Friday, December 30, 2011

Dan Coughlin's 'Pass the Nuts:' Please pass more

One of my favorite memories from my first few years working here in the mid-1990s was when Dan Coughlin called to check in his column.

He wrote for The News-Herald twice a week, and he sent his column via the AP wire. This required dialing into the AP's computer system via phone line, similar to dial-up Internet service.

Most of the time it went smoothly. But when it didn't, it was a pain to troubleshoot. On a few occasions, his column didn't make it in the first try. Or the second try. When I told him it hadn't made it, he sometimes expressed his frustration in a way that wasn't fit for broadcast or print. We can laugh about it now.

This usually happened close to 6 p.m. A short while later, Coughlin was on the air for the WJW-TV 8 sports report, and you wouldn't have known the difference. I always wondered how he prepared for his segment so quickly.

With that experience as background, I've enjoyed Coughlin's two books. "Pass the Nuts," which came out in November, is a follow-up to "Crazy, With the Papers to Prove it" from 2010. Both have hilarious stories from his 40-plus years on the sports scene in Cleveland.

They read as if he was telling stories at a local bar (there a LOT of stories about bars in "Pass the Nuts," so it isn't much a stretch.)

I was lucky to get an autographed copy for Christmas. It was inscribed, "Yes, they're all true." Some of the tales are so outrageous, that the statement is necessary.

I won't spoil them all, but a few of my favorites:

-- A lawyer who got a Cleveland State basketball player off the hook for allegedly stealing and cashing five university checks by getting him put on probation under his middle name.

-- The Fox 8 helicopter's adventures covering high school football games, including a landing in Willoughby in which they were greeted by police, but not in a good way.

-- How a 62-mile run on a bet ended Browns offensive lineman Dick Schafrath's career.

A quibble: A chapter on the Plain Dealer's D'Arcy Egan states that when Steve Pollick of the Toledo Blade retires this month, Egan will be the only full-time newspaper outdoors writer in Ohio. Our own Jeffrey L. Frischkorn has been cast-and-blasting for several decades, and he's going strong. Coughlin writes about the deer population explosion, including his backyard, in a later chapter. Jeff could tell him all about it.

The last five chapters are about the rise and fall of adult softball in Northeast Ohio and the characters involved. If the beer leagues are your bag, then they are a must read.

So is the rest of the book.

- Howard Primer


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Big Ten, Pac-12 agreement is interesting

Kudos to the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences for the creation of their football series that is scheduled to begin in 2017.

The format is simple: 24 teams (12 from each conference) will play each other every season. The agreement includes all sports, but football will make the biggest splash. It could evolve into something similar to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in college basketball, but a challenge such as this on the gridiron will much more fascinating, especially from Ohio State's perspective.

Reportedly, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is already concerned about the scheduling aspect of Wednesday's announcement.

Smith does not want the Buckeyes to play more than one "difficult" non-conference game in a season. Beginning in 2016, and again in 2017, OSU starts a series with Oklahoma. Ideally, Smith would like the football team to land a Pac-12 creampuff in 2017 to offset the mammoth game against the Sooners.

Be careful what you wish for Gene. Schedules are set years in advance, and there's no telling what team will emerge from the Pac-12 five years from now.

For example, Washington State has been a cellar-dweller for years in the Pac-12, but with Coach Mike Leach recently hired, who knows what the status of the Cougars' program will be in 2017. Likewise with Stanford. Any school scheduling the Cardinal five years ago probably thought it was securing a guaranteed win. Then Andrew Luck elevates his team to top-5 status.

The good news for OSU fans is there will be potentially one more marquee non-conference football game to circle on your calendars, starting in 2017. The bad news is winning a national championship just got a bit more difficult.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Browns' potential future on display Thursday

If you haven't seen Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III play this season, and are wondering if he's good enough for the Browns to potentially select him as their franchise quarterback, Thursday is your lucky day.

Griffin and the Bears play in the Alamo Bowl against Washington on Thursday night. The speedy QB with a big arm hasn't yet declared for the draft, and there are rumors he might return to Baylor for the 2012 season.

Still, Griffin is worth watching, and his play is enticing, even if you're just an average football fan. This season, he threw for 3,998 yards, 36 touchdowns, six interceptions and completed 72.4 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 644 yards and nine more scores. He's 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, runs the 40 in the 4.4s and is an Olympic-ready hurdler.

