College Football

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

5 Things from Steelers vs. Vikings

By: Donny Chedrick 
The Steelers are 2-0 for back-to-back seasons for the first time since  2008, the season in which the Steelers collected their sixth Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 43. The offense looked better at Heinz Field than they did in Cleveland in Week 1, but after two early touchdowns, it stalled on a few occasions, allowing Chris Boswell to connect on four field goals in the 26-9 victory. The Steelers weren't perfect, but looked better than in Week 1. But as the team sits at 2-0, here are five things we can look at before the team heads to Chicago.

1. Limited Turnovers

 Something we saw in last Sunday was the Steelers turning over the football. We didn't see that in the Week 2 victory over Minnesota at Heinz Field, however. The Steelers had the ball for over 34 minutes and kept possession for all 69 plays they had it. Cleaning up on offense is something vital to the Steelers throughout the season because as we all know too well, turnovers can kill a football team. On the other side, however, the defense only forced one turnover against an offense fronted by Case Keenum. A fumble that squandered away from the Vikings is all the Steelers were able to force defensively, but the D looked strong in its first home performance.

2. Defense looked improved 
Photo creds to Yahoo Sports

Given the defense looked shaky at best against a rookie QB and the Cleveland Browns, Week 2 was a big improvement. This time they ran into another relatively inexperienced QB in the form of Case Keenum, but instead of a Mike Tomlin team playing down to a sub-par signal caller, they weren't going to let Keenum beat them in the home opener. Keenum threw for just 167 yards on the afternoon on 20 completed passes. The Steelers pass rush was quality, sacking Keenum twice while he ran around all afternoon. The run defense looked sharp as well as rookie Dalvin Cook rushed for 64 yards on 12 carries after an explosive Week 1 performance. If the defense can transition that performance into Chicago for Week 3, the Steelers should be looking at a 3-0 start.

3. Another solid home opener for Big Ben 
Photo creds to Observer-Reporter

The franchise QB has always seemed to perform well in the home opener since he entered the league in 2004. Sunday was another one of those days. Roethlisberger finished with 243 yards and two touchdowns as he completed 23 of 35 passes. He connected on two first-half scores and did a good enough job moving the offense down the field on other drives that resulted in Chris Boswell field goals. Ben is notorious for having better games at home than on the road, so hopefully, we see him have a similar game against the Chicago Bears.

4. Lev Bell looked...a little better
Photo creds to Steelers Wire

87 yards on the ground for Le'Veon Bell on 27 carries averaged him out to just over three yards a carry. He had runs where he looked dead in his tracks, but others where he showed shades of his fine moments that we have grown accustomed to seeing. Breaking free on a few runs got people excited for what's to come in 2017 if Bell stays on the field, but he looked better than the lackluster Week 1 performance.

5. Bryant and Boswell are still Killer Bees
Photo creds to Still Curtain

The two guys that created a big difference in Sunday's victory were Martavis Bryant and Chris Boswell. Bryant was the Steelers' best receiver on the day, finishing with 91 yards on three catches and his first touchdown of the season. Boswell went four-for-four on field goals, which saved fantasy owners, and solidified the victory. People say a good kicking performance makes an offense look weak or overrated, but being able to count on a kicker can put a team to the next level.

It's hard to complain that the Steelers are 2-0, but Pittsburghers know it can always be better. The last time they started out with this record in back-to-back seasons, Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl. So the Steelers just might be on the stairway to seven.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

NFL Week 2 Preview/Predicitions

The Boys are back. It is week two of the NFL season, and week one of myself, David Rutz, Brad Stewart, Jeff Stewart and Ryan Stewart- three of whom are proud members of my family, to give our picks. Let's get into it.

The Art Modell Bowl
Browns (0-1) at Ravens (1-0)
Line: Bal -7.5
Photo creds to New York Daily News

Usually writing about the Browns would include a quick joke and not a whole lot else before moving on to the next contest. Here is one of the rare cases where I'll give some analysis of a Cleveland game. 

Let's not kid ourselves. The Browns are not a good football team. Last week, however, they gave my Pittsburgh Steelers everything they could handle before falling 21-18. Now, they move on from the brides of the AFC North to the bridesmaids, as the 2017 Art Modell Bowl (Part I) takes place at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens are going to be pretty good. In fact, they could well be a playoff team. But Baltimore's offense is not great, and Cleveland, believe it or not, could have a solid defensive unit that features safety Derrick Kindred and corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom performed well last week.

