By: Nick Hornburg Jim McElwain is now out at Florida, thanks to a perpetually inept offense, internal issues, an awkward press conference and an unfortunate result against Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Curb-Stomping on Saturday. This is a very interesting development, as one of the biggest jobs in college football is now wide open, and I shall attempt to answer the question: Who should fill that void? Thus, here are five realistic (Chip Kelly is not realistic) candidates to be the next head coach at Florida: Scott Frost: Head Coach, Central Florida: 13-7 UCF, 13-7 Career Pros: One of the most prized, up-and-coming coaches in the sport. Runs a high-scoring offense. The Knights went 0-12 in George O’Leary’s final year, then went back to a bowl in Frost’s first season, and is now 7-0 and ranked in the top 15 in his second. The UCF job gives him experience coaching and recruiting in Florida. He’s the closest thing Florida will get to Chip Kelly (don’t even think about it). Cons: As of this writing, Frost’s head coaching experience spans a grand total of 20 games. Young enough to be an up-and-comer also means young enough for there to be questions about his readiness to handle a big program like Florida. An opening at his alma mater, Nebraska, might make him unattainable, or at least very expensive. Verdict: A lot of Gator fans would get very excited if Frost were hired, as his resume isn’t all that dissimilar to that of Urban Meyer in 2004. However, the inexperience is a concern; Meyer had coached more than 40 games across two different jobs before coming to Gainesville. Definitely worthy of being on Scott Stricklin’s shortlist, but not my first choice, and the way things shake out at Nebraska is a definite elephant in the room. Mike Norvell: Head Coach, Memphis: 15-6 Memphis, 15-6 Career Pros: Picked up where Justin Fuente left off at Memphis. Runs a high-scoring offense. Former ace offensive coordinator at Arizona State. Cons: Same level of (in)experience as Frost. Never worked in the Southeast. In order to accrue his services, one may have to fight off Tennessee. Verdict: There isn’t much to distinguish Norvell from Frost. Norvell is six years younger, but Fuente left him pieces to work with, while Frost has built his program from scratch. However, Norvell is tantalizing because if he could engineer so much as a healthy fraction of what Quarterback Riley Ferguson is doing at Memphis from the Gators quarterback position, he’d be a hero. Also a shortlist candidate, but there are better options out there. Kevin Sumlin: Head Coach, Texas A&M: 49-24 A&M, 84-41 Career Pros: Has consistently won games in one of the hardest divisions in college football. Talented offensive coach. Deserves credit for developing both Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel. Has more relevant experience than most potential candidates. Has experience in big jobs. Might be available this offseason. Cons: There’s a reason why he might be available in the offseason. Has consistently not won enough games. Seems to have hit his head on a ceiling at A&M. Experience in Texas does not always translate to experience in Florida, and vice-versa (more on that later). Verdict: A&M is a hard job, harder than Florida, and Sumlin has been their best coach since R.C. Slocum. However, it is not unfair to ask if Sumlin can take a team to that higher level at this point. Even with questions about his ceiling and the fit in Gainesville, if he gets fired by A&M in the offseason, Florida would be foolish not to at least gauge his interest, because his floor is high enough that it just might be worth gambling on his ceiling. Charlie Strong: Head Coach, South Florida: 7-1 USF, 60-38 Career Pros: Defensive Coordinator on Florida’s 2006 and 2008 national title teams. Recruits the state of Florida better than just about anybody. His last two years at Louisville were excellent (23-3). One of the most well-respected figures in football in the state of Florida. At every stop in his career, his players have been willing to jump in front of a train for him. Cons: His three seasons in charge of Texas actually did happen. He’s a defensive coach, not unlike Will Muschamp. He’s 57 years old, and not getting any younger. Head Coaches almost never leave after one season (Todd Graham notwithstanding). Didn’t handle the politics at Texas very well, and Florida is only marginally less political than Texas. Eerily similar to Will Muschamp/Brady Hoke. Verdict: He did lose to Kansas, but Charlie Strong is an exponentially better fit at Florida than he is at Texas. The questions about his offensive acumen can be answered very quickly were he to bring Sterlin Gilbert with him, which would already address the problem that dogged Muschamp and McElwain: offense. Strong has enough recruiting cache in the state of Florida to easily restore Urban Meyer-level dominance of in-state recruiting (which Strong helped establish originally, by the way). This, combined with the fact that he can, in fact, coach football (combined 44-16 at Louisville and South Florida), makes him one of the best candidates for the job that would have been his had Meyer not decided to stick around for the 2010 season. Still not the first call Stricklin should make, but there is a lot to like, in spite of what happened in Austin. At the very least, a safe hire with a surprisingly high ceiling. Dan Mullen: Head Coach, Mississippi State: 67-44 MSU, 67-44 Career Pros: Deserves full credit for development of Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott, and now Nick Fitzgerald. Offensive Coordinator on Florida’s 2006 and 2008 national title teams. Consistent winner in one of the hardest jobs in the Power Five. Has tons of relevant experience, despite being only 45 years old. Has a good relationship with Scott Stricklin. Cons: Certainly a good recruiter, but not quite on the level of Charlie Strong. Might be impossible to pry away from Mississippi State. Verdict: Dan Mullen should be the first phone call. Mullen is a mere 67-44 at Mississippi State, but considering the difficulty of the job, that’s the rough equivalent of going 90-21 just about anywhere else. Mullen has a better track record with quarterbacks (and therefore, offensive potential) than anybody not named Mike Leach, and he knows Florida well, and Florida is probably the job most likely to be able to lure him away from Mississippi State due to his time as coordinator in Gainesville. For these reasons, and the absurdity of the notion that Florida has a chance at some of the other names getting floated around, Dan Mullen is the best option for Florida. If they hire him, and he can surround himself with good recruiters, he gives Florida its highest likelihood of challenging the killing machine that Kirby Smart is assembling at Georgia. Now, maybe Mullen decides he likes Starkville (not unreasonable, he’s doing a fine job and the residents treat him like God) and decides not to leave, but there is absolutely no excuse for Florida to not at least try their damndest to get their best option.
It was a cool October Saturday at the Big House for fans watching the homecoming game versus the Rutgers Scarlet Knights with temperatures sitting around 40 degrees. Through the first 23 minutes of the game, nothing in Michigan was colder than the Wolverine Offense. Fans held memories of last year’s 78-0 victory at Rutgers and held optimism that this game could breathe life back into the unit. The first quarter showed how much things had changed over a year with a 0-0 tie after 15 minutes. Midway through the 2nd quarter, Michigan had managed 119 yards of offense on 26 plays, which included only 13 yards passing. The Wolverines had 2 punts and an interception to go along with a Khalid Hill rushing TD. Rutgers matched the TD with a Janarion Grant 65 yard rushing TD out of the wildcat formation. With the score even at 7-7, starting QB John O’Korn’s stat line read: 3/6, 13 yards, 1 interception, and 2 fumbled snaps. There was no life in the Big House; scattered boos could be heard in response to the offensive ineptitude. The Big House was full of 111,00 plus who stood wanting to cheer but unsure of what to cheer for. Fans grew uneasy knowing that Rutgers was hanging around in a game they did not belong in. It’s hard to imagine how so many people could be so silent. It’s even harder to imagine that same crowd simultaneously erupting during a TV timeout. But that’s what happened on Saturday afternoon with 7:01 left to play in the 2nd quarter when Brandon Peters, the redshirt freshman QB, replaced John O’Korn in the huddle. The Big House cheered, as loud if not louder than the Hill TD earlier in the quarter. And the Wolverine faithful sure let their voices of approval be heard on Peter’s 3rd play of the game, when he threw his first pass to Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a 15 yard gain. It was a new game from that point, a crowd and a team that shared school colors found new life. Peters completed all 3 of his passes for 37 yards and 3 first downs on his first drive, which culminated in a 10 yard Karan Higdon TD run. The defense responded by forcing a Rutgers punt, and Harbaugh used his timeouts to get Peters and the offense the ball back with 1:49 left before halftime. Peters converted a 3rd and 3 with a 12 yard pass to Zach Gentry and 4 plays later, hit Chris Evans on a back shoulder running back wheel route for a 20 yard TD pass to take a 21-7 lead into the break. Michigan continued to feature its young skill players as the game continued. In their first drive of the second half, the Wolverines went 54 yards in 4 plays capped by a 5 yard rushing TD from sophomore back Kareem Walker. Rutgers responded on the following drive with a TD of their own, but the Wolverines were clearly in control from that point forward. A 49 yard rushing TD from Karan Higdon in the 4th quarter put the game away and Michigan secured a 35-14 win to move to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play while securing bowl eligibility.
