Friday, September 23, 2005

My picks for the weekend

Here are the lines as I try to improve from a whopping 4-3 start to the season:

Ohio State (-7) vs. Iowa - The last time I took the Buckeyes, I looked good for the first 50 minutes or so until Jim Tressel's scorching hot romance with the field goal cost his team the game. (In his defense, he probably didn't coach Ryan Hamby to drop a wide open touchdown that would have put the Horns behind the eight-ball, nor did he coach Buckeye fans to then show their class by sending Hamby hate mail. That story never gets old for me, nor does the apology issued by Ohio State's President for the way that Texas fans were treated in Columbus, but I digress.) This sounds like the Bucks' bounce-back game. Last year, Iowa came into the season highly thought of, got embarrassed in a road non-conference game, then got beaten up by the Big Ten favorite on the road. In the interests of everything remaining consistent, we'll take Ohio State to cover, although I'm already pondering the wisdom of picking the Bucks to cover a touchdown when their M.O. under Tressel has been to win every game in overtime.

Virginia Tech (-10.5) vs. Georgia Tech - I'm not a big fan of the Hokie offense, but they play like gangbusters at home and the M.O. of Georgia Tech under Gailey has been that they can't sustain solid performances. Only six teams have stayed within single digits of Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in the past six seasons. If they get a lead on Georgia Tech and force a quarterback coming back from viral meningitis to rally, then this game will be ugly. By the way, if Marcus Vick had herpes instead of Michael, then there would be all sorts of tasteless one-liners to be had about this game...and I'm just the kind of guy to make them.

Notre Dame (-13) at Washington - Washington is probably worse than Pitt and ND covered this number in Pittsburgh, plus the Irish probably had a great week of practice after losing at home to Michigan State. The media have hyped this game up because of the coaching match-up, but if they paid attention to the two teams that will actually line up against one another (a rare occurrence in today's personality-obsessed media and this comes from the guy who got a "PLANNING TO MARRY!!!" US Weekly headline in his mailbox this week), then there wouldn't be much reason to pay attention to this one.

Michigan (-3) at Wisconsin - After picking the two arch rivals of my alma mater and the arch rival of my law school alma mater, I might as well do something for my self-esteem and take the ol' winged helmets for once. Everyone is obsessed with Michigan's terrible record in road openers this century, but the main reason for that bad record is that Michigan still takes Bo's view of non-conference games as warm ups for the real season: the eight game march in the Big Ten. How else do we explain that Lloyd Carr loses just about every non-conference game on the road, but is a perfect 10-0 in Big Ten openers? Or that Michigan is a ridiculous 35-1 in Big Ten openers since Schembechler became the coach in 1969? This Wisconsin team is overrated right now because they're 3-0 against a bunch of patsies, but they have injuries on the defensive line that will negate their ability to exploit Michigan's banged up offensive line and backfield. UM played last week without its top two right tackles, its right guard, its starting tight end, and its 1,500 yard tailback from last year. This week, it's allegedly getting its right guard and back-up right tackle back, which will mean time to Chad Henne to pick on Wisconsin's bad secondary. (Admittedly, relying on Michigan injury information is like relying on economic statistics from the Communist-era Kremlin.) If Mike Kolodziej and Matt Lentz play at anything close to 100%, then Michigan wins comfortably, i.e. by seven.

One problem with my pick: my youngest brother is currently a freshman at Michigan and, as I warned him, his freshman football season is going exactly as my 1993 freshman year went: easy non-conference win to start the year, followed by upset loss at home to Notre Dame in which the quarterback implodes, followed by easy non-conference win. 1993 was also the year that Michigan lost at Camp Randall Stadium, punctuated by a Heysel-esque riot (minus the projectiles, large death count, and five-year European ban) by always level-headed Badger students. Are we about to have a George Santayana moment?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Today's game was a real playoff preview

Not because the Braves are going to play the Phillies in the playoffs, but instead because the Braves lost a game against a quality opponent because Bobby Cox left his starter in for too long and Tim Hudson, who had pitched effectively for eight innings, got torched in the ninth after he had clearly run out of gas. In this instance, though, Bobby can be blamed because he does have one obviously reliable pitcher - Kyle Farnsworth - and he was at home, meaning there was no chance for a save opportunity once the ninth inning rolled around. Bobby possibly worried about pitching Farnsworth in a third straight game, but was it better to send his game two NLDS starter's pitch count north of 110?

And let's not lose sight of the fact that the Braves were only in a predicament in the first place because they didn't score a run all game, which makes it hard to win a baseball game. The offense's downfall has been a large reason why the team has played mediocre baseball over the past 50 games.

A few thoughts on the Braves game last night

As with most seasons when the Braves have a significant lead in September and college football occupies all of my sports attention, I haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to the Braves over the past few weeks, other than just looking at their box scores and concluding that they have about a 35% chance of winning a series against the Astros because of the dearth of quality bullpen options other than the closer. (Speaking of which, at the end of the year when we look back and analyze why the Braves were able to win the division again [assuming that they don't have a monumental collapse,] Schuerholtz's acquisition of Kyle Farnsworth will be a major factor. Without him, the bullpen would have been a complete waste of space and the team might have tailed into second place. On the other hand, Chris Reitsma has quietly allowed one run in his last ten appearances, so maybe we do have an 8th inning guy after all.) Anyway, I went to the game last night and have a few late-season observations:

1. The offense last night came from two sources that have been completely absent over the second half of the season: Johnny "I'll see you at Beef's" Estrada and Adam LaRoche. If they start to hit, then this team has a puncher's chance of making a playoff run. Then again, this season has provided confirmation of the truism that you can never tell too much about one game. Remember the questions about Smoltz as a starter that arose after he was shelled in the opener?

