Archives for posts with tag: Happy Days

It was going to happen eventually.  We heard echoes of an attempt after the win over Minnesota…and I’m sure the heirs of Frankie Ford would have had issue with Kirk Cousins’ “ooheee!” and its similarity to “Sea Cruise”.  Look it up on Youtube, kids. Instead Cousins throws for 375 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Green bay…and goes all Toby Keith on GM Scott McCloughan.  “How do you like me now?”–I’m sure he wasn’t referring to concert the two of them attended; instead it’s an opening shot for the upcoming contract negotiations.  Regardless…we have our new catch-phrase.  Just like “AAAyy” gave way to “Sit on It”.  Hopefully there won’t be a “Wah Wah Wah” next year…

 

Captain Kirk- this is the episode many doubted could happen and others hoped would be possible.  A prime-time, national TV performance against a playoff team (despite the Packers 4-6 start, they were a postseason player last January).  Outgunning Aaron Rodgers.  A victory for the Burgundy and Gold at Fed Ex Field.  This is Exhibit A when Kirk goes into Starfleet for offseason negotiations.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent: “Amok Time”- Kirk has to divert the Enterprise to the planet Vulcan because Spock is experiencing a deadly 7-year cycle.  Once there, a native ritual turns into a fight to the death.  Great episode…watchable anytime.

Robert-not Gene-Kelley- one reason why a Spock-centric episode was picked for Kirk’s evaluation this week was the emergence of Cousins’ supporting player.  The rookie from Tulane rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns…as his breakaway run in the fourth quarter all but sealed the victory.  Unlike his non-relative Gene, this Kelley does not dance.  He plods and fights and searches for that extra yard.  More importantly, he doesn’t fumble (fingers crossed).  The Skins have found their necessary compliment to an air attack that only appears to be scratching the surface.

Better to Receive- and what a crew of pass-catchers.  Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder each took turns burning the Packer secondary Sunday night…Garcon finishing with 6 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown while Crowder notched 102 yards on 3 receptions.  Meanwhile, Jordan Reed provided the matchup nightmare he always does and DeSean Jackson was the team’s top target on third down.

Third and Awesome- tough to think otherwise after the team converts 9 of 14 on the money down…8-12 through the air and 1-2 on the ground.  Cousins completed 8 of 10 passes while getting sacked twice…and all 8 of his completions moved the chains.  Jackson had two catches in his three targets, while Reed and Crowder also had two receptions/conversions.  Yardage breakdown:  3 for 4 on third and short (less than 4 yards needed), 4 for 6 on third and medium (4-6 yards needed) and 2 for 4 on third and long (7+).  And 71% of third downs needed 6 yards or fewer…that is awesome.

Case for the Defense- so they didn’t shut out the Packers.  And defensive back Donte Whitner led the team in tackles (a pet peeve of mine) with 10 stops.  But they forced three 3-and-outs to start the game and finished it with takeaways on the final two Green Bay possessions of the night. In a league where nobody stops anybody for sixty minutes, sometimes just enough is just enough.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 40 yards…a far cry from the first month of the season when it fans were seeing yellow.  Two on offense (delay of game and a false start) and four on defense (two delays of game, a roughing the passer and an illegal use of the hands).  The top culprit?  Breeland’s illegal use of the hands and delay of game give the cornerback seven on the season…still four shy of Josh Norman’s team lead (he padded his total with a delay of game).  Where would we be without another false start?  The total of 18 on the season is the fourth-most in the NFL.  After eleven weeks the Redskins do lead the league with seven illegal use of the hands.  Most costly penalty?  Breeland’s illegal use of the hands turned a Redskins ball at their own 38 into a 1st and 10 for the Packers at the Washington 33.  Green Bay would score a TD on that drive.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas continues to win-this time 27-17 over the Ravens, and at 9-1 the Cowboys continue to lead the NFC East as well as hold down the conference’s #1 seed. The New York Giants’ 22-16 win over Chicago proves that Eli Manning and company are the least-enjoyable 7-3 team in league history…still in second place of the division and the #1 Wildcard in the NFC.  The Redskins remain in third place at 6-3-1 and occupy the final playoff spot in the conference…while Philadelphia’s 26-15 loss at Seattle drops the Eagles to .500, fourth place, and ninth in the NFC.

The NFC East Beast- a 3-1 week means the division is now 27-12-1… a far cry from last year’s monstrosity.  The only other quartet that’s close is the AFC West that’s 26-14.  Worst division?  The AFC North is dragged down by Cleveland’s 0-11, but even without the Browns they’d be sub-.500 at 13-16-1.

