Top 10 Bowls I’m Looking Forward To (plus predictions!)

Well, with NCAA Football’s regular season over, it’s time to look forward to Bowlmania. But with so many bowls – 35 in all – which ones are the most I’m looking forward to?

Well, I’m going to present my top 10 bowl games to look forward to. Now myself, I think of myself as a hardcore college football fan, so there will likely be a few games on this list that some may think, “Really, you want to watch a bowl game between these two teams instead of these?”

10.) Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl – December 31 – Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7)

You’d think a battle between two mediocre teams wouldn’t be that interesting, right? But what makes this matchup interesting is that both of them have recently fired their head coaches after such a mixed bag.

Ron Zook began the season 6-0, including a win over then-#22 Arizona State. But the team couldn’t manage another win afterwards, and capped off the season with a loss to the lowly Golden Gophers of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, at UCLA, Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins managed to make it to the first Pac-12 Championship game, due to USC facing sanctions and the rest of the Pac-12 South being horrible. They did beat California and Arizona State, but also lost to Arizona, Utah, and were thrashed by USC 50-0.

However, both teams have had highlights of brilliance. Illinois has a great defense, ranked 21st in points allowed (including limiting Penn State to 10 points, and Ohio State to 17). Though their sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is nothing stellar, they do have a quality receiver in senior A.J. Jenkins, who should get some looks within the middle of the 2012 NFL Draft.

UCLA’s QB situation isn’t particularly well either, but they do have a good rushing attack, with sophomore Johnathan Franklin providing the speed and Derrick Coleman providing power. However, unlike Illinois, they lack the stopping power that the Fighting Illini has shown.

Predictions: Illinois 24, UCLA 10. Neither team has the momentum going in this match, but the Fighting Illini have the better defense, and thus, should get the win.

For all the problems the Fighting Illini have had, their defense has not been one of them.

9.) Gildan New Mexico Bowl – December 20 – Temple (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-4)

Wait a moment. Temple and Wyoming? A matchup between a former Big East dropout and a Mountain West afterthought in a game in New Mexico is considered exciting?

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. The first game of Bowlmania kicks off between two teams that are big on the running backs.

Temple averages 256.7 rushing yards per game, good for 7th in the nation, and is headlined by Bernard Pierce, another player who should some warrant looks in the 2012 Draft. They also post a great defense, 3rd in points scored; some people will question as to how good their D really is, when you’re facing opponents like Akron and Buffalo. However, they did limit Penn State to just 14 in a loss, and crushed Maryland 38-7.

Wyoming finished 8-4, but of their four losses, three of them came against quality opponents in Nebraska, TCU, and Boise State (the fourth loss against Utah State). Wyoming’s rushing attack, while not as great as Temple’s, they do average 185.1 rushing yards a game, good for 31st in the nation. The rest of their team is middle-of-the-road; not great, but not bad either. The main problem for the Cowboys is that they allow running backs rush for too many yards, which Temple will try to capitalize on.

Prediction: Temple 30, Wyoming 20. The only way the Cowboys have a shot at winning this is to stop Bernard Pierce and force the Owls to pass (ranked 117th out of 120th). However, I think Pierce will be too explosive and will exploit them handily.

He may play for Temple, but I think Bernard Pierce has the ability to play in the NFL.

8.) Pinstripe Bowl – December 30 – Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6)

Yeah, I’m a bit biased on this one, because of Rutgers. When I’m home in New Jersey, I’m literally minutes away from both the campus and Highpoint Solutions Stadium. Ah, Rutgers, I remember the days in the late ’90s, when as a Cub Scout, I would watch the Scarlet Knights get pummeled by teams like Tulane and Prairie View A&M…

But under the coaching of Greg Schiano, he’s turned this program around the past decade, and they’re going to their sixth bowl game in 7 seasons (they missed last year, going 4-8). They had a shot of claiming a share of their first-ever Big East championship, but were beaten by Connecticut, another team I’ve had the chance to see live the past couple of years.

But anyway, enough of my Rutgers bias. There are still a number of reasons why I like this bowl game. First thing is the bowl itself. It’s only one of two bowls in the Northeast (the other being the Military Bowl in Washington D.C.), something of which I think should be changed; do we really need so many bowl games in Florida? It’s also located in the new Yankee Stadium, an interesting place to play in; the old Yankee Stadium had its share of historic football games, particularly between Notre Dame and Army. Mmmmm, nostalgia.

Lets talk about the teams though. The big positive about Rutgers is that they have an underrated defense. Outside of West Virginia and UConn, they haven’t allowed a whole bunch of points, and all of their losses – again, except UConn, were relatively close (North Carolina by 2, Louisville by 2, West Virginia by 10); the Scarlet Knights can at least say, they play competitive football. The other big positive is that have junior receiver, Mohamed Sanu, who set a Big East single-season record in receptions, with 109. Sanu has great speed and hands, he could become the next Kenny Britt (who, coincidentally enough, also played for Rutgers)! However, the Scarlet Knights have two problems. One, is they commit too many stupid turnovers (again, providing the UConn game as an example). Two, is their QB situation; sophomore Chas Dodd and true freshman Gary Nova both have the ability to start, but they also have the tendency to make poor throws. My guess is they’ll go with Nova, as his statistics are just slightly better than Dodd’s.

Meanwhile, for Iowa State, they’ve had an up-and-down year. They began the season 3-0, including a win over Iowa. They then suffered a four-game losing streak, followed by a yet another three-game winning streak, including wins over Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. They lost the final two games against Oklahoma and Kansas State. Like Rutgers, their QB situation is a mystery. The awesomely named Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett are both capable of starting, but like Rutgers, it’s difficult to say who will. My money is on Barnett, who is able to run with the football, as well. They have decent depth at receiver position; there’s no one big option, as the ball is spread out more, though senior Darius Reynolds would be their number one. Interesting thing to note with Iowa State is how they go about winning/losing games. When they win, they’re very close; four of their six wins were decided by four or fewer points, and the game against Oklahoma State went to double overtime. When they lose, however, it’s big; 52-17 to Missouri, 49-26 to Baylor, and 26-6 to Oklahoma. Ouch.

Prediction: Rutgers 24, Iowa State 13. With that being said, Iowa State is an underrated team and should not be taken lightly; they are a Big 12 team that beat two top-20 nationally ranked teams. However, Rutgers has a tough defense, UConn game notwithstanding. Plus, playing at Yankee Stadium will be like a home game for them, and they have already played there once before (earlier in the season against Army). Sorry, Cyclone fans, my money’s on Rutgers.

Mohamed Sanu has been a big part of Rutgers' success and will be the key player against Iowa State.

