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?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fantasy Hoops: How Good is Michael Redd?

I recently got into a debate with a fellow fantasy hoops junky about the value of Michael Redd. We were on complete opposite sides of the fence regarding where he should be drafted (he thinks late third round, I felt middle of the second), and our argument seemed to reflect a general polarization on the topic. People typically either love Redd or feel he is grossly overrated.

You can find Redd safely stashed somewhere in the late 20's on most cheat sheets, but when you get into drafts or read positional rankings, you can see that people are all over the map.

I used to view him as overrated, but now think the opposite. A couple of years ago he was getting some buzz and going pretty high in drafts. His numbers for 2004-05 were fine, but didn't continue the upward trajectory from the previous years. He got the rap of being a one-dimensional player that only scores. However last year he improved almost across the board, and should be even better this year, yet the rep stays with him.

I simply don't think this is true. Check out Redd's 2005-06 numbers as they compare to those of consensus first-rounder Ray Allen:

Redd: 25.4 ppg 4.3 rpg 2.9 apg 2.0 3pg 1.2 spg 0.1 bpg .877 FT .454 FG 2.4 TO
Allen: 25.1 ppg 4.3 rpg 3.7 apg 3.5 3pg 1.3 spg 0.2 bpg .903 FT .450 FG 2.1 TO

Allen has a hefty edge in threes, which certainly accounts for much of his increased value. But other than that, Redd is virtually identical. Allen's superior free throw percentage is offset by the fact that Redd shoots far more of them (4.6 attempts per game for Allen against 7.1 per for Redd), which makes a bigger contribution to a team's overall percentage.

I'm not saying I'd rather have Michael Redd than Ray Allen. Obviously, Allen's threes make him worth it. But Redd is younger and virtually just as good, yet usually he goes at least a full round later, sometimes two rounds later. Seems to me he's one of the best values in the game.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dirt, Pine Tar, Who Gives a ...

I won't finish the Happy Gilmore quote in the title, but I think you can probably get the general idea. This Kenny Rogers thing is ridiculous. Let me just say the following things and be done with it:

- There are rules in place which allow opposing managers to request that a player be inspected. Tony LaRussa did not make that request. Whether it went down this way because he's "old school" or because he "likes Jim Leyland" or because he didn't think it was pine tar or because he was sleepwalking on too many ambiens, the point is that he didn't do it. End of story.

- Rogers threw seven more shutout innings after the brown stuff was removed from his hand. Whether he washed it off or wiped it off or was told to do it or saw it on his own, I mean, who cares? And it's not like the pine tar - if that is what it was - helped him. He threw better in every inning after he took it off than he did in the first.

- Even if he did "cheat" and use pine tar, are we that naive to think this is rare? Or that it makes a big difference? Pitchers use pine tar all the time, usually in cold weather when rosin becomes worthless. In fact, MLB should just make a rule that if the temperature drops below 45 degrees, rosin is swapped out for pine tar. Contrary to what Dave Duncan would have you believe, pine tar is not like a scuffed ball or a spit ball - it doesn't move and dance all over the place. It is for grip. Big deal.

- Enough with the "worst thing about this is that it puts Rogers under suspicion" angle. I love how people are so desperate for a fresh angle that they've now resorted to sob stories about how the presumed cheater never got a chance to show he was innocent and therefore, will be under a "cloud of suspicion." Give me a break. This is a guy that beats down photographers and screams "flip it, flip it!" at the top of his lungs every time there is a ground ball. He's a nut.

I think that is all. I just want this to go away. Blah.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Staring Them Right in the Face

The most idiotic decision in the 2006 NFL Draft? Most would say the Texans passing on Reggie Bush in favor of Mario Williams, which is a very good choice. However, my money is on the Raiders passing on Matt Leinart at #7. From the first day of training camp, the word out of Oakland has been the same: the quarterback situation is a disaster. I think Aaron Brooks' "mobility" got people excited for about three seconds, but that is it. I mean, things were so bad that they brought Jeff George into camp. And that was before Brooks went down with a pectoral injury and the world got to see just how bad Andrew Walter truly is. But no, taking a safety (the disappointing Michael Huff) was a fantastic idea. I don't care about Leinart's supposed lack of arm strength or the Raiders' vertical passing game or any of the other excuses that were proffered on draft day - this is going down as one of the worst decisions ever.

Anyway, I've just been waiting for this story to bubble over in the Bay and now is the time. You see, the can't miss quarterback is coming to town in an Arizona Cardinals uniform. And after he hangs 275 yards and two scores on Oakland and leaves with his first NFL win, the poor Raiders' fans (I never thought I would type those words) are going to reach new depths. If you got the most incompetent person you could find and paid him to try to screw up an NFL franchise, I don't think he could do a worse job than Al Davis is doing with this once-proud team. It is just amazing to witness. We probably won't fully appreciate it until years from now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hip-Hop and Hoops Collide?

I hope by now you've heard about the brewing Fabolous-Sebastian Telfair story. If not, you can get caught up here. The basics are as follows:

- The rapper Fabolous (he was hot for about a minute in 2001 when his song "Young'n [Holla Back]" was burning up the airwaves) was shot in the leg in the parking garage of Diddy's restaurant Justin's the other night.

- The Boston Celtics' Sebastian Telfair had a $50 thousand chain ripped off of his neck outside the restaurant by two "fearless cat burglars" (as Kramer said in the Kenny Rogers Roaster episode of Seinfeld). Stephan Marbury (Telfair's cousin) is quoted in the Boston Herald as saying that Telfair had a gun held to him in the process.

- It seems certain (as in, there is video evidence) that the theives were two members of Fabolous' posse, known as "The Street Family."

- Shortly after the robbery, Telfair whipped out his cell phone and made a call.

- Approximately two hours after that, F-a-b-o was taking a bullet in the thigh down in the parking garage. Note: the police don't think Fabolous was the intended target, which would lead one to conclude that perhaps the thieving members of his crew were the guys that the (apparently unskilled) shooter was gunning for.

- The shooter was recorded driving away from the scene of the crime (that pesky video camera again).

- The Brooklyn rapper and his crew gave chase, but while in pursuit of the shooter, they were pulled over by the police, cited for having unregistered weapons in the car, and hauled off to jail via the hospital. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Obviously, this could all be a coincidence. The New York Daily News reported that Telfair was very cooperative and gladly handed over his phone to the authorities. He claims he had nothing to do with it and that his phone call was to a family member, and Boston coach Doc Rivers quickly came to the defense of his player (even if said defense was just as confusing as his coaching moves tend to be).

However, it seems that these dots connected for the NYPD. Guy gets chain snatched. Guy calls his boys (and I'm sorry, but I don't see how calling a "family member" precludes anything). Boys come and shoot chain snatcher, or at least, try to. That's not a hard narrative to piece together. As of now, the Celtics seem to believe that the case is closed as far as they are concerned and Telfair has been quoted as saying that his part of the investigation is over. We shall see.

A few other notes:

1. I find it kind of amusing that the Daily News treated Telfair's willingness to turn over his cell phone as some sort of an indication that he was free and clear. I hate to be the one to break it to their ace reporters, but you can delete the record of a call from a cell phone in about 1.5 seconds. I'm sure the cops won't even bother to look at it. They will go straight to the service provider and get the records of all calls that way. Then they will get the records of that person's calls until they are satisfied that no "hit" was called in. I wonder if Telfair knows that is how it works?

2. This is probably a rude thing to say about an incident that resulted in a guy being shot, but don't rule out "publicity stunt" from the equation. Rivers is calling Telfair an innocent bystander, guilty of nothing but going out to dinner. That may be true, but he's not exactly a random piece of the puzzle. His jewelry was stolen by two men seen hanging out with the guy who got shot a few hours after the incident. That said, it really is possible that Telfair is totally innocent. Rappers are notorious for trying to boost street cred (at any time) and trying to get publicity (before an album drops). Stealing a chain from a New York City product basketball player may have seemed like a genius idea to these knuckleheads - a sure way to get some street cred. Even the owner of the restaurant (Diddy) comes into play because his album Press Play hit stores later that same day. Think the robbery of an NBA's players' ice at his restaurant didn't generate any buzz? All I am saying is that just because there was a robbery and a shooting within hours of each other, it doesn't mean that Telfair is the link. Of course, it doesn't rule it out either.

3. The fact that this happened in New York had to play a role in the cops' suspicion of Telfair. This is where he grew up and if you've seen the ESPN documentary Through The Fire, you know that there are dozens of acolytes who would do worse than shoot a guy in the leg if Bassie wanted them to. They might even be investigating whether Telfair called a buddy or lackey to complain or even request that they "get it back" (without specifics) and they took things WAY further than he expected. The possibilities are endless. But the fact that the incident happened in his own backyard - and not in Boston or any other NBA city - only makes things seem worse.

