This post was written yesterday, but I plain forgot to post it both yesterday and earlier today because we're busy painting our house. Sorry folks! You get what you pay for, I guess. Probably won't be a post tomorrow, either.
There is nothing quite so terrible and tedious as rooting for a bad baseball team. And the Cubs have been a baseball team the past few years.
I bring this up because this has been a particularly dirty week for me. I would really like to see the Pirates pull out the division, even if this seems particularly unlikely at this late date and with the Reds coming up next on the schedule. That means the Pirates really needed to catch up this series. I won’t happen now, though they won’t come away any worse than tied with the Reds heading into this weekend’s big series. They may even be two up depending on how things play out today. For all this to happen, though, at least for the past few days, I had to root against the Cubs. I also had to root for the Mets and Nationals, which isn’t quite so bad, but two teams that probably get more attention than they deserve thanks to where they play. I’ll wash away this past series with a nice, hot shower and get to root even more fervently than usual for the Cubs against the Cardinals to end the season, though, so that will be nice.
Still, geez, the Cubs were pretty bad this year, coming off a pretty bad year last year. I think many got the feeling that flaming out against the Dodgers in 2008 was the closing of that title window, but I don’t think anybody realized how hard and how quickly that window slammed. Things were still okay, if disappointing, in 2009 when the Cubs managed an 83-78 record. They were second in the division that year, finishing 7.5 behind the Cardinals. Nine games out of the Wild Card, though. Since then, though, the team has gone 272-372 to date. And will most likely get worse, seeing as they finish up with two of the best teams in baseball. If they were totally inept, it would at least be interesting to see how they found ways to lose. But they’re not. They’re just bad, and it’s hard to watch.
Baseball is an awfully long season. That’s one big reason why watching a bad baseball team is the worst. Your football team is bad? You just have to suck it up for sixteen Sundays, or ten to twelve Saturdays, depending on what level of college you’re talking about. Basketball or hockey teams are unbearable? That’s up to 82 games, which isn’t chump change, but it’s still half of a baseball season. And the schedule is structured so much differently to play that many games. You only get once a week to watch football (even if it’s not necessarily on Sundays any more). Basketball and hockey play, what, three times a week or so? Baseball plays practically every day. Every single day of summer, your local baseball team is trotting out, and in these unfortunate cases, they’re trotting back with a loss far more often than not.
Another big reason for the awfulness is how players are developed. In basketball and football especially, you are probably also following the college game and know who your team is likely to be rewarded with for losing. For Colts fans during the Curtis Painter year, it was much more bearable to watch the team flounder when you knew it would likely lead to Andrew Luck. Same idea in basketball. Fans of less fortunate teams are already wringing their hands in delight thinking of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker amongst others. While the losing still isn’t fun, it’s much more palatable.
Hockey and baseball are quite a bit different, though. These sports have well-developed minor league systems and typically take the best players right out of high school. Sure, there are certainly those fans that keep a close eye on the minor league system and have a good idea of what’s in the pipeline, but I don’t think that’s the majority of fans. Without having any idea of who is going to make your team better gives an already very long season an even more futile atmosphere. How players get folded in is much different, too. In football and basketball, you see the player drafted, and you know exactly who to look for in training camps and preseason games. Teams market the hell out of their top draft picks, because you will see them with the team from day one. In baseball and hockey, while you will see a player after he’s first drafted, you usually won’t see him again for a few years while he puts in his time in the minors. There are some exceptions, but they certainly are rare. While you might someday hear about how Andrew McCutchen was a Pirate for (professional) life, that isn’t quite true. The money might have come from Pittsburgh, but he was also an Indian, Curve, and Crawdad, amongst others. Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert? Pacers from day one.*
*Yes, there is the D-League, and Arena and Canadian Football on the other side of things. But I don’t think there’s any argument that those leagues are used far, far differently than minor league baseball and hockey and that those affiliates (for basketball, there is no real minor league football) are far less developed. Heck, even hockey doesn’t have nearly the minor league system baseball does. Practically all baseball teams have six affiliates (AAA, AA, High A, A, Short-Season [aka Low] A, Rookie). The (defending champion) Blackhawks have two affiliates: the Rockford IceHogs and the Toledo Walleye.
When these players do join the team, it’s usually at an awkward time as well, thanks to arbitration rules. Players come up typically some time in June so teams can essentially buy an extra year on their rookie deals and save tons of money. While there are plenty of good reasons to do this both from economic and player development standpoints, it’s no good for the fan of a tanking team. Sure, I think Cub fans wanted to see what Anthony Rizzo had when he came up, but there was no way he was righting that sinking ship. There’s some measure of relief there, I suppose, but it certainly doesn’t balance out seeing your hotshot rookie starting out with a blank slate.
