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The best is yet to come

Oct 30, 2014 -- 4:22pm

By Bruce Hooley |



They make clichés specifically for nights like this, when the circumstances are so unfathomable nothing quite sums it up like something trite and true.

It's a beauty-from-ashes, never-say-never, pinch-me-to-make-sure-it's-real moment with LeBron James back in a Cavaliers uniform and Cleveland again center-stage in the National Basketball Association spotlight.

The four-year nightmare of James' dalliance with Miami is over and only the most embittered, grudge-holding contrarian clings to a vestige of the hatred and betrayal that gripped this region four years ago.

All has been forgiven, if not forgotten, because we're on the right side of the I-love-you-I-hate-you-I-love-you cycle now, with our rage from the aftermath of The Decision just a whisper in our subconscious as we contemplate the possibilities ahead.

The James we get back tonight isn't some aging superstar on an end-of-career, amends-making victory tour here for a brief stopover on his way to retirement and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Instead, we get a better version of the James we lost in the summer of 2010, a thriving superstar still in his prime -- one who has perfected aspects of his greatness we lusted for but never saw fully play out before in wine and gold.

Now, brace yourself for James, the vastly better end-game free-throw shooter, cold-blooded three-point sniper, indefensible low-post operator and, most importantly, ardent recruiter of complimentary talent.

Kevin Love, Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion surely wouldn't be here if James didn't drop anchor first.

So while there's an element of savvy off-season dealing and inexplicable NBA lottery luck that also played into the Cavaliers' turning a 33-win disaster of a roster into an embarrassment of riches, it's undeniable that James is as much the Pied Piper as he is The King.

This might be a good time to recall that James' first season in Miami started slowly, with a 9-8 record that despite an eventual 58-win regular season didn't yield either the top seed in the East or an NBA title.

We laughed loudest and longest then, pitifully embracing the Dallas "Mavaliers" when we couldn't bear to watch the 19-win abomination masquerading in our colors.

So be patient with this team as it takes shape, realizing it won't approach perfection out of the gate and may not hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy this year.

But know this with certainty: The Cavaliers will get better as this season progresses, as James gets to know his new teammates and they get to know him, and will become markedly better as future years unfold and the NBA's lavish TV contract fattens the salary cap.

Truth is, we are about to witness only the first act of what this edition of the James Gang will eventually offer.

That means there is another cliché applicable for this team and this time, one to be held in abeyance tonight, but one on which you most certainly can rely:

The best is yet to come.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Buckeyes outlast Penn State 31-24 in two overtimes

Oct 26, 2014 -- 2:00am

By Bruce Hooley |



The release of the first rankings from the College Football Playoff Committee will come Tuesday and Ohio State fans better hope that panel smiles on the Buckeyes more broadly than other polls have so far.

Despite going all Sherman-through-Atlanta on a succession of overmatched opponents since losing in Week Two to Virginia Tech, No. 13 OSU hasn't moved up into the Top Ten and probably won't now after a 31-24 double-overtime win Saturday night at Penn State.

OSU quarteback J.T. Barrett came back to earth, cooling off from a four-game stretch in which he accounted for at least four touchdowns every week against Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers.

Barrett scored OSU's two touchdowns in overtime, but completed just 12-of-19 passes for 74 yards with two interceptions, one returned for a Penn State touchdown and the second which set up the Lions other TD in regulation.

That should silence the Barrett-for-Heisman talk and all is-J.T.-better-than-Braxton-Miller conversations.

Penn State had less than nothing going until Barrett imperiled OSU's 17-0 third-quarter lead with a pick six to defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, who rumbled 40 yards for the score on the first series after halftime.

Even then, it looked like the Buckeyes would cruise, given that Penn State ran only four plays in OSU territory until the three-minute mark of the third quarter.

But after Barrett's second interception, Christian Hackenberg drove Penn State to the Buckeyes' 24-yard line and then lofted a pass Saeed Blacknail wrestled away from an OSU defender to tighten the score to 17-14.

Ohio State shut down its passing attack after that either because Barrett was limping on an injured knee or because its confidence in him had waned. Thus, the Buckeyes never again threatened to score in regulation.

Penn State drove 77 yards in 19 plays for Sam Ficken's tying field goal from 31 yards with 9 seconds left.

The Lions scored first in OT, OSU matched in two plays, then used a puzzling personal foul on Penn State for leaping -- as in, "Seven Lords a...." -- on the point-after to start its winning OT touchdown drive from the 13-yard line.

