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Dion Rabouin | The Sports Report Girl - Part 2

College Football Preseason Top 25: # 8 Texas

August 6, 2010 by Dion Rabouin  
Filed under College Football, Football, SRG's Blog

Why They’re Here: The question to be answered this year is whether Texas’ pathetic excuse for a running game the last four years can be great again. With guys like Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles and Ricky Williams having toted the rock for the burnt orange in recent memory, it’s absolutely bewildering that this is a team that’s been unable to find a running game the last few years. Mack Brown, who will probably be college football’s next incarnation of Bobby Bowden, is still at the helm and he’ll have to show that he can replace a legendary quarterback (again).

The Good: Despite losing LB Sergio Kindle, DT Lamar Houston and S Earl Thomas to the League this year, the Longhorns are poised to have probably the best defense in the Big 12. They return seven starters including every member of their secondary except Thomas, which ain’t too bad given what we saw from Blake Gideon and the Brown boys (Chykie and Curtis) last season. Nate Newton’s son, (who I think is literally half the size Nate was when he played for the Cowboys) Tre, returns to the offensive backfield along with my second favorite name in all of college football, (after T-Bob Hebert) Fozzy Whittaker.

The Bad: In Austin the question is whether Colt McCoy carried the ground game on his back because he could or because he had to. Without him, the Longhorns did basically nothing on the ground last season. If sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert doesn’t turn out to be a playmaker of McCoy’s caliber, the offense may be in some serious trouble. McCoy didn’t just make plays in the running game, he bailed himself out of a lot of bad situations in the passing game as well. That’s something you can’t design or put into a gameplan. The loss of Jordan Shipley is going to be huge as well, since he was not just a playmaker on offense, but on special teams as well. Finding guys who can play at the level of those two stars and creating a running game not dependent on the quarterback are Mack Brown’s two biggest issues this season.

The Last Word: I expect this team to be all defense this year. Nothing against Garrett Gilbert, but watching him against Alabama in the national championship game last year did not bring me memories of Vince Young or Colt McCoy. It’s hard to follow a legend, and it’s gotta be even harder following two. I can’t say that I see Gilbert carrying this team the way both of those guys did and Mack Brown hasn’t shown he’s got what it takes to win without a superstar at QB. Then again, he hasn’t had to. The horns have a four-week death row on their schedule where they play at Texas Tech, then home for UCLA, to Dallas for Oklahoma and then to Lincoln to play Nebraska without a week off. I fully expect them to lose two of those games, and three wouldn’t surprise me. If they can come out of that stretch unscathed, though, be prepared to talk national championship.

Final Record: 9-4

College Football Preseason Top 25: #9 Oklahoma

August 2, 2010 by Dion Rabouin  
Filed under College Football, Football, SRG's Blog

Why They’re Here: Question marks abound for this Oklahoma team. Landry Jones is a big question mark at quarterback, but he’s not the biggest one. Gerald McCoy anchored this defense and Trent Williams anchored the offense. The importance of an all-American left tackle cannot be overstated and neither can that of an all-American defensive tackle. The skill players get all the glory, but it’s the big hogs down in the trenches that really define a team and make the difference between greatness and mediocrity. I’ve never known a Bob Stoops team not to reload, but he lost some once-in-a-lifetime big boys this offseason.

The Good: Oklahoma returns nine starters from last season. Getting Landry Jones gametime experience last year turned out to not be so great, but that was last season. That bodes very well for this season. You can’t replicate the intensity of the fourth quarter on the road against Oklahoma State or against Texas in the Red River Rivalry. The kid has now gone through it, taken his lumps and lived to fight another day. As Kobe Bryant would say, he’s “battle tested,” and a battle tested quarterback is an absolute necessity in the Big 12.

The Bad: In addition to losing two big, beefy hosses in Williams and McCoy to the NFL, Stoops will also have to replace RB Chris Brown and TE Jermaine Gresham on offense. On defense, the Sooners only return four guys who started last year, and two of them are on the D-line, which will be a big question without McCoy. Also, Landry Jones was nobody’s Sam Bradford last year. With a full offseason and spring as the team’s leader behind him, he’s all out of excuses if this team doesn’t win.

The Last Word: Stoops is an excellent recruiter and he brought in a top 5 class this offseason that included not one, not two, but three four-star defensive tackles. With his penchant for finding freshman gems, I doubt there will be a significant drop off in talent. I expect this team to reload and be back to national prominence. Folks in Norman don’t take too kindly to appearances in the Sun Bowl. Don’t be surprised if they are squarely in the hunt for the national championship this season. But that all – and I do mean all – depends on Landry Jones.

