Boise State Thriving in Life After Petersen

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Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

In the middle of the second quarter in Boise State’s game against Wyoming, any viewers still awake saw the Broncos pull off a perfectly executed Statue of Liberty play.  Quarterback Grant Hedrick dropped back and faked a pass to the right, but handed the ball with his off hand to Jay Ajayi, who was running to the left.  Ajayi dashed 20 yards to the end zone, and Boise State was able to extend their lead to 28-7.

That type of play brought back memories of what made Boise State famous.  Arguably the most memorable play in Boise State football history also came on that Statue-of-Liberty play.  It occurred in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on the two-point conversion that finished off the incredible upset of Oklahoma.

When Chris Petersen accepted the Washington head coaching position, the Boise State program could have easily lost its edge.  However, with Bryan Harsin now at the helm, the opposite has happened. 

Harsin, who played quarterback at Boise State from 1995-1999 and was on the Bronco coaching staff from 2001-2010, has reinvigorated a team that seemed to digress toward the end of Petersen’s tenure.  The Broncos lost four games in 2013, which amounted to one-third of Petersen’s total losses in his eight seasons at Boise.

This year’s Boise State team looks very formidable, one that a power conference team would not like to face in a bowl game.  The Broncos are loaded with weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and Harsin has made sure that creativity and trickery remain BSU staples.

Senior Grant Hedrick has blossomed into a lethal dual threat quarterback, passing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for six more so far this season.  He ranks tenth in the nation in passer rating, according to ESPN.com, and has improved throughout the year.

However, Hedrick has greatly benefited from the presence of Jay Ajayi.  Ajayi leads the nation with a whopping 276 carries and forces defenses to put more people in the box to stop the run, allowing Hedrick plenty of space to operate his aerial attack.  Ajayi has also been an integral part of the passing game, recording the third-most catches on the team and four touchdowns.

A receiving corps consisting of Shane Williams-Rhodes, Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson has responded admirably since star wide receiver Matt Miller was lost for the season with an ankle injury.  Williams-Rhodes leads the team in catches, Sperbeck leads the team in receiving yards and Anderson leads in yards per catch.

The defense has struggled mightily at times, but the offense has been good enough to bail them out in most games.  The Broncos sit at 9-2 on the season and are one win away from the Mountain West conference championship game.  Should they win out, the Broncos have a solid chance of sneaking into a top-tier bowl.

In ESPN.com’s most recent bowl projections, both Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy picked Boise State to play UCLA in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl.  Also, the Broncos worked their way into the AP Top 25 for the first time in 2014.  It marks the 13th consecutive season that Boise State has been ranked in the AP or coaches pool at least once in a season.

This year’s team is not quite as dominant as the Broncos were in Petersen’s prime, when Kellen Moore was handing off to Doug Martin and throwing to Austin Pettis and Titus Young, but they are playing remarkably better than they did the past two seasons.

And Harsin deserves a ton of credit for the transformation.  He has made the offense more efficient and productive while at the same time keeping the Boise State edge that Petersen developed.

The Broncos have not cracked either of the first two of College Football Playoff rankings, but with their recent impressive play, that may change on Tuesday. 

BSU lost its season opener to an Ole Miss squad that was in the playoff conversation until this weekend, and then got outplayed by Air Force four weeks later.  In that game, the Broncos turned the ball over seven times, including four Hedrick interceptions.  Since then, though, they have averaged more than 50 points per game and Hedrick has thrown only four interceptions.

They are playing their best football in three years, peaking at just the right time, and if they are picked to play in a premier bowl, they will be a tough matchup for whomever they play.  They might not be as talented as their opponent, but that has never intimidated them before.

If it’s a close game at the end, the Broncos have shown they have a knack for an exciting finish.  Whether it’s the hook-and-ladder, Statue of Liberty or another trick play, Harsin will not be afraid to pull the trigger.

Watch out for the Broncos, not only this year but in the future, because Bryan Harsin has picked up right where Petersen left off.


Chicago Cubs Must Pursue Max Scherzer if They Miss Out on Lester

Max Scherzer is a terrific option for the Cubs to pursue if Lester signs with a different team.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In only about three years, Theo Epstein has built the far Chicago Cubs farm system into one of the game’s best.  Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler are four of the most exciting young prospects in the league, and 28-year-old right-hander Jake Arrieta emerged on the scene as a potential ace with a sterling year in 2014.

