Archive for November 2006

College Football- Week 13 Recap

November 26, 2006

Well, I must say that USC has really surprised me over the past few weeks following their loss at Oregon State (a loss that is looking better and better every week, as the Beavers beat Oregon over the weekend to finish the season 8-4.) The Trojans came out and simply trounced Notre Dame from start to finish, and now should have earned themselves a chance to battle the mighty Buckeyes for the national championship. Dwayne Jarrett was a man among boys Saturday night, scoring three touchdowns on seven catches and 132 yards receiving. The Irish failed to capitalize on some USC turnovers early in the game and also couldn’t seem to hold onto Brady Quinn’s passes half of the time. The play-calling was also suspect early in the game, as Notre Dame seemed to be sacrificing the ten yard passes that are their most successful method of moving the football for lower probability go-for it-all bombs. Watching the first half of this game was reminiscent of a backyard pickup game, as apparently the concept of kicking a field goal or punting on fourth down didn’t enter the equation. And hopefully none of you thought I was going to avoid the topic of Coach Weis’ choice of attire. It is tough to see how a man can gain the respect of his team when dressed like Charlie Weis was Saturday night. I am all for a coach being allowed to dress comfortably, but I see homeless people in Chicago on a daily basis who are dressed better than Weis was. Royal blue windsuit pants, sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt that was somehow three sizes too big for an already morbidly obese man completed the ensemble that was nothing short of ridiculous. Remember when your mother told you to dress nicely to school because it would reflect your attitude and therefore your performance? I got that same feeling Saturday night.  Notre Dame played like the kid who wore sweatpants.

Other events on (sniff, sniff) the last full weekend of college football included:

  • Texas suffered a hard loss at home to rival Texas A & M that cost them a shot at the Big 12 championship and a BCS berth. They also lost QB Colt McCoy who was treated pretty ruthlessly by A & M, including a late hit that was beyond inexcusable. But a helmet to helmet hit late in the game sent McCoy to the locker room on a stretcher with a pinched nerve in his neck. Meanwhile, Oklahoma continued what is turning out the be one of the season’s best stories as they narrowly defeated Oklahoma State to sneak into the Big 12 championship and keep their BCS hopes alive. The Sooners are 6-0 since losing star running back Adrian Peterson, who is listed as possible for the championship next weekend against Nebraska.
  • LSU proved that it is the nation’s best two loss team as they rolled into Arkansas and won what was an incredibly hard fought game. Florida kept its dim title chances alive, again winning pretty unimpressively over rival Florida State. The Seminoles finish the season 6-6, which is their worst finish since Bobby Bowden’s first season. The rest of the SEC proved its superiority over the ACC as seemingly medicore Georgia and South Carolina got big wins against ACC heavyweights Georgia Tech and Clemson respectively.
  • West Virginia laid an egg at home and lost to South Florida, giving up any hope for a BCS berth. The loss was crushing for the Mountaineers and program-creating for the Bulls, who will enter postseason pay with a respectable 8-4 record.
  • The title picture looks much clearer now. If USC beats UCLA, they are in. If USC loses to UCLA and Florida beats Arkansas, then the Gators should get a shot. Michigan probably needs both USC and Florida to lose next weekend to get what would be a fairly controversial rematch. I know that the precedent has been set, (1996, when Florida State beat Florida in the regular season and then lost to the Gators in the championship) but can someone explain to me why Ohio State has to beat Michigan twice to win the title but Michigan only has to beat the Buckeyes once? It seems unfair and it takes a lot away from the importance of that regular season game. At least when the Gators and the Seminoles went at it, they were playing in different conferences, but I digress. It doesn’t appear that USC is going to falter against UCLA, so hopefully we won’t have to worry about it.

THE TOP 40 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (12-0)
  2. USC (10-1)
  3. Michigan (11-1)
  4. Florida (11-1)
  5. Louisville (10-1)
  6. LSU (10-2)
  7. Arkansas (10-2)
  8. Auburn (10-2)
  9. Wisconsin (11-1)
  10. Boise State (12-0)
  11. Oklahoma (10-2)
  12. Notre Dame (10-2)
  13. Rutgers (10-1)
  14. West Virginia (9-2)
  15. Tennessee (9-3)
  16. Virginia Tech (10-2)
  17. Texas (9-3)
  18. Nebraska (9-3)
  19. BYU (10-2)
  20. California (8-3)
  21. Wake Forest (10-2)
  22. Hawaii (10-2)
  23. Texas A & M (9-3)
  24. Georgia Tech (9-3)
  25. Boston College (9-3)
  26. Oregon State (8-4)
  27. Georgia (8-4)
  28. TCU (10-2)
  29. Houston (9-3)
  30. South Florida (8-4)
  31. South Carolina (7-5)
  32. Clemson (8-4)
  33. Missouri (8-4)
  34. Penn State (8-4)
  35. Maryland (8-4)
  36. Purdue (8-5)
  37. Texas Tech (7-5)
  38. Oregon (7-5)
  39. Kansas State (7-5)
  40. Kentucky (7-5)

Wow, no Miami or Florida State in the Top 40!!!

