Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cardiac Cats Give Me Heartburn

All in all, it's certainly been an eventful season for UofA football with the numerous highs and lows that alternately had me toasting to the team's success and then crying in my beer at the team's heartbreakers. There's been no lack of drama that's for sure. Following that demoralizing double overtime loss to the Oregon Ducks (which decisively knocked the 'Cats out of Rose Bowl contention) came that weird and ugly win last weekend over the ASU Sparkies for ownership of the Territorial Cup.

On the positive side this will be back-to-back winning seasons for the football team with back-to-back bowl appearances as well as back-to-back wins over rival ASU, and that at least demonstrates the program is moving in a good direction under Coach Mike Stoops and his staff.

Factor in the reality that the team's best player (TE Rob Gronkowski) went down with a back injury and was lost for the season before the season even really began and the chronic injury troubles at the RB position and it's easy to see that the overall team depth and athleticism is much better than in seasons past. But probably the most notable development during this roller coaster 2009 season has been the emergence of sophomore QB Nick Foles as an efficient and accurate passer. The UA offense has consistently put points on the board and looked very good doing it, even with all the nagging injuries that have hit key players throughout the year.

Of course there are still some glaring failings to be addressed for this program to continue to improve and be considered among the elite in the Pac-10. First, why can't this team finish a game? The 'Cats continually get outscored and outplayed in the fourth quarter ... hell, even that pathetic ASU offense was moving the ball against Arizona to make that game much closer than it ever should've been. To really look at the big picture, if the Wildcats had learned how to put teams away then the Washington game in Seattle, the Cal game in Berkeley, and the Oregon game in Tucson could've very easily been victories and I'd be all giggly and happily writing about an impressive 10-1 UofA team instead of confused and critically writing about a schizophrenic 7-4 UofA team.

I don't like to be critical of the team, but when they show signs of what great plays they're capable of making and then continually fail to meet their full potential it naturally leaves everyone (including the team) a bit on edge. The Wildcat defense falls squarely in this category. The talent is there, the coaching is there, the defensive schemes have been proven and yet for whatever reasons there are critical times during games (uhm yeah like the fourth quarter!) when the UofA defense simply can't stop anyone. Now in their defense (ha, strange play on words there) the teams throughout the Pac-10 have some of the best offenses in college football, so to be fair it's understandable that the opposing teams will make some big plays every now and then. But overall, if the 'Cats want to challenge for the Pac-10 title then the defense has got to be more consistent.

Okay, having written all of that gibberish, there's plenty to get excited about for the future of Arizona football. In the season finale the 'Cats travel to the LA Coliseum to face the equally inconsistent USC Trojans. Don't let the so-called experts fool you, even though USC is the overwhelming favorite no one really has a clue how either team will play in this game. I guess the best the Wildcats can do would be a win over USC and a trip to either the Holiday Bowl in San Diego or the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Opponents for those games will come from the Big XII conference, probably either Nebraska or Oklahoma. Lose to USC and it's certainly the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego to face the Utah Utes. To look on the bright side, it's not the Rose Bowl but it's still some sort of flower bowl. Just poinsettias, not roses.

It's all good though. Kind of like winning a date with actress Natalie Portman instead of winning a date with supermodel Marisa Miller. Still very exciting but you just can't help wondering what might've been.

Honestly I think the players have the talent to get Arizona to the top of the Pac-10, and I really believe in what the coaches are doing with them. That's what makes this so disappointing. Everything is in place for Arizona football to finally break through, but it just seems like something goes wrong at just the absolute worst possible time. Hopefully Gronk decides that the NFL can wait another year and Foles continues to develop at QB and the UA defense finds that elusive consistency in 2010 that it lacked in 2009.

As a true Cubs fan I'm accustomed to saying "Wait til next year!" but deep down I know "next year" really should've been this year for Arizona football.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roses are Red

Do I dare write this? I mean if I write this will I somehow jinx the Wildcats chances of making it to the first Rose Bowl for the University of Arizona football program?

Aw hell doesn't matter, I just gotta write this.

What a completely wild season in the Pac-10, and a refreshing one too because for the first time in forever the USC Trojans will not be representing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl. Now that definitely felt good to write. It's been a run of seven consecutive conference titles for Southern Cal (with numerous Rose Bowl appearances included), and I'm overjoyed and all smiley to see that reign come to an end, so in that regard many thanks to the Huskies, the Ducks, and the Cardinal for laying the wood to the Trojans this season. There are some used condom jokes in there, but I'll just leave those to your imagination.

