Huddle Up: The Year of the Lions? By Jason King

 The Detroit Lions haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999.  Since then all three of Detroit ’s other professional teams have won championships. We have seen two United States Presidents since the Lions last played into January.  The average price for a gallon of gas was $1.13 in 1999.  I don’t want to go as far as saying hell will freeze over before the Lions get to the playoffs again, but I’m sure it feels that way to Lions fans.The Lions won the NFL championship in 1957.  In the 54 years since then,  Detroit has been to the playoffs only nine times.  The Arizona Cardinals own the longest drought in the NFL, not winning a championship in 64 years.  Still, the Lions are one of only four teams never to appear in a Super Bowl.  The other three are: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Cleveland Browns.

Few fans have suffered like Lions fans.

This could be the year their fortunes change.  The NFC is stacked.  Seven teams won 10 or more games and 14 of the 16 teams in the conference won at least six games last year. The Lions were 6-10 and won their last 4 games.  They gained a lot of momentum at the end of last season and seemed to buy into what Jim Schwartz was teaching.  It looks like the Lions could be ready to take that next step.

They looked razor sharp in their preseason rout of the Cincinnati Bengals 34-3.  Matthew Stafford looked healthy as he led the Lions to touchdowns on his only two series.  He was 6-7 with 71 yards and 2 TD passes.  The 26-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson made Lions fans everywhere feel good.  Johnson ran an out route and Stafford threw a pin-point pass right at the pylon where only Johnson could catch it.  If they stay healthy this could be one of the most dynamic quarterback/wide receiver combinations in the NFL over the next 10 years.

The defense is a work in progress.  They looked good in the game against the Bengals, even intercepting rookie QB Andy Dalton on his first pass attempt.  Once again, they were playing the Bengals, nonetheless they looked impressive.

It’s only one preseason game but if the Lions can overcome some early injuries (DT Nick Fairley, RB Michael Leshoure, and LT Jeff Backus being the most prominent) and address their issues in the defensive secondary they could compete in a tough NFC.  One thing is for sure, the Lions are finally headed in the right direction.

Huddle Up

1. Cam Newton could make a big impact on the Carolina Panthers franchise:  The ovation Newton got when he came in the game was astounding for a preseason game.  Panthers fans are excited to see what Newton can do.  It will be interesting to see what effect he will have on that community.  He looked pretty good in the game.  He made some good throws and already looks like he has the respect of his teammates.

 2. The Bears don’t play by the same rules as everybody else.  They apparently didn’t get the memo that the new kickoff rules state that ALL kickoffs are at the 35.  They disregarded this and kicked their first two kickoffs from the 30.  Roger Godell please fine them heavily, especially since this was a premeditated act of disobedience.

3. Mario Williams needs time to adjust to his new role.  Slow up before calling him the next DeMarcus Ware.  Wade Phillips will have that defense a lot better than it was last year.  He got off to a good start, as they set a franchise preseason record with seven sacks in their preseason opener against the Jets. How quickly Williams finds his place could be a key to the Texans season.

4. The 49ers need a quarterback.  Jim Harbough must have been kicking himself watching the 49ers preseason opener on Friday night.  He probably thought “I should have stayed at Stanford because Andrew Luck is 10 times better than any quarterback I have on this roster.”  Seriously, Alex Smith looked horrible and Colin Kaepernick looked worse.  I expect Alex Smith to play better once he learns the system, but that could take a while.  There is hope, as 7 wins could win the NFC West again.

5. The Patriots put up 47 points in a preseason game which is a franchise record.  15 Patriot regulars sat out the game including Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Jerrod Mayo, Albert Haynesworth, and Chad Ochocinco.  Bill Bellichick really is a mad scientist.  He’ll run up the score in the preseason!!!

6. I get the feeling that a lot of teams will regret passing on Ryan Mallett in the April draft.  I don’t know if he will make his mark in New England , but we could look back at this draft 15 years from now and say Mallett was the best quarterback.

7.  Boy, the Colts need Peyton Manning to be healthy.  He is the most valuable player to his team PERIOD.  And nobody else is even close.  The Colts not having Manning would be just like the Cavaliers without LeBron James, from first to worst.  They would struggle to win 3 games.  It’s just another reason for Colts fans to be grateful for No. 18.

8.  First preseason games are meaningless.

9.  Greed is ruining college football.  These greedy bastards don’t give a damn about the integrity of student-athletes or collegiate athletics.  All they care about is money.  All we hear about are: scandals, recruiting violations, conference realignment, or adding more meaningless bowl games.  The play on the field is secondary.  Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said, “We’ve made no decision about terminating our relationship with the Big 12.” “This is all about what is best for Texas A&M, along with … visibility for us and our athletes and financial resources. That’s what it’s all about. I think anybody in my shoes would have exactly the same kinds of concerns.”  Key words are “visibility for us…and financial resources.”  Now we hear about the scandal at the University of Miami .  The landscape in college sports has to change.

10.  Its only one game, but the new kickoff rule is going to change the NFL.  Yes it will prevent scary injuries seen in recent years on kickoffs, but it will also result in more touchbacks.  Who this helps and hurts most are still to be determined and I think judgments on this matter need to be reserved for a season or two at least.

 

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com

Signing Day 2010

February 3rd was Signing Day around college football as highly touted prospects like Paul Jones –signed with Penn State — decided on their football futures

The first week of February has recently become a sports phenomenon as thousands of high school football stars announce their college selections on “Signing Day” (Wednesday February 3rd).  As someone who considers himself Old-school and a historian of the game, ‘Signing Day’ is a bit premature and overblown for my taste.  I find it hard to believe the amount of coverage — the ESPN family of channels devoted several hours of coverage — that is given to former high school stars who have not even stepped foot onto a college football practice field. 

I even heard some college football analysts absurdly handing out future National Championships and Heisman’s based solely on Signing Day. Sure it is a great experience for players and their families to be featured on national television, but you have to wonder if all of the white-hot ‘Signing Day’ attention and expectations placed on these young men does more harm than good.  Immediately you know these young players are feeling the outside pressure from hanger-on types that are looking at them as their meal ticket and in terms of football, coaches and teammates may want immediate results from a player who may not be ready to deliver for three years.  For all of the hysteria surrounding Signing Day, my advice to everyone patting these young men on the back is to “Relax”. The college football world needs to remember that it is only one calendar day and immediately after the 2010 Super Class is announced, everyone will already be getting ready to anoint the 2011 group. 

Unfortunately college football history is filled with high school hotshots who couldn’t live-up to their immense Letter of Intent expectations.  Remember the road from Friday Night Lights high school Big Man to Saturday afternoon college football playmaker is quite trepidous with many potential pitfalls including grades, competition, injuries, girls, partying and any other obstacle that can quickly dim any high school All-American’s bright future. 

Another trend that I believe is signaling the too quick end of blue-chip player’s youth is that many Signing Day prospects are graduating high school early — foregoing the final semester of their senior year — to enroll in college in January to get a head start on their competition by playing in college Spring Ball. 

We will have to see in the next 2 to 3 years how the Signing Day Class of 2010 progresses, but I caution college football fans to give these young players time to mature.  Of course the usual bullies of the BCS landscape – Florida, USC, Texas, LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma – were listed as the winners of Signing Day.

Do you remember the names Dan Alexander, Anthony Martinez, Ron Powlus, and James Banks…probably not.  But on their respective Signing Days, these former blue-chippers were all considered “Can’t Miss” prospects.

Some of the players that I will have my eye on that signed their Letters of Intent on February 3rd are. 

