Monday, October 31, 2005

Cultural food differences

This is very off-topic, but I had to get it off my chest:

For a real Texan, chili is one of the basic food groups. I am not in the spicier-is-best camp, nor am I a snob about leaving beans out (there's nothing wrong with them, even if they are banned at many chili cookoffs). The heartier and meatier the better, I say.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to the midwest, within shouting distance of Cincinnati, which proclaims itself the chili capital of the world. The 800-lb. gorilla of the chili market there is Skyline, which my very Texan grandpa likes but describes as "different". No joke, Grandpa. I had my first taste and was unimpressed, probably because it tasted like cinnamon and is known to have some amount of chocolate in it. Yikes.

We had a potluck lunch at work today, where the main course was a crock pot of chili cooked up by a nice lady from Indiana. She called it "chili soup", and it was soup-like in its texture and ingredients, which included a fair number of broken spaghetti noodles. I liked it enough to get full, but I couldn't help but long for the days when real Texas chili could be had so easily.

Until then, I will make do with a new favorite: the chili five-way at Steak 'n' Shake. This is honestly edible, and nowhere near as sweet as Skyline's similar dish. If anyone out there is aware of a good place to find decent chili in this part of the world, shoot me a comment with the relevant details.

Week 9 Review

Before we begin, a couple things...

I am covering the SEC for football.com, which involves game previews and recaps as well as voting in the site's Heisman poll, top 40 poll, and pick'em contest. This is good for several reasons, not the least of which is that my work will now reach a larger audience.

On a personal note, my mom in San Antonio works for home improvement retailer Lowe's, and was recently sent to a store in Lake Charles, LA for ten days to help out while they attempt to get things back on track after Hurricane Rita. She described the property damage as "worse than what they show on TV", though the locals who are still around are pretty patient when they're waiting in painfully long lines for roofing supplies and such.

One of the problems that they're having down there is a complete lack of people to work. Businesses close at 8:00 PM because there isn't anyone to work the later hours. The Lowe's store in Lake Charles normally has a payroll of 120 people, but only 20 stayed on after the hurricane. Anyway, if you're not tied down to anyone or anything, I would encourage you to make your way down to Louisiana if you're looking for work. There is more work than people, and all the overtime that you can stand.

Various NFL thoughts
I don't much follow the NFL except for a few things, including:

-San Antonio's attempts to lure the Saints are probably in vain, and that's a shame. If New Orleans is in no shape to host the Saints next season, look for the NFL to steer them to Los Angeles, which is the nation's second largest TV market. Nevermind that San Antonio has a facility already built with no major tenant (the Alamodome) and a population hungry for big-time sports smack dab in the middle of football country. If New Orleans could support an NFL franchise, I have no doubt whatsoever that San Antonio could as well, though it will never have the chance.

-New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi's triumphant return to the field nine months after a stroke is nothing short of remarkable. Like ESPN.com's Sports Guy, I would have saved him for next week's game against Indianapolis, where he would emerge from the stands with a folding chair and lay out Peyton Manning WWE-style. Boston would burn in celebration.

-The Bengals are 6-2, which is neat from the perspective of someone who roots for underdogs like Vandy. I have tickets to the 12/24 home game against Buffalo, and my early concerns about that game being meaningless are probably unfounded. Looks like they're playoff bound.

Enough about the pro game.

South Carolina-Tennessee
I've never been so happy to be so wrong. I picked Tennessee in this one because they're better on paper, but I should never have ignored the obvious: Steve Spurrier is the better coach. I should have known that Spurrier, visiting Neyland with his third team on Peyton Manning jersey retirement day, would put forth his best effort to knock off the Vols. By the end of the game, Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer looked like he might lose his substantial lunch, and sightings of orange faithful wearing brown paper bags became the stuff of SEC legend. Funny thing is, nobody I know feels sorry for Tennessee.

Florida-Georgia
When Florida took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, I knew that my prediction was in trouble. Florida's week off before the game allowed Urban Meyer to retool his underperforming offense, which he kept on the ground to wear down the Georgia run defense. Backup Bulldog QB Joe Tereshinski III, forced into service by DJ Shockley's knee injury, was largely ineffective except for one play in the second half, where he pitched to running back Thomas Brown before eventually catching Brown's pass at the two yard line and plunging in for the score.

Texas-Oklahoma State
I don't know what it is about playing the Longhorns that brings out the best in the Pokes, but they had 28 points in a hurry and Stillwater was bracing for an upset celebration for the ages. Only problem is that Texas had Vince Young and OSU did not. Young took over the game with 239 passing yards and 267 on the ground, setting a Texas record for total yardage. Wow. Dude's a hoss. He won't let Texas lose. He singlehandedly beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl earlier this year, and beat Ohio State with his arm in the second game of this season. This is the stuff of Heisman legend.

Oklahoma-Nebraska
Reminder when picking Nebraska: Bill Callahan is their coach. I'm not picking OU in any big games without a decent defensive coordinator (Brent Venables need not apply). Still, Stoops had Mack Brown's number for five years before Texas' talent caught up to him. I should have known to take his squad over Callahan's. Lesson learned.

