Friday, October 05, 2007

Time to Make a Pick

It is nice that the Cowboys give Texas-OU the full stage this weekend, so that we may turn our attention to one of the finest spectacles in college sports (and no, Baylor fans, I am not talking about the opening of Women’s Basketball practice).

This year’s Red River Shootout will be fun, but I am hard pressed to find the normal 50/50 split in predictions and talk. Fact is, that feeling that Texas is not that good that I felt about a month ago has crashed hard all over Austin after Kansas State fashioned a second consecutive win against the mighty Horns.

They don’t believe in themselves right now, and that starts with Colt McCoy. He might be hurt, and even if he is not, he is not playing well. What looked like an explosive offense on paper doesn’t look like one on grass.

Meanwhile, the Sooners had everything falling into place until the 4th Quarter in Boulder. They looked like a National Championship contender, and while they may have blown that opportunity last weekend, they still look like the class of the Big 12.

Too much speed, too much line of scrimmage domination, and too much QB play to feel like this one is close.

Oklahoma 31, Texas 17

Of course, it should be noted that I picked Texas nearly every year from 2000-2004, so what do I know?

Mack Brown rallies the troops

Mack Brown found himself playing a bit of defense against the home team Thursday at the Austin Longhorn Club's weekly luncheon at the Erwin Center. Brown was greeted by a short standing ovation but then was hit by pointed questions:

• Does the team have enough leadership in the locker room? (Yes, the seniors are good leaders, Brown said.)

• Is Larry Mac Duff getting the job done in coaching linebackers and special teams? ("Larry's a great coach. Our linebacker play has been better than perceived," Brown said. "We were mad at Gene Chizik for not coaching well right before he left. We're pretty hard on coaches." He also noted that Mac Duff isn't in charge of special teams; he's one of several coaches with special-teams duties.)

• Why not play the younger linebackers more? (They will, Brown said. "Obviously, we'll play the best players.")

• Doesn't the team need to loosen up and have fun like the 2005 squad did? (Brown noted that it's a lot easier to have fun when you're 13-0.)

Brown asked for a show of hands of those who had said something negative about the Longhorns football team in the past week. Most raised a hand.

"You're the choir. Stay positive," he said.

"We're 4-1," Brown reminded his burnt-orange audience at the end of his talk. "When you get a leak in the boat, don't act like it's sinking."

RRS is one of the best

If hyperbole determined bragging rights, then Texas vs. Oklahoma would be a mismatch. You begin with the state songs. Texas, our Texas! All hail the mighty State! Texas, our Texas! So wonderful so great! Texans invented the exclamation point. In Oklahoma, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein writes about wind and wheat and ends the anthem with comparatively restrained praise. We're only sayin', You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma - OK. To make things fair, a college football game is faithfully staged every October, at a neutral site, to determine state superiority. Both Texas and Oklahoma lost last weekend, but the majesty of Saturday's annual game at the Cotton Bowl is undiminished.

Texas-OU transcends national rankings, conference standings and bowl hopes, and has for a long, long time.

"Records don't matter," says James Street, the former Texas quarterback who went 20-0 as a two-year starter and led the Longhorns to the 1969 national championship. "Hell, I loved beating 'em. OU is bigger than all the other games. It dictates the kind of year you're going to have."

Street expects last week's embarrassments -- Texas allowed 41 points to Kansas State at home, and OU blew a 17-point lead at Colorado -- will heighten the game-day fervor and inspire both schools to play even harder, if that's possible.
The rising temperature of college football's hottest rivalry already might be contributing to global warming.

As much as It pained me at the time, if you had to boil this series down to 1 play in the last decade, there is no debate what that play is…

Here it is.

How good is Texas?

If the numbers applied to the federal government rather than a college football team, they would be cited as an example of deficit spending.

For members of the Texas defense, the unsightly statistics underscore a problem that must be corrected Saturday for the 19th-ranked Longhorns (4-1) to avoid an 0-2 start in the Big 12.