Brandon Peters is the new starting QB for the Wolverines. Fans got their first glimpse of Peters during the spring game where he performed well but opened up as the #3 QB on the depth chart. With the crowd, his teammates, and his coaches behind him, Peters looked calm, confident, and in control of the Michigan offense. He completed 10/14 passes for 124 yards and a TD while the Michigan ground game ran for 334 yards on 51 carries with 4 total TDs. Karan Higdon has emerged as the clear lead back with 18 carries for 158 yards and 2 TDs while Ty Isaac, Kareem Walker, and Chris Evans have proven themselves as complementary pieces in a deep running back rotation. While Michigan fans are surely encouraged by the performance of Peters, it is worth noting that John O’Korn performed well in relief for Speight at Purdue before being ineffective in his subsequent starts. Jim Harbaugh is committed to Brandon Peters at QB for the time being and his next game versus Minnesota, a night game at home, will be a much tougher test than Rutgers. But for now, Wolverine fans leave a game confident in the way their team performed for the first time since the season opener versus Florida. The defense has been dominant for most of the season, minus the Penn State game, and Peters will look to bring consistency to the offense in hopes that the Wolverines can become a more complete team in the closing month of the regular season as the youth continues to develop. The QB switch could be a turning point for the Wolverines season and future, or it could be a one week surprise that falls apart. But for now, Brandon Peters has brought Michigan Fans an emotion that is often emphasized within the program but perhaps has been lacking of late: Enthusiasm.
The Eagles currently hold the best record in football with a 27-20 loss to the Chiefs serving as the only flaw on their record. Carson Wentz is using every receiver he has at his disposal as he leads the NFL in TD passes with 17 already. The Eagles appear poised to win the NFC East behind their aerial assault offense but they will have to overcome the injury to Jason Peters.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots are starting to look like themselves after some atrocious defensive performances to start the season. Tom Brady continues to play at a high level and the Patriots defense just held the Falcons to 7 points with Johnson Bademosi playing for the injured Stephon Gilmore. The AFC East is tight in the standings but the Patriots still don’t appear to have much to worry about.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have stumbled with 2 straight losses following a 5-0 start but both losses have come by one possession. The Chiefs still have one of the most dynamic offenses with stars at every skill position. Alex Smith has taken another step this season while he is surrounded by Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs also have victories against the Patriots and Eagles on their resume. A win against the Broncos on Monday Night would right the ship.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are a completely new team with Sean McVey instead of Jeff Fisher at the helm. Jared Goff looks confident and Todd Gurley has shaken off last season’s struggles. Goff has several skilled receivers such as Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Sammy Watkins, and Tavon Austin to look for in the top scoring offense while he proves his worth as the team’s franchise QB. The defense is coming off a shutout against Arizona and is building its reputation week by week. The Rams are scary on both sides of the ball. Greg Zuerlein is also as dependable a kicker as there is in the NFL.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers don’t appear to have much competition for the AFC North title at the moment. Drama inside the organization continues with Martavis Bryant wanting a bigger role or to be traded elsewhere. Le’Veon Bell is the bellcow the Steelers need him to be and Antonio Brown is still a top 3 wide receiver in the league. Juju Smith-Schuster is starting to get more targets from Big Ben who maybe does have something left in the tank after all.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks and the Rams will compete for the NFC West title. Seattle wins games with its defense, they hold the top scoring defense in the NFL. The offense doesn’t have much of a ground game to threaten defenses with so their performance depends heavily on Russell Wilson. The Seahawks don’t need to score a ton of points to win games, and Wilson is more than capable of taking them to the playoffs.
7. Washington Redskins
The Redskins have 2 losses to the Eagles which means their playoff chances are likely left to the wild card. Despite the 3-3 record, the Redskins have shown flashes on offense and defense that they can compete with the top of the league. They will be tested the next 4 weeks with big games vs. Dallas, at Seattle, vs. Minnesota, and at New Orleans. We’ll be able to play pretender or contender and see where this team really stands.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota has overcome the injuries to Dalvin Cook and Sam Bradford among others to take the lead in the NFC North at 5-2. Case Keenum is doing enough to get the job done while the team leans on the defense and special teams. The defense is one of the best in football from guys up front such as Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen, linebackers such as Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and a secondary with Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhoads, Harrison Smith, and Andrew Sendejo. The defense will carry this team, the Vikings need the offense to keep up.
9. Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper had more receiving yards (210) in last week’s game against the Chiefs than he had all season. A big win against the Chiefs could have them headed in the right direction after a 4 game skid. If Derek Carr and Amari Cooper can replicate their performances, the Raiders could be the team we thought they would be headed into the season.
10. Houston Texans
Early Rookie of the Year frontrunner Deshaun Watson was off last week but he has pumped some life into the Texans. The defense has had some struggles against superior offenses and it will be tough to improve without J.J. Watt or Whitney Mercilus. Still, Watson can light up any defense he faces and has the Texans in the thick of the division race. For the first time in a while, the Texans have an offense that really scares their opponents.
11. New Orleans Saints
The Saints appear to have seized control of the NFC South for the time being while Carolina stumbles. The Saints carry the same high scoring offense they always have with Drew Brees at QB but this year they have a defense that is rising to the occasion. Marshon Lattimore gives them a legit corner in the secondary. It is time for the Saints to capitalize on the talent of Drew Brees.
12. Buffalo Bills
The Bills probably won’t win the division but the offense is being productive even without Charles Clay who had emerged as a big target for Tyrod Taylor. Both losses have come by a single possession and the Bills are 3-0 at home. They’ll continue to rely on LeSean McCoy and look to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
13. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are 3-3 with wins against the 1 win Giants, the 3 win Cardinals, and the winless 49ers. The Ezekiel Elliott case is still unfinished and it is clear he is the most important piece to their success. The defense hasn’t looked great against quality offenses and the schedule is about to face 4 of them in the next 4 weeks. I’m not sold on the Cowboys playoff chances at the moment.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have realized that the best way to run offense is to run the ball. The NFL’s top ranked rushing offense has taken the ball out of Blake Bortles hands and found success. The defense is cashing in on the talent and potential it has and the Jaguars are the most competitive version of themselves we have seen in years. They’re right there with the Titans and Texans in the AFC South race, time will tell which team emerges.
15. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have lost 3 games in a row and the last 2 have been especially disappointing, Giving up a 17-0 lead at home to the Dolphins by allowing 20 unanswered and then almost getting shut out in the Super Bowl rematch. The Falcons look like they’re in a Super Bowl hangover and they need to snap out before it’s too late.
16. Detroit Lions
The Lions look like the Vikings top competition for the NFC North at the moment and would be closer if the controversial call in the Falcons game had gone their way. Matt Stafford is getting sacked too often and there is still no run game for defenses to be afraid of. The Lions are coming off a bye week and will hopefully have Kenny Golladay back soon. The Lions have a tough Sunday night matchup with the Steelers but it is in Detroit. That game is followed by several winnable games including the Rodger-less Packers, the Browns, and the Bears.
17. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers looked awful against the Bears. Mitch Trubisky won a game by throwing 4 completions and the Bears scored 2 defensive TDs. The Panthers have been inconsistent this season looking unbeatable at times and lethargic at others. The next 2 games are against divisional opponents, must win games in the tight NFC South.
18. Miami Dolphins
Jay Cutler is injured so it is Matt Moore’s turn to lead the 4-2 Dolphins into 3 straight primetime games. The Dolphins have been surprisingly competitive and every win has come on 4th quarter scores. It remains to be seen how long the Dolphins can keep this up.
19. Los Angeles Chargers
3 straight wins have the team looking past its 0-4 start. The Chargers are showing they may actually have one of the better defenses in football and Phillip Rivers has gotten the offense moving over the last couple weeks. Hunter Henry is stepping up at tight end in his 2nd year. The Chargers head to New England for a tough road matchup next week.
20. Denver Broncos
The Broncos started to fall in the rankings after giving the Giants their first win of the season when they were without their top 4 receivers. Being shutout to the Chargers doesn’t make them look any better. The next 3 games include road trips to Kansas City and Philadelphia and a home game against the Patriots. The Broncos could find themselves in a hole too deep to dig out of.
21. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee currently holds the tiebreaker for 1st in the AFC South after ugly wins against the Colts and the Browns. Nonetheless, a 4-3 team headed into a bye week could get Corey Davis healthy and will continue to compete in the tight division race.
22. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is no longer behind center to cover up the vulnerable defense and the offense is won’t ever be the same without him. That’s what happens when you lose a yearly MVP candidate. The Packers have lost both games without Rodgers and find themselves in real danger to fall out of the playoff picture.
23. Chicago Bears
The Bears have one of the worst offenses in the league but defensive touchdowns have helped them win back to back games despite Mitch Trubisky only completing 12 total passes. The Bears will make it tough on opponents, but they aren’t a legit threat to make noise late in the season.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have lost 3 straight games despite owning the top passing offense in the league. There’s not much else to be excited about as the run game is offering no help and the defense is giving up too many points. The Bucs need to win some of these shootouts to help their playoff chances.
25. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco has more interceptions than touchdowns this season and will face the Dolphins in a matchup of stagnant offenses on Thursday night. The Ravens only have 10 offensive TDs on the season through 7 games. The AFC North doesn’t look like it will be much of a challenge for the Steelers.
26. New York Jets
The Jets have back to back close losses to division opponents which long term will probably help them more with a better draft position then any chance at the playoffs. The Jets have not been an easy game for any team except the Raiders in week 2 and now take on the struggling Falcons at home. The Jets may have something to prove.
27. Cincinnati Bengals
Continuing with the theme of ineffective offenses outside the Steelers in the AFC North, the Bengals also only have 10 offensive TDs so far this season. That includes just 1 rushing TD for a team that averages 3.3 yards per carry. The Bengals may not even get to 8-8 this season.
28. Arizona Cardinals
Adrian Peterson was effective for 1 week and then the offense got shutout by the Rams. All 3 wins have come by one possession and they have all been against teams with losing records. The Cardinals are an aging team that doesn’t seem to have many solutions to their problems.
29. New York Giants
Injuries have destroyed the Giants completely and the season is basically headed for a top draft pick in order to give the offensive line some help. Evan Engram continues to shine and is a player to keep an eye on. He has a bright future.
30. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have 2 wins against winless teams and Andrew Luck’s status is still unclear. At this point it may be better to hold him out and save him for next season rather than rush him back and risk further damage.
31. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers haven’t won a game but they are ahead of the Browns because of how close some of their losses have been.
32. Cleveland Browns
The Browns still don’t have a QB and still have to live with the fact that they passed on Wentz and Watson in consecutive drafts.
By Alex Drain While Michigan football was being drubbed by Penn State on Saturday night, a different group of Wolverines, Michigan Hockey, had a much better weekend. In their home opening series against Vermont on Friday and Saturday, Michigan swept the Catamounts by scores of 4-1 and 3-2. The two wins improved Michigan’s record to 3-1 on the young season. It was also notable for being the first two home games of new Wolverines head coach Mel Pearson’s career and the first two games on the newly dedicated Red Berenson Rink at Yost Ice Arena. I happened to be at both games on Friday and Saturday and this blog serves as a recap of the weekend and some general thoughts about two strong victories.
Michigan absolutely dominated Vermont on Friday, winning 4-1 against the Catamounts, while outshooting their opponent 45-16. The goals came twice in the second and twice in third, the first two from Will Lockwood and Brendan Warren, while the pair of third period scores were from talented freshman Josh Norris. Vermont did manage to break the shutout late in the third on a power play goal from Ross Colton.
In the second, Lockwood got a takeaway near center ice and was off to the races, using speed to create a breakaway before feeding the puck in the five hole past star Vermont netminder Lekkas. Then with under 1 minute to play in the period, Brendan Warren possessed the puck behind the Catamount net, dangled out in front and fired it past goalie Stefanos Lekkas for a goal.
There was little push for Vermont as Michigan continued their dominance in the third. The freshman-freshman connection of Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris struck twice in the 3rd period. First a pass found Norris all alone to skate in and bury a goal, making it 3-0. Not long after, a Hughes shot at the net was tipped in by Norris to put the game out of reach at 4-0. At that point, the Catamounts were just playing for pride and did manage to score the only goal Jack LaFontaine would allow, coming with just over 9 minutes to go in the contest.
As a whole, the game was complete and utter dominance from Michigan. They were sharp in every facet of the game, possessing the puck consistently and keeping most play occurred either in the neutral zone or in Vermont’s offensive zone. They got turnovers, had the defense involved, and overall got some very crisp passing. It was an effort that was almost never seen from last year’s squad and looked a lot more like some of the prime Red Berenson teams that competed for it all.
Not at all thesame game as Friday. After such a dominating performance less than 24 hours before, it was likely that Michigan would see some sort of drop off. On the flip side, Vermont was likely to come out angry and motivated. And that was the case. The Catamounts pushed the play early, wearing their dark green away jerseys, and produced a handful of shots and good chances. However, they struck first in a rather unusual manner: on the penalty kill. A sloppy turnover by Michigan created a chance in front, and Max Kaufman put one past Michigan goaltender Hayden Lavigne. Even though Vermont thoroughly won the play in the first period, Michigan was able to escape in a tie game thanks to a wrap-around shot from Adam Winborg, who found the back of the net to make it a 1-1 game. That goal came with just over a minute left in the period.
The story of the second period was very similar. Sloppy and sluggish play for Michigan begat chances for Vermont. Following their theme of special teams goals, the Catamounts took the lead back on the power play at the 7:48 mark of the second frame. Junior Drew Best beat Lavigne on a loose puck in front of the net and Vermont took a 2-1 lead, one that would carry into the end of the period.
At the start of the 3rd, I began to think this blog would look like a breakdown of a win and a loss, the highs and lows of a young team. But Michigan reached into the bag and came out on fire. The third period closely resembled the play of Friday night’s game and was a sign of just how good this young and talented team could be. They outshot Vermont 5-1 in the opening 5 minutes of the period and just kept attacking. And like with Friday night, Lekkas was the savior for Vermont for much of the period. Michigan went on the power play with under seven and a half minutes to go, and despite generating chances, couldn’t put it in. However, it was seconds after the power play ended that a cross ice pass from Quinn Hughes found the one time stick of Jake Slaker who fired a rocket past Lekkas to tie the game with 4:53 to go in the game. Yost Ice Arena erupted but the Wolverines still needed one more to seal the sweep. A couple of good chances would come for Vermont, but a few huge saves by Lavigne kept the game tied. With just over a minute to go in the game, a save by Lekkas froze the puck while Michigan forward Dakota Raabe drove the net. Even though Raabe did not make contact with Lekkas, he was assaulted by a Vermont defenseman in the form of a fist to the face. Raabe retaliated and the two were escorted to the penalty box for matching 2 minute penalties ensuring that the regulation would end in 4 on 4 action. It was just 20 seconds into the 4 on 4 when Jake Slaker got a two-on-one with Quinn Hughes as his other attacker. He used Hughes as his decoy and fired the puck past Lekkas and Yost Ice Arena was sent into frenzy. Michigan would control the puck in the final 53 seconds and the final horn sounded for a 3-2 Michigan win. Shots were an even 30-30 for the game, very different from Friday, but a win all together.
General thoughts from the weekend of hockey:
This was the weekend Michigan needed to have if they want to make the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and be a contender in the Big Ten: sweep a very solid hockey team at home. Vermont is no doormat in college hockey: they went 20-13-5 last year and just missed out on the NCAA tournament. Michigan played Vermont a year ago and lost the game 3-0. It was that kind of season for the Wolverines a year ago: defensive errors made worse by an inability to score. Through four games this season, Michigan is 3-1, having outshot or at least tied in shots in every game this season. That didn’t happen much at all last season. This team is much like Pearson’s teams at Michigan Tech: they possess the puck, control action, and make things happen.
As for other thoughts:
Michigan isn’t perfect. They still take too many penalties and their penalty killing was meh: forechecking was great but they were too defensive in their own zone, not challenging shots. The Wolverines also need to clean up some turnovers.