Michigan-Northwestern
Northwestern is a lot like Vandy, though it has been more successful in recent years in terms of wins and bowls. It's a small, academics-first school playing in a semipro league and struggling to be relevant more than once every five years. It enjoyed some early success, drawing national media attention and a big spotlight for a home game against Michigan. Of course, the Wildcats stumbled, effectively killing that bandwagon. That stinks. It's a shame that when a squad like Randy Walker's puts together some wins and then drops one, they lose all the positive momentum and coverage that they earned. It took Tennessee going 3-4 to finally get it out of the Top 25, but Northwestern loses and gets bounced in record time.

North Carolina-Miami
National pundits are dogging the throwback unis that Miami broke out for this game, featuring hurricane warning symbols on golden helmets and a plain green jersey and gold pants. Apparently, it's insensitive to use the hurricane nickname and motif while people are picking up the pieces after being hit by real hurricanes, including those in South Florida affected by Wilma. This is getting ridiculous. These are NICKNAMES. Find me one person who was personally injured by Miami's throwback helmet and I will apologize. If I ever become AD at an upstart college, I promise to come up with the most offensive nickname I can. How about the University of Tennessee-Bucksnort Slobberin' Honkeys?

Anyway, Miami QB Kyle Wright may well become the real deal, but throwing three quick interceptions won't help. The Canes turned to Tyrone Moss to get the job done on the ground, and he answered with 195 yards to ice the game.

UCLA-Stanford
UCLA ought to thank its lucky stars that it ran into a Stanford squad who couldn't play with a three touchdown lead. Having failed to score a touchdown in 53 minutes, the Bruins rattled off three in the last 8 minutes of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. They got another Drew Olson touchdown pass in the extra frame to escape Palo Alto with a 30-27 duke.

Worse than Stanford's Vandy-like disappearing act in the fourth quarter might be old Stanford Stadium, which looks like a dump even on TV. Good grief. I know that they plan to renovate it, but that can't come fast enough. It's amazing that the NFL held the Super Bowl there in 1985.

Vandy football
After playing eight games in eight weeks, the good guys took a well-earned bye week this week to heal some wounds and summon back the mojo that left after their 4-0 start. They play Florida on the road this week. This game is being televised by ESPN2 at 7:15 PM Saturday night, marking the 7th time in the first nine games this season that a Vandy game got televised. This, folks, is uncharted territory for the black and gold and undoubtedly a boon for national interest and recruiting.

Final thought
I spent a total of 13 hours this past Saturday watching football, including portions of some real dogs like Central Michigan-Toledo and Fresno State-Hawaii. Still, I couldn't make myself stay up late enough to finish a Kentucky-Mississippi State snoozefest that was tape-delayed past midnight. Now with its first conference win under its belt, look for Kentucky to take it to Auburn this Saturday. So say the faithful on catspause.com, by far the funniest reading you can do when you're bored.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Week 8 Preview

Before we begin, a few pet peeves:

1. Working on a blog post for a couple hours and having the computer crash, subsequently losing everything.

2. Well-traveled areas in the city with no sidewalks. There is a Subway less than a quarter mile from my office that I frequent sometimes. It's honestly safer and faster to drive than walk because there aren't any sidewalks. I thought my wife's arguments for pedestrian-friendly development were tree-hugging hippie crap until I ran into this problem.

3. The uneven number of programs in the Big Ten (eleven) makes determining a conference champion awkward. With twelve, it could split into divisions and hold a championship game. With one less school, it could schedule a true round-robin format where everyone plays each other, similar to the Pac-10's new format. As it is now, too many schools have shares of the conference title and too few of them play one another. Just a thought...

Northwestern at Michigan State
This observer welcomes the new Big Ten offensive explosion led by these two programs and their innovative coaches, Randy Walker and John L. Smith. It's good to see a shakeup in power football country, where not every school can consistently recruit the cornfed studs needed to dominate on the ground. I'm expecting a real shootout with the Spartans coming out on top. They have more to prove after blowing a 17-7 lead last week in Columbus. In addition, I know
better than to pick Northwestern on the road against a decent opponent.

Congrats to Wildcat QB Brett Basanez for being named one of seven finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award. Like Vandy's Jay Cutler, he'd get a ton more pub on a better team.

Michigan at Iowa
Everyone in the country gets this game at noon on ABC with the postponement of the Georgia Tech-Miami game. They will all see a 5-2 Iowa team that is invincible at home and in the midst of another patented in-season turnaround. Michigan (4-3), meanwhile, is playing its way down to the Music City Bowl. Good news for my buddy Jason, who may get to see his boys without leaving Nashville, but bad news for the program. Look for the Hawkeyes to wear down the porous Michigan defense and get the duke.

Ohio State at Indiana
In a perfect world, Indiana would exorcise its demons and beat the Buckeye bullies, setting off a frenzy befitting a top college party town like Bloomington. The Hoosiers have yet to break through against top-shelf competition like Wisconsin and Iowa, and they will face the Big Ten's stingiest defense in Ohio State this Saturday. If IU's offensive line keeps QB Blake Powers upright against a stout pass rush, the Hoosiers will have a chance. Expect Coach Terry Hoeppner and a sellout crowd to bring the A-game.

Arkansas at Georgia
Normally, a Hogs and Dogs showdown is a treat to watch, but Arkansas is having an especially rough rebuilding year after the departure of uber-athletic QB Matt Jones. Coach Houston Nutt is on the hot seat and is likely to get run out of Fayetteville by the end of the season. His biggest crime wasn't giving up 70 points to national power USC. Instead, he's in trouble for losing at home to Vanderbilt. Arkansans won't stand for losing to a school whose chancellor wears a bow tie and properly conjugates his verbs.

