Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Instant replay has been the grain of sand in the oyster shell this season, as officiating crews in at least two games have been punished due to questionable calls. This past week, an instant replay official was suspended for having overruled a fumble in a game between Houston and Oklahoma State, which the conference later determined should not have been reviewable in the first place. Last week, the BCS may have been inalterably shaped by two bad calls in the final two minutes in a game between Oregon and Oklahoma, which ultimately led to the Ducks' come-from-behind win, as a well as a questionable call in the Auburn-LSU SEC-West battle.

The referee that somehow failed to see that the pivotal onside kick had been recovered by the team other than the one he awarded possession to last week in Eugene, rather than sitting out a week, ended up working this past week's game between USC and Arizona, won by the Trojans, 20-3, in Tucson. The Wildcats are coached by Mike Stoops, brother of Sooner coach Bob Stoops, but this time it was the brutal Trojan defense, which limited the Wildcats to -16 total yards on the ground, that victimized the Stoops. In fact, Arizona benefited from three straight replay calls in the second half that went their way, keeping the game close until the very end, and leading the Wildcats' fans to mockingly chant, "Ok-la-ho-ma" at the officiating crew.

Hopefully not facing a suspension anytime soon is Erika, this week's USC Songleader of the Week. Yet another rookie on the squad, this blonde junior theatre major hails from San Marino (a particularly ritzy suberb of Pasadena), envisions herself one day starring on the silver screen, and lists her "other school activities" as "Sorority Member," which at USC is a pretty big thing indeed. Interestingly, she is happiest when she is "with the people that I love."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Did you know that MIT has a cheerleading squad? Who knew they even had a football team?

[link via TMQ]

Monday, September 25, 2006

CAL [21] 49, A.S.U. [18] 21: Dirk Koetter continued his streak of never having won a game in the state of California, as the Sun Devils conceded 42 points in the first half, including four touchdowns in less than seven minutes. Nate Longshore, who looked so dreadful in the pocket against Tennessee three weeks ago, threw for four touchdowns and was sacked only once, while his A.S.U. counterpart, Rudy Carpenter, had four interceptions, two of which were returned for scores. Revealing stat: in jumping out to a 42-14 halftime lead, the Bears held the ball for only 9:11, as opposed to 20:49 for Arizona State.

Ohio State [1] 28, Penn State [24] 6: The nation's top-ranked team came from behind in the second half to avenge a tough loss last season, running back two interceptions in the final three minutes to ice the game. The Buckeyes have won all seven games against the Nittany Lions in Columbus since Joe Pa took the school into the Big Ten in 1993. This Saturday's game in Iowa City represents perhaps the only chance at upsetting Ohio State until the finale with Michigan, especially since their other tough road opponent, Michigan State, collapsed at the end to lose to Notre Dame, 40-37.

A blog with a rather, shall we say, unique, perspective, shutters its doors, perhaps forever. [link via Deadspin]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

King Kaufman of Salon ridicules the notion that Reggie Bush's violation of malum prohibitum regulations makes him a "bad guy":
Bush is in the NFL. The NCAA holds no sway over him, can't even compel him to cooperate with an investigation. The coaches and administrators will either ride out any punishment or they'll move on to other jobs, Dennis Franchione style.

The people punished when the NCAA finally lowers the boom on a program, barring it from bowl and national TV appearances, limiting its scholarships, that sort of thing, are a bunch of kids who were in high school when the violations occurred.

Reggie Bush's "punishment," in the unlikely event it comes to that, will be having to surrender his Heisman Trophy, a fate about as bad as Vanessa Williams having to give up her Miss America title to ... uh ... who again? And he'll have to feel bad about being the cause of USC getting punished, as though he were the only Trojan ever on the take. If it were me I'd cry, as Liberace said, all the way to the bank.

And all for what purpose? To preserve a system that enriches the NCAA and its members on the backs of mostly poor kids working for free in a multibillion-dollar enterprise. A system that frees up money for universities to pay coaches millions of dollars while denying the players, the people the fans pay to see, even White's proverbial stick of gum.

