Tuesday, September 8, 2009

USC-San Jose State: 5 Things Recap

Here is a recap of USC's 56-3 blowout of San Jose State on Saturday, through the lens of my 5 things to watch for post on Friday.

1. Who gets the early carries?

Matt Barkley put on a good opening act, but Saturday was all about Joe McKnight. The junior tailback got the early carries, and even more importantly, continued to get carries after coughing it up for the umpteenth time in his USC career.

Pete Carroll appears more than willing to put up with McKnight's fumbling woes, which should be as concerning to Trojans fans as McKnight's dazzling second touchdown dash was promising.

2. Will Bates be all about balance?

This might have more to do with No. 3 than anything else, but new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was content giving the majority of touches to USC's stable of tailbacks.

Running the ball worked, so Bates ran with it. You have to expect that will be the Trojans' strength moving forward, so we'll call the game one play-calling a plus.

3. Will everything be kept under wraps?

Yes. The reason? Nothing special had to be done to stomp all over the Spartans.

As the commentators said in the fourth quarter, "USC is running no more than five plays."

Just as Carroll and Bates planned it.

4. Can David Ausberry be a threat?

The jury is still out on this one. He wasn't needed Saturday, and thus, this is still a major question for USC.

5. How hard will Taylor Mays try to get a pick?

It was entertaining watching Mays after the whistle had sounded. I think he patted just about every San Jose State player on the butt. Twice.

This being Mays' fourth season, he probably understood more than his younger teammates that the game was little more than a glorified scrimmage.

We'll see how Mays approaches the Buckeyes next week.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

USC-San Jose State: 5 Things to Watch For

My Coliseum press box days are behind me, but I figure I still have a little armchair QB left in me.

My biggest gripe with USC football during the four years I was there was the lack of exciting football games. My freshman year definitely had its share (opening with 70-17 over Arkansas, finishing with Vince Young's confetti parade and staging the Bush Push in between), but after that point... well, I suppose there was the Chauncey Washington-Justin Forsett duel at Cal.

Truth be told, the most exciting games were USC's losses. Mark Sanchez's failed comeback attempt at Oregon in 2007 was a great game to watch. My most memorable moment as Daily Trojan Sports Editor was standing in the northeast corner of the Coliseum field as Tavita Pritchard connected with Mark Bradford on 4th and 9.

Heartbreaking proof that silence truly is deafening.

Looking at the schedule this year, you'd think the Trojans are due for some barn-burners. Just remember, the same was said two years ago.

At the very least, USC fans will have to wait until the Ohio State game to really get the blood flowing. So until then, here are five things to watch for in Saturday's game:

1. Who gets the early carries?

C.J. Gable started nearly every game for USC last year. It's a good trivia fact because he was hardly the feature back - many games, he'd trot off the field after the first snap or carry.

But Pete Carroll has always been fairly routine when it comes to tailback reps. Last year it was Gable, then Joe McKnight, then Stafon Johnson.

Every tailback will probably get carries Saturday, but expect some "rotational symmetry" in future games.

2. Will Bates be all about balance?

Former offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were all about balance - to a point where you wondered what was more important: scoring points or presenting a balanced offensive attack?

If you've run the ball three consecutive times for 15, 14 and 35 yards, respectively, then the next move is obviously to throw the ball.

Balance, people, balance.

New OC Jeremy Bates has an NFL pedigree; and the NFL is a league where balance means very little. You go with what works.

We'll see if he makes USC a true "pro-style" offense.

3. Will everything be kept under wraps?

If you think back to recent non-marquee OOC games, the Trojans have been pretty damn boring. And in almost every case, they had a big-name opponent waiting in the wings.

USC knows it can beat San Jose State straight up, and pretty handily at that. It'll be interesting to see if any new tweaks are unveiled.

Matt Barkley in the shotgun airing it out deep to Brice Butler?

Don't count on it.

4. Can David Ausberry be a threat?

I'm sick of all this "Ausberry has potential" talk. Implied in the word "potential" is the idea that you haven't reached your expected peak.

Ausberry was the talk of camp two years ago, with fans oozing about his impressive practice outings.

Yes, we're talkin' 'bout practice.

Until he shows up in a game, I'm not sold.

5. How hard will Taylor Mays try to get a pick?

The secret's out. Mays even said it himself in a recent LA Times article by Gary Klein: His hands are spotty.

Everyone, including NFL scouts, knows that Mays can hit. Hard.

What we don't know is whether Mays can catch.

It'll be interesting to see if Mays shifts his focus from blowing receivers up to stealing their lunch.

The pick

USC 31, San Jose State 3

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lou Holtz: Proof That You, Too, Can Be On ESPN

There's blind support, there's unhealthy fanaticism, and then there's Lou Holtz.

There are quarterbacks that can't hang it up, there are long-time execs whose industries have passed them by, and then there's Lou Holtz.

There's John Daly, there's Richard Simmons, and then there's Lou Holtz.

Everyone knows that ole' Lou loves Notre Dame. ESPN knew it when it hired him. Until this week, however, it hadn't affected his ability to be a sane human being.

But now Lou Holtz is looking straight into the camera and declaring that Notre Dame has the best chance of winning the BCS National Championship.

Yes, that Notre Dame. Yes, this season.

It's now quite apparent that Lou Holtz has reached a new level of absurdity, one that even ESPN itself, along with its stable of clueless former athletes posing as commentators, could never have fathomed prior to this week.

In the same sequence, Kirk Herbstreit politely chuckled as he said to Lou, "I think you're on an island with that one."

