Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sale Speaks

A Brief Glimpse Across the College Landscape

With a focus on the ACC

As we are at roughly the midway point of the conference season, things are starting to shake out. As predicted before the season, Kansas has established themselves as the class of the nation. They don’t distinguish themselves from the rest of the country like North Carolina did last year, but they are strong at all aspects of the game and are the only team that can be confidently counted on to win 6 straight in March. While Xavier Henry’s disappearance has made things slightly more challenging of late, Cole, Sherron and the boys are still the elite. As much as it pains me to say this, head coach Bill Self has established himself as a top tier coach (really, this hurts me to my core) who regularly sports teams that are dominant in both offensive and defensive efficiency (2/2 respectively, per KenPom).

Behind Kansas, Syracuse (again a lot of personal pain here), Kentucky and Villanova lead the way of Elite 8/Final Four contenders. These guys are very strong but you don’t want to hitch your cart to them. Jim Boeheim has found a nice mix of length and skill following the departures of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf (good riddance) and Paul Harris. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson has slid in beautifully and the Cuse is looking primed for a tourney run.

Kentucky’s fortunes were reversed in a big way with the arrival of Coach Cal and his lemmings-like recruit following. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are gangbusters and Patrick Patterson has evolved his game to match the hype he came in with. Oh, and Eric Bledsoe is not a bad guy to have backing up at PG. However, never trust Cal and his teams, so expect a flameout somewhere short of a title. As seen against S Car, Kentucky can be had, and when Wall isn’t clicking they are just a good team, not a great one. Their inability to put inferior foes away early could also come back to haunt them in March.

Villanova is, admittedly, a team I don’t know much about. As usual with Jay Wright’s squad, they are heavily guard-oriented led by 9th year senior Scottie Reynolds. This guy can hoop. Now that they are balanced inside by a man named Pena, Nova could make it back to back Final Fours.

Michigan State, Georgetown, West Virginia, Purdue and Texas have more holes to fill and can get hot to make a run but you just can’t trust them.

Noticeably absent from that list is Duke. This group of pretenders has, once again, sold the country that they’re back and ready to contend (this would make revival #6 since their last Final Four trip) only to flame out at the end of the year; more on them to come shortly. My list of credible teams is pretty short, because unlike Jim Boeheim, Billy Donovan and the money grubbers known as the NCAA/ESPN, I don’t think there are that many legitimate candidates to cut down the nets.

ACC Breakdown

I’m an old timer. I wish the ACC was still 9 teams and there wasn’t that absurd blip on the logo known as Massachusetts to include BC. Maybe one day when I run the conference, I’ll take care of that but until then this 12-team league is just a giant cesspool of mediocrity.

At the top is Duke. As mentioned previously, I don’t think too highly of them but they’re still going to win the league, win the tournament, get a high seed and send me into a 5-minute internal debate on how to rationalize them losing in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Led by their 3 S’s [(Scheyer, Singler, and Smith) I am throwing up in my mouth] Duke is beating conference foes left and right. Save for a bout with a feisty bunch of athletic hoop-jumpers (@GT), they are rolling. In fact, they exacted revenge just last week in a very convincing way. However, a combination of team fatigue (do Scheyer and Singler ever actually come out of games?) and athletic teams they will face in the tournament will expose these guys, per usual.

Behind Duke is a group of teams that are missing one key ingredient from unseating them at the top. Despite what the standings may say Clemson, Ga Tech and Maryland are next in line. All of these teams suffer in the mental capacity department. Georgia Tech has the most physical and imposing front line in the conference but Derrick Favors Stud Freshman is a bit of an idiot at times.

Clemson has one of the best players in the league in Trevor Booker, but the rest of the team is known to skip out on large chunks of game action. Plus, we’ve all seen their song and dance routine before.

Maryland has quite possibly the biggest headcase in the league, Greivis Vasquez: always a threat for a triple double, and also for a clunker. Gary Williams’ squad has been hard-pressed to find talent (and wins) but this year they have surprisingly jumped up in the standings. But just as often as they are apt to pull off an emotional home win, they are just as likely to lay down and let one get away.

The next tier includes the likes of UVA, Wake, VT and FSU. An interesting group of teams, they have just a little bit more trouble putting it all together than the previous group and they go about it in vastly different ways. UVA is just an abomination of basketball. Slow-paced buffoons now that Tony Bennett has rolled into town, these guys will bleed you to death (or go on a game sealing 18-0 run against the Heels) and have fun doing it. I do not care for this junk brand of basketball, but JPJ can get rocking so I’ll leave them be (just wear a tie, Tony).

