Tag: Football

Hooray! NCAA Football Playoffs Arrive in 2014!

The NCAA football championship committee finally woke up today. Never mind that it's several decades late. Never mind that they shied away from a comprehensive playoff system. At least we know that starting in 2014, the national championship of college football will be determined by a two-bracket, four-team, three-game playoff.

This is how it works in a nutshell.
  1. When the season ends, a committee of as-yet-unspecified membership ranks the top four teams in the nation based on a bunch of criteria. (This is the weak spot in the plan.)
  2. The No. 1 and 4 seeds will play at one Bowl location and the No. 2 and 3 seeds will play at another Bowl location. (The other Bowl games will apparently continue, it just won't matter. But then it doesn't now, so that's a net-net.) These games will take place on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
  3. The two winners will play on the first Monday in January that's at least six days after the Jan. 1 playoff. (First date: Jan. 15, 2015). Location: awarded by competitive bidding among any city that wants to host.
Step 1 is fraught with danger, back-room bargaining, flakiness and lots of argument. So far, so good.

The plan is to lock this format in for 12 years with a TV network handling all three games every year. 

This is gonna be fun.

Niners Ranked #6 in Early Power Rankings, Rest of West Below 20

Bleacher Report published its pre-season power rankings of the NFL teams today and while it's way too early to start predictions or bets based on such flimsy evidence, the result was unsurprising for fans and followers of the NFC West.

The Niners ranked #6 in the list but the other teams in the NFC West — the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Rams — all ranked #20 or below. In other words, the Niners are in the top 19% of the NFL, and their conference competition are all in the bottom third.

As I said, too early for predictions but I think it's probably safe to give the SF bunch a pass to the playoffs as champions of the West. It probably won't take a matchup of 2011's 13-3 record to get there, which is a good thing because I'm expecting them to go more like 11-5.

SF Backup QB May Become Great Trade Bait

From all reports emanating from Santa Clara where the San Francisco 49ers have been holding their OTAs (Organized Team Activities…what a stupid moniker!), the #2 QB spot behind confirmed starter Alex Smith may go to free agent Josh Johnson rather than the backup of last season, second-round pick Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada-Reno.

Johnson has several things going for him that Kaepernick lacks:
  • four years of NFL experience as a backup in Tampa
  • college experience with Niners' Coach Jim Harbaugh
  • confidence in and from Harbaugh
I don't have an opinion on which guy would be a better #2 and eventual Smith successor. That's just as well, since nobody asked me! But I do know this: Kaepernick is a solid, solid QB who would play #2 on a number of NFL rosters and maybe even get some reasonable playing time. He's been tagged by a number of scouts and observers as a first-rank QB of the future. The widely respected Bleacher Report think she's good enough that even with Smith at the helm, he should be given the chance to take 100 snaps this season. If Johnson is in, the Niners should turn Kaepernick into trade bait and land a player for another semi- weak position (can you say Right Guard?) or even some future draft picks. The Niners are in good enough shape they could afford to do that on-the-come kind of move.

Several Niners who don't make the final roster cut will be on other NFL teams' starting depth charts when the season kicks off. One of them might even be Kaepernick.

ESPN’s Sando Sees Deep 49er Trouble if Smith Falters

Mike Sando at ESPN.com says that if 49ers' starting QB Alex Smith has a forced extended layoff this season, the Niners will tank. He ranks his confidence level in the team's ability to win without Smith as 35%.

My guess is that's a bit pessimistic because I suspect Colin Kaepernick would rise to the occasion after a game or two of adjustment time and that the confidence level then would rise, but not any higher than 50-60%.

As Smith goes, so goes the franchise this year.

Should Niners Take T.O. Back Just for Class?

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Former NFL great wideout Terrell Owens (T.O.) has apparently been fired by an Indoor Football League team in the Dallas area, allegedly for contract violations. His career has sunk about as far as it can without completely fizzling out.

Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN that he's deeply worried about what might happen to T.O. when the lights finally go out. He didn't say it outright but I had the impression he's concerned T.O. might do something to himself.

A few days ago, T.O. told the Bleacher Report he wants to finish his career in San Francisco. 

So here's the question. Should the Niners take T.O. back for a sayonara season? Cut a lowball one-year deal to let him retire a Niner? Would that be the class act it would seem to be? Or would it end up hurting the club or other players or even T.O.?

Bill Walsh probably would take him back. Eddie D would probably take him back. Will Jim Harbaugh? Will the new Niners' front office?

Should they?

I say they could afford to do so and I'd like to see them do it, not so much for T.O. as for the image of the team. But I highly doubt the current ownership and management has the stomach for such a move, so I don't expect it to happen.

How about you?

New-Look Randy Moss Impresses 49ers Early

This report suggests that 35-year-old Randy Moss may be ready to make a major contribution to the Niners despite a one-year layoff from the game.

I was — and remain — skeptical that picking up Moss was a good move. But on his first day of on-field practice, he apparently impressed coaches and teammates with his physical conditioning, his attitude (he even cut his dreadlocks short) and speed. It would, of course, be really awesome to have a real Moss in the lineup for the Niners this year as they seem intent on making another Super Bowl push.

