Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Houston Texans: So? What now? (27-9 Edition)

There are several ways to react to a thorough beat-down of the type the Denver Broncos put on the Houston Texans last night.

You can go faux tough-guy like Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla (Who himself would fold like a cheap pizza box if Osweiler ever came at him with fire in his eyes)

You can go cliche (in an online story full of type-setting errors, grammatical errors etc.)

You can go disappointed parent angry (Which, aside from confirming National sources for local stories, is all this guy does these days)

Or you can go somewhat poetic (I say somewhat because it's clear Wilson and football are only slightly acquainted.)

In between bouts of deep depression and fits of anger (or worse, for the team, resignation) you could forgive Texans fan for ignoring all of this and deciding that there are better things to do on Sunday. In short: You could go numb. You'll find your brisket moment however, it might have been the Fumbleception, or it might come in the future.

But a franchise that is interested in actually winning playoff games and championships wouldn't. They wouldn't stand pat as week after week the head coach says "This was on me" and "We have to play better" and the $72MM quarterback stands in front of cameras stating "I have to play better".

It wouldn't continue to employ a GM whose built a roster slightly better than the Browns, Titans and Bears of the world, but nowhere near competitive against the Broncos, Patriots, Vikings, Steelers et al. It wouldn't keep around a GM who seemingly is clueless in talent evaluation, who has consistently fielded in order: An offensive line that is below average, cornerbacks and safeties who have trouble both in coverage and run support, linebackers who are, to put it delicately, slow. And a D-line who, absent JJ Watt, spends more time getting pushed around than pushing people around.

And we haven't even gotten to a quarterback who has trouble throwing the ball further than 4 yards down the field, TE's who are not especially good at either running routes, catching passes or run blocking, and WR's who, as a unit, cannot run a complex route tree and separate from coverage. At least the special teams last night didn't have their now once-per-game meltdown.

By any metric this Texans team is low on talent. To deny that is to deny that the on-the-road-against-good-football-teams beat-downs are becoming routine.  The Texans didn't just lose last night, they got beaten. Beaten in every aspect of the game. Only the fact that the Broncos are stubbornly choosing to start Trevor Simien kept them from getting trucked by 40 or more.

The difference though, is that Denver does have talent across the board. They have enough talent that they can afford to sit and wait on Simien to develop as a quarterback, to grow through playing.  Because if he messes up, the defense is good enough to cover that up.

The Texans just aren't talented enough to win despite having a QB who is seemingly allergic to completing the vertical pass right now.  To be fair though, he's not being given much of an opportunity to complete down the field passes because the Texans have implemented a game plan full of three step drops and quick releases. They have to do this because the O-line can't slow down the rush enough to allow routes to develop downfield.

The worst news is that it's going to get worse, because Derek Newton (who I've been critical of in the past but who was having a good year, when healthy, to this point) went down last night with what is apparently two torn patella tendons. That's a brutal injury and I hope the best for Mr. Newton. It's certainly season ending, I'm a little worried it could be career ending for him.

One thing for sure, last night's game was a season-ender for the Texans, in terms of being a contender. They might still make the playoffs only because the AFC South is a raging dumpster fire of bad football.  But they might not, because the Jaguars are looking better of late and I still think they end up winning the thing at 9-7.

But even if the Texans DO win and make the playoffs, do you have any faith that they can beat a team that's playoff caliber?  Right now the only team with a current winning record is the Chiefs, who sit at 4-2 and might still be the 4th best team in their division. At the maximum they're the 3rd. And the Texans beat them at home, in a game where they still had a ton of players out with injury, including their best player, Running back Jamaal Charles.

The Texans will go to the press after this game and say all of the rote things. They'll say that they "need to play better" and remark on how Denver (and Minnesota, and the Patriots) are "good teams" and that they believe they can beat anyone in the league if they just play good football and "execute their game plan".

Here's the problem with those talking points. It's becoming increasingly obvious that they're not true. It's also becoming increasingly obvious that things are not going to change as long as Bob McNair is making money hand over fist.  So enjoy it Texans fans, a future full of 8-8 with a handful of dumpster fires against good teams whenever you play them.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A LifeTime of Running Cold (Part VI) You have to learn to crawl before you walk.

Coming off our trip to Atlantic City I was feeling pretty good. I had just come off two "successful" gambling trips where I won (slightly) and only lost slightly.  The important thing was that instead of blowing through my entire bankroll, and then heading to the ATM to get some more money to waste, I had actually come home, and deposited back into the bank a considerable amount of cash.

This is a big step for any gambler.  Not the first time you do it mind you, because luck is just that and can strike on any one trip, but if you can do it consecutive trips in a row then you start to think you might be on to something.  And I was. Like most people who head to the casinos I had previously just gone with the idea that I'd throw money into a slot machine and see where luck took me. The idea that my play could affect the house edge hadn't yet registered. I understood the basic concept that some games were better than others but I still thought silly things such as it mattered if you put your player's card in the slot in terms of what you were paid out (it doesn't) and that casinos tightened the slots during peak hours (they can't, it doesn't work that way)

My first gambling book changed all of those thoughts forever. It also changed the way that I gamble to this day.  It was a basic book, 1000 Best Casino Gambling Secrets by Bill Burton.  And while the 1000 items aren't exactly "secrets" they are things that the average gambler doesn't consider. As an accountant, and amateur statistician, I was familiar with concepts such as "house edge", "expected return" (the house edge in inverse form) and "standard deviation" but I had never given them much thought when gambling in the past. I also bought Gambling 102 by the "Wizard of Odds" Michael Shackleford. Again, it's nothing earth shattering, but if you're stepping into the world of statistical analysis for gaming then it's probably a must-read. Finally, I started reading up on horse-betting, learning about overlays and why you should always try to find (and play) them.

In short, there was a huge learning curve. I purchased training software for video poker, as well as played countless hands on free software designed to help me learn strategy.  In my life I've probably played 3-4 Million hands of poker in the various iterations, over the last couple of years you can probably add another Million hands to that count in video poker alone.

I started out, as everyone should, with "Jacks or Better" learning, and losing along the way until I finally started getting less and less correcting warnings on the simulators. I was learning, and not as slowly as I feared. I kept playing hands and I kept getting better. I also started playing blackjack again on Wizard of Odds, using their strategy trainer and actually doing better.  The wife and I had a Vegas trip coming up so I was confident, I just knew I would not only play better, but budget myself better and come home with money for a change.

It was our Birthday weekend in 2014 and we were staying at the LINQ.  I was ready to play video poker and my wife was excited to see a new property.  Things started off solid. I played at TAG Sports Bar the first night and hit three 4 of a kinds (on Jacks or Better) to get me slightly up. The next day we were headed downtown where I knew things were going to be good.

And I wasn't disappointed. I switched over to "Double Double Bonus" poker and started hitting 4-of-a-kinds again. Nothing with a kicker, and nothing that paid out too much, but wins were wins and, after a while, I was up somewhere around $300 and was starting to think I had this gambling thing all figured out.

Then the standard deviation caught up with me, and I started to lose. It happened first at the Golden Nugget, where I blew through $100 of my profit rapidly. It continued at the Downtown Grand (another hundred) and culminated at the Four Queens.  So, after all of that I was even for the day but still feeling optimistic due to my start.  Before quitting for the day we went to the D for a drink at the long bar. I decided to hit the blackjack tables and, lo and behold, caught a friendly shoe and left there up $100.

The rest of the trip was a continuation on the theme.  One casino up, one casino down.  At the end of the trip we counted up all of the money we had remaining and we ended up putting the exact same amount of money into the bank after the trip as we withdrew before the trip.  I was like Clark Griswold in "Vegas Vacation". "Hey, I didn't lose!".

But Las Vegas was like the dealer. "OK Cory, now you're really gonna get it!"

More on that in the next installment.

College Football: At The Halfway point - What I got wrong. (A mid-season Top 25)

Besides thinking I would have enough time to do enough research to properly pick games that is.

1. The FIVE. This year's FIVE has been an unmitigated disaster.  As such, it's going on hiatus for the remainder of the year.  I MIGHT bring it back next year, but more likely I'll probably try something different.  Last week I was 0-5 FWIW.  Not that you expected anything different.

2. The UCLA Bruins. I honestly thought this would be UCLA's year. I thought they had enough talent, and that USC would be down, and they would finally win the PAC-12 South, the conference championship, and get a playoff berth.  Uh, yeah....no.  What I failed to take into full consideration was the utter incompetence of their head coach.

3. The USC Trojans. I wasn't surprised to see them lose early, but I am surprised that they have displayed the resiliency to come back strong.  As it stands now I like their chances in the PAC-12 South.

4. Houston. What I thought was a team that would go undefeated, and still miss the CFP, is a team that's now not even going to win it's division, much less the American conference and has some glaring holes on both the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

5. Penn State. I'll be honest, I thought they would be bad.  And while they're not great, they're certainly not the mess that I thought they would be.  Kudos to James Franklin.

6. Ohio State. They need an O-line, badly.

7. Nebraska. It's appearing that I whiffed on some of the B1G teams.

8. Michigan State. I thought they would backslide a little, but not to this level.  My goodness. Still, it's Michigan week and this game is ALWAYS close.  As a Wolverine's fan I'm still worried about the trip to East Lansing.

9. Auburn. After their star running back was dismissed from the team in pre-season I thought they were done.  As it stands, they might be the 2nd best team in the SEC right now.

