Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gay New York Jets?

Gay New York Jets players? Yes there are some. And it's a problem.

I've mentioned this before in passing in past posts. It's been a problem before but the Jets are such a mess that the gay issue has been overshadowed by other pressing matters, like the lack of a quality QB, the lousy offensive line and the locker-room tension generated by inept backup QB Tim Tebow hogging all the media attention while contributing nothing in games. This team is terrible, quite evident in the 28-9 pounding by a bad Buffalo Bills team today.

According to two sources close to two Jets players, there are three partially-closeted gay players who are generating a different kind of tension. Respecting the privacy rights of the gay players, the sources won't reveal their names. Some straight Jets are aware of the gay players and feel uneasy in their presence. In that locker room, homophobia, not tolerance, rules. The gay issue creates another layer of tension, one that this team, with everything else going wrong, couldn't handle.

Right now, in the macho locker-room atmosphere of the NFL there is no place for gay players. They still make the straight players uncomfortable. Some straight Jets are aware of the gay players and feel uneasy in their presence. As the team spiraled down the drain, the gay problem was a contributing factor.

The NFL is about a decade behind the real world in acceptance of gay players. Around the league, bonding and camaraderie have "straight" written all over them. Implicitly, the message in the locker rooms  is a firm "no gays allowed." Owners and general managers know that signing a gay player is like tossing a grenade into the locker room. There are enough messy issues there without adding something as incendiary as a gay player.

The Jets are in turmoil. With their season over, it's not clear which players will return. It's possible that the gays won't be on the roster next season. Most likely, though, according to the sources, the gay players will be back. Whether they're farther out of the closet remains to be seen. Could management find out who they are and, despite talent ratings, ship them to another team? Maybe.

The only problems sure to be dumped are bumbling QBs Tebow and Mark Sanchez. The gay problem and its accompanying tensions? That will probably be haunting the Jets again next fall.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Laker Fans Delusional Again--Nuts Over Nash

Wake up Laker fans, wake up.

You've had a day or so to wallow in your delusions since your guys whipped a good Warrior team in OT, 118-115, on Saturday night. It was point guard Steve Nash's first game back after missing about seven weeks with a slight shin fracture. No question he was the difference. Without him running the offense, the Warriors, who had a fat lead going into the fourth quarter, win easily. Though he scored only 12 points while handing out nine assists, Nash clearly put the zip back into coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, running it like it should be run, like he did when he was playing for D'Antoni years ago in Phoenix. To put it simply, no Nash, no Laker victory.

But now, Laker fans, it's reality time. There's one disturbing figure in Nash's stat line. He played 42 minutes. That means he was resting only about ten minutes. Remember, this is a player, coming back from a bone fracture, who's almost 40. Instead of easing Nash back into the lineup, D'Antoni powered him in, apparently without restrictions, essentially full throttle. D'Antoni probably wanted him on the court every minute, but common sense prevailed.

But, at 40-plus minutes a game, how long do you think Nash is going to last before that leg or one of his other aging body parts breaks down? It's not humanly possible for Nash to do what he needs to do for the Lakers to win consistently. So look for Nash to be in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season, nursing this injury or that injury, acting like the old guy he really is..

The point guard position is the hole in the Lakers lineup. The healthy backups, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon, are inadequate. The No.1 backup, Steve Blake, has been out for weeks with an abdominal ailment and won't be back for a while. But when he's healthy, he's slow and very ordinary. Without Nash, the Lakers are slow and ordinary. That's the team we're likely to see more of this season.

The player most happy to see Nash back is Kobe Bryant. Without having to worry about sharing some of the point guard duties, Kobe was able to concentrate on what he likes to do best--shoot and shoot and shoot. With Nash feeding him, he was back in full, shameless ball-hog mode, taking 41 shots. While scoring 34 points, he missed a staggering 25 shots. Some star players don't even shoot 25 times in a two-game span.

So, Laker fans, do you really think that, with an ancient point guard vulnerable to body breakdowns and a erratic ball hog, this team is going to beat out Oklahoma City or San Antonio or the Clippers or Memphis for the Western Conference championship?

Dream on, Laker fans, dream on

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seattle Coach Pete Carroll Is an ASS

There is no bigger ass in all of sports than Seattle Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll. Actually I'm being polite. Others are trashing him more viciously. Most common anti-Pete zinger: lying s.o.b.

What's really angered everybody is what happened Sunday in the fourth quarter of the Buffalo blow-out, with the score 47-17 and the Bills waving the white flag. On fourth down, with the Seahawks in punt formation, they executed a fake punt, which led to a first down, which set up a field goal that pushed the score to 50-17. What a flagrant violation of coaching etiquette. A fake punt with a huge lead in that situation is a cheap shot. With that kind of lead. the offense should do just what the beaten opponent expects, simply run off tackle and try to run out the clock, not use razzle-dazzle to inflate the score.

Then, in a post-game press conference, Carroll had the gall to say that he didn't call for the fake punt, but that the unit was under orders to use it if the defense was in a certain formation. "I feel bad about this," he said after the game, a comment reeking of fake remorse. "It was part of the game plan. It was something I could have called off and I didn't."  So the punting unit just executed an automatic and Carroll didn't call for the fake punt. .

Bull. Does he think we're stupid? See why that "lying s.o.b." charge has been used again and again?

His motive was very clear. He wanted to reach 50 points for the second straight week, a rarity in the NFL. The previous week, the Seahawks had murdered the Cardinals, 58-0. In that game, though, Carroll wasn't maliciously piling it on. With eight turnovers, Arizona was shooting itself in the foot, again and again. But scoring 50 points on consecutive weeks is a meaningless stat. To reach that plateau, Carroll ignored the rules of sportsmanship and was dancing on a downed opponent's chest, doing some old-fashioned  King-Kong-style chest thumping.

In addition to being rotten sportsmanship, Carroll's move was stupid for two reasons. First, it puts your players at risk for injury, vulnerable to cheap shots by angry defensive players. Second, you waste a weapon, unveiling the fake punt, allowing it to be filmed, so other teams can prepare for it.

It's strange for Carroll to pull something like this. He knows what it's like to be on the wrong side of a rout. When he was coaching USC in 2009, Stanford came into the LA Coliseum and, late in its 55-21 win, unnecessarily went for two points after a TD. During the post-game handshake, a miffed Carroll asked Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" That tension-filled moment has become famous.

Ironically the two meet again Sunday night in a pivotal NFL game, with Harbaugh's 49ers facing Carroll's Seahawks. They still don't like each other. Many would love to see the Seahawks routed and have Harbaugh pile it on, doing something cruelly unsportsmanlike like ordering a bomb late in the game. Hopefully the tv camera would then focus on Carroll's fuming face.

 Then the anti-Carroll brigade would be smirking and thinking, "How does it feel now,  jerk?"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lakers Fighting Each Other--a Toxic Mess

Want to know why the LA Lakers are playing like a team loaded with guys who don't like each other and don't trust each other? That's because so many Laker players don't like each other and don't trust each other. Inter-player tension, among other ills, is killing the team.

Right now the Lakers stink, sinking below .500 and are threatening to slide even father downhill. Tapping into a fraction of their talent, they played listlessly and sloppily on Tuesday, losing to a lousy Cleveland team. The Lakers are particularly appalling on defense, which is based on effort, communication and teamwork Give this crew an F in all three areas.

Two sources close to two Lakers report that the players are constantly arguing, squabbling and sniping at each other. The locker room, say the sources, is downright toxic. As usual, Kobe Bryant is at the center of the turmoil. In his opinion, with the exception of center Dwight Howard, he's stuck with a bunch of lazy stiffs and treats the other players in a surly, stand-offish manner. To them Kobe is a mean-spirited jerk. Read the body language on the court and it's obvious who doesn't like whom.

But Kobe is just part of the problem. The sources report that the players are also divided over forward Pau Gasol, who's been out with tendinitis in both knees. Some think Gasol is a soft, super sensitive prima donna who should man up, stop whining and act like a professional. Others side with the Big Spaniard, charging that Gasol is being abused and misused by new coach Mike D'Antoni.

Meanwhile all the players are skeptical, even dismissive, about D'Antoni's run-run, offense-first system. In public they support him and his system. In private, though, they're constantly taking nasty shots at the coach, who doesn't have a clue about how to right this sinking ship.  His answer seems to be to wait for the return of point guard Steve Nash, who's been out nearly all season with a bum leg. So a gimpy, late-thirties player, who probably won't be back til next month, is the savior? Yeah, right.

Let's assess. The Lakers are not only without two of their best players--Nash and Gasol, they're aging, don't run the floor well, are not athletic, don't play good defense, are the worst free-throw shooting team in the league and are in the hands of horrible point guards and a clueless coach. In addition, center Howard, by far their best defender, hasn't recovered from this back surgery and isn't as effective as he can be. Oh yes, and Bryant, once a stellar defender, is playing the worse defense of his career, setting a bad example for his teammates.

If the players were getting along, this would be a tough situation. But factor in players fighting each other and you have one big mess. Don't look for the Lakers to win on a consistent basis any time soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Cal Coach Sonny Dykes--UGH!

My apologies, but I've got to vent. Got to get this off my chest.
If you don't give a damn about Cal football, feel free not to read any farther

Cal just hired Sonny Dykes as head football coach to replace Jeff Tedford, who was fired on Nov. 20, when the miserable 3-9 season ended with a dismal, dispiriting rout by Oregon State. Cal football, then, couldn't get any lower. Bear fans needed a pick-me-up.

So what does Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour do? She raids the WAC and hands the job to Sonny Dykes of Lousiana Tech. You gotta be kidding.

Raise your hand if you've ever heard of this guy before now. Just as I thought. 

After all that big talk of maybe luring Chris Petersen from Boise State or Hue Jackson, the former Oakland Raiders' coach, or some other notable,  this is what Bear fans get? What about a coordinator from a major program or even a deposed SEC coach, like Kentucky's Joker Phillips or Tennessee's Derek Dooley? Couldn't Barbour come up with somebody--anybody--better than Dykes?

Dykes was a nobody before this season. He got a lot of attention for leading his team to a 9-3 record. For a while they were 9-1 and in the lower part of the Top 20, a big deal for a WAC team. Their signature win was a loss, dropping a 59-57 scorefest to Texas A&M, which features QB Johnny Football, a Heisman finalist. La Tech is known to be a scoring machine, leading the nation with 51.5 points per game, while averaging 577.9 yards of total offense per game. Dykes' team finished at 9-3, which is a fine record, but does that mean he's ready to make the leap to Pac-12 head coach?

