Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Get Joe Smith a Security Detail

We need to make sure Kevin Garnett doesn't kill Joe Smith in the coming weeks and months. No, seriously.

Could any one player in the NBA hate another player as much as KG probably hates Smith right now? Obviously, this has nothing to do with Smith himself, I'm sure he's a charming man. However, the facts paint an ugly picture:

Fact #1: Joe Smith was highly overrated coming out of college, going #1 overall despite possessing a limited game.

Fact #2: Smith was frequently referred to as a "bust" during his first three years, spent with Golden State and Philly. Over that period of time he averaged 16.2 points and 7.8 boards while shooting a paltry 45%. Those are Nenad Krstic numbers ... except my boy Nenad shoots a much higher percentage.

Fact #3: For what could best be described as an average power forward, Kevin McHale broke a whole bunch of NBA rules in an attempt to sign Joe Smith under market value in exchange for a wink-wink future deal. The NBA found out about it after the fact, stepped in and voided the contract, and Smith signed with the Pistons.

Fact #4: Somehow, Smith found his way back to the Wolves, so that KG and everyone else had to look at him on the bench while they suffered without any draft picks. The five-year ban finally ended and they took Randy Foye last year.

Fact #5: Scratch that, this one isn't a fact. Hold on.

Rumor #1: It appears that the Wolves were unable to get Iverson because they didn't have a 2007 draft pick to include in the package. This pick was lost when McHale traded Sam Cassell for Marko Jaric, which is a bad enough trade even before you factor in the knowledge that the Wolves were the ones giving up a first round pick to sweeten the deal. Holy hell.

Fact #5: The Wolves don't have a 2007 draft pick because they used it to acquire Marko Jaric. (I had to type it again just to be sure it was real.) So even though the Smith Incident didn't cost them the '07 pick, it symbolizes the whole situation.

Fact #6: Joe Smith is involved in the deal that does net Iverson for the Nuggets. KG has to sit by while his team does nothing, has no draft picks, and the guy that screwed up a half a decade for his Wolves is sent to Philly in exchange for the very player that Garnett desperately wants to be his teammate.

Could this be any more painful for KG? Could there be more irony? How does Kevin McHale still have a job?

Joe Smith better hope that KG doesn't piece all this together.

Poor KG: Winners and Losers of the AI Trade

I am going to write about this in more detail in a column for Whatif, but here are my quick winners and losers from the AI trade that went down today.


Denver. It is going to require an adjustment period, but if Melo can move past this sucker punch incident, I think this will work. There are more than enough shots to go around in Denver and while Iverson would do well to be a little bit more of the dazzling passer he was in the Denver All-Star Game (I think that was '05), he doesn't have to alter his game that much. It's really about Melo, which is nothing new.

Andre Igoudala. There are more shots and touches to be had in Philly now and he's got a decent point guard (read: not Kevin Ollie) to get him the rock. Of course, as long as Webber (the true source of all Philly's problems, from salary to shot selection) is around, Iggy's growth will continue to be stunted to a certain degree.

The West. The rich get richer.

The Nets. The Celtics are idiots, which means that atrocious Atlantic is still up for grabs which means New Jersey can keep skating by.


Philly. They lost a long time ago. But they just topped it off with this half-assed trade. People are going to believe this is a decent deal because there are plenty of catch phrases that GM's love to throw out there like "expiring contracts" and "draft picks." However, Billy King wound up with a crappy deal here: a worthless expiring contract (Smith's $7 million will come off the books in year where the Sixers are still like $15 million over the cap), two crapshoot picks (even in a deep draft, picks in the 20's are a toss-up), and a journeyman pointguard with his own bad contract (Andre Miller and his three years/$27 million). Not sure what there is to get excited about here. That little grab bag in exchange for a once-in-a-generation player? Yikes.

The East. And the poor get poorer.

Boston. See above.

The Clippers. I still can't believe the Clippers wouldn't trade Livingston (the verdict is still out on him, by the way) when they had the chance to become a legit title contender overnight. Weird.

Kevin Garnett. Just when we thought there was a chance ...

Earl Boykins. Sorry, little man, your days of jacking up almost a shot a minute are over.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Khoub Report, Vol. 3

This special edition of the Khoub Report is here to announce that Yakhouba Diawara gets an A+ for tonight's 123-100 victory over the Knicks for being one of the seven Nuggets that was NOT ejected in that brawl. Good times.

The Line:
11 minutes
2-for-2 from the field
6 points (on two 3's)
2 assists
1 rebound
0 ejections
Grade: A+

By the way, lost in the brawl news are two interesting stories:

1. Stephon Marbury went 13-for-24 from the floor and finished with 31 points and 8 dimes to have his first good game of the season. Supposedly Walt Frazier was going to offer up some help to get Marbury out of his funk. So did he? If so, boy was that fast. If not, should he still help him? So many questions.

2. The Nuggets finally showed some common sense and started Nene at power forward. Granted, he got in early foul trouble and only wound up playing 17 minutes, but if you are going to try to pawn off an overpriced, injury-prone big man, you might want to showcase him a little bit. Denver has been running that guy out there for tiny chunks of time and the results haven't been pretty. If they expect the Blazers to take him off their hands as part of an Iverson deal, they need to start him, let him work up a sweat, and hope that he can show something. Tonight was a step in the right direction.

Josh Smith: A True Enigma

While watching the Bulls-Hawks tonight, I was struck by how terrible Josh Smith's body language is when he's on the court. He jogs in transition, has his arms at his sides most of the time, and generally seems like he could care less what is happening. Yet he was easily the most disruptive player on the court (including Ben Wallace). After one half of play he only had a steal on the books, but he altered countless shots and deflected at least four passes. In one sequence, he caused a bad miss, tipped a rebound to a teammate, and then (after said teammate lost the ball), deflected a pass and prevented a fastbreak basket. It was unreal.

For the season, Smith is fifth in the NBA with 2.4 blocks per game, while also collecting 1.4 steals per. His total of 3.8 "measureable defensive plays" per night is tied for first in the league with Shawn Marion.

The question is: how can a guy that looks so apathetic make so many defensive plays? Chalk it up to his unbelievable combination of athleticism and instincts.

Greg Oden: Why the Lefty FT's?

I tuned in to Ohio State-Cinci today to get another look at the Hoff Bros. (my brother Drew and I) pick to win it all, and was treated to the usual slashing from Michael Conley Jr., shooting from Ron Lewis, and all-around sensational play from the underrated Daquan Cook. And of course, dominant play in the paint from Greg Oden.

One thing left me puzzled though: why is Oden still shooting free throws with his left hand? I admit it makes for a fun story. I mean, we can take a trip down memory lane and remember Bo Kimble's tribute in the 1990 NCAA Tourney. We can talk about how Oden is shooting better with his off hand than Shaq does with his strong one. It speaks to Oden's work ethic and skill level and blah, blah, blah. But why is he doing it?

He throws outlet passes with his right hand. He blocks shots with his right hand. And he throws down monstrous, thunderous dunks with his right hand. All of those things would seem to be more taxing than shooting a free throw. Is it the bending of the wrist on a 15-foot shot that presents a problem? Is it because there is time to think on a free throw as opposed to just reacting and playing through pain with the rest of the stuff? Consider me curious. It's great that everyone under the sun is mentioning that this is happening, but just once I'd like to hear why.

Friday, December 08, 2006

AI to the Wolves?

The Allen Iverson Saga burst onto the scene like a tornado. It was nothing but clear skies on the NBA landscape and then all of a sudden we had a funnel cloud picking up houses and uprooting trees. In the span of just 48 hours, AI went from being the only guy on the Sixers actually trying in a game against the Bulls (man, I'm glad I didn't attend that blowout) to being pretty much done in Philly. It's crazy. Philly had a chance to move him all summer and Billy King blew it and now they are handling this so, so poorly. They are faking an injury so he doesn't get hurt and damage his trade value, insulting him by sending him home and not allowing him to attend the game, and then showing their hand by telling everyone he's on the way out (they can thank their chairman and his sideline interview during the game tonight for that). They will be lucky to get a starter and a draft pick at this rate.

Of course, all of this begs the question: where will Iverson be headed? The Celtics were the big rumor over the summer and with their plethora of young players like Gerald Green and Al Jefferson, they might be able to swing something. AI would be a decent fit in Denver, where the up and down style would enable him to get plenty of shots alongside Melo. The Clippers make a whole lot of sense, although their best bargaining chip (Corey Maggette) plays the same position as Andre Igoudala. However, the team that looks like the best fit is the T-Wolves. They have a lot of pieces and movable parts (not for a fair trade, certainly, but then again the Sixers are kind of screwed, so that might not matter), and more importantly, Minnesota is home to the one superstar that would be a perfect fit with Iverson: Kevin Garnett. I wrote about this last spring in a column about pairing up ringless NBA stars, but Iverson's willingness and ability to take and make big shots is a perfect match with KG's unselfishness. I'm not sure the Wolves would have anything else going for them in the starting lineup, but it would be a lot of fun to watch those two guys play together. They've both been surrounded by dog crap for a decade, so this would be nice to see.

If this happens, by the way, the Bulls will have missed their window to acquire KG. I'm not sure what Paxson was waiting for, but it looks like Minny might be doing the reverse of what we all expected. Instead of doing KG a favor and sending him out to a contender, they are trying to bring in a big gun and fix things in the North Star state. So if the trade goes down, it is sorry, Bulls fans. And sorry, Lakers fans too.

By the way, Arenas just banked in a three to end the half of the Philly-Washington game, which gives him two straight 35-foot buzzer beaters to end quarters. I'm not sure I've ever seen that before. I'm also not sure I've ever seen a guy shoot such deep jacks so effortlessly. We all remember the 35-foot jumper he made with ease against Cleveland in the playoffs last year and it seems that was no fluke. The guy puts up bombs like they are free throws.