Barrett powered in and Joey Bosa's subsequent fourth-down sack of Hackenberg left OSU a winner on the scoreboard, but not in style points.

If the Playoff Committee ever gets around to dissecting the Buckeyes' candidacy, it won't help that Virginia Tech has now lost four games, the latest a 30-6 beat-down at home, which is the Hokies third home loss of the season.

It also won't help that the closest thing OSU has to an impressive victory is a double-OT escape at Penn State, now 4-3, which comes with the asterisk of a first-quarter interception at the Lions' 39 that everyone in Beaver Stadium but the officiating crew saw on replay should have been reversed and called incomplete.

Ohio State plays another night game Saturday in Columbus against Illinois, which has lost its three previous road games this season by an average of more than three touchdowns apiece.

That's the last creampuff on which OSU will feast before tackling the only piece of meat left on the schedule, eighth-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing on Nov. 8.

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

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Hooley's NFL Picks: Hoop Dreams

Oct 25, 2014 -- 9:52pm

By Bruce Hooley |



The hot streak continued last week with a 10-4 finish on the heels of consecutive 11-3 weeks. The season record climbs to 63-35, picking solely on one random factor that changes each week.

This week, in tribute to LeBron James' return and the opening of the NBA season, we pick NFL winners based on which team shares its city or state with the better pro basketball team.

Detroit at Atlanta -- Hawks made the playoffs last season. Pistons didn't. Pick: Atlanta

St. Louis at Kansas City -- Since neither team has an NBA counterpart, we'll go college matchup here and take Kansas over Missouri. Pick: Kansas City

Chicago at New England -- Bulls pose a viable threat to the Cavaliers in the East. The Celtics don't. Pick: Chicago

Buffalo at N.Y. Jets -- The Knicks and Nets are average at best, but better than anything Buffalo has to offer. Pick: New York

Miami at Jacksonville -- The Heat lost LeBron, but they still have enough to handle either the Magic or the Hawks, which ever is closest to Jacksonville. Pick: Miami

Seattle at Carolina -- The Thunder came from Seattle, and I'd take them over the Bobcats. But, it's been too long for Seattle to still claim Durant and Co. Pick: Carolina

Minnesota at Tampa Bay -- Two dreadful NFL teams and two equally-dreadful NBA teams. Orlando, an hour from Tampa, won 23 games last season to Minnesota's 15. Pick: Tampa Bay

Baltimore at Cincinnati -- The Wizards are an under-the-radar threat in the East. Cincinnati doesn't have an NBA team, unless you count the University of Kentucky, which you really can't. After all, they'd easily be over the salary cap. Pick: Baltimore

Houston at Tennessee -- The Rockets and Grizzlies finished four games apart in the NBA's Southwest Division last season. This one in Nashville should be just as tight as that. Pick: Houston

Philadelphia at Arizona -- The 76ers have no interest in winning. The Suns won 48 games and didn't make the playoffs last season. Had they been in the East with that win total, they would have tied for first in the Atlantic and finished second in both Central and the Southeast. Pick: Arizona

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh -- The Pacers are rapidly transitioning from title contender to train wreck. Still, they aren't as bad as the Sixers. (Hey, you're not gonna let Pittsburgh claim the Cavs, are you?). Pick: Indianapolis

Oakland at Cleveland -- The Warriors are nice, but they aren't the Cavs. Maybe they would be had they won the Kevin Love sweepstakes. Sorry about your luck. Uh, not really. Pick: Cleveland

Green Bay at New Orleans -- The Bucks have three No. 1 picks on their squad. The Pelicans' Anthony Davis is the league's Next Big Thing. Pick: New Orleans

Washington at Dallas -- Wizards-Mavericks would be a nice seven-game series. The Wiz won 44 games last year. The Mavs won 49. Pick: Dallas


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




PREVIEW: Ohio State at Penn State

Oct 25, 2014 -- 7:36am

By Bruce Hooley |



Ohio State kicks off against Penn State tonight at 8 p.m.

Straight from the Penn State press release, some things you need to know about the Nittany Lions... and what lurks behind that truth.

Fact: For the 247th time in the last 249 games, the Nittany Lions will appear on television. Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe will call the game for the ESPN on ABC national telecast.

Behind the truth: It's a good thing Blackledge is a former Penn State quarterback. That'll come in handy when OSU leads by 30 at half, leaving plenty of time for stories about how things were back when the Lions ruled the East in the halcyon days of Joe Paterno.

