Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On this Thanksgiving, let's remember to Give Thanks.

Whether it's called Turkey Day, Turkey Murder Day, A Day of Celebration for the White Man's Extortion of the Native People of North America or the Day Before you Lose your Mind in the Commercialization of Christmas there is no Holiday that has, perhaps, been bastardized more than Thanksgiving or, more specifically, Thanksgiving Day. Originally this was a day to give thanks for the Harvest, and the preceding year. Back in the days when life expectancy was measured in months rather than years, giving thanks for surviving the turmoil and toil of a previous year didn't seem so quaint. There's also the fact that, in these modern times, we aren't as thankful for what we've accomplished as we (the royal we) were in previous generations.

Certainly, our ruling class is not thankful. Neither the President nor most elected officials show true gratitude for being elected to do the job they do. And this is not just at the Federal level either. Increasingly our public servants, at all levels, view themselves as a team of intellectual betters whose primary role is to correct the mistakes and oversights made by the great unwashed. Do you really, in your heart of hearts, think that State Senator Dan Patrick is "thankful" that he has been re-elected to the State Senate given that he truly believes that he and his comrades are better qualified to handle the selection process for the US Senate than are you? Do you believe that President Obama is "thankful" when he repeatedly states that the reason you disagree with him is that you're too dense to understand the issues?

As a society we've lost what it means to be truly thankful. There was a time when companies were "thankful" for your business. Today it's viewed as an entitlement by the biggest of corporations. Take the Houston Chronicle as a local example. They are not "thankful" that a shrinking portion of the citizenry counts on them for the news of the day, they view the residents of Houston as people who need firm guidance and a strong hand. That they're losing market share is a result of your ignorance, not of their incompetence. Retail giants like JC Penny's and Sears are not, nor have they been for a long time, "thankful" that (a few) people still shop there, they believed that their retail dominance was assured. Most, not all, of the Houston Texans are not "thankful" that fans still shell out thousands of dollars to see a sub-par product. In many cases they are adversarial to their customers.

None of this is due to the breakdown of the family unit or a fleeing from God or anything else other than our current societal belief that we "deserve" what we have. To be "thankful" for the blessings we have received is to have to admit that, in many cases, our sheer brilliance wasn't the sole reason for our attainment. For a society that's now grown up on a diet of instant gratification and spare the (figurative) rod discipline the very concept of "thankful" becomes harder and harder to digest. If gratitude is a muscle then as a society we're suffering from atrophy due to disuse. Instead of being "thankful" that they live in a society that offers a safety net recipients of entitlements become angry when the system fails to produce. It's even to the point that known stealing from society's largesse is not viewed negatively but as a failure of the system.

Regardless of where the failure lies, it's up to all of us to recalibrate our moral compasses and realize that being "thankful" is not a sign of weakness but of strength and intelligence. And that doesn't mean that you have to give thanks to God or Allah or anyone else. Being "thankful" is not a monopoly owned by our religious institutions. You can be thankful to karma for smiling down on you, or the Universe for not rolling craps on your turn. Being "thankful" just means that you have the emotional intelligence to realize that, while hard work can create your own luck, there are still many different factors out there which kept you from losing it all. For me, I give thanks to my God and Savior, whom I believe in strongly and deeply. Your mileage may vary but that doesn't mean that losing the ability to give thanks is any less dire.

Once the ability to be "thankful" is gone, so are the remaining underpinnings of society. Without thanks there is no respect, without respect, no rule of law and without the rule of law you have strongman tactics which (given the odds) are not going to work out well for the majority, the minority or pretty much anyone who might find themselves without the biggest gun. It would be nice if our leaders remember this, but it's probably more important that the citizenry remember it first. Because, once we do, then we can start to agree on those elected officials who don't, and we can either find ways to make them remember or vote in people who do.

So, this Thanksgiving I encourage you to take a quiet moment of reflection and think hard about what you are truly "thankful" for. For me, I'm "thankful" for my wife, my family, my job, my health, my God, the city in which I live, the ability to travel and the happenstance that occurred over the years which allows me to sit here in the evening and write this blog, to schedule it for publication the next day and not be arrested for it.

I'm also "thankful" to my handful of dedicated readers over the years. You've followed my ebbs and flows, political ramblings, blog changes, boredom, rants, raves and shoddy writing and grammar far longer than I could ever reasonably expect. Through it all I have made many friends, and some not so friends, of whom I'm thankful for as well. This last year has been one of great change and with change comes opportunity.

For all of that I am "thankful".

Happy Thanksgiving all. Now pass the turkey and dressing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

College Football (Week 14) Predictions

Rivalry Week.

1. Texas Tech @ University of Texas-Austin(-4.5) - TT 17 UT-Austin 24 - Tech is in a free-fall, UT is not very good but better than the Red Raiders

2. Ole Mississippi(-3) @ Mississippi State - Ole Miss 35 MSSt 10 - When you fall behind your in-state rival, coaches get fired.

3. Duke @ North Carolina(-5) - Duke 41 UNC 31 - Picking the upset here. I think Vegas has this line all wrong.

4. Clemson @ South Carolina(-5.5) - Clem 27 USC 28 - I think Spurrier and comapny win, but don't cover.

5. Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University @ Missouri(-4.5) - aTm 20 Mizzou 45 - I'm loathe to pick the Aggies (or any team) with a defense that pathetic

6. University of California - Los Angeles @ University of Southern California(-4) - UCLA 24 USC 27 - Remove the interim title from Ed Orgeron now

7. University of Alabama(-11) @ Auburn University - Bama 35 Auburn 23 - Saban has had two weeks to prepare for Auburn (no Chattanooga doesn't count) I expect the Tide to roll.

And finally.......

8. "The Game" The Ohio State University(-14.5) @ The University of Michigan - I just can't do it. Michigan is going to get rolled and OSU is going to cover by a LOT. Blue is now facing the real possibility that it's greatest rival is leaving it behind.

Oh OK.....OSU 35 Michigan 3.


Monday, November 25, 2013

It's the busiest travel season of the year (So of course the don't travel, travel media is piling on)

Holiday travel stories, some interesting, some not so much, some in between.......

Why does the if you pay more you get more concept seem to elude today's j-school grad travel writers? The people who are "getting" these perks have either paid for them in the form of significantly higher ticket prices, or through many miles flying coach.

The most un-surprising thing about this story on United's struggles competing with China's airlines is that Smisek and company have decided to use a "second-tier" strategy to compete. Almost everything about the "new" United is second (or third, or fourth, or worse)-tier these days.