So that means Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, and Stanford are still alive for the trip to Pasadena, and on Saturday night Oregon and Arizona meet in Tucson. The ESPN Gameday crew have set up their stage and cameras at the Mall facing Old Main, and it's going to be cool to see the UofA campus on tv and to see the game broadcast nationally in primetime. I read that the stadium will be in a "Red Out" (all the UA fans will be wearing red) and the team will be wearing all red uniforms. Red is a very appropriate color. If the 'Cats win their remaining three games, then they will punch a ticket to the Rose Bowl.

I've been here before though, specifically when I was a senior at the UofA. Earlier that season Arizona had lost at UCLA, but when Arizona kept winning and the Bruins dropped a couple of conference games that opened a door and meant the Wildcats controlled their own destiny. Win their remaining games and they would punch a ticket to the Rose Bowl. Eh, sound familiar? That team blew a large lead at Cal and wound up tied with UCLA for the Pac-10 title, but since the Bruins had defeated the 'Cats head-to-head there was no Rose Bowl for Arizona.

So here we are again.

Oregon comes into the game on Saturday as the clear favorite in the eyes of the media. That's fine. The Ducks have played in some big games this year and deserve their #11 national ranking, and without a doubt their offense is outstanding. In contrast, Arizona seems to be getting very little respect from the media. What the pollsters who are picking Oregon probably don't realize is that Arizona is extremely tough at home and a heated rivalry between the two schools has been gaining some steam for quite a while now, both on the field and along the recruiting trail. Arizona will be ready to bloody some noses in this game, and again red is a very appropriate color.

No superstitions now. Arizona absolutely needs this game to keep the dream alive for the school's first Rose Bowl, and I believe the team will take care of business on Saturday in primetime.

Bear Down Wildcats!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rollin' on the Big Slab

Ah yes, Talladega. Can anything possibly top the wild finish of what happened back in the Spring? Well, I’m sure Carl Edwards for one is certainly hoping things end up being a bit more down to earth (so to speak). And I just get the feeling that Brad Keselowski is still saying to any reporters that will listen, “They said don’t go below the yellow line, they said don’t go below the yellow line.”

This race is great for sending us a surprise winner, and so who will it be this weekend? Hmmm I’m glad you asked, because as it just so happens I’ve got a few thoughts and theories on some teams that might be ready to shock the Sprint Cup world … well, maybe “shock the world” is too strong, how about “make the people say wow”. Yeah, that’s more like it. Wow.

#47 Marcos Ambrose. I just have this theory that road course racers seem to find a home on the high banking and in the drafting packs we get at Talladega. Now mind you, this is still only a theory, but I’ll be closely watching Sprint Cup’s Oz connection to see how he backs up his great performance on this track in the Spring.

#26 Jamie McMurray. If memory serves me right Jamie Mac did a grand total of about 6 laps back in the Spring race, and one of my many other theories is that if a driver absolutely tanks in the Spring Dega race then he’s automatically primed for a breakout in the Fall Dega race. When Talladega taketh away, Talladega may giveth back. Just so you know I have many many theories regarding motorsports, and a few of them even make sense. Sometimes. Anyways, the 26 has shown good skills on the super speedways in the past and with the rough sailing he’s had at Roush lately he’s got that sentimental edge too.

#29 Kevin Harvick. This nightmare has to end eventually, doesn’t it? Oh what better way to salvage a lost season than a win on the Big Slab! My boy Harvick can drive, no doubts there but if luck is a deciding factor then I’ve got to believe the 29 team are due a few major breaks from the Racing Gods. I mean seriously the black cloud following the entire RCR operation has to dissipate sometime, so why not have some sunshine for the 29 from the autumn skies of Alabama. Although Happy might be so shocked he forgets how to find his way to Victory Lane. Aw that’s okay, I'm sure someone will have directions.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. If there’s a place that the masses of Junior Nation could see their boy take the checkers it’s gotta be Talladega. Just has to be. It nearly happened in the Spring, and I have a theory that the 88 will be close again in the Fall. Of course it won’t be without some drama and serious controversy, so a rain shortened race or a fuel mileage race or a photo-finish are all very real possibilities. If he can avoid the inevitable Big One (or series of Big Ones) then the 88 will definitely be a player … but then again that could be said for just about everybody at Talladega.