Fact: Senior linebacker Mike Hull is among the top tacklers in the NCAA, entering Saturday with 64 stops (10.7 tpg) on the season, which includes four 10-plus tackle efforts. The last time Hull was on the field he logged 11 stops at Michigan, which was on the heels of a career-best 16-stop performance on Homecoming vs. Northwestern.

Behind the truth: Penn State lost both games and allowed its highest- and third-highest point totals of the season in losing at Michigan 18-13, and at home against Northwestern, 29-6.

Fact: Nittany Lions from Ohio...OT Chance Sorrell and WR Luke Vadas.

Behind the truth: Penn State's program has always depended upon a strong Ohio influence, so it's indicative of the Lions' decline that they can't attract talent from their immediate East any more. Think they could use any help from guys like Blackledge, Jeff Hartings, Curtis Enis, Joe Jurevicius, Derek Fox or Ki-Jana Carter these days?

Fact: Ohio State Defensive Line/Assistant Head Coach Larry Johnson spent 18 seasons on the sidelines for Penn State.

Behind the truth: Johnson is a recruiting beast and in the conversation for the best assistant in the country at his position. Losing him to Ohio State was a major blow to Penn State head coach James Franklin.

Fact: Penn State continues to lead the Big Ten Conference in rushing, scoring and total defense, and is ranked in the top 10 nationally in all three categories, including No. 1 in yards allowed on the ground.

Behind the truth: Penn State hasn't played a team currently ranked in the Top 50 in the nation in either rushing, scoring or total offense.

Fact: Penn State has hosted a legendary White-Out for OSU games in 2012, 2007 and 2005.

Behind the truth: OSU has won two of the last three games under the lights at Beaver Stadium, 35-23 in 2012 and 37-17 in 2007.

Prediction: Ohio State 43, Penn State 14.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Hooley's NFL Picks: Fun in the sun

Oct 19, 2014 -- 10:45am

By Bruce Hooley |



There might be something to this Random Factor thing when it comes to picking NFL games. Using absolutely zero input regarding X's, O's, injuries or anything else relevant, I've gone 11-3 each of the past two weeks picking on restaurants and traffic, respectively, in the competing cities.

That raises the season's total to 53-32 entering a week in which the choices boil down to the weather. What could be more random than that?

Miami at Chicago -- Having lived in Miami, I can vouch that the charm of torrential rains almost every summer afternoon quickly loses its charm. However, it never piles up and requires shoveling. Pick: Miami

New Orleans at Detroit -- Oh, it might seem New Orleans would be the choice here, but the stifling humidity makes anything the Motor City throws at you better by comparison. Pick: Detroit

Carolina at Green Bay -- Frozen Tundra. Case closed. Pick: Carolina

Cleveland at Jacksonville -- Is there any possible way I can twist this to make Cleveland's weather sound better than Jacksonville's? Not without lying, and so, because I have no choice... Pick: Jacksonville

Atlanta at Baltimore -- The average temperature in Baltimore exceeds 90 degrees one month out of the year. This is a rout. Pick: Baltimore

Minnesota at Buffalo -- Coldest I've ever been in my life...University of Minnesota campus. Coldest I've ever been in a press box...Ralph Wilson Stadium. So, it's a push. Pick: Buffalo

Cincinnati at Indianapolis -- Average annual rainfall in Cincy...41.9 inches. Average annual rainfall in Indy...40.8 inches. Should be about that close. Pick: Indy

Tennessee at Washington -- I'll take a place where the temperature averages 60 or above 10 months out of the year, as opposed to a place where the cherry blossoms make it beautiful for two weeks. Pick: Tennessee

Seattle at St. Louis -- If you like rain, you'll love Seattle. I don't, but it sure beats tornados. Pick: Seattle

Kansas City at San Diego -- The noted crime author Joseph Wambaugh once described one of these places as, "the most beautiful city in the most beautiful county in the most beautiful state in the most beautiful country in the world." He wasn't talking about Kansas City. Pick: San Diego

Arizona at Oakland -- You'll never make me believe 115 degrees with no humidity is preferable to 80 degrees and humid. Been in both. Take the former. Pick: Arizona

N.Y. Giants at Dallas -- It doesn't snow in Dallas. Unless it's Super Bowl week. Pick: Dallas

San Francisco at Denver -- Can't get out of my mind the mental picture of folks showing up for baseball games in June at Candlestick with their parkas in hand. Pick: Denver

