QUICK COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS—WEEK 12

Here are some random thoughts about Week 12 of the college football season…

  • UCLA didn’t fire Jim Mora because they don’t want to lose to Florida on the chance to hire Chip Kelly or because he failed to win a PAC 12 title in his six seasons in Westwood.  Mora lost his job because he failed to make UCLA the dominant program in Los Angeles during a time when crosstown rival USC was down and because he essentially won nothing with Josh Rosen, arguably the number one overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft, as his quarterback.
  • Speaking of Chip Kelly, the PAC 12, a Power 5 conference that will more than likely not have a team selected for the college football playoff for the second time in four years, needs him just as much or even more than UCLA does as their next head football coach.
  • It’s hard to believe in today’s college football that Army is 8-3 even though they have completed 18 passes all season.
  • This Saturday’s matchup between Alabama and Auburn is more than just an annual renewal of a fierce in-state rivalry.  The winner of the Iron Bowl has won the SEC and played for the national championship in seven of the last eight  seasons.
  • Over the coming weeks, several athletic directors will begin their search for a new head football coach.  Shortly thereafter, these A.D.’s will identify their number one choice to lead their program.  Some will get the man they wanted while others will have to go to Plan B.  For those athletic directors who are forced to hire their second choice, all is not lost.  Just ask perennial national title contender, Alabama.  When the Crimson Tide were looking for Mike Shula’s replacement in 2007, their first choice was then West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriquez.  Rodriquez turned Alabama down, so athletic director Mal Moore offered the position to his second choice, a former college and NFL head coach by the name of Nick Saban.  Saban accepted and you know the rest.
  • Minutes after they suffered their second loss of the season, a 55-24 thrashing at Iowa,, the chances Ohio State had of making the college football playoffs seemed non-existent.  It’s now the penultimate week of the college football regular season and the Buckeyes, much to their critics chagrin and disbelief, are poised to make the playoffs for the third time in four years.  If Ohio State wins out against Michigan this weekend and then Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship, and Alabama and Oklahoma win out, the college football playoff selection committee will have to choose between a two-loss Buckeye squad and the loser of the ACC title game, either Clemson or Miami, for the fourth and final spot.  There are a lot of “what if’s” for Ohio State to have a chance at a national championship but the prospect is certainly a lot better than it was three weeks ago.
  • Here’s installment one of the Coaching Carousel Speculations, a guess of who will become the new head coach at the following schools that are actively searching for a replacement:
    • Florida—Matt Campbell, head coach Iowa State
    • Tennessee—Dan Mullen, head coach Mississippi State
    • UCLA—Chip Kelly, former Oregon and Philadelphia Eagles head coach
  • Based on his statistical performance, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will in all likelihood win this year’s Heisman Trophy.  His performance as a football player has been unparalleled.  Sadly, the same can’t be said for his behavior.  Once again, the childish, immature Baker Mayfield reered its ugly head, this time against Kansas last Saturday when he chided Jayhawk fans from the Oklahoma bench and grabbed his crotch and shouted expletives towards the Kansas sidelines.  These ongoing antics are tiresome, boorish and beneath the level of a player with Mayfield’s talents.  If he can allow the actions of a 1-9 Kansas team get underneath his skin, heaven help him when it comes time to play Alabama or Clemson.  If there was any other player who could come close to matching Mayfield’s performance this season, he surely would not win the Heisman.  But as the Heisman voters have shown in the past, a player’s character or his off-the-field antics doesn’t affect who wins the award.  If it did, Cam Newton, Johnny Menzies and Jameis Winston never would have won.  So, despite his deplorable behavior Mayfield will win this year’s Heisman, even though his questionable character is what everyone will remember about his 2017 season and his college career.  And that, it truly unfortunate.

ONE MAN’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL RANKINGS—WEEK 12

THE FINAL FOUR

1.Alabama

2.Miami

3.Oklahoma

4.Clemson

FIRST FOUR OUT

5.Wisconsin

6.Auburn

7.Georgia

8.Ohio State

NEXT FOUR OUT

9.Central Florida

10.Notre Dame

11.USC

12.TCU

THE LIGHTNING ROUND–WEEK 7

GAME SUMMARIES (Home Team in CAPS)

LIGHTNING 6, Stars 1

GOALS:  Stamkos 2 (10), Sergachev (5), Point (8), Dotchin (2), Kucherov (17)

SAVES:  Vasilevskiy (27), 14-1-1

Islanders 5, LIGHTNING 3

GOALS:  Gourde 2 (6), Palat (5)

