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College Football Week 8 Awards October 19, 2014

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FSU-NotreDame2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Glad I’m not him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Lucky guy: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

Poor guy: Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Art Briles, Baylor
Desperately seeking … anything: Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 8 Michigan State (defeated Indiana 56-17)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated North Carolina State 30-18)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Colorado (lost to No. 22 USC 56-28)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 34-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 7 Alabama (defeated No. 21 Texas A&M 59-0)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: SMU

You know, they’re not so bad: Minnesota
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Baylor

Did the season start? Texas A&M
Can the season end? Georgia State
Can the season never end? Florida State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Florida State 31, No. 5 Notre Dame, 27

Play this again, too: No. 20 Utah 29, Oregon State 23
Never play this again: South Carolina 41, Furman 10

What? Nevada 42, BYU 35

Huh? No. 14 Kansas State 31, No. 11 Oklahoma 30
Are you kidding me? No. 7 Alabama 59, No. 21 Texas A&M 0 (the shear blowout)

Oh – my – God: West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for: No. 3 Ole Miss @ No. 24 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: (none, notwithstanding the “Why Are They Playing” entry)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ Central Florida

Upset alert: Texas @ No. 11 Kansas State

Must win: No. 22 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Arizona @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Miami @ Virginia Tech
Great game no one is talking about: BYU @ Boise State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. James Franklin of Penn State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 1 Mississippi State @ Kentucky (also:  UConn @ No. 18 East Carolina)

Why are they playing? UAB @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Florida Atlantic @ No. 23 Marshall

 

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

  • While Michigan State is a solid choice for the “Thought you’d kick butt, you did” weekly award, the truth is, a number of teams ended up kicking butt, that in hindsight made sense that they would. Start with South Carolina (see: last week’s “Why are they playing?” nod), who beat relatively hapless Furman 41-10. In hindsight, a resurgent Ohio State team against a Rutgers team still learning to navigate the terrain of the Big Ten was also a clear would-be drubbing (result: 56-17). Even more obvious was the Colorado @ USC match-up. The Buffaloes still cannot get things together, while Steve Sarkesian is slowly building the Trojans back to national prominence. The 56-28 result, therefore, came as not surprise.
  • While Alabama could not be a more obvious choice for the weekly “Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did” award (59-0 over Texas A&M, their biggest lopsided shutout in 35 years), other games would have been decent choices as well. Start with Marshall’s butt-kicking of Florida International, 45-13. Even more of a surprise, though, was TCU’s drubbing of Oklahoma State, 42-9. On paper, these were closely-matched teams (No. 12 vs. No. 15, respectively). Turns out that in reality, they were not that close in terms of competitive prowess after all. Further down the food chain, Appalachian State – a newcomer to the FCS – beat up on Troy unexpectedly, 53-14. Sounds like the latter is a “Can the season end?” candidate. Stay tuned.
  • Last night’s Notre Dame @ Florida State slugfest is already an instant classic. Clearly one of the biggest, best games of the season thus far, it wins the “Play this again” award hands down. That said, despite some lop-sided victories in football this past weekend, plenty other games merit a second look nevertheless. Start with the late Thursday night game on the West Coast, Utah @ Oregon State. The Utes went into Reser Stadium, took the Beavers into overtime, and walked out victorious. Speaking of the West Coast, take a look at the final score between UCLA @ Cal (spoiler alert: 36-34). Consider that you have the Bruins vs. Golden Bears, and two different shades of blue and gold going head-to-head, in the same conference, no less. With such similarities, such a score result is only fitting. In the Big Ten, one was able to enjoy an interesting matchup between Minnesota and Purdue. On one hand, the Golden Gophers have quietly risen to the top of their division in the conference, while Purdue has quietly improved from their doldrums. Indeed, the Boilers almost won on the road.
  • Notre Dame remains an enigma. After so many close calls against inferior teams, surely they would not have played No. 2 Florida State as closely as they did on the road. Not when having to result to strokes of luck to win against Stanford. Not when allowing Purdue to play them as closely as they did in Indianapolis. Yet on Saturday night, they played in Tallahassee like they deserved to be the 5th-ranked team in the nation. Further monitoring of the team will be in order to make sense of this inconsistent behavior. Fortunately, the schedule is such that it will allow for further clarity to be reached as it plays out. The Fighting Irish journey to Tempe, Ariz., to play Arizona State in three weeks, followed by Northwestern and then Louisville at home. Then, they cap off the season in Los Angeles against USC. One takes any one of those teams lightly at his own peril (translation: if the Irish fail to bring their A-game to any one of these matchups, they’re doomed).
  • As an aside, part of Ole Miss now being taken seriously in the national rankings (No. 3, currently), is that their defense is given plenty of respect with an up-and-coming brand: the “land shark” defense. One must admit, that has a nice ring to it!

College Football Week 7 Awards October 13, 2014

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(MissSt_Auburn2014 Note: All rankings are current AP [week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Wish I were him, too: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Lucky guy: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Poor guy: Charlie Strong, Texas
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim McElwain, Colorado State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Desperately seeking … anything: Paul Petrino, Idaho

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Tennessee (beat Chattanooga 45-10)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 6 Notre Dame (beat North Carolina 50-43)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Chattanooga (lost to Tennessee 45-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Purdue (lost to No. 8 Michigan State 45-31)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 13 Georgia (defeated No. 23 Missouri 34-0)

Dang, they’re good: Mississippi State (and Ole Miss)
Dang, they’re bad: UConn

You know, they’re not so bad: Central Florida
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Missouri

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end? Idaho
Can the season never end? Ole Miss and Mississippi State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 7 Baylor 58, No. 9 TCU 61

Play this again, too: LSU 30, Florida 27
Never play this again: Arkansas State 52, Georgia State 10

What? Iowa 45, Indiana 21

Huh? USC 28, No. 10 Arizona 26
Are you kidding me? Duke 31, No. 22 Georgia Tech 25

Oh – my – God: No. 3 Mississippi State 38, No. 2 Auburn 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Ticket to die for: No. 5 Notre Dame @ No. 2 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: (none, notwithstanding the “Why Are They Playing” entry)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Fresno State @ Boise State

Upset alert: No. 10 Georgia @ Arkansas

Must win: No. 21 Texas A&M @ No. 7 Alabama

Offensive explosion: No. 4 Baylor @ West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Kentucky @ LSU
Great game no one is talking about: Utah State @ Colorado State

Intriguing coaching matchup: David Shaw of Stanford vs. Todd Graham of Arizona State (also, Bill Snyder of Kansas State vs. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma)

Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 22 USC

Why are they playing? Furman @ South Carolina

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ Idaho

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Southern Miss @ North Texas

Week 7 Random Thoughts:

  • This weekend was almost as epic as the previous one. True, there were the amount of upsets to match last week, but there were great matchups and key tests therein. Both flagship schools from the Magnolia State proved that they not only could stand prosperity, but that last week’s wins proved to be no flukes. Indeed, Ole Miss went in to College Station, Texas, in front of the largest crowd ever to assemble for a football game in the Lone Star State (106,000 fans), and beat the Aggies in convincing fashion, 35-20. Meanwhile, Mississippi State had just as huge a challenge as they had the previous week, if not even more so in a cagey Auburn squad. The fact that they beat the Tigers/War Eagles at home shows that the Bulldogs are for real, and that their No. 1 ranking is no happenstance.
  • Last week I observed of the inconclusiveness of Purdue’s win over Illinois. The unanswered question at the time was, had the Boilermakers improved that much from their inept showing against Iowa the previous week, or were the Illini just that bad? After their respectable showing against a very tough Michigan State squad, I am compelled to conclude that they have, in fact, improved: clearly a positive trend.

Josiah Price, Ja'Whan Bentley

  • So what was up with those God-awful, all-white uniforms that Purdue wore at home? It turns out that they intended to use neon-yellow trim on their uniforms for some sort of breast cancer awareness gesture. For some inexplicable reason, Nike refused to make a black jersey for them in that sort of trim, so the Boilers went all-white instead. Sounds like the Boilers should switch to Under Armor, for such a refusal for a team is most unbecoming. Seeing things another way, would Nike have a refused such a thing to, say, Oregon?
  • They say that the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. The Longhorns demonstrated that in spades against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Statistically, they dominated the Sooners, but too many miscues, penalties and turnovers caused them to give up the game. Even more ironic was that the Sooners were ranked ahead of Texas anyhow. Now we know why. Charlie Strong has his work cut out for him in terms of stemming such mistakes in the near future.

Week 6 College Football Awards October 6, 2014

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OleMissvBama2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 6] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Wish I were him, too: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Glad I’m not him: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Lucky guy: Will Muschamp, Florida

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim McElwain, Colorado State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Les Miles, LSU
Desperately seeking … anything: Brady Hoke, Michigan

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 1 Florida State  (beat Wake Forest 43-3)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 1 Florida State (defeated NC State 56-41)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Maryland (lost to No. 20 Ohio State 52-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Northwestern (defeated No. 17 Wisconsin 20-14)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 5 Auburn (defeated No. 18 LSU 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Auburn
Dang, they’re bad: Florida Atlantic

You know, they’re not so bad: Utah
Can’t Stand Prosperity: UCLA

Did the season start? Tennessee
Can the season end? Michigan
Can the season never end? Ole Miss and Mississippi State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 11 Ole Miss 23, No. 1 Alabama 17

Play this again, too: Utah 30, No. 8 UCLA 28
Never play this again: Clemson 41, NC State 0

What? No. 12 Mississippi State 48, No. 6 Texas A&M 31

Huh? No. 25 TCU 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 33
Are you kidding me? Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24
Oh – my – God: No. 11 Ole Miss 23, No. 3 Alabama 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for: No. 2 Auburn @ No. 3 Mississippi State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ Miami
Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ Central Florida

Upset alert: No. 3 Ole Miss @ No. 12 Texas A&M

Must win: Texas vs. No. 11 Oklahoma in Dallas

Offensive explosion: Washington @ California

Defensive struggle: LSU @ Florida
Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Clemson

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gary Patterson of TCU vs. Art Briles of Baylor

Who’s bringing the body bags? Chattanooga @ Tennessee (also, No. 9 Michigan State @ Purdue)

Why are they playing? Charleston Southern @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Eastern Michigan

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Louisiana-Monroe @ Kentucky

 

Week 6 Random Thoughts:

  • In all the years I have followed college football closely (two decades and counting), I honestly cannot recall a weekend where the top-ten rankings were turned upside-down with upsets. Indeed, upsets abounded all over the place. To wit, Thursday night, Arizona went into noisy Autzen Stadium and upset the No. 2 Oregon Ducks. Friday night, Utah State beat deceptively-tough No. 18 BYU. Then on Saturday during the noon timeslot, Mississippi State finally earned a big win over a top-ten opponent in Texas A&M. Following that, Ole Miss beat No. 3 Alabama. The last time the Rebels went 5-0, John F. Kennedy was in the White House. If that is not enough, TCU went into Norman, Okla., and upset the Sooners. Let us not forget that out on the West Coast, unranked Utah upset No. 8 UCLA out in the Rose Bowl. So, just so everybody is up to speed, the No. 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8-ranked teams all went down.
  • Regarding Purdue’s win on the road at Illinois, it remains inconclusive as to whether or not the Boilermakers have improved that much since stinking out the joint against Iowa on homecoming weekend, or if the Illini are even more inept than Purdue.
  • So with all the top-ten teams going down to defeat this past Saturday, how come No. 1 Florida State escaped unscathed? That would not have anything to do with the fact that they played Wake Forest, would it?
  • With all the top-ten teams upset, it might have escaped the notice of many fans that unranked Northwestern also pulled off an upset over the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers. Given the Wildcats’ mediocre performances thus far, none of us saw that one coming.
  • I cannot help but surmise that the only thing the saved Notre Dame’s bacon at home against Stanford was the positively nasty weather that no doubt threw the Cardinal a bit off their game. Otherwise, the Irish might have (indeed should have) been exposed.
  • For those of us who are waiting for the opportunity for Notre Dame to be exposed as the truly overrated team they are, mark your calendars for Nov. 8, when they play Florida State, followed by Nov. 22. On that date, they play the Louisville Cardinals. Just sayin’.

