Sunday, September 30, 2007

Poll Busting Saturday

How many top 13 teams can possibly lose in a weekend of college football?

Seven, apparently.

Oklahoma (3), Florida (4), West Virginia (5), Texas (7), Rutgers (10), Oregon (11), and Clemson (13) all fell this past weekend, meaning your CFB Poll this week could very well see Kentucky and South Florida in the top 10. Of course, all those losses will probably allow the ridiculous SEC and Big-12 sympathizers to keep UF and Oklahoma in the top 10 ... I'm sure there will be countless ballots turned in this week that have Oklahoma still ranked over Colorado, Florida over Auburn, West Virginia over South Florida, Texas over Kansas State, Rutgers over Maryland, and Clemson over Georgia Tech. A large block of voters will probably hammer Oregon, even though the Duckies lost to 6th ranked Cal. Instead of breaking down the games, then, I thought I'd take a look at the above pairings to see if their expected poll outcomes will be justified.

1. Oklahoma over Colorado. Yes, but it's closer than you might think. The Sooners are now 4-1 and the Buffs 3-2, but Colorado has the bigger win and their losses were to Arizona State and Florida State, both of whom are likely to be ranked in the top 25 this week, and Oklahoma's wins are over North Texas, Miami, Utah State, and Tulsa.

2. Florida over Auburn. Yes, but again, it's closer than what AU will likely get credit for. They're now 3-2 to Florida's 4-1, but one of their losses was a 3-point OT defeat to South Florida, a team that just took out the 5th ranked team in the nation, and they do have a victory over Kansas State, who just pumped the 7th ranked Longhorns in Austin.

3. West Virginia over South Florida. No. Any voter who doesn't jump South Florida into the top 10 this week is a moron. They deserve to be ranked ahead of every one-loss team in the country.

4. Texas over Kansas State. No. K State's non-UT wins are admittedly weak (San Jose State and Missouri State) but their one loss is on the road to Auburn. UT, meanwhile, has not played well most of the season, struggling against Arkansas State and Central Florida, though they do have a Top 25 win over TCU. Still, beating Texas by 20 on the road is more impressive than beating TCU by 21 at home, so the Wildcats deserve to be ranked ahead of Texas.

5. Rutgers over Maryland. Push. Look, Rutgers is going to get absolutely hammered in the polls this week because they're Rutgers and most voters are old boy traditionalists who don't like new teams messing up traditional looking polls. Honestly, though, even though few of them will take it into account, they'll be right to hammer Rutgers. Victories over Buffalo, Navy, and Norfolk State and a loss at home to a two-loss Maryland do not a top 25 team make. Maryland's other two victories are against Florida International and Villanova, which doesn't count for anything, but their two losses are to West Virginia and Wake Forest. Neither Rutgers or Maryland should be ranked next week.

6. Cal over Oregon. Of course, but the Ducks should be rewarded in the polls by not being unfairly hammered. They lost to a top 6 team. There's no reason they shouldn't remain among the top one-loss teams in the country.

7. Clemson over Georgia Tech. Yes. Ga Tech hasn't beat anyone, and Clemson, at least, has beat Florida State. Clemson should probably just remain inside the top 25 - at least until they lose to Va Tech next week.

If I had a vote in a poll this week, I'd submit the following top ten ballot:

1. Cal
2. LSU
3. USC
4. South Florida
5. The Ohio State
6. Wisconsin
7. Boston College
8. Kentucky
9. Florida
10. Oklahoma

Orlando Cabrera's Last Chance to Not Let the Useless Countdown Down

Today is the final day of the 2007 MLB regular season.*

Orlando Cabrera has stood on the brink of history for 39 days, needing only one HR to pass Tim McCarver on the all-time HR list.

Orlando, hit a home run. By all that's holy, hit a home run today so we can put this ridiculously contrived countdown to bed. Because I'll be honest, we starting a new ridiculously contrived countdown as soon as your season is finished. You can be with us, or against us.

Your call.

*In the American League, at least. Depending on what happens in the NL today they could be playing until Wednesday to figure out who makes the playoffs.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not That It's Not Worth Popping Some Bubbly ...

... but how can anyone really get excited about winning the division?

The Sox have been in first place every day since April. Is winning the AL East suddenly a surprise?

Yeah, the Sox clinched the AL East for the first time in 12 years but they did win a World Series a few years ago from the Wild Card slot. In the era of the Wild Card I'm not sure winning a division really means anything except a chance to hawk a few extra t-shirts. All that matters is you get into the playoffs.

They've known they were in the playoffs for a few days and I'm OK with the team blowing off some steam and all, but is anyone going to think this is enough?

On winning the division, John Henry said, "It's as good as it gets."

No, it's really not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

59 is the New 107

Syracuse has jumped up to #59 in the latest SI.com rankings.

Not exactly a reason to dance on the ceiling or anything, but when you've been ranked in triple digits and you almost half the chart in one week ... a little celebrating ain't a bad thing.

I'm still pretty stunned by the victory - maybe not as stunned as the Jose Mourinho sacking/resigning/mutually agreed divorce but certainly more surprised than seeing Manny back in the starting line-up tonight and batting second.

The thing about big upsets is that you never really know which team it says more about - the team that pulled the upset or the team that took it on the chin. I know it will sound pessimistic but
don't we have to think this was more about Louisville being awful than Syracuse being good give what had happened the previous two weekends?

The Ville (the dumbest self-appointed nickname of a college in history) was beaten by Kentucky and allowed 40-something points to Middle Tennessee State. The Cuse (okay, this might actually only sound better than "the Ville" because I went there ...) got rolled by Illinois and Iowa, two middle-of-the-road teams in a middle-of-the-road conference.

That's not to say there isn't reason for optimism on the Hill. Andrew Robinson finally got some protection from his offensive line and the WRs finally did some catching.

Amazing what happens when people actually do their job.

Robinson had his best game of his short career and proved, I think, that he's a QB you can build a winning team around.

What I liked best about the game, however, is that it finally looked like the coaching staff came up with a game plan to win a game instead of a game plan to not lose. I'd much rather see these guys go down swinging than playing everything cautious. Next up is the Ohio version of Miami on Saturday, which should allow this team to continue to improve offensively.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

C'mon, Get Happy

Despite playing like a team that had been eliminated back in July the past few weeks the Red Sox became the first team in baseball to clinch a playoff spot Saturday night after coming back to win a game in the 9th that they blew in the 7th.

It's good to know the team didn't do much celebrating over clinching a playoff spot because anything short of making the World Series is going to be seen as a disappointment.

If the AL shakes out like it almost certainly will, with the Sox, Yanks, Smiling Racists, and Angels making the playoffs there's no clear cut favorite so it's there for any of them. Cleveland might be happy to just be back in the playoffs but none of the other three are going to be happy with anything less than a World Series appearance.

The Sox are the first in the playoffs - here's hoping they're not the first out.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Think It's Fair to Say No One Saw This Coming

Syracuse 38.
Louisville 35.


Yeah, I think I'll just let that soak in for a while.

A Trick of Hats!

When the top team in the league and the second-to-bottom team in the league square off, you expect just what Arsenal and Derby County delivered on Saturday - a 5-0 thrashing by the Gunners. Emmanuel Adebayor had a hat trick as Arsenal thoroughly dominated the overmatched Rams at the Emirates.

Abou Diaby and Cesc Fabregas added the additional goals, and Theo Walcott was highly impressive as he logged his most minutes of the Premiership season. At least, Walcott was 75% impressive - his dribbling, his speed, his moves ... all good. His finishing? Not good.

Arsenal plays next on Tuesday night in a third round Carling Cup match against Newcastle United at the Emirates. Because, apparently, Arsenal gets to play all of their matches at home this year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Now That's How You Start a Competition

In one of the more interesting opening matches in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Sevilla 3-0 behind goals from Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, and Eduardo at Emirates Stadium. (Which can't be called Emirates Stadium during Champions League matches because Emirates isn't a UEFA sponsor but an Arsenal sponsor. Silly.)