Fliers, even the so-called "uneducated" ones, learning about the joys of alternative travel days is hardly a "new" trend. I do feel sorry for some of these local reporters who are tasked with writing something, anything, on Holiday travel. It's busy. That's about it.

My gut feeling is that America missed its window to fix the aging air transportation infrastructure and that most of the 'fixes' aren't really. But the story is still an interesting read.

Hard to believe that one ERJ-145 flight per day won't be enough to turn around a flagging city's fortunes but there you go. A bigger concern for Atlantic City, in my mind, is that they never really developed a secondary industry (as did Las Vegas and their high-end club scene) when it became obvious that gaming was undergoing an irreversible slide. Add that to the fact that Trump and many of the other old-school casino owners (I'm looking at you Caesar's) let their casinos grow out-dated, antiquated and (to be honest) just not real nice places to be, and you have the making of a perfect funding storm. Mix all of this in with a city government that was short-sighted, greedy and just plain stupid and you have a city that's on the edge of financial collapse. That said, I enjoyed my time in AC, and I enjoyed staying at the Golden Nugget.

One final note: If you're travelling, be careful. That Winter storm is no joke.

College Football (Week 13) Results

Utterly, totally average. That was my week 13 results where I went 5-5 straight up and 6-4 against the spread. This leaves me at 82-37 SO and very close to .500 ATS at 58-59-1. If ONLY I would leave the Michigan game out of my tally, but that wouldn't be fair. Some very interesting happenings this week in College Football so, without further ado.....

Takeaways from the College Football Weekend that was.....

1. The "hot coach in waiting" shine that was on Kevin Sumlin has dulled considerably due to his seeming inability to produce a competent defense. The Aggies have a LOT of talent coming in next year, it'd be a shame to waste it.

2. Anyone know what's happened to Oregon? If so, can you please call the Ducks and let them know? They got housed by an utterly average Arizona team.

3. OU has to be the most confusing team (for me) in the country this year. When I pick against them they look great. When I pick them they look awful. Not that it has anything to do with it but Sooner fans should be happy to note that my early lean in Bedlam is strong OSU.

4. Baylor is not a "fraud". They just ran into a Cowboy's team that's playing very well right now. People forget that OSU was the consensus pre-season pick to win the Big Twen title.

5. If Duke beats North Carolina this weekend, they play Florida State in the ACC Championship game.

6. If Duke beats North Carolina this weekend, they play Florida State in the ACC Championship game. (felt it needed to be said twice) I hope they do because, to be honest, that's the most compelling game. Also, David Cutcliffe for coach of the year.

7. Quick peek at FCS land. What in the world has happened to the Sam Houston State Bearkats? They went from one of the top teams in the Country to a middle of the pack Southland Conference team in 3 weeks. This team is struggling right now. Fortunately, it doesn't look like they are on-pace to lose to North Dakota State for the third straight year in the finals. They've made the playoffs but they had better turn it on soon.

8. As I've said all season long, it appears Rice is going to be playing in the C-USA Championship Game. Low-listener talk radio types have downplayed this all season long, but winning a conference title is nothing to sneeze at, no matter the conference.

9. Well, the UH Cougars will go bowling, but they've struggled against the top teams in the American. Fortunately, for UH football not for the conference, two of these teams won't be around next year. Still, there's reason for optimism on behalf of Coog football. You couldn't say that last year.

And finally.......

10. - It's looking more and more like the end of the Brady Hoke era in Michigan football, and I'm not ashamed to say that I'm sad about that. I believed in Brady when he was first hired and, although I was never a Denard Robinson fan, I thought the team was getting the talent to compete. Unfortunately, as Saturday's loss to Iowa showed, despite having OK talent the coaching is sub-par. It's possible that Hoke keeps his job w/Al Borges getting the heave-ho, but I'm not sure. The fans are still coming to the games but I've a sinking feeling Saturday's "the Game" game is going to be a mismatch with Ohio State running away and hiding. Losing 2 out of 3 to Michigan State, 2 out of 3 to Iowa and 2 out of 3 to Ohio State doesn't cut it at Michigan. Also, if this game against Ohio State isn't competitive (and there's every indication that it won't be) Blue is going to have to face the very real possibility that Ohio State is leaving them behind. (Which I believe is happening....again)

Top 5:

1. Alabama
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
4. Auburn
5. Missouri

Dead n' buried: The Heisman chances of Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota.

Texans recap: The worst thing is: This is probably NOT rock bottom.

I'm not going to dive into the minutia of the Texans 13-6 Home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars because the truth is, I spent the day at the Texas Renaissance Festival instead. Judging from the media recap, my day of quaffing beer, mead and more beer was much more entertaining.

I will point out that the Chronicle's Three Stooges are now firmly against this mess of a team were all three trumpeting them as Super Bowl contenders at the beginning of the year. Now, to be fair, I don't think anyone reasonably saw this disaster coming (my pre-season pick was 9-7 and a Wild Card entry into the playoffs) but buying the championship contender nonsense was something straight out of fantasy land.

Where to from here? I think there's still a long way to go before the Texans hit rock bottom. Next week the Patriots come to town, and there's no reason to believe that game will be competitive, then the Texans go to Jacksonville, where I'm guessing they'll continue to slide toward first place in the Teddy Bridgewater Sweepstakes. Given what I've seen from Bridgewater this year I can't say that pick fills me with warm-fuzzies. That said, what I've seen from Keenum this season is enough to suggest that he's not the answer either. The worst-case scenario would be Rick Smith (who I think is going to survive this mess amazingly) trying to out-smart everyone and make a bone-head pick like Derrick Carr. Should something like this happen it will just be another unexplainable move by a franchise whose history is filled with the unexplainable and downright bizarre.

The first problem of many that the Texans are facing is horrid play by the offensive line. While it's very clear that Keenum is not picking up blitzes well, neither is the unit that is tasked with keeping pass rushers off of him. It's not fair to blame Keenum for this disaster without dishing out an equal helping toward the O-line and the coaching staff. Whether or not Kubiak is physically sound enough to continue coaching is an open question. I hope for his sake, and the sake of his family, that he at least considers stepping down and getting his ship in order. I've met the man and he is a "good guy", but that doesn't mean that he's fit to be coaching an NFL team currently. I would think that he could benefit from stepping down, and then taking next year off before trying to come back as an offensive coordinator somewhere.

For Wade Smith I think this is the end of the line. His defense is getting worse and worse as the season progresses, and the unit formerly known as "Bulls on Parade" is now "JJ Watt and a group of guys that should be bottom of the roster fill-ins". While it's true that injuries, Brian Cushing the most notable, have played a role in this, the Texans have made a litany of roster decisions that just haven't panned out. The most notable is the Ed Reed debacle, but Joe Mays, Shiloah Keo, Jonathan Joseph, Brooks Reed, et al. don't exactly inspire confidence in the team's ability to evaluate defensive talent.

