Monday, August 31

ACC Basketball schedules

Last week the ACC unveiled the schedules for college basketball this season. In our over-flowing coverage of college football it slipped through the cracks, but who better than me to dredge the cracks for a post?

Looking first at the reigning national champs they will play three potential top 10 teams in the span of just over two weeks. They will host Michigan State in Chapel Hill (after beating them twice in Detroit last year), then head to Kentucky to take on the snake oil salesman and his hired guns, and follow that up by playing Texas in the first ever basketball game in the new Cowboys Stadium (scoreboard not expected to be an issue).

As for Duke, they continue to be the Florida of college basketball scheduling. Outside of the ACC/Big Ten challenge (which is scheduled for them), Duke never seems to end up on the campus of a ranked non-conference team. It was way back in 2001 when Duke last played a ranked team on their campus and while Coach K will travel the world to lead the Olympic team, they're not nearly as confident when leading the Blue Devils. The Devils do have a potential match-up with the UCONN Huskies, if both teams make it to the championship of the pre-season NIT.

Many of the best non-conference games are possibles, thanks to all the tournaments, but multiple teams appear like they will have a crack at the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Villanova Wildcats. Have a look for yourselves on this composite schedule.

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College Football Previews: The Fate of #1

We know now that Cobra Commander is a fan of Three Dog Night and if there can be a parallel drawn to college football it is that 1 can be the loneliest number of all. Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, teams have been finding it tough to go wire to wire in the AP Poll. Many feel that it will not be the case with Florida this year for if the predictors do not have Florida winning it all, they have them in the title game. In this portion of our preview we take a look at the viability of preseason polls, the history of AP number 1 teams in the BCS, and why it is difficult in college football particularly to repeat.

Premature Rankings

We have yet to officially kick-off the 2009 college football season and yet we have a full AP and USA Today poll. It is the contention of a lot of critics that there should not be a poll coming out before any games are played or at the very least one that bears so heavily on the outcome of the season. Football is unique because the polls have a decided factor in whether a team gets an opportunity to play for the title. Some say the poll should not come out for a few weeks into the season but pollsters already have a general idea of where they would place the teams beforehand anyway. Yet the crux of the problem is thus; if team A starts the season based solely on expectations ahead of team B, then team A has the decided advantage if both finished with identical records and had similar losses. It is the constant case of finding imperfections with an imperfect system in college football. Sometimes a season can swing on where a coach's assistant or some crazed AP voter places a team.

Hard to Repeat

Besides any history of polls or playing the numbers game, it is extremely difficult to repeat in college football. It is difficult in any sport, but particularly in the college game. The most evident factor is the turnover. You only have players for a short period of time. If they are junior college transfers you have two years. If a player has NFL potential he is usually gone after his junior year. So from anywhere from 1-4 years the maximum amount of time you have to shape a player and utilize his talent on the field. And unless your Michigan you only have a certain amount of time to practice and train them due to NCAA rules.

What Florida has going for them is that their quarterback is returning, he knows the offense, and he is pretty darn good. The defense returns all of its starters so in theory they should be even better than last year. There were a few losses to the offensive line and Percy Harvin is gone as well. People are quick to point out that Jeffrey Demps is just as quick as Harvin but Percy had excellent lateral movement and field vision as well.

It takes more than returning talent to go wire to wire and repeat however. There is something about a team being ranked #1 in college sports that gives an extra charge to their opponents. Most of the time that charge only lasts one quarter or half and then the #1 team's talent takes over. The point is though that when you are a top-ranked team or the defending champion you get the absolute highest energy effort from the opposing team. Any time you step on the field the other squad has delusions of rushing the field and toppling the goal post.

I suppose mentioning that Florida plays in the SEC is enough to warrant doubts as to there repeat potential but as long as they make it to the SEC championship game with only won loss, they have nothing to worry about. It is one of the effects of the BCS system that a team has the knowledge it can make one mistake and still get the title shot while other teams know it is perfection or bust.

By the Numbers

Georgia came in ranked number 1 last year mostly based on their strong 2007 season and the return of Matt Stafford and Knowshon in their backfield. I was even pretty high on them. Yet at the end of the season they were ranked 13th. The last preseason number 1 to finish with the title since the inception of the BCS was USC in 2004. The Trojans were again the preseason number 1 the next year but if not for the scampering of Vince Young would have gone back-to-back wire-to-wire. USC again was ranked number 1 before the 2007 season but had to sit and watch the title game and ended up number 3. The only other BCS wire-to-wire team was Florida State in 1999. The average finish of the preseason number 1 in the BCS era is 3.63. Some of that is due to the AP choosing good teams and the other is that it is a lot harder to fall from the top, even with bad losses. Perhaps the voters like to cover their preseason picks at year's end even if the team is not playing for the championship.

Only three teams have ever come from double digit preseason rankings to win the title with the largest run made by Oklahoma in 2000. If we ever have a beer together and this subject comes up I can give you a detailed account of why the Sooners got the break of the century in getting to play FSU in the title game that year. The very BCS system was changed after that year because of what happened but I digress. The average starting spot for the BCS national champion has been 6.36. The team ranked 6th in the AP this year is Ohio State.

You cannot really crunch these numbers. There is no sure fire formula to go by when the AP and the other polls that comprise the BCS are created from subjective votes from what are basically anonymous voters. Worse yet, there is not standard set of criteria from which to vote. If you think that strength of schedule is all that matters, that is how you vote. Margin of victory may impress you, going undefeated might be the most important, or you just may not like a player or coach as much as another. Predicting how things will fall out is never easy in sports to begin with but this system makes it a true crap-shoot. We do know that history has taught us being number 1 before the first kickoff of the season usually results in being ranked lower at the end.

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Tedy Bruschi Retires

One of the cornerstones of the Patriots dynasty this decade is retiring. Tedy Bruschi played all 13 years in his NFL with New England and won 3 Super Bowls during his time at middle linebacker. Bruschi's ability to contribute to the defense had been declining since last year and with a new younger core in the Pats linebacker stable, Tedy perhaps felt it was time to move on. He gave the fans of New England a lot of thrills. The snow games, the great sacks and interceptions, and the leadership but one of the greatest images is of him playing with his kids on the field before Super Bowl 39.

Tedy Bruschi Retiring After 13 Seasons

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Sunday, August 30

Tim James IS a Soldier

Former University of Miami basketball star Tim James has voluntarily answered the call. The UM Hall of Fame inductee is currently serving in the army over in Iraq. SPC James was a first round draft pick of the Miami Heat and played also for the Hornets and 76ers. Additionally he spent a few seasons playing overseas. James decided not to tell his fellow soldiers or his commanding officer that he was a former NBA star, preferring to remain just one of the members of the team protecting our country and the people of Iraq. This is a story that makes every fan of the U and sports fans in general proud. The story is a great read by Dan Le Batard.

Tim James' journey from NBA to Iraq [Miami Herald]

(Big H/T to TBL)

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Friday, August 28

It's Friday

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Thursday, August 27

College Football Previews: Top Ten Games To Watch

There is an old saying about teams circling certain match-ups on their calender in anticipation of the game ahead. Fans do the same thing but usually in their head, if you are using the red sharpie on your refrigerator magnet, you are going a tad too far. Every year when the schedule comes out for football, there are certain games that you look forward to and want to do everything in your power to make sure you watch the action. They will ultimately not be the best games you saw at season's end, but sometimes anticipation can be the greatest form of pleasure. Read on for our top ten please know that there were many honorable mentions.

Preseason Coaches' Poll rankings are in parentheses.

10. Alabama(5) at Ole Miss(10)- October 10th

The Grove will be a rocking and raucous place this year (more so than usual) due to the increased expectations and top ten rankings the Rebels have received. In October, the reigning SEC west champions come into town. Many are wondering if the burden of these high hopes will ultimately come crashing down on the Rebs but a few things they have in their favor is getting this game at home and the veteran leadership at quarterback of Jevan Snead. Snead probably would have gathered some preseason SEC votes if it was not mandated under papal law that Tebow receive all of them. Also having the lightning bolt that is Dexter McCluster in the backfield helps as well. Alabama will certainly face a challenge of replacing John Parker Wilson behind center, and 5.9 YPR back Glen Coffee. Mark Ingram was great as a freshman last year, but is he ready to take on the full load with a slightly weaker O-line? This could also be an interesting game psychologically for the Tide considering they have the huge opening weekend match-up against Virginia Tech and then play FIU and North Texas before facing lighterweight SEC foes Arkansas and Kentucky. If they barrel through those first 5 they could be overconfident going into this game or if they drop the first one to the Hokies they could be facing a let down like the one they had in last year's Sugar Bowl after their title hopes slipped away last year.

