Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010 Natey Awards

On my favorite track of my favorite album of 2010, Beach House frontwoman Victoria Legrand sings, "I'll take care of you/ if you ask me to," over and over again. Most of the Teen Dream's lyrics are abstract images, but like any great album, there are phrases any listener will latch onto and remember. It doesn't take much psycho analysis for me to know the reasons why "Take Care" was my favorite Beach House song this year. For me, 2010 was about providing for my son Maddux, having my soul mate Ali here to take care of me.

I didn't consume quite as much music this year as I normally do, but I found 2010 to be an exceptional year for a variety of reasons. I listened to a wider array of genres this year than my typical narrow indie rock taste has allowed in the past. Some of my favorite music came from genres like country (Jamey Johnson), R&B (Janelle Monae) and traditional dance pop (Robyn). Some of my favorite bands, such as Menomena, the Walkmen, Frightened Rabbit, Arcade Fire and the National, also turned out predictably outstanding records.

I will also remember 2010 as the year the music nearly died for me. My laptop was hedging toward electronics heaven and during that time my music collection was very much in limbo. Luckily, when the repair work was finished, my library was in tact. Sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone, and that was the case for me. It was quite a blessing to listen to some of my favorite albums again, and to be able to save them so that disaster will be averted in the future.

Without further adieu, I give you my 2010 Natey Awards

Favorite Album: Beach House's Teen Dream
Beach House has always had a hazy, dreamy quality to its music. I thought the group's third release, Teen Dream, found a way to keep that mood while also making songs that you could sing along to. There are so many standout tracks. I already referenced "Take Care," but I also identified "Zebra" and "Used to Be" as songs that won in my earphones and my car stereo. The best music resonates with where you are in life. That's why the scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack's character organizers his albums autobiographically is so easy for me to relate to. Beach House provided the soundtrack for my unforgettable 2010.
Honorable mention: Vampire Weekend's Contra; Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid, the Black Keys' Brothers and Menomena's Mines

Favorite Nashville album: Jamey Johnson's The Guitar Song
My favorite Nashville album usually comes courtesy of a local indie rock band. This year it comes from, of all places, Music Row. Although the year in country music was defined by chart-topping artists with awful hair and an awful band name (The Band Perry), or pitchy vocals (Taylor Swift) or relentlessly bland material (Carrie Underwood), one album refused to follow the leader. Outsider Jamey Johnson made an album about being broke and struggling to conquer demons from your past and present. The Guitar Song is an epic 25-song throwback to an era when it was about the music. Many critics have rightly said The Guitar Song is a tip of the hat to the Outlaw era. I can't argue with that. But the truth is that Johnson has simply built a collection of great songs and delivered them with the help of professional Music City musicians in a way typical country artists simply can't.

Favorite live performance: Alison Carmona w/ Chad Carmona
I have two favorite musical moments of this year. The first was seeing Ali perform in front of Maddux for the first time. The second was seeing my brother-in-law Chad's gorgeous song, "I Wanna Be Alone with You" journey from my living room to audiences all around Nashville. Simply put, this song deserves to be shared with as many people as possible and at the earliest possible moment, I'll post a version on this site.
At the start of the year, Ali would joke about her baby kicking while she was performing. "He musta liked that one," she'd tell the audience. I can only hope my prayers are answered and Maddux takes to music like his mom, whose passion for a good song and a fun performance has never been more apparent. Just this past week, Ali and my good friends Brandon and Jeremy sang "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree" in front of a coffeehouse full of friends and family (who were all too happy to join in). Watching Maddux watch his mom perform was pretty awesome.
Honorable mention: Beach House at Mercy Lounge, Vampire Weekend at the Ryman.

Favorite song: The Black Keys' Everlasting Light
This song is remarkable in its simplicity and memorable for its straight forward blues-rock delivery. There's nothing profound going on here, just a great band hammering out a classic rock song and daring the listener not to love it.
Honorable mention: The Walkmen's Angela Surf City; Local Natives' Who Knows Who Cares; Sleigh Bells' Rill Rill; The Tallest Man on Earth's The Wild Hunt; Frightened Rabbit's Living in Colour.

Most unique album
: Sleigh Bells' Treats
Registering high on the, "what the hell was that?" charts, Treats was one part bubble gum pop and one part heavy metal. How strange for a band to flaunt its masculine and feminine sides with such ease, often times on the same song. I think it's fair to question the staying power of Sleigh Bells, since at times the narrow shouts and basic lyrics trend toward gimmicky. But the reality is, this is a great album and it will remain so no matter what the band does moving forward.

See also: 2009 and 2008

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Injuries too much for Packers to overcome

The Packers just lost to the Detroit Lions, leaving their fragile postseason hopes on the brink with three games to play. This loss came largely after star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Now Green Bay has three games against three good teams in the Patriots, Giants and Bears. The Patriots have been unbeatable at home, but there's no use projecting what might happen the last three games. If you can't beat the Lions, you really can't beat anybody.

In the end, the rampant injuries this season were just too much to overcome. Even if Rodgers is able to return from his head injury, the roster has been too watered down to survive a substantial playoff run. The most costly injury was to Jermichael Finley, who seemed to be emerging as a star before his season was lost due to a knee injury. No position has been untouched by season-ending injury besides wide receiver. Even against in today's game against the Lions, the Packers lost two more starters to injuries of unknown severity in Frank Zombo and Darryn Colledge.

I genuinely believe that the Packers roster is the most talented in the league when it is at full strength. If anything this season is proof of that. To enter into December in quasi-playoff contention despite putting 13 players and seven starters on the injured reserve is quite an accomplishment.

Finally, and predictably, the weight of the injuries is too much for the remaining players to carry. It was a noble try especially considering many thought the Packers would cave in after back-to-back losses to the Redskins and Dolphins. Matt Flynn isn't going to lead this team to the playoffs, for sure, but even Rodgers would have a hard time doing so with this ragtag team of waiver-wire pickups and second-stringers.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

If there was a college football playoff

College football fans entered limbo today after the Army/Navy game finished. Relevant bowl games don't start for weeks and the championship game is a month away. I couldn't help but wonder what it might be like if college football had a playoff system. Well, technically college football does have a playoff system, but just not at the highest level. The funny thing is you still hear some bowl supporter say the system is necessary because football players would have their academic careers blow up if they had to endure the rigors of a playoff. Yet, weirdly, half the college football teams already do endure a postseason playoff.

If the FBS, which by the way is one of the worst acronyms in all of sports, were to appease its fans and install a playoff system, then this is what it might look like:

1. Auburn vs. 16. Florida International
8. Oklahoma vs. 9. Michigan State

4. Wisconsin vs. 13. Connecticut
5. Stanford vs. 12. Virginia Tech

2. Oregon vs. 15. Miami, Ohio
7. Arkansas vs. 10. Boise State

3. TCU vc. 14. Central Florida
6. Ohio State vs. 11. LSU

Until college football presidents come to their senses, we're left to deal in hypothetical playoffs. In my opinion, it would be the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports. This system gives the winner of each conference an automatic bid and then five at-large berths. It would be awesome. Until then, enjoy the bowl.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Merry Christmas Everybody

I love Christmas time, and this is my favorite holiday song (besides In the Bleak Midwinter (that joke was for all you Lutherans out there)).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Week 14 rankings

OK, I'm officially convinced about Auburn. Even if Boise State had been able to scratch out a win against Nevada, I would have to put Auburn in the top-2. In fact, I debated putting Auburn No. 1, ahead of Oregon. Both teams will be favored in dangerous games against good teams. Hopefully Auburn's story doesn't finish with an epilogue that sees the program vacate its wins because of star Cam Newton's ineligibility.

1. Oregon
2. Auburn
3. TCU
4. Wisconsin
5. Stanford
6. Ohio State
7. Arkansas
8. Oklahoma
9. Michigan State
10. LSU
11. Boise State
12. Virginia Tech
13. South Carolina
14. Nebraska
15. Alabama
16. Nevada
17. Oklahoma State
18. Texas A&M
19. Missouri
20. Florida State
21. Utah
22. Hawaii
23. Mississippi State
24. West Virginia
25. Arizona

Dropped out: Iowa, North Carolina State

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Miami Heat's quest for 73 wins

If you know me at all, you know that my most sacred sports memory is the Bulls' record-setting 1995-96 season. Every game was an occasion to talk about the team and its pursuit of the record for most wins in a season. The Bulls gave me something to bond with my best friends and even my grandma, who absolutely loved the Michael Jordan era team. One of my sports dreams was to sit courtside and watch the Bulls play one of their rivals, like the Knicks, Pacers or Jazz.

So you can imagine that talk of the current Miami Heat surpassing the Bulls' record caught my attention. I was skeptical that the Heat were well-coached, driven or defensive-minded enough to approach the Bulls' record. But I genuinely thought the Heat had serious holes on their roster because they over-spent on three players.

So it's with some satisfaction that I've followed Miami's early season progress. Yes, ESPN's hilarious over-hype helped fuel my skepticism. After last night's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Heat dropped to 8-5. That means in order to pass the Bulls, Miami needs to go 65-4 for the rest of the season.

