December 31, 2010

Forget fixing the BCS - how to fix the other bowls

I know people love to complain about the BCS, but the lesser bowls are far more nonsensical. As I write this, 7-5 South Florida is taking on a 6-6 Clemson team in the Meineke Car Care bowl. What a clash of gridiron titans. This will be followed up by the much higher profiled matchup of Notre Dame (7-5) and Miami (7-5), which at least has some small storyline to it, and Georgia (6-6) vs UCF (10-3).

When did these bowl games become so meaningless? I find it tough to believe that so many schools, advertisers, stadiums, etc. are making money off of all of these matchups. The BCS, I can see since people want to watch top teams square off. But each year it just seems we have more and more meaningless game stretched out over an entire month. Ohio vs Troy? Southern Miss vs Louisville? And somehow, one of the games that should be on today or tomorrow (Utah vs Boise) was played on Dec 22. What the hell? Meanwhile we have epic matchups like Nevada-BC, Pitt-Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee State vs Miami (OH) all after New Year's.

What I propose:

Require a 7-win threshold to make a bowl game: you have to have a winning record.

Get rid of automatic conference bids/tie-ins. This will help ensure that the bowls take more interesting teams.

No non-BCS bowls after the Rose Bowl.

After the BCS bowls, bowls should pick their matchups going backwards from New Year's Day (i.e. before the Rose Bowl).

Reduce the number of non-BCS bowls by a third to a half. 7-5 teams that got there on the strength of wins against Western Cupcake Tech do not deserve a bowl trip.

December 16, 2010

Well done, Cubs

It's not officially official yet, but it looks like Kerry Wood might be returning to the Cubs. This is exactly the move the team needed to make this offseason - even though it will likely be for too much money and the 2011 Cubs still aren't going to win anything, it's completely knocked out my preemptively bitter feelings towards the next two seasons and made me excited about next year's team.

Well done.

December 09, 2010

How the roster is shaping up

Miraculously, Marquez Smith was not picked in the Rule 5 draft today. However, that shouldn't make a big difference for the 2011 team as the position player part of the roster is set. As things stand now, here's how that side will likely shape up (along with my stab at the likely lineup)

RF Kosuke Fukudome, LHB
SS Starlin Castro, RHB
1b Carlos Pena, LHB
3b Aramis Ramirez, RHB
CF Marlon Byrd, RHB
LF Alfonso Soriano, RHB
C Geovany Soto, RHB
2b Blake DeWitt, LHB

C Koyie Hill, BHB
MI Darwin Barney, RHB
CI Jeff Baker, RHB
OF Tyler Colvin, LHB
OF Sam Fuld, LHB/some NRI

Castro Colvin (ed: stupid C names) has been mentioned as an 'everyday player' and may end up getting more starts than Kosuke during a week, my guess is that he'll spend about half his starts spelling Soriano and Byrd.

The 5th OF spot is the main one up for grabs, though the Cubs also have 2 catchers on the 40 man roster so Hill might need to watch his back. The org inexplicably loves him though, so maybe he shouldn't worry *too* much.

The pitching side, as usual, is in flux, even more so considering the Cubs are foolishly looking to add a middling starter to their 10-deep rotation depth. The bullpen is a mess. Aside from Marshall and Marmol (and I guess Grabow), the rest should all come down to who has a good spring.

SP Carlos Zambrano, RHP
SP Ryan Dempster, RHP
SP Randy Wells, RHP
SP Carlos Silva, RHP
SP Tom Gorzellany, LHP

CL Carlos Marmol, RHP
SU Sean Marshall, LHP
P John Grabow, LHP
P Jeff Samardzija, RHP
P Thomas Diamond, RHP
P ?
P ?

The Cubs have an absolute glut of starting pitching prospects in AAA, maybe so many that some guys who are ready for AAA will have to pitch in AA, or in the pen. Samardzija and Diamond are the most likely to be 'penned but it could happen to guys like Jackson and Cashner. Here's the list

P Andrew Cashner, RHP (could spend the year in AAA building up arm strength to start. Thankfully the Cubs are making noises about turning him back into a starter)
P Jay Jackson, RHP
P Chris Archer, RHP
P Casey Coleman, RHP (another bullpen candidate)
P Chris Carpenter, RHP
P Trey McNutt, RHP

They also have a reliever or five that could impress their way into the pen as well
P Marcos Mateo, RHP
P Scott Maine, LHP
P Jeff Gray, RHP
P Esmailin Caridad, RHP
P Justin Berg, HRP
P John Gaub, LHP
P Jeff Stevens, RHP
P James Russell, LHP

If I had to guess, I think it's most likely that the back half of the pigpen will consist of F7, Diamond, Mateo, and Coleman

Cubs sign Carlos Pena

The Cubs signed former Tampa Bay 1b Carlos Pena to a one year, $10 million dollar contract ($5 million is deferred to next season). At first I was against this deal but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Let's make a list of Pros and Cons, Halpert-style:


  • $10 million is a lot of money for a team that is trying to slash payroll and isn't going anywhere in 2011.
  • The Cubs had much cheaper left-handed 1b options in Bryan LaHair and possibly Tyler Colvin
  • Pena turns 33 next year and could be on the decline. His injury last year does throw things off a little though. Scouts have always loved him, but he was a late bloomer.
  • Pena is useless against LHP

  • Pena is prime for a bounceback season after suffering from plantar fasciitis last season, especially moving out of the AL east and into the weaker league.
  • Pena brings a good glove to 1b, and one of the Cubs priorities this season was to get a good receiver for the still raw Starlin Castro to throw to.
  • It only costs money - the Cubs didn't unload any prospects to pick up a guy like Fielder, Gonzalez, or (ugh) Chris Davis in a trade.
  • Speaking of prospects, with the Cubs unlikely to contend next year they can flip Pena for some prospects if he regresses back to something more like his numbers from the previous 3 seasons.
  • Most importantly, the length of the contract. At least one of Pujols and Fielder (if not both) should hit the market next year, and both the Yankees and Red Sox are already locked up at 1b. This leaves the Cubs, with a few contracts coming off the books, in prime position to chase one of those franchise players.

December 08, 2010

File under "can you believe this shit"

A big controversy erupted at UW last week when The Badger Herald released a list of 34 students that were attempting to sell their Rose Bowl tickets on facebook mere minutes after they sold out. Shock! Horror! People are selling things at market value!!

What surprised me even more was that so many people agree with the newspaper's stance in publicly calling out these people. What the hell? How is this surprising? Even more appalling and depressing is the fact that many of these students received death threats from other students.

Many have gone on to blame the university for the ticketing process, forcing those who buy tickets to have their names linked to them, or to have to pick them up in Pasadena, etc. It's a good idea as far as limiting these shenanigans goes, but I see no point in blaming the university. It's not their problem if people want to sell these tickets.

Goodbye, Ronnie

I've been traveling overseas and missed my chance to react to Santo's death here on the blog. Luckily so many other excellent people have beaten me to the punch (links included at the end of the post).

It's tough to pin any particular reason why we are fans of particular sports teams. Many are fans of teams because they were hometown teams, others (like me) because of family tradition, or simply because for many people the Cubs and the Braves played a lot of games on national TV. I was a Cubs and Yankees fan growing up but couldn't have named more than two players on the team in any given year - I pretty much just watched the World Series and occasional games on WGN when we hooked our cable back up when I was in high school. After I went to college, I started watching more games and, more importantly, started listening to games on the radio. It's safe to say that Ron Santo is the reason why I am the Cubs fan that I am today.

Santo cared too much about the games, and that's why I loved him. It always felt like he was your crazy old uncle or grandfather in the booth. Hughes was always good about giving scores, but if you just tuned in you could always tell how the Cubs were doing by listening to Ron for half a second (or more telling, not hearing him at all). His sheer excitement, especially in the 2008 season (that I caught nearly all of on the radio) was infectious and amplified all of our own excitement. The last two years have not been as kind to him, both medically and emotionally (given the team's performance) but Ron was a guy who never gave up on the team or himself.

After the 2003 postseason raised the stakes for Cubs fans and especially after watching This Old Cub, I knew that when the Cubs eventually did win it all there was no doubt that I'd be sharing the experience with Pat and Ron on the radio. I'd get shivers down my spine just thinking about it. Things didn't work out in 2007 or 2008, and now that Ron is gone we will never get to experience this. When they do win it will still be for him. But it sure would be nicer if he could be there to share it with us.

And Counting
A League Of Her Own
Tales from Aisle 424
Cubs f/x
Suburban Kid from ACB's take on Santo
ACB's look at Santo's HOF-worthy career
ACB on Santo compared to other HOF 3b

December 02, 2010

NFC Playoff Craziness

Based on my earlier post, I was playing around with ESPN's Playoff Machine scenarios and it looks like a hot mess. My final Standings are

1. NE 14-2
2. BAL 13-3
3. SD 11-5
4. IND 11-5
5. PIT 12-4
6. NYJ 12 -4
(JAX, KC at 10-6)

1. PHI 12-4
2. ATL 12-4
3. GB 11-5
4. SEA 8-8
5. NO 11-5
6. TB 11-5
(CHI, NYG at 10-6)
Seattle picked up some wins solely on their home field advantage. You can just as easily slide the Rams or whatever other punching bag from the NFC West in there.

