Thursday, August 17, 2006

Football On My Mind

Some football notes, as we approach the kickoff to the college and NFL regular seasons.

The Great Debate
Since the beginning of time (time being the invention of the forward pass), football fans have debated the merits of the college game versus the professional game. In a sign that it's the dog days of summer, picked up this argument earlier in the week. Fun stuff to read. If you're curious about my choice, it's at the bottom of this post.

The Old College Try
A few weeks back, I picked up NCAA Football 2007 for the XBox, one of my two annual video game purchases. (If you're wondering why I haven't upgraded to the 360, it's because I've only purchased one game not of the NCAA or Madden series in the past 22 months, and I may have played that game two or three times, so it just doesn't seem worth it). Anyway, I haven't reviewed it because, to be honest, I've barely played it. I enjoy the game, and the campus legend mode is pretty fun, but a big reason why I get the game every year is to upload my draft classes into Madden. Now, being the giant football nerd that I am, I have to wait for the action replay rosters with the real names to be available online, since drafting QB#10 from Notre Dame just isn't any fun. Apparently the rosters are available now, but my brother hasn't had time to show me how to download them, and transfer them to my XBox. Once we get that done, my dynasty will be up and running, and I can comment more on the game.

A few other comments:

• As I mentioned, I'm enjoying campus legend mode. I created myself as a quarterback, trying to be as realistic as possible (5'11, 160 pounds, left-handed, below average throwing arm), and after a shaky performance in the skills tests, landed with the Utah Utes. The actual day-to-day of campus legend is fairly in-depth - on weekends, you play the game, then on weekdays, you go to practice in the afternoon, then have the option of doing drills, a social activity, or studying in the evening. If you don't study very often, your GPA falls fast, as I found out during my first semester (ironically, this also happened in real life). Fun times.

• One drawback about campus legend is that your skills performance at the beginning doesn't improve your corresponding skills ratings. Instead, you get a certain number of points that you can distribute however you wish. To give an example of how unrealistic it is, I absolutely bombed my 40-yard dash, mostly because I didn't figure out how to properly do it. Nonetheless, I was able to put most of the points I later accumulated (in drills such as throwing distance, and throwing accuracy) into boosting my speed. It would be much better if your skills would automatically improve in certain areas based on your performance in each drill.

• Most of the playbooks this year seem to be the same as last year. My favorite team to play with is West Virginia, due to the number of option plays they have. Their quarterback is also a freak of nature, who is almost impossible to tackle.

• I would recommend this game if you're a big college fan, or if you want to upload the players into Madden. Otherwise, this game is the same as it is year-in-year-out, so there's nothing really novel about it. For me, this is a good thing, but I could understand why others might not want to spend $50-$60 on it.

Being Rewarded For Doing Nothing
The ultimately meaningless pre-season coaches poll has been out for a couple of weeks, and Ohio State has the distinction of being number one, just ahead of the defending champion Texas Longhorns. I'm not a fan of pre-season polls, as you literally have nothing but speculation to judge the teams on. OSU comes in first, despite losing their top wide receiver, and nine starters on defense (five of whom were first day picks in the NFL draft). How they managed to leapfrog the champs, and a few other teams, bewilders me.

If I had a vote, I would put the defending champion first to begin every year, and probably keep them there until they lost. This year, I would have West Virginia, a top 5 team last year, second, on the basis that they haven't lost any key players. After that, I have no clue how I'd rank the teams to begin, though I have strong opinions on where a lot of them are going to end up in December.

To the professional game now...

We Are The 49ers
First, let me plug, my preferred destination for training camp coverage of everybody's favorite team. Second, I watched the first half of their pre-season game against Chicago, and I have to say that I liked what I saw. The offense was by no means explosive, but looked very crisp. Alex Smith is playing with more poise, and having a vastly improved group of receivers (Antonio Bryant, Vernon Davis, a healthy Eric Johnson), along with a new offensive coordinator (Norv Turner), already appears to be paying off. The running game won't scare anyone, but if they can get a serviceable performance out of some combination of Frank Gore, Kevan Barlow, and Michael Robinson, they should be okay.

The big news this week is the trade of 2003 first-round pick Mike Rumph. He was sent to the Washington Redskins for receiver Taylor Jacobs. I have two thoughts on this - first, similar to when 2004 first rounder Rashaun Woods was sent to San Diego (he has since been cut, fyi), it always stings to see a former first rounder given up on so soon after he was picked (mostly because it reminds you why the team is in the position it is). Conversely, I'm happy to see that Coach Nolan and his staff are willing to move someone if it's in the team's best interest. Rumph would have begun the season, at best, as the 4th-string cornerback, and was fighting to stay on the roster period. In return, they get Taylor Jacobs, a young wide receiver who was buried on the 'Skins' depth chart, but could contribute here in 3 or 4 receiver sets.

