The Big Ten’s Bad Weekend Exposes Flaw in new College Football Playoff

 

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Michigan State quarterback gets a hard rush from Oregon linebacker Tony Washington.  Spartan loss to Oregon has apparently eliminated the Big 10 from playoff consideration.

Michigan State quarterback gets a hard rush from Oregon linebacker Tony Washington. Spartan loss to Oregon has apparently eliminated the Big 10 from playoff consideration.

PHILADELPHIA—The aftermath of last Saturday’s college football games has me shaking my head and coming to the conclusion that the new four-team college football playoff format is seriously flawed even before it begins.

The premier programs of the Big-10 Conference, seventh-ranked Michigan State lost to No. 3 Oregon, eighth-ranked Ohio State lost to unranked Virginia Tech and Michigan got shutout 31-0 by Notre Dame.

Those high-profile non-conference losses not only cast doubt on the conference’s credibility, but according to several college football media people, it has eliminated the Big-10’s chances of having a team in the new college playoff this season.

The headline on ESPN.com Sunday morning was crystal clear about that: “Big Ten Busted After Two Weeks.”

Ohio State lost at home to unranked Virginia Tech.  Along with losses by Michigan and Michigan State, the Big Ten's credibility as a power conference has been called into question by college football experts.

Ohio State lost at home to unranked Virginia Tech. Along with losses by Michigan and Michigan State, the Big Ten’s credibility as a power conference has been called into question by college football experts.

Really? Two weeks into the season and we’ve eliminated an entire conference from playoff contention. If you’re thinking there’s something wrong that, you’re absolutely right because there is something wrong.

Now before you go off thinking that I’m feeling sorry for the Big-10, this is not that column because they signed up for this madness.

What’s really under indictment here is the idea that the five power conferences, including the Big-10, came up with a format for themselves that had already eliminated the other five conferences—the Sunbelt, Mid-America, Conference USA, the Mountain West and the American Athletic Conference from competing for a national championship.

And now the beast that is the super conferences are feeding off themselves with a bit of elitism within their own insular group. At some point, they are going to be cries to expand the playoffs-even it is among the super conferences.

They probably won’t think of doing it until Southeastern Conference schools finds themselves where the Big-10 is now. In the cycle of sports all conferences go through their share of down years.

As it stands now, the College Football Playoff will be here for the next 12 years thanks to a $5.64 billion TV deal the super conferences made with ESPN.

A 13-person committee selects the teams for the two semifinal games while teams representing the “big five” will fill the other four bowl games with one guaranteed spot going to the highest-ranked representative from the mid-major group of five conferences.

The bone they throw to the Mountain Wests’ and Conference USA’s of the world is nothing more than a pat on the head.

For me, comparing college football’s playoff to the NCAA basketball tournament is like former Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Sen. Lloyd Bentsen telling former Vice-President Dan Quayle that he’s no John F. Kennedy.

Unlike the equality the NCAA basketball tournament where smaller schools are allowed to compete, the current College Football Playoff allows no room for the Cinderella story as we have seen in basketball.
So when a team out of a Conference USA or Mountain West and they’re undefeated or have a solid record, they won’t get the opportunity to test themselves in the spotlight.

Under this system, the smaller FBS conferences are marginalized to play in meaningless Bowl games without the opportunity to compete for a national championship. That to me is shameful because the power conferences want to hoard the money and resources for themselves.

And so this brings back to the Big-10’s so-called “elimination” from College Football Playoff in just the second week is a good reason for expanding the field. It’s ridiculous to say that a team representing any conference is out of playoff contention in early September.

Again, I have no sympathy for the Big 10 or any of the five super conferences who may not have a team in January’s playoff because you created a playoff system that freezes out the other five smaller conferences from having any chance to compete. It is a screwed up by-product of your own insular elitism and greed.

I’ve always said that there needs to be a 16-team playoff system where the conference champs of all 10 FBS conferences get automatic bids while the six at-large bids go to the highest ranked non-conference champions. That’s more fair because one loss in week two on the way to winning a conference title should not knock you out of the playoffs before October.

Unfortunately, the idea of equality of any kind in big-time college sports is a foreign concept, whether it’s giving a mid-major program like Boise State a legitimate chance to compete for a national championship in football or even sharing a percentage of the revenue with the student athletes.

Eagles Moving Closer to Being Ready for the Regular Season

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Perhaps the biggest questions for the Eagles coming into the 2014 season is how much has their defense improved and can the offense put up even bigger numbers than they did last season?

On the defensive side of the ball, the answer  has come with some uncertainty throughout the preseason. Last week against the New England Patriots, the Birds starters and reserves got pushed up and down the field for over 400 yards of offense.

The Eagles starters on defense got a better sense of themselves in the Birds 31-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial  in the pivotal third preseason game, considered to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday's preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday’s preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds held Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to 94 yards in the first half before letting the second team take over late in the first half. It was a good bounce-back from their performance against the Patriots.

What impressed defensive coordinator Bill Davis was the way his team got off the field on third down situations, something they didn’t do against the Patriots. The Eagles starters were 3-of-7 in stopping third down conversions.

“It was real nice and we know third downs are a point of emphasis for us,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been good enough, we moved forward. … We have to do better than we did tonight, but I did like the way it got better.”

