Thursday, December 21, 2006

Free Booze: The reason for the season

Who else is excited about Christmas? Anyone? Okay, who else is excited about having the next five (or more) days off and getting embarrassingly drunk for most of that duration? Alright, that’s better. As it is for many of you out there, today is my last day of work. I have to work for a couple of days late next week too, but those days won’t be much other than an exercise in some early morning drunk driving. Hey, I don’t want to break the law but I’m a dedicated employee who’s willing to do whatever’s necessary to make sure the glue stick factory I work at maintains maximum efficiency during the holidays. I mean, these horses aren’t going to slaughter themselves now, are they?

With all that said, I’m going to limit today’s post to some minor items that have been on my mind lately, as well as a short discussion on the beauty of Xmas parties.

Xmas parties are awesome. Sure, they can get awkward and most of us would much rather be drinking by ourselves, I mean, with friends but can you really get too bent out of shape about free booze and food? I hope not. Like many of you, I’ve had to attend a number of Xmas parties in the last couple of weeks. While I won’t get into a discussion of the dynamic of Xmas parties or specific details about all the parties I’ve attended, I’d like to draw special attention to a couple of the more stellar parties I’ve been to during this blessed season. First, special thanks go out to my girlfriend’s family for inviting me to their restaurant’s Xmas party this past Sunday. It was…awesome. It was a pretty low key atmosphere with no more than about a dozen people in attendance. Which worked out well since the party basically consisted of free beer, wine, booze and lobster. Boatloads of lobster. I’d say that I ate approximately 5 lobsters on Sunday night. I could’ve eaten more, but I didn’t want to be rude…to the eggplant rollatini that was sitting right next to the lobster. So, I also knocked back about three servings of that as well. I can’t really describe how fantastic it is to eat that kind of food for free but trust me, its really fucking spectacular. I highly recommend dating Italian girls whose parents own fine dining establishments.

While that party was fantastic, it still pales in comparison to my friend Dave’s parents’ party. Well, not the party as much as the after party. Dave’s parents’ party is always an event. His parents are booze hounds of the highest order so it goes without saying that there is always an open bar at their Xmas party. As if that weren’t enough, his parents also happen to be swingers. Yes, you read that right. As you can imagine, this generally leads to some high quality people watching at said party. This year was no different. In fact, it was one of the better years for scoping the ridiculous antics of drunken 40-50 year olds. However, it was all merely a prelude to what awaited us later in the evening.

I like to call Dave the “King of Bullshit”. He’s not so much a liar as he is a chronic embellisher. Everything Dave says is usually at least 25% grander than the reality. So, when Dave informed us he had rented a limo and secured us the VIP section of a local gentleman’s club (for free!), I was skeptical to say the least. However, when 10:30 rolled around on Saturday night, I walked out of Dave’s parents’ house to see a stretch Excursion pulling up in the driveway. Before I knew it, 10 of us were on the road and heading toward a night that can best be summed up by the words of our friend Carl, “Somebody’s going to jail.” Luckily nobody went to jail, though a few guys came close at one point. Within minutes we were walking into the club to see a VIP section reserved for us and three bottles of Grey Goose with our name on it. The rest of the night is quite a blur. I do know that I insisted on buying numerous shots of Jager despite the presence of free booze for all in our party. I also remember telling the girl that our friend Kurt brought with him (What?) to the club that she was a slut, but that I meant that in a good way. I have no idea what that meant but it seemed to go over much better than you’d expect. After that, it’s all one big black and white montage (I become color blind when drunk) of clear heels, bad music, liquor, meatheads and my friends doing enough lindo coffee to kill a water buffalo. Which is probably why Kurt told me I “bailed early” despite the fact that I didn’t go to bed until nearly 3:30 am. You can say a lot of things about my friends but you can’t say they aren’t in the Xmas spirit. I mean, just think how many toys they bought for all the children of those good young mothers that night. So, after all this rambling you’re probably wondering why I told you all of this. Well, because I have my office Xmas party today and I guarantee you it won’t be half as fun as either of these. Not even close.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a smattering of other random things that I wanted to touch on:

- If you don’t know who Jake Scott is (I didn’t either) then take 15-20 minutes to read this article by David Hyde that ran last week in the South-Florida Sun Sentinel. It’s a great article on an extremely interesting and unique former athlete.

- I don’t generally watch BET, not since they stopped using that computer animated girl named Cita to introduce videos. However, my new favorite show is on the channel that I’m not supposed to and you ought to give it a look see over the holidays. If you love stories about crime, drugs and murder (my personal holy trinity) then you’ll really enjoy American Gangsta.

- I’ll be the first to say that Pacman Jones is an awful, awful human being. However, he also happens to be a damn fine corner and return man. He’s as responsible for the Titans late season surge as Vince Young is. So can somebody tell me how he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl in any capacity? Please? Anybody? I defy you to find me five better corners in the AFC.

- I’ve made it clear in this space over the last few months how much I enjoy Marcus Thomas’ ability to play football. I’ve even said that I hold no ill will toward him for his dismissal from the Florida football team. I’m not quite sure what I think about him now but I know that he comes off as immature and petty in this article.

- Speaking of the University of Florida football team, they secured a commitment from the nations #1 QB, John Brantley, yesterday. Brantley’s father and uncle (now a Gator broadcaster) played for UF in the 70s and Brantley was coached in high school by former Gator QB Kerwin Bell. Despite these strong connections to Gainesville, Brantley originally committed to Texas this summer. Well, after months of speculation, Brantley finally changed his mind yesterday and committed to Urban Meyer and Florida. Brantley has been named the Gatorade Player of the Year and dominated the annual Elite 11 camp this summer, bringing home numerous awards, including the Leadership award, Most likely to be successful at the next level and Most likely to win a National Championship as well as camp MVP. Interestingly enough, Texas stole a QB commit from Florida last year when Jevan Snead (who’s now transferring to Ole Miss) broke his pledge to the Gators in favor of his home state Longhorns.

Finally, Florida takes on Ohio State on Saturday in basketball in what will be Greg Oden’s first exposure to high level competition at the collegiate level. I have no idea what to expect from his game (other than Dick Vitale, uggh). It should be extremely interesting to watch the interior matchup of Oden vs. Noah & Horford throughout the game. Its definitely the highest profile big man matchup that the college game has seen in 15+ years. However, I think the game will be decided by the guard play. Both Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey have been up and down this year while Mike Conley, Jr. is possibly the nations most underrated freshman. If the Gators pressure D can force Conley to play at a faster pace than he wants and force some turnovers then Florida will win on Saturday. If not, OSU will end up pulling away late and winning by, possibly, double digits.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Unrelated Topics Vol. 1

I was this close (imagine my fingers being really close together) to not posting today. Between the combination of having to get our monthly publication finished up and off to the printer as well as a general malaise toward writing anything of substantial merit this afternoon, well, I just couldn't seem to motivate myself. That is, until I decided that I'm too goddamned important to be bothered with trivial things like "deadlines" and "meetings". Seriously, what's my name, Toby? No sir. That's my Mexican brother in-law's name and, for the record, he thinks your deadlines are complete and utter bullshit too. Though, to be fair, he's lazy and very fond of something he calls "siestas". ( I think its some sort of themed Mexican party).
Anyway, since it's Friday and I'll be cutting out of this popsicle stand early this afternoon, I figured I'd put together a little post to help me (and you) waste some valuable company time. Here goes:
Lakeland HS:
These are YOUR National Champions of High School Football for the second consecutive year. Not only did they accomplish that rare feat this past weekend, they also managed to win their 45th straight game and 3rd straight 6A Florida High School Championship. That is embarrassingly impressive when you consider that Lakeland High is a public high school in a town of just under 90,000 residents, and that they did all of this in the most talent rich football state in America.
Just like the previous two years, Lakeland took on St. Thomas Aquinas in the state final. However, unlike the past two seasons, Lakeland had to dodge a bullet in order to capture their crown. Leading 35-7 going into the 4th quarter, Lakeland watched as St. Thomas's offense came alive, while their special teams kept the ball from Lakeland's powerful run game by recovering three consecutive onsides kicks. Before it was all said and done, Lakeland would need two OTs and a stop on 4th and goal at their own 1 yard line in the second OT in order to capture both the state and national championships. It was one of the greatest high school games that I've ever seen, replete with Division I talent all over the field for each team. To be honest, I didn't think that Lakeland would be able to hold on once the game moved into OT, but the Dreadnaughts showed an extraordinary level of guts and pride by continuing to fight until the game's very last play, when three different Lakeland defenders combined to bring down the ball carrier six inches from the goal line.
As I've mentioned here before, Lakeland has six, possibly seven, players who'll be suiting up for Florida next year. I'm excited about each and every one of them, but there's nobody on that team or, possibly, in the entire Gator recruiting class that excites me like Lakeland RB Chris Rainey. He's small and, some say, too light to be an impactful palyer at the collegiate level but there's no denying that he is a special player who has skills that cannot be taught. For further proof, look at the stats from his final three high school games: 68 carries, 878 yards, 10 TDs. Those are eye popping numbers no matter how you slice them. However, when you consider that these numbers were posted in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the playoffs of Florida's largest high school classification level, they become the stuff of legend. Will Rainey be a star at UF? Who knows? Am I willing to bet against him proving critics wrong once again? Not a chance.