UPDATE: Jim Grey just came on the air and said that his report earlier (saying that Iverson was looking forward to a trade to Minny) was worthless because the guy on the phone that he thought was AI was "an imposter." This, to me, is hilarious. Nice scoop, Jim Grey.

I Guess Market Dominance Isn't Enough

ESPN strikes again. I detailed my disgust for the World Wide Leader in a recent post, but I feel compelled to bring the topic up again in light of a recent controversy surrounding ESPN writer Scoop Jackson.

In case you haven't heard by now, Jackson wrote a column about being the new NBA basketball. A few people linked to it and sent it to me, some with comments saying it was funny, others that it was abhorrent. Since it was an ESPN column, I ignored it and continued my boycott of all ESPN.com content. At the time, I had no idea what was actually in the column, but the idea of a basketball telling his own story in the first person felt strangely familiar.

Want to know why? Because someone already came up with it, that's why. The terrific NBA blog YAY Sports already wrote that story. In fact, they have developed quite a back story for what has become an actual copyrighted character by the name of Orange Roundie.

On the YAY blog, the concept is well-down and evokes some laughs and no doubt Scoop Jackson thought the same thing, because he straight up jacked it and used it for a Page 2 column (insert your "scooped the idea" joke here). Not only that, but he also used the name "Orange Roundie" in the story, which is at the very least highly unethical and quite possibly a form of copyright infringement. In doing so, he basically admitted to stealing the entire concept, because how could he mention that a website had named it "Orange Roundie" and then expect us to believe that he somehow gleaned the nickname without seeing the context in which it was used? That would be like me writing a movie about a demented cab driver named Travis Bickle, saying I got the name from "a movie," and then trying to convince you that I didn't steal Taxi Driver. Okay, that was probably a bad example, but you get the idea. The use of the name is bad, but even worse is that it tips off the fact that he used the whole bag of goodies.

You can read about all this over at YAY, but to make matters worse, Jackson told Deadspin to convey a message to YAY that goes something along the lines of "Tell those guys that I'm sorry, but hey, at least I mentioned those little bloggers in my column." Like he's handing out crumbs from on high. Really? Scoop Jackson is going to make someone's year by including them in one of his rambling bits or prose? I think not.

Anyway, what really bothers me here is that this seems to be the kind of thing that would happen at ESPN more than anywhere else. The network and website believe themselves to be above all else in sports media and this entitlement leads to bizarre situations and a skewed view of how things are supposed to work. There is a Mafia-like regime in place that stomps out even the slightest criticism from within (see: the Jason Whitlock situation), that makes arbitrary decisions about what type of conduct is allowed (see: the treatment of Harold Reynolds versus that of Michael Irvin), and that projects an attitude of superiority that makes the likes of Microsoft seem like nothing more than a meek manufacturer of computer products. So a writer stealing an idea from a "lowly blog," using it as his own, and then hiding behind ESPN's shield of protection is in keeping with the general feel of the website.

Thus, the boycott continues. And this post is an effort to spread the word. Scoop Jackson is a condescending hack who steals other people's ideas and then posts them on a website that believes itself to be superior to anything and everything else in sports media. Pass it along.

Play the Young Guys

NFL coaches are a frustrating bunch. They are generally way too conservative and avoid risk at all cost, to the point where they are punting from the opponents' 35-yard line down by a touchdown late in the game (Bears at Patriots). Not enough teams throw on first down, prevent defenses don't prevent anything but your chances of winning the game (credit that little turn of phrase to my Dad), and if I see one more draw play on 3rd-and-14 I am going to puke.

That said, there is one stodgy trend among NFL coaches that bothers more than all the others combined: the refusal to hand the keys to the running game to young, superior backs. I don't know if it is loyalty, fear, ignorance, or stupidity, but all around the league, we are seeing young running backs explode onto the scene, only to be kept on the sidelines in favor of lesser players. Here is a quick glance at some guys that should be getting 20+ carries a game and are instead in (at best) time share situations:

Joseph Addai - The rookie out of LSU is the captain of this team. He's received only 22 more carries than Dominic Rhodes, yet Addai has a whopping 324 more yards and three more touchdowns than the Colts' veteran. Is Dungy trying to save Addai's legs? The guy's 23 years old! Addai has only had 20 or more carries in a game twice and in those two contests, he totaled 44 carries for 255 yards and five scores.

Marion Barber - Another "backup" that has clearly taken over as the preferred back in a time share, which frankly, isn't enough. It is nice that Barber is finally getting more carries than Julius Jones, but he should be getting neary all of the touches. Jones is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry this season, including a miserable 3.2 per over the last seven games. Meanwhile, Barber is picking up 5.2 yards every tote and has scored 11 touchdowns. Sure, he's not that fast, but he obviously doesn't need to be. When you consider that a large percentage of Barber's runs come in the red zone, that average is even more impressive.

DeAngelo Williams - We all saw what this rookie could do on Monday night when he racked up 175 total yards and a touchdown. Oh wait, nevermind, I guess we didn't all see that, because John Fox has indicated that DeShaun Foster (another member of the 3.9 Per Carry club) will be the starter and split carries if he's healthy on Sunday against the Giants. Genius. Did Fox coach that entire game with a blindfold on? Doesn't he have access to game film?

Jerious Norwood - I think this is a situation in which Jim Mora Jr. just can't bring himself to punk Warrick Dunn and replace him with Norwood. It is the only explanation. Norwood is fresher, faster, more explosive, stronger, and - at this point - simply better than Dunn. The rookie out of Mississippi State unleashed a jaw-dropping 63-touchdown run against the Redskins on Sunday is now averaging a whopping 6.7 yards per carry (easily tops in the NFL among running backs). Not only that, but he leads the NFL in fourth quarter rushing with 367 yards in the final stanza of games. I guess this makes sense, because he only gets to carry the ball in the fourth quarter. Imagine what he could do with some touches during the first three.

You could probably stretch and make cases for Maurice Jones-Drew and Brandon Jacobs as well, but Tiki Barber and Fred Taylor are actually playing pretty well, so we'll let Coughlin and Del Rio off the hook.

The Khoub Report, Vol. 2

It is inexcusable how long it has taken to post the second Koub Report, but I'm here to rectify things. In case you didn't read the first one and don't want to click on the link (hey, I don't blame you - the whole world is one big link now and sometimes it just gets tiring), this is - as far as I know - the only blog in existence that devotes ongoing posts to Denver's Yakhouba Diawara.

Ostensibly, this running post is about giving Khoub some love because his time at Pepperdine overlapped with mine. On a deeper level though, the Insider Blog is celebrating the bizarre turn of events that led a WCC power forward that couldn't defend a chair and went 0-for-17 in his final college game to cracking the Denver Nuggets' rotation as a defensive stopper and three-point shooter. I'm still not sure how this is possible. That said, Khoub is a great guy, so I'm eager to throw a little attention his way.

The good news is that Khoub has recently been providing both of the aforementioned services - defense and threes - on a regular basis. Part of the reason I hadn't posted a Khoub report since his first game was that he was playing kind of poorly (although the real reason is that my apartment building is archaic and cheap and refuses to pay for the wiring necessary for Comcast to provide me with League Pass, so I never see any Nuggets games). Fortunately, that has changed.

In Denver's first seven games, Khoub went 0-for-8 from three and scored just eight points while racking up two DNP's and playing just 11 seconds in another contest. Then he hit three big triples against the Raptors and seemed to find the range a little bit. In the last nine games he is 14-for-38 from downtown (a respectable 37%) with 10 steals and 70 points. He's still not getting big minutes backing up J.R. Smith and Melo, but when he does get in the game, he's making an impact.

Grade (for the past nine games): B+

Monday, November 27, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Final Edition

I skipped the Heisman poll last week, waiting instead for the big USC-Notre Dame showdown, just in case Brady Quinn had a 500-yard, 6-touchdown game up his sleeve. Obviously, he did not, which means this race is over. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 Heisman winner ... Troy Smith.

Here is my final Heisman top 10.

(Previous Heisman Polls can be found here:
First Edition
Second Edition
Third Edition
Fourth Edition
Fifth Edition
Sixth Edition)

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (last week's rank: 2). Smith probably needed only a victory over Michigan to secure this award, but he left little doubt when he threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 42-39 victory over the Wolverines. Smith finished the season as the undisputed leader of the nation's best team and he racked up 30 touchdowns against just five interceptions in the process. While his 2,507 passing yards don't stack up to the 3,278 of Brady Quinn, Smith has the edge in most other key stats, including: QB rating (167.9 to 151.6), completion percentage (67.0 to 63.4), sacks (just 13 to Quinn's 30), and yards per attempt (8.4 to 7.6). Granted, Smith might have had a better line and more explosive weapons at his disposal, but it can be countered that Quinn played in a more favorable system for a quarterback.

You could probably go back and forth comparing the two as individual players, but ultimately, football is a team game and the fact that Ohio State ran the table makes all the difference. The Buckeyes held on to the very end and for that reason, Smith should win this award in a landslide.

2. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame (1). Even in a lopsided defeat to USC, Quinn kept on putting up solid numbers, throwing for 274 yards and three scores and even leading the Irish in rushing with 74 yards on the ground. That said, it wasn't nearly enough to overcome Smith. Quinn will have to console himself with the likelihood that he will be the top pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Hundred dollar bills make for nice tissues.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). I was watching some college hoops last week when I saw the finalists for the Maxwell Award (for player of the year) scroll across the screen, and to my shock and surprise, Mike Hart wasn't on the list. How is this possible? There were only three names to be found, which were Smith, Quinn, and Rutgers' Ray Rice. Now, I like Rice as much as anyone (just read a few of these Heisman polls), but I don't see how he can be ahead of Hart on any player of the year list or ballot. Hart topped off a magnificent junior campaign by shredding Ohio State's defense for 142 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. He finished the season with 1,515 yards and 14 touchdowns for one of the top three teams in the country. Consider me confused.