Finally, bad teams point fingers and it's notable that Ben Tate, Owen Daniels and others have spent a lot of time pointing fingers at the fans for being "wishy-washy" or simply "not-smart". I would argue that "not-smart" fans would be still be spending their time watching this debacle unfold and cheering for a team that, in some part, doesn't value them at all. I would much rather have a fan-base that understands when they're being handed a bowl of crap than one who laps it up without question. Right now the Texans are serving up crap sandwiches to fans and demanding they smile and ask for seconds. Texans fans are well within their rights to say "screw that" and demand better. The Texans that have a problem with that need to be shown the door. (I'm looking at you Tate).

As for next week? Well, it's the last week of the Texas Renaissance Festival so you could do worse.

Friday, November 22, 2013

College Football Predictions (Week 13)

Unlike the NY Jets, I have high hopes of stringing together back to back solid weeks......

1. Cincinatti @ Houston (-3) Cincy 42 UH 41 - Expect a shoot-out between two pretty good offenses with mediocre defenses.

2. OKlahoma @ Kansas State (-5) OU 28 KSt 35 - K State has gotten a LOT better since the beginning of the season. Don't read too much into OU's shellacking of a horrible Iowa State team

3. Illinois (-7) @ Purdon't Ill 10 PU 9 - No matter who wins in this game, College Football loses. Two horrible teams.

4. Mississippi State (-1.5) @ Akransas - MsSt 27 Ark 10 - Since Bielema's wife did the "Karma" tweet the Razorbacks have been a mess. Karma.

5. Brigham Young (-1) @ Notre Dame - BYU 24 ND 10 - Thus ending the fallacy that Notre Dame is a good team this year.

6. Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University @ Louisiana State University(-5) - aTm 35 LSU 38 - As good as Manziel is, that aTm defense is truly awful.

7. Arizona State University(-2.5) vs. University of California - Los Angeles - Sparky 24 UCLA 27 - The line notwithstanding, I think this is a horrible spot for coach douchebag and the fighting Devils. Plus, I think UCLA has a good team.

8. Missouri(-2.5) @ Ole Mississippi - Mizzou 38 Ole Miss 35 - I think the line is about right. Wouldn't be surprised to see an upset but I'm not picking one.

9. Baylor (-9.5) @ Oklahoma State - Bay 63 OSU 56 - I expect a high-scoring, but pretty close, affair in Stillwater. Again, wouldn't be surprised to see an upset but I'm not picking it.

And finally.......

10. Michigan @ Iowa(-6.5) - Blue 35 Iowa 20 - No, I don't think that this is going to happen, but I'm not picking against Big Blue so I'll take the spot on my record if it doesn't happen. Of course, I'd never lay money on a Michigan game anyway so there's that. I am still counting Blue against my record however, which is part of what's keeping me below .500

This is that week, prior to rivalry week, where there are a lot of dog games. Fortunately, there are some good games on tap as well. Avoid 'Bama vs. Chattanooga and look further down the SEC rankings for some stiff match-ups.

Dead n' buried: Jameis Winston's Heisman hopes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

More new United routes out of IAH

Per Molly Ryan at the Houston Business Journal, there's a route to Munich on the way and a second route to Tokyo....

United Airlines to launch new international flights from Houston. Molly Ryan, Houston Business Journal

The new Munich service is scheduled to start April 24, 2014 and the new Tokyo service is scheduled to start March 30, 2014.

The flight to Munich will have 242 seats and will depart Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) every day at 4:10 p.m. It will arrive at Munich’s Franz Joseph Strauss International Airport at 9:50 a.m. the next day. The return flight to Houston leaves Munich at 9:25 a.m. and arrives in Houston at 2:15 p.m. the same day.

The flight to Tokyo is United’s second direct flight from IAH. The new flight, which has 267 seats, leaves IAH at 9 a.m. every day and arrives in Tokyo the next day at 12:35 p.m. The return flight from Tokyo leaves at 6:55 p.m. and arrives in Houston at 4:55 p.m. the same day.

Based on the United Fleet chart I'm guessing the Munich flight will be flown by the 764 ER and the 2nd Tokyo flight will be flown by the 772 v5.

The downside of this is that both flights are 2-cabin, with only Business/First as an option and not United GlobalFirst. If you're paying for your flight to Munich/Tokyo this will probably not affect you much, but if you're looking for a premium cabin reward redemption there could be better options available.

Still, it's new service, direct to a new city (Munich) that improves United's route network from IAH. That shouldn't be overlooked.

Monday, November 18, 2013

College Football Week 12 (results)

It's about time. After stumbling along for most of the season I finally had the week I was looking for. Last week I went 7-3 straight up but 7-3 ATS which, by any measure, is pretty strong. If you have made money betting against me (a sound strategy) you took it on the chin last week. This leaves me 77-32 straight-up this year and 52-55-1 against the spread. If I can finish the season with just a few solid weeks I'll be able to finish over .500 for the year.

Let's get to the takeaways:

1. - Alabama is still number one, but they're looking shakier. I qualify that with the huge caveat that 'Bama always looks sub-par coming out of the LSU game. It's become such an emotional high for them that it's bound to happen. And still, there's this: If Florida State and Alabama played this Saturday you'd have to give the Seminoles the edge. Give Saban a month and a half to prepare.....?

2. - Dear Tech fans.....Shhhhh. Somewhere in the 2nd half of Baylor's dismantling of the Tech defense I started hearing carping about the officials. Tech fan, that game could have been officiated by Tech alums and Baylor still would have rolled you by 20. Much the better team this year.

3. - OU's offense, who knew? I said in my picks and later on Twitter that I didn't think OU could SCORE 24 much less win by 24 1/2. Ooops. I think this has more to do with the poor quality of Iowa State than it does with OU's stout offense however.

4. - We can finally put the "Longhorns are back!" myth to bed. Anytime they play a good team, they get rolled. OSU is a good, but not great team. All this did was prove my suspicions right that Texas was the worst conference leading team in the Country.

5. - How do you not pull the interim tag off of Ed Orgeron? Conversely, hopefully AD's (and NFL GM's) everywhere understand just how bad of a coach Layne Kiffin really is.

6. - All hail Duke Football! The Dukies are 8-2, and hold the lead in the Coastal Division of the ACC. Cutcliffe for coach of the year.

7. - The Iron Bowl is now must watch TV.

8. - UCLA/USC just became must-watch TV.

