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Laces out!

College football opening week normally is set with boring match ups between powerhouse schools and Division 2/NAIA cup cakes.  Most teams are looking for those easy wins to get their team off to a nice start all the while hoping to find some consistency in their teams starters.  2012 brought us a few interesting match ups but mostly it was much of the same boring crap.  If you woke up early enough you might have caught Notre Dame making a joke out of Navy.  Or maybe you decided you’d wait to catch the most hated program Penn State taking on the mighty University of Ohio.  Sadly that’s what a tuned into, I thought Bill O’Brien did a great job preparing the kids from Penn State only to fall flat on their faces in the second half.  I’m sure most of the nation was happy about this, I know I didn’t mind it, but really at this point I hold no ill will to this new administration or the players who decided to stick it out.

If you were smart you would have started with the Northwestern/Syracuse game.  Not because either of these teams are in the upper echelon of college football, but they put on a great show.  Syracuse did a great job of battling back only to watch a second string QB come in and save the day.  Speaking of which, what an odd coaching decision by Pat Fitzgerald.  Who brings in a back up to lead the team to victory?  Talk about taking a huge risk!

At this point you were left with watching a few ranked teams that should (key word here is should) take care of their opponents with much ease.  That however was not the case for both Wisconsin and Florida.  Both would eventually win their first games but neither looked very good in doing so.  I decided to take in the Iowa/Northern Illinois game.  Yes, that same Husky team who owned the longest winning streak in the nation.  I was surprised at how Northern took it to Iowa, but after playing 3 ½ quarters of football they gave way to the Big 10 conference.  The bigger story in this game might have been the turf at Soldier Field.  Sounds as if the city of Chicago may need to invested in an artificial turf of some sorts.  Sad to think that the legendary Soldier Field, in all its upgrade glory, forgot to worry about the most important part of the stadium, the field.  Paging the Sod Father!!

The rest of the day was largely uneventful with most teams doing exactly what they should do.  So I waited for the big time matchup between Michigan and Alabama.  This was the game that had bowl implications resting on both teams.  After watching the first quarter you could totally tell that Michigan was well overmatched.  Alabama on the other hand is a team to be reckoned with and should be odds on favorite to win the SEC this year.

Best Performances:

Le’Veon Bell MSU:  Maybe the best game of the week was between Michigan State and Boise State.  Michigan State had to really battle for this opening day victory and who better to lead the way then Bell.   Bell shouldered the load by touching the ball 50 times (44 rushing attempts) racking up 210 rushing yards and 2 rushing TD’s.  Maybe Montee Bell will have a little competition in the Big 10 this year.

Austin Franklin WR NMST:  This will most likely be the only time you will see me mention New Mexico State.  Franklin had one of the best games in the past week hauling in 8 catches while totaling 236 yards and 2 touchdowns.  What’s most surprising is that last year the sophomore had a total of 524 yards.  Talk about having a career day.  I’ll keep an eye on this kid, but when you’re playing Sacramento State I’d hope you’d have a chance to run up the score.

Gino Smith QB West Virginia:  Nobody should be really shocked that senior Gino Smith put up good numbers against Marshall.  Throwing for 323 yards while completing an impressive 32 for 36 should be something to pay attention to.  Smith last year finished 4th in total yards last year and I would not be surprised if he challenges for the top spot this year.

Bjoern Werner DE FSU:  Picking up 4 sacks against anyone is pretty special.  Sure Murray State is not Alabama, but you can only play who’s on your schedule.  We may never hear another thing about the German Werner, but he still should be proud of getting to the QB as many times as he did.

What to watch for this week:

 #24 Florida vs. Texas A&M:  Texas A&M comes into the 2012 season with a lot of question marks.  New coach, new conference and a freshman quarterback trying to lead the way.  Florida came off a win against Bowling Green which was not really impressive.  The Gators had to work for their season opening victory, coming up with two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to hold off a feisty MAC team.  Florida should win the game, but if A&M can keep Johnny Manziel he will have many senior targets to throw to.  Manziel threw for over 3500 yards and 44 td’s his senior year at Tivy Antlers in Texas.