College Football Week 5 Awards September 29, 2014

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Mizzou_USC628x471(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 5] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Jim Mora, UCLA

Glad I’m not him: James Franklin, Penn State

Lucky guy: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jeff Monken, Army

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brady Hoke, Michigan

 

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 17 LSU (defeated New Mexico State 63-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 1 Florida State (defeated NC State 56-41)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wyoming (lost to No. 9 Michigan State 56-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Wisconsin 27-10)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Temple (defeated UConn 36-10)

Dang, they’re good: Auburn

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulane

You know, they’re not so bad:  Minnesota

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Indiana

Did the season start?  South Carolina

Can the season end?  SMU

Can the season never endUCLA

 

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 6 Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)

Play this again, too:  Cal 59, Colorado 56

Never play this again: TCU 56, SMU 0

What? Northwestern 29, Penn State 6

HuhYale 49, Army 43

Are you kidding me?  Maryland 37, Indiana 15

Oh – my – GodMissouri 21, No. 13 South Carolina 20

 

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)

Ticket to die for: No. 3 Alabama @ No. 11 Ole Miss (though you don’t want to miss No. 6 Texas A&M @ No. 12 Mississippi State, either, or No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 15 LSU, for that matter)

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: North Texas @ Indiana

Best non-Power Five matchup: Utah State @ BYU (also, Southern Miss @ Middle Tennessee)

Upset alert: No. 14 Stanford @ No. 9 Notre Dame

Must win: Virginia Tech @ North Carolina

Offensive explosion: Arizona @ No. 2 Oregon (Thurs.)

Defensive struggle: Purdue @ Illinois

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Syracuse (Fri.)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Rich Rodriquez of Arizona vs. Mark Helfrich of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ West Virginia

Why are they playing? Marshall @ Old Dominion

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ Florida International

They shoot horses, don’t they?  SMU @ East Carolina

 

Week 5 Random Thoughts:

- Having made these types of weekly articles during the college football season for the third straight year, without a doubt, the most difficult thing to accurately predict is the “offensive explosion” game each week. This time, I got it fairly close, seeing as how the score between the Clemson vs. North Carolina game ended at 50-35, in favor of the Tigers. The only problem was, there were plenty other “offensive explosions” to choose from in hindsight, such as Florida State vs. North Carolina State (56-41), or even Cal vs. Colorado (59-53). Even the Army-Yale game kept the scoreboard lit up at 49-43, with the Bulldogs – an FCS team – beating the Black Knights, an FBS team. Still, with a combined tally of 85, the originally-designated game turned out to be a good prediction after all.

-  Just for the record, “defensive struggles” are comparatively easier to predict. At a final score of 24-10, the Iowa @ Purdue game delivered reasonably on that prognostication, though Vandy @ Kentucky bested at mark with a final score of 17-7 in favor of the Wildcats. Nevertheless, in this day and age of ubiquitous spread offenses and no-huddles, 24-10 easily qualifies as a low-scoring contest.

-  After watching Purdue slowly give the game away to Iowa at home, something occurred to me, in two parts. Yes, the Boilermakers have improved from last year, but they are still inept. Also, having your home stadium only two-thirds full for homecoming is not a good sign.

-  In case you missed the fireworks at last week’s post-game press conference, Steve Spurrier tore in to his own team…after [South Carolina] won.  Heaven knows the hell there will be to pay for the Gamecock players after coughing it up at home to Mizzou this past Saturday evening.

-  Meanwhile, on the West Coast, UCLA is on a roll right now, having thumped a respectable Arizona State team in the desert, 62-27.  Mark your calendars for Oct. 11, because if these shadows remain unchanged, the matchup between the Bruins and the Oregon Ducks on that date will be a ticket t0 die for, Pac-12 edition.

-  The powers that be at Kansas already fired Charlie Weis from the head coaching position…after only four games…and they were only 2-2 (hey give them credit:  they DID beat Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan).  Granted, the program was, over the course of the past two to three years, headed in the wrong direction anyhow, but it still seems odd firing one’s head coach only four games into the season after a 2-2 record.  There are two take-aways from this.  One is that Charlie Weis is clearly not built to be a head coach.  He is a brilliant offensive mind, to be sure, but many men do not have what it takes to lead other men over the hill on the field of battle.  Weis is one of those of many.  In hindsight, he would have been better off staying at Florida as an offensive coordinator, as that job much more effectively plays to his strengths as a coach.  The other take-away is in regards to the questionably hasty firing.  This is Kansas, after all, and is yet another thing that explains why the program is a perpetual bottom-feeder, with this being the latest in their strategic blunders.

College Football Week 4 Awards September 22, 2014

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Indiana Missouri Football2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 4] unless otherwise noted.)

 

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Glad I’m not him: Les Miles, LSU
Lucky guy: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Poor guy: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ruffin McNeil, East Carolina

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Desperately seeking … anything: Bob Diaco, UConn

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 11 Michigan State (defeated Eastern Michigan 73-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Central Michigan (lost to Kansas 24-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Troy (lost to No. 13 Georgia 66-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Texas State (lost to Illinois 42-35)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: East Carolina (defeated North Carolina 70-41)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: Hawaii

You know, they’re not so bad: Arkansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity: LSU

Did the season start? Virginia Tech
Can the season end? Eastern Michigan
Can the season never end? East Carolina

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Florida State 23, No. 22 Clemson 17
Never play this again: North Texas 77, Nichols 3

What? East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41

Huh? Georgia Tech 27, Virginia Tech 24
Are you kidding me? Indiana 31, No. 18 Missouri 27
Oh – my – God: Mississippi State 34, No. 8 LSU 29

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Ticket to die for: Arkansas @ No. 6 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ No. 22 Ohio State
Best non-Power Five matchup: Central Michigan @ Toledo

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 12 Georgia

Must win: Missouri @ No. 13 South Carolina

Offensive explosion: North Carolina @ Clemson

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Purdue
Great game no one is talking about: Texas Tech @ No. 24 Oklahoma State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora of UCLA vs. Todd Graham of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Wyoming @ No. 9 Michigan State

Why are they playing? New Mexico State @ No. 17 LSU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (Ohio) @ Buffalo

They shoot horses, don’t they?  UTEP @ No. 25 Kansas State

 

Week 4 Random Thoughts:

  • This week, the Big Ten acquitted themselves rather well. After three weeks of disaster, along with nearly everyone in America paying attention to the college football scene about to write the one-great conference’s epitaph, the B1G appeared to have reminded folks that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. To wit:
  • Maryland upset Syracuse. The Orange, who were 2-0 going into the game, seemed to be the favored team (especially since they were playing at home in the Carrier Dome). But the Terps showed up, and won 34-20, on the road.
  • Yes, even Purdue won, even though they had to defeat an FCS team in order to do so, beating the Southern Illinois Salukis only 35-14. Just one more touchdown would have made the win semi-convincing.
  • Iowa won on the road, defeating a respectable Pitt team, 24-20, in the last minutes of the game, no less.
  • Think Purdue’s win was less-than-convincing? Check out Northwestern: they beat Western Illinois 24-7. Still, a win is a win – at least, in this case.
  • Michigan State, without any surprise, thrashed their directional neighbor Eastern Michigan 73-14, in what amounted to be one of the biggest “body bag games” of the week.
  • Even though Illinois had to struggle to do so, they pulled in out in the end over Texas State, 42-35.
  • Granted, there was a rather ignominious loss concerning Michigan. To be sure, Utah is not a horrible team, but they’re not great either. Moreover, this was a home game for the Wolverines, who failed to even reach the red zone. In the Big House.
  • Wisconsin’s blowout win over Bowling Green at home, 68-17, came as little surprise. And I must say, the Badgers’ red helmets look very nice indeed!
  • Minnesota beat San Jose State 24-7.
  • Let us not forget Nebraska’s win at home over Miami (Fla.), 41-31.
  • Rutgers did beat Navy, 31-24, and the Midshipmen are never to be taken lightly.
  • That said, Indiana (yes, that Indiana) represented the entire conference well by beating a more-than-respectable Missouri Tigers squad on the road. If these shadows remained unchanged, the Hoosiers could take the conference by storm this year (notwithstanding Michigan State or Ohio State, who both happen to inhabit the same division as IU).
  • So, 12-1 for the conference is not bad considering the previous two weeks. Were it not been for Ohio State’s bye week, it might have been 13-1.
  • In other news, while I hate to see LSU take it on the chin, it is very nice indeed to see Dan Mullen and Mississippi State get a nice, signature win.

Week 3 College Football Awards September 16, 2014

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 3] unless otherwise noted.)

Purdue v Notre DameCOACHES
Wish I were him: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas
Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ruffin McNeil, East Carolina

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Steve Sarkisian, USC
Desperately seeking … anything:  Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 22 Ohio State (defeated Kent State 66-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Vanderbilt (defeated UMass 34-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (see first line above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Colorado (lost to No. 16 Arizona State 38-24)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Syracuse (defeated Central Michigan 40-3)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma
Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  Eastern Michigan
Can the season never endOle Miss

GAMES
Play this again:  Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42

Play this again, too:  Middle Tennessee 50, Western Kentucky 47
Never play this again: No. 8 Baylor 63, Buffalo 21

Told you so:  Penn State 13, Rutgers 10

What? Virginia 23, No. 21 Louisville 21

HuhNo. 24 South Carolina 38, No. 6 Georgia 35

Are you kidding meEast Carolina 28, No. 17 Virginia Tech 21

Oh – my – GodBoston College 38, No. 9 USC 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for (sort of):  No. 22 Clemson @ No. 1 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: North Carolina @ East Carolina
Best non-Power Five matchup: Middle Tennessee @ Memphis

Upset alert: Miami (Fla.) @ No. 24 Nebraska

Must win: Southern Illinois @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: No. 2 Oregon @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Rutgers
Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ No. 21 BYU

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gus Malzahn of Auburn vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Texas A&M @ SMU

Why are they playing? Troy @ No. 13 Georgia

Plenty of good seats remaining: Idaho @ Ohio U

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Eastern Michigan @ No. 11 Michigan State

Week 3 Random Thoughts:

-  Just when you think that Louisville is rolling again under second, non-consecutive term head coach Bobby Petrino (paging Grover Cleveland), the Cards lay an egg on the road.  Virginia is not that bad of a team, but that is still no excuse for all the quarterback miscues that seemed to plague U of L throughout the game, leading to the disappointing result.  Perhaps Petrino should consider playing the freshman QB?

-  Virginia Tech seems nothing if not consistent when it comes to losing games the week after winning a big one.

-  They say that football can be a game of inches.  In the case of South Carolina upsetting intra-conference and border rival Georgia, it was a game of one inch.  Period.  Well, that and a good (favorable?) spotting of the ball by the refs after 4th and one inch.

-  Perhaps Oregon might have been saving a little energy for future endeavors later this season.  How else might one explain a win over Wyoming by a score of only 48-12?  Given how well the Ducks have played thus far, you’d think the Cowboys got off easy.

-  Did Purdue acquit themselves against No. 11 Notre Dame, or are the Fighting Irish that mediocre?  In the wake of the Boilermakers embarrassing themselves at home last week to Central Michigan, coupled with ND demolishing Michigan, one would have thought that the annual in-state rivalry game would have meant utter demolition for Purdue.  Instead, the Boilers ended up leading, however briefly, in the first half, scoring two touchdowns on the Irish.  Such an effort compelled Notre Dame to increase their efforts, allowing them to gradually win over the course of the second half, 30-14.  The reason that so many people naturally incline towards the former answer is that they want to believe the Notre Dame hype (it sells, after all!).  But what we keep learning, and continue to have to keep learning over the past 10-15 years, is that Notre Dame is once again overrated.  The real question, therefore, to consider is, how bad is Michigan?

-  That being said, Notre Dame’s helmets for that game did look rather neat.  It is a long time coming that they incorporated a blue “ND” logo on to their gold shells.  The single, blue center stripe was a nice touch, too.  The jury is still out on the latitude-longitude, “globe lines” effect, though.  Moreover, I can do without that weird brocade effect on the shoulders of the jerseys.

Is Texas in trouble?  First, they lost ignominiously at home to BYU last week.  Then, they lose to an increasingly good UCLA team, ostensibly at a neutral site, though hardly anybody could consider the Horns playing in Dallas as playing on neutral turf, be it the Cotton Bowl or AT&T Stadium.  Yes, Jim Mora has truly breathed intensity into the Bruins program at Westwood, Calif., but there is still no excuse for such a proud, tradition-and-resource laden program as Texas to suffer two such consecutive losses.  Is Coach Strong in over his head at Austin?  It would be a very painful thing to acknowledge, to be sure.  The wise thing, at this point, is to allow the rest of the season (and how it plays out) to answer that question.

-  If we were to apply the law of transitive properties, just how badly would Syracuse beat Purdue if the two played each other right about now?

College Football Week 2 Awards September 8, 2014

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Yes, we’re back.  After having missed handing out last week’s awards due to travels abroad (having visited two, count ‘em, TWO different continents in the Eastern Hemisphere!), we’re back, and as Little Richard would say, we’re ready-ready-ready to rock n’ roll!

(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 2] unless otherwise noted.)

