Where Have All the Good Teams Gone?

The college football playoff committee must pick four teams. This year that might be fairly easy. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of good teams this year. So who are the playoff worthy teams? Ohio State? No doubt. Right now the Buckeyes are the best team in the country. They still have a (more…)

This, That And, The Next Thing By Ernie Saxton: October 24, 2019

Mike Haggenbottom of Levittown, Pa. not only achieved his goal of competing in all the USAC Silver Crown races in 2019, but he earned his first top-five finish in the national sanctioning body’s top division and improved his finishing position in the final point standings for the year by two positions. Haggenbottom, one of only...

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Fanatics Paradise

Limber up that thumb, fanatics. The last two weeks have been paradise for a sports fanatic. Tremendously dramatic playoff baseball, early season hockey, and football(college and NFL) heating up has my remote control screaming in pain. Saturday I had to ice my thumb down, while having two screens going at once. Upsets, game winning field (more…)

College Football Mid-Season Roundup

Time flies when you’re having fun.

No, not you Clay Helton. No, no, Willie Taggert. Not yet Scott Frost. Yes, keep looking sour Mark Dantonio. Hey! Someone check if Chip Kelly still has a pulse.

College football has already reached the halfway point. Some things are starting to come into focus, while others still remain murky.

It appears there are not a ton of really good football teams this year. The ACC is awful, the PAC 12 still doesn’t have a team to hang its hat on, the Big Ten has three quality teams(I think), the Big 12 is down to Oklahoma and everyone else, and the SEC runs West.

I definitely overvalued Texas and Michigan, and undervalued Wisconsin and Penn State. I’m still riding my pick to win it all, the LSU Tigers.

Let’s hit it around the nation with a Two Cent conference check in.

ACC

This is a very simple conference to analyze. Clemson. That’s it.

Clemson will probably be favored by 20 points in every game they play.

Someone will be required to win the Coastal division and play Clemson in the ACC championship game. It looked like Virginia may be decent, but then they lost to Miami(Fla), who had just lost to Virginia Tech, who had just got blown out by Duke, who just lost to Pitt, who lost to…you guessed it, Virginia. What a mess!

So, it could still be Virginia, and I wouldn’t count out Pitt. Pitt may be sllloooowwwwly turning a corner.

One thing is certain in my eyes. With this pitiful strength of schedule, if Clemson should somehow blow one of these cakewalk games they should be out of the playoff picture. Remember, the committee said previous years don’t factor in to their decision making(insert eye roll emoji here).

Keep touching Howard’s Rock.

SEC

The strength of the SEC is in the Western division.

Alabama and LSU are headed for a titanic confrontation in Tuscaloosa on November 9. The loser is by no means out of the playoff picture. Then there is still Auburn lurking in the West division, with matchups against both LSU and Alabama.  As a matter of fact, Auburn may be who decides the winner of this conference. They have already lost to Florida, and still have Georgia on the schedule in addition to the two West front runners. Apparently Gus Malzhan ticked somebody off at SEC scheduling headquarters.

The East may come down to the former Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party that annually pits Florida and Georgia in Jacksonville. Georgia has looked lethargic all season, and flatlined in an overtime loss to South Carolina that led to this scene.

Photo courtesy 11alive.com.

After beating Georgia “between the hedges”, the Gamecocks ate some of the hedges.

Florida made me a believer in a loss at LSU. I’ve doubted them all year, but they stood toe to toe in Death Valley with the Tigers for three quarters.

The X factor in the East is Missouri, one of my surprise team predictions to start the season. They have an easy schedule, but must prove they can win on the road. Their only road trip ended in a season opening loss to Wyoming. They get Georgia on the road and Florida at home. Most people forget Missouri is even in the SEC, so they are looking to make the rest of the college football world aware.

I’m still sticking to Hold that Tiger.

Big 12 

This is a fairly easy conference to analyze. Oklahoma, with its win over Texas, is head and shoulders above the crowd.

Baylor is a nice story, with Matt Ruhle finding the magic potion in Waco. Iowa State is finding its sea legs after a sluggish start. Texas will get healthy and be better late. Those are the only teams that could potentially upset the Sooners.