NAME                        HOMETOWN            COLLEGE
Tarean Austin           Hillsborough, FL        New Mexico

Robert Bolden          Orchard Lake, MI      Penn State

Terrance Broadway Baton Rouge, LA       Houston

Dominique Brown   Cincinnati, OH           Louisville

Tymeer   Brown        Mc Keesport, PA       UCONN

Devin Burns              Columbus, GA           Maryland

Sam Carter                Alief, TX                      TCU

Kain Colter                Englewood, CO         Northwestern

James Franklin         Lake Dallas, TX         Missouri

Devin Gardner          Inkster, MI                Michigan

Jeffrey Godfrey         Miami, FL                   Central Florida

Javia Hall                    Dallas, TX                      UTEP

Kofi Hughes              Indianapolis, IN           Indiana

Jeremy Johnson        Silsbee, TX                  West Virginia

Rudy Johnson           Owings Mills, MD        Buffalo

Paul Jones                 Mc Kees Rocks, PA      Penn State

Conelius Jones         Spartanburg, SC           Michigan

Munchie Legaux       New Orleans, LA        Colorado

Randall Mackey         Bastrop, LA                 Mississippi

Cameron Newton      Atlanta, GA                Auburn (JC Transfer)

Jesse Scroggins         Lakewood, CA            USC

Jameil Showers        Killeen, TX                    Texas A&M

Oscar Simms            Chesapeake, VA           Alabama

Marcus Smith           Columbus, GA              Louisville

Jacoby Walker         Houston, TX                  Arkansas

Ricardo Young         Washington DC           Virginia Tech

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Many Problems with the BCS and Why the Little Guys Deserve a Chance by Kevin Hornung

The calendar has turned to November and as college football begins its last full month there are a lot of questions still left to be answered and a lot of them deal with the BCS system, as usual. With the voters and pundits still talking the same old and tired talk about the SEC being so superior, and that there is no way that the TCU’s and Boise’s of the college football world just can’t compete with the big boys, here at last, is a more common sensical approach to the 2009 football season. Get ready for some ranting because I have a lot on my mind. Continue reading

Cannot wait for Tebow to Come Play with the Big Boys

tim-tebow-statue

Can we just fast forward passed the 2009 college football season to see what kind of pro quarterback Tim Tebow will or will not be

It seems every time I bring up the subject of 2009 college football season, the subject of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow– “hallowed be thy name” —  is the first topic off people’s lips.  The only player to win the Heisman Trophy as a “true” sophomore is BCS football’s version of Super Man.  He says his prays every night, drinks his milk, doesn’t stay up late partying or with his girlfriend – often noted that he is a “virgin” – and usually wins on most Saturday afternoons. 

Tebow has been proclaimed by many in the press as being the “The Greatest College Football Player Ever” before the 2009 college football season has even started, thus fueling debates on his legacy everywhere.  BTW: Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier deserves the distinction as “Greatest”, in my opinion, as he played in three National Championships winning two and finished with a career record of 33-3 including destroying Florida 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl while being named the MVP (199 rushing yards) despite missing significant time with blood clots.  Also Florida State head coach recently said to the Orlando Sentinel that his former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward (1993) was better than Tebow. “People keep asking me about Tebow,” Bowden said. “You know, is he the best ever? I don’t know if he’s better than Charlie. I don’t think he runs better than Charlie. I don’t think he throws better than Charlie. And Charlie only played [quarterback] two years for us.”

Sure Tebow is everybody’s All-American boy as he boasts a treasure chest filled with accolades including a Heisman and two National Championship rings.  At 6-3, 240 pounds, and a record of 22-5 as a starter with abilities of leadership, instinct, and dual-threat athleticism (can beat teams passing and running), Tebow is on the cover of every college football magazine and truly is college football’s lovable bully.  Tim Terrific even was the recipient of a high profile coach’s man-crush as former NFL head coach Jon Gruden couldn’t say enough about him.  Some would say Gruden was Tebow’s biggest cheerleader after he gushed about him in a February 2009 interview

 “Tim Tebow is so interesting to me. He’s like Brandon Jacobs playing quarterback. He’s 250 pounds. He’s the strongest human being who’s ever played the position. Ever. He will kick the living [expletive] out of a defensive lineman. He’ll fight anybody. He is rare. Tebow is the kind of guy who could revolutionize the game”, Gruden said.  ESPN’s newest Monday Night Football analyst added, “(Tebow) can play quarterback in the NFL…This guy is totally different. He’s got Rich Gannon, Drew Brees, that kind of makeup as a team guy…That’s my favorite football player I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” Easy Gru-Dog before somebody says you having been stalking Tebow. 

Despite the endless amount of publicity that Tebow garners for his work on and off the field (missionary work) – has his own Sports Information staff at UF, for goodness sake. I still have one question, “Can (Tebow) play on Sundays?”  At this point, I definitely need to see more before anointing him the next Peyton Manning in the NFL.  Too often I have seen overhyped college football quarterbacks fizzle out in the NFL (see Alex Smith, David Klinger, Andre Ware, Rick Mirer, Ryan Leaf and others) due to a variety of reasons.  Mostly college football hotshot quarterbacks fail in the NFL due to their inability to perform without a great supporting cast of the nation’s best recruited talent around them, not facing a “homecoming” team every other week and defenses specifically schemed to stop them.  Let’s face it, the game speed and lack of sophistication of college defenses allows the Tim Tebow’s of the world to get away with mistakes on Saturdays that would be turnovers in the NFL.  The college game is much easier and allows for less preparation by quarterbacks.

I don’t want totally bury Tebow before he even steps foot on an NFL field.  And I do consider him a great leader as shown by him willing his team to the 2008 National Championship including his famous Rockne-esque speech after the Gators loss to Ole Miss.  The speech is will forever be part of Gator football lore as it now is display via a plaque outside the school’s football complex.  But give me a break in thinking that Tebow – passing numbers of 192- 298, 64%, 2746 yards, 30 TDs, and 4 INTs in ‘08 –will waltz through the 2009 college football season and right into the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.  I am amazed how some pundits already have mapped out Tebow’s 2009 season before it has even started — wins his 2nd Heisman, wins his 3rd National Championship (2nd as a starter), NFL first round pick and dominates at the next level. 

I know 2008 was the year of the rookie quarterback in the NFL as both Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs.  But both Ryan and Flacco had a lot of pieces around them – strong running games and attacking defenses.  Plus both of them when they got drafted were light years ahead of Tebow in terms of reading defenses.  I believe that Tebow has a long way to go before the draft in April to prove that he is an NFL caliber quarterback.  For one thing, his throwing motion is a “push” / sidearm style, which lends me to believe he will get passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and his passes often wobble leading to questions of his arm strength.  Tebow also runs with a “fullback” mentality – you know I am running it and just try to stop me – which might work in college, but if he tries to run over a linebacker like Patrick Willis in the NFL, it may be his last run.  Lastly the 2007 Heisman winner locks in on receivers and often throws jump balls where great playmakers like Percy Harvin make him look good on Sportscenter. 

I am not the only person that believes Tebow is not an NFL caliber quarterback.  ESPN’s NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. also is skeptical of Tebow at the next level.  The man with the best hair this side of Jimmy Johnson believes that Tebow would be a better pro prospect as an H-back or tight end.  Kiper was so vocal about Tebow, that Super Timmy once called Kiper’s radio show to express his displeasure with his assessment.  In a memorable exchange, Tebow said to Kiper, “You tell me this, What do you think I need to do to be an NFL quarterback? You tell me that.”  Kiper responsed, “You’re just too good with the ball in your hands not to think, Could he be Frank Wycheck? Could he be Chris Cooley? That’s why. You’re too good, doing what you do, Tim, running with the football. You’re just too good with the ball in your hands.”

The Florida’s head coach Urban Meyer has also heard the naysayers and this season has altered his spread option attack to help fix Tebow’s NFL deficiencies. Meyer also brought in new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler from the Detroit Lions.  Yes he was one of coaches from the NFL’s only 0-16 squad ever, but who keeps track of those sort of things anyway – hopefully Loeffler can teach Tebow not to run out the back of the endzone like former Lions quarterback Dan Orvlosky.  Tebow will be working hard with Loeffler to make him a better passer, which caused the NFL’s special draft advisory committee before the 2009 NFL Draft to say that he was likely to be taken somewhere between the second and 4th rounds.  That little bit of information caused Tebow to promptly go back to the “safe” confines of college football while allowing better quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman to graduate to the NFL. 

