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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Prep football blues

It hit me here in Week 10, that this has been something of an ordinary year in high school football around here. There have been precious few moments of greatness.

I realize every game BTW running back Jeremy Jefferson plays is an extraordinary moment. I realize Minden is having a year to remember. And the Calvary-Evangel game was a memorable one.

But, outside of Jefferson, where are the stars? Where are the teams out of Calvary and Evangel in 1A, that are going to go deep into the playoffs?

No, this has been something of a blah year in prep football. Maybe from Week 10 on things will change. Maybe there is a team ready to make that deep playoff run. Maybe there is a star to emerge the way CerDerrick Tyson did last year for Evangel. Maybe.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Big man missing

Wonder how much Bruce Eugene meant to Grambling?

Consider these numbers: The Tigers are 9-10 in their last 19 games without Euguene. With him last year, they won the SWAC title and the Black College national championship.

Now, you can't say all of Grambling's problems are related to the loss of Eugene.

But on the SWAC teleconference on Monday, Grambling coach Melvin Spears pointed to inconsistent quarterback play as a reason for his team's inconsistent play.

So back to the original question. How much did Eugene mean to Grambling? A whole lot.

The toilet bowl

Louisiana Tech and North Texas meet in Denton on Saturday night in what should aptly be called the Toilet Bowl. Bring plenty of wipes if you're attending.

Two of the sorriest Division 1A teams in the country will battle it out with offenses that wouldn't scare Mother Teresa. Tech's defense, which gave up almost 500 rushing yards against San Jose last week, could be just what the doctor ordered for the apathetic Mean Green offense. The Bulldogs are so bad on defense that they made the Spartans look like Clemson.

Last year, San Jose was 3-8, while losing 52-21 to San Diego State and 31-14 to Tech. This year, the Bulldogs look worse than the 2005 Spartans. Where the 2006 season went awry for the Bulldogs is hard to say. They can't block, can't tackle, can't cover receiers, can't throw the ball, can't catch it and have only run the ball well one time. They don't appear to have any talent (young or old) and their coaching is woeful.

Tech is a 3-point "dog" against a North Texas team that is 2-6 with impressive (not) wins over SMU and Florida International. If the Bulldogs lose this one, they might as well pack it in for the season.

Romo For President

OK, so I was definitely surprised, not shocked by any stretch with the Cowboys' performance last night against Carolina.

I, for one, was of the opinion that Drew Bledsoe should have remained the starter. Tony Romo was impressive last night, but so were the Cowboys.

The offensive line gave Julius Jones room to run and Romo time to throw. Romo also created some extra time with his mobility.

I think Drew Bledsoe can win, but maybe this was the spark the rest of the team needed. T.O. and Jason Witten sure like this kid. They saw as many balls last night as they have all year.

Terry Glenn, sorry fantasy owners, will be the loser in this deal. Bledsoe loved Glenn. Romo will spread it around.

The Cowboys are still a playoff-caliber team. If they win the next two road games (at Washington and Arizona) watch out.

But let's not crown Tony Romo Troy Aikman just yet. For three quarters in Arizona recently, Matt Leinart was getting fitted for a bust in Canton.

Now, he's just a bust.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Kudos to Ronnie Prude

Ronnie Prude didn't hear his name called on Draft Day.

It didn't matter.

Ronnie Prude made his pro football career the hard way - as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens.

So it was fitting for Prude, a former Fair Park star and LSU cornerback, to have a career day in the Louisiana Superdome against the Saints. He had his second interception of the season. He returned it for his first touchdown of his NFL career.

Good for Ronnie Prude. Nothing has come easy for him in the NFL, thus it's good to see good things happen to him.

Sunday's early thoughts

The Saints got bumrushed.

Reggie Bush is a rookie and certainly looked it against Baltimore. He fumbled and threw an interception before half a beverage was consumed.

But what about Marques Colston? Wow, what a player this kid is going to be. He was taken three spots ahead of Mr. Irrelevent himself, Michael Messerly, in this year's draft.

The Saints showed some fight at least, but clearly Baltimore aggressive defense took its toll. New Orleans is still 5-2 and will have to suck it up as the schedule gets no easier.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, in Pittsburgh's first two drives against Oakland. The Steelers will probably win this game, but maybe Bill Cowher should have consulted our package on concussions this morning.

I can hear the calls for Charlie Batch from Shreveport.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Saturday musings

The Georgia Bulldogs look like they have real problems right now. After the Florida game, Georgia has Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech left. Looks like only one win left in the regular season for the Bulldogs to me.

Auburn did itself no favors in the BCS rankings by slopping around with Ole Miss. Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels play host to Northwestern State next week.

The loss eliminates Ole Miss from bowl consideration making Coach O, Coach O-for-2 in going to bowl games.

The I-Bowl is keeping a close watch on the Kentucky-Miss. State game. A Kentucky win would give the Wildcats four wins. They would need to win two games out of Georgia, Vanderbilt, ULM and Tennessee. That looks like it could happen.

Over in the Big 12, Oklahoma isn't ready to go away. Not after going on the road and beating Missouri 26-10.

USC, hey do you think Pete Carroll wishes he had kicked a field goal early in the second half instead of going on fourth down? That fourth down resulted in an incompletion. Kudos to Roy Lang in the office calling that one. As Roy said, you're going to need a field goal somewhere and he was right. USC needed one at the end of the game.

Glade to see Smokey make the trip with Tennessee. No telling how many South Carolina players get bit tonight.

World Series woes


Jim Leyland might want to spend a couple of days over spring training working on one thing with the Detroit Tigers - fielding. The Tigers had 8 errors in the World Series with the pitchers committing 5 of them.

The Tigers were too good for their own good. After sweeping past Oakland, the week-long hiatus was the worst thing for them. Sure, the pitching staff got their rest, but the bats went limp. The only Tiger swinging a big stick was Sean Casey. His home runs and hits should have been enough for the Tigers to be heading back to Detroit. Instead they watched St. Louis celebrate.

Hindsight is 20-20, but there's going to be a lot of talk in Detroit on why Leyland didn't start Kenny Rogers. Rogers was the only Tiger starter getting Cardinals out, even without pine tar, er, I mean dirt on his hand.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Minden at Haughton

It's halftime in Haughton, and Minden leads, 14-7.

The Crimson Tide took a 14-0 lead, partly helped by a Haughton fumble on its 15. Later in the quarter, Haughton scored on a 24-yard Matt Smith pass to Justin Blair. At 6:37 of the second, Minden leads, 14-7.

Is the SEC the deepest?

One item of discussion in the Sports department this week has been the strength of the SEC, relative to the rest of the country. While I do believe the best football is played in this part of the country in high school and college, I don't agree that the conference is annually the best in the nation.

I will say the teams are the most competitive with each other and the balance of power doesn't swing wildly from year to year. While Texas might well go unbeaten in the Big XII and might be able to in the SEC, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee -- if those are the best in the SEC -- are not far and away superior to the bulk of their conference.

That being said, it's no more of a story in the Big XII when Kansas beats Nebraska than it is in the SEC when Vanderbilt beats Florida.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Series update

It's the bottom of the seventh, and it's beginning to drizzle. Either that, or the guy behind me is is trying to talk and chew at the same time. I'm afraid to look. I hope we get this game in.

The Cardinals just tied the score, and the fans are going wild. We could be in for extra innings. In 45 degree weather. With rain on the way.

Glimpse of the future

Northwestern State hasn't pulled the plug on the 2006 football season but the Demons are getting an early look at 2007 with a couple of personnel moves coach Scott Stoker has made.