What surprised me the most is that two of these playoff spots came down to one game: PHI @ NYG in Week 16 and CHI @ GB in week 17. Whichever team loses those games is likely to be watching the playoffs at home. Even more oddly, in the event that the Giants beat Philly, the Eagles do not go to the playoffs and the winner of the Chicago-GB game gets a bye week, while the loser stays home.

November 30, 2010

Okay, maybe the Bears are good after all

I was quick to dismiss the Bears early in the season due to their Swiss Cheese offensive line, but they've really turned it around lately. They really remind me of the 2009 Packers - Rodgers was sacked eleventy billion times in the first half of the season before the offensive line shored up/gelled and managed to protect him pretty well as the season went on. It looks like we're starting to see the same with the Bears this season - now that Cutler has some time he's started to catch fire despite his weak crop of receivers. Their defense is proving how much they missed Urlacher last year on every play, and their special teams look pretty good.

Given the number of wild card contenders in the NFC, the Packers-Bears game at Lambeau on Jan. 2 has a decent chance of being a win or go home game for both teams. The 8-3 Bears should beat Detroit and Minnesota and lose to NE and NYJ, while the injury-decimated 7-4 Packers should handle the Niners, Lions, and Giants, resulting in a matchup of 10-5 teams for the NFC North title. It should be a good one.

November 28, 2010

Going bowling

It's still not *technically* official, but with the release of this week's BCS standings Wisconsin is headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time in ten years (most likely to play TCU). Their last visit was just before I arrived in Madison, in Ron Dayne's Heisman season. I thought I would just share some random highlights of each year of my decade as a Badgers fan.

  • 8/25/2001 Wisconsin 26, Virginia 17
    This was my first game, and by some coincidence it was against one of the schools that I could have chosen to go to. My dad and I were up that weekend and I might not have even moved in to my dorm room yet. I had student season tickets and he scalped one from somewhere. Little did I know at the time how easy it would have been to buy a student ticket for him too but these were the days before craigslist I guess. The start to this game was delayed for quite some time due to a big thunderstorm rolling through just before game time. Later I would also learn that I didn't need to get there so damn early.

  • 11/23/2002 Wisconsin 49, Minnesota 41
    I don't have a lot of specific memories of this season, but the big story was Jim Leonhard's record-setting number of interceptions. He's done quite well for himself in the NFL for a former undersized walkon. He's now the captain of the Jets defense, and I still have a worn-out old #18 jersey that my wife bought me a year later. This year also marked the end of the Brooks Bollinger era, also known as "Bollinger on the keeper......tackled for a gain of one yard". Every. Freaking. Play.

  • 10/11/2003 Wisconsin 17, Ohio State 10
    Still easily the greatest game I've attended in person. OSU was ranked number one and College Gameday came to town. The Badgers hung in there and had a lead going into the 4th quarter before Ohio State tied it up. At some point in the half one of the OSU defenders choked Wisconsin QB Jim Sorgi which caused him to have difficulty breathing for the rest of the half. Backup QB Matt Schaub responded to the OSU score with a 79 yard bomb to Leeeeee Evans that turned out to be the game winner. It turned a generally shitty night (slow game, lousy weather) into bedlam, and the fans rushed the field.

  • 11/15/2003 Wisconsin 56, MSU 21
    My then-future-in-laws came to town for the first time to come to this game. They were freezing and bundled up as if on an arctic expedition, while we were merely wearing a sweatshirt or two. Things are so much more active in the student section that it was easy to stay warm. This was the Lee Evans 5 TD game, and looking up the recap of this game, Sorgi shattered the all-time UW QB rating record by posting a ridiculous 268.38 rating. The in-laws left after the 4th TD or so to go get warm.

  • 12/31/2003 Wisconsin 14, Auburn 28 (Music City Bowl)
    This was our first trip to a bowl game. My wife's best friend went to Auburn for a year, and since it was within driving distance of VA we decided to score some tickets and drive down to Nashville for New Year's. Wisconsin lost to future Redskins QB Jason Campbell, and we ended up sitting on the Auburn side of the field due to some confusion about/literal reading of our tickets. The Auburn fans around us were *quite* annoying. Our Auburn friend had been talking up SEC football and what a Big Deal it was, but she was blown away by the energy of the Wisconsin crowd at the day before the game parade and at the game itself. Also - note to Southern schools. Dressing up for football games does not make it a Big Deal. It just makes you look like assholes. Just saying. The other big highlights of the night were eating an incredible Shephard's Pie at some downtown restaurant and watching the Central Time New Year's on Conan.

  • 10/16/2004 Wisconsin 20 at Purdue 17
    We didn't have cable this year so we had to focus on broadcast TV for the Badger games. This was pre-BTN so if one of the national carriers didn't pick up the game, the local CBS channel paid for the rights for the ESPN Plus coverage. This game however, was on ESPN2. We headed down to the Campus Nitty Gritty bar and were lucky enough to stake out a table where we could see the TV. Purdue was riding high that year on the strength of Heisman frontrunner Kyle Orton. Purdue held the lead late in the 4th quarter before Badgers CB James Starks laid a hit on Orton, flipping him completely over and forcing a fumble that he ran in for the game-winning TD. Purdue and Orton went on to disappoint the rest of the season.

  • 11/18/2006 Wisconsin 35, Buffalo 3
    We were living in the shadow of Camp Randall stadium at this point and had long ago given up our tickets. Some friends of ours managed to get some tickets from work however and we had our first experience of watching a Badger game away from the student section. It was a cold day made even colder by being in the shadow of the field house and not standing for most of the game. Despite the fact that we were out of the student section they were still not great seats - they were just in the opposite end zone. But it was still Wisconsin football (and a shellacking at that). That team went 11-1 and defeated Darren McFadden's juggernaught of an Arkansas team in the Capitol One bowl.

As you can see the memories tailed off a bit after we let our season tickets lapse. But it's been a great ride.

November 20, 2010

Everything's coming up roses

Wisconsin is back in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title after today's events. Things would be even rosier if Purdue hadn't managed to blow a lead and give up 22 4th quarter points to Michigan State. All three top big 10 teams are favored this week:

Michigan State @ Penn State
Denard Robinson @ Ohio State
Northwestern @ Wisconsin

The NW-UW game is (hopefully) the safest bet of these three, as Northwestern lost its best player in QB Dan Persa in their defeat of Iowa. MSU has the toughest route against a PSU team that has looked better the past few weeks.

Most likely result: UW, OSU, MSU win. In this case, the tie goes down to the BCS standings, which Wisconsin currently leads. Ohio State should get a boost from their win over Iowa but it shouldn't be enough to overcome UW's lead in the polls.

Next most likely: MSU loses to Penn State, OSU wins. In this case UW would go to the Rose Bowl over the Buckeyes based on their head to head win.

Next most likely: Ohio State somehow loses to a Denard Robinson Offensive Explosion, MSU wins in Happy Valley. In this case Sparty heads to Pasadena based on head-to-head over Bucky.

Next most likely: Wisconsin loses to Northwestern - they're pretty much screwed if this happens. And this is what NW excels at. Luckily Wisconsin will be riding high on their chance for the Rose Bowl, Senior Day, and the 2010 coaching staff that has been able to make the team show up.

November 10, 2010

Nagging Badger worries

I'm missing this week's home game against Indiana (as I'll be watching my brother get married), but I'm starting to have some nagging worries. It's starting to look like Wisconsin might be without both John Clay and James White this week. That said, they were without both of those players in the second half of last week's Purdue game and the Badgers took care of business, so who knows what will happen. My big worry is that the team will write off this game much as I have been doing for the past few weeks and will be surprised by a team that came within a dropped pass of beating Iowa last week. Here's hoping the home-field advantage shows up for the team this week, and the coaches continue to show the preparation, motivation skills, and general adjustability we've seen in the past three games.

November 06, 2010

Wisconsin 34 - 13 Purdue: Badgers take care of business (eventually)

Wisconsin turned what was a close game in the first half into a blowout.

The team looked flat on both sides of the ball coming off their bye week, especially the defense. Purdue was moving the ball easily in small chunks of yardage and Wisconsin was having a tough time stopping them, despite the fact that the Boilermakers were starting their third string, true freshman QB due to a rash of injuries. John Clay and the running game had a tough time getting going early, and the offense clearly missed the different look of James White. I was shaking my head on several plays, most notably a sweep to the left where Clay seemed to dance back and forth for about 5 seconds before being tackled behind the line of scrimmage instead of trusting his blockers. Clay is a great between-the-tackles back but it seems like we've been seeing a little too much of this hesitation from him in general this season.

Clay and Watt were both knocked out of the game for a good spell - Clay with a knee problem and Watt with some sort of shoulder injury and the team just looked lost heading into the locker room at halftime. I wouldn't have believed I was saying this a month ago, but big props to the coaching staff for making adjustments at halftime and absolutely crushing Purdue 28-3 in the second half. Wisconsin's defense stiffened and managed to pick off the Purdue QB three times, including a blowout-sealing Pick Six from Antonio Fenelus.

