Well, that wasn't exactly what I meant when I said it'd be uncomfortably close until the Gators put it away in the fourth quarter. It was more deja vu to last year. Still, Chris Leak got his game back which is an encouraging sign. The +3 turnover margin also was also excellent. Ciatrick Fason didn't run wild like I thought he would, but then again he only had 18 carries this time (as opposed to 31 vs. Kentucky) and DeShawn Wynn found his way out of the dog house enough to get some carries. Also, the defense seemed to take much of the second half off. It's hard to blame them since it was wickedly hot at the game, but the fact still remains that this team cannot close out games. That really needs to be fixed soon.
Well, LSU didn't hold up its end of the bargain against Georgia at all today. That means they will probably be mad coming to Gainesville next week, which when they're already mad about last year isn't necessarily a good thing. Still, UF didn't need LSU to beat UGA because as long as the Gators run the table they'll go to Atlanta. It would have been nice insurance though. At time of press, Auburn is holding up its end of the deal, happily. Tennessee probably has two to three conference losses in them this year (not counting the one they should already have) because as I said, the Vols really are not that good. Really.
It was likely West Virginia's last chance to lose today, so they went ahead and cashed in the opportunity, falling to Virginia Tech 19-13. Strike one team off yesterday's list, and forget Lee Corso's preseason prediction of WVU making the title game. Due in part to that loss, Florida should be up to number 13 in the polls with the Mountaineers, LSU, and the Auburn-Tennessee loser likely falling back behind the Gators.
I promised some NFL, so here we go. Jacksonville-Indianapolis appears to be the best game of the week, with the top question being whether the Jaguars can score enough points to keep up with the Colts. In the regular season it's very difficult to pick against Indy unless they're faced with another offensive powerhouse (like Minnesota) or they play New England. Tampa Bay will host Denver in a matchup of two offenses that seem to get lost quite a bit. Look for a low-scoring snoozer. After week 1 the Washington-Cleveland game looked to be a good one, but not anymore since Joe Gibbs has lost his momentum and Cleveland lost their soldier, Kellen Winslow, Jr. That game might end up being a football wasteland. Oakland-Houston and Atlanta-Carolina appear to be intriguing games, though if the Falcons keep Michael Vick handcuffed in the West Coast Offense, Carolina should have no trouble. The Monday Night game, Kansas City at Baltimore, looked good before the season, but KC has fell flat on its face with no defense to speak of (still) and Baltimore has been uninspiring.
Believe it or not, Florida's game against Arkansas tomorrow scares me more than anything else on the Gators' remaining schedule. LSU doesn't have a quarterback, Georgia doesn't have an offense, and Chris Rix doesn't have a clue (or possibly a job depending on how Wyatt Sexton plays). The Razorbacks, however come a week before LSU, giving the option of a look-ahead game, and they have a mobile quarterback in Matt Jones. Mobile QBs always give the Gators fits. UF is a nice 4-1 all-time against Arkansas, the Gators won last year, and Arkansas' run defense is shaky at best (run, Ciatrick, run!) so this worry may be for naught. It's going to be another too-close-for-comfort game I think, with the Gators finally putting it away in the fourth quarter.
This week also appears to be a Let's-all-help-out-Florida-in-the-SEC-East week with Auburn poised to beat Tennessee (the Vols really aren't that good, I promise) and LSU poised to beat Georgia like they did twice last year. As long as the Gators hold up their end of the bargain and take care of the Hogs, making up for the Tennessee "loss" will be all but complete, pending Georgia's eventual win over Tennessee and Florida's inevitable win over Georgia.
The West Virginia-Virginia Tech game may be the Mountaineers' last chance to lose this year prior to the bowl season. It is astounding how many teams this fall look like they have a legitamate shot at running the table before January: Oklahoma, WVU, Utah, the Boise State-Fresno State winner, and the Cal-USC winner, and those with outside chances include Ohio State (Michigan and Wisconsin at home, no Minnesota), Minnesota (must win at Michigan, but no Ohio State), Auburn (already beat LSU, no Florida, Georgia at home, but must win SEC title game), and the Virginia-Miami winner (FSU is only other true ACC contender and is woefully inconsistent). However, that's why college football is fun. It is higly unlikely that more than one or two of those teams will run the table, and so that is why the Georgia Techs, Purdues, Oregon States, and BYUs of the world become so important - they probably won't win their conference, but they will pull off an upset or two to make things interesting. The NFL is not, nor ever will be due to its smaller size, as wide open as college football, and that's why I like college football more than the pros. That, and the concentration of games where both teams don't reach 20 is much lower in the NCAA.
Speaking of the NFL, this is for my friend Nick who pitched a fit over ESPN predictions and demanded retribution even though I don't do the NFL on Fridays: Jacksonville is like Rodney Dangerfield - they get no respect. More people should be picking the Jags over the Colts in Sunday's matchup. Talk about an underrated team. There, was that good? Actual NFL coverage is coming tomorrow after the Gator game, and I promise no more of that about a team who has been picked as this year's surprise team by nearly everyone alive.
