Archive for October 2008

College Football Recap, Weeks 8 and 9

October 30, 2008

Apologies for the break, but I spent last week laying on a beach and checking score updates on my Blackberry. It’s surprising how little college football one is able to watch in Mexico, apparently people there don’t care about it as much as soccer. Go figure! The national championship picture cleared up a bit over the past two weekends, setting up a huge lineup of games this Saturday. Instead of recapping games that I wasn’t able to watch, instead I will break down how I see the BCS Championship picture shaping up.

Texas: They’ve survived a brutal schedule, beating Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks. They get a stern test this weekend as they head to Lubbock to face Texas Tech. After that, their final three games are manageable before the Big 12 Championship, where they would likely face a Missouri team that they led 35-3 at halftime. The outlook is promising if they can get past Texas Tech.

Alabama: The Tide impressed me last week with how easily they handled Tennessee on the road in a game that was a must win for the Vols. They’ll get their toughest test in a couple weeks as they travel to LSU, a team that was no match for Florida or Georgia. The Iron Bowl is always a tough one, but they get Auburn at home. For me, the hardest element of this schedule is going to be the SEC Championship game, where they’ll meet either Florida or Georgia. I wouldn’t expect them to have as easy a time with the Bulldogs as they did last time, and Florida is as scary an opponent as anyone right now. Having said that, if they win out, they’d have to be in the title game. If they are going to lose, they’d be wiser to lose at LSU than in the SEC Championship although I see it playing the opposite different way.

Penn State: After winning a tight one at Ohio State, the Nittany Lions have the easiest schedule going forward and don’t have to play a conference championship game, which is good and bad: If they win out and one of the above teams lose, they’re in, but if Texas and Alabama both manage to run the table, Penn State’s argument doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Still, I like their chances, as they’ve already won nine games and only have Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State left on the schedule. Losing any of those three would almost certainly eliminate them from the conversation, but I’d hate to see an undefeated Penn State team miss out on a chance for the title.

Texas Tech: The biggest game in the history of the program takes place Saturday, and is easily the most important game of the entire day. Who would have expected that? I’m not sure how anyone has this team ranked behind any of the one loss teams, but it doesn’t matter, because they should leapfrog everyone except for Alabama and Penn State if they win, and will be out of the conversation if they lose. The trickier scenario is if they win out and have fight it out with Penn State. I’d have to lean towards the Red Raiders if this was the case, as they get Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and the Big 12 Championship if they can get past the Longhorns. This seems like a longshot for now, but certainly becomes relevant if they keep winning and scoring at such alarming rates.

Florida and Georgia: Make no mistake, the winner of this game Saturday moves to the front of the one-loss teams that are still alive for a BCS Championship berth. Whoever emerges from this one will almost certainly play in the SEC Championship, where a win over an undefeated Alabama could propel them into the conversation quickly if no undefeated teams escape the brutal Big 12. I would expect the winner of this game to face Penn State in that situation.

USC and Oklahoma: These teams hold advantages over most of the above mentioned in the current BCS standings, but I have a tough time seeing them in the championship unless all the teams above lose. USC just doesn’t have the schedule strength to keep up with the SEC and Big 12 undefeated and one-loss teams, and to jump ahead of an undefeated Penn State would be an atrocity. They certainly need a lot of help, and won’t benefit from a very watered down Pac-10 so they aren’t in much of a position to help themselves either. Their marquee win over Ohio State lost a bit of luster as the Buckeyes lost at home last weekend.

The Sooners probably have the better chance, although it’s hard to say whether they benefit more from an undefeated Longhorn team or from beating an undefeated Texas Tech team later in the season, so I’m not sure who they’ll be rooting for on Saturday. Either way, Texas would need to lose twice in order for Oklahoma to jump into the Big 12 Championship, and that is a very unlikely scenario. And it goes without saying that it is tough to imagine Oklahoma leapfrogging a one-loss SEC champion without playing in their conference title. The Sooners need to win a massive tiebreaker to get into the Big 12 Championship, which they would have to win and then fight it out with the SEC Champ, unless of course said Champ is undefeated.

These two teams need Penn State to lose first and foremost, and then need a two-loss SEC champion to have any reasonable chance in my opinion. (And right now, a two-loss SEC champion is a difficult scenario to concoct).

