Crief
1982 NFL strike schedule stuff

So recently I was thinking about the 1982 NFL season, which was shortened to just nine games due to the first ever in-season NFL Players strike, which forced the cancellation of seven weeks of the season.They actually played weeks 1 & 2 before th walkout. Then they resumed with weeks 11-16 and added in one extra week which was a mixture of games from the cancelled weeks.

But to my surprise, there wasn’t any place on the Internet to find access to the actual schedule games blown by the strike. The NFL doesn’t provide access to them anywhere, as if they never were schedule at all.

Well, thanks to a buddy I met on-line, I now have the solution. You see back in the day, Fleer (one of the card trading companies) would produce a set of stickers that had team information on the front and the schedule on the back. he was able to scan them and send them to me. So I have created a space for them here for display for one simple reason.

I’ve created a Wikipedia page, and they are going to need to verify this information. So that is the purpose for this posting with these sticker images. Many many many thanks to Jon Helfenstein for his diligent work in scanning all of these in. Enjoy:

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It’ll be a ‘Yes-vember’ to remember on Inside Sports

While my own personal struggles continue, at the very least I’m staying busy with the various sports ventures in my life. I’ll be posting a new edition of the Bowl gamer Top 20 and Bowl Projections on BowlGamer.com later today. I’ll also be posting the newest edition of the ‘Kings Look Ahead’ series of weekly articles on Examiner.com later today as the first place Kings look to keep things going this week with two home games.

But I’m very excited about the upcoming month of episodes of our weekly sports web-TV series INSIDE SPORTS. Here’s a sampling of the line-up for the next few weeks:

  • November 4 - Charles Smith and I will look back at the first half of the NFL season and look ahead to the second half when we talk with ESPN Radio’s Jake Stevens from the show There It Is!
  • November 11 - We’ll air the interview we shot this past weekend with Mike Emrick. Doc is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and serves as lead broadcaster for the NHL on NBC and the NHL on Versus. We spoke about a wide variety of hockey topics and he was extremely gracious with his time; I know if you love hockey like we do you’ll love this interview
  • November 18 - Speaking of hockey, one of the great analysts from Hockey Night in Canada, Kelly Hrudey will be our guest via telephone. He helped the Kings to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance to date in 1993 and was the winning goalie in the ‘Easter Epic’ playoff game with the Islanders in 1987. We’ll also show you an interview we taped recently with Oregon State’s dynamic running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
  • November 25 - The week of Thanksgiving gives us pause to be thankful for our great guests, and this week they’ll include Tina Cervasio from MSG Network and NBA.TV talking New York Knicks basketball and much more. Tina has also covered the Red Bulls MLS team this season, and has worked in the past as the Red Sox sideline reporter on NESN. We’ll also bring you our interview with USC quarterback Matt Barkley as the Trojans finish their season with Notre Dame that week and UCLA the next.

This week’s show will tape live on Wednesday at 4PM Eastern / 1PM Pacific instead of Tuesday, so I hope you’ll join us live as we record the show on RockMeTV.com and then watch the edited version on Thursday on Exscape.TV. Next week and all weeks that follow, we’ll be in our regular Tuesday taping time slot of 4PM Eastern / 1PM Pacific.

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Nine years later, it still hurts

In the midst of a lot of things happening for me, such as the announcement of two new Web-TV sports weekly shows that I will be co-hosting beginning next week, gearing up for posting reports and stories all day from the LA Kings 2010 Hockey Fest on Saturday, and keeping an eager eye on many big college football games, Saturday is still a day that is as somber as any on the calendar each year. It may have been nine years ago that the terror attacks devastated New York City and our entire country, but I felt many personal losses that year. This includes the death of Jeremy Glick, one of the four men who bravely overtook the terrorists on United Flight 93 and prevented them from flying the plane into the White House, making the ultimate sacrifice in the process.

Here’s a story that I wrote on-line in December of 2001 for AllSports.com that I hope all of you will take a couple of minutes to read today. My thoughts are with everyone that suffered a loss on that day:

Two heroic athletes we should always remember
My Remembrances of Gretchen Dater and Jeremy Glick
December 21, 2001

Christmas is a season of mixed emotions for me. I, like many people, am grateful and thankful for all the blessings I have in my life. These would include first and foremost the members of my family that care deeply for me, as I do for them. Not to mention all the friendships I have developed over the years, and the other blessings too many to mention.

Sports have also been a blessing in my life. I have taken great pleasure in experiencing, both as a competitor and a fan, many moments of success and achievement. Yet, I am also reminded at this time of year, especially this year, of all the evil in the world. I am reminded of how powerless I really am, and how mortal I really am.

Sports, and the athletes that participate in them, have always been a coping device for me. I have been a sports fanatic all my life. Love to play sports, love to watch sports, love to talk about sports. In part, I think this is because the people I developed friendships with growing up also had similar levels of interests in sports like me.That’s why I want to take a moment to recognize two of my friends that I can’t celebrate this season of cheer with. These are two people who I knew in my younger days, and I knew them then, and now, as athletes.

Their names are Gretchen Dater and Jeremy Glick.Every year on December 21st since 1988, I remember Gretchen Dater, my former classmate at Saddle River Day School. Actually, I think about her often, but the anniversary date of when she and 269 others died as a result of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbee, Scotland, amplifies it. My recollections of her are of a kind and gentle young woman, someone who always wore a smile on her face and enjoyed a good laugh. My recollections of her are of a young woman who was beautiful, at an age when a young man starts to really notice those kinds of things about young women.

My recollections mostly, though, are of a school girl who didn’t buy into the stereotype of most girls back then, which was not to play sports with a passion like boys did. Mind you, this was before the explosion and popularity of women’s sports in this country. This was before women’s tennis and golf tours were popular, before the WNBA, before the WPSL.Gretchen played sports with a fearlessness you rarely found in girls in those days. Whether it was in physical education class, or the girl’s soccer team, she always played hard. When she played floor hockey (my sport of choice) in “Phys Ed” class, she not only knew how to shoot a puck, she shot it hard. She always had my respect for that. To me, she wasn’t just another pretty girl.

She was an athlete.Maybe that’s why hearing of her tragic and untimely death was so hard for me to accept when I first heard about it. She had so many positive qualities. Even when I knew her, you could see her artistic talents and abilities. These talents were what led her to become an art student at Syracuse University, and eventually an exchange student in London, from where she was returning home for the holidays when tragedy struck.

It was also hard to accept because it personalized the tragedy. It made acutely aware, in the early stages of adulthood, just how quickly and senselessly it could all come to an end.Every year on the anniversary, my thoughts and feelings are always ones of anger and sorrow. Her parents were among those who championed the cause to bring those who did this unspeakable act to justice. Two such men were convicted this past January for this crime in the Netherlands, yet the real mastermind of these murders, Muammar Qaddafi and the government of Libya, remains “at large” in my mind.

Yet, tragically, we as a nation did not learn the lessons of December 21st, the lessons of air safety and the safety of our citizens that Pan Am Flight 103 taught us. For the families of the victims of that horrible terrorist attack, they have been left to ponder why it took our government 12 years and the unfortunate events of September 11th to become so enraged at state-sponsored terrorism and so united in purpose to defeat it.For me, I wonder why I had to lose another friend. I knew Jeremy through his brother, Jonah, whom I was a classmate of for four years at Saddle River Day School. Jonah was a good friend for the years I attended school there. I attended his Bar Mitzvah, and it was through this friendship that I came to know Jeremy, as well as his other siblings.

My father put a basketball hoop and backboard on my driveway so that I could have friends over to play games with. He even put “flood lights” up so I could play at night. Jonah was one of those friends who played ball with us. My recollection is that he liked the idea of playing basketball at home so much, he convinced his father to take a section of their backyard, dig it up and pour in concrete so Jonah and his brothers could have a “home court” advantage.I can distinctly remember many Sunday afternoons playing basketball with Jonah and Jeremy, and their little brother Jared, as well as other kids. Just like at my house, they had “flood lights” put up so the games could extend into the night hours.

I also remember both Jonah and Jeremy as being extremely skilled in judo and wrestling, as well as soccer. They may not have looked physically imposing, but believe me, they were as strong as anyone I knew back then at my age. I was taller than them growing up, so I used my height advantage in basketball games, but it was never easy matching up against them in any sport they played.I lost touch with them after I transferred to a different high school. It turns out, from what I’ve read since September 11th, it was a huge loss for me that I lost touch with them.

After all, if you’ve read any of the accounts of the kind of family man, father, friend, brother and hero Jeremy has been portrayed in the stories since the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, wouldn’t you agree he was the kind of person you’d want to have in your life? When I first heard his name in connection with the story, it didn’t register. After all, I assumed it couldn’t be the same person I knew.Yet, when I read the story with quotes from his older sister, Jennifer, and from his mother, Joan, I cried like my own brother had died. In some ways, for that period of my life, he was my brother.

