Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 4: Wow, We're Ever So Close

OK, so Dan Monson quit even sooner that I expected. Obviously, he reads Hawkeye State.

But, before we get to the next two teams in the Big Ten preview, a couple of things.

First, after last night, I believe Irish Hawk is right. Iowa should be behind Boiler, so make the requisite adjustments.

Second, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was a sham. The Worldwide Leader (who puts on this ridiculous annual exercise) gave the ACC one extra home game. There are only eleven Big Ten schools, so someone has to get an extra. But look at the schedule. Every game that looked competitive on paper before the season (except for ILLINI-Turtles) was played on an ACC court: tOSU-UNC at Chapel Hill. BC-MSU in Boston. Michigan-NC State in Raleigh. Virginia Tech-Iowa at...wherever it is that VT plays. In the meantime, the games where there was no chance of an ACC win were on Big Ten home courts. It's amazing the Big Ten did as well as it did.

Of course, it gave Dick Vitale another reason to complain. He actually started complaining about last year's tournament field (specifically, the Maryland omission) during the UNC-tOSU game. It's a mid-major world now, and Vitale still can't deal with it. And ESPN is his enabler.

That being said, the Ohio State-North Carolina game was one of the most impressive displays of college basketball I've seen in a long time. If Greg Oden is as good as advertised (hell, if he's 65% of what's advertised), they're practically unstoppable.

OK, back to the countdown:

6th Place, Big Ten Conference (a.k.a. The Best of the Rest): BIG BLUE

The Good News: They have a whole helluva lot of talent. They return a lot of scoring (Lester Abram, Dion Harris), some size (the overrated Courtney Sims), and enough youngsters to fill out a pretty decent starting five.

The Bad News: It's not enough to make up for the fact that Tommy Amaker is coaching. Seriously, is there a college with more incompetence in important positions that Mich? Amaker, Carr, Mary Sue Coleman (that's just bitterness, but still).

Best Name on the Roster: Ekpe Udoh, whose name is made better by the fact that he's from Edmond, Oklahoma (pop. 68,315). He grew up quick, and he grew up mean, and his fists got hard and his wits got keen, I'll tell ya life ain't easy for a boy named Ekpe Udoh.

Ekpe's dad? HUGE Johnny Cash fan.

All-Time Great: Normally, this would be tough. Glen Rice. Rudy Tomjanovich. The Fab Five. But when I was a kid, my dad used to hip check us out of the paint and block every shot, and every time he did it, he claimed to be UM center Loy Vaught. So you know what? Loy Vaught is the greatest Big Blue cager ever.

Program High Point: National Champion, 1989.

Program Low Point: I believe there was something involving a time out...I think I saw something about that on the television...

Oh. Yeah. That.

Projection: 11-3 non-conference, 7-9 conference, 18-12 overall.

Again, I'm sorry, but I'm tired. This weekend, the final 5.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 3: More Mediocrity Comin' At Cha

Before we get started, who the hell is scheduling the Big Ten/ACC challenge? Penn State plays Georgia Tech? Wisconsin gets Florida State? I thought we were supposed to get competitive games.

Tonight, it's the middle of the pack. Without further ado...

7th Place, Big Ten (this seems about right): IOWA HAWKEYES

See the title of this website? That's Hawkeye State. And even I can't put them any higher in good conscience.

The Good News: There's not much. Iowa graduated 4 of their 6 best players from a pretty damn good squad, a team that won the Big Ten tournament and was summarily booted from the Big Dance in typical Iowa fashion (by imploding down the stretch against an inferior team minutes before their fans had to take an international law final). Gone are Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, Erik Hansen (the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, believe it or not), and Doug Thomas (Big Ten 6th Man of the Year). Also gone is Doug's girlfriend, who would turn a skin-tight tank top into a homemade #23 jersey and sit in better seats than me. The Hawks do return Adam Haluska, the greatest Iowa State transfer of all time and the first genuinely nice guy to come through this program in quite a while. He's vowed he won't defer to anyone this season, and that's a good thing. He's streaky as hell, but unstoppable when on. Also returning is Mike Henderson, a 6'2" senior shooting guard. Tony Freeman will make the leap to starting point guard (more on this later). Finally, freshman Tyler Smith is being heralded as the best Iowa basketball recruit in a generation. He's expected to contribute immediately, and has looked good so far (but, remember, Jared Reiner was one of the 4 best high school centers in the country, and we all remember that train wreck). The bench is relatively solid, stocked with Juco transfers and unexperienced underclassmen. And Carver Hawkeye has become a truly nasty place for road teams. Really, this team shouldn't be too bad in a couple of years...

