Archive for March, 2009

Contextualizing the Longhorns

March 30, 2009

Guru to the masses Malcolm Gladwell apparently has another soon-to-be bestseller hitting the shelves this summer, Context: History’s Kingmaker. Gladwell has written about Big 12 college football in the past, and his new book includes a chapter dedicated to the Colt McCoy era at Texas and exceeding expectations. Check out an excerpt at Burnt Orange Nation.

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Flip on the Football, You Bloodthirsty Conformists

March 27, 2009


“Marx was wrong: The opiate of the masses isn’t religion, but spectator sports.” Or so says David P. Barash, a psychology professor at the University of Washington.

Homerism couldn’t comprehend what the good doctor meant by this, so I went rooting around my Richard Marx album collection in search of the lyrics Barash was alluding to. Could have sworn that line was in the second verse of “Endless Summer Nights.”

Like Dick, though, I should’ve known better when dealing with a real life college professor. Turns out Dave was referencing some commie pinko named Karl. And, it turns out the professor wasn’t being too complimentary to us sports fans. (In fact, I think he just called us all pigs!)
When I figured this out, I was so mad that I almost clicked over to Extra Mustard to see if they had posted pictures of a new cheerleader of the week. But if my favorite movie Forrest Gump taught me anything, it’s that stupid is as stupid does. If this guy teaches college, I thought, maybe I should give him a listen. Boy, am I glad I did!
See, Dr. Barash explained that the reason I watch sports and root for the Sooners is because I need to have something in my life to make me feel proud. I don’t have anything like that of my own, so I trick myself into thinking I’m part of my favorite teams. That way, when the team does something good, it’s like I did it, too.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also learned that basically I’m scared of the world. I need to be part of a group to calm my overwhelming fear that I could be eaten by a lion. So, by becoming a part of a team, I’m killing two birds—one literal and one figurative—with one stone.
(Wait, I mean, I think I’m the one tossing the rock, even though it turns out that a bunch of other people are doing it for me.)
“But, Homerism,” some other naïve sports fan may say, “you can’t beat yourself up about this. You’re thinking too much.”
If you only knew! It turns out that sports fans, in effect, have caused the most atrocious bloodbaths in human history—World War II, Bosnia, Rwanda. You name it.
Here Homerism was, acting as if the reason I liked sports was because I enjoyed watching competition and the stories and dramas that unfold on the playing field. I had never stopped to think about how much different it was to watch a Kirosawa film or spend an afternoon at the Guggenheim. I never realized that I have all these issues that you wouldn’t find among Native American art buffs and opera lovers and Victorian literature aficionados.
Anyway, after reading this, I now realize that we’re once step closer to Judgment Day with the passing of every Ohio State-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas game. So, thank you, Dr. Barash. When the mushroom cloud comes, sports fans won’t be able to say you didn’t warn us.

(Then again, I’d be more interested in reading a book or taking a walk than watching Washington’s football team, too. Someone get this guy an opiate.)

ExcesSPN

March 20, 2009

I have an aunt who used to watch “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” every morning. She wasn’t interested in Regis Philbin’s rants or Martha Stewart recipes or interviews with Tom Selleck about his latest TV movie. She tuned in because she loved to hate Kathie Lee Gifford.

