Thursday, September 28, 2006

Do You Know What It Is To Miss New Orleans?

I depart for New Orleans at first light- and I gotta admit I am fired up. The boys are coming home to the Superdome for the first time since Katrina- and it would take a real grouch to not feel cheer at that fact. Just seeing "TULANE" in all capital letters in the papers lifts, redeems the spirit. Even the New York Post, listing SMU -3 over Tulane, does not dampen my ardor. I’m 3-0 versus the spread to start, a nice rebound from last year’s 5-5 ATS mark- more reminiscent of the 9-1 mark posted in 2004.

I was a little surprised to see SMU open -2.5 over Tulane; I actually thought the Wave would be a slight home favorite. Which makes me wonder about Ricard’s health- particularly since the line has moved further away from Tulane (that is a big half-point: -2.5 to -3). The NFL forces teams to disclose injuries in pretty good detail- and accurately forecast their probability to play- which is why the casinos don’t list lines for pro teams with quarterback issues until the injury list is confirmed.

Tulane is under no such obligation- but I worry. I have a bad feeling that this line forecasts a gimpy or missing Ricard. I mean, I know Southern Methodist was a trendy pre-season C-USA selection for surprising competence- but should SMU be a road fave against anybody?

To be blunt, if Ricard is healthy and plays, Tulane is the solid selection here. True, Lester drives us all absolutely nuts- a unique combination of utter ennui and pathos. Every turnover is a brutal one, every tipped ball intercepted, he vever gets a break. But I cannot help but think good thoughts: Frank wallows and Frank drifts.

Imagine: Today, you are Lester Ricard- loping, as he does, in an oh-so-unique way onto the field, finding your way under center. Today, you are at home, under perfect conditions. Your young semi-okay offensive line provides consistent protection against the Mustang’s semi-okay defensive front. Like all second tier C-USA teams, SMU’s defensive backs cannot cover anyone- and Tulane’s best outfit, our solid collection of C- USA wideouts and Forte (a much better receiver than runner), roam free.

You are Lester, you smile- you are on the Yellow Submarine.

The “Yellow Submarine” was a waggish term I coined last year to describe Ricard’s three outstanding performances way back in 2004: Army, Navy and UAB- three games where he was at home, well protected and throwing to guys his opponents largely lacked the athleticism to cover. For the first time since '04, he ought to face those three conditions Saturday evening- and if he is healthy, I expect a big, no huge, day from him.

I really expect a healthy Ricard leading an aggressive, emotional, focused offense to hang 31-35 points up there. I guess I expect SMU to score a bunch too. The Mustang QB Willis increasingly appears to be one of the efficient passers that our League produces. Like Tulane, they have some nice C-USA skill position players- who I imagine will be roaming free through our nickel as well. Their top RB is out- but as we know, that doesn’t mean much against our defense. Just about anyone and any team goes for 150 total against the Tulane front.

Should be a stone cold C-USA shoot out- in the 30s, maybe 40s- we see that in our League with some regularity. It’ll be entertaining- and I am pumped to see it. It will be good to see our boys in green again- and it is hard to not take points when you think you are gonna score bunches. So, for the second time this year, give me Tulane and 3- but I don’t think they’ll need it. Tulane wins the game.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Keeping The Burgeoning Optimism Inside

Here at “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”, we are trying to keep the burgeoning optimism inside. It is hard. For example- even Tulane's blow out loss this weekend to LSU has upside- if just of the "thank heavens that is over" variety. The Wave is only 1-2- but any rational observer of the schedule had them 0-3. They're flat out over-achieving!

With a little luck, Tulane could square their mark at 3-3- with both Auburn and LSU behind them. But temper those crazy thoughts- there is a lot needing to go right in New Orleans yet too.

More optimism that needs tempering? Well, the Phillies magic number stands at 7- and Bill Conlin starts writing stuff like this:
So... these Phillies are in what should be an anticlimactic final week in baseball as the most dangerous team in the National League.

Prepare to celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music...

Trust me when I say these Phillies are the one team the Mets, Cardinals and survivor of the Padres-Dodgers mud-wrestling match dread meeting in a postseason series. During a week when I was homebound by a left eyelid that was surgically folded, stapled and mutilated, I had a chance to half-watch some very bad baseball played by the flawed, shorthanded division leaders in the Central and West and the hibernating East-winning Mets, who haven't played a meaningful game since they blew out the Phillies in the Money Pit to avert an embarrassing, four-game sweep in mid-August.
But the Phillies feel oh-so-far from being a done deal play-off wise. Philadelphia has probably got to win five-of-six to avoid an “anything can happen play-off game” with the Dodgers. The rotation will probably give them the five good starts they need- and Myers will get two turns this week (nice job Charlie)- but the bullpen is simply not capable of the corresponding five good games in six. I’m not optimistic, merely hopeful. Feels 50-50 to me.

That is kind of the hesitant attitude you have to take with the Eagles too. Yes, there have been a lot of nice surprises. The interior of the offensive line is oh-so-much better: younger and athletic. Couple that with competent, healthy, veteran OT play- add a pro-Bowl quarterback, a big play tailback and three capable wide-outs/tight ends- and you got something.

But what is up with the secondary? You can’t simply pencil a team in for ten wins with this botheration. The Eagles have enjoyed almost a decade now of really good defensive back play. There may have been disputes on the merits of Taylor, Vincent, Lito, Sheldon and Dawkins- but they were largely disputes over whether they were Pro-Bowlers or not. And while combinations of those three guys largely kept team’s passing attack bottled up, we always sort of assumed SS Mike Lewis could play the pass too.