9. Utah(18) vs. BYU(24)- November 28th

This game will not have any sway on who plays for the national title, but a BCS bowl berth may well be on the line. I made it a point to catch this game last year and the "Holy War" as it is dubbed did not disappoint. So far from the sports fan consciousness was this contest that it was not even on national television and the Utes were undefeated and the Cougars ranked. It was only on the Mountain West network so we had to forage out to find a bar that would carry it. The great thing about rivalry games, even the ones that are not as nationally known is that the teams generally do not like each other and give maximum effort to destroy the other team. This also gave a good glimpse at what the Utes could do on the field. I had seen them squeak by TCU but their 48-24 win over BYU showcased their all-around talent. It was that talent along with the guidance of Kyle Willingham at head coach that propelled them to a 31-17 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. The Utes were snubbed on a national championship and the Mountain West Conference did its best to propose that all teams would have a fair shot at playing for the title but even Congress can do nothing against the behemoth that is the BCS system. Both Utah and BYU are challenging themselves out of conference but it is unlikely that either will go undefeated but if they somehow do then this game will again be for a shot at the big boys for bragging rights but no title.

8. Florida(1) at LSU(9)- October 10th

This game between the past 3 national champions will take place at night in Tiger Stadium. The past time the Gators came to Tiger Stadium at night LSU came away with the victory on their way to the title. There will be much hype surrounding this game with an emphasis on the at night aspect of it. Something mystical must happen when the sun goes down in Baton Rouge because people certainly seem to think playing at home at night gives the Tigers an extreme advantage. Others postulate that it simply allows the fans to do even more disgusting and degrading actions that might otherwise be more conspicuous in the light of day.

7. USC(4) at Notre Dame(23)- October 17th

I have this as one of my top games to watch this season for one reason and one reason only; I want to witness the Trojans obliterate the Irish and snap their backs once again in front of their home fans. Year after year the Irish are given preferential treatment by the media, their own network NBC, and even the pollsters. If there is any excuse to get them in the top 25 they will be. Lou Holtz is the embodiment of such ridiculous notions. He has picked the Irish to face Florida in the national championship game. While the Notre Dame schedule is on the easy side, they would have to beat USC for that situation to even enter the realm of possibility. If Notre Dame somehow makes it to the USC match-up undefeated 5-0 then there will be a lot of chirping coming out of South Bend. I hope it happens, because it will make the crushing of their dreams much more sweeter. The Trojans have won the last 7 games in the rivalry with the only close one being the Reggie Bush pushing Leinart game 34-31 in 2005. Other than that game the average score in the match-up over the USC winning streak has been 41-14. The hot air Irish fans will be blowing prior to this game will be amusing and one can only sit back with hands placed in Montgomery Burns position and bellow out an "excellent" when SC destroys them yet again.

6. Tennessee at Florida(1)- September 19th

Congrats to the Vols for being the only unranked team on my list. They received 2 votes in the coaches' poll and 15 in the AP. New coach Lane Kiffin has been running his mouth and speaking boldly and if there is one thing we know in the SEC, it is that Urban Meyer is a thin-skinned dude. Not only that, he is more than willing to embarrass any team that he feels has offended his delicate sensibilities. Last year instead of kneeling after having the game well in hand he attempted a TD pass against Miami in the closing moments and even brought out the field goal unit just to cover the spread. After Mark Richt and Georgia sent their entire team out onto the field in a Bulldog win Urban punished the Bulldogs 49-10 last year in a game where he did nottake his foot off the brakes. The list goes on and on and even in the national title game last year Meyer was straining to score on the final drive with the game won. So you can only imagine what Meyer and the Gators will have in store for Kiffin and the Vols when they come into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in September. Pete Carroll at least puts on the breaks sometimes, no such luck with Urban. This is going to get ugly and get ugly quick and the car wreck analogy is most definitely fitting here. I will not be able to look away.

5. Georgia(13) at Oklahoma State(11)- September 5th

I have to give a lot of credit to UGA, they are willing to pack up an head out of their region to go play tough opponents from out of their conference. While other SEC powers fear what may lurk beyond the eastern half of the country unless they are called to play in a BCS title game, Georgia makes another foray into the latter time zones. Last year Georgia went to Arizona State and came away with the victory but this year will be a sterner test. The Bulldogs head to Stillwater to take on the T. Boone PickensOklahoma State Cowboys the first weekend of the season. Adding to the difficulty for Georgia will be dealing with the loss of Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno but Joe Cox seems to be up to the task. Let's just say Cox is not afraid to put himself out there. The Cowboys are going to be favored to win this one and look to improve on a 9-4 season from a year ago. Lead by Zac Robinson at quarterback and Kendall Hunter the offense should continue to thrive but the Cowboys gave up an average of 47 points in their losses. Mike Gundy added Bill Young as defensive coordinator and is hoping that will be the difference in a season where OK State could contend for a Big XII title.

4. Alabama(5) vs. Virginia Tech(7)- September 5th
This game was headliner for our ACC vs. SEC preview so allow me to quote myself:

The 2009 season is another chance for the ACC to take a step in the right direction and it all begins where it began last year, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Once again Alabama comes forth from the SEC, but this time Virginia Tech comes calling from the ACC. The Hokies won the first BCS game by an ACC team other than Florida State last year and are ranked in the top ten. They have been the most consistent ACC team since the league expanded, winning 3 in the past 5 years. A lot is riding on this game for Virginia Tech and their outside chances at a title shot, but perhaps just as much is on the line for the conference. Alabama is not as strong as last year, they will be starting a new quarterback and their line is not as formidable as last year but they are still a dangerous team.

3. Ohio State(6) at Penn State(8)- November 7th

Just like last year this game is expected to determine who wins the Big Ten. And like last year both teams could be vying for a spot in the BCS title game. Also Ohio States title chances hinge on a game with USC in September but this time the game is in Columbus. It must be deja vu because people are talking about the softness of Penn State's out of conference schedule again. And just like last year I expect this game to be a hard-fought affair that is close to the very end in Happy Valley.

2. USC(4) at Ohio State(6)- September 12th

Last year this was supposed to be the game of games, but it ended up being USC trouncing all over the Buckeyes' title hopes. The hype coming out of Columbus about Terrelle Pryor and his speed and his advancement as a quarterback has been non-stop. With USC having a first timer under center, the Horseshoe can be a daunting place to play and may give the Buckeyes the edge. The Trojan's defense may not be as strong as last year but it will still be stout and Pryor will have to put points on the board in order to keep this one close. Ohio State fans are looking for any reason to beat their chest nationally after the losses last year to USC and Texas and the two losses in the BCS title games.

1. Texas(2) vs. Oklahoma(3)- October 17th

Last year's Red River Rivalry game was a classic with Texas winning 45-35 yet somehow it was the Sooners playing in Miami for the title. Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford return once again and there is no reason to think this year's game will not contain the same fireworks as last year's record high scoring game. Both teams have many pitfalls in their schedule but it could very well come down to who wins this game. Come to think of it, last year it did not come down to who won this game. So throw all those title implications out the window, it is still a great game between two heated rivals in a terrific setting at the Cotton Bowl.

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Wednesday, August 26

College Football Previews: ACC vs. SEC

There should be no debate that over the lifespan of the BCS, the SEC has emerged as the dominant conference so far. In fact the first BCS title game featured an SEC team beating an ACC team when Tennessee won the title over Florida State in 1998. Aside from the Seminoles no team representing the ACC has sniffed the national title game. FSU lost to Tennessee in '98, beat then Big East member Virginia Tech in '99, and then lost to Oklahoma in '00. This was more a show of the Seminoles ridiculous ACC dominance than the strength of the conference as they won 11 of 13 conference titles from the time they joined until conference expansion. The SEC has had 3 different teams win the BCS title, including the last 3 champions and 5 of the 11 BCS titles awarded so far. This has aided in the explosion of revenue generating the SEC is becoming known for not just in sports circles, but the financial realm as well. They have their monumental television deal with CBS and ESPN and their current showcase team, Florida, is a unanimous number 1 in both polls to start the season. While little can be argued against the SEC being the best conference up and down this season in college football, are they getting too much credit? Sometimes it is possible to overate the highest rated. There are some key non-conference match-ups in the SEC that involve other BCS conferences (Georgia/Oklahoma State, West Virginia/Auburn) but it could be the ACC that makes the most noise on the subject when the season is over. Although it could also be the case that the ACC continues its run of disappointing and borderline embarrassing out of conference performances.