Final Record: 12-2

College Football Preseason Top 25: #10 Georgia Tech

Why They’re Here: Nesbitt, Allen and Jones. This backfield trio carried Tech last year to the ACC title with only six scholarship seniors on the team. The triumvirate, which I will absolutely have to think up a name for (I was considering “The Blackfield” but that doesn’t really do them justice), is college football’s most potent rushing attack. Even after 50 years, teams still haven’t figured out how to shut down the triple option – especially when it’s run by the right players.

On defense, the team returns nine starters to a unit that was less than stellar last season. Tech will be instituting the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Al Groh. If anyone can make the 3-4 a winner it’s Groh, a disciple of Bill Parcells and former Virginia head coach.

The Good: In addition to Nesbitt, Allen and Jones, adding Al Groh to the mix on the defensive headset is huge. Head Coach Paul Johnson’s triple option doesn’t look to be any less effective than it was in 1906 when he first started running it. The best thing about this offense is that it’s always a change of pace for defenses to prepare for. It completely changes the way linebackers, defensive ends and corners have to play. It also forces a defense to play disciplined football. Any team with players looking to make superstar plays instead of covering their assignment is going to get beat. And you couldn’t ask for three better guys to run it, Josh Nesbitt is a triple option coach’s wet dream in terms of running power and decision making. He can also put the ball in the air and make things happen.

The Bad: This ain’t Navy. Johnson has run the triple option successfully in the ACC for two years and as impressive as that is a) It’s been a down couple years in the ACC and b) ACC defensive coordinators get paid a lot more money and have access to a lot more resources. With the drastic improvements all over the conference, Johnson’s triple option will be going up against some serious challenges this year. Now that they’re the champs, the bullseye is squarely on the Yellow Jackets’ back. Then there’s the defense.

Tech was BAD on defense last year, but their offense was able to put up enough points to still win games. Adjusting to a new system and a new coach is usually not the recipe for a championship season, even with a good defense.

The Last Word: Iowa’s victory in last year’s Orange Bowl showed what a team with a strong and disciplined defense could do against the Jackets. Everyone is expecting the defense to be better under Groh, but it remains to be seen whether it was the system or the players that failed Tech last year. Heavy is the crown and Georgia Tech won’t be flying under anyone’s radar this season.

Final Record: 9-4

College Football Preseason Top 25: #11 Florida

Why They’re Here: It’s the end of the Tebow era and no one is quite sure what that means. John Brantley is the man now and I think he’s got Peyton Manning Danny Weurffel-level talent. The defense lost five starters and so did the offense, which is a lot of leadership to give to the NFL. How good they are this year will be determined by how well they fill those holes.

The Good: Everyone in Gainesville is excited for John Brantley. He’s not Tim Tebow by a long shot, but he excels in a number of different areas. From what we’ve seen of him in Gator blowouts and this year’s spring game, he’s got a rocket for an arm and is tremendously accurate. They’ve also got freshman Trey Burton and the converted tight end Jordan Reed to run the option. Burton’s feet looked great in the spring game. He had a 76-yard scramble where he ran through tackles and spun around defensive backs.

This year’s recruiting class also has Gator fans doing backflips. Coach Meyer’s class was ranked number one in the nation by both ESPN and Scout.com. Word is, this class could be as good – or better (gasp!) – than the 2006 class that included Tebow, LB Brnadon Spikes, and WRs Percy Harvin and Riley Cooper. While the question of how good this class really is remains to be seen, if they can contribute the way the class of ’06 did, don’t sleep on this team.

The Bad: The Gators are basically playing this season without a senior class. In addition to the notable departures of CB Joe Haden and DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida also lost all-conference tight end Aaron Hernandez, PR/KR/WR Brandon James, one-half of the Pouncey twins, C Maurkice Pouncey; and S Major Wright. This is in addition to the stellar senior class that is gone and of course…this guy http://bit.ly/cDPJ8E. It’s tough enough to lose a leader and a player like Tebow and a group like the 2010 class, but losing most of the big names from the 2011 class may just be too much.

The Last Word: The questions for the Gators this season aren’t at QB, they’re everywhere else. There’s no doubt in my mind that John Brantley will be phenomenal. Had the 2011 class come back for their senior year, I would absolutely have this team rated in the top 5, maybe even in the top 3. But they didn’t. Even with all that, Florida still has the best head coach in the business and the best recruiting class in the nation. If guys like Burton, Jelani Jenkins and Dee Finley can be difference makers for the Gators, they can challenge Alabama again for the SEC title (Alabama-Florida III!). Even if all that happens, Florida’s schedule includes a tough Georgia team this year and Alabama at Tuscaloosa followed by LSU the next week. Add to that, they’ll face the biggest challenge from Florida State they’ve had in seven years.