Bulldog coach Mark Richt will turn the dogs loose (pun intended) for three quarters before resting his starters for next week's Florida game. Kudos to Georgia signal caller DJ Shockley for being named a Unitas finalist as well.

More to follow...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Week 7 in Review

I apologize for the delay in posting, and I'm ready to get back to business. This past Saturday affirmed my belief that college football is the grandest and greatest of sports. EVERY game was meaningful and closely contested.

USC-Notre Dame
There's an awful lot of hyperbole out there in the media about this game being the greatest game ever played, but it was an amazing game nonetheless. I didn't want it to end, but when it did I knew I'd seen something remarkable. The atmosphere was positively electric. You knew that USC was stepping into a lion's den, on the road against a surprisingly strong Notre Dame team coached by an offensive guru and cheered on by the Almighty.

ND Coach Charlie Weis put together a Bill Parcells-esque game plan that put the Irish in a position to win: control the ball, chew the clock, and keep USC's mighty offense off the field. Up 31-28 with two minutes left, Weis had to rely on his defense to ice the game. They came up big, forcing the Trojans into a fourth-and-nine situation.

Here, on glory's biggest stage, USC QB Matt Leinart took his place among college football's most storied legends by converting on fourth down with a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett. Leinart later scrambled down to the Irish 1-yard line before fumbling the ball out of bounds with 7 second to go. On the very next play, he plunged into the end zone with a little nudge from RB Reggie Bush.

What an ending! Instant classic. History will determine whether or not it was the greatest game ever played, but its place among the best is already secured.

LSU-Florida
Like oil and water (or Middle fans and soap), dropback Gator passer Chris Leak and his new spread option offense do not go together. It is said that quarterbacks in Coach Urban Meyer's system do not catch on until their second year, so he's got a ways to go. Still, it almost seems cruel to send a shaky field general into battle on the road against a monster defensive front like that of LSU. The Tigers battered him and hurried him into one poor decision after another, taking an early 14-0 lead and holding it until the final gun for a 21-17 duke.

Who would have thought that Florida and Tennessee both would look so mediocre halfway through the season? The Gators have a built-in excuse with their new head coach and his newfangled offensive attack. What's Tennessee's?

Penn State-Michigan
Snoozefest until the second half. I like Penn State's resurgence this year, but I knew they hadn't arrived yet when they scored with a minute left in the 4th quarter and proceeded to give up a 50-yard kickoff return to Wolverine burner Steve Breaston. You've got to make those plays if you want to take the next step to national title contention. A 3-3 Michigan team with losses to Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Minnesota is always dangerous, and they were due.

Still, the season is not lost for either team. Penn State is still playing for the Big Ten title and a BCS bowl. Michigan is playing for a bowl and continuing to develop its second year backfield and spotty defense.

Colorado-Texas
I thought this would be closer. Vince Young had probably his best outing as a Texas signal caller, going 25 of 29 for over 300 yards. Once Texas hung 28 points on the Buffs in the first half, I weighed my options. Stay with blowout, or toggle between the above three games and Louisville-West Virginia? Easy enough.

Louisville-West Virginia
If you asked me before this game if I would enjoy watching a triple-overtime shootout in the mountains, I probably would have said yes. Sadly, this scenario was entirely avoidable for the Cards, whose 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter did not hold up, and they went down in (couch-burning) flames in Morgantown by a score of 46-44.

Louisville is being assailed in the media for its shortcomings against South Florida and West Virginia, as though the team enjoys making fools of pundits who predicted buckets of easy wins in its first season in the Big East. Yes, they are going through growing pains. Yes, they have fallen short of expectations. No, you should not abandon them altogether. As I like to say about football, and Vandy football in particular: keep your expectations low, and they will always be met.

One more note: Terry Bowden was the ABC color man for this game, to my immense pleasure. I could listen to him talk about football each and every day. Count Bowden among the long list of capable college coaches who remain available for meaningful work between the sidelines.

Alabama-Ole Miss
Does Tide QB Brodie Croyle miss hobbled receiver Tyrone Prothro? Does its 13-10 last second win answer that question? Croyle looks solid as always, but he's suddenly without his top playmaker, and the upstart Crimson Tide isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Ole Miss was game for the fight, looking surprisingly strong at the line of scrimmage when it had the ball.

Ole Miss draws Kentucky at home this week in a matchup it should dominate in every possible way. Kentucky is coming off a bye week, against which it was a 7-point underdog.

Georgia-Vandy
To beat one of the SEC's big six (Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and Auburn), Vandy has to play flawlessly and catch a few breaks. Sometimes even that doesn't matter, like we learned in last week's prison-style beating by LSU. The recipe for beating Georgia was to shoot the lights out on offense and keep DJ Shockley off the field. I thought that the Dores had a solid game plan that put themselves in position to hang in there at the end.

It's too bad that they didn't execute very well. I counted five dropped passes by Vandy receivers, including a heartbreaker by Marlon White with no Bulldog defenders around and the end zone three whiskers away. That play alone aborted a touchdrown drive, and the good guys wound up settling for a field goal instead.