7.) TicketCity Bowl – January 2 – #19 Houston (12-1) vs. #22 Penn State (9-3)

Provided you have ESPN U or ESPN3.com, this match should be a good showcase of great offense (Houston) vs. great defense (Penn State).

Houston had a shot of earning a BCS at-large bid, but failed to do so after losing the C-USA Conference Championship to Southern Miss last week. That loss aside, Houston has the ability to score like no other team in the nation. They average more than 50 points a game, and have scored no less than 28 points during the regular season (and that was in their loss to S. Miss). This team is led by the arm of Case Keenum, who now has just about every career passing record you could possibly get. Though he’s a sixth-year, he should still get a lot of looks in this year’s draft. Say what you will about him playing for Houston and a weak conference, he’s accurate and throws for a lot of touchdowns; I don’t care who your competition is, but when you can throw 9 touchdowns in a SINGLE game, you have talent (vs. Rice).

As for Penn State, I thought they deserved a better bowl than this, considering their season was not only marred by the Sandusky scandal, but they played, as usual in the Big 10, a tough in-conference schedule, along with having to face Alabama. Despite all of this, they still managed to win a share of the Leaders division of the Big 10.  I was expecting this team to break down, but they still managed to play with a lot of heart. I give them a lot of credit. The Nittany Lions win games through defense. They’re not flashy and their offense is not particularly great but they get the job done. Senior defensive tackle Devon Still and junior linebacker Gerald Hodges are their two best guys, and boy, can these two pound offensive lines and tackle.

Prediction: Houston 30, Penn State 22. Originally, I thought that the loss against Southern Miss will demoralize them for this game. And I highly doubt Houston will score 40-50 points plus against a defense like Penn State’s, but I still think Case Keenum and the Houston offense will still be too much for them to handle.

Case Keenum: Is there anything this guy can't accomplish?

6.) TaxSlayer Gator Bowl – December 2 – Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6)

Let’s be honest. Were it between any other teams, this matchup probably wouldn’t happen. A January matchup between two 6-6 teams, surely you jest? Somehow though, the stars were perfectly aligned; Urban Meyer’s former team vs. the team Urban Meyer will coach next year. Yeah, Meyer isn’t even coaching in this game, but he will be talked about. And a close bout should be expected in this one.

No team, I feel, deserves an excuse for mediocrity, but if I had to give a benefit of the doubt to some team, it would have to be the Buckeyes. Despite loss of scholarships, despite having a first-year head coach in Luke Fickell – who I hope will still get a head coaching job in the near future, because he does deserve it -, despite injuries, they still managed a .500 record. Yes, the lost to Purdue was ugly and the one against Michigan State was even more atrocious, but they did manage to beat Wisconsin and put up a heck of a fight against the much-improved Michigan. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is not very accurate, but has the ability to run with the football, and is the key component of this offense.

Florida has less of an excuse though. They hired Texas defensive coordinator and long-time coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp to be their head coach. Charlie Weis provided as their offensive coordinator. People were expecting to great things to come out of this team, myself included. Boy, were we all wrong. The defense was certainly there, but the offense wasn’t. The Gators’ season began on a four-game winning streak, though they were against three cupcake teams and Tennessee, which currently is a shell of its former glory. Then, they faced Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and lost to all of them. They barely beat an improved but still building Vanderbilt, lost to a Marcus Lattimore-less South Carolina, and lost to in-state rival Florida State. Senior QB John Brantley improved in his second post-Tebow year, but was still susceptible to bad judgment and continued to face a struggling offensive line, which is something that the Gators should look at in recruiting. I like sophomore safety Mike Elam; though small, he is not only capable of breaking up plays, but is also capable of sneaking into his opponent’s backfield and tackling for losses; I look forward to seeing what he’ll do next year. Sophomore defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell is another player that deserves positive feedback; a 5-star prospect out of California, he has certainly lived up to his hype so far.

Prediction: Florida 14, Ohio State 13. This game will be an ugly, low-scoring game. But part of what makes this is an exciting game to watch is to see how ugly both teams will play on offense. Turnovers almost feel like a given in this one, and the game may just come down to which team is capable of capitalizing on them. That said, I think Florida gets the notch.

He's not even coaching this gave, but expect to see Urban Meyer's face to appear on television at least a dozen times.

5.) BCS National Championship – January 9 – #2 Alabama vs. #1 LSU

Like most people who are not from the Southeast, I didn’t want this to matchup to happen. I’m not a fan of rematches when it comes to bowl games or championships, and felt that Oklahoma State – with their high-powered offense – was more deserving of the #2 spot, despite the loss to Iowa State (which, by the way, they played on the road, on the night tragedy struck for the university). However, despite that, Round 2 between LSU and Alabama should be a good one, though TV ratings may say otherwise.

As we have seen from both teams, their defenses speak more than anything else, but that’s not to say these teams don’t have anything on offense.

Alabama has Trent Richardson, one of the top running backs in the nation and a Heisman finalist. But there’s more to the Crimson Tide than just him. How about their quarterback, A.J. McCarron? Quietly, the 6’4″ sophomore has had a pretty good season, completing roughly 2/3 of his passes for 2400 yards and 16 touchdowns.

LSU, meanwhile, has scored 30+ points in all but two of their games (Mississippi State and Alabama). Both senior quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson weren’t much of factor in the first game (Lee was 3-of-7 for 24 yards, 2 interceptions; Jefferson was 6-of-10 for 67 yards) against Alabama. Jefferson played in the SEC Championship, not Lee, and did better statistically in their first game, so my money’s on Jefferson starting. LSU, also has an effective two-back system in place though; sophomores Michael Ford and Spencer Ware both had 700+ rushing yard season, and will prove to be a nuisance once more in this game.

Prediction: LSU 13, Alabama 10. I can just picture it now… Crimson Tide will attempt to win with under two minutes to go. McCarron will throw it deep, only for the “Honey Badger” himself (and Heisman finalist), Tyrann Mathieu, to make the interception and seal the game.

Les Miles and Nick Saban: Two of the best coaches in college football, leading two of the best defenses in the nation. Non-SEC fans will groan, but the matchup should still be a good one.

4.) AT&T Cotton Bowl – January 6 – #8 Kansas State vs. #6 Arkansas

I’ve been a fan of college football for a long time now. I’ve watched every Cotton Bowl since 1998 and enjoyed all of them (with the exception of 2005; Tennessee vs. Texas A&M). It’s a classic that dates back to the 1930s, features a Big 12 vs. SEC matchup, and is in a venue that seats 105,000+. It’s a game that should be considered as a BCS matchup, but due to ESPN’s television contract, it won’t happen… for now at least.