Wake was gutted by early defections but the best of the lot, Al-Farouq Aminu (which by the way means ‘the chief has arrived’—how badass is that) stuck around and is carrying the squad. With Ish Smith learning that 135 mph is not always the best pace to play and some sharp-shooting freshmen, Dino has got a competitive squad.

The Noles can be summed up much better by the author of the blog but I’ll give my brief two cents. Long up front and stingy on the defense, Leonard Hamilton has got something going. Inexperience in big time atmospheres is a major undoing, but Solomon Alabi is a hoss and he and Chris Singleton get it done.

Virginia Tech has an energetic coach in Seth Greenberg who specializes in complaining about the size of the NCAA tournament (because his teams aren’t good enough to make it) and who can take a dynamic wing scorer or 2 (Malcom Delaney in this installment) and surround them with some glue guys and post bangers. As is the case every year since they joined the ACC (and quite a surprisingly successful addition) they will be battling to avoid joining what could be the last year of the NIT as we know it (thanks again, ESPN and NCAA).

Next is the dregs of the ACC. Miami, NC State, BC and (oh God, say it aint so) the Heels. As you can imagine, this will be mostly about the Heels. Miami benefitted from some weak non-conference scheduling and has come hurtling back down to earth in ACC play.

BC is a plucky bunch under Al Skinner, who seems to always field a competitive team without much fanfare. Mr. October and the other 3-4 players they have that seemingly all play the same position will jump up and grab a win here and there, but are far too consistent to make major noise. Come to think of it, they should be up a tier.

State is just State. What a sad sack of fools. Constantly feeling inferior (and for good reason) they haven’t done anything of note except for getting hot in Tampa one March since Herb left.

That leaves the Heels. I’d like to think they can get hot and finish somewhere close to .500, but what have you seen this year to make you think that will happen? The absence of Tyler Zeller has been more crushing than expected as there is no pop off the bench. Ginyard has regressed to the skill level of a JV highschooler and nobody on the team seems to give a care. Pride and toughness are foreign concepts and outside shooting has roughly the same success rate as me running a marathon. But, they’re the Heels and Roy is still their coach so a run to the tournament is still likely (who am I kidding, NIT! NIT!).

~~ Sale

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mark McGwire Took Steroids

I feel compelled to write on this topic since it's kind of a big deal right now, so I'll give my two cents on Mark McGwire admitting to taking steroids in the past.


Was I the only guy who saw him go from this to this?

Not to mention the fact that Jose Canseco mentioned him in his book, Juiced, which has a batting average of about 1.000 right now. If Jose dropped your name, chances aren't good that you were clean. Luckily for me, Cal Ripken Jr.'s name is nowhere near that book. If it were, everything about my childhood would be meaningless and I could be found sitting out on the curb in front of my house, drinking hard liqour, wondering what the meaning of life is right now. Seriously.

Let me also say that I believe Mark McGwire should still be in the Hall of Fame. This guy was putting up numbers before he started juicing. 49 bombs in his rookie year? 104 combined in the three seasons after that? It's pretty clear that this guy was going to hit home runs regardless. Despite being injured and missing most of the 1993-94 seasons, he still put up 583 career homers. Yes, I know that some of those years are tainted by his steroid use, but you can't tell me that we're going to strip 100+ homers from his career total because of the juice. That just won't work for me.

If we're to believe he juiced from 1995 (post-injury) to 2001 (retirement), that gives us seven years with which to work. If we subtract 10 home runs per season in each of those seasons (which is really steep, but will help prove my point even better), he still ends up with over 500 career home runs. To put it bluntly, the guy is a Hall of Famer no matter how you slice it. Sure you can talk about the "purity of the game" or "cheating the game" or whatever; but the fact remains that he didn't break any rules with what he did, and there's no evidence that he ever broke any rules to get to the level at which he played. Skinny Mac would have made the Hall of Fame, so how can we keep out McGwire for what Big Mac did? It just doesn't make any sense.

I don't know if McGwire coming forward about his steroid use will help or hurt his Hall of Fame chances, but I don't care, either. I know a Hall of Fame player when I see him, and Mark McGwire is a Hall of Famer. I don't like that he used steroids, nor am I defending his usage. However, let's not pretend like we all weren't captivated by the 1998 home run chase with McGwire and Sammy Sosa when we all knew they were juicing. We'd all seen the before-and-after pictures; there was more than a good diet happening there. To go back now and penalize him for something we turned our heads away from then is just stupid. Yes, what we did as fans then was wrong, but we should be mature enough to admit it.

