Archive for September 2008

College Football Recap, Week 5

September 30, 2008

Every year, there’s a week early in the season that takes what looked like a simplified layout for the postseason and turns it completely upside down. In 2008, it was Week 5, where all of my top three teams went down. Once again, it appears that there is a large cluster of teams that have moved up into championship contention with remarkable speed, and that if any of them fail to run the table (a likely scenario), the BCS will once again open itself to the collective roar of controversy as several one-loss teams make their case for a chance to play for the title. As for that, time will tell. For the time being, here’s a brief recap of what happened in the shake-up of 2008.

-The writing was on the wall early on, as USC suffered a shocking loss at Oregon State, where they always seem to have trouble. The Beavers were ready, jumping out to a 21-0 lead behind a midget running back who admitted that “they couldn’t find me.” The Trojans made a late push, but it was too little too late, and when Oregon State recovered the USC onside kick to lock up the game, the rush of burnt Orange onto the field was something to behold. I can only pray that they roasted a beaver in celebration.

– So much for “The World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party” featuring an undefeated #1 vs #2 matchup, as both Florida and Georgia bit the dust Saturday as strong favorites. It’s hard to say which team’s title hopes were damaged the most, but if I have to choose, I’d pick Florida. The Gator defense can’t be giving up 31 points a game to teams like Ole Miss at home and expect much consideration, not to mention that missing an extra point (whether it was blocked or not) in a game-tying situation is simply inconceivable. And aside from that, Florida couldn’t even convert on a 4th and 1 with time winding down that would have kept hope alive for a game-winning field goal attempt. Equally inexplicable was Alabama’s suddenly devastating aerial attack running up a 31-0 lead on a highly touted Georgia defense at halftime. Oh, and that was at Georgia to boot. After such a dominating first half, no amount of second half scoring was going to save the Bulldogs in front of a stunned, blacked out crowd. It remains to be seen just how good Alabama is though, so I still think that Georgia remains closer to the title chase; it is pretty clear that they lost to the better team. Now, a November 8th matchup between Alabama and LSU in Baton Rouge looks like it could hold a ticket to the title game, along with other things, like potential anti-Saban debauchery.

-The ACC continued its free fall, as both Clemson and Wake Forest both lost games they should have won, to Maryland and Navy respectively. At least Florida State was able to knock off Colorado. Amazingly, only the Deacon Demons represent the entire conference in the Top 25, and they do so by the smallest of possible margins. I can’t even begin to think what I’d be doing if I was a Clemson fan. What a waste of a slew of talent, and not for the first time.

– If there’s a sleeper team for the title conversation, it has to be Penn State. The Nittany Lions have played as well as anyone, and looked impressive offensively in their first real challenge, a 38-24 victory over Illinois. The difference may very well be the emergence of QB Darryl Clark combined with a strong running attack anchored by sophmore Evan Royster. The quality of the defense is rarely in question with this team, and such a powerful offensive attack could be lethal. In other Big Ten action, Michigan bounced back from an embarrasing loss at Notre Dame to shock Wisconsin in the Big House after trailing 19-0 at halftime. Words can’t even describe how big of a win this was for the rebuilding program. And, perhaps Notre Dame is for real after all, as Purdue was little match for the Fighting Irish in South Bend.

– Don’t look now, but I have four Big 12 teams in my top 7! Surely that is the first time such a thing has ever happened, and surely it cannot last much longer. I still submit that Texas can’t possibly be as good as they appear, but for the time being, they’re just beating teams too easily to overlook. In any event, you’ll likely be surprised by my new #1. I know for a fact that they’ve never, ever topped the Matty list, but I’m convinced that their offense is second to none.

THE TOP 25 OF THE MATTY:

  1. Missouri (4-0)
  2. Oklahoma (4-0)
  3. Alabama (5-0)
  4. LSU (4-0)
  5. Penn State (5-0)
  6. Texas Tech (5-0)
  7. Texas (4-0)
  8. USC (2-1)
  9. Georgia (4-1)
  10. Florida (4-1)
  11. Ohio State (4-1)
  12. Auburn (4-1)
  13. South Florida (5-0)
  14. Kansas (3-1)
  15. BYU (4-0)
  16. Wisconsin (3-1)
  17. Utah (4-0)
  18. Vanderbilt (4-0)
  19. Boise State (3-0)
  20. Fresno State (3-1)
  21. Oregon (4-1)
  22. Wake Forest (3-1)
  23. Maryland (4-1)
  24. Kentucky (4-0)
  25. Oklahoma State (4-0)

HEISMAN WATCH:

  1. Chase Daniel, Missouri
  2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
  3. Max Hall, BYU
  4. Tim Tebow, Florida
  5. Javon Ringer, Michigan State

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#12 Auburn at #18 Vanderbilt, 5:00 CST, ESPN: Auburn has been tested in close games over the past two weeks and should be ready for what will be a hungry Commodores squad. In the end, Auburn appears poised to pull out another narrow victory.

