1.30.2010

Hawks-Magic Preview


The best two teams in the Southeast Division are in action tonight, when the Atlanta Hawks travel to Orlando to face the Magic.

Orlando (30-16) enters the game a half game behind the Hawks (30-15) in the division standings. The Hawks are playing their second game in as many nights, after completing a four-game season sweep of the Boston Celtics at home Friday.

The Magic are 17-4 at home while the Hawks have struggled on the road at only 11-10.

The teams have met twice already this season, with the Magic dominating both affairs. Earlier this month in Orlando, the Magic trounced the Hawks 113-81.

Coming off of the huge win against Boston, the Hawks could use a win tonight to help make their case as the second best team in the Eastern Conference.



Projected Starters

Atlanta

G – Mike Bibby – 8.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 rpg

G – Joe Johnson – 21.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.7 apg

F – Josh Smith – 15.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 2.2 bpg

F – Marvin Williams – 10.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.1 apg

C – Al Horford – 13.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg

Orlando

G – Jameer Nelson – 11.8 ppg, 4.7apg, 2.9 rpg

G – Vince Carter – 16.2, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 rpg

F – Rashard Lewis – 15.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 apg

F – Matt Barnes – 8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.7 apg

C – Dwight Howard – 17.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 1.5 apg

Note: using this projected starting lineup, the Magic are 6-7 this season

Matchup to watch: Rashard Lewis vs. Josh Smith

Lewis is a 40 percent three-point shooter, and will make Smith defend hard on the perimeter. If Lewis makes shots, it will help clear the lane for Dwight Howard to go to work against Al Horford. Horford is severely undersized to match up against Dwight Howard, and will need help-side defense just about every time Howard has the ball. Smith would be the best option to fulfill that role. His athleticism on the defensive end will prove to be the key tonight.

Bench play:

Jamal Crawford is one of the most productive sixth men in the league. He has not started a single game for the Hawks, but is second on the team with 17.7 points per game. Zaza Pachulia will have to play strong minutes tonight against Howard. In two games against the Magic this season, Pachulia has averaged 6.5 points and 4 rebounds.

Mickael Pietrus will be the man for Orlando to come in and lock down Atlanta’s Joe Johnson. Pietrus is one of the most underrated defenders in the league, and Johnson is the engine that makes the Hawks offense go.

Who has the edge?

The Magic are a tough match-up for the Hawks, particularly because of Howard. The Hawks’ strength is their length and scoring from their wings. They don’t have a player anywhere near Howard’s size that can match up with him. There aren’t many teams in the league that do have someone to do that, but Atlanta has had trouble with Orlando in recent years.

This is a pivotal game for both teams. Orlando needs a win against a top-level Eastern Conference team to re-assert their status as one of the league’s elite. Atlanta is still trying to prove they are a force in the East.

Pick: Orlando -6

1.29.2010

Introducing the NBA Power Eight rankings

The 2009-10 NBA season has just passed its midway point, and with the trade deadline and all-star game approaching, it won’t be long before we are fully entrenched in the playoffs.

The league standings have begun to take shape and resemble a glimpse of what they may look like at the end of the season.

There is no time like the present to run through the Playbook’s new "Power Eight" in both the Eastern and Western conference.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (36-11)

The Cavaliers hold the best record in the NBA, but it’s hard to call them the most dominant. They did beat the Lakers on Jan. 21, and LeBron James has scored over 30 points in eight of his last 10 games, but look at the Cavs’ recent wins. One-point victories over Miami, the Clippers and Oklahoma City, a three-point win over Golden State highlight the eight wins in Cleveland’s last nine games. In order for the Cavaliers to finally break through and win a title, they need to prove they can lay the hammer down on opponents on a nightly basis.

2. Atlanta Hawks (29-15)

The Hawks are 18-5 at home, but only 11-10 on the road. Josh Smith has been tremendous, averaging 15 points, almost nine rebounds, and over two blocks per game, as well as four assists. Jamal Crawford comes off the bench to score 17.5 points per game, second most on the team.

3. Boston Celtics (29-14)

Kevin Garnett’s return from injury helps this club out, but a 4-6 record in the Celtics’ last ten games marks their recent struggles. They began a crucial three-game stretch Thursday night with a 96-94 loss to the Magic on the road. Friday they face the Hawks in hopes of avoiding a season sweep. They return home Sunday to face the Lakers. After already falling to Orlando, the Cetlics need to win at least one of their next two games to give them confidence heading into a softer part of their schedule prior to the all-star break.

4. Orlando Magic (30-16)

The win over Boston helped the Magic rebound from a loss in Memphis Monday night, and keep them heading in the right direction. After a disappointing start to the season, Orlando has won four of five and have a stretch of winnable games over the next two weeks. Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson both need to return to their 2008-2009 form for the Magic to make a run at Cleveland down the stretch and in the playoffs.

5. Chicago Bulls (22-22)

After head coach Vinny Del Negro stared being fired square in the face, the Bulls have turned their season around in January and have won eight of their last ten games. Derrick Rose is quickly becoming one of the most productive point guards in the league. However, the Bulls will not make it very far if Rose is their go-to option on offense as the point guard. The cries for Dwayne Wade this off-season are right around the corner.

6. Toronto Raptors (25-22)

Chris Bosh has single-handedly put Toronto in the thick of the playoff race, but with an expiring contract he made be on the trading block. The Los Angeles Lakers have been rumored to be willing to offer Andrew Bynum, among others for Bosh’s services. It would seem like a long shot, but the Lakers end up getting what they want far too often to not take those rumors seriously. If Bosh hangs around until the end of the season, the Raptors should have no trouble making the postseason.

7. Miami Heat (23-22)

The Heat nearly knocked off Cleveland Monday night, but instead lost 92-91. Miami’s biggest problem is their inconsistency with such a young team. Just a week and a half ago, the Bobcats throttled the Heat 104-65. The night before that, however, Miami blasted the Pacers 113-83. This is the type of team that could get hot at the right time and shock a favored team in the playoffs.