In the second half, on a key play where the Vanderbilt defense successfully flushed Shockley out of the pocket (for once!), he rolled left and tossed a line drive pass into the arms of a receiver in the end zone for a touchdown. Replays showed that the ball touched the ground before it was scooped up. So did the touchdown count? Of course it did! Game over right then and there.

I'm not into conspiracy theories, but it is widely believed that among black and gold faithful that Vandy winds up on the wrong end of more calls by SEC officials than it deserves. Whether or not there is a conscious bias, Vandy does draw the conference's worst refs week in and week out. Our success this season, coupled with the SEC's new replay system, should have guaranteed us a fair shake against Georgia. Still, when push came to shove, even the most concrete video evidence that a touchdown call was wrong couldn't overturn it. Hell, you're only screwing Vanderbilt.

One of these days, Vandy is going to be good enough to command respect from the zebras and beat some of the SEC's anointed programs. Until then, we're going to call bullshit what it is.

Other Developments
Does it even faze you anymore when you hear negative news about the off-field adventures of professional athletes? Of course, I'm talking about the Minnesota Vikings' ill-fated boat party, where members of this underachieving squad used their off week to organize and attend a yacht cruise/orgy on Lake Minnetonka. I mean, nothing surprises me anymore. I realize that pro athletes are not angels, and haven't been for a while, but still. Yikes. Couldn't they plan these kinds of activities AFTER they're out of the playoffs?

Baseball Playoffs
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Call me when it's college baseball season.

Final Thought
I will come out with a preview of week 8 action by Friday, headlined by the Tennessee-Alabama slobberknocker down in Tuscaloosa. I wish I could be there to hear the venom and vitriol directed at Vols coach Phil Fulmer, who may well be a dead man if he doesn't pick up a security detail or three. You ought to know better than to rat out the Tide if you ever want to set foot in that state again, especially when you're heading an outlaw program yourself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Quick Blurb

ABC Sports: Get it together!
I use a variety of sources to compile my college football TV schedule each week, including the websites for TV Guide, ABC Sports, and ESPN Gameplan. Most Saturdays I watch portions of about 25 games from noon until midnight. In terms of television coverage, it's never been a better time to be a college football junkie. I remember growing up in Texas and getting the Raycom Southwest Conference game of the week and not much else.

If things are so good, then why am I frustrated? ABC sports only TODAY put out the coverage map for folks across the country to see which game is going to be televised in their area. Why does it matter? Because the sport is no longer regional. You can follow whatever team you like from wherever you are. If you're blacked out of your game, you have to decide whether or not to attend in person, catch it on pay-per-view at a higher cost, or view the game at a sports bar or other venue.

Prevailing wisdom is that the networks decide whom to show based on ratings, national appeal, and on-field performance, often only 6-12 days in advance. Fair enough, seeing as how every year teams over- and underachieve, and a matchup that looked awesome two months ago might be a dog today. That helps explain why Texas-Oklahoma, a top rivalry game with national title implications, was shown regionally this year and not nationally (because OU sucks).

Still, the fortunes of those teams whose games have been selected for broadcast don't usually change drastically in the 6-12 days beforehand. ABC owes it to its viewers to make that info available at the earliest possible point in time. AND, if ABC elects to switch away from a blowout local game to a different one, it must NOT black out the local game from Gameplan. If I want to watch Texas kick OU's ass until the final gun, and have paid for the privilege, I deserve nothing less.

Minnesota epilogue
I became a closet Michigan fan after going up there this year for the Notre Dame game and being treated like royalty. I had an absolute blast. My buddies Jason and Dan in Tennessee are Michigan transplants and blue to the core. It rubs off after awhile. I think you learn to love college football like they do after you take it up the rear every year from the Lions.

Anyway, I was as shocked as anyone that Minnesota beat the Wolverines this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, ending a 19-year winless streak. The two teams play for a trophy called the Little Brown Jug, which dates back to the early 1900s and was actually a water jug used by the Michigan coach. It got left behind on that road trip, and Minnesota refused to return it outright. They played for it and the tradition caught on.

Anyway, Gophers coach Glen Mason brought the jug along with him this past weekend on a date with his wife in Minneapolis, and apparently they spent the evening honoring requests by restaurant staff and customers to have their pictures taken with it, Stanley Cup style. Pretty neat, I thought. Minnesota is a great school in a great area that has waited quite a while to taste a little football glory. It's theirs for the next year, having beaten Big Blue on the road.

THAT is just one example of why college football is the best sport around. Games mean something to everyone. Cheers for the Little Brown Jug, Bunyan's Axe, Golden Hat, Keg of Nails, and every other trophy that rivals long to capture, on the field and off.

Vandy football
I have made it well known on this blog and on Vandymania that I admire and respect the heck out of Chancellor Gordon Gee. The guy is by far the biggest cheerleader that Vandy athletics has had in the ivory tower in generations. I mean that. He considers athletics to be an integral part of the college experience, unlike previous administrators who looked down their noses on the whole thing. And, unlike outlaw programs such as Tennessee, he also believes that athletics are no more important than other parts of the University. It takes a big brass pair to come out and speak such heresy at a school in the football-crazy south.

