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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pac-12 Football Week One Mini-Preview

Ah, the 100th year of the Pac-12. Except it isn't. The Pacific Coast Conference, which formed in 1915, was dissolved in 1959 due to scandal (shockingly, athletes were paid) and reformed with fewer members under a completely different name. Oregon and Oregon State were charter members of the PCC but weren't allowed to join the Athletic Association of Western Universities until 1964, meaning the Ducks and Beavers were independents for five years- and played all their former rivals anyway.

That deserves a separate post. We're here to capsule-preview Pac-12 football, so that's what's up.


Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes, 6:30pm Mountain, Fox Sports 1

Are there any good storylines for this game? Look, the Wolverines won't make the Final Four, but they'll be out to prove something in Captain Harbaugh's first season. Michigan is the story coming into this game, but Utah will be the story coming out of it. They're better than you think.

Texas San-Antonio Roadrunners at #22 Arizona Wildcats, 7pm Pacific, Pac-12 Network

The Wildcats get no love. Only team to beat Oregon in the regular season? Got an at-large Big Six bowl bid? Returning plenty of guys and they're ranked lower than a Stanford team that disappointed everybody last year? I don't get it.

Colorado Buffaloes at Hawaii Rainbows, 7pm Hawaiian, CBS Sports Network

These teams were terrible last year and the game they played was no different. I don't expect Colorado to be great before President Kanye takes office, if at all, but it would be nice if they showed signs of not being a doormat.


Weber State Wildcats at Oregon State Beavers, 5pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Oregon State lost the best QB in conference history (Sean Mannion's record for passing yards might not last very long, but he has it) and the nicest head coach in college football (Mike Riley to Nebraska, and I'm not kidding). And even with that last year, they were terrible. New head coach Gary Andersen has already announced he's going with a two-quarterback platoon to start the year. This is not a good sign.

I'm excited... to be hung in effigy in two cities!

Washington Huskies at #23 Boise State Broncos, 8:15pm MT, ESPN

Just another small game on the schedule for the guy who made Boise State relevant nationally. Chris Petersen was the man in Idaho, now he's trying to make the Dawgs do the same. He wishes he could go back in time and not schedule this game. I don't. Boise State might win this by 30.


#21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats, 11am Central, ESPN

Nerd Bowl alert! I'm not buying Stanford until Kevin Hogan is gone, but there's no way they should lose to Northwestern. Also if you are excited to be indoors watching this game on Labor Day Weekend you better be a graduate of both schools.

Portland State Vikings at Washington State Cougars, 11am PT, Pac-12 Network

Any excuse is a good excuse to watch Mike Leach's quarterbacks throw for 500 yards. Unless there's a kickoff before noon against a questionable I-AA team on Labor Day Weekend. So maybe next week this Wazzu will be worth watching.

Virginia Cavaliers at #13 UCLA Bruins, 12:30pm PT, Fox

The Bruins should have lost to Virgina last year and their QB situation is murky. They might be the worst 10-game winning team around. The first upset alert of the year.
High-stepping awesomeness.

Grambling Tigers at Cal Bears, 2pm PT, Pac-12 Network

There are few better places to be than Strawberry Canyon on a September weekend. The Grambling band will perform at halftime, that's worth the price of admission alone.

#15 Arizona State Sun Devils vs Texas A&M Aggies in Houston, 6pm Central, ESPN

The Pac-12 marquee game of the weekend. The Aggies have the home crowd advantage but the Sun Devils are good. I see a close game and ASU doing something stupid to lose it at the end.

Eastern Washington Eagles at #7 Oregon Ducks, 5pm PT, Pac-12 Network

For complete Oregon coverage throughout the year, visit AutzenZoo.com, of which I am a featured contributor (aka, I write stuff there too).

Arkansas State Fighting Clintons at #8 USC Trojans, 8pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The Trojans should be pretty good this season. But we won't learn anything about them this week. 

Overall impressions:

Eight wins by conference is very likely, ten would be great. Best chances to lose: Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, Colorado, Wazzu (just because) and Oregon State. That's right, I don't think Utah will lose.

photos courtesy: Pac-12.com, mynorthwest.com, chron.com


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kansas Jayhawks Football: Eight Is Enough

Beaty on the beat

When David Beaty opens the Kansas Jayhawks football season on September 5th against South Dakota State (11 AM Central Time), KU football will have had eight full-time head coaches since 1983.

KU men’s hoops has had eight full-time head coaches, period.

