Friday, November 2, 2012

Angry Rant: Alabama beating an NFL team is laughable

by John Huffstetler

I don't know Steve, when you coached
the Skins and I coached the Dolphins,
we did pretty terribly.
This debate regarding great collegiate teams and poor NFL teams was rekindled by Steve Spurrier's comments about Alabama possibly being favored against some unnamed NFL teams. For starters, Alabama isn't even that good this year. Last year's Bama squad would beat this year's team, and last year's squad couldn't even beat LSU at home during the regular season (or top 6 points). This year, Bama's "brutal" schedule so far includes wins over Michigan, Miss St., Tennessee, Missouri, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, and Arkansas. One of those teams is ranked...none are that good. They avoid playing Florida, Georgia, and Spurrier's South Carolina squad out of the East this year out of shear luck. Any of these teams would have a legitimate shot to beat the Tide on a neutral field. Most years, this team isn't even the best in the country, but there simply aren't many good teams this year (that's why average Kansas St. and Notre Dame teams are in the top 5).

There are so many options for high school players to choose from
Beyond the fact that Alabama is assuredly overrated this year, the thought that any college team could beat an NFL team is totally ridiculous. The talent level on any of the 32 NFL teams is much higher than any college team because of the significantly greater number of college squads and the level of maturity and physical development of the players. There are players on 124 FBS teams (pictured to the right) (and some players from other divisions as well) for the NFL to choose from, and they choose the best players. The natural counter argument to this is that Alabama gets the best prospects in the country to choose from; however, the spread is still dramatic. Many players choose a school close to their hometown or because they grew up liking a team. Not every great player just blindly chooses Alabama. There are also hundreds of players every year that go under the radar and earn their way onto an NFL roster through their development and achievement at smaller schools. Here's an all-star squad of players from non-division 1-a schools:

QB- Tony Romo- Eastern Illinois (or how about Joe Flacco from Delaware if you prefer)
RB- Fred Jackson- Coe College
FB- Mike Tolbert- Coastal Carolina
WR- Victor Cruz- UMass (Pictured to the left holding the Super Bowl trophy
Vincent Jackson- Northern Colorado
Marques Colston- Hofstra
Miles Austin- Monmouth

OL- Michael Roos- Eastern Washington
Willie Colon- Hofstra
Jahri Evans- Bloomsburg
Dan Connolly- SE Missouri St.
Chris Kuper- North Dakota
DE- Jared Allen- Idaho St.
Robert Mathis- Alabama A&M
DT- Stephen Bowen- Hofstra
Jacques Cesaire- Southern Connecticut
LB- Akeem Jordan- James Madison
London Fletcher- John Carroll
Stephen Cooper- Maine
CB- Brandon Carr- Grand Valley State (or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Tennessee State if you prefer)
Cortland Finnegan- Samford (or Brent Grimes from Shippensburg if you prefer)
FS- Nick Collins- Bethune-Cookman
SS- Danieal Manning- Abilene Christian
K- Rob Bironas- Georgia Southern
P- Mike Scifres- Western Illinois

       Alabama wouldn't even beat that team. The point is, the NFL doesn't just take players from the best schools. This is a collection of the best 32 rosters of football players in the country. This list proves that there is talent scattered throughout the country that contributes to NFL rosters at a Pro Bowl level. Not to mention the fact that every player that is drafted into the NFL becomes better as their career progresses for years. Players get smarter and stronger in their mid-to-late 20's than they were from 18-22.

To compare the talent level on one NFL team to Alabama, let's take a look at the Kansas City Chiefs and their top players, since they are one of the teams being compared to this Crimson Tide squad, with a particular focus on their stellar collegiate careers:

Kansas City Chiefs

Quinn accepting the Johnny Unitas Award
QB- Brady Quinn- Although largely ineffective on the pro-level (because of the higher talent level in the NFL), Quinn set 36 Notre Dame records during his collegiate career. In 2005, he finished 4th in Heisman voting, while winning the Sammy Baugh trophy as the nation's top QB. In 2006, he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Maxwell Trophy as the best college football player. He also finished 3rd in Heisman voting.

RB- Jamaal Charles- As a true freshman at Texas in 2005, Charles rushed for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns with a 7.4 yards per carry average to help Texas win the National Championship. In his Junior year (his final collegiate year), he rushed for over 1,400 yards, including a 290 yard game against Nebraska. He ranks 4th in Texas history in rush yards (despite skipping his Senior year) behind only Ricky Williams, Earl Campbell, and Cedric Benson.

