Blood, Thorns, Credit, Cheap Steaks, And Rotten Fruit

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Win forever, boys, and always be jacked while doing so. (Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)

Southern Cal 38, Penn State 24 – Gee, you wonder what USC could actually do if they went balls to the wall for a full 60 minutes every game. After 31 points in the first half, I’m betting Steve Sarkisian checked out mentally and started making calls on U-Dub’s behalf.  Never mind the result or final score, along with the Nittany Lions’ 17 fourth-quarter points: this was another blowout and a wish that the Trojans would either make good on their BCS game chasing again so we don’t have to go through this again (and I LIKE this Penn State team; that’s what made this game so damn frustrating, I thought SC would get a stiff challenge.) If Mark Sanchez actually decided to leave for the NFL on top of 4 TDs and 413 yards passing (along with a rushing TD), no one would blame him. Damian Williams is staying, him and his 10 catches for 162 yards. This is the kind of destruction that frustrates me as an SC fan for several reasons:

  • it gets the big heads slurping cardinal and gold jock again about an MNC when the Trojans had no business being there.
  • this fuels resentment from every other fan base out there, who asks why the fuck we lost to Oregon State (and they have a point)
  • we repeat the same cycle next year when the team comes out lackadaisical for a quarter or two

Whatever. I’ll take a Rose Bowl win and hope that we can keep it together enough next season to play a Big XII or SEC team in the BCS next year, either as an at large or in the championship game.

Virginia Tech 20, Cincinnati 7 – Will no one rid me of these meddlesome Hokies? God help the ACC if Beamer ever gets a consistent offense to go with his ballhawks on defense (they may be the Ravens of college football, everyone knows how they’re going to win and yet they still do it anyhow.)  They made a mockery of Cincy QB Tony Pike, who managed to look like the fifth-or-sixth string QB that he is, with coach Brian Kelly yelling at him about the read he’d fucked up after each of the four interceptions he threw.

Georgia 24, Michigan State 12 – Matthew “Fetus Boy” Stafford was two-faced in this game, or at least two-halved: looking like absolute crap with a 6-for-14 and a pick in a fairly dull first half, which reminded SEC viewers of the squandered potential that UGA had throughout the season thanks mostly to injuries that had decimated both their offensive and defensive lines. However, this is a Michigan State team utterly dependent on Javon Ringer (how Brian Hoyer became a starting D-IA QB sometimes, we’ll never know), and Stafford was able to turn it on in the last 20 minutes of the game, getting streaky with three TD passes and ending up with 246 yards passing on what’s probably his last collegiate game (although he could use another year, honestly.)

Iowa 31, South Carolina 10 – Anyone too shocked that Shonn Greene will make a very nice gift for a Top 10 team looking for a big running back willing to get the tough yards and move the chains? 121 yards and 2 TDs sealed his college career in Tampa, as he spent the afternoon stepping on the dicks of a Cocks’ team that was already hamstrung by the Ol’ Ball Coach’s Quarterback Follies — starting Stephen Garcia and his 3-pcik throwing self in the first half, and going back to the solid and utterly unspectacular Chris Smelley in the 2nd after the game was pretty much out of hand, given the Cocks’ offensive troubles, at 21-0.

Nebraska 26, Clemson 21 – There’s something to be said for coming back from a halftime deficit with a 20-point third quarter and holding off another comeback attempt by the Tigers via sacking Cullen Harper a ton and tipping some passes. I guess if you’re Nebraska and you’d lost your last nine bowl appearances, you take this sucker as a way to build on bigger and better things next year — maybe with another good season for Joe Ganz and a real return to the suffocating defense that was their trademark under Tom Osborne (along with the option). Bo Pelini’s off to a nice start in his first season. Let’s see where he goes from here.


Ill-Advised New Year’s Day Bowl Predictions

marksanchezSo, so very fucking pissed at the programmers for this shit schedule of games. Jesus, the Rose Bowl’s the only game I want to watch, but lucky me, the Orange Bowl is the only one that starts after I leave work.

Outback Bowl: Iowa has a bulldozer in Shonn Greene and a workable defense that’s somehow managed to keep Kirk Ferentz employed (does he have pictures of the school’s president pulling a Catherine the Great or something? Jesus), and South Carolina is suffering from a severe case of ED on the offensive end (yes, wait for it and then yell at me.)  Defensively, they’ve seen backs as good as Greene before and not had much on them. Be taking the Hawkeyes here, even if keeps that asshole employed. 17-7, Iowa.