Anyway, stay tuned for the rest of this fascinating story. People are always saying that the NBA and rap music go hand in hand, but this is taking things to a new level. First Ron Artest releases a woeful album and now this? What a week!

Meanwhile, hundreds of Celtics fans and Rajon Rondo fantasy owners are holding their breath and wondering if it makes them bad people to hope Telfair goes to prison so that the former Kentucky star can take over as the C's point guard.

(The answer is yes, by the way. That makes you a horrible person.)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Wild Card Era Sucks

An 83-win team is going to the World Series.

Let that one sink in a minute.

This is the 12th year since the eight-team playoff system was implemented and never has such a crappy team reached the World Series. The Yankees won only 87 regular season games on their way to a title in 2000 and last year's Houston Astros won just 89 games, but every other team that has played in the World Series in that time won at least 90 games.

There has been some concern about what the wild card does to baseball in the past, especially when wild card entries won it all in three straight years from 2002-2004. However, those teams won an average of 96 games, so they were legit. The bigger problem is the general dilution that occurs when you have three divisions and four playoff teams in each league.

Back before the wild card was created, the Cardinals would have finished 13 games behind the Mets in the old NL East and wouldn't have had a sniff of the postseason. Yet this team was able to lose nine of its final 12 games, finish with a .516 winning percentage, and then get a clean slate. They played a pitiful Padres offense in the NLDS and then barely got by a ravaged Mets team in seven games in the NLCS. Granted, the Cards had some big moments, got great efforts from Jeff Suppan, and should be proud of the way they battled. But am I the only person who thinks this rings just a little bit hollow? This is a team that was dead in the water a few weeks ago and now they are in the World Series. The craziest part is that they still aren't very good.

Obviously, the sad state of the National League is partly to blame for this. Even one complete team would have taken care of this problem. Even taking that into account though, this just feels cheap.

An 83-win team. In the World Series.

It's going to take some time to get used to that.

Oliver Perez: All or Nothing

When announcers hype up a playoff baseball game, they often pit the two starting pitchers against each other, often accompanied by a phrase that goes something like "it all comes down to these two pitchers." I've always found this interesting. Sure, the starting pitchers are important, but they aren't boxing each other. They are't even guarding each other. Other than a few at bats each, they won't even directly impact each other's performance in the game. Not only that, but the outcome will be decided by hitters, fielders, and relief pitchers. To boil it down to the starting pitchers is insane.

Except for tonight.

That is because when it comes to Oliver Perez, it really does "all come down to" him. When he's on (which has been extremely rare the past few years), he is almost unhittable. When he's off ... hide the women and children.

Just last month after he was acquired by the Mets, Perez faced Atlanta twice. The first time the Braves couldn't touch him as he threw a complet game shutout, allowing only five hits and one walk while striking out six. The second time around Atlanta mauled him to the tune of seven hits, three walks, and six runs in just over five innings.

This all or nothing pattern was also evident against the Cardinals this year as well. In a win he allowed only five hits in nearly seven innings, then in his next outing, gave up 10 hits and seven runs in five innings against the same team. A few weeks later he gave up only two runs in seven innings against the Cards.

The man is Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. That is why even though the Mets will have Darren Oliver, Steve Traschel, and all of their relief pitchers ready at a moment's notice, this game will likely be decided by which Oliver Perez steps to the mound. If he has good command of his pitches and starts off strong, the bullpen might not be needed until it is time to lock down a lead late in the game. But if Bad Oliver shows up (that makes me think of dude Marissa dated during season two of The O.C.), all the relief pitchers in the world might not help.

The whole thing has to be scaring the crap out of Mets fans, I can tell you that much.

The New Backe

Mets' rookie pitcher John Maine wasn't screaming out on the mound and he wasn't pumping his fist while sprinting into the dugout between innings, but aside from that, he did a pretty good Brandon Backe impersonation on Wednesday night.

If you ask Cardinals fans which Houston pitcher caused them the most grief during the 2004 and 2005 NLCS rounds, they would probably have to say Backe. Oswalt pitched some gems, but it was the bulldog number four starter that always seemed to serve up a magical performance when the Astros needed it most.

And there is something psychologically damaging to an offense when they get beat by a young starter, by a guy that isn't supposed to be able to shut them down. The Cardinals had just knocked around Tom Glavine on Tuesday and were sitting on a 3-2 lead with the probable repeat winner of the NL Cy Young on the mound in Chris Carpenter. And while Carpenter gave up a leadoff home run to Jose Reyes and allowed another run to cross the plate on a Shawn Green single, I think we can agree that he did his part, allowing only two runs in six innings. If you had told St. Louis that Carpenter would do that, they would have felt great. After all, they were only facing John Maine. A rookie pitcher on a short leash.

Yet history repeated itself as Maine did what Backe did several times over the last two years ... he picked up his offense, his Hall of Fame pitcher (Glavine in the Clemens role), and his whole organization and put them on his back. At times it was pure grit at other times it was with pure dominance, but the one constant is that he kept coming up big time and time again.

If the Mets find a way to win tonight and advance to the World Series, John Maine will always have a special place in the hearts of Mets fans. If you don't believe me, find a 'Stros fan and ask them how they feel about Brandon Backe.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday Night Fiasco

The Monday Night game tonight was a disgrace. How Arizona lost that game remains a complete mystery given the fact that Chicago had 168 yards of total offense and committed six turnovers (all by Rex Grossman ... that sound you heard tonight was thousands of fantasy owners all jumping off the Grossman bandwagon at the same time). The good news though is that we are set to enjoy a riveting subplot in the NFL for the next few years:

The Power of Matt Leinart's Golden Touch versus The Power of the Arizona Cardinals Complete and Total Futility.

Will Leinart and his confident, winning ways eventually turn Arizona into a winner? Will the Cardinals' long history of failure doom their top pick? Will Arizona inexplicably trade him, only to watch him become a Hall of Famer elsewhere? I find this fascinating. No matter what happens, it either breaks or continues a horrific cycle for this franchise.

Also ... how about Edgerrin James' line (not his o-line, his stats) tonight? 36 carries for 55 yards and a fumble. Holy hell. I don't know whether it is a bigger indictment of Edge for only picking up 1.5 yards a carry and losing the game for AZ with that fumble, or of Denny Green and his staff for giving him 36 CARRIES! It's like checking a baseball box score and seeing that a pitcher gave up 26 hits in eight innings. I mean, at some point you have to pull the plug.

We all know how bad J.J. Arrington is and yet he managed to get half the total yards of James on four touches. Not good.

Wow, I can't believe what a frustrating game that was and I could care less about Arizona. Imagine how Cardinals fans feel? Provided there is such a thing, of course.

Second Edition of the Insider Heisman Poll

When the Heisman Trophy is being handed to someone at the New York Hilton on December 11th, we might be able to look back at this past weekend as the most important Saturday of the season. Unless Brady Quinn winds up winning it, of course, as he didn't even play.

The rest of the field went up and down like a yo-yo. Troy Smith was impeccable and put distance between himself and the field, while it was a grisly day for star running backs. From getting shut down to fumbling to being injured to having teammates upstage them, the star backs were dealing with a host of issues. Obviously, the big story is Adrian Peterson's injury and the fact that his season - and Heisman campaign - is done. But there were plenty of guys changing places.

After a "Moving Day" Saturday that would make The Masters jealous, here is "One Man's Heisman Poll":

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (last week's rank: 1). Ted Ginn Jr. (60-yard punt return for a touchdown) and the Buckeye defense got the press after a 38-7 drubbing of Michigan State, but as always, Smith was the guy making it all happen for Ohio State. He quietly went 15-for-22 with 234 (a remarkable 10.6 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and no turnovers. His numbers game-in and game-out are never mind-blowing, but he now has 17 touchdown passes against just two interceptions and sports a quarterback rating of 172.3. The stats are there, which is scary, because he's already got "face of the nation's best team" under wraps right now as well. If Ohio State runs the table and he stays healthy, it is hard to see anyone else winning.

2. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame (3). On a tough day for many top candidates, Quinn gets a bump simply for not playing. Hey, if you aren't on the field, you can't throw interceptions and screw up your candidacy. Quinn actually has a big game next week, even if people don't realize it. UCLA comes to South Bend and with them they bring one of the more underrated passing defenses in the country. The Bruins are only giving up 167 yards a game through the air and they have nine picks while allowing a completion percentage of just 51%. Granted, they haven't faced any passing games like that of Quinn and the Irish, but UCLA has played Utah and Oregon, so the stats are fairly legit. This is a game to watch. Which isn't a problem since every Notre Dame contest is rammed down our throats by NBC.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (7). Here's your big riser of the week. With fellow offensive star Mario Manningham out with an injury, Hart carried the load for Michigan in a dangerous and bruising game at Penn State. While it was the Wolverines defense that was most responsible for getting the road W, Hart did more than his share as well, carrying 26 times for 112 yards and a score. In a nationally televised prime time game, those numbers get juiced a little bit. If Michigan beats Ohio State, goes undefeated, and earns a trip to the BCS title game, it is going to be awfully hard to deny Hart some hardware. Considering how badly the Wolverines struggled when he was hurt last year, I think we are starting see how truly valuable this running back is. And while I know the award doesn't go to the MVP, but rather the most outstanding player, I think you can state a case that Hart is making a run at both.

(Right about now, I'm ducking the inevitable "Midwest bias!" comments that I know are coming due to my current Chicago address. Hey, it's not my fault that Ohio State and Michigan are 1-2 in the AP poll and that Quinn plays for Hype University. I'm just calling it like I see it.)

4. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5). I'm telling you, nobody made a big push on Saturday. Slaton was completely upstaged by teammate Patrick White (247 yards rushing on 15 carries with four touchdowns), but the mere fact that he picked up 163 yards and a touchdown gave him some of the best numbers in the field. Of course, he was playing against Syracuse, so you have to temper your enthusiasm a bit. The good thing for Slaton is that he has some big games left on the schedule. The Mountaineers still play Pitt and they get both Cinderella story Rutgers and #7 Louisville on national television. If he goes nuts in those games, he could get a late kick. Of course, if White continues to keep the ball on the spread option and run for 80 yard touchdowns, Slaton might need to track down Jeff Gillooly's phone number. (Kidding, kidding.)

5. Darren McFadden (NR). I know that this doesn't make a ton of logical sense. After all, McFadden only had six carries (for 71 yards and two scores) in Arkansas' 63-7 win over Southeast Missouri State and he was the third-leading rusher on his own team. That said, it feels like we need someone representing the SEC in the top five. At this point, it is either McFadden or Erik Ainge, and because I think McFadden might have a 300-yard game in him, I wanted to get out in front of the story. If anyone comes out of nowhere with a monster second half, it might be this guy. If nothing else, find a way to watch a Razorback game, because this dude is sick.

6. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (6). Rice only picked up 93 yards and lost a fumble, but I'm keeping him at #6 because Rutgers handled a Navy team that was supposed to give them trouble and the Scarlet Knights remain a great story. Plus, while Rice didn't really boost his stock, he still ranks fourth in the nation at 149.8 yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns. The possible unbeaten Slaton-Rice showdown remains intact.

7. Garrett Wolfe (7). The Little Guy takes a hit. A rather damaging one. I think Wolfe can get back into the top five and earn a trip to NYC for the award ceremony, but his chances of winning went up in smoke on Saturday. Playing against a nondescript Western Michigan team, Wolfe had a shocking 25 yards on 18 carries as his Northern Illinois Huskies lost 16-14. It doesn't get much worse than this when you are trying to pull off a miracle Heisman run from a MAC school. Ouch.

8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (9). Johnson could have used a game on Saturday, because 150 yards and a couple of scores would have sent him zooming up the board. As it stands, he still gets a bump while sitting this one out with a bye.

9. Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee (10). See above.

10(tie). James Davis, RB, Clemson (NR) and Marshawn Lynch, RB, California (NR) Both of these talented running backs deserve some consideration. Lynch shook of an ankle injury he suffered in the Oregon game last week and gashed Washington State for 152 yards and two touchdowns and despite a relatively quiet year, is ninth in the country with 757 rushing yards while playing for a top 10 team (BCS rankings). As for Davis, he is right behind Lynch with 745 yards, but trails nobody in rushing touchdowns as he leads the country with 14. And with Clemsen ranked #12 and looking every bit like the class of the ACC, he should get a little buzz as well.

Could Return Quickly: Mario Manningham (if he can bounce back from the injury, he will be right back in the mix).

Tragically Eliminated: Peterson.

Probably Done: Chris Leak (rough fourth quarter against Auburn, I felt bad for him), anyone playing for USC (not this year for the Trojans), and Kenny Irons (too injured, too little time left to rack up big stats).

On the Verge: DeSean Jackson (Lynch passed him as "best Cal rep" but that can change quickly), P.J. Hill (144.4 yards per game and 11 scores for the Wisconsin sophomore who has come out of nowhere), Colt Brennan (2,271 yards through the air and 23/5 touchdowns to picks for the Hawaii quarterback, who is gaining some momentum on sheer stats, David Klingler-style), and Colt McCoy (don't look now, but the Texas frosh has 18 touchdowns - third in the country - against three interceptions and a passer rating of 175.3 for one of the best one-loss teams in the country ... plus, I wanted to get two "Colts" on in the column).

Saturday, October 14, 2006


There, I said it. ESPN Motion, ESPN in-fighting (Jason Whitlock versus everyone, Dan Shanoff versus everyone, etc.), ESPN Full Circle broadcasts, ESPN the Magazine, and on and on. It's everwhere. And now the web page itself takes 90 seconds to load and starts blaring highlights at you and when you try to pause it just to make it stop, you can't, because the page is still loading.

Mike Patrick, Joe Theisman, Lee Corso, Chris Berman, Skip Bayless ... enough!

By the way, nice promo tonight by the Egotistical Sports Programming Network. "Rex Grossman has the Bears flying high ... this Monday night they take on Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald, and the Arizona Cardinals."

Umm, Larry Fitzgerald is out for two to five weeks. Even the world's worst fantasy player knows that. Whoever wrote that copy and/or Mike Patrick should owe us an apology. Pathetic.

From now on I'm getting my sports content from Yahoo! (who is doing a suprisingly good job of bring in talent, although the way they pimped their own Reggie Bush story was disgusting), my fantasy insight from Rotowire, and opinion from newspaper writers. I'm boycotting ESPN's slow-moving, self-absorbed website, starting ... now.

As for the network, I'm kind of stuck there. But here's to hoping that Kornheiser and Wilbon inexplicably move to HBO, which will allow them to drop a few profanities every once in a while. As Larry David said, "You drop an f-bomb, you double your laughs."

Heisman Race: Tough Afternoon for RB's

Wow, brutal afternoon session for Heisman hopeful running backs. I will cover this in more detail in my "One Man's Heisman Poll" running here and on Blogcritics early next week, but this was just grisley.

(Numbers indicate where I had each guy ranked in my most recent poll.)

2. My man Garrett Wolfe carried 18 times for just 37 yards and no touchdowns, which just kills his chances. He probably needed to go for 200+ every game, so this is just an awful turn of events.

4. Adrian Peterson racked up 186 yards and two scores against Iowa State, but then we learned after the game that he broke his collarbone. He's done for the year and so are his Heisman chances.

5. Steve Slaton had a big game with 178 yards and two scores, but he was upstaged by teammate Pat White who ran for a whopping 235 yards and scored four times.

6. Ray Rice had his worst game of the season, running for 91 yards and no scores while losing a fumble.

Meanwhile Troy Smith was cruising right along, putting more distance between himself and the pack.

Lamest. Suspension. Ever.

To the surprise of no one, the Oakland Raiders' idiotic wide receiver Jerry Porter has been suspended for four games for "conduct detrimental to the team."

When I first heard the news, I rolled my eyes and wondered what Porter had done. Was he caught brandishing a firearm? Did he stage a walkout? Fail a drug test? Given this guy's checkered past, nothing would have surprised me.

Except for the actual "conduct."

It turns out, Porter wondered aloud how long Friday's practice was going to run.

No seriously, that's it. That's what he did to get suspended. Head coach Art Shell overheard the remark and immediately issued the four-game suspension, which you might recall, is what Philly tried to give T.O. last year with the aid of reams and reams of paperwork. I think it is safe to assume that the player's union isn't going to let this one stick. I'll be shocked if he winds up being suspended for four minutes, let alone four games.

When you throw in the fact that by dozens of accounts, Friday's practice was lacking in organization, double the usual length, and "a joke," it is unfathomable that a coach would suspend a player for doing a little whining. I mean, what is this, the Communist NBA?

The actual suspension matters little because Jerry Porter wasn't suiting up for games anyway. The only thing this truly effects is his pocketbook, as he gets paid even when inactive, but not when suspended.

The real story is how archaic and behind the time Art Shell is. His stone face on the sidelines is the biggest running joke in football and the way he is handling this team on and off the field is total amateur hour. He is doing everyone a disservice by coaching an NFL team ... except people betting against the Raiders, of course.

