Saturday, September 08, 2007

CFB Live-Comment

And I'm in Gainesville!
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Saturday 09/08 (Very) Quickie

Full CFB Preview here.
Full NFL Week 1 Preview here.

Rutgers, Rice roll: No matter what happens today, Ray Rice (175 yards rushing, 3 TDs) will be in my Top 3 Heisman ranking, along with Brian Brohm.

(Speaking of "no matter what happens today," no matter what happens today, the winner of LSU-Virginia Tech will be be No. 1 in my Top 25 on Sunday.)

I meant to post about this earlier, but ProTrade's college football "rankings" (market valuations, really) has become one of my new go-to sources of authority. Take a look.

MLB Stud: Curtis Granderson, who hit his 20th HR, to go with his 20 triples and 20 doubles, putting him in elite company -- just five other players, none since George Brett in 1979, since 1900. That's a hell of a milestone.

MLB will be allowed to do background checks on minor-league umps. (Wait: They weren't before?)

US Open: Justine beats Venus. (I think Henin has earned first-name treatment.)

Troy Glaus' connection to HGH just doesn't bother me nearly as much as Rick Ankiel's.

More Ankiel: He insists the HGH was legally prescribed by a doctor. I can't speak for everyone else, but my disappointment is not based on legal/illegal or within the rules/against the rules, though those are important nuances to ensure we all remember: As far as we know, he did nothing against MLB rules or against the law. But that's not really the point.

It's just disappointment over the idea that "The Natural" is even a little un-natural. Maybe I was being naive, and maybe that's why this bothered me so much. (Meanwhile, Ankiel should have come clean on this way earlier. I guess he thought -- probably rightly -- that admitting it would derail his MLB comeback.)

After a day to really think about it, here's where I stand on Rick Ankiel, and it's probably the sentiment/phrasing/nostalgia that captures it best: Ankiel is the "Say it ain't so" guy of our era.

That said, let me make a prediction: He'll weather it. Cards fans will be forgiving, predictably (just as Giants fans are forgiving of Barry Bonds), and most MLB fans will be forgiving, too. Put in the context of "The Comeback," it's easy to rationalize a few years after the fact.

-- D.S.

Friday, September 07, 2007

NFL Week 1 Preview and Picks

Week 1 Picks: Well, I'm already 0-1 on the week (and season) from missing the Saints over the Colts. That just means I have nowhere to go but up. As usual, all picks made regardless of spread.

Broncos over at Bills
I'm in the bag for Jay Cutler.
Steelers over at Browns
Eagles over at Packers
McNabb > Favre.
at Texans over Chiefs
Schaub Era begins with W.
at Jags over Titans
MJD trumps VY.
at Vikings over Falcons
Atlanta on Brohm Tank Watch!
Pats over at Jets
Genius tops Mangenius.
at Rams over Panthers
Steven Jackson Show?
at Redskins over Dolphins
Janky Spanky is back.
Lions over at Raiders
Calvin Johnson Era begins.
at Chargers over Bears
at Seahawks over Bucs
Overlooking Seattle?
at Cowboys over Giants
Just keep Tiki quiet.
at Bengals over Ravens
Great MNF Opener
at 49ers over Cards
Breakout year for Alex Smith?

Last week: n/a. Season: 0-1

CFB Weekend Preview: Huge Beyond VT-LSU

This is a spectacular weekend of college football, particularly given that it's only Week 2. If last week's App State-Michigan upset eclipsed every other story, this week offers plenty of storylines beyond VT-LSU:

TCU will beat Texas: I've been picking this since before the season started. TCU is poised to be this year's Boise State; Texas looked mediocre last week. The Horned Frogs stake their claim in Austin and pull off the biggest story of the weekend.

Is No. 5 Oklahoma for real? Underrated Miami will give them a test in a battle of 80s corruption not unlike "Dallas" vs. "Dynasty."

Now that I'm respecting Georgia, what about this week's game against their nemesis, the Ol Ball Coach? And he gets QB Blake Mitchell back. Yeah, it's in Athens, but that never stopped Spurrier before, did it?

Yes, Notre Dame IS that bad: And when they get waxed by Penn State, it will get even worse.

As I mentioned in my Deadspin column this week, if you said in the mid-90s that Nebraska-Wake Forest in Winston-Salem would be a legit toss-up, you would have been laughed out of the sports bar. It's for real.

