NFL Free Agency Speculation

In this episode of our podcast, we go longer than we typically do. We are talking about the NFL free agency period. This period takes the center stage before the draft as teams are trying to solidify their current rosters with proven NFL talent. Picking up talent in the draft is a much cheaper option, but draft picks take time to develop. Signing free agents is a quicker way to build roster depth.

During this time period, teams need to decide if they are going to try to sign free agents to help them complete or try to rebuild through the draft. Some teams have been slowly signing free agents over the years to backfill their roster in hopes of another deep playoff run. The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the teams using this strategy.

They know they have a proven winning quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger. He is just entering the twilight stage of his career. They need to press into win now mode by signing free agents and hoping Ben does not retire. They already have talent on offense and they made sure to keep it by signing a big front loaded contract with Antonio Brown. This means they will have cap space in a few years when they will have to rebuild after Ben Roethlisberger retires. Their main needs now are on defense. The Steelers can make an attempt to lure in a big time defensive player or wait and try to fill in their talent gaps in the draft. Waiting for the draft is a bigger risk, but in a few years they may be able to avoid a full rebuild year if they are able to build around a young and hungry defense.

Moving away from the Steelers, running backs are in a rare position of high availability this year. It is scary to think that a contender could bolster their running attack by signing a veteran running back like Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles. These are premier names in the NFL and would make a great second or third option for a playoff contender. With running backs having a short shelf life, a team could pick up a great free agent running back for cheap.

We end the podcast by talking about the NCAA once again. Last week, the NCAA stepped in and suspended five University of Richmond baseball players for participating in a fantasy football league. The irony is that this suspension comes during March Madness, where the NCAA promotes false gambling like fantasy football by advertising bracket picks directly on their own website.

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Conference Tournaments Carry Too Much Weight

Conference tournaments are starting this week in college basketball. They let these tournaments determine who gets an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. I can’t believe they do that. It throws away the entire regular season for a lot of conferences and teams. One loss can mean a postseason in a lesser tournament or at home.

I get that it creates buzz and television money for the tournament. If they insist on having tournaments, then the NCAA should step in. They should not let every team play in their conference tournaments. Let only the top half of the conference take part. That way the regular season still has meaning.

There were a ton of upsets in the conference brackets last year in the NCAA. I guess this gives the smaller conferences a chance to get more teams in the tournament. The winner gets an automatic bid. So, a lower team that upsets the conference leader could be enough to get both teams in. This waters down the tournament.

Last year an awful Holy Cross team won their conference tournament. They finished the regular season second to last in their conference. For a team to qualify for their conference tournament, they should have to finish in the top half of their respective conference. That way, if a conference has more teams the rules are consistent. The NCAA needs to step in and stop a bottom feeder from lucking into the tournament.

This creates a better experience for fans that have no rooting interest. Cinderella teams that make the tournament will have a legitimate chance at advancing. There will be fewer teams in the tournament that do not belong. As the NCAA tournament keeps expanding, the time for the NCAA to step in and rule on conference tournaments is now.

The End of a Basketball Career

Yesterday, I found myself with mixed emotions as I watched an athlete take the court for the last time. This wasn’t a superstar athlete. This wasn’t an athlete with a multimillion-dollar shoe deal. This athlete was my brother, AJ, and he was a hell of a basketball player.

AJ was the youngest of four, with me being the eldest. There was an eight-year gap between us and quite a size difference. We also have the luxury of having a large family. So that meant, as the youngest, he had to deal with getting pushed around a lot growing up. In the summer, we would play sports outside all day long. Wiffle ball was our game of choice. I would make my brother pitch to me over and over all summer long. When it was his turn to bat, I would just strike him out. Then, I would make AJ pitch to me again. But he never gave up.