Plus, all signs point to RG3 being a good kid. He's the total package, and has all the makings of a franchise NFL quarterback, if he declares for the 2012 draft. The Browns should be picking in the top 5 of the first round. RG3 to the Browns could be a reality, if Mike Holmgren and Co. feel he's made for the West Coast offense.

If you are a Browns fan, you know the team desperately needs a franchise QB, so check out RG3 on Thursday night. The Browns had better be watching too.

- Mark Podolski

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Draft '12 must have offensive tint to it

This just in - the Browns offense is unwatchable.

OK, so maybe that's not some sort of brilliant epiphany.

But this spring, the Browns can do something about the fact that their offense is so horrific. And when the 2012 draft gets here, let's hope President Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckart do something about it.

No more trading down. No more missed opportunities. No more excuses.

It's time for the Browns to get some play-makers on this team.

In each of the past two drafts, the Browns have traded down to the latter portions of the first round. It has worked out pretty well for them, as they have netted a standout center in Alex Mack and a defensive centerpiece for years to come in tackle Phil Taylor.

But this offense the Browns put on the field every Sunday is nauseating. Now is the time to fix it.

The Browns have two first-round picks this year, their own and the one they received from Atlanta in last year's draft-day deal that netted the Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. Holmgren and Heckart can't afford to miss on them.

If that means taking Arkansas RB Trent Richardson or WR Justin Blackmon with what looks to be a top-five pick, then so be it.

If that means going wide receiver in the early 20s with the pick gained from Atlanta (Notre Dame's Michael Floyd or South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery), then do it.

Even though I'm not as big of a fan of it, packaging both picks to move up to maybe No. 3 (where Minnesota looks to be) and taking Heisman Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III to run this offense, then go for it.

In the second round and beyond, capable, game-changing defenders can be found. But the defense isn't the big problem on the Browns' roster. It's the unwatchable offense.

It's time for Holmgren and Heckart to fix that, either by getting Colt McCoy some weapons to work with (i.e. Richardson, Blackmon, Floyd or Jeffery) or bringing some electricity to the QB position with RG3.

The fans have suffered long enough with trade-downs and offensive inadequacy.

- John Kampf

Labels: ,

Friday, December 23, 2011

NBA restarts in two days

Maybe it's because the holidays are taking up most of our attention, but it doesn't seem as if the NBA season is going to start in two days.

I guess it shouldn't be too surprising. The NBA has never had a big opening, anyway. It just kind of starts, as if it were picking up from where last year's Finals left off, only everyone gets to play again.

Baseball has six weeks of spring training leading to opening day. The NFL kickoff is a signal that summer is over.

The NBA has no such build-up or seasonal change. That's ironic, because it over-produces so many other aspects of its product. But the new season doesn't seem like a grand opening. Everyone's record restarts at 0-0 and off they go. That happens in other sports, of course, but in the NBA, it doesn't seem brand new. It's more like a continuation.

- Howard Primer

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2012 wish list

As a northeast Ohio sports fan, I don't ask for much. All I want are these five things for 2012 (OK, some are a bit much, but what the heck:

1. A phone call from the Masters saying they made a mistake and I DID win its random public lottery for two tickets to the tournament in April.

2. A quarterback to emerge for the Browns in 2012. Don't care if it's Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III, Packers free-agent-to-be Matt Flynn or someone else. Anyone. These QB controversies every other year out of Berea are tiresome.

3. A healthy year out of Cavaliers rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Kyrie Irving. This team has had enough bad luck.

4. Expectations to be tempered for Urban Meyer. It's not the end of the world if there is a bit of transition to the first-year coach next season, although Ohio State's 2012 football schedule is very inviting.

