Thursday, December 31, 2009

Texas Tech is the real loser here

Disclaimer: Texas Tech could shut down football operations tomorrow and I wouldn't care. I'm neither pro- or anti-Tech in any way.

So Mike Leach is out fired (in part) due to his own ego and the wishes of some very influential check scratchers in Lubbock. As is the case in any story of this type, those that know nothing about the situation are busy making moral judgements while other (more level headed?) writers note that, in today's world, it's the perception of what's been done that matters more than what was actually done.

Oh, and there's the whole matter of being liked by your boss which, obviously Leach wasn't. the fans loved Leach however, which is why the only loser here is going to be Texas Tech. In a big way. After all is said and done people aren't going to remember Craig James, they aren't going to remember Adam James, and they aren't going to remember Gerald Meyers. What's going to stick in the public's memory are two things:

1. Mike Leach put a kid suffering from a concussion into a shed.
2. Tech fans then piled on the kid with pretty much every negative term imaginable.

To Tech fans, they're just protecting their own, the psuedo-pirate captain who's guided their program to the cusp of national prominence, who beat UT-Austin on national television and recieved all of the media attention. As a Michigan fan (Bo Schembechler) I understand a healthy dose of hero worship. What I don't understand is tearing a kid up publically in a no-win situation. With that thought in mind I offer up, free of charge, the following tips to Red Raider fans going forward:

Keep the talk Centered on "Tech Administration vs. Mike Leach" - Don't drag all of this other stuff into it. Calling a kid a wuss or a sissy (or worse) because he was diagnosed with a concussion just isn't cool. I realize that the sports mantra from those who never played sports is to die for your team, but in the real world these young men have bright futures ahead of them. This is football, not war. (Oddly enough some people want more sacrifice on the football field for the ol' Alma Mater than they're willing to give up for their Country) Don't be that school Tech.

Stick to the facts - Nothing makes you look worse than when you say "Craig James has now killed two football programs". It's one thing to be mad at a guy, it's another to invent facts to try and make your argument. The FACT is there was nothing personally attributed to Craig James that led to the downfall of SMU. Yes, he was there at the time and yes, there's the whole "well, everyone did it" angle but, when you're trying to build a fact based argument, it's best to stick to facts and not heresay.

Don't make light of injuries - Nothing says "I've never played competitive sports in my life" quite like slighting someone for being injured. I've had a couple of concussions, they suck. You cracking on Adam James just makes you look like an idiot.

Remember, even though Leach is gone, you're still a Tech alum - I saw a lot of this during the Art Briles/UH days. UH fans showing more loyalty to Briles than UH, siding with the Briles/Stephensville fanatics who ripped apart every UH fan who dared question the great one. Now that Briles has been revealed, the Stephensville folks are gone, and UH Nation is left with a lot of hurt feelings. When all of this blows over, Leach will be gone but your Alma Mater will still be there. Never forget that.

Hope is fleeting Longhorn fan.

OK, so Nebraska dominated Arizona last night in the Holiday Bowl. The score was 33-0 but it wasn't that close. If Bo Pellini had wanted to he really could have piled it on Mike Stoop's boys, "Bear Down" motto or no.

Because of this domination some Longhorn fans are starting to take hope that, in spite of it all, their team might not be the sacrificial lambs many are casting them as against Alabama. That could be. Personally, I don't think Texas has much of a chance but then, I thought USC would handle them in 2005 so what do I know? I just want a good game since all of this is relatively meaningless anyway. (And will remain meaningless until D-1 College football joins the rest of the civilized sports world and conducts a proper playoff.)

All that being said I'd be a little leery, were I pulling for UT-Austin, of getting my dander up over a Big xII pummelling of a PAC-10 team. After all, this is the same conference that's 2-3 for the bowl season with wins over a depleted Boston College team and....Temple. For every encouraging sign however, there's a downer. Georgia's 44-20 shellacking of aTm should remind you that the SEC is a different level of football than is whatever it is they're doing on the West Coast. In the SEC they play defense, let's not forget that.