Well, that has to be re-assessed, right? With Lito out- and Dawkins forced to play linebacker in the nickel/dime, so at least someone can cover guys in the flats and slot- the Eagles secondary is Michael Lewis, Quintin Mikell, Joselio Hanson, Sheldon Brown and other “guys”.

And that is not a good situation- particularly since the potential fixes are actually playing already due to injuries. The Eagles defensive front and Trotter are eating up the run- but who cares? As long as teams can throw even adequately, they’ll score three touchdowns more often than not.

Friday, September 22, 2006


In the spirit of Tulane-LSU week, I offer the musings of the proprietor, Dave, of TigerSmack to a series of questions I posed. My similar experience, as a reciprocal guest, can be found here (ed. -the link appears broken?).


Clearly Tulane is not a viable on-field rival for LSU any longer- so what program in LSU’s measuring stick?

All of our old rivalries seem to have died, and that’s a kind of sad. Tulane, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M all used to be bitter rivals of LSU and the games were fiercely competitive. Now, Tulane has gone in a different direction as an institution and just isn’t a football power, so the games just aren’t competitive enough to get anyone excited, much less bitter or angry about. We’re not playing for the same prize, and Tulane’s not likely to keep LSU from obtaining it’s prize, even with a win. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is in our conference and does share our goals, but let’s be frank: for an SEC team, Ole Miss sucks. And as long as they’re not playing at LSU’s level, it’s hard to think of them as a rival. Even if they get better, it’s likely that the old rivalry is dead and buried; their rival is Mississippi State, and probably will be for a long time. Texas A&M? Well, when you don’t play someone any more, they’re not a rival any more, right? I can’t remember how or why our relationship with them came to an end, but it’s unfortunate. Of course, like Ole Miss, these days they’re not very good, so it probably wouldn’t matter if we played them. And like Ole Miss, they’ve got a more natural rival at home (the Texas Longhorns).

For the last few years, university officials and tv networks have conspired to make LSU and Arkansas bitter rivals. They play the game on the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, to try and make it a special occasion that people can mark on their calendars. And they created the most God-awful ugly “trophy” ever, which the winner gets to keep. It would really make more sense if the loser had to keep that damn thing for a year and display it somewhere prominent on campus. Now that would be motivation to win. Alas, it just hasn’t worked. LSU and Arkansas aren’t “rivals”, and I don’t think we’re going to be.

Most LSU fans would say Auburn is currently the closest thing we have to a true rivalry. Despite the fact that their true rival is Alabama, even Auburn fans and sportswriters are questioning whether LSU is the bigger rivalry for them now, due to Alabama’s recent lack of competitiveness, and the fact that LSU and Auburn dominate the SEC West, so whoever wins the game between them usually wins the West. Add to that the fact that LSU-Auburn games tend to be very close, very exciting, and quite often something weird happens that defines the game. This year it was a series of highly questionable calls by officials. Last year, their kicker missed five field goals and they lost. The year before that, LSU lost on a truly bizarre penalty that I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since, something about a player using another player to elevate himself to block a kick. A few years before that, a building next to Auburn’s stadium burned down during the game. One year our quarterback threw three interceptions, all returned for touchdowns, in the fourth quarter to squander a seemingly insurmountable lead. Then there’s the famous “Earthquake Game”.

And the smack-talking between LSU and Auburn fans seems to get nastier every year, especially with the growing popularity of internet sports forums and blogs. Sometimes it’s really out of control.

What do you think of LSU’s out of conference scheduling strategy? Do you like the games? Are there too many Tulane & ULL home games- and not enough Penn State road games? Or are the softies the way you have to do business in a power league?

It’s a delicate balance, to use a cliché. You need the “tune up” games, the “rent-a-wins”, to get your team in shape, work out kinks, and put experience on the young guys. And the guaranteed “W” doesn’t hurt, although with strength of schedule playing a role in the BCS, it doesn’t always help much, either. You don’t want to play too many cupcakes, or you don’t get enough points in the BCS Magical Mystery Formula to get into a good bowl or the championship game. On the other hand, despite the tv revenue windfall, you don’t want to play four or five solid, highly ranked teams either, because you’re apt to lose a few of them, and that’ll keep you out of the big bowls, too.

This year, I think we went a little soft— ULL, Arizona, Tulane, Fresno State. To be fair, nobody knew Arizona would be this bad, since they used to be pretty good, and Fresno State has been better in recent years than they are this year.

My strategy would be one in-state school per year (ie. Tulane, ULL, ULM, etc.), two or three good but not-great non-conference teams (ie. Teams you should beat but that should give you a good game and might lure ESPN2 to town. Teams like Fresno State or TCU), and then one strong, highly ranked team that will get a good TV billing and be highly competitive, like a Notre Dame, Florida State, or USC.

I guess my main thing is that if you’re going to play some “cupcakes”, some “rent-a-wins”, then at least some of that money should be kept in state. Lately LSU seems to be adopting that approach. I don’t see any reason to give a six figure payday to some directional school in Texas when our own state schools could really use the money.

Can Tulane win a single one of these games the next ten years?

I hope so. Not that I want LSU to actually lose a game to Tulane, but the notion that it was at least possible that Tulane would win—a notion not many people on either side give much weight right now—would make the games more interesting for everyone.

