Saturday, December 18, 2010

LeachWatch 2010: Terp-tacular?

Mike Leach's name has been connected to almost every coaching opening this year. Minnesota fired their coach? Get Mike Leach! Colorado fired their coach? Mike Leach is available! Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator left? Mike Leach might be up for that! Florida's coach stepped down? Mike Leach is interested!

(Money quote from that last link: "Really, I'm interested in all of them." Aww, of course you are.)

I was starting to worry Leach wasn't going to get hired anywhere this year, because of his ongoing litigation against Texas Tech and, recently, ESPN. (That link is super interesting, by the way.) Aside from the risks a school would already take by hiring Mike Leach (relating to how, you know, he crazy), hiring a person still embroiled in a lawsuit against his former employer has got to make most ADs wary. But now it's starting to look like there's a very good chance college football will get Leach back in 2011 after all.

The University of Maryland said just last month that they intended to keep their coach, Ralph Friedgen--but that was before his offensive coordinator and "coach in waiting" left to take the head coaching job at Vanderbilt (another job Mike Leach would have been great for, by the way).

Tangent: has the "coach in waiting" thing worked out for anybody? It's all the rage nowadays, apparently, but I think it's stupid. If the "coach in waiting" doesn't bail for a different job (see: Will Muschamp to Florida), then the current coach gets forced out before he intended to leave when he agreed to have a "coach in waiting" (see: Bobby Bowden getting canned at Florida State in favor of Jimbo Fisher). I can't wait (pun?) until this fad dies.

So, as this article explains, Maryland don't want no Friedgen no more. (He was named ACC coach of the year this season, but that doesn't put butts in seats.) What Maryland does have loyalty to is the company Under Armor, which not only provides their uniforms but whose founder (Maryland alum Kevin Plank) is on the school's board of trustees. Kevin is also--and here's the important part--good buddies with one Mike Leach.

It sounds like the forced "retirement" of Ralph Friedgen/hiring of Mike Leach is pretty certain to go down at Maryland. So friends, if you like your football pass-happy and your coaches insane, get ready to start watching ACC games.

Worth it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Report: Death to the BCS

I just finished Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Pasan and--spoiler alert!--it was awesome.

I thought that I hated the BCS and had a lot of reasons to back it up; then I read this book and discovered I needed to hate the BCS waaayyyy more than I already did.

The way this book is written can be a little unpolished and repetitive at times, but that doesn't really matter in light of the fact that it does exactly what it sets out to do. It presents an argument (the BCS is a terrible way to run college football; a playoff would be better in every conceivable aspect). Then it devotes each chapter to a different pillar of the argument and backs up each point with clear evidence. The authors don't just say "a playoff would make more money." They interviewed television executives and scholars of sports broadcasting/marketing so they could come up with an educated estimate of how much more money a playoff would make.

Here's an excerpt from what I think is the book's strongest section, about how the BCS and the bowl system actually drain money from the teams they are supposed to support:

The University of Florida's appearance in the 2009 BCS title game came with an advertised payout of $17.5 million. That may have sounded good. It's actually a case study in how the Cartel [the group conference commissioners and other semi-shadowy figures that run the BCS] plays financial three-card monte to make the bowls look better. The SEC took the money, along with the payouts from seven other bowls in which conference teams participated. It then divided that money up thirteen ways (one for each of the league's twelve teams and one for the conference office). It also provided extra to Florida since it reached the title game, giving the Gators a total payout of $2.467 million.
Between coaches' bonuses ($960,000), travel costs ($681,000), tickets ($320,000), band and cheerleaders ($190,000), and other expense, the total to travel across the state to Miami Gardens was $2.42 million, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report. For winning the BCS championship game, Florida made $47,000.

. . . No college football team, let alone one the stature of FLorida, would ever play a regular-season game for $47,000. Gators home games gross an estimated $5 million. In 2009, Florida paid lowly Charleston Southern $450,000--or nearly ten times what it made on the BCS title game--to play in Gainesville. . . . When your team deserves at least $2.3 million and winds up with about $47,000, you lost money. Like $2.253 million of it.

Part of the reason that a national championship team effectively brings in so little money is that most bowls cost more to participate in than they pay out. Even though almost all bowls are organized as not-for-profit organizations, lower-level bowls in particular squeeze as much money from the teams that play in them as they can, making them pay for tickets that may go unsold and in some cases, inviting the team that agrees to take the smallest payout.

As the authors point out, the difference between the amount of money that college football brings in is no joke. A football program can fund an athletic program, which can help fund a university. If the football program instead drains money from an athletic program, then the athletic department may have to lean on funds from the university, and when a public university doesn't have enough money, it has to increase tuition and, in all likelihood, get more from taxpayers. What's good for college football is good for education and for America. I'm not joking, not even a little.

I've only touched on one prong of the multi-faceted argument against the BCS. The other fronts on which the authors attack the system are just as well-researched and -argued. (They of course address my biggest anti-playoff propanganda pet peeve: a playoff would devalue the regular season. No, the BCS devalues the regular season by discouraging major-conference teams from playing any other major-conference teams outside of conference play.) The only major question the authors leave unanswered is how the BCS can be killed. They unfortunately offer only a very vague "maybe politicians can do it, or maybe fans will get angry enough that it will go away or something?" However, the rest of their arguments are great enough that this is still a five-star book. I kind of want to buy one to send to Bill Byrne.

Finally, the authors point out that the BCS cartel exploits the fact that, while everybody thinks the current system stinks, nobody can agree on an alternative. To combat this, the authors argue specifically for a sixteen-game playoff that involves all eleven FBS/I-A conference champions and five at-large teams (chosen by a selection committee like that which sets the NCAA basketball tournament). Before reading this book, I would have settled for an eight-team playoff or even a plus-one, but they really brought me around on the sixteen-team idea. It sounds awesome. For funsies, here's roughly how this year's bracket would look:

*I don't really know how the WAC championship works, but I used a Big Ten model and broke the three-way tie with BCS standings.

Sure, I'm looking forward to watching Oregon play Auburn, but how much more satisfying would it be if they had to battle through other powerhouses first? What if UCF knocked off Stanford and then got a crack at Wisconsin? What if the regular season ended and we didn't have to wait through five weeks of nothing to get to only one game that decides the championship? It would be great, that's what.

Death to the BCS, indeed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Me + Waiver Wire = BFF

As I tweeted today, "Finally, in Week 14, my fantasy roster in my all-girl league looks like a real lineup, not like it's held together with spit and scotch tape". I wanted to elaborate on this, because I'm just so dang proud. Indulge me for a moment and take a look at my Week 1 starting lineup:

QB: Kevin Kolb
WR: DeSean Jackson
WR: Michael Crabtree
WR: Devin Aromashodu
RB: Frank Gore
RB: C.J. Spiller
TE: Antonio Gates
BN: Ryan Grant
BN: Heath Miller
BN: Demaryius Thomas
BN: Chad Henne
BN: Dexter McCluster

K: Ryan Longwell
BN: Nick Folk

DEF: Tennessee

Did you find yourself playing a round of "Count the concussions"? "Count the busts"? "Count the running backs placed on IR"? Also keep in mind, this was the league where I got hosed by the auto-draft. Admittedly, I also made some panicky decisions, especially early on. (Before Week 1 happened, I had already gotten rid of Jay Cutler* and Roy Williams, both of whom appear again shortly.)

I began the season on a five-game losing streak, but through tireless waiver and free agent shopping, then began a seven-game winning streak. It ended last week, when I lost to the same team that I'm going to face this weekend in the first round of the playoffs. So in order not to lose to her again, I made (what may be) my final tweaks. Here's how it looks now:

QB: Jay Cutler
WR: DeSean Jackson
WR: Sidney Rice
WR: Roy Williams
RB: LaGarrette Blount
RB: Chris Ivory
TE: Antonio Gates
BN: Mike Goodson
BN: Michael Crabtree
BN: Jacob Tamme
BN: James Jones
BN: Danny Amendola
BN: Brian Westbrook

K: Nate Kaeding

DEF: Cleveland

See? I'm not saying that's a fantastic team, but it's finally not-laughable, right? (For a little more context, if I haven't bored you to death already, here are the other wide receivers I started this season: Legedu Naanee, Mike Sims-Walker, Dexter McCluster, Lee Evans, and Patrick Crayton. Not studly.)

