Monday, October 31, 2011

Champions' Ship Sinking

The B's won the Cup and returned almost the entire team intact. And maybe that's part of the problem. This team isn't playing like they have anything to prove. Guys who played with hunger last year (Marchand, Horton) aren't playing with the same ferocity every shift. Maybe it's time for some healthy scratches, maybe it's time to see guys like Caron get more ice time, maybe it's time to make a trade.

Give credit to Montreal for blocking shots (29 of them in total, Spacek blocked 7, Gill blocked 5) and for breaking up Bruins' passes, but it didn't seem like the Bruins properly respected Montreal's abilities to do so. How many passes did the B's try to slip past Montreal sticks that were already down on the ice? How many times did one sole Bruin try to carry the puck through 2 or 3 Canadiens?

The breaks in Saturday's game didn't go the Bruins' way. The Habs had the first 5 Power Plays. The B's hit a few posts in the early stages. But the Bruins didn't capitalize on things that did go their way. They failed to convert a lengthy 5-on-3 into a goal (Seidenberg's failure to keep the puck in the zone during that Power Play sums up how the Bruins' season has gone). And almost every Bruins' possession was short and ended with a whimper.

Montreal matches up well against the Bruins. Their speed allows them to get to loose pucks first, allows them to harass opposing forwards, and makes their counterattack quite deadly. The Bruins' strength is their physicality. And that was only sporadically apparent Saturday. We've seen the Canadiens fear the Bruins before. They're not afraid right now though.

And don't let Pussy Kunt Subban get under your skin. That's his goal. And yes, I would say that to Subban's face, so long as we were in a Foot Locker or at the zebra enclosure in a zoo. The sight of those black and white stripes make him go down with just a nudge.

Ference's post-Subban penalty was a bad call, but Lucic shouldn't give Subban the excuse to dive. If you're going to get a 2 minute slashing penalty, make Subban feel it for 20 minutes. And if Subban wants to play these silly games, then drive Brian Gionta through the boards in response.

The Bruins have some fundamental problems to work out. Their breakout is ugly. They're not dumping and chasing enough. They don't move the puck with any purpose. They're not imposing their style of game on the opposition.

And when is Joe Corvo going to do anything positive? he's an improvement over Kaberle, but who wouldn't be? He's been sound defensively, but hasn't contributed to the offense, and has looked tentative on the breakout.

On the bright side, the goalies are playing well. Tim Thomas doesn't look a year older, and the goals Rask allowed weren't his fault. The Penalty Kill has been reliable. Shawn Thornton is doing his job. Tyler Seguin looks like he's been in the NHL for 4 years. He's on pace for 30+ goals and 80 points. Bergeron is doing the little things, which is more than can be said for some of his teammates.

The Bruins have the talent, some of the guys are playing very well, but some individuals making mistakes and not making good plays are sabotaging the team. And they need to shape up or be shipped out.

Bruins host the Senators Tuesday night. Ottawa are 7-5 and have won 6 straight. When a hot team meets a cold team it'll either be a blowout, a turning point, or a tornado.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Steelers Dress as Patriots For Halloween, Pats Dress as Steelers

Do you know what's alarming? As ugly and painful to watch as the Pats' D was on Sunday, they were the best unit on the field for New England. They kept the Patriots in the game. They held the Steelers to 3 field goals and 2 TDs in the Red Zone. They intercepted Roethlisberger which set up an 8 yard TD drive. They were on the field for 2/3 of this game, and they played much better than the offense.

Give credit to the Steelers for doing two key things defensively: pressuring Brady (from unanticipated angles) and neutralizing Wes Welker. Brady was rarely comfortable and Welker was held to 6 catches for only 39 yards. When Welker did catch the ball, he was immediately (and forcefully) greeted by a Pittsburgh defender.

The Patriots shot themselves in the foot, too. Four false start penalties by the line (give partial credit to the Steelers' pass rushers), and they all came at key moments in drives. The Pats didn't take advantage of the penalties Pittsburgh committed, they didn't even try to run the ball, they didn't do much to stop Pittsburgh's pass rush like run some screens with Woodhead and/or Faulk. The Patriots offense was 3/10 on 3rd downs.

It was nice seeing Faulk in the backfield, he played well for being 80 years old. Gronkowski was stellar. He had more guys on him than Bibi Jones after a baseball game. And unlike Bibi Jones, he didn't go down easily. That's about it as far as good offensive performances go.

The defense did a decent job, but it was far from pretty. The blitzing was predictable. Blitzing worked for the Germans in 1940 because France didn't know where or when it was coming. The Patriots sent extra men in predictable situations, and sent them in predictable directions. And the Steelers ate them up for it.

If any team wants to move the ball against the Pats, all they have to do is run 6-10 yard curls. It's open. Every single down. Thankfully, the Pats clamped down in the Red Zone and turned possible touchdowns into field goals. If they hadn't, Pittsburgh would have won in a blowout.

Speaking of field goals. This was Gostkowski's worst game as a Patriot. One missed field goal, two botched onside kicks. He was one of many Patriots that simply didn't do their job.

Then there was the Patriots' clock management in the 4th. Instead of challenging the refs when Gronkowski appeared to catch the ball over the goal line, they wasted 1:37, taking their time to set plays up before finally scoring after several attempts.

The Pats are 2-2 on the road. Those 2 wins were in Miami and Oakland. Those 2 losses were in Buffalo and now Pittsburgh. The Patriots haven't beaten a good team on the road yet. And they play in the Meadowlands in 2 weeks. I'm more than a little concerned.

They host the Giants Sunday evening.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, October 28, 2011

College Football Picks: Week 9*

I didn't make any college football picks last week because the week before was disastrous (4-11) and picking college games has been a struggle for me all season (24-41-1). But, I'll persevere, and will finish the season. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get back to .500. I'm just glad I don't actually gamble. Although maybe I should pay someone to put bet against my picks. I could retire on the winnings.

TCU -13.5 vs. BYU
Mainstream Protestants vs. Mormons. I'll take the Protestants despite the 2 touchdown spread.

Michigan State +4 @ Nebraska
I believe in MSU. It's a shame that Boise State has a better shot at a national title bid even though the Spartans have beaten Wisconsin and play in a real conference.

Northwestern -8.5 @ Indiana
The Hoosiers have lost their last three games by 94 points.

Michigan -14 vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers are 4-3, but have yet to win a road game.

Syracuse +3 @ Louisville
SU have had a decent season and they just trounced WVU at home. Their only losses came to USC on the road, and an OT loss against Rutgers.

Arkansas -9 @ Vanderbilt
The Commodores are 4-3, but 1-3 in the conference. That one SEC win came against Ole Miss. Arkansas is not Ole Miss.

Maryland -7 vs. Boston College
This game will be an abomination to the sport. But BC has quit on the season.

Rutgers +7 vs. West Virginia
The Mountaineers are ranked almost by default. Rutgers is 4-0 at home.

Oklahoma -13 @ Kansas State
The Wildcats are undefeated, and at home, but OU typically rebounds well after their annual token loss to an inferior opponent.

Iowa -14.5 @ Minnesota
Iowa has struggled on the road, but Minnesota has struggled everywhere. The Gophers are one of the worst teams in a BCS conference.