8. Charlotte Bobcats (22-22)

The abysmal start to the season is a distant memory for the Bobcats, who now find themselves in the playoff race. Their next two games are on the road against Golden State and Sacramento; both of which are very important. After that, the next three games for Charlotte are against Portland, the Lakers, and the Hornets. Nine of the Bobcats’ next 13 games are on the road.

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Lakers (35-11)

In its last ten games, Los Angeles faced five teams in the Power Eight from their respective conferences. In those games, the Lakers were 2-3. Pau Gasol’s return from injury should separate the Lakers from the pack down the stretch. Kobe Bryant nearly recorded a triple-double Wednesday night against the Pacers with 29 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.

2. Denver Nuggets (31-14)

Denver is riding an eight-game win streak into Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City. The three-headed monster inside of Kenyon Martin, Nene Hilario, and Chris Andersen average 24 rebounds per game between them. Carmelo Anthony has taken another step this season in his ability to lead his team. He is on the short list for the MVP award with nearly 30 points and seven rebounds per game. The X-factor for the Nuggets is J.R. Smith, who is the leading candidate for the sixth man of the year award, averaging 15 points off the bench.

3. Utah Jazz (27-18)

The Jazz are 8-2 in their last ten games, including statement wins over Portland, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Cleveland. Not too many teams enjoy a stretch of games like that. Six players average double-digit points per game, giving them one of the most balanced line-ups in the league.

4. Dallas Mavericks (30-16)

The Mavericks have struggled as of late. Their only win against a Power Eight team in their last ten games came against Boston on the road. Rumors of Josh Howard being packaged in a trade have been swirling during the month. Possible pieces that Howard could be shipped away for include Kevin Martin in Sacramento, or Toronto’s Bosh (a long shot).

5. Portland Blazers (27-20)

The Blazers have been ravaged by injuries this season. 11 different players have started a game already, but they have managed to keep the team together and stand in prime position to make a run at the playoffs. Brandon Roy is carrying this team with 23 points per game, but LaMarcus Aldridge’s play down the stretch will be the key to Portland’s success. How he battles against the elite post players of the Western Conference will determine how far the Blazers can go.

6. Phoenix Suns (27-21)

The Suns still boast the league’s most potent scoring offense, but it’s hard to imagine them making a late-season push to the top of the standings. They have lost seven of their last ten games. One of the three wins in that span came against the worst team in history Nets.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (25-19)

Zach Randolph has re-invented himself in Memphis, and he is making a case for the All-NBA team by scoring 21 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game. The Grizzlies have much younger legs than teams like the Mavericks and Suns, which leads to the thought they may surpass one if not both of those teams in the second half of the season. It’s only a matter of time before Marc Gasol’s name is known throughout the league because of his own success, not Pau’s.

8. San Antonio Spurs (26-18)

The Spurs are hard to decipher. Common logic says they are washed up, and that the youth movement across the conference has pushed the Spurs out of the conference picture. Case and point would be Tim Duncan, the living legend whose prime passed about five years ago. Instead of fading in his older age, Duncan still dominates the paint, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. Richard Jefferson needs to increase production for San Antonio to safely make the playoffs.

1.27.2010

Just how good of a coach is Tony Dungy?

While head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy was one of the most admired coaches in the NFL.

His distinct motivational tactics, which entailed a more spiritual and quiet approach, caught on with his players and earned him respect as one of the best football coaches around.

He won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, and his 139-69 career record gives Dungy an impressive resume.

Looking further, there is an argument to be made that Dungy does not coach teams to their full potential.

In Tampa Bay, Dungy inherited a moribund franchise and turned it into a winning program. In six seasons, he led the Buccaneers to one division title and four playoff appearances.

That’s an impressive run. However, he never made it to the Super Bowl, including in 1999 when they were the top seed in the NFC.

He was fired in 2001 after going 9-7 and losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.

The following season, Jon Gruden took over for Dungy and led the Bucs to their first-ever Super Bowl. Tampa defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in one of the most decisive Super Bowl victories ever.

Dungy built the team, but Gruden sealed the deal. There is something to be said for Dungy’s ability to transform the mentality of the franchise from cellar-dwellers to playoff regulars. However, it wasn’t until a new coach stepped in before the Bucs salvaged eternal glory.

After leaving Tampa Bay, the Colts did not hesitate to bring Dungy in as their head coach.

All he inherited was one of the greatest offenses in league history. Peyton Manning was just entering his prime, as was Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison. The trio of dominant skill players helped carry Dungy and the Colts to a 34-14 record from 2002-2004.

In both of the latter two years of that time span, the Colts lost in the conference championship game by the New England Patriots. While the Pats were in the midst of a modern-day dynasty, the Colts were middling as the forgotten stepchild in the AFC.

In 2005, Dungy and the Colts enjoyed their best regular season ever, finishing 14-2 and securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, the Steelers handed Indianapolis its most disappointing loss in franchise history, beating the Colts 21-18 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

Following that defeat, the question of whether or not Dungy could win in the playoffs was raised across the country.

He was able to quiet his doubters the following season with a 12-4 season followed by four straight victories and a Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears.

Dungy became the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl.

Equally as prominent of a storyline was Manning’s first championship. As one of the most prolific passers in league history, Manning’s playoff futility was moving him closer to the Dan Marino category of stat-stuffing quarterbacks who didn’t win titles.

Over the next two seasons, the Colts finished 13-3 and 12-4 respectively, a very respectable mark. The more glaring number was 0-2. That was the Colts’ playoff record during that span, losing their first game in both seasons.

Excluding their 4-0 record in the 2006 playoffs, the Colts were 3-6 in playoff games under Dungy.

Following the 2008-2009 season, Dungy retired and left longtime assistant Jim Caldwell in charge.

In his first season ever as a head coach, Caldwell led the Colts to a 14-0 start and the best record in the NFL.

Caldwell also had the services of Manning, of course, but in fact had less offensive talent to work with than Dungy did.

Marvin Harrison was no longer with the team, leaving Reggie Wayne to be the featured receiver, with players like Austin Collie forming the supporting cast.

Nevertheless, it is still a loaded roster perfectly molded for a Super Bowl run.

The continued success of the Colts at the same level as when Dungy was the coach raises the question of whether or not Dungy really made a huge difference on the team.