This is not a post about how the ACC is overlooked in football and that they are going to erase a past decades worth of poor showings in one year. The SEC is king and still will be at the end of this season most likely. However, the ACC is putting resources into bolstering its football and the results will come in time. Down here in the south, SEC is king in football just like the ACC is in basketball. Yet SEC basketball has proven itself to be formidable by having the storied program of Kentucky combined with Florida's back-to-back run and Final Four appearances by the likes of LSU. That is what the ACC is seeking to do in football; not rule the schoolyard, but grab the pigtails and show off on the double dutch once in awhile. But in the last few years particularly, the ACC has been playing Magic the Gathering with the emo kids while the SEC struts around the sandbox.

Enough with the schoolyard metaphor, the ACC badly needs a strong showing nationally this year. Since Florida State's run, the ACC has won just 1 out of the its last 8 BCS bowls, and that came last year when Virginia Tech beat Cincinnati 20-7. But the ACC has struggled mightily against non-conference BCS teams in the past few years. Despite wins like Wake Forest over Ole Miss last year, a win by Florida over Miami ending a long winning streak and the Gator's pummeling of FSU showed that the ACC was not ready to play big time football yet. But there were two bookend games for the ACC against their southern brethren that really pointed to how the Atlantic Coast was lagging behind on the gridiron.

On August 30th of last year, before 8:12 pm, the Clemson Tigers were considered a strong favorite to win the ACC and a sleeper to make the national title game. They even had Kirk Herbstreit fooled. The Georgia Dome in Atlanta was rocking as they were set to face off against Alabama on national television. It was the game that was the highlight of the opening weekend of college football. The Crimson Tide were supposed to be the talented but young up and coming team. The final score was 34-10 and never close as Alabama dominated Clemson on both sides of the line. The national showcase for the ACC preseason favorite became an embarrassing loss that in reality sunk their season and Tommy Bowden's tenure at Clemson.

At the end of the 2008 season Georgia Tech was riding high. The Yellow Jackets had tied Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division lead and lost in a tiebreaker due to a loss to the Hokies which they let slip away early in the season. Plus they were coming off a rout of Miami where they rushed for over 400 yards and beat their rival Georgia 45-42 in a shootout that ended a 7 year losing streak to the bulldogs. As bowl season arrived the high hopes of the ACC bowl performances pointed to Tech's match-up with LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl, again to be played in Atlanta. LSU's defense had been less than formidable throughout the year and their quarterback play was even less consistent. This was a terrific chance for the ACC to prove itself against a former national champion from the SEC. Georgia Tech was even a 4 point favorite. The Tigers went on to score 28 second quarter points and blow Tech out of the water 38-3.

The loss by Georgia Tech capped a disappointing bowl season for the ACC in 2008. The ACC had a record ten teams selected for bowl games, including two against the SEC. Boston College had its streak of 8 bowl wins snapped against Vanderbilt. The Georgia Tech debacle was mentioned. Miami and Clemson let their games get away from them in the final minutes. NC State and North Carolina both lost close contests to Big East teams Rutgers and West Virginia respectively. The conference went 4-6 and fueled further the notion that the ACC was not up to the task of playing big time college football.


Sept. 3, South Carolina at North Carolina State

These two teams kicked off the regular season last year and while the game started out as competitive, South Carolina ran away 34-0. Again they are the teams chosen to get the college football season underway for 2009 next Thursday. Quarterback Russell Wilson was injured and out of the game early which showed the Wolfpack of this year like last year will only go as far as Wilson will take them. NC State is talented but they are lacking in depth, but the fans have been chirping about this game all summer. South Carolina has done little to inspire its fans after another lackluster season in the SEC culminating in a firm beatdown by Iowa in the Outback Bowl, but another win over their neighbors to the north will go a long way.

Sept. 5, Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

The 2009 season is another chance for the ACC to take a step in the right direction and it all begins where it began last year, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Once again Alabama comes forth from the SEC, but this time Virginia Tech comes calling from the ACC. The Hokies won the first BCS game by an ACC team other than Florida State last year and are ranked in the top ten. They have been the most consistent ACC team since the league expanded, winning 3 in the past 5 years. A lot is riding on this game for Virginia Tech and their outside chances at a title shot, but perhaps just as much is on the line for the conference. Alabama is not as strong as last year, they will be starting a new quarterback and their line is not as formidable as last year but they are still a dangerous team.

Oct. 3, Georgia Tech at Mississippi State
Oct. 31, Georgia tech at Vanderbilt
November 28, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia

Georgia Tech has three match-ups against the SEC this season. They travel to Mississippi State and to Vanderbilt. While those games are not the toughest you can get from the SEC, it is important for Tech not to lose both of them. Their annual game against Georgia to close out the season should be interesting. The Jackets beat Georgia last year to snap the streak and everyone does not quite know what to make of this year's Bulldog team. If Tech can grab 2 out of 3 or even all 3 it would be another huge step in the right direction.

Nov. 28, Florida State at Florida

Another annual rivalry game between the two conferences is the Florida-Florida State game. This game has come to be played on the very last game of the regular season. While FSU won 5 of 6 from '98-'03, the Gators have won last 5. The previous two games have not even been close with Florida winning by a combined margin of 90-27. The Seminoles have stood as a barrier in Florida's national championship runs including the 1997 Sugar Bowl which gave the Gators their first national championship. It is unlikely the Seminoles can beat the Gators in Gainsville, but hopefully they can come within two touchdowns this year and make it somewhat respectable. At least this year Tebow won't have the opportunity to smear red paint on his jersey and pass it off as blood.

Nov. 28, Clemson at South Carolina

This is actually one rivalry were the ACC has had the upper hand lately. Clemson has won 10 of the last 12 games against the Gamecocks. This also includes a last second FG victory in 2007 which gave the visor his longest losing streak (in college that is). The preseason hype has cooled on Clemson this year after the Tigers burned so many prognosticators last year but they have been consistently picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division which means people think they will be good, but have learned too many times to pick them as winners. People who live outside the Carolinas have no idea how much of a big deal this game is but it has conference implications as well.

There may be multiple bowl match-ups between the two conferences again this year but a guaranteed one is the Chick-fil-A bowl. The SEC has won the last 4 with the last ACC win coming from Miami over Florida in 2004. This game is never in the national title discussion but it is always a strong match-up that yields some conference pride and bragging rights afterward.

The SEC rules college football in the polls, financially, and on the field but that does not mean the ACC cannot make progress. The ACC programs have to forget the past and work on improving their conference year by year. It will not happen overnight but as the ACC starts stocking talent the results will be seen on the field before long. Those results could start this year.

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Tuesday, August 25

Tuesday Late Afternoon Links

Wilford Brimley wants you to check your blood sugar right now!

Saved By the Bell turned 20 yesterday and we did not even celebrate. Maybe because of how old it made us feel. [Sharapova's Thigh]

Great list of the best player currently wearing each jersey number 0-99. [Rumors and Rants]

I think online petitions are a waste of time, but I can think of no more of a noble cause that getting Pluto its title of "planet" back. If they end up calling it "the angry drunken dwarf planet" that's fine too. [YBNBY]

Tomorrow night is trivia night. Know your Bond Girls, in the biblical sense if possible. [Sporcle]

Former Hurricane, hobo weight-lifting partner, and 11th all-time rusher Edgerrin james may be on his way to signing with Seattle. [PFT]

A list of the seven fastest players in college football. [TBL]

Ichiro does not want a chick that digs the long ball, um, is this a metaphor? [Sportress of Blogitude]

I heard one of our local radio hosts who is usually talking out of his ass say the Mets have completely given up by trading Billy Wagner. Of course, it was Wagner who announced he was giving up on the Mets and not going to envoke his option in 2010 last year after his elbow injury costs them the playoffs. Knowledge is power folks. [Big League Stew]

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Monday, August 24

Looking Good Oliver! Feeling Good Omar!