He was an athlete.My regrets about Gretchen and Jeremy, other than them not still being alive, is that I didn’t know them more than I did. Yet, I knew them enough to remember the many good things they had to offer. I am proud to say that I knew them both, and the memories I have of them, albeit minor ones, will be memories of passion and athletic determination that I will carry with me forever. Knowing the kind of people they were, and how valiantly they faced the defining moment of their lives, I only hope I have the same kind of courage if put in the same situation.

Sportswriter Mike Lupica said shortly after September 11th that he will never again use phrases such as heroic and courageous to describe athletes again in the games we watch. I couldn’t agree with him more.

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Crief news and notes entering Labor Day weekend 2010

A lot happening lately, so I thought I’d update all of you following me at this moment:

  • SoCal Sports Weekly is a weekly radio show that is all about sports played in southern California on all levels. We started in July and produced six episodes over the previous two months. We were very proud to have accomplished so much in so little time. However, our broadcast partners at No Antenna Needed Radio have closed their doors due to some internal issues. We are very sorry that they are no longer able to operate at this time, as we saw much growth potential for both our show on their network, and their network in general. Tim and Cassie are great people and tried their best to facilitate an organization that would allow shows like mine to have a place to grow. I wish them well in the future. Meantime, we are in discussions with several hosting entities to bring the show back in a couple of weeks. Unlike the demise of my Sports Journey shows last year, both Charles Smith (who is my broadcasting partner) and I are commited to seeing the show return and continue to serve the need of the fans in this area that we were already connecting with.
  • Charles and I are now partners in the website “Inside Sports" which you can find by clicking this link. We are in the process of relaunching the site with fresh written, video, and audio content. We’ll be uploading the previously produced episodes of SoCal Sports Weekly this weekend and posting them on the Inside Sports website. In the next few days, we hope to have several major announcements about new programming that we will be co-hosting on various internet locations. We’ve been working tirelessly on these projects and know that our audience will find them to be every bit as entertaining and informational as you would expect from us. This will not only include the return of SoCal Sports Weekly, but the beginning of two web-TV projects that we’re excited about bringing to you on a weekly basis. So be sure to visit the Inside Sports website every day.
  • After posting preview pieces for all 11 major conferences and the three independent teams playing in the top division of NCAA football, now my role with Bowl Gamer is going to involve writing commentary and feature pieces for the website on a wide variety of college football topics. Today I’ve posted my thoughts on last night’s season-opening action, which include Utah’s overtime upset of Pittsburgh and Middle Tennessee’s near upset of Minnesota. Click here to read it and I encourage you to make Bowl Gamer a destination throughout the college football season. I’ll not just be writing about the important stories happening in college football, but also on the stories that you should be reading about across the entire landscape of college football. We hope to growing our staff of writers in the months to come as well.
  • On the LA Kings front, I’m excited that the start of training camp is right around the corner. Hockey Fest takes place next Saturday, September 11th, at the Kings practice facility in El Segundo. This year is just a day-long event, but should be just as fun and filled with great stories as last year’s inaugural event was. I’ll be there covering the event, and the start of the rookie training camp that day as well, for Examiner as I begin my third season covering the club for Examiner. By the way, there is still tickets available for Hockey Fest, which is limiting the number of people that can attend this year - click here for more information on Hockey Fest ‘10. And if you want the run down for what is going next Saturday at the event, read my story on Examiner by clicking here.
  • I’m disappointed that the Dodgers weren’t able to stay in the pennant race longer this summer, but it was a thrill to get to cover the team in a limited role for Examiner this summer. The Dodgers themselves were very accomodating, especially their PR department which rivals that of the Kings as the best I’ve ever dealt with in more than 10 years writing about sports on-line and in print. As for the drama in the courtroom, here’s hoping that ends swiftly and without appeal, though I’m sure this is only the beginning of the story and not the end of it. Dodger fans deserve better than this.
  • If you have been following my tweets and facebook postings over the past week, then you know the little free time I’ve had not chasing after our projects has been spent drafting various fantasy football teams. I was all set to take part live in the league that I have served as commissioner of since the beginning in 2007 known as the Kokua Football League. But one of those important meetings that Charles and I needed to take was at the same time last night, so I had to count on my pre-ranked lists to help my team in that league. I did all right, in large part because of a pre-draft trade I made with another owner where I acquired an additional first round draft choice as part of a package which saw me sacrifice my 2nd and 3rd round picks. So while others had three players after three rounds I only had two, but they were two of the top ten overall in Michael Turner and Frank Gore. I’m in the process of trying to make some manuvers over this weekend to have the team more accurately reflect my vision. One more draft coming on Monday, part of a league I’ve been a part of more than half my life. Next week I’ll reveal all of the teams.
  • Also coming next week on the Inside Sports site will be my annual predictions for the coming NFL season. If you have ever heard of the ‘million dollar fumble’ then you will know the identity of the two cities that I project will place teams into the Super Bowl this coming February in Dallas. Football is back, and hockey is soon behind it. So very happy about both being back in play.
  • Finally, I wish to extend three very special birthday wishes to three very special people in my life: one of them is my best friend Patrick, who I’ve been friends with now for 34 years. He doesn’t hit the big 4-0 until next September, so he’ll just have to content with one more year in his thirties. Some of the best moments of my life were spent with him, and I cherish that friendship.  A second special birthday wish is for my niece Isabella. I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like to, and that’s mostly my fault for not being a better brother to her father and a better brother-in-law to her mother - I hope to rectify that in the very near future. But she and her younger sister Genevive are awesome, and I am very pleased to know that they are a family that has fun and loves each other as much as possible.
  • Lastly, my father hit 65 on Wednesday. He spent most of it at the airport in Dallas with my wonderful step-mom Peggy, waiting to connect to California for a visit. The connecting flight was scheduled for Burbank but was cancelled, and they wound up having to go into LAX much later than anyone wanted. Still, considering that three months ago there was a chance (although I was assured it was slight) he might not be around at all, I’m sure he was happy to be able to be anywhere, and I was glad to have the chance to talk to him for a few minutes to tell him just that. It’s good knowing that he is still around and I’m hoping to have a chance to see him while he’s here. I know most of you that know me also know him from our Montvale/PHHS/New Milford days, and I know you all wish the best for him too, which always makes me pause to realize how cool that is.

Hope everyone enjoys the last weekend of summer - football is back!

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Five things to watch for in every FBS conference

The 2010 college football season is about to get started. In 48 hours, there will be games kicking off across the country. Over the last few months I have been contributing to a new website called Bowl Gamer. It is a website that has a lot of great things coming to it over the next few months. It is a site that I feel very passionate about and want to see do well.

In the last few months, I have started my contributions by looking at what is ahead for each of the major conferences at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, formerly known as Division I-A. Here is a look at each of those 11 conferences and the three independent teams:


Five things to watch for in the ACC

1. Bobby is out and Jimbo is in – For the first time since 1975, the Florida State Seminoles will enter a college football season without Bobby Bowden as their head coach.  The decision was reached after the conclusion of the regular season that Jimbo Fisher, the ‘head coach in waiting’ for the last several seasons, would take over the program from Bowden, who went out on a high note with an upset victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.  Fisher will need to deal with several obvious distractions, including the loss of scholarships for the next four years as part of a probation agreement reached between the Seminoles and the NCAA.  Christian Ponder returns at quarterback for the Noles, as does their leading rusher Jermaine Thomas and three of their top four receivers.  On defense, their two top tacklers Nigel Bradham and Kendall Smith return, but they must replace their top sack artist and the defense, now lead by new coordinator Mark Stoops, must also generate more turnovers.

2. An upward trend for ‘The U’? – This is the season where we find out if the Miami Hurricanes have turned the corner and are on their way back to being one of the big dogs on the block.  A 9-4 record isn’t exactly dominating, but considering the Virginia Tech loss was the only one by double digits and the Hurricanes were that close to a monster season.  Randy Shannon has brought stability back to the program, and quarterback Jacory Harris (24 touchdown passes and 3352 passing yards) has brought leadership back.  Shannon would like to see Harris reduce the number of turnovers (17 interceptions) though.  Defensively, the Canes return Allen Bailey and Marcus Robinson, their top two pass rushers from last season, but Shannon hopes for more ball-hawking in the secondary as Miami grabbed just nine interceptions all season.  The Canes might want to think about breaking out the famous fatigues on the road this season, as they facing a gauntlet of roadies at Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Clemson all in a row in September and later a visit to Georgia Tech.

3. ‘Mark’ing his territory again – The feel-good story of the season will no doubt take place at Boston College where linebacker Mark Herzlich will return after battling a form of bone cancer that at the very least cost him his 2009 season.  Earlier this month, Herzlich was declared fully healthy and took part in spring practice drills.  He was named as part of the watch list for the 2010 Lott Trophy, given annually to the defensive player in the nation that has the biggest impact on their team.  In 2008, Herzlich was a three-time winner of the ACC defensive player of the week, as he led the team with 110 tackles, 13 of those for loss.  If he returns to form on the field this fall, he’ll be more than just a feel-good story; he’ll be the reason why Frank Spaziani’s crew will go bowling once again and be in contention in the ACC Atlantic.