He's no stranger to the Pac-12, having been offensive coordinator at Arizona 2007-2009. Excuse me, but I don't recall the Wildcats being an offensive powerhouse back then. What the Cal hire is based on is Tech piling up big offensive numbers. But pooh on those flashy stats. The WAC is famous for not playing defense, so those numbers are tainted. Speaking of defense, Dykes' team, in the grand tradition of the conference, fielded a typically pathetic unit, among the nation's worst all season.

The Pac-12 has some hotshot coaches now, including Stanford's Shaw, Oregon's Kelly, UCLA's Mora, Arizona's RichRod and USC's Kiffin, These are guys other schools would love to have. So, to this illustrious group Cal adds Dykes? Yikes!

Now what? Do you think that offense-first, no-D format will fly in the Pac-12? Don't think so. To win in this conference Dykes will have to pay less attention to offense and accentuate defense. That's crucial.

In the last few years Cal has been in a deep hole. In the first half of the last decade, Tedford turned Cal into a prominent football school that was always one of the best in the conference and a fixture in the national Top 20. But in his last few years Cal tailed way off, mainly because the coach, known for his skill at developing QBs, couldn't come up with a good one.

When Tedford was finally booted out, it seemed as if Cal was stepping up the ladder and out of that hole. But, with Dykes and his score-first mentality, the Bears may have taken a few steps back down that ladder.

Dykes just doesn't seem like a smart choice. Hope I'm wrong, that he'll channel his inner Nick Saban and turn into one of the best coaches in the conference.

Go ahead Sonny, prove me wrong. In this case, I'd so love to be wrong.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bye, Bye Paul Gasol

Ever since the L.A.Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni as head coach a few weeks ago, power forward Pau Gasol has had one foot out the door. Since then things have gotten worse.

The team announced today that Gasol will sit out tonight's game in Houston with tendinitis in both knees. He may miss a lot more, if you read between the lines of his cryptic tweet from earlier today.

This is the tip of the iceberg. According to a source close to one of  the Laker players, the relationship between Gasol and the coach can only be described as miserable. But, at first, this was all under wraps, known only to the players and those close to the team. But last week D'Antoni went public with his disdain for Gasol. When asked after a loss last week why Gasol didn't play in the fourth quarter, D'Antoni replied acidly, "Because I wanted to win."

Ouch! It's been downhill since then.

Lately, Gasol has been moping and whining in practice. D'Antoni, a hard-ass who has no patience for moping and whining, has been surly and sour in practice toward the All-Star forward. Clearly the coach doesn't respect Gasol as a player. It's just as clear, in the locker room, that Gasol doesn't like D'Antoni. No question Gasol won't be around at the end of the season.

The problem is that D'Antoni's run-and-gun, uptempo system is not suited to Gasol, a seven-footer who's best in a slower-paced, half-court format, like coach Phil Jackson's triangle. Gasol thrived in the triangle, but he's been a bust in D'Antoni's racehorse system. Gasol likes to post  up, to play near the basket. But in D'Antoni's system, he's required to run much more and shoot from the outside. Not Gasol's style.

His stats are lousy, the worse of his career--12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on 42 % shooting. From three-point land, he's just 28.6%. Reserve forward Antewan Jamison, a good outside shooter and a better fit in this system, will start in Gasol's place.

It's only going to get worse for Gasol. When healthy he doesn't like sprinting up and down the court. With bad knees and at his age, 32, how can it get better? When Steve Nash, who returns at point guard later this month, is back and the system is running a top speed, Gasol will really seem out of place.

Is a trade in the works? Apparently there's nothing on the horizon at the moment. But traditionally, when a player is on the trading block, he'll all of a sudden be held out of the lineup. Supposedly Gasol sitting out is his idea, but don't believe that.

Trading Gasol won't be easy. Other teams, which play a more slow-down style, would love to have him but his salary, $19 million a year and $38 million over two years, is a major obstacle. Gasol could come off the bench and play limited minutes for the Lakers, but he makes too much money to be a reserve. 

Since he doesn't fit D'Antoni's system, and he and the coach don't see eye to eye, and reserve status isn't a viable option, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the All-Star forward is still a Laker at the end of the season.

So bye, bye Pau Gasol


Saturday, December 1, 2012

The REAL UCLA Showed Up Friday

Those sneaky UCLA Bruins.

They snookered us. They tricked us. They wanted us to believe the crew that was shuffling around the Rose Bowl last Saturday in the Stanford game was the real UCLA.


The guys who played doormat for Stanford, while the Cardinal rolled to a 35-17 win, weren't the real Bruins. A 9-2 team? No way. They looked like lame leftovers from the Neuheisel era.

What they were doing was playing possum, cagily trying to avoid the gallows, or college football's equivalent of certain death--playing Oregon up in Eugene. UCLA, rulers of the Pac-12 South, could eliminate Oregon from championship consideration in the Pac-12 North by merely losing to Stanford, which would automatically make the Cardinal king of the North.

For the Bruins last Saturday, being the best they could be meant beating Stanford and making Oregon Pac-12 North champ. Then the Bruins, the road team in the Pac-12 championship game, would have to journey up to Autzen Stadium and spend an evening futilely trying to corral those green-and-yellow-clad gazelles on their home turf. The Bruins' chances of winning up there? Forget it. Stanford won in Eugene a few weeks ago, but that was Oregon's annual home loss. The Ducks weren't going to blow another home game. So the Bruins would do anything to avoid the Valley of Death, better known as Autzen Stadium..

What made sense for the Bruins was playing possum last Saturday at the Rose Bowl, let Stanford win and take their chances battling the Cardinal in Palo Alto When UCLA tanked at the Rose Bowl, it seemed possible that devious plan had been implemented.

Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins spent the week denying it. We played our best, they insisted all week. Mora and aggressive LA Times columnist T. J. Simers even tangled over this issue. The evidence, though, really did scream foul. Bruin RB Jonathan Franklin gained 65 yards in 20 carries against Stanford. In the average game, he can get that many yards in one decent offensive series. What about QB Brett Hundley, normally a shifty runner, playing statue and getting sacked seven times? That also was way out of character.

The Bruins didn't really have to lay down against Stanford last week. All they had to do was use a conserative game plan that Stanford would easily figure out, a plan that would limit Franklin and reign in Hundley. The offensive schemes cleverly shackled the two Bruins' stars. UCLA didn't really challenge Stanford's defense, using only part of its playbook, making it relatively simple for those first-rate defenders to shut down the Bruins' offense. That way the Bruins could lay down without really looking like they laid down. Clever, really, clever.

Halfway through the first quarter of Friday's championship game it was clear that we'd all been had. UCLA scored two TDs in the first quarter. Hundley was running circles around Stanford's defenders. Franklin, who looked  like his legs were full of lead last week, suddenly was a fleet-footed powerhouse. The possums had sprung to life.

Stanford won a tight game, 27-24, mainly on the Bruins' one big mistake, a Hundley pick on a dumb pass that led to a gift TD. Otherwise UCLA matched Stanford blow for blow. It was a battle of heavyweights that was pretty even. The Bruins even led in the fourth quarter. Stanford eventually eked out a victory on a field goal. The Bruins missed the tying field goal on an attempt doomed from the start by a bad snap.

No shame though. Yes it was a loss, but a very respectable one. Losing in Palo Alto to Stanford, one of the two or three best teams in the country, is no disgrace..

The real Bruins showed up Friday in Palo Alto and, on the heels of a fiendishly clever plan, nearly won the Pac-12 title. More power to them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Will UCLA Beat Stanford? Slim Chance

There's that line in the mournful ballad "Amazing Grace" that says something like: "I was blind but now I see." That's me.

I thought UCLA could whip Stanford last Saturday at the Rose Bowl. But the Bruiins were brutalized, 35-17. It was their worst licking of the season. That 43-17 loss to a bad Cal team doesn't count. In that one, the Bruins beat themselves, making a barrage of blunders, handing the game to the inferior Bears.

Looking at that Stanford game again on tape really opened my eyes. Face it. Stanford may be the best team in the country, as tough as the SEC's finest. They've beaten the elite of  the Pac-12, Oregon and UCLA. By the way, beating that fleet Oregon team on the road was a monumental achievement. I didn't give it enough weight. Could be that, being a Cal fan, I was blinded by my anti-Stanford bias.

UCLA lost last Saturday because they were going up against a monster team. Stanford won the game, where it's usually won, in the trenches. Sources tuned into NFL scouting say Stanford's front seven is as good at those impregnable units at Notre Dame and Alabama. That Stanford crew, claim these sources, has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. Credit them with Stanford's No.1 ranking against the rush, surrendering only 71.4 yards per game and its No.11 ranking in scoring defense. The Cardinal also leads the country in sacks, racking up seven in the UCLA game last week.

Watching the tape of that game, you see the UCLA offensive line, which starts three freshmen, getting pushed around. The Bruins' line ranks near the bottom in sacks allowed, but that hasn't really hurt the team since QB Brett Hundley is such a crafty scrambler, he's still able to find time to pass. The Stanford front seven, though, was just too good, cutting off all his escape routes. They also limited the Bruins' exceptional RB Jonathan Franklin to 65 yards in 20 carries.

For UCLA to win last week, Hundley and Franklin, aided by home field advantage, needed to have super games. Also Stanford's redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan had to screw up. Well, the Bruins' offensive stars didn't shine and Hogan managed the game nicely. All he had to do was hand off to RB Stepfan Taylor, who piled up 140 yards in 20 carries, burning up clock in the process..The Bruins' defense couldn't stop that Stanford O line, which has blossomed into one of the best in the country

If you're betting, taking UCLA, a nine-point underdog, is a little risky. According to handicappers, if these teams played 20 times, Stanford would win 15. Also, Stanford hardly ever loses in November. Since late in that month in 2009, the Cardinal has won 12 of 13 November games. Here's another stat in the Cardinal's favor: since 2010 it's 22-9 against the spread.

Look for Stanford to win against UCLA, dominating in the trenches.

