Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We get exactly what we ask for in local sports talk radio.

Josh Innes is an idiot in an industry almost entirely staffed by idiots.

Because of this, and because he bosses pay and encourage him to be even more idiotic, I'm not really sure why people are up in arms regarding his "racial slur"?

For the three years that Innes plied his trade in Houston, I listened to his show a handful of times. As I've stated many times before "Bro" radio does not interest me.  But I would listen in after a big sports news story to see what people had to say.

First, Innes knows next to nothing about sports.  And I don't mean that in a disparaging manner it's just true.  Innes is the drunk frat kid standing around griping that the team "should throw the ball more".  His shtick in Houston was limited to making disparaging comments about the University of Houston and then acting surprised when the alumni called in and were angry.

Josh Innes is the inevitable result of dumbing down your product.  He also draws huge listener numbers because, on a whole, the entirety of the sports talk market is pretty dumb.

We are, talking about "fans" here, and "fan" is short for "fanatic".  If you consider yourself a fan of any team then you have a problem.  It's OK to root for teams, to pull for teams, to want them to win. But as a self-described fan of a team you are admitting that you throw logic to the wind and cheer for them unquestioningly.  Fans are why Bob McNair has been allowed to run the Texans as a profit center rather than a championship contender. It's why players are given a pass for criminal activity and why Greg Hardy is currently playing for the Dallas Cowboys.  Fans exist only to defend the indefensible and provide sports franchises with a steady diet of money.

And it's the fan that Innes was talking to when he called Travis Kelce a "house slave". It was the fan base that he guessed, correctly in most cases I'm sure, was angry at the Eagles for basically firing Andy Reid, and then hiring his protégé 3 years later in what is the ultimate of "Ooops" moves by a team.

To his credit, Innes knew this, and he did exactly what he was paid to do. He said something that has brought his radio show Nationwide attention.  Even his non-apology "apology" is designed to have the ultimate effect:

"I'm the dumbest human being on the planet," Innes said. "I apologize for that, I truly do. I'm an idiot ... I see people are making fun of me across the country, and you should be, because I'm stupid."
Here's the rub:  Innes really doesn't think he's stupid. He knows that what he said was controversial and that it will generate outrage. He also knows that, by writing an apology that basically apologizes for being stupid (and not for making the racist comment FWIW) he can turn the news story away from his racist ramblings, on directly onto himself. In fact, he's becoming the news here.

That's better publicity for Innes than any news scoop or interview could ever become.

Innes isn't sorry that he said those things, nor does he have any remorse for them. In fact, he's probably going to be laughing about it all the way to the bank.  The ONLY way he could face any consequences is if the sponsors of his show get cold feet and start pulling out.  Absent that, he's doing and acting exactly how his bosses expect him to.

And the fans are all buying right into it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

National Football League: Talking About it Until Your Ears Bleed.

Brady vs. Manning.

I'm already sick of it and it's only been a few hours.

On the drive in to work, on sports web-sites and on blogs. It's going to be a non-stop torrent of discussing and cussing over the match-up as ESPN has had their NFL Playoff fantasies fulfilled.

And Denver vs. New England is not even the best game next weekend.

In a way, I'm not as worried about it this year however because I don't spend any time watching ESPN except for live sporting events. I used to watch Sports Center and their NFL preview show but then they started putting Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on and I quit watching.

But for some people, those who's television is constantly tuned to the Worldwide Leader, it's going to be a brutal week.  Granted, they could ignore this by simply changing the channel (and increasingly, more and most people are doing this) but in reality, if you're a sports fan, you're going to hear at least something about the matchup before Sunday arrives.

The game that I'm interested in however is Arizona vs. Carolina. That match-up has a better QB match-up (Palmer vs. Newton) and is going to be, in my opinion, a much better game. 10 years ago Brady vs. Manning deserved some interest but now the bigger matchup is Brady vs. Denver's defense.  Because Manning is now an afterthought on the Broncos.

As we begin the last week of honest to goodness football (don't treat the Stupid Bowl as 'real' football, it's more a showcase for the excess of the league) it's good to see however that the 4 best teams in the NFL have reached the final round.

We get two games on Sunday, and then the Stupid Bowl and then a giant, gaping sports hole opens up in the schedule.  Yes, there will be basketball and so forth which is fine, but the reality is that our Saturdays and Sundays will be a little less fun until the end of August.

Early lines:

New England (-3) @ Denver (O/U 44) - This line opened at New England -2.5 and several sharps were all over it at that price. This caused the books to react fairly quickly and raise it to -3 or, in a few cases, -3.5.  If you got in at -2.5 congratulations, I think that's one of the best bets on the board this week. If you didn't, I'm not sure how long I'd wait if you like New England because I'm thinking the line is only going to move further the Patriots way.  At some point the numbers will switch and Denver will become the play.  I'm thinking that happens somewhere around -5.5.

Arizona @ Carolina (-3) (O/U 47) - Another line that opened higher (Carolina -4) and then settled in at -3 fairly quickly as sharp money poured in on Arizona at +4.  Believe it or not, I don't think this line is going to move much futher, barring injury, as I think it's just about right.  I think the best value in this game might be on the total which, right now, is incredibly high considering the quality of these two defenses.

I'll have a full breakdown of the games later in the week. Until then, enjoy what little football season you have left. You might start by ignoring sports media this week.

Friday, January 15, 2016

National Football League: Previewing "The Best Week in Playoff Football"

As the NFL playoffs reach "week 2" so to speak we've hit the point where the chaff have been removed and only the wheat remains. The idea behind this being the best week of the playoffs is that you get 4 competitive games between the best 8 teams in football. The teams that are pretenders, who either backed into the playoffs (Bengals) or who got in by winning a weak division (Texans, Washington) lost in the Wild Card round leaving only the teams that should have been there in the first place. This doesn't mean that every team who lost in the first round is terrible (See: Minnesota) only that the best teams received the bye and those remaining actually won their way here.