It does not bother me that the Mets have one of the highest payrolls in baseball yet find themselves out of the playoff picture. Nor does it grind at me that the Mets have taken a beating in the press and in the blogosphere despite losing 3 of their top 4 offensive bats in the lineup and added the 4th when David Wright got beaned in the head. I can handle the fact that the Phillies dug up Pedro and he waltzed into Citi Field and won yesterday. I can even stomach the unassisted triple play by Eric Bruntlett who had made two errors on the previous batters to get the tying run on first and only made the triple play because he was covering second because the runners were in motion. I accept that it is only the second unassisted triple play in Major League history to end a game.

After all I am a Mets fan and while I was born in time to witness the 1986 Championship, what has followed can only be described as exercises in futility sprinkled in with a few good seasons that ultimately came up short. If you are going to be a Mets fan and not jump ship and take the easy way out and root for the Yankees, your stomach builds up a titanium lining to become immune to such acts of atrociously vile fortune. There is, however one aspect of the Mets' season that I fine too much to bare, and that is Oliver Perez.

I do my best to stray into individualized player bashing, but today I will allow myself an exception. Perez has never been a consistent pitcher, but he did have a fantastic start in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS but the Mets lost that game due to a superior performance by Cardinals pitching. Last year Perez went 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA. Before this season started, the Mets needed starting pitching after shoring up the bullpen with K-Rod who has been good this year and J.J. Putz who is now injured as well. Omar Minaya turned to Perez, who had been decent but nothing special. Not only did Minaya turn a blind eye to possible health problems with Perez but he allowed the market to drive up his price tag. In the end, the Mets gave Perez a 3-year, $36 million dollar contract. Everyone was up in arms about the contract; the media, the fans, and even the statisticians. Is it hard to believe that Perez is a Scott Boras client? There are some who say Boras is good for baseball, especially when it comes to negotiating contracts for players in the amateur draft, but when he gets this kind of money for this kind of player in my mind it puts him more toward Bernie Madoff than Curt Flood.

Predictably Perez started out awful this season. The Mets blamed the problem on a knee injury and placed him on the DL where he would soon be joined by a host of Met players as the season began to fade away. He came back in July and actually got a win against the Dodgers, going 5 innings and giving up 3 runs. He has not gone over 6.1 innings since he came back, maybe this is to protect his injury or maybe because he is incapable. His last three starts were two no decisions where he only gave up 1 run and had 7 Ks in each and a win against Atlanta where he gave up 4 runs in 5 innings but still got the win. That brought us to yesterday where he gave up a two 3-run home runs to Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz, who was 0 for his last 23 against the Mets. All this leads to a $12 season which has yielded a 3-4 record with 66 innings pitched, a 6.82 ERA, and a 1.92 WHIP. In these economical times it is great to see someone is still able to get fast money. If one thing is true among the increased media coverage, increased criticism and delving into the lives of athletes it is that they are certainly well-compensated for it. So while the Mets flounder this season and will no doubt make some absurd offseason move and produce another ridiculous contract to attempt to keep up, Perez can laugh all the way to bank.

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Friday, August 21

It's Friday

He said he is to be known as "Esteban" Ochocinco from now on.

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College Football Previews: The Assistants

One of the aspects of college sports that makes me appreciate them more than their professional counterparts is the importance of coaching. While I am not saying that professional coaches do not earn their money, it is clear that at the collegiate ranks the opportunity to shape the young men into the players you want them to be is more feasible. The head coach gets the publicity, the pay, and the blame most of the time yet assistant coaches can have an incredible influence on how players develop and how the games themselves are played. In this episode of our college football previews we look at some assistants, both old and new, who are going to play important roles not just with their teams but perhaps affect the title picture of the entire country.

Monte Kiffin- Defensive Coordinator, Tennesee

Monte was the longest-tenured NFL defensive coordinator when he was with the Bucs, but apparently blood was thicker than water. When his son, and former offensive coordinator in the college ranks, Lane Kiffin took the head coaching job at Tennessee Monte joined his staff. There are many that feel Monte should be in the NFL Hall of Fame one day for the innovation and success he brought to the defense in Tampa Bay. Will this translate to the college game? I am not sure if Kiffin has the Rosetta Stone of pro defensive schemes to make it work with the Volunteers. The important thing is that he has good coaches around him to manage the collegiate athletes which is a slight bit different than handling the pro guys. The proof will be in the results as the schedule in the SEC is always a tough one to handle. What will Monte have in store for Florida when the Volunteers travel there September 19? He better be prepared because if he had not been paying attention to the college game I will let him know now: Urban Meyer really really really likes to run the score up, especially against teams that he feels have hurt his fragile sensibilities.

Steve Addazio- Offensive Coordinator, Florida

Staying in the SEC, because that's all that matters in college football(right CBS?), Addazio takes over for former playcaller Dan Mullen who will be the head man at Mississippi State. Addazio is no stranger to the Gator system as he was the former O-line coach at UF and therefore has an intricate knowledge of the offense. However there is a distinct difference between knowing how things work and adding input to calling the plays. I think Addazio will do fine this year because the system is in place and Tebow will be taking the snaps, the true test may come next year when Lord Tebow is gone. The one thing Addazio will not have this year is Percy Harvin, who bailed Mullen out of a few jams last year, including the title game.

Ed Ogeron- Assistant Coach/Defensive Line Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, Tennesee

This is the only non-coordinator I have on the list and that may be unfair to other similar coaches that do things similar to Ogeron, but let us make him the example for the others out there. Ogeron's name has become more well known inside college football recently as an excellent recruiter and coach. Backtracking through Ogeron's credentials yields an impressive body of work that proves he has earned his reputation. Prior to Tennessee, Ogeron was at Ole Miss collecting the talent that has helped lead the Rebels to their big season of a year ago and bigger expectations for this year. Before Ole Miss, Ogeron was at USC where he and Lane where assistants together from 2001-2004. The Trojans won two titles while he was there and obviously Kiffin recognized that he was vital to the success. Ogeron also has national championship ties to the University of Miami where he was a grad assistant turned defensive line coach from 1989-1992. Just some of the All-Americans he coached on that line were Russel Maryland, Cortez Kennedy, and Warren Sapp. With Kiffin and Ogeron together, there is no reason to think that in a few years if not next year the Tennessee defense will be among the most vaunted in the country.

John Chavis- Defensive Coordinator, LSU

This is the last SEC one, I swear but realistically, all the voters will be looking at this conference this year to set the table for how the BCS shapes out. If any SEC team wins the conference championship and has 0/1 losses, do you expect them not to be in the top 2 for the BCS at the end of the season? A sleeper team and I use that term loosely because this team won the national title two years ago is LSU. The Tigers had what their fans would call a disappointing season last year. Part of that disappointment was on the defensive side of the ball while the majority of it landed with the quarterback position. The defensive issue should be a thing of the past with John Chavis coming in. For the past 14 years Chavis was the coordinator of the Tennessee defense and had the Vols continually ranked near the top of the nation in defense. Even in recent years when the team faltered, the defense stayed strong. Last year Tennessee went 5-7 yet the defense was third in the nation in total defense. Expect the Tiger defense to bounce back strong this year.

John Morton/Rocky Seto- Offensive Coordinator/Defensive Coordinator, USC

Just days after Pete Carroll's Trojans thrashed Penn State in the Rose Bowl this January, he was in the business of reassembling a staff. He lost his offensive and defensive coordinator to Washington. Steve Sarkisian got the head coaching job and brought along Nick Holt to run the defense. The Trojans even lost their director of football operations to UW. Carroll is not one to panic though, especially with the level of talent he is able to bring in from a player standpoint. Carroll promoted from within which is not a bad idea since he has so much to lean on. Rocky Seto was the linebackers coach and will now head the defense. His linebackers of last year are well known. The defense did lose all three of those players but still have Taylor Mays patrolling the defensive backfield. At USC the motto of reloading instead of rebuilding is firmly in place.