To date I've seen nothing to convince me that Alabama isn't the better team going into the B(C)S Championship game against the Longhorns. Like any team however they bring with them some questions. The biggest is whether or not their Freshman QB is going to hold up under the media scrutiny that's sure to come after this weekend. One thing he already has going for him is that he's stood up under the glare of St. Tebow, and after beating God's second son what else is there to prove?

Today is a good day for the respective "big" conferences to get an idea where they stand against one another. Oklahoma/Stanford, Minnesota/Iowa State & Va Tech/Tennessee should all be fairly competative games. Like most bowl seasons, today is the day that things really ramp up and the games get interesting. Up until now however I wouldn't read much into what we've seen. We really won't know anything until game-time, and by then it will be too late to make any predictions.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sports Shorts (12/29/09)

"To the Shed with you!" - A possible quote from pseudo Pirate Captain Mike Leach

Why don't we just put Craig James and Mike Leach in a cage and let them duke it out? This would be far more fun than listening to Houston sports radio where Aggies are piling on (Uh-huh, because the Corps have NEVER hazed anyone) and Tech fans conjuring up conspiracy theories involving Sonny Dykes and Gerald Meyers drinking iced tea in the back of a pick-up truck gazing thoughtfully into each others eyes. You'd think, by now, Tech would be used to a certain amount of idiocy from Mike Leach. After all the guy's possibly the most anti-social man in college football. He's also the best coach Tech has employed since well....ever.

Ouch Georgia 44 aTm 20 In a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated aTm fans learned just how far their program had fallen under the recruiting prowess of Coach Fran. I'm sure there are a LOT of angry Aggies out there this morning but consider this: Your team is young, has some good front-line talent, and one of the better young quarterbacks in College Football. When you add the youth factor to an SEC defense however the final result was inevitable. (Remember Arkansas?) So far this season, with the exception of OSU, the Big xII hasn't held up well against superior athletes and defensive schemes frequently seen in the SEC. Don't feel bad aTm, the future is looking a LOT brighter than the immediate past.

If Case Keenum leaves, UH fans riot.

Thus endeth the error of McGrady. - The funniest thing about all of this are the sports-talk radio callers waxing angry about how McGrady was given the short-shrift. What? Here's an athlete who was given every chance to show up big in big games, take the team on his back and carry them to a championship. (or, at least, to win a playoff series) You can't doubt the wisdom of the trade at the time, judgement on a trade in hindsight is too easy, but to say McGrady wasn't given a fair shake with the Rockets is revisionist history. Good luck to him, but good riddance as well.

How far have NFL expectations fallen in Houston? We've gone from "kicking down the door" to "Gosh I hope the other team doesn't field their starters and that two of three other teams lose in games they shouldn't." I realize this is heresy in a World Class city like Houston, but I'm going to say it anyway: I miss the days when Houston didn't have an NFL team and we got the best games every week on TV.

I like Manny Pacquiao, I really do. His aversion to drug tests is ringing false to me however. Especially when you consider that he gave blood within two weeks of his fight with Ricky Hatton. I realize that most all of this is pre-fight hype, but hype over drug testing is not the type of hype you want to have.

Just a reminder: There are 45 days until NBC ruins the Winter Olympics by broadcasting nothing but people on ice in bad costumes. Seriously, is there anything more mind-numbingly boring than ice dancing? I can deal with ice skating, at least there's an element of risk there when some effeminate man goes for a quadruple axle and runs the risk of spearing one of the small kids whose job it is to pick up the flowers. Couples skating is OK as well. But Ice dancing? If NBC were really serious about upping ratings they'd show skeleton, and luge and bobsled. Not to mention more skiing. The thing that I like about the Winter Olympics is getting to see sports that we never see in Houston. Oh, and curling. I want to start a Houston Curling team in the worst way.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Your Houston Texans (Such as they are)

You know you're NFL team is not the powerhouse you envisioned it to be when the crux of the week's conversation is going to focus on the fact that next week's opponent has nothing to play for giving them a chance to secure the best season in franchise history.

