Saturday, September 19, 2009

CFB Quickie: A Win is a Win. Just Ask USC

A couple of thoughts from the afternoon:

*Monte Kiffin is a very very very good football coach. I would actually argue that he is the best coach -- head or assistant -- in college football, at least as it relates to scheming.

*Florida did not look like the No. 1 team in the country, and I predict they will be penalized for that in the polls on Monday. Still: No one but Lane Kiffin will remember how close it was, as long as Florida keeps winning.

*Lane Kiffin came as close as possible to a moral victory, and UT's final drive (including that FU time-out near the end) felt like running out the clock to "hold on" for a 10-point...loss, which is really a win, if you factor in the insane build-up of expectations.

*USC losing: Another year, another game that USC loses to knock them from the national-title picture that they have no business losing. And they lost looking meager; it's not like it was a shoot out.

*It is worth asking, for all the crap Jim Tressel took last week: What's worse -- losing the biggest games or losing the smallest ones? I would argue that Pete Carroll is a bigger dud than Jim Tressel, because at least Tressel always beats the teams he is supposed to beat.

*What a win for Washington: I would say that is the biggest win for the Dawgs program since they won a half-share of the national title in 1991. Big-time football is back at U-Dub.

*I owe a big apology to Ohio State fans for picking Toledo to upset OSU today. While I think it was a fair stretch -- and not (entirely) fueled by my disdain for tOSU -- I couldn't have been more wrong, and I accept your jeering and mockery. I really will now stop doing things like that. (Did you see me defend Jim Tressel above?)

*Notre Dame, on the other hand...

*Although I think everyone needs to recognize just how insanely brilliant Monte Kiffin was in game-planning for the Gators, I think that Tim Tebow played himself out of the Heisman front-running position today. In fact, if I was picking a front-runner, I personally would take Jahvid Best.

*That was a much-needed win for Oregon. Same for Iowa (enough to make folks forget about the Northern Iowa escape). Same for VA Tech (enough to make folks take the loss to Bama in context -- and, guess what: The Big 12 is down this year).

*That was a bad -- if predictable -- loss for Virginia. (And Maryland: Oof. Yeah, sure, Miami might be really good this year... but what does that mean if the ACC is atrocious? BC? Awful. That league needs Florida State to beat BYU tonight, badly.)

*I'm wiped out by that Florida game. I was at the Swamp, and I've never experienced or exited a game where a win -- a win that never felt in doubt, by the way -- felt so muted. I blame the expectations. Still: A win is a win.

Just ask USC.

-- D.S.

Saturday 09/19 (Gainesville) Quickie

Gainesville -- From what I could gather, wandering around town yesterday, the sense of anticipation here for today's Florida-Tennessee game couldn't be bigger.

It's weird: It's not a "wow, what a big game - I hope we win!" vibe. It's more like "Just how much of a throttling can this be?"

There are two camps: Those who think it will be an absolute rout (my pick is 49-6) and those who don't like all this talk about how it will be an absolute rout. As a practical matter, I am part of the former, but I appreciate the sentiments of the latter (which includes much of my wife's family, so I am careful about how extremely I express my bullishness).

Anyway, it should be a great Saturday. Tons of intriguing games with results far more up-in-the-air than the one at The Swamp. That's another point: Has there ever been more hype for a game in which a team is favored by 28.5 points? That alone is a testament to Lane Kiffin's p.r. strategies -- even if Tennessee is going to get crushed, they are in the national conversation.

I'm going to try to tweet as much as possible from the game or tailgate scene, throwing in a few pictures, if I get any good ones out of my iPhone.

Meanwhile: I snuck my weekly college football picks beneath this post. Scroll down to see them (or just click here). The red- (or scarlet-) letter pick is obviously Toledo over Ohio State.

More on the radar today:
*Boise State wins shootout: Is Fresno State that good, to challenge the Broncos, or is Boise State just overrated? I will continue to presume the former.

*Corp or Barkley? Why is Carroll playing games?

*Twins pull within 3 of Tigers. Hmm...

*Tomlinson not playing Sunday. That's an L for those of you who start LT.