10. Texas aTm. I had them at 7-5. To be fair however, they could still get there.

11. Baylor. I thought that this personnel under Jim Grobe would be a nightmare. And while they've yet to play anyone significant they have looked much better than I thought.

12. TCU. I, and pretty much everyone else, didn't foresee them being THIS bad.

13. Tennessee. Another case where I liked the talent, but underestimated the awfulness of the coaching staff.

14. Texas. I thought this might be the year they turn it around. Not beating OU or anything but at least making a bowl game. That's in doubt now and it's possible that Charlie Strong is a fired coach who just hasn't been told yet.

15. Florida State. Jimbo, Jimbo. What happened?  All that talent and, so far, two absolute truckings to show for it.  Ugh.

16. NorthWestern. Is actually pretty good.  Who knew?

17. Minnesota. This team should be much better than it is, but they blew it on replacing Kill.

18. Game length. I, incorrectly, thought that CFB would take steps to shorten the games and make them more watchable.  Something needs to be done stat.

19. Targeting. I don't know what targeting is obviously, but neither do announcers, and the rule-makers themselves.  Because everyone seems to be ignoring 1/2 of the rule, especially when Alabama is involved.

20. Michigan. Yes, they're my team, but I seem to have underestimated them a little. This defense is really, really good.

21. The Big XII. I assumed they had competent leadership.  I was wrong.

22. Arizona State. Somewhat better than the tire-fire I thought they might be.

23. Arizona. I thought Rich-Rod would keep them from tire-fire status.  Wrong.

24. Eastern Michigan. I mean, NO ONE saw this coming right?

25. Alabama. Not that they would be good, but that they would be THIS good, and clearly the best team in the country right now. (and it's not close)

All of the above stated, I'm not willing to give Bama the title just yet. There's a LOT of football left to play.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

College Football: The Saturday pruning of the Urban Meyer coaching tree.

Saturday had a suddenness to it for both Ohio State and Houston.  For the Buckeyes it was the moment that Penn State blocked a FG attempt, and ran it back for the go-ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter. For Houston it was at the beginning of the game, seeing SMU (yes, THAT SMU) jump out to a 21-0 lead before the 1st quarter was over.

For Houston, the loss was devastating, for Ohio State not so much. Houston now finds itself outside of the National conversation looking in, with no hope of getting back into the mix this year. The Cougars are now 3-2 in their division and are likely looking at playing in a bowl well before New Year's Day. One of those "Capitol One Bowl Week" ESPN games with a low six-figure payout that are not watched by many. Give it to 'That private school in Dallas trying to get to 7 wins' they all but completed the gutting of the Houston program that the Big XII started earlier in the week.

For Ohio State the loss was less damaging. Yes, it's hard to fathom how a team so talented couldn't put away the Nitany Lions, or why the Buckeyes are not Alabama North for that matter. But they still would most likely get into the playoff if they ran the table, and won in the B1G championship game. Such is the power in the "Power 5", where even two-loss Wisconsin is given an eyelash of a chance to still squeak into the 4-team soiree.

Despite playing out in different manners the two teams are remarkably similar when it comes to the issues they're trying to address. Both teams possess shockingly bad offensive lines, and neither team's special teams are all that special.

For Ohio State, I think this is probably fixable. The team is talented and the players are as well. For Houston I think the situation is more troublesome. For the Cougars I believe the issue is level of talent and that can't be fixed except through recruiting, and that takes time. It also might be cause for Power 5 teams to pump the brakes on the Herman enthusiasm, let's see if he can fix this mess long-term before giving him a set of $5 Million dollar keys to a $100+ Million dollar car that is a big-time college athletic program.

The history of college football is littered with the losing records of coaches who were given huge jobs, and huge paydays, based on crafting a winning record by using the previous administration's recruits. We just saw one get fired from Purdue in Hazell, who had one winning season at Kent State then couldn't replicate that success at a Purdue program where the cupboard was bare. Worse off, he couldn't recruit the fix either.

For Herman that might not be a problem, he's shown the ability to bring in big-name recruits and one would think he'd do an even better job at a school with Power 5 resources. At Texas, for example, you can probably gain a 5-star or three just by sitting down on the sofa and pointing to the Longhorn on your shirt. That's a powerful advantage.

Since I live in Houston, I selfishly hope that Herman stays with the Cougars for another year, if only to see what his team looks like, and if they can address the obvious talent holes that exist through recruiting.  I have a sneaking suspicion however that UT-Austin is going to back up the Brinks truck since it appears that Charlie Strong is all but gone.

Lest we forget, a few years ago Charlie Strong was the Tom Herman of his day. An up and coming coach who won at a non-power 5 level and was a shoo-in to succeed in his new post.

How times have changed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A Lifetime of Running Cold (Part V): The Atlantic City Trip that Changed Everything.

As I have recounted (repeatedly) in Parts I - IV of these tales my early gambling excursions were alcohol-fueled trips that resulted in pretty big losses, and not so fun hangovers. In short, I was everything casinos love, uneducated, inebriated and bereft of bankroll management knowledge. In short, I was a sucker, a mush if you will.

I have also, and remain, a cold runner my entire life.  So when I imply that the trip to Atlantic City of which I'm about to relate "changed everything" I meant more toward my outlook on gambling as a whole. Not my relationship to the standard deviation. On that metric I'm still very much trending toward the casinos side.

We went to Atlantic City in October of 2012 for our birthdays. The wife and I share birthdays exactly 2 years and 1 day apart. Her on October 30th, mine on Halloween. The upside to this is that, in 18 years of marriage and 20 years as a couple, I have never forgotten her birthday.  But we wanted to see Atlantic City before it went away.  All I knew about the City is what I had seen on Rounders, and on the remake of Ocean's Eleven (Clooney, Pitt, et. al.).  I knew Trump had some casinos there, and Caesars, and I knew there was a Golden Nugget there, and it was from them I received an offer.

It wasn't a great offer as those things go, 20% off the room rate but it was enough to whet my appetite so we decided to find a flight.

First problem.  Back then United Airlines hadn't yet made the stupid business decision to start a flight from Houston to Atlantic City (in return for gate considerations at Newark) so if we wanted to fly direct we would be stuck flying Spirit Airlines.  Yuck.  There was, however, a loophole, so with a direct flight to and from Philadelphia, and plans to catch the train to Atlantic City, we took off on a trip that would change how I, and my wife, gambled forever.

Plane rides don't bother me, so we had fun.  During those years both the wife and I had status so we both copped upgrades to first class and were halfway lit by the time we arrived at PHL. We were only staying three days so I didn't have a bag to check, but my wife did, so we grabbed her bag and shot off to catch the next to last train to Atlantic City.

Which we made, with 30 seconds to spare.  We purchased the ticket in our seats from the porter and settled in for around a 90 minute ride.  As I stated before, the wife loves trains. Since she lived on one for two years while working with the circus she enjoyed the ride. I got somewhat bored (it was dark, so you couldn't see anything outside of the windows) but we made it and then hailed a cab from the train station to the Nugget, which is (unfortunately, for why you'll read later) some way away from the Boardwalk.

We got in and hit the bar. Hard. I then proceeded to take out my first night's money and blow it all playing slots. "That was fast" I told my wife, and we agreed not to gamble any more until the next day.  We had some more rounds, chatted with the bartenders and then went to sleep.

In the morning (honestly) we woke up and it was raining, but we really wanted to head to the Boardwalk so we put on our drip-dries and went to find the jitney.  We did, and we were off.  Our first stop was the Trump Taj Majal.

In short, and I'm not being political here, it was a disgusting dump. Half of the slot machines were out of order and the ones that were working were old and filthy. It looked as if the casino hadn't been cleaned in 50 years. On top of that, most of the bars were closed. Not having my typical morning Bloody Mary was going to be an issue.  But, we found a place to eat breakfast and decided to head over to The Borgata, and Revel.

Here's what I remember about the Revel, it was a beautiful property, laid out terribly, and the slots were brutally tight. In fact, ALL of the Atlantic City slots that we played seemed to be unusually tight. It was like pouring gasoline on a brush fire every time we added money. My wife, who is very risk averse and hates gambling (but enjoys going to casinos) quit after losing $40 in just under 10 minutes. By the time we had reached 3PM on our first day there I was down $300 with little hope of getting it back the way things were going.  I had $200 left for two days, and I had promised myself I was NOT going to be hitting up the ATM this trip.

Then, something miraculous happened.  I won.  Not a ton of money but enough to get me into the positive for the first time in a long time.  We had sat down at a bar in Borgata and ordered a round of drinks.  Looking for something to do I put $40 in a video poker machine, the first time I had played since I had the win at Mandalay.  Other than that I hadn't played. I had seen it played, talked about it with friends who played, and had even watched people play it while sitting at bars, and as a live poker player I understood it, but you could throw things such as basic strategy out the window.

But I won.  It was while playing twenty-five cent "Double Double Bonus" and I got dealt 4-two's with a 3-kicker. $500.00. I hadn't hit anything that big since my visit to Delta Downs. I glanced at my wife, hit "cash out" and we spent the rest of the day walking to the various casinos on the Boardwalk, signing up for their players cards and playing off the free-play for new signups when we found it.