So, yeah, following a bad baseball team is the pits. Following a bad hockey team is nearly as bad, saved mostly that you just don’t have as many games. But, there is a pretty big perk to following both of these sports, whether your team is doing well or not. Playoff baseball and playoff hockey are just top notch. It’s worth a whole other post to explain, but the next level that both these sports go to in the postseason is something to marvel at, whether your team is there or not. And, my goodness, don’t you know it, October is only five days away. My wife might not be as pleased, but I am so pumped. Bring it on!
What a difference a week makes.
You might remember I was pretty down on the Colts after that loss to the Dolphins after not being particularly high on them in the first place. I was awfully high on the 49ers, even if I didn’t put it here. At the risk of being awfully knee-jerk, I’ve made a complete 180.
First off, I haven’t addressed the trade here yet, so I suppose I should do that. I thought it was a nice pick up, and not a bad risk given that the Colts fully expect to be back in the playoffs. Their first round pick will not, if things go according to plan, be particularly high. As has been covered to death, Trent Richardson has not been the kind of back you might expect if you were the Browns spending the third overall pick on him. To that end, and to the end that apparently most in the Browns’ new regime didn’t think he was a good fit, getting much of anything in return can be counted as a win for Cleveland. Especially if the Colts look more like the team that lost to the Dolphins and squeaked out a win against the Raiders, which is what the Browns were looking at at the time. I’m sure they’re hoping this turns into a higher pick than the Colts are planning on.
I don’t disagree with the Browns here at all, and they might still turn out to be the “winners” of this trade in the long run. But make no mistake. Even if Richardson doesn’t turn out to be Adrian Peterson 2.0, he’s still a pretty good back. Maybe not as explosive as you’d like, but he’s certainly a back you can depend on. Something that the Colts have not really had since Edgerrin James, honestly. And, as certain YouTube clips highlight, there was a bit of a blocking deficiency, especially with Vick Ballard out. If Ahmad Bradshaw looks anything like he did yesterday for the rest of the season, the Colts are going to have an awfully solid rotation at running back and quite possibly the kind of running game that can chew up the clock after they’ve hopefully built a lead. Which, you know, has been a problem. The Miami game made pretty clear what the Colts lacked. They had offensive firepower, but if your passing game goes cold (as they are wont to do), you’re not going to use much clock. And you certainly don’t want a Colts defense to try to kill the clock for you. This gives the much sought after balance for Colts and will certainly make them a bigger threat in a down AFC.
On the other side of things, maybe the 49ers aren’t quite the team we thought they were. We thought they were pretty darned good with the steady hand of Alex Smith guiding them and apparently a defense to match. But when somebody like Colin Kaepernick takes the reins? Everybody was falling over themselves to anoint him the greatest quarterback ever, with his balance of explosiveness and passing ability. Enough to let Smith finally get out of town, as had been threatened for years. Half a season of Kaepernick was all we needed to see. And after watching him and Anquan Boldin (who the Ravens I’m sure regret losing now) carve up the Packers, you thought maybe they had a point. But, just like hotshot rookies in baseball, the tape will catch up with you. You can’t keep doing the same things over and over again, because professionals will figure it out. After watching the 49ers heavily struggle in back to back weeks now against the Seahawks and Colts, maybe we’ve reached the metaphorical second time through the order. This isn’t to say that Kaepernick is done and not a good quarterback, or even that he can’t right the ship and guide San Francisco back to the Super Bowl. But if he (and his hotshot new-ish coach) can’t make the necessary adjustments and refinements, well, the Bay Area will be longing for the Alex Smith days.
Looking ahead, the Colts will go down to Jacksonville next week. On paper, this isn’t a contest, but you know, of all the division teams, it seems Jacksonville has the most fluky things to happen with the Colts. And it always seems to break the Jaguars way. With a big game against the Seahawks coming up* after that and this big win this past week, this has trap game written all over it. It seems kind of hard to believe you would get trap games in football, with the playing once a week and all. But, gosh, doesn’t it just feel that way? Here’s to hoping the team will stay focused and give their best effort against a lesser team.
*Which I will be at.
On the baseball front, it seems the Pirate dream has died a little bit, mostly thanks to scheduling. It looks to be a pretty sure bet right now the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will be in the play-in game thanks to matching up both last weekend and this coming weekend. While they could certainly pick up two games playing the Cubs to start the week, it sure seems like a longshot to sweep the Reds in Cincinnati with those games meaning so much. And, very unfortunately, with the Reds hosting the games this weekend, it also seems likely that the playoff game would also be played in Cincinnati. That said, it’s not as if Pittsburgh has been buried on the road this year. While I was certainly hoping for a division crown, I’ll still be plenty of excited for that game. Even if baseball should never, ever have one arbitrary game deciding anything.
The Cardinals did manage to lose today, even if it did take them fifteen innings. And the Pirates finally found it in them to beat the Padres before starting in on the Reds, so that was good. Still a game to make up, though. That's not what I want to talk about today.
