Friday, December 15, 2017

College Football: It's Bowl Season!!!!! (Part I)

40 Bowls (Not counting the Championship game)


So many bowl games, and so little time to watch them given your, likely, busy year end work schedule, Holiday Parties and gift wrapping, getting ready for Santa etc.

Fortunately, for you, I've taken a look at most of them and am ready to offer up totally irrational opinions here.  I won't be watching all of them, but I will be watching most of them.  Unlike some I love bowl season. It's like the dessert we earned from stuffing ourselves on the buffet of the College Football season.

R +L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. 1PM ET Saturday, Dec 16th.

[10-2]Troy (-7) vs. [9-4] North Texas  T: 62.5

The RLC New Orleans Bowl is the crown jewel of the SunBelt conference. They play in it (every year) and they often win the dang thing.  This year the SunBelt gives us Troy, of the 'we beat LSU at home' Trojans who are favored by a touchdown over North Texas.  Both the Mean Green and the Trojans feature strong offenses, and little in the way of defense.  As such this game is expected to be an offensive showcase to kick off the bowl slate.  I don't see anything to dispute that except for the fact that North Texas will be missing their leading rusher (Jeffery Wilson) due to a foot injury.

Pick: Troy to cover -7 and OVER the total of 62.5.



AutoNation Cure Bowl. 2:30 PM ET Saturday, Dec 16th.

[6-6] Western Kentucky vs. [6-5] Georgia State (-6.5) T: 53.5

I think it's safe to say that both of these teams are coming off disappointing regular seasons as both expected themselves to compete for their respective conference championships. These teams had remarkably different seasons to boot.  Western Kentucky started off strong, then faltered down the stretch before beating rival Middle Tennessee State in the "100 miles of hate" game to become bowl eligible.  Georgia State, on the other hand, struggled at the beginning (Maybe they were shell-shocked in their new stadium) before charging down the stretch to finish with a winning record. The problem for Georgia State in this game is that they aren't good at stopping what Western Kentucky does well, passing the football, and they don't have the offensive firepower to take that much advantage of the Hilltoppers shaky defense. This feels like a ho-hum bowl game which should still draw just under a Million viewers on TV.

Pick: Western Kentucky to win on the ML and UNDER 53.5



Las Vegas Bowl. 3:30 PM ET, Saturday, Dec 16th.

[10-3] Boise State vs. [7-5] Oregon (-7)  T: 61.5

This is the first bowl game that we'll see which features a "great player who won't be playing" in the person of Oregon running back Royce Freeman.  Oregon will also be without former coach, and new Florida State head coach Willie Taggart. Still, these are two good teams and since Oregon's QB Justin Herbert will be playing the Ducks are much better than they would be otherwise.  Oregon's problem? They won't be "up" for this game and Boise State (the Mountain West Champion) will. Because the Broncos pride themselves on beating Power 5 teams.  Should be a close game however, and I have it pegged as the best game of the day.

Pick: Boise State to WIN on the ML and Under 61.5



Gildan New Mexico Bowl. 4:30 ET, Saturday, Dec 16th.

[7-5] Marshall vs. [7-5] Colorado State (-5.5)  T: 58.5

Here's the thing about this game. If you watch it you're going to be subjected to those truly awful Blake Shelton underwear commercials and that's just harsh. Another thing is that Colorado State's offense is very, very sputtery and Marshall's defense fell off a cliff in the last half of the season. Both of these teams are incomplete, especially on defense and both teams come into this game with something to prove (to themselves and their respective fan bases) so this game certainly comes with barn-burner potential.  I, for one, am intrigued by the match-up at QB between the Rams Stevens and the Herd's Litton.  Points will be plentiful.

Pick: Marshall to cover +4 and OVER 58.5



Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. 8:00 PM ET. Saturday, Dec 16th.

[6-6] Middle Tennessee State vs. [7-4] Arkansas State (-4)  T: 62

The line for this game started at -3.5 for Arkansas State and has slowly slid toward the Red Wolves since.  Part of the reason for this is that it's widely speculated that Middle Tennessee State has severe "mail this one in" potential after a disappointing season. The Blue Raiders do have a potent offense and Brent Stockstill makes the game worth watching, but I think that the Red Wolves have too much on defense and Stockstill could have a long night behind a bad offensive line who's going to struggle to stop an Arkansas State pass rush led by NFL prospect Ja'Von Rolland Jones.  Still, there will be a LOT of flinging the ball around the yard in this one.

Pick: Arkansas State to cover -4 and OVER 62.


Enjoy the beginning of Bowl season. There's still some fun football to play.


Monday, December 11, 2017

2017: The year in Gambling

Now that my last gambling trip for the year is complete I thought I'd share some thoughts after what was a moderately active year for me. Remember, these are worth exactly what you paid for them. These are the results of Vegas visits and reading news reports. Some are what happened, some are what I think might happen.

On a personal note, it was a good year in that I ended up only slightly down after 9 gaming trips, 3 to Las Vegas and Six to the local.  I finally broke my Royal Flush cherry, and then hit one again in Vegas. Slots were brutal this year with zero hand pays but, to be fair, I played a LOT less of them this year than in years prior. Still, it seemed like I would lose a ton of money on slots, and then have to fight back on VP almost every trip.  I played a lot fewer table games this year than I had initially planned, which is something I plan to remedy in 2018. I also never found the time to play craps, which is something that was on my "gambling to do" list for 2017.

The casinos are getting tighter. Shocker right?  It's a trend I've noticed as good games seem harder and harder to find, at least in certain locations.  The Strip and Downtown Las Vegas are especially horrid right now, almost unplayable except for as a time-waster and while their are still good games to be found at so-called "locals" casinos in Vegas (Boulder Hwy, South of town, off-Strip etc.) getting to them can be a chore so it's a give and take.  It's the opposite for casinos outside of Vegas, where competition is less and the casinos there have figured out they can have their machines set at the minimum allowed and the rules at the tables can be crap and people will still come.

But there is heartening news.  The decisions being made at the Cromwell are promising and we should all reward them for it by playing there. Hopefully if the casino execs see an increase in handle as a result of improving the rules/payouts more casinos will follow.

Addressing the so-called "Millennial problem". One thing the casinos are constantly getting wrong is the so-called "Millennial problem".  They don't gamble (false) or they want so-called "skill-based" slots (false).  What they really like are social games like craps, roulette and some of the carny table games. They want to be able to Instagram or Snapchat their wins immediately on the casino floor.  And they want reasonable odds while doing it.  There's a reason gaming $$$ continue to drop on the strip and it's not because the entire casino floor isn't littered with Gamblit tables. It's because the odds are horrid and people are slowly figuring that out.

Vegas as outlet mall. In retrospect, the Fashion Show mall was about a decade too early. With word coming out that WynnCore has purchased the former Alon casino site and that a planned casino resort that is heavy with upscale retail is the most likely use of it there is now more actual or planned shopping on the Strip than ever before.  Retail is the new night club and pools are the new social lounges.

The continued scarcity of comps. Drink monitoring systems are in place currently at almost all of the Strip bars with VP and I predict that by 2020 comped drinks on the casino floor will be a thing of the past, except in the VIP/High Roller areas. I'm not entirely opposed to this since it should free up the VP terminals and will lessen "drink vultures" who are just trying to swoop in and get free drinks for nothing.  The bad thing is getting rid of drink comps entirely would probably put thousands of cocktail servers out of work. If nothing else, I could see it go away for the penny slot area but remain for dollar slots, table games and the high limit lounges.

New rooms bring higher room rates. You don't think all of this renovation is going to occur in a vacuum do you?  With high occupancy rates and Vegas attracting a record number of visitors per year I expect rates to continue to climb. It's to the point now that you HAVE to have recently upgraded rooms on the Strip to compete, and they have to have an increased supply of chargers, outlets, etc.

Resorts are copying the airlines, and it's going to get worse.  Resort fees, parking fees, baggage handling fees you name it and the resorts are going to find a way to charge you for it. As a matter of fact, some casinos have reportedly hired people from the airlines to duplicate their success in charging and marketing fees as a "win" for customers, even if the customer's aren't buying that line of reasoning.

"Locals" casinos will start doing better business. I look at it like this: You want to stay on the Strip because the rooms are nice and all of the entertainment is there, but you're going to want to be playing elsewhere. This is true if you pay attention to odds and paybacks. Unfortunately most don't. It would be nice if more people would tell NYNY "Thanks for the $5 blackjack, but I'm not touching 1:1 with the dealer hitting on soft 17, no DAS, and only double on 10 or 11"  or tell Sands "Appreciate the $5 Roulette table but you can take that 3rd house number and shove it up Sheldon's ample backside." but they won't.  Because most people don't gamble enough to really pay attention to the odds and pays, they only see the low minimum bets.  That said, there are enough people out that that do care and understand the difference between  getting 9/5 DDB and 7/5 of the same and will elect to take their money elsewhere.  This is why the Cromwell should be rewarded for their better odds.