You know, like Mark McGwire did.

~~ Lank

Lane Lands in Los Angeles

I was at trivia tonight, getting my brains beaten in because one of the categories was vague-as-it-sounds "classic cars" when I noticed the TV showing some breaking news.

Lane Kiffin will succeed Pete Carroll at USC.

Wow. That's a surprise. Kiffin had only been at Tennessee for a year, and I figured that with all of the posturing and trash-talking that he'd done in his short time in Knoxville, he'd be around for the long haul.

Apparently not.

In just about every sense, this move works for the Trojans. Mike Garrett, USC's AD, has come out smelling like a rose despite the fact that he's fumbled the twin NCAA investigations on his campus right now. Kiffin brings a sense of familiarity and comfort to the USC program. Though he hasn't been on campus since 2006, he knows what it takes to win at USC and was a good coordinator for Carroll until he departed to become head coach of the Oakland Raiders. The transition should be a seamless one for USC.

Though it's true that we're not entirely sure how good of a coach Kiffin is due to the small sample size with which we've been provided, I'm impressed with the staff he's putting together. Norm Chow, the revered offensive whiz, is leaving crosstown rival UCLA to come back to USC, where he coached from 2001-2004; Monte Kiffin, Lane's dad, is a highly-respected defensive mind and will follow his son to L.A.; Ed Orgeron, a valuable assistant who is noted for his terrific recruiting abilities, will also go with Kiffin to USC. Considering that offense, defense, and recruiting are the big three components of any college team, Lane has done a great job of filling those needs. The position coaches will be named later, but with the leadership of the aforementioned guys, the Trojans should keep on rolling.

Where does Tennessee go from here? I have no idea, but I think it's funny that Lane Kiffin treated them like a mid-major school. After the Volunteers unceremoniously dumped one of the most winningest coach in their program's history, Phillip Fulmer, they thought they had a young guy that would lead them to the promised land again and again in Kiffin. Instead, he dumps them for a hotter girl in a different part of town and leaves them heartbroken and confused. I hate to say what goes around comes around, but it's kinda funny. I would be laughing harder, but I see the same thing happening to my beloved Seminoles in the near future...but I hope I'm wrong. If I'm the Vols, I just repeat what I did when I fired Fulmer: find the best coach available. Forget about looking in the Tennessee family, forget about trying to get creative; just find the best coach. My first call would be to Kevin Sumlin, the current head coach at Houston. He's shown the ability to put productive offenses on the field, and was a valued commodity at offensive coordinator at Oklahoma prior to that. He knows what to do with expectations and would be a good fit for the program. The ball is in your court, Vols.

Lane Kiffin will be a good fit at USC; mark it down. The only question is, can he win at the level Pete Carroll did? Considering few coaches have won at Carroll's rate in the history of college football, I'm skeptical; but given the hand they were dealt, the Trojans did about as well as could be expected with their hire.

Can Tennessee do the same?

~~ Lank

Friday, January 8, 2010

Army-Navy, Edition #110

Fortunately for America (and also readers of Skip To My Lank), my homeboy, Lefty, is a proud member of the United States Navy. As a member of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Lefty has gotten to do some amazing things, some of which include great road trips to Navy football games. I asked him if he'd do a recap of his attendance at the Army-Navy game, and luckily he agreed to do so. The following is his report. Lefty, thanks for the material, but more importantly, thanks for being a part of the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen. We all owe you one.

For most of America, the Army-Navy game is an event of slight note – something you hear about every year, that you might watch (depending on how much you like sports), but that doesn’t have much affect on mainstream life. I’m hear to let y’all know that it is an entirely different experience when you go to the Naval Academy (and I assume it’s similar at the Military Academy (no, their official name is not actually West Point, that’s just where it is; and yes, I just used parentheses inside of parentheses)).

For us, it doesn’t start a day, week, or even month before the game. For us (by the way, the “us” at the Naval Academy are referred to as Midshipmen, NOT lowly cadets. “Middies” ain’t that cool either. “Mids” works best. I’m here to entertain and educate), it starts when we first show up to the Academy for Plebe Summer, and we’re taught how to “chop.” Chopping is what plebes (freshmen for the uninitiated) have to do inside Bancroft Hall (the “dorm” where all 4,500 of us live – work with me on the parenthetical references, there’s a lot of jargon). It consists of running down the middle of the hallway wherever you may be inside Bancroft, greeting everyone that’s not a plebe with “Good (morning/afternoon/evening) (sir/ma’am)” and squaring corners. Squaring a corner hopefully sounds like what it actually is: whenever you make a turn, you turn at a 90 degree angle. When you do, you have to yell out either “Go Navy, sir” or “BEAT ARMY, sir.” From day #1, we all want to beat Army.

