Friday, 4 January 2013

Cotton, BBVA and Bowl Previews

Friday January 4th

#9 Texas A&M vs #11 Oklahoma
AT&T Cotton Bowl - 01:00 on FOX

Just when the Aggies thought they'd made a clean break from the Big 12 they end up having to face off against an old conference foe in the Sooners. This matchup is so intriguing to watch, if not just to see how much A&M have grown as a team after their first season in the SEC. This game has got to be all about the turnover battle as we know that both offences have the ability to light up any scoreboard, Landry Jones gets one last audition for the NFL in the crimson and cream of Oklahoma whilst Jonny Manziel will have the chance to show once again why he won the Heisman.

Players to Watch
Texas A&M: Damontre Moore, DE #94. The junior has now declared for the NFL draft and will therefore draw just a little bit more attention from the scouts this game as he is top 10 if not top 5 material. Disruptive in every sense of the word from his end spot and will be gunning for Landry Jones.

Oklahoma: Tom Wort, LB #21. How could I write for the best English football website and not mention Wort? The junior has accounted for 52 total tackles and has forced 2 fumbles this year but would like to have a bigger impact than just that tonight.

Pick: Texas A&M

Confidence: 3 - Just a little justification, in order for me to have shot at winning the Pick'Em league I need lots of points to come off of underdogs now, so if Texas A&M win - great, but everyone expects that, but if I load my points on underdogs (see below) then I will make up a lot of ground if it all pays off.

Saturday 5th January

Pittsburgh vs Ole Miss
BBVA Compass Bowl - 18:00 on ESPN

If you've watched either of these teams this season then you know that 6-6 does not accurately reflect their level of play, Ole Miss pushed Vandy, Texas A&M and LSU to the edge whilst Pitt narrowly lost to Notre Dame in triple OT and were only one point shy of knocking off Syracuse. If Ole Miss show some of their form that saw them come close to beating the aforementioned teams then they have a excellent chance, but an enigmatic Pitt team may just show their better side and spoil the party.

Players to Watch
Pittsburgh: Ray Graham, RB #1. Touted as one of the best backs in the nation last year, Graham has seen an increased workload this season but without the expected increase in production. He's a very good back and will be a nice draft pick but he needs to display his best form if he's going to lead the Panthers past Ole Miss tonight.

Ole Miss: Denzel Nkemdiche, LB #4. If you don't follow the Rebels or recruiting this name might be new to you, but soon enough you will know all about Nkemdiche and his brother. Denzel has had a terrific freshman campaign having 12 tackles for losses, 4 forced fumbles and 3 sacks and is likely to team up with his brother next season who is the #1 ranked recruit by ESPN.

Pick: Ole Miss

Confidence: 29

Sunday 6th January

#25 Kent State vs Arkansas State Bowl - 02:00 on ESPN

Gus Malzahn was one and done at Arkansas State and he won't be with the Red Wolves on Sunday night, but barring a drastic philosophy change, State will put up a lot of offence and really challenge the Golden Flashes. Kent State have been fantastic in the MAC this year behind one of the best RB tandems in college football and play good defence and will be looking to finish of their season with a win for departing head coach Darrell Hazell.

Players to Watch
Arkansas State: Ryan Aplin, QB #16. The senior has been excellent this season having over 3000 yards and 23 touchdown, he is also a threat to take off so will put a lot of stress upon the Kent State defence.

Kent State: Dri Archer, RB #1. He may not get the vast majority of touches on offence, but when he gets the ball in the right spot with a little space, he is liable to take it to the house.

Pick: Arkansas State

Confidence: 27 - here is the upset pick that could win me the Pick'Em, or it could just completely backfire and leave me mid table. As the leagues tag line says "Go Hard or Go Home".

Sugar and Fiesta Bowl Review

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Louisville 33 - Florida 23

Louisville "shocked the world" and thoroughly deserved to beat the Gators.

So apart from people within the Louisville program, the college football world was shocked to see the Cardinals pull off the upset over Florida in what was a fantastically well executed game plan that left the Gators with no response. If you go back and read my preview (please don't), then you'll laugh at how wrong I was about this Louisville team who out-schemed, outplayed and more importantly wanted to win a lot more than a lacklustre Will Muschamp team. Florida had plenty of opportunity to come back in the game but time and again squandered any momentum they head with bone head coaching decisions and plays (see the not so deceptive onside kick after the half). In my opinion, the Cardinals somehow managed to catch lightning in a bottle and got the rub of the green on many occasions, but I'm not going to take away from what was easily the best performance of the bowl season.

Player of the Game: Teddy Bridgewater. Managed to pick apart the Florida defence with ease and made some terrific throws within a gameplan that had the Gators looking like they were a FCS school.

