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Statistically Speaking: September 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blog Poll Ballot Week 5

I recently joined the Blog Poll. This endeavor is simply a mechanism for bloggers to vote on who they think the Top 25 teams are. As the two polls, AP and Coaches, and the new Harris Interactive poll are full of inherent preseason and 'loss' biases, this blog poll is designed to be inteligent voting and commentary on college football. Here is my Week 5 ballot (the first time I voted) along with some commentary on each team.

1. Southern Cal (3-0)--Totally manhandled a good Oregon team on the road after falling behind 13-0.
2. Texas (3-0)--Beat a very good Ohio St. team on the road sandwiched between two glorified exhibitions.
3. Virginia Tech (4-0)--The narrow victory at NC St. doesn't look as good now, but beating Georgia Tech at home by 40+ is impressive.
4. Florida (4-0)--Only one real marquee win (at home versus Tennessee), but I just think they are that good. And they have done nothing that says otherwise.
5. Ohio St. (3-1)--Yes they have 1 loss, but it was to the #2 team. The only issue I have with them is that they haven't played a road game yet.
6. Florida St. (3-0)--It hasn't been pretty, but they own victories over Miami (#7) at home and Boston College (#19) on the road.
7. Miami (2-1)--Two victories over soild bowl-bound squads (Clemson and Colorado), and a narrow loss to a team they outplayed (Florida St.)
8. Michigan St. (4-0)--Offensive machine. Can't afford a loss to rival Michigan this week.
9. Georgia (4-0)--The Boise win does not look all that impressive. Neither does the narrow home win over the ol' ball coach. They did take care of business relatively easy (23-10) in their SEC road opener against Mississippi St. The jury is still out.
10. Cal (4-0)--October 8th against UCLA (#18) is their first real test.
11. Arizona St. (3-1)--Should be undefeated heading into this weekends tilt with Southern Cal.
12. Alabama (4-0)--Maybe the class of the SEC West.
13. Notre Dame (3-1)--No they are not top 10, but winning 3 road games in their first 4 contests is impressive.
14. Tennessee (2-1)--Have played 12 quarters so far this season and have played well in 2 of them. Fortunately for them, those 2 quarters won them the game against LSU.
15. Wisconsin (4-0)--The Bowling Green win has lost some of its luster, but the road win at North Carolina looks a little better. And they beat some team from Ann Arbor.
16. Minnesota (4-0)--Finally won a close Big 10 game after fattening up on non-conference cupcakes. Running game is awesome.
17. Texas Tech (3-0)--Cupcake tour is over. They don't play Missouri this season, but they still have to show me.
18. UCLA (3-0)--A sleeping giant?
19. Boston College (4-0)--If they could do away with the first 10 minutes against Florida St. they would be 4-0.
20. Virginia (3-0)--Not really sure what to make of this team, but the win at Syracuse should not be ignored.
21. Louisiana St. (1-1)--Should be 0-2 if not for two fluky special teams plays against Arizona St.
22. Iowa St. (3-0)--Struggled to beat Army and the victory over Iowa may not be that impressive after all.
23. Georgia Tech (3-1)--Not as bad as the score of the Virginia Tech game would indicate. Still own a road victory over...
24. Auburn (3-1)--Maybe they should have opened with Mississippi St., Ball St., Western Kentucky, and then played Georgia Tech.
25. Penn St. (4-0)--I don't know if they are that good, but the South Florida win is looking better and better.

Creeping Around:

Texas A&M (2-1): Haven't played anyone of note since the Clemson loss, but that will change soon.
South Florida (3-1): Molly-whopped Louisville.
West Virginia (4-0): Big game this week at home against Virginia Tech.
Toledo (3-0): Play Fresno St. in mid-major matchup tonight.
UTEP (3-0): Could conceivably go undefeated.
Vanderbilt (4-0): 4-0 sure looks nice.

Lemme know what you think.

College/Pro Weekend Wrap-Up

College: Another 4-2 record in the Six-Pack. I was totally wrong about Sparticus falling to the fighting Zooks from Illinois. Maybe this is a special year in East Lansing.

Winners:
Michigan St.: Went into the Illini's house and smacked em' around. Then for good measure pissed on their rug.

Southern Cal: Sleepwalked through the first half and were only down 3 points. 2 minutes into the 2nd half they were on top and never looked back.

Tennessee: Gotta give credit where credit is due. You could practically see Les Miles' sphincter tightening on every cutaway as Tennessee made their comeback in the 2nd half.

Losers:
Big East: Will this years BCS bid be just as embarassing as last years? Seriously who wins the Big East now? That South Florida juggernaut lost to a shaky Penn St. team. The Big East's only undefeated team, West Virginia, beat East Carolina by 5 this week and face Virginia Tech on Saturday. Connecticut has lost to Georgia Tech. Rutgers has lost to Illinois. Pitt has lost to everyone.

New Mexico St.: Normally I don't take shots at an 0-4 mid-major program, but what I saw Friday night was ridiculous. New Mexico St. is playing Cal at home. Cal is lined up for a 40 yard field goal at the end of the first half. Cal is up 27-10. New Mexico St. coach Hal Mumme proceeds to call all 3 of his timeouts to ice the kicker. I have no problem with this. Good strategy as there are only 15 seconds left on the clock so it is unlikely they can mount a scoring drive whether or not Cal makes the field goal. Cal misses the kick and the camera cuts to Mumme on the sideline celebrating like he had just won the Powerball Jackpot. New Mexico St. went on to lose the game 41-13. I suppose this award should have just gone to the distinguished Mr. Mumme. Maybe Hal can turn this program around and have them competing for WAC championships. But when he leaves, will the WAC titles be worth the inevitable NCAA violations he leaves in his wake?

NFL: Random Thoughts

1. It's still early, but this years Colts team is looking a lot like Tony Dungy's Tampa Bay squads. Very good defense and a struggling offense. Of course, this could also be a function of the teams they have played. Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Cleveland are not offensive powerhouses by any means.