The Cubs also made national headlines recently with their hiring of Joe Maddon, one of the best managers in the league.  Maddon found a way to win with a Tampa Bay Rays team that was young and fairly talented.  Give him a loaded roster of perennial prospects, and the ceiling seems limitless.

However, they still need to add one more very important piece: a dominant starting pitcher who can pitch deep into games every fifth day and take the ball in the first game of the playoff series the Cubs hope to be in, possibly this year.

Jon Lester seems to fit the bill.  He is as durable as they come, recording at least 31 starts in each of the past seven years and pitching at least 200 innings in six of those years.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, it looks like their chances of signing Lester might be slipping away.  The Cubs made their pitch to the southpaw Tuesday, but Peter Gammons said on Dennis & Callahan, via WEEI.com, that his sources lead him to believe Lester will end up signing elsewhere.

"I think the one thing—obviously the Cubs are going to make every play—I get the feeling the Cubs think he’s going to go back to Boston," he said. "I think it’s very smart for Lester and his agents to hold for another week." 

However, it’s not like the Cubs need to put all their eggs in the Lester basket.  There is another superb starting pitcher on the free-agent market—a guy by the name of Max Scherzer.

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Scherzer and Lester are both 30 years old, but Scherzer doesn’t have nearly the experience or the postseason pedigree Lester has.  Scherzer was a late bloomer, a former elite prospect who finally came into his own when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Scherzer has actually been a better pitcher than Lester over the past three years:

 

W-L

ERA

IP

K

Max Scherzer

55-15

3.24

622.1

723

Jon Lester

40-33

3.65

638.1

563

While Lester has a few more innings pitched over that span, Scherzer has a much better win-loss record, a lower ERA and 160 more strikeouts.

I still think Lester would be a better fit due to his longer track record of success and his sterling postseason statistics, but if the Cubs cannot convince him, Scherzer is a terrific option.

He has put together a tremendous three-year run in the American League, so he should be even more dominant in the National League, where he would have the luxury of facing the pitcher's spot instead of a designated hitter.

However, Scherzer is going to demand a huge payday.  A Scott Boras client, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner turned down a six-year, $144 million extension from the Tigers before the 2013 season.  

The fact that he rejected such a lucrative offer means he is going to relish his time on the open market, with Boras viciously negotiating with as many teams as he can get in the ring plus the "mystery team" he can engender to raise the stakes.

The Cubs are hoping to win now, and they are not going to let money stand in the way of winning their first World Series ring since 1908.  

With Scherzer headlining a rotation that features Arrieta, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, the Cubs would have plenty of pitching to complement their potentially dominant offense. 

If they do sign Scherzer or Lester, the Cubs could be legitimate contenders to make the playoffs in 2015. Once they get in, anything could happen.  And a dominant ace would give them a much better chance of making a deep postseason run.

 


Marlins Are Going to Regret Giancarlo Stanton Megadeal

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins have been one of the most fickle and parsimonious front offices in all of baseball this century. When they were still called the Florida Marlins, they won the World Series in 1997 and 2003 only to trade away their high-priced players immediately after both of those World Series victories.

Then in the winter of 2011, immediately after changing their name to the Miami Marlins, building a brand new stadium and attempting to change the direction of the franchise, the Marlins spent $191 million to sign the trio of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

Unfortunately, the added payroll didn’t result in success, and the Marlins pulled off one of the most dramatic fire sales in MLB history. After finishing last in the NL East with a paltry 69-93 record, the Marlins changed course. They traded Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers at the trade deadline and then executed a monster 12-player trade with the Blue Jays that sent Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to Toronto in exchange for a slew of young prospects.

Since then, the Marlins have showed modest improvement. They won 17 more games last year than they did in 2013, navigated their way out of the NL East cellar and saw some of the prospects they got from the Blue Jays start tapping into their massive potential. Meanwhile, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton had by far the best season of his short career.

The 25-year-old California native hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs in what was his fourth season in The Show.

The Marlins, not wanting to allow Stanton to hit the free agent market, decided to lock him up long term. On Friday, they signed Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract that will run well through his prime. The deal is the largest in North American sports history, easily surpassing the previous record, Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2007.

While Stanton has lethal power and is truly one of the premier young players in the game, is it really a smart move to commit such an exorbitant sum of money to one player?