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Darren McFadden, Arkansas
  3. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  4. Mike Hart, Michigan
  5. Dwayne Jarrett, USC

College Football- Week 13 Recap, Updated Scenario Analysis

November 19, 2006

The game of the century between top ranked Ohio State and second ranked Michigan certainly lived up to its billing. The Buckeyes won narrowly in a surprisingly high-scoring battle that could have gone either way had it not been for a gutsy (and correct) roughing the quarterback call on the Wolverines late in the game. You have to give Michigan a ton of credit for the way they came out in the second half. The Buckeyes led 28-14 at the half, and looked to blow the game wide open on the opening possession of the second half. But the Michigan defense stepped up and got a stop, and the offense scored quickly to make it a game again. It was everything a college football fan could have hoped for, including big plays, intensity, and importance. In the end, the better team won, but the 42-39 score is indicative of how close together they really are in terms of talent. Having said that, it is still important to point out that Michigan benefited from some silly Ohio State turnovers that they would be unlikely to see again if the teams do indeed meet for the title. Of course, the margin of loss by Michigan was impressive enough that the rematch talk has already begun. Last week, I was adamantly against the idea, but the way that this season is looking to shake out, it may be the only option that makes any sense. Here is a recap of how the contenders fared this weekend and what scenarios they need to have happen in order to get to the championship game against Ohio State:

  • USC proved me wrong and won a hard fought game against California with defense. In somewhat peculiar fashion for the Pac-10, this was really a defensive struggle, tied 9-9 coming into the fourth quarter. But the Trojans bore down hard defensively, and a couple of touchdowns in the 4th sealed the deal. It still looks to me that if USC can beat Notre Dame and UCLA, they will be in the championship game. Those wins, in addition to wins over Arkansas, Nebraska, California and Oregon make their resume a bit more impressive than an arguably more talented Michigan team.
  • Notre Dame was impressive as expected against a weak Army team, but Michigan’s loss should make it impossible for the Irish to make the championship. Even with a win over USC, it would be tough to justify putting Notre Dame ahead of Michigan after they way the Wolverines handled them earlier this season.  
  • Arkansas got a win over Mississippi State but it could have been a bit more impressive. The Razorbacks have a tough case because of the early season loss to USC. But a one-loss SEC champion deserves consideration. If Arkansas can win at LSU, beat Florida in the championship game, and Notre Dame beats USC, then the Razorbacks should be the team to go.
  • Florida essentially had the week off as they routed Western Carolina by more than sixty points. Strong wins over Auburn, LSU and Tennessee merit consideration, especially if the Gators can get past a game against Florida State that they can’t overlook and then beat Arkansas in the SEC championship. Again, Michigan may appear to be a better team, but I can’t see justifying a rematch if there is a one loss champion in a stronger SEC conference. Florida needs Notre Dame to beat USC, and needs to win its final games against Florida State and Arkansas to  earn a chance to play for the title.
  • Rutgers saw its dream season come to an end as they were upset handily by a well-prepared Cincinnati team, and BCS officials breathed a huge sigh of relief. At this point, I can’t see putting any of the one loss Big East schools into the championship ahead of Michigan. The Scarlet Knights can still earn the BCS berth from the Big East though, but they’ll have a tough time at West Virginia.
  • For Michigan, it appears that they will have a claim regardless of these scenarios. To be sure, they’ll need this likely scenario to occur and common sense to prevail: Notre Dame beats USC, LSU beats Arkansas, Arkansas beats Florida.

THE TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (12-0)
  2. USC (9-1)
  3. Michigan (11-1)
  4. Notre Dame (10-1)
  5. Arkansas (10-1)
  6. Florida (10-1)
  7. Louisville (9-1)
  8. West Virginia (9-1)
  9. Texas (9-2)
  10. Auburn (10-2)
  11. LSU (9-2)
  12. Boise State (11-0)
  13. Oklahoma (9-2)
  14. Wisconsin (11-1)
  15. Rutgers (9-1)
  16. Georgia Tech (9-2)
  17. Tennessee (8-3)
  18. Boston College (9-2)
  19. Virginia Tech (9-2)
  20. BYU (9-2)
  21. Nebraska (8-3)
  22. California (8-3)
  23. Clemson (8-3)
  24. Wake Forest (9-2)
  25. Hawaii (9-2)

HEISMAN WATCH:

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State (locked it up on Saturday)
  2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  3. Mike Hart, Michigan
  4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas
  5. Steve Slaton, West Virginia

College Football- Week 13 Preview

November 16, 2006

Well, it is hard to believe, but the game that we all speculated after Michigan’s upset of Notre Dame eight weeks ago is indeed what we all hoped for, an undefeated matchup of archrivals Michigan and Ohio State with a trip to the national championship game on the line. It doesn’t get any bigger or better than this. As far as I’m concerned, this might as well be the national title. But I won’t get ahead of myself. This game clearly dominates the rest of the action, although there are other games on believe it or not. Instead of going through the games chronologically like I would normally do, I’ll run them down in order of importance:

#2 Michigan at #1 Ohio State, 2:30 CST, ABC, for all the marbles!