WR- Dwayne Bowe- Bowe started 31 games for LSU (in the precious SEC) where he recorded 154 catches, 2,403 yards, and a school-record 26 TD's. In his senior year, Bowe earned 3rd-team All-American honors and 1st-team All-SEC honors for the top-5 Tiger squad.

Big #11- Derrick Johnson
LB- Derrick Johnson- Johnson was one of the most dominant LB's in the country during his career at Texas. He finished his career with 281 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 9 Int's and 11 Forced Fumbles. He was a first-team Big-12 selection 3 times, first-team All-American twice, and he won the Dick Butkus award as the best linebacker in the country and the Bronco Nagurski award as the best defensive player in the country during his Senior season.

SS- Eric Berry- In his three years with Tennessee, Berry racked up 241 tackles (as a cornerback) and had 14 Ints. Considered nationally to be the best shut-down corner in the country, he earned the following accolades: 2-time First-team All-American, 3-time All-SEC, 2007 SEC Defensive Freshman of the year, 2008 Vince Dooley Award, 2008 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2008 and 2009 Jack Tatum Award winner, and 2009 Jim Thorpe Award winner.
Glenn Dorsey holding the National Champ. Trophy

DT- Glenn Dorsey- Although he has struggled to stay healthy and find consistency on the pro-level, Dorsey was one of the most decorated defensive tackles of all-time while at LSU. He was twice named first-team All-SEC and All-American. In 2007, he won SEC defensive player of the year, the Lombardi trophy, the Outland trophy, the Bronco Nagurski trophy, and the Lott trophy while racking up 69 tackles, 12.5 TFL, and 7 sacks for the National Champion Tigers.

I could go on as Brandon Flowers (VaTech), Tamba Hali (Penn St.), Javier Arenas (Alabama), Brandon Siler (Florida), Tyson Jackson (LSU), Dexter McCluster (Ole Miss), Steve Breaston (Michigan), and Eric Winston (Miami Fl.) among others had stellar careers for major collegiate football programs. The point is that the Chiefs are LOADED with collegiate football talent. They are essentially a collegiate All-American team unto themselves. Take these collegiate resumes and match them up with the resumes of the current Bama players. It's not even a comparison. This a collection of some of the most decorated collegiate athletes in the country over the past decade...and they're now 1-7 this year. Again, because there are only 32 NFL teams compared to over a hundred college teams, and these are men...not boys.

So shut up Steve Spurrier and others, and show these decorated, accomplished NFL players like the Chiefs some respect. Comparing them to a college team is not only an absolutely ridiculous argument, but it's disrespectful to these teams and players who deserve more respect than to be compared to a group of children who aren't even that good to begin with. I'm instituting a new policy: Anyone who makes the argument that Alabama could beat a pro team can legally be punched in the face without repercussions. I'm flying to South Carolina now to punch Spurrier squarely on his outrageously red cheeks.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NBA Betting: Season Over/Unders

by John Huffstetler

Over the past few years in College Football, NFL, and NBA season over/under bets, I've profited in each sport every season. Season bets are basically the best and easiest (and most under-utilized) bets that exist in sports gambling. You don't have to break down every individual matchup, or see what team is in a favorable spot for any game, or hope sweat a -7 in the NBA when your team is up 8 because of late-game fouling. You just need to try and predict which teams will have good/bad seasons based on offseason changes, schedules, injuries, etc, and pull for them to win straight up against their opponents. If you are trying to break into sports gambling without knowing anything and you don't want to lose all of your money, just bet a few solid season bets. You will be entertained all year and have a better chance of winning because of the long-term nature of the bet. For example, I made exactly one MLB bet the entire year last year (because I know nothing about day-to-day baseball): Washington Nationals over 83.5 wins for 3 units of profit. As a result, I was invested in every game they played and had a win wrapped up by August for a profitable season. That being said, I know much more about the NBA. Here are my plays on the NBA this year for season over/unders:

The test case for if you can have a Unibrow and still get buns
Top Play: New Orleans Hornets Over 27.5 Wins- I played this for 3 times a normal bet because I'm completely confident in the result. If you only made one NBA bet this year, this is it. Based on adjusted win totals last year (NOTE: THERE WERE ONLY 66 GAMES LAST YEAR/ ADJUSTING FOR AN 82 GAME SEASON ON EVERY TEAM LAST YEAR), the Hornets had 26 wins with a pathetic roster assembled by David Stern and the league office who took control of the team after bankruptcy of the owners. To start, Gordon was injured a large majority of the season but the team was 6-3 and showing a pulse when he was healthy. He is by far their best returning player, so his health is essentially like adding another big free agent. In addition to Gordon, New Orleans added two other potential all-stars in Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis. Anderson was a fantastic free agent acquisition from salary-dumping Orlando. He had a fantastic year this past year, and in fact, I wrote this article discussing how he should have been a starter in the all-star game for the East because of his play. Not to mention Davis, who proved last year at Kentucky that he is an elite defensive player while  protecting the ball, rebounding effectively, and scoring when needed. Davis will make an immediate impact on the NBA level and could potentially win Rookie of the Year. Look for New Orleans not only to surpass 28 wins but possibly contend for a playoff spot out West.

Going to keep the rest of these short and sweet so I can have this done by Wednesday (Note: I played both Boston and Miami under their totals because of their penchant for not caring about the regular season, but they've both already played their openers).

Atlanta Hawks Over 43 Wins- Few teams have had a more intelligent offseason than the Hawks and new GM Danny Ferry. They get rid of overpaid bums like Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams (thus helping their financial future) while adding more valuable pieces like Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, and Devin Harris, and maintaining their true nucleus of Josh Smith and Al Horford. This team should at least match last year's win pct. because of their savvy acquisitions.

S my D, Philly
Philadelphia 76ers Under 47 wins- If not for the addition of an injured Andrew Bynum, Philly would have had the worst offseason in the NBA. I don't need to give stats to prove how bad Kwame Brown, Nick Young, and Jason Richardson are. Those names say enough. The loss of Lou Williams scoring on the perimeter and the defense of Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, plus the questionable health of Bynum make Philly a team that would be lucky to earn an 8 seed.

Denver Nuggets Over 50 wins- The addition of Andre Iguodala to this already deep roster gives them a terrific starting backcourt of Lawson, Iguodala, Gallinari. Plus, they reached 47.2 adjusted wins last year with several injuries (and players in China). This year, their starting five is stronger and their bench is as deep as ever. Not to mention, they got rid of their worst player who received playing time in Al Harrington in a trade this offseason. Addition by subtraction factor.

Phoenix Suns Under 31.5 Wins- I don't usually like playing teams with low win totals "under" their wins, but this backcourt is abysmal following the loss of Steve Nash. I'm ok with Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley, but Telfair, Beasley, and Wesley Johnson are just dreadful. I can't see anyone here shooting well from the field. Plus, this team only had 42 adjusted wins last year with Nash, and he is one of the more valuable players in the league. Terrible team.

Toronto Raptors Over 34.5 Wins- The Raptors are always a good bet "over" because everyone just assumes they suck (I played them over for a win last year). They actually made some pretty good offseason acquisitions by adding Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields, and they brought in Jonas Valanciunas from Europe. They have talent already on the roster with Amir Johnson, Linas Kleiza, Jose Calderon, and Ed Davis, but their continuing problem is their insistency to play a terribly inefficient Andrea Bargnani significant minutes. I wrote an article last season ranking the most overrated players in the NBA and Bargnani was #1. Hopefully, the additions to the roster will limit his playing time enough to elevate the Raptors to the next level.

I'm grossly overpaid
Brooklyn Nets Under 45 Wins- The hype is absolutely out of control. They added a way-over-the-hill Joe Johnson and a Gerald Wallace late last season who was better in Charlotte than Portland. They also get back a healthy but questionably important (see #4 on my overrated list from above) Brook Lopez from injury last season. To be honest, I don't see where this win total comes from besides the massive hype. Deron Williams is a good (not great) point guard and he is surrounded by old or overrated fringe stars. Reggie Evans, MarShon Brooks, and Josh Childress off the bench are promising, but they won't get enough minutes to make a difference on this likely non-playoff team.