Gator Bowl: Two semi-useless rebuilding projects scrounged up good enough records to get invited here, and Bo Pelini’s Nebraska team doesn’t have the intensity on offensive he would like yet, while Clemson under Dabo Swinney appears to be finding its footing regarding what it would actually care to do on offense at times (memo: just keep running it behind C.J. Spiller and James Davis; the rest will work itself out.) The aggressive mediocrity of the Big XII North is probably a bit better than that of the ACC.  Nebraska by a touchdown.

Capital One Bowl: How the hell did this get to be a New Year’s Day game? Anyway, it runs up an SEC team (Georgia) and a Big 10 team (Michigan State), both equally flawed in various ways. Georgia’s flaws involve injuries to both lines, which derailed MNC aspirations. Michigan State’s are a bit more jarring: a rather mediocre QB in Brian Hoyer, resulting in a necessary leaning on Javon Ringer. Eight in the box for UGA all day as they push the Spartans into the pit, 34-10.

Rose Bowl: At least we’re getting somewhere now. I will reference my own defensive preview at Conquest Chronicles here, and re-assert that this will be a very close, defensively oriented game. However, Penn State has a weakness with pass defense and its safeties, while USC can be had with running game trickery and proper blocking. Southern Cal, 20-13, on two passing TDs by Mark Sanchez and a couple FGs.

Orange Bowl: Honestly, I know little about how Virginia Tech has managed to work its way to the top of the ACC again and even less about how Brian Kelly got Cincinnati to the top of the Big East heap despite having to go through six QBs to do it. Cincinnati, just for fun.

One Con Eats Coaches Alive, While Notre Dame Can’t Swallow

New Mexico St  Auburn FootballTommy Tuberville “resigning” at Auburn was a foregone conclusion, ever since a previous regime tried to stage a coup d’etat with Bobby Petrino several years back (the president and AD lost their jobs when it got out), Tuberville’s job status has been in limbo no matter how well he does or not (of course, it does not help in the football-mad SEC that Auburn perenially underachieved after 2003, particularly on the offensive end — and Tubs went through enough offensive coordinators to prove it.)  No one resigns and still gets a $6 million buyout, though. It likely went like this:

“We want to go in a new direction.”

“I don’t really want or need to be here right now.”

Mutual parting, as far as I can read into newspaper copy. And really, a paper is actually saying Petrino is a candidate to replace Tubs?

Sly Croom is another matter. Believing he actually resigned isn’t that far-fetched. Mississippi State is far better off than it was five years ago as a program, but now everyone thinks they’ve got a shot with parity approaching in college football — and Houston Nutt doing bang-up things with Ed Orgeron’s recruits in Oxford didn’t help matters. (A 45-0 shellacking in the Egg Bowl by Ole Miss will adjust a lot of perspectives.) It’s never ceased to amuse me how coaches can have epic FAILs on the side of hte ball they coached or coordinated — in Croom’s case, his offense never approached mediocre, but this is not entirely his fault (still not excusing retaining Woody McCorvey as OC, though.)

State’s problem even after its slide back is that it’s still fucking Starkville.  I have a friend who’s an alum there — and he related how little there was to do sometimes; bored out of his gourd. (I chalk part of this up to his being a California native; that’s some serious culture shock for surfer boys.) In a more realistic slant, Nutt is in Oxford with a much nicer campus and battling for recruits in a state with low population, which doesn’t make for great prospects as far as “protecting the home turf” in recruiting goes. One can take your most talented players and stash ’em on defense to build that up, but when it comes to drawing top skill guys….well.

weisofaceIt’s likely the reported $10 million buyout attached that keeps Charlie Weis employed in South Bend, as AD Jack Swarbrick has promised him one more year, in a mess he inherited.  Essentially, Notre Dame could get someone better if it could afford the buyout, but no one thinks there is any particular advantage to going to Notre Dame now that most other football factory D-IA schools can’t offer. Even the NBC contract doesn’t look so hot in the wake of ESPN shelling out for anything and everything college football.

South Bend is eventaully going to figure out that the money train for operating its football team independent of conference is going to bring in less money down the line than joining either the Big East or Big Televen. (Smart money says Big Televen somewhere along the road, which would also get the Irish hoops squads, which are usually in the good end, out of the insanely crowded Big East.)

