Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sid Hartman's Out Of His Mind

We've driven down this road before, it seems.

After all, Sid Hartman has written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune longer than anyone reading this has been alive, I'll bet. The well-known columnist has become a parody in a way, because sometimes he writes stuff that is so crazy that not even he can believe it.

Thursday was the latest in a long line of that kind of stuff.

He decided to tackle the situation surrounding Minnesota Gophers football coach Tim Brewster. While a sane person could still defend embattled hockey coach Don Lucia at this point, it has to be assumed that even Brewster's family and close friends know he isn't going to last much longer at Minnesota.

Hartman says that shouldn't be the case. He invokes the names "Alvarez" and "Ferentz" to make his point, which is like using Bud Grant and Vince Lombardi to defend Chan Gailey.

Alvarez, now the Badgers' athletic director, went 11-22 overall and 5-19 in the Big Ten in his first three years. Wisconsin finished in 10th place in 1990, tied for eighth in 1991 and tied for sixth in 1992. In his fourth year, Alvarez was 10-1-1, tied for first in the Big Ten with a 6-1-1 record and then won the Rose Bowl with a 21-16 victory over UCLA.

... As for Ferentz, he was 11-24 overall and 7-17 in his first three years in the Big Ten. He was 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten in his first year at Iowa in 1999 and 3-9 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten in his second year. In his third year, the Hawkeyes were 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten), went to the Alamo Bowl and beat Texas Tech 19-16.

In his fourth year, Ferentz coached the Hawkeyes to a 11-2 overall record and tied for the Big Ten title with an 8-0 mark. Iowa went to the Orange Bowl, losing to USC 38-17, and has had only one sub-.500 season (6-7 in 2006) since 2001.

Really?

Now, I'm the first to preach patience, but here are the nuts and bolts of Brewster's first three seasons in Minnesota.

2007: 1-11 overall, 0-8 Big Ten, lost to a I-AA team, outscored by 10.4 points per game
2008: 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten, lost bowl game, outscored by 1.6 points per game
2009: 6-7 overall, 3-5 Big Ten, lost bowl game, beat a I-AA newcomer by three points, outscored by 2.9 points per game
2010: 1-3 overall, 0-0 Big Ten, lost to a I-AA team, outscored by 4.5 points per game

Alvarez took over a moribound program, steadily improved it every year, and it culminated with a trip to the Rose Bowl as his first class of recruits matured and he made some of his predecessor's recruits into very good upperclassmen along the way.

Ferentz took over a moribound program, steadily improved it every year, and it culminated with a trip to a major bowl as his first class of recruits matured and he made some of his predecessor's recruits into very good upperclassmen along the way.

Brewster didn't take over a moribound program. Glen Mason tok the Gophers to bowl games in 2002, 2003 (ten-win season), 2004, 2005, and 2006. Joel Maturi overreacted to Mason's team blowing a huge lead against Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl, and he fired the coach for no good reason a year after extending his contract.

Brewster came in, blew the whole thing up, posted the worst single-season record in program history, and talked about Rose Bowls. With the kind of bluster Brewster spewed from the start of his tenure in Minnesota, he shouldn't be given a ton of time to prove he wasn't full of crap.

After all the talk, it's been back-to-back Insight Bowls, where the Gophers have lost to national powers Kansas and Iowa State.

Of course, Kansas is a national power in basketball, not football. And Iowa State is a national power in wrestling, not football. So those losses really aren't anything to write home about if you're a Brewster supporter.

Yes they are 1-3 now, but they are 0-0 in the Big Ten. Nobody knows what the rest of the season will bring.

No, Sid, no one knows anything. That's correct.

But the Gophers need five Big Ten wins to even qualify for a minor bowl game, and they have to do it against a schedule that includes five ranked teams.

What's more likely is that the team has a ceiling of about 4-8 for the season, and that's not exactly showing improvement.

In fact, it seems like a step back.

Oh, and that South Dakota team that walked all over the Gophers "defense" a few weeks ago? They lost Saturday to North Dakota State.

38-16.

Preach on, Sid. Surely, you converted someone in the Cities to Brewsterism with your cheerleading Thursday. Just don't take too much pride. It doesn't take a lot to convert the insane.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Packers Deny the Obvious

It's hard to argue that anything good came out of Green Bay's loss to Chicago Monday night ... unless you're not a Green Bay fan.

The Packers melted down in front of the nation, committing so many penalties (18) that if you cut the number in half, it's still too many for a team to be guilty of in a game. It's beyond absurd, really, that an NFL team not named the Raiders could commit that many fouls in a 60-minute game.

The other (actually, there were so many of these that "Another" would be more appropriate) startling development was how quickly coach Mike McCarthy abandoned the run.

Tuesday, McCarthy defended himself and his run game. Of course, there appears to be no run game to defend in Green Bay right now, but McCarthy says that's not the case. He spoke about John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson, who received all the designed carries Monday night (Aaron Rodgers had a couple scrambles).

"You have to look at what's the definition of the run game. I looked at this particular game, and I felt that our running backs were productive," McCarthy said.

"I thought Brandon and John played well with the opportunities that they were given with the ball in their hands and what was put in front of them.


"I thought the running back production was a positive in the game."


The numbers don't support a strong showing for the running game, but McCarthy seemed to hint that he was considering Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher as part of the evaluation.


He declared, once again, that Jackson and Kuhn are good enough to take the Packers to a winning season.