The Demons have moved LSU transfer Antonio Robinson from free safety to running back. They've also moved Ole Miss transfer Gary Riggs into the starting lineup at strong safety Gary Riggs.

"I didn't mean for it to look that way (going younger by design). They're all good players that are learning and are going to be starters eventually in there,'' Stoker said. "The deal with Antonio is I want to see him over there if he can be that guy. I already know he can play safety for us. I didn't want to go into January not knowing where he is going to be.

"And Riggs got the start last week because it was the option and he played well. It's his job now.''

It may not have been by design, but it is accomplishing the same thing. Robinson and Riggs were big-time recruits coming out of high school. True freshman Josh Adams is already starting at cornerback. And Stoker vows to play freshman quarterback Germayne Edmonds some on Saturday.

Thus, the Demons' 2006 record may not end up being what NSU fans want. But the Demons will have an early start on 2007.

It's dry in St. Louis!

Greetings from DRY St. Louis!

It sprinkled throughout the day, but it's been dry for several hours. All systems are GO for Game 4. The Tigers are taking batting practice, and the fans are streaming in. It's not quite as cool as it was this time yesterday, but it's still early.

The weather has been pretty nasty lately, but I share the sentiments of Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who said: "I love this. I don't care how miserable this is."

I visited both clubhouses after Tuesday night's game. The Tigers were surprisingly upbeat for a team that had just suffered a 5-0 loss. You certainly couldn't tell that they'd lost the game. I suppose when you've come as far as they have, there aren't many things that can rattle you.

When I arrived in the Cardinals' clubhouse, Albert Pujols, Preston Wilson and Ronnie Belliard were drawing the most media attention.

Belliard is much smaller than he looks on TV. Remember Spud Webb?

I nearly ran into Jim Leyland as he was going to his pregame media conference on Tuesday. He's also much smaller than I thought.

Come to think of it, a LOT of these guys look a lot smaller in person. I'd better lay off the White Castles for a while.

St. Louis. What a city!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

In other quarterback news

I'm thinking it won't be too long before Peyton becomes "the other Manning." It's apparent the Colts can't get to the Super Bowl, but the Giants are building something pretty nice on the outskirts of NYC. Eli is physically better than Peyton already, and the mental appears to be coming from what I see.

Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger has suffered another concussion, this time with a helmet. I've been studying concussions closely recently, and he might want to sit out a week before returning. Watch for Sunday's edition of The Times to read more about concussions, particularly in high school football.

NBA's lost era


Walt Frazier was on XM Radio this afternoon discussing his new book. The discussion evolved into the lack of complete teams in the NBA. Frazier and the interviewers talked about how there are no teams with five solid and complete starters focused on one goal. Frazier's Knicks team (right) and his opponents, the Celtics, the Lakers and the Sixers, were all balanced at every position.

The last team they thought that fit the mold of the old Knicks' teams was Detroit's back-to-back championship teams in 1989 and 1990.

Frazier didn't really supply any new theories as to why he thinks the game is in decline. Money, league expansion, ESPN - they were all mentioned as catalysts toward the game's current state.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why we love high school football

Benton High School has thrown exactly ZERO passes in its last two games - both wins.

You've got to love that. A team that wants to run. A team that doesn't even pay lip service to being balanced offensively.

They line up and dare you to stop the run.

That is part of the beauty of high school football. Benton makes enough yardage on first and second downs that third down has been a running down. Can't argue with that.

Obviously, Benton will have to throw a pass somewhere late in the season or postseason. But it is rather impressive to play two games in a row without having to put it in the air.

Greetings from St. Louis

Greetings from Busch Stadium in vibrant, chilly downtown St. Louis, the site of the next three World Series games.

Planes and helicopters are flying overhead. The stadium gates just opened and a mass of red-clad fans has begun to pour in. The hearty aroma of grilled hamburgers and bratwurst fills the air as the Detroit Tigers take batting practice.

This is a beautiful stadium. I walked on the field shortly after I arrived, and I was even more impressed. The picturesque view of the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis skyline from field level is a sight to behold.

I always enjoy coming back to St. Louis. I lived here for 14 years, and the old Bush Stadium was my second home. I also devoured more than a few White Castle hamburgers as a youngster.

The stadium may be new, but Cardinals fans have remained some of baseball's finest.

A sign outside the stadium describes it best: "Welcome to Baseball Heaven."

Fun with projections

Earlier on this blog, Scott Ferrell laid out the SEC road map to to the Independence Bowl and Brian McCallum did the same for the Big 12.

Now, with the college football season entering the final five weeks, some national outlets are starting their bowl projections. And to no one's surprise, three projectors have delivered three completely different projections.

ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel is projecting a South Carolina-Oklahoma State matchup while his co-worker Mark Schlabach thinks neither side (SEC or Big 12) will fill its responsibility. Schlabach's early guess: N.C. State-Ohio.

Meanwhile, on CBSsportsline.com, the pick is Kentucky-Kansas State. Just think only about 6 weeks until we know for sure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Are you ready for a dud?

Hank Williams Jr. arrived at midfield inside Texas Stadium just before kickoff. He was wearing a Monday Night Football leather jacket and was escorted to the Blue Star by a pair of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

He had a microphone in hand and asked the crowd if they were "ready."

Just when you thought he was going to bust out a live version of "Are You Ready For Some Football?" he said "Thank you" and walked to the sidelines while a taped version of the Monday Night Football theme plasted throughout the stadium.

Talk about a tease???

What was that?

Will the craziness continue here at Texas Stadium?

Let's see, so far this week in NFL, we've had a 62-yard field goal at the gun by Tampa Bay, a 56-yarder at the gun by Lawrence Tines of Kansas City, who missed an extra point earlier in that game.

We had Atlanta make a 56-yarder, only to have a late time out by Pittsburgh nullify it. Eventually, Morten Andersen, who is older than the NFL itself, make a field goal in overtime to down the Steelers.

Seattle never loses at home, but did Sunday.

The lowly Texans defeated Jacksonville, one of the best teams in the AFC.

Arizona lost to Oakland, which many had predicted to go 0-16 (Guess Matt Leinart isn't quite Dan Marino just yet).

Whew ... what a week it's been.

Sounds like there is something strange brewing for this tilt between the Giants and the Cowboys.

All the sports radio folks in the Metroplex are basically calling this a "let's see how good the Cowboys really are" game.

If Dallas runs the ball well, they will win tonight.

I'm taking the Cowboys in a close one.

Quarterback quandaries

On this morning's SWAC teleconference, Grambling coach Melvin Spears declared, "Right now, our quarterback is Brandon Landers.''

Well, duh, the guy threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Jackson State last week. Larry Kerlegan hasn't played in two weeks because of a high ankle sprain.

Landers is playing like the quarterback everyone thought he was. Of course, you could say Spears' penchant for playing Kerlegan earlier in the year may have caused some of Landers' troubles.

A similar situation took place at NSU. Scott Stoker declared Ricky Joe Meeks the starter. After a dust-up on the practice field before the season opener, there was Roch Charpentier taking the first snaps of the season at Kansas.

Meeks eventually moved back into the starting lineup. But Stoker's penchant for playing Charpentier certainly didn't help Meeks. Eventually, Meeks quit the team leaving Charpentier as the starter.

Once again, if you've got two quarterbacks, at least in these eyes, you really don't have one.

Smudged-up series

Just when it seemed relative peace was settling in over baseball, Kenny Rogers goes and screws things up.

