So, let’s start with the triumphant return of the great FW Star Telegram Football scribe, Jimmy Burch …Wonderful…
The college football season begins this week, with dozens of questions gnawing at Big 12 coaches about the readiness of their teams. We've narrowed that list. What follows is a look at the 12 biggest issues facing Big 12 teams, with answers that could -- or should -- emerge in 2007:
1Is there a national title contender in the house?
Probably not. The upper-tier teams are so balanced, with each containing at least one glaring potential flaw, that Texas coach Mack Brown invoked one of the NFL's favorite words -- parity -- when discussing the Big 12 race. Heading into his 10th season at Texas, Brown said the parity between top teams makes this year "the best chance for somebody to win the league that nobody would expect" since he's been a Big 12 coach.
2Can the league restore some lost credibility on the national landscape?
Book it. Big 12 teams were an abysmal 0-14 in matchups against Top 25 opponents from other conferences last season. So they can't do any worse. Expect multiple victories in similar showdowns this season. If poll voters cooperate, favorable opportunities to end the skid include Texas-TCU (Sept. 8), Oklahoma-Miami (Sept. 8), Nebraska-Wake Forest (Sept. 8) and Texas A&M-Miami (Sept. 20).
3Who wins the South Division?
Based on the checks and balances in this year's schedule, don't be surprised if Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma share the South Division title, finishing with matching conference records of 7-1. Or even 6-2. If the Aggies succumb to a difficult road schedule, expect the Texas-OU winner to rule the roost.
4Can Missouri handle the hype as a preseason favorite in the North Division?
History screams "no." The Tigers never have finished better than 4-4 in Big 12 play in six seasons under coach Gary Pinkel. One caveat: Similar concerns dogged Texas in 2005, when a transcendent quarterback (Vince Young) lifted lots of monkeys off Brown's back, giving the coach his first conference title as well as a national crown. Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel has the talent and intangibles to elevate Pinkel, too.
5Which newcomer should wow fans in 2007?
Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Arizona State, is capable of improving on last year's numbers posted by Zac Taylor, the league's 2006 offensive player of the year.
6Which coach is on the hottest hot seat?
The signs point to Baylor coach Guy Morriss, who did not receive a contract extension in the off-season despite leading the Bears to their best conference record as a Big 12 member (3-5) in 2006. This is Morriss' fifth season and the Bears have yet to reach a bowl game in his tenure. Although he's clearly elevated the Baylor program, he may soon be out of time if the Bears don't go bowling, or at least finish 6-6, this season.
7After a series of double-digit losses, how close is a North Division team to winning
the Big 12 Championship Game?
Very close. It could happen this year. Easily.
8Is starting a freshman quarterback, as Oklahoma plans to do, really that much of a
dice roll for a team with Big 12 title hopes?
Without a doubt. In league history, no freshman quarterback has started and won a Big 12 title game. The youngest quarterback to do so is Nebraska's Eric Crouch, a sophomore when the Cornhuskers won the 1999 title.
9Which team faces the toughest schedule?
Texas A&M. All four of the Aggies' road games in conference play are against 2006 bowl teams (Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas Tech). A&M also travels to Miami on Sept. 20, a game that could make or break the team's psyche in a year when the Aggies must prove their mettle as a road team to become Big 12 contenders.
Rhett Bomar is ready to dominate D1-AA …
Rhett Bomar's year-long exile from college football is almost over.
When Sam Houston State opens the season Thursday against Angelo State, the Bearkats' new quarterback can finally begin a new chapter in his life. No more talk about Oklahoma, the NCAA violations or Big Red Sports/Imports.
What's done is done. At least, that's how the 22-year-old junior from Grand Prairie views life and the events at OU that triggered his dismissal from the team on Aug. 2, 2006. He's thinking more about ASU, a team with six returning starters on defense.
Standing in 14,000-seat Bowers Stadium, Bomar looks like a player ready to light up the Southland Conference.