PASPA being shut down by the SCOTUS will have minimal effect on Vegas. And I do think it will be shot down.  But for all of the articles and all of the doomsday predictions I don't see any sign of the sportsbook boom going away.  People will still go to Vegas because of the atmosphere, the total uniqueness of it all and the amenities that you really can't get anywhere else.




and finally.......


Most states with casinos in place will approve sports betting, those without mostly won't. The casinos will HAVE to push for it or they will be left out. Feelings are once PASPA is ruled unconstitutional New Jersey and Pennsylvania will be the first to get things up and running (New Jersey would probably only take about a week) with most of New England following.  Surprisingly, Oklahoma should move pretty fast because the Indians don't need enabling legislation. California, Louisiana and New Mexico, followed by Mississippi would be the next dominoes to fall, with Arizona somewhere in there. I'd be very surprised if a non-casino state allowed it. For those of us in Texas, forget it. It took a miracle to get horse racing and the lottery approved and it's still not certain how much longer either lasts with an active arm of the Texas Lege trying to undo what they consider to be damage.

So, that's my thoughts on the state of gaming in 2017.


What say you?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Open Letters: Dear NFL, It's not me, it's you.

Hello "The Shield."

Rough game last night.

In fact, Rough few years.

For all of the sturm und drang surrounding Colin Kaepernick, President Trump, your multi-Million dollar contract with the Military that's forcing all of this on us, my real problem with you of late is that your on-field product is increasingly unwatchable.

And violent.

By now, with all of the information that we have at our disposal surrounding concussions and CTE there's no reason that the 'kill shot' tackle is still a part of the game. There's no reason you haven't taken college football's admittedly flawed targeting rule and implemented it in a better way to clean up the game and prevent shit-shows like we saw last night from appearing on our TV.

I don't tune in to watch people get hurt, although I understand that's an unfortunate part of any sport, nor do I like listening to your paid analysts and team employees telling me, "It's just part of the game" or that it's "AFC North Football".

No, it's not.

Cheap shots and projectile "tackling" with the head down isn't a part of any football, nor should it be.

Now, granted, I give you that us, as fans, shoulder some of the blame. For a few years there we cheered mightily (and some still do) at "big hits" and ESPN ran "Jacked up" with players getting eight bells knocked out of them and we cheered. I think that all stopped though with the Junior Seau tragedy and it certainly has no place in the modern game.

The problem is that the "Modern NFL" game isn't all that good. You give us a slew of bad teams in prime time games in a league where maybe only a third of the teams put forward a really good product. You can't even fill a playoff bracket with 12 teams that deserve to be there.

Beyond the hits, the quality of play is atrocious. The coaching is overly conservative (Another field goal?) the offenses are stale and the defenses, when they're not busy knocking their opponents out, are about as sophisticated as the Wing-T offense of old.

There's little drama, an even smaller chance of upsets (have you seen how the favorites are doing in Vegas lately?) and no compelling reason to tune in.  In fact, there are more reasons to not watch your product than there are to spend most of my Sunday watching sub-par, poorly officiated, socially inept football players competing in a game that's feeling more like a grind than entertainment.

Everything you do is manufactured. You can't even get touchdown celebrations right. No one knows what a catch is or isn't any longer to the point that so-called "rules experts" for the networks are incorrect over half the time regarding the results of instant replay.

You've done a great job of creating an arbitrary rules framework for a game built on the precise. The result of this is an unwatchable product that drones on, 4 yard play after 4 yard play with the "wildcat" still being considered edgy. You're a copycat league, trailing behind college football innovation by around 5 years.

All of this and we haven't even mentioned Roger Gooddell yet.  Your commissioner seems to view the rules and norms of punishment and investigatory best practices to be annoyances to his wish to pursue and punish at his whim. But he's very good at negotiation apparently, which is why your labor contract is head and shoulder's more owner friendly than any other sport.

You think this is a good thing but the result is that there's a level of distrust between the players and the league that permeates every thing you do, every decision you make and taints every so-called "player friendly" action you take.

That you're mostly a bunch of unlikable sots only adds to the dysfunction. Every community outreach, charitable event that you hold feels forced, like you're only catering to the fans suddenly because you feel the need to after years of ignoring them.

The problem, NFL, is that many of us have decided that it's past time for us to start ignoring you.

I, for one, am finding better things to do on my Sundays, and I'm noticing that my life is no less fulfilled without you in it than it was when I was watching.

That should worry you, but I know it won't as long as the money is coming in and the taxpayers are still willing to be fleeced for Multi-Billion dollar shrines to your glory.

By the time you do worry it will probably be too late.  It might already be. (for you)


Monday, December 4, 2017

College Football: Bowl Hits and Misses.

40(!!!) Bowl Games. (Not counting the Championship Game)

If we're being honest that's about 10 too many. Despite this, there were three teams that obtained bowl eligibility but whose seasons are over.  Sorry Buffalo, Western Michigan and UT-San Antonio. (To be fair, they should be allowed extra practices the same as other teams who are eligible AND going to a bowl. Unless you're in the CFP, those practices are the main perk in becoming bowl eligible)

As is always the case we have some duds, and we have some games that should be a ton of fun to watch.  Here's my ranking of the bottom 5 and top 5 of all the bowl games. Staring with the worst.



***Note: I'm not saying these games are going to be BAD, only that the odds are they're going to suck. They could turn into instant classics and they sometimes do.***


40. Boca Raton Bowl:  FAU vs. Akron.

In a way you have to feel a little sorry for the folks running BR, the two teams they originally targeted were selected in front of them and they had to pivot to two conferences to which they had no ties and what we're stuck with is a dog of a game.

39.  Independence Bowl: Florida State vs. Southern Miss.

It's a Florida State team that had to reschedule UL-Monroe to keep their bowl streak alive, and playing with an interim coach to boot.  Meh.

38. Belk Bowl:  Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

A pedestrian Wake Forest team against an Aggie team with Jimbo just watching who took this game specifically to avoid playing UT-Austin in Houston.  Blech.

37. The Fiesta Bowl: Penn State vs. Washington

Two offensively challenged teams who both feature fairly decent defenses.  The final score could be 3-0. On the bright side: The mid-afternoon start time should allow for a Saturday nap.

36. The Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU

On paper this bowl isn't that bad but in reality we all know that this bowl is always the "Disappointment Bowl" as both teams are coming off of humiliating losses in their respective conference championship games.



The theoretical "best".

5. The Cotton Bowl: Ohio State vs. USC

JT Barrett vs. Sam Darnold.  Count me in.

4. The Liberty Bowl:  Memphis vs. Iowa State

A good matchup between a high-scoring Group of 5 team against everyone's underdog this year. Very interesting data point surrounding the relative strength of the American this year.

3. The Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon.

Herbert is back for Oregon, and Boise State has a history of showing up big against P5 opponents in bowl games.  Both teams should be motivated in this game. As a matter of fact, it's a good thing that Boise drew a Power 5 opponent or their game would have been in the bottom five.

2. The Birmingham Bowl:  Texas Tech vs. USF

These two teams could break the scoreboard. Neither really plays very good defense and offensively they both have the ability to score a TON of points. If you're a college football fan this game is must-watch TV.

1. The Peach Bowl: Auburn vs. UCF.

This is a good test for UCF against the runner-up in the SEC. Yes, the SEC was down this year, despite the fact that the CFP Committee decided to put two of their teams in the playoff, I think Auburn is a great matchup for the Knights. Offensively will Scott Frost be able to crack the Auburn code and can his defense do enough to stop the Tiger's power offense?  Easily the best of the NY 6 games.

The good news?  We have 42 games of FBS football left to play (Army/Navy y'all) and that's better than not having 42 games left.

The bad news?  We only have 42 games of FBS football left to play.


College Football: Nine Angry Old Men.

Nine Men.

That's all it takes to undo years of competitive messaging, send a firm message to teams that scheduling soft will be rewarded and make totally irrelevant the regular season.

Nine. Men.

And it's not just that Alabama beat out Ohio State for the fourth spot, and inclusion, in the College Football Playoff although that's what people will point to the most.  But the fact is that the decision between the two was a false choice between two horribly flawed teams, neither of whom probably deserved inclusion in the party.

But, by dropping Auburn below Washington, AND elevating Alabama AND dropping Miami behind Penn State the CFP committee has given the signal to teams that you are far better off scheduling soft (Alabama's strength of schedule was 57th) than you are scheduling tough (Imagine if Ohio State had played say...Mercer, instead of OU) or sitting home instead of playing in a championship game. (Penn State benefited from not playing, as did Alabama for that matter).