"I like our running backs. We are going to use them accordingly to get the ball down the field. I'm not trying to sell something that is not true," McCarthy said.

"Just because you don't line up and run it 25 times from the 'I' doesn't mean you are not committed to being productive with your running backs. If you look at the dynamics of our offensive personnel, we have the ability to play in a box offense. We have the ability to play in a spread offense. That is to our credit, and we're going to utilize that the best we can."

I get that the Bears play good defense. But the run game -- defined as the ability to matriculate the ball down the field without it being in Rodgers' hands or being thrown -- sucks.

Kuhn tried to get a few yards by cheating, but the Bears successfully challenged the play and exposed the officials' incompetence. He's okay, but nothing special, and he sure isn't going to break any long runs the way Ryan Grant did.

Jackson couldn't find a hole if he ran on a golf course.

The answer is not Dimitri Nance, a green back who was plucked off a practice squad, and so far has shown nothing to indicate he shouldn't be shipped back to a practice squad.

I'm not here to trumpet a free agent like Willie Parker. I'm also not here to say that Ted Thompson should actually use his phone for the greater good and deal for Marshawn Lynch.

But Thompson and McCarthy can't merely accept the offense as it is.

The lack of a running game -- again, defined as the ability to hand or pitch the ball to a thing called a running back and move the ball down the field that way -- is going to kill this team.

Rodgers is a very good -- if not great -- quarterback, but if he throws 45-50 passes a game because the Packers can't and/or won't run the ball, the Packers will see their season end before the NFC Championship Game.

That's not acceptable for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

No one thought the Packers would be in a spot where they needed a running back. You can't predict injuries, and you can't have a contingency plan for every player who can suffer a serious injury.

But when you get caught with your pants on the ground, it's time for action, not thumb-twiddling.

Oh, and apparently, "denial" ain't just a river.

Grand Forks Herald WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll Results

The Grand Forks Herald has conducted a coaches poll for the WCHA for 40 years now.

This year's poll results are below.

1. North Dakota (10 first-place votes) 120 points
2. St. Cloud State (2) 105
3. Minnesota Duluth 100
4. Denver 88
5. Minnesota 82
6. Colorado College 67
7. Wisconsin 64
8. Omaha 55
9. Bemidji State 46
10. Mankato 31
11. Anchorage 19
12. Michigan Tech 15

Preseason Player of the Year: Jack Connolly, UMD 5; Chay Genoway, North Dakota 4; Garrett Roe, St. Cloud State 3

Preseason Rookie of the Year: Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College 9; Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota 1; Tyler Barnes, Wisconsin 1; Matt White, Nebraska-Omaha 1

94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll Notes

The release of the 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll means all the meaningless information is out in the open.

Now, it's time for me to be a total nerd, pouring through the 29 ballots to find things I find interesting or quirky.

We'll start by listing the highest and lowest positions on the ballot that each team was placed.

Alaska-Anchorage
Highest: 10th
Lowest: 12th

Bemidji State
Highest: 3rd
Lowest: 10th

Colorado College
Highest: 4th
Lowest: 10th

Denver
Highest: 3rd
Lowest: 8th

Michigan Tech
Highest: 8th
Lowest: 12th

Minnesota
Highest: 3rd
Lowest: 9th

UMD
Highest: 2nd
Lowest: 5th

Minnesota State
Highest: 8th
Lowest: 11th

Nebraska-Omaha
Highest: 2nd
Lowest: 12th

North Dakota
Highest: 1st
Lowest: 2nd

St. Cloud State
Highest: 1st
Lowest: 7th

Wisconsin
Highest: 3rd
Lowest: 8th

Looking quickly, it appears the least disagreement was -- outside of North Dakota, obviously -- with UMD and Minnesota State. UMD was picked second or third on 26 of 29 ballots. MSU was voted ninth or tenth on 20 of 29 ballots. They also had the lowest range in votes -- again, outside of North Dakota.

No one likes Alaska-Anchorage or Michigan Tech. The two were voted 11th and 12th, in one order or the other, on an amazing 23 of 29 ballots. This virtually guarantees that one or both will finish outside of the bottom two. Let the debate begin.

Additionally, these two and Minnesota State were the only three of the league's 12 teams to not get one vote for sixth place -- home-ice position -- or higher.

Everyone likes North Dakota, UMD, and St. Cloud State. The three were 1/2/3 -- again, in some order -- on 21 of 29 ballots. This virtually guarantees that one or more of the three will finish outside of the top three. Let the debate begin.

We don't know for sure what to make of the noobs. Bemidji State drew one third-place vote, and they were placed in a home-ice position (top six) by seven of the 29 voters. Meanwhile, four voters put the Beavers in tenth place.

Nebraska-Omaha was even harder to place. Maybe it's because of Dean Blais. The Mavericks got a second-place vote, but also received a 12th-place vote. Overall, it doesn't seem like anyone likes UNO's chances at home ice. The only vote they got for a top-six spot was their second-place vote. No one else picked them higher than seventh (three votes). Nearly half -- 14 -- of the voters picked UNO to finish ninth.

People can't decide between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Gophers and Badgers were placed back-to-back on the ballots of 12 voters. 17 of the 29 voters have Wisconsin ahead of Minnesota.

Many think at least one of them will be traveling for a first-round playoff series in March. 14 voters have one or both of them on the road.