Final Record: 11-3

College Football Preseason Top 25: # 12 Nebraska

Why They’re Here: Some people have the Huskers ranked above the Longhorns and the Sooners in the Big 12 this season. While I’m not going to go that far, I will say this team can be dangerous. Apparently Bo Pelini is a recruiting savant. Since he’s been in Lincoln the Blackshirts are finally back – I know the so-called experts say this every time Nebraska’s defense isn’t pathetic, but I think this is the first year it’s actually been true.

The Good: Bo and baby brother Carl Pelini have the Nebraska defense back at a level of respectability they haven’t had since the 90s. He’s also found his running game with the emergence of Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead. The offense also returns 10 starters, including four out of five offensive linemen.

The Huskers had a top 25 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, which goes a long way in the ultra competitive Big 12 conference they’ll be leaving next year and the not-at-all competitive Big 12 North.

In fact, the Huskers only challenge in the North this year will come from Missouri, who they devoured 27-12 in a rainy day affair last year. They’ve also wisely replaced Virginia Tech on this year’s schedule with South Dakota State. Save for some monumental hiccup, the Huskers should be 5-0 heading into their October 16 showdown with Texas.

The Bad: The defense returns seven starters from last year’s defense, none of whom are named Ndamukong Suh. Here’s the thing, having a DT who can get 12 sacks, 85 tackles and 10 passes defended in a season will really help hide any deficiencies in your defense. Suh was a monster and probably one of the best to ever play the position (most people probably don’t realize how out-of-this-solar-system those stats are for a defensive tackle). Without him there to disrupt plays and pressure the quarterback, it remains to be seen what Nebraska’s defense is really made of. There’s also the question mark at quarterback. Zac Lee is back, but apparently his spot is being challenged by redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green, who were very impressive in Nebraska’s spring game. Quarterback controversy is never good for a team. To paraphrase the old adage, if you have three quarterbacks, you have none.

The Last Word: If Nebraska can settle on a starter before the season starts and stick with him through the season and if the defense proves to be more than 10 guys who rode Suh for 14 games last season, they could compete for their final Big 12 Championship. They’re almost assured to be there by virtue of the competition, or lack there of, in the North, but what’s important is what they do when they get there.

Final Record: 9-4

College Football Preseason Top 25: #13 Wisconsin

July 1, 2010 by Dion Rabouin  
Filed under College Football, Football, SRG's Blog

Why They’re Here: The Badgers return 10 starters on offense from a team that finished last year with 10 wins. It looks like the Badgers are back to hard-nosed, grind-it-out football, with a renewed commitment to running the ball. They’ve also got QB Scott Tolzien returning as the guy who gets the ball from the center and hands it off, which is a definite plus. Tolzien may not be a big stud with first-round potential, but he’s a senior and he’s had experience in the offense, which is always a good thing.

The Good: Wisconsin should have the best one-two punch of running backs in the Big (12?) Ten. All-conference hoss RB John Clay will bring the wood and at 6’2 and 247 lbs, defenders would be advised to watch out. Clay is a big, bad man who brings to mind recollections of Ron Dayne…and Shaft. The Badgers also have a great change of pace back in Montee Ball, who – at 5’11, 225 – is no punk, himself. These two big, beefy beasts will be running behind a line that returns all five starters, including All-Big Ten OT Gabe Carimi and OG John Moffitt.

The Bad: The defense will need to be rebuilt and Tolzien will need to be effective for the Badgers to be anything other than the third best team in the conference. And he will have even greater expectations now that backup Curt Phillips has torn his ACL and will be out for the season. If Tolzien is truly plebian, the Badgers could even finish fourth in the conference like they did last year.

The Last Word: This team will go as far as Tolzien takes them. Teams are going to load the box to try to stop Clay and will probably be daring the Badgers to throw on them. I’m confident that with Ball and RB Zach Brown to spell him, Clay will be a destructive highlight machine this year, the question is whether that will translate into big wins or just SportsCenter highlights. If the Badgers can put some wins together (they play Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa back-to-back-to-back-to-back) Clay could be a finalist for the Heisman and this team could compete for the Big (12?) Ten title.

