The Greatest Defensive Back of All Time Debate… The Assassin

August 6, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Defensive Backs have one job in the game of football – stop the pass.

Some backs play a finesse game. They read the opposing offense and try to put themselves in exactly the right place to make a play on the ball. Guys like Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders were masters at that game. It didn’t seem to matter where they were at on the field when the quarterback released the ball, they always managed to have a shot at the ball by the time it got near the receiver.

The problem with that style of play, though, was that it often requires a gamble. Guys who make a play for the ball run the risk of misreading the pass, which opens them up to give up very big plays. And when you are in the secondary, you can’t afford to give up big plays.

But there was another way to stop the pass that made for far greater success – intimidation. There is no stat line for intimidation, but it is nevertheless an invaluable weapon on defense.

That is exactly the game that Jack Tatum played, and nobody played it better.

Jack Tatum was without a doubt the single most intimidating man ever to play as a defensive back in the NFL. Quarterbacks and wide receivers had to always mark Tatum’s position on the field. Not because they were worried about his breaking up the pass, but instead because they were worried about his breaking up the wide receiver (literally).

While DB’s like Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders relied on gambles to try and make a play for the ball, Tatum relied on fear. Receivers facing Woodson or Sanders had to make sure to protect their routes and protect the ball. Receivers facing Tatum had to protect themselves. Tatum’s FOOTSTEPS could do more to disrupt a pass than Woodson or Sanders’ hands, and there is nothing more awe-inspiring than a defender whose footsteps alone are enough to instill enough fear as to cause a professional to fail!

Tatum may not have had the individual statistics to compete on the all-time rankings with some others to have played the game, but he was far more valuable to those organizations on each and every play of the game.

Tatum played football only one way, at full speed. His mission was to hit his target as hard as possible, every single play of the game. Receivers always knew when they were coming across the field and Tatum was waiting for them on the other side.

What made Tatum so successful in the secondary was his combination of speed and size. He was originally recruited as a running back for the Buckeyes, and did not make the transition to defense until midway through his freshman season. That was when his true value was realized.

Over the course of his Hall of Fame career in Columbus, Tatum earned First Team All-Big Ten honors for his play every year he started, and he was a two-time All American. In 1970, he was also named the Defensive Player of the Year, and was even a Heisman Trophy Finalist.

After Tatum made the transition into the NFL, he continued to build his reputation as a punishing tackler who could disrupt any play from anywhere on the field. It was that reputation which ultimately earned him the title of “The Assassin”.

He continued to dominate in the defensive backfield over an outstanding career of 10 seasons, which included three Pro-Bowl selections, two All Pro selections, and the Defensive Back of the Year award in 1973.

Tatum put 100% of himself into every single play. His aggressive style earned him recognition as one of the NFL’s “10 Most Feared Tacklers in NFL History”. And for all of the aggression and power that Tatum demonstrated on the field, it is vitally important to note that he was not a dirty player. Even his infamous hit on New England Patriots’ wide receiver Darryl Stingley, which tragically left Stingley paralyzed and became the dubious defining point in both of their professional careers, was a perfectly legal hit within the rules of the game during the 1970’s.

Although his career does not boast the same statistical dominance that some others have seen, Tatum was still the greatest defensive back of all time.

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The 2010 Best Sweet 16 Story Debate… Crow Tastes Nutty

March 22, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

First off, let me get this out of the way. Congratulations to Ohio State, who clearly was the better and more deserving team against Georgia Tech yesterday!

Gahhhh, it pains me to say that! You see, on Saturday, Bleacher Fan issued a little wager to me regarding the matchup between his Buckeyes and my Yellow Jackets. If Georgia Tech won, he would discuss Georgia Tech in his debate today and I would discuss St. Marys, Cornell, or whomever I wished. If the Buckeyes won, I would discuss the greatness that is Ohio State. Well you see how it turned out!

The truth is I had Ohio State winning in my bracket, but I thought it was a good chance to stick it to Bleacher Fan’s pro-Big Ten attitude. And for the second time in just over two months, I underestimated the strength of a Big Ten team against a Georgia Tech team, and in two different sports, too!

