Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm back and the Rays never left

WOW, sorry for the hiatus but certain things could happen to a person that limits his writing capabilities (work and kids). None the less I'm back in action and ready to tackle the situation at hand. It has been months since I last commented on my favorite team but don't think I wasn't paying attention. I like to think I have studied the team from all angles now and I'm pretty sure I have a good idea of what's going on.

We all knew after the last series in Boston that the Rays were destined to make the playoffs and if there was any doubt about there capability in October it was answered after game one against Chicago. Now for the seventh time this year the Sox and the Rays will square off for the ultimate prize, the pennant.

Today the two teams announced their starters with Sheilds facing Dice-K. From a statistical and a fan stand point you have to like the Rays. Jamie is just to strong, especially at home, and K is to inconsistent with his pitch count, not to give the Rays a victory. Maddon has Kazimr two and Garza three witch I do not like. Even though Kaz will throw a hundred pitches in three innings, Matt just can't seem to win on the road. So to be objective I will have the series at 2-1 Rays. Here is where things get tricky. Does Maddon go with Sonny or a fourth starter in general, or with the break will he give the ball back to Sheilds. If you look at the regular season Sonnistine has been just short of perfect against Boston witch freaks me out because you know he should start before Kaz but what are the chances of that happening. In my opinion he will start in enemy territorywhere he has had success and he will pick up a victory. This now brings us back to the Trop where Sheilds will close it out.

Now I haven't brought up offense, defense, or injuries but from a pitching stand point it is hard to argue the Rays win in five.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thoughts on Week 1

Week 1 in the NFL has come and gone, and the Dolphins are 0-1 again. For the 3rd consecutive year, the 'fins start the year with a bad note. This year, the loss was extra painful as it came against the division rival New York Jets. Also, for the 4th straight year, there was a new QB under center. Chad Pennington wasn't awful, going 24 for 43, 251 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT during a last minute, possible game winning drive. Not awful, not great. What may have hurt Pennington and the Dolphins the most was the lack of a running game. The surprising return of Ricky Williams to the starters role garnered just 10 rushes for 46 yards. Ronnie Brown only ran the ball 6 times. Meanwhile 8 different Dolphins caught passes. 17 rushing attempts to 43 passing tries is rarely a good sign. But the Dolphins were only down 6 points at halftime. Hopefully when the 'fins travel to Arizona, they can produce a more balanced, more effective offensive game plan.

The defense also played well, but not great. They held the Saint-to-be Brett Favre to just 194 yards passing, although he did throw two Favre-esque prayers that were answered, while the Dolphins secondary watched in awe. But in the 4th quarter, as the offense tried to mount a comeback, the defense held its own, recording 3 straight 3 and outs. Again, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin will provide another solid test next week in the desert.

An opening day loss is not the end of the season. There are good things to be taken from this game, as well as lessons to be learned. After the trip to Arizona, Miami travels to the Brady-less Patriots before the bye in week 4. Oh yes, and after the bye week, San Diego comes calling before the schedule lightens a bit. Didn't anyone tell Roger Goodell and the NFL powers to be that the Dolphins won just 1 game last year? Watch out, 0-4, the Dolphins are back.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gators Down Canes - Immediate Thoughts and other NCAA Football Observations

For the first time since 1985, the Florida Gators have defeated the Miami Hurricanes. The final score was 26-3, but the game itself was much more competitive. As I watched this game, intently, a few things stuck out to me...

For the Hurricanes: Miami has a blindingly bright future. Robert Marve looks like the real deal. The defense held up against, and at times looked better than, the Florida offense. Constant pressure on Tebow for the first 3 quarters. Miami committed no turnovers, a huge key, especially for such a young team. The overall team speed could lead them to an ACC title if not this year, in the very near future, especially when you see VA Tech lost to East Carolina, Clemson completly overwhelmed by Alabama last week, Wake Forest needing a miracle over the SEC bottom feeder Ole Miss, N.C. State get blown out by a less then impressive South Carolina, and Maryland losing to Middle Tennessee. I was very impressed by Miami. As I type, Florida State leads Western Carolina 62-0. It looks as though Miami and FSU could be on their way back up to join Florida as perennial powers.