What can you say about Kansas State? Under the coaching of Bill Snyder, the Wildcats finished second in the Big 12, with losses to only Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Their defense is considered to be about average at best; then again, they did face against teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, and won a 53-50, 4OT game against Texas A&M, so maybe they deserve some more credit. The big weapon the Wildcats have on offense is junior quarterback Collin Klein. You think guys like Cam Newton and/or Tim Tebow are something? You haven’t seen this kid. He had just 12 passing touchdowns this season, but also had 26 rushing touchdowns in this season. Wow! Did I forget to mention that the 6’5″ Klein does special teams too? Yeah, this kid can fly.

But Arkansas has noteworthy guys as well. With all the talk about QBs like Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Kellen Moore, Case Keenum, Russell Wilson, Brandon Weeden, and Robert Griffin III, it seems that the Razorbacks’ Tyler Wilson gets lost in the shuffle. Despite playing for the SEC, he has the 21st best passer rating in the nation, threw for 3422 yards(15th in the nation), and 22 touchdowns. He also set a record for most passing attempts without an interception (184). Like Alabama and LSU, they have a good defense, as well (though obviously to a lesser extent). Linebackers Jerry Franklin and Alonzo Highsmith are two guys I would watch for in this matchup.

Prediction: Kansas State 30, Arkansas 24. Bill Snyder has worked miracles for this program, but the Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game since the 2002 Holiday Bowl. It’s about time they won one, right? I believe Klein will work around this Razorbacks’ D, either by air or by ground. Wilson will put up great numbers too, but I think will underperform when they need him most.

Bill Snyder may be 72 years old, but he always finds a way to make this Kansas State team better than expected.

3.) Outback Bowl – January 2 – #17 Michigan State (10-3) vs. #16 Georgia (10-3)

A battle between Big 10 and SEC Championship runner-ups, the Outback Bowl should pose as a good matchup between teams that have relatively balanced offenses.

Michigan State has senior Kirk Cousins as their quarterback, who should be known for more than just that hail mary touchdown pass in the first contest against Wisconsin. Like Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, he’s had a mostly quiet season, throwing for more than 3000 yards. He doesn’t throw too many deep passes, but he is an accurate quarterback. Running backs LeVeon Bell and Edwin Baker had nearly the same amount of carries (Bell had 165, Baker had 164) this season, although Bell has amassed 245 more rushing yards, and 6 more touchdowns. Bell is big for a running back; he’s 6’2″ and weighs 237 pounds. He pounds you through the middle, and likes it that way. However, the best weapon this team has on offense is their senior receiver, B.J. Cunningham. He made big waves late in the season, grabbing 9 touchdowns over the last 4 games, including three in the conference championship game against Wisconsin.

Georgia’s QB, sophomore Aaron Murray, also had a quiet season. Though a little small for QB (he’s 6’1″) and not as accurate as Cousins, he did throw for 33 touchdowns. However, the player I’ll be watching in this game is true freshman RB Isaiah Crowell. Despite not playing in two games and the competition he has on the depth chart, he still amassed for 847 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. Given more playing time and carries, I think he could be a force to reckon with in the SEC for the next year or two.

Prediction: Georgia 28, Michigan State 24. Mark Dantonio has done a great job with this Michigan State program since taking over in 2007, but he has yet to win a bowl game in his tenure so far, including a loss to Georgia in the 2009 Capital One Bowl, and a 45-9 schlacking against Alabama in last season’s Outback Bowl. I think Cousins will put up decent numbers in what should be the final game of his collegiate career, but Georgia’s Murray will end up being the hero in this one.

Aaron Murray is a very underrated QB, yet I believe he'll put up numbers against Michigan State.

2.) Rose Bowl – January 2 – #10 Wisconsin (11-2) vs. #5 Oregon (11-2)

Do you like running backs? If so, you’re going to love this matchup. These are two teams that love to score and love using their pro-potential running backs.

Let me talk about Wisconsin’s Montee Ball for a bit. A lot of people are talking about how Richardson has more pro potential and is more of a Heisman candidate, but not only can you not take away Ball’s stats – 1759 rushing yards, 32 rushing touchdowns, plus 6 receiving touchdowns (his 38 total touchdowns is one behind the single-season TD record, which was accomplished by none other than Barry Sanders) but I find him a more dynamically exciting player. No matter who the competition is, Ball finds a way to get into the end zone. An easy 1st-round draft pick, no doubt. But wait, there’s more! Wisconsin also boasts a solid quaterback with Russell Wilson and one of the top defenses in the nation. Junior linebacker Chris Borland, though a bit small, is a tackling machine. Senior DB Antonio Fenelus is another solid player, who is capable of getting interceptions.

Oregon, meanwhile, also has a decent defense, though nowhere near the level Wisconsin plays. Instead, they like to light up the scoreboard, and it all starts with LaMichael James. This kid has speed, speed, and even more speed. I’m sure some pro teams will be wary of his past conduct, but don’t let that take away the talent he possesses. Junior QB Darron Thomas is a solid talent, as well. Thought not a prolific passer, he did throw for nearly 2500 yards, and 30 touchdowns. But what keeps James and Thomas perform so well is their great O-line. One, in particular, is senior right tackle Mark Asper; he has the size (6’7″, 325 pounds) and the strength (he led offensive linemen with a 500-pound squat during winter conditioning) to prevent incoming defenders from getting in the backfield.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 42. Forget about how Oregon performed against LSU, that was Week 1 and have been much better since. It’s going to be a real test for the Oregon O-line, as they face against the Badgers’ D. My original prediction was going to be the Badgers winning by 10, thanks to Montee Ball. However, I almost forgot about James’ speed, and I think that will be the biggest factor as to who wins this game.

Contrary to popular belief, I think Montee Ball is a better candidate for the Heisman than Trent Richardson.

1.) Fiesta Bowl – January 2 – #4 Stanford (11-1) vs. #3 Oklahoma State (11-1)

Or as I like to call it, the “Consolation Bowl.” With that said, this will be the best game of Bowlmania, in my personal opinion. Now normally, I like good defensive matchups, but when you have the high-powered offenses that these two teams possess, you might well as throw that out the door now and enjoy it. Look forward to seeing Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck throw the ball everywhere across the field.

Speaking of Brandon Weeden, there might not be a better quarterback-wide receiver duo than Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. I love watching these two perform, they simply gel together, and Blackmon should be a clear top-10 draft pick. Blackmon is such a dynamic, go-to guy; he’s had at least 50 yards and 6 receptions in every game this season. And you know what? That wasn’t even his best season; take a look at last year’s performance, where he had 20 receiving touchdowns. Oklahoma State also boasts a quality running back in Joseph Randle. Don’t overlook this sophomore, he had nearly 1200 yards on the ground and had 23 touchdowns.