So, having said that, here’s how I see it playing out:

  • Texas loses at Texas Tech
  • Florida beats Georgia
  • Alabama wins at LSU
  • Penn State and USC win out
  • Texas Tech loses at Oklahoma
  • Texas/ Texas Tech/ Oklahoma tiebreaker winner beats Missouri in the Big 12 Championship
  • Florida beats Alabama in the SEC Championship

This puts Penn State against Florida in the National Championship. The scenarios are endless, but this is my prediction for now.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY:

  1. Texas (8-0)
  2. Alabama (8-0)
  3. Penn State (9-0)
  4. Texas Tech (8-0)
  5. Florida (7-1)
  6. USC (6-1)
  7. Georgia (7-1)
  8. Oklahoma (7-1)
  9. Oklahoma State (7-1)
  10. Utah (8-0)
  11. Boise State (7-0)
  12. Ohio State (7-2)
  13. TCU (8-1)
  14. Missouri (6-2)
  15. BYU (7-1)
  16. Florida State (6-1)
  17. LSU (5-2)
  18. Ball State (8-0)
  19. Tulsa (8-0)
  20. Maryland (6-2)
  21. Oregon (6-2)
  22. Minnesota (7-1)
  23. California (5-2)
  24. Michigan State (7-2)
  25. South Florida (6-2)

HEISMAN WATCH:

  1. Colt McCoy, Texas
  2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
  3. Tim Tebow, Florida
  4. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
  5. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia

TWO REALLY BIG GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#5 Florida vs. #7 Georgia, 2:30 CST, CBS: The World’s Greatest Cocktail Party will have a lot on the line and should be as entertaining as ever. Florida’s offense is really starting to click, and Georgia’s all-world running back Knowshon Moreno looks like he’s finally getting in gear. This one will come down to defensive line play, with the team most able to pressure the quarterback and stop the run earning a trip to the SEC Championship and a strong shot at a national championship berth. I like the Gators narrowly here because of their recent form and multi-dimensional offense, but it should be a classic.

#1 Texas at #4 Texas Tech, 7:00 CST, ABC: How can the Cocktail Party not even be the biggest game of the day when it looked like the biggest game of the year in the preseason? Crazy college football. Mostly, it’s thanks to the surprising Big 12 and the play of Colt McCoy and Graham Harrell, both Heisman hopefuls for their respective teams here. For the Red Raiders, they’ve never had a game this big, nor ever had a team this good, and they get to be at home at night. McCoy is due for a off night, as he’s been playing completely out of his mind up to this point, and a jacked up Texas Tech defense may be the one to stop him. I like Texas Tech here in an upset, and then things get really interesting.

WINE OF THE MONTH- OCTOBER

October 28, 2008

Last April after my trip to Spain, I highlighted a Syrah that I had while dining at El Celler Can Roca in Girona. As wide a variety of quality wine as this country produces, this month I couldn’t resist mentioning a stellar example of Spain’s flagship grape, Tempranillo. I tasted this wine recently and was absolutely amazed by how complex and powerful it was for the price. Last year, the higher label wine by this producer was one of my favorites of the year, and it was great to taste this entry level production and come away equally impressed. The availability isn’t quite as widespread as usual for my Wine of the Month feature, but based on the off-the-charts quality to price ratio for this wine, I feel it merits recognition. Besides, I had to get a Tempranillo in there before the year ends!

VINAS DEL CENIT ZAMORA TRITON 2005, 92 Points, $30, 270 Cases Produced

Intense, almost sugary, raisiny black fruit aromas above hints of mineral. Very full-bodied and velvety, with deep black fruit, licorice, blueberry, plum and raisin notes above root beer, vanilla, mineral and exotic spice. Creamy and smooth as smoke and leather elements become present through the long finish, surprisingly intense all the way through. 100% Tempranillo.

Breeders´Cup Picks 2008

October 24, 2008

Sorry folks, don´t have a ton of time here. I’m in Mexico and need to post my picks as quickly as possible. The Cup expanded to 14 races this year, a decision I did not agree with, and is also being run on an artificial polytrack surface for the first time. Sounds like a good year to miss the windows on this thing. Anyway, here are my picks for the races that I still consider relevant.