 

 

The Prime Time Microscope often serves as an amplifier:  tiny blemishes are revealed to be major scars and minor deficiencies are shown to be major shortcomings.  For the Redskins, prime time has not been kind as of late:  the team went 0-5 under the lights last year…and looked lost in Thursday night’s 45-14 defeat to the New York Giants.  The game recalled for me a 2009 Monday Night meltdown against the Giants (45-12) that featured a swinging-gate fake field goal…but that loss marked the end of an error, I mean era for then-coach Jim Zorn’s regime.  This is game three for Jay Gruden.  The league is such a week-to-week thing (witness Tampa Bay getting blasted by 42 eleven days before winning at Pittsburgh)…but it’s tough to find any good spin in Thursday’s mess.  Next up?  A Monday Night Football game against- defending champ Seattle.  Should I add that the Seahawks are coming off a bye week?

 

Captain Kirk Crashes– from the high of the win over Jacksonville to the mixed review of the loss in Philadelphia…and now this.  Four interceptions and a lost fumble remind Skins fans of a different #8…and Turnoverasaurus Rex has long departed the Potomac River basin for the shores of Lake Erie.  Cousins went 6-14 with those four picks in the second half–his issues in the third and fourth quarters this year have to be somewhat of a concern as well.  Kirk before intermission: 74% completion rate with a 4-0 TD/INT ratio.  Kirk after the break:  48% and 2-5.  Is it a case of the opponents making sharp halftime adjustments?  Perhaps it’s a case of “Mirror, Mirror” when the other Kirk gets beamed into an alternate universe.

 

Saved by Underuse– Alfred Morris notched 12 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown…never getting into any sort of rhythm– three carries in the first and second quarters before getting five touches in the third.  All told the Skins ran the ball just 17 times in defeat.  Reminds me of the Bell episode where Zack wasn’t involved in the plot in a major way– hold on, that never happened.  Peter Engel knew what the Skins offensive braintrust hasn’t grasped yet– Morris has to be involved big-time for this whole thing to work.  There’s a reason there weren’t any Violet Bickerstaff-centric episodes.

 

Receiving Recall–  after shining in the loss at Philadelphia, the duo of Garcon & DeSean were held to a combined 3 catches for 37 yards by the Giants defense.  Less than ideal…as Jackson’s dancing and chest-thumping against his former team didn’t carry over to being shut down by his former and current division rival.  Roy Helu lading the team with 78 yards receiving is as wrong as Ryan Clark leading the team with 7 tackles…a runningback shouldn’t be this much of a main man in a passing game.

 

Tight End Troubles– Niles Paul was on his way to another solid game…catching 3 passes for 60 yards when he was greeted by what resembled the “Malachi Crunch”:  Antrelle Rolle and Quintin Demps bounced Paul out of the game with a concussion.  Already minus Jordan Reed (whose 2013 ended with a concussion), the Skins were forced to focus on Logan Paulsen– who caught 3 passes for 28 yards but lost a fumble in the red zone.  Paul will be tested over the next week to make sure there are no lingering effects–meaning Cousins’ security blanket (16 catches in 2 and a half games) may be a question mark.

 

Third and Abysmal– the Skins went 1-8 in moving the chains….getting another first down in the third quarter on a Neutral Zone Infraction by the Giants.  The offense gained a total of 8 net yards on those 8 third down plays:  Cousins set the tone for the night by fumbling while being sacked on the team’s first 3rd down of the night…before completing 1 of 6 passes for 7 yards with 2 interceptions.  The lone conversion?  A 9 yard scramble by Cousins on 3rd & 8.  Breaking things down by yardage:  0-1 when 1-3 yards were needed, 1-2 when 4-6 yards were necessary and 0-5 on 3rd and 7+.  After four weeks, the offense is 18-49 on the critical down (37%, ranking 24th in the league)…with 22 of their 49 attempts coming from 7 yards or more.

 

D gets an F– the problem with going 1-8 on 3rd down?  You have to punt and send this defense out on the field.  The Giants scored the last three times they had the ball in the first half and used the quick-throwing short passing game to negate the Skins pass rush (just one sack on the night).  The secondary looked undermanned and lost as Giants TE Larry Donnell caught 3 TD passes in the first half–on one play either Brandon Meriweather played the wrong coverage or Ryan Clark wasn’t in the right spot or quick enough to provide help.  David Amerson’s good at guarding the opposition’s #2 wideout–containing their #1 not so much.  Thank goodness coordinator Jim Haslett doesn’t have Mike Shanahan around to meddle in the D.

