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Ravens Release Keith Wenning

Photo credit: Kurt Hostetler, The Star Press

Keith Wenning, always a Cardinal

It’s never been said that the NFL was anything close to easy or fair, and I’d say with the news out of Baltimore that Keith Wenning has been released by the Ravens, that point just hits closer to home than usual for Ball State fans. After being a 6th round draftee last spring, Wenning spent the 2014 season on the practice squad while the Ravens carried only two QBs on their game day roster. With the offseason pickup of Matt Schaub, Keith’s window was slowly closing. Compounding that fact was undrafted free agents that the Ravens needed roster space and dollars for, so Keith was shown the door.

From all accounts around the Ravens and the Wenning camp, Keith certainly was working like an all-star, frequently the first in and last out of workouts and practices. That should come as no surprise to BSU fans, and neither should the universal praise of Keith as a person and player. It’s a harsh reality that often times in the NFL, and any for profit business for that matter, sometimes hard work, attitude, and skill pale in comparison to money and numbers. A harsh reality but a reality all the same.

In my heart, I know that this is the start of Keith’s journey and nowhere close to the end. Of the myriad players I’ve had the opportunity to interact with and chat with over my time covering Ball State, none have been as humble, sincere, and just all around decent, the way that Keith was. Whether it’s football, business, or just life in general, Keith will be tremendous and a tremendous representative for Ball State and its football program.

Philosophically, though, it is somewhat disappointing that players like Keith struggle to make it in professional sports while countless headcases, discipline problems, and legitimate delinquents make roster after roster. Something isn’t right with that situation.

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The Beginning of the Beginning of the End Narratives

Peyton_Manning_(cropped)I will be the first to admit I was never a big Peyton Manning fan. Maybe it has to do with the fact that most of my friends in college thought him to be the second coming. Maybe it’s because I watched him decimate Kentucky and every other SEC team not named Florida when he was in school at Tennessee. Maybe it’s because I just liked to be contrarian and was a tepid Colts fan at best. The reasons for my lack of Manning brainwashing like so many of my central Indiana peers is quite inconsequential. What is important is that since he’s left Indy and found his  new home in Denver, I actually kind of like him.

It could be the comeback story of being shown the exit with an aging body, an injured neck, and a giant salary by Jim Irsay. It could be the personality he is finally showing through commercials and guest spots that never really showed when he was younger, favoring instead to come across as a football robot incapable of human emotions and winning the big game. Again, the why doesn’t really matter. What does is that the ability to like or dislike Manning or to critique his performance in pressure situations is waning, if it isn’t already gone.

It’s a shame any time a legend decides to hang it up. Usually, they stick around too long and the lasting memories of their final performance is a vivid reminder that time and decreased performance is coming for us all, even the greatest around. I can only hope that when Peyton decides to say, “I’m done” he does so permanently and firmly. More Elway, less Favre. That’s what he deserves, we deserve, the NFL deserves.

NFL Quick Hits
* Whether Peyton decides to hang it up or not, I’m already sick of the Rick Reilly’s of the world with their passing of the torch column they all had ready to go in the event that Andrew Luck and the Colts beat the Broncos on Sunday. Last I checked one game did not a legacy make or end. Luck may be the next big thing and sure-fire Hall of Famer, but he has an awfully long way to go before he’s even in Peyton Manning’s stratosphere, much less surpassing it.

* There is a fantastic piece on Grantland about Rex Ryan, new coach of the Buffalo Bills, former coach of the New York Jets, forever king of my heart. Foot-porn aside, is there a more entertaining coach than Rex? I’m sure if I were a hardcore NFL fan I would have a much different reaction to Rex and my desire for him to coach my team would be much less, but as a fringe Bears fan, I cannot tell you how sad I was to not see Rex go to Chicago. At least that would have been good drama instead of the clusterf**k the last year was. Thanks, Jay Cutler!