Boise State at Washington: It will probably be another BCS-league notch on Boise's bedpost, but I don't think it's crazy to suggest that Washington and Ty Willingham NEED to win this game, for legitimacy.

And, finally, can Michigan rebound against Oregon? I'll put the over-under at 80 points and simply leave it with this: Michigan BETTER win, but I think the pressure will crack them. Quack, quack.

The Picks:
9 Virginia Tech over at 2 LSU (Huge!)
3 WVU over at Marshall (My No. 1 team last week!)
4 Florida over Troy (I'll be there!)

Miami over at 5 Oklahoma (The Canes are back!)
5 Wisconsin over at UNLV (standard UW cupcake)
19 TCU over at 7 Texas (Upset Special!)
10 Cal over at Colorado St (Let-down game?)
11 Georgia over South Carolina (Barely)

12 Ohio State over Akron (Zzz...)
13 UCLA over BYU
14 Penn State over Notre Dame (Heh)
Wake Forest over 16 Nebraska (Don't call it an upset!)
17 Auburn over South Florida (Hmm...)
20 Hawaii over LA Tech (Brennan Mania!)
21 Georgia Tech over Samford
22 Boise State over at Washington
23 Texas A&M over Fresno State
24 Tennessee over Southern Miss
25 Clemson over LA-Monroe

-- D.S.

College Football Preview: Virginia Tech vs. LSU!

Virginia Tech at LSU: Why is this the biggest college football game of the year, not just of the first two weeks, but potentially of the entire season?

If favored LSU wins, they will have notched the "best" win of the season. And with their next-toughest game being a home grudge-match against Florida – not to mention top-dog status in the SEC – the Tigers would have the inside track on one of the two precious BCS title-game invites.

Now, if Virginia Tech wins (as I have predicted they will as the most important part of my "Why Virginia Tech will win the national title" argument), they will instantly rack up the single-best win of the season in the nation, with any other potential outcomes the rest of the season running second. They will have a straight shot at running the table. And they will instantly have a national bandwagon.

The bottom line why this game is so huge? The winner can be (and SHOULD be) the No. 1 team in the country on Monday, with the inside track on a spot in the national-title game.

Because I think this game is so big (and because I cannot possibly do it enough justice myself), I brought in two guest-posters from each side. Representing Virginia Tech, the immensely talented Nick Dallamora of The Dugout. And representing LSU, the immensely talented Josh Levin of Slate.

From Nick Dallamora:

The first week of college football produces what is arguably the messiest display of arguments and number swapping this side of a mathematical proofs class. We're given our first chance to dig into some teams and see how their new lineups shaped out, but these games can be quite deceiving, as was the case with Virginia Tech. Playing a weak ECU team was an almost guaranteed win, but a mere 17-7 from #9? As usual, there's more going into this Saturday. Here are 5 reasons why Tech can beat LSU Saturday night:

5. Anyone can win in a low scoring game
I don't think anyone is expecting to see more than 21 points on the board, so either team should be within striking distance at any point in the game.

4. VT's defense is just as likely to score as their offense
The ability strike on D keeps the game within reach on both sides of the ball. LSU's spread offense will have to be contained to force Matt Flynn into making rushed passes.

3. Sean Glennon didn't suck as bad as usual
Sure, first pass for a pick Saturday, but that was his only one and he completed 2/3 of his passes. Potential upswing here.

2. A great receiving core
LSU's defense is not going to give up much, but when they do it's going to cost them. Royal, Morgan, and Hyman are big deep threats.

1. Beamer and Bud
I'm convinced Frank Beamer and Bud Foster have a terrific game plan saved up for this game. Didn't it seem like Eddie Royal had the day off last week?


From Josh Levin:

Dan has asked me to say a few words about why the Tigers are going to stomp the Hokies on Saturday night. Since I'm an extremely neurotic sports fan, the best I can do is explain why LSU should win if they don't screw up.

First off, the defense is really really good. The linebackers are a bit overrated, but they're all speedy and they're all returning starters. The defensive line is as good as everyone says, with both stars (DT Glenn Dorsey, DE Tyson Jackson) and depth.

And even though the line gets all the publicity, the secondary is LSU's greatest strength—Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson can man up on anyone and Craig Steltz and Danny McCray are both (forgive the blasphemy) way better than insta-legend LaRon Landry in pass coverage. Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon has gotten rattled in big games before. If he gets 1/10 as discombobulated as Mississippi State 's Michael Henig, he should set the LSU offense up for some easy scores.

