Bears

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.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”