Flash back to December 5, 2009. Ohio State guard Evan Turner, alone on a breakaway, falls to the floor after an attempted dunk in a non-conference game against Eastern Michigan. All of Buckeye Nation panicked. Bleacher Fan spoke with obvious concern about the young man’s well being in our editorial meeting. There was a brief period of time where no one knew how long Turner would be out (it was initially supposed to be eight weeks after breaking two vertebra in his back), but he amazingly would only miss six games. Fast forward over three months later to yesterday. Turner, the Big Ten Player of the Year, and a national Player of the Year candidate, came up just an assist and a rebound short of a triple-double in a 75-66 victory over Georgia Tech, giving the Yellow Jackets a chance to get their cell phones back quicker than they had hoped.

At the beginning of the season I am not sure many folks outside of Columbus would have believed that the Buckeyes would have a decent shot at the national championship. They were ranked in the preseason polls, but were lost in the shuffle behind 2009 runner up Michigan State, as well as Purdue, and Michigan. But the Buckeyes have been on a roll due in large part to Turner, having won fifteen out of their last sixteen games.

Now, with the almost annual choke by Kansas, the Midwest region sets up nicely for Ohio State, with the Ohio State-Tennessee winner taking on the winner of Northern Iowa and Michigan State. It’s pretty clear that Ohio State has to be the favorite coming out of the region at this point, especially with the Spartans point guard, Kalin Lucas, likely lost for the season.

On the surface it may not appear that Ohio State’s presence in the Sweet Sixteen would be a great story. And yes, there are definitely some Cinderella stories in this year’s tournament. But the fact that Evan Turner has, ironically, put the team on his back and on the path to the Final Four is truly an amazing story for the Buckeyes and Even Turner.

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The Best 2009 Bowl Season Debate – Big Ten Redemption

January 11, 2010

Read the arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek about which conference had the best bowl season in 2009.

I am shocked that college football is over (I miss it already)!

With the end of the college football season, though, comes the final bit of analysis to close out 2009 where we must determine which teams and which conferences had the most success during the bowl season. There were several conferences which put forth outstanding results this year, including the WAC (proving with yet another BCS victory that they can hang with the big boys), the Mountain West (4-1 overall record) and the Big East (4-2 overall), and the SEC (winning two BCS games, including a fourth consecutive national championship).

However, only one conference defied all expectations, and won ALL of its biggest games, on the biggest stages, against the toughest opponents – The Big Ten!

During the 2009-2010 bowl season, the Big Ten was one of only two conferences (along with the ACC) in which every one of its opponents came from another BCS-Conference. The Pac-10, Big XII, SEC, and Big East, contrarily, each had at least one game scheduled against a non-BCS school from the Sun-Belt or MAC, for example. In addition, four of the Big Ten matchups came against higher ranked opponents, all of whom were ranked in the top-15, and two of which were BCS games.

With all due respect to the Mountain West’s impressive bowl record of 4-1, the conference accomplished that record by playing the WAC (two games), Conference-USA (one game), and Pac-10 (two games). Its teams did not face any teams from the Big East, SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, or the ACC. Likewise, the Big East had a record of 4-2, but those games were played against Conference-USA (one game), the MAC (one game), the ACC (two games against one of the WEAKEST BCS conferences), and the SEC (two games). In addition, only two each of the Mountain West and Big East opponents were ranked among the top-25 teams in the nation.

BCS matchups also carry additional weight, because they feature the best that each conference has to offer. Winning games against unranked MAC opponents is not quite the same as winning games against ranked opponents from the SEC or Big Ten. Consequently, BCS victories carry more weight because they earn more credit for the conference.

Of the five BCS matchups, only one game was won by a conference OTHER than the SEC (Florida in the Sugar Bowl and Alabama in the National Championship) or the Big Ten (Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and Iowa in the Orange Bowl). With those results it is difficult to argue that the Mountain West or Big East had the best bowl performances, despite their impressive overall bowl records, because their premier teams lost on the biggest stage against the other premier teams in college football. In fact, the Big East lost its BCS game AGAINST the SEC. Likewise, the ACC, Pac-10, and Big XII also lost BCS games.

Because the SEC and Big Ten both won two BCS bowl games, is it logical to move down the hierarchy of remaining bowl games, beginning with how each conference performed against each other, before deciding the best performance as a conference overall.

