Friday, December 23, 2005

What a long, strange trip...

For me, it all started in October 1996, when I took a part-time job with Shockley Communications-owned WDSM, then on the verge of becoming an all-sports radio station. They needed people to come in and "run the board" (radio jargon for operating the control board) during sports games and other programming that couldn't be set up for computer autopilot. Along the way, you had a chance to record sports and weather updates, giving you a chance to be on the air every now and then.

Sometime before I got a chance to actually do a talk show, I started to get the itch. I felt like it was something I could do. Like many people, I thought it was easy until I learned differently. But even that didn't change my desire to be a talk-show host. I got my chance in the fall of 1998, hosting a Saturday morning show centered around local sports. My co-host was Chris Long, then getting his start as a weekend sports anchor at one of the local TV stations. Long and I got along very well, and the show lasted for nearly five years before they went in a different direction with it.

I was able to parlay our success into my own daily talk show, which premiered on April 12, 1999. At the time, I didn't know that I was going to end up doing this for a living, and I didn't know that I would end up on the air for almost seven years.

We had a lot of fun. I had a chance to cover some great moments in sports and allow people to talk about them. Phone calls were always a vital part of what I did. Without the occasional troll to rile me up, or the occasional disagreement that turned into a great debate, the show would never have been as good. And I never would have had as much fun.

I'll never forget the day Walter Payton died. Grown men calling in and expressing their admiration for a man they never met, and some of them having trouble getting the words out.

I'll never forget the Friday before the Vikings-Giants NFC Championship Game. Hordes of Viking fans expressing gloom and doom, while I, a freaking Packer fan, tried to calm them down and convince them that the Vikes were going to get it done.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Moss Moon. Bonds chasing history. The Twins' AL Central three-peat. The Brewers sucking. Mike Randolph getting fired. Mike Randolph getting hired back. Countless great high school games...players...teams. State tournaments. NCAA tournaments. Junior's Hobey. UMD in the Frozen Four.


9/11 was different for me. Here I am, Mr. Hardcore Sports Fan. It's what we talk about on the air. I don't do one of these dopey sports shows where we talk about the war, the Patriot Act, Medicare, traffic, and everything else that isn't sports. We talk about sports. So when 9/11 happened, I didn't know what we were going to do. I stayed off the air that day, choosing to let the national news radio coverage handle things. The next three days were the longest nine hours of my life. But they were among the best shows I ever had. We just shared our emotions. Our feelings. And we had some good discussion about the role of sports in all of this. As you may recall, we only had high school games that Friday night. Everything nationally was cancelled. And what an unbelieveable experience it was to be a part of. It was a great emotional boost for everyone who attended games that night.

It's today that I look back. It's been 2,448 days since I made my debut on a daily sports talk show. It's been close to 2,700 days since I first co-hosted a talk show. A rough calculation estimates that I have done in the area of 2,000 talk shows lasting a total of 5,750 on-air hours.

That's a lot of talking. I think I've gotten halfways-decent at it over the years.

But the talking will, at least temporarily, be coming to an end.

I have decided to take a hiatus from hosting a daily talk show so I can concentrate on other duties within our company. It's not a reflection on anything or anyone, other than me and my desire to succeed in management, and I don't feel I can properly focus on my duties while also juggling three hours of daily sports talk.

There will come a day, probably in 2006, when I get sick of not being able to vent every day. More specifically, there will probably come a day where my wife tells me to get back on the air. And it will happen. You have my word. But for now, tonight on KDAL marks my last talk show for some time. I'll still be around, doing sports reports and the occasional fill-in appearance, along with UMD hockey on KDAL.

I want to take this chance to thank everyone who has helped me professionally, especially John Munson and Mark Fleischer, who gave me my first jobs in radio. Muns might not remember, but he was the first to give me a chance to do play-by-play. And he kept reminding me that you can never say the score too often. Chris Long was my first, and best, co-host. And there are too many others to thank without forgetting someone who was vitally important.

Most of all, I want to thank all of you. Thanks for listening, and thanks for reading the blog, however often you have done either. Without your support, I'd be doing something less desirable for a living, instead of continuing to steal paychecks doing something I love to do.

Thanks, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all of you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fire Sherman, Take Two

I know it's been said before, but I'm here to say it again.


I said it before Monday night's loss to Baltimore (then again, it was only 48-3). I'm saying it now. Mike Sherman is a complete, absolute, historic failure as a head coach. With Dick Jauron now collecting a fatter paycheck than earlier in the season, it's worth mentioning that Sherman isn't the worst head coach in his division anymore. Congrats, Mike. Maybe you can have someone in your family get you a shirt that says "I'M SMARTUR THAN DICK JARUON" so you have something to wear at the game on Sunday.

Clearly, you're not interested in actually coaching this team, so we might as well have some fun in these last two games, right?

This isn't to absolve the players of their responsibility in this. After all, if they had done a better job of mailing it in, the Ravens would have been convinced that their offense was practicing against traffic cones instead of playing a game against a real opponent. While I'd love to blame the team's "Who gives a crap?" mindset from last night on the head coach, I'm a firm believer in that a coach can only do so much. At some point, the onus is on the players, highly-paid and mainly finely-tuned professional athletes (and adults, too), to prepare and be ready to play when the lights go on. The Green Bay Packers didn't do that last night, choosing instead to stand around and watch.

Stand around, like Robert Ferguson did while Donald Driver tried to shake free from three Baltimore defenders and make a play when it was 31-3 in the third quarter. Don't bother blocking anyone, Robert. Just stand there and look like you'd rather be filing your fingernails. What a great example to set for the young kids watching. When the game gets out of hand, stop trying. Stop competing.

Don't worry. The coach won't do anything drastic, like, say, benching someone who doesn't want to play. He'll just leave you out there so you can continue to not give a crap.

In the end, there weren't nearly enough guys, Brett Favre included, who looked like last night mattered too much. For the first time this season, Favre looked like a guy who would rather be mowing the lawn at home than playing football. Hopefully, that's not a sign of anything. Meanwhile, the sight of players standing around and moping around the field was more prevalent than anything else for the Green and Gold. Sad, really, because the Packers looked like a team that was hardly interested in draft picks during the last few weeks. They fought hard and played hard, even if they didn't play well (and that was usually the case, as their record would indicate). Last night was the first time all season that the team was completely noncompetitive.

And Sherman just stood there. Don't bother benching anyone, Mike. Don't bother chewing anyone out for not giving any kind of meaningful effort. Just stand there with the tip of your stupid Sharpie in your mouth. Make some faces in the general direction of the field. What a great coach. Teaching and coaching to the buzzer.

Mike, you're a failure. Examples:

Your team is woefully unprepared for games. In each of the last two games, your opponent has taken a double-digit lead in the first quarter. The opponents? Detroit and Baltimore. If you combine those offenses, you still have a horrible unit that shouldn't score many points against any NFL defense. Nice preparation. And I'll say nothing about the offense making Detroit's defense look like the 1985 2005 Bears. Twice in one season. That same defense, by the way, yielded 41 points at home against Cincinnati this week.

Your team is woefully undisciplined. The stupid penalties continue. I work until 8pm and have to drive about 15 minutes to get home. In that span, along with the time it took me to take my jacket off, tuck my son into bed, and get settled in, the Packers fell behind 14-0 and took about a half-dozen penalties. The penalties have been a problem all season, but nothing has been done. Ahmad Carroll commits a dumb penalty practically every game, yet the Packers' idea of punishment was benching him for a half and then cutting his main competition for a starting job.

You have failed, miserably, to rein in Brett Favre. I know his reputation is that of the "old gunslinger". But Favre is at his best when his coaches are keeping him somewhat under control. The Packers are losing right now, in large part, because Favre has made a bad habit out of throwing uncatchable deep balls that get intercepted. He's back to 1993 form, where he constantly made bad decisions and was often bailed out by butter-fingered defensive backs. It's something he can work himself out of, but he won't do it under this coaching staff. This coaching staff has made it clear that they're not going to try to get Favre under more control. At least, they haven't yet. And it's Week 16. You'd think they would have done it by now.

The playcalling sucks. Nothing like facing a superb pass rush and throwing the ball 61 times while running less than half that. Brilliant. Sherman tried to excuse it as the team being in the two-minute offense a lot. Nope. The playcalling sucked. The team was in the two-minute offense when they didn't need to be, and they had chances to run the ball that they wasted trying to get Favre to throw short passes against a quick defense that eats those kinds of things alive.

This team has been embarrassed multiple times under Sherman. The first home playoff loss happened. Many chalked it up to some tough late-season injuries and the fact that the streak was eventually going to end. It didn't have to be Sherman's fault. But what's happened since has to be blamed, at least in large part, on Sherman. The Packers are 12-12 at Lambeau Field since that night, including an embarrassing playoff loss to a completely disjointed Minnesota team last year. The Packers have lost home games in which they blew huge leads (Kansas City in 2003), blew late leads (Philadelphia in 2003), were basically not at all competitive (Chicago and Tennessee in 2004), and where they played clearly inferior teams (Cleveland in 2005, the Giants in 2004). They lost a December home game to the FREAKING JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS.

And to top it off, they just lost on national television to a four-win team by 45 points, and it wasn't even that close.

Fire Sherman. Please. We deserve better. Don't make us march on Lambeau Field in Bears colors on Christmas Day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Randomization - 12/18/05

BREAKING NEWS!! More troubles in the Gopher hockey program. Word is that a Gopher player went to the bathroom this morning and didn't wash his hands afterward, choosing to only rinse them in cold water. KMSP is investigating with hidden cameras, and they may have something for us in time for February sweeps.

