Saturday, November 18, 2017

Scrambling To Salvage Seasons

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

Last week in my column, I mentioned that Florida State University (FSU) had to reschedule an early regular season game with the University of Louisiana Monroe (UL-Monroe) that was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma to December 2, 2017 in a desperate attempt to become Bowl Eligible.

Since there are 40 Bowl Games, which begin from December 16, 2017-January 8, 2018, it's hard to not take note of certain games this weekend of teams scrambling to get into a Bowl Game.

I've always enjoyed watching and occasionally covering Bowl Games because it's another opportunity for NFL Scouts to see prospects to compliment the regular season, plus the few All-Star Games that are also scheduled.

There is no question that there is a saturation of Bowl Games and a lot of Empty Stadiums.

Yet these games do give universities, especially the smaller ones, much needed exposure to help bolster recruiting.

The Bowl Season does give student athletes a chance to extend their careers by a game.

You'll see unique match-ups that wouldn't be possible because of how difficult it is for Athletic Directors and Head Coaches to fit in when building future schedules.

In many instances, these are first time match-ups.

It's neat to see these students play in the Bahamas and Hawaii as well as other cities, plus also have the opportunity to possibly take their families.

I doubt I'd hear a complaint of a student getting to play in a warm California, Texas, Arizona or Florida city and spend some time at a popular tourist attraction as part of the business trip.

Let's not forget that in addition to the exposure and recruiting benefits, universities do get a payout to fund their athletic departments plus promote academics.

Here is a look at some of today's interesting match-ups as we examine how things play out in the coming weeks leading up to the Bowl Selection process.

1. Louisiana-Monroe (4-5) has a tough task as it faces No.6 Auburn (8-2) in Auburn, AL. Win or lose, UL-Monroe figures to get a big payday while still trying to earn additional cash in a potential Bowl Game as well as valuable exposure.

Meanwhile, Auburn must play well in an effort to keep its National Championship hopes alive. They can't have a let down today.

2. Florida State faces the Delaware State Hornets in Tallahassee, FL. Delaware State is the same university which forfeited a conference game to earn a sizable payday as it faced the Michigan Wolverines in The Big House in Ann Arbor a few years ago.

Delaware State is 2-8 while FSU is 3-6.

Who would have thought that two schools so far a way in tradition would have records like this? Yet, Delaware State figures to get a huge payday and a moral victory would be keeping this game close. FSU is clinging to dear life just to get into a Bowl Game as evidenced earlier by rescheduling Louisiana-Monroe.

3. The Florida Gators (3-6) host the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Blazers (7-3) in Gainesville. There are indeed other teams in Alabama besides Auburn and the University of Alabama, traditional powerhouse programs.

A few years ago, UAB dropped its football program only to bring it back. If the Blazers defeat the Gators, U-F will most likely be eliminated from Bowl Consideration. The only way Florida gets in with five victories is there aren't enough Bowl Eligible teams. If Florida defeats UAB, it still has a contest against state rival Florida State on November 25.

Like the Seminoles, Hurricane Irma didn't do the Gators any favors as its September 9, 2017 game against Northern Colorado was cancelled and as of yet hasn't been rescheduled.

The question remains, in a rough season, would the Gators even want to play in a Bowl Game which saw Head Coach Jim McElwain get terminated?

I would highly doubt it unless the Gators hire a new coach very quickly that endorses the idea to scout his new players. But the Gators have a lot of work to do in the meantime.

Finally, the Texas Longhorns (5-5) travel to West Virginia to face the Mountaineers (7-3) in Morgantown.

Mediocrity got former Longhorns Coach Charlie Strong fired a year ago in Texas, but he's rebounded very well at My Alma-Mater the University of South Florida with a 9-1 record.

Texas (5-5) lured Tom Herman away from the Houston Cougars with a five-year contract worth $5 Million per-year.