Bloggingheads TV has its inaugural college football take, featuring Jon Chait and Matthew Yglesias.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

U.S.C. [4] 28, Nebraska[19] 10: Trojans barely break stride, in pushing aside the Cornhuskers in the first game between the national powers in 36 years. Rumors that Nebraska would show off the "forward pass" recently introduced by former Raiders head coach Bill Calahan proved false. A near riot marred the cakewalk, when an excess number of students without tickets stormed the front gate shortly before kickoff, forcing USC to increase the available student seating for future games (imagine that, college students taking an interest in this sort of thing). Brett Musberger, who usually hasn't announced SC's games in the past (Keith Jackson being the de facto West Coast announcer), caused a stir late in the game when he broadcast information about QB John David Booty's use of an audible, information that the Trojans said was background, although neither Booty nor Pete Carroll seemed too concerned about it after the game.

And as long as we're talking about USC, I would be remiss if I didn't reintroduce a long-demanded feature of this site, the Songleader of the Week. This week, it's "Allison", a sophomore brunette who intends to major in Business Administration, then earn an MBA. This squad rookie from Cathedral City (near Palm Springs) loves the Harry Potter series, Grey's Anatomy, Sylvia Plath, James Blunt, photography, desert nights, the "Trojan Family", and salmon, with-or-without angel hair pasta. In addition, she hopes to one day become the CEO of a biotechnology company, and she's happiest when she's "with the people I love the most."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Louisville[12] 31, Miami[17] 7: In a result that no doubt gave some serious wood to the rest of the Big East conference, the Hurricanes were slaughtered by the school that replaced it when they went to the ACC, and now find themselves out of the top-25 for the first time this century. The Cardinals, however, lost their second star in three games, when quarterback Brian Brohm left the game with a thumb injury that will keep him out of commission for 3-6 weeks.

T.C.U.[20] 12, Texas Tech[24] 3: One of seven losses this weekend for Big-12 schools. Remember when the Red Raiders were the Thinking Man's darlings of college football, thanks to some lopsided scores and a puff piece write-up by Money Ball writer Michael Lewis? Well, in their last two games against ranked opponents, Tech has been held to ten points in the Cotton Bowl by Alabama and a mere field goal by the Horned Frogs.

Oregon[13] 34, Oklahoma[17] 33:
Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said Monday that a review by conference officials of video of the game revealed that both the instant replay officials and the game officials assigned by the conference made errors in the final minute and 12 seconds of the game.

Oklahoma lost the game 34-33 after Oregon scored two touchdowns near the end of the game.

An onside kick by Oregon after its first late touchdown was touched by a Ducks player before it traveled the required 10 yards, and the Pac-10 ruled that the ball should have been awarded to Oklahoma. The league also said that video revealed that an Oklahoma player actually recovered the ball.

Officials on the field gave the ball to Oregon, and replay officials did not overturn that decision.
Oops. I can understand blowing the call as to when the ball was first touched by the Ducks, but not correctly calling the team that recovered the kick is really, really lame. And even so, the Sooners still had a great chance to win the game anyways, but botched a short field goal in the waning seconds. Pac-10 teams usually don't get the benefit of bad calls (see 2006 Rose Bowl), and I hardly see how Oregon is going to see any long-term positives from this win. If they're on the bubble for a BCS game in December, people are going to remember this gift.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Michigan [11] 47, Notre Dame [2] 21: A massacre. The Wolverines had not looked impressive against Vandy and Central Michigan, while Notre Dame played like a legit national title contender last week against Penn State. Moreover, the Irish had controlled this rivalry, especially in South Bend, where Michigan had not won in twelve years. All that came to an end yesterday, thanks to a Heisman-discrediting performance by Brady Quinn and three touchdowns from the hitherto-obscure wide receiver, Mario Manningham. Prescott Burgess picked off three Quinn passes, including one for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Michigan had the game won by the second quarter.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

SEC (Non-Alabama) Recap:

The two big games on the slate were what everyone expects to be the de facto West title game between LSU and Auburn, and the Florida-Tennessee tilt, which is only the de facto East title game if you don't believe in Georgia.

