Monday, January 06, 2014

Texas Hires Charlie Strong, Three Quick Thoughts

1. Texas can't wait a day or two? They have to announce this hiring when the college football world is focused on Florida State and Auburn?

2. Mack Brown + Charlie Strong = Charlie Brown. Good grief.

3. Texas seems to like coaches with short, powerful names. Mack Brown leads to Charlie Strong. Another coach with a short, powerful name: Rex Ryan. Is sexy Rexy next in line for the job in Austin? As an Oklahoma fan, I sure hope so. As a Patriots fan, I hope Rex stays with the Jets for life.

Patriots vs. Colts: The Only Word that Matters Is Execution

We have an entire week to look at weather forecasts, analyze statistics, view highlights and game footage, and generally convince ourselves that we have the slightest idea what kind of football game will be played on Saturday night. The Colts will be in town to play the Patriots and I have no clue what will happen. And I'm fine with that.

This season has been like riding a roller coaster blindfolded, across the NFL but especially in Foxborough. It's been an insane season. The way the Patriots-Saints game ended, the way the Broncos game ended, the way the Browns game ended. On the flip side of insanity, there was also the way the road Jets game and the Panthers game ended.

The only thing crazier than this Patriots season would be trying to predict what happens next.

I could drone on about stats, and about Andrew Luck being a good QB, and the Colts doing well against playoff teams, and the Patriots doing well at home, but also struggling in home playoff games lately. None of it matters.

The winner of this game will be the team that executes better. It's easy to say that, not so easy to do it.

Just look at the Colts. They played two different games against Kansas City. They played a good half and a bad half, and they barely won. They executed better than the Chiefs. The Patriots have been doing that all season long. One horrible half, one great half. So which team can find a way to play well for 35 or 40 minutes instead of just 30 could win this game.

Tom Brady needs to make good throws. Period. He's the best player on the team. He doesn't need to be amazing, but these overthrown and underthrown incompletions need to be reduced. He was 21st this season in completion percentage (60.5%), nestled between Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill. Some of that was due to lack of talented receivers, lots of that was due to bad throws.

But hey, Andrew Luck was 24th at 60.2%.

The Patriots need to be productive on the ground. Especially if it rains. A good ground game allows the passing game to be more dynamic. It lets you control the clock. It gets you first downs. It lets you chew up a defensive line.

The Pats need to hold on to the ball. Stevan Ridley, I'm looking at you.

The Colts defied football logic and lost the turnover battle against KC but won the game. However the Colts had the second best takeaway-giveaway number in the AFC this year (+13). The Pats were third best (+9). Obviously, whoever wins the turnover battle on Saturday will probably win.

Unless they can't execute in the Red Zone. And that's been an issue for the Gronk-less Patriots all year. Either the offense needs to execute better in the Red Zone, or the defense needs to make some Red Zone stops. The Colts had one of the worst Red Zone defenses in the NFL. They allowed TDs on over 60% of Red Zone possessions. I suppose that's good for the Patriots.

Looks like I did mention a few stats and did some regular season analysis. Sue me. All those stats come with an "if" or a "but" or an "unless," which is why they mean nothing. They're in the past. The Colts allowed 3 touchdowns for every 5 Red Zone possessions their opponents had. Big deal. It's still up to the Patriots to execute on Saturday.

I do think this is the Patriots' game to lose. It's at home, against a dome team, against an inconsistent team. But the Patriots have hardly been consistent this year, they're 8-0 at home but that hasn't been easy. The Bengals were also 8-0 at home and lost there to a team that was 4-4 on the road. So who cares?

If I had to make a prediction, I'd say the Patriots should win 24-20. But predicting this season has been harder than predicting the weather. It's been like trying to predict the weather 20 weeks from now. You might have some general ideas based on past experience, but they mean next to nothing. You don't know. I don't know. Just count down the days and enjoy the show.