SAVES:  Vasilevskiy (27), 14-2-1

SEASON:  15-3-2, 32 points, 1st place in the Atlantic Division

THE GOOD

  • The Lightning’s ability to dominate all phases of the game were on full display in their 6-1 victory over Dallas on Thursday.  The offense was firing on all cylinders, scoring six goals on 28 shots as nine different players made the scoresheet, including the top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov, who were responsible for three goals and five assists.  The defense limited the Stars to one goal on 28 shots, killed all three of the Stars power play opportunities, including a 5-on-3 advantage and scored a short-handed goal to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead they never would relinquish.  Meanwhile, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was his usual stellar self, making 27 saves en route to his 14th win in 16 games played.  The only disappointing aspect of the game was the onslaught came at the expense of former Lightning and current Dallas goalie, Ben Bishop, who was making his first visit back to Tampa since his trade last season.  It was a performance that solidified the Lightning’s spot as the NHL’s best team so far this season.
  • There were very few highlights for the Lightning in their 5-3 loss to the Islanders Saturday night but one bright spot was Tampa’s furious third period comeback.  After trailing 4-0 early in the third period, the Lightning, led by Yanni Gourde’s two scores, closed the gap to 4-3 with under four minutes remaining.  Even though the comeback fell short when the Islanders scored an empty net goal, coach Jon Cooper should be encouraged by his team’s effort in a game that looked like it was totally lost with less than a full period left to play.
  • Despite their 5-3 loss on Saturday, the Lightning continue to have the NHL’s best record of 15-3-2 and 32 points.  Here’s a glimpse of four other teams in addition to Tampa Bay that most consider one of the top five teams through the early stages of the 2017-18 season:
    • St. Louis Blues–15-5-1, 31 points, 1st place in the Central Division, +15 goal differential, 7-3 in last 10 games
    • Toronto Maple Leafs–14-7-0, 28 points, 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, +16 goal differential, 7-3 in last 10 games
    • Los Angeles Kings–12-7-2, 26 points, 1st place in the Pacific Division, +14 goal differential
    • Winnipeg Jets–12-4-3, 27 points, 2nd place in the Central Division, 8-1-1 in last 10 games

THE BAD

  • Nothing much went right, especially in the first two periods, against the Islanders Saturday night and most of it stemmed from the Lightning’s very slow start.  They trailed 2-0 midway through the first period due in large part to the fact that New York outplayed and outskated Tampa Bay from the outset.  The Lightning never seemed to get their footing until the third period but by then they were down 4-0.  It’s a start the Lightning have suffered from, but were able to overcome, in several of their games this year.  Unfortunately, they’re good fortune in those earlier games caught up with them Saturday night.
  • Saturday’s game also marked the end of the Lightning’s penalty killing streak.  They had successfully killed their previous 19 penalties, including a 5-on-3 against Dallas on Thursday before the Islanders Anders Lee scored a power play goal at 1:05 of the third period.
  • The Lightning continued their recent trend, at times, of sloppy puck handling and puck management.  Tampa Bay averaged 11 giveaways per game last week, four of which directly resulted in or led to a goal.

THREE STARS OF THE WEEK

  1. Steven Stamkos–2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, +2 rating
  2. Yanni Gourde–2 goals, 2 points, +2 rating
  3. Braydon Point–1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, +1 rating

