Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why The ACC Beat The Big Ten Again

Another ACC-Big Ten Challenge is in the books, and for the eighth time in as many attempts, the ACC has come out on top in the basketball showdown. On four of those occasions, the ACC wound up with a one-game advantage, but this time it was a decisive 8-3 edge. Why did the Big Ten come up short again? Here are some reasons.

Air Force: Wednesday night, the Falcons pummeled Wake Forest - the one ACC team not participating in the Challenge - by 36 points. Clearly, the Big Ten needs to add some service academies to take down the ACC.

Hillary Clinton: The Big Ten is headquartered in Park Ridge, Illinois, hometown of the New York senator. The conference followed her example, since she doesn’t play well in the South.

National Hockey League: The Challenge began on Monday, when visitors from Michigan saw a “Home of the Stanley Cup Champions” sign in Raleigh. Confusion immediately ensued.

Big Ben: “Big Ten” sounds like “Big Ben,” and both Ben Roethlisberger and Ben Wallace had a tough week.

Football Conference Championship: Shortly after a 1-2 matchup between Ohio State and Michigan, Big Ten schools were amused to hear that the ACC football championship game will match Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Periodic fits of giggling interrupted many Big Ten game plans.

Abbreviations: It’s cool for college students to talk in shorthand. The Atlantic Coast Conference is usually abbreviated, but you never hear anyone call the Big Ten Conference the BTC.

James Delany: The Big Ten commissioner is a North Carolina alumnus, so he still has a soft spot for his old conference.

2004-05 Michigan State: The Spartans lost to Duke in the Challenge but later eliminated the Blue Devils from the Sweet 16. Counting on NCAA tournament rematches, many Big Ten teams thought it would be best to lose now.

Network Programming: ABC and CBS clearly favor the ACC. It’s Boston Legal and CSI: Miami, not Bloomington Legal and CSI: West Lafayette.

The Eyes Don’t Have It: Both the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Ohio State Buckeyes lost their games. Other body parts were undefeated, as the North Carolina Tar Heels triumphed.

Cocktails: The Big Ten fared well in games involving alcoholic drinks, as the Purdue Boilermakers edged Virginia, and Northwestern topped the Miami Hurricanes. Unfortunately, there were nine other matchups. Next year, expect Big Ten press releases to refer to the Duke Blue Hawaiians and the Virginia Tech Fighting Martinis.

Dry Floors: In 2001, a Challenge game between Michigan State and Virginia was cancelled due to condensation on the Richmond Coliseum court. UVA was leading in the second half when the game was called. This year, no courts were too wet for play, so every Big Ten team had to play the entire second half.

Williams: The ACC is the league of the Williams, and Roy and Gary both won their Challenge games. So Minnesota was doomed as it took on Clemson in Williams Arena.

Florida-UCLA: The Big Ten is 2-0 in Challenge games featuring a rematch of the previous spring’s national championship game (Maryland-Indiana in 2002, North Carolina-Illinois in 2005). No such opportunity arose this time, since the Gators and Bruins refused to switch conferences for this event.

Quirky Trophies: Big Ten football showdowns often have a kitschy prize at stake, such as The Old Oaken Bucket or The Little Brown Jug. The conference would take the Challenge more seriously if an item from Cracker Barrel went to the winner.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Denzel Washington Named Alabama Football Coach

On Monday, Mike Shula was fired as the head football coach at the University of Alabama. Shula went 26-23 during his four years, including an 0-4 mark versus hated Iron Bowl rival Auburn. University officials did not take long to find their next man. Reports from Tuscaloosa are indicating that Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington will take over as Bama football coach.

Washington could not be reached for comment, but details on a press conference are reportedly forthcoming. In the meantime, many college football observers are stunned that such a storied program would be put into the hands of an actor. However, Denzel was so convincing as coach Herman Boone in Remember The Titans, athletic director Mal Moore had no doubt that he could inspire victories at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Moore is certain that Washington can lead the Crimson Tide, since he already played the lead in Crimson Tide. The athletic department apparently wanted to land him as soon as possible, since his experience in The Hurricane also made him a front-runner for the vacant Miami job.

Denzel does add many assets to the Bama program. The team’s offense often struggled under Shula, but Washington’s recent box office performance proves that he knows how to put up big numbers. Also, while the school surprisingly has never had a Heisman Trophy winner, the new coach brings two Oscars to Tuscaloosa. The largest impact of all should be seen in recruiting. With the handsome movie star on the sideline, all the mothers of high school football players in the state will beg their sons to go to Bama.

Tide fans treasure the illustrious history of the program, and Denzel can tap into that proud tradition. Having portrayed an angel in The Preacher’s Wife, he can ascend into heaven whenever he wants advice from Bear Bryant. He also has a link with one of the most famous players ever to don an Alabama uniform, since he teamed up with Forrest Gump in Philadelphia.