Check that. Lou is on his own planet - a green planet where the sun shines gold and the rain falls navy blue; where every girl is a virgin and every neighborhood is united by its local pastor, Paul; and where dutiful citizens hitch rides on shamrock-shaped hovercrafts driven by leprechauns, guided at night not by streetlamps but by the glimmering light of Touchdown Jesus.

Lou, buddy, this is your job. You get paid to dole out your expert opinion. Heck, even if it's not expert, it's at least supposed to be educated. You aren't speaking to your Irish football team anymore.

I'm sure there won't be much written about this because Holtz has long been viewed less as a journalist and more as a source of entertainment, but think about it: If Holtz was anyone other than himself, wouldn't he be fired?

Truly. Who else could honestly saying that he's picking Notre Dame to win the championship, keep a straight face, slowly shift his gaze to the guy on his left to see what his pick is, and still have a job at ESPN the next day?

ESPN Ombudsman, where you at?

I mean, if I were Herbstreit, or Mark May, or Rece Davis, I'd wonder why I go to work every day. It's quite apparent that journalistic credibility means very little when it comes to TV ratings.

Just throw on a ridiculous hat and scream abysmal versions of college fight songs.

Grab a chalkboard and a jersey and make lovably awful halftime speeches.

Son, you were made for ESPN.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thought of the Day

If real soccer games had camera angles like FIFA 2009, would Americans give in? Think about what we do with football now - cameras hang from wires attached to the stadium lights and zoom around 10 feet above players' heads.

Hockey isn't hockey when you can't see the puck. Soccer isn't soccer when you can't see all 11 guys passing and attacking in harmony.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Closing the chapter on Favre

rett Favre was responsible for shaping my identity.

This isn't about idolatry or man-love - I never knew the guy, never spoke to him, never resurrected a shrine in his name and never really viewed him as a childhood hero - but it is about how rock-solid affiliations can guide and strengthen a persona.

Throughout my 18 years in Minnesota, from birth to high school graduation, I was a lot of things - a pianist, a soccer player, a runner, a golfer, a cool kid, a nerd, a valedictorian, a leader and a follower - but above all else, I was a Packers fan.

After all, adolescence is largely about trying to define everyone else so you don't have to define yourself. The problem with physical appearance, personality and co-curricular involvement is that these things all change. Team loyalties, however, perservere.

And when you're the biggest Packers fan all your suburban Minnesota friends know, it's an easy thing to latch on to.

So there I was. The marked Packers fan. And this is where Favre came into play.

To me, to all Packers fans, and to most sports types out there, Favre was The Touchdown King. He was the guy you couldn't hate, no matter how many times he beat you.

To Vikings fans, however, he was The Interception King. Giving Favre credit for anything was almost as difficult as showing up to the Metrodome when the Vikings weren't undefeated.

Thus, I lived my young life adding arguments, facts and stats to my arsenal of Favre (and Packers) defenses. If No. 4 threw one too many picks or if the Pack took an ugly loss, I had to mentally prepare myself for the Monday onslaught.

"Ha! Favre sucks!"

"Pete, I gotta thank you, man. Having Favre on my opponent's fantasy team has given me a newfound respect for the guy."

"Hey Simones, what was the score of the Packers game yesterday? I had to mow my lawn."

"Favre - what a bitch!"

...It was only 8 a.m.

But I took it. I dished it back. I grew to love it.

And because of it, I always had a consistent identity - the guy on the wrong side of the NFL fence that was up for any challenge thrown his way.

The Interception King moniker became something I spun as a positive. "Hey, if a guy has been allowed to throw that many interceptions," I'd say, "then he must have done a helluva lot of things right."

To this day, it's how many old friends remember me.

"It's been about 5 years since we've last spoken," said one such friend on my Facebook wall Monday, "but it only seems appropriate to say hello on this glorious day."

If it weren't for Favre, I might not be a Packers fan. Admittedly, when you're young, you want to root for a team that wins, and Green Bay did a lot of that in the nineties.

And if it weren't for Favre, I might not have grasped at the early age I did how rewarding it can be to walk your own path.

So it's only fitting, I suppose, that Favre has chosen to end his story by blazing a trail that almost no one has ventured down before.

Sure, Joe Montana played for the Chiefs, but he certainly didn't play for the Cowboys or Packers. Emmitt Smith didn't play for the Redskins. Reggie White didn't play for the Vikings or Bears.

As a Packers fan, naturally I'm a little perturbed. I can only imagine what the dude with the bright green and yellow painted house is doing in Prescott (a border town) right now.

But as a Minnesotan, I'm a little humored. If nothing else, this does prove that Vikings fans drive the biggest bandwagon in all of sports.

It's ironic that I spoke with Aaron Rodgers at length just 1 month ago at the ESPY's pre-party in Los Angeles - an event Favre would surely never show up to.

Rodgers told me candidly that he'd never really gotten over the "Favre thing" last season - the media made it impossible for him to forget.

Based on recent events, Rodgers has at least another year to go before getting that Favre thing off his back.

But beat Favre twice, Aaron, and you won't mind looking back on the early years of your career and acknowledging that Favre shaped your identity, too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The guy who persuaded me to start blogging again

The Interception King has been resuscitated.

I know, I know - we all thought it'd never happen. It seemed like Vijay and his "let's-skip-a-golf-ball-10-times-across-a-pond-and-into-the-hole" routine would stay above the fold forever.