"Yeah, there's not going to be 85,000 in the stands every week," Bomar said. "But when you're playing ball, you're playing ball. You don't pay attention to the crowd anyway.
"I can still achieve my goals in the future of going to the NFL and everything like that here. It's not like that's impossible. I may have had to take a detour, but it didn't affect my talents. That's the way I look at it."
There's not a syllable of anger in Bomar's voice. Quite the opposite, actually. Bomar's voice radiates with enthusiasm for Sam Houston State University, his coaching staff and teammates.
It's not cockiness, something prone to seep into his words in Norman. It's genuine appreciation.
"You know, it's been all right," Bomar said. "It's smaller and stuff and not as many distractions, not a lot of stuff to do. But I've met some great people and have some great friends down here. The coaches are great. The players are great, and they've accepted me really well."
Buzz around town
To say Huntsville is excited about Bomar's debut is an understatement. Athletic director Bobby Williams and coach Todd Whitten said they both can notice a different feeling around town. There's an undeniable buzz.
Sam Houston State University quarterback Rhett Bomar practices with the Bearkats.
There was some excitement when Chris Chaloupka (Oklahoma State), Josh McCown (SMU) and Dustin Long (Texas A&M) transferred to Sam Houston in recent years. But nothing like this.
The Bearkats are ranked 18th in the preseason Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) coaches poll despite going 6-5 last year.
"Rhett coming to Sam Houston was, I would guess, the biggest news story Sam Houston had all last year," Whitten said. "Everybody knows about that. You look up when we have scrimmages and there seems to be more people up there. I'm sure they're anxious to see him play."
Everybody wanted to talk about Bomar's arrival, even though he wasn't talking to anyone.
Bomar and fellow teammate J.D. Quinn of Garland were dismissed from OU for accepting money for work they didn't perform at Big Red, a car dealership in Norman. The NCAA made both players forfeit one year of eligibility and pay restitution. Bomar was ordered to pay $7,406.88 to a charity. He chose the March of Dimes.
OU was also penalized for Bomar and Quinn's actions, and the university is appealing the sanctions. If the decision stands, Bomar's 2005 statistics (2,018 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) would be wiped from the OU record book as part of the punishment.
He's done few interviews since enrolling at Sam Houston last fall. Outside of talking to ESPN once and a few local reporters, Bomar's been relatively silent publicly. Sam Houston sports information director Paul Ridings said: "We're trying to protect him. We want him to enjoy his experience."
"Back when it all happened, I didn't want to talk to anybody," Bomar said. "I didn't answer any calls for about two months. I didn't talk to anybody at all other than my family and friends. There's a lot of stuff I could say that I'm not going to. I just don't want to talk about it anymore.
"Starting Thursday, we get to talk about moving on, this season and this team."
Limas is back; can anyone join him at WR for the Horns? …
Limas Sweed laughed and clapped his hands. He even high-fived Texas coach Mack Brown.
All of it was to show that Sweed's sprained left wrist -- still wrapped in a bandage for support -- is healed enough for the senior wide receiver to play Saturday in No. 4 Texas' season opener against Arkansas State.
"I'm ready," Sweed said Monday. "I feel fine."
That's good news for the Longhorns, who have seen their deep and talented pool of receivers thinned by preseason injuries.
Sweed sprained his wrist, senior Billy Pittman is out for the first game with a shoulder injury and Jordan Shipley is doubtful with a tender hamstring. The trio combined for 96 catches and 20 touchdowns last season. Sweed caught 46 passes for 801 yards and with a school record 12 TDs last season, he was one of the nation's best deep threats.
Brown called Sweed "probable" for the game and Sweed was willing to accept any term the coach wanted to use, even if it wasn't quite as strong as Sweed would have wanted. But there was little doubt Sweed plans to be on the field.
"C'mon man, I'm a competitor," he said, adding that the injury may have even made him a better player. He spent a lot of time practicing catching balls with one hand.
"It's going to be a new addition," Sweed said.
