Friday, September 30, 2005

Talladega Superspeedway

If you are like me, and spend a lot of quiet quality time reflecting on what to do to improve your life- you might consider tuning in UAW-Ford 500 on Sunday. NASCAR changed my life. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get in, and get involved- this is one of the half-dozen best races of the season.

To the stupid, untutored fan, the heroes of NASCAR seem to merely driving in circles. But many of those circles are unique- and Talladega is the biggest and meanest and cruelest of them all.

Constructed in the late 1960s, Talladega was then, and is now, the fastest thing going. The single straight is long- and the rest of the track is a giant, graceful curving arc: a tri-oval. The turns are banked steeper than the roof on your house- and tower five stories tall. It is so grand in scale that a regional airport literally sits in the middle. It is so fast, the open wheel series won’t even drive it.

The first time the top series showed up and saw the place- they immediately went on strike, led by Richard Petty, and refused to drive.

Talladega is simply too fast- modern stock cars have simply outgrown it. A stock car, running in excess of 220 mph, is capable of flight- if the air-pressure underneath the car becomes unbalanced. In 1987, Bobby Allison literally did take off- tore off a hundred feet of safety fencing- and almost landed in the main grandstand.

NASCAR addressed this problem- and inadvertently provoked the law of unintended consequences. In order to promote safety, mainly by slowing the cars down, NASCAR introduced the restrictor plate- the greatest thing ever done for the fan. Plates are placed on the carburetor- and the “restricted” air flow serves to sap horsepower and slow the cars down.

It did sure as heck slow cars down. But it created a situation where no one can accelerate (no power) and consequently, no one can separate, break free from the pack. Cars were forced to bunch up together- and to generate more speed and momentary power, ride the draft of the car in front.

It is the most gripping thing, in my opinion, in sports today. A giant pack of cars, traveling 200 mph, literally touching at times, three wide and fifteen deep. It is also insanely un-safe- huge twelve-to-eighteen multi-car crashes dominate just about every race at Talladega.

The drivers hate it- and moan constantly. "Its not racing," Jeff Gordon-types snivel. But it is oddly compelling to watch- and damned entertaining. The last fifteen laps, as these guys go in and out of the traffic, is gripping action.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Lions "Roar"?


There is no line on Saturday’s game- as Tulane football really kind of, sort of discredits itself- and steps down to play a I-AA opponent. Something called the Southeast Louisiana Lions, I think. I might be wrong. I know nothing about them- but their rep is that they can score for a I-AA team. Maybe. I guess. All I know is it would be a disater to lose in this spot.

Prediction Thursday lacks some spark without a spread. As to the "live football exhibition", I think Tulane can pretty much dictate just how bad they want to smack these guys. Coach Scelfo can probably win by as many or as few as he wants.

I really hate these games. You know, I have very few problems with the nature and orientation of Tulane football. I'm okay with the coach, our attendance, our league, etc. I get most of what is going on.

But I detest these I-AA games. They are a rip-off. Tulane plays'em only to get a game day gate without reciprocal visits- which is unfair and petty. It smacks of bloated public education- and Tulane ought to aspire to more than that.

I-AA opponents are uninteresting & uncompetetive 97 times out of 100- which rips off the fans who pay to see a real contest. Worse, the players only get 44 chances to play in a career- and four are frequently taken away- just so Tulane can get a sixth home game more years than not?

This game is an exhibition passed off as a fair contest. It is fraud. I know everyone does it now- and I-AA programs must like the money. But like everything in this country done just for money in sports- the BCS, free agency, NFL exhibition games, ending traditional rivalries- it stinks and makes sport worse.

As to the "game", I’d like to see three things:

First, no one gets hurt. The game is a joke; it’d be a darn shame to lose someone important to the Wave’s campaign during it.

Second, I’d like for the defense to look sharp. Not just stop the Lions- but smother the run, keep their point total down to a minimum. Keep looking “even” and “efficient”- like they care every snap. Pick up some style points.

Lastly, really exercise the offense. Don’t just get a 24-point lead and milk the clock. Run a lot of plays, get a look at the two-minute drill, give Ricard 25 chances to throw the ball. There are a lot of new skill people catching balls around here- make them exercise the concept.

Normally, you’d want to see Elliot get a look-see here. But I’d almost rather see Ricard handle a lot of snaps. He’s got a lot of talent- but he still seems raw and hesitant at times. So give him every chance to grow, build confidence, while in the I-AA Yellow Submarine.

Note: I changed "comments' provider"- and have lost all the "old" commnets on the blog. I will do my best to bring them back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BlogPoll 5 is out

The current BlogPoll is out- you can view it here. I finished second for Mr. Bold-the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. It is primarily because I like the SEC an awful lot, throw a little love to UTEP, and think the Big Ten is largely a collection of middling teams.

Although it did occur to me that Wisconsin has a decent chance to run the table. Again the Big Ten is no great shakes, the schedule features only not-too-bad road games: Minnesota, Penn State, Illinios, Hawai'i- and Iowa and Purdue must go to Madison. Michigan is beaten- and Michigan State isn't on it. This team is playing great defense- and that tends to travel. Need a long shot BCS team- you could do worse than Wisconsin.