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). Of course, just because Hart got robbed doesn't mean that Rice is anything short of fantastic. The guy was the heart and soul of a feel-good Rutgers team that is a win away from a Big East title and an appearance in a BCS bowl game. Rice is nearing 1,500 yards and has 17 rushing touchdowns with a chance for more against West Virginia this week. His second half against Louisville alone should have him heading across the bridge for the award ceremony. And if there is one good thing about Rice leaping ahead of Hart in the Maxwell fiasco it is that voters can't ignore him any longer, lest they look like morons.

5. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (6). The Razorbacks' magical run came to an end against LSU, but that certainly wasn't McFadden's fault. Arguably the nation's most exciting player, McFadden put up another fantastic performance against a tough defense by rushing 21 times for 182 yards and two scores. And once again, he even handled QB duties, completing both of his passes out of the single wing for 33 yards (maybe they should have let them throw them all, considering quarterback Cody Dick went 3-for-17). Going into the SEC title game, McFadden has totaled 1,485 yards on the ground and scored 14 times. Give him a seat at the Hilton.

6. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (8). Slaton's story is the same as it has been for about a month: the stats are there, the high WVU ranking is not. He needed the Mountaineers to be in the title hunt and that just hasn't happened. That means the 147 yards per game and 7.3 per carry are just empty numbers. Of course, this is in many ways an award that focuses on numbers, so he remains in the mix at #6.

7. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (8). Brennan could make a case for a seat at the trophy presentation ceremony, given Hawaii's surprising success and his absolutely ridiculous stats. However, I just can't see him passing any of the four running backs ahead of him on the list. The stats are insane though, of course. 4,589 yards, 51 touchdowns (against nine picks), a 186.7 QB rating, and a 71.9% completion percentage. Yikes. He should be a prime candidate in 2007.

8. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (10). So much for that collapsed lung. Johnson made an unlikely return to the Boise State lineup and ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns as the Broncos finished the season undefeated and landed a spot in a BCS bowl. Johnson now has 1,613 yards and an NCAA-leading 24 touchdowns on the season.

9. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (7). Lynch is a fantastic talent, but the loss to USC sunk his ship. He can pile on a few more stats this weekend against Stanford, but he will go no higher on this list.

10(tie). JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU (NR) and P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin (NR). For the last spot, I'm going with two players that were overlooked stars on overlooked teams. LSU is the team that makes Ohio State glad there is no playoff system, because they are the best two-loss team in the country, hands down. Russell has had a really good year for the Tigers and finishes with 26 touchdowns against seven picks, 2,797 yards, a fantastic 9.1 yards per attempt, and a 168.1 passer rating. In case you were wondering, those last three stats are all better than those of Troy Smith, while the TD/INT ratio is in the neighborhood.

As for Hill, he had a little hiccup late in the season when he hurt his ankle and had his coach call him out after the game, but 1,533 yards and 15 touchdowns for an 11-1 team from the Big 10 simply has to be on this list. Hill is one of many underclassmen that should make for intriguing candidates next year.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"And Now Eric's Secretary is in a Coma": A BCS Mess

That fantastic line comes from one of my all time favorite bad comedies, Billy Madison. It serves as the tail end of Brian Madison's (played by the always fantastic Darren McGavin) recap of the dire situation in which the main characters find themselves and is followed by the words, "What a mess." It always struck me as a hilarious way of wrapping up a truly absurd set of circumstances (and not just because Aaron Sorkin all-star Bradley Whitford plays the villainous Eric) and it became the catch phrase of choice for me and my buddies whenever things had gone horribly wrong.

It's been years since I've felt compelled to sigh and exclaim "and now Eric's secretary is in a coma" in order to truly express how messed up something has become. But the current BCS landscape is enough to bring it all back. Because this is one hell of a mess.

As it stands, the only sure thing about the BCS championship game is that the winner of Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan showdown will be playing in it. After that, all bets are off.

The sheer number of absurd possibilities is enough to boggle the mind. Here are the seven teams that seem to have a shot at snagging that all-important #2 spot (I would use an Austin Powers quote about "Number Two" here, but that movie got real dated, real quick, so I'm going to pass):

Ohio State. Things will be a lot easier for everyone if the Buckeyes win on Saturday. Sort of. The big thing is that Ohio State's presence in the title game would dramatically reduce the odds of "BCS Armageddon" occurring.

BCS Armageddon goes like this: two teams meet in the title game who have already played during the season and the team that lost earlier winds up winning the "championship game" and the two teams finish with identical records overall and against each other. Except that the team that won on the road (and therefore is the slightly more impressive candidate) loses the title to the team that won on a neutral field. Confused? If you are, it is probably because this makes no intuitive sense whatsoever. But there are two scenarios in which this can happen. If Michigan beats Ohio State on Saturday and the two are pitted in a rematch, the Wolverines would face that exact scenario. Michigan would also confront that prospect if matched up against Notre Dame in the title game. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The point is that an undefeated Michigan in the BCS game opens the door for them to wind up playing against a one-loss team they have already defeated on the road during the regular season. Should they lose that rematch, they would, in turn, lose the national title despite splitting the "series," boasting an identical record, and having won the only road game between the two squads. People aren't really pondering this now, but trust me, there will be much hand-wringing if it goes down like this. All of which means that Ohio State makes for a pretty safe option as the #1 team.

Michigan. The flip side of an Ohio State win (which keeps Michigan out of that undefeated team-versus-already-vanquished-at-home-opponent rematch) is, obviously, a Michigan loss. A lot of people are clambering for a rematch of this showdown (usually with the caveat that it must be a "great game") and while that might make for good television and may very well pit the two best teams against each other (although honestly, how in the world do we know that?), it creates the perverse scenario described above. And while that scenario is mitigated if Michigan is the losing team (because if they turn around and beat OSU on a neutral field after losing on the road, you can make a more convincing case that they deserve the title for reasons beyond "winning second instead of first"), it is also a whole lot more likely.

I'm not sure if anyone else has tried to figure this out yet, but Michigan seems far more likely to snag a rematch should they lose. For starters, they are going on the road, so a loss won't cause as big of a hit in the eyes of voters. The loser here will probably be in the #2 spot in the human polls, but it is possible that Ohio State could drop an additional spot or two for losing at home, especially if a team like USC or Florida runs the table in dominant fashion. Not only that, Ohio State is already the lower of the two teams in the computer average and in fact, the Buckeyes rank behind Rutgers and sit in the #3 spot. I'm not a math major, but if OSU finishes #3 in the human polls and #3 in the computer rankings, I'm guessing they won't finish #2 in the BCS. So while a Michigan win is dicey for reasons we've already discussed, it may very well prevent a dubious rematch, since Ohio State is less likely to survive such a loss. The Wolverines are #1 in the computer rankings and would probably remain #2 in the human polls after losing to the top ranked team on the road.

To recap: A Michigan win opens the door for BCS Armageddon to occur, but while a Michigan loss prevents the absolute worst, it also substantially increases the likelihood that we could get the second worst result. This is exhausting.

USC. The Trojans are probably the sexiest of the number two options. While their matchup with Cal has been dampened by the Bears' loss to Arizona, they still get a couple of high profile games that will help their strength of schedule (and therefore their computer ranking, which is currently #4) and the big showdown with Notre Dame on the 25th. It is amazing that USC is back in the mix so quickly after that catastrophic game at Oregon State three weeks ago, but that is the way of things this year. Because of USC's recent success, storied history, and conference affiliation (providing an old-fashioned Pac-10 and Big-10 showdown), I can see voters moving them right up and slotting them against the Michigan-Ohio State winner. (Again, this all seems more likely if Michigan wins on Saturday.) The flip side to all this is that the Trojans must play three more games and they come against a pissed off Cal, highly rated Notre Dame, and enigmatic UCLA. It won't be easy to run the table.

Florida. The Gators are the silent assassins in the field because they appear likely to wind up 11-1 heading into the SEC title game and if they win that, will be 12-1 and champs of a ridiculously good conference. That has #2 written all over it. Of course, there are plenty of negatives as well. Saturday was a rough day for the Gators because while they might have escaped via the blocked kick against South Carolina, they didn't exactly impress anyone. Not only that, but Florida's lone loss isn't looking so good all of a sudden after Auburn was spanked by Georgia. Also, their #6 computer ranking could take a hit with games against Western Carolina and Florida State to finish things off. The FSU game is particularly bad, because it is a classic no-win situation. If they go to Tallahassee and take care of business, it will go down as a win over an unranked, mediocre (at best) team. However, this is the one chance the Seminoles have to save their season and they get the Gators at home, and well, stranger things have happened.

Notre Dame. The Irish are loving the way things are going. A few weeks ago they appeared to be out of it no matter what happened in their own games, but all of a sudden, they are staring down a contest with USC that might produce the second title game team. The problem with Notre Dame is that no matter what happens with Michigan on Saturday, there is a common sense argument that makes the Irish a terrible option for the title bout. If the Wolverines lose, it is going to be a travesty if Notre Dame passes them for the #2 spot. After all, Michigan went to South Bend and beat the Irish like a drum, hanging a 47-21 win on the Golden Domers back in September. That might be tough to overlook for those seeking to slide America's, I mean, The Media's Team into the BCS title game. And if Michigan wins, we have that oh-so-strange issue discussed above, where Notre Dame could land a rematch, win, and claim a national title over the seemingly more deserving team. No matter how you slice it, Notre Dame making it to the final would cause massive problems and result in Michigan getting screwed.

