Archive for November 2007

College Football Recap- All Inclusive

November 26, 2007

I haven’t been able to check in recently regarding the developments in what may be the strangest season of college football that as ever been. Looking ahead to next week, here are some thoughts about what has transpired recently and what it means for the BCS games and ultimately for the national title. In a season that looked destined to end with several teams undefeated due to weak preseason scheduling across the board, we find ourselves with only five teams in Division 1-A with less than two losses, and only one of which is undefeated (Hawaii, with a cupcake schedule and no voice in the national title debate). That’s truly amazing.

The most astounding recent development has been Oregon’s downward progression from being a national title contender to dropping completely off of the BCS radar. I think it’s safe to say that Dennis Dixon was a slightly important part of that team. Is it possible that the Ducks will never score again now that he is out for the season? Their hapless performance in a 16-0 loss at UCLA suggests as much. As for the rest of the Pac-10, Arizona State is finally beginning to show its true colors and USC is going to find its way into another Rose Bowl despite an incredibly disappointing season by any measure. Of course, if UCLA pulls the upset and Arizona beats Arizona State, then guess who wins the Pac-10 tiebreaker? It’s the Bruins. Impossible? Not this year. Do the math.

Another shocker over the weekend was LSU’s epic triple overtime loss at home against a rapidly improving Arkansas team. How much fun as the SEC been to watch this season? There have been so many games that have come down to the last play and enough overtime nailbiters to fill a decade’s worth of highlight reels. I had really been pulling for LSU this season as I truly felt that they had the best team in the nation since Week 1, but in the end the defense just wasn’t strong enough to earn them a spot in the national championship. I still have them rated as the top two-loss team in the nation based on the fact that both of their losses came in triple-overtime, but can no longer make a strong argument to put them in the championship even if they beat Tennessee in the SEC Championship. Very simply, they had their chances to stop Arkansas and couldn’t get it done. The play that will always be remembered was the 4th and 10 play in the second overtime. Arkansas isn’t known for its passing game, but Casey Dick delivered a pass to a wide open receiver after getting all day from his offensive line. That was a big mental breakdown by the LSU secondary, and that’s the one play that cost the Tigers a national title this season.

The game of the weekend was obviously Kansas vs. Missouri, a game that certainly didn’t fly off the page earlier in the season when we looked over the schedules. The implications hanging on the game was so great for that rivalry, one that hasn’t had a meaningful football game in as long as I can remember. Missouri controlled the game from the onset, scoring four touchdowns in the first half but Kansas came clawing back in the second half and had the ball with a chance to win the game with a touchdown. In a stunning turn of events, Missouri forced a safety on the first play from scrimmage with a full-out blitz, effectively ending the game and holding on to win 36-28. The guy sitting behind me had Kansas +7 in a teaser bet. Needless to say he wasn’t thrilled with the Kansas offensive line. That’s maybe the worst thing I’ve ever heard in terms of bad luck spread betting.

Tennessee held on to win at Kentucky in maybe the weekend’s most exciting game and earned themselves a spot in the SEC Championship against LSU. Although it didn’t have any championship implications, how great was it to watch these teams score four touchdowns each in four overtimes and have the game come down to those tricky little two point conversion play calls? I still find it somewhat absurd that the college overtime begins with the offense on the 25 yard line, although the one time that Tennessee had to start from the 40 (after a TERRIBLE unsportsmanlike conduct call) they scored on the first play! Anybody care to tell me the top eight teams in the SEC, in order? There’s not very much separating them. Saturday’s championship game will be worth a watch for sure despite its sudden lack of national title relevance. I won’t be betting against too many SEC teams come bowl time.
So, how about that national title? To me, it seems pretty simple. I’ll start with West Virginia, who is playing the best offensive football in the country right now, and who gets a pretty easy task as 4-7 Pittsburgh comes to town. As many upsets as we’ve seen this season, if the Mountaineers were to lose that one at home with a trip to national championship on the line, that might trump them all. In short, it’s not going to happen, and we’ll be seeing West Virginia playing for a national title for the first time since 1988. Figuring out who they’ll be playing seems pretty cut and dry as well. Missouri gets a rematch against Oklahoma, the only team that’s beaten them this season, in the Big 12 Championship. If they win, they’re in, but I’m not counting on that, as I’m still not sold on the overall quality of their conference victories. They’ve beaten Illinois and Kansas narrowly, but don’t have a true marquee win to their credit. For the sake of making things interesting, let’s say the Sooners beat Missouri as I predict that they will. Then what happens? It’s likely that Ohio State will be the team to step up, despite not having a win over a top 20 team and not having to win a conference championship game. And it’s actually kind of sad if that ends up being the case, that two one-loss teams with pretty weak schedules will get the nod to play for the title when two loss-teams such as LSU, USC, Oklahoma and even Georgia have played tougher schedules and might even be favored against either of those teams. That’s the nature of the college football format, and it’s made for quite a wild and wacky season, but to me, the 2007 season is going to provide the best argument yet for a playoff system.