5. A cold, snowy night Jan. 15 when Ohio State and Michigan play a hockey game at Progressive Field.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prep year in review brings back good memories

Today I worked on my prep year in review lists.
Ever year, the prep staff at the paper puts together top performances, now it can be told stories, top overall stories and more.
It's a good time to review what has transpired over the past 12 months.
I'll admit, my memory is bad. O.K., it's really bad.
But taking a peek at the various articles I've written brings me right back to a warm spring day during track season when numerous area athletes made a trip of a lifetime. I am reminded of a freezing cold fall night when the Chagrin Falls football team played its final game of the season.
So many precious memories are organized in the manilla folders I keep at my desk.
At a moment's notice, those memories are there to fill my mind whenever I need them.
I realized today, I don't review my old stories nearly enough.
There are story lines I've forgotten about and names that make me smile just thinking of them.
I'll continue organizing my articles in manilla folders in 2012. But this time I won't wait until the prep year in review to enjoy them.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fantasy football the ultimate crapshoot

Laurent Robinson or Miles Austin?

Who cares, right?

Well, you would care too if you were in my shoes.

Made the wrong call 2 weeks ago on my final roster spot and had to decide between two receivers from same team, and if my math serves me right, I made the WRONG choice and it cost me a shot at the Super Bowl of my fantasy league.

Wow, who woulda thunk it?

You never what is going to happen, so for those "EXPERTS" on the Internet or on the radio that some of you worship and put all your faith into daily, don't bother. I am not bitter at any "FANTASY EXPERTS" by any means, but what a roll of the dice. Nobody knows for sure. Admit that and I am fine.

Robinson or Austin? Austin or Robinson?

Really it all came down to that, believe it or not.

The ultimate gamble is fantasy football, because there is no control or rhyme or reason.

- Bill Tilton

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time to go bowling

If your school's bandwagon needs a driver, chances are I'm available.

With the start of the college football bowl season Saturday, I became the kind of fan I despise. Considering the rooting interests of bowl picks on the line, in the afternoon Saturday I was a Temple fan. Then I flew over to Utah State and became a fan of theirs in time for their game. Then it was San Diego State.

And on and on.

I will be the first to admit I'm slightly annoying to be around during bowl season and March Madness, because I really take my picks seriously hoping to reign supreme in the office pools. It was even more important to me to fare well this year in bowls after a horrendous effort last year - 10-22 or something like that. It was absolutely awful.

Of course, two of my three picks Saturday were not helped by my bandwagon driving.

Here's to hoping for better from Florida International.

And Louisiana Tech.

And Boise State.

And Nevada.

And ...

- Chris Lillstrung

Friday, December 16, 2011

Heisman Trophy: The most overrated award in sports

In almost all team sports, MVP awards are nice individual honors, but winning a championship is valued more.

You wouldn't know it the way college football fans talk about the Heisman Trophy. It is touted as the most prestigious individual honor in sports. Every year, the player with the most votes is awarded the trophy on a stage decorated like a country club -- it has paintings hanging in the background for extra grandeur.

Trying to figure out why the Heisman is so important is as difficult as forecasting the winner in the third week of the season, as many TV analysts and college football experts like to do.

The Heisman is like a celebrity who's famous for being famous. If you ask why, you likely won't get much of an answer. It's like a curious 6-year-old questioning his parents about a holiday tradition -- "Because you're grandfather said so!"

Maybe it's because the trophy looks cool. Everyone makes the pose in their backyard after catching the game-winning touchdown pass.

It isn't held in such high regard because it's an accurate account of the best player in the country that season. Defensive players and linemen have very little chance compared with offensive skill players. That's the case in the NFL, too. But the NFL MVP is considered less important than owning a Super Bowl ring, so you don't hear that argument much in the pros.

That means that this is the Bowl Championship Series' fault. If college football had a playoff, each season would be remembered first and foremost by which team won the title and the championship performance in the process. The Heisman would fall down the ladder a bit.

Perhaps it already has, and this mystique is just television hype. Usually when the Heisman comes up in conversation, it's about how few of the winners went on to NFL glory (I know, it's not intended to be an NFL predictor. That's usually the next thing that comes up in the conversation). Of course, this doesn't come up between the TV hosts while they're sitting on the set with the expensive furniture before the winner is announced.

It also gives broadcasters something to talk about during the offseason, when there isn't much to discuss besides inaccurate recruiting projections, which coach ditched his team before a bowl game and which schools had the worst NCAA violations. Networks have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for rights fees and would rather avoid those topics. So the Heisman it is.

My suggestion: Go to a playoff for the national title, and award the Heisman to the MVP of the championship game.