What this means is that your team wouldn't be expected to beat said real powerhouse had they something to play for and weren't secretly doing what the best team in the conference did in an obvious manner against the Jets. (Who are now favored to win the playoff spot you covet FWIW) The taboo in the NFL is not throwing the game, it's looking for all the world that you're throwing the game. Those left out (The Texans) will have sports talkers and writers who will raise hell on the issue of the integrity of the playoff system etc. for the entiretly of the off-season. Fortunately for those of us who listen to sports talk radio, there are other choices. (Unfortunately none of them are really any good, but that's another post for another time.)

The important bit to take out of this is that, despite breathless proclamations to the contrary, this Texans team just isn't all that good. Yes, they have a shot at the "best record in franchise history" on Sunday, but that record is only 9-7, something teams such as New England, Indianapolis and (Yes) Dallas would consider a down year. That the Texans' pinnacle equals the trough for most playoff teams speaks volumes. Even in victory the Texans are uninspiring. As was the case Sunday, they have the ability to look like world-beaters for one half, and then coaching kicks in and they flounder around like fish out of water for the next.

How else do you explain a team going into halftime with a 27-3 lead only to watch it all but evaporate in the second half? It's coaching plain and simple. To be specific: bad coaching. Outside of sub-par talent in the defensive backfield bad coaching is the one thing the Texans have most. With all that being said, I think that 8-8 (or 9-7) is going to be more than enough to bring Kubiak & Co back for, at lest, one more year. Because of this, something has to be done to ensure these coaching mistakes aren't replicated in 2010, I'm not sure the City's psyche could take it.

My humble suggestion is this: Last night, during the Music City Bowl the cameras cut away to a kid sitting on the Clemson bench charting something. It turns out that he was coach Dabo Swinney's son. His job, easy enough, was to chart the number of times C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford touched the ball. If they fell behind a number that was part of a schedule, then the kid would go up and tap good ol' dad on the leg as a reminder to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers. This is a brilliant idea. One that the Texans should copy, and improve on.

It's often said that, in the NFL, things are taken to "a higher level" versus the College game. The athletes are bigger, stronger, faster, and the coaching expertise is superior. Because of all that I don't think that a simple tug on the trousers is a strong enough reminder. What needs to happen is that Kubiak's son be given a wiffle-ball bat and instructions to 'swing away' should Andre Johnson not see the ball say...three times per quarter. On the defensive side of the ball the Texans could raise revenue by offering one fan ticket per week to fill the role of 'gentle reminder'. If, should he return to the team, Dunta Robinson is allowed to single-cover the oppositions best receiver more than two times per game, then the fan gets to walk over to Rick Smith and put the 8-ball in the corner pocket so-to-speak.

Since none of this is likely to happen any time soon, I'm tempted to go out on a limb and predict 8-8 or 9-7 AGAIN next year. That's the current ceiling for this NFL franchise.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sports Shorts (12/21/09)

It's beginning to feel a lot like Bowl Time......

All you need to know about Brett Favre:
When it goes bad for Tom Brady(notes), he takes the blame and defends his teammates’ talent, effort, performance. When it goes bad for Favre, he starts talking about secrets.

This was a good game. So far the bowl season has been...*meh*. Yes, I realize the Wyoming/Rutgers game was close, but is there a more boring team out there than Wyoming? (Extra bonus: Dwight Dasher took Vince Young out of the record books with 201 yards rusing. Longhorn bitch-fest soon to follow I'm sure.)

Note: A quality NFL team handles the St. Louis Rams. Any other questions?

Pre-game...Post-game. Give Solomon this: he's typically fairly consistent.

A meaningful finish? - Up until they lose to the Patriots and finish 8-8 (again) or lose this week to Miami to finish 7-9. Either way we'll be told to "trust" Kubiak by radio and sports personalities.