I am not saying that Tebow won’t get his chance in the NFL, but right now I cannot project him as an impact player as a quarterback in the NFL.  Without any more college eligibility after the 2009 season, Tebow will have no choice but to prove to NFL evaluators and his detractors that he is the “real deal”.  Maybe college football’s Super Man will prove me and others thinking that a position change is in order that we are wrong.  But Tebow will have to earn his way in the NFL and trust me it won’t be so easy playing with the big boys.  Many NFL veterans are tired of overhyped college stars getting big contracts and a coming into NFL lockerrooms with a “big man on campus” attitude. 

Only time will tell if Tebow has the goods to make it in the NFL.  But the first step for Tebow to prove his doubters wrong, of course after his “anticipated” magic carpet ride 2009 college season, is participating in the post college process.  I cannot wait to see him at the College All Star games (I recommend the Senior Bowl), the NFL Combine, and at Florida’s Pro Day.  And I am sure at all of these post college events, that Tebow receive the same “treatment” that other former decorated college quarterbacks, who were so-called “non-NFL quarterbacks” (Pat White, Vince Young, Brad Smith, Eric Crouch, and others) got from NFL evaluators.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 Ultimate College Football Road Trip

terrelle-pryor

Heisman Hopeful Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and his Buckeyes appear several times on Taking it to the House College Football Editor Kevin Hornung’s 2009 Ultimate College Football Road Trip

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The countdown to the college football season began on January 9th, 2009, the day after Florida beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS title game giving the Gators their second title in 3 years. Now that countdown is down to about a week. What football fan isn’t excited this time of year? Seeing that the most recent Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots were over $200 million, it got me thinking exactly what I would do with all that money. Although the first couple things I’d do is make sure my family was taken care of and by a big, new house, I would then start out on my ultimate road trip. A trip that would take me to 56 games in 100 days, the off days I would need to recuperate from jetlag. So let’s get started on where the journey will take me.

Thursday, September 3rd: Oregon @ Boise St.- What else can you ask for on the opening night of college football?  A pair of top 15 teams meeting on the blue turf in Boise. The Ducks, under first year coach Chip Kelly, are looking for revenge after the Broncos came into Eugene and beat Oregon 37-32 in 2008. Boise is looking for another perfect regular season and a return to the BCS. This should be a barn burner right away.

Friday, September 4th: Tulsa @ Tulane– The Golden Hurricane clashes with the Green Wave in this battle of colored nature. Tulsa, with its high flying offense, is looking for their third straight 10-win season while Bob Toledo’s Tulane team is looking to turn a corner in 2009 and fight for a bowl bid in Conference USA.

Saturday, September 5th: Georgia @ Oklahoma St.- The first full Saturday of the season takes us to Stillwater for a match-up of top 15 programs. Expectations are soaring for the Cowboys after a strong 2008, and fans are dreaming of a BCS title. Mark Richt brings his Bulldogs in with a chip on their shoulder after finishing 10-3 in ’08 after a lot of pundits picked them to win the title last year. Wonderful match-up between 2 of the best WR’s in college football with Georgia’s A.J. Green and Oklahoma St.’s Dez Bryant. Bryant is a sure fire top 10 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Sunday, September 6th: Ole Miss @ Memphis– This trip to Tennessee will give us a look at the best quarterback in the SEC. No, not Tim Tebow, but the Rebels’ Jevan Snead, The Texas transfer looks to get his team off on the right foot after Ole Miss went 9-4 in ’08, giving fans and alumni high hopes for the first time since Eli Manning left.

Monday, September 7th: Miami @ Florida St.- The Seminoles welcome the Hurricanes into Tallahassee for another edition of the Remember Bowl, as in remember when we were both at the top of college football and now we are just a part of college football. Both teams do have some good young talent but let’s face it, the aura of Miami and Florida St. is gone. Teams are not afraid anymore, in fact they lick their chops for revenge of past beat downs. I was going to go with the Cincinnati/Rutgers game in Piscataway on this date, but where would you rather go, North Jersey or Tallahassee?

Thursday, September 10th: Clemson @ Georgia Tech– We’ll stay in the ACC and take a look at the Tech running game led by Heisman hopeful Jonathan Dwyer. The Yellow Jackets have a good chance of winning the ACC in ’09, but will have to get by a Tiger team with a lot to prove. Clemson was a favorite to win the title last year, but got off a horrible start which led to the firing of Tommy Bowden (finally), and the hiring off Dabo Swiney. Swiney does have All-American candidate RB C.J. Spiller at his disposal to help improve upon last years 7-6 mark. 

Saturday, September 12th: USC @ Ohio St.- What else can you ask for in the second week of the season? Two of the top programs in the country this decade have combined for 3 championships and they lost another 3 BCS title games between them. Both teams lost a heck of a lot from ’08, but with recruiting the way it is in L.A. and Columbus, rebuilding is not a word you will hear. Both teams just reload. Both of them also have big questions at the quarterback position. Although the Buckeye’s QB Terrelle Pryor started for them last year, and has more experience than anyone on USC’s roster, I’m not entirely sold on him throwing the ball just yet, and if defenses play back on the pass, and stay in their lanes, they could really stifle Ohio St.’s offense this year. This will be the first big test for USC true freshman QB Matt Barkley, who was just named the starter last week. This game will tell us a lot about both teams.

Thursday, September 17th: Georgia Tech @ Miami– Another ACC showdown brings us back to the state of Florida. This will be the second conference game for both teams already, so either of them can make a statement to the rest of the ACC in this nationally televised game. This tilt will also give us our second look at Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer and also a chance to see promising Miami RB Craig Cooper.

Friday, September 18th: Boise St. @ Fresno St.- It seems that Boise St. plays on the least amount of Saturdays than any other program in the country. After a long flight from Miami we get to see a WAC showdown between two of the top non-BCS programs over the last decade. A win over Boise will get Fresno back in the national spotlight after running into some tough times over the last couple years. Obviously the Broncos will have to win to keep any BCS dreams alive.

Saturday, September 19th: Nebraska @ Virginia Tech– An interesting out of conference match-up takes us to Blacksburg to see if the Cornhuskers can keep the momentum from their 9-4 2008 campaign, the first under Bo Pelini. This will be the Hokies second tough out of conference game after playing Alabama on September 5th. With RB Darren Evans going down with a torn ACL in summer practice, this also might mean a 1-2 start for Frank Beamer’s Hokies.

Thursday, September 24th: Ole Miss @ South Carolina– Steve Spurrier is entering his 5th year at the helm of the Gamecocks and fans and alumni are still waiting for him to turn the corner. A win over a highly ranked Rebel team on national TV could get the team going in that direction. Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead already has his second game on national television to impress Heisman voters.

Friday, September 25th: Missouri @ Nevada– Now this is a game I am looking forward to. Nevada is led by not-yet-so-well-known QB Colin Kaepernick who in his sophomore season had a combined 3,979 passing and rushing yards and 39 total TDs. The Wolfpack boast 3 players who have run for more than a 1,000 yards in a season (Kaepernick, and RBs Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott) and are licking their chops to avenge a 69-17 beatdown in Missouri last year. This will also give us our first look at highly regarded QB Blaine Gabbert for the Tigers and to see All-American OLB Sean Weatherspoon in action. Weatherspoon is one of the best linebackers in the country after recording 155 tackles (76 solo), 5 sacks, and 3 interceptions in ’08.

Saturday, September 26th: Oregon @ Cal– Offense, offense, offense. That is what we should see a lot of in this Pac-10 tilt. The Bears Jahvid Best and the Ducks LaGarrette Blount are two of the top running backs in the country and it should be fun watching both on the same field. Best, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry in ’08, is a Heisman candidate and has a chance for 2,000 yards this year. The winner of this game will be the main competition to end USC’s seven year reign over the conference, if they can beat the Trojans of course.

Thursday, October 1st: Colorado @ West Virginia– The calendar turns into October as we head to Morgantown to see a West Virginia team not led by Pat White for the first time since the 2004 campaign. This also ends a tough 3 game out of conference stretch in which WVU plays East Carolina and Auburn before this game. Buffaloes head coach Dan Hawkins is really looking to make a statement in his 4th season, and a road win could be a launching point for his team.