THIS WEEK’S GAMES

  • Wednesday–vs. Chicago
  • Friday–at Washington
  • Saturday–at Pittsburgh

QUICK NFL THOUGHTS–WEEK 10

Here are some random and very delayed, random thoughts about Week 10 in the NFL…

  • Anyone who believes Teddy Bridgewater should replace Case Keenum as Minnesota’s starting quarterback needs to report to their local drug testing facility immediately.
  • Father Time has issued an Amber Alert for Tom Brady.  He shouldn’t expect to find him anytime soon.
  • The four NFC Division leaders, Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams, failed to make the playoffs last year.  If the standings remain the same at the end of the season, it will mark the first time that the four division champions failed to make the playoffs in the previous season.
  • Before the excoriating of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones begins because of his attempts to stall and stop the contract extension negotiations of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, consider what Goodell is demanding.  He is asking, among other things, a $50 million annual salary, the lifetime use of a private plane and lifetime health insurance for him and his family.  Considering that Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, a company that earned the twice the revenue as the NFL did last year, receives a $14 million annual salary, it’s not so unreasonable for Jones, who was able to purchase the Cowboys and make it the most valuable professional sports franchise because he is an astute businessman, to put the brakes on what appears to be a very one-sided and inequitable business deal.
  • Once NFL Network host Rich Eisen tweeted on Sunday, “The Browns just tried to QB sneak on goal line with no timeouts left.  Of course it was stopped.  No points, No time.  No clue,”, Cleveland should have fired head coach Hue Jackson on the spot.
  • You have to wonder what Fox broadcasters Chris Myers and Darryl Johnson did to management for the both of them to have inglorious assignment of calling the titanic struggle between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.
  • New Orleans is a legitimate Super Bowl contender because they’re not asking quarterback Drew Brees to do everything for them.  Thanks to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the Saints have discovered a running game, rushing for 110.9 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt through their first nine games.  Last Sunday, on the road against Buffalo, New Orleans rushed 48 times for 298 yards and six touchdowns, including 24 straight plays in which they ran the ball.  With their emphasis on the running game, no longer do the Saints need to play in an offensive shoot-out with Brees throwing all over the field to have a chance at winning.  More importantly, their ball control philosophy keeps their defense, the team’s Achilles Heel since their Super Bowl victory in 2010 off the field for longer periods of time.
  • It’s been well documented that Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has struggled this season due to a weak offensive line.  But before placing all the blame on the offensive line for the team’s sub-par passing attack this season, Dalton himself is responsible for some of the problems as well.  This is not the same quarterback who led the Bengals to the post-season in each of his first five years in the league.  In those five seasons, Dalton completed all types of passes, short, medium and long, to all places on the field.  This year, however, is vastly different.  Dalton has been extremely inconsistent, rarely completing a pass greater than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage and mainly only between the numbers.  Dalton’s ability to accurately throw outside the numbers is practically non-existent as evidenced by his two misfires to A.J. Green deep down the right sidelines in the last two games.  Those were passes Dalton routinely completed in his previous six seasons.  It is true that the inability of the offensive line to provide decent pass protection has made life difficult for Dalton in 2017.  But it is just as obvious that Dalton’s inefficient and ineffective play is compounding the problem.
  • Vontaze Burfict’s ejection last Sunday proved four things about him and the Bengals current and future state:
    • Game officials are signaling out Burfict and are giving him absolutely no benefit of the doubt when it comes to a borderline or marginal infraction on the field.  There’s no question Burfict’s reputation precedes him.
    • It’s painfully obvious that Burfict only cares about himself who ignores the impact his actions have on the rest of the team.  After being ejected, he was only concerned with complaining to someone he knew in the stands and taunting the Tennessee fans as he was leaving the field.  Burfict’s selfishness is readily apparent and detrimental to the team’s chances at success.
    •  Burfict’s actions are emblematic of what the Bengals have become under head coach Marvin Lewis, who condones and defends the behavior of Burfict and is responsible for setting the tone for the rest of the team:  A group of undisciplined, ill-prepared, and selfish players who do not, under any circumstances, resemble a team.
    • It’s time for the good of the franchise for the Bengals to cut ties with both Burfict and Lewis no later than the end of the season.

LIGHTNING ROUND–WEEK 6

Here’s a quick trip of the good and the bad for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the rest of the NHL for the week ending November 12…

GAME SUMMARIES (Home Team in CAPS)

Lightning 5, SHARKS 1

GOALS:  Dotchin (1), Kucherov (15), Koekkoek (3), Namestnikov 2 (7)

SAVES:  Vasilevskiy (32), 12-1-1

Lightning 5, KINGS 2

GOALS:  Kucherov (16), Killorn (2), Hedman (2), Stamkos (8), Namestnikov (8)

SAVES:  Budaj (22), 1-1-1

Lightning 2, DUCKS 1

GOALS:  Namestnikov (9), Brown (1)

SAVES:  Vasilevskiy (28), 13-1-1

SEASON:  14-2-2, 30 points, 1st place in the Atlantic Division

THE GOOD

  • When the Lightning embarked on a three-game California road trip this past week, the hope was they could return home with three points.  On the other hand, coming back to Tampa with four points would have exceeded all expectations.  But to finish the road trip with six points and a 3-0-0 record, as the Lightning did after their 2-1 victory over Anaheim on Sunday, not only is the road trip an unqualified success but it establishes Tampa Bay as the best team in the Eastern Conference.  The Lightning played their best stretch of two-way hockey of the year against perennial Cup contenders San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim, averaging four goals scored and 1.3 goals allowed per game during their three game trip.  The California swing made it abundantly clear that the Lightning’s toughest opponent this season will be themselves.
  • The spotlight on the Lightning’s explosive offense this season has focused on Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and rightfully so.  But the third member of their line, Vlad Namestnikov, deserves some recognition for his exceptional play this year as well.  Namestnikov has scored nine goals and added 10 assists for a total of 19 points through the Lightning’s first 18 games.  Those stats include four power play goals, seven power play points, one game-winning goal and a +8 rating.  Namestnikov has been overshadowed by Stamkos and Kucherov so far this season but there’s no question that his play is one of the many reasons why the Lightning have the league’s best record.
  • Tampa Bay’s penalty kill continues to excel, going a perfect 6-6 for the week.  It is the second consecutive week that the Lightning have been perfect on the penalty kill as they have not allowed a power play goal in their opponent’s last 15 opportunities.