As for Stanford, we all know how great Andrew Luck is. He’s accurate, he’s intelligent, he’s a Heisman candidate (both this year and last year), and he’ll likely be the #1 draft pick in 2012. But there’s more to this Stanford offense though. On the receiving end, you have senior Griff Whalen; though he didn’t have many touchdown, he does possess solid hands. Meanwhile, senior tight end Coby Fleener amasses the yards and touchdowns. He averaged just over 20 yards a CATCH, and is a very solid red zone threat. Fleener, I think, has a lot of pro potential for a team in need of a solid receiving tight end (see: Chicago, Arizona, St. Louis, etc.)

Prediction: Oklahoma State 52, Stanford 45. Let the points fly! Luck and Weeden, as I said, will be throwing everywhere. Left, right, short passes, deep passes, you name it. In the end, though, I think it comes down to Joseph Randle with a late 4th quarter TD from the red zone, followed by some close-but-no-cigar Hail Marys from Luck that finish off this game. No matter who wins this matchup though, I can honestly say that this might be the most exciting bowl game of the year.

There might not be a better tandem in all of college football than Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon; they are just so fun to watch.

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Jets May Have Won, But There’s Much To Address

I watched the Bills-Jets game on Tuesday, and I must say, it was a very good, close matchup.

But that’s the thing: Should it have been? These aren’t the same Bills that were trying to shock the world in the early weeks of the season, when they won four of their first five games. The Bills’ offense has looked rather average since then. Fred Jackson continued to do very well, but he’s on injured reserve now and now rely on C.J. Spiller on rushing duties. Ryan Fitzpatrick received a contract extension and until Sunday, didn’t have a decent game for nearly a month, when they faced Washington. Heck, three weeks ago, at home, the Bills – who are 4-1 at home while 1-5 on the road - only managed to score 11 points against the Jets.

So what are the problems these Jets are having? Let me count the ways:

Mark Sanchez needs to be more consistent – This is an issue that people have addressed for a long time, but it still needs to be, and in fact, should be addressed even more, with the rushing game to not be particularly good. Now yes, Sanchez did throw for 4 touchdowns, and that’s all well and good, but he also went 17-for-35; that’s a 48.6% completion percentage. Fortunately, for the Jets, the Bills’ defense is also not the same as it was earlier in the season, when they were racking up interception like no tomorrow. However, the final three games in their schedule are against Philadelphia, the Giants, and Miami. All three teams have players capable of intercepting. Sanchez needs to work on throwing the ball not just better, but on a more consistent basis, if he and the Jets want to have a chance of making it to the playoffs.

This is his third year, and yet he still lacks consistency. And with a less-than-stellar running game, they need that consistency now more than ever.

Joe McKnight should be used more often – This is more than just a cry on having him used more to earn more points in my Fantasy Football league. In my opinion, McKnight is a much better running back than Shonn Greene. He’s been primarily used for special teams and short second-down/third-down plays, but I know McKnight is capable of doing more. I’m not a big fan of Greene. Yes, I know he did well in the playoffs two years ago, when Thomas Jones went down, but this isn’t 2009, and running backs will change each year. Last year, Greene rushed for 756 yards and just 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile, LaDainian Tomlinson, who was supposed to be used as more of a third-down back, rushed for 914 yards and 6 touchdowns. Heck, if Tomlinson wasn’t out with a knee injury, I’d say use him, even if he’s 6 years older. But back to McKnight. He has the speed and elusiveness that Greene, and the Jets overall, lack. He’s a bit undersized, but so was Ray Rice, look where he is now. I’m not saying McKnight will be the next Rice (not even close), but he still should be given more opportunities to run with the football.

Plaxico is more than just a red-zone threat – Burress has racked up 7 touchdowns so far into the season, but most have been from just the red zone (including 3 against the Chargers a month ago). However, he’s more than a receiver capable of scoring within the opponents’ 20. To those who did watch the game on Sunday, remember when Plaxico had that one-handed catch in the fourth quarter? That’s the kind of play that makes him valuable as a wide receiver. He’s not the same player he was with the Steelers and the Giants, but he still is a viable second on the depth chart, behind Santonio Holmes. That’s all because his size allows him to make catches that would otherwise be non-catachable. Burress is 6’5″ and is one of the biggest receivers of the NFL, while those defending him are a good 4-6 inches shorter. Take advantage of his size and throw the ball a little more often.

The kind of play only a 6'5" wide receiver could make. Plaxico Burress' size should give him more targets, not just inside the red zone.

Remember that opposing teams have more than one receiving option – Though I said the Bills’ offense is the not the same as it once was, it can still be potent. And in this game, it was. Fitzpatrick did throw 3 touchdowns in this game, and only one went to Stevie Johnson (P.S. – What Johnson did was stupid yet hilarious, and thanks to him, allowed the Jets to get better field position. Thanks, Stevie!). David Nelson is a decent second/third receiver option. Scott Chandler would be a top-10/12 tight end, if he had more targets. Brad Smith, former Jet, had the most receiving yards, and can play an unpredictable mix of WR/QB/RB/Special Teams. The pass defense needs to remember than a number of teams have depth at wide receiver. Next week, they face the Redskins. While Grossman has been up-and-down, he does have depth at the wide receiver position; they have Santana Moss (though injured) but also Jabar Gaffney and tight end Fred Davis. Philadelphia has DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, tight end Brent Celek, and even running back LeSean McCoy is capable of grabbing some. Giants have Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, and tight end Jake Ballard. The Jets remember that teams like these have more than just one receiver capable of racking up yards and touchdowns.

More pressure to the quarterback needs to be applied – First, let me give the former Bills bust Aaron Maybin some credit; he recorded two sacks against Fitzpatrick in this game. However, this team needs to apply more pressure towards the quarterback, particularly in late-game situations. While Fitzpatrick and the Bills were unable to score on the final drive, he still had plenty of time to throw the football and had a shot of winning the game a couple of times. Guys like defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and inside linebacker Bart Scott need to apply more pressure against him. Apply pressure and the quarterback will panic; make him panic, force him to make bad decisions, which will lead to more bad drives and turnovers.

Bart Scott: I like his emotion, I like his wrestling-styled talking in interviews. But he needs to do more this season. He didn't even record a tackle on Sunday.

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Kemp, not Braun, deserves National League MVP

Before I begin, let me just say that I like Ryan Braun.

Braun is no doubt a fantastic player and is a major part of the Brewers organization. He had 33 homers, 111 RBIs, 33 steals, and nearly won the batting title with a .332 batting average. He definitely had a MVP-caliber season, and was a big part of the Brewers not only reaching the playoffs, but winning the NL Central.