For starters, it is the epitome of risky. History is replete with examples of these ultra-lucrative deals resulting in duds. Rodriguez had a few good seasons under his megadeal, but for the most part it has been a disappointing signing for the Yankees. The Twins’ eight-year, $184 million deal with Joe Mauer has been bad to this point and Ryan Howard’s $125 million extension has been disastrous for the Phillies.

All three of the aforementioned players saw a considerable dip in production over the course of the contract as well as an increase in missed games due to various injuries.

So from a historical perspective, the deal was a stretch. But how does the deal look from the team’s point of view?

The Marlins have been one of the most frugal teams in the league recently, and they had the lowest payroll in 2014 ($42 million). The $325 million amounts to more than the Marlins have spent on their whole MLB roster in the past five seasons.

The Miami front office needs to decide whether they are a big-spending or a small market organization, and stick to it. Their ambiguity about the future of the franchise has been comical as well as counterproductive.

The Marlins ranked 27th in the MLB in attendance in 2014, and they are going to need more than one star player to increase that number to a respectable plateau.

And since they overspent on Stanton, it is going to be very hard to go out and sign other complementary players. Sure, Stanton is their foundation that they are going to build on for the future, but now they don’t have much money left to lure any other players to Miami or re-sign the players they already have.

22-year-old outfielder Christian Yelich will be arbitration eligible after the 2017 season and is going to continue to improve after his impressive 2014 season. As he gets better, he is also going to get more expensive.

Also, the bulk of the starting rotation is going to need to be re-signed soon. Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Nathan Eovaldi are all deserving of extensions, according to Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com.

Signing Stanton gives them one supreme talent, but World Series contenders aren’t built on one player. It takes a cohesive unit of players who know their role to make deep postseason runs.

Also, there is the injury factor. Stanton seemed to be well on his way to winning the NL MVP award when he was hit in the face on September 11 against the Brewers. He still finished the season with the second most home runs in the MLB, but the injury risk for a guy who plays as hard as Stanton is always there. Furthermore, he is going to understandably be a bit hesitant after suffering such a gruesome injury, and it is impossible to tell how long it is going to take Stanton to feel comfortable digging into the batter’s box again.

Don’t get me wrong, if anyone in the league is worth this much money, Stanton must be in the conversation. His prodigious home run power is a positive and his age is very favorable. But I don’t think it is in the best interest of any team, especially one who can’t get fans in the stands, to devote such a large chunk of their payroll to a single player.

The Marlins made a bad decision by signing Stanton to such an astronomical amount of money. They failed to pay attention to history as well as take into account the plethora of risks that come with such a long contract. It would have been much more prudent to sign Stanton to a shorter contract, even if they had to add a few more million annually to reach a deal.

If history is any indication, the Marlins are going to regret this deal when they get to the last few years. But for their sake, hopefully Stanton hurts a little less than A-Rod or Mauer.  

Pablo Sandoval Would Fit Nicely Into Boston's Plans

Expect the Red Spx to aggressively pursue Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox are “all in” on signing free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, according to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington even confirmed on Tuesday that the club recently met with Sandoval’s agent.

While Sandoval is a great player with a solid reputation, is he a good fit for the Boston lineup?

First of all, he would fill a glaring hole in the Red Sox lineup. Third base was a weak spot for the Red Sox in 2014, and Sandoval’s presence would allow Brock Holt to fill in at other positions wherever he is needed.

Sandoval exploded onto the scene in 2009, hitting .330 in his first full MLB season with 25 home runs and 44 doubles. Since then, he has become one of the league’s most consistent at manning the hot corner. In spite of whatever misperceptions one might have due to Sandoval’s body type, he is an above average defender.

According to Fangraphs’ UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), Sandoval (3.5) had a very similar UZR as Adrian Beltre (4.0), long revered as one of the best defenders in the league.

In the batter’s box, Sandoval is as consistent as they come. He has a career .294 average in his seven years in the MLB and has never had a season in which he struggled mightily. He is not a power hitter, averaging about 15 per season, but he is a solid all-around hitter.

In the age where hitters around the league, even players who are ostensibly contact hitters, are striking out at an alarming rate, Sandoval has not yet fallen into that trap. At a time where sluggers surpass 200 strikeouts on a regular basis, Sandoval has not struck out more than 85 times in a season in his career.

He also played in a career high 157 games in 2014, showing that he is getting more durable as the years go by.