Ideally, this is supposed to provide us with the matchups of the season. In reality, that's not always the case. (All odds as posted at the Westgate Superbook effective Friday (01/15/2016) 5:15 AM)

Kansas City @ New England (-4.5) (O/U 42)

At one point I thought I saw this line at -7 Patriots but the health concerns surrounding Rob Gronkowski have brought some money back the Chiefs way.  When analyzing this game, the tendency is to spend a lot of time talking about Alex Smith vs. Tom "No coffee" Brady. But a better metric is Kansas City's stout defense vs. the chameleon offense of Bill Belicheck. Unless something funny happens, Smith and Brady won't be on the field at the same time.  Without a healthy Gronkowski the Patriot offense is pedestrian. Although they will benefit from having Danny Amendola and Julian Edleman back on the field. The bigger question is whether or not the Chief's pass rush will be able to get to Brady before he gets rid of the ball.  I think they will, with enough frequency to keep the game close, but not to win the game.

Prediction:  Kansas City 17  New England 20

Green Bay @ Arizona (-7) (O/U 49.5)

In the matter of Aaron Rodgers vs. the Cardinal defense I believe the defendant is going to dominate here.  And Carson Palmer and company are going to have too much talent for Green Bay to handle. In all honesty, I don't see this game as being especially close.  That said, if Green Bay is going to win they're going to have to turn the ball over and stop the Cardinal's rushing attack.  Palmer is not a quarterback who does well when he's uncomfortable in the pocket (few do) and he's much better throwing the ball while stationary than when on the move.  Rodgers, on the other hand, does well when improvising and on the move unless he tries to force it into impossible windows when turnovers become a problem.  My feeling is that the Packers are in over their heads here.

Prediction: Green Bay 13  Arizona 38

Seattle @ Carolina (-1) (O/U 44)

In what I think will be one of the better, more physical games of the weekend we get to see the "team that no one in the NFC wants to face in the playoffs" versus the team that had the best regular season. The trendy pick for analysts is the Seahawks. The reasoning for that is three-fold: 1. There is not a lot of trust in Cam Newton. 2. It's hard to beat a team twice in one year.  3. Seattle is viewed as "having been there before" and it's widely viewed that they are among the best teams in football despite their record.  As good as the Seahawks defense is however, the Panthers have had a better year. This is a game where I'm going to run counter to the experts due, in part, to my belief that Cam Newton really is that good, and the Panthers defense, led by Norman and Kuechley is the best overall unit in the league this year.

Prediction: Seattle 14  Carolina 24

Pittsburgh @ Denver (Off the board)

Injuries and uncertainty have led Vegas big sports books to take this game down, although you still can find some offshore lines laying Denver at -7. The problem is that Pittsburgh doesn't know whether their biggest offensive weapons can be effective, or even play.  Ben Rothlisberger has a sprained AC joint and torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder. All Pro wide-out Antonio Brown is not going to be in the game, and it's unclear whether or not DeAngelo Williams will be effective. With Denver the health of Peyton Manning is seemingly always an open question, although they do appear to be relatively healthy elsewhere. In games like this I look to the defenses for guidance, and Denver's defense is much better than the Steeler's defense. Pittsburgh, a dirty team who got a pass for their malfeasance last week due to the Burfict Storm, will try to knock Peyton out of the game early so expect at least a couple of roughing the passer penalties.  The biggest problem here is that we don't know whether or not Big Ben will be able to throw the ball well. I think he won't.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 10 Denver 27

These results are fairly chalky I know but I think they would set up the matches we were all hoping for in the Division Championship games:

NFC Championship:  Arizona @ Carolina
AFC Championship:  New England @ Denver

I don't know about you but I feel that to be a pretty solid Championship line-up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

National Football League: Chin up St. Louis. It's never as bleak as it seems.

Last Night the NFL Owner's Club met in Houston and decided to let the Rams leave St. Louis for (supposed) greener pastures in Los Angeles. This fulfills Commissioner Roger Gooddell's desire to return a team to the City of Angels where the NFL has been absent since the Rams and Raiders dumped the city.

Observers are correct, St. Louis never had a chance. The task force they commissioned could have come up with a plan that exceeded every requirement the NFL set forth and they still would have lost the franchise. They could have offered Ram's owner Stan Kroenke his ego's weight in gold and the Rams would still be heading to LA. They would be heading there because the perceived value of the team is going to double almost overnight once they arrive.

Already the other owners inside the club are gushing (as they do) over Kroenke's LA vision. Hyperbole in sports is almost a requirement now, stadium proposals and urban renewal just more rote from a group that's done a masterful job taking advantage of the undeveloped egos of local politicians. While it's easy to demonize the owners, the real problem in this lies with us, and our refusal to view NFL franchises as businesses, and not community property.

The fact is that the Rams (or Raiders, or 49ers, or Texans) are not citizens of the community. They are corporations doing business in a certain city until the next, best offer comes along. That they are a monopoly, supported by the Government is of little concern. They are akin to utilities except that a.) they are not necessary for comfort and b.) they have no obligation to the community.

For example, in Houston Centerpoint Energy runs the power grid. They are a private company who has a monopoly over the operation of the same. They have received subsidies for much of their infrastructure. They are, as such, required to provide service to all neighborhoods, rich and poor. The Houston Texans are the National Football League team conducting operations in Houston. They have no obligation to make their product affordable for all, nor do they have to sell tickets to every area of Houston, or require equal access to their games. They price their tickets based on what they think the market will bear, giving themselves the highest return. They have also received subsidies for their infrastructure (NRG complex).

I mention Houston for two reasons.  One, because I currently live here and two, we've been through this before. When the Oilers left I was sad just like everyone else. But, after a year or two I realized that things weren't as bad as I'd feared they would be.

For one, we were no longer subjected to the NFL's silly television rules. Other than Cowboys' games, we typically got to see the best NFL matchups each and every Sunday afternoon. This went away when the Texans came, as we got stuck with blackout rules and crappy Texans football for the next decade plus.  I wish we could go back to seeing the top games every week now.

The Astros and Rockets also did better, as fans paid more attention to them instead of Houston Football. College football, never a priority in Houston, started to get more attention from the local media, as did NFL news around the nation. The presence of an NFL team in your time is an attention-sucking black hole that you're going to find you're better off without.