The Browns defense is good enough to keep them in it,  but I don't see DeShone Kizer being ready to lead this team to a road win in just his second NFL game. It will be close, but Baltimore's talent will prove too much for Cleveland in the end. Fear not, Browns fans. For the second week in the row, your team will not only play hard but cover the spread as well.

Ravens 21, Browns 17

The "never won a Super Bowl" bowl
Bills (1-0) at Panthers (1-0)
Spread: Car -7.0
Photo creds to Bleacher Report

Like the Browns and Jets, the Buffalo Bills have not had a lot go right in the past two decades (or ever, really.) But while Buffalo isn't a team I see making it to the playoffs, I see Buffalo being competitive, and I like them to pull what would be a pretty significant upset in Charlotte. 

I am not sold on Carolina. The Cam Newton era has seen one magical ride, and not a whole lot else. While Buffalo still needs a quarterback, they still have some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, and I have a gut feeling that they can pull an upset. It is true that Kwann Short, Thomas Davis and the Panthers defense played well last week against the hapless 49ers, but I have faith in Richie Incognito and the Bills offensive line to hold its own and open some holes for LeSean McCoy along the way, and that would go a long way in getting the Bills a W. I think the Panthers are vulnerable, and the Bills are talented enough to deal with that defensive front and pull an upset.

Bills 24, Panthers 20

The "Who the Hell Cares" game of the week
Cardinals (0-1) at Colts (0-1)

Arizona suffered an embarssing loss at Detroit last week, while the Colts are starting Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. If I ever have kids, I don't think I'll be telling them about this one.

Cardinals 31, Colts 17

Ewwwwww. AFC South.
Titans (0-1) at Jags (1-0)
Line: Ten -1.5
The AFC South. Somebody has to win it, and theirs a good chance that the tallest little person is playing in this game. 

Yes Tennesee lost at home in week one. Yes Jacksonville won on the road. But while Tennesse played a Super Bowl contender in Oakland, the Jags played the Texans, who had Tom Savage as their starting QB. I think that Jacksonville has something brewing with Leonard Fournette, Jalen Ramsey and a lot of promising young talent. But Tennesse is the team to beat in the AFC South (for what it's worth). I think this game will come down to strength at the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is good, while Blake Bortles is not. If Mariota outplays Bortles- which I think he will, the Titans will win the game. 

Titans 24, Jags 16

The Andy Bowl
Eagles (1-0) at Chiefs (1-0)
Line: KC -5.5
Photo creds to USA Today 

The Eagles have a shot to be pretty good this year. A stout defense led by Fletcher Cox, along with a more experience Carson Wentz could be a recipe for a winning season in Philly. But we all saw what KC did in Foxborough 10 days ago. Now, playing in one of the leagues toughest venues for the first time this season, I don't see how Philly can score often enough on KC's defense- even without Eric Berry, to get a W. Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt might not do what they did last Thursday, but they will play well enough to get the job done.

Chiefs 24, Eagles 14

Will the Patriots lose?
Patriots (0-1) at Saints (0-1)
Line: NE -6.5

In case you don't know, Drew Brees is a decent football player, and him going against a New England defense that is shaky at best is intriguing. But do you see Tom Brady starting a season 0-2? I didn't think so. The Pats might allow some big plays, but they will make some more big plays and pull away in the second half to get back on track after an opening night massacre.
Patriots 38, Saints 24

Famous Jameis
Bears (0-1) at Bucs (0-0)
Line: TB -6.5
Photo creds to CBS Sports

As bad as the Chicago Bears were last season and probably will be this year, they did give the Atlanta Falcons all they could handle last week, and I commend them for that. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the other hand, could not play last week due to the hurricane. I think Tampa is going to win the AFC South, and Sunday afternoon will be the first step to doing so.
I'm excited to see this Tampa Bay offense in Jameis Winston's third season at QB, especially with DeSean Jackson now in the fold. Tampa will have an opportunity to flex its muscles against a growing Bears team, and I think the Bucs will cash in.

