Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spot-Filled Mind

"Slow down everyone, you're moving too fast."

I'm taking advantage of one of the rare moments my room is not below 60 to come with a couple of thoughts from the past week. Yeah, it's cold in New England in November...how bizarre. Anyway, roll the headings:

College Football

I'm not going to lie: If Texas Tech had won in Norman, and subsequently made the BCS Championship, it would have been arguably the best story in the college ranks since Boise State...and I was really pulling for them even though in the back of my mind, I pretty much knew they would get smoked...which is what happened. I still hope the Red Raiders make a BCS game (which is entirely possible considering how screwy this year has been in the college ranks), but you have to give it to Oklahoma...there just a much better team, and that's all there is to it.

That being said (I really didn't want to lament on the OU game too much), the BCS is, as I predicted, a total mess. Here's what we do know: Penn State is in after their demolition of Michigan St. at home. This would be the third game in the last two weeks that I thought would be, at the least bit, entertaining, but turned out to be really terrible (USC/UF, OU/Tech, PSU/MSU). Playing the Lions remains a mystery. It almost looked like the BCS picture would get clearer once Oregon St.'s kicker missed an extra point against 'Zona that would have tied the game, but in keeping with the theme of somewhat organized chaos, State was able to get the ball back at beat the 'Cats on a game-ending FG to win by two. What does this all mean? The Beavers, and not Southern Cal, has the inside edge to play Penn St. in the Rose Bowl, and with a win in the "Civil War" on Saturday against Oregon (State will be playing at home), Southern Cal will be locked out of the Rose Bowl. Give Oregon St. credit. Basically the entire year, they have flown under the radar, with the obvious exception being their huge win over the Trojans earlier this season. With that win over Arizona (which a lot of people were expecting to lose, including yours truly), they are one win from the promised land...and to complete foul up (really you might as well throw the other "f" word in there) the BCS.

The other thing that we know is that Utah is also in the mix, basically assuring themselves, at worst, a birth in the Fiesta Bowl (I'm pretty sure that's where they'll end up). Again, Utah has won huge games, including this past week against BYU, and previously to TCU (a team I am so huge on you don't even want to know). I know, you think they don't play a tough enough schedule, but see, here's where you get a chance to see if you're right. If Utah plays, let's say, Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and gets whooped, then, hey, there's some validity to your arguement. However, if they come with it like Boise State did against...yes, Oklahoma, then it proves that you can have a great team and not play anyone. It's not the athletes' fault if they have an easier schedule than perennial powerhouses (aliterations in the house!)...they're just playing whoever is on the schedule...blame the A.D. if you have a problem with a school from a smaller conference cashing in on the big stage. If you look at the Utes, they're not nearly as "sexy" a team as Boise was two years ago. This is a team that just does everything well...not a whole lot of flaws there...think of them as the Titans of the NCAA.

I know I've referenced Boise State like four times already, and at no point was it a reference to this year's team who, by the way, is undefeated. That's right, the poster child of cinderellas for the past decade is also undefeated, and yet getting no attention whatsoever. Utah's a great story, but at least they're getting some publicity...what about Boise? Quite a feat if they can also run the table. You want to talk about screwed up...the Broncos have a chance to bring the entire system down in one fail swoop...and let's not forget Ball State, another team that is undefeated. Just because they play all their games on Tuesday and Wednesday, that does not mean they count less in the end (say what you will about Ball State playing all their games during the week...I think it's genius...they are on national TV every single week, and if you are nuts about football, like me, then you're going to be flipping to see the score every now and again...what better way of getting a school exposure?...and they're undefeated...double bonus!).

Okay, I realize that this will be an incredible waste of time, but if I let that stop me, then I would have no reason to be writing columns right? So, here's how the BCS is looking at this very moment:
  1. Alabama, .987
  2. Texas, .921
  3. Oklahoma, .912
  4. Florida, .875
  5. Southern Cal, .797
  6. Utah, .786
  7. Texas Tech, .779
  8. Penn St., .752
  9. Boise St., .658
  10. Ohio St., .621
A couple other notables: 13. Missouri, .559; 15. Ball St., .439; 16. Cincinnati, .397

