Thursday, 29 August 2013

College Football Kicks Off

The 2013 College Football Season begins in earnest with the Battle of the Carolinas kicking off the wall-to-wall ESPN coverage as the first weekend begins with a five day weekend long in America.

The South Carolina Gamecocks are ranked No.6 in the pre-season rankings led by defensive end and key focal point playmaker Jadeveon Clowney.  Clowney who was sixth in the Heisman trophy voting last year, made headlines with his hit of running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.

The hit – where Smith’s helmet went flying after impact – made Clowney a global talking point due to the ferocity of the hit.  Steve Spurrier has handled his star player with better care than Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M has with Johnny Manziel; whose off-field antics have provoked much discussion about his ability to handle the limelight.  Manziel will sit out the first half of the Aggies’ opening game versus Rice University.

Clowney has got better in the close season, working on his skill set and making himself a better player, according to other defensive end Chaz Sutton:

“Any game we go into we just want to prove we can get to the quarterback quick and fast in a game,” Sutton said. “We just want to set the tone with our front four and be that way all night.”

South Carolina though still have options on offence although a slight injury concern over highly rated receiver Bruce Ellington will be one of concern.  The offense has to be the sort as marshalled by Trent Dilfer for the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 during their famous Super Bowl run when Ray Lewis’ defence rode shotgun over NFL offences.  Junior Dylan Thompson will be expected to make mistake free, efficient passing and get good field position to allow Clowney, Sutton et al to work their magic on the defensive side.

Expectations are for the Gamecocks to win, and get some momentum before a huge clash at No.5 Georgia next week (who themselves play rated Clemson of the ACC on Saturday). The Gamecocks are touted to win the SEC East thanks to a favourable schedule where they only face Arkansas and Mississippi State of the SEC West avoiding Alabama, Auburn and Johnny Football.

Although they should beware of North Carolina QB Bryn Renner who has thrown for 54 touchdowns in the last two seasons and is in charge of a high tempo offense, new head coach Larry Fedora employed at Southern Miss.

In the other curtain-raising game for the West Coast, #24 ranked USC Trojans travel to Hawaii hoping to have a better season than last year when they did not meet expectations and not helped by an injury suffered to Matt Barkley.

Barkley, receiver Robert Woods and safety T.J. McDonald have all left for the professional ranks. Yet they still have the No 1 receiver in the country in Marqise Lee and running back Silas Reed, with the option of two young sophomore quarterbacks in Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.

Kiffin will hope he has a better season, the Trojans lost five of their last six games and lost the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech to finish 7-6 after starting the season ranked #1. In the Pac-12 where Oregon and Stanford are expected to duke it out, expect the Trojans to spring a few surprises again with a favourable schedule with Stanford having to come to the Coliseum in November.

It’s felt a long time since Alabama won the National Championship in January, now the five month bull rush can begin. And its the end of an era, this will be the last season of the BCS rankings before the four team play-off begins in 2014.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Dinamo Tbilisi v Tottenham 1st Leg review

Tottenham Hotspur started their European campaign in far flung former Soviet state of Georgia to play the League champions Dinamo Tbilisi, the day after Arsenal had defeated Fenerbahce convincingly in Turkey 3-0.

Tottenham did a thoroughly professional performance in Georgia by completing a comprehensive 5-0 away victory which puts them in the group stage of the Europa League barring an unbelievable meltdown at White Hart Lane next Thursday.

Yet why were the Lilywhites so dominant and what did we learn:

1. Andros Townsend is here
The young Spurs trainee graduate finally matured into the fully fledged first team player many knew he had the talent for.  Following on from his creditable loan spell at QPR where he became one of the few players in that squad to gain some credit.  In Tbilisi he bossed the right wing, played with a mixture of speed and finesse to leave defenders in his wake as his expertly taken opening goal showed.  He then set up the 2nd and 3rd due to some precision passing and crossing.

2. Robert Soldado's movement
The Valencia player who scored 24 goals in La Liga last year showed his brilliant movement to find space in the penalty box for both of his vertiable tap ins to make it three in two games to start his Spurs career.  Spurs need a player who can score goals regularly without the peaks and troughs usually associated with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor.

3.  Lloris is solid
But for the French No.1 Tottenham might well have conceded on this away trip and the complexion of the tie might have changed if Lloris did not palm away a goal bound shot when Spurs were leading 1-0.  His solid punching and claiming of crosses hid some defensive frailties.

4. Coming up Roses (going forward)
For all the great goals Danny Rose may score, his defensive weakness was very clear to see at times.  Most of Tbilisi's attacks came down the right wing as Rose continues to improve his positioning, and also the pace of some attacking play led to both Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul back pedalling and some panicky defending; this is mitigated by of the three man midfield, not one of Dembele, Paulinho or Capoue really sits deep.  Against players like Mata and Cazorla this will become apparent.

5. Rest is good
The chance to start Harry Kane and Tom Carroll, and to rotate the squad will be good next Thursday with the 2nd leg three days before the North London derby where freshness will be key for a huge battle.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Patriots v Buccaneers Pre-season Preview

It is Week 2 of the Pre-season and the New England Patriots host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro tonight in a game now highlighted and made important by the sudden injury scare over Tom Brady's left knee on Wednesday.  With Brady returning to practice the next day wearing a knee brace, he expects to start tonight on home turf and maintain the Patriots perfect start to pre-season.

However, the Buccaneers will not be an easy game as they are team of unique talent on both sides of the ball. Here is my breakdown of what to watch out for:

1. Tom Brady's Reps:
With Brady suffering his knee injury, you can expect him to start and want to put on a show for the home crowd, yet the necessity to preserve him for Week 1 v Buffalo Bills will be key.  Expect the offence to follow the same trend as against the Eagles last week: two drives one governed by Stevan Ridley and one by Brady hooking up with his young receivers.

2. Bucs run defence
The Bucs had one of the best run defences last year, and so will be tested versus the strong running back core of Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden.  Likewise, the front seven of the Patriots defence will face the muscle hamster of Doug Martin.

3. Patriots secondary
The infamous Patriots secondary will get a real test tonight versus two quality wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

4. Eyes on Ballard
Jake Ballard will be now getting some more on-field in-play work as the Patriots attempt to continue a two tight end scheme but with Ballard sharing the field and load with rookie free agent Zach Sudfeld. With Daniel Fells unlikely to suit up due to persistent injury and with Rob Gronkowski not back until the regular season; it is time for Ballard to repay the faith shown in his selection off waivers by the Patriots last season.

5. Receivers miss Revis
The young receiving core of Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins will have a chance to further the positive impression they have made so far without the threat of fear of visiting (Darrelle) Revis Island who is still out and is expected to be back for Week 3 of pre-season (when the Bucs visit Miami).

6. Cards to the chest
Oddly, this is a pre-season game dress rehearsal.  These two teams play each other for real in Week 3 of the regular season again at New England on September 22nd, so perhaps expect the match to become a bit more of a training run through in the second half as Coaches Bill Belichick and Greg Schiano pull starters and do not show too much of any schemes before that regular season encounter.

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