Unfortunately for Oklahoma, they most likely will have to beat the Longhorns for a second time in the Big 12 title game. That won’t be easy if Texas heals up over the next month. I would never bet against Lincoln Riley, easily the best young coach in college football.

Boomer Sooner.

PAC 12

The PAC 12 has an identity crisis, some say. What they really have is an LA problem.

UCLA is one dramatic comeback on the Palouse from being 0-5 and headed toward a winless season. Chip Kelly, who honestly looks like he could care less, could be unemployed at season’s end.

Across town, Clay Helton will join Kelly on the unemployment line. Helton, king of the moral victory, has gone 15-16 with the USC Trojans since Sam Darnold left. Just like at UCLA, there will be a new AD at USC that will be charged with cleaning house.

USC, after a close loss at Notre Dame, still has a shot to win the conference. They certainly have the talent, but must be consistently good rather than sporadically good. The coaching may not allow for that.

Utah and Arizona State both could step up in the PAC 12 South if USC stumbles. Herm Edwards deserves credit for making the Sun Devils successful. Utah May rue slipping up against the Trojans back in September.

In the PAC 12 North Oregon leads the way, and is the most complete team in the league. Justin Herbert is quietly one of the better quarterbacks in college football. Oregon is also the PAC 12’s only shot at the playoffs, and it is an extremely outside shot. To run the table, Oregon must win on the road at Washington, USC, and Arizona State. It won’t be easy.

Quack, quack, I guess.

Big Ten

This seems like a three horse race, but of all people, Minnesota, would like a seat at the trough.

The suddenly very shiny Golden Gophers have a great chance to be 8-0 when they host Penn State on November 9. P.J. Fleck has these Gophers rowing the boat, but rowing under the radar. I thought Minnesota had a real chance to win ten games this year, and they may just do that.

As for those Penn State Nittany Lions, they got their best win of the season on Saturday in Iowa City. I’m still not sure how good Penn State is, but looking at their schedule leads me to 11-1. These other Big Ten teams just aren’t that good( don’t tell the boat rowers in Minny). Iowa is among the teams that are average. A white out game awaits on homecoming in Happy Valley this week against Michigan.

Wisconsin is rolling. Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman candidate. The question for the Badgers will be if a good team shuts down the run game, can quarterback Jack Coan make big plays. They have a big one in two weeks at Ohio State. A trip to the playoffs will be part of that storyline. A trip to the Big Ten championship game may be on the line November 30 in Minnesota.

Does it look like the Ohio State Buckeyes miss Urban Meyer?

The biggest difference I see is they are stepping on the throat of lesser opponents, rather than allowing them to hang around as often happened under Meyer. The other big difference is at quarterback. Justin Fields is better than the previous Buckeye quarterbacks because he is an equal threat with his feet and arms.

This certainly seems to be the year Ohio State makes the playoffs. In addition to having an ultra talented team, the Buckeyes have a very favorable schedule. They get Wisconsin and Penn State at home, and finish at what certainly looks like a weak Michigan team. A possible rematch with Wisconsin could then await.

Hang On Sloopy.

Final Four?

As much as I pound the drum for an eight team playoff, by season’s end there may be only 4 deserving teams. So many teams seem average this year.

Right now the four playoff teams will come out of my latest Two Cent Top Ten:

  1. Ohio State
  2. LSU
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Alabama
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Clemson
  7. Penn State
  8. Oregon
  9. Florida
  10. Georgia

Honorable mentions go to Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Baylor.

Minnesota and Baylor will face reality eventually, and until Notre Dame commits to joining a conference then one loss will be enough to knock them out of the playoff picture.

Tim Clark is a columnist and editor for PennSports.LIVE, and a wonderful writer of words. He is a lifelong sports fanatic with an eclectic mix of favorite teams including USC Trojans football, Louisville Cardinals basketball, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins in pro sports.