Tampa 34, Chicago 15


"Who the hell cares?" Part II
Dolphins (0-0) at Chargers (0-1)
Two aging quarterbacks who probably will never win anything again going against each other. Uh, yay?
Chargers 31, Dolphins 17


The "Craig Morton" bowl
Cowboys (1-0) at Broncos (1-0)
Line: DAL -2.5

This should be a good one. Two flagship franchises going at it in one of the leagues iconic venues.
Denver is always tough to beat at home, so Dallas will be in for a fight. The Cowboys showed time and time against last season that they know how to win close games, and I think they will do it again here. Denver's defense will make life misrable for Dak Prescott at times, but in the foruth quarter, the Dak, Dez and Zeke combination will take over, as we have seen a few times before. How 'bout them Cowboys?"

Cowboys 20, Broncos 17

Redskins (0-1) at Rams (1-0)
Line: LAR -2.5
Photo creds to Fantasy Pros

Of all of this week's games, this one is probably the most based on gut instinct.
The Rams looked pretty solid last week, while the Redskins lost at home. But I see LA coming back down to earth here. I have always been a fan of Kirk Cousins, and have a feeling that he will throw for 350+ yards to get the 'Skins a clutch W. I'm still not sold on Jared Goff, and because of that, the quarterback matchup will be the difference in a Redskins victory.

Redskins 27, Rams 17

Blowout special 
49ers (0-1) at Seahawks (0-1)
Line: Sea 14.0
Photo creds to The NEws Tribune 

San Fran scored three points last week, and they are playing in Qwest Field. Not a lot more needs to be said. 

Seahawks 31, 49ers 6

Sunday Night

Will Aaron Rodgers get his revenge?
Packers (1-0) at Falcons (1-0)
Line: ATL -3.0
Photo creds to Alabama News Center

If this game were at the frozen tundra, my opinion would be drastically different. I'm not a huge believer in home field advantage, but I think it applies to the Green Bay Packers, as they are much better at Lambeau Field than they are away from it.

The Falcons closed out the Georiga Dome with a demolition of the Packers. Now, they open Mercedes-Benz Stadium against that same team. Although I don't think this one will be quite as lopsided as last year's game was, I see Matt Ryan and the Falcons being too pumped up to disappoint.

Falcons 30, Packers 20

Monday Night 
Lions (1-0) at Giants (0-1) 
Line: NYG -3.0

The Giants are a decent football team that embrassed themselves in primetime last week. This week, they're facing a Detorit squad that they should be better than, and it's their home opener.
As much as I dislike the Giants, and as much as the OBJ injury hurts them, I still see that defense as a force. If the Giants D plays as well against Detorit as it did against Dallas, I have enough faith in Eli Manning and Brandon Marshall to exploit this Lions defense just enough to get the job done.

Giants 21, Lions 14

The "Heidi" bowl
Jets (0-1) at Raiders (1-0)
Line: Oak -13.5

In case you don't get the reference, here is more about the Heidi game. Unfortunately, I don't think Sunday's contest will match the excitement of that nearly 50-year-old classic.

The Jets are perhaps the biggest non-Cleveland punchline in the National Football League. Point blank; they suck. Oakland, on the other hand, is one of the best teams in the NFL, with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Raiders are playing at home. Oakland will win and beat the spread as well. Although the Jets defense isn't horrible, and could even give Derek Carr some fits early on, I don't see Josh McCown doing anything, even against Oakland's average defense. The Jets D will play well, but will also be on the field longer than it would like, and that will allow Carr to have some opportunities late in the game to pull away. 

Raiders 24, Jets 10

How will the Steelers do?
I can't see this offense being any worse than it was last week in Cleveland. Although Minnesota is not slouch, the unknown status of Sam Bradford is a factor. With or without Bradford, there are still too many question marks with the Vikings offense for me to believe that they can come into Heinz and get a W.

Steelers 26, Vikings 17

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Steelers-Browns: Takeaways from season opener

By: Donny Chedrick

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-0 after what some say was an ugly win against the Cleveland Browns Sunday to kickoff the 2017 season. Some say if it weren't for a great special teams effort by Tyler Matakevich in the first few minutes (the first blocked punt for a touchdown the Steelers produced since 1998), the Steelers would have suffered an embarrassing defeat. No matter how they did it, Pittsburgh the Browns after 60 minutes of football on Sunday and took their 1-0 record home to Heinz Field for a matchup with the 1-0 Minnesota Vikings. But before that, here are five things that stood out from Sunday's performance.

