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From the Obstructed Seats

A Blog With Unique-and Probably Wrong-Perspectives

MLB Loses Another Young Pitcher With Great Talent In Yordano Ventura

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

First Oscar Taveras, then Jose Fernandez and now this.

While comparing Ventura to Fernandez may be a bit unfair given both players performances were not too similar (Fernandez was dominant while Ventura was streaky), what they brought to the table for their teams was a great hope for the future.  Fernandez had a city on his back while Ventura was that one that made fans in Kansas City have great hope for baseball in a town that has difficulty maintaining consistency at the top over the years (last 4 seasons have been fine in KC, but we're seeing they are unable to keep their players given how MLB's system was working).  

There was never any doubt Ventura was a hard-throwing pitcher as he could hit 99 MPH most of the time.  There was no doubt that when Ventura was on his game, he was unhittable.   He was really the future of the Royals as they would do anything to hold on to the guy.  There was talk of trading him at the deadline this year, but Kansas City didn't feel the need to.  

Ventura's issues with hitters among others made some believe he was a hot-head and one that came off as a jerk.

Unfortunately, what kept Ventura from blossoming into one of the game's elite pitchers was Ventura himself.  Players, fans, and baseball personalities alike was the fact he had a bit of a major attitude.  He threw at players (whether it was in retaliation), taunted them, and just had what felt like he was in meltdown modes.  It rubbed people off the wrong way as he was involved in bench-clearing brawls with the Athletics, Orioles, and White Sox in his time.  It could have factored to his dip in statistics in 2016 as he went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP, a far cry from a 14-10 with a 3.25 and a 1.29 WHIP in 2014.  But it also seemed if he had one bad inning or an umpire blew a strike call, it would cause him to go into disarray and crash.  So it also probably had been a bit of a maturity issue as well.

Ventura was just as big of a part of the Royals as anybody else on the team.

Unfortunately, Ventura could have been the next great Royal to go along with the likes of George Brett, Frank White, among others and he was just as much the face of the team as Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Salvador Perez.  There was plenty of time in his career to get him on the right track again with his pitching.  25 is way too young of an age and I am hoping he does not go along the way of Taveras and Fernandez where there was intoxication in his system.  

The Royals, who many wondered what kind of team they will field in 2016 with the loss of Wade Davis and rumored moves of the likes of Cain and even Hosmer at times, did will now have a huge pitching void to fill and maybe some of their energetic spunk.  But this will definitely set the Royals back as they cannot replace a front-end rotation guy like Ventura.

Regardless of how you cut it up, whether or not you liked Ventura, you feel awful for what happened.  You don't want to see a pitcher who could be one of the top pitchers in the Majors with a full career yet to start, have their lives cut short.  It is a sad day for baseball for sure.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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A Look Back At The SEC, 2016

"S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!"  Go to any school in the conference and you will hear that chant, especially in big games.  It riles up the other 4 power conferences who constantly feel dogged by them and it hopes that the day would come that the SEC would fall flat on their faces and look weak.

Well, that day and year finally arrived.  The SEC is no longer the best college football conference (for now) as they fell to the ACC in a big way (4-10 in SEC/ACC games, including the national championship game.  To add on, the SEC also had a losing record to the Big 12 (1-3), but at least they went 2-1 against the Big Ten while going 3-0 against the PAC-12.  Of course, Big Ten fans will point out the SEC avoided Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State while the lone loss was to Wisconsin by LSU.  And the PAC-12 will say the SEC dodges them because of how the PAC-12 plays so differently.  Add in with other losses to South Alabama (Mississippi State), Middle Tennessee (Missouri), Southern Miss (Kentucky), and South Florida (South Carolina) while near embarrassments to Appalachian State (Tennessee), Nicholls (Georgia), Western Kentucky (Vanderbilt), and Louisiana Tech (Arkansas) and what you got was a giant mess that was the SEC.  

Alabama ran away from the competition in the SEC all year while the rest fought for scraps.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

This year, it was the Alabama conference in all reality.  The Tide steamrolled through the SEC en route to a second national championship appearance in a row.  Of course, we all know what happened, thus pretty much ending the talk of the SEC is being the best team.  But the part was, the next best team was 8-4 Auburn who Alabama smacked, and 8-5 Florida, who Alabama obliterated.  Both had big wins, but a lot of holes when they went up against stronger teams in the ACC.  