Could Jim Caldwell have coached these Colts to five division titles in seven years? Could anyone have coached Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl title?

Tony Dungy is a good football coach; it’s not even up for debate. But is he a great coach?

For the second time in his career, the season after leaving a team they made it to the Super Bowl.

Especially in the case of Indianapolis, it might make you wonder whether or not the number of wins under Dungy was more of a product of sheer talent rather than coaching.

Clearly, the roster is chock full of bona fide championship-caliber players, but only once in seven years did Dungy manage to win a title. Now Caldwell has a chance to win one in his first year on the job.

Dungy has been very open about his desire to stay out of coaching for the time being, and that he enjoys his job as an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America.

It’s a great gig, for sure. But in order to convince everyone that he should be regarded as one of the all-time coaching greats, he still has work to do.

1.24.2010

NBA All-Star Weekend Needs a Face Lift

When the NBA decided to play its 2010 All-Star Game in the new Cowboys Stadium, it gave the league an opportunity to change the way we think of all-star weekends.

The capacity of the $1billion structure is nearly 100,000 for a basketball game; a figure that would blow the doors off the previous all-star game record of 44,735 in 1989 at the Houston Astrodome.

The venue could not be more perfect for a mind-blowing weekend that could restore glory to the league, which has been missing since Michael Jordan retired (the second time, in 1998).

The NBA needs a weekend like that, where all the stars come out and entertain like they’ve never entertained before. There is so much talent in this league that hides in the shadows of officiating scandals, locker room gunplay, player fights and more.

Commissioner David Stern needed to push all his chips to the center of the table this weekend. By playing the game in Dallas, it seemed he had. But the system failed him.

LeBron James, the man who is in the midst of staking his claim as the face of the sport, could have made the weekend something special. During last year’s dunk contest, James unofficially put his name into the competition for this year’s event.

There has never been a player with the jaw-dropping ability to dunk the basketball. Not Jordan, not Dr. J, not Dominique Wilkins or Vince Carter.

Just when you think you’ve seen the best James has to offer, he tops himself. He has yet to make an appearance in the dunk contest, which has lost its luster in recent years thanks to a mindset reflecting that of James’. That mindset involves fear of being injured in the contest, costing his team his services in regular season games.

The last time the dunk contest meant something was when its stars were clawing to participate. Vince Carter was the last superstar to enter, and he stunned the crowd in Oakland in 2000 with his high-flying slams.

Before he was busy winning NBA championships, Kobe Bryant took home the slam-dunk championship in 1997.

Michael Jordan’s career was also catapulted after he won back-to-back dunk titles in 1987 and 1988. His battles with Dominique Wilkins were unforgettable.

It’s hard to imagine that James’ star could burn any brighter than it does already, but putting on a show for the ages in this year’s competition would not only increase his popularity, but also give the NBA the publicity boost it desperately needs.

Instead, James retracted his decision to compete, and the contest remains a gimmicky closing act to the Saturday night activities.

If the NBA really had wanted to make a splash, it should have coaxed its brightest stars into entering the contests. James would be the headliner, but dunk artists including Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, and Josh Smith would have comprised an unprecedented field of competitors for the event.

Not only are those players all imaginative dunkers, but also they are all recognizable names by even casual fans of the game.

Honestly, who has heard of Shannon Brown or DeMar Derozan? They are both skilled athletes who will probably show off some crazy moves, but if one of them, or Gerald Wallace or Eric Gordon wins the dunk contest, will anyone really remember that down the road?

Not unless someone throws the ball off the scoreboard hanging above the court and dunks it with his feet.

Nate Robinson became a fan favorite by winning two dunk competitions despite only being five feet, nine inches tall, but really…. how much more creative can he get?

Instead of filling the most watched event of the weekend besides the game itself with the best players in the game today, the NBA picked a compilation of bench players and no-namers to run the show.

The next, and more glaring mistake that the league has far more control over, was the selection of the all-star teams themselves. In a system that time and time again has left deserving players off the rosters, the fans cast their ballots for who they want to see play in the game.

This year’s rosters proved that the fans no longer have the capacity to duly honor the league’s best players. Allen Iverson, who retired a week into the season and has averaged only 14 points in just 20 games this season, was named as a starter for the Eastern Conference team.

The problem would have been compounded if not for a late push of votes for Steve Nash vaulted him ahead of Tracy McGrady into the starting line-up. McGrady has played 45 minutes all season, and in the beginning of the month was the leading vote getter in the Western Conference.

Had McGrady been named a starter for the game, the league would be getting more heat from the media than Lindsay Lohan for whatever she’s going to do tomorrow.

Still, if the league wanted to make all-star weekend one to be remembered, it would allow the coaches to select the teams, and put the best players from the 2009-2010 season on the court for the game.

If they really wanted to be daring, they could even go one step further. With the recent resurgence of Team USA on the international stage, and the prevalence of foreign-born stars in the league, turning the game from an interconference match-up to a US vs. the World game could draw quite the audience.

Clearly, the rest of the globe is licking its chops to knock the United States off its perch as the dominant country in the sport. This would be a great opportunity to see the game’s best players play with something we never see in the all-star game: pride.

Here’s a glimpse of what the rosters might look like if the NBA adopted this format:

USA

Starters

PG – Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)

SG – Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)

SF – Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

PF – LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

C – Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)

Reserves

G – Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics)

G – Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat)

G – Brandon Roy (Portland Trailblazers)

F – Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets)

F – Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors)

C – Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)

The World

Starters

PG – Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)

PG – Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs)

SF – Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs)

PF – Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)

C- Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers)

Reserves

G – Beno Udrih (Scramento Kings)

G – Hedo Turkgolu (Toronto Raptors)

F – Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks)

F – Luis Scola (Houston Rockets)

F – Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers)

C – Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)

The simple change of the format would create a buzz around the game itself, and with the international flavor, it would be the most watched all-star game ever.

The World team would be at a size disadvantage, starting two point guards in Parker and Nash, but the deadly outside shooting would be the equalizer in a game played by international rules.

Between the mammoth arena, the new format for the game and the star-studded dunk contest, the popularity of this year’s game would reach new heights.