Certainly if everything holds constant for these next ten years, that is, LSU remains a top 10 team and Tulane continues to recruit and play at its current level, the series will go 10-0 in LSU’s favor, or maybe 9-1 allowing for a fluke upset. However, and perhaps fortunately, at least in some ways, many things don’t often hold constant for ten year periods. It’s unlikely that either team will be exactly where it is now, ten or even five years out. Whether they’ll be better or worse, no one can say. My gut tells me Les Miles isn’t going to be a long-termer in Baton Rouge, one way or another. Either he does a DiNardo (has a few good season then tanks) and gets run out of town, or he has a couple of great seasons, Lloyd Carr retires or gets fired, and he goes back home to Michigan. So it’s quite possible a few years from today, LSU will have made a Hallman-esque coaching hire and find itself where previously competitive teams like Mississippi State and Ole Miss find themselves today. I hope not, but these things do happen. And it’s also possible, I suppose, that Tulane’s fortunes turn around and they’re a top 25 team again. (Sorry, top 25 is about as far as I can go and keep a straight face. I don’t think anyone really thinks Tulane is ever going to be more than that again, barring a complete philosophical and strategic change at the highest levels of that University)

What will actually happen is something less drastic, in all probability. I don’t really see LSU hitting the pitiful lows of the 1990’s again; they’ve got too much money invested now to let it get that bad and allow revenue to drop off. I think for the foreseeable future, LSU will bounce around between 8 and 11 wins a season, with an occasional 6 or 7 win “bad year”. And I suspect Tulane will improve a bit and win 5 to 8 games a year over the next decade.

So I guess my answer to your question is: As things stand today, no, but let’s hope it gets more competitive.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Prediction Thursday- Special Blood Rival Edition

Today is Prediction Thursday- our great tradition on “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”- but obviously, due to the circumstances surrounding yesterday’s events, this blog will have to take a series of important, shall we say, itemizations- to ensure its continued relevance and complete, total loyalty.

Because, you guessed it, this morning the Philadelphia Phillies officially lead the chase for the National League Wild Card. Of course, the Phillies effort requires the requisite acknowledgment- just completed- and a resolute commitment to stay informed. To that end, the information is as follows:

With a degree of humility, the Magic Number is 11

11! It almost seems do-able; the glow washes over.

Now, to the business of this site. The New York Post puts LSU -35.5 over Tulane this morning. Sigh, the hook too?- those guys couldn’t have just put up 35? But it is what it is- and I’ll try to run my mark to 3-0 from there.

2-0 is a good start ATS- but the first two Wave games this year were about as easy a pick as you get against the spread. This is the first tilt that is a true conundrum. You can’t really apply football based rational to this one; it is a psychology experiment. If LSU is even semi-engaged, they can probably play “pick a score” here- you know, the line coach is fifty and his daughter is ten- so boys, let’s go get a symbolic 50-10 win.

But if his daughter is sixteen, you get your backdoor cover! It is hard, hard, hard. Who knows what LSU is looking to achieve here: run the 1st team offense for three quarters? exercise the passing game even to the point it means they score 70? Frankly, only El-hrair-rah knows what those Tigers are up to.

If Tulane can get two TDs here- LSU would need to go north of 49 to get the necessary margin. I kinda think that is the bet you’re making here. If you think Tulane can get a respectable point total, say 17-ish, you probably ought to take the 35.5, grit your teeth and watch the clock run.

It is problematic. Barring pure luck or LSU ennui, Tulane probably can’t do anything against LSU’s first-team defensive squads. They simply can’t block this front- so Tulane can’t expect to rush the football or protect Ricard- and we know how that Lester story ends. Doesn’t it feels like that game played with Texas in 2002 where JP Losman wasn’t availed of the opportunity to do anything- so even if the defense had played great, Texas was still going for 50?

I’m not totally in love with this pick, the Wave could get a garbage score or two- the Elliott versus the Tiger’s third team in the fourth quarter match-up is a total mystery to me in terms of players, preparation and desire level. The Tigers are probably not looking to really humiliate the Wave in this spot- working to hang 70 up there. The new clock rules probably will cost LSU a possession in each half- particularly as they run, run, run the ball. And 35.5 to a blood rival is a lot- but maybe the two schools aren’t blood rivals anymore?

You could argue that LSU will be flat, as Tulane is sandwiched between Auburn and the rest of the SEC schedule. But, you know, Tulane is coming off a huge emotional Saturday too, with another huge emotional Saturday coming up. Who ever thought Tulane-LSU would be a “sandwich game” for both teams?

But the Tigers should be engaged mentally- a home game after a trying loss- and Tulane, particularly on defense, just isn’t in their league. I’ll be rooting for Tulane like crazy- but I'm taking the Tigers- and give 35.5

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Confidential to Visiting BlogPollers

If you schedule Vandy and Central Michigan, then you cannot cry if I am not sold you are a Top Ten team.

Stupid Giants

The Eagles loss- as beaten into our heads by the relentless media- was pretty noisome. It is so very hard in the NFL to leave a game like that, one where you are leading by 17 points well into the second half, on the table. A team like the 2004 Eagles- a team that had legitimite eleven win, twelve win aspirations- would be near wrecked. A home division loss goes a long way toward costing teams division titles, byes and home play-off games.

But the 2006 Eagles are not that team anymore.

The key for moving off the mediocre treadmill in the NFL is to find a game plan- a formula- that your team can replicate successfully ten to twelve times. For example, we play very stingy defense so keep the score in the teens and don’t make mistakes on offense. Or we can’t stop anyone and play in a Dome- so let’s sling the football, get it to thirty-five points and damn the occasional turnover. And the Eagles haven’t figured that rubric out yet.

So, although this loss to the Giants is bad for an eleven win team, maybe it is not so bad for a six win team looking to re-define itself. The Giants are the best team in the division until proven otherwise- and they needed a miracle fumble, dumbness from our young players and overtime to win this game.