For the Gators: Yikes. I'll go ahead and assume that Urban Meyer and the Gators were holding back, not wanting to show the SEC their full playbook. But 9 points through 3 quarters is not something you want to show Tennessee or Georgia or LSU... As good as Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, and Kestahn Moore were against Hawaii last week, they were non-existant this week. I don't recall hearing Emmanuel Moody's name once. Why? Even Herby or Musberger failed to bring it up. Maybe I missed it. But only 89 rushing yards for Florida. If they hope to compete in the SEC, that will have to improve. Aaron Hernandez took a big step into the starting tight end role. As for the defense, big impressive showing. Yes, the 'Canes offense moved the ball fairly well on the ground, at times. But in the end, the stats show only 61 yards gained rushing for the Canes. When Miami fell behind in the 4th and went to the air, the Gators defense looked even better. It's funny to think that Florida's secondary might be a bigger strength then the front 7, but at times it looked that way tonight. Only 79 yards gained through the air against the Gators. I hate to say it, but I think the defense outdid the offense tonight. Not that that's a bad thing... not at all.

In the end, a win is a win for my alma mater. It wasn't pretty, especially for 3\4ths of the game. But the Gators got past the 'Canes for the first time in the last 6 tries and now head into SEC play. They will take a week off before heading up to Knoxville for a showdown with the Volunteers. Miami also has a week off before they go up against Texas A&M. The Aggies have already lost to Arkansas State (who?) and barely held off mighty New Mexico today. Look for the 'Canes to steal that one. Then they will begin ACC play. 3 straight home games beginning with North Carolina, before hated Florida State comes to the Orange Bo... I mean Dolphins Stadium. If FSU's showing today is any indication of their season, watch out. Florida Atlantic put up big numbers in their win against UAB, 49-34. QB Rusty Smith got back into his rhythm after a rough game in Texas last week. Smith went 21 for 34, 325 yards, and 3 TDs. Charles Pierre lead the ground attack, rushing for 138 yards and 2 TDs.

Other NCAA thoughts; what happened to the Big East? #8 West Virginia got dominated by East Carolina, 24-3. And it wasn't as close as the score indicated. #19 South Florida needed an overtime touchdown to get past UCF. The same UCF that only managed 7 points through 3 quarters in week 1 against I-AA team South Carolina State. UCONN also needed a late, 4th quarter comeback AND overtime to get past Temple. While that sounds like a great basketball storyline, this is football. Temple football... Syracuse lost to Akron, and Pitt held off mighty Buffalo. Not the Bills, the Bulls. Last week, Louisville got spanked by a down Kentucky team, and Pittsburgh, some pundits favorite to win the league, lost to Bowling Green. Yikes. Lots of talk this week has been about a down ACC this year, but when you really look at it, it's not that bad. The ACC went 2-4 against IA teams last week. But when you take a closer look, there's reason to be calmed. The losses were against top 10 teams Alabama and USC, as well as an East Carolina team that should now be favored to be one of those BCS-crashers. The Big East, on the other hand, has reason to worry. The University of South Florida is the frontrunner to make a BCS bowl... yikes. I could go on and on about college football, but I'll stop here. And I hate to say it, but watch out for the Big 10. The "top 2" are actually looking extremely vunerable, while the rest of the league is making giant strides. Ohio State managed a late comeback against in-state "rival" Ohio U. It was ugly. Michigan escaped with a win against another Ohio team, Miami (Ohio). A win is a win, but both teams will need to make huge strides if they are planning on contending for the Big 10 title. Penn State looks unstoppable. After a 66-10 throttling of Coastal Carolina in week 1, the Nittany Lions continued their attack with a 45-14 beatdown of Pac-10 team Oregon State. Wisconsin is coming off of an easy 51-14 win over another MAC team, Marshall. Illinois, coming off of a tough loss to a very solid Mizzou team last week, ran up 47 points against Eastern Illinois. Even Minnesota dismantled the same Bowling Green team that went into Pitt and won last week, 42-17. This could be a fun conference to watch in October.