With the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Sept. 7) on the horizon, the defense still has a lot of work to do to be ready for the regular season.

“Personally, you should never be satisfied,” said Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole. “We have room to improve. I think we’re ready, but there’s always room to improve. While we’re on the right road and everything’s in the right direction and looking good out there, now we can improve on the positive things that we took from this game and improve all week.”

The only disclaimer to the Eagles improved play on defense is that they were facing a bad Steelers offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.

Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers and they just couldn’t establish any kind of rhythm offensively.  Quite frankly, the Steelers were just awful on offense and didn’t get on the scoreboard until the second half when the Eagles second team took the field.
If there’s a unit that is ready to start the season, it’s the Eagles offense. During their stint on the field in the first half, the Birds first-team offense rolled out to a 17-0 halftime lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to LeSean McCoy, a one-yard run from running back Darren Sproles and a 36-yard field goal by Alex Henery.

With the preseason behind the first-team starters on offense, the Birds seem to be pleased with the progress they’ve made from the first preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

“I feel like we’ve improved as a unit and as a team,” said Foles, who completed 19-of-29 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “There are a lot of corrections to make from this game, but I feel like we out there and got in a rhythm faster and started moving the football. “

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The one thing the Eagles will have when they open the season is their starting wide receivers—Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

Things got scary midway through the first half when Maclin’s right knee buckled into the Lincoln Financial Field turf. The crowd held its collective breath with Maclin writhing in pain from the same knee that put him on the injured reserve list last season.

After returning to the sideline, Maclin started running like normal and eventually got back out on the field. But he admitted that he got a little worried.

“Absolutely, it is something that brought back flashbacks,” said Maclin, who caught six passes 43 yards. “When I got up and could walk when the initial shock went away. I was pretty good.”

The Eagles have one last preseason game next Thursday (Aug.28) against the New York Jets at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will be played by second and third string guys still trying to make the team.

Notes- On Saturday, the Eagles cut 14 players. All NFL teams must cut down their rosters to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Eagles roster currently stands at 76. Here are the players who were released:
TE Blake Annen
OL Michael Bamiro
OL Karim Barton
WR Kadron Boone
WR B.J. Cunningham
OL Donald Hawkins
TE Emil Igwenagu
LB Jake Knott
DE Joe Kruger
S Daytawion Lowe
DE Frances Mays
S Davon Morgan
K Carey Spear
DE Alejandro Villanueva

Smith Not a Bad No. 1 Pick for the Eagles

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

The Eagles are hoping former Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith can rush the quarterback on a consistent basis.

The Eagles are hoping former Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith can rush the quarterback on a consistent basis.

PHILADELPHIA-With Eagles fans hoping that they would draft a wide receiver to replace DeSean Jackson, the Birds filled another much-needed position when they drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith (6-foot-3, 251 pounds) out of Louisville in the first round.

After a trade with the Cleveland Browns that included an additional third-round pick, the Eagles traded out of the 22nd pick to get to the 26th pick when it became apparent that six of the players they were targeting were off the board by the time of their selection.

With Smith, the Eagles are getting a solid pass-rusher who was second in the nation in sacks with 12.5. He also had 16.5 tackles for loss during his senior at Louisville. He was named the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Not bad for a guy who was originally recruited to play  quarterback for Louisville.

The pick of Smith may not be the sexiest first-round selection  for the Birds considering their other needs. On the surface picking Smith, a second-team All-American, had many fans scratching their heads on Draft night.

That said, the Eagles did need a good pass rusher in their 3-4 scheme. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly likes Smith’s potential for the Eagles defense.

“(Smith) is a big kid, he’s transitioned to the outside linebacker position,” Kelly said. “I think he has a huge upside. He’s a very, very good athlete. He’s over 6-3. He’s in the 250-255 pound range. He ran a 4.68 40. He’s got speed coming off the edge. We thought adding a pass rusher was a big thing for us.

“He’s a young to bring in behind Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin). Those guys can show him the ropes. His ceiling is very, very high.”

Like last year’s No. 1 draft pick Lane Johnson, who also started his collegiate career as a quarterback, Smith said it took him a year to make that transition to playing defense and he’s gotten better with each year.

“I think what I’ve learned over the years, I’ve gotten better each year and this year I had an outbreak,” Smith said. “I feel like I can carry everything that I did this year to the NFL. I want to make an impact right away and I know the coaches they have in Philly will train me up and get me ready for the season coming up.”

Considering how the Eagles defense can go back and forth from being a 3-4 to a 4-3 team, Kelly believes Smith’s experience at Louisville playing defensive end and linebacker will help him get acclimated to the Eagles system.

“There is film of him playing defensive end and film of him playing as a standup outside linebacker. It’s not a projection like you do sometimes,” Kelly said. “Hey, let’s take this defensive end who may be a little undersized to be an NFL defensive end, but he has the skill set to be an outside linebacker. He’s actually played the position.”

With his size and athleticism, Smith will be expected to drop back in coverage in the passing game as well as rush the passer. He said he has experience in pass coverage as a linebacker during his time at Louisville.

“It was 50-50. I believe they dropped me 50-50 last year. Maybe not as much my junior year, but last year, they dropped me back more,” Smith said. “Going into the middle of the season I started rushing a lot more because they wanted me more involved getting to the quarterback. They wanted somebody to get to the quarterback. I was doing both so I would say 50 percent.”