Final Record: 9-4

College Football Preseason Top 25: #14 Georgia

Why They’re Here: There’s another hot seat in the SEC and it belongs to Mark Richt. The fact that Les Miles (although, he deserves it for that monumental brain fart in the Ole Miss game) and Richt have questionable job security really shows you how outrageous people’s expectations are in college football. Richt is 90-27 all-time at Georgia and has a 7-2 bowl record. But that’s not what’s important to people in Athens. All they know is Richt hasn’t won an SEC title since 2005 or even an SEC East title since that year. They’ve been owned by fierce rivals Florida (excluding that little episode in 2007 that we won’t speak of) and Georgia Tech since 2005 as well. Having a number one draft pick guide the team, which was ranked number one to start the season, to a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Capitol One Bowl in 2008 didn’t help things. And last year’s starter Joe Cox and an 8-5 record weren’t much help for Richt’s cause either.

The Good: Georgia is still considered an elite SEC team and can legitimately make a run in the polls. The team returns its entire O-line, star-in-the-making RB Washaun Ealey, and WR AJ Green, who is probably the best receiver in the conference. This team has weapons on offense and if there’s a coach in the SEC, other than Urban Meyer, who knows how to use offensive weapons, it’s Mark Richt.

The Bad: Quarterback isn’t just a position in college football, it’s THE position in college football. Having a quarterback is 90 percent of the battle at this level and the knife cuts both ways. The Dawgs had a QB in waiting with Logan Gray and a top 25 recruiting class this year that included two potential QB starters, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. Unfortunately Mettenberger was dismissed from the team and Gray was converted to wide receiver and then almost transferred. With guys like Matt Stafford, DJ Shcokley, Quincy Carter and David Greene in recent memory, it’s hard for Dawgs fans to put up with sloppy quarterback play. Last year’s starter, Joe Cox, was probably the worst Georgia QB in 15 years. If no one shows up behind center for Georgia this year, it’s game over.

The Last Word: The big question for Georgia going into the season is what Richt will do at quarterback. With a stacked running attack (rhyme unintentional) and an offensive line like the one Georgia has returning this year, anyone worth a scholarship should be able to get out there and put some points on the board. The defense should be rebuilt as well, but may still have some problems getting to the quarterback. This team is flying under most people’s radar right now, which should help them. Their September 11 game against South Carolina will go a long way toward measuring both teams potential this season.

Final Record: 9-4

The Greatest Day In Sports Ever!

Where were you on June 23, 2010? Normally, the time between the end of the NBA Finals and the beginning of college football season is the barren dead ground of sports, but not this year. If you were as lucky as me on the 23rd, you were sitting at home on your couch, watching your high definition TV as the greatest sports day in the history of the world unfolded.

I don’t care how you feel about soccer (personally, I refer to it as women’s competitive ball kicking), Donovan’s goal in penalty time was amazing. That one goal by that one player may single handedly change the face of not only American women’s competitive ball kicking soccer, but soccer around the world.

The introduction of the American market into world soccer would forever alter the face of the sport.
The Ghana-Germany game was also huge because it sets up the US against the only African nation left in the tournament in South Africa, where they should be dogs, despite winning their group and it pits England against Germany, another intriguing matchup.

That was followed up by the unbelievable Wimbledon match between John Isner, the 6’9 250 lb American ranked 23rd in the world, and Nicolas Mahut, the diminutive Frenchman. He became my new third favorite tennis player, behind Tsonga and Federer today (yes two of my favorite tennis players are French, deal with it). Isner and Mahut played their fifth set to 59-59, before the game was called due to darkness – it began at 2 in the afternoon.

Neither man won a single break point and they set just about every Wimbledon and tennis record in existence. Mahut put on probably the gutsiest performance I’ve ever seen from a French player. The juxtaposition of him diving head-first for multiple balls in the sixth and seventh hours of play against the French team getting bounced from the World Cup days after pouting and refusing to practice in “protest” of one of their players being thrown out of the Cup really saved what’s left of France’s reputation in the world.

In between those amazing performances, we were treated to images of Lawrence Taylor being indicted on rape, child prostitution and sex abuse.

But there was no time to laugh at LT. The best rookie pitcher in MLB history, Steven Strasburg, was pitching against the hapless Kansas City Royals…and LOST. He lost on a 95 pitch, 75 strike, one run, nine strikeout performance.

I immediately turned to ESPN U where TCU was mounting an amazing comeback against Florida State in the College World Series. In the eighth inning, the Horned Frogs’ Matt Curry hit a grand slam and Jantzen Witte (who had only hit three home runs all season long) hit another homer that lifted the crowd in Oklahoma City to chants of “TCU.”

The Horned Frogs came back from down 7-3 and put up eight runs in the inning – eight! – to win 11-7. Pitcher Kaleb Merck then got out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning with a virtuoso pitching performance that would’ve made Strasburg proud.