CLASSIC:

1. Curlin- I have a feeling that if Kobe ran into a pickup game on black top, he’d fare well.

2. Colonel John- My Derby pick, and a monster on this course.

3. Go Between- The best from the West.

DISTAFF (now calld the Ladies Classic somehow)

1. Zenyatta- Can’t mess with perfection, and she looks primed to do what the late Nashoba’s Key couldn’t do  a year ago.

2. Ginger Punch- Still a force to be reckoned with.

3. Hystericalady- Still no slouch at this distance.

TURF

1. Grand Coutrier- Waiting on a big one from this guy.

2. Red Rocks- Strong veteran.

3. Eagle Mountain- Europe’s next best.

SPRINT:

1. Midnight Lute- Bet against him last year, and am still sorry.

2. Black Seventeen- In his prime, and coming off a big one.

3. Fabulous Strike- Has yet to live up to his talent in a big race, this could be it.

MILE:

1. Kip Deville: Had him last year, simply the best, comes in again off a defeat to add intrigue.

2. Goldikova: Tough filly.

3. Daytona: Forgotten Cali champ at this distance.

FILLY AND MARE TURF:

1. Mauralkana- Still doesn’t have the respect she deserves, will gain it here.

2. Forever Together- Tough mare gets caught at the wire.

3. Wait A While- Brilliant career, still losing steam in my opinion since her 3-year old campaign.

FILLY AND MARE SPRINT

1. Intangroo- Beat me on Derby Day, and I haven’t forgotten that stunning performance.

2. Indian Blessing: Has the speed, but is susceptible to a strong closer.

3. Dream Rush- Should regain form and lead most of the way, but should fade late.

DIRT MILE

1. Well Armed- Record speaks for itself, and is on his home track.

2. Mast Track- The most underrated of the West Coast horses this year.

3. Pyro- Still have a soft spot for this guy, think this one is a bit short but should have a chance.

College Football Recap, Week 7

October 16, 2008

The shakeups continued in Week 7, and all of a sudden it looks like the most action going forward will come from the Big 12, where a shocking five teams are still alive for a shot at the national championship halfway through the season. Here’s a brief recap of last weekend’s action before I take a much needed hiatus to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!

– The two teams I expected to see in the Big 12 Championship Game both took a backseat over the weekend, and will need to win out now to have any chance at the BCS Championship. Colt McCoy has been spectacular all season, and was no less so in leading a Texas team that I figured would finish 8-4 at best over a strong Oklahoma defense. If you’d told me that Oklahoma was going to score 35 in this game, I would have told you they’d win easily, but the Longhorn offense was really clicking and put up a shocking 45 points on the Sooners. Later, my #1 team, Missouri, lost at home to the most unlikely of suspects, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. I definitely didn’t see that one coming. Chase Daniel threw for 390 yards, but three interceptions proved costly in this devastating loss. Meanwhile, Texas Tech escaped against an improving Nebraska team, and finds itself undefeated and right in the thick of things. Suffice to say that the action in the Big 12 for the next month and a half will be quite interesting.

– On to the SEC. Alabama had the week off but still has the most impressive win of the year in my opinion at Georgia, so you’ll find them at the top of my list this week. The highlight of the day featured the past two national champions for the first time since 1990, as LSU and Florida went head to head in The Swamp. Boy, were those Gators angry about not being undefeated for this historic matchup. I’ll have to check the books, but I can’t remember the last time anybody put up 51 points on LSU. I was pretty confident that Florida’s offense would bounce back in this one, but this was an absolute explosion on the offensive end. It is tough to explain how Ole Miss managed to go in there and beat the Gators if you ask me. Georgia squeaked one out against a Tennessee squad that can’t get a break, and the World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail party gained back a great deal of its luster.

– After Michigan lost at home to Toledo and Illinois went down at home against the Golden Gophers, one thing was immediately clear: Penn State was going to murder Wisconsin. It was a mortal lock. And, make no mistake, even if the Badgers are a bit down this year, going into Camp Randall at night and winning 48-7 is a major statement. Penn State heads into Columbus in two weeks for a huge showdown against the Buckeyes, and if they can win that one, I’d hate to see them left out of the national title, because they’re playing as well as anyone. And I’m still reeling that they didn’t have a chance to play for the title in 1994, when the undefeated Nittany Lions would have destroyed Tommy Frazier and his Nebraska Cornhuskers. Every time someone complains about the BCS struture, I remind them that at least we don’t have to worry about a travesty such as that ever happening again. Why does no one remember this but me?

