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Random News: How to save College Football 101

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Random News: How to save College Football 101

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010
11:57 AM

By Joe Collins
CSNChicago.com

I am going to save college football today. I already had my breakfast burrito. I took out the garbage. Might as well save a major sport before it gets too late in the day, you know? Nothing else better to do.

Speaking of burritos, college football is like a late night steak n' cheese burrito: they're both primarily consumed on weekends (while inebriated), some people have rather unhealthy cravings for them and, despite the occasional upset stomach, you would still take it in time and time again because it tastes good. And the makings of it can be greasy. Very, very greasy.

Unfortunately, despite all the good that college football has to offer (traditional rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan, New Year's Day bowl games, coaches like Joe Paterno, etc) there is a film that you have to peel off the sport every now and then. You can look no further than the Reggie Bush fiasco, SMU football in the '80s and two 6-6 teams playing in the Interstate Quality Furnishings Commerce and Trade California New England Jambalaya Associates -dot-com bowl on December 17th as proof. The rich always seem to get richer, the postseason is fairly anticlimactic and nauseating scandals involving recruits and dollars are commonplace.

All the Pine Sol in the world can't clean up the college football grease in one day, so I deciding to clean one area at a time: I'm debuting my enhanced playoff system. I am going to eliminate some of the rather annoying parts of the college football season and I guarantee it could snowball into positive changes elsewhere in the sport. I give you: NCAA brackets --football version-- with 32 teams fighting for the final dance in the new year. Here's how it breaks down:

Each of the 11 major conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Big East, C-USA, MAC, MWC, Pac-10, SEC, Sun Belt and WAC) gets at least one team into the tournament. The independents -- Army, Navy and Notre Dame -- are treated as at-larges unless they're in the top 4 of the AP rankings. At-larges get into the tournament based on strength of schedule, good wins vs. bad losses (or heck, good losses and bad wins for that matter), won-loss record and so on. I'll even be willing to let the BCS computer mingle with the committee on Selection Saturday. More on that in a bit.

Most, if not all, 6-6 teams wouldn't qualify. Seriously...a 6-6 team that loads up on cream puffs like Eastern Montana Polytechnic State --and then soils the mattress in a bowl game -- should never be awarded a berth in postseason play.

An independent committee (read: one that isn't tempted by Samsonite briefcases full of cash) decides the field in the same capacity that the NCAA baskteball tournament is decided. Only this time it's on "Selection Saturday", which is aired just after the Army-Navy game...traditionally, the last major regular season game on the NCAA calendar. There's that word again...tradition. People love that word. The same four bracketed "regions" can and should be used. For instance, if we were to go by the current AP poll, Alabama would get the 1 seed in the East, Ohio State the top spot in the Midwest, Boise State tops the West, TCU does the same in the South.

The tournament begins 'around' the 10th of December. "December Madness" if you will. I still have to work on a catchy, TV-friendly title. Dash to December, maybe? Ehh. Anyway, the first round battles are still played under "bowl game" monikers at the bowl's original location. For instance, 1 seed Alabama would play 8 seed Missouri in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl (seriously...that is an actual game this year). Or, 1 Boise State would take on 8 Oklahoma State in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Every bowl keeps their original sponsor so nobody loses any money. Let's face it, the first round is obviously not the most prestigious when it comes to bowl names. But think of how exciting first round NCAA basketball games are. You would think the same could work for football. Heck, if an 8-seed beats a 1-seed, you would have people 20 years from now saying, "Hey...you remember that Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl from 2010, when Toledo beat the Buckeyes?"

The second round and third rounds are played around the 17th and 24th of December, respectively. The later the round, the more prestigious the bowl. The Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds could be must-see television. Who's up for a 2 vs. 4 matchup in the Sun Bowl featuring high-octane Oregon vs. LSU's sack-happy defense? I'd watch. I'd also watch 3 Stanford vs. 4 Michigan in the Liberty Bowl. Pssh...they could hype the Jim Harbaugh angle forever on that one. Since college football loves money, you put of those Elite Eight games on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I mean, since most families sit around and watch TV on this day anyway, it should be a no-brainer for broadcast executives. Think of the tradition that Thanksgiving has with football and TV. Christmas would be the next logical step. Right? NBA could get the morning, college football get the night. And since there's nothing else relevant on during this 24-hour Christmas EveDay period anyway (seriously, how many times have we seen "It's a Wonderful Life"?), you would be tempted to watch live football.

The two Final Four games would always take place on January 1st. And those games are the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl. Period. Apologies to the Fiesta and Sugar. The NCAA loves tradition. The Tournament of Roses parade never has to move. Pasadena takes a huge sigh of relief. And the games at this juncture are never dull. Alabama vs. Boise State for the right to play in the National Championship Game. Demon Nick Saban vs. the little-engine-that-could Broncos. You're telling me you wouldn't watch that?

The (fill-in-your-corporate sponsor here) National Championship Game presented by (fill in another corporate sponsor name here) gets played on January 8th in a stadium that is decided in the same manner as the Super Bowl -- one year it's in Glendale, another year it's in Dallas...you get the picture. The two most battle-tested playoff teams fight for everything in one game. And one team smiles into the sunset. The end.

Hmm...that wasn't too hard at all.

C'mon, NCAA'ers. It can be done. Tradition stays, the weaker parts fade away. Trust me. This can work. Break out the gloves and start scrubbing.

Or something like that.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.