There is one other event the league might want to consider adding to the festivities that could draw strong ratings. Instead of a celebrity pick-up game, where Carrot Top gets his pocket picked by Chris Rock, only for Rock to brick the lay-up, there should be a legends game prior to the dunk contest.

The MLB does something similar to this with a legends/celebrity softball game after the Home Run Derby, but the smaller field and rule change makes it more of a gimmick than anything.

With basketball, recent stars could reunite for four quarters of nostalgic pick-up ball. How’s this for an East vs. West Legends Game roster?

Eastern Conference

PG – Tim Hardaway (Miami Heat)

SG – Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers)

SF – Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls)

PF – Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers… worth the price of admission alone)

C – Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks)

Reserves

G – Allan Houston (New York Knicks)

G – Anfernee Hardaway (Orlando Magic)

F – Antonio Davis (Toronto Raptors)

C – Dikembe Mutumbo (Atlanta Hawks)

Western Conference

Starters

PG – Gary Payton (Seattle Supersonics)

SG – Steve Kerr (San Antonio Spurs)

SF – Robert Horry (Los Angeles Lakers – or Phoenix Suns…or San Antonio Spurs)

PF – Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)

C – David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs)

Reserves

G – Dan Majerle (Phoenix Suns)

F – Chris Webber (Sacramento Kings)

F – Glen Rice (Los Angeles Lakers)

This is more of a pipe dream; it would be nearly impossible to convince all of these players to converge for one game. Still, if it somehow were pulled off, and players like Jordan, Barkley, Malone and Robinson agreed to play, millions would watch.

Nevertheless, the league clearly is in a crisis for good publicity at the time being. It missed out last summer when the Orlando Magic won the Eastern Conference and prevented a LeBron vs. Kobe NBA Finals (much to the chagrin of Nike and its premature ads featuring Muppets of the two stars).

There are too many stories in the news casting the NBA in a negative light. Some of it is their own fault, and other things are out of their control. The best way to create a new persona for the league would be to hold nothing back in its all-star weekend.

The media will have had a week to digest the results of the Super Bowl, and baseball will still be just on the horizon, leaving the NBA alone to assume the spotlight in sports for the weekend.

As long as Brett Favre doesn’t retire, then un-retire during the week, this plan for a new-look all-star weekend could be the spark the commissioner Stern needs to revitalize his underappreciated league.

1.19.2010

Conference championship games lack recognizable coaches

In the last 20 years, there have been exactly two men who won the Super Bowl as an unproven head coach. Mike Tomlin and Brian Billick had yet to establish themselves as big time NFL coaches until they won championships with the Steelers and Ravens, respectively.

In three weeks, we are guaranteed to include another coach in that not-so-elite group. The four teams remaining in the 2010 NFL playoffs are all led by coaches who have never even sniffed the Super Bowl as head men.

The AFC title game is the Rookie Coach Bowl, featuring the loyal assistant who inherited a championship-caliber franchise in the Colts’ Jim Caldwell, against the fiery defensive mastermind with Super Bowl pedigree who single-handedly changed the mindset of a team in the Jets’ Rex Ryan.

The NFC Championship features two coaches who have had mild success with their respective franchises, but have yet to reach the Super Bowl with talented teams.

Sean Payton led the Saints to the conference title game in 2006 before losing to the Bears, but besides that year New Orleans has not even reached that far. Brad Childress was a well-known offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in Philadelphia, but had yet to make the Vikings contenders until Brett Favre jumped on the ship before this season.

With Caldwell and Ryan, both coaches are in their first seasons with their respective teams, and both have endured seasons that could not have followed more dissimilar paths. Caldwell inherited a roster chocked full of stars, namely 2009 NFL MVP Peyton Manning. As an assistant under previous coach Tony Dungy, there was little to no transition within the locker room.

Quite frankly, despite Caldwell’s inexperience, the Colts were expected to make it this far.

Ryan is another story. The son of defensive mastermind Buddy, who coached the Bears to the Super Bowl XX title, Rex took over a team coming off an embarrassing finish to the 2008 season and started a rookie quarterback. The Jets were not picked to make the playoffs by practically everyone, and for good reason.

Ryan, who coached the defense for the Ravens before coming to New York, brought his high-wired, tell-it-like-it-is attitude to the Jets, and after a ho-hum 14 weeks, has the Jets soaring into Sunday’s game.

The rookie quarterback is Mark Sanchez, who struggled most of the season before the offense was scaled back late in the year to allow the Jets to play similar to Ryan’s Ravens of old. Like Baltimore in 2008, the Jets used a persistent running game and a suffocating defense to carry their rookie quarterback through to the playoffs.

Each of these coaches come from much different backgrounds to their respective teams, and each have varying levels of experience, but the common denominator between them all is the lack of big-game victories as head coaches.

As history suggests, the Super Bowl champion requires an experienced head coach who has been in the spotlight for several years at the highest level of the sport. The trend will be bucked this year, and one coach will take the leap from promising young coach to established winner.

The sacred threshold awaits, begging to be crossed.

1.14.2010

Notre Dame, USC take opposite coaching angles



A month ago when Brian Kelly was introduced as the next football coach at Notre Dame, a sent a clear message out of South Bend: The Fighting Irish want a proven winner running their program.

Kelly has won plenty. The former Grand Valley State head coach won two national championships at the Division I-AA level, then turned Central Michigan and Cincinnati into elite programs in their respective conferences.

Four weeks after Kelly took the job as head man at Notre Dame, USC lost theirs. Pete Carroll, the man who won two national championships and seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, decided that like Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, his work there was done. Carroll dashed from Hollywood to Seattle and the NFL’s Seahawks over the weekend, leaving a gaping hole at the top of one of the nation’s most visible programs.

As the Trojans scrambled to find Carroll’s replacement, names were peppered around about who they would go after. Nowhere in the mainstream media was Lane Kiffin’s name even mentioned. Then all of a sudden, Kiffin, 33, spurned an entire state when he accepted the USC job just one year after being hired at Tennessee.

Notre Dame zigged. USC zagged.

