Buehler’s new delivery shows immediate results

(First appeared in The Vanderbilt Hustler)

Pitching at a high level is all about making adjustments. For Walker Buehler, that involved changing his delivery at the biggest stage of College Baseball.

Pitching for the first time in 18 days because Vanderbilt beat Illinois in Super Regionals in two games, Buehler debuted a new wrinkle to his delivery: starting it off by bringing his hands over his head.

This was an idea that originated with Buehler coming to pitching coach Scott Brown. Months ago, the two had talked about an article on how many Hall of Fame pitchers go over their head in their delivery, and Buehler finally started implementing it, instead of just holding his hands by his waist.

Buehler had been having issues recently with repeating his landing foot and directional line, which led to him being off-kilter at times. There are several problems associated with this complication to a delivery.

“You can lose command; the ball can flatten out,” Brown said. “You don’t get quite the same life on the ball. It may read the same on the radar gun, but the perception is not the same; the margin of error is less. The ability to stay on line causes a little more deception to the hitter.”

Not repeating the same landing spot on every delivery isn’t a death sentence to a pitcher, however. Buehler has been dominant down the stretch, including a five-inning shutout performance against Radford in the Nashville Regional in which he struck out seven batters and only allowed two hits.

But even with the results looking good, Brown wanted to make sure Buehler was pitching to his full potential.

“In that Radford start, I thought he pitched very well from a results standpoint and execution, but I didn’t think his stuff was quite the same that game,” Brown said. “Looking back at some film on it and just how he was at the time, I told him he needed to make a real conscious effort. I thought he was getting cross-bodied in that game, really struggling to get extended.”

Although the two didn’t know it at the time, having eighteen days off, away from live competition, proved to be good for Buehler. With mound sessions and flat grounds in practice, he had plenty of time to repeat this new delivery.

And the results showed immediately. Buehler started off Friday’s game against TCU showing some of his best velocity – 96 and 97 mph in the first inning – and better depth than usual on his breaking pitches. After the game, he said, “It’s been a while since I’ve felt like that.”

Most importantly, perhaps, he only allowed one run and four hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight.

“I think he was more in rhythm,” said head coach Tim Corbin. “I think he was more at peace. I think being able to get over the rubber, stay over the rubber, and really deliver the ball over the hill, however it worked for him. He’s a tinkerer a little bit. I thought his delivery was under control, and he certainly had control of the baseball, and that’s all that matters.”

“The thing that I was most impressed with,” Brown said, “was that his foot strike was the same every time down the slope. And that was the big focus. When his hands were stationary, I thought he got drifty and got side-to-side at times. It was a concern of mine.”

In addition to giving him time to place both his drag and plant foot consistently in the right place, Buehler also found that the new delivery helped his pace on the mound and added a new layer of deception.

“I think it adds a little element of rhythm change,” Buehler said. “A few pitches you don’t go over the head or you pause a little bit longer on some. It’s nice. It’s gives you a little bit more flexibility.”

While there are certainly more adjustments to be made throughout his career, one thing is for certain: the new delivery going over-the-head will be around should the Commodores need Buehler in Game 3 of the College World Series Finals.

Categories: College Baseball | Leave a comment

The future is bright for college baseball’s top pitcher

(First appeared in The Vanderbilt Hustler)

What you see is what you get when it comes to Carson Fulmer:

An intense competitor.

A nasty three-pitch mix.

An all-out mentality and delivery.

All three of those factors have allowed Fulmer to become the most dominant pitcher in the nation, earning him SEC Pitcher of the Year and Golden Spikes Award finalist honors – the only pitcher to receive a nomination.

Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin has heaped seemingly hyperbolic praise on Fulmer – calling him a once in a lifetime player – but Fulmer has been able to back it up. His level of dominance is just striking.

Fulmer won the SEC Pitching Triple Crown, leading the conference in wins, ERA and strikeouts. To this point, his 147 strikeouts blow away LSU’s Alex Lange, who is second in the conference with 110 strikeouts.

His home ERA was a miniscule 0.80, and he gave up one or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 14 starts, eight of which were shutout performances. He struck out more batters than innings he pitched in all but one start, and he struck out at least 11 in half his starts.

But even though his college career is not over, one of the biggest nights of his life is coming up in less than a week. On June 8, he will be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft.

Fulmer is projected by most experts to go among the top ten picks in the draft, potentially in the top five. The average signing bonus value for a top ten pick is $4.9 million bonus, and the average signing bonus value for a top five pick is $6.3 million bonus.

Where a team ends up taking him in the draft is very much up in the air. Whereas the entire baseball industry sees Fulmer as one of — if not the — most dominant pitcher in college, opinions greatly differ on how successful he’ll be at the next level.

“The big question (I’ve gotten from scouts) was if I could either start or relieve,” Fulmer said. “I’ve wanted to start for a very long time. I kept my mouth shut and tried to help the team in any way I could. I was able to get a chance to start, and I’ve loved it ever since.”

Teams spend inordinate amounts of money to travel and scout players, but each team still has different preferences and processes and comes up with different reports on each player. Scouting is an inexact science, but how teams evaluate players like Fulmer will largely shape their immediate future on the 8th.

The makeup

If there’s one part of Fulmer’s game that the entire baseball industry can agree upon, it’s his makeup, the industry term for character. Teams have been scouting him since high school, and his reputation precedes him.

“He’s widely known to be a very positive, plus makeup guy,” said one major league executive. “He gives a great effort every time, he’s a good teammate, his makeup I don’t think is in question by any team.”

Vanderbilt’s coaches have been very impressed with this over the years. Pitching coach Scott Brown points out that he even makes every single conversation, bullpen and practice important.

Much of that attention to detail comes from the most notable aspect of his makeup: his seemingly relentless competitiveness.

“I think it goes without saying that he’s a very intense, competitive guy,” said another front office executive. “You don’t have to have a history on him to know that. You can watch him for a day and realize the guy’s a competitor. We love the makeup of the kid. Our impression of him is that he’s a great guy, and he’s obviously a fearsome competitor, and it’s one of the things that really stands out.”

Fulmer has always been deeply competitive, and it is in large part thanks to his family.

Fulmer, 21, is rather close to his family and is the youngest of five siblings. He has two older sisters, 32 and 46, and two older brothers, 27 and 31, with whom he would play outside all the time.

“My brothers and I have had some instances where’ve gotten into it,” Fulmer said. “We were always outside playing. Flag football would turn into tackle football, that kind of stuff. (My brothers were) bigger than I was at the time, and I feel like that just fueled the fire even more for me.”

His sheer competitiveness has led to another one of his signature attributes: attacking hitters at a high level throughout the game, and using an all-out, max-effort delivery for the entire game.

Some pitchers feel the need to pace themselves throughout a start to make sure they can last as long as possible. That is not the case for Fulmer.

“The beauty of Carson is he throws every inning like he’s trying to close the game out and get off the field,” Brown said. “The thing with Carson is that he also has the ability to go to another gear too. Where he does get into trouble, then boom, he’s just got this mentality where he’s just not going to let them score.”

Fulmer has put that extra gear on full display down the stretch of this season. After allowing a first-inning run against Alabama, he allowed just two hits and no runs over the final eight frames. And after allowing a third inning run in the regional opener, Fulmer didn’t allow a hit or run the rest of his seven-inning start.

Makeup may be a harder attribute to quantify than velocity or break on a curveball, but front offices pay very close attention to this aspect because even the best pitching prospects have high attrition rates.

“When you talk about makeup, you talk about competitiveness, you talk about work ethic, you talk about knowing how to play the game,” another front office executive said. “It’s all going to help you reach your potential. I think in any profession, the better the makeup, the better chance you have to succeed.”

The repertoire

Along with very good makeup, the other undeniable part of Fulmer’s game is his strong repertoire of pitches.