*Think the Yankees are a lock to win the AL pennant? Ichiro feeds doubts.

*Kazmir had been knocking on the door for a while, but the AL playoffs' biggest X-factor got his first win as an Angel.

And happy new year, to all my Jewish folks out there.

-- D.S.

CFB Top 25 Picks: Toledo Is New Houston

This week's picks, coming off last week's pick of Houston over Oklahoma State. (Yes, I will stop talking about that now -- it wasn't all that.) This week's Houston is Toledo, so impressive in destroying Colorado last week -- and the game is in Cleveland. Not the same as Columbus.

Because I will be at the Florida-Tennessee game, my ability to actually flip over to the other 3:30 games (or even the end of the noon games) won't be happening -- just like a blinders-on AP or Coaches poll voter! Relying on you for insights. Anyway, let's get to the picks:

1 Florida over Tennessee -- In attendance
2 Texas over Texas Tech -- GameDay game
3 USC over @Washington -- People picking this as upset are on crack.
4 Alabama over North Texas
5 Penn St over Temple -- Another cupcake for JoePa
5 Ole Miss over SE Louisiana -- Rebels need a decisive W
7 BYU over Florida State -- "Must-crush" game for Cougars
8 Cal over @Minnesota -- Beating Big Ten just not a big deal
9 LSU over LA-Lafayette
Toledo over 11 Ohio State -- UPSET SPECIAL
12 Oklahoma over Tulsa -- If I had any guts, I'd pick Tulsa
13 Virginia Tech over Nebraska -- B/C it's in Blacksburg, but a toss-up
15 TCU over Texas State
16 Oklahoma State over Rice
17 Cincinnati over @Oregon St -- Nice quality win for Bearcats
18 Utah over Oregon -- Must-win for Oregon. Won't get it.
22 Kansas over Duke
Arkansas over 23 Georgia -- Breakthrough game for Petrino
24 UNC over E. Carolina -- Not a lot of faith here.
25 Michigan over E. Michigan -- Forcier Mania, apparently.

I missed Georgia Tech over Miami. I got Boise State.

Other games of note:
Auburn over West Virginia: Winner definitely gets into Top 25.
BC over @Clemson: Win here should get BC into Top 25
Michigan State over Notre Dame: Just because I can resume this.
Southern Miss over UVA: Won't be pretty. Groh axed Sunday?
UAB over @Troy: Joe Webb Watch!
Arizona over @Iowa: Winner emerges 3-0
Mississippi State over @Vandy: Why am I on Mullen b'wagon?
Northwestern over @Syracuse

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Quickie: Destination Gainesville

Light posting today. I will be on the road, headed for Gainesville. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed to the right (or via your own Twitter account). Here's a link to my SN page, which should be updated with today's column by 8:30 or so. (Update: Here's the column.)

If you're going to be in Gainesville for the game tomorrow, give a holler. Would love to connect with you at a tailgate or somewhere within the throng. Should be a crazy atmosphere.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Emily Monforto, Steve Monforto and Great Sports Parenting

The Varsity Dad sports parenting moment of the year came on Tuesday night.

As you have undoubtedly seen on YouTube or the Today show or cable news, Phillies fan Steve Monforto caught a foul ball from Jayson Werth. High-fives all around. He gave the ball to his 3-year-old daughter, Emily Monforto... who promptly proceeded to toss the ball back.

Steve Monforto's reaction?

He hugged his daughter. And the look on his face has no trace of disappointment, let alone frustration or anger. Just love. (See the video here.)

Love for his kid. Love that this is EXACTLY what a 3-year-old is supposed to do. Love that Emily's lesson from all those catches in the backyard is: Throw the ball!

It was the perfect reaction. It should be used as the model for all parents out there who want to incorporate sports into their kids lives.

At Varsity Dad, we talk about raising a good sports fan. In this case, you can't teach a better lesson or have a better experience. And I'm quite sure that part of the reason I love this story is because I have a 3-year-old of my own.

