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NCAAFB: Take The SEC or Take The Field?

The 2015 college football season begins in a month and the USA Today Coaches Poll has come out with a Top-Five of: 1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Alabama, 4. Baylor, 5. Oregon. In total there are eight SEC schools in the Top 25, six Pac-12 schools and three apiece from the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.

So who is the best conference? Do you pick a team from the SEC or do you take the field? Last season’s implementation of the College Football Playoff was a great success and left controversy on who should be the final team in. Ohio State stunned Alabama with its third-string quarterback and then thumped Oregon in the title game 42-20.

Late last season marked a shift of power from the once mighty SEC to the rest of the nation. The ‘Bucks stunned the Tide, but at least it was a close game, 42-35. Georgia Tech from the SEC’s “little brother” conference the ACC, stomped Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl on New Years Eve. The Peach Bowl was even more embarrassing with TCU humiliating Ole Miss 42-3. Elsewhere, Florida squeeked past East Carolina 28-20, LSU fell to Notre Dame 31-28 and Wisconsin edged Auburn in overtime 34-31. The SEC did pick up wins in the lesser bowls, but the conference’s marquee programs struggling with teams from perceivably “weaker” conferences was eye opening.

So here we are, 2015, in a brave new world with an even playing field. Once again SEC teams load the polls, but who will be the top dog when it’s all said an done? Alabama is always a favorite and opens up at No. 3. Gone is Amari Cooper, gone is T.J. Yeldon, gone is Blake Sims, gone is Landon Collins, the list goes on and on. Last season Alabama had a one-dimensional passing game. Every single target was going to Cooper. Now that he is gone, will it open up more of the offense and also allow the Tide to run the ball more with Derrick Henry as the lead back? Time will tell. Alabama goes into the season with an inexperienced quarterback; a problem many SEC teams will have yet again this year.

Auburn enters at No. 7 in the polls but also has question marks under center. Jeremy Johnson threw just 37 passes last season but already is being compared to Cam Newton. Leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne is gone after a 1,608 yard season and the top returning rusher is wide receiver Ricardo Louis who gained 226 yards on the ground. Jovon Robinson steps in as the lead back after being ruled ineligible coming out of Junior College last season. In 2013 at Georgia Military College, the current day junior ran for a NJCAA single-season record 2,387 yards. If Johnson can get a grip of the offense at quarterback and Robinson can stay on the field, Auburn has a chance to make a playoff push.

My first pretender out of the top five SEC schools is Georgia who ranks No. 9. Year-in and year-out the Bulldogs enter the season overrated and are nothing more than a second tier team in the SEC. No quarterback and a one-dimensional offense will sink the Dawgs again. Either Brice Ramsey or Greyson Lambert will start at quarterback. Ramsey threw 39 passes last season as coach Richt and staff refused to get the potential future of the team some much needed snaps in blow out games last year. Greyson Lambert joins the program after starting at Virginia in 2014. Picturing the former Wayne County star in the SEC is a scary thought. Lambert routinely made bad decisions with the Cavs and was a turnover machine. Multiple games he would split time with Matt Johns under center and failed to make a convincing statement that he was the true QB1. He threw 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and failed to make easy throws. If he starts for UGA, expect the Bulldogs’ running backs to have to carry the load 45-60 times a game. It doesn’t matter how good Nick Chubb is, if the quarterback can’t alleviate pressure on the run game and keep defenses honest, eight men in the box will be zoned in on No. 27 every play.

LSU at No. 13 is primed to emerge from the SEC if Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings can put together a consistent season at quarterback. Nine offensive starters return including sophomore Leonard Fournette, who ran for 1,034 yards and 10 scores his freshman campaign. All of coach Les Miles’ top receivers return and enough is back on defense to be another Top-10 unit.

The mercurial play of Bo Wallace will not be an issue for No. 15 Ole Miss, but they still will be inserting an inexperienced SEC quarterback with whoever gets the job. JUCO-transfer Chad Kelly should have the inside track on the job after throwing for 3,906 yards and 47 touchdowns last season. The defense will carry the Rebels this year as they search for their first double-digit win season in 12 years.

So with all that said, the SEC should be a lock to have a team win the National Championship, right? Sadly, I have to go against the grain in the south and pick against the beloved conference yet again.