Next week! Florida, Miami, and UCF have the week off. South Florida has the key matchup in the Sunshine State, as they head off to face Kansas. Florida State welcomes Chattanooga, a.k.a. cupcake #2 to Bobby Bowden Field, and FAU will need another big day from Smith and Pierre if they hope to upset Michigan State in East Lansing. Oh yea, and I think there's some game out in California... Ohio State vs. USC? If OSU plans to show up like they did today against Ohio U, they might as well not bother booking a flight. Can't wait!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Panthers' News

The Florida Panthers kept the offseason interesting by acquiring Toronto Maple Leafs' defenseman Brian McCabe and a fourth round draft pick in the 2010 draft in exchange for Mike Van Ryn.

The outgoing Panther, Mike Van Ryn, was lost for a majority of the 2007-2008 season. Last offseason, he had surgeries on both wrists, and he played in only 20 games before being placed in the injured reserve list in November, when he had yet another surgery. His best year in Florida came in '05-'06, when he was a +15 and accumlated 37 points (8 G, 29 A). There have been questions all offseason about his durability.

McCabe is entering his 13th season in the NHL. He's scored at least 20 points every year, including three consecutive 50-point seasons from 2004-2007. He has averaged 49 points over the last 3 seasons. He had fallen out of favor in Toronto, both with the GM and the fans. The Leafs have been looking to unload his contract for awhile now, and Florida has the space. While he is 4 years older then Van Ryn, he is an immediate offensive upgrade, as well as a solid, veteran presence on the blueline. McCabe is just another leap forward in solidfying what has been one of the worst defenses in the league the past few years.

Brian may have said it best himself. "“I’m excited about coming.’’ McCabe said. “There’s a great group of young guys here and a good mix of talent. Bringing in Cory Stillman, a guy with two Stanley Cups, and the acquisitions of Ballard and Boynton is a big upside. With myself added, and Jay Bouwmeester, who is one of the best defensemen in the league, hands down, I think we have one of the best defensive units out there. Plus you have an All-Star goalie."

The Cats defense will likely play at least 3 new faces in the starting lineup; McCabe, along with offseason signees Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton. Alongside them are returning starters Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan Allen. Noah Welch or Karlis Skrastins will probably be the 6th defensman. GM Jacques Martin promised to improve the defense this year. He has given it an entirely new face. First game is October 10.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Welcome to the Swamp...

On Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes travel north to renew their rivalry with the my alma mater, the Florida Gators. I can't wait. While the Hurricanes lead the series by a few games overall, recent history is forgettable for Gator fans like myself. 2 embarrassing bowl games and a debacle in the now demolished Orange Bowl in 2003 are memories I wouldn't mind erasing. But this is 2008.

As I watch Vanderbilt beat the Ol' Ball Coach for the 2nd consecutive year, I am reminded that this is a new college football. Upsets are as likely as blowouts, it seems. This Miami team that ventures into the Swamp is talented, there is no doubt. Young, yes. Inexperienced, very. But there is no lack of potential, speed, or talent. But this isn't a state high school championship they're coming to play. This isn't Glades Central they're lining up against. This is the Orange and Blue versus the U.

As my esteemed colleague E.J. points out, college football is a game of emotion. And while the 'Canes might be too young and stupid to realize how big of a challenge this will be for them, you can bet the farm that Saint Meyer will be educating the current Gators on this matchup's recent history. There will be film sessions of the 2004 Peach Bowl. There will be DVDs made and passed out showing Sebastian the Ibis on the field celebrating with the U before the 2000 Sugar Bowl was over. While some of these players may not have grown up knowing this was THE rivalry in the state pre-1987, they will know now. Both teams will come into this game angry. This will be a rivalry game, have no doubts.

