Archives for March 2008

3 Surprise MLB Teams To Bet

3 Teams to Bet for ’08 MLB


Odds on winning 2008 World Series

Last year I predicted the Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians as my surprise teams, and despite the Brewers’ youth catching up to them, both teams still exceeded virtually everyone’s expectations.  With one exception (which was the 2005 season) every year since 1994 has had a team make the play-offs that had a losing record the season before.  This doesn’t even include “surprise” teams that went from barely .500 to playing in the World Series.

To give even more hope to some potential dark horse teams, many teams improved by 20 games in only one season, with the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks taking the cake for huge turnarounds with a 35 win improvement.  So we can clearly expect someone to really come out of “nowhere” to do it again this season.  So who is this year’s Brewers or Indians?

Chicago White Sox
This team reminds me of the Cleveland Indians before last season.  They performed far worse than they actually were, had an amazing string of bad luck, and injuries strike all at the same time.  Remember, this team is only three years removed from a World Series, and was coming off a 90 win season when they started last season.

Basically for things to get as bad as they did, about a half dozen players had to have the single worst season of their careers at the same time, and self destruct all simultaneously.  Then they all did.  It won’t happen two years in a row.  Konerko won’t bat .198 in April this year, Jermaine Dye won’t bat .215 at the same time, and chances are Thome won’t be out for all of April like last year, and they lost Crede, too.  Konerko had his worst season in his career, and even Thome often looked sluggish.

This team improved their offense even further, so if these vets rebound (and there’s no reason to think they won’t) this written off team will give Detroit and Cleveland all they can handle in the regular season, and are a good bet for the wild card.


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Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds finished the 2007 season with a 72-90 record, 13 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central.  They then hired Dusty Baker as manager.  Despite his late struggles with the Giants, Baker is an expert at getting a quick turnaround with a new team, and in what is arguably the weakest division in baseball, he’s in the right spot to do it.

Cincinnati was an excellent offensive team last year, but their pitching struggled.  The Reds have made some excellent moves to address this need.  They added closer Francisco Cordero, formerly of the Brewers.  Not only did they weaken a division rival, but Cordero had a huge year for the Brewers with a 2.98 ERA and 44 saves.  This should instantly boost the Reds, who also added pitcher Jeremy Affeldt to help strengthen the rotation.  It will be enough to get the Reds above .500, and they have an excellent shot of even winning the division, if everyone stays healthy.

Minnesota Twins
I have the Twins here because everyone assumes that with Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, and Torri Hunter all leaving (among others) that the Twins will crash and burn.  This is certainly possible, but even with these players the Twins failed to reach .500 last year, so maybe an overhaul with an infusion of young talent will have a surprise effect.

If there’s something the Twins are renowned for, it’s getting young talent that can step right in and perform.  The Twins have mastered the art of staying competitive with a smaller salary pool than the big boys, and they know how to handle roster turnover maybe better than any other team in baseball.

It’s not like the Twins are shooting with an unloaded gun.  Any lineup with Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young is going to have its moments, and they added some power by adding ex-Astros Mike Lamb and Adam Everett, who should definitely pick up the batting of the infield (the 2007 starters contributed a measly 6 HR and 68 RBIs in 982 at-bats).

I don’t expect the Twins to win their division, but they have a lot of young talent and know how to play as a team, which is always dangerous.  I predict they will finish a touch over .500, which for all there losses, would definitely make them a surprise team.

Shane Dayton (Senior Writer for

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Early College Football Top 25 Rankings

College Football Top 25 Rankings

The two major events that can affect a college team’s chances for next season have passed by: national signing day for recruiting, and the deadline for underclassmen to enter the NFL draft.  With both of them past, now it’s a much better time to revise the way-too-early preseason “Top 25” for the 2008 college football season.

Ohio State, Tennessee, and USC all moved up in the rankings while Florida, West Virginia, and Michigan all went the opposite direction.  In fact, the Wolverines fell out of the preseason Top 25 completely after assumed starting quarterback Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas, while the number one QB recruit in the country, Terrelle Pryor, delayed announcing his college choice.

1) Georgia Bulldogs
By the end of last season the Georgia Bulldogs might have been the best team in college football—they were at least up there.  With returning quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno, Georgia is poised to win the SEC and contend for a national championship. There will be plenty of hurdles.  There is the annual neutral-site contest against Florida along with a tough road slate that includes Arizona State, LSU, and Auburn.  If they can get through with one loss or less, they’re in great shape to play in the BCS title game.

2) Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners lost three excellent juniors who left early for the draft (WR Malcolm Kelly, LB Curtis Lofton, & CB/S Reggie Smith).  On the good side, HB DeMarco Murray and QB Sam Bradford return, making a young Sooners offense potentially explosive.  They also have a favorable schedule: they don’t play Missouri and gets Kansas and Texas Tech at home.

3) Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes fared much better than expected with only one junior (DE Vernon Gholston) jumping early for the NFL.  All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis returns to lead yet another strong Ohio State defense.  Ohio State will likely suffer one loss when they play a Sept. 13 game at USC, but the Big Ten is extremely weak yet again, meaning there is no serious in conference competition to an Ohio State team that should be far better this year than last year.

4) USC Trojans
USC will be one of the best teams in the country—this is a given as long as Pete Carroll is head coach, but the Trojans need to rebuild their offense with QB John David Booty, OT Sam Baker, and TE Fred Davis leaving.  The defense also takes several hits, with DE Lawrence Jackson, mammoth DT Sedrick Ellis, and MLB Keith Rivers also leaving.  On the bright side, USC had a lot of injuries in 2007, so if they can avoid that, and find a full time starter between QB Mark Sanchez and Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain, then USC will once again be a national title contender.
5) Missouri Tigers
A lot of players were expected to jump and go pro.  They didn’t.  With all these players coming back, including QB Chase Daniel returning for his senior season, along with 10 starters coming back on defense, the Tigers should be good enough to challenge Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 championship, and maybe even a national title.  This year the schedule sets up nicely, as Missouri doesn’t play Oklahoma, Texas A&M, or Texas Tech in the regular season.

6) Texas Longhorns
Losing RB Jamaal Charles to the NFL on top of senior WR Limas Sweed might be a tremendous blow on offense, but coach Mack Brown went a long way toward rebuilding his defense by hiring Auburn coordinator Will Muschamp to bring back the magic lost from Gene Chizik’s departure to Iowa State.   This should be a very good team next year.

7) Florida Gators
Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin will lead a talented offense, especially if USC transfer Emmanuel Moody emerges as a strong tailback. The Gators lacked a running game to complement Tebow last season.  The defense continues to be a concern, however, especially after co-coordinator Greg Mattison left for the Baltimore Ravens.  Coach Urban Meyer worked quickly and hired former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney to help on a very young defense.  If the Gators can show the same jump USF made most of last season, then the Gators will be in the national title hunt.

8) LSU Tigers
The defending national champion Tigers lose a boatload of talent on both sides of the ball, including QB Matt Flynn, HB Jacob Hester, and WR Early Doucet on offense. The losses on defense are even bigger, with All-Americans Glenn Dorsey and Craig Steltz leaving. But Coach Les Miles still has a full cupboard of talent, though he has to be concerned if he loses QB Ryan Perrilloux, who was suspended yet again due to violating team rules.

9) Clemson Tigers
Tigers coach Tommy Bowden might be poised to win the ACC championship at last. After getting a contract extension, Bowden assembled one of the best recruiting classes in the country. He also persuaded junior tailback James Davis and receiver Aaron Kelly to stay in school. Underrated quarterback Cullen Harper comes back to lead what might be the ACC’s best offense.

10) Arizona State Sun Devils
A 52-34 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl showed the Sun Devils still have plenty of work to do under coach Dennis Erickson. QB Rudy Carpenter returns, but the Sun Devils will have to rebuild an offensive line that couldn’t protect the quarterback in 2007. Safety Josh Barrett and linebacker Robert James are big losses on defense. The recruiting class brings instant help, with five offensive linemen and five JUCO transfers coming in.
11) Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies will have to get much better on offense than they were because their defense loses a lot.  LBs Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall are both gone, along with DE Chris Ellis and CB Brandon Flowers.  Will coach Frank Beamer continue to rotate quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor, a mix that worked at the end of the 2007 season?

12) Texas Tech Red Raiders
QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree might have Texas Tech poised to become the biggest surprise of 2008.  The Red Raiders should be able to score plenty of points again, and with eight starters coming back on defense, they might even be equipped to stop opponents this season.  Road games at Texas A&M, Kansas, and Oklahoma will be big tests that show how far this team can go.

13) Wisconsin Badgers
Kansas State transfer QB Allan Evridge is in line to replace graduating QB Tyler Donovan, and his job will be much easier since TE Travis Beckum decided to return to school for one more year.  RB P.J. Hill will have to stay healthy for the Badgers to reach their full potential, but Zach Brown and Lance Smith emerged as capable runners when Hill was hurt.  A five-game stretch against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa and Illinois at midseason is more than daunting.

14) Tennessee Volunteers
For all the ugliness last season, the Volunteers still finished 10-4 and beat Wisconsin 21-17 in the Outback Bowl. The offense gets a makeover in 2008 because QB Erik Ainge is gone, and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe left to be Duke’s head coach.  Two other assistant coaches left, as well.  Getting S Demetrice Morley back after he spent the 2007 season at a nearby technical college to improve his grades, should be a big boost to the secondary.