But here’s the thing: Unlike Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun had plenty of support in the organization. He had guys surrounding him in the lineup; Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Casey McGehee, and Jonathan Lucroy are all solid players that provided a good deal of offense (particularly Fielder, who not only played in all 162 games, but also had more home runs and RBIs than Braun). The Brewers also had very good pitching, as well; from starters such as Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo, to the setup-closer combo of Takashi Saito/Francisco Rodriguez + John Axford.

You see what I’m getting at? Braun is great, but he has players surrounding him to help. Now without Braun, would the Brewers have gone 96-66 and win the NL Central? Perhaps not, but will all of the offensive firepower they had, they probably would have done well, had someone else play in left field instead.

Ryan Braun is an excellent player who deserved considerations. But this season, there was one who did better, and with less support than Braun had...

Meanwhile, Matt Kemp was not only better, statistically speaking – he had more home runs (39), RBIs (126), and steals (40), with a .324 batting average – but made more of an impact on his team, the Dodgers, than Braun did with Brewers.

Yes, the Dodgers barely finished above .500 – they were 82-79 – but the winner of an MVP should not necessarily go to a team that goes to the playoffs, but one that makes the most impact towards a team than anyone else. 

Remember Andre Dawson? In 1987, he won the NL MVP award in 1987, despite the fact that the Chicago Cubs finished last in the NL East, with a 76-85 record.

Kemp was on a team that had less surrounding him than Braun. For Matt and the Dodgers, injuries piled up all around him. Andre Ethier and James Loney were the only players that put up decent numbers. The pitching, outside of NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda suffered. Let’s not forget about the fact that he played on a team that was financially uncertain, as his owner Frank McCourt was in the midst of a battle with not only his ex-wife, but MLB as well (if he and/or the future owner(s) of the Dodgers do have the money, he is certainly worth the 8-year, $160 million deal).

Now imagine how the 2011 Dodgers team would be without Matt Kemp in their lineup? Would the Dodgers be able to finish where they were without him?

Again, I’m not taking anything away from Braun. He’s a fantastic, five-tool player, and if it weren’t Kemp, I feel he would deserve MVP status, or at least should get considerations. However, Kemp did not have the offensive and pitching support that Braun did, and – even though the Dodgers finished barely above. 500 – was able to do more with less, and thus, should have won the MVP award instead.

Matt Kemp: The new face of the Dodgers, and the should-have-been 2011 MVP winner.

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Who needs NBA? College basketball is where it’s at!

The NBA lockout is still going on. But you know what? With all these endless discussion and with the players and owners unable to come up with a compromise, I say: Who needs them?

In my opinion, both sides are acting selfish in a $4 billion market that was hot off the heels of a great Finals series and 2010-11 season. And now, because of their inability to come to some terms, this season will likely not happen. But who needs them?

Anyone that’s been watching college basketball over the past week has had the chance to watch some great matchups and upsets.

There was the battle between North Carolina and Michigan State… on a U.S. carrier… on Veterans Day; that was pretty special.

There was coach Mike Krzyzewski earning his 903rd career win, the most of any coach in the history of NCAA basketball.

How about Cleveland State upsetting then-#9 Vanderbilt? Or Long Beach State upsetting Pittsburgh? Or Loyola Maramount upsetting UCLA?

And this is just the first week here, people.

The season began with two of the top teams in the nation battling it out on an aircraft carrier. Simply awesome.

Who needs LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin? Who needs the owners and their desire to create an amnesty clause because they overpay for undeserving players (I’m looking at you, Brooklyn Nets. Seriously, Travis Outlaw?). I’m entertained by guys like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Xavier’s Tu Holloway, Texas’ J’Covan Brown, and Villanova’s Dominic Cheek.

Junior Dominic Cheek of Villanova is definitely a player to look out for this year.

And of course, as a student at Quinnipiac, I have to be excited about how our own program is doing. The Bobcats lost at Fairfield in the Connecticut 6, but we defeated one of our biggest rivals, Yale, on Tuesday, and currently stand at 2-1.

Oh yeah, college basketball is where it’s at, readers. All the fun and excitement of NBA, except without the conflict nor without the apathy towards the fans. If you like basketball, and you’re a student, alum, or a fan of a particular university, go grab yourself a ticket to a game. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

As a Quinnipiac student, I'd like everybody to know about Ike Azotam. Though we're only 3 games into the season, he leads the nation with 14.0 rebounds per game. He also has average 16.3 points.

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Edwards vs. Stewart: Either way, NASCAR wins!

Today’s race at Homestead should be one heck of a battle, as Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart decide on who wins the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

To those who haven’t been watching, Edwards leads Stewart by just three points. These two drivers have been running close for the past several weeks. Two weeks ago, Stewart won at Texas with Edwards right behind in second. Last week at Phoenix, Edwards finished second, but Stewart finished third and let the most laps in the race.

I expect the same thing to happen at Homestead. These two guys are going to be gunning for that championship, running neck-and-neck throughout the race. And no matter who wins the championship, either way, NASCAR and its fans win.

I’ve seen time and time again on message boards. Everyone is sick of Jimmie Johnson, who’s won the past 5 championships… in a row. He and that #48 team have created a dynasty we haven’t seen since the days of Jeff Gordon, the very man who brought him into Hendrick Motorsports in the first place. But now that he’s been mathematically eliminated for some time, his reign has come to an end… at least until next season.

But to those that don’t happen to not like Edwards nor Stewart (or you’re just a Johnson diehard), let me tell you why this is good.

Edwards. Stewart. Only one of these guys can win the championship. But either way, NASCAR and its fans win.

 

Why Edwards winning is good:

  • Youth – Okay, so at 32, Edwards isn’t exactly a spring chicken, but his youthful and athletic appearance is a stark comparison to Johnson and Stewart. People want the youth to rise up and win both races and championships. Well, they’ve won the races, but a young gun hasn’t won a Cup championship since the early days of Jeff Gordon. This year may be Edwards’ best chance to win.
  • Popularity & Sponsors - He’s popular amongst NASCAR fans and is a sponsor’s dream. Next year, he’ll be sponsored by Aflac, Fastenal, and UPS… and that’s just in the Cup Series. He’s appeared in several television series. He’s been on the cover of magazines like ESPN and Men’s Health. Edwards serves as a cover boy for the sport, and him winning the championship will certainly help NASCAR.
  • Consistency – Though he only has 1 win, Edwards has the most top 5s (18) and top 10s (25) of anyone else in the standings. Stewart only has 8 top 5s and 18 top 10s. Typically, winning the Cup championship has almost always been about consistency (just ask Matt Kenseth). By that logic, Edwards should win.