1. Rust

Short of Antonio Brown, Jesse James and a few players on defense, every Steeler looked a little rusty on Sunday. Some more than others, of course. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense were out of sync for most of the first half until Roethlisberger connecting with his only reliable wide receiver, Antonio Brown. Martavis Bryant dropped a few passes and missed a few blocks, Eli Rogers hauled in two catches, while guys like Darrius Heyward-Bey were non-existent. Ben Roethlisberger airmailed a few passes, including one for an interception. The defense was shaky as, but we'll get to that in a bit.

2. Good thing AB was on top of his game
Photo creds to SB Nation

If Antonio Brown had a down game on Sunday, the Steelers could very well be 0-1 coming back home for Week 2. Thankfully, he didn't. He played like he always plays - great. 11 receptions on 11 targets are something you don't often see in the NFL, but that's what Brown did Sunday. 11 catches for 182 yards along with one that saved and ultimately won the game for Pittsburgh on the final drive.

3. TJ Watt had a memorable debut
Photo creds to Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Given what his older brother has already accomplished in the NFL, TJ Watt had extremely high expectations coming into his rookie season. Then he just went out and did something his big brother hasn't done in his career - turn in a two sack performance with an interception. Not only did Watt accomplish that; he also led the Steelers in tackles with seven total, six of them being solo and two and a half tackles for loss. Watt had a few missed tackles, but overall, not many people can complain from what they saw in the Steelers' first round pick.

4. The secondary is still shaky
Photo creds to Steelers Wire

Even with the addition of Joe Haden late in the preseason, the Steelers secondary looked shaky at best. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer got sacked seven times but was still able to stay calm and make some good throws against the Steelers defense. Finishing 20-30 for 222 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, while adding a rushing touchdown, Kizer's receivers had Haden and Artie Burns beat a few times on Sunday along with Mike Mitchell, JJ Wilcox and Sean Davis. That came with the rust, but we should expect the Steelers secondary to get better as the season goes on.

5. Was Le'Veon Bell being punished? 
Photo creds to Sports Illistrauted 

The numbers would certainly say so. Just 10 carries for 32 yards with three receptions for 15 yards is what Steelers all-pro RB Lev Bell finished with on Sunday afternoon. Bell notoriously sat out all of the preseason and returned following the Steelers final exhibition game against the Carolina Panthers. Was this a punishment from Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and others? Bell is one of the most explosive players in the NFL but was so underused in Sunday's close win that it bodes the question. Bell looked rusty in some spots, but if he gets more reps, he will help the Steelers offense. Hopefully, that will change in Week 2.

The Steelers struggled at times but got what needed to get done and picked up the win. This week the Steelers welcome a Vikings team coming off an impressive win against the Saints on Monday Night Football. We all know the offense looks better at home, so hopefully, that stays true for 2017.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pitt-Penn State: Three keys to victory

Photo creds to Onward State
Today is the day. It's Pitt and Penn State. No more needs to be said about the rivalry in general. As a PSU die-hard, I obviously want the Nittany Lions to beat the hated Panthers. Here are three things that Penn State can do to get that done.

1. Mike Gesicki
Photo creds to Land of 10

The 6 foot 5, 215-pound tight end developed into one of the best in college football at his position last season. Not only is Gesicki a giant; he is also a deep-ball threat that is capable of making a highlight reel catch downfield.

A lot of the attention coming into today's game centers around Saquon Barkley, and rightly so. But if offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is smart, he will recognize that Pitt has nobody to match up with Gesicki and design the offense to where the big man is heavily involved. Next to Barkley and Trace McSorley, Gesicki is arguably the most valuable player in Penn State's offense. If they use him correctly, I don't think Pitt will have a solution.

2. Pressure Max Browne
Photo creds to Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Because of how loaded Penn State is offensively, we tend to forget that this defense is solid, too.

The Nittany Lion defensive line is particularly promising. Shareef Miller, Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren and Torrence Brown make up a talented front four that could create problems for Pitt's inexperienced offensive line. If the defensive line can out muscle Pitt and put pressure on its quarterback, Max Browne, it will be hard for the Panthers to score points. If Pitt's offense can't put at least 35 on the board, they won't win the game. If defenders are in Browne's face, it will be hard for Pitt to score as much as they need to.

3. No big mistakes. 

For a big upset to take place, a few things have to happen. The underdog has to play an almost perfect game, while the team that is favored has to make some big mistakes.