Rutgers. Rutgers is a fascinating case. Even in the moments immediately after their enormous win over Louisville, there were doubts that the Scarlet Knights could get anywhere near the national title game. Setting aside the fact that they have a quarterback who can't throw, they just seemed to have too much ground to make up. They were #15 in the USA Today poll and #13 in the BCS rankings and even with a huge boost from the biggest win in school history, it was hard to see them passing enough teams. Then, lo and behold, everyone started losing on Saturday, Bloody Saturday. Louisville was already dispatched, but once Cal, Texas, and Auburn were finished off, Rutgers suddenly had a clear path. The voters didn't get as excited as they could have, but they still put the Knights at #8 in the USA Today poll and #7 in the Harris Interactive. Not only that, but the big jumps seem to indicate the people are starting to believe. Wins over Cincinnati and Syracuse won't help much, but a victory over West Virginia, coupled with the USC/Notre Dame loss and Florida/Arkansas loss in the SEC title game seems to put Rutgers at about #4 or #5 in the human polls at worst, which could make things interesting when coupled with their current #2 computer ranking. (To take it a step further, if Cal beats USC, then USC beats Notre Dame, and LSU beats Arkansas, then Arkansas beats Florida, Rutgers would go all the way to #2 or #3 in the human polls.)

Of course, as Robert DeNiro said in Heat, there is a flip side to that coin. The games against Cinci and the 'Cuse (especially Syracuse) won't help that sterling computer ranking and then the game against West Virginia is just going to be downright difficult to win. Rutgers does not have great team speed on defense and the Mountaineers have blinding speed with that spread option. Plus, the game is in Morgantown. So while Rutgers is in a better spot to sneak in than people realize (or want to admit), they have a really difficult challenge facing them on December 2nd.

Arkansas. I think this is the sleeping giant. The Razorbacks are only #7 in the BCS rankings as they are hurt by the computer score (it is unclear why), but they are climbing in the polls and are the only team still undefeated in SEC play. Plus, their only loss was to #3 USC (granted, it was a beating). They probably should have been defeated by two touchdowns at Alabama, but once they survived that ugly game, it has been smooth sailing for the Hogs. They have a high risk, high reward finish to the season as they get #9 LSU (a truly scary team) on Friday the 24th and then Florida in the SEC championship tilt. It won't be easy to come out of all that at 12-1 (or even 11-2, to be honest) but with the LSU game at home and the showdown with Florida on neutral turf, it is possible. A 12-game winning streak, undefeated season of SEC play, and lone loss to USC will speak volumes. That said, they might need a more lopsided result on Saturday to get past the Michigan-Ohio State loser, especially given the fact that they don't have any "conflicts" with either team.

The really interesting scenario involving Arkansas goes like this: Michigan drubs Ohio State and is #1. USC runs the table but wins ugly in a couple of games and still seems a little shaky when the dust settles. Rutgers loses to West Virginia. And Arkansas throttles both LSU and Florida as detailed above. Who is #2? Ohio State would probably have to give way to SC or Arkansas, but then do you go with the SEC titan on the rise or the team that beat them to open the season? I'm telling you, this wild, wacky stuff (RIP, Johnny Carson).

No matter how it all unfolds, there is sure to be controversy and heated debate. It is the middle of November and there are still seven teams with a legitimate shot at the national title game. Six of those teams are going to play each other (unless something strange happens with Arkansas and they don't win the SEC West) and the seventh, Rutgers, will be squaring off with the #8 team. Two games - USC versus Notre Dame and Florida versus Arkansas - have "battle for number two" written all over them, but are entirely dependent on games that come before them. In fact, while there are seven teams in the mix, it could ultimately be much ado about nothing if Michigan loses a tight one on Saturday.

The bottom line is that we've got a real mess on our hands, which means that there is only one thing left to say ...

"And now Eric's secretary is in a coma."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Sixth Edition

Last week was a classic "just don't screw it up" kind of moment for the Heisman elite, where the top candidates simply needed to avoid disaster to maintain the status quo. Big numbers are just a drop in the bucket at this point and wins were expected against the likes of Indiana, Northwestern, and Air Force. With the big Ohio State-Michigan and USC-Notre Dame games looming, it was just survive and advance for Troy Smith, Brady Quinn, and Mike Hart. Beneath the Big Three? That was a different story altogether.

The story of the Week Six Heisman Poll is the validation of running backs Ray Rice and Darren McFadden.

(Previous Heisman Polls can be found here:
First Edition
Second Edition
Third Edition
Fourth Edition
Fifth Edition)

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (last week's rank: 1). Both Quinn and Troy Smith had easy games with big stats last week, which actually helped the latter more than the former. In fact, I think that Smith was able to halt the momentum of Quinn's furious charge with his four touchdown passes against Northwestern and now is firmly back in the "his award to lose" position. However, I'm still going with Quinn in the #1 spot, because my gut feeling hasn't changed. I've been feeling a Michigan win over Ohio State all year and if that happens, the Buckeyes are going to tumble. They are already ranked behind Rutgers in the computers (the most underreported story in college football right now) and if the Wolverines bounce them, they could miss out on the title game and Smith could suddenly become a far less popular choice for the Heisman. And as I've been predicting for weeks, if that happens, all eyes will turn back to where they first gazed when the season kicked off: South Bend.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (2). Again, if this were an attempt to capture the whole "if they were to vote today" dynamic, Smith would probably have to be #1. But it's not, so he's not.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). Like the stud quarterbacks, Hart handled his business on Saturday, cruising for 92 yards and a score in an easy 34-3 win over Indiana. He's still in a position to pull off a monster upset in this race, drafting behind Smith and Quinn like a rejuvenated Cole Trickle. If the Wolverines crush Ohio State behind a monster game from Hart and Quinn melts down at the Coliseum in two weeks, Hart could sneak past them both. It's unlikely (mainly because voters refuse to reevaluate things from week to week), but possible. Of course, Hart's hold on the title of "best running back" isn't even secure anymore thanks to ...

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). I've taken a lot of crap for having Rice so high in this one-man poll all year, so I don't mind saying that Rutgers' 28-25 victory over Louisville brought me a great deal of joy. Rice carried 22 times for 131 times and two touchdowns in the biggest win in Rutgers history and did most of it in dominant fashion as Louisville was completely incapable of stopping the Scarlet Knights' simple toss plays. Rice showed the nation that he is tough, fast, and extremely talented and is finally getting the attention he has deserved all year long. You don't run for over 1,300 yards and 15 scores for an undefeated team without being pretty special. If the Buckeyes snuff out Hart and Rutgers finishes undefeated (which would require an unlikely win at West Virginia), Rice could wind up as the highest vote getter among running backs.

5. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (6). McFadden is Exhibit A in my argument about voters not paying attention. I bet if you took the Heisman vote today, many wouldn't even include this force of nature on their ballots, which is a joke. McFadden doesn't have the gaudiest overall stats (although 1,219 yards, 12 TD's, and 6.2 yards per carry is nothing to sneeze at), but everything else is working for him. He's a phenomenal talent with a propensity for exciting big plays. He plays for a top-10 team with an outside chance at the national title. He's the best player in what is arguably the best conference in the country. And he's finishing the season in a blaze of glory. How is he NOT a top-five candidate in the eyes of every voter? Arkansas annihilated Tennessee on national television on Saturday night and McFadden did it all. He compiled 30 carries for 181 yards and two scores and even threw a touchdown pass out of that crazy single wing offense the Razorbacks have been running. This guy is a monster.

6. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (8). Slaton's hopes of winning the whole thing went up in smoke against Louisville a few weeks ago, but he's climbing back into NYC contention after rushing for 148 yards and two scores on just 12 carries against Cincinnati. The guy is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and could wind up leading the nation in rushing yards when it is all said and done.

7. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (5). Whoever said that penalties were a killer must have been thinking of Lynch. This guy was - to borrow from Jim Jones' "We Fly High" - ballin! The Bears were killing people, Lynch was looking every bit like the Next Laurence Maroney, and the golf cart stunt was just the kind of attention-grabbing thing that can give an unlikely Heisman campaign legs (like Joey Harrington's piano playing). Everything was heading toward the big USC game. Whoops. A 72-yard Lynch touchdown was wiped out on a block in the back call and with that flag, everything came crashing down. The stud back finished with a quiet 102 yards and no scores and, even worse, Cal lost a stunner to Arizona. Unless Marshawn runs for 300 yards against USC and something bad happens to Rice or McFadden, he can go ahead and cancel those plane tickets to New York. (I'd still take him with a high pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, for the record.)

8. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (10). Ian Johnson and Colt McCoy both went down with injuries, so the gunslinger with the huge numbers climbs the charts. He threw for 406 with three scores and also ran for 60 yards and a touchdown his last time out, so the gaudy stats just keep piling up. And the real showcase games have yet to come.

9. Pat White, QB, West Virginia (NR). Slaton is still the best Mountaineer candidate, but White keeps closing the gap. He's averaging 7.9 yards per carry with 837 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, and that doesn't even factor in his 1,142 yards passing or 153.2 quarterback rating.

10(tie). Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (9) and Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (7). Johnson is done for the year with a collapsed lung that had him in the hospital for five days, but with 1,400+ yards and a NCAA-leading 21 touchdowns, he gets to stay in his spot. It's a bit late in the year for guys to be getting knocked all the way out of the running with injuries, since they have the bulk of the schedule (and therefore, stats) under their belts. Same story with McCoy, even though the freshman's injury was far more devastating to his team as Texas lost to Kansas State and fell out of the NCAA title chase.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Dream Continues

The best story that no one has been talking about this year just got even better, as Rutgers pulled off a 28-25 comeback victory on Thursday night. This one had it all: a home crowd absolutely frothing, a team winning despite playing a stiff at quarterback, a valiant comeback, big plays, me picking it almost exactly (31-27 Rutgers was the prediction, if I don't mind saying so), one of the worst football programs in history thrusting itself into the national title picture, and my boy Ray Rice playing like a beast. This might be my favorite college football game since that wild USC-Notre Dame game last year.