Fabregas is playing out of his mind right now. After a brilliant offensive performance on Saturday against Tottenham, Fabregas was the beneficiary of a bit of luck on his goal. His shot struck a defender on the way towards goal and was misdirected past the Sevilla keeper. Fabregas contributed to the second goal, as well, sending a free-kick into the box that was deflected by Sagna and kicked home by van Persie.

Though it's not something that shows up in the scoring table, Alexander Hleb continues to pass the ball extremely well in the midfield.

-- And in late-breaking news (meaning, I'm just seeing it as I write this) Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has quit the club. Chelsea's been struggling in the Premiership this season; they currently reside in 5th place, though they're only 2 points off league-leading Arsenal.

Eric Gagne Sucks at His Job

When people thought the Eric Gagne acquisition was the MLB trading deadline deal that would have the biggest impact on the season, I don't think anyone meant that it would turn out like this.

Eric Gagne has fallen. Unquestionably, unmistakably, epically.

From "Guy Who Clinches World Series for Red Sox" to "Guy Who Will Be Lucky to Make Post-Season Roster."

Eric Gagne has flat-out sucked since coming over from Texas and real consideration has to now be given to whether he deserves a place on the playoff roster. (Of course, that assumes he's not going to choke away a total collapse that keeps the Sox out of the playoffs.) Last night Gagne was up to his red-socked tricks, blowing a 2-1 lead as the Sox lost 4-3 to the Blue Jays in Toronto. Everyone blows leads, of course, but it's how Gagne does it that's infuriating. After getting the first two batters out, Gagne walked Frank Thomas, gave up a single to Aaron Hill, walked Matt Stairs (after having him 0-2), walked Greg Zaun (Greg Frickin' Zaun) to let in the game-tying run, and then allowed a double to Russ Adams to let in Toronto's two final runs.

Last night was a try-out for Gagne. From Gordon Edes piece in today's Boston Globe:

"There were a lot of reasons to keep [Gagne] out there and pitch and have success," said Francona, explaining why he took the long view and stayed with Gagné even as the wheels came off, and even though he had Jonathan Papelbon warming up. "If it doesn't work, it hurts. It hurts all of us. I think it's the right thing to do. That doesn't make it easier." Moments later, the manager reflected on the same theme. "That's why we stay with him," said Francona. "We believe, even when other people don't or it's hard to believe. I think that's part of why we are successful. It certainly doesn't feel like it tonight."

Is he going to get a spot in the playoff bullpen? I think it depends on just how many pitchers the Sox take into October with them. Here are the nine automatics: Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Wakefield, Papelbon, Okajima, Timlin, Tavarez, Delcarmen. That leaves likely two spots for Buchholz, Corey, Gagne, Hansack, Lester, Lopez, and Snyder. One of the spots is likely going to Lopez - he's left-handed, which helps, and he's been quietly consistent though not spectacular this season (his 3.05 & 25 Ks are solid, but his 17 walks in 38 innings is disturbing). I'd guess Lester is out because they won't need a 5th starter. It's going to come down to Buchholz, Snyder, and Gagne - and likely in that order.

I just can't see putting a guy on the post-season roster that you don't have any faith in. Gagne hadn't pitched with a lead in a month before last night and if you can't trust a guy with a lead you don't need him around. If there is any mop-up duty to do in the post-season the Sox have Wakefield, Tavarez, and Snyder to do it.

Gagne's got two weeks to get it together, but I can't see Francona putting him back in a game to protect a lead until a playoff spot is clinched. (Magic number is 4, by the way, though that's in regards to the Tigers and the Wild Card spot and not to the Yanks and the division.) Putting Gagne on the playoff roster at this point would look like the team trying to protect its image in making the deal in the first place, which would be silly.

Trading for Gagne was the right move. Leaving him off the playoff roster would be the right move, too.

Embrace It

I'll be honest - you wouldn't have wanted to watch the Sunday Night game between the Pats and Chargers with me this past week. Besides what was sure to have been a mind-warping display of channel flipping between the Pats game on NBC and the Sox game on ESPN during commercials, I didn't see much use for playful banter and idle chit-chat during the game.

There was a fist pump or two, a solitary clap here or there, but for the bulk of the night it was eyes locked on screen, absorbing the meaningful (the blitz pick-ups by the Pats O-Line and backs) and the meaningless (body language), the serious (Randy Moss' route-running) and the silly (Shawne Merriman's Shawne Merriman-ness).

The idea that Sunday Night was a referendum on the whole of New England's last seven years was absurd, and yet because the national media are such small-thinking donkeys there was an element of that in the build-up to the game. The Pats were going to be the #1 sports story on Monday no matter how they performed and reactions would be drawn to sharply based on one game.

Because that's all it was. One game. In week two.

What did we learn? We learned that two weeks into the season the Patriots are worlds better than the San Diego Not-So-Super Chargers.

Beyond that? Not much.

You can say we learned there are still two great superpowers in the NFL and they play in Indianapolis and Foxboro, but deep down you already knew that as much as you might have not wanted to admit it. There are plenty of teams that can beat either of those teams. But beat them back-to-back in January? With both games likely on the road?

Not bloody likely.

What we learned about the Patriots Sunday Night is that they're not going to turn on their coach. That, instead, they are going to rally around him. You're going to hear lots of "We don't get the respect we deserve" and "We don't care what anyone outside this locker room thinks" over the next five months. Say what you want about the Patriots but ever since the Brady/Bledsoe Dust settled this team has been consistently on the same page.

They're still there. It's the right attitude, too; instead of trying to run from their newfound "bad-boy" image, the Patriots continue to use anything and everything to their emotional bonding with one another. You get the feeling that they can take even the smallest hint of a gentle breeze and turn it into a hurricane sent by God to destroy them.

And what's most encouraging is that you already see Randy Moss and Adalius Thomas and Wes Welker speaking in Patriot Dialect.

There's a long way to go, however, so I wish people would stop awarding the Pats the Lombardi Trophy.

Enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sports Illustrated Refuses to Acknowledge the Great Pumpkin Reality

I really don't know what to say about this other than to just say it.

SI.com has kept the Orange ranked #107 for the second week in a row, despite getting pumped by Illinois.

Maybe Cuse has hit the bottom of their personal barrel. Maybe SI.com simply refuses to rank a BCS conference team any lower. Maybe people are just looking at the final scores and nothing more.

If you are a fan of Tulane, Louisiana Lafayette, San Jose State, Army, Toledo, Louisiana Monroe, North Texas, Rice, Northern Illinois, Temple, Florida International, or Utah State, I'm sorry. Cuse has certainly performed worse than at least half of you and yet, no drop in the rankings. At very least Cuse should drop below Northern Illinois simply because of the uniforms and Army just because of patriotism.

Maybe that's the bigger question - Why does Sports Illustrated hate America?

We Pose the Ridiculous Question. You Decide.

In other Pumpkin news, the Cuse is a 37-point underdog to Louisville this week. THIRTY. SEVEN. POINT. DOG. To a team that has so far showed it is completely incapable of playing defense.

What's the most frustrating (and this took a few minutes to decide because there are so many frustrating things going on with the Pumpkins this season) is that, as Dave Rahme so excellently pointed out in the Post-Standard, G-Rob is STILL playing the final Paul Pasqualoni recruits more than he's playing his own recruits:

"It is time to end the debate. The Syracuse University football team, featuring a starting lineup with 16 players recruited by Paul Pasqualoni's staff (before the injury to center Marvin McCall) and only six recruited by Greg Robinson's staff, is ranked No. 116 in the nation in offense among the 119 teams that play Division I-A football. [...] It is time for him to begin to work the players he has recruited into the lineup. Yes, there is the delicate matter of team chemistry. Juniors and seniors who paid their dues should not be thrown under the bus. But they must move over - especially on the offensive line and at linebacker but everywhere, really - and allow their younger teammates to gain significant game experience in some kind of rotation."