I am so excited for this game to start. It’s probably the biggest regular season college football game of my lifetime. Okay, enough of that. On paper, these two teams look remarkably evenly matched. Both have high powered offenses with experienced, talented quarterbacks, fearsome running attacks, dynamic receivers, explosive special teams and strong, stout defenses. So where does one begin to pick a winner? For starters, Ohio State undeniably will benefit from having the game in Columbus. But Michigan proved early in the season that they can go on the road as an underdog and dominate an opponent that everyone assumed was superior. Weighing the defenses, I can’t decide who has the advantage. Ohio State has been amazing after replacing nine starters, allowing only three teams all season to score more than seven points. Michigan has gotten here with a defense that has improved vastly from last season. I have to call it a draw, but will note that this game will probably be won by whichever defense is able to be more dominant, since both teams have such explosive offenses. On the offensive side, Michigan gets a slight edge in the backfield and appears to have more versatility at receiver. However, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith defines versatility, and his gamebreaking presence alone gives them an advantage. (See last year’s game, which Michigan appeared to have in hand before Smith took over). On special teams, Steve Breaston and Ted Ginn, Jr. both provide explosive options, and their abilities will come into play as well, but appear equal on paper. With so many variables it is tough to pick a winner, but with Ohio State having the slighest offensive advantage, the defenses seemingly equal and the home field advantage with the Buckeyes, I’ll be weak and go with the spread.  Ohio State 27, Michigan 20

#19 California at #4 USC, 7:00 CST, ABC

Cal had its heart broken last week as the Golden Bears got sloppy and gave up a big lead at mediocre Arizona. They lost any hope for a national title trip, but BCS hopes are still alive, as this game alone appears to determine the Pac-10 champion. USC, on the other hand, looked as impressive as they have all year in a rout of Oregon. Remember, of course, that Cal also stomped Oregon earlier this season. In its previous four games, USC struggled against Arizona, Washington and Arizona State before losing to Oregon State. The Trojans have seen their running game start to come together behind Chauncey Washington and quarterback John David Booty is coming into his own with all his receivers healthy. But for some reason I think last week served as a wake up call for a California team that is primed for an upset and superior offensively. If they can get some defensive stops, I think Cal can pull a big upset here. California 38, USC 37

#21 Virginia Tech at #17 Wake Forest, 6:00 CST, ABC and #23 Maryland at #20 Boston College, 11:00 CST, ESPN

I keep grouping all of these ACC games together because I can’t make heads or tails of any of them. Virginia Tech has been inconsistent, and I generally find them incredibly overrated year after year post-Michael Vick, although they did surprise me against Clemson. Wake Forest, meanwhile, is maybe the most underappreciated team in the country. The Demon Deacons are two turnovers away from being undefeated! But here, I am going to have to go against them once again, fearing that the dream has to end at some point against superior talent. The home field at night certainly won’t hurt, though. Boston College and Maryland both appear to be better teams. I like the Golden Eagles at home here. Although Maryland has been rolling, Boston College has been tested and has the weapons on both sides of the ball to get the win here.  Virginia Tech 27, Wake Forest 23; Boston College 17, Maryland 13

#11 Auburn at Alabama, 2:30 CST, CBS, THE IRON BOWL

Auburn was shocked last week as Georgia threw 38 points on the board to pull the upset and ruin the Tiger’s chances at the national title. Quarterback Brandon Cox threw way too many interceptions which facilitated the high point total against the normally stout Auburn defense. This week, I expect those problems to be corrected, although Alabama is no pushover despite their record. I think Auburn can contain the Crimson Tide running attack, which is their main offensive threat, and will be able to avoid silly turnovers. Auburn 21, Alabama 13

Indiana at Purdue, 11:00 CST, The OAKEN BUCKET GAME!

Doesn’t it seem like the few times in the past 15-20 years that Indiana has had five wins coming into this game and needed it for a bowl berth that the Boilers always spoil it? Who could forget 1989, when Heisman trophy runner up Anthony Thompson didn’t get the chance to play in a bowl thanks to a narrow season ending loss to the Boilers? Well, this is the year that the Big Red gets its revenge. Purdue’s flimsy defense will have trouble with Indiana’s multi-faceted offensive attack behind Kellen Lewis. Indiana 37, Purdue 34

College Football: Week 12 Recap with National Championship Analysis

November 12, 2006

What a wild weekend of college football we witnessed. The national title picture was much clearer a week ago than it is now. For a change of format, first I will go over exactly what happened, and then I’ll give you my thoughts on how the title picture sits presently.