Baseball players and executives finally reach a deal BEFORE the current labor agreement expires and, on the same day, Rogers is caught with a mystery substance on his pitching hand. Great timing, Kenny.

Now instead of marveling at an October run matched by only one or two pitchers ever (23 straight scoreless innings pitchted), fans are again wondering how long this latest black cloud will hang over the game.

As for Rogers' performance, forget the substance. The left-hander was just as good -- if not better -- from the second inning on, after he washed his hands of the mystery substance.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why we love/hate the NFL

Sunday was one of those days when I hate the NFL.

No, the product on the field is fine. I just hate picking games in the paper and seeing the team I pick (Philadelphia) lose on a 62-yard field goal.

I hate seeing teams I pick (Pittsburgh) lose when someone OLDER THAN ME kicks a game-winning field goal.

I hate seeing teams I pick (Miami) lose because Joey Harrington is still in the NFL.

It's Sundays like today that prove just how hard it is to predict the outcome of NFL games. And it is Sundays like these that should cure anyone of the desire to wager on NFL games.

Business as usual in Houston

Shortly after kickoff here in Houston's Reliant Stadium, it's business as usual. Houston, as you may remember, was one of seven NFL cities mentioned in a hoax posted on the Internet recently.

The Reliant Stadium crowd is noticeably smaller than usual, but no less vocal.

David Carr just overthrew an open receiver, Kris Brown missed a 38-yard field goal attempt, and the fans are booing.

It's business as usual in Houston.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

College football thoughts

If you're a Nebraska player, coach or fan, aren't you kicking yourself for missing your chance to knock off Texas?

Because Texas is in a transitional year this year with Colt McCoy taking over at quarterback. And the game was at Nebraska.

You've got to figure Texas isn't going to get worse anytime soon and will only get better.

I know he probably didn't mean any harm, but could there have been more pressure on McCoy than coming off the field and seeing Vince Young on the sidelines? It is hard enough to follow the guy as it is without having to see him face to face.

If it happened against anybody other than Northwestern, Michigan State's 41-38 victory would have been one for the ages.

As it is, it is just a freak show victory with the Spartans coming back from 38-3 down in the second half to win and keep John L. Smith employed.

Ole Miss quarterback Brent Schaeffer may be the most hyped for least production quarterback in the history of the SEC. Of course, I've said that before.

Georgia has real troubles when it's slopping around with Mississippi State.

The U almost became the L against Duke.

Larry Coker probably needs to be brushing up the resume about now.

Back for more later.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Series has local ties

Anyone remember Jason Grilli?

In 1997, he was the San Francisco Giants' No. 1 draft pick. In 1998, he was a Shreveport Captain, poised to be one of the next great arms to come out of the Giants' system.

Now, eight years of near anonymity later, he's Shreveport's connection to the World Series. Pretty impressive for a guy who bounced around soon after being traded from the Giants' chain to the Marlins.

And he's not the only one with ties to the Ark-La-Tex on the Tigers. Craig Monroe, who morphed from Manny Ramirez II in left field during the regular season to a postseason gold glover, is a Texarkana, Texas, native and ALCS MVP Placido Polanco played for the Arkansas Travelers at Fair Grounds Field.

So while most whine about the lopsided nature of the Series, baseball fans are hit with a double-shot of pain -- the one-sided Series and the memories of what once was and what likely never will be again at Fair Grounds Field.

Captain, my captain

The San Francisco Giants appear to be dead set on screwing up their franchise.

That's right, they appear to be skipping over Ron Wotus as their next manager, looking for a bigger name. The biggest name getting a lot of run in the Bay Area media is Bud Black. Yes, he's the former major league pitcher and pitching coach who has never managed a day in his life.

Why should you, Shreveporter, care?

Because Ron Wotus is arguably the best manager in Shreveport Captains' history. He took teams to the playoffs for three consecutive years. His 1995 team won the most games in all of professional baseball.

He worked his way up from Shreveport to Triple-A Phoenix and finally to San Francisco where he was a third-base coach and bench coach for the Giants.

Anyone that knows Wotus knows he could do the job at the big league level.

If the Giants are indeed serious about getting younger, he knows how to handle younger players. If Barry Bonds stays with the Giants, he's known Bonds for 20 years going back to their minor league days.

Wotus is the perfect fit for the Giants.

But apparently Giants owner Peter Magowan is more interested in sizzle than substance. And that's no way to run a franchise.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

MUDBUGS FIND RELIEF ... THIS GUY IS APPROVED BY THE INS


This weekend promises to be a circus. What a perfect fit!!

Puttin' on the foil


Since the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs appear to be shorthanded before their season opener against Oklahoma City, I think I'll do my civic duty as a Yankee and collect my stuff and head down to the CenturyTel Center first thing in the morning.

The Mudbugs don't have enough players because many of their Canadian players haven't cleared immigration. So the call has gone out to any American-born hockey players to join the team. Now granted I'm about 30 pounds overweight and have probably played 60 minutes of competitive hockey since I moved to Louisiana seven years ago - and that was last year in the men's league at the CTC.

Still, a player is a player at his point, right coach Muscutt? Hey, it's either me or former Sports Editor Dean Rock, who incensed a lot of Mudbugs fans saying he'd be more successful at scoring on a goalie than any player could.

I'm sure I could get my brother to fly out here as well, but he hasn't laced up a pair of skates since he was 12. It'd be a great marketing strategy though. Slap some horn-rimmed glasses on us and call us two-thirds of the Hanson Bros (above).

Keep your chins up

The easy thing for coaches at Louisiana Tech, Grambling and Northwestern State to do is to hang their heads after the way their 2006 seasons have gone to date. According to attendees at Thursday's luncheon, NSU coach Scott Stoker was less than upbeat while talking about the Demons' upcoming contest.

Tech's Bicknell has endured a several days of ugly e-mails after last week's 24-14 loss to Idaho, and was even approached on the field by irate fans following the loss. But the coach hasn't let him get it down.

"I guess I'm more positive than other people, but I can't let myself get down," Bicknell said. "The players and the other coaches look at me to see how I'm reacting. I always put the previous game behind me on Sunday. Right now, I'm fired up and getting prepared to play Utah State this week. This is a competitive situation, so you go play the next one."

The tough thing for some fans to remember is that football is only a game. The coaches and players don't won't to get their butts kicked any more than the fans want their team to lose.

Note to coaches: If your kids are healthy, if your wife is still speaking to you, if your house hasn't burned down -- forget about the loss and move on. At least you aren't the head coach at the University of Miami this week.

Louisiana bat company a heavy hitter

The Baton Rouge-based Marucci Bat Company got a bit of free advertising about a month ago in ESPN The Magazine. Dan LeBatard's article about Ryan Howard, the major-league home run king, featured a photo of Howard holding one of the bats with the Marucci label clearly visible.

But Howard won't be the last Marucci client swinging the Louisiana lumber. Regardless of whomever represents the National League in the World Series, a Marucci client will be swinging away on baseball's biggest stage.

New York Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran is a Marucci client as is, of all people, St. Louis ace pitcher Chris Carpenter. Needless to say, Beltran would bring a little more attention with his swing than Carpenter.

Whichever team opposes Detroit in the Fall Classic, the little bat company that could in Baton Rouge is sure to be watching with a keen eye.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jefferson, Jefferson, Jefferson

So we've got this story by Brian McCallum on BTW running back Jeremy Jefferson running in Thursday's Times. And I start thinking about writing a column on why Jefferson isn't being recruited by big-time programs. I know Jefferson has a Northwestern State offer but that's about it as far as I know.