9. - No ESPN, the B1G is NOT a FCS conference without Ohio State. It's an argument that's ridiculous on its face, but one that ESPN is making because they think it's "controversial". What it is stupid. Every conference has their bottom feeders, every one. If you don't get that then you're not paying attention.

And finally......

10. - Hail to the Victors! (barely) Give them this, Big Blue finally found a rush game. And although they still struggled against a not-very-good Northwestern team it showed improvement, something fans of Blue really needed to see.

Top 5 teams:

1. Alabama
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
4. Baylor
5. Auburn

Clemson is on deck at six.

Conference Rankings:

1. SEC
2. Pac12
3. ACC
4. B1G
5. American
6. Big Twen
7. Sunbelt
8. MAC
9. C-USA

It's getting closer between the PAC12 and the SEC, but it's going to be hard for me to think differently until someone dethrones the champ. Call if SEC bias or whatever you want, but I believe 8 straight titles says something.

Interesting line of next week: Wisconsin(-15) at Minnesota. I like the Badgers here, but I don't like them at -15 on the road.

Also: How in the world is ASU getting 2 1/2 AT UCLA?

Until next week.

Closing the book on the 2013 Texans: Let's make this dumpster fire worse.

WOW. Just wow.

Right when you think the Texans have hit rock bottom, Head Coach Gary Kubiak returns to the fray and makes a quarterback change that's so confusing, so unnecessary, the fans booed so loudly that the Texans (reportedly) had to utilize the silent count, at home, in order to get plays off.

That's just one of the storylines percolating up from Sunday's 28-23 loss to the Oakland Raiders, a team that The Three Stooges constantly said the Texans "should" beat in large part due to their superior talent. I'll remind you that I attempted to put that myth to bed in a previous post. I would like to say that I had some crystal ball which told me this result was coming. Unfortunately the reality is that my breakdown was the direct result of a strange paragraph written by CBS Radio's Fred Davis.

Am I surprised the Texans lost? Yes and no. At the beginning of the season I predicted the team would finish 9-7, making the playoffs as a wildcard team. So, yes, I'm surprised that what appeared to me to be a slightly above average team has devolved into one of the league's worst. However, given the situation I'm not surprised now by any loss. While I never believed the trumpeting of talent that streamed from the local CheerMedia, I didn't think they were this bad. I don't think anyone realistically saw 2-8 with 8 straight losses coming. Not even the low-listener, troll-centric sports radio talkers saw this one coming.

In local media terms, it's time for the Texans to get their tombstone. Not only is this season done, but when your best player in franchise history gets so frustrated that he walks off the field before the game is finished the coaching and management staff are done as well. Given the confusion surrounding Schaub's insertion to the game, the question of whether or not Kubiak is healthy enough to coach the team is valid as well. This is nothing against Gary Kubiak. I've met the man, he's a very nice guy. But being a nice guy and being a good NFL coach are two different things. Just as a lot of local media are rooting for Schaub because he's a "nice guy" is the wrong move, so is having the same affections for Gary Kubiak the NFL coach. We all should want Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak the men to have healthy, productive careers, wherever they should land.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing, as a Texans fan, is the focus of the players on fan behavior, rather than focusing on what you can do to make this team better. From Ben Tate challenging fans on Twitter to Wade Smith begrudging fans the right to boo, this Texans team has become an undisciplined, unfocused mess. That Kubiak thought it was a good idea to bring in Schaub speaks volumes. Yes, Case Keenum has had difficulties picking up the blitz, and teams have figured him out to some extent, but the play calling (and the O-line blocking) are factors as well. If you have a quarterback who is struggling with blitz pick up then why do you continually call 7-9 step drop pass plays that take forever to develop down the field? Why not do some quick 3-step drop stuff and let your athletes like Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins make some plays in the open field? How about incorporating some bubble screens out of the Pistol formation (a formation where it's said that Keenum is most comfortable?)

I'm not suggesting that Keenum is the long-term answer. But I'm also not saying that you should close the book on him either. Kubiak and Co. have continually placed him in horrible positions and expected him to come out smelling like a rose. Remember, this is a team coached by Gary Kubiak, supposed QB "guru", a man who said he could win with David Carr. What we've seen, to date, has been something quite the opposite. We're all witnessing a coach who is showing an infuriating inability to adjust to the opposing team's game plan, a coach who is increasingly determined to make the same failing play calls, and then wondering why it's not working out as planned. This is a big problem for the team, and it's one that is only going to be resolved by cutting the cord and making wholesale changes in the off-season.

Until then, your question as a Texans fan is: What now?

As a non-Texans "fan" and just someone who pulls for the team because I happen to live in Houston, my answer is that there are better things for me to do for three hours on Sunday then watch the team add fuel to a dumpster fire. We're in the time of the year in Houston where the weather in conducive to being outdoors. That's where I'm going to be and where you should probably be as well. Unless that is you like watching dumpster fires, or enjoy the camaraderie at the game itself. To each their own, but I'm tuning out, especially if Matt Schaub is named the starter for the remainder. I'll be ignoring talk radio as well. We know fans are mad and there's only so many ways of saying it. Spare yourself the heartache and listen to some music instead.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some good news from United (updated)

Earlier today, on Twitter, United Airlines announced Direct service from IAH and O'Hare to Atlantic City starting April 1st.

Unless this is a bad, early, April Fool's Joke this is a very good thing. Previously, to get to Atlantic City you had to take Spirit and their schedule was spotty at best. (As a matter of fact, an ITA Matrix search for "lowest fares" from Houston in December 2013 and March 2014 shows no flights whatsoever)

On the wife and my last trip to Atlantic City we flew into PHL and took a NJ Transit train to AC. The bad thing about that is that we had to wake up very, very early in the AM on our way out to meet the 6 AM train back to PHL. When you're staying in a casino this is a horrible option.

Direct flights into AC are a good thing if you enjoy the area, which I do. It's a lower key version of Las Vegas with an absolutely spectacular boardwalk. If you haven't been I suggest you give it a try.

UPDATE: Well, since writing this post I've found out that United is going to use ERJ-145's exclusively for the over 3 hour flight. So it's not all that good news really. Your better Atlantic City option is to fly to PHL and take the train to AC. I wouldn't want to be in a regional sardine can for that amount of time. Oh well.

When a bad newspaper utilitzes a flawd study.....Hilarity results.

But it's not that funny when the low-information, high-chatter reader decides to take it as gospel.

I'm referring to yesterday's ChronBlog story, written by former Village Voice Houston blogger Craig Hlavaty, detailing the so-called "high" fares at IAH. The problem with this report from the DoT is that it doesn't take several really, really important factors into consideration.