  • All Louisville had to do was beat Rutgers on the road, and the championship game looked to be pretty much set. The Scarlet Knights, however, had no intention on making things that easy on the BCS, and scored 21 unanswered points to pull off the shocking upset and remain undefeated. It was a gutsy effort and an amazing defensive achievement, as Rutgers held Louisville scoreless in the second half. The Scarlet Knights were able to chip away at the lead throughout the second half, and finally one it on a second chance field goal with eight seconds left to play. It was the biggest win in school history, and keeps Rutgers in the national title debate, if only as a whisper. Whatever the implications, this was certainly one of the top three most entertaining games of the year so far.
  • The one loss teams had reason to celebrate Thursday night after Louisville’s loss essentially blew the door to the second national title spot wide open. However, by the time Saturday night was over, about half of them no longer had anything to be excited about. Auburn was the first victim, as they were trounced at home by a Georgia team that has been dreadful of late. It was a season-saving win for Georgia, but for the Tigers, it eliminated all hopes at a national title, and cost them a spot in the SEC championship game as well. California looked like a team that might control its own destiny, with a big game at USC looming ahead next Saturday. The Golden Bears may have been looking ahead a bit too quickly, as they blew a 17-3 lead and lost to mediocre Arizona 24-20, ending their title hopes as well. If that wasn’t enough, Texas lost at Kansas State in a wild game after giving up 21 points in three minutes, and forfeited any hope of a repeat.
  • In the day’s most exciting game, Florida survived a major scare in the swamp as visiting South Carolina gave the Gators all they could handle. In fact, Florida didn’t as much win the game as South Carolina lost it. After a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point, the Gamecocks trailed 17-16 with time left for a medium-range field goal. But 6-6 Jarvis Moss got his paw up and onto the kick for his second block of the game, and this time it was game and season-saving. Florida needs to improve offensively and got away with one here, but their title hopes stay alive.
  • Most impressive of the one-loss teams were Arkansas and USC, who cruised to easy victories over ranked opponents Tennessee and Oregon respectively. Both teams have formidable opponents remaining–USC gets California and Notre Dame at home over the next two weeks and Arkansas travels to LSU and then meets Florida in the SEC championship–and probably have the best case of the one-loss teams to sneak into the championship if they can win out.
  • The pain continued for ACC has-beens Miami and Florida State, although Miami’s narrow 14-13 loss at Maryland after a tragic week seems a bit easier to explain than Florida State’s surprising 30-0 thrashing at home at the hands of once lowly Wake Forest. The Seminoles still need a win to make a bowl game, and with Florida still on the schedule, a 6-6 season looks best-case.

Now, what does all of this mean? Well, we know one thing for sure. The winner of the highly anticipated Ohio State-Michigan game will get a chance to play for the title. Filling the other spot will be tricky and likely controversial, but here are my thoughts on how it should play out, and what each team needs to have unfold in order to get into the championship game:

  • I have Notre Dame ranked third on my poll this week by virtue of being the one-loss team who lost to the highest ranked team (Michigan). This should mean that they control their own destiny, but things get tricky if the Irish win out and Ohio State wins next Saturday. In this scenario, Michigan, Notre Dame and the SEC champion all have one loss, and it would be awfully tough to justify putting the Irish in the championship over Michigan. It would appear that the SEC champion benefits most from this scenario. The Irish, in my opinion, need not only to win out, but also need Michigan to upset Ohio State in order to get into the championship.
  • I have USC at fourth this week, although I don’t expect them to win both of their remaining games against Notre Dame and California. If they do, then the Trojans certainly make a strong case, especially if Arkansas beats Florida in the SEC championship, since USC pounded the Razorbacks earlier in the season. If USC can beat Notre Dame and California and Florida loses once more, then they are in.
  • Arkansas is playing the best football in the SEC, and I have them ranked fifth this week. The Razorbacks have tough games remaining at LSU and against Florida for the SEC title, so winning those will certainly help their schedule strength. The loss to USC makes things tricky, however. It isn’t immediately apparent that the Razorbacks would have the edge over Notre Dame either if both win out. Their scenario looks unlikely to play out, as they need to win their remaining games, have Cal beat USC and then have USC beat Notre Dame to be assured of anything. It’s not impossible, but it’s a lot to ask. Conversely, as discussed above, Arkansas might benefit if they can win out, Ohio State beats Michigan and Notre Dame beats USC, as they would then have the edge over Michigan, which would probably put them ahead of Notre Dame too.
  • Florida comes in sixth this week and are pretty lucky to be there after escaping a game they probably should have lost. However, their path to the title game now seems easier than most teams, as they don’t really need much help from anyone else. As long as Florida wins the rest of its games, the Gators should be the team to go. A USC loss and, more distantly, a Notre Dame loss, wouldn’t hurt, but don’t appear absolutely necessary.
  • Rutgers can’t be completely overlooked either, and I have them ranked seventh this week. The Scarlet Knights basically need a miracle to get to the Championship, but it’s not impossible. First and foremost, they’ll need to win the rest of their games, which includes a tough trip to West Virginia. After that, they’ll need USC and Notre Dame to both lose. Then, they’ll need Arkansas to lose to LSU and for Arkansas to then beat Florida in the SEC championship. After all of that, they’ll have to hope that the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game is beaten badly enough that a rematch is not merited. It’s asking a lot.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (11-0)
  2. Michigan (11-0)
  3. Notre Dame (9-1)
  4. USC (8-1)
  5. Arkansas (9-1)
  6. Florida (9-1)
  7. Rutgers (9-0)
  8. Louisville (8-1)
  9. West Virginia (8-1)
  10. Texas (9-2)
  11. Auburn (9-2)
  12. LSU (8-2)
  13. Boise State (10-0)
  14. Oklahoma (8-2)
  15. Wisconsin (10-1)
  16. Georgia Tech (8-2)
  17. Wake Forest (9-1)
  18. Tennessee (7-3)
  19. California (8-2)
  20. Boston College (8-2)
  21. Virginia Tech (8-2)
  22. Nebraska (8-3)
  23. Maryland (8-2)
  24. BYU (8-2)
  25. Clemson (8-3)