Yes, there's going to be a question of who to root for, especially if you're a life-long St. Louis resident who lives and dies with the home town teams.  Trust me on this though, you're going to make it through just fine. You'll eventually find a team to root for and you'll develop a bond with them. It's not as if the Rams were long-time St. Louis residents anyway.

In a way, St. Louis, I wish you would have been brave enough to do what Houston did not. Namely, give the NFL a big municipal middle finger and tell them to have fun in Los Angeles, a city that isn't trying very hard to woo them in the first place.

So while things seem pretty bleak right now St. Louis let me remind you that it's not too long until pitchers and catchers report. If you're bound and determined to get NFL football back, in a Billion dollar stadium.  Maybe we can work out a deal over the Texans?

We'll talk.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

College Football: Playoff: Great Championship Game, Meh Format

Some thoughts following Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson which clinched the Tide a National Championship and ignited the Saban vs. Bryant debate over which coach is the G.O.A.T.

1. Getting this out of the way, Saban's resume > Bryant's resume. For many reasons. First, it's much harder to win consistently in today's limited-scholarship, practice, early-exit environment. 2. The gap between the halves and have-nots is narrower. 3. You don't get to keep your players for 4 to 5 years, if they're any good they are heading to the pros. Which guy is the "better" coach?  I have no idea. But I do know that Saban's list of accomplishments is pretty staggering all things considered.

2. So much for defense. I honestly thought this game would be safely under. For all of the hype about Henry and Watson I thought most of the talent on the field would be trying to prevent scoring. Wrong. Alabama suddenly discovered that OJ Howard was on their team and Clemson found a walk-on target in Renfrow.  And yes, Henry and Watson are very, very good at the game of tackle football.

3. I'm still underwhelmed by ESPN's 'mega-cast' gimmick. I flipped around, but I always defaulted back to the main broadcast. "ESPN Voices" is just dumb, the homer broadcast is mainly just sideline interviews, the "coaches tape" broadcast has some merit as does the "command center" view which provides the radio call of Mike Terico (ESPN's strongest play by play guy). The Finebaum film room is just stupid.  All of this could be redeemed however by including a "BrentCast" which had Brent Musberger and a couple of Vegas Handicappers calling the game. Now THAT would be the broadcast I would watch.

4. Balance in broadcasting is needed, badly. I get that ESPN has forked over a lot of money to run the SEC Network, but when they're in the finals game having an entire channel devoted exclusively to them winning upsets the balance. The ACC needed a homer network as much as the SEC did. Maybe even more.

5. The "S-E-C" Chant is still the worst. Congratulations Aggie and Gator. You've just celebrated a team that beat the socks off of you advancing to the National Championship.  All the SEC chant is right now is a desperate attempt for schools that contribute little to the National picture partaking in a vain attempt to act as if they accomplished something. Note: You didn't hear 'Bama fans chanting SEC did you?  Nope, they were too busy Rolling Tide all the way to a championship.

6. Speaking of that, about this "SEC" dominance. No one can doubt that the conference has won a LOT of championships. Or that, this year, they appear to have been one of the better conferences in the land, probably even the best.  But, if you look at the record, almost all of this success is related to two things: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.  Meyer is now coaching in the B1G and Saban is rumored to be on his way out almost every year.  Once those two guys are gone......

7. This year, the College Football Playoff Worked. Sorta. The Semi-finals were awful but they produced a stellar championship game. Critics of playoff expansion note that this year is 'proof' the system works.  Except, it's not. This year was actually proof that the B(C)S would work from time to time. Not that the CFP worked. If anything, the blowouts and uninteresting games that we saw in the Semi-finals was proof the system needs tweaking.  The Championship Game was a matchup of the two best teams in football, but the Football Four was probably not the best 4 teams.  That's a problem.

8. At some point, we need to drop the charade. Last night a LOT of money was made by College Football, and it's associated hangers-on, in the name of amateur athletics. It's time to quit pretending that these guys are normal, everyday students who just happen to play football and get serious about the issue of player compensation.

9. College Football TV coverage is in desperate need of diversity. Fox, CBS and NBC really need to pick it up and get involved. The ESPN almost-monopoly is not helping in terms of either good analysis or broadcasts.

And finally......

10. The house ALWAYS wins. No matter what some might say, and there were undoubtedly many who won money last night, the edge is always, always, always with the house.  Always.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Houston Texans: Playoff blowout exposes some big lies.

If you watched any of the Chief's 30-0 walloping of the Houston Texans today you probably realized the team over on Kirby street had no business making it to the NFL Playoffs.  You'd be forgiven for thinking that the following comments, made at various times by players, coaches, management and ownership, are lies:

1. 'If you get into the playoffs you have a chance' Clearly, the Texans didn't have a chance today. From the opening kickoff (a 106 yard TD return by Knile Davis) to the 4 INT's and a fumble given up by quarterback Brian Hoyer, it's painfully clear that the Texans are not a playoff caliber team.

2. 'You can win without a top-flight QB' Yes, but who ever you have needs to be above average at least. Hoyer is bottom third.

3. 'This Texans team has a lot of talent on the roster' Not true. They have some talent, at certain positions, but this is not a talent laden roster. There are holes everywhere, the injury to JJ Watt exposed those holes in the defense.

4. 'We're not happy just making the playoffs' Can we all agree that McNair doesn't care about winning a Super Bowl as long as he's turning a nifty profit? This is a company that doesn't have any pressure from the top to be excellent.

5. 'Whitney Mercilus emerged as a star this year' No, he didn't. He's going to end the season with 15 sacks yes but, if you go back and look at them they came either a.)against bad teams or b.) at meaningless times. Mercilus is in a contract year, and he's going to make a lot of money. The Texans shouldn't be the team that pays him that money.

6. 'Bill O'Brien has done a great job this year turning the Texans around.' First, O'Brien is NOT a good game day coach. He's constantly out-schemed and plain out-coached by opponents. Second, the team had the exact same record as last year. The ONLY reason this team made the playoffs is because the AFC South is Biblically awful this year.

7, 'Rick Smith is a competent NFL General Manager'  - Nope. I think we see just how bad he is by the make-up of this roster.

