Tuesday, November 29, 2005


And I'm loving every minute of it. Click here, but only if you don't mind snorting with laughter at your cubicle.

The highlights:

"Stephen A. Smith. Mark Shapiro, the prime mover behind Sportstainment! and former head of ESPN, said he just HAD to hire Smith after every focus group detested his ass. Well, there you go."

"Speaking of songs that suck…Big and Rich have made their way onto our Orbital Death Ray list, along with Mark Shapiro. For a long time college football existed as a fiefdom apart from the Sportstainmenttastic! world of ESPN–pleasantly stodgy, frills-free coverage of a sport that allowed you to soak in the atmosphere of each game through the screen. Now we have Nick Lachey interviewing people and Big and Rich suggesting that we need more Ying with our Ying Yang. Two old pieces of redneck jerky–including one who one of our readers pointed out, bears a striking resemblance to Phyllis Diller–who were pulled out of a hat at random by marketing schmucks in New York who were like, “Okay, people. Red state sport—we need us some edgy country!” Total, horrid, absolute fecality soiling the last show we watch on the network. We’re coming…and we’re shit-tayyy!!!"

"Ron Jaworski’s backseat role. His explanation of schemes and coverages is pure, elegant analysis. So he’s forced to do it at 11:30 with a concussed madman and a very cute lesbian. That’s a push, we suppose."

"Woody Paige. In our hometown, this guy cleaned your septic tank. On ESPN, he’s an 'expert.'"

"Lou Holtz. You have a speech defect, and should not make a living talking on television. Oh, and you’re a cheater. Would be entertaining only if they made him speak from behind his own salad bar shield; we’re guessing it would look like those shots of cobras striking at people behind plexiglass in zoos, with spit flying in gobs all over the surface."

"Mike Lupica. Only makes two statements a year about college football, both atrociously wrong and dumb. Abrasive without insight. We’d say he represents the worst of Northeastern sportswriting, but Dan Shaughnessy still breathes in Boston."

Evidently, the column has touched a nerve, since there have been over 50 comments in a matter of hours.

I was just thinking about the complete decline of the network this morning as I turned on SportsCenter while packing my gym bag, foolishly thinking that there would be highlights on the show, and instead being treated to a heart-to-heart between Andrea Kremer and the totally underexposed Tedy Bruschi. Didn't ESPN have a Sunday Night Conversation with him shortly after his return from his stroke? And haven't they thought to convene focus groups to reach the obvious conclusion that interviews with athletes are, with very few exceptions, completely useless?

And then this morning, when I did my quick scan of ESPN.com's college football page, it occurred to me that I don't read any of the writers there other than Bruce Feldman and his blog is behind the Insider wall. The featured column was by Craig James, helpfully telling USC and Texas that they can't look ahead to the Rose Bowl when they have games this weekend. (In a related note, Earth revolves around the Sun.) I used to read Ivan Maisel, but his columns rarely provide me with any information that I couldn't get from watching a game and/or looking at the box score afterwards. He's also an apologist for just about everyone. For instance, check out this gem from today's Three Point Stance:

"O.K., Bobby Bowden isn't going to fire Jeff. But the Florida State legend and his son the offensive coordinator are in a no-win situation. Injuries on the line and general inexperience have hampered the Seminoles' offense. But as long as Jeff stays, Bobby won't be the loyal head coach. He'll be the daddy protecting his son."

Yes, let's blame injuries and inexperience for the fact that the Noles' offenses for the past two years have been putrid. Note to Ivan: FSU didn't have any more injuries on offense than most teams in college football this year and their insane amount of talent ought to compensate for inexperience. (It's funny how young teams with good offensive coordinators like Auburn don't suck on offense.) And their offense was even worse in 2004 with a four-year starter at QB, seniors on the offensive line, and two stud juniors in the backfield. But still Ivan argues that it's the perception of Bobby protecting his son, rather than the fact that his son gets lousy results, that presents a problem. If only us impetuous fans wouldn't demand results from coaches.

My Top 25 and Assorted Notes

1. Texas
2. Southern Cal
3. Louisiana State
4. Penn State
5. Virginia Tech
6. Ohio State
7. Miami (Florida)
8. Auburn
9. Oregon
10. Notre Dame
11. West Virginia
12. Georgia
13. UCLA
14. Alabama
15. TCU
16. Texas Tech
17. Georgia Tech
18. Iowa
19. Michigan
20. Louisville
21. Florida
22. Boston College
23. Oklahoma
24. Wisconsin
25. Fresno State

Not too many changes. I thought about dropping Texas behind USC for struggling with Texas A&M, but I'm willing to cut the Horns some slack because it was a rivalry game and A&M probably played their best game of the season on Friday. Plus, USC's close call against Fresno State doesn't look so good after the Bulldogs laid an egg against mighty Nevada. For the same reason, I docked Oregon because their one quality win took a hit with the result in...I'm too lazy to look up where the University of Nevada is located. I came close to dropping LSU behind Penn State for their tepid showing against Arkansas, but decided that it isn't worth the effort, since LSU will either prove their merit on Saturday night and solidify the #3 rankings or they'll lose and make the whole issue academic.

I gave Georgia and West Virginia slight bumps for good wins in rivalry games. Upon reflection, there isn't much separating West Virginia and Oregon. USC is a little better than Virginia Tech, but WVU was more competitive with the Hokies than Oregon was with the Trojans. WVU's win over Louisville is as good as any of Oregon's wins. The competition in the Pac Ten on a weekly basis is better than that of the Big East, but keep in mind that Oregon didn't play UCLA.

A couple other thoughts:

1. Remember when everyone was in love with the MAC in 2003 and claiming that the gap between it and the Big Ten was shrinking? The MAC title game this weekend pits 7-4 Northern Illinois and 6-5 Akron against one another. And that's my farewell to Thursday night football for the season?

2. And remember Ivan Maisel and others lamenting last year that they wished that college football would return to the old bowl system? How would the storylines be different this year if USC was preparing for Penn State in the Rose Bowl and Texas was preparing for Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl? Think there might be a little controversy if two teams demonstrated that they are clearly the cream of the crop in college football over a three-month regular season and then never got to play one another? For as much heat as the BCS takes, it's better than its predecessors.

3. You think that Florida might mention to recruits deciding between them and Florida State the following quote from Seminole wide receiver Fred Rouse about Urban Meyer:

"I can't believe that man recruited me as hard as he did, and I dissed him. I regret it now."

It has mystified me for some time that Florida State has continued to recruit excellent offensive players despite the fact that their offense hasn't been good since Mark Richt left. For instance, how did Antone Smith decide to head to Tallahassee when the Noles had spent the previous three years wasting Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker? Does FSU really pay that well? Are FAMU girls really that hot?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ridiculously Early Prediction

South Carolina vs. Auburn in the 2006 SEC Championship Game.

Conference Title Games Suck

Stewart Mandel, not exactly doing the bidding of ABC or CBS by dismissing this weekend's games as piffle, points out that the games this weekend are mostly superfluous. Florida State does not deserve a 60-minute shot to make up for the fact that they finished two games behind Virginia Tech in an eight-game schedule. Colorado deserves another shot at Texas even less, since they finished three games behind the Horns in the Big XII and were pantsed in Austin. I'll even go a step further and say that Georgia does not deserve a shot at LSU, since they finished with an inferior record to the Tigers and missed Alabama, the fourth place team in the conference.

Anyway, this, plus an e-mail from die-hard playoff advocate Ben, who equivocated his way out of the obvious conclusion that the same thing that makes a 16-team playoff bad - reducing the importance of the regular season - also makes conference title games bad, got me to thinking. (Cue Carrie Bradshaw internal monologue while looking at my laptop in a "what does it all mean?" fashion.) Has the SEC Title Game ever mattered? Here are the results of the games, along with the participant's records in league play:

'04 - 8-0 Auburn beats 7-1 UT on the road in the regular season, then beats them again.

'03 - 7-1 LSU beats 6-2 Georgia after having already beaten them during the regular season.

'02 - 7-1 Georgia beats a vastly inferior 5-3 Arkansas team.

'01 - A travesty for those of us who like the regular season; 5-3 LSU beats a 7-1 Tennessee team that had already beaten LSU during the season. The third best team in the league wins the conference title and deprives Tennessee of a deserved shot at unbeaten Miami.

'00 - 7-1 Florida buries 6-2 Auburn for the second time that season.

'99 - 7-1 Alabama beats 7-1 Florida for the second time that season.

'98 - 8-0 Tennessee beats 6-2 Miss. State team.

'97 - 7-1 Tennessee beats 6-2 Auburn.

'96 - 8-0 Florida beats 6-2 Alabama.

'95 - 8-0 Florida beats 6-2 Arkansas.

'94 - 7-1 Florida beats 8-0 Alabama.

