Mississippi State did exactly what it needed to do: survive the SEC schedule and earn a first-round bye in this week’s SEC Tournament. That result is not good enough for some as MSU was chosen in the preseason to win the SEC West. That prediction was made based on the potential of this year’s squad. Would Renardo Sidney play like the McDonald’s All-American he was in high school? How would the team perform when Dee Bost returned from suspension? When it was all said and done, MSU finished 9-7 in conference, three games behind division winner Alabama. MSU played to its potential at times but also underperformed at critical moments this year. Losses to SEC West cellar dwellers Auburn and LSU put a sour taste in the mouths of the Bulldog faithful. However, the Bulldogs responded with wins against SEC champion Florida and won at Thompson-Boling Arena against Tennessee in Jack Cristil’s last radio broadcast as the voice of Mississippi State athletics. A lot of people are critical of Rick Stansbury when it comes to coaching, but he seems to shine during the SEC Tournament. As head coach, he has two championship trophies and two more finals appearances since taking over from Richard Williams in 1998. If history happens to repeat itself, MSU won’t win its quarterfinal game against the LSU/Vanderbilt winner. In 2002, MSU won the tourney, lost in the finals in 2003 and was bounced in the quarterfinals (with a first-round bye) in 2004. MSU won the tourney in 2009 and lost in the finals last season. However, the field could not have shaped up any better for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs play its first game Friday against the LSU/Vanderbilt winner. MSU split the season series with the Tigers, but one bounce here and there could have turned the two matchups into sweeps in either team’s favor. MSU lost its only meeting with the Commodores this year, but was very much in the game. They made some crucial mistakes in the final minutes and let a winnable game slip from their fingers. Last year MSU proved that they could lose to Vandy mid-season and beat them when it matters most: in the SEC Tourney. It seems like a possibility again this season.
On the other half of MSU’s bracket sit three reams that MSU is a combined 4-0 this season. The Bulldogs swept the Razorbacks, defeated Tennessee on the road and upset the ranked Gators in Starkville. If the Bulldogs can play up to their full potential and get Sidney plenty of rest, MSU can cruise into the finals for a third straight year. Will it be that easy? Of course not, MSU has made the incredibly easy look impossible in athletics since 1878. But working in MSU’s favor is two seniors who have been on the wrong side of Stansbury. However, they have learned from the error of their ways and embraced their roles on the team. The result is Kodi Augustus averaging career-highs in points and rebounds and a rejuvenated Ravern Johnson after his suspension and benching. The national media (Andy Katz and Pat Forde in particular) may not like how Rick has handled this season, but he’s done wonders with the hand he was dealt and has his team in position to win two SEC Tourney titles in three years. The ride to this position has not been a smooth one, but the roads have settled. Stansbury and crew seem to make magic every SEC Tournament, and this year’s field is set for MSU to make more magic.
ARIZONA CARDINALS @ ATLANTA FALCONS
Arizona showed they are not the same team without Kurt Warner, struggling against a young St. Louis Rams. Atlanta had Pittsburgh beat before falling in overtime. Falcons get the win at home.
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS
Baltimore had a relatively easy Monday night, facing a Mark Sanchez afraid to throw down field. Cincy will look to take advantage of the Ravens depleted secondary. TOCHO gets their first win of the 2010 season. Lewis, Owens, and Ochocinco have a lot in common: T.O. committing copyright infringement and Lewis destroying Ocho.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ CLEVELAND BROWNS
I don’t know what would possess Cleveland to sign Jake Delhomme. He’s not the consistent QB he used to be. The Chiefs should control this game after an impressive showing against San Diego.
CHICAGO BEARS @ DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas looks like a team struggling to find its identity. That is not a good thing if they want to be the first team to host a Super Bowl. Many people feel that Chicago should not have beaten Detroit. The Bears need a statement game, and this game is not it. Dallas wins.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ DETROIT LIONS
Both teams have issues at quarterback. If it were Kevin Kolb vs. Matthew Stafford, I would be tempted to go with the Lions. But it is Michael Vick vs. Shaun Hill. Vick will use his mobility to steer clear of Ndamukong Suh. Barring any questionable play calling from Andy Reid, Philly should win this one.