There's no way to know just how good G-Rob is doing at recruiting than to actually allow these players onto the field. Andrew Robinson is not a bad QB, but the pieces that have surrounded him so far this season (with the slight exception of Curtis Brinkley) have let him down. Get the kids on the field - it's not like things could get worse.

Orlando Cabrera Tells the Useless Countdown to Kiss His What?


Orlando Cabrera has 12 games to hit one home run to pass Tim McCarver on the all-time list. Cabrera, for those paying attention, is taking his sweet ass time getting this monumental achievement accomplished. He hasn't hit a home run in any of his last 24 games.

Since Cabrera's last home run, Hillary Clinton has announced how to fix the U.S. Healthcare system, Fred Thompson has announced he's running for President, Cristiano Ronaldo went on a hooker binge, the VMAs become officially irrelevant, Bill Belichick's entire coaching history has been put under a dark cloud, Notre Dame has trotted out 3 QBs who all suck because the O-Line couldn't block a group of extras from Friday Night Lights, and sliced bread was, in fact, invented.

The Angels have 12 games left. Get it done, Orlando. We have plenty of meaningless football non-records to follow and you're mucking up the works.

And He Thinks, "Why Not?"

Here's visual evidence of Emmanuel Adebayor's goal from Arsenal Saturday's derby against Tottenham. I think what makes it even better is the call from the announcers. Wouldn't it be nice, just once, to hear Dick Vitale talk with this kind of understated awe?



Adebayor's goal shouldn't make anyone overlook how poorly the defense played, which will need to step up big against Sevilla tomorrow.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Know It Meant More to the Yankees, But Did You Have to Play Like It?

What to make of this weekend's Pilgrims v. Highlanders series at the Fens that saw the Yanks take 2-of-3 from the Sox and pull to within 4 1/2 games of the AL East lead?

The positive: the Sox lost two games by one run without having Manny Ramirez in the line-up.

The negative: The Yanks' bullpen looks like it's solidifying with the addition of Joba Chamberlain, while the Sox bullpen looks cooked with a gassed Okajima, an aging Timlin, and a lost-in-plain-sight Eric Gagne.

The positive: Josh Beckett embraces the challenge of the big game and looks ready to be the team's #1 starter in the post-season.

The negative: Daisuke Matsuzaka has hit the wall and might as well be shut down until the post-season gets here.

The positive: Lots of runs on Saturday and lots of working the count all three nights.

The negative: Without Manny in the Middle this team is going to struggle to score runs against the top pitchers they're going to face in October. Heck, even with Manny this isn't a team (like the Yanks are) that can count on going out and bludgeoning teams.

The positive: Forget 2008, Jacoby Ellsbury should be starting in CF or RF right now.

The negative: JD Drew, JD Drew, JD Drew, JD Drew, and Jason Varitek's bat. Drew and Tek came up countless times with men on this weekend and it seemed that neither was able to do anything more at grounding out to first base. Varitek shouldn't play more than every other day for the rest of the regular season.

In all, it was a blah weekend at the Fens. The Sox could have put the Yanks away, but they didn't, and now the Yanks seem just as likely to make the playoffs. And honestly, it doesn't look like the Sox want any part of the Yankees again this season.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A National Joke

No disrespect to Illinois, who truly looks like they've got things headed in the right direction, but Syracuse football is officially the worst team in college football.

The Pumpkins probably had it locked up with their 41-20 loss to the Illini (the Cuse scored 10 meaningless points to end the game), but with Duke's 20-14 victory over Northwestern, there's little doubt that Syracuse University fields the most irrelevant BCS football squad in the country.

You have to be careful to not read too much into score totals, but here are the facts. Last year Syracuse lost to Iowa 20-13, this year they lost 35-0. Last year they beat Illinois 31-21, this year they lost by 21. You can't spell "going in the wrong direction" without "G-R-E-G R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N."

Oh yeah, and Iowa lost to Iowa State last night - the same Iowa State team that was ranked 106th last week by Si.com.

So if you're paying attention - the team ranked 106th (Iowa State) won this week, and the team ranked 108th (Duke) won this week, but the team ranked 107th played like being ranked 107th was generous.

Worse, there were references and snide remarks all over the college map (from ESPN and CBS) announcers that Syracuse was the worst team in D-1 football. So in case you were wondering, Daryl Gross, if people were paying attention to this joke of a squad you run out on the field each week, the answer is yes.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

High Flying Derby Act


Arsenal traveled to White Hart Lane to take on rival Tottenham in the season's first north London derby and came away with a 3-1 victory in a wild match against the Spurs.

The Gunners created as many opportunities for themselves on offense as they gave up on defense. Trailing 1-0 after a gorgeous free kick-goal by Gareth Bale, Arsenal sent wave after wave at Tottenham using crisp passing to create scoring opportunities.

The stars of the game for Arsenal were Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas, who not only scored the three goals but dominated the offensive end. Adebayor's first goal was headed in off a Fabregas free-kick in the 65th minute. It was the next two goals that were true highlight material. In the 80th minute Fabregas drilled home a goal from 30 yards out and then in stoppage time Adebayor added his second goal of the day, teeing up a pass then turning and blasting it past Paul Robinson.

Defensively, though, Arsenal gave up far too many chances. Robbie Keane and Darren Bent both failed to take advantage of one-on-one opportunities against keeper Manuel Almunia.

The win keeps Arsenal atop the standings with 13 points.

Next up: the opening Champions League Group stage match against Sevilla out of La Liga on Wednesday. Sevilla is the favorites to win of Group H, but it is a home match for Arsenal. ESPN 2 will have the FC Porto v. Liverpool match on Tuesday afternoon (2:30) and the Manchester Utd. v. Sporting Lisbon match on Wednesday (2:30) Arsenal v. Sevilla will be on ESPN Deportes, if you get that. Which I don't.

Baloo on Belichick


Special to BtC by BALOO

When I first heard this story about the Patriots stealing signals, I thought it wasn't that big of a deal. In fact, I found it amusing. However, as more information (mostly rumors, to be honest) comes out, it makes the cheating seem worse than it initially did. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the possible implications of the cheating, let's look at surface details that indicate a wimpy punishment. As I've stated in comments on this blog, Wade Wilson was given a 5 game suspension for buying HGH to deal with his erectile dysfunction. There's no impact on the game if that's the real reason for buying the HGH and let's be honest, most men would admit to cheating before they admitted to ED. Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson were suspended for off-field conduct that had no impact on the game, but gave the league a blackeye. Vick may get a lifetime suspension for associating with gamblers in his dog fights. If you read Vick's statement, he tries to deny gambling on the fights. So he's either a sadistic guy who likes to watch dogs rip each other apart, or he's lying to get back into the league. Concern over gambling does appear to be the bigger issue for the NFL. However, betting on dog fights won't lead to problems for the NFL unless Vick gets in deep to those gambling interests. Now Belichick's behavior was on-field misconduct that may have directly affected the outcome of games. So the lack of a suspension doesn't make much sense. My guess is that the league knew that suspending a head coach wouldn't work since they can't monitor all communication between the coach and his assistants. Anyone remember when Steinbrenner was banned from working with the Yankees' front office. I'm pretty certain he contacted them.

Bias disclaimer: As a Raiders fan, I should have bitterness about the Pats, but I don't. I blame the refs for making the wrong call.* Brady's non-passing hand touches the ball prior to the fumble and there's no passing motion in the world where your non-passing hand touches the ball while you're throwing arm is moving forward. So now that I've come clean on any potential biases, I should state that I've watched most Patriot games over the last few seasons and I enjoy watching their games. After the Raiders and Colts, I'd put the Pats as my third favorite team.

*(Editorial Cheap Shot Intervention: The Refs did make the wrong call - they failed to flag Woodson for an illegal blow to the head.)