* We’re down to the Final 4 in the NFL (Packers, Seahawks, Colts, Pats) and it’s a weekend chock full of good versus evil. You’ve got Rodgers’ bum leg against the mouthy Seahawk defense. You’ve got Andrew Luck’s War of Northern Aggression facial hair situation against Tom Brady and the Hoodie. Awful picks from me? NE (-7) and GB (+7). If you’re going to bet, promptly bet against those. Once we get our Super Bowl teams set, Jason and I will be along with all your Super Bowl betting needs as well.

It’s the NFL Playoffs. Yay?

nfl-logoIt dawned on me yesterday morning that this was the first Saturday without college football. I was cold. I was empty. I needed an adult. People remind me that college basketball is beginning to get good with conference games, apparently there’s European soccer, the NBA is a thing, but the obvious choice for a football fan without a game to watch is the NFL playoffs.

My OTPcast cohost Jason is thrilled with this development. He’s always been a “Sunday guy” so these playoffs are right up his alley. I’m not sure whether that has more to do with his love of the Colts or his love for Super Bowl prop bets. Either one is quite enjoyable, but only one of which will still be applicable and appropriate after Sunday night for Jason and scores of other blue-clad fans in the Circle City.

Those aforementioned fans are probably the reason why I’m not a tremendous NFL guy. Is there a more coddled and star-crossed destined team than Indianapolis? Their two worst seasons resulted in their drafting of two premier quarterbacks. One with a giant forehead, one with a giant beard, neither of which I particularly feel connected to. And maybe that’s the reason why. Maybe liking the marquee player on a team means that’s the team you root for. In that case, I’m going to need the Browns to put in Johnny Football sooner rather than later.

So forgive me for not being enthused with the NFL playoffs. I’d like to say it’s because it’s less pure, it’s less about good old State U, or some other altruistic platitude, but in reality, I just don’t care. There’s one college football game left this year, and no matter what happens Sunday in Denver or Green Bay, it’s going to pale in comparison to what’s going to happen Monday night in Dallas.

Creating the Ultimate Super Bowl Party Room

nfl-logoThe culmination of football season in America, the Super Bowl has become an iconic event that brings family and friends together for food and fun, year after year. No matter who your favorite team is, or even if they have made it to this ultimate football contest, any true football fan will eagerly look forward to watching the game, critiquing the impressive debut commercials and enjoying the delicious foods and drinks that are a part of every Super Bowl party.

Planning your Super Bowl party
Planning a Super Bowl party goes beyond food and decorating; it also includes planning how you will watch the game and arranging the room for the best viewing.

If you are having even a modest-sized group of family and friends over for your Super Bowl party, you will want to ensure that everyone is able to sit comfortably and watch the game clearly. The advent of flat screen televisions has made setting up a good viewing experience simple; by mounting the television on the wall, you can raise the viewing area enough for everyone to see. Arranging the furniture can help to set up seating areas; a sofa set flanked by a comfortable recliner or lounging chair is a good start, followed by some lower seating in front such as beanbag chairs or floor pillows. This allows people in any seat to see the television screen over or around the heads of the people in front of them.

Besides the television, you will want to make sure that the sound setup is superior. Audio systems that include multiple speakers, or perhaps a sound bar system can help to boost the quality and dispersion of the sound from the television more effectively, allowing everyone to hear the game and commercials clearly and really experience it all more fully.

Once the room is arranged and ready, you can begin decorating. Super Bowl party decorations, including table coverings, napkins, cups and dishes, are all readily available in stores as the big day approaches. Add in decorations that bring in the emblems and colors of the two competing teams as well. You could even include replica helmets as the centerpieces for the buffet table.

