Wednesday, November 30, 2011

AFC South Thru Week 12

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Houston Texans (8-3) continue to lead the AFC South but are now starting their third string quarterback T.J. Yates after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart's injuries have put them out for the 2011 regular season. The good news for the Texans is that their top WR Andre Johnson is back, they have an excellent run game with Arian Foster and Ben Tate and an improved defense thanks to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The question is how well Yates can pick up the quarterback-friendly offense which will feature a run game but Yates will need to make plays as a QB as opposing defenses stack the box against the run and force the QB to make plays.

Texans' Head Coach Gary Kubiak has weathered the storm thus far and will have to keep his team focused as they inch their way to the franchises' first ever playoff appearance. Houston will face the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons at home this week.

The Tennessee Titans (6-5) are the Texans remaining opposition in the division at two games behind. Tennessee pulled out a dramatic 20-17 victory over Tampa Bay and will travel to Buffalo (5-6) to remain in contention for the division title and wild card.

Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselback has done a fine job for the Titans while running back Chris Johnson has had a slow start after holding out for most of the training camp and preseason.

The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) are undergoing a major overhaul with five games left in the season as nine-year Head Coach Jack Del Rio was fired on Tuesday followed by owner Wayne Weaver announcment of the sale of the Jaguars since the franchises' inception in 1995.

Assistant coach Mel Tucker was named Del Rio's interim replacement and has named rookie Blaine Gabbert to QB after he was pulled in the fourth quarter against the Texans the previous week.

The next five games will be a re-evaluation for the future of the franchise.

The Indianapolis Colts (0-11) are having their worst season since 1998, Peyton Manning's rookie season. For football fans it is impossible to understand how poorly the Colts have played in Peyton's absence.

Without question, Peyton Manning is one of the top quarterbacks of all-time, if not the best of all-time, but there is simply no excuse for a once dominant franchise to have dropped this far. Whether it is poor drafting, poor coaching or poor play it is inexcusable for this proud franchise to be winless.

The Colts were 115-45 in the 2000's (2000-2009) and 125-51 in the past 11 years with 7 AFC South titles, 3 AFC title game appearances, 2 AFC titles and 1 Super Bowl titles.

Indianapolis is in position to draft Andrew Luck for next year and with Peyton Manning's possible return this team needs to work much harder next year to get back to where they have been the past decade.

Mountain West Conference

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Mountain West Conference (MWC) will be consolidating with Conference USA next year but the present is will be decided after 12 weeks of play. The TCU Horned Frogs (9-2, 6-0) have clinched at least a tie for the conference title with one game remaining against UNLV (2-9, 1-5). TCU will move to the Big-12 after this year after winning its’ third straight MWC title.

Boise State Broncos (10-1, 5-1) will also be moving on to the Big East Conference after this season with only one year in the MWC. Boise State will face New Mexico (1-10, 1-5) in their MWC swan song.

Wyoming (7-4, 4-2), San Diego State (7-4, 4-3) and Air Force (7-4, 3-4) are all bowl eligible. San Diego State is bowl eligible for a second straight year during the Brady Hoke to Rocky Long transition and is in talks with the Big East Conference.
Colorado State (3-8, 1-5), UNLV (2-9, 1-5) and New Mexico (1-10, 1-5) will be making changes with New Mexico already in the process when they hired former Notre Dame Coach Bob Davie the past week.

The Conference USA Teams are University of Alabama-Birmingham, East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, Rice, University of Texas-El Paso, Tulane and Tulsa. Fresno State, University of Nevada-Reno and Hawaii will be joining the MWC-Conference USA next year as well. Current Conference USA teams SMU, Houston and UCF have been invited to join the Big East in a continuation of a major college football realignment.

SEC Title Game Turns 20

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Rose Bowl is known as the “Grandaddy of them all” when it comes to college bowl games because it was the first post-season college bowl game played on New Years’ Day 1902 and since then there have been at least 30 bowl games under a variety of names.

 It should be only fitting that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship Game become the “Grandaddy of them all” for college conference championship games as the oldest and most prolific college conference championship game turns 20 this Saturday when the #1 LSU Tigers (12-0) face the Georgia Bulldogs (10-2). The SEC began a trend when the newly formed Big-12 created a championship game (1996-2010), followed by the WAC (1996-1998),MAC (1997- ), ACC (2005-), Conference USA (2005- ) and the Pac-12/ Big-10 with their first title games this weekend.

