Real football is finally here!
But right now that’s not the big story.
Paul Bettman is the Gate Keeper
The big story for me comes from the NHL (if there is such a thing). For the third time in two decades we’re on the doorstep of what seems to be an inevitable year off for the league. Two major thoughts come to mind: The NHL thinks it’s far more important to the general sports fan that it really is and the NHL is full of some of the greediest sports owners in the western hemisphere.
The NHL obviously still believes that it’s one of the “big four” sports leagues in America. The NFL, MLB and NBA have a firm grasp on the public but it’s apparent to me that the NHL has fallen from fourth to at least seventh (behind NCAA football, NASCAR and men’s basketball, if not also women’s basketball). Be honest: Did you even know the NHL was having a major labor dispute? My guess is no, unless you’re a hockey fan or a sports fanatic. The news isn’t covering it like they covered the NFL and NBA just a year ago. There’s no major press from sports fans to get this done.
The 1994-95 season was shortened from 82 to 48 games. The 2004-05 season was cancelled completely. Both stoppages were caused by league lockouts and the upcoming season likely will lose half of the games, if not the whole season, again. Apparently they couldn’t wait a full decade again to do this.
This is a horrible insult to the fans who have finally come back to the game. Attendance was up at nearly all the franchises last season from the previous one. In fact, six teams (most of them league forefathers) averaged 100% attendance or better over the course of the entire season and sixteen teams matched that number in home attendance. The fans love and want hockey and the league is again turning their backs on us in favor of deeper pockets.
Finally the televisions at sports bars and homes around the nation were tuned to buffet of football. College football is back and it didn’t disappoint us. Starting with the first game of the season on Thursday (South Carolina v. Vanderbilt) and running through Labor Day’s upcoming match-up (Georgia Tech v. Virginia Tech), we’ve already seen our share of near upsets and stories.
Teams that impressed me early:
- Vanderbilt (L 17-13) – Upset bid stopped by bad pass interference no-call. This team is young, exciting and well-coached. They could have a big upset in a very deep SEC.
- BYU (W 30-6) – The Cougars start of with a big win over Mike Leach’s new squad. As a new independent, they looked the part: a deep team with a great coaching staff that will beat you with technique, discipline and scheme.
- Michigan St. (W 17-13) – They need more offensive talent but might have the best defense in the Big Ten this year. Boise State is in transition at a lot of positions and will look better later in the season, but to hold a Chris Peterson-coached offense to only one touchdown is impressive.
- Notre Dame (W 50-10) – Navy isn’t as good as in recent years but they’ll still win games. Notre Dame for the first time in too long did what they were supposed to do: dominate the trenches on both sides of the ball. They limited mistakes despite a rookie quarterback and the defense was near perfect against the triple option. That’s a very difficult thing to do.
- Ohio (W 24-14) – Everyone was watching Penn State in their first game since the scandal and what they saw was a team that will dominate a weak schedule out of the MAC. Frank Solich may be coaching his last season for Ohio as he’ll likely be picked up by a bigger school. Solich did a fantastic job of keeping his team focused on the game and not the circus.
- Purdue (W 48-6) – Yes, I know they played lowly Eastern Kentucky, but a team as dysfunctional as the Boilermakers were last year, it’s good that they showed their fans that the returning starters got better as a team. Next week against the Irish will be much more difficult.
Teams that underwhelmed:
- Stanford (W 20-17) – Head Coach David Shaw is going to have to prove himself this year as the post-Luck Cardinal struggled heavily on offense against San Jose St. New quarterback Josh Nunes didn’t make any mistakes but couldn’t move a sputtering offense on any sustained drives. This team will be in for a long season in a talented Pac-12.
- Wisconsin (W 26-21) – The starters had a good game against Northern Illinois and Monte Ball kept pace with the other top runningbacks, but the defense looked pretty average for a twelfth-ranked team. This is as top-heavy as the Big Ten as been in a long time, and hopes for a Rose Bowl birth may dwindle if the defense can’t step it up.