The Bad News: Unfortunately, they'll likely suck now. They have absolutely nobody in the low post. Gorney makes E-Han look athletic. Looby looks over his head. Cyrus Tate has been a beast on the boards so far, but looks to be little more than a poor man's Doug Thomas. There's little to threaten a defense with in that trio. That means all scoring falls on the backcourt (specifically Haluska and Smith, who must combine for 35 points if the Hawks want to break 65). And placing that much of a burden on Adam Haluska and his streaky jump shot might be a bit too much (he already disappeared once this season, scoring 4 points against Alabama). Plus, something is seriously wrong with Tony Freeman, who has made HORRIBLE decisions at the point thusfar (most significantly, a string of poor shots and turnovers that cost a 10-point lead down the stretch Saturday night against Arizona State). Without a consistent ballhandler, a talented big man, or a proven scorer, this could be a struggle.

Nobody in this picture has a job.

News I Can't Categorize: Stevie A appears to be here for the foreseeable future. If there was ever a time when the Hoosiers would come calling, it was last year. That wasn't the case. Throw in not one, but two, contract extensions over the summer, and Steve's pretty well locked in. I've been a true Steve basher in the past, but he seemed a little more at ease last year. That seemed to help. This is going to be a very interesting year. Monitor how he reacts throughout the year, whether he's throwing fits on the sidelines or whining to Bobby Hansen in the postgame interviews. That will say a lot about whether he's truly turned over a new leaf.

Best Name on the Roster: Kurt Looby is just asking to get heckled by the Michigan State students.

All-Time Great: This is really difficult. On the one hand, you have Sean Sonderleiter...

Seriously, it's not easy to pick an all-time great Hawkeye. Downtown Freddie Brown scored more than 14,000 NBA points. Don Nelson scored over 10,000 points in the NBA and gave us the insanely entertaining no-defense early millenium Dallas Mavericks. John Johnson averaged almost 13 a game over 12 years. B.J. Armstrong won three rings with Jordan's Bulls. Reggie Evans grabbed Chris Kaman's balls:

But the winner is Connie Hawkins. The guy's in the Hall of Fame, after all.

Program High Point: Lute Olson takes Iowa to the 1980 Final Four

Program Low Point: Seriously, did you watch that Reggie Evans video? How much lower can you get?

Projection: I honestly think Iowa won't lose another non-conference game (Iowa State and UNI come to Carver, they drew a very beatable Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and the next best team on the schedule is probably the Ivy Leaguers from Cornell). That would put them at 11-3 non-conference, and a 7-9 Big Ten record looks about right. 18-12 it is...

I got home late from work and need some rest, and this is one long preview, so there's only one team tonight.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 2: Alert the NIT Selection Committee

Without further ado, the second in our five-to-six-part series on the upcoming Big 10 basketball season...

9th Place, Big Ten (the place usually reserved for the Northwestern Wildcats): NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

I hate these bastards.

The Good News: Remember those 90's-era Princeton squads, full of guys who were paying to go to school and playing in their spare time? Those teams that would work the ball and the shot clock, waiting for you to either overcommit to a passing lane or fall asleep, then murder you with a backdoor cut? Those teams that were perennial giant killers in March? Well, Northwestern is Princeton West. Bill Carmody has built a little Ivy League program, right there in Evanston. Recruiting is up, especially in Chicago and the rest of Illinois. And a whole new group of 6'9", 3-point-bomb-throwing Croats is ready to replace Vedran Vukucic. And Iowa's still a member of the Big Ten Conference, so that's a guaranteed win.

The Bad News: As mentioned above, Vedran Vukucic (which translates into "The people of Iowa shall loathe my existence") is gone. His replacements? Well, let's just see what Carmody said about his best returning players at media day:

  • Point guard Tim Doyle: "He looks like Fred Flintstone with that body. He's like a rectangle." (Note: This is almost the exact dialogue George Michael Bluth used to describe his girlfriend's low center of gravity)
  • Center Ivan Tolic: "He's had like 4 knee operations over the years."
  • Center Vince Scott: "He's kind of limited around the basket." Remember, HE'S A CENTER.
Not good news, Cat fans. There's a problem with always being David: You never get to be Goliath. That's the case here, just as it was at Princeton. Throw in the lack of a post presence (The Cats have height, but the height is skinny and wants to shoot from the outside), and Northwestern still isn't over the top.

