Today I’m giving you an NFL pop quiz.
What’s the No. 1 key ingredient to winning in the NFL?
A -- Is it coaching?
B – Is it quarterback play?
C – Is it having outstanding lines of scrimmage?
D – Is it a great defense?
E – Is it luck (as in not getting screwed by the zebras)?
F -- None of the above.
The answer is F, none of the above.
So what is the key ingredient?
It’s staying healthy.
No word is used more often by coaches and players than “injury”. No phrase is uttered more often than “staying healthy”. In football the question isn’t if a player will be injured but when and how badly will he be injured.
Injuries are a part of all sports but nothing like they are in football. They indicate success and failure more than anything a GM, coach or player can do.
That’s why nearly every new rule is about protecting players. Trouble is large, powerful and fast men crashing into one another is the perfect formula for not staying healthy.
I find it more interesting who’s NOT ranked in the preseason top 25 college football polls voted on by the coaches and media than who is.
The polls are almost identical this year, as they are nearly every year, because, really, how many schools truly make the commitment to be a perennial top-25 team?
By my count there are 28 programs that ought to be ranked in the top 25 college football polls every year. They don’t include Penn State because who knows what its future is in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
These are the schools that spend the money to build the facilities and hire the best coaches, have large and passionate fan bases, are often willing to ignore academic and characters flaws in top athletes and have a history of success.
There are 20 of these schools ranked this year. Of the remaining eight there are three that grab your attention. I’m talking about Texas, Michigan and, yes, the Florida Gators. If they’re not ranked that means they have serious problems.
Big-time college football is easily the sport that has the biggest gap between the “haves” and have-nots”. Change in the college football landscape comes slowly.
Every year there are two or three Cinderella teams, teams that burst into the national spotlight for two or three years and then disappear. About every decade a new program joins the list of elite and near-elite programs and perhaps one falls out of those categories. Otherwise, everything remains basically the same. Shuffle the positions but the names remain the same -- like a deck of cards.
Which teams make up my “Power 28”?
By conference (* -- not ranked in preseason top 25):
SEC – Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee*, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida*.
ACC – FSU, Clemson, Virginia Tech*, Notre Dame and Louisville*.
Big Ten – Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan*, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Big 12 – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State* and Texas*.
Pac-12 – Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Arizona State and Arizona*
Among those that are close to joining this power category are Ole Miss, Missouri, Arkansas, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa, Central Florida and Boise State.
That’s a total of 42 schools. So how big a deal is it to make the top 25?
Not many people seem to believe David Caldwell and Gus Bradley when they repeatedly insist they plan to keep Blake Bortles on the bench all season. And with each passing pregame game the list gets longer, particularly among the national pundits.
The most common response of NFL analysts when the topic comes up is the roll their eyes and give a wink-wink like in, “Sure, they’re going to keep Bortles on the bench -- and I’ve got a great price for you to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Some, however, are getting . . . well, ESPN’s Tom Jackson called the Jaguars “disingenuous” when it came to their quarterback plans.
I do believe Caldwell and Bradley are sincere in wanting to give Bortles a year to learn on the sidelines because they know he probably doesn’t have enough help to enjoy much success. But I also believe they know waiting makes no sense if Bortles is ready to play and gives the team the best chance to win.
I believe what the Jaguars’ Dynamic Duo is doing is playing mind games, particularly with Chad Henne, who they insist is their starter for the 2014 season. Henne is an NFL journeyman whose career has been marked by his inconsistency. For every outstanding game he has played he has an equal number of stinkers.
Seldom has he gone into a season listed as the undisputed starter. Will such a show of confidence give him the confidence to consistently play at a higher level? That’s obviously what Caldwell and Bradley are counting on.
To the contrary, they want to protect Bortles from losing his confidence because of a weak supporting cast. Let the new offensive line work on continuity at Henne’s expense. Let the young wide receivers make rookie mistakes for the same reason.
I understand that reasoning but I don’t endorse it.
No one knows, of course, if Bortles will be ready now or ever. But that question won’t be answered with him on the bench. Yes, practice is important but it’s still practice.
Another reason to play Bortles as soon as possible is because . . . well, this is entertainment and an excited fan base is clamoring to see him. Watching Bortles could help partially offset the pain of another losing season.
And let’s be realistic. No one, including those inside Everbank Field, is expecting this to be a playoff team.
I never thought Tim Tebow would be a star quarterback in the NFL. I even had reservations about him being a starter.
But I’ve got to admit it never dawned on me that he’d be out of the league before he was 25.
And the more NFL I watch the more I’m amazed -- and puzzled -- that Tebow now works for the SEC Network instead of NFL team.