LSU has to be frustrated -- even more than after your normal 7-3 loss. They outgained AU 309-181, didn't commit a turnover (Auburn committed one), held Kenny Irons to 2.7 yards per rush, and just generally appeared the better team. But they turned the ball over on downs twice (once on 4th-and-1 in the first quarter, again at 4th-and-8 at the Auburn 31 in the fourth) and had a pass dropped in the end zone. And had a player stopped five yards short of the end zone on the last play, and had a pass interference call improperly overturned, and generally got no breaks.

Florida, meanwhile, escaped after Tennessee blatantly choked away a game it had in hand. (Full disclosure: I hate Tennessee and think that Phillip Fulmer is probably the Antichrist.) The Gators took over at their own 28 with 4:38 to go in the third quarter; they won 21-20 after Tennessee apparently forgot how to play defense. Tennessee simply couldn't run the ball, and when Fulmer tried to milk the clock they were unable to maintain drives. Good.

The best team in the conference might actually be Georgia, though they haven't actually played anyone. After shutting out South Carolina last week, they did the same to UAB (this being the same UAB team that lost to Oklahoma 24-17 in their opener), and put up 34 points with a freshman quarterback, Matt Stafford. Their offense appears pretty weak, but that defense might be special, and might not allow another point until they play Tennessee in three weeks.

Kentucky pounded Ole Miss, 31-14 -- the Wildcats' first win in an SEC opener in 19 years. The game was 14-all late in the second quarter, then Kentucky poured it on... Vandy had yet another of their patented moral victories, but lost 21-19 to Arkansas when they failed on a tying two-point conversion and a last-minute fieldgoal came up short... Mississippi State finally scored, but lost anyway to Tulane, 32-29, despite scoring 22 in a desperation fourth quarter comeback... South Carolina avoided similar humilation, holding off Wofford, whoever that is, 27-20 with a last-second interception deep in their own territory. Apparently Spurrier didn't run up the score for once, and it nearly cost them.

ULM vs ALABAMA (Sep 16, 2006): Alabama 41, Louisiana-Monroe 7

At last, a relatively easy win -- though it was 10-7 midway through the second quarter and still only 20-7 until late in the third. And it was only Louisiana-Monroe. Sure, they won the Sun Belt last year, but it's the Sun Belt. Sure, they gave Kansas a scare, but Kansas is no good. ULM had maybe 50 players in uniform.

Bama was a little choppy early on, going three-and-out on two of their first three possessions and fumbling on the fourth. But in the second possession, they went eighty yards, Le'Ron McClain scoring from 17 out on a screen pass. On their fifth, they went three-and-out again but had taken over on the ULM 24 (on a disputed fumble; ULM challenged, and I'm guessing they were right but replays were inconclusive) and kicked a fieldgoal.

ULM had one good drive on the day, and it came right after the fieldgoal, going 83 yards for a touchdown on draw plays and shovel-passes, the same stuff Hawaii did so well. Alabama answered that with a six-play, 65-yard drive to make it 17-7, Keith Brown catching a 33-yard pass and running 20 on a reverse. And the defense responded by finally stopping those little gimmick plays.

Bama missed a fieldgoal after a rare mental error by John Parker Wilson (who threw a pass after crossing the line of scrimmage) on the next drive, and took over in the second half with a long drive for a fieldgoal and a slip-screen to DJ Hall that went for 43 and broke the game open. The reserves added two touchdowns, both by Roy Upchurch, who finally got to run the ball.

Ken Darby finally had a good game, running for over 80 yards on 14 carries, Brown continued to shine, and the defense stepped up after a sloppy second quarter.

But the story of the game was afterward. Rumors had been swirling the last couple of days that three players -- star LB Juwan Simpson, #2 RB Jimmy Johns, and nickelback/third CB Lionel Mitchell -- had been suspended. Shula never announces this stuff beforehand, but it turns out to have been the case -- as I was sure of on the opening kickoff when Upchurch took Johns' spot as the up-man.