But if Hundley and Franklin soar, the Bruins might even beat the spread or, against a superior veteran team, eke out a victory. Smart money is on Stanford. But not having learned my lesson last week, I might just go out on a limb and take the Bruins.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Defense of NY Jets' Coach Rex Ryan

New York Jet head coach Rex Ryan's job is hanging by a thread. Many Jets fans would actually like to see him hanging by a noose. But he's getting a raw deal, getting the blame for this Jets' mess. It's not his fault.

Sure, this 4-7 team is the laughing stock of the NFL. At their games, you half expect a clown car to pull up and the Jet players to spill out. In the embarrassing 49-19 loss to arch rival New England on Thanksgiving there was a hilarious play, the one where QB Mark Sanchez ran into his own lineman and fumbled the ball, which was run back for a TD. It was so ridiculous, so like something you'd see the kiddies do in Pop Warner football, you couldn't help laughing. These guys really are a laff riot.

Make no mistake, when the season is over, to clean up this mess, heads will roll.  Ryan, though, should be safe. He's just playing the hand he was dealt--and it's full of crummy cards.

In 2009 and 2010, when he had decent players, he guided the Jets to the AFC championship game. Just getting that far required excellent coaching. That was Ryan at his best. Those teams weren't packed with stars, but he made the most of a modestly-talented crew. Even then, Sanchez was the weak link. With a more capable QB the Jets might have gone farther.

This current team, though, team flat out stinks.  The Jets were doomed when two of its three best players, corner back Darrelle Revis and WR Santonio Holmes, were knocked out early with season-ending injuries. The offensive line, with the exception of center Nick Mangold, the Jets' other first-rate player, is awful. The WRs are a bunch of butter-fingered nobodies. And those aging linebackers, they're bad against the run and worse chasing down pass receivers. You can't get anywhere without a quality QB. Sanchez has been on a downward spiral since the 2010 AFC championship game.

Sanchez badly needed a shot of confidence. So what did the Jets do, but undermine him by bringing in a high-profile backup, Tim Tebow, who can't really play. Nervously looking over his shoulder at Tebow, Sanchez has gotten worse. Tebow, who's more celebrity than football player, is no help. All he's done is created resentment in the locker room, making the rest of the team angry that a guy who's ineffective at his position is a media darling.

The locker room, already fractured by an ugly Holmes-Sanchez feud and a conflict rooted in attitudes toward gay players, didn't need another distraction--which is basically what Tebow is. All this has sabotaged Ryan's coaching efforts.

He signed on to coach a football team and winds up coaching an NFL circus, teeming with lousy players.
Owner Woody Johnson and GM Mike Tannenbaum needs to clean house, dump Sanchez and Tebow, and start from scratch, signing quality players. And they can do it with Ryan at the helm. In a normal NFL environment he's an excellent coach. He's already proved that. He deserves another shot.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

UCLA and USC Win Tossup Games

UCLA (9-2) is a two-point underdog to Stanford today at the Rose Bowl, while USC (7-4) is a 6-point dog in its clash with undefeated, No.1 Notre Dame ( 11-0) crosstown at the Coliseum later in the day. Forget the point spreads. Both these games are really tossups. If you're betting  take the LA dogs. Here's why:

UCLA vs, Stanford:  After downing the Ducks 17-14 last week up in Oregon, Stanford, at the moment, is king of the conference. They wounded the Ducks, doing what seemed impossible, holding that scary offense to 40 points below its scoring average. Built like an SEC team, Stanford has a killer defense supported by a modest, run-oriented offense built around RB Stephan Taylor. Their strengths are their terrific linebackers, which are among the nation's finest and a run defense that's second best in the country.

UCLA's defense can't match Stanford's, but its front seven, guided by savvy coordinator Lou Spanos, gets better every week. Compare this crew today to what it was at the beginning of the season, and it's like night and day. The guts of this team, though, is a balanced offense headed by fab freshman QB Brett Hundley, both a superb runner and passer, and RB Jonathan Franklin, who's among the top three in the conference.

Expect the Bruins to set up a defense to bog down RB Taylor and dare freshman Kevin Hogan to beat them. The Cardinal's WRs aren't much but it does have super tight ends--Zach Ertz and Levine Toliolo. Can the Bruins defense put a lid on the Cardinal's offense? Can UCLA's offense dent the iron Stanford D? Can the Bruins overcome its major weakness, surrendering sacks (the offensive line is near the bottom in this critical stat)?

The answer to all three questions is yes. For Stanford to win, it has to, for the second week in a row, go into a tough team's hostile stadium and win, with a freshman QB, no less. Beating Oregon last week drained the Cardinal. A lot of its energy is still on the stadium floor in Oregon. Can the Cardinal, behind a baby QB, win another road crucial this week. Odds are against it. Bet on the Bruins.

USC vs. Notre Dame: Was there ever a weaker No.1 than Notre Dame?. On paper its schedule looks formidable, but nearly all these teams, like Purdue and BYU, are merely good to awful this year. The Irish squeaked by teams it should have routed. That OT win against lowly Pitt should have been a loss, just like that OT win against Stanford, which was aided by a questionable call. Notre Dame has impressive defensive stats, boasting the nation's finest red-zone defense, but it piled up these fancy figures against so-so offenses. They've faced just one first-rate passing team, Oklahoma, which trashed the Irish secondary.

Talented SC has been a major disappointment, mainly because turnovers and penalties have sabotaged their efforts. Notre Dame has a minor-league offense, run by a very ordinary QB, Everett Golson, that can be handled by SC, which has an edge in team speed. SC's big advantage is its super receiving corps, which could run roughshod over that mediocre Irish pass defense.Of course, Trojan QB Matt Barkley is out with a sprained shoulder, so inexperienced freshman QB Max Wittek is at the helm. Betting on SC is betting that he has an outstanding game and that SC's sack-happy pass-rushers can rattle QB Golson, who's been playing better lately.

Notre Dame, whose best player is Heisman candidate linebacker Manti Te'o, is very good but not great and is very beatable. If the Irish were in the SEC or the Pac-12, they'd be in third or fourth place, at best. There's another reason to take SC--the team has a hallowed history of beating undefeated Notre Dame teams. Betting on SC means gambling that it can clean up its act, cut down on turnovers and penalties, and that Wittek has a decent, fairly mistake-free game.

SC, which has won nine out of its last ten games with Notre Dame, can wash away its bad season with a win today.  This victory would go down as one of the biggest in school history. So SC has to be really motivated. Betting on the Trojans is worth the gamble.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why Alex Smith Should Start For the 49ers

I can't believe I'm saying this, but QB Alex Smith should be starting for the San Francisco 49ers, not Colin Kaepernick.

I haven't been Smith's biggest fan. In fact I've accused him of holding back the offense. With Smith at QB, the Niners don't score very often and are backed into many close games, often by inferior teams. But the Niners have one of the top five defenses in the league. They win with defense, David Akers field-goal kicking (though he did blow the Rams game in OT) and their modest offense, with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter grinding out 2-6 yard gains while eating up the clock. That's their formula. That's how, with Smith at QB, they came within two Kyle Williams blunders of going to the Super Bowl early this year.

But now, since Smith suffered a concussion on Nov. 11, young backup Kaepernick is in the mix. He performed creditably in the Rams game, which was a tie instead of a Niners' blowout due to defensive lapses. Then Kaepernick, in front of a national TV audience on Monday night, led to Niners to a rout of the tough Bears, who may have the league's best defense. Kaepernick passed for 184 yards in the first half. Smith doesn't usually rack up that many yards in an entire game.

A running threat, Kaepernick spreads defenses, opening up lanes for the runners. Unlike Smith he also throws long, with startling accuracy, which also spreads defenses. With Kaepernick at QB, the Niners' offense is much more dangerous, more likely to score points and make life easier for the defense. He also allows offensive coordinator Greg Roman to tap into his creativity and experiment with various wrinkles.
Then there's Smith, who can't do half of what Kaepernick can do. Smith is a lead-footed runner who can't throw long very well. With him at QB defenses put more players close to the line, hampering the runners as well as the short passing game. All this keeps the score low, putting more pressure on the Niners' defense.

Sounds like an argument for Kaepernick, doesn't it? Well, it's not. Smith should retain his starting job. First and foremost, a player shouldn't lose his job through injury. That's a rule that all pro football teams follow. Coach Jim Harbaugh shouldn't break it in this case. Also in Smith's favor is that he's a winner. With him in charge, despite his deficiencies, the Niners have turned into one of the best teams in the NFL. That's partly because he does not, as he did early in his career, make mistakes. This year is one of his best. He's not only hitting passes at a league best 70% clip but he also has a gaudy 104.1 rating, third in the NFL. How can you bench a guy who's playing that well?

Harbaugh may not have a choice this Sunday. Smith may not be cleared by doctors to play in New Orleans against the Saints. But if not this Sunday, sooner or later Harbaugh will have to make a choice.

The coach brought this upon himself. From the start he should have said Smith is my QB and when he's cleared to play he'll regain his starting position. But by saying nothing he inadvertently started a QB controversy.

That can fracture a team, like it did a few decades ago when the Niners had both an aging but still effective Joe Montana and a young Steve Young. If Harbaugh is smart, he'll save himself and the team a lot of grief by giving Smith his starting job back.

Anyway, Smith deserves it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why UCLA Will Whip USC

Look for UCLA to whip USC this Saturday and finally obliterate the stench of that 50-0 shredding they suffered in SC's house last season.

SC has owned UCLA this century, winning 12 of the last 13. The lone UCLA ray of sunshine was that shocking 13-9 win in the Karl Dorrell era. Well, after this Saturday, the Bruins will have something else to crow about.

UCLA (8-2) has a better record than USC (7-3) and a slightly higher national ranking, No. 17 to SC's No. 18. No surprise. That's because UCLA is the superior team.

SC is the favorite ( by 3.5-4.5 points) only because bettors still haven't wised up to USC. Wearing those rose-colored glasses, these gamblers are still willing to bet on the Trojans to beat spreads. Here's the reality. SC isn't a powerhouse, just an upper echelon Pac-12 team. Oregon is better, so is Stanford, so is Arizona. Remember, SC is 7-3, having lost to those three teams, not 10-0. That undefeated Trojan juggernaut was a fantasy, built around another fantasy, that Matt Barkley is the best QB in college football, the second coming of Andrew Luck. Nonsense. Barkley isn't even the best QB in the Pac-12. That honor belongs to Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who's a monster. UCLA's Brett Hundley isn't far behind.