But this is the difference. Of the 100 players on Miami's roster, 40 or either true or redshirt freshman. 21 true freshman played in Miami's opening game against Charleston Southern. It may not have helped that they were able to sleepwalk their way to a 52-7 win. The last thing they need to be thinking is, "Hey, we just scored 52 points, we're unstoppable!" A freshman QB is starting his first collegiate game... ever... in the Swamp... at night... on national TV... The talent is undeniable; in 2006, he broke Tim Tebow's Florida State High School records in passing yards and touchdowns. But his receiving core is questionable, at best. There's no question that Miami's running game is the key to their upset chances. Time of possession will be a key stat on Saturday night. Unless of course the Gators score on 3-4 minute drives all night long...

Welcome to the Swamp. In Florida's opening win against Hawaii, the Gators scored touchdowns on offense (4 rushing, 1 passing), defense (2 INT returns), and special teams (punt return). 11 different Gators rushed to combine for 238 yards on the ground. 11 different players. Harvin didn't play, remember. Major Wright, Wondy Pierre-Louis, and Joe Haden have the Gators secondary looking much improved already, while Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap lead the front 7 that looks quicker and faster then last season's defense.

I'm superstitious, I don't like being favored. I don't like expectations. I was nervous before the Hawaii game. I'll be nervous before the Citadel come to Gainesville in November. I'm nervous now. Miami has speed, they have talent in the right places. I won't be surprised at all to see a tight score at halftime. But this is Florida vs. Miami. This is high school rivalries bleeding into collegiate hatred. This is making up for the last 6 times these two have met. This is a defense looking to prove they won't be the reason Florida doesn't have a title shot this year. This is the fastest, most explosive, weapon filled offenses college football may see. Ever. This is Gator country. This is the Swamp... only Gators get out alive.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Hurricanes Fan's Perspective on UM-UF

The big day is fast approaching. I've been circling this date on my life calendar since the Canes last met the Gators in the 2004 Peach Bowl. The rivalry resumes in Gainesville. Although I am a graduate of both schools, there's no real struggle here - I've been a Hurricanes fan all of my life. I love the Gators, have several Gator shirts and other assorted memorabilia, and am a proud member of the UF Alumni Association. But I'm studiously avoiding all of those items strewn around my apartment as the day approaches. I grew up on Gino Torretta, Lamar Thomas, Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, the Rock, Tremain Mack, Ryan Clement, Danyell Ferguson, Dan Morgan, Reggie Wayne, and Santana Moss.

Miami has the series lead at 28-25, including claiming victory the last 6 times the teams have faced. Yet I've never as a Canes fan felt more David to another team's Goliath. When was the last time the Canes were 3 TD underdogs? Nary a commentator has given Miami the slightest chance to prevail on Saturday in Gainesville. The deck, to be sure, is stacked against a UM victory - the abysmal 2007 season, a freshman QB that's never taken a college snap, playing 18 freshmen in last week's romp against Charleston Southern, going up against the reigning Heisman trophy winner, the #5 team in the country, and a team just 2 years removed from the most recent championship. Taking off the orange-and-green glasses, and applying strict rationality to the upcoming game, my head gives the Canes no chance at all.

But my heart says otherwise. Kirk Herbstreit likes to say that college football is a game of emotion, and that is one reason that the Canes do have a chance on Saturday. For all of their inexperience, the Canes may be too young and dumb to know that they are statistical longshots to win on Saturday. The freshmen who played last week were carefully picked by Coach Randy Shannon for their old-school, tough-as-nails approach to the game. In fact, one of the glaring things about the 2008 newcomers is that they've already taken leadership roles on this team. Guys like Jacory Harris, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, Jordan Futch, Brandon Harris have been supplanting many of the upperclassmen as vocal leaders. They were winners in high school - the first three haven't tasted defeat in 3 years - and they will not accept a repeat of the Hurricanes' 2007 season on their watch.