LSU's optimism changed when the Tigers fired Les Miles for Ed Orgeron.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Probably the other main story in 2016 in the SEC was LSU.  The Tigers were heavy favorites to win the SEC, even over Alabama, given their recruiting is top notch.  However, the Tigers, plagued by a stale offense, inept quarterbacks, and it has been that way for a while, stumbled at Wisconsin and later on Auburn, thus sending Miles out the door.  Enter Orgeron and got the Tigers to open the offense up a little bit more (despite Leonard Fournette's injuries), rolling through teams until Alabama, where they scuffled against the Tide on the offensive side.  However, LSU kept Orgeron as outside of the Alabama & Florida games and thumped Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.  As for the rest of the West, Arkansas disappointed again, despite having a few bright spots and many wondering when Bret Bielema will get his walking papers.  Texas A&M continued their trend of starting off hot and by the midway point of the season begin to crash & burn and many are wondering when Kevin Sumlin will get his walking papers.  Mississippi State fell off with Dak Prescott going to the NFL and went 5-7 but because of some NCAA rule was permitted to play in a bowl game and won.  Ole Miss, clouded in controversy and recruiting issues, fell badly and did not make a bowl game where some wondered if Hugh Freeze will get his walking papers.

The SEC East continues to be a giant mess as Tennessee, also a heavy favorite to win the SEC, did not live up to expectations and looked like a giant dumpster fire at times while coach Butch Jones became a butt of jokes for his comments and actions over the season.  Georgia fans hoped hiring Kirby Smart away from Alabama would give the Bulldogs Saban 2.0 and instead by the end of the year thinking they ended up with Ray Goff 2.0 or Jim Donnan 2.0 and are screaming "next!"  South Carolina, who surprised many by hiring underachieving head coach Will Muschamp, showed improvement throughout the season.  Kentucky, with better prospects, still scuffled at times, but made a bowl appearance for the first time since 2010.  Vanderbilt, for the little resources they have for recruiting, had some big wins against Georgia and Tennessee made a bowl game for the first time under Derek Mason.  And Missouri looks lost in the shuffle.

At the beginning of the year, I made my predictions of the SEC.  And like my review of the ACC in 2016 I am looking back to see how right I was or how wrong I was.  Let's see how I panned out.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT I GOT RIGHT:  Alabama winning the SEC Championship.  Of course, I had them losing two games, but given how Tennessee and LSU played this year, it didn't turn out to be a shock.  I also got Kentucky at 7-5.  And while I didn't get the record close at all for Georgia, I got Kirby Smart would have difficulty appealing to the masses in Athens.  

Tennessee, even when healthy still struggled at times while Butch Jones was good for a laugh.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT I GOT WRONG:  Let's just say what I REALLY got wrong.  1.  Tennessee underachieving.  Butch Jones may recruit, but he is not really showing he can coach on top of that.  2.  I was WAAYYYYYYYYYY OFF on South Carolina and Vanderbilt, but I am glad they did well this year.  3.  Florida won the East, so I had a misfire on that one though I was only a game off on my projection.  4.  Auburn was in the Sugar Bowl when I penned them at 5-7.  5. Ole Miss fell apart and badly.  6. Mississippi State also had a losing record.  

TOP 5 QUESTIONS IN THE SEC HEADING FOR 2017

Auburn losing to Oklahoma was another example of how the SEC is no longer the best conference in college football.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

1.  Can the SEC reclaim their "best conference" moniker?  If they are, they're going to need far better coaching than what they have gotten unless your name is Nick Saban.  Yes, they can all recruit, but if you cannot coach on top of it, that is where the issues lie.  You have coaches who act like clowns with what they say and how they act (Jones), coaches who look lost (Smart), coaches who are under the gun with violations (Freeze), coaches who seemed to have lost control of the team (Sumlin & Bielema), and coaches who have stale ways of calling games (McElwain & Muschamp).  

Saban will have Alabama ready to go in 2017.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2.  Will Alabama recover and return to the national championship?  Well, never doubt Saban.  They will lose A LOT on the defensive side this season, but the offense is primarily in tact, which is good for Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough, Calvin Ridley, etc.  But they do lose a few guys (Cam Robinson & Ardarius Stewart).  However, Alabama has that "next man up mentality."  And of course, you're also talking about a program that really is the #1 program in the nation in recruiting.  They already netted the #1 back in the nation in Najee Harris so that running game will look very sick next year.  It will be the defense that will have a "couple" of questions to be answered in 2017.  Of course, they get Florida State out of the shoot.