How did UMD finish second when St. Cloud State got the other first-place vote? Consistency, my dear reader. The Bulldogs were second or third on 26 of 29 ballots, while SCSU was voted in the top three on 24 of 29 ballots. That the Huskies drew a seventh-place vote and two fourth-place votes hurt them.

Also, UMD was ahead of the Huskies on 16 ballots ... more than half. It was enough to make up for the Huskies getting that single first-place vote that kept this thing from being unanimous for the Fighting Sioux.

If the voters are right, here are your first-round playoff matchups:
Michigan Tech at North Dakota
Alaska-Anchorage at UMD
Minnesota State at St. Cloud State
Nebraska-Omaha at Denver
Bemidji State at Wisconsin
Colorado College at Minnesota

Enjoy the season, everyone.

94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll Results

As promised, the 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll has been conducted. Votes have been tallied, and the results appear below. Stay tuned for a post discussing some of the interesting things -- at least I think they're interesting -- that came out of the voting.

NORTH DAKOTA DOMINATES 94X WCHA MEDIA POLL

The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux -- last year's WCHA Final Five Champion -- are the overwhelming pick to win the league's regular season championship in 2010-11, according to the 94X WCHA Media Poll.

29 media members around the WCHA took part in the third annual media poll, with the results released today. Senior defenseman Chay Genoway, returning to the team after having his 2009-10 season ruined by injury, was the winner in voting for the league's preseason Player of the Year.

North Dakota received 28 of a possible 29 first-place votes, and their 347 total points put them far ahead of second-place Minnesota Duluth. UMD, which won 20 games last season and qualified for the WCHA Final Five, got 300 points.

St. Cloud State, off a season in which they won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in school history, picked up a first-place vote but finished five points behind UMD in the overall voting.

The top three were greatly separated from the rest of the league, with fourth-place Denver totaling 242 points, 53 behind St. Cloud State. Wisconsin (218) and Minnesota (203) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, claiming the final two home-ice playoff positions according to the voting media.

After seventh-place Colorado College, the league's two newcomers settle in at eighth and ninth. Bemidji State, which made the 2008 NCAA Men's Frozen Four and qualified for a second straight NCAA Tournament last year, finished eighth. Nebraska-Omaha, new to the league out of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, came in ninth.

Minnesota State, Alaska-Anchorage, and Michigan Tech finished tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, respectively.

Colorado College freshman forward Jaden Schwartz, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, was chosen as the league's preseason Rookie of the Year.

94X WCHA MEDIA POLL
Results of a poll of media members that cover the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. North Dakota (28 first-place votes) 347 points
2. Minnesota Duluth 300
3. St. Cloud State (1) 295
4. Denver 242
5. Wisconsin 218
6. Minnesota 203
7. Colorado College 182
8. Bemidji State 156
9. Nebraska-Omaha 125
10. Minnesota State 97
11. Alaska-Anchorage 51
12. Michigan Tech 46

Preseason WCHA Player of the Year
Chay Genoway, North Dakota (10); Garrett Roe, St. Cloud State (5); Justin Fontaine, Minnesota Duluth (4); Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth (3); Jason Gregoire, North Dakota (2); Mike Connolly, Minnesota Duluth (1); Matt Read, Bemidji State (1); Evan Trupp, North Dakota (1)

Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year
Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College (10); Derek Forbort, North Dakota (6); Beau Bennett, Denver (4); Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota (2); Tyler Barnes, Wisconsin (1); J.T. Brown, Minnesota Duluth (1); Rob Gunderson, Alaska-Anchorage (1); Radoslav Illo, Bemidji State (1); Jason Zucker, Denver (1)

Voting panel
Dave Ahlers, KKAR/University of Nebraska-Omaha; Roman Augustoviz, Minneapolis Star Tribune; Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal; Mike Chambers, Denver Post; Bruce Ciskie, 94X/Red Rock Radio; Chris Dilks, Western College Hockey; Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press; John Gilbert, WCHA.com; Kurt Haider, KENI Radio; Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times; Dirk Hembroff, WKMJ Radio; Tim Hennessy, KQHT Radio; Ken Landau, 103.9 FM The Eagle; Don Lyons, KNSI Radio; Todd Milewski, USCHO.com; Dan Myers, College Hockey News; Jess Myers, Inside College Hockey; Joe Paisley, Colorado Springs Gazette; Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune; Brian Posick, WIBA/WTSO Radio; Chad Purcell, Omaha World Herald; Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald; Brian Schultz, KKBJ Radio; Theresa Spisak, USCHO.com; Jay Stickney, 87.7 The Ticket; Eric Stromgren, Bemidji Pioneer; Mike Sullivan, KTOE Radio; Brandon Veale, Daily Mining Gazette; Doyle Woody, Anchorage Daily News

94X is the broadcast home of UMD Bulldog men’s hockey. The full 35-game schedule, plus playoffs, can be heard on KZIO-FM, which is 94.1 in the Twin Ports, and 104.3 FM in the surrounding area. All games will also be broadcast on KBAJ 105.5 in the Grand Rapids area, and KAOD 106.7 FM in Babbitt.

Red Rock Radio operates eight radio stations in Northern Minnesota including KQDS-FM, KQDS-AM, KZIO, WWAX, KBAJ (105.5 FM Grand Rapids), KFGI (101.5 FM Brainerd), WXXZ (95.3 FM in Grand Marais), and KAOD (106.7 FM in Babbitt).