The Longhorns have two opportunities to reach a Bowl Game. A win over West Virginia and they'll get invited someplace. Otherwise, next week, they'll host Texas Tech (5-5) at home in Austin.

But the question remains, how long will the fans, boosters and alumni be patient with Herman if this national powerhouse doesn't regain elite status, thus having to settle for a lower tiered bowl game for a coach that figures to earn $25 Million for the length of his contract.

But as I analyze this weeks schedule, it's hard to believe that I'm writing a column on Florida, Florida State and Texas scrambling and hammering their way to get into a Bowl Game.

How times have changed and I'm doing just that.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Media.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Nice Turnaround In Northern Florida

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

The last time we saw the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 24, 2016, they hammered former head coach Mike Mularkey and his Tennessee Titans 38-17 at EverBank Field.

In the game, the Jaguars improved to 3-12, and Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota left the game due to a fractured fibula.

The Titan's game was Marrone's first game as Jacksonville's interim head coach.

He replaced current LA Chargers Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley compiled a 14-48 mark with a .226 percentage.

Jacksonville would finish the regular season with a 3-13 mark.

The Jaguars finished 1-1 under interim head coach Doug Marrone.

Things have drastically changed since we were in Northern Florida 11 months ago.

The Jaguars hired former Coach Tom Coughlin to run the football operations and he wasted no time naming Marrone as the permanent head coach.

Coughlin's presence has been felt by two organizations.

His former team The New York Giants are 1-8 and Sunday lost to the previous winless San Francisco 49'ers, who are now 1-9.

The distance between Jacksonville's EverBank Field to the Giants MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ is 932 miles north on I-95.

With moderate traffic, it's 15 hours and 37 minutes and without traffic, you're looking at 13 hours and 34 minutes.

What's also changed since December is Jacksonville drafted running back Leonard Fournette from LSU and he's improved the running game.

Going into this weekend's action, Fournette has 147 carries for 629 yards and six touchdowns. He's also caught 17 passes for 149 yards and another touchdown.

Fournette learned quickly that when he recently had disciplinary problems, Coughlin and Marrone suspended him for one game sending a clear message to the team that this regime won't tolerate any problems and distractions.

EverBank Field also looked different behind the south end zone as it's more closed in and is louder because of a new amphitheater called Daily's Place (capacity 5000) which holds small concerts and events.

It shares space with a Jaguars indoor facility called Flex Field.

If you're looking for a hard hitting game then this was it.

The Jaguars had nine penalties for 106 yards while the Los Angeles Chargers were flagged seven times for 77 yards. I have to admit that it was tough not saying the San Diego Chargers.

This was a contest that on the surface had two great young running backs on display.

The Chargers Melvin Gordon and Fournette went into the game looking to put on a running show. Instead, they had games they'd like to forget.

Gordon had eight attempts for 16 yards, plus three receptions for nine yards. Fournette had nine carries for 21 yards.

Part of Gordon's struggles were attributed to the Jaguars recent acquisition of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (99), who played for the Buffalo Bills a couple weeks ago.

The 6-3, 331 pound run stopper gave Gordon very little room to move in the backfield. He amassed four tackles as you'll see in the photo.

After the game, I spoke to Dareus and I told him his former team Buffalo got hammered 47-6 to the New Orleans Saints.

I also told him there is no state income tax in Florida and he wasn't shy about being pleased to be playing in the Sunshine State getting a fresh start.

He said he likes what he's seen so far with the team and says if this team get into the playoffs it would be like comparing it to a piece of popcorn and seeing the colonel pop.

"Today's game showed me a lot. These guys fight for each other," Dareus said. "It's all about my man next to me. You can see the passion. I'm doing everything I can for the man next to me. These guys showed me a lot today."

When I asked Dareus if he felt the defense is the strength of the team, he said, "The left hand washes the right hand. We look out for each other. It's not about us (defense) feeling like we have to carry the team. It's not about us looking like we have to carry the team. We do the best with each other so we can help each other get better.