I love sports. So many morons, so much comedy.

Lyons Gets Canned

As detailed here on the blog, in real time, Steve Lyons made some absurd comments on the air yesterday ... comments which have forced Fox to give him the boot.

Now, obviously, Fox could have fired Lyons simply for sucking, since he is one of the worst analysts on any network, in any sport, but from the statements provided, it seems obvious that the bizarre "wallet stealing" remarks made during the second inning of Game Three were his undoing.

You can scroll down for my best efforts at recreating the conversation, but basically, Lou Pinella said something in Spanish and Lyons responded by saying that he was worried about "sitting next to" Pinella and that he feared for the safety of his wallet. Pinella had used "finding a wallet on the ground" as an analogy for Oakland's good fortune in getting solid offensive production from number eight hitter Marco Scutaro, but that was at least five minutes before Lyons went back to discussing wallets.

Lyons claims that he was "just joking" (which my Mom told me was never an excuse for insensitive comments way back when I was like eight years old) and claimed that his remarks weren't racially-based, but it is hard to see how one could draw that conclusion. Pinella said something in Spanish, Thom Brenneman celebrated Sweet Lou's bilingual diversity, and then Lyons fretted about Billfold Security. It seems pretty obvious that however obscure and misguided the comment, it certainly centered on some sort of ethnic punchline.

Leave it to Lyons to tell a racial joke that is so confusing, people weren't even sure it was racist until he got fired.

The air waves are now a better place. Now ... any chance we can show Joe Buck and Thom Brenneman the door next?

Friday, October 13, 2006

NBA 06-07: Hoppers and Droppers

With training camps in full swing and the season a short couple of weeks away, it's high time that we start the NBA chatter. First off, contrary to popular belief, the other members of this blogroll actually do exist. I stopped contributing for a while for 2 reasons: 1) I'm lazy, and 2) I was composing a post predicting that the Miami Heat would win the NBA championship, the US national basketball team would finish 3rd in the worlds, and the Maurice Clarett would get arrested getting his goose on while wearing a bulletproof vest and welding a hatchet, but lost it when my computer crashed. Ok, I made one of those two reasons up.

No matter. The point is, the NBA season is almost upon us, and I'm going to predict the teams poised to make the biggest jumps this year and those set to take a plunge, or the Hoppers and the Droppers, respectively (for those who struggled to make that connection).


Houston Rockets: +12 wins (34 last year)

The Rockets look to make the biggest leap this year almost solely by virtue of how much they underperformed last year. Granted, T-Mac only played 47 games and was probably in pain while he was on the court. Once again, how well Houston does depends again on T-Mac keeping the back from spasming as much as possible. But assuming T-Mac plays at least 65 games (eminently reasonable, considering that he has played at least 67 games since the 99-00 season until last year), the Rockets will make a nice jump this year.

The Rockets have had an active offseason that addressed a couple of glaring weaknesses. First, they traded Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift to Memphis for Shane Battier. The Rockets desperately needed a shooter to spread the floor, and Battier's spot-up skills will fit in nicely with Yao and T-Mac. It immediately gives Houston's two stars a reliable scorer to kick the ball out to on double-teams, and also provides a hustling defender. Look for Houston's entire defense to improve as a result, with Battier being able to slow down the opposition and make it easier for Yao to guard the rim. Battier will also relieve Rafer Alston of the burden of shooting, and spare every NBA fan from having to watch Rafer throw up bricks night in and night out. The Rockets also stole Bonzi Wells for a cheap $2.5 million per year when no one was willing to shell out $60 million (rumor has it that Isiah Thomas was ready to offer Bonzi that much money before he realized that Bonzi was not an undersized power forward). Bonzi will help a weak second unit and allow Van Gundy to spell T-Mac longer during games, potentially keeping him fresher and healthier. I expect Houston to make the playoffs, but won't make it past the first round unless they can finagle a first-round matchup date with Denver.

Boston Celtics: +7 (33)
After winning 45 games two year ago, the Celtics took a big step back last year, winning only 33 games and returning to the lottery. Near the end of last year, management threw in the towel, trading away Ricky Davis, Raef Lafrentz and Dan Dickau. In return, they got Wally Sczzxvzcerbiak and Sebastian Telfair. They have also slowly amassed a wealth of promising young talent that could lead them to the playoffs, perhaps even this year. Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Tony Allen, and Kendrick Perkins all have a future in the league, and if even half of these kids reach their potential, the Celtics have a bright future. And with Allan Ray and Rajon Rondo (who has had a sick preseason so far) waiting in the wings, the Celtics can be good for a long time. So in spite of Danny Ainge’s best efforts, the Celtics have a bright future.

However, as is often the case with a team on the cusp, there could be some tension over positions as the year progresses. Even though Telfair has yet to develop a jump shot and is incredibly turnover prone, management will want to justify their trade and likely exert pressure to give him the bulk of the point guard minutes. This will take minutes away from Delonte West, who was a pleasant surprise last season on both ends of the floor. Wally is a good offensive player, but couldn’t stay in front of my grandmother on defense. Nevertheless, he remains the starter as Gerald Green tries to develop some consistency to go along with his crazy athleticism.

The entire key to the Celtic’s season is Al Jefferson. If he can develop into a legitimate low-post scorer, it will really open up the floor for Pierce and Wally. Jefferson has shown flashes of potential, and this year might finally be his coming-out party. I’m going to go out on a limb and put some trust in the Celtic’s young guns to make the playoffs this year. When the Nets start slipping in a year or so, the Celtics will rise to the top of the Atlantic. They are a player or two away from being a championship threat, but the future is bright in Boston. I am already dreading the inevitable return of the dormant Celtic fan, though it will be nice to see this once-dominant franchise regain some glory.

Honorable Mentions:
Chicago Bulls: +6 (41)
Orlando Magic: +6 (36)
New Orleans Hornets: +5 (38)
Phoenix Suns: +5 (54)
Atlanta Hawks: +5 (26)

Droppers in the next post...

Non-Save Situation

I don't have time to dig around and do any research on this, but tonight just seemed to strengthen the argument that managers shouldn't bring closers into non-save situations whenever they can avoid it. I know that Willie Randolph was running out of options since starter John Maine left early in the game, but I have to think Ramon Hernandez might have been better suited to enter the ninth in a tie game. Closers are so conditioned after a season of protecting leads that you have to believe coming into a tie game screws with their head a bit. I'm not saying that excuses Wagner piping a 3-2 fastball to Tagucci or any of the other mistakes that followed, but it is food for thought.

Eerie Stuff

The Cardinals just wrestled control of the NLCS away from the Mets tonight and they did in familiar fashion ... with a lazy Scott Spezio fly ball drifting, drifting, drifting toward the right field fence.

In the 2002 World Series, the Giants were six outs from a title with Felix "The Cat" Rodriguez on the mound and things were looking good. Next thing you knew, Scott Spezio had hit a lazy fly ball that got into the jet stream and just kept going. That ball wound up being a home run and effectively won the World Series for the Angels.

This time around, Shawn "Dr. Strangeglove" Green managed to get some leather on the ball and keep it in play, but it still went for a triple that tied the game 6-6. About an hour later, Billy Wagner was imploding and the rest is history.

Whatever happens from here on out, I won't be able to shake the feeling that I've seen all of this before.

(Oh and by the way, is it just me, or is Spiezio's pink soul patch the absolute dumbest thing you've ever seen? He should be arrested for that.)

Strange Tigers

Detroit is one unorthodox team. In most games, you can find their biggest power threats hitting either second or seventh (Craig Monroe), fourth (Magglio Ordonez), ninth (Brandon Inge), and not at all (Marcus Thames). In case you aren't doing the math, that means only one of those lineup decisions makes any traditional sense.

Their best defensive player, Brandon Inge, is a third basemen that played catcher until last year.

They have two of the most dominant relief pitchers in the American League in Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, yet their most hittable pitcher - Todd Jones (highest batting average allowed on Detroit's playoff roster) - is the closer.

However, the strangest thing of all is the fact that their extra bats are middle infielders. When Paul Casey went down with an injury in Game One, they moved shortstop Carlos Guillen over to first base. I honestly can't imagine another team doing that, unless you want to count Nomar shifting over for the Dodgers (but that had more to do with Nomar and his limited range). Usually teams have an extra outfielder or first baseman laying around - an all hit, no field kind of guy. In fact, a quick glance at other top AL teams shows that the DH is almost always a former (or just poor-fielding) first baseman/outfielder: Frank Thomas (A's), Jim Thome (White Sox), Ortiz (Red Sox), Rondell White (Twins), and Garrett Anderson (Angels). Had the starting first baseman gone down for any of those teams, you can imagine a pretty easy fix, and one that doesn't involve a middle infielder.