Most importantly to Bama fans, Washington’s Oscar-winning performances prepared him for showdowns with the team’s most bitter rival. Denzel was first honored for Glory, which depicted the intense combat of the Civil War. To football fans in Alabama, the film captured the spirit of the Iron Bowl. In winning for Training Day, Washington got the nod over nominees such as Tom Wilkinson from In the Bedroom. If he can beat one Tom when the stakes are high, Tide fans are confident that he can take down Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

The hiring also addresses a controversy that arose when Shula got the job. Many observers felt that Alabama missed a historic opportunity in not hiring alumnus Sylvester Croom, who later became the SEC’s first African-American head coach at Mississippi State. Now there is a clear sign that things have changed in the state of George Wallace, since Bear Bryant’s position will be occupied by the guy who played Malcolm X.

However, Denzel’s hiring is not completely without controversy. Some school officials are fearful that he will overextend his authority and abuse his players during training camp. They point out that a past Training Day with Washington resulted in rampant drug use and violent gunplay. However, athletic department officials downplayed such concerns. Moore remarked, “If there’s a day we think about, it’s not Training Day. It’s the Third Saturday in October.”

In the meantime, Denzel will surely soak up some football insight in St. Louis, where son John David Washington is a member of the Rams’ practice squad. This time, he’s not just preparing for a role. He’s preparing for “Roll Tide!”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Neighborhood Nastiness: The Weekend's In-State College Football Showdowns

Last week, Auburn took down Alabama in arguably the most bitter in-state college football rivalry of all. Next Saturday, UCLA hopes for a huge upset that would end USC’s national championship aspirations. However, this weekend was the biggest showcase for in-state showdowns. Some were more high-profile than others, but they all delivered more nastiness than a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving. Here’s a recap.


Texas A&M 12, Texas 7: Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy threw three interceptions and suffered a pinched nerve in his neck. It was simply a rough week for Colts in Texas.

Oregon State 30, Oregon 28: After the Ducks’ defeat, the Oregon trainer took the “Civil War” billing a little too seriously, amputating the legs of three injured players.

Ohio 34, Miami (Ohio) 24: Miami finished a dismal 2-10 season. As a result, Larry Coker was fired again.


Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 0: The Hokies recorded their fourth home shutout of the season. If Virginia is for lovers, why can’t guys score when they go to Blacksburg?

North Carolina 45, Duke 44: The John Bunting era at UNC came to an end with the victory. A final game at Duke is the best parting gift a football coach could want.

East Carolina 21, North Carolina State 16: With Duke off the schedule, the Wolfpack can’t seem to find a local team they can beat. On the bright side, Chuck Amato can call Bunting for moving advice.

South Carolina 31, Clemson 28: Now we know why Steve Spurrier was a bad fit for the NFL. He has to be at a place where he ends the regular season against a Bowden.

Georgia 15, Georgia Tech 12: Despite the loss, the Yellow Jackets head to Jacksonville for the ACC championship game. Too bad this week’s contest wasn’t held there – the Bulldogs have no idea how to win in that city.

Florida 21, Florida State 14: Even with the win, the Gators are unlikely to wind up in the BCS top 2. Thanks to South Florida, the Seminoles (and Canes) aren’t even in the top 2 of the Sunshine State.

Mississippi 20, Mississippi State 17: The Rebels edged the Bulldogs in the Egg Bowl. To celebrate, players opted against the traditional Gatorade, instead dousing coach Ed Orgeron with a bucket of raw eggs.

Oklahoma 27, Oklahoma State 21: It will be just like old times as Oklahoma and Nebraska square off for a conference championship. As was so often the case back then, the winner takes on Boise State.

Arizona State 28, Arizona 14: The Sun Devils won the battle for the Territorial Cup. They can bring the Cup to a participating Chili’s for free margaritas.

BYU 33, Utah 31: The Cougars scored the winning touchdown with no time remaining. They chose not to win earlier, since they are the Latter-day Saints.

Rice 31, SMU 27: The loss leaves the Mustangs’ bowl hopes in jeopardy. If a 6-6 Conference USA team can’t make it to a bowl game, clearly there’s no justice in the world.

Florida Atlantic 31, Florida International 0: You can throw out the records when these two square off. At 0-11, FIU sure hopes so.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Tom Hanks-Themed Recap Of MLB's Award Winners

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was named as the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player on Tuesday. With that announcement, the list of individual award winners for the major league baseball season is now complete. As a two-time Academy Award winner, Tom Hanks can relate to the honorees. Having portrayed manager Jimmy Dugan in A League Of Their Own, Hanks is certainly in favor of promoting excellence in baseball. With that spirit in mind, here is a Tom Hanks-themed recap of MLB’s 2006 individual award winners.