Illinois +5.5 @ Penn State
PSU have won 7 games, but none of them very convincingly. They have a good defense, but can't score.

Georgia -3 vs. Florida (Jacksonville, FL)
The Gators have lost every game against decent opponents they've had this year.

Navy +21.5 @ Notre Dame
I'm not buying into the Irish, at least not for a 3 touchdown win.

Mississippi State -10 @ Kentucky
The Wildcats have 3 wins. Against Jacksonville State, Central Michigan, and Western Kentucky.

South Carolina -3.5 @ Tennessee
South Carolina's one loss came to Auburn. Tennessee hasn't been able to beat an SEC opponent.

Georgia Tech +4 vs. Clemson
This is a true test for the Tigers. If Tech gets their ground game going (321.1 yards per game), they can control the clock and the game.

Wisconsin -7 @ Ohio State
Yeah. Wisconsin is good, OSU isn't.

And if I go 17-0 with my picks, I'll be .500 on the year. Hooray!

It Isn't a Stanley Cup Hangover

The term "Stanley Cup Hangover" will get thrown around a lot today and I just don't think that the Bruins are suffering from one. Why? Because they didn't win the Cup in 2010, and they still had stretches like this last season. This "hangover" notion is an excuse. They're simply not playing 60 full minutes of good hockey, the offensive guys aren't providing offense, they're not taking care of the puck, and their Power Play sucks.

Sound familiar? It happened last season. A few times. Two stretches in November, another in December, a long and painful one in March, it even happened in the playoffs. Games 1 and 2 against Montreal, for instance. And these lulls were not preceded by any Cup hoisting or parades. This Bruins team sometimes doesn't put in 60 minutes of effort, they have streaky players (Horton), and they are very vulnerable to a well-executed forecheck.

It's the player's fault. They have to play better. They did so in the 1st period. They sustained possessions in Montreal's zone. Then Price made an unforced error and it was 1-0. But the 2nd period saw less pressure, the 3rd saw next to none. We also saw the Bruins making casual passes with the puck in the 3rd. That led to Montreal's game-winning goal.

And if not for Price's mistake, the Bruins get shut out. The offense isn't functioning. Somebody besides Seguin has to score. He and Peverley lead the team with 3. They have 6, the rest of the team combines for 14. The Flyers and Jets scored more than that in one game last night (Winnipeg won 9-8).

Where is David Krejci? He had a great defensive play in this game but have you noticed him at all on offense? He has 1 goal and 0 assists. He and Horton are dragging this team down. The Lucic-Kelly-Seguin line is working nicely, the Thornton line started to show more energy last night, and while Bergeron and Marchand aren't scoring, they're at least getting shots on goal. Bergeron has more shots (29) than Krejci (12) and Horton (13) combined.

There are no pure scorers on this team. This offense succeeds when they get 2nd and 3rd chance shots on goal. When they stay in the opponents' zone for prolonged periods. Last night they struggled just to enter the zone. And then after the 1st, they struggled to keep the puck in. Even with their abundant Power Play opportunities.

It's frustrating. We've seen what this team is capable of when they decide to show up. Right now we're seeing giveaways, we're seeing careless neutral zone passes, we're seeing a pair of top line forwards competing with Shawn Thornton in the Shots on Goal category (Thornton has 10).

Maybe the Bruins feel like they can wait to turn it on when it matters most. But 1/9 of the season is over and the Bruins are 29th in the NHL. And they've already played 1/6 of their home games. You need points to make the playoffs, usually around 95. You need more points to win a division and get some home playoff series (the B's were 10-3 in home playoff games, 6-6 on the road), usually around 105 points. The Bruins have 6 right now. 6 points in 8 games with no injuries to any key players.

You can't just wait until January to turn it up. What if you're still in 4th place and you lose Thomas for 3 months? How do you dig yourself out of a hole then?

It's starting to get me concerned.

They should be well motivated Saturday night in Montreal. It's not a must-win. It's a must-show-me-something-so-I-can-relax.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Feasting on the Big East

It looks like West Virginia is headed to the Big XII. This will be the third defection of a Big East school to another conference this season, and the sixth this decade. That's not counting TCU's decision to move to the Big XII. With WVU, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh leaving, what will happen to the Big East as a football conference? Can it maintain its BCS standing, or will it become a "mid-major?" Or worse?

Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, UConn, Cincinnati. Five teams. That's all the Big East has for football. That won't work in the BCS. The Big XII is the next smallest BCS conference with at least 10 teams (11 if Missouri stays). Meanwhile, the ACC will have 14, the SEC 13, and the Pac-12 and BigTen have 12 each. So the Big East must add at least 3 teams (preferably more) to remain in the BCS.

But who will they be? In '05, they added Louisville, Cincinnati, and USF to their football league. Back then, there were plenty of solid C-USA programs to invite. Then UConn promoted its football team to I-A. These newcomers claimed 4 of the last 5 conference titles.

But who is out there for the Big East now? That well has gotten very dry. Houston is 7-0 this year, but was 5-7 last year. The Big East wants to add them. UCF was 11-3 last year, they're 4-3 this year. They are a Big East target. SMU is 5-2, but they've barely reached bowl eligibility in recent years and were 1-11 in 2008. The Big East is interested. These are the teams that could replace WVU, Syracuse, and Pitt. That's hardly worthy of a BCS berth.

Oh, the Big East has also been prodding Villanova to bring its football program up to I-A. The Wildcats are 1-7 this year (they beat Penn) down in I-AA.

There have been rumors that the Big East wants to add Air Force, Navy, and even Boise State as football-only members. Obviously Boise State would dramatically improve the conference. But why would the Broncos do it? They've reached the BCS without an automatic bid. They'd have to figure out what conferences their other sports would play in. And do they want to play their road games in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Ohio?

And who buys a ticket to climb aboard a sinking ship?

This article describes a convoluted plan to merge the Big East, C-USA, and Mountain West together as one super-league, with around 30 teams in 4 divisions, a playoff, and hopefully the winner receiving an automatic BCS berth. I think it's a bit too harebrained to even attempt.

The Big East isn't out of danger, either. Louisville is a rumored target of the Big XII. UConn and Rutgers would accept invitations to the ACC in a heartbeat. And if that happens, the Big East is essentially dead. It'd be USF and Cincinnati. Maybe Houston, Navy, UCF, and SMU would join them. But they would certainly not be a BCS conference anymore. They'd fall somewhere between the Mountain West and C-USA.

It's kind of sad. But the Big East has always been a bit too weird. Intentionally so. It was founded as a basketball conference, with the football side forming more than a decade after its original founding. The other conferences were about regional and historical teams joining together to compete in multiple sports. The Big East was about TV revenue from the start. They just picked the wrong sport to focus on.

They snubbed Penn State in 1985, and they've been different from every other conference since then. The idea of 8 football programs and 16 basketball programs sounds nice and neat, but it's messy. The Big East has always been two conferences with one label. How can you let Notre Dame benefit from basketball revenue when they don't share football revenue? How must schools like Georgetown and St. John's feel now that their basketball league is being threatened due to football? It's a crazy mess and always has been. Conferences are supposed to organize and regulate chaos, not cause it.