For those that are keeping score out there, the above four drivers will comprise my Fantasy League team for Talladega, because if I’m going to test these Nascar theories then KLV’s Nascar Nuts is just the perfect place. (That and the fact that I’ve pretty much used up most of the top drivers in the league already so now I’m basically scrambling to make my picks down the stretch)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Running of the (Red) Bulls?

The Brazilian Grand Prix is sometimes the final GP of the F1 season, and though it’s not actually the final event in 2009, it could prove to be the last dramatic event for the World Drivers Championship. Jenson Button of Brawn GP has basically limped close enough to the finish line that if he lands on the podium this weekend at Interlagos then the F1 WDC is his. JB’s Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull Racing’s Seb Vettel are the lone two remaining competitors who have any say in how this championship plays out. Everyone else is already looking ahead to 2010

And for either of them to have any realistic shot they will have to win (or get second) and have Button struggle mightily. Probably not going to happen, and Button appears to have a considerable chance of clinching the title with one round left.

Good thing the FIA meddled with the rules and aerodynamics of the cars, eh? I mean it’s not like the last two Formula 1 championships went dramatically down to the final event and were decided by a mere point or so, right?

Speaking of 2010, the silly season has already begun. Raikkonen is out at Ferrari, to be replaced by Fernando Alonso. What about Felipe Massa? Well, he tested in a 2007 Ferrari recently and by all reports has had a remarkable recovery and could possibly fight his way back into the race seat of the other Ferrari. Then what of Giancarlo Fisichella? Uhm, good question. He might become Ferrari’s third driver or be out of Ferrari altogether, I have no idea.

Raikkonen has been rumored to be rejoining McLaren, but that’s not exactly a done deal just yet. Renault, Red Bull, and even Brawn GP have all been rumored to be taking a close look at bringing the Iceman onboard. Ah, you gotta love the swirling rumor storms of the silly season.

As far as a wild season finish goes, did anyone catch the final ALMS event at Laguna Seca? Holy Hell, the GT2 battle went down to the last corner between the Flying Lizard Porsche and one of the Corvettes. The battle between those two raged for all of the closing laps with the Corvette absolutely hounding the Porsche with some fender banging in the last corner and pushing and shoving all the way up the hill to the finsh line which eventually spun the ‘Vette into the wall. The class victory (which had zero effect on the season’s final standings) went to the Porsche and had tempers a bit hot over on pitlane. Great stuff.

Will the Nascar Sprint Cup series have such a dramatic finish in 2009? Not sure, but it’s getting a bit scary with that 48 team starting to look like they’re ready to take a stranglehold on the title chase. The 5 team has been strong and so has the 42 team, but with the sort of pressure the 48 team puts on everyone, top five finishes just don’t cut it. Victories are the only way to beat the three time defending champs.

Mark Martin is still the sentimental favorite, and it would be great to see him finally get that much deserved title. How about Juan Pablo right there in third? He’s been too calm, and you just have to know that a storm is brewing with him. And then lurking around are Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. Don’t count either of them out just yet either.

The Saturday night race in Charlotte will be bigtime significant. The 48 team looks extremely strong and history says it’s their race to lose, but racing is a fickle business and the car that looks so dominant early on isn’t necessarily the car that will take the checkers. I understand that the 5 and 42 teams have been saying how patient they’ll be and that there’s a long way yet to go in the Chase and all that press conference bullshit … but there comes a time when you’ve got to stand toe-to-toe with the 48 team and take the fight to them.

Let them get too far away from you, and you’ll never catch them at these Chase tracks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pump Up the Volume

Heading into the Italian GP at Monza, Jenson Button has very little momentum on his side. But really that’s okay, because his closest rivals in the F1 championship have not taken advantage of the Brawn GP driver’s recent struggles. Wild race results at Spa with Raikkonen piloting the Ferrari F60 to the top spot on the podium, and chasing him all the way to the finish line was (this is not a misprint) Giancarla Fisichella in the suddenly fast Force India car. Fisi took the pole, but let the flying Finn steal the win away from him. I understand those were Force India’s first ever championship points for finishing in second, but they truly let a GP win slip through their fingers.