But the arrogance involved in inking Weis after a near-win against USC (you can tell it’s not going to work out if a loss, no matter how close, spurs on a silly and financially reckless contract extension) is palpable.  So, now ND must sit and wait it out until Weis’ buyout is manageable. A fitting end, really, because although Ty Willingham sucks, he still deserved to finish out his contract.

As for Dabo Swinney going from overly enthusiastic interim coach to head guy at Clemson, there’s an easy way to look at it: who better are you going to be able to pick up right now? Will Muschamp is staying at Texas; Mike Leach has better choices than Clemson. Besides, take that 4-2, pro-rate it for a full season, knock off a loss, and you’re at 9-3, which, depending on whom you lose to, could be good enough to get to the ACC championship. Baby steps, Tigers, baby steps. You may not have Cullen Harper, but the chance of keeping C.J. Spiller for a senior season (which he said keeping Swinney would do) still gives you a good shake in a mediocre conference.

Rushing The Field, Week 1: Atlantic Coast Collapse

It wasn’t a good opening weekend if you happen to be a general ACC backer, unless your team happened to be chomping on some early dessert in I-AA or low I-A cupcake form (Miami, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College.)

Clemson was more than happy to let Alabama drive a heart right through any attempt to do anything more than maybe win an ACC championship, and they still look ready to underachieve for the rest of their schedule. I know we are dealing with SEC vs. ACC, but not being able to protect Cullen Harper for shit and being so poor that James Davis and C.J. Spiller only got 20 yards from scrimmage combined is much, much more of a problem that any prognosticator had anticipated. (Most had flagged the Tigers’ O-line as a problem long ago.)  As for Nick Saban and his charges, I don’t know what to make of them yet since ABC decided Michigan State-Cal was what I wanted to see (not so much) and thus did not see the telecast — and there’s not much to go on until the Tide hits its SEC schedule.

It seems fitting that Frank Beamer is hoisted by his own petard, so to speak — on a late blocked punt by Skip Holtz’s East Carolina squad and what looks like an even poorer decision to redshirt Tyrod Taylor in favor of Sean Glennon, who may well be remembered as the white Reggie Ball. If you have a Virginia Tech squad with absolutely no returning skill players outside of the quarterbacks, why redshirt the QB with the potential to use his feet to make plays if the pocket breaks down? Then again, considering the state of the ACC, this was less of an upset than every analyst was claiming.

As for the rest of it? Maryland and UNC barely beat I-AA teams, Boston College won the weakest shutout known, N.C. State was picked apart by the Ol’ Ball Coach’s Cocks, and the aforementioned Wake and Duke were the only teams to eat their cupcakes in record time.

Virginia got absolutely destroyed by USC. Mark Sanchez is, for now, everything Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian were waxing on about and if the Tailback Factory can rotate effectively and take advantage of the skills of Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, and Joe McKnight like that, be very afraid. I do question the cornerbacks: it’s USC’s style to play aggressive with the other team’s wideouts, but they were doing things that were bound to get flag-happy refs to toss the yellow.

Michigan looks bad — very bad. Utah nearly gave that game away at the Big House, but the Wolverines don’t have the playmakers or enough familiarity with Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense to be able to take enough advantage of the late errors by the Utes. Eventually, Brian Johnson and the Utes offense will click enough to make a run at crashing the BCS party (if it ain’t them, it’s their hated rivals at BYU) — but it’s all about who will step up in what will be Michigan’s obvious absence from the top ranks of the Big Televen for the next year.

It could be Illinois, but the Illini are off to rough start after losing to Missouri (by much less than I’d expected.)  Gary Pinkel was losing defensive players of his (supposedly) much improved squad during the game, but that seems irrelevant as Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, and Chase Coffman appear to be enough in and of themselves to outscore teams in shootouts.  That said, watching Juice Williams improve on the field (26-42, 451 passing yards, five TDs) and lead second half rallies, I’m thinking he’s in the process of turning himself into a very, very good quarterback.

Dave Wannstedt keeps renewing his status as the symbol of profound mediocrity since the early 1990s.  Pre-season assessments had Pitt RB LeSean McCoy as the star to fthe offense, but when he struggled, the Wannstache decided it would be best to throw 51 times and not even pretend to have a running game. Eventually’s Pitt’s athletic department will tire of this — how long it will take, we don’t know, but being upset by Bowling Green as a result of that hard-headedness will add some fuel to the fire.