This is the first week of Girl League Playoffs, and I have the sixth seed out of eight teams. With the way the season started, I should be happy just to get into the playoffs, or just to win the first round (I'm projected to, barely). But dangit! I want to win this whole thing! Worst to first, baby! Worst to first.

*Am I going to take back all the disparaging remarks I've made about Jay Cutler? No, ma'am! But I will admit that he's been good to me these past several weeks, so I've eased up on saying new mean things about him.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Roger Goodell Wants Me

It's a well-acknowledged fact that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to take over the world.

Professional football is the most popular, profitable sport in the country, but ol' Rog wants to make it more popular. And profitable. That's what playing a game a year in London is about--he wants to build up a trans-Atlantic fanbase. Someday, despite the wild impracticality of it, he wants a franchise over there. The fact that the Bills play some of their home games in Toronto helps build up Canadian enthusiasm for American football. Goodell wants the NFL in Europe; he wants in Mexico; he wants to turn people of all nations and creeds into NFL fans and to turn small percentages of their money into his money.

Again, this is all openly acknowledged and much-discussed in the sports media. What puzzles me is that I don't see mentions of how the NFL is even more aggressively trying to win over a particular segment of Americans: women.

It makes sense to try to turn more women into football fans. We have eyeballs for watching and money for spending. Plus, we're already here--no need to move an entire team across an ocean for us!

This is why keeps running those commercials for lady-style football jerseys. This is why he punished Ben Roethlisberger for sexual assault even when the legal system didn't. Most of all, this is why the NFL devotes a month to breast cancer awareness. Pure altruism? Of course not. While money and awareness gets raised for a good cause (and I'm not trying to malign that), women get drawn in by the NFL's dedication to a cause that's important to them, and little girls get drawn in by the pretty pink shoes and gloves (might as well start working on new fans early, right?).

I've been asked if I think the new emphasis on concussion safety is another appeal to women, and I think the answer is yes and no. The new concussion policies are about a lot of things, the first and foremost of which is probably heading off a class-action lawsuit. Someday ex-players who suffer from head-trauma-induced health problems are going to want to sue the NFL, and the league needs to start proving they're being as responsible as possible, in line with recent medical findings. There are other reasons, too: they want to mitigate hostility to the 18-game season. They want to keep people from feeling guilty about watching a sport that can permanently handicap its players. I think the reason that most applies to women is that the league does not want parents to keep their children from playing football. If young athletes get steered away from football (and towards basketball, baseball, or God forbid, soccer) because their mothers fear for their long-term health, that will eventually damage the sport.

I'm not criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL for trying to win over women. It's smart. I just don't know why it doesn't get more attention when it's so obvious.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Will Favre Quit?

It's seemed like a pretty good bet ever since the Vikings started their season badly that Brett Favre will not finish the season with the team. His comments after the Vikings' seventh loss yesterday furthered this impression, and Brad Childress's firing today only underlines the instability in the organization. It's a matter of when, not if Favre quits in mid-season. So when will it be?

1. This week?

Why it might be: He just got beat down by the Packers. More importantly, Childress's job security was the best weapon Favre had. There were endless debates on Sunday-morning-type shows about whether Childress should bench Favre; this was a stupid question because whether he should have, he was never going to. His job was in danger, and the only chance he had to keep it was if Favre turned the team around. Tarvaris can't do it, and even if he could, Childress had pushed in all his chips on Favre. Interim coach Leslie Frazier doesn't have any chips in on Favre, and if Brett keeps playing as badly as he has, Frazier would be more able to bench him for performance.

Why it might not be: Favre got beat-down score-wise by the Packers, but not physically beaten as much as he has so far this season. Furthermore, it was no secret that he didn't like Childress, so he'll probably want to give it another shot with Leslie Frazier at the helm--especially considered how this season's other interim coach, Jason Garret, has apparently worked a miracle with the Cowboys.

Odds: 1 in 10

2. Next week?

Why it might be: Again, Leslie Frazier may well be willing to bench Favre if he plays badly (which he has been doing quite a bit this season). Favre would be livid if he were pulled from the game, and would probably refuse to play for Frazier ever again.

Why it might not be: They're playing the Redskins, a team bad enough that they might make the Vikings look good.

Odds: 1 in 7

3. Early December?

Why it might be: If the Vikings keep losing, and if the Bears and Packers and New Orleans and/or Tampa Bay keep winning, the Vikings could be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs as early as the night of December 5th. With the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl finally, officially over, Favre would have no reason to keep playing.

Why it might not be: The Vikings might win a few games with Frazier (they do get to play Buffalo right after Washington), and the Bears and Packers have tough ones coming up. In all probability, the Vikings will technically stay alive a little longer than this. (But is "technically" enough?)

Odds: 1 in 3

4. Right before the last game of the season?

Why it might be: The reason Favre came back at the beginning of the season instead of waiting until Week 5 (as would have been a good idea to keep healing the various and sundry body parts that are giving him trouble) must be that he's really invested in his consecutive starts streak. If he played through the Philadelphia game on December 26th, he would get to 300. Much like Bobby Knight quitting in midseason after getting to 900 wins despite insisting numbers didn't matter, Favre might just skip the season finale at Detroit after getting to a nice, round number.

Why it might not be: Either because at that point, he might as well finish the season (although it would depend on how much Philly's D hit him) or because he will already have quit.

Odds: 1 in 20

If anybody wants to start a betting pool, I'm taking December 6th. (Although I'm worried that's too late.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Defense of Defense

I was going to write a post about different things I've learned in this, my first season of playing fantasy football. But then I went off on a rant on the number one thing I've learned--that IDP blows team defense out of the water--and I decided I needed to devote a whole post to it.

I cannot fathom why it's more popular to draft team defenses than Individual Defensive Players. Well, OK, I know why: it's easier. However, the small amount of work that goes into drafting and then keeping track of defensive players is far more than worth it.

Playing IDP is much more rewarding, because you can't predict how a team defense will perform. A stat you can hear from any fantasy advice professional is that top-drafted defenses never finish at the top of the stats at the end of a season. Drafting individual players instead of team defenses rewards knowledge and research instead of luck.

Playing IDP is less risky, because there are smaller point swings from week to week. A team defense only takes up one of your roster spots, but it can bring your entire team down. Maybe it'll score 15, maybe it will score -10. (Oh by the way, thanks a lot for last week, Chiefs D.) DeAngelo Hall isn't going to score you 29 points every week (like he did that one time), but he's never going to wipe out the points scored by your other players.

Playing IDP is more educational, because it makes you learn about the guys on the less-glamorous side of the ball. A few weeks ago, Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column wrote that he liked "Cleveland defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (bet you didn't know Ahtyba) beating a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, Stephen Neal, for a sack of Tom Brady." Au contraire, Peter. I both know and adore Ahtyba Rubin, because he's on my team and he's a stud.

Most of all, playing IDP is more in keeping with the spirit of fantasy football. With a team defense, your fantasy team's performance hinges on how well a real-life team plays. And who cares about that?! I care about individual guys making great plays and racking up the best numbers they can! If I benefit from Carson Palmer throwing for a ton of yards even if the Bengals lose, why shouldn't I benefit from Clay Matthews sacking the QB over and over, even if the Packers lose? Fantasy football is about celebrating the achievements and stats of Individual Players. Case closed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What's Going on in the Big 12?

Ah, parity. It's just the boring way to say "Everything is crazy!"

The South
Remember last week, when Baylor was all alone at the top of the division standings, and we were all like, "Whaaaaaa?" This week restored a little--a little--normality there, with Baylor falling to Oklahoma State on the field and in the standings. Of course, that leaves us with Oklahoma State as the favorite to represent the South in the championship game, which is still pretty weird.

Here's the thing about Baylor: they're better than we're used to them being, but they're still not great. Good for them for winning their entire North slate and a very, very down texas team, but losing to TCU, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State shows that they're not a brand new team.

As for Oklahoma State, I guess it turns out Mike Gundy is a better head coach than head coach/offensive coordinator. And that he made an excellent hire in Dana Holgerson as his new, external OC.

Speaking of great hires! I LOVE TIM DERUYTER, YOU GUYS. I'm not ready to dust off the Wrecking Crew name, but those multiple amazing goal-line stands make my heart go pitter-pat.

Ryan Tannehill has been good too, although frankly I'm relieved he hasn't been so mind-bogglingly good as to drag me into another Aggie QB crush. I've had my heart broken too many times. Too many times.