2. As a result of several Miller Lites and our seats in left field, by the end of the game, I didn't know who was pitching for either team. The Braves have a $12M high-definition scoreboard that is one of the three manmade objects that can be seen from outer space (OK, I made that part up,) but there apparently isn't enough room on it to note who is pitching. Fortunately, I was sober and well-prepared enough at the start of the game to know that Horacio was starting and that I could expect a barrage of balls into our area. In the end, the total was only one (to David Bell of all people, a fact that I hollered to the embarrassment of several of my co-workers as part of my march to partnership,) but he did manage to surrender four earned runs and eleven baserunners in six innings. His peripherals (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) are lousy and I'm hoping that there's enough competition next year in spring training that he isn't awarded a spot in the rotation by default. One good bit of news about Horatio last night: he inexplicably struck Chase Utley out three times.

3. Speaking of next year, I heard some vague statements on the radio today that insurance is going to cover a significant portion of Mike Hampton's contract next year. If true, then that frees up a good amount of salary (possibly to re-sign Raffy?) and it means that his postponement of surgery this year, which initially annoyed me as unrealistic thinking, might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The AJC, naturally, has nothing on this issue, although my tuning out of the Braves might have blurred my usual keen analysis of their Braves nuggets.

4. One reason to root for the Red Sox: if they can come back and win the division, which is looking unlikely because of their wretched bullpen, and the Braves hold onto their lead in the East, then the Braves will have the longest streak of divisional titles in baseball at 14 and the Cardinals and Angels will be tied for second at two. That will keep me warm in October when watching another NLDS flame-out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I love Leo Mazzone

From Baseball Prospectus:

"That ball left Andruw's bat, traveled about 450 feet, and the next contact it made was with my freakin' head. That thing came straight out of the sky. Then I was face down in the bullpen."
--Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, on getting hit on the head by an Andruw Jones home run during batting practice (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

"I probably could have caught it if I knew it was coming. It smoked him, right in the head. It hit him hard, and he hit the ground. I was like, 'He's dead.'"
--Braves reliever Blane Boyer, who was standing a few feet away from Mazzone when he got hit

"He was bleeding all over the place. But he just wore it. He got up and walked away. Horacio [Ramirez] said, 'Stay down, stay down.' "

"No more than usual."
--Mazzone, on whether he felt any dizziness the next day

"I never was normal."
--Mazzone, on whether he felt back to normal

My Top 25

1. Southern Cal
2. Texas
3. Louisiana State
4. Florida
5. Virginia Tech
6. Georgia
7. Florida State
8. Ohio State
9. Miami (Florida)
10. Louisville
11. Arizona State
12. Tennessee
13. Clemson
14. Notre Dame
15. Georgia Tech
16. Texas A&M
17. Michigan
18. Alabama
19. Minnesota
20. UCLA
21. Michigan State
22. Texas Tech
23. Boston College
24. Iowa State
25. Oregon

No change in the top five for obvious reasons. I dropped Notre Dame down a ways for giving up a million points to Michigan State, but I kept them above the Spartans because the Irish still have two quality wins; they didn't get a two-game preseason to get ready for this game like Michigan State did. Both teams seem to have great offensive designs and will score a ton of points, but will likely finish in the 8-3 range because neither of them can stop opponents from throwing the ball at will. I'm not the first one to say this, but State has to beware against a frisky Illinois team this week. Stat of the week, by the way: I don't know if this is right, but I read somewhere that Michigan State is 9-1 against Top Ten teams since 1997...and 46-43 against the rest of college football.

Miami and Florida State both get bumps for quality road wins against ranked opponents. FSU's newfound ability to complete a forward pass should be frightening for opponents, because their defense is outstanding and they've always had good running backs. By the way, isn't is a rite of passage in the fall that the leaves change, the air gets chilly, and Florida State figures out that they have a better offense when they spread out with four-wide out of the shotgun as opposed to running out of the I-formation and compressing their talent between the hashmarks? It seems that they've been making this startling revelation every year since 1992. (Is it possible for me to say anything nice about the 'Noles?) I didn't penalize Clemson too much; an overtime loss to a Top Ten team is nothing to be upset about. That said, Clemson fans are going to be seeing that missed throw in the end zone at the end of regulation when they close their eyes every night until March.

Tennessee takes a tumble in the rankings for their inexplicable play-calling against Florida. I didn't see the game because I was at a wedding in Providence, which is about as far from the bright center of the college football universe as possible (although I did get introduced, over and over again, to something called a Dark and Stormy, which is a local drink with dark rum and ginger beer. I'm not much for sweet alcoholic beverages, but this one was an exception. Mmmmmm.) Looking at the box score late Saturday night, Tennessee's play-calling seemed inexplicable to me. How does Gerald Riggs get five yards per pop and yet you still keep calling pass plays that are not working? The stereotype during the off-season, at least among Tennessee fans who get their corn from a jar, was that they were going to teach fancy pants Urban Meyer a few things about life in the SEC by smash-mouthing their way to victory in a venue that they "own" on the basis of a whopping two-game winning streak. Instead, Meyer was the one whose team had the smash-mouth personality, winning by great defensive play and special teams. Tennessee had the ability to match them by running the ball and yet they gave their stud back only 17 carries. And this is on the road, no less, the place where Fulmer (and most coaches) tend to become more conservative, not less. Anyway, it's inexplicable, especially to me because Riggs is on my fantasy team, but Tennessee's likely response is to try to run the ball on every play at LSU. The problem is that LSU, unlike Florida, is a team that needs to be attacked through the air. If the Vols overreact to their Left Coast gameplan from last week, they will end up calling the wrong plays two weeks in a row.

