Archive for the ‘Football’ Category
The Big-10 Football Conference, once a prestigious and worthwhile grouping of respectable teams, is now the laughing stock of the BCS. Named a “Top Five Power Conference” because of past accolades, the Big-10 has a horrible chance at getting into the first-ever National Championship Playoff. One of the moves that the conference made was the discouragement after the 2014 season to play no more games against FCS opponents. Commissioner of the Big-10, Jim Delaney, decided that the non-conference schedule needed a serious upgrade so that teams can stay in the hunt when being considered for Bowl Games without losing credibility for playing the smaller schools.
My first attack is on Purdue, Indiana, and Northwestern. These three teams have failed to even be competitive consistently through the last 30 years. Purdue would not go .500 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Indiana has been lousy since Anthony Thompson was their tailback in 1990. Northwestern had a recent wave of success, but I can’t block out the memories of them being 60-point underdogs from my childhood. They are back to being Northwestern, the double-digit underdog again.
On the second weekend of the 2014 season, the Big-10 was horrid. Michigan State played well for three quarters against Oregon before being slapped around in the fourth quarter. On the same weekend, Ohio State was outplayed by Virginia Tech. Those same Hokies lost to East Carolina the following week. The Buckeyes rebounded playing angrily against Kent State. Interestingly, Kent is a representative of the mighty MAC Conference, ranked 16th in the power conference polls, right behind #15 Missouri Valley (the FCS teams).
Mr. Delaney… I can understand you wanting to schedule tougher non-conference opponents. Do you understand that you have to win a few of those games against “tougher” opponents for any of this to translate positively? It is great seeing a .500 team like Minnesota get to a Bowl Game. It means more money for the conference, I get that. But Minnesota played a couple of non-conference cupcakes to get to that vaunted level of mediocrity (aka ”bowl eligible status”). So go ahead and throw a couple of SEC teams against Minnesota in a couple of years. I hate to break it to you, because I am not part of the committee, but winning four games and losing nine or ten will not get you qualified for much except revisiting playing FCS teams again.
The San Francisco 49ers made ,what is becoming, an annual stop to Youngstown State University. The Niners use YSU’s facilities as a go-between rather than fly back to the West Coast and then to New York the very next week.
The 49ers were upset by Minnesota last week, 24-13. They will now travel to New York for this weekends matchup with the Jets. Coach Harbaugh and QB Alex Smith (below) lead the charge on a 2012 season that has many predicting the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. Off-season acquisition Randy Moss (above) is proving he still has a little gas left in the tank for the Niners.
Smith (above) has spread the ball out this season to talented receivers like Moss, Tim Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Warren’s Mario Manningham, and Ted Ginn Jr. So far, the Niners quarterback is 64-92 for 641 yards and 5 TDs.
Heckled and criticized as not being ‘the man’ to lead San Francisco to another championship, Smith likes having some weapons he can look for this season. In the recent past, choices were very limited. This offense will put up a big number more than once this season with a wider array of weapons for Smith to use.
Youngstown State, off to a 4-0 start and ranked third in the latest FCS Polls, has a bye week, making the arrangements easier on everyone. The Penguins practiced in the WATTS while the 49ers did most of their work on the turf of Stambaugh Stadium.
David Akers has gotten addicted to Handel’s Ice Cream. In fact, several Niners have been spotted multiple days in line at the local homemade ice cream chain. The charity work these folks do is above and beyond each time they visit the Mahoning Valley with trips to children’s hospitals and various other good deeds.
The road to winning the NFC West may be a bit harder than last season for San Francisco. Arizona has not lost yet and Seattle has the best defensive backs in the NFL. Overall, San Francisco has the best team talent in the division and a return to the postseason is probable.
Growing up in Youngstown in the 80′s, the six minutes of sports on a Friday night at the end of a newscast seemed like robbery. The talent was always good with people like Denny Liebert and Chuck Galeti to quickly read off some scores and show highlights from one or two games. However, looking back, our generation was heavily cheated.
On a Friday night in 2012, this area has some of the best coverage of high school football, and if it doesn’t start by quarter after, then that network is more concerned about showing a storm developing in Cuba somewhere, or a story about how a lady gave birth to her fourth set of twins in six years. I’ll take the beefed-up football coverage.