In Kiffin, the Trojans are going with the former assistant, young fireball route with their coaching hire. Kiffin’s year at Tennessee was his first as a college head coach. His name was made famous more by his father, Monte, who was a hall-of-fame caliber defensive coordinator for years in the NFL. Lane spent six seasons on coach Carroll’s staff, the last two of which as an offensive coordinator.

Kiffin was also the recruiting coordinator before he left USC, and was responsible for bringing in top-five recruiting classes every season. The Trojans clearly felt that in hiring Kiffin to be the head guy, they were getting a coach who could continue the unmatched recruiting success at USC. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in salesman-like poise.

After a decade that saw Notre Dame beat USC exactly two times (never since 2001), the Irish suffered numerous embarrassing losses at the hands of the Trojans. While USC was on cruise control as an established giant with a successful head coach, Notre Dame fishtailed under coaches who had never proven they could succeed at that level as a head coach.

Bob Davie was a hot assistant under Lou Holtz, Tyrone Willingham was an up-and-coming head coach from Stanford, and Charlie Weis was an offensive genius from the NFL but had never been a head coach before anywhere. Finally, the administration got it right in hiring a coach who has won at every level so far as a head coach.

Now USC goes another direction with its coaching decision. Kiffin brings little experience but a lot of “street cred” to a job where the expectations are to bring home national championship trophies, and lots of them. Kiffin’s familiarity with the USC program and his knack for bringing in future superstars make him a good bet to win plenty of football games in Los Angeles.

The problem is nobody knows just how good Kiffin can be; he is not a sure thing. Kelly is as close to a sure thing as Notre Dame could have ever dreamed of landing. The microscope is on these two tradition-rich cross-country rivals, because they are now as interconnected as ever.

For the coming years, it will be with great interest that the landscape of college football watches the evolution of Notre Dame and USC. Who made the right hire, Jack Swarbrick or Mike Garrett? Swarbrick hired Kelly while Garrett brought in Kiffin. Both athletic directors are about to be put to the ultimate test of who made the bigger coup.

With the two teams standing in opposite ends of this generation’s college football hierarchy, both schools have opened new chapters for their football program. Where the two programs will go from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s clear the approaches the schools are taking are as opposite as fire and ice.


This article can also be found at http://bleacherreport.com/articles/326009-notre-dame-and-usc-take-opposite-coaching-approaches

1.13.2010

Virginia Tech trounces Miami 81-66

Coming off only its second loss of the season, the Virginia Tech basketball team wasted no time in disposing of the Miami Hurricanes Wednesday night in Blacksburg.

Thanks to a 50-23 lead at halftime, the Hokies (13-2, 1-1) cruised past Miami in Cassell Colisieum, winning by a score of 81-66.

Tech made seven three-pointers in the first half, including three from Terrell Bell. The Hokies shot 62.1 percent from the field in the first half; the first time Miami (15-2, 1-2) had allowed a team to shoot that well in a half since the Hokies shot 61.5 percent in Miami last season.

The early offensive onslaught was somewhat surprising, considering the Hurricanes entered the game with the ACC’s best scoring defense, allowing an average of 58 points per game.

“Miami is a really good basketball team,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said, “they are going to beat a lot of teams in the ACC.”

As well as the Hokies shot the ball from the floor, Miami shot that poorly. The Hurricanes were 7-of-26 from the field in the first half.

Miami started the game defensively in a 2-3 zone, against which Tech would take a 20-5 lead before coach Frank Haith switched to a man defense.

“Tonight, our defense let us down,” Haith said.

As easy as the Hokies made the game look in the first 20 minutes, Miami gave Tech all it could handle to close the deal. Trailing 62-34 with 14:03 to play, the Hurricanes went on a 15-2 run to come within 15 points with eight minutes to play, their smallest deficit since the 10:48 mark of the first half.

“It’s human nature to get a little passive (with such a big lead),” Greenberg said, “it was probably my fault.”

Following a media timeout with 7:38 remaining, the Hokies inbounded the ball from behind their own basket. Advancing the ball quickly up the floor, Jeff Allen caught a pass just below the foul line and, without hesitation, crafted a perfectly placed behind-the-back pass to an open J.T. Thompson, who finished the play with a two-handed dunk.

“I told the guys in the huddle (during the timeout) to attack and be confident. I didn’t draw up the behind the back pass though,” Greenberg said, hinting at a grin.

After that play, which brought the Tech faithful to their feet again, Miami never came within less than 14 points of the lead.

For the first time in over a month, the Hokies played in front of a nearly packed home crowd. The energy created by the electric crowd aided the Hokies in shutting down a Miami team that entered the game ranked 72nd in the country according to realtimerpi.com.

Malcolm Delaney lit up the Miami defense for 28 points. It was the eighth time this season he has topped 20 points in a game.

The Hokies shooting percentage dropped to 29.2 percent in the second half, and they failed to make another three-point shot.

It was the second straight game where Tech struggled to make shots in the second half. On Sunday, the Hokies surrendered a 38-34 halftime lead to 13th-ranked North Carolina on the road, losing 78-64.

The 27-point lead at the break over a conference foe was the largest in the Hokies six seasons as a member of the ACC.

Miami freshman guard Durand Scott finished the game with eight points and two assists. Scott entered the game leading all ACC freshmen with 4.4 assists per game. He made several plays in the second half that the crowd, and Greenberg, argued that he committed a traveling violation.

Instead of contemplating the situation with the officials, he turned to an unusual source for advice. His wife, unable to attend the game due to illness, gave her husband a troll doll to keep in his pocket during the game.

After a particularly questionable call in the coach’s eyes, he took the troll out of his pocket. He even named the purple-haired doll.

“I asked ‘Mike’ if he could tell me why there was no foul,” Greenberg said.

While the three-inch tall cartoon figure may not be able to help Greenberg get more calls, maybe he has found a new good luck charm?

“It’s a little big for my pocket,” he said.

Why Lane Kiffin was USC's best choice

Lane Kiffin registered a perfect 10.0 on college football’s Richter scale Tuesday night when he accepted the head coaching job at USC.

The move comes less than two weeks after he completed his first season as the head coach at the University of Tennessee. During his only year in Knoxville, the Volunteers went 7-6, ending with a 37-14 loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

There are so many different ways to dissect and analyze this stunning news that it will be hard to cover it all in one fell swoop.

