Wednesday, August 31, 2005

College football - Week One

Brian from MGoBlog said it best...


That works for me. I got my first taste of football that counts over the weekend, as UMD beat Chadron State 28-17 down in Nebraska. It was cool to see a game that actually counted. Now, we all get to see games that count, as the big boys open up the regular season on Saturday.

Throughout the season, we'll pick select games, focusing on Big Ten games, as well as the biggest and most intriguing matchups around the nation. Most of the non-Big Ten games we pick will be games that end up on national television. All times are Central because that's where I live. I'm sure you guys can handle the math.

Thursday, September 1
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest (6pm, ESPNU)--> This matchup is an intriguing one because it matches two teams in elite conferences that are dying to get better. I like Wake to improve, but it will be hard for them to stay out of the ACC basement. Vanderbilt looks like they'll end up being better than Kentucky, but it won't be easy to rise more than one spot in the East Division standings. Anyway, Wake has RB Chris Barclay, and Vandy has QB Jay Cutler. I'll take the home team with the underrated offense (coach Jim Grobe likes to run the ball with a lot of misdirection).
The pick: Wake Forest

Minnesota at Tulsa (9:15pm, ESPN2)--> The Gophers aren't playing the cream of the Conference USA crop, but Tulsa has a shot at maybe giving the Gophers a game here. They won't slow down Laurence Maroney, and they'll have trouble covering Ernie Wheelwright, but the Gophers' defense will be tested by the Golden Hurricane's receivers, namely Ashlan Davis, along with TE Garrett Mills. That said, Maroney will be too much, and he may top 250 yards in a season-opening Gopher win.
The pick: Minnesota

Friday, September 2
Indiana at Central Michigan (6:30pm, ESPNU)--> This is a tough pick. No Big Ten team has ever played in Kelly-Shorts Stadium before. IU beat CMU 41-10 a year ago in Bloomington. However, IU is a bad football team, and CMU may be much improved this year now that they have found a QB (Kent Smith) for Brian Kelly's spread offense. As much as I'd love to see the upset here, I don't have the guts to call it. It will be close, but...
The pick: Indiana

Saturday, September 3
Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State (11am, ABC)--> Pat Forde made a good point in his column on For once, Ted Ginn might not be the obvious pick for Best Athlete on the Field. Miami LB Terna Nande is 6'1" and 228 pounds. He runs a 4.45 40-yard dash and benches 520 pounds. Yes, I just said he benches 520. Eat your heart out, Ted. Even with Justin Zwick at QB, the Buckeyes probably have enough to win this game, though Miami will give a strong effort in their first game under new coach Shane Montgomery.
The pick: tOSU

Bowling Green at Wisconsin (11am, ESPN)--> Bowling Green brings the best QB in the nation not named "Matt Leinart" to Madison, as Omar Jacobs tries to follow up on a year where he threw 41 TDs to four picks. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is trying like dogs to rebuild a defense that was near the top of the nation in most statistical categories a year ago, but only returns four starters. Bret Bielema is one of the better defensive coaches in the country, but not even he will be able to keep Jacobs from lighting up the Camp Randall Stadium scoreboard. And anyone has a good chance to win a high-scoring game against Wisconsin. This one has the look of the 2001 Fresno State game in Madison where David Carr lit up the Badgers.
The pick: Bowling Green

Rutgers at Illinois (11am, ESPN2)--> While they haven't won a lot of games under Greg Schiano, Rutgers' talent certainly has been upgraded. Despite that, they lost to New Hampshire last year, and they struggled badly on the road. Until they can win a close game away from Piscataway, no one can take Rutgers seriously as a potential bowl contender. Enter Illinois. Ron Zook's strength is recruting, not coaching. With a team in bad need of a talent upgrade, the Illini present a great chance for the Scarlet Knights to open their season on the right foot.
The pick: Rutgers

Ohio at Northwestern (11am, ESPNU)--> Frank Solich debuts at Ohio, and the Bobcats have a much better chance here than most people think. Northwestern has been hit hard by injuries (especially to DE Loren Howard), but they have enough experience back on offense to score some points, and Ohio will struggle to develop an offensive identity of their own this season. Ohio will be improved, but Northwestern will get a home win here.
The pick: Northwestern

South Florida at Penn State (2:30pm, ESPNU)--> Paterno isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and this year's team could be the kind that encourages JoePa to stick around. The defense may be one of the nation's best, and the offense should be improved enough to get Penn State eight wins...maybe more. USF is a building program, and the Big East move was a good one for them. RB Andre Hall won't have a great game, though, against this Nittany Lion defense.
The pick: Penn State

Northern Illinois at Michigan (2:30pm, ABC)--> Another MAC/Big Ten matchup. And another game that will be closer than many people believe. NIU has enough to hang with Michigan, especially if the Wolverines have Domers on the brain. The underdogs in these matchups are much better football teams than in past years, and it's only a matter of time before a MAC team upsets an "elite" Big Ten team. Not this time. I trust that Henne, Hart, and friends will figure out a way to win this game by a couple scores.
The pick: Michigan