But there is a wider thing about parents who want to push their kids into -- and through -- sports. Maybe they are trying to reclaim their own glory (or non-glory). Maybe they earnestly want to earn a college scholarship for the kid. Maybe the kid genuinely likes it.

Either way, the process starts young, and the first lesson -- at age 3 (hell, at age 13) -- is simply to love the game. Love watching it. Love watching it with your dad or mom.

I'll bet there are sports-crazed parents out there who would have at least looked annoyed at their kid. Not a trace of that from Steve Monforto.

Just love of his kid and love of being at the game with her.

It is a lesson that every sports fan -- parent or otherwise -- should embrace.

-- D.S.

PS: All's well that ends well. When the Monfortos were on the Today show this morning, they were presented with personalized Phillies jerseys, along with a ball signed by Jayson Werth. To their credit, the Phillies gave Steve Monforto a replacement ball at the game. Whoever caught the real ball could earn a lot of goodwill by giving it back to Emily Monforto.

(OK, if I can offer one bit of constructive criticism, from the Varsity Dad handbook: Steve, ditch the pink Phillies cap for Emily and give her a classic red Phillies hat. You get one, why not her?)

PPS: All the more remarkable, I think that the Monfortos have single-handedly changed the reputation of Philly sports fans -- or, at the very least, eroded the rep that Philly fans are complete boors. It's the new poster-story for Philly sports fans. Goodbye, booing Santa; hello, Monforto mania!

Thursday 09/17 Quickie: Rex Ryan, Kiffin,
Myles Brand, Miami, Tebow, More

I got side-tracked this morning and neglected to post a link to today's SN column. Hopefully you all found it anyway, but if not, I found an interesting contrast:

Rex Ryan vs. Lane Kiffin.

Check the column for a full comparison, but needless to say, when Kiffin yaps, it feels forced -- even desperate. When Ryan yaps, it feels confident.

I'm a big fan of Ryan's, even just a game into his NFL head-coaching career. I think things will get interesting if (or...WHEN) he beats Bill Belichick this weekend.

Kiffin? Not so much.

More you'll find in the column:
*Tebow/Jags draft meme. Go to for more.
*Really, seriously, finally: The Rangers are finished.
*200 Ks? No problem if you hit 40+ HRs
*Fan of the Year: Emily Monforto!

Complete column here. More in a bit.

-- D.S.

Previously, On

Previously (uh, yesterday) on

*Jags want to draft Tebow for marketing?
Why not?
(Their biggest concern: He'll be gone after Top 10.)

*Tebow as love-child of Vick and Alstott? Sounds right.

*How will guru Monte Kiffin defend Tebow? He can't.

*Expectations game: Tebow/Meyer vs. Kiffin. Kiffin wins?

As always, check back at throughout the day for new posts.

Morning Quickie up in little bit...

-- D.S.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday 09/16 Quickie: Kiffin is a Jedi

It is a testament to Lane Kiffin's Jedi-like skills that not even halfway through the rivalry-week build-up between Tennesee and Florida, he has flipped the meme, enough that I lead today's SN column with it. Here is today's original post-game "extra" on the topic:

Previously, it was "Wow, just how badly is Florida going to crush Tennessee?"

Now, it's "Wow, just how badly is Florida going to crush Tennessee?"

Let me explain: The former is about everyone's sense of vengeance; the latter is about Kiffin's expert expectations-management.

By talking up the Gators -- "best defense ever"... "best QB ever"... yada yada yada... -- Kiffin implicitly says, "We're going to get drilled."

Ironically, it was the only way he could escape from this weekend in a strategically no-lose situation.

If Urban Meyer plays the harsh card -- using time-outs late to rub it in, piling on the points... say, some 70-0 rout -- he is a petty, vindictive guy. Not exactly the high-minded champion. Kiffin looks like a victim. Kiffin looks...sympathetic. Meyer looks like a bully.

If Tennessee keeps it even remotely close -- and, by that, I mean if they lose by anything less than 45-0 -- they will have beaten the (admittedly very very very low) expectations.

Of COURSE Kiffin isn't going to win on Saturday -- that doesn't mean he can't claim a moral victory, even in crushing defeat.