A Post About What?
Over the past year, I've tried to broaden my sports horizons to some leagues I've never paid attention to before. For instance, I almost watched an entire hockey game during the (final?) Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hey, the IHL called it quits after a Florida team (Orlando Solar Bears) won the title. Anyway, that also includes the WNBA. It's not really as bad as a lot of people who hate the WNBA would make you think, aside from the occasional terribly missed shot that would never happen in the NBA. Dunks have never impressed me that much, so the lack of an above-the-rim game doesn't bother me much.
Anyhow, the team I half-arbitrarily picked to "root" for is the Connecticut Sun, basically because they were once the Orlando Miracle. I'm not mad about the move or anything like I would be if the Magic left; no one ever showed up at Miracle games, least of all me. Also, they have one of the most exciting female players I've seen in PG Lindsay Whalen. I first heard about her when SI on Campus magazine did a feature on her and her Minnesota Golden Gophers who made an improbable run to the Final Four last spring. At around the same time, ESPN Motion had video of highlight clips from the tournament that you were then to vote on which was the best. Diana Taurasi won with a no-look, over-the-head touch pass that I doubt most male players in college could have made, but Whalen came in second with an amazing driving spin move by not just Duke but specifically Naismith Award winner Alana Beard.
Fast forward to now. Taurasi won the Rookie of the Year award, and rightfully so as she was the league's fourth-leading scorer. Her Phoenix Mercury did not make the playoffs though, but Whalen's Sun won the Eastern Conference, led by Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin along with Whalen finishing fifth in the league in assists. However, since the playoffs have started, Whalen has elevated her game to a whole new level. For the playoffs, she is tied for second in points per game (18.0) and is fifth in assists again (5.0) with only 2 turnovers per game, and is first in ppg for players on teams remaining after a 2-games-to-1 first round victory over Beard's Washington Mystics. If she keeps this up and the Sun continue to advance, she may be in line for some hardware of her own. While Taurasi winning Rookie of the Year is impressive, a rookie wins that award every year. Whalen has a chance at an award that rookies win with far less frequency across the board for any sport - playoff MVP.
What the Anaheim Angels have done this year is truly remarkable. If at the beginning of the year you told me they would win the AL West, I would not have been surprised at all due to the offseason acquisitions of Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Guillen, Kelvim Escobar, and Bartolo Colon. Then the injuries came. The poster child of underrated stars, Garret Anderson, was the first to go down, and was out the longest. Also missing significant time were Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Raul Mondesi, Bengie Molina, Jarrod Washburn, Aaron Sele, and Brendan Donnelly, Troy Percival, and just days ago Adam Kennedy was lost for the season. Many spent time on the DL together. Guys like Chone Figgins, Jeff DaVanon, and Robb Quinlan ended up carrying the team and keeping it in contention, though even Quinlan has found his way on to the DL. Combine that with Bartolo Colon's fatacity (say it syllable by syllable with the t in the first) increasing geometrically, it's a wonder they're over .500 at all. As if that all is not enough, Guillen has been suspended by the team for the rest of the season and playoffs (if they make it) for a recent tirade over being replaced by a pinch runner, which was not the first time he has caused trouble.
At time of press (I've always wanted to write that) they have a half-game lead on Oakland with the result of the A's-Mariners game pending. The Rangers too have been a great story, but they also are a classic case of the Ewing Theory (those young stars needed a chance to get out of A-Rod's shadow) and have slipped towards the end. Buck Showalter still deserves manager of the year though. The Astros' comeback also is remarkable but they were supposed to win all along, didn't have all of the injuries the Angels have had, traded for Carlos Beltran, and still are around a robust 14.5 games back of St. Louis, and it's only that close due to a three-game skid for the Cardinals. The Angels have benefited from the A's Big Three of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder struggling at times (or at all times in Zito's case) and Oakland being under .500 away from the Coliseum. Still, the Anaheim organization deserves lots of praise for having guys like Figgins, DaVanon, and Quinlan who could step up and play how they did, and Mike Scioscia too for using them well.
Since the Red Sox clinched the Wild Card, the Angels are forced to win the division to make the comeback story complete. With the resiliency the team has shown and Oakland's late-season fade to gray, they have a great shot at doing it. It's really too bad I've already picked Minnesota as my Official Bandwagon Team for the Playoffs (since the Orioles and Reds have been out of the race for a while) because the Angels would have been a great pick. At least the Reds have been able to play spoilers against the Cubs, and the Orioles may determine the AL East title this weekend with their four-game series against Boston, though now with a four-game lead, the Yankees appear to be secure at the top - barring a complete collapse, of course, but with a doubleheader sweep of the Twins today it doesn't look too likely.
