Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A real national champion: Week Nine

Not too much changed this week; all projected conference champs are still in place. There was some maneuvering among the at large teams, as South Florida and Virginia Tech both dropped out of the tourney. Their spots were taken by Missouri and Georgia, who came out of nowhere with a win over Florida last week.
For previous weeks, see Week Seven and Week Eight.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Houston (Conference USA)

8) Kansas (Big 12)
9) Missouri (At large)

4) Arizona State (Pac-10)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oregon (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) LSU (SEC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Oklahoma (At large)
11) Connecticut (Big East)

7) West Virginia (At large)
10) Georgia (At large)

2) Boston College (ACC)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Virginia Tech (11)
Michigan (12)
Texas (15)
Auburn (16)
Alabama (17)

Monday, October 29, 2007

More A-Rod Sorriness

Alex Rodriguez is not a bad guy. He's never beaten his wife or got caught doing drugs. He's never been arrested for drunk driving or threatened to run over kids with his car. He's never been a clubhouse cancer on the level of TO in Philly. He's never sucker punched a manager or body slammed a teammate over music.

In fact, he takes great pains in being a good guy. In fact, some people will tell you that he is too scripted, too polished. It might be better for him if he would ever do those things. As it is, the worst things he's done off the field are be seen around town with a manly looking woman who was not his wife and play poker in one of the illegal underground poker games that are all over New York. Oh, and he's been completely unable to hit in the post season.

I want to hate A-Rod and blame him for the catastrophe that has been the Rangers since 2000 when they shocked the baseball world with giving A-Rod what is still the largest contract in sports history. He forced his way out, hoping to gravy train to a ring in New York. It never worked out that well in New York as he never accepted as a "real Yankee" (whatever that means). I've said over and over the people I blame for the Ranger debacle are the Rangers' management, Tom Hicks, John Hart, and Buck Showalter.

Despite all this A-Rod isn't a bad guy. But events yesterday prove that he is either really sorry or he listens to terrible advice. First of all, not showing up for a presentation of the Hank Aaron award was sorry. But that could happen anytime. But to follow it up with the announcement that he was going to opt out during what was probably going to be the last game of the World Series is the epitome of sorriness. He had ten days to make that announcement. I'm no fan of the Red Sox and I don't at all feel sorry for the Yankees. In fact, I'm glad he opted out because it saves the Rangers money over the next few years (don't even get me started on that). But did it have to be announced last night?
As I've said, I want to hate A-Rod but I can't do it. But he just comes across a total jerk way too often.

PS. Peter Gammons keeps saying that the Rangers are possible landing spot for the A-Rod. Now I thought there was a snowball's chance in hell of that happening in 2000 when they really did sign him. Now? There is no scenario I can see that actually happening. A-Rod has a better chance of signing with the Nippon Ham Fighters than of signing with the Rangers.
ADDED on October 31 at 1:24pm. Maybe I'm ahead of the curve on this A-Rod to Japan thing:
Celest (The desert): Nate nicely handicapped the A-Rod sweepstakes earlier today. Where do you see A-Rod ending up?

Jim Baker: I like the lonely-guy-by-the-fence thing I described earlier. How about Japan? Wouldn't that be a Criss Angel mindfreak?

Monday, October 22, 2007

A real national champion: Week Eight

Well, Rutgers sure shook things up, didn't they? With their upset of South Florida, Connecticut takes over as the current leader of the Big East. Yes, Connecticut. Maybe a football tourney has ramifications that I hadn't considered: put together a college tourney and UConn thinks you are talking to them. South Florida has hung on to remain in the tournament, although it is much lower than last week's number two seed. It was a good week for the Pac-10 as both Arizona and Oregon both made big leaps in the seeding. The SEC took a beating, though, as South Carolina and Kentucky each fell out of the tournament with disappointing losses to conference opponents. In other news, Houston took over the C-USA lead with East Carolina losing on the weekend.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Houston (Conference USA)

8) Virginia Tech (At large)
9) Kansas (Big 12)

4) Arizona State (Pac-10)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oregon (At large)
12) Connecticut (Big East)

3) LSU (SEC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Oklahoma (At large)
11) Hawaii (WAC)

7) West Virginia (At large)
10) South Florida (At large)

2) Boston College (ACC)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Florida (11)
USC (12)
Missouri (13)
Kentucky (14)
Virginia (15)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A real national champion: Week Seven

The first BCS poll was released earlier this week and Ohio State and South Florida currently hold the all-important top two spots. And while there is still a lot more football to be played, the current system is too restrictive, even allowing for the plus-one game.