Kent State at Michigan State (No TV)--> Ugh. Do I have to? Michigan State's the pick, provided that they can actually field a 11-man defense, and they can keep Drew Stanton upright. Kent is an interesting team in the MAC, because if the new QB comes around, they have the defense to compete. But they're just not as talented as even a Big Ten mid-carder like MSU.
The pick: Michigan State

Ball State at Iowa (no TV)--> Ball State lost three NFL draftees from a bad team. I don't think they will be that much better than a year ago as a result. Iowa has Drew Tate, and their coach is still Kirk Ferentz, so we know they'll be good. If they can find a running game (less than 80 yards and only 2.0 yards per rush a year ago), they'll be really good.
The pick: Iowa

UAB at Tennessee (no TV)--> UAB has stiffarm king Darrell Hackney at QB, but who will he throw to now that Roddy White has taken his talents to the NFL? The Blazers are favored in Conference USA, but this is a bit heady for them. Tennessee is a strong outfit...certainly strong enough to hold off what should be a stiff challenge. UAB will keep it close, but Tennessee is too much, and they will win by double digits.
The pick: Tennessee

Colorado State at Colorado (2:30pm, TBS)--> There's no question in my mind that Colorado State won't go 4-7 again. And as bad as they were a year ago, they still only lost to Colorado because of poor clock management. Colorado doesn't look any better than a year ago, though Joel Klatt is a good-enough passer that the Buffs will win a game or two thanks to his arm. I like the upset here, as Justin Holland atones for last year's late-game blunder.
The pick: Colorado State

Boise State at Georgia (4:30pm, ESPN)--> Boise has a quirky-enough offense that it will probably give the bigger and stronger Dawgs some fits. QB Jared Zabransky may have a big game, but can Boise's undersized defense hold up against the Georgia offensive line, which is quite physical. It's a good test for new staring QB D.J. Shockley, but I think he'll pass it, and I think the home team will wear down a pesky Boise squad in the fourth quarter.
The pick: Georgia

USC at Hawai'i (6pm, ESPN2)--> I'm not going to be goofy and pick Hawai'i or anything like that, but the Warriors are traditionally tough at home, and I smell Ewing Theory on the island now that Timmy Chang has departed. With that in mind, USC wins this game, and they do it rather convincingly.
The pick: USC

Texas A&M at Clemson (7pm, ABC)--> Can mad scientist/offensive coordinator Rob Spence get more out of Charlie Whitehurst than we saw last year (7 TD/17 INT)? Is Reggie McNeal a real candidate for the H*i*m*n? We'll find out in prime time. Death Valley is a tough place to play, but I'm high on A&M, and Death Valley isn't what it used to be.
The pick: Texas A&M

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (7pm, ABC)--> Former NFL coaches go head to head as Dave Wannstedt's Panthers host Charlie Weis' Irish. I really think Notre Dame could be in for a big year, as Brady Quinn looks ready to run Weis' offense. With their tough schedule, they will still need to win their winnable game to assure a bowl bid. This is one of those winnable games. Pittsburgh will be very good offensively as long as QB Tyler Palko and WR Greg Lee are healthy and productive, but the defense is shaky.
The pick: Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Auburn (7:45pm, ESPN)--> If Reggie Ball can play more consistently and give 100 percent effort at all times, Tech could make some noise this year. That's a big "if", however. The chances of it happening are about as good as the chances of Ball getting benched. Auburn has a stout defense, and they'll rebuild the skill positions on offense quicker than people think. I like them at home.
The pick: Auburn

Sunday, September 4
West Virginia at Syracuse (12:30pm, ABC)--> Greg Robinson is going to do some good work with the Orange. SU has a good challenge in their opener, taking on a West Virginia team that looks to atone for an underachieving 2004 season. Syracuse threw the ball enough last year that the transition to the West Coast offense shouldn't be culture shock, and they have an underrated defense (led by stud DE James Wyche, who may be better than Dwight Freeney).
The pick: Syracuse

Virginia Tech at North Carolina State (6:15pm, ESPN2)--> This is a trendy upset special pick. NC State has issues on offense, where they need better QB play to be a threat in the ACC. Reggie Herring built a top-notch defense, but he is now the coordinator at Arkansas. The defense will still be good, but Virginia Tech is too strong. They'll ride Marcus Vick, a pretty good defense of their own, and the usual strong special teams to a season-opening road win.
The pick: Virginia Tech

Monday, September 5
Mississippi at Memphis (3:30pm, ESPN)--> Can DeAngelo Williams improve on his amazing numbers from 2004? Can the Ole Miss defense slow him down? Can new Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron keep his head from exploding if the defense plays poorly? This is must-see TV.
The pick: Memphis

Miami at Florida State (7pm, ABC)--> Both teams debut new QBs, with Kyle Wright starting in Miami, while Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee will split the work for FSU. Both teams have talent, and we all know this will probably come down to a missed field goal. This time around, it's Larry Coker who will agonize over what might have been.
The pick: Florida State

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I want Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather back

Watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina has left me with one thought: We need the old guard back. I know Peter Jennings has passed, and he has to be flipping in his grave at the sight of some of the "reporting" we've been subjected to recently. Check out these words from Wade Keller, the man behind the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter.