A few other quick thoughts:

- In predictable fashion, Bobby Petrino stubbornly (arrogantly?) refused to make adjustments at the half, despite the fact that his base defense had no prayer of stopping Rutgers' simple toss play, ever. In fact, if the Scarlet Knights would have just tossed it to Rice 39 times like they did against Pittsburgh, they might have won easily. Petrino appears to be a great teacher, motivator, recruiter, and all-around person, but as a tactician, he is too headstrong. His hubris leads to his downfall.

- I've been taking a lot of heat for having Ray Rice so high in my Heisman Poll, so I can't help but feel validated by his performance. It wasn't just the snazzy numbers (22 carries for 133 yards and two scores), it was the way he ran. Crushing defenders, hitting the hole hard, turning the ball upfield ... he was a monster. I fully expect the rest of the sports media (both traditional and nontraditional) to catch up and put him in the top five, where I've had him for weeks. For the life of me, I don't know what took so long. The guy is averaging 150 yards a game for one of the greatest Cinderella sports stories of the decade. The media usually eats this stuff up. (Also, this game had to help Rice's future pro prospects. He looked an awful lot like DeAngelo Williams out there.)

- Louisville's kick returner is both one of the skinniest and fastest football players I've ever seen. He was worth the price of admission, especially since he was a few lunging arm tackles away from running back two more kicks for scores, in addition to the one he actually broke for six.

- Why did Louisville abandon their two most effective plays: the quick slant and the strong side toss play? Rutgers had no prayer of stopping the Cardinals receivers in one-on-one coverage and only shut down the pass by getting pressure on lead-footed Brian Brohm. All Louisville had to do was employ a three-step drop and hit guys on the slant for big gains. Instead, they kept dropping Brohm back five and seven steps and he was getting slaughtered. Again, the hubris. And as for the running game, they barely ran the ball in the second half despite A) playing with the lead for most of it, and B) the fact that Kolby Smith was shredding people early. Even when they did run, it was just a lame dive into the middle of the line, where Rutgers could offset speed with sheer effort. When Louisville was running that toss play early, they were absolutely blowing the Scarlet Knights away. Very strange.

Now the big question is what to do with Rutgers. They have to avoid slipping in a dangerous game at Cincinnati next week (although Rutgers beat the Bearcats 44-9 last season, Cinci has a pretty solid defense and played Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Louisville tough this year) and then handle Syracuse, but then they will get another big game against #10 West Virginia. Personally, I think the Mountaineers are a tougher matchup for Rutgers because of their ridiculous speed and willingness to use it, not to mention the fact that the game is on the road. That said, this has been a miracle season so far for Rutgers, so why not one more big upset? Everyone thought they might lose to Navy and they won 34-0. Playing at Pittsburgh was supposed to be their undoing and they won 20-10. Now the big win over Louisville. Something magical is happening.

So what happens if they finish 12-0? They would be champs of a BCS conference with an undefeated record. It is hard to imagine them leaping all the way from their current #13 perch to #2 in a few short weeks, and I'm not even sure if they deserve to. But if they win all their games and get left out, it seems possible that the national title game might suck worse than ever before. The BCS system is just a travesty.

Oh well, the Scarlet Knights don't have to worry about that for now. They can just enjoy a truly memorable victory.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Fifth Edition

Last week I stirred things up by putting Brady Quinn at the top of my Heisman list on the strength of a gut feeling that Michigan is going to beat Ohio State two Saturdays from now and that voters will then return to their preseason picks. This week Quinn stays on top after throwing up some huge stats against North Carolina while Troy Smith had his worst outing of the year in a narrow win over Big 10 doormat Illinois. As Bob Griese said during the LSU-Tennessee game, the award is still Smith's to lose, but that inkling of a movement that I was sensing last week is now a full-fledged challenge from Quinn.

I think we've got a race on our hands.

(Previous Heisman Polls can be found here:
First Edition
Second Edition
Third Edition
Fourth Edition)

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (last week's rank: 1). I received a lot of feedback on my Quinn pick from last week and most of it wasn't good. And I have to admit, I was starting to second-guess myself (although I would just be second-guessing a hunch, which is kind of pointless). Then Saturday rolled around and Quinn looked every bit a Heisman winner while Smith looked mediocre at best. The Irish rolled over a pathetic North Carolina team as Quinn threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns. He has now thrown for 25 touchdowns against just four picks and is averaging 286 yards a game. Smith has a better quarterback rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt while throwing one fewer interception and taking 13 fewer sacks, but Quinn is leading in the glamour stats.

Of course, you can go on like this for hours with these two. Smith has done everything asked of him for the #1 team while Quinn has all the dramatic comebacks. Smith has more talent around him and a better line, but Quinn has a better system for producing QB stats. And so on. The bottom line is that this whole thing still comes down to November 18th when Smith faces Michigan and November 25th when Quinn travels to So Cal to play the Trojans.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (2). People who think that Smith still has a clear lead are making the big mistake of using logic. Many Heisman voters employ no logic whatsoever, and that is how we wind up with winners like Eric Crouch. In this case, Quinn racking up the stats will sway a good number of starry-eyed voters who love a guy in a gold helmet. It certainly didn't help Smith that he had his worst game of the year on Saturday, throwing for just 108 yards with no scores and a pick against an Illinois defense that isn't known for shutting people down. A big game and a win over Michigan probably turns this back around, but right now, from my vantage point, Smith is losing ground fast.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). No need to move him down, that is for sure. While Michigan struggled to put away Ball State (must have been something in the air last weekend in Big Ten Country), Hart was his usual reliable self, rushing 25 times for 154 yards and a touchdown. He's fourth in the country with 1,281 rushing yards, he leads the nation in carries, he's scored 10 touchdowns, he blocks, he's a leader ... I mean, what more can one guy do? (I know, I know - beat Ohio State.)

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). The Big East had a huge showcase game last Thursday when Louisville knocked off Heisman candidate Steve Slaton and undefeated West Virginia. Fast forward to tomorrow and the Big East has a huge showcase game involving Louisville facing Heisman candidate Ray Rice and undefeated Rutgers. From a nation title perspective, there isn't anything terribly strange about The Ville making noise like this, but from a Heisman standpoint, this is pretty ironic. After all, the Cardinals once had two legit candidates of their own, but then running back Michael Bush went down with a knee injury in the first game and quarterback Brian Brohm missed several games with a thumb injury. They are simultaneously playing the role of BCS title game contender and Heisman spoiler. Very strange.

As for Rice, he probably needs a monster game and a Rutgers upset to have a shot at getting higher than this on the list.

5. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (6). Lynch rattled off 126 total yards and two scores in the first of a couple of tune-ups for the big USC showdown. We all know Quinn will have his chance to leave a lasting impressing in the Coliseum, but Lynch will actually get a shot at the Trojans first. If the "Michael Schumacher of the Injury Cart Circuit" can run wild and lead Cal to a victory over USC, he will produce the needed signature performance and dilute the appeal of the ND-SC game in the process (thus turning down the wattage on Quinn's performance the next weekend). A real "two birds with one stone" opportunity for Marshawn.

6. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (7). Nothing against Colt McCoy, but I have to put McFadden here ahead of the Texas frosh. Arkansas' sensational tailback finally got what he needed - a game where his final stats matched his impact on the outcome of the contest. The Razorbacks won a huge game at South Carolina as McFadden toted it 25 times for 219 yards and two scores. Just a dominating effort. He's been great all season, but so often his stats don't really tell the full story, making it hard to validate ranking him this high. This time, he got the monster numbers on a big stage and deserves all the credit in the world. I can't quite put him ahead of Lynch or Rice, but he's right in the mix with the best backs. Throw in the fact that he's the standout player from one of the nation's toughest conferences and this feels like the right call. Plus, his carries, yards, and touchdowns are starting to look a lot like Slaton's at this point (although the Mountaineers back has played one less game). If this weren't a race that is 50% dictated before the season ever starts, McFadden would be a legitimate darkhorse at this point.

7. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (7). Hard to believe McCoy can't move up after shredding Oklahoma State for 346 yards and three scores. However, the big mitigating factor with him is his freshman status. I personally don't think it should matter at all, but many voters will ignore him because he's a rook. This is foolish and you only need to consult some key numbers to realize that: 5 (Texas' BCS ranking), 172.1 (his QB rating - higher than Quinn or Smith), 27 (touchdown passes - also higher than the big guns), and 4 (interceptions). I know Texas has a great line and tons of talent at the skill positions, but if you think anyone can rack up those kind of numbers just by playing quarterback in a good offense, then you obviously weren't watching while Drew Bledsoe was playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year. McCoy is having an incredible year and deserves some attention.

8. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5). Slaton didn't play poorly against Louisville last week and in fact he finished with 156 yards on just 18 carries. But we all watched as that ball popped loose and Malik Jackson scooped it up for a touchdown. That fumble was just a killer. And not only did West Virginia's undefeated season come to an abrupt end, Slaton was once again upstaged by teammate Pat White who accounted for 347 yards of total offense and ran for four touchdowns. I'm not ruling Slaton out regarding a trip to NYC, but this was his big shot and unfortunately, he didn't really lose himself in the music, the moment. Instead, he lost the football and his chance to win the Heisman. This drop to #8 is probably too severe, but I couldn't imagine leaving McFadden down here the way he ran on Saturday.

9. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (10). Johnson just keeps getting it done. He ran for 136 yards and a couple of scores as Boise State beat up on Fresno State and kept their run for a BCS bowl alive. I'll never forgive the Broncos for playing games on that blue field, but I'm trying not to hold that against Johnson, who is leading the nation with 20 touchdowns.

10. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (NR). It was honestly pretty tough to find a legit #10 for this list. Zac Taylor of Nebraska has the same name as a former president and sterling numbers, but he didn't play particularly well in either of his big chances (losses to USC and Texas). It feels like we need a wide receiver, but who? Manningham hasn't played in weeks, Calvin Johnson botched that Clemson game, and DeSean Jackson has cooled off considerably. Maybe put P.J. HIll back on the list? This was a tough one.

That is why I decided to go with Brennan even though he's a "system guy." His Hawaii Warriors are 7-2 (with losses at Alabama and at Boise State) and the stats are just unreal: a QB rating of 190.0, a yards per attempt of 9.8, a completion percentage of 72.9%. Are you kidding me? Then there are the 39 touchdown passes to lead the nation (against just six picks) and the 371.9 yards per game (second in the country). Ridiculous stuff. If Hawaii can finish 11-2 (which would require wins over Purdue and Oregon State), Brennan might just warrant an invite to New York. It is doubtful, but either way, he is building some momentum for next year.

Falling Out: Erik Ainge (missed most of his team's loss to LSU with an injury, which pretty much sticks a fork in his Heisman chances).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wrapping Up the NBA Preview: Finals and Awards


In the Finals I've got Cleveland over Houston, with King James getting his first ring. It's going to happen. (And yes, I realize I just picked an NBA Finals that would feature Rafer Alston and Eric Snow as the starting point guards. Go ahead and shoot me in the head now.)

As for the awards (players only):

MVP - Dirk Nowitzki. LeBron makes too much sense here, so I'm going against the grain. Plus, I have the Mavs winning the most games in the regular season and that is often where you can look to the MVP during any given year.

Rookie of the Year - Brandon Roy. And not just because his name is spelled R-O-Y as about 14,000 hacks have noticed the past few weeks (if you have made a Roy for ROY joke or reference anytime after July, you are too late - give it up). He's getting a ton of playing time in Portland, has a very mature, all-around game, and I have a huge man crush on him.

Defensive Player of the Year - Andrei Kirilenko. I've got Utah winning its division and maybe even 50 games, which would give AK-47 the needed visibility. Plus, I think he's staying healthy this year. Why? Because he's finally not on any of my fantasy teams.

Most Improved Player - Andrew Bynum. This is cheating a little since I've seen him play a few times, but for a 19-year old big man to go from unplayable to good in the span of one offseason is remarkable.

Jack/Kaitlin from The O.C.:

Finals: Lakers over Cleveland! Lebron's horrendous free throw shooting costs the Cavs the title and the Bynum Era begins. (Adam's note: what a homer.)

MVP: Lebron, obvi. Yao finishes second.
ROY: Brandon Roy, again, obvi.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
Most Improved: Shaun Livingston

Wrapping Up the NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

Now for the Eastern Conference.

1. New Jersey
2. Detroit
3. Cleveland
4. Miami
5. Chicago
6. Orlando
7. Washington
8. Indiana

Note: I switched Cleveland and Chicago, because A) I can do whatever I want and rules don't apply to me, and B) I came to my senses and realized that Team Stern would never allow LeBron to enter the playoffs as a lower seed.

That said, I would have the Nets beating Indiana, the Wizards upsetting the Pistons, the Cavs crushing Orlando, and the Bulls beating Miami (they had their number last year and now are better, while the Heat is worse).

In the next round I'm looking at Bulls over Nets and Cavs beating the Wizards (as the LeBron-Gilbert rivalry grows in stature) with the Cavs beating Chicago to reach the finals.

Jack: With Detroit and Miami looking like they have some major problems, the Eastern conference suddenly looks pretty weak. This is what I got:
1. Cleveland
2. Detroit
3. Miami
4. New Jersey
5. Chicago
6. Indiana
7. Washington
8. Orlando

First round: Cleveland beats Orlando, I think the Wizards will upset Detroit too, Miami over the Pacers, Bulls over Nets.

Second round: Cleveland over Bulls, Wizards over Miami (as long as we're picking upsets)

Conference finals: Cleveland over Wizards

Wrapping up the NBA Preview: Western Conference

Over at WhatifSports, my buddy Jack and I compiled complete Western and Eastern Conference Previews that you should definitely read if you have an extra hour or seven.

Because those two documents ran over 6,000 words in length, we decided to spare the world a third edition and post our Playoff and Award predictions here.

Here are the Western Conference playoff picks:

1. Dallas
2. San Antonio
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Utah
5. Phoenix
6. Houston
7. L.A. Lakers
8. Denver

Under this scenario, I would have Dallas over Denver, Spurs over Lakers, Houston over the Clips, and Phoenix over Utah. I think the Suns and Rockets are both teams that will be very dangerous low seeds come April.

In the second round I would go with Dallas over Phoenix and Houston over San Antonio, with Houston knocking off the Mavs and going to the Finals. I know it is bold, but why do this otherwise?

1. Dallas
2. San Antonio
3. Phoenix
4. Utah
5. L.A. Clippers
6. Houston
7. L.A. Lakers
8. New Orleans

First Round: Mavs over Hornets, Lakers over the Spurs (I can dream), Rockets over the Suns, Clippers over the Jazz.

Second Round: Mavs over the Clips, Lakers over Houston

Conference Finals: Lakers over the Mavs

When It's All Said And Done ...

One of the most valuable picks in the 2006 NBA Draft might end up being a selection by the Chicago Bulls, which isn't surprising, since they famously swindled Isiah "Incompetence" Thomas in the Eddy Curry trade. The surprising part might be the fact that it is the #13 pick, Thabo Sefolosha, and not #4 pick Tyrus Thomas, that could wind up being such a key player.

Sefolosha was a relative unknown coming out of Switzerland and wasn't expected to be much of a contributor this season, but four games into the 2006-07 campaign, he's already forcing Scott Skiles to play him. He's got tremendous instincts, is an outstanding passer and looks like he could be one of the truly great perimeter defenders in the league (he made Michael Redd's life miserable in tonight's game). I know it sounds like a lot of hyperbole, but this guy is legit.

The obvious question is how much Skiles will play his Swiss gem. It is obvious after watching this team for the last few years that Chris Duhon has many photographs of Skiles in compromising positions, because what else would explain all those minutes? In all seriousness, the Bulls need Sefolosha. They need size in the backcourt, they need his passing (outside of Hinrich, this team doesn't have very many good passers), and they need for Duhon to not be the third guard in the rotation.

Sefolosha doesn't solve Chicago's need for a low post scorer, but he gives them a big shooting guard with all the right skills to mesh with Hinrich, Gordon, Deng, and Wallace. Pretty good for the #13 pick in a shallow draft.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

LeBron Has Yuge Game Against Spurs

No, that's not a misprint. A night of listening to Mike Brey will have you dropping your H's like Tony Kornheiser. Larry Yughes made a bunch of jumpers, Yubie Brown had a nice game in the booth, and yes, LeBron had a yuge game.

No, seriously, it was YUGE.

The Cavs are trying to take the "next step" this year (which seems to be kind of an NBA thing) and there is really no better way to start that process than by going on the road to beat the Spurs in the second game of the season. San Antonio, after all, won 34 of 41 at home last year and is deemed by many to be the best team in the league this year. You don't get wins that are of a higher quality than this one. (Or that are "yuger" than this one.)

LeBron's line of 35-10-4 doesn't really do his performance justice, because the game had grinding feel to it. His 35 points felt more like 45 and it certainly felt like he had 15 boards, especially the way he worked the glass on the offensive end. He abused Bruce Bowen all game and to be honest, Bowen was such a nonfactor that you didn't even notice he was on the floor. LeBron got whatever he wanted and he either made the shot or missed it - the defense was kind of a moot point.

And, of course, there was this dunk, which brought the house down (and remember, this was San Antonio's house).

I know it is the first week of the season, but 'Bron made one hell of a statement.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Khoub Report, Vol. 1

If you watched the Nuggets-Clippers on ESPN last night, then you know that Denver is featuring a little-known guy in their rotation by the name of Yakhouba Diawara. What you probably don't know is that Diawara played at Pepperdine (my alma mater) for two years and that I got to know him quite well in the course of working on a book (that never came to fruition) and that this is the first time I've ever referred to him as "Diawara."

No, "Diawara" didn't enter his first regular season game last night, "Khoub" did. The lovable transfer from France that briefly took Malibu by storm (sort of) after coming off a completely bogus NCAA suspension in the winter of 2004 is now in the NBA. Which means this blog will now be devoting considerable space to covering his ascension to first team All-NBA (actually, we are hoping for ascension to "second guaranteed contract").

Anyway, here is the first ever Khoub Report:

Game: 1
Date: November 3, 2006
Location: Staples Center
Outcome: Clippers 96 Nuggets 95
Khoub's line: 21 minutes, 0 points (0-4 shooting), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, 5 fouls.
Best moment: A particularly forceful rebound.
Worst moment: When the officials screwed him over in the waning seconds (more on that to come).
Grade: B-

Details: Khoub looked a little timid in his first tour of duty which makes it tough when you are supposed to be a defensive specialist (he evoked comparisons from George Karl-via-Doug Collins of Bruce Bowen and Trenton Hassell, which is kind of weird for me, since I don't remember Khoub being that great on defense at Pepperdine, but that may simply be because the Mighty Waves played zone almost the whole time). Basketball is such a fast game that if you are being cautious and reacting a step slow, you will probably foul a lot. Which Khoub did. He racked up three fouls in just six minutes of action in the first half. With J.R. Smith bombing threes (he made all four of Denver's treys), it didn't look like Yakhouba would get much of a shot in this one. But then Carmelo got tossed for throwing his headband (kind of a joke, really) and suddenly, Khoub was on the floor for most of the second half. He played much better the second time around, especially while guarding Sam Cassell in the fourth quarter. In addition to making a run at Most Annoying Player in the League status, Sam I Am had 35 bones last night, but he only tallied two points in 14 trips against Khoub.