There is some more discussion on this topic and conference championship picks on the BlogPoll Roundtable- hosted this week by ParadigmBlog.

It wasn't until I was done that I realized I did not vote for a single Big East Team. With Penn State sort of, kind of, okay- these are bad times for eastern football. Rutgers is a long way from good people. And Villanova is I-AA.

My ballot:

1 Southern Cal: Matt Leinhart, HRH- is both real pretty and real good.
2 Texas
3 Georgia
4 Tennessee: can't put them ahead of Georgia, as I think LSU is a bit of a fraud
5 Florida State
6 Florida: my view: Tulane -2.5 @ Kentucky
7 Virginia Tech
8 Ohio State: tough test in Happy Valley. PSU is competent and ought to be geeked.
9 Miami (Florida)
10 Notre Dame: might actually be a Top 12 team- but brutal schedule probably means they drop three of next four
11 Alabama
12 Virginia
13 Texas Tech
14 Michigan State
15 Iowa State
16 LSU: good team- but coach is clearly learning and probably a minus in a big spot.
17 Arizona State
18 California
21 Wisconsin: every single game left is very winnable
22 Purdue: brutal October (Notre Dame, Iowa, N'western, @ Wisconsin, @Penn State-whew!)
23 Minnesota
24 Auburn
25 Penn State: people laugh at them, but why can't they get to 8-3 and a nice bowl game?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lookin' Sharp Tulane!

The boys looked sharp. SMU is clearly no great shakes- but you know, Tulane “played well”- and you cannot mark them down for taking advantage of SMU’s many mistakes and suspect offense. They stepped on SMU- and if SMU wanted to commit turnovers & give them field position all day long- well, good on Tulane for hanging 31 on them.

Clearly, the defensive front is the story of the season so far. Back to back strong efforts against the pass. Rush defense is still maybe a little inconsistent- I imagine if you take away the sack yardage (which counts against rushing totals in college) SMU was north of 125.

But... Great pass rush. Nine sacks!- and you can’t say they fattened the stats when they knew SMU had to pass late down multiple scores- as they got five in the first half. Someone lit a fire under Craig Morris- best game of his career- well, since ECU last year. 20 minutes TOP for SMU- Tulane got the defense off the field all day.

Plus, you know, the defense was consistent. Even. No big up and downs. A lot of times on the road Tulane looks "with it" one series- and "out of it" the next. Focused today.

Offense was "even" too- playing totally within its capabilities. Got to big points late when they got the short field twice- which was nice to see but probably not reflective of where they are. But again, the wind and the impotent SMU offense gave them incentive to keep the game plan pretty vanilla- not reach for big numbers and flash. And the tailback mix was more intelligent- and thus two solid tailback performance merged into a very productive one.

Ricard- again no big numbers until the garbage time scores- but not asked to do much, for once, except hand it off. Tulane could have done without his brutal interception, the delay of game on the goalline in the fourth, the fumbled snap. Too much of this stuff still goes on with him. Candidly, they need Ricard to be great, with minimal mental errors, to beat UTEP and USM and Navy. Not merely okay-plus. But this sort of Ricard effort is obviously enough to beat the SMUs, Tulsas and such of the league.

Specials also a little better: made a big kick; the miss- aahh... it was windy. He gets a pass. The kick off return was unfortunate- but you know, SMU is allowed to make plays too- and McMurtray is apparently a real good returner.

They didn’t blow’em out until late. But I think the weather, coupled with the fact the Wave defense really had a measure of these guys from the get go, allowed Tulane to play conservative. It was a mature performance from a team that usually plays its best in helter-skelter situations (see UAB, TCU last year).

SMU is pretty bad obviously- but Tulane did not play down to their level, took advantage of the mistakes and their talent advantages, parlayed some short fields late into scores- and got a road win they need to have to realistically have a plus-shot at a winning campaign.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bell Hits Bomb!

You doubted David Bell?

David Bell might have hit the most important home run in recent Phillies history last night- almost immediately after I swore, quit on the season, and shut the game off in disgust. The Phillies gave up nine unanswered runs, blowing a 6-1 lead in the fifth. I am sure the entire Delaware Valley was shocked to wake up and to find that Chase Utley (3-run home run with none out) and David Bell (2-run home run with two out) probably saved the Phillies season with their blasts.

With Houston spitting the bit last night, the Phillies have cut the lead to one thin game. Both teams have to a little frustrated. Since being swept by the Astros a few weeks ago, the Phillies have won ten of fourteen, five of seven against the Braves, four of six versus the Marlins- but made up no ground on the Astros. The Astros obviously have played well too- but have not separated their club from the fighting Phillies.

Due to the division-heavy scheduling in September, the Phillies last 25 games presented a much harder climb than the Astros. But they survived the brutal thirteen in a row against the Marlins and Braves- losing only a game to Houston in the process- and getting it back promptly last night against the Reds. I thought the Phillies needed at least fifteen wins over this last 25- which seemed pretty impossible. They’ll probably actually need sixteen to guarantee at least forcing a play-off. But they are 10-7 during the stretch now- and 6-2 does seem hard- but maybe, just maybe do-able.