Joe Aulisio, Ryan Allison, Chad Krispinsky, and Shawn Jordan are all exceptional examples of folks who multitask and put their heart and soul into what they do. Zach Humphries is a blooming natural, and I am really happy to see DJ Yokley catch some good breaks with ESPN3 this past week. These guys would succeed in any market.
WFMJ has a stable of people who run like crazy every Friday and Saturday night. It starts with Dana Balash, who has seen the six minute sportscasts evolve into twenty plus minutes on a Friday. Mike Ackelson and Rob Decker fortify a kind of magic that is hard to duplicate. You also have hustling videographers like Jeff Holenchick and Bob Meluch who fly from one stadium to the next. When all of the components are combined you get this production every Friday night that goes beyond all standards.
I think Balash deserves credit for all of the above mentioned whether you like him or not. He has been at it for 25 years and has made a lot of friends and contacts. He definitely has the respect of his peers, the coaches and players he deals with daily, and an everyday guy element that enhances his delivery.
Paneech: How has the Friday night stuff evolved into having to get that many highlights on television?
Balash: We started in 1994 with our expanded sports coverage. What I mean by expanded was that we went from six minutes to nine minutes. In 1997, Arby’s came on board to be a sponsor and we were able to do about 17 games and the time slot became 15 minutes. Two years ago, we took another step and expanded to 21 minutes. We have seven crews out there filming enough to show 45 seconds to a minute of each game we can cover.
Paneech: What kind of staff do you need to get all of this done each week?
Balash: Mike [Ackelson] has been there numerous years and Rob [Decker] came on board a few years ago and both have done a good job learning this area. It is not just us three, there are marketing people, engineers, videographers, and many others that you don’t see. The three you do see, Rob, Mike, and myself, we are a small part of that.
Paneech: Can what you have on Friday nights possibly evolve into more at some point, or is it at the maximum now?
Balash: People want to know who won, they want to see the cheerleaders and the band. Some people opt to start coverage with high school football instead of news, which I was against. We get 21 minutes out of 25, if we can go further, I am not sure what that would be except to take the whole show. There is still a part of the viewing audience that wants to see the events of the day, get the weather, and sports are third. That is the way it should be. A couple of weeks ago, the Vice President came to Lordstown on a Friday. That is absolutely more important than football. So where can we go? If we could, I guess my wish would be to cover every local school that plays on Friday night.
Paneech: As far as the actual football goes, is this a down year for high school football in this area?
Balash: Overall, there are a lot of great players. On the other hand, I am not sure we have that many great teams. Do we have a few teams that can make a run? Absolutely. Since 2002, we have had a team play in Week 15 every single year.
Paneech: What sort of criticism have you had to deal with?
Balash: In 1994, some of the soccer people were upset because we expanded coverage of high school football. They wanted us to do that for soccer. That comes down to sponsorships and sales. We also sometimes get criticized for not covering a certain school or missing a story. I’m the first to admit that I do not know everything about sports. I have come to rely heavily on people to call us and let us know prior to something happening. By giving us the opportunity to be there for a players 1,000th point, we can be there. We cannot recreate a milestone, so I wish we had better communication not to miss big events and we can be there.
Paneech: How is the relationship with YSU? The coaches, the administration, and the student-athletes.
Balash: Even at the high school level, if the coaches or administration tip us off, we better know where to be. The sports information department at Youngstown State is one of the best that I have ever dealt with. These guys keep you notified as much as they possibly can. There are some things they can’t tell you, but it is understood. The relationship that I have on and off the court with the coaches at YSU is the best it has ever been. Obviously, there are times when we have to ask the hard questions. Coach Wolford has turned things around. Coach Boldon has the women’s basketball program moving in the right direction. The men’s basketball team is showing how good they can be. Coach Slocum had a couple of tough years but I think he now has the players he needs to be successful. I feel as though I can now call these coaches on my own, not that I do that a lot, but am comfortable when I have to. It has never been better, and winning helps.
Paneech: How much longer can you do this?