THE BAD

  • Week Six verse, same as the first.  A little bit louder and a little bit worse.  The Lightning once again lost the battle in the face-off circle last week, losing 105 of 187 (56.1%) face-offs in their three games in California.
  • In the past two weeks which has encompassed six games, the Lightning have averaged over 12 giveaways per game.  Last week, they had 43 giveaways in three games, including 25 against San Jose.  To make matters worse, Tampa Bay isn’t doing the same to their opponents, only averaging a little over eight takeaways per game, including only four against Los Angeles and five against Anaheim last week.  As the season wears on, it is one area of their game that the Lightning need to clean up.
  • As the 2017-18 season reaches the quarter pole, it seems the decade long dominance of the Chicago Blackhawks may be approaching its end.  The Blackhawks entered this year fresh off being swept 4-0 by the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs last year, even though they had the Western Conference’s best regular season record.  Through their first 19 games this year, it seems Chicago can’t shake the effects of last season’s playoff whitewash.  They are 9-8-2 and are currently out of the playoffs.   Their performance is even more puzzling when you consider they have suffered no major injuries to any of their star players such as Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith.  Granted, it is a small sample size but as the season closes in on the Thanksgiving holiday, the Blackhawks need to ramp up their game if they hope to have a chance at winning their fourth Stanley Cup since 2010.

THREE STARS OF THE WEEK

  1. Vladislav Namestnikov–4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points
  2. Nikita Kucherov–2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points
  3. Andrei Vasilevskiy–2-0-0, 1.00 GAA, 60 saves, .968 save percentage

THIS WEEK’S GAMES

Thursday–vs. Dallas

Saturday–vs. New York Islanders

QUICK COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS–WEEK 11

Here are some random thoughts about Week 11 in college football…

  • Tennessee fans can give up any hope that they’ll replace Butch Jones with Jon Gruden as their new  head football coach.  There’s no way Gruden is leaving the cozy confines of the ESPN broadcast booth for the pressure cooker of the SEC.  Besides, the environment in Knoxville is so toxic right now the Volunteers will struggle to convince a Power 5 coach to come to Tennessee much less a high profile candidate like Gruden.
  • Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will probably win this year’s Heisman Trophy but as Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) aptly tweeted this past weekend, “Baker Mayfield was put on this earth to sucker the Cleveland Browns.”
  • Alabama will more than likely become the number one team in this week’s college football playoff rankings but their 31-24 comeback win against Mississippi State Saturday night exposed how much their recent injuries  on defense have hurt their chances of winning a national championship.
  • Miami, Florida is a legitimate national championship contender and they can thank their defense for the opportunity.  The Hurricanes became the first team on Saturday since 2011 to force four or more turnovers in four straight games.
  • Auburn looked the part of the best team in the country in their 40-17 throttling of number one ranked Georgia on Saturday.  Their offense amassed 488 total yards against the conference’s best defense while allowing only 86 yards on Georgia’s 10 drives that did not result in a touchdown.
  • The biggest obstacle Wisconsin faces in making the college football playoff is not themselves or their strength of schedule but instead the conference they play in.  The 2017 Big 10 is full of under-achieving, inconsistent, and just plain bad teams.  It makes the Badgers undefeated record seem less impressive than a one or even two loss team from the ACC, SEC or Big 12.
  • With each passing week, it appears more and more likely that the 2017 college football playoffs  will include a two-loss or two teams from the same conference or even both.
  • It looks like it is time for Illinois to pull the plug on the Lovie Smith head coaching experiment after just two seasons.  The Illini are just 5-17 overall and 2-14 in the Big 10 under Smith and falling rapidly in the wrong direction.
  • When Luke Fickell was hired from Ohio State to become the head coach at Cincinnati, he promised to bring discipline to the Bearcats in 2017.  So far, it seems Fickell’s discipline got lost between Columbus and Cincinnati.  In their last two games, the Bearcats have been penalized a total of 23 times for 230 yards and for the year, Cincinnati averages 7.9 penalties for 79.2 yards per game.  Until Fickell cleans up his team’s penchant for penalties, the Bearcats will continue to find themselves mired in mediocrity.
  • Make no mistake, Florida State is paying Louisiana-Monroe $1 million to reschedule their game from September so they can earn the opportunity to become bowl eligible.  However, the Seminoles large payout isn’t a desperate attempt for them to continue their 35-year bowl game streak alive but instead a chance for coach Jimbo Fisher to gain valuable post-season practice time for a talented, yet inexperienced team.  This is all about building towards 2018.
  • In an effort to keep up with the Joneses, the Big 12 decided to have a championship game this year like the other Power 5 conferences, even though they don’t have two divisions.  It was done to increase the conference’s chances of having a team in the college football playoffs.  This year, though, a championship game may damage the Big 12’s hope s of having a final four team.  In all likelihood, Oklahoma will finish the regular season with one conference loss, the only team in the Big 12 with such a record.  Without having a conference championship, the Sooners probably would have made the playoffs with just one loss.  Now, Oklahoma will have to play an extra game against a two-loss team.  A loss by the Sooners, a distinct possibility if they have to play Oklahoma State again, and they and the Big 12 will once again be shut out of the college football playoffs.