So far 2004 has been marked by battle after battle of Red vs. Blue, and I'm not talking about you and your friends playing Halo. Yes, it is election season which means everyone on earth begins some kind of ad/publicity campaign based on an election theme. ESPN.com has started their own deal with the Purist Party vs. Progressive Party election, with an objective to determine what kind of fans the website has I guess. Normally I stay away from their SportsNation material since I begin to lose faith in the future everytime I read something like "WTF WAHT R U TLAKING ABOUT?!? HTE FLORDIA GAYTORS R TEH SUCK!!!1!!11! OMG -NoleFan1992" but this might actually interest me enough to follow. After reading the Purist Party platform, I definitelyfall in with it since I agree with everything but reviving the Southwestern Conference (why?) and abolishing the DH. The DH rule has been around longer than I have so it's an accepted part of baseball to me, plus I'd rather see Edgar Martínez bat than Jamie Moyer, and enjoyed seeing Harold Baines bat a lot more than I would have liked watching "Black" Jack McDowell bat.
Since I am a nerd, it would make sense that I would be a part of the number-crunching, SABR-loving Progressives, but I just can't put that much stock in stats alone like they do. If the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the playoffs this year, if they meet at all, it won't be because of Theo Epstein running equations over off-seasons but because of a New York pitching staff that's brittle both physically (Kevin Brown) and mentally (Mike Mussina, Javier Vasquez) with an over-worked bullpen. Besides, I don't know if anyone will be able to beat Walt Jocketty's Cardinals, who without the help of the SABR crowd seem to be doing just fine, thanks. The Red Sox "curse" has nothing to do with making the World Series anyway, as they have done so several times since selling the Babe, but everything to do with winning the thing. Plus the Sox had to scuttle their OBP/SLG/OPS plan a bit by trading Nomar Garciaparra for players with weaker offensive stats because they badly needed defense. Once they stopped giving out unearned runs like retirement pension checks in Palm Beach County, they got hot and made a run for the AL East crown and recently clinched a playoff spot.
And finally, at long last the Expos have a new home: Washington, DC. The long-suffering franchise finally gets "rewarded" with a future in a city where baseball has failed twice, and that's if their former Expos owners' lawsuit is settled. One of the worst cases of mismanagement in the history of pro sports has ended, and here's wishing some luck to the Expos as they try to become accepted in a city that the current Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers found to be unable to support a baseball franchise. The Rangers still own the rights to the name "Washignton Senators," so we'll have to see if/when the traditional name for the Washington franchise returns.
No broadcast yesterday as life was disrupted by the arrival of Hurricane Jeanne...
Before getting into the NFL, perhaps I should mention that I could be wrong about USC being in the top tier with Oklahoma. The Trojans' win over Stanford was wholly unimpressive, and at the beginning of the season I was not so sure they'd steamroll everyone due to a lack of depth at receiver. Reggie Bush made up for it up until Saturday when he came back down to earth a bit. Only Steve Smith, the sole returning starter from last year, had a good day. The lack of receiving caught up to them once, and it's only a matter of time before it happens again. Also in the college department, it should be interesting to see how FSU plays without injured QB Chris Rix. The receivers and offensive linemen at FSU conspired against him back when they had an alternative (Adrian McPherson), and now that they have one again, will they step up their game?
Peyton Manning had an impressive game in an instant-classic shootout with Brett Favre. No one ever doubted his ability to light it up in the regular season. We'll see what happens come December. Not only does he have the can't-win-a-big-game reputation, but so does his coach Tony Dungy, providing the Colts with a double shot of bad karma espresso. It seems that it doesn't matter if the opposing defensive coordinator is Tux the Penguin, Peyton will find a way to lose the the big game (he never beat Florida in college at Tennessee either, leading to so many Citrus Bowl jokes). The Colts in terms of the getting to the Super Bowl are in the situation like FSU winning over Miami or Georgia over Florida - you just can't pick them until they actually do it.
For all the talk of Miami being bad, the Bucs sure are brutal this year. They are my team and will be forever, but this is awful. Tampa games have never been good games to watch, but at least they won most of them a few years ago. Still, I can't complain because they just won the Super Bowl two years ago. I probably don't have a right to complain for another three or four years. I'll bet the Chargers or Bengals would love to be in the situation of having won it all two years ago.
Yesterday was not a great day on the health front. Five guys, including Bears QB Rex Grossman (ACL) and Bucs RB Charlie Garner (knee), were lost for the season, and Rich Gannon is out six weeks with a broken vertebra. Kerry Collins went to Oakland to start, and now he gets his chance.
Jacksonville has won three games but has scored just 35 points on the season. Byron Leftwich isn't putting up the numbers he did at Marshall, but now that he's had some NFL experience all he does is find ways to win, and that's all you can ask of a quarterback.
I'll go ahead and say it for everyone who won't: maybe Kurt Warner's injury affected him a lot more than people thought.
Finally, I think I'd take Daunte Culpepper over every other NFL quarterback right now. He has more yards than Peyton Manning (despite his 393 yards against the Packers), has an 8-1 TD-INT ratio (Manning's is 9-1), and averages 4 yards per carry. Michael Vick is a better runner and Tom Brady has the playoff experience (and has a better defense to fall back on), but for the total package, I have to go with Culpepper. How UCF managed to get him over UF, FSU, Miami, and every other major college program, I will never understand.