Friday, September 30, 2011

The Fate of USC

 Is USC over?

They certainly looked lifeless on Saturday night after Arizona State walked all over them, 43-22.

Suddenly that 3-0 record, fashioned mostly by squashing minor teams, was 3-1. SC had taken a shot to the gut and simply wilted.

SC did some things right, but they were overshadowed by all the blunders--ten penalties, four turnovers, third-down failures and missed tackles. The clumsy defense made a good running  back, Cameron Marshall, look like Jim Brown.

 Surprising loss? Not to savvy insiders, who'd been predicting for weeks this take-down in Tempe, citing:
       First: After three relatively easy victories in the cozy confines of the Coliseum, the team had to face a hostile road crowd.
       Second: By the fourth quarter, in that near 100-degree desert heat, the Trojans would look like they were running through a field of molasses.
       Third: They were starting five freshmen, which translates into a raft of mistakes.
       Fourth: Arizona State is by far the toughest team on the first part of the schedule.

After this loss, the Trojans are clearly reeling. What they need is a strong dose of motivation. But that may be in short supply considering they are in penalty hell, with bowls and a conference championship off the table. What do these guys have to play for?

And don't forget, there's another scandal lurking in the background. Coach Kiffin was just cleared of breaking recruiting rules when he was head man at Tennessee. Now former SC assistant Willie Garza, who also worked with Kiffin at Tennessee, is being linked to another violation back then. Since Kiffin was the boss, he is, by implication, being dragged back into the muck along with Garza. A dark cloud over Kiffin is a distraction SC doesn't need right now.

The Trojans may not be dead just yet. They face a lifeline in the form of Arizona this Saturday. This is the kind of team you want to play coming off an ugly loss. Arizona, to put it mildly, is a mess. Let's list the positives. There's a sleek passing offense, led by QB Nick Foles, one of the nation's best. That's it for the positives.

 Listing the negatives, where do you begin? The defense is near the bottom in national stats. The D line is bad, but the O line is worse, which rules out any running game. And on and on...

There's a glimmer of hope for Arizona, though. Its 1-3 record includes wallopings by three of the country's finest--Oklahoma State, Oregon and Stanford. So possibly Arizona isn't quite that bad. Maybe it'll have more success playing a team like SC--one more in its league.

The Trojans are hoping that 1-3 record means what a 1-3 record usually means.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SEC: LSU Rules

Well, whadda ya know. The AP voters finally got a clue. They dropped Oklahoma to second place in the college football Top 25, elevating LSU to the throne after the Tigers impressive 47-21 road win against No. 16 West Virginia.

 Not that it was pretty. LSU lost the total offense war, 533-366, and its secondary was toasted, allowing QB Geno Smith to pile up 463 yards. But LSU was never seriously threatened.

 Oklahoma has been top dog all season in the AP poll, but didn't really deserve the honor. Its lone notable victory was over Florida State which, it turns out, is overrated.

Here's a rule of thumb, based on the undisputable fact that the SEC conference is the best in college football. Whenever there's a powerhouse SEC team that's mowing down mighty opponents, that should be the No. 1 team. Right now that's LSU.

 But despite all their talent, the Tigers are an odd No.1 team. First of all, they've survived scandals, one prompting the suspension of starting QB Jordan Jefferson, that would have ripped apart most teams. Also, they're doing all this without any offensive superstars. Their leader is a QB, Jarrett Lee, who's an unspectacular, efficient (64.6% completions, one pick) game manager who's just keeping the seat warm for Jefferson. And how many No.1 teams can say their best player is a cornerback (Tyrann Mathieu)?

 What makes LSU particularly No. 1 worthy is that, this season, it has departed from the SEC's much maligned norm--padding the pre-conference schedule with patsies at home. This time LSU, with the exception of Northwestern State, loaded up on ranked heavyweights from other major conferences--Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia--all on the road, no less. And the Tigers bullied them all.