The Friday night game was a showcase of how good these young players can be if they gel and learn as they grow older. There’s no reason that this team can’t be contender in the Big Ten if they play the way they did on Friday consistently the rest of the season
Looking at the rest of the schedule: Michigan heads out to State College, Pennsylvania to take on the Nittany Lions of Penn State in their first Big Ten games of the season. That will be a tougher test for Michigan. PSU were the Big Ten Tournament champions a year ago and were a preseason Top-10 team. They’ve struggled early on, at just 3-3 on the season but are still a formidable foe on the road. After that, Michigan will return home to host Ferris State in the first weekend of November.
T-minus 15 days until the Wolverines tip off against Grand Valley State in their first and only exhibition game on November 3rd. That’s just over two weeks till we have a Michigan basketball game. The team’s been practicing for several weeks now and Coach Beilein probably has a good idea of who will get the starting nod in the first game and what the rotation, as a whole, will look like. That rotation will no doubt change over the course of nonconference play and the season, but let’s take a look at what it might look like in fifteen days.
PG- Jaaron Simmons The transfer from Ohio has the inside track to the starting gig and a majority of the minutes at the 1. His leadership and composure will be welcome and will be needed to handle the load left after Derrick Walton’s graduation. The number one option at Ohio last year will have to become a willing distributor and be comfortable letting Mo operate down-low and run a large chunk of the offense. That said, if Simmons can shoot the ball well from deep and his pick and roll game translates, he’ll be one of the best guards in the conference.
SG- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman He’s the senior on this team and if there’s ever a year for Rahkman to take a step forward offensively, this needs to be the year. While his defense has been elite for a while, his offensive game has been questionable for just as long. He will lockdown an opposing wing, but needs to take a larger role offensively and to carry over his shooting from B10 play last year is essential for this team to achieve its goals this year. As Beilein said during B10 media day, Rahkman needs to “hunt” for offense this year. He’s bided his time as the fourth or fifth option on offense, but now he’ll be one of guys counted on for buckets late in games.
SF-Charles Matthews An improved jump shot and athleticism not seen in Ann Arbor since Tim Hardaway Jr. will make Matthews a main stay on the court this year. An already polished defender, if his offensive game can take the next step, Michigan will have a two-way star on its hands. One who will command north of 35 minutes per game. Look for the Matthews-Rahkman defensive combo to lock down most teams wings’ and become one of the best perimeter defending pairs in the country.
PF-Isaiah Livers Pick your jaws off the floor. Yes, John Beilein will possibly start a freshman this year. This year’s Wolverines are in need of floor spacing and Livers provides just that. Combined with improving rebounding and relentless effort on defense, the freshman from Kalamazoo, Michigan will command minutes and command them early. Don’t be surprised when the freshman is in the game with less than two minutes left either; this one has ice in his veins and won’t be afraid of the moment.
C-Moritz Wagner If you’re surprised that Mo’s in the starting lineup, you’ve never watched Michigan basketball a day in your life. Mo’s decision to return for a junior campaign provided the Wolverines with a go-to option on offense and a defensive anchor on the other end. He’ll have a great chance to boost his draft stock while he runs the offense through the high post and dazzles us fans with his smooth touch around the rim. Even before the year's begun Wagner is adding to his collection of accolades. This week he was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. This is our star and we should expect big things from our big man this year.
Duncan Robinson The fifth year senior will provide something off the bench that every team needs and every coach wants: floor spacing. Robinson has a smooth stroke and is an elite shooter from behind the arc. That said, he is prone to defensive lapses fairly often. If his defense somehow improved this offseason by some act of a higher being, then he will probably start or at least contend for starters minutes. But even if he struggles defensively, his shooting will keep him in games when he’s hot.
First Backup Big- Jon Teske How much has Teske’s offensive game improved this year? That’s the question of the offseason for the 7-1 sophomore center. He provided solid defensive minutes last year and altered more than a few shots, but his offense was nowhere to be found. His post game was lacking to say the least and his first step was as slow as any in the B10, if not the country. If he wants to get on the court he’ll have to show the coaches that he can provide at least some offense. If he can then he may push Mo to the 4 and get substantial minutes at the 5.
First guard off the bench- Eli Brooks This freshman point guard is the most underrated player not only in the Wolverines recruiting class, but on the entire team. His passing is an elite skill and he sees the court like few guards do. His handles are above average and he has a smooth stroke that will connect in college. If he can find a way to finish around the basket, which may be a challenge in his freshman year with his 6 foot stature, he may steal minutes from Simmons. Brooks is the future at point for the Wolverines, but if he can’t play defense early then Beilein will keep him on the bench.
Next two to see the floor- Zavier Simpson and Jordan Poole These two are both guards who have to prove a lot if they want to see the court for more than ten minutes a game. Simpson will play, but will have to beat out Simmons and Brooks for time at the one. He’ll have to show relentless effort on the defensive end and an improved feel for the game on offense that wasn’t there last year. He’s in line for minutes this year, but will have to play his way into a major role during the nonconference slate.
Poole is a different story. Right now he’s a smaller Duncan Robinson. He’s a great shooter, but will struggle with defense early. If he can’t show he’s ready to play on that end, a redshirt year isn’t out of the question. Having two inept defenders doesn’t make an average one and until he proves capable on that end he’ll only get spot minutes for Duncan.
Two with a lot to prove- Austin Davis and Ibi Watson Davis will play this year because of the lack of bigs, but needs to show improvements in the strength department. He was redshirted last year and seems to have shown the coaching staff that this was the right decision. Thus far all that’s come out of Chrisler are rave reviews about the 6-10 big. His offensive moves and footwork have been a point of praise from his coaches, and if this proves to be true he could challenge both Livers and Teske for minutes. But right now there’s more we don’t know about Davis than what we do, and that’s enough to keep him on the bench at the start of the year. Ibi is a wing who’s simply blocked right now. Who does he take minutes from? He’s not nearly as athletic or as good of a defender as Matthews or Rahkman. He isn’t as good of a shooter as Robinson and Poole. There simply aren’t enough minutes to share. He should earn spot minutes in mop up time in non conference games but needs to perform with them to carve out any role in the rotation.
Immediately after being left out of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Wolverines felt the disappointment that comes when your name is not called on Selection Monday. Coach Arico was unsure how the team would respond at practice the next day but Jillian Dunston set the tone by stating, “It is our job to prove they made a mistake”. The Wolverines didn’t let the exclusion define them en route to a 6 game winning streak that culminated in an 89-79 Triple OT win against Georgia Tech in the WNIT Final.
Heading into her 6th season as the head coach of the Wolverines Women’s Basketball Program, Kim Barnes Arico explained how proud she was of her team’s ability to overcome adversity and make a championship run. She expressed joy over the positive energy in the program and is looking forward to November 10th when the Wolverines open at home against George Mason and raise their WNIT Championship banner, the first banner in program history.
The Wolverines will be led by senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, a natural scorer, who for the past 3 years was set up with opportunities to score off screens and passes from departed point guard Siera Thompson. Without Thompson, who was starting point guard for the last four years, Flaherty will take over some of the point guard responsibilities. This is a role that Arico believes Flaherty can be successful in and even more important, a role that Flaherty is looking forward to taking on. She told her coach, “I want to be the point guard”. Flaherty has worked tirelessly over the summer on her ball handling skills, her court vision, and her ability to set up her teammates, as she anticipates a more ball dominant role in the offense. Flaherty said that the game has “slowed down tremendously” for her which has made her more comfortable in making decisions that involve running the show. Junior forward Sam Trammell said when discussing Flaherty’s leadership, “Katelynn’s voice has really grown, her communication has greatly improved”. Flaherty is on pace to shatter the school’s career scoring record as she sits 58 points away heading into her senior year. Flaherty believes that fans can expect to see strong chemistry and a fast-paced offense on the floor this year. She realizes that she can “take nothing for granted” her senior year and Wolverines fans will want to be sure to come out and watch her in her final year at Michigan
The Wolverines will also look for senior Jillian Dunston and junior Hallie Thome to step up into leadership roles. Both players look to be major contributors on the court for the Wolverines. Coach Arico believes that her duo of Flaherty and Thome could be “2 of the best players in the country” and will be tough for opposing defenses to handle. This claim is backed up by their invitations to participate in the USA Basketball trials, 2 of the 35 players offered the opportunity. Dunston provides a strong leadership voice and as her coach put it, “will do whatever is needed to win”, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score. These three players have set the tone and the pace at practice early on.