Crazy things happen in college football. See Appalachian State over Michigan and Stanford over USC in 2007. See East Carolina over Virginia Tech and UCLA over Tennessee in 2008. The game increasingly does not go as scripted as parity takes over the college football landscape. Moreover, there is a very real chance that the Gators, knowing their strategic advantages, are not taking the Canes too seriously. Chris Rainey recently said that both FSU and UM suck. Louis Murphy actually went as far as to suggest that Florida is the real "U" (his comment was funny because it was based on how many championships the Gators have won; someone should advise him that the current count is Miami 5, Florida 2, thank you). With success comes pride, and excessive pride can lead to cockiness (the pride cometh before the fall, I hear). I'm not saying the Gators as a whole are cocky, or that that would even make a difference - just that some of their players' comments indicate as much. The Canes have been offered prime bulletin board material. We'll see if they can harness their rage into a colossal upset on Saturday.

So, the two in-state rivals resume their dance on Saturday. The Gators have all of the talent in the country on their side. The Canes will play the inspired underdog. U ready?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Looking Ahead...

So with the Marlins free-falling out of playoff contention, there has been a lull in South Florida Fan Blogging. You can only "look ahead" and "preview" so many times. But now we enter September. College football is in full swing. The NFL kicks off in less then a week. The NHL's first faceoff is a month away. I'm looking forward to prognosticating and reacting to all that I can in the coming month and beyond.

While we were away... the Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators, Central Florida Knights, and even the South Florida Bulls all got their seasons off to successful starts. Unfortunately for the Owls, FAU suffered a big loss to #10 Texas. (Florida State took a bye in week 1.) One of the marquee games in week 2 sees the Miami Hurricanes travel up to the Swamp to take on the Gators. The Gators should be heavy favorites, and are hoping to get Pre-Season All-SEC'ers Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes back on the field. I'll be looking forward to providing all that I can, albeit with a slight Gator bias, in regards to that game, as I'm hoping E.J. will as well.

A week from today, the Miami Dolphins start their season against Brett Favre and the hated New York Jets. Ricky Williams continues to shine, and received a 1-year extension this weekend. More thoughts as they occur to me...

Lastly, the Florida Panthers drop the puck October 10. My personal favorite of the South Florida franchises, I'm sure there will be some discussion as the season draws near and camp gets into full swing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grilled or Blackened?

How do you like your fish? You might say the Marlins are "cooked"... they just blew 2 games in San Francisco to the 2nd to worst team in the NL, and now find themselves 6 back of the NL East leading New York Mets. Both losses came via the walkoff.

Last night, the Marlins managed to tie the game in the top of the 9th with a pinch-hit, 3-run home run off the bat of John Baker, only to see the game slip away in the bottom of the 9th. Reliever Matt Lindstrom entered the game, and promptly walked the leadoff man, and we all know that leadoff walks are the mating call of game-enders... A single, a sac bunt, and a sac fly later and it was all over.

This afternoon, the Marlins again came from behind, tying the game in the top of the 7th. But, lo and behold, the Marlins bullpen gave it up in the 9th again. This time, it was closer Kevin Gregg who entered the game in the 9th. He actually struck out the leadoff man, but followed that up with the impending walk. Gee, wonder how that was going to end. A stolen base and a sac fly later, the Giants' winning run stood on 3rd. That's when Gregg unleashed the winning pitch... to the backstop, allowing the winning run to cross the plate.

The Fish have now gone 3-7 in their last 10 games, while the Mets, after their win tonight against the Braves, have gone 9-2 in their last 11. All that adds up to the Marlins trailing those Mets by 6 games in the division, and quickly fading. Kevin Gregg has 2 losses in his last 3 appearances. The offense, which has lived and died by the long ball, seems to be drying up. And there is no time to rest now. The Marlins start a 3 game series in Arizona tomorrow night, and there will be a 6'10" future hall of famer to greet them. Randy Johnson takes the hill against Anibal Sanchez. While the final two pitching matchups may favor the Fish, the Diamondbacks are in a playoff battle of their own, and seeing how the Marlins dealt with the ghastly Giants, there should be some soul searching going on in the charter flight tonight.