Justin Morneau, AL MVP: The Terminal. Viktor Navorski was thrilled to arrive at JFK Airport but was not allowed to leave. Similarly, the Twins were excited to make the postseason but then went nowhere.

Ryan Howard, NL MVP & Hank Aaron Award: Philadelphia. The city’s sports outlook is often more depressing than the movie, but the Phillies’ slugger gives even the most pessimistic fans hope.

Johan Santana, AL Cy Young Award: Cast Away. What batters usually were against the major league leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. They’d love for Santana to get stranded on a desert island.

Brandon Webb, NL Cy Young Award: You’ve Got Mail. Hanks and Meg Ryan fell in love on the web. The Arizona Diamondbacks are in love with their Webb.

Justin Verlander, AL Rookie of the Year: Sleepless In Seattle. If the Detroit Tiger’s right arm holds up, he’ll cause hitters in Seattle and every other American League city to lose sleep.

Hanley Ramirez, NL Rookie of the Year: Catch Me If You Can. The Florida Marlins’ lead-off man used his speed for 51 stolen bases and 119 runs. However, his club was far more low-budget than a Spielberg movie.

Jim Leyland, AL Manager of the Year: Punchline. The Tigers were a long-time joke before Leyland took over. This season, only their World Series fielding provided comedy.

Joe Girardi, NL Manager of the Year: Joe Versus The Volcano. Girardi faced impossible odds in leading the inexperienced Marlins. After his one season, the front office sent him on the Road To Perdition.

Derek Jeter, AL Hank Aaron Award: The Ladykillers. The New York Yankees shortstop is reportedly dating Jessica Biel, the latest in a long line of babes. She thinks he’s a better kisser than A-Rod.

Jim Thome, AL Comeback Player of the Year: Big. The huge designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox slammed 42 home runs. And he’s only 13!

Nomar Garciaparra, NL Comeback Player of the Year: Toy Story. Woody and Buzz Lightyear played with a little guy. Nomar plays for a guy named Little.

Mariano Rivera, Delivery Man Award: Saving Private Ryan. No one saves better than Rivera, and he does it efficiently. He’d have had Matt Damon home in half an hour.

Carlos Delgado, Roberto Clemente Award: Nothing In Common. A comparison of the payrolls for Delgado’s former (Florida Marlins) and current (New York Mets) teams.

Tomorrow is a day to give thanks. Today, I’ve been happy to give Hanks.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rough Weekend On The Road For Unbeaten Football Teams

In one of his most famous songs, Willie Nelson proclaims, “I can’t wait to get on the road again.” Because he is Willie Nelson, he was probably stoned when he first uttered those words. Players from Michigan, Rutgers, and Indianapolis certainly think so. This past weekend, the road was a nasty place for undefeated football teams.

Saturday in Columbus, second-ranked Michigan fell 42-39 in a showdown with #1 Ohio State. Every matchup between the Buckeyes and Wolverines is hugely anticipated, but the buildup for this game was off the charts. Friday’s death of Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler made the occasion even more emotional. After the game, Bo’s spirit reportedly received a wedgie from the ghost of Woody Hayes.

In addition to those two icons, there was another presence from beyond this world in Ohio Stadium. At least that’s what the Wolverines would tell you about OSU quarterback Troy Smith, who gave them fits for the third straight year. Smith threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns while ending the Heisman Trophy race. Fans of the X-Men movies love to watch Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Much to his chagrin, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr will tell you that there is also a Buckeye superhero.

Amazingly, the Wolverines want another crack at Smith, and they might get it in the BCS national championship game. Michigan remained #2 in the BCS rankings, although USC has a good chance of jumping into that spot with wins over Notre Dame and UCLA. For once, UM supporters will eagerly root for the Fighting Irish, who were routed by the Wolverines in September. There is hope for fans in Ann Arbor, since they’re depending on a loss by the Men of Troy – not the man named Troy.

Rutgers also exited the state of Ohio in defeat after entering with a perfect record. Cincinnati trounced the seventh-ranked Scarlet Knights 30-11. The visitors from New Jersey had been the darlings of college football, entering the top 10 last week for the first time since the AP poll began in 1936. In another 70 years, they might even crack the top 5.

The Bearcats’ upset continued the Big East’s “Pay it Forward” theme for historic, program-building victories this month. On November 2, host Louisville knocked off #3 West Virginia. A week later, the Cardinals were the third-ranked unbeaten visitors, falling to Rutgers. Then the Scarlet Knights did their part in Nippert Stadium on Saturday. However, the chain apparently will break as Cincinnati visits Connecticut next weekend. Voters inexplicably left the 6-5 Bearcats out of the top 10, so Cincy is under no obligation to lose to the Huskies.