 

Flying Flags– 11 penalties for 88 yards gives the team 39 for 388 on the season (most in the league).  Two of the four offensive infractions were holds by an offensive line that wasn’t trying to cheat as much as trying to keep Kirk Cousins alive amidst a tepid Giant pass rush.  Two of the three defensive penalties set up Giant scores:  Bashaud Breeland’s pass interference kept a drive alive late in the first half that resulted in a field goal and Perry Riley’s illegal use of the hands gave NY a 1st & goal from the 1-yard line (they’d score on the very next play).  Four penalties came on special teams– with Clifton Geathers getting flagged twice (illegal use of the hands & unsportsmanlike conduct) and the other two violations  coming on a false start and a neutral zone infraction.  It’s a mess…

 

Cobra Kai Cameo– Mr. Forbath converted on both extra points and wasn’t called on for any field goal attempts…while Tress Way stole the kicking game show by averaging 58 yards a punt (including a 77-yarder).  Much like the bully in KK2…

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia remains atop the NFC East despite their loss at San Francisco because the 3-1 Eagles own the division tiebreaker with 3-1 Dallas.  The Giants at 2-2 are all alone in third place while the Skins are inthe oh so familiar spot of last place in the division (eventual destination in 2008-11 and 2013).  Best division after four weeks?  The AFC North is 9-5 while the NFC West is 8-5…as the NFC East and North are tied for third at 9-7.  Both South divisions have gone south in September—each is 6-10.  While the Skins get the AFC South on their schedule this year– they also get the entire NFC West (ugh).

One never knows what the watershed is until one is far beyond it.  The spark is just a spark until a long time later you recognize the brush-fire.  How did the NCAA Tournament get here?  Was it President Clinton rooting his Arkansas team to the title in ’94?  Elliott Gould at the ’76 Oscars saying “Indiana 86-68” after his co-presenter said “the winner is”?  Much like the day I turned around at a Super Bowl Party and it was a group of men and women who weren’t football fans getting into the game, there was a moment when the NCAA Tournament turned from a basketball fan’s dream to an American event.  Everybody does a bracket– including the President.  Casual fans take half days to catch the Thursday and Friday games–not as much to watch basketball to be a part of the moment.  To participate in a happening.

The NCAA Tournament provides 32 games over a 40 hour span… followed by 16 more over the next two days.  I’m not a fan of the late Sunday games, but still…the pure volume of games means you only need a few upsets and a few fantastic finishes to make these two days “the best ever!” on the sports calendar.  Will I help you pick all 63 games?  No.  (Yes, I still refuse to count the “First Four” in the grand scheme of things–just like I refuse to call Round of 32 the “Second Round”.  I also recognize that probably means I’m turning into the old man yelling at the First Four and Second Round to get off his lawn).

Time for the time-honored (since 2007 at least) tradition of Bold, Fold and Gold picks for each region…:

Bold as in which team advances a beyond its seed-perhaps even turning the bracket upside down?  Think Wichita State or Florida Gulf Coast last year…

Fold as in which favorite flames out?  Think Duke and Missouri as #2 seeds who lost to #15’s two years ago…or Georgetown melting last March.

And Gold as in who’s headed to Arlington (excuse me, NORTH TEXAS) for the Final Four?

EAST–  Virginia is the #1 seed for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era…but the last time the Cavaliers reached the Final Four they did so the year after Sampson graduated as a #7 seed.  They became the first team to reach the Final Four after losing its conference tournament opener–much like #2 Villanova did in the Big East Quarterfinals.  Not a good sign for the Wildcats…but does anybody notice Nova or the Wahoos?  Everybody is picking Michigan State.  As they should.  Tom Izzo traditionally gets his team to overperform its seed…or at least get to the second weekend (11 of the last 16 years).

Bold–it’s tough to root for Harvard…even though an upset of Cincinnati would cause Bearcats coach Mick Cronin’s head to explode (you can see his neck change color sometimes).  #11 Providence is led by Bryce Cotton (21ppg and 6apg) and the Friars’ only losses since Valentines Day came against Villanova and at Creighton.  Plus…they’re playing a North Carolina team that suffers major hoops ADD.

Fold–  I’m not sold on Villanova.  I know they won 28 games and took the regular season title in the “New Big East”…which was more “Archie Bunker’s Place” than “What’s Happening Now”–but still a shell of the original (does this make the American Athletic Conference of America “The Jeffersons” or “Good Times”?)…but got blown out twice by Creighton and will play either a former Big East foe in UConn (my buddy “UConn James” is back after a year brief absence) or a Philly foe in St. Joe’s in the round of 32 (two tough teams that won’t be intimidated by the Wildcats).

Gold– have I mentioned everybody’s taking Michigan State?  The same Spartan team that lost 4 of 6 to finish the regular season (including a home loss to Illinois).   The same Spartan team where every four-year senior has played in at least one Final Four since Tom Izzo took over.  Have I mentioned I’m on the bandwagon as well?