Sweed is a key component to the Longhorns' offense, a muscular 6-foot-5, 220-pound mismatch for most defensive backs. He averaged 34.8 yards per touchdown catch last season and opted to return for his last season rather than enter the NFL draft.
Sweed injured the wrist in a fall during a scrimmage, then had to fight off rumors he broke bones and might be out for the season. He's heard so much speculation and been asked so many questions that Brown came into the room Monday and teasingly called him "Dr. Sweed."
"It's something that got blown way out of proportion," Sweed said.
Speculation was high because an injury to Sweed was potentially a big blow to a receiving corps that has taken more than its share of bumps and bruises.
With Pittman sidelined, Texas loses a speed receiver. Shipley, whose career has been dogged by injuries since coming out of high school, has developed into a solid player when he's on the field.
But if any position could take the hits, this was it. Texas has enough talent on wide receiver to go two or three deep at each position and the injuries helped accelerate the development of talented freshmen James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins. Those two were listed as the top backups to senior flanker Nate Jones.
The freshmen got more reps in practice, which meant more time catching passes from quarterback Colt McCoy, who tied an NCAA freshman record last season with 29 TD passes.
Dallas welcomes Denilson with some very high praise …
Denilson's official introduction Monday by FC Dallas wasn't quite like David Beckham's with the LA Galaxy.
The 30-year-old Brazilian midfielder wasn't accompanied by a former Spice Girl, nor were there thousands of fans and media awaiting his arrival.
But for FC Dallas, it was definitely reason to celebrate.
A collection of fans and media attended Pizza Hut Park to meet the player FC Dallas officials are calling one of the biggest acquisitions in league history.
"In the context of the MLS, only the signing of Beckham is bigger," said Clark Hunt, chairman of Hunt Sports Group, which owns FC Dallas. "There is an argument to be made that he would probably be the best player in our league."
Prior to Denilson's arrival, Dallas' most high-profile signing had come in 1996 when the team acquired Hugo Sanchez, a former Mexican superstar who now coaches Mexico's national team. But Sanchez was already passed his prime and never was part of a World Cup championship team like Denilson with Brazil in 2002.
FC Dallas believes Denilson has plenty of great years ahead of him.
"I don't think there is any doubt about his quality or his ability," FC Dallas coach Steve Morrow said. "We've got every confidence in his touch, play and ability."
Denilson trained for the first time on Monday at Pizza Hut Park. He will make his debut as soon as he receives his work visa, which could take from five to 10 business days.
Morrow said he plans to use Denilson as a creative central midfielder or as a top winger.
Denilson becomes the fifth international star to sign with an MLS team under the league's new designated rule, which allows each club to spend a substantial amount of money on one player without his entire salary counting against the club's cap. The Brazilian joins Beckham, Chicago's Cuauhtemoc Blanco and New York's Claudio Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel. New York gained the right to have two designated players through a trade.
Strikeouts are fun …
As the strikeouts mount toward record-breaking levels, the Rangers must ask themselves this question about the young lineup: "Does it simply strike out a lot, or is it strikeout-prone?"
In this case, the difference is not simply a matter of semantics.
"We've got a bunch of young kids doing things for the first time," manager Ron Washington said. "I don't mind strikeouts if the guys do damage, but you can't just have a lot of strikeouts. These guys all struck out a lot in the minor leagues, but they did some damage. I don't know how you can step up a level and all of a sudden they are not going to strike out."
It's yet to be determined how much "damage" that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Botts and Nelson Cruz will do in the major leagues. They all swing big. And when they make contact, it's big contact. When they don't, it creates a mighty wind.
Lately, that wind has been howling through one stadium after another. The Rangers begin tonight's series with Chicago with 214 strikeouts for August, their first month with the trio of rookies playing every day. It is already the third-highest strikeout total for a month in club history.
Given that the Rangers have four more games remaining for the month and averaged 8.9 strikeouts in 24 August games, the club record of 234 – set in August 1997 – seems certain to fall.