Sunday was no easier on unbeaten visitors, as the Indianapolis Colts fell 21-14 to the Cowboys in Dallas. The Colts had already won tough road games against the Giants, Jets, Broncos, and Patriots. Indy seemed particularly prepared for this trip, since the team features a tight end named Dallas. Late in the third quarter, Dallas Clark gave the Colts a 14-7 lead with a touchdown reception from Peyton Manning. However, the Cowboys compensated in the fourth quarter with two touchdown runs from Indianapolis Barber, better known as Marion.

The result left no NFL teams undefeated, further cementing the legacy of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. For at least one more year, those 17-0 Dolphins will remain the only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. As they enjoyed their customary champagne Sunday night, they surely toasted Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 19 of 23 passes in his first home start. The Dolphins differed in that respect from the Cowboy coaches, since Terrell Owens is the one who drives them to drink.

Like Ohio State, Boise State managed to remain undefeated by staying at home. Even without injured star Ian Johnson, the Broncos routed Utah State 49-10 on the blue turf to go to 11-0. However, they are hoping that the road spell wears off before next weekend as they travel to 8-3 Nevada. Otherwise, coach Chris Petersen will understand how Tony Dungy felt on the Colts’ sideline on Sunday. One bid for perfection was dashed by Romo. Another would end in Reno.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sports Before and After

Every once in a while, I pay homage to my Jeopardy! experience with another installment of “Sports Before and After.” As with the “Before and After” category on the show, the answer to each clue combines two different subjects, with the end of the first part being the beginning of the second. For example, if asked for the female race car driver who had a Hall of Fame career as an NHL goaltender, you would answer “Danica Patrick Roy.”

Now that you’re prepared, go ahead and try your luck! Answers are listed at the end, and there’s no need to phrase your responses in the form of a question. For more “Sports Before and After” fun, feel free to check out my first and second installments. As a matter of tradition, the first question always involves UNC.

1. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” singer who’s a force in the paint for the Tar Heels

2. All-time strikeout record holder who hosts American Idol

3. George H.W. Bush campaign promise about a Baltimore Ravens safety

4. Milwaukee Bucks sharpshooter who starred on Sanford and Son

5. Film starring Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell about a Los Angeles Dodgers manager

6. Ohio State quarterback whose abduction brought about the Trojan War

7. Classic Steppenwolf song about Dwight Howard’s team

8. Legally Blonde star who played shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers

9. Big East member who sang “Maneater”

10. Don Johnson TV show about a two-time NBA MVP

11. Prison, named after a Buffalo Bills linebacker, where Sir Walter Raleigh was confined for 13 years

12. Beatles song about a 1980s New York Mets slugger

13. Evander Holyfield nickname, taken from a hit NBC game show

14. Hit Blondie song about Michigan’s star running back

15. Casablanca-inspired Woody Allen comedy about a Los Angeles Clippers guard

16. First day of Lent, named in honor of a late tennis star and activist

17. Lambeau Field franchise connected to a food product that Charlton Heston screamed was “PEOPLE!!!”

18. New Toronto Blue Jays signee who’s a locomotive in a children’s TV series and books

19. Pittsburgh Penguins star who sang “Woodstock” and “Teach Your Children”

20. Tearjerker starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts about an All-America guard for Alabama

21. Rob Schneider comedy about a legendary Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster

22. USA For Africa song about a female teenage golf sensation

23. Harvard Law School-set John Houseman film about a Philadelphia Phillies second baseman

24. “Playhouse” and “Big Adventure” star who coaches the Kansas City Chiefs

25. 1995 Heisman Trophy winner who hung out with Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer


1. Bonnie Tyler Hansbrough

2. Nolan Ryan Seacrest

3. Ed Reed My Lips, No New Taxes

4. Michael Redd Foxx

5. Grady Little Miss Sunshine

6. Helen of Troy Smith

7. Orlando Magic Carpet Ride

8. Pee Wee Reese Witherspoon

9. Seton Hall & Oates

10. Steve Nash Bridges

11. Tower of London Fletcher-Baker

12. Darryl Strawberry Fields Forever

13. The Real Deal Or No Deal

14. Michael Hart of Glass

15. Play It Again, Sam Cassell

16. Arthur Ashe Wednesday

17. Soylent Green Bay Packers

18. Frank Thomas the Tank Engine

19. Sidney Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

20. Ronald Steele Magnolias

21. The Hot Chick Hearn

22. Michelle Wie Are The World

23. The Paper Chase Utley

24. Pee-Wee Herman Edwards

25. Eddie George Costanza

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why Oral Roberts Beat Kansas

The college basketball world was stunned Wednesday night as Oral Roberts upset #3 Kansas in Allen Field House. The talented but young Jayhawks, along with Florida and North Carolina, were part of the trio of national championship contenders that dominated preseason forecasts. However, the Golden Eagles provided some early-season humility to their hosts. The following reasons explain how ORU accomplished the biggest win in school history.

