Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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Here are some thoughts on some news items from the last few days as well as a preview of what is in store for the weekend:
** Pitt players Devin Street, Ray Graham and LaFayette Pitts were involved in some sort of silly incident in Oakland in which they each received a summons for simple assault and conspiracy to commit simple assault. I don’t know exactly what happened but the report of the incident seems a little bit odd to me. Either way, at worst this seems like a couple of veteran players perhaps not using their best judgment and thus I don’t think it rises to the level of a suspension. That’s why I was glad to read that Pitt won’t suspend the three players. The statement from the athletic department is at the end of this note. You want to tell me they have to run some bear crawls and do some other forms of extra running and whatnot, I can buy that, but this doesn’t sound much more than another example of college kids being college kids. I know there are often some questions about guys getting in trouble and their character when things like this happen but I can tell you these three are, for the most, good kids and thus probably have earned the benefit of the doubt. Here is the statement:
“The University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department was recently made aware of a police report relating to an incident allegedly involving three of our football student-athletes on October 21. Those individuals have denied any involvement with the situation and have offered to speak with authorities, although to date they have not been questioned or received any court documents. We take matters of player discipline very seriously and will continue to cooperate with any investigation. However, we will not, and hope others will not, rush to judgment on these misdemeanor allegations. All three players will remain active members of our program while we gain more clarity on this situation.”
** On the flip side, the Steelers made the wrong call when they reinstated Alameda Ta’Amu earlier this week after his two-week suspension. He should have been waived, cut, traded for whatever they could get for him and get him out of town. He could have killed somebody with his little drunken stupor down Carson street, he assaulted police officers (allegedly), had to be restrained and was arrested and charged with 15 different counts. More importantly, I don’t care what it was pleaded down to the first time – this wasn’t his first time drinking and driving and getting caught. He had an earlier incident – last year - that was pleaded down to negligent driving and thus some of the Steelers apologists in town want to dismiss it. The reality is he got behind a wheel after he had too much to drink (he blew a .097 in the breathalyzer) and was pulled over when he was speeding – which means, he could have killed somebody. So this was indeed a second incident of the same crime – drinking and driving – in less than a year, which means he didn’t learn his lesson and he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Nobody is saying that he shouldn’t ever play in the NFL again – but this little slap on the wrist by the Steelers is ridiculous. But hey, if he goes out and gets a few sacks that leads to some wins, that’s all that matters, right?
** As I wrote earlier this week – the Steelers need to win this game over the Giants if they want to have credibility. I don’t think they need to win it to make the playoffs, they have enough bad teams left on their schedule that they will get to 10 or 11 wins or whatever and make the playoffs. But that’s not meaningful, what is meaningful right now for this team is to prove they can beat a playoff-caliber team, which they have yet to do. The Giants are a good team but their secondary is suspect and I think the Steelers, with their passing game, should be able to exploit it. I think this will be a good opportunity for the Steelers as the Giants are vulnerable in several ways, but now they have to go out and prove it.
** One last thing – the WPIAL football playoffs begin tonight and as much as I love the playoffs and love going to Heinz Field to watch the championships, there are too many teams in the playoffs and they are too long. Teams that get to Heinz Field will have to play four extra games – which is almost half the regular season – and if they advance to the state championship game they have to play three more. That means teams potentially could play 16 games, which is too many for high school kids. And it really isn’t necessary – especially when you add two preseason scrimmages.
Eight – as opposed to 16 – teams in each division is enough and that would cut one week out of the playoffs. And then teams in the WPIAL should get a bye into the PIAA Semifinals. This would cut two games out and get the number for the state finalists down to 14, which I still think is too many, but is at least heading in the direction of sensible. Football is a brutal sport and high school kids are still growing, their bones are forming – that is a taxing season to play that many games. I personally think 12 is enough but understand the economic realities of having more games and the practical realities of having more teams engaged in the playoff chase. But in a day and age when healthy and safety of players in all sports is at the forefront of our consciences, it would seem reasonable to take a look at shortening the season.
OK, here is what is in store for the weekend (I’ll preview the NFL other than the Steelers Sunday):
Steelers (4-3) at NY Giants (6-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS (KDKA-TV locally) – Two of the marquee teams in the league, two of the top quarterbacks, two defenses that have struggled to stop the pass – what is not to love about this game? Seriously, this is a big one for the Steelers for a lot of reasons but the Giants need to win it as well because it is a home game. I am most interested in the matchup of the Giants front four against the Steelers offensive line. I think this will be the key matchup and if the Steelers can win that battle, I think they will win the game because Ben Roethlisberger will pick apart the Giants.