The week before the game is known as “Beat Army week,” or just “Army week.” The stated purpose of Army week is to raise the spirit of the Brigade (that means all of us Mids) in the week leading up to the game, but that is far from what happens. Mostly, it’s just college kids that are stuck on the Yard (the campus/base) 4-6 days per week cutting loose and doing crazy stuff, such as water balloon/condiment/actual fights in the Hall, sometimes even stuff that’s not mentionable with Baseball Mom possibly skimming this. Plus there are the King Hall antics (King Hall is where we all gather to eat 3 times a day. It fits 4500+, so keep in mind that it’s huge.). Wildmans are most popular (someone, usually a plebe, dumps water on an upperclassman’s head, then runs like hell, because if they get caught before they get back to their room, they’re in trouble), with “Beat Armys” a close second (upperclassmen mix whatever they can find at the table in a cup, a plebe stands on their chair and tries to gulp it all down as everyone cheers them on and hopes that they fail in spectacular fashion). Don’t get me wrong, there are good-hearted pranks in there too, like stealing all of a woop’s (see #4 here) uniforms, forcing them to wear whiteworks, the plebe summer uniform (basically what you would make someone wear if you wanted them to look like a complete idiot). In short, it’s a crazy week. Especailly now that the actual game has been pushed back from the first weekend in December to the second, so that we don’t have to compete with the conference championship games, and thus Army week is now the same as the last week of classes. Nothing like trying to bang out that last paper with madness reigning in the Hall.

The pregame festivities usually have some juice, but I was really disappointed this year. One of the annual staples is the entrance of the Leapfrogs (Navy SEALs) and whatever-the-hell-the-Army-calls-their-parachuting-team. The real fun of this is how much each side is invested in their landings. If one of our guys comes in for a sweet landing, we roar our approval. If one of their’s rolls like a tumbleweed, we again roar our approval, in as mocking of a way as possible. The problem this year was that we had 3 jumpers, and they had about 46. Ok, 46 is hyperbole, but you get the idea. It made no sense. Of course, the flyovers are the real spectacle anyway, so it was all good. Or at least it should have been. For reasons beyond me, there was no F/A-18 (what I want to fly, no less) flyover as scheduled. I was more disappointed than Baron Davis when Elton Brand left him at the altar (keep in mind this was before Brand showed how washed-up he is by scoring 6 fewer points and grabbing 3 fewer boards per game than his career averages – and if you don’t know what that’s talking about, just know that I was really disappointed. Like when your grandma buys you an ice cream cone, only you’re a kid so you run around and drop the ice cream on the ground).

Given that this whole thing revolves around a sporting event, you were probably expecting some kind of insider description of the contest from someone that was there. So here it is: it was boring as hell. More so than usual for a team that has not thrown a single pass in two separate games in the past two years (granted it was pouring rain for both games, and coach Ken Niumatalolo is scared to pass when the weather is perfect, but c’mon – we didn’t throw once, in 2 hours of game time!). It was 3-0 Army at halftime. The teams combined for 434 yards of offense, 324 yards below the per game median across the nation. The teams combined for 10/28 passing (a whopping 36% completion percentage), for 138 yards, 1 TD, and 2 interceptions. At least the running was spectacular, right? WRONG. Exactly one person averaged more than 4 yards per carry. That player, Navy’s Marcus Curry, provided both the longest run and pass reception of the game, at 16 and 25 yards, respectively. This game was more conservative and boring than the Fox News Channel. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated that our boys stuck it to Army for the eighth year in a row (we’re at 7 in a row against Air Force, by the way), and we got to taunt the Cadets again. There’s no feeling quite like all of us Mids chanting “WATCH OUR BOWL GAME!” in unison at the cadets, especially when we denied them their first bowl bid since ’96, along with singing Blue & Gold (our alma mater) at the top of our lungs after the game. I’m just saying that the actual game was overwhelmingly forgettable.

Next year is my last at the Naval Academy, and thus my last Army-Navy game as a Mid. Now I can’t promise a close contest, or even any football worth watching (this year’s game could happen again. Could). All I ask is that if you haven’t before, give Army-Navy a shot. If the game is boring, you can easily move on with your life. December 11th, 2010, probably at 2:30 again, on CBS as always. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch me in the crowd.