But after the game, Shula announced that Simpson and the other two had been suspended for actions during the offseason, and that the suspensions had been delayed until other suspensions had been served so that the team wouldn't be shorthanded in the opener. Now, Simpson got a lot of attention for an arrest in Bessemer for gun and marijuana possession; these charges were later largely dropped except for a misdemeanor charge.

Simpson, who was Academic All-SEC last year and has already earned his degree, has a reputation as a model citizen, and my understanding from people who know people is that while he was technically guilty the gun and the pot both belonged to someone else and that if anything he was trying to clean up someone else's mess. At the same time, you pretty much have to suspend him.

Now, I am guessing that Shula is being perfectly honest, and at least two players (Hall in the first game, and Kyle Tatum in the second) did serve suspensions. But what it looks like is that Shula waited to suspend two key defensive players, including his best player, until after two possibly losable games (I think we would have lost to Hawaii if Simpson hadn't played, and Mitchell made several good plays including an interception on the last play in that game) and waited until the ULM game that his second string probably could have won.

The media's going to cream him.

SEC recap tomorrow. The media should cream Phillip Fulmer after Tennessee choked away that Florida game.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Who said L.A. doesn't have a pro football team? I can't imagine a less interesting story than how much money Reggie Bush made in college. Strip SC of the '04 Title? Take away his Heisman Trophy? Sorry, can't be done: those honors have already been awarded. This ain't like taking the Tour de France from a juiced champion, where there is a direct link between the cheating and the championship. You can punish USC all you want, but they still kicked Sooners' ass in the '05 Orange Bowl, and they still beat Michigan to win the '04 title. And Reggie Bush was still the best player during the 2005 season. Even if the NCAA could get Bush to cooperate with their investigation, and was motivated to send a message to the Trojans, the Sooners are still going to trail by five touchdowns.

The allegations raised in the article can be divided into two categories: payments to Bush's family by his current agent, Mike Ornstein, and payments by a spurned wannabe agent in 2005. The Ornstein payments are mainly for benefits that, while they may have given him an unfair advantage in recruiting Bush, seem entirely appropriate just from a sense of plain decency. For example, one of the allegations concerns flying Bush's family to see him play a game up in Berkeley last season; another one deals with an advance Bush received to purchase a suit to wear for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Together, those payments barely reach a thousand dollars, and were made at a time when Bush was an employee of the sports agency. The payments made by the wannabe agent are a great deal sleazier, and involve trips to Las Vegas and tens of thousands of dollars in non-essentials.

There have been also counter-allegations that there were attempts to extort Bush by the people surrounding the wannabe agent, and under such circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising if some of the documentation that is allegedly supporting the Yahoo story was fabricated. In fact, Yahoo hedges their bets on quite a bit on this story; the article is replete with references to how payments "appear to have been received" or "appear to have been accepted", weasel words that strongly indicate skepticism about the reliability and honesty of their sources.

My two favorite college teams are CAL, my alma mater, and Michigan. In the early '90's, both programs had, at different levels, great basketball teams, which it turned out were assembled using very dubious means. Both programs were hit with probation, and neither program has approached that level since then, and there is indeed some question as to whether they can contend for the national title playing by "the rules." But I have yet to meet a single Bears fan who rues the day the school went on probation in 1998; CAL still knocked two-time defending champions Duke out of the '93 tournament, and went to the Sweet Sixteen that year and again in 1997. So it was worth it. And the Fab Five? Does anyone even know they were stripped of all their victories in 1992 and 1993? The important thing is, they went to the Finals twice.