4. Can Georgia Tech hit a ‘triple’ with the triple option? – The Yellow Jackets have turned back the clock on college football, showing in Paul Johnson’s first two seasons, and have maintained that you can still run the triple option with success in a major conference.  The question now is can that success be sustained.  Two division titles and a conference championship in two seasons would seem to leave little room for doubt.  Trigger man Josh Nesbitt returns for his junior season after throwing for 1701 yards and 10 touchdown tosses and rushing for 1205 yards on the ground and adding a team-high 18 scoring TD’s.  But gone are lead runner Jonathan Dwyer and lead receiver Demaryius Thomas, and on the defensive side of the ball the Yellow Jackets lose three of their top five tacklers including top sack man and first round draft choice Derek Morgan.

5. Is there pressure on Tom O’Brien to have success at NC State this season? – We know entering the season that there will be at least one head coaching change at the end of the season, as Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen will step down. But there is growing concern that O’Brien maybe feeling some heat on his head coaching seat in Raleigh. He came from Boston College highly regarded with a solid record. But O’Brien has had losing records in each of his first three seasons with the Wolfpack, and the 2009 campaign saw them go from starting at 3-1 and feeling like the corner had been turned to a disaster where they lost four straight and six out of seven. More disturbing is that the defense allowed 30 or more points during each of those games, including giving up 49 points to Duke in a 21-point home defeat that brought the boo birds out. The off-season has also been a struggle for the Wolfpack as four players were cited for drug possession including all-ACC tight end George Bryan. Having Big East champion Cincinnati added to this year’s schedule doesn’t help much either.

Five things to watch for in the Big East

1. Dealing with the league change rumors: In 2004, Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC, and were joined by Boston College a year later. Many said it would spell the end of the conference in football by losing three prominent programs. Instead, they smartly added Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida from Conference USA, and the lack of two heavyweights at the top of the league allowed schools like Rutgers and Connecticut to build their programs up. It’s clear that Notre Dame, a member in every sport but football, is the key to the latest potential shake-up. If they join the Big Ten in all sports, then the Big Ten might be satisfied with that and leave the Big East alone. If not, then Syracuse would be next in line to possibly be ‘recruited’.

2. Can Cincinnati reload quickly: The Bearcats will enter the 2010 season with a new head coach in Butch Jones, a new full time starting quarterback in Zach Collaros, and must find someone to take over the big-play wide receiver spot formerly occupied by Mardy Gilyard. The defense does return three of their top four tacklers from a year ago. The opener at Fresno State feels like a trap game; if they get through that one in good shape, they could be poised to make another BCS bowl run.

3. Is Dion Lewis the next Tony Dorsett: there is no denying the production (1799 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns) that Lewis delivered in stepping into LeSean McCoy’s shoes as the main back in the backfield for Pittsburgh. But with quarterback Bill Stull having moved on, teams will be more willing to stack more defenders in the box to slow Lewis down until either Pat Bostick or Tino Sunseri steps up as the main guy under center. If the passing game continue to use the potential All-American skills of Jon Baldwin in stretching the field, Lewis could be an early favorite for Heisman consideration.

4. Is this finally the year Rutgers gets it done: they do return running backs Joe Martinek and Kordell Young, quarterback Tom Savage and wide out Mohamed Sanu. Greg Schiano has taken Rutgers to unprecedented heights in his tenure; consider that traditional powers USC, Ohio State, LSU, Miami, and Virginia Tech did not have a single player selected in the first round of last month’s NFL Draft but that Rutgers had two players (Anthony Davis and Devin McCourty) selected. So is this finally the year that a season-ending conference title leads to Pandemonium in Piscataway?

5. Which first year coach figures to have the most first season success: we may have answered that already in Butch Jones with Cincinnati. But keep an eye on the other two new coaches in the league: Skip Holtz left behind a successful program that he rebuilt at East Carolina to take over at South Florida - the Bulls were always a talented bunch but unable to win big games, so we’ll see if Holtz is able to gleam any big-game exploits from his father; Charlie Strong also comes from a program rich with success and tradition, but now Strong will be tasked with more than just the defensive unit, which was his last post at Florida - the Cardinals struggled the last three seasons following Bobby Petrino’s departure, and it will be up to Strong find answers on offense.


Five things to watch for in the Big Ten

1. Heisman requiring Pryor experience? - After struggling through a mid-season crisis of confidence, Ohio State quarterback Terrell Pryor led the Buckeyes to the outright conference title last season. It marked the fifth straight year that Ohio State has won at least a share of the conference title, and any hopes to match a team and conference record of six straight will again hinge largely on Pryor’s talents. His junior season is shaping up to be much talked about among Heisman Trophy followers. Having Brandon Saine and top receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, along with four returning starters on the O-Line, should increase both the Buckeyes chances and Pryor’s candidacy as well.

2. Sorry coach but a seat warmer wasn’t installed during the off-season: Perhaps no one in college football will feel more pressure to have a winning record this coming season than Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. In fairness, when trying to completely overhaul an offensive philosophy, you need a couple of years to implement the right kind of recruits to make said offense work. So all eyes will be on quarterback Tate Forcier to build upon last season’s numbers (2,050 passing yards and 13 TD’s) and be more consistent for the Wolverines to continue their upward ascension in the conference. But Forcier needs help from two key skill players: Denard Robinson, at 5.1 vayrds per carry and five TD’s last season, is likely to see the majority of the rushing attempts with the departures of Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor; and wide out Junior Hemingway needs to emerge as the receiver for whom Forcier tolls.

3. Now playing the role of Ray Kinsella = Kirk Ferentz: After three subpar seasons in which his team combined for a 19-18 record, the last two season have seen Ferentz’s Hawkeyes return to form from the middle of last decade. Many have said that because his name is no longer mentioned for every hot college and NFL job, Ferentz has been able to re-focus and re-dedicate his full attention to the Iowa program. If that’s the case, the lean years may pay long-term dividends for Iowa fans. Ricky Stanzi returns at quarterback, but will need to weather the early season games in which 60% of his offensive line get their feet collectively wet as first-time starters.

4. How the heck does JoePa keep doing it: Seems like the ‘Has the game passed Joe Paterno by’ questions are now significantly in the rear view mirror. After having just one winning season between 2000 and 2004, the Nittany Lions have had five straight seasons with nine or more victories, including back-to-back 11-2 records. Duplicating that for a third straight season may prove difficult with the loss of six defensive starters and quarterback Daryll Clark. This means more focus of the offense will be on tailback Evan Royster (1169 yds, 6TD) to not only steady the offense but reduce the defense’s exposure to the field early in the season. Road game at Alabama second week of season will be litmus test.

5. Don’t forget about the Badgers: The team that may have the best chance to rise up and steal the flag is Wisconsin. They won ten games last season, and return 16 starters from a season ago. This includes ten starters returning on offense for coach Bret Bielema. John Clay maybe the most undervalued running back in the country; all five starters on the offensive line are back, quarterback Scott Tolzien completed over 64% of his passes a year ago; and Al Toon’s son Nick Toon is primed to have a breakout season. Their season comes down to two consecutive weeks: October 16 at home versus Ohio State and October 23 at Iowa; if they win these two games, they’ll be in position to win the conference.


Five things to watch for in the Big 12

1. Double G replaces a Colt - Imagine having to replace a four-year starter as quarterback of one of the most influential programs in all of college football. A daunting task for most sophomores to be sure, but for Garrett Gilbert that was part of the challenge that came with coming to Texas. And if his performance in the BCS National Championship Game last January in relief of an injured Colt McCoy is any indication, at the very least we know he can stare down the gun barrel of pressure. But as important as Gilbert’s ability to replace McCoy is to the Longhorns chances, equally as necessary is the performance of James Kirkendall and Malcolm Williams, both of whom will be asked to help replace the loss of Jordan Shipley.

2. Uncle Turner, you aren’t in Buffalo anymore - Someone should also make sure that Turner Gill, one of the brightest coaching prospects to come along in a long time, knows he’s not in Lincoln either. The Jayhawks maybe a basketball school, but their football fans and boosters have had issues dealing with success when it does come there way. The school fired Mark Mangino after a 5-7 season, his first losing season in five years. The four intervening years saw KU win 33 games, appear in three bowl games (winning all three) and go to the 2008 Orange Bowl. The last time Kansas had four consecutive non-losing seasons was 1959-1964 when their backfield included John Hadl and Gale Sayers. By the way, November 13 is Gill’s first visit with the Jayhawks to Lincoln.