Why am I not torn up about the prospect of losing Kyle Shanahan? Is it because his play-calling is formulaic and overly simple? Is it because he tries too-oten to make the Texans' round-peg offense fit into a square-hole running game? Lance Z is spending too much time cavorting with the Borg instead of focusing on his day job. That being said I've noticed I'm turning my AM radio dial more to 610 these days as John and Lance become more and more un-listenable.

Who would have thought that John Lopez was the answer? (If we could just find a replacement for Vandermeer.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

The REAL question about the Texans.

Yes Houston, YOUR Texans beat up on the hapless Seahawks, a team playing with a recycled coach, a middling quarterback who's never reached his potential, a defense that would be competitive in the FCS and a wide receiving corps anchored by a receiver with a catchy last name who played 2nd fiddle to OchoCinco. Before we jump off the cliff of irrational exuberance, let's take a seconds pause to ask a question:
How can a 6-7 team win a game 34-7?
If you answered "The team has under-achieved all year" give yourself a pat on the back.

You now know why this team is hurtling toward another 8-8 season with more excuses than actual results.

Let's not forget that, were the Seahawks a viable NFL concern this season, the Texans very well could have LOST yesterday's game. In the second half Seattle's boys were down in the red zone at least four times and came away with negative 10 points. (The Interception return for a touchdown and a Kris Brown field goal) Take away those 10, and assume the Seahawks can put the ball in the two of four times and kick a field-goal on their other two trips and you have a 27-24 Seahawks win.

I realize this is a "what if" and the "what if" didn't happen. The Texans won the game and all is supposed to be well in Texans land. We're hearing today about how "dominant" this team can be and about how they should have done this all year long.

That's all well and good but my point is that the Texans DID what they've done all year long, they played one good half and one bad half. The only difference in this game is that the Seahawks weren't good enough to make them pay for it.

I'll grant you this: There was a world of difference between the Seahawks at 5-7 and the Texans at 5-7, starting with talent. That both teams came in with the same record speaks volumes about the poor job Kubiak & staff have done preparing this team for games. Add to that poor personnel decisions,(Why the hell is Dunta Robinson starting?) bone-headed play calling (It took Shanahan until NOW to realize that throwing the ball deep & often to Andre Johnson was a good thing?) & lack of depth (which is why injuries seem to hurt the Texans worse than other teams) and you have the makings of the worst expansion franchise in NFL history.

Early in the year I was down on the defense talent-wise, but as the year has progressed I'm convinced that things are not all that bad. Yes, the team needs a quality defensive tackle, something that can be addressed in the draft by trading up (Use Amobi Akoye, and some other players as trade bait) for a high 1st round pick to grab Cody or another roadblock. The linebacking corps is playing, as a unit, as well as any unit in the NFL and the DB's (excepting Dunta Robinson) are starting to gel as a unit. Earlier in the year I thought the Texans would need to make a push for Taylor Mays or some other top end safety, but with Barber and Pollard they seem to have two safeties who could be above average compared to the league. Cornerback is still a problem, but Quinn & Reeves are playing better (which makes Robinson expendable....good bye). On the offensive side of the ball they seem set, given that Owen Daniels inks a deal and is on the roster next year.

Given all of the above there's only one variable that really needs to change. If you don't know what it is, see the answer to the above question.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Early Thoughts on the B(C)S Championship Game

In no particular order:

1. It's NOT the National Championship, I don't care what the marketers say. - Any true National Champion in any true sport is determined on the field, not by a bunch of old guys, most of whom never played the game, and a group of computers. Sorry folks, but that's the way it is.

2. This time last year....UT-Austin fans were busily bashing the B(C)S system as "indefensible". Suddenly they're defending the exact same system because...well...they came out on top this year.

3. There's no logical argument for UT to be in the B(C)S Championship Bowl over TCU. TCU has a better strength of schedule, the most impressive win (BYU), and is, statistically, a better team than UT-Austin this year. The ONLY reason UT-Austin is in the B(C)S Championship Game is because they were ranked higher to start the season, and they're in an automatic qualifying conference.