It needs to stop snowing now. 12.5 inches earlier in the week. At least six more Friday morning. Then we got dustings each of the last two nights. That's enough for now. I get it. I should be excited about going to Florida in seven days. And we'll have a white Christmas. And all the snowmobilers are happy. And my back hurts now because I had to shovel in the middle of a freak blizzard Friday morning. Thanks for that.

Herb Bergson is sorry. I commend him for his contrition. It had to be difficult to stand there in front of all those reporters and talk about a rather embarrassing situation. Sounds like he's dead-set on not drinking again. From someone who is greatly experienced in not drinking, it's not a bad thing. Time now for Duluthians to move on, as there are many important issues to deal with.

The Senate has rejected a renewal of the Patriot Act. Good. Thank you. While I'm at it, stop sniping at the BCS and baseball. It's none of your business.

Speaking of baseball...Cuba cannot field a team in the World Baseball Classic, thanks to our federal government. George Steinbrenner is mad, as he was planning on getting at least two starting pitchers off the Cuban team. In all seriousness, this is a silly ruling. Cuba's players are no threat to this country, and while I understand that we are trying to protect the spirit of our trade embargo with that country, there's really not a whole lot of harm to be done in allowing them to play here.

Could the Bucks and Wolves both be good? Probably not, but they're both off to good starts this season. The Bucks have been shooting well, and they have overcome some woes on the home floor to stay in contention so far in the East. The Timberwolves lost three straight heartbreakers, but they look like a team that will make noise in the West, especially if they can figure out who is going to make some offense happen on this team to take pressure off of Kevin Garnett.

The Colts lost. Good for the Chargers, and for the 1972 Dolphins. I don't think I can figure out the media's fascination with the Dolphins' players. While I acknowledge that they look silly popping the corks every year when the last NFL unbeaten finally loses, I also don't have a problem with the tradition. If I had a "record" like that, I'd probably use this event as an excuse to throw a little party every year. Not only that, but most of those former players have said that it's not that they don't want other teams to have success and match their achievement. It's that they are proud of what they did and that the "record" has stood for so long. I didn't see any of them donning the colors of the Colts' opponents every week. Now that would be a bit overboard.

Reggie Bush turning pro? Holy crap. I can't believe it! Now I suppose you'll tell me that he's going to be the top pick in the draft, aren't you?

The bowl season starts Tuesday. Not that you should care about it, but the New Orleans Bowl kicks us off. As long as the powers-that-be (read: elitist pigs) in college football don't want a playoff in Division I-A, we'll have to live with the system we have. Luckily, the system we have did give us highly entertaining championship games in Divisions I-AA, II, and III. And the system will give us at least a dozen or so entertaining and compelling bowl games. The first one isn't one of them, though it should be interesting to see if Arkansas State can stay in the game long enough to allow their best player, RB Antonio Warren, to be any kind of major factor in his last game for ASU. The Indians have an okay offense, but Southern Mississippi has way too much bulk and talent on offense and speed on defense for ASU to be a major threat.

Hope you like the page redesign. We changed the look of the main blog page, and we added a few different links. Hopefully, you'll stop here daily to check for updates, and you can use this page to link to other sports sites, newspapers, and cool fan sites and blogs from around the internet that I like to check out regularly. If you have a suggestion for a site to add to my link list, or if you want me to add your site to the link list, feel free to drop me an e-mail. Also, if you want to add me to your link list on your site, go right ahead. Let me know if you would like to reciprocate (assuming I'm not already).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More Gophers Gone Wild

As many of you may recall, it was in November that KMSP-TV, the Fox affiliate in the Twin Cities, aired an "investigative report" showing underage members of the Minnesota Gopher men's hockey team drinking at a bar near campus. Blarney's Pub and Grill in Dinkytown has been the subject of conversation in the hockey world ever since, as folks were left to wonder what, if anything, the Gopher coaches would do about the situation. Head coach Don Lucia and athletic director Joel Maturi issued joint statements condemning the behavior, and at the time they said the situation would be handled internally. Word was that no suspensions were handed out to any of the players, which included Kris Chucko, Jeff Frazee, Evan Kaufman, and others, many of whom were underage at the time of KMSP catching them on camera in the bar.

Still, at the time, I made it clear on my radio show that the coaches and university should be allowed to do what they feel is right. While you and I might have felt that suspensions were warranted, we didn't have all the information. We don't know what was talked about behind closed doors, and we don't know what the players were told about what would happen in the event of future transgressions.

In the meantime, Gopher fans were outraged. They felt that KMSP used this story as nothing but a pure ratings grab. Their stance was given credibility by a few factors:

1. November is a key month in TV news. It's "sweeps month". And in November, the numbers can have a great impact on the ad rates for early 2006. It's traditionally considered one of the most pivotal months in television.

2. KMSP spent much of the first day of the story's run promoting the fact that they had video evidence of Gopher hockey players violating team rules. Their promotional announcements were prevalent during the Vikings game that afternoon in the Twin Cities.

3. KMSP took a story that was worthy of about three minutes of airtime and made it into a three-day series, with each day receiving a lot of promotion on their station, as well as through radio advertising.

While I defend the right of a TV station to participate in a blatant ratings grab, using college hockey players in that ratings grab is near the line of good taste in journalism.

Now comes more information from KMSP. This time around, it's information that might make for a compelling story, and it's information that might leave Lucia no choice but to levy suspensions on at least some players.

Now KMSP is alleging that Gopher players brought recruits into the same bar. And those recruits, under 18 in some cases, were allowed into the bar without even a discouraging word from the bar's bouncer.

Among the interesting points made in the KMSP story:

What does the University of Minnesota policy say about this ? Drinking alcohol during recruiting visits, regardless of age, is against U rules. Before a visiting athlete comes to campus, he or she has to sign a form saying he/she won't drink. Each visiting athlete is assigned an official host. A current team member who must sign a form saying he'll use appropriate judgment in entertaining the recruit.

Some might remember a similar situation developing recently with Gopher football recruiting visits, as it was uncovered that current players were taking football recruits out to strip clubs and bars. The U tightened and reaffirmed its policy after that happened, and now, as KMSP points out, recruits and their hosts have to agree to behave themselves during campus visits. This seems petty, but it's the U's way of covering their own tails. After all, it's impossible for the coach and the AD to track these recruits through their entire campus visit. At some point, the onus is on the players, all of whom are adults, to be responsible and handle themselves respectably.

KMSP's report also mentions that the bar owner has been accused of giving free drinks to players, and he has been on the list to receive free tickets to hockey games and other events. This stuff is difficult to prove, and the bar's owner, Mike Mulrooney, has denied this practice. He acknowledged that underage people may be getting into his bar, but he denies giving special treatment to athletes. The report also states that it isn't just athletes who get in underage at the bar:

The FOX 9 Investigators spoke with 8 former bar workers. The picture we come away with is a bar where underage drinkers are loose like kids in a candy store. A bar owner more concerned with making money than following the law and more concerned about packing customers in than about the customers themselves. And sources say that applied to all customers, not just athletes.

Gopher haters are now outraged. First, it was players drinking underage in the bar. It's hard to talk negatively about that, since most people accept that this goes on everywhere that there is a college campus. Now, it's recruits getting into the bar. Gopher haters think this is the sign of a program spiraling out of control, a program on the verge of NCAA trouble.

In reading the stories posted on KMSP's website, I get a different impression. I don't see a program spiraling out of control, though I fully acknowledge that there may be a need to discipline some of the players over this. That's still up to Lucia and Maturi. What I'm seeing is a bar owner who is out of control. A bar owner who doesn't care about the rules. Doesn't care about the law - at least when it comes to underage drinking. Doesn't care that his bar has developed a reputation for serving underage patrons until they are passed out.

And I don't think that Mulrooney cares about what happens to these hockey players...whatever that would end up being. That's evidenced by this paragraph from KMSP's report:

In a written statement to the Fox 9 Investigators last month, he said "the issue of identifying individuals with false identification is one all liquor establishments are faced with." Mulrooney sent a second statement to us yesterday (Tuesday, Dec 13) saying our sources "aren't credible, adding, "it is difficult to ensure that our efforts to prevent underage drinking are 100 percent effective."

In other words, even though the KMSP cameras caught Mulrooney's bouncers letting players in without ID checks, it's the fault of the players for using those dag-nabbin' fake IDs to get in.


To me, Lucia and Maturi have few options. While I'm not going to tell them how to run their program, I do think that it's time to ban players from setting foot in Blarney's. You might not be able to stop Mulrooney from buying tickets and attending hockey games, but you can tell your players to stay away. There is precedent for this in higher levels of sport. In October, after defensive back Ken Hamlin was seriously injured in a bar fight, Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren banned his players from going into the area of Seattle where Hamlin was injured. If a pro coach can get through to his players with such an ultimatum, a college coach as reputable as Lucia should have no problem.

While this step may have been taken in light of the November reports, the program now needs to make a public example out of the establishment and the owner. Mulrooney's statement to KMSP where he tries to absolve himself of reponsibility is ludicrous, and the U shouldn't allow him to publicly throw his buddies under the bus to save his own hide.

Suspensions, in this case, are probably excessive. After all, we don't know how long this has been going on, and we don't know how many players have gotten away with it in the past. If the staff makes clear to the players that even setting foot in Blarney's will result in a suspension in the future, they have to trust that the players will get the point.

Monday, December 12, 2005

UMD hockey midseason report

Well, it's close enough to midseason. Chris Dilks, a St. Michikato Mancloudgan State fan who also runs a fine blog on college hockey on the left side of the country, has asked some of us who write blogs (and those of us who take a month off from ours) to opine about the team(s) we cover at the near-halfway mark of the season.

As you may recall, Chris helped us out with analysis of Minnesota State. I feel that, as the radio voice of UMD hockey, I should at least try to break down where the Bulldogs are as they turn the calendar to 2006 (only four games left in 2005).