It was disgusting to me that NBC's Today show, while 80 percent of a major U.S. city large enough to support an NFL football team was under water, was doing recipes for peanut butter ice cream. I'm not usually awake for the Today show, but the woman who was filling in for Katie Courik looked like a Raw Diva Contestant, only with more surgery, less food intake, and worse make-up. Who made the judgment call at NBC to go with business as usual on Today? Why should only people with cable television get 24/7 coverage of one of the biggest, most tragic stories of our lifetime?

The CBS, ABC, and Fox affiliates were playing normal daytime programming. I flipped the channel and there was the Price is Right, a pretaped gameshow with a bunch of people celebrating the chance to bid on merchandise. It felt so wrong that the broadcast networks, which are on airwaves owned by the public, were making money off of ads for the usual shows rather than covering the fact that an entire region of the country was increasingly underwater.

On Fox News, Shepherd Smith was on the phone, talking about how he was trapped in a hotel with thousands of New Orleans citizens. He was practically begging to be helicoptered out as his voice cracked. He said it would be unfair for him to remain there any longer because he and his crew would be taking needed food and water from others in the hotel. Why do I think that wouldn't exactly have been the response of the top reporters of the previous generation? If Smith and his crew stayed, but offered transportation that would have been given to him and his crew to the most elderly or needy citizens at the hotel, then he could stay and do his job and a few lives could be saved. Instead, he wanted out. He came there for a photo op, not to be stuck in a hotel without food and water and flushing toilets. Dan Rather, as cooky as he could be, wouldn't have been worried about clean underwear and a five-star meal. He wouldn't have been admitting on national TV he wanted a proverbial lifeboat before the women and children.

Thousands of people were being air rescued from their homes in the Gulf Coast area. It's one of the most dramatic stories of our lifetime. There are entire cities that for 24 hours after the hurricane nobody had been in contact with, such as Bay St. Louis. There was a hospital in New Orleans 24 hours after the hurricane rapidly filling up with water, and a hospital worker talking via phone on CNN about how they may run out of emergency power and may need to evacuate the patients on respirators.

There was a man being interviewed on CNN who lost his grip with his wife during the flood and lost her. He was walking around lost, in shock, with two young sons under age 12 looking dazed and confused, hugging his leg. That was on CNN. On the networks, trashy daytime talk shows about cheating husbands.

Wade is right on the money. If his story about Smith's New Orleans antics is accurate (I didn't see it), they need to throw him off the roof of that hotel he's "stranded" in. For a reporter, any reporter, to put his own interests ahead of hundreds or thousands of people who are probably left homeless by this natural disaster, is utterly reprehensible. And it's the perfect example of the "Where's the camera?" mentality that has befallen many of today's news "reporters".

Did Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings have egos? Absolutely. You don't get anywhere in this business without ego. But none of the three lasted as long as they did (and earned the respect they did) by putting themselves ahead of the story, or by making themselves part of the story. Wade is absolutely right. Shepard Smith went to New Orleans to get his face on the camera and to be part of the big story. Anchoring from the studio wasn't good enough, because you don't get recognition that way. Smith went to New Orleans for a spot on his resume tape. He should be ashamed of himself, but he'll probably get back to New York and think he did a great and wonderful job of covering the story. The reality is that he embarrassed himself and his network. And he works for Fox News Channel. It's not easy to embarrass that outfit (right, Mr. Folafel Lover?).

Even more ridiculous is the attempt by the broadcast networks to return to a "normal" pattern of news reporting once the hurricane moved away and fizzled out. By no means is this comparable to 9/11, and it's hard to compare it to the tsunami disaster at this point. But it may end up being the costliest natural disaster in our nation's history. Surely, that deserves a bit more coverage and a bit more respect than what has been offered to this point by most of our "reporters".

Oh, and someone tell Campbell Brown to take her damn hat off the next time she reports from the middle of a hurricane. What an idiot.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Quick hits

How I'm going to be spending the next 11 Saturdays. I can't thank the people here enough for the opportunity, and I'll make the most of it. I can promise all of you that.

While my college football preview has hit the skids, there is very little that should change about this blog or my posting schedule. Posts may become shorter and more frequent, instead of semi-regular posts of 1,000 or more words. That way, posting is less time-consuming for me, but I will post more frequently so that you don't lose out (well, I guess that depends on your perception of things).