2. Instead of trying to gut out a heroic performance on Sunday, David Akers should have told the Eagles coaching staff earlier in the week that he was not able to play. They could have signed another kicker and added him to the roster. Instead, the Eagles suffered short kickoffs, missed extra points, and narrow short field goals in their squeaker victory over the Raiders.

Final Thought: LT throws a pretty good spiral.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

NFL Week Three Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 9-7
Overall: 18-13

Tennessee at St. Louis
Winner: Tennessee

Oakland at Philadelphia
Winner: Philadelphia

Cincinnati at Chicago
Winner: Cincinnati

Jacksonville at NY Jets
Winner: NY Jets

New Orleans at Minnesota
Winner: Minnesota

Carolina at Miami
Winner: Carolina

Cleveland at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Atlanta at Buffalo
Winner: Buffalo

Tampa Bay at Green Bay: The Bucs haven't won in Wisconsin since 1989.
Winner: Green Bay

Arizona at Seattle
Winner: Seattle

New England at Pittsburgh: The jury is still out on the Steelers. They have beaten the Titans and Texans, but neither of those teams are reminiscent of Lombardi's Packers.
Winner: New England

Dallas at San Francisco: If not for two fluke passes, Dallas would be 2-0.
Winner: Dallas

NY Giants at San Diego
Winner: San Diego

Kansas City at Denver
Winner: Kansas City

Saturday, September 24, 2005

College Weekend Preview

Conference play gets under way this weekend. We find out who's for real and who's just teasing. The Big 10 matchups are particularly interesting as 10 teams with legitimate bowl aspirations open the season. Katy bar the door. On to the picks.

Weekend Six-Pack:

ACC Game: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
This is a huge game in the ACC Coastal Division race. The winner remains undefeated and in the hunt fot the national championship. The loser is still in the ACC race but as far as national title hopes, its the Johnny Hates Jazz Special. Both squads own solid road victories over potential bowl teams (Georgia Tech at Auburn and Virginia Tech at NC St.). This game willl likely be a defensive battle with each team playing a very conservative brand of football. Even if Reggie Ball plays, I like the home crowd and more ferocious defense of the Hokies to come through.
Winner: Virginia Tech

Big East Game: Louisville at South Florida
Another slow week ahead in the Big East as this is the marquee game. The 'Ville hung 63 points on an overmatched Oregon St. team last week, while South Florida took care of business against Central Florida. This game will go a long way towards determining how good South Florida is. So far they have lost a somewhat close game at Penn St. (23-13) and beaten two lesser Florida schools at home (Florida A&M and UCF). If they can hang with Louisville at home then they can dream about going bowling in late December. The 'Ville is a different team away from Papa John's stadium, but they have too many athletes to lose to South Florida.
Winner: Louisville

Big 10 Game: Iowa at Ohio St.
The best of the bunch in Big 10 country in a slate that also includes Purdue/Minnesota, Penn St./Northwestern, Michigan St./Illinois, and Michigan/Wisconsin. This is an eliminator game with both teams coming off of early season losses. Ohio St. still has faint national title hopes even with their close loss to Texas. Iowa on the other hand is likely out of luck barring an unprecedented slew of losses by top teams in the coming months after their whipping at the hands of Iowa St. Like Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech this game will also be a defensive battle. I am tempted to pick Iowa seeing as how Jim Tressel refuses to get the ball to his playmakers, Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes. However, Ohio St. will certainly be out for revenge after the 33-7 beat down Iowa put on them last year. Combine that with the homefield advantage and Ohio St. wins an ugly game where a 7 yard run may be the offensive highlight.
Winner: Ohio St.

Big 12 Game: Colorado at Miami
The Buffs travel east to take on The U in a game that would have been a lot more exciting in the early 1990's. Colorado has beaten rival Colorado St. in a squeaker and blown out the powerhouse New Mexico St. Aggies in their first 2 contests. Miami lost a closely contested ugly game to Florida St. and won a closely contested exciting game at Clemson. This is Miami's first home game and Colorado's first road game. The U takes it in a blowout.
Winner: Miami

Pac 10 Game: Southern Cal at Oregon
Despote all the lap dances Southern Cal has received from the media for being the greatest collegiate team since the Four Horsemen, don't forget this fact. In their previous 2 championship seasons, the Trojans have struggled on the road against decent Pac 10 teams.

2003 road conference games:
lost to California (8-6) 34-31
beat Arizona St. (5-7) 37-17
beat Washington (6-6) 43-23
beat Arizona (2-10) 45-0

2004 road conference games:
beat Stanford (4-7) 31-28
beat Washington St. (5-6) 32-12
beat Oregon St. (7-5) 28-20
beat UCLA (6-6) 29-24

Against teams with at least .500 records on the road, Southern Cal is 3-1 with an average margin of victory of 7.5. They are 21 point favorites over the Ducks this weekend. Oregon won't win, but they will give the Trojans all they can handle.
Winner: Southern Cal

SEC Game: Tennessee at LSU
This game has been moved to Monday night thanks to Hurrican Rita. Quoting my dad on last week's Tennessee game: 'Something with no heads is dead and something with 2 heads is a freak.' That sums up the Tennessee quarterback situation perfectly. Fulmer needs to pick his guy and stay with him. Anyway, LSU will win no matter who plays quarterback for the Vols.
Winner: LSU

Underdog Section:

Close but no Cigar:

North Carolina at NC St.: Your typical rivalry game. As the saying goes, you can defenestrate the records when rivals get together. NC St. is the better team and is playing at home, but the Heels will hang tough in an exciting ACC clash.

Notre Dame at Washington: While I would love to see classy Tyrone Willingham stick it to his former employers, the Huskies are just too bad to win this game. The talent the Irish have is far superior to that of Washington. Charlie Weis will continue tricking out the players Willingham recruited and beat the Huskies in a close game in Seattle.