On the 3rd day there I gave some (not all) of it back.  By the time we had left however I still had over $400 in my pocket which I was planning on giving back to the bank when we got home.  After the win I continued playing video poker, with my wife's blessing, except at the casinos that gave us slot free play that is.  On the whole of course, after the hit, I lost. But the rate of loss was smaller, and slower, than I was used to playing slots which convinced me that there might just be something to this whole video poker thing.

All in all I remember the Boardwalk not for the crappy casinos, or the good food (there is a lot of that, especially the pizza) what I remember the most is sitting in a bar inside the Borgata and winning something at a casino game for the first time in a long time.  For a brief, fleeting second, I was ahead of the casinos on a trip and I wanted that feeling again.  For the first time I realized that gambling outside of the poker room could be affected by skill (except for slots of course). I realized on that trip that in order to continue to play consistently, I was going to have to get a hell of a lot better at playing the good games in order to make my bankroll last longer.

I almost didn't have time to learn those lessons however.  Because on our way back to the Nugget, on the jitney, while driving through one of Atlantic City's neighborhoods several windows in our little bus were broken by locals throwing rocks at us. One of the rocks missed our head by a foot or so and landed in the seat in front of us. The driver promptly floored it, and we returned to the Golden Nugget where we stayed up all night drinking and thinking "whew! that was close".  The next morning we caught our train at 6AM, rode to PHL where we caught our flight home. Tired, a little freaked out, but glad to be putting money in the bank for a change.

After getting home, and depositing back the money, I promptly went to Barnes and Noble and bought my first book on gambling.

But I'll save that tale for Part VI.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

College Football: Why Tom Herman might *not* be so willing to leave Houston.

In the wake of the Big X XII Conference' decision to not expand to 12 teams the pundits are already declaring University of Houston head coach Tom Herman to be out the door.

To quote Mr. Lee Corso "Not so fast my friend".

As a caveat, I also think it's likely that Herman leaves for greener pastures after this season. I think some big school is going to offer him so much money he'll over look all of the problems he's going to have to overcome.  But, when it comes down to it, there are only two programs (as of now) who have job openings that I would consider marked upgrades from UH and each opportunity comes with a ton of warts.

But first there are Herman's own words: He's stated a fondness for staying at UH over marginal Power 5 jobs. "Why be a small fish in a big pond" etc. etc.  The fact is schools like Purdue can probably just sit this one out. It doesn't hurt to ask, but there are other coaches who I think are better fits for your programs.

With that in mind let's look at the Power 5 openings that could or will be, or are available.

Texas: I think we can all agree that Charlie Strong is going to be out of there at the end of the year. The loss to OU sealed his fate. While most everyone agrees that Herman would take this there are some compelling reasons why he might think twice.  For one, the Culture and Atmosphere at the 40 acres is a "cesspool" to quote Kirk Herbstreit.  While UT-Austin fans are angry over that it's partially because Mr. Herbstreit is right.  Red McCombs and the other boosters that are currently running things are running them into the ground.  Yes, UT-Austin has money, resources, facilities and recruiting advantages that are 2nd to none. In fact, when they're right I think they are a top 5 job. Right now though I'd stay far away until a strong AD comes in and straightens out the ship.

LSU: First off, and I'm sorry to break this to you Tiger fans, LSU is NOT a "top 5 job". I realize that you constantly fool yourself by saying this but it's not true.  Is being the head man in Baton Rogue a Top 10 job? Probably, but the school is currently lower on money than Sears and the situation is getting worse every day. Add to this the fact that AD Alluva is a garbage fire and you have a situation that could be untenable long-term.  The history of LSU has been good runs, followed trips to long, dark places. They could be on the edge of that precipice right now.

Mississippi State: Simple: No, just no. I don't see any way Herman takes a job at the school in the SEC West with the smallest budget, worst facilities, and hopes of only competing for a title once every 4 or 5 years. The Bulldog's best bet is to try and keep Dan Mullen.

Notre Dame: Not near the job it was in the past nor will it ever be in the future.  I think we're seeing the slow decline of ND football in it's infancy, as the program will continue to slip away from being the National Power it's always been, and will eventually join a Power 4 conference and become a middling conference player, being forced to "give up" all of it's "traditional rivalry" games that it's used to pad it's record with for years now. It wouldn't hurt them to try and woo David Shaw however. I think he could do some good there.

Oregon: When a school like Oregon starts to lose it, it can go away fast and it's often very difficult to get back.  Yes, they have tons of Nike money and facilities that are unmatched in the Nation, but they lack a natural recruiting base and there will always be the specter of USC hanging over their shoulder. This is another school that I think is travelling to a deep, dark place and it will take more than neon uniforms to dig them back out of it again.  By the by: I think they should take a long, hard look at PJ Fleck.

I could easily envision a situation where Herman decides to hang around UH for a while, build the team into a Group of 5 power, and then head back home to USC when they finally pull the plug on Son of Love Coach.  He's from that area and whether you like them or not, the House of Troy is a top 5 job.

Still, Herman could end up at one of these other schools and he could be successful there, but I'm not sure he's going to have the natural advantages he has in Houston at any of them other than UT-Austin, but I'm worried the well in Austin is just too poisoned.  Other than there, I'm not all that certain the path to the CFP is easier anywhere else than it is at Houston.  Just quit losing that one curious game every season.

College Football: The Week 8 FIVE (Probably should have retired on a win streak)

So last week, for the first time this season, if you faded my FIVE picks you're a LOSER!!!! (Kidding, you're still way, WAY up if you fade me for the year)

Suck it with my just over .500 finish. (3-2, 11-28-1 for the year)

But hey, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger (albeit less financially well off) and, despite my better judgement, I'm plowing ahead this week, hoping beyond hope that I can pull this season out of the sizzling fat of failure.

I've got a diverse set of games for the FIVE this week.

1. Old Dominion @ Western Kentucky (-13.5) I would really prefer it if I could get this game at -14 or better, but I'll take a good Old Dominion team getting almost two touchdowns against a less-good than their reputation Hilltoppers team. ODU 24 WKU 30. Old Dominion to cover -13.5.

2. East Carolina @ Cincinnati (-1.5) Yes, the Pirates are on a 4-game losing streak but the Bearcats are in full meltdown mode after a horrible looking 20-9 loss against UConn. Cincinnati had everything going for it in terms of their program, and then they hired Tommy Tuberville. ECU 24 Cincy 20. ECU to win on the ML.

3. Oklahoma (-14) @ Texas Tech. But....the game is in LUBBOCK! you say.  That's fine, but the Red Raiders "best" home win so far is against a pedestrian Louisiana Tech team, and last week they got boat raced by West Virginia at home.  OU is starting to roll with Dede Westbrook healthy and catching seemingly everything. Tech's defense is still awful. OU 45 Tech 17. OU to cover -14.

4. Ole Miss @ LSU (-6). Before we get into game analysis, a moment of silence for Mike VI.......Thank you. LSU needs to run the ball to be successful, and Ole Miss' defense is pretty decent at stopping that. I think Coach O gets the win, at an emotional Death Valley, but I think this is a field goal game. Ole Miss 21 LSU 24. Ole Miss to cover -6.

5. Arkansas @ Auburn (-9.5). After a rough start to the season Auburn is looking better, and Arkansas two losses are to Alabama and aTm respectively. The higher this line moves toward Auburn, the better of a bet it becomes however. Two pretty good teams facing off here. Arkansas 27 Auburn 30. Arkansas to cover -9.5.

Other games under consideration:

Miami @ Virginia Tech (-6). I like the U to bounce back here.  The U 27 Va Tech 24.

BYU @ Boise State (-7). If the light-scheduling Broncos don't lose here, I'm not sure they lose. BYU 20 Boise State 27.

Oregon @ Cal (-3). The loser gets the crown of the most disappointing team in the PAC-12. If Oregon loses Helfrich is all but gone. Might even be if they win. UO 45 Cal 38.

Wisconsin (-3.5) @ Iowa. I almost included this in my FIVE. I think Iowa is a paper tiger. Wisc 21 Iowa 3.

NC State @ Louisville (-19). Another game I almost included in my FIVE, but I don't trust NC State at all. NCSU 14 Louisville 35.

Texas @ K-State (-3). Some are calling this a "must-win" for Strong. I disagree, I think the decision to fire him has already been made. UT-Austin 13 K-State 27.

Colorado @ Stanford (-2). What is wrong with the Cardinal? Buffs 27 Stanford 20.

Memphis (-2.5) @ Navy. The University of Houston will be scoreboard watching. Memphis 28 Navy 24.

TCU @ West Virginia (-6.5). At some point people think TCU will become themselves again. I think we're seeing what they are this year. TCU 9 WVU 39.

Eastern Michigan @ Western Michigan (-23.5). The feel-good story of the year visits one of the best group of 5 programs of the year. Not as ugly as everyone thinks. EMU 20 WMU 35.

Houston (-21) @ SMU. The best thing about SMU is their new "city skyline" logo. UH 42 SMU 14.

Michigan State (-2.5) @ Maryland. The Maryland defense makes glaciers look fast in comparison. Sparty 20 Maryland 17.

Ohio State (-19.5) @ Penn State. Yay, another "white out" game. At some point the Buckeyes are going to get it figured out. I think it's here. OSU 56 Penn State 6.

Washington State (-7) @ Arizona State. Toss up game. Whichever team shows up. Wazzu 56 ASU 54.