Alright, so there are four BCS games and, of course, the BCS National Championship, so five in all. The Rose Bowl is the one screwy game where they have to take the Big 10 and Pac 10 Champs...so this one is easy to settle:
  • If Oregon State wins: Oregon State vs. Penn State
  • If Oregon State loses: Southern Cal vs. Penn State
Alright, here's where it will get a little complicated. So the Big East, for whatever reason, is still in the BCS contract to get an automatic bid. This has to be something that was decided before three of its best teams left and were replaced by schools that are, historically, more basketball-oriented (especially Louisville and Cincy)...that would seem to be the only reason, because, truthfully, the Big East does not deserve an automatic bid. I like Cincy's team a lot this year, but the talent pool has subsided tremendously in that conference over the past few years to the point where it can be argued that the Mountain West has a better conference (best four teams from the Big East: Cincy, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers; best from the Mountain West: Utah, TCU, BYU, Air Force...I know my mind's made up, but I'll let you decide). Well, this is one of those things that we're going to have to live with. Again, this is just an assumption, but let's say Cincy beats 'Cuse and wins the Big East, which is highly possible considering they're favored by three touchdowns, then they will reach the Orange Bowl.

The ACC also gets an auto birth, and is also a conference that, at least for this year, doesn't really deserve one. It's a large pool of good teams, but none that stand out at all (although you could make the case for GA Tech and the near 500 yards rushing they put up against Miami last week). It's going to come down to the end just to see who's going to play in the conference championship, let alone the BCS. You're going to see Maryland/BC/Florida St. play GA Tech/VA Tech/Miami. I'm not sure how all the tiebreakers will break down (I'll let the people who get paid to do this worry about that), but one of those teams will be "stealing" another spot from a school who perhaps deserves to get in. The winner of the ACC usually ends up in the Orange Bowl, so that game we can basically put to rest.

The SEC pretty much has two BCS spots locked up, barring huge meltdowns by 'Bama against Auburn (while unlikely, it's still possible considering how these two teams usually play each other) or Florida against FSU (FSU is totally Jekyll and Hyde...I like the Gators personally...big). These two will be playing in the SEC Championship (which I again like the Gators...big), and likely, one will be in the National Championship, with the loser going to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl. So, again, I'm going to go out on a limb (not a terrifically long limb, but a limb nonetheless) and say the SEC gets two spots in the BCS.

And now, the big daddy: The Big 12. Hey, I'm an SEC man...there is no conference that comes even close to touching the Big 12...not a chance. This conference was loaded from the get-go, and seems to be gaining momentum as the year goes on (three in the top 7, five in the top 13). OU's win was big over Tech, but they still have to play Okie St. (that would be #12 Oklahoma State for those of you scoring at home) on the road this week, so it's not over yet for the Sooners (although it would be a major upset if it were). Texas Tech is not necessarily done, but pretty much saw their chance at getting into the BCS shot with the OU loss. It's one thing to lose on a last-second play (see Texas), but it's an entirely different story when you lose 63-21. So, assume they're out for the sake of this discussion. This leaves the team that benefited the most from their one loss...Texas. The Longhorns were waiting in the proverbial weeds for Tech to lose to OU, and now, they are in a chance to pounce. Here's the one problem they may face: They get A&M, who have been awful this year. Because the margin is so small between OU and Texas going into this week, if OU beats Okie St., and does so in a convincing fashion, then Texas, despite beating OU at a neutral site earlier this year, may not have its destiny in its own hands. If OU finishes higher in the BCS than Texas, they will play Mizzou in the Big 12 Championship. Here's my opinion: If OU wins this week, they're playing Mizzou. I just don't see any way of keeping down a team that beat #2 soundly, then would be beating the #12 team on the road...I just don't see how OU doesn't jump Texas in that scenario. Of course, Oklahoma needs to win this week before worrying about that, because if they trip up here, hello Cotton Bowl. Now if the Sooners win and play Mizzou, it could be somewhat of a land-mine game. Here's how I see it though: OU is just going to roll everyone to the national title game. OU and Florida are running fairly parallel paths right now in that they both got beat, and subsequently, have kicked the...you know what, out of everyone in their paths. So, here are my BCS predicitions (I know, took me long enough right?):

Orange Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Texas
Fiesta Bowl: Southern Cal vs. Utah
Rose Bowl: Oregon State vs. Penn State

BCS Championship:
Florida vs. Oklahoma

Wow...like you wouldn't pay to see that Sugar Bowl and National title game? Something tells me this may be too good to be true...let's hope I'm wrong, which does tend to happen...a lot lately...but here's something I am good at: Heisman favorites and what to watch for this week:

Fav Five Heisman Candidates:
  1. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
  2. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
  3. Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
  4. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
  5. Max Hall, QB, BYU
What To Watch For:

  • Texas A&M vs. #2 Texas (8:00, ESPN)
  • West Virginia vs. #25 Pittsburgh: "The Backyard Brawl" (12:00, ABC)
  • USC vs. Clemson (12:00, Deuce)
  • #21 Georgia Tech vs. #11 Georgia (12:00, CBS)
  • Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (12:00, ESPN)
  • #4 Florida vs. #20 Florida State (3:30, ESPN)
  • Maryland vs. #21 Boston College (3:30, ABC)
  • Auburn vs. #1 Alabama (3:30, CBS)
  • #23 Oregon vs. #17 Oregon State (7:00, VS.)
  • #3 Oklahoma vs. #12 Oklahoma State (8:00, ABC)

I'm pretty sure someone's made this introduction before, but just in case, here goes:

Matt Cassell, I'd like you to meet the world...World, this is Matt Cassell.

Don't start any trade rumors involving Brady, but we have found a quarterback in Matt Cassell. I feel Cassell's pain in terms of never getting a shot of really proving yourself...but once you get it, you make it worth your while. Good for this guy. This has to be one of the feel-good stories of the year right? Cassell torched the 'Fins in a must-win game for the Pats, going for 400 in back-to-back games, the first since the immortal Billy Volek (a guy who the Pats were rumored to be interested in when Brady went down...intriguing) did it four years ago. I think another thing that has helped has been the idea that this Randy Moss guy may be someone to keep an eye on...he might be the real deal. The reigning best receiver on Earth (I said it, good luck proving otherwise) hauled in a season-high three touchdowns, which is strange because it seemed like he was getting three a game in regularity last year (which will happen when the best QB and WR on Earth hook up...again, I said it, and again, prove me wrong). Also, I think Jabar Gaffney has officially reached the point where he can't drop any more passes or else he's going to get cut. I like the guy, but between the Indy game and a couple that he's missed this year...he's not exactly helping himself, which is why, in light of playing for his job, he is going to be something else down the stretch. Also, here's a shock: Wes Welker went off again. Everyone's favorite #83 (I was kind of kidding when I wrote that, but then I thought about it...who else is even close that wears 83?...Lee Evans and that's it?) is on the threshold of something huge this year, now just one reception behind Andre Johnson for the league lead. Without looking this up, Wes has to be on a record pace for most receptions with only one TD, which totally sucks fantasy-wise, but if he keeps getting his six receptions each game (10 games in a row), I'll be able to deal with that. I remember saying something to the effect of "where does Joey Porter get off?" last time these teams played, but then they beat us by 24 and he had three sacks (or four, I forget). Ummm...look at you now! Likely will get fined a couple grand for not coming off the field, and was part of the defense that gave up over 400 yards to a guy who only has nine starts in the league. It's good when it goes though huh?

This week the Steelers come into Foxboro. No Anthony Smith this time though. I'm a little disappointed. He, unspeakably, is still on the team, but only has six tackles all year. Hey, if anything, his name is pretty much tattooed in my brain forever, so he's got that going for him. Hmmm...Pittsburgh at Foxboro, 4:00 game, and they probably will be without Willie Parker...I think you know where I'm going with this.

I found it hilarious that yesterday, I was reading about how Romeo Crennel was "confident" in his job security, and today, the Browns' owner came out and put both him and GM Phil Savage "on notice." First of all, why would you state publicly that you think you're going to be fine despite the fact that the team is doing incredibly lousy this year? Honestly, I think this is a good move by the owner. Why let them be comfortable in their roles? They have done very little this year to really be exempt from feeling the hot seat. Maybe a little urgency is what they need, because the season's end is rapidly approaching...at least end it on a somewhat good note so you have something to build off of next year (something I thought they had done last year, but alas, it was not to be...okay, I promise to not sound like Robert Frost again for the rest of the column).

Here's a thought: If an NFC South team is playing at home, you may want to go in that direction (the guy who was winning "The Streak" on ESPN did not follow that advice, and now he's out a million bucks...the Packers?...really?...how the hell did he get to 25 games in a row with logic of picking against the Saints on Monday night in New Orleans?). The Saints and Falcons rolled. What a fantastically intriguing division. Another thought: If you win that division, you better go far that year, because odds are, it will be a couple of years before you're back on top (the division has had a different winner each year since its inception).


