Posts Tagged ‘football’

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After plying in just 13 games over his first two seasons, Matthew Stafford is tied for third in the NFL with 36 touchdown passes, ranks fifth in passing yards (4,518) and is sixth in quarterback rating (96.6) this season. (AP)

The sight of Matthew Stafford wearing a baseball cap on the sidelines was common for much of the past two seasons.

That has been anything but the case this year as the former No. 1 overall pick has provided an indication of just why the Lions choose to make him their franchise quarterback.

After playing in just 13 games over his first two seasons due to an assortment of injuries, Stafford has started all 15 games this season. His presence has helped the Lions transition from their losing ways and has them in the postseason for the first time since 1999.

At 23, Stafford has had one of the best – if not the best – seasons by a Lions quarterback ever. This year, he has thrown for a franchise single-season record of 4,518 yards (he surpassed Scott Mitchell’s total of 4,338 from the 1995 season in Saturday’s win over San Diego). Stafford’s 36 touchdowns this year also are a single-season franchise record. He even has a 63.7 completion percentage, which also is one of the best marks for a Lions quarterback that has started 75 percent of the team’s games.

Matthew Stafford has helped the Lions to a 10-5 record this season and their first playoff appearance since 1999. (AP)

Even more impressive is that Stafford has put up numbers without a reliable running game this season. With Jahvid Best’s concussion issues, the Lions haven’t really had a go-to back and have been forced to air it out in a majority of their games. The offensive line has come up big in pass pro to help Stafford. It also helps when Stafford can throw to one of the best receivers in the league in Calvin Johnson.

It’s been far beyond the stats. Stafford has helped Detroit overcome big deficits in four of its wins this season. His most impressive drive may have been the 98-yard march down the field for a game-winning touchdown toss to Johnson in Oakland. There also were the rallies in wins against Dallas and Minnesota, too.

The way Stafford has played this season and what he has meant to the Lions turnaround should give him a good case to be on the NFC roster in the Pro Bowl behind Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (who broke Dan Marino’s single-season NFL passing record in Monday’s win over Atlanta).. Behind those two, what quarterback has really been better?

And it appears that Stafford should only get even better for the Lions.

After Stafford only managed to play in three games in 2010, the talk was could he stay healthy? Should the Lions have taken one of the other quarterbacks in the 2009 draft such as Mark Sanchez? Or should the Lions think about getting another quarterback since Stafford couldn’t stay healthy.

Stafford has more than answered the bell this season and proven that the Lions made the right choice in finding their franchise quarterback.

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MSU had chance to claim what it deserved but faltered in closing minutes of Big Ten title game

Denard Robinson and the hungry Wolverines are back in the BCS of the first time since 2006 - earning a date with Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. (AP photo)

Before they even played a down in the Big Ten Football Championship Game on Saturday, the Michigan State football team knew what was at risk.

Win and they didn’t have to be at mercy of having to rely on others to determine their fate. Lose and likely get jumped by hated rival Michigan in the BCS rankings.

The Spartans didn’t take care of business on their end and now must deal with those consequences. Sure it can be considered unfair since the Spartans did win the Legends Division and beat Michigan head to head. But MSU had its shot on the big stage to stake its claim and what it deserved and came up short.

Their loss was Michigan’s gain in a spot in the BCS and a Sugar Bowl berth. It does no good for the Spartans to complain given how the BCS works.

The Wolverines were eligible, compiling the exact same record as the Spartans during the regular season. Michigan is a national brand and has more appeal nationally than an MSU program that is having one of its most successful stretches in program history. The fact is Michigan football sells and MSU doesn’t and the BCS comes down to money. When Michigan is eligible, the BCS is usually going to choose them.

This isn’t to say that Michigan was more deserving than MSU, but the Wolverines certainly did earn the right to be considered for a spot in a BCS game for the first time since 2006 after putting together the season they did. Michigan did go 10-2 in a schedule that included 10 teams that will be playing in bowl games (Wolverines were 8-2 against teams that will play in bowls). If you factor in their win over Eastern Michigan, which finished 6-6 but wasn’t bowl eligible due to two wins coming over FCS schools, U-M went 9-2 teams that finished .500 or better.

Michigan State players like quarterback Kirk Cousins complained about Michigan benefiting from sitting on the couch and doing nothing. Alabama got into the national title game by doing the exact same thing.

MSU was really in the best case scenario because it could control its destiny and didn’t capitalize. Michigan had to wait for the games to play out and have things go their way – which they did.

And that is why the Wolverines have a sweet feeling and are preparing to face Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.

Winning has not been a term synonymous with Eastern Michigan football for most of the program’s history.

Ypsilanti has been a difficult place to win and many coaches have had their careers die after failing at a school that sits in the shadows of the University of Michigan.

Eastern Michigan's Ron English, who was named MAC coach of the year on Wednesday, guided the Eagles to their first non-losing season in 16 years. (Getty Images photo)

Yet Ron English, who just completed his third season, seems to have the Eagles flying in the right direction. English, who was named the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year on Wednesday, guided EMU to a 6-6 record this fall – its best mark since going 6-5 in 1995.

