Friday, December 30, 2005

NFL Week Seventeen Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 10-6
Overall: 160-78

Denver at San Diego
Winner: San Diego

New York Giants at Oakland
Winner: New York Giants

Arizona at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Carolina at Atlanta
Winner: Atlanta

Cincinnati at Kansas City
Winner: Kansas City

Buffalo at New York Jets
Winner: Buffalo

Detroit at Pittsburgh
Winner: Pittsburgh

Baltimore at Cleveland
Winner: Cleveland

New Orleans at Tampa Bay
Winner: Tampa Bay

Seattle at Green Bay
Winner: Green Bay

Miami at New England
Winner: New England

Houston at San Francisco
Winner: San Francisco

Tennessee at Jacksonville
Winner: Jacksonville

Chicago at Minnesota
Winner: Minnesota

Washington at Philadelphia
Winner: Washington

St. Louis at Dallas
Winner: Dallas

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Fortnite of Football Frenzy and Fun Part III

Part I Record: 5-2
Part II Record: 3-1 with 2 to go

December 30th

Music City Bowl
Minnesota Vs. Virginia
Theme Song: 'Do That to Me One More Time' by The Captain and Tennille
For the 3rd time in 4 years the Golden Gophers will be playing in the prestigious Music City Bowl. The Gophers are undefeated in their previous 2 trips to Nashville, having beaten Arkansas in 2002 and Alabama last season. Laurence Maroney and Co. will run wild over the Wahoos.
Winner: Minnesota

Sun Bowl
Northwestern Vs. UCLA
Theme Song: 'Wild, Wild West' by The Escape Club
The Sun Bowl is shaping up to be an old-fashioned shootout. Both teams have very prolific offenses. UCLA ranks 7th nationally in scoring offense averaging 38.1 points per game while Northwestern ranks 32nd nationally in the same category with 31.8 points per game. Both teams are also horrendous on the defensive side of the ball. Northwestern ranks 102nd nationally in scoring defense allowing an average of 32.5 points per game and UCLA ranks 107th in the same category allowing 33.8 points per game. Get excited.
Winner: UCLA

Independence Bowl
Missouri Vs. South Carolina
Theme Song: 'Magic' by Olivia Newton-John
What else but the dark arts can explain South Carolina's sudden resurgence? Even with the OBC on board, many expected a year of growing pains as the offense adjusted to Spurrier's Cock N' Fire from Lou Holtz's Run-it-up-the-Gut. The Carolina offense has not been explosive, but The Cocks have kept games close and won most of these close games. Expect more of the same here.
Winner: South Carolina

Peach Bowl
Louisiana State Vs. Miami
Theme Song: 'Good Thing' by Fine Young Cannibals
This Peach Bowl certainly is a good thing. A match-up of 2 teams that could very well have won their respective conferences. However, without Jamarcus Russell at quarterback for LSU, the Hurricanes will blow through these Tigers.
Winner: Miami

December 31st

Meineke Car Care Bowl
NC State Vs. South Florida
Theme Song: 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' by Kim Wilde
When Chuck Amato came to Raleigh in 2000, he was supposed to raise the Wolfpack to a new level. He was to transform them from a mid-level BCS team to a conference title contender. Has he done that? Here's a quick comparison with his predecessor Mike O'Cain through both coaches first 6 seasons at NC State.

Amato's won/loss record: 45-28 .616
O'Cain's won/loss record: 35-34 .507
Amato's ACC won/loss record: 23-25
O'Cain's ACC won/loss record: 23-25
Amato's best conference record: 5-3
O'Cain's best conference record: 6-2
Year's above .500 in conference play for Amato: 1
Year's above .500 in conference play for O'Cain: 2
Draw your own conclusions.
Winner: NC State

Liberty Bowl
Fresno State Vs. Tulsa
Theme Song: 'Blame It On the Rain' by Milli Vanilli
In honor of the biggest frauds in music history, this song goes out to the biggest frauds in college football this season. They made us all believe with close losses on the road to Oregon and Southern Cal, but then the tape stopped and they lost to Nevada and Lowsyana Tech.
Winner: Fresno State

Houston Bowl
Iowa State Vs. Texas Christian
Theme Song: 'The Way It Is' by Bruce Hornsby and The Range
You go 10-1 overall and undefeated in conference play, and yet you're stuck playing in Houston on New Year's Eve? That's just the way it is if you don't play in one of the BCS conferences.
Winner: Texas Christian

January 2nd

Outback Bowl
Florida Vs. Iowa
Theme Song: 'Got My Mind Set On You' by George Harrison
This is what the Gators administration was humming last year at this time. Well, they got their man. Now they're stuck with him. His first season was not a rousing success, but it wasn't a real disappointment either. As has been discussed previously, Meyer's teams perform much better under his system in his second season. They'll get an early start against Iowa.
Winner: Florida

Cotton Bowl
Alabama Vs. Texas Tech
Theme Song: 'The Tide Is High' by Blondie
Winner: Alabama

Gator Bowl
Louisville Vs. Virginia Tech
Theme Song: 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' by U2
Frank Beamer is still seeking that elusive national championship, the only thing missing from his resume at Virginia Tech. Louisville is still searching for some national respectand recognition. After being blown out by South Florida and collapsing against West Virginia, the Ville faded from the national conscious. After this game, both will still be looking.
Winner: Virginia Tech

Capital One Bowl
Auburn Vs. Wisconsin
Theme Song: 'Physical' by Olivia Newton-John
Both teams will be very physical in this game. Auburn ranks 20th nationally in rushing yards per game and Wisconsin is 41st. Establishing the run is key to the success of both teams. Here's to you Mr. Alvarez, you've done a fine job at Wisconsin.
Winner: Auburn

Fiesta Bowl
Notre Dame Vs. Ohio State
Theme Song: 'We Are the World' by USA for Africa
A little ditty for the University of Football in America according to Tony Kornheiser that is more full of itself than Rick Rude. Go 9-2 against a tissue-soft schedule and you get into the BCS. Don't have any conference affiliation, have your own TV network, and give your coach an extension after 7 games on what he could possibly do next year. Here's hoping the Buckeyes curb-stomp the Irish.
Winner: Ohio State

Sugar Bowl
Georgia Vs. West Virginia
Theme Song: 'Didn't We Almost Have It All?' by Whitney Houston
A 1-point loss to Auburn and an injury to DJ Shockley are all that stands between the Dawgs and a possible undefeated season. West Virginia will keep this closer than most of the experts believe.
Winner: Georgia

Part IV will be up Tuesday.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Fortnite of Football Frenzy and Fun Part II

Part I Record: 4-2 with one more to go

December 27th

Champs Sports Bowl
Clemson Vs. Colorado
Theme Song: 'Don't You Want Me?' by The Human League
This 1982 tale of unrequitted love hits home for both the Tigers and Buffs. Tommy Bowden has taken his fair share of criticism at Clemson even though he has returned the program to a permanent bowl fixture and beaten Florida State twice in the last 3 years. In Boulder, Gary Barnett must be thinking the same thing. After leading the Buffs to 4 Big 12 North titles in 5 years, he was let go by the administration after the 70-3 loss to Texas in this year's Big 12 title game.
Winner: Clemson

Insight Bowl
Arizona State Vs. Rutgers
Theme Song: 'Celebration' by Kool & the Gang
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights, easily one of the worst programs in Division I football history, are off to only their 2nd ever bowl game. Who cares if they are double-digit dogs to a team playing what amounts to a home game in Phoenix? Almost any place in the country beats the hell out of New Jersey in late December.
Winner: Arizona State

December 28th

MPC Computers Bowl
Boise State Vs. Boston College
Theme Song: 'Let's Hear it for the Boy' by Deniece Williams
3 cheers for Dan Hawkins as he coaches his final game on the blue smurf turn in Boise before departing for Colorado. In his 5 seasons at the school, Hawkins has a record of 53-10 with 2 bowl wins and 4 WAC titles. Not only does he win, but his teams usually score a ton of points and are exciting to watch. Here's wishing him the best at Colorado.
Winner: Boston College

Alamo Bowl
Michigan Vs. Nebraska
Theme Song: 'Out of Touch' by Daryl Hall and John Oates
This Hall and Oates ditty is perfect for 2 programs out of touch with their past glories. For Michigan the 2005 season was out of touch with what most fans expected. 3 losses in the first 6 games doomed the Wolverines to a non-New Year's Day bowl for the firts time since reconstruction. For the Huskers, they have been out of touch since Frank Solich was let go. 2004 marked the first time they had not played in a bowl game since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. They have returned to the postseason in 2005, albeit on a stage much smaller than the one they are accustomed to.
Winner: Michigan

December 29th

Emerald Bowl
Georgia Tech Vs. Utah
Theme Song: '(Just Like) Starting Over' by John Lennon
For the Utes, the loss of wunder-coach Urban Meyer and 1st overall pick Alex Smith meant a time of starting over. The Utes were able to have a successful season, but after destroying a BCS team in primetime last season in the Fiesta Bowl, a mid-afternoon showdown against a team coached by Chan Gailey is a testament to how much farther they must still go.
Winner: Georgia Tech

Holiday Bowl
Oklahoma Vs. Oregon
Theme Song: 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' by Simple Minds
Everyone wrote them off after a 2-3 start, but the Sooners won 5 out of their last 6 (with the one loss resulting from a series of bad officiating against Texas Tech) to gain some momentum heading into their bowl game. 40-5 is the combined record of the 4 teams that beat the Sooners this year. The Ducks have had a nice 10-1 season, but Oklahoma will announce their return to the national scene in this game.
Winner: Oklahoma

Part III coming soon.