Monday, September 27, 2010

BlogPoll 2010: Week 5 Ballot

Here is this week's ballot, which can be adjusted until Wednesday.



Basically, the movement you see is not a whole lot, because no one did anything notable or terribly eye-opening, besides that size-22 egg Texas laid on their home turf Saturday.

You could argue they deserve to be out completely, but I couldn't find anyone worth putting in over them.

LSU gets the softest top-ten vote of the season so far. Their passing game is worse than what most triple-option teams could produce.

Proud to be a Spartan

This has not been a great season for the Superior Spartans football team. After making the WIAA playoffs a couple times, "Big Blue" missed out by a hair last season, and they are 0-5 so far this season, one loss from playoff elimination.

Bob DeMeyer has done a superb job with the program, building back after some awful seasons left many wondering if Superior would ever again approach the form it showed under Tom Mestelle, which peaked with a state title that now sits 20 years in the rear-view mirror.

Friday was -- not surprisingly -- a blowout loss. The opponent was Menomonie, a longtime power in the Big Rivers Conference and a state Division II contender this season. The Indians are nearly unbeatable at home, and they were very good on this night, winning 52-14 over Superior.

The Spartans fell behind early, were victims of a perfectly-executed onside kick, and couldn't climb out of that hole. They were simply overmatched.

But something happened at the end of the game. With the Spartans down 46-14 in the final minutes, DeMeyer and his players did something so incredibly classy that it should put a smile on the face of anyone who lives in Superior, knows where Superior is, or knows someone who attended the school at some point.

We'll let the Dunn County News pick it up from here.

With less than a minute remaining in the contest, Menomonie senior receiver Sam Kolden, who has been a long time member of the team despite having a developmental disability was put in the game and thrown a screen pass by senior quarterback James Nelson. Kolden caught the ball and took off down the field at a relatively conservative pace while Spartan defenders dove at his feet. Kolden raced 66 yards for the game’s final touchdown.

“Superior’s guys are a class act,” said (Menomonie coach Joe) LaBuda. “It was a great thing they did at the end.”

A letter posted on the Spartans' Facebook page shows even more appreciation for the act.

Both teams played hard though over time the score tipped in Menomonie's favor. Our team has one player who, due to special needs, is only occasionally able to be on the field. On this particular night, after a conversation between head coaches, our special player took to the field in his wide receiver position. Teams lined up, ball was snapped, a gentle pass found its way into his hands, and with great care and energy Superior players lunged in pursuit knowing well the dream they granted was more important than the six points it placed on the Menomonie score board.

The crowd was a mixture of joy and humble silence as we observed a larger than life gift given by these Superior HS men. This act of honor clearly reflects character, an attribute that our society so yearns to see. That Friday night the Superior HS Varsity football team and its coaching staff exhibited, without appology, a willingness to honor the "least of these". To the Superior staff and players that held our stadium in awe that evening, I extend our deepest appreciation. The scoreboard that night told only part of the story. Might their display of character serve to remind the fans and others that the scoreboard only tells one aspect of the story. The coaching leadership at Superior has the right priorities.

Couldn't have said it better myself. As a Superior High School alum (1995, baby!), I couldn't be prouder of DeMeyer and his players.

Yes, this has been a rough season for the kids. In the end, however, they provided a young man they didn't know with a memory to last a lifetime. It's the kind of character that might not help them win any games, but it's the kind of character that will help them with the things that really do matter in life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Blue Practice Field a Sign the Mental Battle Is Lost for Oregon State

90 percent of the battle is half-mental, or something.

Oftentimes, when you see a team change their whole routine, their whole way of doing things, all for the sake of one opponent, it means the mental battle is lost. Or won, depending on your perspective.

The Oregon State Beavers play at Boise State this weekend. Boise, as you probably know, is famous for having blue turf on its home field. It's not thought to be a really big deal, more of an anomaly that people deal with and generally think is pretty cute.

Oregon State doesn't think it's cute. They think it's an advantage. So much so that they painted their practice field blue in advance of this week's game.

While this is definitely funny, it's not a good sign for the Beavers. Not that anyone really thought they stood much of a chance in Boise, but the change in their normal ways shows they are behind in the all-important mental battle.

Instead of just having a normal week of practice and maybe doing some crowd-noise prep, Oregon State altered their normal environment and did it in the name of trying to get ready for the Boise environment.

The environment is important, but the devotion to that preparation could have been better spent trying to get the defense ready to face Kellen Moore and a prolific passing attack, or maybe to get the offense ready for what is going to be a physical battle along the front.

Then again, if Oregon State wins this game, WAC teams will go bankrupt trying to buy blue paint for their practice fields.

That's the other part of the football world. It's a copycat society.

In this case, there will be no need. Boise wins going away.

The pick: Boise State

Alabama at Arkansas
Listen, I'd love to sit here and say that Arkansas has a shot at taking down the defending champs.

Then came the fourth quarter Saturday against Georgia.

Arkansas had that team BEAT. Georgia was done for, and the Razorbacks somehow let UGA back in the game. That happened because the Arkansas defense is vulnerable, and the Hogs can't run the ball.

That's a bad sign going into a game with Alabama, who will likely win the trench battle on both sides of the ball.

Yes, the Tide can be beaten, but they can't be beaten by a team with a one-dimensional offense -- even one with a quarterback as good as Ryan Mallett.