But you forget (or you learn) that I hold fast to my commitments. My college career is over, my apartment search is complete and the inertia preventing me from posting again has been overcome... thanks to this guy:

No, I wasn't talking about Tiger Woods. Watch again, starting from the 1:30 mark, and notice the guy just to the right of Tiger, wearing a blue shirt and a blue hat, who might be the world's only worthy challenger to Tiger's double-fist-pump enthusiasm.

Tiger didn't will that ball in. Dude in the blue shirt did. For those unfamiliar with the clip, Tiger had to birdie the 72nd hole in last year's U.S. Open to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate (which Tiger won).

Cheers, on this Father's Day, to my dad, Mark, and to dudes like blue shirt guy who make sports lovers out of all of us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thanks, Vijay, for confirming the fact that we're all grossly inferior golfers

This has to be the most ridiculous golf shot I've ever seen. (It's the second shot caught on this video.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Not dead, just overloaded

I'm still kicking, even though I haven't been posting here lately.

Once life calms down (read: After I graduate from USC in May and work full time instead of doing the whole school thing and work thing at the same time), I'll start posting more reguarly.

Until then, check out my weekly Wednesday column at dailytrojan.com. Or you can laugh at me for picking USC to reach the Elite 8.

Both actions make complete sense.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stanford's basketball team was born in a test tube

Was looking through Pac-10 box scores tonight, and I realized that Stanford's basketball team has the most uncanny collection of common last names.

It starts with the top five scorers...


...And continues down the list:


Suppose it makes sense for a school whose name is a color (cardinal) and mascot is a tree.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Manifest Destiny? We'll take 5 bucks

Came across a mindblowing statistic today that really captures our current economic state. It's courtesy of MFS:

"As of 12/31/08, the market capitalization of the US stock market was $10.6 trillion, a total equal to 74% of the $14.3 trillion US economy. When the stock market peaked in March 2000 before the beginning of a 2 ½ year bear market that lasted until October 2002, the total market capitalization of stocks was equal to 190% of the size of the US economy, an all-time high for the 'stock-to-economy' ratio."

Wow. Looks like investors would rather have their money in just about any other place than the American economy.

Uncle Sam needs to take off his hat and extend it to others in hopes of collecting some spare change...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making the case for hockey

Alexander Ovechkin is on another planet.

Every now and then, hockey players make you question your automatic dismissal of the sport...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

We knew what you were feeling, Brett

Brett Favre sat through what might be his final ESPN interview this week... although Favre has always been candid, there were moments during his chat with Ed Werder where you could really feel his emotions and honesty doing the talking.

The high point of the interview came after Werder asked Favre "How did it feel emotionally to be rejected by that franchise?"

"Very rarely do I get too upset," Favre answered. "But I was a little peeved, I guess. There was part of me that wanted to just stick it to them. Then I was like, 'That's the wrong reasons.' It was back and forth. My pride was hurt a little bit, I guess."

I'm still not quite sure how to handle any Favre news. I spent most of the past season being ambivalent about Favre's ongoings in New York.

What I do know is that Favre was the closest thing to a hero figure in my life, just as he was in the lives of hundreds of my peers. And it's difficult to know that part of him still feels contempt for the franchise that defined so much of my childhood identity.

The Packers are honest. The Packers are community. The Packers are blue collar. The Packers are loyal. Now, however, the Packers are also business-first and borderline capricious.

Yes, football is a business, I understand that, but the decision to trade Favre was certainly more complicated than the decision made by other teams to let their icons (Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith) go.

The longer I'm removed from the decision, the more I wish it hadn't been made.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bring on the Heat

Here's a Sunday game of Where's Waldo:


By "where," I mean Israel, and by "Waldo," I mean Davon Jefferson.

I wonder if he reads Hebrew better than he did English?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thought of the Day

It's been pouring for most of the day in Los Angeles, so much so that waves of water were splashing over the freeway median barriers on the way to work.

So here's a thought for you: Do you drive in absolute speeds or in relative speeds?

In other words, do you always drive 5 MPH over the speed limit, or is it really that you drive 5 MPH faster than the average car next to you on the road?

On days like today, the speed limit doesn't apply - everyone is driving underneath it - but yet I still find myself passing people at the same rate as I normally do.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

How athletes cope with the worst month in sports

Let's face it: The Super Bowl is over and now we have...

Nothing. Until March, that is.

Cue World's Strongest Man reruns!

My latest DT column here:

With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I feel it’s an appropriate time to mention that February gets no love from the sports world.

January is witness to the NFL playoffs, the Bowl Championship Series, the perennial Rafa-Federer classic and for all intents and purposes, the Super Bowl.

February brings us the muscled behemoth Magnus Ver Magnusson. From every angle. Pure man.

The month of love also gives Kobe Bryant ample opportunity to wink at you, in hopes it will engender amorous feelings toward a regular season that displays less effort than Grandma playing slots.

No playoffs. No tournaments. No love lost.

So what to do?

A place like USC is stocked with sports-loving, sports-playing and sports-watching fiends. Club and intramural sports are among the most popular student activities, and USC football is the most unifying event on campus.

It seems the natural answer is to consult USC athletes themselves, who are as big of sports fans as you and I.

They can see true sport from a mile away; so I asked them to show us February through their eyes.

“For me, February is not at all a downer for sports fans,” said basketball senior and resident all-everything man Keith Wilkinson. “I don’t think the NBA is very exciting to watch during the regular season, but as far as college basketball, I watch every game I can because these are all teams playing for one goal, and that is to make the NCAA tournament.”