This space isn’t big enough to afford Homerism the opportunity to lay out the reasons behind my aunt’s near-pathological loathing for the woman who made third-world sweatshops a cause celebré. All in all, I think it was just the totality of the Oral Roberts University dropout’s being that drove my aunt up the wall. Listening to her spew invective at the TV screen from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., I always wondered why she would willingly engage in such an obviously irritating activity every weekday.
Reading the final column of ESPN’s outgoing ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, this week, I was reminded of my aunt’s daily Kathie Lee hate-athon. After receiving 30,000 pieces of correspondence from fed-up users/readers/viewers, Schreiber diagnosed consumers’ main complaint about the Worldwide Leader as a distaste for its tendency toward “excess.” 
Schreiber consistently has offered dead-on analysis and criticism during her two-year stint as ESPN’s internal gadfly. Homerism doesn’t need to see her clogged-up inbox to know she hit it out of the park with her last piece of advice to “tone it down.” Be it alleged bias toward teams or conferences, superstar burnout or puffing up the latest “greatest team of all time,” sports fans’ bitching about ESPN’s uber-hype is ubiquitous around barstools and water coolers all across the country.
Seeing as football arguments can be about as contentious as a congressional bailout hearing, it’s no surprise that college fans of all stripes read the most evil insinuations into the media giant’s coverage. During the past season, Homerism spoke with college football fans who have accused ESPN of:
  • underplaying the SEC’s strength;
  • overhyping the SEC;
  • politicking for USC as co-national champion;
  • displaying “East Coast bias” and portraying the Pac-10 as weak;
  • stumping for Texas in the Big 12 South fiasco;
  • pumping up Oklahoma to put the Sooners in the national championship game.
(And that doesn’t even begin to address the issue of disrespecting/deifying Tim Tebow.)
What to make of all these widely conflicting opinions? Well, given the instant analysis and bloviating punditry that ESPN has come to specialize in, you could probably find instances of all of the above. On a daily basis.

The bottom line is that ESPN’s only bias is toward its bottom line, which historically has been pretty fat. Insane hype and celebrity opinion death matches are the kinds of infotainment that move the needle. Milquetoast analysis and truly informative journalism just doesn’t make for compelling TV. I mean, think about what a letdown it is on Sunday morning when you hear the “Outside the Lines” music and see Bob Ley pop up on screen. Can you imagine what the ratings would be like if everything the network aired was like that?
Truth is, like a CBS sitcom, it’s hard to find anyone who will admit to actually liking ESPN. We all profess to hating the hype. Yet, it’s not like ESPN is our only option for sports news and entertainment. As much as we say we’d love to see less excess and more insight from the network, our eyes give us away. Just as my aunt couldn’t tear herself away from the TV, sports fans dutifully tune in and log on.
We might as well admit it–as college football fans, ESPN is our Kathie Lee.

Bustin’ Out: Jeremy Beal

March 20, 2009

On a defensive line full of highly touted young prospects, none made as big of a leap in 2008 as sophomore defensive Jeremy Beal.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2006, Beal wasn’t much more than a spot substitute for most of ’07. However, after being called into duty late in that season, Beal had a monster game in the Big 12 championship against Missouri. Beal recorded six tackles and his first career sack in the title game, and he spent a good part of the game harassing Mizzou Heisman candidate Chase Daniel into one of his worst performances of the season.
Heading into 2008, Sooner fans expected Beal to provide a nice complement to the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year, defensive end Auston English. However, as English labored through an assortment of maladies throughout the season, Beal and redshirt defensive end Frank Alexander–who missed five games recuperating from a stab wound–didn’t just hold down the fort. The duo formed a formidable pass rushing combo, yielding a combined 12 sacks. Beal accounted for eight and a half of the takedowns, which included two in OU’s beatdown of Texas Tech.
In addition to the major increase in sacks, Beal racked up 61 tackles in 2008, up from 21 the previous year. At the end of the year, he garnered a spot on the All-Big 12 second team.
This year, Beal could end up in line for more than just a step up to the conference’s first team. If he continues on his current trajectory, Beal may wind up as a first-stringer on the All-American teams.

Official Tournament Preview: Midwest Regional

March 19, 2009

Midwest Regional (Indianapolis)

Theme: Potential Chaos
Of all the regions, the Midwest seems to be the one begging to get turned upside down. Top seed Louisville faces potential matchups with Ohio State in Dayton in the round of 32 and dangerous Wake Forest in the Sweet 16. Huggy Bear’s Mountaineers, a six seed, certainly have the chops to make it all the way Motown. Then, there’s erratic but talented Arizona sitting way down at 12. Oh yeah, Tiny Tom’s Spartans could be smack dab in the middle of their home base if they reach the Final Four–sounds like nice motivation to Homerism.

Best Chance for an Upset: Kansas vs North Dakota State
Even though the angle here will be run into the ground, it’s no less powerful. The Bisons are taking on the defending champs in their first year of eligibility. It’s not really fair to say this Kansas team is the defending champ, as it bears little resemblence to last year’s squad. Whatever. NDSU should be sky high for this game, and the school’s fans are likely to own the arena in Minneapolis. (NDSU +10 doubles as the best bet of the region’s first round games.)