 

Why Stewart winning is good:

  • Winning and Performing In The Chase - Though it took him until the Chase to actually win races, Tony Stewart has won 4 races in the Chase, tied alongside Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch for most this season. Not only that, but outside of Dover, Stewart has been the best performer and is taking risks; he’s pushing the envelope to win this thing, while Edwards, while finishing well, has seemed to follow a more conservative approach.
  • Being an Owner/Driver – The last time an owner/driver won the championship was Alan Kulwicki back in 1992. In addition, there aren’t really and owner/drivers in NASCAR as there used to be. Robby Gordon owns a team in Cup, but he’s been allowing others to race in his #7 car. Waltrip owns a team, but he only races on the restrictor-plate tracks. Kevin Harvick Inc. has been very succesful in the Truck and Nationwide Series, but they are merging with Richard Childress and won’t field a car in any of the divisions next year. Kyle Busch owns a Truck team but has had trouble getting sponsorships. If Stewart can win a championship, it’s not only a feel-good story, but also shows that owner/drivers do have what it takes to field succesful teams and that sponsors should invest money with them.

 

Either way, I don’t mind having these guys win the championship. Both of these guys have proven their worth on the racetrack. They win races, they’re popular amongst fans, and after 5 years of Johnson owning the Cup Series, there will at least be some parity towards this season.

The 2011 season, in my opinion has been a success. The point system, while still slightly flawed, has created a more exciting setup, and is the reason why with one race to go, this Chase has been so close.

NASCAR fans, get ready, today is going to be real exciting, no matter whose side you’re on.

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Papelbon to the Phillies is… um… interesting, but…

Last week, Jonathan Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million deal (with the potential to earn another $10 million on a vested option, as well) with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Let me first say that this was needed, for both the Red Sox and for Papelbon.

The Red Sox needed to do this because:

  • Papelbon, as effective as he had been, would at times kill the team in important games (this includes the final game of this season, which partially helped the Rays reach the playoffs).
  • Papelbon is expensive. He made $12 million in 2011, and with the career the year he had, was going to ask something around that mark (which he did, and succeeded). The Red Sox wanted to resign Ortiz to a new contract. In addition, there’s a need for a right fielder (unless they plan on using Josh Reddick), as well as a new starting pitcher, while Lackey is recovering from Tommy John surgery and Dice-K  still an uncertainty and entering the final year of his contract. Clearing Papelbon means they have a better opportunity in getting decent players.
  • The Red Sox already have a potential closer. I’m talking about Daniel Bard, the team’s primary setup man. Though 2011 was not his best year statistically speaking, he did set a club record with 21 scoreless appearances. Though still rather young (he’s 26), I believe he does have what it takes to be a successful closer. And should he not be successful or if they want to keep him at the setup role, they do have Bobby Jenks to use, as well. Yes, Jenks is iffy, as he was on the DL three times and also suffered from a pulmonary embolism (a blockage of the main artery of the lung) However, he has proven, as a member of the White Sox, that he can close games.

Papelbon needed to do this because:

  • Money. With the Red Sox in need of signing players, Papelbon was not going to get the same kind of contract that he got with the Phillies.
  • Winning. Papelbon said himself that he signed with the Phillies because he wants to add more World Series rings to his collection. Well, playing with the Phillies is certainly going to do that. Though they lost in the NLDS to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals, the team still won 102 games in the somewhat-weak NL East. Closing from one elite team to another should (key word there, SHOULD) mean that his numbers should remain consistent; perhaps even better…
  • Turmoil in Boston. Papelbon says that it has not been a factor for him leaving, but let’s be honest. The team is in a bit of disarray right now. They lost both GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona in one fell swoop. Key Red Sox players have been targeted for eating chicken, drinking beer, and playing video games in the clubhouse. Ortiz has yet to be resigned. If you were Papelbon, would YOU want to stick around?

But here’s my problem with this signing: Why did the PHILLIES sign Jonathan Papelbon?

I’m not saying Papelbon isn’t talented. He is, he wouldn’t have been the closer with the Sox for so long if he wasn’t. Though at times, erratic, he’s made several save records both for the Sox and in baseball in general. In facts, he owns the Sox’s career record in saves. He reached 200 saves faster than Mariano Rivera did. He’s a 4-time All-Star. That’s not my problem.

Papelbon is talented, no doubt about it. However, financially speaking, this will definitely affect the Phillies' future free-agent spending.

No, my problem with this signing is that the Phillies already had a guy they could have resigned instead of Papelbon: Ryan Madson. Now granted, 2011 was Madson’s first full year as a closer, overtaking Brad Lidge.

But here’s the thing: Madson is cheaper… and would probably be just as effective.

There were already plans to sign Madson to a four-year, $44 million deal, and was nearly done before Papelbon came to town. So why didn’t it get done? Was Madson not good? Going 32-for-34 in saves with a 2.32 ERA in 62 appearances not enough?

If his 2011 season was any indication, Madson could have had the same effectiveness as Papelbon, but for less.

Again, not knocking Papelbon at all here. But if I were Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., I honestly would have stuck with resigning Madson to a new deal. Madson’s contract is less (even more so if you count Papelbon’s potential option), which in turn, would have cleared up space with the team and allow for more financial flexbility to get other signings.

Now with Raul Ibanez ($12 million in 2011) and Roy Oswalt ($16 million in 2011, 2012 club option worth another $16 million) gone, they do have room. But the question is how much?

This offseason, they have to deal with resigning popular shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a player in which both he and the team want to form a new deal (but for how much remains to be determined), along with outfielder Hunter Pence’s arbitration status.

Then, there’s next year: pitchers Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, and center fielder Shane Victorino all enter free agency. There’s also options on third baseman Placido Polanco, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and reliever Jose Contreas.

That’s my problem with this signing. Though their payroll has gone up in recent years, there has to be some sort of self-cap that this team has in terms of spending each year. And with the signing of Papelbon now, how much does that affect that cap not only for this offseason, but beyond?

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AL East Free Agents: Who To Keep And Who To Let Go?

Last but certainly not least, we have the AL East.

As of this post, the Yankees already resigned C.C. Sabathia to a new 5-year/$122 million contract with an option for 2017. In addition, they picked up their club options on both Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. All of these were smart by Brian Cashman and the Yankee organization. Without Sabathia, their pitching rotation is very short with only Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova as only guys left to use. Robinson Cano is a 5-star tool, but his club options are still cheap compared to what he’d be worth had they not use them; you got to take him (and definitely should resign). Nick Swisher’s $10.25 million club option is a bit expensive, particularly for a guy who usually bats sixth in the lineup, but he’s healthy and puts up good numbers (a 20-25 HR/85-95 RBI guy) for someone who bats there.

Eric Chavez – After so many years with the Athletics, that team finally let him go. So, he signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He went on the disabled list in May, but came back and played in 58 games, as backup to Alex Rodriguez. He hit .263 with 2 homer and 26 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Chavez still has something left, but his oft-injured status over the past few years will turn some teams away. A minor-league deal at best, but will likely make the roster out of Spring Training.