Upset City:

Michigan St. at Illinois: As they are want to do, Sparticus will lose to an inferior team one week after notching a top 10 victory. You can practically see it coming. The road game at Illinois is sandwiched between the road win at Notre Dame and a home game with rival Michigan.

Penn St. at Northwestern: Joe Pa's boys have beaten absolutely no one of note early on, and suddenly all the pain and anguish of the past few seasons is forgotten. Since 1995 Northwestern has been a very competitive Big 10 team. A victory here will probably propel them to a bowl game. Northwestern upsets Penn St. and sports writers around the country begin their annual 'Does Joe Pa Have the Right to Choose When He Leaves' debate.

Enjoy the Weekend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

College/Pro Weekend Wrap-Up

College: I went 4-2 once again in the Six-Pack. However, the Palmetto State came up empty in their upset bids this weekend. Clemson gave The U all it could handle before succumbing in OT, but South Carolina laid an egg at home against Alabama dropping them to 0-2 in the SEC.

Winners:
Michigan St.: Thankfully they beat Notre Dame, and ended any talk of the Irish winning a national championship this season. However, if this Spartans team is to be any different from their past helter-skelter incarnations, they must win this weekend at Illinois.

Virginia: Winning in the Carrier Dome is never an easy task. It certainly wasn't pretty, but the Hoos left upstate New York with a valuable win. This season's ACC race will be very interesting.

UCLA: Handled an out-manned Oklahoma team at home as they should have. After taking them to task in an earlier post, I'll be the first to congragulate them on a big victory. Maybe something is Bruin in Los Angeles.

Losers:
Tennessee: Yep, I had these boys pegged as way overrated in late July. Pythagoras giveth and he taketh away.

Arkansas: No one expected you to hang with the defending champs. But when football scores resemble PGA golf scores, something is amiss in Fayetteville.

NFL: Random Thoughts

1. It appears the Minnesota Vikings bandwagon has crashed in the driveway. But there are still reasons to be optimistic. For starters, the two teams thay have played (Tampa Bay and Cincinnati) are a combined 4-0; and Tampa's defense proved to be just as stingy this past week against Buffalo. Their division is weak (Green Bay is 0-2, Detroit is 1-1, and Chicago is 1-1). The offense may be less potent after losing Randy Moss, but rest assured Daunte Culpepper will not average 4 interecptions per game the rest of the season. I still believe the Vikings have a great shot to win the NFC North.

2. For 55 minutes Monday night, Washington's offense looked as intimidating as Wallace Shawn. And then... Inconceivable... Mark Brunell suddenly looked like his 1998 self in tossing consecutive bombs to Santana Moss. Methinks, the first 55 minutes is more indicative of Washington's offensive prowess than the last 5.

3. Time to lay off the Saints being 'America's Team'. OK they beat Carolina in Week 1, but how is that any different from what they did in Week 17 last season? The Saints are not a good team, they are the same mediocre team they were last season. They pulled an upset. Those occasionally happen in athletic contests. For all intents and purposes, they get no home games this season, so lets dispense with the talk that the Saints will 'rally around each other' and make the postseason.

Final Thought: Here's why the NFL's QB rating formula is utterly lacking in measuring a quarterback's performance.

David Carr's stat line Sunday: 16 completions 26 attempts 167 yards 1 TD 0 INT 92.9 rating
...but, Carr was sacked 8 times for 59 yards
...so in reality, the Texans attempted 34 passes and netted 108 yards for a measly 3.2 yards per pass average, and thus only managed 7 points.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

NFL Week Two Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 9-6

Baltimore at Tennessee
Winner: Baltimore

Pittsburgh at Houston
Winner: Houston

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Detroit at Chicago
Winner: Detroit

Minnesota at Cincinnati
Winner: Cincinnati

San Francisco at Philadelphia
Winner: Philadelphia

Buffalo at Tampa Bay
Winner: Tampa Bay

New England at Carolina
Winner: New England

Atlanta at Seattle
Winner: Seattle

St. Louis at Arizona
Winner: Arizona

Miami at NY Jets
Winner: NY Jets

Cleveland at Green Bay
Winner: Green Bay

San Diego at Denver
Winner: Denver

Kansas City at Oakland
Winner: Kansas City

New Orleans at NY Giants
Winner: NY Giants

Washington at Dallas
Winner: Dallas

Saturday, September 17, 2005

College Weekend Preview

My friend and compatriot Rohit has dubbed this weekend Bizarro Weekend. In a shocking development, he will be rooting for Bobby Bowden and FSU and I will be rooting for Robert Stoops and OU. On to the picks.

Weekend Six-Pack:

ACC Game: Florida St. at Boston College
Boston College opens their ACC life at home against the ACC's most dominant team in the 1990's. Many pundits have been declaring Boston College their 'surprise' team in the ACC, and suggesting they could play in the ACC's first ever championship game. I have but one problem with this analysis. Boston College has in the last two seasons lost twice... to Wake Forest. Losing to Wake Forest and winning conference championships are mutually exclusive events. That in itself would be reason to pick against the Eagles. However, after watching Florida St.'s dreadful passing attack against Miami, I simply cannot pick them to win a road game against a good team. Last season Florida St. played 5 road games and never scored more than 20 points in any of them. That trend will continue here and BC will open their ACC career with a victory. Here is an interesting prop bet for you: Which will be higher? The number of passed completed by Drew Weatherford or the number of sacks by the Florida St. defense.
Winner: Boston College

Big East Game: Oregon St. at Louisville
Fresh off a last second victory over Boise St., the Beavers travel east to take on the other half of last season's Liberty Bowl. Louisville has not lost at home since November of 2003 and Oregon St. has not won a non-conference road game since September of 2001. All signs point to the Cardinals remaining undefeated and in the hunt for a Rose Bowl bid.
Winner: Louisville

Big 10 Game: Michigan St. at Notre Dame
Yes Notre Dame is 2-0. Yes they beat Michigan in the Big House. Yes they are in the top 10. But for some reason I'm just not buying it. I thought a lot of the mistakes Michigan made against them were unforced. Maybe I'm just bitter for having picked against them for two weeks in a row. Third times the charm right?
Winner: Michigan St.