Vanderbilt vs. Northwestern:  It’s kind of a boring week of college football matchups when I put up a game between these two teams.  I’m trying to get excited for an Illinois team and I guess this will be the one I focus on for a while.  Vanderbilt comes in to Ryan Field after losing 17-13 to a very talented South Carolina team.  Northwestern, as mentioned earlier, just survived against a poor Syracuse team.  Vegas has Vanderbilt favored by 3.5 points, but don’t count the Wildcats out.  Fitzgerald clearly has a good read on his team and will have them ready for their home opener.

In other news:

– Savannah State  might not care about taking a 84-0 drubbing by Oklahoma State last week.  The Tigers will take away a hefty 385 thousand dollar check.  But what does this say to the student-athletes?  Sure you made some easy money, but nothing can make a team feel much worse than knowing they were whored out for money.

– Who is Sam Durley?  I know I asked myself that same question.  The Senior quarterback for Eureka College in Illinois broke the single game passing record last week.  Durley threw for 736 yards while leading the Red Devils in a come from behind 62-55 finish.  Durley is not new to holding records as he holds his high school record for passing yards with 375 passing yards, but this one has a little more meaning to it.

Gambling notes:

Last week 1-0-1    Season 1-0-1

This week

If I were you I’d save my money this week, most of the spreads are not worth staking your hard earn money on.  But knowing myself I’ll probably wait till half time on a few of these games.  So if you’re following my bets check out my twitter feed as I’ll post some of my plays there.

aw@99sportsproblems.com   twitter: spike1057

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Laces out!

by: Andrew Welebir
twitter: @Spike1057

As summer fades into fall and students make their way back into the swing of school, it only means one thing. Another season of college football is upon us. However, this offseason seemed more like a bad dream. With the constant stories surrounding Penn State University and the mishandling of child rapist Jerry Sandusky, it seemed like last season never really ended. Normally I’m really excited for a new college football season to begin, not so much this year.

I won’t lie to you Chicago is not really a college sports town. When local media shoves Notre Dame down your throat, located 90 miles away from the city, it’s hard to really get excited. Sure Northwestern, a member of the Big 10, is much closer but for some reason they never garnered the excitement of University of Illinois. One team who we should be talking about is University of Northern Illinois. Here’s a team that will go into the season with the longest running winning streak (9) in college football. You read that right, but again the only people who care about these stories are alumni. This is probably why you won’t be hearing much college talk this year. Nobody really cares in Chicago.

So let’s just talk about 5 teams you should pay attention to this season.

  • 1.USC – Matt Barkley is back to finish off a very solid career at USC and make a run at a National Championship. The senior had an outstanding season last year throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 Touch downs and is a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this year. USC just finished off a two-year ban from post season play, and once again find themselves on top of the AP poll. This season has two big road blocks ahead, Sept. 15 against Stanford and Nov. 3 against Oregon. The game against Stanford has the chance to be a trap game with in state rival California Golden Bears waiting in the wings the following week. If Barkley and his talented group of WR can maintain the hype they will be receiving all season long then this might be their march back to dominance.
  • 2.Alabama – Nick Saban has proven he knows what he’s doing as a College football coach. After a tough first year at Alabama, Saban has led the Crimson Tide to a 44-4 record and won 2 national titles. So why not another national championship? Trenton Richardson has left for the NFL and with that he takes away a huge weapon on the offensive side of the ball. Taking his place is Eddie Lacy, who has been a solid back up the last two seasons. Two years ago he finished with a thousand yard season and last year he averaged over seven yards a carry. A.J. McCarron will once again be under center, but his core of wide receivers have since left and he will have to adjust.

    The defense has many questions this season after losing two of the best linebackers in college football. However, under Saban this team has continued to find players to make it work and I have a hard time thinking they won’t again. The SEC is always full with tough matchups and will challenge Alabama all season long. Make sure to check out the opening week matchup between Alabama and Michigan, this should let us know what type of team we’re going to see this season.

