Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lane Kiffin Was Robbed

Stanford's David Shaw, Pac12 Coach of the Year? You gotta be kidding.

Anybody who follows Pac12 football knows who's the REAL coach of the year--USC's Lane Kiffin. Oregon's Chip Kelly is actually more deserving than Shaw, who fell into a can't-miss situation. The Stanford coach not only inherited a ready-made championship team from Jim Harbaugh but was blessed with an easy schedule for the first seven weeks. But Kelly, acerbic and snippy, aleniates award voters.

So does Kiffin, but with a different set of negatives. He's smug, snooty and whiny. But he also did the best coaching job in the Pac12 this year.

Remember, when the season started, prognosticators forecast a so-so year for the Trojans due to a laundry list of problems. First of all, they predicted, sanctions that removed the team from championship consideration and bowl games would eat away at players' motivation. Also, experts warned, the offense line was weak, the unreliable defense consistently collapsed in the fourth quarter and Kiffin had to rely on too many inexperienced players. What's more, the early suspension of his best RB, Marc Tyler, would damage the running game.

But Kiffin, while antagonizing people right and left, cannily overcame these obstacles. SC did start slowly, with shaky wins over Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse and a loss in Tempe to Arizona State, partly due to rookies suffering road jitters. But then, QB Matt Barkley, with a boost from WR Robert Woods, morphed into one of the top five QBs in the country. Freshman receiver Marqise Lee came from nowhere, blossomed into a star and paired with Woods to form a tandem that terrorized the conference. RB Curtis McNeal became one of the Pac12's better backs and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane's dad, polished the rough edges of that unit.

By midseason SC turned powerhouse, losing by a hair to Stanford, whipping Notre Dame in South Bend and then accomplishing the impossible--beating Oregon in Oregon. Right now, SC is not only the best team in the Pac12 but in AP's Top 10. At the end of its season, SC was playing as well as any team in the country. According to bookies, the Trojans would be favored in a game against any team--except LSU and Alabama. At the start of this season, few thought the team would reach this level.

Who's responsible for all this? Lane Kiffin of course. He may be a jerk at times but--and apologies to all SC haters--he really is the Pac12 Coach of the Year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday For Rick Neuheisel--Now Ex-Coach

Dan Guerrero couldn't wait.

UCLA's athletic director usually won't fire any coach during the season but dutifully waits until the end of the season blah..blah....Forget all that. He decided to sack football coach Rick Neuheisel today. Apparently the stench of UCLA's 50-0 trashing by USC Saturday night was so strong that he had to get rid of the coach before the Oregon game. Neuheisel was on borrowed time anyway. He should have been canned last Oct. 20--and apparently almost was--after the team quit on him in Tuscon and was steamrolled by Arizona.

Neuheisel will coach Friday's game in Oregon and, win or lose, he's finally out--an exit many hard-core fans have been longing for all season. A going-away victory would be a nice present but, considering that UCLA is a 30-point underdog, winning isn't a realistic option. If UCLA winds up in a bowl game, coordinator Mike Johnson will serve as temporary coach.

What prompted Guerrero to speed up Neuheisel's exit was probably the fact that so many coaches were fired in the last 24 hours that he didn't want to be last in line approaching hot prospects. Vacancies at schools like Kansas, Arizona State and Illinois have to be filled. And somebody has to fill JoePa's shoes at Penn State.

The hottest prospect out there is probably Boise State's Chris Petersen. Guerrero covets him, but so does everybody else. And Cincinatti's Butch Jones will have athletic directors camped outside his house. The next week or two will be very interesting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Neuheisel Out--Just About--At UCLA. Next Coach?

According to two sources close to the UCLA athletic department, football coach Rick Neuheisel has already been fired--unofficially that is. One of the sources advised that the best way to look at it right now is to say Neuhiesel is 99% out the door. It's just a matter of AD Dan Guerrero making an official announcement sometime after Friday's Pac12 championship game against Oregon in Autzen Stadium.

That 1% chance Neuheisel may stay is based on the possibility--extremely remote possibility--that UCLA wins the game and represents the Pac12 in the Rose Bowl. A win would save his job, temporarily at least, since that would extend the season and Guerrero has always said he would wait until after the season to evaluate the coaching situation

On the one hand, reports an insider, Neuheisel, Mr. Never-Say-Die, is still trying to convince Guerrero to let him stay. But one the other hand, you know Neuheisel, a smart, USC-trained lawyer, is already packing and job-hunting. He'll never say it but he knows it would take a miracle for the Bruins, an underdog by several touchdowns, to win in Autzen Stadium.