'93 - 7-1 Florida beats 5-2-1 Alabama.

'92 - 8-0 Alabama beats 6-2 Florida.

In 11 of 13 SEC Championship Games, the team that would have won the regular season title also won the Championship Game. In short, those games were superfluous, other than to give a shot in the arm to the Atlanta (or, for two years, Birmingham) economy. In the other two instances, a team that should not have received a second shot got one and made the most of it. The '94 result I can live with because Florida and Alabama were so close to one another as teams. The '01 result made a mockery of the regular season.

When the SEC Championship Game was dreamed up by Roy Kramer in the few waking hours that he wasn't collaborating with Phil Fulmer and the Council on Foreign Relations to destroy Alabama's football program, the dream scenario was two great teams ploughing through their divisions and then meeting for the first time in Atlanta. That hasn't happened in 13 years. (Interestingly, that has happened on a number of occasions in the Big Ten, namely '95 and '96 when Ohio State and Northwestern didn't meet, '98 when Wisconsin and Ohio State didn't meet, and '02 when Ohio State and Iowa didn't meet.) I could see the game being meaningful if a team had the best record because of an easy schedule in the conference and the second best team, having played a tougher schedule, deserved a chance to even the score, but that hasn't happened, either.

In the end, complaining about the SEC Championship Game is like complaining that Auburn isn't being considered for a Fiesta Bowl spot in place of two teams with the same record and similar or inferior schedules. It's a waste of breath because money talks and bullshit walks. Still, keep my bullshit in mind when you're watching the game this weekend. (Oh, and the fact that the team with the better conference record has won ten out of 12 times [Alabama-Florida in '99 was the only time that the two participants came into the game with equal records] does not bode well for Georgia, so keep that in mind, as well.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005


That's the best word to describe the two offenses that met last night at historic Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium near Bobby Cremins Court at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald's Center. (Did I get everything right there?) Mark Richt and Chan Gailey seemed to execute their own private Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, only instead of dividing up Poland and agreeing to a short-lived non-aggression agreement, they were agreeing not to try too hard to score on one another. Fortunately for Dawg fans, Thomas Flowers executed his own Operation Barbarossa by single-handedly changing field position and giving Richt the platform to do what he should have been doing regularly all game: play-action passes down the field.

I may not have a sterling resume of coaching offensive football like Richt does (or even any experience coaching anything other than a PlayStation dynasty,) but I have watched enough football to know that when a defense is blitzing on just about every play and is concurrently taking away your running game, the response ought to be a lightning aerial assault over London, er, to the receivers down the field. Georgia reminded me of a basketball team that is being pressed full-court by an opponent, but refuses to attack the basket after breaking the press. And Georgia's decision not to attack deep is even more perplexing, given the presence of Leonard Pope, who is simply too big for any Tech defender to cover down the field.

Two points in Richt's defense: (1) he was probably worried about protecting Shockley long enough to let his receivers get down the field and also that Georgia would lose the game because of Shockley getting blind-sided while throwing the ball; and (2) on TV, I couldn't tell whether Tech was blitzing with zone coverage behind, so it's possible that the Jackets were taking away deep throws and betting that their pressure would deprive Shockley of the time to find the openings in the 10-20 yard range. Regarding the first point, play action on first down would have been the right solution, because the run fake would have slowed down Tech's rush long enough to let a receiver get down the field. Sure enough, that was what ultimately worked on the touchdown pass to Bryan McClendon. Regarding the second point, someone who went to the game will have to weigh in and let us know what coverage Tech was playing down the field.

Other thoughts:

1. If I were a Tech fan, this rationalization by Reggie Ball on the final interception would drive me crazy: "It was a great play by a great player. He guessed right, and there is nothing you can really do about it." Reggie, the funny thing is that a quarterback is supposed to, you know, think before throwing the ball. And when a corner is sitting on a short route, then that ought to trigger a "I shouldn't throw this ball" response in said quarterback's mind. Perhaps you might not have a career 36/39 touchdown to interception ratio if you exercised all those synapses that G-d gave you. Ball's carelessness with the rock is the reason why I don't criticize Chan Gailey's conservatism like I do Mark Richt's. Gailey needed to worry more about turnovers because of the quarterback who would be throwing the ball down the field. Additionally, Georgia was only rushing 3-4 defenders on most passing downs, which meant that Ball would have had fewer options down the field and interceptions would have been more likely. This is also why the criticism of "why didn't you go down the field more to Calvin Johnson" is somewhat misplaced. Gailey doesn't have the right guy to make those throws and Georgia played so much two-deep zone that the deep throws weren't a great idea. All that said, Gailey can be criticized for hitching his star to Reggie Ball and I suspect that a more creative offensive coach would have figured out ways to get his stud receiver more than two touches.

2. In the late 90s, Tech had a defensive head coach and a brilliant offensive coordinator. The defenses sucked, but the offenses got the Jackets to bowl games. The last few years of the Gailey regime have been the exact opposite. Gailey, like George O'Leary, apparently doesn't know his own alleged area of expertise very well. (O'Leary, however, wasn't the defensive coordinator, so he bears less blame than Gailey.) Gailey's success has been the result of a great defensive coordinator, John Tenuta, just as O'Leary's success was the result of Ralph Friedgen's offenses. If some defense-poor superpower lures Tenuta away (paging Dennis Franchione!), Gailey is going to be in a world of trouble.

3. Another thought on Tech: they, like Alabama, have a defense-heavy team that needed to be paired with great punting teams to be successful. Alabama was never really punished for this failing, but Tech was thoroughly punished last night by their comparative inability to run punts back for more than three yards. Their best hope was to survive into overtime, when the punting game would have become irrelevant, but the second half was simply too long.

4. In the second half, excluding their possession after the Jennings interception, Georgia ran on seven of eight first downs. Those seven first down runs netted a grand total of nine yards. Did we get a little too conservative there, Coach Richt? Were you really that confident that Tech would not be able to score on your defense that you could afford to hamstring your offense in that way? In contrast, Richt had a good balance between running and passing on first down in the first half. Excluding the drive at the end of the half and first and goal from the two, Georgia ran on only six of 15 first downs and it probably isn't a coincidence that their running game was much more effective when it was predictable; those six first down runs netted 37 yards.

5. This picture illustrates what a perfect throw D.J. Shockley made for the winning touchdown. For all the credit I want to give to Mark Richt for finally calling the play that Tech's defense demanded, it was still players winning the game for the Dawgs. Bear Bryant would be so proud of another illustration of his "you win with players" philosophy.

6. This Georgia offensive line has been nothing short of a disappointment this year. Stocked exclusively with seniors and juniors and headlined by the best guard in college football, they haven't been able to run the ball on good defenses all year and last night was no different. 68 yards rushing on 30 carries. Yes, the sacks deflate those numbers a little, but still...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

2-9, Baby!!!

Now's the part of the Hawks' season where I get carried away and start projecting fields of glory ahead. Three days ago, the Hawks were the only winless team in the NBA. Now, they're on their first two-game winning streak since Spring 2004 and they have a good chance to make it three against Portland on Sunday, a team that they very nearly beat on the road during their terrible start. On the other hand, this quote from Josh Childress (combined with the fact that Ron Artest didn't play last night) should discourage us from reading too much into the win:

"You could tell they weren't playing with any energy tonight. It almost looked like they didn't want to play today."

Also, I was wondering if the Hawks beat any competent opponents on the road last year and was reminded that they beat Detroit 88-72 in Auburn Hills on December 10, a win that didn't exactly say much about the Pistons, who made it to Game Seven of the NBA Finals, or about the Hawks, who went 9-54 the rest of the year. It's a long season and a couple games aren't ever going to tell us much. That said, here are some observations of the team 11 games in:

1. Josh Childress might be this team's Rafael Furcal. The turnaround (if it can be called that) has tracked Childress' improved play after being yanked from the starting lineup. On Wednesday night, he had ten points on seven shots, but more importantly, he played excellent defense on Ricky Davis in the second half. Credit Mike Woodson for a little psychological ploy. He ran a couple plays for Childress to get him dunks, using Childress' good cutting away from the ball and nice passing from Zaza. Those plays got Childress into the flow of the game and he rewarded Woodson with his best game of the year. Last night, Childress had 14 points on eight shots and added 13 rebounds. The major question this year would be who would step up as a third option along with Joe Johnson and Al Harrington. Childress hasn't shown the offensive skills yet to do so, but his rebounding and defense are encouraging and he's a good target around the basket when his teammates can find him.