The first SEC Title game was played in 1992 and was a result of the SEC expanding to 12 teams and 2 divisions for the 1992-1993 season when Arkansas of the now defunct Southwestern Conference and South Carolina (formerly independent) joined the conference. The championship game was played on the first Saturday of December which had been the annual Army-Navy game and was a bit of an oddity because there had never been a championship game played at the Division 1 level.

It was played at Birmingham’s Legion Field and pitted the undefeated SEC West champion Gene Stallings’ Alabama Crimson Tide and SEC East champion Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. Alabama won the game 28-24 and went on to a Sugar Bowl victory and a National championship.

Alabama and Florida would face each other five times in the 1990’s (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999) with Florida winning 3 and Alabama winning 2. The Crimson Tide and Gators would face each other again in 2008 and 2009.

The SEC gained more exposure in 1996 when they agreed to a TV deal with CBS which included a “game of the week” to highlight the conference which added more exposure to the SEC Title game and in 2001 CBS gained the rights to the game with Verne Lundquist and Todd Blackledge calling the game.

In 6 of the past 8 years the SEC Title game winner has become a de facto semifinal or qualifier to propel them into the BCS Title game. 2003 LSU (won BCS title game), 2006 Florida (won BCS title game), 2007 LSU (won BCS title game), 2008 Florida (won BCS title game), 2009 Alabama (won BCS title game), 2010 Auburn (won BCS title game).

Indianapolis Colts quarter back great Peyton Manning won an SEC Title game when he played for Tennessee in 1997 en route to the National Championship game against Nebraska. The following year Tennessee made it back and won again in 1998 with Tee Martin at QB on its’ way to a National championsip.

The BCS Title game is at stake again this year as the undefeated LSU Tigers must defeat Georgia in order to qualify for the National Championship and a possible re-match against #2 Alabama. LSU will be making its’ fifth appearance in the SEC Title game (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011) and trying to win its’ fourth (2001, 2003, 2007) while Georgia is in its’ fourth (2002, 2003, 2005, 2011) and trying to win its’ third (2002, 2005) LSU and Georgia have faced each other twice and split the series with LSU winning in 2003 34-13 and Georgia winning in 2005 34-14.

The two teams have also been two of the most dominant SEC teams since 2000. LSU has posted a regular season record of 111-29 which began with Nick Saban and continues under Les Miles and Georgia has posted a 104-36 under Jim Donnan for one year and the past 11 years under Mark Richt. LSU has won or tied for the SEC West 6 times (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011) and Georgia has won or tied for the SEC East 5 times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011).

Since 1992 what began as an oddity on the first Saturday of December has become a college football tradition all other conferences have followed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

TCU, Boise State Break Through the BCS Glass Ceiling

By Keith Antigiovanni

Since 1998 the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in college football has dictated which teams qualify for the BCS bowls and the BCS National Championship Game. Until a few years ago only teams from the BCS conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big 10, Pac-10, SEC and Notre Dame) that were either conference champs or at-large teams qualified.

Programs such as TCU and Boise State have dominated their non-BCS opponents in the past 14 seasons in the BCS era. TCU has achieved 13 of 14 winning seasons, posted a 125-35 record, won their conference 7 times, won 5 bowls and 1 BCS Bowl while Boise State has had 14 straight winning seasons, 127-15 record, 9 conference titles, 5 bowl wins and 2 BCS Bowl wins.

The knock on both non-BCS programs is that they pile up wins over non-BCS teams which is true but they also have proven to hold their own against BCS competition. Granted they may not deserve a chance in the BCS Title game but the format is confusing enough without a playoff. College football fans know that both teams could make noise in a playoff format the way underdog teams win games in the college basketball tournament. For example, an underdog Butler Bulldogs squad has been to two consecutive NCAA finals.

DEspite their relatively easy schedule both deserve a chance to compete with the "Big Boys" when TCU joins their old Southwest Conference foes in the Big 12 and Boise State joins the Big East. We'll see how both teams fare against better competition but the chance to compete in the BCS is a reward for two programs who have not only desired to win but have won and won consistently in the BCS era.

Friday, November 18, 2011

AFC/NFC South Thru week 10

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Houston Texans (7-3) are leading their division for the first time in the 10-year history of the franchise.Things were looking good after a 37-9 win over Tampa Bay until QB Matt Schaub injured his foot and will be out for the remainder of the regular season.