For more on the state title game, check out this diary from Lakeland's Twin O-Lineman (and Gator recruits) Maurkice and Michael Pouncey.

Orlando Magic:
I had planned on writing a pretty comprehensive post about the Orlando Magic earlier this week. However, between getting sick and the Magic beginning to look like the wheels are gonna fall off, I've decided to sit tight for a week or so. They've lost 5 of 6 ( 5 of which were at home, no less) and are battling some injuries on the perimeter. Turkoglu and Bogans are both out with ankle sprains and Grant Hill is wearing down after having to play an inordinate amount of minutes on the Magic's recent six game road trip. That's left the Magic playing with a lineup that has included the likes of Travis Diener, JJ Redick (who looks positively scared on the floor right now) and Bo Outlaw simultaneously. This is not the stuff that Division champs are made of. Hell, its not even the stuff that Final Four teams are made of.
It's far too early to panic, and frankly, the Magic are still a ways ahead of what most had predicted for them at the season's inception. However, the Magic cannot afford to waste many more in the manner in which they have recently (like, say giving up 23 pts to Andrea Bargnani, for example...Darko you are killing me.) by losing games against sad sack teams like the Raptors and Bobcats if they plan on getting Dwight and the rest of his young teammates some valuable post-season experience this spring.

One random NBA note: The Raptors have to be the whitest team since the mid-80s Celtics. Sure, they're not "white" technically since they're all Euros, but that doesn't change what your eyes perceive when watching the Raptors on the floor. For much of the second half on Tuesday, the Raptors had a lineup that consisted of: Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa, Rasho Nesterovic, Bargnani and Morris Peterson. I'm willing to bet thats the first time in Mo Pete's life that he was the only black guy on the floor for his team. Just a guess.

Adam Morrison:

Prior to last June's NBA Draft when analysts were throwing out every race friendly comparison for Adam Morrison you could think of (Larry Bird, Rick Barry, Randall "Pink" Floyd) I kept thinking that he reminded me of one particular player so much that I was somewhat shocked that somebody hadn't at least thrown the comparison out. Of course, when you consider that its illegal to compare athletes across races, it makes much more sense. You see, that whole "breaking the law" thing matters to panty waists like Tim Legler and Stephen A. Smith but not to me. I've broken enough laws in my life to do three consecutive life sentences in an Albania prison, so does it really matter if I tack another charge on? Hell to the no. With that said, here it is, the best Adam Morrison you've ever seen (or heard): Glenn Robinson.

Think about it: Both are 6'7", marginally athletic and completely unstoppable on the collegiate level. Despite their reputations, both are more scorers than shooters. As for their shooting, both are far more effective from mid-range than from beyond the three point line. Both struggle to create shots off the dribble for themselves due to a lack of footspeed and ballhandling ability. Neither brings much anything else to the table as both are below average rebounders, defenders and passers. There's not a player I can remember in recent NBA history whose skills and body match up more identically with Morrison than Robinson. It's uncany actually.

Jerry wrote an interesting piece on fantasy football earlier today. It was certainly better than Geoff writing about his weight loss contest (By the way, isn't it only women who go out of their way to lose weight for weddings? Evidently not anymore...fag). When it comes to breaking down statistics and applying them to logical sports discussions, Jerry's one of the best I've read. He should really get paid for it. Good luck on that one Jerome.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about my fantsy season. It's been pretty successful as I am currently in the playoffs in two of the three league's I participate in. However, I can't take much credit for my overall success. I drafted pretty well. At least I thought I did. That was before both my starting QBs (for the two playoff leagues), Trent Green and Matt Hasselbeck went down with multi-week injuries. Combine that with some subpar production (Now an annual event!) from my receivers and I was quickly looking at a disasterous year in Fantasyland. That is, until I ran headlong into some of the finest waiver wire work that I've ever been a part of. It's not often that you can have multiple high impact free agent pickups in a single fantasy season, but that was exactly the case this year. As Jerry stated in his post, its either luck or skill (depending on your point of view) that determines your run in fantasy football. Whatever its called, it has certainly worked in my favor this year. Just look at this list of in-season pickups I've made this year. Mind you, this is two team worth of pickups:

Drew Brees
Vince Young
Rex Grossman
Maurice Jones-Drew-Griffith-Joyner
Ladell Betts
Travis Henry
Devery Henderson
Chris Henry

I don't care what you say, that's an impressive haul right there. You may look at some of those names and call me lucky. To that I say, go ahead, as long as you call me as lucky while kissing my fantasy dominating ass.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Feeling the flow...

You'll have to excise my lack of correspondence this week. You see, it's really hard to type when you're floating on air. I've been wanting to write something about the Florida Gators and their amazing ride to the National Championship game but (as Jerry has said numerous times), its a lot harder to write positively about a sports team than it is to write negatively. Too much positivity always seems to make you come off like some jock sniffing 12 year old who hangs out by the bus lopp for autographs. Now, I may be alot of things (alcoholic, furry, Cheez-It enthusiast) but a jock sniffer is definitely not one of them. So, with that in mind, I'm not even gonna try to talk about it right now.

Most of you watched the SEC Championship game (or at least watched the highlights) so there's really no point in me recapping that, especially a week after the fact. Futhermore, it's awfully early to engage in a National Championship game preview since the game isn't for another month. So where does that leave me? Right here, sitting at my desk, trying to think of soemthing worth writing today. Only, I can't think of anything to write about today or, more appropriately, of anything that I feel like writing about today. It's Friday, I'm hungover and I have an awards luncheon to attend in a couple of hours. So you're just gonna have to cut me a break this week. There's nothing worthwhile coming from me today. Not even close.
One last thing: I'd like to wish a "Happy Birthday" to the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard. The NBA leader in rebounding (13.2) and dunks (56) turns 21 today. 21... just think about how scary he'll be in a few years. Anywho, Dwight's gonna be busy playing the Pistons tonight (and loving him some Jeebus) so I say we all go out and get drunk in Dwight's place tonight.

Friday, December 01, 2006

All things Florida.

You’ll have to forgive the delay in posting over the past couple of days. I had originally planned on writing some stuff on a certain team currently leading the NBA’s Eastern Conference. However, I have decided, in the interest of perspective, to hold off on any further examination of said team until the conclusion of their west coast road trip late next week.

For today, I’ll stick to some analysis of the University of Florida’s Men’s Basketball and Football teams, respectively.
Florida Basketball

Last weekend’s game between Florida and Kansas was one of the better November basketball games that you’re ever likely to see. While it lacked seamless execution at times, it undoubtedly featured as much (or more) NBA level talent as any game you’re likely to see in college basketball this year (or any year, for that matter). While I was mildly discouraged that Florida lost, I quickly began to see the loss as a positive. That feeling only increased as the days have passed this week. Losing to Kansas is not a “bad” loss, no matter how you slice it. Furthermore, when you factor in the huge “home court advantage” that Kansas had while playing in Las Vegas, as well as the fact that one of Florida’s most important players (Corey Brewer) was playing with mono at the time the loss becomes even less significant in the overall picture for this team. At the risk of sounding revisionist, I’ll even go so far as to say that I’m glad that Florida lost this game. Playing against a team of Kansas’ talent will go a long way towards showing this team that it is not as talented as they have been led to believe by most people since last April. If anything, this loss should prove to UF that they are only one of a number of teams who have the overall talent needed to capture the NCAA Title this year. This realization should go a long way toward upping the overall intensity of this team on the defensive end. Defense and unselfish play is what catapulted Florida to the NCAA Title last year. Without similar intensity on the defensive end this year, no level of talent or chemistry will bring this squad another ring.

Perhaps most importantly, this loss allows Billy Donovan to coach ‘em up (as another former UF employee once said) without worrying about whether or not his lessons are falling upon deaf ears. The longer that UF had remained undefeated this season, the louder the praise of this team (both collectively and as individuals) would have become and, consequently, the more difficult Donovan’s job of building this team would have also become. As it currently stands, Donovan should be able to mold this team in a less pressurized environment than before while also using the game against Kansas as a way to impart his wisdom on this team about the unique task it has in front of it. It’s easy to talk about defending a title but, we all know, it’s a far different thing to actually go out and do that on a nightly basis. Any dfending champion, especially one filled with 19 & 20 year olds, is going to be somewhat unprepared for the intensity, emotion and effort that they will face from each and every team on their schedule throughout the year. Florida’s players have admitted as much in the days following Saturday night’s loss. Now that the undefeated season is lost, Donovan can go back to task of building this team with an eye toward March. After all, that is what matters in college basketball isn’t in.

One last thing: Corey Brewer’s bout with mono should also prove beneficial to this team. While the Gators cannot win without Brewer in the lineup, his absence will allow freshmen such as Dan Werner and Jonathan Mitchell increased playing time while also giving sophomore Walter Hodge a chance to show his improvement from last year. By the time Brewer returns, Donovan will have a much better idea of what he has on his bench, which will prove crucial during the SEC season.
Florida Football

Has it really been six years already? The last time the University of Florida played in the SEC Championship game, I was still but a lowly undergrad, living in an off campus apartment with one of the sloppiest female roomates in the history of time while simultaneously dating two different girls. An awful lot has happened to both myself and Florida Football in that span of time. Too much to recount here, that’s for sure. Suffice it to say, both have changed for the better (Well at least Florida Football, as for me…I’m not so sure). What’s the point of all this you ask? There is none, other than to say: It’s been a very, very long time since the University of Florida was able to play for a conference title. For a school which seemed to compete for the SEC crown every year during the 1990’s, this dry spell has been both unwelcome and unsettling. There was an entire decades worth of UF students (myself included) who considered it their right to play in Atlanta each December. For this group, tomorrow has been a long time comin’, and now it seems as if tomorrow will never come. (Seriously, how am I expected to make it until 9 pm tomorrow night without having a nervous breakdown? McFadden is so very frightening.)