The three freshmen include Priscilla Smeenge, Deja Church, and Hailey Brown. Smeenge originally committed to Florida but flipped to Michigan when her family moved so that they could have the opportunity to watch her play. Deja Church is expected to immediately contribute at point guard so that Flaherty can maintain her off the ball scoring role. Church is a strong, slashing guard who is comfortable scoring in a variety of ways. With her crafty moves to the basket, she can draw fouls and get to the line and will bring a tough-nosed mindset to the defense. Church takes great pride in her ability to defend at a high level. Hailey Brown comes to the Wolverines from Ontario, Canada. Brown played for the Canada U19 Bronze Team in the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup. Coach Arcio is confident that this experience will allow her to contribute right away for the Wolverines. When asked about her initial comparison of the international game and the collegiate game, Brown noted the differences in physicality and floor spacing but that the intensity is as high if not higher at Michigan. She believes that she is ready to step in and contribute immediately, as she can knock down open shots or drive past defenders that play her tight. This versatility will help give more freedom and space to post players such as Thome because defenses will have to respect her as an offensive threat. With only 11 players on the roster, expect contributions from the freshman class.
The Wolverines also had a unique experience over the summer, spending 10 days in Italy and Greece before coming to campus for classes. Trammel discussed how the trip helped build chemistry for the team both on and off the court. Among all the unique cultural experiences on the trip, the visit to Pompeii stood out to her. Hailey Brown believed the trip was extremely valuable for team bonding. She had been playing with Team Canada over the summer so this trip gave her the opportunity to get on the court with her new teammates for the first time against professional players with years of experience. The team’s ability to do everything together for 10 days has helped them get ahead in terms of unity and chemistry and they will look to translate these lessons from their foreign trip to the court this season.
The positivity and optimism surrounding the program stood out among the players and coaches. Newly hired assistant coach Wesley Brooks said their goal is to be “The Hardest Working Team in America”. The Wolverines will hustle every play, pay attention to the little things, and play together. This is going to be a fast-paced offense with the ability to score points from anywhere on the floor and a defense that will use its length to make things difficult offensively. The Wolverines look to carry the momentum from the WNIT Championship into this season and prove themselves on the national stage.
Dusty Baker, Nationals manager for the past two seasons, epitomizes “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” He has never won a World Series. At this rate, he never will. He has only ever been to the Fall Classic once; in 2002 Baker led the Giants to the World Series only to be dispatched by Mike Scioscia's Anaheim Angels in seven games. Baker and the Giants even held a five run lead heading into the seventh inning of game six (they held a 3-2 series lead, so had they won game six, they would have captured the series), but managed to blow that. Baker has managed four different teams for 22 seasons total and has captured only one league pennant. He has only won one playoff series aside from the year he took the Giants to the World Series. If you take all of the postseason series he’s managed, he’s 3-8 all-time, 3-9 if you include his 2013 Wild Card Game loss. He has a 23-32 record, good for a .418 postseason win percentage.
So why do teams keep hiring this guy? Because, contrary to what his postseason record might have you believe, he wins. Baker ranks 14th all-time among managers with 1863 regular season wins, and it’s not as though those wins are coming from just managing for a long period of time; his career win percentage is .532.
I should rephrase my statement from the previous paragraph. He appears to win. Not that the wins are an illusion or anything like that, but if you look at the rosters that he has managed into the postseason, they're not short on talent in any way, shape, or form. Aside from the 1997 Giants (who, for the record, hadBarry Bonds leading the way), the rosters he has been handed have, for the most part, just been talented enough to get to the postseason. Let's take a look:
2000 Giants This season just screams steroid era. Aside from the aforementioned Bonds (who led the team with 49 HR and an obscene .306/.440/.688 triple-slash), the team also hadJeff Kent, who, at age 32, posted career-bests in each leg of his triple-slash (.334/.424/.596), and a then-career-high of 33 long balls. At age 32. And as if that weren't enough, 35-year-old RFEllis Burks posted a .344/.419/.606 triple-slash along with 24 HR. Burks, who had only hit 20 HR twice in the first nine years of his career, went on to average just under thirty HR a year for his age-31 through age-37 seasons. If that doesn't scream steroids, I don't know what does.
The Giants offense posted the most WAR of any MLB club in 2000, and the 5th-most WAR of any National League club. To be fair, though, when steroids factor into the equation, if your hitting can carry the load, your pitching just has to be average. Additionally, managers tend to have a rather negligible effect over the course of the season on win total (this FiveThirtyEight article goes more in depth, but to summarize: you can't really prove if a manager is better or worse than average), so as long as Dusty didn't bench Bonds, Kent, and and Burks every day, this team was basically a shoo-in for the playoffs.
2002 Giants I don't really have to say much about this season. This was not Bonds' 232-walk season, but he still got on base three out of every five at-bats (his OBP was .582). If you have a guy that produces 12.7 fWAR in a season, you're gonna make the playoffs. It doesn't hurt that Kent also posted 6.7 fWAR at age 34. This team, once again, led the big leagues in offensive fWAR, and finished third in the National League (8th overall) in pitching WAR. Any old MLB manager probably could have taken these guys to the playoffs. Dusty got them to the World Series (where they lost), which is certainly an accomplishment, but they didn't get the ring, and some of the loss can probably be attributed to the fact that Dusty hit Bonds fourth the entire series.Kenny Lofton andRich Aurilia, who hit first and second, respectively, in that series, had 34 and 33 plate appearances (again, respectively). If Bonds had hit second in place of Aurilia, the Giants would have had two additional baserunners over the course of the series, which doesn't seem like a lot, but that probably would have put Bonds in scoring position at least one additional time during the series. Two of the games that the Angels won were decided by one run, so that could have been a huge difference maker. Obviously I'm speaking in hypotheticals, and the likelihood that any of this would have actually happened is relatively unlikely. It also demonstrates the fact that a manager has a rather negligible impact on the game (shifting Bonds two spots in the order would have resulted in two more baserunners in seven games, which is really not a lot). My point: they lost, and Dusty did not optimize his team's chances at winning. Are we starting to see a trend here?
2003 Cubs The Cubs starting rotation in 2003 featured three pitchers that finished in the top-25 in baseball in fWAR.Mark Prior posted nearly 8 fWAR (7.8), andCarlos Zambrano andKerry Wood compiled 4.7 and 4.2 fWAR, respectively. All three of these starters also finished in the top-10 in the big leagues in ERA. When your offense is at least league average (which the Cubs were in 2003; they finished 18th in the bigs and 9th in the Senior Circuit for offensive fWAR), it's hard not to make the playoffs with a pitching staff that deadly.
However, the team only made it to the NLCS, where they lost in seven games to the Marlins. This was the series with the infamousSteve Bartman incident (Game 6). Many regard that as the turning point of the series, but people seem to forget that after the Bartman mishap, Dusty Baker left Prior in to faceIvan Rodriguez. Rodriguez was, to that point, a career .304/.344/.488 hitter, certainly one of the Marlins' most lethal sluggers, and Prior was already 114 pitches deep into his outing. Prior allowed a hit, and as if that weren't already enough, Dusty left Prior in to face two more of the most lethal hitters in the Florida lineup:Miguel Cabrera andDerrek Lee. Unsurprisingly, after throwing 117 pitches (leading up to Cabrera's AB), and 118 pitches (leading up to Lee's AB), Prior allowed back-to-back baserunners, granted Cabrera reached on an error. The Cabrera error was a little unlucky, but Lee's double was a liner right down the third-base line. As much as I would like to hop on the bandwagon and blame Bartman for the loss, Dusty should have taken Prior out after the walk and wild pitch to Pudge. Great management may not lead to wins, but poor management begets losses.
There's also the fact that a lot of people blame Mark Prior's early exit from baseball on Dusty's overuse of him. From 2002 to 2003, Prior's innings workload more than doubled. We know now that innings should be gradually increased for youngsters to protect their arms, so we need to cut Dusty a little slack, but still, Baker is credited with killing the careers of Prior and Kerry Wood. Whether it's actually his fault the two of them faltered on their own accord remains unknown, but Baker's use of them definitely played a factor. Let's move on.