LSU may be the best shot to dethrone Alabama (though we seem like we say that every year).
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

3.  Will there be a team that can actually compete against Alabama in 2017?  Most of the time, you look to Alabama's rivals: Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee.  Auburn, nobody knows on a yearly basis what they can do.  LSU has Orgeron now, but time will tell if he will upgrade the team and Tennessee has the talent, but probably not the coaching to this point.  Plus the latter two are playing in Tuscaloosa in 2017.  I would say perhaps LSU given they are really not fearful of going to Alabama.  Outside of that, nope.

Given Florida's favorable schedule this year, it seems pretty likely they could win the East for a 3rd straight year.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4.  Will there be a team that finally breaks away from the rest in the SEC East?  Judging by the schedule in 2017, probably Florida.  They get a huge benefit of having only 3 true road games in 2017.  Yes, they start out with Michigan, but that is in Arlington.  They get Georgia in Jacksonville, which is really a home game for them.  And the lone 3 roadies are Kentucky, MIssouri, and South Carolina.  Texas A&M, Florida State, and LSU are all at home.  So the only way Florida messes this up is internally.  They could run the table in terms of the conference and still end up with 2 losses (Michigan and Florida State).  

Bielema may be dead man walking in Arkansas in 2017.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

5.  Which coach is on the hottest seat?  You can make an argument that everybody not named Nick Saban is on the hot seat in the SEC, and that includes the recent hires of Muschamp, Smart, and Odom.  I think only Saban, Orgeron, and McElwain are safe for 2017.  But if I have to choose one, it has to be Bielema.  Even over Kevin Sumlin.  And Bielema's style has not won over the fans.  Yes, he helped get Arkansas out of a very dark area from 2012-13 because of Bobby Petrino, but he has really stopped going forward.  His style isn't working and the team lacks discipline.  And even he seems nonchalant about the things he does on the field.  Arkansas is not a program that is fine with being 8-4 or 7-5 while getting thumped by the likes of Auburn and LSU.  If he suffers another 7-5 season like he did this year, he's out of a job.  Other guys to be really looked on the hot seat are Sumlin, Freeze, and Malzahn.  

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Mike Leach "Air Raids" The SEC About His Offense

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

So let the conference wars of college football continue.  I think the moniker really is the SEC vs. Everybody War.  And right now, it seems like everybody is winning.  This time, it is a PAC-12 member attacking the SEC: Washington State's Mike Leach.

Leach, who worked as an assistant head coach to Hal Mumme at Kentucky while innovating a high-octane offense called the "Air Raid," which is a lot of flash that puts up tons of points and yards on teams while using a quick-strike style offense, using the no-huddle in the process.  In return, the other side of the ball, the defense of the teams that use the Air Raid give up a lot given they are on the field.  

But Leach was quoted after Ole Miss hired Phil Longo to be the new offensive coordinator about Longo's Air Raid style:   "I've got bad news for all these levels people," Leach told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in a story about Longo. "Your level isn't special, your conference isn't special. All this different level this, different level that. That's crazy.  How is it better? Somebody coaches better athletes, somehow they morph into something smarter, that's crazy. I mean, you still have problems, you still have 11 parts you can wiggle around to counter the other 11 parts."

Shots fired?  Yeah.  Leach just told an entire region that live & die football their conference wasn't special.  Also, you're saying it from a conference that rarely plays the SEC and has no bowl games with each other most of the time.  And the games the PAC-12 played, they went 0-3 vs. the SEC (USC and Washington lost to Alabama while UCLA fell to Texas A&M).  But.................with all of that said, was he right?

The trenches on both sides of the football is what really separates the SEC schools with the PAC-12/Big 12 schools.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Well, sorta.  Leach was right in the sense of athletes at the skilled positions.  Because really, both Alabama and Texas A&M had difficulty dealing with wideouts in those games.  But, where both won their games was a simple one: up front.  The offensive lines USC, UCLA, and Washington had little-to-no answers at all to stop the likes of Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Myles Garrett and others.  On the other side, teams could not put a whole lot of pressure and really did not match up with the physicality of those teams (though Washington held their own against Alabama in the Peach Bowl).

And it is what has lagged the PAC-12 and Big 12 for years, which could be a contributing factor to why both conferences hasn't sniffed a national championship since 2005 (Big 12 in 2005, and PAC-12 in 2004), both the longest droughts of the major conferences.  However, we are starting to notice a trend in the PAC-12.  Stanford, who has been building on the lines over the years, first under Harbaugh and now under David Shaw, has really been the front-runner of the PAC-12.  Now teams such as Washington and Colorado are realizing in order to take it to a competitive level, they need to have strength and power up front, bullying teams around.  