How do I feel about our athletic department restructuring in September 2003? I'm sold, though it couldn't come at a worse time. Gee announced it three weeks into football season, after Vandy lost a nailbiter to Ole Miss 27-24 (where sophomore Jay Cutler outplayed Eli Manning) and throttled Chattanooga 51-6. The next game up was Auburn at home, who was coming off of two straight losses to USC and Georgia Tech. Man, were they pissed. Our guys spent all week answering questions about the restructuring while Auburn seethed over their ruined season. They left footprints on our asses.

As for the substance, the restructuring is a good thing. It is a model that is appropriate for our particular place in the college athletic landscape (small private university in the semipro league that is the SEC). It eliminated the wall between athletes and traditional students, while also opening up the university's coffers and fundraising operations to athletics. Very positive.

In addition, the restructuring cut through the day-to-day BS that coaches under a traditional AD might deal with. Instead of looking over their shoulders, our coaches spend more time coaching and recruiting. Look at the results: our women's basketball program is elite every year. This upcoming men's basketball season is one of the most anticipated ever. Baseball coach Tim Corbin hauled in possibly the #1 recruiting class in the country. Even Bobby Johnson is putting it together on the gridiron. Something else: all of our coaches are in demand, especially Corbin. We are lucky to have them. They feel lucky to be here with the administration's support and long-term contracts securing their future.

Certain things still need improvement, such as the University's marketing and ticketing operations, as well as the condition of the football stadium and gameday presentation. I know we'll get there in time. In the meantime, it's never been a better time to be a Commodore fan, and you can credit Gee and his radical ideas for a lot of that.

Obligatory Middle cheap shot
I posted earlier that Middle Tennessee is seeking to boost homecoming attendance by giving freebies to area youth. I have since learned that this is part of some sort of Education Day promotion.

This observer is mighty glad to see a university celebrating education like this. I have an even better idea, though, that involves the actual graduation of its football players. Still unsure if that one will ever see the light of day.

Week 6 In Review

LSU at Vandy
Imagine if the Apollo Creed-Ivan Drago fight in Rocky IV had gone eight rounds, but the outcome remained the same? The only thing this blowout lacked was Dolph Lundgren standing over a fallen Commodore and sneering, "If he dies, he dies."

Vandy QB Jay Cutler spent the better part of the evening running for his life as LSU's stout defensive line and relentless blitz pulverized his protection. To demonstrate the overwhelming talent disparity between the two teams, consider that it took LSU committing four turnovers, missing two field goals, and giving back over 100 yards in penalties for Vandy to trail 12-6 at the end of the third. LSU turned it on in the 4th as the good guys' tank ran empty, finishing 34-6.

Note to O-line recruits out there: get a copy of this game somehow. Watch and see Vandy's line get pounded. You could be the answer to our prayers. Come test yourself against the best defenses in the college football world in the SEC. You'll be fed like a king at the nation's top training table. You'll get a world-class education and socialize with beautiful women from all over creation. Come to Vandy and make a difference. I can't possibly beg any more.

Oklahoma at Texas
My buddy Nate called this one "OU Liberation Day" in celebration of the Longhorns ending Oklahoma's five-game winning streak in this series. The final score was 45-12, though the outcome never was in doubt. The conventional wisdom for beating Texas until recently was to stuff Vince Young and let him beat you with his arm, since he struggled with the passing game. With 240 yards of passing and a stable of ballcarriers pounding away at OU's rebuilt defense, Texas really looked unstoppable.

Something else for you to think about: Bob Stoops probably misses brother Mike, his former DC and now head coach at Arizona, more than he realizes. Mike's departure at the end of the 2003 season coincided with Oklahoma's defensive failures against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship, LSU in the national title game, and last year's embarrassing performance against USC. You used to not be able to beat Oklahoma deep or push them around at the line, and both are happening now with regularity. There's a reason why DC Brent Venables is still around while Mike Stoops and Bo Pelini have moved on: they're in demand, and he's not.

Arizona at USC
If and when USC ever decides that they want to show up for all four quarters, they will be unstoppable. Until then, they will let inferior teams like the Wildcats hang around long past their level of talent would dictate. Upcoming games against Notre Dame, Cal, and UCLA will give the Trojans a chance to either find their next gear, or hang themselves.

FYI, Matt Leinart, while still better than 95% of all college quarterbacks, is no longer driving this offensive juggernaut. Backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White are providing the yardage and moving the chains.

Wake Forest at Florida State
FSU is quietly finding its offensive stride with freshman QB Drew Weatherford, who passed for 351 yards en route to a 41-24 victory over a decent Wake team. If you remember, Weatherford stunk up Doak Campbell Stadium against Miami in his first game, but he's coming around and making Nole fans forget that Chris Rix ever happened.

Note to ESPN Gameplan Program Manager (like you're really reading this): this game was blocked out of my Gameplan package for TV. You showed it online only. What gives? I pay big money to watch 25 games every weekend. Show every game that is regionally syndicated, or risk losing more subscribers.

Georgia at Tennessee
I love watching Tennessee lose, and this was no exception. Mark Richt has the Vols' number, winning the last three at Neyland Stadium with superior special teams and game management. This game was no exception, as the Bulldogs rode a punt-return touchdown and a handful of Tennessee turnovers to a 27-14 victory on the hill.