One quick bright spot I failed to mention after it happened. On Tuesday night in San Francisco, Ricky Nolasco pitched a tremondous, 2-hit, complete game shut out of the Giants. The Marlins had gone 301 starts since last logging a complete game, a Major League record. If only that had ignited the rest of the team...

Canes Practice Update

On the 'Canes last scrimmage of the fall before actual gameday action on Tuesday night, the offense played lights out, especially sophomore WR Leonard Hankerson, who had up to this point been invisible. "Hank" had 3 long TD receptions. Here are some other practice tidbits since I last checked in:

* I've been talking a lot about future freshmen sensations LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. As the practices have rolled on, Benjamin has actually been separating himself from the rest of the pack. His explosiveness and big play ability have been a constant since he arrived in Coral Gables earlier this month. Byrd, and fellow freshman Aldarius Johnson, are primed to have big rookie seasons, but Benjamin is the one who has earned consistent raves from the usually stoic Randy Shannon.

* A couple of interesting return game options. At punt returner, freshman Thearon Collier has shown flashes. He is lightning quick, a throwback to UM great Roscoe Parrish. Defensive tackle Joe Joseph has another comparison - "We have another Devin Hester out there." That's high (and premature) praise. We'll just have to see. At kick returner, I'm excited about the possibilities presented by sophomore RB Shawnbrey McNeal. He was an unexpected bright spot last season, and bursts through any sliver of a seam he can find with Bolt-ian speed (okay, maybe he's not THAT fast). He had a 50 yard gain at Tuesday's scrimmage.

* Speaking of running backs, Javarris James and Graig Cooper have seen limited action this fall as Shannon wants to keep his two top horses healthy for the upcoming season. In their absence, fifth year senior Derron Thomas has more than adequately filled in. He was a top back coming out of high school, and it has been sad to see him play third fiddle to a couple of underclassman, but he's never complained, boasts an almost 5-yards-per-carry career rushing average, and has been impressive in fall practices. With JJ, Coop, Shawnbrey, and Derron, running back depth is no issue whatsoever at Canes camp.

* Chavez Grant has emerged as the team's best performing cornerback. He has been a perennial ball hawk this fall, and is a lock to start against Charleston Southern next week.

* I'm a little worried about starting defensive ends Eric Moncur and Allen Bailey. They've been nursing injuries throughout the fall, and have been held out of seemingly every practice for 2 weeks. Their replacements - Adewale Ojomo, Steven Wesley, Andrew Smith, Marcus Robinson, and Gavin Hardin - have done well, but if Miami is to have any shot at uprooting the Gators on September 6, they're going to need their very best pass rushers healthy to make Tim Tebow's life as uncomfortable as practicable.

* As far as the QB competition between Robert Marve and Jacory Harris, we should have a starter named in the next couple of days. Up to this point, neither Marve nor Harris have separated themselves. But practice onlookers say it's because both have played with competence and poise (an instant upgrade over the departed Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman).

* 7 days!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ronnie or Ricky...

Ricky Williams is the leader in the clubhouse. The starting running back for your Miami Dolphins is not Ronnie Brown.

Ronnie's recovery from his ACL surgery is well-known, but a thumb injury suffered on Saturday in the pre-season game against the Jaguars may have set him back even further. He didn't practice yesterday, and Ricky Williams has been impressive both in camp and in the 2 pre-season games, averaging almost 5 yards per carry. When the season kicks off, it looks as though Ricky will be the main guy, with Ronnie in the backup role. Let the nickname contest begin, everyone needs a little R n' R...

