Friday, August 29, 2008

And they're off!

What an amazing start to the 2008 college football season!

Okay, so last night didn't include any marquee match ups, but it was a nice way to ease into a weekend that should have a few solid games. The most impressive performance of the night probably goes to Steve Spurrier's boys at South Carolina, who seem to play on the opening night of college ball every year. The Cocks beat down NC State 34-0 in a game that saw virtually no offense until the fourth quarter, when SC put up three scores. An interesting moment came toward the end of the game when the home fans (the game was in Columbia) began to chant "S-E-C! S-E-C!" That's the first time I've ever heard any university's fans chant for the conference, but I like it. If the SEC dominates nonconference games the was I suspect it will, it would be interesting to see fans across the deep south following suit. Sort of a unifying effect before the bad blood of UGA-Florida and LSU-Arkansas and, of course, the Iron Bowl. Pity that the big nonconference games this Saturday are all either on the road (Tennessee at UCLA, Kentucky at Louisville) or at a neutral site (Bama and Clemson in Atlanta). Although my guess is that about 25,000+ Tide fans will make the trip, so that could work.
Speaking of Alabama football, I was thinking last night about the best entrance in college football, and here's what I came up with:
#5: Notre Dame players touching the "Play like a champion today" sign exiting the locker room.
#4: Michigan hitting the "Go Blue" banner.
#3: Va Tech (the pick of one of the ESPN analysts, can't remember who) with their "Enter Sandman" gig, which would be cooler if it weren't also what Mariano Rivera enters to. Minus points for lack of originality.
#2: South Carolina's "2001 A Space Odyssey". Minus points because 68,000 of the 80,000 fans in attendance don't know what 2001 A Space Odyssey is.
#1: Clemson running down the hill and touching Howard's Rock. I know, it's stupid to have two South Carolina teams here, but I don't know enough other team's traditions. Also, apologies for the "east coast bias".
Here's what would excite me: Alabama's home opener is in one week against Tulane under the lights. I'm not sure if they've ever run onto the field to Hans Zimmer's "Roll Tide", but wouldn't that be appropriate? It could be gawdy and overdone, with John Parker Wilson weilding an American flag and Nick Saban running into a sharp, metal object... Okay, so I don't like Saban. But wouldn't that be pretty tight? The song is the one used in this tribute to Texas's 2005 title run (best 0:45-3:30).
Anyway, Connecticut and Wake Forest (#23) were the two relevant schools besides South Carolina that had wins last night. All three of those teams will be ranked in the next week or two. Here's looking forward to the Tennessee-UCLA, Alabama-Clemson, Illinois-Missouri, and Albany-UMass games.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bikes are going to save the world.

Shortly after graduation this past may, my friend Ross and I boarded a plane to Frankfurt, Germany. For one month, we backpacked around Central Europe (Brussels, Brugge, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Stuttgart, Bern, Interlaken, back to Frankfurt - in that order) having the time of our lives. One of the things we noticed on this trip was the cost of gas, which was close to ten USD per gallon! That's not a typo folks, while we're complaining about the prospect of paying over four bills a gallon, they're paying through the keyster for the stuff.
The next interesting thing of note was the way a lot of people dealt with this. It's actually a fairly incredible concept. Some people just don't drive that much. Amazing concept, right? Propane costs a ton, so people consume less of it. This was especially true in a few cities, and none more so than Amsterdam, where it seemed everyone got around via bicycle. So I was fairly inspired by these people's willingness to use an alternative form of transportation, and when I got back to the states I went to my garage and pulled my old Gary Fisher Gitche Gumee out from the cobwebs that had engulfed it over the past few years, and cleaned it off, lubed the chain, pumped the tires and took her for a spin. I have to tell you, it's an addicting activity. In terms of the impact that riding a bike has on an individual's lifestyle, I enjoyed this little shpeel from the Godfather himself.
So now that the Gitche has proven a useful enough means of getting around, I'm feeling like I need to up my high. I need something that can get me around more effectively. Riding from Needham to Belmont takes me around 45 minutes on a mountain bike, but it's all on roads, so why not cut down that time and get a road bike? I did a little research, and let's just say that for someone who still hasn't landed his first professional job, this is about as unrealistic as being AD at UCLA by 25. Okay, not that unrealistic, but I can't afford a new road bike.
The alternative routes are somewhat interesting. The specialty store in Belmont has a little annex that sells refurbished old bikes, although those still cost a pretty penny (the last time I was in, everything was still north of $500 with the exception of a few fix gear fellas, which aren't really what I'm looking into). Then of course there's Craigslist, which certainly can yield some winners at the right time. Then there's the option of finding my dad's old road bike from when he was in grad school and trying to refurbish it, which is something I lack the competence to do, but therefore really want to give a shot.
Anyway, the point I was going to make before going on that tangent is that restoring an old beater of a bike is fairly badass. And since Mr. Fisher himself would be proud of it, I think I'll give it a shot. If that falls through, I'll wait until I get a job and then invest in this quasi-reasonably-priced beauty.
And on an unrelated note, my alma mater is apparently in the middle of a bit of controversy. No, it isn't because US News ranked us about thirty spots too low for the nth consecutive year: It's about the name of the school. It's such a dumb argument that I'm not even going to explain it, I'm just going to offer the link: UMass Amherst moniker downplays the school's status, critics say.
Sox looking to take the second of three with the Yankees tonight. Let's go Jed Lowrie.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