#21 Oregon at #8 USC, 7:00 CST, ABC: Oh dear, I really feel for the Ducks in this one. USC got their wake-up call, and Oregon’s road conquests weren’t flattered by Purdue’s thrashing against Notre Dame. The Ducks all but lost to Purdue on the road in Week 3.

#11 Ohio State at #16 Wisconsin, 7:00 CST, ABC: This is easily the best game of the day, but it isn’t nearly as good as it could have been. While either team could still win the conference, it appears to be for second place at this point. It’s must-win for both teams, although the Badgers, being at home, probably need it more. Ohio State still has chances against Penn State and Michigan at home as well as a road trip to Illinois.

WINE OF THE MONTH- September

September 23, 2008

By now it is probably common knowledge on this site that my favorite wine varietal is Syrah. I try my best to showcase other varietals on my Wine of The Month feature, but I always seem to find my way back to a Syrah at least once a quarter. The fact is, there are still so many affordable bottles of great Syrah out there (especially from Australia), and I end up drinking a lot of them. This month, I stumbled upon a Syrah that really caught my eye, as it exhibited an innovative flavor profile relative to what I am used to in this varietal. I also decided to feature another wine that has been featured here before, but continues to amaze me with its dependable quality and affordability year after year.

JIM BARRY SHIRAZ THE LODGE HILL CLARE VALLEY 2006, 90 Points, $16, 5000 Cases Produced

Juicy, minty fruit aromas. Flavors are up front and well-intertwined, with dark raspberry and red cherry leading into distinctive mint chocolate chip notes. Pepper and clove spice add complexity through the long length, leaving a finish of chocolate covered cherries and peppermints. Innovative and yummy stuff.

Also worth seeking out:

THORN-CLARKE SHOTFIRE SHIRAZ BAROSSA VALLEY 2006, 91 Points, $20, 15000 Cases Produced

From screw-cap, a first for this wine. Refined and well-balanced with aromas of dark plum, boysenberry, cinnamon spice and leather. Sleek, flavorful body of dark red fruits and licorice backed by sweet pepper, cinnamon spice and notes of mint and tobacco. Fruit lingers with great spicy texture, a leathery hint and fine tannins add complexity, fantastic again.

College Football Recap Week 4

September 18, 2008

The first weekend of truly meaningful games wasn’t short on drama (or unexpected blowouts). In case you missed it, this is what happened while I spent last Saturday with three television sets in front of me, eating homemade pulled pork sandwiches and jambalaya and drinking micro brews with a group of friends:

– The weekend’s most exciting game took place Friday night, as Kansas blew a 20-10 halftime lead at South Florida. I have to say, either coach Jim Leavitt gave a rousing pep talk at halftime or the Jayhawk defense was spent after the end of the first half, because South Florida hung 17 points on the board in the 3rd quarter. Kansas QB Todd Reesing was impressive in leading two scoring drives that tied the game late in the 4th quarter, and was driving again with a potential game-winning field goal in his sights, but a risky pass was intercepted and returned into Jayhawk territory. South Florida kicked the game winning field goal as time expired to win a highly entertaining battle and remain undefeated.

– USC absolutely manhandled Ohio State at home, surprising no one apparently except for me. I’m not sure why I keep proclaiming the superiority of the Buckeye defense. They’ve shown time and time again that their domination on defense applies only to mediocre competition, and that in big games against top teams, they can’t seem to get the job done. Offensively, no one expected them to be very productive without Chris Wells, but I’m guessing even with their star tailback they might have managed only about another ten points or so in a best case scenario. They just looked out of sync on both sides of the ball, just as they have in their past two national title appearances. All of a sudden, Penn State and Wisconsin are looking like formidable foes to contest for the Big Ten title.

– Fresno State missed a big opportunity at home against Wisconsin, losing 13-10 in somewhat of a snoozer in which the Bulldogs missed three field goals. They certainly proved that they belong in the BCS discussion, but likely needed this game to get there.