And a football conference centered in the northeast was doomed to fail anyway. You do have BC, Syracuse, Pitt, and WVU up here. Also up-and-coming programs like Rutgers and UConn. But we've seen that these teams are not going to decline the opportunity to be a part of big time college football, which is based in the South and the Midwest. That's where the big games are, that's where the money is.

Big East football is on life support. And the basketball is severely crippled. 19 Big East football titles have been awarded. And 15 of those are in the trophy cases of schools that have joined or will soon join other conferences. If UConn, Louisville, and Rutgers depart, say goodbye to 2 more football titles, not to mention UConn's basketball programs, along with the 20,000+ fans that Louisville averages at their basketball games. Don't forget about completely losing the New York market once Syracuse, UConn and Rutgers are all playing in the ACC.

As unfortunate as watching the slow death of a conference can be, the moves by West Virginia and TCU almost guarantee that the Big XII will survive. One conference dies, another lives on. The Big East has become an unwilling organ donor, sacrificing its parts to make other conferences healthy again.

The Big XII was in jeopardy a few months ago, but now look very strong. And they can add teams if they want to, like Louisville. They could add Houston to bolster their numbers (as opposed to the Big East, who would add Houston to compete for conference titles). The Big XII can offer Boise State a BCS bid along with geographic convenience. Same with BYU. And the Big XII's monopoly on Texas high school recruiting is an enticement no other conference can match.

The Big East will not be a BCS conference. It will be fortunate to remain in existence as a football league. The Big XII is safe, and might even grow to 12 members once again. Maybe more.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why the NFL Will Never Succeed in Britain

For the fifth straight season, a pair of NFL teams met each other in London's Wembley Stadium. And once again the game sold out. But don't expect a Super Bowl in London, certainly don't expect an expansion franchise across the pond, and don't expect American football to be any bigger in the UK than soccer is in the US. The Brits simply do not like it.

Why? Firstly, they have soccer. They obsess over soccer. They have their own leagues, plus they follow leagues in Spain, Italy, and Germany. Then they have international games. Soccer is their fall sport. It's as big as college football in Alabama.

Some of the British enjoy physically violent sports. Which is why they have rugby. And unlike American football, rugby has more flow to it. Our football stops after every play. Add TV timeouts and a 60 minute clock takes over 3 hours to run. The British don't like that. They like sports with few stoppages.

There are British fans, and NFL games are broadcast in England and get decent ratings. But if the NFL really wants to expand, they need to look beyond places that speak English. They need to go to Germany.

Germany was the only place where NFL Europe enjoyed any measure of success. Germany has already produced NFL talent. Germans don't have much rugby. Culturally speaking, Germans would like the start-stop format of NFL games. Their national soccer team is usually best at set-piece plays that are pre-planned. Germany has already embraced North American sports like basketball and hockey. They have no anti-US bias in what sports they follow. They already have a 14 team pro league in Germany.

Maybe the NFL should consider playing a game in Berlin or Munich (Oktoberfest) or in the Rhine-Ruhr region. Germans are very large people, they love sports and physical fitness, they love beer, and they love organized violence. Football is designed for Germany.

Bruins Giveaway a Game

The good news is that the mistakes that the Bruins made are easily fixed. That's also what makes them so frustrating to watch. San Jose came into Boston after playing 65 minutes in New Jersey the night before. The Bruins should have tried to grind a game out, play mistake free, and hope to outplay and outwork the Sharks in the 3rd. Instead, they made some stupid mistakes (especially David Krejci) early on and were playing catch-up hockey most of the night.

Pavelski's goal 72 seconds into the game was assisted by Joe Thornton, but Krejci deserved the second assist. He surrendered the puck in the Neutral Zone with a careless pass that had no chance of not being a turnover.

San Jose's second goal came when Krejci didn't cover the slot in front of Thomas. Instead, he kind of joined a 2-on-2 scrum for the puck on the boards behind the net (I say "kind of" because he didn't really do anything to help the two Bruins defensemen engaged). This left Logan Couture uncovered in front, and when the Sharks won the board battle, Couture made the Bruins pay for Krejci's absentmindedness.

I criticize Krejci for not being much of a scorer. The playoffs silenced that critique. But he's praised for his puck-possession skills. Turnovers and defensive mistakes are acceptable realities for guys who can score 40 goals. For someone who struggles to reach 20 goals, and who is supposed to do the smart, little things, Krejci's mistakes were intolerable.

He's -5 on the season and that's one of the reasons he's been taken off the top line. He's better than this. He'll play better.

The Bruins' play improved in the late parts of the 2nd and scored twice in the 3rd. Lucic's goal was pure effort and muscle. Seguin's goal was a bit cleaner, but still assisted by the strength of Lucic and Kelly. I'm liking the Lucic-Kelly-Seguin line.

But the Sharks got the game-winner thanks to a faceoff win, some food forechecking, and a bit of indecisiveness from Steve Kampfer.

The Bruins are successful when they do the little things right. ALL the little things. That's why they won the Cup, that's why they had a good start to the 3rd period. Overall in the game, though, the Bruins turned the puck over 23 times (San Jose had 6 giveaways) and didn't complete many of their passes.

We saw this routine last year. We even saw it a few times in the playoffs. The Bruins fell behind to Montreal and Vancouver because they didn't take care of the puck. This team can play better than this and I'm sure within the remaining 74 games, they will.

Big game Thursday as the Habs come to town. Montreal is 1-4-2 and this is a good chance to keep a divisional foe down.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thank You, Kessel

The Leafs came into this game as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. But the Bruins were coming off an emotional loss on Tuesday, and Toronto would be playing for the second straight night. The Bruins added focus to their fire, and it showed from the 1st period on.

Thornton had his first fighting major of the season. Coming into this game, the B's were 32-10-8 when he fights. And he wasn't the only Bruins who showed up and played with energy.

Horton's Power Play goal was a great example of patience and poise as he waited for the best shooting opportunity. He got the chance because Chara had a chance to shoot from the point. Chara got that chance because Benoit Pouliot drew the penalty.

Pouliot drew another penalty and Chara scored the PP goal after sneaking into the faceoff circle. Tyler Seguin got an assist on the goal. Last year he barely played any PP minutes, but this year he's been a consistent presence with a man advantage. Seguin now has 2 points on the Power Play. He had 3 all of last season.

Chris Kelly's goal in the 1st was a great example of earning a loose puck. Lucic drove deep into the zone. Kelly didn't have much time or space to take a quality shot, but he earned two shots in the paint, and the second went in.

The Bruins did not let the Leafs come back. Only 7 third period shots for Toronto.

Seguin ended the game with a goal and two assists. Kessel had 0 points, which snaps a 15 game point streak. That's too bad.

The Bruins needed to get back on track. As frustrating as that last game against Carolina was, this team has a unique ability to turn pain on Tuesday into joy on Thursday. They really do rebound well. B's host Joe Thornton and the Sharks Saturday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bruins Lose Tempers, Game

Give Carolina credit. They knew the Bruins would probably be frustrated, and the Canes took full advantage of that frustration. Cam Ward's goaltending didn't hurt either. The B's spent about a fifth of this game shorthanded. And when they weren't killing penalties, they seemed more concerned with killing Hurricanes than with scoring.