3. Scoreboard malfunction in Lubbock - It would seem as if the days of the Red Raiders offense lighting up scoreboards across the country like a pinball machine would seem to be over as Tommy Tuberville takes over as head coach following the controversial dismissal of Mike Leach. Tuberville’s MO is all about ball control and defense; one reason he was removed at Auburn was because of the offensive struggles by the Tigers in his last few seasons. It will seem to the uninitiated as if the Red Raiders struggles will be because of Tuberville. But it may be unfair to judge them until at least 2012, when Tuberville has established what kind of team the program will be moving forward.

4. Next in line under center for the Sooners - Unlike Garrett Gilbert down in Austin, the new quarterback in Norman who is replacing an award-winning starter at quarterback has some in-season experience to build on. Landry Jones is also a sophomore like Gilbert, but due to the two separate injuries suffered by Sam Bradford last season, Jones was thrust into the lineup. And all that Jones did was break Bradford’s school record for passing yards by a freshman. His 3,121 yards and 26 TD tosses, combined with 17 returning starters from a season ago, have many thinking the Sooners may indeed be back on top in the Big 12 this season.

5. Trying to replace a boy named Suh - It’s not just the uncertainty of a future in a new league that stares the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the face. The Cornhuskers are the presumptive favorites in the Big 12 North this season coming off a 10 win season and with 19 starters returning. But one gaping hole will be created by the graduation of All-American Ndamukong Suh. He recorded 24 tackles for loss last season alone, and his presence signaled the return of the famed ‘Black Shirts’ defense. Head coach Bo Pelini must replace Suh in order for Nebraska to compete in the Big 12 title game.


Five things to watch for in the Conference USA

1. Making a “Case” for the Heisman - Voters for this year’s Heisman Trophy will, as always, use a wide-variety of barometers to determine the identity of the player that the voters will cast their ballots upon. One measure will be to look simply at sheer numbers, and this would be the area in which Houston’s Case Keenum figures to be a major part of the discussion this season. Keenum topped the 5,000 yard passing mark for the second straight season, and his 5671 yards in 2009 was third best in NCAA history for a single season. He has thrown for over 300 passing yards in 25 of his last 28 contests, and thrown at least two TD tosses or more in 24 of his last 27 games. With two of his top receivers, James Cleveland and Patrick Edwards, back for another campaign, look for Keenum to force comparisons to Andre Ware’s Heisman campaign of 1989.

2. Dealing with the “Super Conference” distraction - Every time that one of the six major conferences begins talk about expanding their ranks, leagues like Conference USA hold their breath. When the ACC raided three schools over two years from the Big East in the early 2000’s, the Big East in turn grabbed three football playing members from Conference USA in 2005. This forced Conference USA to scramble and add in four schools from the WAC and two from the MAC. When conversations this past spring began anew about the forming of Super Conferences, there were some grumblings that once again Conference USA would be forced to shuffle the deck. Instead, with only a few teams around the country moving, Conference USA kept their membership intact. For how long remains the big question moving forward.

3. East Carolina getting “Ruffin” tumble - There are three new head coaches in the Conference USA ranks this season, and all at interesting locations. The most intriguing of these occur at East Carolina, where former Pirates defensive great Ruffin McNeill tries to prove that you can go home again as the new coach. McNeill replaces Skip Holtz, who left to take the vacant job at South Florida. McNeill does come to campus with an impressive resume of coaching stops, most recently the defensive coordinator and one-game interim head coach at Texas Tech, where he had been on-staff the last decade. But it won’t be easy for McNeill to keep thing rolling as Holtz had; only five offensive and two defensive starters from last season return to try and life the Pirates to a three-peat as league champions.

4. The “Porter House” in Memphis, and Does “Doc” have a Marshall plan - The two other new head coaches take over at Memphis and Marshall. Larry Porter, another former player hoping to return to campus and have coaching glory where playing glory previously occurred, takes over the Tigers and is asked to resurrect a program which has seen better days (one winning season in last four). Porter was on both the Oklahoma State and LSU staffs for Les Miles, and twice has been recognized as the best recruiting assistant coach in the nation. As for Marshall, their new boss is John “Doc” Holliday. He also has a reputation for recruiting acumen, and is hoping his 31 years of experience can stem the tide for the Thundering Herd. Before Bob Pruett’s final season in 2004, the Thundering Herd roared with a mighty record of eight seasons of 88-17. But counting Pruett’s final season, they’ve been the ‘Stumbling’ Herd with a mark of 29-43.

5. The Pony Express finally rides again - People said June Jones was crazy to leave a cushy situation like the one he had built up at Hawaii to be the latest to try and revive the SMU program from a quarter-century post-Death Penalty slumber. And after going 1-11 in 2008, it seemed as though those critics were right. But in going 8-5 last year with the Mustangs, Jones posted not only the first winning season since 1986, but the eight wins were the most since 1984. Despite having 13 freshman or sophomore starters, the Mustangs were impressive and led by quarterback Kyle Padron - he threw for 10 TD’s and 1922 yards in 201 attempts, and will take the full control of the offense this coming season. Not since the days of Eric Dickerson and Craig James paired together as the Pony Express backfield has there been this much excitement for a season at SMU.


Five things to watch for in the MAC

1. The Chippewa Legend Lives On - When people of a certain age think of the word chippewa, they often think of the line from the Gordon Lightfoot song about the ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’. But these days, the Central Michigan football team has come to allow for a new generation to think of the song in terms of gridiron excellence in the MAC. Once again, the program will be tested with Dan Enos taking over for Butch Jones, the third such coaching change over the last decade. CMU also looks to replace the conference player of the year in quarterback Dan LeFevour, who threw for 3438 yards and 28 touchdowns a season ago. Either Brandon Fricke or Ryan Radcliff need to assume command quickly though; after opening with Hampton, the Chippewas face Temple in an important early-season cross-divisional matchup.

2. Temple Giving Fans reasons to give a hoot - To say that head coach Al Golden has revived the program at Temple is dramatically understating things. After decades of dispair and frustration, fans have seen Golden put his definitive stamp on the Owls program. They have progressed upwards each season from 1-11 in 2006 to 4-8 in 2007, then to 5-7 in 2008, all leading to last year’s remarkable 9-4 mark. The winning record was the first since 1990 and only the second since 1984. The outlook continues to be bright for the owls with 16 starters returning this season, including sensational running back Bernard Pierce coming off a 1361 yard-16 touchdown effort last season. The defense does lose leading tackler Alex Joseph but does return Muhammad Wilkerson and his 6 1/2 sacks. The 9-4 record came about despite losing the first two games of the season to Villanova and Penn State. After hopefully gaining their revenge against the Wildcats, Temple will then play their likely three toughest opponents of the season in a row when they host CMU and Connecticut and then play at Penn State. If they somehow go 4-0 in that stretch, they might become the next ‘BCS Buster’ darlings from the mid-majors.

3. Bullish on “The Mighty Quinn” - Jeff Quinn takes over the Buffalo program following the departure of Turner Gill to Kansas. Quinn is no stranger to the MAC, having served as offensive coordinator for Central Michigan’s revival under Brian Kelly from 2004 through 2006. Quinn has been a coach for 26 years in the college game, but except for two one-game stints replacing Kelly in bowl games for CMU in 2006 and Cincinnati last year, has never been the head man of a program. He does benefit from nine returning defensive starters and four offensive line starters. If Buffalo can settle on a quarterback, and right now it appears as if the competition between Jerry Davis and Alex Dennison will come down to the wire, Quinn can put the Bulls back on the winning side of the ledger.

4. Bowling for Bobcats - While Temple figures to be the trendy pick in the East Division, two other teams should not be overlooked. In advance of our article later this week previewing 10 Must See Games in the MAC, circle this date on your calendar: October 9th, when Ohio visits Bowling Green. These two teams are both well coached by Frank Solich for the Bobcats and Dave Clawson for the Falcons. Ohio has struggled in recent outings against the Falcons, though they have won two of the last three. The Bobcats won the division last year on the strength of their head-to-head wins against Bowling Green and Temple. Whichever team can overcome the loss of key players to graduation and perform well in this game will likely set up a showdown versus Temple for the division title this year.

5. Who is the next big deal to come out of the MAC? - The conference has produced some terrific NFL players over the years, including: Ben Roethlisberger, Jack Lambert, Byron Leftwich, Phil Villapiano, Chad Pennington, and Randy Moss. It has also been referred to as ‘The Cradle of College Coaches’, having been the proving grounds for coaching greats such as: Bo Schembechler, Don James, Jim Grobe, Gary Pinkel, Turner Gill, and Urban Meyer. So who’s next from the MAC? Well among coaches, you have to figure that if Temple wins their division and then the league title that Golden’s name will be mentioned for big time program openings. As for players, Pierce at Temple is the league’s returning rushing leader, and Spencer Keith at Kent State showed flashed of brilliance for the Kent State Golden Flashes as a freshman quarterback. Two other players to watch for will be in the same backfield for a team that figures to make some noise this season: Northern Illinois has a promising quarterback in Chandler Harnish and tailback Chad Spann gained 1038 yards and scored 19 rushing touchdowns last year for the Huskies.