Face it. Oregon is just too good, ridiculously outclassing the Bruins. One of the gripes against Neuheisel is that his UCLA teams have a horrible road record. You think that trend is going to be reversed in a championship game against those Oregon greyhounds?

Preparing for Oregon won't be easy. With the coach's head on the chopping block, there's a dark cloud hanging over practice, floating doom-and-gloom messages to both players and coaches. No question, the Bruins are like lambs headed for the slaughterhouse.

Who's the next coach?

It's clear who's not a candidate. Forget Miami's Al Golden and former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. They were never serious possibilities anyway. According to a source close to the athletic department, there have been prelimary, undercover negotiations with Boise State's Chris Petersen, who's concerned about possible upcoming sanctions against Boise. Some, though, say he's at Boise forever. But whenever there's a big-time coaching job vacant his name is thrown into the mix.

Another name mentioned: Houston's Kevin Sumlin. But there's no Case Keenum clone in Westwood. And can you imagine that zippy spread offense working at UCLA with QB Kevin Prince? Also possible: Butch Jones, who replaced Brian Kelly at Cincinatti in 2009. With Cincy 8-3 and about to play Connecticut for a piece of the Big East title, Jones is a hot commodity. Reportedly, he's also on the short list for North Carolina and Illinois, which just fired Ron Zook after a blah 6-6 season that started 6-0.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dodger Fans, Stop Whining

I've had it with the whining.

Dodgers fans are way off base, on a non-stop whining binge about Milwaukee's Ryan Braun winning the MVP over their beloved Matt Kemp. No doubt, this whining will continue all throughout the winter. Unfortunately Braun, who lives in Malibu, can't escape it.

What Dodgers fans are so angry about is that Kemp had superior numbers but still lost. Kemp bested Braun in home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and on-base percentage. Braun, however, came out on top in just one major stat category--slugging percentage.  What's more, whine LA fans, Kemp is a better defensive player. He's a Gold Glove center fielder while Braun is just an average left fielder.

So how did he win?

Simple, by being top dog in a category that's not supposed to figure in the voting decision but figures heavily anyway. Braun was the best player on a winning (96 victories) playoff team while Kemp's Dodgers won only 82 games--barely over .500--and missed the playoffs.

When casting their votes, members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America are supposed to ignore team standings. It's a well known fact that a statement on the ballot cautions them to do just that. It's also a well-known fact that the voters totally disregard that caution. It's tradition.

Here's how the thinking goes. To the writers,  the valuable in "most valuable" means valuable to a post-season team. A player who puts up big numbers in a tense playoff run is supposedly a bigger asset than one who stars on a team that goes nowhere. Players on non-playoff teams have won the MVP award, but they're the exceptions.

Since the Dodgers were out of the playoff hunt pretty early, Kemp was working in a relatively relaxed atmosphere and could focus on building up his stats. Braun, though, didn't have that luxury and consequently deserves more credit. He also gets extra points for being a force on a winning team. This is the standard thinking anyway.

Dodger fans look at the situation differently. They gripe that Kemp had it rough, that he was a diamond in a lineup filled with coal and it's tougher to shine under those circumstances. Braun, they charge, had it comparitively easy. He was a surrounded by gems. In fact he got a considerable boost from batting ahead of one, Prince Fielder, who was in the thick of the MVP race. No doubt that Prince's "protection" pumped up Braun's numbers.

But, Dodger fans, here's a major point. Kemp's and Braun's numbers were basically in the same range. For Kemp to make up for the Dodgers being out of the playoff hunt most of the season, he would have needed monster numbers--numbers that would have dwarfed Braun's. But Kemp did post those overwhelming stats.

Consequently he lost. He couldn't buck tradition. What happened, Dodger fans, was that local media, unfortunately and unfairly, built up your hopes, constantly insisting he might win. But, realistically, Kemp never had a chance.

So, Dodger fans, deal with it and stop whining.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Penn State Fans--The Fans Nobody Wants

State College, Pa., home of the Penn State campus, is a typical college town, full of the kind of people you'd find in Small Town, USA. Though apparently nice, pleasant folks, nobody seems to want them around.

There's an ugly dark cloud hanging over them. That chilling child sex-abuse scandal, which cost football coach Joe Paterno his job, has stained State College--permanently. Others have been fired and as the investigation continues and the probe deepens, more people will undoubtedly get the boot. In fact, a thorough house cleaning is inevitable. Clearly, just about everyone in that town is tainted.