TOP 50 OF THE MATTY

  1. West Virginia (10-1)
  2. Missouri (11-1)
  3. Ohio State (11-1)
  4. LSU (10-2)
  5. Virginia Tech (10-2)
  6. Oklahoma (10-2)
  7. USC (9-2)
  8. Georgia (10-2)
  9. Kansas (11-1)
  10. Hawaii (11-0)
  11. Boston College (10-2)
  12. Florida (9-3)
  13. Tennessee (9-3)
  14. Oregon (8-3)
  15. Illinois (9-3)
  16. South Florida (9-3)
  17. Auburn (8-4)
  18. Arizona State (9-2)
  19. Texas (9-3)
  20. Wisconsin (9-3)
  21. Cincinnati (9-3)
  22. Arkansas (8-4)
  23. Clemson (9-3)
  24. BYU (9-2)
  25. Michigan (8-4)
  26. Rutgers (7-4)
  27. Virginia (9-3)
  28. Boise State (10-2)
  29. Air Force (9-3)
  30. Kentucky (7-5)
  31. Connecticut (9-3)
  32. Georgia Tech (7-5)
  33. Oregon State (7-4)
  34. Texas Tech (8-4)
  35. Troy (8-3)
  36. Penn State (8-4)
  37. Tulsa (9-3)
  38. California (6-5)
  39. Florida State (7-5)
  40. Michigan State (7-5)
  41. Mississippi State (7-5)
  42. Wake Forest (8-4)
  43. UCF (9-3)
  44. Alabama (6-6)
  45. South Carolina (6-6)
  46. Indiana (7-5)
  47. Houston (8-4)
  48. Oklahoma State (6-6)
  49. Texas A & M (7-5)
  50. Utah (8-4)

HEISMAN BREAKDOWN

It’s really a three man race, only one of which has another game left. But I’ll add on another two just for argument’s sake.

#1: Tim Tebow, Florida: It would be hard to find a more valuable player to his team, or one who his more versatile. Tebow threw for three touchdowns and ran for two in Saturday’s romping over Florida State. That’s tough to top even with so many legitimate claims to this award this season.

#2: Darren McFadden, Arkansas: McFadden is easily in the top two pure college running backs of this decade along with Adrian Peterson, and he proved his worth again in running for 206 yards and three touchdowns against LSU, and even threw a touchdown pass as well.

#3: Chase Daniel, Missouri: Daniel’s stats against Kansas were almost too impossibly-good to be true. He threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns on an incredible 40-49 passing. If he plays like that and beats Oklahoma, he could skyrocket to the top of this chart, and in any event is the main reason that Missouri is this year’s Cinderella story.

#4: Pat White, West Virginia: Flying under the radar for most of the season, White has been the catalyst in West Virginia’s sudden emergence offensively. His dual threat capabilities and lightning quick speed may very well lead the Mountaineers to a national championship and he can’t be overlooked.

#5: Dennis Dixon, Oregon: He has no shot to win now after being knocked out for the season with an ACL injury, but deserves recognition purely due to the difference his presence clearly makes to his team, which has been anemic offensively since his loss.