University Namesakes: Kansas told us that all we are is dust in the wind. Oral Roberts said he had a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus. That’s way cooler.

Team Nicknames: The Golden Eagle is a majestic bird of prey. The Jayhawk is a mythical bird representing a cross between a blue jay and a sparrow hawk. So it’s not even real.

Home Cities: KU is located in Lawrence, while ORU calls Tulsa home. Last Thursday, Joey Lawrence was eliminated from Dancing With the Stars. In the past week, no one named Joey Tulsa was booted from a reality show.

The Simpsons: Ned Flanders was noted as an alumnus of Oral Roberts University. Kansas has a loose connection to the series with guard Mario Chalmers. But Superintendent Chalmers is much less prominent on the show than Flanders. D’oh! Stupid Flanders…

Ancient Egypt: The Golden Eagles’ lineup featured guards Shawn King and Ken Tutt. In terms of evoking great civilizations, Kansas couldn’t match the King/Tutt combo.

Towson: KU’s next game is Sunday against Towson. The Jayhawks were caught looking ahead to the showdown with the Tigers.

New York Jets: With Sunday’s win over Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, Jets coach Eric Mangini showed that he could go on the road and take down his mentor. Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton, who was brought to ORU by current KU coach Bill Self, was duly inspired.

Coach’s Influence: It is often said that a team adopts its coach’s personality. That would make the Kansas players Self-ish. Being Sutton-ish isn’t nearly as bad.

Kathie Lee Gifford: The former talk-show host attended ORU. As the sidekick to Regis Philbin for 15 years, Kathie Lee showed that she could be part of a successful team. The current Golden Eagles have learned from her example, so they also talk constantly about the Gifford children.

2006 NCAA Tournament: Both schools were eliminated in the first round. But ORU’s conqueror (Memphis) defeated KU’s eliminator (Bradley).

Dress Code: While less restrictive than in the past, classes at Oral Roberts University still adhere to a dress code. As of last year, the same goes for the NBA. So Oral Roberts emulates basketball at the highest level.

College Football: The Kansas football team has a rivalry game this weekend with Kansas State. Oral Roberts does not have a football team, so the campus had no such distractions.

USA! USA!: In their first game since Veterans’ Day, the Golden Eagles had Adam Liberty in the starting lineup. No names in the Jayhawks’ starting lineup were nearly as patriotic.

2004-05 UNC National Champions: The Tar Heels began their title campaign with a loss in California to West Coast Conference member Santa Clara. Similarly, ORU opened this season by falling at Loyola Marymount of the WCC. Therefore, great things were bound to happen for the Golden Eagles.

Brandon Rush: The Kansas guard was due some bad karma after his comments that Michael J. Fox had exaggerated the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Oh sorry, wrong Rush.

Wednesday’s shocker came two nights after Vermont stunned #14 Boston College. This time, the Eagles were on the right side of the upset ledger.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

BCS Hopefuls Caught Looking Ahead To Ohio State-Michigan Showdown

Anticipated all season, college football’s marquee matchup is set as #1 Ohio State and #2 Michigan will enter next Saturday’s showdown with undefeated records. This past week, fans wondered whether the Buckeyes and Wolverines would be caught looking ahead against Northwestern and Indiana, respectively. Both powerhouses cruised to victory, but most of their pursuers in the BCS standings were not so fortunate. The Ohio State-Michigan game is so eagerly awaited in the college football world, it caused the #3, 5, 6, and 8 teams to lose focus and fall from the national championship race.

The first strike came Thursday, as #3 Louisville fell to #13 Rutgers 28-25 in a Big East showdown. The result was further evidence of what we have seen from professional sports. Cardinals can win championships in baseball, but not in football. The Scarlet Knights’ dramatic victory came one week after Louisville celebrated in similar fashion against West Virginia. Apparently every Thursday this November, one Big East team will accomplish the biggest win in school history. So this Thursday night, look for the Cincinnati Bearcats to knock off the Bengals. As for Rutgers, one forward-looking writer foresaw their rise to glory back in September: Why Rutgers Will Win the National Title.

Also in September, Louisville accomplished what #5 Texas could not manage on Saturday: triumph at Kansas State. The Longhorns saw their dreams for a repeat championship dashed in a wild 45-42 defeat. Quarterback Colt McCoy scored a touchdown on the Longhorns’ opening drive, but a shoulder injury sustained on the play ended his evening early. While his Heisman and national title hopes are gone, there was some good news for McCoy on Saturday. A confused bystander was thwarted in his attempt to drag the injured Colt to the glue factory.