Pitt's win over Clemson in Death Valley last season is a perfect example. As good as the Panthers were that day, if DeShaun Watson doesn't throw a red zone interception late in the fourth quarter and if Clemson converts a crucial 4th and 2 with a late lead, that upset doesn't take place.

In short, if the Nittany Lions take care of the ball and don't take any stupid penalties, they will win the game. But a few big mistakes could lead to a big upset if Penn State isn't careful.

Final Prediction

Penn State is three touchdown favorites for a reason. They are the team that's in the top five. They are the team with the best player in college football in the backfield. They are the team one of the best offenses in the country. They are the team gunning for a national title. Pitt is a team in transition that should have lost to Youngstown State. RIP 42-39.

Penn State 52, Pitt 17

Friday, September 1, 2017

Penn State football 2017: Predictions for every game

SaQuon Barkley is poised to take home Penn State's first Heisman Trophy since 1973 (Photo creds to The Penn Stater Magazine)
Another Penn State football season is upon us, and it's been a long time since the Nittany Lions came into a new year with such high optimism. Given what this team accomplished in 2016, why wouldn't expectations be high?

As we all should know, the Nittany Lions had a storybook run last season, overcoming a 2-2 start to reel off a nine-game winning streak that climaxed with a thrilling victory over Wisconsin in a Big Ten championship for the ages. For its efforts, Penn State earned a spot in the Rose Bowl where they faced USC.  Although the Lions came out on the short end, it was undoubtedly one of the greatest college football games of this decade, and one that everybody involved should be proud of.

Some key members of Penn State's surprising rise will not be back for the encore. The Lions lost a few players to graduation, such as defensive end Evan Schwan and outside linebacker Brandon Bell. They also lost some talent to the NFL Draft, as defensive end Garrett Sickles and, most notably, wide receiver Chris Godwin both have moved on. Although Penn State is losing talent, they have plenty more coming back.

On offense, quarterback Trace McSorley, who progressed from a question mark at the beginning of 2016 to the best field general in the Big 10 by seasons end, is back for his second season under center. Running back SaQuon Barkley, in case you've been living under a rock, is one of the best players in college football, and is among the favorites to take home the Heisman Trophy in 2017.

On defense, inside linebacker Jason Cabinda and free safety Marcus Allen will lead the way. Both are experienced and are ready to lead the charge as seniors.

As with every season, the Lions have a 12-game slate for 2017, and hopefully, will play two or three extra when all is said and done. This article will reveal what I think will happen in each of the Nittany Lions' regular season contests. I understand that a lot of things change over the course of the season, and I intend to write updated previews for several of these games when they are closer to the date. But for now, here is what I think will transpire, week by week. Let's get into it.

Week One

With all due respect to Terry Bowden and his family, the Zips won't be anything to worry about.

Now it's true that Penn State could come out flat, and even allow Akron to have a lead for a short while. But the Zips are a MAC Program, and a lousy one at that. The Lions will roll over them.

Penn State 34, Akron 10

Week Two

In my 2016 season preview, I did not predict the Pitt game because I felt that the circumstances warranted an entirely separate show. That does not hold true this time around.

For as much as I rag on Pitt, I do think that Pat Narduzzi has the program headed in the right direction. With that said, the Panthers are a team in transition. They are losing key players on both sides of the ball, whether it be by graduation, declaration or suspension, and there celebrated offense will be entering the campaign with a new quarterback and coordinator.

Pitt has a lot of young talent, but I have serious doubts that those players will be ready by week two.  I do think that Pitt's offense could still be potent enough to make some noise against Penn State's suspect defensive unit, but Joe Moorehead's offensive attack will be too hot to handle.

In short, Pitt is a team in transition, while Penn State is gunning for a national championship.

Penn State 45, Pitt 24

Week Three: vs.

No explanation needed.
Penn State 54, Georiga State 7

Week Four: at.

Last season, Penn State demolished Iowa, 41-14. Things won't be as easy this season.
For starters, the game will not be at Beaver Stadium. Instead, the conference opener will happen at a stadium where the Nittany Lions have not had a lot of success over the years.

Knowing how well coached the Hawkeyes are, they won't forget last year's embarrassment. Iowa will be fired up, playing a night game in front of 70,000+ screaming fans. The Hawkeyes are not short on talent either. They have their whole offensive line coming back, along with running back Chris Wormley, as well as seven returning starters on defense. So this will not be a picnic for Penn State.
With that said, Penn State is unquestionably the more talented football team. Although Iowa has potential to win between 8-10 games if all goes well, they are not playoff material. The Nittany Lions very well could be. So while Iowa will push Penn State for a while, I expect the Nittany Lions to pull away in the end, as their talent will be too much.
Penn State 34, Iowa 20

Week Five: vs.