Balash: I know I am on the backside of my career. I have been doing this for the 28 years that I have been with the same company. I am home. I have had opportunities to move out of the area. There is no better area to me than here. With high school football, all of the other high school athletics, Youngstown State and other universities, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are both an hour away, and you have Ohio State too, it is a sports mecca. If I can do another twenty years I would be happy. That is a decision that the company will have to make. Because we are locally owned, it is very huge, and the owners know what we do.
So Dana Balash has been at it awhile. He is someone people that have never met feel as though they know. In fact, one woman, who passed away about three years ago in Niles, mentioned Balash in her obituary. The article said that the deceased woman loved watching Dana Balash do his sports. Balash never met the woman, but keeps a copy of the obituary on his desk. When he has a tough day, he can look at that to put things into perspective.
Anyone who knows me would guess that once they opened this article, they would see a picture of Drew Brees and a prediction that the New Orleans Saints would be the NFL Champions this season. It kills me to say that I am going against my heart and going with the weather. Green Bay will beat New Orleans in the NFC Championship game, probably in a foot of snow.
To me, the NFC Championship game will be better than the Super Bowl if the Saints and Packers square off at Lambeau. Some would argue that Aaron Rodgers is not a cold weather quarterback because he played at California. Conversely, Drew Brees played at Purdue, where it snows a little more regularly than the West Coast.
The Packers have a tremendous takeaway ratio, best in the NFL. Neither defense deserves to win a Super Bowl as they have both given up boatloads of points at a time throughout the regular season. The best defensive team, other than Baltimore, would be San Francisco. The Niners have been winning games, not by blowing anyone out, but rather by allowing fewer points than they put up on offense.
Nobody really expected Denver to beat Pittsburgh. That all comes to an end as New England will blow Denver out this weekend. The secondary stinks, but Tim Tebow is about out of smoke and mirrors for this season. Baltimore should beat Houston. Look for Arian Foster to struggle on the ground, narrowing the pass game of the Texans.
In the AFC Championship Game, I see New England getting by the Ravens to face the Packers. In the end though, too much Green Bay offense against that horrid defensive secondary that the Patriots have. Tom Brady will pull out a closer game than anyone will expect against Baltimore. However, the lack of a running game will help Green Bay better cover the pass. Rodgers will be shooting fish in a barrel.
My Super Bowl Prediction: Green Bay 47, New England 24.
PS, if the Saints should overcome the elements and upset the Packers, shame on me for going against my own team.
Donald Jones missed four weeks earlier this season with an ankle injury. being a proud player and hard worker, he beat the projected deadline to return a couple of weeks ago. However, Jones has again hurt the same ankle and this time there is damage to new ligaments.
“I was placed on injured reserve last week and that means I am done for the year”, said Jones Thursday night. ”It was the same ankle and i injured everything that was healing plus one more ligament. It would be another three to four games before I could realistically get back, so I am done for the season.”
The Buffalo Bills lost, 28-24, to the Jets last weekend. The loss drops the Bills to 5-6 for the season and put a serious gash in their playoff chances. Being 1-5 on the road is something this young team can concentrate on getting better at next season.
“The mindset of the team right now is just focusing on trying to get a win. Everybody is banged up. We signed talented guys to replace injured players, but when you bring in guys from somewhere else, it effects the whole system, it’s real hard to get used to a new system for them.”
Jones said that he still goes to practice and is doing all he can to get better, but that he will not approach it [injury] the way he did the first time.
“I want to get back to 100%”, said Jones. ”Last time, I came back not at 100%, so right now, I am focused on letting the ankle heal the right way.”
The Bills face the Titans this Sunday at 1. The good news is that it is a home game, and the Bills do well at home [5-1]. The bad news that if the Bills lose, the playoffs will be almost impossible to get to. Fear not Bills fans, when healthy, this team can play with anyone. Once Chan Gailey piles up some depth and these young Bills age a year, they could mover forward, real fast.
” I do not travel with the team to road games, but I went to the Jets game because I went home for Thanksgiving.”
The Buffalo Bills are at a point in their season where they have achieved some things, but are more disappointed in what they have failed to do. Last week, the Bills were hammered by the Dallas Cowboys, 44-7, and Donald Jones says that his team will head into Miami ready to play. Jones says he is back up to a normal workload following an injury absence of four games, saying that his leg is as good as it is going to be for the rest of the season.