As for the actual game, well, I don’t know what to think at this point. On paper, it seems to line up in Florida’s favor. Florida’s offensive strength is the passing game, led by a senior QB and a fleet of talented WRs. Arkansas struggles to stop the pass and plays almost exclusively man-to-man defense in the secondary. While I have no doubt that Arkansas has talented corners, I have yet to see a group of corners in the country who can consistently cover Florida’s receivers when the Gators spread the field. On defense, Florida excels at stuffing the run (though it’s been less dominant since the loss of DT Marcus Thomas) while Arkansas’ offensive success is almost entirely dependent on its ability to run the ball with their two talented tailbacks (Darren “Night Terrors” McFadden and Felix Jones).

For further proof of this, one need only look at Arkansas QB Casey Dick’s line from last week’s loss to LSU, 3-19 for 29 yards. Those numbers aren’t just bad, they’re atrocious. Even my retard, excuse me, “slow” 12 year old cousin doesn’t put up numbers that bad on All-Madden Level…and she’s got no thumbs! Looking at those stats, It would seem that Florida need only stack the box and stuff the run to win this game. However, Arkansas’ rushing attack is so dominant that it seems able to thrive with or without any hint of presence from the passing game. Much of the reason for this is Arkansas’ use of McFadden at QB in a package OC Guz Mazahn calls “Wildcat” (He is, apparently, a big Goldie Hawn fan). This package allows Arkansas to get both McFadden and Jones in the same backfield while also supplying either back with an extra blocker. The first time I saw this package in use was Arkansas’ thrashing of Tennessee a few weeks back. I was so frightened by the prospect of this use of the already beastly McFadden that I immediately called my friend Vitas and instructed him to change the channel so that he could see what I was seeing. After he did this we both sat silent on the phone for a few minutes staring at our respective TV screens in abject horror before we both finally cursed a few times and hung up.
Florida obviously must stop the Razorbacks’ rushing attack to win this game, but they must also avoid giving up big plays in the passing game to Arkansas WR Marcus Monk when he’s locked up in man-to-man coverage. While none of Arkansas’ QBs strike much fear in my heart, Monk’s size and physicality are imposing enough to allow them to throw up jump balls that can take advantage of a defense stacking the box with 8 or 9 guys. So what have we learned here? Other than that I have a healthy fear of Darren McFadden, probably not much. In light of that, I present you with a few of my “Keys to the Game” ( I totally made that up just now. I know, I’m awesome)

Reggie Nelson: I said it last week and I’ll say it plenty more over the next few weeks. If there is a better, more impactful defensive player in America, well, I’d like to see him. Nelson hits like a truck and has the closing speed of, um, something with amazing closing speed. His play in centerfield will be key for the Gator defense. He needs to be able to provide some run support while still being able to get over to the sidelines and defend the jump balls that Arkansas seems so fond of. Furthermore, an early pick and/or decapitation will go a long way toward making Razorback receivers a little more reticent to go up and chase deep balls.

Steven Harris: A starter at DT last year, Harris was suspended for much of the fall camp due to some personal issues (read: siring bastards like his name is Greg). As a result, Harris has played unevenly for most of this year. However, he played his finest game of the year (and probably his career) last week against FSU while lined up at NT. If he can continue to play at that level and get some push against Arkansas experienced O-Line (four Senior starters) it will go along way toward slowing down the Hogs’ run game.

Linebackers: Both Earl Everett and Brandon Siler are still recovering from ankle and knee injuries, respectively, but they will both be called upon to keep McFadden and Jones from consistently breaking into the second level against UF. This will be the best rushing attack either of them has faced this year and it will be incumbent upon them to fill their gaps and wrap up on the Arkansas backs as missed tackles by them will lead to huge gains for the Razorbacks. Additionally, Brian Crum must continue his improved play while SS Tony Joiner will also have to be strong at the point of attack and record a number of one-on-one tackles as he figures to be lining up in the box on a consistent basis tomorrow.

Dan Mullen & Chris Leak: Make no mistake about it, Florida is going to have to score over 20 points to win tomorrow night. I’d even go so far as to say that they need to score 25+. To do this, Leak will have to play one of his best and most consistent games of his career. Florida cannot afford to have an entire quarter of offensive futility in this game. Leak needs to convert a high percentage of his passes while taking as few “negative” plays as possible. Most importantly, Leak needs to be a steady presence in the pocket who goes through his progressions and steps up to make the correct throw in the face of pressure. This has been a problem at times for Leak this year. He’s seemingly made progress lately, but will face his greatest test yet tomorrow when he faces a fast and physical Razorback defense. Florida’s O-Line is banged up and will not be able to consistently give Leak enough time to convert third and longs and if he can’t check down for 3 and 4 yard gains when the defense gives them to him, the Gators will find themselves in some very difficult offensive situations.

To avoid these scenarios, not only will Leak need to be both efficient and accurate, OC Dan Mullen will need to have a gameplan that is flexible and well thought out. By flexible, I mean that he needs to stick with what is working and/or trash what isn’t. While this sounds simple enough, Mullen has struggled to find consistency in his play calling through a combination of a need to involve all his playmakers and an itch to get cute or tricky in key situations. Mullen must avoid the temptation to call an option run (among other gimmicky plays) inside the opponents 30 when short passes and screens are what’s gotten him down there. Additionally, Mullen must also not be afraid of continually going to some of his more experienced playmakers, guys like Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell and DeShawn Wynn. Finally, Mullen needs to have a handful of plays that he and the team are prepared to run in various 4th down situations. The time has come to admit that Kicker Chris Hetland is irreparably damaged and is incapable of hitting anything outside of a chip-shot FG and, further, admit that the Gators’ best chance at points from 30-15 yards out is to attempt to convert and continue driving through their opponents’ territory. To do this, Leak will, again, need to read Arkansas and find the open receiver. There will be open receivers in these situations, the key is identifying them and executing.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m extremely pumped and nervous for this game. So much so that I’m thinking I need to get dirty, stinking, piss yourself drunk tonight, if only to slow my brain activity and keep me unconscious for at least the first couple hours of tomorrow afternoon.
I'm not sure how I'm going to make it until tomorrow night, but I'm willing to be the solution involves me watching this at least 27 times.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving...let's get drunk!

It's that time of the year again. No, not the time to break out your Perfect Strangers DVDs. Though that does sounds fun. No, not the time to appreciate all the blessings in your life and spend time with family. While that's nice and all, there's nothing that says you can't do that at in the middle of April.

I'm talking about the annual Thanksgiving weekend that also doubles as an excuse to get rip-roaring drunk for four or five consecutive nights. What's better than getting shitcanned, sleeping in/laying on the couch all morning and then gorging yourself on some of the most delicious, artery clogging food this side of Milwaukee? Not much. Except, maybe getting repeatedly shitcanned, sleeping in and devouring boatloads of leftover artery clogging food. That's my Thanksgiving wish for all of you out there today. Booze, food and football. I'm pretty sure, you won't get a more thoughtful gift all year long. Enjoy.

On a personal note, I won't be eating Thanksgiving with my family for the first time since my freshman year in college. While the lucky people who get to be related to me (Seriously, how envious are you?) are all in Tallahassee this weekend, I'll be back here with my girlfriend and her family for the holiday. That's right, not only am I missing Thanksgiving, I'll also be missing out on free tickets to the Florida-FSU football game. I guess I could drive up on Friday for the game but there's something else at work here besides me being the greatest boyfriend ever.

You see, I've never seen the Gators win at Doak Campbell. Never. Ever. I saw them tie once (ugh) but that's as close as I've come. When Florida broke the 18 year winless streak in Doak two years ago, I was working an event. So, I've decided, in the best interest of Florida football, to stay home and watch this game on TV. Lest I show up and cause the Mighty Gators to lose and ruin the faint National Championship hopes that they still have. While I'll miss the atmosphere of this rivalry. I won't miss the drive to Tallahassee, the smell of Tallahassee and the dim-witted residents of Tallahassee. Hopefully, my strategy works.

Finally, tomorrow is the annual Turkey Bowl game. This is a pretty big deal between my friends and I and always provides plenty of high (and low) lights for all. What else can you say about an event in which at least 50% of the participants are still drunk from the night before?

Disclaimer: This post sucks. I know that. Blame the half day that I'm taking today and the generous helping of Maker's Mark I drank last night for that. Or blame me. I don't care. I've got the next five days off. I've also got the following things on my agenda during that time: Get drunk, play football, watch football, eat, get drunk, watch basketball, eat, get drunk, watch Florida-Kansas (basketball), eat, watch Florida-FSU (football), get drunk, eat, get drunk(er), eat, watch more football. Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rambling, rambling, rambling...