- Howard Primer

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coaches who call in box scores should be commended

It's early in the girls basketball season, I know.
But so far, almost every day since the season officially started on Nov. 25, there have been box scores in the paper.
Since I've been the girls basketball beat writer, I have gotten into a habit of cutting out the box scores and taping them into a legal pad for reference. It's helpful information to see how teams fare from game to game, week to week and month to month. It's also helpful information when putting together the Top of the Crop.
I think it's important for head coaches and their assistant coaches to know how much we appreciate them calling in their box scores every night. Some do it while riding home on the bus, others do it immediately after the game and some do it when they get home.
The time and effort is truly appreciated.
Thank you to everyone who has ever taken the time to call in, fax in or e-mail in a box score.
It's important information that helps us recognize as many kids as possible in our coverage area.
Please keep the calls, e-mails and faxes coming in.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia

The policy to call in scores is as follows:
The News-Herald accepts results until 10 p.m. each night. Results can be emailed or faxed at any time, but must be received by 10 p.m. to be included in the following day’s editions. Scores can also be called in from 6:30 to 10 p.m., but will only be taken by phone during those hours. The phone numbers are 440-951-0000 or 800-947-2737. Hit 3 when the message begins. The fax number is 440-951-6731. Scores can be reported via email to:


Monday, December 12, 2011

The OIC Principle

When I think of the Cleveland Browns, all I can think of is the movie "Jaws".

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Just when Browns fans thought a new regime of president, GM and coach, you could enjoy Sundays again, you get ... 2011.

Only in Cleveland, right?

What a mess. What a trainwreck. What a murky, dangerous ocean to wade back into as a fan of the team in the orange helmets.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

A Madden cover boy who can't stay healthy. An offensive line that is more sieve than wall. A QB who has no wide receiver he can count on. A defense that can't stop the run. And apparently a medical staff that may or may not be in tune with the NFL mandate on checking for a concussion - allegedly.

Other than that, how are you enjoying this football season at 4-9?

Browns fans, maybe it is better if you just stay out of the water all together and root for the Cleveland State Vikings basketball team.

Or else, be warned, you might get bitten in half.

Only in Cleveland, where there aren't any sharks in Lake Erie (I am assuming) but there is plenty of bad football.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Army-Navy at its best


There is a lot wrong with sports at the moment - and being honest particularly at the pro level there always will be - but fans can take solace every year at this time about something that's so very right.

The embodiment of competitive spirit, honor, dignity, pride, and, of course, patriotism with some of the best our country has to offer.

Their stories are a tapestry of our nation - wide ranging and each unique in their own wonderful way.

For one Saturday every year, we can cast aside the latest reasons to be disgusted with sports - too much money, too much ego - and applaud one game that embraces everything we want at the core of athletic competition.

Being one to give national media a hard time for a multitude of reasons, I have to give credit where it's due to the beautiful introductions CBS does every year minutes before the kickoff of Army-Navy. The 2011 edition, with the Army and Navy choirs singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" underneath - admittedly, I'm as cynical as they come, but these intros get me every single time.

If you don't get goosebumps watching that, I don't know what to tell you.

- Chris Lillstrung

Saturday, December 10, 2011

80s by far the best Heisman decade

Some make fun of the 1980s. Considering the pop culture cheesefest in terms of movies, music and TV shows, those critics have a point.

When it comes to the Heisman, I'm forever stuck in the 80s. Not even Andre Ware, who some argue was the product of a pass-happy, gimmicky offense and the last Heisman winner of the decade, can bring down this awesome collection of talent.

In honor of the 80s, let's rank the Heisman winners during that super decade:

10. Andre Ware, QB, Houston, 1989: Threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns, and set 26 NCAA records during his junior season, but as the years go by, Ware's Heisman season loses steam because of the gimmicky offense he directed.

9. Tim Brown, WR/PR, Notre Dame, 1987: Brown is the first receiver to win the Heisman, but his performance as punt returner against Michigan State (two consecutive punt returns for touchdowns) all but clinched the award. He had over 1,800 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns, and was helped by a week group of Heisman candidates. His pro career far outweighed his college career.

8. Vinny Testaverde, QB, Miami (Fla.), 1986: Testaverde was remarkable during the regular season for the No. 1 Hurricanes, with 2,557 yards and 26 touchdowns, but it all came crumbling down in the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State for the national championship, throwing five interceptions.