Houston at Pittsburgh -- The Air Quality Index of Pittsburgh may not reflect accurately the stench of Steeler hubris, but you can survive that more easily than a hurricane off the gulf. Pick: Pittsburgh


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Buckeyes thump Rutgers, 56-17

Oct 18, 2014 -- 8:19pm

By Bruce Hooley |



Repitition has its charms, even when you know what's coming.
After all, no one ever tired of Larry, Moe or Curly taking a pie in the face, Wile E. Coyote faceplanting from a mountain plunge or Kramer bursting through Jerry's apartment door.
To this timeline of classic comedy pratfalls we can now safely add this year's edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh from their 56-17 evisceration of Rutgers Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
We weren't sure about these Buckeyes just a month ago, when Virginia Tech came into the venerable Horseshoe and shook the foundation of the old place with a two-touchdown victory before a suitably-lubricated prime-time audience.
But, rest assured, order has since been restored.
Four consecutive opponents have since faced off against Urban Meyer's squad and all four have now had Lucy yank the football away from poor old Charlie Brown just in time to send him sprawling.
It never gets old, folks.
At least not to the assembled 106,795, the largest crowd ever to see Rutgers play football.
Or whatever that was the Scarlet Knights engaged in yesterday.
Not to question the veracity of the Ohio State media package, but the way Meyer and his charges treated Rutgers, you had to wonder if maybe this wasn't really the first time these schools or these coaches had crossed paths.
It sure looked like Kyle Flood might have done something sinister to Urb way back when after OSU, leading 42-7, late in the third quarter, bypassed a field goal attempt on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line and went for the score.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett scrambled in for his second rushing touchdown, then stuck around awhile longer to throw his third touchdown pass before departing with OSU in front, 56-17, with still 8:33 left.
Rutgers, shockingly, could not muster the five touchdowns and accompanying two-point conversions for the 40-point rally it would have taken to mess up the Buckeyes' Homecoming festivities.
The guess is Rutgers' invitation to future Homecomings will be waiting in Monday morning's mail.
Let's be clear here: there is absolutely nothing wrong with OSU's bloodlust for points or an outlandish victory margin at the expense of Rutgers or any other opponent.
In this era of a four-team playoff decided by a voting panel, the eye test matters and so do as many lopsided victories as a team can accumulate.
The problem for Ohio State stems from the Big Ten's cumulative ineptitude relative to the Buckeyes' hard-to-define improvement.
Looking at their scores since the Virginia Tech loss, OSU can plausibly argue it is maturing into a team capable of a special season.
But the magnitude of the margins against Kent State (66-0), Cincinnati (50-28), Maryland (50-24) and Rutgers give credence to those labeling OSU as nothing more than the smartest guy at a dunce convention.
Two weeks ago, OSU stood No. 15 nationally, behind six other one-loss teams.
Last week, on the heels of embarrassing then 4-1 Maryland on the road, Ohio State moved up just two spots to No. 13 and trailed seven one-loss teams in the polls.
Seven more one-loss teams fall immediately behind the Buckeyes in that voting.
There's a school of thought that won't hurt OSU because some of those one-loss teams will lose, as Oklahoma did Saturday, and other will cannibalize themselves by playing each other.
That's true, but it's also true there will be a winner among some of those future matchups of one-loss teams, and those victories will carry considerably more influence with the playoff committe than another ho-hum dissection of Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota or even Michigan.
The Wolverines, 3-4 as the embark on their Green Mile Walk to East Lansing next week, will supply OSU no season-ending street cred this year, not after losing at Rutgers last week, 26-24.
Michigan State on the road Nov. 8 looms as the Buckeyes last viable opponent, and the Spartans' credentials are already compromised by their lopsided loss at Oregon.
As long as the Ducks continue to win, or should a one-loss team vanquish them and emerge from the Pacific 12, it will be dicey for OSU to get in front of them.
That's not to say Ohio State isn't every bit as worthy of playoff inclusion as other candidates who stumbled on one unfortunate Saturday this season.
It's just that the not everyone has the same appetite for the slapstick that passes for OSU's schedule.
Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




PREVIEW: Ohio State vs Rutgers

Oct 18, 2014 -- 9:27am

By Bruce Hooley |



RUTGERS (5-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) at OHIO STATE (4-1, 1-0)

KICKOFF: 3:30 p.m., Ohio Stadium, Columbus


COACHES: Urban Meyer is 28-3 in three years at OSU and 132-26 in 13 seasons. Kyle Flood is 20-12 in three years at Rutgers.