"The offense made big plays for us today, we made some big plays for them and special teams came up big. We made big plays all over the place."

The Jaguars had 398 net total yards and Los Angeles 322. Jacksonville won the contest 20-17 in overtime.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye came up with a crucial interception in overtime that led to the game winning field goal by Josh Lambo. Lambo, formerly of the Chargers, haunted his old team by converting a 30-yard field goal 3:12 left in overtime for the victory.

Bouye posted four tackles and the interception against the Chargers.

As a result, he was named AFC Defensive Player Of The Week and is the third Jaguar to earn that honor this season.

The win improved Jacksonville to 6-3 and doubled it's victory total in 2016.

Throughout the day, I spoke with a lot of the media and asked them about speculation concerning the future of QB Blake Bortles.

There has also been speculation of Giants QB Eli Manning, 36, rejoining Coughlin, but because Jacksonville continues to win, the situation wouldn't be addressed until the offseason.

Bortles was 28-51 for 273 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed five times for 34 yards.

With all due respect to Bortles, he lost his top wide receiver Allen Robinson to injury during week one.

Jacksonville drafted Dede Westbrook in the fourth round and the 6-0, 178 pound speedy receiver from Oklahoma, underwent core muscle surgery and has been on injured reserve. He is expected to be activated this weekend.

When I asked Bortles how difficult the season has been without two weapons, he said, "It's been a challenge. Those two guys you said, anytime you're playing with those two guys, we have both seen what Allen Robinson is capable of doing. We have talked about it before.

"He goes down and that's a lot of production that's lost and Westbrook with his ability and not being out there. I think it's a tribute to Nathaniel Hackett and what he's been able to do and the offensive staff, schematically and scheming things up to get guys open. Then that room has taken it on themselves and the running backs and tight ends have helped us out as well. It's been a group effort with those two guys not being out there to be able to kind of keep the pass game rolling."

A crowd of 60,835 were loud and Bortles said that "It's awesome to have a real home field advantage. It's something that hasn't always been that way in the past and something we wanted to try and bring back. Coach Coughlin came up here and talked to us at the beginning of the season and talked about back when he was here, the support and how the city was when they were rolling.

"That's something that we talked about last week a little bit. We want to make sure that this is an advantage when we come play in Jacksonville in front of our fans. They've been incredible all day like you said."

When the game was over, Marrone was asked if he enjoys these close games?

I'm exhausted right now. I'm shot," Marrone said. "I'm living and dying on every single play with every call that we have, but every play and call I have, you know what I mean.' So after the game is over, I'm shot."

Marrone added that the main thing is "Obviously we came away with a win which is obviously the objective. You know it's difficult in this league when you've been in the league for a while, these types of games where you're just trying to grind them and just find a way to get an opportunity to win the game."

What did Marrone think was the reason the Chargers (3-6) did to slow down the running game?

"They did a good job. They got after us up front. We lost some battles up front. They did a very good job. They're a good football team. They really are."

If Marrone was exhausted over this win, he'll have a week of stress that Detroit Lions Coach Jim Caldwell dealt with.

The Jaguars coach has to face the 0-9 Cleveland Browns and doesn't want to be the team which allows them to notch their first win.

For those individuals that think Jacksonville has QB issues, since 1999, the Cleveland Browns have used 28 signal callers.

For the Jaguars to leave "The Super Bowl Non Participation Club" that has the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and the lowly Browns, it would be wise to not overlook and underestimate this team.

The Lions would sure like company in the 0-16 club and the Browns are the only winless squad left in the NFL.

To say the Cleveland Browns contest for Jacksonville is one of the biggest games of the year for the Jaguars is mildly under stating this.

But it is because they're expected to win this game.

Jacksonville leads the all-time regular season series 11-5 over the Browns, have won two straight and three of the past four meetings.

Marrone knows it and after the Chargers game, he's very appreciative of the fan base which has been starving for a winner for years. A loss to the Browns would only be detrimental to getting fans to return.