Of course, none of the advances allegedly made to Reggie Bush constitute a crime, or would even be considered unethical outside the bizarro world of college sports. That's the big problem with enforcing the malum prohibitum regulations of the NCAA; if the crime doesn't directly relate to the essence of the sport, the winning-and-losing on the field, the fans, alums and boosters aren't going to give a rat's ass about whether or not this sort of "cheating" takes place (academic fraud, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish entirely, since it involves the exploitation of athletes, the misappropriation of tax money and the betrayal of the institutional mission of the university). In football, it's even harder to care, since there technically isn't even a "national champion" in the sport; the honor, as such, is awarded by the polls and the BCS. The issue isn't whether SC "cheats" to win; it's why other programs (are you listening, CAL?) aren't trying hard enough to match them. [link via LA Observed]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ohio State [1] 24, Texas [2] 7: Avenging an early-season loss last season, the top-ranked team in the country took apart an outmatched, inexperienced opponent that showed exactly how important Vince Young was to last year's national title winning team. Colt McCoy, the Longhorns starting quarterback, was ineffective, throwing a crucial interception and averaging only 4.7 yards per pass. The Buckeyes defense was led by James Laurnaitis, who intercepted the aforementioned pass and also returned a first quarter fumbel fifty yards from deep in Ohio State territory. It was the first 1 vs. 2 regular season match-up in ten years, when Florida State edged Florida (the Gators would win the rematch, and that mythical national title, five weeks later in the Sugar Bowl, however).

Two other schools that looked so impressive in Week One came down to earth yesterday. The ninth-ranked Seminoles had to rally late to beat Troy State, 24-17, while Number 11 Tennessee needed a defensive stop on a two-point conversion to hold off Air Force, 31-30. The school the Vols routed last week, No. 22 CAL, looked like the national contenders everyone thought they'd be, flattening Minnesota in the Bears' home opener, 42-17.

Notre Dame [4] 41, Penn State [19] 17: The first of two games matching ranked BCS teams from last season. The Nittany Lions were a great fluke team last season; almost all of their tough opponents were at home, they played a soft non-conference schedule, and then got to meet the weakest of the eight BCS schools (F.S.U.) in the Orange Bowl. Of their two difficult road games, one required a busted defensive assignment in the last minute to get the win versus Northwestern, and the other was the last second loss to mediocre Michigan.

If the mistake-filled effort yesterday is any indication, Joe Pa is going to fall very, very hard this season. The Fighting Irish moved out to a thirty-eight point lead in the 4th quarter, conceding two meaningless scores at the end to make the result less unrespectable, and will get to play a Michigan squad that saw its game suspended for an hour by lightning before blowing out Central Michigan by an identical score.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

VU vs ALABAMA (Sep 9, 2006)

I don't get it. Why is it that a team can move the ball up and down the field but whenever they get inside the opponent's 25 they turn into bumbling incomptents afraid to do anything but run off-tackle? I hesitate to suggest that maybe it is the coaching.

Alabama had four possessions in the first half, largely due to these stupid clock rules which the NCAA has foisted on us. They did not punt, they had long drives on three occasions -- and scored three points. On their first drive, they held the ball for eleven plays and 51 yards, only to call a boneheaded fake kick on fourth-and-nine from the 24 (Alabama uses their punter as the holder, common in the NFL but not in college because it's basically stupid), a run for two yards.

On their second drive, they went 47 yards on eight plays and kicked a fieldgoal. Wilson's first pass was picked off (it was just an underthrow, not a mental mistake) on the next drive, leading to a fieldgoal to tie it. They took over after the kick, went 64 yards on ten plays -- and fumbled at the 13 on 3rd-and-1. Vandy then drove 87 yards for a touchdown, really their only good drive of the game.

Alabama tied it on their first drive of the half, on a 31-yard pass to DJ Hall (back from his "injury") then forced a fumble on the kickoff, taking it to the 26. But Johns fumbled at the three. After some pretty bizarre play calling on their next couple of drives, they finally set up for a long fieldgoal by Leigh Tiffin, who drilled it from 47 just like his dad used to, and managed to hold on to win it.

When you outgain the other team 341-235 and commit fewer turnovers and control the return game, you really shouldn't be in a situation where you have to hold on to win it. But that's how it was. As it was, if not for a great game by Simeon Castille, who picked off two passes, one in Alabama territory when Vandy was in position to take the lead in the fourth, they very likely would have lost. Ken Darby finally got on track in the fourth quarter with a couple of nice runs, but still had only 65 yards on 21 carries, and Johns' fumble problems make Shula hesitant to use him.