With Schaub out backup and former USC great Matt Leinart is going to get a second chance after coming into the NFL 6 years ago with much promise. Houston and Leinart will get an extra week to prepare for Jacksonville on November 27 with a much-needed bye week.

Houston will get WR Andre Johnson back and still has its strong run game lead by Arian Foster to take pressure off Leinart.

Meanwhile, Houston's former team, the Tennessee Titans (5-4) will have a chance to gain a half game in the standings when they travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons (5-4). The AFC South appears to be a two- team race and the Titans will be counting on the veteran leadership of QB Matt Hasselback to get them into the playoffs.

Jacksonville's Jaguars (3-6) will go to Cleveland and can also gain a half game with a win against the Browns to keep their playoff hopes alive. At this point the Jaguars are hoping QB Blaine Gabbert can continue to get playing experience and develop into a decent QB. Jacksonville will face Houston at home in a week.

The Indianapolis Colts (0-10) are also on a bye week after a disastrous season thus far without Peyton Manning. The Colts are in position to draft QB Andrew Luck but there is no excuse for this team playing as poor even without arguably the greatest QB ever.

The New Orleans (7-3) like their AFC South leading counterpart will have a bye this week after a big win in Atlanta. The Sains will face the New York Giants at home the following Monday night.

Atlanta Falcons (5-4) like their AFC South counterpart will have a chance to gain a half game when the Titans come to town. Falcons coach Mike Smith has had a tough week after a controversial decision at the end of the Saints game. Atlanta is 38-19 since Smith was hired so Falcons fans should give him the benefit of the doubt despite his foolish decision against New Orleans.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) appear to be fading and have the misfortune of having to travel to Green Bay to face the undefeated Packers (9-0). Tampa's struggling offense will have a tough time trying to keep up with the prolific Packers offense.

The Carolina Panthers (2-7) were playing in every game until a poor performance against Tennessee. They go to Detroit to face the struggling Lions (6-3). QB Cam Newton is going thru the rookie growing pains and must continue to progress which means winning games.

AFC South since 2010:
Houston      13-13
Tennessee   11-14
Jacksonville 11-14
Indianapolis 10-16

NFC South since 2010:
Atlanta         18-7
New Orleans18-8
Tampa bay   14-11
Carolina         4-21

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Houston Astros Forced to Move to AL

Houston Astros Move to American League

By Keith Antigiovanni

November 16, 2011 will be remembered in Houston, Texas as the day the Astros were moved from the National League to the American League. Houston will be placed into the American League West with in-state rivals Texas Rangers, Anaheim Angels, Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners.

Major League Baseball’s decision was brought on in order to balance the NL and AL at 15 teams each which had been out of balance since 1998 when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays joined as expansion teams.

Houston’s move make sense in order to balance the two leagues but why the Astros? Why not the Milwaukee Brewers which had been in the AL until 1998? Houston was an original NL expansion team in 1962 along with the New York Mets. Granted, the Astros have never been a powerhouse but they have a half a century in the NL and have been one of the more consistently winning teams the past 30 years along with a World Series appearance in 2005.

The move clearly shows MLB’s bias against the city of Houston which is a big market but not a northeast or upper Midwest market which MLB tends to favor. There is no doubt that the New York, Boston and Philadelphia markets are more important to MLB despite Houston’s history and market size but what doesn’t make sense is how a small market like Milwaukee would get seniority over Houston.

Houston’s professional baseball history did not begin in 1962 it actually began in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with the Houston Buffaloes of the South Texas League . The Buffs spent four years in the South Texas League until they joined the Texas League in 1907.

In 1920 Houston became the first modern affiliated “minor league team” when St. Louis Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey bought the Buffaloes to create a pipeline of talent for the small market franchise where they can grow players “on the farm”. The result was 40 of 50 winning seasons, 12 pennants and 8 World Series titles between 1920 and 1970 for St. Louis as many of the Cardinal greats began their professional careers in Houston.

For almost 6 decades Houston became a dominant team by winning pennants 16 times between 1905 and 1956, qualified for 9 league finals, won 7 league playoff titles and 4 Dixie Series titles (1928, 1947, 1956 and 1957).