The starting pitching has been bolstered by Leiber’s outstanding month- decent to okay outings by the rest- some quality spot starts from rookies- and an admittedly fading bullpen still churning out quality at least late in games. Give Wagner the money for two years please. Rollins is on fire- which shows again how potent this Phillies offense could be with a real lead-off hitter- rather than having one only the eight weeks a year Rollins is hot.

The schedule still favors Houston- but obviously it does ease considerably for the Phillies. The Reds, Mets (no Pedro probably) and Nats (probably done by then- but tricky regardless) are a better slate than two more weeks of Marlins/Braves. And Clemens will miss his next start.

The Phils get Eric Milton tonight- who has been horrible lately. Brito makes the biggest start of his rookie campaign in a huge spot. Houston is a big dog on the road this afternoon- getting the steady C. Zambrano from Chicago. Big day for the Phils- as a good result means the magic number goes up again tomorrow.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

SMU Preview

Putting the Wave up as a road fave confirms what a lot of rational folks think- the Wave is a pretty okay outfit- but do not be fooled. While respecting the football team, Vegas continues to show its contempt for the Tulane fan this weekend. Last week, despite endless Tulane fans opining both how great the Wave was (eight wins at least!) and how simply horrible the Mississippi State outfit noticeably appeared, Vegas insisted- insisted!- on putting the Bulldogs two over the Wave. Oh the people howled: after all, the Bulldogs didn’t dress a Forte. Or a Ricard.

Now this week, Vegas has put the Wave up four! Four! How dare they favor Tulane? Haven’t they heard the new consensus this week? The endless excuses emanating from the Tulane community?- fervently defending the “no doubt about nine-win team’s” loss to an "inferior" SEC outfit: the team had to live in Ruston, the fans didn’t come out, our offensive linemen didn’t have enough gloves (my favorite).

What a lot of nonsense. Tulane did not lose the game- Mississippi State won it. Their kids stuffed our rushing attack, Ricard and the new wide-outs made mistakes, MSU ran it when they had to (after the fumbled punt and to move the clock late) and played special teams like they weren’t introduced to it that morning. Our kids played hard, but made some blunders and played with first game jitters. And since, yes, they are a six-win team rather than an eight win team- they got beat. Admittedly, the Bulldogs probably had more linemen gloves.

Tulane is probably better than SMU- and deserves to be a pretty solid favorite- despite being on the road. But this game makes me a little nervous- it feels a little like last year’s ECU game. Two fraught teams squaring off- mistakes, turnovers, the mundane made hard. Difficult to imagine the one or the other beating the other decisively.

On paper, Tulane’s offense ought to do better this week. SMU is no great shakes on defense- and the Wave ought to be able to both run-block and pass-protect competently here. A game under everyone’s belt within the system helps. Scelfo has identified one “new” receiver who seems to be able to really play. The running game mix will be more intelligent- hand it to Jovon a little more and Forte a little less, throw it to Forte more (get those legs out into the flat), let’s get Ducre a look please. This is the sort of defense that Forte did show some flashes against last year- a squad without I-A level talent across the front-seven. I doubt Tulane is organized yet to throw thirty points up there- but I’d be shocked if they don’t look better, more controlled and prepared.

And of course, the defense played pretty well. Norwood is a good SEC player- and the Wave played pretty perspicaciously. Of course, Tulane was able to play like a thousand guys in the box, cheat the safeties like crazy- and the Bulldog quarterback was hopeless- completely unable to punish Tulane for consistently overloading the run.

SMU will probably be able to throw a little more balance at the Wave. I imagine DeMyron Martin is no Norwood- but he was competent against TCU. And the Mustang QB is a crafty dude. No monster numbers but he seems to get playing quarterback in a C-USA style league. Teams that can do both a little run and pass give the Wave trouble- as opposed to more one dimensional outfits (Navy last year?).

But clearly the Wave wins both “offense vs. defense” match-ups here. The wild card is Ricard. If I game-planned the offense for Tulane, the whole meeting would be entitled “Preparing Ricard for the Yellow Submarine”- you know, a place where he’d be totally comfy, relaxed, secure.

Well, Ricard didn’t look like he had a ticket on the sub last week. I guess he didn’t play bad really. Tulane asks a lot from the kid- so they have to be willing to accept a brutal turnover a game, a few series where he sprays the ball around, and still win. But to win eight games, they need Ricard to elevate the team in an environment where his peers are still learning, the offensive line struggled, the team can’t run it much and guys are dropping balls. (Ricard picture credit)

Ricard has been great- when the team is firing around him. But he has as many good road starts as the Tulane quarterback as I do: none. This offense doesn’t appear A-1, all systems go yet- and I imagine they’ll struggle at times Saturday- again like ECU last year. There will be duress Saturday- and Ricard just doesn’t do duress well yet.

That aside, I think Tulane ultimately possesses the talent edge- and SMU doesn’t get much themselves from playing at home. But the Wave ought to be inconsistent enough on offense to allow SMU to hang around. I’d say there is a one third chance the Wave wins by a score or more, a one-third chance they win narrowly, and a one-third chance they lose narrowly. So while I think Tulane wins, SMU probably pushes them- so I’ll try to run my mark to 2-0 ATS (and a whopping 17 out of the last 18) by taking SMU and getting four.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

BlogPoll4 is out

I am clearing the decks over here for the upcoming weekend of college football. Anything to distract me from the fact the Phillies are playing well against a brutal stretch of divisional games- while Houston is cruising playing a bunch of cream puffs. C'mon Pirates. Dig in a little here. Show some pride in that uniform.