Friday, October 2nd: Pitt @ Louisville– Remember when Louisville looked like a program that was about to own the Big East and challenge for BCS titles. Well I hope you do because it wasn’t that long ago. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe is under pressure to get his Cardinals back into the postseason after posting an 11-13 mark in his first 2 seasons. Dave Wannstedt is coming off a huge 9-4 season which quieted rumors about his impending removal. The Panthers are trying to replace RB LeSean McCoy and have major quarterback issues. This game will tell us a lot about both teams.

Saturday, October 3rd: LSU @ Georgia– A Saturday night in the SEC is always the perfect way to watch a game. We’ll go between the hedges to see which of these teams can bounce back from disappointing ’08 campaigns. We’ll see if Les Miles has solved his quarterback problems which plagued his team a season ago, and will get another look at how well the Bulldogs are replacing first round NFL draft picks QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno.

Tuesday, October 6th: Middle Tennessee St. @ Troy– Although the Sun Belt is an afterthought on the college football landscape, it isn’t because of these two programs. Troy is one of the more underrated programs in any conference in the country, and MTSU is known for knocking off an occasional BCS foe, which they did last year in beating Maryland. The winner of this game will have the inside track to the Sun Belt title and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl.

Thursday, October 8th: Nebraska @ Missouri– We get our second look at both the Cornhuskers and Tigers in Columbia. Nebraska should be ready to go after losing to Mizzou 52-17 last season, and will have even more motivation playing against the Tigers QB Blaine Gabbert who backed out of his verbal commitment with the Huskers to go play under coach Gary Pinkel. It’s still early in the season but whoever comes out on top here will have the inside track in the Big 12 North.

Friday, October, 9th: Louisiana Tech @ Nevada– Our second trip out to Reno will bring us a WAC showdown between two teams who are trying to jump over perennial WAC champ Boise St. Both teams made bowls last year and are looking to improve on that. I would say neither team is very good on defense so another shootout is expected.

Saturday, October 10th: Alabama @ Ole Miss– It takes us ‘til October to get a sight at Nick Saban’s Tide, which got off to a 12-0 start in ’08 before falling to Florida in the SEC title game and then Utah in the Sugar Bowl. After seeing the Rebels twice already, Saban should give me a call for a scouting report. This is the first time we’ve been to Oxford though. One of the high points of this game is getting a chance to watch two All-American WRs head-to-head in ‘Bamas’ Julio Jones and Ole Miss’ Dexter McCluster.

Tuesday, October 13th: Arkansas St.@ UL-Monroe– The beginning of a very busy week brings us to another Tuesday night in the Sun Belt. Tuesday night is a strange night to have a college football game, but this is the ONLY way Sun Belt teams can get on TV. However as a huge football fan, and a huge fan of the draft, this is a perfect game to catch a sleeper. Arkansas St. QB Corey Leonard is a 4-year starter, who as a two way threat, has amassed almost 7,300 total yards and has improved as a quarterback every year. RB Reggie Arnold, also a 4 year starter, is shooting for his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season. The Red Wolves appear to have a deep and talented offense that could surprise people. UL-Monroe also looks to be improved on its 4-8 mark of ’08, and can challenge for the conference crown.

Note: For all stat and number gurus out there, how about this stat dealing with Arkansas St. The Wolves bring back 101.3% of its rushing from 2008. How can it be over 100%? Departed players accounted for -33 yards rushing last year. Since they averaged 208.8 rush yards a game in 2008 (18th in the country) big things are expected from this offense.

Wednesday, October 14th: Boise St. @ Tulsa– How about this for a mid week game. Both teams are very fun to watch and could be one of the more entertaining of the year. This is the third time we have seen the Broncos this season. They have played on a Thursday, Friday, and now a Wednesday. Brilliant marketing by the athletic department of Boise. If you want to be recognized as a top BCS program you have to seen. I understand the MLB playoffs will be on, but a lot of college football reporters have no excuse whatsoever to not watch a good portion of these games. If they don’t, they are not doing their jobs. It also gives Todd Graham’s Tulsa team a chance to market themselves. This is also the second time we have seen the Golden Hurricane, after catching their game against Tulane on September, 4th. What day of the week was that? That’s right, a Friday. And we’re going to see them again. Couple guys to watch in this game are Boise’s QB Kellen Moore, RB Jeremy Avery, and CB Kyle Wilson. For Tulsa, RB Charles Clay is the most appealing prospect. He is big and fast, and is a wonderful receiver out of the backfield.

Thursday, October 15thCincinnati @ South Florida– We’re headed right back to Florida, this time Tampa, for an interesting game of two up and coming programs. The Bearcats are coming off a Big East title and BCS berth. Even though they lost to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, they still finished 11-3 and put their program on the map. QB Tony Pike and WR Mardy Gilyard are worth watching for Cincinnati. The Bulls are led by fourth year starter QB Matt Grothe and DE George Selvie. USF is a dark horse in the Big East this season but needs more consistent play form Grothe. He’s exciting to watch but has to manage the game better. Something which he should have learned by now. DE Selvie is a major NFL prospect. Although his personal stats fell of last year, he was routinely double and triple teamed in ’08.

Friday, October 16thPitt @ Rutgers– Another non-weekend Big East football game. I understand why a lot of teams in non-BCS conferences play a lot during the week but why does the Big East need so many? Of course in a lot of ways the Big East should be a non-BCS conference. Amazingly, the Big East has zero teams in the preseason polls, and is not really backed by any prestigious program. I think as many as 4 non-BCS teams (Utah, TCU, BYU, and Boise St.) would have won the Big East last year. But, oh yeah, the game. It’s always fun to watch a game in Rutgers (well, for the last couple years) and it will give us a look at a Rutgers program who is yearning for a BCS appearance probably just as much as any program. A Big East title would do wonders for a Scarlet Knight program located in a very talent rich area.

Saturday, October 17th: Texas vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)– Number 2 versus number 3. Sam Bradford versus Colt McCoy. Bob Stoops versus Mack Brown. The Sooners versus the Longhorns. The Red River Rivalry. Was their any way this wasn’t going to be on the schedule? And do I really have to comment any further?

Wednesday, October 21st: Tulsa @ UTEP– Another mid-week game, another non-BCS school trying to get some respect. Actually it’s one of the same that we’ve seen twice so far this season in Tulsa. In this one I would expect a shootout. Tulsa beat UTEP 77-35 in last season’s game, and both are returning a lot form those teams. UTEP is led by underrated QB Trevor Vittatoe who threw for 3,274 yards in ’08 with 33 TDs and only 9 INTs. We know Tulsa is a threat to win Conference USA, but if UTEP’s defense can improve (gave up 37 points and 470 yards per game in ’08) they can also challenge for the league title under Coach Mike Price.

Thursday, October 22nd: Florida St. @ North Carolina. The upstart Tar Heels make their first appearance on our trip in what could be a special year in Chapel Hill. Coach Butch Davis welcomes back 16 starters from a team that won 8 games last year. For the first time since Mack Brown left for Texas, expectations are soaring for UNC. This will be the first time we’ve seen the Seminoles since Labor Day and by this point we’ll know if they will be challenging for the ACC crown, or just trying to make a bowl.

Friday, October 23rd: Rutgers @ Army– For an ultimate road trip like this, a journey to West Point is a must. Unfortunately this game does not seem to be competitive. Army has struggled for the last decade, while Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights have escaped from Cerberus in Hades to become prominent in the landscape of college football. By now Rutgers should be passed the sting of losing QB Mike Teel and WRs Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood from last years offense. Let’s try to enjoy the atmosphere more than the game for this one.

