Alviti looks ahead to 2012 season

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Alviti looks ahead to 2012 season

Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti still remembers every play of last year's heartbreaking 24-22 loss to Stevenson in the second round of the Class 8A playoff as if it happened yesterday.

"I threw one interception and fumbled once. I wasn't able to win the game. In the past, somebody always came up with a big play when we needed it, but not this time," Alviti recalled.

"We were behind 17-7 at halftime and 24-7 in the third quarter. We had a great third quarter and cut their lead to 24-15, then 24-22 and had the ball on our 20 with five minutes to play. But on third-and-five, we couldn't convert. We never got the ball back after that."

Alviti, who quarterbacked Maine South to the state championship as a sophomore in 2010, couldn't produce any magic against Stevenson. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown. But Stevenson quarterback Matt Micucci was 20-of-32 for 247 yards and two touchdowns and also kicked a 28-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.

It spoiled Maine South's bid for an unprecedented fourth state championship in a row and snapped the Hawks' 16-game postseason winning streak. The senior class bowed out with a four-year record of 50-3.

"It was so disappointing," Alviti said. "You don't realize you season is over and you're going home and the seniors go out like that. I don't want to experience that again. The seniors couldn't handle it. Not being able to win the state title with good friends I had played with since I was little...well, I really felt for them. I felt like I let them down."

Ironically, Alviti and Micucci will be teammates at Northwestern. Alviti recently committed to coach Pat Fitzgerald, choosing Northwestern over Michigan State. And Micucci will join the Wildcat program as a preferred walk-on, probably as a kicker and punter.

"Northwestern is a great fit for me," Alviti said. "Recruiting is all about finding the right fit for you, where you can do your best, where you can succeed and play your best. They were there before anyone else, the first school to recruit me when I was a sophomore. They made the first offer, the day after we won state as a sophomore.

"It's a dream come true for me, to play college football at a high level, to play for coach Fitzgerald, to work with offensive coordinator Mick McCall, to play close to home, to play in that offense. They run a spread that is similar to what we run at Maine South. In fact, we run some of the same variations of the same plays, all the same concepts. It will be a comfortable transition for me."

Will Alviti be another Dan Persa or Zac Kustok, surpassing the feats of two previous Northwestern quarterbacks? He is more of a thrower than a runner and doesn't like to compare himself to other quarterbacks, but he admits his favorite is Drew Brees.

"I like to watch him. His height is similar to mine," said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Alviti. "He has great leadership qualities. He's a great passer. He understands the game so well. He's a great general on the field. He delivers day after day. He gets all his receivers involved. He is very impressive to watch and learn from what he does."

Alviti has been working hard to improve his skills for the 2012 season--and to make everybody forget about last year's loss in the state playoff. He is running track for the first time this spring, keeping in shape and building leg strength and endurance by competing in the 100, 200 and 400 and 800 relays.

"I want to get my 40-yard dash time down to 4.5 (from 4.6). I want to be stronger and more explosive than ever," he said.

In addition, he is lifting weights once every day and working out twice a week with his receiving corps--tight end John Solari and wide receivers Chris Buschemi, Clay Burdelik, George Sajenko, Anthony Mitchell, Zac Hinkamp and Frankie Perrone.

"I'm very confident with these guys," Alviti said. "We're getting our timing down and watching film. But we have a lot of preparation to do and a long way to go before the season begins."

Nobody knows it more than offensive coordinator Charlie Bliss, who rates Alviti as the best thrower and passer he has produced at the Park Ridge school, dating back to John Schacke, who led Maine South to its first state championship in 1995. Since then, Bliss also has developed such standouts as Shawn Kain, Sean Price, Tyler Knight, Charlie Goro and Tyler Benz.

"He is in better condition than ever," Bliss said of Alviti. "There isn't a throw he can't make. He is showing people that he is a better leader. If he is on, he will make the people around him better. He lacked it last year. We didn't have the great receivers of the past. Matt didn't make them better. He won't let it happen this year. We have better receivers this year."

Bliss and head coach David Inserra are pleased that Alviti opted to make his college decision earlier than later. There were a lot of distractions last year. For example, he played on a Friday night, then attended a WisconsinNebraska game the following day. The longer he waited, the more colleges figured to jump onto the recruiting merry-go-round.

"Now he can concentrate on his senior year," Bliss said. "He hasn't peaked yet. His game will get better and better. He can make every single throw. Sometimes he tries to be too perfect. But he makes plays. And he is fearless and never gets intimidated."

In the last two years, Alviti has passed for 5,048 yards, rushed for 1,115 and accounted for 76 touchdowns. But he is motivated by more than just winning a fourth state title in the last five years and removing the sting from last year's playoff loss to Stevenson.

He attended the recent Elite 11 regional competition in Columbus, Ohio. The event was host to some of the leading quarterbacks in the nation with the top performers earning a spot in the national finals in California in July. Michigan-bound Shane Morris of Warren, Michigan, was the MVP.