Hundley is not just a much more accomplished scrambler and runner than Barkley, but also a more skilled passer. NFL scouts are finally figuring that out too. Hundley is piling up impressive passing stats with a corps  of so-so wide receivers. Barkley, on the other hand, is blessed with brilliant WRs--Robert Woods and Marquis Lee, the BEST player in college football. Without those gems, Barkley, who can be rattled into making terrible decisions and bad throws, would be a very good college QB, nothing more.

UCLA should win Saturday but it won't be easy. The USC passing attack will account for plenty of TDs. Bruin corners Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price will be worn out by those talented SC receivers. But Hundley, partly with passes to giant TE  Joseph Fauria, will brutalize SC's mediocre defense. He's the kind of QB--both quality passer and runner--that the Trojans can't handle. He's backed up by slippery RB Jonathan Franklin, the nation's No. 6 rusher, who should have a big day, particularly if it's raining.

Rookie coaching marvel Jim Mora has supremely boosted the Bruins, pumped them up to the point where they're maximizing their potential. The previous coach, Rick Neuheisel, never came close to getting the best out of his players. SC coach Lane Kiffin doesn't get maximum effort out of his players either. He has twice the talent the Bruins have and should have a significantly better team. But he doesn't.

SC is an undisciplined team that beats itself by making stupid penalties and turnovers in critical situations. Well-coached teams don't make such errors. Do you see units run by Bama's Nick Saban or LSU's Les Miles constantly killing themselves with penalties and turnovers? Never. As usual, SC will be shooting itself in the foot quite often on Saturday.

UCLA should beat the odds and SC, bolstered by those critical intangibles--desire and motivation. The Bruins are desperate to defeat USC, to end the Trojans' reign of terror. An afterthought at the beginning of the season, the Bruins have, with modest talent, turned what promised to be a losing season into a winner, propelled by Mora and his coaching staff and a whopping dose of desire and motivation.

They didn't have those intangibles only once this season, and stumbled to an unfortunate loss to Cal. You just know their cagey coach has used that loss as a teaching tool. They haven't lost since. They won't lose on Saturday either.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hiring Coach Mike D'Antoni--Another Laker Blunder

The LA Lakers have done it again. They just hired the wrong coach, Mike D'Antoni. He's replacing Mike Brown, who was dumped last week because the Lakers finally realized they had, you guessed it, hired the wrong coach.

A narrow-minded defensive coach, Brown force-fed his snail's-pace system to the Lakers, who spit it up. The losses piled up. After last week's fiasco in Utah, in which it was clear he'd lost the team, the owners canned him. With this new hire, around midnight on Sunday, they went totally in the opposite direction, handing the job to D'Antoni, who's just as narrow-minded--but focused totally on offense.

Can't think of a dumber move.

D'Antoni is famous for his racehorse Phoenix Suns teams of the 2007-08 seasons. They'd run and shoot but play no defense. It was fun to watch but his teams would flame out in the playoffs, where half-court sets and  gritty defense rule. Next, he took his act to New York, coaching the Knicks for four years. Again the teams, much less talented than his Suns' units, were fun to watch, but were never a power in the defense-minded Eastern conference.

To successfully execute D'Antoni's offense you need what the Lakers' don't have--young, athletic, speedy shooters and a solid bench full of quick gunners to spell exhausted starters. The Lakers are fossils, the second oldest team, after the Knicks, in the NBA. They're not physically able to run an uptempo offense.

Point guard Steve Nash, who led D'Antoni's best Phoenix teams, is nearing 39. He's in top shape but his age is starting to show. Currently out for a few weeks with a slight shin fracture, he's already breaking down--and this was while he was playing in Brown's slow-down offense. How is Nash, who's critical to the success of D'Antoni's offense, going to survive operating at a blistering pace? At least Brown's system protected Nash. D'Antoni's doesn't.

Nor will this new offense be great for star center Dwight Howard, who's only about 80% after back surgery. Expect him, after sprinting up and down the floor game after game, to break down regularly. Don't expect the other thirtysomething starters, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, to thrive in this offense either.

The owners are eager to bring back a modern version of the Lakers' flashy, "Showtime" championship teams of the '80s. Good idea--if you have the players.

After bringing in one-dimensional Brown and seeing that didn't work, why bring in another one-dimensional coach? Without the proper personnel for his system, D'Antoni is destined to flame out even worse than he did in New York.

The new coach has another serious problem, one that's not his fault. He'll forever be in the shadow of  ex-Laker coach Phil Jackson, who was supposed to get his old job back. But, after setting up the fans over the weekend for Jackson's return from retirement, the Lakers decided, late Sunday night, to hire D'Antoni instead. Jackson, who led the Lakers to five titles, felt mistreated. Rightly so.

Jackson was severely dissed (punked, some insist) by the owners, who could have rejected him in a respectable way. Many fans felt just as let down as Jackson. These Phil followers are going to be slow to warm up to D'Antoni, who's going to be measured against some impossible standards. Unless D'Antoni leads the Lakers to a title, fans will always gripe that, had Jackson been hired, he would have guided the team to another championship.

Hiring Jackson would have made more sense. For one thing, his triangle system, which doesn't require a first-rate point guard, would be more suitable to an aging Nash. Its read-and-react style, which allows for defensive pressure, makes the team more likely to advance in the playoffs. A system, like D'Antoni's, that pays no attention to defense, is just plain idiotic.

Just as idiotic as the Lakers' latest choice for head coach.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

USC's Deflated Ball Scandal--Lies, Lies

USC coach Lane Kiffin owes dethroned Laker coach Mike Brown an expensive bottle of champagne.. When the Lakers finally dumped Brown Friday, the shocking news rocked Los Angeles, pushing aside USC's ugly deflated ball scandal, which had been gathering media momentum. The Trojan misstep has slipped out of the spotlight, which is firmly on the Lakers. Brown's pain has been Kiffin's gain.

Apparently Kiffin, famous for bending rules during his short stay at Tennessee, is up to his old dirty tricks. And he got caught. Don't blame athletic director Pat Haden. He's trying to run a clean ship. The problem is the ship is being run by a captain who's used to playing dirty.

What happened at USC is disgraceful. The Pac-12 has fined USC $25,000, charging that a student manager, who hasn't been named, had deflated balls used by SC in last Saturday's game against Oregon, which won 62-51. Those balls gave USC a boost, since throwing and catching a lighter ball is considerably easier. Though SC lost, their prolific passing kept them close. Kiffin swears that manager acted on his own, that the coaches and players knew nothing about this transgression.

Bullcrap. Who is he kidding? Does he think we're all stupid?

Three different sources close to the team report that not only did several coaches know about the deflated balls but so did QB Matt Barkley. What's more, the sources add that a well-executed cover-up has buried the truth and set up the student manager as the scapegoat. That really smells. No way would a manager take it upon himself to do something that might open the school to penalties and embarrassment. That kind of flagrant violation by an underling doesn't happen without somebody upstairs knowing about it.

What's worse, this isn't the first time this has happened. It's just the first time SC was caught. The word in the sports underground is that USC has done this before and has done it so well they've evaded capture. So SC's glossy passing stats, which put Barkley and WR Marquis Lee in college football's elite, are tainted. Unfortunately, those passing stats aren't the only thing about SC football that's tainted.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lakers: The Crippling Kobe-Coach Brown Feud

The LA Lakers are a mess, off to a horrible 1-4 start, blowing games they should have won. They have more talent than the Utah, yet the Jazz bullied their way to a 95-86 win over the Lakers Wednesday night, Things are getting messier by the minute.

The reason? Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant hates coach Mike Brown.

Two sources close to two players report that what's undermining the team is the tension between Bryant and Brown. Quite simply, Kobe loathes Brown's new system, which is a form of the slow-as-molasses Princeton offense. The Kobe-Brown hostility, claim the sources, is ruining practices. Without fruitful practices and being caught up in the storm of this player-coach animosity, the team is playing badly. None of the players like the system but Kobe really, really hates it. For that reason, he's making Brown's life miserable and, in the process, disrupting the team. When Kobe is unhappy, the team suffers. Team officials have kept the lid on the tension so far but it's becoming tougher and tougher. For instance, that glare of disgust that Kobe shot at Brown at the end of the Utah loss. Some people saw it and, no doubt, are questioning what's behind it. Kobe's "everything's fine" comments after he cooled down don't ring true.

This hostility toward the coach, from Kobe, and to a lesser extent, the other players, is killing the team. They're not playing hard. They're lazy on defense. They're so unfocused they're constantly throwing the ball away, creating awful turnover stats. This is a mentally crippled team, with no remedy in sight..

But there are other problems. One is that point guard Steve Nash has been injured and could be out for at least a month. The backups, headed by Steve Blake, are modestly skilled journeymen. The Lakers might have three all-stars--Kobe, center Dwight Howard and forward Pau Gasol--but they're much less effective, particularly Gasol, without a first-rate point guard managing the offense. Also, the Lakers have a mediocre bench, which squanders or can't hold leads. Even if the players loved Brown and his system, this team, with a hole a point guard and a bad bench, would probably be struggling..

As you might expect, Laker fans are fuming. They're still caught up in great expectations. In the off-season, with the addition of Howard and Nash, the hype machine revved into overdrive, insisting that this unit could win the NBA title. So far, including preseason, the Lakers have, shockingly, won just one game, mauling the pathetic Detroit Pistons, who'd have trouble beating a top college team.

How to fix this mess? Kobe won't be happy until Brown junks his questionable system, which isn't going to happen. What about firing Brown? But is that fair with the team missing such an important piece--Steve Nash? With him healthy, Brown's system might work and the team might be winning..

In Brown's favor is that a six-game home stand, mostly with non-playoff teams, looms. Even with point guard and bench woes, the Lakers should win 3 or 4 of these. But if they don't and this friendly Staples-Center stretch is a bust, it just may be bye, bye Brown.

Friday, November 2, 2012

BIg Game Saturday--Bama and Oregon Should Win

Alabama at LSU, Oregon at USC. Because of these two monster games, this Saturday is the day college football fans have been waiting for all year. Each game, though, has a little less luster. This was supposed to be the battle of the unbeatens. But LSU has one loss and USC has two. Both games, though, should still be bone-crushing battles.

Oregon (8-0) at USC )6-2):.