The team has clearly done better with Tannehill at the wheel than with Jerrod. However, I don't think it's because he's flat-out better than Jerrod. My theory is that Tannehill realizes that his job is to help the team win, whereas Jerrod may have been convinced that he had to carry the team. That in turn made him try too hard and force passes he didn't need to make. (It might be something else, like that the hype went to his head and he stopped working hard in practice, but I hope it's my more generous interpretation.)

As for our collective confusion over how t.u. is so bad, maybe we're overthinking things. It's possible that their weaknesses have been this big, or close to it, and that the weaknesses were just masked by excellent quarterback play. Vince Young and Colt McCoy are not just NFL players, but successful NFL starters. (I know Colt is just a few games in, but he's beaten Drew Brees and Tom Brady already. On a team that won five games last year. That's impressive.)

And then there are OU and Texas Tech, which both quite good at home and not as good away. It happens.

The North
The North division is much less topsy-turvy. As we expected, Nebraska's at the top, with Missouri as a solid second.

However, the Big 12 North did bring us yesterday's single craziest game, in which an abysmal KU team scored 35 points in the last twelve minutes of the fourth quarter to go from being down 45-17 to beating Colorado 52-45. Totally insane. Dan Hawkins should never get another head coaching job.

In other North news, both K-State and Iowa State are coming along nicely. It now seems reasonable to hope that they will not be dead weight in next year's 10-team conference. Thanks and gig'em, guys.

The future!
Which is to say, the near future. There are three weeks left of regular season conference play. Here are the standings as of today: knows I like the Aggies the best.

There are fifteen conference games yet to play. I went through them and made my predictions, picking the apparent favorites (my most arguable conclusions: A&M over Baylor and t.u., Oke State over Oklahoma), and this is what I think the final standings will be:

Nebraska 7-1
Mizzou 6-2
K-State 4-4
Iowa State 4-4
KU 1-7
CU 0-8

Oklahoma State 7-1
A&M 5-3
OU 5-3
Baylor 4-4
Texas Tech 3-5
t.u. 2-6

So the only big change I see is Baylor continuing to fall--they may well beat A&M and/or OU in Waco, but I think it slightly likelier that they won't. That would give us Oklahoma State vs. Nebraska in the championship game, and while it's hard to beat the same team twice, it's still looking probable that Nebraska walks away with a championship in their last year in the league. Dang.

The only teams already out of the South race are Texas Tech and t.u. Okahoma, even though they're fourth right now, is in a better position than A&M and Baylor because those two need Oklahoma State to lose twice. Oklahoma just needs to win out, because if they beat Oklahoma State in Bedlam (presuming Oke State has continued to win up to that point), they'll have the same conference record, and OU will own the tiebreaker.

In the North, it's hard to imagine Nebraska not winning. Mizzou, since they already lost to Nebraska, needs the Huskers to lose twice. With NU's last three games being against A&M, KU, and Colorado, that's pretty much an impossible dream.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Joe Pa Conspiracy of Silence

If you want to talk vast media conspiracies, let's talk Joe Paterno.

He does not coach the Penn State football team, at least not in any sense that matters for their on-field performance. He doesn't carry a clipboard. He doesn't wear a headset. When he got injured during a game and moved up to the press box, he didn't even wear a headset up there. I'm not saying that an 84-year-old man can't coach a football team; I just saying this particular one doesn't.

And you know what? That's fine. If Penn State loves him so much, and they do, that's totally fine that they keep him around as a figurehead/mascot. And if he's up for that, good for him.

The problem is that everyone--everyone--in the sports media bends over backwards to avoid acknowledging the truth. They talk about his game plans and his strategies and go out of the way to cram in anecdotes about him showing his linemen proper stances.

I get that Joe Pa is a representative of a bygone, romanticized era. And that it's nice to be nice to old people. I suppose that if there's one person who should be exempted from the sports media's job to tell the truth, it's him. That's just a huge, gigantic "if."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This Week's Ballot

As I did last week, I decided to make a college football top 25 ballot, as if anyone had--or ever would--ask me to vote for a poll.

A brief recap of my rules: all undefeated teams get ranked higher than all one-loss teams (who get ranked higher than all two-loss teams, etc). If two teams have the same record and have played each other, the team that won head-to-head gets ranked higher (barring three-team "circle of death" situations, which have yet to matter this year). New rule this week: this week's ballot is not based on last week's. One of my biggest complaints about the real polls is their overwhelming reliance on inertia. I still have many of the same opinions, but I didn't move anybody "up" or "down" based on this week's games; I just put them where I thought they should go based on their entire body of work. I didn't even look at last week's ballot before I made this week's.

1. Oregon
They are just frighteningly good.

2. Boise State
They're very good at offense and at defense, and they've done everything they've needed to do.

3. TCU
Their offense, like Boise's, can put up big numbers on weak opponents, but their defense is even more impressive. I would love to see this team play Oregon.

4. Auburn
Fourth may seem to low for the last undefeated SEC team, but almost all of their games have still been in question going into the fourth quarter, and they have yet to be tested on the road. Out of Auburn, Oregon, Boise, and TCU, Auburn has looked the most beatable.

5. Missouri
They looked fantastic against Oklahoma on both (or, considering their kicker, all three) sides of the ball. The question has now been answered: yes, they are the real deal.

6. Utah
It's hard to defend having them lower than TCU and Boise, when their resume is similar, but at least we get to see them play TCU in two weeks and settle some questions.

7. Michigan State
After having to come from behind at Northwestern and, on reflection, struggling to beat a not-very-good Notre Dame team, MSU looks like the weakest of the undefeated teams.

8. Alabama
And maybe it's just habit, but it seems that Alabama is the strongest of the one-loss teams.

9. Wisconsin
Wisconsin has had two top-notch weeks in a row, convincingly thumping Ohio State at home and then winning a thriller at Iowa. Bret Bielema may finally have his team playing up to their potential.

10. Ohio State
Like the non-AQ teams, OSU unquestionably has the ability to throttle the life out of inferior opponents. Unfortunately, we don't get to see how they fare against a good team until they visit Iowa on November 20th.

11. Nebraska
After the (inexplicable?) loss to texas, they've gotten back on track with a win over Oklahoma State. They're no longer favorites to with the Big 12 North, but they can be again if they beat Missouri at home next week.

12. Stanford
Their only loss is to Oregon.

13. LSU
LSU is a deeply, even wildly flawed team, but it's still not easy to beat them.

14. Arizona
Beating up on the teams from Washington doesn't prove much, but their schedule is about to get more interesting.

15. Oklahoma
If the computers got to factor in margin of victory, OU wouldn't have been #1 last week. I had them pretty high because sure, their losses were close, but at least they scheduled hard. Now that they have lost a game, their fragile mystique is gone.

16. Florida State
Still a mystery to me. They're a one-loss team whose loss was to Oklahoma, so that's why they're here.

17. Oklahoma State
Very good offense (which can be shut down for at least short stretches), very little defense. I expect their loss total to go up.

18. Nevada
I really wanted to like Nevada, but I'm finally accepting that they're a bit of a sham. The one thing they've done is kill Cal, but it turns out that every time Cal goes on the road, they get killed.

19. Arkansas
There are three two-loss SEC teams, and while it's South Carolina that has the best win, Arkansas has the best losses. That's right; I'll take the team that lost to Alabama and Auburn over the team that beat Alabama and lost to Auburn and Kentucky. It's a judgment call.

20. Iowa
Despite the time-zone-influenced loss to Arizona, and the atrocious clock management against Wisconsin, I still think Iowa is very good.

21. South Carolina
I don't want to rank them (because I don't like them), but it's the responsible thing to do.

22. Virginia Tech
They keep trying to make people forget about James Madison, although it isn't easy.

23. Miami (you know which one)
I don't think Miami is great by any means, but they're decent, and their two losses are to quality teams.

24. Mississippi State
Oh, why not throw the third two-loss SEC team in here? They certainly don't put up big numbers, but they've won every game except at LSU and against Auburn. I maintain that they are scrappy.

25. East Carolina
They continue to make me smile.

The team I wanted to rank, but couldn't without breaking (or altering) my rules: Navy. I only saw bits and pieces of their game yesterday, but every time I flipped over there, they looked really good. However, they lost to Maryland, who lost to West Virginia, who lost to Syracuse, so I couldn't--within the rules as currently formulated--rank Navy without ranking those three teams in front of them.