WINE OF THE MONTH- OCTOBER

November 20, 2007

At a dinner recently at the fantastic Gary Danko, one of my favorite restaurants in the world, I ordered a glass of the 2005 Mollydooker The Boxer Barossa Valley Shiraz to go with my lamb and squab courses. To my shock and amazement, my waiter brought me out a bottle of the 2006 Barossa Shiraz and appeared ready to pour. “No!” I exclaimed! Wasn’t it common knowledge that the 2005 Barossa vintage is a well-tested monster? I wasn’t about to taste test this youngster with such an immaculate meal; I needed a proven superstar. Unfortunately, there weren’t any other 2005s from Barossa available by the glass, and the waiter suggested that I simply order a bottle. I, however, had other ideas, and noticed a particular 2005 Barossa Shiraz on the bottle list that I’ve had my eye on for some time and haven’t been able to find. So I suggested to the waiter that to compensate for the error on the menu that he open a bottle of that for me, and promised to have at least two glasses. And like a five-star restaurant should, he opened me my own bottle to drink by the glass. The funny part was that I probably could have gotten it by the bottle since I ended up ordering three glasses of it and still wanted more. To make things better, he even gave them to me for the lesser price of the original glass, which was truly a steal. But that’s not the point. The point is: Scoop this one up, (if you can find it) because it’s pretty amazing for the price.

SCHILD BAROSSA VALLEY SHIRAZ 2005, 93 POINTS, $25, 10,000 cases made
Subtle aromas of licorice, chocolate, cocoa powder and violet. Soft, seamless mouthfeel of perfumey black fruit evolves into a blast of chocolate, pepper spice and light leather components. Incredibly long finish, dominated by blasts of cocoa and light pepper spice, impeccably balanced.

College Basketball Preview

November 9, 2007

Since polls mean essentially nothing in College Basketball, I’m going to be very brief. These are my Top Ten teams for the 2007-2008 season, and the ones I expect to battle for a trip to the Final Four. You won’t see the Kentucky Wildcats on this list, because they lost to Gardner-Webb last night. Hee Hee! What’s better than that? I’m simply giddy over it! I digress…..

#10: USC: Remember that athletic team that nearly ran North Carolina out the gym in last year’s NCAA tournament before faltering late? The Trojans will be for real this year, behind returning standout 6-9 sophomore Taj Gibson. Expect freshman O.J. Mayo to make an immediate impact and for sophomore point guard Daniel Hackett to step things up.

#9: Michigan State: The Spartans lost am exhibition game last week, but I won’t hold that against them quite yet as it doesn’t count towards their actual resume and I can’t imagine they were going full till. Senior guard Drew Neitzel might be the best player in the Big Ten and will lead a young but athletic squad. Junior forward Marquise Gray should provide some power on the inside, while sophomore Raymar Morgan adds speed and athleticism.

#8: Indiana: Hooray! I can’t remember the last time my Hoosiers were a legitimate Top Ten team. But this year they most certainly are, led by senior center D.J. White who will be back to full strength and fully poised for a huge year. Freshman Eric Gordon figures to be a major scoring factor, while sophomore Armon Bassett should emerge as one of the Big Ten’s premier point guards. The Hoosiers add a nice supporting cast of freshman talent and return sharp-shooting starters A.J. Ratliff and Lance Stemler.

#7: Louisville: This is a team that really got hot towards the end of last season, and nearly knocked off a very tough Texas A&M team on St. Patrick’s Day. Senior center David Padgett spearheads a solid, speedy group with talented starters returning. Sophomore point guard Edgar Sosa was a major factor in last year’s tourney, while senior forward Juan Palacios provides strength and versatility.

#6: Georgetown: Jeff Green’s early departure keeps the Hoyas from being a preseason top three team, but they still have tons of talent, led by the nation’s best center in 7-2 Roy Hibbert. Two more starters from last year’s Final Four team return in senior point guard Jonathon Wallace and sophomore forward DeJuan Summers, while the athletic Patrick Ewing Jr. figures to provide some fireworks this season. The Hoyas will again be athletic and defensive-minded, and have a lot of experience under their belts.