Big 12 Game: Oklahoma at UCLA
I missed the memo. When did UCLA become Nebraska circa 1995? Stewart Mandel of CNNSI fame, and ESPN.com have both had pieces this week on the other Los Angeles school. Sure it's easy to dismiss Oklahoma after lackluster performances in a loss to TCU and a narrow victory over Tulsa. But let's not go crazy over UCLA after they beat NCAA luminaries San Diego St. and Rice. Under head coach Karl Dorrell, UCLA has finished 6-7 and 6-6, losing their bowl games both seasons to schools from the WAC (Fresno St.) and Mountain West (Wyoming). If UCLA handles the Sooners with ease this weekend then we can all prolcaim UCLA as a team on the rise. But until then, they are a mid-level BCS school.
Winner: Oklahoma

Pac 10 Game: Fresno St. at Oregon
Pat Hill and the Bulldogs start their annual BCS road trip in Eugene, Oregon against the new look Ducks. The Ducks have run their new spread offense to perfection in early season victories over Houston and Montana. However, the Duck defense has been less than rock solid against those two inferior opponents. As they always seem to do, Fresno will keep this game close, but Oregon's offense and home field advantage will prove to be too much for the upstart Bulldogs.
Winner: Oregon

SEC Game: Tennessee at Florida
Urban Meyer begins his SEC coaching career against Tennessee and The Great Pumpkin, Phillip Fulmer. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you already know that I don't think Tennessee is that great. I'll spare you the details, but I'm picking the Gators to take care of business at home:
Winner: Florida

Underdog Section:

Close but no Cigar:

Purdue at Arizona: Pundits averywhere (including myself) have been naming Purdue their darkhorse Big 10 team thanks to the fact that they avoid Ohio St. and Michigan on their Big 10 schedule. Well, we must have overlooked this game. Although it won't count in the Big 10 standings, Purdue will get a very stiff test in the desert from an improving Arizona team. Not only that, but this game has 'trap' written all over it. Purdue opens Big 10 play at Minnesota next week, so they could very well be looking past the Wildcats.

Virginia at Syracuse: Virginia looked shaky in an early season win over Western Michigan. Now they travel to the Carrier Dome where Syracuse always plays very well. As of right now, Syracuse lacks the offensive firepower to beat Virginia, but their defense is stout and will keep this game a close low-scoring affair.

Upset City:

Alabama at South Carolina: Alabama has been less than impressive in consecutive home wins over Middle Tennessee and Southern Mississippi. Now they travel to Columbia to take on Steve Spurrier in his first SEC home game as coach of the Gamecocks. Both defenses are solid so the game will be reminiscent of many of the Gamecock's victories under Lou Holtz. The offense will do just enough to upset Alabama.

Miami at Clemson: Clemson is 2-0 with two quality wins, one at home and one on the road. Miami on the other hand, is 0-1 after imploding in the kicking game against Florida St. These are not the same Hurricanes from 2001-2002. Since starting 2004 6-0, they are only 3-4 in their last 7 games. They lack the aura of invincibility they had in the early part of this decade. Clemson starts the season 3-0, and their fans start prematurely talking Rose Bowl.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Same Ole Commode-Dores? Maybe Not

Being a Wake Forest football fan and alum, I am always rooting for teams in similar situations (private academic schools in a conferences dominated by public schools) to rise up and stick it to the establishment in the college football hierarchy. This causes me to root, largely in vain, for school like Baylor, Vanderbilt, and Northwestern (but definitely not Duke) in football clashes not involving my Deacons. Northwestern has been moderately successful in the past decade, sharing 3 Big 10 championships since 1995, while Baylor and Vanderbilt have at their peak, been also also-rans in their respective conferences. However, for Vanderbilt, this season may be different. Baylor is 2-0, but their victories are over SMU and Samford (and son), so I’ll hold off on writing any pieces about them until they win a Big 12 road game. Vanderbilt on the other hand, has won 2 road games. The first was 24-20 decision witnessed personally by myself at Wake Forest, and the second a 28-24 win this past Saturday at Arkansas.

How has Vanderbilt started the season 2-0? Let’s take a closer look starting with the defense. At first glance it would appear to be using smoke and mirrors and other parlor tricks. Against Wake Forest they allowed 274 rushing yards (5.4 yards per attempt) and still won. Against Arkansas they allowed 194 rushing yards (4.5 yards per attempt) and still won. But dig a little deeper. Against Wake, of the 49 rushing plays not counting sacks (which count as negative rushing yardage in the college game) 17 (35%) went for 3 yards or less. 31 (63%) went for 6 yards or less. 10 (20%) were between 7-10 yards. 8 (16%) went for more than 10 yards with a long of 33. Wake routinely gashed Vanderbilt for runs of 5 yards or more, but their drives were stalled because they had such a high percentage of runs go for 3 yards or less as well. The rushing defense against Arkansas was a little different. Of the 39 running plays discounting sacks, 19 (49% almost half!) went for 3 yards or less. 27 (69%) went for 6 yards or less. 5 (13%) were between 7-10 yards. 7 (18%) were for more than 10 yards with a long of 39 (which was the first Arkansas touchdown). As opposed to the Wake game, where there defense routinely gave up runs of 5 or more yards, Vanderbilt played very solid run defense against Arkansas. The Hogs accumulated a relatively high yards per attempt average thanks to some long runs, but they were stopped on almost half of their runs for 3 yards or less. This is best illustrated on their second possession. They had a 1st and Goal at the Vandy 4 yard line. A 1st down run netted 3 yards and moved the ball to the 1 yard line. However, Arkansas was stopped 3 times in a row for no gain and subsequently Vanderbilt took over on offense.