UMass falls to #102. Balls.

For some inexplicable reason, I let this get to me. Rankings have some absurd impact on me and I just can't begin to figure why. It upsets me that UMass never broke the Top 25 in hoops while I was a student, it drove me batty when UMass fell from #2 in the football polls after losing at Boston College last year, and it makes me see red to read that UMass has dropped from the top 100 schools in the country according to US News. I have no idea what validates these rankings, but maybe it's the fact that people such as myself and countless local journalists take them so seriously. Nonetheless, for UMass to go up, someone else would have to go down, and then a different group of alums are just as annoyed as I am now. Oh well, Princeton Review rankings come out soon, so we'll keep an eye out for those.
Notables:
#1 Harvard
#2 Princeton
#3 Yale
#T4 Stanford
#T4 MIT
#T6 Cal Tech
#T6 Penn
#T8 Columbia
#T8 Duke
#T8 Chicago
It's the same top ten as a year ago with very little fluctuation amongst the schools. The only notable change is that Harvard and Princeton have once again swapped the top two positions.
#21 UC Berkeley, I still find it baffling that this is as high as the premier public school in America can get.
#51 The U, I just hate that a school known more for the criminal activity of its football program than for the school itself actually has some respectable academic numbers.
#96 Northeastern, If not for Michelle Bonner, I would truly have no respect for this school. But they are apparently better than My State U.

Maybe the reason that U of M is ranked so low is because so many of its graduates are still unemployed... hmmmm, I might want to worry about that before complaining about the accuracy of US News and World Report's college rankings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Football at its finest

Last year I wrote a piece that served basically only one purpose: To trash MLS. I had several reasons, like how stupid the uniforms and team names are. Yeah, it was catastrophic. After taking some time to reflect on that, I've come to the same conclusion I come to hundreds times during the course of a year: I am an idiot.
The only point I stand by from my previous article is this: teams need their own stadiums. It's smarter for a variety of reasons. First of all, after the cost of building such a venue is paid (and generally this is largely covered by the corporate sponsors who want their names associated with the project), all of the revenue generated can go directly to the club. For teams like the Houston Dynamo who are currently playing stadiums primarily intended for gridiron football (Houston plays at the same site as UH football), that revenue goes to paying to play there. It's like owning a home versus renting. If you're only planning on being around for a few years, renting makes sense, but if you're in it for the long haul, it's smart to consider buying.
The good news here is that several teams that don't already have their own place are already planning or constructing stadiums. Red Bull Park, Real Salt Lake Stadium, and perhaps Poplar Point Stadium are all going to be in the mix in the near future, and the Kansas City Wizards and San Jose Earthquakes have some plans developing. However, the home team (New England) still hasn't made any moves to get the team in its own place. There are a handful of problems with the Revs playing at Gillette Stadium. First of all, it's in Foxboro, which flies with the Patriots because let's face it, people in this region would drive to Vancouver to see a Patriots game. The fan pool that the Revolution have is much smaller, so if they could relocate and be closer to the city, the casual fans in Boston would be much more likely to come to their games. Last year I proposed a move to Nickerson Field, but now I'm not sure that's a great idea. Somerville, however, sounds like an interesting possibility. I was at the final two matches of Superliga, and neither drew 10,000 fans. It's really a shame, too, because they play at a pretty damn high level. Particularly the championship game (New England vs. Houston) was extraordinarily exciting. The fans who take in the game in the general admission area (known as "The Fort") create all the atmosphere, but I can't help but think about how much more daunting it would be to opponents if the games were played in a smaller, more intimate stadium with more fans.
My other arguments, against the uniforms and names and such, are totally absurd. My argument could have been rewritten as the following: MLS should try to imitate the English Premier League in every way. Totally remove the league from its roots.
See? Moronic. The names of American teams in all sports are like this. Kansas City Wizards is a very American sports name (Washington Wizards?), and San Jose Earthquakes, Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire (and I'm sure I'm forgetting others) all have names that relate directly to where they are located, which is nice. And as for the uniforms, I don't even know where to begin. They're fine. Really. I just bought a Revs jersey, and I'm glad it doesn't have a huge "Gillette" across the front (though I do maintain that having more of a classic font might work better).
So hopefully the league continues to make more money and attract more big name players. Cuauhtemoc Blanco and David Beckham do just fine for themselves, but very few players in the league, only four by my count (via mlsplayers.org) are making seven figures annually. What's worse is the bottom-feeders of the league who are making less than $20k annually. It's tough to entice top talent when the discrepancy in salaries between leagues is that large. It will also help if the dollar can rebound a bit, but I won't get into that.
Next home game for New England: April 30th against Becks, Landon and the Galaxy. Hopefully I'll be able to make it down to the razor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