Saturday, October 24th: TCU @ BYU– A Mountain West game in the middle of conference season? That’s right, and the big reason is that the MWC is better than a few BCS conferences (hello Big Ten and Big East), and this match-up is exactly what I want to see. TCU is a threat to make the BCS while BYU, who has Oklahoma and Florida St. in its non-conference, has a good enough offense to ruin a couple teams’ season. A perfect head-to-head of offense versus defense. All the talk of this conference getting an automatic BCS bid is completely justified. If you don’t think so consider this: the MWC has more BCS victories than the ACC, and twice as many as the BCS darlings Notre Dame. How Notre Dame has its own set of rules when it comes to the BCS is worse than the BCS itself. Are you really telling me that Utah, TCU, and BYU have not been better programs than Notre Dame over this decade. Utah has 2 undefeated seasons, and 2 BCS wins since 2004. Notre Dame hasn’t had an undefeated season since 1988 and hasn’t been close to winning a BCS bowl game. The critics will say, yeah but look at the schedules. Unfortunately that argument doesn’t hold much water, because Notre Dame’s schedule is an absolute joke this season, as it is pretty much every season. And actually take a look at some of the big bad SEC out of conference schedules and tell me they don’t need some fixing. BYU (4), Utah (3), and TCU (2) all face more preseason ranked teams than Notre Dame (1). Oh and by the way the Irish scheduled a bye week before the only ranked team they play this season (USC). If the Irish go 11-1 they still should not make the BCS, they should have to go undefeated just like TCU, BYU, Utah, Boise St., and all other non-BCS schools. Sorry for the ramble but this is one of my hot spots.

Tuesday, October 27th: East Carolina @ Memphis– The Pirates are looking for bigger and better things in 2009 after having a surprisingly successful ’08, finishing 9-5, including wins over ACC champ Virginia Tech and Big East runner-up West Virginia. Coach Skip Holtz returns 15 starters but a brutal non-conference schedule will make a BCS bid almost impossible. The Pirates play consecutive road games at West Virginia and North Carolina at the beginning of the season and then play a home date against Virginia Tech in November. Maybe Notre Dame and the vastly overrated Charlie “I know my X’s and O’s” Weis can take a lesson from this aggressive scheduling. But oh wait, they don’t have to schedule anyone good do they. It’s amazing how this school is still living with this mystique from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Another sleeper to watch in this game is Memphis WR Carlos Singleton. The 6’9” senior has good skills and is an intriguing NFL prospect.

Thursday, October 29th: North Carolina @ Virginia Tech– For the second straight Thursday we get the Tar Heels, this time in Blacksburg. The ACC race should be starting to shape up by this point in the season, and the winner of this one may get the inside track toward getting to the ACC Championship game. One thing is for sure with Butch Davis and Frank Beamer on the sidelines, both teams will be prepared and ready to play.

Friday, October 30th: West Virginia @ South Florida– Once again another mid-week Big East game. This one has a lot of appeal however as the Bulls look to take down the Mountaineers once again. Since the Big East is so wide open this season, every game is very important. One bad game could send you from first to fourth in this tightly packed conference. Of course when you think that the MWC has 3 teams ranked in the preseason and the Big East has zero, which conference do you think should have the automatic bid? Although with stars like WVU’s RB Noel Devine and USF’s DE George Selvie on the field this one will be worth watching.

Saturday, October 31st: USC @ Oregon– We are going to go trick-or-treating in Eugene for this Pac-10 showdown that could decide the conference title and a BCS bid. This is towards the end of a tough stretch for the Trojans where they play 6 out of eight on the road. If they can get to this point undefeated they may be a lock for BCS title game since the remaining schedule isn’t nearly as daunting. If the Ducks can beat Cal on September 26th and then beat the Trojans, they also will find themselves on an inside track to win the Pac-10 and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Autzen Stadium is always a tough place to play and the place will be even more crazy than usual.

Sunday, November 1st: Marshall @ Central Florida– Our first Sunday night game will take us to Orlando, which means we’ll hit Pleasure Island after the game. This C-USA battle will have bowl implications for both teams. The Herd are looking to return to a bowl as are the Knights, who really missed RB Kevin Smith last season. The fans will be loud in UCF’s new Bright House Networks Stadium as their Knights try to improve upon the worst offense in total yardage in nation in ’08, averaging only 229.5 yards per game. Keep an eye on Marshall’s TE Cody Slate. He still has to add a little size, but he is a draft sleeper.

Tuesday, November 3rd: Buffalo @ Bowling Green– This Tuesday MAC showdown gives our first look at Turner Gill’s Buffalo team that shocked the world last year, winning 8 games and the MAC Championship. When Gill took over this Bulls program they were the worst team in college football. In 3 seasons he brought Buffalo a MAC title. Honestly, how he is still there is a mystery. Gill is ready right now for a bigger and more prestigious job. Unfortunately for the Bulls, and me, RB James Starks just hurt his shoulder and will miss the 2009 season. He was one of my top draft sleepers so now we’ll have to focus on WR Naaman Roosevelt who had 104 receptions for 1,402 yards and 13 TDs in ’08. Bowling Green has only 8 starters back from their 6-6 team in ’08, but QB Tyler Sheehan and SS P.J. Mahone are worth watching.

Thursday, November 5th: Virginia Tech @ East Carolina– On the 54th anniversary of Dr. Emmitt Brown discovering the flex capacitor, we’ll catch a revenge game in Greenville. The Hokies come in looking to avenge their 27-22 opening game loss to the Pirates in 2008. That one was on a neutral field, how amped up do you think the student body will be for this nationally televised game. Keep an eye on ECU’s DE C.J. Wilson. After flirting with entering the draft after ’08, he will be the radar of a lot of NFL scouts this fall.

Saturday, November 7th: Ohio St. @ Penn St.- The Big Ten makes a rare appearance on our trip. The Big Ten has been down for the last few years, but it’s not because of these two programs. Both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions are coming off BCS berths, and as usual, both are coming off BCS losses. Expect a White-Out in Happy Valley for what amounts to be a play-in game for the BCS. There’s almost no doubt that the winner of this game will win the Big Ten again. Let’s just hope that they finally win one of those big games.

Sunday, November 8th: Nevada @ San Jose St.- Another cross country overnight flight takes up back to California for this WAC tilt. I’m happy anytime I can catch Nevada to see QB Colin Kaepernick run, and throw, all over opposing defenses. The Wolfpack are another example of a non-BCS team trying to get exposure through non-Saturday games. This is the third time we’ve seen them, and not once was on a Saturday. The Spartans return 11 starters from a team that was ticketed for a bowl in 2008, starting 6-3, before losing their final 3 games to be shut out of the post season. Nevada was one of the teams that beat them in that final 3 game stretch, a 41-17 beatdown in Reno. I think Coach Dick Tomey will remind his team of that before they take the field.

Tuesday, November 10th: Ohio @ Buffalo– For the second straight Tuesday we get a look at Turner Gill’s Bulls, this time in Buffalo. This also marks the first time we might see some snow on our trip. With the aforementioned loss of Buffalo’s star RB James Starks, this game could be the last chance for these teams to make a run at a bowl. Frank Solich (remember him?) brings his Bobcats into Buffalo looking to improve on his teams’ 4-8 performance in ’08, and will be trying to will them into a bowl game.

Wednesday, November 11th: Toledo @ Central Michigan– We’re headed to Mount Pleasant for a Wednesday night MAC game featuring one of the best quarterbacks you’ve never heard of in the Chippewas Dan LeFevour. LeFevour has put up Tim Tebow-like numbers in his career and is poised to turn the corner and become an elite player. Central Michigan has won 8 games in each of the last 2 season, but looks like the favorite to win the MAC. They welcome 16 starters back (10 on defense) from a team that actually started 8-2 in ’08 before losing their final 3 games, including a 24-21 defeat to the hands of Florida Atlantic in the Motor City Bowl. The Rockets offense should also be very good this year led by QB Aaron Opelt, RB Morgan Williams, and WR Stephen Williams. S Barry Church is a prospect to watch on the defense for Toledo. They also welcome back 16 starters from ’08, so this looks like a good game on paper.  

Thursday, November 12th: South Florida @ Rutgers– OK, honestly, I’m really starting to have enough of the Big East. Here we go again with the Bulls and Scarlet Knights, and once again this game will have a huge impact on the conference title, a race which will likely go down to thelast weekend of the season. I’ve mentioned enough about both of these teams so we’ll have a good atmosphere in Piscataway to enjoy another Big East showdown. But please, let’s have an occasional Big 12 or SEC Thursday game. What a breath of fresh air that will be.