For one, this report doesn't weight for destination. In other words, many flights out of Las Vegas are booked to California etc. Short-haul flights that are lower in price. IAH, by contrast, has a much higher ratio of International/Domestic departures than does LAS. You can't just "leave that out" and hope no-one notices. As an example of this, note the following:

Using the travel-search site ITA Matrix I searched identical trips to London Heathrow, departing March 12th 2014 (a Wednesday) returning March 19th, 2014 (also a Wednesday) the results were as follows:

LAS: The cheapest flight option was on British Airways, the total fare was $1,101. United (the bane of the chron.commenters) matched BA with the same fare. This fare was also matched by Air Canada.

IAH: The cheapest flight option was on Turkish Airways, the total fare was $907. United still came in lower than the fare for Las Vegas at $1,037. This latter fare was matched by American, Lufthansa, Finnair, Iberia and several others.

That fare is readily searchable, so you should have no problem replicating the results if you don't believe me.

Looking at it domestically, IAH still comes out ahead. When searching a flight to New York, the following results are found:

(Same dates, from LAS & IAH to either JFK or EWR.)

LAS: The cheapest flight option was $378 offered by Jet Blue. American offered the next cheapest, single airline fare* at $395 and Delta offered an option for $407.

IAH: The cheapest flight option was $287 offered by American. Delta and American both offered single airline fares for $297 and United weighed in at $316 which is high for the IAH market but still well below the LAS Option.

To be fair, where Las Vegas excels is on flights to the West Coast:

(Flight from LAS & IAH to LAX, same dates)

LAS: The cheapest option is $80 on Spirit (More on that later) with the lowest realistic option being the $129 fare offered by American.

IAH: The cheapest option is $280 on Frontier, with United logging in at $336

Still, it could be argued that may of these domestic fares are driven by geography, and that would make total sense. When you factor in that a LOT of the workers/residents in Vegas come from the West Coast it's easy to see why fares from there have such a low average price. Then there's the Spirit factor to consider. Spirit's base fares are very low, however, they also charge for carryon bags, have fees for choosing your own seat and a host of other fares that you won't find on many other airlines. I would argue that the $80 fare is more realistically going to land somewhere in the $150-$200 range when all expected fees are taken into consideration.

Finally, fare class. This DoT survey does not take it into consideration and that's a mistake. It's impossible to gauge exactly how much of an impact the purchase of a Business Class or First Class seat has on average fares but, in a business-travel heavy City like Houston it will at least be material. Unless you have those numbers, comparisons of destinations etc. the DoT report is pretty much useless and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, it’s given attention, too much attention. Part of this is because J-school grads writing on travel today don't seem to be especially skilled at actually traveling. They struggle through security, describe airports as "chaos" and seem to be befuddled by basic travel principles. In other words, they're projecting their frustrations and ignorance onto the general public who, because it's the only narrative in town, are lapping it up. It's much the same as the Faux outrage that's brewing over TIME not including any female chefs in their recent Top 10 list. This has been, at various times, held up by the media as proof our society "still has a long way to go" when it comes to gender issues. Feminists have declared the entire eating population to be a bunch of misogynistic carnivores (not thinly veiled one would imagine) who are incapable of giving women their just desserts.

I would disagree with all of this. In my view when the media makes a gaffe it's not the fault of society, but the fault of the media itself. Just because a novice travel writer takes issue with an air travel industry they obviously don't understand, doesn't mean that we're getting screwed or are falling into the same traps as they. Additionally, just because one publication can't find a female chef it deems worthy enough to put in a Top 10 list, doesn't mean that society shares the same issues. I've never heard anyone say "Wow, this fish is good but it'd be better if cooked by someone with male reproductive organs" and I doubt neither have you. The fact is, it doesn't matter who cooks the food as long as it tastes good. And it doesn't mean much that LAS has a lower average fare than IAH because, in most instances, IAH can get you to your destination cheaper.

If you dislike United because of the silly notion that they "stole Continental from Houston" then there's nothing I can do to change your mind. If you've bought the lie hook, line & sinker then just continue to be strung along by the media and continue being angry. What's concerning to those of us who have some understanding of the travel business, is the continuing de-emphasis of IAH by United from a "main hub" to just "a hub". This is going to have profound effects on both the Houston economy and how we travel in the future. When the City decided to break a long-term agreement with IAH and, by extension, United just because Mayor Parker had her knickers in a knot there was never any discussion of the long-term consequences and what this could mean for the City. Yes, United handled it incorrectly by cutting unprofitable routes (that were on the cutting board already) and then blaming the HOU deal. It made them look petty and ridiculous. I'm not trying to defend them there. And the fact is there are plenty of reasons to not be a fan of United. It has become a very unreliable airline which has made many changes of late designed to cull out a large portion of its passenger base because they were (and continue to be) unprofitable. That said, you have to respect business decisions made with profitability in mind. This is, after all, a going concern.

Like many, I would love for airfare to be cheaper. Most of us would like most of everything to be cheaper. But that's not the way the world works. United, American, Delta and even Southwest have to turn a profit. The days of being a "loss leader" but making it up in volume are long gone. Loyalty programs, designed to ensure repeat travel, are going the way of the Dodo as well. Sure, they'll still be around in some fashion but the days of qualifying at a higher tier for a song and then scoring upgrades to exotic locales are in the past. Air travel, for better or worse, has been re-imagined as a white good, with no emotional attachment to ensure loyalty the future state is one of free agents price shopping with little else under consideration. In Houston, this means that (if you're honest) you're still going to use United for a bulk of domestic travel because of their routing network, but that you now have options, especially Internationally that are going to suddenly be in play. IAH will no longer be the "main hub" for United but it will still be "a hub" of importance so it's not going to be world ending, but it is going to be much worse having two CLE type hubs in Houston instead of one EWR. That's the big travel story that the media should be telling, not some silly average fare price story that's not even relevant to how you travel.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

College Football Predictions (Week 12)

Some odd lines this week, which either means Vegas thinks the public is out of line or they think they know something everyone else doesn't.

Without further ado......

1. Washington @ University of California Los Angeles(-2.5) - WU 13 UCLA 35 - On the road, away from their new digs, the Huskies are not the same team. UCLA has some tough losses, but they're talented and I think Hundley is getting better and better.

2. Cincinatti @ Rutgers(Even) - Ciny 42 RU 14 - Rutgers is falling apart right now. Do people not remember what UH did to them at home?