68 penalty minutes for the Bruins. And sure, the refs got a little bit over eager with their whistles, but can you blame them? Stuff like Horton pummeling Tim Gleason is simply ignorant hockey. Gleason was trying to goad Horton. And once Horton drops the gloves and Gleason refuses to fight, that has to be the end of it. Horton should have mocked Gleason by waving his arms John Wensink style, then skated away.

Maybe a little fire is what this team needs. The Peverley goal on the Power Play seemed to be a result of some of the sparks in this game. Then Horton committed his stupid penalty 30 seconds later, then the refs were a bit anxious and called Chara for high-sticking, then Marchand got ejected and Seidenberg was given a questionable boarding penalty. Things got a little out of hand.

And the throwing of objects onto the ice was sad. That's stuff that Montreal fans do. That's a whiny Canadian thing to do. You know what we do in Boston when we're pissed at the refs and the team for losing? We call up the Sports Grille, order a pizza, wait for the game to finish, then go drink. Beers are for drinking, not throwing.

Hopefully this team wakes up. But at the same time, they have to stay focused. They need to react with goals like Peverley's, not with penalties like Horton's.

B's host the 3-0-1 Maple Leafs on Thursday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, October 17, 2011

Defense Defeats Dallas

The Patriots' defense finally impressed us for 60 minutes last night. Which was good because their offense was absent for 58 minutes. If you'd told me before kickoff that the Pats would turn the ball over 4 times, lose the time of possession battle, and only score 20 points, I'd just assume that they'd lose the game. But the defense showed up, big time.

They made Romo uncomfortable (2 sacks, 4 hits), they didn't allow Dallas to mount any consistent running attack (apart from Romo's 17 yard scramble, the Cowboys averaged 2.6 per carry), they forced negative plays (7 tackles for loss), they shut down Witten (4 catches, 48 yards) they got off the field (Dallas was 4/12 on 3rd downs), and they went and got the ball (1 fumble recovered, 1 interception).

And they made the big plays at the big moments. That 3 and out in the 4th quarter won the game. The Red Zone stops and limiting Dallas to field goals kept the struggling Pats' offense in the game.

It didn't have to be so exciting. The Patriots turned the ball over 4 times. They turned it over 10 times all of 2010. Brady's first pick was a glanced ball and a bit of misfortune. His second pick was Favresque. He was throwing on the run and against his body to either to Welker in triple coverage, or Hernandez in double coverage. All on a 2nd down.

Then the fumbles. Slater's was too easy. The ball was just tapped and it flew out. And Hernandez continues to worry me with his occasional lack of grip on the ball. It's not a major liability right now (especially when he can also catch 8 passes for 68 and a TD), but of all the Pats on offense, he's the only one who regularly loses his handle on the ball.

The defense minimized the damage of these setbacks with turnovers of their own, and holding Dallas to field goals.

Watching the defense play this well was quite enjoyable. Typically, this defense is so shaky that late in the game I'd rather the Patriots be down by 4 points with the ball then up by 4 without it. They showed up Sunday, made a statement, and hopefully they can build something from this game.

Pats have a bye before travelling to Pittsburgh in two weeks.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Bruins Turn it Around in Chicago

It wasn't perfect, but the Bruins finally put forth a strong effort and tried to force their opponent to play Bruins hockey. They worked hard for every loose puck, they did make a few mistakes, but for the most part they valued the puck. And Tim Thomas being a freak of nature didn't hurt.

Ference's giveaway which led to a Chicago goal was a poor decision. As frustrating as it was, bad decisions are much better than bad effort levels.

Thomas and Seguin are the two best Bruins at the moment. Peverley is a close third. Boychuk's dump-and-chase move was exactly the kind of play that the defensemen need to make to help these forwards out. The Bruins forwards are not snipers, they're not ridiculously talented offensive forces. In order to confuse an opponent, they need a guy like Boychuk to make plays like that. That's how you force mistakes.

If Seguin isn't involved in every shootout the Bruins have this year, I want to know why. He's tailor made for that.

I only wish we got to play the Blackhawks more. Two big markets, two Original Six teams, two very good teams. And we won't see the 'Hawks for the rest of the (regular) season. It's too bad.

But hey, we get to see Carolina come to town on Tuesday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, October 14, 2011

College Football Picks: Week 7*

Guess what. Last week my picks were 6-6. The comeback trail has begun and 51 picks into the season I'm 20-30-1. This weekend doesn't have any spectacular matchups, but there are some nice conference games. And to be honest, the highly anticipated games have usually disappointed this season, while the most exciting games have all been a bit surprising. Here's the picks:

Pittsburgh -6 vs. Utah
The Utes have been a disappointing in their first year in the Pac-12.

Michigan +2.5 @ Michigan State
I want Michigan to lose so badly. Seeing them in the Top 10 would suck. But I have a bad feeling they'll win.

Baylor +9.5 @ Texas A&M
The Aggies find ways to lose against quality opponents. They have so much talent but make so many mistakes.

South Carolina -3 @ Mississippi State
MSU has yet to register a conference win.

Rutgers -3.5 vs. Navy
Rutgers has a decent defense, and Navy's horrible defense will allow the Rutgers horrible offense to be productive.

Florida State -13.5 @ Duke
FSU is bad this year, but not lose-to-Duke bad.

Georgia Tech -7 @ Virginia
Tech runs for over 360 yards per game.

Illinois -3 vs. Ohio State
OSU sucks.

LSU -17 @ Tennessee
It's never easy to win in Knoxville, especially for the Volunteers.

Texas +8 vs. Oklahoma State
Just have a feeling like it'll be a happy day in Austin.

Clemson -7.5 @ Maryland
I might pick Clemson every week for the rest of the year.

Georgia -11 @ Vanderbilt
UGA is still properly rated as a just outside of the Top 25 team.

Auburn +2 vs. Florida
Yes I'll be taking the SEC West team that's at home and thanks for the 2 points.

Kansas State +3.5 @ Texas Tech
Offense vs. defense and I think K-State's defense will prevail.

Oregon -14.5 vs. Arizona State
The Ducks score. ASU's offense won't be able to keep up.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Theo Leaves the Sinking Ship

Reports are streaming across the internet that the Cubs have signed Theo Epstein to a 5 year deal worth $15 million. The rumor is that they'll name Epstein President. The Red Sox are likely to get prospects as compensation, as Epstein is still under contract through 2012.

Ummmmm, wow. I don't know who to be angry at right now. Is Theo jumping from a sinking ship, or does he feel like his welcome has run out in Boston? Is this him leaving on his own, or are the owners holding the door open for him?

He's certainly not secure in his job here in Boston. He has only one year remaining on his contract, and his bosses have been talking to the media about how one cannot be the Red Sox' GM forever. Which is never something one enjoys hearing their boss say.

This team is in dire straits. It needs pitching. Badly. It could use a decent outfielder too. A bench would help. And this team needs character. Theo is partly responsible for how badly this team has performed. His big-ticket acquisitions have often disappointed (Drew, Crawford, Matsuzaka, Lugo, Renteria, Crisp, Gagne, Clement). But he has helped revamp and restructure the farm system to make it productive (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Buchholz, Lester, Papelbon, Bard). He's also been good at finding undervalued talent that contributes surprisingly well (Ortiz, Mueller, Millar, Bellhorn, Loretta, Aceves, Cabrera). And not all of his big moves have been busts (Schilling, Foulke, Gonzalez).