ONE MAN’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS

THE FINAL FOUR

1.Alabama

2.Miami

3.Clemson

4.Oklahoma

FIRST FOUR OUT

5.Auburn

6.Wisconsin

7.Georgia

8.Ohio State

NEXT FOUR OUT

9.Central Florida

10.Notre Dame

11.USC

12.Oklahoma State

ONE MAN”S CURRENT HEISMAN TROPHY BALLOT

1st Place–Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma

2nd Place–Bryce Love, running back, Stanford

3rd Place–Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State

4th Place–Khalil Tate, quarterback, Arizona

5th Place–Jonathan Taylor, running back, Wisconsin

QUICK NFL THOUGHTS–WEEK 9

Here are some random thoughts about Week 9 in the NFL…

  • The next Lambeau Leap might be a Packers fan jumping off from the top of the stadium as Green Bay’s season continues to spiral into irrelevance with Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.
  • Before the season started, most experts believed that one team from New York would contend for a playoff spot while the other would stink.  Those experts were right but none of them thought after nine weeks the Jets would be 4-5 and the Giants 1-7.
  • It’s time for the NFL to issue an Amber Alert for Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford.
  • If you were asked before the season started what one NFL team would bungle a trade because they forgot to file the necessary paperwork before the deadline, then everyone would have answered the Cleveland Browns.
  • The current state of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their head coach, Dirk Koetter, was perfectly encapsulated after Tampa wide receiver Mike Evans blindsided New Orleans defensive back Marshon Lattimore, sparking a mini-brawl between the two teams in front of the Bucs sideline.  While chaos reigned in front of him, Koetter appeared to have no clue, looking like a man who either was staring into the abyss or would have paid money he didn’t have to get him the hell out of there.
  • The Arizona Cardinals are the worst 4-4 team in modern NFL history.  Their four wins are against the Colts in overtime, Tampa Bay and twice against San Francisco.
  • Cincinnati’s 23-7 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday should for all intents and purposes put an end to the Marvin Lewis era.  The 2017 Bengals are undisciplined, poorly coached, ill-prepared prior and during the game, passionless and careless.  This team is currently rudderless, floating adrift admits the NFL sea.  It’s time for a new captain before the Bengals sink any further.
  • When the venerable CBS news anchor, Walter Cronkite, reported in 1968, that the United States could not win the war in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson lamented, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost MIddle America.”  A month later, Johnson announced he would not run for re-election.  Fast forward to 2017 and another respected broadcaster, Vin Scully.  He announced recently to a crowd at a symposium that, “I’ll never watch another NFL game” in response to the many players who have kneeled during the national anthem.  If the NFL is smart, they would heed the warning issued by Johnson nearly 50 years earlier.  Because unless the NFL changes their images and they way they conduct their business, if they’ve lost Vin Scully, then they’ve lost Middle America.
  • Everybody, it seems, has their opinion on why the ratings for the NFL are precipitately down in the first nine weeks of 2017.  Rarely, though, does anyone mention the main culprit for why fewer people are watching the NFL on Thursday, Sunday or Monday–the quality of the product stinks.

LIGHTNING ROUND–WEEK 5

Here is the good and the bad from last week for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the rest of the NHL..

GAME SUMMARIES (Home Team in CAPS)

Lightning 8, PANTHERS 5

Goals:  Point (6), Kucherov (13), Stamkos 2 (6), Palat (4), Gourde (2), Namestnikov  (5), Stralman (2)

Saves:  Vasilevskiy (18), 10-1-0

Rangers 2, LIGHTNING 1 (OT)

Goals:  Gourde (3)

Saves:  Vasilevskiy (33), 10-1-1

LIGHTNING 5, Blue Jackets 4 (SO)

Goals:  Point (7), Kucherov (14), Stamkos (7), Gourde (4)