Simply put, the Longhorns have lost more turnovers (12) than they have forced (10). Opponents have scored more points off turnovers (45) than Texas (37).

That is a huge reversal from recent seasons, when Texas has ranked among the nation's best at maximizing point differential from turnovers. The Longhorns outscored opponents 145-45 in that department last season. In 2005, when Texas won the national championship, the margin was 148-71.

If the Longhorns don't reverse this trend, linebacker Scott Derry expressed concern that the season could unravel.

"This is kind of a crossroads for us," Derry said. "We're not used to losing. We don't know how to cope with losses."

Significant blame has been assigned to quarterback Colt McCoy for throwing a career-high four interceptions (leading to 20 points) in last week's 41-21 loss to Kansas State, but defensive players and coaches offer a valid rebuttal. The Longhorns forced no turnovers against K-State, the third time in five games Texas failed to win the turnover battle against a double-digit underdog.

The issue concerns Duane Akina. The Longhorns' co-defensive coordinator ordered more turnover drills in practices this week.

"It's not only the turnovers," said Akina, whose goal is three per game. "It's the field position and momentum that you get from them. Those things create a surge for you, and... we're not getting that."

Defensive players, Derry said, blame themselves for the shortfall, and the sloppy tackling that allowed K-State to gain 89 yards after initial contact, a season high.
"You can be a solid defense by limiting people [in total yards]. But I don't think you can be a great defense without creating the turnovers and the takeaways," Derry said. "That's something that gives the offense another possession. It creates momentum and flips around field position."

In short, it makes it easier to win games. It is no coincidence to Texas coaches that the Longhorns were a combined 34-4 from 2004-2006 while dominating turnover-related statistics in those seasons.

Getting back on top in those areas in 2007 is primarily up to the defense, say those closest to the situation.

To Cowboys, Mickey looks at Romo

Tony Romo is the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for September.

Romo runs the NFL's No. 1 offense and top-scoring offense.

Romo owns the NFC's top QB rating at 112.9.

Romo has thrown the most touchdown passes in the NFC (11).

Romo's 9.91-yard average gain per passing attempt is No. 1 in the NFL.
Romo's Dallas Cowboys team is undefeated (4-0).

They had better go get a new book.

Yeah, you remember the book, don't you, the one everyone seemed to get their grimy hands on after Romo drove the Cowboys to that 5-1 record in his first six NFL starts last year and then stumbled through the final four games at 1-3?

Those ignoring the facts said those defenses finally figured out Romo, that they got the book on how to stop him. What they ignored during that four-game stretch was how badly the Cowboys' defense faltered, giving up 132 points in the final four games - an average of 33 points a game.

What the supposedly enlightened crowd ignored was how badly the Cowboys' running game faltered down the stretch, especially after Julius Jones peeled off that 77-yard touchdown run against New Orleans in Game 13. After that, the Cowboys gained all of 274 yards rushing on 82 carries to - just 3.3 yards a carry - to the finish.
Now just who was struggling?

Ah, but as normally happens, it's easiest to blame the quarterback, all of it, the uninitiated readily pointing out during the final four games Romo threw only six touchdown passes and was intercepted six times after drilling 10 touchdown passes and getting interceptive five times in those previous six starts.

Well, what's up, did everyone suddenly lose the book? Did those teams not return the stop-Romo blueprint to the library, incurring serious late fees?

Because heading into the Monday night encounter with the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, no one has been able to corral Romo, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in three of the first four games, nor has anyone been able to hold the Cowboys' team to less than 34 points.

Ironic thing is, if you have been watching closely, the first four opponents mostly have bought into the same defensive theory, and maybe the one left highlighted in that used book: Do whatever you need to do to make Romo beat you.

How about the Captains in the NFL?

Cold, Hard Football Fact No. 1: Bills quarterback J.P. Losman (above left), wore a captain's "C" on the upper right shoulder of his jersey this past Sunday, indicating his leadership role with the Bills (who he has led to nine wins in the past three-plus seasons).