Players to Watch: As noted, Bridgewater lived up to his billing and put on a stellar performance and outshone my other highlighted player Matt Elam. Elam had a standout performance on defence, delivering 11 bone shuddering tackle, 1 sack and another tackle for a loss, I think he'll be leaving for the NFL come draft time.

Pick: Wrong - 30 point lost. Despite thoroughly enjoying the game, I was super gutted I didn't make those 30 points, this could be the game that costs me the Pick'em title, but there's still more to go yet.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oregon 35 - Kansas State 17

Chip Kellys last game in charge of the Ducks?

Whilst this was a fantastic game to watch for many, it turned out to be less competitive than most had hoped. The Wildcats hung around valiantly for a little while, but in the end the Ducks kept them at arms length and comfortably took the Tostitos crown. Having said that, the game was highly competitive and featured some amazing plays from either side, in particularly De'Anthony Thomas' opening kickoff return for a touchdown which was featured on our Facebook page earlier on. In the end the Wildcats just didn't have the offence to keep up with the high scoring Ducks, in particular Collin Klein's poor throwing ability was highlighted and if it wasn't confirmed already, I don't think we will be seeing up under centre taking snaps at the next level.

Player of the Game: Marcus Mariota. In my preview I mentioned how mature Mariota was for a redshirted freshman and I think that word perfectly describes his performance. In the end, despite only completing 50% of his passes he accounted for 2 TDs with his arm as well as running one in himself.

Players to Watch: As mentioned, Mariota had a very good night and deserved his accolade as player of the game. Klein on the other had suffered a little as playing from behind is not the style of QB he is, and despite having his own rushing touchdown as well as breaking a couple of big ones, he was by-in-large bottled up by the Ducks D.

Pick: Correct - 25 points won. It's getting tight at the top of the Pick'em league as I lie in second place and am 46 points adrift.

Mid-season reviews: Saltire

Cut adrift from the rest of league, the 5 team Saltire division has been more one sided than an Offensive Lineman at a pie eating competition. With one team ahead of the rest we could be witnessing a splintering of standards that could be detrimental to the university game north of the border. 

Only 4 players from 2 teams in Scotland attended the latest GB trials and with a small playing pool the Saltire really needs to add teams to make this a truly competitive division. It seems unlikely that lost programmes at Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian could be revived so perhaps the answer lies further North with expansion to Inverness (University of Highlands & Islands), Aberdeen or even Dundee or St Andrews.

The Stirling Clansmen have proven to be the head of the class this year, thumping their opponents in 4 straight wins and racking up 295 offensive points. The job here for Coach Rob Orr is to keep the ship sailing straight into the playoffs without losing focus and preparing to meet a tougher opponent from south of the Border that will give the Clansmen a harder game than anything they have faced so far. 

An impressive passing game has emerged with senior Quarterback Dutch Stevenson to compliment FBU Europe back Grant Isdale. Are the Clan National Championship contenders? Could be, but it’s very difficult to tell. The clue perhaps lies in the fact that Stirling only sent 1 player to the recent GB trials a suggestion that perhaps they are focusing on a title first? They also seem to have generated a ‘Them against Us’ mind set which is always helpful when motivating the troops.  Expect a run at the semi’s at the very least and possibly further.

Whilst Stirling pull away, their old adversaries the Glasgow Tigers have headed the ‘best of the rest’ column. A 3-1 record saw wins against the rest of the Saltire teams but their ground and pound offense won’t challenge any scoreboard operators to keep up. Second place is probably where they will end up and a short run in the Plate playoffs to follow.

The Edinburgh Predators vertical offense has only disposed of West of Scotland so far but they will be looking to their 2 varsity games and an away rematch against Glasgow to try to challenge for that second spot.  They will be disappointed not to have played the Knights pre-Christmas but will relish the challenge of holding onto the Varsity trophy in Scotland’s biggest game of the year. Scheduled for Meggatland stadium on Superbowl Sunday, 3rd February, this event attracted nearly a thousand spectators last year.

The West of Scotland Pyros got their season of to a great start against the under-whelming Napier Knights but has failed to build on that. A good squad of tough competitors they perhaps just lack one or two more explosive types to compliment player coach Bud McFerrin.  A second Knights game to end the season shouldn’t be the Pyro’s focus; it’s how they fare against Glasgow and the Predators that will be their measuring stick. The Pyro’s have also yet to face Stirling

In a surprising last place has been the Edinburgh Napier Knights. The Defense is still the 2nd best in Scotland so it would seem all their problems come from the offensive side of the ball. Problems with turnovers and a new East Kilbride style running game has failed to get the best out of GB selection Jamie Welsh. The Knights will be hoping that Santa has brought them some Lineman and that their woes can be fixed in time for the Varsity Game match up.