In other news, the Vikings' offensive line is a mess. They can't run the least not yet. Mike Tice says we shouldn't worry, but if the Vikings struggle to run the ball Friday against San Diego, you can go ahead and move Daunte Culpepper up your fantasy draft board. Without a run game, he could throw for 5,000 yards, and he may have to if he is to keep this team above water.

In Green Bay, the special teams stink. And so does Aaron Rodgers. Fortunately for the Cheese, Brett Favre looks as sharp as ever, despite a frightening invasion of gray hair during the offseason. Is it just me, or does Favre look 10 years older than he did last year? Then again, I don't care how old he looks if he plays like he has so far. He'd better not get hurt, because the backups all look terrible. As for the defense, they did okay on Saturday, considering that six starters were out with injuries. The team needs to get healthy, but all signs so far point toward at least some sort of improvement on defense, though I still doubt it will be enough to get the Packers back in the playoffs.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

BlogPoll: One Idiot's Preseason Top 25

If you don't know about the BlogPoll, click here. It's basically a collection of losers college football fans who also blog. They have come together to vote on a weekly poll, so we can show the BCS morons that anyone can do a poll, but we're actually putting some thought behind our selections. The votes are public, so I'll be posting a Top 25 every week during the season. I have just finished work on my preseason Top 25, and the final votes, as submitted to the BlogPoll, appear here for your thoughts, discussion, and criticisms.

1. Southern Cal. Duh. Best team in college football. That is, until Oregon, Arizona State, or California figures out how to beat them.
2. Michigan. Could be the best team in college football (think about how good Henne and Hart may end up). Being that, however, would require breaking a strange streak of five straight years losing their first road game. This year? It's September 24 in Madison.
3. Virginia Tech. Marcus Vick. Marcus Vick. And more Marcus Vick. Just try to avoid giving booze to teenagers during your spare time, okay?
4. Texas. If Vince Young can play 11 games like he played that Rose Bowl against Michigan, they could be looking at a return trip to Pasadena.
5. Miami (Florida). The Hurricanes need to win in Blacksburg and Tallahassee, but you can never count out a team this talented.
6. Iowa.
You can no longer deny what Kirk Ferentz has done. Amazing work, and the best may be yet to come.
7. Texas A&M.
Year Three will be Year Breakout for Coach Fran. McNeal will put it all together as a senior.
8. Florida.
I'm biased, because I'm a big believer in (and fan of) Urban Meyer's offense, but I think he's going to whip up on this conference, and do it a lot sooner than most pundits believe is possible.
9. Louisville.
Brohm gives Bobby Petrino a big arm to work with, and the defense here could be very good this year. Move to the Big East means potential BCS berth without any kicking and screaming to get in from the outside.
10. Tennessee.
Riggs is very good, but Ainge needs to be more consistent and reliable in key games, and the defense must improve. Too many questions for a good team in a very tough conference.
11. Florida State.
Without Cromartie, the defense could make folks nervous. The offense is good, and getting Miami at home certainly helps matters. Just avoid using the kicker unless absolutely necessary.
12. Louisiana State.
Tigers need a QB. But even without a good one, they're probably still the team to beat in the SEC West.
13. Oklahoma. Too many losses up front and at the skill positions to be taken real serious. At least, until Stoops shows that the inexperienced newbies are really good, too. Boom or bust potential is real high here.
14. Ohio State. A.J. Hawk might get tired of chasing Vince Young on September 10. Without a legitimate QB (and, no, Troy Smith doesn't count...neither does Justin Zwick), tOSU will have trouble keeping up in tBig Ten.
15. Georgia. Does David Greene = Ewing Theory? I know he hasn't really gotten much of a chance to play regularly, but D.J. Shockley hasn't exactly reminded me of Michael Bishop yet. He'll get his shot this year.
16. Auburn. I know they lose Cadillac, Brown, and Campbell out of the backfield, but it's not wise to count out the Tigers, who will again this year play some serious defense.
17. Oregon. Something about Kellen Clemens in his senior season, with an improved defense, and USC at home, is intriguing. I like this team to surprise.
18. Pittsburgh. Dave Wannstedt will do some good things here. It starts this year, thanks to Tyler Palko and Greg Lee, but it will take time to mold a defense that can slow Louisville down.
19. Boise State. Zabransky will lead Boise to another WAC title, though it won't be as easy to knock off Fresno and Hawaii this year.
20. Bowling Green. Omar Jacobs has the impossible task of trying to improve off a year where he threw 41 TDs to four picks, but he has a good supporting cast, and Bowling Green's defense is better than most think.
21. Purdue. Kyle Orton = Ewing Theory? Too much talent is back on defense for Purdue to fall now that they've lost their overrated QB.
22. Iowa State. Being the best in the Big 12 North might be like being the most athletic kid at a spelling bee, but ISU has some nice players, including a sophomore QB (Bret Meyer) who is only going to get better.
23. Arizona State. Walter is gone, but ASU still stands on solid ground offensively, and this is another team that should field an improved defense.
24. Toledo. Might not win the MAC again, but Gradkowski is going to have a huge senior season under center.
25. Alabama-Birmingham. Another mid-major team with an NFL prospect at QB (Darrell Hackney). And he happens to be a senior. If UAB can find a way to beat Tennessee in the opener, look out.

