Sports Outside the Beltway

On KU vs. Memphis

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that my bracket was terrible–I had Texas beating Memphis to advance to the Final Four, which just goes to show what I know. But I’m going to throw myself on the mercy of the court because I simply didn’t have much time to follow basketball this year, so my pro-KU, pro-Big 12 prejudices dominated my thinking about the brackets.

I’ve gotten caught up in a hurry so that I can fully savor tonight’s game.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, all I heard about in the media was about how there was simply no way that Kansas could beat UNC. After all, they had a high speed offense led by Tyler Hansbrough that had been shutting down defenses all year.

Well, after reading that I did some stats looking, and determined that while it was true that UNC had a high powered offense, it’s also true that KU does too–only one that’s more balanced and doesn’t depend on a single player for execution. So that real battle, I decided was going to be on the defensive end. It didn’t take long to conclude that here KU had a monster advantage–UNC’s defense was, at the time, ranked only 17th in the nation, and its performance tended to be worse against top-25 teams. So I went around obnoxiously telling everyone I talked to the game about on Friday and Saturday (before the game) that KU’s defense was going to be the reason why KU would win it.

And, as it turns out, I was right.

Defense, however, is not Memphis’s weak point. They’ve got some great action and good shot blockers, and have been consistently performing well all year. Indeed, as every sports columnist in the country has noted–KU and Memphis boast similar offensive strategies. I agree–we should be looking at a fast-paced, high scoring game. In all probability. And in a fast-paced, high scoring game, I have to give a slight edge to the Jayhawks. The simple reason?

Depth. KU is balanced enough down the bench that will simply have the ability to out-rotate players over Memphis. In a fast paced game, that can make all the difference. It certainly made a big difference against UNC, who staged a pretty scary comeback but couldn’t make it stick because their players just. got. tired.

There is also, I admit, something nagging me in the back of my mind. As noted above, I do agree with sports pundrity that we’re likely to see a fast-paced, high scoring game–lots of intensity and crowd pleasing steals and alley oops.

But here’s the thing…

Bill Self likes to mix it up. He likes to focus on other team’s weaknesses and stab at them, like he did with weak side defense against UNC. KU and Memphis typically play with similar styles–fast pace, etc. But where KU almost stumbled in the tournament was against Davidson–who managed to slow down the tempo of the game and make it a grinding defensive and outside shooting battle. Seeing as how Memphis plays a similar game to KU, one can’t help but wonder if a slower game might cause them to stumble, too.

So here’s where that might come in–when it comes to the frontcourt and post, KU has an edge over Memphis. I can’t help but wonder if it might not be a bad strategy for KU to simply slow the game down by playing a zone, eschewing their three-guard setup in favor of a big man in the middle and keeping Memphis to the perimeter, creating a lower-scoring, outside shooting battle. That’s the kind of game Self liked to coach when he started at KU, and still does it occasionally. I don’t honestly expect to see that, but I won’t be too surprised if it happens, either.

In either case, I do think that if KU can keep their mistakes to a minimum, they have an edge over Memphis and will take the national title for the first time in 20 years. We’ll know for sure tonight.


Baylor hires Univ. of Houston’s Art Briles as football coach

Not too long ago this would have been a move from one Southwest Conference school to another. From AP-

FORT WORTH, Texas – Houston coach Art Briles is next to take on the task of pulling Baylor out of the Big 12 basement.

Briles confirmed he was leaving in a news conference Wednesday at Houston after meeting with his players.

Baylor spokesman Nick Joos said a news conference was scheduled later in the day on the Waco campus to announce the school’s new football coach.

Briles led Houston to four bowls in his five seasons. He was offered the job Wednesday, a day after meeting with Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw in Dallas.

“Life is full of decisions. Sometimes, you have to look at things from a professional, personal standpoint,” Briles said. “Professionally, (Houston) … is great university with a situation I’m proud to be a part of. Personally, the move allows a person of my nature a little more security. When you’re getting up in my age, that’s an important factor in life.”

The Houston Chronicle reported on its Web site that Briles will get a seven-year contract for about $1.8 million per season. Briles, who turns 52 Monday, had four years left on his Houston contract with a base salary of $900,000 annually.

Briles replaces Guy Morriss, who was fired Nov. 18 after five seasons. Morriss’ firing came the day after the Bears (3-9) completed their 12th straight losing season with their 12th consecutive Big 12 loss, 45-14 to Oklahoma State.