The run defense against Wake avoided giving up many long runs, but did surrender a large number of intermediate runs. However, as any math major will tell you, it still takes a lot of plays to move down the field when you gain 5 yards at a time. Odds are, eventually the drive will stop short of a touchdown. Against Arkansas, the run defense was feast or famine. Arkansas backs either gained lots of yards or were stuffed at the line. Vandy benefited by playing two teams without superior passing attacks. On the occasions when the running plays were stuffed and the offenses needed to pass to obtain a first down, they were not able to do so.

Lest we forget, Vanderbilt’s offense has also played a key role in their 2-0 start. QB Jay Cutler, a bona-fide pro prospect has thrown for 554 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in the first two games. He has also added a rushing touchdown. His yards per pass attempt is a decent 6.8. All told, Cutler has been rather pedestrian so far, but he has avoided turnovers (only 2 interceptions and no lost fumbles) and has not put the elastic Vanderbilt defense into any bad situations.

One final factor in the Vanderbilt start is simple luck. Last season Vanderbilt had the luck of Frank Grimes. They were 0-5 in games decided by 6 points or fewer. This season, they have won 2 games by a combined 8 points. Tennessee still owes Pythagoras from last season, but in Vandy’s case Pythagoras has given them what amounts to an early season tax return (sorry we owe you from last year). Just a simple case of luck evening out over time.

Vandy has its next 5 games at home. The first 3 (Mississippi, Richmond, and Middle Tennessee) are all winnable. The next 2 (LSU and Georgia), well stranger things have happened. Vandy also gets another winnable game at home at against Kentucky later in the year sandwiched between road trips to South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. It won’t be easy, but Vandy definitely has a chance to make their first bowl trip since 1982. I’m sure if Vandy wins their next 3, ESPN.com will run an Ivan Maisel piece where he expounds some mumbo-jumbo about how Vandy finally ‘believes they can win’ and how head coach Bobby Johnson’s no cursing policy has ‘helped the players overcome adversity as a team’, when in reality the fact is this: Vanderbilt has a solid SEC team with good SEC players. No they won’t compete for a national championship, but neither will half the schools with bigger budgets, bigger stadiums, and better players. Kudos to you Mr. Johnson.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

College/Pro Weekend Wrap-Up

College:
Things went a little better in the prognostication department this week. I was 4-2 in the Six-Pack and showed utter clairvoyance in my two upset picks.

Winners:
Texas: They went into a hostile environment and came away with a close win thanks to Jim Tressel's conservative play-calling. They should be favored in every game they play from here on out. Mack Brown will have some serious explaining to do if Texas doesn't play in the Rose Bowl this year.

Vanderbilt: Went into Fayetteville and came away with a big road win. Even if Arkansas is down this year, this is still a huge win for Bobby Johnson's program. Now 2-0, they have a real chance of winning their next 3 home game (Mississippi, Richmond, and Middle Tennessee).

The Mountain West: Another Mountain West member, New Mexico, won at another Big 12 school, Missouri. The top 5 teams (Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Air Force, and maybe TCU) will stage a very competitive division race. Too bad more people aren't paying attention.

Losers:
The Big 10: The holy trinity of the Big 10 (Michigan, Ohio St., and Iowa) all lost this week. And 2 of them were at home.

TCU: Lost all the goodwill they garnered last week with a loss to the pony express.


NFL:
The first thing to remember about Week 1 in the NFL is not to jump to conclusions. Sure, Miami and San Francisco looked to be playoff contenders, the defenses from Indy and KC looked like the 85' Bears, Daunte Culpepper looked lost without Randy Moss, and a host of other results amazed folks. It's only Week 1. There are 16 more weeks to go. In 2003, the eventual Super Bowl champion Pariots lost 31-0 to Buffalo in the season's first game. Last season, the lowly Browns dominated the Ravnes 20-3 in Week 1. The Washington Redskins have now won their opening game for 4 straight seasons and have zero playoff appearances in that span. Withhold judgement until at least Week 5.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

NFL Week One Pigskin Pickin'

A quick Week 1 Prediction-fest before church.

Denver at Miami
Winner: Denver

Cincinnati at Cleveland
Winner: Cincinnati

Houston at Buffalo
Winner: Buffalo

Tennessee at Pittsburgh
Winner: Pittsburgh

Chicago at Wahington: Will there be 100 combined passing yards?
Winner: Washington

New Orleans at Carolina
Winner: Carolina

Tampa Bay at Minnesota
Winner: Minnesota

Seattle at Jacksonville: Jacksonville was not as good as their record showed last season.
Winner: Seattle

NY Jets at Kansas City
Winner: Kansas City

Arizona at NY Giants
Winner: NY Giants

St. Louis at San Francisco: Everyone is picking the Rams in their suicide/eliminator office pool. Be forewarned, the Rams were only 2-6 on the road last season.
Winner: San Francisco

Green Bay at Detroit
Winner: Detroit

Dallas at San Diego
Winner: San Diego

Indianapolis at Baltimore
Winner: Indianapolis

Philadelphia at Atlanta
Winner: Philadelphia

Friday, September 09, 2005

College Weekend Preview

Weekend Six-Pack:

ACC Game: Clemson at Maryland
Somehow Maryland is favored in this game after barely squeaking by Navy on a last minute touchdown. Clemson on the other hand beat a good Texas A&M team also in the final seconds. Here's betting a few more Clemson drives end in touchdowns rather than field goals as they did against A&M. Clemson wins rather easily.
Winner: Clemson

Big East Game: Cincinnati at Penn St.
The pickings are slim in Big (L)East country this week. Penn St. was less than impressive in beating South Florida 23-13 last week. However, Cincinnati was even less impressive in beating Eastern Michigan 28-26. It won't be pretty, but Penn St. will be 2-0 after this game.
Winner: Penn St.