So, the Eagles campaign: Up From Hopeless- seems done. Better, while they are not there yet, they are increasingly a team that ought to flirt with .500- plus and possibly make the play-offs, which would be great for a team re-building with an eye toward 2007 and 2008. The Eagles effortlessly cruised by Houston. McNabb is great- and amidst the wreckage of the Giants’ affair the Eagles did hang almost 500 yards of offense on a solid NFC defense. The quarterback is back to being a true, healthy all-pro, the wide receivers might actually be a net plus, and the old Eagles’ horror show- the interior offensive line- is the best, most athletic and healthy, of Reid’s tenure. But that old pre-TO formula that Philadelphia tried to execute Sunday afternoon- get to 20+ points and a one-score plus lead and turn it over to the defense to protect- just isn’t going to work here.

The defense is simply not proven- not a group that can be reliable counted on to protect a lead. So Reid needs to change the “old” formula: 20+ points isn’t enough any more, and sending the offense out to do nothing more than not turn it over, while protecting a lead, is no longer a pragmatic, smart option.

The new, young defensive line had eight sacks and bottled up the Giants’ rushing attack- but made key mental mistakes and wore down well before the overtime. The linebackers are just flat-out bad against the pass. Coupled with the loss of one starting corner, this creates a bad domino effect: the nickel corner starts, the dime corner is now the nickel- and moving Brian Dawkins up to linebacker (none of the LBs can simply cover anyone) in nickel situations puts yet another back-up defensive back at safety on the field.

That is three back-up DBs out there Sunday, protecting a lead against a Giant team with capable receivers, needing to throw down two scores in the fourth quarter. That is not exactly a recipe for success. No wonder the Eagles’ were ill-disciplined and confused in the secondary.

Monday, September 18, 2006


One of the best part about whipping SEC teams is the utter bitterness of the recriminations. The opening quote: Well, wasn't that just pathetic?- goes a long way to giving you, gentle reader, the simple titch of the article. Relief in Starkville is not far away though; maybe he should have spoke to the Bulldogs before taking the field?

Tulane is now officially a “hard team to get a handle on”, right? I know I am relishing putting any sort of intelligent framework on picking Tulane +36.5 this weekend.

This might not be exactly a great win for Tulane. The Bulldogs were -11 over Tulane; again terrible is eleven better than horrible. I liked Tulane here cause I thought Houston made Tulane look horrid- rather than actually being horrid. Turned out Mississippi State decided to be horrid for a half-plus, and Tulane was pretty okay. The defense wasn’t tested much- and folded when pushed a little by a wide-receiver playing qb- but we know there are huge problems over there.

But, the veterans were efficient with the ball. Under Ricard, Tulane is normally plagued by an inability to turn good offense into points- but they did yesterday. Ricard avoided the killer turnover, and Forte had his best game as a collegian. Forte clearly looked to be a pretty improved player in the spring. He’s still not exactly good- but if five one hundred yard rushing games is a sort of success- Ihe probably can give them that.

So maybe instead it was simply darned satisfying. I am sure Scelfo and Ricard and Forte and crew and supporters haven’t enjoyed a bus ride home like that in a long time. Since TCU two years ago I guess? The Green Wave doesn’t win many road SEC games- and man, it was extra special Sunday morning to wander around the ancestral home prior to the Eagles’ game badgering my two brothers and father asking when the last time Pitt won an SEC game down south? Further, if the Houston beat down was a kick in the teeth for the yogwf-ish 7-8 win crowd, this win provides much aid and comfort to the 5-6 win group.

The 3-4 win group (me!) still points grimly at Auburn & LSU.

After the Houston game, I was pretty sanguine. Houston was, again, sort of uniquely designed to torment the Wave- and thus not real indicative of Tulane’s ability level. But conversely, I wrote on Prediction Thursday that Tulane was a pretty strong pick in this spot. Mind you, I didn’t think they’d win- and kudos to those on here who did- but I did write that this was, of the eight games on the schedule Tulane figures to be a touchdown– plus dog, the most winnable.

If you had to design a team Tulane could upset- one that had huge quarterback issues (keep the point total down), distracted (you know they think Tulane is a rent-a-win there) and featuring one of a dozen or so coaches Scelfo could confidently be counted on to out-prepare- well, it would look a lot like Mississippi State. And geez, forget the talent part- Croom is doing himself no favors right now with the way this team actually plays.

So, after two games, the jury is still out. But for Tulane to have a nice season, I think we all agreed it was an utter must to steal one of the these first two. Good for them- they did it. They have checked a key block toward giving themselves a chance.

I had them at three (maybe four)- get three of the toxic Rice, SMU, Marshall and Army collection. So this is one I didn’t figure they’d get- and moves my in-season running total to four solid. I can’t say “maybe five”- because I had “maybe four” as a result of an upset of MSU or Houston or someone other than the SEC heavies.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tulane & Philadelpia Both Wear Green

Just a few quick thoughts from "Frank Helps You Think It All Out" before I head down to Philadelphia for the Giants' game Sunday. As an Eagles' fan, I have to respect Jeremy Shockey for providing bulletin board material for us denizens of the upper level at the Linc in this charming missive: Taunts Will Bring Out The Beast In Me. I don't know about that- I'd be satisfied to simply bring out a few false start penalties.

I've heard Philadelphia is supposed to be "The City of Brotherly Love." Well, I haven't gotten a lot of brotherly love from Eagles fans the times that I have been to Philly ... and I love it! I wouldn't have it any other way. They're a rough crowd and it really gets me fired up. The louder they get, the more energy I take from them.