The team I'm glad to see that professional voters ranked, but declined to rank myself: Baylor. I'm happy for them that they're bowl-eligible, that they beat K-State, and that they look to have more than a fighting chance against t.u. next week, but they got killed by TCU (as you do), and couldn't get it done against Texas Tech on a neutral field. Sorry, Baylor; maybe next week.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Things I Enjoyed Today

1. Iowa State wins in Austin for the first time ever! Longhorns, you have been Cycl-OWNED!

I watched almost all of that game, and I'll tell you this--it wasn't even close. Iowa State didn't look great, for the most part, and I kept assuming that texas would snap out of it and come back eventually, but that just never happened. Iowa State didn't have great defense, but t.u.'s was worse. ISU was a little spotty on offense, but had way more good spots than texas. They won fair and square, and it was hilarious.

2. Texas A&M beats KU handily, as they absolutely had to.

Also, I guess I should be happy that Sherman was finally willing to give backup QB Ryan Tannehill lots of meaningful snaps . . . but it was weird that he waited to pull Jerrod until Jerrod was having a good game. His plan must have been to give Tannehill practice in a game situation, but not a risky game situation, so Tannehill will be more prepared if he ever has to go in and save a game that's going badly. It was still weird, though.

3. Wisconsin is good, you guys. They really are.

Of course, it helped that Iowa completely fouled up their clock management in the last minute of the game. You can't play fast and loose with your timeouts unless you've made Les Miles' deal with the devil. Anyway, the doubts I had about Wisconsin are pretty much gone after two consecutive impressive wins. They do still need help to win the Big Ten, though.

4. Because Mark Dantonio keeps fake-punting his way into my heart.

I know that, as a Badgers fan ("fan," rounding up from "well-wisher," anyway), I need to be rooting against Michigan State, the one conference team that has beaten Wisconsin. But . . . they're just so loveable! Dantonio calls a fake punt to beat Notre Dame, then he has a heart attack which he perseveres through, and then he fake punts again today to complete the comeback against Northwestern! (And besides, they weren't going to lose to Northwestern, the Big Ten master of the choke-job, even when they did go down 17-0.)

Now if they can just keep beating them consecutively until 2051, they'll finally be even with 'em. Oh, and let's not forget how fun it is to say "Ken Niumatalolo."

And the world makes just a little more sense.

7. Baylor's win over K-State puts them alone at the top of the Big 12 South.

They're probably more stoked about getting bowl-eligible for the first time since 1995, but the standings thing makes me smile. (Well, the Baylor part. Can we all agree to ignore the very bottom of the division standings?)

8. And now Missouri has taken down Oklahoma!

I can't really articulate why I was rooting for Missouri there, but here are some ideas:
a. I like when OU loses.
b. Mizzou was the underdog, and I generally like underdogs.
c. I would like there to be a team in the Big 12 North who can take the division from Nebraska (I don't really harbor any ill-will toward Nebraska for leaving the conference, but I really don't want them to win it on their way out the door).
d. It's comforting that the team that beat A&M 30-9 is legitimately good.
e. As always, it's fun when there are upsets at the top of the polls. It reminds me of good ol', crazy ol' 2007.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The Bengals' DC, Mike Zimmer, is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Or in ex-Atlanta, current Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino's case, to call a spade a coward and an "MF." Yes, he said "MF."

Remember how hiring Gene Chizik seemed like a really, really dumb thing for Auburn to do, but now Auburn is really good? I'm at least as confused about that as everybody else.

If Oklahoma beats Missouri and Oklahoma State beats Nebraska this weekend (which I'd estimate has about a 24% chance of happening, which isn't terrible), both Oklahoma schools will be 6-0 for the first time in the history of time.

Would Texas Tech be better this year if Mike Leach were still there? Probably. (Almost certainly?)

The Big Ten's new division-tastic conference schedules may leave some schools not playing each other for four or even six years. If that happens, it means the people making the Big Ten's schedules are not good at making schedules.

And finally, I have absolutely no idea how I got to this page or even what about a third of it means (although I'm sure it's related to how Bob Stoops or somebody on his staff just stone cold makes up stuff about opposing teams insulting the Sooners), but it made me laugh.

Monday, October 18, 2010

LeachWatch 2010: Gopher Time?

Yesterday, as pretty much everyone was expecting after he lost to an injury-devasted Purdue team, Minnesota's Tim Brewster became the first coaching fire of the season. Congratulations, Tim! I really thought Mike Locksley might beat you, but you prevailed!

So now there's all-out speculation about who will be Minnesota's next coach, and where there's coaching speculation, there's Mike Leach.

He's not the first name that gets thrown out there; that's Tony Dungy. He's not biting, though. (Although, according to this damning article by Sports by Brooks, Minnesota's hack of an AD might hide behind Dungy's recommendations so he will not get fired himself.) There are more names floating around, including the coach Dungy recommended the last time Minnesota needed a head coach, Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Also, there's Houston's Kevin Sumlin (who I still kind of wish A&M had hired when we finally ditched Coach Fran).

I don't know how good Leach's chances are. Do I think he'd take it if offered? Very yes. He's been asked about it, and while he was a little noncommittal, it's clear he wants to get back into coaching. (I think we all want him back in coaching, for the comedy.) Surely there will be other job openings by the end of the season, but maybe none as inviting as Minnesota. BCS conference + relatively low expectations = Leach-a-palooza!

Ultimately, I think that--as with all the other jobs Leach has been rumored to be considered for over the years--it's likelier that Leach would want Minnesota than that Minnesota would want Leach. I don't know if Leslie Frazier would be a better choice, because we already know that Head Coach Mike Leach can build a team that's greater than the sum of its parts, but he or almost anybody else on the list would be a safer choice. Minnesota students and fans might get excited about hiring college football's most famous pirate fetishist, but Minnesota brass and big-money alums? Maybe not so much.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Ballot

As you may have heard, the first BCS standings come out tonight. As you may have guessed, no one involved with the BCS in any capacity has asked me to submit a ballot. But why not be prepared?

The Ballot I Would Submit, If Anybody Asked:
1. Boise State
2. Oregon
3. Oklahoma
4. TCU
5. Auburn
6. Utah
7. Michigan State
8. LSU
9. Missouri
10. Oklahoma State
11. Arizona
12. Alabama
13. Iowa
14. Stanford
15. Florida State
16. Wisconsin
17. Ohio State
18. Nebraska
19. West Virginia
20. Nevada
21. K-State
22. Northwestern
23. South Carolina
24. Virginia Tech
25. East Carolina

My Method:
First Principle: Ability to get into the championship game, as determined by number of losses.
Exactly one two-loss team has made it to the BCS championship game, and that was a weird, weird year (LSU, 2007). And I'm still kind of annoyed about it. So I decided to include every unbeaten and one-loss team, regardless of conference. There are only 22 of them, so I did go ahead and try to pick the best three two-loss teams to round the ballot out to 25. (That was possibly the hardest part of the whole thing; more on that later.) I realized as I was ranking the teams that, as a corollary to this principle, all unbeaten teams should be ranked ahead of all one-loss teams. This makes some parts of the poll look a little wonky (do I believe that Oke State would beat Alabama on a neutral field? Not particularly). However, all that an unbeaten team has to do at this point is win all the rest of their games; one-loss teams have to do that and root for unbeatens to lose.

Second Principle: Head-to-head matchups.
If a team has beaten another team on the ballot, they are above the team they beat, end of story. That's the one nice thing about a ballot that comes out this early--there are not yet any "circles of death" where within a group of three or four, each team has beaten one of the others and lost to another one. I know that Wisconsin might not beat Ohio State six times if they played ten times on a neutral field or whatever, but they did win the one time they did play, and that's that. (Again, later in the season, this would get more muddied due to larger bodies of work, but it's still pretty straightforward right now.)

The answer to any complicated research problem: 3X5 notecards!

Third Principle: Body of work, so far
This is where it gets really muddy and subjective. Being a fake pollster isn't easy, y'all. I'll just say this: people like to kill Boise for their weak schedule, but it hasn't gotten weak yet. The combined record of Boise State's opponents is 16-22; Oregon's is 13-23 . . . and they've played an FCS opponent (2-3 Portland State), and Boise hasn't (and won't, ever). Yes, by the end of the season, Oregon will have played higher-quality opponents than Boise gets to, but they haven't yet.

This principle would have been a lot easier if I factored in margin of victory (particularly when comparing the non-AQs), but since that's not kosher, I tried to avoid it.