15) Kansas Jayhawks
The stars aligned for the Jayhawks in 2007, but can Coach Mangino repeat the miracle season?  It won’t be easy, especially after All-America CB Aqib Talib and OT Anthony Collins entered the NFL draft as juniors.  Kansas also must replace RB Brandon McAnderson, the team’s leading rusher.  Kansas also has a much more difficult schedule, getting Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Texas back on the schedule, along with a non-conference game at USF.  Still, QB Todd Reesing and nine returning starters on defense should make sure that the Jayhawks don’t fall off the map.

16) Auburn Tigers
The Tigers figure to fly under the radar again, which is when Coach Tommy Tuberville’s teams tend to play their best.  The offense will have a new look after Tuberville hired Troy’s Tony Franklin to replace offensive coordinator Al Borges.  Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left for Texas, which could hurt.  QB Kodi Burns will replace the much-maligned Brandon Cox, and the Tigers have to do a better job of running the football, especially as a defensive team.  DE Quentin Groves and DT Pat Sims and Josh Thompson are the biggest losses on defense.

17) Penn State Nittany Lions
With 17 starters coming back, JoPa might be poised to make one last run at a Big Ten championship.  Junior QB Daryll Clark will replace Anthony Morelli, so the Nittany Lions might employ a spread offense in 2008.  All of Penn State’s top receivers return.  Replacing ILB Dan Connor and CB Justin King, who left for the NFL draft, are priorities on defense.

18) Oregon Ducks
The Ducks salvaged their season with an unexpected 56-21 rout of USF in the Sun Bowl, proving there was hope for Oregon after QB Dennis Dixon.  Coach Bellotti will have to replace Dixon and star RB Jonathan Stewart, who left for the NFL as a junior.  The Ducks will also have to replace two starters on the offensive line and the heart of their defense.

19) BYU Cougars
After winning 11 games each of the past two seasons, the Cougars might contend for a BCS at-large berth in 2008.  QB Max Hall played extremely well as a freshman.  He has already served his two years on a Mormon mission, meaning he can bring stability to BYU’s program for several years to come.  On the negative side, the defense will have to be rebuilt, with many back seven starters leaving.

20) West Virginia Mountaineers
Did you hear that Mountaineers Head Coach Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan?  His messy divorce from West Virginia overshadowed the Mountaineers’ best bowl effort: a convincing 48-28 rout of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  QB Pat White and blazing fast tailback Noel Devine are coming back, but HB Steve Slaton, WR Darius Reynaud, and DE Johnny Dingle entered the NFL draft as juniors.  New coach Bill Stewart expects the Mountaineers to win games and contend for the Big East championship in his first season, and the team will rally behind him, as they did for the win over Oklahoma.

21) Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavaliers seemed capable of a big season in 2008 after finally breaking out and matching their talent with a great 2007 season, but a rough start to this off season (academic problems and a few defections) will make it tougher for Al Groh.  The Cavaliers salvaged a 9-4 season in 2007 by winning several close games.  Virginia is capable of doing it again, and they’ll have to, because they can’t over power anyone.

22) Pittsburgh Panthers
After beating West Virginia 13-9 in one of the biggest upsets of 2007, the Panthers finally seemed poised to turn the corner under Coach Dave Wannstedt after several seasons of mediocrity and disappointment.  QB Pat Bostick and HB LeSean McCoy both played extremely well as freshmen, and the defense actually showed some teeth by the end of the season.  If the Panthers can learn to win close games (they lost four games by a touchdown or less last season) they could end 2008 as one of the country’s biggest pleasant surprises.

23) Illinois Fighting Illini
Coach Ron Zook’s re-building job might be more difficult this season now that star RB Rashard Mendenhall left for the NFL draft after a monster junior season.  QB Juice Williams will have to carry an even bigger load in the spread offense, as he won’t have the safety blanket of a dominant running game.  Replacing star LB J Leman on defense is a top priority.  The Illini will get some immediate help from another nationally ranked recruiting class that should still see them near the top of a behind the times Big Ten conference.

24) South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks hoped to challenge for an SEC East title in 2007, but they finished the season with a five-game losing streak and a 6-6 record.  South Carolina was undone by too many injuries, and not enough depth.  Coach Spurrier has recruited well, so the Gamecocks should begin to reap the rewards of his efforts.  Ellis Johnson was hired to replace defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, while red shirt freshman Stephen Garcia should give Spurrier and Carolina their quarterback of the future.

25) Fresno State Bulldogs
The Bulldogs’ offense was straight out explosive at the end of the 2007 season, scoring 30 or more points in eight of their last nine games, including a 40-28 romp over Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl.  After an uncharacteristic 4-8 finish in 2006, Coach Pat Hill redeemed himself with a more expected 9-4 record.  With starting QB Tom Brandstater and RB Ryan Mathews returning, the Bulldogs should be just as good this year on the offensive side of the ball.