This, That and the Next Thing by Ernie Saxton: October 10, 2019

With the recently completed regular season, Mahoning Valley Speedway is now priming for the ¼-mile paved oval’s biggest event of the year, Octoberfast 2019. This will mark the 8th annual Octoberfast which takes place on Saturday, October 12. Race time is 4:00 pm. The Modifieds lead the list of classes with a big 150-lap, $5000-to-win...

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Pirates in the playoffs; just not in Pittsburgh

🏴‍☠️Gerrit Cole threw his 115 pitch on Saturday night 100 mph. He struck out 15 batters in 7 2/3 innings. Cole will most likely win the American League Cy Young. Gerrit Cole is a stud. Gerrit Cole used to be a Pittsburgh Pirate. Cole is Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s best draft choice. He was good (more…)

This, That and the Next Thing by Ernie Saxton: October 3, 2019

Leavine Family Racing (LFR) welcomes Christopher Bell to the organization for the 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season as the driver of the No. 95 Toyota Camry with sponsorship from Rheem and Procore. In addition to Bell in the driver’s seat, the technical alliance between LFR, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and TRD, U.S.A....

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Changing of the guard is hard

Replacing a legend is difficult. The Green Bay Packers went from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. The San Francisco 49ers went from Joe Montana to Steve Young. Those are two examples of an easy changing of the guard. Certainly it isn’t always that easy. Denver is still looking for John Elway’s replacement. Peyton Manning was (more…)

It’s Always Raining in Pittsburgh

This is the Pittsburgh Pirates in a nutshell.

The latest fiasco for the Pirates was an ugly one.

Felipe Vazquez, the Pirates all star closer was arrested last week on multiple counts of child sex crimes. Wow. That’s hard to even type.

For the record, there is no way to convince me anyone with the team, from players to management, could have known what Vazquez was doing. The only person to blame is Vazquez himself.

This incident just caps a year from hell in Pittsburgh. Looking at the major league roster, the minor league prospects, and the competition across the National League, and there is no sane person that can think next year, or the one after that, or the one after that, or…let’s just say the foreseeable future, will be any better.

Clint Hurdle will be fired or asked to step down, presumably along with most of his coaches. Jeff Bannister seems to be the favorite to take over. A new message is needed. Hurdle’s is falling on deaf ears. This will qualify as window dressing.

Neal Huntington should be fired, but I’m not sure that will happen. His latest error came at the trade deadline, when he held out for a King’s ransom for Vazquez. At the deadline I advocated for a full blown rebuild, which would have included trading Vazquez. Most reports suggested the Los Angeles Dodgers were prepared to give up two top prospects to acquire Vazquez. Huntington wasn’t budging unless the Dodgers included their top prospect Gavin Lux. The Dodgers, and most other GM’s, laughed at this asking price and spurned Huntington.

Sunday, Huntington defended not trading Vazquez. He said fans would have roasted him for trading Vazquez for what they would have received in return. Apparently we should believe Huntington and ignore literally every report saying what the Dodgers were willing to part with.

Again, nobody could have foreseen the Vazquez horror show. However, a year after parting with far too much to acquire Chris Archer, Huntington asks for too much to unload Vazquez. As a result, you have no Austin Meadows(.286, 32 HR, 88 RBI, 12 SB), no Tyler Glasnow(2.03 ERA, 5:1 K/BB, .199 BAA), and Vazquez has thrown his last 100 mph fastball. Oh, I forgot. You do have Chris Archer(5.19 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 25 HR given up).

These are just the latest examples of Neal Huntington’s incompetence. He needs to go. In 12 years on the job Huntington hasn’t made enough positive trades and has been beyond poor at drafting and developing home grown talent, a small market GM’s most important job. Huntington should go, but it would just be window dressing.

Frank Coonelly is a buffoon lawyer from Major League Baseball’s league office. The highlight of his tenure was a humiliating DUI. When he speaks, dumb things come out. Additionally, it’s apparent nobody listens to him. At the end of the team’s statement on Vazquez, Coonelly stated nobody in the organization would speak about the situation. Within the hour players throughout the clubhouse were talking to reporters…about the situation. Frank Coonelly is useless and needs to go. If he did, it would be window dressing.