Friday, November 13th: West Virginia @ Cincinnati– I guess I spoke to soon. Is it just me or is the NCAA deliberately putting a ton of Big East games on TV in the hopes of marketing the worst BCS conference? All they would have to do is add Notre Dame to the Big East and a lot of troubles will be solved. It makes a ton of sense, but of course you know the Irish will balk at the talk of entering a conference. The Irish play a few Big East teams every year anyway, why not make it official. However, a Friday the 13th game in Cincinnati does sound appealing nonetheless. It does give us a chance to see if Cincinnati QB Tony Pike is progressing. If he is, he will work his way up draft charts this spring.

Saturday, November 14th: Florida @ South Carolina– I guess we can call this the Spurrier Bowl. This match-up would always be better in The Swamp, but it still has a lot of appeal. The Gamecocks have played the Gators pretty well in Columbia, so an upset of the loaded Gators is not out of the question. The big question is can South Carolina’s offense move the ball on what should be one of the best units in the country. Spurrier is supposed to be an offensive genius, but the other USC is no better on that side of the ball than they were when he took the job. Florida will probably be thinking title by this game, so the story will be Spurrier’s job security. With a 15-17 SEC record (28-22 overall) in his four years, the clock may be ticking on the 64-year-old.

Sunday, November 15th: East Carolina @ Tulsa– We’ll see the Pirates and Golden Hurricane again in what could be a preview of the C-USA title game. Both teams are really hoping to run the table and get some BCS attention, but with the player losses for Tulsa, and ECU’s schedule, it appears they will be playing for a Liberty Bowl berth. Both programs have done a nice job of getting exposure this year with plenty of non-Saturday games. This battle will be offense versus defense, as Skip Holtz’ unit looks to slow down the potent Tulsa offense.

Wednesday, November 18th: Central Michigan @ Ball St.- Boy this game had a lot more importance last year. The Cardinals had an undefeated regular season in ’08 before losing their final 2 games, and then suffered huge losses on both sides of the ball, most notably QB Nate Davis and 4/5 of the offensive line. At best they will be fighting for a bowl berth in ’09. RB MiQuale Lewis and WR Briggs Orsbon are worth paying attention to for David Letterman’s alma mater. By now if the Chippewa defense is playing better than they did in ’08, they could be well on their way to a 10-win season.

Thursday, November 19th: Colorado @ Oklahoma St.- You ask and you shall receive! A Big 12 Thursday night game. The Cowboys have BCS expectations this season and this will be the week before the Oklahoma game, so OSU fans are hoping to be undefeated at this point. Either way, their offense should be clicking by this point in the season. This will also be one of the last times you will have a chance to OSU’s WR Dez Bryant in a college uniform. Colorado and Coach Dan Hawkins will be hoping for bowl security by now. It would help that program something awful if it could get back to the postseason.

Friday, November 20th: Boise St. @ Utah St.- On paper this one is over now. The Aggies shouldn’t offer much of a fight against the superior Broncos. But then again anything can happen. Another weekday game for Boise, this team rarely plays on Saturdays.

Saturday, November 21st: Ohio St. @ MichiganSo what’s the over/under of Wolverine victories this fall? I’ll set it at 6 and let you decide from there. Year 2 of the Rich Rodriguez experiment wraps up with one of the biggest rivalries there is. Ohio St. should be cruising right along at this juncture, probably having no more than 2 losses (USC & Penn St.). This game will be much more important for Michigan. There is still a lot of talent there. They just need someone to step up at quarterback. With Rodriguez just mentioning on August 23rd that he may use 3 quarterbacks in the season opener against a dangerous Western Michigan, it sounds like another long season for Wolverine fans.

Tuesday, November 24th: Ball St. @ Western Michigan– We catch Ball St. playing another directional Michigan school. This time they have to travel to Kalamazoo to face a Bronco team that should have a dangerous offense. QB Tim Hiller (64.9% comp., 3,725 yards, 36 TDs, 10 INTs in ’08) and RB Brandon West (204 carries, 1,026 yards, 8TDs) are back, as are four of the offensive linemen. They only return one starter on defense, and the quicker they gel on that side of the ball will the key to their season. If it does come together, they could challenge for the MAC crown.

Thursday, November 26th: Texas @ Texas A&M– We’ll spend Thanksgiving in College Station and get to see if the Longhorns are still undefeated. Obviously if they are this will determine the national title picture, because the winner of the Big 12 South will win the conference and the BCS berth. Coach Mike Sherman will be finishing up his second season with the Aggies and a bowl bid is the goal. A&M will also be trying to avenge last year’s 49-9 shellacking to the Horns.

Friday, November 27th: Alabama @ Auburn– An exciting week continues as we head to the state of Alabama for the Iron Bowl. Nick Saban’s Tide will probably be playing for a spot in the SEC title game, while new coach Gene Chizik will be trying to get his Tigers back to a bowl after a 1-year hiatus. In one of the most heated rivalries in the country we’ll see if the Auburn fans are more against The Tide or Chizik. He was hired with a subpar resume (5-19 in 2 seasons as head coach of Iowa St.), and if they are not in bowl contention, the fans could start turning on him already.

Saturday, November 28th: Oklahoma St. @ Oklahoma– Another game that should be full of national title implications. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that both of these teams could be undefeated going into this game. Of course both of them will have to get through Texas to get there. With all the controversy about the Big 12 last year, what will they decide if Texas, Oklahoma, and OSU are all 11-1 after the regular season? It is certainly possible. One thing is for sure if that happens, one of those teams will not get a BCS berth, and what are the chances it will be the less celebrated Cowboys? I’d say 100%. Back to the game, expect more points than some college basketball games. Offensive stars galore in this one.

Thursday, December 3rd: Oregon St. @ Oregon– The calendar turns into December as we head down the home stretch of our trip. We’ll head to Eugene for another big time rivalry game, this time the Civil War. Both teams should be fighting for better bowl berths by now, and we’ll also get to see exciting Beaver sophomore RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Remember it was Rodgers who pretty much single handedly gave USC it’s only loss in 2008, running over them and through them. This will one should also produce a lot of points, but this game has been fairly competitive lately so expect a close, hard fought game.

Saturday, December 5th: Arizona @ USC– I guess this may change depending on how the conference championships turn out, but since those match-ups are far from being set will take a trip to L.A. to see if USC can win their 8th straight Pac-10 title. The accomplishments have been amazing for Pete Carroll’s bunch over the last 7 years, but they are still looking to get back to a BCS title game for the first time since Vince Young took them down in the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats lost a lot from their bowl team in ’08, and they will be trying to make it to a second straight bowl game for 5th year man Mike Stoops.

Saturday, December 12th: Army vs. Navy (Philadelphia)– The atmosphere of this game is always one of the best in college football. I still wish they would play it on their campuses, but in a bigger stadium more people can come, and of course that means more revenue. Navy has owned the Black Knights for the better part of a decade, and this year will be no different. Navy should be wrapping up an          8 or 9 win season (they play 13 regular season games), while Army would be happy with 5 wins. It would still be a pretty big upset if Army were to knock off the Midshipmen, but we’ll have a lot of fun in the crowd of this one.

 

Kevin Hornung is the College Football Editor for Taking It to the House and a chief scout for Great Blue North Draft Report.  To talk college football with Kevin drop him an email at khornung9@verizon.net

Signing Day 2009

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The first week of February has recently become a sports phenomenon as thousands of high school football stars announce their college selections on “Signing Day” (Wednesday February 4th).  As someone who considers himself Old-school and a historian of the game, ‘Signing Day’ is a bit premature and overblown for my taste.  I find it hard to believe the amount of coverage — the ESPN family of channels had over 9 hours — that is given to former high school stars who have not even stepped foot onto a college football practice field.  I even heard some college football analysts absurdly handing out future National Championships and Heisman’s based solely on Signing Day. 

Sure it is a great experience for players and their families to be featured on national television, but you have to wonder if all of the white-hot ‘Signing Day’ attention and expectations placed on these 18-year old kids does more harm than good.  Immediately you know these young players are feeling the outside pressure from hanger-on types that are looking at them as their meal ticket and in terms of football, coaches and teammates may want immediate results from a player who may not be ready to deliver for three years.  For all of the hysteria surrounding Signing Day, my advice to everyone patting these young men on the back is to Relax. The college football world needs to remember that it is only one calendar day and immediately after the 2009 Super Class is announced, everyone will already be getting ready to anoint the 2010 group. 