Hawaii-Hilo at Pitt (hoops), Friday at Petersen Center; Hawaii-Hilo at Duquesne, Sunday at the Palumbo Center: If your thing is watching basketball and you like these exhibition games between Division I teams and Division II teams here is your chance and you can catch the same team twice in the same weekend as the Fighting Hawaii-Hilos will play at Pitt tonight and then Sunday they will play at Duquesne. It is a chance to see your favorite team, I suppose, but these games are usually not very interesting. Still, it is a chance to see some hoops so if you aren’t busy go check it out.
Pitt (4-4) at Notre Dame (8-0), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC – Nothing big here – Pitt just has to go on the road and play against the No. 3 team in the country. This is actually going to be a closer game, I think, than it appears and the reason is the Irish are a defensive team but not real explosive on offense. They beat teams with a front seven that is as good as any but they grind it on offense. That means Pitt could hang around in the game and if the Panthers can make a few plays on offense, well, maybe they will have a shot to win the thing. Clearly the Panthers took a good step forward with the way they beat up my beloved Owls last weekend but this is clearly a huge step up in class.
Penn State (5-3, 3-1 in the Big Ten) at Purdue (3-5, 0-4), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU – The Nittany Lions will become bowl eligible with a win – except, they obviously won’t be going to a bowl because they are on probation. Still, assuring at least a .500 record is a big step for this program because there were a lot of people who believed the Nittany Lions were doomed to go 3-9 because of all of the defections they had. And if they can win a few more games and get to seven or eight wins, it will be a great first step for Bill O’Brien to be able to sell recruits on the idea that the program is going to be OK throughout this four-year probation. Purdue is an interesting opponent in that the Boilermakers seem to play teams tough but just can’t quite win. And now with rumblings that their head coach, Danny Hope, could be on the hot seat, they may be a desperate team as well so this could be a tricky assignment for the Nittany Lions.
TCU (5-3, 2-3 in the Big 12) at West Virginia (5-2, 2-2 in the Big 12), Saturday, 3 p.m., Fox – The Mountaineers are coming off a bye and it came at the right time as they were reeling from a two-game losing streak. The Mountaineers struggles on defense have been well documented but even more troubling – they have not been good on offense, either. West Virginia has scored only 14 points in each of its last two losses. My guess is that will change after a week off as Dana Holgorsen will get things straightened out. TCU, like Utah, has stepped way up in class in terms of conference and as a result the Horned Frogs - like the Utes - are going through some growing pains.
The best of the rest:
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 in the SEC) at LSU (7-1, 3-1), Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS – This is the premier game of the weekend obviously as both teams are ranked in the top five of the BCS. Alabama is No. 1, LSU is No. 5 and of course it is a rematch of the national title game from a year ago, won by Alabama. However, while I know these are two big name teams, coaches and defenses but these games last year were not watchable. LSU’s offense is so bad, I suspect this one will be a snore as well as they will not be able to get much done against the Tide and the Tide will roll away in the end. I could be wrong, but the Tide look to me like a much better team.
Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1 in the Big 12) at Kansas State (8-0, 5-0), 8 p.m., ABC – This game intrigues me a lot more than the LSU-Alabama game because I think Oklahoma State can win it. I also think that Kansas State is now under a lot of pressure to keep winning as they are No. 2 in the BCS which means the BCS national title game is within reach. Colin Klein is obviously the key player for the Wildcats but the Cowboys quarterback, J.W. Walsh is pretty good as well. This should be an exciting game with a lot of points and a lot of good offense.
Oregon (8-0, 5-0 in Pac 12) at USC (6-2, 4-2), 7 p.m., Fox – This could have been the marquee game of the weekend but it has lost its luster some as USC has lost a few games and has not been nearly as good as some had predicted. Still, it is a huge step for the Ducks, who are ranked No. 4, if they want to try and get into the national title race as this would be a quality win over a ranked team on the road. Oregon has been impressive but the Ducks schedule has been so weak they have had a hard time attracting computers. A big win here would be a very nice feather in their cap. As for USC, the Trojans could really use a win here to get back on track and show that they are still a quality team and program that is among the elite in the nation.
Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 in the SEC) at Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1), noon, ESPN – If you like offense, you should like this one as both of these teams can go up and down the field. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is one of the best players in the nation as he has thrown for 2,216 yards and 16 touchdowns and has rushed 117 times for 793 yards and 13 more touchdowns. Mississippi State has yet to beat a good team and this is their second opportunity to do so. Last weekend, the Bulldogs got pounded by Alabama so they need a good showing here against the Aggies.
Texas (6-2, 3-2 in the Big 12) at Texas Tech (6-2, 3-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN2 - Texas is 11-2 in the last 13 meetings against the Red Raiders. But this game is in Lubbock and frankly, from what I’ve seen of both, Texas Tech is the better team. Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, as West Virginia found out a few weeks ago, can really light it up and Texas’s defense isn’t exactly stout. Doege has already thrown for 30 TDs and 2,500 yards.
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