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Thursday, December 24, 2009

BCS Tournament - Round 2

Back for round 2. At this point, we've exhausted all the available bowls from cutting out the 6-6 teams. I suggest we continue the "rotation" of BCS stadiums for the final 7 games, including a new BCS bowl in San Antonio.

Currently, San Antonio hosts the Alamo Bowl which typically features mid-level Big XII and Big Ten opponents, and takes place on or after January 1. I think they can turn that place around and get an even bigger crowd in the 65,000 seats by featuring a 2nd round matchup the week before the Alamo Bowl.

Rose Bowl, Part 1 (Pasadena, CA) - 12/26
(1) Alabama vs. (8) Ohio State
Avg. Temp - 55 degrees
Avg. Precip. - less than .1 inches (none)
Avg. Wind - 7 mph (light)
Average Result - Alabama def. OSU 95% by score 26 to 6
Random Result - Bama 33 - OSU 10
Story: By the averages and numbers, you can see this one was never in doubt. Bama ran well in the first half, including 3 TDs of 20 yards or more. Ohio State managed to slow the bleeding, but the Tide kept kicking FGs in the 2nd half to put it away. Terrelle Pryor never got things going (8-22, 87 yds, 1INT) and neither did the Buckeyes offense.
POG: Mark Ingram (198 total yards, 1 TD)

Sugar Bowl, Part 1 (New Orleans, LA) - 12/26
(2) Texas vs. (10) Iowa
Avg. Temp. - indoors (70 degrees?)
Avg. Precip. - indoors
Avg. Wind - indoors
Average Result - Texas def. Iowa 100% by score 35 to 7
Random Result - Texas 35 - Iowa 3
Story: You might see this score and think, "Mack Brown and the Longhorns finally won a 'big' game decisively!"...not the case. Adam Robinson rushed for over 100 yards at about 7 per carry, and Iowa scored first on a FG. However, Colt McCoy managed 2 TDs and only 1 INT to ensure Texas made it to the semifinal. So where did the other 21 points come from? 7 field goals!
POG: Hunter Lawrence (7-7 FGs: 21,36,37,41,41,48, & 49 yds - 23 points)

*NEW* Lone Star Bowl (San Antonio, TX) - 12/26
(3) TCU vs. (11) Virginia Tech
Avg. Temp. - indoors (70 degrees?)
Avg. Precip. - indoors
Avg. Wind - indoors
Average Result - TCU def. VT 90% by score 33 to 13
Random Result - TCU 37 - VaTech 3
Story: TCU dominated every facet other than the passing game while the Horned Frogs D made Tyrod Taylor look awful. Hokies are usually a rushing team, and they managed just 91 yards on 2.3 per carry. TCU had 4 times as many rushing yards, with Tucker and Turner combining for 4 TDs on the ground.
POG: Joseph Turner (22 car, 152 yds, 3TDs)

Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ) - 12/27
(4) Cincinnati vs. (5) Florida
Avg. Temp. - 53 degrees
Avg. Precip. - nearly 0
Avg. Wind - 5 mpg (light)
Average Result - Florida def. Cinci 95% by score 35 to 17
Random Result - Cincinnati 9 - Florida 30
Story: Florida's defense regains its form by shutting down Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard. Apparently the Bearcats had a few too many coaching changes going into this one. Gilyard did provide a spark returning kicks with a 32-yard average, but offensively, Cincinnati didn't get on the board until the 4th quarter. Meanwhile, Florida rushed for 360 yards, with Tim Tebow out-rushing AND out-passing Tony Pike.
POG: Tim Tebow (204 pass yds, 2 TDs, 0 INT; 54 yards rushing)

Based on the blowouts in the Quarterfinal round, it seems to make more sense to run a 6-team playoff, I suppose. Iowa and Virginia Tech did manage 1st round upsets, but both lost by an average of more than 20 in this round (to be fair, so did Ohio State). I imagine Boise State and Oregon wouldn't lose quite as badly in the same matchups since both are known for high-scoring offenses, but that's not the way the cards fell.

Next week I'll finish this tournament up with the semifinals and finals. So far, not a whole lot of room to argue about the final 4...unless you're a die hard Blue Bronco!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dec 21: Power 16

I'm going to start a feature here. Each Sunday I'll post a ranking of the top 16 (theoretical 1-4 seeds) teams in college basketball.  Here we go:

Team Record Key Wins
1 Texas 10-0 N-Pitt, N-UNC
2 Kansas 10-0 Michigan
3 Kentucky 11-0 N-Stanford, UNC
4 Purdue 10-0 N-Tenn, Wake Forest, @Alabama
5 Duke 9-1 N-Uconn, St. John's, N-Gonzaga
6 Syracuse 11-0 N-Cal, N-UNC, N-Florida
7 West Virginia 8-0 N-Texas A&M
8 Villanova 10-1 N-Dayton, N-Maryland, Mississippi
9 New Mexico 12-0 Cal, N-Texas A&M
10 Wisconsin 8-2 N-Maryland, Duke, Marquette
11 Mississippi 10-1 N-Kansas St.,  So. Miss
12 Kansas St. 10-1 N-Dayton, Xavier, @UNLV
13 Michigan St. 9-2 Gonzaga
14 Tennessee 8-2 none
15 Georgetown 8-1 Temple, N-Butler, N-Washington
16 Temple 9-2 Siena, Villanova, @Seton Hall

Comments are welcomed

Saturday, December 19, 2009

If I were GM of the Braves for a day...

By not offering 1b Adam LaRoche arbitration, one would hope the Braves had a plan on how to fill the void at first base and right field.  So far there's been no activity on their part while Nick Johnson, Hideki Matsui, Mike Cameron, have already signed.  It's pretty evident Atlanta has no interest in the top two free agents Jason Bay and Matt Holliday as well.  Well, then who should they sign to help the offense?Right now, it appears Atlanta's everyday lineup looks like this:

c: Brian McCann L
2b: Martin Prado R
3b: Chipper Jones B
ss: Yunel Escobar R
lf: Matt Diaz R
cf: Nate McLouth L

Bench: David Ross c, Diory Hernandez inf, Gregor Blanco of, Omar Infante inf/of

If/when Atlanta trades Derek Lowe they will have anywhere from $10-15 million coming off the books plus another $5-7 to spend.  Here is what I recommend:

1. Sign Vladimir Guerrero. Just do it. Pay him what he wants, seriously.  Vlad was hoping to be somebody's designated hitter but it seems those spots are all taken. Even Milton Bradley was traded to the AL to take up another DH spot.  Sign Guerrero and put him at 1b.  I don't care if he sucks over there. The Braves are desperate for a right-handed power hitter and Guerrero fits the bill.  Guerrero would probably demand a 2-3 year deal for $9-12 million annually.

2. Sign Randy Winn to a two-year deal. Randy Winn would be a perfect fit in right field and it's doubtful he would demand more than two years.  Atlanta could probably get him for $3-4 million also.  Winn also gives Atlanta leverage in 2011 on what to do with Matt Diaz and his arbitration case.

3. Give Jason Heyward an extended look in spring training.  Heyward is the #1 hitting prospect in baseball and deserves a shot to make the team.  If he does make it he would form the left-handed side of a platoon with Winn/Diaz in the outfield and give the team added depth when Guerrero goes down.

If these moves are successful here's what Atlanta's batting lineup would look like in 2010:
1. Nate McLouth cf
2. Martin Prado 2b
3. Chipper Jones 3b
4. Vladimir Guerrero 1b
5. Brian McCann c
6. Yunel Escobar ss
7. Randy Winn rf
8. Matt Diaz lf

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mike Cameron to BoSox: What does it really mean?

The Red Sox signed Mike Cameron to a 2-year deal this week with the intention of putting him in left field. Cameron is easily one of the best five or ten defensive centerfielders in baseball. When Jason Bay spurned the Red Sox for free agency Boston wisely snatched Cameron, whose overall value is underrated. There have been several articles/blogposts about how Cameron's value is at least equal to that of Bay.
All that is nice but I can't help but feel this move was made with something bigger in mind. Boston is the one park where you can hide a terrible defensive left fielder (Manny) for 81 games.

No, the recent rumors of Boston trying to trade for Adrian Gonzalez would seem to have merit. Any trade for Gonzalez would likely include Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz (hence Boston also signing John Lackey). If Boston doesn't make a big trade then they'll just have to settle for having what is likely one of the greatest defensive outfields of all time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Most Overrated Outfielder traded to White Sox

Juan Pierre was finally freed of his role as "4th outfielder" with the Dodgers. The unfortunate thing for Chicago is that 4th outfielder is his perfect role. Juan Pierre - owner of 13 career home runs in 1400+ career games despite playing two and a half seasons in Coors Field - doesn't hit for enough (any) power to be considered a viable every day player. Yes, he does hit for a decent average (.301) but it's likely that once that skill starts to fade his OBP will really suffer as well since he doesn't walk much(career high of 55 in 2003). The skill he is most associated with is his speed until recently wasn't a very good baserunner despite being a threat to lead the league in steals. He takes poor routes to the ball as a center fielder and it's possible the only two outfielders with worse throwing arms are Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury. What makes this trade a real doozy is that he is owed a ton of money. These are the main reasons why I nicknamed Pierre "Moo" a few years ago (Most Overrated Outfielder).
That being said, Moo is still a player with uses. He's a left-handed hitter who makes good contact. Despite not having the power to be a prototypical corner outfielder he's above average defensively there. The main concern should be the fact he turns 33 in August. With his lack of secondary skills (power, OBP) it could be a fast, precipitous fall for Pierre. Combining his age with his personality complex (Spanish first name, French last name) would cause me to shy away from acquiring him.
I don't know where the Sox plan on playing Pierre this season but a LF platoon with Andruw Jones would make the most sense while playing Rios in CF and Quentin in RF. This could be a decent outfield but I wouldn't bet on it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another blockbuster!

When Roy Halladay is involved in a trade you expect a lot of players to be moving. But would you expect one of those to be Cliff Lee? Me neither. Let's break it down.