If he can bring the same kind of wood to opposing receivers that he brings to quarterbacks, he has the potential to be the enforcer in the middle of the defense that this team has lacked for several years.
 

 

 

 

 

Eagles Fall To Saints on Last-Second Field Goal

Cary Williams and his teammates are stunned after heartbreaking loss to the Saints. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cary Williams and his teammates are stunned after heartbreaking loss to the Saints. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham kicks the game-winning field goal. Photo by Webster Riddick.

New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham kicks the game-winning field goal. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The worst thing about facing a team with a playoff losing streak is that you hope it doesn’t end when that team plays your squad.

The New Orleans Saints came into Saturday’s NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles having never won a playoff game as the visiting team.

The Saints road playoff woes came to an abrupt halt in their last-second 26-24 win over a stunned Eagles squad in front of 69,144 fans who were hoping their team would make a deep run into the postseason.

“I just think that everybody is disappointed that we’re not moving forward,” said head coach Chip Kelly.

In a game in which the lead changed hands five times, Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal with time running out ended what was a surprisingly good season for the Eagles. New Orleans will take on the Seattle Seahawks in a divisional playoff matchup next week.

The loss was especially painful to an Eagles team that felt they were a better team than New Orleans.  At the end of the day, the Birds also know that they have themselves to blame.

“Even when they were up 20-7, I felt like we were going to win the game the whole time,” said left tackle Jason Peters.  “We just didn’t pull it out. I felt like we were the better team. We were moving the ball on their defense. We just stalled out on a couple of third and shorts and we had to clear them out.”

After the Eagles had taken a 24-23 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz with 4:58 left, the Saints got a 39-yard kickoff return from Darren Sproles, who appeared to be headed for a touchdown if not for an illegal horse-collar tackle by cornerback Cary Williams.

While Williams tackle kept Sproles from scoring, the Eagles were penalized 15-yards which moved the ball to the Eagles 48. He said it was the only thing he could do to keep Sproles from scoring.

“I did whatever I could to get the guy down. I’m the safety valve,” Williams said. “(Sproles) broke outside the contain.  It was just me and him out there. I made the best decision I possibly could. My thoughts were I was just trying to get him down. It didn’t matter whether it was a horse collar or whatever. I didn’t want him to score to at least give our defense the opportunity to stop them.”

The Saints forced the Eagles to take their final two timeouts while moving the ball down to the Birds 14 and running down the clock to three second to set up Graham’s field goal.

“It sucks because there was nothing we could do, but watch,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 77 yards on 21 carries. “They killed us slowly. It was a terrible feeling.”

In what was a close game, the Eagles had their issues on both sides of the football. The offense, which averaged over 400 yards during the regular season, was sluggish and inconsistent in the first half and much of the third quarter.

“We just weren’t executing,” said Foles, who complete 23-of-33 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. “I was missing throws and the Saints was doing a great job. We just weren’t executing as an offense.”

After getting a pair of Drew Brees interceptions in the first half, the Eagles offense couldn’t take advantage. Oddly enough, the Eagles had a 7-6 lead at the half thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Foles to wide receiver Riley Cooper.

But the Eagles also missed a 48-yard field goal and the offense had hard time getting out of its own way.

Early in the second quarter, the Birds drove down to the Saints 15. But lost huge chunks of yardage on a botched tight end screen that cost them eight yards and a sack on Foles that cost them another 11 yards. Two plays later, Henery missed that 48-yard field goal.

“We need to come away with seven instead of three to begin with and we ended up kicking a field goal,” Kelly said. “I think they did a better job of executing in those situations and their red zone defense was better than our offense.”

The Saints surged to a 20-7 third quarter lead by scoring a pair of touchdowns—a2 4-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore and a four-yard run by running back Mark Ingram.

New Orleans was able to move out in front because of its running game which kept the Eagles defense on its heels. The Saints rushed for 185 yards on the ground with 97 coming from Ingram.

“That was the story of the game,” said Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin. “We have been keeping teams under 100 yards all season long. This was the wrong game to give up a good rusher. It was way too much and it showed on that last drive.”

The Eagles recovered from their offensive funk late in the third quarter and scored 10 straight points to cut the lead to 20-17.  The Saints would add a field goal, but the Eagles last drive to put them ahead.

The frustrating part for the Eagles offense things didn’t really get things moving until late in the game.

“It was very frustrating, we had lot of opportunities that the defense put in our favor,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce. “We just didn’t get it done offensively. It took a long time to get it going.”

FBS Should Have a 16-Team Playoff to Determine the National Championship

Florida State and Auburn will lock horns for the BCS National Championship next month in Pasadena.

Florida State and Auburn will lock horns for the BCS National Championship next month in Pasadena.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

PHILADELPHIA—A couple of years ago, I wrote a column for this blog about the need for the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS—aka  Division I-A) to have a 16-team playoff.

https://thechrismurrayreport.org/2009/12/24/once-and-for-all-there-needs-to-be-a-playoff-in-fbs-div-1-a/#comments

The automatic bids would go out to the winners of the 10 FBS conferences. Six at-large bids would go out to the highest ranked non-conference champions, according to the final Bowl Championship Series poll of the regular season.