As for Tennessee, it is a crime that a top ten program like UT cannot get decent play from the quarterback position. In the last season and a half, it has trotted out Brent Schaeffer (who is no longer with the program), Erik Ainge, and LSU transfer Rick Clausen with mixed and mediocre results. Ainge, with every physical gift under the sun, either can't or won't learn and execute the offense. Clausen has an average arm and limited athletic ability, making coach Philip Fulmer's hesitation to play him all the more understandable. For the love of Shuler, Manning, and (Casey) Clausen, nail this down already!

Wisconsin at Northwestern
Classic trap game for the Badgers, whose fantastic production from RB Brian Calhoun and 5-0 record masked a porous defense that is more matador than gladiator. Wisconsin struggled to beat North Carolina 14-5 in its only other road game, and Northwestern has been known to play tough at home. The Wildcats got the duke in dramatic fashion, a 51-48 shootout more likely seen in the WAC than the Big Ten.

What I wouldn't give to have Randy Walker's spread offense in place at Vandy. Good schemes neutralize talent deficiencies.

Virginia at Boston College
I don't care one bit about either of these chronically underachieving ACC squads, but the cheap shot by UVA's Brad Butler on BC DE Mathias Kiwunaka was complete bullshit. Why not take a page from the WWE and sock him in the jaw with a roll of quarters while you're at it? Butler's been suspended and Kiwunaka's not disabled, thank goodness.

Anyone else think Boston College is an awkward fit in the ACC?

Minnesota at Michigan
I have to admit that I didn't see this one coming. Michigan, fresh off its gut check win over Michigan State, was supposed to ride its newfound swagger and newly healthy sophomore back Mike Hart to victory over the Gophers in front of the home crowd. In fact, Minnesota hadn't beaten Michigan since 1986. I was in first grade then and had no clue that anyone lived north of Texas (or would want to).

Michigan's defense is disappointing, as is its wide receiver play. Both Jason Avant and Steve Breaston are failing to make plays the way Braylon Edwards used to. TE Tyler Ecker has stone slabs for hands. This isn't your older brother's Wolverine squad, and "Three-Loss Lloyd" Carr has more losses earlier in the season than I can remember him ever having. He's about to be run out of Ann Arbor on a rail.

Ohio State at Penn State
Heavyweight fight. Electric atmosphere. This was a real slobberknocker, and the team who made the fewest mistakes was bound to win. Penn State committed no turnovers, while shutting down Ohio State's admittedly anemic offense for a 17-10 statement victory. I would have given anything to be there to hear the crowd's reaction to Tamba Hali lighting up Ohio State QB Troy Smith from the blind side to force the game-clinching fumble.

I shed no tears for Buckeye fans, who are the foulest and most obnoxious I've ever run into (worse than Middle Tennessee's, probably because they have something to actually be proud of). These folks bragged that Jim Tressel was superior to Mack Brown before their game against Texas because he'd won a national title three years ago and was a better game manager. Now they're ready to lynch him after a tough road loss. College football is crazy stuff sometimes.

Final Thought
Middle Tennessee, keenly aware that the loudest noise coming from its football stadium recently has been the sound of crickets chirping, is now sending game tickets home with Rutherford County schoolkids. Wow. The sad thing is, none of them will read the fine print, where it clearly states that all persons with teeth will be turned away.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rough business

Blogging is a rough business. The mainstream media hates you. Most of the world ignores you. The few who read what you have to say don't say much in return. They got other things going on, and don't we all?

Still, you probably haven't really arrived as a blogger until you receive some sort of criticism. Middle Tennessee's fan board called this blog "mind-numbing", which might have stung except that I couldn't possibly do any more damage than was already done.

Some folks get tired of reading blogs that focus on the trivial and mundane details of one's life, and are honest and forthright enough to tell you so. This blog is mainly about college football, but it has diverged from time to time into thoughts about the things I do, or the places I go. Those things are interesting to me anyway, but they may not be to the three of you who read this blog.

There is very little about me that makes me or my life special. I will keep that in mind going forward, realizing that this blog is very much a work in progress. As always, I appreciate any and all feedback.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again

I haven't posted in several days, for which I apologize profusely. My goal is to establish this blog's credibility by having something to say at all times, no matter how silly or trivial. In football coach-speak, I'm ready to get after it...

Before we left the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, MO last Sunday to go home, we passed by a video game arcade with an open air hockey table. I laid down a challenge to the wife, who HAS beaten me before. One dollar and a whole bunch of machismo later, I got the duke and celebrated while she rolled her eyes. It's the little things, I tell you.

This casino does NOT have a hotel, so there aren't any families staying there. There WERE children there, though. I have a problem with this. Casinos are no place to drag your kids while you're blowing their college fund. If you can't gamble without taking your kids, don't gamble!

Entertainment News and Views
Esquire Magazine has named Jessica Biel the sexiest woman alive in its new issue. She's been in some other things besides 7th Heaven (including a completely forgettable flop with Freddie Prinze Jr.), but I still think of her as Mary Camden, the preacher's daughter. I don't follow that show anymore since it went off the deep end, but I saw a preview the other day that blew me away. The youngest daughter Ruthie is now a teenager and her sexuality is going to be a major plot element going forward. Creepy, anyone? Are clean, happy family shows entirely obsolete?

WB stalwart Everwood is now in its 4th season, and my wife and I got hooked on it early, at her prodding. Before you laugh and ask how a macho man like me can possibly watch a show so popular with teenage girls, just remember that there are things we guys do to keep the home fires burning. I take in an Everwood/ER doubleheader on Thursdays, and then I watch all the football I can stand on Saturday without much hassle. Those things have a way of working out.