A buffet is the best way to serve up snacks and Super Bowl fare on game day. Most of your guests will be looking for foods that are quick to eat and easy to handle so that they can enjoy them while watching the game. Buffalo-style chicken wings are a well-known favorite, along with a variety of traditional and unusual dips and spreads for crackers, bread or tortilla chips. Hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, tacos and chili are more popular Super Bowl foods. Guacamole and salsa frequently make an appearance. You can also customize the menu based on family favorites. Drinks include non-alcoholic, such as soda, and alcoholic, especially beer and wine coolers.

Preparing your party space for the Super Bowl, from arranging the seating to checking the sound to cooking up treats for game time, is as enjoyable as watching the game itself. The Super Bowl is an annual event not to be missed, and by keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure that your Super Bowl party will be an unforgettable event.

Can the Giants Get Back to Contending

nfl-logoThe 2013 NFL season for the New York Giants was certainly one to forget. After a dreadful start to the regular season, they got a little bit better towards the end. However, the hole they put themselves in was too much for any NFL team to handle. They must get off to a better start then 0-6 if they want any chance in 2014. So can they pull off a strong turnaround?

People in fantasy football are optimistic that having a new offensive coordinator and an improved offensive line will be enough for them to score on a more consistent basis. Eli Manning is coming off one of his worst seasons of his career, but he now has a new an exciting receiving target to throw to in Odell Beckham. Not only that, but there are a pair of running backs who he can count on to spread the field a little bit in Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings.

Manning certainly has not shown that he has turned things around in the preseason. He was only able to find the end zone one time in 19 drives, and that is concerning. He is starting to get up there in age and little bit, but people thought that he would age gracefully like his brother Peyton out in Denver.

In order for New York to contend in the NFC East, they need to find some wins early in the year. However, the schedule is not looking all that great for them. They opened the season up against Detroit, a team that will definitely test the offensive line for the Giants right away. After that, they must turn around and go up against another tough defense in the Arizona Cardinals. Houston and Washington round out the schedule in September, and the Giants must find a way to at least go 2-2 during the 1st part of the year.

New York might see improvement in their record, but contending is another story. The preseason has not been nearly convincing enough to buy into the franchise in 2014.

Willie Snead Makes First Cut at Cleveland

cleveland browns logoThe Cleveland Browns announced their first round of cuts from training camp today and Willie Snead was not among them, though three other wide receivers were. There are currently 9 active WRs on Cleveland’s roster (Snead included), but that includes Josh Gordon who is facing at least some level of potential substance abuse suspension. If you’re a Willie fan, hope for a season-long suspension. Or longer.

NFL rosters have to trim down to 75 by 4pm Tuesday and the Browns are currently at 76. Additionally, there will be 23 people from that 76 that go home as well, considering rosters need to be at 53 by August 30. So while there is work to be done, the first hurdle is semi-cleared assuming Willie isn’t the last name called over the next 28 hours or so.

Last season, the Browns carried 5 wide receivers for the season on the active roster, so taking Gordon out of the equation with a presumed suspension, it means Willie will need to beat out any three of Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin, Nate Burleson, Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins, Charles Johnson, or Marlon Moore to make one of five active WR spots.

Realistically, Austin, Burleson, and Hawkins are all probably locks to make the active roster. Between Benjamin, Gabriel, Johnson, and Moore, Benjamin is probably the most likely in the next group, leaving Willie to battle for the 5th spot with Gabriel, Johnson, and Moore. Moore is entering his fifth season in the league, with 43 appearances and two starts. Cleveland picked up Johnson from Green Bay’s practice squad in the offseason. Gabriel is a fellow rookie out of Abilene Christian.

Cards Send Two More to the NFL

cleveland browns logoYou thought the only chance the Cardinals had to land a football alum on an NFL roster rested with Jonathan Newsome, Keith Wenning, or Willie Snead? Think again. Today BSU announced that Nathan Ollie and Zane Fakes are on their way to Cleveland with Snead with an invite to rookie minicamp set to take place this weekend.

From BSU…

Willie Snead, Zane Fakes and Nathan Ollie — all members of the 2013 Ball State football team — will get an National Football League opportunity with the Cleveland Browns.