The opening-round and quarterfinal games might be played at the home of the highest seeded team or at the existing bowl sites. Semifinal and championship games would be played at the major BCS bowl sites on a rotating basis.

As a disclaimer, I am probably not the only one who has come up with this idea and so I am not seeking a patent. If you got a better plan, put it out there.

To accommodate final exams for the student-athletes, I would start the first-round games a week before Christmas. Most universities are either finished or close to finishing up exams by that point in December.

The playoffs, even if there’s a two-week delay between the semifinals and the championship game would end by mid-January—when most students would be coming back from the winter break.

Meanwhile, if your team doesn’t make the playoffs and has a good season, they can still go to a postseason bowl game. It would be the football equivalent of college basketball’s National Invitation Tournament—which is kind of what we have now in college football with the plethora of bowl games.

Even with next year’s four-team playoff on the horizon for next year, I still believe there needs to be a 16-team playoff.  On one hand, I think the four-team playoff is a step in the right direction because sooner or later it’s going to expand to eight and then to 16. It may take a few years, but it will get there eventually.

If there is an expanded playoff, it will no doubt make tons of money for those institutions—some of which should go to the student athletes putting their bodies on the line to play in those games.  In other words, they should pay the athletes in the revenue producing sports just on general principle, but that’s another column.

Bracketology College Football Style

So what if he we had a 16-team playoff THIS year? As we said earlier, your automatic bids would go to the winners of the 10 FBS conferences.  The at-large teams would be the six highest ranked non-conference champions in the final regular-season BCS poll.

According to the final 2013 BCS rankings, the six highest ranked teams without a conference championship are: No. 3 Alabama; No. 7 Ohio State; No. 8 Missouri; No.9 South Carolina; No. 10 Oregon and No. 11 Oklahoma.

In the round of the 16, ACC champion and No. 1 seed Florida State would play No.16  Louisiana-LaFayette, champions of the Sun Belt (UL-L had the same record as Arkansas State but beat them head-to-head).

FSU would beat Louisiana LaFayette and in the quarterfinals they would face the winner of eight-seed Missouri versus No. 9 seed South Carolina—I would pick Missouri to win that game.

An intriguing matchup in the first round would be Big-10 title-holder and No. 4 Michigan State and the nation’s best defense versus No. 13-seed and Mountain West standard bearer Fresno State, with their high-powered offense. If you believe defense wins championships, Spartans would probably win.

That would be a dangerous matchup for Michigan State with the way the Bulldogs can put points on the board.

The 5-12 matchup would be a tough fight. Pac-12 champ Stanford as the No. 5 seed versus American Athletic Conference champion and No. 12-seed University of Central Florida would be a heck of a contest. It’s another game that could go either way. Stanford would be the more physical team, in my opinion, and  would probably win.

In the quarterfinals—Florida State would overwhelm Mizzou while No. 4 Michigan State toughs out a physical contest with Stanford to face FSU in the semifinals. The Seminoles would beat the Spartans to get to the title game.

On the other end of the bracket, SEC champion and No. 2 seed Auburn would easily defeat No. 15- seed and Mid-America Conference champion Bowling Green.  In a game that could probably go either way, No. 7 Ohio State would probably be upset by No. 10 Oregon. Since both of these teams are lacking in defense, this is a pick-‘em game.

Meanwhile, No. 3 Alabama would easily run over No. 14 seed and Conference USA champ Rice.  Big 12 champion and No. 6-seed Baylor would beat No. 11-seed Oklahoma—another one of those games that could go either way.

In the quarterfinals, Oregon versus Auburn would be a game of whoever has the ball last wins since neither team is really that great on defense. The Tigers would beat a Ducks team that wasn’t all that sure of itself at the end of the season.  The Crimson Tide would rough up the Bears and would beat Auburn or Oregon to get to the national title game.

In the national championship, I believe that Florida State and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston would be slightly better than Alabama. The Seminoles would take home the trophy.

I know some of the big conferences would complain about the idea of having to share the wealth with the smaller conferences. Even worse, I can almost hear the bigger conferences saying their fourth and fifth team is better than the champion of the Mountain West.

Every so often, we have teams from small conferences beating the big boys from the so-called bigger conferences. What harm is it to give those kids a fair shot at the title by including them in football’s big dance? Are big conferences afraid that a team from the MAC or the Sun Belt might upset an SEC team or an ACC squad?

I don’t know if this plan is perfect, it’s not.  Whatever plan or scheme they come up with, I hope it’s fair to the student athletes and their well-being, gives all FBS schools a chance to participate without big conference bias and gives those smaller to mid-level programs that one shot to slay Goliath on a big stage.

Tired of Being Sick and Tired: How Grambling State University Failed its Students

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Photos of worn out equipment at Grambling's athletic facilities. Photo was taken by the Gramblinite.

Pictures of a worn out floor inside Grambling’s athletic facility. Photo was taken by the Gramblinite and was posted on Twitter.

As a graduate of Morgan State University, a historically Black University in my native Baltimore, I found myself watching intently as the saga at Grambling State University played itself out.

The school’s football team decided to boycott their scheduled game with Jackson State University to protest the horrid conditions under which they were expected to play and practice.

Among those conditions were mold and mildew in the weight and the locker rooms, uniforms cleaned so poorly that some players had to fight staph infections, and having to take long trips to places like Indiana and Missouri by bus while administrators got plane tickets for themselves.

