“It’s the final countdown” as our last three contenders vie for a spot in the Spring 2008 AtD Championship. This week, we’re talking Rutgers football, MLB and Lions’ athletics. Sports editor Allison Singer will decide who has what it takes to compete for the most coveted title in the sports world. Staff writer Steve Cohen, senior editor Lauren Kohout and sports assistant Michael O’Donnell are the contestants.
1) Junior tailback Ray Rice is skipping his last eligible year at Rutgers University to try his luck in the NFL Draft. The Scarlet Knights say they can manage without him, but skeptics aren’t so sure. Can Rutgers stay a Big East contender without Rice around?
SC: Rice leaving Rutgers is going to be a crushing blow to the Scarlet Knights’ hopes of being a Big East contender. This is a guy who was the focal point of their offense and the team leader as well. Who is going to step into that role? Rutgers is going from having a guy on track to break the NCAA rushing record to having an inexperienced backfield, having lost its two big players, Brian Leonard and Rice. Quarterback Mike Teel doesn’t have the weapons to control the game by air alone. I am not expecting much out of Rutgers as a threat next year in the Big East.
LK: Yes, I think Rutgers can stay a Big East contender. If all they lost is Rice then they still have their stellar defense, good coaching strategy and a good O-line. Plus, they are from Jersey, where there must be something in the water the athletes are so good. Unfortunately, it’s probably radium.
MO: Bye-bye Ray Rice means bye-bye Big East contendership. Rice was the workhorse of the team for three seasons, and with his 2,000-plus yard career goes Rutgers’ Big East title fortunes. Granted, Rutgers did some decent recruiting for the upcoming season, as it signed 14 recruits with Scouts Inc. grades of 70-plus, but only one of those is an offensive lineman. Their depleted line doesn’t help ease concerns. Head coach Greg Schiano has said they will go with the unstable “running back by committee” technique with four players. One those backs, Mason Robinson, said it’s going to be a “big challenge because Ray was an every-down back” and that “Ray was definitely stronger than us.” That type of attitude is why Rutgers may be in trouble this year.
AS: Mike gets the 3 for bringing up Rutgers’ recruitment and the team’s attitude toward Rice’s departure. Cohen gets the 2 for a good breakdown of Rice’s role and for bringing up the more obvious, yet equally important, point of Teel’s questionable throwing consistency. Kohout, props to you for giving props to New Jersey, but you just didn’t give me enough – 1 point.
2) Although its early into the MLB season, go out on a limb: Which two teams are making it to the Series this year and why?
SC: I’m going to go with the St. Louis Cardinals and, as much as it pains me, the Boston Red Sox. The Cardinals are playing exceptionally all while missing their anchor in pitcher Chris Carpenter. How much better are they going to be when he and fellow pitcher Mark Mulder come back from injury? Don’t forget the excellent play of the team’s three leaders in HRs and RBIs, Albert Pujols and newfound stars Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick. If Pujols and these other unproven starters stay healthy, the Cardinals have the best shot in the NL. I pick the Red Sox in the AL because of their mix of young talent and veterans. With a pitching staff headed by studs Josh Becket and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who account for half the team’s pitching wins, and stars like Kevin Youkalis, Manny Ramirez and Dustin Pedoria all batting over .325, how sick is this team going to be when David Ortiz returns to form? They are, unfortunately for this Yankees fan, a shoe-in for the AL.
LK: Let’s keep these answers for an October edition of AtD. First of all, I bet all three panelists for this question will be wrong about at least one, if not both, of their choices. The MLB’s talent is spread out this year and there is no clear favorite. Teams who were quiet last year are making a case to be the team to beat this year. However, going on complete gut instincts, I’m going to take the Cubs for the NL and the Orioles for the AL. Why not? At his point, anything can happen. The Cubs have Kosuke Fukudome who has already made an impact in his short time with the team, and the Orioles are just plain surprising me. It would be a nice change of scenery for the Series.
MO: The D-Backs are the clear-cut favorite in the NL. The combination of lights-out pitching and young, solid hitting has gotten them off to the best record to franchise history. Justin Upton, Chris Young and Mark Reynolds have really blossomed as offensive threats, and the pitching staff of Webb, Haren, Owings and Johnson has them rolling to where they want to be. It’s not as clear in the AL, but I like the Angels going to the Series. This team is as complete as you can get. Chone Figgins is third in batting average in the AL at .377, and with a lineup of powerhouse veterans Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson and Torii Hunter, watch out AL pitchers. Their pitching is extremely solid with their team ERA being 4.13, good enough to be in the top five in the league. They’ve also been there before (in 2002), so experience combined with all else will take them places.
AS: Kohout, I’m tempted to give you 3 points for calling me out on the question’s ludicrousness, but – the Cubs and the Orioles? Really? You’ll get 2.5 points and you’ll like it. Cohen and Mike get 2 points each for Mike backing up his answers and Cohen’s unbiased pick in the Red Sox. As a fellow Yankee fan, I feel for you.
3) The lacrosse and baseball teams have been having successful seasons thus far. Which team would you say has been the most successful, and which would you tag as the team that will go furthest into the postseason?
SC: I am going to have to go with the baseball team. With the way their team has been playing behind the big bats of juniors Jeff Toth and Vince Mazzaccaro, the team leaders in batting average and home runs, as well as the great play of junior Adam Tussey and senior Rich Gawlack, their offense is a force to be reckoned with. Don’t forget their pitching either, with several starters boasting ERAs less than 3.8. They have an overall record of 25-6 with 11 wins in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and a record of 9-1 on the road, which is where most teams struggle. The baseball team is well on its way to having a strong showing in the NJAC.
LK: Lacrosse has only lost one game so far to the No. 1 team in the country. The baseball team has a few more losses under its belt, so obviously the success is in lacrosse’s hands. Lacrosse is not in the NJAC so now we are just talking about the NCAA tournament, which I think both teams will be in. Midfielders freshman Allison Jaeger and senior Karen Doane are sparking an offense few teams can stop while senior goalkeeper Caitlin Gregory is one of the best in the country. Baseball has newcomers to rely on such as Tussey, who is batting over .400 with the most at-bats on the team. However, since the lacrosse team has its best starters from the year before, I think the lacrosse team will go further because it is used to the pressure and have the experience.
MO: Both teams are having solid seasons, but you can always count on the lacrosse team. They are 11-1 on the season, losing only to No. 1-ranked Salisbury University by one goal in overtime. When you look for the source of this success, you start at the top. Head coach Sharon Pfluger has led the Lions to 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, 15 NCAA Championship game appearances and 11 national titles. The Hall-of-Famer also has set the record for consecutive wins at 102. Along with Pfluger’s leadership, the players are extremely talented on the field. Doane has 200-plus career points, the Cavallos – seniors Toni-Anne and Christine – add midfield and defensive threats and Gregory secures the defense with a career goals-against average of less than 10. I’d bet the Lions are once again talking national title this year.
AS: Mike takes the 3 for bringing Pfluger, one of the College’s most successful coaches, into the mix. A team is only as good as its leadership. Kohout, having fewer losses doesn’t necessarily translate into more success; the lacrosse team has played 12 games to the baseball team’s 31. I’m giving you the 2 because I like your point about rookies and veteran starters. Cohen, you gave me great stats but not enough analysis and you don’t mention the baseball team’s postseason chances – 1 point.
In a 8-5.5-5 win, the last seed finds his way into the Championship.
The Winner’s Circle: “I dedicate this victory to Pau Gasol’s good looks, for he is a handsome man.” -Mike