The problem is that the Texans fish is rotting from the top and Bob McNair is not going to fire himself obviously.  So don't be surprised during the upcoming draft when the Texans draft another QB who is slow of foot, makes questionable decisions and has below average accuracy and arm strength in Christian Hackenberg.

Friday, January 8, 2016

College Football: Ranking the Texas FBS College Programs.

As I do almost every year, it's time to power-rank Texas College Football's Top Tier Programs.  As you might imagine, things are a little different this year.  (Note: This ranking involves the football teams ONLY, not the relative strength of the entire athletic department. Regardless of the results on the field UT-Austin will rank #1 and aTm-College Station will rank #2, primarily due to their exclusive access to the PUF)

1. Texas Christian University: But for an injury to Trevone Boykin TCU could have been Texas' lone representative to the College Football Playoff this year. In addition to possibly finishing the season as the highest ranked Texas team in the final Top 25, TCU is recruiting well. Right now this is the top program in Texas. Unlike some other schools it appears that head coach Gary Patterson is quite happy in Fort Worth and is in no hurry to leave. It's doubtful that he would make a move even if a blue-blood school came calling.  They appear to be the best, and steadiest, program in the State right now.

2. Baylor University: They're at #2, but it could be 1A. Art Briles and Company has built an offensive powerhouse that can score almost at will. Even with a WR playing quarterback and an entirely revamped offense. They have a new stadium and are, like TCU, leading the pack in the recruiting battles. The biggest question for Baylor now is sustainability. Can they keep Art Briles should a blue-blood program come calling?  Can you consistently recruit big-name talent to Waco? More importantly, what's going to happen if (when) the Big XII implodes or expands?

3. University of Houston: This is a pretty amazing turnaround for UH and it all has to do with the coaching mettle of Tom Herman.  Former coach Tony Levine had talent, but didn't know what to do with it. Herman has taken the same talent and gone out to complete what should be a top-ten final ranking, a Peach Bowl victory over football blue-blood Florida State, and they just welcomed 5-star transfer Kyle Allen to the team. They have a new stadium and are performing historically well, for a non-power 5 school, in recruiting.  Think about that.

4. Texas A&M University: For as bad as it's been in Aggie-land, they're still the #4 team in the State. Middling record aside, I still believe that moving to the SEC was the best thing long-term for the Aggies. When you consider they moved from being a mid-tier team in the Big XII, to a mid-tier team in the recent best conference in all the land, that's a step up. Kyle field is now bigger, but not quite as big as aTm fans think themselves in the college football landscape. That's a concern going forward because it's going to be difficult for aTm to win at the level of Alabama and LSU. Better expectations would be Mississippi State as I think the two schools are very similar.

5. Texas Tech: Admit it, you sometimes forget about that team from Lubbock don't you?  It's not all that hard, because for the last several years they've been either average, or slightly below. They currently have a head coach who's better known for his looks than his coaching ability, and absolutely no defense.  Their stadium is an aging relic, and they struggle to recruit 5-star talent because they're in Lubbock. To be fair however, most of their problems are not Kliff Kingsbury's fault. Tommy Tuberville all but ruined Tech before he bolted to Cincinnati and the talent well is pretty dry. Despite all of this, they're not that far behind aTm and a winning season next year would cure many ills.

6. University of Texas - Austin: Awash in money and tradition the Longhorns have fallen on hard times. But the swagger still remains and the (mistaken) belief that they are the center of the Texas football world. Texas' main problem is that their donor class believes their own press and thinks that being the top team in Texas is their birthright. If anything, the Longhorn Network debacle has made them a (very rich) laughingstock. They will cast their longing eyes to alum Tom Herman after next year in hopes that he can lead them back to glory. They'll do this, that is, if they can stop from thinking that Saban is going to leave Alabama to run to Austin.

7. University of Texas - El Paso: A two-point loss to a pretty good Louisiana Tech team is all that prevented UTEP from appearing in a bowl.  Head Coach Sean Kugler has done a good job turning around a team that had grown stagnant under former HC Mike Price.  Tucked away in the corner of West Texas UTEP is a school that is always going to have to do more with less.  But they have a good stadium to play in, a school that is committed and supports them when they win, and some recruits coming in that should pay dividends. However, they have a ceiling due to the fact that they are in the university system controlled by UT-Austin.

8. Rice University: Head Coach David Bailiff came from Texas State and brought the Owls some stability after the retirement/dismissal of long-time coach Ken Hatfield. Rice is hampered, on the field, by two things: 1. They are a relatively small, expensive private school and 2. They have extremely high academic standards.  That said, historically Rice has had better success than they are currently in attracting talent. This is something that needs to change if Coach Bailiff wants to return his team to it's winning ways. One underrated gem in Rice's football crown is their stadium. On a brisk fall day it is one of the truly great places in Houston to watch a football game.

9. Southern Methodist University: Head Coach Chad Morris has a rebuilding project on his hands. And he'll have to do it in the roughest non Power 5 conference out there. That said, playing in the American should help the Ponies recruit, as they should be assured of a high-profile game (or three) should they start winning again. Like Rice, they have a great football stadium that's located in the heart of Dallas. They also have an unfortunate past for which they are still paying. So harsh was the result of the NCAA "Death Penalty" that SMU suffered it's rumored that the NCAA will never impose it again.  If Morris is to return SMU to something close to it's former glory, he's going to have to do it quickly. I think the clock is ticking on realignment and, if not included, I think it's tier-two for this team.

10. University of Texas - San Antonio: Coach Coker is out, and it's unclear who's going to be taking over the reins of this team. There are challenges galore here, a bad stadium that's off-campus, being a member of the UT university system which will forever limits their potential, and no football tradition to speak of.  It will be interesting to see who they bring on as their next coach, and whether or not he can build a bowl eligible team in the next couple of years.  For the most part I think their best hopes lie in settling into college football's second division and trying to win there.

11. Texas State University: Coach Franchione has retired, and it appears that they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle (in the same manner as Houston) with former James Madison head man, and (more importantly) Urban Meyer assistant Everett Withers.  This is a good hire and I think it means good things for a school that should be a little bit better than it has been.  The Bobcats are in San Marcos, one of the better college town in Texas, and they have a decent stadium (that needs refurbishing however) and good fan support if they're winning.  Still, other than the upset of Houston a few years back wins and signature moments have been few and far between for this team.