Jorge Posada - Despite the presence of Russell Martin, Posada managed to play plenty of games for the Yankees as designated hitter. He initially struggled and at one point, was disappointed that he was hitting ninth in the lineup for Joe Girardi. He also was removed from the lineup at another point. Nonetheless, Posada managed a .235 batting average with 14 homers and 44 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: I love Posada. I can’t imagine any Yankees fan that doesn’t. He’s one of the “Core Four” (Posada, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera). But I think in 2012, the Core Four will be down to two in Jeter and Rivera. Unless Posada takes a massive pay cut, they won’t take him. They have Russell Martin for another year and Jesus Montero is ready to play.

Rafael Soriano (can opt out) - The Yankees signed him to a 3-year deal worth $35 million. He was signed to be the setup man behind Mariano Rivera, then be the closer when Rivers inevitably retires. Midseason, he went on the disabled list but came back in August. He pitched in 42 games and recorded a 4.12 ERA over 39 1/3 innings. He also went 2-for-5 in saves.

Thoughts/Prediction: Soriano is due to make $25 million over the next two years? You honestly think he’s going to opt out and enter free agency? NO WAY! And the thing is, the Yankees might not even need Soriano after David Robertson’s breakout year. Perhaps Brian Cashman was right when earlier in the year, he said he didn’t want to sign him to a contract…

Andruw Jones – Jones played in 77 games for the Yankees on a 1-year deal. He recorded a .247 batting average with 13 homers and 33 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Jones doesn’t hit for contact as good as he used to, nor is he as great of a fielder as the former 10-time Gold Glover once was, but still has the ability to hit for a lot of power. He should be given more opportunities, particularly as a DH. Should sign where he would be given more playing time; Rays, Orioles, and Twins all come to mind.

Bartolo Colon – Colon made a comeback, signing a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He made the roster out of Spring Training as a reliever. He then became a starting pitcher when Phil Hughes went down with an injury. Colon played in 29 games, starting 26 of them. He recorded a 8-10 record, a 4.00 ERA, and 135 strikeouts.

Thoughts/Prediction: For someone who’s 38 and hadn’t played in 2 years, Colon did far better than most expected. He was a low-money deal that resulted in moderate success. I’m not sure how many teams are interested in a 38-year old pitcher, but probably can serve as a spot starter/long reliever role on a 1-year deal.

Freddy Garcia – Similar to Colon, Garcia was signed to a minor-league deal who also made it to the roster out of Spring Training. However, Garcia achieved a bit more success, posting a 12-8 record in 25 starts, with a 3.62 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: Considering he pitched slightly better than Colon and is three years younger, there’s bound to be more interest in Garcia. But he also might be a more expensive. Still a good back-of-the-rotation guy who brings veteran presence to your ballclub and is safer bet to sign than Colon.

 

As of this post, Marco Scutaro’s $6 million club opton for 2012 has bee picked up. I think this was a good idea because I lack faith in Jed Lowrie and some don’t think Jose Iglesias is ready to play full-time at the major league level.

David Ortiz – Red Sox picked up his $12.5 club option for 2011, and Ortiz continued to deliver for them. This year, he hit .309, with 29 homers and 96 RBIs. He also cut down on strikeouts from 145 in 2010 to just 83 in 2011.

Thoughts/Prediction: He’ll turn 36 in November but Ortiz continues to deliver nonetheless. Not only does he provide plenty of power and the ability to drive in a lot of runs, but more importantly, he’s clutch. The Red Sox may have suffered a collapse this year, but Ortiz was not one of the reasons, and he wants to stay in Boston. A definite resign.

J.D. Drew – Hard to believe that in 2010, with all the injuries they suffered then, Drew was the ironman of the Red Sox. Nonetheless, Drew only played in 81 games, recording a .222 batting average with 4 home runs and 22 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Drew has been one expensive player the past few years. He has shown flashes of brilliance, and has put up decent numbers, but nothing really that screams $70 million over 5 years. Plus, the Red Sox have Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava to use anyway. Drew could probably still manage on a short-term contract for about $5 million. A trip back to the NL West with the Giants may be a possibility, depending on what happens with Carlos Beltran and Cody Ross. Could also be used as a DH to limit injuries; Minnesota maybe?

Jonathan Papelbon - Papelbon appeared in 63 games this year, recording 31 saves out of 34 opportunities. He pitched in 64 1/3 innings, posting a 2.94 ERA and a career-high 89 strikeouts. He recorded his 200th career save with the team, but blew the most important one of the season; in the final game of the regular season, Papelbon blew the save against the Baltimore Orioles, partially contributing to the Rays entering the playoffs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Papelbon will get a lot of lookers but there are also plenty of closers in there too. He may have had his best season, statistically speaking, but he’s had his critics that past few years too. Will he stay with Boston? Probably not. He’s expensive, even for them, and they have relievers they can use (Daniel Bard, for one) as cheaper (and possibly, just as effective) replacements.

Dan Wheeler (club option) – Wheeler played in 47 games, pitching in 49 1/3 innings. He posted a 4.38 ERA and just 39 strikeouts, his least since 2003.

Thoughts/Prediction: Wheeler’s 2012 club option was not picked up, and I’m not surprised. He didn’t pitch particularly well, giving up a lot of runs (although not as bad as in 2007) in the process, and appeared in his lowest amount of games since 2004. The Red Sox have possibilities in replacements to fill in for Wheeler, so it’s not a big concern. Where Wheeler goes, I’m not sure, but a third tenure with the Rays wouldn’t be a stretch in my opinion. Minnesota and Milwaukee also appear as viable options.

Jason Vartiek - Varitek signed yet another 1-year contract with the team he’s been with for all his career. He appeared in 30 more games this season than he did in 2010. Over 68 games, he posted a .221 batting average with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: Varitek has done a lot for this organization. He loves Boston and Boston has loved him back. Even with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starter and with Ryan Lavaranway waiting in the wings, Varitek may not get little time, if resigned. But I can’t see Varitek with another team; he’s been the captain for the Red Sox since 2005, only the third in Red Sox history since 1923 (the other two being Carl Yastreznski and Jim Rice) and only one of three active captain playing in MLB (the other two being Derek Jeter and the White Sox’s Paul Konerko). He is turning 40, so maybe it is high time for him to retire. Whether he plays or not next year, but either way, he can still serve as a mentor to both Salty and Lavarnway (along with other young prospects). Varitek is one of the best players the Sox have had, and certainly deserves a spot in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

Tim Wakefield – Another Red Sox lifer (if you ignore his rookie year in 1992 with the Pirates), Wakefield once again served as both reliever and starter. In 33 appearances (23 starts), Wakefield posted a 7-8 record with a 5.12 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 93 strikeouts. He also earned his 200th career win.