2. Among their numerous weaknesses, the Hawks' biggest bugaboo coming into the year was supposed to be their lack of true power forwards and competent centers, but surprisingly enough, rebounding has not been a major problem. In fact, the Hawks have a positive rebounding differential, largely because they're fourth in the league in offensive rebounding differential. The other weakness was the lack of a true point guard and that has been borne out, as only the Knicks have a worse assist/turnover ratio. That said, Salim Stoudamire might be the solution at the position. He leads the Hawks in plus/minus ratio by a wide margin and the team is significantly better statistically on offense and defense when Salim is on the court. (That's consistent with my observation that Tyronne Lue simply can't play defense. Not surprisingly, opponents shoot much better when Tyronne is on the court.) Whether that's the result of Salim getting to play against back-up point guards remains to be seen and I suspect that we're going to find out sooner rather than later because Woodson is surely going to start him in the near future. Salim doesn't play like a true point guard, so Joe Johnson will do much of the ball handling, but Salim makes the offense much more dangerous because of his offensive ability and his defense has been surprisingly good.

3. Speaking of Salim, I shocked the poor unsuspecting father and son sitting in front of me and Andrea at the game on Wednesday night with a verbal fusillade at a referee for calling a charge on Stoudamire after Salim had scored to put the Hawks up by five late. In my defense, I didn't swear, unless you consider "WE HAVE ENOUGH GOING AGAINST US AND DON'T NEED YOU TO SCREW US!!! WE'RE 0-9 FOR G-D SAKES!!!" to be profane. Also in my defense, it was a truly terrible call that kept the Celtics in the game, a Battier special where the defender "set" under Stoudamire after he had taken off.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Totally Forgettable Thanksgiving Game

Normally, after watching a Falcons game from start to finish, I have all sorts of pithy, "look at how smart I am!" observations on the team, but nothing really jumps out at me after a humdrum beating of the hapless Detroit Lions. The game was the equivalent of your average Georgia-Directional School game; the team looked very good, but how much can you really tell against an opponent as bad as Detroit? Vick played very well, but his season will be judged by how he performs against the better defenses remaining on the schedule, namely Carolina (2x) and Chicago. The running game looked good, but I got the sense that Detroit's defense gave up at some point in the second quarter when they realized that their passing game was completely hapless against a beatable secondary. The defensive line got pressure regularly, which was also nice to see.

And why does Detroit suck? It's fun to point at Joey Harrington and say "there's the bad guy," but his receivers really struck me as the major problem. I've never seen a game where a team surrenders two interceptions where the receivers break off routes short and the quarterback hoofs the ball deep. I'm guess that that's on the receivers. The Detroit wide-outs dropped passes on a regular basis, thus killing their team's efforts to string together long drives. The West Coast Offense requires good receivers because it emphasizes catching short passes and then turning those short passes into long gains. If the receivers are running the wrong routes and dropping the ball, then a WCO team is never going to be able to sustain drives. Also, the Lions have spent so much in terms of draft picks and cap space on their receivers that they ought to be a strength, rather than a weakness. I thought that Rogers and the Williams twins were all good draft picks, so maybe inept coaching is keeping them down, but right now, they look like the Three Amigos of Bustville.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

So Billy and I were discussing the Hawks' defensive issues...

Last night was "Rookie Season Ticket Holder Camp" at Philips Arena, so my friend Daniel and I, imbued by the promise of free dinner, attended. The evening featured an opening talk by Billy Knight, who assured us that we should not worry about the Hawks' 0-9 record (something tells me that, in his heart of hearts, Billy is not quite so confident,) and then a tour of the arena. After the talk, I cornered Billy to ask him about the Hawks' defensive issues. After stroking my ego by saying that my concerns about the inability of the Hawks' perimeter defenders from keeping the ball out of the lane were exactly what Mike Woodson had been harping on to the team, he explained that in the NBA, penetration is to be expected and that the key to defense is the four players away from the ball helping out and knowing their roles. Billy went on to say that our team is struggling because players are not performing their roles on defense and this is why young teams never win in the NBA. As the team plays together more and more and they learn how to function as a unit, they ought to play better defense. All valid points, I thought. I wanted to then ask about Kevin Garnett and whether Knight would consider taking a rebuilding shortcut by acquiring him, but the line of people behind me led me to believe that this would not be a good idea.

Knight comes across as a really nice guy. He also has a sense of humor. On one occasion, he mentioned the three tight losses that the Hawks have had in their 0-9 start and that they won't lose in the same ways again. "We might find new ways to lose, but we won't lose that way." He also said that he looks at every guy on the street who's taller than him (Billy is probably 6'10; he's definitely taller than Marvin Williams) and tries to decide whether that guy can help the Hawks in the middle. I resisted the urge to ask if that was how we came to acquire John Edwards. I also resisted the urge to tell him that if he gives up looking for size and instead opts for short and Jewish, then I'm his guy.

Knight was also fairly honest. He said that Tyronne Lue has had to play a lot because Josh Childress is struggling and they haven't been able to play Childress and Joe Johnson together. He said that Tony Delk isn't going to play much of a role because he's redundant with Salim Stoudemire. He said that New York has called to ask about Al Harrington and he doesn't want to make a deal with them because they have nothing he really wants (or more precisely, they weren't offering anything he really wants, because I'd have to imagine that he'd be interested in a Harrington for Channing Frye deal.)

Marvin Williams and Salim Stoudemire were also present last night and both seemed like friendly, out-going guys who weren't bothered by mingling with the fans. Daniel, a huge Carolina fan (and for the purpose of this blog, "Carolina" refers to the University of North Carolina, the Carolina that has actually won things in its history,) talked to Marvin for a while about the Heels and the need for the Hawks to involve him more in the offense. I tried to think about some kind of angle to discuss with either Marvin or Salim, but since my alma mater has ceased playing competitive basketball, there wasn't much to go on. ("Hey Salim, I saw your cousin torch Michigan at the Palace at Auburn Hills in November 1994.") Anyway, I think the Hawks have assembled some fairly rootable personalities, which will help if and when the team starts winning.

The Hawks being the Hawks, they had to screw something up and last night, they ran out of food so roughly half the assembled crowd did not get their free dinner. (On the bright side, we now know where the terminated employees from FEMA have ended up.) They did have some height-challenged lackey running around apologizing, but the comedy of seeing a 5'4 man stand next to a 6'10 NBA general manager was not enough to fill my angry stomach. The fact that the arena tour started in the concessions area ("which the NBA has rated as the best in the league for options and price!") did not sate the starving barbarian hordes. Nor did the tour of the player's lounge, which has a buffet area so the team chef can get the young players to eat something other than the Meatnormous, make me any happier. I'm still waiting for my free dinner! (G-d, that last sentence might have forever defined me as an Ugly American.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rank 'em!

1. Texas
2. Southern Cal
3. Louisiana State
5. Penn State
5. Virginia Tech
6. Oregon
7. Ohio State
8. Miami (Florida)
9. Auburn
10. Notre Dame
11. Fresno State
12. UCLA
13. West Virginia
14. Georgia
15. Alabama
16. TCU
17. Georgia Tech
18. Texas Tech
19. Iowa
20. Michigan
21. Louisville
22. Oklahoma
23. Florida
24. Boston College
25. Colorado

USC surrendering 42 points to Fresno State convinced me of two things: (1) USC's defensive improvement is not all it's cracked up to be and I'm taking Texas over them in the Rose Bowl until I see differently from the Trojans; and (2) Fresno State is a very good team. As others have pointed out, their credentials are now almost as good as Notre Dame's, given that the best selling point for the Irish is the way they played against USC. I had a hard time deciding between LSU and Penn State for the #3 spot, but decided that LSU deserved a bounce because of their complete domination of an Ole Miss team in Oxford that had held their own defensively until Saturday. I came close to putting Virginia Tech ahead of Penn State for similar reasons, but I can't get the Hokies' domination at home at the hands of Miami out of my head. I bumped Auburn ahead of Notre Dame because the scalps they have claimed in the past two weeks are better than anything on the Irish's resume.

Oregon and Ohio State are very close to one another in my head. There is going to be major gnashing of teeth on the Left Coast if the Ducks get left out of the BCS at the hands of Ohio State. As usual, there'll be accusations of bias, followed by stony silence when someone points out that Ohio State is also ahead of Oregon in every single computer ranking used by the BCS. And the computers are forbidden from taking margin of victory into account, so Oregon's relatively narrow wins over Houston, Arizona, and Washington State don't even enter into the picture. As was the case in 2001, Oregon will (or ought to) be punished for not looking like a complete team in many of their games.

Imagine what would happen if Auburn-Alabama was a real rivalry like the Jets and Patriots?

Auburn and Alabama fans riot in a Buffalo Wild Wings. (Hat tip: Rammer Jammer.)

A few thoughts:

1. In contrast, the Michigan-Ohio State game was fairly civil this weekend. Ann Arbor was full of Buckeye fans in their garish red jerseys with excessively large digits and I didn't see anybody getting out of hand. Heck, there were even drunken students from both schools sharing beers on State Street before the game. Is this good sportsmanship or further evidence of Michigan's decline as a program?