12. University of North Texas: Ah the Mean Green. For the life of me I cannot figure out why they are so bad?  They have a new stadium, a decent campus located close to the talent-rich recruiting hot-bed of Dallas.  Granted, they're not going to get the top players out of the city, but they should be able to grab plenty of 3-star recruits that would allow them to compete in the Conference USA.  New Head Coach Seth Littrell, who came from North Carolina, has promised to open up the offense, spread it out, and bring some excitement to Denton. For the University's sake I hope he's successful.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

College Football: 22 Minutes of Pain.

University of Houston Head Football Coach Tom Herman is better than this.

Not that I blame him for going off on AM 610 Bro Radio host John Lopez for this article which stated (incorrectly and irresponsibly in Herman's view) that former aTm Quarterback Kyle Allen was in Houston meeting with Herman and UH Boosters "according to sources".  If aTm recent history is any indicator, then those sources were probably either Brent Zwerenemen or Billy Lucci.

Regardless of where the report came from the confrontation between Herman and the 610 Bro Radio duet did little to enhance the reputation of either party.  Who you think is right relies more on your attachment (or lack of) to UH or aTm than it does to any fealty to the facts.

(Side note: The 22 minutes in that clip above and a few minutes today are my entire catalogue of experience with what the hosts refer to as "The Loop".  I don't find that type of radio particularly entertaining and I wasn't a fan of Lopez when he penned a (bad) sports column for the Chronicle so I'm not sure why I should listen to him on AM radio.)

If you are a fan of UH, then you side with Herman. If you're somehow anti-UH or (more likely) pro aTm then you think Lopez and Wright were correct. As a Michigan fan I've got no horse in the game and I think both were wrong, but their reactions to being wrong will speak a lot about their character.

Tom Herman: In short, Herman let himself get baited by a group whose sole job is to try and create controversy and generate ratings. I'm sure, if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn't have given the hosts of "The Loop" the time of day. Young coaches need to learn lessons. This was a lesson for Herman regarding the media. (A lesson that he learned while winning it should be noted)

John Lopez: People forget that Lopez is an aTm alum. I'm not sure why this hasn't been more prominently mentioned but it makes this non-apology ring hollow. Not that Lopez is sharp enough to figure out a way to trap Herman like this, but he probably didn't write this article with "Houston sports fans" firmly in the front of his mind. He's not a reporter, he's a shock jock, and should be treated as such.

Nick Wright: I have only listened to him for a few minutes and I can only say that he's the one player in this act with no redeeming qualities. Any more time spent on Wright is time wasted.

Sports Radio 610: This is the flagship station of the Texans yet, this is not the first time this station has had controversial "news" stories printed on their website. The first time resulted in a "content manager" of little-to-no-talent being dismissed. I'm sure that Lopez won't be dismissed however because this is sure to be a brief ratings bonanza for them.  Hell, he might get a raise.

Overall this speaks to the diminishing impact on the sports world that AM Bro Radio possesses. The Texans themselves buy time from 610 and staff their shows with Texans employees. The Rockets do much the same on AM 790. 

The player shows that you hear on other stations?  The Texans charge for that, and getting the show involves following a contracted set of restrictions on questioning. Increasingly the pro teams understand that subjecting your team to shock-jocks who are hoping to create controversy for rating is of zero benefit.  Eventually Colleges are going to understand that as well, and will start buying their own time for their own radio shows (some of the bigger ones already are) and will squeeze out these relics of the past decade.

The death of Bro Radio is going to upset a few, those types who still think that "Cougar High" or "T-Sip" is a witty and clever put-down, or those who are hung up on past glory days that were way better in their minds then in reality. But, for most of us, we'll not notice it's passing nor will we care.

Houston is a bad sports media town. The coverage of sports here is lacking in almost every area. It's also a pro-sports town so this kerfuffle won't matter much to an overwhelming majority of people. It's just another tempest in a teapot on AM talk radio that will be used by the station to try and prop up a dying business model.

Meanwhile, Kyle Allen is transferring to Houston so, in the end, Herman won and he, once again, stood up for the University, a kid and his team which makes players and fans all the more loyal to him.  Correct that, he REALLY won.

And SportsRadio 610 just lost all access to the Cougar football team.  That might not be a big deal right now but it could be next year around this time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Shield: Wild Card Round: Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Houston Texans

Saturday sees the first game in the 2015 NFL Playoffs feature the winner of the worst division in the league (AFC South) versus the hottest team.  The latter (Kansas City) travels to Houston to take on the former (Houston Texans) in a rematch of a victorious, 27-0 Week 1 performance by Kanas City.

Odds: Kansas City (-3)   O/U 40 (as of 1:47 PM 01/04/2016 via SB Nation)



Chiefs: Alex Smith, the Utah grad who struggled at San Francisco before finding his stride at KC. He's considered a "game manager" type but he doesn't turn the ball over and, this year, he's finally found a WR in Jeremy Maclin who can score some touchdowns.  Season Stats: 307-470,  3486 yards, 20 TD's 7 INTs.  45 sacks.

Texans: Brian Hoyer. A journeyman QB who famously lost his job to Ryan Mallet, before regaining it and famously missing some time due to concussions.  Season Stats: 224-369,  2606 yards. 19 TDs  7 INTs  25 sacks.

Edge: Chiefs. Both QB's are so-called game managers but Smith has done a better job of it, and stayed healthier, all year.

Running Backs:

Chiefs:  Charcandrick West:  160-634 (4.0 ypc) & Spencer Ware 72-403 (5.6 ypc) Since the injury to Jamaal Charles the Chiefs have utilized a 2-prong running attack effectively.

Texans: Alfred Blue: 183-698 (3.8 ypc) & Chris Polk: 99-334 (3.4 ypc) & Jonathan Grimes 56-282 (5.0 ypc) & Akeem Hunt 17-96 (5.6 ypc) - After the injury to Arian Foster the Texans have relied heavily on four running backs, to varying degrees of success.

Edge: Chiefs. Both teams lost their starting RB for the season due to injury, the Chiefs have done a better job continuing to run the ball after the loss.