Unfortunately college football history is filled with high school hotshots who couldn’t live-up to their immense Letter of Intent expectations.  Remember the road from Friday Night Lights high school Big Man to Saturday afternoon college football playmaker is quite trepidous with many potential pitfalls including grades, competition, injuries, girls, partying and any other obstacle that can quickly dim any high school All-American’s bright future.  Another trend that I believe is signaling the too quick end of blue-chip player’s youth is that many Signing Day prospects like Penn State signee Kevin Newsome are graduating high school early (foregoing the final semester of their senior year) to enroll in college in January to get a head start on their competition by playing in college Spring Ball. 

We will have to see in the next 2 to 3 years how the Signing Day Class of 2009 progresses, but I caution everyone that watches ESPN’s College Gameday show to give these young players time to mature.  Do you remember the names Baron Jackson, Anthony Martinez, Ron Powlus, and James Banks…probably not, but on their respective Signing Days, these former blue-chippers were all considered “Can’t Miss” prospects.

Some of the players that I will have my eye on that signed their Letters of Intent on February 4th are. 

NAME                        HOMETOWN         COLLEGE
EJ Banks                    Montour, PA         Notre Dame

Shavodrick Beaver        Rider, TX              Tulsa

Tajh Boyd                    Hampton, Va        Clemson

Raymond Cotton          Fort Meade, MD     Ole Miss

CJ Crawford                 Huntington, WV      Marshall

Curtis Drake               Philadelphia, Pa      Penn State

Chris Frazier                 Dallas, TX             SMU

Ka’lial Glaud                  Atco, NJ               Rutgers

Thomas Gordon             Detroit, MI             Michigan

AJ Graham                   Talahasse, FL        Marshall

Cody Green                  Dayton, TX           Nebraska

Kenny Guiton               Aldine, TX             Ohio State

AJ Highsmith                Fort Bend, TX        Miami

Darren Jones              Harvey, IL             New Mexico

Kenric  McNeal             Spring, TX             Texas A&M

Kevin Newsome           Hargrave Military (VA) Penn State

Morgan Newton             Carmel, IN              Kentucky

Terrence Owens            Cleveland, OH          Toledo

DeVontae Payne            Cleveland, OH        E. Michigan

Jordan Reed               New London, CT           Florida

Tyrik Rollison                 Sulphur Springs, TX   Auburn

Tyler Russell                  Meridian, MS             Miss. St

Nathan Scheelhaase       Kansas City, Mo         Illinois

Russell Shepard              Houston, TX             LSU

David Sims                    St Matthews, SC    Georgia Tech

Eugene Smith                  Miramar, FL             W. Virginia

Travante Stallworth         Leesville, LA              Auburn

Broderick Thomas Jr         Fort Bend, TX           Houston

Logan Thomas             Lynchburg, VA           Virginia  Tech

Edward Wright-Baker       Jeffersonville, IN        Indiana

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 HBCU All-America Team

HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the National Football League, in fact there is not enough paper in the world to list the numerous players that have made the jump from historically black colleges and universities to excellence in the NFL. 

Super Scouts/Architects Bill Nunn (’70s Pittsburgh Steelers) and Lloyd Wells (’60s Kansas Chiefs) were masters of mining “Diamonds in the Rough” at HBCU’s in helping to build Super Bowl winning teams and the pipeline continues today with players like Jacksonville Jaguars LB Justin Durant (Hampton).  This year the talent level at HBCU’s is just as exemplary and you can expect to hear many of the names listed on our 2008 HBCU All-American team called at the upcoming 2009 NFL Draft. 

OFFENSE

QB: Jacary Atkinson, Tuskegee (6-3, 205, Sr., Valley, Ala.)Was named the SIAC MVP and Offensive Player of the year along with his first team selection.  Led the conference and was tenth in Division II Football in passing efficiency (163.2). Atkinson also led the conference in passing average per game (244.4), passing yards (2,444), passing touchdowns (23) and total offense averaging 316.6 yards per game. Atkinson was named Offensive Player of the week six times this season and became the first player to win consecutive Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors in the modern era of the SIAC. Tuskegee finished the year 10-1 and won the 2008 SIAC Championship. Led the Golden Tigers to a second straight SIAC championship. Atkinson, 22-1 as a starting quarterback, earned two straight Doug Williams offensive player of the year awards from Sheridan Broadcasting Network and is a two-time SBN All-America.

RB: William Ford, South Carolina State (5-11, 185, Jr., Travelers Rest, S.C.)  — Ford led the MEAC in rushing with 1,499 yards and was tied for third in the conference in scoring (78 points). He carried the ball 246 times for an average of 115.3 yards and accounted for 13 touchdowns. Ford, a junior expected to return in ’09, is just 1,009 yards away from becoming the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher. He was named the 2008 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year.

RB: Javarris Williams, Tennessee State (5-11, 215, Sr., Richmond, Tex.) — Williams helped the Tigers to an impressive 8-3 overall record with a 5-3 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). He was named the OVC Offensive player of the year finishing with a league best 103.7 yards per game with 1,037 yards in 10 games. His 15 touchdowns were also a league best. He finished his TSU career as the All-time rushing TD leader (42) and is now second on the All-time rushing list with 4,329 yards. Javarris had six 100+ yard rushing games this season and twenty such games in his career. He rushed for 1,000 yards three consecutive years. Selected Most Valuable Player at the East-West Shrine Game.  Invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

OL: Raymond Harrison, South Carolina State (6-2, 275, Sr., Columbia, S.C.) — Harrison was a key performer in one of the most dominating offensive attacks in the MEAC this season.  The Bulldogs’ third consecutive MEAC Lineman of the Year winner, Harrison aided SCSU’s offense to 4,972 yards of total offense including 2,651 yards on the ground. 

OL: Dwayne Frost, Bowie State (6-6, 300, Sr., Largo, MD)

OL: Cornelius Lewis, Tennessee State (6-5, 310, Sr., Jacksonville, Fla.) — This former transfer from Florida State was selected first team for the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and was also invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

OL: Michael Steven,

Tuskegee (6-5, 380, Jr., Montgomery, Ala.)

OL: Adrian Brown, Delaware State (6-6, 327, Sr.)

OL: Dennis Conley, Hampton (6-4, 303, Sr. Suffolk, Va.) 

TE: Octavius Darby, South Carolina State (6-4, 240, Sr., Hollywood, Fla.)  — Selected to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) First Team. This “Alge Crumpler” type tight end had 31 receptions for 518 yards and 12 TD’s.

WR: Justin Brown, Hampton (6-2, 200, Sr., Dover, N.J.) — Led the MEAC in receiving yards (887), averaging 80.6 per game, and was second in the conference in catches per game with 5.1

WR: Raytron Mayfield, Langston (6-1,205, Sr., Dallas, TX) —Mayfield had 799 yards receiving on 59 catches with nine touchdowns. Plus an additional 165 yards rushing with three touchdowns and he also threw for 77 yards and one touchdown. Led the Lions in scoring with 76 points. Was selected First-Team All-CSFL (Central States Football League Conference). Also guided the Lions to the NAIA National Playoffs second round and an 11-2 record. 

DEFENSE

DL Chris Baker Hampton (6-2, 305, Jr., Windsor, Conn.) — This former transfer from Penn State was selected first team for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Baker led the Pirates and the MEAC with 8.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hurries, to go along with 69 tackles – the third-highest total on the team. Invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

DL: Louis Ellis, Shaw (6-4, 295, Sr., Jackson, Miss.) — Was named CIAA Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year as Shaw won their second consecutive CIAA Championship. This season he anchored the Shaw Bears defensive unit to the national number one spot of the NCAA Division II in total defense (#1), rushing defense (#1), tackles for a loss (#1). Louis was the CIAA’s leader in tackles for loss (16 solo and 8 assisted) and was second in the conference with 8 sacks. He was also credited with 60 total tackles. Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game.