But the Tigers didn't stop with moving Guillen over. With three middle infielders already on the field for today's game (Ramon Santiago at shortstop, Placido Polanco at second, and Guillen at first), Jim Leyland decided to get one more out there by making Omar Infante his DH over the likes of Marcus Thames (26 home runs during the regular season) and Alexis Gomez (a home run in Game Two). That gave Detroit a lineup chalk full of four middle infielders.

Of course, Infante reached twice and stole a base as the Tigers won 3-0 to take a 3-0 series lead.

Jim Leyland must be some sort of wizard.

More Fox Nonsense From Game Three of the ALCS

Brenneman is at it again in the fourth inning:

After Magglio Ordonez hit a weird spinner down the third base line and was thrown out, Brenneman took him to task in his usual judgmental tone. His voice dripping with disdain, Thom delivered, "What a POOR at bat by Ordonez. This is the clean up hitter, the guy that is being counted on to drive in runs, and he can't even move the runner over."

We need to get a ruling that says the following: "Broadcasters who have never faced major league pitching may not, at any time, pass judgment against the player on the air, provided there is an analyst seated next to him that is paid to do just that." I blame Bob Costas for all of this - once he decided that being a play-by-play announcer made him an expert and started spouting off his own opinions all the time (most famously in the 1998 NBA Finals when he suddenly thought he was Tex Winters with X's and O's), everyone else followed suit. Now we have the Bucks and Brennemans of the world analyzing the action instead of just stating what is happening. Make it stop.

But I digress.

Here is the other Brenneman gem. "That fastball just ate him out." I'm 100% sure he meant to say "ate him up," because the latter doesn't have quite the same, shall we say, sexual connotations. And judging by the 30 seconds of total silence that followed, I'm guessing that a good portion of the tech staff and broadcast crew realized the error of his ways. What a tool.

Not to be outdone, Lou Pinella got into the act.

Out of nowhere Lou gave us: "Boy, when I played .... (10 seconds of silence) ... these fans didn't have these ... (5 more seconds) ... white handkerchiefs."

Genius. Of course, Lyons had to run it by saying, "No, they did, they just used to blow their nose with them." Which was punctuated by that obnoxious laugh he's always tossing around. Somebody put a muzzle on him! He's ruining an otherwise wonderful Friday afternoon.

These guys are the worst. If it wasn't for the fact that Lou's 1973 baseball card looks a little like this old picture of my Dad, I would give up entirely.

I'm sure I'll be back with more complaints in just a few minutes. Desperate times and all that.

Unbearable Fox

I might have to start watching the ALCS with the TV on mute.

In the second inning of today's game, Lyons said something about Pinella speaking in Spanish and then said he was worried that Lou was going to steal his wallet. What the hell? Was that some sort of racist comment? It was so confusing I couldn't even tell.

Here is my best attempt to recreate the moment:

Pinella: "He needs to be (something in Spanish) and infuego."

Brenneman: (Paraphrasing here) Wow, Pinella is bilingual.

Lyons: "I'm just worried about my wallet."

Confused silence.

Brenneman: (Tries out the Pinella/bilingual line again).

Lyons: "I don't know what he just said, but now I'm scared to sit next to him and worried about him stealing my wallet."

Pinella: Awkward chuckling.

Again, I ask ... what in the hell is going on? What could Lyons have possible meant?

Then, as if he were trying to top himself, Lyons then used the word "gription" when discussing pitchers trying to get a good grip on the ball.

Meanwhile, Thom Brenneman continues to be the most over-the-top play-by-play guy on the network, which seems, as a practical matter, to be an impossibility given the presence of Joe Buck on said network. But ever since Thom went "gunning for the Emmy" during the 2003 ALDS when he berated Manny Ramirez for about five minutes for celebrating a home run, he's grown increasingly unbearable. He's moved into Mike Patrick territory in the booth.

To top it all off, we've got Lou Pinella offering up five-word sentences that take 30 seconds to get out. I like Lou, but holy hell, he can't talk! How is that particular trait suitable for broadcasting?

Are we looking at the worst broadcasting team ever assembled?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

NFL: The Early Awards

Is there anything more fun than arbitrarily handing out awards? I didn't think so. Therefore, I'm weighing in with some NFL awards for those players and staffers that have had the biggest impact so far on this young season.

I planned on writing this column last week and coming up with a marginally clever title like "The Quarterly Report" or something equally pun-tastic, but since a handful of NFL teams had only played three games at the time, it seemed a little early to be tabbing people for awards. So I settled on a post-Week 5 column, which doesn't lend itself to the same symmetry, sadly.

Without further preamble, here are the "Early Awards":

Early MVP - Donovan McNabb. Were it not for Philly's collapse against the Giants back in week two, McNabb would be the proud owner of an absolutely perfect five-game run. With a supporting cast that could best be described as either "injured" or "sketchy," McNabb has thrown up 1,602 passing yards with 11 touchdowns against just one interception. Not only that, but his scrambling ability seems to have returned as he's rattled off three rushing touchdowns to go with a 7.3 yards per carry average. The throw he had against Dallas when he felt the rush, stepped up in the pocket, and instinctively fired a 50-yard strike to Hank Baskett was probably the best throw of the year. And the head roll-shake-taunt move after his 18-yard scramble against Green Bay was borderline transcendent.

Others Considered: Rex Grossman (1,243 yards and 10/3 touchdowns-to-picks while being sacked just four times for the 5-0 Bears), Peyton Manning (1,278 and 8/2 with two rushing touchdowns for the 5-0 Colts), Steve Smith (23 catches for 261 yards only tells part of the story - the Panthers are an ugly 0-2 without Smith and a dangerous 3-0 when he's on the field), and "Pick a Ram" (Marc Bulger has thrown for 1,259 yards and seven touchdowns with nary a pick, Steven Jackson is tied with Frank Gore for the rushing lead with 465 yards, and Tory Holt has 372 yards receiving and four scores for 4-1 St. Louis).

Early Defensive Player of the Year - Julius Peppers. The guy is just a monster. He has 22 solo tackles as a defensive lineman, which is impressive enough, but he also has two forced fumbles and leads the NFL in both tackles for losses and sacks (6.0). The sight of Atlanta shredding the Panthers D in week one is hard to shake, but Peppers has been so good since then that he still gets the nod.

Others Considered: Bart Scott (the torch has been passed again - first from Ray Lewis to Ed Reed and now from Reed to Scott, who is now Baltimore's best individual defender), Tommie Harris (the linebackers get the attention, but Harris is the Midway Monster the sets the tone for Chicago), Shawne Merriman (not as good as Oakland made him look back in Week One, but not far off either), DeAngelo Hall (quickly becoming the best - and cockiest - corner in the game), and Champ Bailey (the leader of this terrific Denver defense and the one guy that might be holding Hall off).

Early Offensive Rookie of the Year - Reggie Bush. I don't understand the people that are saying Bush has been a bust. Granted, he's doing little in the running game, but who cares? He's such a distraction for opposing teams that the Saints are able to get single-coverage for their wideouts and running lanes for Deuce McAllister. Not only that, Bush has 552 all-purpose yards, leads the NFL in receptions with 34 (on pace for 112 for the year), and scored his first touchdown in game-winning fashion by running back a punt in the waning minutes against Tampa Bay.

Others Considered: It has been a great year for offensive rookies. Among the standouts are Marques Colston (Bush's teammate has caught 23 passes for 374 yards and 3 TD's, quickly becoming Brees' primary deep threat), Greg Jennings (364 yards and 3 scores as Green Bay's #2 receiver), Maurice Jones-Drew (the former UCLA dynamo has 521 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns while carving out a role for himself in the Jacksonville offense), Joseph Addai (272 rushing yards in Indy's time share), and Laurence Maroney (332 yards and three touchdowns on the ground).

Early Comeback Player of the Year - Deuce McAllister. Does it get any better than the story unfolding in New Orleans? As if the Saints' turnaround wasn't enough, McAllister has returned from a grisly knee injury to once again become one of the league's top backs. Despite sharing some touches with Bush, Deuce has 380 yards and four touchdowns on a fantastic 4.8 yards per carry average (third among backs with 50 or more carries).

Others Considered: Kellen Winslow (the loud-mouth is backing up the talk this year with 30 catches for 283 yards and two scores).

Early Defensive Rookie of the Year - Mark Anderson. The fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama has become yet another ferocious member of the Bears' pass rush and actually leads the team with 5.5 sacks. He's also forced a fumble and deflected a pass as he seems to grow more comfortable with every passing snap.