While I don't think they had a great draft this year, the team has done a good job of bringing in players via free agency and trades. This is by no means a championship team, let alone a playoff team, but guys like Larry Allen, Trent Dilfer, Sammy Davis, and Antonio Bryant will help this team put in a respectable performance, and the latter two could play key roles in helping the team make a playoff run 2-3 years down the road.

On the trade front, if the rumors of the Jets looking to acquire Kevan Barlow are true, I say go for it. He's not enough of an improvement over Gore and Robinson to justify his salary. Dump him, and use the money in the off-season to upgrade the defense.

Things are starting, ever so slowly, to look up in San Francisco. I, for one, am very excited.

Down Goes Portis!
Super. Just when I had figured out the top of my fantasy draft board, one of my top picks has to go and separate his shoulder. Sure, he'll probably miss a game or two at most, but who knows if this injury will linger throughout the year?

On a fantasy football note, is there any running back who's a safe bet this year? Everyone touts the big three (LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, and Shaun Alexander), but each of them have question marks. LDT is playing with an untested quarterback, Johnson's only been the starter for half a season, and his left tackle just retired, and Alexander is up against the Madden curse. Beyond that, it's not much better. Edgerrin James is playing behind a suspect offensive line in Arizona, Corey Dillon is coming off of an injury-plagued season, and has a first-round pick (Laurence Maroney) pushing him for carries. Rudi Johnson's entire team might be in jail or suspended by Week 11, Curtis Martin might be retiring, and Warrick Dunn's reaching the age where running backs drop off, fast. Now we have Portis's shoulder to worry about. That doesn't leave a lot of reliable options out there.

This is a good opportunity to plug the bloggers' league that I am a part of, which is run by the gentleman over at The Gatorade Dump.

I don't anticipate that I'll be posting much on the league blog, aside from a preview of my team for the year (once we do the draft), and some sporadic, karma-killing trash talk whenever my team gets on a roll. Nonetheless, you should check it out anyways, as there are several other excellent contributors there as well.

Finally, I would like to point out that I registered my team and name (Chris Berman's Concubine) before Ryan McNeil signed up his team, You're With Me Leather!, so he's taking sloppy seconds on that joke. (See? The draft is two weeks away, and the trash talking is already beginning).

Fox: The Joe Buck Network
The suspense is over as to who the new host of FOX NFL Sunday is. Sadly, they overlooked my choice in favor of adding another role for Joe Buck, who now hosts the pre and post game shows, calls one football game a week, and calls a baseball game on Saturdays as well.

As part of the Fox plan to overexpose and make us tired of hearing a perfectly good baseball announcer, Buck will also be taking over as a judge on American Idol, guest starring as a patient on the season premier of House, and taking on a recurring role as Sandy's new business partner on The O.C.

Note: the last paragraph may not be true.

College or Pro?
I thought about this last night, and rather than breaking this down in-depth, or doing a heavy analysis, I came to the cop-out answer that I would rather watch an average NFL game, but college football is better as a big game sport. But that's not good enough, so after thinking about it some more, I came to the conclusion that I'm a college fan, first and foremost. The reason are simple:

• I can't imagine a holiday season without an ever-increasing number of bowl games to occupy my time. In fact, what is the purpose of New Year's Day if not to nurse a hangover and watch a series of ultimately meaningless (except for pride and AP ranking purposes) football games.

• The counterpoint to that is this: I can't remember the score of this past year's Super Bowl. I think the Steelers won by 3, but I am in no way whatsoever confident in that guess.

• I think my life would be more affected if they didn't release Madden one year than it would be if the NFL went on strike and wiped out an entire season. While part of this is a testament to the greatness that is Madden football, it's also a comment on the quality of the National Football League.

• Conversely, while I could probably do without a lot of the college football games, I can't imagine missing the Red River shootout, or any of the November rivalry games, or Notre Dame's annual collapse against Michigan State. They're as much a part of my annual routine as are celebrating holidays, and going to the dentist.

• College football gives us the option offense, while the NFL gives us healthy doses of power running (read: big guys running slowly through the tackles). This is starting to change, but the pro game still hasn't caught up.

• College football has marching bands, the FSU Cowgirls, and Keith Jackson. Meanwhile, the NFL has piped in music, the Dawg pound, and Jim Nantz. It's not even close on any of those counts.

So there you go. Though I'm a fan of both, when push comes to shove, count me in the college column.

**Thursday Night Update**
Two potential comebacks to comment on:

Junior Seau is thinking of trying out for the New England Patriots. The 37 year-old Seau, who retired less than a week ago, would fit right in with the aging Patriots linebacking crew, but he should realize that his best days are behind him, and after two injury plagued seasons, leave before he goes Jerry Rice on us.

• In the category of unwelcome comebacks, Rob Johnson is trying to stick as the backup quarterback for the New York Giants. What did he ever bring to the table? Now, after being two years out of the league, he's going to be the backup for a playoff team? I don't see this ending well.


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