I nightcapped all that action by watching a replay of the Kentucky-Mississippi State thriller from the SEC Championship tournament earlier this year. There was a “Cheaters” marathon on G4, but I needed more sports.

Oh yeah, and how about the Rockies walk-off homerun to beat the Red Sox?

Wednesday truly was a great sports day. Not only was there something for everybody, there was something for everybody all over the world.

Preseason College Football Top 25: # 15 LSU

Why They’re Here: Last year, an uninspired offense kept LSU from challenging for the SEC Championship. Well, that and Les Miles blowing it against Ole Miss and costing me $150. This year, Jordan Jefferson and co. are looking to show the Southeastern Conference and the nation that they’re not all defense. Losing RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, RB/WR Trindon Holiday and RB Keiland Williams is going to make that a little tough, though. Last year was a rebuilding season for Miles’ team, but in the SEC you don’t really get too many of those, so it’s expected that the Tigers will be back on their game this year.

The Good: It might just be me, but I really think Jordan Jefferson could make a case for the Heisman this year. With Scott gone to the NFL, the offense will really be on his shoulders. If Jefferson can have the kind of season that he’s capable of, the Tigers can compete for a title. My favorite player in all of college football, center T-Bob Hebert (pronounced Tee-Bob A-Bear; I’m not kidding), is still anchoring the offensive line and wide receiver Terrence Toliver is poised to have a big year.

The Bad: Did you see the list of players the Tigers lost on offense? They only return four starters on that side of the ball. And that’s just on offense. They’ll only be returning four starters on defense as well, and defense is the backbone of any LSU team. The benefit of the doubt is generally given to a great defensive mind like Les Miles, but with all the talent he had last year and what he was able to do with it (9-4 and a loss to Penn State in the Capitol One Bowl) maybe Tigers fans should be worried.

The Last Word: This season will come down to two people: Les Miles and Jordan Jefferson. If Miles has recruited the talent to step in and play – and it certainly looks like he did, bringing in a top 10 recruiting class – and Jefferson can play at an elite level, LSU could reclaim some of its past glory. If the freshmen aren’t ready, though, and last year’s backups haven’t done what it takes to prepare themselves for the big stage of SEC football, this could be another rebuilding year and Les Miles’ seat could start getting pretty warm. Fans in Baton Rouge still haven’t forgotten about that Ole Miss game and nothing short of an SEC championship is going to get them to.

Final Record: 10-3

The NCAA Makes Me Sick!

June 10, 2010 by Dion Rabouin  
Filed under College Football, Football, SRG's Blog

Has no one else picked up on the irony of the N-C-Double-Assholes bringing down sanctions on USC for “violations of amateurism” on the exact same day that it announced that multiple schools are leaving their conferences, voiding a number of century-long conference rivalries and competition, to get more money?

Do these people realize how ridiculously hypocritical they’re being? Various outlets are reporting that Colorado and other schools joining the Pac-10 may be getting somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million a season for coming onboard. That’s about double what they’re getting in the Big XII and that, coupled with Nebraska leaving, essentially spells the end of the conference.

All in the name of the Holy Dollar, an entire conference is being dissolved. The Big XII rivalries of Nebraska versus Colorado and Nebraska versus Oklahoma are dead, and odds are the teams won’t even play anymore. If rumors are true, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M may be headed in separate directions as well. Those are some of the biggest conference rivalries in the history of football. And that’s just where it starts.

The Big East conference may be all but done. We could literally see two conferences fall, reducing the BCS to four conferences. Think about what that will do to the hegemony of the “haves” in college football, who already dominate the “have-nots” with every single advantage imaginable. With all the teams competing with one another in four mammoth conferences – The Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and ACC (the first couple will probably need to be renamed) – all the dollars and all the BCS attention will be on four conferences and it will be nearly impossible for smaller schools to get a piece of the pie. This also completely redefines how the BCS will have to select bowl game participants and you can bet the small schools won’t be getting any love there either.

What gets me though, is all of these schools are making tens of millions of dollars and nobody is even considering paying the players who make it all happen.

Yeah, they get to go to school for free, but at best that’s worth about $50,000 a year (and most times it’s closer to $15,000 because most players go to some state university). Not to mention, their coaches are making about 10 times that much. And the athletic directors are making even more money.

I am absolutely dumbfounded that these people have the audacity to make a public spectacle of vacating wins and even possibly taking away Reggie Bush’s Heisman for allowing the school to pay for a house for his mother. Are you kidding me? The hypocrisy is truly, truly nauseating.

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