Philadelphia receives: Roy Halladay SP, Phillippe Aumont RHP, Tyson Gilles, Juan Ramirez RHP
Yes, the Phillies get Halladay (and his 3 year extension + club option for a 4th) but was it worth trading the only real prospects they had? Only time will tell. Halladay is a top five pitcher in baseball and moving to the National League should provide a nice bump to his stats. But trading Lee for him doesn't improve the team much as you might think. This trade was most likely initiated due to Lee's unwillingness for a discount as opposed to Halladay who just wants to play for a winner. If he stays healthy it's likely his performance boost will be enough to cause Halladay's name to be mentioned as a possible electee to Cooperstown.
Aumont is a prospect with a decent arm but really, I don't see him turning into much more than a #3 starter. It's also possible he ends up in the bullpen. The only thing I know about Gilles is that he's perhaps the fastest player in the minors. Another Michael Bourn perhaps? Juan Ramirez is another guy who has tons of "stuff" but no idea how to use it. He could end up anywhere from a dominant reliever to a guy who never makes it.

Seattle receives: Cliff Lee LHP
Cliff Lee, as we all know, is a former Cy Young Award winner who made the transition to the Junior League with no problems. He was also the best pitcher in October last season. How Seattle found a way to finagle themselves into this deal is beyond me, but they will love seeing Lee take the ball every fifth day right behind Felix. This team just got a lot better.

Toronto receives: Kyle Drabek SP, Travis d'Arnaud C, Michael Taylor OF
Toronto is getting some really nice prospects here but where's the major leaguer? If Toronto could've pulled in someone like Brandon Morrow or even Michael Saunders this would be a huge get. Unfortunately neither was included leaving the Jays to hope that these three prospects hit their projected ceilings.
I love Kyle Drabek as a starter and agreed with the Phillies last year when they refused to include him in any deal. I know my buddy Keith Law feels there's nothing special about him (he'll probably say as much in his trade analysis) but I humbly disagree. Michael Taylor is a monster of a prospect who would make their outfield sickening except for the fact they turned around and traded him to the A's (more on that below). Travis d'Arnaud is a solid catching prospect and could end up performing like a young Jason Kendall (without the speed) but I think that's a little optimistic. I'm wondering if including him allowed Philadelphia to gain some leverage in this trade considering Toronto didn't have a single catcher on their 40-man roster Sunday.

Later, Toronto traded Michael Taylor to the A's for 3b prospect Brett Wallace. I'm not sure I really understand this but let me take a gander. Brett Wallace is not a good defensive player and it's possible he won't be able to play the hot corner for long. He appears to have the ability to hit for high average but I'm not sure he'll ever be much of a power hitter. I think this is what motivated the A's to deal him. Wallace is ready for an extended look in spring training and I won't be surprised to see him start the year with Toronto in 2010.

For Oakland, Michael Taylor immediately becomes the best prospect in the system. The A's have several prospects who can hit but only one who hits for power. Oakland tends to be moderately difficult on power hitters and I don't know how well Taylor's power will translate to Oakland's home park, but perhaps management felt it translated better than Wallace's skills since Oakland is known for suppressing batting average.

Philadelphia gets a win for improving their team (although slightly) this season. I'm still on the fence on whether or not they will be improved in 2014 because of it.

Seattle, tell your fans to get excited. With the league's best defense and now an incredible 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, the Mariners have to be considered legitimate post season contenders. If they are able to shore up the bullpen then this team could be scary. Big win here.

Toronto gets some prospects I love but are missing the one major league player that allows me to say they get a win out of this deal. Instead they likely walk away getting a #2 starter whose had some history with injuries, a 3b who will hit for average, and a catching prospect who will be a solid but not spectacular starter.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BCS Tournament: The Better Option

How to fix the NCAA postseason? Tournament! Not a 64-team tournament like basketball. Not a 32 or even 16-team tournament either. I want 12 teams like the NFL...4 top seeds get a 1 week "bye" and the rest have to pull off a wildcard style run for the title. ESPN has their tournament simulator up, but I don't like the formatting and result readouts, so I've done my own.

To accommodate for the extra games needed in a tournament, I say no more .500 schools get a bowl game. When you play 12 regular season games, 6-6 is not bowl worthy. My final stipulation is no more than 2 teams from any conference make the tournament. I am using's SimMatchup program, and I have set the field preferences to the average conditions for each of the stadiums involved (various websites).

Teams Out
  • Wyoming (6-6) - New Mexico Bowl (12/19)
  • Marshall (6-6) - Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (12/26)
  • Texas A&M (6-6) - Independence Bowl (12/28)
  • UCLA (6-6) - EagleBank Bowl (12/29)
  • Minnesota (6-6) - Insight Bowl (12/31)
  • Iowa State (6-6) - Insight Bowl (12/31)
  • Florida State (6-6) - Gator Bowl (1/1)
  • Michigan State (6-6) - Alamo Bowl (1/2)

Fortunately, there are an even number of teams above and no team that went 7-5 or better was left out of a bowl. If we can combine the widowed opponents from the above dismissals and use the vacated bowls at early rounds in the BCS Tournament.

BCS Tournament Seeds
1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Cincinnati
4. TCU
5. Florida
6. Boise State
7. Oregon
8. Ohio State
9. Georgia Tech
10. Iowa
11. Virginia Tech
12. BYU (LSU & PSU would be 3rd from their conference)

New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, NM) - 12/19
(5) Florida Gators vs. (12) BYU Cougars
Ave. Temp. - 35 degrees
Ave. Precip. - less than .1 inches (none)
Ave. Wind - 8 mph (light)
Average result - UF def. BYU 75% by score 30.3 to 14.6
Random result: Florida 30 - BYU 23
Story: The Cougars defense held Tebow to 39 yards rushing and took a 23-13 lead into the 4th quarter. However, Tebow tossed two TDs in the 4th, including the go-ahead with just over a minute to play.
Player of the Game: Tim Tebow (39 yds rushing; 10-14 for 136, 2TDs, 1INT)

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, LA) - 12/19
(6) Boise State vs. (11) Virginia Tech
Ave. Temp. - 58 degrees
Ave. Precip. - less than .2 inches (none)
Ave. Wind - 9 mph (light)
Average result - VT def. Boise 55% by score 31.8 to 33.1
Random result - Boise 37 - VTech 38
Story: Back and forth game featuring LOTS of offense for both teams. Avery rushed for 3TDs for Boise, but Brotzman missed 2 long FGs for the Broncos. Meanwhile, Ryan Williams had almost 300 yards rushing alone. Down 6 with 11 seconds to go, Tyrod Taylor threw the game-winning TD.
POG: Ryan Williams (24 carries, 297 yds, 2TDs)

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Detroit, MI) - 12/19
(7) Oregon vs. (10) Iowa
Ave. Temp. - indoors (70 degrees?)
Ave. Precip. - indoors
Ave. Wind - indoors
Average result - Oregon def. Iowa 65% by score 26.8 to 22.9
Random result - (UPSET) Ore 14 - Iowa 47
Story: Not representative of the average result, but that's why there are upsets. Ducks ran like crazy, but couldn't get any passing from Masoli. Meanwhile, Adam Robinson & Brandon Wegher combined for 5 TDs. Oregon scored first, but Iowa outscored them 31-7 in the 2nd half.
POG: Adam Robinson (25 rush for 143, 3TDs; 2 rec for 14 yds)

EagleBank Bowl (Washington, D.C.) - 12/19
(8) Ohio State vs. (9) Georgia Tech
Ave. Temp. - 46 degrees
Ave. Precip. - less than .1 inches (none)
Ave. Wind - 10 mph (medium)
Average result - OSU def. GT 95% by score 43.5 to 18.5
Random result -Ohio State 58 - Georgia Tech 27
Story: I'm a bit shocked by the number of points the Buckeyes put up in all the games! Georgia Tech was still in this one for a while, only down 8 entering the 4th quarter. Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 3 TDs for the Yellow Jackets, but 4 different Buckeyes combined for 7 touchdowns on the ground. OSU rubbed it in by kicking a FG with 7 seconds left to make up for the missed PAT on the previous possession.
POG: Terrelle Pryor (18 car, 67 yds, 2TDs; 9/18 passing, 168 yds, 1TD)

Round 2 Next Week!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

3 Team Blockbuster: Is the winner who you think?

I'm only going to blog a short bit on this because the media is probably going to overly analyze it.

Yankees get: Curtis Granderson CF
Granderson is considered a superstar by many though that is inaccurate. He has decent pop, plays very good defense, and is still fleet of foot. The problem is his complete inability to hit left-handed pitching. A .600 OPS isn't going to get it done. I just heard someone on ESPN say that part of Granderson's appeal is his personality. He's a guy everyone will love talking to and can handle any media market. For once I agree with you, ESPN. Touche.

Diamondbacks get: Ian Kennedy, Edwin Jackson
Why Arizona felt the need to become involved in a trade like this is somewhat baffling. Trading five years of Scherzer for Edwin Jackson fresh off a career year is puzzling. The only thing that I can conjure up is that Arizona feels there's an excessive inherent injury risk associated with him. Despite failing miserably in 2008, Ian Kennedy is worth taking a flier on. Sure he flopped in New York the first time around but he could be a fine back-end starter in the JV league.
If you're going to trade your best and most marketable player you better get something good in return. Luckily for the Tigers it appears they did just that. Austin Jackson was the Yankees #1 prospect in 2009 and will be expected to immediately step in to fill Granderson's shoes. Scherzer could go one of two ways. He could figure things out and be one of the top starters in the AL or get moved to the bullpen and become a dominant reliever. Schlereth is probably going to end up in the bullpen also but should be an excellent reliever. He's still a prospect so if Detroit wants to give him another go as a starter you couldn't blame them. Phil Coke is a failed starter that should be a LOOGY in the pen.

Verdict: The Tigers are probably the big winners here. Picking up four players who can step in and help the team contend for a division crown for a combined 22 years is an impressive haul. The fact that the team is saving almost $15 million makes this a huge win for the franchise.

With free agents Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui questionable to return, the Yankees get the missing piece to their outfield while giving up only #1 prospect and fringe arm. The only negative is if Granderson's production begins to tail off as he ages, it could become a bit of an albatross. Either way I think this move propels them back to the World Series.