Of course, those two points came in the final seconds when Cassell drew a phantom foul strictly because Cassell is a big baby and had cried about a previous call and was going against a rookie. I hate NBA refs. What a joke.

So in the end, Khoub committed the foul that lost Denver the game. He also missed all three of his three-point attempts and even though two of them were in-and-out, Doug Collins greeted each with a "Diawara is a bad shooter, he shouldn't be taking those" lecture. Bastard. Go dye your hair again, Marshall Mathers.

But even though the box score, broadcasting crew, and final play were all unkind to Khoub, I think he made a decent first impression. He worked really hard on defense and didn't give any ground, which I think Karl appreciated. He also showed an ability to start out guarding Cassell and then switch to Brand in pick-and-rolls and guard each player just as effectively (all those games playing power forward at Pepperdine are coming in handy), which is extremely valuable. I can see Denver putting him on Nash when playing Phoenix and then allowing him to switch over to Diaw (what Smush Parker couldn't do, to the Lakers detriment last spring) on the roll. There are few guys in the league that have the combination of length, quickness, and strength to start out on a point guard and then switch to a power forward. That should make him a big asset and will probably be the one thing that really expedites his gaining a reputation as a defensive stopper (because in the NBA, once you have the rep, you can get away with murder). Also, Khoub unveiled a pretty sweet mini-fro, which was nice.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

NBA Opening Night: Quick Hits

Cruising through each NBA game on the "real" opening night and hitting the key stuff, since all ESPN is going to tell you is "LeBron James and the Cavs won" and then show him dunking 412 times tonight. ESPN sucks.

Here we go, game-by-game.

Indiana 106 Charlotte 99. This game was marred by oft-injured Gerald Wallace getting upended on a dunk attempt and landing on his head. He couldn't return to the game and will be evaluated tomorrow. Beyond that, the Bobcats got good news, bad news from key players. Raymond Felton didn't rise to the challenge at all, turning the ball over 6 times and losing fourth quarter minutes to Bernard Robinson Jr. On the other hand, Emeka Okafor went for 19 and 13 with 6 blocks. Good to see him healthy and playing well. Even though the Pacers won, I have nothing to say about them.

Orlando 109 Chicago 94. Things sure can change in 24 hours. The Bulls couldn't ramp the intensity back up after the blowout win last night, and Skiles did his usual "you guys didn't play well in the first quarter and so now as punishment I am going to bench you in favor of Malik Allen and company" screw job to most of the starters. Scott Skiles is a fantasy assassin. The real story here though was Dwight Howard. He was an absolute monster and the speed and power he displayed made me feel like I was watching Amare in the 2005 playoffs. 27 and 11 on 9-12 FG and 9-10 FT, plus a steal and two blocks. And the numbers didn't even do it justice.

Philly 88 Atlanta 75. We can ramp the Josh Smith Hype Machine down a few notches as he went 2-for-10 from the floor and looked pretty clueless from what I saw. Good to see that Joe Johnson absolutely has the green light in Atlanta, as he squeezed off 23 FGA's even though he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. On the winning side, Iverson had 32 and 6 as the Sixers overcame Chris Webber's abysmal 4-for-16 shooting. This gets the Boring Award for worst game of the night.

New Orleans 91 Boston 87. Paul Pierce giveth and Paul Pierce taketh away. He had 29 and 19 and played like a man possessed but somehow went 7-for-15 from the line. Free throw shooting was a problem league wide, in fact. The Cavs went 15-for-30, the Rockets shot 63%, and multiple guys missed all their attempts. Maybe it is the new ball? The story here is that the Red Game was spoiled by Chris Paul and his 20-7-10 with 3 steals performance. Sick.

New Jersey 102 Toronto 92. The Nets got 18 boards from their point guards (10 for Kidd and 8 for Marcus Williams) and 29 from the backcourt when you factor in Vince Carter. That is absurd. Meanwhile, the Raptors suck, Chris Bosh doesn't look healthy at all, and some guy named Anthony Parker was their best player. Things could get ugly north of the border. But hey, at least they locked up T.J. Ford for $11 million over 5 years. What's that you say? It was $11 million per season? Oh, nevermind.

Cleveland 97 Washington 94. Two big stories here. 1) The tale of two stars. LeBron came through with 26-10-5 and a Jay-Z level Takeover in the fourth quarter while Arenas shot 2-for-12 with just 7 points. 2) Larry Hughes showed that he's going to be pretty good now that he's healthy and he really stuck it to his old team with 27-9-5 on 11-for-15 shooting. This just in though: Cleveland's point guards still suck incredibly bad. They need to get Shannon Brown on the floor, stat.

Milwaukee 105 Detroit 97. For all those thinking that Rasheed Wallace would somehow "step up" in Ben Wallace's absence, I present to you Exhibit A. It is never going to happen people. A goose egg and an ejection - what a nice way to start the year. Meanwhile, the Bucks are actually a fun team to watch. Bogut's miracle healing process leaves me filled with wonder, Michael Redd is the basketball manifestation of the word "efficient", and I'm thrilled to see The Seal getting an absolute license to jack (6-for-21). The Bucks might be my jam this year.

Minnesota 92 Sacramento 83. First, did Mike Bibby borrow Bogut's doctor or something? What happened to being out for three weeks? Too bad even with him the Kings couldn't score any points, just as my man Jack predicted. Ron Artest was a real conundrum tonight as he went for 16-12-4 with 7 steals, but he shot 6-for-24 from the field and 4-of-8 from the line in the process. Yikes. On the other side of the ball, KG was just slightly more efficient, going for 24 and 12 on just 9 shots. (Note: Fantasy owners counting on another big season from Mike James were already kidding themselves, but seeing him split the time at the point with Troy Hudson had to sting a little.)

New York 118 Memphis 117 (Triple OT). What a wild game. Quentin Richardson had his best game as a Knick by going 10-for-13 from the field, 5-of-5 on threes, and 6-of-6 from the line for 31 and 9. The amazing thing about New York is that Isiah not only played Jamal Crawford for 48 minutes, but also ran multiple plays for him to take game winning shots ... despite the fact that Crawford was 4-of-22 from the field. Genius! Chalk this one up in the "winning in spite of the coach" column. As for the Grizzlies, they have to be excited by some of the young guys. Hakim Warrick went for 22 and 12 (although he somehow managed to go 4-for-12 from the line), Rudy Gay 21-8 with 4 blocks, and Kyle Lowry had 10 boards in 28 minutes from the point guard spot. Keep playing the kids, Mike Fratello.

Utah 107 Houston 97. The Jazz looked really good. Boozer went for 24 and 19, Deron Williams 18 and 10 dimes, and the shooting guard situation was athletic and dynamic for the first time in an eternity as C.J. Miles and Ronnie Brewer combined for 21 points in 38 minutes.

Portland 110 Seattle 106. This wasn't a real interesting game to most people, but Portland fans have to be excited to start the year with a win and a nice 20-point debut for Brandon Roy. Zach Randolph went 30 and 10 for the Blazers while Luke Ridnour shook of rampant talk of a platoon at best and losing his job at worst and delivered 22 points and 13 dimes in a losing effort.

Lakers 110 Golden State 98. Odom had another sweet game with 22-9-9 and somehow Rony Turiaf went for 23 and 9 with 2 blocks and 2 steals. What? In related news, the Warriors still suck. (By the way, we can hold off on engraving Andrew Bynum's Hall of Fame plaque. He played only 16 minutes in his second game while battling through his first injury and foul trouble.)

Phoenix 112 Clippers 104. The Suns bounced back nicely from the Thursday Night debacle. Amare's stats weren't out of this world, but he had some monster dunks and sure looked explosive out there. Considering this was the second game of a back-to-back, that is a great sign. Sam Cassell should feel free to shoot more bad shots for the Clippers. Jeez.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lamar Odom Gives us a Taste

The NBA is back and better than ever. Make sure to head over to the home site for a full preview and expect plenty of chatter here on the blog.

While tonight is really when things begin in earnest, I hope you saw the games last night and enjoyed a flawless opener from the Bulls and an even better performance by Lamar Odom, who went for 34 and 13 and led the Lakers to a big comeback win over Phoenix. With apologies to Andrew Bynum (18 and 9 in 23 minutes for his first career start), Odom was the the story last night and beyond.

Last night reminded me of the fact that Odom is one of the most confounding players in the league. On one hand, he has a ridiculous skill set that is almost unmatched for his size. On the other, he needs the ball in his hands almost all of the time to be really, really good, and he plays on the same team as Kobe Bryant. So he's kind of being wasted.

But lest you think this is just another Kobe Hater post, understand that this would be a problem for Odom on several teams. He got along well with Wade back in 2003-04, but that was only because Wade was a rookie and hadn't taken over that team yet. Lamar would have a hard time in New Jersey where Carter needs the ball and the Nets prefer Kidd to run things (obviously). Houston (T-Mac and Yao) would be a terrible fit. So would Cleveland with LeBron, Philly with AI, Boston with Pierce, and on and on. Most teams with a really good point guard would also be wasting some of Odom's talent, since they wouldn't need him to initiate the offense ala Scottie Pippen.

He would really thrive playing on a team lacking in star perimeter players but featuring some spot up shooters and enough size to allow Odom to play both forward positions. Minny would be a good fit (the Lakers and Wolves need to swap KG and Kobe for each other - they would both be a whole lot better for it) as would Milwaukee, Orlando, Dallas (can you imagine?), and Memphis (with a healthy Gasol).

I've always liked Odom and thought he could be so much more. Last night proved that, even if it was just one game and against a bunch of matadors dressed up as basketball players.

Monday, October 30, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Fourth Edition

There's this movie I'm thinking of where there is a slight, almost imperceptible shift in the way things are. A tiny moment after which things look the same and everyone carries on as normal, but the outcome has been altered. I have no idea what movie that was - it may even be a whole bunch of them all mixed up.

