Friday, September 5, 2014




Hello Football Fans,

Attached is one final long letter to get the season started.

Included are NFL stories leading up to the first week of the 2014 season, plus college results in first week of real games.

I'll make every effort to reduce the length of the letters going forward.


The Fugitive Commissioner of the FFHL

The 2014 season kicked off with six FBS games last Thursday night.  The underdog won three of those games, just to humble the “favorite” bettors.

AP#21 Texas A&M (+10h) won at AP#9 South Carolina, 52-28, snapping the Gamecocks’ 18-game home winning streak.  The SC defense had trouble stopping the Aggies, including sophomore QB Kenny Hill who passed for a school-record 511 yards (44 of 60, 3 TD, 0 INT), breaking Johnny Manziel’s former records for yards and completions.

Temple (+13) humiliated host Vanderbilt, 37-7, as the Commodores had 7 turnovers (versus only 2 for the Owls).

Rutgers (+7h) beat Washington State at neutral site Seattle, 41-38.  Trailing 31-24 after three quarters, the Scarlet Knights kicked a FG and then scored a TD with 11 remaining in the game to take the lead, 34-31.  The WSU Cougars responded quickly with a TD at 8:13, but new Big 10 member Rutgers scored the winning TD with 3:24 on the clock and held on for the upset.
WSU senior QB Conner Halliday threw for 532 yards (40 of 56, 5 TD, 1 INT) in the loss.

Another five FBS games were played the next day.  Friday night produced another THREE underdog winners.

Colorado State +3 beat rival Colorado, 31-17, at neutral site Denver in the 88th Rocky Mountain Showdown.  The faithful fans in Fort Collins rejoice!

Western Kentucky (+7h) crushed host Bowling Green, 59-31, as WKU QB Brandon Doughty threw for 569 yards and 6 TD’s (both school records) and completed 46 (record) of 56 passes with no interceptions.  WKU is located in Bowling Green (Kentucky, that is); BGU is located in Ohio.

UTSA (+10h) won handily at Houston, 27-7.  The Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners are playing in their first FBS bowl-eligible season.

Tallying up the results for the first two days of the season, the underdogs won outright (straight up) in 6 of the 11 games.

As an aside, FFHL handicapper The Fugitive (me) got off to a rough start in our pool.  Of his seven picks for the week, he selected three favorites on Thursday and Friday.  Of course all of them lost ATS, but it was the margin that is almost unfathomable.  The cumulative point spread differential for those 3 games was a whopping 113 points [S.CAR lost by 24 as a 10h-point favorite, Vanderbilt lost by 30 as a 13-point favorite, and Bowling Green lost by 28 as a 7h-point favorite].  That took a little bit of the “zip” out of the beginning of the season for me.  I ended up 3-4 ATS for the week and lost to my opponent, 1-800-OPPOSITE who went 4-3 ATS.

“UPSETS” -- FCS (Division 1-AA) beats FBS (Division 1-A)

During the 2013 season, 16 FCS teams won games against FBS teams (eight in the first week of the season).
Only four FCS teams beat a Power 5 conference team:
            North Dakota State beat Kansas State, 24-21
            Eastern Washington beat Oregon State, 49-46
            Northern Iowa beat Iowa State, 28-20
            Georgia Southern (now FBS) beat Florida, 26-20

It was an ugly start to the 2014 season for only TWO FBS teams that lost to FCS schools.

Power 5 Iowa State made the list again this year, losing badly to FCS#1 North Dakota State, 34-14.  With new head coach Chris Klieman (formerly HC at Loras College of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 2005), the ND State Bison extended its win streak against FBS teams to FIVE, and has won the last three FCS title games.

Florida International (C-USA) lost to FCS#24 Bethune-Cookman, 14-12, as FIU failed to tie the game on its 2-point conversion attempt after a TD with 5:16 remaining in the game.

Georgia State beat FCS unranked Abilene Christian with a late FG to eke out a win, 38-37, in the first game of the FBS season on Wednesday night.  The GSU Panthers are playing in their 3rd year in the FBS; and after a transition period, Georgia State is in its first year of FBS bowl eligibility.  GSU was 0-12 last year and 1-11 in 2012 (only win vs. Rhode Island), so any win is a good win.