DL: Richard Washington, Clark-Atlanta University (6-3, 305, Sr., Miami, FL) — An All-SIAC first teamer, Washington had a big day at the East Coast All Star game, finishing with a couple sacks and several other key stops.

DL: David Williams, Kentucky State (6′-3, 240, Sr. Detroit, MI) — All-SIAC first teamer had 51 TKLS, 5.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.5 sacks, and 2 FF

DL: Marcus Benard, Jackson State (6-4, 260, Sr., Ypsilanti, Mi.) — The senior defensive end led the SWAC with 15 sacks (which is first in the SWAC and second in FCS), as well as leading the SWAC with 22.5 tackles for loss. He also recorded season highs of 17 tackles against Ala. A&M, five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss against Ala. A&M.

DL: Christian Anthony, Grambling State (6-4, 246, Jr., Birmingham, Ala.)  — Anthony had 48 tackles with 14 tackles for loss.  He also amassed six sacks, broke up five passes and had 2 INTs in 12 games played.

LB: Jeffrey Cargile, Morehouse (5-9,200, Sr. Cincinnati, OH —Won the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year award after leading Division II and the conference in sacks (12.5). Cargile also led Division II and the conference in tackles for a loss (23.0) and finished the season with 99 tackles. Morehouse finished the 2008 campaign with a 6-4 record over-all and 6-3 in the SIAC for a second place finished.

LB: Marcellus Speaks, Jackson State (6-2, 230, Sr., Jackson, Miss.) — Speaks led the SWAC with 115 tackles (54 solo; 20.5 for loss), along with 5.0 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one blocked kick in leading the Tigers to the SWAC Championship Game for the second consecutive year. He was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year and he also had Player of the Week honors three times this season. Speaks made a season-high 16 tackles (with 1.0 for loss with 0.5 sacks) vs. Southern (Oct. 4)

LB: Endor Cooper, Howard (6-3, 245, Sr., Woodbridge, Va.) — An All-MEAC Conference first team player. This senior middle linebacker had an outstanding season leading the MEAC in total tackles per game with 11.4 and in forced fumbles with four. Also finished tied for third in tackles for losses in the MEAC. Recorded double digits in tackles in nine of 11 games played.

LB: Jarrell Guyton, Morgan State (6-0, 225, Sr., Miami, Fl) — The MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Year honor after leading one of the most dominating defensive units in the FCS. For the second year in a row the Morgan State Bears led the FCS in total defense giving up less than 213.4 yards per game. Guyton collected 35 solo and 35 unassisted tackles for the Bears this season. He put up numbers in almost every defensive statistical category including 70 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss of 41 yards, four sacks for a 22 yard loss, one interception for a 22 yards return, three broken up passes, one hurry, and one forced and recovered fumble.

DB:  Rodrick Jones, Elizabeth City State University (5-11, 179, Sr.) — Was the MVP of the CIAA Championship Game finishing his last collegiate game with 9 tackles, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.  Had an interception in the East Coast Bowl and will play in the Cactus Bowl. Runs in the 4.6 range in the forty.

DB: Domonique Johnson, Jackson State (6-2, 200, Sr. Texas City, Tex.)  — This All-SWAC performer was originally signed and played for Missouri, leaving for undisclosed reasons after the 2006 season. One of the best defensive backs in the upcoming NFL draft, Johnson finished his senior year with a team high four interceptions (returned one for a touchdown) and a league high 13 pass break-ups. Had his best game against Mississippi Valley State recording 10 tackles and 2 INTs.  Extremely fast as Johnson has been clocked in the 4.35 to 4.4 range in the forty. Played in the 2009 Senior Bowl and was also invited to the 2009 NFL Combine.

DB: Eddie Young, Fort Valley State (6-0, 205, Sr., Macon, GA — A physical tough safety chosen first team All-SIAC.  Participated in the East Coast Bowl and is considered a Pro Prospect at safety running a 4.65 in the forty-yard dash.

DB: Gregory Toler, Saint Paul’s (6-1, 185, Sr., Washington, D.C.)  — 2008 All-CIAA selection – Toler participated in the East Coast and Cactus Bowl All Star games after leading the CIAA with 6 INTs (ranked third in NCAA DII) and 19 passes defended.

DB: Niles Rainey, Virginia Union (5-10,165, Sr., College Park, GA) — Rainey had a very good season for VUU despite playing in a strange rotation.  The Georgia native finished with 3 INTs.  He was named CIAA Defensive Back of the Week, for the week ending on October 18, 2008 for his defensive efforts in a 68-6 victory over Lincoln University (Pa).  In the Lincoln game, Rainey recorded 2 touchdowns (one on a fumble recovery and the other on an interception).

DB: Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State  (6-2, 200, Jr., Virginia Beach, Va) — Whitehead was named First Team All-MEAC for the second straight year after having the second-most passes defended (15) of any MEAC player.  He also tallied four interceptions (13 for his career ranking him 3rd in MEAC history) and 11 pass deflections. The physical junior defensive back led NSU and ranked seventh in the MEAC with 83 tackles.

Special Teams

PK: Brandon Gilbert, North Carolina Central (5-10, 190, Sr. Graham, NC) — School’s all-time leading scorer and holds school records for career Field Goals made, extra point kicks made, single-season field goals made, extra point kicks made (48), and record for field goals made in a game (4). Booted the longest field goal in school history with a 51-yard last-second, game-winning kick in the 2006 CIAA Championship Game (Nov. 11).

P: Jahmal Blanchard, Hampton (6-3, 182, Jr., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) — Averaged an amazing 43.1 yards per punt

KR: William Osbourne, Texas Southern (5-7, 160, Jr., Marshall, TX) — This explosive all-purpose player made an impact all over field averaging 192.3 yards per game.  Was TSU main receiving threat producing 82 catches for 1092 yards and 7 TD’s while averaging 15.9 yards per punt returns and 22.5 on kickoffs.

PR: Jeremy Gilchrist, Hampton (5-10, 174, Sr., Virginia Beach, Va.) — This transfer from Virginia Tech is a very explosive return man with top-level speed.  Averaged 15.6 yards per return and had 3 TD’s in ’08.

HONORABLE MENTION

OFFENSE

QB – Bryant Lee, Southern; Curtis Rich, Elizabeth City State; Bobby Reid, Texas Southern (Transferred from Texas Southern); Antonio Hefner, Tennessee State (Transferred from South Carolina); Kisan Flakes, Albany State (Transferred from Illinois); Lamar Little, Virginia Union; Carlton Hill, Miles College (Transferred from South Florida)

RB – Devan James, Morgan State; Winston Thompson, Clark Atlanta University; Michael Wright, Kentucky State University; Taron Hampton, Virginia State, Tarian Donaldson, Virginia Union; Kareem Jones, Delaware State; DeAngelo Branche, Norfolk State

OL – Revay Smith, Grambling State; Cleveland Collie, Prairie View A&M; Oliver Pazdry, Shaw; Robert Okeafor, Florida A&M

WR – Dexter Manley, Elizabeth City State; Jason English, Tuskegee; Thomas Harris, Alabama A&M; Juamorris Stewart, Southern
Defense

DL – Jarvis DeVaughan, Tuskegee; Justin Lawrence, Morgan State; Sammie Lee Hill, Stillman (Invited to the 2009 NFL Combine); Melvin Matthews, Grambling State; Vincent Lands, Southern; Jeremy Maddox, Alabama A&M; Marcus Kennedy St. Augustine’s
LB – Zach East, Prairie View A&M; Travis Roland, Bethune-Cookman; Lee Robinson, Alcorn State (Played in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game and was also invited to the 2009 NFL Combine)

DB – Dre’Mail Hardin, Stillman; Darnell Brown, Langston; Anthony Beck, Prairie View A&M; Justin Hamilton, Elizabeth City State; Jeff Franklin, Central State; Darren McKhan, Morgan State; Enrique Cox, Virginia Union; Al Donaldson, Alabama AM; Stephen Jackson, Fort Valley; Don Carey, Norfolk State

PK: Jeremy Licea, Alabama A&M

KR: LeRoy Vann, Florida A&M

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)