7. George Rogers, RB, South Carolina, 1980: Rogers was solid (1,781 yards, 14 TDs), and the fact he was a senior probably helped him in the Heisman race because true freshman Herschel Walker (1,616 yards, 15 TDs) should have won the award.

6. Doug Flutie, QB, Boston College, 1984: Flutie's Hail Mary pass to beat Miami (Fla.) the day after Thanksgiving in '84 is the greatest Heisman moment ever. He wasn't a one-game wonder, though, throwing for 3,454 yards and 27 TDs that season. Ohio State homers still complain runner-up Keith Byars deserved the award that year. Nonsense.

5. Mike Rozier, RB, Nebraska, 1983: Rozier was the best from one of the best teams never to win a national championship, rushing for a whopping 2,148 yards and 29 TDs before Bernie Kosar and the Miami Hurricanes stunned the No. 1 Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl.

4. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn, 1985: Bo knew Heisman voting in '85, as he edged Iowa QB Chuck Long, 1,509 to 1,464. It shouldn't have been that close. Jackson, who ran for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns in '85, was clearly one of the best running backs of the '80s, especially considering the top three on this list.

3. Marcus Allen, RB, USC, 1981: Many fans forget how awesome Allen was as a senior at USC, rushing for 2,342 yards and 22 touchdowns.

2. Barry Sanders, RB, Oklhoma State, 1988: It's difficult to deny Sanders the No. 1 spot on this list after a season of 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns, but ...

1. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia, 1982: Walker is the greatest college running back ever. He probably should have won two Heismans. As a junior, Walker rushed for 1,752 yards and 16 TDs. The top three in the '82 Heisman voting is arguably the greatest Heisman trifecta ever: 1. Walker, 2. Stanford's John Elway, 3. SMU's Eric Dickerson. Wow.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Labels: ,

Friday, December 9, 2011

Is 2011 the best area high school football season ever?

When looking at the best seasons in area history for high school football, 1987 usually tops the list.

The top three rushers in the area that year were St. Joseph's Desmond Howard, Euclid's Robert Smith and Hawken's O.J. McDuffie. Howard and quarterback/fellow Michigan recruit Elvis Grbac led the Vikings to one of the most impressive regular seasons in state history, defeating 10 opponents that had a combined record of 65-33-1. Even though St. Joe lost to Boardman, 20-19, in a triple overtime in a Division I regional final, that team is considered to be the one of the best in area history. Also, the Chagrin Valley Conference had a five-way tie for first place.

It appears '87 is going to have some company.

Even with only a week's perspective, 2011 is looking pretty good as one of, if not the best seasons in area history. The case for '11:

- Kirtland became the first area team to go 15-0 (other teams have had perfect seasons, but before the playoff expansion of 1999).

- The Hornets were one of area-record 11 teams (out of 30) to make the postseason.

- Chagrin Falls became the second area team to advance to a state semifinal for the third straight season (Chardon 1993-95). The Tigers are 40-4 the past three seasons.

- South's Kareem Hunt (2,289) and Ledgemont's Dan LaRosa (2,031) each rushed for more than 2,000 yards in the regular season. Only three others in area history had reached that mark until this year.

- Hunt, a junior, rushed for 485 yards against North on Oct. 27. That bested the area record of 415 yards he gained against Chardon on Sept. 30. Hawken's Jeremy Simmons just missed 400, rushing for 399 against Fairport on Sept. 23.

- Four other area single-game records were set this year: Hunt had seven rushing touchdowns against Chardon. Mentor's Mitch Trubisky passed for 469 yards against St. Ignatius on Sept. 10. Also in that game, Cardinals receiver Cameron Kavan had 283 receiving yards. On Sept. 2, Chagrin Falls' Anthony DeCamillo had four interceptions against NDCL on Sept. 2.

- Three area teams had 10-0 regular seasons - Kirtland, Chagrin and Ledgemont.

- The area already has eight Division I commitments: Mentor's Tom Strobel (Michigan), Brush's Pharaoh Brown (Michigan), Brush's Kevin Houchins (Louisville), Brush's Carlutorbantu Zaramo (Ball State), Madison's Jason O'Bryan (Kent State), Kirtland's Christian Hauber (Air Force), Chagrin Falls' Jack Hanley (Army or Air Force) and Mentor's Kurt Laseak (Ohio). Add in any more commitments this year and from subsequent classes who took the prep field this year, and it looks to be an impressive group.

