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Hooley's NFL Picks: Cover Me

Sep 14, 2014 -- 10:36am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photos/Getty via ESPN

Week One of NFL picks based solely on one random fact yielded a 9-6 record, which is likely as good or better than any intense analysis would have produced.

Choosing based upon which city/region I'd rather visit brought the Miami-over-New England upset, but cost me in the Browns' loss to Pittsburgh.

This week, the choice comes down to which coach I'd rather cover as a beat reporter, so it looks like I'll be picking against the Patriots again.

Miami at Buffalo -- Joe Philbin is about as exciting as a fried egg, but Buffalo's Doug Marrone is not just a control freak, but a paranoid one, at that. Pick: Miami

New England at Minnesota -- Bill Belichick is monotone and obtuse. Minnesota's Mike Zimmer has a hair-trigger temper, but he usually doesn't light anyone up unless they ask a stupid question that deserves it. Pick: Minnesota

Atlanta at Cincinnati -- This one's a toss-up, since I've never known Mike Smith or Marvin Lewis to cause many problems at the podium. Marvin has been through about every off-field distraction a coach can face, so I'll assume he's more of a pussycat. Pick: Cincinnati

Dallas at Tennessee -- I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Ken Whisenhunt, now that I know he lit up Joe Banner upon interviewing for the Browns job two years in a row. Pick: Tennessee

Jacksonville at Washington -- Gus Bradley is a Pete Carroll disciple, and few coaches are more engaging or captivating than Carroll. Jay Gruden is Gruden light. Pick: Jacksonville

Arizona at New York Giants -- Bruce Arians doesn't suffer fools, but then neither does Tom Coughlin. Arians has to be less paranoid, given that he hasn't coached in New York. Pick: Arizona

New Orleans at Cleveland -- Nothing against Mike Pettine, but Sean Payton is as close to an NFL genius as there is these days. He'd be fascinating to watch work up close. Pick: New Orleans

Detroit at Carolina -- I don't know much about Ron Rivera, but I know Jim Caldwell is a flat-liner. Pick: Carolina

Seattle at San Diego -- Mike McCoy of the Chargers is supposedly one of the bright young minds in the league. Carroll is a guy who oozes energy and infectious enthusiasm. Love his mantra, "Always compete." Pick: Seattle

St. Louis at Tampa Bay -- For a guy who has a much better reputation than his essentially-.500 record deserves, Jeff Fisher is awfully grumpy. Lovie Smith blew through Ohio State as a secondary coach briefly in the 1990s. Class guy. Pick: Tampa Bay

Houston at Oakland -- Bill O'Brien is so forthright he called out the Paterno worshippers at Penn State for keeping the program locked in the 1980s. Does anybody know the coach of the Raiders? Pick: Houston

Kansas City at Denver -- Andy Reid and John Fox both seem like pleasant sorts. I like guys with a bit of an edge, which seems closer to Fox than the studious Reid. Pick: Denver

New York Jets at Green Bay -- I'd have to fight to stay awake in a Mike McCarthy press conference. With Rex Ryan, never a dull moment. Pick: Jets

Chicago at San Francisco -- Nothing against Marc Trestman, but there isn't another coach who could win this matchup in terms of a fascinating cover. Gimme Jim Harbaugh and all his hubris over anyone when it comes to filling up my notebook. Pick: San Francisco

Philadelphia at Indianapolis -- Chip Kelly is aptly-named. He goes through life like he's the smartest man in the room, even if the room is under roof at Lucas Oil Stadium. Chuck Pagano's resolve in fighting cancer was inspiring to observe. Pick: Indianapolis

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Buckeyes rebound with 66-0 rout over Kent St.

Sep 13, 2014 -- 7:44pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP via ESPN

COLUMBUS -- The justification for mismatches like Ohio State's 66-0 evisceration of Kent State Saturday in Ohio Stadium smells so sweet few ever question the origin of the aroma.

OK, so the outcome immediately tilted toward Christians-versus-lions stuff, but no Golden Flashes were significantly harmed in the making of the blowout and besides -- get ready for the pitch -- we kept all the money in the state!

Ahhhh, the ol' keep-the-money-in-the-state argument, one that's been trotted out since Ohio State resumed these in-state ego-boosters 22 seasons ago.