Unless Briles’ status as UH coach was shaky for some unknown reason, this is certainly a down market move. Baylor has been hapless since Grant Teaff retired as head coach. I’m betting the 100% increase in salary was the motivating factor for Briles. Athletes, Coaches, plaintiffs in lawsuits are all alike. They never say it’s never about the money.


Mike Sherman New Aggies Coach

Texas A&M has hired Mike Sherman as their new head football coach.

Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman was introduced as Texas A&M’s coach Monday, three days after Dennis Franchione resigned.

Sherman, 52, has been an assistant head coach with the Houston Texans for two seasons under Gary Kubiak, a former quarterback for the Aggies. Sherman also has ties to A&M. He was the offensive line coach from 1989-93 and then in 1995-96 under R.C Slocum. Kubiak was A&M’s running backs coach in 1992 and ’93.

Franchione took a contract buyout and stepped down Friday, less than an hour after Texas A&M beat Texas 38-30. Defensive coordinator Gary Darnell was named the interim coach Saturday and will lead the Aggies (7-5, 4-4 Big 12) through their bowl game. The Aggies are expecting an invitation Sunday.

That was quick. Sherman doesn’t have much of a record as a head coach or as a recruiter, which makes this a rather odd choice.


Baylor Assistant Coach Suspended for Urinating on Bar

From the Waco Tribune-Herald

Baylor University assistant football coach Eric Schnupp, who was cited early Sunday for urinating on a local bar, has been suspended indefinitely.


Schnupp, 30, was cited for disorderly conduct-reckless exposure by Waco police after he allegedly urinated on the bar at Scruffy Murphy’s, 1226 Speight Ave., in Waco about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Police were already at the bar for an unrelated incident.

One wouldn’t think Schnupp’s career will be helped by this incident. Odder things have happened. George O’Leary resurrected his coaching career after the Notre Dame debacle.

Hat tip- Poliblog Deportes

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Texas Tech Bans Vick Dog Hanging T-Shirt

A Texas Tech student designed a t-shirt using the Michael Vick controversy to make fun of the visiting Texas A&M Aggies. His school’s administration was not amused.

Texas Tech has banned the sale of a T-shirt bearing the likeness of Michael Vick hanging the dog mascot of rival Texas A&M. The red and black shirts, with text that says “VICK ‘EM” on the front in an apparent reference to the Aggies’ slogan “Gig ‘em,” was created by a Tech student who was trying to sell them before Saturday’s game in Lubbock. The back of the shirt shows a football player wearing the No. 7 Vick jersey holding a rope with an image of the mascot Reveille at the end of a noose. Vick, who faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal dogfighting charge, is suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

Tech officials late Tuesday announced the fraternity that sold the shirts was suspended temporarily and will face judicial review for allegedly violating the solicitation section of the students’ code of conduct. The school said it wouldn’t allow the sale on campus of items that are “derogatory, inflammatory, insensitive, or in such bad taste.” No more shirts are being produced, the school said in a release.

A&M officials, in a statement, thanked Tech administrators for “their response and action regarding this matter.”

Good for Texas Tech, which showed class and sensitivity here. Hopefully, they won’t overreact in their punishment of the student and/or fraternity; kids do dumb things. It’s the job of the adults running the place to help them grow up.


Upset Saturday in College Football

It was a bizarre weekend in college football, with eight ranked teams losing to teams ranked below them — seven to teams not ranked at all.

    #3 Oklahoma lost to unranked Colorado, 24-27.
    #4 Florida lost to unranked Auburn, 17-20.
    #5 West Virginia lost to #18 South Florida, 13-21 (Thursday night).
    #7 Texas lost to unranked Kansas State, 21-41
    #10 Rutgers lost to unranked Maryland, 24-34
    #13 Clemson lost to unranked Georgia Tech, 3-13
    #21 Penn State lost to unranked Illinois, 20-27
    #22 Alabama lost to unranked Florida State, 14- 21

This was on top of several other close finishes.

ESPN’s Pat Forde dubs it “Insanity Saturday” and observes that this throws the whole season out of whack.

Just that fast, the college football landscape shifted seismically beneath our feet.

Just that fast, the Red River Shootout game Saturday between Oklahoma and Texas was dropped to undercard status. For the first time in years, it’s not the marquee game in the Big 12. And for the first time in years, the league’s maligned North looks more compelling than the South. If you can believe it, the biggest game in that league next week might be unbeaten Kansas at 3-1 Kansas State — either that or 4-1 Nebraska at unbeaten Missouri.