Game ball: Montee Ball and the offensive line for producing the best executed play I've seen all season, by any team. Midway through the third quarter, with Wisconsin clinging to a 13-10 lead, Ball rushed to the left for a 31 yard touchdown and had five or six blockers ahead of him on the way to the end zone. Wisconsin went up 20-10 but you knew the game was over at that point.

Next week UW takes on Indiana at Camp Randall, but I'll miss the game. My brother was smart enough to schedule his wedding for a weekend when UW takes on IU at home and there's no Packers game (laughing).

Election Post-mortem Rant

Much frustration all around this week, though the writing has been on the wall for months. This stuff has been stewing in my head all week and while some of it is probably irrational, and just wanted to dump these thoughts...

One of the biggest thing that's pissed me off in the election postmortems this week is that I feel no one is hitting on the uncomfortable truth behind one of the common ad subjects used by the Republicans (and a few Democrats) this year: Nancy Pelosi. Has anyone really tried to see what about her gets conservatives' hackles up? I *can* buy the argument that she is emblematic of the Democrats now unpopular (more on that in a minute) health care and progressive agendas and I can see running against them. But what do voters really know about Pelosi, other than that she is liberal? I listened to a long NPR postmortem this week and they chalked it up to Pelosi being a classic 'limousine liberal', due to the fact that she's from a coast, was born into money, and her husband is supposedly very wealthy. But how many people know this? Maybe it's well known withing the Republican echo chamber, but my impression is that those who aren't rabid Rush/Hannity/etc. listeners know three things about Pelosi: she's fairly liberal, she's a woman, and she's from San Francisco. Given those last two things, is there no surprise that so many Republicans ran on a "Let's defeat Pelosi" agenda and featured her prominently in their ads? It was a perfect campaign for them, as they could run against the Democratic accomplishments while simultaneously dog-whistling sexists against women and the strongly-correlated homophobes with those unspoken 'San Francisco values' that she represents. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that no one is going to that well - it was clear in the 2008 primary that racism >>> sexism as a thing to get outraged about and even then there will be a whole lot of bloviating when the card is played.

I've also been a (little) upset at a lot of the treatment of the Tea Party, from the media and the parties. I strongly disagree with them and they fielded some pretty terrible candidates in several races, most notably Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. But I don't think it's enough to write off the movement as a whole bunch of nutjobs that may be trouble for the Republicans. I think that the parties aren't taking the right message from them. To the GOP the message taken is "you're not conservative enough", and elements of it could drag them to the right in governmental process (though I don't really see it). But the overriding message, which Democrats also failed to seize on, was "anyone but you", and it surprises me that the Tea Party didn't come up with better candidates all around. Maybe I'm just sad that the seeds for a yet another possibly viable third party in this system are going to be crushed yet again by the heel of corporate, hyperpartisan government.

The last but of this is the Democrats. It absolutely disgusts me that what we can hang our hats on is the fact that Harry Reid, who has been completely spineless, ineffective, and useless as the Senate majority leader, hung on while a far more principled guy like Russ Feingold lost big in his race. All in all, the Onion summed it up best with "Democrats: If We're Gonna Lose, Let's Go Down Running Away From Every Legislative Accomplishment We've Made". Seriously, if the Democrats showed some spine and actually mounted a reasonable defense of their programs and policies, especially on health care, stimulus, and the bank/GM bailouts, they would have gotten some respect from voters. Instead, by running away from their agenda they allowed the Republicans to reframe the debate away from the "We were elected in a landslide in 2006/2008 on these things" instead of signaling that everything they did somehow wrong and and deceptive. If you're going to go through the trouble to spend all this political capital you earned in your last two elections you should fucking stand by it and explain why you did it. One of the things that drove me craziest in this cycle was the Democrats not harping on the fact that all the bailout money was or will soon be repaid (with interest), the stimulus was nearly half tax cuts, and health care will keep the debt from spiraling up even more (and health care in general is still polling positively). Oddly enough, the legislation that seemed to completely disappear from the conversation was the banking and credit card reform that was passed by the government. I don't really see how anyone who thinks the Democrats didn't go far enough in regulating Wall Street would vote for the deregulatory Republicans who got us into this mess in the first place. It's not like the Tea Party was running on that platform either.

I'll end on this, posted by James to one of my facebook venting threads.

It has nothing to do with left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, or any other idiotic label that Americans throw around without thinking. We just had another election in this country that had absolutely zero substance. Not one candidate discussed the two wars that are draining our economy. Not one candidate addressed the issue of torture that has and is continuing in various parts of the world. Not one candidate addressed any of the structural problems that caused our manufacturing base to erode. Not one candidate described how he or she would prosecute corporate criminals (i.e., the Enrons, banksters, and BPs of this world), or what specific legislation they would pursue to prevent these crimes from happening in the future.
Not one candidate described in any substantial way how they would fix health care, education, lack of public transportation, pollution, mounting income inequalities, or any other issue that actually matters to real human beings. All we get from political candidates from all parties is ignorant quotes that are devoid of all meaning; real gems like "I believe in small government", "I am not a witch", and (now I'm paraphrasing) "I am not qualified for this job, but hey ya'll, at least I'm an account, and not a lawyer like my opponent."

America. Fuck Yeah. :(

October 28, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll: Week 4

1. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0)
Still has the best chance to run the table, and they have all the advantages in the B10 tiebreakers due to their win over UW and their non-scheduling of aOSU. If they win at Iowa this week there's a decent chance that they play for the national title.

2. Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1)
3. an Ohio State University (7-1, 3-1)
I almost ranked aOSU above them, since it's inevitable that even if both teams win out OSU will be ahead of UW in the BCS rankings, further diminishing their chances at both the Rose Bowl and a BCS game. It's disappointing, but taking a quick glance at the season results UW wouldn't be in this position if they scheduled some better nonconference opponents. Preseason poll inertia aside, aOSU beat Miami earlier this season, whereas Wisconsin's 'best' opponent was Arizona State. That said, it will be interesting to see the computer rankings for these teams. Wisconsin's signature wins will be over aOSU and Iowa, and OSU's would be over...who exactly? Miami and a potential win at Iowa, which is nothing you can count on.

4. Iowa (5-2, 2-1)
Too many mistakes doomed them against Wisconsin, but the schedule still works in their favor to put up a great final Big 10 record. Their loss to Arizona all but guarantees that they won't be in the Rose Bowl or some other BCS bowl, however.

(big gap)

5. Illinois (4-3, 2-1)
6. Northwestern (5-2, 1-2)
I'm still shaking my fist at Northwestern for not being able to close the door on Sparty. Even in a week where Wisconsin doesn't play them, they're still throwing a wrench into the works.

7. Denard Robinson (5-2, 1-2)
8. Penn State (4-3, 1-2)
It could just be that I'm not watching enough BTN, but I miss the Big Ten commercial that they used to run with all the coaches that ended with a deranged-looking Paterno growling/shouting "COME TO PENN STATE!!!" at the end.

9. Purdue (4-3, 2-1)
10. Indiana (4-3, 0-3)

October 24, 2010

Vikings at Packers preview

This doesn't have quite the ZOMG FAVRE!!!!!! factor as last year's matchup at Lambeau was. But it's still a very important game. With Green Bay fielding a hospital squad and the Bears being the Bears the division is wide open even for the disappointing Vikings.

Injury wise, the latest news is that Tauscher, Pickett, Chillar, and Matthews should play, but it looks like Harris and Bigby will (not surprisingly) be out, as they weren't reactivated from the PUP list. Poppinga remains out following surgery but should be back later this season.

The Vikings secondary has been depleted in the past few weeks, with S Husain Abdallah out with a concussion and CB Cedric Griffin out with a torn ACL. They'll throw Jamarca Sanford out there for his second career start, so hopefully that will benefit the Packers passing game since the running game will have a tough time getting around the Williams Wall.

How Minnesota wins: Adrian Peterson is still one of the best backs in the NFL, and he should be able to get rolling against this porous defense. The biggest impact there will that it would take the pressure (i.e. Clay Matthews) off Brett Favre, who has looked pretty awful in general this season. Adding Randy Moss to this team helps, but Favre just looks like a lost kid out there.

How Green Bay wins: They exploit the depleted MIN secondary and force Favre to make mistakes. Oddly enough this is a game where their lack of a running game hurts less because you can't run very well vs MIN anyway.

Prediction: I think this is a high-scoring game but the lack of any sort of running game holds back GB enough for them to lose. Too many injuries, too much AP, and especially too much Jared Allen in this game. Vikings win 41-31

Playoff Scenarios

There was a bunch of debate around the interwebs about UW's chances at the Rose Bowl due to their loss at MSU. If MSU, aOSU, and UW end up in a 3-way tie (which is what I think happens), these are the rules (from the Big Ten website):

Unless ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS poll, the conference champion shall participate in the Rose Bowl. The championship shall be determined on the percentage basis of conference games (tie games counts ½ win and ½ loss). If there is a tie for the championship, the Rose Bowl representative will be determined as follows:


If more than two teams tie for the championship, the same selection procedures shall be followed with the following exceptions:

1. If three teams are tied, and if one team defeated both of the other teams, then that team shall be the representative.
2. If three teams are still tied, and if two of the three teams defeated the third team, the third team is eliminated, and the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure.
3. If three teams are still tied, and there is a tie game between two of the three teams, or if two or all three of the teams did not play each other, the representative shall be determined on a percentage basis of all games played.
4. If three teams are still tied, and one of the three teams is eliminated through the percentage basis of all games played, the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure.
5. If three teams are still tied, and all three teams have the same winning percentage of all games played, the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings shall be the representative.