Picked by many in the pre-season as the No. 1 team, USC  isn't even the No.1 team in the Pac-12. That honor, easily, belongs to Oregon. The Trojans, it turns out, are full of holes. First of all, this team is thoroughly undisciplined, the Oakland Raiders of college football. USC leads the nation in penalties. Last Saturday, in the 39-36 loss to Arizona, the Trojans reached a penalty peak, being flagged 13 times. Coupled with the five turnovers, USC did a bang-up job of beating itself.

In the 21-14  loss to Stanford, USC didn't beat itself.  The bruising Cardinal did the whipping. Stanford's two beefy, rugged lines simply out-muscled the Trojans. After that game, the bloom was off the SC rose. It was clear they weren't tough enough to be the nation's No.1 team. It was also clear that QB Matt Barkley, who couldn't pull his team out of that hole, wasn't quite Heisman caliber. He's not even the best player on the team. That's WR Marquis Lee, who caught 16 passes for a staggering 345 yards against Arizona. Lee just might be the best player in the country.

Another problem. SC doesn't have a championship defense. Arizona's QB Matt Scott, who's not even top-notch, destroyed the SC pass defense. If Arizona can do that imagine what QB Marcus Mariota and that super-speed Oregon offense will do. Arizona is a fast team, but Oregon, with sprinters Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas at running back, is even faster. Oregon, by the way, ripped Arizona apart, 49-0.

Skeptics say Oregon hasn't been tested. But they've blown out all their opponents. Typically Oregon has mangled teams by the end of the first half. Sometimes the issue is settled by the end of the first quarter. They usually take their foot off the pedal early, or else they'd crack 100 against the weaker teams. Oregon doesn't have a great defense, but it's pretty good, certainly solid enough to keep a team like USC in check. The Trojans' strength is their passing game, which should account for at least three or four TDs. But the USC defense isn't sturdy enough to slow down the high-flying Ducks. Oregon. a 7-8 point favorite, wins this one, by a TD or two.

Alabama (8-0) at LSU (7-1):

Another boring battle of impenetrable defenses? Probably. Neither team has an explosive offense. LSU's, run by so-so- QB Zach Mettenberger, is pretty weak. Bama's is better but it's still just average. But Bama has a QB, A.J. McCarron, who's cool under pressure, doesn't make mistakes and can deliver a few TDs. With that ferocious D crippling most offenses, that's all the nation's No. 1 team needs to win most games.

Bama hasn't lost a game but it's had an easier schedule, featuring Michigan and Mississippi State, than LSU, which has had to battle Florida and South Carolina. LSU's resume has a lone blemish, that 14-6  loss to Florida, 14-6. The Tigers' problem is generating offense. In fact, the Tigers will be lucky to score against Bama. Look for the Bama offense, which boasts the country's best O line, to create running room for the Tide's RBs. And you can be sure that the Bama defensive line, with nose tackle Jesse Williams clogging the middle, will make it impossible for LSU backs to do very much.A 9-point favorite, Bama should win what shapes up as another low-scoring contest. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire Cal Coach Jeff Tedford, Fire...

Fire Jeff Tedford, fire Jeff Tedford, fire Jeff Tedford, fire...

How many times can I say it? The Cal football coach has got to go. At this point I'd even advocate bringing back Tom Holmoe, the incompetent coach Tedford replaced in 2002. By comparison, even Holmoe is looking good now. And he, to put it mildly, was pathetic.

After looking at a tape of Saturday night's debacle in Salt Lake City, you wonder why Tedford is still the head coach. The Bears were beaten by, let's face it, a lousy team. Quite simply, Utah stinks. Their offense is just plain dreadful. Yet, it breezed through the disinterested Bears, who offered  minimal opposition. Don't let the final score, 49-27 fool you. The game was over at  halftime. Actually by the end of the first quarter, the Bears were toast.

Look at Utah. Their offense is loaded with Grade C talent. Their quarterback, Travis Wilson, has no touch and has consistently demonstrated his inability to read defenses. Yet the Cal defense, which should have clobbered him with a steady stream of blitzes, was putty in his hands. He may be the worst quarterback in the Pac12. No, wait, that title belongs to Cal's Zach Maynard, who was shamelessly  padding his stats in garbage time against the Utah scrubs. When it counted, he was throwing rotten pass after rotten pass. Of course, it didn't help that the offensive line was providing pitiful protection.

No question, Tedford has lost the team. Just look at the tape of the loss to Utah, which I labored through twice. It was like watching a horrible horror move. What jumped out at me, time and time again, was that the Bears were playing half-heartedly, with very little passion. By comparison, if you watched Georgia play Florida on Saturday, you saw two teams playing their hearts out for their coach. You don't see that kind of intensity in Cal players. Sure, in post-game interviews, they say all the right things, supporting their coach.
Hogwash! Just watch them play. You'll see a team that's dogging it, that's not putting out for their coach.

Tedford should be fired just for his mismanagement of the development of RB Brandon Bigelow. Oh, the kid isn't quite ready, Tedford keeps saying. How about getting him ready?. What are you saving him for? What have you got to lose by giving him most of the RB carries, at least 20 a game? He's a home-run threat who causes defenses to adjust when he's in the backfield. If he's in there most of the time, that will loosen defenses and open up lanes for the passing offense. A good coach would have realized what a gem he has in Bigelow and would have made him game-ready a long time ago..

So what's going to happen? Probably nothing. Athletic director Sandy Barbour, who's a real wimp, should buy out Tedford and send him packing. Certainly some wealthy alums would foot the bill if it meant giving Tedford the boot.

But we're stuck. Cal could lose all three of its final games. They do, however, have a chance to beat Washington on Friday night in Berkeley. The Huskies are the better team but they don't play well on the road. Cal is favored by three but smart money will be on Washington. No way, however, does Cal whip either No. 2 Oregon or No. 13 Oregon State. So no bowl game for the Bears this season.

Who's fault is it? Who should be fired?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Lakers--Likely Victims of Age and Injury

Hey Laker fans!

Get your heads out of the sand. Take off those rose-colored glasses. Get rid of those blinders. Face reality. That vision you have of the Lakers  methodically mowing down rivals on the way to an NBA championship may turn out to be a fairy tale. Things may not happen the way you expect.

Since the Lakers signed center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash in the off  season, all their fans, bursting with glee, can think of is what damage that fabulous starting five can do. These rapturous fans imagine Howard, the league's secretary of defense, flanked by first-rate forwards Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, in front of a dream backcourt--Nash and shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Who can stop them? Fans get giddy envisioning this offense rampaging through the league.
But wait a minute.

There's another side, a dark side, which Laker  fans either ignore or place in the unlikely category. Age and injuries can ruin this team. So can its weak bench. These are real dangers. Lakers fans, though, act like they don't exist or are remote possibilities.

But it's quite possible that Howard, coming off back surgery, may miss a lot of games or be ineffective in some when back pains flare up. His back simply may not hold up for a full season. It's very likely that, come playoff time, he'll be far less than 100%. And what about Nash, who's nearing 90?. They need him to play like a 25-year-old, for about 35 minutes a game. That may be too much. At his age he needs more rest and is more prone to nagging injuries. The Lakers, though, don't have the luxury of resting him.

What about Kobe? He's no spring chicken. Right now he's out of the lineup, nursing a banged-up foot. He has more mileage than just about any player in the league. He's definitely slowing down and, like Nash, is  more vulnerable to injury.

But age and injury issues are less scary when you have a strong bench to rely on. That's another problem. Last year, the Lakers had arguably the worst bench in the league. They've upgraded, adding Jodie Meeks and Antewan Jameson, but it's still not a great bench..So far it's been mediocre. The lousy bench is a big reason the Lakers are winless in seven pre-season games. If any of the stars is out for a while that offense isn't nearly as potent.

Last night the Lakers lost 97-91 to the Clippers. Neither Howard, who's still not in game shape, nor Bryant  played. Without the stars, the Lakers just weren't good enough. During the season, Howard, Nash and Bryant are bound to be out here and there with injuries, derailing the offense.

Lakers fans, though, don't want to hear that unsettling scenario, which is just as likely to become a reality. They prefer the glorious vision of the starters, that Fab Five, all healthy, playing 35-40 minutes a game.

Dream on, Laker fans, dream on.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Replacement Ref: Venting and Vodka


Sitting  at a small table in a nearly empty, upscale Los Angeles bar one afternoon, a tall, middle-aged man put a raised finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. "Don't use my real name. Just refer to me as a replacement ref."

Mum's the word. Nobody will know your name, just that you're one of those infamous, hated replacement refs, one who's venting, fueled by shot after shot of vodka. Next to him his buddy, a professional gambler, sat very quietly and just listened.

"The whole experience, working all those games when the real refs were locked out, just tore me apart," said the ref, tackling his fourth vodka, or was it his fifth?

What did he hate most about the replacement experience?

"The way the players looked at us," he replied. "They thought we were clowns. They didn't respect us. We didn't control those games they way we should have. They knew that. Most of the time we didn't know what the hell we were doing.. Some of the guys were good but some were real bad. Some were in way over their heads. I admit. Sometimes I was overwhelmed.

"After a game, I'd look at a DVR of the game and I'd see I did this wrong and I did that wrong, that I missed this and I missed that. Here's what it was like. It's like the players were these fancy sports cars zooming around and the refs were in horse and buggies, trying to keep up. And we couldn't. We were always a step behind. I was stressed out, really stressed out. I was drinking more and  more. Ever try to referee a game with a hangover? It's brutal."

Time to slip in a most uncomfortable question, one that always lurked in the background during the replacement ref days. Where any of the games officiated by the replacements fixed?

"Don't go there," said the ref nervously. "I heard things....things. Don't go there. Don't go there."

Were those few months entirely awful?

"Are you kidding? I hated the experience but I loved it. It was a dream come true. I wasn't really equipped for it but it was the greatest experience of my life. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Waving his empty glass in the direction of the waitress, he said: "Another please." She looked quizzically at him. His buddy finally spoke: "Don't worry, I'm driving."

More venting. Then another question. What did he think of the Seattle-Green Bay game?

"When I saw that last play, how they screwed it up, I threw a plate at my TV screen. Broke the damn screen. At that moment, I knew it was over. I knew they'd end the lockout and get the real refs back ASAP. I knew my days as a replacement were over. It was a sad moment for me."

Suddenly angry at himself, he said: "I shouldn't be saying all this stuff. I shouldn't be ripping the guys I worked with. They're all saying nice things about the experience. They don't want any controversy.. Sometimes I talk too much. When I drink too much I talk too much."