Initially I figured the cheating would help them win a game here or there. However, after thinking about this for awhile I realized that one or two games a season would make a huge difference in playoff position and there's nothing more important than that in the NFL. I can't believe that the Patriots would continue to do this if it didn't help in some way. Also, if it didn't help, then you wouldn't do it against the Jets, who know you do it. So if it helped them win close games and it gets them simply one game in the season, that could be difference between a road game or a home game in the playoffs. Think of the extra cash that Kraft would make with a home game. Think of the money lost by other teams that may have missed the playoffs or a home game because of the cheating. On top of that, homefield advantage is huge in the NFL. So if you get homefield advantage that's likely to be one more win in the playoffs.

So I figured I'd go over the last 3 seasons to see if the cheating would help their playoff position. I need to mention that my decision to only look at close final scores may hide some games where it was close and the Patriots ran away with it at the end or may include games that weren't close until late in the game. Let's start with the close games from 2006:

(Note: I'm defining close games as 7 pts or less to keep it simple.)

Week: Date / Game
1: 10-Sep / BUF 17 @ NE 19
2: 17-Sep / NE 24 @ NYJ 17
12: 26-Nov / CHI 13 @ NE 17
13: 3-Dec / DET 21 @ NE 28
16: 24-Dec / NE 24 @ JAC 21

So in 2006, there are at most 5 games where cheating may have helped. While there are rumors surrounding communications gear going down in the Lions game (on multiple occasions), let's assume that the Pats would beat the Lions. I mean, come on. The main games of interest here are Jacksonville, Buffalo, and Chicago. Based on these outcomes, only Jacksonville seems to matter for the playoffs. If Jacksonville gets the win, they go 9-7 and make the playoffs instead of the Chiefs. If the Pats cheated during that game, and it helped (these may be very big ifs) the Pats cheated the Jags out of playoff shares for the players and gate revenues for the team. On the other side, the Chiefs should send the Pats a present. If it helped in the Bills and Bears games, then the Bills still miss the playoffs and the Bears would still have homefield advantage. Now for any impact on the Patriots, in 2006, the cheating would most likely have had to help them win 2 games. If that's the case, then their record would be 10-6 and tied with the Jets (unless the Jets win the 9/17 game then the Jets win the division) and depending on tie-breakers could've made the Pats a wildcard team. If the Jets win their 9/17 game, then they are both 11-5. Add in any one other game, and the Jets win the division. Instead the Pats get to host the Jets. So again, that's pretty big, but you'd have to believe it helped them win more than one game or the Jets game and the Jets get the tiebreaker (which I'm not sure if they would). In the playoffs, the Chargers lost a close one to the Pats, but I want to stick to a discussion of playoff position. In summary, if the Jags win the 12/24 game against the Pats they make the playoffs and that's money that was stolen from them. If the Pats lose two games that they won, then they may have been a wildcard team and that's money that's stolen from the Jets.

Now let's turn to 2005:

Week: Date / Game
3: 25-Sep / NE 23 @ PIT 20
5: 9-Oct / NE 31 @ ATL 28
8: 30-Oct / BUF 16 @ NE 21
10: 13-Nov / NE 23 @ MIA 16
11: 20-Nov / NO 17 @ NE 24

Once again, there are 5 possible games that matter. The Patriots were only 10-6 that year (as a Raiders fan, I wish I could say the Raiders were only 10-6), so one of those games turning to a loss may have cost them the playoffs (the Dolphins were 9-7) based on tiebreakers. If they lose 2 of those games, they miss the playoffs even if they still win the Miami game. The game of particular interest to me, is the Steelers game. If cheating helped them win that game, the Steelers win the division and don't have to go on the road for a wildcard game. That's huge. The Steelers would have been 12-4 would have played one home game in the wildcard round instead of the Bengals. Miami and the Steelers may have been negatively affected in those seasons. And for Miami, it may have been the difference between a playoff game and going home.

So what about 2004?

Week: Date / Game
1: 9-Sep / IND 24 @ NE 27
7: 24-Oct / NYJ 7 @ NE 13
14: 12-Dec / CIN 28 @ NE 35

Only 3 games ended in close games. So even if the Patriots lose all 3 games, they'd be 11-5 and tied with the Jets at 11-5 (Jets were 10-6, but they were in one of the games above). It seems unlikely that a team as talented as the Patriots would lose all 3 games. Cincy misses the playoffs regardless of the outcome of their game. However, if Indy wins the 9/9 game, then Indy and NE are tied for the best record in the AFC and I believe Indy would win the tie-breaker since they would have won the first meeting. Once again, that's pretty big if cheating helped.

Now this is merely speculation, but I think it shows that even getting one game here or there, is a big deal. If the cheating helped, and as I stated above it must have or they wouldn't keep it up, then getting a game here or there could very well have helped them get homefield advantage or at least one more home game than they deserved. While at the same time, maybe screwing Jacksonville and Miami out of a playoff spots and quite possibly homefield advantage for the Colts in 2004. If the Pats and Colts play in Indy in 2004 and it's a level playing field, the Colts might win that game and go to a Super Bowl. I'd still argue that the Pats had the better all around team, but playing at home in the NFL is huge.

So after thinking about this for awhile, I think the penalty for Belichick was way too small considering that it may have cost other teams money and playoff position while adding money to the Kraft's pockets. Add in that it's a blackeye for the game. The fact that people are questioning Brady's play and that I'm writing this post indicate that people are questioning the integrity of the game. That's the same exact reason the NFL doesn't allow gambling. Now I realize a lifetime ban wasn't going to happen, but it should've been on the table. However, I think the best solution would be to simply give the Patriots a loss in week 1. The Jets lost the game fair and square since they caught video-boy early in the game. So they get to keep the loss. So now the Patriots and Jets should be 0-1. That would hurt the current team without hurting future teams. You'd send a message that cheating is taken seriously and that might deter others from doing the same. The current penalty says cheat all you want, we won't take too much from you. Unless you're a player of course, then we'll take gamechecks, suspend you, and publicly declare you a cheater (say hi Merriman, you steroid using loser). The Pats fine was essentially a rookie minimum salary. That's really weak.

I think the media has ignored the implications for playoff positioning. And that's the real crime here, imo. Maybe it helped them win a playoff game or two, but I think the major impact is getting home games they may not have deserved and taking away spots from deserving teams. So while the Raiders fan in me finds Billy's behavior amusing, the criminal justice professor in my finds the rewards too great for the small penalty the Pats received. Now I know a coach can only be fined $500,000, so that's fine, but the team should've lost home playoff game revenue for each season they believe the videotaping happened. Though, to be honest, I prefer my simple solution of giving the Pats a loss in week 1. It's simple and could cost them playoff position which is what the cheating was for in the first place.

Friday, September 14, 2007

107 With a Dull, Sickening Thud

Syracuse football is now ranked 107th out of 119 schools, according to SI.com.

I guess the Cuse should feel lucky SI doesn't consider 1-AA schools like the AP does, or they'd probably be closer to 150 than 100.

Another week, another expected loss is coming as Illinois (ranked 55th at SI.com) comes into the Dome as 12 1/2 point favorites. That's right - a crap team, on the road, is nearly a two touchdown favorite to the Cuse.

And no matter how many jerseys SU retires or how many ugly statues they build or how much they screw-up the uniform, none of it can hide the fact that this team is freaking terrible.

And like a sucker I'll still sit down and watch them on Saturday when ESPNU puts them on the air. I'll watch because I care about the program and I'll watch because I want to see just how bad they are and I'll watch to see if Daryl Gross gets interviewed and makes even more excuses for G-Rob and I'll watch to see perhaps the emptiest Dome crowd ever for a football game and I'll watch to see how we stack up against a very mediocre Illinois team that Cuse somehow managed to beat last season.

I'll watch, too, because mercifully this might be the last chance to watch this team play this season, which means it should be my last opportunity to hear about what a great guy Greg Robinson is while no one wants to bring up how awful of a head coach he's turning out to be.

Tarnishing the Brady & the NFL's Legacy of Spying

As Trout noted in the comments section elsewhere, the question of how "Spygate" is going to affect Tom Brady's legacy is a one of the questions that's going to spin out of this story.