Just missed
--> Alabama. Show me some offense and I'll be more of a believer.
--> California. Too many losses on offense; then again, Tedford has done this before.
--> Texas Tech. I'm not going to rank them based on one great performance (bowl). But they're definitely on my "watch list".
--> Boston College. Good team, but how will they adjust to the ACC, which doesn't feature Rutgers, Syracuse (oops, they lost to Syracuse last year), or Temple?
--> Minnesota. I know it's not about the schedule, but the schedule is really hard. And the defense may be as bad as Laurence Maroney is good.
--> Michigan State. WANTED: Cornerbacks. Preferably good ones. Apply with John L. Smith, football coach/babysitter.
--> Virginia. Is this the year of the UVA breakout? Or is Al Groh simply overrated?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

This doesn't count, right?

--> Right now, I'm confident that the fact that tonight's Chargers-Packers preseason game doesn't count is a good thing. The interior of the Pack's offensive line is a mess, with seventh-round pick Will Whitticker a serious threat to start at OG. I'm not saying that Whitticker isn't very good, as the Packers have had a number of low-round picks turn themselves into solid linemen (Adam Timmerman, Marco Rivera, and Mark Tauscher come to mind immediately). The Chargers have a solid defensive line, and they have active, athletic linebackers. They'll give the Packers' running game fits when the first team is on the field. If they don't, it might be something you can consider a good sign for Green Bay.

--> On defense, watch the safeties. Rookie Nick Collins, a second-round pick out of I-AA Bethune-Cookman, starts with Mark Roman. Collins has been given LeRoy Butler's old number (36), something that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel felt was a big enough deal to do a story on. Butler was apparently first put off by the decision to give Collins his old number, but he has since relented, and he is apparently looking forward to giving Collins some pointers as he prepares for his rookie season. GM Ted Thompson loves Collins' athleticism, but athleticism doesn't make you a football player. Tonight is the first step for Collins in showing Cheese Nation that he can play the game a little bit.

--> In other news, Steve Moore is upset that "Thug Life" Todd Bertuzzi is being allowed to play hockey, while he will probably not be able to play at the start of the 2005-2006 season. Among Moore's comments:

It's difficult to see that he's (Bertuzzi) able to play again when I still have a long way to go, and not just in hockey, but with my health.

Listen. By no means am I condoning what Bertuzzi did. It's as bad as, if not worse than, anything you'll ever see happen in a professional sports event. Bertuzzi attacked with premeditation, and he was about to punch Moore in the back of the head (when he already had a broken neck) before Andrei Nikolishin intervened and blocked the punch attempt. If Bertuzzi actually hits Moore that second time, it could have killed Moore. So, yeah, please don't take what I'm about to say as condoning Bertuzzi's actions.

Move on. Not so much Steve Moore as the rest of us. Moore has every right to be upset. He says Bertuzzi still hasn't contacted him privately, something that should have happened the day after the incident. Even if Bertuzzi has tried to contact Moore, it really doesn't change what he did. Sometimes, an apology just isn't enough.

But we all should move on now. It's been 17 months. Bertuzzi will pay a debt to Steve Moore if Moore never plays hockey again, as he should. And he's paid his debt to the league, as determined by commissioner Gary Bettman. Have fun booing Bertuzzi at an arena near you. But enough is enough. The league isn't any better or worse having Bertuzzi back, and if his presence affects your hockey-watching habits, you weren't much of a hockey fan to begin with.

--> As for the decision itself, it seems to me that there is one aspect of this decision that is causing controversy among hockey fans (and the idiots that don't follow hockey but choose to talk about it when stuff goes wrong - I'm looking at you, Jay Mariotti). Bettman decided to give Bertuzzi credit for time served during the lockout. The obvious response is "Why should he get credit for serving a suspension when no one was playing hockey?". Bettman decided to credit Bertuzzi because he (Bertuzzi) wasn't able to play professionally last year. Canada didn't allow him on the World Championship team, and since the 2004 World Cup was an NHL-sponsored event, he wasn't allowed in that, either. Not only that, but the IIHF chose to honor the NHL's suspension, making it impossible for Bertuzzi to get a job playing overseas during the lockout, which literally hundreds of NHL players did.