Arizona gets a solid mid-rotation starter who last season threw harder than everyone else in the AL and a finesse pitcher whose skills were once overrated. I don't think we'll be able to properly analyze this trade for the Diamondbacks for several years. I'm not ready to call them the big loser just yet, but it would not be surprising if they end up that way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 13

Championships happened, and most of the teams I WANTED to win, didn't. I think everyone expects Texas to hold spot and take on Alabama for the Championship, even if there are other more exciting teams who could be there. This will be my final Top-25 poll for the season, since Bowl games are considered the post-season anyway. I'll do a Top-10 when it's all over.

1. Alabama - I didn't want to believe it, but Bama played good and hard and did what they had to, including making Tebow cry!
2. Texas - This game was exactly what I expected. Texas plays down in "big" games, and this was no different.
3. Boise State - Another meaningless ripping of a conference opponent. Can the MWC at least offer them a spot?
4. TCU - Had to think they were cheering pretty hard for a Husker upset as that might have put the Horned Frogs into a Title shot.
5. Cincinnati - Never expected a score that high. Weather hurt the Bearcats some, but helped them near the end when Pitt missed a PAT and only went up 6. Tony Pike saves the day and the BCS Bowl berth.
6. Florida - Didn't want to drop them this far, but they played bad and there are still 5 other undefeated teams.
7. Ohio State - bye they know for sure its Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl.
8. Oregon - Shootout for 3 quarters turned to a defensive battle in the 4th. I wish these guys could play Georgia Tech instead. That would be a highly entertaining bowl game I think.
9. Virginia Tech - It may not make sense that the Hokies are ahead of the Yellow Jackets since GaTech won the matchup earlier this year, but timing of losses is huge.
10. Penn State - Probably won't get a BCS Bowl since it will likely go to Iowa, but I think PSU is better right now anyway.
11. BYU
12. Georgia Tech
13. Utah
14. LSU
15. Iowa
16. Miami
17. Arizona
18. Central Michigan
19. Stanford
20. USC
21. Pitt
22. ECU
23. Nebraska
24. Oregon State
25. Wisconsin

Coming Soon:
BCS Tournament...the "better" option.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2009-2010 Big Ten Preview Part 2

5. Michigan
Coach: John Beilein hopes this is the year. The entire starting lineup is returning from last season and another solid recruiting class adds depth. Sims and Harris are stars while Perry, Gibson, and Novak are great role players. The conference schedule is always tough but with a couple of superstars and a tricky zone defense this is the type of team that can get hot and make some noise in tournaments.
Lineup: G Laval Lucas-Perry, G Manny Harris, F Zack Gibson, F Anthony Wright, F DeShawn Sims
Bench: Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Darius Morris, Matt Vogrich
Star: One of the most versatile players in the Big Ten, Manny Harris contemplated going pro at the end of last season. Not only is he the most likely player to lead the conference in scoring, he's also a threat for a triple double every night.
Top Freshman: Darius Morris is a big guard that will be a role player this season. Next year though - especially if Harris leaves - expect him to be on nightly highlight reels.
NCAA Seed: 7

4. Minnesota
Coach: Tubby Smith coaxed a fourth place finish out of last season's Gopher squad. This year the expectations are even higher. Ralph Sampson III is expected to take the next step to team with veteran guards Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook. The fact that Tubby seems to like coaching in Minnesota (as opposed to using this as a stopgap for a more prestigious program) has had a great effect on the recruiting. Once again, the Golden Gophers have a top recruiting class. The added depth and quality give this team an outside shot at the Big Ten title.
Lineup: PG Al Nolen, SG Lawrence Westbrook, SF Damian Johnson, Rodney Williams, C Ralph Sampson III
Bench: Colton Iverson, Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffbarber, Paul Carter
Star: Nagging injuries have prevented Lawrence Westbrook from playing an entire season. If he's able to make complete a year unscathed, Minnesota will get some recognition on the All Big Ten team.
Top Freshman: Royce White. Minnesota's Mr. Basketball chose to stay in-state instead of attending other high profile schools like Kansas and Michigan St. A possible red-shirt season is likely to keep him off the court this year but he may be the best Gopher player since Kris Humphries or Bobby Jackson.
NCAA Seed: 6

3. Ohio State
Coach: Thad Matt has won two Big Ten championships, has gone to the national title game, and averages 25 wins a game. What more does he need to accomplish to be considered one of the elite coaches? For three straight years Ohio State has lost a 7'0" freshman to the NBA. Next season it is almost certain they will be without Turner. Luckily 2010 is probably the nation's #1 recruiting class. I don't know what else Matta can do to increase his recognition but winning 2 games in the NCAA Tournament seems likely yet again for the Buckeyes.
Lineup: SG David Lighty, SG William Buford, SG Jon Diebler, SF Evan Turner, Kyle Madsen
Bench: Dallas Lauderdale, Jeremie Simmons, PJ Hill
Star: Evan Turner is the best player in the Big Ten. No one else is capable of filling up a stat sheet as consistently. Without a true PG, Turner fills in. When the team needs to go small, Turner plays power forward. Expect him to be a lottery selection in the NBA draft.
Top Freshman: No freshmen on roster.
NCAA Seed: 4

2. Michigan State
Coach: Tom Izzo reached the national title game last year for what seems like the tenth time. This year's squad returns all the guards and has some solid freshmen as well. Unfortunately three big men have graduated leaving a gaping hole down low. Expect some struggles early in the year against taller teams particularly North Carolina. But these games will allow Izzo's youngins to grow into their roles as the Big Ten season gets underway. I think Ohio State is a better team but Izzo has worked magic before.
Lineup: PG Kalin Lucas, SG Durrell Summers, F Delvon Roe, F Raymar Morgan, F Garrick Sherman
Bench: Draymond Green, Chris Allen, Korie Lucious, Derrick Nix
Star: Kalin Lucas doesn't look like a typical big-time scorer but that's just what he is. The junior averaged 14.7 ppg last year and also took home the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Top Freshman: Garrick Sherman is starting as a freshman. Although he doesn't have the high ceiling most other freshman starters have had under Izzo, he'll be a solid Big Ten player for four years.
NCAA Seed: 3

1. Purdue
Coach: Matt Painter's desire to recruit players that will stay four years and gel into a team has paid off. The Baby Boilers are no more, instead they're a team ranked in the top ten that expects to compete for the Final Four. It's possible Johnson or Hummel could leave at the end of the season. If that's the result of a Final Four appearance I think most Purdue fans will tell you it's worth it. The 2010 recruiting class is similar to the one three years ago so it's hopeful the cycle is about to begin anew.
Lineup: G Kelsey Barlow, G E'Twan Moore, G Chris Kramer, F Robbie Hummel, C JaJuan Johnson
Bench: Keaton Grant, Ryne Smith, DJ Byrd, Patrick Bade
Star: Robbie Hummel's ability to hit the timely three and find the open man are qualities that make the Purdue team tick. The Boilers really struggled when he went down with a back injury last season.
Top Freshman: Kelsey Barlow is taking over at PG due to Lewis Jackson's foot injury. Long and quick, he has the potential to be an elite on-ball defender.
NCAA Seed: 2

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 12

Rivalry week spoiled a few teams hopes and dreams. The showdown is set for Bama vs. FU...Gators are hot right now. I have to break my rules about how many spots you can fall when it's rivalry week.

1. Florida - Turns out, that Tebow guy is still pretty good. He's like a Tommy Frazier real NFL impact in my eyes.
2. Texas - A&M gave them a run most of the game, but McCoy and the Horns just didn't make many mistakes and the Aggies did.
3. Alabama - Hopefully, Ingram is healthy for the SEC Title game, otherwise the Tide will not roll.
4. Boise State - Nevada turned out to be no challenge, but other losses have all but guaranteed them their deserved BCS game.
5. TCU - Apparently they've beaten their spread 9 staight weeks before running into New Mexico. 44 points was just too much to cover as they sneaked out a 41 point win.
6. Cincinnati - Tony Pike returns to lead the Bearcats over an awful Illinois team. I still think Pitt has a shot to ruin their party.
7. Ohio State - bye week bliss
8. Oregon - Civil War for the Rose Bowl against OSU staring them down.
9. Virginia Tech - I guess timing is everything. Haven't lost in 4 weeks and now climb into my top 10 again.
10. Penn State - Despite losing to Iowa, the AP and Coach's Polls have them ahead of the Hawkeyes. So who gets the at-large bid?
11. BYU
12. USC
13. Georgia Tech
14. Utah
15. LSU
16. Iowa
17. Miami
18. Pitt
19. Nebraska
20. Cal
21. Oregon State
22. Stanford
23. Central Michigan
24. Arizona
25. Houston
(Just out: Oklahoma State, Ohio)

Special Upset BCS Bowl Projections
Championship - Alabama vs. TCU
Orange - Clemson vs. Texas
Fiesta - Nebraska vs. Boise State
Sugar - Florida vs. Pitt
Rose - Oregon State vs. Ohio State

2009-2010 Big Ten Preview

Another exciting season of NCAA Basketball is underway. As I did last year, I will again predict the Big Ten standings for the upcoming season. Here we go:

11. Iowa
Coach: 2009 proved to be even more difficult to stomach than anyone expected in Iowa City. Last year I wrote:

Lickliter's biggest challenge is getting good players. He's been the first to admit that it's a challenge to recruit Big Ten players and not just guys who fit his scheme.