But he kept on venting. Once in a while, though, he'd stop and ask, "What's my name?" Then he'd answer his own question, putting that raised finger to his lips.


Monday, September 24, 2012

NFL Games Fixed? Seattle Win Raises Questions

This Seattle win stinks, really stinks.

It's unnerving. Is the fix on in the NFL? Dig down and you may see something ugly--or smell something really foul.

On Monday night Seattle beat Green Bay on the last play of the game, in the Seahawks' stadium, turning what would have been a 12-7 Green Bay win into a 14-12 Seattle win.  This robbery, this bogus victory is a black-eye on the NFL, a questionable outcome that calls the integrity of the game into question.

Here's what happened. With eight seconds left in the game, the Seahawks were in desperation mode, trailing 12-7 on the Green Bay 24. All that was left was a Hail Mary pass which, of course, almost never works. Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson threw up a prayer, which looked, with several  players jumping for the ball, like it was intercepted by Green Bay defender M.D. Jennings. But Seattle receiver Golden Tate had a hand on it. Replays showed that Jennings had the ball clutched to his chest, with Tate's hand in there somewhere. If you had to assign percentages, it was 85% Jennings' ball and 15% Tate's. Not only that, before getting involved in the catch, Tate had flagrantly pushed a Green Bay defender to get into position for the catch, a foul that wasn't called. One official even motioned that the pass was intercepted, but he was overruled. Tate was credited with a 24-yard TD pass. Game over. Seattle wins.

The officials had a chance to right the wrong. But after a replay review, they didn't overturn the TD call. Though the Green Bay team had left the field, they begrudgingly sent some defenders back so that Seattle could attempt an extra point and make the game official. In the TV booth, veteran NFL official Gerry Austin was livid, angrily charging that the refs had stolen the game from Green Bay.

There was a sense this tight, penalty-filled game was edging in Seattle's direction when, with 6:14  left in the fourth quarter, and Seattle, behind, facing an impossible situation, 1st and long  in their own territory. But they were bailed out by a 32-yard pass interference call against Green Bay's Sam Shields. Actually it should have been a penalty against Seattle's Sidney Rice, for mugging Shields. It was such an obvious horrible call, in Seattle's favor, that the announcers, who generally try to be neutral, boldly cried foul. Seattle, which might have had to punt, changing the tone of the game, was gift-wrapped a first-down in Green Bay territory.

Blame the ineptness of replacement officials? Maybe. But this reeks of  more than that.

In the shadowy world of sports gambling, you hear rumblings, among those in these circles, about attempts  being made to fix NFL games, to get officials to make calls to influence scores--mainly to effect the point spread, not wins or losses. Earlier this afternoon there was buzzing, in these circles, about how underdog Seattle would not only beat the three-point spread but win outright. Certain insiders were tipped to bet on Seattle.

What's different now is that replacement officials are vulnerable to the fix. The gamblers know that. corrupting veteran officials is tough. These guys have survived fix-attempts before and are inclined to stay clean. But these replacement officials are more likely to be lured by the quick buck.

Lurking behind this officials-lockout was always the fear that the replacement officials might succumb to corruption.There have been suspicions that some may already have turned down that dark street. Check out the evidence. Ridiculous calls in these first few weeks have tilted the spread of some games. But this Green Bay-Seattle game is the first to be openly and clearly decided by officiating.

Most will caution that the NFL game is still fix-free and the replacement officials are just incompetent. But the Seattle game smells. It's over the line. Even insiders are leery. Some high-rollers who were on the wrong side of this Green Bay-Seattle score are steaming. They were counting their victory dollars one moment,
and then preparing to pay back losses the next.

The team owners had better come to their senses and get rid of these replacements jerks. Something is rotten in the NFL and it's not just the replacement officials.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Cal Can Beat USC This Saturday

Can Cal, a whopping 16-point underdog, beat USC at the LA Coliseum this Saturday, a team it hasn't beaten since that famous triple-overtime win in Berkeley in 2003? Most certainly. A Bear victory is not the impossible dream it appeared to be before last Saturday.

Both teams lost by seven last Saturday on the road, but Cal's loss to Ohio State was uplifting, with the Bears dominating in the second half in Columbus and QB Zach Maynard playing the game of his career. USC, though, crumbled in a game it was supposed to win, exposing weaknesses a smart team can exploit.

What's the recipe for an improbable Cal win?

First of all, the Bears need to develop some swagger. Losers of eight in a row to USC, Cal is usually intimidated by the Trojans, playing scared and collapsing like wimps. Last week, in one of the toughest stadiums in the country for a visiting team, Cal outplayed a very good Ohio State team, especially in the second half. With some decent field-goal kicking, the Bears might have won. That moral victory could give the Bears a shot of confidence they need heading into a USC battle. Without swagger Cal is dead. This time, thanks to the Ohio State game, they just might have developed some swagger. They'll need it to counter  their tendency to play badly on the road.

Second, to beat USC, Cal needs a super, mistake-free game from QB Zach Maynard. In Columbus, he showed what he can do when playing at the top of his game--26 out of 37,  for 280 yards, one TD and one pick--on the final drive. Third, center Khaled Holmes must be on the bench, or playing hurt. USC's best O-lineman and arguably its best player, Holmes didn't play against Stanford. His replacement, freshman Cyrus Hobbi, was a doormat, providing little resistance to the bruising Stanford linemen. The pressure on QB Barkley, due to O-line failure, triggered the Stanford win.

Fourth, the Cal defense has to play the game of its life. Compared to Cal, Stanford has a better front-seven, particularly its line-backing corps, which is among the nation's finest. But Cal's D-line, playing smart, aggressive, fearless football, taking advantage of that weakness at center, can do damage to the Trojan offense, throwing Barkley off his game. If Holmes plays he'll be less than 100%. If Hobbi plays, Cal can whip him. Either way, Cal can use the center position as a gateway to slowing down Barkley.

Obstacles to a Cal victory: There are several. First of all, USC will be highly motivated and angry and desperate not to lose back-to-back conference games. Second, Maynard is inconsistent, rarely putting together back-to-back primo games. So after the excellence in Columbus, history says he's due for a stinker. Third, at Columbus, a huge factor in the Cal offense was its home-run threat, RB Brandon Bigelow. He caught the Buckeyes by surprise. SC, though, will be ready for him. Fourth, Cal is headed by an inferior coach, Jeff Tedford, who usually makes the wrong move in crucial situations. Fifth, USC has superior material.

Of course the best team doesn't always win. And rarely do 16-point underdogs win. But if the Bears turn ferocious and follow this recipe for victory, who knows?

Monday, September 17, 2012

USC Locker Room Mess

When USC tight end Randall Telfair admitted after the Stanford loss that the Trojans weren't prepared, he wasn't kidding. He made public something that had apparently been concerning insiders all week.

Two sources close to the team confide that many of the players have been inflicted with the swelled-head syndrome that comes from wallowing in gushing press hype. Apparently last week's practices weren't that intense, with players assuming that Stanford, without the great QB Andrew Luck, wasn't good enough to beat mighty USC and that the Trojan passing game would decimate that Cardinal secondary, which has three new starters.

The Holmes factor, say the sources, was a big factor in the loss. USC knew that center Khaled Holmes wasn't going to play and that his replacement was an inexperienced freshman. According to the sources, all the hype about QB Matt Barkley and WRs Marquise Lee and Robert Woods overshadows that fact that Holmes is clearly the team's MVP. He doesn't play, USC doesn't win. With him healthy, say the sources, the Trojans beat the Cardinal. It's partly mental. The confidence of Barkley and the rest of the O-line dips when Holmes doesn't play. Some of the players underestimated Luck-less Stanford and figured the Cardinal was a dead duck, even without Holmes.

The Trojans, say the sources, were lulled by the San Jose State game, which Stanford barely won, 20-17. Stanford QB Josh Nunes blundered badly in that game. But the Nunes who played against USC was different--many, many times better, his learning curve up sharply. The Cardinal wasn't ready for that Nunes.

One of the sources singled out the USC wide receivers as the most unfocused lot. Their heads, he noted, weren't totally into the practices. You could tell that in the game, particularly with Woods, who looked, at times, like he was in a daze, running poor routes. Lee wasn't much better.

Apparently there was much tension in the locker room all last week. Some veterans were trying to pump some sense into the unfocused players, but were not successful. So, after a lazy week of half-hearted practice and nasty intra-player tension, USC simply wasn't ready for the Cardindal, particularly for those tough, beefy linemen who gobbled up the Trojans. Freshman center Cyrus Hobbi, say the sources, was destroyed by the Stanford line, both mentally and physically.

Since the game, the sources report, the USC locker-room tension is even worse, with some players angry at the ones who were practicing last week at half speed.

The team is in a deep funk. The sources say Barkley, whose Heisman hopes have dimmed to a flicker, is furious with his teammates who, he feels, let him down. That attitude, of course, adds to the tension. The question is: can the Trojans spiral out of this darkness in time to prepare properly for the Cal game on Saturday?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pac12 Football Preview--Four Games

No.2 USC (2-0) at No. 21 Stanford (2-0):  The Trojans have a big problem that's not getting much attention because of the way the team hides its injuries. Its best offensive lineman, center Khaled Holmes is banged up, nursing a bad ankle. If he plays he won't be 100%. If he doesn't play, that critical position will be manned by freshman Cyrus Hobbi. Either way, the O-line is weakened. That may hamper QB Matt Barkley, who heads a passing game that some NFL teams who love to have.

Stanford has a problem too. All-American QB Andrew Luck is in the NFL and his replacement, Josh Nunes, is green. No doubt USC's game plan will be to gang up on RB Stefan Taylor and ratchet up the pressure on Nunes to move the ball through the air.  If the O-line can protect Barkley, the Stanford secondary, burdened with three new starters, will be blistered by super WRs Marquise Lee and Robert Woods. There's another factor. After losing four of the last five to Stanford, USC is salivating for a win over the Cardinal. Stanford, which has two blah wins, should lose this one, mainly because, overall, the Trojans are better. But if USC has to play the freshman at center, bettors might pick home underdog Stanford to beat the 9-point spread.