On the offensive side of the ball John Morton was the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach before being bumped up into Sarkisian's old post. Taking Morton's place will be Carl Smith who was previously on the Trojans staff and part of the national title teams. Carroll says the two will call the game together but that Morton will be the voice of the offense like Sarkisian was. The Trojan offense again has loads of talent but the quarterback will be a first year starter and that can always be an uncertain proposition. However if the new quarterback, Aaron Corp, has as much time to throw as Sanchez did last year he should do well. [A quick side note here: Mitch Mustain, what happened dude? This guy left Arkansas for what he thought were greener pastures but now sits 3rd on the USC QB depth chart.] The Trojan army should fight on like usual but sometimes coordinators are not the exact fit in certain situations and if USC does falter, these men will take the brunt of the blame.

Jim Bollman- Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State

How do you solve a problem like Pryor? Jim Bollman may have that figured out and if he does, then the Buckeyes may shed their tag as BCS punching bags. Bollman has been the offensive coordinator since 2001 and the Buckeyes have no doubt had success during his tenure. He also coaches the offensive line which has sent many athletes on the NFL, a total of 15 including Jets standout center Nick Mangold. Bollman also has previous experience coaching tight ends in the NFL. Yet a strong O-line and pro experience may not be what it takes to unleash Terrelle Pryor. Last year Pryor started as a freshman and had a successful year but his youth showed and in the end the Buckeyes fell short in conference and in the Fiesta Bowl. The rumors of Pryor's improvement at the quarterback position are only eclipsed by those of his blinding 40 yard speed. In my mind the issue is coming up with a scheme to maximize what Pryor can do on the field. I am certain Pryor wants to develop himself into a complete quarterback but his assests place him in the realm of Vick and VY territory. It may not work in the NFL, but in college you can use the superior athleticism of the quarterback to win game, Young is as good an example of that as anyone.

Galen Hall/Tom Bradley- Offensive/Defensive Coordinator, Penn State

I love Joe Paterno, who doesn't? The man is a living legend with the record for division I coaching wins well within his sights due to FSU's violations. He has been the head man at Penn State since Lyndon Johnson was in office and he knows that this was what he was meant to do until his time here is over. He does not want to retire and he has more than earned the right to choose when, if ever, he steps down. While JoePa mostly represents the tradition and mystic of Penn State, the man still has a strong input into the team and was even willing to break a hip last year during an onside kick drill. However, the coordinating team of Galen Hall and Tom Bradley have a huge influence on the way this team is run and the plays called on the field. Last year, with Paterno watching mostly from up high in a coaches box, Penn State captured the Big Ten and earned a Rose Bowl trip. The voyage to Pasadena did not leave a pleasant memory and this year expectations are again high. Daryl Clark returns at QB but there were heavy losses on both sides of the ball. Aaron Maybin, Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood and many others will not be making plays for the team this year so it will be up to some guys that haven't necessarily seen the reps or have been in the pressure situations before. It will be up to the coaching staff to make sure they are ready and when they face a big time opponent at season's end (which they should if you see their schedule) and avoid another disappointment like the one against USC.

Kevin Steele- Defensive Coordinator, Clemson

There is a strong contingent of Tiger Nation that was happy with the job interim coach Dabo Swinney did last year after Tommy Bowden resigned. After throwing a couple of lines out in the coaching world, they gave Dabo the reigns. The Tigers revitalized their season last year except for a late minute loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. While expectations are high for Clemson this season, they are not as ridiculous as they were last year before the season began and Alabama exposed the Tigers on national television. Speaking of the Tide, Swinney was able to lure Kevin Steele away from Alabama and Nick Saban. Steele has a wealth of experience in college and pro football. He has coached under Tom Osborne, Saban, Bobby Bowden, and Johnny Majors. Clemson is picked to finish under Florida State this year in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, but if Steele can infuse his knowledge into the players at a fast rate, the Tigers may have a chance at getting to Tampa.

Bill Young- Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State

Mike Gundy and Zac Robinson have the Cowboy offense running at high octane, it is the ability to stop people that may be standing in the way of them making noise near the top of the BCS this year. Gundy added Young when his former defensive coordinator, Tim Beckman went to Toledo. Young comes from just one season at Miami where he did an admirable job with a young defense. Young has coached in the conference before and has tremendous experience in his arsenal. At Kansas, Young helped lead the Jayhawks to the surprise Orange Bowl win a few years ago. With the Heisman hype around Robinson the focus will not be on defense, but it surely be the difference if they make a run in the Big 12.

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Usain In The Membrane

"The most dominant athlete in individual sports in the world right now."


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Wednesday, August 19

Wednesday Links Of Seething Rage

I'm not feeling in a particular chipper mood today. I guess you could say the very walls of my existence are crashing down upon me in a tidal wave of fail, but let's not be too dramatic. There is only one thing I can think of at a time like this; breaking stuff. Who better to champion my cause than the one and only Vanilla Ice? We are not so different you and I, Vanilla. We both thought we were a lot cooler than we actually were. We're both fans of the University of Miami (notice his sweatshirt if you ever watch the Ice Ice baby video again (I watched the whole thing twice). We both are huge fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And most importantly we had our reality check, although mine did not involve a behind the music. While thinking of one Ice and rage and breaking stuff, I thought of this moment from MTV. Back when people used to watch MTV, they decided to show 25 "lame" videos that they would never show again. They brought in some of the bright comedic minds of the day, well two of them at least. You may notice Jon Stewart and Denis Leary were part of the cast with Jeanine Garafalo and Chris Kattan thrown in for good measure. It turns out Vanilla had some pent up rage and like him I would like to smash a video of my earlier exploits if such a tape existed. Smash on, White Knight of a lost culture of flat top hair and funky dance moves.

A list of ten players to watch this year in college football. [Rumors and Rants]

That Bear Bryant was one smooth cat; he must have been feral spec. [EDSBS]

Obligatory Strasburg signing reference, written by guy with rage in his name! Todd Van Poppel and Mark Pryor nod approvingly. [Deuce of Davenport]

This might be the best worst movie I have ever heard of. [Loul's Dong]

Shaq's TV Show destined to go at least one episode more than Magic Johnson's. [With Leather]

Giants fans proving their brahsomeness. [Barstool Sports]

These ladies are like the village bicycle, everyone's had a ride! The Bryan Adams song choice was pure win. [YBNBY]

It's trivia day, do know your Alan Rickman movies? [Sporcle]

Joe Posnanski shows what Joe Mauer needs to reach .400. Good to see some are still dreaming the impossible dream. [JoePosnanski]

Since Keyboard Cat simply is not enough to play me off today I have asked Hall and Oates to join in the efforts.

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Tuesday, August 18

Apocalypse Favre!

Our long national nightmare that we though was over after it wasn't over but looked like it may have been over, isn't over. In fact, it has just begun. Michael Vick may be happy about this news, but most of us are not.

Favre unretires to join Vikings, takes part in practice [CBS]

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Is Vick Worthy of Redemption?

Sometimes we here at ASD feel that the most covered topics of the moment by the media as well as the blogosphere so inundate the landscape of sports that we refrain from offering coverage or opinions on the subject. I certainly felt this way about the Michael Vick situation. From the time Vick stole away in the night from Fort Levinworth in Kansas in the middle of the night the coverage has been nonstop with only Brett Favre discussions topping it in volume. I remember watching Sportscenter the day Vick was released from prison and driving from Kansas back to Virginia. They had a map of the treck and pointed out which NFL cities he would pass through onthe drive. It was the most idiotic thing I have ever seen in my 28 years of watching sports. Yet as the stories, press conferences, and now interviews have mounted, I do feel compelled to share my thoughts on this situation and how it reflects on our society in relation to sports and beyond.

This is video from Vick's 60 Minutes interview with James Brown on Sunday. Brown did an adequate job of asking Vick the questions he either addressed in his press conference with the Eagles or the public had already made up in their minds. The piece on Vick gave a rundown of the complete story behind what took him from NFL superstar to public enemy. Where I thought the interview succeeded was when Brown asked Vick about how it felt letting Falcons' owner Arthur Blank down, a man who had stood up for Vick and was a close personal friend. Vick also acknowledging that he was lazy and did not put in the extra work off the field to better himself as a player was interesting to hear from his perspective.