Cold, Hard Football Fact No. 2. Packers quarterback Brett Favre did not wear that same captain’s “C” Sunday, despite starting his 240th consecutive game for the Packers (and winning it, his record-tying 148th NFL victory).

Confused? So was everyone else.

But that was the NFL's captaincy program in Week 1, a damned good idea that was poorly orchestrated by the league and ill-explained to Football Nation.

In August, the league sent out a press release on the "emphasis on captains,” shortly before the season. This was not a particularly big deal, as teams had long been elected game captains throughout the season, mostly on a game-by-game basis.

But part of the announcement was that teams would have "C" emblems on the jerseys, which was pretty intriguing. The captain "C" and assistant "A"s in hockey are two of the sport's most enduring symbols, and the concept brimmed with possibility for the NFL.

Most football types assumed that all teams would be wearing the captain insignias, because, well, why would one team have them and others not?

Wasn’t this a league rule?

Therein lay the rub, and perhaps even the strip steak to put it on.

This was no league mandate – this was a strong suggestion, something that came up at a players council meeting with new commissioner Roger Goodell. The players suggested it, Goodell liked it, the coaches liked it, and it was so.

But somewhere along the line, the specifics slipped out of the league’s grasp like a wobbly spiral on a rainy November night.

Week 1 was rousing good fun for football junkies everywhere, but in terms of the captain “C”s it was a complete disaster. Some teams had them, some teams didn’t, with no rhyme or reason given by the networks pre-game or in-game. In addition, the announcing teams did very little to spotlight the insignias during the games - no features, no graphics, nothing, just passing mentions .

There were no explanations as to why one team would have the Cs and one wouldn’t, as happened in several games (Patriots-Jets, Cowboys-Giants, for example).

Clearly, signals from league headquarters were to deemphasize the “C.” If the league had felt comfortable with it, the captain change would have been something the fans knew about in every city.

Instead, it was buried, right out in the open.

Meet Roy Williams of the Detroit Lions …he doesn’t tip…

Roy Williams made national news when he revealed his no-tipping policy last week on WDFN-AM (1130), and not everybody found it cute.

"Rich jerk," one e-mailer wrote us. (Actually, it was worse than that.)

Well, Williams set the record straight Monday on WDFN: He learned his lesson when he stopped at a red light the other night.

"And guess who pulls up next to me?" Williams said. "Pizza Hut man. I roll my window down and I say, 'Pizza dude, how much am I supposed to tip you?' He said, 'Three, four maybe five dollars.' ... So I'm going to start tipping the pizza man."

Stars Home Opener is Tonight …Who needs tickets?

Parity isn't so hot when you're one of the big spenders. That's what fans in a few NHL burgs are finding out in the third season of the salary cap.

On Wednesday night, Detroit didn't sell out the season opener in "Hockeytown" for the first time in 20 years – by more than 2,500 empty seats. Colorado didn't sell out its home opener for the first time since the team moved to Denver in 1995. That follows on the heels of the Avalanche seeing an end to its sellout streak of 487 games last season.

Tonight at American Airlines Center, the Stars aren't expecting a full house for their home opener against the Boston Bruins.

"It's tough, but it's a reality a lot of teams are dealing with right now," Stars president Jim Lites said Thursday.

Especially those that were big spenders before the lockout. Those teams created high expectations for fans and aren't meeting them. The Avs won nine straight division championships, then missed the playoffs last season. The Stars have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three straight seasons. The Red Wings were in the conference finals last season but haven't won a Stanley Cup since 2002.

That's not good enough for fans who want more. That trio represented the West in the Finals from 1995 to 2002 – twice for Dallas, twice for Colorado and four times for Detroit – winning six Stanley Cups in that stretch. But that changed when they had to cut their payrolls between 30 and 45 percent, and the poorer teams started spending more.