The Shakedown: Six Days ‘Til Kickoff

Come next Saturday, I’ll be planted in front of the TV for every Saturday afterwards as giant dudes bash heads for school pride (or something like that.) Better take a look at who’s competing for the chip this year, and who’s got the best shot. (Note: this is how I’ve arranged the top 10, I know Georgia’s #1 going in, folks.)

(Rey Maualuga is coming for you, puny quarterbacks.)

1. USC – This isn’t pure SoCal homerism. I think the Trojans get the better of the Buckeyes and the Pac-10 isn’t a whole lot outside of Arizona State this year. If Mark Sanchez (or Mitch Mustain) can be anything resembling good and there is a wide receiver that stands out, they have the easiest path to get to the MNC game. The defense will be nasty, but the offense needs a star to pop out — whether that’s Joe McKnight, Vidal Hazelton, Damian Williams, somebody needs to be a go-to-guy. Of course, you can win big-time with team effort, and the fact that the Pac-10 looks to be in a bad swoon (Arizona State is the only other program that has any upside to look at this year) means a nice, laid-out path to the BCS game. Of course, we wrote all this last year before Stanford.

2. Ohio State – If there is any sort of karmic justice in the sport, OSU will find a way to nab a 2nd loss after losing to USC, thus promptly knocking them out of title contention. However, it took a miracle from Illinois to do it and they still have the best talent in the Big 10, by a long shot.  Their odds of making it back to the BCS title game really do depend on how much the defense can make up for losing Vernon Gholston to Sundays and whether Todd Boeckman will be consistent enough in throwing to the two Brians at wide receiver. If not, the Sweater Vest may bring in Terrelle Pryor earlier than he’d like to.

3. Georgia – The Dawgs’ in-conference schedule will eat them up. Probably won’t have more than one loss, but I don’t think they make it unscathed. They could live up to this pre-season #1 ranking they have if Matthew Stafford can up his completion percentage and Knowshon Moreno continues the form that had everyone drooling last year. Probably second best defense in conference to LSU.

4. Oklahoma – Bob Stoops has a real good chance to go undefeated in the Big 12 — but that defense allows way too much on the ground. The Sooners have laid eggs in their last few bowl games, but bring Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray back for what was a good, solid offensive attack last season. That said, there are few coaches I loathe more than Stoops — he’s whiny and petulant, an SEC coach without a bit of the inherent humor that comes with coaching in that conference.  He should be fortunate that OSU has lost two straight BCS championship games — otherwise, someone would notice he’s 0 for his last 4 BCS bowl games in the past four years.

5. Mizzou – If the Tigers’ vaunted defensive haul is true, then Chase Daniel and Co. stand a real good shot at taking out Oklahoma come Big 12 Championship Game time — and even though teams will probably double team Jeremy Maclin all season, it will only make Daniel and the spread attack in Columbia that much more dangerous. The thought that Gary Pinkel has a bunch of defensive starters returning and is confident that this team will keep others out of the end zone could make them a dark horse favorite if the tops falter.

6. LSU – Fear the Hat, but Les Miles has a quarterback deficiency. If Ryan Perrilloux hadn’t been such a dunce cap, this team likely would have been #2 pre-season with their loaded status at all the skill positions on offense and a robust defense returning, even with Glenn Dorsey moving on to play on Sundays. As is, they’re a favorite for the SEC West crown and a chance to knock off UGA.

7. Florida – The Gators are here until the team proves it has a secondary, essentially. I don’t care how much Tim Tebow you throw at opponents — there are teams they won’t be able to keep out of the end zone and there are defenses (the U, LSU, Georgia) that will pound Tebow, Percy Harvin, and Emmanuel Moody around.

8. Texas Tech – Mike Leach’s Pirate Academy could put a very real scare into OU, Texas and any of the Big 12 South’s regular powers. I don’t expect them to make a championship game yet — but the defense will be a load better and Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are back. If nothing else, Leach’s teams are nothing short of fun to watch — and hopefully Fox Sports will do a lot of regional games with them.