So even though he's one of the reasons the Sox are where they are, I think he's the best guy to help the Sox improve. But now he seems to be gone.

And if he is leaving on his own accord, then I hate him. He's like the rich guy (Bruce Ismay) from Titanic who encouraged the Captain to go faster, then after the ship hit the iceberg, cowardly jumped into a lifeboat.

But I get the feeling like the owners haven't done enough to keep Epstein here. We haven't heard that they've offered an extension. They don't seem to mind that he's talking to the Cubs. And we're already seeing stories about how great Ben Cherington is.

Cherington is responsible for developing talent through the farm system, so he's obviously done well for himself. But the solutions to the current Sox mess won't come from Pawtucket. There are overpaid, overfed, overdrunk starters. The bullpen has two reliable arms, maybe three. Theo's successor will be walking into a storm of difficulties that need to be resolved ASAP. Meanwhile the owners might not be too keen on dishing out more money to fix the problems caused by high-priced free agents. Especially after spending $95 million buying players for Liverpool this summer.

Maybe this will all work out in the end. But the way I see it, the Sox have bad pitching, detestable players, and they've lost the first manager and GM to win them World Series since the end of World War I. Right now, it sucks to be a Red Sox fan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bruins Get a Case of the Mondays

Uninspired. That's a good word to describe the Bruins' effort Monday afternoon. A few players played hard, Tuukka Rask played well, the Bruins just didn't seem to want to win as much as the Avalanche.

Give some credit to Semyon Varlamov (Voldemort), who made a few big stops. But the word "few" is the key part of that sentence. Only 30 shots on goal, 18 in the first two periods. Few of these shots were very good. The Bruins would enter the zone, shoot from 30 feet out, before anyone was in position to capitalize on a rebound, and Colorado would recover the puck. But Varlamov did have some outstanding stops.

The first line hasn't been productive. I think part of the problem is a rusty Nathan Horton. He was slightly off-balance for a scoring chance against Philly, and he was off balance in that 2-on-1 with Lucic. Varlamov didn't have to respect Horton's ability to shoot because Horton was too extended to shoot.

I wouldn't mind seeing Marchand or Seguin on the top line. I'd rather keep Marchand with Bergeron and Peverley. But until Horton gets his legs back, why not utilize a strong-skating Seguin on the most talented line?

A road trip isn't a bad thing at this point. Bruins are in Raleigh to play the Hurricanes on Wednesday, then Chicago on Saturday. A few days away from Boston might allow this team to focus and work.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, October 10, 2011

Christopher Columbus: The Eli Manning of History

Today is Columbus Day. A day named after the guy who discovered the Americas. But Christopher Columbus is one of the most overrated and lucky bastards in history.

Firstly, he wasn't the only person who thought that the world was round. Everyone with a shred of education knew that. The Greeks knew that centuries earlier, and people could see things like a ship's sails disappearing on the horizon.

The people who doubted Columbus said that the trip from Europe to China was too long. Columbus thought it was only 3,800 miles away. China is 16,900 miles west of Spain. If not for the existence of the Americas, Columbus and his crew would have died from starvation on their way to China.

After getting to the Americas, Columbus enslaved or killed the natives, then mismanaged the colonies so poorly and treated his own people so badly that he was arrested and thrown in jail. He died as kind of a failure.

He wasn't the first person to the New World, wasn't the first European (the Vikings were), and he wasn't even looking for it. He became an important historical figure by accident, sort of like Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLII. He was along for the ride at a pivotal event and has since sucked.

Bruins Back to Winning

The Bruins were a little more like themselves on Saturday. Thomas was outstanding in net, the Penalty Kill was impressive, and the Bruins kept the pressure on goal, shooting 42 pucks at Mathieu Garon.

Tyler Seguin has looked great in these two games. He's comfortable, he's focusing on making plays, and he deservedly won 3rd star Saturday night. He was +2 with 2 assists, but what I like seeing is that he was on the ice for just over 16 minutes. And 4:15 was on the Power Play, 0:15 was shorthanded. That demonstrates how much he's grown as a player. Seguin only averaged 1:21 of PP time per game last year. And he spent 1:58 total on the ice shorthanded. That's less than 2 minutes for an entire season.

Julien clearly trusts Seguin more, and it's paying dividends. Seeing Marchand on the Power Play also looked good. Marchand also spent over 4 minutes on the ice with a man advantage. He averaged 0:32 per game last year.

Patrice Bergeron only had 1 assist, but his impact on the game was tremendous. If you DVR the game, and the Bruins score with Bergeron on the ice, just rewind the recording a few seconds, and you'll likely see him make a small but meaningful play that eventually leads to the goal.

Bergeron needs talented players around him to truly be productive. He's not a scorer on his own. But put the likes of Marchand and Rich Peverley around him, and goals will occur.

I'm not even going to try to sum up Tim Thomas' performance. Just watch:

He's not human.

Bruins host the Avalanche this afternoon in a matinee game.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Pats' Ground Game Grounds Jets

If you were to compare the Patriots' offense to cuisine, you could say that it's normally like gourmet Filet Mignon served in a classy restaurant. On Sunday, the Pats' offense was more like hamburgers and sausages served at a greasy diner. The Patriots actually ran the ball more than they passed it (35 compared to 33). And they ran the ball well.

The Jets might have been expecting a pass-heavy game, but what they got was a heaping helping of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He ran for 136 and 2 TDs. He averaged 5 per carry, and if he wasn't able to get the job done, then the Pats' gameplan simply wouldn't have worked.

Before I gush on and on about a nice win against our arch-rival, let's think about a few things: Were the Jets even close to being on the same level as the Patriots? Nope

Did the Patriots clearly outplay the Jets and did the Patriots seem to have a superior gameplan? Yes and yes.

So why was this a 6 point game halfway through the 4th? Why was it a 3 point game at halftime?

The Patriots were undoubtedly the better team Sunday, which is good. The Jets are 2-3, with an offense that's not rushing the ball well and a QB that can't be counted on (even by his head coach). But mistakes allowed the Jets to hang in there.

Aaron Hernandez not being able to hang on to a touchdown pass. He's got some ball control issues. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a problem, but there have been too many times when he'll be downed, then the ball will pop loose. And on a team that never ever fumbles, stuff like that stands out.

The Patriots were an instant replay review from another Red Zone turnover. The refs got the call right, but Branch was still very close to catching a ball then fumbling it.

Then there's the big kickoff return. That's usually a Patriots' strength, but the timing of that return was like life support to a dying patient. The Jets were on the ropes, that return gave them new life.

I'm not trying to be a downer. The Patriots are 4-1, they're tied for first in the AFC East. They're clearly better than the Dolphins and Jets at the moment, and they now have a running game to go along with that vaunted passing attack. This team's biggest problems are their own mistakes. That's fixable. And to end on a positive note, if these problems do get fixed, they'll be very, very dangerous.

Patriots host the Cowboys next Sunday at 4:15.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, October 07, 2011

College Football Picks: Week 6*

I seriously do not recommend using my picks. In fact, I'd recommend picking against my picks. You'll get rich. I was 4-7 last week, and am now 14-24-1 on the season. That's a -37.2% return on investment. Here are my picks for Week 6.

