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September 1, 2009

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August 31, 2009

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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.

Tomorrow’s Stars Today!

January 28, 2009

Well, we’re about a week away from National Signing Day, when hopes springs eternal for diehard college football fans everywhere. This year, as the mudslinging and unfulfillable promises heat up, the college football wonks are trying to look beneath the lid.

*This model from a group of economists in the Southeast has generated quite a stir, and it’s pretty fascinating. The creators based the model on recruiting data culled between 2002 and 2004, and they note that it accurately predicted 68 percent of the final choices of the recruits included in their sample. The economists sum up their conclusions thusly: “So, in a nutshell, high school athletes prefer winning programs that are close to home, are in possession of good physical facilities, and are in good graces with the NCAA.”
Interestingly, the economists found that recruits in the South and Midwest prefer to stay close to home, but recruits from the West and Northeast have less compunction about going to school farther away. (Homerism suspects this is a function of the lack of strong programs in those regions compared to the number of South and Midwest.)
SI.com’s Andy Staples has done a series of interesting articles on the issue in the past week. Here, he competes with the prediction model to guess where major recruits will end up. (Bad news, Sooner fans: both say Rueben Randle ends up at LSU.) His “State of Recruiting” package analyzes the recruiting data in a number of ways, and he takes a special interest in the impact of different states and coaches protecting their home turf.
*ESPN’s Bruce Feldman breaks down the top recruiting battles currently playing out for uncommitted prospects. Feldman’s book Meat Market is a great snapshot of the modern-day recruiting derby.
*With the growing popularity of the different recruiting information and ranking services, The Wizard of Odds warned consumers last year, beware the “snake oil salesmen.” Staples’ SI.com colleague Stewart Mandel seems to take an equally skeptical view of the alleged recruiting gurus, based on his review of the 2005 quarterback crop.
*Dr. Saturday of Yahoo!-Rivals has a more complimentary opinion, based on Rivals recruiting data from the past five years. Doc S finds a pretty strong relationship between Rivals rankings and success: 

So the rankings are definitely not precise enough to predict the national championship (or, unless you’re talking about USC, even most conference championships). But they are especially good at grouping programs into classes that tend to hold up over time. They establish the ceiling and floor of a program’s potential: If your team isn’t a top-10 recruiter over at least a three or four-year period, it’s not going to be carrying off any crystal footballs, either.

(Note: Doc S is a Rivals employee, so it could be argued that he has an interest in promoting Rivals’ services. However, his statistics-based approach lends a definite sense of credibility to his conclusions. On top of that, I’ve never seen any reason to believe he’s anything less than a straight shooter.)

One thing to consider in all of this: Services like Rivals and Scout evaluate and rank these recruits, but the schools and coaching staffs choose whom to pursue. Separating the true wheat from the chaff may be the real skill in recruiting. That doesn’t even account for picking players who fit different schemes and systems, as well as putting players in position to succeed.
Likewise, there’s the matter of actually developing talent. It could be that the top programs are simply better at turning prospects into elite players.
(Ask Ron Zook how all that talent he has accumulated in his two coaching stops has worked out for him.)

Exercise in Futility

January 27, 2009
Let’s say you’re a Harris Poll voter and you’re submitting your final ballot after the last regular season game has been played. We’re working under the current system, so your utlimate objective is to determine the two teams that will meet in the BCS championship game. What factors would you take into account? What would be most important?

Remember that you’re casting this vote before any of the bowl games are played. Whether or not it was “right” in hindsight doesn’t matter.

I’d love to hear from readers on this. Here’s Homerism’s attempt:

My objective would be to determine the two teams “most deserving” of playing in the title game. In that sense, I’m not really interested in trying to figure out who would win a playoff. I’m looking for the two teams whose resumes reflect the greatest achievement during the regular season.

1. Record
Winning is the name of the game. If you’re a BCS conference team with an undefeated record, that’s the most important thing to me. This means you brought it week in and week out. No one beat you. You’ve earned the right to play for the title. Schedules may vary in terms of strength, but for the most part, there isn’t enough difference between them to justify excluding an unbeaten team from the game. The case would need to be very egregious for that to happen–a Bill Snyder-type schedule comes to mind.

(Obviously, the rest of these factors come into play when evaluating multiple unbeaten teams or when there are no unbeaten teams.)

2. Opponents
Who did you beat? Who did you lose to? Also, no points for trying to schedule hard and it not working out (e.g., OU beating Washington this year). The issue is how good the opponent was when you played it. My thinking is that if you’re doing your OOC scheduling the right way, playing an opponent during a downturn shouldn’t really affect you. You may catch another opponent during an upswing. It balances out over time.

3. Home/Road
If a team goes on the road and beats a quality team, that says a lot, in my book. If a team loses at home, that says a lot, too.

4. “Nature” of Wins/Losses
Whether it’s a W or an L is most important. However, even though I don’t like getting down into the weeds like this, sometimes you have to look at the manner in which a team won or lost.