FBS Syracuse needed two overtime periods to beat FCS#16 Villanova, 27-26.  The SYR Orange’s QB was kicked out of the game for punching a defensive player in the head/helmet after a routine tackle while both of them were lying on the ground.

FBS Power 5 Texas Tech barely won a see-saw battle with FCS unranked Central Arkansas, 42-35.

FBS Eastern Michigan kicked a FG in the fourth quarter to outlast FCS unranked Morgan State, 31-28.

FBS Central Michigan was behind 16-7 at halftime, but came back to beat FCS#10 Chattanooga, 20-16.

FBS Wyoming was behind 6-3 at halftime, but outlasted FCS#4 Montana, 17-12, under new head coach Craig Bohl, formerly HC at North Dakota State.


Overall, TEN underdogs won their games outright in 38 FBS vs. FBS games, for a 26% upset rate, including three upsets on Thursday night to start the season and three more upsets on Friday night (see above).

Following are the other four underdog winners on Saturday.

Penn State (+2) was leading 20-10 after three quarters, but Central Florida scored its 2nd TD of the fourth quarter with 1:13 remaining to take the lead, 24-23 in Dublin, Ireland.  But PSU drove into FG range and converted on a 36-yarder to win with no time on the clock.

California (+11) was leading 17-0 early in the 2nd quarter and then 31-7 early in the 3rd quarter, but had to hang on to win at Northwestern in a huge win for the Cal program.
FINAL: CAL 31, NW 24.

Ohio U. (+3) won at Kent State, 17-14.  After KSU tied the game with 3:34 remaining in the final stanza, the OU Bobcats drove down and kicked the game-winning FG at the buzzer.  Ohio prevailed despite losing the turnover battle 4-0 (outgained KSU 437-295).

UTEP (+8) won at New Mexico, 31-24.


On Thursday night, Tulsa (-6h) beat visiting Tulane in a wild two-overtime thriller, 38-31, and covered the spread by ½ point (by the “hook”).  The Golden Hurricane scored a TD and tying 2-point conversion with only 2:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, setting up their victory in OT.  And, THE ROUNDERS got a win ATS with their #2 pick.

Ohio State (-16h in our pool on Wednesday, moved to -17 later) was struggling against Navy in neutral site Baltimore, as the Midshipmen kicked a FG early in the 4th quarter to trail only 20-17.  However, the Buckeyes tacked on two more TD’s in the final stanza, including the second one with only 2:09 on the clock to cover ATS by the hook.
Four of us FFHL handicappers got a victory ATS, and four of us picked up a loss ATS.
There is a fine line between success and failure in the gambling business.

Oklahoma (-38) was ahead of visiting Louisiana Tech 41-3 after three quarters and 48-10 one minute into the final period (tying ATS), but LA Tech scored a meaningless TD with 37 seconds remaining in the game to cover the spread.
FINAL: OKL 48, LA.Tk 16
FFHL’ers KRAUT and YO MAMA got wins ATS, while FILTER KING suffered a loss.

Purdue (-10) beat visiting Western Michigan only 43-34 to not cover the spread by 1 point.  FILTER KING suffered another loss ATS.

LSU (-4h) was trailing Wisconsin 24-7 at neutral site Houston until the middle of the 3rd quarter when the Tigers’ scoring onslaught began.  Louisiana State scored 21 unanswered points including two 4th quarter TD’s to win 28-24.  But the UW Badgers covered ATS by the hook.  FFHL’er HAWKEYE got a win ATS, while four others suffered a loss ATS.
The average LSU offensive lineman was 6’5”, 319 lbs.; the average Wisconsin defensive lineman was 6’2”, 245 lbs.
Before this game, Wisconsin had won 16 straight season openers, while LSU had won 11 straight.