The players were also upset about the firing of head coach, and Grambling University icon, Doug Williams, who raised funds to renovate the athletic facilities that the university, inexplicably, turned down. The team returned to practice because Williams, who talked to a local businessman who has pledged assistance to the football team, asked them to do it.

But that wasn’t the only thing I kept my eye on. As a journalist, I kept my eye on how this was being covered in the school’s media. Two editors from the school’s newspaper The Gramblinite, Kimberly Monroe and David Lankster Sr. were sanctioned by the university for posting photos illustrating the poor conditions that the football team was protesting on Twitter and for being perceived as taking part in the protests. The Gramblinite was also criticized for using anonymous sources to report the story.

Worn out equipment was among the complaints of Grambling's football team. Photo by the Gramblinite.

Worn out equipment was among the complaints of Grambling’s football team. Photo by the Gramblinite.

(That last critique was leveled by a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, but I’ll get into that later. )

If you looked up the phrase “glaring lack of leadership” in the dictionary and didn’t see the situation at Grambling as part of the definition, I’d have to ask you to get another one. Between the infighting, and the bad behavior on the part of the adults who are charged with looking out for the welfare of the football team and The Gramblinite staff, this was a red-hot mess.

Let’s start with the athletic facilities themselves. Because of cuts to the athletic program, Williams reached out to fellow Grambling athletes including James “Shack” Harris to ask for money to make the necessary repairs to the weight room floor. But because he didn’t go through what the University perceived as the “proper channels”, the university didn’t take the money.

Now Grambling President Frank Pogue and Athletic Director Aaron James, the folks that were taking the plane to those far away games while the actual players had to go to on the bus, decided that instead of working with Williams and his alumni partners to find a solution, they’d fire Williams instead.

Without explaining it to the players.

Something that made this group of students, a group that was already kind of close to its boiling point with Grambling administration because 1,700-mile bus rides will make anyone cranky, even more so.

So they refused to get on the bus to go to Jackson State last Friday. And gave ESPN’s Pedro Gomez a letter explaining why. The University finally listened…but not until everyone from Bill Rhoden of The New York Times to Roland Martin of TVOne began seating Grambling students in their interview chairs.

Meanwhile, the students at The Gramblinite did what any school’s student-run newspaper should do when in the center of a story like this…they reported the story.

Like any media outlet these days, The Gramblinite used social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram to tell the story in real time. The paper posted photos of the conditions on Twitter to confirm what they got from the anonymous sources that spoke to them…which is what you’re supposed to do.

But Grambling’s Director of Communications Will Sutton chastised the students publicly for something that he wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow about during his days as a reporter. Sutton, a past president of NABJ who worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C. before coming to Grambling, used Twitter to reprimand the students for posting the photos and using unnamed sources.

“@thegramblinite Are you serious? “Unidentified”? Really? Step up and be identified and stop hiding, or don’t use them as sources.”

Now most people who put themselves out there as anonymous sources do so because being public could lead to repercussions. Isn’t the reason you protect unnamed sources to make sure there is no retaliation, i.e. a person gets fired or gets kicked out of school?

The fact that the student journalists were called on the carpet was more about not wanting Grambling’s dirty laundry on the front lawn than it was about the violation of university rules.

And besides, it’s illegal, said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

“Public university employees can’t use their governmental authority to punish journalists for their editorial content, period,” LoMonte told the Maynard Center for Journalism Education in an interview.

While Grambling officials can point to drastic budget cuts by Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal as a factor because they’ve forced the school to do more with less and a lack of alumni giving for the problems with the football team, the bottom line is that this walkout happened due to a lack of respect, not a lack of financing.

The adults in any situation are supposed to know better.

Too bad that in this case, very few did.

Finding Success When One Door Closes and Another One Opens

Can Dennis Dixon Join a List of Players Who Found the Right Situation to Display Their Talents?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

PHILADELPHIA—I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that successful athletes not only have the raw ability and the determination to work at bettering themselves in their sport, being in the right place at the right time or having the right people around you—i.e. teammates or coaches-is also a determining factor.

Covering the Eagles organized team activities for the last couple of weeks, the one player that I see that could be an interesting case of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph is Dennis Dixon, who is competing for the Eagles starting quarterback spot.

So far, he is the one quarterback in Eagles camp that seems to have a firm grasp of head coach Chip Kelly’s. After playing in both Pittsburgh and Baltimore as a backup, Dixon is hoping that he can take that experience in addition to what he learned playing for Kelly at Oregon and be the Eagles starting quarterback in 2013.

“I thought that one thing I’ve learned is leadership and you got to make sure that the other 10 guys are all ready to go,” Dixon said after practice on Monday. “At the end of the day, you got to be able to know your plays.”

Dixon is one of those interesting studies in what if his circumstances were different? During his senior year in 2007 with the Ducks, there was a strong possibility that Dixon would win the Heisman Trophy and be high draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

In the last 10 games of his collegiate career, Dixon had thrown 20 touchdown passes and threw for 2,136 yards before the injury to his anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee ended his season.  His Heisman hopes died and his draft stock plummeted dramatically.

Pittsburgh drafted Dixon in the fifth round to be a backup to Ben Rothlisberger. Oddly enough, Dixon actually started three games during his tenure with the Steelers and had a 2-1 record.