The last time both KU football and basketball started a season with new leaders was 1983, so that’s why I picked that year as the demarcation line. The new hoops coach that year was Larry Brown. The new football coach that year was Mark Gottfried.

Since Brown, the hoops head coaches have been Roy Williams (’88-‘03) and Bill Self (’03-until he dies).

After Gottfried, the football head coaches have been:

Bob Valsente (’86-’87), Glen Mason (’88-’96), (a common chant at the time: “Hooray for Glen! Hooray for Glen! Hooray for Glen he’s a horses @$$!”) Terry Allen (’97-’01), Mark Mangino (’02-’09), (letter to Jim Rome: “I’m glad Mark Mangino got fired. Sincerely, the buffet.”) Turner Gill (’10-’11), Charlie Weis (’12-14), and now Beaty. If you add the interim coaches- Tom Hayes in ’01 and Clint Bowen last year- KU football has had ten head coaches since ’83, or two more than the basketball team has had since before there were airplanes.    

I wanted Bowen to be the full-time head man, and said so as much last year. What’s great to hear is that Beaty was going to come to Kansas even if Bowen was made head coach and he would just be the offensive coordinator. That confirmed to me, and hopefully everybody invested in KU football, that Bowen is really, really good.

What it also should tell everybody is that Beaty will do everything in his power to turn this program around. It certainly helps that he and Bowen are buddies and are thinking the same way about KU football.

Really, there’s nowhere to go but up. There has been nowhere to go but up ever since it bottomed out in the Turner Gill era and continued scraping along during Charlie Weis’ two-plus years. Bowen was the jolt the team needed last season, and if Beaty does nothing but keep the team at that level for an entire season, it will be an improvement.

Beaty and Bowen promise that KU football is a sleeping giant. If those guys can’t make the program rise then the blame can be laid squarely on the university. If Kansas has to go get another football coach before they have to get another new basketball coach, then they might as well forget about fielding a football team.

Eight coaches in thirty-two years ought to be proof enough of that.

photo courtesy: kusports.com

Monday, July 27, 2015

San Francisco Giants: If Anyone Gets Traded, It's Brandon Belt

Looking over his shoulder, how apt.
With the clock ticking until the MLB trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants should be willing to give up only one major piece of the team, and that’s Brandon Belt.

I am one of many who have pulled for the Baby Giraffe since day one. I felt he was shoddily treated his early years in the big leagues, getting shuttled from the big club to the minors and back again on a seemingly regular basis. Then, was he a first baseman or a left fielder? That question, astoundingly, continues to play out. Belt has already played eleven games in left this season, two years after he played a full season at first (injuries kept him on the shelf most of last season. Though he did return to be a big difference in the post-season. You may recall the 18th inning in Washington during the NLCS).

You know why he’s been playing left field. It’s the same reason he should be the only Giant moved by the trade deadline. The reason is: Buster Posey.

There’s a sub-reason for this as well: Andrew Susac.

Posey is a better hitter when he’s not catching. It’s not a theory, it’s statistically backed.

But he’s a phenomenal defensive catcher. The Giants couldn’t consider moving Posey to first base until there was a good option at catcher.

Susac has proved to be that good catcher. I’m a bit biased towards Susac, having covered him when he played college ball for the Oregon State Beavers. Susac was one of the top players on OSU during those years. When the Giants drafted him it seemed like it would be an excellent fit. And it has been.

Susac played in just 29 games last season, his rookie campaign. This year, he’s already started 29 games at catcher and played in 41. The issue is that sliding into third base not long ago he sprained his thumb, and he’s now on the 15-day disabled list.

Might the Giants be hesitant to trade Belt because of Susac’s injury? Maybe, but probably not. Guys can get hurt any day, not just ten days before the trade deadline. Hector Sanchez, currently the Giants third catcher, isn’t exactly a bad backup himself.

With Susac, Posey, and Belt competing for two positions, the options are these:
  1. Move Belt permanently to left field. Then Posey is at first and Susac becomes the catcher. But Belt would be frustrated (although he wouldn’t say anything publicly). And it would cause friction in the clubhouse, because Belt hasn’t done anything wrong to lose his first base job. Resentment is not the sort of thing that will help the ballclub.
  2. Trade Susac. Then Sanchez is the adequate backup catcher, but nobody’s current idea of the “catcher-in-waiting.” Susac is a top backstop in the making, and to get rid of him would be incredibly short-sighted. Because the question is when Posey moves to first full-time, not if.
  3. Trade Posey. Then Susac is the starting catcher and Belt stays at first. This is obviously ludicrous.
  4. Trade Belt. Then Posey moves to first full-time and Susac becomes the everyday catcher.
It might help the Baby Giraffe to be moved anyway. Sometimes it seems like he’s pressing, like he’s afraid his job will be taken away.