Fulmer has one of the better three-pitch mixes in college baseball, which has allowed him to ascend to the third overall draft prospect and top pitcher ranking, according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo currently.

On the 20-80 scouting scale, MLB.com grades his fastball as a 70, his curveball as a 60, and his changeup as a 50. No pitcher in the draft has a higher grade on his fastball than Fulmer, and only UC-Santa Barbara’s Dillon Tate has a higher grade on his curveball (65).

“He has present velocity that other guys don’t have,” one major league executive said. “He has present pitches that other guys don’t have, he has the makeup that other guys don’t have, so there’s a lot of things that build into why a guy gets drafted where he does.”

Fulmer’s repertoire has been above-average since the moment he stepped on campus, but working with Brown and the Vanderbilt coaching staff has allowed him to gain consistency on his pitches.

Brown slightly altered Fulmer’s delivery by having him anchor his back foot to the rubber out of the windup, similarly to Sonny Gray, which helps Fulmer keep his landing foot consistently on line. Having Fulmer consistently pitching downhill allows for better downward action on his pitches compared to horizontal movement, which can be harder to control.

“That breaking ball is a legitimate fear factor out pitch,” Brown said. “It’s hard to lay off of, and it’s a pitch that I think is an above-average major league pitch for him. The difference to me this year is the ability to throw it for more strikes. He throws it behind in the count, and that’s really helped him.”

Fulmer’s one-two punch of his fastball and curveball has allowed him to dominate through the college ranks, and several front office members have pointed out those pitches and his overall polish could lead to him helping a major league team out later this year out of the bullpen, similarly to 2014 first-round pick Brandon Finnegan with the Kansas City Royals.

If he wants to have a good chance at being a starter long-term, though, further developing his changeup will go a long way to determining his success.

“Some guys can throw those two pitches and never develop that changeup, but it’s hard to go out there with two hard pitches,” one front office member said. “You can go out there and blow a guy out of the water in relief; it’s easy. You just need something else to get them off those pitches to start.”

The role

And that is the biggest question for Fulmer: Can he start at the next level?

Whichever team drafts him likely believes he can be a starter, but there are plenty of scouts who don’t see it that way, such as ESPN’s Keith Law, who ranks Fulmer as the 43rd-best draft prospect because he does not believe Fulmer will be a starter as a professional.

“I think it’s a legitimate question,” one front office member said. “I think you always have concerns about guys like that sticking as a starter. You have concerns about guys who are not as tall and short pitchers. Guys that have gone to Vanderbilt, you look at Sonny Gray. A lot of guys thought he was a reliever out of the draft.”

Shorter pitchers — Fulmer is listed at 6-foot — often are prone to giving up home runs because they aren’t able to get as good of a downward plane on pitches as taller pitchers can. This hasn’t been a major issue for Fulmer yet, however, as he only allowed home runs on 4.3 percent of his fly balls over his college career, compared to the major league average of 10 percent.

More concerning than his height to most, though, is his all-out delivery, which many believe leads to poor command and potential health concerns related to extra stress being placed on the shoulder and elbow.

“My way of pitching is a little different I guess than other guys,” Fulmer said. “Obviously I don’t have the height, but I try to get my body going towards home plate, and that’s what works for me. That’s something I’ve definitely tried to maintain throughout the year. I just try to be competitive.”

Fulmer starts his delivery with his hands high, and close to his chest. He drops his hands, brings them back up, and quickly explodes towards the plate in an almost violent motion.

“People would probably describe (his delivery) as a little bit different because it’s got a high pace to it,” Brown said. “But you’re talking about a martial arts guy that’s a black belt and has the ability to control his body at a high pace. For me, I don’t really see a guy that’s out of control. I see a guy (whose) pistons to his engine are working the way he wants to.”

Having an abnormal or max-effort delivery isn’t a death sentence to pitchers; each pitcher is different. Just as many undersized pitchers have found success, there are plenty of cases throughout history of pitchers with abnormal deliveries starting and having great careers.

“Sometimes special guys can do special things that normal guys can’t, and they can get away with it,” one major league executive said. “If you look throughout history at some of the deliveries Hall of Famers have had, you can find so many flaws with them. It’s just a matter of whether or not on a case-by-case basis certain guys can just be great. Some deliveries of Hall of Famers decades ago would terrify people today, and those are Hall of Famers.”

This distinction between starting and relieving can be a point of pride for pitchers. Fulmer would certainly like to start, as he feels he has the stamina. Back when he was a reliever, Fulmer would come into the game in the seventh and eighth inning and leave the game feeling like he had more left in the tank.

Pride aside, the value to a major league team is even more important. Good relievers will pitch 60 innings a season, and good starters will pitch 200 innings a season. That extra value shows in pitcher salaries: In 2015, 11 starters eclipsed a $20 million salary, but only one reliever surpassed the $10 million mark.

Still, in a volatile draft in which teams are generally happy when more than one draftee out of more than 40 rounds reaches the major leagues, the most important thing for a players is that they succeed, period.

“It gets to a point where that doesn’t matter,” a major league executive said. “He’s had so much success, and regardless of what role he ends up having, the important thing is that he ends up being a good pitcher – not that he’s a good pitcher necessarily in the rotation or out of the bullpen.”

The future

Although the draft may have a larger long-term impact on Fulmer than the rest of his college season, it remains on the backburner for the junior from Lakeland, Florida.

With a Super Regional against national seed Illinois beginning Saturday and a second consecutive College World Series berth on the line, the immediacy of the draft hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

Fulmer doesn’t pay attention to what the experts are saying about his draft stock, about his potential, about his future. All of his focus now is on continuing his dominance of the college game and winning.

“Every time I go out, regardless of what I’m doing to help a team, I’m just going out there and competing,” Fulmer said. “Opinions and stuff like that are out of my control, just coming to the field ready to accomplish something every day and helping my team is the biggest thing.”

Categories: College Baseball | Leave a comment

Vanderbilt Baseball Coverage

I spent eight weeks this summer covering Vanderbilt baseball’s season as the Vanderbilt Hustler’s beat reporter, which was an incredible experience. I’ve collected all of my stories on this page as an archive of sorts..

I’ve listed my 24 game stories, six features, and various articles I’ve written below, organized by their publishing date. I hope you enjoyed the extra coverage of of the Vandy Boys this summer.

Bryan Reynolds

Bryan Reynolds steals an extra base hit from Florida’s Harrison Bader


7/1: Dansby Swanson’s rise to become Vanderbilt’s best player (Dansby Swanson)

6/16: Zander Wiel: From redshirt to ‘self-made player’ (Zander Wiel)

6/4: The future is bright for college baseball’s top pitcher (Carson Fulmer)

5/26: Toffey continues a tradition of Massachusetts excellence (Will Toffey)

5/17: New swing sets up Wiseman for historic season (Rhett Wiseman)

5/13: A star outside the spotlight (Walker Buehler)

Game Stories:

