Posted on: September 3, 2009 11:31 am
Edited on: September 3, 2009 11:32 am
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Posted on: September 2, 2009 12:22 pm

Former MAC stars struggling to survive in Oakland

They were MAC gods in the mid-200s. Now they're fighting for the No. 3 quarterback position in the NFL wasteland that is Oakland.

Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski, according to the Contra-Costa Times , are in a "dead heat" to hold the clipboard behind JaMarcus Russell and Jeff Garcia.

"On one day it's one guy, on one day it's the next," Cable said. "The next two games might decide it." That was two-plus weeks ago.

The battle hasn't eased up since. Here's what our RapidReports correspondent Eric Gilmore posted Tuesday .

"Raiders QB Charlie Frye, who's in a tight battle with Bruce Gradkowski for the No. 3 job, said he learned a lesson two years ago when he was in a three-way camp fight at Cleveland with Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. 'It taught me to keep my head down and just keep working. You can't worry about that stuff, because it takes your mind to places you don't want to go.'"

Frye, a sixth-round pick in 2005 of the Browns and Gradkowski, a sixth-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2006 were the heir apparents to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Now they're fighting for arguably the worst quarterbacking job in football.

Why this matters? Well, there was a time when Frye was actually deemed a potential NFL starting quarterback. And there was a time when Gradkowski was managing a few wins for the Bucs.

But now their fates are where most expected them to be, hanging on by a thread just a few years into their careers.

My guess is Frye gets the job, if only because he has started 20 games in his career.

Follow me on Twitter: @EKayCBSSports
Posted on: December 22, 2008 2:42 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2008 4:25 pm

King of the MAC, Gill has Buffalo on right track

Turner Gill took a 10-win team and made it an 8-win team. Consider it one of  the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history.

That's because those 10 wins were accrued over seven seasons of Football Bowl  Subdivision play as Buffalo became synonymous with failure in its early years  in D-I.

Then Turner Gill, an assistant coach for the Packers at the time and Heisman  finalist at Nebraska in the 1983, arrived. Things have changed in upstate New  York.

The Bulls finished the season 8-5, won the Mid-American East title outright and beat  undefeated Ball State on a neutral field for the league championship.

The Bulls' eight wins make them ... get ready for it ... the most successful  football team in New York.

Army was its usual 3-9. Syracuse was a pathetic 3-9. Even neighboring Rutgers  (7-5) and Connecticut (7-5) have lesser marks than Buffalo.

"I guess the Buffalo Bills have been helping out too," Gill said.
Turner Gill
Yep, even the Bills are destined to finish with a worse record than the  Bulls.

Buffalo, New York's MAC daddy.

"Last year we tied for the MAC East title," Gill said. "It's great to see our guys handle some prosperity this year. We came up one game short and our guys  came back and this year we won the MAC title."

Three years at Buffalo, and a MAC title to boot, the script was supposed to  go like this:

1. Get foot in head-coaching door at worst program in D-1: Check
2. Have moderate success in first two years: Check
3. Top .500 in first three years, get to a bowl: Check
4. Parlay success into BCS program: Well...

... Charles Barkley sure thought item four was a given. So did fans of  Syracuse. So did fans of Nebraska last season. But Gill inked a one-year  extension (making him the conference's highest-paid coach) with Buffalo, a place he sees still full of potential.

"My wife and I thought it was best to stay at the University of Buffalo. With  this upcoming class it was important to close this out so moms and dads would  know where I stand. We have a great opportunity next year to win a  championship. Talking to people in my life we thought it was best to make  that decision at the time."

It's a great "opportunity" because this year's prosperity and Gill's  extension are having a recruiting ripple effect.

"Recruiting is on the up and up. Right now we have about 15-16 commitments  and after making that announcement we got two to three more guys immediately.  The exposure on TV is helping too. Really, we have great people here that  love football."

The more you talk to Gill, the more you realize "great people" have great  importance to him, and the program he's established. The more you realize  there are few more steps on the road to being a successful head coach. The more you  realize what Gill's doing is more than just coaching. It's about building  relationships with coaches, players and the institution. It's about evolving  those relationships into a community. And it's about putting your trust into  the community. That's why the sweet smell of success in Buffalo radiates from  expunging the stench of insecurity that plagued Buffalo in its early D-I  days.