  • 3.Florida State – Finally there is something to cheer about in Tallahassee, Florida, after being one of the greatest college football teams through the better part of two decades. Last season was a huge disappointment for the Seminoles. Injuries plagued the team costing their players 40 games, more than any other team in college football. What should have been an awful season saw the Seminoles finish at 9-4 losing to Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.

    So why am I so optimistic for this Florida State team? Let’s start with the Defensive side of the ball. The team is one of the nastiest teams around. Last season they finished ranked as the 4th best defensive team and they only got stronger. The defensive line is stacked with many reserves that could be starters but the depth is such that they will rotate in. The offense should see improvements all around the field.

    The offensive line which was hit hard with injuries and bad play should bounce back nicely. The running game is nothing special but will help to take some of the load off talented EJ Manuel. Manuel has so many options at wide out that the sky is the limit for this kid. I think this team has an inside track at pulling off an undefeated season and taking on USC for the National Championship.

  • 4.Wisconsin – It’s not the team I’ll be watching this season. The only reason I care to watch a Big 10 team is because they have one of the most electric backs in all of college football. Montee Bell was about as good as possible last season. He only racked up over 2,200 total yards from scrimmage. Oh yeah he had 39 touch downs!! For some reason he felt he needed to return to Madison, Wisconsin for another season. Maybe he shouldn’t have seeing how he had a run in with three guys who bashed his head in. Hopefully he can take what he’s learned and do with it that others from Wisconsin could not do in the NFL. Time will tell.
  • 5.Texas – Truth be told I’m a huge Texas Longhorn fan, started with my love of Ricky Williams and Major Applewhite. By the way, I hate Chris Simms with a passion. I’ll never understand how that overrated trash could steal Applewhite’s starting position. Just because daddy was a NFL quarterback you deserve the starting nod over a guy who at the time owned every Texas football record. Screw you Simms!! Glad I got that off my chest.

    I’ll be honest I would love to see this team win another National Championship but I’m not stupid. The defensive side of the ball is solid, in fact they are the best in the Big 12 this year. Sure the loss of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson at linebacker will hurt but the depth up front should help to overcome the inexperience at linebacker. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are two of the very best defensive ends in all of college football and should make for some great pass rushing.

    Running back Malcolm Brown shined last season as a freshman and should be the lead back again this season. If he can help shoulder the load and take pressure off a passing game which is very poor then this can be a Big 12 champion. However, if Brown struggles all eyes will move to David Ash and Case McCoy (brother of Colt McCoy) who will need to become more consistent than they were last year.

Notes:

-If you are looking for the next RG3 then look no further than Denard Robinson. Robinson will be working on his third straight season of 1,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing. He’s proven he has the ability to move around the pocket but does he have what it takes to sit back and light up the field with his arm? If the Wolverines plan to take that next step one would think that’s a must.

-If Northern Illinois plans on keeping that 9 game winning streak intact then the Defense will have to step up and lead the way. With quarterback Chandler Harnish gone all eyes will be on Junior QB Jordan Lynch. Lynch helped lead NIU to the Go Daddy Bowl title last year when he took over at the end leading NIU to a come from behind victory. NIU opens up against Iowa who they have never beat. (0-4)

-If LSU plans to get back on top they will have to do it without DB Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu was kicked off the team for failing a drug test. Mathieu aka The Honey Bear will be missed he was one of the most exciting football players on the field last year.

-Surely there are plenty of talented players I did not mention. Hell I didn’t want to rewrite the book just let you know what I’m watching for. So sadly I did not include a long piece on Marcus Lattimore. Look for something on this kid next time.

Gamblers note:
I love to gamble so each week I’m going to include a few games my money will be on.
Alabama -14
Michigan St -7
If you have anything you’re betting on send me a message or post it on the Facebook page.

Mercy!! Can't wait for the Ice Crew to get back to work!

What was once a comfortable lead in the Central division has quickly vanished.  What’s left is a ton of question marks.  In the last 10 games the Hawks are 3-5-2 while the rest of the North, minus Columbus, has played exceptionally well.  What you thought the all-star break was going to help this lifeless team?