Willie Snead, a junior wide receiver on the Ball State football team in 2013, has signed a free agent contract with the Browns, while Fakes and Ollie have each received invitations to attend mini-camp.

The Cleveland Browns signed 11 undrafted free agents, including four wide receivers, two offensive linemen, one running back, one fullback, one quarterback, one defensive back and one defensive lineman.

Snead finished the 2013 season with Ball State single-season records in receptions (106), receiving yards (1,516) and receiving touchdowns (15). His 1,516 receiving yards in the 2013 season ranked third in the nation. Snead completed his Ball State career ranked second in receiving yards (2,991), second in passes caught (223), second in touchdown catches (26) and first in 100-yard receiving games (13).

Snead, who is only one of two players in Ball State history to manage two 1,000-yard receiving seasons, helped the Cardinals to a 10-3 overall record in 2013 and an appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl. He helped Ball State to a 9-4 mark and a trip to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg in 2012, and a bowl eligible season of 6-6 as a true freshman in 2011.

Snead, who declared for the National Football League after his junior season, was named to the 2013 All-Mid-American Conference First Team and was a semifinalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award this past season.

Ollie, who was named Ball State’s 2013 John Magnabosco Award winner as the defensive most valuable player, managed 72 total tackles last fall. He also led the Cardinals with six quarterback hurries and ranked second on the team with 10 tackles for loss plus added four sacks. He earned All-MAC Second-Team honors as a defensive tackle for Ball State.

Fakes, who was awarded the Paul Schudel Strength and Conditioning Award last season, was named to the All-MAC First Team as a tight end in 2013. He managed 41 receptions for 410 yards and two touchdowns. Fakes earned his bachelor’s degree from Ball State in May of 2013 and earned Capitol One Academic All-America honors this past fall, while pursuing his master’s degree.

In addition to these three heading to the Cleveland Browns, Ball State’s Jonathan Newsome was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and Keith Wenning was chosen by the Baltimore Ravens.

As if I needed further reason to make Cleveland my secondary NFL team behind the Bears and Colts, this seems like as good a reason as any. Three BSUers with a chance to make the squad and Johnny Football? Sign me up. I suggest you do that same.

Wenning, Snead, and Newsome Look to Shine at Combine

nfl-logoFor NFL fans, this upcoming weekend may be behind only Super Bowl weekend, opening weekend, and the Draft in terms of the excitement and hopeful optimism that it brings. Teams with terrible win-loss records will look for the next franchise player to select with their high draft picks and teams with better records are on the lookouts for “sleepers” or “projects”. But what’s lost amidst the bench press reps, height, weight, and reach is that for the group of student-athletes attempting to make an NFL roster, they are merely reduced down to aggregate numbers and performance scores in comparison with one another. For players like Keith Wenning, Willie Snead, and Jonathan Newsome their talent, skill, and ability is about way more than cookie-cutter numbers.

In fact, some would argue that those arbitrary numbers are what landed talent like BSU’s 2013 Combine Three at Ball State in the first place. I would be willing to wager that almost any collegiate program that saw Willie Snead play in his career at BSU making sure handed catch after sure handed catch would have been more than happy to look past his negative talking points like a lack of blazing speed or a smaller frame at 5′ 11″. I guess it’s a modern miracle that a short and slow wideout was able to set school records in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns for a single season while finishing third in  the nation for yards.

For Newsome, an Ohio State transfer, and someone likely transitioning positions from a collegiate defensive end to an NFL linebacker, it becomes a presumptive pro and con argument. There’s the con of transitioning to a new position and being somewhat small for it, but a pro of a sub 4.8 40 yard dash. There’s the pro of having a nose for the football and a familiar home in the backfield of opposing offenses. There’s the con of not having a ton of experience in pass coverage that linebackers in an NFL but there’s the pro of being the primary focus of offensive lines and still making your presence known. And there’s the always awesome “character discussions” because Newsome was suspended for several games in 2012. God forbid a college student make a mistake. BURN HIM AT THE STAKE!