When the news first broke on Friday night that Pete Carroll had agreed in principle to leave USC for the Seattle Seahawks, my mind immediately jumped to Kiffin as the natural replacement. It made more sense than anyone else, I thought.

Just like Carroll, Kiffin is the cocky, smooth-talking bottle of energy and enthusiasm that is required to be the Trojans’ head coach. They both are dynamite recruiters (Kiffin served as recruiting coordinator under Carroll at USC), making signing five-star recruits seem easier than inviting freshman girls to a frat party.

Kffin’s first full-time assistant coaching job was the tight end coach under Carroll in 2001. For the first six years of his career, he learned the tricks of the trade in the midst of the longest-running dynasty the sport has seen in decades.

Coaching college football and coaching at USC are two entirely different animals. Nowhere else can players go and party with B-list celebrities on a weekly basis. There is not another school in the country where Snoop Dogg makes routine appearances on your practice field.

Kiffin learned how to coach at USC, not anywhere else. Even when he took the job at Tennessee last December, it was clear he was taking a Carrollesque approach to the job. It worked in the short term as the Vols’ landed a consensus top-five recruiting class two months after he was hired.

That approach injected vigor into a program that was quickly losing its luster. In hindsight, it is now easy to see that Kiffin clearly had his eye in other places. Of course he did. To say that Los Angeles and Knoxville have anything in common is like saying William Chung is this generation’s Elvis.

He knew what he was doing. While he may not have expected to be in Hollywood so quickly, Tennessee was not a long-term solution for Kiffin. He was lucky to even be offered the Volunteers job in the first place at age 33 and with only a 5-15 record with the Oakland Raiders to claim as head coaching experience. He didn’t pick Tennessee; instead it fell into his lap.

And for everyone who calls this move Bobby Petrino-esque, think a little deeper. Petrino was at a second or third-tier school (Louisville) when he entertained an offer by a first-tier school (Auburn), although he was much too underhanded during the process. He then took an NFL job in Atlanta, and quickly realized it was not the place for him, when he left in the wee hours of the night to head to back to the college game at Arkansas.

The Petrino Way is widely known as one that moves from job to job all too frequently, just looking for the next big splash rather than establishing a solid program. Like Petrino, Kiffin left the NFL with a sour taste in his mouth and found a prime job in the SEC.

Unlike Petrino, Kiffin just landed the job of a lifetime. In other words, do not expect Kiffin to find a job any better suited for him any time soon. He’s not a vagabond; he is simply a guy who ingeniously crafted a career path that put him on the fast track to his dream.

If Kiffin had taken an assistant job with an NFL team, or even a big-time FBS program, it’s extremely unlikely he would be on his way to LA Wednesday night. The 2009 season served as a yearlong interview for the controversial young coach.

It’s a funny thing about controversy and coach Kiffin. The pair is never too distant. After challenging Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier on the recruiting trail in unprecedented and immoral fashion, several minor NCAA violations have been reported under Kiffin’s watch.

This leads to the biggest question surrounding this hire. Carroll left USC in a state of uncertainty and flux. Reggie Bush’s ongoing lawsuit is cause for concern for the Trojan program, which seems to be on the verge of NCAA sanctions. They are also in the midst of dealing with legal issues surrounding Joe McKnight, the running back whom last week declared for the NFL draft.

Reports say the McKnight situation won’t lead to any penalties from the NCAA, but the Bush issue could wreck the program for a significant amount of time. Postseason bans are possible while unlikely; the biggest hit will come in loss of scholarships.

Kiffin’s track record as a head coach clearly shows he is susceptible to run-ins with the NCAA. Looking back now, Bush was in fact recruited under Kiffin’s watch, and what’s to say he did not play a role in the cash benefit scandal involving the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner? At the very least, it’s not a stretch to assume he could have turned a blind eye to the situation.

Kiffin clearly values winning at all costs. He is willing to bend the rules enough to keep his team safe from punishment, while bringing in blue-chippers by the bushel.

It looks like he will be treading in deep water from the moment he sets foot in Heritage Hall on campus. The rumors are the seemingly inevitable sanctions could be laid down very soon, and it will be Kiffin’s mess to sort out.

If he is able to soldier through the era of probation, this will be a match made in Heaven.

He is assembling an all-star coaching staff already. He will bring his father Monte, one of the most innovative defensive minds in the history of the sport, to the staff from Tennessee. Also accompanying him from Knoxville will be Ed Orgeron, who coached the offensive line at USC in the early 2000s and is one of the most highly regarded recruiters in college football.

The biggest coup to Kiffin’s staff could be Norm Chow, also a one-time Trojans assistant. Kiffin actually replaced Chow as offensive coordinator in 2005 at USC when Chow left to take the same post with the Tennessee Titans. He is now back at cross-town rival UCLA, but ESPN’s Shelley Smith reports USC is working on a deal to bring him back to run the Trojans’ offense once again.

Chow has mentored some of the finest quarterbacks the college game has ever seen. He oversaw the Heisman-winning seasons from Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, as well as Ty Detmer at BYU. His reputation as the Yoda of college quarterbacks is infamous, and Kiffin is smart in bringing him back to Dagobah, and giving him Luke Sywalker, er…Matt Barkley as his first pupil.

Barkley was one of the most decorated prep quarterbacks since John Elway, and came to USC in 2009 with sky-high expectations. If he can be taken under Chow’s wing for the next two, maybe three years, there’s your 2012 or 2013 first overall draft pick.

Barkley is the epicenter of what can help Kiffin save USC. Assuming the Trojans evade any postseason ban, Barkley can help lead a reeling program back to the top of the Pac-10, salvaging the program’s reputation as one the best in the country. If he can win one Pac-10 championship before leaving for the NFL, it should be enough to let Kiffin do the rest of the work, as the sanctions would soon be lifted.

For reason to believe that the right coach can succeed soon after being taken off NCAA probation, go take a look at that shiny new crystal football in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban inherited a program that had been riddled with trouble and had just been freed from the NCAA’s grasp.