Unlike every other sports-related blogger or journalist or pseudo-journalist today, I’m not going to discuss the Michigan-Ohio State game until your ears (or eyes, I guess) bleed. Maybe I’m the only one, but it’s starting to feel like this game can’t possibly live up to the hype that’s preceded it. I certainly hope it does, I mean I am planning my entire Saturday around it, but when people have been discussing every minute detail of a regular season game for over a week’s time it just starts to feel like we’re all being set up for a tremendous disappointment.

Anyway, because I’m not going to discuss tomorrow’s Game of the Century (alright I’m going to talk about it a little bit at the end of this post) I figured I would try and get to a number of topics that I’ve been thinking about as of late. It’s been quite some time since I sat down and collected my random thoughts in this space and there’s no time like the present right? Right?

- Since I haven’t done this in a while, lets start with something easy. Well, I guess its really not easy for anybody other than Josh Smith to do something like this. Well, Josh Smith and Jesus, maybe.

- By now most of you know that Michael Redd scored 57 points last weekend. Redd’s performance was one of the top 5 highest scoring games in NBA history. Now, do you know who he replaced at #5? Purvis Short…yeah I had no idea either. I mean, I know who Purvis Short is but suffice it to say I had no idea he had EVER dropped 50 in an NBA game. Shit, he wasn’t even the most famous Purvis around when he dropped 50+ for Golden State in 84/85.

The ONLY guy who makes Danny Ferry feel good about his NBA career.

- More randomness: Check out the name for Kobe Bryant’s old shoe from Adidas. Wow. I guess you can’t name a shoe the Alleged Rapist.

- By now, most of you have heard that Gerald Levert died last week. What I’m wondering is how his son, Khalid El-Amin, has been dealing with the loss.

It's so sad when children outlive their parents.

- I heard a lot of people bash the Spurs for not adequately replacing Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic this summer. My first thought was, “We’re talking about the same two guys who couldn’t get off the bench in last year’s playoffs right.” After that, I began to think about the guys whom they did replace those two with and how I thought they might actually fit in better with San Antonio. The thing is, all the Spurs need out of their center spot is 6 fouls, hustle and a rudimentary concept of the proper rotations on both offense and defense within their system. Duncan is so good that he’ll draw enough double teams to allow a smart big man to get easy points through putbacks and cutting layups. Now look at who the Spurs brought in. Fabricio Oberto (ok, he was their last year but he never played) and Francisco Elson. Neither of them have much offensive game but they are both far more active and athletic than either of their predecessors. Furthermore, Oberto already understands so many of the little aspects of team basketball through his experience with the Argentinian national team that he actually makes the Spurs better defensively when he’s on the floor. To sum up, the Spurs spent less money this summer AND got better and more athletic. That, is why they are the best organization in basketball. I still can’t stand to watch them play for long stretches of time though.

- I’m a little biased here, but David Lee’s developing into a beast of a power forward. Exactly the kind of guy who could lead the league in rebounding a few years from now in an uptempo system. Don’t believe me, just look at his stats so far this year: 9 rebs in 23.4 minutes per game. Even I have to admit to being a little surprised by his level of productivity.

- I'm not really sure how this has slipped under the national radar, but it's come to my attention that Alabama big man Jemareo Davidson has taken a leave of absence from the basketball team after his girlfriend was killed in a car crash last week. Apparently, Davidson was sitting in the passenger seat of her car during the accident. Jesus, that sounds awful. I'm hoping to see him back on the court soon. (Note: I didn't mean to go all Peter King there but that's just a horrible thing for anybody to have to experience)

- Al Harrington has always been spectacularly ugly. I would even say cartoonish in his defining characterstics. However, now that he is rocking that mohawk, he looks positively ridiculous. I’m guessing thats why he torched the Magic last Friday night. It is awfully tough to play defense when you’re bent over laughing.

- As we all know, the NBA is a copycat league. So it comes as no surprise that a number of NBA teams are trying to replicate the Suns’ recent success by converting to uptempo offensive systems. In theory, this sounds great. Players love to run, the rules are currently set up for this style of play and any approach that allows teams to score more easily is always going to be welcomed by coaches. However, the system that the Suns employ is predicated on some specific parts that not many teams have. I watched a number of teams who have taken on this new, fast-paced approach and I have to say that the results (at least in the early going) are less than inspiring. I’m going to tackle three of these teams and point out why they are not cut out for this approach to offense.

Indiana: The first problem is Rick Carlisle. While he’s a fine NBA coach, he’s also the kind of guy who draws up plays during intramurals. The fast-paced approach needs a coach who’s willing to be hands off and let his players play fairly undisturbed. Rick Carlisle cannot do this. In fact, I’m pretty sure he wakes up at night in cold sweats thinking about Jamaal Tinsley directing his ball club unfettered. Beyond Carlisle, this system also needs a number of quality outside shooters who can spread the floor and open driving lanes. Indiana is woefully inadequate in this department. Name one consistent shooter on the Pacers. It’s okay, I have plenty of time. Jasikevicius qualifies but he can’t play more than 20 minutes a game, so who else does that leave the Pacers with? Stephen Jackson? I think you get my point.

Denver: Do you know why the Suns offense is so damn productive? Because Steve Nash is running it. Say what you will about Nash (no defense, stats inflated by the system, stupid hippie) but it’s tough to deny that he’s the perfect fit for the Suns’ system. Fast break teams thrive off of the play of their point guards. More specifically, players will run until their shoes fall off if they believe that their point guard will find them for easy layups and wide open jumpers. That’s Denver’s biggest problem. Their point guards are not suited to their system. Andre Miller is an average PG at best. He doesn’t have the jumpshot to keep defenses honest (and thereby open up driving lanes) and he’s a chronic over dribbler. Nothing can kill a fast break quite like a PG who doesn’t give up the ball at the right time. Miller may be averaging 9.5 assists/gm right now but all you need to do is watch him once to understand what I mean. He doesn't "find" people as much as he gets bailed out on his wild forays to the hoop.

Backup PG Earl Boykins is even more ill-suited to this offense. He is and always will be a shoot first PG. It’s not entirely his fault. He never would’ve made the NBA if he wasn’t such a prolific scorer. However, that doesn’t change the fact he just doesn’t work with what Denver’s trying to do. Additionally, Denver actually has less outside shooting than Indiana. Other than Carmelo (and Earl when he’s hot) they don’t have a single player on that team whom opposing teams fear as an outside shooter. For example, on Tuesday night in Orlando the Nuggets had this lineup on the floor for almost half the second quarter: Miller, Linas Kleiza, Carmelo, Reggie Evans and Marcus Camby. Can anybody say zone?

Washington: Here’s a team I think could actually be successful running this system. While Arenas is a shoot–first PG of the highest order, he does involve his teammates in the open floor. More importantly, the rest of the Wizards lineup is well suited to this style of play. Guys like Jamison, Daniels, Butler and Stevenson (even Thomas) all benefit from playing a more wide open style which accentuates their strengths (athleticism, speed) while also speeding up the tempo of play and covering up for some of their defensive deficiencies. While they lack an ideal number of outside shooters for the system, they probably have enough to keep defenses honest on the break. So what’s the problem? Well, Eddie Jordan publicly admitted that he had no idea how to run such a system. I guess that takes care of that then.

- Speaking of the Wizards, I commented earlier this year that I didn’t understand why DeShawn Stevenson would sign with the Wiz, basically saying that he didn’t fit in and would (likely) end up nailed to the bench. It seems as though I was wrong. Shocking, I know. He has not only been a starter since day 1 in DC, he also seems to have supplied the Wiz with some much needed defensive intensity. Furthermore, his willingness to get his offense without having plays called for him has allowed Washington to feed the ball to their primary offensive options without worrying about keeping him happy. While Stevenson is far from a perfect player, his toughness and unselfishness make him a very positive addition to the Wizards.

With that said, and I never though I’d say this, the Magic miss him this year. The Magic don’t have many natural “2s” on their team. Other than Bogans, all the other swingmen (Hill, Turkoglu, Ariza) are more natural “3s”. This has lead to some problems in matching up with some of the leagues better wing scorers. You don’t want Hill guarding the team’s best scorer for 35 minutes a night and at 6’10” Hedo is not athletic enough to keep up with most of these guys on the perimeter. As for Ariza, while he’s promising there’s absolutely no way he should be on the court for more than 10-15 minutes a night at this point in his career. Beyond the defense that he brought, Stevenson was also a primary facilitator of the Magic’s offense. He often ran the point in the halfcourt, which allowed Nelson/Arroyo to come off baseline screens for jumpshots and he was the Magic’s primary post feeder. While they are currently 6-3, the Magic also lead the NBA in turnovers (by a wide margin) and the absence of Stevenson is a primary reason for this. Its really too bad that Stevenson didn’t realize his agent was a total douchebag until it was too late, for both parties

- Finally, I wanted to give my two cents on the NBA’s recent attempts to clean up their image. I think we can all agree that the post-foul whining had gotten out of control in recent years and I have no problem with Stern and Co. trying to change the overall culture. However, the new rule has placed far too much power in the hands of the refs and thus has created a double standard among players. I’ve seen Tim Duncan throw his hands up in the air, walk away from a ref and then (with his back turned while walking upcourt) drop the ball as he was near midcourt. Do you know what happened? Nothing. Not a peep from any of the refs. If somebody like Stephon Marbury (Sheed was too easy) does this iis almost assuredly a technical, and possibly worse.