Texas +10.5 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas, TX)
This is usually a hard fought contest. I just don't see OU covering, and there's a chance they may lose.

Boston College +21 @ Clemson
I do not think BC will win. But this is one of those games that they're supposed to get killed yet they'll turn it into an interesting affair.

NC State -10.5 vs. Central Michigan
Why not?

Virginia Tech -7.5 vs. Miami
VT will not lose back-to-back home games

Penn State -3.5 vs. Iowa
PSU at home, small spread, Iowa stinks.

LSU -13 vs. Florida
I don't think LSU will dominate, but these SEC games have a tendency to get ridiculous in the 4th quarter with the winning team pulling away by multiple TDs.

Northwestern +8 vs. Michigan
First road game for Michigan, and Northwestern has their QB back.

Georgia -1.5 @ Tennessee
UGA is actually good this year.

Auburn +10 @ Arkansas
This game should be closer than that.

Baylor -15 vs. Iowa State
Baylor has RG3, ISU has an awful defense.

Texas Tech +9.5 vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies have not impressed me in their big games. This is a road game against a 4-0 team with the 4th ranked offense in the country. Even if A&M wins, it won't be by much.

Nebraska -11 vs. Ohio State
NU needs to recover from last week with a big win at home. OSU will be their victim in Lincoln.

Bruins Raise a Banner, Drop a Game

Before discussing the game, I just want to say that the pre-game ceremony was quite cool. Having armed forces, police, and firefighters lining the Cup's path into the building, then the video of all the ups and downs of the playoffs, then unveiling the banner itself, that was pretty neat.

I'm glad the speeches were short and sweat. And it was very classy to have players from the 1972 team, along with Milt Schmidt help carry the banner to its raising point. And the poignant tribute to Mark Recchi was the icing on the cake. Very well done.

The game was not so well done. It was the type of game that one year ago would have sent me into a frenzy. Not making plays out of the zone, allowing easy entry, not dumping and chasing. These were some of the problems the Bruins had last night.

Marchand and Seguin were the only two Bruins who had truly good offensive games. The Bruins had 23 shots on goal in this game, only 6 in both the 1st and 2nd periods. Give credit to Bryzgalov for stopping 22 shots. He was very impressive, and it's safe to say that goaltending is no longer a liability for the Flyers.

The Bruins allowed their first goal thanks to surrendering the blue-line too easily. Four Bruins around one Flyer, and he manages to get through. Then the second goal came after Seidenberg had the puck on his own blue line and just tapped it toward the red line. He didn't carry it, or attempt to pass it to a teammate. He just tapped it forward, Philly recaptured it, and a few seconds later they made it a 2-1 game.

I really wish the announcers had mentioned Jaromir Jagr at least once. I certainly did not get my fill on hearing about how amazing Jaromir Jagr has been for the Flyers.

There are 81 games left and I'm not going to flip out as badly as I did last year after just one frustrating loss. These are fixable problems. And on the bright side, Marchand looks great and Seguin looks good.

Bruins host the Lightning Saturday night.

Photo Credits:
AP Photo

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Notre Dame to Hockey East

BC and Notre Dame will now be rivals on the ice, not just the gridiron. The Fighting Irish have announced that they'll be leaving the CCHA and joining Hockey East starting in the 2013-14 season. Notre Dame will be the 11th member of the conference, joining BC, BU, UNH, Maine, Vermont, Northeastern, Merrimack, UMass, UMass-Lowell, and Providence.

This isn't much of a surprise, as Notre Dame's current home - the Central Collegiate Hockey Association - has been under siege since the Big Ten decided to form its own hockey conference. The Big Ten will take 3 teams from CCHA for the 2013-14 season.

Also in 2013-14, the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference will start play. This group took Miami (OH) from the CCHA. While the CCHA still had 7 teams remaining after the Big Ten and NCHA made their moves, Notre Dame was the only big program left. The Irish would have been playing against schools like Ferris State, Alaska, and Northern Michigan.

And with the influx of TV money (thanks to there being 100,000 channels these days), Notre Dame would have been left in the dust.

Now the Irish are part of an elite conference (Hockey East teams have 11 NCAA titles and 67 Frozen Four appearances), they'll be playing perennially ranked teams like BU, BC, and UNH. Hockey East already has a TV deal with NESN, and with CBS College Sports Network.

The move is good for Hockey East, as the Irish are an up and coming program. And obviously Notre Dame has a lot of fans all over the country. Even though South Bend is a long way from Orono, Maine, the Irish should be well-supported on their road trips. And of course, Notre Dame will help encourage more televised games. There's even a rumor that NBC (or one of its partners) will be interested in broadcasting Irish hockey.

I wouldn't be shocked if Hockey East went after a 12th team, or even more. ECAC schools like Union and RPI are candidates. And if UConn ever invested scholarships into its men's program, they'd be the most likely to join. UConn's women's team is already a Hockey East member.

But even with just 11 teams, Hockey East remains one of the premier leagues in a sport that is changing much like college football is changing.

Bruins Season Preview

That seemed like the shortest off-season in history. That's a good thing. The Bruins look to defend the Cup and become the first repeat winners since the Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998. And they have most of the same pieces in place as they did last year.

Both goalies return, 5 of 6 defensemen are back, and so are 11 of 13 forwards. The Bruins lost Tomas Kaberle, Mark Rechhi, and Michael Ryder. They've brought in veteran defenseman Joe Corvo, and winger Benoit Pouliot.

The loss of Rechhi hurts. The Bergeron-Marchand-Rechhi line carried this team during a tough stretch in the regular season, then scored 22 goals in the postseason. Not only do the Bruins lose Rechhi's production, he made things so easy for Marchand. Peverley could fill-in and is a solid enough player to allow Bergeron and Marchand to make plays. But nobody can truly replace Mark Recchi.

The top line of Krejci-Lucic-Horton should be back to form. This line struggled with consistency, particularly from Horton. But they came through in the playoffs, especially Krejci. I've often criticized Krejci for not being a true #1 center because he's not a scorer. 12 goals in 25 playoff games shut me up.

Tyler Seguin showed sparks last year. Will those sparks ignite into a fire? I think that will take time to happen. He's talented, he's learning how to play defense, and he's learning how NHL players play defense against him. Seguin scored 11 goals last year and it's not out of the question that he score 20+ this year. The question is: which line does he play for? He's not consistent enough to be on the first line, but that's the level of talent he needs to be surrounded by. He's too talented to be on a grinding line. Maybe he could play with Marchand and Bergeron. But he has to earn that spot.

The true strength of this team is its defense and goaltending. And both of those should be as good as they were last year.

I was reading something about the Top 10 Stanley Cup contenders, and the fucking San Jose Sharks were listed as #1. The Bruins were third, behind the Penguins. canvassed their 8 experts and 6 of them picked the Sabres to win the Northeast. 1 picked the Canadiens. 1 picked the Bruins. Thank you, Scott Burnside.

Really? The Sharks? The Sabres? Did people not see what Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas, and Dennis Seidenberg did to the NHL's best offensive players? Then again, none of those experts picked Thomas to win the Vezina this season, and none of them picked Chara to win the Norris.

18 players on the Stanley Cup Champions have returned, and this team isn't the favorite to win it all?