 

COACHES
Wish I were him: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Glad I’m not him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Lucky guy: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Poor guy: David Shaw, Stanford
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dan Enos, Central Michigan

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything: Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 9 Texas A&M (defeated Lamar 73-3)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 19 Nebraska (defeated McNeese State 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to No. 5 Auburn 59-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Memphis (lost to No. 11 UCLA 42-35)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 15 Ole Miss (defeated Vanderbilt, 41-3)

Dang, they’re good: Texas A&M
Dang, they’re bad: SMU
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Texas

Did the season start? Ohio State
Can the season end? Miami (Ohio)
Can the season never end? Oregon

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 14 USC 13, No. 13 Stanford 10
Never play this again: No. 23 Clemson 73, South Carolina State 7

What? Eastern Kentucky 17, Miami (Ohio) 10

Huh? No. 16 Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
Are you kidding me? Virginia Tech 35, No. 8 Ohio State 21
Oh – my – God: BYU 41, Texas 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)
Ticket to die for: No. 6 Georgia @ No. 21 South Carolina

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Nebraska @ Fresno State
Best non-Power Five matchup: New Mexico State @ UTEP

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 4 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 12 UCLA vs Texas

Offensive explosion: Louisiana Tech @ North Texas
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Rutgers
Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Louisville @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bret Bielema of Arkansas vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? Wyoming @ No. 2 Oregon

Why are they playing? No. 8 Baylor @ Buffalo

Plenty of good seats remaining: Eastern Michigan @ Old Dominion

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Boise State @ UConn

 

Week 2 Take-aways:

This week’s results do NOT bode well for the Big Ten! Where to begin?

  • For starters, Illinois had to squeak by Western Kentucky, 42-34.
  • Then there was Nebraska having to score a last-minute touchdown to beat lowly McNeese State at home, 31-24. Way to live up to that No. 19 ranking, Cornhuskers!
  • Cracks in the proverbial damn truly became evident with Purdue’s ignominious loss at home to Central Michigan – a team that the Boilermakers have historically owned – 38-17.
  • Of course, Wisconsin was supposed to make mincemeat of Western Illinois, so nothing to see there: moving on.
  • Iowa slowly plodded to victory over Ball State, 17-13; hardly an impressive win.
  • Penn State seemed to allow Akron to make a game of it, 21-3.
  • Middle Tennessee seemed to provide some challenge to Minnesota, losing to the Golden Gophers only 35-24.
  • Northern Illinois actually did beat a well-coached Northwestern team, 23-15.

The best part (“best” being used facetiously) was that it got worse as the day progressed.

  • In the evening, Notre Dame undressed Michigan, 31-0
  • Then-unranked Virginia Tech came into the Horseshoe to upset then-No 8 Ohio State in a very embarrassing way, 35-21. Are the Buckeyes that crippled without Braxton Miller?
  • At least then-No. 7 Michigan State had a valid excuse, losing late in the game, on the road, (heck, on the West Coast) to current-No. 2 Oregon. Moreover, in further defense of the Spartans, they made a good game of it for more than half of the match-up. Still, a loss is a loss.

Yes, this will really bolster the conference’s credibility with the selection committee come season’s end.

In other news, it appears as though Charlie Strong truly does have his work cut out for him at Texas. The problem with the flagship program of the Lone Star State was that it lost its intensity, that things had become both stale and too synthetic under previous head coach Mack Brown. Strong had proven that he could restore the intensity of one program already at the University of Louisville: the powers started to think that he could do the same thing at Texas. Well, evidently he has not restored enough intensity to that program. Either that, or BYU just has the Longhorns’ number, but I doubt it.

Mischief: Exploring the Soundtrack of Eternal Youth August 21, 2014

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Mischief1985Very few movies can appeal to both our nostalgia for Americana’s bygone eras and also to our, well, mischievous side at the same time. Yet the 1985 film “Mischief” accomplishes just that, putting it in a rare company of films. A critic for the New York Times once said it best: “If Norman Rockwell had wanted to make Porky’s, he might have come up with something like Mischief.” I could not have said it any better myself. “Porky’s,” the 1982 period comedy/raunchfest, also hits the mark of aforementioned simultaneous appeals. Writer/director Bob Clark put together the story of that movie out of his own personal experiences from his high school and college days, as a way of showing the youth of the 1980s that life was not all that different for teens almost 30 years ago (Clark graduated from high school in 1957, and that movie takes place in Florida in 1954).

As for “Mischief,” one can easily surmise a very similar intent.  Screenwriter Noel Black described the film as “somewhat autobiographical,” and did a marvelous job in showing the timelessness of many teenage experiences, from romance to, er, certain obsessions.

The 1980s were a great time for period pieces from the time of Americana, particularly the 1950s (think: “Porky’s,” “Back to the Future,” “Clue,” “Mischief,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and so forth). This was mainly a function of basic logistics at the time.  If you took the established professionals in their mid-forties of that decade, you would need to go back 30 years to examine their experiences as teenagers.  That particular chronological spot just so happened to be the mid-1950s, a special time when Eisenhower was in the White House (let’s face it: Obama does not even deserve to carry Ike’s golf clubs!), Rock n’ Roll had just exploded onto the scene, America was reaching a new level of prosperity, and styling set the pace for new car design, with tailfins, wrap-around windshields, and lots of chrome!

One thing that the viewer is reminded of, as this film itself is almost 30 years old, is the respective rate of change in the patterns of life in America over the two three-decade intervals. Yes, they have changed considerably in America since the mid-‘80s, what with Internet and smart phones, but what remains clear is that the change in patterns of life was even more drastic in the first 30-year stretch.  In the mid-1950s, the center of commercial activity was still Main Street downtown, not at a sprawling shopping mall on the city’s edge, just to point out one example.

That point is hit home all the more at the very beginning of the film.  Right after the opening 20th Century Fox fanfare, the famous opening line “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” comes on to the screen, in the exact same font as that line appears at the beginning of all Star Wars films, no less! Of course, the filmmakers quickly drop the other proverbial shoe when they conclude the opening line with “…Ohio, 1956.” Quod erat demonstrandum.

The filmmakers start things off with a bang immediately, for they begin the opening scene with Fats Domino’s famous rendition of “Blueberry Hill” playing during the opening credits – that song was one of the most recognizable ones from that year, even though it never topped the charts (full confession: I was introduced to that record before I got to kindergarten…which was in 1985).

The female love interests are certainly appealing, and recognizable.  A young Kelly Preston, in her youthful prime, in 1950s dresses?  Yes, please!  Film buffs might also recognize Catherine Mary Stewart as having played the girlfriend of the protagonist in “The Last Starfighter” from the previous year (also one of the late, great, Robert Preston’s last films – no relation to the female lead in this film, though).  Other great bit-parts abound in the movie, too. Terry O’Quinn co-stars, this time sans-moustache (film buffs would recognize him as Howard Hughes from the hit Disney flick “The Rocketeer” from 1991, another great period piece, this time taking place in 1938).

