Saturday, November 26, 2011

#231: Back End of the Backyard Brawl

---SSL Broadcast #69---

This is the way the brawl ends.
This is the way the brawl ends.
This is the way the brawl ends.
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Borrowing from poet T.S. Eliot was probably not the way you expect a blog entry to open, but there you have it.

Last night's Backyard Brawl (the annual collegiate football game played between the Pitt Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers) was likely the last such game for at least a few years.

While the Mountaineers prevailed 21-20 in comeback fashion, the frustrating way the entire game played out only proved to further the argument that the Big East has no business getting an automatic bid for a BCS Bowl. Points were scored mainly by virtue of the other team's miscue, rather than by positive plays made by each team's offense.

And now, with Pitt departing for the Atlantic Coast Conference and West Virginia becoming a member of the Big 12, the clash between the two teams will have to occur in early season play where victory and defeat don't mean quite as much, and that's even if the schools are able to schedule the game at all.

But, perhaps after the teams get beaten up and down the field by their new respective conference opponents, they'll willingly make the time to renew the rivalry on an annual basis. For as T.S. Eliot also observed:

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

On today's show:

- Jason Cole from Yahoo! Sports talks AFC North jockeying and other relevant league issues.

- Sidney Crosby finally returns to the ice.

- Steelers may not have as easy a time as folks think.

- Pirates sign a shortstop.

- It was too good to last: Mike goes 0-1-1 in last week's NFL picks (10-11-1 overall).


Saturday, November 19, 2011

#230: Taking More Than You Give is OK

---SSL Broadcast #68---

With the Christmas season coming up (and some would argue it's already been here awhile...), it's time to talk about taking more than you give. When you're a hockey team.

Now that the 2011-2012 NHL season is about a quarter of the way done, it's time to take a look at the almighty Shots-On-Goal Differential (SOGD) statistic and try to determine which teams are going to stay near the top, which teams are going to surge to the top, and which teams are going to splatter against the statistical plexiglass.

Entering today's play (November 19, 2011), none of the teams in first place of their respective divisions are in the top 6 in SOGD. Current Central Division leader Chicago is 7th with a +4.2.

For those of you who don't have a clue what this is about, Shots on Goal Differential is calculated by taking the average number of shots taken in a game (in Chicago's case, they have averaged 33.3 shots per game) and subtracting the number of shots given up (Chicago gives up 29.1). By season's end, most playoff teams have a positive SOGD, and those that don't often find themselves exiting the playoffs early. Read this article to see how the playoff teams shaped up. The only "rule" for winning the Stanley Cup is that a team have a positive SOGD at season's end. Only two teams since 1991 have won the Cup with a negative SOGD (the '91 and '09 Pittsburgh Penguins), and both had extenuating circumstances. In the case of the first team, they picked up face-off wizard Ron Francis and bruising defenseman Ulf Samuelsson at the trade deadline after their SOGD number was well in the negative (meaning there wasn't enough time for their presence to turn the number to a positive). In the latter instance, coach Michel Therrien was replaced with 3 months to go in the season by Dan Bylsma, who worked at incorporating a puck possession system. Again, not enough time in the season for the statistic to reverse.

This year's Penguins are the best team in the Eastern Conference in SOGD (and this is without captain Sidney Crosby) at +5.4. Next best in the conference, the surging (and defending Stanley Cup champion) Boston Bruins with +4.2. Detroit is the best overall with +8.6, which is par for the course for them, so they will be surging sooner rather than later. Also set to rise from the depths are Montreal (+4.1), Colorado (+4.3), and - believe it or not - Columbus (+2.8) if they can just get some average goaltending.

The biggest mirage in the pack is the first place Minnesota Wild. They have the 3rd worst SOGD in the league at -6.1, but are being bailed out by a save percentage around 94%. This will not hold. Also, the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, who are not only in second place in their respective divisions, but are also the only two teams worse than Minnesota in SOGD (-7.2 and -7.4, respectively) figure to fall out of their perches soon.

So, puck shooters, this holiday season (and beyond), it's all about take, take, take.