In three seasons, Saban restored the Tide and all its glory with the school’s 13th national championship. Saban was the right fit in Alabama (though he could probably win a load of games at Alabama-Birmingham), and Kiffin seems to fit the USC mold the same way.

Given the circumstances, USC made the best move they could in the long run. By hiring a Carroll disciple, one who clearly was willing to undergo intense criticism in order to take the job, the Trojans retain continuity to a program that really only knows a certain way of life.

Kiffin knows that way of life. It’s by rocking the world at any given time.

1.12.2010

Snyder needs specific to-do list to turn ‘Skins around



To all the Redskins fans in the world, I know what you were thinking last weekend. As you watched the Wild Card Playoffs unfold, all you wanted was to be a part of it.

Dan Snyder was thinking the same thing. The Redskins owner is widely known as one of the biggest reasons the team has not made the playoffs very often during his tenure. It is not for a lack of trying, though. Snyder simply has made several failed attempts at building a dominant franchise.

And that’s the problem: he’s too impatient. Building a Super Bowl-caliber team takes more than one season. Several pieces have to come together to craft that perfect mold that leads to a winning atmosphere.

His first mistake was hiring Mike Shanahan. He brought in the former Super Bowl-winning coach for a hefty price, $35 million over five years. That’s championship money. Unfortunately, the Redskins are not a championship team right now.

A smarter idea would have been to bring in a veteran coach at a cheaper cost for fewer years. Someone like Marty Schottenheimer, who coached in Washington before, or Herm Edwards, would have been great coaches to run a disciplined program while the franchise rebuilds.

Those coaches would have been on the three-year plan at most, but would have been under less pressure to win immediately. With Shanahan, the expectations are as unrealistic as ever in Washington, and that’s saying something.

The first thing Washington needs to do in the offseason is retain Jason Campbell. The much-maligned quarterback has thrived in catastrophic conditions for an NFL quarterback. Playing for his fifth offensive coordinator in six seasons, Campbell finished just above the middle of the pack in passing efficiency, yards, and completion percentage.

He also dealt with an offensive line decimated by injuries. Stephon Heyer, Mike Williams, and Chris Samuels made up a MASH unit at tackle during the season, making life tough on Campbell.

He also was one of the most affected victims of the turmoil with coach Jim Zorn’s relationship with the franchise. After he was stripped of play-calling duties in week two, the Redskins season was virtually written off as a failed one, leaving Campbell in a no-win situation as a quarterback with an expiring contract.

If a younger, healthier line is acquired this off-season, Campbell can provide everything the Redskins need from the quarterback position at this time.

The rumors that the front office is enamored with Sam Bradford could be dynamite for the franchise. The former Oklahoma quarterback is coming off a serious shoulder injury for one, and is a big risk for any team that is willing to take him in the early first round. Washington would be setting its franchise back at least two years if they took Bradford at quarterback, or any other player at that position in the first round.

If they want to develop a young player to eventually replace Campbell, Colt McCoy could still be available in the second round. Sean Canfield from Oregon State or Max Hall from BYU would be great third-round pickups.

The offensive line is the biggest concern, and signing a couple young but experienced tackles would be the best thing for the team. Donald Penn is an unrestricted free agent from Tampa Bay. He is 26 years old and has been starting at left tackle for three years. He would come at a reasonable cost and could provide stability at that position for the next five years at least.

Logan Mankins of the New England Patriots has been rumored to be too pricey to stay in town. He would have to be the biggest coup of the off-season for Washington, and would immediately be locked in as the right guard for years to come. However, if the price is too high, Snyder needs to keep his wallet shut and look elsewhere.

In the draft, the fourth pick could be used to pick up an offensive or defensive tackle. Cornelius Griffin is 33, and while still effective, a player like Gerald McCoy from Oklahoma could come in and be a difference maker at that position.

Another option would be Eric Berry at safety; though it is highly unlikely he’ll be around at the fourth spot. A defensive back extraordinaire in the Ed Reed mold, he is as close to a surefire superstar as there is in this draft.

Clinton Portis needs to be shipped out of town as well. Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright have been strong backups and have been more effective as tandem when Portis is out than what he does alone when healthy. The problem is the very openly close relationship he has with Snyder, which would make it seem unlikely the owner would let him go.

If he did find a suitor for Portis via trade, it would not only help the offense take a step forward, but it would show to Redskin fans that Snyder is doing whatever it takes to build a respected successful football team.

Teams that could use Portis include the Seahawks, who own the sixth pick and fourteenth pick in the draft. Washington could try to package the fourth pick plus Portis for one of those two selections (preferably the sixth, of course) and a fourth-round selection. That would clear some money, as well as give Washington another choice at young player to help rebuild the franchise with.

If it becomes apparent that Berry would still be available at the fourth pick, all bets should be off on any deals being made to ship that selection, because passing up Berry would be an immortal sin.

There is not as much wrong with the Redskins as it may appear, personnel-wise at least. The biggest problem with the franchise is to adjust its mentality and quite simply just be patient.

You might have to bind Snyder down to his cushy seat in the FedEx Field luxury suite to make that happen, though.

1.10.2010

College Football 2010 Top 10 – earliest look


There is no time like the second week of January to begin looking ahead to the next college football season. The memory of Alabama's victory over Texas in an unusually thrilling national championship game is still fresh in everyone's minds, but that is no reason to start taking a look at who could lift the trophy a year from now.

1. Alabama

Virtually the entire offense returns for the Crimson Tide, including Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram.

Greg McElroy had his ups and downs in his first season as the starting quarterback, but he should be more consistent as a senior.

Trent Richardson will spell Ingram at tailback, and it’s not too crazy to say he may be more talented than Ingram. In fact, Ingram himself has said before that Richardson has more natural ability.

Julio Jones figures to have his best season ever with such a loaded backfield, which will force opposing defenses to play a lot of man coverage while loading the box to stop the run. He is easily one of the early favorites for the 2010 Fred Biletnikoff award.

On defense, many pieces will need to be replaced, including Terrance Cody, Javier Arenas, and Rolando McClain. D’onta Hightower figures to replace McClain at linebacker; McClain is probably the biggest loss from this year’s national championship team.