This appears even more apparent this season after a mass exodus of last year's team. If the Hawkeyes don't improve upon their 15-17 record this could be it for Lickliter.
Lineup: G Matt Gatens, G Anthony Tucker, G Cully Payne, F Jarryd Cole, F Brennan Cougill
Bench: Eric May, Devan Bawinkel, Aaron Fuller, Andrew Brommer
Star: Matt Gatens is head and shoulders the best player on this team. With his versatility and high percentage shooting, he could go down as one of the best Hawkeyes ever.
Top Freshman: Cully Payne
NIT Bid: No

10. Indiana
Coach: Tom Crean has shown he is a master recruiter and a patient mentor. He inherited a Hoosier team bereft of all talent and only managed to win one conference game. This season, with the conference's top recruiting class and a few of last year's recruits on board, IU looks to make some noise as they attempt to move up the ranks. They're still a year away though.
Lineup: PG Verdell Jones III, G Maurice Creek, G Jeremiah Rivers, F Tom Pritchard, F/C Christian Watford
Bench: Derek Elston, Devan Dumes, Jordan Hulls, Bobby Capobianco
Star: Look for Verdell Jones to really improve now that he has some legitimate players around him.
Top Freshman: Christian Watford
NIT Bid: No

9. Penn St.
Coach: Last year may have been the most successful season in Nittany Lion history. Snubbed by the NCAA despite finishing 4th in the Big Ten and winning 23 games, this team went on to win the NIT championship proving its doubters wrong. Yet Ed DeChellis knows this season may be even tougher after the departure of three seniors. But as long as Talor Battle is around this team will scare people.
Lineup: G Talor Battle, G Jeff Brooks, F Andrew Jones, G Chris Babb, F David Jackson
Bench: Tim Frazier, Cammeron Woodyard, Adam Highberger
Star: Talor Battle was all Big Ten last year as a sophomore. This guy is a true game changer.
Top Freshman: Tim Frazier
NIT Bid: Yes

8. Illinois
Coach: Bruce Weber got his team back to the tournament last year. However the good news ends there. When Sr. guard Chester Frazier got went down late in the year, the Illini offense went with him. Putrid offensive showings vs. Purdue in the Big Ten tournament and in a blowout loss to 12th seeded Western Kentucky have left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Unfortunately last year's team had several seniors so a minor step back may occur this season. For the first time in his tenure, Weber managed to bring in two of the top freshmen in the conference. If these two can contribute right away look for the Illini to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Lineup: G Demitri McCamey, G Brandon Paul, G DJ Richardson, F Mike Davis, C Mike Tisdale
Bench: Alex Legion, Bill Cole, Dominique Keller, Jeffrey Jordan
Star: Mike Davis exploded last year. Named to the Big Ten 2nd team, he averaged 11.3 pts/game and led the Big Ten in rebounding.
Top Freshman: DJ Richardson. Richardson's team went 33-0 and won the state title his senior year.
NIT Bid: Yes

7. Northwestern
Coach: Bill Carmody almost got his team where no Northwestern team had ever been: the NCAA Tournament. With a team loaded with seniors this looked to be the year, if ever, they would finally make it. Unfortunately a pre-season injury to the team's best player may prevent the Wildcats from reaching their full potential. Good teams tend to struggle against NWU as their 1-3-1 zone defense causes opponents fits. I'm not sure Carmody's job is on the line but if they don't make the tournament it will be another disappointing season in Evanston.
Lineup: G Michael Thompson, G Jeremy Nash, G/F Drew Crawford, F John Shurma, C Luka Mirkovic
Bench: Kyle Rowley, Alex Marcotullio, Ivan Peljusic
Star: With Kevin Coble out for the year, Michael Thompson assumes the reins of team superstar. Only 5'10", he's a strong rebounder and penetrator
Top Freshman: Drew Crawford
NCAA Bid: No

6. Wisconsin
Coach: Never count Bo Ryan out. I, for one, thought last season's team would be awful. Although they didn't dominate the way some Badger teams of the past have done, they still won 20 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. This season will be even more of a challenge after his top two players graduated. Expect more Wisconsin basketball: slow, grinding offense and an in-your-face defense focused on rebounding. I don't see a lot of talent on this squad but as I already said, don't count Bo Ryan out.
Lineup: PG Trevon Hughes, G Jason Bohannon, G/F Tim Jarmusz, F Keaton Nankivil, F Jon Leuer
Bench: Ryan Evans, Jordan Taylor, Mike Bruesewitz
Star: Trevon Hughes is lightning quick and one of the best defensive players in the country.
Top Freshman: Mike Bruesewitz
NCAA Bid: Yes

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 11

Many Championship games have now been set, including my beloved Skers facing the Horns on December 5. If Alex Henry keeps punting like he did against K-State, Texas will have some very long drives needed for points.

1. Florida - Arguably played a tougher opponent than Alabama, since FIU is at least Div-1, and beat them more convincingly.
2. Texas - Handled Mangini's Jayhawks and have a snoozer next week against A&M; Horns play down in big games...maybe Nebraska has a shot in the Title
3. Alabama - Mark Ingram or Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan) for Heisman?
4. Boise State - Another big win Friday night; hard to say who's better between Boise and TCU, but Nevada next Friday is no gimme for the Broncos...fortunately, it's on the blue turf
5. TCU - Wyoming was no test...neither will be New Mexico...I think they should play Alabama in the Sugar, but it sounds like Orange gets 1st pick?
6. Cincinnati - bye news is good news for Bearcats? Really only Pitt stands in their way.
7. Georgia Tech - Same as Cinci...both have big rivalries coming up that could spell disaster, and Bulldogs need redemption
8. Ohio State - The Maize and Blue made it interesting, but Buckeyes make it 6 straight, they're longest streak against the Wolverines ever.
9. Pitt - bye week also...watched UConn take down Notre Dame making 2 straight wins for Big East over Domers
10. Oregon - This was quite a game as I understand it...I only watched the 1st quarter, but the final score tells me it was a dogfight
11. Penn State
12. Oklahoma State
13. Utah
14. Virginia Tech
15. BYU
16. USC
17. Iowa
18. Clemson
19. Cal
20. LSU
21. Nebraska
22. Oregon State
23. Stanford
24. Temple
25. Central Michigan
(Just out: Ole Miss, Arizona)

BCS Bowl Projections
Championship - Texas vs. Florida
Orange - Georgia Tech vs. TCU
Fiesta - Penn State vs. Boise State
Sugar - Alabama vs. Cincinnati
Rose - Ohio State vs. Oregon

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 10

We need a new "logo" since Bill & Ted has apparently expired. I'm making my picks before the last game is over because, simply put, Oregon is on their way to winning big (31-7 at half).

1. Florida - Knew Spurrier would have something for his old crew, but as expected, it was not enough. Tebow becomes alone atop SEC TDs list.
2. Texas - Beat Baylor Bears beyond betting odds...had to go for as many consecutive B's as possible once I got started :)
3. Alabama - Slow start but they literally ran away with it in the 2nd half. I'm naming my kid Mark Ingram Taege because apparently that's a good name for future NFLers.
4. Boise State - Reminds Idaho that their surprising season does NOT mean they are a formidable opponent for their rival.
5. TCU - DESTROYS Utah!!! I watched the first half and was amazed at all aspects of this team. Too bad Texas will be playing Bama/Gators for the Title, cuz Boise vs. TCU would probably be more entertaining.
6. Cincinnati - Wins a battle vs. West Virginia. Another team that probably deserves title consideration...if they beat Pitt in the season finale. Nice to see the Big East title work itself out that way.
7. Georgia Tech - Locked themselves into the ACC title vs. BC or Clemson. I'd prefer BC since Clemson already had their shot...though Clemson holds the tie-break AND is playing good football right now AND has only 1 ACC game left vs. Virginia while BC still has to play the up-and-down Tar Heels and then Maryland.
8. Ohio State - Even without Stanzi, the Hawkeyes D kept it close and took OSU to overtime to earn their spot in the Rose Bowl.
9. Pitt - Seemed to be in control the whole game over ND, but Jimmy Clausen keeps his team in it. Did anyone predict the Panthers to be in this position? Pitt or Cinci in the Orange Bowl.
10. LSU - This is the worst 2-loss team imaginable. They haven't won an impressive game all year, but with everyone around them losing, they keep finding a way into my top-10.
11. Oregon
12. Penn State
13. Oklahoma State
14. Utah
15. Stanford
16. Virginia Tech
17. USC
18. BYU
19. Iowa
20. Wisconsin
21. Clemson
22. Cal
23. Nebraska
24. Arizona
25. Rutgers
(Just out: Temple, Central Michigan)

BCS Bowl Projections
BCS Title - Texas vs. Florida
Sugar Bowl - Bama vs. TCU
Orange Bowl - Ga Tech vs. Cincinnati
Fiesta Bowl - Penn State vs. Boise State
Rose Bowl - Ohio State vs. Oregon

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 9

Read this:

Doesn't speak well of my beloved 'Skers, especially after their outstanding defensive performance for the 3rd straight week. Although it's obviously not JUST Nebraska that looks scared of the Blue Broncos. I hope this article reaches the voters and gets Boise into the title game...if Florida, Texas, Alabama, TCU, and Cinci all lose.


1. Florida - Vandy proves to be no problem. Gators looking good for Pasadena.
2. Texas - See above...swap "UCF" in place of "Vandy" and "Horns" for "Gators".
3. Bama - Truth is, I wanted them to beat LSU, but it was kind of nice watching the Tide struggled for 3 quarters.
4. Boise - I'm singing a new song after the article above. I didn't realize Boise has tried to make a harder schedule and can't get an opponent. I'm hard-pressed to put a WAC team in the big game over and undefeated Big East or even MWC school.
5. TCU - next...
6. Cincinnati - Yikes! The offense is fine without Pike...the D needs to really step it up or Bearcats will lose to Noel Divine and West Va on Friday.
7. Georgia Tech - Wake gives top talent in ACC a real scare for the second week in a row. Meanwhile, 3 top-10s go down and Yellow Jackets move up!
8. Ohio State - This team WOULD beat USC now anyway.
9. USC - This USC team is not looking good. They started the year with impressive wins but have been about 3rd or 4th best in the Pac-10 for the past month.
10. Utah - Sets up a nice Saturday night battle of Top 10 teams from the Mountain West this week with their battle against TCU.
11. Pitt
12. LSU
13. Miami
14. Arizona
15. Houston
16. Penn State
17. Iowa
18. Oklahoma State
19. Oregon
20. BYU
21. Virginia Tech
22. Stanford
23. South Florida
24. Wisconsin
25. Troy
(Just out: Clemson, Nebraska)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 8

A few scares for some of the top 25, but not many resulted in true "upsets."