Also, the Red Sox need someone with Sandoval’s brilliant postseason pedigree on their roster. Boston is expecting to make another playoff push this year, and an added bat like Sandoval could make them serious contenders in the AL East.

With the addition of Sandoval, the Red Sox lineup would be downright scary. With Dustin Pedroia getting on base for Sandoval, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes to hit him in, the Red Sox would score runs in bunches.

And when David Ortiz finally calls it quits, Sandoval is the ideal candidate to replace him as the Designated Hitter in Boston.

The Red Sox have the necessary offensive firepower to make the playoffs in 2015, and the signing of Sandoval might push them over the hump. They will undoubtedly have to spend more money than they would like due to a wealth of other bidders, but Sandoval would be worth it.

The Giants are going to make a late push to retain Sandoval’s services, but the Red Sox would be smart to put most of their offseason chips in the Pablo Sandoval basket.

Mississippi State Offers Mullen Unique Situation That Most Other Schools Can't

Dan Mullen is going to receive plenty of lucrative offers from other schools, but Mississippi State is in a unique position to retain his services.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State is on top of the football world. They are the consensus choice among the polls as the best team in the country. Quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the elite signal callers in America and a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. And overseeing it all is fourth-year coach Dan Mullen, who took over the struggling MSU program in December, 2008.

Go back in time about four years and Mullen was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida. One of the premier offensive minds at the time, Mullen traveled with Urban Meyer from Notre Dame to Bowling Green, Utah and then Florida. Over that time, he developed several star quarterbacks, including Alex Smith, Chris Leake and Tim Tebow.

Since Mullen’s departure from Gainesville, he and the Gators have taken drastically different paths. Mullen has transformed Mississippi State into one of the best teams in the SEC, while Florida has plummeted out of prominence.

As the regular season nears completion and Florida continues to struggle while the Bulldogs thrive, Gator Nation is getting increasingly irritated. A core group of fans are so annoyed with the direction of the program that a ‘Fire Muschamp’ website was created.

And not surprisingly, a ‘Hire Dan Mullen’ website consequently surfaced. Even though the creator of the site has since taken it down, the point was made.

This situation begs a very intriguing question; if Florida does indeed fire Muschamp in the near future and offers the job to Mullen, would he take it?

On the surface, one would think that he probably would. It would ostensibly be a dream come true, going back to Florida, one of college football’s most storied programs as well as the same place where Mullen made his name as an offensive guru. A Mullen-coached Gator team would have immediate dominion over the recruiting hotbed that is the state of Florida, and just imagine how good they could be.

However, despite all of that, I think Mullen should, and will, make the prudent decision of staying right where he is.

Mississippi State is not a one hit wonder. Don’t expect the Bulldogs to have a few spectacular years and then fall off the map. Mullen is in the process of building a powerhouse, and he is likely to succeed in doing so thanks to his phenomenal recruiting ability.

The current MSU recruiting class is ranked tenth in the nation by ESPN Recruiting Nation, and it is a class loaded with premier talent as well as tremendous depth. Their 31 pledges rank first in the nation in volume.

When asked about the possibility to returning to Florida, Mullen said all the right things. In a radio interview two weeks ago, he gave Mississippi State a ringing endorsement.

“Here’s my take on [the Florida rumors]: One, both my kids are born here. I love Mississippi State. I’ve loved being here. I love the community. I love the state. I have a great administration. They’ve given us what we need to build a successful program. I think we’ve built that program. We love being here. That’s number one.”

Mullen went on to say that he doesn’t think the fans should be giving Muschamp so much grief. He has been in his shoes, and he knows what it feels like to be on the hot seat.

The bottom line is that Florida can’t offer much to Mullen that he doesn’t have access to in Starkville. Mississippi State gave Mullen a contract extension before the start of this season, and while Florida could probably offer more money, Mullen doesn’t seem like the greedy type.

Florida’s football facilities are among the nicest in the country, headlined by the sparkling Heavener Complex, but Mississippi State recently spent about $100 million to improve their facilities. The massive renovation adds capacity to Davis Wade Stadium as well as a state-of-the-art 80,000 square-feet practice facility that includes new coaches’ offices, a new weight room and a host of other amenities.

And then there’s the expectation factor. In Mullen’s current situation, he is revered by Bulldog fans as a savior, one who transformed the downtrodden MSU program into a national contender.