Once, I had him pitch to me with a rubber ball instead of a Wiffle ball so that he could throw harder. I figured it would help me prepare for high school baseball a bit better. That was a mistake. I hit a line drive with that rubber ball straight back up the middle. It hit AJ in the chest with so much force it knocked him off of his feet. Needless to say, he didn’t pitch another ball that day opting to go swimming instead. But he never gave up. He was right back out there on the mound the next day. We used a Wiffle ball wrapped in electrical tape after that incident. That allowed him to throw the ball harder without creating the extra explosion off the end of the bat.

In the winter, we had to settle for playing indoor basketball. We had an eight-foot ceiling in our basement with a six and a half foot rim. This didn’t give us much room to play. We did the best we could marking off a half court with carpets and using chalk to draw a three point line. We would play games to 21. If you were on defense and you rebounded a ball, you had to take it out past the three-point line before you could shoot. It was our own version of street basketball.

I told AJ that if he tried to drive into the carpet for an easy basket I would block his shot. I did. Every single time. But he never gave up. At first, he just kept trying to drive to the hoop to score and I just kept blocking his shot. I would also physical with him and push him around. We have a video of him faking an injury and getting upset over it. He accused me of fouling him. Which of course, I never did. But he never gave up. He was resilient.

Eventually, he learned that if he just sat back and shot threes, I would let him shoot. He missed at first, a lot, but after a bit of time, he started making his shots. All of them. Coincidentally, this marked the time that we grew out of playing basketball in the basement. The games had become too physical and intense. I stopped growing at six feet and two inches tall. AJ never stopped growing.

AJ started playing varsity basketball in high school as a freshman. He eventually plateaued at six feet and seven inches tall. That never give up attitude he had growing up stuck with him throughout his career. He would spend countless hours working on his shot at our downtown court. I would like to think those basement basketball battles with me helped him develop his inside-outside game. He was able to shoot threes like no one else at his height. In high school, this left him virtually unguardable. He landed as a third team all-state selection in Pennsylvania as a junior. In his senior season, he averaged 20.8 points a game to finish as a first team all-state selection in Pennsylvania. He capped off his senior season by leading Penn Cambria High School to their first district championship in over a decade.

AJ used his talents earn a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown to play Division II basketball. He did not waste his opportunity. He played significant minutes in his four years at UPJ and was named a CoSIDA Second-Team Academic All-American his senior season while majoring in Applied Mathematics. In addition to his academic achievements, AJ kept shooting threes with success. He ended his career shooting 47.9% from behind the arc while hitting an astounding 240 threes. He also was named to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference first team for three consecutive seasons. He left UPJ ranked on their all-time list in scoring with 1,539 points and rebounding with 699 rebounds.

Even as the time ticked down in his final game, he never gave up. I know it must have been hard for him leaving the game of basketball he loved for so long. As the game ended, I wondered if he was going to be emotional after the game. I wondered because I had tears in my eyes.

Ranking the Greatest Quarterbacks of All-Time

We have created a list on that lists all quarterbacks that fit certain criteria. We looked at four main categories to make our list. If a quarterback fits at least one of these categories, they are added to the list. This creates an inclusive list as it casts a wide net throughout league history. The categories we used were as follows.

The first category we looked at was multiple Super Bowl winners. A great quarterback needs to have a winning edge. Is there a better way to display a winning edge than by winning multiple Super Bowls? By adding in the multiple limiter, we were able to remove quarterbacks that might have lucked into winning a Super Bowl by riding a great defense.

Continuing with our theme of winning, the second category we looked at was quarterbacks who made the cut as Top 10 in all-time wins. A great quarterback leads his team to victory time and time again. This category gives quarterbacks a chance to make the list even if they didn’t have the opportunity to win the big game.

Looking from a scoring perspective, our third category used is Top 10 in passing touchdowns. To win games, a team needs to be able to score points. This gives quarterbacks a chance to make the list that may not have had a solid defense to help them close out games.