The Wave is posted at -4 over SMU. I believe this is the first time Tulane has been a "more than a field goal road favorite" since September 2003- when they were at Army. No formal prediction yet- but right now, I am unfortunately leaning toward the Mustangs. One of my links below has a good Mustang blog- check it out.

Speaking of blogging, the latest BlogPoll is out- you can visit it here.

I continue my love affair with the loaded SEC this week. It is kind of a shame that the winner of this league does not appear to be forecasted to get the BCS title game- as Texas and USC ought to be able to run the table. I punish the Big East regularly- as it displeases me.

Cal is the clear darling of this week's poll- despite the fact I bet a lot of my peers couldn't name two starters. I doubt the Bears could win five SEC games- but I do have them in at #25. I also dropped Penn State- I wanted to believe but I just don't. My ballot is below. You can see the votes of my peers here.

1 Southern Cal: one of two locks for the BCS
2 Texas: zero excuses now for not playing for a national title for this group
3 Georgia
4 Florida State:
5 Louisville: the other BCS lock- outside of Louisville, the Big East is better than C-USA because…
6 Florida:
7 Louisiana State: beat Tennessee and I’ll believe
8 Virginia Tech
9 Purdue
10 Georgia Tech
11 Ohio State: San Diego State? play Cal-Davis- then we’ll believe
12 Tennessee
13 Miami (Florida)
14 Notre Dame: 8-3 would be outstanding for this group- probably #23 or so at season’s end
15 Alabama
16 Virgina
17 Texas Tech
18 Michigan State: can score the ball
19 Michigan: Notre Dame loss at home doesn’t seem so courageous this week either
20 UTEP: can score in bunches- a must in C-USA where the best teams go north of 40 a lot.
21 Iowa
22 Iowa State
23 Arizona State
24 Clemson
25 California: wouldn’t win three SEC games

Monday, September 19, 2005


RD Baker has adopted Tulane football over at Cheap Seats. Go check him out.

Chris Scelfo is.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Quick thoughts on MSU

Some real quick thoughts on the "not too bad" loss to Mississippit State:

The defense clearly played well enough to win every game left on the schedule. State got there 125 yards rushing. And it was sobering to see them run the ball when they had to: both late in the game to move the clock and after the awful fumbled punt. But other than that- they probably did enough to win most Saturdays.

Offense: a struggle obviously. But we know Ricard plays his worst in disjointed environments- most games he won't see that sort of pressure and the receivers will get better.

Fellows, seriously, the backs are a problem. I know Tulane did not block MSU's front seven consistently- but stop writing mean notes to me that Forte can run inside and break tackles against teams with any sort of size and athleticism up front. Maybe he can- but frankly he simply hasn't. The next two games feature smaller fronts- I suppose he'll do better. But again, take away the horrible Army and I-AA outfit from last year- and this is a 20 carry-65/70-yard back so far.

Tulane has gotta run the ball some- as taking pressure off Ricard is the #1 thing this offense has to do to be successful. Jovon had two marvelous runs- odd the blocking wasn't a problem then?- in big spots on five tries. He has to see it more. And would it kill Scelfo to get Ducre a look at the elephant?

The punter has to do better. The return teams have gone from big plus to important problems.

That aside- there is clearly enough here to win six games and be Bowl eligible. And enough to consider stealing a game @ Navy, UTEP, etc to get seven- particularly since the defense seems to have some more ability than I had anticipated. Norwood is a stud and Mississippi State can run the ball. Tulane won't see many much better rushing outfits. And they dug in and fought.

Lastly, Scelfo is a BIG BOY. I kid cause I love- but he looks like a manatee.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Can we free Patrick Ramsey yet?

Can we free Patrick Ramsey yet?

It isn’t like the poor guy killed anybody. Must he humiliated like this? He is a Tulane graduate after all- entitled to respect. Even the accused felons on the Redskins get better treatment.

To me, there are three pertinent facts here:

First, Ramsey clearly has not shown enough to be guaranteed a starting spot.

Second, Joe Gibbs has done a horrible job with the quarterbacking in DC since the day he returned- and he frankly compounded his stupidity by promising Ramsey a substantial look this year when clearly he didn’t plan to. In other words, he lied. I can't see any other way around it. To be fair, there is no reason to expect Ramsey to trust or respect Gibbs any longer. Gibbs clearly doesn't trust or respect Ramsey.

Third, Ramsey has been pretty okay at times. Certainly he has shown enough to get a second chance elsewhere in this league- where even adequate quarterbacking is hard to find.

The only just conclusion I can come up with is that Ramsey has got to go. Gibbs was a great coach- but he has screwed this up- and compounds it by humiliating a kid who by all accounts is a nice person. Time to show some class and to let him go Joe.