At this point the Heat seem like it will have trouble winning its division, nonetheless winning more games than any team in NBA history. The team has major weaknesses at point guard and center, unlike the Bulls whose role players were very under-rated Ron Harper and Luc Longley. Defense has been a major concern with players like Paul Milsap and Rudy Gay lighting Miami on fire.

And the Heat, due to coaching and lack of self-motivation, have looked uncomfortable playing with a bulls eye on its back. Michael Jordan's obsessed competitiveness kept the entire team focused over the course of the season. And the team had no holes. Dennis Rodman was a rebounding and defensive hound. Scottie Pippen was a jack-of-all-trades No. 2, who was willing to take a back seat. Shooters abounded off the bench, led by Toni Kukoc. And coach Phil Jackson was an expert at melding personalities together.

Miami has none of those intangibles, especially seeming to be surprisingly lacking in leadership from its big three. Maybe Miami can win its division, its conference or, if other teams have injuries, the title. But after last night I am more convinced than ever that 72-10 is out of reach.

Week 13 rankings

I'm holding out hope the championship game features Oregon and Boise State. I watched a little of the Boise-Fresno State game and for one quarter the Broncos did not look like a championship contender. Then, like all great teams do, Boise over came its sluggish start, turned it on and thrashed the Bulldogs. I'm still skeptical of Auburn, which had a bye week, but if the Tigers win their last two games against Alabama and South Carolina, then obviously the Tigers deserve to go to the title game. Even if the program's best player has lingering questions that, once answered, could force the program to vacate all of its wins.

1. Oregon
2. Boise State
3. TCU
4. Auburn
5. Wisconsin
6. Stanford
7. LSU
8. Ohio State
9. Oklahoma State
10. Alabama
11. Arkansas
12. Oklahoma
13. Michigan State
14. Virginia Tech
15. Nebraska
16. South Carolina
17. Texas A&M
18. Missouri
19. Nevada
20. Florida State
21. Utah
22. Arizona
23. Hawaii
24. North Carolina State
25. Iowa

Dropped out: USC, Mississippi State

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One of my favorite albums from the last year

No band name complicates a Google search for its own music quite like Real Estate. I wonder what my Web guru friends would tell a band thinking about naming itself something so sure to get lost in the search engine crowd.

Go looking for one of Real Estate's laid back beach-hazed songs and you might find yourself condo shopping instead.

Inexplicable band name aside, Real Estate's self-titled album is one of my favorites of the past year. I think it technically was released in 2009, but it didn't find its way to my regular rotation until this year.

This is earphones music for sure. I don't find a single sing-along in the mix. But it's got a vibe that will find you where you are on days when you crave a sunny mood. I don't want to call it background music because too many people would misinterpret that as an insult. It would be perfect background music for a cool consignment boutique or a beach house party. Anyhow, here is a modest sample from a great album:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week 12 rankings

For much of this season, I've ranked Oregon and Boise State as the top two teams. As it turns out, that ranking looks like a solid prediction for the national title game. TCU's so-so game at San Diego State hurt the Horned Frogs. In fact, Boise State has apparently passed TCU in the AP rankings. Combine that with a critical potential win for Boise State at a strong one-loss Nevada team and the Broncos have a chance for their first title. I'm ruling out Auburn getting there because I don't see the Tigers winning both their remaining games against Alabama and South Carolina in the SEC title game.

1. Oregon
2. Boise State
3. TCU
4. Auburn
5. Stanford
6. Wisconsin
7. LSU
8. Ohio State
9. Nebraska
10. Oklahoma State
11. Alabama
12. Michigan State
13. Oklahoma
14. Arkansas
15. Virginia Tech
16. South Carolina
17. Missouri
18. Nevada
19. Texas A&M
20. Mississippi State
21. Iowa
22. USC
23. Utah
24. Arizona
25. Florida State

dropped out: Florida, Pittsburgh, Central Florida

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The tainted career of Cam Newton

So I spent the better part of this week listening to talk radio hosts leap to the aid of star Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Amid allegations that Newton was an academic fraud and, along with his dad, an extortion artist, the college football homer patrol sprung up to defend the poor, defenseless Heisman hopeful against the media barrage. As a journalist, I concede that many of the stories surrounding Newton are iffy, since they use anonymous sources or biased single sources.

That said, this is absolutely a fair story for reporters to pursue. As with Reggie Bush, I'm sure the truth will eventually come to the forefront and by that time, Newton will be playing in the NFL.

It's actually his pro career that I am more concerned about. I've heard SEC color commentator Gary Danielson predict Newton would be a first round draft pick. Comparing him to the likes of Tim Tebow, JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young, Danielson said pro teams don't pass on players with Newton's talent.

I disagree with this analogy on many levels. For starters, Russell was never in the same "athlete" mold as Young, Tebow or Newton. Russell was actually a traditional drop-back passer. Obviously the jury is still out on Tebow, but he hasn't been able to unseat Kyle Orton for playing time on the mediocre Denver Broncos. Young has had a career of peaks and valleys, but even at his most successful the Titans starter has never resembled the superstar play he showed in college at Texas.

Run-first quarterbacks from the gimmicky spread offense have an enormous adjustment to make when they're drafted into the NFL. Newton won't be able to run the spread offense in the NFL on a full-time basis. He doesn't have Michael Vick's running ability, although he is a talented runner. No one knows how well Newton would perform when having to step to the line of scrimmage, read a defense and make check-down throws. At best, he's probably years away from being proficient at this task, which is an NFL necessity.

At worst, Newton could be a one-trick pony who helped turn around a desperate Auburn program. In fact, Newton's best NFL comparison might be to Reggie Bush, a gifted college star who helped his program return to prominence, but then underachieved in the pros. When the dust settled on Bush's college career, USC was left vacating wins and forfeiting scholarships. Auburn fans should be wary, as should NFL teams.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Week 11 rankings

The big debate this week will be which teams to rank 2-4. I'm sticking with Boise State even though TCU seems unbeatable in the Mountain West. The Broncos' top wins (Oregon State and Virginia Tech) match up well with the Horned Frogs' (Utah, Oregon State). I'm going with the eyeball test, though admittedly I haven't seen TCU much this season. Both teams have outpaced Auburn, which has a fraudulent nonconference schedule, has struggled with inferior teams and still has a likely loss on its schedule in Alabama. I think the Big Ten has all but locked up two BCS teams, but who will go to the Rose and who will the other team be? I'm taking a mid-major risk on Central Florida, but every time I pick one they lose.

1. Oregon
2. Boise State
3. TCU
4. Auburn
5. Stanford
6. LSU
7. Wisconsin
8. Ohio State
9. Nebraska
10. Oklahoma State
11. Michigan State
12. Alabama
13. Iowa
14. Arkansas
15. Oklahoma
16. Utah
17. Virginia Tech
18. Mississippi State
19. Missouri
20. Arizona
21. Nevada
22. South Carolina
23. Florida
24. Pittsburgh
25. Central Florida

Dropped out: Baylor, Florida State, Syracuse, Hawaii

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Yesterday I was crawling to the finish line at the end of a roller coaster week that included the mid-term election. I had copy to turn in and Friday night plans to keep. A sleepless night at the hands of Mr. Maddux was still weighing on my body. And pulling me through to the end was Deerhunter, whose fantastic new album Halycon Digest is a must-own.

Happy belated birthday

The City Paper celebrated its 10th birthday last week with an entire issue devoted to itself. It was a well-earned tribute for a publication many thought would never be on the market for an entire decade.

By my amateur math, I was employed at the City Paper in some form or fashion for half of its existence. While my time at the City Paper was generally marked by a feeling of poor job security and poorer pay, the journalistic experiences I had there will never be forgotten. Neither will the amazing people whose paths crossed with mine. Many of them remain good friends today.

During my time at the City Paper, I got to cover the Nashville Sounds when their big-league affiliate, the Milwaukee Brewers, was parading ridiculous talent through Music City. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, and many others, played for the Sounds when I was the team's "beat writer." I will always remember how down-to-earth and accessible the players were.

I interviewed Cal Ripken Jr., Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Bruce Pearl, Phillip Fulmer, Pat Summitt, Brandan Wright, Kerry Wood, various players on the 2006 World Cup team, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens and Pacman Jones.

I covered one of the greatest sports rivalries in the country, the Battle of the Boulevard featuring Belmont and Lipscomb, at a time when NCAA tournament berths were on the line. Watching the two teams play into OT in the A-Sun championship game with an NCAA bid at stake in Johnson City remains one of the greatest games I've ever seen.

Then, all of a sudden I was thrust into a world of covering my true passion, politics. I didn't know Emily Evans from Anna Page, and I didn't know where to park at the Metro Courthouse when I started on the city beat. I was just figuring out parliamentary procedure when all of a sudden my work was being critiqued, with gleeful pretension, by far more experienced reporters at the neighboring alt-weekly in town. It was fun, if not a bit daunting at times.

I'm proud of the path my career has taken. I owe the City Paper a debt of gratitude for giving me a place to cut my teeth. So happy birthday City Paper, and thank you! Here's to another 10 years of survival.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week 10 rankings

Even though I think it would be unfortunate if a 1-loss Alabama team bypassed undefeated Boise State, at this point the most intriguing national title game could be Bama-Oregon. The Ducks can't be stopped, they proved that last night against USC. Boise State has two more chances for above average wins against Hawaii and Nevada. I'm still picking Alabama to knock off Auburn and end the Tigers' fairy tale run.