 Some AP voters soured on Oklahoma last week because the Sooners didn't destroy Missouri, but instead staggered to a 38-28 victory. You lose No. 1 votes when you fall behind 14-3 at home, playing an unranked opponent.

 But Oklahoma is still kingpin somewhere else. The voters in the Coaches Poll still have it wrong, once again naming the Sooners No. 1. Wake up guys, wake up.

 Speaking of waking up, in other SEC news, Vanderbilt certainly woke up.  Its dream undefeated season turned nightmare with a 21-3 trampling in South Carolina. Vandy's offense was pathetic, amounting to only 77 yards and five first downs. Not that South Carolina's defense is that sturdy. It's been battered all season. But in this David-Goliath battle, David didn't have a prayer.

 Vandy couldn't even capitalize on Carolina QB Stephen Garcia's miserable, four-interception day. The only fun in this snoozer was watching Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's sideline explosions as Garcia made gaffe after gaffe.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cal Vs. Washington Betting Tips

California (3-0) at Washington (2-1): Line started with Washington favored by 3 but slipped to a pick 'em by game time.

The Bears are still a mystery. Beating ordinary Fresno State, lousy Colorado and woeful weakling Presbyterian doesn't mean much. No one yet knows what kind of team this is, particularly since there's  raw QB Zach Maynard at the helm. He may throw a long, dazzling TD bomb or screw up an easy five-yarder.

The list of Bear negatives is long, including an average of nine penalties a game,  botched hand-offs and drive-killing dropped passes. Special teams, at times, have been a disaster, with bungled PATs the biggest headache. There are some major red flags, topped by a lucky OT road victory against Colorado, which destroyed the Cal secondary for 474 yards.

 But there are reasons to back the Bears. They've been successful on 45% of their third-down attempts, a plus against a Washington defense that generally crumbles in third-down situations. The Bears have a superior defensive front seven that should overpower the Washington O line. Overall Cal's defense is much better, with the ragged Washington D near the bottom in key national stats.

 Something's gotta give in the Washington running game. Cal's nationally ranked run defense is surrendering a meager 2.3 yards a carry while the Huskies' Chris Polk, a longtime Bear nemesis, is not only averaging 120 yards a game but has crossed the 100-yard mark in five straight games. Whoever wins that battle is likely to win the game.

 The Huskies have stained Cal's seasons the last two years. Last season was a particular killer, with the Huskies beating Cal, 16-13, on the final play of the final game, a heart-breaker that booted the Bears out of a bowl bid and into the abyss of a 5-7 season, Jeff Tedford's first loser as Cal coach.

 So far, Washington, with unimpressive wins over Hawaii and Eastern Washington and a stumble in Nebraska, has been so-so. But in the Huskies' favor:  QB Keith Price, a scrambling wizard, has been very effective and may be tough for the Bears to corral. The biggest Husky advantage just might be that the game is in Seattle--and Cal rarely plays its best on the road.   

 This one, which could be high-scoring, is a coin flip. The key factor may simply be that Cal is a feeble road team and they're playing on the road.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Boxing Buzz

 Did I hear right?

 In an upscale pet food store in West Los Angeles, two women--sixtyish, stylish, possibly Beverly Hills matrons--were gossiping about, of all things,  a welterweight fight.

 Eavesdropping, I swear I heard one of them gush:
  "I just heard this on the radio. This HBO announcer (Larry Merchant) and this fighter--Floyd Mayweather I think his name is--were screaming at each other about something. The fighter said the announcer should be fired and the announcer screamed that if he were younger he'd fight the fighter. They were screaming back and forth. It was incredible. I couldn't believe what I was hearing."

 Neither could I.

 These women clearly weren't fight fans. They wouldn't know a welterweight from a paperweight.
But they know a juicy celebrity battle when they hear one.

 They were chatting about the interview that followed the title fight Saturday night in Las Vegas between Victor Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather. The bout ended in controversy, with a fouth-round KO. Here's what happened: Ortiz, who couldn't penetrate Mayweather's steel-curtain defense, head-butted his opponent, prompting the ref to briefly halt the fight. A split-second after it resumed and before Ortiz was ready, Mayweather wobbled him with a surprise left and then finished him with a head-rattling right.

 Was the left that set up the KO a cheap shot?  Without question.

 Why would Mayweather, who was in complete charge, stoop to something like that? That's what  commentator Larry Merchant--and everyone else--wanted to know.

 In the post-fight interview, Merchant tried to get an explanation from Mayweather, who didn't think he did anything wrong. All Merchant got from the champ was venom. Undaunted, Merchant fired back. Turns out the real main event was the Merchant-Mayweather verbal smackdown.

 One of the women in the pet store said to her friend: "I can't wait to hear that interview." If these two were talking about the fight, others, like them outside the fight realm, were probably doing the same thing.
 Boxing could use some mainstream buzz like this. It's been on the ropes for decades and in recent years has been steadily losing fans to ultimate fighting--a hipper, more violent and more youth-friendly sport.   But the next time there's a big boxing match, this current buzz, which seems to be luring some unlikely onlookers, just may translate into bucks.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rick Neuheisel, R.I.P.?

Picture this.
Fast-forward to the end of this UCLA football season, with the team blemished by the stain of another ugly 4-8 record.  Three victories were unimpressive, including a brutal beat-down of the Cal Bears, who lost to everybody. But one win did sparkle--the 35-34, season-ending, trimming of the snooty Trojans, who clearly took the Bruins for granted.

 The slide started with the Texas trampling and rarely slowed down. Throughout the season, the players looked dazed and confused, inevitably stationed in the wrong place, fumbling and stumbling.

 Head on the chopping block, Coach Rick Neuheisel is about to be guillotined by Athletic Director Dan Guerrero.

 "It wasn't all my fault," Neuheisel groans in the pivotal meeting. "My top two quarterbacks were gone by midseason. That Kevin Prince was accidentally run over by his own players. What am I supposed to do without quarterbacks? Look at who I was stuck with by the end of the season, for Chrissakes.

 "I need better players. Trying to get decent players in this school is getting to be as tough as getting players into Stanford. I know I've been here for a few years but I need more time.  I can upgrade the coaching staff again. That would help.
 "Gimme another shot. I deserve it."

  Guerrero smirked, unsettling visions dancing in his head--visions of the university paying well over a million dollars in contract buyouts for fired coaches.

 A short while later, Neuheisel walks calmly out of the meeting room and is accosted by a mob of students and media, anxious to hear his fate.

 "Well?," they ask.
  Looking oh so self-satisfied, Neuheisel smiles smugly and struts away.
 "Nooooooooooooo!!!!!," wails an anguished student.
  Could this happen...?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Donovan McAwful

You call this an upgrade?

That's how QB Donovan McNabb is being advertised by the Minnesota Vikings--as an improvement over Tavaris Jackson, who was dumped last spring. But after McNabb's showing against San Diego, you can bet Viking fans were screaming "We want Tavaris! We want Tavaris!" The Vikings were kicked around by the Chargers, 24-17, with McNabb leading the stumble.
The "upgrade" posted some appalling stats, completing 7 passes out of 15 attempts, for a laughable 39 yards, with one interception, compiling a pitiful passer rating not far from his age. Constantly in panic mode, looking like he was treading in mud, McNabb was off target most of the time, either too high or too low. He escaped the rush three times for 32 yards but that was more luck than skill.

The offensive line didn't provide stellar support but it was only partly at fault. With the same level of protection, a nimble, slippery QB might have mounted some TD drives.

With the passing game in disarray, the Chargers could ignore it and focus on stopping RB Adrian Peterson, their biggest weapon, who rushed 16 times for 98 yards. Passable,  not dazzling.  With a really threatening passing game, his totals would have been higher.
Viking fans must be sick of this scenario--having a talented team that's held back by a subpar QB. The team had some luck with Brett Farve, so they were poking around again in the stockpile of over-the-hill QBs, finding McNabb,  hoping to score a gem.     

Not this time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Harbaugh Thwarted

When looking at San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, don't believe what you see. 
When the 49ers whipped the Seattle Seahawks, 33-17, he looked happy, but in reality...

In the fourth quarter, the Niners were in trouble, their 16-0 lead whittled down to 19-17. QB Alex Smith was being Alex Smith, the bungler who makes SF fans cringe, who can't execute the offense efficiently enough to string together first downs. With him under center, no lead is safe.
The Niners were poised to blow the game to a bad--really bad--Seattle team. It was almost a sure thing.

Now if you believe the sordid speculations--and I do--Harbaugh would be happy with an 0-16 season. That would put the team first in line in next year's draft to snare the Prize, Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the same, can't-miss player Harbaugh coached when he was head man at Stanford.

This is the  Coach's dream--he and Luck, together again, storming through the NFL, piling up wins the same way they did in college football.

But wait..
Speedster Ted Ginn Jr., runs back a kickoff 102 yards. Then less than a minute later, he strikes again, scoring on a 55-yard punt return, paving the way to a 49er victory.

As the fans and the team are celebrating, Harbaugh is all smiles. But that's not real. Deep inside, you know he's infuriated, thinking: "What the hell...this game was going down the drain, right on schedule, and that damn Ginn ruined everything."
But have no fear Coach Harbaugh, that victory was just a fluke. With Smith at the helm, there won't be that many more victories, or as you prefer to think of them--obstacles on the road to claiming the Prize, Andrew Luck. If it's mediocrity you want--and we know that's secretly what you want--then you have the right klutzy QB in charge.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Brian Kelly is a Loudmouthed Lout

What a  total, complete and thorough ass.

Watching Notre Dame coach  Brian Kelly ranting and cussing at his players on Saturday during their shocking stumble against South Florida, what else could you say? Fuming, eyes bulging, cheeks blood red,  spewing four-letter words...was this the "gentleman" hired by this high-class, glorious, religious university to head its football team, to be the face of that team? You can bet some of the parents who turned their sons over to Kelly felt like they'd been scammed.

Who is this monster?

If the radically underperforming players had been some thugs from the University of Miami or the Oakland Raiders or the roller-derby circuit, no one would blink an eye at that kind sordid meltdown. But is it acceptable on the South Bend sidelines? No way.

Granted there were reasons for Kelly to explode. Notre Dame, then ranked 16th, was being trampled by a so-so South Florida team at half time, 16-0, nailing its own coffin with two fumbles, a killer penalty and an end-zone interception of a boneheaded pass by QB Dayne Crist. The final score, 23-20, doesn't tell the real story. A last minute Notre Dame TD made the game seem closer than it really was.

Instead of verbally scorching his players, Kelly should have been trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. The players needed guidance, not tirades. Though on the ropes the entire game, Notre Dame plied up 508 yards in total offense, while limiting South Florida to 254 yards. Mistakes murdered the Irish.

How do you get a team to play smart, careful yet explosive football? What about teaching with a firm, stern tone? What about treating them like men, like human beings? Notre Dame played like a team that had been feasting on press clippings and was pumped up with hot air and swagger. They were a baloon primed to be deflated. Enter prickly South Florida. The lesson that should have been pounded into those swelled heads is that having more talent than your opponent doesn't guarantee victory.

The floundering Irish needed kid gloves and common sense, not a brutal bashing from its head coach.

So far, the loudmouthed lout hasn't apologized, only half-heartedly admitting "I have to do a better job of controlling my emotions." Talk about your baby steps.

Kelly's primary duty is clear--figure out whether his QB should be Tommy
Rees or Dayne Crist. While screaming at his players, he was probably angry at himself and his staff for initially chosing Crist over Rees. For the Michigan game on Saturday, he's benched Crist in favor of Rees.

This is Kelly's second year. If he wants to stick around for a third year, how about some solid, sensible coaching and some old-fashioned anger management.