While you might not agree with Bettman's decision, it is certainly a point that can be rationally argued. With that in mind, a 17-month suspension is certainly adequate, and it's time for Bertuzzi to resume his career. Of course, he'll do it under a microscope everywhere he goes. I hope he's prepared for that, because it'll be unlike anything he's ever experienced before. More than the suspension itself, the ultimate test of Bertuzzi as a hockey player will come as he returns and experiences the vitriol of the fans, and the baiting of agitators around the league. Honestly, I wish him luck. A player as skilled as Todd Bertuzzi needs to be showcased in this league. It's up to Bertuzzi whether he'll be showcased or made an example of once again.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Memo to offense: You don't want to punt

The Green Bay Packers looked like crap in Friday's scrimmage, as the first-team offense did virtually nothing, while the second-team defense looked as bad as Green Bay Preble would have against the Buffalo Bills.

Now comes word that the Packers have released rookie punter Bryce Benekos, leaving the job in the somewhat-shaky hands of second-year pro B.J. Sander.


Sander, you might remember, was the Packers' third-round pick in 2004 out of THE Ohio State University. Oh, yeah, and the Packers traded up in the third round to get him.

You read it right. The Packers traded up in the third round to draft a punter. And you wonder why Mike Sherman is just the coach now.

Anyway, Sander was so sharp in the preseason last year that they signed Brian Barker, who was driving a steamroller or something at the time. Barker punted all year (poorly) while Sander spent his season with the third quarterback and second-string long snapper on the weekly inactive list.

And now Sander is the team's starting punter. Pardon me if I don't screech in excitement at the prospects.

BlogPoll #5: Making the case

Brian from Mgoblog has authored the latest BlogPoll roundtable, as we are now one week away from the opening of voting in the preseason BlogPoll. He requests that we make a case for a team being ranked higher or lower than the current preseason polls and rankings have them.

As a Wisconsin fan, I feel they're being rated right about where they belong, which is the middle of the ORVs (others receiving votes). Wisconsin is a classic BCS-conference ORV right now; no one knows what to expect from them, not even their fans, but they have built up enough goodwill that the case can at least be made that they'll be good. So the polls say ORV, and I say ORV. I guess you won't see me making any kind of case for Bucky at this point.

I'll pick two teams I think are overrated, and two more I think are underrated. The rankings you see will be from the lidlifting coaches' poll.

Editors note: Because I am an idiot (shocking, I know), I had to make a couple adjustments to my response. Specifically, I had to add the rankings I thought the teams I was listing deserved. Seriously, you'd think I could take the time to actually read the question.

Overrated: Tennessee (#3, 10-3 last year, 7-1 SEC)
Should be ranked: #10

I won't even touch the fat jokes. They don't matter. Phil Fulmer is a great recruiter, and he might be a nice guy. But he loses enough games every year to make his team overrated when they start the season ranked third. This year's squad has plenty of talent, but they also have to travel to Gainesville, where Zook won't be around to screw it up, and I'm certain the officials won't job Florida like they did last year in Knoxville. Not only that, but Phil's old buddy Steve Spurrier is back. Now, I know what you're thinking...South Carolina won't be good enough to contend this year. But I do think they'll be good enough to make Fulmer sweat come late October, once Spurrier has had a few games to work out the kinks.

I like Gerald Riggs, but I'm not sold on Eric Ainge, who was very erratic after a hot start as a freshman (8 picks in his last five-plus games before going down in the Notre Dame game). The Vols need Robert Meacham to step it up in a hurry, or they'll lack a top-flight receiver for Ainge to throw to. The defense returns almost intact, but they gave up more points per game (22.7) than at any point since the 1990s, so there's still some work to do there.

All in all, I think there are some teams that merit a #3 rating more than Tennessee does. Then again, they're not as overrated as...

Overrated: Oklahoma (#5, 11-1 last year, 8-0 Big 12)
Should be ranked: #13

How is Oklahoma this high? Oh, yeah. That dreaded "R" word strikes again.


How else could a team that now must replace a H*i*m*n-winning QB who tossed 35 TDs in his senior year, four receivers who combined for 116 catches, 1,700 yards, and 18 TDs, and only has nine starters back while losing 26 of 65 letterwinners be ranked in the top five?

Seriously, has Bob Stoops shown that much skill in six short years?

I have nothing against OU. In fact, I've always taken a bit of a liking to them. And I respect Bob Stoops enormously. But this is too much. The Sooners get Adrian Peterson back, but do you think he's going to approach 2,000 yards again with a new QB, new receivers, and three new line starters? I don't. And if he doesn't, there's no way OU will do anything to merit this ranking.

The defense is an even bigger mess. Only four starters are back, and one of them (Dusty Dvoracek) is in and out of trouble so much that you don't know if he'll even be on the team in September. Brodney Pool is gone, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the secondary. Lance Mitchell is gone, and he was the heart and soul of this defense last year. Punt return dynamo Antonio Perkins, who also developed into a pretty nice corner, is gone. Pass rushers Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson are gone.