Matt Flynn, on the other hand, has shown the ability (albeit in a brief career) to run his way out of trouble and avoid stupid mistakes. For LSU to win, Flynn has to keep up the stupidity-avoidance. More important, the right side of the Tigers' o-line—particularly Carnell Stewart, who got abused by MSU's Titus Brown last week—must play tougher this week and give Flynn some time to operate.

But LSU's biggest question mark this year is this: Against a top defense like Virginia Tech's (and in the absence of first rounders Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis), who's going to take the pressure off Early Doucet? If Terrance Tolliver, Brandon LaFell, or some other untested receiver doesn't have a big day, the Tigers might struggle to move the ball.

And now I'm out of space. But don't forget about Keiland Williams. And don't sleep on Richard Murphy ... Final score: LSU 20, Virginia Tech 9


Shanoff's pick: VT 12, LSU 10

-- D.S.

Rick Ankiel Is a Cheater: He's Worse Than Bonds

A.M. Quickie below or here. And be sure to read all the way down on this post for Updates.

Rick Ankiel is a cheater?! No!! I am surprised at how crushed I feel by this news that in 2004, Rick Ankiel got a year's supply of HGH.

I'm so disappointed. (Cripes: I can only imagine how Will Leitch feels. Or lead Bonds-basher and Cards fan Bob Costas. UPDATE: Here's Will's take, which has all the depth and nuance and, yes, mixed emotions you could ever want from an analysis of this story.)

This is WORSE than Barry Bonds. Yes: Worse.

Why? Because everyone already thought Bonds was juicing. It was already built in to our definition of him. Bonds' pain for fans was a dull chronic one; Ankiel's is a shattering career-ender.

With Ankiel, it is truly heart-breaking: His comeback story was one of the best of the year/decade/era, in a year where we needed it. He was a restore-your-faith-in-the-game poster guy.

But yet his instant legend is as performance-enhanced as the rest of them. (Honestly? Damn you, Rick Ankiel, for obliterating what was left of my sincere faith in the sport.)

I've been thinking a lot about the "worst" player names that could emerge from this scandal. It says a lot that I didn't even CONSIDER Ankiel, but -- as it turns out -- he's up there high on the list.

It's one thing to be an established or aging superstar be a cheater; it's another thing to have your phenom – your "Natural" – be a cheater. Cripes: It's like finding out that Roy Hobbs juiced.

Should we have suspected, given the magnitude of his transition from pitcher to super-hitting outfielder? Probably.

But it seemed like we all completely suspended our disbelief -- our natural cynicism -- because we *wanted* to believe in Ankiel's story.

That's what makes the news so much more painful. Yeah, in hindsight, we probably should have suspected.

But we didn't, and so this news seems to be shattering what little faith I had left in baseball.

It's made all the more ironic by the fact that Ankiel had his best day yet: 2 HR and 7 RBI in a Cards win. Hey: Ankiel IS "The Natural Unnatural."

UPDATE: As I begin to move through fan stages of shock, then anger (leading to saying things like "This is more distressing than Barry Bonds," I'm now quickly heading into resignation.

Technically, I understand that Ankiel wasn't cheating. (Was he even playing then?) HGH wasn't against the rules. Everyone does it. There's no evidence he is using PEDs now (or recently), only assumption and speculation. Yada yada yada.

It's just so damn... disappointing. That's all: Pure disappointment, from a normally cynical fan who enjoyed believing in a great story (for once).

Unfortunately, my net feeling ends up being: It was SUCH an amazing story, it was too good to be true...and it it usually is. (Boo: Cynicism wins...again.)

UPDATE 2: In re-reading Will Leitch's take for the third time -- admiring its level of nuance (which some might call sympathy, which is totally reasonable given the writer's relationship to the subject) -- it lends itself to the question: Have you ever willfully turned a blind eye to a serious -- even fatal -- flaw of a sports hero of yours? I'm going to think about that this weekend, because it's an amazing concept and one of the biggest stories at the heart of this Ankiel story, given that it's more about disappointment than anything else. (h/t: Jamie "Mr. Irrelevant" Mottram, with whom a morning IM about this subject helped articulate this particular angle.)

Update 3: Blog reader Gerry came up with a terrific example of willful fan blind spots: Mickey Mantle. But that gets into an era -- a long era -- where fans knew NOTHING about their heroes, beyond the myths that the media -- speaking of turning a blind eye! -- kept hidden.

-- D.S

Friday 09/07 A.M. Quickie:
Colts Cruise, Brohm Biggie, AP Hearts Appy, More!