Have you seen some of the quarterback play in the NFL this preseason?
In a league desperate for quarterbacks -- and a league that is going more and more with mobile QBs -- are you telling me there’s not one of the 90 to 96 available spots for Tim Tebow?
I realize Tebow had his chances – he’s been dismissed by three different teams – and I know his insane celebrity makes teams uncomfortable about having him on their bench, but if guys like Brady Quinn and Charlie Whitehurst keep getting opportunities surely you’d think somebody’d want Tebow.
Tebow says he’s working out regularly and still dreams of getting an opportunity, but he’s about to enter his second season out of uniform and his dream now appears to be more of a daydream.
Tebow’s critics will tell you 32 general managers and 32 head coaches can’t be wrong. They’ll point to him last being cut by New England’s Bill Belichick as proof there’s no place for Tebow as an NFL quarterback. Belichick is the most successful, secure, arrogant and unorthodox head coach in the NFL. If he can’t find a way to use Tebow then no other coach is going to give him a shot.
I hear them, but it still doesn’t make sense to me.
Oh, what the hell. Go ahead and admit it. Stop hemming and hawing and say out loud, “Yes there is a quarterback controversy! We want Bortles!”
I don’t care how many times Coach Gus Bradley says it -- “There is no controversy. Chad Henne is our starter.” – we know there is. Henne may well be the starter. He may start all season for the Jaguars. It’s Bradley’s call, not ours. But just because Bradley says it there’s no controversy doesn’t make it so. He may actually believe it or he might be following that old coaches’ habit of . . . well, let’s just say coaches have been known to be less than candid with the media and fans. (That’s as nice as I can be without saying coaches lie all the time.)
Certainly all of the makings for a perfect controversy are there. There’s the mediocre veteran quarterback in Henne who in the exhibition opener played like a mediocre veteran quarterback. Then there’s the hotshot rookie quarterback in Blake Bortles – he was the No. 3 overall draft pick – who looked like a hotshot rookie quarterback in the exhibition opener.
I’m guessing Henne isn’t as bad as he looked against Tampa Bay. And I doubt Bortles will consistently play as well as he did against the Bucs – at least not for a while. And, yes, it was an exhibition, which means little, if any, game planning and going against some guys who won’t be cashing NFL paychecks this fall. But it was the first time Bortles had ever played against pros who truly wanted to a knock his head off and that has to mean something.
I appreciate and understand Bradley’s game plan in wanting to sit Bortles all season and let him learn. That’s the ideal situation and works if Henne plays reasonably well or if Bortles simply isn’t prepared to go up against real NFL defenses. But if there’s any truth in the small sample we saw last Friday night then Bortles gives the Jaguars the best chance to win, and isn’t what that’s ultimately all about?
I do realize that Bradley might be willing to sacrifice now for the future, but how much?
I also know I – and so do many of you – I want to see Bortles now.
Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Sure, Tiger Woods was missed at the PGA Championship. The TV ratings will reflect that.
But anyone who did watch Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship at Louisville’s Valhalla Golf Club saw a classic won by the game’s newest superstar, Rory McIlroy.
It already is being talked about in the same breath as the ’60 U.S. Open with Arnold Palmer outdueling Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus and the ’75 Masters with Nicklaus out gunning Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf.
Like those classics, this one was won by a guy who one day may find his name near the top of the first page on any list of the game’s greatest ever. Obviously it’s too early to put McIlroy in the discussion with Nicklaus and Woods as the greatest ever or even seriously debate the merits of him belonging in the discussion of the top 10 all-time with the likes of Palmer, Snead, Jones, Watson, Hagen, Nelson, etc.
But it isn’t too early to consider the possibility of what the future may hold for the young man from Northern Ireland. Only Woods and Nicklaus had four major titles at a younger age than the 25-year-old McIlroy. The PGA was McIlroy’s second straight major victory and third straight tournament victory. He earned this one the hard way, by grinding out a victory with Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and budding star Ricky Fowler, among others, nipping at his heels.
There was drama galore with McIlroy leading when the day started, then falling behind by as many as three shots and then putting on a shotmaking performance for the ages coming down the stretch. No one among the top contenders played the final nine holes better than the champ.
From start to finish the leader board was crowded with today’s best players, young and old. Mickelson actually shared the lead at one point. Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Steve Stricker lingered. So did Jason Day and Adam Scott.
The TV cameras could hardly keep up with the superb shots being made. This major championship wasn’t about surviving as so many are. Indeed, on this day eagles were soaring, birdies were flying and putts were falling.
It was great golf by a bunch of outstanding golfers. Certainly for one afternoon at a major championship Tiger wasn’t on anyone’s mind.