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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The greatest time of year

I'm partial to October on the calendar. (It's the month of my birth).

But October, at least to me, is the greatest month on the sports calendar.

It's the only time of the year when you'll have all the major professional sports going at the same time and, down here in the South, have college football.

Consider that on Oct. 1 we'll have a Padres-Rockies game to get into the baseball playoffs. And then a month of playoffs.

We'll also have an NFL Monday night football game if baseball's not your bag.

NBA training camps open this week. College basketball starts practice on Oct. 13.

If hockey's your thing, the NHL season started over the weekend in London and the CHL season is less than three weeks away.

It's hard to get better than this.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jimmy's right

Just a week ago this Saturday, Times sports writer Jimmy Watson blogged on college football with a take titled "Moron voters are signs of the times.''

His blog included this gem: "The ONLY reason OU isn't No. 1 in the country right now is because they began the season ranked so low, another sign that preseason polls are done by idiots. The fact that they aren't flip flopping at No. 1 right now with the Trojans and the Tigers is a sign that morons are voting.''

Normally, I wouldn't respond to another writer's blog. But then normally words like "idiot'' and "moron'' aren't tossed around in our blogs either.

Those voters called "idiots'' moved Oklahoma ahead of Florida last week. That would be the same Oklahoma team which team lost at Colorado today. And, of course, the same Florida team that lost to Auburn on Saturday night.

The point of this isn't to slam Jimmy or any other writers.

The point is this: Voting in polls is an inexact science. I've done it in both football and basketball polls. You have to follow more than 100 schools in football and 300 in basketball. It's a hard job that gets even harder now as sports writers across the country are asked to do more than ever these days at their jobs.

The science is even more inexact until about halfway through the season when there is a body of work. Until there is some agreement to move the polls back, there will always be teams that are overrated and underrated. No matter who is doing the voting.

Too much of a good thing

I love sports as much as anybody. Sports has a way of drawing on your emotions - just ask New York Mets fans.

But I've got to admit, there is too much sports on TV.

You see, a game on TV used to be meaningful. Today, you could watch Akron at Connecticut on satellite television if you are an Akron Zips or Connecticut Huskies fan.

Here is an example LSU fans can relate to.

In 1979, LSU played one of its greatest games in defeat - a loss to USC in Baton Rouge. The game wasn't televised. You either had to have a ticket or listen to John Ferguson call the game on the radio. And if you lived outside of Louisiana that meant dialing in WWL out of New Orleans or KWKH out of Shreveport.

On Saturday, LSU played at Tulane. The game was televised nationally on ESPN2. Those announcers who called the game, spent the afternoon butchering names (David Colt?).

Obviously, we're not going back to the days of the "Game of the Week.'' But this is an example of progress not always being a good thing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Can't have it both ways

Anybody who writes about sports for a living gets tired of hearing athletes and coaches spout the same old cliches.

So it's refreshing to me to hear an athlete speak her mind. I'm referring to Hope Solo, the goalie on the U.S. soccer team until Thursday's semifinal game in the Women's World Cup against Brazil, when she was benched in favor of Brianna Scurry. The U.S. went into the game with a 51-game unbeaten streak and came out with an embarrassing 4-0 defeat.

After the loss, Solo spoke her mind, saying basically that anybody who knows anything about soccer knows it was a bad move to bench her. She even went so far as to say she would've have stopped the goals.

Some columnists criticized her, calling it a less than classy move. Maybe they have a point. Solo could have been more circumspect. But you can't really have it both ways. If the media want honesty out of athletes, it seems a bit wrong to criticize them for it -- although I suppose anything they say is fair game. No wonder most athletes and coaches are vanilla in their comments. I prefer honesty.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When Barmore Gundiazed me ...

You haven't been sports reporting very long or very well if your writing hasn't been called into question by a coach or fan.

The Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson got hers last weekend in an idiotic tirade by Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. Carlson's character was called into question after she publicly questioned the character of OSU quarterback Bobby Reid.

I received a similar public reprisal several years ago by former Lady Techsters coach Leon Barmore, who didn't like a quote (of his) that I used in a story about the weak teams brought in for the Techsters annual Dial Classic. Three reporters heard the quote, but I was the only one who used it in a story.

Barmore made his point, then, unlike Gundy, who walked out after his tirade, continued answering questions from the media. There were no television cameras, Internet or YouTube at the time to make our little set-to a national event

Since his retirement, the fiery Barmore has mellowed considerably and he and I have had lunch together several times. Neither of us is any worse for the wear. Maybe Carlson and Gundy will one day get to that point.