1. Florida - Defeated Georgia in the way they should have been playing all year long. Poised to finish this out and repeat as Champs?
2. Texas - Also back to their winning ways after recent scares again Oklahoma and Colorado.
3. Alabama - A good week for the bye, as they weren't going to move up anyway.
4. Boise State - Another blowout of a terrible WAC opponent. That Oregon win is all they've got to hang their blue-turf hats on.
5. TCU - Blowout city. Next week should be more of the same at SDSU. But look out for Utah in 2 weeks.
6. Cincinnati - Doing it with a backup QB...Connecticut next week hasn't really shown the kind of talent to stop the Bearcats.
7. Iowa - Definitely a 2nd half team. Trailed the Hoosiers going into the 4th before lighting up the scoreboard with 4 straight TDs.
8. Oregon - Excellent performance against USC, but they can't stop now with games at Stanford, at Arizona, and the Civil War against OSU.
9. LSU - I'm not a believer in the Bayou Bengals...beat Alabama next week and I'll believe.
10. Georgia Tech - Another top 10 team that struggled to get going...finally put Vandy away in the 4th.
11. Penn State
12. USC
13. Ohio State
14. Utah
15. Pitt
16. Houston
17. Miami
18. Arizona
19. Notre Dame
20. Cal
21. Oklahoma State
22. BYU
23. Virginia Tech
24. South Florida
25. Wisconsin
(Just out: Idaho, Troy)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

NASCAR Chase Update

Let's revisit my post from a few weeks ago before the 2009 Chase started. Things have mostly played out just like they did all season, except Brian Vickers has lost all that consistency and is already nearly eliminated.

Today's race was 500 laps at the half-mile, paperclip-shaped track known as Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. It marked race 6 in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson fought most of the race, but Hamlin prevailed. Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon also had strong runs to keep their Chase hopes alive.

So I name-dropped a few people in my last post. Here's an update on each:

Jimmie Johnson - Started the Chase in a tie for 2nd with 3 wins...he's doubled that number with wins in races 2, 4, and 5 of the Chase. Winning is king in NASCAR, and it doesn't hurt that all his Chase finishes are top 10s. Jimmie has an average finish of 3.0 in these 6 races. He came home 2nd to Denny Hamlin today and now has a 118 point lead over....

Mark Martin - Started the Chase in 1st and won the first race of NASCAR's playoffs. He's run well, but with only 1 win and an average finish of 6.5, he's fallen back a bit. The real problem came last week in Charlotte where Martin finished 17. Points drop off if you miss the top 5, and they plummet outside the top 10.

Tony Stewart - Won Chase race #3 at Texas Motor Speedway, a track that's been good to Tony before. He's been a bit inconsistent, but still has some fight left. Talladega is a track Tony has historically run well. He needs another big day next week to get back in the Chase. Currently, Tony sits 4th, 192 points back of Jimmie.

Carl Edwards - Carl broke his foot right before the Chase started. Whether or not that accounts for his poor performance, I can't say for certain. Nonetheless, Carl's average finish has been 17.167...not worthy of Chase status. He did have a blown engine a few weeks back resulting in a 39th, but without that he's still averaging 12.8 which isn't good enough. Carl is now 413 points back of JJ in 10th.

As I mentioned, next week is Talladega...the wildcard/crapshoot/lottery racetrack of NASCAR. I usually end my NASCAR blogs with endorsements to watch a certain race. I don't blog about NASCAR much, but if I do, you know a big event is coming. 'Dega is always nerve-wracking for the drivers and fans, because at any moment, a tiny mistake can result in a 10 to 20 car pile-up, known affectionately as "The Big One."

Though some drivers in the Chase have had problems that have pretty much eliminated all hopes of a Championship, a bad crash by Jimmie Johnson at Talladega would likely cost him 150 points off his lead over any other Chasers who finish up front. Drivers still alive for the Championship and looking to capitalize on possible mistakes are Martin, Gordon, Stewart, Montoya, and Kurt Busch. However it all goes down, we should have a clear picture of who's Chase is over, and who still has a shot at stopping Jimmie from 4-in-a-row!


NCAA Top 25 - Week 7

Nebraska makes me now are my picks:

1. Florida - Another unpretty victory. Really hope they can pull it together for games at South Carolina and the SEC title...
2. Texas - Just when I thought the North was catching up in the Big XII...Missouri makes Texas look studly again.
3. Alabama - Maybe Al Davis was right, cuz that was the worst managed final 45 seconds by Lane Kiffin...I think Tennessee had 'em.
4. Boise State - Big blowout of Hawaii...not the easiest place to play. Remaining games aren't difficult, but can the Broncos stay focused?
5. TCU - Impressive over BYU. They can be this year's version of Boise State...if Boise State isn't.
6. USC - Next, at Oregon...I will be watching this one.
7. Cincinnati - Won easily with their backup. Still have 2 BIG Big East games versus West Virginia and Pitt to finish out their season.
8. Iowa - I was in the shower and Anderson was giving me updates through the door. I still can't believe the final drives by both teams in this one.
9. LSU - Kinda thought Auburn would be a spoiler here. I hate the Bayou Bengals, and now ESPN says they're in position to control their own destiny to the BCS title....that sucks.
10. Georgia Tech - Survived the unpredictable Mountaineers. I like this GaTech team.
11. Oregon
12. Virginia Tech
13. Penn State
14. Oklahoma State
15. Ohio State
16. Pitt
17. Central Michigan
18. Utah
19. Houston
20. Miami (FL)
21. West Virginia
22. BYU
23. South Carolina
24. Arizona
25. Notre Dame
(Just out: Cal, Ole Miss)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 7

Lots of things surprised me this week. For some of the games it was the winner, for others, the score blew my mind. Nebraska looked awful. Watch for a NASCAR update later tonight.

1. Florida - As I said before, I'm not taking away their spot at #1 until somebody beats them...I don't care how bad they look.
2. Texas - I don't understand how they couldn't put up more against Oklahoma after all the Sooners have given up to others.
3. Alabama - Maybe the AP has them #1, but they've got to play Florida at the end of the year anyway, so stop complaining.
4. Boise State - Not a pretty victory, but that's how it works sometimes. I'm not sure they can win out, so you won't have the BCS-Buster title shot that many think they will get.
5. TCU - I'm amazed that they put up so many points this week. What will happen against BYU?
6. USC - I am not impressed by the win over Notre Dame. I understand the Irish are decent this year and Clausen is pretty good, but I really expected a double-digit victory.
7. Cincinnati - I watched a good part of this game, and I thought South Florida would win. Now that I've seen them in action, I think the Bearcats are legit and deserving of this spot.
8. Iowa - Struggled early, but put Wisconsin away in the 2nd half. Road wins are not easy to come by in the Big Ten...see Purdue.
9. Miami - I know they lost to VaTech and are now ahead of them in my poll, but weather was a factor and I always consider how highly ranked the opponent was.
10. LSU - Bye week pays dividends. 2 spots? I'm breaking my own rules.
11. Georgia Tech
12. Virginia Tech
13. Oregon
14. Penn State
15. Oklahoma State
16. BYU
17. Ohio State
18. Pitt
19. Central Michigan
20. Idaho
21. Utah
22. Houston
23. West Virginia
24. Texas Tech
25. Kansas
(Just out: South Florida, South Carolina)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 6

Not much in the way of surprises this week. Thank God LSU finally won't have to be in the top 5 and I can kick Georgia out of my poll once-and-for-all.

1. Florida - We all knew Florida's defense was good and LSU's offense was bad, but could they have won without Tebow???
2. Texas - First half was scary for the Horns, but eventually they pulled away like they should.
3. Alabama - I see the AP has jumped you over Texas...I cannot do this until you beat someone of significance by a lot or Texas loses. Next 3 games are at home, so you don't want to lose focus now.
4. VaTech - Another stomping handed out by Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies...jump the idle Broncos.
5. Boise State - Put yourselves in the Mountain West or schedule harder non-conf opponents...this is why you keep missing out on BCS Title games!
6. Ohio State - Made Wisconsin look bad...3 weeks of "gimmes" before heading to Happy Valley.
7. TCU - That was close...I just don't see them continuing to win every game when they're this close.
8. USC - Will probably destroy Notre Dame because, that's just what they do to Notre Dame now.
9. Cincinnati - I'll give them the bump because they are still undefeated and LSU is still overrated, but watch out Thursday at South Florida!
10. Iowa - Sure, they were at home, but Michigan is still good and I honestly thought the Hawkeyes would lose that one.
11. Kansas
12. LSU
13. Miami
14. Oregon
15. Penn State
16. Oklahoma
17. Nebraska
18. Oklahoma State
19. South Florida
20. Georgia Tech
21. South Carolina
22. BYU
23. Missouri
24. Pitt
25. Central Michigan
(Just out: Notre Dame, Idaho)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 5

A few teams took the "bye", and for the first time this year, a top 5 didn't fall...maybe that's because 2 went down last week. Looking forward to Nebraska vs. Missouri for the Bell Thursday night. Join me at Kirkwoods if you live in the Chicagoland area!

1. Florida - Bye week for a recovering Tebow. Up next: LSU that will NOT look good two weeks in a row.
2. Texas - Bye week for the Longhorns as well. Up next: Guaranteeing Dan Hawkins gets fired after Colorado loses their worst game in school history (please?)
3. Alabama - The only team with a shot at Florida right now. Easily took care of Kentucky to keep this spot.
4. LSU - Finally proved they deserve a top ranking with a tough road win against a decent Georgia team.
5. Boise State - Should have won by more against a Division 1-AA school, but they'll keep 5 because...
6. Virginia Tech - After making Miami look silly, Tech should have done much worse to Duke...but they didn't.
7. Ohio State - Another strong defensive performance against the Hoosiers, holding them to 18 yards rushing.
8. TCU - Rolls SMU...surprised they scored 39, but still didn't cover that huge spread. Getting ready for BYU in a few weeks.
9. USC - Destroyed Cal to prove who is best in the Pac-10. Can Oregon give them a run for their money?
10. Cincinnati - Easily handled Miami (OH). Now Anderson can stop saying they're ranked too low. Lets see them back it up at South Florida next Thursday.
11. Kansas
12. Iowa
13. Miami (FL)
14. Oregon
15 . Missouri
16. Penn State
17. Oklahoma
18. Oklahoma State
19. South Florida
20. Auburn
21. Wisconsin
22. Nebraska
23. Georgia Tech
24. South Carolina
25. Georgia
(Just out: BYU, Ole Miss)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CF Prospect Recap

Back in February I wrote about eight center field prospects to keep your eye on this season. While not all of them were promoted to the majors like I predicted, 2009 gave us an even better idea of what to expect from them in the future. With just a few games left in the season, here's a look at how they fared in 2008:

Colby Rasmus, StL: .254/.306/.414 16 HR, 3 SB
Rasmus made the club out of Spring Training and began the year as a spot starter and defensive replacement. As the summer warmed up so did Rasmus. His hitting numbers may not be the best of the bunch but his defensive numbers are off the charts. I repeat what I predicted earlier this year: Rasmus will make many All-Star appearances and will be a superstar.