Big 10 Game: Notre Dame at Michigan
As I am writing this, Pittsburgh is losing 10-7 at the half to Ohio. So um... maybe Notre Dame's victory last week isn't all that impressive. I'm not from Missouri, but the Irish are gonna have to show me they can beat an elite team.
Winner: Michigan

Big 12 Game: Texas at Ohio St.
The game of the weekend, and definitely the non-conference game of the season. Texas rolled over the Rajun' Cajuns last week and Ohio St. had an easier than expected win over the other Miami. I'm going with Ohio St. for two reasons: They are the home team, and Texas hasn't beaten a top 10 team since they upset Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game... in 1996.
Winner: Ohio St.

Pac 10 Game: LSU at Arizona St.
This game has been moved from Baton Rouge to Tempe because of Hurrican Katrina. In Baton Rouge, LSU would be heavy favorites, but on the road, this game becomes very interesting. LSU will struggle, but their superior talent will win out in the end.
Winner: LSU

SEC Game: South Carolina at Georgia
Contrary to what Vegas says, the Cocks will play hard *snickers* and keep this game close. If Jared Zabransky had not been kidnapped and replaced by Chris Rix before the game, Georgia would have had a much more difficult time with Boise. South Carolina does not have the requisite personnel to run Spurrier's system, so they will ultimately fall short against the Dawgs.
Winner: Georgia

Underdog Section:

Close but no Cigar:

Wake Forest at Nebraska: Wake will keep it close as usual, but will make just enough mistakes to lose. However, what if the unthinkable happens? Will Bill Callahan be fired on the spot? Will Nebraska drop football? This game is both a testament to how far Nebraska has fallen and how far Wake has come. Seriously, if this was say 1997, what would the spread be? Nebraska -70?

California at Washington: Last week against Sacramento St., Cal's starting quarterback Nate Longshore went down with a broken leg. His replacement Joseph Ayoob completed zero passes in 10 attempts. Washinton, in their home opener, under new head coach Tyrone Willingham will keep this game very close.

Upset City:

Vanderbilt at Arkansas: Call me crazy, but I think Vandy has a real chance. No they can't stop the run, and that's exactly what Arkansas will do against them. But Vandy's quarterback Jay Cutler is the real deal. Vandy wins a shootout.

Iowa at Iowa St.: Iowa St. always seems to play Iowa tough. In 2002, while Iowa was busy going undefeated in the Big 10, they lost to the Cyclones. Last season Iowa (10-2) only won 17-10. Iowa St. pulls the upset and ends Iowa's national championship hopes.

Enjoy the weekend.



Wednesday, September 07, 2005

NFC Preview

NFC East Projected Order of Finish:

Philadelphia Eagles
Last Year: 13-3, lost Super Bowl to Patriots
This Year: The Terrell Owens media circus will not have an adverse affect on this team. Remember, they played in 3 straight NFC Championship games, and made the playoffs 4 years in a row before he came to town. If TO plays, the Eagles offense will be upper-echelon like last year, and if he doesn’t play it will be mediocre. Either way, with the defense and special teams they have, the Eagles will handily win the NFC East.
Summation: The Eagles win 12 or 13 games, their 5th straight NFC East title, and play in their 5th straight NFC Championship game. However, they will be 1-4 in title games after this season.

Dallas Cowboys
Last Year: 6-10, no playoffs
This Year: The Cowboys added the aging lead-footed Drew Bledsoe to replace the aged lead-footed Vinny Testaverde. Call the QB situation a wash. RB Julius Jones looks to improve in his second season, and I see no reason to believe that he won’t. However, it’s the defense that must improve the most if this team is to contend. They finished 28th in points allowed last year. That won’t get the job done whether Bill Parcells or Sam Wyche is coaching your team. To improve the D in the off-season, Dallas added DT Jason Ferguson and CB Aaron Glenn. Dallas can also expect improvement from youngsters Roy Williams and Terrance Newman in the secondary.
Summation: While Drew Bledsoe is no great shakes at QB, he is not Craig Krenzel either. The Dallas defense and running attack will compensate for the average passing game. Expect Dallas to win 9-10 games and grab a wildcard playoff spot.

New York Giants
Last Year: 6-10, no playoffs
This Year: The Giants are an intriguing team. The bolstered their defense in the off-season by adding LB Antonio Pierce and DT Kendrick Clancy. They will also get a full season’s work from Michael Strahan (hopefully) who played in 8 games last year before going down with an injury. The Giants also gave Eli Manning another big weapon in WR Plaxico Burress.
Summation: The defense should be vastly improved over last seasons’ model, so it all comes down to Eli. I for one am not sold on a marked improvement for him this year. Peyton improved dramatically in his second year, but take one second to ponder the numbers.
Peyton’s Rookie Year: 6.5 yards per pass attempt, 26 TDs, 28 INTs
Eli’s Rookie Year: 5.3 yards per pass attempt, 6 TDs, 9 INTs
It should also be noted that 2004 was one of the best (if not the best) environments for passing ever.
Peyton’s 2nd Year: 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 26 TDs, 15 INTs
Peyton put up much better numbers in an offensive environment slightly less conducive for passing. Eli would have to improve a great deal in his 2nd year to even equal his brother’s rookie year. Eli will struggle again this year, but the Giants D will carry them to 6 wins and a tumultuous off-season where they will be forced to decide what to do with Eli.

Washington Redskins
Last Year: 6-10, no playoffs
This Year: The Redskins defense was downright scary last year, but so was the offense (in a bad way). The defense suffered significant losses in the form of LB Antonio Pierce and CB Fred Smoot. The Redskins did add WR Santana Moss to the receiving corps, but he is not much of an upgrade (if any) over Laveranues Coles.
Summation: Unless Patrick Ramsey or 1st round pick Jason Campbell miraculously develops, or Mark Brunell makes a Lazarus-like rise from the dead, expect the Washington offense to be anemic just like last season. The defense should regress a little from its fantastic performance in 2004. All told, expect 5 wins, and a very frustrated Joe Gibbs at season’s end.