Saves:  Vasilevskiy (30), 11-1-1

SEASON:  11-2-2, 24 points, 1st place in the Atlantic Division

THE GOOD

  • The Lightning’s three games last week proved that Victor Hedman is one of the premier defensemen in the NHL, and barring an injury, a perennial contender for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.  In addition to his five assists last week, Hedman, the second overall selection by the Lightning in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, averaged 26:33 of ice time per game, solidifying his status as coach Jon Cooper’s most dependable two-way player.  Hedman’s performance over the last three games underscored the fact that he is an elite, all-around defenseman who possesses high-level shutdown skills and great passing abilities while playing a large amount of minutes every night.
  • One of the more surprising early season highlights for the Lightning has been the play of forward Yanni Gourde.  Coming into the year Gourde has scored six goals and earned three assists in 22 career NHL games.  Through 15 games this season, Gourde already has four goals and five assists and has teamed with Braydon Point and Ondrej Palat to form the second highest scoring line on the team.  Gourde is filling the void quite nicely left by Jonathan Drouin’s departure during the off-season thanks to his hard-nosed play and his good hockey sense.
  • The Lightning special teams shined again last week with the penalty kill stepping up to make a significant contribution to the team’s 2-0-1 record for the week.  The power play scored three times on 10 chances, increasing their season percentage to 28.8%, tied for the second best power play in the NHL.  The penalty kill, led by the stellar play of Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, went a perfect nine for nine last week, improving their penalty kill percentage for the season to a league 11th best.

THE BAD

  • Two weeks ago it was an issue.  Last week it was a problem.  Now that the Lightning have lost the majority of their face-offs for the fifth consecutive week, it is now bordering on becoming an epidemic.  Last week, Tampa Bay lost 103 of 198 face-offs (52.0%) and if this trend continues the Lightning’s good fortune on the power play, the penalty kill and in one-goal games will come to an unhappy end.
  • Another potential crisis on the horizon is the Lightning’s recent habit of blowing two goal leads.  Last week it happened twice when Tampa Bay blew a 3-1 lead to Florida on Monday and then a 4-2 third period lead to Columbus on Saturday.  Luckily, the Lightning won both games but Stanley Cup contenders can’t expect those results when they carelessly allow their opponents to come back from two goals down.  They need to either deliver a knock-out punch or at the very least keep their opponent at bay when they jump out to a multiple goal lead.
  • Last year after falling short in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against Anaheim, the Edmonton Oilers were the darlings of the NHL.  Many experts predicted the Oilers and their young core led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, would take the next step and represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Through 13 games in 2017, however, the Oilers are 4-8-1 with a -13 goal differential and in next to last place in the Pacific Division.  Unless they turn around their season soon, the only step the Oilers will take this season is a backwards one, right out of Stanley Cup contention.

THREE STARS OF THE WEEK

  1. Yanni Gourde–3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points
  2. Victor Hedman–5 assists, 5 points
  3. Steven Stamkos–3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points, game-winning shoot-out goal

THIS WEEK’S GAMES

Wednesday–at San Jose

Thursday–at Los Angeles

Sunday–at Anaheim

QUICK COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS–WEEK 10

Here are some random thoughts about Week 10 in college football…

  • The ugly beat goes on in Bloomington, Indiana.  The Hoosiers 45-17 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday marked the 37th straight game in which Indiana has lost to an AP Top 10 team.
  • The early reports out of Gainesville is that Central Florida head coach Scott Frost is the front-runner to become the next head coach at the University of Florida.
  • The mood inside the Florida State locker room has apparently reached a boiling point.  According to multiple reports, there is internal strife amongst the coaching staff with the majority of the heat being directed at defensive coordinator Charles Kelly.  Meanwhile, the Seminoles have offered Louisiana-Monroe $1 million to reschedule their game cancelled earlier this year due to Hurricane Irma so they can have a chance at six wins in 2017 and keep their streak alive of appearing in a bowl game every year since 1982.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • Even though Oklahoma State scored 52 points in their loss to Oklahoma on Saturday, there is something either physically or mentally wrong with their quarterback Mason Rudolph.  An early season Heisman Trophy contender, Rudolph is not the same passer now that he was earlier in the season.
  • In the coming weeks, multiple FBS schools will begin their search for a new head football coach.  Many, if not all, of these schools administrators will contact Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy to gauge his interest in their position and most of them would happily have him as their new leader of their football program.  But before any athletic director falls head over heels in love with Gundy, they should ask themselves one critical question:  When was the last time Gundy won a big or meaningful game at Oklahoma State?
  • Slowly but surely, and without much fanfare, Will Muschamp is building South Carolina into a perennial SEC and national championship contender.
  • Last Sunday afternoon, it seemed improbable but after the dust had settled on Saturday, it now looks more likely than not that the college football playoffs will begin without a team from the Big 10 Conference.  If that scenario plays out, every school in the conference will suffer as each of them receive $400,000 when a member school makes the college football Final Four.
  • There’s no question that once the fourth quarter started, Ohio State shut it down against Iowa on Saturday.  Like it or not, that’s all on Urban Meyer and it looks and smells very similar to how his time at Florida ended.
  • Here’s a suggestion to any team who has to punt against Washington.  Don’t kick the ball anywhere near Husky kick returner Dante Pettis.  His nine punt return touchdowns is enough evidence for any opponent, from this point forward, to do anything but kick the ball in Pettis’ general direction.