The most obvious reason is he's 5-foot-8.

So I start thinking back and remember that Arkansas once had a 5-5 wide receiver in J.J. Meadors from Ruston.

So I get on the SEC teleconference and ask Arkansas coach Houston Nutt about his philosophy of recruiting running backs and what place height plays in the recruitment process.

Well, Nutt wasn't at Arkansas when Meadors played, but it wasn't a big deal because he told the story of being at Oklahoma State when another small running back, Barry Sanders, changed his mind about small running backs.

The story runs tomorrow. But let me just tell you, if you're a small running back you better be off the charts in vision, speed and toughness, if you want to play at the next level.

LSUS basketball


Coach Chad McDowell lost a ton of talent from last year's team that finished No 2 in the final NAIA poll. He lost the program's best player - Fredericko Payne (left) - and a lot of height in Shadarach Roome and Jeremy Johnston.

The ironic thing? They may be better this year. McDowell got a pair of big transfers in Kyile Byrd and Blake Whittle. Byrd and returning guard Josh Porter are NAIA Player of the Year candidates. To have two PoY candidates on the same team is amazing.

McDowell is confident that his club won't miss a beat from last year's 28-4 team. The question is what did they learn from last year's soul-crushing loss in the first round of the NAIA Tournament?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Big 12 musings

Scott Ferrell has given you a look at the prospects for an SEC representative in the Independence Bowl. Here is my take on the other invitee.

There are four bowl-eligible teams in the Big 12, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M. Go ahead and count them out for our game unless there's a total collapse by somebody.

Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all have four wins, while Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State have three. Oklahoma has Colorado and Baylor remaining as its most winnable games. Games against A&M and Texas Tech are less predictable. The Red Raiders have Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State remaining. Oklahoma State appears iffy for six wins, but Kansas State has Kansas and Iowa State remaining as its most winnable games.

I'd bet the I-Bowl is safe for a Big 12-SEC matchup. Still too far out to guess whom.

Are the Saints really a surprise?

What happens when a team that has generally been regarded as a bunch of underachievers gets a new - good - coach and a new - good - quarterback, then shores up its weaknesses with smart offseason moves?

Not to mention, add in a true home advantage and none of the chaos caused by arguably the nation's worst natural disaster the year before?

You get the 2006 Saints.

People have short memories. It's easy to remember the 2005 version of the Saints, the ones with Jim Haslett as coach, Aaron Brooks as quarterback and a new home in San Antonio because of all the damage wrought in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. It's a wonder, considering that terrible trio, that the Saints didn't go winless.

Let's go back to 2003 and 2004, when the Saints twice finished 8-8 and had Haslett on the hot seat because of their maddening inconsistency despite a solid nucleus of talent. New Orleans was generally considered a playoff contender but one that could never get over the hump.

But with the offseason additions of Sean Payton and Drew Brees, which in retrospect, seems to be such significant upgrades that no analogy can truly do them justice. (And, no, adding an undersized, glorified scatback who averages 3 yards a carry and has no rushing TDs, isn't that big of a factor).

That doesn't even take into account the magic generated within the Superdome these days ... it's probably the best home-field advantage in the NFL.

So, no, the Saints are no surprise. They're finally living up to expectations. There's no big mystery here.

Map, please

According to published reports, Louisiana Tech's students heckled their own team during the Bulldogs' 24-14 loss to Idaho on Saturday. Two drunk students were pulled away from coach Jack Bicknell's press conference.

Memo to angry/drunk Tech students: Get a map. You're not in Austin, Texas, not in Los Angeles, not in Ann Arbor, Mich., heck, you're not even in Auburn, Ala. You're in Ruston.

Now that's not to say that Tech students shouldn't demand excellence the same way they do at Texas, USC, Michigan or Auburn. The difference is Tech students should be more realistic in their demands for excellence.

Should Tech students expect a win over Idaho? Sure. But is heckling your own team or trying to berate the coach going to help? No.

Everyone knew Tech's schedule was difficult before the season started. This shouldn't come as a surprise.

But to think Tech's coaches and players aren't trying to win is ridiculous. This is a young team beaten down by a tough schedule. And, with no open dates, it may get worse before it gets better.

That doesn't mean things can't turn around next year, or even this year.

But a dose of realism would certainly help.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Texans, Saints moving in different directions

The 2-14 Houston Texans and 3-13 New Orleans Saints leased the NFL’s basement last season.

What a difference an offseason makes.

The Texans (1-4) have renewed their lease, while the Saints (5-1) have moved into a swank townhouse.

One season after posting a 3-13 record, the Saints have a LEGITIMATE shot at the Super Bowl. The Texans have a LEGITIMATE shot at the top pick in next year’s draft.

And it’s not about Reggie Bush, the player Texans fans drooled over. It’s about the Saints.

This year’s team is far from being a one-man show. Bush has sparkled, to be sure. He leads the NFC in receptions (38).

But the Saints have one of the NFC’s top offenses, averaging 24.2 points a game (No. 5). Quarterback Drew Brees’ 92.8 passer rating is No. 4 in the NFC. And running back Deuce McAllister is No. 6 in rushing with 444 yards on 91 carries (4.9 yards a carry).

The Saints also have one of the conference’s top defenses. They allow only 18.3 points per game, No. 5 in the NFC. And enough can’t be said about the fantastic job first-year head coach Sean Payton and his staff have done.

Meanwhile, the Texans and their new head coach, Gary Kubiak, are gearing up for the draft in which Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson will likely be available. But don’t get your hopes up, Texans fans.

Even if Peterson is still available, don’t be surprised next April to here something like this: “With the first pick of the 2007 NFL draft, the Houston Texans select Footsie Ball, long snapper, Butterbean State University.”

Mora, Mora, Mora

Time has done wonders for Jim Mora's reputation in Louisiana. He is a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer. Saints fans remember his time in New Orleans with much more fondness than when he left.

Even if your opinion of Mora hasn't changed through the years, I challenge you to watch Mora's work on NFL Network and see if it doesn't change.

Here are just some of the highlights from Mora on Monday afternoon:

-- On the Saints: "I think it's a great story. I'm happy for that city. I'm happy for that organization.''

-- On son Jim Mora Jr. saying he still had confidence in the Falcons' passing game: "If I was my son I wouldn't have confidence in the passing game.''

--On Oakland Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss: "I definitely think he is the problem. He is the captain of that offense. To me, that's a joke.''

-- On Moss' leadership: "I don't think he's ever been a leader. I don't think he's a leader now. I don't think he'll ever be a leader.''

-- On Oakland's chances of winning a game: "I do think they'll win a game. I think there's only two chances, the Cardinals and the Texans.''

Mora doesn't blow smoke. Then again, Mora was a straight shooter when he was coaching the Saints and Colts. If nothing else, you have to respect him for that.

If the Saints were a stock ...


CNBC's Jim Cramer would be screaming for you to SELL!!!

Yeah, yeah, I'm shocked there wasn't something taped to my office door this morning from Roy Lang about the Saints improbable comeback victory at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fine, enjoy it now, Saints fans. You deserve to savor every morsel of this 5-1 start. However, the bye week couldn't come at a worse time for the Saints. Those guys are rocking and here comes the time off to bring back some reality.

Look ahead on the schedule and you'll see more pitfalls than there are in an Indiana Jones script.

Losses ahead to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati ... heck, put an L whenver you see a team from the AFC. The end of the season NFC East trifecta is incredibly daunting and then the playoff ending, one-on-one, thrill-kill versus the Panthers. (Who by the way have won four in a row.)