The point is that I felt the shift this weekend. It wasn't so much that Troy Smith had a quiet game in another Ohio State route or that Brady Quinn was doing anything particularly magical on Saturday afternoon, but somehow, someway, I am now sure that Quinn is going to win the Heisman.

The slight change has occurred and even though I don't know what it is, or even if there really is a movie like this, I'm going with the whole premise. Therefore, Quinn is on the top of this Heisman list.

Call it a hunch.

(Previous Heisman Polls can be found here:
First Edition
Second Edition
Third Edition)

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (last week's rank: 2). As explained above, Quinn takes over my top spot pretty much on the strength of an unsubstantiated feeling. Hey, if you stop reading this column because I've lost all credibility, I can live with that. After all, I don't do this for you - I'm here for me. That said, Quinn is looming as a much bigger threat to Troy Smith than most people are giving him credit for. Not only that, but I honestly think Quinn might have the slight edge, all that "shift in time" stuff notwithstanding. Hear me out.

Smith's candidacy is tied up in the fact that Ohio State is the number one team in the country. His numbers are really good, particularly his incredible TD/INT ratio and QB rating of 174.3. However, Smith hasn't had any truly monster statistical games and his biggest prime time moment, at Texas, came during the second week of the season. If the Buckeyes lose to Michigan - a very real possibility - Smith's primary Heisman argument is mitigated dramatically. Quinn, on the other hand, can survive losses. He had a horrible game against Michigan and people are already forgetting it. The Irish could lose to USC and he will still be a top candidate on the strength of his numbers, the Notre Dame prestige, and the preseason hype. If the Buckeyes go down and voters look beyond Smith for a winner, Quinn is going to look awfully good. Plus, a ton of Heisman voters predicted him to win the award and nothing makes writers feel better than being right about a pick. I'm telling you, this thing is going to get interesting.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (1). It's technically still his race to lose, so call this 1(b). He probably needs to pad the stats before playing Michigan and then hope for a big win. It's pretty simple: beat Michigan and Ohio State plays for the national title and Smith probably wins the Heisman. Lose and it is going to be tough to accomplish either goal.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). Should Quinn have a horrible game in a loss to, say, USC and should Michigan stomp on Ohio State, Mike Hart will have a compelling case. He's been so steady all year long and will have an enormous stage. November football is all about the ground game and if Hart can do his usual work against the Buckeyes and lead the Wolverines to a win, he will be tough to turn down. Then again, I'm not sure that anyone else appreciates Hart quite the way I do. Yes, the Michigan defense is unbelievable, but so was the 1985 Bears D. You don't think Walter Payton was still pretty valuable to that team?

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). 79 yards and a score against a mediocre UConn team isn't terribly exciting, but since Slaton and Lynch didn't play and James Davis had a real rough outing, who is going to take his place? I never thought I'd see the day that a Rutgers running back stayed at #4 in my Heisman poll by default. What's next, a cure for the common cold? A day going by without The Game dissing G-Unit? The end of reality television as we know it? Hey, if Rutgers can be undefeated heading into November, I can dream.

5. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5). Slaton and the Mountaineers were on a bye last week, but his time to make a big splash is fast approaching. Not only does West Virginia have five games left on the schedule (giving Slaton plenty of chances to rack of stats and highlights), they also have a huge, prime time game against #5 Louisville coming up on Thursday night. With USC's loss to Oregon State, it just became a very realistic possibility that the winner of this game could be playing in the BCS title game. Think 200 yards and a couple of scores in a game like that could help a Heisman campaign? Here's your chance, Mr. Slaton. (Sorry, I always wanted to write like a New York Times columnist, even if for just a sentence.)

6. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (6). Another player on a bye week, Lynch is starting to generate some heat as well. Whether it was USC's loss ceding the spotlight in the Pac-10 to Cal or whether it is just more attention because of the Injury Cart Grand Prix, Lynch is a hot name right now. The Bears play UCLA and Arizona before the big showdown with USC, and Lynch could use some big numbers to keep his name in the papers.

7. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (NR). The week's biggest riser is a freshman who had a Brady Quinn-like all-or-nothing game on Saturday. A loss to Texas Tech would have ended any and all discussions that involved the words "McCoy" and "Heisman" in the same sentence, but instead, the Longhorns won a wild game behind their frosh gunslinger. It isn't a good idea to fall behind big, but if you do and come back, it sure helps out a Heisman candidate. Just like the Michigan State comeback breathed new life into Quinn's chances, McCoy just became a legitimate darkhorse thanks to his 256-yard, 4-touchdown performance against the Red Raiders. He now has 24 touchdowns against just four picks for the #4 ranked team in the country. Obviously, memories of the Ohio State loss (he played pretty decent in that one, by the way) and the fact that he's a freshman will probably keep him out of any real contention, but this kid is having an amazing year.

8. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (8). Once again, McFadden didn't lead his team in rushing as Felix Jones rattled off 141 yards on nine carries, but Arkansas' star running back did tote it 18 times for 129 yards with a score in a 44-10 over Louisiana Monroe. Not only that, but he also did his best LaDainian Tomlinson impression by throwing a nine-yard pass for a touchdown. The Hogs go to South Carolina next week before hosting #8 Tennessee, so McFadden is going to get his chance to make some waves.

9. Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee (9). Ainge had a very nice game with 254 yards passing and a couple of scores as Tennessee held off South Carolina 31-24 to stay on the fringe of the BCS hunt. He probably deserved an upgrade here, but since I gave him so much rope last week after the three picks against Alabama and in light of the ankle injury he suffered at the end of the game, this seems about right. With games against LSU and Arkansas the next two weeks, he will have every opportunity to skyrocket up this list. He might be the one true darkhorse in this thing.

10. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (NR). Johnson isn't flashy, but the numbers speak for themselves. He's first in the country in rushing touchdowns with 18 and fifth in yards per game with 147.6, while averaging a whopping 7.0 yards per carry. Plus, Boise State is unbeaten. So he's got that going for him.

Falling Out: Garrett Wolfe (66 yards on 22 carries makes it three bricks in a row), P.J. Hill (an injury cost him valuable stats and maybe some of his coach's respect), and James Davis (also felled by an injury, as well as a tough loss to Virginia Tech).

Down Goes USC! Down Goes USC!

I figured USC would dominate the Pac-10 landscape once again on Saturday, but never did I think it would be like this. As you may have heard by now, the mighty Trojans were defeated 33-31 by Oregon State in a game for the ages.

After playing with fire for three consecutive weeks, USC finally got burned. They turned the ball over repeatedly in the first half, gave up several big plays early in the second, and then were turned away on a two-point conversion after a furious comeback in the final quarter. Now the BCS race is wide open, not to mention the battle for a Pac-10 title.

As pre-Aftermath 50 Cent would say, this game had "a lil' bit a everything." Oregon State came out fired up, marching right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. USC quickly responded, but when John David Booty's would-be touchdown pass was underthrown and wrestled away from Dwayne Jarrett by OSU safety Bryan Payton, you could feel that it was going to be a tough afternoon for USC. In fact, the Trojans were lucky to be down just 16-10 at the half, as Oregon State was forced to settle for field goals on several drives despite having a short field.

In the second half, USC looked sluggish coming out of the gates and Oregon State responded, scoring a quick touchdown and then getting a punt return touchdown from do-everything wide out Sammie Stroughter (eight catches for 127 yards in addition to the 61-yard punt return). Suddenly, the score was 30-10. The Beavers nearly scored another touchdown (settling for a 20-yard field goal) before USC started putting up a fight.

The Torjans quickly marched down the field and into the red zone before stalling out. Faced with a 23-point defecit, Pete Carroll was clearly thinking his team would need three touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions to tie the game, so he went for it on fourth-and-goal from the eight. Huge mistake. Monstrous mistake.

I haven't heard anyone even discuss this, and maybe that is fair, since Carroll has been so terrific at USC. Second guessing him on something like this is akin to "what have you done for me lately?" and might not be appropriate. But the fact of the matter is that USC should have kicked a field goal and taken the points there. Oregon State was missing its star running back Yvenson Bernard and was going to have a tough time chewing up clock. Holding a big lead against a heavy favorite is always a difficult task for an underdog in college football (see: Michigan State hosting Notre Dame earlier this year) and USC should have known that the Beavers would start to freak out as the game continued.

Sure enough, Oregon State started playing with its collective hands wrapped around its throat, USC started moving the ball with ease, and suddenly, they were scoring a touchdown with seven seconds left and setting up for a potential game-tying two-point conversion. With that field goal the Trojans passed up, the touchdown pass to Steve Smith (who had a monster game with 11 catches for 258 yards and two scores) would have given them a 34-33 win, without the need for any two-point conversions.

But that's not the way it went down, and the result was a shocking victory for Oregon State. How shocking? They broke USC's 38-game regular season winning streak and 27-game Pac-10 winning streak and in the process defeated the Trojans for just the third time since 1967. And they did it without their best player. Pretty heady stuff.

So now the Pac-10 is wide open. Cal is undefeated and in the driver's seat for the Pac-10 title and automatic BCS bid, since the conference champ is decided by a bizarre tiebreaking system of "who hasn't won it most recently." Seriously, that is the tiebreaker in the Pac-10. The team that more recently won a conference title loses out in the event of a tie. Dumb as can be, but there you have it. So even if the Trojans defeat Cal, the Bears would still have the tiebreaker should they both lose one game. If that is how it goes down, what will become of USC? Will they make a BCS game or even get back in the national title picture? That would require a lot of help and running the table. If not, they could be Holiday Bowl-bound (as have other very good Pac-10 teams that have finished behind USC in recent years, like Cal in 2004 and Oregon last year). Wouldn't that be something?