Chris' questions are in bold, followed by my best attempt at an answer. Enjoy.

1. In 50 words or less, give a quick overview of your team's season so far.

I keep seeing UMD listed with eight losses. Strangely, I don't remember four of them. Weird.

Rough start, as 11 freshmen tried to figure it out. They have been improving, and now have given themselves a chance to steal home-ice from a higher-regarded WCHA team with a strong second half.

(Ha! Exactly 50 words. Someone give me a cookie!)

2. What is the general consensus among fans about your team?

Generally, I think the fans are understanding. Howie Hanson, who opined about a "poorly-prepared" team getting embarrassed in the opening weekend against BSU, has strangely not said one word about UMD since. Nor would he appear with me on the radio when I challenged him over his stupid remarks. And that was before I got the play-by-play job. Imagine how he would have reacted if I'd have called him out after getting the job.

Anyway, outside of Howie's run-and-hide mentality, most people around here have been quite understanding of the early struggles. You don't have to remind most Duluth hockey zealots that the team has all these freshmen and has had to deal with the Meyers injury on the backline. They get it. And they're thrilled with what they've seen lately from freshmen like Mason Raymond and Michael Gergen, among others.

3. What does your team need to do better in the second half to improve?

It starts on defense. I really like what I have seen lately from freshmen Jason Garrison, Matt Niskanen, and Adam Davis, all of whom have played well as of late (Davis had, in my opinion, his best game as a Bulldog in the Saturday effort in Mankato, and he was pretty good in Colorado, too). Garrison and Niskanen are going to be stars. Niskanen, selected to the U.S. Junior National Team roster last week, is smooth as silk on both ends of the ice. Garrison's slapshot is going to kill somebody if he isn't careful (that poor Yale goalie still has a headache). And he's getting better on defense, too.

But, as a team, the 'Dogs aren't good enough defensively. The goalies have played pretty well, but they're not good enough to win games on their own. Josh Johnson's Friday effort at CC is one that stands out as a cry for defensive help. He made a number of saves early to keep the team in the game, but there were too many defensive breakdowns to count, and he couldn't keep all his team's mistakes out of the back of the net.

I would also submit that the team has to start games stronger. They were badly outshot early in both games in Mankato, and they got off to a terrifyingly bad start against CC on Friday night. The team started better on Saturday, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. They can't afford to keep with the trend of poor starts, because the margin for error isn't at a point where they can be falling behind all the time.

Also, discipline must improve. Too many dumb penalties. Too many unnecessary penalties. As much as I liked the idea of getting physical with Sterling on Saturday night in Colorado, you have to be careful and be smarter about the timing of said physicality.

4. Who is your team's star player and how has his season been going?

Before the season, I would have said Tim Stapleton was the star player. Buster is still doing well, but he hasn't yet carried this team offensively. For the most part, he hasn't had to. Gergen and Raymond have both been playing well, and Raymond's recent surge (including a five-point weekend at CC) has him leading all WCHA freshmen in point scoring during conference games. His ice vision is incredible, and his scoring touch isn't exactly something to sneeze at. Stapleton has stepped up since the WCHA schedule started up, but right now, Raymond appears to be the best player on the team right now. As he improves throughout the season, the sky is the limit for the youngster, and the Vancouver Canucks will eventually be thrilled with their 2005 second-round pick.

5. Who on your team doesn't receive the credit he deserves?

I'd go for Andrew Carroll, the freshman who has a nose for everything and always seems to be giving a better effort than anyone else on the ice, but I think he's been getting love.

The forgotten man for UMD so far has been Matt McKnight.

McKnight has been centering UMD's top line for much of the league schedule, and he's done well. He's been pretty solid on faceoffs, and his point production has improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman campaign. He plays hard on both ends, and he has shown deft passing ability along with some scoring touch. Not only that, but he's growing into a leader.

6. Who is your favorite player to watch?

Raymond. He's Mr. Excitement. Not to discredit anyone else on the team (as I already said, Carroll is always playing hard and forechecks like a crazy person, Niskanen is fun to watch because of his poise, and Garrison is going to be a great offensive defenseman before he's done), but you know when Raymond is on the ice. And lately, you get the feeling that you're merely seconds away from something good happening when you see #11 out there.

Is it wrong to hope for another NHL lockout so this kid doesn't go anywhere?

(Actually, it is, because the lockout probably wouldn't stop anyone from jumping if the time was right.)

7. Who or what has been the biggest surprise for your team this season?

I would have to say that I'm surprised by how quickly UMD's freshmen have grown up. It's baptism by fire, because there are so many youngsters and so little depth, especially at forward. But it's been fun watching everyone get better, and the improvement has been pretty consistent from week-to-week as of late.

It only makes the team's prospects for the second half of the season more exciting.

8. What is going on with your team's goalie situation?

After a rough start and a lot of uncertainty, both junior Josh Johnson and senior Issac Reichmuth have settled down and played well. To me, it all started with Issac killing off a five-minute power play in the Friday night game at Michigan Tech. The Techies got nine shots on goal during the five minutes, many of them from close range. Reichmuth got on a roll after that, and with the exception of a weekend-long hiccup against North Dakota, he has played very well since that tough start. Johnson sat after a struggle in the Saturday Bemidji game. He got a chance to play against Yale when Reichmuth was among five UMDers suspended for a team rules violation. Johnson played so well in the Friday game against Yale that he started Saturday's game, too. He carried that over to a strong effort in the Friday MSU game in Mankato. Despite allowing seven goals Friday in Colorado Springs, the consensus seemed to be that Johnson played okay, and that the score could have been much worse had Johnson not played well, especially early in the game.

9. Where do you see your team in three months?

Playing the Saturday game in the first round of the WCHA playoffs (March 12 is three months from now).

Seriously, I think UMD has a chance to gain home ice. Before the season started, most "experts" felt that the top five contained Minnesota-Twin Cities, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Denver, and Colorado College, in some order. But I think the overwhelming sentiment around the league was that this group was the top five, and the other teams would be jockeying for position in the second division.

Of the teams in the "bottom half" of the league, I think UMD has established themselves as "Most Likely to Crack the Top 5", which is, of course, significant in that it would earn the Bulldogs home ice in the first round.

It's still going to be tough, with one series left against each of the five aforementioned teams. But UMD has chances to clean up at home against MSU and the Techies in January, and they have done a pretty good job so far against teams they "should be able to beat".

10. Who will you be saddest to see leave at the end of the season?

Not a lot of choices. And the answer is easy.

Tim Stapleton has tremendous speed and skill. He has a coolness about him, both on and off the ice. I like his personality, and I like his game.

With all due love to UMD's other seniors (Issac, Swanson, Williams, and Czech), Stapleton will be the one I miss the most.

11. Who are you most excited about joining your team next season?

Alex Stalock.

Simply to watch my wife's face turn red in anger every time he wanders out of the crease to play the puck. It's going to be worth the price of admission (which is now $0.00 for me, now that I think about it).

12. What has been the highlight of the season so far?

I really hate to pile on, but the three-point weekend against Minnesota-Twin Cities was fun. The way Nick Kemp reacted to his early goal on Saturday against the Gophs was special. You could tell it meant something to him to score against the Gophers. Andrew Carroll got his first goals of his UMD career, too. And he chased UMTC Saturday starter Jeff Frazee. That had to be fun. I know I enjoyed it. Rik did, too.

Really...I'm not dead! MUSINGS 12/12


No, I'm not kidding. I am.

With all the travel, combined with the hard work to do when I'm actually at work, the Blog has not been first and foremost among my thoughts. Nor should it be.

But that doesn't mean I should run and hide for three weeks or whatever it's been.

Alaska was fun. So was Colorado. I'm looking forward to a week in Florida. That will be cool. What's better is that UMD's men's hockey team is improving. The youngsters are really coming into form, especially Mason Raymond, who has been on a scoring tear as of late and is showing incredible skill and ice vision. The goaltending has been improved of late, too. It wasn't Josh Johnson's fault that Colorado College hung a touchdown on him on Friday night. He didn't have a lot of help in that disastrous third period.

In football, the right guy won the H*i*m*n. But don't go too far to pat the voters on the back. It's not like they had a choice. Even last year's winner voted for Reggie Bush, even though last year's winner could have voted for himself. It was that obvious.

While we're talking about people that don't deserve a pat on the back, how about the BCS apologists? "The BCS got it right this year."

Well I should hope it did! There were two unbeaten teams in Division I-A college football. Both of them were in "power" conferences, and both of them were at the top of the heap throughout the season. If the BCS screwed this up, the people responsible for this stupid system should be publicly flogged. Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea, even though they did get it right.

While I'm randomly ranting, let's talk politics. The big story in Duluth today is the Friday night arrest of the city's mayor, Herb Bergson, for driving while, um, well, not sober. The story going around is that the mayor was on his way to a conference in Chicago (some environmental deal) on Friday. He told the Duluth News Tribune that he had hoped to make it to Eau Claire, WI, that night. He made it about halfway there. Bergson suffered minor injuries in a battle between his car and the guardrail along U.S. Highway 53 near Spooner, WI, in Washburn County. The battle was won decisively by the guardrail, as Bergson's car was totaled. After reportedly telling passersby not to call the police (gee, I wonder why), Bergson was eventually taken in when responding officers thought something wasn't right.

I have a few thoughts:

1. First, I want to say I'm glad Bergson is okay. His injuries were minor. The car can be replaced. And if this is a sign of any personal demons that we were otherwise not privy to, I think I share the sentiments of most in this area when I say that I hope Mayor Bergson can conquer those demons (I don't know the man and don't know if such demons exist, though this incident at least shows that it's possible they do).