Monza is another low downforce track, so will that play into Force India’s strengths and give them another chance at GP glory? Will Red Bull Racing make the title chase interesting? Will a suddenly motivated Raikkonen bring home a win for the tifosi?

Stay tuned, those questions and more to be answered this weekend.

As for the dudes with the roofs and fenders, the Sprint Cup festivities return to Richmond for the final dust-up before the Chase Challenge for Special Drivers takes effect. Four drivers have the luxury of knowing they’ll be chasing for the title, but there are eight spots left to be filled. The Rowdy One in the 18 car alone should be worth the price of admission (or in my case, the price of watching from my couch), and my guess is that he’ll repeat his earlier RIR victory with another chance to bow and wave to the crowd. The other dude to keep a close eye on is Matt Kenseth in the 17 car. His wife is expecting a child, the pressure of making the Chase is bearing down on him, and he must fend off the #18 wild child …. Will Kenseth be The Iceman or Mr Crash-n-Burn? Let the games begin!

Should be fun to watch every time the 17 and 18 cars get even remotely close to one another on the track. Or what if the 6 car should happen to bump the 18 car? Might a Roush car maybe do a tap dance with the 18? Cue the spooky music and stork’s conspiracy theory.

Oh yeah, and there’s football too! College football grinds into Week 2 and the NFL is set for Week 1 of their season. Bears vs Packers in prime time on Sunday Night. Time to fire up the ol’ Weber grille and get back dedicated to my cholesterol diet.

Bears 27
Packers 10

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Feel the Burn

Once again, it's time to cue up our groovy Olivia Newton-John soundtrack and get physical about a few confusing tidbits from recent times in sports. V for Vendetta baby, it's the Vick, Vickers, and Vikings blog.

Mike Vick joined the Philadelphia Eagles and vowed he's a changed man. Here's a newsflash, a dude in prison found Jesus! Well, that's gotta be a first. Mike faced the punishment that was handed out for operating an illegal (and immoral) dogfighting outfit and served his time, and now he's preparing to make a splashy return to the NFL. Except for the fact that people seem to forget Vick wasn't all that great as a QB before his troubles with the law. He's extremely athletic, no doubts there, but he relies on that athleticism too much - and that's probably hurt his development as a pro quarterback. In my humble opinion all the Eagles accomplished was to disrupt their training camp and disturb their calm for a back-up QB who doesn't bring alot of positives to the team. Not exactly a blockbuster deal.

Speaking of newsflashes, here's another shocker. The Sprint Cup race at MIS was a fuel mileage race! Can you believe it?! Once upon a time I tried to come up with a nickname for Brian Vickers, but I'm still not completely sold on one in particular. Some of the options were Darth Vickers, the Red Brian (or maybe the Red Baron Brian), Vicks Racing Rub, and Brian Whiskers. If you've got any good ideas for nicknames, drop 'em on me. When the exciting factor of a particular race is wondering if/when the cars will run out of fuel, then it's possible the race needs some tweaking to make it just a wee bit more entertaining for the fans. Shorten the race distance. Or lengthen the race distance. Or scatter clowns around the track, and hitting a clown earns 50 bonus points. I don't know, but waiting for cars to run out of fuel is about as fun as watching the grass grow or listening to Rusty Wallace talk race strategy.

And finally, the Minnesota Vikings have added Brett "Firing Blanks" Favre. I guess old QB's never really retire they just keep holding press conferences. Doesn't anyone remember the disaster the NY Jets went through with Favre Beans last year? Just to recap ... the team missed the playoffs and Favre bailed on them, saying he'd never play again (again), and then the entire coaching staff got fired. That doesn't sound like a banner year to me. And yet here are the Vikings who actually have a good team, ready willing and able to venture down that road with Grecian Formula Man #4 steering the big purple bus. Oh boy, nothing spells reality tv show quite like an old drama queen QB ruining a team's chemistry.

Well, there is the ongoing Mayfield saga too. That could be a pretty wild reality show too I suppose.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Crunching the Chase

I’m definitely not a fan of The Chase, mainly because the dude that works hard all season to earn a points lead basically gets shafted when the final ten races arrive. Last year it was Kyle Busch, and this year Tony Stewart will probably relinquish his respectable points lead to Mark Martin (or Jimmie Johnson?) once the Chase begins because the 5 car has taken the checkers the most (so far). Every other series uses a season long points system, and it seems to provide for some fairly exciting finishes.