“We are having a great week of practice,” said Jones. “Our guys understand that we are only one game out of first place and that we need to have a better effort than we did last week.”
The Bills suffered a key blow recently when starting center, Eric Wood, went down for the season with a torn right ACL. Jones talked about how big of a loss Wood is to his team.
“It is a huge loss for us. He was like the leader of the offensive line, the leader of the offense in many ways. He kept guys positive in the huddle and kept everyone focused. It hurts to lose him.”
The Bills head to Miami to face the Dolphins this weekend. Jones talked about the matchup and the expectations.
“We have to do a better job executing, finishing drives and getting points on the scoreboard”, said Jones. ”They [Miami] run a lot of zone schemes, we have to find the open spots in those zones and make plays.
Jones, a Youngstown State University grad, wanted to wish his alma mater good luck for the week as they continue to charge forward seeking a playoff berth.
“I hope they can win and make it to the playoffs. It should be a pumped-up crowd this weekend.”
Donald Jones has missed a couple of Buffalo Bills games with a leg injury. He has been working hard trying to get back, but doubts he will be ready to go when his team takes on the New York Jets in a huge game for both teams. Jones can be activated for the game, but is unsure just how much he will get to play as he pushes himself to a full recovery.
“The recovery process is going well”, said Jones. “I feel like I am pretty well ahead of schedule and was supposed to miss six-to-eight weeks. It hasn’t even been four weeks yet and I feel like I am getting pretty close to returning to the field.”
The Bills can’t blink as their productive offense takes on the NFL’s #1-ranked defense in the Jets.
“They have a really good secondary with two all-pro cornerbacks. Darrelle Rivas is the best corner in the league, and the defense produces turnovers. We have to get off the ball because they like to jam the receivers at the line, and we expect to see a lot of blitzing. They have some crazy schemes on defense and all of the pressure they create causes quarterbacks to throw interceptions.”
The game has a lot of meaning to Jones because he worked out with some of the current Jets roster in the offseason. Brad Smith, of Youngstown Chaney High School fame, was a Jet and also wants to win in the worst way this weekend. Personal reasons aside, it is a game that will drastically alter the standings, either way.
“They are a divisional opponent”, noted Jones. “If we get the win we will be two games ahead of them and if we lose they will have tied us for first place.”
As Jones inches closer to his return, it should be noted that the Bills defense has stepped it up as the offense has slowed in the last couple of games. Once Jones returns, it will open things up for Chan Gailey‘s offense because #19 is developing a good reputation in football circles as a field stretcher. This team is good, and they are for real.
Perhaps the most likable characteristic a person can have is that when they reach a level of success that few have, they are unchanged and remember their roots. Donald Jones is nursing a high ankle sprain and will be out of action at least this week (bye) and next week against the Washington Redskins. The money hasn’t changed his attitude. He is still a very sensible and grounded human being and returned to Youngstown State to talk with the team at this week’s pregame dinner on Friday night.
When addressing the players, Jones talked about his personal hurdles in establishing his goal. ”There were only two teams interested in signing me as a free agent, Buffalo and the New York Giants. The chances of you making it to the league (NFL) are not very good. I am not saying that you can’t do it, because I am proof that you can, but embrace the education you are receiving while in college and prepare yourself for a future.”
Jones not only talked with the team but introduced himself to many of the faces he had never met. He sat with various members and chatted during the dinner.
Aaron Pitts, Jones’ college roommate, is on a different path of success. Pitts is training with the Cintas Corporation locally and enjoys what he is doing. Pitts showed up at the dinner to hang out with his old friend and it was nice to see the past interact with the future.
“We haven’t seen each other much”, said Pitts. ”As you know, Donald and I were roommates and got to be pretty close. I am glad he is doing well and it is great to spend some time with him and catch up.”
Youngstown State second-year coach, Eric Wolford, introduced Jones to his team and talked about how hard work and taking care of your body can pay dividends. Interestingly, Jones graduated before Wolford was hired, but the two interacted like old friends. It was a nice union of old meets new and everyone walked away happy.