People ask me what it's like to go over there and take on our tough rival. Well, when I was in high school, I went to a party across town and got jumped by 17 other guys. Two of my boys joined in to help me fight our way out of there. I punched the guy who started the fight so hard in his face that I broke my hand. He fared a lot worse. You want to know what it's like to be a Giant on the Eagles' turf, that's pretty much what it's like.
In more mundane C-USA news, not surprisingly, four punters from C-USA are on the Ray Guy Award List.

I mean, let’s face it- if you want to punt, I mean really want to punt- then C-USA is the place for you. Tulane, SMU and East Carolina are all promising choices for a punter who likes his action. All jokes aside, Chris Beckman is a damn fine college kicker- and of use to a Tulane team that really needs every advantage it can get from special teams and field position. No one drafts punters- but he’ll be in a pro camp next year.

The best off-field soap opera in Tulane sports continues to be "YOGWF Under Siege". After a series of a small number of member defections- made alternately amusing and interesting by the amount of vitriol pitched on the way out- YOGWF chief "JtS" kinda flipped out a little and left this righteous rant:
What this forum has become makes me nauseous. I'm seriously considering shutting the whole thing down....

YOGWF now does more harm than good.....

I will not allow this forum to harm or degrade something I love.... And if it means shutting it down, so be it. YOGWF is only as good as the participants and right now we've lost our best.....
Come on now, you can't write stuff like "we've lost our best" unless you are talking about something like the Normandy Invasion. JtS goes on to describe the hate mail and such. I can kinda sympathize with that- as something like this charming comment is either left or e-mailed every day- frequently by my father:
tulane will lose 31-17 to ms state you once souther, yankee want to be.
Sigh, yet another reminder of why I tried so hard to avoid a public university education in the deep American South. But look, it is JtS' forum- and our Tulane community is defintely better for it- so cut out the melodramatic, cringing nonsense- it is pertinacious and hopefully not really indicative of the modern Tulane man. And guys, let me help you. For instance, the proper, American and Tulane answer to someone threatening to sue you for something you wrote is to immediately re-post the offending entry, along with the threatening missive, with an accompanying two word response: $!#* you!

And if you are going to let it get to you that much- kick people off for having the "wrong opinions", write such oh-so-maudlin entries to your own Forum- maybe the boys at YOGWF ought to cool the "The Definitive Green Wave Talk Forum" and the "Here's to the Greenbacks that never will say die..." branding?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I'm Takin' A Stand & Takin' the Wave

Let’s begin with a facile tautology: horrid is worse than terrible.

The New York Post puts up Mississippi State -11 over Tulane- and perhaps the tautology above explains it best. Mississippi State is terrible and Tulane looked horrid last Saturday. Possibly that is what Vegas is telling us: “terrible” is favored over “horrid” by eleven?

Well, the Bulldogs are pretty terrible- although you might get some dispute here. They’d be a touchdown underdog (maybe more) at Houston for example. Their defense would probably be more than okay in C-USA, but the offense is by all accounts a disaster- a good analogy might be, oh, say Tulane’s defense circa 2005.

The Bulldogs feature a quarterback situation that Tulane fans can really relate to- a key position staffed by a guy(s) totally not ready for the I-A level- except in Tulane’s case they got like seven of ‘em- most on defense, and a lot seemingly at linebacker.

So, I think I know what MSU “is”. But is Tulane horrid- justifying the 11?

Okay, Tulane isn’t good. Heck, I started that Church. But I am not sure the jury is in on “horrid” yet. Frankly, I can’t come on here one week and scream Houston is a stone lay up at -14, because the Cougars were uniquely designed to torment Tulane- and then turn around and write the subsequent harrowing beating is reflective of Tulane’s true ability level.

For example, I am going to pose a tendentious argument here. There is ample statistical evidence that Tulane can’t stop the run or the pass. But I would change that slightly. I think the actual fact is that Tulane catagoriclally can’t stop teams that can run and pass proficiently.

To wit, maybe last year might be a solid forecast of this year’s clash. The Wave had not real clue how to contain Kolb and crew last year either- but they did a pretty decent job, for Tulane that is, against the very one dimensional Mississippi State offense.

I just don’t see the Bulldogs utterly torching the Wave defense here- and if Croom’s guys can’t get to 28 for certain- I think covering eleven is problematic.

Further, a game under their belt has to help Tulane’s young offensive front and get the skill positions more in sync. And if Scelfo can’t get them dialed in here- a local game for many of them after a bad road beating- well, he never will.

Bottom line? I don’t think Tulane’s horrid performance had much to do with them- but more to do with a Houston team designed and populated to torment their defense. And you know, Lester Ricard really wasn’t all that bad, Forte wasn’t that bad either, the defense will get some help from MSU’s inability to throw (you gotta pass effectively to score 30+ points).

I tend to think that Tulane is not horrid- just terrible, just like MSU- and terrible ought not to give eleven to a peer. I like the Green Wave here frankly. Hard game to win outright- but our guys will be better! I take Tulane and the points.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Back Atop NFC East

Let’s be completely candid, okay?

Although it is only the first games of a long season spanning four months, Week One could not have gone much better for the Philadelphia Eagles. It wasn’t so much the efficient play of #5 or the smart, the smart healthy corps of skill position players or the professional effort of the defense leading to a workman-like road win. No, it was the performance of our divisional rivals- who all came out and lost.

First up, the Washington Redskins. I can't remember enjoying the last six minutes of a pro-football game as much in a long time. Bad quarterback, shaky kicker, a defense that catagorically can't make clutch fourth quarter stops, endless penalties (many mindless), alternately ill-disciplined and unlucky. I know that Redskins' team!

It is a great loss from the Eagles’ point of view because- for the Redskins to win ten games- they have to beat the Minnesotas of the League at home a lot more often than not.

One kinda has to give Minnesota credit. You could see the Brad Childress’ Eagles all over this effort: a pretty damn good road game, zero mistakes from the quarterback (and really the entire offense), make your field goals, play solid defense inside the 20s. Turn a game you should lose into a contest of who gets luckier/makes fewer mistakes in the last seven minutes (where Minnesota has got the proverbial puncher’s 50-50 chance).

Unfortunately, I really didn't think the 'skins played all that badly. At least on defense. Can't put them down for six wins yet. Minnesota only scored one TD- despite playing about as well as they can on offense, right? But again, Childress had a good game plan, Johnson played that saavy veteran game at the most important position in football- and to their credit, the Vikes stole one. Good win for the Vikes more than a bad loss for the 'skins.

The Giants' loss was the least "bad" one of the bunch. Nevertheless, the New York Post offers heartening reading today- featuring the first whiffs of the awful stench of doubt:
What's also new and different about the Eagles is that McNabb is healthy and Terrell Owens is gone. What McNabb brings to the table is indisputable, and when sizing up the quarterbacks and the division race the Eagles come out on top. The Cowboys with Drew Bledsoe and the Redskins with Mark Brunell go to battle with aging warriors on the downside of strong careers, and the Giants with Eli Manning possess a young gun oozing with ability that's not yet fully harnessed. McNabb looked better than ever in this year's opener.
Similarly in Dallas:
So we spend an entire training camp focusing on a certain wide receiver, and it turns out the real controversy is at quarterback. I mean when Peter King showed up on NBC talking about how Tony Romo would unseat Drew Bledsoe early in the season, it just seemed like a pleasant diversion from the T.O. news cycle. Now, it appears King may have been on to something.
Tomorrow is Prediction Thursday- so I’ll return to Tulane football concerning the Mississippi State pick.

Monday, September 11, 2006

We Been Cougared Bad!

Sigh. Well, that was ugly.

I suppose I am a little more sanguine than I anticipated. Last week, I wrote that Tulane probably gets handled here even if they play well- and that Houston -14 was almost a lay-up. The defense is horrid. The quarterback iffy at best- blah, blah, blah

Then, the Wave didn’t play well (I imagine- did not see the game frankly) so Tulane moved easily past getting handled to getting absolutely smoked.

But relax a little. Let’s see at least the Mississippi State game before drawing hard program-level conclusions, let alone season-level ones. And I will hazard one prediction: while I have been screaming that Tulane is bad- and yes, Tulane is in fact bad- they are absolutely not “lose by five touchdowns to mid-level C-USA competition bad”.

Look- for whatever reason, since Kolb took over, this Houston team is almost perfectly designed to torment the Wave. They have three years in a row.

Candidly, Tulane always struggles to contain teams, that can run and pass, to reasonable numbers. They play in a League that rewards good quarterback play with not just “good” numbers- but “cartoon-level” good numbers. How many times did we see Losman and Ramsey absolutely torch bad-to-adequate C-USA defenses for 35, 40, 50 points? It happens routinely. This is not the SEC- but C-USA. Here, teams don't go for 28 points on a good day; they go for 40+. If you have a pro-level qb in our League, you make defenses look not bad- but real, real bad.

Last year, Kolb and crew hurt the Wave “D” over and over- but Tulane still had played fairly credibly against Mississippi State’s infinitely more one-dimensional approach. The exact same thing will happen this year.

The offense will have had a game under its belt to digest, they’ll play angrier and more focused after being embarrassed. I’m not saying they’ll beat State- it is still and SEC team on the road- a categorical bad scene for Tulane- but they’ll be a whole lot better.

I promise!

Friday, September 08, 2006

2006 Eagles Forecast

Eagles' cheerleader Alyssa is ready! Are you?

I spent most of the off season pretty pessimistic about the Eagles. Man- but weren’t there an absolute myriad of real bad problems last year? Three were outright huge: quarterback- clearly fix-able, defensive line and wide receiver- infinitely more problematic. Linebacker (outside of Trotter of course) and the offensive line were not exactly strengths either. That seemed a whole lot to fix in one off-season- and add a division where the other three teams increasingly appeared to be getting their act together- it looked to be problematic to get over .500. Accordingly, I was hooked on seven-eight wins.

But, let’s face it, unlike last year- this year seems off to a “good” start- and Dallas has to deal with TO and Washington can't do anything. Camp has been helpful, friendly to the Eagles. They drafted, by all accounts, excellently for once- adding impact on the defense front and depth to the most worrisome position on offense: tackle. An undoubtedly sharp pre-season, a healthy quarterback, some young players looking sharp, a shrewd camp addition of a very quality wide out- and they are emerging as a chic play-off pick more (ten wins here) and more (Super Bowl).

While the offense is still a work in progress, it almost has to be better. The franchise quarterback is the cornerstone of success in the NFL- you either have one, are grooming one or searching for one. Fortunately, the Eagles have Exhibit A in Donovan McNabb. He is no Tom Brady- but he is a perennial Pro-Bowler that gives them a chance in every game and every season. And I love him. But when you have a top quarterback- a lot has to go wrong before you are out of a play-off spot.

Lord, but the Eagles try though. I am probably the only person in Philadelphia that is not enamored with Westbrook. Look, he does many good things- and can torment defenses with match-up problems from hell. But he also forces you- because he realistically can't handle 20+ touches week after week- to have a quality second back- which the Eagles simply do not have.