Our last category is a pure quarterback one. It is quarterbacks that are all-time Top 10 in passing yards. This gives quarterbacks one last chance to make the list. If they do not fit into this category, they do not deserve to be named as one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

Take a second to review our list and make your pick for the best quarterback of all time. You can vote each quarterback either up or down. You, the reader, will decide who will be named the best quarterback of all time.

NFL Combine Redux

This podcast is a continuation of our last one. I am once again talking with Jeffrey Meier about the NFL combine. When talking about the fastest 40 times, I mistakenly refer to Chris Johnson as Charles Johnson. I don’t think the bench press is a good measurement of actual football strength and I feel it would benefit the NFL if they invested in better exercises to measure players with.

They make a ton of money off of athletes in the draft and the majority of the picks are busts. Every year the NFL draft consists of 256 picks. That equates to around 15% of the total number of roster slots in the entire league. That leaves teams to decide on roster slots every year with an overabundance of players. Most of the players taken in later rounds never actually make it into an NFL game. NFL teams have to decide to cut players that have been in their system for a few years or draft picks based on potential and what they observed in practice.

We also dive into the invitation process of the NFL draft as it seems more and more like an exclusive club every year. The league picks and chooses who they want to punish and who they want to stay in the league. This means that some players are targeted by NFL rules officials while others seem to skate by without a second glance by the league. Basic science disproved the league’s stance on football deflation but they still ruled in favor of punishment anyway. Meanwhile, their old golden boy Peyton Manning was able to have HGH shipped to his house without any further investigation. It seems like these transparency issues could be a prominent reason why the league is struggling with dropping television ratings.

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Problems at Michigan State and NFL Combine

There are rumors swirling around the Michigan State athletic department. Their athletic director missed an NCAA tournament selection debriefing to stay in East Lansing to attend to some of the issues they have been facing on campus.

Some of the problems are related to the US women’s gymnastics coach that is under investigation. There was also a video posted online that showed students looting the pockets of another student that was knocked out on the ground. It was under investigation to see if anyone could be identified from the video. There are also early reports that it is possible three players will be removed from the Michigan State football team due to their involvement in some other type of investigation.

The NFL combine is coming up and I get a call from Jeffrey Meier for the first time. He has appeared on the podcast before, but we haven’t had a segment together yet. We talk about the combine set up and touch on the drills that take place. Our conversation is so long that we have to split it into our first two-part podcast.

Our website is also under a large move into a new location which will help increase our reach. There may be some temporary issues when trying to reach our site, but rest assured we will be back up and running as soon as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us. When our move is finished, we will make an announcement on social media so be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Subscribe to receive every episode of our show as soon as it is released. The Southbound Sports Show is available on all of your favorite podcast apps including iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, TuneIn Radio, and by email.

ACC/Big Ten Softball Challenge

The ACC/Big Ten Softball Challenge occurred in Raleigh over the weekend. The weather was quite warm for the middle of February with weekend temperatures holding steady in the 70s. Since the weather was nice and the highly ranked Michigan Wolverines were coming into town, I made it a point to attend.

The Challenge was modeled after the Basketball Challenge held yearly between the two conferences. With softball, the format is a bit different. Instead of only one game between two teams, teams meet in pods to compete in a weekend of games. Four teams meet in each host city with two of them being from the same conference. Teams from the same conference did not play each other over the weekend. This set up leads to each team playing four games, two against each of the teams from the opposing conference.

I had never attended a Division I softball game before and was impressed by the facilities NC State had built right in the center of campus. Their softball field was part of a complex that included a track and soccer field right across from their impressive student center. Seating was limited inside of the actual softball stadium, which left a standing room only crowd down each of the baselines. This created a great atmosphere for a full weekend of games.

The Wolverines had a great showing on the weekend finishing 3–1 while outscoring opponents 36–6. The ACC took the challenge overall this year with its teams finishing with a 19–13 record. The Big Ten won the initial softball challenge last year with a 20–12 record. The Challenge is now tied at 1–1 between the two conferences.