It's not much of a stretch either to think the Rangers could become only the seventh team since baseball started keeping monthly records in 1957 to strike out at least 250 times in a month. Detroit whiffed 263 times in August 1991.
The Rangers are also likely to cross 1,000 strikeouts for the year during the final four games of the month. They are at 984. They're on pace to shatter the club record for strikeouts in a season: 1,116 in 1997. The Rangers are on pace for 1,225, which would rank second in AL history. The Tigers of 1996 struck out 1,268 times on the way to 109 losses.
Washington knows well the difference between clubs that strike out a lot and strikeout-prone teams. While he was a coach with Oakland, the A's struck out 1,181 times in 1997 (the fifth-highest total in AL history) and lost 97 games. Three years later, they struck out 1,159 times and won the division.
The difference: Hitters like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada were still getting used to the majors in 1997 and matured into dangerous hitters who did damage by 2000. They still struck out a lot, but their strike-zone discipline improved, and as a result, their walk totals and run-production numbers increased.
The Rangers need to see the same steps from Botts, Cruz and Saltalamacchia. Entering this season, Botts and Saltalamacchia each struck out about once every 4.75 plate appearances. For the Rangers, Botts is averaging a strikeout every 3.10 plate appearances and Saltalamacchia one every 3.46.
The Following is an email back and forth with passionate baseball man, Kent, the Baseball Junkie. Since he researched his points very well, I wanted to give him the chance to convince you I am way off on Rudy:
Heard the show today and was glad to hear that the Rangers record-breaking performance coincided with your foolish take on Rudy Jaramillo’s effectiveness over the past 8 years.
Here are some facts about the Rangers’ offense from the beginning of the 2000 season.
They have scored 6,592 runs through Wednesday, third most in the American League behind the Yankees and Red Sox. Even without last night’s 30, that’s more than 250 more than anyone else in their division. While their batting average over that span is only 6th in the AL at .271, their OPS as a team is .821, again third only to NY and Boston in the league. The 1,695 HRs is second to only the Yankees.
It’s true the Rangers offensive numbers are well down this season, but that has more to do with some poor moves on the GM’s part, Blalock’s injury, and the recent youth movement (which I am highly in favor of.)
There have been numerous hitters who improved as hitters under Rudy since 2000. To name a few; Carl Everett, Frank Catalanotto (1st time), Gary Matthews, a renewed Ruben Sierra, Mark DeRosa, Rod Barajas, etc., Veterans also thrived in recent years under him, ARod, Pudge, Raffy, He also didn’t seem to hurt many of the developing hitters, Young, Blalock, Teixeira, Kinsler, Laird, Mench, etc. on their way up.
Jaramillo’s performance has at the very least warranted the opportunity to develop this current batch of young hitters.
the baseball junkie
Here is my response:
Is it foolish? Why are they the worst road hitting team in the AL over that span? Why do they have more team strikeouts than any other team in the AL over that span? I guess we can both find stats to support our case, but do we have to call eachother's opinions foolish if they are both founded in verifiable facts?
The fact is that when you have a franchise that has seen fit to fire managers, general managers, pitching coaches and radio guys (poor Vince), it would seem at some point, the less than stellar performance of the entire team would be under the spotlight. But, we give a free pass to Rudy.
I might also take some issue with the development of Blalock, Laird, and Mench. Blalock is a worse hitter than he was years ago, and Laird and Mench are not exactly great examples in my estimation.
His Response to my Response:
Maybe foolish is a bit strong, but it sure sounded that way during the Ticket Top 10, didn’t it? I would still contend the evidence easily weighs toward the results of Jaramillo’s work being rated above average at the very least, and not deserving of termination based on his performance.
I don’t think the evaluation and firings of managers, general managers, and pitching coaches neither does nor should come into play when evaluating the hitting coach. Unfortunately, the manager takes way too much blame and credit for the record of the team. That’s just the way it is. The hitting coach should be evaluated on the team’s offensive performance. Is the team scoring enough runs, based on their lineup, or not? Is he getting the best out of his hitters? It has nothing to do with how many runs the other team scores. He has no control nor responsibility for that.