– The SEC action was summed up in two words: Defensive Struggle. Georgia narrowly won at South Carolina after Knowshon Moreno powered into the end zone late in the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 victory and keep their title hopes alive. More hilariously, Auburn won at Mississippi State 3-2 with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th. You have got to be kidding me.

– With the exception of USC, the Pac-10 had an incredibly rough weekend. Actually, that’s an understatement. The day started off badly as California was never a factor until it was too late against a struggling Maryland team that was coming off a loss to Middle Tennessee State. It got worse after BYU whipped UCLA 59-0, probably the biggest surprise of the day considering the huge win against Tennessee that the Bruins were riding high on, and the extra week that they had to prepare for a team they faced twice last season. Arizona State lost a close one at home to UNLV (in football?) and Arizona lost to New Mexico (yikes!) Aside from that, Oregon was very lucky to escape against a Purdue team that they probably should have buried, and Washington was never a factor against Oklahoma. USC should walk through this conference and a spot in the national championship is all but a certainty now.

-And how can I possibly ignore the most amazing moment anyone will witness all season, as Charlie Weis got his legs taken out from under him from behind by his own player, suffered a horrific knee injury and caused a mini-earthquake across South Bend. Amazingly, Notre Dame capitalized on three Michigan turnovers inside their own 20-yard line, added a couple of long passes from emerging QB Casey Clauson, and won easily over their arch rival. Why does it always seem like the obvious favorite in this game loses every year? I’m done betting on this game.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. USC (2-0)
  2. Georgia (3-0)
  3. Florida (3-0)
  4. Missouri (3-0)
  5. Oklahoma (3-0)
  6. Texas Tech (3-0)
  7. Wisconsin (3-0)
  8. LSU (2-0)
  9. Alabama (3-0)
  10. Auburn (3-0)
  11. Ohio State (2-1)
  12. Texas (2-0)
  13. South Florida (3-0)
  14. Kansas (2-1)
  15. Wake Forest (2-0)
  16. Clemson (2-1)
  17. Penn State (3-0)
  18. Illinois (2-1)
  19. Oregon (3-0)
  20. BYU (3-0)
  21. East Carolina (3-0)
  22. Fresno State (1-1)
  23. West Virginia (1-1)
  24. Utah (3-0)
  25. Vanderbilt (3-0)

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#3 Florida at Tennessee, 2:30 PM CST, CBS: This is a huge game for Phil Fulmer and company at home against a team with their eyes on a second national title in three years. With 100,000 in orange and an improving offense, this is a winnable game for the Vols if their defense can stop Florida’s dynamic offense.

#15 Wake Forest at Florida State, 6:00 PM CST, ESPN2: The ACC is a bit down this year, but this will be one of the most important games during the conference season.

#8 LSU at #10 Auburn, 6:45 PM CST, ESPN: Prediction- this will be a defensively oriented game. Still, the winner should emerge as the favorite in the SEC West.

#2 Georgia at Arizona State, 7:00 CST, ABC: The Bulldogs had better not look as rusty on offense as they did last weekend, because they’re heading into a pit of fire in Tempe against an angry Sun Devil team that has the offensive firepower to make this interesting.

College Football Week 1 and 2 Recap

September 9, 2008

Two weeks of the college football season are in the books, and the landscape appears about the same as it did a fortnight ago as we head into a big weekend of games. In case you missed it, here were the important developments:

– The ACC is not very strong this season. In the first week, both of the two teams from that conference ranked in the Top 20 lost their openers. The most shocking of these was certainly the thrashing that Clemson took at the hands of a rebuilding Alabama team, which managed to limit the production of that (allegedly) strong running attack. If that wasn’t bad enough, always tough Virginia Tech was upset by East Carolina, which of course looked a bit more understandable after the Pirates dominated a top ten team in West Virginia the following week. Still, that leaves Wake Forest, and Ole Miss, one of the SEC’s bottom-dwellers, gave them all that they could handle in a narrow Deamon Decon victory. This past weekend, Florida kept a young Miami offense out of the end zone in a 26-3 win. That leaves Florida State I suppose, and although I still expect Clemson to finish the season strongly, the ACC appears to have taken a step backwards.

– The hyped showdown between USC and Ohio State this coming weekend nearly lost a lot of luster as Ohio State needed all of four quarters to put away cross-state rival Ohio. I’m still giving the Buckeyes the benefit of the doubt and keeping them in my top spot, as the offense truly appeared to be out of sync without star tailback Chris Wells, who sustained a foot injury in the opener. On the other side of the coin, the Trojans were quite impressive in a 52-7 domination at Virginia.