Just that fast, the upcoming LSU-Florida showdown Saturday in Baton Rouge lost half its helium when the Gators were shocked in The Swamp by an Auburn team that had lost at home to South Florida and Mississippi State on consecutive weekends.

Just that fast, the three Big East teams that began the season in the Top 25 all have at least one loss. Louisville went down first, then West Virginia, now Rutgers. Suddenly South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati are the unbeaten teams in the Big East. Honk if you foresaw that in August.

Just that fast, Illinois is 4-1 and tied for first in the Big Ten at 2-0. That’s the same Illinois that went 2-10 last year, with only one victory over I-A competition.

Just that fast, we have an ACC plot twist that leaves Virginia and Boston College well out in front in their respective divisions at 3-0 in league play. Virginia was left for dead after a Week 1 blowout loss to Wyoming. Boston College was picked last in its division by at least one preseason magazine.

And just that fast, USC and LSU put that much more distance between themselves and what’s left of the pack.

The object lesson here is that no favorite is safe. Not at home, not on the road, not in league play, not out of league play. If those lessons hadn’t already been learned by Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32, and Syracuse 38, Louisville 35, they were reinforced on Insanity Saturday.

And no lead is safe. You’d think the Sooners getting up 24-7 would be enough to make Colorado quit. You’d be wrong. The Buffaloes scored the final 20 points, winning on the last play of the game — a 45-yard field goal by Kevin Eberhart.


Underdogs aren’t scared right now, by much of anyone. Players and coaches are shrugging off past history, blowing off bad losses, not worrying about falling behind and regrouping to pull upsets nobody saw coming. Nobody’s rolling over.

I’ve seen this sort of thing in college basketball before but never to this extent in football. The bottom line, though, is that Notre Dame and Alabama and Michigan no longer have an automatic recruiting advantage over South Florida and West Virginia and Georgia Tech. There’s a wealth of talent out there and plenty of television exposure to be had in the realigned conference structure. Players would rather go to a program with less prestige and start than sit on the bench and one of the Big Boys.


Easiest College Football Schedules

The easiest path to a mythical college football national championship is to go undefeated. The easiest way to do that? Not play anybody Mark Schlabach gives his take on the teams that have the weakest opponents:

1. KANSAS: The Jayhawks’ nonconference schedule includes more cream puffs than your favorite bakery: Central Michigan, Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International (all at home). Kansas doesn’t play Texas or Oklahoma in Big 12 Conference play, and the Jayhawks will face Nebraska in Lawrence, Kan., and Missouri in Kansas City.

Nonconference opponents: Central Michigan (home), Southeastern Louisiana (home), Toledo (home), Florida International (home)
Toughest game: at Texas A&M, Oct. 27
Easiest game: vs. Southeastern Louisiana, Sept. 8

Hawaii 2. HAWAII: Warriors quarterback Colt Brennan won’t have many problems putting up Heisman Trophy-like numbers against Hawaii’s schedule. The Warriors play two nonconference games against Division I-AA teams Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern, along with a road game at UNLV and home game against Washington. The Warriors’ WAC schedule includes home games against Fresno State and Boise State and road games at San Jose State and Nevada.

Nonconference opponents: Northern Colorado (home), UNLV (road), Charleston Southern (home), Washington (home)
Toughest game: vs. Boise State, Nov. 23
Easiest game: vs. Charleston Southern, Sept. 23

Arkansas 3. ARKANSAS: The Razorbacks’ slate is a perfect example of why SEC teams have a poor reputation when it comes to out-of-conference scheduling. The Hogs will get fat on a nonconference schedule that includes home games against Troy, North Texas, Division I-AA Tennessee-Chattanooga and Florida International. SEC road games at Alabama, Tennessee and LSU prevented this from being the country’s easiest schedule.

Nonconference opponents: Troy (home), North Texas (home), Chattanooga (home), Florida International (home)
Toughest game: at LSU, Nov. 23
Easiest game: vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga, Oct. 6

Indiana 4. INDIANA: In a season in which the Hoosiers don’t play Big 10 heavyweights Michigan and Ohio State, they beefed up their nonconference schedule with the likes of Division I-AA Indiana State, Western Michigan, Akron and Ball State. Indiana plays rival Purdue and Penn State at home, but travels to Iowa and Wisconsin. Thanks to the soft schedule, look for the Hoosiers to play in a bowl game for the first time since 1993.

