Monday, January 19, 2015

Previewing Super Bowl 49

Seattle vs. New England.  Brady vs. Sherman.  Revis vs. Wilson. We now know who will face off in Super Bowl 49, so let's take a look at the matchups that will help shape this year's Big Game. 

The biggest question entering this year's Super Bowl is whether or not the Seahawks can rebound from a tough game. Of course, they had to win the NFC Championship to make the Super Bowl, but they also turned the ball over five times on Sunday (to Green Bay's two) and, for, say, three-and-a-half quarters, played bad offensively.  Russell Wilson and co. will have to move the ball through the air for the Seahawks to have a chance against the Patriots, who allowed just six rushing touchdowns this regular season (tied for second-fewest in the NFL).  

Two of Seattle's giveaways also gave Green Bay fantastic field position and helped the Packers take the ball to the Seahawks' one yard-line.  Seattle's defense eventually held the Packers to a field goal on both of those drives, effectively winning them the game. But will a defense always be able to hold in such short yardage situations, especially with power runner LeGarrette Blount on the other side for the Patriots?  My guess is no, and that's why Seattle needs to do a better job taking care of the ball when Super Bowl 49 kicks off in Glendale.  

On the other side, New England has to move the ball, which will be no small task against this Seattle defense.  They need to take advantage of whatever opportunities they get.  Seattle's defenders covered the pass very well in the NFC Championship, and the Patriots need to convert all opportunities come Super Sunday. That means no dropped passes and no bad routes for the Patriots against a team that doesn't make very many mistakes defensively. Of course, there is a caveat: Don't count out the intelligence of Bill Belichick. Seattle will have two weeks to prepare for Belichick's "Who in the world is eligible now?" formations, but I wouldn't be too surprised if the New England coach comes up with something we've never seen before in an attempt to create confusion among the Seahawks' defense.  

And, of course, there's a player you're likely to hear about a few thousand times in the coming weeks: Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski. Gronk matches up well against the Seahawks thanks to his incredible combination of size, speed, athleticism, and pass-catching abilities.  He'll need to use all those traits to help the Patriots move the ball, though he could also help create opportunities for his teammates by catching a few passes early and drawing extra attention from the defense.  

So it's all set.  In two weeks, the Seahawks and Patriots match up in what will hopefully be a Super Bowl for the ages.  Belichick vs. Carroll.  The Pats' run defense vs. Lynch.  Gronk vs. The Legion of Boom.  Super Bowl 49.  Let's see who emerges to lead his team to victory.

*Note: Statistics and play-by-play information used in this post came from

Friday, January 2, 2015

Opinion: The Big Ten East is on the Rise

I think there's a notion in sports that the Big Ten is a weak conference among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) leagues.  I somewhat disagree with that notion.  I believe the Big Ten, particularly the Big Ten East, is on the rise.

For starters, let's look at the Michigan Wolverines, now led by Jim Harbaugh.   Prior to spending the last four seasons at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh was the head football coach at Stanford University.  The Cardinal won just six games combined in the two years before Harbaugh arrived, including an abysmal 1-11 season in 2006.  But in 2010, Harbaugh's final year before leaving for the NFL, Stanford went 12-1 and notched an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.  Given his past performance as an FBS coach, I think Harbaugh will turn things around in Ann Arbor and make a contender out of a Michigan squad that managed just a 5-7 record this season.

Next, look to Happy Valley.  James Franklin and Penn State defeated Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl this season, a game that was significant in part because it was the Nittany Lions' first post-sanctions bowl appearance.  Now that Penn State is eligible for post-season play again, I think there will be more recruits who want to make Beaver Stadium their home stadium thanks to the tradition and spirit that live on in Happy Valley and in the minds of many a Penn Stater.

Rounding out the crop of the Big Ten East are Ohio State and Michigan State.  The Buckeyes are 13-1 entering the 2014-15 national championship game against Oregon, and have a head coach who so far has lost just three games in three years at Columbus.  I don't think Urban Meyer's going anywhere thanks to his track record as a Buckeye, and as long as he stays put, Ohio State will remain a power in the Big Ten East and the FBS.  

Mark Dantonio is rather impressive himself as the head man in East Lansing.  Save for a 7-6 season in 2012, the Spartans won at least 11 games every year from 2010 to 2014. So just like their counterparts in Ohio, Michigan State will likely remain competitive as long as Dantonio coaches and coaches the Spartans.

So the Big Ten East is on the rise, or at least that's what I believe. Look at the men who coach the schools in the division and the records they've put together during their years in the FBS.  Look, too, at Penn State and how just maybe, in my opinion, they could see some excellent players come to their campus and turn the Nittany Lions into a serious contender again. It might not be next year, and it might not even be the year after that, but someday, and someday soon, Big Ten East will be a force to be reckoned with.

*Note: All records used in this post came from either or