It's been a great run ... but it's time to sell.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sad state

If you take LSU's 49-0 win over Kentucky out of the equation, Saturday was a sad day of college football around here.

Where to begin?

At home, there was Louisiana Tech turning the ball over eight times in a loss to Idaho. The 1-5 Bulldogs look like a self-fulfilling prophecy. All during the offseason there was angst over a brutal schedule - and it was brutal - and how that would play out. So far it's playing out like the worst nightmare any Tech fan could have imagined. And the bad news? Tech still has to play every week to the first week of December.

Grambling goes to Little Rock and loses to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. That's a pair of conference losses for the Tigers. But Southern, the preseason favorite, already has three losses. What in the world is going on in the SWAC.

Northwestern State has been Team Turmoil this season with the firing of a defensive coordinator and a starting quarterback quitting at midseason. The Demons lost in overtime, but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of hope of turning around a 2-4 team and making it a playoff squad.

It appears basketball season can't come soon enough for some in the area.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Beautiful night in Baton Rouge

We've got about an hour before kickoff, and it is absolutely gorgeous here in Baton Rouge.

The weather is perfect. There's a light breeze coming from the south, and the field looks as good as I've ever seen it in Tiger Stadium.

The band has just marched into the stadium. We're ready to go!

I think the Tigers are going to swarm over Kentucky tonight, and not just because of the stinging loss to Florida.
The Tigers, and coach Les Miles, have something to prove tonight. Kentucky just happens to be the unlucky opponent.

I-Bowl musings

The PetroSun Independence Bowl actually appears in decent shape considering it's picking eight deep in the SEC.

The key is the SEC not having a team in the national championship game in addition to the Sugar Bowl.

Vanderbilt's upset of Georgia helped the Commodores' case. But Vandy is currently sitting on three wins and needs three more to become bowl eligible. The remainder of the Vandy schedule includes South Carolina, at Duke, Florida, at Kentucky and Tennessee.

Only in the Duke game will Vandy be favored. The Commodores' best chances appear to be Duke, at Kentucky and South Carolina.

Kentucky's chances look a whole lot better and that's before kickoff at LSU.

The Wildcats already have three wins. Their remaining schedule includes a trip to Mississippi State, home against Georgia, Vanderbilt and UL-Monroe before ending the season at Tennessee.

You've got to figure Kentucky to be favored in three of those (State, Vandy and ULM). That would get the Cats to the magical six number and give the East five possible bowl teams (Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky).

In the SEC West, you've got to figure Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and even Alabama are locks to go bowling.

That's nine teams and the I-Bowl red coats can breathe a little easier.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bulldogs to start lite noseguard

Louisiana Tech's Eric Harris (292 pounds), a true freshman noseguard, apparently got a little overwhelmed playing against Nebraska, Texas A&M and Clemson, then getting thrust into full time duty last week against Boise, due to an injury to starter Josh Muse (301).

Harris decided to hang up his cleats this week because "he wasn't having any fun," according to Tech coach Jack Bicknell. "Heck, I'm not having much fun either," Bicknell told Harris.

Bicknell has given Harris a few days off and believes that he will return to football. In Harris' absence this weekend, Tech will start 240-pound defensive end Ben McGilton at the nose against Idaho.

The defensive line is a tough place for a youngster to become physically and mentally ready to play as a freshman. Especially when you're going up against veteran BCS offensive linemen. Harris needs football and Tech needs him, so expect to see him back in uniform and playing a more subdued role in the near future.

EVANGEL-CALVARY MUSINGS

If you get to a high school football game more than 90 minutes prior to kickoff you would figure you'd have a place to work in the press box. Evangel has six stat keepers, but not room for 1, let alone 2 reporters.
Half of the press box was sectioned off as a suite for pastor Denny Duron.

AND

Evangel has decided to make the kickoff of tonight's game 7:30 p.m. The reasonsing was because the Eagles played two Texas teams early in the season with kickoffs at 7:30.
It's a good thing Evangel didn't play De La Salle this year. Kickoff would be around midnight.

Detroit Tigers: Team of Destiny?

With Detroit up two games to zip on Oakland, you've got to start believing that this is Detroit's year.

The Tigers are a rarity in sports and here's why:

It's such a novel concept - actually playing for your manager. At first I thought it was kind of hokey for the players to lift Leyland up on their shoulders following their Game 4 win over the Yankees. But after reading Albom's column, I get a greater appreciation of the act.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Leyland the magic man

Jim Leyland is baseball's newest version of an October King Midas. That is, whatever he touches turns into gold.

Got a sagging tradition-laden franchise? Hire a 61-year-old manager and watch him turn it into baseball's best team for five months.

Starting pitcher struggling in the league championship series? Watch Leyland leisurely stroll to the mound, say a few comforting words and, voila, meltdown averted.

The latter has happened twice in the last two games for Detroit, which is two wins away from its first World Series appearance in 22 years. And to think, the man most responsible for it -- Leyland -- was thought to be too far behind the times to be successful. Instead, he's proving to be the man with October's Midas touch.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Drama kings

Is it just me or is there always something going on at Northwestern State?

Two weeks ago, it was Mike Collins getting fired as defensive coordinator.

On Wednesday, starting quarterback Ricky Joe Meeks quit. I know, he left for personal reasons. But back in the day, we called it quitting.

Just a week ago NSU coach Scott Stoker talked to The Times' Roy Lang III about dealing with distractions. Little did Stoker know he would get to practice what he preached within a week.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's what's for dinner

The AP just moved a 10-inch story breathlessly reporting the death of Bevo XIII, the longest-tenured mascot in University of Texas history.

First of all, do we really need a 10-inch story on a mascot dying. I'm sure Bevo was a fine animal. But again, we're talking about an animal. We're not even talking about a pet.

Then, to detail the tenure of this animal, the story talks about Ricky Williams' achievements during that time. Unless Bevo was smoking weed with Williams, I don't care. And then I only care about Bevo.

Please, let's stick to the games and the PEOPLE not the animals.

Monday, October 09, 2006

SEC fans should button up

The Arkansas win over Auburn on Saturday proved that the SEC is a very down league this season. Remember that 50-14 shellacking that the Hogettes took at the hands of USC to open the season? That's all that needs to be said about the strength of Arkansas football. Then they turn around and handily beat the SEC West leader on the road.

Right now it's Florida as the only SEC team with a chance to win the national title. With the Gators having to run the gauntlet of Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, along with a possible SEC Championship game, their days of remaining unbeaten are numbered.

It's humorous in north Louisiana, hearing SEC fans running down the strength of the Big 12, Pac 10, Big Ten and ACC. Some years they have room to talk, but this year they don't.

Yankee go home

Here is what I like to do every October: Celebrate my birthday, trick or treat with my daughter, carve a pumpkin and, oh yeah, watch the New York Yankees go down in flames in the playoffs.

So it was with much enjoyment that I went home at my lunch hour on Monday, turned on the television, put it on channel 622, the YES Network (or Al-Yank-Zera to most people of intelligent baseball thought), to watch the tears flow on the "Mike and the Mad Dog'' show.

Yes, it was a glorious day. Callers in despair. Callers in disbelief. Why, there are children pushing 6 years old who have never known a day when the Yankees won it all. This could be the Next Great Generation. All they have known is Yankee failure. I have great hopes for our youth.

Anyway, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what is wrong with the Yankees. The good thing is it appears there doesn't seem to be any intelligent thought taking place in New York.

