Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The thirty reasons college football is better than the NFL

The 2012 college football season starts tomorrow night.  And, in anticipation, I'm again reminded of  the many reasons why the college game is better than the NFL.

1.              The Horseshoe
2.              USC dance team
3.              “Rocky Top”
4.              Oregon’s uniforms
5.              The Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of all bowl games
6.              Homecoming
7.              Lee Corso and mascot heads
8.              The 12th Man at Texas A&M
9.              Death Valley at LSU
10.          Chief Osceola’s spear at Florida State
11.          "Wabash Cannonball"
12.          Overtime
13.          “The Game”
14.          The Swamp
15.          The Heisman Trophy
16.          Spread offense
17.          UGA
18.          "War Damn Eagle!"
19.          Bevo
20.          “Roll Tide!”
21.          Red River Shootout
22.          Dotting the “i”
23.          The Grove at Ole Miss
24.          “Hail to the Victors”
25.          New Year’s Day
26.          Wisconsin’s Fifth Quarter
27.          The Big House
28.          "Waking up the echoes" at Notre Dame
29.          Tailgating that doesn’t take place in parking lots
30.          The best regular season of any sport

Saturday, August 25, 2012

KU, KSU and MU: Buy, Sell or Hold?

The college football season, at long last, is upon us.  Let's take a quick look at Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, all of whom open their seasons this Saturday at home.


The Jayhawks enter 2012 with one thought--"there's only one way to go from last season and that's up."  KU was undoubtedly the worst defense team in FBS football in 2011, giving up over 516 yards per game.  On offense, the Jayhawks were dead last in the Big 12 with a scoring average of 22.3 points per game.

Whether you like him or not, or question the hire or not, the arrival of Charlie Weis at Kansas, after the firing of Turner Gill, definitely improved the level of coaching in Lawrence.  Skeptics would say, "sure--how could it be worse?"  But, the Weis brand was able to lure in a coaching staff which included Dave Campo, former secondary coach at the Dallas Cowboys and well-traveled NFL coaching veteran, and Tim Grunhard, former Kansas City Chiefs lineman and a guy who immediately started recruiting Kansas City hard.  Weis also brought back Clint Bowen, a defensive coach under Mark Mangino and a guy who is well-connected in the state of Kansas.

So, what will we get from the 2012 Jayhawks?  The quarterbacking will be improved given the arrival of former Notre Damer, Dayne Crist, in Lawrence.  Crist not only ups the talent level at this position but also brings a mature locker room presence and on-field leader.  The offensive output for Kansas should improve immediately, what with Crist and a solid offensive line, complemented by a strong set of running backs.  The receiver positions are well-stocked, particularly with the return of a healthy Daymond Patterson.

Defense is the big question, again.  Fifth-year transfers and juco transfers are expected to help but this unit likely is far from being an average defense in the offensive-minded Big 12.  Senior Toben Opurum is the guy most likely to contend for all-league honors on the defense.

So, do we buy, sell or hold on the Jayhawks?  The schedule is tough but I say "hold" as this team has promise, and with the starters staying healthy and the transfers being as good as advertised, KU could potentially improve to a five-win season.


Kansas State:

Don't look to get any keen insight on this season's Kansas State Wildcats from Bill Snyder.  Snyder, arguably the best college football coach at doing more with less, has mastered the art of not saying too much.  Unfortunately for Snyder, the Wildcats surprised everyone last year so high expectations, and a preseason top 25 ranking, are a consequence of this success.

After a three-year bowl drought, KSU has gone to back-to-back bowls and almost made its way into the Big 12 title game last season.  In five of their games (four of them wins), the deciding points were scored in the final four minutes of regulation or overtime.

Collin Klein returns and is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.  Klein, the running QB with the linebacker body and mentality, had 27 touchdowns last season, tying for the most ever from that position.  But, Klein isn't the only weapon on offense--John Hubert will likely rush for over 1,000 yards this season and WR/KR Tyler Lockett is on most preseason All-American teams.

Arthur Brown anchors the KSU defense but that is the area of concern with this team.  There are only two returning starters on the defensive line and the secondary loss some key contributors.

Will Kansas State be good?  Absolutely.  Will they equal last year's success?  I don't think so.  The 'Cats aren't going to sneak up on anyone and play many key games on the road--Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor.  The Wildcats will be bowl eligible again but don't be surprised if the record is 6-6--the late season games in Ft. Worth and Waco are the ones which will determine how much success this KSU team will have in 2012.

My counsel is to "sell" on this season's Wildcats.



If Kansas State is an enigma this season, then what's Missouri?  The Tigers enter play in a new conference--the SEC, are unranked in the preseason for the first time in forever, and have a starting quarterback and running back coming back from injuries.  Some predict that MU will finish behind Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee in the SEC East, while others predict a Missouri upset over Georgia on September 9.