The Titans finally lost. Has there ever been a team like that where not only was their undefeated streak completely swept under the rug, but it seemed like the biggest inevitability that they were going to lose? Seriously, I know I have said "the hammer will drop" about that team for the last five weeks. I think Kerry Collins is a great story, but come on. There's only so far the guy can take you...the luck is going to run out eventually...and also, if the running game runs out, then you're in big trouble (I'm not a huge fan of the guy, but I can kind of see why LenDale White was a bit mad after the game seeing as he had two rushes...the entire game). The Titans are still a good team, but they just don't have that "it" quality that makes them great. I was amazed that they kept it going for so long. I think once teams figured out that if you funnel Chris Johnson inside, and force Albert Haynesworth to move around the line instead of letting him come up the middle every time, your chances of being successful go up tremendously. Give credit to the Jets though. They came in with a game plan in mind, and executed the crap out of it...to the point that there really was no singular time they were ever in the game.

The AFC playoff picture remains the same as it was last week, despite the Broncos losing at home to the Joe Cable led Raiders by 21 points. This is proving to be a much more difficult task for the Pats than was originally anticipated (thank you Joe Flacco for being really good, and Peyton to be...Peyton). Here's how we're looking right now:
  1. Tennessee, 10-1
  2. Pittsburgh, 8-3
  3. New York Jets, 8-3
  4. Denver, 6-5
  5. Baltimore, 7-4
  6. Indianapolis, 7-4
  7. New England, 7-4
To say a win over the Steelers would be big is a understatement of epic proportions (I think I'm going to have to copyright that because I know I use that phrase a lot...way too much actually...I hate these moments of self-realization).

Over in the NFC, it's become clear that the whole "losing our minds about Donovan McNabb" thing still hasn't ended...and it's been ten years already! They booed him when he got drafted, they questioned his leadership when they couldn't make the Super Bowl, they riff him for not knowing the OT rule, and now, he has a bad game against the Ravens, and they're supposed to bench him? Ok, first, did you happen to see how Kevin Kolb played? Anytime you throw a touchdown pass over 100 yards, it's never a good thing (Ed Reed broke his own NFL record with a 108-yard INT return off of Kolb). Is this really what you want to see? I mean I can totally understand it when Cowboy fans wanted to see Brooks Bollinger instead of Brad Johnson because...I mean...Brad Johnson...really? But McNabb is a totally different story. Here's a guy who has lifted the Eagles to success that was never seen before in franchise history...can we just lay off the guy for once? How self-indulgent are these people to not just back up a couple of steps and realize the unbelievable talent they literally had dropped on their laps? Personally, I just don't get it. I evaluate players based on talent, but sometimes, I feel like there is something else involved, and it really doesn't sit well with me.

The Giants once again proved they are, hands-down, the best team in the league, reeling off a huge win over the red-hot Cardinals. I think Arizona is one of those teams where they play so much better on the road, and the reason I think that's the case is because, even though they have a good record this year, you still see Kurt Warner, and for some reason, I don't think anyone is afraid of him. Maybe it's because he's older, or because he's not had too many great years since his St. Louis days, but I still think that Warner is not getting respect when he's in an opposing stadium, but when they play at home, it's evident that the offense runs through him, even when Edgerrin James was still the starter. What worries me also about 'Zona is that they are going down a New Orleans-type road where they are pretty much going into each game and having to win in a shootout. While this is exciting to watch, rarely does it pay off (although his Rams team did win a Super Bowl and was an Adam Vinatieri kick from perhaps winning two playing that style). Even the Patriots proved to be succeptable to this last year. If the Cards go up against a really strong defense that has just a hint of offense, I don't know if I like their chances. With that being said, is it weird that if the Giants and Cards played in the Meadowlands this week, I would totally pick 'Zona to not only win, but win by like 10? Seems strange...I just like that team on the road (guess who the Pats are playing next month in Foxboro?...that should be interesting).

Not a lot of surprises from the past week. Everyone remained pretty much status quo. Here are my MVP candidates:

Fav Five MVP Candidates:
  1. Brett Favre, QB, New York Jets
  2. Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona
  3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis
  4. Clinton Portis, RB, Washington
  5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta
A few quick notes about some other things:
  • It is conceivable that Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis will be back to their old positions in New England after this year. While unlikely, the fact that it's even conceivable makes me giggle.
  • Junicho Tazawa, the 22-year old Japanese pitcher I've been drooling over, seems to have made up his mind that he wants to come to the Red Sox, which is good considering, you know, it's my team and all. In addition to another great season, the dividends of Dice-K being here continue to pay off. Tazawa apparently idolized Matsuzaka while he played in Japan.
  • Scott Boras is denying the claims that the Sox and Jason Varitek have talked about a one-year deal. Why am I thinking that Boras can't except the fact that he's not representing a superstar like 'Tek once was? Hey, it happens. They're not all A-Rod. I just wish he could be satisfied with screwing us with J.D. Drew for 14 million a year. On a side note, there was a question on boston.com today asking "Which of these guys from the Heathcliff Slocumb trade would you rather have, 'Tek or Derek Lowe?" I really wish they had thrown some figures into that, like "if they both cost $12 million," I'm definitely taking Lowe, but if they had said "'Tek for $7 million, or Lowe for $14 million," then I would actually have to think about that.
  • The Teixiera brigade continues to gather momentum up here. How bad is Mike Lowell's injury? That's the real question here. I still really can't get into this sudden interest in a high-ticket guy. He's a great player, but I hate cutting into a championship team. Remember when we let Pedro, Lowe, and Cabrera walk? Took a little bit to get back to the dance. You have Lowell under contract for two more years. Unless this injury is way bigger than anyone is leading me to believe (it's a hip injury by the way, and the word has been that he will be ready for Spring Training), then I just don't see the point. The offense is already strong, and you have a good clubhouse...why mess with a good thing? Focus on suring up the bench and maybe a #4 starter. The front office needs to realize that they won a World Series, and were a game away from getting to another one, with the parts they already have in place. Also, Lars Anderson is the Sox' best prospect, and he's a power-hitting first baseman. Drawing upon their recent past system first basemen (Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn, Brian Daubach, Kevin Youkilis), I would be real hesitant about giving a guy $20 million a year, considering we also just got rid of a $20 million slugger. Also, the Coco trade clears money, but there is a thing called saving it too. Times are tight. Why not hold onto the money and wait for a trade during the season? I realize that they would be giving up something in a trade instead of just getting the guy with no strings attached, but I just feel like the Sox are in no position to commit the kind of years and dollars Teixiera is commanding, because that would be going against all the principles Theo Epstein and Co. have laid down (they went against them for Drew and Lugo...look how that turned out...again, not saying Drew is bad, but just ridiculously overpaid).
  • Speaking of Texiera, the Angels apparently are going after C.C. Sabathia while "waiting for Teixiera's price to drop." Yeah, because there's no better way of making a guy's price drop than to spend $140 million on a pitcher right?
  • The Cubs have reportedly dropped their pursuit of trading for Padres' ace Jake Peavy. Cubs Manager Lou Pinella said that they're "all set" at starting pitching. Then, a few hours later, the Cubs were rumored to have been in talks with A.J. Burnett along with the Sox, Yankees, and Phillies. To sum this up: You are never "set" at starting pitching...especially when you haven't won a World Series in a hundred years.
  • There was a story tonight about how the Celtics have the most technical fouls in the NBA. However, the headline failed to mention that not only are they first in T's, but they're first in W's too, so my caring about that story went pretty much out the window.
  • Lots of surprises in UEFA: Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester United have all played to nil-nil draws in their last matches. Chelsea takes on Bourdeaux tomorrow at 2:30 on ESPN. I wish they were playing at home, but I'll definitely take it. When you don't have a dish with Setanta, you never know how often you will get to see your team.
  • The Bruins are just lighting the hockey world on fire. Lucic has become an offensive threat in addition to throwing punches and putting guys through the boards. Tim Thomas has stepped up from time-share goalie to the best (active) netminder in the game. Chara is playing a lot better this year than his previous campaigns with the B's, and they finally have Patrice Bergeron healthy, which helps stagger out the depth a little more. Really just a fun team to watch...and they won another shootout...two in a row! That's two more than I ever thought I'd see them win.
  • College basketball just tipped off. I saw UConn play last night...yeah, I don't see them losing until like February...maybe. Also, Notre Dame is #8? And they beat #6 Texas tonight too? Obviously this is not your big brother's Fighting Irish. Here's some advice: When you're looking at potential upsets in the tourney come March, look back at these games. Most of these games are being held at neutral sites, which is how March Madness is conducted (ideally), so if a team makes a nice run in one of these preseason tourneys, keep them in mind if they get an at-large birth (right now, especially Syracuse).
That's all for right now. I'd like to congratulate your 2008 AL MVP, Dustin Pedroia, a hero for the diminutive, skinny, receeding-hair line community alike. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. Love to you and yours. Peace.


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