Winter Oil-Less Turkey Frying

Due to the size of my oil-less fryer (char broil true infrared ) The Big Easy oil-less only holding a 16-pound turkey, I settled for a 13 pound defrosted bird.

As far as rubs go, if you use sugar-based rubs, it could overcook and burn the meat. I settled for a mixture of garlic powder, paprika, Cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, herbs de province, and Tony C’s Creole seasoning. I used a regular bowl and eyeballed amounts, but searching for Cajun seasonings/rubs will put you in a similar place as long as it isn’t sugar based.

After rubbing the turkey down with a small amount of Canola Oil, I rubbed the seasonings onto the bird and let them sit while I prepped the fryer.

The prep consisted of spraying the inside cavity with non-stick spray, hooking up the gas, and getting the burners lit. As I was trying to get the burners lit, I ran into some issues with the auto-ignitor. Thankfully it comes with a hole to manually light with a match, and we were off and running.

In addition to the turkey, I also tested a rack and cooked 4 sweet potatoes. I did nothing but pull them from the bag and threw them onto a rack above the turkey to cook. Since it was in the 30s when I started cooking, I put the lid on to cook the food.

I was surprised that in only 2 hours, not only was the turkey done, but it had a crunchy exterior and juicy interior. The other thing that really surprised me was how quickly the fryer cooled down after cooking ended. With a traditional oil fryer, it would take time to cool and properly store. Within 15 min, everything was cooled and ready to be cleaned and seasoned. I was very pleased with how easy it was to cook and look forward to using it for other items and possible tailgating opportunities.

MLS Expansion and College Football Recruiting

Twelve cities have put in applications for an expansion Major League Soccer franchise. That includes two cities here in North Carolina along with our sister sports city of Detroit. I am hoping that a new franchise gets added to one of those three cities to give me an MLS team to cheer for. I am also hoping that they are able to extend their video viewing options for the league.

MLS needs to put together a digital package that is superior to the other major sports leagues in the United States. They need the extra exposure. The best way for them to grow their fanbase is by exposing more people to their league. It has slowly been improving in past years, but they could really benefit by making a push towards live video on social media. I would like to see MLS put together some type of red zone styled channel that streams live on social media. Since soccer is tougher to predict when scoring is going happen, it could rotate between games showing corner kicks and teams moving the ball into the zone. Using something like this, they could also show scoring drives on a slight delay. This will help drive in fans as most major sites do not update MLS scores instantly anyway.

The other topic on the docket is college football recruiting. The top teams held their place as the USC Trojans slipped into the top five with a small class. It seems like the hype train is on USC once again. All of the major recruiting services reported late in the afternoon that the only team that could possibly move into the top five was LSU. Once the afternoon was completed, USC was the team that had slipped into the top five instead.

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Super Bowl Thoughts During the Game

I decided to record the podcast a bit differently this week. I recorded bits and pieces during the game on my phone. The quality could have been a bit better if I had anticipated the need to use a microphone with the input jack on my iPhone 6. I enjoyed the live recording aspect of the podcast and am hoping to use this as a springboard into doing more live recordings in the future for Southbound Sports.

The Super Bowl itself featured one of the most epic comebacks of all time. The start of the game gave me the feeling that this would be another Super Bowl blowout like the Seahawks victory a few years back. The Falcons were able to score at will and even returned a Tom Brady interception for a touchdown. With a massive lead and all factors of the game clicking, it looked like the Falcons were cruising to an easy victory.

The Falcons had a chance to put the game away, but their coaching decisions left a lot to be desired. If I were a Falcons fan, I would have been sick to my stomach watching the offense take sacks to push them out of field goal range. The Falcons had such as huge lead that they probably could have run the ball three times and punted for the remainder of the game and still won. Instead, they opted to try to pass the ball which led to them blowing the largest lead in Super Bowl history.

Subscribe to receive every episode of our show as soon as it is released. The Southbound Sports Show is available on all of your favorite podcast apps including iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, TuneIn Radio, and by email.