The pick: Alabama

Other games (home team in CAPS)
MICHIGAN over Bowling Green
MICHIGAN STATE over Northern Colorado
PURDUE over Toledo
IOWA over Ball State
NORTHWESTERN over Central Michigan
WISCONSIN over Austin Peay
OHIO STATE over Eastern Michigan
(Note: How the hell is this game on ABC? Thank goodness I won't be home for the carnage.)
PENN STATE over Temple
Stanford over NOTRE DAME
FLORIDA over Kentucky
Nevada over BYU
INDIANA over Akron
AUBURN over South Carolina
MINNESOTA over Northern Illinois
LSU over West Virginia
(Note: This might be the best game played under the lights anywhere Saturday.)
ARIZONA over California

Last week: 17-3
Season: 45-8

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WCHA Preseason Media Poll Ballot

The annual WCHA preseason polls are due out next week. Once again, the Grand Forks Herald is going to release their preseason coaches' poll, and the third annual 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll -- conducted this year by your humble correspondent -- will be released on the same day.

(The release will be available via the WCHA, and I will post the information here as well.)

For the first time, the league has 12 members, thanks to the additions of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha. The last two years have seen the coaches' and media surveys almost identical.

It'll be interesting if the same feat can be accomplished with 12 teams and a good deal of uncertainty in the middle of the pack.

30 media members were invited to take part, and while I wait for the rest of the votes to come in, here is my best guess at a 1-12 order for the world's toughest college hockey league this season.

12. Alaska-Anchorage

The Seawolves have some talent on this team. I like forward Tommy Grant and defenseman Kane Lafranchise, but leading scorer Kevin Clark -- a pest and a very good player to boot -- is gone, as is promising young defenseman Lee Baldwin, who signed a free-agent deal with the New York Rangers.

(First, the Rangers steal that game from the guys of Mystery, and now they steal one of UAA's better defensemen. Blasphemy.)

Anyway, UAA doesn't often get outworked when they're playing well, and they have some nice young players on this team. There are major questions up front and in goal, however, and the experience they do sport on defense is just not going to be enough for them.

11. Minnesota State

There was reason for hope all last season. The Mavericks had four senior forwards among their top six scorers last year. Shouldn't that have been a good thing?

Problem: The four averaged just 10.5 goals and 24.5 points between them. And now they're gone, leaving two undersized senior defenseman as the top returning point producers, along with forward Rylan Galiardi.

The guy they need a lot out of junior Mike Louwerse, who produced 13 goals as a freshman but slipped to seven last year.

Also hurting is the departure of NHL second-round pick Tyler Pitlick, who bolted for major juniors.

10. Michigan Tech

This is probably optimistic for Tech, but I like Jamie Russell, I like Brett Olson, and I think they have a chance to do some positive things.

Olson has to cool his jets a little bit. He's sometimes guilty of getting too involved in the action, if you know what I mean, and a good example is the stupid kneeing penalty he took late in the Huskies' Saturday loss to UMD last year in Houghton. It's nit-picky, but the Huskies need him on the ice. Let someone else take out the aggressions and frustrations.

Anyway, Kevin Genoe is a good young goalie, and the Huskies are due for some positive luck.

9. Colorado College

These types of things are hard to predict. I like the Tigers, and I think they have the makings of a solid team. But they have lost a lot in guys like Bill Sweatt, Mike Testwuide, and Nate Prosser. Those were rock-solid players who got a lot of ice time and did a lot of good things last year. It's going to be tough to replace all of that, but the Tigers sure do have a lot of talent in the Brothers Schwartz -- Rylan and Jaden.

Jaden was a first-round pick in June, and he might not be there very long if he plays the way he did last year in the USHL. No biggie, because if he's that good, the Tigers will be just fine.

We'll see if Joe Howe -- who quickly got a stranglehold on the starting goaltender job as a freshman -- can avoid the kind of sophomore slump that hit former Tiger Richard Bachman. It'll be a huge key to the season, as Prosser's departure leaves the Tigers a bit thin on defense.

8. Nebraska-Omaha

This makes me very uncomfortable. I have the greatest respect for Dean Blais' coaching ability, and I think this UNO team will be better than the one he fielded last year. Throw out all the CCHA snark you want, but he won 20 games in a good league with a team that didn't appear to be that strong on paper.

The WCHA should and will be tougher on this Maverick team, but they're probably good enough to make a run at home ice. What might stop them is a conference schedule that features North Dakota and St. Cloud State four times, UMD and Minnesota only on the road, and four games with fellow newcomer Bemidji State.

Make no mistake, though. UNO should be in the mix for a home-ice spot when the season is drawing to an end. Sophomore goalie John Faulkner will be a key player, along with senior forward Rich Purslow.

7. Wisconsin Badgers

We know Mike Eaves can make something of this team. We also know he has plenty of talented players.

But the Badgers lost so much experience off last year's national runner-up that it's hard to imagine them finishing in the upper half of such a strong league.

In fact, it's probably a stretch to rate them this high. Eaves has to replace guys like Hobey winner Blake Geoffrion, star playmaker Derek Stepan, defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Cody Goloubef, and assistant coaches Mark Osiecki (Ohio State) and Kevin Patrick (USHL).

Even for a proven winner like Eaves, this is just too much in one fell swoop.

6. Minnesota Gophers

This is one of the toughest calls of the 12 teams in this league. Minnesota underperformed greatly last year, lost leading scorer and an emerging defenseman, among others, and there is this huge dark cloud floating over coach Don Lucia's head.