One other rumor concerning the Dolphins regards recently released Falcons WR Joe Horn. It appears as though the 'fins see this as a chance to acquire a veteran receiver to help the current young, inexperienced receivers on the roster. Even if Horn isn't at his best, it can only be a positive to bring in a vocal leader like Horn to a team desperate for leadership. Imagine Pennington and J. Horn in the huddle...

Speaking of Pennington, it seems as though his main competition for the starting role is rookie Chad Henne, not returners John Beck or Josh McCown. We have to assume one of the returning QBs will be released, or hopefully traded soon. Game 1 is September 7.

Marlins Not Hanging Around...?

No sooner did I claim the Marlins postseason hopes were on the rise did the Fish do what they do best; prove me wrong. On August 14th, I proclaimed hope for the home town boys. The Marlins went on to lose 3 of the next 4 games and fell from a game and a half out to where they currently sit 4 games back of the division leading Mets. An optimist might point out that if you were looking for a team to collapse late in the season, you'd simply have to look to last season's historic Mets' failure to garner hope.

Here's the problem. The Marlins bullpen has been awful, at best. In 3 of the last 4 losses, a reliever has been the losing pitcher of record. Included in those are a Kevin Gregg blown save and a complete collapse of Renyel Pinto, who gave up 5 earned runs in Sunday's loss to the Cubs. After Gregg's blown save Friday night, he did come back Saturday night against the same Cubbies to redeem himself and earn a save.

Now, the new outlook. Tonight, the Marlins start a 9 game road trip, starting tonight with 3 out west against the struggling San Francisco Giants. Ricky Nolasco returns to the mound looking for his 12th win of the year. The starting pitching matchups have to favor the Marlins, as the Giants starters combine for just a 10-16 record, and none of the 3 probable starters for San Fran has a .500 record. Scott Olsen and Josh Johnson are the listed pitchers for the final 2 games of the series. After San Francisco, the Marlins head to Arizona. The Diamondbacks are in a battle for the division with Man-Ram and the streaking Dodgers, so this should be a tough fight for the Fish. After a day off, the Marlins head back east for a 3 game set with the Braves. If the Marlins can handle this trip no worse then 6-3, then the weekend series with the Mets will be a season changer. Leaving August no further back then a couple games, and the dreamers can continue to dream.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Marlins Still Hanging Around

Not a lot of ground has been made or lost over the last few weeks for the Florida Marlins. A quick glance at the standings have the Fish a game and a half out of the division lead, despite being just 5-7 in August. The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies continue to flip flop in and out of first place.

A quick glance at the remaining schedule, however, might offer a slight glimmer of hope. The Marlins play both the Mets and Phils two more times over the last month and a half of the season, splitting those series home and away. But it's the other 9 series left on the schedule that might prove most important for the Marlins playoff hopes. They have a combined 19 games against the Nationals, Giants, Braves, Astros, and Reds, all teams that the Fish should handle. The Phillies, meanwhile, have a 4 game set at Wrigley Field vs. the Cubs and a 3 game series with the streaking Brewers. The Mets open September at Miller Park against those Brewers, and then welcome the Cubs to town for a 4 game series in the last week of the season. The Marlins toughest road series outside of the division is a weekend series in St. Louis. The worst part about the Marlins schedule is they close with 7 straight road games and no days off over the last 13 days of play.

But combine those 19 games with the 12 against the Phillies and Mets, and you have to think the Marlins are feeling good about their place in the world. I'm not one for over-used sports cliches, but they "control their own destiny."

The Marlins will try to get a 4 game series split with the Cardinals tonight at Dolphins Stadium. Scott Olsen takes the hill and will be trying for his first win since July 19.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hurricane Freshmen WR's Continue to Impress, Defense Taking Shape

The practices are closed until the opener against Charleston Southern on Aug. 28, but the players and coaches say enough after them to piece together some adequate news and notes about how they've gone. Here's what I've gathered:

* In yesterday's 7-on-7 drills, freshman wide receiver LaRon Byrd caught two TD's, continuing his string of mightily impressive performances. Fellow true freshman Davon Johnson supposedly made two jaw-dropping catches and even hurdled over two defenders on his way to a TD. It looks like Johnson is working his way into the discussion of top freshman wide receiver of the summer, along with Byrd and Travis Benjamin.