3. Iowa State @ Oklahoma(-24.5) - ISU 14 OU 24 - No offense to my OU fan friends but, given the state of this offense, how can you even predict OU to score more than 24 points in any game right now? Much less cover by 24.5? No way.

4. Georgia @ Auburn(-4) - UGA 17 Aub 42 - Lost in all of the injury talk surrounding Georgia is this fact: The Bulldog's defense has not been stellar this year. This is not the same Chizik coached confused Tiger mess from last year.

5. Miami(-3) @ Duke - The U 24 Duke 27 - There's no way I'd bet this game, but I'm going to go ahead and call the upset for the Dukies because it's basketball season, and this team deserves to be paid attention to after years of struggle. Cutcliffe for coach of the year.

6. Oklahoma State University(-3) @ University of Texas-Austin - OSU 34 UT-Austin 17 - I tried to give the fighting Mack's a chance, but after that last showing against West Virginia? OSU cruises.

7. Texas Tech @ Baylor(-27) - TTech 17 Baylor 52 - 27 feels about right in this game. Tech is falling apart and Art Briles' team is firing on all cylinders.

8. Stanford(-3.5) @ USC - Stan 27 USC 13 - USC is playing better of late, but Stanford is (by far) the best team in a very good PAC12

9. Houston @ Louisville(-15.5) - UH 42 Loserville 35 - I about dropped my coffee when I saw this line open up at 17.5 for Loserville. Did the odds makers not watch both these teams play common opponents? I think Houston wins here and their turnover happy defense is going to give Bridgewater fits.

And finally.......

Michigan @ Northwestern(-3) - Blue 13 NW 35 - A better line here would be O/U for Michigan's rushing yards, which I would set at 20. Sadly, given the sorry state of the team right now I'd have to take the under. I'm not sure what's happened, but Hoke & Co had better fix it quick or Michigan could be looking at a coaching change, again. C'mon Blue, get it together.

I need a big week here to have a shot at finishing the season better than .500 ATS. A couple of these upsets go my way and that could happen. Good luck.

Monday, November 11, 2013

College Football Week 11 (Results) "Meh"

At some point, my feeling that I have a handle on this season is going to pay off. Straight up I'm fine, clocking in at a blah 6-4 this week and 70-29 for the season. That's not too bad. Against the spread however I had a blah week at 5-5 which leaves me at 45-52-1 for the season. Considering the minimal time and effort I put into this, that's not bad, but I'd sure like to have a winning week before the year ends. Maybe these last few weeks and bowl season can pull me out of the negative?

Without further ado: Let's take a look at the week that was......

1. 'Bama. The LSU game was much closer than the 38-17 score might indicate. The fact is LSU is a deeply flawed team under Coach Miles. But this year's Bama team is flawed as well, especially on defense. Good passing teams give the Tide fits. FSU is a good passing team, with athleticism and a good defense. I don't think the Seminoles are likely to beat Alabama, but I think they might at least have a chance should they make it to the B(C)S Title Game.

2. Oregon. My gut feeling here is that Oregon was exposed. But then you have to realize that Stanford is a lot better than I (and many others) thought they were. That loss to Utah is a puzzler, but they got all over Mariota and the final score of 20-26 doesn't reflect just how dominating their performance really was. Is this the end of Oregon in the National Championship conversation? Possibly, for many years to come.

3. Baylor. This is going to anger a LOT of Baylor alums but the fairest question to ask about the Bears is whether they are this good, or is the Big Twen this bad? They trounced a formerly highly regarded OU team 41-12 in a game that wasn't that close. The problem is, OU's offense is abysmal which might have made Baylor's defense look pretty good. You can write off Baylor's slow start to nerves. This is the first time they've been in a game this big this season.

4. Texas. Wouldn't you know it, the week I decide to believe UT-Austin has turned it around they go out and lay a stinker against West Virginia. Yes, they won 47-40, but they had to go to overtime and looked less than impressive in doing so. I said at the time (on Twitter) that this UT-Austin team has to be one of the worst in the country that's leading a conference. I still stand by that sentiment.

5. Houston. I have to hand it to the Coogs, they played a lot better than I thought they would, only losing 14-19 to a very strong UCF team. Amazingly, the Louisville vs. UH line opened up at -17 1/2 Louisville on Sunday. If you're of a gaming persuasion I'd suggest jumping all over that line before it moves down. Based on their play against UCF, I'm going to have a hard time not picking UH to pull the upset here.

6. Duke. The Blue Devils are 7-2. Let me say that again: The Blue Devils are 7-2. Congratulations coach Cutcliffe.

7. Florida. Some people are questioning whether or not it's sane for Will Muschamp to be on the hot seat. I've seen Florida play before their QB Driskoll went down with injury. Yes, it is a fair question.

8. Florida State. I'm not sure if he has a prayer of winning the Heisman, but Jameis Winston might be the best player in College Football. For that matter, Florida State might be the best team in college football right now. Of course, they could look much worse against Bama if Saban has a month and a half to prepare for them.

9. Notre Dame. So they will NOT be in contention for a B(C)S bowl. That this below-average team needed to lose to Pitt for people to realize that illustrates just how bad a system the B(C)S was.

And finally......

10. Michigan. Aw Blue. Saturday's debacle against Nebraska now means that Michigan has rushed for -69 yards over the last two weeks. That's exactly 69 yards less than Bo Schembechler has rushing over that span of time. He probably gets one more year to turn it around, but Hoke and Co. are increasingly looking like a program in decline. This must change.

Top 5:

1. Alabama
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
4. Baylor
5. Stanford

Misc. - Eastern Michigan finally fired Ron English on Friday. They did this because the AD reportedly saw a film with English using gay slurs in a speech to his players. In my view this is a coward's way out. Ron English was fired because he was 1-8 this year and 11-46 overall.

Top Conferences:

1. SEC - Until someone knocks them off.
2. PAC12 - Nipping at the SEC's heels
3. ACC - Weak at the bottom, but pretty solid at the top.
4. B1G - Looking better and better every week.
5. American - UCF, UH, Louisville and Cincinnati are better than Baylor, UT-Austin, OSU & OU right now.
6. Big Twen - Down year but this could be the new norm for a horribly ran conference that's in danger of being torn apart.

Week 12 picks coming......

Texans Fans: Ignore the CheerMedia, this ship cannot be salvaged.

Finding silver (or deep steel blue) linings in Sunday's 27-24 loss by the Texans to the Arizona Cardinals is a tough thing to do. If you watched the game you saw an offense that's sputtering, a defense that, unless JJ Watt makes a play, struggles to do much of anything and special teams that are anything but special. From a pre-season filled with anticipation and a (shaky) 2-0 start to a 2-7 record that includes a team-record 7 game losing streak this Texans team will go down as one of the most disappointing in franchise history.