It's as if this is just set up for something bad to happen.

The Gophers have talent, though, and they have a ton of experience with Lucia, a winner at every stop in his coaching career. It's unlikely that he just forgot how to recruit or coach, and it's hard to imagine that this team is just going to fall off the face of the earth because Jordan Schroeder and Nick Leddy left eaerly.

Look for freshman Nick Bjugstad to jump right in and make an impact, and don't be surprised if someone from a group that includes Patrick White, Zach Budish, Jacob Cepis, Cade Fairchild, and Aaron Ness emerges as a real force.

5. Bemidji State Beavers

I've said this to a few people this summer.

You have got to like what this program is capable of. They have a solid footing now, a top-notch arena, and a fanbase hungry to see a consistent winner at college hockey's top level. Tom Serratore is simply one of the nation's smartest coaches, and now it's highly likely he'll have even more talent to work with than before.

What he has now? Well, it's pretty damn good. Matt Read, Jordan George, and Ian Lowe are very good two-way forwards who can play anywhere in this league. They have speed all over the lineup, and they aren't afraid of anyone.

Goalie Dan Bakala is a big key, because he will be tested on a consistent basis now, as opposed to the lower level of play you'd sometimes see out of CHA opponents.

The biggest question I have about this team: How will they handle playing 28 WCHA games, as opposed to six to eight? You can't treat every game against a WCHA foe like it's a Super Bowl of sorts, a tremendous opportunity to prove yourself as a program. The mindset has to be different now.

4. Denver Pioneers

If anyone in the league can handle serious losses, it's a motivated George Gwozdecky. There is little doubt that he wants a new contract from DU, and it doesn't seem to be coming at this point.

There is no better way to get it than to win when no one thinks you will.

No Rakhshani. No Ruegsegger. No Colborne. No Wiercioch. No Cheverie.

No problem?

Beau Bennett could be the best freshman in the league. Kyle and Shawn Ostrow have to do more offensively, but they're capable. Defensemen John Lee, Matt Donovan, and William Wrenn can all play at a high level.

There is no way Gwozdecky -- one of the top coaches in the sport not working in the professional ranks -- is going to field a non-competitive team. No chance. Denver will win, and they might shock some people at how they play without last year's stars.

3. St. Cloud State Huskies

Even without departed scorer Ryan Lasch, the Huskies are going to be a very strong threat in the WCHA. Garrett Roe returns, and when he's not driving fans nuts with a tendency to embellish, he's one of the best players in the league. The Huskies have plenty of depth with guys like Tony Mosey, Drew LeBlanc, Ben Hanowski, Jared Festler, David Eddy, and Travis Novak.

Mike Lee and Dan Dunn are a formidable goaltending tandem.

The only major question is on defense, where Garrett Raboin and Craig Gaudet are gone, and there isn't a ton of offensive upside back there.

2. UMD Bulldogs

When this team lines up in October, they know expectations will be high. It won't be like last year, when most tabbed UMD as a second-division team ... one not good enough to host a WCHA playoff series for the first time since 2004.

They proved the experts wrong, winning 20 games for a second straight year and only missing the NCAAs by a hair.

At the end of the year, Kenny Reiter emerged as a quality starting goaltender. With running buddy Brady Hjelle gone to the USHL, he may have to take another step this year and become a No. 1 goalie.

The skaters are strong. UMD has offensive and defensive defensemen, and they might have the best returning line in the league with Justin Fontaine and Jack and Mike Connolly.

The battle against expectations might be tough, but it's about the only thing keeping UMD from having a big season.

1. North Dakota Fighting Sioux

No doubt about it, the Fighting Sioux are the favorites. Returning defenseman Chay Genoway will bring All-American ability to the blue line, and he's not the only one in line for that honor. Only senior Chris VandeVelde is gone among their top scorers, and that leaves a lot coming back. Look out for forwards Danny Kristo, Brett Hextall, Jason Gregoire, Evan Trupp, Matt Frattin, and Brad Malone, among others.

Genoway joins Derrick LaPoint, Ben Blood, and Joe Gleason in a defensive corps that is very talented and good at both playing defense and moving the puck up the rink.

Goalie Brad Eidsness could use a break once in a while, but he's a good one. More recruits are coming to reinforce things, and the Sioux easily have the fewest holes of any team in the league entering the season.

Preseason All-WCHA Team
Goalie:
Brad Eidsness, North Dakota
Defenseman: Mike Montgomery, UMD
Defenseman: Chay Genoway, North Dakota
Forward: Jack Connolly, UMD
Forward: Justin Fontaine, UMD
Forward: Garrett Roe, St. Cloud State
Coach: Dave Hakstol, North Dakota
Preseason Player of the Year: Chay Genoway, D, North Dakota
Preseason Newcomer of the Year: Jaden Schwartz, F, Colorado College

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BlogPoll 2010: Week 4 Ballot

I love weeks like this. Finally had a chance to see an Arkansas team I felt was overvalued at the start of the season, and I was impressed. That means they get a bump in the poll ... even if it's temporary because they're going to get waxed by Alabama this weekend.