What's worse, so many of these State College folks openly support Paterno, who's largely seen by the rest of the world as a cowardly enabler who could have put a stop to the abuse years ago but selfishly didn't want to rock the Penn State boat.  So, the thinking goes, if these people back Paterno, something must be wrong with them. Though outsiders don't want them around, they might not have a choice.

Penn State has a solid, Top-20 team that just might wind up in a top-tier bowl, maybe even the Rose Bowl. Wherever the team winds up, a sizable State College crowd is sure to follow. Officials of several bowls have said they won't mind having Penn State but no one really believes them.

The fear, of course, is that a Penn State presence may keep some fans away, that it may also negatively effect TV ratings and sponsorship. Pre-bowl game hype is supposed to be positive. But with Penn State on the bill, how is that possible?

Many are miffed that Penn State is still playing. A huge faction called for the team to cancel its entire schedule, starting with the Nebraska game two weeks ago. Ignoring these pleas, Penn State instead forged ahead, losing to Nebraska but beating Ohio State last Saturday and is now just two wins away from representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. A Rose Bowl official insisted they'd welcome Penn State to Pasadena.

Sure they would.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Recipe For USC Upset Over Oregon

USC can beat Oregon. Sounds far-fetched, but it can happen.

It all starts with the offensive line, which is led by Matt Kalil, one of the top ten linemen in the country. Stellar run-blocking for Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler can not only lead to points but can also eat up the clock and keep that fearsome Oregon offense off the field.

The second key is QB Matt Barkley, who has 29 TD passes and only six interceptions. That's impressive, but if SC is to pull off an upset, he must play even better. That might not be easy since WR Robert Woods is banged up.  But here's a secret. Though Woods gets all the attention, the other receiver, Marquise Lee, is actually superior.

The third key is Monte Kiffin's defense which, in the last month, has blossomed into a ferocious force. In the last five games--Stanford being the exception--the SC defense has not given up more than 17 points. The steadily improving run defense has crept into the national top ten.

For SC to win, it needs considerable help from Oregon. This means the Ducks must have an off game, contributing at least four turnovers to the Trojans' cause.

Several things are working against SC. First of all, the Oregon defense, once considered the team's weak link, has turned into one of the best in the conference. Also, whipping Oregon at Autzen Stadium is nearly impossible. Just as impossible is slowing down that race-horse offense. Only LSU, with that Rock-of-Gibraltar defense, has held the Ducks' offense below 34 points. By the way, SC is averaging 34 points per game. So, to win, SC must top its scoring average while keeping Oregon in the five-touchdown range. Not an easy task.

Beating Oregon is definitely a long shot, but certainly possible. If the Trojans can play a close, competitive game, like they did against Stanford, that will be a victory in itself.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Bone-headed Tebow Misadventure

Warning to the Denver Broncos. It's time for a reality check. You're making a big mistake.

Don't let this improbable love affair with QB Tim Tebow go any farther. It's insanity. It's undermining the team. Sure, there are inescapable positives: first and most important, he's 4-1 as a starter, boosting the Broncos to 5-5, reversing their 1-4 start under Kyle Orton. No question, Tebow is the master of engineering last-second, come-from-behind victories, like last night's triumph over the New York Jets, 17-13.

But he's not Superman--just a clumsy QB who's been cleverly placed in a position to succeed. Bronco coach John Fox and his assistants have, ignoring common sense, installed the ancient collegiate option system, junking the pass-happy format used by all NFL teams. Since its similiar to what he ran as a college QB in Florida, Tebow is comfortable with the option, which stresses running and minimizes the pass. This suits Tebow, who's a punishing runner but a terrible passer, just fine.

The option isn't all that's in his favor. Bronco-friendly circumstances have figured prominately in his four wins. For instance, beating the Jets wasn't that difficult, considering they have no running game, allowing Denver to focus on the shoddy passing of slumping QB Mark Sanchez. In most possessions in all these wins, Tebow has been awful. But, to his credit, he's come through in clutch situations, turning potential losses into wins. That, coupled with the fact that he's extremely likable and a stout-hearted Christian, has made him a fan favorite--particularly with the Christian Right.

But Tebow is just a quick fix. It started with management promoting him over Orton when, at 1-5, the Broncos had nothing to lose. Rather quickly the NFL, which lives by the pass, will devise a plan to silence the run-oriented option and knock Tebow off his pedestal.  The QB's downfall may even happen in Denver's next game, against San Diego.

Then what? The old-fashioned Denver offense is just a step or two from extinction. When sanity finally sets in, the option will be junked, and so will Tebow. As the losses pile up while the Broncos struggle to adjust to the standard pass offense, this Tebow adventure will seem, in retrospect, pretty foolish.

