Welcome back to “The Drill”. There’s a lot to cover in sports this week, so let’s get going: Penn State Begins the Post-Paterno Era – The Penn State athletic department finally came to a decision regarding the replacement of legendary coach Joe Paterno, hiring New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to be the next Nittany Lions head coach. O’Brien, who has never been a head coach but spent fourteen seasons as an assistant coach in college at stops at Brown (the alma mater of both he and Joe Paterno), Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Duke, takes over a once-proud program that is currently under extreme scrutiny thanks to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O’Brien will have his work cut out for him for the first few seasons, as it’s assumed that Penn State will not be consistently reeling in the big-time recruits until this issue is a distant memory and everyone involved is no longer associated with the college. From the Penn State point of view, O’Brien doesn’t seem like a great hire initially, as the struggles of Belichick’s assistants trying to run their own team in the NFL are highly publicized (six former assistants combined for a dismal 112-159 record. However, several former Belichick assistants have been very successful in college football, as coaches like Kirk Ferentz with Iowa, Pat Hill with Fresno State, and Nick Saban at LSU have won a high percentage of games after coaching under the three-time Super Bowl champion. It’s not a home run hire by any means, but at this point Penn State should just be glad they could find any coach interested in rebuilding the program.
NFL Playoffs Kick Off – The NFL Playoffs begin this weekend, with the Bengals and Texans and the Lions and Saints playing today and the Falcons and Giants and the Broncos and Steelers squaring off tomorrow. It’s usually anything goes come playoff time, but here’s my breakdown of how I think each game will go.
Bengals @ Texans – Houston has had a magical season, clinching their first playoff appearance in team history, but the loss of Matt Schaub and has left the passing game highly questionable. T.J. Yates looked good early, but it’s now been a month since he’s thrown a touchdown pass. Andy Dalton and rookie A.J. Green will be too much for the Texans today, as Cincinnati wins the game 24-10.
Lions @ Saints – The Lions have been competitive for the first time since Barry Sanders carried the ball for the team, but today they’ll be going up against the Saints and MVP candidate Drew Brees. As much as I would love for Ndamakong Suh to rough up Brees and lead to the Lions pulling out the victory, I don’t see the Saints getting upset in their first game of the playoffs for the second straight year. Saints win 38-21.
Falcons @ Giants – While it may be because I’m an Atlanta Falcons fan, in my eyes the best matchup of the entire weekend can be found in the Falcons vs Giants game. Both teams are hungry for playoff success and matchup well against each other, which promises to provide an exciting game. Although Eli Manning has a Super Bowl win under his belt, I think that he will be outplayed by Matty Ice on Sunday, leading to a hard-fought 27-24 victory for the Dirty Birds.
Steelers @ Broncos – Ambulances better be on hand for the last game of the weekend featuring the Broncos and the Steelers, because it will more than likely get ugly fast. Tim Tebow, as well as the rest of the Broncos offense, hasn’t played up to par in Denver’s three consecutive losses, and it would be a huge surprise if that changed against a Steelers defense that ranks 1st in all of the NFL in opponent’s passing yards, allowing a little over 171 yards per game. Steelers blow out the Broncos 31-7, leaving John Elway to decide whether it should still be Tebow Time in Denver next season.
If the games end up this way, next week we would see the Bengals traveling to New England and the Saints heading to San Francisco on Saturday and the Steelers taking on the Ravens and the Falcons facing the Packers on Sunday.
Hawks Soaring High – The Atlanta Hawks have started the 2011-2012 NBA season playing excellent basketball, as the team currently sits at 5-3, just two games behind the mighty Miami Heat. The entire team has done its part so far, but a pleasant surprise for the team has been veteran Tracy McGrady. The seven-time All Star, who some around the FYN office like to call “Tracy McGrady Hospital”, has done his part so far for the Hawks, holding a nice 51% field goal percentage and averaging 10.6 per game. McGrady is the type of veteran this Hawks team needs in order to make a serious run in the postseason this year; if the thirty-two year old can stay healthy for the majority of the season, expect these Hawks to turn some heads around the league.
Dwag Day Afternoon – What a terrible day January 2nd was for Bulldog Nation. First ABC cameras show the nation a careless Georgia fan holding a “Go Dwags” sign, then Blair Walsh sticks his foot in his mouth twice in overtime, leading to a heart-breaking 33-30 loss to Michigan State in triple overtime. While it is up to the kicker to get the job done, I believe that a majority of the blame falls on head coach Mark Richt, who played the fourth quarter and overtime so conservatively that you would think he was told that someone planted land mines in the end zone. Richt’s overtime strategy of playing to allow his kicker, who before the game had missed twelve field goals, to hit the field instead of trying for a touchdown made one thing abundantly clear: he had absolutely no confidence in sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, whose two interceptions in the second half allowed the Spartans to close the gap. I have done my best to back Coach Richt, but when you make so many boneheaded mistakes in one game and currently sit alongside Vanderbilt as the only SEC teams to lose their bowl games, you don’t have a whole lot of slack with me. The 2012 regular season will be big for the Bulldogs thanks to a laughable schedule, so it will be interesting to see if Richt changes his way of thinking in a big bowl game next year.
To Leave or Not to Leave, That is the Question – With the January 15th deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves eligible for the NFL Draft drawing closer and closer, more and more juniors and redshirt sophomores are announcing that they are leaving their respected schools in order to play professionally. The decision for some, like Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, has a clear answer, as they know that it would be a huge surprise if they make it past the tenth pick in the first round, while others, like Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill or Temple running back Bernard Pierce, decide to leave even if there chances of going high or going at all aren’t exactly assured. If I was a college football player who believes he has what it takes to play in the NFL, my strategy for leaving early would consist of this: wait and see where the draft evaluators predict I will go. If I am predicted to go in the first two rounds, I would declare; if it’s the third or lower, I would stay in school and hope a big season would increase my draft stock. Now situations are different with each player, but it is clear that some have done their homework concerning their draft stock and some have not.
Ready for a Rematch – The BCS National Championship Game is on Monday night and features a rematch between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers. While SEC haters around the nation scoff at the idea of these two teams playing again, the reason why they are can not be denied: they are the best two teams in the country. I expect this game to be another defensive struggle, but in the end the Alabama Crimson Tide wins the championship by a final score of 17-14, meaning that the infamous cry of “Roll Tide” will be heard over and over throughout the country for at least another year.