Best name on the roster: On a team full of Croats, could the best name be an Irishman? Hell yes it can. Sophmore forward Patrick Houlihan sounds like my kind of Irishman; namely, one who enjoys a drink now and then. If only the bars in Evanston stayed open past 8:00...
All-Time great player: If he had played for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, I would give it to Billy McKinney. But he played with the KC Kings after they had left Omaha, so screw him. We'll go with NBA-ABA journeyman Don Adams.

I think this is the wrong Don Adams

Program High Point: June 25, 1991, also known as Croatian Independence Day.

Program Low Point: Well, when your best player ever is confused for the Get Smart guy, I think every day might be your low point.

Game of the Year: Northwestern hosts Northwestern State on New Years' Eve. All those things that we thought would happen on Y2K? They'll happen if this game goes off as planned. It's like the corner of First and First. How can a school play against itself? It's the nexus of the universe! On the bright side, they can get together afterwards and reminisce about how each ripped the still-beating heart out of every Iowa fan last season.

Projection: A Nebraska-esque non-conference slate will send them to Big Ten play at 8-4. They go 6-10 in the conference and finish at 14-14.

8th Place, Big Ten: BOILER UP!

This is a stretch, but I really think they could finish here (or even a spot or two higher).

The Good News: This is a pretty big leap for a pretty horrible squad. The reason why? Well, it's in large part due to their schedule. Boiler has only one game with Wisconsin, the Fighting Izzos, ILLINI, and Iowa. While you certainly want two against Iowa, you don't mind avoiding the rest. That means Boiler could start 3-1 in the conference before a trip to Badgerland. Then remember that Boiler couldn't beat Wisconsin if the game was played in Gene Keady's basement, so you kill a road game against a team you couldn't beat at home. Finally, they get the bottom feeders at home in March. That, my friends, is a recipe for 7 wins. Throw on a dollop of experience, a dash of coaching (Painter got quite a bit out of absolutely nothing last season, and is only bound to get better), and this team should be OK.

The Bad News: Boiler had trouble on the road last season. It's the only reason I don't have them in tomorrow's preview. Painter's still learning the ropes. And the big men aren't there. But all of those things could be fixed by mid-January. We couldn't say the same thing about Gene's combover. Yes, things are looking up for Boiler.

Play basketball. It'll comb you over!

Best Name on the Roster: Freshman guard Keaton Grant, whose parents obviously made a mistake with the "First Name" and "Last Name" blanks on the birth certificate.

All-Time Great: From the Get Smart guy to a pair of #1 picks. Joe Barry Carroll is intriguing, as is Brian Cardinal (solely for the hair, or lack thereof). But I've gotta go with the Big Dog, Glenn Robinson.

Program High Point: Between Keady and Cardinal, it's gotta be the day the FDA permitted over-the-couter sales of Rogaine.

Program Low Point: As strange as it might seem, it was probably last season.

Projection: Well, Purdue already knocked off Oklahoma. They could very well go 11-3 in the non-conference. I think they're going to finish at about 7-9 in the Big Ten. Purdue goes 18-12 and grabs a spot in the NIT.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 1: The Eleventh Best Team in the Big Ten

Sorry, everyone, for not writing last week. My part-vacation, part-work induced leave of absence was not foreseeable, and therefore not posted. My thoughts on the Alamo Bowl selection and the rest of the post-season will come later (as in, when we find out who the opponent will be). For now, let's talk some hoops.

It's a little late to be writing a season preview. After all, the Hawks have already dropped three games. But I'm going to preview nonetheless. So, over the next few weeks, we'll look at the only three conferences I follow: The Big Ten, Big XII, and Mo Valley. Now, while other people will concern themselves with such things as coaching, experience, and talent, I'll cover the "important" things. We'll go two teams at a time, worst to first. So, tonight, let's start in the Big 10.


The Good News: Uh...

The Bad News: So, after swearing off coaching analysis in my introduction, I'll start with...coaching. As in, a complete lack of coaching. The rumors of Dan Monson's imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated over the past couple of seasons (to the point that the Star-Tribune made a "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline gaffe last March). He benefits from being the fifth-biggest game in town (Vikings, T-Wolves, Gopher football, and Gopher hockey are bigger, as are ice fishing and licking flagpoles). But this might be the season where he finally goes down. The Precious Metallic Rodents return zero seniors, and only four players with conference game experience. Vince Grier is gone, along with pretty much everyone else you ever saw in a Gopher uniform over the past season. And that team wasn't very good, either. They're replaced by a ragtag group of JUCO transfers and typically unathletic Minnesota big men. And the unathletic big men are their best asset this season. Yikes. Throw in Monson's traditional inability to win games (as in, one NCAA appearance in six years) and all indications are that this team will blow, a feeling that has been confirmed by early-season losses to Iowa State, Southern Illinois, Montana, and Marist. Ouch. This one's gonna hurt.

