Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


At college campuses across America, incoming freshmen are learning their way to class, trying to cope with doing their own laundry and basically hoping some senior doesn’t hang them by their boxer-briefs from a lamppost in the quad.

Meanwhile at USC, Matt Barkley is getting ready for his first game as starting QB for the Trojans and trying to figure out in which order he’ll be dating the Song Girls this season. Sounds like a perfectly normal freshman orientation, doesn’t it? Or maybe it’s the perfect beginning to the ’09 college football season, which as usual has enough subplots to fill an entire network fall lineup.

BCS Follies: The idiocy has started already, and there hasn’t yet been a major-college snap in earnest. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt, who votes in the coaches’ poll, omitted Mississippi and Oregon from his pre-season top 25. He also put his own squad, which was hardly mentioned on other ballots, number 18. Some of his other choices included Florida State, Miami, Pitt, Rutgers and Cincinnati, all of which happen to be on the Bulls’ schedule. Some might excuse Leavitt’s poor judgment. After all, it is early. But his self-serving ballot proves how ridiculous it is to have coaches as part of the system to choose a national champion. The first BCS standings aren’t due until October, but you can tell we’re in for another season of stupidity. Leavitt’s votes are just the beginning.

I Got A Biiiiiiiig Mouth! El Hombre is no fan of Florida and its prickly coach Urban Meyer, but he will certainly be tuning in Sept. 19 when the Gators take on Tennessee. That’s because new Vols coach Lane Kiffin spent his off-season committing violations, making stupid proclamations and basically cheesing off everyone in the SEC. One of his targets was Meyer, whose sense of humor tends toward that of library investigator Lt. Bookman. So, when the Gators get a hold of Tennessee in the Swamp, things could get pretty ugly. Just remember, you can’t spell blowoUT without UT.

The Year of the Quarterback: By now, most college fans are sick of the hoopla over the nation’s top three returning QBs, defending Heisman winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Florida’s St. Timothy of Tebow and Texas’ Colt McCoy. Expect to be rooting against each of them by the end of September, thanks to a guaranteed avalanche of attention they’ll be receiving. The good news is that there are plenty of other fine quarterbacks for fans to follow, and EH isn’t talking about Jevan Sneed of Mississippi or Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson, who comprise part of the second-tier of breathlessly-hyped signal-callers. Make sure you pay attention to (in no particular order) Central Michigan dual threat Dan LeFevour, Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli, Houston’s Case Keenum, Baylor’s Robert Griffin (especially Baylor’s Robert Griffin), Kansas’ Todd Reesing, South Florida’s Matt Grothe, BYU’s Max Hall, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Boise State’s Kellen Moore. All are worth the price of admission and their success is unlikely to be jammed down our throats.

Gulag: Ann Arbor: It was a story Upton Sinclair would have loved. The young men worked long hours in the hot sun, without care for the regulations. Some Sundays they were forced to miss every NFL game in the name of self-improvement. The off-season was the worst, what with the forced labor and mean shouting man. If we didn’t know better, we’d think Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez had studied at the Joe Stalin Football Terror Academy. Instead, he made the mistake of angering some soft players who narced on him and his zealous staff. Did the Wolverine coaches break a few rules and take some liberties with their players? They did. (Wink.) Did they do things that were horribly different than what goes on at every big-time – even after last year’s 3-9 record, U-M is still “big time” (Ha! Beat you to it) – program? No. Rodriguez is in more trouble if he doesn’t win than because of his tough workouts and practice regimens. He didn’t do himself any favors by whimpering at his press conference earlier this week. But Rodriguez doesn’t deserve to be hung for doing what everybody else does. Hell, even Ohio State is sticking up for him. The guy has a lot to answer for, what with the loss to Toledo last year, but this shouldn’t haunt him. Go 6-6 this year, and that’s a different story.