In this scenario, we have aOSU, MSU, and UW all as one-loss teams: aOSU to UW, UW to MSU, and MSU to Iowa. Cases 1 and 2 will not come into play because they're all one-loss teams. Cases 3 and 4 won't come into play because MSU does not play aOSU and all the teams will have the same overall record. Thus it comes down to case 5, the BCS standings. Since Wisconsin will have lost the least-recently I would say there's a good chance they come out on top, but the big question would be whether Ohio State would re-leapfrog them after a win over Iowa.

Most likely monkey wrenches (in order of likelihood)
  1. Michigan State defeats Iowa, goes undefeated. This is my biggest worry - Iowa has to be seriously deflated after the loss to Wisconsin and it remains to see how they'll respond

  2. Iowa defeats Ohio State, loses to Michigan State. In this case UW and MSU would be tied at the top of the standings, and MSU would advance on the head-to-head win.

  3. Iowa defeats Ohio State and MSU. In this case we'd be looking at a three-way tie between Iowa, MSU, and UW. MSU would got to the Rose Bowl in this case, as Iowa's non-conference loss to AZ would eliminate it per case 3, and then MSU would win on the strength of their win vs UW.

  4. Wisconsin loses to Denard Robinson. You never know what will happen in the Big House. Michigan's defense is awful but Robinson can win a game by himself.

  5. MSU loses to PSU in the last game of the season. PSU is fading big-time down the stretch, but they're still tough to beat at home, and MSU still looks beatable by a good team.

October 23, 2010

Wisconsin 31 - 30 Iowa: Letdown game avoided

By Grapthar's Hammer, by the Sons of Worvan, what a ballgame. Strangely enough, Wisconsin pulled through despite all the "keys to the game" pointing in Iowa's direction. White was ineffective and injured early, and Iowa managed to keep Clay from being the force that he can be on offense. Furthermore, Wisconsin was missing several players on offense by halftime, with Toon out after last week, White out with his injury, Kendricks out, and the starting center out. Iowa also managed to stymie Wisconsin's pass rush. Stanzi had all sorts of time and the only sack that Watt managed was a (well-timed) coverage sack during Iowa's last drive. Due to their limiting of Clay and White's injury the UW offense leaned on Tolzein's arm, and he looked great despite missing his two favorite recievers. He even gave them a gift INT at the 26 yard line in the 4th quarter but Iowa didn't do much with it (though the FG definitely gave UW a higher mountain to climb)

How Wisconsin won: Aside from the excellent execution mentioned above, the big thing I took away from this game was the preparation and playcalling. Bielema and Christ had the stones to go for it on two 4th downs, one on fourth and goal at the 1, and the other at 4th and ~4 at the Iowa ~35 yard line in their final drive. However, my favorite play call was the fake punt that sparked that last drive. The coaching staff noticed that Iowa was not sending many players forward on the punt block, and the punter just took it and ran. He had run 10 yards or so before any of the players running back to cover the kick even realized it.

How Iowa lost: Special teams, poor clock management, and erratic passing. Stanzi's overall numbers were great but Wisconsin's coverage today was garbage and he should have had an even bigger game. Iowa left 4 points on the board early with a missed PAT and a bungled FG snap, and further hurt themselves with some dumb penalties in the second half. In Wisconsin's second drive of the 3rd quarter, the Hawkeyes pinned Gilreath deep on a kickoff that was erased by an offsides call. Gilreath took the next punt to the 50, and nearly all the way were it not for the kicker doing just enough to trip him up.

Game ball: Bret Bielema and Paul Chryst
Honorable mention: Clay, Ball, Tolzien, Gilreath

Bielema has completely erased all of my reservations about him in this win. Not only did the team show up (preparation has always been my main complaint with Bielema), but they made several great playcalls and the UW special teams unit seems to have fixed some of the mistakes that were plaguing them early in the season.

Looking ahead
10/30: BYE
11/6: @Purdue
11/13: Indiana
11/20: @Michigan
11/27: Northwestern

Wisconsin gets a week to heal up, then gets to face the two soft Indiana teams before taking on the Denard Robinson Show at the Big House and seeks to avoid another typical Northwestern wrench-in-the-gears game. I shake my fist at them for not being able to close it out against Sparty this week. Ugh. That would have been perfect.

Michigan State is still in the driver's seat, and the rest of their schedule looks favorable (even if they lose at Iowa next week).
10/30: @Iowa
11/6: Minnesota
11/13: BYE
11/20: Purdue
11/27: @PSU

I expect them to lose at Iowa, but I don't really see them losing any of their other games. They'll know exactly what they're playing for if they're still undefeated by the PSU game, and PSU is fading fast. The big question is which team of UW and aOSU gets selected behind MSU to go to a BCS bowl.

Preview: Wisconsin at Iowa

This is the last big game of the season for the Badgers, so hopefully that's enough to get the team over the letdown game hump. After this week the Badgers have a bye before facing Purdue and Indiana, traveling to the Big House to face Denard Robinson, and ending the season vs Northwestern at Camp Randall. For the Badgers to have a shot at the Rose Bowl they need to win this game and hope Michigan State loses to Iowa and someone else - NW seems like a good candidate this week taking on MSU for their homecoming in Evanston. Aside from that we would just have to hope that PSU picks them off in the last game of the season.

Going into this game I was sure Wisconsin would get blown out - I thought this game had 27-10 written all over it. Now I'm not so sure. Much of the vibe I've gotten this week is that Wisconsin is firing on all cylinders and knows it, and isn't just sitting on their big victory last week. The other question is how good Iowa is. They lost on the road to a decent Arizona team, and crushed a not so great Penn State team at Kinnick. This will be a big test for them as well. Their defense has looked great, but then again, so did OSU's and the Badger offensive line had their way with them.

How Wisconsin wins: J.J. Watt gets pressure on Stanzi and James White gets to the edge consistently. The Badgers did a decent enough job defending Boom Herron last week and I don't think Robinson or the Hawkeyes O-line are as good as OSU's. Stanzi is a good QB if he has time but he is prone to mistakes, and pressure from the likes of Watt and Nzegwu should lead to a few turnovers.

How Iowa wins: Aside from the letdown game factor, Iowa wins this game by making Scott Tolzien beat them. He's a decent enough QB, but only in the context of UW's offense. He's not a guy you want throwing every down.

Final prediction: I'll go with MB's prediction of 28-24 Iowa, though I feel much better about this matchup than I did a few days ago.

October 21, 2010

The Scrap Heap

Links and news from this week:


  • The Vikings come into town Monday Sunday night, and I keep thinking that it isn't a big deal until I remember that while the Vikings are 2-4, the Packers are 3-3. Ugh. At least they have a few reinforcements coming on defense.

  • Midweek injury report at APC. Nearly all of the linebackers are banged up and won't be 100% even if they do play. Hawk is out, Chillar is still banged up, and Matthews might return (but probably won't). Al Harris is back and practicing and might even play this weekend. Bigby is back on the practice field as well but is not expected to play. Tauscher might be ready to come back, but I expect him to do as poorly against Jared Allen as Bulaga will likely fare.


  • Spurs turned shit into shit-ade at Inter today. Spurs went down 3 goals and one player in the first fifteen minutes, thanks to some shambolic defense and an awful, awful red card given by the official on Gomes that should have been a yellow. But then down a man, Spurs Wonder Winger Gareth Bale Scored a short-handed hat trick in the second half to turn a rout into a mere loss on the road. Jermian Defoe can't get back soon enough. Spurs play Inter again at home on the 2nd, with Cudicini in goal thanks to that pants red. They're still second in the group and have 2 more home games, so things are looking better than they could be.

  • Spurs picked up a nice away win at Craven Cottage on goals by Hudd and the slightly-more-giving-a-crap Pavlyuchenko. I loved the lineup too, and can't wait until Defoe can join it. Harry put out

    Hutton-Gallas-Ledders-BAE (yuck, except for King)
    Pavs (can't wait for Defoe)

    Did I mention that I can't wait until Defoe returns?

  • So, uh.....they hired Mike Quade. My (brief) thoughts can be found over at ACB. Summary: meh

October 19, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll, week 3

1. Iowa (5-1, 2-0)
2. Michigan State (6-0, 3-0)
3. Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1)
4. Ohio State (6-1, 2-1)

It should be an interesting few weeks. It's clear at this point that these 4 teams are the class of the Big 10, but the ultimate test is winning tough games on the road. So far OSU has lost at UW and UW has lost at MSU. MSU does not play OSU so the remaining matchups between these 4 are all at Kinnick Stadium, which makes Iowa the clear choice for #1. They just have to take care of business at home against the other three teams.

5. Illinois (3-3, 1-2)
6. Denard Robinson (5-2, 1-2)
7. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1)

These are all teams that you don't want to sleep on if you play them on the road. They all have flaws. Northwestern doesn't have the talent, Michigan has no defense, and Illinois has Ron Zook. I'd include PSU in this list but they got utterly destroyed by Illinois at home.