No, instead I want to really get into why this picture from Sports Illustrated's off-beat gallery toady is so great. First of all, for those unfamiliar, that picture was taken in Mackey Arena. That's always a big plus. I don't know if there was a Subway in that strip mall right across from Mackey in 1994, but if so, I'm guessing that's where this came from. Plus, I mean, sandwiches. Who doesn't love a good sandwich? Maybe you prefer Jimmy John's over Subway, or Firehouse, or wherever. But , in general, sandwiches are great. Thirdly, I think just about everybody knows who Dick Vitale is and typically has a pretty strong opinion on him.
Here's a bit of a digression, but this article could use it. It really is amazing to me to hear Vitale from around the time this picture was taken to now. Sometime during basketball season last year, I watched a Purdue-IU game on Big Ten On Demand when Big Dog was there. I don't remember who the other announcer was, but Vitale was definitely the other guy. It was amazing to hear, though. If you only knew modern-day Vitale, you probably wouldn't believe it was the same guy. Seriously. If you have On Demand through DirecTV or whoever, go back and watch an old Vitale game.* You probably think you remember old Vitale. But you don't. That's what I discovered.
*You'll probably have to wait a month or two, because, you know, football season.
Did I call that a digression? Because it really wasn't. It actually leads directly to this next point. Is there anybody else where these sandwiches spell out the absolutely perfect caption? Again, maybe this didn't exactly hold true in 1994 when this picture was taken, but today? Yeah, his name is Dick. But is there a bigger egotistical blowhard in college basketball? Possibly. Maybe even probably. But you're likely going to have Vitale in the conversation. His act is such tired shtick this point, I can't imagine anybody really enjoys it any more. Granted, given that it's ESPN we're dealing with, there's really no hope of Vitale being put out to pasture given how some other, uh, dated and grating, we'll say, personalities have held on.
In all honesty, I hope this picture gains a little bit of legs. Somebody cut out just the sandwich part to paste onto just about any headshot-type picture you a
I feel a bit cheap in doing this, but we’re going to focus on football today. Yes, I know there’s a big series coming up between the Pirates* and Reds, to the delight of Cardinal fans thankful to gain from that fray one way or the other. This blog, though, just doesn’t necessarily feel like itself when looking forward, though. Not to say I haven’t done that here and I won’t again. Not in the least. But, as one might expect from a historian, I feel more in my element looking backwards to see what can be gleaned, so that’s what’s happening today.
*The Pirates are the free game tonight on MLB.TV, by the way. And Go Rockies, I guess.
I’ll start with the Colts because it will be brief. Plainly put, you can’t keep putting all your eggs in fourth quarter comebacks. As you might have heard, the Colts did amazingly well at that all last year and even in the first game this year. Just like a team that comes out way ahead in fumble recoveries, though, these sort of wins have a way of evening out and bringing a team back to Earth. I’ve been saying this for some time, and lo and behold, the final drive fizzled this Sunday against the Dolphins. If the Colts don’t learn to extend their leads and put teams away* this could turn into an awfully disappointing season. Even for fans who expected a step back in terms of win-loss record.
*Maybe by finding a decent running game for the first time since Edgerrin James left to whittle the clock away and protecting the quarterback once in awhile.
Purdue, well, it’s hard to say. They opened the game beautifully. I sure wasn’t expecting them to look that good. You could see, though, that Notre Dame had figured out Purdue’s defense at halftime, and the Boilers made a poor effort to change tactics themselves. If they made an effort at all. The offense did legitimately look much improved throughout the game, even if the team did nothing with a recovered fumble for a short field late in the game. We finally got to see some real wrinkles, giving me some hope that the offense we have been exposed to at this point was somewhat of a ruse, much how NFL teams show super-vanilla offenses during the pre-season. That praise aside, though, you could very easily convince me that Notre Dame came out flatter than usual after losing a tough, hyped up game to Michigan the week before and just didn’t put in the kind of effort leading up to a Purdue team that has not looked impressive. You don’t have to look any further than Michigan last week to see some good evidence for that sort of hangover. Purdue travels to Wisconsin this week, which is a game that has gone very badly the last few years. The hope is Wisconsin will have a hangover of their own after the debacle they went through last Saturday.
That leaves us with Wabash. Sophomore Michael Putko took the start and looked pretty darned good. The defense looked even better. How good? Good enough that the final tally was 69-0, and that was with the offense basically giving up at halftime. The defense was responsible for three touchdowns* and only let Hanover punt once in the second half thanks to all the turnovers they created. The offense pretty well did whatever it wanted to. Basically, it went a lot like you expect FBS-FCS match ups to go, and not how they actually went this year.
*One of those is probably more properly called special teams, but Wabash did start the play on defense, so there.