Defending champ Ohio State returns all three quarterbacks with Braxton Miller making the switch to wide receiver. Coach Urban Meyer has been drooling about Miller’s athleticism and will surely find a way for the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year to make a massive impact outside. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones both continue to battle for the starting job, giving Ohio State an embarrassment of riches and three guys (including Miller) that would instantly become the best quarterback in the SEC if they had transferred.  Ezekiel Elliot burst onto the scene after rushing for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore and will continue to terrorize defenses. If the Buckeyes can survive an early suspension of First-Team All-American defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks) and others during their rematch with Virginia Tech in the first game of the season, Ohio State could easily roll to another College Football Playoff.

My personal No. 1 ranked team, who slides in at No. 2 in the Coaches Poll is TCU. A whopping 10 offensive starters return to a Horned Frogs offense that averaged 46.5 points per game in 2014 — second-best in the entire nation only to Baylor who stunned the Frogs and kept them out of the Playoffs with a 61-58 victory. Trevone Boykin enters his senior season as a Heisman front-runner. He threw for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns while gaining 707 yards and eight scores on the ground. Josh Doctson is Boykin’s favorite target after snagging 1,018 yards worth of passes and 11 touchdowns. Senior back Aaron Green also returns to the backfield after gaining 922 yards and nine scores on a 7.1 yard per carry average. The defense takes a hit with the loss of Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet but the Horned Frogs still have free safety Derrick Kindred (80 tkls, 4 ints) and defensive end James McFarland (7 sacks) and are reloaded for another run. Last year’s Playoff picture and results could have been very different if TCU has somehow snuck in.

Nov. 27 will decide the Big 12 and will determine who makes the College Playoff with No. 4 Baylor visiting TCU. Seth Russell is the favorite to replace Bryce Petty at quarterback. Petty is a massive blow, but nine starters return on both offense and defense. Shock Linwood ran for 1,252 yards and 16 scores as a sophomore and will be asked to carry the load again while Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon seek back-to-back 1,000-plus yards receiving. The defense will be anchored by the massive Shawn Oakman, who stands 6-foot-9, 280 pounds. Oakman will continue his meteoric rise up draft boards after collecting 11 sacks last season.

Two teams I am high on come out of the Pac-12 and will likely knock one of themselves out of contention on Nov. 21. USC ranks No. 10 and Oregon slots in at No. 5, although I place USC at No. 3 and Oregon at No. 4. The sanctions have lifted off of USC and the program finally looks ready to not disappoint. Seven starters return on both offense and defense led by Cody Kessler. The senior threw for 3,826 yards, 39 touchdowns and just five picks as a junior. He will have new running back behind him in Justin Davis and plenty of new faces at receiver after the loss of Nelson Agholor, but Kessler is good enough to make inexperienced players around him better. The defense will need to hold up its end of the bargain after allowing 25.2 points per game last season. Leonard Williams is gone from the defensive line, but Rasheem Green is a highly touted prospect and Iman Marshall is one of the best defensive backs in this year’s class.

Both the Trojans and the Oregon Ducks will need to survive Stanford who is ready to compete for the Pac-12 Title again. Oregon loses 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota but Vernon Adams has been a star for years with FCS Eastern Washington and has mind boggling totals of 8,477 yards passing and 90 touchdowns over his past two seasons. Head coach Mark Helfrich has refused to speak about the transfer recently though, as apparently he has yet to officially enroll. If that is the case, it will be a huge blow for the Ducks and Jeff Lockie will be pegged as the starter. Oregon’s top five receivers return as well as running back Royce Freeman, so weapons will be aplenty for whoever takes over.

With a rundown of all the top teams in the nation in my opinion, I feel like the balance of power and the playing field has become level and no longer shifts in the favor of the SEC. I like TCU going into the season and the quarterback concerns with every single SEC school will come back to haunt them once they play the best-of-the-best from other power conferences. It’s tough to accept in the south, but there has been a changing of the guard and the race for the National Championship is wide open with the roads most likely running through the Big 12 and the Big Ten, no longer the SEC.

Was Fantasy Football Founded In Atlanta?

Fantasy football has grown into a billion dollar industry since its humble inception. Bragging rights, cash and pride are at stake when each new fantasy football season rolls around. So who exactly were the founding fathers that created the first rudimentary fantasy football league? No one knows for sure, but there is a strong hunch that the first league began in Georgia’s own backyard in 1983.

A group of eight high schoolers ranging from 16 to 17 years old may be the creators of the first ever documented rotisserie fantasy football league. Marist students Scott Frank, Frankie Doherty, Chris Decherd, Mark Wesley, Glenn Gilbertti, Jay Dowlen, Gil Markham and Chris Daniel all collaborated to concoct the first known fantasy football league which they named “The Fantasy Football League” or the FFL. The idea of creating a league first emerged after Scott Frank and his friends read a Sports Illustrated article discussing rotisserie baseball and how one might go about creating a rotisserie fantasy football league. The group decided to go forward and create a league of their own.