The big game of the weekend:

Texas A&M @ Alabama (-18.5). I'm not sure if there's a (plausible) line big enough to make me risk money on the Aggies.  That said, I was wrong about them this year, they're a good team.  But I still think Bama is going to truck them at home. Texas aTm 6 Bama 42.

The teams I root for:

Colorado State @ UNLV (-3). The Rebels are favored here. This is not a drill. Like last week the NEED this game or all hopes of making a bowl are kaput. I think they get it against a pretty awful Rams team.  CSU 13 UNLV 31.

Illinois @ Michigan (-35.5). The lines for Michigan this year have been ridiculous. Sure I think the Wolverines CAN win by more than five touchdowns, but I don't think they WILL win by that much.  That said I don't think the Illini CAN score against a motivated Wolverines defense.  If they do score it will be in garbage time.  Illinois 3 Michigan 38.

Good luck and enjoy the games this weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Shield: Why are NFL primetime ratings sagging?

Monday Night Football has gone from "must watch TV" to "meh".  Sunday Night Football just had a game that drew it's smallest rating in almost 5 years and the Thursday Night Games are consistently unwatchable TV.  Add it all up and you have a problem, namely, people are finding different things to do rather than watch professional football in the evenings.

But why?

There are a lot of theories, and I don't think any of them explain the whole picture, but here's what I think are contributing factors.

1. To be blunt: The games suck.

Watch the best NFL matchup on any given week, then go and watch almost any random college football game between two fairly even teams. I guarantee you the college game will be more entertaining, and a better watch than anything the NFL has to offer.

NFL games today are too conservatively coached, and poorly played. "Parity" once the NFL's watchword for competitive balance has sucked the joy out of football. The officiating is horrendous, and has been designed to suck every ounce of joy out of the game.

2. There are too many other options in prime time.

The Sunday afternoon rankings are pretty solid, because the NFL is the only game in town and that's when people are wanting to watch football. But on Sunday, Monday and Thursday night there are other things on TV that people want to watch.  Shows such as Game of Thrones, Westworld and others have gone toe to toe with the NFL and are making a dent in viewership.  People have choices, and being force-fed bad games in prime-time slots are ones they are increasingly not making.

3. At some point, it's over-saturation.

Thursdays used to be for College Football, but the NFL instituting the Thursday game has diminished that somewhat since the big teams no longer want to play then.  So the NFL has killed a good sports night by shoehorning a bad product into a night they shouldn't be playing, and it's killing the evening.

We now have NFL football on 3 night's per week and it's just too much.  Add to that the fact that recovery times and game-planning in 4-days is difficult, at best, and the NFL is all but guaranteeing you they're going to put on a shoddy product on Thursdays.

4. Yes, some of it is political.

From the anthem protests to the concussion issue the NFL is now viewed more politically than it is as a sports league, and people are tuning out. I don't see a reason for the networks to broadcast the National Anthem that plays before every game (and to be honest, I don't recall them doing that consistently prior to this year) like they do this year, hoping to catch a player on their knees or raising a hand.

Then there's the fact that a lot of people have decided that they cannot, in good conscience, watch tackle football any longer due to the damage it does to the players long-term.  One of these political issues is temporary but one is a burgeoning problem that's not going away.

5. The Presidential Election

Yes, this is a small portion of it but it's stupid for the NFL to use it as a crutch.  The low-rated game on Sunday didn't run up against a debate, it was just bad football that few wanted to watch.

6. A tone-deaf league.

Roger Goodell is a horrible commissioner who is ruining the league. He's arrogant, out of touch with the fans and has 100% lost the players.  Because of this the NFL is running on bureaucratic auto-pilot which is resulting in dumb decisions like banning teams from tweeting video highlights.

Then there was the whole Susan B. Komen Foundation issue, and how the league fumbled that, and then you had the news that teams were charging the US Military for all of those (highly publicized by the League) "Salute to Service" events they had. It was a horrible look for the league, and one that many fans have refused to forgive.

7. Finally, it's just about bad people.

The NFL is full of some pretty bad characters, and I'm not talking about the players I'm referring to the Billionaires that own the teams. Boorish behavior, entitled royal mentality and constant threats to cities for more tax subsidy have cooled many fans on their hometown teams. Add to that player arrests, bad sportsmanship on (and off) the field and you have a League that fewer and fewer people are willing to invest behind.

Ticket prices are at an all time high, to the point where the average work-a-day fan is priced out of attending. The world of $14 beers and $9 hot-dogs is just too much for most families of 4 to afford consistently. To top it all off the teams act as if its the fans who have an obligation to the teams, and not the other way around.

From boorish owners to punk players to a bad product on the field the reality of an NFL broadcast today is not good.  And the future prospects don't seem to be any better.  People are starting to tune out and vote with their remotes. So called "sold out" stadiums have visible rows of empty seats, and viewership for other events (such as soccer) are on the rise.  While none of this is to a point where it's threatening the supremacy of the NFL as America's premier professional sports league, nor is it likely to for the foreseeable future, it is a long-term problem that the league seems only barely willing to adjust.

The Thursday Night Football stream on Twitter was, by all accounts, a success, and there appears to be lasting support for games played on Sunday afternoon.  This could be a case where retraction of the schedule, not expansion, is a better thing for the league as a whole. Were I commissioner this would be some immediate steps that I would take:

1. Get rid of Thursday Night Football ASAP. (As soon as your TV contract allows)
2. Eliminate either Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football, one of the two.
3. Stream every remaining prime-time game on Twitter, other online outlets.
4. Remove the draconian social media restrictions, free the game.
5. Do some honest community/military outreach.
6. Stop the all-encompassing search for parity. Free up the salary cap.
7. Make the prime-time scheduling be a reward for good play again instead of a right for all teams.
8. Fire Rodger Goodell. (immediately)
9. Stop with the International games
10. Work with TV partners to improve the quality of Sunday pre-game shows (which are currently unwatchable)

There's more the NFL could do, but that's where I'd start.

What the NFL needs to realize is that fans have been conditioned over the years to expect NFL action on Sunday Afternoon. That key time-frame is still the strongest in the lineup and they need to be moving more games there, rather than less.  One quick fix they could do to ensure better viewership is to stop with the 9/3 distribution of early/late kick-off times and move to a more balanced schedule.

And enough with playing American football in London.  Just stop.

The first step to fixing this mess however is to remove the people in charge who are responsible for creating it.  This means most of the NFL executive team has got to go.  Until that's done, the Shield is going to continue to be tarnished with bad play and low ratings.

Monday, October 17, 2016

College Football: An Open Letter to The University of Houston

Dear Cougars,

Rough day.  As you've been told by now all of the footsie that the Big X XII Conference has been playing with you was nothing more than an attempt to get FOX and ESPN to come to the bargaining table to pay more money for the least anticipated conference championship game in America.  And Yes, I'm including the Sun Belt, MAC and C-USA in my rankings.

But all is not lost.  For one, you still have a nice stadium and a newly renovated basketball center on the way, your football team is on the rise, coached by one of the best young coaches in the game (for now) and your basketball team seems to be on the verge of coming up from the Clyde Drexler depths under Kelvin Sampson.  Things are looking good.

So consider today a wake up call and come to the realization that joining the Big X XII Conference was never going to work out for you.  The first sign that something screwy was going on is that UT-Austin was (supposedly) on your side.  This never works out well for you and working with them should be avoided at all costs.  Same for OU, who are just milking the Big X XII Conference until they can find a way to get shed of it in a manner in which the Oklahoma legislature approves.

You were onto something when you went and talked to the PAC-12 a few months back, but I wouldn't stop there.  Were I king of UH (instead of Tillman Fertitta) I'd go speak with the ACC as well.  Hell, I'd fly all of the Presidents of the ACC to Houston during Super Bowl week. When you play Louisville, I'd take their powers that be to Tony's where I'd make sure they had anything on the menu they wanted. Then Vic & Anthony's.  In short, they'd eat nothing but peacock and Champagne while here. While you're at it, introduce them to a couple of scouting services in the area.  Don't worry, there are plenty of recruits to go around.

I say this because the Big X XII Conference has no long-term future. Even if they did expand you'd be in the same situation that you found yourself in the American, in at the tail end of a power conference looking to Tulsa, ECU and UCF to fill the ranks.  It'd be the 'new' Big X XII Conference except without most of the teams with any national cache.

Look, I know that a few years ago I was one of the loudest cheerleaders for you joining the (then Big East) over trying to get into the Big X XII Conference.  And while you still seem intent on letting your Big X XII Conference freak flag fly I still think you're making a huge mistake. I mean, look at what you HAVE done in the American.

You're the leading member of the best Group of 5 Conference in the country.

You beat Louisville and Florida State and Oklahoma.

You beat the Seminoles in a Big Six New Year's game.

Up until you ran into Navy, you had a very real shot at gaining entrance into the CFP.

Even with the loss you still have a shot at playing in the Cotton Bowl at Jerry's World. 

When I said back then "Go East, and prosper" I meant it.  And I still think it's something that you should consider again.  Because the ACC, SEC, PAC-12 and B1G are GOING to expand to 16 teams.  And when they do this the Big X XII Conference is going to be shredded, again.  Gone will be Oklahoma and OSU (probably to the SEC) and gone will be Texas and Texas Tech (Probably to the PAC-12). I see the B1G taking Kansas and Cincinnati and the ACC taking Notre Dame.