2. Why is the mayor of a reasonably-sized city like Duluth driving to Chicago? Mapquest says that's 472 miles. I know they don't have a lot of money in Duluth (there's been talk of the city filing bankruptcy, after all), but are they really that poor that they can't afford to get the mayor a plane ticket for such a trip?

3. The accident occurred at 6:25pm on Friday, according to the DNT report (DNT website). The mayor was legally drunk (.161, or twice the legal limit) at the time of the crash (George Carlin: "If it's legal, what's the [expletive] problem?"). Let me be the first to say that I hope that his consumption started out of the office, which means I hope he didn't just leave work and start on his trip.

4. Combine this with the whole "Firing a guy by sticking a note on his office door and leaving town" thing. Seriously, is Bergson trying to throw the next mayoral election? If he doesn't want to win, why doesn't he just decide not to run?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

College football - Week Eleven preview

Sadly, my best weekend of college football might be while I'm practically in a different country. In fact, I'll be north of a different country, but still in the good ol' US of A. Don't look for much from me next week, as I'll be leaving Wednesday with the UMD hockey team on a trek to Anchorage, Alaska. It will be there that I spend at least some time watching football next weekend. How much is uncertain, but it's worth noting that the Virginia-Virginia Tech game will start at 8am in Alaska. So I might roll out of the rack in time for the second half.

That's next week. This is this week. Sounds like something Denny Green would say. It's also true. I'll skip the Boise State-Fresno State game because it's going on right now. And I like Fresno. We'll see if I'm right, though it won't count either way.

Viewing plans this week
--> Boise State at Fresno State
--> Northwestern at Ohio State
--> Florida State at Clemson
--> Navy at Notre Dame
--> Whatever game the local ABC station is carrying (I think it's USC-Cal)
--> Iowa at Wisconsin
--> LSU at Alabama
--> Oregon at Washington State

The picks
Last week: 7-4
Season: 84-36

Michigan State at Minnesota--> Two offenses that can motor. Two defenses that, well, need some work. Should be a great show at the Metrodome for the Gophers' home finale. The good news for Gopher fans is that they're already bowl-eligible, and Michigan State has really gone in the dumper since a hot start had people thinking they were a title contender. I think the Gophers will win this game with their ball-control attack and a good game from Brian Cupito. Though anyone who saw the Spartans run all over the Gopher defense last year has reason to think it will probably happen again.
The pick: Minnesota

Northwestern at Ohio State--> Northwestern's offense is going to give tOSU some fits. The Wildcats have a chance to score some points, but their defense, one of the worst in the nation, is going to struggle. Troy Smith isn't Vince Young, but Northwestern will make him look like it.
The pick: tOSU

Illinois at Purdue--> Strangely, the Boilermakers are right with Illinois, trying to scrape off the bottom of the league. It's amazing to think that a team touted by many as a national title contender is already out of bowl contention. Well, actually it's not that amazing. It happens all the time. Purdue might be bad, but they aren't bad enough to lose at home to Illinois.
The pick: Purdue

Indiana at Michigan--> After a slow start, Michigan looks like a potential contender in the Big Ten (granted, they'll need help to do it). After a fast start, Indiana looks like Indiana.
The pick: Michigan

Iowa at Wisconsin--> Bucky needs to rebound from a thrashing in Happy Valley last week in order to set themselves up for a New Year's Day game in Florida. With Calhoun ready to shred the Hawkeyes' run defense and Stocco hoping to have two seconds to survey a defense, I like their chances. Iowa has had their struggles, and they're coming off a demoralizing defeat that has them setting up for a trip to either the Motor City or the Music City.
The pick: Wisconsin

Florida State at Clemson--> Clemson still needs to win to become bowl-eligible. Florida State needs to win so they can hold off Boston College for the Atlantic Division title in the ACC. The younger Bowden has been tilting this rivalry in his favor recently, but he doesn't have enough to hold the 'Noles off this year.
The pick: Florida State

Florida at South Carolina--> I just have a funny feeling. No other explanation. Maybe I'm getting that Spurrier Mancrush thing going like that MGoBlog guy.
The pick: South Carolina

LSU at Alabama--> The easy thing to do would be to just pick the home team. This one is scary, though. LSU is coming off a lackluster effort against Appalachian State (!). It's one of those performances that either signals you're not good enough to compete in the big game, or you're looking ahead to the big game. Alabama's defense is unreal, but their offense, well, leaves a tad to be desired. I'll take the Tide at home, but only because I'm not sold that LSU has the goods to score a lot of points.
The pick: Alabama

USC at Cal--> It's pretty hard to believe that the last loss by USC was at Cal. Two years ago. Their next loss won't be at Cal, well, unless Joseph Ayoob finally starts looking like a QB. The Bears' defense will be shredded, and USC has enough talent on their defense to keep Cal from winning a shootout.
The pick: USC

Auburn at Georgia--> Welcome back, Mr. Shockley. Conventional wisdom has Auburn overrated. I'm not one for conventional wisdom, as it's not Auburn's fault that the conference schedule hasn't presented them with many challenges yet. But it has to be said that this is a big game for the Tigers' hopes for a division title. Winning 'tween the hedges won't be easy, especially with everyone psyched to see Shockley back for the Dawgs. Expect him to play well and lead his team to a huge win as they continue on the road to the SEC title game.
The pick: Georgia

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

BlogPoll: Week Eleven

Look out! John Stocco just got sacked again. Stocco must have been caught kissing the girlfriend of one of his linemen, because the poor guy barely had time to breathe on Saturday, much less complete a dropback and actually throw the football. It's amazing that he threw for over 300 yards since he spent most of the game in the arms of Tamba Hali.

In other news, George O'Leary now has Central Florida bowl-eligible after an 0-11 season a year ago. Resume jokes aside, this guy can coach. The fact that UCF took a step up in conference competition this year, and has still pulled off a minimum six-win improvement over a year ago, is absolutely amazing. If this were happening at a more prominent Conference USA school (say, Southern Mississippi or Memphis or even UTEP), O'Leary would be getting love as a National Coach of the Year candidate. Either way, UCF looks like they're going bowling.

In closing, we remind you of the gripping Sun Belt race, where Louisiana-Monroe (3-5 overall) is still in the driver's seat despite a home loss to Florida International. If you didn't have any fingers or thumbs, you'd have enough of them to count the number of Sun Belt teams that are currently over .500 overall.

Dropped out this week
20 Boston College--> There's a letdown, and there's losing to North Carolina because your offense continues to stink. Why is Quinton Porter still starting?

21 Cal--> It's tough to win enough games to be bowl-eligible without beating anyone who is even decent. So far, congrats to Cal on pulling that off.

25 Rutgers--> Try tackling next time.

The new Top 25 ballot
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). No reason to change...
2. Texas (2). No offense intended. I'm sold on Texas now.
3. Penn State (10). Damn.
4. Alabama (5). Unimpressive on offense, smothering on defense. Sound familiar to any tOSU fans out there?
5. Miami (6). Double-damn.
6. Louisiana State (7). Failed Refused to run it up on I-AA opponent. How classy.
7. Virginia Tech (3). And to think I almost bumped Texas down for these guys. They'll be fine, though.
8. Georgia (8). Shockley is practicing, which is great news for the Dawgs.
9. Notre Dame (11). Looked good, especially in the second half, in blowing out Tennessee.
10. Ohio State (12). Ready for challenges posed by goofy Northwestern offense.
11. Oregon (13). Good start in the post-Clemens era.
12. West Virginia (14). Still on track to finish 10-1.
13. TCU (16). Huge win over Colorado State gives TCU the Mountain West title in their first year of league membership.
14. UCLA (4). Ouch.
15. Florida (15). Not sold on the Gators yet.
16. Florida State (9). Tough day for the ACC, with both Virginia Tech and Florida State losing at home.
17. Auburn (17). And here's another team I'm not sold on yet.
18. Fresno State (18). Should be a whale of a game on Thursday at home against Boise.
19. Georgia Tech (22). Moving up by default more than anything else.
20. Wisconsin (19). I still think they belong around here, no matter how bad they looked in Happy Valley...
21. Texas Tech (23). ...after all, at least they've played someone, unlike these guys.
22. Michigan (24). Again...default.
23. Colorado (NR). Should win the North with two or three overall losses. Not bad. Certainly not as bad as last year, when they backed in on a freak missed field goal by Iowa State.
24. Boise State (NR). Welcome back, even if only for a week.
25. Northwestern (NR). Same.

Friday, November 04, 2005

College football - Week Ten preview

Seriously...who else has trouble believing it's Week Ten?