We all can debate whether the move to the SEC was the right one for Mizzou but the reality is that all season tickets have been sold and interest has never been higher in the football program.  The Tigers signed Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation's top-ranked wide receiver, during the spring recruitment period, and he should start immediately as a target for QB James Franklin, who's coming back from shoulder surgery.  The running back position is in good shape if Henry Josey is healthy--he teams with Kendial Lawrence in MU's one-back set.

The defense is a question mark in the SEC given that it gave up 382 yards a game in 2011.  While the Big 12 is an offensive-minded league, and thus that number may not be a surprise, I'm not sure it'll cut it in the new conference.  There's only one returning starter on the defensive line but the linebacking crew is solid and E.J. Gaines leads the secondary.

MU's schedule will be one of the toughest in the country--Georgia and Arizona State at  home, then a road game to South Carolina on September 22.  On September 29, MU plays at Central Florida, which is game where the Tigers need to be careful of a letdown, before returning home against Vanderbilt.  Alabama comes to Columbia on October 13; the Tigers play at Florida (November 3), Tennessee (November 10) and Texas A&M (November 24.)

What's the verdict on this year's Tigers?  I say "hold" given the uncertainty about Franklin's health.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympics withdrawal

The dust from the London Olympics is settling and I realized last night that I had to find new programming--whether DVRed or real-time--to fill the void left by the nightly tune-ins to Bob Costas and his merry band of NBC reporters.  And, I'm already missing the nightly tape-delayed drama.

These Olympics, in our Twitter world, raised controversy given that there was no shortage of outlets for discovering the results even though NBC insisted on keeping those results secret until the night-time coverage.   Yes, a Today Show promo did spoil at least one such event but, for the most part, the network was steadfast in its desire to keep the plot lines thick.  While the Twitter-verse came up with #NBCfail as a result (this generation's "-gate" nomenclature), viewers still tuned in to the Peacock in record numbers.

Let's look at some winners and losers of these Olympics, shall we?

Loser:  Rowdy Gaines' insistent outdoor voice broadcasting of swimming got old quick.  He turned a very capable broadcaster, Dan Hicks, into his wing man with the constant "ohh's" and other exhaled sentiments which were delivered at octaves well above what was comfortable for we viewers.

Winner:  The biggest winner of these Games had to be U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin.  Franklin has the innocent teenage exuberance that is endearing coupled with articulate, well-grounded observations about her successes.  Her interview in the studio with Costas was one of the great moments of NBC's coverage.

Loser:  Let's to back to the Aquatic Center for this one.  Andrea Kremer, why did you insist on asking questions which re-stated just what the swimmers said?  Kremer's post-swim interviews were, in a word, awful.

Winners:  In addition to Franklin, these U.S. athletes excelled in their respective sports and stand to profit greatly from these games:  Michael Phelps; Ryan Lochte; Gabby Douglas; Hope Solo; the breakout star of U.S. Womens Soccer, Alex Morgan; and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

Loser:  The U.S. Mens Gymnastics team was built up with expectations which did not mesh with the teams' performance in London.  There were many heartwarming stories, and winning personalities, on this team so let's not classify this a "loser" but a "disappointment."

Winner:  Best name--Destiny Hooker.  Hooker, the U.S. Womens Volleyball star, not only has a cool name but looks like she stepped out of a fashion magazine.

Loser:  Tim Daggett and Elfi Shlegel redefined the word "melodramatic."  The two Gymnastics announcers, with cohort Al Trautwig, too often proclaimed a winner before events even began, forgetting that favorites don't often win.

Winner:  The gold medal U.S. Womens Soccer team gave us some of the best theater in these Games--the shootout win over Canada in the semi-final match and then the win over Japan in the final, avenging their loss in the World Cup final in 2011.

Loser:  The addition of John McEnroe to NBC's announcer lineup was a head-scratcher.  Mac is a terrific color commentator on tennis but a lifestyle correspondent/interviewer he is not.

Winner:  There were many stars of NBC's coverage but none was bigger than Costas.  Costas is, simply put, a pro and was built to anchor an event like the Olympics.  His wit and interviewing skills are on full display in this type of venue and he's a welcoming presence each night for an event which spans 17 days.  Let's also give a shout-out to Mary Carrillo who complemented Costas with plenty of engaging set pieces about London and the Games.

Loser:  The closing ceremonies.  The opening ceremonies were odd, quirky and thus typically British, but the ending event was a mash-up of weirdness and too much emphasis on the marginal in British music.  And, NBC's decision to air an episode of their new comedy, Animal Practice, before showing the "closing party" with The Who was just plain wrong.

Winner:  London.  NBC made this three-time Olympic host city look incredibly lovely with plenty of beauty shots.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Whither USA Track and Field?

Week one of the Olympics featured U.S. swimmer after U.S. swimmer winning or medaling in a race or relay.  Sure, most of the time it was that guy named Phelps but other names were squeezed into the gold-silver-bronze action--Franklin, Schmitt, Grevers, Ledecky, Soni and Vollmer.  These young faces painted a nice picture for the future of U.S. Swimming.