I don't think we can answer that question right now, but it's a question to keep asking until we can definitively (or what passes for definitively in this day and age) answer it.

I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude with Brady until we have a better idea about how extensive the spying was and how the Patriots went about using that information during games. Certainly it has to diminish Brady's accomplishments but I'm not ready to say it "barely" diminishes his accomplishments or "significantly" diminishes his accomplishments as of today.

I think if you just look at the Super Bowl performances, the Rams Super Bowl seems the most obvious candidate for this kind of spying/adjusting going on (they played the Rams earlier in the season, the Rams were heavy favorites) but the game itself seems to indicate there wasn't any of this going on. The Patriots didn't dominate on offense and, in fact, struggled for most of the game against a less-than-stellar Rams defense. If they were spying and adjusting in-game then they weren't doing a very good job of it (which doesn't excuse it, of course - if you cheat poorly you're still a cheater; in fact, it's usually the poor cheaters who either get caught, or blow the whistle on someone else).

The Panthers SB is a bit more likely, but this was a shoot-out game on both sides, so I don't know what to make of it. The Eagles SB seems the best candidate for this kind of cheating - Philly had the best overall defense of the three SB opponents, ran the most complex schemes, etc., so if there was any SB cheating going on, I think SB 39 is the best candidate. But again, I don't know, so like the rest of the Patriots games under Belichick it goes into the "I don't know what to make of it" category.

To get back to Brady - I don't think there's going to need to be a massive readjustment of his spot in NFL QB Hierarchy. He's not going to drop from "one of the best ever" to "Rex Grossman," though it certainly might knock him to the bottom rungs of HoF QBs.

As to whether Belichick's insertion of Brady into the starting line-up was his "moment of weakness" that started this whole thing, I doubt it. If that season saw the beginning of spygate then I'd wager it had more to do with the ineffectiveness of Bledsoe than trying to gain an advantage for Brady. Bledsoe was awful, in the midst of a three-year slide in overall effectiveness (thanks largely to the damage done by Petey Pom Poms), and the team wasn't any better, so if spygate started then, I don't think it had anything to do with Brady. But maybe it did - these are the questions we need answers to and I hope Goodell actually investigates how extensive spygate was instead of just trying to shut his eyes tight and hope the story goes away. You know the NYC press is going to be all over this story, chasing and printing every scrap of a rumor they can, so it's important the Commissioner conducts his own through, independent investigation.

I do think some of the outrage around the League and the internets is a bit silly in its holier-than-thou-ness, however. Spying has always gone on and the Patriots big crime is a perfect storm of 1) getting caught, 2) being incredibly successful, and 3) taking cheating to a place it hasn't been before. When you're this successful you're going to get slammed harder than everyone else - look at the allegations that have dogged the 1970s Steelers dynasty for having a roid-taking offensive line. Or how Red Auerbach was only winning title with the Celtics because he didn't give visiting teams hot showers. Or how Bucky Dent's bat was corked.

Success always breeds jealousy and jealousy often breeds conspiracy.

Every single team in the League for probably the entire history of the League has people dedicated to trying to steal/interpret signs; what the Patriots have done that is so wrong (and it is wrong, make no mistake about what I'm saying) is that instead of having a coach trying to do it during games, they had a cameraman filming it so they could facilitate the process - in-game, sure, but especially post-game which could then be folded into future gameplans.

The outrage that has popped up around the League and the internets about this, though ... so much of it is clearly based on jealousy that you can't take it any more seriously than the insipid Patriots fans who argue it's completely meaningless. It's somewhere between the two, but few people want to either look at this rationally or wait until all the pertinent facts come out.

What shouldn't be lost is that the Patriots cheated and they got off light. Belichick should've been suspended. And "everyone else is doing it" doesn't make the Pats doing it a less-punishable offense, but it should be placed into its proper context. As Jason Cole's Y! Sports piece points out this morning, technological spying isn't new, either. Mike Shanahan hired spies to videotape Charger practices. Al Davis allegedly had locker rooms bugged. Are we going to call for the Broncos and Raiders' championships to be taken away, too? Are we going to suddenly argue that John Elway only won Super Bowls because Shanahan cheated? Or that Ken Stabler was only good because Al Davis had the Dolphins' locker room bugged? Of course not.

Did spying give Brady, Elway, Stabler an advantage? Of course it did.

I'm not surprised that the biggest complaints rising out of the ether right now are coming from Indianapolis, Oakland, Philadelphia, and NYC, as teams/fans look to explain their own defeats at the hands of the Patriots over the past six years. Remember, though, that Belichick's spying had nothing to do with the playoff losses the Colts took to Pittsburgh after the 2005 season or the Jets after 2002. Belichick's spying had nothing to do with the tuck rule or Vinatieri kicking a 45-yard FG in a snow storm or what Gruden's Bucs did to the Raiders in SB 37 (where we saw the real value in knowing another team's tendencies/signals, etc.). Belichick's spying had nothing to do with the Eagles losing three straight NFC Championship games. Belichick's spying had nothing to do with the Steelers missing the playoffs after the 2006 or 2003 seasons, or the Steelers loss to the Titans in the 2002 playoffs.

How much did Belichick's spying have to do with the Patriots beating the Raiders, Colts, Steelers, and Eagles in those playoff games? I think answering that question right now isn't possible, but it is an answer worth finding out, which is why Goodell needs to investigate the history of Belichick's spying.

Of course, Raiders fans complaining about other teams cheating without acknowledging their team's own murky morality is always going to be laughable so long as Al Davis is in charge, just like how Raiders fans love to talk about the tuck rule in the Snow Bowl, but never want to discuss the phantom roughing-the-passer call in 1976. They were both bad calls - one because of a stupid rule and one because of a stupid Ben Dreith. What's really changed is that the Raiders don't cheat as well as they used to as Al Davis' health sadly spirals downward.

Why is it comical that George Allen used to spy and reprehensible that Belichick did? Time? Success? That most people like George Allen and hate Bill Belichick?

The extent of the advantage gained by Belichick's spying is unknown and we need to find out more before we either condemn Brady as the next Rick Mirer or wipe it aside and continue to treat him like the next Montana, just like, for the time being, we shouldn't treat the Patriots as either the next Lombardi Packers or the next Juventus.

Let's wait and see what we find out; if it turns out the Patriots only beat the Colts and Steelers and Raiders and Eagles because of spying I'll be the first to condemn them. Right now, though, we don't know anything about the effect of spying on those games. We know the outcomes can rightly be called into question but passing any final judgment right now - either way - doesn't seem the smart course of action.

Belichick's Patriots have to now be considered alongside Shanahan's Broncos and Davis' Raiders instead of alongside Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys, Bill Walsh's 49ers, and Chuck Noll's Steelers. In fact, when all of this is said and done Belichick's Patriots might turn out to be the NFL's Juventus, after all, and as a Patriot fan that will suck a lot more than it sucks right now.

Maybe I'm too inclined to say "wait and see" because it is the Patriots. I'm not trying to make excuses for their behavior by contextualizing their spying in the League's history of spying (I've called for Belichick to be suspended numerous times and I think they got off light in terms of overall punishment) but I'm just not ready to say that Brady or the Championships are now somehow worthless.

All I can say is that if it is revealed that the Pats won one or two or three Championships because of video-camera spying I'll condemn them. All I can say is that, for right now, I am questioning the validity of those playoff wins and Lombardi trophies. In other words, I am perfectly willing to accept there's more (perhaps a lot more) to this spying scandal than we've seen, but I'm not willing say it's everything, either.

But, yeah, maybe that's wishful thinking.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Not Enough, But I'm Sure Ratgini is Smiling

Roger Goodell has handed down his judgment on Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots - the loss of a first round draft pick if the Pats make the playoffs, a 2nd and 3rd if they don't, a fine of $500,000 to Belichick, and $250,000 to the organization.

It's not enough.