The “Great White Hope” has a point. With the Pac-10 being labeled as a four-or-five bid league, every game will matter down the stretch for Wilkinson and his teammates.

Last February, after all, was when Wilkinson went en fuego, quickly becoming a fan favorite and helping lead his team into the postseason.

Show us the love, Keith — Galen Center is ready for it.

But enough of the basketball — everyone knows it’s out there, because it’s ESPN’s one and only lifeline during February.

What ESPN doesn’t show (and what ESPN assumes fans don’t care to watch) is the beautiful game: soccer. Turns out the sports media giant might be missing the boat.

And by boat, I mean the 6-foot-5, 295-pound USC defensive tackle Fili Moala. Dude gives it up for the other men on the grass.

“They dribble with their feet and still juke people,” said Moala, who is currently spending seven hours per day training for the NFL Draft. “Madrid, AC Milan and all those guys — I appreciate everyone for what they do.”

Ronaldinho versus Moala in full contact soccer. You organize it, I’ll sell it.

Men’s water polo player Jovan Vranes echoes Moala’s sentiment and admits to checking the soccer schedule every day.

“There are a bunch of top-notch competitions going on in Europe or in South America right now,” Vranes said, adding that you can’t find much soccer on ESPN, which tends to favor more sophisticated competitions like chain saw log-cutting and throwing kegs over walls.

And about those World’s Strongest Man reruns — athletes watch them, even if they aren’t quite sure why.

“OK, I’ll admit I actually have watched the Strong Man competitions,” said women’s basketball guard Hailey Dunham. “I think it’s the ridiculous challenges like pulling a fire truck a certain length that grabs my attention. It’s amazing to see how strong these men have to be to perform such challenges.”

Vranes’ water polo teammate Matt Sagehorn watches the obscure sports for a different reason.

“The appeal to me is that watching people who cut wood really fast or run on a floating log or even throw a keg over a wall is absolutely hilarious,” Sagehorn said.

Magnusson versus Sagehorn in full contact water polo sans referees. Again, you organize it, I’ll sell it.

After all, that’s what February is all about — enjoying sports for the sake of competition. Because you certainly aren’t going to find the volume of quality TV programming associated with other months.

And most athletes are cool with that.

Or as Moala put it, “You can watch this little Asian guy pound what, like 50 hot dogs?”

Amen, Fili. Amen.

For the rest of us, we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by a campus full of great sports stories, even if you might not know they’re in the making.

Vranes and Sagehorn’s squad won the national title in December, finishing a perfect 29-0. Women’s golf is in position for its second-straight NCAA championship and third in seven seasons. Women’s basketball gives you all the bravery without the bravado.

ESPN is nice, but let’s face it — February is a month to celebrate live sporting events.

Start spreading the love.

Quote of the Day

"I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people's accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man's failures."

- Earl Warren, former Chief Justice of the United States
Sports Illustrated, July 22, 1968

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Super Bowl pick

Steelers 23, Cardinals 21

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The man behind The Man

Ben Malcomson doesn't miss a beat.

The former Daily Trojan sportswriter and famed football team walk-on currently fills the role of Pete Carroll's social media guru.

Here's his e-mail to me today in response to my column about what a USC athlete-filled blogosphere would look like:

"Hey Peter-

Loved your column today. Funny you mentioned it in the article, but Coach just started up his Twitter last week:


Hope all is well,

Can't say I didn't see that one coming.

Pete Carroll does it, and so should you!

My latest Daily Trojan musings...

Remember when the blog bubble had supposedly burst?

Today, type the word “blogosphere” in Microsoft Word and you won’t even get a red line underneath.

Blog saturation, especially in the sports world, has reached the point where some might call it cliché to start typing away. Heck, there are even blogs about blogs — look no further than SI.com’s wildly popular Hot Clicks.

The latest trend is for athletes and other prominent figures in the sports world to skip the media and write straight to the fan. Wizards star Gilbert Arenas started the fad with his “Agent Zero: Blog File” on NBA.com in 2006. Curt Shilling, Greg Oden, Mark Cuban and a host of others followed.

It was only a matter of time before USC’s Mr. Social Media, Pete Carroll, followed suit. You know, the guy with his own website and the coolest Facebook profile around.

I’m expecting tweets from him any day now.

For those not clued in, Carroll used the blog on USCripsIt.com to explain why soon-to-be NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez made the wrong decision by leaving school early.

Many called it impersonal, an unnecessary jab.

I call it honest.

After all, isn’t that what the blogosphere is all about? Unfiltered opinion without regard for AP style — it’s you, on a webpage.

The element of honesty is what made Carroll’s Web 2.0 diatribe refreshing, even if it was a bit childish.

USC, after all, boasts some of the more media-polished students and coaches in the NCAA universe. Rarely do you hear about the Freudian slips that so often frequent the SportsCenter airwaves.

Thus, Carroll’s words also left me smirking at the thought of a hypothetical USC Athletics blog network. Call it a too-good-to-be-true look into the real stories and thoughts behind the players and coaches who run the Trojan machine.

Here’s a sampling of the most popular blogs:

Hard(wood) Knocks, by Percy Miller
Life at the end of the bench is crazy, man. I’ve had a ton of time to come up with rhymes and hooks, just in case this whole basketball thing doesn’t work out. Take last weekend’s game at Washington for example:

Fifty seconds left, we down by 10;
The crowd screamin’ out, “Yo, Floyd, put him in!”

I get the magic look before a free throw;
Who cares about the shot? Just say ROM-E-O.