If I were Ramsey, I’d ask for my release quietly. And if they wouldn’t give it to me, I’d ask for it publicly. He's got a contract- so he has to show up and do his best. But there is enough here that he can ask for a divorce.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Mississississsissippi State? Preview

Tulane finally gets its season underway Saturday at the Independence Bowl. No one knows how to get tickets or anything. But as long as Mississippi State coaches can pilot their Ford Focuses, read their free maps from Mobil, and direct the team buses there, I imagine there will be a spirited game. Tulane will be wearing the special patch to the right- special patches are a traditional rite reserved for America's Team.

Yes, America wants, maybe even needs, a win here from Tulane. The French Quarter is apparently going to open today- and perhaps be ready for some semblance of a victory party. Earlier this week, I identified this game as one of three, Navy and Houston being the other two, where Tulane probably would be a justifiable underdog. But yet a game that felt real steal-able too. If Tulane is to have a “yogwf season”- win eight games- this is probably one the Green Wave has to have.

I really, really want to pick the Wave in this spot- getting two against Mississippi State. Again, I think it is absolutely winnable. It would be a solid win for the program, a semi-interesting national story- and again, give them a huge push toward that golden “yogwf season”.

It is a hard game to figure.

I sheepishly put out there that I am kind of on a roll on here correctly picking Tulane ATS: nine of ten last year, the last five in a row in 2003. Clearly there is a ton of luck there, but I frankly thought picking the Wave last year was a pretty facile exercise. Yeah, I’d write a lot of stuff on here- but basically if I thought Ricard or Irvin would play well, Tulane would customarily score lots of points- and I’d pick the Wave. Otherwise I’d take the points. And Ricard was fortunately the easiest player on the team to deconstruct. In a “perfect” environment- at home, against teams the line could block consistently, games where Ricard was “comfortable” and our awesome wide outs got open a lot- Ricard shined.

Otherwise Ricard was normally pretty bad and turnover prone.

Consequently, although there is a lot of strange, hard to quantify factors going on here, I think you can hang your hat on two reasonable forecasts:

The first is that Mississippi State ought to be able to rush the football for a pretty big number here. I imagine Norwood ought to be well over 100 yards rushing- and the team at 140, 150, maybe more? Which further suggests that State ought to get their points, time of possession (to keep Ricard off the field), and throw it successfully some too.

The second is that big rushing totals and at least 24-28 points are things Tulane's offense obviously is routinely asked to overcome. And this isn’t a great Bulldog defense.

But I just have a bad feeling about this. The Wave is away from the Dome. The offense is demanding. Worse, I imagine practice has been irregular- a real killer with all new wide receiver roles being auditioned. Mississippi State has played twice already- and yet they probably are the fresher team.

And again, this is not going to be a “comfortable” game for the quarterback. Mississippi State will work hard to get the ball out of Ricard’s hands. A bunch of new receivers, not as good as the old ones, trying to figure out a new, complex offense on the fly. Remember last year’s game: a lot of key components to Tulane’s all-important passing offense, seeing the elephant for the first time, and really struggling.

Ricard improved markedly last year- but never consistently elevated his game under duress. Every time he was good/great- it was at home, and when Tulane could also both pass-protect consistently and reasonably expect their wide receivers to be proficient and competent within the offense.

And man, there will be duress Saturday: weirdness, new people, etc. It just feels like the Wave will have good offensive totals but merely okay results, some dropped balls. incorrect routes and two/three brutal turnovers- one of those games where you have 400 yards of offense and 20 points to show for it.

My gut feeling on these games featuring a small spread is to take the team you think is going to win outright- and ignore the dangers of a backdoor cover. I imagine Mississippi Sate will successfully bang on Tulane, wear them down of defense and score enough to hold off a Tulane offense that will be disjointed and make multiple crucial mistakes. So I’ll take the Bulldogs and give the two.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tulane- The Giving

Seriously, a must check out:

The Fighting Phils Dig In

Has anyone seen "Anonymous Sportaholic"? It was a quality blog. It should come back.

That aside, after America and many Washington National fans left the Phils for dead late last week, the Phillies have rebounded oh so smartly. Rebounding from being swept by the Astros, they have won now five of six from the mendacious Marlins and Braves. This morning, they again lead the Wild Card chase- which in turn allows me to post the Magic Number: 17

Following last night humilation of the Braves behind the "close your eyes pitching stylizations" of Corey Lidle, the recent stretch puts them at 5-4, up from the 0-3 start, on this homestand. I felt the Phils needed 15-10 over the last 25 game segment to get them over the top- which leaves the club with 10-6 to go. I looked over the schedule- they ought to be the Vegas favorite in eight of their remaining games. It is going to be close- and probably agonizing too. Thank heavens Brito gets three more starts.

Bill Conlin in the Daily News waxes optimistic. I am not sure about all this “the Phillies don’t quit” stuff. Clearly, they do try under Charlie- but some of it is also due to the fact the Marlins, Astros and Nats are flawed clubs that lack the capacity to run away from each other- let alone go out and win eleven of their final fifteen and put this to bed.

The Phillies have shown though that when they hit- and let’s not discount the recent contributions of Bell and Leiberthal, who I still long to see disappear- and get semi-decent starting pitching, they can hang in there against the terrific starting pitching and languid offenses featured by their three closest pursuers. And the Phils' bullpen helps a lot of course.