You should have seen this coming.  The defense has been awful, in fact what happened to Duncan Keith?  He certainly is not the same since winning the Norris Trophy in 2010.  However, Keith is not the only problem, Niklas Hjalmarsson Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy have continually made poor choices on the ice.  One can argue that every member of the blue line has played poorly this year and have caused the Mercy!! Can’t wait for the Ice Crew to get back to work!goaltending to look downright brutal.

Corey Crawford has channeled his inner Marty Turco, letting so many easy pucks passed him.  Coming into the season many Blackhawk fans, myself included, thought Crawford would be a stone wall in between the pipes for the Hawks.  What we have instead is a goaltender who has lost his confidence and a goalie controversy has emerged.

Ray Emery has played much better then Crawford in his limited time but head coach Joel Quenneville continues to stick with Crawford in goal.  Maybe that’s about to change as Emery started in the Blackhawks recent loss to the Colorado Avalanche.  Both goalies haven’t been helped by the constant turnovers in the neutral zone.  Emery however, has done the best when facing the continuous 2-1 rushes by other teams as of late.

If you’ve been watching as of late you probably know that Patrick Kane is not playing the same type of hockey he did over his previous 4 seasons.  After being shifted over to the faceoff circle this year he started to embrace the playmaker roll.  Now to start the season that worked really well, but his scoring has fallen way off.  If Tuesday’s game is any indication maybe Kane is back on track.  He took more shots then were used to seeing and played more aggressively than in prior games.  Kane even scored a goal which is something were not used to since in his last 27 games he has a total of 5 goals.

Chicago, A Drinking Town with a Sports Problem is not ready to panic.  We’d rather drink our sorrows away with a six’er and a few shots of Jamison.  So hang in there Blackhawk fans, we have plenty to be happy about.  Jonathan Toews and “Lord” Marian Hossa have been outstanding and the young kids are getting a ton of experience.  Heck besides Daniel Carcillo this team is finally getting healthy.  Stay strong Blackhawk fans, this team is better then what were watching.

Or so I hope so!

Even though the Blackhawks have suffered a few injuries to key players (Car bomb and most importantly Patrick Sharp) and have had less than stellar play from my favorite “Cabbie Punching Player” Patrick Kane, they still find themselves in the top portion of NHL teams.  Why is that you may be asking yourself?  Well brace yourself Hawk fans because another surge of young talent has arrived to the Madhouse on Madison Street!

Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes have just been the recent talk of the town.  However, don’t forget about young Ben Smith.  Who single handedly kept the Blackhawks alive and forced a game seven in the first round of the playoffs last year.  These young Hawks have helped ease the pressure that one Patrick Kane is currently feeling.

Andrew Shaw not afraid to drop the gloves……..or take a beating.

Andrew Shaw has been the most impressive as of late, netting 5 goals and 1 assist in his first 9 games.  The United Center crowd has also taken a liking to the 20 year old Canadian who was drafted last year in the 5th round.  Shaw has shown incredible net presence and has works really hard along the boards in his first 9 games.  This lunch pail mentality comes with little surprise as Shaw was voted as the hardest working player in the OHL last season.

Kevin Hayes (left) & Jimmy Hayes (right). Pretty certain they will not play like the Sedin Twins.

Another pleasant surprise for the Blackhawks has been 22 year old RW Jimmy Hayes.  In 10 games the 6’6” Hayes scored 4goals and had 3 assist.  Hayes size is something the Blackhawks have lacked ever since trading away fan favorite Dustin Byfuglien.  Hayes has very good hands and plays well both offensively and defensively.

Ben Smith, 23, has also logged minutes this year for the Blackhawks.  He’s has yet to put up the stats many had hoped for after his short stint last year.  This may be attributed to the awful hit Smith took before the season started by Detroit Redwings Brendan Smith.  Ben Smith who is currently up with the team,  has split time in Rockford with the Blackhawks minor league affiliate Ice Hogs, and has put up impressive numbers.  Smith will need to find the back of the net if he wants to stay up after Sharp returns.

Even with slow starting Smith, Blackhawk fans have to be excited with the prospect of these up and coming players.  Not to mention the Blackhawks are littered with young stars already at the top of the league in captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.  Brace yourselves Blackhawk fans the funs just getting started!

-Andrew Welebir