The second shot hits rim, and we get the ball back;
I’m at midcourt, ready to go on the attack.

But Hackett drains a 3 and the lead is cut to six;
Not this again — man, he’s wasting my ticks!

Now we have a shot, but my shot’s gone;
I’m gonna stay on the bench until tha break of dawn.

I’m stranded at midcourt, Husky screams abound;
Coach points me back, back to the dog pound.

I know I’m good — I’m at the top of my game;
Basketball is my skill, Romeo is my name.

I’ll get my chance to make opponents frozen;
To show I’m not just the dude that came with DeRozan.

The High Road, by Mark Sanchez
I really have no need to express my discontent with Coach Carroll to his face. After all, he’s not my coach anymore.


Sorry, Coach. I love you, man, but right now, I’ve got the last word.

The Waltz, by Matt Leinart
Aloha from Tampa.

I know that’s a Hawaiian greeting, but hey, just as I’ve always said — football is constantly on my mind, and I know I’ll make it to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu some day.

In the mean time, I’m sippin’ on margaritas and hot tubbin’ with fine ladies. Soon, I’ll get to watch my boy, Kurt Warner, shred the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

And oh yeah, I’m making a cool $8.5 million for holding a clipboard while wearing some pads.

How’s that ballroom dancing looking now?

The Economy of (NCAA) Sports, by Chad Kreuter
Being the USC baseball coach used to mean you’d have a chance to coach the best ball players around.

Now? Now being the USC baseball coach means I have to manage a freakin’ salary cap. I thought this was supposed to be collegiate athletics?

I only get so many scholarships to give to my guys. Schools like Stanford — no surprise they are rated in the top five again this season — can afford to give every kid from a family that makes under $100K a year a free ride. And that DOESN’T count against the school’s athletic scholarship count.

So tell me — how am I supposed to field a team of the same caliber? USC is a great institution, but when it comes down to the bare bones, it costs more than $50K to go here for one year.

Free tuition, public school tuition (LSU, UNC and Georgia are also in the top five) or USC tuition — which would you choose if you weren’t offered an athletic scholarship?

I’m still damn proud of my guys and of this program. But championships are a thing of the past.

The Prince, by Jovan Vavic
As USC’s water polo master, I often ask myself, “Is it better to be feared or loved?”

Doesn’t 29-0 speak for itself? Score one for fear. Right on, Machiavelli.

The Flop, by Daniel Hackett
I flopped twice today — two calls!

That’s 100 percent, baby.

Ah, how enjoyable USC’s media world would be if everyone maintained a blog.

So who wants in? I’m sure Pete will have your back.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stop predicting Mark Sanchez's future

You don’t know that much about Mark Sanchez.

Don’t take it from me. Look at all the journalists and talking heads who have proclaimed just that in wondering whether Sanchez made the right decision by declaring early for the NFL draft.

Take it from USC coach Pete Carroll, who said that NFL scouts only have 16 games to choose from, and that 16 isn’t a large enough number to mitigate the high risk associated with draft picks worth millions.

Take it from L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who echoed the fact-backed belief that quarterbacks who only start for one season rarely become successful pros.

You don’t know that much about Mark Sanchez.

So then, why is he almost universally regarded as one of the two best quarterbacks in the draft? Someone must know something the rest of us don’t.

Or, more simply, none of us know enough to make the statements and predictions we so often do.

What I do know is that Sanchez is a great guy and a solid football player with a lot of potential. He had a few dazzling performances and a few more mediocre games. He led USC to a 12-1 record and a Rose Bowl title. Probability tells us that he likely would have become a better quarterback by staying at USC one more year. He once wore a Mexican flag mouthguard. Chicks dug him.

What I don’t know is how Sanchez will fare as an NFL quarterback — arguably the toughest position in all of professional sports.

Sure, as Carroll correctly noted, the majority of quarterbacks who leave school early do not pan out. But can’t the same be said of any group of quarterbacks?

There are only 32 possible starters in the NFL, and maybe 10 to 12 of them can be considered successful at any given time. You can name more draft busts than you can great quarterbacks of the past 10 years.

Akili Smith, anyone? Cade McNown? David Carr? Joey Harrington?

All seniors. It didn’t matter when they left for the NFL.

You can play the numbers game and postulate all you want, but in the world of professional sports, there are always multiple exceptions to the rule.

For every panned early entrant like Davon Jefferson, there is a panned early entrant like Chilo Rachal who surprised many in his rookie season.

For every one of John Daly’s failed comeback attempts, there is an improbable comeback success like Josh Hamilton.

Brett Favre probably should have stayed retired. Kurt Warner definitely should have kept playing.

After the 2004 season, USC linebacker Lofa Tatupu declared early for the NFL Draft. Carroll addressed Tatupu’s departure along with the news that Matt Leinart, among others, was coming back for his senior season.

“We didn’t hit on all cylinders like we would have liked to because we are going to miss Lofa Tatupu,” Carroll said.

As Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy pointed out this week, Tatupu has only gone to three Pro Bowls in three seasons, which recently netted him a contract worth $42 million.

The news that Rachal was leaving early surprised many. The two-year starter did not consult Carroll before making his decision to turn pro, which “disappointed” Carroll, according to several sources.

Although Rachal wasn’t selected until the second round, he earned a starting spot on San Francisco’s offensive line by week 12.

Even Leinart’s fall from sure-fire No. 1 pick to being taken at No. 10 one year later can’t yet be fully evaluated. Would you rather be 5-27 as a starter for the Niners or the Lions, in a situation not even Superman could resurrect, or be backing up Super Bowl-bound Kurt Warner, and set to take the reins of a team boasting the best receiving corps in recent memory?