That’s only one example, there are plenty of more. Basketball is a sport. Sports are emotional and players will react when they feel as though they’ve been wronged. That is a natural part of sports. If you are going to punish players for minor offenses and gestures, it must be universal. Of course, we know this is impossible when human emotions are involved. So why not scale it back a touch? I’ve heard the argument that Michael and Larry and Russell, etc. were all emotional and they didn’t have this problem. That’s right, because they were given some rope by officials who weren’t both semi-incompetent and completely untouchable by any and all players and coaches. Do you know what else Larry, Michael and Russell did an awful lot of during their time in the league? Talked trash and got into fights. So does that mean we should bring all of that back to the NBA? Personally, I say the NBA could use a little more in-game vitriol these days as it’s becoming pretty antiseptic, but I think you get my point.

- What’s even worse than the “no whining” rule? This article in the New Daily News. I was already going to write about this based on Jermaine O’Neal’s recent fine for “wearing his wristband too high on his arm”. I realize that their has to be some regulation of uniforms in the NBA, but this is getting completely ludicrous. Me thinks David Stern needs to come down out of his ivory tower for a little while before he has a bigger (more racially driven) problem on his hands.

- Alright, now onto that game that everyone in the Western Hemisphere is so intrigued by( or so it seems). Here’s my extremely quick take:

Michigan’s D, (especially the front four) will give the Ohio State offense fits with the pressure they’re able to create. They won’t shutdown OSU but they will force a turnover or two. While I don’t believe in Chad Henne (never have, never will), I do believe that the Buckeye secondary is overrated, semi-untested and ripe for exposure. If Manningham is healthy ( I think so) they will have to play a lot of zone to avoid too many one-on-one matchups between OSU’s corners (the #1 is a former walk-on) and Michigan’s receivers. I think the Wolverines make enough big plays in the passing game and take advantage of a TO in OSU territory to win.


Michigan 26
OSU 17

Enjoy this...I always do. Oh, and have a good weekend.

Monday, November 13, 2006

How to Save a Season...

I’m not sure if you heard, but the University of Florida participated in a pretty closely contested football game this past Saturday afternoon. I was prepared for a close game, chock full of could’ve and should’ve beens on both sides of the ball going into this game. I was not, however, prepared for a game that would take approximately five years off of my increasingly short lifespan. Because I’m incapable of discussing Florida Football concisely without parameters under which to work, I’m going to break down my thoughts on Saturday’s win into various topics of note (Note: this is not meant to mean that this post will be concise. Far from it, in fact):

Frustration: This is, without a doubt, the most frustrating 9-1 team in the history of 9-1 teams. Most of my frustration with this team stems from the offense, or more specifically, the offense’s inability to establish any consistent rhythm. There is more talent at the skill positions on this offense than any Gator team since 2001. I would even submit that this team, while not as dynamic at the top of the depth chart as say 2001 or 1996, boasts even more depth at the skill positions than just about any Gator team in the past 20 years. This depth seems to be one of the problems. While this may seem strange, it’s struck me over the past couple of weeks that some of the problem with Florida’s offense is the constant attempt to involve all of Florida’s playmakers as opposed to sticking with the “hot hand”. Instead of punishing defenses with a steady diet of what’s working, Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen too often tries to keep defenses off balance by changing up what is working. By doing this, Mullen allows defenses to regain momentum while also throwing his “hot” playmakers out of their rhythm. Evidence of this can be seen in the stats of DeShawn Wynn against USC. Despite averaging over 7 yards a carry, Wynn was limited to 13 carries for the game. While I’m not saying that Florida should abandon their passing game, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt Florida to call Wynn’s number a few more times on Saturday. Especially in the red zone, where he was completely ignored by Mullen on, not one, but two scoreless trips during Saturday’s game.

Chris Leak: I’m not one of the Florida fans who’ve been calling for Tim Tebow to play more. In fact, I think that the Florida coaching staff has done a great job of putting Tebow into situations that are geared for success. While nobody is denying Tebow’s talent, it should be stated that he is a true freshman with a rudimentary understanding of the passing game. To put him into too many varied situations would not only run the risk of damaging his confidence but also, possibly, result in a season changing turnover (see Shockley, DJ: 2002). For further proof of this, one need only look at Tebow's two passing attempts against USC. On both occasions, Tebow had a receiver open (Dallas Baker & Tate Casey) but focused only on his primary receiver. Thankfully, the result was a couple of incompletions. Things could’ve turned out much worse, especially on Tebow’s first attempt where he tried to squeeze a pass into double coverage in the endzone.

With all of this being said, Chris Leak’s inaccuracy as a passer continues to be his Achilles heel. Simply put, he too often forces his receivers to “make a play” when an accurately thrown ball would result in huge gains. He needed an unbelievable effort from Dallas Baker on his TD pass to avoid a disastrous turnover late in the first half. Beyond that, he badly missed on a couple of other passes that surely would’ve resulted in large gains for the Florida offense. Leak deserves credit for his gutsy running and play calling on the final drive (he checked into both of his draws on the final drive) and he did look more in control of the offense than he has in weeks but he’s still far behind what should be expected of a senior QB who has been starting since the 4th game of his freshman year. In an effort to curb some of these mistakes, I would suggest that Meyer and Mullen employ more basic routes such as shallow crosses and outs. Use of these routes have two positive offshoots, they allow some of Florida’s "playmakers” (Harvin, Ingram, Caldwell) to operate in space while also not forcing Leak to make a perfect throw into tight coverage. The use of these, and other, shorter more basic routes should be viewed as one of the primary reasons that Leak finished Saturday’s game 23-29.

“Cute” playcalling: This was an especially frustrating aspect of Saturday’s game. Nearly every time the Florida had the ball (Only 7 offensive possessions…this clock rule SUCKS!) the offense marched down the field with relative ease only to stall once within South Carolina’s 30 yard line. The main culprit for much of this wasn’t penalties or dropped passes as has so often been the case this year. Rather, it was the playcalling of Dan Mullen. On Florida’s first drive, after moving to the USC 4 yard line, Mullen called for a shovel pass despite the Gamecock’s complete inability to stop the ball being run directly at them. The result? A seven yard loss. This put Florida in a clear passing situation on second and third down and eventually ended in a missed FG by Chris Hetland. More notably, during the fourth quarter, Mullen called a reverse throwback pass at the South Carolina 13 yard line for Andre Caldwell that ultimately resulted in a 16 yard loss. This loss would eventually lead to Florida coming up short on 3rd and 2 and having to settle for a FG. Mullen called a very good game on Saturday, involving many players and keeping USC off balance. However, he nearly cost the Gators the football game by trying to trick his way into the endzone instead of simply lining up with superior talent and forcing Carolina to stop the Florida offense. While this sort of thing may have been somewhat necessary at Mullen’s previous stops, he must realize that, in most cases, his team has a talent advantage and he doesn’t need gimmicks to get 6.

Defense: The Florida defense is officially vulnerable. The loss of Marcus Thomas has been covered here. However, it bears noting that the Gators have given up over five yards a carry since Thomas was booted off the team. This shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider that Florida is now starting three DEs on their D-Line. Additionally, Florida’s pass rush has suffered without Thomas’ push up the middle. Not only did Florida fail to record a sack for the first time all season on Saturday, they weren’t ever really that close. The loss of a consistent pass rush combined with an inability to stop the run (Siler’s injury could continue to be a BIG factor here) further exposes a thin Florida secondary that has had it’s hands full on numerous occasions this year. While no secondary can survive without an adequate pass rush, Florida’s secondary is absolutely cooked if front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on opposing passer and at least provide a mild resistance to runs up the gut.

Wow, that was awfully negative wasn’t it? It sure was, but what do you expect after a game that was so thoroughly given away by the home team? I can promise you that it would’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse if not for the fantastic hands on one Jarvis Moss. In an effort to at least appear positive, I’d like to specifically site the performances of the following people:

Jarvis Moss: Another in a long line of Jarvis’ at Florida, and now, perhaps the most famous of them all. Moss’s block(s) will go down in Florida history among the greatest moments that the Football team has ever seen. I was at the last game saved by a blocked FG (Auburn 2002) and that was absolute pandemonium in the stands. Considering the stakes involved in this game (on a number of levels) I would imagine that the scene in the stands after this block was somewhere between bat-shit crazy and, well…I guess I don’t have to imagine.

Reggie Lewis: He’s never going to receive enough credit, but for my money, Reggie Lewis made the most important play of the day by anybody not named Jarvis. His perfectly timed slap-away at Sidney Rice’s sure TD catch kept Florida in the game and completely changed the complexion of a second half that seemed to be quickly getting away from the Gators. I’ve watched the replay at least a dozen times and he could not have played the ball or the receiver any better than he did. The fact that he made the play against Sidney Rice made it all the more clutch and spectacular.

Urban Meyer: By now, nearly every Florida fan has commented that “Zook would’ve lost this game”, and they’re right. Personally I don’t think that it would’ve even come down to a FG if Towlie was still running the show in Gainesville. I’m not completely sold on all things Urban just yet, (His team’s still seem a little erratic and sloppy to me for a guy who pushes discipline so much) but he’s instilled a sense of pride and overall toughness in Gator football that I haven’t seen since the mid-90s and that alone is remarkable. His players believe in him and he reflects that belief in his players. He deserves a ton of credit for the changes he’s made in this program.