2010 Reds The Reds finished, you guessed it, first in offensive fWAR in 2010. Led by the likes of future Hall of Famer Joey Votto (side note: he is the perfect baseball player),Jay Bruce (please come back to the Mets), and potential Hall of FamerScott Rolen, this team cruised to a 91-71 record, and won the NL Central by 5 games over the St. Louis Cardinals. I reiterate: it's easy to make it to the postseason if you have a good team handed to you. Over 162 games, generally speaking, the most talented teams should end up on top, and that's what happened here. The Reds' 2010 pitching wasn't anything to write home about, they were roughly league average (17th overall in baseball in pitching fWAR, 9th in the National League). They went on to get swept in the NLDS. There's not much you can do when you get no-hit in game one and you get only 11 hits in 27 innings over the course of the series, so I don't think Dusty could have done much to give this team a better shot in 2010. That being said, hitting light-hitting SSOrlando Cabrera ahead of Votto, Rolen, and Bruce in games 1 and 2 certainly did not help.
2012 Reds The 2012 Reds didn't lead the league in offensive fWAR (they were 9th overall), but they made up for it by leading the National League in pitching fWAR (they were third overall, behind the Tigers and Rays). As I've said before, it's easy to manage a good team to the postseason. The Reds went 97-65 and won their division by 9 games, again over the Cardinals, and then went on to lose in the NLDS in five games to the eventual World Series winners, the San Francisco Giants. All of the games in that series were decided by at least two runs save for game three, which was a 2-1 Giants victory in 10 innings. I'm going to zoom in on that because I think Baker impacted that game the most of any in the series with his game management. In the 10th inning, Baker put inJonathan Broxton, which isn't a bad move in itself. Broxton went on to get back-to-back strikeouts after allowing the first two men to reach base. CatcherRyan Hanigan then allowed a passed ball, so the baserunners moved up to second and third, but instead of walkingJoaquin Arias to get to the pitcher's spot (and Bruce Bochy let the pitcher hit! That's even worse than Baker's blunder!) he allowed Broxton to pitch to Arias, who put the ball in play and got a run in on an error. Obviously the error isn't Baker's fault, but if Giants' pitcherSergio Romo was standing in the on-deck circle and Baker chose to pitch to the guy who can hit instead of the guy who can't, that's just bad managing.
2016 Nationals I want to mention briefly that the Reds made the NL Wild Card Game in 2013, but since it was just a one-game playoff, I'm not going to bother doing a whole writeup. The Pirates led the Reds 5-1 by the end of the fourth inning, so, again, there isn't much Dusty could have done to make it better for the Reds. On to the 2016 Nats. The 2016 Nationals were second in baseball in pitching fWAR and seventh in hitting fWAR. They won the National League East rather handily (8 games over my beloved Mets) and then lost in five games in the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In this series,Daniel Murphy hit fourth consistently. I couldn't tell you why, but that's what Dusty chose to do. He hit behindJayson Werth. An MVP candidate hit behind Jayson Werth.Anthony Rendon also hit behind Werth. And this wasn't the last time Baker put together a lineup like this in a postseason series. This, for me, would be the beginning of the end of my patience with Baker if I was a Nationals fan. As if that weren't bad enough, though, he went on to construct an absolutely heinous lineup for games four and five of the 2017 NLDS, and that's what prompted me to write this post.
2017 Nationals The 2017 Nationals obliterated the NL East (to be fair, though, most good teams would have). They won the division by 20 games with a 97-65 record, finished 6th in offensive fWAR, and 7th in pitching fWAR. Another good team that Dusty got the keys to and couldn't take to the promised land. One or two seasons with a good team and no results in the postseason could be a fluke, but seven postseason appearances with good teams and a lack of a World Series win seems to indicate something bigger about the manager. But if you don't believe me, check out the lineup Dusty Baker trotted out for games four and five of the NLDS against the Cubs:
The game five lineup was identical except Gio Gonzalez was the starting pitcher. I have so many questions about this lineup:
Why is Jayson Werth hitting second? You have Harper, Zimmerman, Murphy, and Rendon, all of whom are better hitters than Werth, hitting below him. Why?
Why is Anthony Rendon hitting sixth? If Baker just flipped Werth and Rendon this lineup would look so much better, but instead he has an MVP candidate hitting at the bottom of the middle-third of the order.
I have other questions too, like why Murphy is hitting behind Zimmerman, why Harper isn't hitting second, and more. Basically, I think that given the players that are in this lineup, this is one of the worst ways Baker could have configured it.
The Nationals went on to win the fourth game of the series, but lost the fifth. Whether that is actually due to lineup construction is unlikely, but the point is more that if he had hit Rendon in the two hole instead of Werth, the Cubs would have had to go through Turner-Rendon-Harper in the final inning, instead of Turner-Werth-Harper. Which one looks more daunting? It's pretty obviously the first combo of hitters. I don't know if Rendon would have actually reached base in that plate appearance, but he would have had a better chance of reaching base than Werth, I'm nearly certain of that. Yet another example of poor management not maximizing a team's chances to win. I'm not blaming the loss on him alone, but some of the blame has to be placed on Baker.
Here we have seven examples of a Baker-led teams that made it to the postseason and then couldn't finish the job once they got there. I don't work in the Nationals' front office, but if I did, I think it would be time for the franchise to part ways with Dusty Baker.
The Pistons’ season last year was, to put it lightly, a disaster. The team finished a ghastly 37-45, taking numerous steps back from the previous season, when the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2008-2009 and were swept by the eventual champion Cavs in the first round. The team was inconsistent, banged up, and seemed uninterested overall. Many called for the separation of Stan Van Gundy’s standing as the coach and GM, some wanting him to be relieved of both duties. An increasingly significant free agency period approached, and SVG’s plans seemed predetermined. It was frequently reported that Van Gundy loved Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s defensive ability and offensive potential, and a lucrative extension was expected to be offered by the Pistons. Instead, Stan Van Gundy made what may prove to be the most important trade he has made as the head of the Pistons. He traded Marcus Morris and a second round pick to the salary cap-desperate Celtics for Avery Bradley as they made room for newcomers Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. In turn, the Pistons received their shooting guard of the future, and have now set themselves up to contend in the future for not only the playoffs, but for the Eastern Conference title. The 26 year old Bradley experienced by far his most productive year of his career last year, with career highs in effective shooting percentage as well as points, assists, and rebounds per game. Entering his prime, Avery is poised to find his full potential with the Pistons, especially if the team goes back to its pick and roll system that sparked their playoff run with a healthy Reggie Jackson at the helm two seasons ago. Despite being eased into preseason action, Jackson is anticipated to be healthy and ready to play this season and should form an imposing backcourt in the East. With the starting lineup likely rounded out by Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, and now a leaner and what seems to be a vindictive Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ core’s potential has been given new life.
Avery Bradley’s defensive ability is lauded in NBA circles, well documented when he was left off an All-Defensive team this past summer, causing an uproar among teammates and opponents. KCP was a good defender, but he was not at the level of the elite perimeter defender that Avery is. Described by Kemba Walker as “the perfect defender”, Bradley only stands 6’2” but plays much bigger. He will serve the same defensive role as KCP last year, shadowing the most talented opposing backcourt player and will frequently shut him down. It is also highly probable his presence and competitiveness on defense will be infectious, especially important for the still young Drummond. Defense has always been contagious, and having a top defender on the floor will reactively force others to work just as hard to keep up with Bradley’s energy. The larger issue was the offense, and Avery is an enormous upgrade over his predecessor. KCP failed to shoot 40% from the floor last year, while Bradley shot over 46%, as well as shot four percentage points higher than KCP from three with a mark of 39%. Bradley has not shot less than KCP’s career field goal percentage of 40.5% from the field since 2012-2013 and is leaps and bounds a more polished offensive player than Pope as well as Marcus Morris, whom he was traded for. Bradley is much more comfortable handling the ball and can split duties with Reggie Jackson when they share the floor. Having another primary ball handler cannot be overstated, as the team last year recurrently reverted to one on one basketball, as many were not comfortable doing anything else when they had possession. Bradley’s knockdown ability from three point range, combined with the increasing improvement of Stanley Johnson’s jump shot and newly drafted sharpshooter Luke Kennard will help open up lanes for lashers like Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris, freeing space for alley oops, kick outs for threes, and easy lay-ins. It’s possible Bradley arises as the Pistons’ best player this year and in the future, helping form a core of himself, Tobias, Reggie, and Andre that will become one of the more gifted groups in the East in a few years.
