MLB Surprises - Early Season College Battles




By Jim Hurley:

Editor's Note: We'll give the NBA Finals a "day of rest" here in this particular Jim Sez column with a quickie reminder that we'll have a Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks Game #3 Preview in tomorrow's edition as that best-of-seven series shifts venues to the Lone Star State for Games #3, #4 and #5 all tied up at a game apiece. Okay?

Instead this is time to chat about Major-League Baseball/College Football and we'll get to our News & Notes in a moment but first this important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Finals action - that's both the Sides & Totals, folks - as the Heat and the Mavericks hook up in Game #3 on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Just remember to call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here and make sure you're all aboard for the ground-breaking hoops winners. Plus, make sure you stay with us right through the summer with all our Major-League Baseball winners! The calling/check-in times are as follows: After 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays; after 11 a.m. ET for weekday Baseball and after 1 p.m. ET for all the weeknight action in the NBA Finals and MLB.


So, we're now a touch more than one-third through this 2011 MLB season and so it's a good time to check out the Biggest Surprise Teams right here/right now (note all records below are while heading into Friday night's action):


1 - CLEVELAND INDIANS (33-21) - No doubt the Tribe's come back to the pack a bit having lost six of their last 10 games at press time but absolutely no one thought this club would be leading the American League Central by 4 ½ games come early June. Cleveland's managed to high-hurdle some early-season injury woes to OF Grady Sizemore and grab monstrous offensive support from SS Asdrubal Cabrera who has MVP-like numbers.

2 - ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (31-26) - It's safe to say that the D-Backs have come back from the dead to become a major factor inside the National League West (just a half-game back of San Francisco) and comeback wins have been the story of the young season for Kirk Gibson's club that's getting better-than-expected pitching from the likes of RHP Ian Kennedy and closer J.J. Putz and plenty of clutch hits from OF Justin Upton.
3 - PITTSBURGH PIRATES (26-29) - The record may say the Buccos are under the .500 mark but this team has been a major bright spot in Year One of the Clint Hurdle Era and is there a more underrated starting pitcher than 8-game winner RHP Kevin Correia? Pittsburgh's going on two decades of losing records but maybe this '11 edition will blunt that negative trend. Stay tuned.



Count us among the folks who remain optimistic that the National Football League's owners and players will "get on the same page" sooner rather than later but - just in case the 2011 NFL season starts late or doesn't start at all - here's some early-season gridiron goodies that should whet your appetite come early September. Check 'em out:

BOISE STATE at GEORGIA (Sept. 3rd) - No doubt about it: The Boise State Broncos have made it an annual tradition to play in big-time/big-name opening-season games the past couple of years (see 19-8 home win against Oregon two years ago and than last year's epic come-from-behind 33-30 win against Virginia Tech in Landover) and so now this trip "between the hedges" offers up an early-year make-or-break game for Chris Petersen's bunch. The Broncos - who last year finished second nationally in both offense and defense - simply couldn't kick it straight in that 34-31 night-after-Thanksgiving loss at Nevada or else B-State likely would have had a real argument to play in the BCS Championship Game that instead featured Auburn versus Oregon.

If the Broncos are gonna be a force on the national landscape this year than besting Georgia here is a must: The Dawgs come off a horrible 6-7 season that included a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida and double-digit setbacks against South Carolina, Mississippi State and national champion Auburn - but the Southeastern Conference crew believes QB Aaron Murray is a star in the making one year after he threw for 3,049 yards with 24 TDs and just 8 INTs. Murray threw for 9 TDs and 0 INTs in the final three regular-season games in 2010 before sagging in the bowl loss (two picks, no TD passes).

ALABAMA at PENN STATE (Sept. 10th) - Count 'em up and you'll see that the 'Bama Crimson Tide has lost a grand total of five games since the start of the 2008 season and one of Alabama's 36 wins during this three-year period was last season's 24-3 shutdown triumph against 13 ½-point road underdog Penn State.

No doubt the Tide will be missing a slew of standout players from last year's squad including 2009 Heisman Trophy winner RB Mark Ingram, DE Marcell Dareus, WR Julio Jones and QB Greg McElroy but Nick Saban reloads and doesn't rebuild these days and - thanks to those devastating tornadoes that ripped through much of the state (and especially in Tuscaloosa) -- there's added incentive to give the "Roll Tide" fans something to cheer about but keep in mind the Nittany Lions are revenge-minded here and coming off a sub-par 7-6 SU (straight-up) season that included an Outback Bowl loss to Florida. Maybe senior WR Derek Moye (53 catches, 16.7 yards-per-catch average and 8 TDs last year) will be a bust-out player for Joe Paterno's team that will "tune up" for this tilt with a home game against Indiana State on Sept. 3rd.

OKLAHOMA at FLORIDA STATE (Sept. 17th) - Last year's "Boomer Sooners" scored 43 or more points on six different occasions including an early-season 47-17 demolition of 6 ½-point underdog Florida State but this time the game's in Tallahassee and so we'll see if the 'Noles get their payback or not behind second-head coach Jimbo Fisher.

The Sooners look to Heisman Trophy hopeful QB Landry Jones to trigger this high-octane offense that scored 52 points versus Iowa State, 53 points against Baylor and 48 points against UConn in the Fiesta Bowl win/cover and how about the numbers Jones posted in Year One after Sam Bradford: Note that Jones completed 405-of-617 passes (a 65.6 completion percentage rate) for 4,718 yards with 38 TDs and only 12 INTs. If Florida State's cat-quick pass-rushers can't rattle Jones here than Bob Stoops and Company may well be on the way to another high-profile BCS bowl game.

Okay, here's some other early-to-mid September games of national interest:

Sept. 3rd - BYU at Ole Miss; South Florida at Notre Dame; and LSU at Oregon.
Sept. 10th - Fresno State at Nebraska; BYU at Texas; Oregon State at Wisconsin; TCU at Air Force; and Notre Dame at Michigan.
Sept. 17th - Tennessee at Florida; Ohio State at Miami; Pittsburgh at Iowa; Washington at Nebraska; and Auburn at Clemson.

Lots more College Football News/Notes in the days/weeks ahead!

NOTE: Catch our NBA Finals Game #3 Preview in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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