There were two bowl games which pitted the SEC against the Big Ten, and each conference won one game. However, the Big Ten victory came in the Capital One Bowl (where #13 Penn State defeated #12 LSU) while the SEC victory came in the Outback Bowl (where unranked Auburn needed overtime to squeak past unranked Northwestern, which has not won a bowl game in 60 years). In the only game between a ranked SEC team and a ranked Big Ten team, it was the Big Ten that emerged victorious.

Last, the Big Ten went 4-0 against ranked opponents in the bowl season, while the SEC went 3-2 against ranked opponents, including that loss to the Big Ten. In each of those games against ranked opposition, the Big Ten was expected to lose. Yet, in each of those games the Big Ten defied the odds and came away victorious. With a win against #15 Miami (ACC), in addition to the aforementioned victories over #12 LSU (SEC), #9 Georgia Tech (ACC), and #7 Oregon (Pac-10), the Big Ten had a perfect record against four of the best teams in the country!

The Big Ten has been much maligned of late for struggling in bowl games. Although the criticism has been warranted in previous seasons, it was not the case in 2009-2010. Instead, the Big Ten faced arguably the toughest bowl schedule in the country, walking away with not just a winning record, but an UNDEFEATED record against ranked opponents, two BCS wins, and a whole lot more respect than it had entering the bowls season.

Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, and Wisconsin Badgers for bringing victory (and restoring pride) to the best conference in college football!

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The Best BCS Bowl Debate – Do You Smell The Roses?

December 21, 2009

Read the arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

The writers here at The Sports Debates had a relatively interesting discussion behind the scenes concerning this debate. We all have reservations about the teams that are playing in the games we are arguing in favor of. Being from the South, it is not very often that you will see me arguing for a game involving teams from the Pac-10. But I am all about watching the best game, and after looking at the five BCS games, I have come to the conclusion that the Rose Bowl is the BEST BCS game.

Ohio State, for all the criticism it takes from Loyal Homer behind closed doors for its inability to win the big game, closes out the decade as one of college football’s top programs. I give credit for that. Ohio State has won six Big Ten titles this decade, and the appearance in the Granddaddy of Them All will be their fifth consecutive BCS appearance. It looked like this season’s team would not make it to a BCS game, as they had two losses by midseason. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel have been fighting off critics all season. The criticism reached such a fever pitch that The Sports Debates actually had a debate on the use of Pryor earlier this year. I have never been one to just love the Ohio State brand of football, and yet, after late wins over Penn State and Iowa, here they are again! A solid defense and an opportunistic offense behind a playmaking quarterback is a recipe for a ten win season. A win over the Ducks locks up a top ten finish… AGAIN… and really raises expectations for the 2010 season.

Meanwhile, the Ducks also took the scenic route to Pasadena. We all remember the LeGarrette Blount incident in the first game of the season. I remember watching that game and thinking, “This team is terrible.” But to head coach Chip Kelly’s credit – someone who deserves some coach of the year consideration – the team righted the ship, and here they are! Highlights of the season include an absolute whipping of USC and a thrilling win over rival Oregon State in the Civil War. To people on the East coast, you might not be familiar with Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, but he is the real deal. I admit I was late on his bandwagon, but I watched him pick apart Southern Cal to the tune of nearly 400 yards. That game convinced me of his talent. Somewhat quietly, I think, he threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 650 yards with a combined 27 touchdowns. Assuming he comes back, he could be mentioned as a preseason Heisman Trophy contender next season. It will be interesting to see how he does against a tough Buckeye defense.

The Buckeyes against the Ducks! Is it the sexy, glamorous matchup that fans outside of these two fan bases want to see? Probably not! But it is a game involving two teams who play very different styles of football. It is an opportunity for both teams to try to get some national respect. And after all, it is the Rose Bowl!

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The Notre Dame Job Envy Debate – Still a Marquee Job But Not The Best

December 17, 2009

Read the debate intro and the arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

Notre Dame has one of those football teams most fans just love to hate. They bring passion out of fans that do not normally show much passion. When Notre Dame is winning, excuses are made as to why. “Their schedule is easy” or “NBC has it rigged” often come up. When they are losing or are inconsistent the haters come out in full force. “Notre Dame can’t compete with the big boys anymore” and “even with NBC money, they still can’t produce a winner.” These are comments I often hear out amongst the public.