The first rosters included a lineup of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one kicker and one team defense. The scoring system was much different from what you would find online in today’s game.  The quarterback got five points for a touchdown (run or pass) under 40 yards and 10 points for 40+ yards. Running backs and receivers got seven and 12 points, respectively. Kickers received five points for 35 yards or less, seven points for 36-45 yards, and 10 points for 46 or more yards, plus two-point for PATs. Defense got 10 points for a touchdown, eight points for a safety and 15 points for a shutout.

Each season’s draft was held at one of the participants’ house. The first inaugural FFL draft was highlighted by Glenn Gilbertti selecting Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts first overall, while Scott Frank selected kicker Rolf Benirschke second. Selecting a number out of a hat randomized the order of the draft. Whoever had the last pick in the round would have the first pick in the following round creating a “snake” order.

After setting the teams, the true work would begin. Access to complete game stats in the early 1980s was not readily available like they are today. ESPN had been founded in 1979 and was still working its way into households across America and the age of Internet was over a decade away. The FFL would not be able to score its games until the following morning when the newspaper would be delivered and the league owners would tally up the points.

To avoid waiting until the next morning, the group would call local news stations for scores and stats. It would be a fellow Marist graduate who worked at Channel 2 on the weekends who would end up helping the league the most by answering their weekly phone calls– Ernie Johnson, who has risen to fame as a part of Turner Sports.

Frank cherishes the early years and says what he remembers most is “Spending Sunday afternoons with my friends at their houses and cheering for players we had never heard of and plays that seemed meaningless to our parents.”

The first two seasons of the FFL would be dominated by Scott Frank, who took the first two championships. Instead of a shiny trophy, league commissioner Chris Decherd sent out hand written letters labeled from “The Commissioner’s Office” to the winning team, congratulating them on a great season.

In year two, other high school friends Dan Perez, Sean McDonald, Chris Burns and Billy Gazdik joined as it grew into a 10-man league over the first ten years. To this day, The Fantasy Football League is still going strong but with plenty of new faces. Two original owners still participate, Doherty and Gilbertti. Many of the original core stay in touch and remain close friends.

“Putting in the time and effort often makes all the difference in winning the FFL and in life,” explained Frank. “Whether you or your friend is winning, always value the relationships and there is always another season.”

As pioneers to one of the biggest revenue streams in sports gaming now, the group never thought of themselves as being the firsts until they began to try and track down history dated earlier than their league. As a self-proclaimed packrat, Scott Frank has notebooks upon notebooks loaded with box scores and standings from the FFL. With their hard evidence, The Fantasy Football League is able to prove they played rotisserie fantasy football in 1983.

Rocky Mountain Highs And Lows: Trading With The Colorado Rockies

The MLB Trade Deadline is just three days away and the seismic changes that the deadline brings to the outlooks of franchises’ futures has already begun. This morning I woke up to the stunning news that five-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was traded alongside the ageless LaTroy Hawkins by the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for four-time All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and three minor league prospects (Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco).

Both Tulo and Reyes are making over $20 million a year, but it’s the 30-year-old Tulowitzki who is signed thru 2020 while Reyes, at 32, is signed thru 2017.

While teams are wheeling-and-dealing to make their respective ball clubs better, there’s always one team to be weary of trading with, the Colorado Rockies. The thin air of Coors Field has ballooned average major league batters’ stats to those of perennial All-Stars; it is buyer beware when taking a chance on a Colorado Rockie, especially one that has played their entire career in the Mountains.

Tulowitzki, though starting to age, has been known as the best hitting shortstop in the league and a fielder with a cannon of an arm from the hole. But if you delve deeper into his stats you can see that some of his production has been aided. To date, he is a career .299 hitter that averages roughly 20-30 homers a year and anywhere from 80-100 RBIs when healthy.

Over his ten-year career, he has played over 145 games just twice and hasn’t played over 140 games since the 2011 season. In 2012 he appeared in 47, 126 in ’13, 91 a year ago and now 87 games out of the last-place Rockies’ 97 games.

Back to the Coors Field effect. He has hit a star-studded .321 at home with a .394 OBP, making him worth his current $20 million per year contract easily, but if you look at his road numbers he has hit a mere mortal .276 with a .349 OBP, very good for a shortstop but not nearly what he does in the friendly confines of home.

Luckily for Tulo, who slashes .300/12/53/.348/.471 this year, he’s going to Toronto which has turned into a power plant in terms of producing homerun hitters. His splits this season have to be comforting for Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos as he is hitting .301 at home and .299 on the road, but I still wouldn’t bank on Tulowitzki being an annual .300+ hitter in his new home.