1. Oregon
2. Boise State
3. Auburn
4. TCU
5. Alabama
6. Wisconsin
7. Utah
8. Stanford
9. Ohio State
10. Oklahoma
11. Nebraska
12. Arizona
13. Michigan State
14. Iowa
15. LSU
16. Missouri
17. Arkansas
18. Oklahoma State
19. South Carolina
20. Virginia Tech
21. Mississippi State
22. Baylor
23. Florida State
24. Syracuse
25. Hawaii

Dropped out: Miami, USC, East Carolina

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Packers-Vikings game blog

I'm going to make a modest effort to blog during the Packers-Vikings game. If Brett Favre plays like he did last season against the Packers then I may be too angry to keep going.

Do I believe the Packers have a roster talented enough to contend for the Super Bowl? Yes. Maybe they're too injured to live up to their potential, but I see other teams around the league making something of their season despite injuries. If this is going to be something more than a mediocre season, then games like tonight are a must-win. With the exception of Mark Tauscher, and perhaps Al Harris, the Packers have all the guys they're going to have for the duration playing tonight.

Let's see how it goes (although the local NBC affiliate is not showing the start of the game because of severe weather, which is maddening).

Well this is a rare form of torture. An enormous game for Green Bay and NBC Ch. 4 isn't showing it because of thunderstorms in counties surrounding Nashville. You'd better be saving dozens of lives Ch. 4.

So without the aid of television, I'm listening to the game online. Things start out well for the Packers, who forced the Vikes to go 3-and-out and then drove all the way into the red zone. Then Aaron Rodgers, who's looked a lot more like Jay Cutler this season than Steve Young, throws an interception and gives Minnesota the momentum. Yikes.

OK, now NBC is doing a split screen with the game and the rural tornado coverage. The best of both worlds, but why the CUSS didn't they do that from the start? An angry Rodgers makes up for his interception by storming down the field and then Brandon Jackson caps it with a touchdown run. Percy Harvin then brought Minnesota back with a long kickoff return. It's gonna be a dog fight.

The Packers followed up their pitiful special teams coverage with pitiful defense as Minnesota marches down and scores as Harvin skips threw the secondary untouched on a draw. Keeping the pitiful streak going, NBC Ch.4 continues zeroing in on this thunderstorm block-by-block. Rest assured, Columbia, Tenn., Ch. 4 is keeping you safe!

I just want to add that my least favorite thing about the 2010 Packers is the fact Pat Lee is the kick returner.

Rodgers pokes his head out from behind Brett Favre's shadow. Apart from that pick on the screen pass, he's been unconscious. A laser to Andrew Quarless leads to a touchdown. 14-7 Packers.

And Minnesota answers thanks largely to Percy Harvin who the Packers have not been able to handle the last two years. 14-14.

Sucking out all hope that this could be a decent season, the Vikings storm down the field and score on a pitch-and-catch throw from Favre to Shiancoe. Stupid challenge from McCarthy is under way, but assuming the obvious play stands, it will be Minnesota 21-14.

Scratch that. The challenge overturns the touchdown and Minnesota settles for a field goal. If Green Bay is going to win this game, it will have to be by way of a shootout. And Cullen Jenkins, one of their top defensive players, is apparently hurt. Vikings 17-14.

Corona is getting dangerously close to joining Subway on the list of companies whose products I won't purchase because their commercials are so aggravating. If this happens, my future Mays will be ruined.

Another Rodgers interception kills a drive deep in Minnesota territory. Also add Ryan Pickett to the list of injured Packers defenders.

Vikings 17-14 at the half.

A pair of silly Favre throws lead to interceptions and Packers scores. But then Harvin answers and helps the Vikings cut the lead to 28-24. As I said, a shootout is in order. The Vikings secondary is awful, but so is the Packers defense.

Packers win on one fourth down with John Kuhn but then lose on the next one with McCarthy dialing up the exact same play. As outgoing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beatwriter Greg Bedard just tweeted, "Eeesh."

Packers win 28-24 with me setting the world record for longest time holding your breath. I don't think I come up for air until about 30 seconds after Favre's awkward lob out of the back of the end zone.

This is one beleaguered team, but tonight they played their hearts out and got a satisfying win. Next week looks like a tough task at the Jets, who are coming off a bye.

It wasn't pretty, but it came against the Vikes and Brett Favre, so I'll take it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Week 9 rankings

These rankings presuppose that Boise State takes care of business on Tuesday night. I am still envisioning an Oregon-Boise championship game, but now I've flipped those two teams. That sets up the distinct possibility that a one-loss Alabama team leapfrogs Boise State, and perhaps TCU, for a spot in the title game. Oregon seems like a tough out, but they'll get tested this week against USC. Finally, C-USA registers in the top 25 with East Carolina, which has quietly put together a very good season.

1. Oregon
2. Boise State
3. Auburn
4. TCU
5. Michigan State
6. Alabama
7. Missouri
8. Utah
9. Wisconsin
10. Ohio State
11. Oklahoma
12. Nebraska
13. Florida State
14. Stanford
15. Arizona
16. LSU
17. Arkansas
18. Iowa
19. Oklahoma State
20. Miami
21. South Carolina
22. Virginia Tech
23. Mississippi State
24. USC
25. East Carolina

Dropped out: West Virginia, Texas

Football Saturday live blog

11:34 a.m. Ali and Mad Dog are in North Carolina getting their corn dog on at the state fair. That means I have nothing better to do than watch college football all day. Last night I initially had trouble getting to sleep because there was a creepy truck with its lights on and no license plate parked outside our apartment.

When I finally did fall asleep, I didn't wake up until 10 a.m., which is by far the latest I've slept since we found out Ali was pregnant.

Sleeping in left me little time to prepare for my day of nothing, but somehow I managed. The college football extravaganza begins with Michigan State at Northwestern, which I told my buddy Paul, a diehard NU fan, was a highly likely upset.

NU had two weeks to prepare. Michigan State is one of those quintessential teams that isn't as good as its BCS ranking (No 7) and it's an early morning game. As I'm typing this, Northwestern is up 7-0 and Michigan State just fumbled the ball away. So we'll see where this goes.

I'm also excited for Auburn-LSU and Oklahoma-Missouri. This is a great "prove it to me," weekend for a lot of teams and LSU is one of them. LSU is one of the weirdest teams in the country. They've kind of stumbled into some bizarre wins against Tennessee and Florida, but you look at their schedule and they've won some nice games against the likes of West Virginia and Mississippi State. So we'll see. Missouri is a team I have at No. 16, but the BCS has at No. 11. We'll see who's right when they face OU at home today.

12:29 p.m. Northwestern is up 17-7 at halftime. I've watched most of the game on mute, with my Itunes on shuffle because Bob Griese and company are incoherent. Other upsets across the country: Iowa State is leading Texas, Syracuse is leading West Virginia and Navy is leading Notre Dame, though maybe that's not an upset any more.

25 Songs on Shuffle

1. De Novo Dahl -- Sky is Falling
2. Menomena -- Rose
3. Fleet Foxes -- Medlowlarks
4. The Shins -- Weird Divide
5. The Walkmen -- Canadian Girl
6. Velvet Underground -- Sunday Morning
7. Animal Collective -- Taste
8. Brian Wilson -- Mrs. O'Leary's Cow
9. The Raconteurs -- Many Shades of Black
10. Dead Weather -- 3 Birds
11. The Decemberists -- Yankee Bayonet (I will Be Home Then)
12. Zwan -- Endless Summer
13. Eric Carmen -- Hungry Eyes
14. The White Stripes -- I'm Slowly Turning Into You
15. The Features -- The Drawing Board
16. The Selmanaires -- Let's Go There
17. The Beatles -- Yellow Submarine
18. The Non-Commissioned Officers -- Ellie
19. Reel Big Fish -- Join the Club
20. Pearl Jam -- Rats
21. Led Zeppelin -- Communication Breakdown
22. My Morning Jacket -- Run Thru
23. The Beastie Boys -- Slow Ride
24. Joshua James -- Soul and the Sea
25. Those Darlins -- Who's That Knockin at my Window?

1:04 p.m. I deliberately waited until after noon so I could clear the deviant cut-off for when it's OK to have a first beer. And I have an unfortunate total of just four beers in my fridge, which sets up an immediate predicament. Do I drink them all in succession now, leaving room for more and then take a buzzed-drive down to Kroger; OR do I just go now and and interrupt the game, which is currently at 17-14 with Michigan State starting its inevitable comeback? I chose the former. We'll see how that goes.

1:52 p.m. Northwestern holds a tenuous 27-21 lead. The Spartans have kept it close after a fake-punt led to a touchdown on the next play. Note to MSU opponents: if it's one of those questionable 4th-and-medium situations, the Spartans are prolly gonna fake it. Meanwhile Navy is romping Notre Dame and Iowa State is up 28-6 on Texas. Between the close game I'm watching, the satisfaction of seeing those upset scores and my second beer/frozen pizza lunch, this is turning out to be quite a Saturday.