We've also been sent the message that rivalry weekend didn't matter at all.  The Crimson Tide looked outmatched, and were overran by Auburn, who ranked 7th in the final poll, they had no wins over a team in the final top ten and their best win was over No. 17 LSU, yet they got in.

The fact is that the best argument for Alabama was nothing that they themselves did, it was OSU's loss column.  The best argument against Alabama was their win column, and that one ugly loss to Auburn.

What we are, sort of, forgetting is that, in order to get Alabama in (the only team to be in all four years) the committee had to ignore all of their talking points from prior years.  Suddenly not playing in the championship game doesn't matter (to be fair, they did the same thing with Ohio State a few years back) nor does the now-mythical "body of work" argument that they used against Wisconsin and, to a greater extent, UCF all year.  Depends on whose body of work is being analyzed one guesses?

In fact, the biggest problem with the CFP is that it's showing itself to be nothing more than the B(C)S minus the lie of computer rankings and plus two teams. In short, it's a farce. A farce to ensure that the blue bloods of the world (Sorry Baylor and Oklahoma State) keep a stranglehold on the sport.

What the CFP IS NOT is a way to determine who the top four teams in the country in order to determine a National Champion.  The CFP IS an organ grinder, whose job is to focus your attention on the dancing monkey. Their job is to try and get the four biggest revenue generating teams possible into the dance, to ensure the blue-bloods have a hammer lock on the seats at the table. Their job is to be fluid in their requirements and rules so that no one can seriously question who the number 4 team in the country is in any given year.

In a way, it works, because I'm writing, and people are talking, about them despite the fact that, outside of the B1G and American, "Championship week" turned out to be a string of duds. Oklahoma destroyed an over-matched TCU team, Georgia thumped Auburn and Clemson utterly dominated a Miami team that had to kick a sad-field-goal just to not get blanked. Thank goodness that Ohio State and Wisconsin remembered to both play, and for the American which gave us the game of the year for the second week in a row.

Which brings us to UCF and the so-called "Group of 5".

Is UCF one of the "top 4" teams in the country?  No, I don't think so.

Does UCF deserve a shot at the crown?  Yes, I think they do.

But, they finished ranked number 10, which is just another data point in the argument that no matter what the best group of 5 team in the country does they are NEVER going to get to play in the CFP. While they have to schedule hard, the CFP has just told the Power 5 teams to schedule pillow soft.

They might want to sit out their conference championship games as well.

Finally: It is ironic that, during one of their worst seasons on record the CFP decided that the SEC was so dominant in the college football landscape that they were able to secure two slots.

That logic alone is enough for people to call for the entire committee to be relived of their duties.

College football is the best sport in the world and it is also one of the most poorly ran. (This excludes soccer, which is at a dysfunction level all it's own)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Open Letters: Dear UNLV, A small school rebuild is HARD.

Hello Rebels,

I know it hurts. Coming THIS close to a program-altering bowl bid and falling short by losing to your rival stings.  Many of you are angry, frustrated, wondering what can be done to right this ship and propel yourselves to Mountain West glory.  I understand, because I've seen this journey before.

But first, why I'm writing to you today.

You see, I'm a newly converted fan.

Granted, not a fan like I am a Michigan fan. As a matter of fact, if you played Michigan I'd be hoping that the Wolverines beat you by 40.  But against every other school in the country I'd be pulling for you.

Part of the reason is that I like your story, a school with little football success trying to build a program out of the nothingness of the desert in a town fueled by tourism and just starting to understand, and embrace, it's community.  In an effort to grow you've hired a local high-school legend to coach your team in what must feel, to some, like a last-ditch effort to save FBS football in your town.

In short, you're the Houston Cougars before Art Briles came to town. With, one major difference.


Location.

Houston is geographically advantaged in that they're in Texas. All they need do every year is recruit a 150 mile wide circle and they can compete in, and sometimes win, the American.  They can also grab enough talent to occasionally knock off the big boys.

You don't have that advantage, so you have to work a little harder.  So you scratch, and claw (my wife has dubbed you the Desert Rug Rats) and hope to build a winner.  And I think you can.  Because over the past 13 years that I've been a Vegas regular I've grown to like you, a lot. I think you have one of the better fields in the country (The Big Roulette Wheel) you have great uniforms, a good mascot and, until recently, a good logo.  You also represent my 2nd home town. Las Vegas. A city that I love probably even more than my actual home town of Houston.

And I don't just mean the casinos. I love the things that locals do, I've even been to a UNLV hockey game for chrissakes.  You are my new #2, team that is.

But there are some things we need to discuss.....

1. If not Sanchez, then who?

I realize that there are quite a few of you who are ready for Sanchez to go.  The losses to Air Force, BYU and especially Howard were hard to swallow. Top all of that off with a loss to Nevada - Reno and you had to be crying in your Mimosa on Sunday morning.

The problem with this is who would you hire that is a better fit? When Art Briles took over at Houston he went 7-6 then 3-8 and then 6-6 before he started his run that got him the Baylor job where he got all rape-enabling and was rightly drummed out of coaching. UNLV however is a different animal altogether. You've never been nationally ranked to end a season and you've only had 3 bowls in your history, we're not counting the forfeited 1984 California Bowl, and you've never won a bowl not played in Las Vegas. You have zero winning tradition and zero history to fall back on. To counter that you need a coach like Sanchez who does have a winning history at Bishop Gorman, and who knows how to win championships.


2. 5-7 is better than last year.

I realize it's not much, but the team has shown steady improvement over the last 3 years of Sanchez coaching them.  You were 2-11 in 2014, then Sanchez took over and you finished 3-9 in 2015 and then 4-8 in 2016 before finishing 5-7 in disappointing fashion this year.

But the point is, you believed. You believed, even after the Howard loss, and especially after the Fresno State win, that you belonged, that you were going to be bowl bound after all this time.  Remember though, you've only been playing football since 1968, many schools have title droughts longer than that.

3. For the first time, you have talent.

Armani Rogers is going to be a great quarterback for you and Lexington Thomas might just end up as the best running back in school history. Oh yeah, you're loaded at the WR position as well.  Yes, you need a serious talent upgrade on defense, and on the offensive line (hiring a new strength and conditioning coach, a better one, would do wonders) and your special teams are not, but there's a base there that could compete in the Mountain West provided the young players develop.

I, for one, like the idea of Andre Collins Jr. and Kendall Keys lining up on the outside next year with a host of options in the slot. And I really like the young talent on this defense, they just need to get stronger. I think you have the makings of a good season next year, and an improvement on your 3rd place divisional finish this year.


The thing to remember is that you're on pace.  Yes, it's hard being a fan of the Desert Rug Rats, and it's going to continue to be hard as long as you remain in a Group of Five conference. But that's life in college football today.

What I can say is that you're about to graduate to the big leagues when the Raider's new multi-Billion dollar play-pen is built and you are allowed to play there.

But, be careful with that.  Many teams have moved off of campus only to look back wistfully at their old digs.  I, for one, LOVE the Big Roulette Wheel and will be sad to see that field go. You're doing some great things embracing an emerging city culture, don't goof it up.


Go Rebs!!

Sincerely.

Cory

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Open Letters: Michigan, Go Blue!!

Hello Wolverines.

Yes, I'm one of your own.  Not a native son, I doodled around in High School and ended up attending a local Junior College and a school with no intercollegiate sports, but an adopted son. Whether or not you claim me is up to you.

I am a Wolverine fan. I have been since High School when I saw Bo Schembechler roaming the sidelines in his shades and big, burly offensive linemen plowing gigantic holes for running backs to gash through. A High School acquaintance of mine, who today would probably have no memory of me, attended there and the bond was sealed.  Jarrett Irons was one of the great Michigan linebackers of all time, and I had a couple of high-school classes with him.

Prior to adopting Michigan as my team I sort-of rooted for who my parents did. I was a (sort-of) Sooner fan because me father rooted for them and I was a (sort-of) Oklahoma State fan because my grandfather went there and played basketball for them under Iba. (Back when they were Oklahoma A&M).

I then dabbled in UH fandom, when I attended a university in their system, but I never could 100% get behind the Coogs because of my love for the Maize and Blue.  Add to that the fact that UH fans are..what's the word?.....interesting sorts, and I fell out of the pattern of rooting for them as quick as I fell in. As a sports free agent I settled back in with Michigan, knowing this was the pattern when UH went to the Big House and got walloped 50-3.  My UH fan friends were despondent, I was giddy.

All of this was before Appalachian State.

During that game I was sitting in an Austin bar watching everything unfold on TV.  I won't rehash it, we know what happened. Then a UT-Austin fan sitting next to me started screaming at me that I should "find a real team to root for" before he was ushered out of the bar by the biggest bouncer I have ever seen. The bartender apologized and gave me a free whiskey for my sorrows.