Perhaps it wasn't a good year for defenses besides Kirtland, which yielded an average of 6.5 points per game. But it was a good year for football in the area all-round, a great year even. Is it the best ever? Only time will tell.

- Howard Primer


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Early 2012 fantasy football top 10

For most fantasy football leagues, the regular season is over.

If you were lucky enough to make your league's playoffs, there's plenty still at stake. For others, it's time to look ahead to 2012.

Things could look much different when drafting in the first round next fantasy season. Familiar names will be selected, but new ones are surely to crack the top 10. Here's one man's take on the top 10 fantasy football players for 2012:

1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: In a year when Minnesota's offense hasn't been very good, AP continues to put up outstanding fantasy numbers. That shouldn't change in 2012.

2. LeShaun McCoy, RB, Eagles: McCoy has been money all season for fantasy owners, especially in points-per-catch leagues. He's the focal point of the Eagles offense.

3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: There's no denying Rodgers as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback, and for some he will be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 overall.

4. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Much like McCoy, Rice does it all for the Ravens.

5. Arien Foster, RB, Texans: Foster has battled injuries this season, but when he's healthy, there aren't many fantasy running backs better.

6. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: It's difficult to argue elevating Newton to first-round status when he currently leads the NFL in rushing TDs at 13. It will only get better as he becomes a better passer.

7. Maurice Jones Drew, RB, Jaguars: MJD is one of the most steady fantasy running backs in the NFL.

8. Matt Forte, RB, TBA: Forte will be a free agent in the offseason, so a lot depends on what team signs him. Wherever he lands, he will be a fantasy impact player.

9. Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: Jackson was outstanding rushing and receiving for Buffalo before an injury ended his season.

10. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: There's not a huge dropoff from Rodgers at QB, thanks to the performance of Brees on a year-to-year basis.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's looking like an RG3 Heisman runaway

The website has been forecasting the Heisman Trophy since USC's Carson Palmer won the award in 2002.

That year, the site correctly predicted Palmer would win the most famous award in sports.'s methodology is simple. Listed on its website, it is (word for word):

- We count actual votes. We count only the picks from people who claim to be actual voters.

- We make two assumptions: 1. That the voter turnout in each region will be equal, and 2. that the undisclosed votes in each region will mirror the publicly disclosed votes.

- Based on those assumptions, we total up the votes in each region, and then extrapolate the totals.

- We continually update as more information comes in.

The site says when 20 to 25 percent of the votes have been counted, they are confident with its prediction. As of Wednesday afternoon, the site reported the results of 189 ballots. There are 926 Heisman voters. That's a little over 20 percent of the votes.

So far, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has a huge lead over Stanford's Andrew Luck. Griffin III's projected total is 2,244 votes, and Luck's 1,262. None of the other finalists are within striking distance of Griffin III, nicknamed RG3, or Luck.

Barring a late surge by Luck, it appears - as Griffin said to ABC after his team's win over Texas last Saturday - "Baylor just won its first Heisman."

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

High school football Way We See 'Em: Pretty good

Occasionally, fans will tease us when all seven members of our Way We See 'Em panel for high school football pick a team to lose and it wins the game.

Those opportunities were fewer and farther between than ever this year. There must be something in the prognostication pool water lately. Check out the Way We See 'Em champions and their records from the past five years:

2011: Theresa Neuhoff Audia, 205-37 (.847)
2010: Masked Marvel, 204-37 (.846)
2009: Howard Primer, 191-42 (.820)
2008: Masked Marvel, 191-42 (.820)
2007: John Kampf, 185-54 (.774)

The worst record on this year's panel - 189-53 by Mark Podolski - had a winning percentage of 78.1. That would have been the best record in 2007.

Furthermore, Audia had an undefeated week this year, the first time anyone on staff can remember.

Are high school football games suddenly more predictable? An area-record 11 teams made the playoffs this season. If anything, those extra postseason games should be more difficult to pick, not easier.