- Iowa (W 18-17) – Northern Illinois is a pretty decent program in the lower levels of the FBS, but this eked-out win solidified my opinion that Iowa has fallen from the upper-half of the Big Ten. There’s just no excuse not to put away the early cupcakes if you want to compete with the best.
- Oklahoma (W 24-7) – Many people have the Sooners as a possible participant in the BCS Championship Game. Not if they play like they did against UTEP. It was 10-7 going into the fourth quarter. Read that again. The defense gave up 207 rushing yards and that’s just not good enough before entering conference play.
- I don’t want to sound callous about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse scandal and the death of Joe Paterno, but I’m really hoping we can finally move past it. I know it’s a story for the school and it’s fans, but do we really need to read an entire article dedicated to the members of the Paterno family that attended the game? It’s football season. Let’s talk about football.
- Early thoughts on the Heisman race: Even though the media has already given the award to Matt Barkley (who did nothing to dispute this in USC’s dominant win), a few other guys stood out to me. Runningbacks Lattimore (S. Car.), Monte Ball (Wisc.) both had excellent games, and Lattimore did it when his team needed him most. Two previously unknown rushers Andre Ellington (Clemson) and Le’Veon Bell (Mich. St.) both eclipsed 200 yards and led their respective teams to wins in big games. If there’s any quarterback that can press Matt Barkley this season, it might be West Virginia’s Geno Smith. Over 300 passing yards for four touchdowns and one rushing touchdowns propelled him into spotlight in a blowout win.
- Alabama did what we all thought they would do: expose an over-rated offense and average defense for the Michigan Wolverines. I’ve been saying it for two years now, Denard Robinson will never lead Michigan to a title. He just doesn’t have the passing skill set to get it done. He’s a talented athlete and anyone who watched this game will tell you he has heart, but that’s just not enough against the best opponents. Alabama’s defense effectively ended his Heisman campaign in week one.
- We say it every year. Too many teams play too many FCS schools. When is NCAA going to step in and finally say “No more” to this practice. Okalahoma State won 84-0 against Savannah State. Who benefited from that? It’s not good football.
- Once again, opening week faux-bowls were winners. The Chik-Fil-A Kickoff Game was actually two games (Tennessee v. N. Carolina St. and Clemson v. Auburn). Both were great football games with teams from the ACC battling against the SEC. The Cowboys Classic wasn’t very close, but I’m willing to bet it that Alabama’s victory over Michigan was the most watched game of the weekend. Maybe instead of 50 bowl games at the end of the year, more locations will look to start their own faux-bowls in September.
- No more Ireland football. It’s a fun trip for the fans that go, but coaches hated the travel, you’re pulling kids out of school for no good reason and let’s be honest, it was a little embarrassing seeing all of those empty seats. It was like watching the London Olympics again. Odds are, Europeans just don’t care about college football. There’s no marquis names that they can watch live. Other than the obvious Notre Dame and Ireland connection, most of them probably don’t give a rat’s ass about a bunch of state colleges. In a time where frivolous spending is down, it just doesn’t make sense to spend that much money (as a school or fan).
- A division III quarterback threw for 736 yards in a record-setting win yesterday. And the best part is? They didn’t run up the score. Sam Durley of Eureka led his team in a fourth quarter comeback, surprisingly with only five touchdown passes.
Andy Roddick declared this week that he would retire after the US Open, in which he is still competing. For as disappointing a career as Roddick has had, I’ve always held the impression that “announcing retirement” was meant for the people at the top of their careers and professions. Brett Favre was so good he announced it three times. Derek Jeter will announce his retirement. So will Kobe Bryant and Brian Urlacher someday. Roddick has one major to his name and a long list of early round upset losses and injuries. I always thought players like that just…retire. They fade away. Roger Federer gets to announce his retirement, not Roddick.
Baseball, despite what you thought, is still being played around the nation. I’m only writing this section to give some love to the Baltimore Orioles that are in a playoff spot currently and the Pittsburgh Pirates who are just a game and a half out of the playoffs going into September. It’s 1992 all over again.
We’re only three days until the NFL starts and we can completely forget that baseball is still going on.