Others Considered: Ernie Sims (33 solo tackles for Detroit's new linebacker) and Thomas Howard (the good news for the Raiders is that second-round pick Howard looks really good; the bad news is that he looks a lot better than first-round pick Michael Huff).

Early Surprise Star - Bernard Berrian. The whole Chicago offense has been a surprise, but the line was always considered solid, Jones was known to be a good back, and Grossman was always talented albeit injured. But Berrian? I don't think anyone could have seen this coming. The speedster leads the NFL with four touchdown catches while ranking third in receiving yards with 413. I know, I can't believe it either.

Early Disappointment - Randy Moss. I suppose it is ironic that Daunte Culpepper was the other leading choice, since these two have been positively worthless from the moment they were separated. I have to wonder how long it will be before either Miami or Oakland decides to gamble on acquiring the other half of this Misery Puzzle. I give Moss the nod here because at least Culpepper can blame his bum knee. And while Moss is certainly in an undesirable situation, he could at least try. He could at least avoid sitting down with Fox's Chris Myers every week and telling the world that he doesn't care about football.

Early Coach of the Year - Lovie Smith. I wanted to be more original here, but it is hard to argue with Smith. If you can think all the way back to late August, it was the Panthers who were being viewed as the prohibitive favorite in the NFC. It is a testament to Smith's work that things have changed so fast. He managed to push the right buttons with the backfield and turned what seemed to be certain disaster into a highly productive time share (with Thomas Jones rightfully doing most of the work). He stuck with Rex Grossman through a tough preseason and now looks like a genius (I wonder how many of the thousands of Bears fan who were calling for Brian Griese will admit to it now?). He has seamlessly folded Ricky and Daniel Manning into the secondary. In short, he's been flawless through five games.

Early Executive of the Year - Mickey Loomis. New Orleans is 4-1 and playing games in the Superdome, which pretty much says it all. Considering the upcoming schedule, I still think the Saints will be lucky to make the playoffs, which is all the more reason to reward them now. Loomis has been the guy pulling all the strings, from jumping on Bush with the #2 pick to unearthing Colston from deep in the draft to signing Drew Brees to cobbling together a serviceable defense to hiring the right coach in Sean Payton. High marks all around.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Heisman Race Heats Up

I'll never figure out the mainstream sports media. This is an entity that has been completely obsessed with the Heisman Trophy for years, no matter what the candidate pool is like, no matter how irrelevant the award seems to become, and in spite of the fact that universities basically started buying the statute 10 years ago through mass marketing campaigns.

Now, when the race is truly exciting for the first time in ages, no one seems to care. I give up.

But you know what? I still care. That's why I've decided to cobble together my own midseason Heisman top-10 list. This is kind of a cross between how I would vote if the season ended today and how I could see things developing as the season goes on. Confusing enough? Did I make it ambiguous enough to eliminate all accountability? Sweet. Let's get into it then.

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State. He hasn't been incredible this year, but he's done enough to win and his team is ranked number one, so he is in the catbird's seat. He played well against Texas in the season's biggest game to date and no one seems to recall that he pretty much sucked against Penn State (the only lasting memory from that game was that fadeaway heave into the end zone), so unless the Buckeyes lose or someone else on the list goes wild, the award is probably Smith's to lose.

2. Garrett Wolfe, RB, Northern Illinois. The diminutive running back from the MAC is an absolute beast. Wolfe has almost five hundred more rushing yards than anyone else in the country, is going for 223.8 yards per game, leads the nation in touchdowns (13), is averaging a ridiculous 8.6 yards per carry, and is on pace to break Barry Sanders' NCAA record for yards in a season. Not only that, but in his one real chance to play against the big boys, Wolfe shredded Ohio State for almost 300 yards of total offense and a touchdown. He probably can't overcome the fact that he plays for Northern Illinois, but Wolfe deserves to be in New York for the ceremony, at the very least.

3. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame. I don't particularly care for Notre Dame, but Quinn is still lurking in this race. The Michigan game was brutal and served to knock him out of contention initially (and, as a byproduct, destroy the media's will to cover the Heisman chase), but the comeback against Michigan State breathed new life into both the Irish's season and Quinn's Heisman hopes. He's averaging 272.3 yards per game and has thrown 16 touchdowns against four picks. The only guys that can claim better those numbers are "system" quarterbacks at places like New Mexico State, BYU, Texas Tech, and Hawaii. With the big tilt against USC still on the schedule, Quinn has the stage necessary to get back on top. (I have to say though, I saw Quinn play live against Stanford on Saturday and not once did I feel like I was watching a Heisman-winning quarterback.)

4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma. Troy Smith must really love Texas. First, he lit them up in his best game of the season. Second, a lot of people feel like maybe they missed the boat on Vince Young last year and now seem dead set on giving the award to a "Vince-like" quarterback this season (which would be Smith, of course). Third, Texas knocked off Oklahoma, which really damages Peterson's chances. The Sooner running back was probably Smith's chief competition and had OU defeated the 'Horns, Peterson might have been at the top of this list. Given the controversy surrounding the Oregon game, people really weren't holding Oklahoma's first loss against Peterson. Two losses? That is a different story. Since Peterson trails Wolfe, Ray Rice, and Steve Slaton in virtually every statistical story, "team success" becomes a vital factor. Now the margin for error is incredibly slim. If Oklahoma loses another game, Peterson's going to need Barry Sanders circa 1988 numbers to win the Heisman.

5. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia. He's got the big yards per carry (6.9, second best among BCS conference running backs, behind Cal's Marshawn Lynch), the big national TV showcase performance (when he had what seemed like 700 yards in the first quarter of the Maryland game), and he's playing for a team that has a legit chance to run the table. The downside is West Virginia's schedule. Not only does the cupcake nature mean that people aren't respecting the stats, it means that Slaton actually gets less of them. The Mountaineers often win so easily that he can't get more than 15-20 touches. He has 30 fewer carries than Peterson and Rice in as many games, and the trend may not change.

6. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers. Here is your big sleeper. Rutgers is the feel-good story of the year so far in college football with the 5-0 start and Rice is the straw that stirs that particular drink. He's second in the country in yards per game with 161.2 and has scored 11 touchdowns. If Rutgers can get to 8-0 heading into their home date with Lousville on national TV (the Thursday night game), Rice may have his chance to win over the hearts of voters everywhere. After that it is Cinci and Syracuse, which means that Rice and the Scarlet Knights could conceivably meet Slaton and West Virginia in a battle of unbeatens with both the Big East title and the Heisman on the line. Not likely, but conceivable.

7. Michael Hart, RB, Michigan. The Wolverines are rolling and Hart is the best running back that nobody really talks about. He leads the nation in carries (157) and is averaging 132.3 yards for a team with serious national title hopes. Of course, he shares the spotlight with ...

8. Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan. Call it the David Ortiz/Manny Ramirez problem that cost Big Papi the AL MVP in 2005. Whenever two players from the same team both have a strong claim for the award, they tend to split votes. Hart is probably the true heart (no pun intended) and soul of the team, but people are going to remember that monster game that Manningham had against Notre Dame. Plus, he leads the nation in receiving touchdowns (9), averages a whopping 22.0 yards per catch, and has an absolutely fantastic name. The problem for Manningham is ...

9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech. This is the best wide receiver in the country. Manningham has been huge and Dwayne Jarrett would be in the mix if not for injuries, but Johnson is the man. He's averaging 93 yards per game and has scored eight touchdowns, many of them in huge situations. He led the Jackets to a surprising beatdown of Virginia Tech, almost helped them topple Notre Dame, and has emerged as the most devastating red zone weapon in the game.

10. Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee. How come this guy is getting absolutely no attention? He shredded Cal on national television and recently hung 51 on Georgia - a team that had the nation's best defense heading into that game. This guy has ironed out whatever problems he has had in the past and has the Vols back in the BCS picture. His numbers (276.2 yards per game and 14/5 touchdowns to interceptions) are right there with Quinn's and he's done it against an equally daunting schedule while accumulating the second-best passer rating in the country (171.6). Throw him in with Rice as a darkhorse candidate.

On the Verge: John David Booty (USC keeps on winning and Booty's stats aren't far off from those of Quinn and Ainge), James Davis (the best running back in the ACC has 11 touchdowns through six games), DeSean Jackson (with Nate Longshore's opening-game struggles and Marshawn Lynch's injury problems, Jackson has become the face of the dynamic Cal offense with 522 yards receiving and nine touchdowns, while also ranking sixth in the country in punt return yards), and Darren McFadden (the SEC's best back got a big boost when Arkansas upset Auburn and moved into the top 25 - he's coming on fast).