Anyhow, we barely miss the three-and-a-half-minute mark of the movie when we’re treated to our next Oldie offering in the soundtrack, “Young Love,” and the Tab Hunter version, at that (the version that actually did top the charts for a couple of weeks in ’56), not the Sonny James version from the same year that most listeners might ironically more readily recognize today.

The film is not without its fair share of period gaffes, however.  The song selection is, on balance, great, but some of them are a tad anachronistic: a great example can be discerned in the eighth minute of the film, when you can hear Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” playing on a transistor radio.  All well and good, except that “Sweet Little Sixteen” was from 1958, and the story is supposed to take place in 1956. Oops.

Also, one hazard one is likely to encounter in period films from the 1980s and earlier are contemporary re-makes of hit-songs from the past. Remember, this was still a relatively new artistic technique in cinema, largely pioneered by George Lucas in “American Graffiti” from 1973.  But this was 13 years later, and seemingly a disproportionately longer span of time between the contemporary and the bygone era the film attempts to portray.  Nevertheless, after more than a decade, they still apparently had yet to secure the necessary permissions to use certain authentic songs in movies, hence the contemporary knock-offs one hears of Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” among others.  It would not be until the 1990s when, apparently, that process would become more streamlined, and we would not have to settle for the knock-offs, occasional though they may be.

Even with the knock-offs, some are still out of place. Danny and the Juniors’ “At the Hop” was re-made for the film, but the original hit did not top the charts until the start of 1958, for example.  The ever-popular “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly, also a re-make in this film, did not debut in its original form until the following year, 1957 – same thing on both counts with “Maybe Baby.” Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby” fits the year, but they had to play a late remake of it, too, for some reason.

Thankfully, one of the most appropriate tunes of the entire film, “School Days” by Chuck Berry, is untainted in its originality of rendition.  Too bad it too was from 1957, not 1956.  Oh well!  The song is played at the perfect time, just as teenage students are walking in to their high school.  With such impeccable timing, who cares if the period authenticity is off by one year?

The film’s soundtrack is not without its pleasant surprises, either.  For example, I have been listening to ‘50s tunes my entire life, and was still not aware that the Fontaine Sisters did a cover version “I’m In Love Again.”  As if the filmmakers read my mind, they waste little time in switching to the more popular rendition of that hit by Fats Domino! Later in the film, we are treated to a third recording by Fats, this time “Ain’t That a Shame” from 1955, one of the songs that contributed to rock n’ roll exploding onto the scene that year.

They also do get it correctly, however, in the 25th minute of the film by playing part of Elvis’ 1956 hit ballad “Love Me Tender.”  Ditto with Mickey and Silvia’s hit “Love is Strange” in the 41st minute. Another example of an out-of-year tune, though is in the 47th minute.  The protagonist gets his first kiss with the girl of his dreams, and they play “One Summer Night” by The Danleers (1958).  Again, oh well!  Another interesting example is when the protagonist is in the process of cultivating a relationship with an attractive girl, they play Clyde McPhatter’s “A Lover’s Question (1959).

The best way I can explain these slight incongruities in the years of some of the selected tunes is that the filmmakers were less focused on being period-correct and more focused on trying to recreate the overall era with songs that were, in some cases, recorded three years after the story’s timeline.  A similar technique was used in the movie “American Hot Wax” (1978), where early rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest hits are all mashed in together ca. 1959-1960.

Other times, the filmmakers got it right in terms of correct-to-the-year tunes, but goof elsewhere. During the main love scene of the picture, they put on a 45 RPM record, supposedly “My Prayer” by the Platters (yes, from 1956, and in fact, the group’s first No. 1 hit).  But the Platters recorded on the Mercury label, and what is seen spinning on the turntable is a Roulette record – from the mid-1960s, no less!  Another curious choice of song is later in the main love scene, when they switch to “It Only Hurts a Little While” by the Ames Brothers.  Period-correct, yes, but I can think of dozens of more romantic records between 1954-’56 than that one!  They couldn’t play “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, for example? To be sure, Kelly Preston’s nude scene lives up the hype, but I digress.  At least the version of “My Prayer” is the real deal.

ThreeRecordLabels_Mischief

When one of the characters in the movie puts on a 45 RPM record, the song one hears is “My Prayer” by the Platters (right). Yet the record one clearly sees is a record with the Roulette label, from the mid-1960s at that (see left). In the mid-1950s, Roulette’s label had the design seen in the center. Translation: this was a double period goof.

Semi-curious is the choice later in the same love scene, where they are playing Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” (the flip-side to “Peggy Sue,” but from 1957, not 1956).  But shortly thereafter, they made a fine 1956-correct choice in Bill Haley’s “See You Later, Alligator.”  The timing is also great when they break out the venerable Platters hit “The Great Pretender” from 1955, though it peaked in the charts in early 1956.  Also finely-selected for setting the mood was the exquisite doo-wop ballad “Since I Don’t Have You,” by The Skyliners.  The song was not recorded until December of ’58, and did not chart until ’59.

By the time the 75th minute rolls around, you cease to care that Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” (the first song I consciously remember ever hearing, and that is NOT a joke!).  After all, what Fifties-themed soundtrack is complete without it?  Same thing goes for the use of “It’s All in the Game” by Tommy Edwardsone of the greatest records of all time – even though it was a No. 1 hit in 1958, not ’56.

As an aside, is it not odd that they played a modern knock-off of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,”  but played the correct, original version of its flip-side, “Everyday” (Coral 61885)?  Just asking.

The usage of the Hoagy Carmichael tune “Heart and Soul” by the Cleftones, while a great tune, is even more curious, in that it was not recorded until 1959, and was not even released to the buying public until 1961.  That group had three solid doo-wop hits in 1956 (“Little Girl of Mine,” “You Baby You,” and “Can’t We Be Sweethearts?”).  Could they, the filmmakers, not have chosen one of those three instead, say, the third?  That said, and much to their credit, they nail it in terms of year and mood with the usage of the timeless Elvis hit “Don’t Be Cruel” from that year.  It takes an hour and half, but after holding out on us for the whole movie, we finally get to hear from Little Richard, singing “Rip It Up,” also correct to 1956, no less (to be sure, LR had a huge bumper crop of hard-rockers from that year)!