6/24: Virgina tops Vanderbilt to win national championship

6/23: Virginia shuts out Vandy 3-0, sends CWS to pivotal Game 3

6/22: Fulmer sends Dores within a win of national championship

6/19: Dores beat TCU 7-1, advance back to CWS Championship Series

6/16: Pfeifer’s dominance, Wiel’s home run send Dores to CWS semifinals

6/15: Vanderbilt beats Fullerton 4-3 on Kendall’s walk-off home run

6/7: Vandy sweeps Illinois, advances to College World Series

6/6: Commodores win 13-0, now a win from College World Series

6/1: Vanderbilt eviscerates Radford 21-0, advances to Super Regionals

5/30: Swanson’s home run propels Dores to 6-4 win

5/29: Vanderbilt tops Lipscomb 9-1 in regional opener

5/24: Commodores lose in SEC Tournament final once again

5/22: Vandy mercy rules Alabama, advances to SEC Tournament semifinals

5/21: Dores fall to Texas A&M, face SEC Tournament elimination

5/20: Vanderbilt tops to Missouri on Wiseman’s walk-off homer

5/16: Buehler’s gem spoiled in Vanderbilt’s shutout loss

5/15: Vanderbilt tops Alabama 7-5, wins SEC East

5/14: Fulmer continues to dominate, Dores lock up SEC Tournament bye

5/12: Johnson shines in 5-2 win at No. 2 Louisville

5/9: Emotions fly high as No. 9 Florida comes back to beat Vandy 9-7

5/7: Fulmer dominates, shuts out Florida 2-0

5/3: Vanderbilt wins 7-3 in Buehler’s Kentucky homecoming

5/2: Sloppy defense sinks Commodores as they fall 11-5

5/1: Fulmer’s start, late rally lead Dores past Kentucky 13-3


6/24: Vanderbilt shakes up Game 3 CWS lineup

6/23: Benintendi wins Golden Spikes Award over Swanson, Fulmer

6/23: Carson Fulmer was sick the night before impressive start

6/22: The Idiot’s Guide to the College World Series

6/22: Buehler’s new delivery shows immediate results

6/15: Vanderbilt-TCU College World Series preview

6/14: Vanderbilt-Fullerton game suspended midway through game

6/14: James Franklin visits Vandy at the College World Series

6/9: More Commodores selected on Day 2 of MLB Draft

6/8: Dansby Swanson selected first overall in MLB Draft

6/8: David Price visits Vandy at the Super Regionals

6/7: Super Regional Game 2 postponed until Monday

6/3: ESPN’s Keith Law comments on Vanderbilt players’ draft stock

5/31: Vanderbilt-Radford game to be played Monday

5/25: Vanderbilt to host Radford, Indiana and Lipscomb in regional

5/24: Rain delays SEC Tournament final

5/15: What seed will the Commodores be in the SEC Tournament?

Categories: College Baseball | Leave a comment

2015 Baseball Preview

Click here to download/view

My 2015 Baseball Preview is finally here just in time for the season to start. The Cubs host the Cardinals tomorrow night, so this is your chance to read up on the season ahead before the first pitch is thrown.

This year’s edition comes in at 67 pages with all the usual analysis, advanced stats, and scouting reports you’ve seen in past years. And as always, the preview is absolutely free, although I do accept Venmo payments and free food.

This preview has a focus for each team on how to build a championship team. In each team’s section, I look at how they were built, why they made the decisions they’ve made, and how they will move forward.

Finally, thank you so much for reading my preview (or at least giving me a page click). It took a lot of sleepless nights, but I’ve truly enjoyed working on this for the past five months.

I hope you enjoy perusing it, and I hope your team does well this year.

Categories: MLB | 1 Comment

NFL Divisional Round Picks – The Panthers Are Really Really Going To The Super Bowl

How exciting is it that the Panthers are going to win eight games in a row in consecutive seasons for the first time ever?

Almost as exciting as the Panthers getting revenge on every team to wrong them along the way to their first Super Bowl title. Let me explain.

On January 10, 2009, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Panthers 33-13 in the Divisional Round in Charlotte after the Panthers went 8-0 at home and earned a first-round bye. On January 3, 2015, the Panthers avenged their loss with a dominating 27-16 victory in Charlotte.

Sometimes I yearn for the days of Nick Goings...

Sometimes I yearn for the days of Nick Goings…

On January 22, 2005, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Panthers 34-14 in the NFC Championship Game in Seattle when the Panthers were just down to Nick Goings at running back. On January 10, 2015, the Panthers will avenge that loss in Seattle to move on to the NFC Championship game.

On January 12, 1996, the Green Bay Packers beat the Panthers 30-13 at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game in just the Panthers’ second year of existence. One week from now, the Panthers will avenge that loss in Green Bay to go back to the Super Bowl.

On February 1, 2004, the New England Patriots beat the Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII on an Adam Vinateiri 41-yard field goal with four seconds left. On February 1, 2015, the Panthers will avenge that loss 11 years later with their first Super Bowl title.

The stars are aligning. It’s meant to be. I mean I’ve been saying it for the past two weeks.

Furthermore, Madden 15 predicted the Panthers would win back in August. Their intro to the video game shows the Panthers making an improbably fourth quarter comeback in the playoffs with the Super Bowl on the line. The gods have already decided the outcome!

Somehow, though, people don’t tend to see the light as I do. Vegas opened the line on this game at 11.5 points. Eleven and a half points! Mischievous and deceitful. Chicanerous and deplorable.

The Seahawks and Panthers have played each of the last three years and the final scores have been 13-9, 12-7, and 16-12 in favor of Seattle. For those non-math majors out there, that’s a combined 13 points or just a tad over the line for this game alone.

It’s just too hard to see the Panthers giving up enough points for the Seahawks to cover a nearly two-touchdown spread. If it were not for a muffed punt and interception on a miscommunication, the Cardinals wouldn’t have even scored last week.

This line is insulting. It’s ridiculous. The Seahawks beating the Panthers by 12 points and stopping their Super Bowl run is so improbable and ridiculous that I’m going so far as to call this game the Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week o’ the Year o’ the Eon.

As always, home teams are in CAPS, and here’s a run through of each section:

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games are worth 5 apples.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games are worth 10 apples.

KFC Double Down Games are worth 20 apples.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week is worth 50 apples.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Game:

BRONCOS (-7) over Colts

Peyton Manning versus Peyton Manning’s old team. I don’t know if I can muster up enough hate for this game.

All biases aside, the Colts haven’t been particularly good for a 12-5 team in any facet of the team aside from the passing game, which is admittedly first in the league. The running game is a disaster (their leading rusher last week was somebody named Daniel Herron), and they’ve played just two winning teams in the past seven weeks.

While I do worry about Peyton Manning at this point in the season, I don’t see the Colts as a huge obstacle, especially on the road, where the Broncos are 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 14.6 points.

I’ll save the Peyton Manning bashing for later in the playoffs when he’s in a more competitive game.

Prediction: Broncos 30 Colts 17

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Game:

Cowboys (+6) over PACKERS

Let’s try and think of all the things Tony Romo could do and still be called a choker:

– Save a dozen paraplegic kittens from a burning building

– Lead the NFL in completion percentage and yards per attempt

– Bring the Double Down back to KFC

– Beat the Packers on a game-winning 90 yard scramble

– Heal Jose Fernandez’s torn UCL with voodoo

– Wear his hat forwards at a press conference so Colin Cowherd will shut up

I think the Cowboys will still lose this game, but a 6-point line is just a bit too high for me.

Prediction: Packers 30 Cowboys 27

KFC Double Down Game:

PATRIOTS (-7) over Ravens

Yes, I’m aware the Patriots are 1-2 against the Ravens in the playoffs since 2009. Yes, I’m aware that Joe Flacco has 20 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in the playoffs since 2010. I really don’t care.

There’s all this hubbub about Joe Flacco flipping on a switch in the playoffs, but I don’t really buy it. For starters, his career completion percentage is worse in the playoffs (56.0% versus 65.0%). Also, I’ve got 112 games of evidence to show that Flacco is an incredibly average quarterback, and 14 playoff games isn’t enough of a sample size to make me think otherwise.

The Ravens beat the Steelers last week by forcing three turnovers, but that’s not very likely for a team run by Tom Brady that will also feature a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount.

Give me Touchdown Tom and another Super Bowl run.

Prediction: Patriots 24 Ravens 13

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week o’ the Year o’ the Eon:

Panthers (+11.5) over SEAHAWKS

Go read the intro.

Panthers 13 Union Seahawks 12

Overall Record: 123-131-5

Last Week: 2-2

Apple Total: 0

Apple Total Last Week: 55

Categories: NFL | Leave a comment

NFL Wild Card Round Picks – The Panthers Are Really Going To The Super Bowl

Last week you might have thought that I was joking when I said the Panthers are going to the Super Bowl. Little did you know I meant the Panthers are really going to the Super Bowl.