After the 1958 season Houston went into the AAA American Association to position themselves to join Branch Rickey’s proposed third major league, the Continental League in 1960. When MLB expanded in 1961 and 1962 the Continental League never came to fruition as the Astros became an expansion team in 1962.

After 106 years of professional baseball 50 of which were in the NL the Houston fans will begin their AL years in 2013 barring any last minute changes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints :A Tale of Two Franchises

By Keith Antigiovanni
The Atlanta Falcons (5-3) and New Orleans (6-3) resume their annual "Southern Football" rivalry this week at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Atlanta leads the overall series 44-39.
The Falcons are currently on a three-game win streak and can take the sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a win over the Saints. Atlanta must also keep winning to maintain a strong wild card position.
A win for the Saints will give them a much more firm grasp on the division going into their bye week.
In the past this game would have been ignored because of both team's lack of success but the creation of the NFC South 10 years ago, the arrival of strong Coach/QB combinations for both clubs and most of all both teams winning on the field is creating an interest in this game nationally.
What fans are just discovering is this rivalry has always existed and has always been competitive since both of the clubs joined the NFL as expansion teams in 1966 and 1967. They were also put in the NFC West in 1970 and have been division rivals since.
Because of the proximity between Atlanta and New Orleans as well as their similiar histories the two franchises fan base have often compared themselves to each other the way Carolina and Jacksonville have since 1995.
Atlanta had more early success in the 1970's and 1980's while New Orleans did not have a winning season until its' 21st year (1987) under Coach Jim Mora. Mora did help the Saints get respectability (93-74) in his 10.5 year run (1986-1996) when he helped lead them to 7 straight years of .500 or over but even he became worn out and quit halfway thru his 11th year (1996).
The Falcons appeared to be on the rise as an NFC power in the late 1990's when former Denver Broncos Head Coach returned to his home state of Georgia and helped lead Atlanta to its' first NFC Title Game and first Super Bowl in 1998 but the success was short lived and Reeves was dismissed during 2003.
Atlanta rebounded under new Head Coach Jim Mora Jr. and QB Michael Vick when they made the NFC title game again in 2004 thanks in part to a strong run game and Vick's unique talents but the Mora/Vick honeymoon was only three years after Mora's ugly departure (when he criticized Vick) from Atlanta after 2006 and Vick's dog abuse charges followed.
After a disastrous 2005 when the Hurricane Katrina tragedy hit New Orleans the Saints appeared to be on the move to San Antonio until a remarkable rebuilding effort by the state of Louisiana and its' people helped rebuild the city and keep the Saints in New Orleans.
Former Dallas Cowboy assistant Sean Payton became Head Coach of the Saints and signed former San Diego Charger Drew Brees to be his QB. The result over 5.5 years later is a 55-34 record 2 NFC Title Games, 1 NFC title and a Super Bowl win in 2009.
Not wanting to be outdone the Falcons appeared to be on the outs when Vick went to prison three years ago but former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Mike Smith stepped in like Payton to the Falcons job and has brought stability and direction to the club in 2008.
He has helped lead the Falcons to three straight winning seasons (2008-2010), an overall record of 38-18, an NFC South title and is in the process of developing young Matt Ryan into a solid NFL QB.
The game between the Falcons and Saints is not only for first place in the division or state pride but is about which team has come the longest during some of the darkest years in both of the franchises' history.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

SEC Week 10

SEC Standings Thru week 10

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Alabama-LSU game on November 5 is an instant classic after LSU’s 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa to take the division lead in the West but the season is far from over for both teams. Alabama (8-1, 5-1) has a chance if they can win out. The Tigers must still face Arkansas in their traditional game after Thanksgiving. Arkansas is currently 4-1 in conference 8-1 overall.

If the division ends up in a three-way tie then the top ranked team will get to advance to Atlanta. That’s if Alabama and Arkansas can win out in the competitive SEC.

Meanwhile in the East Georgia is in first place (7-2, 5-1) and half game in front of South Carolina. Georgia faces Auburn (6-3, 4-2) this week. Although Auburn is almost out of the division race it would be a boost for them to make a New Years’ bowl game to help build on next year.

The Tigers will face Alabama in their annual “Iron Bowl” game on Thanksgiving and can be a factor the next few weeks. Florida (5-4, 3-4) is out of the east race but is also a factor next week when they face South Carolina (7-2, 5-2). If Florida wins they are bowl eligible and position themselves for a decent bowl although probably not a New Years’ bowl.

Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Mississippi State are all trying to become bowl eligible down the stretch.

Missouri was approved to join the SEC for the 2012 season to be the 14th team.

Texas’s 52-20 win over Texas Tech helped Texas become bowl eligible for the 13th time in 14 years since Brown was hired in 1998. Texas (6-2, 3-2) is coming off a poor year but appears to be back into Big-12 contention.

Brown’s first 12 years led to 12 straight winning seasons (1998-2009), 6 Big-12 South titles and 2 Big-12 titles along with 7 bowls, 3 of which are BCS. Brown is 121-32 in the regular season.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Southern divisions thru week 9

By Keith Antigiovanni

American Football Conferences' Southern division is currently lead by the Houston Texans (5-3). Houston is a half-game up on Houston's fomer team, the Tennessee Titans (4-3). Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) are in third place and the Indianapolis Colts (0-8) are in fourth place.

With the Colts having an off year without Peyton Manning the other clubs in the division have a chance at the playoffs. Houston has yet to win the division in it's 10 years of existence while the Tennessee has not won the division since 2008 and won in 2002/2003 when the Colts began their dominance. Jacksonville has also yet to win the South but had good years in 2005/2007.

Houston will face Cleveland at Reliant Stadium while Tennessee hosts Cincinnati at LP Coliseum. Jacksonville has a bye and Indianapolis will face Atlanta.

Houston's 41-7 victory over Tennessee a couple of weeks ago has to give them a psychological advantage but the teams will play again in Houston.

Meanwhile in the National Football Conferences' Southern division the New Orleans Saints (5-3) lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3) and Atlanta Falcons (4-3). Carolina is 2-6.

New Orleans is in the midst of its best run in playoff history under Coach Sean Peyton. Payton is 54-34 since 2006, has won 2 division titles, 2 NFC title games, 1 NFC title and a Super Bowl title but most of all he and QB Drew Brees have helped establish Saints football as a premier franchise.

Since Peyton's arrival their biggest challenger has been the Falcons who have had 3 straight winning seasons Coach Mike Smith's arrival in 2008. Smith and QB Matt Ryan also came into the franchise at the same time and have done a fine job but yet to match the success of Payton/Brees.

NO will host Tampa Bay at the Superdome in a re-match while Atlanta faces the Indianapolis.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

SEC standings thru week 9

By Keith Antigiovanni

If you can get past the hype this week over the Alabama-LSU then you will see how it can be a potentially great game when the two southern powerhouses meet in Tuscaloosa this saturday.

Both come in at 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the SEC play. This game will not only decide the SEC West title, SEC title and potentially the National title but its Alabama's Nick Saban facing his former team, the LSU Tigers. The team he built 11 years when he arrived in Baton Rouge. His LSU teams were dominant during his five years until he left for the pros in 2005.

He was replaced by Les Miles who had a tough act to follow but Miles has continued the winning formula in the Bayou State since 2005 with 6 straight winning seasons, 2 SEC West titles, 1 SEC title, 2 BCS bowl wins and a National title in 2007.

Meanwhile Saban spent 2005-2006 in the NFL with no real success he came back to college and the SEC in 2007 when he took over the troubled Alabama program. In 2007 he struggled to a 6-6 record, then broke thru in 2008 with a SEC West title and 12-1. In 2009 he followed it up with an undefeated National title season at 14-0 then a failed back to back bid in 2010 at 10-3.

The Tide were still in position for a second straight BCS appearance until they were defeated by LSU the past season at Baton Rouge and essentially eliminated from the Conference race.

Meanwhile, Arkansas (7-1, 3-1) faces the SEC East leader South Carolina Gamecocks (7-1, 5-1). Arkansas has an outside chance at the SEC Title game if they win out and LSU beats Alabama because the Arkansas will face LSU after Thanksgiving.

Defending champion Auburn is (6-3, 4-2) positioning themselves for a New Years' Day bowl if they can win out.

The Georgia Bulldogs have won 6 straight after a rare win over Florida and have a chance at the SEC East title if they win out and South Carolina loses another conference game. Georgia has not won a SEC title since 2005 and a SEC East title since 2007 when they split with Tennessee.

Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt are all in decent shape to make a bowl but not New Years'.