Say What?!: Utah
I guess I missed the part where the Utes were worth a damn this season. How else to explain Utah’s generous seed? Having seen Oklahoma work over Utah earlier in the year, Homerism can attest to this team’s suckage. Who knows if Arizona will show up for this game, but the Utes are in for a world of hurt if so.
Strangest Team with a Final Four Shot: West Virginia
All of a sudden, the Mountaineers are getting pimped by ESPN’s talking heads as a major sleeper. Strangely, I’m buying it. Coach Bob Huggins has been through the Tournament fires before, as witnessed by West Virginia’s impressive play last year. Forward Devin Ebanks is a major talent who has yet to be get much pub on the national scene, but the Big Dance makes for a great stage. Don’t be surprised if this team is playing in the Elite Eight.
Mystery Inside a Riddle Wrapped Up in an Enigma: Wake Forest
The Deacs boast a talented point guard and explosive phenom down low, which is normally a decent Tournament combo. Still, every time Homerism has watched this team this year, it feels like I’m watching a completely different squad. At least one of those teams looked like it could beat Louisville in the Sweet 16. Others wouldn’t beat Cleveland State.
Winner: Louisville over Michigan State
Homerism feels pretty lame going with all this chalk, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Tom Izzo’s no-nonsense Spartans play that tough brand of hoops that is perfect for the Tournament. Every game will be a war of attrition between MSU and its opponents. Unfortunately for Sparty, Louisville can play that same game and do it more skillfully. The Cards boast tremendous depth and can beat teams a number of ways. Louisville can handle the physical beating the Spartans will hand out. Look for Rick Pitino’s club to move on to Motown.

Official Tournament Preview: West Regional

March 19, 2009

West Regional (Glendale, Ariz.)

Theme: Lacking Luster
As would be expected, a bunch of boring teams clumped together makes for a boring region. The best team appears to be either Memphis or UConn, neither of whom is going to win the whole shebang. The first round features milquetoast matchups like Maryland-Cal and Purdue-Northen Iowa. BYU-Texas A&M? Yeesh.
Mirage: Mississippi State
Every year some left-for-dead team wins its conference tournament and becomes a popular dark horse. This makes two years in a row the darling is coming out of the SEC after Georgia beat the odds last season. The Bulldogs are the 2009 flavor of the month. Don’t get suckered. Why base your assessment on three or four games played under unique circumstances when you have an entire season to go by?

Tough Break: Marquette
The Warriors–er, Golden Eagles–were playing like a Final Four contender prior to Dominic James sustaining a broken foot. Forget that. Don’t underestimate this gritty team, though. Marquette showed a lot of heart in coming back from 16 down in the second half of its Big East Tournament game against Villanova. Utah State will be a tough opener, but Marquette is going to push through and possibly upset Mizzou.

No Respect for a Reason: Memphis
Yes, the Tigers have won 22 games straight. Steamrolling through Conference USA that way isn’t quite the same as doing it in the Big East, but it’s still saying something. On the other hand, Memphis didn’t exactly blow Homerism away in nonconference play. Wins at Tennessee and Gonzaga are impressive, but losses to Syracuse, Georgetown and Xavier prove this is not a one seed, or a Final Four team.

Best Bet of First Round: Cal. State Northridge +20
Average Joe seems to have fallen in love with Memphis in this spot, drawing nearly 80 percent of the bets, according to wagerline.com. Right now, that makes the Tigers covering the strongest consensus of the first round. I’ll buck the conventional wisdom, thank you.

Name This Team’s Leading Scorer: Missouri
Homerism had to look it up, and I’m a Big 12 guy. The answer is DeMarre Carroll. I know nothing about this team, and chances are that you don’t either. Seems pretty strange for a three seed to be so anonymous. Is this a good thing? Actually, I don’t think it means anything.