THE TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

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

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Colt McCoy, Texas
  2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
  3. Chase Daniel, Missouri
  4. Javon Ringer, Michigan State
  5. Darryl Clark, Penn State

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND:

#21 Vanderbilt at #7 Georgia, 11:30 CST: The Commodores have been one of the biggest overachievers so far this season, but they’ll have their hands full on the road with a Georgia squad who may just now be getting into gear.

#11 Ohio State at #24 Michigan State, ABC, 2:30 CST: Surprisingly, this appears to be a play in game for second place in the Big Ten. Ohio State needs a lot to happen to get back into the national title hunt, but at this point they’ve still got every opportunity to win the conference. This is a must win game for Ohio State, and they’ll need to play their best game of the season to win it.

#17 Kansas at #10 Oklahoma, ABC, 2:30 CST: With all of this ballyhoo regarding the strength of the Big 12, everyone seems to be overlooking the Jayhawks, who are a tough road loss away from being undefeated as well. This situation doesn’t bode well for them though, as an angry Sooner squad on the road isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered.

#9 Missouri at #3 Texas, ABC, 7:00 CST: This is the first of three straight tough tests for the Longhorns. Missouri has had troubles on defense, and if that continues, this could be a very high-scoring affair. This will be a tough one for Missouri, but I have a sneaky feeling that Chase Daniel and company will be lights out offensively and will find a way to pull the upset.

#13 LSU at #20 South Carolina, ESPN, 7:00 CST: LSU had better not overlook this one, or they’ll find themselves in a very unfamiliar 4-2 position halfway through their season. South Carolina is probably the most underrated team in the country at this point, with both of their narrow losses coming against strong competition (at Vanderbilt and against Georgia). Additionally, my opinion on SEC night games is well documented. Beware the Gamecock!!

The Utter Audacity of Major League Baseball's Five Game Series

October 8, 2008

Let me preface by saying that yes, there are some sour grapes involved in this post, as my beloved Cubs squandered their best season of my lifetime as they rolled over and died, swept away by the Dodgers in three quick games. Also, before I even begin this argument, I have to admit that they almost certainly would have lost anyway had the series been seven games, but bear with me here. (However, one has to admit that being down 2-0 in a five game series puts a team in a totally different mindset than being down 2-0 in a seven game series does. It really isn’t even in the same conversation. But I digress…)

The ALCS and NLCS are now set, and neither of the teams boasting the best regular season record in their respective leagues will be playing. Does this strike anyone besides me as somewhat ridiculous? I mean upsets are upsets, but isn’t the regular season supposed have some kind of meaning? In a game like baseball, where so many possible combinations of events can occur, repetition is everything. That’s the reason that they play a 162 game season in the first place. Playing a five game series after such a long season seems contradictory to the very nature of the sport. As meaningless as the NBA has become, at least they’ve managed to get this part right, and they only play half as many games in the regular season in a sport where repetition is not nearly as important. To put that into perspective, let’s look at the relative lengths of the first rounds of some major sports:

  • NFL Football: 1 game decides winner/ 16 game season = 6.25% (repetition far less important)
  • NBA Basketball: 7 games decide winner/ 82 game season= 8.5% (repetition slightly less important)
  • College Basketball: 1 game decides winner/ 30 game season= 3.3% (and remember that the higher seeded teams are hugely rewarded in the first round and play much weaker opponents)
  • Major League Baseball: 5 games decide winner/ 162 game season= 3.0% (and the opponent is likely quite good)

I’m a numbers guy. I make decisions based on mathematical information on a daily basis for a living, so I have a lot of trouble understanding the logic of this system. The entire point of seeding teams is to maximize certainty of the most likely outcome; that is, to reward to favorite over the underdog. This is why in the NCAA basketball tournament, the #16 seed is forced to play the #1 seed in the first round, then the #1 seed plays the winner of the #8 and #9 game, and so on. Making the first round series shorter than the later rounds does the opposite- it gives the underdog a decisive advantage, especially in a sport where repetition is so important to ensure the proper outcome. That is not to say that upsets aren’t a positive aspect of all of sports, but put simply, the worst team in the league has a better chance at beating the best team in the league in a five game series than it does in a seven game series. I’m sure everyone can agree with that, and anyone who doesn’t agree knows nothing about math and probability!