Falling Out of It: Chris Leak (it is ironic that Leak's fortunes are plummeting as his Gators soar to #2 in the polls, but when a different quarterback (Tim Tebow) is scoring all the points, I don't see any other way), Kenny Irons, Dwayne Jarrett (injuries suck), Ted Ginn Jr. (not enough big plays to stay in the top 10), and Lynch.

Bonus Thought: Injuries and a tough loss to Cal have dampened this year, but watch for Oregon's Jonathan Stewart in 2007 - I'm going on record right now as saying he will be a top three candidate next year.

Sorry, Everyone: Barry Bonds is Still Good

I keep reading columns that discuss Barry Bonds, but they all seem to be missing a rather important point. These pieces discuss Greg Anderson getting out of jail, and journalists going to jail, and whether or not he will come back and play next year. All interesting stuff, granted, and certainly a lot of stuff about jail. However, from the last week of the regular season until now, I don't think I saw a single mention of the fact that Bonds played fantastic baseball over the final few months of the season. (The one exception here is my buddy Stump, who discussed Bonds' play in his blog. Good work, Stump.)

Sometime after the All-Star break (I think it was late July), Bonds made a point of telling reporters that his knee was finally feeling better and that he wasn't in excruciating pain. Perhaps not surprisingly, the old Barry Bonds seemed to make a prompt return to the scene and serve as the Giants' best player during August and September.

Over the final two months of the season, Bonds hit .316 with a slugging percentage of .647 while hitting 12 home runs and driving in 29 runs. Again, these were the only two months of the season in which he was able to play without the sensation that someone was spinning a drill bit into his knee cap. Those kind of numbers over a full season would have left him with over 35 home runs and almost 90 RBI, while the slugging percentage would have been the fourth best in all of baseball.

Obviously, extrapolating split stats into full season numbers is always a dangerous game, but it makes you wonder, that's all. Maybe it wasn't the lack of 'roids or even Bonds' age that was slowing him down all season ... perhaps it was just a good old fashioned knee injury.

Do you think that information might cause Mike Lupica's head to explode? Boy, I hate to ruin a good witch hunt.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Joel Zumaya: Force of Nature

In my previous post in which I took a guess at the playoff results, I compared the 2006 Detroit Tigers to the 2002 Anaheim Angels because of their lineup. Like that Angels team that won it all, the Tigers lack huge power threats in the middle and don't feature many patient hitters, but they have a host of aggressive players that will put the ball in play and put pressure on the defense.

Now it seems that there is another appropriate comparison to be made: the presense of a virtuoso rookie setup man. Like Frankie Rodriguez in 2002, Tigers' rookie Joel Zumaya is biding his time as a setup man on his way to bigger and better things in the coming years. And like K-Rod, he appears capable of becoming the X-Factor in this series against New York and for as long as the Tigers are still playing.

Unlike Rodriguez, who came out of nowhere, Zumaya has been around all year and his skills shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Armed with a fastball that has been clocked at 103 miles per hour, Zumaya went 6-3 during his rookie campaign with an ERA of 1.94, 97 strikeouts in just over 83 innings, and a ridiculous .187 opponents average against. He's certainly not a mystery to AL foes.

However, I'm not sure anyone was prepared for Zumaya to come out and absolutely dominate the Yankees the way he did earlier today. Pitching into rather fierce shadows and coming in on the heels of fellow rookie Justin Verlander (who can also push the fastball up near 100) and reliever Jamie Walker, Zumaya made the vaunted Yankees lineup look like little leaguers. Despite the fact that Verlander had been throwing extremely hard all game, Zumaya seemed to have another gear to his heater as he blew away A-Rod (although that wasn't terribly hard to do today) and retired all five batters he faced with ease.

His stuff was electric, he carried himself with poise and confidence, and he projected an aura of being completely unhittable. It was something you don't see very often from a rookie relief pitcher, that is for sure. In fact, if not for K-Rod, I'm not sure there would even be a precedent.

Now we just need to see if Joel Zumaya and his Detroit Tigers can follow in Fransisco Rodriguez's footsteps.

A Penny For Grady's Thoughts

It didn't take Grady Little long to do something bizarre in postseason play. The last time we saw this stoic man on the big stage he was staring off into space while Pedro Martinez labored against the Yankees in Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS. We all know how that worked out, which is to say, not well. So not well, in fact, that Little was bounced out of town, which is pretty rare for a manager that just took his team to the American League Championship Series. That said, not a soul was surprised when Grady was shown the door - that is how egregious the Pedro Decision was.

Well, now Grady is back. And while yesterday's game was only the opener of the NLDS, it was also Little's first chance to get back in the saddle astride the beast we call "Playoff Baseball." And he pretty much screwed it up as badly as one can.

In the 7th inning, the Dodgers (already down on the "bad decision" scorecard after somehow getting two runners tagged out at home plate on the same play) clawed back into the contest behind a huge two-run double from Nomar Garciaparra. So with new life in a 4-4 game, what did Little do? He inexplicably put Game Four starter Brad Penny into the game.


I know that tying the score in the top of the seventh probably gave rise to some "it's a new ballgame!" cheers in the dugout, but did Little get confused and think that they were literally starting another game? With stud rookie Jonathan Broxton (who eventually came in after Penny) at his disposal, Little somehow decided it was a good idea to bring in Penny instead, despite the fact that his 16-game winner has made all of two relief appearances in his 197-game career. Brilliant.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Penny had a hard time getting loose fast enough, walked two of the first three hitters, and then gave up two runs that put the game out of reach. The result was a 6-5 win and a 1-0 series lead for the Mets.

Not only did the decision to put a starter into the game for middle relief duty cost the Dodgers the game, it also gave New York a good look at Penny, which will afford them an advantage in a potential Game Four. It also had the possible side effects of A) throwing Penny off his usual rhythm and B) damaging the confidence of not only Penny but every guy in the L.A. bullpen that was bypassed. It was akin to Little issuing a public indictment of his relievers right there on the field.

The only thing more surprising than this development is the fact that no one seems to be talking about it. I mean, this was a move that flew in the face of all logic, smacked of desperation (something you might do in a Game Seven when you are out of pitchers), and cost the Dodgers the game and, in all likelihood, the series. This isn't a big deal? Throw in the fact that it was one of the first managerial decisions Little has made in a playoff game since The Pedro Incident and I have to believe this is a big story.

Thoughts? Feel free to throw out some chatter in the comments section, or weigh in on any and everything Mets-Dodgers.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I don't even know if that is the correct spelling of the made-up term for the disease that Frank Gore is currently suffering from, but what I do know is that he needs to hang on to the football his Sunday against Oakland. It is hard to believe that a doldrums game between 1-3 San Fran and 0-3 Oakland could have any serious implications, but I contend that this is a critical game for Gore, and therefore, for thousands of fantasy football enthusiasts and Niners fans.

The fantasy part is obvious enough. Gore went somewhere between the second and fourth round of most drafts and started out as one of the best fantasy players through the first two weeks. Since then he has battled some nagging injuries (a problem) and a propensity to lay the pigskin on the turf (a big problem), especially near the goal line (an enormous problem). He has four lost fumbles in four games and is already scheduled to give way to converted quarterback Michael Robinson for goal line carries. A few weeks ago I compared Gore to a young LaDainian Tomlinson in terms of his skill set, team situation, and potential fantasy impact, but the more apt comparison seems to be to a younger Tiki Barber. With the fumbling problems and what appears to be limited goal line work, Gore is starting to really resemble the Barber of 2001-2003. Again, from a fantasy perspective, this is all pretty obvious.

The bigger deal here is how this might affect Gore and the Niners offense, for this year and beyond. Through sheer luck, the Niners managed to unearth a potential franchise back in Frank Gore. After suffering through an injury-riddled career at Miami that reads like a "get your degree" cautionary tale, Gore managed to land a gig with San Francisco. Somehow, he was able to shine during his rookie year despite lacking explosiveness (still recovering from his ACL tears) and suffering mutliple shoulder injuries, so much so that the Niners traded away the unbelievably crappy Kevan Barlow and gave Gore the starting job. Then the season started and this guy was just nails. Running low to the ground with power and vision, Gore never gave a carry away, showed discipline, and proved to be one of the most instinctive runners in the NFL (I can't remember a young running back consistently look that good on counter plays). He put up great stats, but more importantly, displayed an aura that made you think, "wow, this guy is really something special." Such was Gore's effectiveness over the first two weeks that my buddy - and longtime 49ers fan - Josh Stump surmised that Gore might wind up being the best back in franchise history. That seems like an unbelievably rash statement, but I felt that way too.

Now all of that is in some degree of jeopardy. The NFL is one of the most conservative arenas in the entire world, a place where teams punt on 4th-and-two from the other team's 40-yard line and where coaches keep talented players off the field for fear they might make a mistake. If this were the NBA and Gore was coming off a few 5-for-21 nights, no one would be worried in the least. But this is the NFL and if he fumbles again, Mike Nolan may bury the guy. I'm not saying it is likely, but it is possible. NFL coaches are so averse to blame and criticism that they will make absolutely moronic decisions out of pure, unadulterated fear. The kind of decision that derails the career of a potential franchise back before he even gets started.

I, for one, don't want this to happen. And I know that Niners fans like Stump don't want this to happen. That is why this Sunday is so important. If Frank Gore totes it 25 times for 120 and a score, and avoids fumbling, all is forgotten and we are back to basking in the joy of watching a fantastic talent come of age. If he puts the ball on the deck on his fourth carry, it could be the beginning of the end.

It's amazing how important this San Fran-Oakland game is if you really think about it. The career of "The Guy Who Could One Day, Perhaps, Go Down as the Best Back in Niners History" is at stake. I know I'll be tuning in.

(And yes, I have Gore on two fantasy teams. That might have something to do with all of this.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

MLB: Playoff Predictions

Baseball is a tough sport to predict. Billy Beane has complained for years that the playoffs are a crapshoot and that regular season results should be the barometer for success. Part of me agrees with him and allows for the fact that the hottest teams often beat the best teams and that flukey plays (read: the famous "dropped third strike" call that propelled Chicago past Anaheim last year) are often substitutes for strategy and clutch performances. However, another part believes that there are still key ingredients that more often produce winners. We don't always recognize the potential for dominance from a youthful pitching staff like the Marlins in 2003, or how a relentlessly attacking offense like Anaheim's in 2002 can wear teams down, the way White Sox hurlers can throw deep into games. So yes, there is luck and chance, but there are also elements that produce results and even create luck, that take advantage of chance.

So while any prediction of a World Series champ is, at best, an educated guess at all of the bounces and close calls and wind-aided home runs that have yet to happen, it is still worth taking a shot at it.

Here are my educated guesses:

National League


Dodgers over Mets in 5 - The Mets feel like that team we see every year that has been coasting down the stretch and now has to turn it on at the last second. A five game series doesn't afford much time to do that. Plus, the Mets have serious pitching woes without Pedro.

Cardinals over Padres in 4 - Just because everybody is picking the Padres. I mean, sure the Cardinals suck, but since when are we getting this excited about a mediocre team with no offense whatsoever?


Dodgers over Cardinals in 6 - I feel like L.A. is the NL most likely to go on a magical run through the playoffs, as evidenced by that crazy four-home-runs-in-a-row game against the Padres a few weeks back. Derek Lowe always seems to find a way in the postseason and Brad Penny has the kind of stuff that can anchor a staff during October. I like that the Dodgers have a few key guys in the lineup (Furcal is vital and Nomar has to lead by example and infuse confidence) but that they are also one of those "a different hero every night" kind of groups. The NL is wide open so I'm going with the team I think will be the luckiest.

American League


Yankees over Tigers in 4 - Part of me thinks that Detroit's lineup can attack, attack, attack ala the Angels of '02 (like that Anaheim team, these guys rarely draw walks), but I think it is more likely that they strikeout, strikeout, strikeout. With so many free swingers on the roster, the Tigers seem like a team that will leave a lot of runners on base. This would be okay if they weren't facing the best lineup in baseball. With Verlander and Rogers running on fumes (although for exact opposite reasons) and Todd Jones redefining mediocrity at the back end of the bullpen, I don't think Detroit can keep NY from putting a half-dozen runs across the plate (at least) every game.

Twins over A's in 5 - Minnesota is going to want to do anything they can to win this in four, so they can save Supernatural (that would be Santana, in case you missed the joke) for the opener against the Yankees. That said, I think the A's are too tough to go quietly. In fact, I vowed to pick them to win a series this year if they made the playoffs, but I think the Twins are too good, so I am breaking the vow that I made to myself. No real loss there.


Twins over Yankees in 7 - Even though I can't erase the images of the Yankees raking the ball off of Carlos Silva and Brad Radke in the 2004 ALDS, I am still picking the Twins. No idea why.

World Series

Twins over Dodgers in 6 - American League dominance continues and Santana hoists the MVP trophy as the rest of the country (meaning: people other than baseball journalists, Twins fans, and fantasy owners) finally realize just how good this guy is.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

How Long Is This Going to Go On?

Folks, the situation in Miami is getting out of control. The Dolphins have a stout defense, a stud running back, plenty of weapons in the passing game, and are lead by a talented head coach in Nick Saban. Yet all of that is being completely and utterly wasted thanks to the horrendous play of starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

A quick glance at the numbers tells you that things aren't going well. Culpepper's quarterback rating is a poor 73.1, he has 1 touchdown against three picks, and he's taken a whopping 19 sacks. The crazy thing is that he's been even worse than his numbers suggest. At present, they don't have stats for "balls thrown into the bleachers" and "one-hopping receivers." He is at his worst in the red zone and on third down. He makes awful decisions. And on and on.

The question is how long Miami is going to wait to do something about this. While backup Joey Harrington isn't exactly a world-class quarterback, he is at least a close approximation to guys like Gus Ferrotte and A.J. Feely - two sad sacks that had a modicum of success in this Miami offense. Harrington is the type of guy that will make a couple of horrible mistakes each game, but generally get the ball into the hands of the playmakers. So what is Miami waiting for?

The 'Fins are currently locked in a 3-3 tie with Houston, who is arguably the worst team in the league. Last week they barely beat the Titans (who, along with the Raiders, is one of the other teams in that "worst in the league" conversation) at home. They've scored a grand total of 22 points in the last 10 quarters of football - eight of which came at home and all of them played against the Bills, Titans, and Texans. Sorry to say, but that is an indictment.

I suppose some of the blame falls on Mike Mularkey for trying to make his dump-and-dink offense work with a quarterback that has no hope of running it, but most of the blame lies with Culpepper. He is no longer mobile, he's not accurate, and he makes poor decisions. His mere presence on the field is negating the value of Ronnie Brown, because all the sacks are taking the 'Fins out of running situations. Something needs to change and it needs to change fast.

Stop Punting!

The Over-Punting Virus has been infecting the NFL the first three weeks of the season (covered best by Gregg Easterbrook in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns for ESPN's fast-sinking Page 2) and now it appears to be ruining potentially good college football games as well. The latest example? Iowa's big chance to make a statement tonight against Ohio State.

Before I go any further, I admit that the Buckeyes simply outclassed the Hawkeyes (what an 'Eyes showdown!) tonight and that Iowa probably wasn't winning no matter what. That said, their only chance to win the game was squandered when they punted in two highly, highly suspect situations.

The first came with under a minute to go in the first half. They had the ball at in Ohio State territory and trailed 21-10. In case you are unable to do the math, that means that the Hawkeye defense had allowed three touchdowns already ... in four possessions. Knowing that, and knowing that Ohio State gets the ball coming out of halftime, you have to go for it. It was fourth-and-four with the game pretty much on the line. I would argue that you go for it on fourth-and-four on your opponent's 45-yard line in ALL scenarios, but there is simply no excuse not to go for it given the time, score, and circumstance.

The second instance was just as egregious - if not for field position, for the time remaining. In this case, Ohio State had already scored another touchdown and now led by a whopping 28-10. Yet with seven minutes to go in the third quarter, Iowa kicked again. Are you kidding me? Oh yeah, and it was fourth-and-four again and from midfield. Oh yeah, and Iowa supposedly has a veteran leader at quarterback (although Drew Tate looked awfully jumpy in this one) and the best tight end in the country in Jeff Chandler (who looked pretty stiff, even before the costly fumble). You can't get four yards with that combo? What in the hell is going on? Point shaving? Temporary insanity? I am begging someone to give me an explanation that is even remotely plausible. It actually made my happy when Ohio State promptly marched right down the field, used up the entire quarter, and then tacked on three points with a field goal. Game over.

I will never understand what makes coaches so conservative, other than to assume that Easterbrook has it right when he says that it all boils down to blame-shifting. By refusing to roll the dice on fourth-and-short, the coach can pick out the few turnovers, dropped passes (sadly, not so few in the case of the Hawkeyes), and other miscues and put all the blame on the players. It's pretty much the most cowardly thing I can think of. If that isn't the explanation, than it just means that all these coaches are complete morons with no grasp of basic odds or football strategy. Either they are hiding from blame or they have no concept regarding the sport of football. I can't think of another option here.