Five things to watch for in the Mountain West

1. Soon to be ‘Ute’-less - Despite becoming one of the dominant programs within their region, the University of Utah decided to look long-term at their prospects and have chosen to leave the Mountain West after this collegiate year for the Pac-10. But before they say goodbye, they might be poised to make a run at one last league title in the Mountain West. Kyle Whittingham has eight returning offensive starters from a team that won ten games a year ago. Eddie Wide knows how to run in the narrow lanes between the tackles, gaining 1069 rushing yards with 12 scores a season ago. Jordan Wynn took over at quarterback for Terrance Cain and was named Offensive MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl. If he continues to play that well this season, Utah just might make it one for the road.

2. Color the conference Blue with envy - In this year’s Mountain West Media Guide, the league already has a page devoted to incoming member Boise State, looking ahead already to next season when the Broncos officially join the league. And while it’s a significant move for the school with the blue-colored playing surface, it’s also interesting to note how well they’ve already played against their soon-to-be league rivals. The Broncos are 11-1 all-time against MWC opponents, including that 17-10 triumph over TCU in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. So while no one in the MWC is fearful of the Boise State program oining the league, and they know that it will further add competitive balance to their league, there is a sense that the days of dominance by BYU and TCU maybe history.

3. Cougars roar in Provo - Speaking of Brigham Young University and the name Bronco, the Cougars coach is Bronco Mendenhall and he has restored BYU to the glory days of the 1980’s when the program was posting double-digit win seasons every year. He’s 49-15 in six seasons, but this might be his most challenging season to date in Provo. The Cougars lose 12 starters, seven of which were on defense. He does see the return of hard-hitting safety Andrew Rich, who led the club with 85 tackles and who’s two jarring tackles forced a pair of critical fumbles in the season-opening upset of Oklahoma. But the Cougars have two very important players to replace on offense: Harvey Unga, the school’s all-time leading rusher, left for the NFL. Meanwhile, Riley Nelson must fill the void left by quarterback Max Hall (3560 yards and 33 TD) in order for the Cougars to not miss a step.

4. Sounding the Horn for the Frogs - Mendenhall isn’t the only coach with an impressive MWC pedigree; so too is Texas Christian University’s Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs are coming off an undefeated regular season, which included impressive road wins at Clemson, Air Force, and a 38-7 thrashing of the Cougars in provo. TCU is posied to make another run at the top of the league this season with the return of 16 starters, including nine on the offensive side. QB Andy Dalton begins the season with the most victories among signal callers currently playing in the entire country with 29, which ties him with Sammy Baugh for the school record. He’s thrown just 24 interceptions in 1001 career attempts, third lowest among active FBS quarterbacks. If wide receiver Jeremy Kerley can continue to provide the same spark to the offense (leading the team with 44 catches) that he has in special teams (ranks in top 22 in the nation in punt and kick return average), TCU will be making plans for another New Year’s Day bowl game.

5. Are they Rebels with a cause? - The only new coach to the league this season is Bobby Hauck at UNLV. Hauck comes from Montana, where he established the Grizzlies as a top-flight FCS championship contender. In seven seasons at Montana, he went 80-17, qualifying for the playoffs every season, and taking Montana to three championship game appearances. The Rebels do have 16 returning starters from a season ago, including quarterback Omar Clayton and two of his top three receivers from a season ago in Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson. Hauck must have his team weather a brutal two-game open to the schedule with a visit from Wisconsin and then a trip to Utah right out of the gate. They also play roadies at West Virginia and Hawaii. Most telling though will be the three-game stretch between October and November 13 when they play TCU at home, travel to BYU, and then host Wyoming. The formula for the Rebels returning to a bowl this season is by sweeping the other six games on their schedule and winning just one of the previously mentioned seven head-knockers.


Five things to watch for in the Pac-10

1. Retreat of the Trojans - For the past nine seasons, and in particular for seven of those nine seasons, the University of Southern California was not only one of the preeminent programs in college football, but the gold standard in the Pac Ten. Between 2002 and 2008 (before the NCAA stripped them of 14 wins due to violations that are being appealed) the Trojans posted a record of 82-9, including six BCS bowl wins in seven appearances during that span. Now that Pete Carroll has migrated back to the NFL, Lane Kiffin must try to survive and thrive while the program tries to entangle itself from violation issues. Matt Barkley is back under center and has Ronald Johnson to throw to, as well as Allen Bradford to run the ball. What remains to be seen is if transfers by players such as D.J. Shoemate are the exception or become the rule.

2. What does Stanford do for an encore? - After years of struggling on the field following the departure of Tyrone Willingham to Notre Dame, the Cardinal are back as a force to be dealt with. Jim Harbaugh has rebuilt the program on the fly and last year’s eight wins were the most by Stanford since 2001. Now the word expectation creeps into the discussion for Stanford. The bad news is that Toby Gerhart and his 1871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns are gone. The good news is that 15 starters return from a season ago. This includes quarterback Andrew Luck and seven other starters on offense. Stepfan Taylor and Jeremy Stewart will be counted on to pick up the slack for Gerhart’s departure. On defense, Thomas Keiser will look to build upon a breakout sophomore season in which he led the Cardinal in tackles for loss (15) and quarterback sacks (9).

3. Can the Heisman Trophy wind up in the “Locker” room? - If people are calling Jim Harbaugh the Pac Ten’s answer to a miracle worker, then what label can we slap on the successful start to Steve Sarkisian’s career as the Huskies head man? This is a program which went winless in 2008, and jumped up last year to post five wins, four of which were in the conference. They knocked off USC and blew out California, and lost by less than nine points to LSU, Notre Dame, Arizona State, and UCLA. The big returning for Washington is quarterback Jake Locker. He led the team and the conference in total offense and tossed for 21 TD passes and ran for another seven. He’ll be aided by nine fellow returning starters on offense, including tailback Chris Polk (1113 yards rushing last season), and top receivers Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, and James Johnson.

4. Do the Bruins now replace the Trojans as the ‘Big Dog’ in Los Angeles? - This will be the 15th college football season since Terry Donahue left UCLA to become a broadcaster and later an NFL general manager in San Francisco. In the years since his departure from Westwood, the Bruins have gone through a period of inconsistency. They’ve won 10 games three times, though not since 2005, and have a combined mark in that span of 95-73. But if you take out the back-to-back 10-2 records from 1997 and 1998, they are 75-69 in the other 13 seasons. So year three of the Rick Neuheisel era is filled with growing expectations. Kevin Prince took his lumps as the Bruins signal caller last season, and returns with his top two receivers from a season ago, Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario, in tact. If either Jonathan Franklin or Derrick Coleman can step up and be a lead back that can prevent the offense from second-and-long situations, the Bruins should see an increase in scoring. This will help offset the loss of six starters on defense. The strength of the defense is in the secondary, led by junior free safety Rahim Moore and his ten interceptions from a season ago. A strong showing by the Bruins this season, which must include a win over their cross-town rivals, could signal a change in the pecking order in the conference.

5. Pac-10 Title could be decided in the ‘Civil War’ - The annual clash between Oregon and Oregon State included added intrigue last season as the Pac Ten title was also on the line. The Ducks 37-33 home win in Eugene over the Beavers allowed them to play in the Rose Bowl. This year’s contest will be played in Corvallis and figures to again be the deciding contest for the league title. Oregon returns 18 starters from last season. The one area of concern for second year coach Chip Kelly is replacing quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was dismissed from the program during the spring. The Beavers return 15 starters from a year ago, including leading rusher Jacquizz Rodgers (1440 yards and 21 TD’s) and receiver James Rodgers (91 receptions, 1034 yards and 9 TD catches), but must see a step-up performance from quarterback Ryan Katz in place of departing starter Sean Canfield.


Five things to watch for in the SEC

1. Life after Tim Tebow - His name is John Brantley.   He’s a 21 year old junior from Ocala. And he’s trying to be the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators in what is regarded as the year 1 A.T. (After Tebow). But Tebow isn’t the only Gator offensive star to have moved on from last season. Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper, the top two receivers from last season, and All-American offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey have all graduated, making the job a little more daunting for Brantley. At least he has some on-field experience coming off the bench last season for Tebow, and in addition to returning ground gainer Jeff Demps has Pouncey’s brother Mike Pouncey moving from guard to center. The defense will also be tested with six new starters from a season ago, but they do have potential first rounder Justin Trattou, at defensive end, returning.

2. No Deacon Blues for Ingram - The last time Alabama was the defending national champions, Bill Clinton was in his first year in office and Mark Ingram was just four years old. That season, the Crimson Tide went 9-3-1 but later had to forfeit victories due to an NCAA violation. Ingram will try to do what Archie Griffin accomplished 35 years ago by winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies. It helps to have a suave quarterback at the helm, and Greg McElroy (17 TD tosses to just 4 INT in 325 attempts) is just such a cool customer. Julio Jones provides the game-breaking speed on the outside. And if playing the Tide is anything like last season, then opponents better get them in the first 45 minutes: Alabama outscored opponents 121-32 in the final quarter.