2. I highly recommend Buffalo Wild Wings' Spicy BBQ sauce. Maybe you won't get to consume it while watching Charlottesville townies dancing to "Funky Cold Medina," but you'll enjoy it all the same. And speaking of Charlottesville wing establishments, the closest I ever came to seeing a bar riot like the one in Huntsville was for the '97 Ohio State-Penn State game. I went to Damon's, the Place for Ribs (which is such a misleading title for those of us who don't dig on swine,) to watch the Georgia-Tennessee game (the infamous game where Donnan and Fulmer got into a shouting match after the game,) and the Ohio State and Penn State contingents in the bar were getting so raucous and in one another's faces that even the SEC fans present were muttering "those people are crazy." When SEC fans think you're taking things a little too seriously, it's time for a Percoset.

Monday, November 21, 2005

One of the Damndest Images You'll Ever See

Imagine that D.J. Shockley plays so well this weekend that Georgia Tech fans applaud him as he leaves the field. Now imagine that the context for the Tech-Georgia game was that a governor of Georgia refused to let Tech fans wear Star Trek gear for decades and they only way they could express their geekdom was at Tech football games. (Sorry, that was a gratuitous jab, but I'm feeling punchy.) Throw in a few executions of prominent Techies by said governor and you have the context for the Real-Barca rivalry and consequently, the import of Real fans giving Barca star Ronaldinho a standing ovation for ripping their team to shreds. (I know I'm conflating the analogy a little, since Barca fans are the ones who claim the mantle of oppression, but Real fans were the ones applauding Ronaldinho. Just be nice and play along.)

Soccernet's Phil Ball describes the import of Saturday night in Madrid. If only those level-headed Spaniards with their lukewarm commitment to soccer could go to Lincoln Financial Field and discover real passion.

Righteous Anger for Me, but Not for Thee

Fittingly enough, mere days after writing that Tech fans shouldn't be too negative towards their B/B+ coach, I was reduced to a fit of righteous anger after Michigan blew a nine-point lead in the final 7:40 against Ohio State and the replay board conveniently showed shots of Lloyd Carr. Lloyd has too many strengths to be anything below a B/B+ coach, namely the facts that he recruits well (although this year is shaping up to be an exception, in large part because Charlie Weis is kicking Michigan's rear in recruiting) and gets good results on the field (.755 winning percentage) without embarrassing the school's good name. That said, it's incredibly maddening to see a coach make the same mistake over and over and over again. With Lloyd, he consistently overrates the importance of field position and clock when nursing a lead and has absolutely no empirical sense. To wit, as MGoBlog helpfully recounts, Michigan has been had a one-score lead in the fourth quarter on three occasions before Saturday and in every instance, they failed to score to take a two-score lead and then the defense could not protect the lead. Doing his best to have a Georgia Santayana moment, Lloyd repeated the past again, punting the ball to Ohio State and then presiding over a passive defensive strategy that worked about as well as Baghdad Bob's "They are a snake that is stretched over 500 km, we would like to stretch them even further and then start to chop them up." gem.

So anyway, to get back to Tech fans, the episode reminded me that it's easy to dismiss the emotions of other fans and say that they shouldn't get rid of a good, but not great coach, but it isn't so easy to do so when you're the one subjected to a situation where your arch-rival has a clearly superior coach and your decent coach is good enough to get you to a big game, but not good enough to win it. If Georgia beats Tech this weekend to drop Gailey to 0-4 against Tech's biggest rival, then Tech fans will be in the same position. I'll be a little more careful with the "know your place" lectures.

One other Atlanta parallel to my weekend in Ann Arbor: being a Braves fan prepared me well for this Michigan season. After the Braves' first few playoff losses, which were all excruciating defeats where one or two small plays would have made the difference, I came to grips with the fact that the Braves would let me down in the playoffs, typically because of their bullpens. That realization has made the past eight or so playoff defeats easier to take. I expect the bullpen to screw up, I expect a key player to come up empty in a short series, and I expect the Braves to lose and the infuriating "Buffalo Bills" analogy to be repeated. That has made Octobers a lot more liveable.

Similarly, I knew the game was lost when Garrett Rivas, the fifth Teletubby, waddled out onto the field for the inevitable pooch punt that would simply allow Troy Smith, certified Wolverine trapper, to pad his passing stats by an additional 22 yards. In a way, it's worse to know what fate is about to befall you like a condemned man. On the other hand, at least there was no surprise when the Buckeyes marched the length of the field and saved their season while casting their arch-rivals into a winter of discontent.

And an SEC parallel: someone at the Michigan athletic department needs to go to an SEC game to learn a thing or two about a dramatic entrance. Alabama's entry into Bryant-Denny Stadium is immediately preceded by a video montage incorporating highlights from their 637 claimed national titles (OK, it's only 12,) along with the audio of Bear Bryant warbling about being a winner. By the time the Tide are ready to charge from the tunnel, the crowd is whipped into a religious frenzy. Georgia has a similar entrance with Larry Munson providing the background audio. Michigan, on the other hand, simply shows up in the tunnel and run onto the field without any dramatic build-up. No audio of Bo Schembechler shouting "The Team! The Team! The Team!" No video of Anthony Carter scoring on the final play against Lee Corso's Indiana in 1979 while Bob Ufer had an orgasm in the press box or Charles Woodson's human exclamation point interception against Michigan State in 1997.

Anyway, it occurred to me that a good Blogpoll topic would be to include a table of contents for your program's video entrance onto the field, but a better topic would be to imagine that, like an MIT/CalTech prankster, you've gained access to your arch-rival's scoreboard and can insert the video montage of your choice for that team so that when they enter the field for their biggest game of the year, they're met with silence and befuddled faces. Anyway, for cathartic purposes, here's the montage for Ohio State for next year's Michigan game:


Woody Hayes attacking a cameraman during a Michigan-OSU game
Woody Hayes ripping a yard-marker to shreds
Woody Hayes punching Charlie Baumann
A still-shot of a smiling Maurice Clarett
A still-shot of a smiling Art Schlichter
A still-shot of Jeffrey Dahmer
A still-shot of Ohio State's all-time record against Michigan
John Cooper looking mopey in his effeminate white sweater at the end of the '96 Michigan-OSU game
Burning cars, circa 2002
The final five seconds of regulation of the 1992 NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional Final
The closing shot would be Charles Woodson, nodding with a rose in his teeth, on a continuous loop.


"My Heart Will Go On"

Try to picture in your head the Buckeyes charging onto the field after that montage. (This fantasy is what I'm reduced to because Michigan can't beat Ohio State anymore. It might be helpful for Tech fans on Saturday night around 11:30 p.m. The mental images of a disheveled Ray Goff could really be therapeutic.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What is Tech's Rightful Place in the World?

Georgia Tech football often struggles to make its presence felt in the Atlanta market because there are so many more fans of Georgia (and probably a number of other Southern schools) in the area and media attention typically reflects simple market factors. (This fact has caused me to come to grips with the fact that Notre Dame will get showered with attention every time they are semi-competent and that we're two weeks away from Charlie Weis' chef being on the cover of Cooking Light.) Georgia Tech AD Dave Braine remedied the lack of attention problem this week by making the startlingly candid observation that "Georgia Tech can win nine or 10 games [in a season,] but they will never do it consistently. That's my belief." You would have thought that he announced that all future Duke-Georgia Tech basketball games will be played in Durham and will be officiated by Dick Vitale, Alaa Abdelnaby, and Steve Wojosdbgfbgfj,h's mom. Tech fans have exploded on the air waves, complaining about low standards and excusing mediocrity. Do they have a point? Well, as a good leftist, I have to say that it's all shades of gray:

On the one hand, the argument by Tech fans that they are more historically successful than Georgia and should aspire to the same or greater standards is foolish. All those championships won way back when matter about as much as Army's do. And yes, Tech has won a national title more recently than Georgia, but let's be honest about that 1990 team. Florida State was not in the ACC yet, Georgia was extremely mediocre that year, and Tech lucked into playing Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl, a Nebraska team that was in the middle of a lengthy bowl-victory drought and was coming off of a 45-10 loss to a Gary Gibbs-coached Oklahoma team. (And what about the idea of crowning a national champion in the Citrus Bowl? Or a national champion's big win being over Virginia?) 1990 was a bizarro year in which all of the major powers knocked one another off and a team that played a minimum number of good opponents could sneak through the back door. Playoff advocates should use that year, along with 1984, in every argument they make to show that simply giving the title to an unbeaten team isn't always the right idea.