International hoops, football, and fashion

The Olympics haven't been of too much interest to me in recent years, but at least the summer games include two biggest international sports as well as track & field and some guy named Michael Phelps. This year, however, I'd say I'm more interested than I've been in any of the past games I've watched for one reason: USA men's basketball. Not only is this team fantastic, but they're likable. Well, for the most part. After some piss poor efforts in the 2004 Games and the 2002 and 2006 World Championship, this team reminds me of the highlight reels I always see of MJ, Magic and Bird (sans a back) from the '92 games. Also, the first five games have really convinced me of a few things: 1 - Lebron James has surpassed Terrell Owens as the most inexplicably perfect physical specimen on the planet. 2 - Is Dwyane Wade great? I really believed between late 2006 and about a month ago that he was hugely overrated. Now I'm feeling stupid. 3 - Kobe can be a team player when his team is seven times better than its opponents.
So the US now gets Australia, who they struggled against in a game just before the Olympics. Still, with how they've been playing, it seems far stretched that the Aussies can make this game interesting. And speaking of Australia, what's with the men's national team wearing relatively normal (though still fairly ugly) jerseys while the women continue to wear the same spandex disasters they've had for the past several Olympics. The only bright side is getting to see Lauren Jackson's butt.
As for football (soccer), it's excruciating to see the United States, who are trying to establish themselves as a respectable national soccer team, blow it as badly as they did at the Olympics. I know that this isn't the real clubs, it's U23 with three player exemptions. Nonetheless, there are plenty of high profile guys in this tournament (Messi and Ronaldinho, arguably two of the top five players alive, included). The United States won their first game, giving them a chance to lock up a spot in the quarterfinals with a win over the Netherlands. Leading the Dutch into stoppage time, the Americans gave up a free kick, and consequently a goal, in the 93rd minute. Then, still with a chance to clinch a spot in their group stage finale against Nigeria, they stumbled again (already playing without Bradley and Adu because of multiple yellows, then getting a red card and playing a man down just three minutes in). It was awful. Oh well, maybe we'll represent ourselves a little better in South Africa in 2010.
Stay tuned for the US News rankings... meanwhile, Forbes did their own little rankings, but those are of no interest to me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An Admittedly Biased 2008 NCAA Football Preview

And we're back, just in time for the kickoff of the 2008 college football season. So while Athlon and Street & Smith and Sports Illustrated and ESPN and Fox Sports and everyone else and their mothers are putting up their own college football previews, here is a unique view of the upcoming college football season. Most importantly, it comes with the following disclaimer: I am biased. I have no problem admitting that. I will never predict Ohio State to win the national championship (although after the last two years, isn't that just being reasonable?) and I will never predict that UMass will lose a game. Well, almost never. SO, without further ado, this years top 25:

#1: Georgia - I was very excited to see both the coaches and writers get this one right. Anyone who saw this team at the end of last year knows that this is a smart pick. That being said, I'm not sure the Miami Dolphins could go unbeaten against this schedule. Borderline unfair, though if anyone can do it, Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford and UGA can.

#2: USC - Pete Carroll and Jim Tressell like to play tough games. Remember a few years ago when the Trojans had a home and home with Auburn? Well, he's at it again with a September 13th game against Ohio State. This year's game is in LA, which is huge, because Mark Sanchez probably isn't ready to play in the 'Shoe just yet.

#3: Florida - Think about the games this team won and lost last year. They lost to LSU, barely, in Baton Rouge. They lost to Auburn (again) at home on a last second field goal. They lost to Georgia in that bizarre team-dance-party game in Jacksonville, and they were a total no-show for the Citrus Bowl, or whatever the Citrus Bowl is called now. Fix a few things, and this is a powerhouse team with Tebow and Percy Harvin.