Kent took home an $850,000 check for its trouble, a chunk of cash that significantly bolsters an athletic budget of $22 million.

The Flashes apparently would have had to play for significantly less, maybe even for free, had they ventured beyond Ohio's borders.

Of course, the down side is the Flashes now must spend their Columbus bounty entirely within Ohio's borders, because that Buckeye-brand currency they received from OSU certainly won't spend anywhere else.

Here's hoping Kent doesn't try paying for its team hotel at Virginia two weeks from now with any of those $50 bills featuring the likeness of Wayne Woodrow Hayes.

The very notion is beyond preposterous, but no more so than believing Ohio State could have learned anything about its readiness for Big Ten play from treating Kent State like a chew toy.

"The best thing is, we came out fast," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Obviously, we had a little talent advantage."

A little talent advantage?

That's like saying Sherman caused a mild disturbance in Atlanta.

The Buckeyes needed all of five plays and 1:44 to score their first touchdown, led 21-0 after one quarter, 45-0 at half and yanked quarterback J.T. Barrett midway through the third period after he tossed his sixth touchdown pass.

Whether that means the mistakes from a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech last week have been corrected is open to interpretation.

A safer bet is that Kent better avoid future matchups with East Carolina, given its 28-21 victory at Virginia Tech yesterday.

After all, if Tech is 14 points better than OSU in Columbus and East Carolina is seven better than Tech in Blacksburg, we'd need a supercomputer to keep up with the score should the Flashes and ECU collide.

Kent should feel good that it reaped almost a cool million for its trouble. Virginia Tech took home a half-million dollars less from its trip to Columbus, which one Hokie wag this week ventured was, ''the best $500,000 we ever spent."

Here's hoping every athlete in a varsity sport at Kent drops a thank-you note in a football player's locker this week in appreciation of the beating they took so field hockey, volleyball, golf and others can exist.

Kent's Paul Haynes knew he was walking the Green Mile when he led his team into the Horseshoe, but that goes with the job for guys who coach at schools which assess every student a fee to help fund intercollegiate athletics.

Ohio State can afford to pay handsomely for glorified scrimmages, given a $150 million athletic budget that is more than seven times that of Kent State's.

OSU compiles that war chest off $75 tickets to affairs such as this, treating its season-ticket base to the same sort of economic reality NFL fans face when forking over regular-season prices for pre-season dreck.

"I'd like to thank our crowd," Meyer said. "To have a full house for a noon kickoff against a MAC opponent, and yet our seats were filled."

That sounds like an admission the product wasn't worth the price, but Meyer nevertheless defended the practice of Big Brother scheduling beneath its abilities.

"Some people say you shouldn't play these games, but I think you should play these games," Meyer said. "...this is just what the doctor ordered when you have young people you're trying to get ready to play."

Meyer would get a staunch argument on that from his mentor, Earle Bruce, who wasn't shy about his disdain for scheduling MAC opponents prior to kickoff.

"It's an embarrassment," Bruce said. "We should be playing teams that make us better. We don't need a gravy train. Why not just give them a welfare check? The government would."

Still, in the wake of losing by two touchdowns to a perceived middle-of-the-road Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, blowouts like this never get old for some loyalists.

Leading 66-0 with 6:05 left, some hearty Ohio State supporters in the South Stands began the USA Soccer chant, "I believe that we will win."

Really? What gave it away, Nostradamus?

Ohio State is now 25-0 against in-state opponents (average score, 37-9) since sticking its toe into the water with a 1992 matchup against Bowling Green.

Coach Gary Blackney's Falcons just about ended the experiment right then and there, knocking starting quarterback Kirk Herbstreit out of the game, intercepting backup Bob Hoying and hanging within 10-6 into the fourth quarter before a late touchdown introduced the breath back into OSU head coach John Cooper's lungs.

Cooper waited five more years before allowing another Ohio opponent onto the schedule, by which time he built a juggernaut that routinely dismissed such challenges.

Jim Tressel began his OSU career in 2001 with a 28-14 win over Akron and would eventually go 15-0 against Ohio opponents.

That's not to suggest Tressel's teams always coasted in such matchups. His 2002 national championship season nearly died an ignominous death at Cincinnati, but the Bearcats dropped two touchdown passes on the final series from inside the Buckeyes' 15-yard line in a 23-19 loss.

Luke Fickell won only six games in his lone season as Tressel's interim replacement, including two against Akron and Toledo. The Rockets might have spared us further in-state eyesores if not for dropping a TD pass late in a 27-22 loss.

There was no such intrigue this time, with Barrett completing 23-of-30 attempts for 312 yards and six scores, tying a school record, and Curtis Samuel rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Before kickoff, Bruce predicted, "half the stadium will be asleep in the fourth quarter." Instead, about three-fourths of the 104,414 who showed up were off to a tailgate party or some other post-game endeavor by the time the fourth quarter arrived and both teams began employing backups liberally.

Now OSU and Kent approach their respective off weeks with dramatically different aftertastes.

The Buckeyes have 13 days to plan for a Sept. 27 home game against Cincinnati, while the Flashes must regroup in advance of a game at Virginia that same day.

But after what Kent endured in the pre-season, with center Jason Bitsko's tragic death in his sleep during training camp, Haynes has the outcome in the proper perspective.

"Any time you get on the field, every game you play, I told our guys, it shapes you," Haynes said. "The adversity that we've been through, it shapes you. These games are shaping us. We will be a good football team. Right now, we're just not showing it."

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

PREVIEW: Ohio State vs Kent State

Sep 13, 2014 -- 7:04am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

KENT STATE (0-2) at OHIO STATE (1-1)

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Kickoff: 12 noon, ESPN2 / ESPN 850 WKNR

Coaches: Paul Haynes is 4-10 in two years at Kent State; Urban Meyer is 25-3 in his third year at Ohio State and 129-26 in a 13-year career.

Kent Notable: Flashes lost their season-opener to Ohio on a last-second field goal and fell to South Alabama, 23-13, last week in a game they trailed by three points after falling into a 16-0 hole. Quarterback Colin Reardon is completing 58% of his passes and has thrown for 477 yards and four touchdowns in two games. Kent struggles to run the ball, as evidenced by Nick Holley's team-best 53 yards on 19 attempts. The two previous times Kent played OSU, the Flashes had Joshua Cribbs and Julian Edelman at quarterback. Haynes is a Columbus native who won a state championship in Ohio Stadium playing for Bishop Hartley High School. He coached at OSU for seven years before leaving in 2012 to coach at Arkansas.

Ohio State Notable: No. 18 Buckeyes tumbled 13 spots in The Associated Press rankings after a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech last week, OSU's first loss in a home opener since 1978. Quarterback J.T. Barrett led his team in rushing for a second straight week, but he completed only 9 of 29 attempts under a furious rush that sacked him seven times, including six in the fourth quarter. Barrett also threw three interceptions in a loss that broke OSU's 25-game regular-season winning streak. Ohio State suffered another blow yesterday when defensive end Noah Spence, who was to join the lineup today after a three-game suspension for violating Big Ten substance abuse policies, confessed to a relapse after another positive test. He is now out indefinitely, and may face a suspension as long as two years under Big Ten guidelines.

Next week: Ohio State is idle in advance of a 6 p.m. Sept. 27 game against Cincinnati.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

"Son, your heart is too big."

Sep 12, 2014 -- 5:28pm

By Dave DeNatale| ESPNCleveland.com

 

Hi everyone!  I appreciate everyone’s concern over these last three weeks or so that I’ve been out.  At some point, I will answer everyone’s emails and tweets personally, but in the meantime I thought I should let you know what’s going on.  First, the background:

“Son, your heart is too big.”

That’s what a doctor at the Bowling Green State University student clinic told me twenty years ago today.  September 12, 1994. 

Besides the flattering figurative statement, what did that mean? 

Understand that at the time I was a relatively healthy 19 year old just starting my sophomore year at BGSU.  In the past 12 months, I had grown four inches and lost about 40 pounds of baby fat.  I played basketball.  I worked out. 

Now suddenly I was being rushed to Wood County Hospital because an x-ray showed that I had early signs of congestive heart failure.  I was convinced that it was bronchitis or maybe pneumonia.  Not so much. 

The diagnosis was viral cardiomyopathy, a condition in which your heart muscle becomes inflamed and enlarged.  Because it is enlarged, your heart muscle is stretched and becomes weak. This means it can’t pump blood as fast as it should.  A very rare condition for a 19 year old.

Over the next few days there were frightening sounding words thrown my way like catheterization, biopsy, and the worst of all….transplant.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the odds of me making it to age 40 (well 39 years, 10 months anyway) alive and well weren’t the greatest. 

Yet thanks to the work of many fine doctors and specialists, I’m still here.  Two decades later…and with the very same heart.

Thanks to the support and love of friends and family, I continue to cherish each and every day. 

My ESPN Cleveland teammate Je’rod Cherry likes to refer to me as the “Happiest Man in America.”  I always tell him, “What’s not to be happy about?”

It’s not always been easy.  There have been several procedures…and setbacks….and more procedures.  Your will and faith gets tested at times.  But I’ve never lost that optimism and joy.

And that’s what brings me to today.  I recently suffered another setback in my continuing battle against viral cardiomyopathy.  It’s put me on the sideline for the moment as my doctors and I figure out our next move.  That’s why I’ve been off the air. 

Surgery may be coming down the road.  Or perhaps medication therapy will do the trick.  Whatever the case, I plan to be back very soon.  This will not keep me down.

I so appreciate everyone’s concern.  I am beyond humbled.

Special thanks to my family at ESPN Cleveland for always having my back.  I love you guys.

And remember what Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in.”

 

 

 

I've Gotta Say

Sep 10, 2014 -- 4:19pm

By Greg Brinda | ESPNCleveland.com

 

I truly believe the Browns will be better this season. Barring catastrophic injuries at key positions Mike Pettine and company have the team going in the right direction.

This is not to say there will be some major hurdles.

The wide receiver position is a mess. Jordan Cameron's shoulder problem is an unexpected issue. And the secondary could give us nightmares from time to time.

I think there is a resolve to figure it out as the season goes on.

I'm glad Brian Hoyer and the offense figured it out in the second half last week against Pittsburgh. That also staved off the cult like march to get Johnny Manziel into the starting role at quarterback.

So how many wins will all of this give the team when the regular season ends? Let's say the number lies between six and eight.

I think most Browns fans will take it.

Unfortunately the season will not end well for the Indians. Since game one the Tribe has not hit. And with a handful of games left I don't see a miracle in the offing. Offensively, it has been the most frustrating season I've seen in my lifetime.

Now we've had bad teams in the past with no real expectations, but this team on paper should not have had the offensive issues that it ended up having.

Nick Swisher seems to be broken down with millions still owed him. Michael Bourn, a stand up guy, just can't get on base enough, strikes out too much and no longer is a base stealing threat. Jason Kipnis has performed at a D level all year long.

Here's the reality. Other than Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley, and Carlos Santana, who wouldn't you trade for the right deal?

The pitching on the other hand has been crazy good. The big three from last year - Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Scott Kazmir - are gone and replaced by Cory Kluber, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and T. J. House. Together, with an outstanding bullpen, this collection of guys has given the team a chance.

Problem though is that team is running out of time.

Terry Francona, the manager of year last season, is doing an even better job in 2014. The front office, however, let him down by not getting him any offense. Shame on them.

I believe the honeymoon for Urban Meyer is officially over.

I was stunned as to how unprepared the Buckeyes were last week against Virginia Tech.

No excuses. The defense was soft at times. And there was no adjustment to the Hokies blitzing package. The offense game plan consisted of two things, run the quarterback and throw long.

Oh and this was all displayed on Prime Time TV, in front of a home crowd of over 106,000 fans and some 50 recruits.

This was one of the worst regular season losses ever. This black cloud will hang over the program for a long time.

But there is really good news.

Cavs media day is only two weeks away.

 

 

 

Buckeyes watch title hopes slip away with 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech

Sep 07, 2014 -- 1:45am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Honeymoons can last a long time in Columbus, but they never last forever and they always end ugly.

That's what fifth-ranked Ohio State's 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech was last night. More than the expiration of OSU's national championship aspirations for 2014, the unranked Hokies' dominant performance before the largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history brought Urban Meyer's sunshine-and-balloons start as OSU's head coach to a blunt-force trauma conclusion.

Meyer has now lost three of his last four games after a 24-0 start, but this two-touchdown beating by Virginia Tech trumped the frustration of losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl at the end of last season.

The MSU game seemed a shocking blip in the juggernaut start Meyer had fashioned at OSU, and the Clemson defeat vanished into that netherworld of every inconsequential post-season game that doesn't decide the national title.