More you'll find in today's column:
*For one morning, MLB is relevant again.
*USC QB controversy foreshadowed?
*49ers to Crabtree: Checkmate.
*SO glad I have Tomlinson...ugh.
*The Colley Matrix: Pitt is No. 1!

Lots more included. Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Teach a 3-Year-Old To Blog About Sports...

So this morning I was a guest-speaker in my 3-year-old son's daycare class, which is spending the week talking about jobs. Parents were invited to come in to talk about their job.


Let's start here: Which job am I describing? Sports columnist? Media-industry consultant? Sports blogger?

As you can imagine, I simplified it for the audience: I am a writer. I write stories. I write stories about sports. ("Can any of you name any sports?")

I really wanted to say: "I specialize in shallow punditry. Can you say 'sha-low pun-dih-tree?'"

But "write stories about sports" was about as complicated as I could make it.

I was looking for a gimmick to present to them. Should I bring my computer and show them how I research and type (and watch YouTube clips and Tweet and check my RSS reader?)

Instead, I had them help me write a story -- they picked the subject (themselves), where it took place (the local park), what they were doing (playing with every type of ball imaginable... they had fun yelling out different names of balls -- given the enthusiasm for soccer balls, MLS has a future yet!)

Finally, I picked one of the kids to provide me with a quote about how she thought the playing went. Frankly, it wasn't too far off from your standard sideline reporter's question for a coach -- or a coach's platitudinous answer. (When a 4-year-old offers a standard sports cliche, it's much cuter than when Bill Belichick does it.)

We put the components together and -- voila -- the class had produced their very own sports story. You might even call it a column. All it was missing was the commenters to say, "Come on! Here's why you're wrong!"

Everyone should have to go through the exercise of trying to simplify what they do for 3- and 4-year-olds.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 09/15 Quickie: Federer, Del Posto,
Brady, Pats, Charers, Lincecum, Meyer

With Week 1 of the NFL season in the books, let's just point out that I lost my Eliminator in the very first week -- I knew the Bengals were a risky pick, but the WAY they lost re-affirms my faith in the Quickie Jinx.

Anyway: Normally, there's no way I would lead with tennis over the NFL -- the Pats winning a nail-biter, no less -- but when Roger Federer loses a major final (especially the US Open), it is a shocker.

But let's elevate that news for the purposes of the lead item of today's SN column: Federer is, arguably, the greatest tennis player in history -- still in his prime. Let's compare him to Jordan in '97 (not quite '98, certainly not Wizards era).

Do you want to see Federer win? (As a corollary, onsider the way everyone quickly labeled The Shot as the greatest shot in tennis history.) Or is it way more interesting to see him lose?

The same goes for the Patriots, particularly against the Giants in the Super Bowl: Do you want to see them cap the greatest season in NFL history? Or, more dramatically, lose it?

You could make the same argument about Tebow and Florida this season -- would you like to think you witnessed, first-hand, the greatest college football player ever? Or do you want to see him fail?

It is an age-old question: Are dynasties -- or, taken to their next level, "best-ever" athletes or teams -- good for sports or bad? And, if they are good, is that because their success infinitely and inevitably ratchets up the drama precisely at the moment when they DON'T win?

I don't like dynasties, except to the extent of the above net benefit: Watching them fail is very very very interesting.

(You could make the same case for college football: Isn't it more interesting when USC loses that freaky once-a-season game than having them roll through the season? Or Penn State losing to Iowa last year? Then again, when LSU made -- and won -- the title game with 2 losses, people were like "Meh." And the consensus Greatest Game Ever was between two unbeaten powerhouses -- Texas and USC -- that mostly rolled through the regular season.)

There's no right answer -- it's all personal preference. (And, of course, filled with all sorts of caveats and carve-outs... for example: most of the rest of the country would love to see Florida fail as USC did in '05... me, not so much.)

Anyway, that's what Federer losing -- and that's what the intrigue was: Federer losing, rather than Del Posto winning -- did for me.