8. Penn State (3-3, 0-2)
9. Purdue (4-2, 2-0)
10. Indiana (4-2, 0-2)

Penn State has a freshman QB and a team that has been leveled by injuries. Indiana can score points but their defense is as awful as Michigan's

October 18, 2010

A Rant about Rants about the BCS

I just saw This article on the front page of ESPN, written by Mark Schlabach. Feel free to read it, but the gist of the article is that The Computers Just Don't Understand and certain teams (i.e. LSU) just don't pass the mythical Eye Test.

Obviously, those hard drives and keyboards haven't watched the Tigers try to operate their offense in the closing seconds of a game.

Those computers were apparently rebooting when the Sooners struggled to beat teams like Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati earlier this season.

You know what? Go fuck yourself with your computer ranking strawmanning. As if all the poll voters have watched the LSU games. Or all the other games for that matter. Or take strength of schedule into account in any meaningful or uniform way.

I'll be the first to admit that I would rather the BCS ONLY used computer rankings, but I'm in the minority here. Look, the computers have biases too (i.e. whatever model was used to build them), but the important thing is that THE BIASES ARE CONSISTENT. I can't stress this enough. There's nothing more arbitrary than an "Eye Test" especially when one of the main polls used is a coaches poll that is often foisted off on assistants or used for political gain within the system. No one at any of these schools watches all the games.

Besides, the reason why we do a weighted average of the computers and the bullshit polls is exactly the reasons why he's complaining - that computers can't see OU's and LSU's struggles, just as human beings can't watch every play of every game and adjust for strength of schedule with any sense of order or consistency.

October 16, 2010

VICTORY: aOSU 18 - Wisconsin 31 (update: with Packers prediction)

What a game. Wisconsin jumped off to a great start and weathered a second half Ohio State comeback to deliver a convincing victory over the Buckeyes at Camp Randall. Everything was firing on all cylinders tonight. Clay and White were able to move the ball against the Buckeyes front line, with a big assist to the incredible performance by the offensive line. When OSU began shutting down the run in the second half UW opened up the passing game and Tolzien marched the Badgers down the field for the game-sealing TD.

Overrated Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor showed flashes of why he's a Heisman favorite but generally had a poor game. For the first half he looked exactly like the QB I thought he was - tentative, making poor throws, but not really making any specific mistakes (i.e. he didn't throw any should-be-picks that I can remember). Just generally ineffective. In the second half though - wow. His accuracy suddenly went waaay up and he seemingly surrounded himself with a forcefield whenever any Wisconsin player got near him. He had two or three ridiculous plays where he dodged defenders and made a seemingly desperate heave for an easy first down to a wide open reciever. His only truly awful throw was the last play of the game (an INT).

Generally I've been giving a game ball but so many players did a great job in this game. This was truly a team effort. I do want to recant everything I said about David Gilreath being merely average. He had a great game in the biggest game in his career.

Next week the Badgers travel to Iowa to play one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten with a home field advantage as great as the Badgers. After the emotional win this has a large flashing sign saying "LETDOWN GAME", and I expect Iowa to handle Wisconsin easily.

Update: Packers prediction: Green Bay 20 Miami 17 in an ugly game

October 14, 2010

The Scrap Heap

This week's links and rants...

First, the Packers injury recap. S Derrick Martin was added to the growing list of Packers on the IR, further compromising the team's already shredded secondary depth. Clay Matthews appears to be out for Sunday's game vs Miami (he did not practice on Wednesday). But the biggest blow is that TE Jermichael Finley's knee injury was worse than expected and he is expected to miss 8-10 weeks, if not the rest of the season. This is a huge blow for the Packers, as Finley is Rodgers's favorite target and he played a big role in the Packers overall offensive scheme.

On the bright side, QB Aaron Rodgers fully participated in yesterday's practice. However, there were no full-contact drills. I would guess that he cleared to play this weekend.

The big news in Madison is that College Gameday is returning to cover the Wisconsin vs #1 overall ranked aOSU. This should be a fun game. My best football memory is still the Badgers rain-soaked victory over aOSU in a night game at Camp Randall in 2003. Sure enough, College Gameday was there that week too.

This Big 10 Power Poll was one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen.

During the international break, Yankee Yiddos has been running a great series called "Yanks we'd like to see at the lane". You can find their pitches here, here, here, and here. This break comes at a good time as Spurs are quite banged up. They play the Cottagers this weekend and then head to Milan to take on Inter in their next Champions League bout.

October 10, 2010

Packers 13 - 16 Redskins: We've seen this shit before

Just a horrendous game all around for the Packers. Once again they looked great in the first quarter, putting up 220 yards (including a 70+ yard run from Brandon Jackson). But Rodgers's favorite target, TE Jermichael Finley, was knocked out in the first Packers series after injuring his knee making a tackle after a Donald Lee fumble. Then DE Ryan Pickett went down with a knee injury of his own. Then Donald Lee was taken out of the game with a shoulder injury after the Packers lone touchdown. The offense sputtered after that, marred by a rash of dropped passes, yet more dumb penalties (some of which weren't even called), and unnecessary short passing plays.

Seriously, Packers coaching staff, you have one of the top 5 QBs in the NFL playing against a shaky pass defense and you're throwing dinky 2-4 yard passes? What the hell? Did Greg Jennings even play in this game? Even when the Packers threw the ball down the field the receivers kept dropping the passes. As the game went on Brian Orakpo got going and just began destroying Bulaga and especially Chad Clifton.

But the biggest blow by far was Clay Matthews's hamstring injury, which completely hamstrung the defense. The Packers were all over the Redskins backfield with Matthews tearing around back there - once he left the field Washington started moving the ball again. They also finally realized that they could throw the ball with impunity across the middle with Peprah and a banged up Collins at safety, and we saw plenty of it in the 4th quarter and OT.

Even when McCarthy was right he still was wrong. Lots of Packers fans are complaining that the Packers went for the TD on 4th and inches and were denied. It was absolutely the right move. Even if you ignore some of the secondary chances (like fumbles/ints and the resulting field position of a failure), if you think it's a 50-50 chance that you get your 6 inches you have to go for it - the expected value of it is 3.5 points vs the 3 pts for a field goal. That said, what stupid play calls from MM on those goal line plays. Following a great run by Kuhn to get the ball to the 1 yard line, MM dials up a QB sneak by Rodgers which fails. Then on 4th and inches they call some dumb short passing play. Look, John Kuhn is good at exactly one thing, and that is getting a few inches. Why the hell not use him there?

There's plenty of rage going around about Mason Crosby but I don't fault him for missing a field goals from 48 and 52 yards. Those are no gimmes.

Early reports say that Matthews and Finley will be out for at least one week. That's not great news. To top it all off Rodgers apparently had a concussion in OT. FML.

Game ball: Clay Matthews

The worst part of this loss is that the shitty, shitty, Bears, who watched the Packers beat themselves 2 weeks ago, are now atop the division despite two awful weeks against the Giants and Panthers.

Addendum: Starters now injured
QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion?)
RB Ryan Grant (ankle)
TE Jermichael Finley (knee)
TE Donald Lee (shoulder)
RT Mark Tauscher (shoulder)
DT Justin Harrell
LB Nick Barnett (wrist)
LB Brandon Chillar (Shoulder)
CB Al Harris (knee)
SS Atari Bigby
SS Morgan Burnett (knee)

Packers - Redskins preview

Too many injuries will doom the Packers in this game, especially in the secondary. The Packers are missing long-term inactives SS Atari Bigby and CB Al Harris and recent inactives SS Morgan Burnett, LB Brandon Chillar, LB Nick Barnett and RT Mark Tauscher. FS Nick Collins is active but not 100%. We'll be seeing a lot of awful, awful S Jarrett Bush. Bulaga will get his first start with Tauscher out. Redskins top pick LT Trent Williams is also expected to get his first start today, though he is a little banged up himself. The big name on the Redskins inactive list is RB Clinton Portis, who is expected to be out for a few weeks. Ryan Torain should fill in nicely. DT Albert Haynesworth is out to attend the memorial for his recently deceased brother, but he hasn't had that big of an impact on defense anyway.

How the Packers can win: Even with their banged up pass defense corps, the Packers still get a good pass rush and the Washington wideouts just aren't that good. The Redskins have a banged up secondary too, and what GB does well is pass pass pass.

How the Redskins can win: Even though their WRs are nothing special, Chris Cooley should have a field day against the Packers safeties and MLBs. I don't think Torain isn't a very big dropoff from Portis either.

Prediction: Green Bay 24, Washington 28. I don't really have a handle on who should win this one, so I'll go with the home team.

Badgers win 41-23, Big 10 Power Poll

What we learned from the Badger victory:

  1. Once again, James White is pretty freaking good. He and Clay both hit the century mark and scored 5 touchdowns between them
  2. Lance Kendricks is also pretty good. He led the team in receiving yards and threw some great blocks on some of the longer runs by Clay and White.
  3. The Badgers need to use the play action more often. They were getting killed in the second quarter (IIRC only ~20 yards before Gilreath's garbage time 30+ yd catch). Minnesota was stuffing the box and Wisconsin responded by...running the ball some more. Once they opened up the passing game with more play action in the second half the offense really got rolling.
  4. Minnesota just isn't a great team. As I speculated in the preview, it's clear that Weber is a good QB trapped on a bad team. I'd trade him for Tolzien in a heartbeat. There were just too many dumb mistakes all around by the Gophers.

