Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can Tennessee's Defense Be Better Than Last Year's?

While much of the focus during Tennessee's tumultuous offseason and spring practice has been focused on the offense, the Vols defense has gone through some changes as well. Gone are Thorpe Award winner Eric Berry, first round selection Dan Williams, team leader Rico McCoy, and legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. What's left for the Big Orange is a group of young men and a young defensive coordinator who can carry the great Tennessee defensive tradition into a new era.

It all begins with the man in charge of the defense, Justin Wilcox. The 33 year-old Wilcox spent the last four seasons as Boise State's defensive coordinator. In those four seasons the Broncos led the Western Athletic Conference in total defense and scoring defense each year.

Yes, Boise State is in the WAC where defense is mostly an afterthought. However, Boise State did not go 14-0 last year by putting up basketball numbers. Last year the Broncos finished 14th nationally in total defense and third in turnovers gained. And that's not just against the WAC. TCU averaged 51 points in the last four games of an unbeaten regular season. It scored 10 in a seven-point loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon scored 42 or more points in five consecutive Pac-10 games. It scored eight in the season opener against Boise State.

Wilcox will bring a high risk/high reward defense to Big Orange Country. Something that is much different than Kiffin's famous "Tampa 2" defense. In the "Tampa 2" the defense played zone and did a great job at limiting big plays but it can limit a defense's chances on interceptions and sacks. With the multiple fronts and different schemes Wilcox's system brings, look for Tennessee to be a more opportunistic defense with more interceptions and sacks. However, this also leaves Tennessee susceptible to big plays. Despite this, the Tennessee defense will have to produce big plays on defense to give the offense a short field to work with this season.

So Tennessee fans have a good idea of what Wilcox can bring to the table, but what kind of talent do the Vols have this season?

On the defensive line Tennessee does have some playmakers at end with Ben Martin and Chris Walker. They are great pass rushers who have some solid speed coming around the end. Walker, listed at 241 pounds reminds many of the Indianapolis Colts great rusher Dwight Freeney when he played at Syracuse. At tackle the Vols are a little thin. Montori Hughes will have to live up to his potential this season. Wilcox has been tinkering with different schemes and during spring practice even lined up the 317 pound Hughes off the line so he could get a head of steam to rush the passer.

At linebacker the Vols have many players with game experience, mostly because they were all injured at one point or another last year. At the end of spring it looks like Nick Reveiz, Savion Frazier, and LaMarcus Thompson to be the starting three, but expect Greg King and Herman Lathers to get plenty of playing time as well. Under the radar is redshirt freshman Jerod Askew who can make an impact. With the depth at linebacker at a thin defensive line, look for Wilcox to tinker with a 3-4 scheme this season.

In the Tennessee secondary, when someone like Eric Berry leaves there is an obvious void to fill. This Tennessee group is looking to fill that void in a big way. Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson has already received Eric Berry hype after a great freshman season, despite losing four games due to legal issues. Darren Myles Jr., Eric Gordon, and Art Evans bring big play potential to the secondary.

In 2008 Tennessee was third in total defense, and last season the Vols dropped to 22nd. If Tennessee can get over depth issues on the defensive line, and the secondary can fill the void left by Eric Berry and Dennis Rogan, the Vols can have a great defense. Because of the schemes that Wilcox employs the success of this defense might not show up in yards per game. Instead success will be measured in sacks and turnovers.

This season, the Tennessee defense is going to have to lead the way until the offense has a chance to gel and score some points.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Big Ten Expansion: Ready to Reshape College Football Part I

It has been on the minds of many college football fans all offseason, expansion. The Big Ten made it known at the beginning of the year that they were looking to expand their conference ranks and add teams. The number of total teams has been anywhere from 12 to 16. Yesterday it was reported that the Big Ten has extended early offers to four schools: Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, and Notre Dame. Of course, immediately after the report came out, the Big Ten and the two Big XII schools rushed to deny everything, but you know in this day and age, that doesn't mean much. How this all plays out will change the face of college football.

In terms of the all mighty dollar in TV deals the SEC and Big Ten are on top by a large margin. Average annual income from TV revenue shapes up like this:

Big Ten - $242 Million
SEC - $205 Million
Big XII - $78 Million
ACC - $67 Million
Pac-10 - $58 Million
Big East - $33 Million

In the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC the TV revenue is divided evenly among all schools, while in the Big XII, ACC, and Big East only a portion is divided equally and a portion is based on which schools appear the most on television. Expansion is a way for the Big Ten to make even more money and for schools wanting to join the Big Ten to make more cash.