That is why I am in favor of a sixteen team tournament, while most playoff proponents prefer four or eight. What makes my suggestion different from most others I have seen is that mine does not take the top sixteen ranked teams. I propose taking the eleven conference champions and five at large teams, which would be the five highest ranked teams in the BCS poll who did not win their conference. I freely admit this is a completely unoriginal idea; it is basically a scaled down version of the basketball tourney. But I have seen virtually no one else propose such a plan for football.

I believe that this plan answers most of the major concerns with a playoff. The most common complaint is that a playoff would de-emphasize the regular season. If you take the top sixteen, that would be a fair concern. But in my plan, a conference championship guarantees a playoff spot, putting more emphasis on the regular season, not less. And this week, the lowest BCS ranked team to get an at large bid was Oregon at #10. Virginia Tech, Cal, USC and Florida all would miss the cut at this point. Try telling them that the regular season doesn't matter.

The other major complaint is that the season would be too long. Beginning this season, a team playing a twelve game season, a conference championship, and BCS bowl game and a plus-one national championship would play fifteen games. I suggest going back to an eleven game regular season plus conference championships for those conferences with twelve teams. Only eight teams would play beyond the standard regular season and bowl game, and I don't think they would be complaining. And it doesn't need to extend too far into January. There is already a huge gap in between the end of the season and the BCS bowl games. This season, conference championship games will be on Saturday, December 1. The first round of the tourney could be Dec. 8, the second on Dec. 15 and the semifinals on Dec 22. That would allow the National Championship to be played on Tuesday, January 1, because as everyone knows, New Years Day is all about college football. Compare that to this season, when the National Championship is scheduled for January 7.

Yet another complaint about a playoff is that it would make all other bowl games meaningless. The way I see it, they are already meaningless. Under the current BCS system, only one game matters. All the others, even the other BCS games, are little more than exhibition games. With a playoff, fifteen games matter: win or go home. And besides, there is no reason not to play the lesser bowl games. If they can survive under the current system, they can still be played along side a playoff, NIT-style.

One of the greatest benefits of this playoff system is that it finally gives the small conference champ a shot. Boise State knocking off Oklahoma last year was nice, but in a tournament they would have had the opportunity to really prove how good they were. And imagine what a deep playoff run would have done for recruiting.

As for where the games would be played, I am open to suggestions. Personally I would like to see the first round hosted by the higher ranked team. This would further emphasize the regular season: if you finish in the top eight, you get a first round home game. From there, the four second round games could be played at the current BCS affiliates, and the semis and final could be played as repeats at three of those, just as this year's plus-one will be played in New Orleans a week after the Sugar Bowl. Another possibility is to open it up to bidding again, just as they did when the BCS first began. This time, seven bowls could bid for the second round on.

On to the seedings. Please understand that nothing is for certain yet, and the 'conference champions' listed below are based on current standings only. In the case of a tie, I have gone to overall record, then point differential. After conference champs were determined, at large teams were selected according to the top five non-conference winners in the BCS rankings. After the sixteen teams are selected, they are re-seeded according to their BCS rank. I have made my best guess to seed the teams not ranked in the BCS (East Carolina, Central Michigan, BYU and Troy in this week's poll).

I have tracked this playoff system the past three or four years, and there is quite a bit of movement at this point in the season: this week's 'conference champ' could easily be next week's 'missed the cut' and vice versa. I'll publish the newest version each week after the BCS rankings are released, so check back to see how our real national championship could have been.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) East Carolina (Conference USA)

8) Arizona State (Pac 10)
9) West Virginia (At large)

4) LSU (SEC)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oklahoma (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) Boston College (ACC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) South Carolina (At large)
11) Kansas (Big 12)

7) Kentucky (At large)
10) Oregon (At large)

2) South Florida (Big East)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Virginia Tech (11)
California (12)
USC (14)
Florida (15)
Missouri (16)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

So, what does all this mean...?

So, when two undefeated teams meet and one demolishes the other, what exactly does that mean... especially to the person who considers them his two favorite teams? Here is what I got out of Cowboys-Patriots game on Sunday:

1. I don't care about the records of the teams they have played, the Patriots and the Colts are the best two teams in the league. (And once they play each other in a few weeks, we'll know who is the best - More in a minute). Of course this is only right now. If these two teams (Pats and Cowboys) were to meet in a game... I don't know.. sometime in late January, would the outcome be the same? Hard to say, but right now, there is not a team that is as solid as the Patriots.

2. The Cowboys, despite a couple shaky games, are still one of, if not the best team in the NFC. I'm not sure if that's the same as saying that someone has a really nice personality, but they are a good team if they are playing a team that is not so balanced in run/pass offense. And that is really the problem with them this year. The Bills ran effectly, and the passing game complemented that. The Patriots do both extremely well, and we saw that outcome. So, this Minnesota team (which can run like crazy, but doesn't pass well at all), should be an opportunity to rebound.