Wide Recievers and Tight ends:

Chiefs: Jeremy Maclin (87-1088 and 8TD's) and Travis Kelce (72-875 and 5TD's) are the two leaders in a Chief's passing attack that likes to spread the ball all over the field.

Texans: DeAndre Hopkins (111-1521 11TDs) is going to be the best receiver on the field against the Chiefs. The Texans also have veterans Nate Washington (47-658 4TDs) and Cecil Shorts (42-484 2TDs) who combined have had a productive season.

Edge: Texans. Even though they get nothing out of the TE position, Hopkins, Washington and Shorts are better options than Maclin and Kelce.

Offensive Line:

Chiefs: Conventional wisdom suggests that the Chief's O-line is one of the strongest in the NFL. This might be true but I'm not sure the stats support it.  On the year Smith has been sacked 45 times, that ranks them twenty-seventh (27) out of 32 teams. The conventional wisdom is that this O-line will be able to blunt a Texans pass rush (Houston is 5th in sacks per game)

Texans: The Texans line cannot block for the run. The Texans are in the middle of the pack (15th) in yards per game despite being a team that constantly focuses on running the ball.  They do about the same on sacks per game (16th) making them a very average offensive line. One huge problem for the Texans is that their best offensive lineman (Left Tackle Duane Brown) went down in week 17 with a season ending quadriceps tendon tear.

Edge: Chiefs. With a healthy Brown I might give the edge to the Texans.  But missing him it's going to be hard to stop Allen Houston and Tamba Hali from getting to Hoyer.

Total Offense:

Edge: Chiefs. When it comes to evaluating offenses I'm typically only concerned about one thing. How many points do you score?  The Chiefs have the clear edge in this department Averaging 25.3 points per game (9th) to the Texans 21.2 points per game (22nd). That's quite a spread over time.

Defensive Line & Linebackers:

Chiefs: Kansas City has a very good front 7. They rank 9th in opponent rushing yards per game and 4th in sacks per game. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are two of the better inside-the-box tacklers and pass rushers in the game.

Texans: The conversation begins and ends with J.J. Watt. He is, simply put, the best defensive player in the game right now.  Behind Watt the Texans front 7 have spectacular rankings in rushing yards per game (10th) and sacks per game (5th). 

Edge: After praising Watt I have to say that, based on the full units, this is a push.  Watt is a great player but the Chiefs have better balance and more players who can disrupt plays. Houston is a magnificent pass rusher as is Hali, but the entire front 7 of the Chiefs plays well as a unit. Watt, Wilfork, McKinney are a strong 3-pronged attack however, who can all disrupt games.

Defensive Backfield:

Chiefs: Kansas City is a top third defense in the league giving up an average of 231 passing yards per game (9th) they have one of the better feel-good stories of the year in Eric Berry.

Texans: Houston boasts a spectacular defensive backfield which ranked 3rd in passing yards allowed per game. They also ranked 14th in passing touchdowns per game (The Chiefs ranked 17th)

Edge: While on paper, the Texans have a better defensive backfield much of that is due to the dominating nature of the front 7. That said I think Kansas City has a more complete defensive backfield (The Texans are incredibly thin and weak at Safety) and have a decided edge here. The Chiefs also rank 2nd in the league in interceptions per game which could be a big stat.

Total Defense:

Edge: Chiefs. Defense, again, comes down to points allowed for me. And Kansas City gave up the 3rd fewest points per game in the NFL this year. (Houston ranked 7th)

Special Teams:

Edge: Chiefs. Football Outsiders has the definitive ranking system for special teams IMO. They rank the Chiefs 7th in the league, and the Texans 32nd, dead last.


Chiefs: Andy Reid is a veteran NFL coach with playoff experience, but not much of it very good. He's 10-10 lifetime which is pretty pedestrian.  Given that, he has the Chiefs on a roll right now as they've won their last 10 games (after starting 1-5 that only win being against the Texans) and they are a confident group heading into this game.

Texans: Bill O'Brien has a lot of playoff experience as an assistant coach, but none as a head coach. He, ostensibly learned from Belicheck and it's hard to deny that 2015 was his best coaching job to date, taking a beat up offensive unit that couldn't keep a quarterback healthy and parlaying that to a 9-7 record and the AFC South crown.

Edge: Chiefs. O'Brien has been good this year, but Reid is more experienced. One other issue: The Texans have won soft. O'Brien has a track record of getting outcoached and out-schemed by better coaches.

Prediction:  Kansas City 27  Houston Texans 10

I'm taking KC with the points, but I think both defenses keep the scoring suppressed. I also predict that KC's defense or special teams scores a touchdown at some point.

The Shield: A correction and an update on Black Monday

1. It appears that all reports out of Indianapolis were wrong.  Rather than being let go, as was widely expected, the Colts extended Chuck Pagano's contract.  Oddly, they also announced that they will be retaining Ryan Grigson as General Manager.  It's widely speculated that the two don't get along, and that it was Grigson who pulled the trigger on the Trent Richardson fiasco over Pagano's objections.  If any of this is true, then the other teams in the AFC South should be reacting as follows.

2. Tom Coughlin out as Coach of NY Giants. I was mildly surprised by this, but not entirely. it was pretty clear that he was losing the team.

Up next are playoff matchups that start on Saturday, which means that breakdowns of the games are coming soon.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Shield: Black Sunday preceded Black Monday

It's black Monday in the NFL and we already know several coaches that are either going to be let go or have been let go.

1. Cleveland Browns: Both the Head Coach and GM have been fired.
2. San Francisco 49ers: The Head Coach has been fired.
3. Indianapolis Colts: The Head Coach has been fired.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: The Head Coach and GM (same guy) have been fired.
5. Miami Dolphins: Are not expected to retain Interim Head Coach.

Still to be decided:

1. Detroit Lions - Amazingly, they have not made a decision on Head Coach Caldwell.
2. New York Giants - Seem to be having trouble deciding on firing Tom Coughlin.

In a normal year I would say that both of these guys would be gone, but this is not a normal year and there's a chance the pool of available coaches won't yield a significant improvement over either of them. Yes, even as bad as both of them are.