Exactly as I predicted last week, Carolina manhandled the Falcons and advanced to the postseason for the second season in a row. And just like I predicted, the Panthers will continue on their Super Bowl march by hosting the Cardinals for the worst playoff matchup (according to DVOA) since 2004.

But it’s not like “worst playoff matchup” is some suggestion that this Panthers team is bad. Au contraire! It’s a suggestion that the Cardinals are the biggest piece of crap playoff team ever.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 2.00.30 PM

I like this GIF a lot, so I’ll leave it right here.

Ryan Lindley? Are you kidding me? Who’s going to put their faith in a quarterback on the road on short rest who started his career with an NFL record for 228 pass attempts in a row without a touchdown? And that’s a record for quarterbacks at any time of their career.

That this game’s line started at 4.5 points is a downright abomination. Over the past seven weeks, the Cardinals are averaging 11.3 points, including just 9 points per game when Lindley plays. The Panthers have a larger margin of victory the past four weeks (17 points) than the Cardinals are even scoring.

This game is beyond a lock. The Panthers have never lost in the Wild Card Round, and Bruce Arians has never won a playoff game (FACTS!!). I’d wager Nick Vitucci’s 1995-96 Riley Cup MVP on this game. I’d wager the Bojangles franchsie on this game. Hell I’d wager selling Cheerwine to the North. I’d go there.

But alas, all of this would be illegal, since sport gambling is not allowed in the United States and most definitely not encouraged by The Knuckle Blog. So instead I’ll just wager 50 apples on his game, making it my HICKORY SMOKED PULLED PORK LOCK O’ THE WEEK O’ THE YEAR O’ THE MILLENNIUM.

Also Ohio State sucks.

As always, home teams are in CAPS, and here’s a run through of each section:

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games are worth 5 apples.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games are worth 10 apples.

KFC Double Down Games are worth 20 apples.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week is worth 50 apples.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Game:

STEELERS (-3) over Ravens

Gather round, children, and listen to Old Ben tell you a story.

Not so long ago, Steelers-Ravens was an incredible fun rivalry. Now, don’t be so quick to laugh.

This was a rivalry between two smashmouth teams led by heavy running games. I know that can be hard to believe with Ben Tate facing off against Justin Forsett, but it was true! Jamal Lewis versus Jerome Bettis. Ray Rice (when he didn’t beat women and did average more than 3.1 yards per carry) versus Willie Parker.

Jimmy. Quit playing with that fancy schmancy iPhone 6 Plus. Back in my day, we didn’t have those fancy gadgets; we were happy playing Angry Birds on our iPhone 5, and we listened when people told each other stories.

If you can believe it, once upon a time the Ravens-Steelers games were almost always close and competitive. From late 2007-2013 10 of the 15 matchups were determined by a field goal or less. Don’t get dismayed by the 20-point games this season: these games used to be fun.

Maybe you kids will get to see a good Ravens-Steelers game. Those were the good ol’ days. Back when Mariano Rivera wasn’t retired and Chip Kelly was still in college.

Prediction: Steelers 17 Ravens 13

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Game:

COWBOYS (-6.5) over Lions

It’s fun and all to rip on Tony Romo, but he was actually really good this year with the highest completion percentage in the NFL  and yards per attempt while he had a broken rib. Not only that, but his running back led the league in rushing by 484 yards while he had a broken hand.

Like it or not, the Cowboys are really good on offense this year. Then again, the Lions’ defense is really good, and something’s got to given with the #1 rush attack going up against the #1 rush defense.

What I worry about for the Lions is that they haven’t been battle tested much this season. They’ve played just one competitive team the past five weeks (Green Bay after beating Chicago twice, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota) with just a 2-4 record against teams with winning records.

One last note: Romo faces a disproportionate amount of criticism compared to Matthew Stafford, who has consistently done less with more over the past six seasons. Hopefully this game puts a stop to the discussion over which quarterback is better.

Prediction: Cowboys 26 Lions 16

KFC Double Down Game:

COLTS (-3.5) over Bengals

I hate to boil playoff games down to which team has the better quarterback, but I’m going to do just that here. The Colts get a major plus here for having Andrew Luck (and not Andy Dalton).

But of course, there’s more than that. A.J. Green is doubtful with a concussion, so even if he does play, he isn’t expected to do much. Green has already missed three games this season with an injured toe, including the Bengals’ 27-0 drubbing… in Indianapolis.

Now, I’m not going to call for another shutout, but it’s hard to see much in the favor of Cincy. They have plenty of big names in their secondary (Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Pacman Jones), but they’ve largely been ineffective, which doesn’t bode well against then NFL’s top passing attack.

Cincinnati was able to handle a big passing attack in Denver by picking off Peyton Manning 4 times and rushing for over 200 yards. That seems unlikely to happen in Indy, though, because the Colts have allowed more than 142 rushing yards just once all year (allowing 32 yards to the Bengals), and Luck hasn’t thrown more than 2 interceptions in any game this season.

Prediction: Colts 24 Bengals 10

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week o’ the Year o’ the Millennium:

PANTHERS (-4.5) over Cardinals

Go read the intro.

Panthers 56 Cardinals 0

Overall Record: 121-129-5

Last Week: 8-8

Apple Total: -55

Apple Total Last Week: 55

Categories: NFL | Leave a comment

Week 17 NFL Picks – The Panthers Are Going To The Super Bowl

I probably got you to click on this link with that title, right? Classic.

Do I actually think Carolina, a sub-.500 team without an offensive line, is going to the Super Bowl? Maybe. But I’ve never been more confident in a single game than I am in the Panthers winning beating the Falcons today.

With a win against the Dirty Birds, the Panthers will head to the to the playoffs for the sixth time in playoff history. They have never been eliminated in the Wild Card round before and have a 6-5 all-time record.

The Falcons, on the other hand? They have the fourth-worst winning percentage in NFL history. Fourth-worst! Only the listless Lions, the only team to go 0-16, the 13-year old Texans, and creamsicle Buccaneers are worst.

I want YOU

I want YOU to bet all your life’s savings on the Panthers today. I can feel it.

Never before have I been more confident in an NFL pick. Never, I say. I would bet the Charlotte Hornets franchise, Cam Newton’s healthy vertebrae, and the Charlotte Checkers’ 1994-95 Calder Cup on it. Plus the Cats are 3-point underdogs? Please.

Am I riding a high off reading Scott Fowler’s Tales from the Carolina Panthers Sideline (buy it on Amazon here)? Maybe. Am I worried that the Falcons’ 32nd-ranked pass defense may be underrated? No (ha!).

The Panthers are perfectly set up for another Super Bowl run. They’ll be gifteed the gimpy Cardinals in the first round (redeeming the worst playoff game I’ve ever seen), take down the Lions in the Division round (who they easily dispensed of in Week 2), and then easily beat Dallas when they go full Romo (you never go full Romo).

This isn’t my Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week. This is my Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week o’ the Year o’ the Century.

Oh, and Matt Ryan can’t win big games.

As always, home teams are in CAPS, and here’s a run through of each section:

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games are worth 5 apples.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games are worth 10 apples.

KFC Double Down Games are worth 20 apples.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week is worth 50 apples.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

Lions (+7.5) over PACKERS
For a game with so much on the line (a bye and potentially home field advantage in the playoffs), I am incredibly uninterested in this game. Take that, Midwest!

Browns (+13.5) over RAVENS
Which was more unlikely 12 months ago: Justin Forsett being the 6th-leading rusher in the league or Connor Shaw being a starting NFL quarterback?

Jets (+6.5) over DOLPHINS
Weird stuff happens in Week 17, especially in games with nothing on the line. Just take the points.

Rams (+11.5) over SEAHAWKS
I’m not giving double digit points in Week 17.