New York Knicks Over 46.5 Wins- I've been criticizing the Knicks moves and the performance of Amare and Melo for years, but they're finally figuring it out. Last year's addition of Tyson Chandler was a fantastic move to combat the defensive failings of "Carmare," and they followed that up this offseason with the additions of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton at Point Guard. They also added defensive stalwarts Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Camby to make virtually everyone on the roster besides their two "stars" defensively stout. Helping the Knicks this year is the early season injury to Amare. The team should perform better in his absence without the defensive black hole of "Carmare" in effect.

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Angry Rant: Running Backs are Overrated (and I blame ESPN and Fantasy)

by John Huffstetler

Pretty easy to score when you just walk in
I've ranted against ESPN before in an article that discussed how they were more of an entertainment network than a sports network, and this issue ties directly to that issue of athlete glorification. Running Backs on the pro level simply are not nearly as important as they are perceived. In fact, of all the offensive and defensive positions, one could argue that running back is the least important. The offensive line's ability to block and create space for a back to operate is a dramatically more important factor in creating rushing yards than a back's perceived ability. Granted, there are a handful of players who can make a difference in their teams' success or failure on any given week, but outside of this small list, they are all basically interchangeable.

You're not that good, CJ2K
What evidence is there to support this theory? For starters, there is an obvious growing trend to split carries in the NFL, which shows teams are willing to choose the fresher back over a "better" back in many situations. These teams also do not want one player to gain too many yards, gain to much acclaim, and overestimate their own value (see the MJD and Chris Johnson holdouts). Additionally, Football Outsiders has a great statistic that attempts to measure a RB's value while taking away the yards that the offensive line directly generated for that player. DYAR (Defensive-adjusted yards above replacement) gives "the value of the performance on plays where this RB carried/caught the ball compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage." In this telling statistic, 16 of the 32 starters in the league are either equal to or worse than their backups when combining rushing and receiving totals. These numbers can be found here.
Wait, how is Chan Gailey a head coach again?

CJ Spiller (technically a backup because of Chan Gailey's own stupidity) is #2 in the entire league in this stat! The starters that are significantly better than their replacement(s) (50 yards or more difference) can be counted on two hands and several are the obvious ones: Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Willis McGahee, Doug Martin, and DeMarco Murray. That's it. Notice that most of these players receive a majority of carries over their replacements when healthy as well. There are three players that receive a decided majority of carries but this year are worse than an average replacement: LeSean McCoy, Darren McFadden, and Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis. All big names, yet all 3 teams would be better off with an average NFL replacement than these rushers this year. McFadden has been particularly dreadful with a -103 mark (worst among rushers receiving over 63 carries). Trent Richardson, the Browns "terrific" pick in last years draft is -22 rushing the football compared to an average replacement (though he makes up for it with a +66 receiving mark), yet he warranted a Browns trade to make him a top 3 pick? Not whatsoever, as we discussed in our draft blog the night of the draft.

So why are running backs so overvalued? First, the ESPN bottom line for every game lists either the stats for the QB, RB, WR, or TE. I understand that it is difficult to quantify how well an O-line does during a game, but ESPN makes no effort to attempt to credit the O-line. The way some ESPN analysts discuss the way a back played contributes to this fallacy as well. Running backs are routinely highlighted for their "great play" without mention of the how the offensive line allowed them to be untouched for 10 yards. Here are the highlights from last Thursday night's Tampa Bay/Minnesota game and the 214 yards gained by Doug Martin largely because of the Tampa Bay blocking. Notice how Martin barely gets touched until he's several yards downfield on most carries because all he needs to do is run to the open space. A running back is only as good as the blocking in front of him. ESPN routinely misses the mark on this principle.

Fantasy football is to blame as well with every idiot who plays fantasy football thinking that the best fantasy players are also the best real players. There's a reason why Arian Foster rushes for a ton of yards every year, and it's not his's the Texans fantastic O-line. Back in the day, the Chiefs had the best O-line in the league and they made Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson look like Barry Sanders. As soon as LJ left the Chiefs, his career was over because he was never that good to begin with. There's a reason the Patriots go through RB's like toilet paper. They know it's their offensive line that makes the running game work. I understand it would be difficult to credit an offensive line for their effort in fantasy, but why not credit rush yards gained as a team, pancake blocks, and subtracting for sacks allowed? Seems like a legitimate formula to me. At least then the thousands of fantasy players in this country who know nothing about the sport can at least begin to understand what actually makes a team successful. Hopefully, we can start to change this perception and credit the great offensive lineman this league has to offer that relatively anonymously guide their teams to glory.

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