– The most exciting game of the first two weeks had to be the offensive showdown between Illinois and Missouri. Both teams will have to get sturdier on defense to achieve the goals they’re hoping for this season, but in the end Missouri’s offense was too powerful as the Tigers won 52-42.

– The UCLA program took a huge step in the right direction, as they capitalized on Tennessee’s mistakes and took advantage of opportunities on special teams to win 27-24 in overtime. I have to be honest, I was pretty certain that not only would the Vols win the game, but that they would cover the 7.5 point spread easily against a pretty depleted Bruins squad. This was a huge surprise, but whether the UCLA team can sustain this kind of energy remains to be seen. They’ll get a big test this weekend as they travel to BYU.

-Speaking of BYU, their contraversial win at Washington may have been last weekend’s most entertaining game. For those that missed it, Washington scored in the final seconds to draw within 28-27 with an extra point looming to put the game into overtime. Quarterback Jake Locker scrambled into the end zone for the score and in a fit of excitement, tossed the football over his shoulder and began celebrating with his teammates. The officials deemed this to be excessive celebration, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that turned a usually automatic extra point into a 35 yard field goal, which of course was blocked. You can tell me a million times that a rule is a rule and I will tell you right back that I don’t care. This was horrible judgement by the officials to make such a game-changing call in such an emotional moment. Really, really bad stuff. And how about Washington? As a reward for playing Oregon to open the season, and then suffering the BYU loss at the hands of overzealous officials, they get to go to Norman and play the Oklahoma Sooners. Nice.

– To me, even only two weeks in, there appears to be a clear separation between the Top 6 teams on my list and the rest of the nation. That is to say, my #6 is closer to¬† #1 than my #7 is to #6. We will see if that changes, but for now those 6 are the main teams I’m looking at as having a real shot to play in the National Championship game.

TOP 25 of the MATTY

  1. Ohio State (2-0)
  2. Georgia (2-0)
  3. USC (1-0)
  4. Florida (2-0)
  5. Missouri (2-0)
  6. Oklahoma (2-0)
  7. Texas Tech (2-0)
  8. Wisconsin (2-0)
  9. LSU (1-0)
  10. Auburn (2-0)
  11. Alabama (2-0)
  12. Kansas (2-0)
  13. Texas (2-0)
  14. Wake Forest (2-0)
  15. Clemson (1-1)
  16. Illinois (1-1)
  17. Arizona State (2-0)
  18. Penn State (2-0)
  19. Fresno State (1-0)
  20. Oregon (2-0)
  21. East Carolina (2-0)
  22. West Virginia (1-1)
  23. BYU (2-0)
  24. Utah (2-0)
  25. UCLA (1-0)

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#12 Kansas at South Florida, 7:00 PM CST Friday, ESPN- I’m still not sure how I feel about Friday night college games, but this one is certainly worth tuning in for, as two of last year’s surprise teams battle it out to see who stays undefeated.

#2 Georgia at South Carolina, 2:30 PM CST, CBS- The Gamecocks lost a tough one at Vanderbilt last week, but I’m sure they will bring their A-game for this one. Georgia has a target on its back in the SEC, where no road game is an easy one. This will be the first of many challenges as the Bulldogs try to earn a chance to play for the title.

Michigan at Notre Dame, 2:30 PM CST, NBC- At least this game is a step up from last season, when both teams were 0-2 for the first time ever when they met. Both teams have a victory this time around, but I can’t say with any confidence that either team is better than they were last season. This is still, obviously, a very important game for both programs, and the loser will have an uphill battle this season.

#25 UCLA at #23 BYU, 2:30 PM CST, VS- This will be the third game between these foes in the last year, an oddity for sure. They split the two meetings last year, with UCLA winning earlier in the season and BYU pulling out a close bowl victory.

#1 Ohio State at #3 USC, 7:00 PM, CST, ABC- Probably the game of the year, with this year’s installment of “The World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party” being the only close competition. Look for the winner to have a spot in the National Championship game if they can take care of business.

#8 Wisconsin at #19 Fresno State, 9:30 PM CST, ESPN 2- This may be the day’s most intiguing game if anyone is still up for it. (I know I will be!) I have a feeling that Fresno State is going to be a handfull in this one, and they have a big chance to put themselves on the national map with an upset here.