 

SOUTH– Overall #1 seed Florida faces Albany in the first round Thursday…couldn’t they have given the Great Danes another day to get from Dayton to Orlando?  And can you root against a school who’s mascot looks like a mean Scooby Doo?  If there’s a “phantom” that shows up at the arena, I’m guessing it’s really the janitor who learned there’s a diamond mine on the property and wanted to scare the owners into selling.  Kansas may be without Joel Embiid…and Syracuse may still be missing its offense.  Seriously, if you know where the Orange half-court offense is…please respond with an email ASAP.

BoldOhio State has the most annoying player in the tournament Aaron Craft.  I’m surprised he didn’t attend Duke.  The Buckeyes rallied from 18 down to win their Big Ten Quarterfinal…has the short Columbus-Buffalo commute (now that wakes up the echoes for Bluejackets-Sabres like nothing else) and potentially plays a shaky Syracuse team that might be bounced the first day of the Tournament.

FoldVCU faces a Stephen F. Austin squad that’s on fire…and also has to play UCLA in San Diego.  Somehow I’m not completely confident in the Rams…despite their recent success in the tournament.  And any Atlantic 10 losses will give Coach K cause to be smug during a press conference…what’s a tournament without a little bit of that?

GoldKansas played the toughest non-conference season and then went on to win the toughest conference.  Despite getting bounced in the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks will be playing in nearby St. Louis the first weekend.  That’ll give Embiid enough time to embed himselfe back in the rotation for a jaw-dropping victory over Florida.

 

MIDWEST– Wichita State enters the tournament unbeaten but not unquestioned.  The Missouri Valley Conference was even lighter this year after the loss of Creighton to the Big East.  And what is it with flashy #4 seeds this year?  Defending Champ Louisville enters the Big Dance on a big roll.  Maryland moment–former Terp Ashton Pankey plays for #13 seed Manhattan.

Bold– have I mentioned how I can’t stand the “First Four”?  How teams that play Tuesday night have to turn around in less than 48 hours for another game and then do the same thing again?  Thank goodness NC State has TJ Warren (25ppg) to keep the Wolfpack afloat against a slumping St. Louis…and Mark Gottfried’s been able to coax an extra round out of double-digit seeds before.

Fold– I’m not sold on Michigan…they shoot way too many threes for my liking and have a dangerous matchup in the round of 32 against one of two ACC expatriates (Rick Barnes and Herb Sendek for whatever reson couldn’t get Clemson and NC State to the next level).  They haven’t missed injured Preseason All-American Mitch McGary that much during the regular season– they will in March.

Gold–  Who’s ready to hear Coach K talk about “three 4-team tournaments”…and what a great season these kids have had even if they don’t win it all?  It’s amazing to see blue-blooded Duke ride a freshman (Jabari Parker) and a transfer (Rodney Hood) this March.  Since Mike Krzyzewski began guiding the US Olympic effort, the Blue Devils have made one final four–and 2010 came right between both Olympian efforts.  I’m going with the off-Olympic year rhythm.

 

WEST– top seed Arizona reflects a region that actually has 14 of 16 schools west of the Mississippi River…with recent tournament underachiever Gonzaga facing 2013-14 underachiever Oklahoma State for the right to play the Wildcats.

Bold–Nebraska has NEVER won an NCAA Tournament game.  Not under Moe Iba.  Not under Danny Nee or Barry Collier.  They face a Baylor team that used to bludgeon them regularly in Big 12 play– and just like Maryland a few years from now, will show the world how the Big Ten has taken that program to the next level!

Fold–let the record show I have a buddy self-titled “Sooner Bob” (no relation to “UConn James”) and is all Oklahoma football from August to January.  He also goes by “Thunder Bob” from April to June…and “Ranger Bob” in July.  I think there may even be a “Brazilian Bob” showing up at the World Cup this summer.  Lon Kruger has a good team this year–but “Sooner Bob” is way too enthusiastic about a team he only pays attention to for six weeks.  And this team leaves sooner rather than later this March.