*Cripes, are the Pats that lucky or the Bills that chokey? (Both!)
*Are the Chargers that mediocre or the Raiders that much better?
*Tim Lincecum reaffirms that he is the NL's best pitcher.
*Urban Meyer WILL use Kiffin's words against him. Absolutely.

Check out the complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Teblog Post Today on Yahoo's Dr. Saturday:
Why Tebow Will Go Old Testament on Vols

I have officially taken the (respectful, non-blaspehmous) request for Tim Tebow's eye-black this weekend -- as long as Tebow is taking 'em! -- to be Ezekiel 25:17 to the mainstream.

Check out my post from this afternoon
at Yahoo's must-read Dr. Saturday college football blog about why Tebow is likely to go Old Testament on Tennessee this weekend. (Hint: Kiffin messed with Meyer. You don't mess with Meyer on Tebow's watch.)

The Zeke 25:17 eye-black would merely be appropriate symbolism to go with the on-field vengeance that is undoubtedly to occur.

This Week's BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot: Houston!

Yes, Houston at No. 2 is almost -- almost -- a protest vote of the AP ranking them behind Oklahoma State. (I really do wonder how many AP voters actually watched that game, rather than the Michigan-Notre Dame game...or whatever game they were covering.)

I think that if you go by what teams have earned on the field after two weeks, Houston at 2 isn't unreasonable -- just as BYU at No. 1 after one week wasn't unreasonable. Nor is keeping USC behind Florida and Texas -- maybe more teams. Or Cincinnati in the Top 10, ahead of Penn State. Or having teams debut and/or drop out fairly violently.

The season goes along, we get more real data points (not preseason conjecture), we can see whether Week 1 wins were "quality" or not (see Miami over FSU, which struggled with Jax St.), we can affirm or reject biases. Anyway, my ballot is here:

1 Alabama 1
2 Houston
3 Brigham Young 2
4 Florida 1
5 Texas 1
6 Southern Cal 1
7 California 4
8 Cincinnati 5
9 Boise State 5
10 Penn State 2
11 TCU 2
12 Mississippi
13 Georgia Tech 3
14 LSU
15 Nebraska 4
16 Virginia Tech 7
17 Kansas
18 Utah
19 Baylor 3
20 Pittsburgh
21 Michigan
22 Boston College
24 Miami (Florida) 2
25 Ohio State 10
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Oklahoma State (#3), North Carolina (#20), Notre Dame (#21), Georgia (#24), Oklahoma (#25).

Monday 09/14 Quickie: Peterson, Brees,
AP Top 25, Clijsters, Sanchez, Pedro, More

Let's all agree that Adrian Peterson's 68-yard, 2-stiff-arm TD run might be the best run we'll see all year.

Let's also agree that Peterson marginalizing Brett Favre (per today's SN column lead) is wonderful irony -- the gunslinger, neutered. It's almost like Favre is in a personal purgatory.

Let's agree that Drew Brees put on the greatest Week 1 fantasy football display in history -- how many teams could have started Brees as the only player on their roster and still won?

Let's agree that the Falcons are even better than last year (as are the 49ers), the Dolphins are worse (as are the Cardinals) and Jay Cutler's problems are easy to laugh at.

Let's agree that no one -- no one -- calls a dramatic moment in sports better than Gus Johnson, and why he isn't more of a marquee play-by-play guy is a mystery to anyone under 40.

Let's agree that as long as Tom Brady doesn't get knocked out for the season tonight, the Pats are doing just fine.

Let's agree that Roger Federer's Shot -- and that's how it should be referenced: "The Shot" -- is the greatest shot in the history of tennis.

Let's agree that Kim Clijsters' US Open title is going to be -- lamentably -- the most overlooked significant sports moment of the year. It is WAY more impressive than Tom Watson at the B.O.

Let's agree that the notion of an AP voter ranking Oklahoma State ahead of Houston -- simply because they had Oklahoma State over-inflated in the preseason and after Week 1 -- is a joke.

Let's agree that Ohio State isn't as bad as I keep implying they are -- and USC isn't as good as others keep implying they are.