Best name on the roster: Sophmore forward Engen Nurumbi, who is listed without a hometown on He's obviously from "parts unknown" like Cactus Jack and The Undertaker.

Engen Nurumbi's hometown city council meeting

All-time great player: Kevin McHale. What, are you kidding?

Program High Point: Putting up the 1997 Final Four banner.

Program Low Point: Taking down the 1997 Final Four banner because nobody could find time to write a book report.

Projection: You can't spell "Minnesota University Golden Gopher Basketball" without "STRUGGLING." 9-20, and Monson gone by February 1.

10th Place, Big Ten (which should be last, given the conference's name, but you know how it goes): PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY NITTANY LIONS

JoePa, titanium knee and all, could probably outjump anyone on this team. That being said, they're young, they had a relatively good year last season (6 conference wins, NIT appearance), and their best player returns.

The Good News: Geary Claxton will make or break this team. He averaged 15 last season; getting into the 19-22 PPG range could take this team over the top. Combine that with some experienced guard play (2 senior starting guards, neither of which score a whole lot) and PSU might not be too bad.

The Bad News: There's no size on this roster. They have a couple of stiffs over 6'9" but no low post threat. Actually, outside Claxton and Jamelle Cornley, who averaged over 11 PPG last season, there's not a whole lot of scoring here. Big problem when the team that scores the most points wins the game. Oh, and Claxton broke his hand and will be out until at least the second week of December.

Best Name on the Roster: There are three foreign players on PSU, but 6'4" sophmore guard Nikola Obradovic is the winner. I'm not saying the guy is related to Ivan Drago, but I wouldn't be suprised if such information came to light.

All-time great player: The immortal Frank Brickowski. And, once again, it's not even close (no other Nittany Lion has ever scored more than 6000 points in the NBA, and no other player had such fantastic basketball cards).

Program High Point: A 2001 win over North Carolina that sent PSU to the Sweet Sixteen (and they didn't even have to give back the banner!)

Program Low Point: The rest of its existence. Seriously, did you know that there are seven Pennsylvania schools that have had more players drafted than Penn State? Duquense (DUQUENSE!) has had twice as many players drafted than PSU.

Projection: Well, the Claxton-less Lions already lost to Stony Brook. And then they beat St. Joe's. So who the hell knows what's going to happen? I'll say they finish about 5-11 in the conference (they have a brutal two week stretch in February where they will face tOSU and Wisky twice each). They'll drop at least two more in non-conference play. That means something like 15-14 should be about right.

Tomorrow, part two...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Armageddon Is Here...

So, the real game is here (and that shows just how bad this season has become). In preparation for Apocalypse Now, I give you the epic Def Leppard video "Armageddon It." Enjoy.

Minnesota Smells Like Bacon

4 turnovers.
No defense.
Tate's on the bench.
Floyd is slipping away...

UPDATE: 34-24 Minny. The Pig is gone, along with the season.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cue The Loverboy

Everybody's Working for the Weekend, Indeed...

So, this is my first weekend with nothing to do in a long, long time. I'll be watching football and hoops the entire time, and the posts should be significantly more frequent than usual.

Speaking of which, it would be criminal for me to let Armageddon come tomorrow without a post. Big Blue at tOSU. A game so big it killed Bo Schembechler.* I can't add too much to what's already been said, except this Miss Cleo-esque preview:

Each team will come out with a combination of nerves and adrenaline that will inevitably lead to mistakes by everyone (even though both teams have been relatively mistake-free all season, this is the biggest game in the history of mankind). I don't think anyone does anything of consequence in the first half, and tOSU goes to the locker room up 10-7.

The second half is total dominance by tOSU, as a combination of home field, superior personnel (especially on offense), superior coaching (as we all know, Tressel owns Lloyd Carr), and the distraction of Bo's passing (far more a distraction than a motivator this late) finishes Big Blue. Final score is tOSU 27, A Slightly Smaller Blue 10.

Preparing to make Lloyd Carr his personal hand puppet

It's Friday night, and I'm going for a drink. But I've made it my early resolution to watch as much college basketball as possible this year. Hopefully I'll be able to get a few posts in over the weekend, including a preview of the Big Ten and Average-Sized Twelve basketball season. Any held would be appreaciated (that means you, Irish Hawk).

Until then, Go Hawks. Beat the Rodents.

Just a reminder, Minny: No matter how bad we may be,
we still took your goalposts.