4. That being said, the system is the system TCU....And your Conference signed onto it. Like it or not you've been beaten by a system you bought into primarily for money. 'Dem's the breaks.

5. There was very little difference between the Big xII North and the Big East this year....Big xII fans won't want to hear it, but beating lucking into a win against Pitt is just as impressive as lucking into a win against Nebraska. I would argue that a win over West Virginia is more impressive than anything UT-Austin has on their 2009 resume.

6. We love us some conspiracy theories....And every year college football never fails to disappoint. This year it's the Big xII officials rigging the end of the championship game to tilt away from Nebraska. Fuel to the fire: Watch the countdown between 0:02 & 0:01. Gosh that's a long second. (whee!)

7. How impressive is that win over Oregon looking now? Yes, they had a weak overall schedule, but the win over Oregon by Boise St. is the best win by any team not named Alabama in the top 4. (Only the Tide's win over Florida was better.)

8. There's defense, and then there's SEC defense. No disrespect to Nebraska, who plays them some SEC defense at times, but Alabama's defense is scary good. Everything Nebraska did the Tide do better and faster.

9. Because of the way the system is set up these games are going to be excruciatingly boring....Ohio State v. Oregon? Iowa v. Georgia Tech? Somebody pull the plug and put this bowl season out of it's misery. The most compelling game is Florida vs. Cincinnati, but there's a chance Florida's D-Coordinator and Cinci's head coach won't be there for the game. Ah well, at least we still have TCU vs. Boise St. A game many are calling the REAL Championship game. ...and 1 anyone?

10. The Tide is going to roll by.....Three touchdowns, UNLESS UT-Austin gets their offensive head put on straight and decides to actually do something. The difference between the Tide and Nebraska is that 'Bama actually can play on the offensive side of the ball as well. Defensively 'Bama is better, Offensively they're better, and Nick Saban is a far superior game coach than Mack Brown. The ugly potential on this game is through the roof.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A halfback pass? Really?

Is that the mark of an offensive "guru"? Because out here in the world of us ordinary folks I would think something along the following lines: 1. You've got one of the best WR in the Country in Andre Johnson, a capable #2 receiver in Kevin Walter and a quality ball-control type in David Anderson (when he's not being knocked into next week going after a pass that's behind him). On top of all this you have James Casey, who's got some experience throwing the ball as a QB, and is a physical specimen to boot.

Based on all of that my first look would be to Andre, then Walter, Anderson and Casey. After that I'd look to Chris Brown. After all of that I might consider giving to ball to Casey and let him run the option pass. After all of that had failed, I'd take one look at the play Shanahan called (and Kubiak failed to overrule) and I'd rip the page out of the playbook and throw it in the trash.

It's bad enough that the Texans (the worst NFL expansion franchise in history, in case you already didn't know that) are 5-7 with no hope of the playoffs in sight. What's worse is that they're starting to be creative in the ways that they lose, as if just going out and sucking it up for 4 quarters isn't bad enough, now Texans fans have to live with Chris Brown's mistake of the week, or Matt Schaub's 'huh?' moment, or the Sex cannon coming into the game and mis-firing. How bad was the halfback option? "Stagger Lee" is being batted around. In case you don't know, the legend of Stagger Lee, there you go.

So now the Texans are looking at having to win out in order to obtain the first winning record in team history. Given that the schedule still contains playoff contenders Seattle, Miami and New England, I would argue at this point that 6-10 is more likely than 9-7. Any sports pundit mentioning "playoffs" and "Texans" in any other context than "only way they can attend is to buy a ticket" needs to be taken out back, tarred, feathered and be forced to watch 36 hourse of Andre Ware color commentary. If they honestly think the Texans still have a chance then throw in Marc Vandermeer on play by play. Honestly, I can't think of a punishment that would be more painful than that.