Colorado is looking down the barrel of their fifth consecutive losing season meaning they will be willing to ship off players for pieces down the line. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is another coveted bat. The two-time All-Star is a career .292 hitter and former batting champ, but his splits have been even more pronounced than Tulowitzki’s.

Over his career Gonzalez has hit a blistering .326 at home but a measly .258 on the road. His average this season has slipped to .278, but he still has 20 homers and you guessed it, his splits are more of the same, batting .301 at Coors Field and .256 elsewhere.

Home Sweet Home

Teams have to be careful when trading for or signing former Rockies. That .290/30/100 guy you think you might be getting might actually be a .245/20/70 guy away from Coors.

Lets look at some recent Rockies batters that have moved on to not-so greener pastures. Injuries and age have hurt, but Michael Cuddyer is coming off a .331 batting champion season in 2013 and an injury shortened 49-game campaign last season in which he hit .332. This year with the Mets? He is hitting only .250 and is currently sitting on the DL.

How about a reverse look? 34-year-old Justin Morneau, a former MVP, looked like he was on the backend of his career. From 2011-2013 he strung together averages of .227, .267 and .259 after batting a combined .289 the six seasons previous. He signs a deal with Colorado to start the 2014 season and bang. He wins the NL batting title with a .319 average and has hit .290 in limited action this season.

Back to the bad. From 2006-09, Brad Hawpe hit over 20 homers each season. In 2010 he cooled down and was subsequently traded to Tampa Bay at age 31 after 88 games with Colorado. He would finish the season with nine homers in 103 total games. Hawpe hit four homers the rest of his career and was out of the league after a short stint with the Angels in 2013. His final numbers would total out to a .280 career average with Colorado (.288 average at Coors) and a .193 average in 94 games with other teams.

Over a four-year stint spanning 2005-08, Garrett Atkins mashed 88 homeruns, drove in 419 runs and batted .301. At age 30 in 2010, he signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles and started in 39 games. After 44 appearances he was released that same season after hitting just one homerun and driving in nine runs with a .214 average. Atkins never again played in the Majors.

Call it a gift, call it a curse. Whatever you call it, Coors Field produces hitters but the longevity of those hitters and credibility of those bats can be called into question.

But there is faith for Blue Jay fans and for fans of teams who want to acquire current Rockie hitters. For every Garrett Atkins, there is a Matt Holliday, who passed the test of being just a Coors Field product with flying colors. Holliday spent five seasons (04-08) with Colorado and saw his splits improve; wiping out the idea that he was just a home-show pony.

Year                Home              Road

2004                .338                 .240

2005                .357                 .256

2006                .373                 .280

2007                .341                 .338

2008                .332                 .308

Tulowitzki has shown the same type of progress in his seasons with over 120 appearances:

Year                Home              Road

2007                .326                 .256

2009                .326                 .267

2010                .339                 .291

2011                .310                 .292

2013                .342                 .281

Carlos Gonzalez’s four seasons with over 110 games played, have been a bit more troublesome and even confusing:

Year                Home              Road

2010                .380                 .289

2011                .331                 .252

2012                .368                 .234

2013                .273                 .332

Colorado GM Jeff Bridich is making it more and more likely that Gonzalez is available in a trade. If you’re a team looking to add an impact bat, do you roll the dice on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of baseball? Or do you play it safe and look for more of a “sure-thing”. Decisions, decisions.

Photo By: UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Who’s The King Of The South?: A State Of Georgia NCAA Football Preview

The state of Georgia remains in flux regarding who really is the team to beat. In total there are four FBS schools in the peach state: Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State.  Both UGA and Tech are established programs with rich histories and a national title to their name. Georgia Southern just completed its first year as an FBS program after dominating the FCS and winning six national championships. After three seasons in the FCS, Georgia State joined the big boys in 2013 and has struggled mightily compiling a 1-23 record. The Panthers didn’t have much success in the FCS either, finishing just 10-23.

Georgia Tech won the state championship last year with wins over hated rival Georgia and a nail-biter over upstart Georgia Southern, but will the guard shift back over in favor of Georgia, or will Georgia Tech once again remain atop of the state? Or maybe Georgia Southern, who is now bowl eligible, will steal the show.