Getting rid of Joe Torre? Uh, that's not the problem. Torre doesn't take the mound four days out of five and needing a protective screen to keep from getting shelled by line drives.

It's the pitching, stupid.

The Yankees need better starting pitching. That's it in a nutshell.

It would also help to get rid of some parts of the All-Star lineup. Alex Rodriguez is a fabulous player - most of the time. But Scott Brosius was a gamer. Sometimes you need gamers in your lineup to go along with your stars. A-Rod is slowly turning into an everyday Ed Whitson.

And here is one other way to fix the Yankees -- realize the situation you're in. The goal shouldn't be to win the division. The goal is to get into the playoffs. When you do that, it's a crapshoot. Detroit didn't win the division, but the Tigers are still playing.

Oh well, let me go back to the living room and see if I can't catch some more of the Yankee Hot Stove show. Oh wait, that wasn't supposed to be on until November.

More predictions

Despite an 0-for-4 showing in the division series, I'm going to try my hand at picking the League Championship Series.

So here goes some either very in-tune foresight or more picks for you fine people to ridicule:

In the American League, Oakland will win in six games. Both of these teams have strong pitching staffs with young stars in the making. And seeing as how good pitching normally stifles good hitting, look for the A's to edge the Tigers and their inconsistent lineup.

On the National League side, I like the Mets in 6. St. Louis likely won't have ace Chris Carpenter until Game 3 (Game 2 if he goes on three days rest). New York, meanwhile, already handled the Dodgers' pitching staff handily and L.A.'s arms were much more potent than the Cards.

So there you have it, two more picks to try to break the schneid or continue a perfectly imperfect postseason of picks.

Saints tickets still available

The Superdome was rockin Sunday, but those who bought the hype about the Dome being a sellout for every game need not worry.
There were plenty of seats available for the Tampa Bay game. And this is to be expected. Many of the season ticket holders are unlikely to be able to attend every game and it seems as if the Saints buy the unused tickets back and try to resell them.
So, if you're planning on taking a trip down to the Big Easy, logon to ticketmaster.com and check out ticket availability.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Weekend musings

Can the last month of baseball season be more meaningless when it comes playoff time?

The Detroit Tigers gasped their way into the playoffs, finishing the season getting swept by Triple-A Kansas City. So what do the Tigers do but kick some $200 million Yankee butt right out of the playoffs. (The Evil Empire is 3-10 in the postseason since the Glorious Insurrection of 2004.)

Oh and then there are the St. Louis Cardinals. Here is a team that since May 1 was UNDER .500. Yet they bounced the San Diego Padres to the curb in just four games in the postseason

FOX TV executives have to be dying a thousand deaths to see their beloved Yanks go down in flames. Now they'll need the New York Mets in the series to avoid a TV ratings disaster like, oh, Oakland vs. St. Louis.

Bud Selig's big roll may be coming to an end.

Switching gears, I'll admit to being a Chicago Bears fan for nearly 40 years. That being said, these Bears are good. I'll go so far as to say they may be the best team in the NFC right now.

The Dallas Cowboys had a tough draw in Philly. But correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it supposed to be the Cowboys exposing the Eagles' secondary and not vice versa.

I'm tired of T.O.

You just knew Reggie Bush was going to have a highlight film touchdown at some point. It couldn't have come at a better time for the Saints.

Les Miles is 5-4 against ranked teams at LSU. Before you panic, Nick Saban had the same record at LSU after nine games against ranked teams.

Let me get this straight, Charles Scott is the answer for LSU at running back, unless the team plays on the road. Then, he doesn't get on the field.

If you think Louisiana Tech's defensive problems are bad now, then wait until they've played about 10 weeks in a row.

NSU ran 96 plays on Saturday. There are some teams that won't run 96 plays in two weeks.

Bad weekend for 2

This is the weekend two guys who have heard public mumblings about their jobs will remember as being potential turning points.
The embarassing loss to Florida is far bigger ammo for LSU fans who question his abilities than calling time out during a change of possession. There was national championship talk not too long ago, and now the Tigers have two losses.
The interceptions Drew Bledsoe threw today will just increase the volume on the catcalls he faces in Dallas. Bad timing all the way around.

Back in the Dome

I came to the Superdome this morning about 9:30 to get an early start toward the press box. I walked in the Dome and didn't think much of anything until I put my computer down and peered out at the field.
Then it hit me. I was back in the Superdome. Everything looks so clean, bright and tidy. Memories of what happened here a little more than a year ago have been masked by new turf, new paint and colorful video boards.
Now it's time to get outside and soak in some of the local color. Reggie Bush jerseys are everywhere and the plaza area outside the Dome is rockin.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Most satisfyingly time to be wrong

0-4.

That's what I'm looking at if the San Diego Padres don't come back and beat the St. Louis Cardinals the next two days. 0-4 as in I misfired on picking the winners in all four series in Tuesday's edition of the paper.

And you know what? Part of me couldn't be happier with the turn of events.

The Oakland A's are a fun bunch and whenever the New York Yankees are eliminated life is good. So go ahead and ridicule my picks, but I'll be able to watch the rest of the playoffs in relative peace -- at least when I'm not at the office.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Big weekend back home

This is going to be a very interesting weekend for people in my home state of Michigan.

You've got the Michigan-Michigan State game kicking off at 4:30 (EDT), and the Tigers and the Yankees going at in Game 3 of their division series at 4:30 (EDT). Personally, I'm going to be a flipper, bouncing back and forth between the game while here at work. Note to self: get a satellite dish in 2007.

I heard the Tigers cap off the Yankees in Game 2 driving back from the Soul Bowl on XM Radio, and it made me very homesick. Especially at this time of year, when fall is here.

Go Blue and go Tigers!

Being held hostage by an owner

As if the good folks of New Orleans and the Gulf South - and, really all of Louisiana - haven't enough to worry about after Hurricane Katrina - here comes the news that Hornets owner George Shinn says it is vital for the team to sell out the six games in New Orleans this season.

Come again?

The implication is the team would move. If that's the case, then there is probably no one to stop them. After all, putting your life back together is a little more important than Hornets basketball.

Look, the Hornets haven't exactly been exemplary in the post-Katrina world.

While the Saints have sold out their games and tried to reach out to the region, the Hornets keep playing the majority of their games in Oklahoma City.

Here's a sad reality check for Shinn: In New Orleans, and in Louisiana, the No. 1 pro sports team is the Saints, not the Hornets. And, quite frankly, that won't change unless Tom Benson loads up the moving van.

So here is a better idea. If the people of New Orleans, the Gulf South and Louisiana want to support the Hornets, more power to them. If not, then so be it.

The beef jerky maestro

If you don't like reading about NASCAR, golf or the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, you may not know much about Times assistant sports editor Roy Lang's writing ability. Lang is an excellent writer but I found out recently that he's an even better beef jerky chef.

Lang spent more than he should have to get the required jerky-making machinery and went to work. According to anonymous sources, Lang nearly burned down his Justin Street house making the jerky, but the finished product was worth a smokey house.

He dropped off a miniature sampling of his spicy delicacy at my desk on Friday afternoon and I downed it while drinking most of a cola and answering calls about Friday night football. I'll spare you what Jason Pugh said the jerky looked like, but then I've never seen a piece of jerky that looked purty.

All I can say is that it was finger licking good. If Lang ever decides to hang up his crazy flipping fingers, he could make a living by marketing this product.

A's win good for MLB

Remember 2004 when a fun-loving baseball team won the World Series? Two years alter, we may have seen the reincarnation of those Boston Red Sox -- only on the other coast.