The next week is critical: @ Marlins, @ Braves. But then the schedule, which has worked so long against them for the past two months, turns a little. The Reds, Mets (at home) and Nats- well, you could do much worse to finish out. The Reds and Mets figure to be a nice mixture of bad plus done plus can we go home yet. The Nats are pretty good at home- but I cannot believe the Phillies can’t win two-of-three must have games there.

Still lots of work to be done. But get four of the next seven, for the first time the Phils might begin to apply the pressure, rather than live under it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

BlogPoll is out

Have you ever seen the movie Bowfinger? It isn’t terrible- but today I find myself dwelling on its key fundamental lesson: Kit. Keep It Together. The Irish went into Michigan, smacked the Wolverines hard in their own House and made them say “Yes sir!”. Now I am finding it increasingly hard to not poke my head outside and scream “I want USC #!%* tomorrow!”

It is Week 4 now- and Tulane and Notre Dame are still undefeated.

The prestigous BlogPoll is out this morning:

My ballot is as follows:

1 Southern Cal- The only shame here is their QB could star in Disney’s “Ice Princess 2”
2 Tennessee- The Vols please me
3 Texas- Why yes, I had Oklahoma #3 pre-season and now I am punishing those dumb Okies
4 Georgia- SEC is loaded- particularly the top
5 Florida State
6 Louisville- if Pitt is any example, no one can touch them in the Big Least
7 Florida
8 Louisiana State- Just not sold on the Tigers’ coach in a real big spot
9 Notre Dame- Still can’t imagine ND not losing three games, but the resume is great so far
10 Virginia Tech
11 Purdue- Moving up by default- this in probably not a top ten team end of season
12 Ohio State- No shame is losing to my old Tulane boss Mack Brown
13 Miami (Florida)
14 Georgia Tech
15 Boston College
16 Texas Tech
17 Michigan- Frauds: ND just isn’t that good to be allowed to come and whip you in your house
18 Virginia
19 UTEP- watch out Miners, Tulane is coming!
20 Iowa
21 Clemson- Tommy Bowden might be the greatest living American
22 Iowa State
23 Arizona State- I just don’t think the Tigers are that good
24 Penn State- I really want to believe
25 Toledo- they deserve votes, pure and simple

You can see the other ballots here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Kind of Disappointing

Well, that wasn’t as much fun as last time.

It was a spirited, highly physical game- with just enough “first game of the season” head-scratching plays to give it a little spice. Like that “lateral” to Westbrook? Was that play practiced that way? How was that one pitched in the game-plan meeting? As soon as the ball was snapped you could almost feel the turnover. The Falcons parlayed their emotion and crowd into an early fourteen point lead- and then turned it over to their defense to protect.

I think that first of all, you have to throw mounds of credit to the Falcon defense. They were the story last night: hold teams to ten points in your own building and you win just about all the time. On offense, both teams were alternately sloppy and then way too conservative. But the Eagles simply can’t expect to win a physical game, against an eleven/twelve win type team, while away from the Linc by turning it over three times, having the offensive line play poorly, miss two field goals and lose two all-pros on defense.

Donovan was not good last night. But we know that #5 won’t turn it over three times very often- so I am not concerned about the quarterback. The scariest development continues to be the offensive line. The tackles have really slipped considerably. Philadelphia is now oh so slow at both spots outside. Neither Thomas nor Runyon could pick up edge pressure at all- guys blew by them all night long. The Eagles don’t really play a fullback or tight end just to block all that much- so there is no help there. Worse, other than Parry, I don’t know if any of the tight ends or fullbacks are good blockers. For example, Philly’s two tight end set is a joke when it comes to moving people. The Falcons sent waves of blitzers around the perimeter of the pocket- and the Eagles had no answers all night- just couldn’t get out there.

The interior of the line was a clear problem last year- and still seemed to be last night too. The Eagles can’t push anyone inside when they try to rush the football- and Westbrook is not the sort going to knock people over. Plus, am I the only one tired of Hank Fraley? I know he’s cap-friendly and all that- but he just brings nothing- and hasn’t for two years. It is like the Eagles play with ten guys on offense.

Accordingly the Eagles look disjointed- there just wasn’t anything easy or reliable on offense. They could not run it. The downfield passing game was devoid of consistent pass protection and consequently a scramble all night. Normally, the Eagles kinda get around these problems by having McNabb get up out of the pocket and hurt you with his legs or the resultant breakdowns in your coverage. But he seemed real reluctant to run last night- maybe that big hit early affected him more than it looked?

I am less concerned about the defense. Atlanta ran crazy on them in the first quarter- and hung up the quick 14 points- but then did pretty much nothing in the last 45 minutes of the game.

The Eagles are always going to have trouble stopping the run without Trotter in there- and Atlanta is a team that can rush the football. But the Eagles organizationally also don’t care much about stopping the run to begin with- they simply don’t believe running the football helps you much in the NFL. To wit, Atlanta ran the ball well and only had 14 points last night. Ten to twelve play drives, where you rush the ball nine times for forty yards or so, is just not how the Eagles fear teams hurting them. Fittingly, holding this offense in their dome to fourteen points is more than sufficient. No one else will hold the Falcons to fourteen at home all year.