Viewing plans this week
--> Pittsburgh at Louisville (last night - Louisville looked okay, and Pittsburgh sucks...nothing new here)
--> Iowa at Northwestern
--> Minnesota at Indiana
--> Texas at Baylor
--> Tennessee at Notre Dame
--> Wisconsin at Penn State
--> Army at Air Force
--> Alabama at Mississippi State
--> Illinois at Ohio State

The picks
Last week: 8-2
Season: 77-32

Iowa at Northwestern--> Wildcats really laid an egg a week ago against Michigan. 0 second-half points in a 33-17 loss. Or maybe they just fell back to Earth. Either way, Northwestern is still chasing a spot near the top of the Big Ten in a strange season, while Iowa is fighting for a chance at a respectable bowl. It's a tough call, but I'll take the home team to bounce back from a poor performance.
The pick: Northwestern

Minnesota at Indiana--> Hoosiers haven't lost to Minnesota in Bloomington in Minny's last seven trips there. And it's not like most of those Indiana teams were any good. This one has shown some promise, and the Gophers are coming off two demoralizing home losses. Even with Cupito suddenly a capable passer, it's hard to see Minnesota rebounding on the road.
The pick: Indiana

Michigan State at Purdue--> This might be the last chance for Purdue to salvage something of this disaster of a season. What looked like a potential Rose Bowl run in August has turned into a fight for pride in a season near the bottom of the league, as Purdue is already 2-6 and therefore won't go bowling. Meanwhile, Michigan State has been in a bit of a downward spiral ever since they blew that game against Michigan. That said, they have too much talent to lose this game.
The pick: Michigan State

Wisconsin at Penn State--> While Wisconsin has been given proper credit for finding ways to actually score points this year (nearly 40 per game, actually), the defense has been awful. The Badgers allowed Illinois QB Tim Brasic to run all over them last week, and they can't be welcoming the sight of Michael Robinson. The Badgers don't measure up in this game unless someone amputates Robinson's left leg before kickoff.
The pick: Penn State

Illinois at Ohio State--> Maybe tOSU has an offense after all. The Buckeyes made the Gophers' defense say "uncle" last week in Minneapolis. Troy Smith had perhaps his best passing game ever. The Illini are nothing to write home about defensively, and Brasic won't abuse the Buckeyes' defense like he did Wisconsin's last week.
The pick: tOSU

Texas at Baylor--> After seeing parts of last week's second-half comeback against Oklahoma State, I'm convinced that the officials won't let Texas lose a Big 12 game. If their linemen would have bound and gagged Okie State's defensive players, no flags would have been thrown. Then again, with Vince Young running wild, the officials probably figured that nothing was going to slow him down anyway. That's certainly the case this week, though Baylor's defense will make things difficult at times.
The pick: Texas

Tennessee at Notre Dame--> All this talk about race is making my head hurt. The Volunteers appear incapable of mounting long drives and scoring points, and the departure of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders won't solve all those issues. Coming off a bye week, Notre Dame will win handily.
The pick: Notre Dame

California at Oregon--> With Kellen Clemens' injury keeping him out, Oregon joins Cal in the group of good teams with no QBs. In a duel of running backs and defenses, Cal has too much, even on the road, for Oregon to handle.
The pick: Cal

Colorado State at TCU--> Justin Holland leads the Rams into a battle for the Mountain West title. TCU has more depth and better athletes (ask Fisher DeBerry), and they're playing at home. I like the Horned Frogs.
The pick: TCU

Texas A&M at Texas Tech--> Is Franchione really in trouble? Maybe. This one tells a lot about A&M's resolve, as they're coming off a humiliating home loss. Tech will look to run it up after their offense was rather stagnant for two straight weeks. It will be up to the Aggies to hold the score down and actually put a few points up against a potentially decent Tech defense.
The pick: Texas Tech

Miami at Virginia Tech--> Miami comes in at a disadvantage, which makes them all the more dangerous. The Hurricanes needed a second-half surge to overcome their own mistakes and beat North Carolina, while Virginia Tech has been soaring for a few weeks now. If Kyle Wright can't play out of his mind, the 'Canes have no chance, and they might not win even if Wright plays well. As dangerous as all this makes Miami, I don't see them pulling it out.
The pick: Virginia Tech

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Randomization - Wednesday, November 2

Jason Whitlock is stupid. Not racist. Not an attention whore. Not crazy. Not "thinking out of the box". Stupid.

What am I talking about? This.

For the record, I didn't have a problem with Notre Dame's firing Willingham. Yes, he deserved five years. But his firing didn't strike me as particularly racist, just shortsighted and unfair.

OK. I can agree with this. Actually, I think this is a pretty reasonable statement. You could argue that Willingham got a raw deal because he was only given three years when even a boob like Bob Davie got five years, but not even Whitlock is stupid enough to say it was racist.

(Personally, I didn't like it at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw Notre Dame trying to keep Willingham from turning into Bob Davie and virtually destroying what little prestige the program had left at the time. If Willingham had continued on the downward spiral he was on, Notre Dame would have been in a huge hole for whoever took over.)

Now, Weis' new 10-year contract, reportedly worth between $30 million and $40 million … that strikes me as racist. Because there's just no way Notre Dame, or any school for that matter, would do the same thing for a black coach.
How do I know this?
Because Willingham was far more impressive in the first two months of his initial season than Weis has been in his, and all Tyrone got was a pat on the back.

Huh? This is completely nonsensical. And it's where the column turns from "Maybe he has a point" to "He must be trolling for attention, because no one is this out of touch with reality". Whitlock, a known player of the race card who once accused those booing the embarrassing performance of the 2004 U.S. Olympic basketball team of being racist, goes on from here to talk about Willingham's 8-0 start, completely ignoring the 13-15 record that followed. Certainly, hindsight is 20/20, but it's hard to argue against the decision (if one was actually made) not to give Ty an extension when you look at how he finished in his time at Notre Dame.

Not only that, but the teams are not comparable. At least not fairly. Willingham won games because his offense avoided turnovers, and his defense and special teams made a ton of plays. The offense was recruited to run Davie's option, but Willingham wanted to run the West Coast. And the offense looked like a running team in a passing attack. It was bad. And when the defense stopped forcing turnovers and the special teams stopped making big plays, the offense was exposed. That's why Notre Dame finished 2-3 in 2002, including the first of three straight 31-point losses to USC.

I'm not going to belabor this point. MGoBlog and EDSBS have had discussions about this, and Blue Gray Sky (Notre Dame blog) has some good stuff on it, too. I link all three blogs on my site, so check them out at your leisure, or leave your thoughts here if you'd like. Especially telling is the stuff BGS posted. They have a letter that an African-American Notre Dame alum sent to Whitlock, along with his stunningly stupid response. If Whitlock worked for me, that response would be enough for, at least, a reprimand and a public apology. Go check it out here.

Navy has a ton of class. Read more about it here. Basically, Navy AD Chet Gladchuk used to work at Tulane, and his school is picking up the tab for Tulane's football trip to play Navy this weekend. The cost is expected to run ahead of $200,000. They're taking care of Tulane's flight, hotel rooms, and bus transportation, and they are letting any Tulane students into the game Saturday for free.

I know it's a heckuva gesture, and I'm not going to call Tulane's other road opponents cheap or classless for doing it, but is there another Division I-A school around that would do such a thing for an opponent? Hats off to Navy.

The NBA season is underway. Don't ask me why, but I find myself caring. Last year was an interesting one, as I watched more NBA hoops than I had in recent memory because of the NHL lockout. Phoenix was very entertaining, and I found the overall quality of play in the league to be much better than it had been since the Jordan/Bird/Magic heyday. The league has worked hard to improve its overall image since the Artest fight in Detroit last year, and the recent addition of a dress code for the players is a step in that direction. The NBA realizes that they can't market this league to young people when images like Ron Artest jumping into the stands to slug a fan are all that get on TV.

Not only that, but there are some dynamic players in the league. Obviously, LeBron James is at the top of that list, but guys like Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, and others represent a new generation of stars, and many of the teams in the NBA are working their way towards being watchable. There are still games on occasion where neither team can shoot straight, and neither team appears too terribly interested in pushing the tempo. But the overall product is improving, and it's bound to get better as young studs like LeBron, Wade, and Stoudemire continue to get better.

It's Gopher week. For many of you, that last sentence means nothing. Around here, though, it's always huge when the Gophers come to town. I speak of hockey, where Minnesota visits UMD this weekend for a non-conference series. Both teams are relatively young, with the Gophers sporting a ton of freshmen and sophomores, and the Bulldogs sporting 11 freshmen who play regularly. The Gophers have stud freshmen like Phil Kessell (likely the top pick in the 2006 NHL Draft), Ryan Stoa, Blake Wheeler(fifth overall pick to Phoenix in 2004), and Jeff Frazee. The Bulldogs have stud freshmen like Matt Niskanen (first-round pick by Dallas this year), Mason Raymond (second rounder in 2005), Michael Gergen (second rounder in 2005), and Andrew Carroll. They're young teams, and both have had some ups and downs so far. It should be a fun series.

Hell, it's always fun in Gopher week. And it's my first chance to call the games on the radio from the home booth at the DECC. Should be a good time. And I finally get to meet Doug Woog. Unfortunately, I can't make fun of him because I think he's doing a pretty good job. Vastly improved from his first year as the Gophers' TV analyst.

[ShamelessPlug]You can listen to our live broadcast of Bulldog hockey here.[/ShamelessPlug]

BlogPoll: Week Ten

Wow. Week Ten already. That's simply amazing to think about.

Hey. Rutgers is bowl-eligible. And they're still on my ballot. Stop laughing. Seriously. It's not that funny.

Also of note, 3-4 Louisiana-Monroe is on track for the Sun Belt title. They'll probably finish 5-6 or 6-5, but wouldn't it be great if the Sun Belt had a losing team in a bowl game for the second time in its short history? And, yes, Arkansas State is still one win away from being bowl-eligible.

Lotsa movement this week. Let's get to it.

Dropped out
17 Minnesota--> Embarrassing defensive performance. The Gophers should be kicked out of the Big Ten for wasting a 395-yard effort from Bryan Freaking Cupito.

22 Texas A&M--> All that hype from ABC about Midnight Yell (one of the great traditions in college football) leads to Iowa State whomping the Aggies at Kyle Field. Maybe Franchione shouldn't have stayed up to be at Midnight Yell.

23 Northwestern--> That was fun.

24 Toledo--> Ranked teams shouldn't lose to Directional Michigan teams. No matter how much improvement said Directional Michigan team has undergone.

