30 December 2007

Dishonoring the Game

By all accounts, Tony Dungy is a class act, a gentleman on and off the field. But what his Indianapolis Colts committed Sunday night was a fraud, and a disgrace.

Sure, the Colts had already advertised that they planned to play mostly backups. True, the Cleveland Browns have only themselves to blame after blowing a key game last week against Cincinnati and thus leaving their fate in someone else's hands. Yes, Indy has an obligation to make sure its injured players have enough rest to be ready for the playoffs.

But the Colts also have an obligation to the National Football League, the game itself, to do their very best. What happened on the RCA Dome floor Sunday night was a sham.

The Tennessee Titans were not capable of winning in Indy, if the Colts actually tried. Even with Indy playing primarily backups for the better part of three quarters, the Titans barely eked out a 16-10 win. In short, Tennessee is not a playoff-caliber team.

The game became such a farce that at one point NBC's John Madden quipped that it would be in the Titans' best interest to keep Indy backup QB Jim Sorgi in the game because Peyton Manning would have to return if Sorgi was hurt. Except that it was no joke.

Yet the Colts did not have enough respect for the integrity of the league to play their best. It would be understandable for the Colts to do what they did had the game been a meaningless one for their opponent. But it wasn't. In essence, with the Colts' blessing, the Titans made the playoffs with a 9-6 record plus an exhibition win.

Indy really should've taken its cue from bitter rival New England. Besides the Patriots' pursuit of a perfect regular season, their Saturday night game against the Giants was essentially meaningless. Yet, both teams played hard from beginning to end, with their best personnel. The Patriots honored the game by insisting that being 16-0 means something. The Giants, in turn, validated the Patriots' perfection by not handing it to them on a platter.

The Colts, however, failed to see how their actions might stain the game. Really, with the NFL's constant and maniacal effort to distance itself from gambling, it's ironic that one of its best team just threw a game in broad daylight with absolutely no consequences forthcoming.

No penalties from the league, that is. But the football gods will have other ideas. The Colts lost a lot more than a game Sunday night. They lost their honor.

28 December 2007

Dog Days of 2007

(From BCS Guru)

To classify 2007 as a season of upsets is like calling Operation Barbarossa a border skirmish. The year that began with Appalachian State's victory at the Big House turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, with nary a weekend without a mind-blowing victory by an underdog.

In the final analysis (so far), because of the abundance of unexpected outcomes, some games in retrospect hardly seemed to surprise any more. For instance, Syracuse's 38-35 win over Louisville was considered a huge upset. At the time. After the Cardinals finished 6-6 and missed out on a bowl game? Not so much.

With the regular season complete and few bowls featuring mismatched teams (what, Notre Dame isn't playing?), it seems safe to call out our 10 biggest upsets of the season, each with significant consequences:

1. Stanford 24, USC 23: Ultimately, the Trojans' inability to stop Stanford on two fourth-down plays late in the game cost them a shot at another national championship. Never mind that USC was playing with an injured quarterback -- it was playing at home as a 41-point favorite. Although the Trojans rallied to win their sixth straight Pac-10 title and a record sixth BCS bowl berth, now they must wonder what it might've been.

2. Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia 9: Needing only a victory at home over a 28-point underdog, the Mountaineers absolutely laid an egg against a ferocious Pitt defense. Like USC, an injured starting quarterback hurt the cause. But the ripple effect was more damaging -- within two weeks, WVU's program would be in complete turmoil after Rich Rodriguez bolted to Michigan.

3. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32: When this took place, it was upset of the century, or all-time, so thought the Guru. Oops, shoulda waited for the season to get finished. Still, this shocker set the tone for the season. While Appalachian State went on to claim its third consecutive I-AA title, the winningest program in all of football went on to make its first coaching hire in 40 years.

4. Oklahoma 27, Colorado 24: Like USC and West Virginia, this shocking loss cost the Sooners a likely berth in the BCS title game. While OU's loss to Texas Tech late in the season served as the coup de grace, its national championship hopes never regained traction after a late collapse against a mediocre Colorado team.