Tech has limitations as a program, as their fans no doubt know. Their academic standards for athletes are rigorous in comparison to many of the schools against which they compete, although Braine drastically overstates that case when he says that only Army and Notre Dame have it tougher. Their fan support isn't outstanding, which forces Tech to play tough out-of-conference opponents because they can't sell out when they don't get some help from the opponent. More importantly, to your average horny 17-year old trying to decide where to go to college, the fact that the place isn't exactly crawling with women doesn't help. (On the other hand, you're in the middle of Atlanta, which is about the best place in America if you're young, Black, and single. Take it from a guy who's 30, Jewish, and married.) Finally, Tech has to compete for recruits with Georgia, Clemson, Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina, all of which are within a three-hour drive of Atlanta. And when they recruit south Georgia, Tallahassee is a stone's throw away. Tech sits in a talent-rich region, but it isn't as if they can get all of the players that Georgia doesn't get and have a good program.

Given all of that, Braine's statement was probably correct, although it was politically stupid to say because he isn't going to change anyone's mind and, in the process, managed to demoralize the fan base whose wallets make his program function. More importantly, he almost certainly gave Gailey an extension for recruiting purposes, but by making the statement that Tech can't consistently win big, he's taken two steps back in that arena because every opposing coach is now going to tell a recruit considering Tech "we're trying to build something huge and you can be a part of that, but Georgia Tech, on the other hand..." Moreover, I hate to speak in cliches, but if Tech isn't aspiring to be on the level of Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Miami, then isn't it more likely that they'll fall well short of their goal?

And speaking of the Hokies, one of the arguments made by Braine critics is that Virginia Tech was a nothing program until Frank Beamer turned it into the behemoth that it is today, and if the Hokies can ascend, then why can't the Jackets? That's all true, but Braine could use the Beamer example to support his position by pointing out that Beamer was unsuccessful for years at Virginia Tech, but the administration there were patient with him and that patience has been repaid with Sugar Bowl trips, visits from Gameday, and eyesore Orange sleeves. One might also point out that Frank Beamers don't exactly grow on trees and by making a coaching change, Tech would be going for a 5% chance of landing the next Beamer, but the odds are significantly greater that they would land the next Curley Hallman or Bill Lewis, since there are a lot more of those flash in the pan types floating around. If Tech is confident that they can land the next Frank Beamer (or find the next Ralph Friedgen to run the offense,) then by all means, they should take the Nestea plunge and go for it. Just acknowledge that there are far worse fates than 7-5 against a tough schedule before taking that plunge.

By the way, Mark Bradley had a reasonably strong take on this issue here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Top 25

1. Texas
2. Southern Cal
3. Miami (Florida)
4. Louisiana State
5. Penn State
6. Virginia Tech
7. Oregon
8. Alabama
9. Ohio State
10. Notre Dame
11. Auburn
12. UCLA
13. West Virginia
14. Georgia
15. TCU
16. Michigan
17. Fresno State
18. South Carolina
19. Minnesota
20. Texas Tech
21. Louisville
22. Oklahoma
23. Florida
24. Wisconsin
25. Colorado

Not much to report here. USC's defense is showing signs of life, partly because their defending quarterbacks like completion-averse Joseph Ayoob (see, Tedford can't turn just any quarterback into a college star) instead of Brady Quinn, the subject of a really boring feature in SI last week. I also expected USC's defense to progress as the season went on and that's coming true. I'm starting to feel more comfortable taking them in the hypothetical Rose Bowl against Texas.

The Horns made mincemeat of Kansas in retaliation for Mangino's whining after last year's game (or possibly because Texas is much, much better.) Speaking of which, I pretty much watch the Sports Reporters to get angry about know-nothing Yankee sports columnists holding forth on their limited view of the world and last Sunday was no exception. (This Sunday, I was also procrastinating on a major brief, which meant that I was working until 11. Lawyer life rules!!!) Anyway, Bob Ryan, Mike Lupica, and Mitch Albom did little to disabuse the notion that they never watch college football games until the bowls, because they whined about Mack Brown kicking a field goal at the end of the first half to go up 52-0 (and acted as if he should have been worried that a bunch of hacks in NYC would be bitching about it the following morning) and then complained that, even though it looks like the BCS is going to avoid controversy this year, it would be great to see a playoff this year so Miami and Penn State could play USC and Texas.

On their first point, I fail to see how a team can be accused of running up the score IN THE FIRST HALF!!! And, as Jim Donnan helpfully put it after Spurrier stuck the knife in in the '98 Cocktail Party, it's the losing coach's job to keep the score down. On the second point, the (Northeast and pro sports obsessed) Sports Reporters illustrated why casual and hardcore college fans have different views on a playoff. For people like Ryan and Lupica who don't watch games until the bowls, they would love to be able to ignore the regular season and then cover an all-decisive playoff. For people who actually watch the entire season, a playoff cheapens what we've spent our whole fall analyzing. Personally, I like the plus-one concept because the sin of omitting an unbeaten Auburn team is worse than the sin of letting a one-loss Miami or Penn State get a second bite at the apple. However, in years like this where the college system appears like it's going to avoid a disaster, would it pain people to admit that the bowl system has merit? And if the BCS bowls also give us Penn State-Miami and Notre Dame-Alabama, how can we complain about that? In short, given that a bunch of sportswriters think that A-Rod's bowel movements are more important than the Alabama-LSU game, why should we care what they think about college football's playoff structure? (And why did I just devote 400 words to them?)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Sure this weekend had a lot of great football...

but imagine how great Florida-USC, Bama-LSU, and Auburn-Georgia would have been if they would have been a triple-header at the Meadowlands! One day, SEC football might be able to equal the passion of a bunch of mercenaries cheered on by fans wearing sweet hats like this, right Peter? We can only dare to dream. Anyway, on with the thoughts on this weekend:

1. ESDBS makes a great point on Urban Meyer: if you line his expected first-year record up against those of Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, or Bob Stoops, then he doesn't look so bad. His offense is very unique and it would stand to reason that it would take him a while to get it humming. On the other hand, there are two factors weighing against this defense:

a. Meyer inherited a ton of talent from his good recruiting, but bad everything elseing predecessor. It's not as if he was taking over the burning carcasses left by Gerry DiNardo or John Blake. It's possible that Zook's recruiting classes were overrated, it's possible that it takes at least a year to disinfect the Florida players from their creeping Zookism, or it's possible that Meyer is struggling despite a very talented roster.

b. Charlie Weis is 7-2 with a team that was 11-13 for the past two years. Steve Spurrier is 7-3 with a team that went 11-12 for the past two years. Weis got his job after Meyer passed on the Notre Dame job to head to Gainesville. Spurrier got his job after passing on the Florida job to take over in Columbia. Hence, Meyer will always be compared to those two. Right now, the comparison doesn't look good.

(And by the way, I loved the Axis & Allies reference. There were all sorts of pitched battles for all-important Karelia at the ol' homestead during high school. And yet I was mystefied that women didn't want to shag.)

2. There's just something dislikeable about Chris Leak. I can't put my finger on it, but he has that "Marino in the Twilight" ability to get way too bitchy at his own teammates when things aren't going well. He just doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who can turn things around when times are tough (and friends just can't be found.) Then again, when rallying, it helps to have pass plays in the playbook that go more than ten yards downfield. Or a hurry-up offense.

3. A Florida friend e-mailed me today with the following subject line: "hello from the depths of despair."

4. Going into the 4th quarter of the Alabama-LSU game, I uncontroversially pronounced that the only way that Alabama was going to win would be if they could dodge bullets until overtime and then hope for a turnover or a missed field goal from LSU. From LSU's last drive of the second quarter on, the Tigers were a markedly superior team on both sides of the ball. JaMarcus seems to be progressing fairly well. I wonder how Ryan "I'm coming to Baton Rouge to start this year" Perrilloux feels about that.

5. My friend Ben e-mailed today to ask if Bama fans would react differently to Brodie Croyle if he was Black. Personally, I agree with the inference that Croyle is overrated. Yes, his protection isn't very good and his receivers don't do much to help him out, but if I had a nickel over the past few weeks for every time Croyle missed an open receiver deep and then made the James Jackson face (those of you who watched Georgia in the mid-80s surely remember the oft-beleaguered James Jackson hoofing the ball 60 yards downfield and miles over everybody's head before looking back at the sideline, half disgusted and half wondering what went wrong,) I'd have enough to be a Greek shipping magnate (and that's when the fun begins.) On the other hand, Croyle doesn't turn the ball over much, so he's at least innocuous, kinda like his look-alike Ringo Starr. Anyway, I suspect that Bama fans would be very critical of a quarterback, White or Black, if he wasn't playing well. These are, after all, people who tend to place a high importance on winning (but not as much as Lou from Yonkers who wants to talk about the Giants' punt coverage.) The ameliorating factors for Bama fans are: (1) Croyle's Dad, who was a star for the Bear; and (2) Croyle's hype coming out of high school. Brodie also signed with the Tide in the aftermath of the disastrous 2000 season and stuck with the program through probation and a litany of coaches, so there's some loyalty credit there, as well.