"I think first of all, I want to credit the people that are here that do give us the advantage because they do a heck of a job," Marrone said. "I still go back to the same course that I took early on when I would get asked that question if we're building a home field advantage.

"I think we have to go out and continue to play well and earn that right. I really believe that. If someone was to say, 'Well, I don't want to see those guys, I just hope that they give this time an opportunity to come out and watch this team.

"I think if they do, I think they'll be happy with the type of effort we have. I think the people that are here are great. We would love to have more, we really would, but we have to understand that it's on us to bring them here."

It will definitely be interesting to see which organization makes greater strides to get into the playoffs.

There are men with the Lions and Jaguars who have been to Super Bowls.

Lions General Manager Bob Quinn (New England Patriots) and Coach Caldwell (Indianapolis Colts) have both won Super Bowls.

Tom Coughlin has a pair of Super Bowl wins with Manning as his QB.

Coughlin was the first coach of the expansion Jaguars in 1995, and has led this franchise to two AFC Championship Games in 1996 and 1999.

Meanwhile, the Lions lone NFC Championship game occurred in 1991 under Coach Wayne Fontes and featured Hall of Fame Running Back Barry Sanders.

A tale of two organizations looking to finally reach a Super Bowl with starving fans.

Will it take a Hall of Fame QB to win a Super Bowl and do either of these franchises have one?

There are no playoff wins between Matthew Stafford and Bortles.

But I'll say this, names like Jim McMahon (Chicago Bears), Doug Williams (Washington Redskins), Jeff Hostetler (New York Giants), Mark Rypien (Washington Redskins), Trent Dilfer (Baltimore Ravens) and Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay Bucs) proved a QB doesn't have to be a Hall of Famer to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the coming weeks.

As I mentioned before, the Jaguars hope to avoid a letdown in Cleveland while the Lions (5-4) face the Chicago Bears in Illinois.

Jacksonville enters the Cleveland contest in first place thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers 40-17 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans Thursday Night. The loss dropped the Titans to 6-4.

Tennessee and Jacksonville could play for the AFC South Title in Nashville on December 31, 2017.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a Member of The Detroit Sports Media.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Interesting Football Insights

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTO (LIONS) BY CANDICE EBLING

One of my favorite films growing up was a Walt Disney Productions 1976 Movie titled "Gus" which was about a mule placekicker that made long field goals.

For Gus, making 50-plus yard field goals was the norm.

The Detroit Lions have a field goal kicker that kicks field goals a long way and for him 50-yard field goals come often.

Like QB Matt Stafford, Matt Prater is shattering Lions records at a brisk pace.

On October 25, 2017, Detroit signed Prater to a 3-year extension worth as much as $12.15 Million that includes potential incentives.

Prater has hit from 50 yards 20 times since joining the Lions. He has three 55-yarders this year which is an NFL single season record.

Of the seven longest field goals in Lions history, Prater owns five of them while Jason Hanson has a pair.

Prater owns the Lions four longest field goals at 59, 58, 58, 57 and 56. Hanson also has two 56-yard field goals.

Prater joined the Lions in 2014 and against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night, October 29, 2017, his leg amounted to the only points scored as Detroit lost 20-15.

He could have had six field goals, but Detroit elected to go for a touchdown and failed to convert deep in the red zone on fourth down.

As a result, Pittsburgh drove on the next possession and scored for what proved to be the game winning touchdown.

Now the Lions have Prater until 2020 and I'll be curious to see how many more game winning field goals he amasses before his career is concluded whether they're long or short.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that on December 8, 2013, Prater set an NFL Record with a 64-yard field goal as he led the Denver Broncos to a 51-28 home win over the Tennessee Titans at Mile High Stadium which has an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level.

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The Michigan Wolverines are on their third QB this season, but that signal caller isn't named Shane Morris.

Morris, 23, a 6-3, 225 pound native from Warren, MI, is making a name for himself at Central Michigan University (CMU).