The owner, Bob Nutting, entered this season knowing that the organization would be honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1979 World Series Championship team. He knew, too, that they would honor the retiring Steve Blass for his tremendous 60 years of service with the organization. One might think that the owner would see the value in adding some payroll to have the best chance at having a quality product on the field to sync with those honors.

Ha! Fat chance that was going to happen. Instead the owner cut payroll— his GM added Lonnie Chisenhall, who never saw a pitch in Pittsburgh— and is overseeing one of the most embarrassing seasons in Pittsburgh Pirates history.

2019 issues:

  • Sign Lonnie Chisenhall. He never plays a single game.
  • Go 4-25 after all star break.
  • Are 21-45 in all after all star break.
  • Brought Gregory Polanco back too soon, and he re-injures shoulder.
  • Set franchise record by giving up 47 runs in a three game series vs Cubs.
  • Run differential of -163 is fifth worst in all of baseball.
  • Multiple in house suspensions for fights in the clubhouse.
  • Bullpen coach suspended.
  • Brutal brawl with Cincinnati Reds.
  • Traded Cory Dickerson, a .300 hitter, essentially for nothing.
  • Watched Gerritt Cole maximize his potential…in Houston.
  • Watched Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows maximize their potential…in Tampa Bay.
  • Chris Archer reminds fans how terrible the Glasnow/Meadows trade was every time he pitches.
  • Four losing streaks of at least 7 games.
  • Attendance so low you can count the individual people.
  • Opposing teams filling your stadium, making it like a road game.
  • Your closer propositioned a 13 year old in the bullpen, eventually ending with disgusting details and an embarrassing arrest.

If it isn’t the most embarrassing, it has to be in the top two. The drug trials of the mid ‘80’s was an ugly time as well. It isn’t just about the losses, but how they got to this point. And I don’t even have time to document the massive failures of the minor league system.

Does Mitch Keller look like a top prospect to anyone else? Maybe they should trade him to Houston or Tampa now to speed up his development.

The manager is shot. The GM is incompetent. The team president is an idiot. They all need to go, but those moves would only act as window dressing. It would give fans some hope, and it would maybe even bring tangible improvement. However, if Bob Nutting is still the owner don’t expect the overall tenor of the ballclub to change.

I’m sure Nutting wants to win, but not if it effects his bottom line. Bottom line Bob cares about one thing above all else. Profit.

Fans have proven as recently as 2013-2015 that they will show up if you put a winning product on the field. Nutting doesn’t care. He makes enough revenue elsewhere that attendance is inconsequential to him.

Bad optics, you say? So what. This is simple. Priorities 1-4 are all to make a profit. Coming in a distant fifth is winning. I’ve said a million times that most sports team owners want to win first, and they are willing to forego a little profit if it gives their team a better chance. Not with Bottom Line Bob.

Currently the team is on a nine game losing streak, where they have given up double digit runs five times and have been out scored 87-26. They were just swept by the Brewers. This is the scene in Milwaukee, a market smaller than Pittsburgh.

That is a packed house for a team surging to the playoffs. They have 20 sellouts this year alone. Since owner Mark Attanasio took over in 2005, the Brewers have seven winning records, three divisional playoff appearances, two NLCS appearances, two division titles, two MVP awards. Attendance has been outstanding. Limited resources haven’t stopped Attanasio from doing his all to win. Winning is his priority, and Milwaukee fans reward him by filling the stadium nearly every night.

Alas, Pittsburgh is stuck with Nutting. A guy who has never seen the big picture of owning a sports franchise.

Sure, change is coming. How much is anyone’s guess. It won’t matter anyway. Bob Nutting will still be the owner. The fan apathy and general malaise will continue.

That darn cloud just keeps pouring rain all over Pirates fans’ heads, and Bob Nutting won’t even buy them an umbrella.

Tim Clark is a columnist and editor for PennSports.LIVE, and a wonderful writer of words. He is a lifelong sports fanatic with an eclectic mix of favorite teams including USC Trojans football, Louisville Cardinals basketball, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins in pro sports.