5. Wisconsin-White Water 31, Mount Union 21: Say what, you ask? OK, it might be Division III, but Mount Union is the absolute juggernaut in this league. The Purple Raiders had won 37 consecutive games prior to the D-III championship game, having beaten White Water in each of the previous two title games. But Mount Union, which averaged more than 54 points in the playoffs, lost three fumbles and blew their shot at a three-peat.

6. Louisiana-Monroe 21, Alabama 14: Nick Saban was fortunate that by the time this happened, most fans were so dizzy with upsets that it flew under the radar. But we cannot overlook the fact that Saban, at $4 million a year, is the highest paid coach in college football. And Charlie Weatherbie, the former Navy coach now at Monroe, is among the lowest paid at $130,000. No poetic justice though -- 6-6 'Bama went to a bowl while 6-6 Monroe stayed home.

7. Navy 46, Notre Dame 44 (3 OT): OK, the Mids finished 8-5 and played in a bowl, the Irish were a terrible 3-9, but this was still a monumental upset. Navy snapped a 43-year losing streak to Notre Dame, dating back when Roger Staubach was its quarterback. We know this is all Ty Willingham's fault, but it's really just Charlie Weis scheming to avoid another bowl loss and haul in a top recruiting class.

8. Illinois 28, Ohio State 21: Clearly looking ahead to its rivalry game against Michigan the following week, Ohio State forgot to take care of business at home against a two-touchdown underdog. The way this game ended was the most shocking: clinging to a 7-point lead, Illinois got a first down on fourth-and-1 in its own territory and ran out the final eight minutes of the game.

9. Western Michigan 28, Iowa 19: Needing just a home win against a 3-7 team to assure a bowl berth, the Hawkeyes fell behind 19-0 and never recovered. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and once coveted by both pro and college teams, saw his star dim further as his 6-6 team failed to land a bowl bid.

10. Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3 OT): This upset would've meant more had LSU not miraculously land in the BCS title game just a week later. Ranked No. 1 and playing at home, the Tigers' normally stout defense was gashed by Darren McFadden for 206 yards that nearly earned him the Heisman Trophy. And the loss nearly landed LSU's Les Miles a new job at his alma mater Michigan.

27 December 2007

All Eyes on Iowa

Exactly one week from the first action of the 2008 presidential election, the big picture remains pretty muddled. It's expected yet surprising: Expected because 2008 will mark the first time since 1928 that no incumbent president or vice president is running in the election. Surprising because many pundits had thought this should be just the beginning of a yearlong coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hillary's relentless march back to the White House was in the works ever since the Clintons vacated it on Jan. 20, 2001. It has always been the ultimate goal of one of the most ambitious politicians of our time -- male or female. The whole show about being a New York senator was just biding time to raise money.

But little did she know that the road bump would become the size of a treacherous mountain, in the person of Barack Obama. The junior senator from Illinois is bereft of policy experience but has charm in spades. And in American politics, having the voters like you sometimes can overcome inconveniences like completely lacking in foreign policy expertise.

Without a doubt, Hillary is in a vicious fight with Obama in Iowa, and beyond, despite the candidates' assurances that they'd play nice. Hillary -- and her camp -- has already broken out the girl card, the race card, and lately, the drug card. Obama should be rightly relieved because Clinton's people have worked long and hard to find all the skeletons, and yet, her numbers are not improving.

Let's deal with numbers. The latest polling data shows that Clinton, who once held a commanding double-digit lead, is running neck-and-neck with Obama, with John Edwards a close third. For now, I'm disregarding the latest polling data from American Research Group, which reports that Hillary is 15 points ahead of Obama, up from 4 points just a week ago. That, coupled with a similar wild swing in its poll for Republican candidates, leads me to believe that there is bias in the sampling.

Keep in mind that the winner of the Iowa Caucus hardly becomes the automatic favorite to win the party's nomination. In the last three contested elections (when neither the incumbent President or VP was running), only John Kerry emerged as the party's nominee. Both Tom Harkin (1992) and Dick Gephardt (1988) disappeared pretty quickly after that.

What the Iowa Caucus does, however, is to root out pretenders, as it famously did Howard Dean in 2004, after his infamous Munchian Scream. In 2008, it means this contest is most crucial for Edwards. If he does not come in as at least a strong third, he can expect that his tenuous support would be quickly siphoned by either Clinton or Obama.