3. Does the Old Ball Coach have to win now? - The Gators are trying to replace legendary players. Tennessee and Georgia are back in the middle of the pack. Is this finally the year that all of the talk of great recruiting classes and installing a tradition of winning and an attitude to match finally pays off for Steve Spurrier? It should, as he inherits perhaps his most talented team since he took over in Columbia. This will be his sixth season at the helm, and his team in five years has a respectable 35-28 record. Of course, his first five years at Florida he was 49-12-1. The Gamecocks have a wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery who is destined to be playing on Sundays, while on defense he has speed in cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and size in Cliff Matthews and Ladi Ajiboye up front. If Stephen Garcia can survive the obvious head games that every Spurrier quarterback has to endure, and with Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee all as home games, this could be the year for “the other USC”. If not, let the whispers begin.

4. Don’t go to Oxford, it’s a trap! - Ole Miss may in fact be trying to decide upon a new mascot to update with the times, and the choice of General Akbar from the Star Wars movies may indeed be a curious one. On the field, the program seems to have solidified in what may be the toughest six team group in all of college football. The weight of expectations will land squarely on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley. The Rebels also lose their leading rusher and top two receivers from a year ago, which will make for tougher sledding than trying to make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. The good news is that they get five games in which they will be favored to win. This is important because they come just before entering a brutal three-game stretch in mid-season they’re calling the “Triple A Gauntlet”. They’ll need more than ‘The Force’ to have a chance at winning two of three at Alabama and Arkansas then home for Auburn. But if they do, then the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta could be a great day for the Rebel alliance.

5. A bulldog of a volunteer in Knoxville - A record of 17-20 in three seasons as a head coach isn’t exactly the stuff of legends. But when your pops was one of the all-time coaching legends in the league, and you were a main recruiter and assistant coach for Nick Saban’s championship teams at LSU, a record like that can be ignored when handicapping Derek Dooley’s chances in Knoxville. Besides, if you can take Louisiana Tech to an 8-5 record in your second season and a bowl win, that’s like five consecutive winning seasons a lot of other places. And already, Dooley is starting to put his stamp on the program in terms of a zero tolerance for off-field shenanigans. He dismissed Darren Myles on July 9th for an off-field incident, and indefinitely suspended two others.   On the field, he’ll have tight end Luke Stocker, a 6’6” target for new quarterback Matt Simms, and the defense will be led by Janzen Jackson, a hard-hitting safety who will try to pick up the slack for NFL-bound Eric Berry. It may take a while, but the faithful will be able to sing ‘Rocky Top’ once again with pride in their program.


Five things to watch for in the Sun Belt

1. The other ‘Men of Troy’ are dominant too - With Bobby Bowden’s retirement at Florida State, the top three coaches in terms of service as head coach at the same school are Joe Paterno at Penn State, Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, and Larry Blakeney starting his 20th season with Troy. And he has built the Trojans into a powerful program, first at the old Division I-AA level, and now in the Sun Belt where his teams have appeared in bowl games in four of the last six seasons. He’s has a ton of weapons back on offense, led by wide reciever Jerrel Jernigan who projects as an NFL prospect. The big question is at quarterback, where Jamie Hampton or Corey Robinson will hope to replace the efficient Levi Brown (two interceptions in 298 attempts last year).

2. The greatness of the Blue Raiders - Speaking of coaches making their mark in the Sun Belt, Rick Stockstill has done just that in four short years at Middle Tennessee. Last season’s club set a school record with ten victories, and is poised for another run at post-season play thanks to quarterback Dwight Dasher. If you are looking for the personification of dual-threat quarterback, look no further than Dasher. He led the team in rushing with 1391 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He also passed for 2789 yards and 23 touchdowns, completing 55% of his passes. And on defense, Jamari Lattirnore (9 1/2 tackles for loss, 5 1/2 sacks) has all the tools to play on Sundays. But keep an eye on a pending investigation into Dasher, who is alleged to have ‘borrowed’ $1500 and not paid it back; if he is lost to the team for any amount of team, it could be devastating to them.

3. These Owls look to fly high - The job of building a program is often spoken about when a coach takes over a team that is struggling, and puts together several winning seasons with other people’s recruits while bringing in his own brand of players. But how about actually building a program from the ground up? This season marks the 10th for Florida Atlantic playing college football, and the man responsible for literally building the program from nothing is living legend Howard Schnellenberger. The man responsible for turning Miami’s program in the early 80’s into “The U” has built a solid program at Florida Atlantic. And after stumbling to a 5-7 mark last season, Schnellenberger has reason to be confident about the 2010 Owls. He has nine starters returning on defense, and on offense he has the league’s leading rusher in Alfred Morris (1392 yards). If Jeff Van Camp can assume the controls at quarterback, the Owls will be right back in the mix.

4. No ‘Laf’-ing Matter - The Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette are not a team that opponents can take lightly anymore. Under head coach Rickey Bustle, the Cajuns have won six games in four of the previous five seasons, meaning they are no longer the pushovers they once were. The next step now is to get them into a bowl game, something that hasn’t happened since their 1-AA days in 1970. Bustle hopes to accomplish this by putting eight returning starters out on offense this season, led by quarterback Chris Masson. With 2406 passing yards and a 59.5% completion percentage, he was able to take control of the offense. He will need to improve upon throwing just 10 TD tosses a season ago. The defense returns five starters, including Grant Fleming. The senior linebacker was second on the team in tackles and is 100% after starting last season slowly due to ACL surgery.

5. Can Dodge & Dunbar lead North texas revival? - North Texas has produced an eclectic group of notable alumni such as musicians Roy Orbison and Don Henley, Miss America and NFL Today host Phyllis George, and Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene. Now head coach Todd Dodge is hoping to revive the Mean Green football program. Among the ten returning offensive starters is his son, quarterback Riley Dodge who as a freshman completed 67.7% of his passes for an astounding 122.3 efficiency rating. The younger Dodge doesn’t have to force the ball downfield either; he can simply hand it off to junior tailback Lance Dunbar, who scored 17 rushing touchdowns a season ago to go with 1378 rushing yards. On defense, there are eight returning starters, led by linebacker Craig Robertson who was second in the Sun Belt with 107 tackles. When looking for a team to bounce upward, you look at returning starters and close losses the previous year: North Texas lost six games by seven points or less. If they win four of those six this year, they are a bowl eligible team, which is certainly something they are capable of.


Five things to watch for in the WAC

1. Bye-Bye Boise - While the other members of the league are still disappointed in losing the Broncos, it may at the same time be hopeful that Boise State makes one final BCS run during this tenure as the leader of the WAC pack. The Broncos return 10 starters on both offense and on defense too. Quarterback Kellen Moore is 26-1 as a starter through two seasons. No WAC team has ever won a road conference game on the Blue carpet in Boise. The Broncos have gone undefeated in winning the conference title six times since 2002. They face Virginia Tech in the opener on a neutral field and host Oregon State on September 25. If they win both of those games, figure they will once again run the table.

2. Does Pat lead Fresno back to top of the Hill? - Some of the whispering that served as an undercurrent in Fresno a few years ago that it was time to fire Pat Hill as head coach seem to have disappeared, and the Bulldogs could become the team that takes Boise’s spot when they leave next year. In 13 seasons, Hill has taken the Bulldogs to bowl games ten times, easily the most in school history. Off an 8-5 mark last season, Fresno State returns 16 starters form a season ago. But the biggest challenge for Hill is replacing Ryan Mathews, who took his FBS-leading 1808 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns with him to the NFL. The continued improvement of quarterback Ryan Colburn could help offset that loss, and the defense is led by the talented Chris Carter. Unlike his namesake, all this Carter does is register tackles for loss - 13 of them a season ago.

3. Kaepernick Dances with Wolves - Perhaps the most valuable player to his team in the conference is Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He is one of just six players in NCAA history to have scored 200 or more career points without gaining any on kicks. He’s one of 13 players ever to rush for 2000 career yards and throw for 4000 career yards. He and running back Vai Taua combined to help the Wolfpack lead the nation in rushing last season, as they were the first team to post three 1000-yard rushers in the same season (Luke Lippincott has graduated). Coach Chris Ault has made some changes to his defensive staff, but with Kaepernick running the offense, a sixth consecutive bowl appearance is likely.

4. Utah State makes their case - The last time that Utah State had a winning season was 1997. John L. Smith was the head coach and the Aggies were members of the Big West Conference, long out of the football business. But there is renewed optimism in Logan. Gary Anderson won four games in his first season as head coach, and the 349 points they scored is the third highest total in school history. They racked up 5272 yards of total offense with just four interceptions, and they went 3-5 in league play. 17 starters are back from a season ago, including four-year starting quarterback Diondre Borel and leading rusher Robert Turbin (1296 yards and 13 scores). On defense, Bobby Wagner led the WAC in tackles a year ago with 115 as a sophomore. Utah isn’t on the Aggies schedule, but Oklahoma and BYU are. Still, the schedule shapes up to provide the Aggies with a chance to play in a bowl game for the first time in 13 seasons.