He left Pittsburgh after the 2011 season and served as a scout team quarterback as a member of the Baltimore Ravens taxi squad.

I think Dixon’s chances are his good of being the Eagles are as good as anybody else’s considering that he knows the offense better than any of the quarterbacks competing for the job. That certainly bodes well for him.

Maybe this is the point where Dixon’s takes off. To be honest, I don’t know if he’s going to win that job or not. But if he does and he performs well, it will be another story of a guy finding the right situation to elevate his career.

That is always the beauty of sports is when players can find the right venue to display their talents.  Of course, there are plenty of instances in sports where talented guys have found themselves in the right situation after being cast aside in another circumstance.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

Perhaps the most famous story in sports of an athlete finding the right place to achieve success in his career was that of one John Constantine Unitas.  He is one of the all-time great quarterbacks in NFL history.

But when Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955, he was the fourth quarterback on a team that wanted to keep three quarterbacks. Even though he had one of the strongest arms in the Steelers camp that year, Pittsburgh head coach Walt Kiesling thought Unitas was not smart enough to be an NFL quarterback and didn’t allow him to take a snap in a game.

When the Baltimore Colts called Unitas in for tryout in 1956, he was living in Pittsburgh and working as a construction worker while playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams at six bucks per game.

Of course, you know the rest of the story, Unitas, who called his own plays, became the quarterback who elevated the two-minute drill into an art-form, re-wrote the NFL passing records and led the Colts to two NFL Championships and one Super Bowl title.

Eagles fans know the story of Randall Cunningham, who actually had a human highlights film of a career with the Birds. Unfortunately, he didn’t win enough playoff games-one to be exact-and was maligned for being just a running quarterback.

During Cunningham’s time in Philadelphia, he never had a good offensive line, a running game, or a good offensive coordinator. Cunningham was ultimately let go a year into then Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes regime.

After a one-year retirement, Cunningham was back up quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997 and came off the bench to lead the Vikings to a comeback win over the New York Giants in the NFC Wildcard game.

In 1998, Cunningham became the starter of the Vikings after Brad Johnson went down with an injury. Working with offensive coordinator Brian Billick and armed with receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, he threw 34 touchdowns and passed for 3,704 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes.

It was the best statistical year of his career. You have to wonder what would have happened if Cunningham had good offensive assistant coaches like Billick who could have really tutored him in perfecting his passing skills earlier in his career.

Equally as important, if Cunningham in his Eagles days would have had a running back like Robert Smith, a more mature Carter (who played with Cunningham in Philadelphia earlier in his career) and a superstar like Moss playing wide receiver, I think could have been an even better quarterback for the Birds.

For the first three years of O.J Simpson’s career in Buffalo, he was considered a bust with a propensity to fumble and could not catch a pass out of the backfield. It looked as if he was going to become another Heisman Trophy winner who couldn’t make it in the pros.

In 1972, the Bills brought in Lou Saban to coach the team. Thanks to a couple of offensive linemen, Saban built Buffalo’s offense around Simpson. He was arguably the best running back in the NFL from 1972 to 1976.

Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to gain over 2,000 yards in one season. Saban recognized Simpson’s talent as a ball carrier and transformed him from a guy who was going nowhere fast to a player who ran his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

In the middle of the 1964 season, the Chicago Cubs were unhappy with rightfielder Lou Brock, who had trouble fielding his position (especially in Wrigley Field) and wasn’t the home run hitter the team had projected him to be.

So the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio, who had 18 wins the previous season. At the time, people covering baseball felt that the Cubs got the best of the deal.

When Brock arrived in St. Louis, Cards manager Johnny Keane moved Brock to left field and told him to focus on using his speed instead of trying to knock the ball out of the park. Brock took Keane’s advice and was the catalyst to the Cardinals run to the 1964 World Series.

Needless to say, Brock finished his career as the all-time leader in stolen bases. He has also had over 3,000 hits with a career batting average of .293. Meanwhile, Broglio won just seven more games for the Cubs before retiring in 1966.

Brock has a statue and plaque highlighting his accomplishments in Cooperstown. One team’s bust becomes another team’s success story.

 

With the Fourth Pick in the 2013 NFL Draft…the Philadelphia Eagles Pick…?

Texas A&M offensive tackle might be the first offensive lineman taken in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Texas A&M offensive tackle might be the first offensive lineman taken in the 2013 NFL Draft.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—For an Eagles squad that has far too many holes on both sides of the ball, the major question that fans have is what will the Birds do with the fourth pick in the 2013 NFL Draft?

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman will probably give you the best athlete available line. In other years when the Birds were winning on a consistent basis, that might be an acceptable answer to fans.

The stark reality is that any pick the Birds make in the draft, whether it’s the first round or the seventh round, will more than likely fill a need on a team that had more than its share of flaws in 2012.

On offense, the Eagles are going to need more bodies to protect Michael Vick or whoever wins the starting job at quarterback. Last season, Eagles quarterbacks were hit 118 times and sacked 48 times. Even with left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans coming back from injuries, the Eagles definitely need some depth in the offensive line.

If you’ve learned anything from last season, you can never have too many offensive linemen. The Eagles have their eye on Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (6-foot-6, 306 pounds).   The word on Joeckel is that he’s a good pass protector who plays fast and has quick feet.