Seriously, if you replaced "Oklahoma" with "Texas", what would people be saying about this team? And is Bob Stoops that much better a football coach than Mack Brown? My money's on "No", because I don't think it's possible for Stoops to be good enough to overcome these losses.

Underrated: Bowling Green (unranked, 9-3 last year, 6-2 MAC)
Should be ranked: #20

With how much I like this team, I'm thinking they'll reward me by losing to Wisconsin on five Omar Jacobs picks in the opener. The reason I really like this team actually has very little to do with Jacobs. Yeah, he threw 41 TDs to just four picks a year ago. But the offensive balance is what makes this team so dangerous, and the reason for that balance is the offensive line blocking for diminutive P.J. Pope. At 6.2 yards per carry and with 15 TDs a year ago, Pope kept defenses honest. They couldn't stack coverages to focus on individual receivers because there were too many good receivers, and Pope ran the ball well enough to keep defenses from loading up on secondary personnel. The line protected Jacobs wonderfully (13 sacks on 472 pass attempts), but they also paved the way for team totals of 168 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.

LT Rob Warren might be the best lineman people don't know much about. He's joined on the left side by sophomore Korey Lichtensteiger, who was second-team All-MAC as a frosh. They don't have Scott Mruczkowski in the middle anymore, but they'll still be very good. And as long as Jacobs has time to throw, he'll find receivers open. Top pass-catching returnees Steve Sanders, Charles Sharon, and Pope combined for 161 catches and 29 receiving TDs last year.

No, the defense won't inspire memories of the 1985 Bears. But tackling machine Ted Piepkow and senior corner Jelani Jordan will make sure they don't get pushed around, either. BGSU's defense will be good enough to keep the Falcons in games, and their virtually unstoppable offense will make them a contender every time they step on the field, no matter the opponent or site.

Underrated: Wyoming (unranked, 7-5 last year, 3-4 MWC)
Should still be unranked, but much closer to Wisconsin in the ORV category

I don't think they can pull a Utah, but I do think that Wyoming is ready to surprise some people in 2005, and they could sneak into a second-tier bowl instead of being stuck in a minor bowl again this year. Joe Glenn has re-energized the fan base out there, and the players on the field are pretty good. The Cowboys feature a QB who really grew up last year. Senior Corey Bramlet's performance in the bowl win over UCLA (over 300 yards, including the game-winning TD pass to cap a 14-point fourth-quarter rally) was an eye-opener, as it appears Bramlet has finally settled in to Glenn's offense. With Jovon Bouknight, the best-kept secret in the West, catching the ball, and an improved running game, Bramlet should only get better. He does have a streak of seven straight 200-yard games after a shaky start last year.

The defense has gone from 36 points per game allowed in 2002, Vic Koennig's last year, to 30 points per game in Glenn's first year (2003), to 24.8 points per game last year. With eight starters back, the expectation is that Wyoming will cut even further into that number. Senior John Flora is a nice outside pass-rusher, and safety John Wendling is a strong hitter.

The schedule is favorable, with four conference home games, though Wyoming does have to travel to Utah and Colorado State. This a team, however, capable of beating one of those two teams. If they take care of business in games they should win and steal one game they shouldn't, Wyoming could be sitting on eight or nine wins, provided they can develop the running game, protect Bramlet more consistently, and continue to develop the defense.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quick hits

--> Site news: You might notice a new sidebar on the main page. As most of you know, I am participating in the first-ever BlogPoll, a collaboration of brilliant college football bloggers from around the country, along with some dorks from Notre Dame. Brian from mgoblog has put together a test-run of the BlogPoll, and the results appear on the right side of the page. We will be messing with some things and possibly making a few more changes to it as time goes on, but the BlogPoll Top 10/15/20/25 (whatever number I decide to roll with) will be a regular feature now that we are nearing football season.

--> I don't understand Bobby Clarke. First, he signs three defensemen (Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, and Chris Therien) who have the combined speed and skill of three fire hydrants. Hatcher, especially, seems like an incredible liability in the "new-age" NHL, where the league hopes to place a premium on skill and cut down on the goonish thuggery that players like Hatcher have made famous. Anyone who saw Hatcher grab, punch, clothesline, and hook various Calgary Flames during the 2003-2004 playoffs knows what I am talking about. To make matters worse, Clarke gave Rathje $3.5 million a year, a number he probably isn't worth without a salary cap, much less with one.

After those questionable signings, he turns around and signs Peter "Floppa" Forsberg, the diving/injury machine from Colorado, to the tune of $5.7 million per year over two years. Keep in mind that the Avalanche won their last Cup, for the most part, without an injured Floppa, and keep in mind that Floppa talked openly about wanting to play in his native Sweden after his last contract expired. "Desire" is not a trait I would quickly attach to Floppa. "Desire", however, is what Jeremy Roenick is all about. He probably wouldn't even know how to take a shift off, and he never has talked about leaving to play in a different country. Roenick has his character flaws, unquestionably, but he's a talented player who always plays hard, and he is a good fit in the "new-age" NHL because of his speed and skills.