2:07 p.m. Northwestern gives up the lead with under two minutes left then commits a personal foul on its first offensive play. Not looking good for the Cats. One notable final: Ohio State beat MAC foe Purdue 49-0. Let me take this chance to recommend my best friend and Purdue alum's blog site.

2:11 p.m. And just like that the upset bid goes down the drain as Dan Persa goes blind on the Wildcats' final possession. Meanwhile, Syracuse did manage to knock off West Virginia, a team I predicted would go on a winning streak just a week ago. The Big East should have its BCS bid revoked. You know your conference sucks when U.S. senators from other states want to revise the BCS formula so that the Mountain West gets equal footing with the Big East. OK, onward and upward. Tiger Bowl! LSU-Auburn!

2:39 p.m. Kickoff is inexplicably late, but Iowa State has officially beaten Texas for the first time. Go Cyclones. As for LSU-Auburn, I'll take the Tigers. But seriously folks, Auburn in a close game, even though my instincts say LSU is better.

2:49 p.m. We interrupt college football Saturday for a frustrated Packers fan to get up on his soap box. The Packers have seven players on their injured reserve list, including four starters (Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett). That number will grow to nine with key defensive contributors Mike Neal and Brady Poppinga apparently set to be placed on IR as well. This team has good depth, but not good enough to overcome this rash of injuries. They're 3-3 right now, but I'm guessing 6-10 for the season with some satisfying upsets among the wins. Tough to swallow after such high expectations, especially considering there may not be a season next year. I know it's a little early to be talking like this, but if there's a season in 2011, next year could be special. And, on the bright side, the draftaholic in me is having fun watching college football games for potential upgrades at running back and outside linebacker/pass rusher.

3:18 p.m. Watching LSU on 3rd-and-long is equal parts painful and awkward. 7-3 Auburn in the first quarter. Someone needs to reprogram the BCS computers to calculate how good LSU would be if they had a college-level quarterback. The roster is literally stacked at every other position.

Returning to my iTunes shuffle... coolest album title: Max Tundra's Parallax Error Beheads You.

4:18 p.m. The score is 10-10 after a nondescript first half. I'm giving serious consideration to watching Modern Family instead of the third quarter.

6:48 p.m. Auburn ends up winning a close game that was a lot less exciting than the final score indicates. You'd think a 24-17 game between two top-10 teams would have been a nail biter, but not so. Even with the game in doubt, it was hard to watch LSU's offense. Auburn's rushing attack is impressive and Cam Newton looked great. I'm definitely not sold on him as a pro quarterback. Gary Daniels pointed out that Newton was in the same ballpark as Jamarcus Russell and Tim Tebow. I'm not sure that fact works in his favor.

Other notable results: a battered Wisconsin team wins on the road against Iowa. Nebraska wins a shootout against Missouri. Nate polishes off his 4-pack, but replenishes with a 6-pack of Sierra Nevada.

So now I'm waiting for the Oklahoma-Missouri game to start by watching some scraps. Tennessee-Alabama, Vandy-South Carolina. Not looking good for the in-state teams. Also, Miami is playing North Carolina, a program that for all intents and purposes deserves the NCAA death penalty. Anyhow, the football marathon continues...

10:43 p.m. Missouri pulls off an upset, proving that the BCS computers were wrong, yet again. Oklahoma was the BCS No. 1, but that honor will surely go to Oregon now. In addition to watching the Tigers earn the win, I sprinkled in some baseball and watched the Giants reach the World Series by beating the Phillies. I thought Philly was unbeatable heading into the playoffs, especially after Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in his first start. But then their bats went silent, and give the Giants credit. What a likable rag-tag team of castoffs.

Anyhow, I might keep this going and watch some of Arizona-Washington before I head to sleep. As I sign off, it appears Mizzou's student section is about to celebrate as if WW3 has come to an end. In fact, the Tiger fans were on the field during the last play.

Today I did nothing. And it was everything I ever thought it could be. Tomorrow could set up to be another football crazy day, but the Packers don't play Brett Favre and his crocks until the night game so I'm not so sure. That's all for now...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Week 8 rankings

Don't look now football fans but we could have an all-left coast national championship game. I know biased voters from the Midwest and Southeast will do their best to prevent it, but Boise State and Oregon are nicely positioned to run the table and justifiably lay claim to the BCS title game. Look out for West Virginia, I could see them make a nice run too. It will be interesting to see how Ohio State responds to its loss.

1. Boise State
2. Oregon
3. Oklahoma
4. Auburn
5. TCU
6. Michigan State
7. Alabama
8. LSU
9. Utah
10. Iowa
11. Wisconsin
12. Ohio State
13. Florida State
14. Stanford
15. Oklahoma State
16. Missouri
17. Arizona
18. Nebraska
19. Arkansas
20. West Virginia
21. Miami
22. South Carolina
23. Texas
24. Virginia Tech
25. Mississippi State

Dropped out: Nevada, Michigan, Florida, Air Force

Angela Surf City

by the Walkmen. My gift to you:


We watched How to Train your Dragon last night. It was a very good animated movie, but I'm not quite sure it deserves Oscar hype. Even in the Best Animated Film category, my pick would be Toy Story 3. Still very good though, especially visually.

And while I'm on the topic of movies, don't forget to check out Make-out With Violence when it releases on Oct. 26. It will be available on Netflix and iTunes and you can order it online if you're feeling adventurous and trust my taste.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week 7 rankings

Alabama's luck finally ran out and they lost a close game. Winning on the road in the SEC is insanely difficult and I still think the Tide will be in the discussion for the BCS at the end of the season. Boise State becomes my No. 1 because I feel like the Broncos have looked better than Oregon or Ohio State this season. Big jumps for Michigan State and LSU for their big wins.

1. Boise State
2. Ohio State
3. Oregon
4. Oklahoma
5. Auburn
6. Nebraska
7. TCU
8. Utah
9. Michigan State
10. LSU
11. Alabama
12. Nevada
13. South Carolina
14. Arkansas
15. Iowa
16. Florida State
17. Stanford
18. Oklahoma State
19. Michigan
20. Missouri
21. Miami
22. Arizona
23. Florida
24. Air Force
25. West Virginia

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Week 6 rankings

I still believe Alabama and Boise State look like the best teams so far, although Oregon had an impressive win. The Ducks' defense is suspect, but their offense looks unstoppable. Michigan State proved this week it is better than I thought. The Big Ten is hanging in there so far this season. I'm predicting South Carolina-Alabama in the SEC title game, as of today. I'm guessing the actual polls don't punish teams like LSU, USC, Florida and Wisconsin nearly enough for their bad performances today.

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. Ohio State
4. Oregon
5. Oklahoma
6. Auburn
7. TCU
8. Nebraska
9. Arizona
10. Utah
11. Nevada
12. Michigan State
13. Michigan
14. Miami
15. South Carolina
16. Arkansas
17. Iowa
18. Florida
19. LSU
20. Stanford
21. Oklahoma State
22. Northwestern
23. Air Force
24. Florida State
25. Kansas State

Sometimes an album finds you where you are

A recent discussion about someday leaving Nashville was rattling around in my brain when I finally sat down to listen to the new Jamey Johnson album, "The Guitar Song."

This is an album for and about the real Nashville -- its songsmiths and its high-brow, artful self-loathing.

I can't possibly say more about The Guitar Song than Jon Caramanica did in a recent New York Times feature. The Guitar Song takes all the great aspects of Nashville music -- its scientific songwriting style -- and combines them with an outsider's shadowy recognition that Music Row is one phony stretch of road. Listen to this album by yourself with your headphones on, or when you're on a long drive. Listen to this album when you're having writer's bloc.

It's a work summoned up from the depths of life lessons learned at the expense of personal relationships. Whether any of us want to admit it or not, we can all relate to the subject matter.

In many ways, Nashville is a jacked-up, insulated, judgmental place. But when you can't beat them, write about them. The album has two sides, black and white. Like the town where it was recorded, there are two sides to the story. Nashville is also a friendly place full of amazing people, who came here to create and to make it big. Johnson's album is a collection of whiskey-drenched anthems for those who fall into that category.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Packing it in

I had a revelation after the Packers' devastating 20-17 loss to the Bears on Monday night. I'm glad it came in such an important game so early in the season, because now I officially have no expectations for the 2010 Packers.

Why? Because the 2010 Packers are fatally flawed. They have no running game, they make mistakes in droves, their offensive line looks just as shaky as last year and really they are one of the stupidest teams I've ever followed.

In a close football game, a single penalty that wipes out a touchdown, or a sack, or an interception might be enough to alter the outcome. Against the Bears on Monday, the Packers had a touchdown, two interceptions and a sack reversed because of penalties. They also had a pitiful punt jumpstart the Bears offense at the end of the first half. And, they still lost by three points.

The reality is that any team that commits 17 penalties will have trouble winning a game against the Lions, nonetheless a motivated team like the Bears.

Even if the Packers string together a few wins this season, we will always know that they are prone to an unwatchable performance like they had on Monday. And, with that in the back of my mind, I no longer take this team seriously. Any win is gravy, any loss is a byproduct of this talented, yet weirdly assembled team.