What did that game tell us, though, other than Hanover is clearly not at Wabash’s level? It’s hard to say. Hanover looks to be a pretty bad team. Before getting rolled by Wabash, Illinois College also had their way with them, winning 49-13. For what it’s worth, the Blueboys also won easily this past week, beating Grinnell by an eerily similar 42-13. The pollsters also didn’t seem to think too much about this win, only bumping Wabash up to 19th. This doesn’t quite seem right, following Wabash’s jump from 25th to 20th without playing a game. It also doesn’t feel right that Wittenberg is (and has been, the past few years) rated ahead of Wabash when Wabash has pretty well had their way in that series as of late.*
*Wabash has gone 5-3 in their last eight meetings, and one of those losses was a 10-7 loss when Wabash was missing their All-American quarterback due to injury. I would like to think having him would have more than made up that three point difference.
It would seem that Wabash winning this week for homecoming is a pretty safe bet, though. Denison is 2-0, but those two wins have come over Earlham and Hiram. If you remember the stadium guide post, you might remember that those two programs are not exactly powerhouses. Since I have been watching Wabash football (2004), Denison has not only lost every time, but lost badly. The combined score over that period? 399-90. Denison only broke into double digits four times in that period. They have been shut out twice and only managed a safety last year. The average score during this period? 44.3-10. If Denison managed to win this game, it would be an enormous upset.
Going forward? Again, it’s hard to judge, but this defense has the chance to be the best Little Giant defense I’ve ever seen in person. If the offense can hum along like the teams I’m used to seeing, this could turn into a deep run in the playoffs. And with the “Purple Powers” era seemingly out of vogue, who knows? Maybe this could be a very special year. One thing’s for certain, though. No way in hell I buy into the NCAC preseason poll. Wittenberg got eight first place votes, Wabash and Ohio Wesleyan both got one. Wishful thinking, rest of the conference. Wishful thinking.
Initially the plan was to write about football stadiums yesterday, but things got a bit off track. Today, we're doing this. No real intro, beyond this little bit. No chance to meander.
Maybe a small disclaimer, if you want to call it that. I've only been to five Division III stadiums: Wabash, DePauw, Franklin, Illinois Wesleyan, and Wisconsin-Whitewater. I've driven around Marietta's, but never been inside it. I have been inside a locker room at Oberlin's football stadium to shower after a disc tournament (I'm not exactly sure we were supposed to). My dad and I have talked about making the relatively short trip to Springfield to watch Wabash play Wittenberg, but we still haven't done it. Maybe next year (as that game is home this year).
Here we are, presented in the order I found them on Google Maps. The stadia of the North Coast Athletic Conference. All pictures are shown with north at the top, so you can get a sense of the alignment.
Wabash College Little Giants
Hollett Little Giant Stadium
-Built in 1966
-Great view of field from inside Allen Center
-Joined NCAC in 2000, 6 Conference championships (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)
DePauw University Tigers
-This stadium just had major renovations for this season. I haven't seen this stadium to really know what renovations have been made, so it's possible it now has artificial turf. If so, it's not indicated on the DePauw or D3Football websites.
-Joined NCAC in 2012. No conference championships (though I suppose you can't hold that against them yet)
Wittenberg University Tigers
-Built in 1921
-All seating on one side of the field. Doesn't quite seem fitting for the winningest program in Division III.
-Founding NCAC member. 10 Conference championships (1992, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012)
Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops
-Built in 1929
-9,100 seats (easily largest in NCAC)
-Founding NCAC member. 2 Conference championships (1989, 2012)
College of Wooster Fighting Scots
-Construction date not listed anywhere I could find
-All permanent seating on one side, but stadium is built in a natural bowl, and hillside seating is greatly encouraged
-They bring a single bagpipe player on the road. I'm sure the display at home games is a little grander given their old Coke commercial.
-Founding NCAC member. 2 Conference championships (1997, 2004)
Denison University Big Red
-Built in 1922
-Steve Carrell's alma mater. That's cool, right?
-Founding NCAC member. 2 Conference championships (1985, 1986)
Kenyon College Lords
-Built in 1962
-Seating on one side. Also, I have been on Kenyon's campus, but I wasn't near the football stadium. I have, though, slept outside their tennis courts thanks to Steve messing up our hotel reservations for a disc tournament. We were woken up in the middle of the night by campus security, but they didn't make us leave. I don't really have great memories of Kenyon.
-Founding NCAC member. 1 Conference championship (1989)
Oberlin College Yeomen
-Built in 1925
-One sided stadium. Sits right next to a lacrosse/field hockey stadium which is much, much nicer. Obviously not a school overly concerned with football.
-Founding NCAC member. No conference championships. (See above?)
Hiram College Terriers
-Unknown construction date
-Looks like it would be a good view from athletic center
-Joined NCAC in 2000. No conference championships. Not to pick on them, but they've won 13 games total since joining the conference. Clearly football is not their sport.
Allegheny College Gators
-Unsure of construction date, maybe 1962?
-This was until recently natural grass, and well-known to be a mud bowl of a field. I think every team hated playing at 'Gheny thanks to that field. It was a great home field advantage. This seems to have dissipated with the new turf.