Breaking: Rick Ankiel is a cheater. Surprisingly, I feel absolutely crushed by this. More in a moment.

Big day today. Huge day. So big, in fact, that I'll have five posts today: This one, the first, the usual "A.M. Quickie." Then one on Ankiel. The next one is dedicated to what is arguably the biggest college football game of the season. The third one will be dedicated to tomorrow's college football slate. The fourth will be dedicated to Sunday's NFL openers. (Including picks, of course.) So check back often!

Colts 41, Saints 10: Peyton had 3 TDs and fantasy rising star Joseph Addai had 1. Yup: Sounds about right for Indy. The shocker was that the Indy D shut down the vaunted Saints offense. Maybe we're all overlooking the defending champs as repeat contenders.

(Predictions debacle: Between missing the game prediction, having my pick of the Saints as NFC Champs look iffy and my pick of Drew Brees look even iffier, it was a three-strikes night for me and my predictions.)

Brian Brohm will be my No. 1 Heisman contender on Sunday, no matter what happens on Saturday around the country.

Brohm threw for 5 TDs and a career-high 401 yards, and – amazingly – his team needed every one of them in a 58-42 win over Middle Tennessee.

Not to put too much pressure on him, but Brohm could be the next Peyton Manning. He's certainly the most gifted QB to come out of college football since Manning (and I include Carson Palmer in that). Brohm would look awfully good in a Falcons uniform playing for his old college coach Bobby Petrino, if Atlanta can see the wisdom in tanking its way to the No. 1 overall pick in a year most already consider lost.

(As I leapfrog Brohm up my Heisman rankings, I am going to drop Louisville out of the Top 5 – they were No. 3 this week for me.)

AP Poll to include 1-AA teams, if they're worthy: Well, well, well... I am surprised and delighted again by the otherwise flawed AP poll. They will let 1-AA teams in if they are voted in.

Now, they might as well call this the "App State" exemption, because it was App State's win over Michigan that is the only reason we're talking about this. And it pretty much only matters for last week's ballot, so thanks for nothing, AP.

Because the questions are: Where would you have ranked them this week and how long would you keep them in the rankings once they start playing lower-division teams exclusively?

I would have ranked App State in my Top 20 this week for their season-opening effort; I quickly would have dropped them down and quickly/eventually out as the season went on, much like App State's chances on the field against a Top 5 team. Week 1? No problem. Subsequent weeks? They would have increasing problems with pulling off that win.

Still, I'm sure many AP voters will give App State Top 25 votes this week. It will be a week too late, but still... it's something.

Tonight's Top 25 CFB: Rutgers over Navy. Another win for one of my Top 10 teams.

Cards: Honus Wagner card sells for a record $2.8M, just months after it sold for a record $2.35M. How ironic that one of the baseball legends is best-known for his status as the greatest trading-card icon?

Vick Watch: I wasn't so sure about the $3,000 bid for the dog-chewed Vick football cards, but I think the $10,000 bid for Vick's apology press-conference crib sheet is a damn interesting artifact of our time.

MLB Stud: Rick Ankiel, who had 2 HR and 7 RBI. Isn't that ironic?

MLB Dud: The Cubs, who blew a late lead and were stunned by a 9th-inning pinch-hit 3-run HR by Andre Ethier.

Varsity Dad: Sunday NFL Countdown will include a segment with a 5th-grader. (It's only a matter of time before College GameDay comes calling me about featuring my own kid, I can feel it!)

All together now: STFU, Tiki!

-- D.S.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Thursday 09/06 A.M. Quickie:
NFL Opening! Playoff Picks! NFL! NFL!

Update: Shoot, I forgot to mention Louisville beating Middle Tennessee tonight, just for the record. Last week, I correctly stuck a "7" in front of my prediction of a double-digit point total for the Cardinals. I'm less bullish this week: They'll put up a number in the 60s. Full CFB preview/picks tomorrow.

The new NFL season is here. Two words: Thank god. (This KSK post just about sums it up.)

How can you not love the Opening Night matchup: Colts-Saints. The "finally" team coming off a championship season against a franchise considered the NFL's most historically hapless, but now finds itself as the hot pick to win the NFC and get to the Super Bowl.

For those of you who were paying attention a year ago (or heard me mention it 100 times in January and February), last season I made my Greatest Pick Ever: Predicting the Colts would beat the Bears in the Super Bowl... back in August 2006.