In completing four passes on his one drive, McCoy equaled the total for the entire game of Auburn’s Brandon Cox. Always mindful of showing southern hospitality to his visitors, Cox also completed four passes to Georgia defenders in a 37-15 debacle for the #6 Tigers. The upset came a week after bitter rival Alabama fell 24-16 to lowly Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa. Always trying to upstage their Iron Bowl adversaries, Auburn proved that it could accomplish an even more miserable home loss to an underdog group of Bulldogs.

Ohio State and Michigan were surely on the mind of #8 California, as the Bears hoped to play the winner on January 8 in Glendale, Arizona. The Bears made an early trip to Arizona this weekend, but they dropped a 24-20 heartbreaker in Tucson. Perhaps the Buckeyes did not receive the same message that reached Cal and Texas on their trip to Northwestern. This weekend, top 10 teams were apparently supposed to lose if they were on the road against Wildcats. The field at Arizona Stadium does hold a message that proved prophetic on Saturday. The mantra “Bear Down” is inscribed on the field, and the visiting Bears obliged by going down.

After Ohio State and Michigan, only #7 USC had a comfortable week among the top 8 as the Trojans routed Oregon 35-10. #4 Florida struggled mightily with visiting South Carolina but survived, 17-16. Jarvis Moss was the hero, blocking a 48-yard field goal attempt at the end, as well as an extra-point try by the Gamecocks earlier in the fourth quarter. Perhaps Moss was inspired by the “Block” sign held by Burt Reynolds in one of the Miller Lite “Men of the Square Table” commercials. If so, Reynolds is sorry he ever came up with the idea. A former Seminole would never want to help the Gators.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld Joins Knicks' Coaching Staff

One day after the eventful mid-term elections, further change was evident in Washington as President Bush announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Bush has nominated Robert Gates, a former CIA director and current president of Texas A&M University, as Rumsfeld’s replacement. As for the outgoing secretary, he will make the move from the Pentagon to Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks head coach and general manager Isiah Thomas announced that he has hired Rumsfeld as an assistant coach.

Thomas described Rumsfeld as a great fit for the Knicks due to his record during the Iraq war. The feeling was mutual from Rumsfeld, who stated, “The New York Knicks have shown a commitment to spending outrageous sums of money, with little success to show for their efforts. That’s my kind of team!” In hiring the outgoing secretary, Isiah reportedly went against the advice of Bobby Knight, his coach at Indiana. As a General, there was no way Knight could endorse Rumsfeld.

The new assistant does provide New York with a reminder of the team’s glory days. Rumsfeld is a Princeton alumnus who comes to the team after a career in politics. Bill Bradley was a Princeton graduate who went into politics after a career with the Knicks – highlighted by the 1970 and 1973 NBA championships. Bradley was regarded as a team player who would pass up a shot if he could set up a teammate with a better one. Similarly, during the Bush administration Rumsfeld has been content to leave the shooting to Dick Cheney.

The secretary did have some interaction with the Knicks during his tenure at the Pentagon. The same questionable intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq was also responsible for New York’s first round selection of Renaldo Balkman. Even more notable was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal that led to widespread calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation. Defense Department officials regretfully acknowledged that some prisoners had been forced to watch an entire Knicks game on DVD.

New York had some good news Wednesday night, as Jamal Crawford’s 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds remaining capped a 109-107 road win over the Denver Nuggets. While encouraged by the result, Rumsfeld reiterated the Knicks’ need to stay vigilant on the long road to success. “We will remain committed to winning the war on turnovers,” he declared. Rumsfeld added, “New York must always remember 9-11,” referring to the days when the Knicks were good enough for a 9-11 record after 20 games.

Upon joining New York, the outgoing secretary will find numerous similarities to his previous line of work. The Knicks’ defense, like the Department of Defense, is often a target of ridicule. The United States has become bogged down in the Middle East, while the Knicks have struggled in the Eastern Conference. Rumsfeld is not interested in international alliances, so he is happy that New York is a rare NBA team with only U.S.-born players on its roster. He is also unconcerned about potential clashes with high-maintenance guard Stephon Marbury, remarking that Marbury “can’t hate me as much as the Democrats in Congress did.”

Before the Iraq war, Rumsfeld was quoted as saying, “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” That remark lives in infamy, along with Cheney’s statement that “we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” However, Rumsfeld does expect warm greetings to be commonplace during his time with the Knicks. Opposing players and fans will be very happy to see them.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Football Weekend Ruled By Colts

Saturday at Churchill Downs, Argentina-bred colt Invasor galloped to a one-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Perhaps Invasor could have done even better if the horse had been wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. In both college and pro football, this was a great weekend for the Colts.