Raiders (+14) over BRONCOS
I’m not giving double digit points in Week 17, part II.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Colts (-7.5) over TITANS
It’s almost time to switch the weekly “things still better than the Jaguars” feature to “things still better than the Titans,” but it’s just too much fun making fun of Jacksonville.

PATRIOTS (-6) over Bills
What do you think Bill Belichick would enjoy more than making sure the Bills don’t have their first winning season in a decade?

Bears (+7) over VIKINGS
I know there’s a usual rule of never betting on Jimmy Clausen, but I’m not giving up a touchdown for a team that allowed Ryan Tannehill to throw for nearly 400 yards.

Saints (-4.5) over BUCCANEERS
Hey, remember when pundits thought the Bucs would be a .500 team?

NINERS (-6.5) over Cardinals
I’m not sure who is going to be sadder: The Niners without Jim Harbaugh or Harbaugh stuck at Michigan.

KFC Double Down Games:

TEXANS (-7.5) over Jaguars
Here is a running list of things better than the Jaguars:
1. The NBA’s Christmas Day jerseys
2. Kansas City’s wide receivers
3. Mitch Albom columns
4. Shaq’s weird Christmas tradition
5. Josh Smith’s shooting
6. Kevin Garnett’s blowing
7. Kevin Garnett’s trash talking
8. Kevin Garnett’s biting
9. Kevin Garnett’s grace
10. Kevin Garnett’s acceptance of how others choose to dress themselves

Chargers (+2) over CHIEFS
Did you know that Philip Rivers is 8-0 in Week 17? #math

STEELERS (-3.5) over Bengals
Did you know that Ben Roethlisberger is also 8-0 in Week 17? #math

Cowboys (-5.5) over INJUNS
Washington is just an unmitigated disaster. This Washington Post article is just illuminating.

Eagles (+1) over GIANTS
I still pick Jordan Matthews over Odell Beckham Jr.  Always go with your gut over your brain.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week o’ the Year o’ the Century:

Panthers (+3) over FALCONS
Go read the intro.

Overall Record: 113-121-5

Last 5 Weeks: 34-44-1

Apple Total: -110

Apple Total Last 5 Weeks: -115

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Becoming Champions: giving Vanderbilt Football a national title-worthy roster


Vanderbilt has a history of baseball players playing football.

Vanderbilt’s football season has come to a close, and baseball season is still a few months away, but fear not, there’s still a good reason to write about the two. Jackson Martin of The Dirty South Sports Report and friend of the program and fellow baseball nut Andrew King (Vanderbilt, Class of 2013) have come together with me to draft the Vanderbilt baseball team to play football, giving Vanderbilt football the national title-worthy roster it deserves, but maybe not the one it needs.

The rules are simple: draft a team of nine players: 1 quarterback, 5 skill position players, 1 linebacker, 1 defensive back, and 1 kicker (baseball players aren’t really built like linemen). Draft order was determined by a random number generator.

(Hat tip to Andrew King for coming up with this idea by saying Ro Coleman should be Vanderbilt’s third running back after Jerron Seymour was kicked off the team.)

Round 1:

Jackson: Dansby Swanson – ATH

  • Jackson Notes: Started off my draft the right way, by taking a player from Georgia. Dansby is the best all-around athlete available, and I’m going to use him in a multitude of roles. My offensive scheme is built around getting the ball into the best player’s hands, so Dansby will be catching passes, taking handoffs and throwing passes to make sure he gets as many opportunities to put points on the board as possible. Think of him as my Kentucky-era Randall Cobb.
  • Andrew Notes: With Adam Ravenelle and Jared Miller in the pros, Dansby has the best lettuce on the team by far. That could get him picked in the top 3 rounds by itself, but the all-around tools push him over the top. Good pick.
  • Ben Notes: He’s pretty clearly the best player on the baseball team, and he’s athletic enough to be a very good receiver.

Andrew: Jeren Kendall – RB

  • Andrew Notes: The NFL isn’t a running back league anymore, but we aren’t in the NFL so screw it, I’m going with Jeren at RB. He’s fast enough to be a home run threat on every snap, can catch passes out of the backfield, and his hockey background suggests he can handle being hit with regularity. I’ll build my team around that.
  • Jackson Notes: Fastest player on the team. Excellent pick, though I might have used him at wideout instead of running back.
  • Ben Notes: I was going to take him with one of my two picks. Fastest guy on the team, and he played hockey in high school, so I’d guess he’s pretty tough. He’d be great at either receiver or running back.

Ben: Jordan Sheffield – WR

  • Ben Notes: Sheffield should have been the first pick in the draft easy. Have you seen his high school highlight reel? Plus with his arm, I’m sure we could run a ton of Antwaan Randle El-esque gadget plays to get him involved in the passing game. I’m pretty sure most plays are going to start with Sheffield swinging around on a reverse. Also he won the Omaha Challenge this year, so that’s something.
  • Jackson Notes: The player who I initially assessed as the first overall pick. He’s actually played football, and has a strong highlight tape already. Was very hard to pass on him.
  • Andrew Notes: Ah, good Vanderbilt memories…a wide receiver named Jordan as the cornerstone of a team. Hint: not referring to Mr. Cunningham.

Round 2:

Ben: Xavier Turner – RB

  • Ben Notes: I’m getting a 6’2” 220 running back who runs a 6.75 60 time (sixth on the baseball team among times I could find), and apparently he was recruited by Ohio State to play running back before he blew out his knee in high school. Most of my offense will be pounding the ball with X.
  • Jackson Notes: I do not envy anyone who has to tackle X. He will, in fact, give it to ya.
  • Andrew Notes: ^ Well said.

Andrew: Rhett Wiseman – WR

  • Andrew Notes: Watch his running catch against Texas to lead off the 10th inning of the CWS semifinals. Or his diving catch to lead off the 9th inning against Virginia in Game 3 of the CWS Finals. He’s fast, has good hands, and has pretty good size at 6’1” 205; can’t pass up players like that.
  • Ben Notes: Rhett’s shockingly fast (6.51 60) and has good size, but he’ll probably need to bulk up if he’s taking many shots over the middle. I don’t know how many players are better qualified to make crazy catches, though.
  • Jackson Notes: You know how we use the phrase “deceptively fast” to describe white guys who can burn people dowfield? Rhett’s not deceptively fast, he’s just fast.

Jackson: Ro Coleman – RB

  • Jackson Notes: Shifty back, he’s quicker than he is fast. Getting him the ball in space will be absolutely key for my offense, so expect to see him utilized much like Darren Sproles was for Kansas State. Also planning on using this play at least once.
  • Andrew Notes: I wonder if you only picked him because Tony Kemp wasn’t on the board. He’s quick, but I worry about his durability, so I wouldn’t have taken him as the primary back on a team.
  • Ben Notes: You might just be able to hide Ro behind the line on every play. Then again, he’s not going to be able to hits like X will at running back.

Round 3:

Jackson: Zander Wiel – LB

  • Jackson Notes: I need a quarterback for my defense. Zander is built like a linebacker, and fits into this role as well as anyone else in this draft does. Would have gone higher if linebacker was a more valued position.
  • Andrew Notes: Probably would have picked him as a TE, but he’d be a scary good linebacker too.
  • Ben Notes: Going defense this early? Bold.

Andrew: Will Toffey – DB

  • Andrew Notes: I sure as hell wouldn’t want a fast, 6’2” hockey player bearing down on me in the open field. It’s a no brainer plugging him in at DB to solidify the back end of my defense. Disclaimer: I’m by far the biggest hockey fan of the three of us, so it’s no surprise I’ve picked 2 former hockey standouts in the first 3 rounds.
  • Jackson Notes: Is there any reason so many of these guys played hockey in addition to baseball? Is that just a thing people do in the north? I always thought Tom Glavine was unique for being drafted in both MLB and the NHL.
  • Jackson note #2: You’re only the biggest hockey fan because my beloved Thrashers were taken from me. #RIPThrashers
  • Ben Notes: Toffey won two New England Prep National Championships in hockey, I’ll assume he’s a tough guy too. I could see him as a hard-hitting safety too probably because he’s got some of the best power on the baseball team.