3. Patrick Crayton is a moron. Don't get me wrong, I think he is a very serviceable receiver, but when you just get whipped by 21 points (even if the last 7 were just rubbing it in), you cannot talk about how you are not impressed by the opposing defense. Yes, Crayton you did score a touchdown, and your 46 yards were very impressive, but when a team shuts down your top receivers (that would be Owens and Witten - just in case), you should really just be happy with your TD and shut your mouth.

4. Tony Romo had an off week against the Bills. Other than one really ill-advised throw which was picked by Seau, he responded pretty well, and even fought back to get the lead until New England steamrolled.

5. Where is the TO who would talk (and don't mistake it. Writing a note that ends with "Get your popcorn ready" is indeed talking) and then back it up? I'm still waiting for he and Romo to get on the same page and go crazy. And man... I miss having Terry Glenn on the other side. How would that have changed yesterday? SIDE NOTE: Can we stop referring to him as TO Owens? I've heard several people do this now, and it drives me up the wall. What do people think the O in TO if for?

6. I am dying for both the Colts and Patriots to be undefeated when they play each other November 4th. Undefeated teams playing each other is awesome. This was a great game until the fourth quarter implosion. This could easily happen with the major roadblock being the Jaguars to the Colts, and the trap game of Miami to the Pats.

So, what does this all mean to me? Well, I'm happy that the Patriots have proven themselves, and I'm happy that the Cowboys are experiencing these bumps now, rather than later this year. I still have high hopes of this team, and think they can make it far in the playoffs. I think they are still the best in the NFC, and would rather they lose this non-conference game than others in the future.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A comment on Chris's post that turned into a post

I was going to post about the Bill's but I couldn't get it right and gave up so I decided to just comment on Chris' post. Then it got so long that I decided to make it into a post. So here it is.

While I agree by and large with you that there really no reason to get down about the game. (It happens, trap game, road out of conference game, bad team playing about their heads for about 3 quarters, etc). There are a couple areas of concern.

1. Did Tony Romo simply have a bad game that every player has every once in a while or is this sign of things to come? Did the Bills "figure out" Romo and give everyone else in the NFL the key to solving him?
2. While the defense did play really well, I don't think you can say that no one played poorly. Terrell Owens dropped a number of passes, including the 2 point conversion. He's been a model citizens so far this year. But I hope that him throwing Romo under the bus about that thrown isn't a harbinger of things to come. Also, the running game never got going. While the offensive line has done a great job of keeping people off Romo in the passing game, the running game has not been gang busters.
It is a tribute to the tenacity of the team for them to win that game that seemed to desperately want to give away, but there are plenty of things to be concerned about. I'm not just talking about the Patriots. Remember last year when the Colts came into Texas Stadium undefeated and left with their first loss as the Cowboys held them to 14 points. Even if they do lose, it's just their first loss and an out of division loss as well. It really won't be that big of a deal.
However, there are areas that need work for this team to really be what we all think it can be. The NFC East looks strong, with Jason Campbell looking strong for the Redskins, the Giants having recovered from their awful start, and the Eagles are always dangerous. In the past several years, the Cowboys have started strong and then tailed off at the end. They need to be consistent this year to reach the Super Bowl. I still consider them the best team in the NFC, but there is still a long way to go.

Easy there, Cowboy

Last week I warned the Cowboy fans not to get too carried away and identified my concerns about the team. This week I feel it is my responsibility to keep you from getting too down, so I'm going to point out all the things that went right Monday night in Buffalo.

The defense played great. Despite defending a short field due to Romo's turnovers, the defense only gave up 257 yards and three points--Buffalo's TDs came off of two INTs and a kickoff return. Their offense went nowhere. The defense looked pretty bad in week 1 giving up 35 to the Giants, but they have gotten better each week since. As is, this is a Super Bowl caliber defense.

Romo's last two drives. He absolutely stunk for the majority of the game, but in the end, when the win was there to be taken, he led two scoring drives to get the job done. That answered a lot of my lingering questions about Romo. Most QBs would have folded sometime around half time, and most coaches would have pulled the plug much earlier. Kudos to both Romo and Wade Phillips for not giving up on the game.

Only one player had a bad game. Romo has gotten a lot of attention for a year now, but this game was a pleasant reminder that there is more to the Cowboys than a hot QB. The running backs can play, particularly as a tandem, if they get the carries. The receiving corps can play and the O-line is solid. They've got a kicker. And have I mentioned the defense? Romo's game was awful, but it was not typical of him, and the rest of the team was able to make up the difference.