The Bruins return their best 5 defensemen, got rid of their worst, then added one who can not only score (which Kaberle had never been able to) but can play solid on defense. This is an elite group of blue-liners. And there's depth, too. Bartkowski and Kampfer, who were both solid when called upon last year, are waiting in the wings in case of injury.

Then there's the goalie. Tim Thomas is perhaps the most important player in the League to any team's success. He is 37 years old, but he looked healthier than ever last season. That being said, he played in 57 regular season games, plus 25 postseason games. He played about 4,900 minutes in net. 2,660 shots came his way. He's only had 16 weeks to recover from all this.

So this year, expect Rask to play a bigger part during the regular season. He started 27 games last year, expect just under 40 this year. It's not going to be a 1A/1B situation. Thomas is clearly the best goalie on this team. This will be an effort to keep Thomas fresh and frisky.

Stanley Cups aren't won on paper. This team is almost identical to the team that won it all last year. The Cup is won with execution and effort and that has to come out in the postseason. Regular season results are easy to predict, but the playoffs come down to a few plays here and there.

Buffalo is going to be tougher to beat. They added scorers to an already talented offense. And they have Ryan Miller.

Montreal is pretty much the same team. But remember, they played the Bruins the best in the playoffs.

Ottawa is still rebuilding.

The Leafs might be more respectable, but they're not a threat.

The Flyers dumped their offense and they're going to try to follow a model similar to the Bruins': Defensemen and goaltending. Pronger's great, but Bryzgalov is no Tim Thomas.

The Rangers are finally picking good talent, and they'll be strong. They have a goalie and goal-scorers.

The Lightning still allow too many goals.

The Penguins will always be contenders. And if they get Crosby back, they'll be serious contenders.

If the Capitals get stellar production from Ovechkin once more, their defense might be strong enough for them to do damage in the playoffs.

Out West, Nashville is just a few goal scorers away from being a Stanley Cup contender. Detroit is old but still deep.

San Jose has names. ESPN says they have "all the ingredients," but it takes more than correct ingredients to cook a good meal. And goalie Antti Niemi might have a ring, but he wasn't the big reason Chicago won that title.

And Vancouver... well, we know their weaknesses.

My prediction for the season: Bruins win the Northeast with 110 points, are the #2 seed in the East, and let's be optimistic and say that they win another Cup.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bruins Get Their Rings

Over 300 diamonds adorn the spectacular rings that were distributed to the Bruins yesterday. But what's most impressive is the intricate detail that went into each ring. On one side is the player's name (the photographed ring belongs to Chara) along with the Bruins' secondary logo. The oppositte side lists the 6 times the Bruins won the Cup (2011, 1972, 1970, 1941, 1939, 1929), along with the Cup itself.

The interior of the ring is also decorated with the motto "Full 60+ to History" engraved on one side, and the logos of the Bruins' vanquished playoff foes (and the scores of those series) on the other side.

Jeremy Jacobs went all out on these rings, and I like the little details. It's not just a ridiculously glitzy piece of bling, the little things make it even cooler. 505 of these will be distributed to players, coaches, and team personnel.

Sean Avery Cut

The Rangers waived Sean Avery, stating that they had no role for the controversial forward to play. And I can't say I blame them. On the ice, Avery just isn't that productive. He scored 3 goals and 21 assists last year, with a -4. He's never scored more than 15 in a season (that was in '07-'08), he's never reached 40 points in a season. He racks up penalty minutes (174 last year) but isn't a strong enforcer like Shawn Thornton.

He's an antagonist. But he's only a part-time antagonist. Only when it suits him. He's not a wimp, but he's hardly one of the NHL's tough guys. And at 5' 10" 195, he's not dominating many physical battles anyway.

He's just not that good of a hockey player. He's got 4th line skill with 1st line ego. He doesn't help you on the ice or off it. Unless you want publicity, you shouldn't sign this guy to your team. He's a gimmick.

I Touched the Stanley Cup Yesterday

The Bruins have been holding photo taking sessions with the Stanley Cup for season ticket holders. And yesterday, my friend's uncle's girlfriend had two extra tickets for this experience. And I was lucky enough to receive one of them.

We could touch the Cup. We could hug it. Some even kissed it. The only thing not permitted was lifting it off its table. They're probably paranoid about that ever since Michael Ryder dropped it.

It was surreal. I've never touched a Championship trophy before, and none of the other trophies have the same allure of the Cup. There's a new Lombardi Trophy every year. But there's only one Cup.

Touching it was a bit surprising. I thought it would feel colder, like metal usually does. But it felt warm and familiar. That's because it's not just silver, it's nickel. And we handle nickel every day in nickels and quarters.

The texture isn't as smooth as you'd think either. Just pick up a quarter and rub it. That's how the surface of the Cup feels. It's not rough, nor is it slick. Now granted, when I touched it, it was covered in finger prints from everyone else who'd taken a picture with it. So maybe when it's all polished up, it feels smoother.

I didn't pick it up, but I did hug it. And it's not as heavy as you'd think. It's not a giant chunk of metal. It's metal wrapped around a hollow core. When you see something that big, that glisteningly metallic, and it's a bit surprising that it doesn't weigh half a ton.

As a sports fan, it was a pretty cool experience.

Monday, October 03, 2011

College Football Summary: Week 5

Is it me or have the big games between top 10 teams been a little boring? One team always seems to build a huge lead and the game is decided before the 4th quarter even starts. Thankfully, you get surprisingly good games like Auburn/South Carolina. Here are the top stories from this weekend's games:

Someone in the AP Poll voted Boise State #1. That means that they've seen LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma play and were not as impressed by any of them as they were by Boise State. LSU has beaten Oregon and West Virginia. Alabama has beaten Florida and Arkansas and is allowing 8.4 points per game. Boise State beat Georgia, which is a solid win, but I don't know how anyone could not vote for LSU, Alabama, or Oklahoma as the best team in the country.

The LSU/Alabama game on November 5th looks like it will be a national title quarterfinal game, with the winner going to the SEC Championship game (national title semifinal). LSU's defense is capable of shutting anyone down.

The Sooners fell to #3 despite destroying Ball State 62-6, but that's understandable considering what LSU and Bama have done. OU is averaging over 40 points per game, and they'll get a chance for an impressive win if they can beat Texas on Saturday.

Alabama does not get phased. They looked more comfortable playing in the intensity of Gainesville than the Gators were. They've been to big games, they play in the SEC spotlight every week. They execute under pressure, and as talented as LSU and OU are, Alabama's poise gives the Tide the edge.

The Badgers were 4-0 against some weak opposition before Saturday. They crushed Nebraska and are now leading the way in the Big Ten. However, they've yet to play on the road. We saw how Nebraska fell into quicksand in Madison and Wisconsin will be just as vulnerable when they leave home. They've got tough trips to East Lansing and Columbus this month. And a meeting with #19 Illinois in Champaign in November.

I had my doubts because they're so young, but Clemson is clearly the class of the ACC. They've beaten Florida State and Virginia Tech, not to mention a win against Auburn. They're just a solid team, and that is good enough to win the ACC by a mile. Georgia Tech is the only other viable contender in the conference. Not only do the Yellow Jackets run the ball well (378.2 rush yards per game), they've figured out how to occasionally yet effectively pass it (208.8 pass yards per game). They'll host Clemson on October 29th, and these two might meet again on December 3rd (ACC title game).