New Big Ten power poll
1. a Ohio State University (6-0, 2-0)
With Bama's loss last night to South Carolina the top spot should belong to aOSU...who so happen to be headed to Camp Randall next week. Rumor has it that ESPN is considering sending Gameday there. It's either that or the suddenly less lustrous Nebraska-Texas matchup. I'm hoping for a repeat of October 11, 2003 where Wisconsin beat OSU (who had the longest winning streak in the nation) 17-10 in a drizzly, energy-filled night game. It's the best football game I've ever attended and it would be tough to top. Hopefully the Wisconsin fans can bring out the same sort of energy for this game, and St. Jean and the Wisconsin linebackers can keep Terrelle Pryor between the tackles.

2a. Iowa (4-1, 1-0)
2b. Michigan State (6-0, 2-0)
Michigan State continues to look impressive, demolishing Denard Robinson in the Big House. As I said last week, they're pretty much what I was expecting Wisconsin to be. I don't think they go undefeated in Big Ten play (their defense still concerns me a bit) but the chance that MSU and aOSU both go undefeated is definitely in play. However, much like a typical Wisconsin team that's 2-0 at this point and riding high I expect them to lose one or two games for simple underpreparedness to a team like NW or Illinois. The last big game they have on their schedule is Iowa at home.

4. Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1)
They're still good enough to go 7-1 in the Big 10 (though it's unlikely with OSU and @Iowa still on the schedule). Clay hasn't been quite as good as his preseason hype but White has more than picked up the slack. The big problem is the defense. Even with Borland out on paper it should be pretty good. Watt and Nzegwu are great pass rushers off the end, and St. Jean and Mike Taylor are both above average linebackers. Valai leads the defensive backfield that doesn't have any outright holes. But the defense just keeps getting burned too often, especially on third downs.

5. Illinois (3-2, 1-1)
Maybe it's a bit of an overreaction to their win yesterday at PSU, and they do still have Ron Zook on the sidelines, but they've looked pretty good for the past 2 weeks. They almost upset aOSU, and then delivered an absolute beatdown to Penn State in their own backyard. They beat them by 20 points and it could have been even more if it weren't for three fumbles on special teams. They've probably peaked as far as the B10 season goes but they're not the pushover we assumed them to be.

6. Denard Robinson (5-1, 1-1)
Still all Robinson, nothing else. Still a work in progress.

7. Penn State (3-3, 0-2)
They just look terrible. They only managed three first downs in the first half, and were given 2 easy touchdown opportunities on PR fumbles by Illinois where they had to settle for field goals. Much as Iowa did, Illinois shut down Royster and made Bolden and the defense beat them, and they just couldn't do it. PSU's defense has had its share of injury problems, and when that's the strength of your team, you're due for a big fall

8. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1)
9. Indiana (3-2, 0-2)
10. Purdue (3-2, 1-0)
1100. Minnesota (1-5, 0-2)

October 09, 2010

Brett Favre may be suspended, forced into early retirement

According to The Manolantern, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is pissed about the sexual harassment charges surrounding Brett Favre's time with the Jets that are now beginning to (re?)emerge. Even if he doesn't the NFL's personal conduct hammer might come down pretty hard on Favre anyway. Orange Guy speculates that if Favre is suspended for a significant amount of time he might retire. Given how the non-AP Vikings offense has performed so far this year it might not be that big of a difference.

Minnesota (1-4, 0-1) at Wisconsin (4-1, 0-1) preview

Minnesota's struggles this season have been well documented. They won their first game at FCS school Middle Tennessee State on a late touchdown in the fourth quarter and followed that up with a loss at home to even lowlier South Dakota. They put up a fight against USC at home, but then fell to Northern Illinois, again at home. They played a surprisingly good game against Northwestern in the last of their streak of home games, losing 29-28.

Minnesota QB Adam Weber seems like he's been around forever, and I've always thought he was one of the most underrated QBs in the Big 10. The problem is that he's never had anyone else to help him on offense. He had a nice breakout season, throwing for nearly 2900 yards passing and 24 TDs (to 19 INTs). He also put up 600+ yards on the ground. The big problem has been protection. He was only sacked 13 times in his freshman year. In his sophomore and junior years he was sacked 31 and 38 times respectively, and not surprisingly his TDs went down and his rushing yards went WAY down. He still has it in him to be an elite mobile QB but he has to stay on his feet and have someone to throw to.

Apparently the "y" at the beginning of the group was in the bathroom. (h/t to B5Q for the pic and the joke

Who had the axe?
Minnesota won the axe on the strength of running back duo Lawrence Maroney and Marion Barber III in 2001 and 2003. They also should have won it in 2005, when the trailing Badgers blocked a punt late in the 4th quarter to take a miraculous lead. Since then, it's been all Badgers.

How Minnesota wins
Adam Weber has a big game, Watt and Nzegwu get injured, and the Badger offense comes down with some kind of virus overnight. So there's a chance...

A little more seriously, for Minnesota to win Wisconsin really has to beat itself. If we see a repeat of the shenanigans we saw in the ASU and SJSU game, especially as regards to special teams, Minnesota could find themselves in this.

How Wisconsin wins
Watt and Nzegwu tear up Minny's O-line, St. Jean and the linebackers contain Weber, and Bielema runs a steady diet of James White, John Clay, and Montee Ball (once the game is well in hand). Minnesota has been equally poor on defense against both the run and the pass.

Prediction: Minnesota 13 - 38 UW

Go Badgers!

October 07, 2010

NLDS Preview: Braves vs Giants

(Originally posted at Another Cubs Blog. Again I apologize for the crappy formatting from the blogger editor's overzealous linebreak translator).

The last of the four Divisonal Series is the Wild Card winning Braves against the NL West champion Giants. Both teams made it into the postseason on the last day of the regular season on the heels of a Braves win over the Phillies and a Giants win over the Padres. Atlanta will have to try to win this series without face of the franchise Chipper Jones, who tore his ACL in August and may be done for good, depending on how his rehab goes. The offense is now led by catcher Brian McCann, former Cub Derrek Lee, who has been hitting the ball well, breakout second baseman Martin Prado, and ROY contender Jason Heyward. His neck-and-neck competitor, catcher Buster Posey joins Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff as the leader of the Giants suddenly lively offense. What happens in this series will not affect the Rookie of the Year vote, as if I remember correctly those ballots are submitted at the end of the regular season. But it should be a good matchup nonetheless.

Team to team comparison


I had no idea the Giants were so good defensively. If you look at the average between UZR and DRS (used in the numbers above), the Giants were the best defensive team in baseball. A big part of the assignation of those numbers was Giants OF Andres Torres, who managed to collect a whopping 22.6 UZR across 3 OF positions. Strangely enough even Pat Burrell posted a big year in both UZR and DRS. Speaking of strange defensive numbers, the Braves ended the season with a -34.4 UZR....and +43 by DRS. What the hell? Most notably DRS liked the now-departed Yunel Escobar, the now-injured Chipper Jones, and Jason Heyward a lot more than UZR.

Atlanta Braves

C Brian McCann
1b Derrek Lee
2b Martin Prado
SS Alex Gonzalez
3B Omar "All-Star" Infante
LF Matt Diaz
CF Melky Cabrera
RF Jason Heyward
OF Eric Hinske.341.335
OF Nate McLouth.283.335
2b/3b Brooks Conrad.356.314

I listed a few of the backups because we'll probably see most of these guys as the Braves mix and match their crappy players into 3b, LF, and CF and hope someone gets hot. If MLB had a Reverse Comeback Player of the Year Award (Hindenberg award?) McLouth would easily be the guy who wins it. Both his bat and his (overrated) glove took massive leaps backward this year, which led to lots of Melky Cabrera.

Derek Lowe
Tommy Hanson
Tim Hudson
Billy Wagner
Kyle Farnsworth

The Braves also have some kid named Brandon Beachy, he of 15 career MLB innings, penciled in as the game 4 starter. I'm pretty sure they'll just go back to Lowe. Former ROY candidate Jair Jurrjens is not on the NLDS roster, and the other option is fellow rookie Mike Minor.

San Francisco Giants

C Buster Posey
1b Aubrey Huff
2b Freddy Sanchez
SS Edgar Renteria
3b Kung Fu Panda
LF Pat Burrell
CF Andres Torres
RF Nate Shierholtz
ST Mark Derosainfinityinfinity

Just about everyone on the Giants is hitting out of their minds. It must be a side effect of Mark DeRosa's stubble. Oddly enough Sandoval, who was the only position player worth a damn in the Giants offense since Bonds left, has had an awful year.

Tim Lincecum
Matt Cain
Jonathan Sanchez
Madison Bumgarner
Brian Wilson
Jeremy Affeldt

Prediction: Giants in 5. We should several low scoring affairs, but despite the fact that Lowe is a pretty underrated pitcher (by the forecasting systems), SF's superior pitching will win out. Atlanta's positional problems at 3b, LF, and CF would hurt them more if SF weren't essentially punting at RF, 2b, and SS and Sandoval continues to slump. I don't think the winning team scores more than 15 total runs in this series, and I look forward to the epic pitching matchup between the Giants top 3 and the Phillies top 3.