Alabama shoots up the rankings this week after dominating South Carolina in Columbia, a tough venue for most teams. Bama probably benefited from seeing South Carolina's defense on tape twice, but give them their due. I got tired the past few years listening to excuses from Bama fans as to why their team wasn't winning ten games per year as they believe is their birthright, but the way the Tide look this year, they may have been right. They're combining last year's defense with a solid running game and - finally - a healthy passing game. And their rise makes life a lot easier for...Georgia. If LSU and Alabama are clearly the top two teams in the West, and Florida and Tennessee play both of them and Georgia plays neither, well, you do the math. By the way, Bama's strong performance is illustrating one of my pet theories: in major, major rivalries, when one team has a great year, it often spurs the rival to have a great year in the following season. To wit:

1992 - Alabama goes unbeaten, then the following year, Auburn does the same.
1999 - Alabama wins the SEC, then the following year, Auburn wins the SEC West.

Or from another famous rivalry:

1997 - Michigan goes unbeaten, then the next year, Ohio State goes 11-1 and finishes #2
2002 - Ohio State goes unbeaten, then the next year, Michigan wins the Big Ten and goes to the Rose Bowl.

We're also introducing UCLA and Oregon into the poll, since both teams are 3-0 and had big home wins over the weekend. UCLA might prove to be the better team because they can play defense, but Oregon, like Michigan State and Notre Dame, seems to have the ability to get opponents into shootouts and they can win their share of those. It'll be interesting to see if they can get USC into a scorefest. I suspect that the Trojans' defensive line will prevent that from happening, especially since they've been put on upset alert about this game since June.

Sorry for the long absence

Work is ramping up and it pays the bills, so it gets first priority. So no, I haven't been trying to ignore the Braves' stumble towards October (and it might not be to October if it becomes a full collapse, although that seems unlikely with nine of the last 12 at home and a three-game set against the Rockies included) or the struggles of the Falcons' passing game or a few blah efforts from Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I can't remember who left the comment that Rafael Furcal isn't going to be expensive this off-season, but Joe Sheehan of the outstanding Baseball Prospectus agrees with me and, in fact, sets Furcal's value higher:

"I missed this, so maybe you did, too: Rafael Furcal, whose OBP was below .300 on July 1, is hitting .322/.399/.470 since the All-Star break and having his best defensive season to boot. He's a huge part of the Braves' jillionth division title, and about to become a very wealthy man. If Edgar Renteria got four years and $40 million coming off his .287/.327/.401 age-28 season, how does Furcal not start at four and $48 million hitting the market a a year younger and with higher everything, including a possible Gold Glove Award?"

Furcal's value won't be quite that high because most of the primary big spenders in baseball - the Yankees (Jeter), Red Sox (Renteria), Orioles (Tejada), Mets (Reyes), Dodgers (Izturis), Phillies (Rollins), Angels (Cabrera), Cardinals (Eckstein), and Cubs (Nomar) - all have long-term commitments at the position. The most likely suitors would be the White Sox, Mariners, Nationals, Astros, D-Backs, or Giants, unless some team came completely out of nowhere and decided to increase their payroll. That said, there's always the possibility that one of the big market teams could trade their shortstop or move him around the infield, as the Cubs are apparently considering. Still, the Braves might luck out this winter and find that the market for Furcal isn't commensurate with his actual value. On the other hand, if Giles was the free agent, then a number of the wealthy teams would be interested, starting with the Red Sox.

My Top 25

1. Southern Cal
2. Texas
3. Louisiana State
4. Florida
5. Virginia Tech
6. Notre Dame
7. Georgia
8. Tennessee
9. Ohio State
10. Miami (Florida)
11. Louisville
12. Arizona State
13. Clemson
14. Florida State
15. Georgia Tech
16. Texas A&M
17. Michigan
18. Boston College
19. Minnesota
20. Purdue
21. Cal
22. Texas Tech
23. Oklahoma
24. Alabama
25. Iowa State

I thought long and hard about bumping Texas ahead of LSU and finally decided to do so because a win at Ohio State is a little more impressive than a win at Arizona State, although the Sun Devils certainly did a lot to impress on Saturday night. If LSU can shore up the defense a little, then they'll be a better team than Texas. They'll certainly get more chances to prove themselves over the next two months with games against Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama all on deck. I dropped Georgia a couple spots because of D.J. Shockley's Quincy Carter imitation on Saturday night. Quarterback play is often overrated in college football, but Georgia's season will rise or fall on whether Shockley can distribute the ball in an accurate fashion. Every other piece of Georgia's team seems to be in place. I didn't penalize Ohio State or Arizona State much; if I truly believe that LSU and Texas are the second and third best teams in the country, then losing very narrow games to them shouldn't affect their ranking much.

Regardless of the final score, I did punish Florida State for trailing The Citadel in the second quarter. Ditto for Oklahoma and their game with Tulsa. I gave Clemson another bump; they arguably have the best collection of scalps right now with narrow wins over Texas A&M and Maryland. Ultimately, they might prove to be overrated based on the fact that they've won a couple nail-biters and aren't necessarily better than the teams that they've played. We'll learn a lot about the Tigers when they entertain Miami this weekend.

I punished Iowa worse than Michigan and Ohio State because they got beaten so soundly by an inferior opponent, along with my underlying sense that Iowa was overrated heading into the season. Michigan and Ohio State, their flaws aside, did put up fights against Top Ten teams. Iowa got rolled from the start by their in-state rival, even before Drew Tate was concussed. I suspect that the Hawks will reappear in the rankings down the road once they make their customary second half run.