Tomorrow is the Corrales-Castillo rematch from Las Vegas. I don't follow boxing at all, since it appears to have as much integrity as wrestling, but I've heard awesome things about the first match five months ago. Everyone who saw it says that it was a classic, a knockdown-dragout brawl. A slobberknocker, if you will. I'd love to see it, but the wife would kill me if I bought the pay-per-view for it. Perhaps someone on the internet can shoot me a DVD of the fight, along with the first one. I am in the market for that. Leave your e-mail address in the comments section.

College Football
The hot rumor is that Nick Lachey, formerly of 98 Degrees, is soon to be Jessica Simpson's former husband. Why is this in the college football section of this blog? Well, according to those in the know, Nick is going to be crashing with his main man Matt Leinart, all-world Heisman QB at USC. We know which of those two is the bigger star. Anyway, can you imagine being a single guy at THOSE parties? Picking up scraps never sounded so good.

Doreblog's whipping boys, Middle Tennessee State, are having a hard time drawing enough fans to remain in 1-A football. As such, they are holding a Homecoming ticket fire sale for their matchup on October 22 against Louisiana-Lafayette. Tickets are on sale for $5! Ladies, if your man takes you out on a Saturday night to a Middle football game, drop him like a Middle linebacker dropping remedial math class. You can do a whole lot better.

Last night saw Georgia Tech drop another game it shouldn't have, this one to North Carolina State. I'm not an insider, so I'm not familiar enough with Tech's program to get a pulse on it, but how much mediocrity can one program take? It has all-world athletes in Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson, both of whom will likely play on Sundays. Getting a former NFL coach to lead your program isn't always the best solution, especially if he's Chan Gailey, whom I like personally but think is better suited to coordinator work than head coaching.

Texas plays Oklahoma tomorrow at the Texas State Fair in Dallas in the 100th meeting of the Red River Shootout. I've been to this game before and it's a blast...half of the Cotton Bowl in orange, and the other half in crimson. Drunks everywhere. People-watching at its absolute best. Look for Texas coach Mack Brown and his Longhorns to take five years of frustration out on those poor Sooners who, despite their recent success in this series, still have to live in Oklahoma.

The one game I'd pay money to see in person tomorrow might just be Ohio State at Penn State. No offense to Corrales-Castillo, but this might be the slobberknocker of the day. I'll root for anyone playing the Buckeyes, so fight on, (Penn) State!

Vandy Football
The good guys are a 16-point home dog against LSU tomorrow. If LSU shows up at all, it won't be close. This is the kind of game that Vandy likes to keep close before folding in the 3rd quarter as the opponent's superior depth takes over. Vandy's depth is much improved, which explains our success scoring points in the 4th quarter this year versus last. If the line gives Jay Cutler any time at all against LSU's monster pass rush, he'll pick apart the secondary. Unfortunately, you can't do that effectively when you're running for your life the whole game.

Vandy will cover and take its wounded psyche into Homecoming week against Georgia. Root for Georgia against Tennessee tomorrow...I for one don't want to play a dangerous road team like Georgia after a loss.

Final Thought
Which cheesy Kenny Loggins soundtrack song is the best? I nominate "Danger Zone" from Top Gun, "Playing with the Boys" (also from Top Gun), and the lesser-known "Meet Me Halfway Across the Sky" from Over the Top. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Wild and Wooly Weekend

I am a huge fan of casino buffets. They are the sustenance choice of all degenerate gamblers who are overfed and nearly dead. I'm far from dead, but the more buffet meals I eat, the more likely I am to get there. Anyway, the highlight of my weekend was the opportunity to belly up to the trough without paying a dime OR risking hundreds of dollars in wagers for the privilege.

The Wedding
Friday night before my wife's friend's wedding and we do not yet have a gift. I am dragged to every man's worst nightmare: Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I bring along my $5 coupon so that my butt doesn't hurt so bad afterwards...we decide on a Corningware set that retails for $50. It comes with a $10 rebate, but the wife vetoes my plan of removing the UPC from the box so that we can claim it. What gives? They didn't pay for it AND they get the rebate?

Saturday we drive to St. Louis, a trip of about 4 hours, to attend the wedding of my wife's friend from high school who now lives there in University City, the neighborhood that spawned pop-rap giant Nelly. We check in at the hotel, and I shower, shave and get dressed. We stayed at the hotel long enough to catch the end of the Michigan-Michigan State game. Michigan pulls it out in overtime, 34-31. My buddy Jason from Nashville is thanking God right now even though I'm sure it's been a while since he's been to church.

We fly to the church like a bat out of hell. It's a Catholic wedding mass, so I've got the over on the ceremony taking an hour. Sure enough, it takes about 80 minutes. I'm not in the business of bashing the Catholic faith, but I dislike their weddings. Very ritualistic, very unromantic. Most men I know don't enjoy attending weddings, but these are especially difficult to sit through.

On the way to the reception hall, I am driving east on I-64 towards downtown when I encounter an off-ramp that has been closed. Road cones mark its closure and slowly jut out into my lane. Before I know it, I'm bearing down on them and trying to move left. The dude in that lane is driving a black Benz and won't let me over. I throw up my hands in frustration. He flips me the bird. Nice. Turns out, he's the husband of one of my wife's old friends who is attending the same wedding. We went to their wedding in February, from which I returned sick as a dog. They're doctors in Kansas City.