Oregon struggled against Auburn in the national championship game as the Tigers controlled the lines.

It isn't a big secret why Oregon has failed in big games against the likes of Ohio State, Auburn, and Michigan State where they all had strong lines and the Ducks struggled with them.  It also isn't a big secret why the Ducks fell to 4-8 this year.  They were dominated on both sides of the ball on the lines.  Teams played physical with them and the quick strike Ducks offense was struck down (yes, I know Oregon hadn't really implemented Air Raid, but the philosophy is similar).  

Leach wasn't wrong however with his overall quote in my eyes, notably the part of levels and everything.  We've seen teams that have imposed the Air Raid such as Texas Tech (under Leach and now Kliff Kingsbury), Texas A&M (when Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator), Houston (Sumlin), and California (Sonny Dykes).  But the thing is, they have all failed-except Leach.  Some have said that the offense is too gimmicky and one-dimensional where passing dominates.  And that is fairly true (at least the passing part).  However, one reason why Leach has survived to this point has been that he has adapted the Air Raid to be a more "modernized" offense.  Yes, he passes religiously, but he is also using a lot of time of possession in the process.  Washington State was actually ranked 21st in the nation in total time of possession.  Texas Tech?  48th.  California was 92nd.  Granted Texas Tech was fairly high but given how the other teams also scored at a rapid rate on them it isn't entirely mind-boggling that the Red Raiders were in the top half.  But the Washington State bit was a tad bit surprising given the Cougars have an offense similar to that.  It means they were able to keep their defense (ranked 62nd in the nation) off the field pretty well.  Had the time of possession been less, I don't see the Cougars going 8-4 this year.  So what Leach did was make sure that when needed, he kept his offenses out on the field while the defense got needed rest.  California and Texas Tech had that lost in their ways.

That is probably why Leach is the best of the Air Raid coaches is because his ability to adapt.  Yes, the running game is non-existent in Pullman and it was that way in Texas Tech.  But he understands not every drive is or should be a no-huddle, quick-strike drive.  Take time off the clock, keep the opposing defenses out on the field while your defense rests.  It has to be that way when you have to face other offensive minded squads such as Oregon, California, Arizona, and Arizona State.  The Cougars this year won the time of possession battle on all of them and beat all of them somewhat soundly (69-7 to Arizona and 51-33 at Oregon were two highlights of the Cougars season).   If you wonder why Dykes is not coaching at Cal this season or Kingsbury is on a very hot seat in Lubbock now, it is because they have not adapted to keep the ball when it mattered (though Kingsbury did a good job at TCU earlier this year, but then reverted back to his old ways).  

Washington State's offense struggled greatly against Minnesota's defense and got to Falk a lot.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

However, the only thing that makes me think he is wrong is because of how it looks.  Leach's issue and I mentioned why earlier of it is considered gimmicky is because how the offense of an Air Raid is spread out, thus getting the defense spread out, is possibly because of the holes on the offensive lines.  If you see why sometimes these offenses tend to get smashed by strong defenses is because the holes are exposed by teams.  3 of the 5 losses were to teams who really had a pulse on the lines and stuffed Washington State from really doing anything (Colorado-24 points, Washington-17 points, Minnesota-12 points).  IF Leach could really recruit linemen up in Pullman, then the Air Raid would actually be a deadly sight especially given how he can adapt it to his strength.  But I think it is why the Air Raid is not really looked upon by many football purists (and really, myself as well) as a legit offense.  Many consider Jared Goff as a system quarterback who will bomb out in the NFL because of this style (and really he's in the similar footsteps as Andre Ware and Case Keenum-also products of the Air Raid offense in college).  Whether it is exposing lines or not handling defenses like they needed to in college, that has been the problem.

However, Phil Longo, at Sam Houston State, added another dimension where the Air Raid features a strong ground attack.  Now time will tell if it will work at Ole Miss, but if they can run the ball on top of throwing it and keep it out of the hands of offenses such as Alabama, Auburn, and LSU (if they finally get their stuff together under Orgeron), they could really be a sleeper next year (assuming no violations happen).  So it will remain to be seen on that end for Ole Miss, and the Air Raid.  If it works, great and Leach is spot on with his assessment.  If it does not, Leach, and the Air Raid, will really be a myth of success in the college football world.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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