I don’t know if Rudy is getting a “free pass” or not. Certainly, he should not, but he should be evaluated based on the teams offensive output, regardless of the teams success overall.
Does it really matter how many times they’ve struck out? They struck out 11 times Wednesday. Was that a problem? Runs are what win and lose ball games.
By the way, the Rangers are not dead last in the AL in strikeouts since 2000. The
Rangers had struck out 8,351 times through Wednesday. That is fewer than Cleveland’s 8,448 (Sorry Dan), and not that many more than Boston’s 8,122. Have the Red Sox underperformed offensively the last 8 years, too? FYI – The Orioles have the second fewest strikeouts in that span.
ON BASE PERCENTAGE
They are 6th in the AL since 2000 in On Base %, by the way, behind only New York, Boston, Seattle, Oakland, and Cleveland. Not high, but still in the upper half of the league. And again, with their slugging percentage, they rank 3rd in OPS over that span.
ROAD GAME PERFORMANCE
There is no question that Rudy has the benefit of coaching a team that plays in a ballpark conducive to scoring runs, and I DO think that should factor into the evaluation of the hitting coach. But let’s take a closer look at how this team has produced offensively on the road since 2000, shall we? Wasn’t it your contention that they are the worst hitting team in the AL since then, “Bar none”? Through Wednesday, they have averaged more than 4.79 runs per game on the road since 2000. That’s well below their output at home (5.67). However, it’s no where near the bottom of the league. It’s a better road mark than Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Baltimore, Minnesota, Toronto, and Detroit, meaning 7 teams in the AL have scored more runs in road games than Texas. And if you were to throw out the other teams games in Arlington, to be more fair, it would likely bring down most of the other team’s numbers a little more. (I don’t have time to do that level research.) While being 8th in the league over that span is nothing to brag about, it certainly means they are far from the worst road hitting team in the league, don’t you think?
Their run-scoring at home is still easily best in the league, (even better than NY) despite this down season. While much of that can be credited to the ballpark instead of Rudy, I don’t think it should be completely dismissed.
Believe it or not, thanks to Wednesday’s performance, they are now 5th in the AL in runs per road game this season, at 4.86.
Another thing, through last night their road batting average is .258 since 2000, which is also not dead last in the AL, as it’s higher than KC and TB, not that that’s anything but up a banner for. Give me a better OPS over a good batting average any day.
Okay, maybe Blalock isn’t the best example, but I think Mench is a better hitter under Rudy, and I think we will soon see that Laird will be too, though he’s not doing much to help that case this year. It will be interesting to see how Teixeira does if/when he goes into one of his slumps, likely at the start of next season. I think Rudy’s’ resume probably has more players that have their best season’s with him than most if not all, other hitting coaches.
Is Rudy Jaramillo overrated? Quite probably, but I don’t think that means he’s doing a poor job and deserves to be fired. In my opinion, based on hitters that have thrived under his tutelage and have praised and credited him for it, along with the record of his performance, he definitely deserves the opportunity to work with this group of young hitters. If they don’t develop as expected, then he can be reevaluated then, but don’t fire him now.
Well, at least we agree on Cotroneo’s firing was a poor move.
Keep up the good work, SportSturm!
The baseball junkie
My Brief Response to his Response to my Response
I think it matters quite a bit about strikeouts. A strikeout is the most unproductive plate appearance that I am aware of. Aside from increasing a pitch total, it is horrendous. It doesn't give you a chance to advance the runner, it doesn't give you a chance for an error, it does nothing. I do not buy this new baseball thinking that a strikeout is "just an out".
As for the Road Batting Average, as of the All-Star break, they were the worst in the AL since 2000. I apologize if the numbers have changed in 7 weeks. I was not trying to mislead.
Anyway, good baseball discussion.
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