The new Top 25 ballot
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). Rollin' along.
2. Texas (2). Thank you, officials. Thank you, Oklahoma State.
3. Virginia Tech (3). The first of the big games has passed, and Vick was more than adequate. Now it's Miami's turn to take their best shot.
4. UCLA (4). Survival. Well, at least that's what UCLA is saying. On the bright side, the same thing (early deficit, big comeback win) happened to USC at Stanford last year, and we all know how that turned out for the Trojans.
5. Alabama (6). Scrimmage against Utah State for Homecoming didn't show me much.
6. Miami (7). Only showed up for a half, but it was enough to beat North Carolina.
7. LSU (8). Still has to get by Alabama to make SEC title game. May still have shot at BCS if upheaval occurs.
8. Georgia (5). Shockley's injury was a killer. Now UGA must recover and hold on to division.
9. Florida State (9). Nice comeback win over Maryland.
10. Penn State (11). Had firm control of Purdue for most of the day. Now Bucky visits with potential BCS bid on the line.
11. Notre Dame (10). No disrespect intended. I just placed Penn State one spot higher so Wisconsin will look better if a miracle happens and they win this weekend.
12. Ohio State (12). Abused sorry Gopher defense.
13. Oregon (14). It won't be easy to stay here without Clemens.
14. West Virginia (16). The road to a BCS bowl appears rather easy, which means WVU will make it difficult somehow.
15. Florida (19). Didn't score for final 51 minutes against UGA. I don't care how good the UGA defense is, that's not a good thing.
16. TCU (15). Not impressive against San Diego State, but a win is a win. Frogs are in the driver's seat for the league title.
17. Auburn (18). Coasted past inept Ole Miss team.
18. Fresno State (21). Collision course with Boise State. That will be a fun game.
19. Wisconsin (20). If Tim Brasic can do what he did (something like 150 rushing yards), what the hell is Michael Robinson going to do to this defense? If Wisconsin wins this game on Saturday, they should start engraving "BARRY ALVAREZ, WISCONSIN" on any available National Coach of the Year award.
20. Boston College (13). Not a good effort against Virginia Tech. And what the hell is Quinton Porter doing at QB?
21. Cal (NR). It starts getting really ugly here.
22. Georgia Tech (NR). I'll say it you have any better ideas?
23. Texas Tech (NR). Led Baylor 6-0 in fourth before running it up late. I'm not sold.
24. Michigan (NR). Yikes.
25. Rutgers (25). I still want to see how this looks.

The watch list
Suspended. No one is worth watching seriously at this point, except maybe Boise State.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

College football - Week Nine preview

Sorry about last week. Really, I would have picked Alabama. But I had figured it would take at least one touchdown to beat Tennessee. I'll bet Les Miles feels really bad about that second-half performance right about now.

Anyway, no more UMD football for me. I take over as the play-by-play voice of UMD hockey starting Friday at Michigan Tech. It's a tremendous opportunity, and in the spirit of Freddie Mitchell, who this week was beat out by a guy named Taco for a chance to sign in Green Bay, I'd like to thank my voice for being so great.

I hope the football team does well. I thank the players, coaches, parents, and fans for all their great feedback and support this season. The coaches have been especially great in my conversations with them, and I want to thank the entire Bulldog football staff for putting up with me on those road trips to Chadron, Waterloo, Waterloo, and Mankato. It was a great experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.

And I can't wait to hit the UMD hockey travel itinerary next month (November 18-19 at Alaska-Anchorage; December 9-10 at Colorado College; December 27-28 at a tournament in Fort Meyers, Florida). It's going to be great!

On to this week's picks.

Viewing plans for this week
--> Boston College at Virginia Tech
--> Wisconsin at Illinois
--> North Carolina at Miami
--> Ohio State at Minnesota
--> Georgia vs Florida (taping)

The picks
Week Seven: 6-3
Season: 69-30

Thursday, October 27
Boston College at Virginia Tech--> Tech looked very good, especially on defense, in beating down Maryland last week. That was a quality road win that set up two huge home games for the Hokies. The first is against a BC team that just doesn't match up physically up front. The Hokies will use their defense to smother BC and create short fields for Marcus Vick and the offense. Tech still has a shot at the BCS title game, even if Texas and USC both win out.
The pick: Virginia Tech

Saturday, October 29
Wisconsin at Illinois--> I'm skeered to death of this game. The Badgers have a huge game against Penn State next week. They can't stop the run. Illinois is coming off a humiliating loss at home last week on national television. And they can run the ball a little bit there. This sets up as potentially a crushing loss for the Badgers, who have been playing with fire since their defense was exposed by Tyrell Sutton and Northwestern. But I don't have the guts to make the call.
The pick: Wisconsin

Ohio State at Minnesota--> The Buckeyes have a good run defense, which will be a great test for Laurence Maroney, Gary Russell, and that great Gopher line. But the Gophers rebounded from their crushing loss to Penn State with a resounding win over Michigan. They responded by losing in awful fashion to Wisconsin. I think they'll rebound again, as tOSU's offense is vastly overrated, and they won't be able to slow Maroney/Russell down enough.
The pick: Minnesota

Indiana at Michigan State--> So there's that Michigan State team we all know. Good to have you back, guys. Now take out your frustrations on Indiana, convince everyone you're really a good team, and blow your next halfways-important game. Just like every other year.
The pick: Michigan State

Purdue at Penn State--> The Nittany Lions prepare for what should be a showdown for a BCS bowl bid against Wisconsin next week by beating down the shockingly bad Boilermakers. Purdue's defense isn't nearly as good as we all thought it would be, and their offense has been miserable at times, especially when trying to use the forward pass. It's so bad that Tiller wants to trade for Michael Robinson.
The pick: Penn State

Michigan at Northwestern--> Northwestern's offense is really good. Conversely, their defense couldn't be any worse if they played blindfolded. Remember that 54-51 game these two teams played a few years back? That might happen again. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Wolverines are going to pull it out this time.
The pick: Michigan

Colorado at Kansas State--> It's a battle for Big 12 North supremacy! That's kind of like saying "It's a battle to see who's the coolest kid at the spelling bee!". I think Colorado is going to step to the top of this conference and earn the right to get destroyed by Texas in the title game.
The pick: Colorado

Georgia at Florida--> With Shockley sidelined, Georgia's rather average offense takes a step in the wrong direction. The Bulldogs have a great defense, and they'll keep Florida off the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Gators have a pretty good defense, too, and they've had some big wins recently in this series.
The pick: Florida

UCLA at Stanford--> Since losing to *chuckle* UC-Davis, Stanford has rebounded a bit. They're in the upper half of the Pac-10 standings, which goes to show how thin a conference this really is. UCLA has too many weapons for Stanford to slow them down, and I don't think the Bruins will be stupid enough to take Stanford lightly given how they've played recently.
The pick: UCLA

South Carolina at Tennessee--> Spurrier still has some work to do with the Gamecocks. They have a shot at a bowl game this year, but getting there won't be easy. And even given all the success Spurrier has had against Fulmer and the Vols, I don't think he has enough magic to pull one out this year.
The pick: Tennessee

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BlogPoll: Week Eight and Nine...even though it's clearly Week Nine

Sorry. I went on vacation last week and didn't have time to post, well, anything. Not that it matters that much. My picks needed a week off, and there weren't any games this week that really intrigued me. The one that did (Tennessee-'Bama) absolutely sucked.

Here is the Week 8 ballot I submitted to BlogPoll.

Dropped out
20 Cal-->
22 Louisville-->
25 Colorado-->

The old Top 25
1. Southern Cal
2. Texas
3. Virginia Tech
4. Georgia
5. Alabama
6. Miami (Florida)
7. Louisiana State
9. Florida State
10. Notre Dame
11. Penn State
12. Ohio State
13. Oregon
14. Boston College
15. Auburn
16. Tennessee
17. Michigan State
18. Minnesota
19. Texas Tech
20. Texas Christian
21. West Virginia
22. Florida
23. Wisconsin
24. Fresno State
25. Texas A&M

Now, we'll move on to this week. The fact that Texas is now #1 in the BCS is exactly why I hate the BCS. What does a beatdown of not-yet-tested-by-a-good-team Texas Tech prove? USC has beaten three quality opponents on the road this year (Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame). They've beaten down practically everyone they've played. Texas beat a marginally decent Ohio State team on the road because Ohio State's quarterback sucks. What else have they done? They beat Rice. They beat the worst Oklahoma team since the John Blake Era. They beat Louisiana-Lafayette. And they're #1 in the BCS. Ugh.

Oh, and Arkansas State is one win away from being bowl-eligible. You've seen nothing until you've seen Jonesboro empty for a bowl game.

Dropped out
16 Tennessee--> I know their schedule has been really really really really hard, but the Volunteers are now 3-3, and they've lost Gerald Riggs for the season.

17 Michigan State--> Clearly, Northwestern is better than anyone thought. But 49-14? At home? Same ol' Michigan State.

19 Texas Tech--> What have I kept saying about this team? Beating Kansas State does not qualify someone as having beaten a good team, and they just lost their best test of the season by 35 points.

The new Top 25 ballot
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). Still the top dog until proven otherwise...
2. Texas (2). ...and beating down Texas Tech doesn't do it for me.
3. Virginia Tech (3). Got it done in a tough road environment.
4. UCLA (8). I keep waiting for everything to fall apart, but it hasn't...yet.
5. Georgia (4). Shockley's injury could be a killer against Florida.
6. Alabama (5). No team looked worse in a home victory.
7. Miami (Florida) (6). Nothing personal...UCLA deserved a jump.
8. Louisiana State (7). Nice OT win at home against Auburn. Good ballgame.
9. Florida State (9). I'm still not sold on this team.
10. Notre Dame (10). Brady Quinn: Wow. He's the next Kyle Boller.
11. Penn State (11). 56-3 halftime lead gives Penn State the second half off.
12. Ohio State (12). Road whipping of Indiana. Running game looked good, even though it wasn't much of a test.
13. Boston College (14). Flip flopping with the Ducks...
14. Oregon (13). ...because of the Clemens injury. I'll refrain from further judgment on Oregon's chances.
15. Texas Christian (20). Should win the Mountain West. What a way to debut in the new league.
16. West Virginia (21). Unless they slip like last year, WVU is heading to a BCS bowl.
17. Minnesota (18). Idle. Ready to beat Ohio State.
18. Auburn (15). Shouldn't be horribly penalized for OT loss at LSU.
19. Florida (22). Cocktail Party awaits.
20. Wisconsin (23). Still overrated. Just watch. Defense gave up another 200+ rushing yards, and was only bailed out by bad playcalling and worse execution by Purdue's passing game.
21. Fresno State (24). May be the class of the WAC. But so might Nevada. Doesn't say much for the WAC.
22. Texas A&M (25). Moved up by default.
23. Northwestern (NR). Damn.
24. Toledo (NR). Do you have any better ideas?
25. Rutgers (NR). Just wanted to see how this looked.