More Detail:

1. Cleveland.  Any discussion surrounding Cleveland begins and ends with the tale of Johnny Manziel. While I think Mssr. Football has the physical talent to be a competent NFL quarterback it's becoming increasingly clear that he doesn't have the mental maturity of a gnat.  Here's the problem for Cleveland. They are going to release Manziel (who I think will then go and sign as a back-up in Dallas) and they are going to try and draft a QB with the 2nd pick in the draft.  Given their history of incompetence Christian Hackenberg is about to have his career ruined.

2. San Francisco. It's no secret that I did not like Jim Tomsula as a head coach. I think the placement of him in the position by Trent Baalke was to provide the GM with a ready-made fall guy when the team fell apart this year. From that standpoint, he did his job. He was also screwed over royally by Baalke and Jed York to the point that the team could struggle for years.  I'm also starting to think that there's more to all of those retirements than we're being told.  Something is rotten in the front office of the 49ers, and I don't think Chip Kelly or (God forbid) Mike Shanahan are the solutions to solving it.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Speaking of organizational dysfunction, are we surprised that Jim Irsay looks like a fool? by all accounts, the Colts are keeping GM Grigson and firing HC Pagano this despite the fact that it was seemingly Grigson who was the main driver behind the Trent Richardson fiasco that set the team back several years.  This is not to say that Pagano is a good coach (he's not) but he was hamstrung at every turn by organizational error.  This is good news for the pathetic teams in the AFC South, because the team that dominated for years appears to be in the process of a long-term implosion.

4. Rumor is now circulating that Kansas City Chiefs OC Doug Pederson is the leading candidate to replace Chip Kelly. It also appears that the Eagles interviewed former player Duce Staley, despite having Pederson targeted as a potential coach all along.  I expect you'll see more of these Rooney Rule interviews as more teams begin the evaluation process and are forced to put forth appearances.  It's too bad, because there are a host of quality minority candidate who, as far as I can tell, aren't getting the calls to interview.

5. The Fins are Hot on the chase for Gase. and appear to be quietly clearing the path for him. They are also interviewing former NFL Head Coach Mike Shanahan, Rooney Rule compliant candidate Teryl Austin and current interim HC Dan Campbell.

6. Shanahan: Is there a job out there that Shanahan is not interested in?  I've seen that he's "reached out" to almost every team that's fired their coach.  I've a feeling this guy is going to turn up somewhere like a bad penny and ultimately get hired.

7. Detroit.  The Lions are trying to rebuild their front office first but are having trouble getting people to agree to interview. I don't blame the prospective candidates. This is a mess of an organization with clueless ownership whose team infrastructure was destroyed during the Matt Millen error. They should be focusing all of their resources on Trent Kirchner from Seattle.

Finally: There are a ton of conventional wisdom head coaching candidates out there and of them I really like Hue Jackson, Adam Gase and Raheem Morris.  Of those three I'm betting you won't find Morris listed too often because of his disastrous tenure at Tampa Bay.  What people need to realize is that he was saddled with Josh Freeman, who is now out of football, and most of the talent that Lovie Smith is enjoying wasn't there when Morris was.  I always thought Morris was a good HC who got a raw deal from Tampa Bay and would like for him to get another chance.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

College Football: 40(!!!) is too much and other bowl season thoughts.

Last night, at 1:40 AM CST, Arizona State coach Todd Graham proved he was bad at maths and kicked the extra point, up by five, which allowed West Virginia to drive down, score, and kick their extra point for a 43-42 win.  With that result a too-long college football bowl season came, mercifully, to an end. All we have now is the College Football Playoff Championship on January 11th.

There's a lot that's going to be cussed over and discussed at length regarding this year's Bowl Season so I thought I'd get out a few thoughts regarding the same:

A. Playing the Playoff Semi-Final games on New Year's Eve was idiotic. Everyone is saying this, but college football doesn't care. So we're going to get the same thing until the ratings become too low and advertising suffers and the bowls start losing money. With the networks of alumnus and fans that's probably not going to happen. People will continue to grouse about it and it's clear that the powers that be in College Football operate under the "no such thing as bad publicity" method of public relations.

B. Yes, the games themselves sucked. I haven't done the analysis yet, but an eyeball's test of the results shows that a large majority of the games ended with a greater margin of victory than one score and in many of the games either one team, or both, mailed it in.  It got worse on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as none of the "Big 6" games were competitive. The Bowl season was saved by two games on Saturday that most people didn't watch.

C. You can't rate conferences by Bowl Results. Although many people will try to do so.  Suggesting that the B1G was way worse than the SEC or that the Big XII was somehow worse than the ACC due to some games played coming off over a month's rest is ridiculous. What we know is that Alabama is better than Michigan State and that Clemson is better than OU. If you try to read anything else into that, stop it.

D. The "SEC" chant is a sign of ignorance. It's tribal, and the equivalent to the "U.S.A" chants at the Olympics and at other sporting events. Root for your university, leave it at that.

E. There are too many bowl games. There just are. 30 feels about right. Maybe less.

F. Worst game: The Goodyear Cotton Bowl (CFP Semi-Final #2) Michigan State was destroyed by Alabama in a game that was held at a bad time, and was unwatchable.

G. Best Game: TCU's come-from-31-points-down to win Alamo Bowl. Who knew the best game would be between two teams featuring back-up quarterbacks by the end?

H. Last night was the football gods apologizing for the rest of the bowl season. It just was. Again, too bad few were watching.

I. All of the talk about playoff expansion is meaningless. The talking heads are in fine form, using a handful of injuries, nostalgia for the bowl system or a host of other nonsense to say the playoffs shouldn't be expanded. The only reason to not expand the playoff is that you don't want to expand it. None of it matters however because it's not going to happen as long as the current money printing machine stays in operation.

J. Officiating is horrible. It's even worse than the NFL. Something has to be done about officiating in college and professional football.

K. The Playoff final might be interesting. I think the experts have Clemson in with very little chance. I think this is a mistake after watching both games.

L. It's time to blow up media coverage of the sport and salt the ground. The ESPN almost monopoly is doing us no favors. Fox needs some bowls, as does CBS, as does NBC. And let's start scheduling against some of the big games to provide us options.  Being forced to watch the Rose Bowl Blowout just because was annoying.