This isn't going to work when we play good teams.

A message for degenerate gamblers:

When I was a small boy, my grandfather sat me down next to him, and he gave me some sound advice. I'm going to share it with you.

"Mac, my boy," he said, "Never bet on Alabama. This is the illegal gambling capital of the world, and there are so many bets placed on the Tide that they drive the lines up, and they're always favored by more than they should be. Only bet on Alabama when they're an underdog and you think they're going to win."

"Now, go play."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the forward pass. I've just finished reading a book that traced the evolution of baseball in the U.S. with soccer everywhere else, and one of the interesting things that characterizes the sport the rest of the world calls "football"* is that it was developed by committee. Several committees, in fact; the early Football Association basically consisted of a number of gentlemen representing various towns and "public schools", each of which played their own variation of the game, and in the mid-nineteenth century, the two most popular versions included one developed at the Rugby School, which allowed players to carry the ball. The committee ultimately split, with the majority favoring no hands, and that sport became popularly known as "association football" ("soccer" is a bastardization of the first word), and the sport known as rugby favored by the seceding minority.

In the fullness of time, soccer became less of a "gentleman's game," while rugby continued to have strong ties to English public schools, from which the early American version of the game spread to Ivy League students in the late-19th Century. Since the forward pass is inarguably the most distinctive difference in the rules between American football and rugby, it is interesting (at least to me) how the two sports differed prior to 1906. Both sports feature running with the ball towards the other team's goal, permit the other side to physically stop the ball carrier via tackling, and allow for more points if you cross the goal line with the ball as opposed to kicking it through the goal posts.

The impression I have is that prior to 1906, the American version had a great deal more violence, with several college players dying every season. President Theodore Roosevelt, whose son had played the sport at Stanford, threatened to outlaw the game, and a number of schools (including my alma mater, Cal) switched to rugby at around that time. If I had to fathom a guess, I would say the big rules difference before 1906 was that the "scrum" was more open-ended in American football, and was used as the primary means of moving the ball forward, as opposed to rugby, where it seems to be used to resolve possession disputes. Today, of course, no American football fan would even notice a "scrum"; it's the routine battle that takes place during every play at the line of scrimmage. In any event, the sports seem to have evolved quite dramatically in different directions even before the forward pass was legalized in the U.S.

*Except the U.S. and Canada, which favor "soccer", and Italy, which inexplicably calls the game "calcio." Since they're the champs, who's to argue?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Florida State [11] 13, Miami [12] 10: For the second straight year, college football's most important rivalry of the past 25 years was decided by three points, as the Seminoles held the Hurricanes to only 17 total yards in the second half to pull off the upset. Gary Cismesia booted the winning field goal from 33 yards with just over eight minutes to play, ending a curse for FSU kickers going back fifteen years. The Noles now have to be considered a solid national title contender, with an upcoming schedule of home games (only three games away from Tallahassee before the ACC championship) and/or cupcakes.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tennessee [23] 35, CAL [9] 18: The only matchup of ranked teams turned ugly early in the second half, as CAL's lack of experience at quarterback and on defense proved costly. The Vols put constant pressure on Nate Longshore, and CAL's spread offense couldn't get anything going until the game was well out of reach, and back-up QB Nate Ayoob was inserted. Early blow-outs like this can often set the tone for the rest of the season (remember Arizona, 1999?), so CAL will need to flush the performance down the drain ASAP.

Not much else happened in Week One. USC and Texas indicated that notwithstanding the departures of last season's stars, they are ready to challenge for the national title again, with easy victories. Number Two Notre Dame showed they might be a tad overrated, with a tougher-than expected win over Georgia Tech on the road, 14-10. Ohio State, the nation's top-ranked school, won easily, setting up a revenge matchup next Saturday against the Longhorns in Austin.

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