9. Clemson – In a very, very weak ACC (Virgina Tech is offensively depleted; Boston College is trying to replace Matt Ryan), Tommy Bowden is running out of excuses. He has Cullen Harper, a backfield tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller (plus a freshman back by the name of Jamie Harper hoping to get PT), and he’s fallen short the past few years. An ACC title has to be his or he may not be back.

10. West Virginia – The Mountaineers go as far as Pat White’s legs and arm will take them, and as long as Bill Stewart will stay out of the way as head coach. (This was still an epic hiring error.) They certainly won’t be in a position to make the BCS game — not that the conference is great, but when USF has your number, no division is yours.

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It’s A Shame About Ray Ray

Via the Wizard of Odds and EDSBS, we find that Clemson RB/DB Ray Ray McElrathbey won’t be suiting up for the Tigers come next season, per the Charleston Post and Courier — four blue chip RBs ahead of him, and it appears Tommy Bowden has pulled his scholarship and offered him a graduate assistant position in order to get under the 85-scholly limit for the upcoming season.

This is unremarkable until you recall that McElrathbey got a lot of good press for the school and himself when he took in his younger brother Fahmarr and helped raise a trust to care for him — with Clemson going all out in order to support him (with the coaching staff’s wives and families helping out with Fahmarr). Now, we’ve got this:

Team spokesman Tim Bourret said McElrathbey, who has two years of football eligibility remaining, will graduate in August and plans to attend graduate school or transfer and play elsewhere.

James Davis, a senior tailback for the Tigers, said McElrathbey told him he didn’t have a choice.

“He said something about how they weren’t going to renew his scholarship,” said Davis, who has been friends with McElrathbey since their high school days in Atlanta. “It really surprised me. But there’s a lot of stuff you can’t say. It’s something I guess everybody has to learn to live with.”

As logical as this move may have seemed for the football program, it shows a serious lack of PR foresight — probably because there are worse players available to take the hit without the blowback — and also, because Bowden, like any other D-I coach, won’t hesitate to ditch the whole “loyalty” idea they proffer if it’s used to get a fat raise by toying with Arkansas’ open head coaching position.

McElrathbey is set to graduate in August, but the scholarship is a four-year commitment — and many programs cover that first year of grad school — plus, if he considers himself an NFL prospect, he’s gonna have to play (and Clemson says McElrathbey had the option of staying on scholarship but wouldn’t get any PT).  Bowden’s going to take some heat for it. Hopefully, it’s in the recruiting department, when prospective players find out how the program treats players who turn out not to be NFL-worthy studs. It’s a good football move (if the whole “keeping the scholarship” option is truly on the up and up), but it looks awful.

Above The Rim: Pierce Goes Off.

Celtics 98, Spurs 90 – No KG still and no Kendrick Perkins in the middle left Leon Powe and Glen Davis guarding Tim Duncan. Duncan got his 22, but Paul Pierce had 35 and some crucial bench points and defense on Manu Ginobili kept the Spurs from getting closer than 3 points late.

Suns 108, Wizards 107 – Amazingly competitive game, it speaks well for Washington that they’re getting so much out of that team without both Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Still not enough tonight — despite Antawn Jamison’s 27 and Brendan Haywood’s season high 21 points, they lost late due to clutch free throws from Amare Stoudemire, points 30 and 31 for the big man.

Lakers 104, Heat 94 – Plenty of great stuff from Shawn Marion playing free down in Miami, but it’s not nearly enough for the Heat to get a win against the Lakers — particularly when Kobe is shooting 10-for-15 and getting 33 points off that.   But at least now the Heat have some semblance of a future, and something to try and keep Dwyane Wade around.

Nuggets 113, Cavs 83 – Melo still owns LeBron, even though the Cavs are heavily depleted (four players out, two of them starters.) James scored 30 through three quarters in the loss, while Melo put up 27 and AI 25 in the Denver rout.

UNC 103, Clemson 93 (2OT) – Clemson had this one for most of the game, outshooting from the 3 point line and making the Tar Heels look bad — but a late comeback sealed overtime, and then UNC just controlled the game. Tyler Hansbrough wound up with 39 and Wayne Ellington added 28 for the Heels. Clemson’s lost 52 in a row at Chapel Hill now.

Washington 71, UCLA 61 – The Huskies put on over on the Bruins, big time — keeping Darren Collison from making a big impact on the scoreboard will do it. A late interesting play, with a Husky player inbounding it off a Bruin’s face to keep the ball and avoid a five-second inbound violation.

Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer