Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Can Steve Spurrier Make a Winner Out of South Carolina?

More than three years ago, Steve Spurrier left the University of Florida on a somewhat sour note. Citing that he had done all he could accomplish on the collegiate level and was pretty to venture into the crazy jungle of the National Football League. After two unsuccessful and unceremonious seasons with the Washington Redskins, Spurrier resigned and sat on the shelf for the entire 2004 football season. However, in late 2004, Steve Spurrier re-surfaced on the college football scene when he accepted the head coach position at the University of South Carolina, taking over for Lou Holtz who had spent 11 seasons at Notre Dame prior to his stint with the Gamecocks. While Lou Holtz guided South Carolina to two Outback Bowl victories over Ohio State, Steve Spurrier has the capabilities and track record to take South Carolina to the next level. Spurrier led the University of Florida to six SEC championships and one national championship in his time in Gainesville. While it is foolish to believe Spurrier can turn South Carolina into an immediate SEC power, he can most certainly get the Gamecocks into the top half of the SEC East and a New Year's Day bowl game. Spurrier utilizes talent like no other coach on the collegiate level. He even managed to win at Duke of all places. As Rick Pitino did with his return to college basketball at Louisville, Spurrier can do the same at South Carolina- take a team on the verge to the next level. Thus far, Spurrier has cleaned house in Gamecock Country, elimanating the "bad seeds", including star tailback Demetrius Summers. Buckle your chinstraps, Gamecock fans. Spurrier is going to take this team on a wild ride.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

2005 NFL Draft: Rodgers or Smith?

Unlike last year's draft that featured can't miss prospects at quarterback- Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers, this year's class features no such player. There are many solid prospects and appears Cal's Aaron Rodgers and Utah's Alex Smith to be at the top of that list. Both had tremendous junior seasons in 2004 and left school while their draft stock was at its peak. Both received a major boost when USC's Matt Leinart chose to return for his senior season and a shot at a second Heisman and third consecutive national championship. Now the 49ers face the unenviable task of choosing one of two solid but not spectacular prospects. Both have their drawbacks. For Rodgers it is his height (6-2) and being another "Tedford QB". Four other quarterbacks sent to the NFL by Tedford (Trent Dilfer at Fresno State, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington at Oregon and Kyle Boller at Cal) have thus far in their careers been marginal at best. Meanwhile Smith has some even larger question marks. He has marginal arm strength, performed against weaker competition and played in Urban Meyer's shotgun spread offense.

My selection would be Aaron Rodgers. Smith is a nice QB and was part of something special at Utah but he was also a player that during the season was projected as a 4th round pick- at best. Something is fishy about a guy who go from being a Day Two pick to the #1 overall pick in the draft. Rodgers performed very well in the tough games and almost single-handedly beat USC at the LA Coliseum. His arm strength is terrific and he makes and completes passes that Smith will never be able to make. While Tedford has been somewhat of a failure in developing quarterbacks into NFL talent, Smith appears to me as a player waiting to be labeled as a draft bust. In Rodgers I see a legitimate NFL QB, in Smith I see the second coming of David Klinger. The one thing for sure is that San Francisco will hear out any offers for the first round pick before making a final decision, one that could change the organization for years to come.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Pitt's Golden Boy Already Rusting?

The Dave Wannstedt Era at the University of Pittsburgh is approaching only its three month anniversary but challenges are already mounting for the new leader. After resigning as the head coach of the NFL's Miami Dolphins in November, Wannstedt was selected as Walt Harris' successor. While it did not appear that Pitt wanted to retain Harris as its head football coach, Harris now holds that position at Stanford as the successor to Buddy Teevens. With the recent steady decline of the Big East as a football conference, it is arguably an upgrade. Harris wasted no time in recruiting at Stanford, landing four star prospects DE Matt Kopa, DT James McGillicuddy, DE Will Powers and DE Ekom Udofia. Meanwhile, Wannstedt managed to lure only one "major" prospect to Oakland in the form of RB Conredge Collins out of Florida. Considering both men had the same amount of time to recruit student athletes and Pitt was coming off an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl while Stanford was coming off a disappointing 4-7 finish. Much like Pitt's Keystone State rival Penn State, the Cardinal did more with less while Pitt underachieved. However, recruiting is off to a good start for the Panthers for the Class of 2006 having already received verbal commitments from two of Pennsylvania's top players.

The struggles for Pitt do not end with recruiting, scheduling and attendance are major concerns for the coming season. The Panthers are guaranteed a sell out for the season opener as Notre Dame will pay a visit to Heinz Field. Unfortunately for Pitt, a good deal of the fans in the stands will not be wearing the blue and gold of the Panthers, rather the blue and gold of Notre Dame. The rest of the home schedule is very underwhelming with the likes of Youngstown State, Cincinnati, South Florida, Syracuse and UConn visit the Steel City. The Panthers have both rival West Virginia and Big East favorite Louisville on the road. None of the games are likely to help Pitt do any better than maintain their average attendance of about 42,000 in 2004, a steady decline from 2003.

The truth about the University of Pittsburgh's football future is not pretty. While their coaching staff features two ex-NFL coaches, Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, both were failures at the pro level. Wannstedt was awful with Chicago and underperformed in Miami. Cavanaugh meanwhile led the anemic Baltimore Ravens offense and failed to shape Kyle Boller into a worthy pro quarterback. Pitt's imagine as a major football program also took a hit when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College were invited to join the ACC. Pitt would have been just as easy to integrate into the ACC as Boston College, if not easier. The ACC saw the writing on the wall, the Panthers are pretenders as a major football program. They have rented Heinz Field from the Pittsburgh Steelers since Pitt Stadium closed and they do not appear to making efforts towards changing this predicament. Dave Wannstedt has an uphill climb to re-establish Pitt as a "football power", a task that will be even more difficult if he chooses to institute a power-running game rather than sticking with a pass-heavy offense that QB Tyler Palko and WR Greg Lee thrived on in 2004. Pitt should reach a bowl game and contend for the Big East title but I see Louisville and West Virginia finishing ahead of them. I will predictt a 7-4 finish, including losses to Notre Dame and Nebraska.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Georgia Tech Could Be a Major Surprise in 2005

Georgia Tech is among the most consistent football programs in the nation. Georgia Tech usually finishes among the middle of the pack in the ACC and participates in a bowl game. The Yellow Jackets have not missed a bowl game since 1996. However, 2005 could be a special season for the Yellow Jackets, 2005 could mark their first ACC football championship since 1998 when the shared it with Florida State. All the pieces are in place- 10 returning starters and a three-headed monster on offense. The Yellow Jacket offense is led by quarterback Reggie Ball, tailback P.J. Daniels and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Calvin Johnson appears to be headed to stardom after a sensational freshman season in which he compiled 43 catches for 729 yards and seven touchdowns including some incredible grabs. Tailback P.J. Daniels had 154 rushes for 714 yards and 8 touchdowns as well as an additional touchdown receiving. Reggie Ball is somewhat of a weak link headed into the season. Despite a 49.7% pass completion percentage, he threw 16 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. Ball is at risk of losing his starting job but a strong spring and summer could help him maintain his spot. Damarius Bilbo and Mark Logan will be competing with Ball to win the starting quarterback role for the Jackets. On defense, the Yellow Jackets return all of their starters except free safety James Butler. The defense does not have one standout player but are a solid group all around. Place kicker Travis Bell returns after a solid freshman campaign. Look for Georgia Tech to surprise some people in the ACC this season. Miami will be reloading, Virginia Tech has to replace Bryan Randall at quarterback and Florida State will have Wyatt Sexton at quarterback full time with Chris Rix gone. The Yellow Jackets should win eight or nine games and have a good shot at beating instate rival Georgia at Bobby Dodd Stadium.