-Founding NCAC member. 9 Conference championships (1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003)
For what it's worth, Case Western Reserve University was a founding member and stayed until 1998. They won the first conference championship in 1984. Earlham College joined in 1989 and left in 2010. Their best finish was 4-way tie for third in 2008 with Wittenberg, Denison, and Allegheny.
Anybody that knows me knows that just about everything I do or think comes, in some way, through the prism of sport. Much to the chagrin of the women in my life, I’m sure. Right or wrong, sport is a pillar of who I am and absurdly high on my list of priorities. As such, I’m sure it came to absolutely no surprise that sports were going to play a central role in not only my high school experience, but my college one as well (including picking a school).
I think I’ve written here before how I came to be at Wabash, but I’ll recount it again. During my junior year, I was taking a trip with our English class in conjunction with a lot of seniors who had the same English teacher. During that trip, we visited Rose-Hulman, Indiana State, DePauw, and Wabash. In that order, too, if I remember right. Which would also make sense, because you can make a pretty good rectangle starting and finishing from Covington that way. We may possibly have visited ISU first, but I don’t think that was the case, because I distinctly remember eating lunch at the ISU student union.* Anyway, I digress. I knew I wasn’t at all interested in ISU or Rose-Hulman (didn’t really want a big school [nor do I think much of ISU’s academics] and I really knew I didn’t want to be an engineer), but I was intrigued by the last two. I had heard of the Bell Game and had watched a little bit of one way back when.** I had especially heard of Wabash, as it was the “good school” I could go to if I worked hard and kept getting good grades.
*Wabash is very clear that we don’t necessarily believe in student unions, though the idea seems to get kicked around every few years. I don’t think Wabash needs one, personally, but that’s a column probably worth a five page paper.
**No idea what year, or even who won, I didn’t stick with it all the way through. I just remember completely stumbling on it flipping through channels one day and a mom being interviewed who had a kid on each team.
I honestly am not sure how Wabash got that sort of reputation with my family. We had no connection to it before I got there, other than it was in Crawfordsville, which was really close to home. We never attended Wabash anything growing up. Mom never hung out there when she was at Purdue. Dad talks about watching the 1982 championship game on ESPN, but that was about it. He never attended any games in person or spent any time on campus. It just had that reputation, I guess. I never spent a ton of time in Crawfordsville growing up, and honestly did not realize that there was a college in town. I sure wouldn’t have been able to point out where it was before I visited campus before that day. Wabash was just some nebulous idea of a good school that mainly existed to write those ever-dreaded thank you notes for savings bonds.*
*By the way, it really is an awesome idea to do that for kids for birthdays and Christmas (or whatever holiday you observe in December). It helps a ton, especially those bonds that have so much time to mature. But to the kid actually getting them at the time, it’s about the worst present you can imagine.
On that fateful day, we first pulled into some lot at DePauw. I remember getting the impression that the school was rather dirty. Writing all over sidewalks, flyers hanging everywhere. While I certainly understand that’s far from uncommon at schools, it was to another level, at least to my junior-year mind. It just came off as unkempt. Greencastle itself also came off as a bit of a dump, and it still does, if I’m being honest. My view of their campus has changed, though. It’s a perfectly fine campus, if a bit spread out for my taste. Anyway, while I wasn’t too impressed with the school, I did like what I was hearing about the academic opportunities, and the size was more what I had in mind. I filed away that visit for later.
Our bus then made the trip up 231 and pulled into the lot behind Trippet Hall at Wabash. It’s funny to look back on it knowing what I do now. We were frisked away inside Trippet and given a mini-reception in a decked out dining room right behind the main foyer. It was immediately impressed. Of course, looking back on it now, I realize that Trippet Hall pretty much exists to impress prospective students, (older?) alumni, and important guests to the school. After a short welcome from Mike Reidy, we were taken on a tour by a student.* I was blown away. The campus was immaculate. Every building, all the landscaping, was just perfect. The red brick sidewalks were left to their own devices. I could not help it. I instantly fell in love with the place. I didn’t even bother to apply anywhere else, and I was blessed enough to have it all come to fruition.
*This happened at DePauw, too, but (as usual) the Wally totally outclassed the Danny.
One of those perfect buildings was the Allen Fieldhouse. To this day, I have not come across a nicer facility for a school of similar size. I could not wait to start going to games at Wabash and using the Fieldhouse myself. And I was not disappointed, and am usually so excited especially to show off that building when I bring people around campus. I started going to Wabash basketball games regularly that winter, though we didn’t go to football games until I actually started at Wabash. I don’t know why that was, honestly. Probably because Covington is so historically awful at football (but pretty darned good at basketball), I just wasn’t all the interested.
All of this was supposed to be a lead in to look at all the football stadiums of the NCAC, but that sure turned into a long winded intro. Part Two, then, will run tomorrow, just with pictures and a short synopsis.