Cal (1-1) at No.12 Ohio State (2-0): With a loss and and a shaky win over inferior teams at home, Cal is in deep trouble on the road--in Columbus of all places--with a defense that's riddled with problems. The Bears couldn't stop Nevada and gutsy, out-manned Southern Utah just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Ohio State has a weapon, exceptional dual-threat QB Braxton Miller, that makes the Bears shudder. He's the kind of QB, like those running the pistol at Nevada, that the Bears simply can't handle.

The only bright spot for Cal is that Ohio State, so far, hasn't had much of a pass rush. So QB Zach Maynard may have room to maneuver and get the ball to speedy WR Keenan Allen. But Cal will have trouble running against the Buckeyes' rugged front seven. Don't expect much from the Bears, a traditionally lousy road team. A win for Cal, a 17-point underdog, in Columbus, a black hole for any road team, is a long shot. So is beating that hefty spread.

Houston (0-2) at No.22 UCLA (2-0):  Here's the key point. Houston has a horrible defense which has crumbled against two bad teams and won't come close to stopping UCLA's high-powered offense, run by QB Brett Hundley and featuring RB Jonathan Franklin and TE Joseph Fauria. The Houston D is on a par with Rice's, which was savaged by the Bruins. But the UCLA defense is no rock either. Houston's offense will do some damage. In last week's 56-49 loss to La Tech, Houston's QB David Piland threw 77 passes, racking up 580 yards without a pick. He'll pile up passing yards against the Bruins too, but not enough for a victory. Expect a shoot-out, with UCLA topping 50 points. The favored Bruins should cover the 17-point spread.

Arizona State (2-0) at Missouri (1-1):  This may be the most interesting Pac12 game of the week. Arizona State, with new coach Todd Graham, is off to a great start, with routs of Northern Arizona and Illinois under its belt. But playing Missouri, which just jumped to the SEC, on the road is a different story. This is the Missouri team that, last week at home, played Georgia even for three quarters before losing.

Hot Sun Devils' QB Taylor Kelly, who's completed 77% of his passes without a turnover, may have trouble passing against a front seven that's much better than any they've faced so far. And corralling Missouri's marvelous dual-threat QB James Franklin will be a chore for the Arizona State defense. However, Missouri may be in a funk over last week's loss. Also, losing LT Elvis Fisher, maybe the team's best player, is bound to hurt. But just how good are the Sun Devils, who finished in a tailspin last season, anyway? Another point. Arizona State has never beaten an SEC team. The odds-makers say they're not as good as Missouri, a 6..5-point favorite. Smart bettors are staying away from this one. Too many unknowns.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pac12 Football---Not So Bad After All

Based on preseason predictions, the Pac12 was supposed to be Oregon and USC up there on the Mountain Top, looking down on the ten inferior teams in the rest of the conference. .

But things have changed. One of the Mountain Top Two is a bit shaky. Also, the rest of the conference may not be so bad.

Up on that Mountain Top, Oregon still looks as strong as ever. With that super-speed offense, they can outscore anybody. But USC has a problem. Its defense, ragged and sloppy at times against two mediocre, non-conference teams, may, in a conference game or two, put the team in a hole that its superlative passing game can't dig them out of. USC is definitely vulnerable.

Pundits downgraded the rest of the conference as wimpy, charging that only Stanford and Utah were half decent. Those two, everyone thought, would fight it out for the No. 3 spot.


Stanford is 2-0, but an ugly 2-0, barely beating cream-puff San Jose State 20-17, and scoring 50 on Duke, which is like bullying a kitten. This early in the season, Utah is already in trouble. They lost to unimpressive, Mountain West arch-rival Utah State and also lost QB Jordan Wynn, who re-injured his bad left shoulder and decided to quit football. Without Wynn, the Utes have to rely on inexperienced senior Jon Hays. So the Utes aren't going anywhere.

The battle for the No. 3 spot in the Pac12  may be a four-way tussle, but between four surprise teams--UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State.

The third best team in the conference just might be UCLA, which has two victories, one a shocker over mighty Nebraska. It turns out that UCLA's offensive explosion against poor Rice was no fluke. What's propelling the Bruins is a revamped, pro-style offense, headed by RB Jonathan Franklin, who boasts a pair of 200-yard games, and freshman Brett Hundley, the team's best QB since Cade McNown back in the late 1990s.

Coach Jim Mora has transformed UCLA. Spread-offense guru Rich Rodriguez has done the same thing for Arizona, something, by the way, he couldn't do in his short stay at Michigan. Arizona is 2-0, including a 59-36 spanking of tough, Top 20 Oklahoma State, spurred by RB Ka'Deem Carey's 4TDs and QB
Matt Scott's 320 passing yards.

There was another notable Pac12 coaching debut. Under new head man Todd Graham, Arizona State, which opened with a 63-6 thrashing of Northern Arizona, topped that by destroying Illinois 45-14. The Sun Devils have found a suitable replacement for QB Brock Osweiler. Taylor Kelly completed 18 out of 24 for 249 yards.

Oregon State may be the biggest surprise, with a 10-7 win over Big Ten kingpin Wisconsin, which features Heisman trophy candidate Montee Ball. This is the same Beaver outfit that was ticketed for the conference cellar.

The rest of the Pac12 is not at all menacing. The Cal Bears, under the misdirection of coach Jeff Tedford, don't have much growl in them. After falling to a so-so Nevada team, they needed a fourth quarter rally to escape an embarrassing loss to lowly Southern Utah. With Ohio State and USC looming, Cal, guided by erratic QB Zach Maynard, is headed for a 1-4 hole.

The jury is still out on Washington, which was ground up by LSU. The verdict is in, though, on Washington State and Colorado. Both are just plain lousy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pac 12 Preview--UCLA vs. Nebraska

Easy, UCLA  fans, easy.

Remember who you beat 49-24, whose pitiful defense surrendered 643 yards. It was Rice. Last year they had arguably the worst defense in major college football. This year, as you'll see by season's end, it's pretty much the same, lame, matador outfit.

Yes it's a promising start, but it's simply too early to tell if the Bruins have flushed the Neuheisel out of their system. The biggest worry of the early Mora era is the O line, which trampled the Rice D line. That was the story of the game. The UCLA backfield was in heaven. With those monster holes and that airtight pass protection, the UCLA second string could have racked up ridiculous offense numbers. But Nebraska is a different story. It's not blessed with a killer, SEC-style defense, particularly since LB Lavonte David has graduated. But the Huskers aren't lightweights. QB Taylor Martinez is coming off a career-best, 5-TD pass, no-pick game, a 49-20 rout of  Southern Miss, a quality Conference USA team.

The Rice game was no more than a scrimmage, nothing to use as a guide to what's going to happen this season. The offense looked strong and so did the defense, in the second-half anyway. The D, which has pass-rush issues, even recorded six sacks. Nebraska is the real test. Aside from the Trojans (the Bruins luckily don't face Oregon) this may be the best team UCLA plays this season.  

Good news for UCLA. Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead is banged up, which should hurt their running game. Also, QB Martinez, who's been inconsistent, tends to follow good games with stinkers.

Heads out of the clouds, Bruin fans. Reality check. Nebraska should win. This is a young Bruin team, still learning a pro-style offense, with a questionable O line, headed by a redshirt freshman, Brett Hundley. Having them whip a perennial power which has a talented, dual-threat QB running the offense is a bit much to ask. A UCLA win possible but very unlikely. But if the Bruins can keep it close and not be stampeded, there's hope for at least a .500 season in the weak Pac12


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cal Coach Jeff Tedford Must Go

It's time.Cal coach Jeff Tedford must go.

It was pretty clear last season that Tedford, with a blizzard of blunders--particularly in the loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl, had lost it. But last Saturday it was never more obvious that Tedford had worn out his welcome. Cal lost 31-24 to a Nevada team that had no business beating the Bears in Berkeley on the day when the school was debuting its fancy, expensively remodeled stadium. Cal has more talent. Cal is a better team. So what happened? Why couldn't Cal win a game it should have won by 2-3 TDs? The answer is simple. Jeff Tedford is the problem.

After examining a disc of the game thoroughly, and rerunning many plays, what I saw, much to my disgust, was a badly coached team--a lot of talent wasted. Players looked listless and out of position. The defense was consistently fooled by Nevada's tricky pistol offense, something Cal should have working to decipher since spring practice. When Nevada was driving for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter, the Bears looked befuddled. It was like the old days, back in the 1990s, in the era of inept coach Tom Holmoe. Back then, when a team was driving against the Bears for a winning TD late in a game, you knew the Bears couldn't--and wouldn't--stop the attack. Against Nevada it was deja vu, that sick feeling, all over again.

Tedford's ace-in-the hole, at one time, was his skill at developing quarterbacks, his resume teeming with No.1 NFL picks like Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Bohler. But since Aaron Rodgers, his best student, left after the 2004 season, Tedford has come up with dud after dud at QB. Joe Ayoob? You gotta be kidding. A Division II talent that didn't belong in the Pac 10.  Nate Longshore? Kevin Riley? These were promising QBs but they were wildly inconsistent and never blossomed past the average level. Quality coaching would have helped. But they didn't get it.

The latest disaster at QB is Zach Maynard, who keeps making boneheaded decision after boneheaded decision. Excitable and error-prone, he's just modestly talented, a little guy with a pop-gun arm. Most of the QBs in the Pac12 are superior. Why couldn't the Bears come up with a better prospect? Why isn't Maynard playing at a higher level? Again, blame Tedford.

Though he, surprisingly, hasn't been able to come up with top-notch QB prospects, he has been a good recruiter at all the other positions. Cal has sent many players to the NFL, almost as many as USC. But has Tedford translated that talent into many 9-and-10-win seasons? Absolutely not.

This season is already shaping up as a lost cause. An ugly 1-4 start is looming. Assuming Cal can beat Saturday's Podunk U foe (Southern Utah), they have to face Ohio State and USC. If they can't beat Nevada in Berkeley what chance do they have against two traditional powers on the road? Looking like a lower-level Pac12 team, Cal is going to struggle to reach .500 and get to a bowl. 

Early last decade, when the Cal program was in the graveyard, coming off a 1-10 season in 2001, Tedford was the savior. In the middle of that decade, the program was still promising. But, since Cal missed out on climbing a notch to No. 1 in the polls in 2007, when a goof by novice QB Kevin Riley blew the Oregon State game, Cal has been on the decline. The Tedford of those early years has been MIA.