BUFFALO BILLS @ GREEN BAY PACKERS
Buffalo loses this game by default. You don’t take a safety and expect to onside kick the safety punt. Don’t you know that you can fair catch a safety punt? Chan Gailey is already on the hot seat, in my opinion, for that call.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ TENNESSEE TITANS
Vince Young and the Titans looked great week one. Granted, it was the Oakland Raiders. Troy Polamalu will wreak havoc, but Vince will figure out a way to outscore the Steelers dialed-down offense.
MIAMI DOLPHINS @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Do I go with my favorite team, or do I use my better judgment and pick the favored team? Miami is still a work in progress. Chad Henne is still developing as a QB. As long as he doesn’t stare down Brandon Marshall, Henne should avoid major trouble. However, Minnesota is still the better team and should win.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS
The Panthers gave the Giants their best shot, but turnovers squandered any chance of a season-opening victory. Tampa Bay should provide easier competition and a win. Matt Moore’s play should resemble what we saw late last season and not what we saw last week.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ DENVER BRONCOS
This game is the team that should have lost at the team that should have won. The Tebow magic did not work against the Jaguars. Seattle’s win over San Francisco proved that no one really wants to win the NFC West. Denver has better overall talent, so the Broncos should win.
ST. LOUIS RAMS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS
Do we have to watch this game? With the way Oakland performed against Tennessee, I would not be surprised if Sam Bradford led his team to victory. Cleveland/Detroit from last season and Cleveland/Tampa Bay from last week proved to us that two bad teams can put on a somewhat entertaining game. Jason Campbell wins one as a Raider.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ NEW YORK JETS
If this were college, the NY Jets would not be playing for their national championship. Ray Lewis rang Dustin Keller’s bell HARD. That’s why Keller ran out of bounds six inches short of the first down marker. Rex Ryan can dial up blitzes on Tom Brady if he wants to, but Brady will burn that Jets defense. Darrelle Revis can shut down Randy Moss, but Wes Welker will run routes around Antonio Cromartie. Even with a young Patriot defense, I don’t have enough faith in Mark Sanchez to win this game.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS @ SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
San Diego missed Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNiell Monday night. In a game the Chargers should have won easily, San Diego played unmotivated and let a cheap win get away. San Diego is the clear favorite in the AFC West and will play like it against the team of two-named players.
HOUSTON TEXANS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Houston got one monkey off its back in beating the Indianapolis Colts for only the second time in 17 attempts. It is imperative they keep the momentum going. Washington played a sloppy game but scored a victory because Alex Barron wanted to put Brian Orakpo in a headlock as time expired. Donovan McNabb is still trying to figure out the talent around him. Houston’s offense will be firing on all cylinders this week.
NEW YORK GIANTS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
This is little brother vs. big brother. Big brother usually gets the better of little brother. I hope the Giants took notes on how to beat the Colts: run early and run often. Keep Peyton Manning off the field, and get an early lead. If the Giants can do all that, they will be poised for a victory, however they will not win. Peyton Manning and the Colts rarely start 0-2, and it won’t happen this year.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Mike Singletary is looking for a better performance from his team. It will not come this week. New Orleans prayed to the scheduling gods, and their prayers were answered. Getting 10 days off is the closest thing to a bye week in the NFL. The Saints will be rested and ready to get after Alex Smith. The 49ers defense is good, but not good enough to slow down Drew Brees.
Last Thursday Mississippi State showcased the progress it made under second-year head coach Dan Mullen. ESPN showed the world how far we had come. At the end of the game, it was us coming up short again. MSU football has not been able to get over the proverbial hump quite yet. Mullen has made impressive strides in a short amount of time. We are no longer an automatic conference win but are from being the perennial doormat. Despite two early turnovers, we still had a chance to win the game on a last second drive. Besides the dropped passes, there is a lot to be optimistic about.
In the first half, Cam Newton had his way with the MSU defense, outgaining the Bulldog offense by himself 146-125. Manny Diaz and staff made critical adjustments on the fly and held Newton to only 82 yards (22 of those receiving) in the second half. The MSU defense dictated when Newton would scramble. Even more importantly, after giving up 17 first-half points the defense shut out the potent Tiger offense. When it was time to make a stand late in the game, the defense came through on 3rd down and the ensuing blocked field goal.