Andrew McCutchen, Pit: .283/.355/.468 12 HR, 17 SB
Once Nate McLouth was surprisingly traded to Atlanta in June, there were no excuses for holding McCutchen back. He began with a splash by getting two hits and stealing a base in his first MLB game. He also displayed more power than I expected. He should be the front runner for Rookie of the Year.
My opinion of him has actually improved. I believed he would be a slightly above average major leaguer with some good seasons but now I believe he'll be a good major leaguer and one of the few Pirates in recent memory actually deserving of his All-Star roster spot.

Dexter Fowler, Col: .267/.366/.408 4 HR, 27 SB
After a cup of coffee in September of '08, Fowler was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter pretty much from the get go. His defense has been a little shaky but that could be due to playing in the largest park in baseball; I'm not sure exactly how to interpret his defensive stats. He did, however, display his blazing speed and a keen batting eye for a young player. Colorado loves this kid and with reason. He's good.

Drew Stubbs, Cin: .264/.306/.441 8 HR, 9 SB
I wasn't surprised Stubbs didn't start the year in Cincinnati but more surprised that he wasn't called up before August. While Dusty Baker and Willy Taveras tag-teamed to eliminate the Reds from postseason contention (Baker continuously batted Taveras leadoff despite a .275 OBP and 14 XBH in 400+ plate appearances!), Stubbs was in AAA (although he wasn't exactly lighting the place on fire). Next year will be a big year for him as he will be expected to be a key contributor for a team that believes it will compete. Although I'm not sure he's a leadoff hitter, Dusty Baker says otherwise.

Cameron Maybin, Fla: .236/.313/.395 4 HR, 1 SB
Expected to be the complimentary piece on this team next to superstar Hanley Ramirez, Maybin struggled mightily out of the gate. His contact rates where extremely low causing his batting average to plummet as well. Even worse, he only had 1 home run before he got sent back down. Recalled in September, Maybin appears to have righted the ship a bit. It is still too early to give up on him if he struggles again next year, but he's now had enough chances that Florida expects to see some major improvements. If he ever learns to walk he could be Jack Cust with speed, but right now I'm just confused as to what he'll turn into. He's still only 22 so there's time.

Jordan Schafer, Atl: .204/.313/.287 2 HR, 2 SB
A home run in his first major league at bat on opening day had Braves fans excited about their center fielder of the future. The team knew he couldn't hit left-handers and even batted him eighth in an effort to give him the best chance to succeed. It didn't work. Even his defense was subpar. Many wondered if there was an injury he was trying to hide so as not to lose his spot on the roster. After he was demoted in late May, he admitted to having a bum wrist that bothered him since the first week of the season. He's been on the DL pretty much ever since. I expect major platoon splits with Schafer along the lines of Curtis Granderson's with a few 20-20 seasons. I'm still a believer!

Austin Jackson, NYY: .300/.354/.405 4 HR, 24 SB (AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barr)
The one guy on this list that didn't get to make his major league debut. He still hasn't taken the giant leap forward scouts had anticipated years ago. He's still very fast but lacks much power. At best he turns into Brett Butler (and that's pretty good). At worst Brett Gardner. It's most likely he ends up somewhere in between like Jose Cardenal.

Michael Saunders, Sea: .227/.267/.273 0 HR, 4 SB
With Seattle moonlighting as a contender, the team did not want to risk calling up a prospect who was an unknown commodity. When Endy Chavez got injured the door was open and Saunders has been up since. He hasn't done anything to excite management but you can expect him to start 2010 in the outfield. I don't foresee him becoming an All-Star but whose to say if it all comes together he won't turn into Jim Edmonds? The tools are there it's just a question of whether or not he puts them together.

Monday, September 28, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 4

The SEC continues to be more unimpressive than impressive. Numbers 4, 5, and 6 all fall and 7 should have too. Boise State is smelling their chance. Who deserves to be ranked anymore?

1. Florida - Tebow looked good with his flu-like symptoms until the concussion. Lucky for Gators they get an extra week for his recovery.
2. Texas - Trying to prove a point after the struggle with Tech last week.
3. Alabama - They finally proved to me they deserve this ranking.
4. LSU - Watch these guys make it 5 weeks in a row a top-5 team falls.
5. Boise State - They really need to increase the difficulty of their schedule. When the BCS rankings come out in a few weeks, watch Boise be 3-5 spots lower than their AP & Coaches poll rankings.
6. VaTech - I predicted they'd be trashed by Miami. They were a completely different team than the one that almost lost to Nebraska...or is Nebraska that good?
7. Ohio State - So the defense is good...I could go for some more offense.
8. TCU - Clemson on the road was a real test, and these guys are for real.
9. USC - I didn't see this game, but the box score tells me they shut it down after the 1st.
10. Oklahoma - Bye weeks mean you don't get to move up THAT much.
11. Georgia
12. Kansas
13. Cincinnati
14. Houston
15. Iowa
16. Missouri
17. Michigan
18. Oregon
19. Oklahoma State
20. Penn State
21. Miami
22. South Florida
23. Nebraska
24. Georgia Tech
25. South Carolina

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 3

Sad to see Nerbaska lose...even worse was how it happened. Lots of teams near the top go down, and Florida State bounces back?

1. Florida - Gators can't claim they destroyed everyone this year...nice try Vols.
2. Texas - Survived the scare of repeating last year's loss to Crabtree, er, Texas Tech.
3. Alabama - Fine, you can have 3rd place.
4. Penn State - I wanted to jump them to 3, but they haven't played anyone yet.
5. Cal - Got a little dicey vs. the Gophers, but Best was best and got it done.
6. Ole Miss - [snore] I guess Sneed played well...I wasn't watching.
7. LSU - Almost every SEC team on here is worse than their ranking, but I stick to my rules.
8. Boise State - Friday night shootout and the Broncos keep rolling.
9. Virginia Tech - F&%$-ing Hokies
10. Ohio State - I know you're thinking, "but USC already beat them"....but OSU's loss is to a legitimate team and USC's isn't.
11. Oklahoma
12. TCU
13. USC
14. North Carolina
15. Georgia
16. Kansas
17. Cincinnati
18. Miami
19. Houston
20. Oklahoma State
21. Missouri
22. Michigan
23. Oregon
24. Florida State
25. Nebraska

Saturday, September 19, 2009

NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup - 2009

Last week's regular season finale at Richmond provided plenty of action. The stage is set for what I expect will be the most hotly contested Chase for the Cup in years.

The race began with only 4 drivers locked into the Chase by points earned in the first 25 races. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, and Denny Hamlin had performed well enough to guarantee a chance at the title, no matter how they finished. The other 8 playoff spots were up for grabs with 11 drivers vying for those roles. Actually, David Reutimann was practically eliminated by the race's start anyway. He basically would have needed a win and with the next 3 drivers ahead of him all finishing near the back to qualify - very unlikely. I'll save you the drama...he didn't win and the guys in front all raced better than him anyway. The real drama centered around 3 drivers tyring to lock up the final spot.

Matt Kenseth - Kenseth has qualified for the Chase every year since it's inception in 2004 (Jimmie Johnson is the only other driver to do this). He started the year with back to back wins at Daytona and California and saw reasonable success over the first half of the year. In the most recent weeks leading up to Richmond, Kenseth and his team were really struggling and falling each week in the overall points race. Before the race, Kenseth was even quoted as saying, "If we don't make the Chase, I'll be disappointed...but I won't be surprised" seemingly foreshadowing his own fate. He entered the race with a 20-point lead over 13th place Brian Vickers.

Brian Vickers - Prior to the 2009 season, Vickers's only win came in controversial fashion at Talladega Superspeedway in 2006. (If you read my article about this season's Spring Talladega race, you will see that it basically takes patience and luck to win there.) Vickers had a consistent season, often running in the top 5 and finishing an average of 15th. He's also been the fastest in qualifying 6 times, leading all drivers this year. He won just his second career race at the Sprint Cup level this year by appropriately beating the rest of the field in a fuel-mileage race at Michigan International Speedway (Vickers drives a Toyota and Michigan is often referred to as the big 3 auto-makers backyard). Hopes were high, but cautious, at Richmond because Vickers is not necessarily known for his short-track skills, and Richmond measure only .75 miles around.

Kyle Busch - Trailing Brian Vickers by 17 points and Matt Kenseth by 37, Kyle would need to beat Vickers by 4 or more spots and Kenseth by about 13 spots to earn his place in NASCAR's playoff. If everything fell into place, Busch would then get a boosted to a tie for 1st place with Mark Martin, as each has won 4 races this season (regular season victories counts as 10 bonus points to start the Chase). Something else working in Kyle's favor was the memory of the Spring Richmond race 4 months ago which he won.

No need for specifics, so here's a fast rundown of the 400 laps last Saturday night. Kenseth started near the back of the pack after a poor qualifying effort. He spent most of the race around 25th-30th, all but sealing his fate. His last-ditch effort was to stay on the track when caution flew with 25 laps to go. He was one lap down, and visiting pit road would guarantee him no better than 28 place...he finished 25th instead. The door was wide open for Kyle and Brian, and they provided some great action.