Now let’s all go home to the Linc- drill the 49ers by twenty- and get the show back on the road.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Professional baseball presents the fan with an odd dichotomy. On one hand, among the major pro team sports, an individual game is the least deterministic. That is to say, in a fancy way, that a single game does not really tell us much about the relative on-field merits between the two competing clubs. The oddness is that the individual games, when put together- aka the season, illustrates more about a baseball team than any of the seasons of the other leagues.

That being said, one conclusion I think we can safely draw from the 2005 Phillies season is the Houston Astros are pretty much better than Philadelphia.

The Phils have unfortunately seen a lot of the Astros since the wild card race took form- and it was frankly not a great experience: handled, swept twice. Now 0-for-12 over the past two years. Watching the games, I was bluntly a little amazed the Phils managed to hang around this long with this Houston club. Philadelphia does not have a single pitcher close to breaking their top three. The Astros roll a quality ‘pen out there- largely equal to the Phils it seems to me- although the Phils might have better situational lefties. Houston’s divisional schedule is a lot easier than the Phillies share.

With Wagner suffering his worst stretch of the season, dropping two in a row, the Phils probably watched any realistic shot of a wild card berth slip away. With fifty games left, I wrote the Phils almost certainly needed fifteen wins in both of their last 25 game segments. The Phillies promptly started with a hot mini-road trip out west (5-1) and rode that to fifteen wins in their first segment. But there were some diffident signs even then. For example, winning 11 of 21 to finish the first segment wasn’t bad- but it also suggested that my aggressive pace was potentially too much for a team that lost another two starting pitchers- including their most consistent (the surprising Tejada)- for a few turns.

They’re not done- but the 0-3 start of this last segment suggests that they’ll need 15-7 the rest of the way… something like that… while playing a lot of quality NL East teams. That is hard- particularly with Floyd and Brito likely making several emergency starts.

The frustration is that the Phils so clearly have left wins on the table this year through the postponement or annulment of obvious decisions: the ongoing crippling fiasco of Rollins leading off, the refusal to pull the plug ealier on Thome’s struggles, getting any third baseman at the deadline to shore up the defense and the bottom of the order. No fix would have turned the Phils into a 90 win team- but come on, fixing or mitigating any of these three obvious problems would have added 2-3 wins to their total.

And none of these fixes were really hard. Rollins just isn’t working out on top- and some sort of platoon of Michaels/Lofton would have added intelligence/saavy there- and a better OBP than .300. Thome deserved a chance to play through his difficulties- but not every single freaking day and not for three weeks when he was clearly hurt. And Bell is a shadow of a major leaguer right now- someone could have come in here and at least made the routine plays down there.

Can’t houseclean or quit yet of course- but the Phils got some problems this morning.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

2005 Tulane Football Preview

Tulane clearly does now appear to be on some sort of glide path to play football this year. So I am going to “talk” football again- beginning with the important 2005 season prediction. Two weeks ago, returning a ton of players and a lot of known qualities, Tulane felt like a pretty easy team to deconstruct. Now, the Wave is playing in an environment that conversely is impossible to understand. Fasten your seatbelts for an inconsistent, emotional season- a season that I guarantee will feature a shocking emotional upset and an awful weary loss.

As always with our university, the story begins with the Tulane offense. This is the obvious result of having to enter just about every single game, every single year, needing to score five touchdowns-to sort of be in it. The offensive line was perhaps not the best unit on the team in 2004- but it was the most consistent- and ought to be a good, solid “professional” group again. They might not be designed to move the Bulldogs or Miners 3rd and short. But they can generate the consistent, mistake-free, accurate effort required to run the blizzard of formations and looks that a spread-style offense requires. They can get downfield to block the screens, get the ends on the ground to run the slants, etc. It is an outfit with good techniques- that maximizes its abilities by playing astutely. A spread offense naturally generates a lot of plays that net zero yards already- you don’t need the line increasing that number through mental errors and penalties.

That aside, it is hard to say overall the offense will clearly be better in 2005. There are questions at every skill position. First, there is no guarantee the passing game, particularly downfield, will be better with the loss of two NFL-quality players from the wide-out core. You know, Williams and Bush were good. Now, I know this is Tulane. Scelfo has proven he can spawn wide out talent. And again, the nature of the Wave “throw it forty times” offense almost guarantees two people on the edge by accident will catch fifty or so balls. But Williams and Bush were so important last season- and consistently got open every game but Louisville. Who on the roster can you point to and tell me will get open every single game but one?

I am little more okay with the backs after watching the team practice two weeks ago. Jovon is what he is- maybe an average C-USA player if you hand it to him, but who brings nothing to the air attack. Forte can certainly catch it- but a back who had 300 yards rushing last year, in games against teams other than Army and I-AA competition, is not a surefire plus. I wrote back in the spring on here that Ducre was the best player in the recruiting class- he looked it again when I was there in camp. Look for him to get every chance to supplant these two guys.

But you know, there is enough here on offense to win every single game on the schedule. If Ricard plays well.