Maybe it's only appropriate to be figuratively unplug now, since next year will inevitably bring on a labor dispute that will disrupt the season and set the league back a decade. I'll still watch every game and follow them closely and all, but let the record show I emotionally divested in September.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Joakim Noah > Carmelo Anthony

So the NBA rumor mill decided to cap a frustrating summer for Bulls fans by tantalizing us with the possibility of acquiring Carmelo Anthony.

Now that Anthony seems on his way to New Jersey, I suppose this blog post is a little late. The problem is, I've been getting my newborn on for the last three weeks so I haven't had a chance to weigh in.

Anthony is a great, if inefficient scorer, who has underachieved as a team leader in the NBA. He can score just about every way imaginable, and he is still in his prime, setting up the possibility of being able to pair him with Bulls star guard Derrick Rose for years to come.

The Bulls apparently proposed a silly package consisting of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and draft picks. The Nuggets have held out for Joakim Noah, and the Bulls have balked. Now some NBA executives apparently think the Bulls are foolish for being unwilling to trade Noah (and Deng) for Anthony.

My best guess is these executives are in the front offices of teams that have trouble drawing fans, which the Bulls do not. These same execs probably forget that the Bulls are built around defense, as evidenced by hiring Tom Thibodeau as coach. The new defense-first identity is moot if Noah is gone, because he's the team's best defender by a mile.

What's more, the Bulls have seven new players on their 12-man roster this year. Chicago needs a tone-setter like Noah, who blocks shots, rebounds, defends the pick-and-roll like a mad man, and brings intangibles that just about no other player in the entire league can offer.

A lot of fans have tried to pin the whole ambiguous, "he's a winner," tag on Noah because he won two national championships at Florida. First of all, that UF team was stacked. Second of all, Anthony led his Syracuse team to a title as a freshman and then went pro.

This is a tough decision, and it's one that will be fun to judge as this season unfolds. But 25-year-old 7-footers with a work ethic like Noah just don't come along often. Chicago has the tools on offense in Rose, Carlos Boozer, Deng and others to score. But in order to advance in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls need to offer something other top teams like Miami, Orlando and Boston don't have.

I truly believe Chicago could be one of the top defensive teams this season, and that could be its calling card to contend. With that in mind, Noah deserves a lucrative contract extension, and Anthony should get a trip to New Jersey/Brooklyn.

Week 5 rankings

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. Ohio State
4. Oregon
5. Florida
6. Oklahoma
7. Auburn
8. Nebraska
9. TCU
10. Arizona
11. LSU
12. USC
13. Stanford
14. Utah
15. Nevada
16. Wisconsin
17. Michigan
18. South Carolina
19. Arkansas
20. Iowa
21. North Carolina State
22. Miami
23. Northwestern
24. Air Force
25. Texas

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Week 4 rankings

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Boise State
4. Oregon
5. Oklahoma
6. Nebraska
7. Texas
8. TCU
9. South Carolina
10. Florida
11. Auburn
12. Arizona
13. USC
14. West Virginia
15. Arkansas
16. LSU
17. Stanford
18. Utah
19. Wisconsin
20. Michigan
21. Nevada
22. Northwestern
23. Air Force
24. Iowa
25. Miami

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What he said

Yahoo! Sports.

Packers should trade for Marshawn Lynch

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflections on nine days with baby Maddux

My mom left our family for good when I was 9-years old. Before her absence carved out its void, her unadulterated and drug-fueled abuse turned me into a frail, fearful insecure little boy. Although I, along with my sisters, was forced to grow up quickly, I never took very well to responsibility. I dodged it, really. I blame those awful years under her care for that.

Anyhow, I don't mean for this to be a sob story about my life. I won't go into any gory details of my earliest childhood recollections. I never took very well to pity either. Add up all the times your mom comforted you, all of your most cherished family memories and replace them with terrifying, haunted and battered life events.

Because my mom's actions were so deplorable, and because it made moving on easier, I realized that I managed to warp her into a demonic caricature of her real self. She probably earned herself a prison sentence by some of her actions. But she didn't turn into an abusive, drugged-out loony until I was about six or seven. That means, for the first five years of my life, she overcame her own wrecked childhood and suppressed her own temptations in order to be a pretty nurturing mom.

I have some fond memories, too. Fishing at Salt Creek as a family. Going to the drive-in movie theater. Receiving big, puffy, suffocating hugs. I vaguely remember a sarcastic sense of humor, a flickering faith in God. Maybe those were passed down to me, too.

I've been a father to Maddux for nine days now. It's been difficult in its own way, but loving on him, doting on him, giving him all that a newborn (supposedly) needs, that's been relatively easy. It hasn't been difficult to imagine our future together, either. We've already talked about showing him the Brooklyn Bridge, his Oma's garden in Indiana and Lambeau Field. We can't wait to take him to North Carolina for some of Mamaw's southern-fried cooking, or to watch him play with his many cousins.

These last nine days have helped remind me that my childhood wasn't all bad. After all, my Mom's self-medicated beatdowns stopped when I was young enough to recover. I learned the lesson, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, is more than a cliche to cling to. It's true.

It took a while for me to embrace, but none of that God-awful bullshit killed me. And, now I'm a stronger Dad for it.

Packers Super Bowl season on the brink

Word out of Green Bay is that starting running back Ryan Grant is lost for the season with an ankle injury. Coupled with the offense's shaky performance in Philly on Sunday, there are very good reasons to believe the Packers' Super Bowl hopes are going down the drain.

But, GM Ted Thompson can fix all that by finally making a bold move. I would trade for Bills RB Marshawn Lynch, Cowboys RB Tashard Choice or sign veteran RB Willie Parker.

In 1996, when injuries hit the Packers' receiving corps, then-GM Ron Wolf signed troubled, yet talented, veteran receiver Andre Rison. It was a move that helped save the season. Rison turned out to be a productive player in Green Bay, and caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.

Losing Grant hurts, but there is hope. Backup RB Brandon Jackson has the potential to be a good player. Perhaps one of the unproven young players -- rookie James Starks, who is on the PUP list, practice squad member James Johnson, or rumored Grant replacement Dmitri Nance -- can pick up the slack. But without an infusion of veteran talent, the running game will suffer, opposing defenses will tee-off on Aaron Rodgers, and the vaunted offense will not live up to its considerable potential.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 3 rankings

My try at college football rankings. I still think Boise State looked great against Virginia Tech, although I understand that win is watered down now. Ohio State looked good too, but they were at home and really just took care of business.

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. Ohio State
4. Oregon
5. Oklahoma
6. Texas
7. TCU
8. Nebraska
9. South Carolina
10. Florida
11. Iowa
12. Wisconsin
13. Auburn
14. USC
15. LSU
16. West Virginia
17. Arkansas
18. Utah
19. Stanford
20. Cal
21. Michigan
22. Air Force
23. Arizona
24. Clemson
25. Miami

Saturday, September 11, 2010

2010 Packers preview

I once had a grizzled, veteran Green Bay Packers fan explain something to me about Cheesehead karma. He told me his life always seemed to be a balance between personal successes and football struggles. As he graduated college, met his wife and started a family, he also moved breezily up the professional ladder, ending up the vice president of international business for a major corporation.

But, my friend was also a diehard Packers fan and his accomplishments coincided exactly with the dark ages in Green Bay after Vince Lombardi left town. Having a wonderful family and a rewarding career was nice and all, but this guy bled green-and-gold. Enduring the Bart Starr and Lindy Infante era was rather tough. In swept Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and Reggie White, restoring Titletown to its rightful place. Wouldn't you know it, the same year the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, my friend found himself laid off and looking for work.

It's with that Packer fan's real-life story that I reflect on the chances for this year's squad. They look like contenders to me. But then, I've gained a lovely wife, a good job and now a newborn son in the last year. Odds are, the Packers will fall flat on their faces. I'm predicting playoffs, but no Super Bowl. Here's my position by position breakdown.

I don't understand general manager Ted Thompson's strategy with the Packers defensive backs. On one hand, you have defensive MVP cornerback Charles Woodson and playmaking Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins. But on the other hand, you have an array of inexperience, injuries, question marks and under-achievers. I would think that with the Super Bowl seemingly within reach, Thompson would have invested in the free agent or trade market to add a worthwhile starter at cornerback.

Instead, Tramon Williams will be starting opposite Woodson. At times, Williams has seen like a potential star. At other times, Williams has proven to be prone to penalties and broken coverages. Rookie Morgan Burnett is the starter at safety. Burnett definitely seems talented and I'm guessing the Packers are glad they were able to snag him the third round of the draft. But, I would feel a lot more comfortable with an assignment-sure veteran at the spot.

The nickelback seems to be undrafted rookie free agent Sam Shields, with further depth provided by troubled, but talented, Brandon Underwood, shaky veteran Jarett Bush and injury-prone Pat Lee. Special teams ace Derrick Martin and journeyman Charlie Peprah are the backup safeties.