Ben: Joey Mundy – LB

  • Ben Notes: Since we’re on a run of defensive players, I’ll take someone who actually played defense in high school. Mundy was an outside linebacker for a Huntington High School team that went 13-1 and only gave up 10.2 points per game his senior year. At 6’3” 215, he’s also one of the bigger guys on roster.
  • Andrew Notes: I don’t know anything about Joey Mundy, but choosing a linebacker to play linebacker seems reasonable.
  • Jackson Notes: Ben’s on a run of taking guys who actually played football in high school. It’s times like this where I feel like a little more research could have done wonders for my team.

Round 4:

Ben: Tyler Ferguson – TE

  • Ben Notes: Tight ends are going to be a big part of my offense, and Ferguson is a big dude at 6’3” 225. I assume I won’t need to do this, but I could use him as an emergency quarterback or even use him on trick plays.
  • Andrew Notes: You have 3 players on offense alone who could reasonably lay claim to being your starting quarterback (Buehler, Sheffield, Ferguson). If there’s anything we’ve learned from former Vanderbilt Offensive Coordinator Karl Dorrell, it’s that you can never play too many quarterbacks, right? Now if only you had a redshirt to burn…
  • Jackson Notes: I mean, these are baseball players we’re talking about. They throw balls as their job (you know, a job where a shadowy organization won’t allow you to be paid for doing your job). I kind of assume all of them would make for at least passable quarterbacks.

Andrew: Drake Parker – ATH

  • Andrew Notes: I’m building my offense around speed in the open field, and I just found my Dexter McCluster. Woohoo!
  • Jackson Notes: Got the second smallest guy on the team. I’m thinking you were jealous of my Ro Coleman pick after all?
  • Ben Notes: Parker could be really useful if you can get him free in open field. I’m personally a bigger fan of players with size, but Parker’s speed is definitely exciting.

Jackson: Tyler Green – TE

  • Jackson Notes: Absolutely cannot believe Green lasted this long. He’s the tallest guy on the team, and was drafted to play hockey — so he seems like a perfect fit at tight end.
  • Andrew Notes: I’m just excited that he and Ro are on the same team. Wouldn’t you love to see the biggest guy block for the smallest guy? Me too. And he’d be a beast in the red zone.
  • Ben Notes: I’m actually really upset you took Green here. I really wanted him and was going to use him with Ferguson in my twin tight end sets. Dude is a mountain of a man, although my only concern is his 7.25 60 time.

Round 5:

Jackson: Bryan Reynolds – WR

  • Jackson Notes: Bryan has some wheels, and he’s prototypical receiver size at 6’2, 195 pounds. He’s a guy who I trust to catch the ball and make plays in space, so this is an exciting player to get in the fifth round.
  • Andrew Notes: Probably would’ve been drafted sooner, but his moustache tool graded out as a 30 on the 20 to 80 scale and scouts were concerned it would keep him from reaching his full potential.
  • Ben Notes: How did Bryan last this long in the draft? He’s got size and speed and actually catches balls in baseball.

Andrew: Kyle Smith – LB

  • Andrew Notes: Serious size at 6’3” 220lbs, solid speed, and he’s strong like bull. Sure, I’ll slot him in at LB.
  • Ben Notes: Kyle would’ve been great for tight end or linebacker. I hope is defense in football is better than his defense in baseball, though.
  • Jackson Notes: Big dude, seems like a fit at linebacker.

Ben: Walker Buehler – QB

  • Ben Notes: Walker gets the edge over Carson Fulmer at quarterback for me because he has a couple inches on Carson, and I feel like as he fills out his 160-pound frame, he may gain a little more arm strength. He’s definitely going to be a pocket passer with a 7.65 60 time (!!!!), but I’m not too worried with his arm and my first couple picks on offense.
  • Jackson Notes: I’m surprised Walker lasted this long. Has a huge arm and his favorite TV shows are The League and Blue Mountain State, so you know he can ball.
  • Andrew Notes: His big arm and thin frame reminds me a lot of Wade Freebeck, who you may recognize as a recurring contestant on Karl Dorrell’s Musical Quarterbacks. The show got terrible ratings and has since been canceled. Can you tell I’m still bitter?

Round 6:

Ben: Penn Murfee – WR

  • Ben Notes: Penn hasn’t gotten to see much of the field yet in baseball, but he’s got a great size-speed combination at 6’2” and a 6.74 60 time (fourth fastest on the team among those listed). That’s about all I know about Penn to be honest.
  • Jackson Notes: Apparently everyone in his family is a competitive swimmer. I don’t know how well that’s going to translate to football, considering it’s played on land.
  • Andrew Notes: What is a Penn Murfee?

Andrew: Ben Bowden – TE

  • Andrew Notes: He has good size for a TE, and he played PF for his high school basketball team so I presume he’s got a halfway-decent vertical and can go up and make plays in traffic.
  • Ben Notes: Great size at 6’4” 220, which should play well at tight end. He was also the Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts for Baseball, so that’s cool.
  • Jackson Notes: Ben Bowden is a rock-solid name for a tight end. Not quite Heath Miller good, but definitely up there.

Jackson: Aubrey McCarty – QB

  • Jackson Notes: My insane offensive plan has finally played out to perfection. McCarty is notable for being ambidextrous, a skill I will use to full effect as my quarterback. He’s going to be rolling out to both sides, adding a great wrinkle to our hurry-up spread scheme. He also went to Colquitt County High School in south Georgia, which is coached by Rush Probst (of Two-A-Days fame) and is currently the No. 3 high school team in the country. Go Packers.
  • Andrew Notes: Damn, I wanted McCarty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ambidextrous QB, and I would be so interested to see how it would work in the right scheme.
  • Ben Notes: No surprise Jackson, a fellow ambidextrous athlete*, takes McCarty.
  • Jackson Note #2: Not sure I like your tone there, Ben.

Round 7:

Jackson: Tyler Campbell – DB

  • Jackson Notes: Great size, great speed, dad is a professional wrestler. Tyler is basically the ideal free safety.
  • Andrew Notes: I honestly thought someone was going to pick him as their kicker. Not a knock on his athleticism, but he claims that riding a unicycle is his most unique talent, and that just strikes me as something a kicker would do.
  • Ben Notes: I have nothing bad to say about the College World Series hero.

Andrew: Nolan Rogers – WR

  • Andrew Notes: Wes Welker, welcome aboard.
  • Jackson Notes: There’s only ever been one NFL wide receiver ever with Nolan as a first name, and he caught just one pass in his career. What a terrible pick, Andrew.
  • Ben Notes: I debated for a long time between Rogers (to play either DB or wide receiver) and Murfee. I think I got the better athlete, but I could also see Rogers as a great slot receiver. Also, let it be known that Andrew took Kyle Wright first before switching his pick before I could swipe up Rogers.

Ben: Carson Fulmer – DB

  • Ben Notes: I don’t know if Carson fits well at any one position, since he’s a little short for quarterback at 5’11”, but he’s a high-energy guy, which makes me see him as a great safety.
  • Andrew Notes: Thank you for saving him from being a kicker, where he could’ve probably made field goals from 70 yards but would’ve lasted one made extra point or field goal before vigorously celebrating and pulling a Bill Gramatica.
  • Jackson Notes: I was definitely going to draft him as a kicker.