Here is a look at all four schools and a break down of what they can bring to the Big Ten and if they are likely to jump.

Notre Dame - The Irish have been the apple of the Big Ten's eye for decades and they would love to have them join the conference. However, the Irish are obsessed with sticking to their tradition of remaining an independent in football (they are a member of the Big East in all other sports). If this conference expansion really gets going and the dominos begin to fall all over college football, Notre Dame might just be forced to join a conference or be left out in the cold They also have a huge TV deal with NBC for their home football games, but now since the Big Ten has its own network and TV deal, as well as all the BCS dollars out there, Notre Dame could stand to make even more money as a member of the Big Ten. Notre Dame already has rivalries with a number of Big Ten schools in Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State. Notre Dame might not like it, but they may have to finally put their independent tradition to bed.

Nebraska - The Cornhuskers have long been a strong program in college football. Yes they have had a few lean years recently, but starting with the success last year they are on their way back up to national prominence. Nebraska was an original member of the Big 8 conference with Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. When the Southwest Conference dissolved in 1996, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor joined the Big 8 to form the Big XII conference. While Nebraska was the bell cow for the conference in football through 2001, the power has really shifted to the southern division, namely Texas and Oklahoma. Since the Big XII does not have the revenue sharing system the SEC has and without a major TV deal, Nebraska has begun to feel disenfranchised with the conference and realize they can make more money in the Big Ten. However, Nebraska does not have rivalries with any Big Ten schools so they would be like the new kid on the block. Probably not what a traditional football power like Nebraska would want.

Missouri - Like Nebraska, the Missouri Tigers were a member of the Big 8 and then merged with the Texas schools to become the Big XII. Missouri has also become very disenfranchised with the Big XII and have been looking to bring their school into another conference. Both geographically and football wise, the Big Ten would be the best fit if they jump. Mizzou only has strong rivalries with Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois. Their game with Illinois would become a conference game, and so would the game with Nebraska if they jumped, while Kansas would become a non-conference affair.

Rutgers - The Scarlet Knights as a school bring the least to the table when it comes to athletics. Yes, in 1869 the original Rutgers football team defeated Princeton University 6 to 4 in the first intercollegiate game ever played, but Rutgers football had been the pits for decades until current head coach Greg Schiano made them consistent winners. They had the dramatic win over Louisville on a thursday night in 2006, but really have not been on the national scene since then. What Rutgers brings is the New York city market and the New Jersey recruiting pipeline.

When I look at these four schools I think that Rutgers would definitely jump. I think they weigh too much on the New York market as a college football base, but with eight million people, someone is bound to watch. As for the New Jersey recruiting pipeline, schools have been getting huge recruits from the Garden State for years, including former Vols: Rashad Baker, Turk McBride, Greg Amsler, Bill Duff, Darrin Miller, Carl Zander, and Sterling Henton.

As for the other three schools, I think Missouri is the most likely to go. They look like a Big Ten school in terms of geography and academics. Notre Dame probably should go. I think of them as a Big Ten school more than a Big East school, but they have that tradition they whine about all the time so they probably will not make the move unless they are forced to. Meanwhile, I think Nebraska has too much tied into the Big XII when it comes to football so I think they are the least likely of these four to jump.

So there you have it. Get ready for some shake ups in the college football world. Part II will consist of what I think will happen to all the other teams and conferences if expansion really gets going.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Phillies Fan Got What He Deserved

As many of you know, I hate fans who act idiotic and ruin things for the rest of us. Last night, A Philadelphia Phillies fan got what was coming to him. 17-year-old Steve Consalvi ran onto the field at Citizen's Bank Park on Monday, where he was Tasered by a police officer.

Now instead of going to class today, this moron has to stand in front of a judge and be charged with criminal trespassing. There are some bleeding hearts who are whining that the use of a Taser was excessive, I could not disagree more. I think the officer did the right thing, using non-lethal force in subduing a fleeing suspect. The way the world is today, officers do not want to take any chances in dealing with suspects.

Tasers are actually quite safe in taking down a suspect and are preferred to using pepper spray. Before an officer is allowed to use a Taser, they must be Tasered themselves. Consalvi was not injured at all and 90 seconds after he was subdued, he was up and walking off the field.

I personally hope this use of a Taser at a sporting event will keep other stupid fans from trying to run onto the field. As I have said before, 99.5% of sports fans act like civilized human beings, it is the other .5% who give the rest of us a bad name and are part of the reason prices go up at events. Maybe this event will change some minds in morons, however I doubt it.