This year, however, is imperative for the Pistons and the future of Stan Van Gundy. Anything less than a playoff appearance in the now watered down Eastern Conference will cause catastrophe for Detroit Basketball, with Stan Van likely having to be relieved of one or both of his current positions and the team having to possibly be officially blown up. This will not be the same team as last year though, and should make great strides towards reaching their eventual goals in the next few years. It is key for the unit to stay healthy, which is still not an assurance with Avery, who missed 27 games last year (however played over 75 games the two years prior). With Avery Bradley’s presence, maturity, and lead-by-example attitude that will rub off on the team both on and off the floor, the team should not only contend for the playoffs, but it is entirely plausible they could challenge for a top 4 seed in the conference barring injuries too. Avery Bradley could change everything for this Pistons era, starting tonight at 7pm at home against the Charlotte Hornets as they make their regular season debut downtown in Little Caesars Arena.
Surprises: The consistent play of Carson Wentz has elevated this team to the top of the NFC. Road wins against the Redskins and Panthers have built up an impressive resume for the Eagles. Wentz has 13 TDs to just 3 interceptions and Nelson Agholor is stepping up alongside Ertz, Jeffrey, and Smith as viable options. The Eagles look like a complete team through 6 weeks.
Disappointments: The pass oriented offense that throws almost 35 times a game. The run game has not been terrible but I don’t think they incorporate effective balance into the play calling. The Eagles will want to give LeGarrette Blount more carries to keep defenses honest.
Surprises: Vernon Davis is having a strong season so far despite playing alongside Jordan Reed, which gives Kirk Cousins a potent 2 TE set to work with. Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor are also starting to emerge as targets for Cousins. This comes after the departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The fact that new faces have emerged and Kirk Cousins is still having success speaks to his potential value to the franchise.
Disappointments: The Josh Norman injury could be problematic with the Eagles and Cowboys up next on the schedule. The Redskins lack a dominant running back which could hold them back in tougher matchups. Still, the Redskins are pushing the Eagles for top of the NFC East.
Surprises: Demarcus Lawrence is leading the NFL with 8.5 sacks, giving the defensive line a quality pass rush. Jourdan Lewis, the rookie corner out of Michigan, has played well for the secondary despite giving up the game winning TD in the Packers loss. Dak Prescott is building on his rookie season success and has become the clear leader of the Cowboys offense.
Disappointments: The drama surrounding the Elliott suspension is still ongoing and the Cowboys are in trouble if he is suspended the next 6 games with a daunting schedule that includes the Redskins, Chiefs, Falcons, and Eagles. The offensive line has not performed at the same level they did last year and Dez Bryant has not dominated a game yet this season. The offense appears to have taken a step back which must change if they want any hope at defending the division title.
New York Giants Surprises: Rookie tight end Evan Engram has held his own in the NFL. On Sunday night he was the dominant receiver against the talented Broncos defense with 5 catches for 82 yards and a score. He will continue to see the bulk of the targets in the passing game and we could have a future star on our hands.
Disappointments: The injuries that occurred almost simultaneously have decimated the Giants offense. Beckham, Marshall, Shepherd, and Harris were all lost in the same game and created a nightmare scenario for a winless team. The Beckham injury is a disappointment for all football fans who will be without one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game. The offensive line has simply been awful. Ereck Flowers has been a disaster at left tackle. Eli Manning has little time to throw and the running game hasn’t had any room to operate. We will see if the Broncos victory is a fluke or if the Giants have somehow risen in the face of adversity.
Surprises: I would have said the instant success of Dalvin Cook, but he unfortunately suffered a season ending ACL injury. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have broken out as legitimate receiving threats even with Case Keenum running the show at QB. Theilen has 38 catches and 489 receiving yards and Diggs has 395 yards and 4 TDs on 23 catches. When Bradford or Bridgewater return, their numbers could only continue to improve.
Disappointments: The Vikings got off to a hot start last year and were derailed by injuries. Once again, the Vikings can’t seem to avoid the training room. Sam Bradford has missed a significant amount of time since the first game when the Saints had no answer for him. Dalvin Cook went down after a strong and encouraging start to his rookie year. The good news is that Bridgewater could be back soon to compete with Case Keenum at QB, and Bradford’s status is still uncertain. Despite the injuries, the Vikings have stayed afloat and are competing for the division title.
Green Bay Packers
Surprises: Aaron Jones may give the Packers a viable running back to complement their plethora of receivers. His game against the Cowboys showed the potential for the rookie running back out of UTEP and would allow Ty Montgomery to play a change of pace style, which suits his skill set as a receiver more than a power runner. The Packers will need something from the run game without Aaron Rodgers.
Disappointments: The season ending injury to Aaron Rodgers leaves the Packers at 4-2 and without room for error. The suspect defense won’t have the offense to lean on and the run game will be forced to make plays. Brett Hundley threw 3 interceptions in relief of Rodgers against the Vikings. The Packers are in trouble.
Detroit Lions Surprises: The defense is making plays with 9 interceptions and 5 recovered fumbles on the year. Rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis has been a key piece for the defense. I was extremely impressed with the debut of Kenny Golladay, but a hamstring injury has limited his ability to get on the field. Matt Stafford has proved he is worth the contract he signed in the offseason and he will continue to compete in the suddenly wide open NFC North.
Disappointments: The same problem for the Lions has been the lack of a running game to take pressure off Stafford. The Lions average 84 rushing yards a game, good for 28th in the NFL. This problem doesn’t appear to have a solution for this season, but as long as Stafford is healthy, the Lions will survive.
Surprises: Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are an extremely effective running back duo. Teams know the Bears are looking to run the ball but haven’t been able to stop them. Mitchell Trubisky finally brings excitement to the Bears and gives them something to be optimistic about for the future. His development will be fun to watch.
Disappointments: It took four weeks for Mike Glennon to lose his starting job. The Bears needed some time to get Trubisky ready to go, but four weeks may have been excessive. The Texans waited one week for Watson to take over and he is lighting it up in Houston. The idea of Glennon actually being the long term starter was unrealistic. The Trubisky Era is underway.
Surprises: The breakout of Devin Funchess gives the Panthers 2 big, physical receivers to target downfield and help Cam Newton while Greg Olsen is out. Funchess will continue to improve as the season progresses and should find mismatches as Kelvin Benjamin demands attention and Olsen returns to the field. Funchess could lead the Panthers receivers in TDs by the end of the season. Christian McCaffrey has also sparked the offense as a rushing and receiving threat. He serves a versatile role including as a diversion to free up receivers like Funchess and Benjamin. The Panthers offense has them looking for a shot to take back the division crown.
Disappointments: The Panthers can be inconsistent at times. In both home losses to the Saints and Eagles, Cam Newton threw 3 interceptions. In both road wins against the Patriots and Lions, Newton threw 3 TDs. If the Panthers want a shot at the NFC South title, they have to find consistency, starting at the QB position.
New Orleans Saints
Surprises: The last 3 games. The Saints are on a 3 game winning streak and owe a large part of that to the play of their defense. They held the Panthers to 13 points on the road and shutout the Dolphins. Despite surrendering 38 points to the Lions, the defense redeemed themselves by scoring 3 TDs of their own. Drew Brees has the Saints offense operating at a high level, and the running game is starting to distinguish itself with the combo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints find themselves in a position where they have winnable games against the Packers, Bears, Bucs, and Bills in the next four weeks. If the defense can continue to contribute, the offense can take care of most teams. The NFC South looks like the most competitive division in the NFC.
Disappointments: The Adrian Peterson acquisition was mostly a flop. He was clearly the 3rd running back on the depth chart behind Ingram and Kamara. He had 81 yards on 27 carries during his time in New Orleans. The most memorable moment of his tenure was probably the back and forth between him and Sean Payton during the Minnesota game. I give credit to the Saints for moving on from a situation that didn’t work out.
Surprises: I have been pleasantly surprised with the play of Austin Hooper at tight end. He’s caught 17 of his 22 targets on the season and has become a reliable target for Matt Ryan. The offense has taken a step back from a season ago and Hooper could be a big part of getting those numbers back up.