This means that you, Baylor (LOL) and TCU will be vying for that last slot in a power conference, a slot that you would have the holeshot in grabbing.  TCU is playing with the big boys, but they aren't a big time program long-term, and Baylor is causing itself to be about as attractive as radioactive sludge with the way they're handling this Title IX situation. In short, with your new facilities, thanks in part to fielding a winning football team and a commitment by the board, you're building the foundation that will allow you to not only compete in a newly expanded ACC, but WIN there as well.

Yes, even in basketball.

So, chin up Cougars and hold fast.  What has happened to you today is probably the best thing that could happen long term. The Big X XII Conference is a fading, paper tiger being held together by UT-Austin and OU for the sole purpose of allowing themselves to milk the most money out of the other schools until a better deal can be found. As long as the Longhorn Network is around, there won't be one.

But the time will come when there is, and then the dominoes will start falling again.

Don't get caught unawares this time.  That probably means telling the Big X XII Conference "thanks, but no thanks" the next time they try to use you, and others, in an effort to get more money from the networks.


The Public Money.

NFL Questions: Are you a TRUE fan of your team?

In what was yet another in a long list of near-unwatchable NFL prime-time broadcasts Sunday night the Texans mounted a furious comeback to beat the Colts 26-23 in an overtime that felt more like punishment than bonus football.

They did this in front of a half-empty NRG Stadium as several fans took their overpriced jerseys to the car when the home team was down 23-9 with 6 minutes to go in regulation. What was billed as a "battle for supremacy in the AFC South" was really just a test to see which below-average franchise sucked less.  On Sunday night, it was the Texans that sucked just slightly less than did the Colts.

But it was the fans booing and leaving that raised the dander of Texans players most of all.

Never mind that the Texans had made it a franchise tradition to crap the bed on Nationally televised games, or that they hadn't shown any signs of life so far when facing good teams, or that many of the fans probably had to be at work the next morning sometime before the butt crack of dawn and the time on their cell phones was already well past 10. (And kids had school etc.)

Nope, according to fringe roster player Charles James II only the "true" Texans fans stayed to the end while all of the other fans were....not fanatic enough?

But James' ill-conceived rant brings forth some important questions.

Are you a TRUE fanatic for your team?

Why do you even root for the NFL team in your city?

Are you OBLIGATED to suffer through a crappy product because....home town pride?

Are you a TRUE fan?

Because I'm not. I root for teams and I pull for other teams to win, but I'm not a "fanatic" for any team. My favorite professional tackle football team is the San Francisco 49ers. This despite the fact that I have never been to San Fran.  But right now the Niners are awful and that's because the owner and general manager are incompetent. The head coach is a gimmick and the newly minted starting quarterback is more of a social warrior than a football player.  "Fanatics" ignore this and, much like the cartoon of the dog sitting in a fire, sip their coffee and say "This is fine" until they look up and the team is 3-13 and just about to blow another set of draft picks.

But these are the type of people that players like Charles James II and Vince Wilfork value. They don't want fans who realize that things aren't fine, that the team is broken and ran by a coach who's in over his head, a General Manager who is clueless and an owner who's just happy with sellouts and making a crap-ton of money.

THOSE people, non-fans, are people that won't support a shit team and stop buying tickets and stop having their Sunday's wasted. You get enough of THOSE fans and suddenly even the most disinterested owner notices the revenue drying up and makes changes. Changes that, typically, involve declining players like Wilfork, and players who never had much of an incline such as James being jobless, or working for Cleveland.

Why do you even root for the NFL team in your city?

What is it about the NFL franchise, or any professional sports team, in your city that causes you to root for them?

Do you believe they are an 'integral part of your community;? Do they fill you with a sense of 'civic pride'? Do you think the team doing well makes the city look better?

I hope you don't buy into any of the above because none of them are true.  Los Angeles did just fine without an NFL franchise for years. And it's only because the NFL so coveted the television market that they are back. (and they had to get Jerry Jones to prop up the character of Stan Kroenke, a horrible man, to do it). That's right, THAT Jerry Jones. The one seen in creepy shots with co-eds.  Or maybe you like Jim Irsay, an owner who was suspended for drug use, broke up a marriage and had to testify to it in the divorce proceedings.

Are THOSE people integral parts of your community?  Politicians (horrible people themselves) seem to think so, because they continue to throw Billions of dollars of tax revenue into the coffers of team owners in a desperate attempt to retain the world classiness of an NFL franchise.

Truthfully?  Houston was better off in the gap years between the Oilers and the Texans.  Football on TV (where most Houstonians watch the NFL) was more varied and interesting.

Are you OBLIGATED to suffer through a crappy product because of civic pride?

But, what if your team sucks?  Does it make you somehow less of a city?  Ask New York that.  Because they seem to be doing fine despite the Jets and the Giants being awful.  San Francisco is still a global city despite the complete mess that are the 49ers, and Cleveland is doing just fine despite the Browns being possibly worse than the Crimson Tide.

The problem is that the stadium wars are heating up.  Soon that $500 Million stadium in your town is going to be hopelessly out of style. With the Cowboys having the Billion dollar Jerry World in operation, and the Vikings opening up their $1.5 Billion pleasure palace and Los Angeles in the middle of plans to build a $2.3 Billion dollar "football entertainment complex" what you currently have will soon be seen as 2nd class.

Which means that the tax money you've spent on your current stadium (and are still spending in many cases) is not going to be enough.  This means that the Billionaires who are raking in Billions from NFL football are going to go back to local politicians nationwide and stamp their feet for more tax money to build bigger football complexes in an effort to stay "world class".

The selling point for this is to "attract Super Bowls" to town.  Trust me when I say this, you don't want a Super Bowl to be held in your city any more than you want a raging case of bird flu to sweep through the populace.  In fact, the bird flu might be preferable.  Here's the thing:  You won't be able to attend the Super Bowl because ticket prices are going to be sky high. Thousands of people will descend on your town and will gather in approved areas with approved (meaning those that pay the NFL kick-backs for exclusivity) vendors eating approved junk food and drinking approved $15 beers which will not add as much to a city economically as will be advertised.

Your city will also be inundated with prostitutes and out-of-town drug dealers who, responding to the law of supply and demand, will ensure that the seemingly never-ending stream of celebrity "Super Bowl Parties" are fueled the entire two weeks.  Traffic will suck, and no matter how great your city is there will be people who come there who trash it.

Sure the league will talk about "what a great host" you were but other cities, feeling a case of Stupid Bowl envy, will write horrible things about you and your sub-par something that they can get at home but can't get where you live.

And if you don't pony up and give the NFL what they want?

They'll just go and find another group of suckers that will.

On the bright side you'll then get four NFL games broadcast on a Sunday instead of two, and typically those games will be the National games of interest.  Meaning that they are slightly less entertaining than the 10th best college game that aired on Saturday.

In short: Don't be a FAN of a team, root for them.  And if they suck?

Stop watching.  That's the ONLY way to drive change. Hit the awful people that own the teams in the pocketbook.

As a side benefit you might get rid of the players that don't like you as well.  Win-win.

Weekend Football Top 25: It's all becoming clearer now.

Let's face it, Top 25 polls are useless. There's still so much football left to play and teams (Hi Baylor!) that we really don't know all that much about.  With that in mind here are 25 thoughts from the last weekend of football.

1. Alabama is really (really) good. Scary good. This doesn't mean they are a lock to win the CFP Championship, there's still games to play, but this is certainly Saban's most talented team ever.

2. The Patriots are really (really) good. Scary good, and on a mission.  If history has taught us anything it's that chip-on-the-shoulder New England is a dominant team.

3. The NFC East is (honestly) good. The Cowboys and Eagles are anyway. I'm not too sure about Washington and the Giants, and I'm not (yet) ready to call them the 'best division in the NFL'.

4. Even the 'good' NFL is almost unwatchable. Over-officiated, poorly-coached slogs with players incapable of making routine plays at times. Unless it's your team playing, there's almost no reason to watch.

5. College football on the other hand.... Yes, the games are too long (keep the clock running after 1st downs except in the last 3 minutes of the half) and yes there are talent disparities, but the games themselves have more energy, emotion and entertainment packed into each weekend than an entire season of NFL.

6.  Shhhhhhh..... I finally had a winning week on my FIVE.

7. Will they or won't they? The Big Ten Twelve is expected to say something today about expansion. Possibly.  Or they won't.  To be honest it's a dead conference walking so who really cares?

8. Of note, other than Alabama, the SEC is not very good. I realize that's blasphemous (the best conference etc. etc.) but they are not a deep league this year. The drop-off after Alabama is pretty glaring.  I think we're going to see that this weekend when aTm gets hammered.

9. The AFC South is awful. Biblically awful.  Like 7 plagues horrible.  Last night's Colts/Texans game was an exercise in unwatchable ball. Most of the time overtime feels like free football, this time it felt like people were being punished.

10. Speaking of horrible. The Browns might not win a game this season.

11. Also horrible. The 49ers defense is wretched. And the offense sucks regardless of whether or not the QB is a social activist.

12. On that note. Shouldn't Chip Kelly give it up and just go back to college football?  Hell, go back to Oregon.

13. Hail and farewell Hazell. Proving that one winning season at Kent State does not a Power 5 head coach make. Raise your hand if you're hoping Les Miles takes that job. *raises hand*

14. Falling Cougars. Tom Herman is a good coach, but people should be paying attention to the troubles UH is having right now.  These are problems that he seems clueless in regards to fixing. That's a problem.