Florida fans: I wasn’t there but I’ve spoken to two separate people who were in attendance on Saturday who both said that the Swamp was “louder than I’ve ever heard it” on the final USC drive. I’ve been in that Stadium when its so loud that you think the ground is gonna open up right there at the 50 yard line, so it must’ve something special in that Stadium on Saturday night. Florida’s crowd never gave up. Florida’s players never gave up either. Pardon me if I think that there’s some connection there.

Thank god for Western Carolina this week...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pants Party in Piscataway...everyone's invited!

Well, that certainly changes the National Championship picture doesn’t it?

I predicted earlier this week that Rutgers would pull off the upset against Louisville. To be honest, I was hoping for a Scarlet Knight victory as much (probably more) as I was expecting one. I hadn’t watched Rutgers play much this season, save for a quarter or two during lulls in some of the other, more “marquee” games that I was watching. While I knew they had talent, especially on offense, I didn’t know if they had enough talent and depth to overcome a very talented and well coached Louisville team. The one factor that I continually believed could swing this game in Rutgers’ favor was the same factor that so often changes college football games: Emotion. The emotion of playing the biggest game in school history could propel the Scarlet Knights to victory, if they could handle it. Conversely, the emotional hangover of winning the biggest game in school history might, just might render Louisville unable to play with the intensity and focus it would need to overcome the collective emotion of 60,000+ newly minted Rutgers fans.

While I’d like to say it was all emotion that carried Rutgers to victory last night, its simply not true. Sure it played a role, but to say the emotions of the moment carried Rutgers would be discounting the defensive adjustments made by Greg Schiano and his staff at halftime. It would overlook the yeoman’s effort by Ray Rice and the patience of Rutgers’ offensive staff. They never panicked, continually sticking with their game plan in order to wear down Louisville’s defense. It would ignore the brilliant call on the third down pass to Brian Leonard. A play that Rutgers’s offensive coordinator had seemingly waited all night to call. Rutgers won last night because they believed in each other. They believed in their coaches and the game plan set out in front of them. But most of all, they believed that they deserved to win. That all their hard work and sacrifice had prepared them for a moment like this. That belief is what made Jeremy Ito’s second chance FG possible (that and an awful offsides penalty) because all the emotion in the world can’t bring a team back from three TDs down if they don’t believe.

Now, the National Championship picture becomes much more muddled than it was just 24 hours ago. Over the next few weeks you’re going to hear an endless amount of talk about who “deserves” to play in Glendale on January 8. Only, you won’t hear any of that from me. Not one word. You know why, because there is WAY too much football still to be played. If last night’s game teaches us anything, it’s that we know nothing about college football. So sit back, shutup and watch what promises to be an exciting finish to an increasingly unpredictable season of college football. Speaking of which…

A big weekend is upon us. Actually, it’s a big weekend for the University of Florida. For the first time since he lost to Tennessee in December 2001, Steve Spurrier will be walking back into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to coach a football game. Only this time, he’ll be doing it as the head coach of an opponent. To say this will be weird is a vast understatement. It was weird last year when he stood on the opposite sideline from the Gators and directed South Carolina to a victory. When he walks out of the tunnel on Saturday afternoon wearing black and garnet, it will be downright nauseating. As someone who enjoyed the final years of the Spurrier era as a student at Florida, the thought of booing SOS was near blasphemy. How could you ever boo the coach who made the University of Florida a national power in football? What could drive somebody to hurl insults at a man who rescued the Gator football program from a devastating probation? That same man trading his orange and blue for the colors of a division rival, that’s what. Make no mistake about it, I do not hate Spurrier. Far from it, I love him for all he’s done for the University and for the countless victories I reveled in that he was largely responsible for. However, that is now the past and he’s become just another opposing SEC coach for whom I want nothing more than embarrassment at the hands of the Gators. It’s that simple really.

If it weren’t for LSU’s last second victory in Knoxville last weekend, the Gators would be playing this game for the SEC Eastern Division title. As it stands, the Gators will play this game for two things: pride and national championship aspirations. Frankly, I think this is a good thing. A game against Spurrier in the Swamp is already rife with emotions for fans, coaches (don’t underestimate the shadow that Spurrier still casts over the football program) and players and will present unique challenges for all parties involved. To say nothing of the “revenge factor” involved in Saturday’s contest, which is significant (last year’s loss to USC kept UF out of the SEC Championship game). With all of that emotion to manage, the last thing that this team needs is the added dimension of playing for a berth in the SEC Championship game.

With all the hoopla and discussion of the head coaching matchup and Spurrier’s return to Gainesville, it can be easy to forget that there is an actual football game to be played. With that in mind, I’d like to touch on a couple aspects of this game that I’ve been mulling over the last few days.

Two QB system: Florida’s two QB system has been the talk of analysts all year long (even though it’s not a true two QB sysem). However, the real story is the re-emergence of a two QB system for SOS. The performance of Blake Mitchell last Saturday evening was nothing short of spectacular. He looked like a vintage Spurrier QB for the better part of the second half, throwing fades, deep outs and slants like he was under center in Gainesville, circa 1995. Not only did Mitchell re-establish himself as the starter, he also managed to resurrect the lost season of Sidney Rice. As my friend John said on Tuesday, Mitchell has an undeniable chemistry with Rice that can’t be overlooked. Mitchell looks for Rice and, more often than not, he is successful when throwing his way. This is huge for the Gamecocks. Rice is their most explosive offensive player and getting him involved is paramount to the success of their offense. Furthermore, Mitchell’s ascension back to the starting role will allow Spurrier to use Syvelle Newton in a number of ways throught Saturday’s game. He provides USC with a completely different look at QB than the more traditional stylings of Mitchell and should prove useful in frustrating Florida’s now wafer thin defensive line. Beyond that, I would also expect to see Newton line up at wide receiver and running back throughout the course of Saturday’s game.

Conclusion: By promoting Mitchell back to starter, Spurrier has added two weapons to an offense badly in need of playmakers while also making his offense much harder to effectively gameplan against.

Marcus Thomas: There’s much to say other than, goodbye. Thomas was unquestionably one of the two most valuable players on the Gator defense. His presence alone made the players around him, specifically the rest of the defensive line, more effective. He commanded double teams and created pressure up the middle, thereby disrupting opponents’ offensive schemes. Put simply, impact defensive tackles like Marcus Thomas don’t grow on trees and can’t be easily replaced. One of the best things about a player like Thomas is that opposing coordinators have to game plan around their presence. Losing Thomas leaves UF with only one such player on their defense, Reggie Nelson. While Nelson remains the marquee player on Florida’s D, it is much easier for an offense to gameplan around one difference maker than two and that alone makes Florida far more vulnerable than they were just two weeks ago.

Furthermore, Florida’s once deep D-line is now much thinner than when the season began, due to the dismissal of Thomas as well as the ACL tear of backup DT Javier Estopinan. Florida still has plenty of talent along it defensive front, it just happens to be talent that is a little lighter in the ass than most would prefer. Will this affect Florida come Saturday? Most certainly. The defense can’t (nor should it) expect to stuff the run as effectively as it has most of the season. Will this prove to be a fatal flaw for Florida (alliteration, mmm) come Saturday? It’s hard to say. If USC can manage to run at the Florida defense like they did in Columbia last year then that will set up the play-action pass for Spurrier. If SOS is emboldened by some early success running the ball, then the Florida secondary could be in for an awfully long day of chasing open receivers. Beyond Saturday, the absence of Thomas makes Florida’s trek towards a BCS Bowl and (possibly) the National Title game far more arduous than it was previously. For the record, I hold no ill will towards Marcus Thomas for his actions. He’s a young kid who had too many responsibilities for himself to handle. He was a very good player at the University of Florida and I wish him well in the NFL. I just wish he could’ve found a way to balance all the aspects of his life for another couple of months because the Gators really could’ve used him.

Other than the loss of Thomas, all the right things have been happening for this Gator team these past few weeks. However, this team still has a long road ahead of them before they can even begin to think of playing for a National Title. The first step on that road starts tomorrow afternoon against the only coach who’s ever guided them down that road before. Life (and college football) can be awfully strange sometimes.

A few last items:

- I can still like SOS for another 27 hours or so, right?

- Alright, this is not encouraging. It looks as if Florida may be without the services of their (now) second best defensive player as well as team leader.

- One last time: RUMSFELD!!!!

He'd like you to meet him at the "trap". Where, evidently, it's going down.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

You're probably looking at next week.

Somehow I managed to violently wrench my neck on Tuesday afternoon while lifting weights. I'm not exactly sure when it happened during my workout, but by the time I was done with dinner on Tuesday it had become quite apparent that I had done something seriously wrong to my neck. It was so bad that I ended up calling my Halloween celebration off early and heading home to bed. Of course, I wouldn't actually go to sleep once I went to bed. My neck was so out of whack that I spent the entire night trying to find a position (any position) that wouldn't make me want to howl in pain. I wouldn't be so lucky. To make matters worse, I woke up (if you can count what I did as sleeping) to a fever and a severly congested head. Most of that has subsided by now. Unfortunately, my neck is only slightly better than it was yesterday. I'm back at work this morning, if only because I didn't want to use two consecutive sick days on my damned neck. However, if things don't start to improve dramatically there's a very real chance that I'll be leaving work to go home and rest. It may sound like I'm being an enormous pussy (which I am) but I'm in genuine agony over here today and I don't care what you think about me and my threshold for pain. So, why am I telling you this?