The offensive line on paper seems adequate- but on second thought; it isn't, is it? The tackles define aging and slow. The first game against the Falcons last year was an ill omen- watching the Falcons send waves of fleet pass rushers to the perimeter that beat the Eagles’ tackles to the engagement points again and again. They did draft the USC tackle Winston Justice- and he looks ready to play. Unfortunately he’ll probably have to: throw the raw rookie out there when William Thomas inevitably breaks down for the umpteenth time. The interior line has been solidified by Shawn Andrews- who will be a Pro-Bowler for the next decade- and the addition by subtraction defections of Fraley- who managed to play here for seemingly a generation by being “cheap against the cap”. But outside of Andrews, there are no pluses in this group- and downside in the OTs can’t stay healthy- which I imagine they can’t.

But- now that the wide receiver corps is up from utter disaster to okay- there should be enough here that the Eagles’ can resurrect "the mostly effective until real crunch time pre-TO offense". And I imagine that is what they’ll get- production and points- a certain competence that McNabb and Akers create that available points will be gotten more often than not – until some real crunch time Sunday afternoon in December or January.

The defense absolutely could not rush the passer last year- and they drafted and spent the big money here. Howard and Kearse probably have to be better producing perimeter pressure- but there is still little push up the middle. There is more depth and youth too- and you can’t go wrong in the NFL introducing those things to your defensive front.

Unfortunately, the 'backers are a disaster. Dhani Jones is the worst regular linebacker in the NFC East; he can't tackle, cover, run support, rush the passer. He is cheap- largely because he can't play. Matt McCoy couldn’t even get activated last year- now he starts? Trotter is superb- a run stopper and a motor- but this group can’t cover me- a real drawback in a division loaded with backs and tight ends that absolutely need covering.

The defensive secondary should be fine- and the kicking game- Dirk and David- are outstanding.

So, the Eagles ought to be better- no unit is worse (although some problems aren’t fixed: linebacker, offensive line), the quarterback is back, the pass rush almost has to be better. They drafted well two years in a row- so some of these young nucleus players figure to have positive, contributing impacts this year. And the pre-season suggested the old bloodless, free from beating yourself, eagles are back.

And that gets you a long way in Our League- the refusal to beat yourself. There are too many holes for an outright renaissance- but the schedule probably means they get to 5-3 at the bye. So they’ll be in the hunt. I’m going to say nine wins- maybe even ten if the quarterback is healthy. I won’t try and predict the divisional tie-breaker at ten wins- but I imagine Philadelphia make the play-offs- as I think nine will do it in the NFC in 2006.

To wit:

1. New York Giants 10-6
2. Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys 9-7
4. Washington Redskins 7-9

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Prediction Thursday

First prediction Thursday of the year!

A little history is obviously thus in order: a 7-3 mark in 2003, a 9-1 mark in 2004 (both against the spread)- but I slipped to 5-5 in 2005. No better than guessing last year! Never could get a good handle on the ’05 edition of Tulane. I took Tulane a few times early, after the impressive SMU showing, before I realized Tulane was not capable of that supreme effort week after week.

Perhaps as a real visible sign of the woes of Tulane football the past year, in 2005 Houston was a mere one point favorite over Tulane. The Wave still got beat pretty soundly- handled for the second time in a row. Vegas seems wary to bet against a third straight multiple score decision. Consequently, the New York Post- the official line of Prediction Thursday- puts the Houston Cougars an even two touchdowns over the Tulane Green Wave.

I sorta like Houston the football team. They are the perfect emblem of the sort of mixture our League wants and actually gets from C-USA football: fun & good quarterback play, big points and clever offensive game plans- all in front of snoozing crowds numbering 15,000 or so.

Right up front, I hate this game for Tulane. If you want an early season upset, you could make a very cognizant, fair argument that the Green Wave can beat Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are totally one dimensional on offense (can’t pass a lick). So although they can hang an awful rushing total on Tulane, they probably can’t score enough to get the thirty points required to put the game totally out of reach of Tulane’s offense: you know, should Ricard totally go off for some reason or other.

But not Houston. Kolb is one slick dude- a near perfect touchdown making machine (three TDs/0 INTs against Rice) in a League that absolutely rewards touchdown makers by presenting defenses like Tulane’s. Houston played offense for two quarters against Rice- and still scored 31 points. Now they are at home, with a game under their belt- and ought to come out focused after the near disaster against the Owls. Being honest, the Cougars really ought to score five, six times, with near 450 yards of offense.

On offense, everything Houston can do- turn their big yardage totals into points and ball control- Ricard has singularly been unable to do, on the road, against even poor defenses. Like last year, I imagine Houston is pretty mediocre on defense- but Ricard could do nothing consistent against them: 12-of-32 passing for 117 yards. Tulane ran the ball okay- I imagine Forte will again- but Tulane can’t manage to keep Kolb off the field, and score enough points, if Ricard completes the expected 45-50% of his balls with a fumble and an interception in the red zone.

Worse, look at this article:
"It was a tale of two halves," Tulane coach Chris Scelfo said. "The difference in the game today was that they made some big plays and we didn't. I thought we played a clean football game, pretty mistake free. You have to give them credit. We ran the ball well and we were hoping to continue to run the ball and then we dropped behind and we had to try to create the big play. We just weren't able to do that."
I kinda agree with Scelfo. Outside of the quarterback, Tulane really did not play all that badly in that spot. Weren't we kinda encouraged by the game?- that Tulane put an effort out there that would beat the Marshalls and Rices of C-USA. And yet, Tulane still got beaten pretty handily.