"We started this off by building relationships," Gill said. "We now trust  each other in a deeper way. By sharing our experiences, both the coaches and  the players, we now know each other in a deeper way. You see, When you have  love and trust you have more consistency. We have indebted a lot of different  things to each other to keep the chemistry. The relationship keeps things  going whether you're losing or winning."

It's that last point that makes you go "hmmm." Winning cures all, most say, but  for a program like Buffalo, one steeped in so much ineptitude winning also  creates a problem -- dealing with it. Gill understands that, acknowledges 
that and makes his players do the same. Important, considering the Bulls won  a share of the MAC East last season with an overall losing record and could  have, like say the Miami RedHawks, taken a step back instead of another step  forward. Turner Gill

"The big thing is we're teaching our guys to handle that prosperity," Gill  said. "You have to teach them to handle adversity and prosperity."

The Bulls will have a chance to handle their MAC prosperity when they face  UConn in the International Bowl. It's the school's first bowl game. Buffalo  was invited to the Tangerine Bowl in 1958, but the team never attended the  bowl because they weren't allowed to bring black players with them.

Now they face UConn in Toronto on January 3 and the programs aren't all that  different. UConn joined D-I in 2000, a year after Buffalo. It found success a  bit sooner than the Bulls, and now UConn is playing in back-to-back bowl  games, something not lost on rising Buffalo.

"They're a school we try to model after," Gill said, "because they've been  around a short time and found success."

Gill, a former option quarterback at Nebraska, has a quarterback in Drew Willy who's found his own success. The senior has 3,091 yards and 25  touchdowns this season. He has just five interceptions. A strong  International Bowl could help Willy enter the draft-day fray as a potential  project quarterback for a team. 

"He's developed tremendously," said Gill about Willy. "He's an outstanding  passer. He can make all the throws, he's good with timing, checking down,  anticipating where the coverage will be. He's done a tremendous job leading  our football team. He has intangibles and he understands what you need to  play the position. I've seen him mature in my three years and I'll take him  in a heartbeat."

There are other players to know from this season's squad -- tailback James Starks, defensive back Davonte Shannon, linebacker Justin Winters and wideout  Naaman Roosevelt -- all of whom have stood up to the task of creating a  tradition at Buffalo. And it all began three years ago, when Gill instilled  one of his trademark Turner Techniques.

"We'll have people stand up in front of the team and have them tell us about  experiences in their life," he said. "Share a good experience with your mom  and dad and one that's not good and bad. And we [the coaches] do the same  thing. When you share those deeper details you become closer because you have  things in common, and that's one of those ways you build great relationships  that are not just superficial." 
Posted on: September 17, 2008 5:24 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2008 12:38 pm

Could road to perfection go through Ball State?

Saturday is the battle for the Crossroads of America, and it doesn't involve Notre Dame.

Or Purdue.

Or Indiana.

Well, it does involve Indiana, but only as a possible foil. If they take down Ball St., my prediction goes poof. That's because as I'm saying Ball State is the best team in Indiana.

Nate DavisI'm joining good company. Jason Whitlock's been beating the drum for a few weeks now, but he's an alum, I've only spent the occasional hazy night in Muncie.

In my defense, I did predict the Cardinals to win the MAC West and be the most potent team named Cardinals in the country. So I have that going for me.

What I also have going for me is this. The Cardinals have a high-octane offense led by quarterback Nate Davis, wide receiver Dante Love and tight end Darius Hill (think NFL's Cowboys, Broncos). They also have an adequate defense and don't play defending champion Central Michigan until November 19.

What this all adds up to is a team with not just an eye on winning the MAC title, but going undefeated. Using that word in the MAC is a bit sacrilege. I don't have historical data before 1996, but since that year no MAC school has gone undefeated. Two teams have had one-loss seasons (Toledo, Miami).
The Cardinals are 3-0 with a layup win over Northeastern and shootout victories vs. Navy and Akron. A win vs. Indiana, in Bloomington, sets them up with a Big Ten victory (yes, it's just Indiana) before diving into their conference schedule. They do break away on October 11 to travel to Western Kentucky, for some reason.