~~ Lefty

P.S. If you do watch, make sure you catch the flyover. Nothing like the roar of four F/A-18s rolling by. Also, don’t expect much from our marching. We really don’t care. USMA does, but we’ve figured out that marching in line became useless when our forefathers decided to run around and duck behind trees for cover to repel the Redcoats.

NFL Fourth Quarter Report Cards

Ahh, playoff time in the NFL. You know what that means; rematches galore, and people scrutinizing every move of the players and coaches. Even during non-game days. It also means that it’s time for me to deliver the fourth quarter report card for each team. Some teams finished strong, other teams finished like Denver always does. Remember that the grades are based on the final four games of the regular season and nothing else. Colts fans, cover your eyes.

Dallas Cowboys (11-5): Quite the quarter for the ‘Boys. How bout ‘em? Ending New Orleans’ winning streak, shutting out two divisional foes to close out the season, and a home playoff game all have to have the Dallas faithful downright giddy. It remains to be seen if the lack of a go-to guy (still) will affect Tony Romo in the playoffs, but this is a team with a lot of positive energy and momentum right now. I wouldn’t want to play them in game one. Does Philly? Grade: A-

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): Maybe I’m the bad guy, but I’m not as enthused about the Eagles’ final run as most people are. The Giants were a mess offensively against good teams, yet threw up 38 points in a loss to Philly. An underachieving Denver team nearly stole a win at Philadelphia, and the Eagles look lifeless in the season finale against Dallas when the division title (and, by extension, a home playoff game) was on the line. I don’t have much faith in these guys right now, to be honest. Grade: B-

New York Giants (8-8): What an embarrassing way to finish the season. I mean, really, where’s the pride? Despite being behind the eight ball to make the playoffs, the Giants showed absolutely no urgency and got absolutely pantsed by the Panthers and Vikings to close the season. Looking back on it, 10-6 wouldn’t have made the playoffs anyway, but they didn’t know that when they were 8-6, so why is it that they played like it? What disgrace. Grade: F

Washington Redskins (4-12): Hey, at least you hired Mike Shanahan, one of the top five coaches in the NFL in the last decade. I know that has nothing to do with the final quarter of the season, but I’m including it anyway because it’s my blog. Sue me. Grade: C

Minnesota Vikings (12-4): I hate to blow my own trumpets, but I sort of feel like saying, “I told you so.” I mentioned in last quarter’s report cards that I wasn’t sold on the Vikings, because they’d been beating up on orphans and bowing down to bullies. The Cincinnati win was pretty impressive, but the losses to Carolina and (especially) Chicago showed just how vulnerable this team can be. Does anyone really think they’re going to the Super Bowl? Yeah, me neither. Grade: C+

Green Bay Packers (11-5): Don’t look now, but the Packers are one of the hottest teams in football. The only thing standing between them and an 8-game winning streak is a last-second laser from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace. They’ve been sound in every phase of the game and have a ton of mojo heading into Arizona (again) this week. With the Cardinals licking their wounds, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see the Cheeseheads get their first playoff win of the Aaron Rodgers era. The first of many? We shall see. Grade: A

Chicago Bears (7-9): The Bears underachieved this year. Lovie Smith did a bad coaching job. Jay Cutler was worse than advertised. Devin Hester may or may not be alive. Firing the staff and keeping Lovie won’t solve anything. The win against Minnesota was fun to watch. That’s all I have for the Bears. Grade: C-

Detroit Lions (2-14): Did the Lions get any better this year? I have my doubts. They were kinda plucky to start the season, but haven’t really advanced at all. There were some close games sprinkled in with mostly double-digit losses, but their fourth quarter results weren’t much different than their first quarter results. I know they’re young and untalented, but I can’t say that I saw much improvement with Detroit this year. Maybe next year. Grade: D

New Orleans Saints (13-3): If you ever want the guide on how not to close out a potentially historic regular season, Sean Payton and company would be happy to share it with you. After being outplayed by Dallas, the Saints face-planted in a loss to Tampa Bay (no really, they lost to the Bucs) before closing the year with a mail-in performance against the Panthers. Not a lot of positive vibes coming from this team heading into the playoffs. Grade: C

Atlanta Falcons (9-7): What do you know? Matt Ryan returns and they promptly win 3 straight games to close out the season. It’s unfair to blame backup Chris Redman for any issues because I don’t think they would have beaten the Eagles or Saints with a healthy Ryan, but it’s good to see them post the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. This Mike Smith guy can coach, apparently. Nicely done, sir. Grade: B+