15. The Les Miles Coaching Merry-Go-Round. Where it stops, no one knows.  I'm hoping he goes to Purdue and revives that program however.

16. The Pac-12 South is an open mess. I'm liking USC's chances believe it or not.

17. How real is Washington? We might not find out until their Nov 12th tie with USC.

18. Baylor might not be all that good. At some point they need to play someone. If history is any indication they're going to coast through an easy, early schedule and then get upended out of the CFP. My guess is the Sooners (with that re-charged offense) take them out.

19. Who gets the axe first in the NFL? I think it's a foot race between Miami's head coach and Detroit.  I would have fired Caldwell after last year TBH.

20. The English Premier League should be a uniform model for the NFL. Let the players wear their damn shoes, let the teams control which manufacturer outfits them, and make sure the players follow the team's official uniform.  This letting Nike (Or Reebok, or whoever) have exclusive rights is creating some boring uniforms.  Much like the rest of the league.

21. The Dallas Cowboys are a good football team. Something I thought I wasn't going to have to write this year.

22. Dear Texans players: Let's recap. The fans pay the money, they can decide to come and go from the games whenever they damn well please.  For you to suggest those who left (many of whom had to show up to work on Monday morning, unlike you) aren't "real fans" is stupid and ridiculous.

23. Speaking of the Texans... Does anyone really feel all that comfortable about 4-2 right now? Because the team is about to go to Denver and get boat-raced out of the stadium by a team whose quarterback is Trevor Simien.

24. Phill Simms is awful at analyzing the game of football. That is all.

25. And finally....... The ancient idea that you HAVE to root for a team because you happen to live in the city where they are located is crap.  But not as much crap as publicly subsidized stadiums for Billionaires.  NFL owners are a sorry lot of human beings, all of them.  From Irsay to Kroenke to Jones. They're awful people.  And the State of Nevada just voted to possibly subsidize them to the tune of $750MM.  That's horrible and should result in most of the State Senate and Assembly losing their jobs on election day.

But it won't.  Which is why we're in the current sorry state that we find ourselves as a Nation.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A Lifetime of Running Cold. (Part IV) The Early, Wasted Vegas Years.

I don't remember the exact trip that the wife and I fell in love with Las Vegas. Not any of the gambling, or the debauchery, but the city itself. But it happened.  We got bit by the Las Vegas bug, and bit hard.  To the point that we now try and get to the City (From Houston, which is not the easiest thing to do due to distance [and high airline prices]) two or three times per year, preferably three.

It wasn't that first trip, in 2007 for the Mr. Olympia, and it wasn't our next couple of trips either.  Those trips were important, because we learned lessons, but they weren't the trips that made Vegas our home away from home, THE place where we wanted to go above all others.  I remember those trips though because they set the foundation for what we do in Las Vegas today, they put us on the path of loving the city, despite our many mistakes on them.

Don't laugh, but on our 2nd and 3rd trips we stayed at Circus Circus. For one, it was cheap, and 2nd, the wife used to work for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey before we met so Circus chintz appeals to her. It was a novelty and a thing that we did, and now we never go back to that casino. As a matter of fact, we haven't set foot in there for 4 years now.

When we did go however we played slots. Exclusively slots. I would play "Press Your Luck" and "Zeus II", betting the minimum of either $.30 or $.40 depending.  I would get up a small amount, and then the house edge would inevitably take it back from me. At this point I hadn't given up live poker yet so I used to play a little bit in their tiny poker room.

It was horrible. A bunch of old guys folding around the table trying to get enough hours in to qualify for their weekly free-roll tournament.  The one story I told earlier about the guy saying, to his friend, that he had "no idea what I had" happened on our 2nd trip there. Unfortunately,  I couldn't get enough good cards (running cold remember) to really take advantage of this so my wins were smaller than they needed to be, before being flushed back down the black-hole that are slots.

We had fun though, a LOT of fun. Back then we hadn't started seeing shows, so we walked a LOT. In Las Vegas, even today, we average 30K steps per day on our Fit Bits, and on one trip we had the brilliant idea of walking to Fremont Street, from the Strip.  Which is a walk of about 10 miles (probably), and it was July. We made it, but I'm not sure how. It took us over 2 hours and by the time we got to the Fremont Street Experience I was too tired to do anything.  So I found an unused slot machine and just sat down for about 30 minutes drinking my Gatorade.

The point is, we did things. Fun things, stupid things, things that probably weren't all that smart but (and this is important) weren't illegal and didn't really put us in harm's way. Sure, late at night we'd drink too much and do silly stuff, but no one was hurt and at least one of us always was in control of things.

But it was truly awful gambling. Sitting at a penny slot machine trying to keep my money lasting as long as it could before I had to stop at an ATM.  Back then I didn't have a daily gambling budget, all I knew was that I would gamble until the money ran out, and then go withdraw some more until I woke up on the trip and realized I've done enough.

Bankroll management?  Pfft.  What was that?

On our fourth trip to Vegas we stayed at the Luxor, a hotel that everyone hates these days but, back in the day, used to be pretty cool.  We also went and saw Ka at the MGM Grand, and ate at Tom Coliccio's "CraftSteak" for the first time. Ka is (still) the best show I've seen in Vegas and CraftSteak is (still) the best meal I've eaten there. My appetizer was Braised Short-Rib Raviolo in brown butter sauce. If you told me I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life it would be that one.

For Trip 5 we stayed at Mandalay Bay. On the first day I sat down at the big Wheel of Fortune game they used to have and won $500 while waiting for my wife to run up to the room to grab her phone. The next day I won an additional $500 playing Double Double Bonus Poker at a bar where I hit 4 of a kind with the kicker. Needless to say, this was the first trip that I came back home with more money than I left with.

In fact, on Trip 5 I was on fire. I won $75 playing Zeus II (hitting All Zeus squares on a "super respin" but since I only bet the minimum it didn't pay much [lesson learned later in life]) another $100 playing video poker and $400 playing Wheel of Fortune.  To this day this was the most ridiculous winning trip that I ever had, but it wasn't as much as it could be because I was (except for Video Poker) playing the minimum bet.

By what we now call "The Mandalay Trip" I had given up live poker and was looking for a new game to play. Blackjack still had emotional scars from so many early, brutal beat-downs and I wasn't confident enough with my low-rolling style to play craps or roulette with a crowd of people, so video poker seemed like something I could play in addition to slots, and possibly increase my winnings.

Strangely, after the Mandalay Trip we stayed away from Las Vegas for a while. We hit our International travel phase and visited Madrid, Paris (twice), London, Singapore, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, Lisbon and a host of other American cities, including Seattle and Atlantic City.  We would, of course, head back to Vegas but it wouldn't be for a while. Our next visit was AC, to actually see the place before it went away.

Next time I'll tell you about that.

Dear Star Wars: Where do I send the payment?

So, Rogue One looks pretty solid.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

College Football: The Week 7 FIVE (Yeah, about this)

I had no confidence in last week's FIVE, and I ended up with yet another record that illustrated why.

1-3-1 (8-26-1 for the season)

Yup.  This is already the worst college football year that I've ever had picking games. I've been doing this on various blogs for about 5 years now, and I've never gone six weeks in a row without having a winning week. At this point I think I could throw darts at a board and be more accurate. SU I've actually been pretty solid.  But SU is not all that hard.  This is why the ESPN pundits fought back so hard against having to pick the spread.

Because of that I thought I would try and purge with my "Lifetime of running cold" series (more to come).  Also because of that, I've totally scrapped my analytics system (that obviously is off, I'll figure out why in the off-season) and have decided to go with feel this week.  Hey, when you're at rock bottom.

If you're still following these picks, for the love of all that is holy start fading. (Kidding, don't put any stock into them period. Trust me, I don't)

Without further ado. The week 7 FIVE:

1. West Virginia (-1) @ Texas Tech. Neither of these teams strike me as being very good. In fact, I don't think either is going to finish in the top 1/2 of the Big XII now that conference play is under way.  But WVU beat K-State while Tech didn't. And I think that's because the Mountaineers can play a little defense while Tech can't.  High scoring game though.  West Virginia 48 Texas Tech 40. West Virginia to cover -1.

2. Pitt (-3) @ Virginia Virginia started off terribly but are starting to show signs of life. Pitt has played decently this season but have losses to UNC and Okie State on their schedule.  The common thread?  Both the Tarheels and the Cowboys have spread offenses, Virginia does not run an offense like those two teams to that level. I think Pitt grinds them down. Pitt 24 Virginia 10 Pitt to cover -3.

3. Mississippi State @ BYU (-7). The Bulldogs have lost to every good team they've played this year, and they weren't very competitive against an average Auburn team. They also lost to South Alabama. Ouch. BYU started off slow but are starting to ramp things up after beating Michigan State last week. Dan Mullen could really use this win, I don't think he's going to get it.  MSU 17 BYU 31. BYU to cover -7

4. Texas-San Antonio (-3.5) @ Rice. Normally the numbers say that being at home is worth around 3 points. That's a fallacy at Rice however because they have almost zero home-field advantage. Neither of these teams is very good, but UTSA at least has shown a pulse this year. Unrelated to the game on the field but they also have some of the best helmets in Texas. UTSA 38 Rice 10. UTSA to cover -3.5.