Gold– Wisconsin begins its tournament run in Milwaukee (which from what I am told is in the state of Wisconsin) and is remarkably efficient on both ends of the floor.  During coach Bo Ryan’s press conference Wednesday he started talking about gaggles of geese…murders of crows and parliaments of owls.  I have no idea what that means but it gives me confidence in the Badgers…

Halloween Costumes have come a long way over the years– does anybody remember the cardboard masks/plastic smocks we used to march around in during Elementary School? Sadly, after one wear the outfit is usually tossed…and what was Planet of the Apes one year becomes Happy Days the next. Unless your parents put tin foil on the mask and say…”Hey– wouldn’t you like to be a robot this year?”. The area schools have worn different disguises over the first two months: Maryland as a healthy team… Virginia Tech as a club that could actually run the football and Virginia as a defense about to turn the corner. Sadly, you can only wear the mask/smock for so long (I think the plastic actually dissolves in water)…

Alma Mater Update– talking about masquerades…who were those people wearing blue helmets with blue jerseys and orange pants last weekend in Atlanta? I’m still recovering from getting gutted by Georgia Tech, as well as eating breakfast twice at Waffle House. Thank goodness they have this weekend off to prepare for Wake Forest…perhaps after seeing the success of the 3-4 defense they shift to a 2-5 or a 1-4-2. The good news is we did have the creamed spinach–I recommend you try it the next time you’re at a Morton’s near you. You’ll want to rub it all over…your steak.

Maryland vs #9 Clemson– the Terps hold Homecoming by hosting an irate top ten team coming off a 37-point humbling by Florida State. Who schedules these games? Isn’t Homecoming supposed to be the day you welcome “Northeast Southwest Tech State”? While Tajh Boyd isn’t Jameis Winston–who is?–the Tigers quarterback is probably the second-best in the league. And now that Tommy Bowden is a distant memory on the sidelines, the Terps don’t seem to have that weird hex they had over Clemson (6-3 from 2001-09) anymore. Did I mention that the Terps are more banged up than they were last week? Quarterback CJ Brown’s out with a “trunk” injury while their leading rusher (Brandon Ross) and top two receivers (Stefon Diggs and Deon Long combine for over 50% of the team’s receptions) are sidelined as well. Do any of the distinguished alums returning have eligibility remaining? Terps tumble, 34-18.

Virginia vs Georgia Tech– I’ve seen the Yellowjacket option. It’s only scary if you can’t tackle…and the Cavalier defense has been rather cavalier during the four game losing streak, allowing an average of 31 points per game. That’s already not ideal–but the fact that this is not a team built to play catch-up (last in the ACC in passing efficiency) gives on the impression that is could be a long afternoon in Charlottesville. Kippy and Buffy are right to bring a bottle of Boxwood 2010 Topiary (61% Cabernet Franc 39% Merlot): “brick-red color, with a very complex nose of strawberry, pepper, tobacco and molasses with some oak notes”…enjoyed with white cheddar and M.Y. San Skyflakes Crackers. Cavaliers come up short, 26-17.

#16 Virginia Tech vs Duke– So much for a soft spot coming out of the bye week…the Blue Devils rallied from 22 points down in Charlottesville last weekend and can clinch bowl eligibility for the second time in three years Saturday. With Anthony Boone at quarterback, these aren’t your father’s Dukies (unless you’re thinking Sonny Jurgensen in the 50’s, Ben Bennett in the early 80’s or Steve Spurrier’s 1989 ACC Champs). The Hokies have won six straight despite a ground game that ranks 11th in the ACC… and has seen quarterback Logan Thomas emerge as the main running threat (he’s led the Hokies in rushing in three of the last four games). Good thing Thomas has settled down after a shaky start– the senior’s gone three games without throwing an interception. Hokies continue to streak towards a Coastal Division Clash with unbeaten Miami, defeating Duke 28-24.

Navy slips to Pitt, Georgetown falls to Colgate, Howard gets by Morgan State, Towson tops Richmond, James Madison beats William & Mary.

Last Week: 5-3.
Overall: 45-10.

RIP WAC. Enjoy being all about basketball, Big East.

It’s always a bummer when a family leaves the neighborhood…even when their dog uses your front lawn as his lavaratory. Even when all of their kids come over selling Girl Scout Cookies while they never buy popcorn for the Science Club in return. Or the family that brings chicken soup over when you’re sick–only the soup makes you even sicker. Over the years you build a history and familiarity. They’re part of a bigger picture…and even though you might not really miss them they do leave a void.

If there’s one aspect about college football that’s been devalued over the last decade, it’s been the sanctity or at least the stability of conferences. I won’t necessarily go into the litany of who first poached which league or which conference grew beyond regional or numerical reason… or maybe I will one more time: West Virginia is NOT in Big 12 country–while Ten does NOT equal 12 (the opposite is also the case). The latest reshuffle bids goodbye to the red-haired stepchild of leagues, the Western Athletic Conference. Much like the Missouri Valley Conference in hoops, plenty of programs have joined and moved on over the WAC’s existence…beginning with Arizona and Arizona State for the then-Pacific 8 (thank you for changing the number to reflect your membership) in the 1970’s to everybody joining a Mountain West that had lost the bulk of its membership. The WAC was ahead of its time: the league had a bowl tie-in before the ACC and SEC (although the league traditionally sent its champion to the Sugar Bowl, it wasn’t formalized until the mid-70’s), Lavell Edwards brought a pass-first style that propelled BYU to elite status (and a hotly debated 1984 National Title), and the league was the first to over-expand (the 16-school monolith collapsing under its own weight in the late 90’s–giving birth to the splinter-Mountain West). So if you’re looking for the culprit in the existence of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament’s Play-in/Opening Round/First Four, blame the WAC and MWC creating an extra automatic qualifier. But that’s hoops and it’s August.