I understand depth has been hurt because 2009 starters Al Harris and Atari Bigby begin the season on the PUP list. To me, this was even more of a reason to add depth. Harris suffered a catastrophic injury and Bigby has been hounded by nagging injuries. Instead the Packers kept their hand and will rely on rookies and unproven players for depth. Woodson is outstanding, but at his age, injuries are always a concern. He already has a toe injury to start the year. Images of Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger and others throwing at will on the Packers still run through my mind. If the Packers live up to their preseason hype, it will be in spite of this secondary, or because at least two of the young guys prove to be surprises.

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was a terror in 2009, but he missed almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury and has to adjust to a new position. Opposite Matthews, Brad Jones has the chance to capitalize one-on-one situations because defenses will concentrate on other players.

At middle linebacker, Nick Barnett is a leader, but he is coming off knee surgery. AJ Hawk has been something between pedestrian and pretty good during his time in Green Bay. There is plenty in reserve with veterans Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop, who would be starters for many other teams.

Brady Poppinga and undrafted free agent Frank Zombo leave something to be desired in reserve at outside linebacker. An injury to Matthews could genuinely ruin the season.

Defensive line
This is one unit that does give me hope the Packers could play deep into January. Ryan Pickett had a great season at nose tackle last year and moves to left end. Last year's first round pick BJ Raji takes over at the nose, giving Green Bay two run stuffers up front. Cullen Jenkins is one of the most underrated players on the roster, as he requires double teams and could even see time at outside linebacker in some situations. The problem is that Jenkins is constantly battling nagging injuries, and the depth is questionable. Rookies Mike Neal and CJ Wilson are joined by former first rounder Justin Harrell, whose injury plagued career is on the brink this season.

Frankly, I feel like Raji could be the team's secret weapon. If the behemoth lives up to his potential, then running the ball on Green Bay will be a tough task

Bottom line
It seems to me the Packers strategy on defense could be to completely shut down the opposing team's running game, therefore compensating for the lack of secondary talent with confusing blitzes and coverage schemes cooked up by defensive coordinator Dom Capers. When the unit became a 3-4 last year under Capers, it paid dividends and was clearly an improvement. Perhaps this trend can continue in the second year under Capers.

If the Packers are frequently playing ahead because of the dynamic offense, this strategy could work. But an injury to a player like Woodson, Collins, Matthews or Jenkins would be devastating and there are too many questions along the second string to feel secure.

Aaron Rodgers is proving to be a Steve Young type quarterback. In his first two years, Rodgers is making the Packers forget Favre the same way Young made 49ers fans forget Jone Montana. If Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers will be in the discussion at the end of the season. Matt Flynn is continuing Green Bay's tradition of turning backup quarterbacks into starters for other teams. If he has to play for a short stretch, I'd feel OK.

Running back
Ryan Grant is rock solid. He's tough, plays well in the zone blocking one-cut scheme and has proven to be very productive in two years at Green Bay. His backup is Brandon Jackson, who is a demon as a pass blocker and should be chomping at the bit to get the ball more this season. The Packers carry three fullbacks in Korey Hall, John Kuhn and Quin Johnson, which allows them to show unique packages and improve their short yardage running game. A third halfback would have been nice, but what do I know.

Tight end
Jermichael Finley is positioned to be a superstar and there is great depth behind him. Donald Lee could start for half the teams, Tom Crabtree is a special teams and blocking savant, and Andrew Quarless looks alarmingly like a younger version of Finley. This is probably the best tight end unit in the league in my opinion. Finley could be a 70 receptions, 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns player and his backups are threats in the passing game, and weapons in the running game.

Wide receiver
Greg Jennings seemed on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler, but last year was sort of a sidestep. I anticipate him fulfilling his potential this year. Ageless Donald Driver returns looking to add to his Packers HoF career. James Jones and Jordy Nelson are more than capable reserves who give other teams headaches.

Offensive line
Things have settled down at the o-line since last year's unit gave up sacks and committed penalties in droves. Veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are holding down the fort at tackle, as they have for the last decade. Unlike last year, depth has arrived in the form of first round pick Bryan Bulaga and developing TJ Lang. Darryn Colledge earned the left guard job and Josh Sitton is probably the best lineman on the team. At center, the Packers have heady veteran Scott Wells, and former starter Jason Spitz in reserve. This unit looked good in the preseason, seems healthy and has enough depth to overcome an injury. If the Packers can keep Rodgers healthy, then the offense will put up points without a problem.

Special teams
Tim Masthay won the punting job, and he has the unenviable task of stabilizing a position that has been dreadful since Jon Ryan was inexplicably cut. Mason Crosby seems talented enough, but he needs to be more consistent as the kicker. He's no sure thing when the game is on the line.

The coverage units have been abysmal the last several seasons, but the improved depth and a new emphasis in practice will hopefully see gains there. Thompson made no moves to add a return man, which means Tramon Williams or Greg Jennings, both critical starters, will be forced to return punts and subject themselves to injury. Jordy Nelson's only job as a kick return is to reach the 20-yardline or so and not fumble.

Bottom line
The Packers can reach the Super Bowl if they a. avoid the big injury AND b. become one of the top run defenses in the league so that opposing teams are forced to pass. This could easily happen because with the offense looking like an explosive unit, opposing teams could be playing from behind. This would allow the Packers to use their clever blitzes and give their playmakers like Woodson and Collins opportunities for interceptions.

Even one key injury on defense could blow up the season though, and for that Thompson is to blame. He could have gone "all in" and signed veterans in the secondary and return game. He didn't. Now, those holes leave the Packers hoping they can merely hang on until Harris and Bigby come off the PUP list.

Final thoughts
Real-life karma in my life says the Packers won't get the job done this year. But with the NFC North only looking so-so, 10-6 could still see Green Bay reach the playoffs. With Rodgers and that offense, that's reason enough to be excited for tomorrow's tough first game at Philadelphia. Coach Mike McCarthy has led the team to the NFC title game and I feel confident he has the right temperament for this team.

You just have to hope the A+ offense and A- run defense can overcome the C- pass defense and special teams. If that happens and the Packers make the Super Bowl as many predict, then I just hope I don't find myself jobless in January like my old friend did a decade ago.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How to divide the Big Ten

It appears that Iowa won't be paired with its top rival, Wisconsin, when the Big Ten announces how it will divide the two divisions in order to make room for a football championship game. Considering the buzz of Michigan being separated from Ohio State, here is how I am guessing the divisions will go:

Michigan State
Penn State

Ohio State

I am certain in this scenario, the Big Ten will ensure that Iowa/Wisconsin, Illinois/Northwestern and Michigan/Ohio State are games that are played every season even though the teams are in opposite divisions. The SEC manages to align certain teams so they play every season, such as Tennessee and Alabama.

Here is how I would align the divisions:


Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State

The obvious fear is that this division is too stacked for football because three championship contenders would be in one division. The problem with that logic is that conferences see major power shifts, and the SEC is a good example. A few years ago, Alabama was far from a contender and the SEC East was much more powerful with as many as three top-10 teams in its ranks. In just two years, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss have surged ahead of programs like Tennessee and even Georgia, shifting the balance of power to the West.

Similar shifts will happen in the Big Ten so, with that in mind, I would align the divisions geographically, create more natural rivalries and make travel easier on non-football sports. But what do I know? This deal is going to rake in millions for the Big Ten so obviously I'm mistaken. And the idea of a November game between Michigan and Ohio State for a chance to go to the Rose Bowl is very intriguing.

Friday, August 27, 2010


A happy song that's soundtracking my wait on pins and needles

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Swell Season

"So how'd that Swell Season show go the other night?"

"Not great actually."

"You're kidding, they're one of your favorite bands. What happened?"

"Some guy committed suicide onstage during the set."

I was rocked by the news yesterday that a man committed suicide during the Swell Season's show in California. So many thoughts run through my mind. Was he trying to become a YouTube legend? Did the Swell Season's music, rooted in lost love and gorgeous melodrama, play a role in his decision to end it? Which band's live show would be worthy of my own suicide?

Thoughts like that.

In all seriousness, Once is one of my favorite indie films in recent memory. Its soundtrack is emotional and catchy, and the film created the group the Swell Season. The band is led by the frontman of the Frames, who I fell in love with a lifetime ago. If there is an artist that could pull a suicidal man over the ledge, it is the Swell Season. See for yourself below -- a video of their song Falling Slowly set to clips from the movie.

NFL Predictions

1. Packers: The youngest team in the league, a star quarterback on the rise, and plenty of depth to offset injuries
2. Vikings: Favre missed too much camp, isn't quite right and the ball won't bounce their way 100 percent of the time like 2009.
3. Bears: Mike Martz improves the offense, the defense benefits from Peppers and others returning from injuries
4. Lions: Spunky, improved, but still a mistake-prone shaky QB at the helm
(editor's note: i flip-flopped the bears and vikings. i think minnesota has enough weapons to still be better than the bears, whose offense could be truly awful this season. we'll see if this pays off)

1. Cowboys: No real weaknesses, but can Romo get over the hump?
2. Giants: They couldn't get quite right last year, but I see them as one of the proverbial non-playoff teams that contends
3. Eagles: Great coach, but will Kolb pay off? They'll be in the playoff mix for sure
4. Redskins: Shanahan was only so-so when he left Denver, and this team has a lot of fat to trim. I dislike their roster.