What the fuck is she smiling about?

Because, there's no way that I'll be able to write anything today or (possibly) tomorrow. If I'm significantly better tomorrow I'll get something up. If not, you're looking at next week before I can contribute anything mildy interesting to the blogoshpere. Believe me, it hurts me far more than it hurts you.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The freaks come out night, the freaks come out ni-ight...

That song always makes me think of Halloween and, as a result, I always end up singing the refrain over and over again on Halloween night. It just works perfect, at least for me I'm not sure why, other than the fact that Whodini rules and, well, the song is catchy as hell.

Even though it's Tuesday, I'm still catching up on work and recharging my batteries after one of the most ridiculous and completely awesome weekends I've had in quite some time. However, I didn't want to let Halloween pass without at least passing along a very generic "Happy Halloween" to everyone. Even though I'm still a little tired from this past weekend, and definitely don't need to drink for probably another couple of days, I'm still planning on going out tonight. Maybe once I have kids (HA!) I won't want find it physically impossible to stay home on Halloween. Then again, maybe not (I do adore the sauce). I mean, how many other holidays cause children, teens and full grown adults to all dress up and act like complete lunatics? Other than Arbor Day, I can't think of another.

So there it is...Happy Halloween you bunch of losers. Go out and get drunk, or take the sage advice of Bushwick Bill and rob "little kids for bags". Hell, if you manage your time wisely you might be able to kill two birds with one stone. While I sincerely hope you choose to participate in all that tonight has to offer, there's one guy who I can guarantee you won't be celebrating Halloween tonight. That guy is Keyon Dooling. Don't believe me? Just read this quote from Keyon:

"I was never a big Halloween guy. I never really understood it. I didn’t go trick-or-treating as a kid. I still don’t know what it’s about."

Umm, alright then. I, for one, had no idea that Halloween could be such an abstract concept.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lookin at my...fuck it. It's about that time.

Yep. That's right. Today marks the begining of what promises to be a most eventful and booze fueled weekend. The Annual Florida-Georgia game, also known as (Seriously, just deal with it Adams) the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. While many people won't be descending upon the great(?) city of Jacksonville until Friday afternoon, I'll be arriving tonight at around 8:30 in order to pick up some fellow revelers from the airport. From there, we're off to our hotel right near The Landings where the beer will flow like wine and the women, well, they'll be really drunk and (possibly) very slutty. Sounds like fun don't it?

I'll be riding with Vitas up to Jacksonville this evening so that we can pick up Jerry, TJ and Wheelhouse regulars Salts and Greg for their first collective cocktail party experience. On Friday, more trouble comes our way as my buddies Berto and Socks make their way into town after Socks' flight comes in from San Francisco (what a gay). Salts has suggested that we all try "not to die" this weekend, which I think is a total chicken shit move, but since it seems I'm outnumbered on this one I too will try and comply with his request. In all seriousness, I'm really pumped about this weekend. The Cocktail Party is always a good time and we've got a huge crew of guys and a couple of prime hotel rooms this year. Things couldn't look much better from where I'm standing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Snobs & Liars

That pretty much sums up my day today. I'll be working a political event from 3-8 pm this evening and I'll be surrounded by people who are one or the other (or both) for the entirety of this event. As you may have guessed, I'm none too pleased about this. I find politricks (thanks Sheed) mildy annoying and politicians mind numbingly annoying so tonight's festivities should test my famoulsy thin patience to its absolute breaking point. Hopefully, I'll be able to contain my rage long enough to avoid dumping a pot of coffee on some state representatives head in front of hundreds of their constituents. Hopefully, I'm not making any promises at this point. So that's my day today. An approximately 12 hour workday that includes over 5 hours of poltical douchebaggery at its finest. Did I mention that this event is out-fucking-doors? No? Yeah, well, it a park. Now, I wasn't a poly-sci major in college or anything but something about a poltical event in a park seems, well, extremely low rent. I can only guess what kind of food is going to be served tonight. Beanie Weanies? Frog Legs? I think I'm going to have to make a concerted effort to keep the verbal sarcasm and vitriol to a minimum tonight, lest I reveal my disdain for everyone involved in this event while in mixed company. Hopefully, the thoughts of what awaits me in just over day will keep me placated for the duration of tonight's activities. That's really my only hope at this point. That, and the visions of Chris Carpenter dominating last night. Because, that, was freaking sweet.

I'll try and post a little something tomorrow before I head out to Jacksonville.

Friday, October 20, 2006

There is NOTHING quite like Playoff Baseball.

There's very little chance that I'm going to be able to write anything that even approaches a sensible and/or analytical recap of last night's Game 7. No, I'm not going to completely ignore the game in this space like last weekend's loss to Auburn (Why oh why was Tebow not in on 3rd and 2 at the Auburn 6? I'll never stop believing Mullen and Meyer outwitted themselves on that play. Stop...think about last night. Ahh, yes. That's nice.). Rather, I'm still so jacked/fried from last night's emotional roller coaster to effectively sum up the events that happened late last night as I sat in my house all by my lonesome. I don't care if the NL is far inferior to the Al, that was a classic Game 7. A bonafide classic. Clutch performances by unlikely heroes on both sides in an absolutely electric atmosphere. I've been alternately pumping my fist (lightly) and smiling all morning as I read through various accounts of last night's clincher. I think I finally understand what my friend Kurt was going through when he engaged me in the most awkward man hug in recorded human history after Aaron Boone's Game 7 HR over Boston in 2003. Thank God I was by myself last night and the only thing I had the chance to hug was a frosty bottle of Jager.

In the interest of attempting to capture some of last night's emotions, I'll detail a couple of the phone calls exchanged by my father and I during the latter innings of last night's win.

10:03 pm: I was literally halfway off my couch and in mid-yell when, all of the sudden, Endy Chavez decided to make the most improbable catch since Angels in the Outfield. I immediately sat my ass down and watched the replay of Chavez's catch over and over and over. Chavez is one of the nicest professional athletes that I've ever met but I want to stab him the fucking eye right now. And I would, if I wasn't paralyzed by the agony of the emotional swing that Chavez just inflected on me. After a minute (or an hour I'm not sure) I pick up the phone and call my Dad. He answers, which is a good sign as I feared for his health, and says:

Dad: That's unbelievable. Best catch I've ever seen.
Me: "He barely even..."
Dad (cutting me off): I know. He snowconed it. That was the game winner right there.
Me: You're right. Fuck.
Dad: We really need Suppan to shut them down this inning.
Me: Yeah, we think Shea is crazy now.
Dad: Okay...Bye.

I'm not sure what my Dad was doing during the bottom of the inning. Me, I was cursing Endy Chavez only to stop cursing him and start cursing Scott Rolen. As soon as the ball left Rolen's hands I was convinced the game was over. Of course, I tried to do my part by cracking yet another Budweiser (I don't even drink Bud and I bought a six pack last night in hopes of sending some good karma the Cardinals' way. Yep, I'm 29 and have a Masters degree. I'm sure this is exactly how my parents pictured my life progressing when they sent me away to college.) I don't know if the Budweiser worked but it certainly didn't hurt. Neither did Jose Valentin's complete inability to hit a decent curveball. Jeff Suppan will always have a special place in my heart after that performance in the sixth inning (ngs...okay, sgs). My Dad calls again.

Dad: Wow.
Me: Can we really win this thing?
Dad: I'm not sure. I just know it's not over yet, somehow.

Cut to the top of the ninth. I'm once again cursing Scott Rolen as he quickly falls behind 0-2. However, the next thing I know he's managed a single and is standing on first. Yadier Molina strides to the plate. I wrote about unlikely heroes a couple of days ago and he would certainly fall into that ever expanding category (Suppan's already in at this point). He hits the first pitch deep, really deep. Can Chavez get to that? No. I let out a primal scream that has to have awoken at least one of my neighbors. As the inning ends my phone rings.

Dad: It's all on Wainwright now.
Me: God that's a lot of pressure for a rookie. I'm worried.
Dad: I've been worried for 5 hours. What's another five minutes.
Me: Bye.

I'll tell you what another five minutes is...excruciating. Once Cliff Floyd comes to the plate I'm practically hiding my face behind my hands. I can't stand it anymore. Wainwright shows some serious onions and gets Floyd. Reyes goes down quick (Though initially I could've sworn that ball would drop). Now Wainwright starts to lose it a bit and ends up walking Lo Duca. Here comes motherfucking Carlos Beltran and his magical mole. I hate that guy. Nobody has murdered the Cardinals in the postseason like Beltran. Ok, that's a lie. Babe Ruth gave it the Redbirds worse...that's comforting. Before I even have much time to freak out it's 0-2. Now I'm completely freaking out. Wainwright drops the hammer on Beltran as he stands there motionless. I let out another primal scream. Cards win. Are you kidding me? CARDS WIN!!!!

As I sit there in disbelief, my phone rings one last time.