UCLA Basketball, What Went Wrong?

UCLA, a pre-season Top 20 team favored to win the Pac12 title, is off to a shocking 0-2 start, losing embarrisingly at home to two rinky-dink teams that they should have disposed of by half-time. These double-digit defeats rank with the worst two-game loss stretch in the post-Wooden era..

A big reason for these losses is the selfish, childish behavior of 6-8 junior forward Reeves Nelson, UCLA's leading scorer and rebounder last season. He played, though not very well, in the 69-58 loss to Loyola Marymount but, due to a suspension for acting like a spoiled brat, missed the Tuesday night thrashing by Middle Tennessee State, 86-66.

According to sources with access to the team, Nelson has an acrimonious relationship with some of the players and coach Ben Howland. Rather than being the team leader, he's the leading distraction, creating an atmosphere of tension that's undermining the coach's efforts. He's a jerk, but a talented jerk and easily the team's best player.

Even with Nelson not behaving badly, UCLA would probably be struggling. In those two games, the offense was stagnant, highlighted by horrible shooting, especially from long range. The team is particularly deficient at point guard, with Lazeric Jones, who isn't quick enough and both shoots and passes poorly.

The defense, coach Howland's specialty, needs serious polishing. Against Middle Tennessee, it was exceptionally leaky, allowing the Blue Raiders to shoot 71.4%. In both games, time after time,  opponents were blowing by sluggish defenders for easy layups, unchallenged by any backups. Center Josh Smith wasn't much help. A potential beast if he ever slims down, he clearly spent his off season binging on fast food.
To make things worse, the perimeter defense was non existent, with both teams steadily bombing the Bruins, hitting a combined 20 out of 26 three-point attempts.

It turns out that the loss of two of last season's stars, Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, left really gaping holes. So far the Ware twins, expected to help fill those gaps, haven't done much. They're neither athletic enough nor superior shooters. And it looks like guard Jerime Anderson, just off suspension, doesn't have what it takes to be a Pac12 star.

A continuing problem is that Howland is trying to fit players into a system unsuited to their skills. He covets the man-to-man defense, one that his players simply aren't athletic enough to efficiently execute. The zone defense, not his favorite, is a better fit for this crew. But reality is finally setting in. In the wake of those disastrous losses, he's now saying he may sprinkle in some zone schemes.

Though badly in need of fan support, the Bruins have had little so far. While Pauley Pavilion is being renovated, the team is stuck in the Sports Arena, located in a seedy downtown area where many UCLA fans fear to tread. So crowds have been tiny, just when the team needs all the cheers it can get.

It's way too early to give up on the Bruins. After two unpleasant days, Howland lifted Nelson's suspension, quelling rumors that he might either transfer or be kicked off the team. If the volitale forward stops being a knucklehead, plays up to his potential and embraces the leadership role, the Bruins just might spiral out of this funk.

On Monday in Maui, they play a Division II school, Chaminade. This should be an easy win. But if they lose or limp to a victory, there's clearly big trouble ahead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In State College, Pa. JoePa Is Still The Man

No way Carl, a 52-year-old ex-big city cop, could miss the Penn State-Nebraska game last Saturday. Positively had to be there in person in the stadium packed with more than 107,000 people in State College, Pa.

But he's not a Penn State fan. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, he's a crazed Nebraska fan, such a crazed fan in fact that he swears, as an infant, his first words were "cornhusker."
He stayed a few days with an old friend, a local bigwig, who lives with his large family in a big house not far from the Penn State campus. A pretty sharp judge of people, Carl had some insightful observations about the folk in this quiet, isolated college town, rocked recently by a child sex-abuse scandal that dethroned the Penn State god, football coach Joe Paterno:

"It's like 1950. There's a world outside and they don't know it exists. I've been here before and thought these people were a little backward, but in light of what happened this week, it's jumps out at you that their heads are in the wrong place.

"I went to a bunch of parties, from Thursday until I left on Sunday. I met a lot of people, a big cross-section in all ages and colors and classes. They were all for Joe Paterno, felt sorry for him, couldn't understand why he was fired. They sympathized with those students who rioted after Joe was fired. There must be people who think diffferently but I didn't see them--and I was looking for some.

"To people in that town Joe was bigger than life, bigger than the President, bigger than anybody. It's like they can't bring themselves to think he'd do anything bad. Joe is innocent. That's what they were saying.

"These aren't dumb people. But it's like they've been brainwashed. You've got to be there in person and talk to them to see how they think. I didn't talk much. I just listened, trying to get a feel for how they think.