On today's show:

- My producer (and Penn State alumnus) Jerome Shell joins in with his experience from last Saturday's game at Happy Valley.

- Steelers sit atop the AFC North heading into the bye week.

- Pitt basketball - defense needs a bunch of work.

- Pirates possibly pursing a championship-winning shortstop.

- For the second straight week, Mike goes 2-0 in his NFL picks last week (10-10 overall), including pegging the Steelers/Bengals score.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

#229: Injustice Amidst Injustice

---SSL Broadcast #67---

As you can imagine, the focus of today's broadcast was regarding the sex-abuse scandal at Penn State University, which is now entering its second week (or 14th year, depending on your point of view).

For those of you living in a cave, here's the "Reader's Digest" version. A Pennsylvania Grand Jury indicted former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on counts relating to the alleged sexual abuse of eight young boys starting in 1998 and continuing after his retirement. The fallout has led to the firing of Penn State's president, athletic director, another administrator, and even legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

I have never been a fan of Penn State's program, which is kind of an irony, given that I like athletes to be smart, and "JoePa" was always regarded as a coach who made sure his players did well academically. Despite my irrational dislike of the the program (likely due to my backing of Pitt), I do not agree with Paterno's firing by the university's Board of Trustees, and I am firmly in the minority.

Upon reading the 23-page indictment, I am bound to support that Paterno did what he should have done.

From Page 12 of the aforementioned (and linked) Grand Jury Report:

"Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting statue for suspected shicle abuse...provides that when a staff member reports abuse, pursuant to statute, the person in charge of the school or institution has the responsibility and legal obligation to report or cause such a report to be made by telephone and in writing within 48 hours to the Department of Public Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Yes, in hindsight, Paterno says he wishes he would have done more. There are many who believe that Paterno would have been able to do anything he wanted, beaurocracy be damned. Maybe that's true, but that he purposefully turned a blind eye to this situation, if it's all true, would still need to be demonstrated to me before I change my stance.

On today's show:

- Steelers make a few too many mistakes in loss to Ravens.

- Penguins get little in return for trading promising young player.

- Pirates sign yet another aging veteran on the (relative) cheap.

-Pitt is done.

- Mike goes 2-0 in his NFL picks last week (8-10 overall).


Saturday, November 05, 2011

#228: Raven Revenge

---SSL Broadcast #66---

Sorry for the "USA Today"-style headline.

Last week, the Steelers were able to beat the Patriots primarily by keeping the ball out of Tom Brady's hands. The time of possession differential was essentially 2-to-1 in favor of the Steelers, and they won by only 8 points (the last two coming on a bizarre safety right at the end). Not only that, but the Steeler defense played man-to-man coverage against the New England wideouts, a deviation from previous PIT/NE contests.

This week, a different animal comes to Heinz Field. The division rival Baltimore Ravens will come a-calling, looking to execute a regular season sweep and take first place from the Steelers (perhaps to be shared with the Bengals) and create a virtual 2-game lead (with tie-breakers factored in).

Baltimore is a far superior team defensively than the Patriots, and they have a pass rush that can put quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on his backside almost as soon as he receives the ball from center Marquis Pouncey.

The key to the Steelers surviving the Ravens is to keep their All-Pro nose guard Haloti Ngata out of the backfield. I don't think that reports of a thigh injury on the big man will slow him significantly. Ngata aside, Pittsburgh's passing defense should be able to keep Joe Flacco in check. And even if running back Ray Rice rushes for 100 yards or so (which I expect), if Roethlisberger has time to throw, the Steelers should be able to keep it close.

Bottom line: If the Steeler O-Line, and particularly right guard Ramon Foster, can keep the big defensive lineman in front of them, Pittsburgh can win this game. If he's allowed to run free in the Steeler backfield..."Ngata" chance.

On today's show:

- Steeler talk for most of the show.

- Penguins cool off this week.

- Pirates do not pick up options on several high priced players.

-Pitt is still in the running for a conference crown.

- Mike goes 1-1 in his NFL picks last week (6-10 overall...ick).