Fourth Principle: so, um, who would win on a neutral field?
AKA the eyeball test. I've seen West Virginia play, and I don't feel like they'd beat most the other teams on the list. Even though this principle sounds the sketchiest, it's theoretically my favorite--if only I could watch every game. My kingdom for a DVR and a ruinously expensive cable package!

Until then, I'll take comfort in my 'cards.

Fifth Principle: Wait, all these two-loss teams suck . . .
Principles 1-4 got me through the top 22, but then I had to come up with someone, anyone, to round out the 25. And none of them look that great. I was tempted to slap all three two-loss SEC teams in there, but I worried that was the media's pro-SEC bias talking. So I took what I considered the best of the SEC teams, the best of all the others (Va Tech has actually acquitted itself very nicely since the James Madison disaster, have you noticed?), and then East Carolina because they make me smile. I know that's a terrible reason, but that's why nobody asked me to submit a ballot.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some Picks: NFL Week 6

Chicago (off) over Seattle
No line here yet, since we still don't know if Jay Cutler will be back from the concussion, but a line would have to be really high for me to pick Seattle. One of my personal Football 2010 Picks Rules: pick Seattle at home, pick against them on the road.

Miami (off) over Green Bay
Green Bay also has a quarterback concussion problem. Also . . . they sort of suck.

St. Louis (+8.5) over San Diego
If San Diego can lose to Oakland, they can fail to beat St. Louis by 9.

Baltimore (+2.5) over New England
Serious question: why is New England favored here?

Detroit (+10) over New York Giants
I'm not going to pretend I know how the Giants are going to perform any given week, but I know that Detroit can lose by less than ten. Don't get me wrong; they'll lose. Just maybe by seven or something.

Atlanta (off) over Philadelphia
Vick or Kolb, the Eagles aren't as good as Atlanta.

Pittsburgh (-14) over Cleveland
With their QB back, Pittsburgh will go out of its way to score points. Also, Cleveland is probably starting Colt McCoy? If I were a Browns fan, I'd be horrified. . . . More horrified than usual.

Tampa Bay (+5) over New Orleans
I don't think New Orleans is good, you guys. And Tampa Bay is, at worst, scrappy. Gotta like scrappy.

Kansas City (+4.5) over Houston
This is pretty much a repeat of my last pick, except that I have more evidence that KC is OK and less evidence that Houston is any good. They don't have many strengths, and they can't count on the ones they're supposed to have (e.g. Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub).

New York Jets (-3) over Denver
I went from believing in the Jets to not believing. Then to believing. And after Monday night's game . . . I'd call it ambivalent. Sure, they won, but why didn't they score more during those first three quarters? They can take Denver, though.

Oakland (+6.5) over San Francisco
OK, seriously, why is San Francisco favored? They are 0-5. They are inventing new ways to lose. I refuse to pick the 49ers until after they finally win one. I refuse.

Dallas (+2) over Minnesota
Who can choke this game away harder?

Indianapolis (-3) over Washington
I know the Colts are kind of struggling, but they can pull this out.

Jacksonville (+3) over Tennessee
I told myself I was going to pick the opposite of what should happen for all of the Titans' games . . . but then I thought Dallas would beat them, and I picked Dallas. Never again!

last week's record: 8-6
season to date: 37-35

College Football: Week 6

It was a good one.

The number one story was number one ranked Alabama losing to one-loss South Carolina. And it wasn't close. South Carolina earned it. The best thing about this is that we get to stop hearing and reading ecstatic, breathless praises of how great Alabama is. I also thought they were very good, but that was getting old fast.

So our new #1 team is Ohio State (out with the old guard, in with the old guard). tOSU's win over Indiana was actually its third-biggest triumph of the weekend. Its biggest victory was South Carolina's loss, and its second-biggest victory was Penn State's loss. We all know by now that Penn State is not a good football team this year. However, it is still good on Illinois that they beat Penn State (and that they won in Happy Valley for the first time ever. As in ever), and may mean that they are not terrible, which means that Ohio State's non-blowout of them last week no longer makes tOSU look bad.

Now, as you know, I like Tony Barnhart, but he is a huge, unapologetic SEC homer. Today's evidence: his hand-wringing article "Will the SEC be shut out of the BCS championship game?" And the answer to his question is, if tOSU and Oregon keep winning, yes. And duh. Leave aside potential one-loss championship candidates--I don't think either SEC team that could finish the season undefeated (LSU or Auburn) will jump either tOSU or Oregon. Ohio State is Ohio State--maybe the only team this season with an SEC-like level of clout. (The rest of the Big Ten doesn't have it, the Big 12 South doesn't have it, even Nebraska--which we'll discuss soon--doesn't have it.) As for Oregon, they are crazy, man. That's just the kind of team you want to watch; they're so exciting. If they keep winning, the pollsters will want to see them in the title game.

It was, overall, not a great week for the Big 12. The brightest spot was Nebraska's victory over K-State, because A) people got to see it (since it was nationally broadcast on a Thursday night) and B) they, and specifically their freshman QB Taylor Martinez, looked wicked good. When you start getting tagged as Denard Robinson-esque, and your team can play defense, you're in a good place.

But let us not forget the Aggie loss to Arkansas. OK, here's the thing: that was not a game I expected the Ags to win. They actually kept the score closer than I would have predicted. And the defense continued to look surprisingly good. However. With the troubles that the defense gave Ryan Mallett, just imagine how easy it would have been for the Ags to pull the upset, if only the offense had shown up. I'm glad that this wasn't another five-turnover game, but Jerrod and the Jerrodettes did not do their job. I don't get this team.

It's a good thing for Texas Tech that they beat Baylor, because (as Angela pointed out) Iowa State didn't do anything to help Tech's dignity. I know Utah is good, but giving up 68 points (at home, no less)? What are you doing, Iowa State? What are you doing?

In Big Ten news, Wisconsin continued to keep Paul Bunyan's axe by stepping on Minnesota's throat. Much has been made of the fact that Tim Brewster got all snippy about Bret Bielema going for a two-point conversion when Wisconsin was already up by 25 points. Bielema has been criticized for his explanation that "the card" that tells you when to go for two told him to go for it. Much derision has been heaped on "the card." I seem to be the only person who remembers that this happened before, to card-owner Dennis Franchione. Apparently it's a thing college coaches do, and for reasons unknown to all of us who don't get paid millions of dollars, they think they should go for two when already winning by a whole lot.

Les Miles got super, super lucky again. Again. The unlikeliest thing: think of how a football is shaped. Then think about how likely it is that it would happen to land on a part of its surface that would cause it to bounce up perfectly, like a basketball. Not. Very. Likely.

Florida State murdered Miami. The ACC continues to perplex and confound. We should really just quarantine those guys so their games won't wreak havoc on everybody else's strengths of schedule.

Say what you will, but Auburn keeps winning. I don't know how comfortable I am with Auburn being good (mostly because I have Opinions about Gene Chizik). I do like this quote from their (very good) quarterback, though: "You can't go to Walmart and buy team chemisty." And even if you could, how would you figure out which aisle it was on?

Michigan State OF COURSE beat Michigan. Michigan was favored by Vegas to win that game, which just goes to show you that Vegas doesn't know everything.

Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh, for whatever that's worth. (Read: not much.) In related news, Kirk Herbstreit said on GameDay that he now expects Notre Dame (current record: 3-3) to go 9-3 on the season. To that I say, calm down, Herbie. Calm down.

0-5 New Mexico played 0-4 New Mexico State and one of them managed to win. I suppose that should be obvious, but I thought I should point it out just in case. They're both quite, quite bad. (But now 0-6 New Mexico is worse.)

In a less-sad (but still by no means gleeful) matchup, Georgia finally won a conference game by mercilessly smothering Tennessee. It's going to be a long season in Knoxville. And already has been, really.

Finally, besides there being postseason baseball in town (so I am told), the DFW area also hosted five college football games on Saturday. One crazy dude and his friend went to all of them. Even though he takes shots at Aggie fans, I'm still going to label that awesome.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Texas A&M: Rest-of-the-Season Outlook


Well . . .


Let's start here: I believed in my heart of hearts that A&M was going to beat Oklahoma State. That first half, where A&M looked good on both sides of the ball and Oke State's offense looked like it had been wildly oversold, was what I truly thought--despite trying to keep my expectations realistic--that game was going to look like.

Then the second half . . . I can't call it "a nightmare" because A&M managed to come back after all should have been lost. I can't say that it lived down to my worst expectations, because I never expected, not even after the FIU game, that Jerrod would be this team's problem.