Wabash (finally) kicks off its season on Saturday against Hanover. It shouldn’t be much of a game, and Wabash has already risen to 20th from 25th in the D3Football.com poll* without even taking the field. The defense should be one of the best Little Giants have fielded in years, maybe the best since I’ve been watching. But there is still plenty of intrigue coming into this season, and most of it is at quarterback.
*Also known as the only poll that really matters in Division III. At least as far as I’m concerned. The AFCA does a poll which is usually more friendly to Wabash, but I don’t know anybody who really concerns themselves with that one.
It’s certainly true that quarterbacks (and coaches, to a degree) get too much credit when things go right and too much blame when things go wrong. As you might be able to infer from an 8-2 season being a big disappointment, things have been going pretty right for Wabash, and have been for the last decade, really. This can no doubt be traced through a line of All-American quarterbacks* since I walked onto campus in August of 2004. Russ Harbaugh, Dustin Huff, Matt Hudson, and Chase Belton have all been top ten or better quarterbacks in Division III, and for the most part, they’ve all come through a pretty natural progression and had some good hints at what was coming before their appointed time to start.** Now, though, the chain looks as if it might have been somewhat broken.
*I think all these guys were All-Americans, but if not, they certainly could have been without a doubt.
**A big exception would be Matt Hudson. As I’m pretty sure I’ve written about before, Huff lost what should have been his fifth year senior season after being injured on the hands team against Franklin in the opening game that year. It was as sullen a crowd as you could imagine for winning a tough revenge game. Another quarterback, whose name escapes me, but we called him Augie, started for a game and didn’t do badly. Then Hudson took the reins, and the rest was history.
Chase* was a very good quarterback, and probably the most mobile that I saw. The problem was his size. He was a pretty small dude, especially following the 6’5” or so Hudson. As referenced earlier, Huff couldn’t stay healthy, and he was a pretty good sized guy. Chase inevitably spent some games hurt thanks to his game. This included most of the playoffs in 2011. The back up then, though, was Tyler Burke, who happened to be a senior. Last season, Chase was remarkably healthy, though. So while there were some spots we saw a different quarterback, there was really not much there to get a glimpse of the future and see the next link in the chain.
*I use his first name here for a reason, you’ll see why in a bit.
So this year, as certain as the defense is, the quarterback question is totally up in the air, even to today. Even Coach Raeburn says he doesn’t know who’s going to start on Saturday. The quarterback we’ve seen is senior Andy Walsh. He hasn’t looked bad at all, but I also haven’t seen anything that really gets me excited about him. I’m more hopeful about what I’ve watched him do on the basketball court than anything I’ve seen on grass. He also runs into a lot of the same issues I have with Travis Henry. Maybe even more so. This is a good team, it deserves better than a place holder.
So that brings us to what underclassmen are in the mix. Sophomore Michael Putko apparently saw some game action against Wooster last year, which I kind of vaguely remember, but clearly am not too excited about. There is another sophomore, Bauer Schmeltz, apparently in the mix, who we have not seen. He would get the nod for best name, though.
Myself? You know, I wouldn’t really mind seeing if a freshman could handle things here early in the season. Who wouldn’t like to have four years of an All-American quarterback if you can? There are three in contention. Two won state championships coming out of a couple of Indy’s best programs, which you might have heard is a pretty good football scene these days. That would be Connor Rice and Drake Christen out of Cathedral and Lawrence Central, respectively. I’m sure both would do great. But the last freshman is the one that has my attention.
Hailing from Northmont High School in Dayton, Ohio, is Cameron Belton, younger brother of Chase. It seems from this article that maybe he is a bit of a darkhorse in this race, but if he’s anything like his brother, I would certainly say “yes, please, more of this!” As an added bonus, he’s a bit bigger than Chase. I’ve seen him on the sidelines for games in previous years (as you might expect) and he certainly looks like an athlete. And who can pass up a chance to get Wittenberg and DePauw fans thinking “Man, this Belton kid has been playing for ages!” You would also have to think that, even out of the sophomores competing for the job, Cam would have the best idea of what the football team means to Wabash and the responsibility that comes with being the quarterback.*
*Which I guess means making movies? Just kidding. Although, for real, you should check out Russ’ stuff. It’s good, and he really is one of the most thoughtful writers I came across in my time doing creative writing at Wabash.
We’ll see who takes the first snap on Saturday, and it’s heavily hinted (and not a bad idea) that we will see multiple quarterbacks for the first few games. Judging from the past, Hanover’s defense probably won’t give the best example to judge which guy can handle Wittenberg and DePauw* best. But, you can only play who the schedule gives you, and best to experiment against Hanover and Denison than, say, Mount Union in the playoffs.
*I guess I have to include them, though you might have heard they’re having some football issues. They’ve turned to former IU coach Bill Lynch. Surely there no reason to think that a failed coach at a bad football school could fail, right?