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  3. Ray Rice, Rutgers
  4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas
  5. Mike Hart, Michigan

Next week’s game is so important that I’m going to make a seperate post for my Week 13 Preview later in the week. Check back then!

College Basketball Preview

November 11, 2006

It’s hard to believe that the start of the Preseason NIT is only two days away. I can’t say that I’m completely ready for basketball season as I find myself pretty wrapped up in what has turned into an incredibly exciting college football season. However, the time has come to take a look at this year’s hoops squads. Here is my Preseason Top 25 with brief analysis.

#25: Indiana

You didn’t think I’d leave the Hoosiers out of my Top 25 did you? If center D.J. White stays healthy and Indiana can adjust to a new system under Kelvin Sampson, they should be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. Earl Calloway returns at the point along with scoring guards A.J. Ratliff and Rod Wilmont.

#24: Kentucky

Tubby Smith is on somewhat of a hot seat as the Wildcats have failed to advance to a Final Four since 1998. This doesn’t look like a team that will break that streak, but they should win some games. Joe Crawford and Randolph Morris return for Kentucky along with a pretty strong recruting class.

#23: Texas

This is a team that could have been a preseason top 5 choice if not for the early departures of P.J. Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson. Instead, the Longhorns lost a lot of talent and will be a very young team riding the shoulders of freshman phenom Kevin Durant. The season will certainly be a bit of a learning process for Texas.

#22: Washington

First team All-American Brandon Roy is gone from a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 and nearly knocked off top seeded UConn, but head coach Lorenzo Romar knows how to replace talent. The Huskies lost their top three scorers, but will be competitive behind leading returning scorer Spencer Hawes.

#21: Memphis

This is another team that could have had top 5 potential if not for some early departures. Insatead, the Tigers lost a lot of talent, and will try to replace it with freshman standout Willie Kemp and returning starter Robert Dozier.

#20: Creighton

Four starters return from a team that narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays won 12 games in the impoved Missouri Valley Conference and are poised to do so again behind star guard Nate Funk and center Anthony Tolliver.

#19: Tennessee

The Vols were one of last year’s biggest surprises, and should be expected to be tough once again. Guards Chris Lofton and Dane Bradshaw return for Bruce Pearl along with a solid recruting class. If Tennessee can find a reliable point guard, they’ll be in the mix.

#18: Southern Illinois

The Salukis are my sleeper pick this year. There is no doubt that the Missouri Valley Conference proved its worth last season, as the top teams in the conference fared well in March. Southern Illinois returns all five starters from last year’s team, including guards Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young along with forward Randal Falker.

#17: Marquette

A strong three-guard backcourt returns for the Golden Warriors, led by Dominic James. Marquette will have to replace scorer Steve Novac but shouls be improved despite his departure, as the team has gained experience from last year’s disappointing season.

#16: Georgia Tech

A lot of talent returns for the Yellow Jackets, who will be led by guard Anthony Morrow and power forward Ra’Sean Dickey. Freshman forward Thaddeus Young is expected to make an immediate impact.

#15: Witchita State

Four starters return from a team that proved it could play with the big boys last season, advancing to the Sweet 16 after upsetting 2nd seeded Tennessee. The Shockers will be led by Sean Ogirri and P.J. Couisnard.

#14: Duke

This is uncharacteristically low for Coach K and crew, but the significant losses of J.J. Redick and Sheldon William leave the Blue Devis a bit depleted. The injury to guard Greg Paulus doesn’t help either. Nevertheless, Coach K will have this team ready to compete by mid-season as he always does, as there is additional talent behind standout forward Josh McRoberts.

#13: Boston College

All-American Craig Smith is gone, but loads of talent returns behind forward Jared Dudley, guard Sean Marshall and center Sean Williams. This a team that really got hot at the end of last season and was picked by several people to reach the final four. That didn’t happen as Villanova got the best of them in the Sweet 16, but expect the Golden Eagles to be a legitimate threat once again.

#12: Texas A & M

A & M a basketball school? Believe it. The Aggies came a last second three-pointer away from knocking off eventual final four team LSU and return the top players from that team, guard Acie Law and center Joseph Jones. This will be their best team in many, many years.

#11: Wisconsin

Despite struggling down the stretch last season, the Badgers should be expected to be in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Pre-season Big Ten player of the year Alando Tucker returns at forward along with experienced guard Kammron Taylor, Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry. There is talent and depth here.