That's where we need to go next: Jerrod Johnson. After watching the OSU game, I now have to retract all the things I said about him being the Big 12's elite quarterback. I think he's a very good QB, but he not a great QB. I don't know if it's his shoulder, or his shoulder affecting his confidence, or what, but a great quarterback doesn't throw eight interceptions in two games. Even more so, a great quarterback doesn't allow a ball to just fall out of his hand where the other team can pick it up. It's hard to emphasize how disgusted I was with that fumble. He wasn't even touched. He just fumbled it.

Jerrod did some great stuff in that game and he did some horrible stuff. Now, the offensive line could have played better, and the defense clearly dropped off quite a bit in the second half. But Jerrod pretty much lost the game. The one person who, coming into the season, looked like the most promising thing about the entire team, now looks to be its biggest liability.

Do you want some good news? That's super easy: coming into this season, I believed that this had to be the year if the Ags wanted to win the division. There were two reasons: that OU and t.u. were going to have down years, and that Jerrod is a senior. Now, since most of the team is looking good and is still, for the most part, very young, it looks like the team ought to be better next year. I'm not saying that Jerrod isn't going to be a loss, but if Ryan Tannehill can do 75% of the good that Jerrod does without the bad that Jerrod has done in the last two games, the Ags would be in good shape. The t.u./OU rebuilding thing is still a concern, but I feel pretty good going forward with a team with several promising players on both sides of the ball and, of course, a coach that might actually know what he's doing.

Oh, were you looking for good news that amounted to something other than "wait 'til next year"? (I don't blame you.) Here's what I've come up with: maybe Oklahoma State is really good. And maybe the Ags will eliminate some of the mistakes. That first half, and flashes of goodness in the second half, make me think that this team could beat anybody left on the schedule. They don't have the ability to run the rest of the table, certainly, but each game is a possible win.

I truly believe that, in my heart of hearts.

Although we know how that can go.

The remaining schedule
10/9, vs. Arkansas: Toughest game on the slate. I think I just lied a few paragraphs ago, because I find it hard to imagine the Ags winning this one, if only because Arky has had a week off (to brood over their loss to Alabama and get super-ready to take it out of somebody). But who knows? I just want the Ags to look OK on TV, basically. Loss.

10/16, Missouri: Mizzou looks pretty similar to A&M so far. They've beaten up a couple weak teams, but almost lost to another weak team. They beat Illinois, but not as badly as they should have. The Ags have home field advantage, but on the other hand, it's going to be shown on TV. It's probably either my hopeless optimism or my contempt for the Big 12 North, but I like the Ags in this one. Win.

10/23, at Kansas: A&M lost last year to Colorado, which was an inferior team. That's the only reason why I might worry about this game against the worst team in the conference. I can't let that worry guide this pick, though. Win.

10/30, Texas Tech: Well, I don't think Tech is very good, do you? Win.

11/6, Oklahoma: This is one of the games I was thinking of, where the Ags could win (with excellent execution, luck, and opponent complacency). And yet, loss.

11/13, at Baylor: If you think I've been too big a Pollyanna in this post, try this prediction on for size: Baylor's not bad this year. They've got a good, exciting quarterback. They might have enough fans show up to the game, for once, so that Floyd Casey Stadium is not Kyle Field North. To top it off, the Ags have been terrible in November for years. Loss.

11/20, Nebraska: I guess Nebraska is pretty good, although it's hard to say since they haven't played anybody. Probably a loss.

11/25, at t.u.: Ew, I don't like that five-day turnaround. (The 'horns technically have one, too, but they'll be playing Florida Atlantic while the Ags take on Nebraska.) But over the last six years except for 2008, the Ags have either beaten t.u. or made them work much harder than expected for a win. This year, they really aren't that good and, if I'm right (as I hope I'm not) about the previous three weeks, the Ags will really need a win here. So, what the hey, win.

That would make the Aggies 7-5 on the season, which will be a disappointment but (depending on how the losses look) not grounds for firing Sherman. I'm still hoping they scrape up eight, but I was kind of counting on them beating Oke State.

A Couple Fantasy Football Weeks

It's all over the map, you guys.

The Bubby Bristers (league with friends), record: 3-1
This is going well--so well, in fact, that I'm starting to get (arrogantly) chafed that I even lost the one game I've lost. I'm leading the league in points and my one loss was to the last undefeated team, so I'm optimistic going forward.

Week 3
helmet sticker: Drew Brees, 24.6 points (in, of course, his only real-life loss.)
helmet un-sticker: Osi Umenyiora, 0 points (which is how he tricked me into dropping him before this week's game, in which he recorded four tackles and three sacks. [insert angry growling noise])
Week 4
helmet sticker: Antonio Gates, 26.4 points. MAN that guy is good.
helmet un-sticker: Jeremy Maclin, 1.4 points. (Mike Sims-Walker scored nothing at all, but that's my fault for taking a flyer and picking him up this week. All on me.)

The Fightin' AJ Hawks (random internet dude league), record: 2-2
This is going way better than it should be. My team is a random collection of guys who perform unpredictably, I have so little depth that most of my bench this week was either on a bye or inactive due to injury, and I can never find anybody promising to pick up because the rest of the league members have already savvily snapped up the good sleepers. So the fact that I'm at .500 is really pretty great. In fact, if I finish the season with just those two wins, I'll consider it a relative victory for my fantasy football dignity.

Week 3
No idea. Can't get ESPN's atrocious fantasy setup to tell me what my players' Week 3 scores were. This interface makes me so angry, you have no idea.
Week 4
helmet sticker: Terrell Owens, 28 points. That performance single-handedly lifted me to victory.
helmet un-sticker: Darren Sproles, -1 point. Yes, he was on my bench, but I can't get over what a hideous, horrible pickup he was for me in the draft.

The Larry Fitzjerries (girl league), record: 0-4
You guys. It's so bad. It's so. bad.

My team is bad. The surprise auto-draft (which, yes, I'm still annoyed about, and no, the commissioner never apologized for) gifted me with the Broncos' third-best WR, Green Bay's injured running back, San Francisco's highly-touted disappointment of a WR, and Buffalo's wildly uneven rookie RB. And in a 12-team league (although, yes, that's a handicap shared by everyone in the league), there aren't a lot of useful free agents to be had.

My decisions are bad. I "won" the Brandon Jackson waiver sweepstakes after Ryan Grant went down, and he hasn't really helped me. I picked up Mike Sims-Walker (yes, in this league, too) on the off-chance he'd have a big week. I picked up Legedu Naanee, probably just because his name is fun. And of course, I dropped Cutler for Kevin Kolb (while making fun of the girl who dropped Kolb for Sanchez, which now seems like a really good idea), then automatically chose Cutler again after Kolb got injured/revealed himself to be a bust. (He's a bust, right? Or are we seeing how he does next week?)

And my luck is bad. I'm leading the league in points against. This week, I needed a big week from Cutler--which he had had the three weeks previously--to win. That didn't happen. The week before, my guys played decently but my opponent got 32 points from Anquan Boldin. In Week 2, my starting WR, Devon Aromashodu, who'd had a great first week, was inexplicably and entirely cut out of his team's game plan. Stuff like that.

So here's my question: at what point should I consider my team so irredeemably bad that I stop even trying to win? Here's my next question: if I'm going to lose on purpose, what's the greatest way to go about it?

Plenty of people, I am told, get disenchanted with fantasy football and just stop paying attention, stop making roster changes, etc. So that's out. Too unoriginal. I've also heard of people purposely trading away or just dropping their best players to create havoc in the league. That's more intriguing from a revenge angle, but does it go far enough?

I'm thinking I could drop all my dudes (except for the ones on the do-not-drop list [boo!], that is Desean Jackson, Frank Gore, and Antonio Gates--although maybe I could trade them?) and replace them with super-terrible dudes. Picture it: starting Tim Tebow at QB. Filling the rest of the roster in with fourth-stringers--maybe A) guys who are known to be terrible B) guys with funny names (I could keep Legedu Naanee) or C) guys all from the same team. For example, if I wanted to run with the Tebow idea, I just pick up every possible Broncos player from the waiver wire, so I'm starting a literal football team as my fantasy team. Of course, this would be funnier if I picked a worse team, like the Bills or the Browns. (The Browns are intriguing because I could implement another phase of the plan by trash-talking uncontrollably, and I could make message board posts saying "CLEVELAND REPRESENT!" and so forth.)

So! I'm mostly joking, of course, but just in case . . . suggestions?