But in the interest of positive discussion, I won’t whine about all of that, but instead look at which teams have the best chance to (1) actually get in The Chase and (2) ultimately challenge for the Sprint Cup title.

Of course, that crucial first step is to get into The Chase. The top drivers have maneuvered themselves into solid positions, and it’s safe to say that we’ll see the 14, 48, 24, and 2 cars ready to rumble for the title. The 11 and the 99 also look to be relatively comfortable. Then it gets interesting. I’m going to throw out the prediction that the 42, 9, and 39 survive. Along with the 16 and the 5.

That leaves us with the battle between the 17 and the 18 cars for that last spot. To me, the 18 car has the ability to challenge for a race win on any given day, and I’m not sure that the 17 car can match that right now. The downside is that the 18 car has also shown the ability to crash and burn and finish last on any given day, but I believe that the 17 car drops out of 12th place and gets replaced by the 18. The 83, 33, and others join the 17 in the void reserved for non-Chasers who don't pack the gear to run for the Sprint cup title.

With my predicted Chasers lined up at the start line, who takes home the big prize? Well, my front runners become the 14 and the 48 followed by the 5 and 18 cars. Beyond that, the 2 car and the 11 car have both looked like they’re peaking at the right time, and a case might also be made for the 42. Those that like darkhorse picks might go with the Blue Deuce just for kicks.

That 14 car has been tough all season, and certainly hasn’t looked like a newly formed team. Which always makes me suspicious that a big fallout is waiting right around the corner (just like the 18 team last season). That's the curse of The Chase.

The 48 team has this whole Chase nonsense all figured out, and certainly they’ve got to be considered the favorite. Look for them to gather win number four fairly soon and have the Nascar world predicting title number four in a row. (yawn).

The 5 team is the sentimental favorite, but can they stop the 48 juggernaut? That would be fun to watch, but might be a long shot.

Then there’s the wildcard 18 car. If Kyle Busch claws his way into the Chase, look out. I’m of the opinion that if he’s alive for the title during those final ten races then he’ll be the car to watch. He’d be my pick to shock everyone and steal the title from the 48 team. Or blow up trying.

Safe bet would be the 48 team, but hell, that ain’t no fun!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ready for some Football

Ah yes, the college and NFL teams are reporting for training camps and the football season has officially begun. This Sunday night kicks everything off with the annual Hall of Fame Game from Canton, marking the beginning of the NFL pre-season. It's a time of optimism and excitement. Sure, some teams have higher expectations than others, but last season the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins proved that a poor team can become a very good team over the course of one off-season. Make the right moves and suddenly the playoffs become very achievable.

Heck, if the Arizona Cardinals can make it to the Super Bowl then I'm pretty sure just about anything's possible.

I'm still smiling that my Bears stole QB Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos during the off-season, and I'm bigtime jazzed to see how the Bears do with an actual NFL-caliber QB running the offense. Yeah, the Chicago Bears will always be known for defense and running the ball, but having a quarterback that can threaten the opponent's defense will really open things up. Even just the threat of Cutler throwing deep to Hester should create opportunities for guys like RB Matt Forte and TE Greg Olsen.

Every year I mean to drive over to Bourbannais and see the Bears pre-season training camp, and every year I never actually get it done. I've always wanted to see how a pro team runs their practices, so maybe with the excitement surrounding this year's team I'll finally get motivated and hop in the truck to go check things out at the Bears camp. (Probably not though, and I'll just wind up writing this very same paragraph for next season.)

Looking around the NFC North, I have to say that the Bears should be favored to win the division.

The Detroit Lions are, well, still the Detroit Lions. Keep top draft pick QB Matt Stafford in your prayers. He'll need them to survive if the Lions decide to play him right away.

The Green Bay Packers have had troubles on defense, and to combat those they've decided to switch from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4. Uh, maybe it's not about how they line up, but actually about players making plays? Anyways, the Packers still look to be vulnerable on D.

The Minnesota Vikings missed out on a helping of Favre Beans as the Holy Brett will actually stay retired and throw passes to high school kids in Mississippi. Shortly after that little bit of news, possible starting QB Tav Jackson came up lame in an early practice with a sprained knee ligament. Talk about adding insult to injury . .. or is it injury to insult? Either way, the Vikings have serious quarterback issues.

Never thought I'd be writing that about a team other than the Bears!