1. Falcons: My sure-shot team to make the leap from missing playoffs to contention. Good D, like their QB and running game.
2. Saints: Back in the playoffs, but their D won't be good enough to keep them at the top
3. Panthers: This could be the surprise team. Can Moore/Clausen give them enough at QB?
4. Buccaneers: I have no faith in this team to be anything besides awful.

1. Cardinals: Death, taxes and the Cardinals as the best team in the West.
2. Seahawks: I think Carroll (with Alex Gibbs) will surprise people.
3. 49ers: Why can't some teams come to their senses and fix their broken QB position?
4. Rams: Hopefully this season isn't so bad that it leads to the Rams leaving St. Louis.

Wildcards: Giants and Saints
Champions: Falcons

1. Ravens: Ferocious D, good coach, just enough at QB. Super Bowl or bust.
2. Steelers: Big Ben's F-U season to everybody, or a big cluster-cuss. We shall see.
3. Browns: Mike Holmgren finally gets to be a GM-only, and there will be improvements, but not enough.
4. Bengals: They fall flat on their faces with their over-stuffed, far too complicated roster. Good D though.

1. Patriots: This pick is made out of spite for the Jets.
2. Jets: Sanchez is still shaky and the Revis holdout is concerning. I just don't see contenders, but perhaps I'm wrong.
3. Dolphins: I like the direction the team is headed but they gotta stay healthy on O.
4. Bills: Lackluster, boring roster. Too many unknowns combined with early injury problems at RB.

1. Colts: There is no reason to doubt this roster or this team.
2. Jaguars: A team with a great leader in MJD and a chip on its shoulder.
3. Texans: Can they finally get over the hump? We saw how much Owen Daniels meant to them last year.
4. Titans: I wonder if it isn't time for the Titans to clean house, and I wonder if this won't be the year where they have the excuse to do so.

1. Chargers: OK, now go out and show the world you didn't need LT.
2. Raiders: Addition by simplification. Great D, less complications on offense. Just win baby. My sleeper team.
3. Broncos: I want to see the real coach McDaniels stand up. Orton is so-so, but there is youth and depth. Tebow amounts to nothing.
4. Chiefs: This is the team I know the least about and therefore the biggest question mark.

Wild Cards: Jets and Raiders.
Champions: Chargers

Super Bowl: Chargers over Falcons.

I will have my Packers preview soon. I have a quiet confidence about this team. I want to guess Super Bowl, but I'd settle for a division title and a win at Lambeau over the Vikings.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Could the sentence, 'my sex is on fire,' possibly be said with a straight face?

I heard the Kings of Leon come on the radio the other day and felt a real sense of disappointment. What might have happened had the band not been transformed into a skinny-jeaned, PBRd mess? We're all left to wonder that.

My sex is on fire? What does that mean. If it's some kind of inside joke, I could understand, but KoL play the song with such a gaudy self-awareness, it's embarrassing. The band deserves props for the scraps they threw at The Features, a far superior fellow Nashville band.

But a whole generation of impressionable adolescents are growing up thinking that inflamed sex is something to be touted. I remember Blink 182 being popular when I was in high school. They sang about immaturity with a bravado too, but they seemed to recognize the joke was on them.

And I concede that Caleb Followill can sing. Early KoL albums, which for full disclosure's sake I'll admit I bought, show the guy can howl with the best of them. But just because you can sing like a MoFo doesn't mean you've got something to say.

Don't believe me? Next time you're in an intimate moment with your partner, tell them your sex is on fire. It's the romantic equivalent of a whoopie cushion.

And to cleanse your pallet, try this:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

I haven't seen a movie I disliked as much as Hot Tub time Machine since my buddy Landon and I walked out of Dirty Work at the $1 theater. Awful. Makes me question everything I ever thought of Darryl from The Office, not to mention John Cusack. Maybe Say Anything, Better Off Dead and even High Fidelity weren't good movies after all.

Part of me wants to suggest that friends never go see it, but the other part wants me to tell them to go see it so we can sit back and make fun of it together. Bad. I booed during the movie, and I watched it in the comfort of my own living room. If there had been something within arm's reach to throw at the TV, I would have done it. Chevy Chase showed up with a bumbling cameo. Horrible movie.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


If you're Arcade Fire in 2010, you're left in limbo. Your carefully engineered sound has been revered by fans and critics, and imitated by several of your contemporary bands. Your music is built on the foundation that the world, America to be specific, and middle American life more specifically than that, is kinda pointless and stupid. Yet, you've also managed to make atheistic we're-smarter-than-you music sound spiritual and sometimes downright churchy. I'm guessing countless angry suburban youths believe Arcade Fire to be authors not just of great music, but of an entire point-of-view t justify their own Starbucks-drinking, Scion-driving, Mac-toting self-loathing.

To drive the point home, you spent 2008 campaigning for Barack Obama to become the next president, while secretly believing all those middle-class Americans whose intelligence you didn't really respect even though they're the ones who've been buying your music, would never elect a guy with such a complex name and even more complex roots.

But, then something happened. America wised up and elected the guy whose name sounded like a terrorist, and all of a sudden the woe-is-me schtick didn't really make any sense.

How do you make a third album relevant when your audience has taken away your punching bag -- themselves. Well, Arcade Fire named their third album Suburbs. That's a less than subtle way of saying, we're not changing our message even though the world is changing.

But, there are some revelations on this album. I didn't want to slit my wrists at the end of the first listen. I kinda wanted to dust off my old U2 records. And I kinda wanted to go to church, not for forgiveness for being unaware enough to live in the "sprawl." But to give thanks because, if this whole thing we call life is just one meaningless mess, why not sit back and enjoy the ride.

If America has already sold its soul and decided that Chinese food should taste like PF Changs, well then I'm at least going to enjoy a lettuce wrap or two.

"Quit these pretentious things and just punch a clock..." That's a mocking line from Arcade Fire on my favorite track off from Suburbs -- Sprawl II, Mountains Beyond Mountains. What do they mean there? Pushing a mop for a living makes for a simple life. But is it meaningful? Is it somehow superior to the suburbanites who scratch and claw for enough money to buy an iPad to make the trip to Disney World more comfortable? This album left me with more questions about its message than previous Arcade Fire offerings.

Maybe they're easing up on all of us dullards. Maybe they realized that some of those Americans with W bumperstickers on their SUVs do have souls after all.

Setting the meaning of Suburbs aside, the music is predictably wonderful. Something has occurred to me after a few listens. Arcade Fire still haven't achieved their masterpiece quite yet. They've come close with Neon Bible. Suburbs doesn't achieve the genius of its predecessor, but I'd offer it as proof that the band is capable of greatness. If they could only learn to smile a little more, I think they could get there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The New Pornographers perform Moves

I realized something today... in order to compensate for my total lack of musical talent, I try to turn other people on to songs that I like. As if taste could trump, somehow, talent.

I'm sure that's not the case, but then, I'm often caught off guard at how much more music I consume compared to actual musicians. Poor Ali, she's stuck lending me her time so I can regale her with the latest song that's caught my ear. Anyhow, lottsa good stuff this summer. Here's what I have been listening to the most, a song off the new New Pornographers record.

Cool song, pretty good live performance.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Make-Out with Violence

I may be late to the party on this, but today I got word that one of my all-time favorite movies, local indie film Make-out with Violence, would finally be available on DVD. The movie will be available for purchase this October.

Made by Nashville area Deagol Brothers, the film is basically a two-hour music video. That is a good thing because the soundtrack, mostly written and performed by Nashville band the Non-Commissioned Officers, is one of my favorite local records.

And the movie does what so many high budget films unsuccessfully try to do: span multiple genres. It is alternately funny, arty, and, being a horror film, freaky as hell. It also captures that vague, uncertain dreamy feeling of the summer after high school graduation.

The soundtrack has been in rotation for me for over a year and the film will no doubt be added to our collection the day it releases.

You can rent it on Netflix, but I suggest buying a copy by clicking here, if you trust my taste.

Below, two of my favorite songs. The first video is a little rough, but I truly love the song, Frozen Tongue. The second video has better quality, also a great tune.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Last night I barely slept

Last night, I barely slept and tonight I may not sleep again. I feel surrounded by doubters and skeptics. The words don't come as easily as the pent-up emotions. My broken-down car that was my lifeblood for seven years was taken off life support and died. Acquaintances have moved in where friends once lived. The let-loose evening is wound-up tight and out of reach. Our drinking buddies have had their guest bedroom revamped into a rock-n-roll nursery. Every ache and pain snaps me straight to attention, "is it time?!" We can no longer bust out of town for the weekend just because. That's what this pregnancy is like. I've never been happier.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

NBA Free Agency

So, being a diehard Chicago Bulls fan, naturally the surreal experience that has been the first week of NBA free agency is driving me crazy.

As recently as last year, I was hoping the Bulls' gameplan to lure a premier free agent would land at least Chris Bosh. I never thought of Bosh as a guy who could carry his own team, but I figured he was a good fit and a great consolation prize since LeBron James and Dwayne Wade seemed unattainable.