"And they were really into the game. That was the main topic of conversation, even more than Paterno. You'd think they'd feel shame, embarrassment--feel sad for those abused kids. If they felt that I didn't sense it. The game really mattered to them. They live and die with Penn State football. Even in the middle of that horrible scandal, they were so into the game. They were crushed when Penn State lost--crushed."

Carl, who had a hefty bet on his Cornhuskers, was happy they won. But, overall, he wasn't happy about the weekend. "I was supposed to stay until midweek, but I was able to get a flight out on Sunday and I took it," he said. "Nice people--pleasant and hospitable. But there was something really creepy about them. I had to get the hell out of there.".

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Penn State vs. Nebraska--No Game Like it

Penn State vs. Nebraska, today in State College, Pa. The strangest game in the history of college football? No doubt about it.

There never was and probably never will be a game like this one--played on the campus of a university with this kind of an open wound. Penn State is in chaos because of a child sex-abuse scandal that's been unfolding all week. Legendary football coach Joe Paterno was fired, triggering an ugly student riot. The school's president was forced to resign. The FBI was called in to investigate. There are rumors that, in terms of the scandal, what's just been revealed is the tip of the iceberg. For certain more heads will roll. Next season, there will likely be an entirely new coaching staff.

Many called for this game to be cancelled, for the rest of the Penn State season to be called off. Many, in protest, will not watch the game. But more, loving a train wreck, will watch.

Imagine what the Penn State players are feeling, with their beloved coach ousted in shame and a deer-in-the-headlights assistant suddenly in charge. How can they properly prepare for Nebraska (7-2), the most ferocious team in the Big Ten, under these circumstances? Penn State, 12th-ranked and sporting a flashy 8-1 record, is a very good team, with a two-game lead in the Big Ten Leaders division, headed for a major bowl. But, for this game, the players definitely won't be at their best.

You can bet their heads are spinning. What to do? Play hard and pulverize Nebraska and many will accuse them of being callous and insensitive. With a victory they'll also be accused of siding with Paterno, aiming to win one for JoePa. Losing will probably be better. They won't be maligned as selfish brutes who care nothing about abused kids. But what football player wants to lose?

You can't help but feel sorry for the Penn State players--somewhat unprepared, emotionally torn, unfairly trapped in a hellish situation. They should be thinking about going to a bowl, but they probably can't wait for this season to be over. Some most likely will transfer to another school, where they can concentrate on playing football.

But there's a silver lining. The players have bragging rights. They can always say they played in a historic game--easily the strangest in college football history.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Former Penn State Football Player Talks About His Idol, Joe Paterno

Jerry, a successful bookie who played football for Penn State in the late 80s, explains why he owes his life to Joe Paterno. To him, the Coach, just fired for his role in the Jerry Sandusky child molestation sex scandal, is a truly great man--still.

To hear him talk about Paterno, you'd think he was talking about a god. "When I got to Penn State I was young and stupid, just drifting." recalls Jerry, who donates money to the school and usually wears Penn State T-shirts and sweatshirts. "I was nothing, nowhere, empty, a real zero, just a guy headed for some kind of drab life doing something I hated.  I was looking for direction, for something interesting to do. One of the things I decided to try was football. I was a good athlete and I had been a good lineman in high school, so it was something I could do. That's how I met the Coach."

Jerry's career at Penn State was hardly what you'd call illustrious. He was only a fourth-stringer who played briefly in a handful of games. But that didn't seem to matter. What was important to him was having regular contact with Paterno. "I grew up without a father," explains Jerry, who's from a small Pennsylvania town.
"Coach was like a father to me. He was an inspiration. He taught me discipline, direction, how to be organized. I know I'm not a doctor or a lawyer, but I do make a lot of money and I love what I do and I have a comfortable life. He taught me how to get a grip on life. Without him, I probably would  have gone down the drain."

What about the accusations that Paterno did little to stop the extensive sexual predator behavior of his defensive coordinator Sandusky?

Jerry replies: "He could have done more, but at least he did something. People act like he did nothing. Other people dropped the ball. People are treating him like he was the child molester. That's wrong.

"Don't get me wrong. I feel sorry for those victims. I have two boys myself. I feel for those kids and their families. But Coach isn't to blame, People are wrong to blame him. It's Sandusky."

Jerry remembers Sandusky well: "He was a brilliant coach. But I never liked him. He was mean to some of the players. He had a temper. When he got angry it was scary. There was something weird about him, like he had a dark side. That turned out to be true."

