Thursday, December 16, 2010

December Football

If you're a football fan, you're coming up on the best part of the year. College bowl season is upon us and for once there's little argument about who should be in the national title game. In Auburn and Oregon we have two undefeated teams from legit conferences, two explosive offenses and the prospect of a classic. Of course, you can't talk about bowl season without bringing up the possibility of a college playoff.

Mark Cuban to the rescue. Cuban recently revealed that he is interested in venturing into the business of college football. It's interesting that he's putting college playoffs into a business context first and foremost. I think it helps his cause. At the end of the day, the NCAA is a very very profitable business. They make pro money, but don't pay it, what a racket.

Playoffs would go a long way to giving college football more credibility and attention outside of its core audience. When you look at the difference between NCAA basketball and football, March Madness really gives basketball an added sheen of legitimacy that football just doesn't have. Yes the National Championship, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and a few others feel like the real deal. Those big bowls get a little tarnished, though, when you put them alongside the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Bowl, the Chik-fil-A Bowl, and the other 2-hour commercials. Anytime you're playing in a bowl that has a .com in its name, you can't feel too good about where you're at.

It seems like most of the country is behind a playoff system and I think there are two main hurdles that Cuban has to overcome to make this happen. The first is this: you don't want to lose the tradition and history that comes with some of those bowls. There's something about the names and the histories of those big-time bowl games which make them special occasions on the calender no matter who's playing. If you're about to see, say, North Carolina vs. Notre Dame in the Tostitos Bowl, I'm changing the channel. Put those same teams in the Rose Bowl and I'm excited to see what those programs can in the Rose Bowl, the occasion has that significance in and of itself.

To keep that history you could take the four quarterfinals and two semifinals and just have those games take on the mantle of whatever six bowls you want and that way it's still a big game and you can do all the pageantry that America does best.

The second hurdle is the formidable one and the one that, I think, ultimately keeps this from happening; the NCAA is a business and the 35 bowl games scheduled in the next month or so will bring in millions of dollars in advertising, TV rights and the rest. If the NCAA changes to a 12 or 16 team playoff, that's 15 separate games at most. I'm not sure the NCAA will be all that receptive to cutting its opportunity for revenue in half, but I'm not the genius businessman; it's up to you Mark Cuban...Godspeed.

Speaking of bowls vs. playoffs, as much as I hate the bowl system in college, I wouldn't mind seeing them give it a try in the NFL. You could get some nice match-ups, I think. The Bengals vs. the Cowboys in the Enron Bowl of Broken Dreams, the In-n-Out LA Sweepstakes Bowl featuring the Jaguars vs. Vikings, the possibilities are endless.

For now NFL fans are stuck with playoffs and for fans in some cities, they've basically started already. There are must win games across the country, starting on Thursday night (right now) with the Chargers and 49ers. Yes it's already 7-0 for the Chargers, but I picked them in this game before that, I swear. I think the Chargers do squeak into the playoffs. They just have more experience winning games at this time of the season than Kansas City does, and when in doubt, bet on the better quarterback and there aren't many better than Philip Rivers. Rivers has his favorite target from last season, Vincent Jackson, back in uniform. Jackson just caught a touchdown pass a couple of minutes ago against San Fran...good omen.

The Chargers have to win out and they couldn't ask for a better schedule to end the season: 49ers, @Bengals, @Broncos. That's as good as it gets, especially now that the Broncos don't have a head coach to get them riled up to finish on a good note. They'll still be fired up for a home division game and they'll want to finish on a high, but I think not having a consistent voice from the coaching staff could take away some of the edge they might have.

That firing, McDaniels in Denver, really came as a surprise, especially the timing of it. Your team's season is essentially over already, why fire the coach now? This was not like the situations in Minnesota and Dallas, where the firings probably came too late. Both those teams have the talent to be in the playoffs, and they also both kinda stopped playing for a little bit in the middle there. The Cowboys and Vikings could have maybe maybe salvaged their seasons if they'd pulled the trigger earlier and it was pretty clear in both cases that the men in charge couldn't go on, but I don't see what the Broncos gained from firing McDaniel's. They were never going to the playoffs and I think he actually had them going in some kind of a direction with what he had to work with. McDaniels is an offensive guy and that offense was not playing all that badly. Moreno's starting to show why he was drafted so highly and Orton was having a really good year until recently. Maybe his record wasn't good enough, but he was taking over a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2005 and hasn't won a playoff game since they won the Super Bowl in '99. If you're going to hire a young, first-time coach onto a rebuilding team you have to give him more than two seasons.

I think the Spygate II thing probably played a big part in the early switch. It does stink a little bit and that's not the kind of thing you want your franchise involved in. The fact that McDaniel's was there in New England when it happened is kind of a red flag against him, but if I was an owner in need of a coach, he'd be pretty near the top of the list. He's young, he won't break the bank and he clearly has some talent. He was the offensive co-ordinator when Tom Brady and the Patriots offense was out-of-control-crazy-good and he's done well with Kyle Orton in Denver. If I'm the Panthers, who will probably move on from John Fox after this season, I'm thinking about either drafting Andrew Luck out of Stanford, or moving on with Clausen. Either way, Mcdaniels would be the perfect guy to develop a young quarterback and mold a lost organization into his image.

McDaniels has also taken a lot of heat for some of his personnel moves in Denver, but in hindsight they're not as terrible as some would have you think. The one that stands out as being really bad is the Peyton Hillis trade and you can't really defend it so I won't try to. I think with Moreno being a high pick and the money and expectation that goes along with, it's indefensible...But anyway, Brandon Marshall was a constant headache in Denver and he's not exactly tearing it up in Miami, while Jay Cutler is a good player and he's still getting better, but is he going to be an all-world franchise quarterback? I'm not so sure. Obviously I don't know him, but every time I see him interviewed he comes across as really arrogant and not at all in a good way, but in the blind-to-the-truth-and-not-gracious-at-all way that has him talking stuff about DeAngelo Hall after throwing four picks to him. It didn't come off as funny or confident, just bitter and immature.He could have taken responsibility for the turnovers and moved on, but he chose to take the chance to try and belittle Hall. Not a good look Jay. Either way, the Broncos got good compensation for Cutler.

There could just be something in the water in Denver...McDaniels wasted no time in challenging and ultimately alienating his two biggest name players. Sound familiar? Mike Shanahan, fresh out of Denver, wasted no time at all in, well, challenging and ultimately alienating his two biggest name players.

Quarterbacks I would take for a must-win game tomorrow ahead of Jay Cutler: Mike Vick, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, David Garrard, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub and Vince Young...almost half the league. I'm not hatin', I'm just sayin'.

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