Boston Should Bid to Host the World Juniors in 2018

Yesterday Finland beat host and tournament favorite Sweden 3-2 in overtime to win the 2014 World Juniors. It was Finland's first medal in the competition since 2006, when a young Tuukka Rask carried the Finns to a bronze medal

If you don't know what the World Juniors are, it's an Olympic/World Cup style hockey tournament with national teams competing against each other. It's held annually in late December and early January, and all the players are under 20. It's sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

The US is going to host the tournament in 2018, and I think the City of Boston should make a serious bid to be the host city.

Boston hosted the World Juniors in 1996 (Jarome Iginla led the competition in scoring and won gold with Canada), and it didn't go well. It was poorly attended. Probably because it was spread out across Massachusetts, not concentrated in Boston. Games were played in Marlborough, Amherst, Springfield, and Worcester. And the finals were played at Boston College, not at the brand new Fleet Center.

Three important things have changed since 1996:

1. The tournament has streamlined its format and now typically only two venues are used (example: Toronto and Montreal will use their NHL rinks when they jointly host the 2015 World Juniors). Boston could use the TD Garden and BU's Agganis Arena. Those are both within the heart of the City, both easily accessible.

2. In the 2000s Boston has once again become a hockey city. Not just with the success of the Bruins, but with the rise in popularity of high school and college hockey. Just look at what we do with Fenway Park this time of year. We turn it into a hockey rink. BC and BU have combined to win 5 NCAA titles in the 2000s. Hockey East, centered in Boston, has become one of the most powerful conferences in college hockey (9 Hockey East players were on Team USA's roster in Sweden).

3. The World Juniors has become a bigger and more well-known event. The US has hosted twice since the 1996 tournament (in Buffalo in 2011 and Grand Forks, ND in 2005) and both were well attended. The tournament being broadcast on TSN in Canada and the NHL Network in the US has contributed to its growth in popularity and prestige. I wouldn't be surprised if by 2018 (or sooner) NBC Sports buys the US broadcast rights.

The tournament would be a good event for Boston to host. No new facilities need to be built, no highways need to be expanded, no dams need to be blown up, no forests need to be torn down. What's required is a hockey rink with lots of seats (TD Garden) and one with a medium number of seats (BU's Agganis Arena is state of the art, holds 6,000, and is right on the Green Line). You also need rinks for teams to practice at (Walter Brown Arena at BU, Matthews Arena at Northeastern, Conte Forum at BC, Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Lawler Arena at Merrimack College). Boston already has the facilities and infrastructure in place to pull off this event.

And Boston is already host to several notable hockey tournaments: the Super 8 high school championship, the Beanpot, and the Hockey East Tournament. The Garden will also host the Frozen Four in 2015.

New England college hockey players have always been a strong part of Team USA in this competition. Team USA had 7 New England college players (and an 8th committed to play at BU) on their roster for the 2014 World Juniors. There were 5 New England natives on the roster.

The event would draw tourists. Thousands of Canadians fly across the world for this tournament. They'll come to Boston, see the City, go out to eat, have a good time. So will friends, family, and fans from Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the rest of the US.

And I'm sure Frozen Fenway would see a boost in attendance. The Canadians that attend the World Juniors are clinically diagnosed hockey addicts. They'll go to Fenway to see some college hockey while they're in town.

The only inconvenience would be to the Bruins and Celtics. They would have to play extended road trips while the tournament occupies the Garden. The 2014 World Juniors started on December 26th and ended on January 5th.

At the same time the Garden, owned by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, would be able to open its gates to thousands of concessions buying fans, even with its two teams playing elsewhere. And Agganis Arena is always seeking additional events. They just hosted 22 Disney on Ice performances. The secondary rink in Malmö hosted 14 games for the 2014 World Juniors.

In 2011 Buffalo averaged 10,635 fans per game. For 31 games. How many between period Molsons is that? How many hot dogs and sodas? How many lunches and dinners will be consumed at the bars and restaurants off Causeway Street and on Comm Ave? How many additional tours of the Sam Adams Brewery will there be? (On a trip to Toronto, I learned that Sam Adams is one of the few American beers that Canadians respect)

Other US cities that want to host include Pittsburgh and Tampa. I think Boston is a better city than those two places, and a better hockey town. It's certainly a better hockey town than Tampa.

This is a great annual tournament, and I think Boston would be a great place for it to be held.