M. Brent Musberger is the best announcer out there. He called the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Rose Bowl. I was hoping during both that he'd spend the 2nd half telling old Jimmy the Greek and gambling stories.

N. Houston should be a top ten team. I don't think the voters will put them there, but they should. The win over Florida State was impressive.

O. Oregon could be on the way out. Time will tell if they're a program in decline or just had an off year. I think it might be the latter.

P. See you for the final. There's still a lot of NFL football to play in the interim but, for now, it's a pause.

College Football: A look back at Part III of 40(!!!!) College Bowl games.

After part's I and II I'm sitting at 22-18 and was hoping to get some momentum on the early games. As a reminder, I was picking both against the spread, and on the total, for each game, you can find my original picks for these games here......

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Tue, Dec 29, 1:30 PM CST)

California (-7) @ Air Force [O/U 67.5] Actual Result: Cal 55 Air Force 36. It was a going away party for Cal QB Jared Goff. I had Cal and the under so this was a push. (23-19)

Russell Athletic Bowl (Tue, Dec 29, 4:30 PM CST)

North Carolina (-3) @ Baylor [O/U 69.5] Actual Result: North Carolina 38 Baylor 49. Of course Baylor, on their sixth string QB, totally revamps their offense and sets a bowl rushing record. Total miss on my part here. (23-21)

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. (Tue, Dec 29, 6:30 PM CST)

Nevada @ Colorado State (-3) [O/U 56.5] The game you didn't see because it wasn't televised. Brutal ending for Colorado State however. Actual Result: Colorado State 23 Nevada 28. Push for me. (24-22)

Advocare V100 Texas Bowl (Tue, Dec 29, 8:00 PM CST)

LSU (-7) @ Texas Tech [O/U 73.5] Turned out just like I thought it would. No surprises here. Actual Result: LSU 56 Texas Tech 27. (26-22)

Birmingham Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 11:00 AM CST)

Auburn (-3) @ Memphis [O/U 62.5] Again, no surprises. Paxton Lynch had an awful game. Actual Result: Auburn 31 Memphis 10. (28-22)

Belk Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 2:30 PM CST)

North Carolina State @ Mississippi State (-6) [O/U 60.5] Boston College actually scored some points, which surprised me. A fine send-off for Dak Prescott, the best player in MSU history. Actual Result: NC State 28 MSU 51. (29-23)

 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 6:00 PM CST)

Texas aTm @ Louisville (-4) [O/U 47.5] This game was brutal. There are bigger problems with aTm than just who's going to play QB. And it went over by .5 just brutal. Actual Result: aTm 21 Louisville 27. (29-25)

National Funding Holiday Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 9:00 PM CST)

USC (-3.5) @ Wisconsin [O/U 50.5] New Rule - Never bet on USC.  Actual Result: USC 21 Wisky 23. (29-27)

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (Thur, Dec 31, 11:00 AM CST)

Houston @ Florida State (-7) [O/U 50.5] This one made me happy, and not just because I called it. Actual Result: Houston 38 Florida State 24. (31-27)

Capitol One Orange Bowl [College Football Playoff Semi-Final #1] (Thur, Dec 31, 3:00 PM CST)

Oklahoma (-3.5) @ Clemson [O/U 64] I got this CFP semi-final game 100% wrong. Actual Result: OU 17 Clemson 37. (31-29)

Goodyear Cotton Bowl [College Football Playoff Semi-Final #2] (Thur, Dec 31, 7:00 PM)

Michigan State @ Alabama (-10) [O/U 46.5] Thank goodness for the total. Actual Result: Michigan State 0 Alabama 38. (32-30)

Outback Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, 11:00 AM CST)

Northwestern @ Tennessee (-8) [O/U 47] If anything I underestimated just how bad Northwestern would play. Actual Result: Northwestern 6 Tennessee 45. (34-30)

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, Noon CST)

Michigan (-4) @ Florida [O/U 39] Even I didn't think Michigan would look this dominant. Actual Result: Michigan 41 Florida 7. (35-31)

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, Noon CST)

Notre Dame @ Ohio State (-6) [O/U 56] Another situation where the dog was more offensively alive than I thought they would be. Actual Result: Notre Dame 28 Ohio 44. (36-32)

Rose Bowl Game Presented by NorthWestern Mutual (Fri, Jan 1, 4:00 PM CST)

Stanford (-6) @ Iowa [O/U 53] I, like many, made the mistake of assuming that Iowa could play football. Then the late cover to boot? Almost as brutal as the game. Actual Result: Stanford 45 Iowa 16 (36-34)

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, 7:30 PM CST)

Oklahoma State @ Ole Miss (-7) [O/U 67.5] The Big XII's bad bowl season continues. Only slightly worse than the B1G. Actual Result: OSU 20 Ole Miss 48 (38-34)

TaxSlayer Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 11:00 AM CST)

Penn State @ Georgia (-6.5) [O/U 42.5] I made the mistake of handicapping this game assuming that both teams would care. Neither did. Still, UGA eeked out the cover. Actual Result: Penn State 17 UGA 24 (39-35)

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 2:20 PM CST)

Kansas State @ Arkansas (-12.5) [O/U 54.5] This one was never fair. Kansas State had too many injured players to compete. Still, they scored enough to hit the number. Actual Result: K-State 23 Arkansas 45 (40-36)

Valero Alamo Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 3:45 PM CST)

Oregon (-7) @ TCU  [O/U 75] This game changed when Trevon Boykin decided to punch a cop. My revised pick is here.  In retrospect, I should have stuck with my original pick.  Actual Result: Oregon 41 TCU 47 (40-38)

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 9:15 PM CST)

West Virginia (-1) @ Arizona State [O/U 64] This game ended at 1:40 AM CST. I stayed up for the entire thing, which allowed me to see Todd Graham gift the win to WV. Actual Result: West Virginia 43 ASU 42 (40-40)

And that's it.  After 40 games, I ended up 40-40. Dead stinking even.  I think I had a push (or two) in there but I counted those as losses.

To be honest, that's not a horrible result considering.

I'll be back with a full-write up on the bowl season that was but, for now, I'm off to get some sleep. 

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