I married an Ohio State fan.  Which makes me somewhat odd among Michigan fans in that I don't hate Ohio State, I don't like them but I begrudgingly respect them, but instead reserve my rival vitriol for Sparty.  In fact, I've had way more intelligent (and friendly) sports conversations with Buckeye fans than I have with Sparty fans. I even get along with them.

Read into all of the above what you will.  I think my fan bonafides are solid but your mileage may vary.  But pulling for the Wolverines is one of the reasons writing this open letter was so difficult. It's much easier to pen an even-headed letter to a fan base when you're not a fan yourself.  When you are a fan, you need to ensure that the fog of disappointment has fully cleared.

So, here we are. Year 3 of the Harbaugh era and things are not progressing exactly as we hoped. Granted, the first year was pure job.  Harbaugh took a team that got progressively worse under Brady Hoke and went 10-3 with a Citrus Bowl win.  Next year he matched that record but lost the Orange Bowl.  Now this year, and we're sitting at 8-4 with a bowl coming that probably won't be what we want, and there's still the issue of losing all but one game in three seasons to Michigan State and Ohio State.

Now is not the time to panic. Now is certainly the time to take a few things into consideration however.


1. Year Four for Harbaugh will be key.

Don't listen to the Paul Finebaum's of the world, Harbaugh is doing just fine as Michigan's coach. Finebaum is a troll who's sole goal is to see the SEC dominate the football landscape. Harbaugh leaving Michigan would be bad for the B1G.  that said, if Coach Harbaugh doesn't improve on his 3rd and 4th place division finishes in year 4 it will be time to show some concern.

We're not paying Harbaugh to finish behind Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State, we're paying him to beat them, if not routinely then a majority of the time.  So what's happened so far is discouraging, but it's not a crisis.....yet.


2. We need a quarterback.

I would argue that Michigan's skill position players are as good as they ever were. On defense they might even be better. But the glaring hole for this team is the signal caller, and we're not sure if what's on the roster is the long-term fix.

I think we know what we have in Peters, but the unknown is Dylan McCafferey. IF McCafferey is the quarterback we all think he is things will be OK.  If he's not?  Then Peters had better develop because with Speight transferring to another school it's all in on the youth movement.


3. Recruit. Speed.

Harbaugh needs to continue along his path of recruiting fast, athletic players and big-guys on the lines.  It really is that simple.  He's rated high in the mythical recruiting rankings so far and he needs to keep that up and show results on the field.



I'm a believer in Harbaugh, even after year three.  I saw the holes in Rich Rod's game early, and I was never a huge fan of Brady Hoke, but Jim is one of ours, he's a Michigan Man through and through, a native son, not an adopted scoundrel like myself.

So, my advice to the Big Blue Nation is this:  Don't panic.

The program is in MUCH better shape now than it was 3 years ago, and it's infinitely better than it was 10 years ago, when Appalachian State happened.

What people forget however is that the Michigan team that lost to App State went on to finish 9-4 and win the Capitol One Bowl.

Their opponent?

The Tim Tebow led Florida Gators.

Go Blue!!

Sincerely,

Cory

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

College Football: The Problem with the College Football Playoff

Here we go again.

Another year another in a long list of confusing interim Top 6 rankings from a CFP committee that continues to re-write the rules week-to-week depending on how it thinks it can generate the most controversy.

And it's a sham.

We're constantly told that "body of work" is important with the "eye test" being used (by supposed experts who watch a 'lot' of college football) only to intervene in situations where it's close between two teams.  They say they have criteria, and then they toss them out the window when Auburn beats a pedestrian Alabama team.

Here's the current Top 6

1. Clemson
2. Auburn
3. Oklahoma
4. Wisconsin
5. Alabama
6. Georgia

How you can justify Auburn being in the top 2 is beyond me, especially when you consider that they've lost two games, one to Clemson and one to LSU.  I'm OK with Clemson at number one. Their loss was on the road to Syracuse on a Thursday night when their quarterback was out with injury.  That's an excuse, Auburn doesn't have one of those.

Granted, using the "eye test" Auburn looks pretty good right now.  They boat-raced Georgia right out of the building and they handily beat Alabama.  Those are two quality wins.

But Wisconsin is undefeated, and Oklahoma's one loss is better than Clemson's one loss. If we're going on "body of work" then how in the world can you justify placing UCF at 14?

In short, you can't.  Because UCF's win over USF is much better than Wisconsin's win over Michigan. Ohio State (at 10-2) has a better body or work than Alabama (who, to be honest, have beaten nobody very good this year) and Stanford coming in at 12 is just mind-boggling.

Were I to rank the teams it would be as follows:

1. Clemson - I have no beef with this.  As I said, they're the defending champions and their only loss has a ton of asterisks around it.  Clear number 1 in my mind.

2. Wisconsin - Again, undefeated is undefeated folks and that's hard to get around. In retrospect, the win over FAU is looking pretty good, and they do have wins over Michigan, Iowa and ranked Northwestern to crow about.

3. Oklahoma - I don't see really any other place for them. Their loss to Iowa State looks worse after Farmageddon, but Iowa State is still a bowl team and it was on the road. They also have quality wins over Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas (a bowl team) and TCU.

4. UCF - You should not underestimate what they've done this year. Wins over Maryland, Memphis, USF and Navy are quality wins. Discounting those is difficult to do.

5. Alabama - While I'm not a fan of the Tide this season, they have the "best" one-loss of the year is much better than any other team's one loss.  They fall behind OU because they really haven't beaten anyone really good.

6. Memphis - I know, I know, but their only loss is to UCF and they have quality wins over UCLA, Navy and a pretty good Houston team. Their one loss was to UCF by a lot, but they get a chance at revenge this Saturday.

A lot of the rankings come down to how you view the American.  I view them as the single best group of five conference and the gap is not small.  In fact, I would argue the gap between the Pac-12 (the lowest rated Power 5 conference in my estimation) and the American is very, very small.  Compare the resumes and Memphis and UCF are right in there with the big boys.  Plus, my agenda does not include keeping the Group of Five out of the playoff as the CFP committee's obviously does.

Can you leave the SEC champion out of the CFP?

Of course you can.  Especially when they're having a down year such as this one.

It won't happen though, and either Auburn, Georgia, Alabama or (stunningly) two of the three might get in should OU & Clemson both lose.

A big part of me hopes for that latter scenario, so people can see just how corrupt and stupid this entire system really is.  We're not better off right now than we were under the old bowl system, which I think we should go back to.

If for no other reasons than to restore the primacy of New Year's day.

Open Letters: Dear Houston, Dominating the American is going to be harder than you think.

Hello Coogs,

Year one of the Applewhite experience was interesting yes?

Of course, your stated goal of dominating the American Athletic Conference and gaining entry into the P5 seems to be just a little further off than you thought.  Not that you had a BAD season, quite the contrary, but it's not the domination that you envisioned when you moved to the (then) Big East with the hopes that you would be able to beat the USF's and UCF's of the world.

Again, I'm not a fan, nor am I inherently against you. I'm just a schmuck who blogs in the Houston area so I thought you might, or might not, want to read some initial thoughts from a local whose not either a UT-Austin, or aTm fan.

With that said, let's take a look at a few things.

1. The book is still out on Applewhite.

I don't think he did a BAD job coaching this year, but the question of why it took him and his team so long to realize that King should have been the guy at QB all along is puzzling.  With the offense you are running a mobile QB is almost a must, and neither Postma or Kyle Allen were never going to be those guys.  In fact, I hate to say this but Kyle Allen is not a good QB, and his starting at ALL was almost as bad as the Texans decision to start Savage over Watson.  It's fair to ask yourselves that question when looking at the season.

2. Those bad losses will haunt you.

Just like in the Herman era, the Cougars ability to pull a loss from the jaws of victory sting.  Losing to bad teams from Texas Tech, Tulsa and Tulane has to sting, and the inability of your defense to stop Memphis should sting even more.  At this point it's a good thing that early season game vs. UTSA was cancelled because you might have lost that as well.

This continues a recent trend of the Cougars winning bigger games that they're not supposed to win and losing games where they should dominate.  That has to be something Applewhite fixes going forward.  Memphis is a coin flip either way, they're a good team, but the other losses, had they been wins, might have placed you in a position to win the American and go to a New Year's 6 bowl game (again).  You're not in a position to miss out on opportunities such as that.

3. Let's talk talent.

You have some DUDES on this team Houston.  We all know about Oliver but Nick Thurman, Matthew Adams, Duke Catalon, Mulbah Car and your two WR's (Linell Bonnar and Steven Dunbar) are next-level talent guys.  You've basically wasted the Sr. season of the latter two, but with the others you still have a window (minus Adams) to achieve great heights.

There's no reason that a team with the type of talent Houston possesses should have 3-4 loss years. Except coaching.

