Round of Applause
Working into the wee hours has several advantages. First, as a member of the generation of which I am a proud part, I am very used to the distractions of Facebook and Twitter while I’m trying—or not—to get things done, like this column. So working past 1 a.m. … 2 a.m. … OK, 3 a.m. to do my work is a good way to make sure I’m not pleasantly interrupted by friends, who are all soundly sleeping at this hour of the night. But for the lack of distractions my friends provide, the TV and YouTube make up for them and more. I’ve recently discovered that I get the Game Show Network in my room, so while I’m writing this, I’m taking in a classic game of Card Sharks hosted by Bob Eubanks. And I would have already been sleeping but I was held up for several hours by my nostalgic desire to watch old videos of professional wrestling. Go ahead and judge me, but I loved that stuff in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. It was very cool. By the way, I love the Card Sharks theme song. (Yep, 3:30 a.m. means another episode is just starting.)
Chorus of Boos
College conferences are becoming a complete joke. This really deserves more time than I’m going to give it, but I think my statement of the facts should adequately bewilder those of you who don’t know the current situation of today’s college sports conferences. So, after the BCS really started screwing things up 15 years ago, conferences have been in a hurry to outduel one another, and outsiders have wanted in. Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami (Fla.) left the Big East about 10 years ago to go to the ACC, so the Big East decided to poach five teams from Conference USA, but only a couple played football. A few non-BCS schools (Boise State, TCU, BYU, Utah, and others) have been excellent in football over the last few years but have been excluded from the national championship picture, so they started moving around. The first shots were fired when Boise State decided (with others) to move to the Mountain West, home of TCU, BYU, and Utah. But TCU left for the Big East (which now has 17 total schools and nine in football) while BYU wanted to be independent so it left the football conference. Then, Utah ganged up with Colorado and joined the Pac-10—now the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Nebraska decided to leave the Big 12 to join the Big Ten—which already had 11 teams after Penn State joined in 1990—giving the Big Ten twelve teams and the Big 12 ten teams. This week, Texas A&M wanted to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, but the SEC didn’t want to add them, at least until some other teams from either the Big 12 or ACC came with them to make it even. Got it? Course not.
We’re approaching the prime time for fantasy football drafts, so it’s time for me to share 10 top-secret tips to drafting a championship-caliber team that will make you the envy of the class, office, bar, church, convenience store, prison, or wherever you put your league together.
1. Make sure you know how your league scoring works. If passing stats—especially touchdowns—aren’t worth as much as rushing or receiving stats, your quarterback can wait until the second round. If pass TDs and rush TDs are both worth six points, feel free to go for the quarterback with your top pick. My top three: Aaron Rodgers, Mike Vick, and Tom Brady.
2. In the same breath, your league’s use of defensive players and scoring behind them can be the difference between a win and a loss. If your league employs individual defensive players (IDPs), you need to check to see if tackles earn points or if only stats like interceptions and sacks count. Safeties and linebackers are usually the best bets for IDPs, especially when tackles count.
3. Don’t be afraid to take a team defense before your offensive lineup is full. The difference between the highest-scoring defenses (Jets, Eagles, Packers, Steelers, Chargers, Ravens) and the lowest-scoring ones are often more significant than the production you’ll get out of a flex player on a weekly basis. I’d suggest taking a defense soon after you draft your tight end.
4. Load up on running backs rather than wide receivers for your bench. Running backs—especially starters—are generally more consistent than wide receivers. If your team has two running back spots plus a flex player, I’d want five running backs on my roster. High-scoring running backs are hard to pick up once the season starts; wideouts are usually available.
5. A quality backup quarterback is important, especially if you don’t get a Pro Bowl type. You can afford to have a guy like Matt Hasselbeck as your backup if you’ve got Peyton Manning as your starter because unless Manning’s on a bye week, you’ll be playing him. But if your starter is an on-again-off-again guy like Eli Manning, you’ll want a good backup like Josh Freeman.
6. My first five picks in a draft are generally QB, RB (interchangeable), RB, WR, TE. It’s necessary to have a good quarterback and at least one star running back and receiver. But don’t underestimate the important of a good tight end. Pro Bowlers like Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark are way better than others and harder to get mid-season than second and third wide receivers.
7. Beware of taking rookies to fill starting roles, especially if you plan on taking them in the first few rounds. Sure, it looks great if you end up being the smart guy or gal who drafted a rookie if he ends up having a nice year, but just as often it doesn’t work out. You can wait until the sixth round or so to take a rookie. I’d rather take a proven player than gamble with a high pick.
8. Pay attention to where a player is playing, especially if the player’s or team’s circumstances changed significantly during the offseason. For example, LaDainian Tomlinson won’t have nearly as many touches this year as Shonn Greene returns to the feature back role. Sidney Rice has Tarvaris Jackson as a quarterback in Seattle, so his production may be limited.
9. Don’t be the idiot who takes a player who is injured or retired. Lions running back Mikel Leshoure suffered a likely season-ending Achilles injury in the preseason. Brett Favre and Randy Moss are retired. Same goes with a guy who’s holding out. Most of the holdouts decided to report to camp, but Titans running back Chris Johnson isn’t giving in. He’s a risky early pick.
10. You love your team and hate your rival, but this is fantasy football. A team full of Jets won’t win me any fantasy titles, so as much as I’d love to have them all on my team, it’s not a winning formula. Neither is staying away from players on rival teams. I hate the Patriots, but if I need a quarterback and Tom Brady’s available in the second or third round, sign me up.
Tony’s finally got his week in Rhode Island and, of course, it’s been raining for him. With all the time indoors, he’s had plenty of time to think up some good takes for this week.
1. Congratulations to Jim Thome on his 600th career home run. Hitting Nos. 599 and 600 in back-to-back at-bats is very impressive. Too bad I thought he retired seven years ago…
2. The Panthers’ Cam Newton and the Titans’ Jake Locker both looked very good in their preseason debuts. Start the rookies! Neither of those teams have anything to lose!
Lips to CN’s Ear
“We play 144 games. Playing that many games is definitely a grind. … I pretty much stuck to what they gave me (for workout plans). It comes down to you taking care of yourself with workouts and eating right. It sounds simple, but it makes a big difference. … I still get to play the game I grew up playing for free and now I get to play in front of thousands of people.”
Minor league pitcher and former Naugatuck High standout Steve Hiscock on his experience as a second-year professional baseball player. Hiscock is a bullpen pitcher with the Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League and has racked up a 2-0 record with 53 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings pitched. Hiscock and the Hot Rods—a Rays affiliate—qualified for the league playoffs.
“I’ve had a couple bad outings and I’d like to end the season on a good note. … I’m on my way to living my dream. But there’s a reason why I’m in High-A ball and not the big leagues. … I’m learning the hard way to call pitches and set up hitters. Everybody here throws as hard as me or harder. I have to figure out new ways to get these guys out. I’m still working on it.”
Minor league pitcher and former Naugatuck High standout Pat Dean on his experience as a second-year professional baseball player. Dean was promoted earlier this year from the Single-A Midwest League to the High-A Florida State League as a member of the Fort Myers Miracle, an affiliate of the Twins. He started strongly with the Miracle and is looking for a similar finish to the summer.