For now it's on to the Seahawks, a team whose 5-7 record mirrors the Texans and who have lost 5 of their last 6 games to mostly strong competition. However, the Seahawks don't have a particuarly good defense, they're not prolific on offense and they're not going to give anyone the hives from a preparation standpoint due to the fear of being out-coached. If you think about it, they're the mirror-image of the Texans, except they've won at some time in franchise history.

If the Texans lose this one the "fire Kubiak" chant will become deafening in its intensity. With good cause. Even if they win this game the guy needs to go. The biggest arguement used by his supporters (VanDerMeer, for one) is "who are you going to get that's any better to replace him?" At this point, the odds are slim that you're going to get anyone much worse.

If Colt McCoy wins the Heisman....

...Then the award is the new Nobel Peace Prize....

Not that the Heisman has truly been about naming "the most outstanding player in College Football" for quite some time. In fact, considering the group of journalists and former winners that have a vote, it's long been about finding the MVP of the top team, from a media-attention perspective, in the Nation. Because of this, he's probably got more than a 90% chance of winning.

Which is too bad.

The problem with Colt winning on the basis of this year's performance is this: He'll probably go down as one of the least deserving Heisman trophy winners in history. Based on his career that's not very fair. McCoy has been an above-average to great quarterback for UT-Austin for most of his career. Last year, when he lost to OU Quarterback Sam Bradford despite having better numbers, he was historic in terms of passing efficiency and did everything he needed to do....except beat Texas Tech on the road. Sam Bradford made it to the Big xII championship game, so Bradford wins the most meaningless trophy in college football.

The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. The voting panel that makes up the Heisman vote could pay attention to what happens on the field and cast an intelligent vote if they wanted to. It's just that they don't want to. It's far better to pick the best player on an undefeated team and be done with it. No silly research for us. Then there's the "overhyped white QB" factor. All things being equal, a Caucasian QB is going to have an advantage over a minority player The exception to this is when said minority player is head and shoulders above the white QB in terms of output, and even then (see Jackson, Bo & Long, Chuck for more) the vote will be closer than it should be.

Because of these factors Colt McCoy has a chance of winning despite a statistical line (330/468, 3782 yds, 27 TD's & 12 INT's) that's average when compared to other College Quarterbacks. And that's the whole rub that many have in regards to Colt McCoy winning the Heisman this year. Average players are not, by definition, the most outstanding player in college football.

Based on recent history I've got little doubt that the final 5 who go to New York for the award ceremony will look something like this:
Colt McCoy, QB - UT-Austin (stats above)

Tim Tebow, QB - Florida (182/279, 2413 yds, 18 TD's 5 INT & 859 yds rushing w/13 TD's)

Toby Gerhart, RB - Stanford (311 carries/1,736 yds, 26 TD's 0 fumbles)

Golden Tate, WR - Notre Dame (93 receptions/1,496 yds, 15 TD's + 25 carries/186 yards, 2TD's + 32 Punt returns/171 yds, 1TD)

Jimmy Clausen, QB - Notre Dame (289/485, 3,722 yds, 28 TD's, 4 INT's)
Against that lineup McCoy wins.

Now, here's how the final 5 should look:
Mark Ingram, RB - Alabama (249 carries, 1,542 yds, 15 TD's + 30 receptions, 322 yds, 3 TD's)

Toby Gerhart, RB - Stanford (311 carries/1,736 yds, 26 TD's 0 fumbles)

Ndamukong Suh, DT - Nebraska (82 tackles (47 solo), 12 sacks, 1 INT)

Case Keenum, QB - Houston (468/659, 5449 yds, 43 TD's, 9 INT's + 132 yds rushing w/1=4 TD's)

Mardy Gilyard, WR - Cincinatti (80 Receptions, 1,150 yards, 11 TD's + 69 KR's, 1,276 yards, 3TD's)

If I had a vote it would be as follows:
1. Mark Ingram
2. Toby Gerhart
3. Ndamukong Suh
4. Case Keenum
5. Mardy Gilyard
I give extra credit to Ingram for doing what he did against the much tougher SEC. It won't work that way however, because this is the Heisman trophy we're talking about.