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College Football Thursday: College vs. Pro
By Matt Horkman

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are widely perceived as the worst teams in professional football. The Alabama Crimson Tide is widely perceived as the best team in college football.

What would happen if Alabama played either Jacksonville or Tampa Bay?

The Crimson Tide features a throwback attack with a strong defense and even stronger running game. In addition, quarterback A.J. McCarron might be a better long-term prospect than anything the Buccaneers and Jaguars possess at the position.
Nick Saban & A.J. McCarron
For Jacksonville, they feature the NFL’s worst run defense and possibly its worst quarterbacking situation, though Minnesota fans might be inclined to disagree. In Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers’ coaching staff isn’t meshing well with its players and injuries are beginning to mount on the offensive side of the ball. It’s not hard to imagine the Crimson Tide running the ball for success against Jacksonville or Alabama head coach Nick Saban outwitting Greg Schiano in a matchup. Hypothetically, both occurrences would lead to an Alabama victory.

People like to imagine many things that fit their narrative. In this particular case, however, such a situation is ludicrous. 

Both Jacksonville and Tampa Bay would wipe the floor clean with Alabama. I know SEC fans don’t want to hear that, but the Crimson Tide would be fortunate to have a dozen of their own starters drafted by an NFL team. Of those players, a half-dozen may earn starting NFL jobs. Yes, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are bad teams, but they’re both professional, while Alabama’s an amateur team.

Many consider the ‘01 Miami (FL) Hurricanes the greatest college team since the turn of the century. It’s a team that featured wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Clinton Portis, safety Ed Reed, tight end Jeremy Shockey, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma among others. Still, that team couldn’t beat the worst NFL team of the last decade, which is the infamous 0-16 Detroit Lions of ‘08. The Lions would win, even with Daunte Culpepper, Jon Kitna, or Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. As bad as those quarterbacks were, they made it in the NFL. Kitna even led the ‘99 Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs and Culpepper was having an excellent career before a knee injury ended his season in ‘05. By comparison, Ken Dorsey -- who was the quarterback of those ‘01 Hurricanes -- was a career backup.

This type of fodder plays well on blogs and talk radio, especially on a Tuesday or Wednesday with very little to discuss. Personally, I cringe every time I read about Alabama beating Jacksonville in a blog or I hear a radio personality hype it as a legitimate question, though I’m sure I’ve written a few cringe-worthy sentences myself.

Still, suggesting a college team could defeat a pro team in today’s era is absurd. The next time you hear such a thing, which will likely happen after Alabama or Florida State wins the national title, just remember to dismiss it.

Because for all their faults, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are professional football teams with professional football players. Each one of them made it in the NFL, which is an extraordinary achievement in its own right.

It’s an achievement a majority of the players on Alabama and Florida State will fail to reach. In fact, most of them won’t even receive an invite to an NFL training camp. That’s how difficult it is to make in the NFL. We don’t appreciate enough the path most football players have to take.

Perhaps we should start paying more attention.

At the very least, we can stop pretending that a college team could beat a professional team.

Draft Watch
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami (FL)
Outlook: Currently playing through an ankle injury, Morris’ big arm allows him to throw into tight windows. When healthy, he does a good job of setting his feet and stepping into his throws. In addition, he has excellent ball placement, though his accuracy throwing the deep ball could improve. NFL teams will monitor his injury throughout the draft process, especially if it keeps him out of any pre-draft events. He deserves credit for having the toughness to play through it, though. Morris is a step below the high-end quarterback prospects, such as Louisville‘s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon‘s Marcus Mariota, but he represents the next tier.

Stock: Steady

Couch Potato Lineup
Last Week: 1-2
Season Record: 19-11

Washington at No. 13 UCLA
Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, ESPN (Friday)
Prediction: After back-to-back underwhelming games, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s coming off two efficient performances in a row. His elevated play is exactly what the Bruins need, though it’s disconcerting to watch him struggle against superior opponents. Despite UCLA’s lofty ranking, Washington is on their level. The Huskies’ defense will be under the microscope on Friday night. They gave up a combined 129 points to Arizona State, Stanford, and Oregon. They must be better against the Bruins or they could suffer a similar fate. One way to take pressure off the defense is to get running back Bishop Sankey going early. The Washington running back is among college football’s most unheralded players with 1,305 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season. His yardage needs to come in meaningful minutes instead of garbage time, though. The Huskies can win this game by forcing Hundley into poor decisions and by getting a productive game from Sankey. I think they’ll get both on Friday night.

Washington 31 UCLA 24

No. 25 Georgia at No. 7 Auburn
Time/TV: 3:30 PM EST, CBS
Prediction: It’s not getting a lot of play in the media, but Auburn’s two wins away from playing for an SEC championship. Of course, one of those wins must come against Alabama, but the Tigers’ terrific season is under the radar. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have gotten running back Todd Gurley back from injury. They’ve been easing him back into the lineup, but they’ll likely need him to touch the ball 20 times in order to defeat Auburn. In addition, they’ll need Aaron Murray to play as well as he did against LSU because Georgia’s defense is not going to stop Auburn. The overall series is tied a 54-54-8 with the Bulldogs blowing Auburn out in the last two meetings. Led by a dominating running game, look for the Tigers to return the favor and take a one-game lead in the series.

Auburn 44 Georgia 31

No. 4 Stanford at USC
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, ABC
Prediction: USC has gone 4-1 since they fired Lane Kiffin in October. The Trojans are a good team, despite the drama surrounding Kiffin and the lingering head-coaching search. The strength of USC is with their skill players. If their offensive line can give quarterback Cody Kessler time, he can exploit the Stanford secondary. However, USC’s offensive line is inconsistent and Stanford’s front seven is currently peaking after dismantling Oregon last Thursday. At the end of the day, Stanford will play their unapologetic style of controlling the clock and pressuring the quarterback. You don’t beat Stanford by utilizing receivers and running backs out of the backfield. You have to outmuscle them. USC simply cannot do that.

Stanford 30 USC 20

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