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

Deerhunter

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.