I heard this crazy rumor...

that there's going to be some sort of football game tonight at the Georgia Dome. I was previously unaware of it, but at the gym this morning, one guy was motivating another during his sets with "Eagles! Tonight! It's all starting! C'mon! Get up!" (Only in Atlanta can you hear people talking up the visiting team at the gym at 6:45 in the morning. Actually, that's not entirely true. I watched some of the San Diego-Dallas game yesterday and the crowd was half Cowboys fans. I wonder if San Diego is going to be dubbed "worst sports town in America" for that. Naw, we wouldn't want to shatter sportswriters' pre-conceived views on the way the world works.) Anyway, here are my thoughts on the game tonight:

1. For all the criticism that I and others make of Michael Vick for being so-so as a passer, every time I think about the game tonight, I picture him getting loose on a run and the Dome going absolutely apeshit. Stats don't do justice to how exciting it is to root for a player like Vick. He's a reminder of why I started watching sports in the first place. The Falcons are going against their entire history, namely that the team has never had consecutive winning seasons and has an abysmal record on Monday nights, but we have Vick when we walk through the valley of death. (I'm going to hate myself for writing that tomorrow morning in the aftermath of a 23-10 loss.)

2. Tonight's game, like the other Falcons-Eagles games of the past several years, all of which have been one by Philly in relatively comfortable fashion, will come down to the Falcons' ability to handle Philly's pressure. The Eagles have a great defensive line and they blitz a lot, thus negating the Falcons' running game and putting pressure on their two weakest units: the offensive line, which doesn't pass protect very well, and the wide receivers, which need to get off of the bump, make good sight-adjustments, and then make plays down the field. The McKay/Mora regime has increased the talent base on the team and tonight will be a good test to see if the offensive line and wide receivers are ready to make this team a Super Bowl contender.

3. Speaking of the Eagles' defense, the Patriots slowed the Eagles' pass rush down last February with a diet of screen passes. Look for the Falcons to try those tonight. If the running game doesn't get going, then that would be the best way to get the ball into Dunn and Duckett's hands in position to make some plays. I'm tittilated by the thought of Duckett getting a head of steam and heading down the field on a screen pass.

4. Is there anything worse than imagining Terrell Owens celebrating in the end zone of the Georgia Dome? Yeah, that's what I thought. That said, Jason Webster and Kevin Mathis are going to be critical tonight because the coverage is going to be rolled towards Owens and they're going to have to win their individual match-ups with Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown for the Falcons' defense to be successful.

Overall, I view the Eagles in the same way that Colts fans probably view New England. Heck, Colts fans can at least point to their regular season match-ups with the Pats, which have been very competitive. The Falcons have been handled easily by the Eagles twice in the playoffs. The Falcons did play the Eagles surprisingly tough in 2003 during Vick's broken ankle sabbatical, losing only 23-16, but the stats from that game (the Eagles outgained the Falcons 430 to 278 and were +2 in turnovers) are indicative of a blowout. Although this is the first time that a Vick-led Falcons team has had a home game against Philly, I'm not going to believe that the Falcons can play with the Eagles until I see it on the field.

One other note: the Falcons stayed in the game with the Eagles in 2003 primarily because of Allen Rossum's work in the return game. If the Falcons are going to win tonight, then he needs to be a factor.

Why can't the AJC have post-game warp-ups like this?

This is one of the best post-game articles I've read in terms of depth of analysis and useful information provided. Are football fans in Honolulu better able to handle insightful comments regarding a game than fans in Atlanta (or indeed, anywhere on the mainland)? Do our newspapers dumb their articles down excessively? Is journalism taught differently in Hawaii?

Seriously, I woke up Sunday morning and had almost no desire to read the AJC's write-up of the Georgia game because I knew that it would convey little or no information that I didn't glean for myself watching the game on TV. Does anyone else have that feeling? And it isn't just the AJC. Post-game write-ups generally suck because they convey very little that the box score doesn't, other than the formulaic quotes from coaches and players who do everything in their power to avoid saying anything controversial or interesting.

Friday, September 09, 2005

And this is what I love about Sports Guy

One day after he infuriates me with more whining about the lack of respect for New England, he starts with some level-headed analysis of their problems on both sides of the running game and ends with one of his best jokes in recent memory:

Eagles (PK) over FALCONS
Quick preview impression of Michaels and Madden on Monday night:

Michaels: "Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb?"

Madden: "Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb."

Michaels: "Which raises a great point -- Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb."

Madden: "Absolutely. Al, this is what it's all about, right here -- Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb."

Michaels: "Let's go down to Michele Tafoya."

Tafoya: "Al, I just talked to Andy Reid, and he said, 'Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb Terrell Owens Donovan McNabb...'"

He left out a little Michael Vick love, but that would be no different than this entire summer in terms of NFL coverage and I'm sure that the ABC production crew is going to order them to hammer the personality angle over and over and over again, just like they did last night with their Tom Brady fellatio. And another beef with ABC: the pre-game festivities last night made bowl game halftime shows seem subtle. Ozzy Osborne on top of a giant Patriots helmet singing "Crazytrain" with a prozac permagrin while the defending champions come running out, looking strangely business-like? And nothing screams football like Freddie Prinze, Jr. Or the Stones and Santana for everyone whose musical tastes haven't changed since the 70s. Thank G-d college football teams have too much self-respect to let their big games start with this drivel. Ohio State, please don't disappoint me by having Celine Dion belting out "My Heart Will Go On" when the Bucks take the field tomorrow night.