Round 8:

Ben: Kyle Wright – TE

  • Ben Notes: I couldn’t land Tyler Green, so I’ll settle for Kyle Wright as my second tight end. X will enjoy the extra blocking with the two-tight end sets, and Kyle may actually be a very good receiver with his size (6’4” 200) and speed (he ran track in high school). Plus even though he didn’t play football in high school, the fact that he’s from Alabama must help in some way.
  • Andrew Notes: In case you didn’t hear it enough during the CWS run last year: *Aaron Boone says something about Tim Corbin’s affinity for recruiting ultra-athletic guys*
  • Jackson Notes: Two tight ends? Looks like Ben is setting up a nasty-big power run game.

Andrew: Hayden Stone – K

  • Andrew Notes: Special teams are hugely important, and I probably gave more thought to this pick than any other, so bear with me. Relievers are like kickers: they’re an afterthought until late in the game, at which point they need to have nerves of steel because they know that “holy crap the outcome of this game and our season comes down to this.” Relievers also have a lot of time on their hands to develop eccentricities and amuse themselves by becoming good at random things…perhaps like kicking field goals. Don’t believe me? Last year, Adam Ravenelle excelled as Vanderbilt’s closer late in the season. He was also nearly perfect in mid-inning shenanigans field goal attempts, including this clutch kick at the CWS. Hayden is a prime candidate to take over in the 9th inning from the Ravenelle/Brian Miller duo, so he’s the clear choice at kicker.
  • Jackson Notes: Again, I was going to draft him at kicker. Relief pitchers are the specials teams players of baseball.
  • Ben Notes: Maybe Andrew figured out the new market inefficiency: drafting kickers before the last round.

Jackson: Liam Sabino – K

  • Jackson Notes: Y’all took both my kickers, so I resorted to Sabino — whose mom is from Brazil. I understand that I’m stereotyping here, but that seems like a safe bet for an average at worst kicker.
  • Andrew Notes: As long as you have a reason, who am I to judge?
  • Ben Notes: I’m very glad we’re breaking stereotypes here and drafting a non-white kicker.

Round 9:

Jackson: Karl Ellison – ATH

  • Jackson Notes: From the same city in Florida as Tim Tebow. Can you say intangibles? Much like Tebow, he’s probably best-suited to play tight end. HEYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOO.
  • Andrew Notes: Are those similar to Lunchables?
  • Ben Notes: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Andrew: Jason Delay – QB

  • Andrew Notes: Catchers have good arms, are tough as nails, and they’re basically an extension of the coaching staff on the field, which is precisely why I want a catcher to be my quarterback. Plus, Jason claims to be good at solving Rubix Cubes. If there’s anybody on this team I’d trust to decipher a defense, make good adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and quickly get the ball to my speedy playmakers in space, it’s him.
  • Ben Notes: I was kind of hoping to get Delay with my final pick since all the pitchers love him, and somehow my team is made up of mostly pitchers.
  • Jackson Notes: I’d laugh at you for drafting a catcher, but I just took one as an Athlete. So, uh, shit…

Ben: John Kilichowski – K

  • Ben Notes: Look, he’s lefty, and his name sounds close enough to Sebastian Janikowski that I think I might have just gotten the steal of the draft.
  • Andrew Notes: I wonder what John would look like sporting the signature Janikowski goatee-and-shaved-head look to complete the resemblance…probably equally terrifying.
  • Jackson Notes: Sure.

Team Rosters

Ben Andrew Jackson
QB: Walker Buehler QB: Jason Delay QB: Aubrey McCarty
RB: Xavier Turner RB: Jeren Kendall RB: Ro Coleman
WR: Jordan Sheffield RB/WR: Drake Parker WR: Dansby Swanson
WR: Penn Murfee WR: Rhett Wiseman WR: Bryan Reynolds
TE: Tyler Ferguson WR: Nolan Rogers TE: Tyler Green
TE: Kyle Wright TE: Ben Bowden TE: Karl Ellison
LB: Joey Mundy LB: Kyle Smith LB: Zander Wiel
DB: Carson Fulmer DB: Will Toffey DB: Tyler Campbell
K: John Kilichowski K: Hayden Stone K: Liam Sabino

Team Writeups:


At first, I was torn between a John Donovan-style offense and a Karl Dorrell-style offense, but after heavy consideration, I think I’ll choose a different path. I know this is college, but I’m going to base my offense off an improved 2003/04 Panthers squad. Much of my offense will revolve around giving the rock to Xavier Turner, who is built like an absolute workhorse (think Stephen Davis). Although pistol was little used back in the day, I could also see Jordan Sheffield (Steve Smith) set up in the backfield for a little pistol formation, which could get really creative since he’s a more-than-capable passer.

My main strategy in drafting was to take the best athletes who played football (Sheffield and Turner) and then grabbed a lot of size. Penn Murfee (Muhsin Muhammad) isn’t a burner, but he’s fast enough to cause matchup problems against defensive backs. Where this team gets fun is with the tight ends, who come in at 6’3” and 6’4”. The Panthers didn’t really have any good tight ends on their Super Bowl run, but Walker Buehler (good Jake Delhomme) may have his own Wesley Walls and Greg Olsen to work with in Tyler Ferguson and Kyle Wright.

Defensively, I’ve always been a proponent of a modified 3-4, which will play into my hands, since I’ll have as many Joey Mundy’s on defense as possible.

Much like the mid-2000s Steelers, there will be plenty of room in the playbook for gadget plays. The more times we get the ball in Sheffield’s hands the better. But we’ve also got a workhorse back, size, and very good athletes. I’m more than happy to just run it down your throat with Jerome Bettis.


I normally have a strong distaste for Pac 12 football, but there’s something captivating about watching Oregon boat-race people every week. My team is built with similar ideologies and boy will they put points on the board as games turn into a track meet. Speed is a killer, and that’s our biggest weapon. The 2011 Oregon team with LaMichael James at Halfback (Jeren Kendall), Kenjon Barner as the Slotback (Drake Parker), and De’Anthony Thomas at WR1 (Rhett Wiseman) is probably a good comparison for my squad, but I ended up with a QB in Delay who is not as fleet of foot as Darron Thomas was (update: as of 2013 Delay was clocked at 6.99s in the 60, which isn’t bad). That being said, I bet Delay would add a tough, physical element as a ball-carrier, perhaps closer to the Dak Prescott mold in that regard.

Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t find many wildcat formations, multiple QB sets, or exotic gadget plays here. We’re going to push the pace, force opponents to cover the entire width of the field, and test the stretched-out defense’s ability to make solo tackles in space. The offense will be slightly pass-heavy, so you can expect a lot of mid-range throws to generate yards after the catch, a healthy amount of pre-snap motion, a moving launch point to keep defenses guessing, and a variety of creative screens. Our personnel will make it tough to pound the ball up the middle consistently, so in the run game you’ll see a lot of zone-blocking, misdirection, and backs who are very active catching balls on both swing passes and wheel routes.

On a random note, I like Oregon’s option plays with a flared-out slotback, so we’ll do that a bunch. Why? Because this is my baseball-turned-football team dammit. Just like this.

On defense, we’ll play a base 4-2-5 like Gary Patterson’s TCU team to take advantage of our athletic, physical secondary which consists of 5 Will Toffey clones. We only drafted two players on defense, so that’s plenty of defensive scheming.


I come from the (gag) Urban Meyer school of thought when it comes to offenses — get the ball in your playmakers hands and give them a chance to make plays. That means I took a bunch of athletes who can line up in multiple positions and get the ball in different ways. We’ll utilize spread formations to get one-on-one matchups in space and terrorize the defense by mixing the run and the pass effectively. The closest current college offense to my ideal philosophy is probably Baylor — a team that uses the run to open up deep passes and especially leans on read-options and playaction passes to force the defense into leaving open space. We’ll definitely play an up-tempo style because I don’t think anyone else has the athletes to match up with my team.

Expect multiple guys to throw the ball on this team. We’re going to creatively use our ambidextrous quarterback to create extra separation and maximize the effectiveness of pop passes (a read-option that has the quarterback throw a pass instead of running if the receiver is uncovered). Dansby will also be taking snaps at quarterback — calling this the Wildcat is disingenuous because he has just as good an arm as our quarterback.