Friday, December 23, 2005

NFL Week Sixteen Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 13-3
Overall: 150-72

Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Winner: Tampa Bay

Buffalo at Cincinnati
Winner: Cincinnati

Dallas at Carolina
Winner: Carolina

San Diego at Kansas City
Winner: Kansas City

Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Winner: Cleveland

Jacksonville at Houston
Winner: Jacksonville

New York Giants at Washington
Winner: Washington

Tennessee at Miami
Winner: Miami

Detroit at New Orleans
Winner: New Orleans

San Francisco at St. Louis
Winner: St. Louis

Philadelphia at Arizona
Winner: Philadelphia

Indianapolis at Seattle
Winner: Seattle

Oakland at Denver
Winner: Denver

Chicago at Green Bay
Winner: Chicago

Minnesota at Baltimore: Be wary when dome teams must brave the elements.
Winner: Baltimore

New England at New York Jets
Winner: New England

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Fortnite of Football Frenzy and Fun Part I

Alliteration has always held a special place in my heart. The 1980's are also near and dear to my soul. So without further adieu, I present Part I of my bowl preview. The theme, which I hope you will enjoy, is #1 pop hits from the 1980's.

December 20th

New Orleans Bowl
Arkansas State Vs. Southern Mississippi
Theme Song: 'Satisfied' by Richard Marx
This Richard Marx classic from 1989 is a perfect set-up for the first game of the bowl season. Arkansas State is satisfied that some other team besides North Texas is playing in the New Orleans Bowl. Since the Sun Belt football conference formed in 2001, the Mean Green have run roughshod over their Sun Belt brethren to the tune of 4 straight conference titles and 4 New Orleans Bowl berths. That all changed this season as Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Louisiana-Lafayette all shared the conference crown. Southern Mississippi, which is located in Hattiesburg, is satisfied to be the only team from the great state of Mississippi to be bowling this season. In all seriousness, Jeff Bower has done a tremendous job since taking over the Golden Eagles in 1990. He has lead them to 8 bowl games in the last 9 years and has not had a losing season since 1993.
Winner: Southern Mississippi

December 21st

Toldeo Vs. UTEP
Theme Song: 'One More Try' by George Michael
This George Michael classic is what UTEP fans must be saying to Mike Price every time they see him. After being fired and embarrassed before he ever coached a game at Alabama, Price, like Marty Robbins, landed on his feet in the West Texas town of El Paso. In the 2 years Mike Price has coached the team, the Miners have won 16 games. In the previous 5 years before Price's arrival, the Miners had won 19 games. Here's hoping Mike Price gives it at least one more try for the UTEP Miners. As far as the game is concerned, Toledo is no pushover. The Miners better dig in, or they might get the shaft.
Winner: UTEP

December 22nd

Poinsettia Bowl
Colorado State Vs. Navy
Theme Song: 'Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins
Many people probably thought Paul Johnson had lost his mind when he became the head coach of the Naval Academy in 2002. Johnson was coming from division I-AA power Georgia Southern, where he had won 2 national titles in 5 seasons (and played for a 3rd). His first season at Navy went as most people had expected. That is to say a 2-10 season, and what looked like a nigh-impossible rebuilding job ahead. But in 2003, the Academy won 8 games and played in a bowl for the first time since 1997. In 2004, they did even better, winning 10 games. Included among those 10 wins was a bowl victory over New Mexico. This season, the Academy is 7-4 and stands a good chance to defeat Colorado State for its second consecutive bowl win. Paul Johnson won't win any national titles at Navy, but he should be included in any conversation about the best current football coaches.
Winner: Navy

Las Vegas Bowl
California Vs. Brigham Young
Theme Song: 'Could've Been' by Tiffany
The Bears had high hopes when the season began. Those dreams were shattered when quarterback Nathan Longshore was lost for the season in the first game against Sacramento State. Without him, the Bears struggled through a 7-4 season. If Longshore had not gotten hurt, who knows what could have been?
Winner: California

December 23rd

Fort Worth Bowl
Houston Vs. Kansas
Theme Song: 'Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)' by Billy Ocean
This is a cop-out. I couldn't come up with a good 80's #1 hit for this game. The Jayhawks have a good rush defense, 3rd nationally in terms of yards allowed per game (88.1 yards per game), so they are showing no more love to the run.
Winner: Kansas

December 24th

Hawaii Bowl
Central Florida Vs. Nevada
Theme Song: 'Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
The Golden Knights from Central Florida lost their conference title game to Tulsa and were punished by being forced to take a trip to Hawaii. Sometimes life is not fair. I wish them the best in this tragic development. What better place to escape to than the islands?
Winner: Central Florida

December 26th
Motor City Bowl
Akron Vs. Memphis
Theme Song: 'Like a Virgin' by Madonna
This is Akron's first bowl game. In celebration of this fact, here is some gratuitous footage of Madonna writhing around on stage at the MTV video awards in 1984. Enjoy.
Winner: Memphis

I'll be back in a few days with Part II.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

NFL Week Fifteen Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 9-7
Overall: 137-69

Tampa Bay at New England
Winner: New England

Kansas City at New York Giants
Winner: Kansas City

Denver at Buffalo
Winner: Denver

Arizona at Houston
Winner: Arizona

Seattle at Tennessee
Winner: Seattle

San Diego at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Pittsburgh at Minnesota
Winner: Pittsburgh

New York Jets at Miami
Winner: Miami

Philadelphia at St. Louis
Winner: Philadelphia

San Francisco at Jacksonville
Winner: Jacksonville

Carolina at New Orleans
Winner: Carolina

Cincinnati at Detroit
Winner: Cincinnati

Cleveland at Oakland
Winner: Cleveland

Dallas at Washington
Winner: Washington

Atlanta at Chicago
Winner: Chicago

Green Bay at Baltimore
Winner: Baltimore

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush League

With a record of 1-12, the Houston Texans are currently the frontrunner for the top pick in next spring's NFL Draft. Conventional wisdom says they should draft Reggie Bush, a running back from Southern Cal, whom many believe to be a once-a-generation talent. Could one player possibly make that much of a difference? In order to answer that question lets first take a look at the #1 picks of the last 10 drafts and the top running back picks of the last 10 drafts, followed by a comparison of the two players with whom Bush is most frequently compared; Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders.

#1 pick: Keyshawn Johnson, Wide Receiver, drafted by the New York Jets
Keyshawn had a solid rookie season catching 63 passes for 844 yards and 8 touchdowns. However, the Jets actually regressed from 3-13 in 1995 to 1-15 in 1996. Keyshawn would prove to be a vital piece of the best Jets team of the last 20 years; the 1998 incarnation. However, that Jets team also had the services of a rejuvenated Vinny Testaverde, the 2nd ranked defense (in terms of points allowed), and a Hall-of-Fame coach. Throughout his career, Keyshawn has been a steady above-average receiver, who has at times clashed with his coaches.
#1 running back: Lawrence Phillips, drafted by the St. Louis Rams 6th overall
The troubled Lawrence Phillips played just one and a half seasons for the Rams and averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in 1996 and 3.5 per carry in 1997. An absolute bust, Phillips played just 3 seasons in the NFL and played no part in the Rams becoming a great team in 1999.

#1 pick: Orlando Pace, Offensive Tackle, drafted by the St. Louis Rams
Pace has played a pivotal role in the Rams rise from doormat to dynamo. However, it didn't happen overnight. In 1997, the Rams finished 5-11, and in 1998 they finished 4-12. It wasn't until they added Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt in 1999 that the offense spiked.
#1 running back: Warrick Dunn, drafted by the Tampa Bay Bucs 12th overall
Dunn's arrival coincided with the Bucs late 90's rise from obscurity. However, although he enjoyed several solid seasons in Tampa, it was the earlier drafts of defensive players
John Lynch, Warren Sapp, and Derrick Brooks that formed the foundation for the Bucs improvement.

#1 pick: Peyton Manning, Quarterback, drafted by the Indianapolis Colts
A definite keeper. Contrary to what some talking heads will have you believe, Peyton is the best quarterback in the league. He struggled some his first year throwing 28 interceptions, but the Colts have been in the top 5 in points scored in 6 of the last 7 seasons. Manning has made 5 (soon to be 6) Pro Bowls in that span.
#1 running back: Curtis Enis, drafted by the Chicago Bears 5th overall
The epitome of a bust. Enis lasted 3 seasons and rushed for only 1497 yards in his career.

#1 pick: Tim Couch, Quarterback, drafted by the Cleveland Browns
Even though all top picks are drafted by bad teams, Couch had the misfortune of being drafted by an expansion team. After seeing the previous 2 expansion franchises take the league by storm in their first seasons, the NFL made sure it wouldn't happen again. Couch was surrounded by poor talent his first few seasons in Cleveland, but in his 4th season the Browns made the playoffs. However, it was Kelly Holcomb who put up better stats and started the teams playoff game. Couch would play one more inconsistent season in Cleveland and is presently out of football.
#1 running back: Edgerrin James, drafted by the Indianapolis Colts 4th overall
James is a bona-fide Hall-of-Fame candidate who along with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison has made the Colts a dynamic offensive team for the better part of 7 seasons.

#1 pick: Courtney Brown, Defensive End, drafted by the Cleveland Browns
Another Browns draft pick gone awry. Brown accumulated only 17 sacks in his 5 seasons in Cleveland.

#1 running back: Jamal Lewis, drafted by the Baltimore Ravens 5th overall
Lewis rushed for over 1000 yards in his rookie year when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. However, the strength of that Ravens team was its defense which was historically great. This is not to diminish anything Lewis has done, as he would rush for over 2000 yards in 2003, but he is clearly on the downhill slope of his career. Lewis has rushed for only 638 yards with only a 3.1 average per attempt. When running bakcs go, they go quickly. This should serve as a warning to whichever team happens to draft Reggie Bush not to oveuse him. Lewis is only 26 and is likely finished as a productive runner.

#1 pick: Michael Vick, Quarterback, drafted by the Atlanta Falcons
Vick is one of the most controversial players to rate in NFL history. As a starting quarterback, he has a very gaudy winning percentage, and he is a great runner. However, excluding 2002, his passing has been subpar. Still, he is young (25), has a large upside, and his versatility makes him difficult to defend.
#1 running back: LaDainian Tomlinson, drafted by the San Diego Chargers 5th overall
Tomlinson has been widely regarded as one of the league's best backs since he started playing. I'm not going to dispute that claim. However, the Chargers did not start winning consistently until their quarterback situation improved.

#1 pick: David Carr, Quarterback, drafted by the Houston Texans
Much like Tim Couch, Carr was drafted by an expansion team. With no line to protect him, Carr has been hit more often than a bong at a Cheech and Chong double feature. Carr has talent and their is some offensive talent (Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis) around him. With more blocking, Carr could perhaps develop into a solid NFL quarterback.
#1 running back: William Green, drafted by the Cleveland Browns 16th overall
Another Cleveland Brown bust. Green has never topped the 887 yards he rushed for in his rookie campaign, and his career yards per carry average is a feeble 3.7.

#1 pick: Carson Palmer, Quarterback, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals
It seems as though the Bangals have hit a homerun with this pick. Teaming with 3 members of the Bengals 2001 draft class (Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh), Palmer is having a Pro Bowl season and helping the Bengals on their march to the playoffs.

#1 running back: Willis McGahee, drafted by the Buffalo Bills 23rd overall
McGahee had a decent rookie campaign rushing for over 1000 yards with a 4.0 yards per carry average. He has regressed somewhat this year to 3.8 yards per carry, but has again gone over 1000 yards. Two solid but unspectacular seasons for a great college back. It should be noted that McGahee did blow out his knee 4 months before he was drafted in the Fiesta Bowl.

#1 pick: Eli Manning, Quarterback, drafted by the San Diego Chargers
Manning had one of the worst rookie years imaginable, but has turned things around somewhat in his 2nd year. Although Eli will get a lion's share of credit for the Giants' improvment this season, it is the defense that has carried the Giants.

#1 running back: Steven Jackson, drafted by the St. Louis Rams 24th overall
Marshall Faulk's replacement has performed admirably this season running for over 900 yards and catching 40 passes. If Marc Bulger had played the entire season, his numbers would probably be better since teams would have to focus more on the passing game.

#1 pick: Alex Smith, Quarterback, drafted by the San Francisco 49ers
Smith has sucked to put it mildly. A big goose egg in the touchdown column, 9 interceptions, and a pathetic 4.8 yards per pass attempt highlight Smith's rookie season.

#1 running back: Ronnie Brown, drafted by the Miami Dolphins 2nd overall
Brown has had a very good rookie campaing. Currently he has 841 rushing yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average. Nick Saban appears to have this team headed in the right direction, and Brown could play an integral role on the next Dolphins' playoff team.

Of all the #1 overall picks, there have been 2 busts (Couch and Brown), 2 potential Hall-of-Famers (Manning and Pace), 1 Pro Bowl caliber player (Johnson), 2 above average players (Vick and Johnson) and 3 who the jury is still out on (Carr, Manning, and Smith). My money is on Carr and Manning being average and Smith being a bust. Of all the top drafted running backs, there have been 3 busts (Phillips, Enis, and Green), 2 potential Hall-of-Famers (James and Tomlinson), 2 Pro Bowl caliber player (Dunn and Lewis), and 3 who the jury is still out on (McGahee, Jackson, and Brown). I think Jackson is the best of the lot. Interpret the numbers as you wish, but realize that there is a very real chance that the top pick or top running back drafted has a substantial chance of being a bust.

Now let's compare Bush to Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders. Sayers was a silky smooth runner who averaged 5 yards per carry over his career for the Chicago Bears. However, his career only last for 5 seasons from 1965-1969. From 1970-1971, he played in only 4 games because of injury. However, in the 5 seasons he did play, he was electrifying. He rushed foe over 1000 yards twice (in 14 game seasons) and averaged over 5 yards per rush in every year but 1967. For all his rushing exploits, his teams were never anything better than mediocre. Here's the year-by-year record for Sayers 5 year peak.

1965: 9-5
1966: 5-7-2
1967: 7-6-1
1968: 7-7
1969: 1-13

The Bears never made the playoffs in Sayers' 5 peak seasons. If you're curious, they didn't make it in the 2 years when he was hurt either.

Barry Sanders was another smooth runner who had the potential of going the distance every time he touched the ball. Sanders rushed for over 1000 yards in each of his 10 seasons and average 5 yards per carry over his career with the Detroit Lions. Here's the Lions record for Sanders' 10 year career.

1989: 7-9
1990: 6-10
1991: 12-4
1992: 5-11
1993: 10-6
1994: 9-7
1995: 10-6
1996: 5-11
1997: 9-7
1998: 5-11

The Lions made the playoffs in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995. However, aside from 1991 when they reached the NFC Championship game, they never won a playoff game.

What does this tell us? Even a player with the talent of Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders does not guarantee success for a team if they are surrounded with second-rate talent.

What then should the Texans do? They should trade down from the #1 spot and acquire more draft picks. The Texans need to improve both offensively and defensively. They are 28th in points per game and 30th in points allowed per game. Additionally, one of their best players is a running back. No matter how talented Reggie Bush is, would he be a substantial upgrade over Domanick Davis? Not in my opinion. If the Texans draft Reggie Bush, it would be like taking a beat up Pinto with $1000 rims and replacing them with $1500 rims. It's still a Pinto. End of story. The Texans should trade down and rebuild their offense in the trenches; along the offensive line.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Revisiting Preseason Predictions: Pats on the Back and Mea Culpas

It's time to take a look back at the college football season that was and see how my preseason predictions went.

Good Calls:

1) In my very first post, I had the Tennessee Vols pegged as highly overrated. I said their luck would change this year and it did. Last season, they were 6-1 in games decided by 7 points or less. This season, they were only 3-3 in games decided by 7 points or less.

2) In my post on potential darkhorses, I said Iowa State had a good chance of winning the Big 12 North division. Going into the finale against Kansas, they controlled their own destiny, but fell to the Jayhawks in OT.

3) In that same post I said Oregon would rebound. They went 10-1, with their only blemish coming to Southern Cal.

Bad Calls:

1) I said Pittsburgh was a potential darkhorse in the Big East. They didn't qualify for a bowl game.

2) I said Purdue would contend for the Big 10 championsip. They too failed to qualify for a bowl game.

Average Calls:

1) I said Clemson could contend for the ACC's Atlantic Division championship. They beat Florida State and took Miami and Boston College to OT before losing. If they had not lost to Wake Forest they would have played in the first ever ACC Championship Game.

2) I said Florida would win the SEC East. They beat their 3 main rivals, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida State. However, they lost to South Carolina and missed out on the SEC Championship Game thanks to that defeat.

3) I said Fresno State had a chance to crash the BCS party. Prior to Thanksgiving, their only losses were by 3 points to 10-1 Oregon and by 8 points to undefeated Southern Cal (both on the road). However, they lost any good will generated by those close defeats in losing consecutive games to WAC foes Nevada and Louisiana Tech.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Anti-Holy Roller or The Frivolous Foist

In an otherwise forgettable matchup between a 2-10 and 4-8 team, one of the most amazing plays and subsequent rulings I have ever seen happened on ESPN last night. If you don't know about the infamous 'Holy Roller' or 'Immaculate Deception' play, read about it here. But I digress. The scene Sunday night at Lambeau Field was as follows: Green Bay had the ball 1st and 10 inside their own 1 yard line after the Lions turned the ball over on downs and Green Bay committed a false start on 1st down resulting in perhaps the shortest penalty in history. The score is tied at 13 and there is about 7 minutes to go in the game. Brett Favre hands off to Samkon Gado, who is about to be tackled in the endzone by Lions Linebacker Earl Holmes. As he is falling to the ground, Gado appears at first glance to intentionally fumble the ball forward and out of the endzone where it is recovered at the 1 yard line by Packers Fullback Vonta Leach (who incidentally started this whole chain of events by blocking no one on the play). After a lengthy discussion, the referees rule this intentional fumble a forward pass and call Gado for intentional grounding resulting in a safety and giving the Lions a 15-13 lead with an ensuing free kick to come. There is also a holding call on Green Bay Tackle Mark Tauscher that is going to be controversial as well in a moment. However, Mike Sherman throws his red challenge flag, and although this play cannot be challenged the officials have another conference call where they change their initial ruling. They now rule that since Gado is behind the line of scrimage and out of the 'pocket' he is afforded the same advantages as any quarterback and any pass he throws simply has to make it back to the line of scrimage to avoid intentional grounding. There are some serious issues in regards to fair competition with this ruling. Since the play was an obvious run, I doubt any officials were looking for any illegal men (linemen) downfield who may have been blocking. While a call for such a penalty in this situation would not have resulted in a safety, the simple fact that officials are not looking for the call sets bad precendent on the off chance that the 'pass' is complete and a long gain ensues. Furthermore, there is a rule in place to protect passers in the NFL. From the NFL rulebook: "Officials are to blow the play dead as soon as the quarterback is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler, and his safety is in jeopardy." This rule is designed to prevent quarterbacks from being held up by one pass rusher and then summarily drilled by another. If Gado is afforded the same luxury as Favre when he is out of the pocket, he should also be called in the grasp when it is obvious his forward progress has been stopped and he is on the way down. Now back to the aforementioned holding call. Although replays showed the hold by Tauscher clearly occurred in the endzone, officials ruled it happened at the 1 yard line. Any hold in the endzone would result in a safety, but the hold at the 1 yard line would simply have resulted in a new record for shortest penalty in NFL history. Taking the only option afforded them, the Lions declined the holding penalty and when the smoke cleared, it was 2nd and 10 from the 1 yard line. Green Bay eventually got a first down and got out of the shadow of their own goal line. Even though they did not win the game on this drive, they would go on to win in overtime on a Ryan Longwell Field Goal. It is highly likely that the officials' decision cost the Lions the game. Further proof that the NFL is the greatest spectator sport. Could you have been entertained as much by 2 NBA or MLB teams who were just playing out the string?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

NFL Week Fourteen Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 15-1
Overall: 128-62

Chicago at Pittsburgh
Winner: Pittsburgh

Houston at Tennessee
Winner: Tennessee

Indianapolis at Jacksonville
Winner: Indianapolis

New England at Buffalo: The Bills are a different team at Rich Stadium.
Winner: Buffalo

Oakland at New York Jets
Winner: Oakland

Cleveland at Cincinnati
Winner: Cincinnati

Tampa Bay at Carolina
Winner: Carolina

St. Louis at Minnesota
Winner: Minnesota

San Francisco at Seattle
Winner: Seattle

New York Giants at Philadelphia
Winner: New York Giants

Washington at Arizona
Winner: Arizona

Kansas City at Dallas
Winner: Kansas City

Miami at San Diego
Winner: San Diego

Baltimore at Denver
Winner: Denver

Detroit at Green Bay
Winner: Detroit

New Orleans at Atlanta
Winner: Atlanta

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Blog Poll Week 15

1. Texas (12-0)-- Dropped 70 on the Buffs. (LW 2)
2. Southern Cal (12-0)-- Hopefully the Rose Bowl lives up to the hype. (LW 1)
3. Penn St. (10-1)-- Septuagenarian Bowl versus Mr. Bowden. (LW 3)
4. Miami (9-2)-- Peach Bowl against an humbled LSU team. (LW 6)
5. Ohio St. (9-2)-- Ready to knock off the Irish. (LW 7)
6. Auburn (9-2)-- Gonna send Barry Alvarez home a loser. (LW 8)
7. Georgia (10-2)-- Intriguing game against West Virginia. (LW 12)
8. Virginia Tech (10-2)-- Hokies return to Jacksonville. (LW 4)
9. Oregon (10-1)-- Battle of the OU's in the Holiday Bowl. (LW 9)
10. Louisiana St. (10-2)-- Have to settle for the Peach Bowl. (LW 5)
11. Notre Dame (9-2)-- Gonna get stomped by an OSU in Tempe just like 5 years ago. (LW 11)
12. Alabama (9-2)-- Strength versus strength against Texas Tech. (LW 13)
13. West Virginia (10-1)-- A worthy opponent for the Bulldogs. (LW 14)
14. TCU (10-1)-- Headed to Houston. (LW 15)
15. Louisville (9-2)-- Offense will be put to the test against VT. (LW 16)
16. Michigan (7-4)-- Remember the Alamo. (LW 17)
17. UCLA (9-2)-- The Great Pretender. (LW 10)
18. Wisconsin (9-3)-- Tough closer for Barry Alvarez. (LW 18)
19. Florida (8-3)-- Outback Bowl. (LW 19)
20. Texas Tech (9-2)-- Prove it game against 'Bama in the Cotton Bowl. (LW 20)
21. Oklahoma (7-4)-- Real chance to knock of the Ducks. (LW 21)
22. Boston College (8-3)-- Shipped of to Boise. (LW 22)
23. Iowa (7-4)-- Outback Bowl. (LW 23)
24. Clemson (7-4)-- Maybe they'll take a side trip to Disney World. (LW 25)
25. South Carolina (7-4)-- Abe Simpson: "I'll be long dead in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Mizzoura." (LW NR)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Ball Guy

Typically in the game of football, quarterbacks get too much credit for leading their teams to wins and too much blame causing their teams to lose. However, in the case of Georgia Tech football, its almost impossible to assign too much blame on Reggie Ball. Not since Byron Leftwich, has a player been carried more by the team he played for. Georgia Tech went 7-4 almost entirely on the strength of their defense. The Yellow Jackets rank 16th nationally in scoring defense, giving up an average of 18.5 point per game. If you remove the debacle against Virginia Tech, they drop down to 15.2 points per game. They are 10th nationally in yards per game, allowing a scant 296 per contest. They are also 17th nationally in yards per play giving up an average of 4.6 yards per play. While not perfect indicators of how well a defense has played, points, yardage, and yards per play are probably the three best indicators of performance at the college level where there is a dearth of advanced stats like the ones you might find at Football Outsiders.

If the defense is this good, why has Georgia Tech lost 4 games? Look no further than the other side of the Ball. Georgia Tech is 99th in scoring offense averaging a paltry 19.3 points per game. They are 81st in yards per game with 352. So who bears the responsibility for this offensive ineptitude? All the evidence points squarely at Reggie Ball. Consider this, Georgia Tech is 48th nationally in rushing yards per game with 156 per contest. Hardly dominant, but at least in the top half of Division I teams. They are 90th in passing yards per game averaging 190 per contest. So why does Georgia Tech struggle so much in the pasing game? Reggie Ball's horrible accuracy is to blame.

In my opinion, completion percentage is a highly overrated statistic. Short dump offs in the flat can drive up a quarterback's completion percentage and not do much at all to help a team win games. That is why yards per pass attempt is a much better measure of a quarterback's passing ability. However, Division I quarterbacks need to complete more than half the passes they throw. For the season, Reggie Ball has a completion percentage of 48%. He has completed 164 passes, and has thrown 178 incompletions. Out of 121 Division I quarterbacks who have thrown more than 100 passes, he ranks 116th in completion percentage. Only Allan Evridge (Kansas State), Perry Patterson Jr. (Syracuse), Austen Everson (Ohio), Erik Ainge (Tennessee), and Carl Meadows (Troy) have a worse completion percentage. What makes Reggie's inaccuracy mind-boggling is the presence of Calvin Johnson. Only a sophomore, Johnson is an All-American wide receiver. Defenses also typically double his side of the field; a practice that should lead to easier throws to Tech's other receivers.

Of course, even a quarterback with a low completion percentage can do other things to help his team win. Take the case of Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson. Robinson is not a great passer (he completed a little less than 52% of his passes), but he tossed more touchdowns than interceptions: 16 to 9 (as opposed to 10 and 10 for Ball), and also ran well: 137 rushes for 855 yards, 6.2 average per rush, and 11 touchdowns. Many people similarly believe Ball is a good running quarterback. He's not. Ball rushed 87 times for 429 yards (a 4.9 average) and 4 touchdowns.

In the home loss to NC State, the offense managed only 14 points. In the home victory over Clemson, the offense managed only 10 points. In the home loss to Georgia, the offense managed only 7 points. In the road win at Miami, the offense scored only 14 points. In the two games where the defense struggled (at Virginia Tech and at Virginia), the offense managed a combined 24 points. If Georgia Tech had gotten just average production from the quarterback position they could have finished 9-2. As it stands, a solid defensive performance will be wasted as Tech travels to San Francisco for the prestigious Emerald Bowl.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

NFL Week Thirteen Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 10-6
Overall: 113-61

Buffalo at Miami
Winner: Miami

Atlanta at Carolina
Winner: Carolina

Dallas at New York Giants
Winner: New York Giants

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: If the Bengals win, they have a 2 game division lead.
Winner: Cincinnati

Green Bay at Chicago
Winner: Chicago

Houston at Baltimore
Winner: Baltimore

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Winner: Tampa Bay

Jacksonville at Cleveland: Winter Wonderland.
Winner: Cleveland

Minnesota at Detroit
Winner: Minnesota

Tennessee at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Arizona at San Francisco: Very quietly, Kurt Warner has had 3 good games in a row since returning to the starting lineup.
Winner: Arizona

Washington at St. Louis: How many gamblers and fantasy football players will be jumping off buildings after taking Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick against a real NFL defense, and not the NCAA-caliber Texans?
Winner: Washington

New York Jets at New England
Winner: New England

Denver at Kansas City
Winner: Kansas City

Oakland at San Diego
Winner: San Diego

Seattle at Philadelphia
Winner: Seattle

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I may be overstepping my boundaries into Frank and Michael's territory, but I just thought this was interesting:

A republican helping a black man out? What is the world coming to?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Blog Poll Week 14

1. Southern Cal (11-0)-- DNP. Up next UCLA. (LW 1)
2. Texas (11-0)-- Got a scare from A&M. (LW 2)
3. Penn St. (10-1)-- DNP. (LW 3)
4. Virginia Tech (10-1)-- On to Jacksonville. (LW 4)
5. Louisiana St. (10-1)-- Got all they could handle from Arkansas. (LW 5)
6. Miami (9-2)-- Sleepwalked against the Cavs. (LW 6)
7. Ohio St. (9-2)-- DNP. (LW 7)
8. Auburn (9-2)-- DNP. (LW 8)
9. Oregon (10-1)-- DNP. Anxiously waiting for Notre Dame to steal their BCS bid. (LW 9)
10. UCLA (9-1)-- DNP. Get the Trojans this week. (LW 10)
11. Notre Dame (9-2)-- Won at Stanford by 7. Oregon won at Stanford by 24. I'm just saying. (LW 11)
12. Georgia (9-2)-- The game against Georgia Tech requires 'futher review'. (LW 12)
13. Alabama (9-2)-- DNP. (LW 13)
14. West Virginia (9-1)-- Thankfully, they clinched the BCS bid after South Florida lost Saturday. (LW 14)
15. TCU (10-1)-- DNP. (LW 15)
16. Louisville (8-2)-- Close the season with a tough game at Connecticut. (LW 18)
17. Michigan (7-4)-- DNP. (LW 19)
18. Wisconsin (9-3)-- Took care of business at Hawaii. (LW 21)
19. Florida (8-3)-- Beat down an impotent Florida State team. (LW 23)
20. Texas Tech (9-2)-- DNP. (LW 22)
21. Oklahoma (7-4)-- They'll be back next year. (LW NR)
22. Boston College (8-3)-- DNP. (LW NR)
23. Iowa (7-4)-- DNP. (LW NR)
24. Fresno St. (8-3)-- For all their non-conference accolades, still can't win an outright WAC title. (LW 16)
25. Clemson (7-4)-- DNP. (LW NR)

Teams with losing records that will be in the Top 25 next season:

Arkansas (4-7): A 4 point loss to Vandy, 3 point loss to Georgia, 4 point loss to South Carolina, and a 2 point loss to LSU, as well as stud freshman running back Darren McFadden and improving freshman quarterback Casey Dick portend good things in Razorbacks' future.

Texas A&M (5-6): I liked what I saw from freshman quarterback Stephen McGee in the Texas game.

Pittsburgh (5-6): Despite starting the season 1-4 (including a devastating loss to Ohio), the Panthers nearly rebounded to become bowl-eligible.

Purdue (5-6): Won their last 3 after starting 2-6. Joe Tiller won't have many losing seasons.

SMU (5-6): I can't name a single player on the team, but I do know the Mustangs defeated 3 teams with winning records (TCU, UTEP, and Houston) and won 5 games for the first time since 1998. Here's hoping the Pony Express has turned a corner under coach Phil Bennett.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is Meyer an Urban Legend?

Urban Meyer has gotten of to what can best be described as an uneven start at Florida. He has beaten all the teams he should, with the exception of South Carolina, and he has lost to all the teams he should with the exception of Georgia. However, many pundits (myself included) were expecting more from Urban Meyer this season. Everyone was anxious to see whether his ‘spread option’ would wreck havoc on SEC defenses or be exposed as a gimmick offense that was incapable of sustained success against the country’s best athletes. We should have looked at his track record. It’s in his teams 2nd season where the offense takes a dramatic step forward.

When Meyer arrived at Bowling Green in 2001, he inherited a team that had gone 2-9 the previous season and scored an average of 15.8 points per game. His 2001 squad finished 8-3 and averaged 30.3 points per game. Meyer clearly defibrillated a pulse-less offense in his first year, but it was in his 2nd season when Bowling Green would make a complete recovery. His 2002 team finished 9-3 and averaged 40.8 points per game. Some highlights from the year included hanging 51 on the Big 12’s Missouri and dropping a cool 72 on Ohio. In his two years at the helm, Meyer’s defenses were never spectacular (they allowed 19.5 points per game in 2001 and 25.3 points per game in 2002), so it was primarily his offensive philosophy and expertise that won games.

After the 2002 season, Meyer left Bowling Green and headed west for the University of Utah. The Runnin’ Utes were coming off a season where they had gone 5-6 and scored 22.6 points per game. In Meyer’s first season they finished 10-2 and averaged 28.7 points per game. However, once again it was in Meyer’s 2nd season when his offense began to roll. His 2004 team finished 12-0 and averaged 45.3 points per game. They dropped big numbers on bowl-bound BCS teams: 41 on Texas A&M, 46 on North Carolina, and 35 on Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. Similar to his defenses at Bowling Green, at Utah they were solid, but not spectacular. His teams allowed 19.1 points per game in 2003 and 19.5 points per game in 2004.

In this, his first season at Florida, Meyer inherited a team that went 7-5 and averaged 31.8 points per game. This season, Meyer’s team is currently 8-3 and averages 28.4 points per game. For all the flak Meyer has taken, and no matter what happens in the bowl game, Florida will have a better record this season than last. Florida lost to a top-10 Alabama team when they still had Tyrone Prothro (and some semblance of offensive fortitude), a top-5 LSU team, and to an admitted mediocre South Carolina team, all on the road. However, Florida avoided a truly terrible loss that cost Ron Zook his job last year (Mississippi State). They even added an upset of Georgia for good measure and defeated their other two main rivals, Tennessee and Florida State. This marked the first time they pulled this particular hat-trick since 1996. Even though this season may be seen as a disappointment by some college football observers and Florida alumni, Florida is a better team under Urban Meyer. Furthermore, judging by Meyer’s track record, Florida’s offense should improve dramatically in his 2nd year at the helm. Look for the 2006 Gators to be the team most thought the 2005 squad would be.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

NFL Week Twelve Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 11-5
Overall: 103-55

Atlanta at Detroit: Isn't it ironic that in Atlanta's last 2 games, Michael Vick has had his best passing days of the year and yet his team has lost both? Why aren't his 'intangibles' winning those games?
Winner: Detroit

Denver at Dallas
Winner: Dallas

New England at Kansas City: Two good quarterbacks against two banged up secondaries. I'll go with the home team and the better running attack.
Winner: Kansas City

Carolina at Buffalo
Winner: Carolina

Baltimore at Cincinnati
Winner: Cincinnati

San Diego at Washington
Winner: San Diego

Chicago at Tampa Bay
Winner: Tampa Bay

Cleveland at Minnesota
Winner: Minnesota

San Francisco at Tennessee
Winner: Tennessee

St. Louis at Houston
Winner: St. Louis

Jacksonville at Arizona
Winner: Arizona

Miami at Oakland
Winner: Oakland

Green Bay at Philadelphia
Winner: Philadelphia

New York Giants at Seattle
Winner: Seattle

New Orleans at New York Jets
Winner: New York Jets

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Early Season Upsets

Every November we see them or hear about them. Then as Christmas comes and we ring in the New Year, these giant-killers seem to go into hibernation (playing conference games). Some wilt in their conference schedule and prove their eary season serendipity to be nothing but luck and happenstance. However, some survive their conference marathon and the final sprint in the conference tourney. Then on Selection Sunday, we hear their name and it sounds oh so familiar. Like a classmate from 9th Grade English, we know we have heard the name before. Of these early season shockers, which teams are likely to use them as springboards to solid seasons and which are likely to fade back into the same obscurity from which they recently emerged?

Hawaii: They routed Michigan State by 22 on Saturday. However, as Ken Pomeroy (the Bill James of college hoops) points out, Hawaii has one of, if not the largest homefield advantage in the nation. Case in point: The Rainbows lost on the road to a UNLV team that is mediocre at best. Until they start winning consistently on the mainland, they will fade from our collective memory faster than Bob Patterson.

Winthrop: Over the weekend, the Eagles stormed into Milwaukee and won the tourney hosted by Marquette (highlighted by a 7 point win over the host in the final). Historically, the Big South winner has gotten no higher than a 13 seed, and is typically given the kiss of death 15 or 16 seed. However, if Winthrop can roll through the Big South rather easily, they could be in line for perhaps a 12 or maybe even an 11 seed if they catch some breaks. Should they lose in the conference tourney, an at-large bid is an almost impossibility, but Winthrop will have their chance to impress the selection committee with remaining non-conference games at Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn, and Memphis.

CS Northridge: The Matadors upset Southern Cal in OT on Sunday and kept their momentum going by squeaking by Tulsa last night. The Trojans may not be the class of the Pac 10, but a win on the road against a school from a big time conference is nothing to dismiss. With Utah State out of the Big West, and with Pacific hit by graduation, perhaps the Matadors will step up and take the conference crown.

UC Irvine: Another Big West school that pulled off a Pac 10 shocker over the weekend. The Anteaters won at Stanford on Saturday. They already have one loss (their first game against George Mason), but they have to be mentioned with CS Northridge when discussing the Big West's early season favorites.

Sam Houston State: In what was likely simply an early season slip-up, the Missouri Tigers lost a home game to a low-major school on November 14th. Sam Houston could not continue their momentum as they lost on the road to a solid Drexel team 3 days later. However, even in the loss, they acquitted themselves quite well. Garnering an at-large bid or even a decent seed out of their conference is a monumental task. Although they could very well pull a General Sherman and dominate the Southland.

Colorado State: On Monday, the Rams butted their way to a one-point home upset of in-state rival Colorado. This is probably the least impressive of the early season shockers since it was at home to an in-state rival. I have nothing more to say. Stay tuned.

Bucknell: 2nd verse, same as the first. The Bison, last seen shocking 3rd seeded Kansas 8 months ago, shocked Syracuse in the Dome last night. While the Patriot Act is intrusive and downright un-American, the Patriot League is something Washington, Lincoln, and maybe even Jefferson could get behind.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Blog Poll Week 13

1. Southern Cal (11-0)-- Survived a red scare from Fresno. (LW 1)
2. Texas (10-0)-- Only A&M and the Big 12 championship game stand between them and a Rose Bowl date. (LW 2)
3. Penn St. (10-1)-- Congrats Jo Pa. (LW 4)
4. Virginia Tech (9-1)-- Dominated the Cavs in Charlottsville. (LW 5)
5. Louisiana St. (9-1)-- Arkansas is their last hurdle to an SEC West title. (LW 6)
6. Miami (8-2)-- Probably blew a BCS bid with the loss to Georgia Tech. (LW 3)
7. Ohio St. (9-2)-- Tressel the anti-John Cooper. (LW 7)
8. Auburn (9-2)-- Pulling hard for the Hogs this week. (LW 12)
9. Oregon (10-1)-- Won last 3 games without Clemens. (LW 10)
10. UCLA (9-1)-- Still waiting on the Trojans. (LW 11)
11. Notre Dame (8-2)-- Don't deserve a BCS bid. (Lw 9)
12. Georgia (8-2)-- SEC East champs. (LW 13)
13. Alabama (9-2)-- Season definitely lost its luster. (LW 8)
14. West Virginia (8-1)-- Moving up by default. (LW 15)
15. TCU (10-1)-- Ditto. (LW 16)
16. Fresno St. (8-2)-- No shame in the way they played the Trojans. In fact, if you figure homefield is worth 3 points then they actually performed better than the Irish. However, they will get about 1/10 the media attention. (LW 17)
17. Iowa St. (7-3)-- Tough game this week at Kansas. (LW 18)
18. Louisville (7-2)-- Get the 'Cuse at home this week. (LW 20)
19. Michigan (7-4)-- Carr stuck in neutral against Tressel. (LW 14)
20. Colorado (7-3)-- If they beat Nebraska, they win the Big 12 North. (LW 23)
21. Wisconsin (8-3)-- Spend the holidays in Hawaii. (LW NR)
22. Texas Tech (9-2)-- Worst 9-win team ever? (LW NR)
23. Florida (7-3)-- Close with a big rivalry game. (LW 21)
24. Florida St. (7-3)-- Chance to have 5 losses when they go bowling! (LW 22)
25. Georgia Tech (7-3)-- Didn't see that one coming. (LW NR)

Creeping around:

Oklahoma (6-4): Got the shaft against the Red Raiders.
UTEP (8-2): Still have work to do.
Boston College (8-3): How did they lose to North Carolina?
South Carolina (7-4): Proof once and for all that winning close games ain't a matter of skill.
Clemson (7-4): Tommy owns Carolina.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Ode to Bill Snyder

Please don't eat me.

Last Tuesday, the architect of one of the greatest turnarounds in NCAA football history announced he would be coaching his last game on Saturday. In a Gipper-esque game that could not have been scripted any better by Hollywood, Bill Snyder went out a winner against Missouri. He gave a speech, hugged Willie the Wildcat, and was carried off the field by his players. The last 2 seasons have been disappointing in Manhattan, but that should not detract from the job Snyder has done since taking over the moribund program in 1989. I fell in love with Kansas State in the early to mid-90’s; probably around 1994. Being a Wake Forest football fan, I needed another team to root for during college football season. Being a fan of sports history even then, I was drawn to this team that had once been terrible and was now stomping on the throats of the bullies who formerly took their lunch money. I suppose deep down, the real reason I rooted so hard for Kansas State was that if it could be done in Manhattan, Kansas, it could be done in Winston-Salem.

When Snyder arrived on campus in 1989, after serving as Hayden Fry’s offensive coordinator for 10 seasons at Iowa, the Wildcats were coming off consecutive winless seasons (0-11 in 88 and 0-10-1 in 87). They had gone to one bowl game in their history, an appearance in the Independence Bowl in 1982. Besides 1982, their last season with a winning record was 1970. Their previous (and only) conference championship had come in 1934 under head coach ‘Pappy’ Waldorf. Waldorf only coached the team for the 1934 season, and after his departure the highest career winning percentage for a Kansas State coach was .467 by his successor Wesley Fry. Kansas State also had the worst historical winning percentage of any Division I team in 1989. Worse than Rutgers, worse than Northwestern, worse than Vanderbilt, worse than Wake Forest, worse than Temple,… etc. To say he was walking into a less-than enviable position would be an understatement.

His 1989 team didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Their only victory was over North Texas, a team that was not Division I at the time. They also lost to non-Division I Northern Iowa and finished 0-7 in the Big 8 Conference. In 1990, the Wildcats improved to 5-6. In the process, they won their first conference game since 1986 as they finished 2-5 in Big 8 play. 1991 was Kansas State’s breakthrough season. The team finished the season on a 3 game winning streak and had a final record of 7-4 (they did not play in a bowl game since 2 of their wins were over non-Division I teams at the time). They also posted a winning record (4-3) in Big 8 play. In 1992, the team was hit hard by graduation and took a step back finishing at 5-6. 1993 marked the beginning of more than a decade of excellence. Kansas State finished 9-2-1 and won the first bowl game in the program’s history. Kansas State would go on to win no fewer than 9 games every season until 2001 and appear in a bowl game every year until 2004. The zenith of Kansas State’s success occurred between 1997-2000. During those 4 seasons, the Wildcats won 11 games each year and finished with a combined record of 44-7. They won 3 bowl games, 2 Big 12 North titles, and at one point in 1998 were ranked number one in the nation. 2001 saw the Wildcats regress to 6-6, but they rebounded the next two seasons winning 11 games in both 2002 and 2003. The 2003 season was special for several reasons. Kansas State beat Nebraska in Lincoln for the first time since 1968. Then on December 6th, they upset top ranked Oklahoma to win the Big 12 championship. This was Kansas State’s first conference title since 1934.

Snyder has been roundly criticized for his charmin-esque non-conference scheduling. Although he has scheduled his fair share of North Texases and New Mexico States, his teams have played some solid non-conference games in recent years including Fresno State, Cal, Marshall, Southern Cal, and Iowa. In fact, Kansas State is the last non-Pac 10 team to defeat Southern Cal. In fact they own a 2 game winning streak over the Trojans having beaten them in 2001 and 2002.

Clearly, Bill Snyder is a Hall-of-Fame coach. He did more than resurrect a downtrodden program, he built it in his own image. He is a meticulous hand-on coach who goes so far as to make his players set their watches 5 minutes ahead so they will always be on time. During the season he sleeps about 5 hours per night and burns the midnight oil breaking down film. His numbers speak to his success. His lifetime record is 136-68-1. In conference play it is still a stellar 75-53-1. Furthermore, many of his assistants have gone on to become successful head coaches. Among them are Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, and Mark Mangino. He may never have won a national championship, but then neither did Bo Schembechler. I’ll close this piece with some praise from the immortal Barry Switzer. While he may not know much about airport security, he does know football. "Bill Snyder isn't the coach of the year, and he isn't the coach of the decade, he's the coach of the century."

NFL Week Eleven Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 9-5
Overall: 92-50

Arizona at St. Louis
Winner: St. Louis

Detroit at Dallas
Winner: Dallas

Philadelphia at New York Giants
Winner: New York Giants

Oakland at Washington
Winner: Washington

Carolina at Chicago
Winner: Carolina

Miami at Cleveland: South Florida team outside in the cold.
Winner: Cleveland

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Winner: Tampa Bay

New Orleans at New England
Winner: New England

Jacksonville at Tennessee
Winner: Jacksonville

Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Winner: Pittsburgh

Seattle at San Francisco
Winner: Seattle

Indianapolis at Cincinnati: Indy remains undefeated for 1 more week.
Winner: Indianapolis

New York Jets at Denver
Winner: Denver

Buffalo at San Diego
Winner: San Diego

Kansas City at Houston
Winner: Kansas City

Minnesota at Green Bay: Unless the Vikes get 3 returns for TDs, the Pack rolls.
Winner: Green Bay

Saturday, November 19, 2005

College Weekend Preview

Since its rivalry weekend, there will be no conference affiliations in the picks.

Weekend Six-Pack:

Virginia Tech at Virginia
The Hokies have not played since their humbling at the hands of Miami 2 weeks ago. The Cavs are undefeated at home and looking to improve their bowl-standing by knocking off the highly-ranked Hokies. The Hokies have won 5 of the last 6 in the series and will continue their psuedo-dominance today.
Winner: Virginia Tech

Ohio State at Michigan
The Buckeyes have beaten every team they have played that has been either bad, average, or good. However, they have not been able to break through against the truly elite teams (Penn State and Texas). So what kind of team is Michigan? Are they elite? Let's examine their losses. The Notre Dame loss appears to be an aberration as several trips inside the 10 resulted in no points. In the Wisconsin loss, they outgained the Badgers by over 100 yards and were unable to recover any of Wisconsin's 3 fumbles (teams recover about half of their own and opponent's fumbles). Against Minnesota, Gary Russell scampered 61 yards to set up the winning field goal when the Gophers were playing for overtime. Since that Minnesota loss, Michigan has won 4 straight (including a win over Penn State). Despite their 3 losses, Michigan is a very good team and they will TCB at home.
Winner: Michigan

Alabama at Auburn
Last week, the Tides defense almost single handedly won the game against LSU. Meanwhile, Auburn went between the hedges and knocked off Georgia in the closing seconds. Thus, it is almost assured that the SEC West winner will grab the conferences BCS berth. However, the winner of this game may not be the West winner thanks to LSU's victories over both teams. Auburn is riding a hot streak and playing at home while 'Bama's offense remains impotent.
Winner: Auburn

Clemson at South Carolina
Gamecock fans are absolutely delirious nowadays thanks to their recent success under Steve Spurrier. However, it should be noted that the SEC East is down this year. Spurrier's marquee wins have been at home over 7-3 Florida, at home against 7-3 Central Florida, and on the road against 4-5 Tennessee. The combined margin of victory in those games is 18 points, meaning Carolina has hardly been blowing good teams away. Despite their 4 losses, Clemson is a good team. Their 4 losses have been by a combined 14 points, and 3 of the losses have come against winning teams. If there is one difference between the 2 schools its this: Carolina almost never loses to a team it should beat, and until this year almost never beats a team it should lose to. Clemson on the other hand, may lose some games to a team it should beat (Wake Forest), but often balances it out by beating a team it shouldn't (Florida State). Carolina is consistent. Clemson is not. In a one-on-one matchup, I'll take the inconsistent team with better talent. Besides Sidney Rice and Ko Simpson (and Steve Spurrier), there is not a single player on Carolina that I would take over their Clemson counterpart.
Winner: Clemson

Fresno State at Southern Cal
This is Fresno's chance to elevate their program to a new level. Knocking off the 2-time defending champs in their own backyard would be a monumental upset. Fresno State will keep the game close for a half, but Southern Cal is simply too talented to lose at home to a mid-major foe.
Winner: Southern Cal

Oregon State at Oregon
If the Ducks can knock off the Beavs in the Civil War, they will be 10-1 and have an outside shot at a BCS bid. The Beavs need to win this game just to become bowl eligible. Since losing their quarterback Kellen Clemens against Arizona, Oregon has squeaked by Cal and Washington State. That trend will continue as they do just enough to beat their bitter rivals and conclude a 10-1 regular season.
Winner: Oregon

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Cock n' Fire Vs. The Duke n' Cover

Steve Spurrier’s first team at South Carolina is eerily similar to his second team at Duke. In 1988, his Duke team finished 7-3-1. His Carolina team is currently 7-3. Both his teams were taken behind the woodshed twice. Duke lost by 32 at Clemson and 19 to Wake Forest while Carolina was decimated by 31 at Auburn and 23 to Alabama. Both his teams had a knack for winning close games. His Duke team was 4-0-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. His Carolina team is 4-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. With the combination of close wins and blowout losses both his teams had very small point differentials. His Duke squad allowed the same number of points that they scored while Carolina has outscored their opponents by only 16 points. I suppose the question I’m trying to gleam from this observation is: Just how good are the Gamecocks? They clearly are not a dominant team. The losses to Auburn and Alabama prove that. They are also a little lucky to be where they are. If Arian Foster doesn’t fumble on the 1-yard line, if Josh Brown doesn’t nail that 49 yard field goal, if Jamaal Anderson’s interception return for a TD isn’t nullified by penalty, if Houston Nutt hadn’t gone for a 4th down from his own 29 in the 1st quarter, if Chris Tucker doesn’t make like George Rogers on his interception return, if Florida doesn’t have 12 men on the field… Of course I am in no way disparaging the OBC. However, these wins need to be put into proper context. Tennessee is down this year and may not make a bowl, Arkansas is down and will not make a bowl, and Florida is still learning Urban Meyer’s system. Still, the wins count, no matter how you get them. This season will no doubt help Spurrier in his recruiting. However, let’s not start creaming ourselves just yet. For all his offensive genius, this year’s Gamecocks are averaging 2.4 more points per game than last year’s version. If the balls bounced a little differently last year against Georgia and Ole Miss, Lou Holtz’s final team could have been 8-3. We won’t know how good these Gamecocks truly are until after their bowl game. To be sure, Spurrier is on the right track at South Carolina, a school with some of the most loyal fans in the nation, but wasn’t that the consensus 4 years ago after consecutive bowl appearances under Holtz?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Blog Poll Week 12

1. Southern Cal (10-0)-- Only 2 home games stand between them and a Rose Bowl bid. (LW 1)
2. Texas (10-0)-- Scored 52 on a good Kansas defense... in the first half. (LW 2)
3. Miami (8-1)-- After falling behind 17-13 to Wake, did not give up another point. (LW 3)
4. Penn St. (9-1)-- Finish a spectacular regular season at East Lansing. (LW 5)
5. Virgina Tech (8-1)-- Rivalry game at Virgina upcoming. (LW 7)
6. Louisiana St. (8-1)-- Beating this version of Alabama not as impressive since their offense is stuck in the 19th Century. (LW 9)
7. Ohio St. (8-2)-- As always, the Michigan game is huge. (LW 8)
8. Alabama (9-1)-- If they lose to Auburn, could go from Rose Bowl hopeful to Citrus Bowl participant in 8 day span. (LW 4)
9. Notre Dame (7-2)-- The dominance over Navy continues. (LW 10)
10. Oregon (9-1)-- Another close call, this time at Wazzu. (LW 11)
11. UCLA (9-1)-- No hangover after loss to Arizona. (LW 12)
12. Auburn (8-2)-- Finally beat a good team. (LW 16)
13. Georgia (7-2)-- If they lose to Kentucky... (LW 7)
14. Michigan (7-3)-- Turned it around since their early-season funk. (LW 18)
15. West Virginia (8-1)-- Showdown with Pitt on T-giving. (LW 19)
16. TCU (10-1)-- If only they didn't blow that game to SMU. (LW 20)
17. Fresno St. (8-1)-- Chance to be the giant-killer of all giant-killers this weekend. (LW 21)
18. Iowa St. (7-3)-- Have to be kicking themselves for losing at home to Baylor. (LW NR)
19. Oklahoma (6-3)--Currently in 2nd place in the Big 12 South. (LW 25)
20. Louisville (7-2)-- Headed for a 10-win season. (LW 22)
21. Florida (7-3)-- You down with OBC? Yeah you know me. (LW 13)
22. Florida St. (7-3)-- No offensive TD's against Clemson. (LW 14)
23. Colorado (7-3)-- Still one win away from a rematch with Texas. (LW 17)
24. South Carolina (7-3)-- They sure ain't pretty. (LW NR)
25. UTEP (8-1)-- Mike Price bringing the heat. (LW NR)

Creeping around:

Wisconsin (8-3): Nice regular-season closer at Hawaii in 2 weeks.
Texas Tech (8-2): Nice work boys.
Boston College (7-3): Loss to Carolina cost them a spot in Jacksonville.
Clemson (6-4): Coming to Cola-town this week.
Boise St. (7-3): No WAC titles this year.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

NFL Week Ten Pigskin Pickin'

Last Week: 8-6
Overall: 83-45

Kansas City at Buffalo: Chiefs are actually better off now that Priest Holmes can't take away carries from LJ.
Winner: Kansas City

Washington at Tampa Bay
Winner: Tampa Bay

New England at Miami
Winner: New England

San Francisco at Chicago
Winner: Chicago

Minnesota at New York Giants: Methinks this will be a lot closer than the experts believe.
Winner: New York Giants

Arizona at Detroit
Winner: Detroit

Baltimore at Jacksonville: The Return of Kyle Boller.
Winner: Baltimore

Houston at Indianapolis
Winner: Indianapolis

New York Jets at Carolina
Winner: Carolina

Denver at Oakland
Winner: Oakland

St. Louis at Seattle: If you're waiting for the annual Seattle swoon, you'll be very disappointed.
Winner: Seattle

Green Bay at Atlanta: Upset special.
Winner: Green Bay

Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Winner: Pittsburgh

Dallas at Philadelphia
Winner: Philadelphia

Saturday, November 12, 2005

College Weekend Preview

It's weekends like this that make college footbball the sport it is. So many great games all day long.

Weekend Six-Pack:

ACC Game: Georgia Tech at Virginia
The Yellow Jackets and Wahoo get together in a game of dire importance to both schools. Should Georgia Tech lose this game, and with Miami and Georgia still to play, there is a good chance they will finish 6-5. A season that started off with such promise after a win at Auburn over Labor Day Weekend will end with a low level bowl trip. On the other hand, Virginia probably needs to win this game in order to finish 6-5, as they have Virginia Tech and Miami remaining on the schedule. From 1995-2003, the home team won every game in this series. Virginia stopped that streak last year by winning in Atlanta. Georgia Tech will return the favor this year. Virginia is undefeated at home, but 3 of their 4 home wins are against Western Michigan, Duke, and Temple. The 4th was of course against Florida State. However, that was a game the Cavaliers had marked on their calendar and waited all season for. The crowd and players will not be as emotionally charged for GT. Additionally, Florida State has struggled away from Tallahassee the last few seasons. Georgia Tech owns a road victory over Auburn this season, so they will not be phazed by the crowd in Charlottesville.
Winner: Georgia Tech

Big East Game: Navy at Notre Dame
Technically, this is not a Big East game. However, since the Big East has played most of its 'marquee' games over the work-week recently, we are left with Connecticut at Pittsburgh and South Florida at Syracuse as our choices. Since the Irish play in the Big East in basketball, they get to be an honorary Big East gridiron team this week. Navy's struggle with the Irish is a well-known fact in college football. The people of Haddonfield had better luck with Michael Myers. Navy has not beaten the Irish since 1963. That streak will continue this season and the Irish will continue their undeserved march to a BCS bowl.
Winner: Notre Dame

PS: This game was actually played in Dublin, Ireland in 1996.

Big 10 Game: Iowa at Wisconsin
This is Barry Alvarez's last home game as Wisconsin's head football coach. When Barry Alvarez came to Wisconsin in 1990, the Badgers were in the midst of a six-season bowl drought. His 1990 team won only 1 game, but the administration stuck with him and by 1993, the Badgers won the Big 10 and were in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1962. Since 1993, the Badgers have had only 2 losing seasons, while compiling 2 Big 10 championships and 2 more Rose Bowl appearances (which they won). To put that into perspective, Penn State has won 1 Big 10 championship since 1993, and Ohio State has won 3. Of course, none of that history will beat Iowa this week. The Hawkeyes are a dangerous team coming off consecutive close losses to Michigan and Northwestern. They need to win this game or their home finale against Minnesota to become bowl eligible. It won't happen this week. Camp Randall will be rocking, and Brian Calhoun will run wild as Barry Alvarez goes out a winner in his final home game.
Winner: Wisconsin

Big 12 Game: Colorado at Iowa State
The Big 12 North could be decided in this game. If Colorado wins, they are North Division champs. If Iowa State wins, they must also win their finale at Kansas and hope Colorado falls to Nebraska. The Buffs have been flying under the radar, but their only losses have come to the top 3 teams in the country, Texas and Miami. It will be close, but Colorado will clinch the North Division this week.
Winner: Colorado

Pac 10 Game: Southen Cal at Cal
This game has lost some of its preseason luster as Cal has dropped 3 of its last 4 games. Still the fact remains that Cal was the last team to beat Southern Cal, and also gave them one of their stiffest tests on the road last season. However, Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob has been downright bad under passing guru Jeff Tedford. He has completed less than 50% of his passes and tossed 10 interceptions, including 3 last week against Oregon. Berkeley will be rocking, but you can't trust a team that lost at home to Oregon State to knock off the #1 team in the nation.
Winner: Southern Cal

SEC Game: LSU at Alabama
Control of the SEC West is at stake here, not to mention an undefeated season for the Tide. An LSU win would put them in the driver's seat for the SEC West, while 'Bama could clinch the division with a win and an Auburn loss (to Georgia). This is the game where the Tide's offensive ineptitude will be their downfall. 1 offensive touchdown has been the production in 3 SEC games since Prothro's injury. If LSU does not turn the ball over an obsene number of times they will win going away in Tuscaloosa.
Winner: LSU

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

College Basketball Preview

College basketball tips off tonight. How sweet it is. With that in mind, here is my college hoops preview. Since there are 300+ NCAA schools playing Division I basketball, I though the more prudent and time-conserving way to go about this would be to clue you in on a surprise and disappointment in each of the 6 major conferences, and also give you a heads up on some mid-majors who may bust your brackets come March.

Surprise: Clemson
04-05 Record: 16-16 (5-11)
In Oliver’s 3rd season at the helm of the Tigers, he seeks to twist out an NCAA tourney bid. Last season the Tigers snuck into the NIT and lost in the 1st round to Texas A&M. This was clear progress for a program that has sunk like a stone since Rick Barnes headed west. Unfortunately, the Tigers lose their best player from last season F Sharrod Ford and a stalwart defender in F Olu Babalola. However, incoming freshman F Julius Powell seeks to step in immediately and offset the losses of the 2 key big men. The backcourt looks to be in better shape than last season with the addition of G Troy Mathis who was expected to start last season, but was suspended for the year for an on-campus brawl. Mathis is currently recovering from knee surgery in the spring, but in his stead the backcourt will be manned by returning starters Vernon Hamilton and Shawan Robinson. Duke looks to be the class of the ACC, but almost every other tourney contending school was hit hard by graduation and early entry. This is Clemson’s chance to return to the NCAA’s for the first time since 1998.

Disappointment: Virginia Tech
04-05 Record: 16-14 (8-8)
There wasn’t a great deal of buzz about Virginia Tech’s first foray into ACC play, but many a publication is hyping their second season. The Hokies were highly competitive last year as they finished tied for 4th with Georgia Tech. The season highlight was probably a home court victory over NCAA arch-villain Duke. However, things need to be put into perspective. Although Virginia tech finished 8-8 in conference play, their expected record was actually only 4-12. As frequent readers know, point differential is a much better indicator of a team’s actual performance when prospecting forward. Therefore, even though the Hokies only lose one starter off of last year’s team (G/F Carlos Dixon), there are probably gonna be some growing pains this year.

Big East
Surprise: Pittsburgh
04-05 Record: 20-9 (10-6)
Despite the loss of F/C Chris Taft and F Chevon Troutman, this Pittsburgh team will still be based around solid defense. That and they still have Sr. G Carl Krauser. He sounds like he should be a character on Hogan’s Heroes and his defense is Steel City blur collar. Combine that with the additions of 2 outstanding New York/New Jersey prep players in F Tyrell Biggs and G Levance Fields and you have a return engagement to the NCAA tourney.

Disappointment: West Virginia
04-05 Record: 24-11 (8-8)
Maybe its sour grapes, but why all the love for the Mountaineers all of a sudden? They are currently 14th in the AP poll and 15th in the Coaches poll. I understand they made the Elite 8 last season and we’re close to a Final 4 appearance, but look at their conference record. They finished 8-8 in a Big East that was nowhere near as jacked as it is now. Those 16 games are more indicative of their talent than a 4 game hot streak at the end of March. Think about who else is in the Big East now. UConn, the ‘Cuse, the ‘Ville, the ‘Nati, G-Town, ‘Nova. Marquette was in the Final 4 3 years ago! Thank goodness they didn’t lose Pittsnogle.

Big 10
Surprise: Purdue
04-05 Record: 7-21 (3-13)
The Gene Keady ended on a down not at Purdue, but the Matt Painter era looks ready to begin on an upswing. Incoming freshmen Tarrance Crump will replace departing G Brandon McKnight. The entire starting frontcourt returns so it should not take long for this Purdue team to mesh and reach last season’s win total by late December. Matt Painter is a Gene Keady disciple, so this team will not go through the struggle of learning a new system.

Disappointment: Michigan State
04-05 Record: 26-7 (13-3)
By disappointment I mean not likely to win the Big 10 as many pundits are prognosticating. Michigan State will be a solid team, but a Big 10 championship is a bit of a reach. They lose 3 contributing seniors, two of whom (G/F Alan Anderson and G Kelvin Torbert) were starters. Departing G Chris Hill also started for much of the season, but had lost his job by tourney time. Tom Izzo will get the most out of this team if he’s not too concerned with Mariucci’s struggles with the Lions, but this team has the look of a 2nd round exiter.

Big 12
Surprise: Texas A&M
04-05 Record: 21-10 (8-8)
Despite the loss of stud G/F Antoine Wright, Texas A&M under uber-reconstructionist Billy Gillispie will make it to the NCAA tourney on the strength of several JUCO transfers. F Antanas Kavaliauskas and G Eddie Smith (the NJCAA player of the year) will step in immediately and join holdovers F/C Joseph Jones and G Acie Law in the starting lineup. The Big 12 pecking order begins with Texas, but the Aggies have the talent to compete in the middle of the Big 12.

Disappointment: Texas Tech
04-05 Record: 22-11 (10-6)
Another team that outperformed their expected won-loss record from last season. The General’s Red Raiders lose big-time contributors G Ronald Ross and F Devonne Giles and will be hard-pressed to make in back to the Sweet 16.

Pac 10
Surprise: Washington State
04-05 Record: 12-16 (7-11)
The 3rd year of the Dick Bennett rebuilding plan begins in Pullman. Last season Bennet’s charges shocked Arizona in Tucson. They also underperformed their expected won-loss record last season. Instead of a 7-11 conference record, they should have gone 9-9. That would have ticketed them for an NIT bid and perhaps sleeper status heading into this season. As it is, they will fly under the radar which probably suits the ‘Cougs just fine. Bennett’s teams always play great defense even when you adjust for the slow pace at which the Cougars play. They might not be fun to watch, but with a few breaks they’ll be dancing in Pullman come mid-March. And if you don’t think the ‘Cougs are poised for a tourney run, well you don’t know Dick.

Disappointment: California
04-05 Record: 13-16 (6-12)
For a team coming off a record of 13-16, its tough to call this season a disappointment, but much was expected over the summer of this Cal team. However, several key members will not be on it. F Dominic McGuire is transferring to Fresno State (and their rigorous academic standards), F David Paris is academically ineligible, and F Kevin Langford is transferring to TCU. For those scoring at home, that’s 3 players who will not be suiting up for the Golden Bears this year.

Surprise: Vanderbilt
04-05 Record: 20-14 (8-8)
The Commodores return 7 players who contributed significant minutes last season and a freshman G George Drake who finished 2nd in the Alabama Mr. Basketball voting. This may sound like a broken record, but the ‘Dores also underperformed their expected won-loss record last season. With a little bit of luck, Vandy will be going back to the NCAA.

PS: This guy and this guy have to be related somehow right?

Disappointment: LSU
04-05 Record: 20-10 (12-4)
With Brandon Bass leaving early for the riches of the NBA drat, the LSU Tigers will be not be nearly as dominant in the paint as they were last season. The Tigers still have C Glen Davis (6-9 310) to hold down the front court, but if he gets into foul trouble, depth will be an issue. This is the epitome of a bubble team.

Mid-Majors to Watch:
The mid-majors with their zany mascots, talented (but often overlooked) players, and old-school values (usually its win or no postseason in conference tourneys) are my favorite brand of basketball to watch outside of my Demon Deacons.

Utah State
04-05 Record: 24-8 (13-5)
After several years of dominating the Big West, the other Aggies get a step up in competition as they enter the WAC. However, outside of Nevada and Nick Fazekas, Utah State should be on equal footing with the Hawaiis and Louisiana Techs of the world. Go ahead and mark em’ down for one of the last few at-large bids, an 11 or 12 seed, and one (or 2) very scared major conference foes come March.

04-05 Record: 21-11 (11-7)
Unlike other top-notch mid-major leagues the MAC can never seem to manage to get 2 teams in the dance. They always have 5 or 6 teams that win 11 or 12 conference games, and no team establishes itself as the frontrunner for an at-large bid. In other conferences, one team runs away and hides in the regular season and then loses in the conference tourney final resulting in 2 bids for that conference. This could be the year the MAC receives 2 invites as Ohio could be that dominant team the MAC has been missing. The Bobcats lose only 1 player from last years tourney team and they return uber-stud freshman F/C Leon Williams. Maybe he’s the Shaq of the MAC?

The Missouri Valley Conference:
The Valley is quickly becoming the best mid-major league. Last season The Valley got 3 teams in the dance. Could there be a repeat performance? Probably not, but Southern Illinois, Creighton, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, and Missouri State will all compete for an NCAA bid. I’ll go with Creighton as being the Lily of the Valley.