In Kelly’s hurry-up read option scheme, the Eagles are going to need their lineman to move quickly to the line of scrimmage and to get out attack opposing defenders.

“You’ve got to move. You’ve got to be able to play in space against some really, really good defensive linemen in this league,” Kelly told PhiladelphiaEagles.com .

Before the Kansas City Chiefs, who have the No. 1 pick, put the franchise tag on left tackle Branden Albert, draft experts said Joeckel would be drafted by the Chiefs.  Some are speculating the Chiefs are going to go defense in the first round and pick up Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

But new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has always had an affinity for offensive lineman, so he might pull the trigger on Joeckel. If he does, there are some other linemen that Kelly and Roseman might consider if Joeckel is not available.

Alabama's Chance Warmack could help the Eagles improve their running game.

Alabama’s Chance Warmack could help the Eagles improve their running game.

Alabama guard Chance Warmack (6-2, 325) might arguably be the best guard in this draft. This is a player who cleared the way for 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, all of whom were either All-Americans or All Southeastern Conference.

The various mock drafts and scouting websites are saying Warmack is an athletic guard who is an excellent run blocker and knows how to lock in on a defender and finish him off. Warmack is also athletic enough to be a good pass protector and is quick on his feet.

Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher (6-7, 300) may not have the name recognition like his contemporaries from the big schools. But he was an Associated Press Third-Team All-American as a left tackle. The word on Fisher is that he is a good run blocker and pass protector, who does a good job mirroring opposing pass rushers.

Fisher’s weakness is that he may lack upper body strength and had gotten beaten by defensive ends who bull-rushed him during practices at the Senior Bowl.

Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson (6-7, 303) raised eyes of some NFL scout when he ran a 4.75 40-yard dash. Not bad for a guy his size and seems to be quick enough for Kelly’s quick paced offensive scheme.

While the scouts like his upside in terms of his ability to pass block and ability to create space in the running game, Johnson needs to put on a few more pounds and needs to learn to keep his feet under him.

Considering that he’s only played on the offensive line for the last two seasons after playing quarterback in high school and tight end and defensive end during his first two years of college ball, he hasn’t been half bad on the offensive line. I’m not certain you take him in the first round, but he has good upside.

Utah's Star Lotulelei has the ability to take on two blockers.

Utah’s Star Lotulelei has the ability to take on two blockers.

On defense, Lotulelei, if he’s still available by the fourth pick, could be the Eagles version of Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. At 6-4, 325 pounds, Lotulelei has the potential to plug up an opposing team’s running game. Last season at Utah, Lotulelei had 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, four pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

If the Chiefs select Lotulelei with the first pick, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (6-foot-2, 245 pounds) is the No. 1 linebacker on all the mock drafts.  In 2012, Jones led the nation in sacks with 14.5, tackles for loss (24.5) and forced fumbles (seven).

For an Eagles team that was near the bottom of the league in turnovers forced, Jones could be the answer in terms of having a playmaker on defense. The Eagles haven’t had a true enforcer from the outside linebacker spot since Seth Joyner .

Defensive end Dion Jordan, who played for Kelly at Oregon, can also start at the outside linebacker spot. At 6-6, 248 pounds, Jordan may have to put on a few pounds, but could be a solid outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

During his senior year with the Ducks, Jordan had 44 tackles (10 for loss) and five sacks. He also has the ability to drop back in pass coverage. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Jordan ran a 4.6 40-yard dash.

In the Mix: A Confident Dennis Dixon Is Ready Take On All Comers for Birds QB Spot

The Eagles might be Dennis Dixon's best opportunity to be a starer.

The Eagles might be Dennis Dixon’s best opportunity to be a starer.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA–If you look at his career statistics in the NFL, there’s no reason to give Dennis Dixon a snowball’s chance in hell to be the Eagles starting quarterback.

In just three career starts, he’s 2-1 with a quarterback rating of 71.4 and has been mostly a backup during his five years in the league. In 2012, he was a practice-squad quarterback with the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens.

But Dixon’s heyday as a quarterback was at Oregon when Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was his offensive coordinator.  In his senior year in 2007, he passed for 2,136 yards with 20 touchdown passes and four interceptions in 10 games before tearing up the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

While Dixon is intimately familiar with Kelly’s offense, he believes that his experience backing up Ben Roethlisberger and playing the scout team quarterback on the Ravens practice squad will be a great asset in the competition with Michael Vick and Nick Foles.

“I was fortunate enough to work around some good defenses from the Pittsburgh Steelers and to the Ravens,” Dixon said. “Just practicing with them made me better overall. I just want to be able to show what I’ve learned and hopefully it’s good enough.”

Even though he hasn’t logged in the time on the field that Vick or even Nick Foles has, Dixon is confident that he has just as big a chance to be the Birds starting signal caller.

“Anybody in their right mind would love competition and that’s what we have,” Dixon said. “And I’m quite sure that Michael Vick and Nick Foles would say the same thing as well. We’re excited. We’re just excited to work and let the chips fall where they may.”

Of course, we all want to know if Dixon is best equipped to run Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle, read-option offense the way he did at Oregon.  Dixon said he’s not expecting to Kelly the exact offense he ran his senior year.