And boy, Matt Cassel sure had an extensive body of work when the Patriots took a flier on him in 2005.

The point is you really can’t project success based on one, two, three or even zero seasons of college work.

No matter how sophisticated the technology gets, how smart the scouts get or how savvy the players get, someone will end up looking like a fool once Mr. Right flops.

According to Carroll, Sanchez didn’t “take advantage of all the opportunity” USC football bore. For those who listened closely, Carroll also resisted any predictions on what type of NFL quarterback Sanchez would turn out to be.

What’s evident is that Sanchez will soon have the opportunity to become the fourth NFL quarterback from USC to start a game in the past two years.

All had the same opportunities at USC, and all made different on their opportunities at the next level.

Where Sanchez will fall in relation to his fellow Trojan QBs is anyone’s guess. Let’s be content to leave it at that.

At least pretend March is coming...

Hey college basketball, the NCAA Tourney is two months away.

At least pretend that you are going to make the season interesting before then, lest we all sit and wait for ESPN to pronounce the winner of the hypothetical ACC-Big East battle royal of who could care less.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My weekly proof of legitimacy

Time flies.

Two years ago I was penning my first sports column for the Daily Trojan at USC. Today, my first column of my final semester was published.

So much to say, and only 12 more DT opportunities to say it.

The column is about an exiting senior (me) and his one wish for USC sports this spring.

Read it here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Answer to the "Streak" question below

Notice how 99% of ESPN users are picking Miami to win on the road at Minnesota? Sure, Miami is probably the better team, but does anyone outside of Minneapolis know that the Timberwolves are 5-0 in 2009?

I'm not sure who I'd pick at this point - by no means would I pencil in the T'Wolves as a lock - but 99%? Really?

You wonder why certain people become statisticians; well, while we are chuckling at this example, they are laughing and clinking brews while saying, "Thank you, common man, for proving our theories correct."

Questioning the collective IQ of sports fans

You know that behind ESPN's Streak for the Cash is hours upon days upon weeks of calculations and computations.

After all, ESPN isn't going to just give away $1 million.

By setting the bar at 27 consecutive picks, the statisticians over in Bristol are essentially telling you, the sports fan, that you aren't smart enough to correctly pick 27-straight fairly even matchups.

And after setting my eyes on sights like I've pasted below, it's hard to argue with those number-crunchers.

Can anyone tell me what's laughable about this picture? (Answer coming soon.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How's that Mastercard commercial working out for you now, Peyton?

Peyton Manning's Mastercard commercials have been some of the better athlete spots in recent years.

His new spot, though, might be cause for some sore memories...

Especially, say, if he was watching the first quarter of the San Diego-Pittsburgh game when the commercial aired:

There's irony and there's "now that just sucks."

I'll take the latter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Question of the day

What's more surprising:

A) That Tennessee outgained Baltimore 391-211 and lost? Or...

B) That Daryl Johnston, who looks nothing short of 60, was a Dallas Cowboys star less than 10 years ago?

I'm starting to agree with the NFLPA more and more about those veteran benefits.

Proving (literally) the foolishness of pre-preseason Top 25s

You will be wrong. Very wrong.

If you try to predict the Top 25 for next college football season only a few days after the current one has ended, you will make yourself look inept and foolish.

Yet all the major sports sites have someone do this very thing - year after year after year.

No doubt, people enjoy reading these predictions, which at the end of the day is why ESPN.com, SI.com and the others give someone the assignment, but I've never seen someone actually go back to the beginning of the year and calculate just how far off those predictions were.

And that's really the issue, isn't it?

Writers like Mandel consistently trumpet the problems that arise from preseason polls - especially in a sport like college football where there is no playoff to decide the champion.

In fact, Mandel has made bank from a book he wrote on this point (among other topics).

So why then, do these ridiculously early preseason polls exist? Is ESPN really going to suffer if it doesn't get the article reads from Schlabach's annual shot at clairvoyance? Is SI.com just trying to keep up with, er, not suck as much as the Jones'?

Whatever it is, it sure sounds a lot like hypocrisy to me.

Thus, in my frustration over seeing material for Aug. 15 written on Jan. 9, I decided to prove just how inept even the "experts" are at ranking teams this early on - an ineptitude that fuels terrible inaccuracy in the actual AP preseason poll.

Let me explain how it works:
(Or you can just skip this and look at the finished product below.)

1. Dig up the January 2008 predictions from Schlabach and Mandel
2. Place their predictions next to the actual Top 25 at season's end
3. Assign an average preseason ranking of 35 to all teams that Manbach didn't put in their polls.
4. Subtract the difference between where teams ended up, and where Schladel ranked them, and then add all the differences together.
5. Now divide your total difference by 25.

What do you get? The number of spots, on average, by which these guys were off in their pre-preseason rankings. For math dudes, call it the standard deviation (SD).

Read it and weep:
(Red numbers signify teams that were unranked by the writers.)
Click images to make larger.

In short, each writer missed at least 10 picks completely, and in the end, both mis-ranked teams by an average of more than 12 spots.

Now that's what I call a worthwhile exercise.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Headline of the day

No more Tebow on this blog for quite some time...

Instead, I give you this.

No way that headline made it through "finals" without someone cracking up over the irony.

Copy editors of the world, unite! The newspaper industry might be going down, but you won't give up without a fight.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Five reasons why that might have been the worst title game ever

Ever get that feeling that you've just spent 3 hours of your life that you'll never get back?