FLAGS, FLAGS, FLAGS
MSU only committed two penalties for 25 yards: a personal foul that was a bit of acting on Auburn’s part and an illegal block. The two penalties are a far cry from the 5.6 penalties per game MSU averaged a season ago. To date, MSU is only averaging 2.5 penalties and 27.5 penalty yards per game. Dan Mullen wants his team to give “relentless effort,” and his team is giving that effort while playing disciplined football.
NOT FOLDING JUST YET
In years past, when MSU would go down by a double-digit deficit, we would fold when given the opportunity to make a comeback. We lacked the offensive firepower to score points in a short period of time, and the defense would eventually break from being on the field too long. With Mullen learning the spread offense from Urban Meyer, the Bulldog offense has the ability to march up the field gaining huge chunks of yards at a time. Coupled with Diaz’s high-risk, high-reward defense, MSU can put points on the board in a hurry.
There are still some minor details we need to work on to become more consistent. We have been here before: where the MSU fan base thinks we are ready to make the leap into the next tier of SEC schools. When we get there, we usually take two steps in the wrong direction. If not this season, next season will definitely be the year MSU causes major hell for the other teams in the conference. That is the beauty of playing in the best conference in the country: every week is a chance to score a major upset and get the momentum that can carry you through the rest of the season.
ESPN.com won’t bamboozle me. These picks are straight up. No spread or anything
Hopefully I will be able to update these weekly. Instead of typing in every pick, I’ve learned how to use the handy dandy print screen feature on the computer. This will make life a lot easier for me. So…with that said, here we go.
Today, I try to look in my crystal ball and predict this season’s Eastern and Western division champions.
How the media voted at SEC Media Days:
Eastern Division (First Place Votes)
1. Florida(153) – 1030
2. Georgia(15) – 791
3. South Carolina(8) – 790
4. Kentucky – 462
5. Tennessee – 450
6. Vanderbilt(1) – 194
Western Division (First Place Votes)
1. Alabama(157) – 1034
2. Arkansas(6) – 726
3. Auburn(10) – 691
4. LSU(1) – 653
5. Mississippi State – 320
6. Ole Miss(3) – 293
SEC Champion: Alabama (143), Florida (17), Auburn (7), Arkansas (3), Ole Miss (2), Georgia (2), LSU (1), South Carolina (1), Kentucky (1).
How I see things shaping up.
1. Florida – 11-1 (7-1)
2. South Carolina – 9-3 (5-3)
3. Georgia – 7-5 (4-4)
4. Kentucky – 6-6 (2-6)
5. Tennessee – 5-7 (2-6)
6. Vanderbilt – 1-11 (0-8)
1. Alabama – 11-1 (7-1)
2. Arkansas – 10-2 (6-2)
3. Auburn – 9-3 (5-3)
4. LSU – 6-6 (4-4)
5. Mississippi State – 7-5 (4-4)
6. Ole Miss – 6-6 (2-6)
SEC Champion: Alabama – The loss of so many defensive starters concern me. If the Tide can stay healthy throughout the season, the defense will have had enough games under their belt to not crumple under the pressure of the Georgia Dome lights.
Having time to sleep on it, I finally figured out a pop-culture analogy for this LeBron hysteria. This is eerily similar to the hype around Drake. Both are the young futures of their respective careers.
Drake is the messiah that is supposed to save hip hop. He splashed onto the scene in early 2009 with “Best I Ever Had.” A few months later he inked with Lil Wayne and Young Money Records. Throughout 2009 and most of 2010, he dropped hit after hit. When it was time to produce, he came up short. His debut album didn’t even sell 500,000 copies in the first week. Meanwhile, the Kobe Bryant of the game, Eminem, drops his “Recovery” album a week later and sells almost 750,000.
Drake had all the hype, but Eminem sold the most. LeBron is the most exciting NBA player, but Kobe Bryant still won the championship.
The two most storied franchises in NBA history meet in the NBA Finals for the 12th time come Thursday. Will Boston hang banner number 18, or will Los Angeles make it a repeat?
Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher – Two years ago, I would have said Derek Fisher. He is the wily veteran that plays bigger in the postseason than the regular season. Today, he is two years older and has trouble defending the younger, faster point guards. Rajon Rondo fits that description and then some. When these two teams met in the Finals two years ago, Rondo was seen as a liability. Now, he is the best player for the Celtics. EDGE: RONDO
Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant – Kobe is not quite ready to be past his prime. In the fourth quarter in game six against the Suns, he made shot after shot. He has that killer instinct not seen since Michael Jordan. Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. He can match Kobe shot for shot if need be, but Kobe is the better player in this matchup. EDGE: BRYANT
Will Paul Pierce go Willis Reed style again?
Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest – The Master Flopper vs. The Master Defender – The physically unstable vs. The mentally unstable – I could go on and on, but it will be interesting to see how Pierce handles Artest’s defense. Artest will be a neutralizer on Pierce in the half-court. The Lakers don’t shoot as many threes as the Magic, so there won’t be many opportunities for Boston to get out on fastbreaks. Pierce is better offensively than Artest, and it is vise versa on defense. Defense wins championships. EDGE: ARTEST
Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol – The Celtics broke the bank to pick up KG – giving up All Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, and Gerald Green. They also threw in Ryan Gomes and Theo Ratliff for good measure. The Lakers got Gasol for essentially nothing minus the two first-round draft picks – Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and Aaron McKie. In 2008, KG exposed Gasol as a soft big man. Gasol has gotten tougher between now and then, but no one plays old-school, physical defense like the Celtics. Will Gasol punch back, or will he go back into his shell? I believe he will revert back to that big man with no gusto. EDGE: GARNETT
Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum – Kendrick Perkin’s only job is to rough people up in the paint and look as unhappy as possible while doing it. He’s not known for his offensive prowess but he’s averaged double figures in points for the first time in his career. His physical style will give Andrew Bynum fits. Bynum is more polished offensively but can be a bit too much of a finesse player at times. He’s been injury prone at times and comes off as soft. He tends to disappear at times. In the Western Conference Finals against the Suns, his points by game were 4 ,13 ,2 ,12 ,2 , 10, and he never reached double figures in rebounds. EDGE: PERKINS
The only player of significance coming off the bench for the Lakers is Lamar Odom. Everyone else is the average role player. Similarly, the only big name coming off the bench for Boston is Rasheed Wallace. Excluding those two players, I’d rather take Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson over Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar. EDGE: CELTICS
Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson – 10 rings to 1. Enough said. EDGE: JACKSON
When it is all said and done, the Celtics take the series four games to two. Rajon Rondo will win the Finals MVP award.
I don’t know enough about hockey to sound halfway competent about the sport, so you won’t get a preview until I do some stat crunching. Until then, enjoy some “D2: The Mighty Ducks.”
The St. Louis Rams are completely over-thinking the draft process this year. The Rams have the first-overall pick in this year’s draft and are largely undecided on who to draft. Initial mock drafts after the regular season had them going with the best-available player, Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh. As time progressed, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford worked his way back to the top of the mock draft. The Rams would be making a Sam Bowie-esque pick if they were to go with Bradford.
I understand the Rams have a dire need for a quarterback and drafted defensive linemen with two of their last three first-round draft picks (Adam Carriker, 2007 and Chris Long, 2008). Just because you’ve drafted that position with a high frequency in recent years does not mean you should pass up on a can’t-miss prospect like Suh. The Detroit Lions drafted wide receivers with three of four first-round picks before 2007 (Charles Rogers, 2003; Roy Williams, 2004 and Mike Williams, 2005). Matt Millen would have been an absolute fool to pass on Calvin Williams in the 2007 draft. The moral of this story is to not let past draft errors lead you to pass on can’t-miss prospects.
The Philadelphia Eagles are openly shopping Donovan McNabb and are only asking for a draft pick 42 or better. The Rams have the first-overall pick and the first pick in the second round. Why the Rams are not going after a six-time Pro-Bowl QB is beyond me. I know the money logistics are probably not possible, but the Rams should be able to do something with no salary cap heading into the 2010 season. If they trade for McNabb, they address their need for a QB and still have the first-overall pick to draft Suh. I do not doubt Sam Bradford’s potential as a serviceable NFL quarterback. I believe Suh will have the bigger impact from week one of the regular season and have a better career.