Off the record, Bleacher Fan has not been shy about his dislike for the Golden Domers. That really comes across, in a respectful way, in the argument with a comparison of the Fighting Irish to the likes of Ohio State, Southern Cal, and the entire SEC (notice Bleacher Fan’s affection for the SEC). According to Bleacher Fan, it is still a marquee job… but it is not THE best job.

Babe Ruthless, on the other hand, believes the job still is the best in college football. Babe writes that while it is a challenging job, it is also a job that has many rewards. To an extent, I do agree with Mr. Ruthless when that, “The words ‘Notre Dame’ are synonymous with football.” Notre Dame has had decent basketball teams in the past several seasons while playing in the Big East, but everyone knows Notre Dame for one thing. Football.

While I appreciate Babe bringing up “Rudy,” as it’s one of my favorite sports movies, I have to side with Bleacher Fan on this one.

Mr. Fan successfully illustrates the success other programs have had in the past several years. While not discounting the history and tradition in South Bend, the numbers presented by Bleacher Fan prove the head coaching position at Notre Dame no longer reigns as the best.

I am not a Notre Dame hater. But even the most passionate Irish fans have to believe that there are many other head coaching positions that are better jobs. After all, hasn’t Urban Meyer defied Notre Dame on two separate occasions, first to become head coach at Florida and then remain at Florida? This is despite all of his ties to Notre Dame.

Supporters of a football program like Notre Dame demand success. Unfortunately, those demands have not been made recently. Thus, while still one of the top head coaching jobs in college football, it is not THE top job.

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The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate – It’s Conference Championship Time Already?!

November 13, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument and Loyal Homer’s argument about the which game this weekend is the one that you CAN’T miss.

What do you call it when the first and second place teams face off in a game to determine who the champion of their conference will be? I call it a championship game, and that is precisely the setting for Saturday’s matchup between the #15 Iowa Hawkeyes and the #10 Ohio State Buckeyes!

The Big Ten often takes some heat for not having a formalized “championship” game (even by many of the writers on this site). Hopefully, this de facto championship matchup will help to quiet some of those naysayers, because the word “championship” does not have to be present in the title of a game for it to have a championship feel (and outcome). Simply put, this will by far be the BEST game to watch this weekend, because it will decide a BCS invitation.

Ohio State and Iowa both sit atop the Big Ten standings with conference records of 5-1. That means that the winner of Saturday’s game in Columbus will be in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with only one more game remaining on the season. That GUARANTEES the winner at least a share of the Big Ten Conference crown for the 2009 season. Since both Ohio State and Iowa close the season against relatively weak opponents (Michigan and Minnesota, respectively), though, the likelihood is that the winner of this matchup will finish the season as sole champions of the conference. In addition to guaranteeing at least a share of the Big Ten title, though, the winner also gets to punch their ticket to the BCS. Thanks to the elaborate tiebreaker system in place in the Big Ten, the winner of this game will be guaranteed an invitation to “The Granddaddy of Them All”, the 2010 Rose Bowl game.

When you consider the paths taken for each team to reach this point in the season, you find two VERY different stories.

Ohio State was expected to be in contention for the Big Ten Championship, although the preseason projections were that they would be competing with Penn State for the title, as opposed to Iowa. While the Buckeye offense may have been the subject of much scrutiny and criticism this season, Ohio State’s defense has played quite impressively this year. Even in their losses to Purdue and USC, the defense for Ohio State has played remarkably well. Three of their eight victories this season have been by shutout, and they have won their last three games by a combined score of 107-14.

The Buckeyes did need a little help to get themselves into this situation, however. The loss to Purdue back in October had cost Ohio State their lead in the Big Ten, and if not for a very surprising Iowa loss at the hands of Northwestern last week, the Buckeyes would not be playing for the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

As for the Iowa Hawkeyes, the 2009 season has been full of drama and excitement. The Hawkeyes started their season off by needing not one, but TWO blocked field goals at the end of the game just to save the game against Northern Iowa. The close calls didn’t stop there, though. Iowa has trailed at some point in every single game they have played this season. Despite playing from behind, though, they managed to pull off a major upset victory over Penn State, who at the time was ranked as the fifth best team in the country. They also went on to win several other nail-biters, including games against Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. As a result of those wins, Iowa had managed to climb the national rankings all the way up to the number four spot before finally losing to Northwestern last weekend. With that loss to Northwestern, Iowa had lost any hopes of competing for the National Championship game, but they remain in complete control of their Rose Bowl dreams.