Well if you hadn't before, and were watching the Oklahoma-Florida BCS National Championship Game tonight, you know what it feels like now.

Yeah, like Lions fans feel every Sunday or how GM execs feel every time they scour over a balance sheet. Brain dead.

Perhaps the game wasn't the worst ever - that's a lofty presumption - but Fox's catastrophic telecast probably made it the all-time worst championship game viewing experience.

I would have rather watched Washington play Washington State in Apple Cup 2009: The Sequel We Paid You Not To Film.

At least then we could have chuckled a bit.

In case you missed it, or if you're looking for someone to help you stave off desires to put Tim Tebow in your grandma's manger scene, here are 5 reasons why this BCS title game should go to football broadcast hell:

1. Because Tim Tebow is not Jesus Christ

Sorry, Fox. I hate to burst your bubble. Over the course of the final quarter, Tebow was referred to as each of the following:

- A young man who has done more before graduating college than we could ever hope to do in our lifetimes
- A player who doesn't win because of running or passing skill, but because of will
- One of the top-5 greatest college football players of all time
- The nicest human being you'll ever meet
- The most outstanding 21-year-old to ever live

None of those are a joke.

Let's take a poll: Which of the above 5 statements is the most absurd?

Answer: Tim Tebow will tell you none of the statements are absurd. What's absurd is that there are children in Thailand who need food, and unlike him, you're not there to hand feed it to them.

Because yes, Tebow didn't just go to Thailand, he took food that someone else brought and paid for, and gave it to needy children.

Fox calls that astounding goodwill. I call that PR, Thai style.

Anybody else notice that Tebow's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was part of Fox's postgame highlight package?

2. Because there was more speed in Fox's advertising cut-ins then there was in the gameplay

So much for fireworks.

The greatest offense of all time? The immortal quarterback that turns defenses into sacrificial lambs?

How about ha and ha?

Receivers weren't completing their routes, the quarterbacks threw four picks and the offensive lines weren't the stalwarts we were told they were.

Almost funny... except everyone who picked the over (70 points) isn't laughing.

Yes, 7 of SI's 8 experts picked the game to go over.

CBS Sports had 1 under pick out of 6. But who can blame them?

To Vegas' dismay, the game barely produced half the points needed to fuel an interesting finale.

And defense can only be so much fun. Just ask Oregon State and Pittsburgh.

But no matter. Fox made up for the lack of speed on display by continually cutting away from the game before its commentators had finished their sentences.

Really, Fox? Are you struggling that bad financially? Or was it...

3. Because the announcers had absolutely nothing worthwhile to say

Charles Davis and Thom Brennaman were so bad that Fox started zooming in on the Gatorade tubs with more than 2 minutes remaining.

"Maybe G can save us," they said.

I never thought I'd see the day when I was waiting for ESPN to take over yet another TV contract.

When talking about Oklahoma running back Chris Brown's impressive season, Davis said the following:

"You get enough carries, and you have a shot at production."

Yeah, and when you put your hand on a stove top...

Moving on.

4. Because both strength and conditioning coaches should be fired
How many times did a player go down because of cramps? Aren't these supposed to be the fastest, most conditioned teams in America?

I know there was a month in between games, but come on, people - FedEx had more stamina than either team.

Bad offenses + bad cramps = bad rhythm.

And lastly...

5. Because this was the last game of the season


Didn't think so.

Chris Myers' last question to Percy Harvin after the game was, "Is there anybody else you want to play?"

Harvin, looking like he could care less, said "Naw, we'll stay No. 1 until next year."

Can't say I would have answered any other way. While Utah, Texas and USC stew, Florida becomes the most apathetic team in the land.

If this season doesn't change anything, I don't know what will. But I can't see anything changing.

So thanks, BCS. You sure gave us a roller coaster ride this year.

And now we're stuck hanging upside down.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Remnants of yesterday's dinner

A few follow-up notes to my last post concerning the BCS-induced plight of the USC fan (and thanks to Mallory Rubin for linking me on SI.com's Campus Clicks):

1. Utah, admittedly, has a better argument than USC. The Utes beat everyone on their schedule - a schedule that included three (maybe four) ranked teams at season's end - and that should be enough.

And by the way, Utah is now tied for the seventh most wins in BCS history. The schools above Utah read: USC (6), OSU (4), LSU (4), Florida (3), Texas (3) and Miami (3).

Easy to forget that Ohio State once ruled the BCS, isn't it?

2. Texas had a nice season - I never said otherwise - but the last week has not been kind to the Longhorns. Two of Texas' so-called marquee wins (Oklahoma State and Missouri) are no longer marquee - let's compare them to USC beating Oregon and Arizona.

And no, you will not convince me that Ohio State is somehow drastically better it was when it lost 13-6 to Penn State a few months ago. Don't bother.

Texas did beat Oklahoma, which is something only a select few teams could do this season, but any team with a defense ranked in the 60s is vulnerable.

At this point, USC is playing better than Texas. No arguments about schedule strength can overcome this. Maybe a month ago. Not now.

3. Oklahoma and Florida might be the nation's two best teams, but at this point we have absolutely no way of knowing. This was my main argument.

Should USC (or Utah) be playing Thursday night? Based on how things looked a month ago, no. And that's the problem.

Which brings me to...

4. The BCS has solidified its stance as the biggest waster of time, space, air and money in the history of sports.

As the final comment to my last post read, "It's a sham." Well said.

It's been 10 years now and the college football world is no closer to a solution than it was back in the boy band heyday.