Overall, we FFHL’ers started out the year with a mediocre week at 40-44-0 (47.6%) ATS.  Best record by any individual handicapper was 5-2 ATS, and worst was 2-5 ATS.
We selected only 11 underdogs out of 84 picks, and those ‘dogs were 4-7-0 ATS, or 36.4% ATS.  That means we performed better (like monkeys) with our “favorites” picks at 36-37-0 ATS, a 49.3% win percentage.


Listed below is a breakdown of some of our significant picks. 

                                    ATS Picks
Team                           For-Against     Result / Unsolicited comments

Washington -17h at Hawaii     7-0       LOSS, UW Huskies barely win game, 17-16
S. CAR -10h vs. TX A&M       5-0       LOSS, Aggies blow out Gamecocks 52-28
Nebraska -21 vs. FL Atl          5-0       WIN, ‘Huskers start season well with 55-7 win
FSU -17h vs OK.St in Dallas  4-0       LOSS, ‘Noles struggle to only 37-31 victory

USC -22 vs. Fresno St             6-1       WIN, Trojans blow out Bulldogs, 52-13
ALA -25h v. W.VA in ATL       4-1       LOSS, ‘Bama struggles to win only 33-23
LSU -4h v. WISC in Hou.       4-1       LOSS, Tigers win but don’t cover by ½, 28-24
OH.St -16h v. Navy in Balt.    4-4       WIN, Buckeyes pour it on late to cover by ½, 34-17

In this college-only first week:

                                                ATS                             STRAIGHT-UP
                                                Record                        Record

FAVORITES               19-19-0  (50.0%)         28-10  (73.7%)           
            HOME TEAMS           19-11-0  (63.3%)         19-11 (63.3%)
            Home teams fared well ATS; this won’t last.
            Neutral site favorites were only 2-6 ATS (25%).


The Southeastern Conference came out with a directive that will force each SEC team to schedule at least one non-conference game against a Power 5 conference team each year starting in 2016.  The teams had to be forced into it, since many of the teams played cupcake nonconference schedules.  Of course, now it is not beneficial to do so, considering the change to a College Football Playoff and evaluation of strength of schedule by a 13-member committee.
So guess what happened?  Reportedly, soon after the mandate was laid down, at least seven SEC schools made a call to Kansas University in attempts to get the lowly Jayhawks on their team’s nonconference schedule.  KU is 9-39 in the last four year, and is projected to get last place in the Big XII this year.  Kansas U. has a full slate of nonconference games through 2017 and only one opening in 2018, but the SEC buzzards are circling nonetheless.
Also, Alabama has scheduled a game with USC in 2016, but it is not a home-and-home agreement; rather, it’s a game to be played at a neutral site in Texas.  ‘Bama knows its selection into the CFP each year will require a tougher strength of schedule, so they were “forced” to book this game.  But they still are not scheduling any true road games; in fact, their 2014 schedule has ZERO nonconference road games (one neutral site game).  Here are the Crimson Tide’s nonconference opponents this year: #60 West Virginia, #100 Florida Atlantic, #114 Southern Miss, and FCS unranked Western Carolina.  It could hurt their playoff chances this year if they don’t go unbeaten in the regular season.

Southern California starting CB Josh Shaw, a 5th-year senior and one of the team’s captains, ended up with two high ankle sprains (outside of football practice) and had to give an explanation to his head coach.  Shaw fabricated a story to HC Steve Sarkisian which portrayed him as a hero, jumping out of a 2nd story balcony to the pool below to rescue his 7-year old nephew.  The positive story was rather quickly posted to the football program’s official website (without verification of facts), alerting the media and drawing subsequent attention to the matter. Shaw later admitted that he lied to Sark, and then was suspended indefinitely from the football team.  His double-ankle sprains were going to keep him out for at least 4-6 weeks anyway.  Shaw has hired a “defense attorney”, who stated that this is not a criminal matter in any way (then why did Shaw need an attorney to get involved?).  He also got his sister (mother of phantom drowning child) to corroborate his story, prior to his admission.  More info later (maybe).
UPDATE:  There still has been no explanation as to what happened that would have caused him to thrash both of his ankles, and/or why he jumped off a balcony.