“(Kelly) can tailor his offense to whomever is presented at that given time and it’s good to see,” Dixon said. “If you have a dual threat quarterback, everyone will say they want to throw the ball first because you never want to have that stigma of you just being a running quarterback. Chip Kelly has made it known that he wants to throw the ball and mix up the run and the pass.”

Looking at how things evolved in his professional career over the five years since that season-ending knee injury during his senior year at Oregon, Dixon hasn’t had the best of breaks and has strived to make the best of a bad situation.

For the first 10 games of his senior season with the Ducks, Dixon was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate and possibly a high-round draft pick.  With the injury, Dixon’s stock dropped significantly. The Steelers drafted him in the fifth round as a backup to Roethlisberger.

Dixon started his first game for the Steelers in 2009 against the Baltimore Ravens when Roethlisberger and backup Charlie Batch went down because of injuries. He completed 12 passes for 26 for 145 yards with one interception and ran for 27 yards on three carries with one touchdown.

With Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season, Dixon defeated the Atlanta Falcons and completed 68 percent of his throws for a career-high of 254 yards. But he got hurt in the next game where he tore the meniscus in his left knee.  The Steelers released him after the 2011 season.

For all setbacks and the fact that he could only get a practice squad job in Baltimore, Dixon refuses to feel sorry for himself and views every situation is an opportunity to show what he can do.

“As far as getting a starting job, I had an opportunity with (Pittsburgh) and I came out on top. I was excited about it,” Dixon said. “Unfortunately, it ended the way it did. But I’m moving forward. I did have an opportunity and now another opportunity has come. I just want to be ready when it comes.”

Unstoppable? Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers are a Defense’s Worst Nightmare

Can Baltimore Slow  Down  Kaepernick and 49ers  Pistol Offense?SB47_Primary_National_RGB

By Chris Murray

for the Chris Murray Report

In many respects, Super Bowl XLVII will be a matchup of two distinct offensive philosophies.  It’s the San Francisco 49ers new fangled Pistol read-option offense, which is taking the NFL by storm, versus the Baltimore Ravens conventional drop-back passer style of offense.

If the 49ers win this game, there will be a radical rethinking of how teams run their offense in the NFL run their offenses in the way Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense did back in the 1980s.

The 49ers Colin Kaepernick may be fast, but he's smart enough to have a firm grasp of the 49ers Piston Read-option offense.

The 49ers Colin Kaepernick may be fast, but he’s smart enough to have a firm grasp of the 49ers Piston Read-option offense.

There are already teams around the league-the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers- that use a version of this read-option offense. New Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is looking to install his version of that offense as well.

In the Pistol read option formation, the quarterback is lined up about four yards behind the center while the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback so that the defense doesn’t see the running back while the quarterback can either run, handoff to the running back or even throw a play-action pass.

The 49ers, led by athletic quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have averaged 476 yards in their two playoff games using their Pistol read-option offense. Perhaps the biggest splash that Kaepernick and the read-option have made thus far was the 49ers divisional playoff win over the Green Bay Packers.

In that game, Kaepernick literally ran the Packers out of the playoffs with a record-setting performance. He rushed for NFL- record 181 yards (most ever by a quarterback regular season or playoffs) and scored two touchdowns. He passed for 263 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. The 49ers compiled 579 yards of offense.

Against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, so much attention was on Kaepernick keeping the ball and running it that the Falcons forgot about Frank Gore, who gained 90 yards rushing on 21 carries, and tight end Vernon Davis caught five passes for 106 yards. Kaepernick was an efficient 16-of-21 passing for 233 yards and one touchdown pass.

So what is it about the read-option that keeps defensive coordinators and the players the coach up late at night?

“They can do so much and do so many things,” said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. “They can pass out of it. They hand the ball off. There are so many things they can do with it. They can even bring in the trick plays. You have to stay fundamentally sound to defend so many things and play.”

That’s because the read option makes teams have to defend the entire field. In effect, it’s 11-on-11 football where the quarterback serves as an extra blocker by reading where the defender is going to go. In the 49ers read option, Kaepernick can read the ends and linebackers. If those ends and line backers converge on him, the ball is going to the running back or it might go downfield on a pass play.

“It can force a defense to play certain ways that they might not play,” said 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. “It is another way to put pressure on the defense. That is what we want to do. We want to try to put pressure on 11 people on the field. Make it a bad day for them.”

Added Kaepernick: “You’re actually blocking the defender by reading him.”

Even worse for the defense if the offense doesn’t the run ball, the other option for the quarterback is to pass the ball.

“It freezes them a little bit. It gives you a little bit more time,” Kaepernick said of his running ability. “If it’s just a split second, that’s an advantage for the offense.”

In a Dec. 4, the Ravens had trouble stopping the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffith III and their version of the read option. The Redskins rolled up 469 yards of total offense. RGIII passed for 242 yards and one touchdown and also ran for 34 yards.

Meanwhile, rookie running back Alfred Morris gained 129 yards rushing and the Redskins came from behind to beat Baltimore in overtime. There was something the Ravens learned from that experience that could serve them well against the 49ers on Sunday.

“It’s really hard to play that type of package as individuals,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.  “You have to play it as a group. I said that if you were to try to slow it down, that is the only way to slow it down, is to play it as a group. Make sure before the ball is snapped, everybody is on the same page.”