The interview put all the pieces together but still one question remains that the public is decidedly split on: Does Vick deserve this second chance? My opinion begins when Vick was first in August of 2007 when Vick first plead guilty. I was driving on a North Carolina highway trying wrap my head around how a man who had a $100 million dollar contract would even think of doing this sort of thing. My thoughts were pretty much on par with the rest of the country I suppose and as I listened to the topic being debated on sports radio I was certain right then and there that Vick would never play another down in the NFL. It was not the first time I was wrong.

The important thing to remember when it comes to Vick is that there are people on both sides that have made up their mind about him and there is no changing it. All the animal lovers and people who cannot stand Vick are adamant about him never playing football again and no one will change their thinking. At the same time some people are staunch in their belief that he paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance to prove himself. It is very much like a presidential election where the population has entrenched themselves behind party lines and there remains a segment of the people who have the swing vote. For a long time I sat in the middle on this, but now after some thought I do think Vick deserves this chance and honestly typing that was not an easy thing to do.

Michael did a horrible thing, an almost unspeakable act of cruelty but I believe he has seen the mistakes he made and realized what he needs to do to try and redeem himself. This was included in the interview; he has a PR team leading him every step of the way, he has teamed up with the Humane Society to champion animal causes, he has apologized profusely, and he has had the support of Tony Dungy. If the NFL could appoint an archbishop it would be Dungy. I admit Tony is not my favorite person in the world for certain reasons that have nothing to do with this article but it cannot be denied how much his work with Vick and prison inmates all over the country does to improve society as a whole. With his PR team and Humane Society in his corner Vick's image is being improved as best it can but with Dungy it gave Vick the opportunity to get back into the NFL.

Here is where most people are getting it wrong. They are expecting Vick to completely metamorphose as a person. They want to see Vick wearing jeans that are not baggy, no fancy watch or earrings, and they do not want to see him with rappers or other athletes with bad reputations. In other words, they want to take his freedom away. This may be oversimplifying it but Michael Vick is Michael Vick. He can be contrite and make up for his past sins but the man is still who he is. He will certainly continue listening to rap music, he will have a few drinks now and then but unless he breaks the law we should not be condemning him for it. I do not care if Vick still engages in activity white most people think is uncouth, as long as he is performing his community service, not saying anything too outlandish, and most importantly staying out of legal trouble let the man live. This is not to say making a joke or protesting his involvement in the NFL cannot occur, but it works both ways. He has the right to live his life as much as you have the right to criticize it. This is America people.

Vick spent around 18 months in prison for a horrific act, yet other athletes and well-known persons commit terrible acts against people and do not see that much jail time. The names have been thrown out there and require no explanation; Stallworth, Leonard Little, Pacman Jones, etc.

There was much scoffing at the contract that Vick signed with the Eagles and it left many people shaking their heads and saying that it is not fair that a man convicted of a felony deserves this kind of money. Is it fair to stop this man from doing the one thing on Earth he is most suited to do? We cannot blame others or ourselves when someone wins the genetic lottery and is lucky enough to be a professional athlete.

In the end Vick deserves this second chance because he has spent his time in federal prison, apologized repeatedly, committed himself to working in the community, and vowed he will not stray again. I know Vick is still at his core, the same guy in many respects he was before this incident took place and I do not seek for him to become something he is not. If he can salvage some years at the end of his career through being a positive example on and off the field and show that it actually helped him develop a better work ethic and respect for animals I will be content.

The Eagles have handled this very well I think. Andy Reid is no stranger to having those close to him in trouble. Owner Jeffrey Lurie presented his case magnificently at the press conference. Vick's Eagle teammates have not only defended the move but embraced him. Donovan McNabb is no stranger to media scrutiny so he can sympathize with Vick's situation and I feel he will be a mentor to him. The protests will surely come and have already. I chuckled as I read a sign that said, "Hide your Beagle, Vick is an Eagle!" and PETA released a statement almost moments after the signing. He deserves every bit of this as I said. It is part of his life from now until he is gone and being reminded of a mistake like this is not too harsh a punishment for the crime he committed. So make your jokes, photoshop your pictures, stand out in the sun for the cameras holding your signs, and since this is Philly boo him until your voice is hoarse, but let the man play football.

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Monday, August 17


It was truly a great weekend in sports once again but one thing I took away from Sunday besides Tiger's loss in the PGA was the new world record Usain Bolt broke in the 100m. To say he broke, shattered, crushed, or crumpled the record does not do this performance justice. A year ago Bolt broke the world record in this event in Beijing by running a 9.69 and that was with him hot-dogging it through the final meters. Yesterday in Berlin he was all business from start to finish. You can watch the video here. The American Tyson Gay finished second to Bolt with a time of 9.71 which is the fastest time ever by an American and only Bolt's Beijing and Berlin times are faster. In the video you can see the three levels of separation; there is the pack, Gay well out in front of them looking like a thoroughbred and then Bolt inconceivably outpacing him.

Bolt will again come under scrutiny from all sides about possible performance-enhancing drug use but the only thing he has been confirmed to use is marijuana, he is Jamaican after all. It appears Bolt is simply a physical freak of nature, or maybe carries with him some form of the evolutionary capabilities of human performance. While it is true athletes are training more rigorously than their past counterparts and technology has enabled to increase in efficiency, there is no doubt that a segment of the population is getting bigger, faster, and stronger. It was once thought a sub-10 second 100m would be the limit of accomplishment in this event but now Bolt is even speaking of a 9.4. While Track and Field has lost some luster due to controversy and the nation's focus on other sports, this record by Bolt deserves recognition for its dominance and historical context. Next up for Bolt? He wants to smash the 200m record just as he did in China a year ago. Maybe it is time we start believing him when he says he has more in store for us.

Usain Bolt sets sights on 200m record after smashing 100m world best []

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Saturday, August 15

Inglorious Plumbers

Catfish told me to take a look at this. I was not disapointed.

(via Huffington Post)

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Friday, August 14

It's Friday

This video was in the Wednesday links, but it is simply too awesome and I have watched it over and over and it's late on Friday so there.

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Wednesday, August 12

2009 Miami Hurricanes Preview: A Test Of Wills

It is officially time to begin college football discussions and while we plan on reaching across the country in our coverage we will begin by looking at my own team. Our previews and predictions will branch out into other teams and conferences that we feel will make an impact on the season as a whole. Last year our predictions were not too bold at all and in some cases we were even right but with the state of college football you cannot make an exact science of predictions because the method of championship selection in college football is anything but a science and nowhere near exact. Continue reading for my look at the 2009 Miami Hurricanes.

One Must Be Objective

I believe that any fan needs to look at the situation of his team in a realistic focus if he/she is to be considered a knowledgeable fan. If you are one of these fans or strive to be then you have had much experience with fans who blindly think their team is the best at all times without any doubt. You can visit most any message board for examples of irrational fans or listen to our local radio station. At the same time it does not mean that you cannot attempt through careful wording and evidence to support your case make an argument that may seem on the bias side of caution. That is somewhat of what I will attempt in this preview. I am a realistic person (some would even go as far as to call me pessimistic) so I have no delusions about the Canes running out onto the field in Pasadena in January.

Most of all I just want the team to succeed the right way. There is a contingent of fans of the U out there that have no regard for sportsmanship or class and only focus on the "glory days" of the program for the arrogance and lawlessness that was college football in the 80s and early 90s. Miami has paid the price for that recklessness and then some. While Miami's hands were clean from that era they certainly were not the only program participating in this type of behavior and it is a trend that any program that begins to attain national prominence has these scandals and allegations arise although some do not pay a penalty for it (I'm looking at you Pete Carroll). For most people it is easy to simply label Miami as thugs, it is easier for them to regurgitate what they hear from other fans, sports radio, or the mainstream media. I have given up on trying to discuss this matter with anyone because it is like trying to convince the Catholic Church in the 1600s that the Earth does in fact revolve around the sun. This is our reputation and nothing will change it and in some ways the team deserves it but not to the extent to which they are vilified as a rogue program. One thing to be positive about is that recently Miami has been showing good behavior off the field and were above the NCAA mandated APR of 925 last year showing they are doing their work in the classroom and graduating players. Alright, enough pontificating let's look forward to this season.