Carolina Panthers (8-8): To recap the Cats’ quarter, I asked their number one fan, Skip, for his thoughts, as always: “The Cats opened the final quarter with an uber-conservative effort in a loss at Foxboro. The trend looked to continue through 3 quarters with the Vikings until Matt Moore and the coaching staff loosened it up, sparking a 3-game win streak in which Moore showed he may be ready, 28 (Jonathan Stewart) showed he can handle a full load, and the defense finally fully adapted to Meeks’ system with positive results in both points allowed and turnovers forced. This team is earmarked for a deep playoff run next season.” Like I’ve always said, Skip is the master of the 62-word sentence. Grade: A

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13): They played well this quarter. Two wins, both on the road, against one good opponent (New Orleans) and one bad opponent (Seattle). Raheem Morris still looks completely overwhelmed as coach, but I’m never a proponent of firing a guy after one year in any sport. Maybe the Bucs can capitalize on this final quarter and have a semi-decent year next year. And maybe they’ll bring back the peach jerseys on a permanent basis as well. Grade: B-

Arizona Cardinals (10-6): The term “going through the motions” comes to mind. After beating Minnesota, the Cardinals had essentially locked up the division, so they took their foot off the gas down the stretch. Wins against Detroit and St. Louis are nothing to scream about, and the losses to San Francisco and Green Bay showed a team that is just ready to start the playoffs. Be careful what you wish for with a red-hot Packers team coming to town. Grade: C

San Francisco 49ers (8-8): Let’s see: beat Arizona, St. Louis, and Detroit; lost to Philadelphia. What am I supposed to gather from that? Oh yeah, that they’re a decent team with some nice talent that could possibly challenge for a division title in a year or two, but just isn’t very good right now. Their 8-8 record is a perfect representation of their season. Grade: C+

Seattle Seahawks (5-11): What a disappointment. Jim Mora, Jr. took over for Mike Holmgren and promptly ran the Seahawks into the ground. Now he's gone. Matt Hasselbeck is starting to look (and act) OLD, there is still no running game, and the T.J. Houshmandzadeh signing didn’t exactly light a fire under the offense. There are a ton of problems with this team, but maybe the bad season will allow them the luxury of getting rid of some of their aging talent and start anew. They lost their final four games by a combined 86 points. Ouch. Grade: F

St. Louis Rams (1-15): They didn’t finish with another win this season, but they kept playing hard and I commend the Rams for that. I know it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose, but with the dearth of talent in the Gateway City right now, effort is about all that can be asked of this team. And they delivered on that front. As an aside, was I the only one who found it humorous when Keith Null’s stats would flash across the bottom of the screen, making it look like the computer had made a mistake and put “Null” in the place of the actual player? Oh, I was? Ok, never mind then. Grade: C

New England Patriots (10-6): The Wes Welker injury basically ruins everything for New England. Tom Brady only looks deep to Randy Moss about 8 times per game now, and every other pass is thrown short to Welker to move the sticks. With him gone, their chances of winning the Super Bowl are non-existent. It’s that simple. On the bright side, they won 3 of their last 4 heading into the playoffs. Grade: D

New York Jets (9-7): What weird team. Their running game and defense are both fantastic, but they’re just not very good as a whole. They don’t scare anybody, and I guarantee you that every playoff team would love a chance to play them in the next round. As for their final quarter, they won 3 of 4, but lost to Atlanta, beat Tampa Bay, beat the Colts JV, and beat the Bengals JV. Am I supposed to be impressed? I hope not. Grade: C+

Miami Dolphins (7-9): Well, Miami went out with a whimper. Losing three in a row to go from potential playoff team to sub-.500 team? Not exactly the way to close out the year. Oh well, you can’t win division titles every year, I guess. Grade: F

Buffalo Bills (6-10): A friend of mine is from the Buffalo area and I contemplated going with him to see the Colts-Bills regular season finale. Then I realized that by Week 17, we’d be resting our starters and they’d be starting God-knows-who at various positions. And that it’d be -51 degrees and probably snowing. Then I decided against it. Based on what I saw as I watched the game on TV, a great call by the Lankster. Grade: C-