Here's the logic I'm subscribing to. The MAC can be defeated with offense this season. It doesn't matter how good your defense is in the MAC because no defense is complete. Temple has a good defensive line. Miami has great linebackers. Bowling Green has a solid secondary, but no team has a total package that can shut down a high-powered offense. Ball State's offense is the best, and its defense can do enough to shut down the so-so offenses of Miami et al. It's going to come down to that game at Central Michigan, but by then the equation may change. Injuries may occur, Ball State's defense may mature. Central Michigan may stumble and lose their swagger. Who knows? All I know is that Ball State set its schedule up for this season to be IT.

There were no true out-of-conference challenges, or rather, they weren't sent to places like Athens, Georgia or Norman, Oklahoma. They have Indiana. Say it again, Indiana. That's it, and that's the state that could offer up this season's perfect story. Now it's just up to Ball State to get to 4-0 and prove to be the best of the four teams in the Hoosier State.

On to the best CBSSports.com blogs ... around 

Coach's Corner (X's and O's), along with the blog's partner in crime, LAwish, try to find the top conference in college football. Hint: It's not the MAC, which isn't even taken into the equation...

Despite a loss to the Redskins, and the Cowboys' impressive MNF win, the Saints are still ESP handicapping Inc.'s team to beat in the NFC.

The Royals take walks as often as Matthew McConaughey is photographed. That's the bad. Royals fans listen up spends most of the blog talking about the good -- like Kila Ka'aihue.

FRANTIC'Sthat's not beer in that trough says he knows the late David Foster Wallace. The blog looks at the writer's life through a sports lens many are probably not familiar with.

Klick of the Day


Lehman Brothers' troubles make some people horny 

Posted on: September 8, 2008 1:19 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2008 1:47 pm

MAC schools hang tough -- for a half

Akron 28, Syracuse 14. Ohio 7, Ohio State 6. Temple 6, Connecticut 0.  Pittsburgh 10, Buffalo 9. Minnesota 14, Bowling Green 10. Michigan 10, Miami U. 3. Iowa State 28, Kent State 21.

That's the halftime scoreboard for the Mid-American Conference last Saturday. Three teams leading vs. BCS schools and four within one score. That's the good. The bad is what you'd expect: only one of those teams, Akron, went on to win.

Mid-American Conference: Men against closing.

It's nothing new for the conference, granted, but it's a frustrating feeling for those few who follow it -- like being on a date with a woman out of your league, having everything go perfect at dinner. But at the local disco, you end up vomiting linguini all over her while dancing to Total's Kissing You and ending the night in front of your computer doing Google searches for "Nancy Marchand + naked + free site."

Playing tough for one half is nice, but playing Ford Tough for an entire game is a bit more fun. So what did we learn? Nothing we didn't already know: The Mid-American Conference is legit until midway through a game with most BCS schools and I'm a sucker for sitting around on Saturday expecting anything different.

Turner vs. L.T. update 

How about that Michael Turner? One excellent week (vs. the Lions, mind you) doesn't make a season, but I'm feeling solid on my bet that Turner would outperform L.T. this season.   To refresh, I need to win two of these three categories to collect my bottle of scotch:

100-yard games: LT 0, Turner 1
Total touchdowns: LT 0, Turner 2
Rushing yards: LT 97, Turner 220

On to the best CBSSports.com blogs ... around

Another Sunday, another episode between Browns and Steelers fans. Despite the two teams not even playing each other, The CBS Sportsline Fan Facebook shares a story from Columbus that starts with hope and ends with a Browns loss and a roughed-up loudmouth Steeler...

... who wasn't this lady -- The Steelers answered yes to some questions vs. the Texans -- O-line OK? Willie OK? Big Ben-Hines OK? -- which is why In Love with the Game, Mom's View feels OK saying: Welcome to Steelers football.

Browns bloggers are out chirping away. The Thoughts of a Gentledawg looks at the good (Chudzinski), the bad (linebackers) and the ugly (dropsies) from the Cowboys-Browns game.

In one of the more entertaining poll blogs, The Greek Speaks presents The Best Damn Poll In The Land Not So Top 10. Cracking the list this week, an ACC school ... not named Duke. Hint: it rhymes with Schmascharyland. (This blog is featured in the college football cover, FYI)

Klick of the Day

My name is Jean Claude Van Damme and I dance for you

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com