Thoughts/Appearances: Wakefield is 45, yet similar to Jamie Moyer, is still able to pitch at the major-league level. How? The knuckleball; a pitch that few use but effective when used. Knuckleball pitchers have been known to have longer careers than most conventional pitchers and Wakefield has been no exception. Now normally, I would say its high time for Wakefield to retire, but with Lackey having Tommy John surgery and Dice-K still recovering from his from June, Wakefield might need to be used for at least one more year. He can both start and relieve, though he’s better off pitching on a more consistent basis (by that, I mean starting more games and doing for most or all of the season, and not switch back and forth). Best off, he’ll be cheap; he was paid just $2 million, and should receive around the same amount for next year, should he be resigned.

Dennys Reyes – Reyes was signed to a minor-league deal with the Sox. He made the roster out of Spring Training, but only managed to play in 4 starts. He was then designated for assignment.

Thoughts/Prediction: Not worth anymore than a minor-league deal. Reyes has been a journeyman, playing for 11 teams in his 14-year career, so he could end up anywhere.

 

As of this post, Edwin Encarnacion’s 2012 club option had been picked up. Though Jose Bautista can play at third base, as well, Bautista is also useful in the outfield. The Blue Jays have plenty of options to use both within in their lineup and defensively, which makes them unpredictable to opposing teams.

Jon Rauch (club option) – Signed to a 1-year, $3.5 million, Rauch became the closer for the Jays. However, he also had a 4.85 ERA over 52 appearances, and was 11-for-16 in saves. He suffered an appendectomy in August and was put on the 15-day DL.

Thoughts/Prediction: I think his days as a closer are just about over, as his opposing batting average and WHIP have steadily been going up the past few years. Though 6’11″, the tallest ever in the major leagues, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but has a good slider and curveball. Can still provide as a setup man or long reliever. A return to the Twins might happen; Baltimore might use him too.

Shawn Camp – Camp signed a 1-year, $2.25 extension with the Jays. He appeared in 67 games, pitching in 66 1/3 innings, and recorded a 4.21 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: Camp has done a decent job in the four years he’s been with Toronto. While nowhere as good as last year, Camp did a serviceable job, particularly in the final two months of the season. Shawn is 35, so he’s not worth more than a 1 or 2-year contract, but I can see him resigned in Toronto.

 

Johnny Damon – Damon, after one season in Detroit, signed a 1-year deal with the Rays worth $5.5 million, and did a good job with the team in 2011. He played in 150 games, posting a .261 batting average, with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs, and had 19 stolen bases. He also continued to hit for extra bases, with 29 doubles and 8 triples.

Thoughts/Prediction: Damon may be turning in 39 in November, but continues to hit well and does a good job at getting into scoring position. Damon provides as a decent #2 in the lineup and provided veteran presence to a mostly young team. Damon, though he didn’t make an error in the 16 games he played in the outfield, should still stick to being a designated hitter at his age, but still has plenty of value for a team lacking in offense. Seattle, should they have money to spend, should be the first team to look at him. Other troubling offensive teams like Cleveland should also take a look.

Kelly Shoppach (club option) – Shoppach played in 87 games. He hit just .176, but hit for 11 home runs and 22 RBIs. In the Division Series, he went 4-for-10, with 2 homers and 6 RBIs.

Thoughts/Prediction: As of this post, Shoppach $3.2 million club option for 2012 has been declined. However, he has expressed interest in resigning with the team. Though his ability to get on base is terrible, he does have good power not only with his bat, but with his arm. He also has a pretty reliable glove for a catcher. Another good veteran presence to have with the ballclub; I think his defensive abilities will allow him to stay for another 1-year deal.

Joel Peralta – Peralta signed a 1-year deal with the Rays worth $900,000. He made 71 appearances, pitching in 67 2/3 innings. He posted a 2.93 ERA, limiting opponents to a .188 batting average. He also covered 6 saves in 8 opportunities.

Thoughts/Prediction: After 2010, the Washington Nationals non-tendered Peralta in order to avoid arbitration. Had it not been for that, he probably would have been kept there. Though 35, he’s probably due for a decent raise, somewhere around the $2 million mark. He has shown in both AAA last year and with the Rays this year that he can perform as a closer. He’ll certainly get looks, even more so than others, due to his ability to perform as a setup/closer role. Rays should resign him but probably won’t.

Juan Cruz – Despite getting released by the Royals after shoulder surgery early in 2010, he was able to find a home with the Rays on a minor-league deal in the offseason. He made the roster and appeared in 56 games, pitching in 48 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.88 ERA with his opponents’ batting average at just .211. He also was able to win 5 games in relief.

Thoughts/Prediction: Probably one of the better middle relievers in the free agent market. He has a mostly pedestrian career, largely because of his lack of control and that he walks waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many batters. As a member of the pen though, he’s good at striking out guys with his fastball and slider. A bit of a risk, especially at 33, but likely worth it for 2 years and $6-7.5 million.

 

Vladimir Guerrero – Guerrero goes from Texas to Baltimore on a 1-year, $8 million deal. He didn’t do as well for the Orioles, but managed to bat .290 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs over 145 games.

Thoughts/Prediction: Though not where he was in 2010 with Texas, Guerrero still manages to provide offensive production. He still can hit in the .290-.300 range, and can still drive in runs and extra-base hits (in fact, he hit more doubles this year than last year). Probably the second-best designated hitter on the market, next to David Ortiz.

Cesar Izturis - Izturis resigned with the Orioles on a 1-year deal worth $1.5 million. But Izturis suffered injuries and only managed to play in 18 games this year.

Thoughts/Prediction: Izturis will likely receive just a minor-league deal. He lacks power and usually hits in the infield often, so it’s difficult for him to get on-base (despite a career average of .255, he’s yet to strike out more than 70 times a season). That said, he’s got plenty of speed and has the best defensive range out of any full-time shortstops in the league, so that at least should warrant a few looks.

Justin Duchscherer - Duchscherer wasn’t able to play a game at the major-league level at all in 2011. He was released in August to make room for Jo-Jo Reyes.

Thoughts/Prediction: He has shown talent, but has yet to play a majority of the season in the major since 2008. He was down for all of 2009, and only managed to play in 5 games in 2010. Baltimore tried to take a shot with him on  a 1-year, $700,000 deal. Very few teams will take a look at Duchsherer and his career is likely done. Another guy who had talent and potential, but a plague of injuries have prevented him from having such a long and productive career.

 

And that’s it everybody. Whew, took care of them all, wow! I hope you have enjoyed my long analyses of the free agents from each division. If any of you agree or disagree with my opinions, I’d like to hear it! Post a comment below, I want to see what you think!

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