Belichick needed to be suspended because no amount of money is ever really going to amount to anything more than a slap on the wrist. (Unless you're McClaren and the FIA just dropped a $100 million fine on you - but that's another post for another day.)

Goodell said in a letter to the team: "This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field." If that's the case, why isn't Belichick suspended?

According to SI.com: "Goodell said he had considered suspending Belichick but didn't 'largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension.'" That may be true in terms of the draft pick but Goodell should be less interested in long-term punishment than he is in appropriate punishment for the infraction at hand. Belichick ordered the cheating to be carried out by an assistant so Belichick is the one who should bear the brunt of the punishment. Goodell obviously believes this to a degree, too, since he gave Belichick the larger monetary penalty.

How can a coach who buys HGH get a harsher penalty than a coach who illegally spies on his opponent? Makes no sense.

The draft pick penalty is ridiculous, too. Why do the Patriots get their pick protected if they don't make the playoffs? They should lose their first round pick, period. Heck, they should probably lose their first, second, and third round pick regardless of where they finish. They've got the Niners (IIRC) first round pick next year, anyway, so Goodell probably should've taken both away and just be done with it.

Of course, I'm sure Eric Ratgini is smiling away over at the Meadowlands for turning in his former boss and getting away scott free, even though Ratgini turning evidence possibly implicates not only Belichick but himself for past transgressions. It almost certainly implicates Belichick, though it's possible Mangini had nothing to do with it, took no benefit from it, etc. (Yeah, right ...)

The real loser in all this is the Jets fanbase, who now know that their supposed "Mangenious" head coach clearly can't hang with the coaching elite. Belichick keeps coaching, the Pats keep their win, the team will likely keep rolling into another playoff run, but the Airplane crowd has to sit there knowing that instead of using the knowledge that the Patriots were spying to get one over on his rival, Ratgini resorted to crying to Daddy about it, taking the short-term gain instead of hoping for a long-term swerve.

Have fun being 6-10.

Have fun with a coach who likely got his job, in part, due to spying, but now wants to act holier-than-thou about it. (But, hey, maybe he was a lone angel on the coaching staff. Time will tell.)

Ratgini's tattling doesn't excuse Emperor Hood's behavior, however. The NFL simply cannot consider this story over. They need to investigate further to find out how long this practice has been going on and if it played any role in their Super Bowl victories and if that proves to be true they need to suspend Belichick for a season, if not ban him outright from the League. I'll repeat - he should have been suspended today and should consider himself extremely lucky not to have been. The idiocy of the national media, proclaiming that Goodell has "dropped the hammer" on the Patriots is laughable. Goodell hit the Pats with a jab instead of an uppercut and, unfortunately, the message that is sent to other teams in the League is that if you use video cameras to spy you can handle the punishment that's coming.

And that's not a strong enough message to send.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dirty Rotten Patriots

As a Patriots fan I am not bothered in the least by the allegations (soon to be facts, apparently) that the Pats were caught taping the Jets defensive signals.

That doesn't mean I'm going to defend them, however.

The Patriots were cheating, they got caught, they should be punished. Severely.

How severely? I think the "fines and draft pick reduction" methods that I've heard bandied about doesn't do enough. I think taking away the victory and giving it to the Jets does too much; the Patriots should be punished for their actions but the Jets shouldn't be rewarded with either the victory or the Pats' draft picks. If I were Roger Goodell I'd do one of three things:

1) Suspend Bill Belichick for anywhere from 1 to 4 games, depending on how severe the taping allegations actually prove to be. Chris Mortensen reported on ESPN radio today that the tape was confiscated early in the game, so that should lessen the penalty, but the Pats have been warned about this behavior before, so that should increase the severity. I think a 2- to 3-week suspension should send the appropriate message. And that's not just suspended from games, but suspended from the team facility, as well.

2) Take away all of their 2008 draft picks.

I prefer the first idea to the second because the penalty should hit the current team and not the future team. What if Belichick decides to move on after this year? Then the guy responsible for the penalty gets away while the team has to suffer. This is just what the NCAA does wrong over and over - they punish the current team for previous program infractions while the coach often gets away clean. The 2007, Belichick coached Patriots should bear the burden of the penalty.

I dislike the idea of spreading the draft pick penalty out over several years because we should not be looking for ways to lessen the blow to the Pats, but rather make sure they feel it.

Whatever the penalty, Goodell should make clear to the Patriots that this behavior cannot continue. If the team is caught doing it again, they most assuredly should have that victory taken away.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same Sunday

Was there an off-season? I remember there being one, but after the opening weekend of football (minus two MNF games) it doesn't look like there's a whole lot of difference between last year and this year.

Consider the following:

1. The Colts, Patriots, and Chargers are still clearly the three best teams in the NFL. While the Colts and Pats hammered 2006 playoff teams, the Chargers were less convincing against the Bears, but they do have a new coach and were playing against the best defense in the NFL so I'm willing to cut them a bit of slack.

2. Rex Grossman still sucks.

And, really, until something dramatic happens to change the balance of power in the NFL, that's all that matters. As good as the AFC is, I can't see anyone but one of the Big 3 making the Super Bowl, and as good as the Bears defense is, I couldn't see anyone but them making the Super Bowl if they had a competent QB.

Here's what else stood out about Sunday's action:

3. Randy Moss will deservedly get the bulk of attention over the next 24 hours with his 9 catch, 183-yard, 1 TD performance, but Wes Welker's 6 catch, 61-yard, 1 TD performance was every bit as important and every bit as good a sign of things to come. Welker was brought into fill the Troy Brown role - possession receiver, punt returner - and he filled the role beautifully. It's really not the talent upgrade that's important for the Patriots in terms of their WRs; what's important is how comfortable Brady feels with them and he showed yesterday he's already very comfortable with Moss and Welker.

Make no mistake, though, the most important players on the field for the Pats on Sunday were the members of the offensive line. Brady had all the time he needed to go 22-for-28, for 297 yards, and 3 TDs.

4. Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson will have a bigger impact in the NFL than Greg Oden and Kevin Durant will in the NBA. Peterson rushed for over 100 yards on 19 carries and caught one pass for a 60-yard TD. Johnson had 4 catches for 70 yards and a TD of his own.

5. The Lions are finally getting Mike Martz's offense, which means they are going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Jon Kitna threw for 289 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs and the Lions scored 17 unanswered to start the game and 16 unanswered to end the game.

6. Rex Grossman still sucks. (Have I mentioned this?) It doesn't matter that everyone says it every single week; Grossman has got to get better. I don't know why teams with great defenses let a bad QB mess up their season. I'm not saying Brian Griese is the answer, either, but how do the Bears go an entire off-season and not go after Matt Schaub? How do they not bring in Byron Leftwich for a look? Why does Grossman look like he spent the off-season hanging out with Kyle Orton at Harry's instead of in the film room breaking down defenses?

7. I can't believe CBS thinks Jim Nantz and Phil Simms is a #1 announcing team. I can understand that Nantz is CBS' favorite son because of his years of appealing to the Dockers and Lifetime crowd that CBS covets, but Phil Simms is terrible. Tim McCarver terrible.

8. The Raiders still aren't very good, but they played with a bit of heart Sunday, which makes the 2007 Raiders a hundred times better than the 2006 Raiders. Down 17-0 to the Lions, the Raiders scored 21 of the next 24 points to take a 21-20 lead before watching the Lions put 16 unanswered on the board to pull away for a 36-21 victory. Josh McCown had a solid day, going 30-for-40 for 313 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

9. The Cowboys and Giants both looked like a mess despite rolling up big offensive numbers. The difference between the two teams? I believe in Tony Romo and not in Eli Manning. Both threw for 4 TDs, 1 INT, and over 300 yards, but Romo looked more comfortable and in-charge than the Younger Manning. I certainly can't fault Manning's stats and he did show more fire than he has in the past, but I don't think the Giants are ready to follow this guy to the locker room let alone the playoffs, while the Cowboys believe in Romo.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Lesson Learning Saturday

Here are the five most important lessons learned on Saturday afternoon:

1. The Big East should stop scheduling so many cupcakes. While Louisville (Middle Tennessee State), UConn (Maine), and Pittsburgh (Grambling St.) were pounding away on lesser competition, Cincinnati drubbed Oregon State 34-3, and South Florida took out Auburn in OT, 26-23 and probably didn't get the credit those wins deserved because people think so little of the conference. The Big Eastonly has three ranked teams (tied with the Big 10 for the worst among BCS schools) at the moment (WVU, Louisville, Rutgers) but both WVU and Louisville dropped despite winning big.