SB Nation BlogPoll Top 25 College Football Rankings

The Ciskie Blog Ballot - Week 4

Rank Team Delta
1 Alabama Crimson Tide --
2 Boise St. Broncos --
3 Ohio St. Buckeyes --
4 TCU Horned Frogs --
5 Texas Longhorns --
6 Nebraska Cornhuskers --
7 Oregon Ducks --
8 Florida Gators Arrow_up 1
9 Oklahoma Sooners Arrow_down -1
10 Stanford Cardinal Arrow_up 4
11 LSU Tigers --
12 Utah Utes --
13 Arkansas Razorbacks --
14 Wisconsin Badgers Arrow_down -1
15 Auburn Tigers Arrow_up 2
16 South Carolina Gamecocks Arrow_up 2
17 West Virginia Mountaineers Arrow_up 3
18 Miami Hurricanes Arrow_down -2
19 Arizona Wildcats Arrow_up 6
20 Michigan St. Spartans --
21 Michigan Wolverines Arrow_down -2
22 Iowa Hawkeyes Arrow_down -12
23 Nevada Wolf Pack --
24 Missouri Tigers --
25 USC Trojans --
Dropouts: Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Texas A&M Aggies, Houston Cougars

SB Nation BlogPoll College Football Top 25 Rankings »



Thoughts on the rankings?

I really like this Stanford team, but I feel I'm overvaluing them. I know I'm overvaluing Wisconsin, but I keep thinking they are going to pick things up.

Hope?

USC gets in, but they're not terribly impressive, either.

UMD Hockey is Coming

Believe it or not, we're getting closer.

Our friend Donna at RWD has the countdown clock running (on the bottom of the page, oddly) up to the Bulldogs' season opener at Lake Superior State Oct. 8 -- a game she will lamely not be attending.

Don't worry. She can still listen to the game on 94X, as I will be attending.

Can't wait.

Even better, the Bulldogs are going to be practicing at the DECC Tuesday afternoon.

Yes, the DECC.

It's the final half-season of hockey in the old barn, and they have put the ice in. The Bulldog women play next weekend, so the men have taken advantage of the early installation of ice to work out in the friendly confines, as opposed to skating on campus.

Since this new site for captain's practice is not far from my office in Canal Park, it's even money that I'll be checking the place out at some point this week.

Wheeee!

Friday, September 17, 2010

NFL Cranks Up Hyperbole for Week 2

You gotta love trash talk in the NFL.

See, the guys who really don't like each other rarely get into it publicly. Their distaste is often kept behind the scenes, where it percolates and builds until someone notices and writes an "insider story" about the feud.

No, instead we get phony crap like Darrelle Revis and Randy Moss.

It's like clockwork. The two talk it up during the week, use ridiculous words, and then lock horns for three hours while nothing notable happens.

At least in hockey the feuding couple drops the gloves once in a while for a good ol' fight.

Revis even has an "injury" to drum up the drama before their game at Meadowlands Stadium Sunday, one that is going to get plenty of exposure on CBS, as a large percentage of the country will receive the broadcast.

(No, I'm not saying Revis is faking an injury. I'm saying that this always seems to happen. Adds to the drama before the big game that will decide absolutely nothing.)

The key matchup in this one is Moss against Revis, but don't overlook the other Jets cornerbacks, Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson, who took turns getting roasted by the Ravens and their so-so deep passing attack. The Jets might be better off putting Revis on Wes Welker, who is Tom Brady's favorite target and the man most likely to make the Jets miserable Sunday, especially if Cromartie is trying to cover him.

Or Wilson.

Either way, the Jets are in trouble. Moss might not get his, but Welker will, and there isn't much the Jets are going to be able to do about it.

Meanwhile, the Jets' offense looked putrid Monday, and they won't have as many mistakes to pounce on against New England. All in all, it looks like EVERYONE'S SUPER BOWL PICK is going to start 0-2 ... with both losses coming at home.

Ouch.

The pick: New England

A number of highly-touted teams -- besides the Jets -- are trying to avoid an 0-2 hole to start the season. Minnesota, Dallas, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Indianapolis all face 1-0 teams at home, but all four are favored. The Vikings play a fairly non-descript Miami team that will try to take advantage of Brandon Marshall's size against the Vikings' smallish secondary. Dallas gets a Bears team that had no business winning last week, and they don't match up well with the Cowboys, especially on the offensive line. Atlanta draws an Arizona team that didn't exactly look like a juggernaut at St. Louis last week. San Diego hosts Jacksonville, a non-playoff team in virtually everyone's eyes. And Indianapolis hosts the Giants for Manning Bowl II, with Peyton's Colts ready to actually play defense this week.

Of the four, the one with the best chance of falling to 0-2 is probably San Diego. The Chargers didn't seem to have all their eggs in the right basket Monday night, and they played like a team distracted by two offensive starters holding out. They'll face a surly bunch of Jaguars Sunday, the kind of team that is usually able to beat a couple superior-looking teams during the regular season. The Bengals are also an interesting pick in this regard, but I think they'll circle the wagons and do well in catching Baltimore off a short week and an emotional, physical game against the Jets.

Oh, and it's not like the Ravens looked that good.

In the end, though, I expect all of the home teams to win.

Picks: Minnesota, Atlanta, Dallas, Cincinnati, San Diego, Indianapolis

Other games (home team in CAPS)
Philadelphia over DETROIT
GREEN BAY over Buffalo
CLEVELAND over Kansas City
TENNESSEE over Pittsburgh
CAROLINA over Tampa Bay
DENVER over Seattle
OAKLAND over St. Louis
Houston over WASHINGTON
SAN FRANCISCO over New Orleans

Last week: 11-5
Season: 11-5

Thursday, September 16, 2010

College Football Weekend Void of Marquee Games

Then again, the marquee games last weekend all kinda sucked, so maybe this is a good thing.