Since Penn State joined the Big 10 in 1993, they've only lost to Indiana once. That will not change.
Indiana does have a respectable offensive attack led by quarterback Richard Lagow, but the team as a whole just is not built to compete with James Franklin's squad.
Although the Nittany Lions' time in the Big 10 has included a lot of ups and downs, one constant has been their continued domination of the Indiana Hoosiers. 2017 will be no exception.
Penn State 45, Indians 17

Week Six: at.

Like Indiana, the Wildcats aren't a team that's known to give Penn State trouble. Unlike the Hoosiers, however, this will not be a cakewalk for Penn State.
Ever since Pat Fitzgerald took over the program,  the Wildcats have consistently been a well-coached team that gets the most out of their talent. If Northwestern can follow that formula again in 2017, don't be surprised to see them in the top 25 at some point in the season. Along with being well disciplined, the Wildcats aren't short on talent, either. 
Running back Justin Jackson might be the best at his position, not named SaQuon Barkley, in the conference. Quarterback Clayton Thorson passed for over 3,000 yards last season. Both of these men will be tough to handle, and this combined with a rocking crowd in Evanson will make Penn State break a sweat.
I see this as one of Penn State's tougher contests in 2017. Northwestern will fight hard, but a late TD pass from Trace McSorley to Saeed Blacknall will put the game away.
Penn State 38, Northwestern 28.

Week 8: vs. Well, this is a big game. As you should recall, Penn State got creamed by the Maize and Blue in Ann Arbor last season, 49-10. Expect quite a different result this time.
When these two teams met last season, Michigan was a national championship contender, while Penn State was still trying to prove itself (and had several injuries on defense.) Now, the Nittany Lions are the more experienced team, as Michigan is losing a lot of talent from last year.
I still expect the Wolverines to have a decent football team, as it's hard to doubt Jim Harbaugh. But it is unlikely that they will beat out Penn State and Ohio State for the Big 10 East crown. The Nittany Lions will remember the embarrassment of last season when they come out to 107,000 strong in Happy Valley, and that will be bad news for Michigan.
Penn State 35, Michigan 20

Week Nine: at

The game of the year not only in the Big 10 but maybe in all of college football. So many implications will be riding on this contest, as the Big 10 East title and a college football playoff spot could well hang in the balance.
Since 1964, the Nittany Lions have beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus one time. That, along with Ohio State surely wanting a measure of revenge for last season, does not bode well for the Nittany Lions. Oh, and the Buckeyes are pretty good, too
I'm expecting solid performances from both offenses. If this week's game at Indiana is any indication, Ohio State's defense could be vulnerable, and that could lead to some big plays from McSorley and company. But the duo of J.T. Barret and Mike Weber is pretty hard to beat. Add the fact that the game is in the horseshoe, and things will be difficult for the Nittany Lions. As much as I hope I'm wrong, I think the home field advantage gives the Buckeyes the edge in a close one.
Ohio State 29, Penn State 24

Week Ten: at.

Although I don't expect Sparty to go 3-9 again, 2017 will be another frustrating season in East Lansing. The Spartans return just 11 of 22 starters from last season.
Although Michigan State has fallen on hard times toward the second half of the 2010s', it's still hard to look at a game in Sparta and see it as a cakewalk. But while I'm sure Mark Dantiono will have his troops ready, they just are not good enough to take down a side like Penn State. Sparty might keep it close for a quarter or two, but the Nittany Lions will pull away, in the end, to take home their second straight Land Grand trophy.
Penn State 40, Michigan State 17

Week 11: vs.