Now, that qualifies me to have one year – the immediate following year – when what I have to say has some credibility (even though we all know that if I got it exactly right a year ago, I won't come close this year).

Still, I wish I could be inspired about this as I was taking the Bears a year ago, but instead I'm sadly rather conventional. Here is my prediction for how the season will play out, through the Super Bowl:

East: Eagles
North: Bears
South: Saints
West: Seahawks
Wild Cards: Vikings, 49ers (Eh, yes: I dis the Cowboys. Probably stupidly.)
NFC Champ: Saints

East: Patriots
North: Steelers
South: Colts
West: Chargers
Wild Cards: Ravens, Broncos
AFC Champ: Patriots

Super Bowl: Pats over Saints

PSA: Don't forget to set your fantasy rosters.

Tonight: Colts-Saints. Chance to see my preseason pick for NFL MVP, Drew Brees, against the NFL's gold standard for QBs. One of the best Opening Games ever, based on a combination of team backstories and potential. I'll have my entire slate of NFL picks tomorrow (sign up for the Daily Quickie Readers Pick 'Em using the link on the right). For now, the pick is:

Saints over Colts.
(Other picks coming Friday.)

More NFL: So who, exactly, is the starting QB in Oakland: Daunte Culpepper or Josh McCown? Those few people with fantasy backup-QB slots to fill kind of want/need to know. (Apparently, it's McCown.)

MLB Steroids: Investigators want to talk to 45 current and former players. Good luck with that, but that's a big number. (h/t: NY Times)

MLB Stud: A-Rod, who seemed like a candidate for a DNP-Injury, but once he was in the lineup, ended up hitting 2 HR... in the same inning.

MLB Stud Team: Braves, who rallied for 3 runs in the 9th to beat/stun the Phillies, in the type of loss that can crush a team with just a month to go in the season and every win mattering.

MLB Dud: Jake Peavy (rarity as a Dud!), who gave up 8 runs to the D'backs. Arizona takes 2 of 3 from the Padres in their head-to-head series – and a one-game lead over the Padres in the NL West, in their final head-to-head showdown of the season.

The Indians swept the Twins... again.

Vernon Wells' HR means that the Red Sox are 6 games up on the Yankees with 22 games to play. Not that the Yankees should be concerned with the division, as opposed to the Wild Card.

As the AL races stand, the divisions seem pretty locked up. The Wild Card is in play, between the Yankees, Tigers and Mariners.

In the NL playoff race, the "good" Brewers are back. They clubbed a ton of home runs, have won 2 in a row and are a half-game behind the Cubs in the Central. The NL West might be underrated as a dramatic September storyline, but the NL Central is where the glamour action is.

Which AP pollsters put Michigan in their Top 25 this week? They deserve our scorn, and thankfully, Fan IQ has them listed by name. You have done inspired work here, friends.

U.S. Open: Federer beats Roddick. Of course he did. And sign me up for a pair of those tuxedo shorts. Venus advances to the semis.

NBA: Interesting rule tweak. The league will let refs use instant replay to review flagrant fouls and altercations. Smart.

PGA Playoffs Dud, Cont'd: Tiger and Ernie are joining Phil in dissing the Playoffs. Quite the success story for the PGA!

-- D.S.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wednesday 09/05 A.M. Quickie:
Michigan, CFB Top 25, Shaq, NFL Awards Picks!

So my weekly CFB guest-post on Deadspin was published yesterday morning, anticipating that the AP or Coaches' pollsters would keep Michigan in the Top 25.

I have never been happier to be wrong: Both the AP and the coaches booted Michigan out of the Top 25. In the AP's case, it was the steepest ousting in the history of a 25-team poll.

Sure, I could quibble: One-third of the coaches had Michigan on their ballot (one had them at No. 10!). And enough media voters listed Michigan on their ballots to earn them 39 voting points.

But, in general, I am unusually at peace with the pollsters -- both the media and coaches showed remarkable and rare common sense.

(It remains to be seen how long the exile will last. If Michigan beats a good Oregon team this weekend, I expect the pollsters to forgive/forget rather easily. Now, if Michigan LOSES to Oregon to drop to 0-2? I would certainly hope those coaches and media who put Michigan on their ballots this week would finally wise up and drop them completely.)

Now, as to the actual teams that were ranked, a few thoughts:

(1) I'm trying to figure out how Clemson could beat a ranked (if overrated) Florida State team and sneak in at No. 25, but Georgia Tech could beat an unranked (and awful) Notre Dame team and debut at No. 21.