What about the argument that Paterno was part of a conspiracy of silence, part of a group that was more protective of the Penn State image and reputation than the welfare of those abused boys? "I'm siding with the people who don't buy into that," Jerry insists.

He adds: "How can I be mad at him? I owe him so much."

Some of his former players, interviewed in the last two days, have been moved to tears. "If you played for him you know what he's feeling, that he's in pain," he explains. "That tears at guys who know him. Imagining what he's feeling tears at my heart too.

Jerry is concerned about what happens to Paterno now. "Football is his life, what he lives for. It was clear when I was playing for him and it's even more true now. I'm afraid that without his coaching job and the shame of this scandal he's just going to die. Football was keeping him alive. I bet he won't be around next year this time."

Saturday's game, Penn State vs. Nebraska, the first without Paterno in charge in 46 years, is one Jerry is not looking forward to: "I can't bear to watch. I don't know when I can watch another Penn State game again."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Frazier vs.a 10-Year-Old Boy

In the late '70s I met heavyweight champ Joe Frazier several times. The encounters with Frazier, who died Monday at 67, were brief and uneventful--with one exception.

It happened in a swank Beverly Hills office waiting room one afternoon. I walked in and sat down across the room from Frazier, who was dressed casually. He obviously didn't remember me so I said nothing to him. There were two other men in the room, which sat about a dozen. We all sat quietly.

After a few minutes an Asian boy, who looked to be about ten, walked in. There were plenty of empty chairs but he plopped down in one next to Frazier and began staring at him. Frazier turned around and looked at the youngster, who continued to stare intently, boldly and expressionlessly into his eyes, without saying a word. The kid, dressed in a black suit, just stared and stared at him.

Assuming the boy was an adoring fan, Frazier burst into gentle, kid-friendly chatter. But the boy didn't respond. Barely movely, he just continued to stare into Frazier's eyes. Suddenly Frazier knew what was up. He was hip enough to know that he was being challenged to a staring contest by a brazen minor. Here are the rules: stare blankly into your opponent's eyes, don't talk and keep movement at a minimum. The first person to unlock the stare by laughing or talking loses.

Remarkably they went on this way for a few minutes. A secretary came out to get one of the other two men in the waiting room. But Frazier and the boy didn't notice. They were too busy staring at each other.

Suddenly Frazier broke down and started to laugh. "You got me man, you got me," he said. The boy, though, never said a word and continued to stare into Frazier's eyes. Then the secretary came out and told Frazier to come into the office. Looking perplexed and unnerved Frazier followed her out of the waiting room. The boy just sat there, first turning his blank stare at a wall and then, finally,  turning it at me.

 I looked away.

The secretary came out and told me to come into the office. About ten minutes later, my business concluded, I came out of the office and walked though the waiting room. Thankfully the boy was gone.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

LSU vs Alabama-Low-Scoring, Boring

Smart Bettors, I'm told, saw this one coming a mile away.  Ridiculously low scoring, they predicted. Stay away from betting the spread, these guys cautioned, and bet the under.

How right they were. Last Saturday's big college football battle, No.1 vs. No.2, LSU against Alabama, lumbered along, with LSU finally winning 9-6--in OT yet. Hard to believe that it took extra time to pile up so few points. Not only was it low-scoring--no TDs, all field goals--but it was also extremely low in excitement.

In pre-game analyses, what canny bettors saw was that both teams have cream-puff offenses and killer defenses. Neither passes very well so both defenses could concentrate on squashing the run. What we saw mostly was running backs plowing futilely into brick-wall defenses. It's a recipe for a boring game and a primer on how not to play creative offense.

Most fans hate this kind of game, with teams jockeying for field position. NFL scouts, though, were in heaven, positively drooling over all the pro prospects on both defenses. Hard-hitting LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu could play in most NFL secondaries right now. There was plenty of skilled defensive line play too--if that turns you on.

LSU vs. Alabama--game of the century, the hype machine trumpeted for weeks. Turns out that this wasn't even the best game of the day. There were four other candidates, three thrilling upsets and one near upset: UCLA nipped Arizona State, 29-28; Northwestern edged Nebraska, 28-25; Iowa beat Michigan, 24-13; and Oklahoma State escaped an embarrassing home loss to Kansas State, 52-45.

Defense was not a significant factor in either of these four games. Nor were bettors, I'm told, as sharp predicting these outcomes.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Answering NFL QB Questions--Smith, Beck, Tebow 11/5

Is San Francisco 49ers' QB Alex Smith for real?