NFC South Projected Order of Finish:

Carolina Panthers
Last Year: 7-9, no playoffs
This Year: Don’t look at the overall record, but look at the point differential and you will see a developing trend.
2002: -44
2003: +21
2004: +16
The 2003 Panthers were a historic fluke. They won several regular season games they shouldn’t have, and then exploited a weak NFC and a terrible Mike Martz coaching decision to play in the Super Bowl. The 2004 version was almost just as good as the 2003 version, but was much less lucky. This is the year the Panthers finally play like the team many thought they were in 2003. The addition of G Mike Wahle from Green Bay instantly improves the running game, the bread and butter of John Fox’s system. On defense, Carolina strengthened its secondary by adding CB Ken Lucas.
Summation: The Panthers will roll to an NFC South division title barring an historic run of injuries similar to what they suffered through last year. Pencil them in for 11 or 12 wins and a return to the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Year: 5-11, no playoffs
This Year: The Tampa Bay Bucs are every statistician’s enigma. In 2003, they outscored their opponents by 37 points and finished 7-9, and last year they were only outscored by 3 points yet finished 5-11. In my humble opinion, their luck has to turn. Although nowhere near as strong as the championship unit of 2002, the defense is still good. They finished 9th in points allowed last season. The addition of Chris Hovan should bolster the defensive line. The offense should be just as good if not better. Brian Griese played surprisingly well at quarterback last season and the maturation of WR Michael Clayton should improve the passing game. The running game should also get a shot in the arm with the drafting of Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams. We’ll see if his 8 cylinders are firing in line.
Summation: Tampa Bay has their luck turn around somewhat. They will win 9-10 games and claim the last wildcard spot alongside Dallas.

Atlanta Falcons
Last Year:
11-5, lost to Eagles in NFC Championship game
This Year: Don’t be fooled by the 2004 incarnation of the Atlanta Falcons. Yes they won 11 games, but they only outscored their opponents by 3 points on the season. Yes they dominated the Rams in the playoffs. But these were not your older brother’s Rams. They were themselves a flawed 8-8 team that had just won a road playoff game the week before. Give Atlanta credit for not resting on their laurels. They added depth to their defense with the additions of LB Ike Reese and Edgerton Hartwell. The Falcons must hope their receiving corps improves or Michael Vick will have many 10 for 25 passing lines in the box score.
Summation: Atlanta may actually improve this season, but it will not be reflected in their record. They will win 7-8 games and contend for a wildcard spot, but ultimately fall short.

New Orleans Saints:
Last Year:
8-8, no playoffs
This Year: You know a 3-13 or 4-12 season could do this team some good. Every year under Jim Haslett, the Saints finish between 7-9 wins, the epitome of mediocrity. And then the following year, with little crucial roster tinkering the Saints believe they will finally ‘put it together’ and break through. And continue ad infinitum. However, this could be the year they finally implode, and incidentally set them up for contention a few years down the road.
Summation: The Saints again kept most of their skill position personnel intact, and added some low-key players on defense (S Dwight Smith and LB Levar Fisher). Normally I would expect another 7-9 or 8-8 season, but with the natural disaster in the gulf coast, the Saints will be a nomad team the entire year. They will play exactly zero home games, and what amounts to 16 road contests. The 1985 Bears would struggle with that schedule. The Saints will win 4 or 5 games, and after the season Haslett will be fired, the roster will be blown up, and the Saints will try to build a winner with new parts.

NFC West Projected Order of Finish

Seattle Seahawks
Last Year: 9-7, lost to Rams in Wildcard Round
This Year: Read this article. If you’re too impatient, I will try to explain it with not so eloquent verbiage. The jist of it is that teams that perform poorly on 3rd down compared to 1st and 2nd downs (on offense or defense) one year tend to progress to the mean the next year (and vice-versa). Confused? The Seahawks were bad on 3rd downs offensively compared to 1st and 2nd downs. Therefore, they should improve this season simply by regression (or in this case progression) to the mean. Everyone’s Super Bowl darkhorse from last season is my Super Bowl favorite this season.
Summation: If you are a betting man, bet heavily on Seattle winning this weak division. I mean really, who else will win it? Would you really lay money on the Arizona Cardinals? And the Rams’ defense has more holes than a Pawley’s Island hammock. Seattle rolls in this division. They will win 12 or 13 games. Once in the playoffs, Mike Holmgren will lead his 2nd franchise to the Super Bowl where they will meet and defeat the Kansas City Chiefs.

Arizona Cardinals:
Last Year:
6-10, no playoffs
This Year: The Cardinals added former MVP Kurt Warner to their offense in the off-season. However, this is not the Kurt Warner of 99-01. Warner fooled many with his performance last season. It looked efficient; almost 63% completion percentage, 6 TDs and only 4 INTs, but dig a little deeper. He was sacked 39 times in only 10 games (contrast this to 2001 when he was sacked 38 times in 16 games) and he fumbled 12 times. Warner is a shadow of his former self. He either holds on to the ball too long and takes a sack, or doesn’t hold onto the ball and fumbles. That being said, Arizona will still contend for a playoff spot in 2005 thanks to its young receivers (Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin), young running back (J.J. Arrington) and improved defense. The Cardinals added DE Chike Okeafor, S Robert Griffith, and LB Orlando Huff to the unit in the off-season.
Summation: Warner will provide enough solid surface stats (completion %, good TD/INT ratio) to make people believe he is helping Arizona win. In actuality it will be the defense and young skill position players that help Arizona improve. Expect 8 wins and a season of wildcard contention that will fall just short.

St. Louis Rams
Last Year:
8-8, lost to Falcons in Divisional Round
This Year: These are not the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ Rams. They are far from it. They are not even the best offense in Missouri. Care to hazard a guess where this offensive dynamo finished in points scored last season? 19th. They were mediocre at best on offense. They were also outscored by 73 points on the year so they were a bit lucky to go 8-8. Also, don’t forget that one of their victories was over an Eagles team that was resting its starters in Week 16. These guys are living off their rep and have been doing so for several years. They added LBs Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne to improve a defense that was mediocre on good days and downright appalling on bad days last season.
Summation: Marshall Faulk is in decline, but should be replaced admirably be Stephen Jackson. However, even if Jackson performs at his absolute peak, do you really believe he will be equal to Faulk circa 99-01? No way. Isaac Bruce will also suffer another year of decline as he is now 33. The defense may improve a little, but that will be offset by offensive regression and a stronger division. The Rams will win 6 games and Mike Martz will be on the hotseat.

San Francisco 49ers
Last Year: 2-14, unmitigated disaster
This Year: Why does Dennis Erickson coach pro football? Its obvious he sucks at it. Stay in college and build moribund programs like Oregon St. into national powers. Anyway, the 49ers don’t appear to be much better this year than last. The 49ers do get stud LB Julian Peterson back after he missed 11 games last year with an injury. However, his presence alone will not be enough to save a unit that finished last in points allowed last season.
Summation: This will be a bad year for the 49ers. There is hope though. Alex Smith may turn out to be their QB of the future. Other than that, expect 3 or 4 wins at the most from this squad.

NFC North Projected Order of Finish

Minnesota Vikings
Last Year: 8-8, lost to Eagles in Divisional Round
This Year: The Vikings lost WR Randy Moss this off-season, but should more than make up for that with the addition of several playmakers on defense. New CB Fred Smoot will team with holdover Antoine Winfield to form a solid coverage unit. LBs Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris, DT Pat Williams, and S Darren Sharper will also vastly improve the Vikings porous defense. Daunte Culpepper will continue to anchor a solid offense that will slow down a bit with the loss of Randy Moss.
Summation: In what looks to be a down year for the NFC North, the Vikings will cruise to the title with an 11 win season.

Detroit Lions
Last Year:
6-10, no playoffs
This Year: Detroit was going to be a wildcard team until they lost QB Jeff Garcia to a broken leg in the preseason. Charles Rogers and the Williams boyz (Mike and Roy) should still make for an exciting group of receivers until Rogers breaks his collarbone again. Kevin Jones should also be a stud in the backfield. The only hole on this team is at QB. Joey Harrington has not performed like a 1st Round pick in any of his 3 seasons. For this reason, I thought Jeff Garcia would take the reigns and lead the Lions to the playoffs.
Summation: Good skill position players, average defense, and a good coach. The only thing missing is a QB who can get the skill players the ball. That is what will kill Detroit this season. The Lions will win 7 games and wonder what could have been had Garcia not gone down.

Green Bay Packers
Last Year: 10-6, lost to Vikings in Wildcard Round
This Year: Is this Brett Favre’s swan song season? If it is, he will go out on a downer. He lost his 2 best lineman, Gs Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, and his best defender, S Darren Sharper. The Pack defense was bad last year and it won’t get any better. The offense should also be worse with the loss of the two linemen mentioned earlier.
Summation: Its gonna be a long year in Title Town. 6 wins is about the max for this team.

Chicago Bears
Last Year: 5-11, no playoffs
This Year: The Bears wasted a very good defense by having an offense reminiscent of a team from the 1920s. While those teams failed to pass because it was illegal, this Bears team simply lacked anyone capable of throwing the ball. Unless Kyle Orton develops into a solid QB (which he may down the road), expect more of the same this year. The Bears did add WR Muhsin Muhammad to improve the passing attack. However, Muhammad is coming off his best season and will be 32 when the new season starts. Even if Joe Montana or Otto Graham was throwing him the ball, a reasonable decline would be expected. With unproven Kyle Orton and possibly some high school kids lining up under center, expect him to catch under 50 passes.
Summation: The Bears defense will continue to be solid and improve under 2nd year coach Lovie Smith, but the offense will prevent this team from contending. Unless Kyle Orton suddenly becomes Sid Luckman, the Bears will mimic last years 5 wins.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

College Weekend Wrap-Up

Well, that didn't go so well. I went 2-4 in the inaugural Six-Pack and missed all of my upset picks (by a wide margin). To say I've been humbled would be an understatement. But alas, I will carry on. I will pat myself on the back for one thing: Tennessee struggled at home to beat UAB, and if you've been a regular reader, you knew Tennessee was the team I had pegged as most overrated. Now, onto this weeks winners and losers.

Winners:
The ACC: Clemson hung on at home to beat Texas A&M and Georgia Tech went into hostile territory and knocked Auburn around. Losses by Wake and Duke, and a narrow victory by Maryland notwithstanding, the ACC looks like more than a 3 pony show this season.

The Mountain West: TCU won at Oklahoma, Utah continued its winning ways at home against a solid Arizona team, and Air Force scratched out a close win over Washington at a 'neutral' site. Combine that with good showings by Colorado St. against Colorado and by Wyoming against Florida and you have the makings of a quality mid-major league. It also begs the question, is the Mountain West more deserving of a BCS bid than the Big East?

Losers:
The Big 12: Kansas, Kansas St., Nebraska, Oklahoma St., and Iowa St. all opened with lackluster wins over vastly inferior competition. Whatever happened to the days when Nebraska and Kansas St. would open the season with 63-7 victories? Add to that losses by Oklahoma and Texas A&M and you have a conference that may be down this year.

Miami Special Teams: This is one of those games where the loser outplayed the victor by a significant margin. Florida St. averaged a meager 2.7 yards per pass attempt and still won thanks to shoddy special teams play on the part of the Hurricanes.
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