A little friendly advice for the local hockey collective

This would not be a good way to reignite fan interest after a one-year absence from the Atlanta sports scene. I sympathize with them because in a salary cap era, they probably can't afford to pay Ilya $7M/year and still field a good team. And since Ilya has to know that, one wonders whether Don Waddell would ever be able to build a team around a guy who can be that selfish and stand-offish. All that said, the short term effects of losing Kovalchuk to the Russian League and coming out of the signing period without either of the young stars around whom the Thrashers centered their marketing campaign for two years would be very significant. I really hope that the two sides can come back to earth and ink Ilya to a Rick Nash type deal, but this article does not make that prospect sound tenable.

Picks for this week

I was 2-1 last week, nailing Notre Dame and Georgia and missing out on Bowling Green. Anyway, here are the lines for this week and here are the games that jump out at me:

Notre Dame (+7) at Michigan - Given the poor performance from Michigan's defense last week, the terrific performance from Notre Dame's offense, the mismatch of Charlie Weis versus Jim Herrmann, and Michigan's historical underperformance against Notre Dame (primarily because the game means a lot more for the Irish, just like the Boston College-Notre Dame game means more to the Eagles,) there seems to be no way that Michigan will win by more than a score. There are only three factors going in Michigan's favor, but they aren't enough to make me think that they'll win:

1. Michigan is 59-6 at home under Lloyd Carr and has lost all of two home games this decade.

2. Michigan is 13-4 in revenge games under Lloyd Carr.

3. Michigan has the passing game to take advantage of Notre Dame's suspect secondary and is going into the game probably assuming that they're going to allow a lot of points, which means a fairly open gameplan from UM.

Iowa State (+9.5) vs. Iowa - Iowa is a typically slow-starting team, they're on the road in a rivalry game, and Iowa State is a fairly competitive team that will have a chip on their shoulder against those "snobs" from Iowa City. (I assume that every rivalry involving a team with "State" in their name involves the "State" team viewing the state flagship school as a bunch of snobs who think they're so much better than us common folk. See: N.C. State vs. North Carolina, Florida State vs. Florida, Michigan State vs. Michigan, Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss, etc.) Ferentz's Hawkeyes have only put up a number that would cover this spread once in his fine career at Iowa and that was against a Cyclone team that would end up 2-10.

Arkansas (-10) vs. Vandy - I thought this line was a misprint at first. Have we taken Vandy's opening win a tad too seriously? This is the Commodores on the road in the SEC against a team that plays far better at home historically under Houston Nutt. Arkansas is going to run the ball all day on the Commodores. This won't be the game where the Hawgs' new quarterback is going to be tested.

Ohio State (-1) vs. Texas - I have several reasons for this pick:

1. Mack Brown vs. Jim Tressel. I like Mack and all, but like Lloyd Carr or Phil Fulmer, do you really feel that confident with Mack on the sidelines in a big game against one of the better coaches in the country? (Note that I will forget I said that the week of the Michigan-Ohio State game.)

2. Ohio State has never lost a home night game before and most of the games have been blowouts. The Bucks have a major homefield advantage to begin with. Give all those future pharma reps and cell phone salesmen a day to get liquored up and the environment will make Bhopal look like a hyperbaric chamber.

3. As has been mentioned everywhere, Ohio State has a back seven that can tackle, which will probably make this game Vince Young's Waterloo. I guess that makes Jim Tressel Wellington and his linebacker corps a bunch of Hessian mercenaries. Texas is going to have to get production out of their passing game and I just don't trust their receiving corps to take advantage of the Bucks' suspect second and third corners.

4. If the two defenses dominate as many think they will, which special teams unit do we trust more? Ohio State has one of the best returners in the country and a coach whose teams have never failed to be good in this department. Texas allowed Steve Breaston to set a Rose Bowl record for kick returns in a game (although the Michigan defense helped matters by allowing Texas to kick off six times) and a shaky kicker.

Mack, I try so hard to love you, but you make it so hard

I wrote a piece defending Mack Brown about three summers ago for the since-folded It was one of my better pieces and it got a tremendous amount of fan reaction, almost all of which was positive from Texas fans. That said, it's hard to root for Mack Brown when he does his best to personify a [insert slang term for female genitalia here]:

"At places like ours, we're going to fill up our stadium regardless of who we're playing, so we'd actually make more money playing another game at home, getting our guys ready for our conference schedule. So I don't see this continuing [beyond next year's game in Austin."

First of all, that doesn't exactly sound like a guy who relishing the opportunity to play a game in one of the famous venues in college football, mainly because he knows what the headlines are going to be if he loses: "MACK BLOWS THE BIG ONE AGAIN!!!" Those headlines will be unfair because the task of winning a road game against a Top Five team is a monumental one in college football. (And don't get carried away, Notre Dame fans. I mean a legitimate top five team, not a team that's in the top five solely because of inertia like your opponent tomorrow.) Second, his reasoning is ludicrous. He plays one perennial top 15 team every year: Oklahoma. It's possible that Franchione will turn Texas A&M into a second, but that hasn't happened yet. The rest of the Big XII South lack recruiting bases necessary to be perennial Top 15 teams. If Florida can play three perennials (Tennessee, Georgia, and LSU) and still have the balls to play a fourth (Florida State) and a fifth in years with the 12-game schedule (Miami), then you can have the balls to play a second outside of the conference. Do you really need three games against patsies to get your young players ready? Wouldn't it be better preparation for the Red River Shootout for your players to play a game against a quality opponent so you know who can play on the highest levels and who can't? What do you really learn about your team by beating Louisiana-Lafayette 60-3?

And then there's this comment:

"[When the series was scheduled], the national championship game was not what it is today. At places like Texas and Ohio State, everyone wants you to win the last one, and obviously after Saturday, one of us is going to take a step back."