But AD Sandy Barbour is unlikely to do the right thing, which is to dump Tedford and bring in someone who can infuse some life into the program. Even if Cal finished under .500 this season, which is possible, Barbour probably wouldn't fire him.

So us Cal fans are probably stuck with this lousy coach for another season or two.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Game of the Week. Can Michigan Beat Bama?

Does Michigan have any chance to upset Alabama in Dallas on Saturday in the game of the week--maybe even the game of the month? At best, an outside chance. If these two played ten games Bama would win eight or nine.

No question, Bama is the better team, both in talent and coaching, with Nick Saban, arguably the nation's best, at the helm. Early in the year, he was good enough to guide the Tide to a national championship over LSU with a little prep time.. But he's been getting ready for Michigan for months, ever since spring practice. So Bama will be well-prepared. Michigan's second-year-coach Brady Hoke has also had plenty of prep time but that doesn't matter. He's not in Saban's class.

Bama's biggest edge is on defense. In college football there's none better. However, this defense is not quite as Gibraltar-like as last season's, which may have been the best in the last decade, particularly at stopping the run. Bama lost some of those starters, but a solid nucleus returns. Running on last year's team was just about impossible. It won't be any easier this season, with Jesse Williams heading a three-man wall. Compare this corps of linebackers to last year's and, if you can believe it, they're faster and more athletic.

Of course, this is bad news for Michigan, whose best chance of winning lies in electrifying QB Dennard Robinson, who's on the top 10 list of Heisman candidates, having a super game. A nifty ball-handler and a shifty, speed-demon, he weaves through and outfoxes defenses, behind the blocking of towering tackle Taylor Lewan. Good luck getting the best of this tough Tide crew. As a passer, Robinson is no Tom Brady, but he might do some damage with a crisp short-and-medium pass attack.

Bama's other real plus is its awesome offensive line, anchored by center Barrett Jones, maybe the best blocker in college, and featuring a legion of future top draft choices. They'll pulverize Michigan's ordinary D line, which was hit hard by graduation. Bama has no dazzling RB, like Trent Richardson, this season but a journeyman could look like a Heisman-hopeful behind this line.

In Michigan's favor is that Bama isn't a scoring machine. With unspectacular QB AJ McCarron running the offense, it rarely gets out of second gear. But it does efficiently eat up time and doesn't make too many mistakes. What could also help Michigan is coach Hoke lifting the indefinite suspension of first-rate RB Fitz Toussaint, who was nailed on a DUI charge. Will he play Saturday? Hoke is saying it's a game-time decision.

Besides QB Robinson turning into Superman, what does Michigan need for an upset? Probably a crippling case of nerves by Bama's new players, which would translate into poor performances and critical errors. Don't count on Tide newcomers or any of its players succumbing to jitters. Saban teams are too savvy to beat themselves.

What Michigan does have a chance to beat, though, is the14-point spread. That would be no surprise. But a Michigan victory over this mighty Bama unit would be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

USC No. 1 in College Football? No Way

Who's No.1 in college football?

If your answer is USC, most likely you're a delusional LA homer who's wearing rose-colored glasses and is totally stoned on local media hype. That's not all. Members of the SC-Is-No.1 club clearly aren't tuned into the SEC.

Anybody who thinks SC tops college football is making several mistakes. First of all, placing
way too much emphasis on offense. No one is doubting that the SC offense is the nation's best. There are stars at every position, from QB Matt Barkley to wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee to RBs Curtis O'Neal and Silas Redd. The offensive line isn't as loaded as last year's but it's still among the nation's top five.

Great offenses, though, rarely will national titles. They pile up impressive stats and make headlines, but in the post season, it's defense that reigns. Why do you think the defense-minded SEC is on an unstoppable title run? An exception was the Auburn team two seasons ago that edged Oregon in the national title game. In a battle of two powerhouse offenses Auburn won. Why? Because of their defense. It wasn't top-notch, but it turned out to be better than Oregon's.

Second mistake made by the SC-Is-No.1 crew: forgetting how the Trojans' defense is remarkably thin and inexperienced on the defensive line, which is riddled with freshman. Coach Kiffin had the uneasy task of replacing three D-line starters. On top of that, superb defensive end Devon Kennard has been lost for the season. The rest of the starting defense is solid, though. Still, the SC super-boosters ignore the D-line issues. Also, quite foolishly, they swear it doesn't matter that senior CB Isiah Wiley, a first-rate starter last season, is academically ineligible. The secondary will really miss him.

Third mistake: downplaying the overall effect of having only 75 scholarship players, a result of sanctions which limit scholarships. Behind SC's super starting team is a lot of untested four-and-five-star talent. If starters go down, the quality of play at that position goes down too. For instance, behind Barkley looms two raw freshman backups. If a bell-ringing sack knocks him out for a quarter or two, the Trojan offense is likely to sputter. Injuries are part of the game. Will the Trojans dodge the injury bug? Like every other team, they'll get stung. But they have no remedy.

The Trojans' machine-gun offense, by the way, creates problems for the defense. The quick-striking offense will score fast and often, forcing the defense to rack up many, many minutes. The D is likely to buckle under the strain.
Fourth mistake: ignoring the SEC. I have contacts who are SEC fanatics. I've seen many tapes of the best of that conference--Bama, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. They're all good--really, really good. In the Pac 12 only USC and Oregon have a chance against them. Offensively none of the SEC powers can't touch SC but defensively all could slow the Trojans considerably.

Smart gamblers know, when the season ends, SC could easily be a battered shell of the team that starts the season. The word in gambling circles is that, for the national title, big money is going with either Bama or LSU, both of which sport monster defenses, and not offensive power SC.

Again, what wins titles, defense or offense? Follow the smart money.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sanchez or Tebow? Neither

"His head is oatmeal"

That's how one of the New York Jets, texting a buddy who's the source for this story, described the team's starting QB Mark Sanchez on Saturday hours before the big intercity-rivalry game with the New York Giants. That wasn't all.

"He looks scared. No confidence. That Tebow thing has him rattled. He's about to have a crap game."

That player, a backup, was right on the money. In the game, which the Jets blew 26-3, Sanchez was a mess, doing just about everything wrong. He was overthrowing and under throwing, holding on to the ball too long, looking tentative, coming across as anything but a leader. His worst pass, ridiculously under thrown, was picked off by rookie Jayron Hosley and returned for a 76-yard TD. Not only was it off target but it was badly telegraphed. In his shaky state, it's a miracle Sanchez completed any passes, Nine, though, were on target. Still, his passing stats, were ugly--9 out of 11, for a paltry 59 yards, with one INT, for a 51.1 ratiing.

With Sanchez playing like a jittery rookie, you'd think backup Tim Tebow would gobble up that starting QB spot. Not so fast. In this game, you'd never confuse him with Drew Brees. Here's Tebow's feeble stat line---5/11, for 69 yards, with a 56.3 rating. The Giants front seven, maybe the best in the NFL, battered him, sacking him four times. Despite some miserable plays, he did have some nifty throws, showcasing his arm strength. Two drops by Stephen Hill and Josh Barker, damaged his stats. Tebow does have problems. His passing form, still awash with glitches, needs polish and he has nothing resembling a quick release. Overall, though, he really was better than Sanchez.

In defense of both QBs, the overall Jets offense, which hasn't scored in two preseason games, is in tatters.
The best wide receivers, Santonio Holmes and Chaz Schilens, didn't play. The offensive line, particularly right tackle Wayne Hunter, was trampled by the Giants defense, which stampeded both OBs.

The Jets' player, texting to my source, summed the QB quandary nicely. "Tebow is tough, a good leader, with no skills. Sanchez has the skills but he's soft and scared. This Tebow thing has destroyed his head. We need another QB--badly."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Usain Bolt Could Learn From Muhammad Ali

Usain Bolt is the best sprinter in the world. No contest there. But in another critical area--hard-core, no-holds-barred bragging-- he thinks he's world-class, but he's just a rank amateur.  Next to former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, the King Kong of bragging, Bolt is strictly bargain basement.

Are you, like me, sick to death of Bolt's ego-drenched, self-hyping spiels? Here's an example of one, delivered Saturday at the London Olympics just after he ran a scorching anchor leg for the Jamaica team that set the world-record, 36.84 seconds, in the 400-meter relay.

"Who's number One? Who's still a legend? Who's number One? Everyday, all day! Believe me!"

That was the highlight of a long, ragged rant. Enough already. Bolt may be the best sprinter in the world but as a braggart--he's a bust. There's no zest or sparkle in his delivery. There should be a sprightly comic edge to his lines, some creativity, a sense that he's joking and merrily letting us in on the joke. But his self-congratulatory monologues fall flat. There's an uneasy harshness to them, a snooty, I'm-better-than-you-are feel that feels antagonistic. Bolt's rants don't make him lovable. They just make him seem like an obnoxious ass who's full of himself.

Now, Ali--there was a braggart cum laud. In his heyday in the 1960s, when he was the best boxer, he knew he was supreme and didn't mind telling the world, joyously blowing his own horn. "I'm the greatest, I'm the greatest!," he'd howl, thumping his chest, King-Kong style. Or he'd do some dazzling footwork, demonstrating how he danced around his opponents, how he'd "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." He'd deliver his spiels with the touch of an ace comedian. You never felt like he was stuffing his superiority down your throat. When Ali was barking "I'm the greatest!" we loved hearing it. Sure he was doing some high-level boasting, but he was, at the same time, being an amiable clown.

Ali had something else going for him. Back in the 1960s when blacks' equal rights battle was raging in this country, he was, with his egomanical chatter, in a way, thumbing his nose at the Establishment. So he wasn't just bragging, but also making sort of a political statement. He was more than a braggart but also a hero, a champion of people of color and millions of leftists. So his aggressive self-hype had another meaty layer, which his many fans, world-wide, simply gobbled up

Bolt, who has no deeper layer, needs to learn a lesson from Ali. The key to effective bragging and over-the-top self promotion is to tell everybody how great you are but, at the same time, while they're eating up the hype, do it in a ingratiating way to make them love you. Ali was the master of this kind of smart, irresistible flamboyance.

With his lame, clumsy stabs at showmanship Bolt isn't in the same stratosphere as Ali. What Bolt should do is get tape and film of Ali's egotistical blasts, study them and use them as guides. Bolt will never be as charming and riveting as Ali but, with some modification and a lighter touch, he could become considerably less insufferable,