Jones and Pitts showed up at the Youngstown State – Saint Francis game, which the Penguins won, 49-23. Jones was on the home sidelines and spent time talking to reporters, signing autographs, and talking to anyone that approached him. He is a refreshing change from the stereotype of a successful athlete, often perceived as a prima donna. Jones is anything but.
“The biggest problem I have now”, joked Jones at the dinner, “is that everyone wants something. Everyone calls and wants something from you.”
The most satisfying thing Youngstown could ever want, they got, when Jones showed up as an unchanged and respectable person who has not let the limelight change who he is and how he acts.
Buffalo was in an unfamiliar role last weekend. They were favored to win against a team they should beat. Unfortunately, the Bills were handed a 23-20 setback by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bills were outscored 20-3 in the second half and never got their bearings on offense. Bills receiver Donald Jones is a former Youngstown State University standout and has been generous with his time to allow me a weekly interview segment focusing on the way he sees things.
“We realize that we are not going to win every game”, remarked Jones on the loss. “In this league, you have to win the games that you are supposed to win. I don’t feel like they won, I feel more like we lost, it was a game we should have won.”
Things will not be easy this weekend. Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles roll into Orchard Park for a 1 p.m. contest with the Bills.
“Defensively, they [Philadelphia] do a very good job covering”, said Jones. “However, they miss a lot of tackles in the secondary and with the group of receivers we have, we feel we can exploit that this week. They have a good pass rush and really attack the ball. We know that we will have to step it up on offense this weekend and look to fire on all cylinders.”
Jones’ father, Donald Sr., is making his debut this weekend in Orchard Park as well. Senior is driving the 23-foot long truck that will carry the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, a group of Junior’s friends and relatives. The truck (below) should hit the tailgate around 8 a.m., so look for it and say hi to Mr. Jones and crew.
Jones also commented that it has been a pretty low-key week and that the honeymoon with most major media outlets is over, for now.
“We see that we can be beat. We will have to come out more focused and block out all of the distractions”, said Jones.
Last week, Jones was targeted eight times, most on the team. The reason Chan Gailey likes Jones so much is because he will stretch defenses, take pressure off of Stevie Johnson and free up TE Scott Chandler. More importantly, RB Fred Jackson has more space to work with because Johnson and Jones can both stretch a defense to create more space.
Jones had three catches for 21 yards in the loss. For the season, he has 14 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. He is going to pop a 100-yard game, real soon.
Donald Jones predicted Buffalo could beat New England because there were match-ups that the Bills offense could control. Point taken, 3-0, and Buffalo is rolling along like a championship team with a seemingly unstoppable offense. Jones had his best game as a professional, hauling in five passes for 101 yards leading a scoring machine called the Bills.
The former Youngstown State Penguin talked about the big win over New England. “We won the game, and it is a huge win to beat them [New England]. We have been fortunate to dig our way out of holes that we are putting ourselves in early, and we are addressing that. We are happy with the win though, it is a huge step for us.”
Jones set up the winning points with a great 48-yard reception. “That play was something that we worked on in practice. When we got up to the line, Fitz [Ryan Fitzpatrick] saw the defense that they were in and called the audible and it worked just like we practiced it.”
“The play that put us in front in the fourth quarter was the pass to Scott Chandler across the middle. They stayed with me so nobody was on Chandler. Had they stayed with him, I would have been open. It was the same exact play we used when we beat the Raiders.”
Jones talked about this weekend’s visit to Cincinnati. ”Our mindset as a team is that we have not really accomplished anything yet. We are 3-0, and that’s a good start, but it is a long season. All of the veterans are staying on the young guys to stay prepared each week and not become content.”
So far the Bills are just an offensive Juggernaut. Fred Jackson and the running game are loosening up defenses for Fitzpatrick to pick apart. “Fred is a beast”, remarked Jones. ”He helps our passing game out tremendously by keeping the defense honest with the run.”
Jones and his Bills are in an unfamiliar position this weekend – playing a game that they should win. People are catching on to what Jones has been telling me since Week 1, when he said the 2011 Bills offense would be a force to be reckoned with. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Jones is now owned by 6% of all fantasy owners, a far cry from zero a month ago. Pick him up while you can!