Meanwhile, the Big East transforms itself into the American Athletic Conference (of America)…and it almost feels like it’s happening a few years later than it should have been. The Big East name is where it belongs– in basketball– and the experiment of a northeast-only football conference that was probably doomed when Penn State joined the Big Ten/Eleven vanishes. Which is a shame– because for a while in the 70’s and 80’s there were good programs in the northeast– generating National Champions in Pitt and Penn State as well as Heisman Trophy winners in Tony Dorsett and Doug Flutie.

Another development in the last decade as been the dominance of the Southeastern Conference. Seven straight national champs… a far cry from the previous ten years when the SEC landed 2 titles (giving LSU’s BCS ripoff to USC IN 2003), the Big Ten tallied 2, the Big 12 had 2, the Pac-10 had 2 and the Big East and ACC combined for the other 2 championships. Before the current run no league posted more than three straight titles…although you can say the “Independents” (Penn St-Miami-Notre Dame-Miami) run from 1986-89 somewhat qualifies as those schools played one another regularly (oh, the days of “Catholics vs. Convicts”). It’s an SEC world, and the rest of the leagues are trying to catch up while losing breath.

What made college football so intriguing when I started following it was the mass volume: 100 major schools duking it out every week with great teams in every region. If Ohio State wasn’t rolling through the Big Ten, Michigan was going 10-1. If USC wasn’t threatening to win it all, Washington or UCLA was in the title conversation. If Nebraska wasn’t blasting the rest of the Big 8, Oklahoma was–but could they beat the SWC’s best in Texas at the State Fair in October? These provided added texture to the Alabama/Auburn and Tennessee/Georgia duels that took our breath away…

As with every era, there are pros and cons. I like how the championship is settled on the field but hate how New Years’ Day has become marginalized. I like how teams that have great years in all leagues have avenues to postseason play (can you believe an unbeaten Rutgers or a 10-1 New Mexico went Bowl-less in the 1970’s and 80’s?) but hate how 6-6 teams that underachieve in the ACC and Big Ten get trips to tackily named games (maybe that’s their just reward for going 3-5 in the league- a lame Bowl name). As with each of the ten major conferences, there are pros and cons.

SEC–
Pro: They are the gold standard…literally and figuratively. They’ve achieved like none other over the last decade…and have been sending more talent to the NFL in that span. The schools play to win…and that means top dollar for coaches (goodbye, Wisconsin) and facilities. It matters there. And Verne Lundquist is awesome on CBS– the SEC package is the best propaganda since NFL Films. Or Pravda.
Con: There’s a badly kept secret in the league, and it’s an underbelly that includes both Mississippi schools, Kentucky and until -until recently-Vanderbilt. South Carolina was abysmal until Steve Spurrier salvaged the Gamecock program, and Missouri is out of its league in its new league. Which reminds me– how are the Tigers (the third most western school in the league) in the East Division? I know it’s not as bad as having divisions titled “Leaders” and “Legends”–but I expected more from you, SEC.

BIG TEN–
Pro: Tradition (cue Teyva the milkman). Football was born for autumn afternoons in the midwest…dotting the I in Columbus…maize and blue uniforms with the coolest helmet ever (sorry, Delaware). The winner goes to the Rose Bowl. Archie Griffin posing problems for defenses while winning two Heismans…and Desmond Howard posing for the Heisman before winning it.
Con: Tradition can be an albatross. The league was late in getting late games on the schedule (no lights in Ann Arbor in 2010?) and the other conferences filled the void. Midwest regional decay in the last 30 years has sapped quite a bit of talent out of its recruiting range. The underbelly is larger than the SEC…and its much slower. Although they’re going east-west next year, “Leaders” and “Legends”? Worse than “Murph and the Magic Tones”. And by the way, expansion gives you FOURTEEN schools next fall.