5. Ole Miss (-7.5) @ Arkansas. I like this play because Arkansas is coming off of a game against Alabama, and teams NEVER look good the week after getting clobbered by Saban's boys. The Kelly situation could be interesting but this team has lived with distraction all year so I don't think it will matter (that) much. Ole Miss 38 Arkansas 20.

Games that didn't make the cut:

Illinois (-6) @ Rutgers. To be honest this game isn't going to make any cut. Illinois lost a varsity tackle football game to Purdue, and Rutgers just lost a football game 78-0.  When I say this could be the ugliest game of the year I'm not exaggerating. Illini 17 Rutgers 6.

Kansas State @ Oklahoma (-10.5) TBH, it was the size of the line that scared me away from this one. OU fans will scoff but I think this is a dangerous game for the Sooners. Coming off the big Texas win they get a Wildcats team carrying some confidence from a win against Tech. K-State 24 OU 30.

Western Michigan (-11) @ Akron. The Zips have looked pretty good this year, against teams that can barely fog a mirror. And while none of the Mustangs wins look all that impressive as the year moves forward I do think they're a good team. One thing working against the Zips?  Western Michigan NEEDS to look good. Western Michigan 52 Akron 17.

Colorado State @ Boise State (-31). The reason Western Michigan needs to look good is because they're likely going up against Boise State for the Group of 5 New Year's Six spot and Boise has a schedule filled with cream-puffs. Colorado State 7 Boise State 65.

Eastern Michigan @ Ohio (-7). The Eagles have been outstanding against the spread this year. In fact, they are 5-1 in all games.  Hopefully you got in on this game earlier in the week (the spread opened at 10) but if you didn't I think a touchdown and extra point is OK as well.  Full stop if it moves to 6.5.  Eastern Michigan 24 Ohio 27.

Tulsa @ Houston (-21.5). If you are a fan of quality New Year's Day games then you should be pulling for Houston going forward. The loss to Navy killed their CFP chances, but they still have an outside shot at a New Year's Six bid IF they look impressive, and get some conference help in the form of the Midshipmen losing. It all starts here though, against a Tulsa team that can move the ball. Uh-oh. Tulsa 35 Houston 52.

Alabama (-13) @ Tennessee. A game that would have been much more interesting had the Vols not decided to turn the ball over a Million times to the Aggies. Bama 38 Smokey 10. 

USC (-8) @ Arizona. Every year the feeling is that Rich Rod is going to pull an upset somewhere. You just FEEL that it's coming. I think it comes later in the year (either against Colorado or Arizona State) than against a Trajan side that's starting to show some signs of life.  USC 37 Arizona 13.

Nebraska (-3.5) @ Indiana. Nebraska might be the best team in the B1G West and they still might be the 6th best team in the conference. It says something that Indiana looked "Okay" in a 21 point loss to Ohio State. This is my upset pick of the week, if you're into that kind of thing. Nebraska 24 Indiana 28.

Utah (-9) @ Oregon State. Utah has beaten some good teams, and lost to Cal. Oregon State has lost to every decent team they've played, EXCEPT Cal, who they beat by 3. Once again this year, the Pac-12 is a mess (except Washington [so far]). Utah 27 Oregon State 21.

Minnesota @ Maryland (-6.5). Given the lack of speed and athleticism on both of these teams, this game could put you to sleep if you watch it long enough. Minnesota 10 Maryland 17.

Stanford @ Notre Dame (-3) Admit it. At the beginning of the season you looked at this game and went "Ooooh, this could be a good one." Now you're looking at it and going "Eeeeew, this could be ugly."  Such is college football and pre-season rankings.  Stanford 27 Notre Dame 21.

Ohio State (-10) @ Wisconsin. Wisconsin played the game of their lives against Michigan, and came up short. That said, I predict they'll hang with Buckeye for about a half. Don't underestimate the game of one-upmanship that's going on between Harbaugh and Meyer right now. Ohio State 35 Wisconsin 3.

UCLA @ Washington State (-5). At the beginning of the season I picked the Bruins to win the Pac-12, and get a CFP berth.  Yeah.  About that.  After two bad losses to open the season Mike Leach is doing Mike Leach things again with this team.  Plus #Bruining is a thing.  UCLA 34 Wazzu 35.

Teams I root for.

Michigan.  - Off this week to enjoy some tasty 50% off steaks at Ruth's Chris steak house in Ann Arbor. Next week it's Illinois, which should be another blowout.

UNLV @ Hawaii. (-9). IF the Rebels want to make a bowl game this game is HUGE. In fact, the next 4 games (Hawaii, Colorado State, San Jose State and Wyoming) are all winnable games for Coach Sanchez' team.  If they don't sweep these four then they have to win either at Boise, or at home against Nevada.  This game is KEY.  UNLV 23 Hawaii 20.

First game up: 

Appalachian State (-10.5) at ULaLa. A game that won't be close, but could provide some #FunBelt action, in the first half.  App State 35 ULaLa 17

Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Casinos: The Slow-Drip Death of Atlantic City.

There is no place, in either America or the world, like Las Vegas. There can't be. Las Vegas is an unique confluence of law and escapism that allows people the chance to get-away from their work-a-day lives and indulge for a bit in the fantastical. In short: Las Vegas is a mirage, a myth. It's a city where almost nothing (except incredible poverty and broken families) is real.

High-rollers in Las Vegas have easy access to drugs, women (or men), high-end booze and just about anything that people think they need in order to have a good time. Low-rollers have access to high-end amenities, for a price of course, and negative expectation games designed to take their money from them in an increasingly efficient manner.

You don't go to Las Vegas to win money, you go there to spend money. If you think of it any other way you're doing it wrong.

Atlantic City thought that it could be an East Coast Vegas. Build some casinos, add some strip clubs and all would be well.  We're seeing now just how flawed of an idea that was.

With the news of the closing of the Trump Taj Majal earlier this week the casino count in Atlantic City is down to seven. The Taj is the fifth casino to shutter and results in another 3,000 jobs lost. Ironically, the union that refused to renegotiate with the casino terms the closure a "win".

For Atlantic City however, it might be a long-term win in and of itself.

Kevin D. Williamson, writing for the National Review, took a look at gambling and it's impacts on economies in a recent piece and found the gambling economic model lacking. In short, gambling is a racket controlled by unions and Democratic Political Machines that suck resources from the municipalities in which they operate and provide little back in return.  Casino magnates like Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn may be Republicans in name and donation habits, but locally they thrive off of their support of the Democratic political machine.

None of this is an argument that gambling should be illegal. And while I'm in agreement with the argument that casino gambling won't work, except in limited instances, outside of Las Vegas that doesn't mean that outright bans are the way to go.

Because in today's, modern, society you don't need to authorize kick-backs and corporate welfare to build overly expensive pleasure palaces, you can have gambling online. The Internet gambling market is somewhere in the Billions neighborhood in terms of revenue. This despite being illegal in all but three states (Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey). Online sports betting and poker continue to grow, and where people cannot do it for free they are increasingly reaching out to illegal, off-shore, betting sites with internet addresses that end in .lv (Latvia, NOT Las Vegas) and .ag (Antigua and Barbuda).

Sheldon Adelson wants to stop this, which is why he's donating so heavily to Republican causes. His "Restoration of America's Wire Act" bill seeks to overturn existing state laws and make all forms of online gambling illegal. It should be noted that his Sands casino group trails the pack in terms of online gaming revenue. In short, Mr. Adelson is trying to eliminate a segment of the market in which he is not competitive.

What Mr. Adelson doesn't get, either due to ignorance or intentionally, is that online gambling won't hurt Las Vegas all that much. People will always want the escapism that the resort town offers. Where the legalization of online gambling will have an impact is in the casino trade for Louisiana, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Pennsylvania etc.

When people from Houston head to Lake Charles for a weekend at the casinos they go there, primarily, to gamble. Yes, there are restaurants and night-clubs on offer there but nothing to the level of Las Vegas. There are no Cirque du Solei shows in Lake Charles.

There's no Fendi or Prada store fronts either. There are a few restaurants and some bars but nothing to the level of Whiskey Down in the MGM grand or Gordon Ramsey Steak in Paris. There are no shopping malls with skies painted with clouds that change color to simulate morning, noon and evening, there are no animatronic statues, no Cleopatra's barge, no method actors walking around in period costume.

In Lake Charles, there's gambling, and some places to eat. Gambling that, to be honest, has fairly terrible odds when you compare it to the rates at other casinos.  But people go, because that's all they have to go to.  You allow people to play online and many of them stay home and do so. Whether or not this is a good thing, I leave to you to decide for yourself.

What is not a good thing are states (like Texas) trying to protect the citizenry from itself. By outlawing gaming the State of Texas is driving it further underground. Illegal gaming parlors can be found in almost every strip mall, some bars have 5-liner machines that operate illegally (despite protestations to the contrary, they do) and people are increasingly heading to illegal offshore sites such as Bovada and 5Dimes to get their fix. Sites that are unregulated, and have a propensity to withhold payouts on wins. (If you want to know why I don't bet online, that's why.)

The biggest problem, right now, is violent crime in the illegal game rooms. While online gaming welshes are a concern they are a victimless crime, shootings in a game-room are not.

But the State is OK with this because it supports their monopoly on the lottery, the gaming option that carries the worst odds, and the highest house advantage.  And which is basically a tax on those who are horrible at math.  Which is fine by the State mind you.