When you really think about it, people stop spewing off about a hotbutton issue if they believe it will be resolved or modified in the near future. After all, playing "wait and see" is much easier than playing "listen to me, I can fix it."

That's precisely why the BCS continues to dominate column inches (and pixels) at this time of year. The end is nowhere in site, and thus, the voices growl.

This year's USC will be next year's somebody else. Unless of course that somebody else is USC. Can't say it hasn't happened before...

Monday, January 5, 2009

BCS games no help for plagued USC fans

Another BCS game, another reason for Trojans fans to bury their heads in their hands.

At this point, after three years of what if, USC fans would almost rather point at the national champion and say, "Damn good team. You deserve it."

After all, such a statement would relieve them of the constant belief that their team is, in fact, the real No. 1. Sounds like a petty burden to most, but three years of Big Ten-bashing, BCS-stifling Januaries can drive a man insane.

Tonight's Ohio State-Texas matchup solidified the notion that whoever wins the so-called BCS National Championship Game can't honestly claim to be the no-buts-about-it national champion.

And thus, the USC fan's anxiety lives to see another year.

Ohio State ran all over the Longhorns to the tune of 200+ rushing yards. This was a Buckeyes offense, mind you, that looked downright awful against USC and Penn State during the regular season.

Still, QB Terrelle Pryor couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a pass, and RB Beanie Wells sat out most of the game's crucial minutes. Yet, there the Buckeyes were, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns in what should have been an impressive comeback victory.

Nevermind that Texas scored in the final minute to win. Nobody will say Texas should be voted No. 1 anymore. Not when it struggled mightily against an OSU team that lost 35-3 to USC and 13-6 to Penn State (at home).

It was also a Texas team that played the creamiest of cream puff non-conference schedules, lost to Texas Tech and barely beat Oklahoma State - the latter two games involving teams which were exposed in the season's final month.

And I don't even need to get into Alabama. The 'Tide were softer than the Charmin baby's butt in their embarrassing BCS loss to Utah.

But the headline is bigger than No. 4 losing and No. 3 looking terribly vulnerable.

The headline is that No. 1 and No. 2 are ranked as such because of No. 3 and No. 4.

Florida's only truly impressive opponent was Alabama. Or so we thought.

Oklahoma was judged to have a better resume than Texas. How 'bout that Longhorns resume now?

Florida and Oklahoma are deserving football teams, don't get me wrong, but if the final BCS vote were held today, well...

Let's just say USC fans might not have to live in such agony. (That is, of course, unless Utah stepped in, which would be all too fitting.)

And if the basic arguments aren't enough, consider some more facts:

USC thrashed Penn State, 38-24. Penn State dominated 9-4 Oregon State, and its only loss was by one point to Iowa, which won six of its final seven games, smucked South Carolina in its bowl game, and lost four games by a combined 11 points.

USC embarrassed Ohio State, 35-3. Texas made the Buckeyes offensive attack (yes, even without Beanie Wells) look downright bullish.

USC beat Oregon 44-10. This is the same Ducks team that scored 162 points in its final three games against bowl winners Arizona and Oregon State, and a supposedly reputable Oklahoma State. Oregon's three losses were to Boise State, USC and Cal, which will all finish the season ranked. The latter two games were on the road.

USC's schedule included seven bowl teams, five ranked teams at season's end and five bowl winners (should have been six, Ohio State).

USC won the Pac-10 - the conference with the best bowl record
(5-0). The Pac-10 bowl teams beat four other ranked teams plus Miami.

And lastly, USC lost to Oregon State, which lost to eventual top-15 teams Utah (13-0), Oregon (10-3) and Penn State (11-2). Its only bad loss was to Stanford (5-7), and that was in August.

In case you missed it (which you probably did), the week after the Beavers took down USC, they held an 11-point lead with less than two minutes to go on the road against Utah. Had they beaten the Utes, the Trojans might still be waiting to play their bowl game.

I'm the Daily Trojan sportswriter most critical of USC, but when the facts are there, the facts are there.

At the very least, this year's BCS might save USC fans from repeat agony next season. Until then, they can look at this picture of Stanford receiver Mark Bradford and cry themselves to sleep.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

NFL Playoff Predictions

I've been known to make a few solid predictions.

Call me The Swami, minus the schtick and plus the smarts.

I won more than $400 in a 2005 NFL playoff pool by correctly picking 10 of the 11 games - my only miss came on Wildcard Weekend.

In a 2006 NFL survivor pool, I bested more than 5,000 other competitors in making it to Week 15. I was 1 of 6 remaining at that point, changed my initial picks and lost. First instinct, damnit.

My sole published prediction? The Nov. 10, 2007 edition of the Daily Californian: USC 24, Cal 17.

Final score? USC 24, Cal 17.

Call it bragging if you'd like. I prefer bravado. And if you follow my picks and win, Bravo.

WILDCARD ROUND (all home teams are bolded)
Arizona over Atlanta
Indianapolis over San Diego
Baltimore over Miami
Philadelphia over Minnesota

New York over Philadelphia
Carolina over Arizona
Baltimore over Tennessee
Pittsburgh over Indianapolis

New York over Carolina
Pittsburgh over Baltimore

New York over Pittsburgh

Agree or disagree? Post a comment!

Pac-10 goes 5-0. Universal finger pointing begins.

I told you so.

Media says, "Perhaps it was the media's fault." Note the use of "media" rather than "my."

USC, Cal and Oregon State: 16-3 since 2002 in bowl games.