And, oh right, Week 3
helmet sticker: DeSean Jackson, 22.1 points
helmet un-sticker: Brandon Jackson, 3.9 points

Week 4
helmet sticker: because it would be repetitive to give it to Antonio Gates again, Demaryius Thomas, 15.3 points
helmet un-sticker: with one interception, one lost fumble, and a grand total of 42 passing yards, let's give it up for Jay Cutler! -1.32 points! He is who I thought he was!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Some Things I Think about This Week's AP Poll

For reference, here it is.

1. LSU didn't move down?!? At all?!? I don't know why they aren't being punished for having the worst coach in college football.

2. Oregon leapfrogged Boise, which I suppose was inevitable. When that will happen in the coaches' poll, I wonder? I hope this means they'll be able to move past Ohio State if Oregon keeps looking awesome and OSU keeps looking pretty good.

3. There are three non-AQ teams in the top ten. The people who give out BCS bowl bids must be incredibly relieved that Utah and TCU play each other.

4. Notable fall-outs: t.u., USC, and Penn State. Good thing, too, since none of those teams is particularly good at football.

5. When will Michigan hurry up and lose already so we can stop pretending they're a ranking-worthy team? Oh wait, they play Michigan State next week. That should do it.

6. Oke State is in at #22. Beating the Aggies is good enough to get a team ranked! Fig leaf of dignity!!

7. And rounding out the last three spots, we've got Florida State (got beat down by OU), Missouri (almost lost to San Diego State), and Air Force (barely got beat by OU, woo!). Yeah, they totally ran out of good teams to rank.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Get Excited!

Next weekend looks to be a good one in college football, so I put together viewing recommendations. You're welcome!

Thursday, 6:30 CDT, ESPN (and ESPN 3, for those without cable and with the right internet provider): Texas A&M at Oklahoma State

The Aggies are finally televised, you guys! (Of course, we know how badly that has gone in recent history, but I'm stubbornly excited anyway.) Both of these teams have been tough to figure out. Each one has a potentially explosive offense, but each also has had a too-close win over a poor opponent. This game is important not just for both teams, but for the Big 12 South as a whole. As I will gleefully expand upon below, the division's pecking order is more uncertain than usual. The winner of this game will become the best darkhorse candidate to go to the conference championship game.

I still like the Ags in this one. My hope is that the offense will recovery from the temporary insanity displayed in the FIU game, and I have an unaccustomed faith in the A&M defense.

Saturday, 11:00 AM CDT, ESPN2: Miami at Clemson
By default, the most interesting morning game is between teams that are, by default, two of the favorites to win the ACC. (My personal favorite, NC State, plays an intriguing game against Va Tech in the afternoon.)

2:30 PM CDT, ABC/ESPN (depending on region): texas vs. Oklahoma
It's the Red River Shootout, suckas! Which of these teams is better? Is either really good? One of these questions will be answered on Saturday. The second question will remain open, because we'll be watching a one-loss team (that lost to UCLA--and pray remember that K-State beat them) playing an undefeated team with exactly one impressive win. The winner of this game will still be the favorite to win the Big 12 South, but unless that team does well in the eyeball test, will not be the favorite to win the Big 12.

Now, the mirror game (ABC/ESPN, depending on region) is Wisconsin-Michigan State, which will go a long way to showing how good Wisconsin is. As a UW fan, I'm bracing myself for a loss.

7:00 PM CDT, ABC: Stanford at Oregon
The more obvious answer at 7:00 may be Florida at Alabama on CBS, but I expect that to be a much less interesting game. Alabama ought to take care of business against Florida. Meanwhile, with Stanford and Oregon, who knows? They're two teams that are better than almost anybody thought they'd be, they have very different styles, and the Pac-10 championship may well be on the line. I predict craziness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some Picks: NFL Week 3

I'm gonna keep plugging away at the ol' picks. I know they're going to get good at some point. One change I will make: no more shots at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since they are the 2-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I won't make fun of them anymore. Until they finally start losing.

Kansas City (+2.5) over San Francisco
I really shouldn't be picking the 49ers to go 0-3, because they're better than that. But I'm still not over how well the crowd did at the Chiefs' last home game. Sigh. I wish the spread was bigger, so I could pick the Chiefs without having to believe they would win.

Detroit (+11) over Minnesota
I hope, although I do not believe, that the Lions will win this game. I'm plain old sure they'll keep it closer than 11 points, though.

New England (-14) over Buffalo
It remains a good idea to pick the Bills to lose by two touchdowns.

New Orleans (-4) over Atlanta
I can't dig up a qualm to feel about this one.

New York Giants (-3) over Tennessee
I don't think any of us knows how good either of these teams are. Each has had one dominant win and one embarrassing loss. The Giants are the more stable team (although I think pulling Vince Young last week reflects more on Jeff Fisher than on Vince) and they're at home, so let's assume they'll get it done.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) over Tampa Bay
Here's a matchup of extremely unlikely 2-0 teams. I didn't expect Pittsburgh to beat Atlanta or Tennessee; I didn't expect Tampa to beat Cleveland or Carolina. Even so--before the season, I expected the Steelers to beat the Bucs, and I'm going to stick with it.

Cincinnati (-3) over Carolina
Apparently, the Panthers are just bad. The Bengals aren't as good as they should be, but they're not as bad as Carolina (especially a Carolina starting a rookie QB).

Cleveland (+10.5) over Baltimore
I'd fall right over if the Browns won this game, but the Ravens do not seem to be a team built for blowouts. Also, Joe Flacco: not actually good? Discuss.

Houston (-3) over Dallas
Besides the Colts, I can't think of another team the Texans would want to beat more than the Cowboys. I mean, you'd want to beat the Cowboys if you were the Texans, right? That and Dallas's two abysmal performances outweigh Dallas's terrible desperation to win a game.

Washington (-3.5) over St. Louis
I'm not going to start buying Sam Bradford, Franchise Savior until and unless I absolutely have to. Also, I know the Redskins haven't looked great getting to 1-1, but isn't that spread pretty small?

Philadelphia (-3) over Jacksonville
I'm probably underestimating Jacksonville because I get them confused with Carolina. I really can't keep those teams straight. It's a real problem.

Indianapolis (-5.5) over Denver
Indy is still good; they just lost their first game to a team that cared much more than they did. (And is also good.) Denver is, at best, mediocre.

Oakland (+4) over Arizona
We officially have to put Jason Campbell in the Matt Leinart drawer, don't we? I had thought he had some untapped potential, maybe just needed to build some confidence--but no. The Raiders look to get a little better by starting Gradkowski, and I truly believe the Cardinals are terrible. I am not giving up on the Raiders, at least not this week.

Seattle (+5.5) over San Diego
Here I go again, putting a lot of stock in a really good Week 1 home performance. It's not just that, though--San Diego still has more losses to go to have one of their trademark bad beginnings of the season. I think it's in Norv's contract or something.

New York Jets (+2.5) over Miami
This is another hard one to get a feel for. It's equally easy to imagine the Jets playing sharply and the Jets falling on their faces (because we've seen both happen already this season). Miami, meanwhile, has won both their games--on the road--but not by impressive margins. I think the Jets have higher potential, though.

Chicago (+3) over Green Bay
As a Packer fan, I am super super nervous about this game, and the pick reflects that. My reasons for taking Chicago/points: the Packers, despite their obvious strengths, also have obvious weaknesses (the o-line and the run game), and the Bears have enough game tape to realize that. This new Chicago offense is still riding high, and while I think they'll crash/burn sooner or later, it will probably at least be later than Week 3. Finally, the Packers started last season badly, and I've been worried overall that they'll be shaky for the first several weeks of this season. Even a close win by the Packers will be hard on already frayed football nerves, so I hope this pick is wrong. (Looking at my record, the odds of that are good!)

Last week's record: 6-9-1
Season to date: 13-15-4

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Second Week of Fantasy Football

It went better! I now know what it feels like to win at fantasy football.

I really do think I made a mistake in signing up for three different leagues. It's hard for me to keep straight all the guys I have (and how much I care about them, based on how much I like the league I own them in) and all the guys I'm playing against, so I get confused about who I'm rooting for. The only time I can really keep straight who I need to do well and who I need to do badly is on Monday, when there's only one game left to go. This Monday was particularly nice and neat: Frank Gore and Drew Brees were playing each other. I needed both to do well because I have Brees in one league, Gore in another, and Brees and Gore in the third. And they both came through for me.

