Sports Outside the Beltway

Bowl Blog Blowout, Part 1

It’s only five days until the first bowl game (and, for a change, it’s not the New Orleans Bowl) so we’d better get around to picking the games, right? Well, with 26 bowl games on tap for this season, picking them all at once is bound to be as big a mess as a vegetable soup omelet. But, if we break down the games into categories, we can probably get through this. Right? Right?

Anyway, there’s four distinct categories of bowl game taking place this season:

  1. Exhibition games involving only teams from non-BCS conferences.
  2. Grudge matches pitting BCS and non-BCS conference teams against each other.
  3. The undercard of non-BCS games involving two teams from BCS conferences, and
  4. The actual Bowl Championship Series.

This being Part One, guess where we start? You may now throw up in your mouth a little, if you must.


Northern Illinois v. TCU

Northern Illinois has Garrett Wolfe, the all-everything running back who humiliated a fair number of quality defenses this season. TCU has Gary Patterson, the phenomenally successful coach who strangely has not yet been linked to the Alabama job. Both these teams come to San Diego on a hot streak, with NIU having beaten MAC champion Central Michigan soundly (31-10) and TCU having dispatched the weaker teams in the Mountain West (i.e., everybody but Utah and BYU). NIU has the worse record, but they’ve faced far superior competition, and you know how we feel about that around here. NIU.


Rice v. Troy

Good on Rice for making it to a bowl game. I think the last time they played in a bowl Dick Maegle was involved. As for Troy, we can’t go against them, because they are unofficially Friends of the Site. And besides, they’re pretty good. Troy.


New Mexico v. San Jose State

Oh, here’s a laugher: New Mexico is the road team on this game being played in their home stadium. $5 says they still use the home locker room. Too bad for them they’re paired up against a suddenly ascending San Jose State team in Dick Tomey’s last game before he takes over at Stanford. Because you know that’s gonna happen, especially since Tomey has also not yet been mentioned in connection with the Alabama job. SJSU.


Middle Tennessee v. Central Michigan

Two schools, two completely different philosophies on how to avoid being called a “directional school.” CMU’s wunderkind, Brian Kelly, is gone, so I’m guessing that MTSU has the upper hand in this game. Unless Kelly left extensive notes on how to run his freaky ninja offense, that is. But I’m guessing that he’s the mastermind. MTSU.


Ohio v. Southern Mississippi

Frank Solich, late of Nebraska, gets back to a bowl game with his really pretty good Ohio U Bobcats. He has not been publicly linked with the Alabama Job. Neither has Jeff Bowers, who has Brett Favre U in a bowl for what seems like the eight millionth time. USM is one of those schools that perpetually flies under the college football radar. A decade from now, they’ll probably still be playing games on Tuesday nights just to get a little exposure. Bowers has an impressive resume, but I think Solich has better players and will get the job done here. Ohio.

(Crossposted from The Bemusement Park.)


Wisconsin On Suicide Watch

Following a(nother) head-scratching home loss as New Orleans took control of yesterday’s game, Packer Nation is pointing fingers and gazing at its navel this morning. Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sums up the harsh realities nicely:

After the way the Green Bay Packers played in the first week of the season, you thought National Football League observers would have consigned them to Irrelevant Squad status.

If a team receives that designation, it sort of disappears from polite football society. No one talks about you. No one sees you much; your games go to 2% of the nation.

The Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns are examples of teams that are reliably irrelevant year after year after year.

The Packers seemed to have played their way into that company in Week 1, but curiosity about Brett Favre’s status and fascination with the hard fall of a once-elite team managed to sustain national attention through at least Week 2.

Wolfley goes on to point out how at least one football analyst is starting to feast on Favre’s carcass:

“Actually, last season I thought Brett Favre would come back because I thought he had the physical skills to throw the football as well as anyone,” [Ron] Jaworski said on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” “But watching him through the pre-season and the regular season opener last week, it’s obvious his physical skills have diminished. I watched the game on TV. I watched coaching tape. He’s had some opportunities to make plays with his arm. He did not, which is unusual for Brett Favre.”

Jaworski made his comment before Favre’s performance against the Saints, an outing that was more dynamic than the one he had against the Chicago Bears last week.

Wolfley goes on in his article to describe several ridiculous proclamations made by announcers and analysts regarding Packers players; the whole article is wortth a read.

The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison) takes a look at yesterday’s game through the eyes of one of the few Packers who is really playing well right now, defensive end Aaron Kampman:

Aaron Kampman was having a flashback. And considering how rare the good vibes are becoming for the Green Bay Packers these days, he was thoroughly enjoying it.

There the Packers veteran defensive end was Sunday afternoon, parked on an aluminum bench, looking up at a Lambeau Field scoreboard that was clearly in the home team’s favor, and smiling. He knew there was still work to be done, but 11 months after the fact, he was in serious deja vu mode.