"That's what happens with parity," said Stars forward Stu Barnes, in his 16th NHL season. "That was the whole idea. We wanted to have a league where every team had a chance to win."

The NHL is closer to that than it has been in a long time. A team such as Anaheim can rebuild in a year or two. St. Louis should be able to go from a disaster that drew a league-worst 12,520 average attendance last season to a legitimate playoff contender this time around.

And what about the Stars? Dallas ranked 12th in average tickets distributed at 17,914 last season. It ranked 16th in percentage of capacity at 96.7 percent.

This season, the Stars could fall slightly below that. The season-ticket base is down 10 percent to fewer than 13,000. On some nights, there could be a lot of empty seats.

The same goes for Colorado and Detroit. If those two can't sell out with Anaheim and Dallas in town on opening night, what kind of crowd will show up for Columbus on a Tuesday in November?

Heika speaks out on Chris Conner …And as you know, I couldn’t agree more…

Bottom line, the Stars were wrong to send Chris Conner to the minors this week. There are long-term excuses and contract-based reasons, but the truth of the matter is, this is not the best lineup the Stars can put on the ice right now.

With Mike Ribeiro out of the lineup with a high ankle sprain, the Stars have an opening for a top-six forward. They are going to try Antti Miettinen or Loui Eriksson in that role, but neither has earned the right to be there.

Conner did.

No, preseason isn't the perfect judge of what will work in the regular season, but it is one of the evaluating factors. Conner aced his preseason test with three goals and six assists in five games. He played well on a line with Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow, and that's a pair coach Dave Tippett seems intent on using right now. That Conner isn't with them to start the season is difficult to explain.

Miettinen has had plenty of chances in the past, and maybe the Stars feel they need to give him one last opportunity before making a decision on the free-agent-to-be.
Eriksson appears to be the team's biggest long-term hope for scoring from the wing, and the Stars don't want to abandon that project. But Eriksson is a nonwaiver player, so he could work on his scoring in the minors and then come back later if he gets his game going. He has shown little at the NHL level to prove he should be getting top minutes – and he may spend large parts of the season as a third- or fourth-line player, a fit that seems really bad for him.

So if you had to pick two right wings to play in the top six right now, the logical choices would be Jere Lehtinen ... and Chris Conner. Stu Barnes or Joel Lundqvist would do in a pinch. Miettinen or Eriksson might surprise. But Conner fits.

Further proof that this book is true, below:

Marion Jones finally admits the obvious

Marion Jones admitted using steroids before the 2000 Olympics in a recent letter to close family and friends and is expected to enter a guilty plea in connection with her steroid use in federal court on Friday, according to media reports.

The Washington Post first reported Thursday that in her letter, Jones, a triple gold medalist in Sydney who repeatedly denied doping allegations for years, said she took "the clear" for two years, beginning in 1999, and that she got it from former coach Trevor Graham.

"I want to apologize for all of this," the Post reported Jones saying in her letter, quoting a person who received a copy and read it to the paper. "I am sorry for disappointing you all in so many ways."

Jones is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., on Friday to plead guilty. The New York Times reported that according to two lawyers connected with the case, Jones is expected to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing drugs and one count of making false statements to federal agents in connection with a separate check fraud case.

This week, the premiership is mostly Sunday morning:

Sat Oct 06 06:40AM Central
Setanta Sports USA
English Premier League
Manchester United vs Wigan Athletic

Sat Oct 06 08:45AM Central
Setanta Sports USA
English Premier League
Aston Villa vs West Ham United

Sun Oct 07 05:00AM Central
Setanta Sports USA
English Premier League
Arsenal vs Sunderland

Sun Oct 07 08:55AM Central
FOX Soccer Channel (FSC) - US
English Premier League
Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur

Sun Oct 07 08:55AM Central
Setanta Sports USA
English Premier League
Bolton Wanderers vs Chelsea

Email on Colt McCoy:


You have to remember that Colt was not recruited to be the starting QB. He was recruited to be the back up for Vince and then for Lyin’ Ryan Perrilouser. But Vince leaves early and Lyin’ Ryan re-nigs and Mack gets stuck between a rock and a hard place. He did pull a last minute recruiting save by getting Jevan Sneed to de-commit from Florida and come to Austin, but with Mack being hard-headed as hell about playing freshmen regardless of talent, Colt got the automatic bid as the starter.