Mid-Season BUAFL Big Board, Rankings 51-61

51. Nottingham Outlaws (1-3)
Kick starting the second part of our midseason big board power rankings is the Nottingham Outlaws. The Outlaws didn’t get off to the best starts this season as they fell to three of the top four teams in the MAC standings. Fortunately, the team were able to claim their first W of the season with an overtime victory over the Leicester Longhorns.

Midseason grade – E – Most people would have guessed that the Outlaws would be 2-2 at this point in the season, but they’ve fallen to 1-3 and are all but out of the playoff race.

NFL Playoff Predictions

Bengals @ Texans
These should all be great games, but this is one of the more intriguing of the bunch. A team definitely coming into form opposed to one on a 2 game slide against underdogs. I feel like this could definitely go either way, with the Texans holding a slight offensive edge but the Bengals boasting the superior defence. As it looks to be so close I’ll back the home side to pull it off, but wouldn’t be shocked to see this swing either way.

DBL Coverage Prediction: Texans by 3

NFL End of Season Grades: AFC

Who gets a gold star and who might be seeing me after class? It’s all relative, so this is partly about how expectation matched reality, and partly based on the end product. First up the AFC...

NFL Play-off Rankings

Another very solid week is a great way to end the season, taking my overall record for the year up to a decent point. 

65% may not look very impressive, but it's been an unpredictable year in the league. Don't believe me? Only 3/25 of the analysts participating in their 'weekly pick-em' game scored higher (Mark Sessler 69%, Nicole Zaloumis 68% and Kareem Copeland 66%). Whilst may not be the cornerstone of accurate football opinion, it still forms a decent benchmark.

All in all a very decent year, and the fun is only just beginning with the play-offs looming...

Week 16 = 12-4

Overall = 165-92 (65%)

Mid-season reviews: MAC

As we enter 2013, we take a look at the state of play in the BAFA University League, starting with the Midlands Athletic Conference...

Once regarded as the strongest conference in the University set-up, the 2012/13 version of the MAC has seen the rich get richer, and the rest get mediocre.

As is customary, two of the country’s top three teams lead the way with 5-0 records, with the only team likely to stop #1 Birmingham Lions and #3 Loughborough Aces going unbeaten being each other.

The Lions have left both Nottingham sides, Warwick, Lincoln and Coventry in their wake, conceding just one offensive touchdown and scoring over 300 points in reply. It didn’t seem possible for Birmingham to be more dominant than they looked in the regular season last year, but the return of Tristan Varney has lifted the team’s performance level once more.

Statistically speaking, the honour of the conference’s best defence in the first half of the season goes to #3 Loughborough, with just six points allowed in five games – the BUCS website reports that their game with Wolverhampton has been awarded to them as a walkover victory. DMU, Leicester and Nottingham were all dispatched with ease, and – despite a brief early wobble against Northampton – the conference’s second spot looks to be partially wrapped by the Aces.

#16 Nottingham Trent sit healthily in third place and have every reason to be happy with their efforts so far. Having put up the strongest fight of any of Birmingham’s opponents, wins over Leicester, Coventry and DMU give the Renegades a really strong launching pad for 2013, where they will hope to go two better than last year and win the Plate. Also on one loss, #22 Warwick will be pleased with the first half of their season, and should be in the mix come Easter.

#25 Northampton have proved that their offence can be seriously explosive, and the fact that their defeats came against sides above them in the league is a sign that a decent football team has emerged from all the mudslinging regarding the team’s soft schedule in their rookie season. Coventry sit alongside the Nemesis on 2-2, but heavy shutout defeats against Birmingham and NTU suggest that they may be in a false position – both of the Jets’ wins have come against the woeful DMU Falcons.

Given their head coaching situation, Lincoln’s one win (against a rookie Wolverhampton side) could well end up being their only in 2012/13. 139 points conceded in losses to Birmingham and Northampton doesn’t bode well.

Nottingham’s early hopes of a Plate challenge seem to have evaporated with defeats to Birmingham, Loughborough and Northampton, and their overtime scramble to beat Leicester suggests a team lacking confidence.

Leicester are probably a better team than their 1-4 record suggests, having been there or thereabouts against both Nottingham sides and notching a late win over Lincoln, but a charge at the post-season seems a long way off.

Wolverhampton’s failure to field a team against Loughborough is a really bad sign for the rookie team. With a 20-0 loss to Lincoln in their only on-field showing this season, the Wildcats have six games to squeeze into the remaining weeks – this could be ugly.

Propping up the MAC are DMU, a team that are certainly a contender for the biggest disappointment of 2012/13 so far. Winless, pointless and looking pretty desolate, something good needs to happen for the Falcons, and fast.

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