But then the playoffs ended and the Cavaliers laid an egg, all of a sudden making James seem within reach. Since then the Bulls have gone from favorites to land James, according to a New York Times story, to having virtually no odds, according to prognosticators like Ric Bucher. ESPN has made handicapping the free agency game an ongoing feature on its less and less relevant website. Long story short, most NBA reporters no longer give the Bulls very good odds to land James or any of the top free agents.

On one hand, I want to take this turn of events in stride since top players SHOULD want to return to their own teams. But on the other, the Bulls have let some good players get away and straight up given others away as part of a master plan to clear cap space. Despite letting Ben Gordon, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich go, they've still managed to maintain a core of young players, including budding superstar Derrick Rose.

It doesn't make sense that a guy like James or Wade wouldn't want to play in Chicago. World-class city. International brand. Best chance to win championships.

But as Bucher eloquently tweeted many times, and with a bit of glee if you ask me, these guys aren't inclined to leave $30 million -- the amount they can get by first signing with their own teams -- on the table. Although this excuses a long tradition of pro athletes who have done just that in exchange for a shot at a championship, I am willing to accept this logic even more today. That's because news is breaking that LeBron is going to announce his free agency decision during a live special on ESPN.

And this proves once and for all that this decision is not about championships. It's about the glare of the ESPN cameras and the multi-million-dollar drone of their many interchangeable talking heads. Didn't Michael Jordan announce to the media that he was coming back with a two-worded fax that read, plainly, "I'm back."

Sure, Michael's return to the Bulls had a flare to it, but it was also understated and even ominous.

By putting himself at the center of the media's three-ring circus, LeBron is making this whole ordeal about him, not winning championships. As a Bulls fan, I'm disappointed, if ultimately unsurprised. But if LeBron returns to Cleveland, and if Wade and Bosh piggyback each other and sign with the Heat, I'll still be a proud Bulls fan. They've got the foundation for a great team in place, and as far as I can tell none of Chicago's best players need their own ESPN special to prove that.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4 fireworks

Last night, Ali and I went to Franklin to watch the fireworks display. As we drove down Franklin Pike, we saw a stream of tail lights in front of us, reminiscent of the closing scene in Field of Dreams when everybody apparently flocked to the Iowa cornfield to watch spirits play baseball.

We wanted to avoid getting sucked into the suburban black hole, so we veered off course and parked along the side of a road a few miles away from the park where the fireworks show would take place. The scene that ensued was something straight out of my childhood, when my Dad would take us to watch the fireworks at Valpo High School. A faint aroma of marijuana and cheap whiskey appeared every time the breeze churned up. An older couple came ridiculously over-prepared for the show with lawn chairs, a cooler stocked full over more soda than any two people could ever drink in a night and a professional camera set up on a tripod to capture the memories. Behind us, two 10-year-old kids sang Bon Jovi songs, while their parents huddled together and displayed their patriotism by muttering something vaguely hostile about the president actually having been born in Indonesia.

From the crowd that gradually surrounded us, I could hear parents boasting to their children that Franklin had the top rated fireworks displays in the country. Who does these rankings anyway? Every town I've ever lived in has laid claim to having the best July 4th fireworks shows. So either, Valparaiso, Bloomington, Indianapolis, Chicago, Nashville and Franklin have the best six fireworks shows in the country, or every American town makes the same bogus claim just so everybody feels extra special.

As it turns out, the show itself was special, despite the teenagers who drove up and down the highway honking their horns, and despite the couple four blankets down that inexplicably brought a jukebox to provide for the entire crowd a Daughtry/Nickelback/GaGa soundtrack that no one asked for.

The grand finale. The most revered component of every fireworks show, when the pyro-crazy local fire department gets to light about 100 massive fireworks at once, providing a full-on assault of booms, and smoke, and colorful explosions, and smoldering debris thumping down dangerously close to the crowd. At the end, everyone clapped, made an accounting of our many mosquito bites, and then headed back to our cars to dodge drunk drivers during our patriotic drive back home.

In the coming years, we will have a son of our own to take to the Franklin fireworks display. The best in the entire country.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Last night

So, one hazard of pregnancy is that it can lead to some sleepless nights. I'm told newborns bring the same hazard for parents. Perhaps, it's all practice to be able to gut out insomnia for when the baby comes and cries you awake every two hours.

Last night at around 3 a.m., we found ourselves awake and waiting for fetus to stop thrashing around so we could go back to sleep.

Even though I'm sure Ali would prefer being soundly asleep, I have come to really appreciate our time together during these sleepless nights. We spent our time awake bidding on random items on eBay -- Ali found a really cool dress/necklace combo, and I am trying to add Family Guy Volume Six to my collection. Fingers crossed.

We also read the Washington Post's award-winning story about parents whose children have died after being left inside a hot car. We listened to a new song from Sleigh Bells and talked a lot about our dog, Jackson, who had us worried after getting really sick earlier in the night.

It felt like an authentic new family moment.

Friday, June 4, 2010

To Savannah

We have marked our lives in dates to be remembered.
Atlanta in May, Chicago in July, Brooklyn in October.
Births, weddings, deaths. We commemorate them with anniversaries
That return each year, subtle and shushed, creeping up like a cat burglar.
June is for adventure, for the road that will open up in the early morning hours
That will take us away,
And add another number to an endless calendar.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My mind? Bent. My ears? Baptized.

It's been many years since I've heard an album that sounded like a place, but Janelle Monae's new album The ArchAndroid sounds like little Five Points in downtown Atlanta, where she now resides.

There is already a tendency for music critics to gush about the dance, R&B and Outkast-y qualities of her full-length debut album (Big Boi appears on the most obvious single, "Tightrope"). But the few times I've been to five points, the lovely people I saw there couldn't possibly be defined by one musical genre. Judging the Monae book by its cover, it's obvious this is a young lady just as likely to jam out to Animal Collective or David Bowie as Puff Daddy or Outkast. Case in point? Members of indie rock grandfathers Of Montreal appear on this album.

Now how to describe the music? The term "genre-bending" held no meaning until The ArchAndroid. My best attempt at explaining the masterpiece would be to call it Outkast in its prime meets Gnarls Barkley with indie rock production. When Monae rocks out, like on my favorite track "Come Alive (War of the Roses)" she does so better than most of the indie rockers that fill my iPod.

Her most accessible songs will probably appear on top 40 radio, and she's bound to get love from blah mainstream media like Rollingstone, MTV, etc. But this is also a sci-fi concept album that would make Bowie disciples intrigued. What's she talking about? Cyber-fairies, robot time travel? "We're dancing in the dungeon every Monday night/ Like a schitzo runnin wild is when I come alive."

There isn't a category of music fan who can't find at least one element of this album that they will absolutely love. This is music for the Lost-age of entertainment. These are songs that make nerdy weirdos feel right at home. Go download it now.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


There's a moment at every wake when a buncha old friends are standing around talking. Maybe one of their parents or grandparents is the one who passed away. The grief is so redundant nothing needs to be said, especially among old friends who know better than anybody how badly their buddy is hurting. One question remains: when is it finally appropriate to tell a borderline inappropriate ice-breaking joke?

That is sort of how I've felt the past few weeks since Nashville suffered its worst flooding in recorded history. During the weekend when the rain inundated our city, Ali and I went about our business pretty normally. We went to Target and registered for fetus. We ate out, we made two separate trips to the grocery store. It wasn't until early afternoon on Sunday when we knew something serious was happening.

Since then, life has changed. I've seen things with my own eyes that I'd only ever seen on television. Rubble pulled from ruined houses five minutes from where I live is stacked over my head. Strangers are pitching in, running trash to the front of the house to be picked up by the city. What is trash today was a person's couch, or DVD collection or even family photo album yesterday. I have never had so many strangers cry openly in front of me as I have during interviews I've conducted for the Tennessean in the past two weeks.

If you care to read more about the great Nashville flood, go to There's plenty of coverage there. Me, I'm ready to talk about something else if only as a diversion. So I'm planning to jump back into the same frivolous topics I typically fill this blog with -- Bulls basketball, indie music, movies, etc. Life goes on.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

If Bob Dylan were still coherent

and and modern indie rock sensibilities, this is what he'd sound like (from a great new album by The Tallest Man on Earth, and a live version):

Monday, April 19, 2010

NFL Draft

I've been a huge NFL draft fan since I was in middle school, which as you might guess earned a reputation as a huge ladies' man.

Thursday marks the first time the NFL draft will be broadcast in primetime. Packers GM Ted Thompson will seize the moment of having tens of millions of fans watching by trading down to the top of the second round. Riveting.

Anyhow, here are some tame NFL draft predictions:

Rams take Bradford, Lions take McCoy, Bucs take Suh. Best player in the NFL draft, safety Eric Berry, goes No. 5 to Chiefs. I don't understand why so many mock drafts have Berry going lower, but I'm even more puzzled why any team would pass on him in the first place.

Players who surprisingly fall: Bulaga, Spiller, earl thomas and JP Paul.

Players who go surprisingly high: Tebow to Jaguars, Campbell to Raiders, Dan Williams to Dolphins.

Players I'd like the Packers to take: Jerry Hughes, Kyle Wilson and especially Thomas if he slips to No. 23.