This loss to Tech, though, stings with lingering discomfort, both for what it portends about the rest of the schedule and for how it straps the Buckeyes to the whipping post for national pundits to pummel.

This second Saturday of the season was a St. Valentine's Day massacre for the Big Ten's reputation, doing damage on par with New Year's Day 2011, when the Big Ten went winless in five bowl games.

At least then, the season had ended and an off-season's respite promised a brighter future, but there's no immediate relief in sight after a Saturday in which Northwestern and Purdue lost to Mid-American Conference opponents, Iowa required a late rally to defeat Ball State; Nebraska needed a 58-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to shake McNeese State; Notre Dame humiliated Michigan and Oregon lapped Michigan State.

That left Ohio State with the day's last chance to restore the Big Ten's hope to remain in the conversation for the first College Football Playoff.

And while the Buckeyes have shouldered that banner alone for a long time, this team this year no longer seems capable.

Not given the loss of dynamic quarterback Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury, and not now given a loss to Virginia Tech that amplified every failure from a nervous 34-17 win over Navy in the season-opener.

Meyer acknowledged as much afterward, boiling the loss down to being dared to win mano-a-mano and being unable to hang with what many believed would be no more than a middle-of-the-road Atlantic Coast Conference team.

"We've worked so hard, recruited so hard, but we have to do better and we have to win some of those matchups," Meyer said. "That's what it comes down to. Win some matchups."

OSU didn't, either with its secondary against Tech quarterback Michael Brewer, or with its offensive line against the Hokies' various blitz packages.

Couple those shortcomings with two missed field goals and a dropped touchdown pass in the first half and OSU lost for the first time in a home opener since Art Schlichter's five-interception nightmare against Penn State in 1978.

That came in Woody Hayes' final season, 36 years ago, and not since then had the Buckeyes gone with a freshman quarterback to start the season.

Redshirt J.T. Barrett looked up to the task last week at Navy, but Tech pressured him relentlessly and bothered him into a 9-for-29 struggle, intercepting Barrett three times in the second half.

Safety Kyshoen Jarrett had two of those, and cornerback Donovan Riley ran the other back 63 yards for the clinching touchdown on a third-and-16 snap from the OSU 49 with 59 seconds left.

"Thery played...man coverage," Meyer said. "They had nine guys at the line of scrimmage and forced us to throw and catch. We have to do a better job throwing, catching and protecting. We have to play better."

Tech sacked Barrett only once in the third quarter, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster's blitz schemes steadily imposed their will on an OSU offensive line that yielded six more sacks before the finish.

"They did a really good job preparing for us and exposed us a little bit, where some of weaknesses are right now on our team," Meyer said. "It's rather obvious what that is."

Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, directed his team to three first-half touchdowns and a 21-7 lead, but Ohio State used Michael Thomas' 53-yard catch and run in tandem with Ezekiel Elliott's 15-yard run to get even with 12 minutes left.

Brewer then moved Tech 65 yards in in seven plays, wiggling out of a third-and-seven predicament on the first series of the possession thanks to Eli Apple's pass interference penalty.

That conversion typified the Hokies' 9-of-17 success on third down  and jump-started a drive that grew off Deon Newsome's 24-yard jet sweep and Sam Rogers' 17-yard end-around.

Brewer hit Bucky Hodges with a 10-yard pass for the go-ahead touchdown with 8:44 to play.

On the two possessions OSU had after that with a chance to tie, Barrett dropped to pass 11 times. Tech sacked him on six of those snaps, intercepted him twice, forced two incompletions and allowed just one catch.

"They put their corners on an island and we didn't expose it," Meyer said. "And then you miss a couple of protections and you're on your back."

The Buckeyes have plenty of company there, with the rest of the Big Ten's believed elite reeling, as well.

Michigan's 31-0 loss to Notre Dame was its first shutout in 30 years and its 11th straight defeat against a ranked opponent on the road, dropping head coach Brady Hoke to 7-12 away from Ann Arbor.

Michigan State's proud defense couldn't hold 24-18 halftime lead at Oregon, getting scorched, 46-27, after getting outscored in the second half, 28-3.

Ohio State, though, cannot enjoy even the struggles of its arch rivals, given the issues looking back from its own mirror.

"We have all kinds of issues we have to get a lot better at," Meyer said.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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