Alviti wasn't rated among the top six finalists in a field that also included Notre Dame-bound Malik Zaire, Stanford-bound Ryan Burns, Purdue-bound Danny Etling and Kansas-bound Montell Cozart.

"It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun. I met some good guys and I learned I can throw with the best of them," Alviti said. "I also learned some things to improve on. I learned how to throw better in awkward positions, like when I'm flushed out of the pocket.

"I thought I progressed as Friday went along. I would have liked to have thrown better. I went there to improve on my skill set and I think I did that. I also picked up some drills to work on. Morris was the MVP. He has a strong arm and throws a deep ball very well. But I think I'm a good quarterback as well. I don't think I have to take a backseat to anybody."

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Throw the names Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. all in a hat and pick one. It doesn't matter which name you pull out. They're all studs.

Anybody who plays fantasy football should know who the top wide receivers in the game are.

Check out that parity. Only one player that we disagree on.

Analyzing the top guys and telling you which one to draft isn't rocket science. That's why we're here to give you advice on who to target, which sleepers to keep an eye on and the busts for the 2016 season.

Top Targets

Eric Decker, NYJ: When will Decker get his due?? Dude's had his own TV show, has a celebrity wife, played with Peyton Manning and now plays in the biggest city in the U.S. and yet he's still an afterthought in fantasy. Decker has proven to be one of the most consistent players in the league over the last few seasons and there's no indication that will change anytime soon. He's had four straight years of at least 74 catches and 962 yards and scored double digit TDs in three of those four seasons. Last year, he scored 12 TDs in 12 different games, earning double digit fantasy points in nine of his final 10 games. For a guy that's going in the fifth round as the No. 24 WR, that's incredible value. — Tony Andracki

A.J Green, CIN: I know it's a little bit of a "Captain Obvious" moment to tell you that you should target Green, but I'm going to explain why anyway. Currently, Green has an ADP of 13, which has him falling out of the first round in many leagues. Outside of the "Big 3" Green is arguably the safest wide receiver to target in your draft and should be snatched up if he's available anywhere close to the end of the first or the start of the second round. Gone from the Bengals are wide receivers Marvin Jones and Muhamed Sanu, meaning the target burden is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Green in 2016. He should easily blow his 2015 targets (132) out of the water with only Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and the Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard tandem as the only trusted targets for quarterback Andy Dalton. As a WR1, Green is an excellent piece to build your team around. — Scott Krinch

Sleepers

Donte Moncrief, IND: Moncrief is a sixth-round pick right now, but count on a higher return on your investment than that. The third-year wideout has a rather high floor considering he's not yet an established name and his ceiling could eclipse that of teammate TY Hilton. Moncrief has a great rapport with Andrew Luck, who should be happy, healthy and back to his dominant self in 2016. Everything here spells breakout this season. — TA

Kevin White, CHI: The wait is over. Bears fans and fantasy players alike are happy to finally see White return to full health. White, the 7th overall selection in 2015 who missed all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin, has been drawing rave reviews throughout the preseason, being compared to Andre Johnson/Reggie Wayne by Bears' wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. White heads into the 2016 season as the Bears' No. 2 wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Equipped with off the charts athleticism and speed for his 6-foot-3 frame, White is expected to play a significant role in the Bears offense. His 8th/9th round ADP puts him behind wideouts like DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews and Torrey Smith, all players that may have a higher floor than White, but don't possess the type of ceiling that he does. If you want a high upside guy in the later rounds, White is your man. — SK

Busts

Allen Hurns, JAX: I hate to label Hurns as a bust heading into the 2016 season because I really like him as a player on the upstart Jaguars offense. However, the problem I have with Hurns is the fact that he's going off the board before the likes of Tyler Lockett, Sterling Shepard and Kevin White. The three aforementioned wide receivers all have massive ceilings next season, while Hurns will undoubtedly see a decline in last season's numbers. I can't see Hurns repeating his 2015 stretch where he went seven straight weeks with a receiving touchdown. Blake Bortles is going to spread the wealth between Allen Robinson, Rashad Greene, Marqise Lee and Hurns, in addition to having a full season of Julius Thomas. If you're expecting another big year from Hurns, temper your enthusiasm. There are too many targets to go around in Jacksonville. — SK

Sammy Watkins, BUF: This isn't about Watkins' talent level. He is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. But he's being drafted in the third round and I simply don't think he will provide that kind of value. From the No. 12 WR on the board, you'd expect him to be a guy you set and forget in your lineup every week and Watkins is not that. For starters, there is his injury history (he missed three full games last season and was limited for a few others) and he already has a foot issue this season. Then factor in the fact the Bills offense under Tyrod Taylor is not a passing offense and more about ball control and letting Taylor improve or use his legs. Watkins will have some big games, but he won't be consistent enough to warrant such an investment. — TA

Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

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Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

"Those who stay will be champions."