Insell hiring is big for Techsters

Kudos to Lady Techsters coach Chris Long for hiring Matt Insell. He has been coaching one of the top three AAU teams in the country, so the contacts he will bring to Ruston will be invaluable.

It's no secret that Insell's dad is the head women's coach at Middle Tennessee State, a team that finished last season ranked 17th by the AP with a 30-4 record. Matt undoubtedly steered some of his players toward dear ole' dad.

At 25, Insell is young, energetic and ready to get into a college coaching position. The Lady Techsters weren't the only ones seeking his services, so landing him was a big signing by Long.

His relationship with some of the top up and coming players will allow the Techster recruiters Long, Joni Crenshaw, along with Brooke and Scott Stoehr, some open doors that may not have been there before.

Give McFadden The Trophy

Darren McFadden should win the Heisman Trophy! Arkansas sent The Times staff a notepad with his photo and the Web site www.5DarrenMcFadden.com emblzaoned on the front. That should be enough to send him to the top.

Sure, he's playing on a team that will have at least three losses after the piggies get pummeled by LSU in the regular season finale, but who cares. He's the best player on a losing team in the country. Forget about the quality players at USC, OkLahoma, LSU, Florida and West Virginia. Those teams are undefeated because they have a great "team," not because they have a player worthy of the Heisman.

McFadden is rolling up big numbers in critical losses. But forget about that. He's got the hype, and that's what winning the trophy is all about.

The rise of national high school programs

Slate's Robert Andrew Powell wrote a story before the national matchup between Southlake Carroll and Miami-Northwestern on ESPNU two weeks ago.

It's an indictment against the rise of national high school programs like Southlake, Northwestern and Hoover (Ala.). And yes, Powell mentions Evangel in the story.

Alumni and parents can talk about the purity of high school athletics, but the major money (and scandals) that flows in the NCAA is now starting to trickle down to high school athletics and become more pervasive.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hand Vince the Heisman

I've been saying it for, oh, six years or so now. Vince Young is the most unique, most electrifying, most undefinable football player I've ever seen.

He was at James Madison High School on the southwest side of Houston. He was at the University of Texas, where he was good enough to make Mack Brown a winner - and that's really hard. And it looks like he's going to build a similar body of work with the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

Facing a Saints team desperate to avoid an 0-3 start, Vince led the Titans into the Superdome tonight and again showed without a doubt who was the star of that draft class of 2006. It was far from a repeat of the Rose Bowl but the result was virtually the same.

Some of my colleagues have been eager to paint me as a Reggie Bush hater. Really, I'm not. I just think, in the long run, that Reggie won't be worth the second pick of the draft. Not for a receiving running back.

The real prize of that draft was No. 10. The No. 10 who should have been No. 1.

The guy whose Wonderlic score was supposedly lower than all but a few of the lower life forms. The guy Reggie beat out for the Heisman but not for the national title. The guy who some pundits said - before his senior year at UT - would be better off playing receiver.

Well, Reggie is definitely the better receiver. But Vince is the better player. And he always has been.

Coach Gundy and Mr. Hyde

Imagine the curiosity of the media covering the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game when it showed up for OSU coach Mike Gundy's post-game news conference and saw the front page of The Oklahoman taped to the podium.

Instead of talking about the Cowboys' great win over the Red Raiders, Gundy rips into columnist Jenni Carlson from The Oklahoman about her story on quarterback Bobby Reid.

Carlson has her supporters though. I don't agree with Dennis Dodd's argument that Gundy may be fired. Suspended, yes. Lose his job, no.

The post-game news conference isn't the place for a verbal assault on a reporter. That seems pretty harsh on Gundy's part. It's great he's sticking up for his player, but if he's got a beef with a reporter, talk tete-a-tete.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Colts in control

The Colts lead the Texans 27-17 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Peyton Manning has looked like...well...Peyton Manning. The Texans haven't been able to consistently apply pressure to Manning. And when Manning has all day to find a receiver......

Texans take the lead

Greetings from Reliant Stadium in Houston, where the 2-0 Texans square off against the 2-0 defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts today for sole possession of first place in the AFC South.

The Texans are off to a great start. Jerome Mathis just returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown!!