How is the national title more important now than it was in the mid to late 90s? Maybe it's different for you because you're at a school where it's a legitmate aspiration, but it's always been important. And Mack is in no place to talk about how important it is when he's never won a conference champtionship, let alone a national title. I can't imagine that Texas fans wouldn't be happy with him if his team lost in Columbus, but then beat Oklahoma and won the Big XII. Coaches don't get fired for losing non-conference games in September; they get fired for failing to meet expectations. (I guess that Mack's counter would be that a national title would make him untouchable and there's some merit to that point.) Additionally, fans are so prey to recency that they'll overlook and possibly forget a loss in September if October and November are good.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Play it again, Bill

What a f***ing whiner! I could insert any one of my complaints about Bill Simmons' writings about the Patriots from last four years here and make the same points, since he's a complete stuck record. There is nothing worse than a fan of a team that wins all the time who still manages to whine that his team doesn't get enough respect and who constantly belittles his rival as overrated. That's pretty much the definition of "sore winner." And speaking of sore winner, the excuses that come rolling out are choice! Philly almost won the Super Bowl because the Pats ran out of DBs. Indy is going to get homefield because of their weak schedule. Have some f***ing grace and acknowledge that the Pats' rivals have some merit! I've gotten to the point where I expect his agenda to shine through every time he makes reference to one of the major teams in the NFL.

And the best part is that he's now on the opposite side from where he was for years with the Yankees and Red Sox. Now that he's on top, he belittles the underdog as incapable of ever beating the favorite (without acknowledging that Indy might be a little better after drafting well and signing Corey Simon,) but when he wore his Red Sox hat, he dutifully analyzed Yankees/Red Sox match-up in nauseating detail, as if the Sox had a chance to win (and ultimately, they did.) History is replete with teams that knock on the door for a while before finally getting over the hump, such as the Eagles last year, the Broncos under Elway, Tennessee against Florida, Osborne's Nebraska against Oklahoma, Bowden against Miami, etc. Then again, Bill doesn't have much of a grasp of anything outside of the last few years, so what do I expect?

And does anyone get the irony that he bitches about no respect and his article is linked on the front page under a headline story from Len Pasquarelli that states that the Pats are the favorites to win again? Sports Guy must look far and wide to find people who don't pick New England (as if picking against a team trying to perform an unprecedented task of winning three straight Super Bowls is totally irrational) and then latch onto them, ignoring the hordes who pick them. (There's an analogy here to the right wingers who bitch about the liberal media because they latch onto liberal articles/statements and ignore the rest, not unlike the blind man who grabs the elephant's trunk and thinks he's feeling a snake.)

And yet I keep coming back for more...

One of the simple pleasures in life...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My top 25

1. Southern Cal
2. Louisiana State
3. Texas
4. Florida
5. Georgia
6. Virginia Tech
7. Notre Dame
8. Tennessee
9. Iowa
10. Miami (Florida)
11. Louisville
12. Florida State
13. Michigan
14. Arizona State
15. Georgia Tech
16. Texas A&M
17. Clemson
18. Boston College
19. Oklahoma
20. Purdue
21. Minnesota
22. Texas Tech
23. Cal
24. Alabama
25. TCU

I'm probably overreacting on Notre Dame a little, but 35-13 at the half on the road against a decent team is nothing to sniff at. I punished Michigan and Oregon for bad defensive performances. I docked Bama, Tennessee, and Cal for struggling against teams that they should have beaten handily. I also have Miami over FSU because anyone who watched that game and would still take FSU on a neutral field is deluding themselves.

[Note: It has been pointed out to me that I forgot to include Ohio State. This was not an intentional effort on the part of a Michigan grad to disparage the fine academic institution in Columbus, Ohio. Slot them in between Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.]

Quick thoughts on the game last night

It was definitely one of those "baseball is weird" kind of games. Smoltz gave up a number of extra-base hits, but managed to pitch himself out of jams time and again. The Braves did not hit Pedro hard at all after the first two batters of the game, but they did a great job of moving runners over and getting them home. The wife and I agreed that we don't have a lot of confidence in Andruw getting runners home from third with fewer than two outs, but he did that successfully in the first and third innings and with Smoltz pitching effectively, but not dominantly, that was enough. He got a big double play out of Cliff Floyd with a runner on third and fewer than two outs and then he got another double play out of Jose Reyes on his final pitch of the night. Luck? Skill? Combination thereof?

The bullpen was very encouraging last night. Farnsworth has been pitching well for the entire season, so it wasn't a surprise that he dominated against the dregs of the Mets' order in the 9th. Chris Reitsma, on the other hand, pitched a scoreless eighth against the heart of the Mets' order and only allowed one runner, although that one runner did get on on a smoked double, so it wasn't all peaches and cream. Cox views Reitsma as his bridge to Farnsworth. I don't have as much confidence in Reitsma because of the fact that he never came back from his dead arm period last year and was a complete disaster by the time October rolled around. Still, hope springs eternal for some teams in Spring Training and for the Braves in September as they look towards another postseason appearance.

By the way, I made a mistake yesterday in saying that the Braves hadn't hit Pedro in his two starts against them. I forgot Martinez's third start against the Braves on April 26, when they dinked and dunked their way to a three-run first and then held on for a 4-3 win, surviving one of Dan Kolb's worst outings of the year. So anyway, the Braves are 2-2 against Pedro this year, which is pretty good, but that stat is a little deceiving because Smoltz has started three of those four games and allowed four earned runs in those three starts.