--> Nikolai Khabibulin signed what basically amounts to a maximum contract in Chicago (4 years, $27 million). I know the Blackhawks have a chance to re-invent themselves under new GM Dale Tallon, but it's hard to believe that the franchise is going anywhere as long as Bill Wirtz, possibly the worst owner in the history of major professional sports in North America, is pulling all the strings. Maybe Khabibulin only wants to win the Stanley Cup once in his career. Or maybe he's delusional enough to think that he can carry the Blackhawks by himself.

--> The Minnesota Wild are, so far, staying away from the free agent frenzy, only signing an enforcer (Andrei Nazarov), and a couple of big defensemen who were not highly regarded. I have mixed feelings about how the Wild have handled things since the lockout ended. On one hand, it's probably smart to stay away from these free agents. After all, Alexei Zhamnov got overpaid by Boston, Hatcher and Rathje by Philadelphia, Mike Modanna by Dallas, and Paul Kariya by Nashville, just to name a few. The Wild don't need to make a splash and overpay for a veteran, but they need to add some scoring. And they need to show the fanbase that they won't be cheap. Now that they're saving 24 percent on all contracts that existed through the lockout, and they've decided not to touch their average ticket price of $50.72, it's time to show the fans that they're serious about winning, and serious about spending some of the money they'd normally pocket. I'm not saying the Wild should spend to the $39 million cap, but I'm thinking they should come a lot closer to that cap than it seems they're planning on.

--> The NFL preseason is officially underway, as the Falcons and Colts started things with an American Bowl game in Japan. The Hall of Fame game is Monday night in Canton, featuring the crappy Bears and wretched Dolphins. The Packers looked awful last night, getting pushed around by the Buffalo Bills in a Lambeau Field scrimmage. The Vikings, meanwhile, continue to spew optimism as they enter what could be a championship season. The defense will be improved, they say, and the offense won't miss Randy Moss much. While the offense will probably miss Moss more than anyone in Mankato is willing to let on right now, that defense could vault into the top 10-15 in the league, which will more than make up for Moss being a Raider now. By the way, Moss' assertion that the Vikings' offensive playbook was "one plus one", while the Raiders' playbook is "Algebra II", is possibly the most ridiculous thing Moss has ever said. And, yeah, I do remember "I play when I want to play". That "one plus one" offense was one of the best in the league after Moss' arrival, and it wasn't all because of Moss. I smell "Ewing Theory" (brainchild of columnist Bill Simmons), the idea that a team may actually be better after their best player bolts to a different organization. Moss is just upset because the Vikings may very well represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, while the Raiders will be lucky to finish 8-8.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Thanks, ESPN

Those who follow college football may know about the fine work of Bruce Feldman. He has a regular blog on ESPN Insider (you have to pay to read that stuff). If you have the service, it's well worth your time, as are the Insider blogs of Buster Olney (MLB), Chad Ford (NBA), and Seth Wickersham (NFL).

Feldman has recently chronicled his move back to New York, and the standoff with his moving company that has ensued. He says he's still waiting for his stuff to arrive, and it's (shockingly) late. He used this "standoff" to create a contest for his blog readers, in which he created a spread related to college sports and the number of days it's taken his movers to get him his stuff.

As an example, the line "NORTH CAROLINA +6 Moving company" means that "It took the Tar Heels seven less days to give up 100 points last season than it's taken for your movers to deliver your stuff".

A recent posted line was "OKLAHOMA +4 Moving company". Yours truly threw in a guess, hoping to steal some free ESPN stuff. Low and behold, Feldman posted the following late last week:

Congrats to Bruce Ciskie from Proctor, Minn., who correctly answered that OU +4 was "Oklahoma's average margin of victory over Texas the last five years is four points lower than the number of days it's now taken the movers to deliver your stuff." For his genius, Bruce will receive a copy of the ESPN Sports Almanac; a Romain Sato Russian nesting doll; a Starter foam Bruinhead (donated by ESPN The Mag writer Eric Adelson); an official Fox 40 referee whistle (unused!) donated by my colleague The Skunk, and a special mystery prize plucked from some unsuspecting stooge in my office.

I arrived at home with my son today to find a box outside my door. My stuff has arrived! And, yes, Bruce Feldman was serious about sending me a Romain Sato Russian nesting doll. This proves, once and for all, that anything can be cool when it features the likeness of Romain Sato.

Thanks, ESPN. The Bruinhead might be lame (it's UCLA and not hockey's Boston Bruins as I had hope), but my son really likes the whistle, and he's not opposed to wearing the Bruinhead around the house, even though it's only been here for 20 minutes.