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.