So you wake up this morning and you think "Let's have some sober analysis on this team". So you turn to the former newspaper of record and you find: Randy "Larry" Harvey wasting several inches of copy space saying nothing, Jerome "Curly" Solomon telling us five things that we learned (but really didn't) and John "Moe" McClain pathetically telling us how pathetic and horrific the Texans are. Unfortunately, for the fan, not one of the Three Stooges have a clue and neither does the rest of Houston's CheerMedia. The reality is, this team needs an overhaul and it needs it now. Not later, right now. It should start against the Raiders.

That's not to say there's all that much you can (initially) do for the product on the field. The Texans are a bad team with a few good players; nothing is going to change that for the remainder of this year. As is commonplace in Houston, our media overstates the team’s talent and, for the most part, gives the front office a pass. The first thing that needs to happen is letting Rick Smith go. Not at the end of the season, now. Fire the GM who put the team in this mess (and in an impossible salary cap position), name an interim GM and start the search for the next guy. At this point it's better to get a new guy in place (and his talent evaluation staff) to get a jump on the next draft.

The 2014 NFL Draft is going to be pivotal. If the Texans want to compete any time soon then they're going to have to nail it. By "nail" it I mean that the first 4 round selections need to make meaningful contributions next year, and rounds 5 & 6 need to have potential. They also need to make some impactful free agent signings, probably to shore up a horrendous linebacking core. There's little evidence out there to suggest that Rick Smith is the guy to get this done.

Finally, quarterback. I'm not convinced that Case Keenum is the long-term solution, but he might be worth keeping around as a quality back-up, and short-term starter should the Texans be able to find their next QB in the draft. However, I do believe that they should wait until later in the draft to make this selection, offensive line is too much of a priority right now. No matter who is taking the snaps they're going to struggle unless you shore up this unit, and fast.

The way I see it there are only two players that are untouchable on this roster: JJ Watt and Andre Johnson. Everyone else is expendable. That includes Keenum, it includes Arian Foster (whose career might be finished anyway if what I'm hearing about his back injury is true) and the oft-injured Brian Cushing. Watt is the best defensive player in the league and should be considered the cornerstone of any rebuilding plan, and Johnson is still an elite receiver who will likely be the first Texans enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Keep those two, evaluate everything else, and start the rebuilding process now.

The good news is that there are several recent examples in the NFL of teams going from bad to good in one year, and that should be the expectation of Texans fans everywhere. Sadly, I have little expectation that any of this is going to happen. Bob McNair lacks the constitution to make wholesale changes of this sort, so we're going to hear a lot about "patience" and "building it the right way".

This is disappointing, because I've a feeling it means more of the same next year, and probably the year after that.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The not-so-soft Tyranny of Low Expectations

You, the American Citizen, are stupid. That's the summation of Obama's argument for the Affordable Care Act according to today's National Review Online essay by Jonah Goldberg. If only you understood how bad your healthcare is, understood its shortcomings, you would be more than willing to throw it into the dust-bin of history and rush over to the federally ran exchanges to pay (in many cases) much, much more for the plan you need. This is factish, so therefore it is beyond refute and not open to meaningful public debate.

Before we get out of hand this is not an anti-Obama or anti-ObamaCare missive. I'll allow others to make what I feel to be a fairly obvious case against both. What concerns me more is the spread of this idea into many areas of our lives, turning what was once identified as a "free" country to one where the only freedoms we will have remaining (if you still have the money) is to determine that one day you might wear a different color of shoes just to stand out.

You may be tempted to laugh at this but consider the following:

Currently, in Houston, the so-called "smart" class has decided that charity begins and ends with government licensing, that an act as simple as feeding a homeless person must be handled in the appropriate way. In New York, then Mayor Bloomberg decided that he knew, better than you, what you want to drink and what size you wanted it in. Efforts against these restrictive laws were met with charges that those against were "misguided" or "uneducated" on the issue. If only you understood more about the issue you would immediately fall in line and join the forces of good-for-you soldiers everywhere.

Again in Houston, the demise of the Astrodome bond issue has been met with charges of voter ignorance. Never mind that the plan put forward was slap-dash and more likely than not to end up in financial distress, name-calling such as "myopic fool" and "idiot" and "against historic preservation" were blanketed across everyone who tried to put 2 and 2 together but couldn't come up with 8.

For a long time the sardine urbanists have been telling suburbanites that their chosen lifestyle is one of ignorance, instead of the individual choice home-ownership used to be. For their tight-fiscal leanings Tea Party members have been at various times labeled with a anti-homosexual vulgarity (often by elected political officials or professional campaign consultants, never mind the anti-intellectual InterLeft), charges of "mouth-breathing", being ignorant, hicks, rednecks, or (my favorite) a group that shouldn't be allowed to express their opinions in the public realm.

Sure, all members of the good-for-you club have real reasons for feeling this way, too often however those reasons are not based in political logic, but are based in pure hatred and a child-like tendency to throw a temper tantrum when they don't get their way. That America is a baby of a Nation is never seriously in doubt, that we are populated increasingly by citizens lacking intellectual and emotional maturity is becoming more obvious all the time. As a matter of fact (would I allow comments on this blog) I guarantee you that at least one commenter would try and point out my obvious stupidity for mocking them for calling names while doing so myself, the flaw in their logic obviously being that I'm not calling for their silence as they did (several times) with me on several issues. Its one thing to say your opposite's ideas are wrong-headed, poorly reasoned, of contain some other flaw. Without these things there would be no honest debate. The problem lies with trying to silence the other side because you lack the mental acuity to take their argument head-on.

This argument by censure style flourished in the climate change debate. Not only are there severe scientific concerns about reaching "consensus" based solely on computer models that appear to not be sophisticated enough to explain what is going on, there are smear campaigns against those who dare to question the veracity of the conclusions of their (supposed) intellectual betters. Unsurprisingly, this trend was started by one Albert Gore, a man so insecure of his position in life it led to rumors he was given lessons on manliness from Donna Brazile.

Were this limited to climate change it would be bad enough, I believe that the attempt to control our economy, movements, reproduction, lives, diet et al. stem from that movement and that there are horrible repercussions to allowing it to move forward. What we're seeing now is that this attitude is creeping into almost every aspect of political argument from the socialist/liberal/progressive coalition. Conformity is the new Freedom, society is the new individual and mediocrity is the new success.