The Watch List
Texas Tech

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tuesdays at the Rink

Don't forget about's regular "Tuesdays at the Rink" chats later today.

This week’s chats are with Alaska-Fairbanks coach Tavis MacMillan, fresh off a three-point weekend in Mariucci, and CSTV analyst Billy Jaffe. Billy will start at noon CT, followed by Coach MacMillan at 1 p.m. CT.

You can ask MacMillan why everyone says his team got three points in a non-conference series, and also ask him where he gets those suits (Doug Woog says they have some nice places up there, but I've never been there and am naturally curious now).

Then you can ask Jaffe his opinion on why Colorado College lost a home game this weekend and still moved up in the polls. While you're at it, find out what he thinks about Minnesota getting a first-place vote in the USCHO/CSTV poll even though they got outplayed at home by UAF. And see if he knows who the insane person is that gave UAF a first-place vote in that same poll.

Anyway, go to for the chats later today (Jaffe at 12pm CT, MacMillan at 1pm CT).

Friday, October 14, 2005

College football - Week Seven preview

Sorry about the lateness. But what do you care? You shouldn't be placing bets based on my game predictions, anyway. Well, unless you want to lose money.

Viewing plans this week
Believe it or not, I actually have viewing plans this week. I know. It's shocking. Someone who writes about college football and votes in a national poll is actually going to watch games. That would disqualify me from voting in the Harris poll, I guess. But the BlogPoll still loves me, and that's all that matters in the big picture.

Anyway, UMD is at home (to take on North Dakota, the best Division II football team around). And I don't have a hockey game to worry about. So I'll be home in time to catch at least the fourth quarter of the 2:30 CT games.

--> UTEP at Tulane
--> Wisconsin at Minnesota (taping)
--> USC at Notre Dame
--> Penn State at Michigan
--> Florida at LSU
--> Florida State at Virginia
--> Georgia at Vanderbilt
--> Oklahoma "at" Kansas

The picks
Last week: 5-7
Season: 63-27

Saturday, October 15
Wisconsin at Minnesota--> Had the Badgers actually played defense a week ago, I'd think differently about this game. But I think last week was a wakeup call for some young guys along the Badgers' defense who thought a bit too highly of themselves after five games. That, along with the fact that Laurence Maroney, unlike Tyrell Sutton, is a known product, means I expect Bielema to have his defense ready to play, and the Badgers will keep the Axe.
The pick: Wisconsin

Indiana at Iowa--> I really like how Terry Hoeppner has energized the IU program. However, I don't like his chances going on the road to play a real team. And despite their early-season problems, Iowa certainly qualifies as a "real team". They are coming off a big win last week, and they'll build off that momentum.
The pick: Iowa

Michigan State at Ohio State--> One team has a great defense. One team doesn't. Usually, the great defense will win. But the difference between these two teams at the quarterback position is unbelieveable. I don't know how tOSU can slow Drew Stanton down enough to win this game, given tOSU's woeful offense.
The pick: Michigan State

Northwestern at Purdue--> Tyrell Sutton, meet an angry home team that is tired of being labeled a disappointment. The Boilers, once thought of as a Big Ten title contender, are 2-3. No way they drop to 2-4 at home.
The pick: Purdue

Penn State at Michigan--> It's not surprising that one team is 6-0 and ranked eighth, while the other is 3-3 with two conference losses and is unranked in the national polls. What's surprising is that the unbeaten team is Penn State. I have seen the Nittany Lions play, and while they have a great defense and a solid running game, I don't think they will beat Michigan in the Big House with Michael Robinson at quarterback. I won't complain, however, if PSU wins. A year of Michigan sucking is good for everyone, especially Michigan fans.
The pick: Michigan

USC at Notre Dame--> I just don't have the guts. If Notre Dame wins this game, I will kick myself. Hard.
The pick: USC

Florida at LSU--> The Gators need a win here. So does LSU. The Tigers gagged badly in their last big game at home. Florida didn't look good last week, even though they won handily. Neither did LSU. This is a tough game, because it comes down to whose quarterback screws up less. I guess I'll stick with my old theory on a game like that and take the home team, though I really don't have a strong feeling either way.
The pick: LSU

Colorado at Texas--> If Joel Klatt plays well, CU has a shot to catch Texas napping. The Buffaloes have been a pleasant surprise so far, and it looks like they might be the only reasonably competent football team in the Big 12 North. But it's hard to envision them winning in Austin, given the fact that Texas has finally kicked the monkey off their back by beating Oklahoma. The Longhorns might trip up, but it won't happen this week.
The pick: Texas

Florida State at Virginia--> It's a good road test for a young offense, but Virginia hasn't looked strong as of late. The Cavaliers won't score nearly enough points to keep their defense in the game, and Drew Weatherford will continue his improvement as FSU's signal-caller.
The pick: Florida State

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

BlogPoll: Week Seven

Full disclosure
**Crickets chirping**

I saw parts of Nebraska-Texas Tech, Iowa-Purdue, and Cal-UCLA. That's about it.

Dropped out
14 Wisconsin--> Next time, make sure the defense takes the field in the second half. I know Northwestern has a good offense, but allowing them to score on seven straight possessions rates as somewhat unacceptable.

16 Arizona State--> Big game loss to USC leads to a big home letdown against a beatable Oregon team.

17 Texas A&M--> Ugh. I guess I was wrong about this team.

21 Michigan--> It had to suck to watch the Gophers storm your sideline for that Jug.

The new Top 25
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). It won't be easy in South Bend like it was last time.
2. Texas (2). The monkey has been cleared. Now Mack can't let this team stumble.
3. Virginia Tech (3). Probably tighter, at least early, than it should have been against Marshall.
4. Georgia (4). Damn.
5. Florida State (6). I get the feeling that the 'Noles haven't put it all together yet.
6. Alabama (7). Well-deserved week off.
7. Miami (9). Well-deserved week off. Oh, wait.
8. Penn State (20). Imagine if they had a QB.
9. LSU (11). Made the win look more impressive with a 22-point fourth quarter to put Vandy away.
10. Notre Dame (11). They have a good chance to shock USC. Trust me.
11. Florida (13). Shaky effort, but a blowout win in the end.
12. Ohio State (5). Imagine if they had a QB like Michael Robinson.
13. Michigan State (15). Avoided getting Drew Stanton hurt during bye week.
14. UCLA (23). Great comeback win over Cal.
15. Minnesota (22). GIMME BACK MY JUG!
16. Tennessee (8). Next time, try showing up for that big game at home.
17. Oregon (18). Big, gutsy road win at ASU.
18. Boston College (NR). Dominated Virginia, despite well-publicized and utterly ridiculous cheap shot
19. Auburn (19). Did anyone play last week?
20. Cal (12). Blew double-digit lead and saw regular-season winning streak end.
21. Texas Tech (24). I don't care. They still haven't played anyone.
22. Louisville (25). Huge win over what had looked to be a decent UNC team.
23. Texas Christian (NR). Road win against Wyoming vaults Horned Frogs back in the poll.
24. West Virginia (NR). Do you have any better ideas?
25. Colorado (NR). Do you have any better ideas?

The Watch List
Fresno State
Texas A&M

Monday, October 10, 2005

Attention college hockey fans

CSTV sponsors a pretty cool online feature called "Tuesday at the Rink". This week, RIT head coach Wayne Wilson and CSTV analyst Dave Starman will be the guests in's “Tuesday @ The Rink” chats. Coach Wilson will be in at 12:30 p.m. CT and Dave will be in at 1 p.m. CT.

As many of you probably know, RIT is in their first year of Division I competition after many years as a powerhouse program in Division III. This will be a good chance to chat with the very classy Wilson and get his thoughts on the transition.

Friday, October 07, 2005

College football - Week Six preview

Viewing plans this week
It's Homecoming for UMD this week, so my bags are not packed this week (thank GOODNESS). However, it's also opening weekend of hockey season (hence the ten previous posts previewing the WCHA season), and UMD is at home. I'm a season-ticket holder, so my day on Saturday is full of things that aren't related to the games I'm about to preview. I have, literally, no viewing plans this week, unless I decide to tape Minnesota-Michigan.