Don't expect any of this to change. Politicians in non-gaming states often run on anti-gaming platforms and people suck it up. The busybodies on the right who want to tell you how to run your life are just as bad as the busybodies on the left who do the same. In fact, the anti-gaming forces cross ideological boundaries. There's good money in politics convincing people that you'll force their belief system on others.

When you think about it, that's what politics today is in it's entirety.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Weekend Football Top 25: Wash the stink of the debate off by reading this.

What a weekend of college (and professional) football.  Their were upsets, blowouts, nail-biting finishes and the first game ever played in a swimming pool.

First, Houston (where I live)...

1. Houston Cougars. A good team played a bad game. Period. And, as good of a coach as he is, even Herman showed that it's hard to prepare for the triple option in one week.  Add in rain and a motivated road opponent?  The problem for Houston is that, after this loss, all of their season hopes are now in jeopardy. CFP? Gone. New Years Six? Unlikely. Conference championship? Need help. And, no, this loss does not change the likelihood of Herman staying or leaving one iota. Stop saying it does.

2. Houston Texans. Already in the media people are asking "what's wrong" with this football team? The problem with this is that it supposes that the Texans issues can be solved through tweaks, or strategy fixes. They can't.  "What's wrong" with this team is that it's light on talent at several key positions, including O-line, LB, Corner, Safety and (sadly) quarterback.  Coaching is also just average (at best).  They'll win the games they should win, but they are losing games to good teams and looking uncompetitive while doing it.

Unfortunately, the owners of the team aren't concerned about making changes because the fans continue to throw money their way as a reward for building a middling, uninspiring, non-winning product.  As long a the fans continue to suffer from abused fan syndrome the Texans will continue to hover around .500.

Next, the teams I root for....

3. Michigan. That was harsh. Michigan's 78-0 thrashing of Rutgers was so complete that I almost started to feel bad for the State College of New Jersey. Almost. Then you realize that Michigan had it's 3rd and 4th string in the game by the 3rd quarter, and that they basically ran the same running play for most of the 2nd half. This wasn't a case where Harbaugh ran up the score. Rutgers is just that bad.  Hell, the Jayhawks would probably beat Rutgers by 30.

4. San Francisco 49ers. Blaine Gabbert is the worst starting quarterback in the National Football League.  Worse off, it appears that he's the starter only because the team would take a financial hit should Colin Kapernick play.  That's all changed after Thursday with the announcement that the team has renegotiated Kaepernick's deal. If he plays in two weeks we know that Jed York and Trent Baalke are the problem.

Teams with new stadiums, huge revenue streams, and fans who are paying a premium to watch games that make decisions in this manner are losing teams. I'm worried this mess is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

Surveying the rest of the country....

5. Tom Terrific. Do you still think that Tom Brady isn't mad?  That the New England Patriots aren't going to take out a lot of frustration on their opponents for the remainder of the season? If I'm the Buffalo Bills, I'm worried about the next date with Belicheck.  Yes, it was the Browns and yes, 11 random guys could probably score on them but they were boat-raced by a quarterback who was "rusty" from over a month of inactivity.

6. San Diego. Ooops, they did it again.  The Chargers botched a game-tying field goal attempt to tie the game and fell to possibly the saddest 1-4 opening record ever, The team is wasting the career of quarterback Philip Rivers. I wouldn't be surprised if McCoy gets let go today. It's that bad.

7. Antonio Brown. At some point, the NFL is either going to beat the fun out of this man or, due to fan outrage, relent and let him have fun. If anything is indicative of the cesspool of boredom that the NFL is morphing into it's the situation between the Shield and Brown.

8. Cincinnati Bengals. Welp, they've done it, they've finally killed the coaching career of Marvin Lewis. Of course, it's the Bengals, so they'll find a way to mess this up as well.

9. Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott is playing well enough that the "will he/won't he" debate over Tony Romo is a thing.  I still think Romo gets the starting nod when he gets back, because he's earned it. I do not however think he will be in Dallas next year.

10. Chicago Bears. Jay Cutler is done here. Hopefully, as an NFL starter, Jay Cutler is done everywhere. But there's always going to be a team, such as Cleveland, looking for a QB so he probably won't be.

11. Ohio State. That a 28 point win, in which your team was never in danger, over a bowl team upsets your fan base says something about the unrealistic expectations that fans in the Horseshoe have for their team.

12. Anyone want to try and win the Pac-12 South? No seriously, someone step up and try to take it.

13. Another year, another realization by the media that they have overrated Boston College. Don't be surprised though, it happens every year.

14. Pitt wins the "best uniform" derby this week, and it's not close.

15. Despite losing to Florida State on a blocked extra point (#collegekickers) I still think Miami will be in the ACC Championship game.

16. Lee Corso is a National Treasure

17. As is Brent Musberger

18. LSU and Florida need to play that game. And it's very clear that the Gators really don't want to.

19. Virginia Tech is for real.  They showed that with a 34-3 shellacking of a pretty solid North Carolina Team.

20. Washington taking out 12 years of frustration against the Oregon Webfeet  Ducks was quite the statement. I'm wondering how long it is before Oregon makes a statement and fires coach Helfrich?

21. Cincinnati is now understanding just how much of a program killer Tommy Tuberville really is. He's another coach that I think will not be back coaching next year.

22. TCU and Gary Patterson can never seem to get the whole "playing a game in Lawrence" right. And they didn't this week either. There is the possibility that this TCU team is not very good.

23. Illinois lost to Purdue. Which means that next week's game between the Illini and Rutgers will be for the bottom of the B1G.  Illinois head coach Lovie Smith is not having the results that boosters wanted him to have.  I never liked the Smith hire. He's an NFL coach who I never thought would do well in the college environment. Illinois should cut bait and bring in PJ Fleck.

24. Vanderbilt is another team that I think will be on the coaching market next season.

25. Kirk Herbstreit said some things about UT-Austin during GameDay on Saturday that has the Longhorn faithful in a tizzy.  Here's the thing though, Herbstreit is 110% correct in his assessment of the culture in Austin right now.  The program is a mess, big donors such as Red McCombs have outsized influence and are ruining the situation. I think this is a big reason why Tom Herman might take a look at this whole thing and say "screw it" and stay at UH until something better opens up.  UT-Austin is a job with top-5 potential.  Right now they're bottom 5 fodder.

Also receiving votes:

The FIVE is in shambles.  Shambles.

Notre Dame is a mess of a program right now, but they will probably keep coach Kelly for at least another year.

If Jacksonville loses tonight their head coach might be fired tomorrow.

UNLV needs to give coach Sanchez time. He took over a mess. But I thought they held their own against a much more talented San Diego State team.

Sparty. Ooooooh Sparty.

Friday, October 7, 2016

College Football: The Big XII is a dead-conference walking.

First Oklahoma State, then Iowa State, then Baylor, TCU and now Oklahoma seem to be falling victim to a loser's mentality:

Barry Switzer says 'Hell no' to University of Houston joining Big XII. Greg Rajan, Chron.com

Switzer's reasoning for this is simple: Allowing Houston into the Big XII would allow them to recruit Houston players better, possibly damaging OU.

And this is why the Big XII is a dead conference, it just doesn't know it yet.

Every successful conference that expanded over the last decade has done so with the mind-set that they are making the conference stronger. Do you think it was a 'good' move for Florida State to vote 'yes' for Miami's inclusion into the ACC? How about when the conference offered Louisville? The B1G brought in a storied program in Nebraska, and the Pac-12 brought in Colorado and Utah.

Even the SEC brought in Texas aTm with the thought that their presence would make the conference better.  Would it potentially make it tougher for other schools to recruit Texas? Possibly, in the short term, but thinking that way is defeatist and it shows a fundamental weakness that's present in all of the Big XII members (save possibly, UT-Austin).

It was not a "mistake" by the Big XII to admit TCU. The program has proved competitive and has been a strong addition to the league. Nor would it be a 'mistake' for the conference to add Houston, or Cincinnati.(the two schools I think they should admit)

What's going to happen however is that the Big XII is going to stand pat, too worried about angering their TV partners and eventually, when the coming change to 4 16-team super-conferences occurs the Big XII will no longer exist. It's probable that this is going to happen regardless of expansion, but without expansion it's certainly going to happen.

Once the deal runs out on the Longhorn Network I'm betting things start to move pretty quickly. College Football is going to end the charade that the Power 5 and Group of 5 play in the same league, and the NCAA will then take steps to (finally) modernize the game to match reality.

Left out of this mess might be Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia, and maybe even OSU.  I could see the Pac-12 taking UT-Austin and the B1G taking OU for sure. Maybe OU (at the behest of the Oklahoma legislature) convinces the B1G to get to 16 via OSU but it's not guaranteed. It wouldn't be hard to envision the B1G selecting UCONN over  And is there any reason, other than geography, that UT-Austin would be convinced to go to bat for Tech?

To be honest, given their facility upgrades and location I could see the Pac-12 or ACC being more interested in admitting a Houston program (the ACC could take Houston and Notre Dame) over Baylor, Iowa State or either of the Kansas teams.

Were I one of the eight Big XII teams not named Oklahoma or UT-Austin I might be worried less about recruiting in Houston and more about the long-term viability of a conference that's being actively destroyed by it's two biggest member schools.  Two schools that have no worries about their futures FWIW.

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