Penn State 53, Rutgers 7

Week 12: vs.
If this game were in Lincoln and not State College, this would be one of Penn State's three toughest games. Luckily, it is in Happy Valley, and also falls on senior day at Beaver Stadium.
Similar to Pitt, Nebraska is a decent power five program that will have ten wins at best, seven at worst. That's all well and good, but is it enough to beat this Penn State team in its backyard? I think not. Cabinda, Allen, Gesicki and others have accomplished too much at Beaver Stadium to go out with anything but a bang.
Penn State 34, Nebraska 17

Week 13: at

I might well be at this game. In my life, I am 13-2 when attending Penn State football games. That is all.
Penn State 48, Maryland 14

So there you have it, 11-1. Will this be enough to get Penn State into the College Football playoff? Sadly, I think losing the Big Ten east to Ohio State will be a fatal blow to those hopes. Nonetheless, I'm still expecting a successful season that will end with a trip to Pasadena (assuming Ohio State wins the conference title game and makes the playoff, leaving the Rose Bowl open for Penn State.) Hopefully, they'll win "The Granddaddy of Them All" this time.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

5 Things from Pre-season Week 2: Steelers vs. Falcons

By: Donny Chedrick
1. Martavis Bryant looks ready and good
Photo creds to USA Today
I know it's the preseason. I know the games don't count. I know none of what happens in these exhibition games matter, but for a guy like Martavis Bryant - who missed all of last season with his year-long suspension, this is a time he can prove to the city of Pittsburgh that he is ready to play this season. Although Bryant only hauled in two passes for 20 yards Sunday, he looked good and has looked as such ever since returning to the practice field. By all accounts, Bryant is bigger, stronger and faster than he was two years ago when he had 765 yards and six touchdowns. Bryant's second catch of the day on Sunday for 23 yards was just a glimpse of what fans will see him do this season.

2. The defense looked worked
Photo creds to The Falcoholic

The NFL knows the Steelers aren't built how they are historically known and haven't been since their last Super Bowl appearance nearly seven years ago. The offense might be the best in the league, while the defense, which for so long was the heartbeat of this franchise,is middle of the pack, at best. I know you're saying, "Well, they only gave up 13 points and shutout the Falcons in the second half!" Which I understand. I know this is a 'bend, don't break' type of defense, but the starting unit was out for the majority of the first quarter, and some players were out there even longer. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan waltzed his offense down the field on the opening drive, but after that, backup Matt Simms went to work and ended his day with nearly 200 yards on 15 completions. Corners Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns were getting beat, and at some point, the Steelers might realize they let middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons go too quickly. Time will tell, but the defense didn't look too hot on Sunday afternoon.

3. TJ Watt looked human
Photo creds to FanRag Sports

The numbers look OK given the small sample size from Sunday's scrimmage, but it could have helped rookie linebacker TJ Watt in the long run because, after an impressive debut in the preseason opener, he looked human. After his two-sack performance against the Giants, fans had expectations through the roof for the 1st-rounder. Four total tackles (two solo) and one tackle-for-loss while sometimes looking a little lost in pass coverage and other times being handled by a fellow first rounder, Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews. Steeler fans shouldn't be too worried about this, however, because this is just part of the NFL learning curve. Watt will learn from this and be just fine.

4. James Conner isn't Lev Bell, but he can carry his own
Photo creds to Cardiac Hill

He was familiar with Heinz Field when he ran on it Sunday, and quite frankly, rookie running back James Conner looked pretty solid. Always take it with a grain of salt due to the level of competition in the preseason, but 98 yards on 21 carries is a good day's work for the former Pitt Panther. Conner showed a handful of examples of his explosiveness when he broke free for a few yards. Le'Veon Bell is a different kind of runner and is arguably the best one in the National Football League, but due to his recent absence, the Steelers got to test Conner in game action for the first time - and I think he passed.

5. Who will lose out in the wide receiver battle?
Photo creds to EndZoneScore
This is a tough call because the Steelers have so much talent at the wide receiver position. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eli Rogers seem like locks. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter look like guys that will probably make the roster, and the final one or two spots will go to either Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton or Demarcus Ayers. Coates fell off the second half of last season, and his bad hands have him on the outside looking in, while Hamilton picked it up last year for being relatively unheard-of going into the season and topping it off with an overtime TD catch from Landry Jones in Week 17. Ayers showed his potential in a handful of games last year, mainly Baltimore and Cleveland, but has had trouble getting on the field whether he's healthy or unhealthy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Franklin extension makes sense, but could it have waited?

Photo creds to The Sports Fan Journal
Since his arrival in 2014, my feelings of Penn State head football coach James Franklin have changed on multiple occassions.