The Gauntlet

Before we get into the players, new coaches, the newly named Landshark Stadium or Bernie Kosar filing for bankruptcy, Miami's season will be made or destroyed in the first four games. It may very well be the toughest stretch in the opening quadrant of the season in the country. The Canes begin the season on Labor Day against their rivals Florida State at Doak Campbell. This game was the first contest of the season from 2004-2006 and then they decided it was better to move it later in the season the last few years. For reasons unknown it has moved back to the first game of the season which I hate. I know neither of these programs are what they once were when it comes to national football prominence but it is asinine to have one of the best rivalries in college football played in the first game. However, for both teams the stakes are high for coming out on top. While the scores and play were substandard for these two when the game opened the season, we realize now that was probably because the teams were not as good as they used to be. FSU won in Miami last year in a rain-soaked, wild affair 41-39. The Seminoles have won 3 of the last 4 in the series after UM had a run of 6 straight from 2000-2004. I think there is no doubt that this game will set the tone for Miami's season. Maybe we could see another wide right (or left).

There is no breathing time after the opener as Miami hosts Georgia Tech ten days later. Last year a young and spry Hurricanes team entered Bobby Dodd Stadium with the Coastal Division title within reach if they won the rest of their games. The optimism did not last long as they were disemboweled by the Yellow Jacket spread option and running back Jonathan Dwyer. Tech rushed for 462 yards in the game. Yes, that is not a mistype, that is how much they ran for. This game will be a sure test how much the defense has matured since last year and hopefully they can come up with a better gameplan for the still-evolving offense of Paul Johnson. Randy Shannon had the right idea about stopping the triple option, the only problem was his scheme was based on the defensive personnel he had back in the late 90s and early this decade. Jonathan Vilma, Ed Reed, Vince Wilfork, etc. were not on the field that night. Hopes are high in Atlanta as it is being rumored that Johnson is tweaking the offense and hoping to make it more of a passing threat this year. But the strength will still be the ground game. Like all four of these games, the Canes will be a decided underdog.

Well a Thursday night game with Georgia Tech was not enough for you huh? Then pack your bags and head to Blacksburg for a game in a very tough environment to win. Virginia Tech does not lose often at home and even with the unfortunate loss of running back Darren Evans to a knee injury, the Hokies are still heavy favorites to win. Last year I wrote a post about the recent history between the two teams as they both trekked from the Big East to the ACC and previewed the Thursday night game in Miami. I ended by saying "if forced to choose a winner I would give the edge to Miami very slightly because I think the defense has made strides and will limit Evans on the ground." I guess every squirrel finds a nut now and then because the Canes did limit Evans and won 16-14 in not the most aesthetically beautiful games of the year. Miami has not won in Blacksburg since 2005 and I expect the Hokies to win, but I would be happy to be surprised. Virginia Tech has high hopes for this season being ranked in the top 10 and having an opening match-up with Alabama which has huge implications not only for them, but for the ACC. Even with Evans out, the Hokies are confident and an outside contender for a BCS title.

So after facing their rivals to open the year, the team that gutted and embarrassed them on national television a year ago, and going into one of the most hostile stadiums in college football to play the favorite to win the ACC, all the Canes have to do is face Oklahoma. The Sooners are ranked 3rd in the preseason coaches' poll and return to the very stadium where they lost the BCS championship to Florida in January. There is no way I can spin this positively for Miami; they are likely to fall in this contest unless they can find a way to force pressure on Bradford playing behind a (slightly) inexperienced offensive line. Miami will have to play a near perfect game to pull this off. Hopefully the humidity will get to the Sooners but the last time these teams squared off in 2007 Oklahoma won 51-13.

So what can we expect out of these four games? It is very plausible that UM will be sitting at 0-4 and out of any title race and scrapping for a bowl game with their tales firmly between their legs. I think any realistic Miami fan would look at 2-2 with only one ACC loss as a successful venture through the gauntlet. Talk of 3-1 and 4-0 starts are really a dream and the 4-0 scenario is akin to the Lions winning the Super Bowl this year. If they do the impossible and win all 4 of these games they will no doubt be ranked in the top ten and be a BCS contender when the first rankings come out. My blood pressure is certainly going to be above normal the month of September this year.

The rest of the schedule is not exactly a stroll through the park either. After the gauntlet the Canes have a breather against Florida A&M and then play at Central Florida. Then they play Clemson and at Wake Forest, two tough conference opponents before hosting Virginia who is supposed to be down this year. They then face North Carolina and former coach Butch Davis in Chapel Hill against a Tar Heel team that has had Miami's number recently. The last two games are hosting Duke and then traveling to Tampa to play South Florida in a wild card game. Predictions about a final record swirl but I think most Canes fans would be miserable at 6-6, annoyed at another 7-5 campaign, happy with 8-4, and ecstatic with anything better.

The Quarterback Controversy Is Over

Last year Miami went with a two quarterback system which is usually a recipe for disaster but when you have a redshirt freshman and a true freshman as your only options, Randy Shannon decided it was for the best. Robert Marve was the starter all year for Miami until he missed classes and the rumors of transferring began to arise and Jacory Harris started the Emerald Bowl. After the season it got a little testy and dare I say a tad ugly in the press as Marve's father accused Miami of hamstringing Robert's options of choosing another school. The other side was that apparently Marve's father had been soliciting other schools for his son's services while the season was going on. Shannon and Miami eventually relaxed on the policy and allowed Marve to transfer to a more wide range of schools. He chose Purdue and will be eligible to play next year. He will not be practicing until October though because of a torn ACL. That leaves Jacory Harris as the unquestioned starter at the prime position. The Hurricanes run a pro-style offense and just as in the pros, the quarterback position is the key. Harris completed 60.8% of his passes for 1195 yards and threw for 12 TDs and 7 INTs. Marve was below Harris in every passing category except attempts and interceptions as he had 13 of them. Harris also led Miami on some key comebacks against Virginia and Duke (yes Miami had to comeback against Duke). However, Harris struggled to lead the Canes to victory against Cal in the Emerald Bowl down the stretch with poor clock management and a key fumble that reminded everyone he is still young and still learning.
While Harris is now a true sophomore and did manage to put on a little weight in the offseason, he is still maturing and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table this year with the full reigns as starter and the guidance of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Harris may look like a thin version of Vince Young but hopefully he has a better head on his shoulders and he is truly a pass-first QB. Harris only rushed for 101 yards last season and it is more of a last resort for him. Whipple comes from the NFL after working with Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb who both concentrate on passing and only use their legs to elude and buy time and take off if necessary. I expect that kind of play from Harris and hopefully he can put this team on his somewhat slight shoulders.

Bad Things Could Happen To Good People

This goes without saying but Randy Shannon is a good guy, hell he is a great human being. But the thought that keeps entering my mind when I say that to myself is, "so was Larry Coker". When Miami jettisoned Coker it was nothing against the great man that he was, but in the end, you have to rule the program and produce on the field. Shannon is drawing closer to that boiling point with Hurricane fans. There are those that feel he should be gone already but I am willing to see how this season and especially next season play out. But Shannon apparently was offered a contract extension by the school and turned it down. The story goes that he is banking on success this year and showing enough improvement to earn a quality contract. Shannon is essentially putting his money on the line with his team. It is a sign of confidence in his players and coaches, but if the year goes south, it is likely Shannon will be out before ever inking a new contract. For some Canes fans to wait eagerly for Miami to fall this year so Shannon can be replaced is ridiculous. Randy is a man who made it out of poverty to become a national champion as a player, assistant, and defensive coordinator. He has run the program well and seen players almost completely stay out of trouble with the law and do the job in the classroom. He is the type of man you want to be leading your football team but at the same time, you want to win. If the season goes poorly and all the Canes can manage is another 7-5 campaign, the cries for Shannon's job might be too loud to ignore.

The Wingmen

Randy Shannon has a lot riding on this year for himself, so he brought in two new coordinators to take the team in the direction he wants. John Lovett is the new defensive coordinator coming from North Carolina where he was the special teams coordinator and defensive assistant under former Randy Shannon boss Butch Davis. This is the 3rd defensive coordinator in 3 seasons for the Canes and hopefully Shannon has found the right fit. Shannon, a former defensive coordinator and winner of the Broyles Award, has high expectations for the defensive performance and is looking for Lovett to provide it. Before North Carolina Lovett was an assistant at Clemson and Auburn where (inexplicably) former head coach Tommy Tuberville, a former Miami assistant himself, sees Lovett flourishing at UM.