There hasn't been a game of this magnitude played in Houston since the Luv Ya Blue days of the Oilers.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Moron voters are signs of the times

Just like Arkansas last week, Florida was exposed as the national title contenders they aren't today. The mighty Gators trailed hapless Ole Miss by just three points heading into the fourth quarter of Saturday's game.

The game wasn't over by the time this blog was completed, so they may have gone on to win the game. But to let Ole Miss get that close says you don't belong in a title game.

Speaking of title games: It should be Oklahoma, not USC or LSU, as the frontrunner for national title hopes. Of course, LSU types like to point to the last time they embarrassed the Sooners in a title game, when LSU got to play for it practically on their home field. The same will happen again this year. But if both LSU and OU get there, things could be different. The game would pit the nation's best offense (OU)against probably the best defense in the country.

Should be interesting. The ONLY reason OU isn't No. 1 in the country right now is because they began the season ranked so low, another sign that preseason polls are done by idiots. The fact that they aren't flip flopping at No. 1 right now with the Trojans and the Tigers is a sign that morons are voting.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Claire Clark off to good start in college career

If you're wondering whatever happened to former Parkway star Claire Clark, the two-time Times Female Prep Athlete of the Year has just started her freshman year at Louisiana-Monroe.

Clark was a standout in cross country, track and field, basketball and tennis at Parkway. She was a state champion in every one of those sports except basketball.

Her success has continued in college.

Clark helped ULM pick up three victories in the Louisiana Tech Mook 4 Cross Country Invitational at Lincoln Parish Park in Ruston on Sept. 15. Clark finished in the top 10 overall and was one of three Warhawks to run a sub-16 minute time. ULM defeated Louisiana-Lafayette, McNeese State and Louisiana College in the triple-dual scoring competition.
Clark is expected to help the ULM tennis team, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More local athletes in Sports Illustrated

If you've picked up a Sports Illustrated in the last few months, you couldn't help but notice how many teams and athletes with local ties have appeared in the magazine.

Former Captain Shreve baseball star Scott Baker, now a Minnesota Twin, and ex-Evangel star Jacob Hester, an LSU football standout, were both in the College Football preview in August.

A few weeks ago, former Shreveporter and Woodlawn quarterback Doug Thornton, the general manager of the Superdome, was prominently featured in a story about the the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The article talked about Thornton's experiences two years ago and he and his wife's efforts to not only rebuild their own home in New Orleans but the city as well.

This week, Hester (No. 18, above) returns to SI. Like Baker did a month ago, he participated The Pop Culture Grid weekly feature where various athletes are questioned about aspects of, that's right, pop cuture.

Here are the questions with Hester's answers in parentheses ... Britney's next move should be (operating a day care center); Best comedy ever (Entourage); Phrase I can't get out of my head (Don't let anybody kid you, men); Favorite love song (Love Me Tender); Worst vice (bitterness after Atlanta Braves losses); Our locker room smells like (death)

And oh by the way, ex-Evangel star John David Booty, the USC QB, is on the cover -- handing off. The cover story is about USC's punishing ground game in its demolition of Nebraska.

The cover also asks this question -- Pac-10 or SEC: Which is stronger? SI goes with the SEC and mentions LSU coach Les Miles' wife Kathy's recent gift to her husband.

"Kathy Miles recently presented her husband, Les, with a gag gift -- a hat that says 'Pac-10 rules.' Not quite."

Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley is quoted in the story. Dooley, the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley and a former LSU assistant, watched his team get routed by the Pac-10's Cal 42-12 and was duly impressed.

"I watched three plays, and I thought, I'm seeing what I grew up with," Dooley said in the article, referring to his days watch his dad's Georgia teams. "These guys are physical, they force you to defend the run, then hit you with the long pass -- the plays you see on SportsCenter."

By the way, Jacob, Entourage may not be the best comedy ever. But it's definitely the best on TV now. There's not too many better ways than to spend 30 minutes or so with Vince, E, Turtle and Johnny Drama as they enjoy the Hollywood lifestyle.

And with LSU 3-0, Hester might have recently uttered one of Drama's catchwords from his starring days in the fictional TV series Viking Quest .... "VICTORY!"

Astros make a good decision

The Houston Astros made a wise choice today by selecting Ed Wade to be their next general manager. Wade, Philadelphia Phillies GM from 1998-2005, brings a wealth of experience to the position.

“Based upon qualifications and experience, we thought 31 years of experience Ed brings to the game is what really makes the difference,” said Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith.