BIG XII–
Pro: Texas and Oklahoma. One is a high school hotbed of talent and another is a football factory that’s won titles in the 1950’s, 70’s 80’s and 2000. The Red River Shootout brings Burnt Orange against Crimson and Cream…and sometimes the game’s actually pretty decent. And the league isn’t just about the big boys: Robert Griffin III won a Heisman at Baylor…the Big XII’s Northwestern/Vanderbilt. By the way, expect plenty of offense in this shoot-em-out league.
Con: Unstoppable offense or accommodating defense? Sometimes its tough to tell, but when West Virginia coughs up 50+ points as much as Bob Huggins’ basketball team…that can’t be ideal. Texas A&M departing robs the league of its in with the Houston market…and the Aggies followed Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado out the door. If you’re so awesome, why is 33% of your league leaving the party? And you’re still two schools shy of TWELVE, buddy.

PAC 12-
Pro: California Dreamin’. The entire coast…with a footprint that reaches Denver. Clear superiority to the other league in the area (sorry, Mountain West) and they host their bowl tie-in (a tiny advantage, as the Pac 8 and 10 won 16 of 18 Rose Bowls between 1970 and 87). Speed and athleticism…with solid quarterbacking to boot. And there’s a little shoe company that gives throwaway stuff to the University of Oregon you may have heard of. NIKE.
Con: Sometimes California Dreamin’ takes away from actually working. Lets just say the league has a semi-soft image. A fan base that is bummed when they lose but then is off to the beach (or the pool in Arizona). Legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado might take a little more of an edge off things. And those damn NIKE uniforms–all 476 combinations.

ACC-
Pro: East coast ownership. Boston, New York (sorry Rutgers, NYC is a Syracuse city) and Washington (UVa and Va Tech faithful reach into the district) at their fingertips. The tidewater talent. Florida State’s fumblerooskie. The sleeping giant that is the University of North Carolina…and the once and future king Miami. Beamer Ball!
Con: It’s not basketball season yet. The ACC’s elite lose games they no business losing: Florida State to an NC State team that fired its coach, Virginia Tech to James Madison a few years ago, Miami to just about everybody recently. And then there’s probation pending for the Hurricanes. Maryland’s departure dealing a blow in the DC area. Notre Dame continuing to use the league like a cheap fling for its non-football sports while keeping its marriage to Independent football intact. And although “Atlantic” and “Coastal” aren’t as blatantly stupid as “Leaders” and “Legends”, the divisions should be more geographically aligned. When does basketball begin again?

American Athletic Conference (of America)-
Pro:
Allows me to think of the movie “Dodgeball” every time I see the standings. Teddy Bridgewater should help put the league on the map before Louisville joins the ACC. There are major metropolitan areas to draw from (Dallas, Philadelphia, Tampa, Orlando) and fans of old Conference USA basketball in the late 90s will get a chance to reminisce.
Con: Hot dogs have been put together in better fashion than this patchwork of a set of leftovers. Louisville and Rutgers are on their way out, lending even more instability. UConn has barely recovered from being left out of the ACC. SMU still has barely recovered from the death penalty 25 years ago. Temple has barely recovered from being Temple.

Conference USA–
Pro:
They got their name before the AAC…and used to have Red, White and Blue divisions for basketball. Even getting the leftovers from the SEC talent-wise isn’t a bad thing. Southern Miss is a hidden gem. East Carolina is crazy on Halloween. Tulane is in New Orleans, where it’s Halloween every day.
Con: If the AAC is a hot dog, C-USA is the Smokey Big Bite at 7-11. FIU and FAU may be in Florida, but they’re NOT Florida. And the league is on standby for losing schools to the next expansion by a conference higher up the food chain.

Mountain West–
Pro:
Outliers extraordinaire. Boise State and Hawaii have crashed the BCS over the years…and Air Force used to always beat Notre Dame with Fisher DeBerry’s flexbone offense that was beyond lethal. My Uncle Chris owns and operates a fantastic gourmet chocolate shop in Boise (Chocolat Bar)…if that means anything.
Con: BYU turning all Notre Dame on them and going independent robs them of a tent-pole program…especially with Utah leaving for the Pac-12. Plus that damn blue field in Boise. We get it, it was cute once. Move on.

Mid-American–
Pro:
Win Welfare. Home and home series? Only if both games are in your stadium…just cut us a check. We might upset you every so often, but if you lose to schools called Kent State, it’s a you problem. One year I swear Penn State actually led the Mid-American Conference thanks to triumphs over Eastern, Western AND Central Michigan. But despite the stigma as a second class-league, the MAC does develop produce quality teams (Marshall with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss) and pro talent (Ben Roethlisberger, Jack Lambert, Charlie Batch) And not just Steelers– Bowling Green’s Dave Preston led the MAC in rushing before going on to play six years for the Denver Broncos.
Con: Small stadiums in the shadow of the Big Ten Monuments. Being a Big Ten punching-bag. Tuesday Night Football as their ESPN Showcase…that night was made for Happy Days and Three’s Company, not trick plays and three and outs.