* - Of course, the last time Michigan played in a 1 vs. 2 game was 1985. Iowa-Michigan. Fry-Schembechler. Chuck Long. Jim Harbaugh. Rob Houghtlin's 4 field goals. The student section (in its prior location) made it completely impossible for Big Blue to run a play in the north third of the field. This sent Bo into an obscenity-laced frenzy. Not bad times. Good times. I loathe Michigan and everything it stands for, but I loved Bo just for that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gopher Broke

So this week, Iowa plays Minnesota. I really think know what? I don't have the heart anymore. This team has quit. In fact, here's the moments where the 2006 Iowa Hawkeyes quit on each other, in chronological order:
  • September 30, Iowa-tOSU, Third Quarter, 9:35 - The Media quits on the Iowa Hawkeyes. A 30-yard pass from Troy Smith to Anthony Gonzalez effectively finishes the Hawks, and Kirk Herbstreit starts taking well-deserved shots at Iowa. This was the beginning of the end.
  • October 14, Iowa-Indiana, Fourth Quarter, 9:51 - The offense in general, and Drew Tate in particular, quits on the defense. After putting together a 14 play, 77 yard touchdown drive to retake the lead, Iowa's pathetic secondary gave a touchdown right back. It was also at this point that Adam Shada was added to the list of people who don't deserve a free education.
  • October 14, Iowa-Indiana, Fourth Quarter, 2:53 - A Drew Tate pass to Andy "Hooves for hands" Brodell is tipped and intercepted, thereby killing Iowa's season. Also, Drew Tate quits on his receivers. This relationship was never mended.
"Because you had a bad day..."
  • October 21, Iowa-Big Blue, Fourth Quarter, 11:40 - Remember how Tate walked onto the field in the third quarter of the Iowa-ISU game, slapped people around, and put the team on his back? Well, he tried something like this at about 13:00 of the fourth. Then, he was sacked twice and threw an incompletion on third. Net loss of 9 yards on the series. Iowa didn't cross its own 11 until Michigan had put the game away. Oh, and the rest of the team had officially quit on Drew Tate.
  • November 4, Iowa-Brainiacs, Fourth Quarter, 4:56 - Northwestern puts up its third touchdown, ending this one. Boo birds. The fans quit.
  • November 4, Iowa-Nerds, Post-game - Kirk Ferentz apparently skips any post-game talk with his team to talk to Gary Dolphin. There's no better sign that the coach has decided to preemptively end the season and save his own ass.
Now, remember, there's still no "D" in "Minnesota", and there's an Alamo Bowl trip on the line, so maybe we can get a win this week. But it's little consolation for a season so disappointing. I talked to one of my friends after last week's loss, and we agreed on this point: Iowa was THIS close. For years, we've been reaching for the top, for recognition as a top program. Three years with 10 wins and Top-10 finishes left us ever so close. The string of New Year's bowl games had us on the cusp. But the Iowa-OSU game, with Gameday on campus and a primetime audience, really made us feel we had gotten over the top. So when the team imploded after the game, it was especially hard to take.

So, here's to a season lost. Remember, at least there's basketball...

...oh, wait, maybe not so much.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Notice Board

During the course of any given week, a number of things piss me off. Most of these things are not worthy of their own post. However, they can easily be placed in a list and talked about in short, bulleted columns. And so, to completely rip off Stephen Colbert, these people/things are on notice:

Dan McCarney - Really just here to reiterate the brilliance of my previous post. But let's consider this one question: Where does he go from here? Steve Spurrier is a college football God, leaves for the Redskins, fails with the Redskins, and returns to a mid-level SEC program. Butch Davis leaves The U for the Cleveland Browns, returns with North Carolina. Frank Solich underachieves ever so slightly but gets NU to a national championship game, gets canned, and ends up at Ohio. So where do you go if you have a lifetime winning percentage around .320, never win your half of a conference, constantly implode in November, and never get to the big time? Is the job at Ames High available?

Chicago Bears Over/Under - Plays of the week:
  • San Francisco +6
  • N'Orleans + 4 1/2
  • Minnesota/Green Bay under 39
  • Buffalo/Indy over 45
  • Baltimore/Tennessee under 37 1/2
  • Chicago/NYG over 38 1/2
Of course, that means fade each of these picks.

Bill Simmons - It has been building for a while, but the Boston Homer has finally jumped the shark with one pathetic act.