At various points throughout the night, Busch and Vickers swapped spots for the final place in the playoffs. During that last caution, Kyle left pit road a few spots ahead of Brian. But as the final laps ticked away, Busch crossed 6th and Vickers 8th, allowing Brian to hold onto an 8 point lead and a shot at the title.

The other big story of the night was hometown hero Denny Hamlin. Hamlin is from Chesterfield, Virginia which is about 30 minutes Southwest of Richmond. In a half-dozen previous races at Richmond International Raceway, Denny had seen successful runs falter in the final laps. This weekend he was able to put together a complete performance, earning his 2nd win of the season and an additional 10 bonus points to his Chase effort.

What's to come:
Tomorrow (probably "today" by the time I finalize this post) is race 1 of the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The race will be run at the flat, 1-mile oval known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson looks to continue his amazing playoff performance by going for a record-breaking 4th straight Sprint Cup Championship. The most impressive drivers during the regular season in '09 all drive Hendrik Motorsports (think New York Yankees) engines in their Chevrolets...a recurring theme for a sport that is supposed to have an even playing field. One of these 4 contenders (Stewart, Gordon, Johnson, and Martin) probably accounts for 99% of experts' picks to win it all. Though I can't disagree, I'm hoping for more parity than is expected.

So if you are a sometimes watcher of NASCAR, Sunday is a good time to tune in. I know the football season is young and exciting, but for the local Bears fans that might be reading this, I promise you will find more surprises and entertainment here than the Steelers blowout looming on the horizon. In the past few seasons, a driver that quietly made the playoffs usually asserts himself early in the Chase.

Last year Greg Biffle immediately moved from 8th to 2nd (and only 10 points out of first) by winning the first 2 Chase races at New Hampshire and Dover. These were Biffle's first two wins of the year. Tomorrow, Juan Pablo Montoya looks to follow suit as he won no races during the regular season and currently sits tied for 9th in Chase points. Montoya won the poll in qualifying Friday afternoon and also had the fastest lap in final practice today.

Current Standings:
1 - Mark Martin - 5040 (4 wins)
2 - Tony Stewart & Jimmie Johnson - 5030 (3 wins each)
4 - Denny Hamlin & Kasey Kahne - 5020 (2 wins each)
6 - Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers - 5010 (1 win each)
9 - Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman - 5000

Though it's far too early to make any quality guesses, I will still throw out mine below. I swear NASCAR is a sport you can really get behind, and I hope some of you skeptics will give it a chance.

Likely Winner Based on Recent History - Jimmie Johnson - #48 Lowes Chevrolet
Likely Winner Based on Season Performance - Tony Stewart - #14 Office Depot Chevrolet
Fan-Favorite (and my pick) - Mark Martin - #5 Kellogs Chevrolet
Sleeper Pick to Watch Out For - Carl Edwards - #99 Aflac Ford

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 2

This week, the Big XII took some shots, and other than Florida, the SEC looked soft again too. Perhaps USC or a Big Ten team makes it to the title?

1. Florida - Tebow must continue his college legacy, cuz he won't have a pro legacy.
2. Texas - Trailed Wyoming long enough for Colt McCoy to pull his head out.
3. USC - Happy to see Ohio State played well, but this team is loaded with talent.
4. Alabama - Struggled for a bit vs. FIU...FIU? Come on Tide, man up.
5. Penn State - JoePa jumps into the top 5.
6. Cal - Big win over nobody. Stay healthy for the USC game.
7. Ole Miss - Don't like to bump teams on the bye week, but Okie State gave a gift.
8. LSU - Another sloppy win...please lose already.
9. Boise State - Looked much better on offense this week.
10. Virginia Tech - A win vs. Nebraska next week will justify this ranking.
11. Ohio State
12. BYU
13. Oklahoma
14. TCU
15. Georgia Tech
16. Utah
17. North Carolina
18. Georgia
19. Nebraska
20. Kansas
21. Cincinnati
22. Houston
23. Oklahoma State
24. Missouri
25. Oregon

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 1

I will weekly post my Top 25 for College Football. The "rules" for my top 25 don't follow the standard format. I didn't do a preseason poll because, simply, I don't know enough about the teams until later in the season. For the first few weeks you will see my similarly mimic the major polls, but at the end of the season, I show no bias for "quality teams with quality wins in quality conferences." If you are Boise State and you are 12-0, chances are you will be in my top 3 and possibly in my BCS Title Game. Without further delay, here they are:

1. Florida - Defending champs won't lose this spot unless they lose.
2. Texas - With or without Oklahoma's loss, they'll play Florida in Pasedena.
3. USC - Always worthy of a top 5 this early.
4. Ohio State - Makes this weekend's matchup more interesting I'd say.
5. Alabama - Not sold on them. I like Saban, but these guys find a way to lose.
6. Penn State - PSU returns to glory...soon to be Top 5!
7. Oklahoma State - This year's Texas Tech?
8. Ole Miss - Make me think the SEC might be overrated.
9. Cal - Soft schedule may bite them in polls...may equal Rose Bowl in mine.
10. LSU - Sloppy win, but recent success and talent on the team justifies this spot.
(The rest are based off pre-season rankings and week 1 results...not subjectivity)
11. Boise State
12. Virginia Tech
13. BYU
14. Oklahoma
15. Georgian Tech
16. TCU
17. Utah
18. North Carolina
19. Georgia
20. Notre Dame
21. Nebraska
22. Kansas
23. Missouri
24. Oregon
25. Miami (FL)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'tis the season to be blogging...

For many months, we have neglected the blog. True, our dear Anderson "Cooper" Adams did just post something 2 weeks ago, but that was the first in 3 months. Right now is a season of change: MLB has it's trade deadline; NASCAR is approaching the Chase (their version of the playoffs); Fantasy Football leagues are forming and drafts are being scheduled; for me and Coop, an address change is on the horizon as well.

I follow sports maybe 20% more than the average sports fan overall, but a big chunk of that is covered by sports that are not so gripping in the Chicago area, and in some cases, America as a whole. So today, you get a dose of sports you might otherwise not know or care about.

Tour de Lance - Despite his best effort and the hopes of a Cinderella story across the pond, Lance will finish up bicycle's #1 event in not-first for the first time in his last 8 tries. Since Lance's last win in 2005, we had an American win (Floyd Landis) who appeared to be ready to carry on the Lance tradition for a few more years. Instead he became the first winner to ever be stripped of his yellow jersey. This awarded the win to 2nd place finisher Oscar Pereiro, and set of a run of Spaniards claiming the title...a streak that will continue this year, just a few hours after I finish posting this blog. Pereiro is not now, and was not then considered a top contender for the win. He was involved in a breakaway that stretched too far one day, and the main field gave up too much time to recover in the final days...enough to retain what would have been a 2nd-place finish. Pereiro got the win, but not the respect of a winner.

In 2007, Alberto Contador raced for American sponsored Team Discovery. In cycling, specifically stage-racing like the Tour de France, teams are composed of 9 riders, each playing varying roles. (Come to think of it, the similarities to baseball go beyond the 9-man team, but I'll talk more about that later.) Typically each team has a sprinter racing for the green jersey, a climber racing for the polka-dot jersey, a young rider chasing the white jersey, a general classification rider vying for the yellow jersey as best overall time, and the remaining racers playing varying support roles. Contador was Discovery's young rider competing for the white jersey; American Levi Leipheimer was the team's yellow jersey hopeful. However, once they hit the big mountains, Contador proved he could not only stay with the leaders, but accelerate away from them at any moment. Although more riders were probably dismissed and suspended for illegal activities in 2007 than all other years combined, Contador showed me he would be a contender for years to come...not just a fluke winner like Pereiro the year before. He won convincingly, and he had the respect of the other riders.

One team in particular that was ravaged by cheating in the 2007 TDF was Team Astana. Following their expulsion halfway through the '07 Tour, nearly all the riders and trainers were fired in the offseason. Astana then went out and signed both Contador and Leipheimer since Discovery opted not to sponsor a team for '08. Despite the Astana facelift, Tour organizers prohibited them from entering the race in 2008. Therefore, Contador didn't have the opportunity to defend his title. While being kept out of last year's race, Contador instead went on to win the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, cycling's other two Grand Tours. He became only the 6th rider to win all 3, and the youngest to do so by far. Carlos Sastre went on to win the 2008 Tour de France as the 3rd different Spaniard in a row...then Lance came out of retirement, and that pretty much brings us to the start of the '09 Tour de France.

Contador was the major favorite headed into this year's July race in France, and Lance was the ultimate wild card, racing for the same team (Astana) as Contador and Leipheimer. Rather than take you stage by stage, all you need to know is Lance kept it close until the final week or so of the race, even being tied for the lead for a few days early in the Tour. Contador finally claimed yellow one week ago after winning a major mountain stage by a significant margin, and then proceeding to win the individual time trial a few days later. He now holds a 4+ minute advantage over 2nd place, and about 5 and a half minutes over 3rd-place Lance with only tomorrow's "parade" stage to go. Unless Contador falls and breaks something, he will have won his 2nd TDF in as many tries, and he's only 26. Maybe he won't win 5 or 6 more in a row like Armstrong accomplished, but he will probably finish with at least as many wins as Lance, if not more.

The best thing to look forward to in next year's race is that Lance has already announced his return (unlike some star athletes that drag the retirement decision out over months and months of speculation), and he'll be riding for an America sponsor again. Will he beat Contador? Almost certainly not, but his odds a 9th straight podium finish look pretty good.

I could go on about Lance's near-death battle with cancer which became a global campaign known as LiveStrong, and Lance's dual purpose for this year's race, but that story is old. If you want to know more, there are probably a dozen best-selling books on Lance's fight with cancer.

I could write about Armstong's recent womanizing ways, but that is better suited for gossip magazines. Besides, it would diminish the pride and glory he brings to Americans watching his nearly impossible feat this year.

I used to think that Lance was another performance enhancer. For all those that have been caught, how could he have possibly won seven years in a row without cheating somewhere along the way? This is probably the first 100% clean Tour in years and year, and after the show he put on at 37, suddenly I'm not so sure he ever did cheat. Go Lance, go!

(Come back tomorrow for a NASCAR update)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

GMs compete for Title

Yesterday two trades occurred in an apparent attempt for the respective General Managers to claim the title "Worst GM in Major League Baseball."

The first trade took place mid-afternoon. The Royals, realizing they have been playing the majority of the season without a shortstop, traded their 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the year (Daniel Cortes) and a 21 year old left-handed reliever in A ball. Now, neither of these guys looks to be much more than a situational relief pitcher in the bigs, but considering what they got in return makes this seem like a coup for Seattle.
In return, Seattle gladly gives them Yuniesky Betancourt who is not only the worst defensive shortstop in baseball but has a career OBP of .302 and a career slugging of .393. The fact that he's 27 and has continually gotten worse makes this trade stink even more. I hope Dayton Moore realizes he still needs a shortstop.

Not to be outdone, a few hours later Omar Minaya and Frank Wren agreed on a challenge trade that probably caused Frank Wren to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Jeff Francouer and cash go to the Mets for Ryan Church (can you believe Francoeur actually makes MORE than Church?). What makes this trade especially sweet from the Braves perspective is that not only to the Braves get an improvement but they make the Mets worse at the same time! If the deal itself isn't enough to fire Minaya, here's a quote, "One thing I really liked about Jeff Francoeur is the amount of games he plays." Wow.
Although these guys think it's an easy win for the Mets, these guys are left with their mouths open.

So who gets the crown?

Monday, April 27, 2009

5 Winners

The NFL draft is finally over!  I don't believe in giving grades because it takes three years to evaluate a team's draft but I do think there were some clear winners and losers.  Here's a few teams whose drafts stood out above the others in a good way. Click on the team links to see who they selected.

Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals first four players should start right away.  Charles Johnson reminds me of Julius Peppers and could be a steal if he decides to play hard on more than 50% of the downs.  Chase Coffman is a viable offensive threat which hopefully will be utilized by Carson Palmer (considering he's never had a TE who could catch, I hope he is not confused).  The only pick I question is 6th round pick Bernard Scott who has been arrested 5 times in four years.  He should fit right in.

Buffalo Bills - Buffalo decided not to reach for a tackle with the #11 pick instead choosing the best pure pass rusher available in Aaron Maybin.  They also selected two interior linemen who should step in right away to improve one of the league's worst lines at run blocking.  Fourth round pick Shawn Nelson is being declared the steal of the draft and 6th round pick Corey Harris could end up being a solid starter.  Any time you get a starter in the 6th round you had a good draft.  Their last pick of the day made little sense to me though.

Seattle Seahawks - Seattle passed on taking Matt Hasselbeck's replacement.  Normally  a decision like this should be questioned but Seattle probably took the best player in the draft in LB Aaron Curry.  Second round pick Max Unger will step in and start a center right away also.  Deon Butler is the new Bobby Engram and Courtney Greene will be a stud on special teams as a worst case scenario.  Taking QB Mike Teel in the 6th was just silly.  Seattle will make the playoffs this year.

Houston Texans - Brian Cushing will be the team's main pass rusher off the end beginning on day 1.  This move should should help EVERYONE on the defense.  Connor Barwin is a DE who can also line up at TE.  James Casey is already better than Owen Daniels in my mind and could be an immediate offensive threat.  I think Houston had a great draft.

Green Bay Packers - I'm not sold on Clay Matthews being a solid NFL linebacker but with GB moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 he can play next to AJ Hawk which should help hide each of their weaknesses.  BJ Raji was an absolute steal at #9.  TJ Lang was a nice pick for a team with an aging O-line and John Meredith could develop into a solid guard.  I think Green Bay's overall draft hinges on the success of Matthews but right now it looks like one of the best.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Talladega Afternoons, where cars take flight...

IF YOU DIDN'T SEE ANY RACE HI-LIGHTS OR DON'T CARE ABOUT NASCAR, THIS HEADLINE MIGHT GET YOU TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE: Carl Edwards was leading the race, got spun out and caught air at 200 mph with 100 yards to the finish. He climbed out of his flaming, destroyed Claritin Ford Fusion and jogged to the finish line, a la Ricky Bobby.

(photo courtesy of

This being my first post on SportsTemps...I better act like I know what I'm talking about. If you only watch one NASCAR race in your entire life, this was the race to watch.

A few things you need to know first:

  • The NASCAR race season is comprised of 36 points-races, plus a few other races that don't count in the overall standings.

  • This weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 9th of the season.

  • Talladega is a restrictor-plate track, meaning a special plate is put over the engine's carburetor to restrict the air/fuel intake and limit overall horsepower and speed of the cars.

Talladega and Daytona are the only restrictor-plate tracks in the NASCAR circuit. These tracks are huge (2.66 and 2.5 miles per lap, respectively) with extremely steep banking through the turns, and allowing a car to run without a restricted engine would result in speeds of well over 210 miles per hour. Since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona Superspeedway in the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR has come up with many safety innovations to help protect the fans and drivers. However, the restrictor-plate was made mandatory at these two tracks a few years earlier in 1998.

The fastest official qualifying lap at Talladega had an average speed of just over 212 miles per hour by Bill Elliot in 1987. The fastest speed ever recorded on that track was a test-run without a restrictor-plate by retired NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace in 2004. He reached 228 at one point on the back straightaway and ran an average of 221 mph for the full lap.

The restrictor-plate now allows cars to top out around 190 in their qualifying laps. Once multiple cars get together in a group, they can push or "bump-draft" each other to get up to speeds in the 199-201 range. Though still dangerous, this apparently keeps the engineers and physicists happy as cars shouldn't be able to catch any real air when crashing at these speeds.

Restrictor plates also have a huge down-side. Cars grouped together drive faster than a lone car on a breakaway. Much like the peloton in the Tour de France, breakaways are quickly caught as the group cuts through the wind resistance better and sucks the leaders back in. Drivers never touch the brake pedal and spend more time looking in the rear view mirror than out the windshield. Just letting off the gas for a split-second will get you slammed from behind. With 30+ cars grouped together, one small mistake can result in dozens of cars wrecking because there's no room to stop or swerve at 190 miles per hour when you're surrounded. Talladega is even more notorious for this than Daytona, and therefore, every Talladega race brings the threat of the "Big One"...a wreck wiping out a huge chunk of the field. This happens at least once in nearly every race on NASCAR's biggest track. No amount of skill can save you when everyone around you is wrecking. You can try to stay towards the front of the pack, but you run the risk of being the one who starts the wreck. Or you can hang around at the back of the pack to give yourself stopping room if a wreck does occur, but you run the risk of losing the draft and falling waaaaay back in the race, and even possibly getting lapped.

Usually, races at Talladega are exciting at the begging, then the drivers settle down during the middle, then wild at the end again. This year's Aaron's 499 at Talladega was really no different. Just 7 laps into the 188-lap race, Jeff Gordon, one of the best drivers in the sport, and maybe the best active driver in restrictor-plate races, got bumped in the middle of a turn by this year's Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth. At the time, Gordon was running about 10th and near the front of a 40-car pack. Gordon wobbled up the track a little, then down into Kenseth again, then back up into David Gilliland, and the subsequent smashup left about 20 cars with damage. 5 cars never returned to the race, and another 4 had to make serious repairs before returning just to limp around and salvage a few extra points.

The next 165 laps were mostly uneventful. A few cautions for debris on the track, the occasional single-car spin, but no real casualties. Then, with 8 laps to go, someone let off the gas, and when the trickle-down effect reached Juan Pablo Montoya, he took a shot to the rear from Denny Hamlin's FedEx Toyota Camry that sent ten cars near the back of the pack crashing into the walls and each other.

After the cleanup, 24 cars restarted on the lead lap for a shot at the win. Carl Edwards has become a championship threat over the last 2 seasons, but he has always had a black cloud over his head at restrictor-plate tracks. He's never finished in the top 5 and wrecks without finishing the race about half the time. Today he spent most of the race near the back, trying to avoid getting caught up in another big wreck.

When the green flag dropped with 4 laps to go, Edwards was running in 9th. Ryan Newman was leading, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was in 2nd. Newman and Junior immediately hooked up, and pulled out to a big lead over the pack. With a little over 1 lap to go, Brad Keselowski got behind Edwards and started pushing him toward the leading duo. The trick with Talladega is to make the final pass early enough to have a run on the leader and get by him to win, but not so early that you get hung out alone and someone else comes blazing by you just before the finish. Earnhardt Jr. couldn't get around Newman coming off the final turn while the Edwards/Keselowski train was steaming by them both on the outside. Keselowski ducked below Edwards, and Edwards tried to slide down in front of him to block, but Keselowski had already cleared Carl's rear bumper. The result was Edwards's car spun hard left and the rear wheels lifted off the track as Brad drove high for the win. Meanwhile, Newman and Earnhardt were still fighting for 3rd, and Carl's driver-side rear wheels came down right on Ryan Newman's hood. The shock lifted Carl's car completely off the track and into an upside down helicopter spin which slammed the outside wall and safety fence in what is a top 3 most ferocious wreck I've seen watching NASCAR live (all at Talladega, and 2nd involving Carl...).

Keselowski went on to win, Earnhardt Junior 2nd, and Newman skidded mostly sideways across the finish line for 3rd. Carl's car came to a rest about a football field short of the finish line while the rest of the field safely drove by. I thought he was surely unconscious and probably hurt, but he unhooked his window-net and climbed out of his still burning wreck. He then jogged past the rescue crew to the finish line, helmet and all.

Carl is not one of my favorite drivers, but he has the best TV personality of all NASCAR drivers by far, and I'm certain he's seen the Will Farrell movie named for this track. Of course, none of Carl's post-race antics mattered as his car has to cross the line to technically finish the race, but he earned the same finishing position as he would have if his car had crawled across last on the lead lap. In the post race interview, Carl simply said, "...I want my wife and mom to know I'm okay...its pretty scary when you're upside down...I've never hit the wall with anything other than the side of my car before...I guess we'll just keep doing this for NASCAR until somebody gets killed [in a restrictor-plate race]."