So, given that mathematical fact, I don’t understand why the same logic isn’t applied for the teams who played better in the regular season. Playing 162 games only to have a measly five more determine the ultimate fates of eight teams defies logic, and essentially negates the importance of the regular season. If the argument for adding the wild card format was to add excitement and interest to the sport, you can’t convince me that Major League Baseball is concerned about ratings. And adding two extra games takes less effort in baseball than in any other sport. Why not just start watching in October, since nothing that occurs before then makes any difference? Or invite every team with over a .500 record to the playoffs like the NBA does? Where exactly is the line where the math ceases to make any sense if we haven’t crossed it already?

While I admit that I much preferred the old system in which there were two divisions in each league, and those division champions would meet for the league title, I recognize that the wild card has added excitement to the game, and keeps the season exciting until the last day for many teams that would have otherwise been eliminated weeks earlier. But for crying out loud, the Cardinals won the World Series two years ago with a record of 83-78! The Colorado Rockies made the World Series last season! The Florida Marlins have won two World Series as the wild card team! And now, the two teams that were head and shoulders above everyone (except for maybe Tampa Bay) all season are gone by a combined 6-1 outcome. And again, no one is saying that upsets shouldn’t happen, but expanding the first round to seven games would add fairness to the playoff format, cut down on these consistent outlier results and, most importantly, uphold the integrity of the regular season. The problem lies less with the eight team format than it does with the silliness of the five game opening round. This needs to be changed, and soon.

College Football Recap, Week 6

October 6, 2008

There weren’t too many surprises this weekend when compared to the Week 5 shakeup, as no teams in my top ten lost. The biggest surprises were Auburn going down on the road against a tough Vanderbilt team with a lot of heart who officially arrived as a threat in the SEC, and South Florida losing at home to a Pittsburgh team that may be beginning to hit its stride. Aside from that, the most entertaining game of the weekend was clearly in the Big Ten, as Ohio State and Wisconsin battled down to the final possession with the Buckeyes coming out on top. Illinois may emerge now as a team that was too quickly forgotten- that offense is a force to be reckoned with, and they took no prisoners in rolling up 45 points in the Big House. Remember that the two Illini losses were both by respectable margins and came against two of the nation’s best teams. The Big 12 suddenly looks like the strongest conference in the land, boasting five undefeated teams, but they’ll start having to play one another soon, beginning with this week’s OU-Texas game. So, we are six weeks in, and have only three teams with six wins: Alabama, Penn State and the mighty Cardinals of Ball State. Wow!

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

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

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

Clemson at #20 Wake Forest, 7:00 PM CST, Thursday, ESPN: Even though the ACC is having a down year, these are two talented teams, and I fully expect the winner of this game to be in position to earn a BCS bid. It’s tough to bet against Wake Forest at home, but if Clemson can get their act together, they are the more talented team.

#2 Oklahoma vs #7 Texas, 11:00 AM CST, ABC: The Red River Rivalry is always one of my favorite games of the year, and it isn’t unusual for this game to hold national title implications as it does this year. Texas has been surprisingly efficient on both sides of the ball, while Oklahoma has rolled over its opponents in similar fashion. On paper, I still like the Sooners here, but the much improved Texas defense could make things interesting.

#4 LSU at #10 Florida, 7:00 PM CST, CBS: The Gators are still reeling from an upset home loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago, and going into the swamp at night will be quite a test for the young but talented Tigers. This is a must win for Florida, but they’ll need to make some defensive adjustments to slow down the surprisingly efficient LSU offense.

#19 Oklahoma State at #1 Missouri, 7:00 PM CST, ESPN 2: Oklahoma State in undefeated, but hasn’t really been tested, while Missouri has been rolling over everyone they’ve played and scoring lots of points. This should be more of the same.

#5 Penn State at #22 Wisconsin, 7:00 PM CST, ESPN: The Badgers are in a tough spot here after losing back to back games that could have gone either way. Now they have to welcome the red hot Nittany Lions who have easily been the most impressive team in the Big Ten this season. Wisconsin doesn’t want to drop three in a row, but this game doesn’t bode well for them.