#10: Alabama

The Tide surprised a lot of people last March, upsetting Marquette in the first round of the tournament and then taking eventual national runner-up UCLA right down to the wire. The most important pieces of that team return in preseason All-America point guard Ronald Steele and strong power forward Jermareo Davidson.

#9: Arizona

The Wildcats are loaded with talent this year. Freshman standout Marcus Williams returns for his sophomore season along with point guard Mustafa Shakur, 6-10 forward Ivan Radenoic and highly touted recruit Chase Budinger. The talent is certainly there to make a strong run this season.

#8: Georgetown

The Hoyas are back as a basketball powerhouse after over a decade of mediocrity. Forward Jeff Green might be the best player in the Big East, and he’ll have help in the middle from 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. Remember, Georgetown was the only team in last year’s tournament that gave champion Florida a close game and dominated Big Ten power Ohio State in the second round. . There are questions regarding depth, but this athletic team will be pretty ferocious.

#7: Pittsburgh

The Panthers will have to replace star point guard Carl Krasuer, but should still be tough behind center Aaron Gray. Additionally, Pitt picked up transfer Mike Cook and returns guard Sam Young, giving them some explosive scoring options in the backcourt. If they can find reliability at the point, Pitt is capable of reaching the Final Four.

#6: UCLA

The Bruins staged a strong run at the title last year, falling short in the championship game. Point guard Jordan Farmar was a big reason why, and he’ll have to be replaced with the capable Darren Collison, but UCLA should still be a contender. Star shooting guard Arron Afflalo returns along with the athletic Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

#5: Ohio State

Thad Matta has brought this program back to national prominence, and this is the year Buckeye fans have been waiting for. Star center Terence Dials is gone, but he won’t be missed for long as freshman Greg Oden arrives to replace him as arguably the most highly touted recruit ever. Guard Mike Conley arrives along with Oden to join the already experienced backcourt of Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis. Oden will have to miss the first two months of the season due to an injury, but if he can adjust to the team mid-season, the Buckeyes will be scary by tournament time.

#4: LSU

The Tigers made a somewhat surprising run to the Final Four, using their strong athleticism to overpower a talented Duke team in the Sweet 16. They’ll lost some of their talent as Tyrus Thomas left early for the NBA and leading scorer Darrel Mitchell graduated. However, “Big Baby” center Glen Davis returns as a preseason All-American along with starers Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple. Tack Minor returns to the team at the point and should be a productive addition.

#3: North Carolina

It appears that the top three teams are on another level from the rest of the country. I’ll place the Tarheels on the outside of the top three, although come March any of them could in position to claim the title. Power forward Tyler Hansborough returns as possibly the best player in the country, and small forward Reyshawn Terry joins him to add experience. But the Tarheels’ hopes depend upon the success of its highly regarded recruiting class, led by Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandon Wright. The talent is there, and my only concern will be how the freshman adjust to the college game.

#2: Kansas

The Jayhawks are loaded, returning all five starters from a young team that steadily improved over the course of last season and was predicted by many to reach the final four. Those hopes fell short in the first round last year, but with more experience this time around, expect to see Kansas competing in the national championship this time around. Led by point guard Brandon Rush, forward Julian Wright, shooting guard Julian Wright and adding a strong batch of freshmen, the Jayhawks have talent and lots of depth.

#1: Florida

This isn’t a tough concept: When a team wins the national title and returns all five of its starters, then they are projected to win the title again. The Gators got hot and basically dominated all competition en route to winning the school’s first ever basketball championship. This year, they’ll be the favorite once again, led by All-American center Joakim Noah. Joining him are returning starters in strong power forward Al Horford, sharp perimeter shooter Lee Humphrey, point guard Taurean Green and shooting guard Corey Brewer, all of whom are All-America type talents. This team is going to be very, very tough to beat at any point this season.

College Football- Week 10 Recap and Week 11 Preview

November 9, 2006

The big story of last week was the Thursday night game, as Louisville used the home field to its advantage and pretty much mauled West Virginia. This was honestly a shock to me. I really thought West Virginia could contain the versatile Louisville offensive attack, but the Cardinals proved to have too many weapons and capitalized on some Mountaineer turnovers. Sophomore tailback Steve Slaton pretty much cost himself a trip to the Heisman ceremony, fumbling twice in critical situations with a national title berth on the line. But you have to give Louisville all the credit in the world. They’ve overcome losing their Heisman candidate tailback for the season and losing QB Brian Brohm for six games and are now clicking and are quite simply a beast offensively. It still appears to me that if the Cards can win out, they deserve a chance at the national title, and will likely get one, as they leapfrogged some teams into 3rd place in the BCS standings. Presumably, the loser of the epic forthcoming battle between undefeated Michigan and Ohio State will fall, leaving Louisville in 2nd if they can get past tomorrow night’s game at Rutgers. More on that in a bit. Here are some other highlights from the weekend:

  • LSU and Tennessee showed why SEC football is still the best as they fought back and forth relentlessly for four quarters, with the Tigers prevailing 28-24 in the final seconds. Embattled quarterback JaMarcus Russell showed his stuff and hit Early Doucet with a four-yard touchdown pass in the game’s final seconds. For Tennessee, the loss cost them a distant national title shot, but they’ve overachieved this season in my opinion and even in their losses have shown that they can play with the nation’s best. LSU is still easily the best 2-loss team in the country.
  • Oklahoma continued to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds this season has presented them with and got a huge win on the road against a hot Texas A&M team, winning 17-16. The Sooners are finding ways to win, and I am pretty impressed.
  • Miami had a pretty tough week. After a home loss to Virginia Tech virtually ended any hope Larry Coker had of keeping his job, they had a player killed by a gunshot. This whole season has played out like a horror film for Miami but this tragedy trumps it all. In more uplifting ACC news, Maryland and Wake Forest defied the odds and got huge conference wins over leaders Clemson and Boston College respectively. Now those two figure to face off over Thanksgiving weekend with a trip to the ACC title game on the line! Does anyone else think that sounds more like a basketball game?
  • Undefeated Michigan and Ohio State struggled with bottom-dwelling Northwestern and Illinois respectively, but it doesn’t look like either will be threatened this week, likely setting up the first undefeated meeting between the rivals since 1973. Slightly big game. Ohio State gets its turn with Northwestern while the Wolverines travel to Indiana. What happened to my Hoosiers? Giving up 63 points to a hapless Minnesota team with a bowl game on the line isn’t the best way to make a statement. I’m still not sure how that happened.  

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (10-0)
  2. Michigan (10-0)
  3. Louisville (8-0)
  4. Texas (9-1)
  5. Notre Dame (8-1)
  6. USC (7-1)
  7. Arkansas (8-1)
  8. Auburn (9-1)
  9. Florida (8-1)
  10. West Virginia (7-1)
  11. LSU (7-2)
  12. Tennessee (7-2)
  13. California (8-1)
  14. Boise State (9-0)
  15. Rutgers (8-0)
  16. Oklahoma (7-2)
  17. Wisconsin (9-1)
  18. Georgia Tech (7-2)
  19. Wake Forest (8-1)
  20. Boston College (7-2)
  21. Virginia Tech (7-2)
  22. Nebraska (7-3)
  23. Oregon (7-2)
  24. Maryland (7-2)
  25. Texas A&M (8-2)

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  3. Ray Rice, Rutgers
  4. Mike Hart, Michigan
  5. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

GAMES TO WATCH

 #3 Louisville at #15 Rutgers, Thursday, 6:30 PM CST, ESPN

Big East Thursday night showdown part deux sends Louisville on the road this time to face another undefeated, the surprising Rutgers Scarlet Knights. It appears that Rutgers has a stingier defense than West Virginia, and having the home field for what is surely the school’s biggest game in half a century can’t be taken lightly. Rutgers has a strong running game behind Ray Rice, and if the defense can produce some turnovers and the offense can capitalize, they actually have a chance in this one, likely setting up a BCS catastrophe. There are a lot of “ifs” though, and the way that Louisville is clicking offensively, it is tough to bet against them here.  I’ll be rooting for Rutgers though just for the sake of chaos. Louisville 38, Rutgers 27

#12 Tennessee at #7 Arkansas, 6:00 CST, ESPN 2

In yet another SEC showdown, the cinderella Razorbacks get a big test against a Tennessee team that will be hungry after a heartbreaking loss to LSU last weekend. For Arkansas, winning this one would virtually guarantee a trip to the SEC championship game, as only LSU remains as a major obstacle on the schedule. Even with a loss there, Arkansas wins the tie-breaker by virtue of their win over Auburn. I’ve liked Arkansas all season and can’t turn on them here. Darren McFadden is the SEC’s best running back and should produce here, while Tennessee’s quarterback situation continues to worry me. At home, at night, on national TV, I’ve got to go with the Razorbacks in a close one. Arkansas 21, Tennessee 20

#6 USC at #23 Oregon, 9:15 CST, FSN

USC gets a big test on the road after suffering its first regular season defeat in three years at Oregon State two weeks back. This opponent should present more of a challenge than the Beavers did, but my guess is that the loss to OSU served as a reality check for the Trojans, who are absolutely in a must win situation with formidable foes California and Notre Dame still coming to town. USC has the more talented team but will be tested in a hostile enviroment. I still think the Trojans will get it done this time, but if they don’t, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble.  USC 28, Oregon 21

#22 Nebraska at #25 Texas A&M, 2:30 CST, ABC

This is a game with major implications for the Big 12 championship, not so much for the Aggies, who slipped into 3rd place after a narrow home loss to Oklahoma, but certainly for the Huskers, who anxiously await a rematch with Texas. Nebraska lost a tough game to Oklahoma State after giving the defending champs a tough time, and need this win to get another shot at them. It should be an interesting matchup with two talented QBs and improving defenses, and both teams badly needing a win. I give Nebraska a slight edge, although it’s tough to see the Aggies losing two in a row at home. Nebraska 20, Texas A&M 17