Bottom line for me: Win all your games and you should be fine.

2009 Danger Games

January 25, 2009


“Danger”–also known as “trap”–games wouldn’t be so dangerous if you could see them coming.

You know the games I’m talking about, right? Oregon State knocks off USC. Ole Miss stuns Florida. Iowa shocks an undefeated Penn State team.

Leading up to the 2009 season, Homerism will attempt to identify the danger games that could trip up the top contenders for the national title. Before we start trying to figure out what the 2009 danger games are, let’s try to figure what elevates a game to trap status. 
(There’s no science to this, by the way. It’s basically anecdotal conclusions by Homerism and his associates.)

1. The Look-Ahead Factor
We’ve seen it a million times before. Teams start gearing up for a big game a week ahead of time and overlook the upcoming opponent. It’s why seasoned gamblers love going against a team the week before a huge game. For example, catch a team the week before rivalry games, such as Oklahoma-Texas, Georgia-Florida, Florida-Florida State, Michigan-Notre Dame. Or, watch out for games before a big out-of-conference tilt, like the USC-Ohio State game in September.

(Historical Example: In 2007, Oklahoma and Texas lost to Colorado and Kansas State, respectively, the week before the Red River Shootout.)
2. The Letdown Factor
This is the converse of the look-ahead factor. When a team is coming off of a big game–win or lose–it’s so tough for a team to get up emotionally the next week. A plucky underdog can take advantage of that ennui and pull off a shocker.
(Historical Example: Second-ranked Notre Dame took down number-one Florida State in a college football classic in 1993. The next week, Boston College dashed the Irish’s title hopes on a last-second field goal.)

3. The Kerouac Factor (i.e., On the Road)
This almost goes without saying. For some reason, it seems like this takes on even greater importance during conference games. Also, look for other issues that would suggest a team will be out of its comfort zone or lethargic, such as the ever-ominous Thursday night game. Others include altitude, an early kickoff, a long road trip and the possibility of an extreme change in weather.

(Historical Example: This past season, Jeff Tedford took his Golden Bears across three time zones the afternoon before an out-of-conference game at Maryland. When the ball was kicked at noon EST, that was all she wrote for Cal, as the Terrapins went up fast and never looked back.)

4. The Motivation Factor

This one is a bit tougher to articulate and is somewhat of a catch-all. It may be a new coach looking to generate some enthusiasm with a marquee win. It could be a team seeking revenge for a particularly humiliating or stinging defeat the prior year. It could be a “secondary” rivalry game for a big-name team, such as Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Notre Dame-Boston College and USC-Cal.
(Historical Example: In Colorado’s aforementioned 2007 upset of Oklahoma, Buffs head coach Dan Hawkins reportedly was upset by what he considered to be OU running up the score in their matchup the year before.)
So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the first of 2009’s danger games.
Penn State at Illinois (Oct. 3)
Look-Ahead Factor: None
Letdown Factor: Significant
Kerouac Factor: Medium
Motivation Factor: Low

Defending Big 10 champ Penn State was a late Iowa field goal away from earning the right to be slaughtered by Florida in the BCS championship game in 2008. Payback should be in order when the Hawkeyes travel to Happy Valley for both team’s conference opener in late September. With its hot finish to 2008, pundits will no doubt be pumping Iowa as a challenger to the Nittany Lions and Ohio State. All in all, there’s every reason to expect Penn State will be pointing to this game from the very start of fall practice.

Lurking in the weeds, however, is Illinois.
The Illini have yet to reach the perennial contender status portended by coach Ron Zook’s success on the recruiting trail. Still, Illinois has been known to spring the occasional stunner. In 2007, for instance, dual-threat quarterback Juice Williams and the Illini spoiled senior day in Columbus for top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State. Last year, Illinois dumped Iowa on the road the week before the Hawkeyes knocked off Penn State.
In his tenth year in Champaign, Williams returns to key Illinois’ spread attack in the upcoming season. He’s joined on offense by playmakers Daniel Dufrene at running back and receiver Arrelious Benn. It’s a group that’s super-talented and super-flaky.
Williams has just the kind of athleticism that makes him the ideal kind of QB to spring a huge upset when the offense is clicking. If the Nittany Lion defense shows any kind of let-up after the Iowa game, it risks putting the pressure on PSU’s Spread HD offense to keep up. That’s not Penn State’s style, and it sounds tailor-made for an upset.

Prestige and Prima Donnas

January 23, 2009

A couple interesting news-ish items permeating the Web right now:

*ESPN has named Oklahoma the most prestigious college football program of all time.

This wouldn’t mean anything if it was just someone’s opinion. But, hey, the Worldwide Leader used a mathematical formula to decide this, so you can’t argue with that. It’s science.
*(Jerry) Bomar Bitches About Bob.