That is the whole nut, right there. And certainly a lot of folks are on this “Ricard for the Unitas Award” kick. And I cannot bring myself to drink this Kool-Aid.

The guy was great, really great, in three starts last year: UAB, Navy and Army- and either hurt, bad or a scary turnover machine in the other seven I-A games. Ugh. And, no offense, Ricard plays in a league that frequently generates undeserved cartoon-like offensive numbers on occasion (see Forte versus Army)- so maybe a slightly jaundiced eye in needed toward players with occasional explosions.

But Ricard did prove that at home (or similar comfortable environment), facing a team unable (the Academies) or unwilling (UAB) to commit to pressuring him, with talented NFL-quality wide out talent to throw to, he was capable of amazing things. Take any of that away…. trouble and astonishing turnovers. In 2005, Ricard fortunately will play against a lot of teams that figure to be “comfortable” to play against- and I imagine he’ll be good-to-great in eight or so games, up from three. Unfortuantely, the games he’ll be bad in are the teams with quality defensive players: UTEP, USM, etc.- the ones Tulane probably needs great play from the quarterback position to win.

The defense… well, there are such a multitude of problems here. They were mostly really bad last year. They couldn’t stop the run, rush the passer, get off the field, play teams physically in the box or cover people. They ought to be better- a lot of people are back, more depth up front and there are some injured folks returning. But let’s say, for example, Tulane now allows 190 yards rushing per game? as opposed to 220? Who cares frankly? Tulane is still going to have to score five-six touchdowns to win games against the USMs & UTEPs of the league. And that is a conundrum.

Obviously, I don’t think this is all that great a Tulane club. They’d get handled by the Hawai’i Bowl group from a few years ago. A lot of the pre-Katarina optimism centered on the 5-win season in 2004. But that win total was not a “true” indicator of that team’s underlying talent. They won three games as big to monster underdogs (to their great credit!)- and added another over a I-AA team. To be honest, this team is probably building off a 2004 squad with the talent to have won two-three I-A games, not five. They were a little lucky- got some big performances in big spots from Ricard (UAB) and Irvin (TCU).

That is why all off-season I thought the Wave could be better- but perhaps not as lucky- and then accordingly win fewer games. I was stuck on five for a long time. I received a barrage of e-mails that suggested I was understating Tulane’s talent (not likely) & that the schedule was worse than I imagined. The latter were pretty convincing- and I then moved to six

Tulane is probably not going to have any true home games this year. But, you know, it isn’t like Tulane loses much there. Games played at neutral sites in front of what ought to be semi-friendly or respectful crowds is kinda what Tulane gets at the Dome anyway. Look, I know it is not a plus- but it isn’t a huge negative- as if Florida had to play its home SEC games in Giants’ Stadium.

I don’t think Tulane can beat UTEP or USM without the “big upset factor”; those teams are better than Tulane. I tend to think Navy, Mississippi State and Houston- particularly those latter games now away from the Dome- are a little better than Tulane. But the Wave is not bad enough to get swept by that slate either. So that is 1-4.

They ought to be better than the five I-A teams left on the schedule- but again home games at neutral sites, a bad defense and potentially inconsistent quarterback situation probably means they lose one here. That squares the mark at 5-5, they crush SE Louisiana, and that gets’em to 6-5. And that is where I will hang my hat.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Obviously, this blog covers Tulane sports. And I don’t know what to write today. Like all Americans, I am staggered by the ruin. I pray for a swift recovery. I grieve the lost- and am heartened that they are with Our Father in Heaven.

I am not going to say more than that. First, I am not smart enough to offer comments or suggestions on flooding, contractors, levies or rebuilding efforts. Second, this is not the proper or appropriate forum for such a discussion. I am also not going to post my season prediction or comments on Tulane football until it becomes obvious that the team will play.

As all of this pertains to Tulane and New Orleans, I have only a pair of comments. Both are offered in the spirit that I know they are not pertinent to the disaster today.

It has become increasingly clear that Tulane will not be able to play any football games in New Orleans this year. In the scale of this tragedy, it is no big thing- except as further evidence of the utter devastation being inflicted on our friends and neighbors.

But there is no shame in playing the games somewhere, trying to play them in Louisiana, striving to make them a small event in the restoration of the city. After 9/11 in New York, the tribulation of the Mets and the Yankees, the Giants and the Jets, were completely unimportant. New York was not exactly glad to have them back- but maybe we also wanted the games again. Honestly. Try and play them. Play the home ones as close as you can. And if it is at all possible, throw open the doors of the Superdome for the last one- invite everyone- and restore another small bit of New Orleans.

There is something good about the civic connection with sports and teams- and it ought not to be dismissed casually. Right now, New Orleans certainly isn’t ready at any level- but someday sooner than we think- it will be. Throw the doors open then and say: You are all welcome here.

My second thought is Tulane is going to obviously be one of the engines to rebuild New Orleans- and rebuild is literally what we are talking about here. Obviously, we are months from that part. But rebuilding gives Tulane a real chance to improve the physical footprint of the university- and as discussions begin about the Superdome restoration, a new home for the Saints, etc.- it would behoove Tulane to have an aggressive plan to move all its facilities, academic and athletic, forward in an environment that ought to be very development friendly.