Contrast that success to what is going on with USA Track and Field.  For the first time in forever, a U.S. male did not make the 400M finals.  The 100, for both men and women, was won by a Jamaican sprinter.  And, the once feared USA Track and Field program is in an overall funk.

The men's 4x100 relay team won gold in 15 of 20 Olympic Games through 2000.  Then, Great Britain won in Athens in 2004 and, in Beijing, the U.S. did not even make it out of the preliminary rounds due to a dropped baton.  That episode spoke volumes about the sliding state of this country's track and field program.

USA Track and Field has been rife with off-track issues--boardroom arguments, leadership challenges and changes, and cries about the lack of diversity.  Since 2008, five executives and acting chiefs have tried to make it all better.  Even the U.S. Olympic Committee got involved, threatening to de-certify USA Track and Field over alleged mismanagement.

There are 141 total track and field medals up for grabs in London.  Estimates as to the U.S. haul have ranged from the optimistic (30) to the pessimistic (22) by industry insiders.  (As a point of reference, the U.S. won 23 in Beijing in 2008.)

Unlike their colleagues in swimming, U.S. track and field athletes often compete in pre-Olympic meets which feature lucrative payouts.  Swimming and gymnastics teams, in contrast, keep their athletes in pre-Olympic camps.

Thus far, the U.S. has nine track and field medals (two gold, three silver and four bronze) and has the opportunity to increase that lead (Russia is next with six) in the days to come.  However, if disappointment continues (i.e., dropped batons and hurdle stumbles), look for major change to be instituted including the possibility of government funding to compensate athletes, thus reducing the financial pressure to compete in the weeks between the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games.

B/R buddies hit it big

This is a cool story.

Bleacher Report was founded by four high school friends in 2006 who designed the sports site as a way for legions of rabid fans to offer up free content about their favorite teams.  That site grew to a level where it had 10.1 million unique visitors in June, up from 7.9 million a year earlier, which places B/R on the top ten list of sports sites.  (Yahoo! Sports led with 42 million unique visitors in June.)

This week, Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting acquired Bleacher Report for an undisclosed amount.  The prices being reported are in the $200 million range.

What's unique about this, beyond the fact that it's an example of an idea taken by a start-up and turned into millions of dollars, is the continued significant evolution of user-generated content.  Sites like Bleacher Report have been criticized for being nothing more than "content farms" but this acquisition is proof that there is a market for this type of website.  Like the AOL-Huffington Post marriage that came before it, the Turner-B/R union is another example of a media behemoth taking a keen interest in user-generated content.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Week One: Olympic reflections

One week of the Olympics is almost fully in the books and here are my random thoughts on what we've witnessed--or not--in these opening seven days of competition.

- Gabby Douglas made herself a lot of money last night.  I hate to put it in those terms but let's be realistic--the sprite dynamo with the captivating smile is marketing gold, particularly now with a Womens All-Around Gymnastics gold medal to go with her team Gymnastics gold.

- Where is Jimmy Roberts?  I hear that he's appearing on some NBC Olympics programming but it certainly isn't in prime time as he's been replaced by Ryan Seacrest and John McEnroe.  Seacrest is fine and I'm sure was added in hopes of providing some entertainment street cred to the programming.  McEnroe is just a goofy choice--I love Johnny Mac on tennis but don't know that he adds a thing to NBC's prime time coverage.  Roberts was a real journalist who was adept at the profile pieces--something which I think has been sorely lacking in the Olympics coverage I've watched.

- The only thing more painful than the post-swimming race interviews by Andrea Kremer would be if CBS' Leslie Visser was on point with the microphone.  Kremer's questions often repeat what a swimmer just said and the looks on the faces of these athletes says it all.  Kremer has been so bad that she was trending on Twitter two nights ago.  She's no stranger to sideline reporter controversy as she has been publicly outspoken in the past about the "vitriol" (her word) aimed at female colleagues who report from the football and basketball sidelines.  My choice, if we could trade up from Kremer, would be ESPN's Doris Burke or Suzy Kolber.  Neither, of course, have covered swimming in the past but both are good with their coach and player interviews.

- Someone tweeted that Ryan Lochte's dad is the Frank Martin (former Kansas State basketball coach) of Olympic parents.  Lochte's pop was one intense looking dude.

- Can someone help me understand that when there is a tie, in a sport decided by thousandths of points, why both athletes don't get a medal?  Last night, the USA's Aly Raisman and Russia's Allya Mustafina tied in Womens Gymnastics with 59.566 total points but Mustafina won through an odd tie-breaking system.

- Head-scratcher:  Why is synchronized diving an Olympic sport but baseball or softball are not?  I'm just curious...

- Who else is marketing gold on the U.S. team?  You'd be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than Missy Franklin.  The 17-year old swimmer now owns three gold medals and one bronze.  Her bubbly personality and teenage exuberance, combined with yet another winning smile, means that Franklin will join Douglas as two athletes positioned to reap the most notoriety from these Games.

- Most fun event to watch:  Beach volleyball.