(2) Classic voter inertia: USC is still No. 1, despite anything but a performance by a top-ranked team against Idaho.

(3) I'm a Florida fan, and even I'd say the Gators are overrated (right now) at No. 4.

(4) Nice to see pollsters drop underperforming Texas from No. 4 to No. 7. Wasn't steep enough of a drop.

(5) Cal beats Tennessee -- the most "quality" win by a 1-A team all weekend -- and only moves from No. 12 to No. 10?

Last thought on App State: This meme began to pop up yesterday, perhaps as a reaction to the Top 25 results. Everyone agrees that Michigan deserved to be exiled from the Top 25. But many also agree that it's a bit of a slap in the face to continue to refer to App State as some sort of raging Cinderella. If you pulled the "1-AA" tag and simply slotted them among 1-A teams, they might sit anywhere from, say, 35-60. App State's problem is one its coach has no problem copping to: They have no depth.

They are a team BUILT to pull an upset precisely like the one they did -- opening weekend, no injuries, no "book" on the 2007 team yet, surprise/overlook factor -- but over the course of a season-long slog against BCS-conference teams, they would be worn down by 1-A depth of size and speed. I'm not saying they couldn't make their way to bowl-eligibility; the fact that I'd even CONTEMPLATE 7-8 1-A wins for this particular App State team says how much I respect them. So the question stands: "Don't call it (THAT much of) an upset?"

Shaq is getting divorced: Forget helping out the fat kids, now "Shaq the Bachelor" is a must-see reality TV show.

US Open: Two less reasons to keep following it. Justine Henin dispatches Serena in straight sets (Justine owns Serena in Slam quarters). And Rafa Nadal is out, too.

Clemens getting a cortisone shot in his elbow: Will presumably be a nice respite from the HGH. (Seriously, though: Is Clemens' career over? Maybe he'll grit through it to pitch again this season -- he owes the Yankees every last drop of gas in the tank -- but can he reasonably think he could come back again next year? I think these final few weeks of the 2007 season will be Rockets' last go-round.)

Carlos Zambrano apologizes to Cubs fans for ripping them for booing him. Zam knows: The customer is always right. "They have the right to boo people," he said. And he's completely right:

Fans absolutely have the right to boo -- at any/all times they want to. Now, there are times when other fans will look at you askew and go, "Really? Booing? Why?" But you, as a fan, still possess the inalienable right to boo. It is one of the most fundamental rights of fandom.

Best MLB division race: How about the NL West? Totally underrated.

Buchholz Watch: If Red Sox rookie sensation Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second MLB game, throws 9 straight hitless innings while coming out of the bullpen, does he get credit for two straight no-hitters?

More Red Sox Pitching: Beckett wins 17th. As long as he continues to lead MLB pitchers in wins, he'll be a front-runner for AL Cy. (No guarantees, but it'll keep him on the very short list.)

Mickelson to skip BMW Championship: One more indication that there's just so much passion for this Playoffs thing among golfers.

Fantasy Football Watch: One week, you think all the good RBs are gone. The next, Selvin Young is the most-added player in the universe.

Meanwhile, anyone else have Larry Johnson and staring at the first 2-3 weeks of the season without their No. 1 player? Craaaaap.

Nebraska extends Bill Callahan's contract by 5 years: I'll admit that I didn't think he would get the job done. Yet he has. We'll see if he falls prey to the "contract extension jinx" when Nebraska plays a tough game at Wake Forest this weekend. (Consider spinning the wayback machine 10 years or so, then positing that Nebraska-Wake Forest would be a toss-up.)

Jimmy Clausen to start at QB for Notre Dame this weekend: Sure, he was the No. 1 prep QB a year ago. My question is: What does Charlie Weis do when Penn State destroys him and his new QB?

(I had this conversation with someone yesterday: How can a "great" coach in Year 3 manage to run such a crappy team? Basically, Weis won the last two years with Willingham's players. I thought he was supposed to have done a really good job recruiting. Yet with his own recruits, he can't coach his way out of a paper bag.)

Women's pro soccer league is returning: Now, I could be cynical and say, "Over-under on the league folding: One-third the time it took the last one." Instead, I'll say that they won't even make it to the projected league start date of 2009. But I wish them well.

TONIGHT IN NYC! The latest Varsity Letters Reading Series, featuring Frank Deford, Scott Price and Neal Thompson. 8 p.m. at Happy Ending (302 Broome). And it's FREE. Be there!