ONE MAN’S HEISMAN BALLOT–NOVEMBER 5, 2017

1ST PLACE–Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma

2ND PLACE–Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State

3RD PLACE–Bryce Love, running back, Stanford

4TH PLACE–Micah Fitzpatrick, cornerback, Alabama

5TH PLACE–Josh Adams, running back, Notre Dame

ONE MAN’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF BALLOT–NOVEMBER 5, 2017

FINAL FOUR

1.Georgia

2.Alabama

3.Miami, Florida

4.Notre Dame

FIRST FOUR OUT

5.Clemson

6.Oklahoma

7.TCU

8.Wisconsin

NEXT FOUR OUT

9.Auburn

10.Central Florida

11.Washington

12.Ohio State

QUICK NFL THOUGHTS–WEEK 8

Here are some random thoughts about Week 8 in the NFL…

  • There was a time earlier this season when everyone was convinced that the Death Star known as the New England Patriots was on the verge of imploding because of an ineffective defense.  But as Mark Twain once said, “the report of my death was an exaggeration”, and now the same can be said about the Patriots.  In their last four games, the Patriots went 4-0 and have allowed an average of only 12.75 points per game.  No longer is there talk that New England’s reign over the AFC East is finished.  Instead, it’s whether or not they can win Super Bowl number six.
  • The NFL and the NFLPA will attempt to spin this news to their benefit but the message from the paying public about how they have recently conducted business is clear.  Kansas City’s win over Denver was the lowest-rated and least watched Week 8 Monday Night Football game ever.
  • The reason why the Buffalo Bills are in contention for the AFC East title and their first playoff appearance since 1999 is simple, despite having an inconsistent and unexplosive offense.  The Bills lead the NFL in turnover margin at +14 or by an average of +2 per game.
  • Every time they show Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano on the sidelines, the first thought that comes to mind is that he is what Willy Wonka would look and act like if he were an NFL head coach.
  • Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can throw the football all over the field as much as he wants, like he did on Sunday night, but until Detroit fixes the problem that has plagued Stafford his entire career, the Lions will always be a fringe playoff contender.  In the 116 games Stafford has been team’s starting quarterback, the Lions have had a running back rush for 100 or more yards in a game only seven times.
  • You can blame Tampa Bay’s disappointing 2-5 record on the play of quarterback Jameis Winston all you want but the problems run deeper.  The offense, designed and orchestrated by head Dirk Koetter, is too basic and unimaginative for any quarterback to have success in the NFL.
  • If anyone doubts the importance of a strong offensive line, then they need to look no further than the Dallas Cowboys.  They are the reason why quarterback Dak Prescott has progressed so quickly in only his second season and why their running game won’t skip a beat when and if Ezekiel Elliott begins to serve his six-game suspension.
  • During the broadcast of the Dallas-Washington game on Sunday, the NFL aired a public service announcement promoting October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  On the first play following the announcement, Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball for a significant gain.  And the NFL wonders why they are accused of being tone-deaf.
  • When the first round of the year’s NFL Draft was completed, most experts agreed that the picks made by Tennessee, the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati graded out to an A or B.  Each team selected a wide receiver in the first round in the first nine picks, choosing Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross respectively.  With the season now at the halfway point, Davis, Williams and Ross have combined for eight receptions and 88 yards, causing many of those experts to re-evaluate and change those grades to failing.
  • It was promising to see the Bengals defensive line step up and play a major role in the team’s 24-23 victory over Indianapolis on Sunday.  What was not so promising was the continued dismal play of the Bengals offensive line.  The Colts entered the game ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing defense and yet the Bengals rushed for only 58 yards on 21 attempts on Sunday.  Meanwhile, quarterback Andy Dalton continues to fear for his life every time he drops back to pass.  Dalton was sacked three times and was constantly under siege, even though, at times, the Colts only rushed two defenders.  Unless the offensive line improves in short order, the Bengals are going to need more than just a weekly Carlos Dunlap interception return touchdown to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
  • The NFL’s biggest issue with Miami’s Kiko Alonso’s shot to the head of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco wasn’t the hit itself.  Instead, they need to explain why, in a league constantly preaching player safety and claiming they will not tolerate any action by a player that jeopardizes or comprising another players well-being, Alonso wasn’t ejected from the game for the blatantly egregious hit or why he hasn’t been fined or suspended.  Meanwhile, the league has no problem quickly fining a player for wearing the wrong color socks or shoes or having an unapproved sponsor on a hand towel.  It’s just more proof to the argument that the NFL is inconsistent with their rule enforcement, hypocritical when it comes to player safety and biased when it comes to whom they chose to punish and with what severity.  Simply put, when it comes to player safety, the NFL is all talk and no substance.