Let's agree that Michael Jordan is not only entitled to say whatever he wants at his own HOF induction ceremony, but that being petty and vindictive is core to what got him there.

Let's agree that, at this point, the Red Sox are just twisting the knife in the backs of the Rays.

Let's agree that sports feels different after this weekend: The NFL is officially back, with some awesome performances and intriguing results; college football is already in midseason intensity (with much much more to come next Saturday); and it's a glorious thing.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Preliminary BlogPoll Ballot Thinking

Here's my preliminary BlogPoll ballot thinking, and it is informed both by a second week of information and by a transitive property based on how their opening-week opponents did:

1. Alabama
Win over VT looks better this week.
2. Houston
This week's BYU -- best win of the CFB season so far.
3. BYU
Affirmed last week's win as no fluke, esp. on D.
4. Florida
Steamroller...but Troy was hardly comp.
5. Texas
Shaky early, then pulled away.

6. USC
(Mostly) handled by a team that barely put away Navy.
7. Cal
Steeling themselves for chance vs. USC.
8. Cincinnati
Most underrated team in the country. 70!
9. Boise St
Like BYU, another "affirmation" result.
10. Penn St
Great D. The comp has, thus far, been iffy.

11. TCU
Beat UVA only slightly better than W&M did.
12. Ole Miss
Bye week. Eh...waiting to see reality match hype.
13. GA Tech
Barely put away Clemson, but a good win.
14. LSU
Win over 1-1(!) Washington looks better now.
15. Nebraska
Crappy comp. But after UT, Big 12 seems wide open.

16. VA Tech
Bama was that good.
17. Kansas
Like Nebraska, seeing an opening in B12?
18. Utah
Tempted to put them lower -- not impressed yet.
19. Baylor
Off, but last week's win looks better this week.
20. Pitt
Too high, but two impressive wins (D-first).

21. Michigan
Debut! ND ain't great, but it was a great win.
22. B.C.
Debut! As usual, quietly plugging away at Ws.
23. UCLA
Debut! Too high, but win at Tennessee is solid.
24. Miami
Nearly dropped 'em after FSU turned out to, y'know, suck.
25. Ohio St
Should leave them out. Two uninspiring performances.

I dropped out UNC, after they lucked into a win at UConn. And an ugly win, at that.

Coming off my Houston-over-Oklahoma State pick, I will call it now: Toledo over Ohio State in Cleveland next week.

Is it me, or is Ohio State just really not that good? The D seems solid -- except when getting run over by Navy's option attack... or Joe McKnight. But the offense is pedestrian. And if OSU isn't that good, then USC's eked win over them doesn't really speak that highly of the Trojans this season, either. But watch the AP voters give USC all sorts of credit for "gutting it out," rather than "not playing all that well against a good-but-not-great team."

(I'm with everyone else: Terrelle Pryor is absolutely wasted talent under Jim Tressel. "Turning platinum into pennies," Spencer Hall called it. I wonder if Pryor is regretting his decision to go to Ohio State. I would be.)


-- D.S.

Sunday 09/13 (Very) Quickie

There is no such thing as a moral victory for Ohio State -- "keeping it close" with USC, but ultimately getting the game's result driven down their throats on USC's final series.

However, I'm not quite sure it validated USC as an elite team, either. It was a big win, sure, but it's not like USC throttled OSU in a way that we all anticipated.

Serena Williams' freak-out: Now THAT's some quality spontaneous hostility! "Shove this ball down your [effing] throat?" In range of live microphones? How awesome was that?

More CFB: What we learned.
*Too little, too late for Oklahoma. Sorry.
*Houston! Top 10! (More BlogPoll later today.)
*I'll replace Notre Dame at my Top 25 fringe with Michigan.
*Note that "70" that Cincy hung? They're underrated.
*Other affirmation wins for BYU and Boise St.
*Tennessee is going to get worked over next week.

NFL Today! Picks: Colts, Saints, Cowboys, Eagles, Ravens, Texans, Falcons, Bengals*, Vikings, Giants, Cards, Seahawks, Packers, Pats, Chargers. (*"Eliminator" pool pick)

-- D.S.