If he goes to Florida, he will be one several coaches who have had success in Gainesville. Should he succeed, it will be because he is expected to. If he fails, he will be hated and ridiculed in a similar fashion to what Muschamp is experiencing.

It’s a no win situation at Florida, while Mississippi State is full of potential. The recruiting has been impressive and will continue to improve as the Bulldogs win more games. With the recent splurge, MSU has some of the best football facilities in the SEC. Mullen’s family loves it in Starkville, and he has a chance to achieve something that no other coach has done at Mississippi State: win a national championship.

It might not be this offseason, AD Jeremy Foley has said Muschamp’s job is safe at least through this season, but the Florida administration is eventually going to tire of living in mediocrity. Muschamp is either going to resign or get fired, and one of their first calls is likely to be to Mullen, luring him back.

If Mullen is interested in national fame and accumulating riches, then he should strongly consider the offer. However, if he wants to maintain an image as a down-to-earth coach living with a happy family in rural Mississippi while making plenty of money, MSU is the place to be.   

Markakis a Solid Match for the Mets

Nick Markakis would fit nicely into the up-and-coming Mets organization.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The World Series ended last week, meaning that all 30 MLB front offices will be working tirelessly in the coming months to assemble a contender for the 2015 season. One of those teams in particular will be focusing on adding a hitter to its lineup before the teams report to Spring Training in late February.

That aforementioned team is the New York Mets. General manager Sandy Alderson has accumulated a wealth of young, talented pitchers during his time in Queens, and it is now time that most of them will be pitching at the big league level.

So with the team already set in starting pitching with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon as well as a bullpen consisting of Rafael Montero, Jenrry Mejia, a healthy Bobby Parnell and a host of others, the Mets need to focus on their lineup.

Alderson has repeatedly said that the Mets need to improve by 10-12 wins over the offseason, and with the return of Matt Harvey from Tommy John Surgery, an extra bat in the lineup could be the difference between making the postseason or staying home for the ninth straight October.

There aren’t a ton of candidates on the market, but Nelson Cruz, Michael Cuddyer and Nick Markakis are three outfielders who are currently without a team.

Of that trio, Markakis makes the most sense. He is the best all-around player and would thrive in a Mets uniform. Cruz is the best hitter of the three, but has the potential to be a costly liability on defense, especially without the flexibility to use him as the Designated Hitter. Also, Cruz has been made it clear that he wants to remain in Baltimore.

Cuddyer is also a very good player, but he has a history of injury and is 35 years old.

Markakis, on the other hand, is the epitome of consistency. He has averaged 151 games per season over his nine-year career, and at least 155 games played in seven of those nine years. He is a career .290 hitter with excellent on-base skills and solid defensive ability.

He isn’t a power hitter, about 10-15 homers every year, but he is exactly what the Mets need. The Mets have a few good hitters, Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Lucas Duda, but they don’t have a true leadoff hitter. Center fielder Juan Lagares showed plenty of promise last season, but he would probably be better served hitting farther down in the lineup at least until he gets a little more experience under his belt.

Markakis and his .342 on-base percentage would look nice at the top of the Mets order. The Orioles have already declined the 30-year-old’s $17.5 million option for 2015, meaning the team that signs him will not have to relinquish a draft pick.

Markakis will probably demand a considerable amount of money, MLB Trade Rumors projects something in the area of 3-years, $39 million, but it is doubtful that the Mets will let that hold them back. Alderson wants to win now, and to win at baseball’s highest level oftentimes requires an opening of the pocketbook.

The Mets have one of the league’s best pitching staffs heading into the 2015 season, but they need a slight offensive punch to make them legitimate playoff contenders. Markakis is the best candidate to fill that role, and the only question is if the Mets are willing to fulfill his price tag.

HC3's Postseason Award Selection

Clayton Kershaw headlines HC3's MLB Award selections.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB writers are going to vote on the following awards soon.  Before their selections are announced, I have come up with my picks and why I picked them.

1: AL MVP: Mike Trout (Angels)

After two years of narrowly losing to Miguel Cabrera for this award, Trout will finally win his first MVP award. He definitely deserves it this year, hitting .287 with 36 home runs, 111 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases. After being moved out of the leadoff spot to the middle of the order, Trout thrived. He is the first player in history to win the Silver Slugger in each of his first three years, and he led the league in WAR.