QUICK COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS–WEEK 9

Here are some “surprising” thoughts about Week 9 in college football…

  • The most surprising team in the month of October was Boston College.  After finishing the month of September 2-3, the Eagles went 3-1 that included wins over Louisville and Florida State.  What makes this resurgence even more impressive is that it may just mark the beginning of a championship run in Chestnut Hill.  The Eagles are the only FBS team with a freshman who leads the team in rushing, passing and receiving.
  • Florida State fans have been surprised by their team’s performance so far this season and not in a good way.  Ever since the Seminoles lost quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending injury in their opening game against Alabama, the year has mostly been lost.  With a 2-5 record and games left against Clemson, Syracuse and Florida.  FSU is looking at their first losing season since 1976 and failing to appear in a bowl game for the first since 1982.
  • Considering it took place two days before Halloween, it isn’t surprising that Florida fired head coach Jim McElwain,  Quite frankly, his firing was based on a witch hunt conducted by the local and national media over a perceived fabrication of death threats to himself, his players and his staff in what they believed was an attempt to change the narrative of his job status.  The media beat the drum so loud that university administrators, who were looking for any opportunity to divorce themselves from their head coach, caved and dismissed McElwain one day after they lost to arch-rival Georgia, 42-7.  True, the Gators have struggled this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  But how else do you explain firing a coach who when the month of October started was 16-3 against the SEC?
  • When Bret Bielema resigned as the head coach at Wisconsin to take the same position at Arkansas in 2013, everyone in college football was surprised.  In his seven seasons as the Badgers head coach, Bielema was 68-24, 37-19 in the Big 10 and won three conference titles.  Now in his fifth year at Arkansas, Bielema and the Razorback fan base are certainly having second thoughts.  Bielema, who probably saved his job for the time being after Arkansas came back from a 31-7 deficit Saturday against Ole Miss to win, 38-37, has a 26-26 overall record and an 11-22 SEC won-loss record.  Simply put, Bielema has been a major disappointment and barring something unexpected, will probably lose his job at the end of the season.
  • Don’t be surprised when the college football selection committee announces their initial rankings of the 2017 season that Georgia sits atop the list.  Here’s what the rest of the rankings might look like when they are announced on Tuesday:  First Four In:  1. Georgia, 2. Alabama, 3. Ohio State, 4. Miami.  First Four Out:  5. Notre Dame, 6. Clemson, 7. Penn State, 8. TCU.  Next Four Out:  9. Oklahoma State, 10. Oklahoma, 11. Wisconsin, 12. Virginia Tech.
  • Penn State’s Saquon Barkley’s Heisman Trophy coronation game against Ohio State on Saturday took a surprising turn after the Buckeyes defense suffocated the Nittany Lions running back, holding him to 49 yards rushing on 21 attempts.  Not only did the 39-38 loss severely damage Penn State’s playoff hopes, but Barkley’s sub-par performance on a national stage altered the Heisman race as well.  With the month of October now in the books, here’s one man’s current Heisman ballot:  First place-Barkley; 2nd place-Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State; 3rd place-J.T. Barrett, quarterback, Ohio State; 4th place-Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma; 5th place-Josh Adams, running back, Notre Dame.
  • After listening to the FOX broadcast of the Ohio State-Penn State game, it was surprising to hear that play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson didn’t suffer a heart attack or lose his voice.  For over four hours, from the opening kickoff to the final play, Johnson screamed and yelled every description of the game as if the technology of television microphones did not exist.  It’s one thing to show emotion and excitement during the telecast when the opportunity arises.  Just listen to Joe Buck during the World Series this year and you’ll hear how it is supposed to be done.  Putting up with Johnson, on the other hand, describing the action as if he is under enemy attack is distracting and flat-out annoying.
  • Baylor University should have known their football season would come to this.  After deciding to literally clean out their football program prior to the start of 2017 following the Art Briles regime that featured players and staff run amok and allegations of sexual assault, it shouldn’t surprise the school that they are winless so far this year and probably won’t win a game the rest of the season.  That’s no reflection on the coach they hired to rebuild and redeem the program, Matt Ruhle.  He’s the absolute best man for the job, a coach who has rebuilt a program from the ashes (Temple) and who conducts his business with integrity and holds all his players accountable.  No, the Bears are falling on hard times because karma has a way of making you pay a very hefty price.