* Senior Bruce Johnson is far and away the top performer at cornerback in August, and it's a foregone conclusion that he'll start the year. Based on the early results, it looks like junior Chavez Grant will start on the other side. Demarcus VanDyke and Brandon Harris look to back up Johnson and Grant.

* Meanwhile, on the defensive line, as ends Eric Moncur and Allen Bailey continue to be held out for precautionary reasons, redshirt freshman Adewale Ojomo is turning heads. He is fast, has gotten significantly stronger since last season, and has found himself in the backfield a lot more than Hurricane offensive line coaches would like. His emergence is good news for depth at the defensive end position (beyond Ojomo, Moncur, and Bailey, there really are only three players - Steven Wesley, Marcus Robinson, and Andrew Smith).

* As for the defensive tackles, freshman Micanor Regis is impressing. He and former Northwestern standout Marcus Forston are locks to play major minutes this season, barring injury.

* All in all, the defensive is said to have dominated the last few practices. They are adept at creating turnovers and havoc in the backfield with surprise blitzes. Defensive coordinator Bill Young, who burst on the scene last year leading the Big XII champ Kansas Jayhawks defense, is making his mark early and instilling a more aggressive style to the defense which was Charmin soft in 2007.

* 16 days.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Ornery" FAU Defense Readies for 'Horns

As FAU prepares for its first real game since the New Orleans Bowl last Dec. 21, confidence is high that the Owls can go into Austin and give the Longhorns a tough game - not just on the scoreboard but in the trenches.

Coach Howard Schnellenberger is firm in his belief that the FAU defense, which often won the turnover battles last season, is even better and meaner in 2008.

Schnellenberger believes that a mean, tough defense can stifle a Texas offense that thrives on athleticism, not physicality. While it may be hard to fathom that a Sun Belt team is scheming to overpower a team from the BIG XII, that is the game plan Schnellenberger is sticking to - at least out loud.

"Once we step out on the field with Texas, the only ones who can help us is ourselves. Texas always has a very polished team that has great talent, but they aren’t tough, they aren’t a physically tough team."

FAU returns eight starters on defense, and Schnellenberger is counting on them as well as four experienced backups moving into starting roles to lay the wood on the Texas receivers.

"My defense will get to a point where they will be mean, nasty and ornery bastards and that’s what you need for Texas. Texas will move the ball with tit-for-tat, screens and options, but we’ll make them pay a price whenever they catch one of those dinky passes. We’ll put three hats on them and make them not want to get up, that’s the way to beat Texas."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dolphins Open Preseason, Display Why They Traded for a QB

The Dolphins went all out to acquire ex-Jet quarterback Chad Pennington, and now we've seen why. The Fins were beat by the Tampa Bay Bucs, 17-6. All 3 Miami QB's played, and all 3 struggled to show any signs of progress. 2nd-year man John Beck, rookie Chad Henne, and career backup Josh McCown failed to get in the endzone, and never really looked comfortable. Chad Henne probably showed the most potential. Henne was 5 for 10 for 67 yards, but led both field goal drives. McCown and Beck will more then likely be fighting it out for the 3rd string QB job.

One bright spot for the Dolphins was Ricky Williams. 5 carries for 31 yards, including an impressive 12 yard run that showed that the old Ricky might be in that cloud of smoke somewhere. With about a month to go before the regular season, there is much work to do. Pennington will presumably get starting reps in practice this week, and it's only a matter of time before he is officially the starter. If the running game can get going, Pennington will be that much better, and the Dolphins might be able break that 2 win barrier this season. Next exhibition is Saturday against another solid defense in Jacksonville.