And that's a good thing for Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees with their near-robotic behavior and lack of a personality have been baseball's face for too long. With a generation of children who have attention spans shorter than a list of Alex Rodriguez's postseason success, MLB needs fresh new faces and personalities to market.

Which brings us to the Oakland A's, who finally won a playoff series on Friday. This isn't the party like a rock star, live like a movie star A's of Jason Giambi's time. Instead, it's more of an Animal House-like cast. After all, this is the team that Moneyball built -- a team loaded with former college baseball players. So what better comparision than the best college film of all time?

Comparisons aside, Oakland's win is good for a sport that needs a transfusion of new stars who may not be quite so P.C. as the buttoned-down, boring old Yankees.

Note to ESPN and Fox

In catching bits and pieces of the ESPN and Fox baseball playoff converage I've been able to put together a wish list.

1) Please limit the number of shots of Joe Torre in the Yankees dugout. It's not like he's going to go Bob Knight or anything. It's been the same shot for the last 10 years.
2) Drop the deification of Ernie Harwell. I can name five better broadcasters than Harwell right now - that would be Vin Scully, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Mel Allen and Red Barber. And that's without even giving it much thought.
3) Was that the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs? I don't know if it was the three-game series or the three straight day games but most of America missed the Twins this year.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Is televising high school sports bad for players?

In last Sunday’s (10/1) edition of the New York Times, there was a column in The Week in Review section headlined "Girls and Boys, Interrupted." It was by Alissa Quart, author of a book entitled "Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child."
Quart’s began by describing how she was watching TV one night and came across a football game replete with player biographies, cheerleaders, sideline reporters, etc. Only it was a high school football game.
The basic point of Quart’s column is that subjecting kids in contests -- whether it be athletic, academic (like spelling bees) or entertainment -- to TV cameras is not in their best interests.
Here is a couple of examples of what she had to say.
"Forever, these media-ready competitors will have to carry the legacy of having been either humiliated by the broadcast of their losses or frozen in the inflated image of their wins."
"But one way or another, grown-up viewers of televised youth competitions find themselves contorted into an odd position. We become talent agents, recruiters and connoisseurs of precocity, judging the young competitors on their seamlessness and, ironically, how un-childlike they are."
I pretty much agree with Quart, but I’m a bit ambivalent about it. When USA TODAY started ranking high school teams more than 20 years ago, I thought it was absurd and would be the start of making high school sports more like college and the pros. The televising of high school sports, and shows like "Two-a-days," chronicling Hoover, Ala., High’s 2005 football season, is just the logical extension of that. Of course, the proliferation of media over that time also has a lot to do with it.
The genie of televised high school sports has been let out of the bottle and it’s not going to be pushed back in. There’s just going to be more of it. It’s up to adults in official positions, like coaches and principals, to help their kids keep things in perspective. Let’s hope they do their jobs well.

Shameless plug

OK, so this is a shameless plug for another part of our Web site, but I've got to do it.

If you follow SEC football, then wander over to LSUBeat.com and go to the Bayou Bengals blog. There you'll find one of the funniest videos you'll probably see. I can't help laughing every time I see it.

I won't say anymore because you'll need to see for yourself.

Looking forward to a pitching change

Finally there's something enthralling to watch on TV. The baseball playoffs have started and many of us have been sitting by the tube waiting with bated breath.

To heck with CSI, Grey's Anatomy and Boston Legal. Let's all watch some guy pitch, spit, eye the guy on first, step off the mound, grab the rosin bag, wiggle his cap, adjust his cup ... then finally make another pitch.

What I can't wait for is a pitching change! The manager ambles out to the mound, takes the ball from the starter, talks to him for a bit about where they're going for dinner, then signals for the replacement. That guy lopes (if we're lucky) in from right field, then goes through his mind-numbing warmups.

Three to four hours later it all ends with a 2-1 final and we have to switch to watching high-scoring soccer or hockey. Oh, well, spring's not far away.

Now we get to see the real A's

Although it didn't necessarily show in my predictions in Tuesday's editions of The Times (how could I have picked against Oakland?), I still think Oakland has the best chance of anyone not named the Yankees to represent the American League in the World Series.

Trust me, I have. Scott Ferrell has rolled his eyes at it so much I think they've permanently taken a place in the back of his head.

Regardless of what I think, we'll get to see how much the A's have matured in the next three days -- as they have three chances to reach the American League Championship Series. That usually would be a good thing, but given the way the A's seem to loathe closeout games (lost their last nine potential clinchers) who knows if that applies here.

Much of the roster has changed since the A's last blew a series clincher (2003, three in a row against Boston), so the burden now falls on manager Ken Macha, the bench coach under ex-manager and flop artist Art Howe.

Henderson chosen by LHSAA

Good choice. Kenny Henderson is a level-headed guy with a business attitude who will probably do well at keeping peace in the LHSAA and money in the coffers. As predicted here over a week ago, media in south Louisiana who immediately gave assistant commissioner B.J. Guzzardo the nod as the frontrunner did not have their finger on the pulse of the people doing the voting. Henderson's handling of the ad hoc committee assigned to resolve issues between public and private schools boosted his standing.
Interestingly, it was William Duplechain, whom he beat, 15-12, in a runoff vote on Thursday, who appointed Henderson to chair that committee.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Will Tech lose 35-0?

If things go as stipulated, the Louisiana Tech football team could be in for another embarrassing Saturday in Boise, Idaho.

The Bulldogs are five touchdown underdogs to a fellow WAC team. It's one thing to lose 51-0 to Clemson, but losing 35-0 or 42-7 to Boise would signal a long season for the Rustonites. Tech is the biggest underdog of any team listed in the odds section of The Times this week.

Sure they're fired up and they're "going out there to give it their best." But the odds makers haven't been far off in their three BCS games this year (other than predicting the games to be closer than they actually were).

If his team loses big this weekend, coach Jack Bicknell should bench the seniors and start playing underclassmen to get ready for next year.

Give Kubiak, Carr credit

I’ll have to admit, I thought years of inhaling Denver’s mile-high oxygen had finally taken its toll on Gary Kubiak when he expressed unwavering support for quarterback David Carr shortly after being named Houston Texans head coach.

And when he passed up Reggie Bush AND Vince Young, I was indeed convinced that Kubiak needed to spend more time at sea level.

I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear: Carr is no Peyton Manning.

This season, he’s been even better.

Take a look at the NFL passer ratings. Carr is No. 1, above Manning (No. 6 at 97.7) and any other quarterback plying his trade in the NFL. Carr also leads the AFC in touchdown passes (7) and he’s thrown only two interceptions through four games.

“It hasn’t been pretty and it’s not going to always be pretty,” said Kubiak of Carr’s performance. “But David is learning how to battle for a whole afternoon. That’s what I like about what I see from him.”

Under Kubiak’s tutelage, Carr has clearly come a long way. Last season, he finished No. 21 (77.2) among NFL quarterbacks. And if you don’t think Kubiak makes a difference, take a look a Denver’s Jake Plummer – without Kubiak as his offensive coordinator.

Plummer finished No. 7 last season (90.2). This season, he’s plummeted to No. 28 and Broncos fans are clamoring for backup Jay Cutler.

Kubiak and Carr deserve credit for the quarterback’s improvement.

It’s a start.

