It is not a good time to be a referee. Or at least a bad referee. We have seen bad calls happen at at least the same rate as usual, but league’s are doing something about it. First, the SEC announced this week that they have suspended the crew that made the bone-headed mystery calls against Arkansas in the Florida game. Now, MLB has changed their policy for selecting the World Series umpire crew. Typically they include at least one ump making his World Series debut so that they can add to the total of experienced World Series umps in the league. The large number of very poor calls in the playoffs so far, though, has forced them to get nervous about the situation and attempt to ensure the best refereeing they can get. To do that they are reportedly going to establish a crew made up mostly of crew chiefs, and entirely of veteran, experienced umpires. That won’t mean that there won’t be problems, but it is nice to see the league take things seriously and try to do something about it – at least until they can get a workable instant replay system in place.
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Every week the Browns’ story just keeps getting crazier and crazier. This is better than fiction. Two more twists in this twisted tale. First, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has been placed on the IR. He’s one of the few highlights on this team defensively. He leads the team in tacklesths year, and topped the whole league in that category last year. The Browns’ defense was already nothing to write home about, and this certainly won’t help. The other news is that Cleveland has been overrun with a flu bug, and it has affected six starters so far, including nose tackle Shaun Rogers, one of the other few defensive highlights. The players – 12 in total – missed practice on Wednesday, and could miss more – especially if it turns out to be H1N1. This puts a serious kink in the team’s preparations for Sunday’s game against the Giants. Given that they were already in deep in that game this is bad news for them – and entertaining for us.
1. Norv Turner should be fired now. With cause – willful and incomprehensible waste of talent.
2. The first thing the new coach should do is work on covering kick returns. It’s not even like Eddie Royal was an elite kick returner before today.
I talked about Joe Torre’s roster moves on Thursday, and by Sunday they had already come back to haunt him. As you may recall, Torre deactivated Jeff Weaver and Jon Garland, and activated Hiroki Kuroda in their place. Kuroda had been out for the first round with a back injury. I said then that it seemed like a very odd decision – surely a healthy Garland or Weaver was better than a rusty and likely sore Kuroda. It turns out, for once, that I was right. Kuroda was terrible last night – allowing six runs while recording just four outs – and is the main reason why the Phillies are holding a 2-1 lead. Far be it from me to second guess Torre, but I really don’t get it.
I’m going to do a much more comprehensive review of what we learned from the NFL today when I have more time tomorrow. For now, though, I just want to touch on five different stats. Each of them is almost impossible to believe, but they all happened. Not surprisingly, three of them came from the same game:
As always, there are all sorts of great storylines in today’s college football action. Here are my favorites:
Oklahoma (-3) vs. Texas – Both teams desperately need this win, but for very different reasons. Texas dropped out of the second spot in the polls last week, and their play hasn’t been particularly impressive. They need an impressive win over a good team in order to prove that they are a good team and that they belong in the BCS Championship game. Oklahoma has had a very rough year – two losses, the injury to Sam Bradford, and so on. This team is better than a 3-3 team, or at least they should be. They won’t be if they don’t win here, though. There is real desperation on both sides, and that leads to good drama. It also doesn’t hurt that these teams don’t exactly like each other.
Iowa (+2.5) at Wisconsin – Iowa is still undefeated and poised to keep climbing up the charts. They face a tough rival here, though, and they aren’t exactly coming off a tour de force performance in their narrow win over Michigan last week. They need to win, and win big, here to continue to gain respect and climb the polls since they are burdened by playing in a pretty underwhelming conference this year.
USC (-10) at Notre Dame – This is being painted as the game of the week. Like so many games of the week featuring USC, I expect this one to be a bust. Notre Dame has a largely one-dimensional offense, and they haven’t run up against a defense as good as USC has. Notre Dame has played very close games against teams that it should be totally outclassing. For all their faults this year, the Trojans are significantly better than any team they have faced. I don’t see how the Irish can measure up. This could be the end of yet another Heisman campaign – Jimmy Clausen’s.
So much for that Heisman trophy clarity I was hoping for from last night’s game. Tony Pike reinjured the arm he broke last week just before the half. That means that he missed all but a couple of plays of the second half, and will very likely miss at least one more game – Louisville next week. Pike hadn’t played great before the injury, either – he had thrown for two touchdowns, but but had completed less than half of his passes. That’s the end of another Heisman campaign.
I’m very intrigued by tonight’s Big East showdown. Cincinnati has a pretty clear road to the BCS if they beat South Florida, and the Bulls have the same if they win. For South Florida that’s especially surprising because stud QB Matt Grothe is on the sideline for the year. There is all sorts of intrigue in this one – is Cincinnati for real? How about South Florida’s surprisingly stout defense? Can Cincy QB Tony Pike put himself into the heart of the Heisman race with a big performance here? How about Cincy receiver Mardy Gilyard? Do the Bearcats deserve national championship consideration? How much of a joke is the Big East? This is probably the highest profile Thursday night game we have seen yet this year. Last week we saw Nebraska, and Ndamukong Suh made a big leap into the Heisman race thanks to that game, so anything can happen here. I really respect Cincy coach Brian Kelly and tend to think that he has things going in the right direction with this program, so I am hoping for them. It’s a tough team in tough location, though, so it certainly won’t be easy.
It hasn’t been easy to watch the Steelers this year – they are just a shadow of their former selves this year, and are going to have to work hard to make the playoffs, never mind to defend their Super Bowl title. Things certainly didn’t get any better on that front today – the team has had to put DE Aaron Smith on the IR for the year because of a torn rotator cuff. Smith isn’t one of the bigger defensive names in the league, but he really should be – he’s a run blocking machine as good as almost anyone in the NFL. In Smith’s absence, the job is going to be filled by committee – by a bunch of guys who aren’t good enough or ready enough to be starters right now. That’s a significant downgrade for a team that was already struggling defensively compared to what we have become used to from the top defensive team in the league the last two years. The Steelers are all but assured to get seven wins – the three they already have, plus Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland twice. That means they need to win four of their remaining seven to comfortably assure themselves a playoff spot. That’s far from impossible, but three of the seven are leading their division, Baltimore falls twice, and there are no soft spots. This team needs to be sharp. Really sharp. Given their early play I think I’d actually bet against a playoff spot.
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a truly awful team right now. Incomprehensibly bad. Like Oakland Raiders bad. They are theoretically rebuilding, but the signs of progress are slim right now. Their top two goalies are hurt, most of their offense is either hurt or benched, and coach Ron Wilson seems to have a tenuous grasp on the team. Incredibly ugly.