Nonconference opponents: Indiana State (home), Western Michigan (road), Akron (home), Ball State (home)
Toughest game: at Wisconsin, Oct. 27
Easiest game: vs. Indiana State, Sept. 1

Connecticut 5. CONNECTICUT: The Huskies might have put together a tougher schedule by returning to the Atlantic 10. Their nonconference schedule includes games against Division I-AA Maine and two of the worst I-A teams — Duke and Temple. The Huskies play seven of their 12 games at home, including key Big East dates against Louisville and Syracuse.

Nonconference opponents: Duke (road), Maine (home), Temple (home), Akron (home), Virginia (road)
Toughest game: at West Virginia, Nov. 24
Easiest game: vs. Maine, Sept. 8

Navy 6. NAVY: The Midshipmen play only four Division I-A teams that finished with winning records last season: Rutgers, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois. Five of Navy’s 2007 opponents won four games or fewer last season, including Duke (0-12), Temple (1-11), North Texas (3-9), Army (3-9) and Air Force (3-8).

Toughest game: at Rutgers, Sept. 7
Easiest game: vs. Duke, Sept. 22

Northwestern 7. NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats could see a big turnaround in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s second season, thanks to a not-so-daunting schedule. Nonconference games against Division I-AA Northeastern, Nevada, Duke and Eastern Michigan (at Detroit) are potential victories. Home games against Minnesota and Indiana could bring the victory total to six, making Northwestern eligible for a bowl game.

Nonconference opponents: Northeastern (home), Nevada (home), Duke (home), Eastern Michigan (neutral)
Toughest game: at Ohio State, Sept. 22
Easiest game: vs. Northeastern, Sept. 1

Texas Tech 8. TEXAS TECH: Give the Red Raiders some credit for scheduling a pair of nonconference road games … at SMU and Rice. A home game against UTEP might be challenging, but a Sept. 29 game against Division I-AA Northwestern State will be a rout. Texas Tech plays home games against two of the Big 12 conference’s most talented teams, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

Nonconference opponents: SMU (road), UTEP (home), Rice (road), Northwestern State (home)
Toughest game: at Texas, Nov. 10
Easiest game: vs. Northwestern State, Sept. 29

Ohio State 9. OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes won’t miss Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the rest of their departed stars during the nonconference schedule. Not against Division I-AA Youngstown State, Akron and Kent State, anyway. At least a Sept. 15 game at Washington will be played outside the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes play two of their most difficult Big 10 games on the road, at Penn State on Oct. 27 and at Michigan on Nov. 17.

Nonconference opponents: Youngstown State (home), Akron (home), Washington (road), Kent State (home)
Toughest game: at Michigan, Nov. 17
Easiest game: vs. Youngstown State, Sept. 1

Texas 10. TEXAS: The Longhorns get kudos for scheduling a home game against TCU, a possible BCS sleeper. But the rest of the schedule sets up very well for coach Mack Brown. The other three nonconference games should be routs, against Arkansas State, Central Florida and Rice. The Longhorns play top Big 12 foes Nebraska and Texas Tech at home, along with the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma in Dallas.

Nonconference opponents: Arkansas State (home), TCU (home), Central Florida (road), Rice (home)
Toughest game: vs. Oklahoma (Dallas), Oct. 6
Easiest game: vs. Arkansas State, Sept. 1

You can’t blame the athletic directors. It’s to each school’s benefit to play weak teams — so long as they don’t lose.


2007 NFL Draft Grades

NFL Draft Logo 2007 Below are some expert analyses of Day 1 of the 2007 NFL Draft. I’ll update the list over the next couple of days as more roll in.

Note: Bumped to top from 6:54 am April 29.

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Boise State Ends My Pre-New Year’s Resolution In Style

Back in August I made an early New Year’s Resolution to ignore football and baseball. Being from Texas and a Rangers’ fan ignoring baseball wasn’t so hard but being from Texas and ignoring football can get you booked for the state hospital. I have largely succeeded and freed up a lot of newspaper time for basketball and a sudden interest in soccer. But sometimes an event happens that transcends personal prejudices and last night’s bowl game between Boise State and Oklahoma was one of those times. No one needed to understand the history, rules, or context of that game to fully appreciate it. It was as simple as all good stories dating back to the original David versus Goliath story. Here are a few of my thoughts from the game:

All Hail BCS: If it was not for the BCS, despite all of its silliness and criticism, this game would have never happened. So last year the BCS gave us a winner of a Championship Game and this year’s bowl game to remember. Not bad.