So, I am not optimistic. I can see easily see the Wave playing spirited, as well as they can- and still getting handled. After the near Rice debacle, Houston probably is not getting snuck up on here. And while we are sorting out our first game offensive issues, coupled with another erratic performance from the quarterback- Houston gets a bunch of scores Tulane can’t match. So I’ll take Houston- give the 14 to Tulane- and hope for the best.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mr. Bold Increasingly Vindicated

The Eagles start Sunday- which is really great- because the Phillies are officially in trouble. Yesterday, the Phillies gutted out an extra-inning win. That extended their now rapidly extending run of .500 baseball- six wins in their last twelve- to about three weeks.

The Phillies are back, officially, to being a .500 team. Period. Three weeks of .500 ball on top of an entire season of .500 ball equals a .500 team.

The Phillies Wild Card hopes have long hinged on the fact that the play-off award would go to an 83-84 win type club. They have got the necessary collapse from the Reds. If you really want to be honest about it: the Phillies "run" to this Wild Card has been merely playing a bare few games over break even while the Reds collapsed. But, the calendar is winding down- and every day the two game lead the Padres’ hold gets bigger and bigger. It is hard to make up games when in Phillies' style you win one, lose one.

Worse, there is Florida. This blog has held the long-standing view that Florida is the “fourth-best” in the National League. But I was kinda hopeful that the same calendar effect above would sort of work in the Phillies favor trying to hold off the rampaging Marlins.

Just a week or so ago, the Phillies held a three game lead with thirty or so to play. Even a 15-15 mark by the Phils meant the Marlins needed 18-12- six games over- just to tie. True, the Phils have got the .500 mark over the last few weeks- but the Marlins have won eight of ten, the requisite six over, and this morning are tied with the Phillies. Vegas indicates that with Wolf facing Pettitte tonight- and the Marlins running Willis out against the Diamondbacks, that tie will be resolved in favor of the Marlins tonight.

So I think Philadelphia is squarely looking at “done” in the face. They control their destiny some with the Marlins- lots of head-to-head games. But I am not sure that is that great a plus. The Marlins are better than the Phillies right now. Playing Florida probably doesn't help; I'd rather see them tangle with the Mets ten times.

Other news. Mr. Bold took some flack for some places ranking Tennessee ninth and leaving Cal out altogether. That doesn’t look so un-astute this morning, now does it people? Even Rocky Top Talk cheerily acknowledges said thought. Now watch further as Louisville spits the bit three times this year (including once against someone like Boston College), Texas lose next week (thus moving them down to 10-ish)- and thus sweet, sweet vindication. As a voter, one must analyze- not merely regurgitate what one reads on the Cardinal Report.

Tulane hits the board +14 over Houston. No hook- the line has come in some- probably because Houston looked so lousy on defense against Rice. The line seems about right to me. The Cougars are a legit two scores better. The Cougars’ quarterback Kolb tends to beat us around the head a little. Plus, Tulane could play real well here and still lose by seven. But by the same token, Houston probably can't blow us out by multiple TDs.

Still, it is first game for the Wave- so a bit of a mystery. I think the Cougars win- but that is a whole lot of points for a team that squeaked by the Owls. Very nervy pick either way.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I went to bed last night with a sense of vague disquietment (ed. Is “disquietment” even a word?). Not due to Notre Dame, mind you. Oh no. True, the Irish didn’t look like national championship material- but that game had real trouble written all over it. Forget the traditional intangibles: a football team and its sell-out crowd drunk to the gills on rage, emotion and beer. We know the Yellow Jackets can play defense with anyone- last year’s upset of Miami for instance. Notre Dame plays for all intents and purposes a pro-offense right now- one that you figure, even with a veteran crew, probably would benefit from a shake down cruise at South Bend (versus someone like Tulane!?), before seeing the elephant for the first time on the road on national television.

So, Tech was a just about mortal lock to cover the seven points, so I was glad merely to see the Irish escape. I mean, Notre Dame could have been living the poor man’s version of Colorado’s shame this morning. And it was not the maudlin ode flowing from Stephen A. Smith’s hallucinatory brain this morning: Howard's homers: Are the Phillies wise to MVP candidate's worth? I hate to interrupt myself- but it includes this smashing quote:
I've changed my mind, and so should everyone else.
Let me try to help you Steve… uhm, yes. Howard will be showered with lucre beyond his most wild dreams here shortly.

No, my angst is due to the Phillies as an entity, as a collective whole.

The problem is that while the Phillies can do this- make this post-season- well, be honest: have you ever seen a team that feels like it has less control over its destiny than this one? If it takes 83-84 wins to get it done- they can do that. If it takes more, well, categorically probably not. The Phillies can't win more than 84- probably won't win less than 82. I feel I can say that almost with an utter certainty. It absolutely feels as if their season is done- they totally are what they are. Now we all are merely waiting to see if the Marlins or Padres can get to 85.

See, after a nice run of five weeks or so of solid play, the old Phillies have kinda slipped back into town. The schedule has been neutral- the Mets, Nats, Braves, maybe a little road heavy- and the Phillies have accordingly played nuetral, split the last ten dead even. They are back to the spotty starting pitching minimizing the results from the pretty decent offense. The bullpen is a mixture of some guys going okay at best mixed with some guys not going well at all.

Seriously Charlie, surely we have seen the end of the Arthur Rhodes for closer initiative? In fact, I just as soon not see him in ten more games this year. Why not give Madson a try? He doesn’t pitch scared and he belongs in the big leagues.

As a result, this second double-header today feels a little more important than usual. Another split just sort of extends into a third week this “let’s play around .500” kick Philadelphia has been on lately. And there is opportunity here… the Phillies are a big Vegas fave with Myers in the nightcap. Plus, this is an entire four game series without seeing Smoltz. If they are going to get away with stealing this Wild Card, they could take a huge step by winning some four game series, at home, against sub.-500 teams, outright.