No longer do Americans (except recent immigrants who still come here for a better life) aspire to "get ahead" on a large scale. To do so has been cast as greedy and wealth has been identified as something to be scorned, not as a measure of one's success. In fact, the accumulation of wealth in America today is often viewed as a character flaw unless, that is, you are wealthy and a member of the intellectually superior ruling class, many of whom (it's been recently identified) committed what would be considered fraud (and punishable by imprisonment) for members of the non-ruling class.

What has all of this led to? A de-facto prison state for one as well as a state where the once sacrosanct concept of free speech is now under serious consideration of being limited only to those who are employed by media corporations large enough to buy lobbyists to affect policy. Unfortunately, those who are spending time advocating free speech are all but admitting they no longer consider it their duty to perform the watchdog role that free political speech is supposed to ensure.

In short, we're being left with a mess. A mess of our own making, a mess that's come about because we've decided to believe those who tell us we can't do what they don't want us to do, that we NEED to live in efficiency apartments sitting asshole to elbow while they try to re-make America into something almost exactly opposite of their European ideal. They view America not as a great experiment in Democracy and self-rule, but as a gigantic 60 Trillion Dollar Man that only they have the understanding and know-how to rebuild. As part of the rebuilding process however they're only going to give you two choices, get in line or shut-up. Anything else will be met with censure, name-calling or (increasingly) imprisonment.

This is a scary thing and it should concern you greatly, regardless of what side of the political aisle you sit.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Why Government doesn't always work (St. Thomas Example)

Having spent the last week in "Paradise" (more on that in a future post) I'm now back firmly in the lower 48 and, after catching up on the falsehoods, broken promises and outright lies surrounding Obamacare, thought it would be nice to take a look at government dysfunction on a smaller scale.

On a cab ride from Charlotte Amalie to Red Hook our cab driver Java Johnson (no, I'm not making that up) took us along the back roads and gave us quite an interesting history tour of St. Thomas at no extra charge. One of the best stories he told us was about the locally famous Bridge to Nowhere.

It seems that, back in the 90's, the government of St. Thomas received a bunch of cash from the U.S. Federal Government for flood control projects. There was an area outside of Red Hook that had some flooding problems which experts determined could be solved by moving the existing road approximately 500 feet, to a point where it crossed a creek. This, of course, necessitated the building of a bridge, and the seizing (through eminent domain) of several private residences and businesses.

At a cost of $1.5 Million the bridge was completed in 1997. It is a fine bridge, made of concrete and steel it's not a pretty thing, but (without maintenance) it still looks to be operable in 2013, IF you could drive onto it with a car. And that's the problem, you can't. Because after the bridge was built the remaining phases of the program stalled. The eminent domain seizures took longer than anticipated, the environmentalists started griping about gas contamination should the road be moved (one of the seized properties was a gas station with underground tanks) and the recession hit which dried up government funding. In short, the road was never constructed to tie into the bridge.

Fast forward to today and the bridge has become a source of comedy for the local population. As Java said to us "Many people got rich off making this very fine bridge to nowhere, and that's government in St. Thomas." As we got out of the cab at Red Hook I thanked Java for the cab ride, gave him a tip for the history lesson, and told him that, unfortunately, what we saw with the Bridge to Nowhere was pretty much government everywhere today.

In Houston (in case you're wondering) we have our own expensive boondoggle that made several connected interests wealthy, it's called MetroRail and in his recent State of Metro speech Metro board Chairman Gilbert Garcia admitted "It really doesn't go anywhere", forwarding my theory that, despite its size, Houston government operates much like one in a small town.

College Football Predictions (Week 11)

After a couple of weeks traveling (To Vegas and to the US Virgin Islands) I'm back and (sadly) not tanned, but ready to jump back in the fray of picking games incorrectly for your reading pleasure. A lot of big games this week, games that could go a long way toward telling us who will ultimately be in the B(C)S Championship Game. I'm waiting for ESPN to give it some silly moniker like "Shake Out Saturday".

Without further ado.......

1. Oklahoma vs. Baylor(-15) - OU 17 Baylor 45 - I just don't like OU here. Their offense is a shambles and their defense gives up way to many big plays. There has been a lot of chatter asking "What's wrong with the Sooners?" I'll forward the theory that they are suffering from an overall lack of talent this year.

2. Oregon(-10.5) vs. Stanford - Ducks 42 Stan 23 - The trendy pick is to call for the Cardinal to pull the upset. Not this year. Stanford is not as solid as last year and Mariota is no Freshman. They won't roll like they normally do, but I think Oregon will cover and the game won't be as close as the score will indicate.

3. Kansas State vs. Texas Tech(-3) - K-State 20 Tech 24 - Tech has taken a couple of bad losses but I don't think the Wildcats are very good. That said, I don't think the Raiders are that good either. Just not as bad as the Fighting Snyders this year.

4. Mississippi State vs. Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University - MSU 17 aTm 56 - The Aggie defense is bad, but the Bulldogs are just not very good.

5. University of Texas(-6.5) vs. West Virginia University - UT 42 WVU 17 - I've been down on the Longhorns all year. To be fair, they're playing better defense and their offense has finally decided to develop an identity that works. A lot of the shine has rubbed off of Dana Holgerson in the last two years. He needs to show that he understands there are two sides to every football team. Defense coach, you have to play defense.

6. University of Houston vs. University of Central Florida(-11) - UH 24 UCF 27 - I'm not sure why, but I think the Coogs will cover here.

7. Virginia Technical University vs. University of Miami(-6.5) - VaTech 10 The U 42 - Most of this line is based on the injury to Johnson, who makes the 'Canes a MUCH better team. That said I think the Hokies continue to get residual love from Beamer's past teams. The reality is they're not that good this year.

8. University of Central Los Angeles vs. University of Arizona - UCLA 42 'Zona 17 - Honestly, I'm having trouble figuring this line out. I've watched a LOT of Pac12 football this year and UCLA seems to be much better than the Fighting Rich Rod's. Besides, as a Michigan fan I ALWAYS root for Rodriguez to take a whuppin'.

9. Louisiana State University vs. University of Alabama(-12.5) - LSU 10 Bama 35 - If a line seems too good to be true, it probably is.

And finally.......

10. Nebraska vs. Michigan(-7) - NU 23 Blue 24 - Yes, I'm crazy for picking Michigan, after all Bo Schembechler gained 48 more yards than they last Saturday against Michigan State, but Blue at home is a different team than Blue on the road. And Nebraska is a big, heaping pile of Bo Pellini mess right now. Go Blue!

To sum up: I think the best teams in the country are the best teams in the country for a reason so Baylor, Oregon and Alabama all survive to keep the B(C)S muddled in the final months of its final year. Given the history of this failure of competitive sports, I think that's entirely appropriate.