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): A fun team to follow simply because they have so many characters on the team. But a maddening team to follow because I still haven’t been able to peg them. Early on, they were a strong defensive team with a good running game that could complete a clutch pass or two thanks to Carson Palmer. Now, they’re a good defensive team with a solid running game and no passing game to speak of thanks to Carson Palmer not having any targets. I hope they beat the Jets Anyway, their final quarter showed that they can play with San Diego but also sink to the depths of Kansas City. Basically, they play up or down to their competition. Grade: C-

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7): They won their last three, but only after they had an embarrassing loss to Cleveland. If you’re a Steelers fan, how frustrating is it to know that all you had to do was beat ONE of the following teams and you’d be in the playoffs: Cleveland, Oakland, Kansas City. That’s the list. Not good, Mike Tomlin; not good at all. Now go polish up that Super Bowl ring and get right for next year. Grade: B

Baltimore Ravens (9-7): They didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they ended up making the playoffs anyway. Winning 3 of their last 4 helped, but the Raiders game showed how unexplosive (is that a word?) their offense is. And no, Willis McGahee’s anomaly performance doesn’t count. Why doesn’t Ray Rice score more? I don’t kow either. Grade: B

Cleveland Browns (5-11): Four wins to close out the year? By the Brownies? Wow, color me impressed. In brown, I guess. Now pay Josh Cribbs, please. He’s your best player and probably your best quarterback, too. $1.4 million per year isn’t good enough. Grade: A

Indianapolis Colts (14-2): Damn, here we go again. After all of my ranting, raving, hoping, and wishing, Jim Caldwell is essentially giving the starters three weeks off and expecting them to be sharp for the playoff game in two weeks. Were it not for the fact that this method has never worked for us before, I wouldn’t be concerned. But when you consider that teams with bye weeks in the playoffs haven’t fared so well in recent years, this move makes me nervous. I still think we have the best team in the AFC, and possibly the NFL, but if we don’t come out sharp from snap one, it won’t much matter, will it? Sigh. Grade: D

Houston Texans (9-7): Four wins in a row to close the year almost got the Texas into the playoffs. They needed the Jets to lose to the Bengals, but that didn’t happen. Regardless, Houston fans should be excited for next year as Matt Schaub showed that he’s ready to be a premier quarterback in the NFL, and Andre Johnson has already shown that he’s a premier receiver. Add in an ever-improving defense, and the Texans are looking at a playoff spot next year. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Grade: A

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): 7-5 to 7-9 with losses to Miami and Cleveland. Yeah, that’s not very good, Jags. But hey, at least you can draft Tim Tebow now in an attempt to garner some more fans before you move to Los Angeles, right? Grade: F

Tennessee Titans (8-8): Chris Johnson got 2,000 yards, but gets demerits for promising his linemen cars if he hit the mark, only to actually reward them with Rolexes. Not that a Rolex is a bad gift, but it’s not a car. Then again, this is also the guy who predicted a 10-game winning streak after they started 0-6, so take it for what it’s worth. Grade: B

Denver Broncos (8-8): New coach, same result: a choke job that prevents them from making the playoffs. Losing to Oakland and Kansas City isn’t exactly the way to set up your postseason chances. I’m just saying. Ask Pittsburgh, they’ll tell you the same thing. Denver’s slide + Florida getting housed by Alabama = Lank not calling Big Brother until Opening Day in April. Grade: F

San Diego Chargers (13-3): No hotter team in football right now. They’ve won 11 in a row and are clicking on all cylinders heading into the postseason. Philip Rivers has been masterful, and people still think LaDainian Tomlinson is a quality back even though he didn’t touch 100 yards in a game this year. As did none of their backs. Mr. Rivers, your table is ready. Grade: A

Oakland Raiders (5-11): Two things, Oakland: first, thanks for letting my boy Sebastian Janikowski kick a 61-yard field goal. That was awesome. Second, hire Mike Leach to make your team watchable again, even when Sebastian isn’t kicking 60+-yard field goals. That’s all. Grade: D

Kansas City Chiefs (4-12): Lost to Buffalo and Cleveland, but beat Denver? Umm, ok. I guess that’s good, right? Because isn’t Chiefs-Broncos one of those fabled NFL rivalries I’m supposed to care about? Or is that Chiefs-Raiders? Or Broncos-Raiders? Ah, forget it, I don’t want to waste any more of my time trying to figure it out…oh wait, isn’t it Cowboys-Redskins? Never mind, I got my Indian mascots mixed up. Sorry about that. Grade: D+

~~ Lank

Can I Get A Do-Over?

You don’t want to say it? Fine, I’ll say it.

Last night’s BCS National Championship game was a huge ball of disappointment.