2: NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

There have only been seven pitchers to win the MVP award in MLB history, and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw deserves to be the eighth. He had one of the most remarkable pitching seasons ever, pitching to a 21-3 record with a 1.77 ERA, six complete games, and 239 strikeouts. He once again struggled in the postseason, but that does not go into MVP voting. He was the most dominant pitcher in the league, and he was invaluable to his team.

3: AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu (White Sox)

This was probably the easiest choice of them all. The AL ROY is Jose Abreu. He had one of the finest rookie seasons in recent memory, hitting .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBIs in his first season after defecting from Cuba. There wasn’t really another rookie in the American League that produced such impressive numbers.

4: NL Rookie of the Year: Jacob deGrom (Mets)

The Mets have a plethora of pitching talent, but Jacob deGrom was the best in 2014. He has an overpowering repertoire that baffled hitters all year long. He finished the year with an impressive 2.69 ERA, and he certainly would have had more than nine wins if not for the Mets anemic offense.

5: AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Mariners)

Hernandez was the unanimous choice at the All Star Break, but a late run by Indians’ Corey Kluber put some uncertainty in the minds of voters. However, King Felix staved off Kluber’s competition in my book. He was phenomenal all season with a 2.14 ERA and 248 strikeouts and was one of the most important pieces of the Mariners’ turnaround season.

6: NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

I picked Kershaw to be the MVP of the National League, so he is obviously my choice for Cy Young. Johnny Cueto had a fabulous season and was the most improved player, but neither him nor Wainwright matched Kershaw’s brilliance this season.

7: AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter (Orioles)

The Orioles sustained some major headaches over the course of the season, including season-ending injuries to both Matt Weiters and Manny Machado. Throw in an ineffective Chris Davis and lack of a true ace starting pitcher, and the Orioles could have had a rough season. However, Showalter’s managerial showing was on full display. He handled the bullpen superbly all season long, and under his tutelage the Orioles won the AL East and even beat the Tigers in the ALDS.

8: NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (Giants)

This was an easy choice as well. Bochy is arguably one of the best managers of all time and he showed it all season long. He weathered the storm of several injuries, including Matt Cain, and led the Giants to a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

After Beating Stanford Handily, Oregon Can Make College Football Playoff

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The past two seasons, Oregon has had its national championship hopes dismantled at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal.

In 2012, Chip Kelly’s last season in the college ranks, a controversial Zach Ertz touchdown catch paved the way for a dramatic Stanford overtime win. And last year it was a dominant Stanford performance in which the Cardinal controlled the ball for more than 42 minutes en route to a 26-20 win that was not as close as the score suggests.

So this time around, with Stanford having a down year by its standards and Oregon needing to win all of its remaining games to have a chance to make the College Football Playoff, the Ducks were a solid favorite.

However, the Ducks were ostensibly the superior team in the two previous meetings as well. Despite the differing seasons, there was still the notion that Stanford just has Oregon’s number and their defense would once against be up to the task of slowing down the Ducks’ spread attack.

That makes what Oregon did on Saturday night even more impressive. The Ducks ended the mini losing streak in dramatic fashion, pummeling the Cardinal on the ground and through the air and even pouring salt on the wounds at the end of a 45-16 drubbing.

The running back duo of Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner found plenty of running room against the stout Stanford defense, running for 161 yards, and Mariota chipped in 85 yards on the ground.

Overall, Mariota accounted for 343 total yards and four touchdowns, making a compelling case that he is the best player in all of college football.

This convincing victory is a statement game for Oregon, telling the college football committee that they deserve to make the four-team playoff despite their one loss to Arizona.

Not only does it show the country that they belong in the discussion as one of the best teams in America, but it also proves to them that their offense can be productive against a vaunted defense like Stanford’s. If there was a mental block before this game that they couldn’t beat Stanford, then it probably isn’t there anymore.

The Ducks got on the board first on a 14 play, 75-yard drive that included a 21-yard Mariota run on fourth down. They also finished the game with a flurry, scoring three touchdowns to end the game after Stanford cut the lead to 24-16.

It was all in all a complete display of dominance by the Ducks, and it should put them in the top four in the next playoff poll, especially with Ole Miss’ loss to Auburn.

The Oregon offense has looked simply unstoppable so far this year. They lead the nation in total offense, and they have scored at least 38 points in each of their eight wins. If Stanford, who is ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense, couldn’t slow down the Ducks, then I’m not sure if anyone can.