A tough departure for Alabama will be kicker Leigh Tiffin, the program’s all-time leading scorer.

As long as there is experience on offense and Nick Saban on the sidelines, any team with that situation is in great shape.

2. Ohio State

Terrelle Pryor finally validated himself with a two touchdown, 266-yard performance in the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl victory over Oregon. After all of the criticism that, fair or not, came his way in his first two seasons in Columbus, Pryor put out most of that fire with the stellar game in Pasadena.

Brandon Saine and Daniel Herron, who rushed for 739 and 600 yards, respectively in 2009 both return next season, giving Ohio State one of the most feared backfields in the country. Inexperience plagued that unit this season, but next year it will turn into the team’s strongest link.

The Buckeyes return six starters on defense, including Cameron Heyward at defensive end. He will be the star of that side of the ball in 2010.

3. Oregon

Ducks’ coach Chip Kelly is quickly becoming one of the most innovative offensive minds in the game. His Oregon team broke through this season with the first Pac-10 championship in eight years by a team not named USC. He returns rising sophomore phenom LaMichael James at running back, and thick-skinned Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback.

Oregon suffered a disappointing loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, but leave it to Kelly to let that defeat serve as the driving force behind his team’s off-season preparation for 2010.

4. Boise State

Poor Kyle Wilson. The Broncos’ star cornerback in 2009 will be the only starter from this past year’s team not to do it again in 2010. Every other starter is back, including rising junior quarterback Kellen Moore, who finished second in the nation in passing efficiency behind only Tim Tebow.

Boise State faces Oregon State and Virginia Tech in the first month of the season, giving it all the opportunity it needs to prove to the country that it belongs in the national championship game once and for all should they go unbeaten.

5. Nebraska

This may surprise some folks, but make no mistake about it: Nebraska is back. Starting quarterback Zac Lee returns, continuing the trend set by the first four teams in this list. After nearly being benched during a midseason cold streak, Lee bounced back to finish the year strong in 2009.

A 33-0 drubbing of Pac-10 runner-up Arizona in the Holiday Bowl was proof enough that Nebraska was a force to be reckoned with. The Huskers were literally seconds away from beating two top-10 teams in 2009. They lost to Virginia Tech on the road in the final minute 16-15, then allowed a last-second field goal by Texas to lose 13-12 in the Big 12 Championship Game.

They lose all-world defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is likely to be the first player taken in April’s NFL Draft. Jared Crick will fill his shoes. Crick is a rising junior who has high expectations within the Husker community. While nobody can fill the gargantuan shoes of Suh, Crick could eventually help the memory of Suh fade if he lives up to his potential.

6. Virginia Tech

The Hokies return every skill player on offense, and they also will receive the services of running back Darren Evans, who in 2008 set the school record for rushing yards in a season by a freshman. He suffered a torn ACL in fall practice, though, setting up Ryan Williams to shatter record after record, including the mark set by Evans.

Tyrod Taylor has come a long way from the freshman scrambler whose confidence throwing the ball was comparable to the high school science fair champion asking the prom queen for a date. In 2009 he made great strides with his patience in the pocket, as well as his accuracy, and he should have his best year yet in 2010.

The defense replaces seven players with starting experience, but leave it to Bud Foster, one of the most well respected coordinators in America, to have his bunch ready to go come September.

7. LSU

The Tigers better live up to this projection, or there will be Bedlam in Baton Rouge. Ironically, Bedlam is the nickname given to the rivalry game at head coach Les Miles’ former school, Oklahoma State. Since arriving at LSU, Miles has won a national championship, but lost nine games in the following two seasons.

Jordan Jefferson must improve at quarterback; he was much too error-prone and never seemed to have command of the team like a starting quarterback should. That is a problem that can be solved with off-season development, but how committed Jefferson is to improving is anyone’s guess.

Russell Sheppard was a highly touted athlete in the Percy Harvin mold, but never saw significant action in 2009. The coaching staff said he was having trouble adjusting to the speed of the game mentally, and he was not ready to handle the schemes the Tigers implored. Scary note for the rest of the SEC: the Virginia Tech staff said the exact same thing about Ryan Williams during his redshirt year in 2008. You see how that turned out.

8. TCU

Gary Patterson has developed a mini-dynasty in Fort Worth, mostly because of great defense. Next year, however, it will be his experienced offense that will be his strongest unit. Andy Dalton will be a senior at quarterback, and for most of 2009, he was everything the Horned Frogs needed him to be: a leader and an efficient passer. Next season, his role will take a big leap, as he will be called upon to make more plays.

The defense will be solid, despite losing end Jerry Hughes, arguably the best player to come through the program since LaDanian Tomlinson. Patterson always has a respectable unit on the field, and 2010 will be no different. It could be scary to think how good they could be given the experience returning on offense.

9. North Carolina

Sleeper Alert: North Carolina may have the best defense on paper coming into next season. Quann Sturdivant, Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, Kendrick Burney and Deunta Williams are all back for another season to play for what was already the best defense in the ACC in 2009.

They allowed an average of 15.5 points per game last season, and with most of the players returning, they should shut down most of the teams in a conference that does not lack for meek offensive attacks.

T.J. Yates will be in his fourth season as the starting quarterback after a rough 2009. He showed promise during his sophomore season before being lost to injury, then this past season he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (14).

With Greg Little back at receiver and Ryan Houston back at running back, he will have plenty of help and set up for a surprisingly strong farewell campaign in Chapel Hill.

10. Texas

Garrett Gilbert’s performance in the second half of the BCS National Championship Game told everyone all they needed to know about the fate of the Longhorns’ program. He shredded the nation’s best defense in Alabama for back-to-back touchdowns, nearly leading one of the most memorable comebacks in college football history.

Although Texas would have traded nothing to have had Colt McCoy healthy for the game and taken home the national title, the experience Gilbert gained from that game was invaluable.

The running game should be a strong point next season in offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ zone-read attack, and with Gilbert they will have the best pure passer the Longhorns may have ever seen. Colt McCoy was an accurate short to mid-level passer, but Gilbert’s arm is twice as strong and is a much more polished quarterback at the same stages in their careers.

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