So I'll keep watching and listening with an open mind that is skeptical but hopeful of Moss' possible use to the Niners.

AJ Jenkins, Jerry Rice and The Hill: Good Sign!

Rookie wideout AJ Jenkins has accepted a challenge from the greatest WR I ever saw play, Jerry Rice, to take his game to a whole new level. And as much as I hate that term (normally defining a new level is silly and impossible), in this case, the new level is the top of a major hill-climbing run that Rice credits for his late-game stamina and heroics.

Jenkins responded to a Tweet by Rice for a joint run up The Hill, a grueling two-and-a-half mile incline run located in San Carlos, California's Edgewood Park, the final 800 meters of which are virtually straight uphill.

If Jenkins is that serious about his game, he could be the long-awaited WR savior Niners fans have been pining for since Rice last donned the red and gold.

Great Piece on Death of Junior Seau

There is, sadly, not a lot of good writing being done in the world of journalism these days. Today I found an exception.

Mike Lopresti wrote a softly beautiful, insightful and penetrating piece for USA Today on the apparent suicide yesterday of long-time NFL great Junior Seau. In it, he asks the larger question: was this brilliant athlete's death part of (and by implication masking) a larger problem with the very culture of the NFL? The still-fresh wounds of the Saints' bounty scandal in which players were offered and paid bribes for injuring players from other teams give stark relief to Seau's apparent decision that he couldn't live any longer with the demons of head injury.

Clearly we don't yet have nearly enough information to draw the conclusion that the brain damage was the cause or even a contributing cause of Seau's death. But there are plenty of indications that it is. 

The NFL has been burying this problem for years. Maybe it takes the loss of so bright a light as Seau to bring it into a stark enough focus that something real and deep and serious and lasting can be done about it.

Meanwhile, Junior Seau is gone.

Bleacher Report Eval of Niners Draft is Weak-Kneed

I read Bleacher Report just about every day. Sometimes I read every article in the newsletter. I read everything they write about the San Francisco 49ers. So I was anxious to hear their assessment of the Niners' just-completed NFL draft. I'll tell you up front, I'm pretty dubious. Trent Baalke, the Niners' GM, has earned a rep as a draft wizard and those who have criticized his past picks have not fared well when the season played out.

But Ted Johnson went through the Niners' eight top picks and rated the first pick an "A" and all the others a "B". Gimme a break. In a couple of cases the only way Johnson could even defend his eval was to fall back on "Trent Baalke knows more than we do."

Yeesh. Maybe Johnson belongs in the front office as a flak for the Niners. He's mastered the art so well.

FWIW, here are my grades of the Niners' picks:

A. J. Jenkins, Illinois, WR. This guy's fast but he's small even by the Niners' diminutive standards at 6-0. I'll agree with Johnson's A here, though. He may have some serious potential even as a rookie.

LaMichael James, Oregon, RB. He's too small (5-8, 194) and clearly not ready for NFL Prime Time. That makes him a B before I throw in the fact that we've got too many freaking running backs already! As a pick, this is a low C this high in the draft.

Joe Looney, Wake Forest, OL. At 6-3 and 315, this guy's a moose and his rep is for having great hands and a mix-it-up attitude. He could get the start or 1st backup at RG. Smallish school but he seems like a decent fit. I'll agree with Johnson and grade this one a B.

Darius Fleming, Notre Dame, OLB?. He has a rep as a decent edge rusher but I can't see him higher than 3 on the depth chart behind Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson. Average pick gets a C.

Trenton Robinson,  Michigan State, S. Robinson comes in at 5’9” and 193 pounds, which is a lot of weight on a small frame for an NFL safety. My guess: he won't be a regular for at least two years and probably never make a real mark. My grade: D.

Jason Slowey, Western Oregon, OL. At 6-4/315, Slowey has size, speed and strength. He's from a really small school which makes it hard to assess his NFL potential. He's likely to end up as a center for the Niners. I'm picking him to be the draft surprise and giving his pick an A.

Cam Johnson, Virginia, OLB. Could be another surprise smart pick. At 6-2 and 268, he has the size and build to be an immediate contributor at OLB, which was a weak position for the Niners last year if only in its lack of depth. He could also play DE when called on and that's a big plus. I like this guy. Give him an A. (A- but I don't let myself do + and -).

Overall. USA Today ranked the Niners' 2012 draft quality overall at 23rd out of the 32 teams. I think they got it about right.

Niners Plan: Go With Three Linemen, 1 RB, 6 Wideouts?

So the San Francisco 49ers use their low first-round draft pick to add another freaking wideout? We have so many of them now that they'll be fighting to get a few snaps in the pre-season.

With no glaring need, I suppose GM Trent Baalke is looking for some trade opportunities with some of his existing receiving corps members. I won't be too direct questioning his moves; the guy's been a draftmaster in the recent past. But still, this one's puzzling.