That's the familiar motto of Michigan football.

Well, consider that motto co-opted by the Wolverines' in-state rival.

Michigan State's director of college advancement and performance, Curtis Blackwell, tweeted out this image Thursday. Check out the slogan on the right.

Whoa!

Now, this is certainly nothing new, social-media flaps between the two programs. Jim Harbaugh makes a habit of going after people on Twitter, and Mark Dantonio has had his own veiled Twitter shots at Harbaugh & Co. in the past, too.

And, truthfully, Michigan State has reason to boast, as it's the program that's done the most winning in the Great Lakes State in recent seasons. Dantonio has led the Spartans to a trio of conference championships, in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In the past three seasons alone, the Spartans are 36-5 with two conference titles, wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, Michigan has won double-digit games in a single season just twice since 2006.

So while riffing on the Wolverines' motto raised a few eyebrows, the Spartans aren't wrong.

Big Ten preview: J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

Big Ten preview: J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

This time last year, Ohio State’s quarterback battle was the biggest story in college football.

One candidate led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record and a spot in the Big Ten title game, not to mention his fifth-place finish in voting for the Heisman Trophy. The other candidate led the Buckeyes to wins in the conference championship game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, delivering Ohio State its 11th national title in program history.

It was an unenviable decision, and Urban Meyer took forever to actually make it, starting Cardale Jones over the season’s first few games while continuing to play J.T. Barrett. And all the while, the Buckeyes’ offense struggled. Barrett was eventually handed the starting job and put up some big numbers while Ezekiel Elliott carried the offense. But that indecision at the game’s most important position, well it wasn’t what you want on the quest to repeat as national champs.

“I feel like it was a little difficult, but you just try to put yourself in the best position to play. That’s all I tried to do was to focus on what I can control,” Barrett said during Big Ten Media Days. “That was something that coach Meyer tried to do his best as far as me and Cardale and who was going to give Ohio State the best opportunity to win games.”

Even though the Buckeyes only lost one game last season, the quarterback merry-go-round and a comparatively unimpressive offense were the talks of the season — and maybe why it wasn’t back-to-back national titles for Ohio State.

According to Meyer, Barrett had some things working against him that kept him out of the starting role for the season’s first few weeks. This season, there will be no such controversy. Barrett is the guy, without question, and that should be a big help in a year when the Buckeyes are transitioning from an experienced group to a young one.

“He did not have a great training camp last year for whatever reason,” Meyer said. “We had a great conversation, actually drove him to the airport on the way here, talking about that. And there was a lot of distraction with Cardale, with who is going to be playing quarterback. And he was still overcoming a pretty serious injury that took a long time to heal. So he didn't have the spring reps that he needed. He did this year. And I anticipate he'll be as good a quarterback as we've had. It's his show and he knows it and he's prepared.”

Barrett won’t have Elliott to help him out this season — though there are high hopes for Elliott’s successor, Mike Weber — but his numbers from last season and the season before showed he’s more than capable of being one of the best players in the Big Ten. In 2015, Barrett completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns, rushing 115 times for 682 yards and 11 more touchdowns. Of course Buckeyes fans will be happy to see the same kind of season he had in 2014, when he excelled after being thrust into the starting role after Braxton Miller was injured for the season. That year, Barrett completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns plus 938 rushing yards and 11 additional touchdowns.

Barrett should deliver another sensational season as a redshirt junior, but it’s the offense around him that brings question marks. No one knows what to expect from the youth at almost every other position, be it Weber, inexperienced wideouts or an offensive line that will see a true freshman starter. It makes that comparatively lackluster offensive season a year ago — the Buckeyes still averaged more than 35 points a game and scored at least 28 points all but twice — all the more difficult to correct considering the youth around Barrett.

“As an offense last year, we didn’t function like we knew we could have,” Barrett said. “So seeing that go down last year and knowing the time it’s going to take in order to make sure that we improve and get better and maximize everybody at the wide receiver position and also me as a quarterback. Just having that in the back of our minds, knowing we’ve got to put this work in to make sure that shows on Saturdays.”

But Ohio State remains confident, with those projecting more big things for the Buckeyes doing so mostly because of Barrett. Meyer called this team his most talented group yet in Columbus, an almost shocking statement following the past two seasons, which featured one of the best collections of college talent ever.

Barrett likes the young guys, too, but he echoes the concerns of his coach, too, namely getting this inexperienced group up to snuff before a tough non-conference test at Oklahoma and a rigorous schedule in the Big Ten East Division.

“I feel like the talent’s still there, it’s just more of the experience that’s lacking,” Barrett said. “So with the experience lacking, the confidence might not be there. The talent may be there when we’re out there running drills on a Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock. But being able to get the experience and the confidence for these guys to be able to go out there and know that they’ll be able to make a play on Saturday, I think that’s something that needs to be developed.”