Disappointments: I expected the Falcons to come out and storm through the first 5 games. Instead, we have seen a team that could be 2-3 depending on if that Lions touchdown call goes the other way. One of their wins was a nail biter against the Bears. This team has not played at a high level for a group that returned most of the key players from the Super Bowl roster. The offense hasn’t looked the same without Kyle Shanahan. Their most recent loss, a blown 17-0 lead to the Dolphins at home, is not the kind of inspiring performance you look for before your rematch with the Patriots. The Falcons need to play to their potential.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Surprises: Desean Jackson and Cameron Brate have joined Mike Evans as viable threats in the pass game alongside Mike Evans. Jameis Winston has proved his importance to this team despite their current 2-3 record. I had high expectations for this Bucs team and it will be interesting to see if they can win some close games to avoid falling behind in the NFC South race.
Disappointments: Doug Martin returned from suspension for one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. Between him and Jacquizz Rodgers, someone has got to step up to help Winston, especially if he is limited with a shoulder injury. I think the Bucs are close to being competitive, but they will need more balance offensively.
Los Angeles Rams Surprises: New coach Sean McVay has helped Jared Goff emerge as the kind of QB the Rams had hoped for when they drafted him. I never understood why people wrote him off as a bust last season when it was his first year on a very bad team. With some receiving weapons and the help of a strong season from Todd Gurley, Goff is operating one of the highest scoring offenses in football. It should be exciting to see his continued development alongside his young head coach.
Disappointments: I wasn’t a big fan of the Aaron Donald holdout. He is one of the most dominant defenders in the game and he will no doubt be paid in the near future, but I think his presence at practice could have helped with the collection of young talent and the new coaching staff the Rams have. It’s not much of an issue since the defense is still strong, but I think they could be even better.
Surprises: This team will go where their defense takes them. The offense looks unreliable at times but the defense has given them a chance to win games. Apart from the Tennessee game, it has been a dominant unit. If the offense is able to consistently score points, the Seahawks shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Disappointments: The offensive line is keeping this team from scoring points. Russell Wilson is always under pressure and the running game isn’t generating points either. Getting the offense on track will revolve around the Seahawks ability to execute their blocking schemes.
Surprises: The Adrian Peterson trade. Once David Johnson went down for injury it was clear the running game was not going to be able to sustain success. The Cardinals made a last ditch effort by trading for Adrian Peterson and it worked, at least for one game. Peterson had 134 yards and 2 TDs on 26 carries against the Buccaneers. We don’t know if Peterson will be able to replicate this performance, but it gives the Cardinals hope and injects some energy into the offense.
Disappointments: Lofty expectations for the Cardinals were knocked off course by the loss of David Johnson. They’ve won some close games against some not so good teams. Wins against the Colts and 49ers aren’t eye popping and the win against Tampa Bay saw Jameis Winston fall to injury. The 3 losses haven’t been close. The Cardinals are still in the thick of the division race, but they need to pick it up if they want to actually make some noise.
San Francisco 49ers
Surprises: CJ Beathard looked encouraging on Sunday in Washington. Beathard, the rookie QB out of Iowa, will get more looks after he held his own. The 49ers are banking on the development of young talent this season to pay off long term, and Beathard has a chance to prove he belongs in the discussion as part of that future.
Disappointments: The close losses are agonizing. They lost week 1 to Carolina 23-3, but the next 5 losses have been by a combined 13 points with 2 of those losses coming in overtime. The 49ers haven’t won a game, not because they are a bad team, but because they are just unable to finish games and execute in the clutch. Kyle Shanahan has this team headed in the right direction despite the 0-6 record.
The NBA season is right around the corner, and everyone is getting excited. Kyrie going back to Cleveland to see Lebron will be a fun little reunion, and the new look Rockets will travel to the Bay Area to face the defending champion Warriors, but I am here to showcase the non-nationally televised games that all you league pass subscribers should watch. Even if you don’t have league pass, Reddit is always a reliable second option! So let’s dive right in.
Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics - Wednesday, October 18, 7:30pm
Although the Celtics will be coming off their opening night game against Cleveland, this game should be a great one. We’ll see if the Celtics will have trouble with team chemistry against the Cavs, but from the preseason it didn’t look like it. The team looked like they were having fun and enjoying playing basketball together with no real issues showing… yet. This is going to be Kyrie and Gordon’s first game in Boston, which is definitely a sight to see. They aren’t facing just any opponent; the Bucks are looking to take the East by storm this year. With another year of Giannis and a young, athletic team yet again, the Bucks want to run through the East, and this will be their first test. I LOVE the Bucks this season. I predicted that they will be the two seed in the East and that Giannis will win MVP. I have no inside knowledge on this, but for some strange reason I have a feeling Giannis improved his jumper over the offseason and will shoot better than 27% from three, like he did last season. I also expect a leap from Thon Maker this season, and I think with those two players the Bucks will be a force to be reckoned with in the East.
Sacramento Kings at Dallas Mavericks - Friday, October 20, 8:30pm
After reading this matchup, you may be thinking, what the heck? You read it correctly: Kings vs Mavericks. I know both these teams will probably win less than 70 games combined this year, but the point guard matchup in this game will show the future of the position. De’Aaron Fox matched up against Dennis Smith; sign me up right now. I think both these players will make a serious run at ROY, and to see them play so early in their careers will be awesome. The athleticism between these two young studs is through the roof, so we are sure to see some eye-popping plays in this game. Also, I am a fan of the Kings this season. The first season without all the Boogie gossip will be an interesting storyline throughout the season, and I loved the Kings’ offseason. Drafting Fox, Jackson and Giles were all safe picks with high upside (mostly Giles), but I would’ve loved if they kept the tenth pick and kept Fox and Malik Monk together. The young frontcourt of the Kings is interesting too. Cauley-Stein, Skal, and Papagiannis are all players looking to gain minutes and prove their NBA talent. On the flip side, the Mavericks are one of the most boring teams in the NBA, but Dirk is a fan favorite and watching his 39-year-old body slowly make its way up and down the court is always mesmerizing.
Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors - Saturday, October 21, 7:30pm
The Process is officially off and running. With everyone healthy (hopefully), the 76ers are looking to make an anticipated run in the East this year. It’s no secret that everyone loves the Sixers this season. If Embiid and Simmons (and Fultz) can stay healthy, this squad is not to be messed with. They will definitely have some growing pains with such a young team, but chemistry will not be an issue at all. It seems, at least from the outside, that this team loves each other, and Embiid is at the center of this. Bringing in JJ Reddick as a veteran presence (for a hefty 20 million dollars, secure the bag JJ) was a solid move for the organization that needed some shooting. The Sixers over/under this year is 41.5 wins, which means they would have to win 14 more games just to hit the over, and this game against the Raptors will give us an early look if the Sixers are legit or not. The Raptors, who have made the playoffs the last four seasons, are always a very solid team, but they have had the same team for four seasons. Continuing to run it back with Lowry and DeRozan will consistently win you 46+ games each year but won’t advance you any further than the Eastern Conference Finals. This is why I think this will be one of the most fun matchups of week one in the NBA. Seeing how this young Sixers team does against the veteran Raptors should give us a sneak peak at both teams for the upcoming season. If the Sixers can put up a fight or even win this game, they will show that they can be a playoff team this year and contend with some of the better East teams, but if they get blown out, maybe the Sixers hype was too much. It is just one game, but one very intriguing game for basketball fans to pay attention to.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder - Sunday, October 21, 7:00pm
Now this may be the best game of the week. Both new teams added stars to their rosters and are looking to contend in the Western Conference. A lot of fans were disappointed by Minnesota last year, but they were still young and learning. This year, with a year of Tom Thibodeau under their belt, the young roster, along with new addition Jimmy Butler, will look to shake up the West. They have one of the best under-24 players on their team, Karl Anthony Towns, as well as a talented Andrew Wiggins as a sound third option. High expectations probably made this team feel too much pressure last season, but a veteran like Jimmy Butler should be able to make it easier on the youth. Matching up with OKC will be fun to watch because of the Thunder’s new additions in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. I expect Butler to take George and Wiggins to take responsibility of Melo, but that still leaves reigning MVP winner, Russell Westbrook. Jeff Teague isn’t much of a defensive superstar, so watching how Minnesota matches up on defense will be interesting. Maybe they will put Butler on Westbrook, Wiggins on George and leave Melo with Taj Gibson/Gorgui Dieng. It’ll also be compelling to watch how both teams are adjusting to their new stars after only a few games. Usually it takes teams a few weeks to adjust to major roster changes, so when two teams with this much change matchup during the first week of the season, it is a must watch.