NFL 2007 Preview: Awards Picks
MVP: Drew Brees
ROY: Adrian Peterson
COY: Norv Turner
Coming tomorrow: Playoff picks

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tuesday 09/04 A.M. Quickie:
App State, Clemson, Pedro 3KK, NFL Kickoff Week, More!

What happened in college football this weekend? Check out my CFB wrap-up post from Sunday, which breaks it all down, including – of course – App State over Michigan.

Clemson beat Florida State last night. Two things: FSU, like Notre Dame, is in the "Good Thing Michigan is THE Story" column, because the Noles are off to a tough start, given all of the offseason changes (like a new O.C.). The offense seemed to sputter...again.

Meanwhile, I know Clemson was playing with huge emotion at home on a Monday night in a season opener (the perfect moment to pull an upset... although it wasn't an upset if you didn't have FSU ranked to begin with). But they're legit. The Tigers have those spectacular RBs, but new QB Cullen Harper did just enough passing to keep FSU honest.

New CFB Rules: More yards, more points, more clock. It stands to reason that changing (back) the clock rules (in addition to the new kickoff rules) would add more time – and, consequently, more plays, yards and points to games. College games were up 56 yards and 3 points, on average, over last year's season openers (h/t: Weiberg, USA Today)

Appalachian State Upset Hangover: In this week's Blog Poll, I refuse to rank Michigan in my Top 25 – and can't understand how any self-respecting voter (blogger, AP voter, coach, whoever) could do it either.

I did, however, radically change my Top 25 now that we actually have real performance data to use. Virginia Tech is out of the No. 1 spot, pending next week's result at LSU. Instead, I have West Virginia at No. 1. Sure, WVU's D isn't great. But the offense is simply spectacular.

More: I didn't have Georgia ranked last week, which was a mistake. I (over-)corrected by putting them near the top of the second 10. Clemson was also unranked, but jumps in after beating FSU. For non-BCS sleepers, I like Tulsa. Meanwhile, I punished higher-ranked teams that didn't deliver, even in victory. I dropped Texas into the mid-teens and dropped Auburn out altogether.

Here's my full Week 3 ballot (which I'm allowed to revise through late tonight, but don't necessarily plan to).

NFL Kickoff: Thursday. It's coming. In the meantime, get those last-minute tweaks to your fantasy team done and start lining up your predictions for the season. We'll do playoff picks tomorrow and individual awards on Wednesday.

More NFL: Leftwich Watch. Could the ex-Jags QB end up near his DC hometown? Sounds like the Ravens are interested, among others.

Simeon Rice to the Broncos: Can only help, right?

How revamped are the Patriots on offense? Enough that they could release their leading WR from 2006. "Leading" is relative, of course.

MLB Milestones 1: Pedro Martinez gets 3000 Ks. That's not an unexclusive club. Only 14 other pitchers are in it, making it more exclusive than 3000 hits and 500 homers. It is one of those clubs that won't be joined anytime soon. Man, has this been a year for MLB Milestones or what?

It was also Pedro's MLB return from injury. If he can be moderately effective, it's like picking up a quasi-quality SP for the September stretch run, without giving up anything (um, except that big contract they owe him).

MLB Milestones 2: Ichiro reached the 200-hit mark for the 7th straight season, tying an AL record. I think it goes without saying that even with his abbreviated MLB career, Ichiro is a first-ballot Hall of Famer (particularly when you count his career in Japan, as any self-respecting member of the PBWAA would... right?)

MLB Studs: The Indians own Johan Santana. Not many – if any – other teams can say that. But wow, they do.

MLB Dud: What happened to the Phillies' charge in the NL East?

Mickelson gets mouthy after win: It takes a tough (or tired) player to win one of these PGA "Playoff" events then threaten to skip the next week's event. But that's what Phil Mickelson did.

US Open: Roddick to quarters. Meh: No one is beating Federer anyway. (Meanwhile, James Blake's ouster is one less reason to watch anyway.)

Sports Media: Didn't see the App State upset over Michigan? If you have Fox Sports Net (a better bet than wondering if you have the Big Ten Network), check your schedules for a replay today.

Varsity Dad: This is hilarious. (h/t: Fanhouse, Ballhype, Card Chronicle)

-- D.S.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Monday 09/03 (Very) Quickie: No Labor Here

Looking for a college football wrap? See the next post down...