During the game against Northwestern, Iowa suffered a second, very damaging loss when junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi injured his ankle. The injury, which was severe enough to require surgery, will prevent Stanzi from playing against Ohio State this weekend. Without Stanzi under center, Iowa will be forced to start redshirt freshman James Vandenberg on Saturday, which means the Hawkeyes will likely have a much more difficult time in scoring points against the vaunted Ohio State defense.

The setback of losing Stanzi is nothing new for the Hawkeyes, though, who have been used to playing under high-pressure and dire circumstances all season long. If anyone is used to playing with their backs against a wall, it is the Iowa Hawkeyes. For their part, Ohio State has shown vulnerability even in games they should have had well in hand, and so nothing should be taken for granted by either team coming into Saturday’s game.

When you consider everything at stake for this game – A guarantee to be at least co-champions in the Big Ten Conference, with the an automatic BCS Rose Bowl invitation for the winner – the formula adds up to a championship game with a championship atmosphere!

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The Big 10 Evolution Debate – No Respect Until Another Team and a Championship Game

July 2, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument that the Big 10 should avoid adding another team.

Before I begin, I just want to say that I, like Sports Geek, am also looking forward to the college football season… or football in general for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love baseball. It still remains the national pastime to me. But, it’s tough to beat those fall weekends every year.

On to the debate…

The Big 10… or as I call it, the WEAK 11, most definitely needs a championship game. And to do that, they need to add another team to make it feasible to split the league up into divisions like the ACC, Big 12, and SEC do.

Let’s take a look at the SEC. In my opinion it’s the best conference in college football from top to bottom (right, Bleacher Fan?). I live right in the heart of SEC country. I’m almost exactly in the middle of Athens, Georgia and Gainesville, Florida, so I follow the SEC very closely.

The SEC added a conference championship game back in 1992, with Florida playing Alabama. Since its inception, Florida has played in the game a total of nine times. I think it’s safe to say that the Florida Gators have drastically increased their national profile since 1992. Three national titles (1996, 2006, 2008) go along way toward establishing a following like the one the Gators currently enjoy. Playing in the championship game helped them become a usual suspect when discussing the national championship.

Let’s use the 1996 Florida Gators as an example. Quarterback Danny Wuerffel’s Gators lost at the end of the regular season to rival Florida State 24-21. However, after defeating Alabama (in Gene Stallings‘ last season) 45-30 in the championship game, they were able to get the rematch with the Seminoles thanks to the University of Texas’ upset of Nebraska in the inaugural Big 12 Championship game. Arizona State, which was ranked #2 in the nation at the end of the regular season, was contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl (and that is a debate for another day)! Ohio State knocked off Jake Plummer’s Sun Devils (the late Pat Tillman was also on this team), while the Gators absolutely destroyed the Seminoles 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl, thus allowing the Gators to jump all the way to the top of the polls to claim the championship!

Without the conference championship game, it is highly unlikely the Gators would have had a chance to play for the NATIONAL championship.

I also think the Big 10 needs to add another team to restore its national reputation as a powerful conference in football. Fair or not, the whippings Ohio State has taken in the 2006 and 2007 BCS Championship games really put them, and the conference, in a negative light.

Adding another team to the Big 10 also brings in another market to the conference. Yes, the ACC conference championship game hasn’t exactly been a big draw, as Sports Geek noted. But, adding Virginia Tech, Miami – and especially Boston College – has brought more markets to the conference and will also help the conference members recruit new areas. Imagine the Clemson Tigers getting headlines in the local Boston papers for playing the Boston College Eagles.

I really see no downside to adding another team. Are the members of the Big 10 scared of this? They have been coasting by on their cupcake schedules long enough. They need a conference championship game to give them a true test. It’s time they step up so they can be considered one of the elite conferences!


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