Winner: UConn over Memphis
Everyone gave up on the Huskies way too quickly after Jerome Dyson went down for the season. UConn still has plenty of weapons, with reliable scorers all over the roster. Hasheem Thabeet isn’t all that good on the offensive end, but his interior defense will be a major asset in this region. Playing two point guards so extensively also should help coach Jim Calhoun’s team keep its collective head on straight.

Official Tournament Preview: East Regional

March 18, 2009

Yes, I know this is supposed to be a football blog. But it’s March, baby! If the leader of the free world can take time from his day to break down the Dance, why can’t Homerism  talk hoops for a spell?

East Regional (Boston)

Theme: Consistency
The East region looks like the best of the four to Homerism. No need to speculate about whether some talented bunch of flakes like Arizona or Wake Forest will bring it. You know what you’re getting from the top teams in this region, a crop that has played consistently well all year.

Oh No They Didn’t!: UCLA vs VCU
The selection committee had to go and spoil all our fun. With a strong senior leader in PG Eric Maynor and a force down low in forward Larry Sanders, VCU looked like a great sleeper pick. Until I saw the brackets, that is. I don’t see how UCLA PG Darren Collison and coach Ben Howland will let the Bruins go down in the first round. Even the apparent geographic advantage for the Rams is negated by a late tip-off that will make the time zone change moot.

Most to Lose: Coach K
Duke has been on a very slow train to the second tier of college basketball in recent years following a series of early flameouts in the tourney. Count Homerism among the growing number who think the Dukies–particularly Coack K–have lost their mojo. Then again, this is the best team Durham has produced in the past three years. 

Most to Gain: Pittsburgh
In the last decade, the Panthers have reminded Homerism of the New York Knickerbockers under Pat Riley in the ’90s. That version of the Bricks set the NBA back light years by playing a brutish but effective style that only crumbled when faced with the brilliance of His Airness and The Dream. Pitt’s physical play and emphasis on rebounding and controlling the tempo have made some Big East games tough to stomach in recent years. A Final Four bid would go a long way toward refuting the notion that the Panthers are nothing but a bunch of thugs.

O.G.: Levance Fields, Pittsburgh

Ever since this Brooklynite started playing point for Pitt, he has reminded Homerism of some pudgy old smoke hound you’d see running the show out at the park on a Sunday afternoon. You know what I’m talking about–holding jerseys, ugly jumpers, arguing about calls, pounding the ball into the pavement as he backs his way into the paint for a what-the-hell-was-that hook shot. I propose the NCAA pass a rule allowing Fields to play in baggy jeans, Timberlands and a white undershirt.

Carmelo Candidate: A.J. Abrams, Texas
Ask Oklahoma, UCLA and Villanova about Abrams’ ability to put the Longhorns on his back. When this kid is on, it’s something to see. In particular, the senior guard has shown a knack for heating up in crunch time and dropping daggers late in games on his opponents. 

Best Bet of First Round: Duke (-22) vs. Binghamton
Given Duke’s recent Tournament woes, watch for the Blue Devils to drop the hammer on Binghamton.

Best Chance for an Upset: Portland St. vs. Xavier
The Musketeers had a great Tournament in 2008, advancing to the Elite Eight. This year’s team just isn’t of the same caliber, though. The Vikings have some nice balance with four players averaging double figures. Plus, they have a relatively short road trip to Boise, while the X-Men have to cover almost 2,000 miles. In the end, though, this is more going against Xavier than it is a play in favor of Portland St.

Winner: Pittsburgh over Villanova
There’s plenty to love about this Pitt team. The Panthers are tough, as always, but forward Sam Young gives them an element of explosiveness they have lacked in the past. Fields is a steady floor general, and PF DeJuan Blair is as rugged of a scorer as they come. Pitt gets payback in Boston after falling to ‘Nova in the regular season.

On the Spot: Joe McKnight

March 16, 2009

USC all-purpose back Joe McKnight was the top-rated recruit in the nation when he signed with USC in 2007. He had a breathless high school highlight reel showcasing his elusiveness and top-notch second gear. He even featured prominently in two books (Hurricane Season and Meat Market) that showed up on Borders’ shelves before his first game.