6. I wish I knew how Bama's running game was so good in the first half and completely non-existent in the second stanza. They seemed to be onto something when they started running toss-sweeps and then I don't recall Bama sticking with those plays in the second half, but I may just be crazy.

7. This has probably been beaten to death, but what possible justification did Mark Richt have for not letting Auburn score once they had first and goal from the two with 90 seconds to go? If you let them score, then you have 90 seconds to drive down the field and score a touchdown. What are the odds of that in college football with the clock stopping after first downs, a hot quarterback, and a titanic tight end who cannot be single-covered and who would be an ideal target for an end-of-game jump ball? 20%? 25%? Now, what are the odds that Auburn fumbles the ball (especially when they're focused on keeping it,) misses a glorified PAT, or allows Georgia to score on a five-second drive? 1% each? How is it that both of Richt's biggest end-of-game boo-boos have occurred at home against Auburn?

8. On the long 4th and ten pass to Aromashodu, did anyone else have flashbacks to the '04 Tennessee game, where Tennessee scored on their opening drive because they converted two third and longs by getting Georgia safeties to blow assignments and leave receivers uncovered way down the field? Georgia seems to have problems with their safeties making bad decisions at critical times in zone coverage. And don't you think that Al Borges knew that when he dialed up the "Seamers" play from the one-back, three-wide formation in NCAA '06?

9. Some day, I'd like to do a college fight song version of "'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy," the book about famous ways that people have butchered rock lyrics. I'd have to start with my wife's version of the Auburn fight song. My indoctrination efforts have imparted some of the lyrics to her and she's taken the rest and run with it. From the woman who brought me "Hail, Hail to Michigan, the Champions of the World":

"War Eagle, fly down the field/always to conquer, never to yield/War Eagle, fearless and true/fight on, you orange and blue"

has become:

"War Eagle, fly down the field/put down your sword and pick up your shield/War Eagle, fearless and true/he's good to me and he's good to you"

Maybe you have to know Andrea to find this sort of lyrical butchering amusing. Her abuse of lyrics and foreign names (Pedro Stojakovic, Blobbity Divac, Hedo Turkogooloo...and that was just one night at Philips Arena) are a terrific source of comedy. Anyway, I can't stop laughing at the idea of the bird who's a friend to all or a team that sings about its commitment to disarmament.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Best Fark Thread Ever!!!

Click me!!! Some highlights:

And of course my favorite...


At this time every year, once the teams in the teams have played enough games to have a meaningful sample size (or at least meaningful in the statistical anomaly that is college football,) I like to take a gander through the SEC's stats to see what jumps out at me. So come along on my magic carpet ride...

1. I proclaimed Tennessee overrated before the season (along with Iowa, Ohio State, Georgia Tech [just wait three weeks,] and Florida State, thank you very much) because the Vols' pass defense was dreadful last year and they would have to progress a helluva long way to be national title caliber. Well, lost in the hubbub of the DroppedPassapalooza that has been the '05 Tennessee season, lo and behold, they're 8th in yards per attempt allowed and pass efficiency defense. So, as a further rejoinder to Stewart Mandel, Notre Dame being able to move the ball on the Vols isn't a commentary on the defenses of LSU, Georgia, Alabama, or Auburn because all of those defenses are better against the pass than Tennessee. The Vols have also intercepted a meager six passes. Only Vandy, Kentucky, and Ole Miss are worse in that category.

2. A pessimistic note on Alabama: if they're going to survive with a great defense and a pedestrian offense (and the O is going to have to get better this weekend to reach the lofty heights of pedestrian; right now, they're more roadkill,) they need to win the field position battle like the '02 Ohio State team did so adeptly. Unfortunately, the Tide are next to last in the SEC in net punting, with their beloved orange friends from Knoxville keeping them out of the basement. Something to chew on today as Skyler Green's plane lands in Alabama. LSU averages almost ten yards per punt return more than Alabama does; what does that portend if the game turns into an exchange of punts?

3. I said before the year that I expected that Blake Barnes would be starting by the end of the season for Georgia. Whoopsie. Blake isn't even the team's back-up, while D.J. Shockley has done so well that the Dawgs' passing offense ranks first in the conference in yards per attempt. (That stat is colored a little by the fact that Georgia doesn't play Ole Miss, Alabama, or LSU and they have yet to play Auburn.) My mental image of Shockley is always of him galloping away from the line of scrimmage, but he's quietly done a great job throwing the ball this year.

3a. What odds would I have gotten in the off-season that as of November 11, Ole Miss would have .3 yards per attempt more than Tennessee? 25 to 1? 100 to 1? My chances of seeing a Carolina Panther cheerleaders in the women's room show to 1?

4. For all the complaining that LSU fans have done about their defense, this weekend's game in Tuscaloosa matches the top two defenses in the conference in terms of yards per attempt allowed. LSU has also allowed the lowest completion percentage and intercepts a greater percentage of opposing passes than any other team in the SEC.

5. Pat Dye: "You have to run the ball to be able to win in this conference."

Arkansas (2-6 despite leading the league in yards per carry and rushing yards per game) and South Carolina (6-3 despite being last in the league in both categories): "Really?"

And South Carolina is even next-to-last in rushing yards allowed per game.

6. A study in contrasts: the LSU-Alabama game matches the two teams in the conference that allow the fewest yards per play, while the Auburn-Georgia game matches the two offenses that gain the most yards per play. More weirdness: LSU and Alabama are 3rd and 4th in yards gained per play, while Georgia and Auburn and 3rd and 4th in yards allowed per play. This is a long way of saying that the four best teams in the conference are playing this weekend. Sorry, Orson and Stranko. Wait a second, I just scrolled down to turnovers and noticed that Florida is +17, leading the league both in turnovers forced and fewest turnovers conceded. Maybe the Gators do belong in the discussion after all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I Could Write 1,000 Words To Explain Why College Football Is Better Than The NFL...

but this picture does my work for me.


I went to the Hawks game last night and have mostly the same observations that John Hollinger has about the team. Hollinger was very critical of the Joe Johnson signing, but noticed last night that when Johnson plays the two, he's a very effective scorer and gives the Hawks their best perimeter threat in years. The fact that he was able to score with Kobe defending him was even more impressive. His distribution of the ball was fairly good, but he does much better passing the rock when he's functioning as a two and beating opponents off the dribble in an effort to score, as opposed to initiating the offense. Johnson had four assists and would have had more had his teammates finished some looks that he created for them. On the other hand, he also had five turnovers, so let's not anoint him king of the world just yet.

As with last year, the Hawks' primary problem is their complete inability to defend and that starts at the point guard spot, which is still a major issue. Tyronne Lue is a fairly good offensive player, but he cannot keep an opposing point guard in front of him, nor can he defend a screen and roll (although the Lakers didn't exploit this deficiency.) I would hazard a guess that Smush Parker is not in the upper echelon of point guards in the NBA, so allowing him to score 21 points on nine (NINE?!?) shots is a sign that you have major problems defending the one. Kobe scored 37 and looked great doing it. The Hawks made him take tough shots and he just kept burying them. (Would things have been different if Daniel and I would have started the "No Means No" chant in Section 317, thus starting a riot with the assembled teenage girls who think that Kobe is sweet? We'll never know.) The difference in the game was not Kobe getting his 37, but his backcourt mate getting 21, especially on a night where the Lakers' entire frontline looked like garbage. (If last night is any indication, the Kwame Brown experiment is going to be a massive failure. He just looked lost.) I can see why Woodson played Royal Ivey last year, despite his lack of any offensive skill; he needed to remember that it is possible for a point guard to play defense. If Denver gives up on Earl Watson, could the Hawks get him cheaply? He'd be a pretty good fit on this roster.

Hollinger is absolutely right about the Hawks' young players - Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Marvin Williams - looking completely lost on the court. Woodson is clearly not happy with Smith, as evidenced by his demotion to the bench, and Smith showed why last night with lazy passes. Childress still doesn't have much of an offensive game. (I like Andre Iguodala more and more every time I see Childress play, although I was saying the same things about Luol Deng last year and Childress came on in the second half.) Williams looked good for the first quarter and then was completely anonymous for the remaining three. Daniel remarked that the key to the season will be finding a good third offensive option to go with Johnson and Harrington and Williams seems to be the most likely candidate, although that assumes that he learns rapidly.