Obviously, the disappointment comes from Colt McCoy’s injury. Considering he had Texas down on the goal line on their first drive of the game, it’s fair to think that the score wouldn’t have been 24-6 in Alabama’s favor for much of the game had he been able to go the distance. I’m not normally one to deal in definites like “oh, if this-and-this had happened, then that-and-than would’ve happened.” However, I think it’s pretty clear that if Colt McCoy plays 60 minutes, Texas wins the national title.

Consider this: Alabama’s quarterback, Greg McElroy, completed six passes all night. Yes, 6. S-i-x. The Tide gained a total of 263 yards, 205 of which came on the ground. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson were fantastic for Alabama and I’m not taking anything away from their performances, but the Tide offense wasn’t exactly rolling last night (no pun intended). Texas turned the ball over 5 times (4 Garrett Gilbert picks and a Gilbert fumble), yet Alabama was only up three midway through the 4th quarter. Can you honestly tell me that you think McCoy would’ve turned the ball over even half that much? He certainly wouldn’t have thrown the shovel-pass-turned-interception-for-a-touchdown right before the end of the first half. As easily as Gilbert began moving the chains once he was able to clean the urine from the inside of his pants, do you think McCoy wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing for longer than the quarter that Gilbert did?

Another aspect of this is that Alabama held the ball for nearly 34 minutes. Not a huge disparity in time of possession, but it’s more than the totals; it’s the length of possessions. Here are the times of Texas’ drives in the first half after McCoy went out with his injury: 1:07, 1:44, 1:49, 0:55, 0:47, 1:30, 0:26. All told, the Longhorns had 10 drives in the game that lasted LESS than 1 minute and 10 seconds. The defense constantly had to run back out on the field after getting a less than 70-second break. This fed right into Alabama’s gameplan of running the ball with Ingram and Richardson, and going on prolonged marches down the field. Had McCoy played, it’s fair to say the defense would have been a lot more rested. Would that have slowed the running of the Tide’s two great backs? It’s hard to say for sure, but it would have been interesting to see. Especially since slowing the running game down would have forced McElroy to throw more often; and he was sacked 5 times in the game while, again, only completing 6 passes. I like Texas’ chances if they get to see more of that.

At the end of the day, Alabama is the 2009 national champion and the history books will show as much. Nick Saban and his team had a terrific season and should be respected as champions. For those of us who watched the game, there will always be a huge “what if” attached to the outcome, but that shouldn’t take away from the accomplishments of the Crimson Tide. Based on the results, Alabama is the best team in college football.

As long as Colt McCoy isn’t playing.

~~ Lank

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Taco Bell Denise Is Hot

At first, I thought it was just me. Then, I asked a couple people and they agreed. After that, I did a Google search to see if anyone else shared my opinion. The next thing I know, I realized that I'm merely one of thousands that enjoys the (virtual) company of one lovely young lady.

Taco Bell Denise.

The name doesn't ring a bell (a-thank you)? Allow me to jog your memory/stimulate your sense of sight.

Taco Bell Denise is hot. Apparently, according to an inside source (thanks, 'Moo), Taco Bell Denise's real name is Nikki Danielle Moore, and she was in a few episodes of "8 Simple Rules" on ABC a few years back. I prefer to call her Taco Bell Denise (never TBD, because there's nothing 'to be determined' about her; she's a fox), and I really hope that she transfers locations to my neighborhood Taco Bell as soon as possible. I already visit the Bell too much as is, can you imagine how much I'd frequent the place if Taco Bell Denise worked there? My goodness, I'd probably get a restraining order placed on me or something. I'm like the guy in the commercial; I'd be much more comfortable ordering with Denise, too.

I'm not quite sure if Taco Bell Denise has captured my heart the way Anna Kendrick has, but let's just say that Taco Bell Denise has tons of momentum right now. Not only is she easy on the eyes, but she works at frickin' Taco Bell. In addition to exemplary companionship, Taco Bell Denise can also offer to bring over tacos and nachos galore when she finishes a shift. Obviously, Anna Kendrick can probably afford a taco or two, but is it the same? I say no. Taco Bell Denise is just a humble, hard-working member of the retail world; what's not to like about that? At the end of the day, I can't make a decision until Taco Bell Denise's commercial goes off the air and I'm able to spend some time away from her. You never know what you have until it's gone, right?

But if I get my way, that spot will never go off the air, and it'll run on a loop every time the show I'm watching has to cut to a commercial break. Long live Taco Bell Denise.

~~ Lank