Homerism always has maintained that Sooner castaway Rhett Bomar would have been the best quarterback in OU history. If there’s at least one person who agrees with me, it’s Bomar’s dad, Jerry.
Unfortunately, it’s that kind of mindset that ultimately brought his son down at OU. How else can Rhett’s brazen flaunting of both the law and NCAA rules be explained?
Anyway, now that Rhett wants to play in the NFL, Jerry has resurfaced. Apparently, he thinks the best way to advance Rhett’s career is to do interviews badmouthing OU and accusing Bob Stoops of being a cheater. Of course, this is the same guy who bitched in the press about Stoops playing favorites in the QB competition between Rhett and Paul Thompson. Then, when he got his way and Rhett was made the starter, Jerry pitched a fit to reporters that his son, whom he coached in high school, didn’t get enough reps before the season.
Jerry is no doubt bitter that things didn’t work out for Rhett at OU. He should be. The obvious sense of entitlement that this little league dad on steroids imparted to his son cost him a shot at the accolades that come with being a star QB at an elite program. It also cost him the millions of dollars that come with being a top NFL draft pick.
If you’re an NFL team looking for a late-round QB flyer with major upside, Homerism highly recommends taking a chance on Rhett Bomar. He has all the tools to succeed at the pro level.
And just ignore his dad.

Returnees Shoot Sooners Back Into Top 10

January 20, 2009

Homerism’s first stab at a preliminary 2009 power poll was done under the assumption that OU would sustain significant losses to the NFL draft. In fact, I figured that Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams and Gerald McCoy would be playing on Sundays in the fall.

Obviously, their return changes things. The biggest question in Homerism’s mind is whether the Sooners should be ranked second or third. While I suspect OU will have a better overall team than Texas next year, Mack Brown and Colt McCoy seem to have turned the tide in the Red River Rivalry. This is a power poll, though, so Homerism has the Sooners checking in at number two. The eye test tells me that OU is simply better.
Blatant Homerism Still Blatantly Premature Power Poll for 2009

1. Florida
No change here. Percy Harvin’s departure shouldn’t hurt the offense too badly, as the Gators have plenty of weapons to fill in. Brandon Spikes or Tim Tebow leaving would have struck a far bigger blow to Florida’s hopes to repeat.
2. Oklahoma
No team came away from the early entrant deadline looking like a bigger winner than OU. The Sooners are bringing back nine defensive starters, and that doesn’t include players like Mike Balogun, who filled in at linebacker when Austin Box–who was filling in for Ryan Reynolds–went down. The lack of defensive depth that burned OU in 2008 won’t be an issue. Losses on the offensive line and at wide receiver won’t have as big of an impact as the pundits believe.
3. Texas
The Longhorns fall a spot through no fault of their own. Keeping Sergio Kindle on campus one more year should help offset the loss of DE Brian Orakpo.
4. USC
No team is in a better position to bounce back from early attrition than the Trojans. QB Mark Sanchez would have triggered a potent offensive attack next year, but the drop-off between Sanchez and Aaron Corp or Mitch Mustain shouldn’t be too steep. The return of S Taylor Mays should help the defense transition.
5. Virginia Tech
The Hokies came on strong at the end of the 2008 season. Tech has a talented and athletic signal caller in Tyrod Taylor, and running back Darren Evans is back to build on a strong debut. Coach Frank Beamer has shown that his defense is predicated on a lunch pail mentality, rather than a system of stars.
6. Ohio State
I know, I know–Ohio State lost a ton in this offseason. In Terrelle the Buckeyes should trust. Pryor influence on OSU’s offensive scheme and play calling likely will be huge in his second year under center. And that’s a good thing.
7. California
Jeff Tedford’s team played better football in 2008 than it was given credit for. The Golden Bears return Hesiman candidate Jahvid Best at running back and their entire starting secondary. The defense must replace three starters at linebacker. Cal is one of three or four teams vying to end USC’s stranglehold on the Pac-10.
8. Oregon
The Ducks are another challenger to ‘SC.  The Oregon O will continue to rack up yards and points behind QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrette Blount, despite heavy losses at receiver and along the O-line. Finding players to step in for departed DE Nick Reed and S Patrick Chung will be key.
9. Florida State
Homerism keeps waiting for the Seminoles’ return to glory. Might as well keep putting it out there, because it’s bound to hit once. FSU has plenty of talent on offense, including rock-solid QB Christian Ponder. Lots of losses on defense, in addition to superstar punter/kicker Graham Gano.
10. LSU
Homerism hates putting too much emphasis on the previous season’s bowl performance; that’s not why the Tigers are here. LSU simply has too much skill to stay down for long. New coordinator John Chavis looks like a good candidate to shore up a leaky defense. Meanwhile, QB Jordan Jefferson and RB Charles Scott should continue to chew up yards in Gary Crowton’s version of the pistol offense.
On the cusp: Oklahoma State, Boise State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Oregon State.
Update: Dr. Saturday takes the pulse of preseason polls.