I was excited by the hiring of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple which is a nice way of saying I was happy to see former O coordinator Patrick Nix hit the road. Whipple's experience is impressive and as I mentioned he has NFL experience working with upper echelon quarterbacks. He has also shown the players that he is not fooling around. He has created a culture of competition for the players where no spots are guaranteed. A nice quote from Whipple about the competition at wide receiver and whether there will be a set rotation, "We'll rotate when they drop the ball."

Ultrasonic Youth

A year ago Miami was fielding one of the youngest teams in the nation and at times, it showed. They had the flashes of brilliance that comes with youth; thrilling plays, big hits, and great displays of athleticism. Of course they also had the frustrating qualities of youth in stupid penalties, blown assignments, inconsistency and inexperience. While Miami still remains a team full of young talent their freshmen of last year have had a chance to grow up a little and have actual in-game experience and they do have senior leadership, particularly on both lines. The entire Canes O-line will be upperclassmen with senior tackle Jason Fox leading the way. Where last year you could not find good experience and depth at most positions, Miami has the talent and now possibly the maturity to succeed.
On offense Shannon has made it clear that he wants to run a pro-style offense which makes sense because if you want to prepare players for the next level, it helps to have run a similar offense they run in the pros. Patrick Nix made it clear on his way out that he had wanted to open things up and spread the offense out, and Shannon was not in-line with that. Enter mark Whipple and Shannon will have the style of offense that he wants. There are murmurs around Coral Gables that Jacory Harris and the other players are picking up the offense well, but of course they said that last year. The running back position has been a strong point for Miami since the late 90s with Edgerrin James. The two-headed attack of Graig (don't call him Craig like Phil Fullmer did- sorry Tennessee!) Cooper and Javaris James (did you know he is Edge's cousin? Also FYI Jerome Bettis is from Detroit.) returns and hopefully Baby J can stay healthy this year. Last year he was hindered by an ankle injury and was limited to 286 yards but had a 4.2 yards per carry average. This led to the Canes hangin' with Mr. Cooper (I'll show myself out thank you) a majority of the season and the electric tailback did not disappoint. Cooper finished with 841 yards, 4 TD and 4.9 YPC. The Canes also add freshman Lamar Miller to the mix, who has been turning heads in practice. The ground game will be a huge factor in taking pressure off Jacory Harris and as I mentioned hopefully the beefy (average weight 313.8 lbs), experienced line will aid in that.

The wide receiver position has become suddenly abundant with possibilities. As per the Whipple quote, the competition will be open but twin sophomores Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd are the returning leaders in receiving yards and receiving TDs respectively. Much is expected from junior Leonard Hankerson this season as well. Hankerson has been working out with former Dolphins receiver Mark Duper over the summer. Hankerson has had the key problem in his career thus far that plauged Miami receivers last year, drops. Canes receivers dropped more passes last year than Michael J. Fox drops quarters at snack machine (too soon?) Travis Benjamin will be in the mix as well and hopefully return to his role as kick returner. Benjamin had some electric plays last year but after a muffed punt in the Virginia game and a late-season injury he was seldom heard from. Travis has some Hester-like qualities to him and hopefully he displays them this year.

Fans may notice a new familiar face at the Tight End spot this year. While senior Derrick Epps while get a lot of work (4th on the team in receptions last year) Jimmy Graham has come over from the basketball team to use his last year of eligibility a la Greg Paulus (minus the teabag). If this goes well this could lead to Graham ending up in a similar position as Antonio Gates of the Chargers. Gates did not play football at all at Kent State but was taken by the Chargers and quickly became a force in the NFL. If Graham shows the hands and blocking ability to go along with his size and athleticism, some team may take a flyer on him next April. But back to the present time, so far Graham has been "impressive" on the field, including scoring in practice.

On the defensive side of the ball, the boys up front are literally and figuratively going to be the anchor of the defense. The unquestioned heart of the line is 6-year senior Eric Moncur. The 6-2, 250 lb. defensive end has endured much in his time at Miami. In 2006 friend and teammate Brian Pata was murdered, his mother passed away from cancer last year at age 42, and he went down with a sports hernia injury that kept him out for a majority of last season. Thankfully the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility and he plans to make the most of it. Defensive tackle Marcus Fortson shined last year as a freshman as did end Adewale Ojomo so big things are expected from them this year especially in games like Georgia Tech. Sean Spence came in as good as advertised last year and even though he is only 212 pounds, he can hit. Spence looks to be the next great middle linebacker at Miami, following the likes of Beason, Vilma, Morgan, Ray Lewis, etc. Colin McCarthy has played well at linebacker when he has been on the field but injuries have been a problem.

The defensive backfield has some senior influence to it as CB Chavez Grant and Safety Randy Phillips return. Reshirt Freshman Vaughn Telemaque is looking to make a big splash after going down to injury last year and following in the great line of recent Miami Safeties. The addition of highly-touted recruit Ray Ray Armstrong also gives a glance of a bright future. I mentioned him because I like saying "Ray Ray". It may look like a misprint, but that is definitely Sam Shields' name listed on the defensive depth chart. Shields came into Miami with great expectations at wide receiver but after three years of lackluster performances and dropped passes, Sam is getting a new lease on his career by trying out Cornerback. I hope Shields does well though at times he has tested my patience as a Hurricane fan like last year in the FSU game when he inexplicably ran onto the field causing a "too many men" penalty moving UM off the goal line costing them possibly a TD and the win. Shields does have one positive feather in his cap thus far this season; he clocked the fastest 40 time on the team at 4.20.

Keys to Success

What does it all mean Basil? There are multiple signs that would lead one to optimism for the upcoming season, although last year started the same way. Perhaps the extra year of maturity for all the young players and in my opinion the improvements on the coaching staff will give them the extra edge to make it a major bowl game this year or possibly win the conference. But those first four games present a tough challenge. The following items are what need to happen for the Canes to have a successful season:

Control the Ball: Miami cannot afford to go 3 and out as much as they did last year. It is asking too much of your defense to make stop after stop if they are always on the field.

Score Special Team and Defensive touchdowns: This was a staple of the successful Miami teams of 5-10 years ago. Lately it has been absent. Only one punt return taken in last year but hopefully with John Lovett's special team experience the Canes can get back to using their athleticism to put points on the board outside of the offense. This will also mean forcing turnovers on defense which need to be increased as well.

Punt the F*&%^^% ball: This is a reference to a yelling incident I had during the Georgia Tech game last year. I went over to watch the game at our friend Xtra Medium's house. I explained that I was going to remain calm during the game and not blurt out any profanities or negative language. This of course went down hill as the Jackets obliterated UM and on a certain punt Matt Bosher seemed to be taking his sweet time getting the punt off and had it partially deflected. The entire frustration of the night came forth as I uttered the phrase that headlines this paragraph. XM has not let me live it down but despite my yelling at Bosher he has entered the Lou Groza Award conversation and made some good long distance field goals last year as a freshman. The Canes will need every FG they can get this year from the man with green shoes.

Do not shut it down early: No matter what the record is after the first four games, Miami has 8 more left. Even if it is 0-4 Miami has to finish the season strong. last year UM lost its last 3 games and ended what could have been a high-flying season on a very sour note. I know Shannon is preaching to them that this is a long race and the gauntlet is only the first third of it, but we need to see it on the field.

Playmakers: More than just a tribute to former Cane Michael Irvin, this term is in reference to the need for big time plays to be made. These guys have the talent and athleticism, we need to convert that into points. Long drives are great but sometimes a quick strike can finish off the other team or put you right back in a game.

In the End

I can spin it anyway I want but the direction, attitude, and focus of this team all depends on those first four games. Mel Kiper has listed Miami as one of his sleeper teams for this year. I can honestly tell you that does absolutely nothing to my confidence about the season. Others believe that the Canes will struggle and finish in the bottom half of the Coastal Division. You never know until they take the field but I am hoping win or lose we see the brand of Miami football that has made the U what it is today. My final prediction is 8-4 and Gator Bowl appearance. If that happens I will be more than happy enough to light up a victory cigar with Sebastian.

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