#4: Missouri - People don't know how good Jeremy Maclin is because Missouri was on TV an embarrassingly small amount last year. The kids a freak of speedy nature. Oh, and that Chase Daniel kid isn't too bad at getting him the ball. Only question marks will be at tailback.

#5: Ohio State - Okay, I can't justify knocking this team down any further. James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins are the best in the country at their positions. However, did anyone else see Terrelle Pryor announce his decision to attend "The University of Ohio State"? Fortunately they have good tutors at Ohio State, who can help him out just like they've helped out other star freshmen.

#6: West Virginia - This would probably be my #1 team in the country if Steve Slaton had stayed. I don't actually think that the departure of Rich Rodriguez will have much of an impact this year, because the players they have can run the spread offense, and they will continue to have that type of offense in year one After Rich. Even without Slaton or Owen Schmidtt, Pat White will have a great year, and if Noel Devine can carry the ball 15-20 times a game without getting hurt, this is a dangerous team.

#7: Oklahoma - Sam Bradford is great, and he's got a plethora of talent around him (DeMarco Murray, Juaquin Iglesias, Allen Patrick). However, this team has really blown it in big games lately. They've lost two of three to Texas, and are getting embarrassed in BCS games.

#8: Texas Tech - This team will probably score 52 points per game and allow 30. That's a great recipe if your goal is to win 10 games, it's not a great strategy if you want to win a national - or even conference - championship. They also have one game I fear they may be overlooking in Lubbock.

#9: Auburn - The first of the Tigers is Tommy Tuberville's bunch. These guys are incorporating a new spread offense this year, so it should be interesting to see how that pans out. Really though, isn't the SEC a crapshoot? I mean, if Auburn played Georgia ten times, Georgia would win six, maybe seven times. Don't you feel bad for Vanderbilt? ... Me neither.


#10: Wisconsin - One of only two teams with a realistic shot at beating the Bucks in Big Ten play this year (the other being Illinois). PJ Hill was a dump-truck running back his freshman year, then lost some weight and was more of a finesse back last season. Hopefully this year he can make the switch back and roll over OSU.

Hey, I told you I wasn't objective. Now, for the rest.

#11: LSU - I'm not putting a team without a quarterback in the Top 10. Oh, and GO APP STATE.

#12: Clemson - Everyone's saying this team is going to be great this year. Don't we say that a lot in August? Not so much in November? Yeah.

#13: Texas - Colt McCoy had his sophomore slip-ups, but he should be strong this year, although what's this about him having to split time at the position this year?

#14: South Florida - Matt Grothe has another year under his belt, and if USF can beat the Mountaineers for the third straight year, this team might crash the BCS.

#15: Illinois - Juice Williams has a lot more on his shoulders without Rashard Mendenhall.

#16: Arizona State - This team won a huge portion of its games in the second half last year, but with Cal and Oregon falling off this year, they should be able to break 10 wins again in 2008.

#17: South Carolina - Someone is going to emerge as a surprise team in this conference this year. I heard some "experts" on ESPN today picking Ole Miss to win eight games. I see SC winning nine. Just a hunch.

#18: Penn State - JoePa is catching some flack for not having control of his program. Seriously? JoePa is expected to have control of a hundred 18-24 year olds? The man is 81 years old for chrissake! Oy.

#19: Kansas - I'm being generous here, I really believe this team was a flash in the pan.


#20: Virginia Tech - Yes, they've lost a lot of athletes, but this team is always in the mix. An ACC title wouldn't surprise me at all.

#21: Tennessee - Always in the mix. And remember, this team, not Florida and not Georgia, won the SEC East last year.

#22: Alabama - I loved seeing this team fade last year. But Nick Saban has a year under his belt now, and I don't see it happening again.

#23: BYU - I hate admitting it. They're good.

#24: Pittsburgh - They've been disappointing ever since the hired Dave Wannstedt. I haven't seen much of Lesean McCoy, but a lot of people are very high on this guy and if his numbers are any indication, he is one hell of a player.

#25: Appalachian State - Tell me they don't belong. Do it.

So there's my top 25. And while Appalachian State isn't the only FCS team that deserves some mentioning here, they're clearly the most legit. Armanti Edwards is an absolute monster, and he'll be even better this year. LSU had better be ready for the Mountaineers, just as UGA had better be ready for Georgia Southern, just as Texas Tech had better be ready for UMass. Otherwise, it'll be 9/1/07 all over again.

Stay tuned, the US News College Rankings should come out this week, and you know I love those.