Packers LB Nick Barnett out for the season with broken wrist

Well, shit.

October 06, 2010

Playoff predictions

Divisional Series

Phillies over Reds in 4
Giants over Braves in 5
Rays over Rangers in 5
Yankees over Twins in 5

Championship Series
Phillies over Giants in 5
Yankees over Rays in 7

World Series
Yankees over Phillies in 7

NLDS: Reds at Phillies

(Originally posted at ACB. Too lazy to fix the stupid auto-returns in the editor, sorry)

This series will start at roughly 4pm CT today in Philly. First, the head-to-head comparisons:

RP xFIP4.184.12

Both these teams play in hitter friendly parks, which makes the Phillies SP numbers that much more impessive.

Cincinnati Reds

I laughed when the cellar-dwelling Reds made a seemingly meaningless trade for Scott Rolen last year. I laughed again when many of the projection systems picked them to do well this year, maybe even win the central. As it turned out those were pretty shrewd moves. The biggest difference between my perception of the team and their performance was in defense. I had been too imprinted with years of watching Adam Dunn stumbling around out there to believe that they improved. I still don't know that I buy Jay Bruce as a quality RF though. Again, it's probably some sort of subconscious Dunn comparison. They also picked up Jim Edmonds as a backup OF, but he was left off the NLDS roster.

C Ramon Hernandez
1b Joey Votto
2b Brandon Phillips
SS Paul Janish
3b Scott Rolen
LF Johnny Gomes
CF Drew Stubbs
RF Jay Bruce

As you can see above the Reds are quite good defensively. Rolen, Phillips, and Bruce are regarded as above-average glove men, and Janish was the leader among shortstops in Tango's fan scouting reports so it's not surprising to see the Reds at +4 wins due to defense.

Edinson Volquez
Bronson Arroyo
Johnny Cueto
Francisco Cordero3.924.10
Nick Masset3.383.55
Aroldis Chapman1.353.87

That pitching staff isn't all that inspiring. It looks like they're planning on starting those three in this series. The fourth pitcher on their depth chart, Travis Wood, is a rookie and while he has been effective every Phillie not named Ryan Howard absolutely destroys left-handed pitching. I'm not sure what happened with former ace Aaron Harang, who now seems to be an afterthought. They do have a great bullpen - probably the only one worth a damn in the NL Central.

Philadelphia Phillies

Heading into the season I thought that Philadelphia was easily the best team in the National League, but then they disappointed for the first half of the season. A big part of that was injuries. Here are the players that hit the DL this year for the Phightins:

That almost reminds me of the 2009 Cubs, except the Phillies were lucky enough that Blanton was the only hurt starter, and even then he's not all that crucial to their success. All their primary position players except Werth and Ibanez were hurt, and even then Ibanez's bat pretty much disappeared all year.

C Carlos Ruiz
1b Ryan Howard
2b Chase Fucking Utley
SS Jimmy Rollins
3b Placido Polanco
LF Raul Ibanez
CF Shane Victorino
RF Jayson Werth

Lots of disappointing years here. Ruiz is the only guy who's really playing out of his mind.

Roy Halladay
Roy Oswalt
Cole Hamels
Brad Lidge
Ryan Madson

The Phillies have a BIG edge in pitching, which is one of the reasons why they're so favored in this series.

Prediction: Phillies in 4. The Reds pitching staff is good enough to rack up wins against the likes of the NL central, but a (finally healthy) offense like the Phillies should be able to break through.

October 05, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll: Week 2

1: Iowa (3-1, 1-0)
2: a Ohio State University (5-0, 1-0)

I have a feeling that aOSU's game against Illinois was a harbinger of things to come, much as the San Jose State and Arizona State games were for Wisconsin. What will happen when Pryor has to face a team that can contain him? He only passed for 76 yards last week. I won't be a believer until he wins a tough game on the road, and the credit is obviously more towards Pryor than to their impressively good defense. It's too bad that he plays for aOSU, if only because we never get the chance to see if aOSU's defense would completely render him ineffective (as I suspect). They play PSU at home, at UW, and especially at Iowa, and his performance will make or break the team in those games. Meanwhile Iowa, and especially Iowa's defense, completely dominated Penn State at Kinnick.

3: Michigan State (5-0, 1-0)
They were very impressive in their win over Wisconsin. They're pretty much the team that many of us (well, me) were hoping Wisconsin can be. They can run the ball all over the field with their 3-headed running game, their defense (especially the linebackers) swarm the field and is good but not great, and the two big differences - they actually have a special teams unit, and their passing game is higher risk-reward.

4: Wisconsin (4-1, 0-1)
See last weekend's recap for my complaints. Poor preparation, Clay banged up, Borland out, Tolzien has no one to throw to, special teams blow, etc. etc.
5: Denard Robinson (5-0, 1-0)
The Heisman is his to lose. He just needs to stay on the field after all the hits he's taking
6: Penn State (3-2, 0-1)
Freshman QB, good defense. Tough at home.
7: Illinois (2-2, 0-1)
For a while, I was getting excited about the possibility of an upset over aOSU. Then I saw Ron Zook on the sidelines.
8: Northwestern (5-0, 1-0)
It's tough to win on the road, but Minnesota blows hard.
9: Indiana (3-1, 0-1)
10: Purdue (2-2, 0-0)
eleventy billion: Minnesota (1-4, 0-1) Wisconsin better re-clean the Axe trophy case, since it's been collecting dust in its case for so many years.

October 04, 2010

Green Bay 28 - 26 Detroit: More mistakes

The Packers won this game but they sure seemed lucky to do so. Detroit kicked four field goals in the second half, several of which could easily have been touchdowns. Shaun Freaking Hill just tore through the Packers secondary, which also found itself without the services of SS Morgan Burnett (who is currently filling in for the injured Atari Bigby), further depleting the secondary. The Packers front 7 is still getting plenty of pressure on opposing QBs but Charles Woodson can't cover the entire field by himself, no matter what the t-shirts say. This is especially noticeable in the Lions third down numbers - they converted 10 of 17 third downs in the game and seemed to be able to move the ball at will through the air. It's especially worrying considering the string of decent to good teams the Packers play in the next 4 weeks: @WAS, MIA, MIN, @NYJ

Rodgers and the offense looked great in the first three series but couldn't get anything going after that. Rodgers made two uncharacteristically poor throws for his two picks.

Luckily the Packers penalty virus seemed to transfer to the Lions this week, who were flagged thirteen times to the Packers three. Still, special teams continue to hamstring the Packers. This time the goat was Packers return man Jordy Nelson, who fumbled twice in the second half leading to Lions field goals. Nelson isn't a great returner, but paradoxically enough he seems like a guy who is good at reeling off, say, 20 yard returns but is not someone you expect to take it to the house.

Game ball: Charles Woodson, trying to do it all in the secondary with 11 tackles, 3 pass deflections, and a pick-6.

Other games:
I'm even more upset about Monday night's result after watching that awful, awful, AWFUL Bears performance last night. Cutler was sacked 11 times in the first half and was knocked out with a concussion, and backup Todd Collins was knocked out after 11 more attempts. The Packers had that kind of penetration too but Cutler was able to wriggle out of it. Wonder how much the home crowd + monday night adrenaline helped them. I'm licking my chops for the rematch at Lambeau.

October 02, 2010

Wisconsin 24 - 34 Michigan State: What we learned this week

  1. Winning on the road in the Big 10 is hard. aOSU struggled to put away Illinois (and was helped by some shady refereeing), NW had a slugfest with lowly Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Michigan and Indiana both forgot to bring their defenses to Bloomington. I would be shocked if PSU is in the game very long at Iowa either.

  2. James White is pretty good. Maybe even better than Clay now that he's banged up.

  3. Nick Toon is an average receiver with the prestige of his family name. He's not a difference maker.

  4. Most importantly, Bret Bielema has to go. They're not going to fire him mid-season, but for a long time this team just simply has been poorly prepared for its opponents. Michigan State's coach wasn't even there today, and special teams (which Bielema has been involved in for years) has been awful for a long time.

October 01, 2010

Preview: #11 Badgers (4-0, 0-0) at #24 Sparty (4-0,0-0), 2:30 PM CT (*UPDATED*)

Update: MSU coach Mark Dantonio was readmitted to the hospital today with a blood clot, probably a complication from his surgery after the Notre Dame game. Not sure how this will affect MSU's approach today. I wish Dantonio all the best and a speedy recovery.

Finally, the real college football season begins. A strong but still-flawed Badger team heads to East Lansing where they haven't won since 2002. My favorite MSU memory was Lee Evans's 5 TD day at Camp Randall back in (November?) 2003. My now-wife had just moved to Wisconsin and her parents were in town that weekend for a visit. We had a great time in the student section in our light sweatshirts but my VA-based in-laws were absolutely freezing despite their arctic gear. They left after Wisconsin went up by 30 points or so to find a bar to warm up in.

I don't know much about MSU so let's take a look at their results before taking a closer look at the individual matchups.