The World of Heavy C: Meanwhile, in South Bend, another beleaguered coach takes aim at redemption. Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis begins his most important season with a clear mandate from the administration: play in a BCS bowl or get busy looking for work. Given the number of bridges he’s burned during his tenure, it’s unlikely too many other places will be looking to hire him, so he had better win. To make matters worse, it appears as if the fans have turned on him. Witness the billboard above South Bend’s Linebacker Inn: “Best wishes to Charlie Weis in the fifth year of his college coaching internship.” Ouch. The bad news for Irish haters is that a light schedule, combined with the team’s best talent in a while, could put ND in that BCS equation – and save Weis’ sizeable backside.

How It’s Going Down: To hear some people say it, Florida will go 14-0 to become the Greatest Team Ever and establish itself as a 33-point favorite over the 1945 Army squad, a 10-point fave over the ’72 USC Trojans and basically have the horses to challenge an all-time all-star team. That may happen, but the Gators have to survive games with Georgia, LSU, Florida State and (one would imagine) the SEC West champ. They’ll then have to get by someone in the BCS title game. If that’s Ohio State, which will likely run the table if it beats USC Sept. 12, then crown the Gators. But, if as El Hombre thinks, it’s Texas, look out. The Steers are ready to make a big charge and win it all. They’ll play better defense this year, and QB Colt McCoy might just complete 80% of his passes en route to the Heisman.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Forbes has published its list of NFL teams’ values, and the Cowboys (surprise!) topped the list at $1.65 billion. Wonder if that counts the money they’ll need to spend next off-season to correct the scoreboard fiasco owner Jerry Jones faces. Do-overs? What is this, touch football? Wait until the lawsuits start when players suffer serious injuries from running downfield on punts for the second and third times on the same play…Bloody Sock Schilling has expressed interest in the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy. Sounds like a perfect match: Self-serving loudmouth enters the political arena. And if things don’t work out with the Massachusetts electorate, Schilling can demand a trade to Arizona…Why in the world would anybody want to trade for childish Denver receiver Brandon Marshall? He can’t behave himself on the field, and he’s one more domestic abuse claim away from getting suspended. Kudos to Denver coach Josh McDaniels for not tolerating any of his malarkey. Marshall is bad news and deserves to be treated like toxic waste by the rest of the NFL…New Florida International coach Isiah Thomas has finally stopped protesting the identity of his team’s first opponent. He thought the Golden Panthers would face Ohio State, but organizers of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament pitted FIU against North Carolina, and Thomas threw a tantrum. Take your beating like a man, Isiah, and consider it penance for what you did to the CBA and the Knicks.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Wednesday night, the Phillies proved exactly why they are hardly slam-dunk favorites to defend successfully their World Series title. On a night when hits – much less the team’s calling card, the three-run homer – were in short supply, they had no shot at all against Brad Penny and the Giants. Penny, you may remember, was cut by the Red Sox after a couple months of pitching batting practice to opposing hitters. Wednesday night, the Phillies made him look like Carl Hubbell with their familiar habit of swinging at everything and failing to take advantage of any success they managed. The bullpen is a big reason for concern, but a bigger problem this year is the team’s inability and seeming reluctance to manufacture runs. It’s almost as if the Phillies disdain the scratched-out score, choosing instead to chase the glamour of the long ball. Sunday night, espn’s Joe Morgan revealed the Phillies were last in the NL in “productive outs.” Those are the ground balls that move runners or fly balls that bring people in from third base. Once the weather turns cold, the ball doesn’t travel as far, and the homer total drops. If the Phillies want to win in October, they had better become smarter at the plate, or they’ll be making plenty of hacks like Penny look like all-stars.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Point guard Ricky Rubio has opted for two more years in the Spanish League, rather than play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, despite his professed desire to be in the NBA. Calling any arrangement he would make with the T-Wolves “complicated,” Rubio stayed put. Not exactly the best start to David Kahn’s tenure as GM in Minnesota. At least he drafted another point guard, Jonny Flynn, so the team won’t miss Rubio – except at the box office. Given the situation, the chances he will play for the T-Wolves are slim, since two years from now, he’ll likely demand a trade. Thanks to Kahn’s draft-day gaffe, we’ll probably see the gifted point man in a Lakers or Knicks jersey when he finally comes across the pond. Nice work, David.


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