Trev storms off

Well, we won't have Trev Alberts to kick around anymore. Miffed at perceived second-fiddle status behind the Gameday crew, Alberts played the role of French farmer or London customs agent and went on strike. ESPN, knowing that the number of potential replacements who would be happy to work as a studio analyst probably has six or seven digits, sent him on his merry way. In terms of landing spots, ABC seems to be set with their annoying Craig James/Uncle Fester studio combo, but what about CBS? They only have the forgettable Spencer Tillman in studio with Tim Brando. Plus, Alberts has always sung the praises of SEC teams, which is somewhat odd for a former Nebraska Cornhusker, given how that program owned SEC opponents during its heyday, but there's no accounting for taste. Alberts, for all of the irrational things he has said, is controversial without making completely unsupportable arguments and his name now has some value, so how about it, CBS?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Going to see Smoltz v. Pedro, Part Deux tonight

Five thoughts before the game:

1. I'm very interested to see how Smoltz is pitching now. He's tailed off a little over his past several starts, with shorter endurance and more propensity to allow hits and runs. Right now, the Braves are a slightly less than 50% proposition against any non-NL West playoff opponent because of the lack of depth in the bullpen. (Come to think of it, I'd feel pretty confident in an NLCS against any of the opponents in the East other than the Marlins.) If Smoltz isn't pitching well when October rolls around, then their odds slide even further. I'll pay attention to his velocity and command as the game goes on.

2. Chipper Jones is to Mets fans as _______ is/are to Braves fans? Who is our bete noire? Ben Sheets? Mike Redmond? Opposing pitchers making their first career starts?

3. The Braves have been totally ineffectual against Pedro so far this season, despite having two games to take cracks at him. Is there any reason to think that tonight will be different? Will experience against him help the team tonight, as it did last year against Kris Benson? Is Pedro tiring at the end of the year, just like Smoltz appears to be?

4. One encouraging thought about the team is that John Thomson has made two solid starts in a row. If he's healthy and pitching well, then all of a sudden, I like this team a lot more because they can move Sosa from the starting rotation to the bullpen to act as the third reliable option behind Farnsworth and Boyer. And speaking of which, Kyle Davies has been pretty solid in a couple long relief outings in recent weeks, so he could play a constructive role in the Braves' pen in October. If we keep Dan Doodie or Jim Brower on the post-season roster in place of Davies, then I might...write a very stern letter to Bobby Cox expressing my displeasure at that decision.

5. The Braves' six-game lead in the N.L. East is nice. Ideally, the team will be pushed by someone in the division so they don't coast to the finish, a problem for the team (and conversely, the major advantage for wild card teams) over the past several years, but at this stage, I don't really see this Braves team as a major threat to win the World Series, so preserving the streak of winning divisional titles seems very important to me. That said, I don't know how I would feel about being eliminated for the fourth straight year in the first round, although there would be no dishonor in losing to a team fronting Clemens-Oswalt-Pettite as its playoff rotation.

Wall to wall college football

At least that's what this weekend would have been for me, absent the first of two inconveniently scheduled weddings in the Northeast on my September docket. On the bright side, the wife and I did get to play the "count the passed-out drug addicts and disoriented-looking senior citizens on the Atlantic City boardwalk" game. We also got to watch the world's oldest profession at work later that night, although not too close for comfort, thank you very much. With that incoherent lead-in, here are my thoughts on the weekend:

It goes without saying that Georgia looked great, as we said they would this summer. (Incidentally, HeismanPundit has now taken the position that if he would have known that Jared Zabransky would turn the ball over six times in a half, he wouldn't have picked them. That's helpful. I would have taken Wisconsin over Bowling Green if I would have known that Wisconsin was going to score more point than BGSU. I hope to get to his rebuttal in greater detail, but the short version is that he doesn't understand what is most important in college football and what makes his own beloved Trojans a national title team: defense. I'm also looking forward to addressing his argument that ACC teams are exposed to sophisticated offenses, but SEC teams are not. Maybe he hasn't had a TV over the past two nights?)

My first thought is that Georgia fans should not get carried away. We didn't learn that much about the Georgia offense on Saturday, other than that they can dominate a team that can't stop anyone on the road. Georgia fans were rightly confident going into the game after looking at Boise's defensive record from last year, but that record limits the deductions we can draw from a 48-point outburst. We did learn that D.J. Shockley is fairly accurate when he has time and that Georgia is going to spread the ball out among its receivers this year, which will make them harder to defend.

We did learn a lot about the Georgia defense, namely that they are still great hitters even with Brian VanGorder plying his trade in Jacksonville. I've only watched the first half of the game tape, but the number of great hits by Georgia defenders was outstanding. The Georgia defensive line controlled their theater, which allowed the back seven to ignore the play-action fakes that are the basis of the Boise State offense and drop into deep zones. Jared Zabransky was clearly flummoxed by the athleticism of the Georgia linebackers in coverage, which is not surprising since WAC defenders aren't exactly on the same level. I'd also be willing to bet that Zabransky was thrown off-kilter by 1) the crowd noise and 2) the hits he took from the outset. Again, this was all new to him.

Somewhat surprisingly, Georgia Tech also looked very good in dispatching Auburn. I said before the game that the team that scored the first touchdown would win and that turned out to be right, although there was more offense in the first half than I expected there would be. The second half played out like I thought the entire game would: the trailing team was forced to take risks offensively and ended up making mistakes that killed them. Georgia Tech has a very good defense and Brandon Cox trying to lead his team from behind against that unit, especially with no semblance of a running game to take the pressure off, was always going to be a losing proposition. Reggie Ball looked pretty good, although he did have a running game to help him and 4.8 yards per attempt is nothing to get too excited about. That said, he only threw one pick, which means that he controlled his bete noire for at least one night.