An eventful Sunday in the NFL was capped by the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-20 road victory over the New England Patriots. Although Indianapolis won in Foxborough last season, the Patriots were still considered the Colts’ nemesis for beating them in numerous significant contests on the way to three Super Bowl championships. Sunday’s game, like most of the recent matchups between them, took place in Gillette Stadium. The venue has brought frequent heartbreak to Indy quarterback Peyton Manning, and not just because of the losses. Gillette is one of very few American companies not to feature him in a commercial.

However, Tom Brady was the quarterback who suffered Sunday night, as the Colts defense picked him off four times. Manning threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns as Indianapolis improved to 8-0 on the season. The Colts are two games better than anyone else in the AFC, and the Chicago Bears’ stunning home loss to the Miami Dolphins leaves Indy as the NFL’s lone unbeaten. Once again, the shadow of the 1972 Dolphins will loom over the Colts while they remain without a loss. However, those old Dolphins cannot faze Manning, unless they show up in Indianapolis wearing Florida Gator uniforms.

One day before Indianapolis came through in New England, another Colt sparked a victory in Austin. Freshman quarterback Colt McCoy threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns as Texas routed Oklahoma State 36-10. McCoy set a UT record for TD passes in a season with 27, just two shy of the NCAA freshman season record. Colt further injected himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion and helped his Longhorns remain in the national championship race. His good fortune even spread to Texas fans, as television reports are claiming that Matthew McConaughey is the new football coach at Marshall.

On November 24, Colt McCoy will take his shot against the hated Texas A&M Aggies. Saturday, Hawaii’s Colt Brennan was on display against the Utah State Aggies, throwing for 413 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-10 domination. Brennan has a school record 39 TD passes on the season, with five games remaining to try to eclipse David Klingler’s NCAA single-season record of 54. Under coach June Jones, the Warriors annually pile up huge numbers through the air, but they have no shortage of skeptics when they travel to the mainland. Saturday’s rout in Logan, Utah is further evidence that Colt Brennan and his teammates can be lethal on the road as well. Therefore, it is time to discard the notion that the Warriors cannot succeed on the mainland – unless you’re talking about the NBA.

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis noticed how successful Colts were over the weekend, so he has made a major addition to the roster before tonight’s game with the Seattle Seahawks. The team signed Colt Seavers, the character portrayed by Lee Majors in The Fall Guy. As a stunt man who moonlights as a bounty hunter, Seavers fits in well with the Raider image and should be a natural on special teams. Oakland passed on another Majors character, Steve Austin, because his habit of running and jumping in slow motion would be disastrous in today’s NFL. Austin still hopes to join another team, insisting that he can succeed as long as his teammates know how to make bionic sound effects.

Saturday and Sunday’s football action was surely enjoyed by the man who portrayed Lando Calrissian. Billy Dee Williams was the height of smoothness in his commercials for Colt 45. Over the weekend, his favorite beverage was not the only Colt that “works every time.”

Friday, November 03, 2006

Big East Denies Venue Change Request By Louisville For Rutgers Game

The University of Louisville was a festive place Thursday night as the fifth-ranked Cardinals topped #3 West Virginia 44-34 in an undefeated Big East football showdown. After the biggest win in school history, the program seems to be in prime position to reach the BCS national championship game on January 8. However, Louisville must travel to fellow unbeaten Rutgers next Thursday night. The Cardinals have already been dealt a setback, as the Big East has denied Louisville’s request to move the game to a neutral site.

Like last night’s contest, the Louisville-Rutgers matchup will be the weekly Thursday night ESPN game. The home team has won eight of the ten Thursday night ESPN matchups this season, including the last five in a row. In four of those last five, the road victim was a ranked team. With those factors in mind, Louisville requested that next Thursday’s showdown be moved to Pittsburgh – roughly halfway between the two schools. Coach Bobby Petrino pointed out that ESPN will be in Pittsburgh the following Thursday night as the Panthers host West Virginia. He argued that broadcasting from Heinz Field a week early would benefit the network, since the practice run would help the Pitt-West Virginia telecast go more smoothly.

However, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese rejected the request, so Louisville must tackle the same challenge that befell last night’s victim at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. West Virginia hosted a Thursday night ESPN game on September 14, dominating Maryland 45-24. Things did not go so well when they were the Thursday night visitors this time. The Cardinals took control in the third quarter after returning a Steve Slaton fumble and a punt for touchdowns in short succession. Despite his 156 yards and a touchdown, Slaton’s night was marred by two lost fumbles, a wrist injury, and the knowledge that his national championship and Heisman Trophy hopes were gone. Even worse, he had completely forgotten to Tivo Grey’s Anatomy.

The Mountaineers’ neighbors in Virginia experienced similar highs and lows on Thursday nights. Virginia Tech fell from the rankings after a 22-3 setback at Boston College on October 12. They returned to the top 25 after dominating #10 Clemson 24-7 two Thursdays later in Blacksburg. Similarly, Virginia stood and watched the Calvin Johnson Show in Atlanta on September 21, falling 24-7 to Georgia Tech. Four Thursdays later in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers routed North Carolina 23-0. The victory was assured when UVA looked across the field and saw that they were playing UNC.

The only two Thursday night ESPN games to be won by the visitors both involved South Carolina. The Gamecocks won at Mississippi State 15-0 on August 31, but fell to Auburn 24-17 in Columbia on September 28. With that in mind, Petrino asked South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier if the Cardinals could borrow the Gamecocks’ uniforms for the Rutgers game. However, South Carolina will travel to Florida in a high-profile matchup next Saturday, so The Head Ball Coach did not want any further distractions. To latch onto any karma he can, Petrino plans to periodically throw a visor during the Rutgers game.

The Thursday night pattern contradicts the claim of the “Monday’s Child” nursery rhyme. Children learn that “Thursday’s child has far to go.” The line suggests that Thursday will belong to the team that travels the most distance. This example is further evidence that nursery rhymes show no understanding of college football. Therefore, ESPN has abandoned plans to add Mother Goose to its broadcast team.

Now Louisville must buck the odds as it travels to New Jersey to take on Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights. The Cardinals are not as fortunate as fellow unbeaten Boise State. The Broncos dominated Oregon State 42-14 on the blue turf in a Thursday night ESPN game on September 7. Since then, they’ve had a “TGINT” attitude for all their road games: Thank God It’s Not Thursday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Country Music-Themed Guide To College Basketball's Preseason Top 15

This Monday, excellence in country music will be celebrated at the 40th annual CMA Awards in Nashville. The festive occasion comes as college basketball fans gear up for another exciting season on campus. The preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll has already been released, offering an opportunity to combine these American institutions. Each of the top 15 teams relates in some way to a country music star of the past or present. Here is an analysis.

15. Boston College: Keith Urban. Married to Nicole Kidman, Urban can be overshadowed by the glamorous company he keeps. The solid, but under-the-radar Eagles get the same treatment around UNC and Duke.

14. Memphis: Garth Brooks. As a powerhouse stuck in Conference USA, John Calipari’s Tigers have “Friends In Low Places.”

13. Texas A&M: Merle Haggard. Haggard turned his life around after being released from prison. Aggie opponents will learn the same lesson about A&M’s backcourt star. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the (Acie) Law.

12. Alabama: Alabama. I completely racked my brain coming up with that one. Ronald Steele will make sweet music in Tuscaloosa.

11. Duke: Charlie Daniels. He brought us “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and the Blue Devils hope to be in Georgia for the Final Four. Just in case, Coach K is devoting extra practice time to fiddling drills.

10. Arizona: The Judds. Another group of Wildcats is famously cheered on by a Judd. So Lute Olson decides that he can do even better with two of them.

9. Wisconsin: Tammy Wynette. Best known for “Stand By Your Man,” the late Wynette would have loved the tenacious defense of Bo Ryan’s Badgers.

8. Georgetown: Rosanne Cash. As the offspring of a famous father, Johnny Cash’s daughter would fit in well with coach John Thompson III and forward Patrick Ewing, Jr.

7. LSU: Big and Rich. After another stellar season in Baton Rouge, Glen Davis will soon be a Big AND Rich Baby.

5 (tie). UCLA: Dolly Parton. The Bruins’ revival has come under coach Ben Howland’s deliberate style, so “9 To 5” could be a halftime score.

5 (tie). Pittsburgh: The Dixie Chicks. The Panthers are expected to battle Georgetown for Big East supremacy. So like the Bush-bashing trio, they’ll make enemies in Washington.

4. Ohio State: Kenny Chesney. Like Chesney’s marriage to RenĂ©e Zellweger, Greg Oden’s partnership with the Buckeyes will last four months. Oden hopes to win a national title in his one season at OSU – the only way Maurice Clarett should ever be his role model.

3. Kansas: Sara Evans. Evans withdrew from Dancing With the Stars while still in competition. Similarly, KU’s past two seasons have resulted in premature exits from The Dance.

2. North Carolina: Kenny Rogers. You might have expected Faith Hill, as there is much faith in Chapel Hill among Tar Heel fans. But the name Kenny Rogers seems appropriate when “Tar” is mentioned.

1. Florida: Carrie Underwood. The American Idol winner hopes to be honored Monday for “Jesus Take the Wheel.” The defending champs also believe in Biblical guidance, being led by Noah.

We’re still many months away from knowing how the brackets will look. However, there could be a little bit of March Madness in Nashville on Monday. So don’t be too surprised if the award for Male Vocalist of the Year goes to George Mason.