One aspect of the movie where the filmmakers did it consistently period-correct was the cars.  Not a single automobile that I observed – and as a long-time classic car nut, I observed very closely! – was more recent than 1956, and even they were relatively few compared to the other model years I noticed.  Plenty of 1953 Chevies, 1950 Nashes and Studebakers, and 1954 Buicks abound, among others. Only in the second half did I finally find one Cadillac – a 1956 model, one of the few cars actually from that year in the film.  Plus, there’s the occasional ’53 Studebaker, ’50 Hudson, ’47 and ’55 Plymouth, etc. So, there is a nice mix of cars and model years, overall.

It is my love of cars that made me cringe in some of the scenes.  “My goodness, I sincerely hope they did not actually warp the bumper on that ’50 Studebaker, or bend the front quarter-panel of that ’53 Chevy Bel-Air, or totally smash up that nice ’55 Chevy Bel-Air convertible.”  Hey, I care about my true classic cars!

All in all, though, the movie is well-written, very entertaining, and the soundtrack is, even with some of the unnecessary knock-offs, one of the best I have heard in a movie in a long time.  If you want to make for a cozy night in with your significant other with a great film on DVD, by all means choose this (provided you can stomach the occasionally awkward moment or two)! Who knows?  You might even gain some nostalgia for that time gone by yourself, even if the events taking place in the story predate your birth by a quarter-century or more.

USA-1 Currently Leads Field In Women’s Bobsled February 19, 2014

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Elana+Meyers+Winter+Olympics+Previews+waBn81zK5QHlElana Meyers and Lauryn Williams of the U.S.A. currently lead the field in women’s bobsled after two of four runs.  The third and fourth runs will commence tomorrow (Wed., Feb. 19).  But that is only part of the story.  The other part of the story what happened to their sled during a training run.  Reportedly, Williams pulled the brakes too late, causing the sled to crash into a wall, sustaining serious damage, as in, damage-too-serious-for-the-sled-to-be-serviceable-type of damage.  One can see this damage in the photo below.

Olympics: Bobsleigh-Women's Official Training

There is no way that a sled can be aerodynamically viable for Olympic competition after sustaining such damage!

(Here is the source for the above photo.)

So, how do we explain Meyers’ and Williams’ two solid runs?  Leave it to the support staff of the U.S. Bobsled Team to save the day.  They went down to the USA House of the Olympic village, where they just so happened to have a spare sled on display.

It also just so happens that they sneaked into the place to commandeer this spare sled with nobody noticing, because most people were glued to the thrilling hockey game between the United States and Russia — the same competitive game where the Americans ended up beating the Russians on the latter’s home ice in a shoot-out!

This writer visualizes but one scenario when the folks at NBC reported how the U.S. Bobsled team staff managed to sneak in and smuggle out the sled:  the “Minnie The Moocher” scene from “Blue Brothers”!

All kidding aside, though, the team mechanics worked long into the night, end even “In[to] The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” to transfer key, undamaged parts from the broken sled to the spare, unblemished one.  It obviously worked, given that these two ladies are poised to win the gold medal in their sport for Team USA, which would be the first time for this feat since the sport’s Olympic debut for women in 2002 at Salt Lake.  Go Team USA!

Epilogue, Feb. 19, 2014:  Meyers and Williams ended up winning the Silver medal at these Winter Olympic Games at Sochi, while their teammates Jamie Gruebel and Aja Evans won the Bronze.  Winning two out of three medals in Bobsled is always awesome!  Moreover, Williams becomes one of the select few athletes to win both medals in the Summer and Winter Olympics.  Indeed, one can count on a single hand how many athletes have achieved that rare feat.  Go Team USA!

American Pride Sliding Down the Track at Sochi February 16, 2014

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IMG_1743

The author with the United States bobsled team after they won the 4-man world championship at Lake Placid in 2012. I was so elated to have my picture taken with these fine fellows, my grin distorted my smile! L-R: Steve Holcomb, Steve Langton, Patrick Murray, Justin Olsen, and Curt Tomasevicz.

With a full week of the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi now in the books, it is finally time for my personal favorite winter sport to commence, that of bobsled (“bobsleigh” being the preferred international, i.e., non-American term).  With recent success in the sport over the past 12 years, surely the bobsled events are to gather some decent attention here in the United States, and with good reason.  We stand good chances of winning medals in all three events (2-man, women’s, and 4-man), but more importantly, we have great athletes who are also outstanding individuals representing the U.S.A.

When I first started watching the Olympics in earnest as a youngster (Calgary 1988 to be exact), I’ll never forget the first time I saw a sled fly down the track on TV.  I thought to myself, “Oh my, that was so cool!  What is that?”  Needless to say, I got hooked on bobsledding, and eagerly anticipated watching those events above all others during every Winter Olympics cycle.

If you are a football and track & field guy like I am, this is the winter sport for you.  It combines the strength, speed and power aspects of football and track, as well as the team coordination of football.  Make no mistake about it; bobsledders are the biggest, fastest, strongest athletes in all of the Winter Olympic events.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at how Johnny Quinn (a pusher for USA-2) managed to escape being trapped inside a bathroom.

Plus, it’s racing on ice, and in a country that enjoys auto racing as much as we do, that should seriously count for something as well.  And yes, our 4-man sleds are built with NASCAR technology, which is why they’re the best!

In any event, the Games in 1992, 1994, and 1998 all ticked by, and every time I watched in frustration as a medal in the sport continued to elude us.  It therefore goes without saying that one of my favorite moments of the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake was witnessing on TV USA-2 break a 46-year* medal drought by winning a bronze medal in the 4-man event, only to be bolstered further by USA-1 winning the silver.  America was “back” in the sport, and it felt great.  The fact that women’s bobsled was introduced as an Olympic event that year, with America winning the gold, was the icing on the proverbial cake.

Several years later, I started following the US bobsled team during the regular seasons (yes, there are such things in these relatively obscure Olympic sports), and started to learn the names of the fine fellows pushing and driving our American-designed and built sleds, courtesy of a project spearheaded by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine.  The 2008-2009 season particularly grabbed my attention, as I found ways to watch the races online, and pay close attention to the news of Team USA winning the 2009 World Championship, the first time America won such a distinction in literally 50 years (1959).  The following year, we won the gold medal in the Vancouver Winter Games, the first time we achieved that since 1948 at St. Moritz.

IMG_1357

With my good friend and fellow Purdue Boilermaker Doug Sharp, who was part of the USA-2 4-man team that ended America’s 46-year medal drought in bobsled by winning the bronze at Salt Lake in 2002. Behind us is the “NightTrain” sled that our American boys used to win the gold medal at Vancouver in 2010.