As of last Wednesday (three days before first game), HC Nick Saban still had not named a starting QB.  He has two good choices, either 5th-year senior Blake Sims or FSU transfer Jake Coker, who was “barely” beaten out for the starting job at Florida State last year by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
UPDATE: Blake Sims played the whole game, and performed adequately.  Also, Saban still plans to play both Sims and Coker in the next game, and has not named a starter for the rest of the season yet.

For you Hawk fans out there, former Iowa QB Cody Sokol was named the starter for Louisiana Tech this year.  Sokol graduated from Iowa, having never played a meaningful snap in two years in the Hawkeye program after transferring from Scottsdale (AZ) Community College.  Against Oklahoma last weekend, he was 22 of 36 for 191 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT (not too bad, considering the opponent was the Sooners’ defense).

The Nittany Lions may get a reprieve from their 4-year bowl ban.  Discussions are ongoing that may get the ban lifted so that PSU can play in a bowl after the 2015 season.

There will be six major bowl games this year, and at least one non-Power 5 conference team is guaranteed a spot.  The front-runners for that spot right now:
Marshall (CUSA-easy schedule), Cincinnati (AAC), BYU (independent), Boise State (MW), Utah State (QB Chuckie Keeton, but ugly loss at Tennessee last weekend).

Before teams can sign players to their practice squad, each player must first clear waivers.  That means another team can sign the player to their 53-man roster while the players’ original team misses out and loses that player (but the team had a chance to sign the player to its own 53-man roster before he was put on waivers).
Each NFL team can keep 53 players on the regular roster, and then sign 10 players to their practice squad.  That makes a total of 63 players with which to work during the season.
Right now there are restrictions on what type of players can be signed to a practice squad.  It is mainly designed for young and/or inexperienced players, and not veterans.  Practice squad players get paid $6,300 per week (or if on the PS all year, 17 x $6300 = $107,100).
Rookie DE Michael Sam had not been cut by the STL Rams as of Friday night, as their team was whittled down to 58 players.  But Sam was cut on Saturday, and can now be claimed off waiver by any other team.  However, that team will have to find a spot in their 53-man roster.  If no team claims him, he can be signed to a team’s practice squad starting on Sunday (August 31st), which would probably be St. Louis.
UPDATE:  No team claimed Sam on waivers, and so far no team (including the STL Rams) has signed him to their practice squad.  It’s not looking good for him right now to make an NFL roster for 2014.

Vikings’ QB Matt Cassell was named the starter for Week #1.  Rookie Teddy Bridgewater will be the backup for now.
In Cleveland, QB Brian Hoyer had already been named the starter over rookie Johnny “Football” Manziel.
And in Jacksonville, veteran QB Chad Henne will be the starter in Week #1 over rookie Blake Bortles.
In fact, there will be zero rookie QB’s starting in NFL Week #1.  The last time that happened was in 2007.
UPDATE: Oops, I have spoken too soon.  The streak is still alive.  Rookie OAK Raiders’ QB Derek Carr is getting the starting role in Week #1 (Matt Schaub’s elbow may be a problem).  This will be the first time since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970 that the Raida’s start the season with a rookie QB.

Following are the rookie quarterbacks that have started to open the season in the intervening years:
            2013                E.J. MANUEL, Geno SMITH

            2012                Andrew LUCK, Robert GRIFFIN III, Ryan TANNEHILL
                                    Brandon WEEDEN, Russell WILSON

2011                      Cam NEWTON, Andy DALTON

2010                      Sam BRADFORD

2009                      Matt STAFFORD, Mark SANCHEZ

2008                      Matt RYAN, Joe FLACCO

During that same time period since 2007, following is a list of QB’s drafted in the FIRST round of their respective NFL drafts that were not named starters to begin their rookie season (Week #1):  Josh FREEMAN, Tim TEBOW, Christian PONDER, Blaine GABBERT, and Jake LOCKER. 