Last year, his downtrodden Packers got their first victory of the season with a 49-point blowout of the visiting New Orleans Saints. And Sunday, they were well on their way again, staked to a 13-point first-quarter lead after the defense took the ball away on New Orleans’ first three possessions.

“It was great,” Kampman said. “I was sitting on the sidelines, and I was like, ‘OK, great. This is going to be just like it was when we got after them last year.’ And …”

Or maybe it’s just all the fault of the receivers, argues State Journal columnist Jason Wilde:

With the way the folks at ESPN seem determined to find a corporate sponsor for just about every SportsCenter segment, we humbly suggest the perfect one for any so-called highlights they show from the Green Bay Packers’ 34-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon.

Butterfinger candy bars.

Even the Packers’ hometown newspaper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, is turning on the team. As writes columnist Chris Havel:

Rookie mistakes are costly, especially when veterans are making them.

The popular notion is the Packers are a young team suffering through a rebuilding phase. The perception is far from reality. The fact is, veterans such as Brett Favre, Ahman Green, Robert Ferguson, Nick Barnett, Ahmad Carroll, Marquand Manuel and Franks weren’t at their best.

As a result, neither were the winless Packers.

Ahmad Carroll in particular has been a whipping boy during his entire tenure in Titletown. Fans love his exuberance, but that same exuberance leads to overcommitment and frustrating penalties. Carroll actually played well within himself yesterday, but still, it wasn’t a great effort by the Pack. Jaworski is wrong about Favre’s physical skills; Favre still puts plenty of grease on the ball, as evidenced by the fact that the mostly-green Packer receiving corps can’t hold on to the ball. But perhaps the best word on Favre in 2006 comes from Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw, as quoted in Wolfley’s column:

Bradshaw said Favre mentally had retired, but he will be starting for Green Bay at the end of the season, even if it’s a lost season.

“I believe Brett should have retired last year,” Bradshaw said. “I was disappointed when he didn’t. If you are talking about retirement, my friend, you have retired. Yes, he can still play physically. But mentally, I think he checked out three years ago.”

“fire mikemccarthy” as yet doesn’t yield any useful Google results. I suspect that may change before the day runs out. But apparently, Packers general manager Ted Thompson isn’t quite so lucky.


Lions Assistant Coach Arrested For Driving Drunk, Nude

Of all the things an NFL team needs four days before opening the regular season, this is probably number last on the list:

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — A Detroit Lions assistant coach was arrested twice in the past two weeks — once while police say he was driving nude and a week later on suspicion of drunken driving.

Police in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn said Joe Cullen, who coaches the team’s defensive line, was pulled over Aug. 24 and ticketed on suspicion of indecent and obscene conduct.

The ticket does not provide any other information about why Cullen allegedly was nude. The Lions said alcohol was involved.

Then, on Sept. 1, police stopped his 2006 Ford Explorer and determined he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 percent, court records show. The legal limit for drivers in Michigan in 0.08 percent.

Cullen, who lives in Dearborn, posted bond in both misdemeanor cases and was coaching at Wednesday’s practice.

The 38-year-old, who was hired from the University of Illinois, issued a statement Wednesday to apologize.

“I would like to apologize to the Detroit Lions organization, our fans, my family and friends for any embarrassment these incidents have caused,” he said. “These incidents represent a mistake in judgment on my part. I deeply regret them and have learned a valuable lesson. It won’t happen again.”

Lions president Matt Millen said in a statement that Cullen has requested treatment.

“We are obviously very disappointed,” the statement said. “These are very serious matters that will be handled sternly and appropriately by our organization.”

To make a sad story worse, there’s this:

Cullen was fired from the University of Mississippi in 2005 after an alcohol-related arrest at a restaurant.

Mississippi Athletic Director Pete Boone told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday that no one from the Lions contacted him for a reference.

I’m aware that nobody really checks references any more, and employers are loath to provide any derogatory information about a former employee, but still, that juicy little tidbit isn’t going to help Matt Millen keep his job.


Public service announcement curse claims third Saint

A much-seen emergency preparedness public service announcement which aired in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (and is still airing, at least around me) featured four members of the New Orleans Saints: head coach Jim Haslett, starting quarterback Aaron Brooks, and starting wide receivers Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth. The clip, which I can’t find on YouTube, appears to carry with it some sort of curse. First, Haslett got fired, which is nothing to be surprised at after a 3-13 season. Then Aaron Brooks signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders, only to find himself on a roster with Jeff George, who hasn’t played football in five years.

Now today, the Saints traded Stallworth away to the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Mark Simoneau and a conditional 2007 draft pick. (The deal is still pending the results of physicals.)

Joe Horn should probably sleep with one eye open. Three of the four Saints featured in that PSA are no longer with the team.


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