Moving away from Boston has really hurt Billy Boy. He's gradually become one of the Boston writers he used to mock, only with more John Hughes/Aaron Spelling/Pearl Jam/Rounders references. His NFL preview picked the Patriots to win it all (a yearly tradition that has become almost "Berman picks the Bills"-esque). He based this choice (I'm not kidding) on Belichick's mastery of the two tight end formation. Apparently, he'll be facing off against Barry Switzer and the wishbone. His NBA preview dismissed the Phoenix Suns without any real explanation, another annual tradition echoed in his most recent column. The myopic Red Sox crap halted ever so slightly this year in the face of a pretty bad Sox squad, but it was insanely annoying nonetheless (especially to us Yankee fans). The Simmons Homerism has always been there, but it's become painfully obvious ever since the Sox won the Series (did I mention that he's written a book about the Red Sox? It's now in paperback!) and has only worsened since then.

Which brings us to last week. Pats-Colts. The intensity of Simmons' blind love for the Patriots is surpassed only by his hatred for Peyton Manning and the Colts. And so Simmons put pen to paper and gave us a steaming pile of crap, a column he's written in 19 different forms over the last 3 or 4 years, basically declaring his hatred of Manning, his love of Brady, and a long list of "can't win the big one" complaints. He even broke out the "Tom Brady isn't on TV all the time like Manning, and that's unfair" line of argument, forgetting that Brady shills for EVERYTHING from shoes to credit cards. The column's basic premise was a line every Simmons reader has read 47 times: Why would anyone take Manning and his chokeiness over Brady and all his wonder?

And then the Colts bitch slapped the Patriots.

The next morning, the column was gone. Sure, it was still buried in the archives, but it wasn't on his front page. Remember, Simmons writes 2-3 columns a week and generally keeps them there for a couple of weeks. Not this time.

I don't blame him for writing the column, even if it was callous, mean-spirited, and lacking in humor. But when you rip someone, stand by your words. This should be especially true of a writer who has taken other columnists to task for overstatement and contradiction. I took jabs at Syracuse, Illinois, and Indiana this season. I would never take down those columns, though. I stand by what I write. Billy, by pulling his anti-Manning column, has become just as bad as every one of his colleagues at the Worldwide Leader. He should be ashamed of himself.

Off Tackle Left and Cover 2 Man - Ken O'Keefe and Norm Parker still have jobs. Inexcusable.

The Big East Conference - I called the Louisville game last week, and I was too late to call the Louisville/Rutgers game tonight (I would have taken Louisville and give the points), but my "Not Ready for Prime Time" assessment was confirmed this week. Big Least fans spent the week asking why they aren't respected. When someone would bring up their schedules, they would inevitably say something about how the big boys won't play them. Of course, that's an argument generally reserved for the Missouri Valley Conference in March, not A BCS CONFERENCE. You are supposed to be one of the Big Boys. You shouldn't need games against other big schools. You should have enough of them in your own conference to bring your strength of schedule up. The fact remains that you can't go around acting like a small conference and expect to be treated differently from other small conferences. By the way, for the record, I want to see Ohio State-Florida.

Badgers - As in Wiskey. Iowa appears to be in the tank. Wiskey has a lot to play for. But the fact is that I like Wisconsin more than any other Big 10 school, only because they are so much like us. Big, but not OSU/Michigan big. Heavy drinkers. Big-time partiers. Tailgate marathoners. And so, with this season quickly becoming a losing proposition, I'm having a hard time finding the heart to take on Bucky Badger...OK, fine...
  • Ron Dayne set the NCAA rushing record on Senior Day against Iowa. Those were the best of times for Mr. Dayne. Last week, he accidentally ate his helmet on the Houston sidelines, buried on the depth chart behind such superstars as Samkon Gado, Wali Lundy, and a one-legged pirate named Shabby McNaughtypants. In fact, he has fewer rushing yards this season than Ladell Betts. Who is Ladell Betts? The Iowa starting running back on that fateful Senior Day.
  • They have a basketball player who looks like Chris Rock. Actually, that's kinda cool.
  • Their women are NOT attractive. And I'm not talking in generalities. Has anyone ever seen an attractive female student from Wisconsin? They don't exist. It's like Ahab and the white whale (heh, white whale...)
Bucky = Douchebag

So, what happens this week? I think the Hawkeyes, embarrassed as never before, motivated, on Senior Day, with their entire season on the line, come out hot for the first time all season. Perhaps Norm will watch a game film, move 8 players up front and make the Wisky passing attack beat us. Despite the awfulness of our corners, I don't think they can do that. Kyle Schlicter finds his form for the first time this season to knock down a last second field goal. Iowa 24-Wisconsin 21. Go Hawks. I leave you with this little bit of motivation:

If this team doesn't come out looking like the New Zealand national rugby team, well, I don't know what to tell you. (By the way, this is just about the most badass thing on the planet).

Barbara Streisand - If I steal from Colbert, I have to pay a little respect...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Incompetence Runs Rampant

The people finally had enough.

After years of incompetence bringing nothing but death and destruction, our national nightmare is over.

He came to his office with the perfect pedigree. He had the requisite experience and the right temperment for a very difficult job.

Early on, things were looking up. He got a big win in 2001 and his supporters, and even some of his opponents, were firmly behind him. But that goodwill soon dissapated as mistakes racked up. The words started as back-alley whispers and slowly grew into a shout: Over his head. The wrong man for the job. Incompetent.

And so, today, he walked into his boss' office, his reputation in tatters. And his boss issued the ultimatum to end all ultimatums: "Resign or you'll be fired." And he was a good soldier. He walked out to the cameras and the reporters. He praised his boss. He praised the job. And, as nobly as possible, he resigned his post and rode off into the sunset, that shredded reputation in a briefcase with his stapler, probably never to be seen again.

What, you thought I was talking about Rumsfeld?

So long, Danny Boy. You'll be missed.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Aftermath

So, I wanted to come home and respond to the Iowa-Northwestern debacle Sunday, but I was still irate. I waited another day and remained angry. And now I can't avoid it anymore. I have to write about this, and I have to start with this:

Norm Parker has to go.

So does Ken O'Keefe.

Do you remember that scene in Remember the Titans (a horrendous movie that I can't endorse) where Denzel explains his playbook? The one with four plays? Well, we're running a Denzel, Tecmo Bowl playbook at Iowa. When faced with what can only be described as the most embarrasing moment in the last 4+ years, there was no creativity. There was no obvious sense of urgency. There was nothing in reserve. Instead, we got the same plays on both sides of the ball. When we went to the half down by two touchdowns and needed a spark, we came back with off tackle left and bubble screens. When we needed a stop on a crucial third down, we were running base 4-3 Cover 2 Man. By my count, we threw two passes over 20 yards, one of which led to the only Iowa score of the day. We blitzed once, and got our only sack of the day out of it. Norm and Kenny Boy knew we weren't going to do anything new, because they didn't have anything new. I knew it. Everyone in the stadium knew it. And, because they're far from stupid, Northwestern knew it too. And it was exploited with the same effectiveness of Ohio State and Indiana before them.

Captain Kirk has always limited the playbook early in the season, saving the wrinkles for Big 10 play. In past seasons, when we refused to break out the big play against Iowa State or other non-conference opponents, we weren't happy but we understood why. This season, when we lethargically slogged through the games with Montana, Syracuse, and Lames, we thought it was to keep those secrets in reserve for Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Only now has it become obvious that there weren't any nuances or tricks to protect. Parker and O'Keefe call the game like a kid playing football on Playstation who found a couple of plays that work, then runs them over and over. They were out to lunch.

At least we got to see Drew Tate's halloween costume...but
why was he hanging with the Northwestern offensive line?
Hey! Wait a minute!

This season is looking positively disasterous (it could be salvaged - somewhat - by a pair of wins against Wisky and Minny). The coordinators aren't solely responsible for that. Ferentz has made mistakes (how the hell do you not challenge that fumble in the first quarter?) The defense has looked a step slow all year, especially in the secondary. Drew Tate has been lackluster at best, as defensive coordinators realized that he's less accurate and less effective when contained in the pocket and throwing over his offensive line (true of just about every scrambling quarterback ever, especially undersized scrambling quarterbacks). But ask yourself these three questions:

Did Ken O'Keefe, at any point, change the plays he was calling to address this obvious problem (for instance, running the occasional play action rollout pass)? [ANSWER: No, of course not.]

Do you think for a second that Norm Parker, if facing the Iowa offense and its glaring weaknesses, would do anything to attack those weaknesses (such as blitzing from the outside to keep a scrambling quarterback in the pocket, or placing a spy on the QB, or overloading the strong side of the line to stop the run off-tackle? ) [ANSWER: What, and run something other than Cover 2 Man?]

Can a 12 year old with a firm grasp of College Football 2007 call a better game than either of the current Iowa coordinators? [ANSWER: Well, maybe a 15 year old...]

Of course, the situation isn't helped by the lapdogs who cover Iowa football. Ferentz was on the radio with Gary Dolphin and Ed Potilak (amazingly, within 10 minutes of the final gun). Of course, Wax Your Dolphin and Potilak threw a half-dozen softballs at Ferentz (Potilak even attempted to favorably compare this to 2000, when Iowa went 3-8), and they sent him on his merry way. The coach's later press conference was more of the same. Oprah asks more difficult questions. Will someone ask why we don't stretch the field? Will someone ask why we won't blitz, at least occasionally? Will someone ask why we look lethargic and ill-prepared every week?

"So, Coach, Northwestern's a football team, huh?"

It's time to start asking questions. And I'll offer the first one: Why do O'Keefe and Parker (and Dolphin and Potilak, for that matter) still have jobs?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Big Least On Display

This is a BCS conference? Really?

Two years ago, the Big East lost Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC. Last year, Boston College joined the ranks of the departed. Of course, these were the top three football programs in the conference. The Big East is, was, and always will be a basketball-first conference, and their response to the departure of those three schools reiterated that fact. It's now a 16-team conference with only 8 football-playing members. Yet, due mostly to the fact that its commissioner was the chairman of the BCS committee at the time of the exodus, the Big East retained its automatic BCS berth.

They don't deserve it. Two years ago, three teams tied for the title. Pittsburgh received the BCS bid and was thrashed by Utah (a traditional football least when compared to Utah State). Last year, West Virginia ran the table and won their bowl against Georgia as a significant underdog. Even so, the fact remains that a Miami-less, Tech-less, BC-less Big East has no better claim to an automatic bid than the Mountain West, WAC, or MAC. Let's look at the numbers:
  • In 2005, the Big East was 20-14 in non-conference play and 5-10 against other BCS-conference teams
  • That includes a 1-3 record in bowls, where they were outscored 129-102 in losses to such powerhouses as NC State and ASU
  • All 5 wins against BCS conference opponents in 2005 were by either Louisville (3-0) and West Virginia (2-2)
  • Only one of those wins was over a team with a winning record (WVU over Georgia)
  • In 2004, the current Big East Schools were a more respectable 9-13 against current BCS conference teams (including Notre Dame), but only two of those 9 wins were over a team with a winning record (both over then-Big East member Boston College)
  • The conference went 2-3 in bowl games, but Boston College got one of those wins over North Carolina; the other win was UConn over Toledo in the Motor City Bowl
UConn, South Florida, Cincinatti...
Them there's some big-time programs

Now we have the Big East's Biggest Night. You see, there are only five undefeated BCS Conference schools left. Three are in the Big Least. #12 Rutgers has yet to play anyone and has been ranked accordingly. But WVU and Louisville are the best two teams to come from the Big East since 2001 Miami. They face off tonight, and the winner will almost certainly run the table and at least be in the conversation for the right to get pummeled by the Big Ten champ (which will undoubtedly be The Ohio State University) in the BCS Championship. Yet, this night is the epitome of what's wrong with the Big Least. Everyone knew this would be the conference game of the season, so why schedule it for a Thursday night? If this really was a conference showcase, it would be the ABC primetime game, not the time slot generally taken by a mid-level SEC game or the WAC Game of the Week.

The fact is that the Big East is still not ready for prime time. Say what you will about the conference champion's worthiness (and I will continue to say that any one-loss SEC team is more worthy of having a chance to get crushed by tOSU), but the conference can't honestly make the claim when it continues to portray ITSELF as second-rate. Two teams "share" stadiums with NFL teams. Louisville's stadium is named after pizza. Only West Virginia has a stadium of its own which seats 60,000 (in comparison, all but two Big Ten teams seat more than 60,000; the same is true for the SEC).

I think it's going to be a great game with absolutely no defense eventually won by Louisville. Any team whose coach goes out to take on the Miami Convicts DURING THE PREGAME is good enough to get my vote:

Go Cardinals. Beat the Yokels. And can someone call Mike Tranghesi and revoke the Big Least's automatic bid?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I Think We All Know What the "L" Stands For

John L. Smith got hit...with a pink slip. Yes, the only man capable of blowing an 18-point lead to Notre Dame and overcoming a 35-point deficit against Northwestern in the same season is gone (or at least will be gone at the end of the season). Unfortunately, I had October 29 in my John L. Smith Firing Pool.

The best part of this announcement? Tough to tell. It's either the hilarious rantings of the small-but-vocal contingent of MSU fans trying to defend the Big L (saying he was initially successful and didn't gel with this team, forgetting that his first team were Bobbby J's recruits and this team is completely his and his alone) or the fact that the MSU administration is adamant that Johnny will stay on through the Spartans' bowl game (ha!) However, the worst part of this, unquestionably, is that we don't get to see him at Kinnick every other season.

Of course, this would normally be grounds for showing the infamous self-slapping again, but the fascists at YouTube have removed the video. So, instead, we'll show the equally funny John L. meltdown at halftime of the 2005 MSU-tOSU game:

You'll be missed, Mr. L. Smith. Good luck and Godspeed.