There are two schools of thought on this matter. One says that the Niners have a gaudy 6-1 record partly because Smith has finally polished his leadership and passing skills and learned how to read defenses and how not to get flustered in crunch time. Credit new coach Jim Harbaugh, who imported a comfortable, low-risk, QB-friendly system from Stanford along with a crew of smart coaches. This system stresses tough defense and relentless rushing. The weight of the offense isn't on passing or the QB. In this reduced role, Smith has blossomed. Expect this new and improved Smith to lead the Niners into the playoffs, a relatively easy task, by the way, in the lousy NFC West.

That's one school of thought. The other way of looking at Smith doesn't include rose-colored glasses. Hard-core, long-suffering, skeptical 49er fans--like me--swear that right around the corner is a Smith relapse, complete with interceptions, fumbles, boneheaded decisions, crumbled confidence and that old deer-in-the-headlights look in clutch situations. We can't savor the good times because we're so sure we're about to be submerged in heart-breaking bad times. Hope this doomsday outlook is wrong but I'm sticking to it.

How bad is Redskins' QB John Beck?

Really, really bad. In Sunday's 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Beck was a total bust, leading the offense to three first downs and a paltry 62 total yards in the first half. Shockingly, he was sacked ten times. Some were due to the bum blocking by the battered offensive line, but some were due to bewildered Beck hanging on to the ball too long. Under his guidance, the Skins' offense has hit a brick wall. It's officially a corpse. In garbage time--basically the entire second half--Beck beefed up his numbers to respectability. Look behind those numbers, though, and you'll see a stiff who's leading the Skins nowhere. This Sunday, in the 49ers game, when Beck is trying to pump some life into that dead offense, you'll hear these chants from frustrated, desperate fans--We want Rex Grossman, we want Rex Grossman!!...

Is John Beck worse than the Denver Broncos' QB Tim Tebow?

Tebow makes Beck look like Aaron Rodgers. Beck may be bad but Tebow has dragged NFL quarterbacking to a new low. Watching him is painful. A Tebow game is a clinic on how not to play the position. His passing mechanics stink, his footwork is terrible and he continually misreads defenses. In Sunday's 45-10 crushing by Detroit, the Broncos, with Tebow in charge, never had a chance. His totals were decent--18 for 39 for 172 yards with one interception--but they were enhanced when the game was out of reach.  He was sacked seven times and was fortunate the total wasn't bigger. Opposing defenses love to see Denver come to town. On Sunday in Oakland, the Raiders will welcome him. It's a chance to considerably increase their sack totals. Oakland should enjoy this opportunity while it lasts. One more klutzy performance and Denver may finally put Tebow where he belongs--on the bench.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bama vs LSU In Down SEC Year

There's something unpleasant about the big, bad SEC that shrewd SEC watchers have known all season but have been largely keeping under wraps.

Quite simply, the SEC--usually the best conference from top to bottom--is down this year--way down.

The bad teams, like Kentucky, are uncharacteristically bad and, surprisingly, there are only two really high-quality teams in the conference--college football's top two, Alabama and LSU, which meet Saturday in the latest edition of "The Game of The Century." In a typical SEC season the conference's top five or six teams are as good as any five or six in the country. But this year there's a major dropoff in quality after 'Bama and LSU.

Arkansas and South Carolina, the next tier of SEC teams, are both in the Top 10, but neither really belongs. If you've ever seen them play you'd be skeptical too. Their Top 10 status is rooted in the SEC's reputation as the titan of conferences. Voters must be figuring that these are the next best teams in the SEC, so they must be good. Not this year.

By the way, these two square off Saturday in Arkansas to determine the unofficial  No.3 team in the SEC. The way they have been playing lately, don't expect too much.

For one thing, South Carolina doesn't have much offense. Not only did SC lose RB Marcus Lattimore, the SEC's best offensive player, for the season but also bad-boy QB Stephen Garcia, who was bounced from the team. Replacement QB Conner Shaw doesn't have Garcia's skills. Supposedly the Gamecocks have this superb defense but their fancy stats are inflated, considering they've faced mostly inferior offenses. And if you've seen Arkansas struggle to last-second victories in the last two weeks over SEC weaklings Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, you'd wonder why they're even in the Top 25.

A major problem for the SEC is that, offensively this season, the conference is a wasteland. Blame it on the absence of  stars. With Lattimore gone for the season, there's only one high-class offensive weapon left--Alabama's RB Trent Richardson.

Where are the great QBs in the SEC this year? There aren't any.

Yet, they're everywhere else. In the Pac12 alone there are four passers--SC's Matt Barkley, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Arizona's Nick Foles--who'd scorch SEC secondaries. When it played LSU, West Virginia QB Geno Smith ripped through the Tigers' secondary for 463 yards. In the SEC there's no passer equal to Smith.