Jevan with more development and playing time probably would have shown that he had better overall talent, but of course, he got pissed off due to lack of opportunity to prove himself and left for Ole Miss. Remember, Jevan did a more than admirable job of almost bringing the team back against K-State last year after Colt was injured. Also, it was evident that Colt was still injured during the A&M game and should not have even started. I’m a longtime season ticket holder and was at the game and it was very evident early on that something wasn’t right with him.

If history repeats itself, Colt will be very average this Saturday and the Horns will be blown out. I believe that he feels that it is his duty to take the field and play whether he is up to par or not, and the coaching staff has shown in the past that they will let him play if he obviously isn’t 100%. I just don’t get how he can suffer a concussion on Saturday against K-State, and first thing Monday morning, he is cleared to play. Seems to me that more evaluation needs to be done.

Hey Bob,

Yes, I am a Texas alum for point of reference. It seems like we need to put his performance last year in perspective. He was a redshirt freshman starting for a Big 12 team. All Texas fans going into 2006 expected a 2 loss (for sure) - 3 (insert your K States or Nebraskas of the world) year: 1 to Ohio State, 1 to Oklahoma (with Rhett Bomar). They beat OU because they lost some players at the hands of scandal. He had the test of Ohio State and he didn't play great, but he didn't play poorly considering he is playing a top 5 team in his second career start.

For him to tie the frosh record for TD's in a season is pretty impressive. I think a large part of that success should be given to his incredible O-line. Even with a wall line he was provided, it still requires good athletic ability and decision making to make plays, which he proved he could do against OU & Tech. He was very Romo-esque pulling Texas from the fire after falling behind big early. Gunslinging his team to victory. If not for getting hurt in the K State game, there is no way they finish the year with a loss other that Ohio State. I agree with you that he has something to prove by showing up in a big way in a big game. I think we both know that he has the athletic ability to be a good QB in college. He will not be able to take advantage of that ability until they get some help up front. Colt looks bad this year because 3 of his 5 lineman last year are playing in the NFL right now. Lets not lay this at Colt's feet, it seems more appropriate to say that they do not have experience at key positions on the line.

Love the show.

I never listen,

Ryan in San Diego

Romo’s Jedi Act with Fountains of Wayne

Thriller Dance at a dream wedding


Lance said...

I just can't get as excited for Texas/OU this year since neither team has any shot at the national championship and both teams obviously have major flaws. Texas is definitely in worse shape than OU going into this game, and they'll probably lose big tomorrow, but OU has plenty of question marks too after the egg they laid in Boulder last weekend.

Will this finally be the year that neither Texas nor OU wins the Big 12 South? I doubt it since Tech has a lousy defense, OSU is too inconsistent, and A&M still sucks as usual under Fran. However, it wouldn't shock me in the least to see the Big 12 champ come from the North for the first time since '03.

Big Anthony said...

I support RW11 and his no tipping policy. Its not my fault they work for such a shitty salary.

Where does this tipping shit end. Whats next tipping your doctor for making sure you are alive when you come out

Bill Mullen said...

I am still confident OU can play for a national title. They only dropped to 10 in the rankings and the other top 10 members are very vulnerable. Kentucky already lost, LSU and Florida play this weekend, and the rest have tough conference games still on the schedule. If OU can figure out what happened in Boulder and turn it around, they can still move up in the rankings. They have to take care of business at the Cotton Bowl and the rest of the season. But I don't think they are completely out of it.

Of course, lose and they are playing for next year.

Jay said...

Throw the records out Bob when these two juggernauts meet.