U.S. routs Argentina to rule hoops in this hemisphere
: LeBron scored a team-record 31, capping a terrific tournament fo rhim. Team USA vanquished its rival (and the world's reigning top dog). And Team USA declared itself to be the favorite in Beijing in '08. That's good and bad: It's where they SHOULD be, yet it's back to the old standard: Anything less than gold is a failure.

CFB Today: Florida State at Clemson. I have Clemson winning in an upset, because I need to see FSU's "new" "offense" first-hand before I can possibly believe in it.

MLB Stud: Jacoby Ellsbury. You all know it pains me to have two Red Sox players as Studs for two days in a row -- rookies no less. But they keep trotting them out there, and the rookies keep delivering. It's refreshing that both the Yankees and Red Sox are getting clutch performances from cheap home-grown rookies, rather than the usual high-priced veteran mercenaries.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sunday 09/02 (Very) Quickie: CFB Wrap-Up!

Quick(ie)-hit thoughts from yesterday's CFB opening Saturday:

Appy State upsets Michigan: Biggest regular-season upset in college football history? (The truth is probably somewhere between "ever" and "this decade."

(Think these will become popular? Wait: Just heard that Miss Teen South Carolina, known for her map skills, is going to Appy. In one week, they've gone from national laughingstock to national Cinderella. Has there ever been a bigger one-week turnaround? Add it to Appy's "ever" list!)

I want to see Appy State ranked in the Top 25. And I want to see Michigan NOT ranked in the Top 25.

Michigan proves that preseason rankings are a joke – and played themselves right out of the national title picture, even if they go 11-0 the rest of the way.

Virginia Tech: The healing continues. If only the offense could deliver in a way to give me more confidence heading into Baton Rouge next week.

Cal proves itself as a legit national contender, by beating the toughest opponent of the day. (Meanwhile: Tennessee's status? ABD: All-But-Done.)

Notre Dame sucks: 'Nuff said. (And it will only get worse next week, when they face a Penn St team that hung 59 on Florida Int'l, while pitching a shutout.)

USC didn't win that impressively. Certainly not impressively enough to merit their being No. 1 simply because they were No. 1 a week ago, based on nothing but preseason guessing.

Florida enters Tebow Time: 13/17 for 300 yards and 4 TDs (3 pass/1 rush) in 3 quarters of action in his debut as a starter.

McFadden Time was already here: Carrying over from last year, D-Mac ran for 151 yards and threw a 42-yard TD pass for good measure. Unlike USC, McFadden DID retain his preseason No. 1 status – as Heisman favorite.

West Virginia is effing awesome: Pat White and Steve Slaton jump to the top of my Heisman watch list. Can we have co-Heisman winners... from the same team, no less???

Wisconsin is better than thought. It's defense isn't quite as good. But the offense is much better. The net result affirms their place as a Top 10 team.

Texas is worse than thought. In fact, you have the foreshadowing for next week: Texas hangs on, TCU pitches a shutout. Don't call it an "upset" when the Horned Frogs win in Austin next week.

Speaking of "than thought": I didn't have Georgia in my initial Top 25 last week. Let me be clear: THAT WAS A MISTAKE. That was a VERY quality non-conf win over Oklahoma State.

BC's Matt Ryan should be a Top 5 Heisman contender, at least after Week 1. 400-plus yards and 4 TDs in a big game will do that for a guy.

(Oh, so if Matt Ryan was impressive, what about Colt Brennan, who threw for 400-plus yards and 6 TDs... in the first half.)

Heisman Watch:
1. Darren McFadden
2a. Pat White
2b. Steve Slaton
3. Colt Brennan
4. Brian Brohm
5. Ray Rice
Rising: Matt Ryan, Tim Tebow
Falling: Booty, McCoy
Out: Henne, Hart

(Yes, Hart had a good game. But simply put: No voter will be able to separate the player from the stunning upset loss.)

Looking ahead to next week: A crazy batch of games, including a season-definer for both VA Tech and LSU, a TCU upset-special over Texas and, potentially, another opportunity to piss on Michigan's lost season.

Non-CFB: What is a COACH doing with PEDs? Seriously.

Clay Buchholz pitches a no-hitter... in his second MLB start. A Boston myth has been created.

Sharapova out at US Open. One less reason to watch.

Jags release Byron Leftwich: My favorite player on the team and one of my top "I'm in the bag for him (even though he's not great)" NFL players. Maybe he'll find a place in... KC? Atlanta?

-- D.S.