I had the blessed opportunity to travel up to Lake Placid, New York (as in, the holy grail of Winter Olympics in the Western Hemisphere) to photograph the 4-man world championships there in late Feb. of 2012 (photography being my main hobby these days).  There, I met up with a friend of mine and fellow Purdue Boilermaker, Doug Sharp, who was on the USA-2 team that won bronze at Salt Lake in ’02.  During the races, I managed to take some decent sports shots, despite my learning curve.  In between the races, though, my friend Doug introduced me to a number of bobsledders, both past and present.

After runs 1 and 2, for example, I was invited into the team garage — it was like being in the dugout with the Yankees!   There, I was able to meet John Napier, a fine younger driver who was at the time the driver for USA-2.  I also met Chris Fogt, who earned a spot on the USA-1 team at the start of this season.  Moreover, I met both Adam Clark and Dallas Robinson, both from the Louisville, Ky., area (my native city and still current area of residence).  Robinson, interestingly enough, is now the brakeman for USA-2 at Sochi, both 2-man and 4-man.

During the VIP luncheon, I had the opportunity to thank a number of ladies and gentlemen for representing America so well with their accomplishments over the decade, but even after the part was over – several hours later – and the sun had already gone done, the day was not over yet.

When we left the track that evening, Doug took me over to the Olympic Training Center, where, in a most unexpected turn of events, I was able to meet three of the four current men of Team NightTrain** (such is the nickname for the USA-1 crew; they dubbed their sled “The NightTrain” during the 2008-’09 season for its fearsome black color scheme).  They were polishing their sled’s runners for runs three and four the next morning, and at this surprising opportunity, I once again was able to relay by heartfelt thanks for their efforts and for honoring our great nation in winning gold.

TeamNightTrain2012

USA-1 as they race down the track at Lake Placid, N.Y., during second of four runs, and en route to winning the 2012 4-Man Bobsled World Championship. Photo taken by the author.

Meeting and befriending these fine fellows was truly a pleasure.  Unlike the prominent athletes in major professional sports here in America (say, the NFL, MLB or NBA), these guys don’t get much attention for what they do.  In countries like Germany, or especially Switzerland, bobsled drivers garner as much fame as quarterbacks do here in the NFL.  How many people here in the States, who don’t follow the Olympics, know who Steve Holcomb is, let alone his push athlete teammates?

In addition to meeting Holcomb that evening, I was also able to meet Justin Olsen, who was part of the team that won gold in Vancouver.  Steve Langton took over for Steve Mesler after the latter retired, and the former is considered one of the finest push athletes in the world.  Watch for Langton as the brakeman for Holcomb in the 2-man event.  Nick Cunningham was also on hand to polish the runners for his sled.  Watch for him as the driver for USA-2 in both the 2-man and 4-man events.

They hail from all over this great land.  Holcomb comes from Park City, Utah, and was originally an alpine skier before taking up bobsled (interestingly enough, the legendary Italian driver Eugenio Monti was first a skier before he himself took up bobsleigh).  Nick Cunningham is from Monterey, Calif., home to one of the finest public aquariums in the world.  Justin Olsen is from San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the beacon of liberty that it represents to Texans and many Americans elsewhere.  Steve Langton is from the Boston area (and was a track star for Northeastern University).  The brakeman for Team NightTrain, Curt Tomasevicz – who will reportedly retire at the conclusion of these Games – hails from a small town in Nebraska, and was a linebacker for the Cornhuskers before taking up this sport.  Honestly, part of the fun of getting to know these guys was just talking to them about their native towns.

Suffice it to say these guys did not get into the sport for the fame, for there is relatively little (that is, on this side of the Atlantic, at least).  These guys compete for love of the sport and love of country.  In fact, many of these men support themselves as part of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, and have been, or still are, active in the National Guard.  Chris Fogt even served a tour of duty in Iraq.

But one thing that really struck me positively as I got to know these outstanding fellows is how much they appreciate their fans.  Many prominent professional athletes seem to wall themselves off from the majority of fans – given all the crazies out there, one can surely sympathize – and hard-core fans to them are a turn-off (here’s a tip:  want to ingratiate yourself to prominent professional athletes?  Be a fan who has perspective).  But to our American bobsledders, passionate fans are not a turn-off; in fact, they feed off their energy.

For the record, the ladies who represent America in the women’s bobsled events are no less gracious or appreciative of their fans as well.  Like their gentlemen counterparts, they are educated, industrious, dedicated, and down-to-earth.  In other words, they are every bit the embodiment of how we would ideally envision an Olympic athlete to be.

They, both the men and women, are also incredibly approachable.  They put on no airs of being “above it all,” and are always glad to meet new fans and supporters.  The fact that fans here in the States are relatively few and far between compared to the big money sports might be a factor in this, but that does not detract one iota from this positive trait.

What is even more amazing about what these talented, dedicated men and women achieve is that they do so on a relative shoestring budget compared to prominent programs in other countries.  Germany, Switzerland, and recently, Russia, lavish massive funds on their respective programs, albeit with mixed results.  Germany is never to be counted out, and the Swiss have performed decently in the 2-man as of late, having to earn back their dominant spot that they kept throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.  Russia is a constant threat to medal in the 4-man as well (Canada’s not too shabby either, fyi).  But this season, Team USA has been in contention to win almost the entire time, winning enough races for USA-1 to win the overall World Cup trophy in the 2-man event and finish second overall in the 4-man (the latter alone is impressive when you consider the crash they had at Winterberg, Germany in early January).  When one considers that these good fellows of ours achieve this with far less funding than other countries’ programs, it makes this momentous feat all the more incredible.

In short, the dedicated men and women that make up the U.S. Bobsled Team embody everything that we as fans ought to admire in world-class athletes.  You could not ask for more outstanding individuals representing the United States of America, and I for one cannot wait to cheer on my friends as they race down the ice at the Sanki Sliding Centre.  Go Team USA!

*Prior to 2002, the last time that the USA won a medal in bobsled was bronze in the 4-man event at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D’Ampezzo.  Moreover, we have not won the gold in the 2-man event since 1936 (!) and have not medaled at all in it since 1952.  That could very well change come Monday.

**USA-1 won the 2009 World Championship, the gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the 2012 World Championship (all in 4-man) using the NightTrain sled.  Geoff Bodine’s “BoDyn” program soon designed a new sled for USA-1, which they immediately dubbed “NightTrain²”, and is the sled they have been using for the entire 2013-2014 season, the Sochi Games included.  USA-2 has thus inherited the original “NightTrain,” so both sleds will be put to good use!

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