Heading into his junior year with the Trojans, though, it’s fair to ask if McKnight is living up to the hype; this is a guy who drew comparisons to Reggie Bush. And it’s also fair to answer that he hasn’t come close.

To this point, McKnight’s CV makes him look like the Mickey Rourke of college football: an auteur whose bursts of brilliance when practicing his craft have taken a backseat to physical maladies and away-from-the-spotlight issues. McKnight tantalized Troy with 206 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in a runaway win over Illinois in the 2008 Rose Bowl. That same year, he led USC’s crowded backfield in rushing in the regular season finale against UCLA, averaging seven yards per carry and scoring a touchdown.

Major media outlets touted McKnight as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but ‘SC fans expecting big things from the New Orleans native in 2008 were sorely disappointed. On paper, McKnight’s numbers improved. Yet, overall, McKnight’s impact on the Trojan offense barely registered. His season culminated in a disappointing return to the Rose Bowl, where he ran for just 13 yards on all of five carries and suffered an early foot injury.
Exactly what role USC coach Pete Carroll plans on McKnight playing in the USC offense this season remains to be seen. For the second year in a row, McKnight will miss spring ball. However, while his last absence was the result of problems in the classroom, he’s rehabbing his Rose Bowl injury this time around. I guess that’s something to build on.
Bottom line: without a proven starter under center, USC may rely more on its ground game than it has in the past. If McKnight finally makes the leap, he could give Carroll and Co. the kind of do-it-all weapon who can take some of the pressure off a green signal caller. We’ll have a pretty good idea early on just how prominently McKnight will figure into Carroll’s plans early in the season, because his backfield is stacked, as usual. McKnight has been a Trojan long enough to know that it’s time to put up or get out of the way.

Coaches Waiting to Fail

March 14, 2009

There’s a saying that goes something like “cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people.” Try telling that to the college football world, where a more appropriate credo seems to be “never follow a legend.”

Seriously, Homerism is struggling to think of one instance in the last three decades in which a coach was able to step in and successfully replace a legendary predecessor. (The situations at Miami in the ’80s and LSU this decade come to mind, but the men who started these sustained periods of excellence, Howard Schnellenger and Nick Saban, both had relatively short tenures.)

Yet, you could write a biblical-like genealogy of successors who have failed to live up to the lofty expectations established by an icon:

  • Oklahoma: Switzer begat Gibbs, who begat Schnellenberger, who begat Blake;
  • Notre Dame: Holtz begat Davie, who begat Willingham, who begat Weis;
  • Nebraska: Osborne begat Solich, who begat Callahan;
  • Florida: Spurrier begat Zook;
I could keep going–Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, USC–but you get the point. Looking at that list, that whole “ties to the program” hasn’t worked out too well either.

So yesterday’s news that Mike Bellotti had decided to hand over the reins at Oregon to predestined successor Chip Kelly got Homerism to thinking about this trend of “coaches-in-waiting.” Specifically, other than money, why the hell would any up-and-coming assistant like Kelly be interested in this kind of arrangement? 

Kelly’s situation isn’t much different from that of Will Muschamp at Texas, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, or even Joker Phillips at Kentucky. All are highly regarded assistants with no head coaching experience who parlayed outside interest from other schools into lucrative guarantees from their current employers.

Now, whether or not Bellotti qualifies as a legend is certainly debatable. However, what shouldn’t be debatable is whether or not he is the best coach in Duck history. He’s leaving the Oregon football program in a completely different stratosphere from where it was when he inherited it. For Kelly, there’s a little room to move up and a whole lot farther way to fall. That doesn’t strike Homerism as a situation built to succeed for a first-time head coach.
At least the CIWs are getting paid, though. Considering the track record, athletic directors pushing these arrangements just look foolish.

Sure, the allure of “continuity” is understandable. And maybe coaches actually do benefit from apprenticing at the side of a legend.

In reality, though, when successful leaders leave any organization, seamless transitions just don’t happen–the chain is broken. Likewise, the notion that iconic coaches can be cloned seems like pie in the sky. Sure, it’s possible to impart strategies from one generation of coaches to another, but it’s not like personality transplants occur. Also, obsessing over one aspect of a candidate’s resumé, such as having a history with a school, can cause the people making a hiring decision to ignore what should be its goal: finding the best coach for the job.