The South Florida Bulls didn't crack the top 25 despite beating 17th ranked Auburn on the road (their 26th), yet unranked South Carolina goes on the road and beats 11th ranked Georgia by 4 points and somehow ends up ranked 17th. (And Georgia, unbelievably, stays in the top 25.)
The Bearcats garnered 12 voting points this week, which is seven less than 1-AA Appalachian State.

What further shows how little respect the Big East gets (much of which is their own fault) is that the announcers of the game Saturday night were all "this is a win that will put the USF program on the map" despite the Bulls beating all three of the conference elites (WVU, Rutgers, Louisville) in the past two seasons. Auburn might be a tougher environment to play in than Morgantown, but beating the 7th ranked team in the country on the road is more impressive than beating the 17th ranked team on the road, isn't it?

2. South Florida is the second best college football team in the state of Florida. They're not going to the BCS, but then, neither is Florida State or Miami, are they?

3. The Big 10 is the neck and neck with the ACC for the worst performing conference in the country. There's plenty of time to get better, of course, but on the whole this is one slow, mediocre conference right now. Of the four power teams that were supposed to reside at the top of the conference (Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State) only the Nittany Lions are firing away at full speed. Michigan sucks, getting blown out by an unranked Oregon team 39-7. Ohio State struggled with Akron. Wisconsin had to rely on a late TD to beat UNLV.

It's not much better in the bottom of the conference, where Minnesota had to go to OT to beat the Ohio version of Miami, Northwestern snuck by Nevada, Michigan State was tight with Bowling Green for most of the day, and Indiana only beat Western Michigan by 10. In the middle of the confrence, teams took care of business as Purdue and Iowa blew out horrible opponents.

The Big 10 had more wins than losses Saturday, but there can't be too many fan bases feeling all that great today.

4. Boston College is the best or second-best team in the ACC, yet they're ranked behind Georgia Teach, Clemson, and Virginia Tech, who just got beat by 41 points yesterday. Under old coach Tom O' Brien, the Eagles were never able to get that defining win against the superior opponent and they got shafted by the ACC bowl selection process twice, but this team looks much better prepared under new coach Jeff Jagodzinski. Matt Ryan is a stud at QB and the offensive line is among the best run-blocking units in the country. BC plays Ga Tech next week, which I think will end up being a preview of the ACC Championship game at the end of the season.

5. And most importantly, the Pac-10 is the best football conference in the country. USC and Cal are already ranked in the top 10, UCLA is 11th, Oregon jumped from unranked to 19th after the beatdown against Michigan, and Washington and Arizona State are for real. Sure, the bottom of the conference is terrible but the bottom of every conference is terrible.

Four great games to look froward to next week:

1. (1) USC @ (14) Nebraska
2. (21) Boston College @ (15) Georgia Tech
3. (22) Tennessee @ (5) Florida

and the Upset Special o' the Week:

4. (10) The Ohio State @ (unr) Washington - The Buckeyes have not looked great, but Washington has, beating #22 Boise State yesterday, ending the Broncos 14-game winning streak. If you haven't seen U-Dub's Jake Locker play yet, make a point to tune it. The kid is totally legit - a program building QB.

The Orange Road to Nowhere


Well we know where were goin'

But we dont know where we've been

And we know what were knowin'
But we cant say what weve seen
And were not little children

And we know what we want

And the future is certain

Give us time to work it out


-- The Talking Heads / Daryl Gross and Greg Robinson

Iowa 35, Syracuse 0.

All SU fans should probably send a letter to Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz for not running up the score Saturday night as the orange laid a big fat nothing on the field yet again this week. The idea of scheduling these out of conference games is to get some national attention - both from the media and potential recruits - but so far Cuse hasn't garnered anything but scorn and ridicule as Greg Robinson continues to prove that he's been sent from the future to ruin Syracuse football.

There's really nothing else to say. Offensively, they can't do anything. Defensively, they can't do anything. Special teams wise, they can't do anything.

For the first time, too, in the GRob era, there's a slight crack in the Daryl Gross Protective Shield. Check out this quotes from the Bud Poliquin piece in this morning's Post-Standard at halftime:

"That wasn't a good half. I'm surprised. I thought we'd be a little better prepared. Obviously, it's disappointing. The nice thing is, there's a second half coming. Are you gonna get better? Obviously, they don't have their stuff together. You've just got to keep watching to see if this team shows some signs of progressing. I'll keep watching, keep listening, keep watching, keep listening . . . and see where we go.""

In Gross-speak, that's code for: "I can't hide behind hiring Luke Jensen and Gary Gait any longer and even I must publicly acknowledge that Greg Robinson is done and finished as soon as the season is over unless pigs start flying all over central New York."

But, hey, at least they gained ONE YARD in the first-half.

The Big East has two out of conference losses so far this season and Syracuse has them both. At this point, I have my doubts we can win a single game.

Baloo's 2007 Raiders Preview

Special to BtC by BALOO

When I look at the Raiders this season, I find that I don't know much. This isn't from a lack of trying either. I read profootballtalk.com (the best football site on the web) and raidernews.com (all Raiders all the time) every day. However, the problem comes in from how badly they were coached on offense last season. So let's start with the offense. How good or bad is the offensive line? I really don't know. They used a man blocking scheme that not only didn't fit the players, but was coached by three different men at the same time. Needless to say the line was confused. However, the Raiders line played ok late in the season (after a terrible start). They've now switched to zone blocking scheme. So with a new scheme, will there be growing pains? I don't' know. However, many of the 72 sacks the Raiders gave up were
due to incompetent play calling. They consistently called for 5-7 step drops, would send both WRs deep and thus the QB would have to wait to throw the ball.

The worst indictment of the playcalling was in what we saw in games 1 and 2 against SD and Baltimore. While those teams were racking up sacks, the Raiders never called a RB screen. The easiest way to avoid the LB blitzes would be to dump off to the
RB. So the Ravens and Chargers never had to worry about over pursuing the QB since the RB was in to pass protect or wasn't running a quick route. Nice. So we've got a new offense and a new zone blocking system. Add in McCown or Culpepper at QB and I really don't know how good they'll be on offense. Once Culpepper's healthy, he'll add something to the offense, but I'm not sure he'll be healthy this season.

To add to the confusion of the offensive line, is that the Raiders now have 3 new starters on the OL (Carlisle, RG, Green, RT, and Newberry, C). Carlisle is a good guard who has played in this system before. Very happy with that signing. Newberry was a pro bowler prior to injuries in SF, so he may or not be effective. Green's a journeyman that I don't expect much from. But maybe he fits the system. Once again, I have no idea (getting the pattern here). Gallery's been
moved once again to a new position. I'd have thought he'd be moved to RT and stuck there until he developed. He was an ok RT in the past until Shell and his gang got the idea to move him back to LT. However, Gallery will play LG. Hopefully that works out. Sims is back at LT and while he seems to end up there every year, he's got major weaknesses (especially with speed rushers) and now he's older. My guess is that the Raiders OL will be improved because of the new system, but they'll have issues early on and early on is the easy part of the schedule. Not a good sign, imo.