So just what's my take on Iowa? My prediction is that Clinton will narrowly edge Obama, with Edwards coming in a relatively strong third, allowing him to limp into New Hampshire to fight another day. An outright loss by Clinton, however, might prove disastrous, as her once iron-clad grip on the Granite State is showing serious signs of erosion.

So much for the coronation, eh?

16 December 2007

Bowling with the Guru

(From BCS Guru)

'Tis the season to celebrate mediocrity. Heck, even if your team went 6-6 and got its coach fired, that's not enough of a reason for them to be home for the holidays. Chances are, there will be a spot in Toronto, Detroit, Boise or even Honolulu for the guys.

But the Guru understands that there's big money involved in the bowls. And I'm not even talking about the $17 million payout to BCS teams. While the Guru would be "shocked! shocked!" that there would be gambling going on in places not inside Nevada, that's no reason to look at the point spread from a recreational perspective.

So here's the Guru's comprehensive picks on the 32 bowl games, listed chronologically:

* Poinsettia @ San Diego (Dec. 20) -- Utah (-8 1/2) vs. Navy. This looks like an even matchup on paper, but it's anything but. The Utes won eight straight before a narrow loss to BYU in the last regular season game. Navy's looking for a coach.

* New Orleans (Dec. 21) -- Memphis (+ 2 1/2) vs. Florida Atlantic. The Guru has no idea why FAU should be the favorite in this game.

* Papa John @ Birmingham, Ala. (Dec. 22) -- Cincinnati (-11) vs. Southern Miss. The Bearcats might be disappointed that they didn't end up in a better bowl. Other than that, they should win in a walk.

* New Mexico @ Albuquerque (Dec. 22) -- New Mexico (-3) vs. Nevada. This is a Lobos home game against a 6-6 WAC team.

* Las Vegas (Dec. 22) -- BYU (-6) vs. UCLA. The Bruins might have beaten the Cougars earlier in the season, but they're now in tatters and without a coach. The Pac-10 is always horrible in second-tier bowl games as well.

* Hawaii @ Honolulu (Dec. 23) -- Boise State (-10 1/2) vs. East Carolina. The Broncos are pretty acclimated with the islands after having been there just a month ago in a loss to Hawai'i.

* Motor City @ Detroit (Dec. 26) -- Central Michigan (+8 1/2) vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers lost their final three games and probably won't be all that geeked about playing in a lower tier bowl game.

* Holiday @ San Diego (Dec. 27) -- Arizona State (+2) vs. Texas. This is a toughie. ASU has been a bit shaky down the stretch, but getting up for this game -- even after a BCS snub -- shouldn't be a problem.

* Champs Sports @ Orlando (Dec. 28) -- Boston College (-3 1/2) vs. Michigan State. The Eagles are clearly the better team -- they just have to overcome the disappointment of ending up here after being ranked No. 2 earlier in the season.

* Texas @ Houston (Dec. 28) -- TCU (-3 1/2) vs. Houston. Despite being the road team, the Horned Frogs should have no trouble against their former SWC mates.

* Emerald @ San Francisco (Dec. 28) -- Oregon State (-5) vs. Maryland. This really is a mismatch. The Beavers have flown under the radar despite losing only once (to USC) after beginning the season 2-3.

* Meineke Car Care @ Charlotte (Dec. 29) -- Wake Forest (-3) vs. Connecticut. The Demon Deacons played very well down the stretch, can't say the same for UConn, who got blown out in two of its final three games.

* Liberty @ Memphis (Dec. 29) -- Central Florida (-3) vs. Mississippi State. Probably the hardest pick of the bowl season, UCF gets the edge against an SEC team because of RB Kevin Smith.

* Alamo @ San Antonio (Dec. 29) -- Texas A&M (+5 1/2) vs. Penn State. The Aggies are in turmoil, but the Nittany Lions just have been so unimpressive that it's hard to take them against an underdog playing near its home turf.

* Independence @ Shreveport (Dec. 30) -- Alabama (-3 1/2) vs. Colorado. Two storied programs. Two lousy football teams. This game screams why there are too many bowl games. Why should we take 'Bama, which has lost four straight? Uh, at least they'll have fans at the game.

* Armed Forces @ Fort Worth (Dec. 31) -- Air Force (+3 1/2) vs. California. The Golden Bears' late-season collapse should be complete with this loss. AFA is counting on fan support from the nearby Abilene AFB.

* Sun @ El Paso (Dec. 31) -- South Florida (-6 1/2) vs. Oregon. Another Pac-10 team will finish the season with a flourish (by losing). At least the Ducks have the excuse of losing the erstwhile Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon.

* Humanitarian @ Boise, Idaho (Dec. 31) -- Fresno State (+4 1/2) vs. Georgia Tech. If there is a lock game this bowl season, this is a top candidate. Fresno State has been consistently good throughout the season. Georgia Tech is playing without a coach.

* Music City @ Nashville, Tenn. (Dec. 31) -- Kentucky (-3) vs. Florida State. There really isn't much to like about either team, but at least the Wildcats were fighting in every game. The same can't be said for FSU.

* Insight @ Tempe, Ariz. (Dec. 31) -- Oklahoma State (-4) vs. Indiana. The Cowboys have been struggling late in the season, but Mike Gundy will turn this around because "I am a man! I'm 40!"

* Chick-Fil-A @ Atlanta (Dec. 31) -- Clemson (-2) vs. Auburn. In a battle of the Tigers, Clemson has been hot down the stretch, winning five of its last six games and narrowly losing to Boston College.

* Outback @ Tampa (Jan. 1) -- Tennessee (-3) vs. Wisconsin. The Vols have enjoyed a renaissance late in the season, even if they won a few squeakers. The Badgers padded their record against woeful competition.

* Cotton @ Dallas (Jan. 1) -- Missouri (-3) vs. Arkansas. Can the Tigers stop Darren McFadden? If they can, then they should be able to win this game going away.

* CapitalOne @ Orlando (Jan. 1) -- Florida (-10) vs. Michigan. Sure, 10 points are a lot to give in a big bowl game like this, but Lloyd Carr's retirement or not, this is a huge mismatch. The Wolverines simply won't be able to keep up with Tim Tebow and the Gators.

* Gator @ Jacksonville, Fla. (Jan. 1) -- Texas Tech (-6) vs. Virginia. The Red Raiders might be up-and-down a bit. But against a bowl opponent who's never seen the likes of them, they're awfully difficult to stop.

* Rose @ Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1) -- Illinois (+13 1/2) vs. USC. This is not your typical Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup. The Trojans might be healthy now, but they'll have their hands full with Rashard Mendenhall and Juice Williams.

* Sugar @ New Orleans (Jan. 1) -- Hawai'i (+8 1/2) vs. Georgia. Colt Brennan gets all the attention, but the Warriors have a fleet of receivers who are itching to showcase their skills. The Bulldogs will have their hands full.

* Fiesta @ Glendale, Ariz. (Jan. 2) -- Oklahoma (-6 1/2) vs. West Virginia. The Sooners are mad and have lot to prove. The Mountaineers are sad and probably will get run over.

* Orange @ Miami (Jan. 3) -- Virginia Tech (-3 1/2) vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks' dream season will end with two resounding losses. The Hokies are good enough to play for the national championship, KU isn't.

* International @ Toronto (Jan. 5) -- Ball State (+10) vs. Rutgers. The Cardinals are battle-tested with a tough non-conference schedule. That will pay off against the floundering Scarlet Knights.

* GMAC @ Mobile, Ala. (Jan. 6) -- Tulsa (-4 1/2) vs. Bowling Green. Why the Golden Hurricanes? Why not? And if you're stupid enough to put your rent money on this game, well, that's your business.

* BCS Championship @ New Orleans (Jan. 7) -- Ohio State (+4) vs. LSU. After last year's beatdown by Florida, you'd think the Buckeyes are ripe for a repeat against a similar LSU team. The Guru thinks Jim Tressel has learned his lesson and he'll do a fine job of keeping this game close, even against superior talent. If Ohio State can stay in this game into the fourth quarter, it might even steal a win, a la 2002 against Miami.

02 December 2007

What's Wrong with BCS?

(From BCS Guru)

As expected, Ohio State and LSU will be paired in the BCS national title game. But this result was, at best, accepted conventional wisdom; or at worst, a travesty. There are lots of upset people from Athens, Norman, Blacksburg to Los Angeles, not to mention Columbia and Tempe, where two teams were perceived to be robbed of deserved BCS berths.

So what's wrong with the BCS?

In short, everything.

The much revamped standings have reduced the system to a series of beauty pageants late in the season, with the voters changing their minds from week to week. The rules and regulations allow, at the same time, too much ambiguity and constraints, to make everybody unhappy.

So what should we do about it?

I'm glad you asked. The answer is: A lot. And I am not going to get involved in "playoff" talk because that's just a waste of time. What needs to be done -- and can be done -- is bring fixes to a badly flawed system and make it less flawed. If you can't make this pig beautiful by dressing it up, at least you should try to make it into bacon.

Just to whet your appetite: Craig Morton, one of the Harris panelists, voted LSU 11th. Eleventh! And Irwin Smallwood voted Georgia 10th -- and he's not alone!

These nuggets are just but a few items on the Guru's plate throughout this holiday season. The BCS standings might be final, but the Guru's work is hardly done. Please check back here for analysis throughout the bowl season -- and together, maybe we can do something about this unsightly beast.

01 December 2007

Ohio State vs. LSU

(From BCS Guru)


The season of upsets brought us one fine ending ... and a fine mess. The BCS Guru now projects that Ohio State and LSU, two teams that occupied the top spot of the BCS standings for much of the season, will meet in New Orleans in the BCS national championship game.

Ohio State will be a comfortable No. 1 against LSU, which will edge Virginia Tech (No. 3) and Georgia (No. 4) and Oklahoma (No. 5) for the spot. The Tigers' early-season rout of the Hokies, and the victory over a Tennessee team that blew out Georgia should put them over the top.

The Guru's preliminary analysis, pending the outcome of the Hawai'i-Washington game, is that LSU will win out primarily in the polls. LSU, Georgia and Virginia Tech will be very close in the computer rankings. But the Tigers will make the quantum leap from No. 7 to No. 2 because of its body of work; and the early-season win over Virginia Tech and SEC championship game victory over Tennessee will pay big dividends.

Les Miles, who's definitely not going to Michigan now, also planted the seeds earlier in the week when he lobbied for LSU's merit, stating that both of the Tigers' losses were in triple-overtime. Those words will now resonate in the heads of the coaches and Harris voters.

Mark Richt went on ESPN to state his case, but his argument rings hollow -- as was with Michigan's Lloyd Carr last year. The voters, having wrested control of the BCS standings from the computers, don't want to hear that it's not a BCS stipulation to put a conference champion in the BCS title game. Remember, when Nebraska (2001) and Oklahoma (2003) went in spite of not winning its division and conference, respectively, it was the computers' handiwork in both cases.

As for Oklahoma and USC, it's a case of too-little-too-late, as well as killer losses to unworthy opponents (OU to Colorado and USC to Stanford). Both teams are too far down in the polls -- and also the computers -- to make up ground. Kansas, despite being the only other one-loss team besides Ohio State, also has no chance after failing to reach the Big XII title game.

Should LSU make the BCS championship game as projected, most likely there will NOT be a split championship. LSU was No. 5 in the last AP poll, very close to No. 4 Georgia. The Tigers are expected to make the jump to No. 2, ahead of Georgia and Virginia Tech, in the final regular-season AP poll.

The BCS bowl situation is very fluid as well. Down 21-0 early, Hawai'i has roared back to defeat Washington, 35-28, finishing with the only perfect 12-0 record in Division I-A and earning the WAC's second consecutive BCS bowl trip.

The Guru's final bowl projections:

BCS championship game: No. 1 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 2 LSU (11-2)
Rose Bowl: No. 8 USC (10-2) vs. 13. Illinois (9-3)
Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Georgia (10-2) vs. No. 10 Hawai'i (12-0)
Fiesta Bowl: No. 5 Oklahoma (11-2) vs. No. 9 West Virginia (10-2)
Orange Bowl: No. 3 Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. No. 7 Kansas (11-1)

Other teams in the projected Top 15: 6. Missouri (11-2), 11. Arizona State (10-2), 12. Florida (9-3), 14. Boston College (10-3), 15. Clemson (9-3).