Any time a school loses a coach who has become synonymous with its football program–think Bowden, Paterno, Spurrier–the specter of that figure is always going to loom large for whomever takes over. That’s tough enough, but expecting the replacement to actually be his predecessor makes the task that much harder. Especially for a second banana taking over at the top.
When a legend steps down, bringing in an outsider may not play well with the boosters. After all, if it ain’t broke. 
Know what will play even worse with the alums? Disappointment and a painful divorce a few years down the line.

Tebow Versus Jacko: The Farewell Tours

March 7, 2009

Lately, Homerism has been thinking about just how momentous 2009 will look in the history books 20 years from now. Amid all the historic happenings, two events really stand out as the clear candidates for No. 1 in a crowded top 10 of big moments: Jacko’s last rodeo and Tim Tebow’s college football farewell tour. (Obama’s inauguration is three. Rock of Love Bus comes in fourth.)

Sorry to inflict such a hackneyed vehicle of pop culture snark on you, but the only way to settle this appears to be a tale of the tape.
Signature Clothing Item

The Gloved One’s one-hand-only fashion statement started a trend, however short-lived it may have been. More than that, though, Jacko’s shiny glove announced to the world that he would be a force on his own, sans siblings. He didn’t need something to cover both hands–just one. It was fresh, it was new and it told us all that young Michael was special. The old rules didn’t apply.
Tebow’s jorts are a horse of an entirely different color. Jean shorts are a well-worn tradition among Florida denizens. Rocking the jorts shows his adoring Gator fans that for all his prodigious achievements on the field and good works off it, he’s just an ordinary man.
Edge: Tebow. Homerism also fancies himself a man of the people.
Experience–Confirmed or Alleged–with Young Men’s Genitalia
Circumcision has its detractors, but it’s a practice with documented medical benefits.
Let’s just move on.
Edge: Tebow.
Famous Friends

This looks like the age-old quantity-versus-quality debate. In the past, Jackson’s close confidantes have included the chimp Bubbles, Corey Feldman, Emmanuel Lewis, Macaulay Culkin, Brooke Shields and Elizabeth Taylor.
However, Tebow has this.
Edge: Tebow. Landslide.
Signature Move
Anyone who has ever tried to moonwalk knows just how tough it is to pull off.  At the top of his game, though, it was as easy as recovering from a rhinoplasty for Jack0.
Tebow, of course, has made the jump pass a part of college football lore. OU fans cringe just thinking about it.
Edge: The jump pass may be effective, but moonwalking is much cooler. Score one for MJ.
Greatest Achievement
So many accomplishments to choose from here.
Among Jackson’s achievements:
  • building an amusement park at his home;
  • producing the best-selling record ever, Thriller;
  • trouncing the judicial system not once, but twice–even O.J. couldn’t pull that off;
  • inspiring an episode of Law and Order: SVU;
  • having an MTV Video Music Award for career achievement named after him.
Tebow’s resume is equally impressive:
  • an appearance on Two-A-Days;
  • a Heisman Trophy win;
  • two national championships.
If we’re talking “greatest” achievement, though, how does it get any better for Jackson than his nine-minute video for Remember the Time, featuring Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson and Iman? Likewise, if you spend five minutes with Tim Tebow, you become a better person. This one is just too close to call.
Edge: Push.
‘Enough Already’
Jacko. Tebow.
Edge: There are no winners here.
Theme Park Ride

Jackson’s 3-D extravaganza Captain EO drew millions of visitors every year during its 12-year run at Disney’s amusement parks. How many other rides can boast Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas among their creators? (By the way, Lucas’ involvement with this project should have presaged what a debacle the Star Wars prequels would turn out to be.)
Number 15 doesn’t have his own ride yet, but Homerism has no doubt we’ll see a Gator chomp loop-de-loop coaster at Praiseland any day now.
Edge: Jackson.

So there you have it: Tebow edges Jacko, but barely. Opponents should prepare to féte him accordingly next season. (How about a copy of a Matt Christopher classic to prepare for the next stage of his life?)