Auburn beat SEC East contender South Carolina. Alabama beat SEC East contender Florida. Both wins came on the road. Meanwhile, SEC West contender Arkansas beat Texas A&M in Arlington. The SEC West was 5-1 this weekend, even though 5 of 6 teams played on the road. When A&M joins the SEC, they'll likely be in the West. And after a few weeks in that division they might get homesick for the Big XII and games against Baylor and Iowa State.

If every Big East game this weekend were cancelled, would you notice or care? I wouldn't. The Big East is looking into expansion, but I can't imagine any BCS teams that would want to leave the Big Ten, ACC, or SEC to join the Big East.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III got picked off for the first time all season on Saturday, and it cost the Bears a win against K-State. That being said, he threw 5 TD passes before that, and his defense couldn't keep the Wildcats out of the end zone. Baylor only has a limited rushing game to run time off the clock.

RG3 completes 82% of his passes, he has 18 TDs and 1 INT, he's thrown for 1,308 yards. He's on pace to throw 54 TDs, 3 picks, and over 3,900 yards. He is the entire Baylor team. The Bears have the 84th ranked scoring defense. Griffin is responsible for 67% of Baylor's total offense (1,308 passing yards, 173 rushing yards, out of 2,211 total for Baylor). He is 2/3 of the 4th best offense in the country. He's scored 19 of their 25 offensive touchdowns.

I know there are plenty of other worthy Heisman hopefuls with gaudy stats on teams that will contend for the national title. But the fact that Griffin is the entirety of his team's offense and is solely responsible for a mediocre program being in the Top 25, makes him Heisman material. For me, at least.

I Don't Like the Francona Move, But I Understand It

Although he wasn't fired, and although it seemed to be a mutual breakup, the Red Sox' owners were not supporting Francona. Even if Francona wanted to work in such an environment, I doubt the Sox were going to pickup his option. There have already been reports that the ownership decided 2 weeks ago to cut him lose. This seems like a mutual breakup but it's not. Imagine if your girlfriend said "I'm not attracted to you and want to sleep with other men." You probably wouldn't want to see her anymore, but it wouldn't be a mutual breakup.

The Red Sox' collapse was not Terry Francona's fault. At least not nearly as much as the players' fault. No manager, no matter how insightful, inspiring, or ingenious, could get Erik Bedard to be anything but Erik Bedard. No manager could coax a shred of decency from John Lackey.

A very vocal and very stupid minority in Red Sox Nation are blaming Francona for lack of control in the clubhouse. The leaked incident about starting pitchers drinking during games is being used as People's Exhibit A against Francona, who has always been a player's manager.

It's funny how this vocal minority aren't blaming the grown men who acted like this. Francona isn't a disciplinarian, but he's not supposed to be a babysitter. During a game, is he supposed to do surprise inspections of the clubhouse? Like some college dorm RA, looking for booze.

I think we can guess who the problems were in this clubhouse. John Lackey is quite clearly a scumbag. He sounds like he's drunk all the time. He also pitches like he's drunk all the time.

Erik Bedard doesn't strike me as a good character. Some players, when they get a chance to play for a contender in a pennant race, step up their performance. Bedard seemed to lazily cruise.

JD Drew, at the very least, is not a positive influence.

Josh Beckett is a fraud. He's a fake Texas Tough Guy. He's a wannabe Stone Cold Steve Austin that gets sidelined by blisters and the slightest of illnesses. I can't say he was a clubhouse problem, but he doesn't seem to be much of a leader.

Then there's the excuse makers. Every time this team struggled, there were excuses. Injuries. The lack of a DH in interleague play. God. Et cetera.

This clubhouse was full of babies and jerks. And while they were winning, these character flaws were hidden. They were exposed when the losing started. It's the chicken and the egg, really. Does poor chemistry cause losing, or does losing cause poor chemistry. One thing I know from the past is that good chemistry prevents losing from lasting too long (See: 2004 ALCS).

Blaming Francona for how adults act is a bit silly. He's not a schoolteacher or a babysitter. He's a baseball manager. And he is who he is. He's not going to change his style because the players under his charge are misbehaving.

But even though it's not his fault that the players didn't respect him, when the situation deteriorates like it did in September, it's time to change managers. If employees don't respect their supervisor, even if it's not the supervisor's fault, you have to change supervisors.

This team is poorly assembled, though. Do Bill James and his mathmagicians take character (or lack of) into consideration when they recommend a player to Theo? I feel like Francona was a teacher given a classroom of drug addicts, troublemakers, and morons. Then he was fired because they acted like drug addicts, troublemakers, and morons.

The question now is who replaces Francona? Who replaces a man who averaged 93 wins in his 8 seasons here? Who replaces a 2 time World Series winner? Who replaces a guy who handled players like Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis while simultaneously handling the Boston Sports Media and did so while never throwing anyone under the bus? What kind of man can juggle that well?

The Nation wants discipline. But Earl Weaver is not walking through that door.

Sox fans are clamoring for Joe Maddon. That'd be fine with me. It couldn't hurt Crawford's performance. But that guy is hardly Bill Parcells. He's not as laid back as Tito, but he's not a whip-cracker either. And why would he want to leave Tampa Bay? Why would he want to leave a contender that has great young pitching for a semi-contender that has awful veteran pitchers? Why would he want to leave a clubhouse full of character for a den of drinking and excuses.

To be honest, I don't think changing the managerial situation will turn this team around. Signing a top starting pitcher (CJ Wilson would be nice), giving Lackey his outright release (it's a better investment to pay him $15 million to not pitch here), getting Buchholz and Youkilis back, adding a reliable set-up man to the bullpen. These are the things that will bring October baseball back to Boston.

Back in Order

It wasn't immaculate, but the Patriots got back to the business of winning in Oakland Sunday afternoon, thanks to Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, and some Raiders' penalties.

It's safe to say that Welker is back. He caught 9 passes for 158 yards. He's on pace for 160 receptions. He's Brady's favorite target again, he's getting yards after the catch, he's getting himself open on 3rd downs.

Vince Wilfork is the defensive MVP of the Patriots. He not only holds down the middle of the defensive line (which is extra hard on the road as Haynesworth apparently does not like to travel), but now he's making plays. Two interceptions this season, which is only one shy of Arrington for the team lead.

Turnovers saved the Patriots in this game. Chung's interception ended an Oakland drive that should have been a touchdown. The Pats do not have a good defense, but if they can retrieve the ball (and the offense can hang on to it), then they can be saved.

I had a thought during this game. Why not use Matthew Slater as a defensive back? He can't be much worse in coverage than the safeties currently employed by the Pats, and at least he can tackle.

I'm glad the Patriots fully utilized Ridley. 97 yards on 10 carries, and a touchdown. He can be more effective than Ellis (getting more yards per carry), and more dependable than Woodhead to get those 2 must-have yards.

The Raiders did the Patriots plenty of favors. Richard Seymour's childish antics with Brady are the foremost example. But even just running the ball instead of taking advantage of the Patriots' weak zone defense felt like Oakland was trying to not take advantage of the Patriots' biggest weakness. Thanks.

The Pats are now tied with the Bills for first, with a big divisional game this Sunday. Jets at Patriots, Sunday at 4:15.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo