season and put on a big performance against the Texas Longhorns to win the Heisman trophy.  Not only was he the first Baylor Bear to win it, he was the first to ever be nominated.  Griffin’s life is much different from Graham’s.  Griffin was born in Okinawa, Japan in 1990 to Sergeants Robert and Jacqueline Griffin, both of the U.S. Army.  He bounced around the world until his family finally settled in Texas when he was 8 years old.  That led him to Baylor University where he helped turn a perennial also-ran into the #12 team in the country by the end of his junior season, which is his 4th at Baylor.  Griffin can graduate now and leave for the NFL or he can come back for one more year and try to make Baylor football even better.  One thing is for sure – the future is bright for RG3.

Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy

Ian Kennedy, Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks – The New York Yankees had high hopes for Ian Kennedy when they drafted him 21st overall in the 1st round of the 2006 draft.  Kennedy made his Yankees debut in September of 2007.  He bounced up and down and on and off the disabled list for between 2007-2009.  His injuries ranged from a strained lat to bursitis to an aneurysm in his armpit.  The Yankees decided it would be better to use him as a trade chip then count on him for the future of their starting rotation and shipped him away to Arizona in a three team trade to acquire center fielder Curtis Granderson.  Kennedy, finally healthy, made 32 starts for a horrible D-Backs in 2010 and had a 9-10 record with a 3.80 ERA.  For that mediocre performance Kennedy was rewarded by being named the opening day starter for the Diamondbacks in 2011.  2011 was a much different year for Kennedy and the D-Backs.  He finished with a 21-4 record and a 2.88 ERA in 33 starts.  He struck out 198 batters in 222 innings pitched, 30 more than the high of 168 that he set the year before.  He didn’t make the All-Star team and he only finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting but Kennedy led the Diamondbacks to a worst to first place finish.  Kennedy pitched for the D-Backs in their first post-season since 2007.  They lost to the Brewers but Kennedy had established himself as the ace of the staff for Kirk Gibson and an up-and-coming Arizona Diamondback team.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers – You’ve got to hand it to Clayton Kershaw.  While a historic franchise was imploding around him Kershaw kept his cool and gave the Dodgers faithful a unanimous Cy Young winning season.   Kershaw was another one of these players that the fan base always had high expectations, maybe too high, and even modest results were met with disappointment.  His best record coming in to 2011 was his 13-10 record in 2010.  The Dodgers fan base expected more out of Kershaw so that is exactly what he gave to them in 2011.  While the owner of the Dodgers was losing his shirt (and his baseball team) in a divorce the Dodgers became a side show.  Kershaw did not.  By the end of the season Kershaw had amassed a 21-5 record with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts.  His 21 wins, 2.28 ERA and 248 K’s earned him the pitcher’s triple crown.  By time the 2012 season rolls around the Dodgers will be in a more stable state.  The MLB took over the team during the season and they will likely have new owners in charge by early next year and they will need to pick up the pieces of the mess left by the previous regime.  The new owners will have a pair of centerpieces to build around – outfielder Matt Kemp and Kershaw, who finally became the ace that the Dodgers fans have been waiting for him to become since he first broke into the big leagues back in 2008.

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love

Kevin Love, Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Love was the #5 pick in the 2008 NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies and was promptly traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a multi-player draft day deal.  He would be part of the rebuilding process after the T-Wolves had traded Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in the previous off-season.  He was blocked, however, by Al Jefferson who was the centerpiece of the Garnett trade.  He played modest minutes in his first two seasons in Minnesota, putting up solid but unspectacular numbers.  Jefferson was traded to the Nets before the 2010-2011 season and Love was primed for a bigger role with the Timberwolves.  He started 73 games last season, more than the 59 that he started i his first two seasons combined.  His numbers enjoyed an strong uptick as well.  He went from 14.0 points per game to 20.2, from 11.o rebounds per game to 15.2, and from 28.6 minutes per game to 35.8.  He also improved his field goal and free throw percentages (45% to 47% FG, 81% to 85% FT).  Love posted the first 30/30 game in the NBA in 28 years when he scored 31 points and grabbed 31 rebounds in a game against the Knicks.  The Timberwolves only won 17 games and were the worst team in the league for the 2nd year in a row but they have Love, who was a Western Conference all-star last year as well as the 2011 most improved player in the NBA.  If he can continue to develop into one of the marquee players in the league he might get the Timberwolves out of the lottery before you know it.

Bruins winger Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand, Winger, Boston Bruins – Marchand is the Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Bruins.  Listed at 5’9″ and 183 lbs. Marchand may not be the biggest or strongest player but he makes up for it with heart, toughness, and a little ego.  Marchand has been a pain in the ass for opponents (especially the opposing goalies) since he broke into the league in 2009.  After not scoring a goal in 20 games during his time with the Bruins in the 2009-2010 season he broke out last season with 21 goals and 41 total points for the Bruins in 77 games during the 2010-2011 season.  He took his game to another level in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs when he had 11 goals and 8 assists in the 25 game run to the Stanley Cup championship.  The diminutive young star quickly became a fan favorite among the Bruins faithful with his mix of speed and finesse to go along with his little tough guy antics on the ice.  Marchand came back and picked up right where he left off in the 2011 portion of the 2011-2012 season.  He has scored 15 goals and 29 total points for the Bruins in the first 33 games of their Stanley Cup-defending season, including a hat trick just last night.  Marchand is one of the cornerstones of a Boston Bruins team that looks to be a Cup contender for many years to come.  The opposing fans are sure to love to hate Brad Marchand for many years to come and Marchand and the Bruins faithful wouldn’t have it any other way.

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul

Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive End, New York Giants – Jason Pierre-Paul was a stand-out basketball player in high school.  The school’s football coach tried to recruit him to play football and Pierre-Paul casually brushed him off.  The coach then started to wait for him after basketball practice by sitting on the hood of his car until he finally agreed to play football.  Pierre-Paul is probably happy that the coach had been so insistent on him playing football.  After playing a year each at College of the Canyons and Fort Scott Community College Pierre-Paul was recruited to play at the University of South Florida.  The son of Haitian immigrants only played one season at USF before declaring for the NFL draft.  He was drafted 15th overall by the New York Giants at the 2010 NFL draft.  He had little previous training but was going into a situation were he would be mentored by guys like Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.  After a decent rookie season with modest playing time Pierre-Paul has blown up for the Giants in 2011.  He has 13.5 sacks including 1 for a safety, 2 forced fumbles and 6 passes defensed to go with 59 tackles in his sophomore season.  Pierre-Paul looks to be next in a long line of impressive pass rushers to don the New York Giants uniform.  He’s only two years into his career and he’s got plenty of time to create a resume that matches the likes of Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan.  He is off to a pretty good start.

Canadians defenseman P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban, Defenseman, Montreal Canadiens – Speaking of hockey players that opposing fan bases love to hate, Subban has earned quite the reputation of loathe among fans of the Canadiens’ fiercest rivals.  He broke into the NHL with the Canadiens in February of 2010 and has only gotten better as he has gained experience.  His personality is what makes Canadien fans love him and opposing teams hate him.  He’s rough and loud on the ice and his celebrations, such as his trademark arrrow show, make him one of the most hated men on the ice.  He’s a productive player too.  He scored 14 goals and had 24 assists in his first full season in the NFL last season.  He also added 2 points and 2 assists in his first NHL post-season action in the first round series against the Bruins.  On March 20, 2011 Subban became the first rookie defenseman in Canadien history to have a hat trick in a game.  Subban has only scored 2 goals so far during the 2011 season but has already recorded 12 assists in 35 games.  He’s the stabilizing force in the back end of the Canadiens’ defense and at only 22 years old looks to be an integral part of the Canadiens success for a long time.


Thunder guard Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook, Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder – Westbrook was the 4th overall pick of the Seattle Supersonics in the 2008 NBA draft out of UCLA.  The Supersonics were subsequently sold and moved to Oklahoma City where he would have to join Kevin Durant as the centerpiece for the new franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder disappointed in 2009-2010 but made a huge turn-around in 2010-2011 thanks to the maturation of Westbrook.  The Thunder went 50-32 for the season and made the playoffs, making it all the way to the Western Conference finals.  Westbrook averaged 21.9 points in 2010-2011, up from his previous high of 16.1 the year prior.  He also improved his free throw % from 78% to 84% over the course of the last two seasons.  If that wasn’t enough Westbrook averaged 23.8 points per game during the Thunder’s deep playoff run last season.  With Kevin Durant dominating up front Westbrook looks to lead the Oklahoma City back court that may be the team to beat in the West.

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