Wenning is perhaps the most curious case at arguably the deepest position. The top of the quarterback class and most of the eyes will be on the Johnny Manziel/Teddy Bridgewater/Blake Bortles triangle at the top of the war room boards. But perhaps that isn’t the worst thing in the world for Wenning. Theoretically, I’d like for Wenning to land in a place that doesn’t have a need for a QB right away but will in a few years. It gives him time to learn the offense and entrench himself as a valuable member of the team, which you know he’ll do. The consensus across the board is Wenning will get drafted, but to whom, how soon, and such remains a mystery. Even RV, who is the site’s resident NFL expert said, “Third day, probably, but you never really know with quarterbacks.” About the only thing you would know for sure is that Wenning is the career leader at BSU for pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns and the case could be made that he is the best Ball State quarterback to play for the Cardinals.

So despite career achievements, hours and hours of film, interviews, etc. let’s base someone’s career on a shuttle drill, a 40 yard dash, a three-cone drill, and some position drills. It’s just 15 minutes of actual work for the next, oh, 50 years of your life and your professional reputation. NO PRESSURE! You can catch all of the Combine action and the talking heads that go with it on the NFL Network. Wenning and Snead will have their position drills broadcast on Sunday while Newsome will be live on Monday. We’ll have recaps up after each. The meat market officially starts on the 22nd and the offensive linemen go first. If you are a fan of fat guy touchdowns, you’ll just love fat guy shuttle runs, fat guy 40 yard dashes, and fat guy vertical jumps. It’s a hoot.

Super Bowl Friday = Worthless

nfl-logoThey say that the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament are productivity killers, and they are, but at least you get a solid half day of work done in the morning. The Super Bowl is where the real murder of productivity resides. The Monday after? Close but not the worst. You’re still bloated full of cream cheese dips, awful food, and copious amounts of beer. Unless of course you went to a healthy alternative super bowl party full of humus, lettuce wraps, and veggies. Those parties, and the people who throw them, are terrible and you shouldn’t be friends with them. The guilt you feel on Monday for what you did to your body the day before and what you’ve been doing to the executive washroom most of the morning at least makes you respond to a few emails and/or cross one or two things off the to do list. No, I would venture Super Bowl Friday is the least productive work day of the year for more than a few reasons.

First, if you are like me, you’re trying to find the best lines and the best wagers to make for your Super Bowl festivities. Not everyone partakes in that sort of activity, but if you do, I’d recommend checking out Friend of the Pylon BitBet.com. You can also do some home gambling like the squares of the last digits of the score per quarter and all that jazz. Take your Super Bowl party to the next level by including some prop bets like the length of the anthem, who scores first, or some other fun props you can find. Requisite warning about responsibility, not betting your child’s education fund, etc. There, now I feel good about myself again.

Second, you have to plan things. Either you are planning your own party or your planning your appearance at another. Worst case, if it’s just going to be you flying solo at home, you are planning out the rest of your weekend to ensure that by kickoff you can be a lazy sloth and not feel bad about it. If you’re planning your own party, you can go boring with a bag of Tostitos and some salsa along with a case of beer, but that would make you a mediocre host at best (though most likely a bad one). If that’s your go to move, you probably won’t have many friends to invite over, so I’d recommend not doing that or having someone else host who isn’t going to kill the mood of all who attend. If you decide you want to host and need some help, check out EDSBS for the type of people who will be at your party, HuffPo for a guide to Super Bowl party music, and Deadspin for Drew Magary’s general Super Bowl party rules.