As for the game experience, other than the facts that (1) my aisle seats turned out to be smack dab in the middle of a section and (2) the Hawks have gone the route of the Braves and got rid of the $7 24-ounce beer, replacing it with the $6.25 16-ounce beer (do the math,) the game was great fun. There was a guy kissing two girls on KissCam, a contestant on "For Love Or Electronics" saying that she was better than the other two candidate because "I have a job and I'm legal," and the surreal experience of Ryan Cameron playing the role of verbal shot clock. And these tickets are cheaper than movie tickets. I feel like I'm stealing from the Hawks, and then I remember what their record is.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My Top 25 and Belated Coaching Drinking Buddies

1. Texas
2. Southern Cal
3. Alabama
4. Miami (Florida)
5. Penn State
6. Oregon
7. Virginia Tech
8. Louisiana State
9. Georgia
10. Ohio State
11. Notre Dame
12. Florida
13. Colorado
14. UCLA
15. Wisconsin
16. West Virginia
17. Texas Tech
18. Michigan
19. TCU
20. Florida State
21. Fresno State
22. Georgia Tech
23. Auburn
24. Northwestern
25. Minnesota

I have Texas #1 because they have both an offense and a defense, unlike their esteemed rivals in South Central, who have one, but not the other (although the Wazzu game was a step in the right direction for the SC D.) This is not to say that I would take Texas on a neutral field, especially if Pete Carroll has a month to prepare for Texas' spread option. Alabama is an unenthusiastic #3, mainly because I'm still annoyed that Auburn and LSU were ignored by pollsters for the past two seasons. Either Bama will prove that they belong in the next two weeks by showing an offense that can cross the goal line or they won't, in which case the Miami/Penn State/Oregon/Virginia Tech/LSU/Georgia debate begins.

And speaking of the Ducks, they might actually be persuasive evidence of an East Coast Bias. (Cue angry music from the Yale Whiffenpoofs.) The Ducks have one loss to #1 USC in a game that was at least close for a half. They've beaten everyone else on their schedule, including handing Fresno their only loss. They're two very winnable games from 10-1. Why are they not in the discussion with the other one-loss teams?

I have Florida State and Auburn lower than the human polls do. (By implication, does that last sentence mean that I'm not human?) I defy anyone who has watched Florida State over the past few weeks to tell me that they're a good team. That win over Miami looks more and more like a fluke as time goes on. Of course, it also looked like a fluke at the time, so what have we learned? As for Auburn, is it impolite for me to ask that the beat a decent team? (And no, South Carolina minus their quarterback doesn't count.) I'm sure there are Auburn fans cackling and saying "Just wait until this weekend." We'll see.

I have Colorado a lot higher than the human polls do, mainly because their two losses were both on the road to top five teams and the Big XII, as bereft of top teams other than Texas as it is, doesn't have any bad teams and Colorado has beaten all comers, most in decisive fashion. I get the sense that no one likes Gary Barnett anymore because he (or someone under him) had the outlandish idea of using sex to sell his program, but the guy is a good coach.

And I can't believe I didn't respond to last week's blogpolll on the coaches I would most like to knock back a few with, but here's my belated response:

1. Ron Zook - Just because I would like to buy him about seven Red Bull & vodkas to see what would happen. I'm imagining the night ending with Zook being riddled with bullets while shouting "I'M RON ZOOK!!! WHEN YOU'RE F***ING WITH ME, YOU'RE F***ING WIDDA BEST!!!"

2. Houston Nutt - During the 1/1/99 Citrus Bowl, my friend Bob and I dubbed Nutt a "snakecharmer." He just seemed like the kind of guy who would be preaching about damnation from fluoridation in a tent in Macon's Central City Park. Consequently, he would probably have access to some sort of vile grain alcohol that could make me exhale purple fumes, fart lightning, and make out with a dart board. Just call this a hunch.

3. Tommy Bowden - I put the over/under on reducing Bowden to a blubbery, "Daddy's so good! Daddy's so smart! Why can't Tommy be like Daddy? WELL NO ONE EVER ASKED TOMMY HOW THAT MAKES HIM FEEL!!!" mess at five beers. And then he'll pull a Commodus, suffocate his father, and order 100 days of South Carolina fans being slaughtered by like Tigers on the banks of Lake Hartwell.

(3a. would be Glen Mason for the same reason as Bowden, along with The Ohio State University standing in for Papa Bowden.)

And the three I would not like to blow suds with:

1. Bill Snyder - Makes William F. Buckley seem like Will Ferrell in comparison.

2. Barry Alvarez - There are few things I hate more in life than the guy who eats the pretzels so fast that I don't get my fair share.

3. George O'Leary - Something about those ruddy cheeks implies to me that he would put me to shame.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I Thought That Southerners Were The Provincial Ones?

Prove me wrong, Peter King:

"I think the one thing you can't understand unless you live somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard between Washington and Boston -- or unless you once lived there -- is the intensity of a big sports event. One of the reasons players love playing here, and one of the reasons guys like Joe Gibbs get drawn back into the game magnetically, is because the games are so electric and they feel so important. I felt it Sunday night at Eagles-Redskins and I'll feel it in front of the TV tonight for Pats-Colts. So much fun. Such a gas."

These people wouldn't know anything about a big sports event. They only had to suspend their rivalry for decades because it was getting too intense.

Or these people. Spanish Civil War? What's that? That can't compare to the Acela rivalry between the Redskins and Eagles, can it?

Or these guys. When have religious differences ever produced a good rivalry, I ask.

At Least One Team In The South Has An Offense

I didn't think I'd be saying this on the morning following the Falcons' trip to Miami, but that was a fine offensive performance yesterday. If Mike Vick threw the ball like that on a consistent basis (22/31, 221 yards, one touchdown, no picks,) then he wouldn't be forced to defend his skills as a pocket passer and he wouldn't have to make defensive tirades about how no one should question his skills in that department ever again. Specifically, his throw to Alge Crumpler to set up the Falcons' first touchdown was a thing of beauty, inch-perfect to a well-covered receiver while rolling left with a man in his face. And speaking of rolling left, the Dolphins showed their lack of experience at defending Vick because they consistently let him roll left in the early going. There was also at least one instance of a defensive end running right at him, which Vick bounced outside just like he did for years before teams figured out that their defensive ends can't barrel straight at him.

The fact that the game was not a runaway was a testament to the importance of turnovers. A Justin Griffith fumble deprived the Falcons of a chance to take an early 14-0 lead (and thereby put the game in the hands of Gus Frerotte) and an Allen Rossum muff allowed the Dolphins to close to 14-10 at the half, despite being totally outplayed. Honestly, I feel a lot better after a win like this than I did after the Jets game because the Jets (read: Vinny Testaverde) just handed the game over to the Falcons, whereas yesterday's game was a blowout that was only kept close by easily correctable mistakes.

And regarding the Miami offense, their passing game is completely mismatched with their running game. With their running backs, Miami should be running the ball on just about every play, but when they aren't running, why aren't they trying to stretch the field in the passing game? How does the dink-and-dunk passing attack make life easier for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams? I guess that Frerotte just doesn't have the arm to wing the ball down the field, which means that Miami, for about the eighth straight year, is a better quarterback away from being a good team.

I don't want to get carried away, but with 1-7 Green Bay at home, a collapsing Tampa team that desperately misses Brian Griese, and wretched Detroit on the docket for the next three games, it's quite possible that the Falcons will take a six-game winning streak and a 9-2 record to Carolina for the first of two huge games with the Panthers.

Stewart Mandel, Read A Friggin' Box Score For Once

Here is Mandel's wrap-up column from the weekend and here's his self-pat on the back regarding Tennessee's performance bursting a myth about SEC defenses:

"That SEC scores were so low because of the league's dominant defenses. Hmm. Notre Dame didn't seem to have quite the same problem moving the ball against Tennessee's defense (QB Brady Quinn went 20-of-33 for 295 yards and three touchdowns) as undefeated conference leader Alabama did in its infamous 6-3 victory over the Vols. Furthermore, the Crimson Tide couldn't even score an offensive touchdown against 2-7 Mississippi State. And these guys are winning the conference right now. What does that say about everybody else?"

Yes, Quinn passed for 295 yards. Notre Dame also managed 343 yards of total offense, which was their second lowest total of the year. Georgia gained 405 yards in Knoxville. South Carolina gained 307. What did Notre Dame do that SEC teams have not? They scored more points, but could that have something to do with two returns for touchdowns, along with scoring drives of 27, 17, and ten yards? Gee, you think that Tennessee's disastrous special teams and offense had something to do with Notre Dame scoring 41 points? After Notre Dame scored a touchdown on one of their two good drives of the game to take a 28-21 lead, the mighty Vol offense gave the Irish the ball on the UT 34 and 20 to start their next two drives and the UT defense held Notre Dame to field goals both times.

As for Alabama not being able to score an offensive touchdown on Mississippi State, Mandel does have a point there. You would think that Tyrone Prothro is the second coming of Don Hutson, given how the Tide offense has completely ground to a halt in the past two weeks. In their defense, Bama has a long tradition of sitting on leads and once they scored on defense and special teams to take a 17-0 lead, they pretty much shut up shop. Still, that doesn't justify three offensive points against a bad team. Personally, I think that Bama's green offensive line, which was a major question mark coming into the season, is being exposed.

