Friday, September 17, 2010

Kick It Off

TigerBlog was on a few sports sites yesterday afternoon when he saw the news that Chris Young would be back on the mound for the San Diego Padres this weekend during a crucial series with the Cardinals.

Young has been out since making his only start of the year, back in early April. Since then, he's been on the DL with shoulder problems.

The Padres have to be the favorite Major League team of any real Princeton fan, what with Young and Will Venable, both Princeton grads who played basketball and baseball here. A few weeks ago it seemed like a lock that Venable, at least, would be in the postseason, back when the Padres had a lead of 6.5 games in the NL West.

Now the Padres could definitely use Young, as Padres are now in second place, a half-game back of the Giants, with the Rockies also in the mix. One of those three teams will win the West; the other two look like they will battle the Braves for the wild card.

The American League teams seem all set with the Rays, Yankees and Twins in a battle for the best overall record and those three ready to be joined by the Rangers in the postseason. As an aside, the Yankees-Rays game the other night that had C.C. Sabathia pitch against David Price was 0-0 after nine innings, by which time the teams had combined for no runs and six hits. Time to play nine scoreless innings? 2:50.

It's a busy time in sports, what with the regular season winding down in baseball and the NFL season heading into its second week. We're also four days away from the start of the NHL exhibition season.

College sports are in full gear, as well.

The college sport that outdoes them all, nationally at least, is football. For the most part, teams are getting ready to play their third games this weekend, and as always, the regular season in college football is proving to be the most significant of any sport.

Teams can play themselves into and out of national championship position as early as September, and losses this time of year can wipe out a team's chances. In other words, teams need to be ready to play every week on the FBS level, which makes it unique in a sports world where teams can lose repeatedly during the season, get hot at the end and steal the whole show.

Princeton, like the rest of the Ivy League teams, has not yet played a minute of football, a situation that changes this weekend when all eight teams kick off. For Princeton, it means a trip to Bethlehem to take on Lehigh tomorrow at 12:30.

As an aside, check out the gameday central page and the information central page on

Steve Verbit, the longtime defensive coach for the Tigers, stopped by yesterday afternoon and laughed at how long it seems like his team has been practicing before it finally gets to play. For Ivy teams, the wait can seem to be excruciating, as practice starts in late August, just before most teams are starting their games.

In fact, pretty much every high school team (and Pop Warner team, for that matter) has already played.

TigerBlog actually likes the way it works in the Ivy League, as this week's games set up 10 games in 10 weeks, with no off-weeks (why are they called "bye weeks," when a bye is what you get to advance through a tournament without playing). It's a sprint from start to finish, and each season seems to fly by.

There are two main storylines for Princeton football in 2010.

The first - and most inspirational - is the return of Jordan Culbreath to the starting tailback position. Culbreath, as everyone by now knows, was the Ivy League's leading rusher in 2008 before missing almost all of 2009 with aplastic anemia, a life-threatening disease that he has overcome to return to the football field.

The other big story for Princeton football is the start of Bob Surace's tenure as head coach, with his new coaching staff firmly in place.

Surace, a 1990 Princeton grad and All-Ivy center on the 1989 Ivy championship team, was hired last winter. Since then, he has put together his staff, evaluated his team, implemented his system and done everything else that goes along with being the new head coach.

In fact, he's done everything except for coaching an actual game.

It always fascinates TigerBlog when new coaches are hired, because they almost always are hired shortly after the previous season has ended and therefore are months and months away from actually coaching games, just as Surace was.

Now it's almost gametime, and it'll be interesting to see what Princeton football looks like going forward, not in terms of wins and losses at first but instead in terms of style, philosophy, personality and approach.

All that changes tomorrow.

TigerBlog remembers the first game of Surace's predecessor, Roger Hughes, and the first game of Hughes' predecessor, Steve Tosches. Those two have been Princeton's head coaches for the last 22 years (Tosches for 12, Hughes for 10), so debuts of Princeton football coaches are something of a rarity of late.

So with Chris Young about to return and with the Giants trying to get to 2-0 with a game against the Colts, as well as everything else going on the sports world this weekend, TigerBlog is most excited about Princeton-Lehigh football.

The weather is supposed to be perfect, and Lehigh is 1) a short drive from here and 2) a great place to watch a game.

TB is excited to see Culbreath out there again, and what a Bob Surace-coached team will look like.

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