5. From WAC-iness to parity? - One of the things that Boise’s departure figures to do is leave a gap at the top of the league. But rather than seeing one team fill said gap, it might lead to much more balanced play among the surviving league members. Since the most recent restructuring of the league before 2005, there have been five WAC seasons completed. While Boise has finished first or second in all five, six of the other eight have finished in the top four in the league at least once. The number of teams in league play that have won three or more conference games in a season has increased from five in 2005 to seven in each of the last two seasons. This past spring saw three players drafted in the first round by NFL teams and two of them did not attend Boise State. So while the Broncos departure might be viewed as a devastating blow the league, others may see it as a chance to see the league reinvent itself yet again with competitive balance that few other conferences enjoy at this level.


Five things to watch for among the FBS independents

1. You don’t live in Cincinnati, you now live in South Bend: Easily one of the five most notable coaching positions in all of college football is that of head coach at the University of Notre Dame. This is no quick fix and no second choice: the Irish have secured in their new leader a man that has won as a head coach everywhere that he has been. Some Irish fans and alumni were turned off by Charlie Weis and his ego. Brian Kelly is all about the results on the field. He achieved them at the Division II level at Grand Valley State, winning consecutive national titles in 2002 and 2003. He went to Central Michigan and in three short seasons took them to a MAC championship in 2006. Then he went to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to three straight 10+ win seasons, tripling the number of double-digit win seasons in school history (Sid Gillman in 1951 won 10). His 2009 Bearcats not only won a second straight Big East title, but also finished in the top ten in graduation rate. But all that now pales in comparison to his greatest coaching challenge: to restore the sustained excellence of the Irish program.

2. Joe Montana isn’t walking through that door: The famous Rick Pitino quote from his time as coach of the Boston Celtics advising Boston media and fans that “Larry Bird isn’t walking through that door” might be easy for Kelly to use as a paraphrasing excuse this first season at the Golden Dome. Jimmy Clausen, the starting quarterback for Notre Dame the last three seasons, is now battling for the starting job with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. The top wide receiver, Golden Tate, and three top offensive linemen, are all gone. So for coach Kelly to reshape this team in his image may take a little bit of time. Leading rusher Armando Allen will be counted on to produce right away from the tailback spot, and returning receivers Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph will need to help ease the transition period for new starting quarterback Dayne Crist.

3. Staying in the ‘Notre Dame Conference’… for now: One of the biggest questions of the off-season in all of college football was not how the Irish would do with a new coach and new key starters. Instead, it was whether or not they would be the lead domino to cause a chain reaction around the country leading to the formation of ‘super conferences’. The Big Ten apparently wooed Notre Dame to join their league, which in turn likely would have led to Missouri joining Nebraska’s Big 12 defection, and spurned on possibly as many as three additional Big East teams to join a new 16-team super league. Notre Dame’s hierarchy decided against joining a conference in football for now; they currently are a member of the Big East in every sport except football. But some critics of the program say that part of the problem is that Notre Dame needs to get with the times and at the very least join one of those two leagues. Joining the Big East (who would likely accept them even without shared television revenue) would end talk of super-conference formation next off-season and beyond, but for now they remain steadfast in their determination to remain independent.

4. No anchors holding down the ‘middies’: Quick, name the team with the most wins by a non-BCS school against BCS schools since 2003 with 16 triumphs. Utah? Nope. BYU? No sir. Boise State? Not even close. The correct answer is: Navy. Paul Johnson turned things around and over the last two seasons Ken Niumatalolo has continued the winning tradition now re-established at Annapolis. The Midshipmen do lose six starters on defense from a season ago, but they do return defensive back Wyatt Middleton, who was 4th in tackles and led the team with four interceptions a year ago. What should help the new defensive starters is that the offense returns eight starters. Among them is quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who threw for over 1000 yards and 6 TD tosses out of the option, and more importantly ran for a team-best 1203 yards and 27 touchdowns.

5. Knights are Back in Black: In just his first season as the head coach, Rich Ellerson won five games at Army, the most the Black Knights have totaled in one season since Bob Sutton’s crew went 10-2 in 1996. And Ellerson seems poised to lift Army to their first winning season in 14 years with 16 starters returning to the squad. On offense, Ellerson will count on sophomore Trent Steelman, the first ‘plebe’ ever to start every game of his freshman campaign at the USMA. Split back Patrick Mealy figures to also see an uptick in his production with four starters on the offensive line returning. One specific area that Ellerson would like to see Army improve upon is holding onto the ball. They committed 34 fumbles last season, though losing just 14. Josh McNary figures to lead the defense, as he established a school record last season with 12 ½ quarterback sacks a season ago.


To read each of my pieces about ten games to watch for in each conference, and to read new pieces coming up this season, be sure to click here to read about them on Bowl Gamer.

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Three down, three to go

So I’ve somehow wound up in six fantasy football leagues this season. How I have no idea but hey, it’ll be fun to try and keep them all straight. I had three of them on Sunday. One was an autodraft that I had no control over any aspect of it at all. One was an on-line draft that I took part in the first 12 of 16 rounds on. The last was an old-fashioned live draft with nine other owners at someone’s house calling out names like the days gone by.

Here’s how I did so far:

AUTODRAFT TEAM: Little League Ejections Inc: QB = Drew Brees, Vince Young. RB = DeAngelo Williams, Arian Foster, Felix Jones, Darren Sproles. WR = Steve Smith (CAR), Devery Henderson, Greg Jennings, Dez Bryant, Percy Harvin. TE = Visanthe Shiancoe. PK = Mason Crosby. DT = Chargers

ON-LINE DRAFT TEAM: LA Kings Examiner (League of Hockey Bloggers): QB = Carson Palmer, Vince Young. RB = Maurice Jones-Drew, LeShon McCoy, Pierre Thomas, Marion Barber. WR = Roddy White, Steve Smith (CAR), Mike Sims-Walker, Kenny Britt, Laurent Robinson. TE = Greg Olson, Marcedes Lewis. PK = Ryan Longwell. DT = Giants

IN-PERSON TEAM: Santa Monica Beers: QB = Drew Brees, Vince Young. RB = Ryan Grant, LeShon McCoy, Arian Foster, Brandon Jacobs, Javon Ringer. WR = Steve Smith (CAR), Steve Smith (NYG), Donald Driver, Steve Breaston, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson. TE = Greg Olson, Chris Cooley (later traded for Owen Daniels). PK = Nate Kaeding, Robbie Gould. DT = Ravens, Jaguars

So I have Vince Young and Steve Smith of the Panthers on all three teams so far, and the following are two teams: Drew Brees, Arian Foster, LeShon McCoy, Greg Olson, and Laurent Robinson (who is now the Rams #1 WR). So far so good.

The other drafts are Tuesday (live), Thursday (on-line), and next Monday (live). Keep you posted…

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Terry Murray and Dave Farrish guest spots on SCSW

The sixth episode of SoCal Sports Weekly took some doing, but Charles Smith and myself were able to put together what we feel is an outstanding edition of the program for you this week. We encourage you to go to our page on the No Antenna Needed Radio network and listen to it right now.

The long-awaited and highly-anticipated interview with Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray is in the first hour of this two-hour program. Charles and I spoke with him on a variety of topics for the coming season. This included his thoughts on: the goaltending situation, the Matt Greene injury and its impact on the defense, the continued development of Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar, whether Brayden Schenn will be on this year’s roster, and many other topics. We are so thankful that Murray joined us twice as it turned out, because last week’s episode had a technical glitch and did not air. He didn’t have to endure another gab fest with us but he handled it with a great sense of professionalism and class. He even endured my attempts to further the legend of ‘The Marshmallow’.

Also in the first hour this week we spoke with Anaheim Ducks assistant coach Dave Farrish. Because of my affiliation with the Kings as their beat reporter for Examiner and as a featured contributor to the Hockeywood LA website, I’m cognizant of wanting to be balanced in our coverage of all of the sports teams in this market - that’s the premise of our show, that we don’t slant just towards a couple of teams and sports like the other shows do with the Lakers and Dodgers. So we contacted the Ducks PR department, and they efforted us the chance to speak with coach Farrish, who has been with the club since Randy Carlyle joined as head coach in 2005. Farrish gave some great insight about the changes to the Ducks for this season, primarily on the blueline. He was quick to correctly point out that my assertion of Luca Sbisa’s season being a lost one because he was sent back to juniors after eight games. Farrish talked about how Sbisa should benefit from the extra seasoning, and that he is excited for the chance to work with these younger players this season. We thank him and the Ducks for appearing on the show.

In the second hour, we provide a variety of sports conversations with three of our correspondents. Mario Melara is our soccer correspondent, and he provides us the low down on not just the MLS teams in the market, but also a preview of mens and womens collegiate soccer here in this market.  He does a great job covering Chivas USA for 90:00 Soccer Magazine, and he pulls no punches on his opinions about the sport.