The best moments of last week were South Dakota and James Madison taking out major conference teams, though South Dakota loses some points by "only" beating Minnesota.

This weekend, you won't see any high-profile matchups involving highly-ranked teams. Instead, you have a few definite mismatches, a few potential mismatches, and a few pretty good games.

Nothing that has the "experts" drooling, and that's probably a good thing.

Looking at the slate of games, there are a handful of matchups I'm sort of excited about.

Arkansas at Georgia
Georgia's offense looked shaky as hell against South Carolina last week, but the Arkansas defense isn't nearly as imposing. I'm interested to see if the Razorbacks are able to get the kinds of stops Carolina got, and I also want to see how Ryan Mallett performs in the first of many tests he'll get this season.

In the end, I'm leaning toward Arkansas, because I do think quarterback play is very important, and Mallett is head and shoulders ahead of anyone Georgia can offer.
The pick: Arkansas

Air Force at Oklahoma
Normally, I wouldn't bat an eye at this one, but Air Force really showed something in their whipping of BYU last week -- shutting the Cougars out in the second half -- and Oklahoma looked incredible in a dismantling of Florida State.

The thing with Air Force is that they can be competitive in virtually any situation, and they have sprung upsets before. This is a quality team with a great offensive system that creates a lot of trouble for opponents. Troy Calhoun will have them ready, and they'll compete, but I don't see them slowing down the Sooners enough.
The pick: Oklahoma

Iowa at Arizona
The Hawkeyes have a tough defense, one capable of shutting down any kind of offense. That said, I think they'll struggle a bit with Arizona's pass-happy spread offense. It's not horribly unlike the Northwestern or Purdue offenses, and that's perhaps to Iowa's advantage. That said, when you properly execute this offense, anyone is going so struggle to defend it.

The Wildcats are a good team in the Pac 10, one that is forgotten because everyone is too busy drooling over USC, Steve Sarkisian, and Oregon's 43,816 different uniform combinations.

Of course, Iowa's tough, physical defense is not anything like what you see regularly in the Pac 10, so Arizona will have their share of problems Saturday night.
The pick: Iowa

Other games (home team in CAPS)
California over NEVADA (Friday)
MICHIGAN over Massachusetts
PENN STATE over Kent State
OHIO STATE over Ohio
PURDUE over Ball State
ILLINOIS over Northern Illinois
WEST VIRGINIA over Maryland
Florida over TENNESSEE
Southern Cal over MINNESOTA
WISCONSIN over Arizona State
Nebraska over WASHINGTON
Indiana over WESTERN KENTUCKY
AUBURN over Clemson
Northwestern over RICE
MICHIGAN STATE over Notre Dame
Texas over TEXAS TECH
Houston over UCLA

Last week: 12-3
Season: 28-5

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ryan Grant's Loss and How Ted Thompson's Philosophy May Hurt the Packers

As you know by now, the Green Bay Packers are going to be without starting running back Ryan Grant for the rest of the season. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, and now Brandon Jackson is the Packers' starting running back.

Be alarmed, Packer fans. Be alarmed. Jackson might be a hair faster than Grant, but it's not much, and it doesn't make up for the fact that he's not as stout and he lacks the vision and sense required for the zone running game Green Bay employs.

Apparently, so does every running back on Earth that you've heard of.

Instead of going after a name guy -- Willie Parker and J.J. Arrington are free agents, while Marshawn Lynch is widely thought to be available for the right price in a trade -- general manager Ted Thompson is going with Jackson as his starter, and some guy named Dimitri Nance as the backup. Nance was on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad and is a rookie. You've probably never heard of him, and that's okay.

Neither has anybody else, except Thompson, apparently.

I think Thompson has done a pretty good job for the most part, but there are areas he sorely lacks in. One of them is the willingness to make a deal to improve this team on the fly. He's content to promote, rather than make trades and potentially give up draft picks.

His stubborn insistence on keeping his own high picks around has led to the Packers' lack of depth on the defensive line (Justin Harrell just couldn't be let go under any circumstances), and has them holding a $4 million per year linebacker on the sideline (A.J. Hawk).

Even with his star quarterback trying to get Lynch to Green Bay, you know Thompson won't do it. This isn't his style. He'd rather roll the dice on some kid from a practice squad ... for better or for worse.

What it means -- at least in the short-term -- is that Green Bay is stuck with Jackson. The fourth-year pro is still short of 700 yards in his NFL career. He's a better receiver than Grant, which might play a factor in how the offense is run by Mike McCarthy.

We're totally unsure how they'll use Nance. He's a tough, powerful back who could be helpful in goal-line situations, but Jackson stands to get the bulk of the work, and we don't know how he'll handle that, given that it has yet to happen in the NFL.

In the end, the season will be defined by a number of factors, most notably how the offensive line plays and if the pass defense improves. Grant's injury adds a new dimension to the season, though. Now, we get to find out exactly how valuable a piece Grant was to the offense ... and how wise Thompson was to draft Jackson in 2007. Early returns are less than overwhelming, but now Jackson really gets a shot at proving himself on the big stage.

If he flops, Nance sure isn't going to save this team ... no matter how much of a diamond in the rough he may be.

BlogPoll 2010: Week 3 Ballot



Thoughts?