Now, granted, this was Applewhite's first year and some things changed from the Herman program which is natural. I would have expected struggles in the first of the year (see: South Florida) but I would have expected the team to pick it up significantly by games 3 or 4.  This SHOULD have been a team that challenged for the AAC championship.  You might want to be more than a little concerned that it did not.

This is not to say that Applewhite isn't the right guy.  The truth is you don't know.  But I do think you'd be right to get worried after next year if the results stay the same. Also, if recruiting starts to fall off.  Still, give Major some time and see what happens.  You should be in contention for the AAC title almost every year.  You haven't really been there for two-years straight now, mainly due to bad losses to inferior teams.

You have a right to expect that.

Good luck in your bowl game.

Sincerely,

Cory



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Open Letters: Dear Texas A&M, About those expectations.

Hello Aggies,

Well, you've gone and done it. You've messed around and fired a coach who did the following:

Had a record of 51-26 (.662) as the coach of your football program.
NEVER had a sub .500 season.
Went to 5 bowls in five years and lost two of them.
Had players selected in the 1st round of the last six NFL drafts.
Had a player win your school's 2nd Heisman.

Granted, some of those wins and players (including the Heisman winner) were recruits of the last regime, and since Sumlin started playing a majority of his own players things seemed to stagnate at around 8-5. He also had difficulties winning games against a.) Conference opponents and b.) teams with winning records.

I say all of this to say "I get it". Sumlin had to go, at least you were more welcoming of him into your ranks than UT-Austin was of the first black coach in their history.

Of course, and I'm going to say this often in these little letters, I'm not a fan. Nor am I someone who really hates aTm and all things Aggie. I think Kyle Field is one of the best home-game advantage stadium in all of college football and I think your traditions, and the embracing of them, is good.  I think it's a little silly that UT-Austin is in your fight song, (which is really odd when you sing it and you're playing say....Ole Miss) and the whole #BTHO [Insert Team Name Here] seems excessive to me but overall you and I are on neutral terms.

That said, we need to talk about some things.

1. Beware the curse of Nebraska

Back in the olden days of college football, when Keith Jackson was still calling games and when players still sported half-shirts un-ironically on the field, Nebraska decided that they weren't getting what they wanted out of a coach and pulled the trigger on Frank Solich, who had just finished 9-3. We all know what happened next.

My worry is that you're doing the same thing here, that you've decided, despite facts, that Texas aTm is a Top 5 job and that you deserve a top-flight coach to get it done. It's more likely that you're going to end up with a string of Bill Callahan's and Bo Pellinis which won't get you where you want to be.

2. Too-high of expectations.

This is not going to be easy for you to hear, and some of you might react to it in a negative way, but let's just get it out in the open:  Texas A&M is not now, nor has it ever been, a Top 5 (or 10 to be honest) college football job.  Go ahead, repeat that to yourself several times, go outside and holler at the heavens.  I'll wait......

Back?  Good.  Now before you start sharpening Revile's fangs to come after me hear me out. I'm not saying that Texas aTm is a BAD job, only that's its not one of the top jobs in the country.  Yes, you have money and some resources and a sweet conference alignment, but you're at the middle-bottom of a division that features Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  All of those are top 10 locations. In my mind you're Mississippi State, the two programs are so similar it's startling.  And your expectations should be about there as well.

3. What should those expectations be?

Here it is simply: No worse that 7 wins annually, with a couple of years in every 5 year period that you finish with double digit wins and challenge for (and sometimes win) the SEC title, which puts you in the conversation for the CFP as it currently stands.

From that perspective, Sumlin failed because he never came close to the latter.

While not a bullet point I would also encourage you to talk to UT-Austin, revive your Friday after Thanksgiving series with them. I would also caution that a lot of coaches who were a good fit in other places might not be the best of fits in College Station given the culture you have developed.

Yes, I might include Jimbo Fisher in this list.

Good luck in your coaching search and in your upcoming bowl, should you decide to play in one.

Sincerely,

Cory

Monday, November 27, 2017

Open Letters: Dear Rice, What a mess.

Hello Owls,

That was quite the disappointing year eh? As a matter of fact it was so bad a very good man, but probably so-so football coach David Bailiff got shown the door.  He'd been your coach for 11 seasons, many of them pretty good and, to your credit, you didn't do the same thing that you did with good man, and also so-so football coach Ken Hatfield the time before.

You didn't hang onto him for too long.  Good on you.

Now comes the real problem, who are you going to hire next?

Houston wants you to be good.  Because Houston sports are much better when you are, and when you're going to bowl games and distracting the lot of us from sub-par Texans football in December. Houston can't take up all the slack alone (I've got some things to say to them later) so you need to step in and fill the gap sometimes.

I get it, Houston is a terrible college sports town. You feel like you toil and try and, especially in 2013, do some great things and nobody notices. That's true, but you still need to keep trying for the same reasons you keep getting your brains bashed in by UT-Austin.  Here are some things though that you need to consider.

First, I'll tell you the same thing that I told the Longhorns. I'm not a fan. Neither am I someone who roots against you. I live in Houston and write a sports blog, that's my only connection to you. Like the Longhorns when it comes to your athletics I am ambivalent.

1. This next hire is pretty important.

I've a feeling that whoever runs the program next could be the key to determining where you end up once the next round of realignment shakes out.  And, make no mistake, it's coming sooner rather than later. The age of the P5 is destined to fail under the new "CFP" system as is the myth that the so-called "Group of 5" teams have any chance of getting into the playoff.  Don't believe me? Look at UCF.  Once that happens there's going to be a sea-change in college football and where Rice stands in it.

2. Your resources, it's all about your resources.

Let's admit it, you don't prioritize college football nor should you. Rice is an academic institution first and foremost, one that just happens to participate in collegiate sports.  Even when your team was good and winning championships you had problems drawing fans to the games.  Some would say your ceiling should be that of Stanford, but that ignores the fact that the Cardinal place way more emphasis on sports as a front door to the university than do you.

3. Hire someone young.

I would suggest either a young, up and coming coordinator or a young head coach at the FCS level. I know you might be thinking of K.C. Keeler at Sam Houston, but at 58 he's not what I think you need. I'd take a look into Louisiana at McNeese State, Lance Guidry is a fine coach who had a down year but who might be able to bring some energy and excitement into your program. He's only making around $180,000 at McNeese so you should be able to offer him a half-a-Million.

4. If this doesn't work, you're going to have to consider FCS.

I realize that this is going to make you fairly angry but, if things don't turn around soon you might need to consider dropping to FCS for football and trying to get a decent conference affiliation for basketball only.  Rice in the Southland conference would be ideal, would lessen your travel budget, as well as your athletic-scholarship obligations.  Just something to think about, in case this C-USA, no-rival FBS thing starts to wear thin.



Whatever you do don't be tempted to stop the Bayou Bucket rivalry any time soon, as long as you're in the FBS. Playing Houston, and admitting they are your rival, is going to be a key step in generating interest in your program.  Why does Rice play Texas?  Because every once in a while they pull a massive upset.  Why does Rice play Houston?  Because they are rivals.

Here's hoping you get this hire right, to the 100 or so hard-core Rice football fans still out there.

Good luck in your coaching search.

Sincerely, 

Cory

Open Letters: Dear UT-Austin, Mack left a mess.

Hello Longhorns,

Rough year. Not at all what you were expecting.

After being ran over by Maryland your fighting Hermans rebounded against a pretty bad San Jose State team then proceeded to take you on a roller coaster ride for the rest of the year.

The USC game provided hope, as did good wins over Iowa State and Kansas State.  You came into the Red River Shootout Rivalry feeling pretty good about yourselves at 3-2 but then hit a rough patch with close losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in successive weeks. True, you beat Baylor and Kansas, but so did pretty much everyone else. You also had a good win against West Virginia which was book-ended by a loss to Texas Christian and a bad loss to Texas Tech.

The end result? 6-6 which is one measly game better than all but one of the Charlie Strong years. You're paying Tom Herman a lot of money to be better, and this season has to hurt a bit. I get that.

First off, I'm not a fan. Neither am I a 'hater' of your program. In fact, when it comes to UT-Austin Football the best way to describe my feelings toward you is ambivalent.

That said, I live in Texas, and you consider yourself to be Texas' "premier" football program so I think we need to talk.

Mack Brown left the program in shambles.

I realize that this is not what you want to hear right now but it's true.  What Charlie Strong inherited was a dysfunctional, disorganized pile of dung with talent deficiencies at key positions due to questionable recruiting decisions by coaching, odd business decisions by the old leadership, and a proud program that needs to look in the mirror and realize that the long road back to championship glory is going to require some needed changes.