The Seattle Seahawks have been fined $200,000 and HC Pete Carroll fined $100,000 for having excessive contact in practices (both fined by CBA rules).  The impetus for getting caught was a minicamp fight involving CB Richard Sherman, which precipitated the league asking for and reviewing tape of the practices in question.  The Seahawks had been fined for the same infraction in 2012.
Seattle is trying to steal the “Cheaters” nickname away from New England.  Anyway, Sherman’s big mouth was a factor in the NFL re-emphasizing the defensive holding rules this year, and now this.

(The Rams, or maybe the “Lambs” in 2014)
The STL Rams lost QB Sam Bradford for the season (again) to the same left knee ACL tear.  If the team does not pick up a replacement, their Week #1 starter will be Shaun Hill, and the two backups right now are Austin Davis and Garrett Gilbert.
There could be a trade for a QB, or acquisition in free agency after cuts.  Several options are: Mark Sanchez (PHI), Kirk Cousins (WSH), Ryan Mallett (NE), Christian Ponder (MIN), Mike Glennon (TB), or a capable veteran in case Hill gets injured.
I’ll give up an update later (see below), but following is a brief bio on each of the current Rams’ QBs.  (This is probably too much detail, but it gives you a perspective as to how tough it is to actually make it big on a professional sports team).

Shaun Hill, age 34, 13th season, started 10 games for Detroit in 2010; he was picked up in the offseason by HC Jeff Fisher and the Rams as a better alternative to Mark Sanchez and other options.

Austin Davis, age 25, a walk-on at Southern Miss; he started and had a solid year as a redshirt freshman in 2008, broken foot in 2009, but came back to have two stellar years in 2010 and 2011 and broke many school records (including many of Bret Favre’s career records).  He wasn’t selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, but signed with the Rams as a free agent.  Davis was subsequently cut before the 2013 season, after which he was picked up by Miami (practice squad), and then re-signed by St. Louis in 2013 mid-season when Sam Bradford was injured (déjà vu).

Garrett Gilbert, age 23, drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft; he is the son of former NFL QB Gale Gilbert.  Garrett started his college career at Texas in 2009 as a backup, then started in 2010 but led the ‘Horns to only a 5-7 record (worst record for UT since 1997).  In 2011, he hurt his shoulder and was demoted and then transferred to SMU for the 2012 season.  He was successful in HC June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense for the Mustangs.

UPDATE: The Rams picked up QB Case Keenum after he was cut by Houston.

San Francisco put LB NaVorro Bowman on the PUP (“physically unable to perform”) list and put RB Marcus Lattimore on the NFI (“non-football injury”) list, meaning that both of them will not be available to play until Week #7.
Also on the Niners “police” blotter:
DE Aldon Smith has been suspended for the first 9 games of the season, four for multiple DUI’s and five for violation of personal conduct rules (e.g., bomb threat in airport).
And, DE Ray McDonald has been arrested for “domestic violence” against his pregnant fiancée just three days after the NFL instituted a new policy on such a felony (six weeks’ suspension for first violation, lifetime ban for 2nd violation – with exceptions).  McDonald will presumably have to be found guilty in a court of law (or in a plea agreement, which would be unlikely based on the new NFL policy) in order for the suspension to be enforced.

The new NFL “domestic violence” policy was set up recently (8/28/14) for “damage control” after the league gave Baltimore RB Ray Rice only a 2-game suspension for punching out his fiancée (now wife) in an elevator.  Believing the Rice suspension to be light, various groups put pressure on the NFL to make the appropriate changes.

Tampa Bay had been looking to bolster their offensive line.  The Bucs even interviewed “bully” OG Richie Incognito, but no deal was finalized.  Soon thereafter, New England traded their Pro-Bowl (last 5 years) OG Logan Mankins to TB for a 4th round draft pick and TE Tim Wright (Patriots’ HC Belichick needs depth at this position).  Guess who is incensed at this trade?  You’re right; NE QB Tom Brady is not a happy camper.