The reception is being held at this place in downtown St. Louis called the Thaxton. I'm not familiar with its history (perhaps it used to be an old hotel or restaurant). Now it's a reception hall. We're among the first people to arrive, and we help ourselves to the cheese tray and diet cokes from the bar before having to socialize with the dude who flipped me off in traffic. Now he's nice as can be (he doesn't know that it was me). Amazing how that works. I talk Chiefs football with him while another couple comes up. The male looks like Kenny G. I resist the temptation to ask for his autograph and talk about his domination of celebrity golf.

The Aftermath
We wind up blowing this gig early. The plan is to book it down to the Ameristar casino in St. Charles, which I've been told has an awesome sports bar in which I can watch the Vandy-Middle Tennessee game. By now it's about 7:20 PM and halfway through the first quarter. Before we can leave, our car has to be brought back from the valet lot. Unfortunately, the Cardinals game is letting out and traffic is a mess. Ugh. The car arrives and we jump in. Time to get out of downtown and back to St. Charles.

We are entangled in traffic and unfamiliar with the area. I pride myself on my sense of direction, but I wind up taking I-70 east instead of west. Now I get an up close and personal tour of East St. Louis, Illinois, which may well be the armpit of America. Yikes. We eventually turn things around. On to St. Charles!

With the casino in sight, I'm driving on the bridge over the Missouri River when we witness a car accident right in front of us, caused by a driver trying to change lanes into a lane that is occupied. The second driver has nowhere to go but the guardrail. There doesn't look to be anyone hurt, but I reach for the cell phone anyway. Since we live out of town, I have to ask the 911 operator for the St. Louis emergency dispatcher. Once I tell him my location, he has to transfer me to the St. Charles dispatcher (the county line being the river over which this accident occurred). I tell the same story twice. Eventually they agree to send someone, and we continue on.

The Ameristar casino is hopping. That's a bad sign. I should know better than to ever visit a casino on a Saturday night. I don't even want to play. In fact, I grew out of casino gambling quite a while ago. The city where I live has a boat nearby, but I never go. I just want to watch the game and eat something. The wife hasn't eaten a meal in nearly 12 hours and is beyond cranky. Unfortunately, the sports bar is standing room only and they're not letting anyone in. Apparently, there's a big fight on (Tarver-Jones) that is drawing a big crowd. You mean to tell me that these people are not there to see Vandy? There's nowhere else in the casino to see this game. We turn around and leave. Vandy is down 14-3 in the second quarter.

We would like to find another sports bar, but traffic is bad and everything looks packed. I'm royally pissed off, for being dragged to this wedding and not being able to see the game. Wife and I are arguing. We finally agree to go back to the hotel and rig up the laptop to hear the game broadcast over the internet. She goes back out for grub and returns with the tastiest cold Burger King burger I've ever eaten. I was so hungry that I wolfed it down, and I could have eaten another.

The Game
I nearly lost what I'd just eaten. Complete bullshit. Vandy laid down and let Middle win for the third straight time on our field. Beyond frustrating. I hate losing, and I took this one especially hard. That's all I want to say about this.

The Next Day
We got up this morning with the idea of hitting an IHOP for breakfast. FYI, there isn't an IHOP within 90 miles of my home, and none in the state whatsoever. Unfortunately, an online menu check reveals that they no longer offer what they'd been advertising for a few months: funnel cake with fruit topping. There went my desire. I round up some free Ameristar buffet coupons and we drive back to St. Charles.

It is noticeably less crowded on a Sunday morning. We redeem the coupons for buffet comps, but the buffet won't open for another hour and twenty minutes. We hadn't planned on playing, but there isn't much else to do in a casino when you're wasting time. Luckily, the Ameristar is loaded with penny slots and we sit down to grind it out. By the time we're ready to leave, we're up $4 between us. Not enough to make you quit your day job. AND, it takes 1550 units played on the penny slots to get one comp point. I did the math on that. To get one ticket to a crappy concert comped, you wind up risking $6200. Of course you won't lose all of that, but that's the dollar value of all the wagers you have to make to earn 400 points to redeem for a "free" ticket to a concert.

And you wonder why casinos are opulent places? Anyone telling you that they make their money back on comps is pulling your leg and lying to themselves about how much they gamble.

Anyway, breakfast is a lavish buffet brunch. Selections included normal breakfast items, omelet bar, prime rib and carved ham, grilled pork chops and peeled shrimp. I also saw and enjoyed chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes, an Italian food station with some decent pizza, and an Asian station with Mongolian barbecue. Good grub. There was more available than I had room for. And desserts...wow. Chocolate fondue fountain, cakes, pies, tarts, bread pudding, self-serve ice cream, cookies, you name it.

Yes, you can get a free lunch, it turns out. I would like to try another meal there before putting it in the same category as my favorite casino buffet: the Horseshoe in Tunica, MS. I know the spreads at the big resorts in Vegas are awesome, so I'm looking to try those next time I visit.

Final Thought
I'm home now and ready to head off, so I'll be back this week to talk football. I've got a lot to catch up on, having spent a Saturday away from the game. Don't ever trust a man who would get married during football season. Real men know not to force their friends and loved ones to choose.