MSU Results
vs Western Michigan: W 38-14
at Florida Atlantic: W 30-17
vs Notre Dame: W 34-31 (OT)
vs Northern Colorado: W 45-7

The most notable one here is the ND game, which they won on a fake FG attempt in overtime. Ballsy call by the coaching staff and it worked perfectly. As for the rest, not much to really conclude. They won the games they should have and with a good enough margin, though the FAU game probably should have been a little higher.

FO Rankings (parens are UW ranks)
FEI: 39 (41)
S&P Offense: 24 (19)
S&P Defense: 92 (111)
S&P Team: 27 (19)

Primary offensive players

Kirk Cousins: 61/91, 863 yds, 6 TD, 2 INT, 164.1 rating
Scott Tolzien: 64/84, 851 yds, 5 TD, 2 INT, 176.2 rating

Edwin Baker: 57 Rush, 449 yds, 7.9 yd/carry, 5 TD
Le'Veon Bell: 48 Rush, 396 yds, 8.2 yd/carry, 7 TD
John Clay: 77 Rush, 501 yds, 6.5 yd/carry, 6 TD
James White: 34 rush, 269 yds, 7.9 yd/carry, 4 TD

I'm surprised to see how well MSU's rushing attack has acquitted itself. Even more impressive is that neither of those guys were at the top of the depth chart heading into the season. Overall it looks like their offense is quite underrated. Defense looks like their big problem. They gave 31 points to a mediocre Domer team at home.

Key Matchups:
MSU LT D.J. Young vs UW DE J.J. Watt
Watt is one of the best pass rushers in the Big 10, and Young has looked shaky against MSU's weak competition. It could be a long day for Cousins, and Sparty in general if he has a rough time.

MSU KR Keshawn Martin vs UW Special Teams
UW's special teams looked like absolute shit against ASU, and didn't have much to do last week against Pile of Electronics State. We'll see if any corrections have been made

Michigan State Spartans vs Michigan State Spartans
Sparty has been the most penalized team in the B10 this year, and they've averaged 78 penalty yards per game on roughly 9 penalties per game.

Prediction: A close game, but Wisconsin pulls away in the 4th quarter. UW wins 34-24

Lots of good games on the schedule in general - there's going to be a lot of channel flipping. Some quick predictions

2:30, #21 Texas vs #8 Oklahoma. The classic RRS. Ryno says Texas can win this game if they stop being cute with their offense. I think Oklahoma wins, 24-17. It will cap off a pretty awful week in general in Austin, after losing to UCLA last week and having the campus shut down by a student gunman.

7:00,#9 Standford at #4 Oregon. This should be a fun one. I'm voting for Oregon to win this barn-burner 38-31, mainly because I'm annoyed that Stanford somehow leapfrogged UW (and moved up 10 spots) after beating ND last week. What gives? I think Stanford is probably the better team but it runs contrary to how this bullshit polling system works.

7:00 #7 Florida at #1 Alabama. Florida could win this game, but Alabama has certainly staked is claim as the #1 team. If this were in the Swamp I might feel differently. AlaGoddamnBama wins 24-13.

7:00 #22 Penn State at #17 Iowa. A shaky freshman QB playing against a fired up Iowa defense at Kinnick? Yes please. Iowa wins 31-13.

September 30, 2010

Packers-Bears Postmortem

Okay, I guess I've calmed down enough to write about this game reasonably rationally. The story of the game was penalties, penalties, penalties, with a dash of special teams for that extra dimension of FAIL. I still think the Packers are the best team in the NFC (and Football Outsiders agrees). The Packers are rated 5th in the league on both offense and defense and first overall. However, the Packers are rated 29th in Special Teams play. It's funny - one thing I've often felt in the past is that for some strange reason, the Packers and the Badgers tend to have similar issues from year to year. Back when I was an undergrad the big problem was tackling - both teams seemed to be competing with one another to see who could have the most missed arm tackles per game. This year it's sorry, sorry special teams (despite the fact that Crosby and Welch are both having pretty good seasons kicking the ball).

Give credit to the Bears - they executed where the Packers did not. I'd like to give especial kudos to Urlacher and Briggs, who are still the strength of that defense, Julius Peppers, who had the Packers line worried all game, and especially the Bears fans at Soldier Field who kept things loud and the Bears in the game.

Here's the tale of the penalties (thanks to commenter Bush League All Star over at APC

1) 10:03 left, first quarter – pass interference on Woodson. Thankfully, no points scored on that drive, but only because of Robbie Gould’s missed field goal.

2) 5:41 left, first quarter – false start on Clifton. Green Bay overcame that flag, as Rodgers found Jennings for a touchdown.

3) 4:26 left, first quarter – offsides on Bishop…on a kickoff. A KICKOFF? I haven’t seen that call in years. You see that in pee wee football, not the NFL.

4) 4:01 left, first quarter – face mask on Matthews. The Packers thankfully didn’t pay for it, as an interception by Martin made up for it.

5) 6:02 left, second quarter – holding on Colledge. That wiped out an eight yard run.

6) 3:55 left, second quarter – illegal block on Martin. A 22 yard return wiped out.

7) 14:55 left, third quarter – illegal formation on Clifton. A five-yard pass to Lee negated.

8) 9:18 left, third quarter – holding on Sitton. Another five yard gain, a run by Rodgers, negated.

9) 7:25 left, third quarter – holding on Tauscher. Not just 15 yards lost on a pass to Finley, but a touchdown.

10) 1:50 left, third quarter – false start on Tauscher. Almost no yardage lost.

11) 1:50 left, third quarter – false start on Tauscher. Ditto.

12) :24 left, third quarter – delay of game on Rodgers. It turned a third and 1 into a third and 6, which went incomplete.

13) 13:56 left, fourth quarter – false start on Clifton. Made up for with a 14 yard gain on second and 12.

14) 6:45 left, fourth quarter – roughing the passer on Zombo. That canceled an interception by Barnett, and the drive turned into a tying field goal for Chicago.

15) 6:34 left, fourth quarter – unnecessary roughness on Collins, helping to lead to the field goal.

16) 2:33 left, fourth quarter – intentional grounding on Rodgers, on a drive which led to the game-turning turnover.

17) 1:51 left, fourth quarter – pass interference on Burnett, negating an interception by Collins that would have saved the game.

18) :04 left, fourth quarter – illegal forward pass on Driver, negating a chance at a Cal-Stanford miracle lateral play.

Total yards in penalties: 152.
Total offensive yards lost beyond the penalties themselves: 55.
Points loss by Green Bay or gained by Chicago because of penalties: 13.

Just lots of dumb, dumb penalties. The OP didn't list the downs on these, but I remember from the TV that at least 6 of them were on third down. Penalties happen, especially when playing on the road in front of a fired-up crowd, and I'm never upset when a team fails to get a clean sheet, but this is just inexcusable. I disagree with the poster's characterization of points/picks lost, as some of those might not have been picks if there was no PI.

One other big worry is the Packers complete lack of a running game. I was pretty meh when Grant went down but I was all wrong. Jackson just isn't an every-down kind of back, and Kuhn is only a 2-3 yards and a cloud of dust type *fullback*. I haven't heard any more rumors about the Pack looking for a RB (i.e. Marshawn Lynch).

Turnovers: Aaron Rodgers threw a hail mary pick at the end of the first half, but the big turnover was the James Jones fumble that led to the Bears game winning drive. All credit to Urlacher and Briggs for causing it, but it was just the Packers luck that day that despite the face that Jones was both running along the sideline and carrying the ball on the sideline side of his body, the ball didn't go out of bounds. Cutler threw one terrible looking pick and threw another one that was called back due to a roughing the passer penalty on Zombo. Cutler looked erratic most of the night and IIRC there were at least one or two other near picks on the night, which isn't that surprising considering the pressure the Packer pass rush was getting on him

Special teams: The announcers and some Packers fans were wondering why the hell the Packers would kick to Hester. Well, for one he hadn't scored a TD in nearly two years. On top of that, the Packers punter looks pretty good. He had several absolutely booming punts, including the one that Hester scored his TD on. He made a mistake on the last punt of the second quarter, hitting a line drive right to Hester but at least he made the best tackle that I've ever seen by a punter to stop him from taking it to the house. I like Mathsay's potential - I think the bigger problem is the special teams tackling in general.

All in all: what do you do to deal with penalties? Some of them were dumb (like the multiple false starts, etc) and hopefully the players learned a lesson from this game. I don't think that fining players is going to make a difference. When players are on the field, they're thinking about their assignments, not their paychecks. The Packers play an aggressive defense and they just got burned a bit more than usual, on top of the dumber, much more preventable penalties. I have hope they'll do better next time, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Speaking of dumb mistakes, what was up with McCarthy challenging that fumble anyway? It was clear that the player and the ball were in bounds. They sure could have used those extra seconds at the end of the game. Speaking of which - why didn't they just let Chicago score when they got into the red zone with less than 2 minutes left? Aaron Rodgers was clearly on fire that night - the only thing stopping the Packers from marching down the field was the Packers. Just some generally poor game management by McCarthy that night.

Game Ball: Aaron Rodgers: 34/45 for 316 yards, 1 TD, one meaningless INT, and an average of 7 yards per attempt and just over 9 yards per completion.

Update: check out this link from baturkey in the comments (scroll down past the Failboys analysis). The two sentence summary is that there's little correlation between run-pass balance and scoring. As they say, you "win to run the ball".