#5: Tennessee: I still can’t shake off how good the Vols looked in the first half of last year’s NCAA tournament loss to Ohio State in the Sweet 16. They were probably the most athletic team I saw all last season, but that performance showed what they were really capable of. Senior shooting guard Chris Lofton returns as a bonafide Player of the Year candidate, while point guard JaJuan Smith returns as well off a season in which he averaged 15.2 points per game. Tennessee shows more depth and experience behind forwards Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism and guard Ramar Smith.

#4: Memphis: The Tigers return four starters from last year’s Elite Eight squad and have the firepower to demonstrate their athleticism at terrifying levels. Junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts will lead this deep squad, and the Tigers will have plenty of scoring options behind returning starters such as senior Joey Dorsey, junior forward Robert Dozier, and sophomore point guard Willie Kemp. Freshman guard Derrick Rose adds more depth and athleticism and should be one of the country’s most dominating new forces.

#3: UCLA: I have to admit that the Bruins surprised me last year when they topped Kansas to earn a trip to the Final Four. They’ve lost their leader and best player in Arron Afflalo, but the poise and teamwork they showed in that game went a long way with me. They’ll still have strong backcourt play behind junior point guard Darron Collison and returning starter Josh Shipp. Dynamic small forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returns to the starting lineup as well, and freshman center Kevin Love was touted as the top recruit of the season. The Bruins look well-rounded and extremely solid once again.

#2: Kansas: The Jayhawks breathed a sigh of relief when star junior shooting guard Brandon Rush decided to return to school. His return solidifies the nation’s deepest and most talented backcourt complete with senior point guard Russell Robinson and sharpshooters Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins. Kansas has returning starters in the frontcourt in junior power forward Darrell Arthur and senior center Sausha Kahn, and appear to have the depth to move forward on last year’s finish. The departure of leading scorer Julian Wright is the only thing keeping the Jayhawks from being my #1 team, but the return of four experienced starters should put them right in the mix.

#1: North Carolina: The Tarheels basically had a trip to the Final Four in hand last season before completely breaking down and blowing a ten point lead late in the regional final. Junior power forward Tyler Hansborough returns as the consensus preseason player of the year, and has strong support from speedy sophomore guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, who started all of last season and made huge scoring contributions as freshmen. The ‘Heels will need to find some depth behind that ferocious threesome, and will look toward junior swingmen Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green to take steps forward.

College Football Recap- Week 10

November 9, 2007

Briefly, my thoughts on last week’s action:

I’m not quite ready to get into a full-blown BCS debate quite yet, although I think most of us can agree that if LSU wins out, it would be a crime not to see them there. This tough Tiger team has battled back time after time, coming back to beat Florida and Auburn earlier in the season only to escape once more last weekend against a very tough Alabama squad. The defense certainly doesn’t look as strong as it did earlier this season, but it came up huge when called upon to force a fumble deep in Alabama territory to set up the winning touchdown. With Early Doucet back to full health and this team playing with such determination right now, I don’t see a better one loss team out there. And don’t forget that their only loss came on the road and in triple overtime.

However, tough games remain for the Tigers, who still face Arkansas as well as the champion of the SEC East, which is totally up for grabs between Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. If they slip up, that opens the door for a few other teams. Oregon got an impressive win against an undefeated (but probably overrated) Arizona State team and moved into the third slot in the BCS standings. However, I can’t quite shake the feeling that the winner of the Big 12 will make a push for that slot as well. Honestly, if the surprising Kansas Jayhawks were to win out and finish the season undefeated (they’ll still have to beat Missouri and Oklahoma, which I can’t imagine happening), how could they possibly be left out? If all of these teams falter, don’t forget about West Virginia, who seems to be really heating up right now.

As far as Ohio State is concerned, I’m finally ready to admit that they’re much, much better than I thought. I analyzed my reasoning to the contrary up to this point, and realized the very simple mistake that I and a lot of others made: No one believed that Todd Boeckman could step into the quarterback slot as a freshman and play as well as he has. We all knew the defense would be among the nation’s best and that tailback Chris Wells had a lot of potential, but who would ever have believed that Boeckman could be so dominant? He’s sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 66% of his passes in throwing for 23 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. I suppose you could still argue that he hasn’t played anyone that tough, but the Buckeyes haven’t really had a close game either. Some experts are even saying that Boeckman should be high in the running for the Heisman! Now that’s just amazing.