I’m a bit frustrated. The NFL kicks off tonight, which is reason enough to be upset. Thursday games (outside of Thanksgiving) are just plain wrong and are the NFL’s second dumbest idea, just behind putting a team in London.* Adding to this is Purdue’s disastrous outing against Cincinnati has me legitimately worried about this game on Saturday against Indiana State and no hope about the game against Notre Dame. Not that I held out a lot of hope in that game anyway, but you might remember that Purdue had that game won last year and let it slip away, much like they did against Ohio State. Oh, and Wabash, notorious for starting their season late, is even later than usual, not kicking off until next week.
*Full-time or a week or two a year. It’s just stupid for a multitude of reasons.
Even baseball was a source of frustration yesterday. The free online game was an afternoon game yesterday, which usually is great news for me. But, for some reason, MLB could not seem to understand that I’m actually in Indiana, even after putting in my credit card information that usually clears that right up. Awfully frustrating. Not that I was intensely interested in the Braves and Mets, but it helps the afternoons go by faster.
Still, I come back to that game last Saturday. Granted, I didn’t really think Purdue would win that game, especially on the road. But I was certainly particularly interested in the game to get a glimpse of what Coach Hazell had in store for this upcoming season. I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed to hear that Rob Henry was named the starter. Nothing against Henry, I’m sure he’s a great guy who has shown some promise at quarterback. The problem I had is that he’s a senior quarterback trying to install a brand new offensive package. I understand the hopes of the future on the shoulders of David Blough, who’ll be a freshman next year. And that’s great, I’ve heard nothing but amazing hype about this kid. But that doesn’t help much this year. And this year is important.
Purdue will get a lot of slack this year. It’s the first year for the new coach, and I think everybody understands it takes a few years to get your guys in and in position. But there is some excitement about Boilermaker football that has been lacking during the Hope era,* and it would be an absolute shame to squander it because this year’s team took a big step backwards. It seems that giving Danny Etling (a four star recruit)** the reins would seem like a bolder move, especially with an eye toward the future. And, well, if you’re looking to make a big move in the conference in the next couple years, might as well get the kid polished during the year with some wiggle room, right?
*Ironic, isn’t it?
**Blough is a three star recruit, for whatever that’s worth. The answer is usually “not much,” and I’ve read much more hype over Blough than Etling, though that could well be because Blough is from Texas and Etling is from Terre Haute.
I do expect Etling to be starting before the year is over, and I expected that before last Saturday. There are some arguments for starting Henry right now, though. And some that actually extend beyond “the kid’s a senior and paid his due, he deserves a shot,” which is argument enough for a few games. Most of that argument rests on what looked to be a pretty shaky offensive line. I don’t remember that being a particular problem for Purdue the past several years. In fact, the line on both sides of the ball seems to have been a pretty big strength for the program lately. But it looked porous against Cincinnati, forcing Henry into some pretty bad spots and pretty bad decisions. While you want Etling to learn, there’s probably not much to be gained from watching the game on your back. Kind of like Jay Cutler’s problem with the Bears. I’m not particularly a Cutler fan, but I think he’s a much better quarterback than he’s shown in Chicago thus far. It’s hard to be effective when you’re running for your life every play.
After watching the first half of Saturday’s game, though, I felt hopeful. Sure, the touchdown came on a fluky punt play* and the goal line package was a disaster. And the pass protection showed some holes. But Purdue was moving the ball and not doing a bad job at all of running it. The defense was keeping the Bearcats in check for the most part. There were reasons to think it would be a close game. Then halftime happened, and it was the last productive thing about that game. The defense showed the first half was probably more about Cincinnati finding their legs than anything Purdue was doing. The offense totally stopped and took most of the quarter just to gain a positive yard. It was about as ugly a half as you could imagine and things got out of hand quick.
*News flash, nation. Cody Webster still has a cannon leg.
You would like to think you could chaulk Indiana State up as a win now, but I’m unfortunately hesitant. First of all, as you might have heard, the FCS didn’t have a bad opening week, scoring wins at USF, Connecticut, (ranked) Oregon State, and others. In some cases, the FCS schools beat the FBS schools handily. Secondly, Indiana State wasn’t a bad team last year. They spent quite a bit of time ranked in the FCS and heavily flirted with playoff spot before faltering a bit at the end. You might also remember the ISU had Indiana in trouble, if not beat, before finally falling by a touchdown. This year’s tilt in Bloomington was a little different, mostly in that the Hoosiers were able to ring up 73 points. But the Sycamore did manage 35 points of their own. Purdue had better win this game, and I’m certainly expecting them to, but I just don’t feel nearly as confident about it now as I did this time last week.
I was going to write a bit about Wabash’s upcoming season, but this has gone on a bit longer than I thought it would, plus (as mentioned earlier) I’ve got another week before they face off against Hanover, so I’ll save that for another day.
This was covered a lot of places on the internet today, but it won't hurt anything if we cover it here, too. Andrew McCutchen, on top of being a very likely MVP choice this year, is also quite the artist in his spare time. After watching him quickly doodle out a Pirates "P" (with flames, of course) while being interviewed by Buster Olney* a Twitter follower challenged McCutchen to draw this old-school Pirates logo.