He threw three TD's in CMU's 42-30 win over Eastern Michigan Wednesday Night in Mount Pleasant as his squad improved to 6-4. Central Michigan became bowl eligible for the 10th time in 12 years.

Morris has played in 10 games and has thrown for 2,364 yards, 21 TD's and 11 interceptions.

If the senior QB keeps winning games, there is always a good chance that he'll have an opportunity to play on Sundays if he impresses scouts in preparation for the 2018 NFL Draft and attempts to become a hidden gem.

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The Florida State Seminoles rescheduled a football game that I thought would never happen, but when a team is desperate to play in a bowl, then you play it.

Early this fall, Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of many football games in Florida.

On September 9, 2017, Florida State was supposed to host The University of Louisiana-Monroe. At that time, no make-up game was scheduled.

Now the game is scheduled for December 2, 2017, in Tallahassee, FL.

FSU is currently 3-5 and is off to its worst start since 1976 and may need this game to be bowl eligible.

The Seminoles have not missed a bowl game since 1981.

Louisiana-Monroe is also 3-5 but win or lose, at least they'll get a guaranteed payday.

These guarantee games which enable smaller schools to finance their athletic departments, start out as low as $500,000 and exceed millions of dollars depending on the opponent, plus factoring in travel expenses.

In many instances, these games are mismatches for the smaller programs, but are helpful to the larger schools as they prepare for their demanding conference schedules.

But, who would have imagined Florida State being in this predicament especially since the Seminoles defeated the Michigan Wolverines in The Orange Bowl 33-32 on December 30, 2016 at Joe Robbie Stadium.

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Finally, during the Thursday Night Football Game between The Seattle Seahawks vs Arizona Cardinals, NBC Color Analyst Cris Collinsworth, photo on right, made a very interesting observation as we head into Veterans Day Weekend.

Collinsworth, a former Florida Gators wide receiver, said that former Arizona Cardinals Safety Pat Tillman belongs in The Pro Football Hall Of Fame.

I strongly agree with Collinsworth!

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Tillman's 15 game salary was $512,000.

In May of 2002, eight months after the September 11 attacks, Tillman, who played three years with the Cardinals from 1998-2001, turned down a contract offer of $3.6 Million over three years from the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army which pays approximately $25,000 annually.

Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004 and was 27-years old.

After his death, Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwell honored Tillman in many ways.

The Cardinals retired his No. 40.

Tillman is in The Cardinals Ring of Honor.

Tillman has a locker at the Cardinals Practice Facility.

The Cardinals named the plaza surrounding their University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, The Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza.

Tillman has a bronze statue.

Up to this point, I've been very quiet about my views on the National Anthem Protests.

I'll keep my comments short and sweet.

Having had close family and friends serve in the military, I strongly believe that Standing For The National Anthem is The Right Thing To Do!

There are other ways to protest, but kneeling for the National Anthem isn't one of them.

Throughout my years of covering the NFL, I've been fortunate and feel privileged to have written about contests that are played on Veterans Day, December 7 (Pearl Harbor) and September 11.

There is nothing more uplifting than being in the Press Box seeing the Flag covering the field.

This weekend, we'll be in Jacksonville as the upstart Jaguars host the Los Angeles Chargers.

You can rest assure that my I-Phone will be taking photos of the Flag at EverBank Field.

I will never boycott the NFL because as a professional in Sports Media, it's my responsibility to inform and provide objective commentary to all of my followers.

This philosophy applies to all the sports that I cover.

I've been covering sports for 38 years and I know there are many people that would love to trade places with me thus, I don't take anything for granted.

The only way that you last in this industry for along time is to be ethical, accurate with your information, be fair and demonstrate integrity with how you go about delivering your message.

But getting back to Collinsworth and Tillman.

Tillman does belong in The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Collinsworth hit a bulls eye with these comments!

Tillman's numbers on the field due to his short playing career should be an after thought, and doing the right thing is paramount.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of Detroit Sports Media.

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