An early March Madness: The joy of every March is watching a number 1-3 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament fall to a Wichita State or a George Mason. College bowl games never give us those warm and fuzzy underdog moments. Finally, we got our March Madness moment in a bowl game. I will not belittle the quality of Boise State but the reality is that the Boise State’s of the world do not beat Oklahoma on New Year’s Day.

Ridiculous to Reality: One of these days I plan to write a series of books based on ridiculous statements I have heard at sporting events, concerts, church services, etc. The premise is that no lack of experience or information will stop people from spouting their opinion or asking a ludicrous question. (Kind of like this blog). In light of this, I guarantee you that their were thousands of people in the stands and at home telling their TV screens or whoever was eavesdropping that the “Statue of Liberty” play would work for that two point conversion. Lo and behold, someone actually ran the play. I don’t think I have ever seen that play in a college game much less in the biggest play in Boise State football history. Boise State just became America’s team because they used that play, the same one that millions have suggested to no avail over the years.

America’s Team: The beauty of the Boise State win was through their liberal use of trick plays. 98% of college programs would have run a fade pattern or a run up the middle for the two point conversion. Few teams have the guts to gamble their coaching career, their booster money, and their legacy on a trick play. Great job Coach Peterson (I don’t even know his first name).

Short list of available coaches: Every year, college or pro, Bob Stoops gets mentioned for job openings, especially at high profile jobs. His assistant coaches have taken head jobs at Texas Tech and Kansas. But, from top to bottom, the Oklahoma staff was out-coached by the Boise State staff.

Five Star Recruits: The announcers (see below) kept talking about the Five Star recruits of Oklahoma versus the cast offs of Boise State. Oklahoma, probably more than any other team in the nation, recruits for speed at virtually every position. The profile of an OU player is fairly consistent – good size and speed. When you treat players like pieces of meat or race horses you may get left with players who are deficient in other areas of football ability. Though possessing fine athletes themselves, Boise may have an advantage in recruiting talented football players rather than track stars and sometimes that can make a difference.

Fox: Everything Fox does is over the top. That is a given. But one thing that Fox does that I appreciate is their obsession with showing crowd reaction. If we were watching last night’s game on ABC we would see the same five fans on each side the entire game. Fox consistently finds the best anguished, shocked, and elated faces. The rollercoaster of emotions showed in last night’s game was exhausting but essential to the larger story.

Three’s A Nightmare: Ever since Howard Cosell donned his yellow Wild World of Sports jacket, TV sports executives have been trying to recreate 1975 by using three announcers in the booth. It does not work. The list of the best three man announcing teams starts with Cosell, Meredith, and Gifford and ends with Marv Albert, Steve Jones, and Bill Walton with only Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, and Al Leiter in between. Last night, Tom Brennaman, Barry Alvarez , and some guy named Charles Davis teamed up for the broadcast and it stunk. Brennaman tries too hard to make bold, definitive statements and Charles Davis was talking incessantly and performed the ultimate sports cliché by apologizing for using a sports cliché. Coach Alvarez had some insightful things to say, especially about the coaching decisions in the last five minutes of the game but he had to blurt them our or repeat them in order for it to be considered in between Davis’ chuckling rah-rah. Fox, dump Davis and give us more coach.

The Prestige: If you are going to have sideline reporters make him or her have some legitimacy. It seems that ESPN and CBS pick five new pretty faces each year to stick in front of their cameras. Is this a reality series we are missing on Bravo? I mean I hate Jim Grey but at least when he is making up crap I pay attention. Much kudos to Fox for using the veteran Chris Myers instead of the Maxim Girl of the Month.


BCS Rant

A majority of the bowls are now over and I am going to start my rant on the BCS.

[Rant On]

If anyone watched the entire Boise State / Oklahoma game last night you understand why the idea of the BCS is so incredibly flawed. BSU is a non BCS conference school and played a marvelous game yesterday, beating a Big 12 (major powerhouse) school in Oklahoma. It goes to prove that any schools anywhere in the country can play football and just because they are in the WAC, MAC, or Sunbelt does not mean they cannot compete. I get so upset when recognition is not given to conferences, specifically the Sunbelt in this case.

The idea of a playoff system allows teams that have done well throughout the season – and are maybe not an Ohio State, Michigan, Fill in any Big Name School, or Texas have a chance at the National Title.

[Rant Off]

I wrote the above rant about 20 times and figured this was the shortest and got my point across the best. I would love to hear your ideas for another type of post season for College Football.


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