ACC Irony: Miami at #24 Maryland, 2:30, ABC, and #19 Wake Forest at Florida State, 7:00 ABC

These two games seem to have an intersting irony about them, so I grouped them together as one. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that perennial powerhouses Florida State and Miami would be entering these games as potential spoliers that have yet to become bowl eligible? For the two unlikely favorites, they get a chance to officially stake their claim to being worthy of a trip to the ACC championship. After the week Miami has had, I see them having a lot of trouble against a quickly improving Maryland team, especially if QB Kyle Wright can’t play. On the flip side, Wake Forest isn’t going to go into Talahassee at night and win on national TV. Look for the Seminoles to get back on track with a win.  Maryland 16, Miami 10; Florida State 24, Wake Forest 13

Movie Review: Borat- Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

November 9, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (directed by Larry Charles, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Vavitian, 82 minutes) *** out of 4 stars

When I first saw previews for this movie months ago in theaters, I jumped out of my seat with excitement. Having been a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious “Da Ali G Show” on HBO and generally feeling that anyone at this point who has not seen the show must be living under a rock, I was prepared for the hype. As it turns out, there are several folks out there who indeed have never seen the show, and my guess is that they are going to enjoy this movie even more than I did.

When I first heard that Cohen was going to turn arguably his most hilarious alter-ego, Borat, into a full-fledged feature film, a few questions came immediately to mind. For one, I wondered how on earth he was going to make a whole movie about this one character alone. Was there going to be a plot or was he just going to randomly shock unsuspecting Americans with his often unfathomable antics? And how was he going to get enough material to fill an entire feature-length film? Don’t most Americans know who Borat is anyway from the HBO series?

For those who still have no idea what this movie is about, it is a pretty simple concept and it is easy to see how funny it can be if certain aspects of it are pulled off correctly. Cohen stars as Borat, a fake character who lives in Kazakhstan as a news reporter and is sent to the United States to learn about its culture and make improvements in his homeland based on his findings. From there, he encounters the melting pot of diversity that is America and basically every stereotype about every possible ethnicity in America and beyond is magnified and pushed to the limit in unprecedented comedic fashion. I have heard people say that it is the most offensive movie that they have ever seen, while still admitting that they couldn’t stop laughing over the course of the film.

For those that can take the otherwise offensive ethnic stereotypes lightly, this movie is worth seeing. And those who are offended by this movie probably need to loosen up and recognize its decided lack of targeting any one particular group. Cohen’s Borat is from the Middle East and hates Jews, but Cohen himself is of course Jewish. In fact, the incredible amount of anti-Semitic commentary is actually more of an insult to Borat’s religious beliefs, as they come off appearing ignorant and unfounded. Over the course of the movie, every other imaginable group is mocked, from homosexuals and crazy Southern Baptists to extreme right wing rodeo men, left wing feminists, African-Americans, misled fraternity boys and even prostitutes. The dialogue is incredibly politically incorrect and is so far over the line that a rational person can’t help but guffaw uncontrollably from start to finish, recognizing the underlying comedic element of Cohen’s character: All of our stereotypes are utterly absurd.

The funniest moments of “Borat” are undeniably his unstaged encounters with Americans who have no idea what or who he is or that any of his antics are a joke at their expense. These are the moments that are most reminiscent of “Da Ali G Show.” Highlights include attempts to kiss random men on both cheeks in public, relieving himself in multiple ways in broad daylight, the always popular dinner party, “accidentally” releasing a live hen out of a suitcase on a public train, and of course, hitchhiking with some fraternity boys on an RV. Just as was the case on the HBO series, what makes these scenes even more funny than they are intrinsically is Cohen’s ability to somehow maintain an unwavering straight face.

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t able to stand alone on these unstaged encounters. Cohen’s major obstacle in turning this character into a full movie was certainly continuity, and as a result a “plotline” was worked into the madness. With plot comes staged situations, and while funny, some of the obviously pre-written scenes take away from the overall hilarity. The Pamela Anderson plotline couldn’t possibly be any more absurd, and while I suppose was necessary to make the movie work, the staginess of the scenes setting it up reminded me a bit of home-made mockumentary short-lengths I have been a part of.

Of course, probably the funniest scene in the movie is staged. It involves Borat and his producer Azamat, and suffice to say that the men are both naked. I will leave it at that. Aside from that scene, having Azamat’s character in pretty much any other part of the film seemed like filler. The two men speak pre-written foreign dialogue with subtitles for much of the movie. My wife, who is Armenian, noticed that Azamat’s character was speaking Armenian while Borat’s character was speaking another language. What’s more, the subtitles didn’t even translate remotely to the Armenian being spoken. I could have done without any of this.

Despite the relative lulls that the necessity of carrying out a “plotline” in such a film requires, the movie still works well. There are enough moments of unparalleled hilarity to merit many re-watches. That anyone can put so much effort into such insanity and maintain his calm in the midst of such indisputable comedic moments while all the while taking an intelligent stab at American culture is a credit to Sacha Baron Cohen.