Sun Belt–
Pro: They offer scholarships and if you beat them it counts more than a victory over an FCS school (aka I-AA). They travel just as well and can almost guarantee you homecoming heroism. When the MAC looks for guarantee games, they call the Sun Belt. They boast State and hyphenated schools.
Con: If the MAC is Happy Days, the Sun Belt is Too Close for Comfort. Oh… you finished your homework in between Three’s Company and Hart to Hart? Nothing to see here…

Two fantastic days of skipping work, freaking out over last second shots, eating all varieties of food extremely not good for you, being bad boyfriends/husbands and hanging out in bars way earlier than normally socially acceptable. Welcome aboard a 32 game rollercoaster filled with thrills, chills and spills.

Add into the equation that this is Shamrock Shake and Girl Scout Cookie season… March is rather magnificent.  By this time you’ve read the USAToday as well as your local paper (Washington Times was highly underrated when they had a special insert thanks to d1scourse’s Patrick Stevens) 17 times and can remember 15 pointers– most of which conflict.  That’s why I’m here to cut through the minutiae… delivering the highly uncalled for Bold, Fold and Gold NCAA Tournament picks.  

Bold?  As in which lower seeded team should you watch out for.

Fold?  As in which team’s stock to sell before it crashes.

Gold?  Who’s going to be cutting down the nets next weekend (unless Indiana decides to cut the nets down after a loss like they did against Ohio State).

EAST– Indiana gets the #1 seed despite losing 3 of its last 6 games… while Miami settles for a #2 after winning the ACC regular and postseason.  One loves the bracket-buster round of 64 matchup between Butler and Bucknell… while consistently uneven Syracuse is in San Jose (hopefully they know the way– they miss Dion Waiters in that regard).  Bold– California is a #10 seed and plays in San Jose.  Reminds me of 1990 when Virginia was a #10 and played in Richmond.  Fold– I’m supposed to like Marquette, really.  #12 RPI, #13 SOS, their coach’s resemblance to a slimmed down Curly…but  they’re going to survive a designed for upset four-pack of Butler, Bucknell and Davidson?  Bold– California is a #10 seed and plays in San Jose.  Reminds me of 1990 when Virginia was a #10 and played in Richmond.  Gold– it’s tempting to take Jim Larranaga’s senior laden bunch on the court of his 2006 GMU triumph…but Indiana will cut down the nets for real.

SOUTH– over the years this has been the Mideast and Southeast Bracket, so forgive any self-consciousness.  Kansas is the top seed despite the weak Big XII- (only ten schools to boot)…while Georgetown tries to get past the first weekend for the first time since 2007.  They were a #2 seed that year as well.  Fold–  Florida is 26-1 in games decided by 10 points or more…and 0-6 in three possession games.  I have a feeling they’ll see more of the latter than the former–and that can’t be a good thing.   Bold–VCU plays a frenetic style that makes them a tough tight turnaround matchup…and schools not ready for the frenzy will melt.  Gold– Georgetown plays disciplined defense, aggravating offense and has the regions best player in Otto Porter, Jr.  And Markel Starks is a nice second option.

MIDWEST– No team is playing better than Louisville right now… while no player is more of a difference maker than Duke’s Ryan Kelly… and no coach is scarier to face than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.  I guess it’s time for the “dartboard” system.  Fold–Memphis is your classic 30 win team that played nobody during the regular season…the Tigers have minimal time to prepare for St. Mary’s…and their coach looks like he spends way too much time on his hair.  Bold– St. Louis under interim coach Jim Crews is playing for the memory of their late coach Rick Majerus.  They play a stifling defense.  Opposing fans spend way too much time chanting “What’s a Billiken?” to effectively jeer their players.  Gold–Duke is back at full-strength. With time for Ryan Kelly to rest.  Facing teams unfamiliar with them.  Plus, nothing would give Blue Devils assistant Chris Collins a bigger shot at the Northwestern job than more halftime interviews that Coach K refuses to do.

WEST– Gonzaga is the #1 seed and #1 team in both polls, but not the overall #1 seed  So Cinderella gets to keep her complex even after being declared royalty.  Fold– Wisconsin plays uglyball better than anyone in the country… and they have a kid who looks like Ralph Malph/Carrot Top/Seth Green/obnoxious red-haired kid here.  But while two left feet can get you through the Big Ten…it’s tougher in the big dance for Bo Ryan’s bunch. Bold– Wichita State is the sisyphus of college hoops.  Good coach arrives, builds a program with bigtime upsets and then leaves for the bigtime.  Rinse and repeat.  Gold–Arizona has been under the radar all season… Sean Miller doesn’t have to take his team east of the Rockies… and I’m just not sold on Gonzaga, Ohio State, New Mexico or Kansas State.