Third, you’re going to want to pick a side and research accordingly. Indiana people seem to be disproportionately in favor of the Broncos because of Manning and that’s fine. But whatever you do, don’t be one of those soulless balls of awful that “just watch for the commercials” or just want a good game. This isn’t the Puppy Bowl or the Special Olympics. Pick a damn side and root for that one. Know their players. Know their coaches. Know their ins and outs and what have yous. Look like the smartest guy at a party and people will think you are. They won’t know you are a charlatan, which you will be.

Finally, recognize that this is the last bit of football we’re going to get for a while and savor it accordingly. Aside from spring games in college ball, we are football-less until late August. That’s 7 months of nothing. So above all else, savor the flavor of the great American game for the entirety of the 60 minutes. Don’t flip it off if a team has a big lead (which probably won’t happen), Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are making your ears bleed (which they likely will), or the halftime show is boobless (which it will be). Just be glad there’s football.

Obligatory Super Bowl Post

nfl-logoAs you know if you’re a regular reader of OTP, we talk about the NFL approximately three weeks out of the year. It’s usually the three weeks after the college football season has concluded, which just so happens to coincide with the Super Bowl. How fortunate for us. I would argue that percentage-wise, BSU fans likely place the current version of the Denver Broncos third in terms of fandom behind Indianapolis and Cincinnati, thanks largely to Peyton Manning. So at least BSU fans have something to root for in this Super Bowl other than awesome ads or Bruno Mars falling off the halftime stage.

As you also know if you’re a regular reader of OTP, Jason and Alan from time to time (read: all the time) have been known to lay some wagers here and there on games that we otherwise would have little to no rooting interest for. The Oregon Backdoor Cover Machine this previous fall helped pay for Jason’s year anniversary gift from the site (shhh… it’s a surprise). So suffice to say, if you (like me) are a borderline NFL fan at best, the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of wagering to keep your interest in a game you care very little about. But we’ll get to that.

If you care more about the game than what the Etrade baby is going to say this year, at least (on paper) the story lines are plentiful. There’s the old best vs. best when Denver’s #1 ranked offense goes up against Seattle’s #1 ranked defense. There’s the “Richard Sherman versus Peyton” story where the colorful Sherman tries to shut down the beige Manning. There’s the sentimental story of one of the greatest QBs of all time attempting to get his second Super Bowl ring and become the first QB to win Super Bowls with two different teams. If all else fails, tune in for the weather. It’s the first outdoor Super Bowl in cold weather and we’ve all heard how Manning isn’t a big fan of frigid temps.

So if telling your children that you were witness to the first outdoor cold weather Super Bowl featuring the league’s best offense and defense with a legendary QB in the twilight of his career isn’t exciting enough for you, there’s always the ability to spice it up with some good old-fashioned gambling. The pedestrian wagers are the point spread and the total points. As of this writing, Denver is favored by 2.5, meaning a bet placed on Denver “giving the points” means Denver has to win by three or more for you to win. “Taking the points” and Seattle means a Denver win by 2, 1, or a Seattle win wins you the bet. Simple, right? The total points is even easier, where you’re wagering on both teams’ scores combined. As of now, it’s 47. Easy as can be. But the first step in deciding which way you’re leaning is to check your lines at SportsBettingOnline.ag.

You can drill those down even further by playing a spread or a total points for a half or even a quarter. But those aren’t the fun things. The fun things, and the things you really only see at the Super Bowl are what’s called the “prop bets”. Props are the side wagers that are contingent on in-game related things happening or not happening. These wacky bets can cover everything from a certain number of passing yards or touchdowns to the length of time spent singing the national anthem. It’s a way to make the game more interesting and exciting, and win some money to boot.

So whether you’re rooting for an awesome Doritos commercial, Peyton to ride off into the sunset with another ring, or some exotic wager you’ve placed on how many snowflakes will land on Roger Goodell’s coat, allow me to remind you that the Super Bowl is the last bit of football you’re going to get for 6 months or so. Cherish it. Relish it. Appreciate it before it’s gone for the offseason.