Cleveland WR Josh Gordon lost his appeal and is suspended for the whole 2014 season (under the CBA drug policy).  He can apply for reinstatement after the season is over.  This leaves the Browns with a weak link in their offense, as Gordon was invaluable and one of the best receivers in the NFL last year (top 5 for sure).  They really don’t have a “Number 1” receiver, but do have a good tight end.
Gordon will be the first WR or RB since Jim Brown (retired) to lead the league in passing or rushing yards and then not play in the NFL the next year (or so I’m told).  He led the NFL in 2013 with 1,646 receiving yards, even after missing the first two games of the season while on suspension (2nd best was the PIT Steelers’ Antonio Brown with 1,499, followed closely by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson with 1,492).  Gordon averaged 18.9 yards per reception, also the best in the league last year.

The HOU Texans acquired backup QB Ryan Mallett from New England for a 6th round draft pick, and subsequently cut backup Case Keenum to get down to their 53-player roster.  The STL Rams, in need of QB depth due to the Sam Bradford injury, picked up Keenum over the weekend.  Houston’s starting QB right now is Ryan Fitzpatrick, but that could be short-lived if he struggles early.

LOOKING AHEAD – selected games, not the full slate
COLLEGE FOOTBALL - FFHL WEEK #1 (college FB’s 2nd week)

Thursday         Arizona (-7) at UTSA
Sept 4th          

Friday              Pittsburgh (-4h) at Boston College
Sept 5th           Washington State (-3) at Nevada

Saturday         #8 MICHIGAN STATE (+13) at #3 OREGON
Sept 6th          
#15 Southern California (+3) at #11 STANFORD
Michigan (+4h) at #17 NOTRE DAME
Virginia Tech (+11) at #5 Ohio State
#4 Oklahoma (-24) at Tulsa
BYU (+3h) at #28 Texas         (UT QB is out this week)

#18 Mississippi (-20h) vs. Vanderbilt at LP Field, home of TEN Titans
East Carolina (+16h) at South Carolina
Northern Illinois (+5h) at Northwestern
San Diego State (+15) at North Carolina
FCS#2 Eastern Washington at #25 Washington
#20 Kansas State (-12) at Iowa State            
SMU at North Texas
Colorado State (+11h) at Boise State
Louisiana Tech (+12h) at Louisiana-Lafayette


Thursday       Kickoff 2014   8:30PM Eastern
Sept 4th           Green Bay (+5h) at Seattle  Winner Seahawks 36-16             
Sunday           Early Divisional Matchups:
Sept 7th           Cincinnati (+1h) at Baltimore
                        Cleveland (+7) at Pittsburgh
                        New England (-5) at Miami
                        New Orleans (-3) at Atlanta
                        Carolina (+1) at Tampa Bay
Other interesting matchups:
                        Indianapolis (+7h) at Denver (Sunday Night) Peyton’s old v. new
San Francisco (-4h) at Dallas
Buffalo (+7) at Chicago
                        Washington (+2h) at Houston
                        Jacksonville (+10h) at Philadelphia
                        Tennessee (+3h) at Kansas City
                        Oakland (+5h) at New York Jets
                        Minnesota (+3h) at St. Louis               (Rams QB out for year)
Monday          New York Giants (+5) at Detroit (7:10PM Eastern)
Sept 8th           San Diego (+3) at Arizona (10:20PM Eastern)


QUESTION #1: Based on the NFL rosters after teams pared down their teams to 53 players last Saturday, which teams have the youngest and oldest rosters?
HINT:  The team with the youngest roster has had the youngest roster for the third straight year.  The team with the oldest roster could have been expected based on the off-season activity/free agent acquisitions.

QUESTION #2:  The Oakland Raiders are starting rookie QB David Carr to begin the 2014 season.  The Raiders have had a different starting QB to begin each of the last four years seasons.  Name the previous three opening-of-year starters in 2011-2013.

STL Rams have the youngest roster for the third straight year, with an average age of just over 25.  Right behind St. Louis are Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Dallas.
Oakland Raiders are the oldest team with an average of age 27 (still pretty darn young from my perspective).

2013: Terrrelle Pryor, now a backup with Seattle.
2012: Carson Palmer, now starter with Arizona.
2011: Jason Campbell, now a backup with Cincinnati.

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