The wide receivers for the Raiders don't look too great either. I count 3 underachievers: Mike Williams, Jerry Porter, and Travis Taylor. Yeah, that's going to add fear to an opponent. I'm very happy to see Kiffin starting Curry though. I really like him. Higgins is a rookie who looks good on returns and is quick. I don't see him playing much in the offense though. I've only read good things about rookie TE Zach Miller and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. He appears to be a decent blocker and has very good hands. At running back, I'm expecting a bounce back year for LaMont Jordan, but the Raiders will benefit more from the addition of Rhodes (after his 4 game suspension for DUI and the rumored pissing his pants in the back of the squad car) and more importantly Justin Griffith, FB. He's a great blocking FB. He should actually help the passing and running games. Looking at the WRs and RBs, I see mediocrity.
This group of players won't scare anyone.


So let's put all of this together. There's nothing scary on offense so the Raiders will be inconsistent on offense. The positive is that the players like the new system and the new blocking scheme fits the personnel. The negatives, they still lack a star on offense (unless
Culpepper improves on the last couple of years). In fact, I'd say they lack even an above average player on offense. So expect a low scoring team, but not one that is irrelevant on offense like last year's team.

Now, let's move to the defense. The defense was 3rd in the league last year. I believe that to be deceptive. Yes, I like the Raiders' defense quite a bit. They're definitely a good defense, but I
wouldn't call them great. This isn't the Kyle Boller Ravens, though that's the Raiders only hope for the playoffs. The pass defense was 1st in the league last season and the rushing defense was 25th. However, both of those numbers are seriously affected by last year's incompetent offense. Once teams had a lead, even a small one, they stopped throwing and started running to keep the clock running. If you look closer at the Raiders rush defense (which the media dismisses
as weak) you'll see that they allowed 4 yards per carry and tied with the Bears and Giants. That's not great, but considering that the Raiders defense was on the field more than other teams, they should have gotten tired and given up more yards per carry. The fact that they played pretty good on defense shows the talents of Rob Ryan as a DC. Now the passing defense was number 1, but if teams aren't throwing much, you won't put up many yards. So the Raiders pass defense may be great, but it's hard to tell. The main positive for the Raiders defense was that Asomugha had 8 interceptions (tied for 3rd) when teams didn't throw much and were unlikely to throw his way. Fabian Washington has the talent to be a shutdown corner, but right
now he's a good CB who should be better this year. Huff had a quiet year, but that's not a bad thing. He didn't make mistakes, but he didn't make many big plays either. This year they're expanding his role. Hopefully, he'll become a playmaker this year, but I'll take the solid defensive player we had last year.

So with a better offense, how good will the defense be? I have no idea. They look like a top 10 defense, but it's still hard to say. The pass defense is probably not as good as the stats say and the rushing defense is better than the stats say. The DL looks pretty good with Burgess, Sapp (who had a very good year last year), Sands, and Kelly. The LBs look good to with Kirk Morrison (3rd year), Thomas Howard (2nd year), and Sam Williams. This group has quite a bit of upside and Morrison has become one of the better middle linebackers. Hopefully, he'll continue to improve. Howard played above expectations last season and I think that can continue. Sam Williams has been injured so much early in his career that it was nice to see
him play a full season. I'm still not sure what we have with him, but he's looks like an average WLB. So the defense really has no weaknesses. The depth isn't too bad either. They should play well this season if the offense gives them some rest.

Finally, the last unknown is the head coach. How good is he? I have no idea. I like what I've read. Peter King was impressed by him. I've read other articles that like what they've seen. I liked the draft, but that draft won't help them that much this season. The one thing I do like is that Kiffin released players that he felt were too one-dimensional and replaced them with players that could play special teams. So the special teams should be better. But that shouldn't be surprising since the special teams coach last year was despised and didn't have that much to work with.

So here's my prediction. I just don't think there's enough firepower on offense, but the defense will keep them in games if the offense is adequate. They are a better team than last year, due mainly to coaching. So the Raiders may not win that many games, but they'll be in closer games and they'll cause some concern for decent teams. So they're going to be competitive rather than just a doormat. If they win every game they could win, I see 7 wins. That's unlikely though. So I'd guess 5 wins for the season. If they can get 6 or 7 that's reason for optimism down the road. However, don't be surprised if they win only 3 or 4. There are going to be growing pains and the offense doesn't look like it's there yet. I have seen people picking the Chiefs to finish behind the Raiders. The Chiefs may be on their way down, but they are a more balanced team than the Raiders. So unless the Chiefs lose 10 or more games, they look like 3rd place to me. Of course, I'm the schmuck who took the Chiefs with the points this week against Houston.

Baloo

Bring the Crazy's 2007 Guide to NFL Playoff Irrelevancy

Here's how I see the playoffs breaking down:

Out in Wild Card Round:
AFC: Jacksonville & Denver
NFC: St. Louis & Dalls

Out in Divisional Round:
AFC: Baltimore & San Diego
NFC: Chicago & New Orleans

Out in Conference Round:
AFC: New England
NFC: Seattle

Out in Super Bowl:
Philadelphia

Trophy Winners:
Indianapolis

Thursday, September 6, 2007

We're Number One ... Oh ... One ...

SI.com's latest ranking are out and Syracuse comes in as the 101st ranked football team. That's down from 94th last week (ah, the halcyon days of being ranked in double digits ...)

How little do people think of SU right now? Unranked Washington went from receiving zero votes to one vote in the AP poll after beating Syracuse by 30 points. On the road. That means, of all the writers in the country who vote on college football, only one voter thought enough of U-Dub's 42-12 thrashing of Syracuse to even rank them 25th. I didn't think the Huskies would break into the top 25 or anything, but I figured the beatdown would give a few Washington writers and Syracuse writers an excuse to toss them a few votes.

The only real spot of hope is that Iowa looked awful last week, too, and the two teams played a close game in the Dome last year that Iowa won because of their ability to stop Syracuse 47 straight plays at the goal line at the end of the game.

If SU can't show significant improvement over the U-Dub performance against Iowa then this season might implode before it really even starts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bring the Crazy's 2007 Guide to When Your NFL Western Division Team Becomes Irrelevant

Our last tour through the NFL takes us out west, where the Western Divisions have everything, from an NFL elite team (San Diego) to solid teams (Denver, St. Louis, and Seattle) to up and coming teams (Arizona and San Francisco) to also-rans (Kansas City and Oakland). Here, then, is how long a commitment you have to make to your team of choice:

AFC WEST

4. Raiders, Week 6. The Raiders are a joke. They get the first pick of the draft, then don't sign him. Being bad is reprehensible enough, but being bad and cheap is insulting. Somewhere, the formerly sharp minds of Al Davis and George Steinbrenner are commiserating together and wondering what happened.

3. Chiefs, Week 8. Larry Johnson can't do it all by himself; the Chiefs just ask him to. Another awful team and one that will likely be out of it by Halloween.

2. Broncos, Playoffs. I've seen the Broncos picked to go to the playoffs all over the place and I wonder if we aren't all simply giving them too much credit because they're the Broncos. Are they really that good? Do you really have faith in Jay Cutler to lead them to the promised land right now? Is that running attack really able to take anyone (other than Maurice Clarett) and turn them into a star? At what point do you have to ask Mike Shanahan what can he do that doesn't involve Elway and Davis?

1. Chargers, Playoffs. Not even Norv Turner can keep Diego out of the playoffs. But I'm sure he'll try.


NFC WEST

4. 49ers, Week 11. I like the 49ers to make the playoffs. Next year. Frank Gore's a stud and the whole team is on the rise, but I think they're a year away.

3. Cardinals, Week 12. Another team with a lot to like as they go forward, but while they've got the skill players to get to the post-season, I don't think they have the O- and D-Lines to get it done.

2. Rams, Playoffs. I was on the Rams bandwagon last year and they disappointed. As you can see, I haven't learned my lesson. I'm not going to say the Rams are going to the Super Bowl, but I really, really want to. Irrationality and me, best pals.

1. Seahawks, Playoffs. The most well-rounded of all the NFC West teams, but they are not as good as the Hawks team that went to the Super Bowl a few years ago. Good enough to win this division, sure, and good enough to get to the Super Bowl, but I can't see them winning it. If Holmgren can make this team consistent, they could be scary come January.