Well, he’s exactly right about that.

A trade gives Belt a chance to become an everyday first baseman somewhere else. Then he can mature into the tremendous power hitter that we know he can be without having to look over his shoulder wondering when Posey’s going to take his job.

Frankly, this has been the biggest shadow hovering over the Giants season. Those three guys know that a decision needs to be made. I don’t see Belt moving permanently to left field. So he’s the odd man out.

Best of luck, Baby Giraffe. 

Like it's a relay handoff. Only missing the baton.

photos courtesy: ftw.usatoday.com, sfbay.ca 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Improving NBA Draft and NBA Summer League At The Same Time

I have always wanted to form an NBA D-League team made up entirely of guys who didn't get drafted. I would guarantee a spot on my team for Division One's highest remaining scorer, rebounder, assist man and shot blocker, plus several other categories I can't think of right now. I would also sign the highest stat guys from D-II. I guarantee we would win the league every year.

I mentioned this to a top basketball friend of mine, and he suggested that it would be better to form a team of those guys in the NBA summer league, so that they got to show their chops before the season began and get a chance to make a roster. Then a better idea developed.

We came up with the idea that the NBA Draft is only the lottery- 15 teams.

Then all remaining players who declared for the draft are pooled up and put on various NBA Summer League teams. Since all the games are played in the same gyms, it would be easy for the league to provide room and board.

At the end of the summer league, the draft continues in order.

It would draw more interest to both events. A guy who wasn't given much of a chance before draft who kills it in summer league then becomes highly coveted in the second half of the draft. A guy who's a bad teammate drops down and maybe doesn't get drafted at all.

Either way, the cream rises to the top. Who flourishes with new teammates? Which small-college guy proves he's a leader and worthy of a draft spot? Who's shown to be a jerk?

Right now the teams don't know this until after they draft and sign a guy. This way everybody learns at the same time.

Imagine the intrigue. If you have the 4th pick in the lottery, would you rather keep that or would you rather trade "down" to draft the top summer league guy? Summer trading would be much more interesting.

Obviously this would involve changing the timing of free agency and stuff like that, but it would end up being more beneficial to everybody. The second half of the draft would be in mid- to late-July, providing a ratings spike in the dog days of summer and just before NFL and college football training camps begin, so the only real competition would be baseball.

This seems like a no-brainer.

After that, I'd still want to have my D-League team. They'd still win.

photo courtesy: nba.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Day the NBA Playoffs Ended 2015

A happy group that the playoffs are done
Nearly two months ago when the NBA Playoffs began, I posted a list of things that were going on or anticipated to happen. Several years ago, a group of us decided to keep a list like this every year because the NBA Playoffs are too damn long (just like the rent is too damn high). It's easy to forget how long it lasts because we get caught up in day-to-day stuff. But now that the Golden State Warriors are NBA Champions, it's time make you feel nostalgic for April (yes, really) with this year's follow-up list.

Playoffs begin April 18th
108th day of the year (257 left)

Playoffs end June 16th
167th day of the year (198 left)

It took 59 days for the playoffs to occur in their entirety.
Days until Apple Watch release (April 24th):
It's been 54 days since the Apple Watch was released. I have seen exactly one "in the wild" since then. Remember when you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about its impending release? Since then.... not much.

Days until NFL Draft (April 30th):
48 days since Famous Jameis Winston got drafted first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and future MVP and Super Bowl winning Marcus Mariota was picked second by the Tennessee Titans. Maybe we should be doing a new list, the length of Jameis' career. I kid, I kid. He'll wander around the league for years. That is, if the NFL still exists in 10 years.

Days until Kentucky Derby and Pacquiao/Mayweather (May 2nd):
46 days since American Pharoah began his history-making run and Mayweather won a strategically sound but ultimately unexciting bout. I didn't bother noting the day of the Belmont Stakes because when was the last time any horse won the Triple Crown? Oh yeah, it happened this year. I really hope that BOA, the co-creator of this list, got a couple of bucks for his efforts.

Days until David Letterman’s last show (May 20):
The last true late night talk show host has been retired for 28 days, exactly four weeks ago. Yet oftentimes I still think during a weekday, "I wonder who's on Dave tonight?" I've only been thinking it for oh, 30 years. It's a habit.

If you haven't seen the very end, take the time:

Days until summer begins:
7 days. It's a week until summer starts. Let that one sink in.

Days until 4th of July:
19 days until America's biggest holiday. Kind of cool that the playoffs began 76 days away, if you know anything about the American Revolution and stuff.

Days until Christmas:
192 shopping days left. Have you started? If you have, you're crazier than I thought you were.

Best team in MLB:
AL: Detroit Tigers, 9-2 
NL: New York Mets, 9-3

As of June 16:
NL: St. Louis Cardinals, 43-21
AL: Houston Astros, 38-28
Interesting coincidence that those two teams have the best records, isn't it?

FYI, the Tigers are now in 3rd place in the AL Central at 34-31 and the Mets are still leading the NL East at 36-30

Worst team in MLB:
Milwaukee Brewers, 2-9 

As of June 16:
Philadelphia Phillies, 22-44 (14 games behind the Mets)
The Brewers are still in last place in the NL Central at 24-42 (and were the first team to first their manager, Ron Roenicke, on May 3rd- 45 days ago).  

Top song on Billboard:  
Huh, the first thing that's not changed since April 18th on this list. However, it's not consecutive. This is the 9th week for this track at the top spot as Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" featuring Kendrick Lamar, the number two track, was number one for a bit in between during the time frame we're discussing.

Note: I have heard neither of these songs and have no idea what I'm talking about here. I might as well be trying to explain Harry Potter plots.

Top song on ITunes:  

Again: I have no idea what this is. I just know that somebody will see the "Uptown Funk" notation and say "Oh man, that song is so old." When it topped the charts less than 60 days ago.

Top grossing movie on April 18:
Fast and Furious 7

Jurassic World
And it's not even close.

Game of Thrones Season 5 episodes shown:
GoT showed episode 10 and ended Sunday, June 14th. So, apparently, did Jon Snow

Mad Men Final season episodes left:
My favorite drama series of the last decade ended on May 17th, 31 days before the NBA Playoffs did. Because I'm a slowpoke, I still haven't watched the final episodes. Actually, I have five to go, so that works out pretty well for me. 

Top “talker” stories:
Apple Watch pre-release

Jeb Bush, presidential candidate
Donald Trump, presidential candidate
Golden State Warriors, NBA champions
(In related news, Rolling Stone still publishes a print edition)
St. Louis Cardinals hack Houston Astros using techniques that Ferris Bueller would find primitive. Note to people: change your password- at minimum- when you change jobs.

Average U.S. gas price:
$2.446/gallon via fuelgaugereport.com


U.S. Temperature extremes (Farenheit):
94 at Death Valley, CA

10 at Buena Vista, CO

June 16th:
117 at Death Valley
35 at Stanley, ID, Orr, MN and Embarrass, MN
There's a town named Embarrass? How do I not remember seeing this on any of those lists?

High temperature in Tracy, CA


Finally, if you had put money on Andre Iguodala to win NBA Finals MVP on April 18th... you'd be rich.

photos courtesy: brunchnews.com, tatango.com, huffingtonpost.com

Thursday, May 28, 2015

San Francisco Giants: Two Third Basemen Enter, One Third Baseman Leaves

I didn't realize that when Casey McGehee accepted his demotion to Triple-A Sacramento from the San Francisco Giants that, well, he only kind of went.

According to the guy who knows these things, because McGehee said okay to the demotion, he becomes part of the 40-man roster and is available for immediate call-up if they need him. If he'd fought the assignment, his road back to the big leagues would have been much more difficult.

And let's face it, he knows he's in trouble. After winning comeback player of the year with the Florida Marlins last year, he's not come close to that form the first two months of the season. And it seems like every time that Matt Duffy has replaced him, he's torn the cover off the ball and fielded third base awfully well. Now Duffy is the third baseman and McGehee isn't.

Part of that reason is because of McGehee. In spring training, according to that same report, McGehee tutored Duffy at third and even made a point to talk to him after the demotion to say "This is baseball, guys get sent down every day. Don't feel bad for playing well."
"Hey, it's Duffman!"

Of course in the offseason the Giants had to go out and get a legit third baseman after Pablo Sandoval left. They couldn't have just handed the job to Duffy. But at the same time, they also clearly felt that Duffy was the heir apparent if McGehee struggled. Weirdly, McGehee made the decision easier because of the help he'd given Duffy.

So once again the Giants are handing over the starting job in the infield to another kid they hoped would eventually be the starter, just not this soon.

Hey, it worked out last year for Joe Panik.

photos courtesy: sfchronicle.com, aroundthefoghorn.com

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Indianapolis 500 And The Next Generation Of Auto Racing

I still enjoy watching the Indianapolis 500 (the 99th running is Sunday, May 24th, 1pm ET, ABC) but have been disappointed in recent years because the reason the 500 first came into existence- and all auto races, for that reason, has gone away. But there is a way for it to have a revival, and I have no idea why it hasn’t happened yet.

When cars were first being invented and developed, auto races drew huge crowds of enthusiastic spectators who were there because they’d never seen a car. (Same goes for early air shows.) But in addition to the regular folk, there were investors. Basically, auto races were mechanized versions of Shark Tank, except everybody showed their product at the same time. The winners got prize money as well as investors. Henry Ford, whose first auto company had failed, sunk pretty much all he had and won a prestigious Detroit auto race to create the FoMoCo that way. (The link is totally worth the 8:45 of your time.)

As cars and companies got better, the competition increased. The best way to back up a claim that your car was the sturdiest/fastest/most reliable was to win a race. The longer and the more involved, the better. At the time Indianapolis rivaled Detroit as the car capital of America. Both places were heavy manufacturing cities that made quality product and both were extensive rail hubs. It made sense that a big track would be built somewhere. Auto parts manufacturer Carl Fisher wanted the best track to be in Indianapolis, so he made it happen.

The Indianapolis Speedway was built precisely to be the best racing track in America- for anything. The first “race” at the speedway was a hot-air balloon trial. The first machine race was motorcycles. Fisher wanted it to be a proving ground for any motorized transport. The races got longer and longer. That a race eventually went 500 miles was inevitable. It proved that a car could run at speed, at high RPMs, fairly continuously for that amount of time and that many miles.

Auto races, and the 500 in particular, then became the place to test new innovations in cars. It’s well documented that the first rear-view mirror was on Ray Harroun’s Flying Wasp, the first winner of the 500 in 1911. He had it installed because he didn't have a riding mechanic like every other car in the race to see what the other cars were up to. Turbochargers, seatbelts, specialized tires, the list goes on. If it wasn’t invented for the 500, it was quite often perfected there. If it’s a mechanized part of your car, chances are it- or the manufacturer it comes from- came to prominence in Indianapolis.
See what's right above the #32 and in Harroun's sightline?
As the cars in the 500 got more and more specialized, factory-built racing gained a following as well. Take the car off the showroom floor and see what it can do. That, in addition to moonshiners, is how NASCAR got started. The phrase “Stock Car” is part of the acronym NASCAR, but that’s about the only stock part left in the circuit.

So now that races of all kinds are miles and miles removed from where they originated 100-plus years ago, why not return to the origin of races for the next generation of cars?

In other words; why is there not already a series of races exclusively involving electric cars? Why is there not already a series involving alternative-energy vehicles? If somebody wants to prove that the propane car is more feasible and better than an electric car, have them race each other in a controlled environment- you know, a racetrack- for 500 miles.

The innovation part is also due for a revival. Right now a Tesla battery can last about 250 miles. Wouldn’t a series of endurance races force the Tesla engineers to experiment in much better and more effective ways than wind tunnel tests and running a car up and down an abandoned airstrip? Google says they have an electric car, they’d like to think it’s better than a Tesla. Hell, Google wants to show that the driverless car is the way to go.
In the words of Jack Palance in Shane: Prove it. Have a regular Tesla race a Google driverless car for 500 miles. Like you wouldn’t watch that.

A series of alternative-energy vehicle races would also allow the small players to compete with the big boys. An entry fee is an entry fee. If you can pay it, you’ve got a team in the race. Like Indy 500s of years past, those races would speed up innovation and the public would again be the benefactor. Not to mention that many of those who question alternative-energy vehicles would be won over.

The next Henry Ford is right now making an alternative energy vehicle in her garage. She’s got ideas that will revolutionize the industry. But she can only afford to make a few prototypes. She needs that opportunity to get it out front of the public and find some Shark Tank-like investors. She needs a race that she can win. Which racetrack will give her- and the other inventors- the chance? Carl Fisher would be angry if it happened anywhere else but his place.

Oh, it's green because it's an electric race car. I get it now.
 photos courtesy: ims.com, vanderbiltcupraces.com, greencarreports.com