1. It's time to let the Longhorn Network die.

I realize that this was viewed as your salvation and that it's pumped a lot of money into your program but right now it's still a laughingstock and it's prevented the Big XII (X) Conference from pursuing any meaningful network. It's also estranged you from the rest of the FBS and has lessened your attractiveness for any new conference.  Your current administration needs to return to the bargaining table with ESPN, admit failure, and move on.  Maybe next time you'll remember to include your conference partners in any TV deal?

2. Talk to Texas A&M.

I realize there's a ton of sore feelings there but last Friday we all looked at the football schedule with a gaping hole in our hearts that the annual game between you two was dead, and has been for several years.  UT-Austin needs to play Texas A&M annually in the same way Georgia plays Georgia Tech.  And the game needs to be on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

3. Give Herman some time.

I realize that you're impatient. That you want to win and you want to win NOW.  But there are some serious talent holes that need to be filled, especially at WR, Oline, DLine, and QB and those will take more than one recruiting class to fill.  I think Herman will win there, but I don't think it's going to be a sudden turn like he did at UH. Part of the reason for this is that UH had excellent talent for him to work with.


Here's the thing Texas, even though a lot of people dislike you most of them WANT you to be good.  Because the Big XII(X), and college football in general, are better products when UT-Austin and OU are both playing at a high level.  We all want the Red River Shootout Rivalry to be meaningful, and we really do want you competing for the Big XII(X) title.

The only thing holding you back.......is you.

Enjoy the Texas Bowl.

Sincerely,

Cory

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Week 12 FIVE: Not this week

Sometimes, real life intrudes.

This is one of those weeks as I'm spending a lot more time on the road traveling for business than I would prefer.

As a result the FIVE is taking another week off.  I went 2-3 last week, which was a bummer because I felt really good about all five games.

One thing we do know about this college football season is that we really don't know much at all.

That said, this week is an AWFUL week for college football.  There's literally no game that I consider "must watch" as the SEC is giving us their annual "play a patsy" week and the teams that aren't are playing the bad teams.  The ACC isn't much better, while the Big XII has a couple of mid-card matchups of interest and we MIGHT find out something about Wisconsin.

Were I going to make some plays this week it might be these.....

UAB @ Florida (-11) (No Total Yet)

Florida has fallen apart and UAB is not THAT bad for a group of 5 team returning to the game after a two year hiatus where they shut their program down because the parent school in Tuscaloosa basically torpedoed them.  Pick: UAB to cover +11


Army @ North Texas (-3) (No Total Yet)

It's hard to believe that the oddsmakers and public haven't yet caught up to Army being really good but here we are.  North Texas is pretty good as well, but do you really feel comfortable saying the Mean Green will beat the Black Knights?  I don't.  Pick: Army to win on the M/L

UNLV @ New Mexico (-1) (No Total Yet)

All year I've been banging the drum for UNLV, but it's time to jump off the bandwagon.  They have a good QB, RB and.....not much else. The defense is atrocious and should struggle against the Lobo's triple option. Sorry Desert Rug Rats, but you've lost me.  Pick: New Mexico to cover -1.


And finally.....


Michigan @ Wisconsin (-8) (No Total Yet)

I've been mum on my Wolverines for the last couple of weeks and I think it's time to address some things.  First, the defense is still pretty good, but they've shown that they can tire and be ran over. 2. Harbaugh is still struggling to win big conference games. That's a problem he needs to address. 3. NO his job is not, nor should it be, in jeopardy.  The program is in much better shape now than it was at any point in the last 10 years.  We just need a QB to emerge,  That said I'm afraid that Wisconsin is the real deal and Michigan is going to have some issues with them.  I think the Badgers are underrated on defense and despite the fact that Michigan has shown an offensive pulse since making the QB change, this is too tall a hill to climb. All that said, hope springs eternal.  Pick: Michigan to cover +8


Enjoy the games or, if you're a more level headed person, go watch some college basketball instead.  The two ESPN games on tonight might be a good place to start.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Week 11 FIVE: Quickly.

Win, Lose or Draw (usually lose) the FIVE continues to chug along.

Last week though was a winner (3-2) which raises our overall record to 16-22-2 such that it is.

I have a new slate of games to get to this week so let's get to it.

1. Duke (-3) @ Army. T: 48

I'm a big believer in the Black Knights this year and Duke seems to be struggling since they got broken by Miami. This is one of those where everyone might think Army is the better team, but the betting is going to go the way of the Blue Devils. Take advantage of that. Pick: Army to win on the M/L

2. Arkansas @ LSU (-17) T: 56.5

Yes, I know that Arkansas has looked like crap of late but LSU is coming off of Alabama and teams the week after playing Bama are.....not good.  Pick: Arkansas to cover -17

3. Florida @ South Carolina (-7) T: 45.5

Speaking of broken, have you seen the Gators of late?  Pick: South Carolina to cover -7.

4. Michigan State @ Ohio State (-15.5) T: 55.5

The easy play is that a pissed off Ohio State team is going to come out and whup up on Sparty at home.  The problem with that thinking?  1. I don't think Ohio State is that good and 2. I don't think Sparty is that bad. Pick: Michigan State to cover +15.5

5. Washington State (-1) @ Utah.  T: 52

Utah has questions as to whether it can score and who knows what Wazzu is these days, both of these teams seem different on the road vs. at home.  Utah looked great last week and that's hard to get out of my mind.  Look at Wazzu's last two road games.  Yuck.  Pick: Utah to win on the M/L.

I'll try to do a full write up of what promises to be a really great weekend of football tomorrow.

Maybe, the schedule she be pretty full right now.

Good luck and enjoy the games.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Houston Texans: Welcome to the disaster.

The Houston Texans are talking Kaepernick which tells you just far off the rails this team has gone.

As an admitted fan of the 49ers I've always been sympathetic to Collin. He got caught up in a dysfunctional team environment and then cast aside by a 2nd generation head coach who didn't want to deal with the drama.

Yes, he's a polarizing figure, much of that he brings onto himself in tandem with his activist girlfriend.  And yes, there are big (huge) questions regarding whether or not he can actually still play to the level he did during the Super Bowl run. But the issues with Kaepernick's protests are overblown and have become politicized to the point that the original intent has been washed away in a wave of psuedo-patriotism.

Ignoring all of that, were I the Texans I would give him a tryout.

'I'll boycott!!' you say?  I would argue that most of the fans who would abandon the team over that have left already and that's a small sub-set of fans anyway.

MOST fans just want their team to win. To feel like they're a part of something that's successful on Sundays.  And that's what fandom is really all about. Winning makes people feel good. They like it. Losing makes them feel like, well.....losers.

It's ridiculous and silly and it's all about being a fan.

For 49ers, and Texans, fans of late that's been a real hard thing.

At least the 49ers seem to have a plan for turning it around.  For the Houston Texans things have never seemed more dire.  You have an owner who isn't serious about winning, might possibly be slightly addled and is known more for his poor word choice than anything else. You have a general manager who might be the sucker at any table he sits down at, and a head coach who is irascible, foul mouthed and seemingly not very good at coaching the game of tackle football unless a gift from the God's is playing at QB.

But even WITH Watson the Texans record was 3 & 4 1/2. With three of those losses squarely falling on the shoulders of the Chin.  Whether as a result of bad game-planning or overly conservative play-calling it's apparent that BoB is in well over his head, and the team is destined to be 9-7, 8-8 or (more likely) worse with him in charge.

Here's the problem.  From top to bottom this is not a franchise that is built to win. It starts at the top, incompetent management who can evaluate talent in the first round, but which is splotchy in its track record in the subsequent rounds. The result of this is a roster with more holes than Mayor Turner's tax increase defense and no plan to address it.  Do YOU have any faith the Texans brain trust can draft its way out of this mess?

There are stars on the Texans, and a bunch of guys. The problem is most of the 'guys' are just that. Not players, not performers, but guys, roster spot fillers who would be camp bodies for good NFL teams, but who start for the Texans.  I'm not going to call anyone out, you (and they) know who they are.

After losing Sunday to the hapless Colts, one struggles to find a future game on the roster where the Texans could reasonably be favorites.

Well, except for my 49ers of course.  But 4-12 is now more of a possibility than is 9-7 and don't even think about 10-6. Such a thing for O'Brien is unpossible.

Maybe he can tell us again about his AFC Championships. THAT should do it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Astros: 2017 World Series Champions!!!

40 years.


That's how long I've been a fan of the Houston Astros.  I was five when my infatuation with the team started.

Back then it was all about Enos Cabell, Jose Cruz, J.R. Richard and Terry Puhl.  Then Nolan Ryan came on board and it all clicked. Through the years of Dickie Thon, Bob Knepper, Phil Garner, Kevin Bass, Bill Doran, Kevin Bass, Mike Scott and Denny Walling followed by Glen Davis, Jim Deshais, frumpy old Charlier Kerfeld and the magical 1986 team with the no-hitter.

After that some leaner years, with great (to me) players though. Billy Hatcher and Gerald Young, some young buck named Ken Caminiti, Buddy Bell, Danny Darwin and a young catcher named Craig Biggio. The dawn of the 90's brought us Larry Anderson, one of the pivotal players in franchise history and Casey Candele, the original 'everyman's' player.

But the trade of Larry Anderson (one of the games all-time great characters and funny-men) brought the Astros one Jeff Bagwell and we were off. Pete Harnish and Tony Eusebio joined the fold, each to play key roles in the development of the team. Daryl Kyle and Shane Reynolds joined the pitching staff along with Doug Drabek.  Eric Anthony joined the team and hit one of the longest home runs I've ever personally seen.

The mid-90's brought terrible uniforms, and Steve Finley and Luis Gonzales. Plus, a labor strike. (And Bagwell's only MVP.) Those were fun times. Derek Bell made his appearances as did Billy Wagner (Enter Sandman), The bulldog Mike Hampton and the debut of Bobby Abreu.

The late 90's brought us Sean Berry, Tim Bogar, Richard Hidalgo and the late, great Jose Lima.  And then the Grand Randy Johnson experiment.  Which was brilliant but fell just short.  Into the late 90's and early 2000's Lance Berkman, the Big Puma, started his rise to local hero fame. Carl Everette and Bill Spires were also mainstays of those teams. Teams that consistently finished either 2nd or 1st in the NL Central, but could never knock down the World Series door.

The 2000's ushered in the Ballpark at Union Station, also known as Enron Field. It also saw Moises Alou added to the roster, who may, or may not, have peed on his hands for grip, and flame-throwing, but out of control, Scott Elarton, and a cup-of-coffee by Dwight Gooden, who threw the first pitch ever at Enron in an exhibition game. I missed that first pitch, and the entire first inning, because the Metro bus driver from our park and ride got lost.

These early 2000's teams were good. Roy Oswalt was the ace and the offenses were stout. Brad Ausmus became the catcher and then-local sports columnist Richard Justice fell in love with him. Morgan Ensberg would be clutch from time to time and light-hitting Adam Everett was never the star they wanted him to be.

In 2003 the Astros spent a lot of money, for them, to sign Jeff Kent. He solidified the hot-corner and provided depth behind the "Killer B's" of Biggio, Bagwell and Berkman. In 2004 it all clicked. The Astros traded for Carlos Beltran before the trade deadline and he went on to have one of the best post-seasons of any player, ever. Oh yeah, they also signed Roger Clemons and Andy Pettitte to deals, this was a good team. There was trouble brewing however when closer Brad Lidge gave up a homerun in the NLCS to Albert Pujols that is still flying somewhere today.

But they ran into a juggernaut that year in the form of the Chicago White Sox, who swept them in four.  At that time we didn't care however, because we knew that big things were ahead for this team. How wrong we were.

The next year saw the loss of Billy Wagner, the signing of Chad Qualls and Wandy Rodriguez, and the beginning of a slide. 2006 saw the departure of Jeff Bagwell and Andy Pettitte, and the deepening of the slide.  By 2008 this was Lance Berkman's team. Carlos Lee was the 2nd star, but the Clemens and Biggio's and Bagwell's were gone. Hunter Pence showed promise, and Miguel Tejada had an all-star year, but the team finished 3rd. In 2009 the Astros signed Pudge Rodriguez, and finished fifth, things were coming off the rails, yet team owner Drayton McLane refused to acknowledge the team needed a rebuild. The City had fallen out of love with the team it once adored. 2009 was awful, the team finished 4th in the division and only Michael Bourn made the All-Star game, as the "has to be one" Astro representative.

After 2011 the team was sold. Jim Crane came in, inheriting a team that had lost 106 games and finished last in the NL Central.  2012 was last time the Astros would play in that division, and they finished dead last again, with 107 losses. One bright note, Jose Altuve was the team's All-Star game representative.

2013 saw the beginning of the rebuild. Dallas Keuchel was a rookie, Altuve was in a Sophomore slump but Jason Castro showed some promise.  The team lost 111 games. In 2014 though there was improvement. The Astros only lost 92 games, George Springer made his rookie debut, Altuve returned to All-Star form and Marwin Gonzales started playing better. The team had hope leading up to 2015.

As amazing as this sounds, the 2015 team led the Major Leagues in strike-outs, by a lot, and STILL made the wildcard game.  The team as we now know it was starting to come together as Carlos Correa, Brad Peacock, Luke Gregerson and Evan Gattis all joined the roster. The team made the playoffs, beat the Yankees in an exciting Wild Card game only to lose to the eventual Champion Kansas City Royals in heart breaking fashion. (The Astros blew a 3-1 lead before the Golden State Warriors did).  2016 was a year lost to injury and strikeouts, as the team decided it needed to go back to the drawing board to build a winner.

Enter 2017. And what just happened.

This team, this wonderful, outstanding, beautiful team that I've been following for my entire life just did what I thought was unthinkable.  All of the stars came together, the team signed Justin freaking Verlander, Alex Bregman became a star, Yuli Gurriel became a 33 year-old rookie, and Charlie Morton delivered 3 plus innings of some of the most clutch pitching I've ever seen.

It was a beautiful night, a marvelous night, a night that I never thought had any chance of happening.

But it did.

And right now I'm still not even sure it's really, really real.

Houston Astros: 2017 World Series Champions.


Thank you for giving this one Houston sports fan the sports moment of a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

College Football: The Week 10 FIVE

Last week, as advertised, I took a much-needed week off from the FIVE to visit Las Vegas and reset my compass.  Yes, I made some sports bets and no, I did not write about them. It was my annual "personal week" with the missus in Vegas and it did wonders.

We need to start this turnaround.

Sports betting is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are a ton of handicappers who will tout a "unbelievable" winning record over the short term but don't pay much attention to long-term. From the beginning I've said that I'm more concerned about the long-term than anything but I'm really going to need to start getting some stuff done if I want to hit my goal of 55% for the season.

To recap, I was 11-17-2 going into last week, which saw me go 2-3 which lowers my record to 13-20-2 for the season.  All I can say is I hope you're fading.

Previously I could point you to my "Bet the Rent" newsletter results to bolster my record but, sadly, last week the founder of that understandably decided it was no longer worth the effort he was putting into it and decided it needed to be shuttered.

Before I get into the picks I just want to thank Brian for the opportunity to write for him, albeit briefly.

Now, let's get back to the FIVE.....

1. Kansas State @ Texas Tech. (-3.5)  T: 63

My feeling has been that KSU head coach Bill Snyder has been given too much weight all year. His teams aren't near as good as they used to be and they DO, in fact, often make mistakes to beat themselves, especially on the road. I'm no fan of Kingsbury as a head coach, but he should win pretty easily here.  Pick: Texas Tech to cover -3.5

2. Maryland (-3) @ Rutgers. T: 50.5

Despite not looking horrendously awful at Michigan the fact remains that this is not a very good Rutgers team. Maryland has not been consistent this year but they do one thing well that Rutgers fails to stop.  They run the ball. They also have a good passing game. I think Rutgers struggles here. Pick: Maryland to cover -3

3. Iowa State @ West Virginia (-2)  T: 59.5

In case you haven't been watching, Iowa State is a good football team. They've shown the ability to handle spread offenses, while the Mountaineers have not looked good against better than average competition. (mild) upset here. Pick: Iowa State to win on the M/L

4. Army @ Air Force (-6.5)  T: 59.5

The Black Knights are bowl eligible. Let me repeat that, the Black Knights are bowl eligible. I also think there's a better than average chance they walk away with the Commander in Chief's trophy this year.  Air Force in Colorado will be tough though.  Pick: Army to cover +6.5

5. Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (-2.5)  T: 76

It just feels weird having Bedlam occur this early in the season, but I think that OU is still the better team and there's something about this rivalry that brings out the worst in the Cowboys. I still think the Sooners will be a CFP team so I can't pick against them here right?  Pick: OU to win on the M/L




Bonus game:

CMU @ WMU (-4)  T: 48

I've got a weakness for Tuesday and Wednesday Night college football.  And while I will be watching the World Series tonight I'll have this game up on TV2 just for kicks.  Western Michigan is still a very, very good team, but this is a rivalry game so anything can happen.  Pick: Over the total of 48.


Enjoy the games and have a great weekend.

Houston Astros: So much for fate.

It seemed the stars were perfectly aligned. Then the game happened. A game that was as much of a wet fart for Astros fans as the city itself. 

Were you caught in rush hour traffic?  It took me 2 1/2 hours to get home, on a drive that typically takes 45 minutes to an hour. Then the rains came, we found a roof leak, and the Astros lost.  As far as bad birthdays go this one ranks right up there with the time only one kid showed up to my bowling party on Halloween day. (In retrospect, not the best day to hold a birthday party)

Days like this are why I no longer celebrate my birthday.  Fate is bunk.

And the Astros are in deep trouble.

It's not that they can't win the game tonight, but that I'm afraid they won't.  Because Yu Darvish is taking the mound against them, a very good pitcher that had a very bad game a few nights ago, but who will have the entire Nation behind him because he was the epitome of class after the Yuli Gurriel situation. (On a related note: Rich Hill is a sanctimonious prick)

But to cast this story as "the good guy Dodgers versus the bad guy Astros" is way, way to simplistic.  Don't forget that that walking piece of human garbage Chase Utley is on the Dodgers roster as is Yasiel Puig, who can have fun, but is also a brooding, glowering sore loser when things don't go his way.  And the Astros have Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, two of the legitimately good guys in baseball.

It's never about "good versus evil" despite what fans will tell you, and despite the fact that I make jokes about it on various occasions.  It's about pitching versus hitting and I'm still worried that the Dodgers have more good of the former.

And that's a problem.

Because again the Astros bats went cold when they needed it most. They couldn't plate a single run with men on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, they went into a funk after that for four innings, in the 8th and 9th they went meekly, on around 20 pitches.

You never felt comfortable at 1-0 because you knew that Verlander is human.  A great pitcher no doubt, but human, and the Dodgers have a powerful lineup as well.  Taylor, Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Puig, Pederson is just as good as Springer, Bregman, Altuve, Correa, Gurriel, McCann, possibly better.

But here's the rub.  Morrow, Maeda and Jansen are much, much better than Morton, Gregerson and Giles.  Much, much, much better.

In game 7 the Dodgers give the ball to Darvish while the Astros place their hopes on Lance McCullers.  Unless the latter can miraculously do something that Verlander could not (Pitch 9 scoreless in a World Series elimination game) I'm afraid that the stage is going to prove to be too big, too soon for these baby Astros.

I hope I'm wrong.

Go Astros.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Houston Astros: For Your Consideration.

Tonight is Game Six of the 2017 World Series.

The Houston Astros have a 3-2 Series lead on the LA Dodgers.

The Astros will be giving the ball to Justin Verlander in an attempt to close the Series out.

Verlander wears jersey number 35 for the Astros.

35 years ago I saw my first live baseball game in the Houston Astrodome.

The original name of the Astros was the Colt 45's.

Today is my 45th Birthday.




I think this goes without saying but I'll say it anyway:





GO ASTROS!!!!!!




(as an aside, this post is my 1,500th on this blog. Not related to the game in any way but hey)





Wednesday, October 18, 2017

College Football: The Week 8 FIVE

First: Some housekeeping.

There will be no FIVE next week.  I am taking a week off.

Now, for week 8 I'm including a pick  that is a sea change for me.  Over the past few years I've refrained from including the University of Houston in my picks because I was a graduate of the UH System.  My rule is to not include teams in my picks for which I have a rooting interest.  This means that Michigan, UNLV and Houston will not appear in the FIVE.

That changes this week because I watched Houston lose to Tulsa and I didn't care. Not that I was rooting for them to lose, I just didn't care that they did so.  Because of that I'm including their Thursday night game in this week's FIVE and will continue to include them if I believe the lines are correct.

Let's get to the games.

Standard Disclaimer: The lines are as accurate as I can get them at the time of publication. I pull my lines from the Westgate Superbook when available. If they are not available I use OddsShark. These may, or may not be games that I'm personally playing. You get what you pay for (the picks are free after all) and if you choose to follow an accountant from Houston in respect to game picks you might want to get some professional help.

1. Memphis @ Houston (-3) T: 60.5

On paper, Houston's 17-45 loss to Tulsa last week looks horrible. But the game was much closer than the score suggests and Tulsa is much better than their now 2-5 record suggests. That said, the Golden Hurricane are NOT among the top teams in the American while Memphis is. In fact, the only game that Memphis has lost is on the road to UCF, a team that I'm currently ranking at #10 in the country. Thursday night road games are notoriously tough on the visiting team, but I think this Memphis team is head and shoulders better than a Cougar team that seems to be reverting to Tony Levine form under Major Applewhite. Pick: Memphis to win on the M/L.

2. Air Force (-6) @ Nevada-Reno  T: 67.5

The problem for Air Force has been their schedule. They've been in tough against Michigan, Navy, New Mexico and San Diego State. They played a horrible half of football against the Desert Rug Rats before the latter tired and they pulled off the win (at home) against a UNLV team that I think is better than their record suggests. The problem for Nevada-Reno is that they are NOT a good football team. They only have a home win against a Hawai'i team that travels poorly. Blowout coming. Pick: Air Force to cover -6.

3. University of Central Florida (-7.5) @ Navy T: 66

I have UCF slotted at number 10 in my 2nd top 10 and I don't think their being there is a fluke. They won at Maryland, versus Memphis and they have a home win over a FIU team that we're finding out is pretty good. Navy barely beat Air Force at home, and lost to the only good team they played in Memphis.  UCF has one of the best offenses in college football, I foresee that being a central factor in this game. Pick: UCF to cover -7.5 (I think this number moves toward Navy in the coming days, patience could be a virtue here as you might get under a touchdown)

4. North Texas @ Florida Atlantic (-3.5) T: 65

In a match-up pitting the two first place teams in the C-USA I like the Mean Green's chances here. Florida Atlantic hasn't beaten anyone of note, while North Texas has already notched wins over UTSA and a surprisingly good UAB team. Seth Littrel doesn't get half of the press as Lane Kiffin, but he's likely the better coach, and has the better team, at this point in time. Pick: UNT to win on the M/L

5. Southern Miss @ Louisiana Tech (-2.5) T: 55.5

At the beginning of the season I was very high on the Bulldogs. I thought they had ample talent to win the C-USA and I still stand by that assessment. I thought Southern Miss was going to be hot garbage on the field and I was wrong there. They're not as bad as I thought.  If head coach Sonny Dykes can't pull this game out of his hat then he won't be long for LaTech. This is a must win for the Bulldogs if they want to stay in the conference mix. Pick: Louisiana Tech to cover -2.5



Unlike previous weeks, there's no Wednesday night #FunBelt action to divert your attention from either the baseball playoffs, or the snooze worthy NBA regular season (that said, get well soon Gordon Hayward!) so there's no bonus pick this week.

Enjoy the games.

BadSports: Last Night Astros fans were reminded of a horrible truth.

In sports and life, Evil. Always wins.

When Aaron Judge launched a ball into the seats at Yankee Stadium and A.J. Finch overreacted by pulling his starter (who had, up until then performed admirably) from the game you knew this was not going to end well.

Up until that point Lance McCullers had performed admirably. His curve ball was working, he was placing his fastball, everything was going OK until one bad pitch, a hanging curve to new-media-darling Aaron Judge, and it all started to come undone.  To copy an old saying "Judge hit that ball so hard it should have had a flight attendant on it serving drinks".

But that should have been OK.  Because all six-foot seven inches of Aaron Judge does that. He hits home runs.  And that particular home run was at the best possible time because the bases were empty, the Yankees were still down 4-1 in the 7th inning and I've a feeling McCullers would have had the gumption, and stuff, to close out the inning and turn the ball over to the bullpen to close out the 8th and 9th innings without the stress of men on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out. But it didn't happen that way.

Because Evil.Always.Wins.

Whether it's the Yankees in baseball, the Patriots in the NFL, the Warriors in the NBA, Chelsea in the Premier League, Alabama in college football or Kentucky in NCAA basketball evil reigns supreme.

Yes, there is a year when the plucky upstart rises above adversity and plucks the crown from the King, we've seen that recently with the Cubs, Cleveland, Villanova, Leicester City but eventually the sea finds its level and evil returns to the throne.

I've often heard people ask why the WWE is so popular, despite being scripted and generally un-PC. At heart it's because they understand that while good must constantly struggle, their wins can only be fleeting and temporary before they come crashing down in the inevitability of darkness.

Leicester City had a magical run to the top of the Premier League Table two years back, they've been languishing near the relegation zone ever since. The Cubs broke the curse of the Billy Goat, and are in the process of being dismantled by the mercenary band masquerading as the LA Dodgers. Villanova won, but Louisville rode Rick Pitino's wealthy coattails to power, and now Kentucky is taking over the throne. Clemson won last year, but Alabama is right back at it running rough-shod over a shoddy SEC while looking all the world like world beaters. If they can't do it the only slightly less evil Ohio State Buckeyes will usurp the crown.

That's just sports y'all.  And life.

Evil.Always.Wins.

Which is why heading into today I have little faith in the Astros ability to pull a win out of this series, but a ton of hope.  Because historic victories over evil have always occurred when one man stood in the breach and said enough!  That man tomorrow afternoon will be one Dallas Kuechel.

Evil.Always.Wins.

Until they don't.

Go Astros.

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