SERIES: First career meeting

OHIO STATE: Two weeks after routing another newbie to the Big Ten, 13th-ranked OSU takes aim at duplicating its 52-24 victory over Maryland against Rutgers. The Buckeyes haven't been challenged in three games since their surprising 35-21 los to Virginia Tech in Week Two. Since then, OSU has hammered Kent State (66-0), Cincinnati (50-28) and Maryland. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is creating sizeable buzz nationally with a 270-yard per-game passing output. Tailback Ezekiel Elliott has emerged as the team's top threat in the backfield, with 321 rushing yards in his last two games. Expect to hear plenty of J.J. Watt comparisons today when DE Joey Bosa makes his presence felt. Bosa has set up an OSU score in three games this season by forcing opposing fumbles. Buckeyes have won 17 straight Big Ten games, which is four shy of matching the school record set from 2005-07.

RUTGERS: Senior QB Gary Nova passed for a career-high 404 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-24 win over Michigan last week. His 267 passing yards per-game ranks third in the Big Ten. OSU must be aware of freshman linebacker Kemoko Turay, who leads the Big Ten with 5.5 quarterback sacks and 3 blocked kicks, including Michigan's game-winning attempt. Rutgers best win came in the season-opener at Washington State, 41-38, where Nova led the sixth fourth-quarter comeback of his career. He also threw five interceptions in Rutgers' lone loss, 13-10 at home against Penn State.

NEXT FOR OSU: at Penn State at 8 p.m. Oct. 25.


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Hooley's NFL Picks: Gridlock

Oct 12, 2014 -- 10:47am

By Bruce Hooley |



A season-best 11-3 mark resulted from picking last week's games solely on the city in which I've eaten the best meal. That hikes the Random Factor season mark to 42-29, entering a week in which the easier city to commute from the suburbs to downtown decides the pick.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland -- They say Pittsburgh is really a beautiful place to live. Maybe so, if they ever finish building it. Tell me, did they weld those orange cones to the pavement around the Fort Pitt Tunnel? Pick: Browns

Green Bay at Miami -- Having lived in Miami, I can tell you there's nothing more charming than the two-hour mid-afternoon commute from Coral Gables to downtown because the sight of an abandoned car along the tollway so captivates the locals. Pick: Green Bay

Jacksonville at Tennessee -- I've driven through Jacksonville once. Or attempted to. It rained so hard folks stopped their cars in the middle of the Interstate in broad daylight. You could not see at all. No issues getting from the Opryland Hotel to Music Row. Pick: Tennessee

Carolina at Cincinnati -- The Research Triangle is easily navigable. The same would never be said about I-71 or I-75 into downtown Cincinnati. Pick: Carolina

Detroit at Minnesota -- Time was when Detroit was a nightmare commute. When, you know, people actually worked there. In Minneapolis, bridges occasionally collapse and I-35W takes a nasty turn near downtown. Pick: Detroit

Baltimore at Tampa Bay -- I've never tried to commute in Baltimore. It can't be worse than Dale Mabry Boulevard at rush hour, or the causeway from St. Petersburg into Tampa. Pick: Baltimore

New England at Buffalo -- Kirk Douglas once made a movie called, Once is Not Enough. I can guarantee it was not about commuting in Boston, or they would have called it, Once is Way Too Often. Pick: Buffalo

Denver at N.Y. Jets -- Neither commute is pleasant, but at least in Denver you have mountains, not concrete, to look at as you sit in traffic. Pick: Denver

San Diego at Oakland -- Again, it's all about the view. Ocean and no humidity beats the Bay Bridge and getting crushed from the next earthquake. Pick: San Diego

Chicago at Atlanta -- Unless you work remotely from home, your life will be appreciably shortened by the commute either place. Forget the car and go mass transit. Gimme the El over MARTA, if only because one is slightly-less sweltering in the summer than the other. Pick: Chicago

Dallas at Seattle -- Assuming you have an umbrella and an operable emergency break to withstand the rain and extreme hill-side parking, this is a no-brainer. Pick: Seattle

Washington at Arizona -- The best thing about rush hour in the desert isn't that it begins at 4 a.m. and 2 p.m., it's that you're actually in Phoenix and not in Washington D.C.  Pick: Arizona

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia -- Lousy traffic both places, so pick the least-congested locale. Pick: Philly

San Francisco at St. Louis -- You have to cross either a bay or a river. The swim-challenged among us like our odds with the smaller body of water.  Pick: St. Louis


Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




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