We then introduced two other correspondents to our audience for the first time. Courtney Ports is our hockey correspondent, and we reset with him not only what Murray and Farrish talked with us about in the first hour, but also what Kings and Ducks fans should know with training camp just a few weeks away. Then Adam Jared Smith hopped on the line to talk about the Lakers and Clippers as our pro basketball correspondent. Adam filled us in on how the draft picks of the two clubs performed during summer league play, and reviewed those coming and going this off-season.

We also had planned to air a conversation we recorded with Donny Raimon, who covers the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks for Examiner.com and does a great job doing so. The Sparks were able to salvage a disappointing season, dealing with the losses of both Lisa Leslie to retirement and Candace Parker to a major injury, and qualified for the playoffs this week where they will face Seattle in the first round. However, due to time constraints, we were unable to air this interview. We thank Donny for joining us though, and we encourage all of you to read his stories about the Sparks on Examiner right now. We hope to have him on again in the near future.

We’ve continued to try and grow this radio show based upon what we feel you want us to be talking about and also what we feel are stories that are being ignored that shouldn’t be. We also are not content to rest on our laurels - meaning that as a great as this show is, in our humble opinion, our best show hopefully is our next show.

To that end, next week will see us begin a two-week preview of the upcoming college football season. And in addition to having our college football correspondent Chris Griffin make his debut in that role next week to talk about UCLA and USC with us, we will also be speaking about the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at the Division III level. They play a spirited and highly competitive brand of football in this league, and we want to you to have the appreciation for these programs that we do.

On the next episode, we will talk with Bob Owens, the head coach of Chapman University which plays an independent schedule but sees the majority of that schedule come against teams from the SCIAC. Also next week, three of the seven head coaches from the SCIAC will join us: Ben McEnroe of Cal Lutheran, Andrew Ankeny from LaVerne, and Steve Retzlaff who is the new head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Then the following week, we’re scheduled to speak with coaches from the other four league teams: Occidental, Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands, and Whittier.

Charles and I have some announcements coming soon about some additional internet programming that we’re going to be rolling out in the next few weeks that we are very excited about. We appreciate your continuing support of our projects and hope that you will listen to the latest edition of SoCal Sports Weekly on the No Antenna Needed Radio network.

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SoCal Sports Weekly Episode Delayed
If you’re a fan of SoCal Sports Weekly, you are probably salivating at the chance to hear the episode that we recorded this past Monday, which included a pair of awesome interviews with LA Kings head coach Terry Murray and San Diego Padres prospect Cody Decker. So are we.
Unfortunately, due to some technical issues that arose, the episode will not be made available. We apologize to both Murray and Decker, as well as our three correspondents (Jennifer Colli, Eddie Nathan, and Evan Miller) who were also brilliant as guests. And we also wish to offer an apology to our loyal listeners who were waiting for this episode.
No one is more disappointed about this episode not being ready for broadcast then we are, but we have confidence that this will not transpire in the future, and we hope to re-schedule all of guests in the very near future. We will keep you updated as we move forward on those possibilities.

Please be sure to check back on Friday at the home page of our network by clicking here for details on the next episode of SoCal Sports Weekly. Remember that you can follow us on Twitter by clicking here, or by going to our Facebook page and become a friend of the show by clicking here. And we also encourage you to listen to all of the other great programming here on the No Antenna Needed radio network.
We have some news on some other fronts that we’ll be make known very soon as well, so stay tuned,

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Another 86er heads to heaven too soon

I just received word from Tracy Loreng that my classmate at Pascack Hills, Liisa Nabstedt, passed away on Sunday at the age of 42.  The details of her passing have not been released.  She leaves behind her loving husband and two young children.

Liisa is now the 12th classmate to pass away, and as I wrote about last year when Doug Kessler finally succumbed to colon cancer, there is an unease about this that makes it hard to accept in someone still so very young.  Our class from 1986 has seen its share of tragedy in the years just prior to and since we graduated.

My memories of Liisa from two eras.  The first being from our days growing up, where she was always a good-hearted person who accepted people as they were and didn’t judge them.  She played on the volleyball team in high school, and was involved in various extracurricular activities.  She played one of the lead roles in the musical Lil’ Abner from our senior year.  She loved being in the musicals and singing in general.  She was a member of the Bergen County Choir and eventually was the captain of her collegiate volleyball team.

We weren’t close friends, but we were friendly with each other.  The second era of memories came from when I was helping to plan our 20-year high school reunion in 2006.

Liisa was one of the first people that I ‘found’ on-line in trying to track down everyone.  And we began a great email correspondence in which she shared with me how wonderful her life was going.  She was very excited about coming to the reunion, and I know that she and her husband had a terrific time because she couldn’t stop talking about for weeks on end afterwards.  Unfortunately, life got in the way and I lost touch with her over the last two years, so the news of her passing is a little bit hard to take.

All that I could find today on-line about her passing is an obituary that describes when funeral services will be held, which will be on Friday in Park Ridge.  And I really am heartbroken at the fact that I didn’t get the chance to tell her how wonderful the reconnection between us in the ramp-up to and the cool-down after the reunion was for me, and that I can’t be there in person to pay my respects to her family. 

My heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to her husband Joe (with whom I was fortunate to share a few wonderful laughs with at the reunion), and her two children Sabrina and Logan, whom she was so proud of, as well as her sister and the many friends that she had.  She will be missed.

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Thanks Bob

It was April 2006.  I was working for Starline Films, and we were hosting a charity celebrity basketball game at Basketball City in Manhattan, trying to get the word out about our film 4CHOSEN.  I was going to serve as the public address announcer for the game, but also provide some running commentary as well.  It was all coming together very nicely, and then the moment that ranks as one of the ten I’ll never forget in my life happened.  Near the end of our pre-game ceremonies leading up to me introducing the lineups for both teams, a voice said the following over the loudspeakers in the entire building:

"…and now, to serve as your public address announcer for the rest of the evening, from Starline Films, here’s Jonathan Moncrief…"

Yep, Bob Sheppard said my name.  As I type this I’m tearing up just thinking about it and how cool it was.

Sheppard died today at the age of 99.  For four generations of Yankees fans and Giants fans, he was the voice of Yankee Stadium.  He was the Yankees PA announcer from 1956 until 2007, when his health finally began to fade.  He also held a similar post for 50 years with the Giants, first at Yankee Stadium and later at Giants Stadium.

You didn’t have to be a fan of those teams to appreciate the sound of his voice, the way he was particular about annunciation, and how in an age of screamers and hucksters he was about elegance and simplicity.  He was a professor at St. John’s University in New York after having been a speech teacher at John Adams High School.  On April 17, 1951, both he and Mickey Mantle made their first ever appearances in Yankee games.  In the last interview Mantle ever gave before his death, he was introduced by Sheppard as he was for every at bat, and he said to the interviewer that it still gave him chills to hear his name.  Derek Jeter has asked that only Sheppard’s pre-recording of Jeter’s name be used when he comes to the plate for games.  Reggie Jackson called him “the voice of God.”

I had the good fortune to hear him speak in a classroom setting.  I was in the summer between 8th and 9th grades in 1982, and I had been enrolled in a journalism class for people of my age at St. John’s.  For the most part, the six weeks of classes were uninteresting and the classroom was hot with no air conditioning.  But there were two highlights: they showed the film ‘The Jackie Robinson Story’ and we then got the chance to talk with Rachel Robinson; and in the last class (which a few of the regulars from the first five skipped) Sheppard spoke with us for two hours.  It was amazing hearing him not only talk about the great Yankees and Giants players and games, but also his philosophy of broadcasting and doing his job.

When I was working on organizing the basketball game years later, a few of us were discussing how to jazz up the game and I suggested how cool it would be to have Sheppard do some of the announcements coming into the arena in a pre-recorded setting.  We contacted his son Paul, and apparently people had been paying to do voice over work for everything from weddings to Bar Mitzvahs to on-hold answering machine messages.  So I put together several scripts for him to read, understabnding his cadence when introducing players or reading promotional announcements at games.  And when we were sent the files following his recordings, we spent the rest of the day listening to them over and over and over and over and over and over again.  We were still finalizing the roster, so we had him record a few names and some announcements for the start and end of the event, as well as what to when you entered the building.  We even had him record a series of numbers, so that we could insert them into a starting lineup introduction.  And even just the sound of him reading off a series of numbers was amazing to listen to.  Check out this mini-clip of the event on YouTube that features his voice and mine too:

Like millions of others, one of the things I prided myself on was learning how to imitate his voice.  Earlier this baseball season in Santa Monica, I was asked to do so some PA announcing of games.  When the team in the little league called the Yankees played, I would announce their batters coming to the plate during their at bats in my Sheppard voice.

He will be missed, and in some ways I’m glad that PA announcers in pro sports are more about the screaming.  It only enhances Sheppard’s legend.

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