- Howard Primer


Road to the 2014 World Cup, part 2

Staff Writer Chris Lillstrung breaks down the remaining 2014 World Cup field:

Following up on last week's by the numbers look at the 2014 World Cup, I wanted to give some praise to three of the national sides with the lowest FIFA rankings that have earned their way into the next round in their respective regions through match results. Some lower-ranked sides advance automatically depending on qualifying setup, including Europe, in which all sides will commence group play in September 2012.

The chances of these sides going all the way to Brazil in 2014 are minimal at best in reality, but they deserve kudos now early in the game.

SAMOA (FIFA ranking: 204)
Road to advancement (Oceania region): Won Round 1 group with 2-0-1 record, defeating Cook Islands (3-2) and tying Tonga (1-1) before clinching a berth in Round 2 with a 1-0 victory over American Samoa

What's next: Samoa will be paired in Group A of Oceania's Round Two with Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti, with matches starting June 1
How they did it: The South Pacific side is a feel-good story, normally pinned to the bottom of the FIFA world rankings with no points and having not played an international match since the last round of World Cup qualifying in 2007 because of administrative turmoil. But in a four-team round-robin format, Samoa's campaign hinged on one match - essentially a play-in against neighboring American Samoa on Saturday. Locked in a scoreless stalemate, Samoa's Silao Malo, a 20-year-old earning just his third international cap, struck on a counterattack in the 89th minute to propel his side to a 1-0 win.
"It’s something that will put our federation back on the map again,” Samoa coach Tunoa Lui said.

LESOTHO (FIFA ranking: 148)
Road to advancement (African region): Defeated Burundi, 3-2, on aggregate in Round 1 of African qualifying

What's next: Lesotho will be paired in Group D of Africa's Round Two with Ghana, Zambia and Sudan.
How they did it: The tiny landlocked nation surrounded by South Africa got an 82nd minute goal in the first leg from 19-year-old striker Lehlomela Ramabele, who plays his club soccer in Botswana, for a 1-0 win. Lesotho then won on aggregate with a 2-2 tie in the second leg, getting a pair of first-half goals six minutes apart from Thapelo Tale and Bokang Mothoana. Lesotho was playing the home-and-home without the services of injured captain Lehlohonolo Seema, a standout defender for South African club power Orlando Pirates.

Road to advancement (African region): Defeated Madagascar, 3-2, on aggregate in Round 1 of African qualifying

What's next: Equatorial Guinea will be paired in Group B of Africa's Round Two with Tunisia, Cape Verde Islands and Sierra Leone.
How they did it: Things are beginning to take an upswing, as the country co-hosts next year's African Cup of Nations and welcomes an influx of Spanish-born players of Equatoguinean descent. Two such players who both ply their club trade in Spain's Segunda (second division), Juvenal and Randy, scored goals to give Equatorial Guinea a 2-0 win in the first leg. A 24th-minute strike by Doulla Viera in the second leg propelled the side on its way to the next round. Perhaps the men's side was spurred on by the performance of the Equatorial Guinea women, who qualified for the 2011 Women's World Cup.

Kudos to these sides for securing a chance to play on in World Cup qualifying in 2012.

- Chris Lillstrung

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Week 13 football picks

Each week, Sports Editor Mark Podolski picks five games, four against the spread: one high school, two college and two NFL.

This is the final picks blog of the 2011 season, and after another sub-part week (2-3), it's time to finish off strong. The season mark sits at 31-28.


D-V state final, Kirtland vs. Coldwater: Apologies to the Hornets. Last week, I shortchanged them, predicting Wynford would score 10 points. Kirtland won, 42-0. The state final can't be a whitewash, can it? PICK: Kirtland 28, Coldwater 7


Big Ten championship game, Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (+9.5): The Badgers lost on a Hail Mary pass by the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., the first time these teams met. It's not happening this time. PICK: Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 21

SEC championship game, LSU vs. Georgia (+13.5): I'm done picking against LSU in any capacity. PICK: LSU 31, Georgia 13


Baltimore at BROWNS (+6.5): Bad snaps by the center, bad interceptions by Colt McCoy. What else is next? PICK: Baltimore 27, Browns 7

Indinapolis (+20) at New England: The buzz in the NFL this week is this large point spread. Really? PICK: New England 45, Indianpolis 0

- Mark Podolski