Soul Bowl

If you've never been to the Soul Bowl, even if you don't like football, it's this Friday night at Leonard Barnes Stadium between Green Oaks and Booker T. Washington. The two schools have an intense rivalry, but even the sideline entertainment will be intensely competitive.
The bands will be at their best, and the entertainment will be nonstop.
If that isn't enough, Jeremy Jefferson is still running wild for the Lions. He's likely to hit 2,000 yards again.

It's 7 against 1

The good thing about this postseason? I have seven teams to acheive my goal. The bad news? The one I don't have is named the New York Yankees.
Since Chicago isn't represented this season, it's back to normal for me in October -- root against the Evil Empire.
Unfortunately, the 8 trillion dollars the Yankees spent might actually pay off this time. I actually used to like baseball when the depth of your minor-league system actually meants something.
The Yankees will coast I'm sure, as the most dangerous teams actually didn't make the playoffs this year.
The Chicago White Sox had the World Series-winning experience, hitting and pitching to scare some teams, but a mediocre run late in season -- and Minnesota's tear -- did them in.
In the National League, the Florida Marlins would have been a scary proposition for any team in a short series, but they fell short of the postseason as well.
The youth and lack of fear on that team -- and the organization's perfect playoff history -- would have been tough to handle.
Thankfully, things like the start of hockey season, NASCAR's Chase and fantasy football can help distract me from the MLB playoffs. I won't be tuning in unless it's an elimination game for the Yankees. That's the only good news this baseball postseason could bring.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Old School

So I'm flipping through the channels on the satellite dish and I come across a Bill Russell interview on the NBA channel.

As the interview continued, the subject of the Chicago Bulls' 70-win team came up.

Russell tells the interviewer his Celtics could have taken the Bulls in five. He goes on to say both John Havlicek and Sam Jones were better players than Scottie Pippen. He says all four of his team's guards are in the Hall of Fame.

Now, Bill Russell was a great player - in his time. I have my doubts about Russell going up against O'Neal or Olajuwon or even Patrick Ewing. And I have my doubts as to whether Havlicek really was better than Pippen. And as for the four Hall of Famers, the pre-expansion NBA has a lot to do with that.

My bigger problem is how older generations never seem to give credit to younger generations and vice versa.

Russell, to his credit, did admit that his Celtics would have had trouble with Jordan.

But let's face reality - athletes are bigger, stronger and faster today (although not always by natural means).

We'll never know how that Bulls team and Russell's Celtics teams would have matched up. All we have is history, records and arguments.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Rough beginnings

Area college football fans haven't had a lot to cheer about this year.

Oh sure, LSU is ranked in the top 10. But when you look beneath the surface, there are some teams struggling to find themselves.

It took Grambling until the last day of September to get its first win of the season. To do it, the Brandon Landers Era had to become the Brandon Landers-Larry Kerlegan Era. Once again, if you have more than one quarterback you really don't have one.

Northwestern State needed a win over Division II Arkansas-Monticello to even its record at 2-2. The record is understandable with games at Kansas and Baylor. What isn't understandable is the fact NSU only scored four times in nine trips to the red zone against UAM.

Louisiana Tech has started 1-3. The record is understandable with road trips to Nebraska, Texas A&M and Clemson. But allowing three backs to rush for more than 100 yards in a game is not a good sign.

There is still plenty of season to be played. But the starts have been tough for area schools.

Best month of the year?

We're now into October and while March usually gets the "best sports month of the year" designation, the next 29 days will give that a run for its money.

You've got the baseball playoffs and their nightly drama. There's college football finally getting into some meaningful conference matchups. The NHL begins for the handful of hockey fans out there. And the NBA starts later this month.

Then to top it off, at the end of the month, we get the hour back that mysteriously disappears every April. Oh what a month.

I need some hockey

The NFL and college football seasons are in full swing and the MLB playoffs begin tomorrow night, but I really need some hockey. The season begins on Wednesday, and this year's race toward the Stanley Cup is as wide open as its ever been.

Hockey may not be one of the top-three sports, or top-10 sports for that matter, but I still get excited about the start of the season. Nobody may watch the sport on TV, but hockey is the best sport to see live hands down. Any sports fan should really see one live NHL game once in their life to see what I mean.

I'm taking my girlfriend home to Michigan for Thanksgiving, and one of the first things I asked her was if she wanted to see the Detroit Red Wings play. One phone call to my brother, and we've secured four tickets for the Red Wings and Vancouver game the night before Thanksgiving. I don't know who's more excited, me or my girlfriend.

As great as the NHL is, I love watching Michigan play in its home, Yost Arena. It was built in the early 1920's and is a bandbox of an arena. They recently added luxury boxes to the rink and they practically hang out over the ice. It's a fantastic atmosphere to watch a game, complete with a pep band and the most rabid fans I've ever been a part of.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Baker's future unclear

Scott Baker entered the season as the Minnesota Twins fifth starting pitcher. Now, as the Twins celebrate their AL Central title, one has to wonder where the Twins picture Baker being next season.

Prior to Sunday, Baker was scheduled to start the Twins' season finale against the Chicago White Sox. He would have been the third straight rookie to start for Minnesota. Instead, with a chance to avoid the New York Yankees in the playoffs, Minnesota started Carlos Silva.

Are the Twins that much more enamored with Matt Garza than they are with Baker? Garza began the year at High Class A Fort Myers pitching against the Lakeland Tigers -- not the Detroit Tigers. The other rookie -- former Shreveport Swamp Dragon Boof Bonser -- has established himself as a postseason starter.

So Baker did not make a start in the final eight days of the season, leaving one to wonder how much more time he will spend in the Twins' organization. As it is, a young right-hander who could slot in the back end of a rotation could bring Minnesota something decent in return.

NFL boneheads Part II

Just when you thought Scott Fujita's malicious hit on Steve Smith what enough for one day of NFL football, enter Tennessee lineman Albert Haynesworth.
Haynesworth stepped on Andre Gurode's head after a play near the end zone. That wouldnt be quite so violent if Gurode's HELMET HADN'T BEEN OFF.
Gurode needed more than 20 stitches to fix the gash.
Haynesworth was contrite afterward, saying he deserved whatever discipline the NFL handed down. He's right. It was a horrible act. Can anyone say "Roid Rage?"
Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher said if the NFL didn't do the proper thing, he would.

Steve Smith Part II

You gotta love this guy.
After Sunday's game against the Saints, Pam Oliver asked the Panthers' All-Pro receiver why he didn't bust out one of his patented end-zone dances. His response was surprising, but incredibly admirable.
"I'm not going to do that stuff anymore. I'm just going to give the ball to the fans, they are the ones who pay the money to watch us play."
I'll be the first to admit I love to watch what T.O., Chad Johnson and Joe Horn do after a touchdown, but Smith just gained some major points in my book.

For a good time ...

This has little to do with sports, but what the heck. If you are a parent with young children -- or a Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs fan -- you need to check out the Maize north of Shreveport in Dixie.

Bugs fans will like it because the cornfield maze is made in the shape of their favorite team's logo.

Parents will like it because the kids will like it. And it's not just the maze the kids will like - there is the hayride, the corn bin, the farm animals, pumpkin carving, you name it.

So there, a free plug for the folks who do the maze north of town.

Fujita's hit unacceptable; must be fined

New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita's hit on Carolina superstar receiver Steve Smith will draw a fine. Despite the fact the ball was 50 yards away from Smith, Fujita took an elbow to the side of Smith's knee. It was undoubtedly a cheap shot.
Saints head coach Sean Payton has done a wonderful job of turning the Saints around and Fujita's hit is totally out of character for the "new Saints."
Hopefully the NFL cracks down on the unprofessional and very scary move.