Might I mention that Connecticut is winning the Big East and is a one-point loss to Virginia away from being undefeated? That’s equally amazing.

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#14 Michigan at Wisconsin, 11:00 CST, ABC: Wow, the Wolverines really showed what they were made of last week, scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes to get a must-win game at Michigan State. They’ll go on the road again this week to face an improving Badger squad, but I can’t imagine they’ll rob us all of the right to watch another Ohio State matchup with giant implications. Wisconsin tailback P.J. Hill’s status is also a concern.

Arkansas at #21 Tennessee, 11:30 CST: Somebody really needs to pick up these SEC games, it’s ridiculous that they aren’t nationally televised! Anyway, the Vols are still in the running to win the SEC East, and can earn the right to control their own destiny if they can knock off the feisty Razorbacks and can get a little help from Auburn, who faces Georgia. They’ll have to step up on defense, which has been a soft spot all season, to stop all-world running back Darren McFadden.

#16 Auburn at #13 Georgia, 2:30 CST, CBS: This game has huge implications as both squads are still battling to win their respective divisions of the SEC and keep BCS bowl hopes alive. Either way, both teams are hot and, somewhat amazingly, both have wins over Florida. To me, it looks like a total tossup, as Auburn’s stout defense tries to stop a dynamic Bulldog offense while Georgia’s below average defense should hold its own against the relatively unproductive Tiger offense.

#23 Illinois at #1 Ohio State, 2:30 CST, ABC: Nobody would have predicted the Illini to be the third best team in the Big Ten, but with wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, that certainly seems to be the case. They’ll have their hands full this time on the road against the best team in the land, and I imagine they’ll struggle mightily on offense, but they did give the Buckeyes a run for their money last season.

#17 Florida at South Carolina, 6:30 CST, ESPN: The Ole Ball Coach gets his old squad and alma mater at home this year in a virtual must-win game for both teams. The Gamecocks were probably a bit overrated earlier in the season, but certainly have the firepower to pull the upset despite their recent woes. I still think Florida is the best three-loss team in the country though, and have a lot to prove still this season. Tim Tebow may be too much for South Carolina in this one.

#11 USC at #19 California, 7:00 CST, ABC: This game certainly lost a lot of luster. Five weeks ago, these were the #1 and #2 teams in the country, but they’ve lost five games between them since then. USC has been banged up all year, and would need some serious help to get into the Rose Bowl even if they win here (Oregon would have to lose both of its next two games at UCLA and against Oregon State). Cal, however, would clinch a berth with only one Oregon loss if they can win here, and this is the game the Bears have been waiting for all season.

#6 Kansas at Oklahoma State, 7:00 CST, ABC: Undefeated Kansas attempts to continue its surprising run, but they may get a bit more than they bargained for with this matchup. The Cowboys have everything to gain here, and have been on fire since Mike Gundy’s rant,  beating Nebraska and Kansas State before losing narrowly to Texas.
 TOP 25 OF THE MATTY:

  1. Ohio State (10-0)
  2. LSU (9-1)
  3. Oklahoma (8-1)
  4. Oregon (8-1)
  5. West Virginia (7-1)
  6. Kansas (9-0)
  7. Missouri (8-1)
  8. Boston College (8-1)
  9. Hawaii (8-0)
  10. Virginia Tech (7-2)
  11. USC (7-2)
  12. Arizona State (8-1)
  13. Georgia (7-2)
  14. Michigan (8-2)
  15. Connecticut (8-1)
  16. Auburn (7-3)
  17. Florida (6-3)
  18. Texas (8-2)
  19. California (6-3)
  20. Alabama (6-3)
  21. Tennessee (6-3)
  22. Boise State (8-1)
  23. Illinois (7-3)
  24. Cincinnati (7-2)
  25. South Florida (6-3)

HEISMAN WATCH:

  1. Tim Tebow, Florida
  2. Darren McFadden, Arkansas
  3. Dennis Dixon, Oregon
  4. Mike Hart, Michigan
  5. Matt Ryan, Boston College