Speaking of HeismanPundit, I was thinking about him over the past couple nights watching ACC offenses attempt to gum one another to death like denture-less senior citizens in heat. Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech are the conference favorites and they combined for 715 yards of offense, although the quality of the defensive opposition has to be taken into account. Miami looks like the most likely of the three to have a decent offense by the end of the year, based on the facts that Kyle Wright got better and better as the game went on, Tyrone Moss gave them a reasonable running threat until he cramped up, and they have two quality receiving threats in Ryan Moore and Greg Olson. That said, their offensive line was completely dominated last night. Florida State consistently got pressure with three- and four-man rushes and when FSU actually brought more than that, rushers were getting free shots at Wright. The communication between the Miami linemen was abysmal.

Speaking of abysmal, Florida State fans are probably happy that they got the Miami monkey off their backs (and to do so on botched field goals must have been especially sweet,) but they can't feel confident that Jeff Bowden has figured out what ails his offense. The Noles had absolutely no passing game other than the screen passes that they ran successfully to their running backs, the only strong suit of their offense. What's worse, Gary Danielson kept saying that Miami was bringing their safeties up and pressing the FSU wide receivers, but the Noles never took any shots down the field. Given that they were punting on every possession anyway, what would have been bad about an interception that functions as a 40-yard punt? And the Noles would have completed a downfield pass eventually, which would have given them more offense than they had otherwise and would have backed the Miami safeties off. Instead, FSU kept trying short passes that were low reward. I didn't see anything last night to make me think that FSU is better than an 8-3 team. No matter how good their front seven is, they will eventually play a team that has a competent long-snapper and/or exploits their shaky tight corner.

And then we come to Virginia Tech. From the post-game coverage, you would have thought that Marcus Vick played like his brother for a night. You wouldn't know that Lil' Vick averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt and 2.4 yards per carry. He had a couple great runs and a couple beautiful throws, but, like his brother last year, he was wildly inconsistent. (And speaking of his brother, the HateVick crowd got a little boost on Sunday night by ESPN's continued love-in with him. Big Vick was on camera more than the players themselves were, as if seeing him eat fries or react to a three-yard run is a matter of national security. We all knew that Patrick, Theismann, and Maguire all want to have Vick's babies, but who knew that they also work as producers for ESPN's college football coverage.) Tech does have a fairly decent running game, but Vick right now is the anti-Randall: occasionally brilliant, but not the guy who's going to throw an accurate pass on third and five to move the chains.

Fortunately for the Hokies, they were playing self-destructomatic N.C. State, who killed themselves like they've been doing for years. The wife and I played the "guess when N.C. State gets their first personal foul" game and she won because she took the first quarter and I foolishly thought they would wait 15 minutes. After two personal fouls and a third false alarm, I left with my tail between my legs. Just like Florida State fans with their inept offense and Michigan fans with their underperforming defense, N.C. State fans have to be discouraged that their team lost games last year because of penalties and there was apparently no effort to correct this problem in the off-season. It's unbelievable to me that the Wolfpack kill themselves repeatedly and yet Chuck Amato still refuses to get onto his players for committing stupid penalties. At most major programs, the coach would curse at and then bench a player who commits a 15-yard penalty. At N.C. State, you apparently get a helmet sticker for doing so.

And lets go back to the media criticism for a second. I'd like to keep a list of media gems from this year. Here's what I have from this weekend:

1. Mark Jones refers to the weather in Madison as "irradiant," which, like "irregardless," is not a word, unless he means that Madison was being treated with radiation at the time.

2. Thanks to ABC for refusing to switch from the latter stages of Notre Dame's annihilation of Pitt to the finish of the weekend at Clemson. Charlie Weis is so damned sexy and we really needed all those additional shots of him looking constipated as his team returned to glory.

3. The crew doing the N.C. State-Virginia Tech game saw fit to remind us that Chuck Amato understands the importance of recruiting in Florida. That must be why he's in Mensa! Where else is he going to get players who can get personal fouls while putting on their pads before the game?

4. Do we really need sideline reporters to tell us that the bench is excited after their team scores a touchdown?

5. Nick Lachey on Gameday? Really? What college football fan takes him seriously or views him as anything more than the guy who rolls his eyes at his wife every time she says something stupid. And did they really call him a "life-long USC fan"? He grew up in Ohio, for G-d sakes. Now I trust him even less.

And the king of media idiocy goes to our old friend Terrence Moore, who has deduced that wearing a David Greene jersey makes the wearer racist. Who knew that Terrence is a post-modern deconstructionist who can find racist power relationships in jersey choices? I hesitate to link to this column because doing so serves the interest of a true huckster, but you need to read this column to get its full magnificence.

And for more media idiocy, here is my overrated list that ran on CFN on Thursday and here are some nice words from the Boston Herald about it. I take back everything I've ever said about Mass Holes.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

SI likes the Ted

Sports Illustrated did a reasonably interesting ranking of major league ballparks and ranked the Ted fifth in the majors, which I suppose is fitting since the Braves are probably about 5th in the majors right now, as well. It's interesting to hear an outsider come to a game and make the same observations that I and countless others have made about the park: terrible neighborhood, occasional traffic problems, relatively blase fans, but reasonably priced with good amenities and, most importantly, a terrific product on the field.

The only beef I have with the rankings is that they gave a low score to the neighborhood around Camden Yards, which is a load of crap because, as the author admits, a fan can follow the crowds three blocks to the Inner Harbor and have a host of eating and drinking options. I've always wished that the Ted would have been integrated into a cooler neighborhood and have held Camden Yards and Coors Field out as the archetypes, although I'm not sure what that neighborhood would have been. Maybe in between the Georgia Dome and downtown (assuming that downtown ever develops some nightlife)? It would have been neat to build the stadium on the old site of Ponce De Leon Park, but there would be no freeway access from that point and MARTA doesn't go there, so the hordes from Cobb and Gwinnett, who make up a plurality of the Braves' fan base, would come to games with less frequency.