Georgia State Panthers

Georgia State (1-11) will likely suffer through another rough season. In 2014 they snagged an exciting 38-37 season opening win against Abilene Christian, an FCS school, but lost 11 straight to end the season and still search for their first win ever against an FBS school. The Panthers rely on gun-slinger Nick Arbuckle who threw for 3,283 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. Arbuckle is back for his senior season and already holds multiple school passing records. Wide receivers Donovan Harden and Robert Davis will remain top targets outside. Harden caught 60 balls for 885 yards and seven scores last year and is a pre-season All-Conference First Team selection. The running game suffered after freshman Krysten Hammon was dismissed from the team early in the season and led to a rushing attack that averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Joel Ruiz was recently ranked as a top five tight end prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft and will be a bright spot on the team.

Georgia Southern Eagles

Georgia Southern (9-3) rolled in their first season in the Sun Belt, winning nine games but were unable to make it to a bowl since it was their first season. The Eagles finished a perfect 8-0 in conference and have established themselves as the team to beat in their new home. Southern easily could have finished 11-1, but late game letdowns led them to a 24-23 season opening loss at North Carolina State and a 42-38 loss at Georgia Tech in a thriller. Quarterback Kevin Ellison returns to run the triple option under center and orchestrates the nation’s No. 1 rushing attack which averaged 381.1 yards per game – 39 more than Georgia Tech. Ellison and running back Matt Breida both rushed for over 1,000 yards and breakoff big plays regularly. The defense will be the deciding factor while playing out of conference teams. The Eagles will be able to outscore all their Sun Belt opponents but once they play the likes of West Virginia and Georgia, their defense will need to hold the powerful athletes of the Big 12 and SEC. Eight defensive starters return including four players who racked up three sacks apiece in 2014.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech stunned and stung opponents en route to an 11-3 season and a blowout Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve, 49-34. Quarterback Justin Thomas was masterful running the triple option but he will now be without backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days. Also departed are wide receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. The Jackets will need to find a way to replace their stable of veteran backs and also find big play wide receivers. Juniors Marcus Allen and Dennis Andrews should get a bulk of the carries while senior Broderick Snoddy returns with the most experience after a gruesome leg injury a year ago. Sophomore Ricky Jeune may be the next in a long line of big receivers to make an impact out wide. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds he has size similar to those who have starred at the position before him. Defensively, eight crucial starters return. Leading tackler PJ Davis is back at linebacker after a 119 tackle campaign his sophomore season. KeShun Freeman brings back his 4.5 sacks that led the team a year ago at defensive end and should see even more success after his Freshman All-American season.

Georgia Bulldogs

UGA (10-3) won 10 games last season but lost in overtime to Georgia Tech, 30-24. Nick Chubb returns and will carry the ball as much as possible. Chubb exploded onto the scene with a 1,547 yard season in the absence of Todd Gurley. Georgia will remain one dimensional on offense unless a quarterback steps up. If one doesn’t the Dawgs will fail to win the SEC East yet again. Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta have all battled for the job. Hutson Mason was a game manager last year and the Dawgs likely won’t have strong quarterback play again. Lambert was prone to head scratching mistakes at UVA and now will face SEC defenses that cause major concerns. Ramsey is the favorite to start and has the most upside but his mettle has yet to be tested. UGA will be without last year’s top two tacklers but have a talented linebacking corps and the nation’s top ranked player in Trent Thompson coming in to anchor the defensive line. Lorenzo Carter, UAB transfer Jake Ganus and Leonard Floyd highlight the linebacker position. Junior Tim Kimbrough is expected to see a lot of time and the talented true freshman Roquan Smith will likely get a shot as well.

What Does The Future Hold?

It will be interesting to see what happens this season. The Dawgs always come in as the prohibitive favorite, but they will be tested in back-to-back games to end the season, hosting Georgia Southern and then visiting Atlanta for a rematch. Much like they did with Tech, don’t be surprised if the Eagles push the Dawgs to the brink with their offensive onslaught. Georgia allowed 399 rushing yards to the Jackets in last year’s defeat and will need to find a way to stop the bleeding this year when they face the two best running teams in the nation. If UGA is able to survive it would surely benefit them as they face the Jackets’ triple option the following week.

It will be a three team race for the battle of state supremacy. There will always be bad blood when Georgia Tech plays Georgia. The Eagles want to start a rivalry with both big schools and not be viewed as a little brother or a non-factor in the state and last season’s game with Tech was a good starting point. If Southern can continue its ascension into elite status in the Sun Belt, they very well could blossom into a BCS buster much like Boise State and Northern Illinois in the past. If that happens, the shift of power in Georgia could greatly change if the Eagles are competitive with both the Jackets and Dawgs. Expect the last weeks of November to be can’t miss action in the state of Georgia and an interesting turning point for the future of football in the south.

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