Dad: How's the World Series sound to you?
Me: Pretty fucking good. What a game.
Dad: Yeah. I don't think I'll be go to sleep anytime soon. Might as well crack a Bud.
Me: One step ahead of you old man. Did you wake Mom up just now?
Dad: I think so. Who cares, the Cards are in the World Series.
Me: Unbelievable.

We stayed on the phone going over the game for another few minutes before we finally hung up. Of course, I was a long way away from going to bed so I stayed up with a beer and a shot and watched as much coverage as possible. What a fucking night.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I need a hero...

Remember that song? Of course you do. Well, the 1985 Cardinals kind of adopted it as their theme song. Honestly, I'm not sure if the team adopted it as much as the fans adopted it. Since I was 8 during the 1985 season, I'm going to guess it was the St. Louis fans if only because I have some trouble picturing Jack Clark, Vince Coleman and John Tudor belting out the lyrics to this in the locker room. Nevertheless, I've been thinking about this song with all the unlikely heroes that have stepped up for the Cardinals this fall. Guys like Scott Spiezio, Josh Kinney, and So Taguchi to name a few. However, no Cardinal player this fall has been as unlikely a hero as one Jeff Weaver. Weaver's performance during these playoffs (and especially this NLCS) is nothing if not improbable. In fact, I'm not the least bit ashamed to say that I've become a Jeff Weaver fan. Okay, I'm a little ashamed. Sure, he's a douchebag stoner, but now he's a douchebag stoner who's going to receive far more on the free agent market this winter than he deserves. Well, at least more than his record prior to this year's playoffs indicates that he deserves.

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinals tried to bring him back next year. We all know that Dave Duncan loves reclamation projects (Have you seen his wife? Good god.) and, honestly, there's not a gaggle of quality starting pitchers out on the market right now. (I know, I know. I just used the word "quality" in reference to Jeff Weaver and I wasn't talking about his stash. I can't really believe it either). With that said, the Cards would be royally screwed without his contributions thus far in the playoffs and that's not something that I ever thought I'd write.

Obviously, tonight's game is beyond huge for both teams. The Mets are in a must-win situation and the Cards have their "ace" going in a Game 6 on the road. To be perfectly honest, I'm pretty nervous about Carpenter tonight. He seems to have some trouble managing his emotions early in big games and therefore pitches erratic in the opening inning or two. I'm not sure if the Cards can afford something like that tonight. Shea's gonna be jacked and I fear this game could get away (in a big way) from St. Louis if the Mets get out to an early lead.

Disclaimer: I know this post is disjointed but I never intended on writing much more than "Big game tonight. St. Louis can clinch...Go Cards." However, the spirit (or spirits, you decide) took over and I felt compelled to write a little more than your basic "Game tonight" post. Whatever. I just wasted an extra five minutes of your afternoon, so stop bitching

Friday, October 13, 2006

The kind of Saturday that's resulted in a divorce or two...

I’m going to keep it rather short today (I swear) with a couple of random comments on last night’s NLCS Game 1 and then some more thoughts on tomorrow’s Florida-Auburn matchup that will (apparently) be available on all 17 ESPN networks.

NLCS Game 1

Despite the loss, I wasn’t too distraught with last night’s results. The Cardinals played pretty well and actually could’ve scored some early runs if it weren’t for a handful of hard hit balls being hit directly at the Mets defense. At least two of those drives ended innings that had serious run scoring potential, so it’s tough for me to get too bent out of shape about the Cardinals overall play. (I don’t want to talk about Pujols getting doubled off by Beltran, ever).

Sure, I screamed “FUCK!!!” the moment that Beltran’s bat made contact with Weaver’s offering in the sixth but, even with that, I came away somewhat encouraged by the overall performance of St. Louis. I’m sure that plenty of people want to blame somebody for Beltran’s homer (Weaver, LaRussa, Tim Robbins) but it was more a case of a great player (Beltran) jumping on Weaver’s mistake and making the most of it than anything in particular that was done so egregiously wrong. I’ve said, numerous times, that if you get 5 good innings from Weaver in a start then you should thank your lucky stars and go to the bullpen, immediately. However, I was all for Weaver going out to start the sixth after the way he had pitched through the first 5 innings. I mean, it’s not like the Cardinals’ bullpen is exactly a murderer’s row of late inning efficiency these days. With that said, I would’ve pulled Weaver as soon as LoDuca singled to start the sixth. They gave Weaver a shot to keep it going and he didn’t get it done. At that point, I’d have gotten Tyler Thompson in to face Beltran. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and it’s still tough to hammer LaRussa too much for his decision to leave Weaver in. St. Louis didn’t lose the game right then and there. The Cards would've loved to get both games at Shea but I doubt they'd tell you they really expected that to happen. Now, if Carpenter can’t keep the Cards close late into the game tonight, well, then they might be in trouble. Big trouble. Carpenter is their ace and tonight’s his night to carry the banner for his team.

A couple of more thoughts:

- What’s Beltran make, like $18 million a year? With that kind of money you would think that he could afford to have that monstrous mole of his removed. If I remember correctly, Uncle Buck said it only cost a quarter to have a rat gnaw that type of thing off your face. Of course, that was the 80’s so it might be closer to $5 by now.

- Tom Glavine’s at-bat music is Lil’ John? Really? How did this happen? You could’ve given me 200 guesses on the artist whom Glavine uses for his at-bat music and I never would’ve even gotten close to Lil’ John (Lil’ Scrappy, maybe). I guess all those years in Atlanta had more of an affect on Tom then we thought, huh?


When I first looked at Florida’s 2006 schedule earlier this year, I put my head through a plate glass window. When I managed to clean myself up and remove all the loose glass from my scalp I took another look and noticed the insane stretch of games during the month of October. It was at this point that I poured peroxide over my fresh wounds in an attempt to quell the pains of anxiety that were pounding in my skull, to no avail. Eventually, I settled down enough to start deciphering the schedule with a little more precision. Through all of this, it became clear to me that the game which presented the greatest challenge to the Gators this year (and there were many) was the matchup at Auburn. There were three primary reasons for this:

Homefield Advantage: Coming into the season, this game was, in my opinion, the Gators toughest test on the road. Think about that for a second…that’s pretty impressive when you consider that Florida faces it’s two biggest rivals (FSU, Tennessee) on the road this year, and that was before we found out the game would be a night game. Not only would this game be a road game in one of the nations toughest (and most underrated) places to play, but it would also be against the team which most pundits had anointed as the SEC’s most talented. Finally, as if playing in Jordan-Hare, at night, against a team that had an SEC win streak of 19 games coming into the season weren’t enough, there’s this: Auburn has six all-time wins at home against Top 5 opponents. Three of those six wins have come against the University of Florida.

Defense: There’s plenty of defense in the SEC, this we know. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to name a conference in the country that can even compete with the SEC when it comes to standout defenses or defensive players. The main attribute that most people point to when attempting to explain the difference between SEC defenses and the rest of the country is speed. Defenses in the SEC are scary fast. Urban Meyer learned this firsthand last year during the first half of the SEC season. This is where Auburn comes in. Even in the SEC, Auburn’s defense is supremely fast. Former Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik preferred smaller, faster defensive players and recruited justly (Don't believe me, Auburn's top four linebackers average 215 lbs.)

Though he’s left for Texas, Chizik left Auburn with a bevy of extremely fast, if a little undersized, defensive players. That’s precisely why the Auburn defense scares me so much. They don't overpower their opponents as much as run right past them. Florida’s offensive line has stood up to some stern tests so far this year. However, they haven’t faced a defense with the overall speed of Auburn, and they certainly haven’t done so in front of 90,000 screaming fans. Make no mistake, tomorrow night’s game will be the ultimate test for not only this Gator offensive line, but for this entire offense.

Kenny Irons: The bane of every South Carolina fans existence himself. I have a friend who attended USC who swears he’ll punch Lou Holtz in the face if he ever gets the chance, all because of Kenny Irons. You know what? I don’t blame him. In fact, I’d have already found a way to make it happen if I was him. Simply put, Kenny Irons is a beast. He’s the total package as far as running backs go. He possesses breakaway speed, great vision, superior cutback ability and a force of will that allows him to constantly break tackles and generate extra yardage after contact. He scares the bejesus out of me. Florida boasts the nation’s #2 rush defense but they have yet to face a truly elite back this season. The closest that they’ve seen is Alabama’s Kenneth Darby, and he hasn’t been the nearly the back that he was in 2005 yet this year. If Florida can’t contain Irons and force Auburn into 3rd and medium or long, then the entire game changes for Florida. This Gator defense is a different breed from those that’s we’ve seen in years past. They are tougher, deeper, fast, and more physical. However, they haven’t erased the memories of so many “soft” Gator defenses of the past just yet. At least not in the eyes of many pundits on the national scene. Saturday night is their chance to do just that. If they contain Irons and escape the plains with a win, then the whole country will have no chance but to believe, no, know that this is a different Gator squad, a tough Gator squad and a Gator squad that can no longer be overlooked.

The Cardinals also happen to be playing in Game 3 of the NLCS at the same time as the Gators game at Auburn. I'm not really sure how I'm going to handle the combined stress of these two games at once, though I'm pretty sure that alcohol will be involved. Prominently involved.

Reggie Nelson, and a some booze should make Saturday a little easier on my nerves.