*Not to mention some pretty impressive Dragon Ball Z and Boondocks.
McCutchen nobly took on the challenge and produced this about two hours after the challenge was issued.
Not too shabby!
There is a certain art to cheering for underdog teams. And there is a major difference between actually cheering for a team and just latching on because they’re a good story. And that difference, for me, is the Blackhawks and the Pirates.
I wrote about my journey to the Blackhawks fairly recently, so that seems like a good start. I certainly do claim them as my team, but I also certainly can’t claim much more than a bandwagon fan at this point. I came to them during the 2009 season when I had pretty well declared myself an NHL free agent fan with the Blackhawks and Blues as the front runners. It looked like the Blues might claim me, but the Blackhawks atmosphere in the playoffs that year sealed the deal for me. And, despite family ties, I certainly tend more towards Chicago teams than St. Louis ones. I can’t really explain that one, it’s just how these things shake out, I suppose. In any case, yes, breaking through to the Stanley Cup in 2010 was an awesome time, but I really wasn’t there for the last fifty years before that to really experience the drought and the lows the team went through. In short, while there were certainly a lot of underdog years, I never really rooted for the underdog Chicago Blackhawks.
The Pirates are a bit of a different story. I would still consider myself to be more of a Cubs fan. That’s the team I grew up with (much to the chagrin of my family) and the professional team I’ve generally supported above all others.* The Pirates, though, have probably gotten more attention from me lately and I have no qualms in saying they have my favorite player right now in Andrew McCutchen. The feeling I get with the Pirates now is pretty similar to when you’ve “discovered” a mid-level band not long before they break into the big time, or those people who read Twilight before it became a phenomenon.
*This doesn’t really count my brief flirtation with Pirate fandom when I was five, which was more just me saying it than any action taken on it. And it was just because my first Pee Wee team was the Pirates.
I could see the tides were going to turn in Pittsburgh mostly because I took one of the most awful jobs I could imagine working tech support for GPS’s in Carmel.* I was pretty miserable there working for peanuts. Definitely not what I had in mind after all that private schooling. I only worked there for about five months, but it did happen to be five months that fell during baseball season. My love of the Indianapolis Indians and Victory Field is well documented. I mean, just look at the header image. For all the negatives that came with that job, the ability to go to a game or two a week was a nice bonus. And when I was there, it just happened to be the same time as McCutchen, Garrett (G.I.) Jones, Neil Walker, and Nyjer Morgan. Jose Bautista was there, too, for a hot minute, but I don’t think I ever actually saw him. In any case, this was before there was any indication he would become Joey Bats. Anyway, I digress. I got on board because I could see these guys were going to be able to rake, and they weren’t going to be too bad in the field, either. Pedro Alvarez came a little bit later, as did Jose Tabata and Sterling Marte. More firepower. It’s also the reason why, I’m sure, I spent all that time watching Walker play third then suddenly found him playing second with the big club.
*That company did so well they don’t even sell GPS devices any more, just software for your phone.
There wasn’t too much pitching in Indianapolis, at least not then. And that bears out now, too. Pirates pitchers are either known free agents like AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano or very young hotshots who came up after the core I knew were already in the bigs, like Gerrit Cole or (soon to be) Jameson Taillon. But the idea is the same. I could see the tide turning, and I had a personal connection to this team. I got to root for this team when the rest of the sports world was still awfully down on them and casual fans for sure had no idea what was coming. I know I corrected more than one person when they tried to use the Pirates as an example of complete ineptitude.
So then the moment happens, and it’s in the process of happening right now with the Pirates. At the time of writing this, they’re sitting at 80 wins. For a long time, all you really heard about was breaking the losing drought. Just one season of at least 82 wins. The team is on the cusp of that now, but you don’t really hear about that any more. There’s one goal, and that’s October. And it should be. The Pirates are leading the toughest division in baseball, and that win on Saturday felt absolutely enormous, even if they did give it right back the next day. That really did feel like a breakthrough win. And there’s such a huge feeling of satisfaction you can take from there that you would never really feel from rooting from a team like, say, the Yankees. Or, hell, probably even the Cardinals, though the 90’s weren’t necessarily the best decade for them.*
*758-794 for the decade, good for a .488 winning percentage.
It’s not always fun at the time, but going through all those fallow seasons does make the good ones that much sweeter, and there really is no better feeling in sports than when a team finally is clicking again and the fanbase is starting to rediscover the team all over again. The Pacers either just finished going through that or are towards the end stages of those feelings, and it has been a hell of a time to be a Pacer fan as of late, if my blog is any indication of that. The Pirates have finally captured Pittsburgh’s attention again, and even from somebody who can’t necessarily call them his own, though it’s close, it’s an awfully good feeling being here now after where the team was.