Deception is key in keeping a defense off-balance. Between the option plays, pop passes, playaction, six trick plays per game and our (listed height) 5’5” running back, I want the defense to not know where the ball is half the time. You can’t stop what you can’t see.

As for the defense, well, much like Bill Murray: I don’t play defense.

Categories: College Baseball, College Football | Leave a comment

Week 12 NFL Picks – A True American Hero

This is my first NFL picks column in three weeks because, well, I’ve been pretty lazy/busy. In the mean time, I’ve been 21-20 and made 110 apples, so I’m finally no longer in debt! I’m really starting to catch the hint that I should stop posting weekly picks if I want to pick well… does that mean I’m overthinking things when I write about each game?

Too late now, I’m writing this intro last.

As always, home teams are in CAPS, and here’s a run through of each section:

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games are worth 5 apples.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games are worth 10 apples.

KFC Double Down Games are worth 20 apples.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week is worth 50 apples.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

Titans (+11) over EAGLES
Yes, the Titans are second-to-last in the league in rush defense going up against one of the best rush attacks in the league, but I’m not about to give away double digit points to a team that lost by 33 last week.

COLTS (-14) over Jaguars
Here is a running list of things better than the Jaguars:
1. Florida men’s ability to not act like a Floridian
2. Brandon Knight’s clutch gene
3. Missouri High School principals
4. Cam Newton’s actually tweeting compared to his hacked tweeting
5. These Ice Bucket Challenges
6. Lance Stephenson’s ability to avoid cameras
7. Lance Stephenson’s rapping ability
8. Lance Stephenson’s ability not show off after a game-winner
9. Lance Stephenson’s accuracy slapping other people
10. Lance Stephenson’s accuracy slapping other people (on second thought this is pretty on point)

Rams (+4.5) over CHARGERS
After starting 5-1, it seems the Chargers have remembered their skill position players are Donald Brown, Branden Oliver, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, and Keenan Allen.

NINERS (-9) over Injuns
With all this hubbub about benching RG3 for Kirk Cousins, Cousins turning out to be so bad he needed to be benched for Colt McCoy, and RG3 coming back and playing badly off the injury, you know Dan Snyder is going to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.

SAINTS (-3.5) over Ravens
Obviously this isn’t the same Saints team as old, but I just can’t see them losing three straight home games, especially in prime time. Hope that fifth round pick they got for Darren Sproles was worth it.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Browns (+3) over FALCONS
What a weird world we live in that the Browns are good and the Falcons are bad.

Jets (+3.5) over BILLS
This game isn’t going to be played in Buffalo because there’s too much snow and probably just shouldn’t be played at all to save us from three hours of awful football. Without a doubt the Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week.

Cardinals (+6.5) over SEAHAWKS
Serious question: Kurt Warner couldn’t be that much worse than Drew Stanton at this point, right?

BRONCOS (-7) over Dolphins
The great thing about picking Peyton Manning minus a big spread is that even if they lose, like last week against 9.5-point underdog Rams by 15, I’ll still be happy no matter what.

KFC Double Down Games:

Chiefs (-7) over RAIDERS
It’s honest-to-God sad to watch the Raiders. That’s all.

BEARS (-6) over Buccaneers
So this Marc Trestman experiment isn’t going very well. After starting 3-0 last year, the second-year head coach is now 9-14 and has adopted a baby to save his relationship with the team.

Packers (-9.5) over VIKINGS
After looking at the way Minnesota plays without Adrian Peterson, do you think he deserves the title Most Valuable Player?

Bengals (+1.5) over TEXANS
The Texans are 5-5 with wins against Washington, Oakland, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Cleveland. Color me completely unimpressed.


When you think of the Patriots, think of those actual patriots in 1776 or Captain America.

Cowboys (-3.5) over GIANTS
I think I’m picking against the Giants every week @turntuptina doesn’t make picks for me just to spite her.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week:

PATRIOTS (-7) over Lions
A vote for the Patriots is a vote for America.

Overall Record: 79-77-4

Last Week: 7-7

Apple Total: 5

Apple Total Last Week: 0

Categories: NFL | Leave a comment

Week 9 NFL Picks – Johnny Halloween

No intro this week.

As always, home teams are no CAPS, and here are explanations for each of the officially unofficial sponsored sections of picks I have.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games are worth 5 apples.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games are worth 10 apples.

KFC Double Down Games are worth 20 apples.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week is worth 50 apples.

Happy Halloween, Cleveland!

Happy Halloween, Cleveland!

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

BROWNS (-6.5) over Buccaneers
Even if Brian Hoyer continues to play horribly, there’s no way Johnny Football will be in any condition to play after Halloweekend.

Cardinals (+3.5) over COWBOYS
Did you know that the Cardinals have a two game lead over the rest of the NFC West? Yes, they haven’t played Seattle yet, but they took care of San Francisco, Philadelphia, and San Diego. Give them a little more credit than worse-than-a-field-goal underdogs.

Rams (+10) over NINERS
What ever happened to Vernon Davis? He’s been banged up a bit, but he only has 34 catches on the year (34th among tight ends) for 142 yards (33rd). Really I’m just grumpy because my main fantasy team is 6th out of 12 in scoring yet somehow 0-8.

PATRIOTS (+3) over Broncos
I’ll probably miss this one, but I’ll be damned if I pick against Tom Brady at home against Peyton Manning and give up points.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

PANTHERS (+3) over Saints
The Saints are second-to-last in the NFL in pass defense, so expect Cam Newton to put on a bigger show tonight than either LeBron or Jameis.

BENGALS (-11) over Jaguars
Here is a running list of things better than the Jaguars:
1. The New Orleans Pelicans’ acting
2. Lamarr Houston’s dancing
3. That weird rendition of God Bless America last night
4. Wrecking Ball in G-Major
5. Danny Green’s social media acumen
6. Dirk Nowitzki’s drunk uncle impression
7. Dirk Nowitzki’s taser victim impression
8. Dirk Nowitzki’s impression of a student asking a question
9. Dirk Nowitzki’s dizzy zombie impression
10. Dirk Nowtizki’s impression of a dying and dead swan (you know what, just go watch the whole video)

Chargers (+2.5) over DOLPHINS
The Dolphins only beat the Jaguars by 14 last week, so I’ll count that one as a moral loss.

Ravens (-1.5) over STEELERS
Last week, Ben Roethlisberger was 40-49 for 522 yards with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions or sacks and got a 99.0 QBR. What on Earth do you need to do to get a 100? Or even a 99.5?

KFC Double Down Games:

Eagles (-2) over TEXANS
I’m afraid the Texans may have gone the way of the Cardinals when J.J. Watt said Zach Mettenberger disrespected the game by taking selfies. Guess I can’t pick them or root for them anymore.

Injuns (+1) over VIKINGS
Nine weeks into the season, it’s time to welcome back the Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week!

CHIEFS (-9.5) over Jets
Serious question: how much longer of a leash does Rex Ryan get? He hasn’t been good for 5 seasons and has the team looking like a laughing stock while still running his mouth.

Raiders (+15) over SEAHAWKS
Don’t call me crazy yet… the Raiders will probably be down 21 before scoring a garbage time touchdown with a minute left against the Seahawks third string secondary. Or, alternatively, Seattle hasn’t won a game by more than 10 points since Week 1.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Lock o’ the Week:

Colts (-3) over GIANTS
If you’re wondering why I’m already in debt triple digit fruit, it’s because I keep missing these locks o’ the week. Like the Colts (-3.5) over the Steelers last week. So here is Andrew Luck’s one shot at redemption in my heart.

Overall Record: 58-58-4

Last Week: 7-8

Apple Total: -105

Apple Total Last Week: -75

Categories: NFL | 1 Comment

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