The picks
Last week: 8-2 (1-0 on the NCC bonus pick)
Season: 58-20 (1-0)

Saturday, October 8
Wisconsin at Northwestern--> Wisconsin is too hot for Northwestern. The Wildcats will score some points, but will struggle trying to slow down the Bucky offense.
The pick: Wisconsin

Illinois at Indiana--> The Hoosiers' dream of an unbeaten season came to an end a week ago. However, Hoeppner's team can take another step toward a potential bowl bid with a win this week.
The pick: Indiana

Minnesota at Michigan--> All the talk about Laurence Maroney is interesting. Too bad he won't be the best running back on the field on Saturday. That honor will fall on Michael Hart.
The pick: Michigan

Iowa at Purdue--> This is a battle of teams that had hoped to contend for a national title, but both teams come in with two losses. Purdue was blown out at home by Notre Dame last week, and Iowa has struggled in their two road games so far, playing badly at Iowa State and Ohio State.
The pick: Purdue

Ohio State at Penn State--> We all want to see JoePa do well here (well, most of us do). But Michael Robinson hit 13 of 32 passes last week. He's not a very good quarterback. tOSU's defense will slow down the Penn State attack, and the question becomes whether or not Penn State can keep tOSU off the board. I'm betting the emotion of a huge night game in Happy Valley will vault the Nittany Lions to another big win.
The pick: Penn State

Oklahoma at Texas--> If they lose this game this year, Mack Brown should just quit on the spot.
The pick: Texas

TCU at Wyoming--> Huge early game in the Mountain West. Utah will be a factor in the end, but right now it's TCU and Wyoming fighting for supremacy. In the elevation, I'll ride Bramlet and Bouknight to a Cowboy win.
The pick: Wyoming

Georgia at Tennessee--> Now that Phil has made the right choice at QB (Clausen), the Vols' offense is only going to get better. I think Georgia is a tad overrated, but Shockley can shut me up with a big performance.
The pick: Tennessee

Texas Tech at Nebraska--> Neither team has played a great opponent yet, but both are 4-0, which does count for something. Nebraska has showed us some defense this year, but their offense is too inept to lead them past a team as potent at Tech.
The pick: Texas Tech

LSU at Vanderbilt--> I was all set to tape this game until Vandy went and lost to Middle Tennessee. Ouch.
The pick: LSU

California at UCLA--> The winner emerges as the last good challenge to USC's conference supremacy this season. Cal has their best test of the season (before USC) in this game, and they'll pass it thanks to Marshawn Lynch, who will outduel Maurice Drew.
The pick: California

Oregon at Arizona State--> It's the "Battle of the Last Two Teams That Failed to Slow Down USC". ASU might be the best two-loss team around...well, except for the Patriots.
The pick: Arizona State

WCHA Preview - 1. Denver Pioneers

Last year: 32-9-2, 19-7-2 WCHA (T-1st). Beat North Dakota in NCAA final.
Coach: George Gwozdecky, twelfth season at UD (255-161-33); 20th season overall (405-285-54)
Top returnees
Forwards: Gabe Gauthier, sr (26-31-57); Paul Stastny, soph (17-28-45); Geoff Paukovich, soph (12-9-21); Adrian Veideman, jr (5-14-19)
Defensemen: Matt Carle, jr (13-31-44); Andrew Thomas, soph (2-5-7)
Goalies: Peter Mannino, soph (18-4-1, 2.19, .927); Glenn Fisher, jr (14-5-1, 2.84, .889)
Top newcomers: Patrick Mullen, F; T.J. Fast, D; Chris Butler, D; Julian Marcuzzi, D
Biggest losses: Brett Skinner, D (4-36-40); Luke Fulghum, F (23-19-42); Jeff Drummond, F (16-23-39); Kevin Ulanski, F (11-22-33); Jon Foster, F (21-8-29)

Assess the team's 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
When everyone (including myself) assumed that Denver couldn't replace the leadership from guys like Caldwell and Berkhoel during the 2003-2004 title run, the Pioneers turn around and do just that. The team got huge goals all season long from veterans Fulghum, Foster, Drummond, and Gauthier, and they found the goaltender to carry them to glory once again. As a freshman, Mannino wasn't supposed to be able to win all those big games. But that's exactly what he did. Gwozdecky rotated goalies all season long, but Mannino took the ball in the playoffs, and he won both games in the Frozen Four. Not much went wrong for Denver a year ago, they were probably the best team in the country from start to finish, which was a bit of a contrast from the year before, when Denver came on late to earn their NCAA bid and eventually won the whole thing.

Assess the team's overall strengths:
For Denver, it's all about the veterans. The Pioneers lost some big-time talent off last year's team, including 71 goals combined from Fulghum, Drummond, Ulanski, and Foster. Gwozdecky is charged with trying to reload, and he has some people in place. Gauthier is as good as they come, and he's unbelieveably dangerous in clutch situations. He seems to have a knack for finding the net when his team needs it most. Stastny is a star in the making. Only a sophomore, he tallied eight times on the power play a year ago, and he's expected to only get better. Veideman and fellow junior J.D. Corbin will be expected to contribute more offensively, and Paukovich provides an aura of toughness on the team, though he needs to learn to contain his emotions, as evidenced by the illegal and dangerous hit on UND's Robbie Bina in the Final Five.

Assess the team's overall weaknesses:
There is some apprehension regarding this team because of the senior leadership they lost up front. 71 goals is a lot to replace from those four departed players, and it's not fair to simply assume that Denver will do it because they're Denver. The Pioneers also lost a big-play defenseman in Skinner, along with steady D-men Jussi Halme and Matt Laatsch. Thomas will be asked to do a lot more than he did as a freshman, though the talent is there. Also, will Fisher continue to play the good soldier in goal while Mannino gets all the big-game assignments? Will Mannino continue to get all those assignments? I think Gwozdecky has handled his goaltending very well the last two years, but the old saying is "If you have two goalies, you don't have any". If there's any question as to who Gwozdecky throws out there in a big game, that old saing may come into play, just as it did when Denver had Berkhoel and Wade Dubielewicz sharing time.

Best-case scenario:
Denver reloads again. Gauther, Stastny, Paukovich, Corgin, Veideman, and others replace the goal-scorers who moved on, and Carle and Thomas help form one of the top defensive groups in the country. By January, fans are left to wonder who these Fulghum-Drummond-Skinner guys were. And Denver is still hanging around when we all gather in Milwaukee to determine a national champion.

Realistic projection:
This team is not without their warts. This team is not without their holes. But the coaching staff does an absolutely outstanding job of keeping teams from exploiting any weaknesses that exist. It's not impossible to imagine Denver hoisting a third straight national championship trophy this April, even though they lost a ton of leadership from last year. This team is a bit shakier than last year, but they're good enough to come out on top in a very tough WCHA.

WCHA Preview - 2. Minnesota Gophers

Last year: 28-15-1, 17-10-1 WCHA (T-3rd). Lost to North Dakota in NCAA semifinal.
Coach: Don Lucia, sixth season at UM (162-77-21); 19th season overall (441-232-50)
Top returnees
Forwards: Danny Irmen, jr (24-19-43); Tyler Hirsch, sr (11-33-44); Ryan Potulny, jr (24-17-41); Gino Guyer, sr (12-20-32)
Defensemen: Chris Harrington, sr (2-24-26); Derek Peltier, soph (6-13-19)
Goalies: Kellen Briggs, jr (21-12-0, 2.43, .912)
Top newcomers: Phil Kessel, F; Blake Wheeler, F; Ryan Stoa, F; R.J. Anderson, D; Jeff Frazee, G
Biggest losses: Barry Tallackson, F (11-8-19); Garrett Smaagaard, F (8-8-16); Justin Johnson, G (7-3-1, 2.34, .914)

Assess the 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
When focusing on what went right, the answer here is pretty obvious. The Gophers overcame some midseason issues and qualified for the Frozen Four practically out of nowhere. Young players like Potulny and Irmen up front and Alex Goligoski and Nate Hagemo on defense gained some valuable experience during the Gophers' run. Briggs played well, but the defense in front of him in the West Regional was outstanding, as the Gophers protected their goaltender and limited their opponents' shots. As for what went wrong, the answer here is pretty obvious, too. The Gophers went through a midseason slump that saw them swept in back-to-back home series by Colorado College and Michigan Tech. The Gophers also lost home games to UMD and Alaska-Anchorage, and tied UAA when the Seawolves scored a goal with seven seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The recovery from that slump was quick and resounding, however, and didn't end until the Gophers were on their way to Columbus.

Assess the team's overall strengths:
This Gopher team is highly skilled, as usual. Potulny and Irmen seem to specialize in scoring big goals for their team. If Hirsch is fully recovered from whatever issues plagued him during the WCHA Final Five, he is a playmaking force, especially on the power play. Freshmen Kessel, Wheeler, and Stoa only add more to the forwards. Kessel has been a star everywhere he has played so far, and he's almost a lock to be the top pick in the 2006 draft. Stoa and Wheeler give this team some much-needed bulk up front. Hagemo and Goligoski, along with the bruising Harrington, lead a strong defensive corps. Briggs should play well this season, knowing that freshman Frazee is around and ready to take the job.

Assess the team's overall weaknesses:
Obviously, youth can be one of them. The Gophers gained some priceless experience for their young stars a year ago, but here come a bunch more young players this year. While Kessel has played at a high level, as has Stoa, neither of them have played in the WCHA. It's a much more physical brand of hockey than they're used to, and they'll have to show they can take the heat. Goligoski and Hagemo both struggled at times last year, due in part to injury, and Harrington can sometimes find himself in the penalty box too much for Lucia's liking. If Frazee isn't ready in goal, the Gophers could have some problems, as Briggs sometimes seems to have one poor game for every two or three good ones.

Best-case scenario:
Lucia gets the youngsters to play like they've been in this league for three years already. The defense continues to develop, Briggs and/or Frazee play well, and the Gophers match every challenge they're faced with. If all of this happens, there's little doubt that the Gophers are heading to Milwaukee.

Realistic projection:
Something pretty close to that, actually. I think Minnesota will hit a few bumps in the road this season, especially in conference play. But this team is too talented, too skilled, and too tough not to be a huge factor in the WCHA race. I won't pick them to win the league because there's a team that has more experience and, in my view, somewhat comparable talent. But Minnesota will be there in the end, and they're a huge favorite to end up in Milwaukee for the Frozen Four.