Eastern went 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference and finished a win shy of  being bowl eligible.

While EMU was putting together its best season in 16 years, it still experienced some growing pains associated with a program learning how to transform into a winning one. The Eagles claimed the Michigan MAC title by beating rivals Central and Western, but dropped three of its final four games. EMU lost to Ball State on a field goal in the waning seconds and then suffered six-point losses to both Kent State and Northern Illinois in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Those close losses – which were by a combined 14 points – and a 1-5 record on the road are part of things a program has to overcome when trying to change its fortune.

All said,  6-6 is good progress for Eastern, considering the team went 0-12 in English’s first season and 2-10 in 2010. The six wins are more than the Eagles had from 2008-2010 combined and that kind of progress is encouraging for EMU.

The key will be taking the next step. The Eagles will have a senior quarterback in Alex Gillett, who also was the leading rusher for a team that ranked 15th nationally in rushing yards. They also return two-thirds of their running back by committee approach in Dominique White and Javonti Greene plus an All-MAC tight end in Garrett Hoskins.

An improving defensive unit that ranked 35th nationally and returns All-MAC linebacker Justin Cudworth and All-MAC corner Marlon Pollard also could help the Eagles take another step next season.

The Michigan football program was reeling after three seasons under Rich Rodriguez.

College football’s all-time winningest program had averaged just five wins a season over a three-year period and had gone from being an annual Big Ten contender to the bottom of the league.

Brady Hoke guided the Wolverines to a 10-2 overall record and 6-2 mark in the Big Ten in his first season in Ann Arbor. (AP)

In his first season leading the Wolverines, Brady Hoke has changed the program’s outlook, and his accomplishments made him a deserving recipient of the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year award on Wednesday.

Hoke guided the Wolverines to a 10-2 record and 6-2 mark in his first season in Ann Arbor. The 10 wins were the most by a first-year U-M coach and the six Big Ten wins matched the total number of conference victories the Wolverines had in three seasons under Rodriguez. He also guided Michigan to its first win over rival Ohio State since 2003 and has them in contention to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.

The Wolverines had a three win improvement over 2010 and much of that is the credit to improvements on defense. Hoke lured Greg Mattison from the NFL to take over a unit that ranked 110th nationally in total defense (450.7 yards/game) and 108th in scoring defense (35.2 points/game). In their first year under Hoke and Mattison, U-M ranked 16th in total defense (317.5 yards/game) and ninth in scoring defense (17.1 points/game).

Most people didn’t expect Michigan to have the success it did this season and expectations weren’t high with the Wolverines being in their first season under a new regime with new offensive and defensive systems in place. The Wolverines overachieved this season.

An argument could be made for Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio to be named the coach of the year after guiding the Spartans to a 10-2 record and the Legends Division title. But MSU also won 11 games last season and returned many key players from a team that shared the Big Ten championship with Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2010. The same is the case with Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema.

Brady Hoke, shown being introduced to the crowd during Wednesday's basketball game at Crisler Arena, called Michigan his 'dream job' during his introductory press conference. (Associated Press photos)

Introductory press conferences mean little in terms of wins and losses on the football field, but if they did it would seem the Michigan football program is on it way to being a force in the Big Ten once again.

Brady Hoke absolutely left a strong opening impression during his introductory press conference on Wednesday and shows he clearly understands the important things and all the nuances that come with guiding the winningest program in college football.

Rich Rodriguez admitted not being fully aware of the magnitude of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry when he was hired and didn’t understand all the traditions and procedures of certain things within the football program like the No. 1 jersey. Hoke understands those things and reiterated his desire to restore Michigan to the way it was when he was an assistant from 1995-2002.

Hoke, who was a part of five Big Ten championships and was on the staff of the 1997 national championship team, has a strong desire and passion for Michigan football and clearly is living a dream not that he is in charge of the football program. He said all the right things during the press conference from using “the team” mantra that was often used by the late Bo Schembechler and not referring to bitter rival Ohio State as “that school down in Ohio”.

Being from Ohio and growing up a Michigan fan, Hoke firmly knows the rivalry and cited “The Game” as the ‘most important one on their schedule’

He also seems set on adapting to the talent that is in place and cited Denard Robinson as being special.

Hoke, who was a defensive line coach while at Michigan, likely wasn’t the sexy choice by fans for the job, but won many of those people over on Wednesday. He couldn’t have gotten his Wolverine head coaching career off to a better start.

Michigan AD Dave Brandon (left) poses for a picture with new football coach Brady Hoke.

 

But talk is just talk, and Hoke has plenty of work to do in the coming weeks to make sure Michigan becomes the powerhouse it once was. First and foremost he needs to make sure Denard stays. He also needs to quickly get a recruiting class put together prior to national signing day on Feb. 2  Lastly he needs to fix the defense. Hoke seems to be capable of doing these things.

While time will tell what the Hoke era holds for the Wolverines, it appears Michigan got its man and found the right person to lead the football program.