The Ducks have already gotten their toughest tests out of the way with Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford, but next week’s matchup with Utah could be a bit of a trap game. Oregon is the better team and should win handily, but the Utes are a scrappy team of overachievers that has beaten USC and UCLA and whose two losses are by a combined four points.

With this victory over Stanford, the Ducks have put themselves in a prime position to run the tables. In previous years it was the Cardinal who derailed Oregon’s championship aspirations, and with them out of the way this year, it should be smooth sailing for Mariota and company.

Additions of Cumbie, Meacham Paying Dividends for TCU

Trevone Boykin has thrived under the tutelage of Cumbie and Meacham.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Texas Christian struggled through one of their toughest years in Gary Patterson’s tenure. Their offense was anemic for most of the season as they shuffled between Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin at quarterback. And even their defense, Patterson’s specialty, struggled to tame the up-tempo Big 12 offenses, allowing more than 25 points per game.

That team went 4-8, giving them a 6-12 conference record in the Horned Frogs’ first two years in the Big 12. The uncertainty regarding TCU was palpable, and Patterson knew that he must make a change.

Immediately after the 2013 season ended, he scrapped the traditional balanced offense he had relied on so much in the past. In an effort to match some of the other potent offenses in the Big 12, he hired two Air Raid disciples to revolutionize the TCU offense into a contender.

TCU lured Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham from Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, respectively, to be co-offensive coordinators.

What followed has been one of the most dramatic transformations in recent memory. The TCU offense leads the nation in scoring and trails only archrival Baylor in yards per game. That production has translated into team success as well, as the Horned Frogs were ranked seventh in the nation in the first College Football Playoff rankings that were unveiled on Tuesday.

And had the Frogs not let a fourth quarter three-touchdown lead slip away against Baylor, they would be undefeated and likely a top-five ranked team.

A lot of that credit has to go to the tandem of Cumbie and Meacham, who have teamed up to infuse an abundance of firepower into the TCU offense. Cumbie, who led the nation in passing yards and total offense in his one year as Texas Tech’s starting quarterback in 2004, and Meacham have both benefitted from coaching under several well respected offensive minds.

Meacham spent eight seasons at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy. For one of those seasons he had the privilege of learning from Dana Holgorsen, who served as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator in 2010.

Cumbie played under Mike Leach and Holgorsen at Texas Tech, and then coached under Lincoln Riley, Neal Brown and Kliff Kingsbury at Tech.

Meacham and Cumbie have experienced instant success in their first season in Fort Worth. They have found a way to convert Trevone Boykin from a turnover-prone athlete who happened to play quarterback into a quality decision-maker and a solid pocket passer.

Last season, Boykin took snaps at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, and he never looked comfortable behind center. This year, he has finally had the opportunity to concentrate solely on quarterback. The results have been incredible.

Boykin has thrown 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 2014, and he has not lost his running ability. He has rushed for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns so far this year, and his unique blend of speed and arm strength has him as a legitimate Heisman contender.

Cumbie is the Horned Frogs’ quarterbacks coach and deserves a ton of credit for Boykin’s turnaround. But it is Meacham who has the final say on play calls during the game. He is on the field, while Cumbie is in the booth, relaying down to Meacham what he sees.

It has worked so far, as TCU scored at least 24 first half points in its first seven games. The offense was on full display against Cumbie’s alma mater, when the Horned Frogs amassed 735 yards and 82 points against Texas Tech’s beleaguered defense.

Ironically, Holgorsen, the common denominator of these two fine coach’s success, was the latest to fall victim to TCU’s magic. The Horned Frogs struggled for most of the game against West Virginia’s aggressive 3-3-5 blitzing defense, but a late barrage of points erased a 27-14 deficit for TCU.

The TCU offense got the ball back with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter trailing by two points, and that was plenty of time to mount a drive. Boykin made a few nifty runs and then found Kolby Listenbee on a broken coverage by the Mountaineers. A few running plays later got the ball well within range, and a field goal as time expired improved TCU’s record to 7-1.

In the past two years, the Horned Frogs likely wouldn’t have had the necessary offensive firepower to come back from two scores down like they did on Saturday. But now, they have a high-flying attack that can score in the blink of an eye.

Meacham and Cumbie are a big part of that efficiency, and they will also play an integral role in TCU’s future success.