Friday, November 04, 2005

It Just Wouldn't Be A World Cup Without This Guy

In the name of all things holy, Julio Grondona, please find a spot on the bench for Diego.

Ron Mexico Needs To Go Deep More Often

And with that rancid headline out of the way, Matt Winklejohn has an incisive piece in this morning's AJC on Mike Vick's struggles in the passing game. The article is noteworthy for a couple reasons:

1. While Vick has become an overhyped media monster in the past couple years, it's good to be reminded that during the 2002 season, he was a statistically proficient passer. The Football Prospectus noted this year that his 2002 season was, by their statistical measure, better than any of Tom Brady or Donovan McNabb's seasons prior to 2004, when both had career years statistically. Dan Reeves, who knows a thing or two about football and is as honest as the day is long, notes that Vick was very confortable throwing mid-range and deeper passes in his offense and was not comfortable with the types of passes that he's forced to throw now. We might have a classic case of coaches trying to fit their talent to a system, rather than the other way around. We also might have a classic case of coaches thinking that their winning results justify sub-optimal offensive strategies. (Paging Phil Fulmer!)

2. Joe Theismann makes some very intelligent points! Maybe he's better in print when he's not shouting for airtime with Patrick and Maguire or preening for the cameras with that blow-dried 'do that screams "Cheesy Notre Dame Guy!" Anyway, I've always thought that the West Coast Offense is a bad fit for Vick because it de-emphasizes one of his best traits: his insanely strong arm. The WCO (and when I use that term, I mean the Bill Walsh version that emphasizes short, accurate passes to backs, receivers, and tight ends) aids quarterbacks like Jake Plummer or Jeff Garcia who don't have strong arms, but are accurate enough to hit receivers in stride on shorter routes. Does that sound like Vick? It also puts a premium on good route-running. Does that sound like the Falcons' crop of receivers? Anyway, Theismann makes (or implies) the point that Vick's height is also a problem in the WCO because it involves a lot of low-trajectory throws through narrow lanes over the middle.

Jim Mora has obviously done a good job with the Falcons, as evidenced by the fact that only a second half collapse will prevent him from becoming the first coach in franchise history to lead the team to consecutive winning seasons. However, he's very defensive about the offensive scheme, which could mean either that he's mistakenly believing that the scheme for the passing game is fine and that the team isn't winning in spite of it, or that he recognizes that fact, but does not want to say so publicly.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More Kicking of Jason Whitlock

Having just finished watching Boogie Nights last night, I can best compare this post to the scene towards the end when Jack Horner beats the crap out of a college student for telling him that his films now suck and then, as the poor kid is lying on the ground bloody and semi-conscious, Rollergirl skates over and kicks him in the head with her skate. In this instance, Jack Horner is played by MGoBlog, the hapless college student is played by Jason Whitlock's knee-jerk column about Charlie Weis getting a massive extension from Notre Dame, and I get to be Rollergirl (minus the perfect chest and desire to be mothered by a coked-out porn star.) Anyway, here's what I have to add to Brian's fine takeout of Whitlock's argument:

As an initial matter, it needs to be said that major college football programs put themselves at risk for arguments like this because of their lousy collective history in hiring African-Americans. That history creates the context for reactionary writers looking for the next emotional hot button issue to ride to Stephen A. Smith-dom to view any story in college football with a hint of race as a big deal. That's why Fisher DeBerry's comments were such a big deal (aided by the fact that he's a older man who has previously voiced socially conservative views, both of which add to the impression that he could be prejudiced) and that's why the Weis extension is news. The irony is that Notre Dame is one of the few college football programs that has hired an African-American coach, so they shouldn't be punished for the context in which they find themselves. Brian makes a great point when he states that other programs will look at the heat that Notre Dame has taken and will be less likely to hire the next Tyrone Willingham, although he probably overstates the importance of the Jason Whitlocks of the world.

What Whitlock completely misses in his piece is the way that Notre Dame has gotten to 5-2, as opposed to the way that Notre Dame got to 8-0 under Willingham. Notre Dame has looked very good in every game they've played this year. They've blown out every bad team they've played, they won a reasonably close game against a good Michigan team on the road, they suffered an upset to Michigan State, an entirely reasonable result given State's history of playing up to the name opponents on its schedule, and they came within an eyelash of beating a team that hasn't lost in two years. In other words, they've looked like a very good team. (Incidentally, when Whitlock pillories the Notre Dame schedule, he glosses over who's coaching one-win Washington.) I'm by no means a Notre Dame fan and I have no problem saying that they look like a good bet to win a national title in the next five years. I NEVER got that sense about Willingham's first team at ND, a team that was one of the weakest 8-0 teams in recent memory and a team whose subsequent collapse over the next 2 and 1/3rd seasons was entirely predictable.

And why is Notre Dame only 5-2 this season, despite having an offense that ranks 9th in total offense? Gee, could it be because Willingham did a lousy job of recruiting on defense, specifically the defensive backfield? Any team with a semblance of a passing game can stay in a game with Notre Dame this year because the Irish can't stop the pass and were unable to do so for most, if not all, of Willingham's tenure. Weis has taken a team from which Willingham could coax six wins and has produced a top ten team. Is that not worth an extension? Whitlock gives Willingham credit for recruiting the offense that Weis has turned into a machine and Willingham did do a fairly good job recruiting offense skill position talent (although his offensive line recruiting was not good,) but Willingham was unable to get any production out of Quinn & co. Before the season, Quinn was viewed as a marginal NFL prospect. After a year with Weis, Whitlock now says he could go ahead of Leinart and acts as if this was fait accompli.

And what was the motivation for that extension, Jason? Could it have been the fact that the NFL is eyeing Weis like you eye all-you-can-eat riblet night at Applebee's? I don't recall NFL teams going ga-ga over Willingham in 2002 when Notre Dame was 8-0 because they played opponents who had a remarkable ability to hand the ball to Irish defenders at inopportune times. Weis, unlike Willingham, has a proven track record in the NFL. Willingham does not. The NFL is full of teams that are willing to pay $4M per season for a head coach. The NFL drives the monetary market for top-end college coaches, which is why Weis needs a raise and Willingham didn't.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"I am not a committee!"

The BCS is college football's version of Phil and Kobe or TO and McNabb: a relentlessly overplayed story that breeds more inane commentary than any other. To with here is Gene Wojciechowski (thank G-d for cut and paste) making the same tired claim that a committee would be better than the current formula. I'd love to hear Gene address this simple question: how is a small group of humans making a decision any better than a large group? If he thinks there was a lot of criticism before of the results spit out by the BCS rankings, how does he think it's going to function when a small group of human beings, all with identifiable connections and presumed biases and agendas, are determining whose 11-0 is more impressive? The idea that Tommy Tuberville would be OK with his unbeaten team being denied a shot at the title because of a decision coming from the star chamber is insane. I'd voice surprise that ESPN would print such a dumb argument, but this is, after all, the network that decided that John Kruk needed a bigger platform to voice his sophisticated views on baseball.

Or, let's flip Wojo's counter-factual around and say that the star chamber anointed Auburn and USC as the Orange Bowl participants last year. Would Bob Stoops be OK with that decision coming from Wojo's suggested group that includes the former commissioner of the SEC, two former SEC coaches (including one who went to school at Auburn,) and Tommy Tuberville's former boss (Jimmy Johnson)?

All that needs to be said about the BCS is this: it is given the impossible task of picking two teams out of 117. It must do so despite the fact that the teams it must compare have almost never played and have few, if any, common opponents. No matter what method the BCS uses, it will come up short against the impossible task. There is really nothing else that needs to be said about it.

Quintessential Met Decisionmaking

Per the link above, Rafael Furcal has offered to play second for the Mets. My initial reaction is that his agent is trying to drive up his client's price and with most of the big-money teams already set at short, this is a way to do so. That said, if the Mets took the bait and made Furcal a second baseman, that would be fitting for a franchise that spends money like a drunken sailor with little or no thought as to how they're spending it. This is the same franchise that spent millions on Carlos Beltran one winter after signing the best centerfielder on the market. Similarly, they signed Kaz Matsui to a huge deal and would now be throwing more money at their second base problem. And to top it off, they would be wasting their money on Furcal if they put him at second because much of his value is tied up in the fact that he has the best arm of any shortstop in baseball, an arm that would be rendered mostly superfluous at second. (Again, this is like paying Mike Cameron, a guy whose value is tied up in the fact that he plays very good defense in centerfield, in right.) He's a better shortstop than Reyes, but we wouldn't want to move our wonder child, would we?

The only way this works out for the Mets is if signing Furcal prompts the Mets to move Reyes and his sub-par OBP lower in the lineup, but knowing them, they'll have Furcal hitting second after Reyes because speed guys have to be at the top of the lineup.