When PSU hired Franklin, I was excited. Why wouldn't I have been? In his three years at Vanderbilt University, Franklin took one of the worst power five programs in college football history to back-to-back top 25 finishes, accumulating a record of 24-15 overall and 18-8 over his last two seasons. Not only did Franklin have an impressive track record as a head coach; his upbeat attitude was also appealing. When the Nittany Lions began the Franklin era with four straight wins, that optimism seemed to be valid. The rest of the 2014 season, however, didn't go as planned.

Penn State lost six of its last eight regular season games, ending with a record of 6-6 overall and 2-6 in the Big 10. To make matters worse, prized quarterback Christian Hackenberg did not build on his impressive freshman season, and many saw the switch from Bill O'Brien to Franklin as a primary cause for this.

The Nittany Lions ended the year on a high note, with a thrilling overtime win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. The exciting end to the season, along with the fact that four of Penn State's six losses were by seven points or less, gave fans optimism that this young football team would take a step forward in 2015. It didn't turn out that way.

Penn State did not improve at all in Franklins second year. A putrid offense, along with embarrassing losses at Temple and Michigan State were part of another 7-6 campaign. So after two years, the Nittany Lions were a mediocre 14-12 overall and 6-10 in conference play under Fraklin. While it might be a stretch to say that Franklin was on the hot seat going into 2016, fans were starting to get impatient. We did not want to deal with another pedestrian season.

An upset over second-ranked Ohio State, a conference championship and an appearance in one of the greatest Rose Bowl games of all time brings us to the main topic of this article, which is Franklin's recent contract extension.

This Friday, word got out that PSU would be taking good care of its head coach for the next several years. Penn State inked Franklin to a six-year deal worth around $5.8 million a year $32 million extension. On the surface, locking Franklin up long-term makes perfect sense. Although there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Penn State football right now, pulling the trigger on this extension might be a little premature.

The reasons for extending Franklin are evident. Penn State football hasn't been this hot going into a new season in almost two decades, and a lot of that is because of the man running the ship. The job that he has done recruiting and motivating players, as well as picking quality assistants is admirable. But as remarkable as last season was, a lot went right for Nittany Lions.

Penn State had a good football team in 2016 and deserved to be winners. At the same time, an unforgettable campaign could easily have been one of minimal to zero progress if not for a few bounces.

A few of the 11 wins included the game against Ohio State in which the Buckeyes statistically dominated, and likely would have won if not for that late blocked-kick touchdown. If not for Marcus Allen's gifted hand, there would have been no upset victory to force the nation to take notice.

Another example of things going Penn State's way was October 1 against Minnesota. Here, they were two seconds away from falling to 2-3 and creating some serious questions about Franklin's future in Happy Valley. Instead, a Tyler Davis field goal sent the game to overtime, where PSU got a huge win via a Saquon Barkley TD run. If the Lions dropped this game and fell to 2-3, who knows what this would have done to their confidence the rest of the way?

If Penn State hadn't won these two games, they surely would not have had a chance to play for the Big 10 championship, where again it was fortunate.  The Nittany Lions overcame a 21-point first half deficit against Wisconsin,  ending the game on a 28-3 run to win its first outright conference title since 1994.

It's also worth noting that Penn State had a favorable schedule last season. Of the five road games the Nittany Lions played, only two were against teams that finished with a winning record meaning that Penn State had the luxury of playing most of its toughest games in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium.

Again, PSU football had a hell of a run in 2016, and fans should have an abnormal level of excitement as this season draws near. But with that optimism should also come the realization that 2016 was a perfect storm in some ways, and replicating that success will be difficult. Although it's easy to see why Penn State has decided to make James Franklin the third-highest paid head football coach in the Big 10 and the highest among African Americans in the country, weather or not this is a premature decision is a fair question to ask.

Here is what I would have done if I was athletic director Sandy Barbour; I would have waited out 2017 before pulling the trigger. I would have decided that, considering the weight of expectations along with a tougher conference slate, that Franklin needs to prove that he can sustain this success and not be a one-year wonder at Penn State.

This season will be a challenge. Not since the days of LaVar Arrington have the Nittany Lions come into a season with this big a target on their back. They also won't have the perk of playing Ohio State and Iowa at home, and probably won't benefit from a 3-9 Michigan State team again. Unlike last season, this team will not sneak up on anybody.

If Franklin can go at least 9-3 in the regular season, he will, for the moment, justify his raise. In my mind, he needs to prove that he can build a consistent winner. He has not done that yet, and because of that, I would have waited before giving him the big bucks.