The SEC's signature is tough, speedy, smart defenses. But this season, these defenses are rarely tested because there no truly high-powered, passing offenses in the conference. There's no Oregon or Oklahoma or the equivalent of last year's Auburn juggernaut. If they're not consistently facing flashy, high-tech offenses, just how good are these SEC defenses anyway?

When you acknowledge that this is a subpar SEC season, the Alabama-LSU game loses a shade of  its lustre. These powers have risen to the top by subduing so-so squads.

But enough of the SEC beatdown. Now we can focus on The Ouestion--who's going to win The Game?

Though Alabama is favored by four, the teams are pretty evenly matched. However, give 'Bama a slight edge for two reasons:  the Tide has both home field advantage and the best offensive player--RB Trent Richardson.

But before you settle on 'Bama, remember that when two evenly matched teams play each other, the deciding factor is usually turnovers. Whoever makes the fewest generally wins.


Forget all that. This is one of those coin-toss games that smart bettors avoid.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Time For Lane Kiffin the Capable Coach

Lane Kiffin is a popular target these days. Deservedly so. The USC coach has been in everybody's cross-hairs since Saturday night, when SC lost to Stanford in triple OT, 56-48, easily the most exciting game of the season.

The problem is that, the second that game ended, Kiffin the Coach turned into Kiffin the Whiny Jerk, insisiting over and over and over that the refs cheated his team out of a chance to kick a winning field goal in the final seconds of regulation. He charges that the officials not only blundered a call on a out-of-bounds play but also lied to him.

Whining is one thing. But accusing officials of mismanagement and lying is something else. That, fumed Pac12 bigwigs, is going too far. So they fined Kiffin $10,000.  


Kiffin got what he deserved. Instead of behaving like a responsible head coach, he was carrying on like a spoiled brat. Rather than grumbling about one play he should have been dwelling on all his team's positives--as a thoughtful, mature coach would do.

Here's part of the list of positives:

--In the Stanford game, SC traded punches in a tense, brutal battle with one of the sport's heavyweights and came within an unfortunate turnover of scoring a knockout. How many teams could have done that?
--Trojan QB Matt Barkley nearly outdueled mighty Andrew Luck, the Stanford QB who's the Heisman front-runner.
--With a relatively young team, the Trojans went back to that lions den in South Bend and strolled away with a victory over Notre Dame.
--Since shaky wins over cream puffs like Minnesota and Syracuse early in the season, the Trojans have blossomed into a formidable team, on both sides of the ball.

Now that Kiffin the Whiny Jerk has been muted maybe, for a change, Kiffin the Capable Coach can finally take his turn in the limelight and focus on giving the Trojans the plaudits they deserve.

This won't be a popular stance among all the Trojan haters but, to be fair, let's give credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Urban Meyer Nearly Set As Ohio State Coach

Urban Meyer coaching at Ohio State next season? According to a source close to the messy situation in Columbus, that's about 90% sure.

Rumors have been raging about this for months, all denied, of course, by official university sources. Unofficially, though, insists this source, there's been plenty of action on the Meyer front, with underground negotiations in progress. Adds the source, there's a new sense of urgency since Penn State has also been surreptitiously knocking at Meyer's door--rumors naturally denied by that university's spokespeople.

Famed for his championship teams at Utah and Florida before heart issues forced him out of coaching last year, Meyer, currently an ESPN analyst, is college coaching's biggest prize. Ohio State seems like a natural fit, since he's not only an Ohio native but he also spent two years at the university as a graduate assistant coach. What's more, Meyer has always said that the Ohio State and Notre Dame jobs were his prizes. Brian Kelly is entrenched at Notre Dame, so that leaves Ohio State.

But Ohio State is in limbo, floating in a sea of X factors. The university is awaiting an NCAA decision on sanctions resulting from athletes behaving badly and coach Jim Tressel's lame cover-up attempt. In the wake of that scandal, some athletes were suspended and star QB Terrelle Pyror left. So did Tressel.

In the first six games this season, with defensive coordinator Luke Fickell as interim leader, Ohio State staggered to a 3-3 record. But in the last two weeks, the team has felled two giants--previously undefeated Illinois and 12th ranked Wisconsin. Suddenly Fickell, aided considerably by defensive coach Mike Vrabel, has a supportive faction in his corner. But if you have a chance to get Urban Meyer, you get Urban Meyer.

According to this source, when the dust clears, Meyer will be roaming the Ohio State sidelines next fall, living his dream.