The Fightin' AJ Hawks (FPL League)
If it were so rude, I'd just drop out of this league, not least because it's done through ESPN, and their interface is terrible. I don't care what Matthew Berry tells you; play fantasy football through Yahoo instead. Anyhoo.

My weak-on-paper team did very nicely for me this week, giving me the second-highest point total in the league. Going into Monday, I was up ten with Drew Brees to go; my opponent had San Francisco's defense. I felt comfortable with it, and that turned out to be justified. Victory!

Helmet sticker: Jahvid Best, 40 points. Forty!
Helmet un-sticker: Felix Jones, 1 point. But hey, that's on me for starting--and drafting--him.

The Bubby Bristers (People I Know League)
This is the league where I own Brees and Gore so I triumphed easily over my husband. In the interest of martial harmony, I have kept the "In your FACE"s to a minimum.

Helmet sticker: Just to spread them around, Knowshon Moreno, 17.8 points.
Helmet un-sticker: Greg Jennings, 3.6 points. Why does Rodgers keep throwing to this "James Jones" character?

The Larry Fitzjerries (Girl League)
Going into Monday, I had Gore left to play, and a virtually insurmountable 31.38 point deficit. Then Frank Gore had a huge game--almost huge enough. I lost by (roughly) three. If only MNF had gone to overtime, I would have been undefeated in Week 2. Oh well.

Helmet stickers: Frank Gore, 28.8 points and Jay Cutler, 29.83 points. Oh, did I mention that I went crawling back to Jay Cutler after Kolb got concussed? I did. Had to.
Helmet un-stickers: Legedu Naanee, 1.4 points, and Devin Aromashodu, 0.0 points. C'mon Jay, you couldn't throw it to Aromashodu once?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Post-Mortem: Texas A&M vs. Florida International

One of the many articles I read about last Saturday's Aggie game included the observation that "Aggie fans [are] seemingly in a perpetual state of angst about football." Now, while that sentence is a little rich from someone who covers life-or-death Cornhusker football, I'm not going to argue with it. I know I'm perpetually angsty about Aggie football. So about Saturday . . .

Glass Half Full (GHF): Hey, they won, right? 3-0, right on schedule.

Glass Half Empty (GHE): Why, WHY did Texas A&M ever get down 20-6 to a team that's only played Division 1 football for five years?!?

There's one easy answer to this, although there are two ways to put it. The nice way is "turnovers." The mean way is "Jerrod sucked."

Let's look at ESPN's handy scoring summary:

Now with my handy annotations:

I have not turned on Jerrod. However, it's impossible to put a positive spin on an 11-completion (out of 31 passes), six sack, 1 TD/4INT outing.

I forgive you, sweetie. I forgive you.

GHF: Jerrod just had a bad game. That happens to everybody sometimes, right? From the same article I quoted at top: '"I was trying to do too much,'' Johnson said. "I don't really know what I was doing."' He was just in a bad head space--nothing permanent.

GHE: That quote is followed by, "Wow! That's not what you want to hear from a fifth-year senior who is in his third year as a starter" and preceded by, "So much for the Heisman Trophy talk." Maybe Jerrod is not who we thought he was. Or maybe he's not who he actually was last year--it can't be a good sign that he threw half the number of interceptions he threw all of last year in one quarter last week. Maybe, despite what he says, his shoulder isn't fully recovered from surgery.

GHF: But despite Jerrod playing so badly, the Aggies still won. The defense was genuinely good--Robert Cessna gave them an A, for goodness' sake! Check it: "A&M bailed out the offense time after time. Because of turnovers, FIU had to go only 51 yards to score its 13 points on offense, but the Golden Panthers needed 16 plays to accomplish that against the improving Aggie defense." Nice, right? (Also, Cessna clearly has a mad man-crush on Tim DeRuyter, which I find encouraging.)

GHE: Yet last season's sack leader--of the country, not the team--Von Miller hasn't recorded a sack (depending who you ask--Richard Croome credits him with one). When is his sprained ankle going to get better?

GHF: It wasn't just the defense that came through; the run game also came up big. Jerrod is not the Ags' only offensive weapon. Thanks, Christine and Cyrus!

GHE: So why didn't they turn it on until the fourth quarter? Three quarters of nightmarishly awful play will not cut it in conference play, not even against Baylor.

GHF: Theoretically, they--the entire team--will learn from that fourth quarter. In David Ubben's opinion, "The Aggies seem to know what went wrong and managed to fix it in time to salvage an ugly win. They're willing to chalk it up to a bad day when a lot went wrong and they had too many 2nd and 3rd-and-longs. But until a Thursday night date with the Cowboys on Sept. 30, they won't be able to prove it." Aggie receiver Terrance McCoy thinks the team played so badly because they were overconfident. Those first three quarters have assuredly cured them of that.

And . . . believe it or not, I'm going to end on that glass-half-full note. I won't give you the gory details, but I was pretty distraught about the Aggies' performance while the game was going on. (All right, fine. I cried some. Look, it had been a long day and I thought my team's possible at-long-last-maybe-good-season was going down the toilet.) However, after the game and after doing this post-mortem, I am, to my surprise, feeling OK (not great, but OK) about the Ags going forward.

I'm looking at the FIU game like I looked at the K-State game last year--really, really, really horrible, but with much of the horribleness caused by one-off hideous performances and some plain old bad luck. As you may recall, the Ags came back from the jaw-droppingly bad K-State loss with their first win in Lubbock since the mid-90's. I believe they can--can--come back from the FIU near-loss with a win over Oke State next Thursday.

I've still got angst, though. I'm extremely worried that I'm not worried enough.


Programming note: I won't be doing a college football wrap-up this week, since I didn't get to see any of the games. If only I didn't have to work for a living!

Programming note II: I have barely begun to comb through the coverage of the Aggies' disastrous game on Saturday. Rest assured, I'm going to write it its own post.

Now on to the links!

Hear ye, hear ye! Colorado's going to the Pac-10 (Pac-12? When do we do the name changeover?) next year after all! (Probably!) I would like to speak for all of us remaining in the Big 12 when I say, "Good riddance!" (And I already re-tweeted this, but I wanted to re-reiterate Stewart Mandel's point that "No one should be more thrilled about the Colorado/2011 news than Washington State." That's as true as it is hilarious!) (And, and, here's an unrelated but delightful quote from the linked article: Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told he'd like to see Notre Dame's sports - other than football - move from the Big East to the Big 12 if the Irish were ever unsatisfied with their current situation. Dodds has said Notre Dame could maintain its independence in football. Sources say that continues to be "a longshot." Gee, "sources," really? Thanks for that inside info.)

Speaking of Stewart Mandel, he does the college football equivalent of Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback on I'm elevating it to Required Reading, and giving you the link here.

And to go back to conference news: I've been too busy ragging on the ACC to remember that the Big East is still even lamer than they are. The computers remembered, though! After factoring in both the computer numbers and the poll numbers, ESPN's current conference rankings have (no surprise) the SEC at the top; the Big 12, Pac-10, and Big Ten closely packed at 2, 3, and 4; and the Mountain West and the WAC comfortably ahead of, respectively, the ACC and Big East. It's mostly because the WAC has Boise State and the ACC has . . . . But the point is, don't forget that the Big East has even less.

If you thirst for more mid-major coverage, visit Dr. Saturday's column here. The part I liked best was his "Somewhat Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10." A teaser: Boise State comes in at #2.

Have I mentioned recently how much I love Robbie Caldwell? Consider that a mention. Also, here's a video of him getting the game ball after Vandy's win over Ole Miss. Go Vandy! I *heart* your coach!

And now for NFL links!

Are the Texans now finally for real? Mike Lombardi thinks so, and I think I believe him. He also points out that Cleveland's upcoming slate of games is a murder schedule. He does not ask how many games Eric Mangini will last, but I'm asking.

If you only read one Brett Favre article this season (and I wouldn't blame you), read this one by Jason Whitlock. It poses the question of whether Favre will even finish out this season, and makes a fairly convincing case for "no." I still think Favre's biggest motivating factor at the moment is his iron man streak, but Whitlock makes some excellent points about the Vikings this season.

Those are my only NFL links. I feel like there should be more, but I get most of my articles through Twitter, and I have a very high college-to-NFL follow ratio. Does anybody have any recommendations for NFL writers I should follow on Twitter? (Note: I've tried Chris Mortenson and Peter King before, but I've found them both to tweet with more quantity than quality.)