Team attitude. When Romo was down in the second quarter, offensive players, defensive players and coaches took the time to rally him. Yes, even T.O. Do you think that would have happened last year? This is a team that believes in each other. Don't underestimate that.

Can they afford games like this out of Romo every week? Certainly not: Buffalo might be the only team in the league that might happen against. The fact that they were able to pull off that win against anybody says something. Romo won't be that bad again, and this game showed us what the rest of the team can do.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Keeping one foot on the ground

The Cowboys are 4-0.

Those few words have power: the power to send a city, and beyond, into a euphoric tizzy. The power to make millions of fans giddy with excitement. But also the power to make them a little irrational. OK, a lot.

I'm already hearing those other two words being tossed around a little too lightly: Super Bowl. Playoffs? Fine. I expect this team to make the playoffs. I've also heard people openly wonder if Tony Romo is on par with Manning and Brady. I know getting carried away with kneejerk reactions is fun but it's a little early for the Super Bowl talk. My mission, and I do choose to accept it, is to keep the Cowboys fan grounded, even if it is only by the little piggy that went 'wee, wee, wee all the way home.'

They haven't played anybody. Their opponents have a combined three wins. Three. Can we at least wait until after the New England game?

They haven't played a good defense. But what about Chicago? Quite simply, they aren't that good. They are ranked 15th in yards allowed and 21st in points allowed, and they are the best of the bunch the 'Boys have seen so far. The Cowboys offense has looked good, but how much had that had to do with their opponents?

The offense. Don't get me wrong: they have looked great. But they are using the pass to set up the run and they aren't going to be able to do that every week, and certainly not in the playoffs. When the pass is taken away from them, with they be able to consistently run the ball? Maybe, but it is not a given.

Special teams.The special teams unit is losing the field position battles, particularly on punt coverage. So far, the offense and defense has been able to handle it, but again, against a good team, they are putting themselves in a hole.

Injuries. They are starting to get some players back who were injured in the pre-season, but how much longer are they going to be able to plug guys in? The Cowboys were one of the healthiest teams in the league last year, but I fear that streak is due to end.

The schedule is favorable, and the team should finish with a great record. I predicted 13-3 when the schedule was announced last spring and I still expect that to happen. But let's hold off on the Super Bowl talk for a few more weeks. In fact, here is a rallying cry for Cowboys' fans: 'Remember the Mavericks!'

Monday, October 1, 2007

Farewell to a Legend

As is all the often the case with my baseball teams, this season ended with a whimper and no playoffs. Actually I probably shouldn't complain. At least I don't root for the long suffering Mets (who have won 2 World Series) or the poor Phillies (who also have two World Series appearances with one win in their fairly recent history). I'm sorry. As a Rangers fan, I just don't feel sorry for these fake heart broken franchises, especially considering both are in the playoffs this year. (Edit: When I was writing this, I had to go back and change the reference from the Cubs to the Mets and I left this sentence in. The Cubs have been bad for a while, although there were in the NLCS a couple of years ago. I wouldn't blame Bartman, I would blame the pitching for losing that.)

Just about the only baseball joy that I have felt over the years have come from the team down I-45, the Houston Astros. For the past ten years they have been one the most consistently good teams in baseball, reaching the post season six times and advancing to the World Series in 2005. I'll always blame the loss on Brad Lidge. If he could have closed out Game 5, Roy Oswalt would have pitched game 1, Clemens game 2, and Pettite game 3. I don't know. Probably doesn't matter. The Stros couldn't buy a clutch hit.

Anyway. Those great Astro teams were led by Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. While Bagwell was felled by bad shoulder and had to leave before he was really ready, Biggio went out the way it should be for a legend, with a home stand that sold out every game even though there was absolutely no playoff implications. Fortunately for me, it was against the Braves and I got to watch parts of each game. In heartfelt appreciation, the Houston fans gave standing ovation after standing ovation. Biggio gave them a good show as well, with 4 hits and 2 doubles, even getting behind the plate for the first time since 1991. His final game was fitting: a double and a run scored in the first inning and ground out to third in which he hustled down the line. He truly is a consummate professional and baseball is less because he has hung up the cleats.

Very few Hall of Fame caliber players get to go out on top carrying a championship trophy like John Elway. Some go out like Troy Aikman, sitting on the sideline sniffing smelling salts after a final concussion. Others try to hold on a little too long, like Emmitt Smith padding his stats for the Arizona Cardinals. Biggio received the honor due a Hall of Famer. He's in the 110 percent hall of fame and should be 5 years away from Cooperstown. I may have to make that trip.