Wade will undoubtedly lean heavily on that experience as he works to replenish the Astros’ farm system and return the Major League team to the playoffs.

His job won’t be easy. He’ll have no shortage of amateur general managers eager to match wits with him. Yearning for the excitement of the 2005 season, some fans will view Wade’s hire with skepticism and point out the Phillies’ failure to make the playoffs during Wade’s eight-year tenure as GM.

But Wade put the Phillies in a position to win by acquiring talented players such as Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and reigning National League MVP Ryan Howard. He also hired the Phillies’ current manager, Charlie Manuel, who is a strong candidate for Manager of the Year.

The 51-year-old Wade is no stranger to Houston. He worked in the Astros’ public relations department from 1977-1979 and for Tal Smith Enterprises from 1986-1989.

Welcome back, Ed. The fun has just begun.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tech coaches give good report

Although only a modest group were there to hear them, Louisiana Tech fans would have enjoyed the presentations made on Wednesday at the Tech Advancement Group meeting by basketball coaches Kerry Rupp and Chris Long, along with associate athletic director Eric Buskirk.

All three expressed excitement at the ever evolving changes taking place on the Ruston campus.

Although only 29 years old, Buskirk has a wealth of experience in sports marketing and has set forth a plan to bring Tech's athletic funding into the new millennium. Rupp credited his coaching staff with bringing in some recruits that will have Bulldog basketball fans excited. Long said his team would be young but that he's slowly bringing back the type talent that Lady Techsters fans have come to expect.

Football coach Derek Dooley and his assistants won't follow Rupp and Long by appearing at the next TAG event on Oct. 18 at Ralph & Kacoo's, since they'll be preparing to play Boise State at home. But Dave Nitz and Malcolm Butler will give attendees a mid-season football report.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Autograph stirs up rivalry

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have one of the most storied rivalries in all of sport.

The passion and loyalty exhibited by fans on both sides is unflinching. It appears a 10-year-old Red Sox fan is at the center of the latest maelstrom.

The Yankee player had a reply on Monday.

You'd like to think a professional baseball player would have an ounce of class, especially when dealing with a young fan.

I'm not sure I understand why a Red Sox fan, even a young one, would want an autograph from a Yankee player though? I can't imagine any 10-year-old LSU fan going up to Nick Saban at the SEC Media Days and asking for an autograph.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tired of Arkansas whining?

If you're tired of hearing Arkansas fans whine about how they should have beaten Alabama on Saturday night, say "Amen."

The Hoggies were getting blown out by an unranked team until Alabama's defense laid down and let them back in it. Was that pass interference late in the fourth quarter? Yes. But it doesn't make any difference. Against any real team, the piglets would never have gotten within spitting distance anyway after falling behind 31-10. The fact that they took a late lead tells you how bad the team was that they were playing.

Arkansas can say goodbye to their hopes of a national championship and Darren McFadden can say adios to his Heisman candidacy. Unless the Hogs go undefeated the remainder of the campaign, he doesn't stand a chance.

Just like their embarrassing loss to USC last season, Arkansas keeps giving their fans plenty to whine about.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Still upset the Saints game wasn't on?

Something certainly is amiss in Saints land. A not-so holy start to the 2007 season has black and gold faithful a bit miffed.
Never fear Saints fans, things might be OK. At least with the offense anyhow. The defense, that's another story.
I have a hard time believing the same offensive unit -- minus the suppposed bad egg Joe Horn -- can go from the league's best to the league's worst.
They'll pick it up. Remember, the first two games weren't exactly easy. The Colts don't lose in September and the Buccaneers, for all the problems on offense, have a darned good defense.
It's not must-win time as owner Tom Benson may tell you. The NFC semifinal game in New Orleans and the NFC Championship Game in Chicago -- those were must wins.
I'd be shocked if the offense didn't respond in a big way next Monday night. The defense? Who knows. They are still the same old brutal unit.
Other NFL observations:
The San Francisco 49ers are pretty good. Yours truly picked them to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl prior to this season. Probably still a bit far-fetched, but hey, the 9ers are contenders in the NFC West.
Pittsburgh's defense is scary. As long as Big Ben doesn't do anything stupid (Rex Grossman read this) the Steelers should be vying for another division.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys have stolen the Saints' magic this year. T.O. is on his best behavior and Marion Barber is the perfect third-down/change-of-pace running back.

Pack it in:
Kansas City -- The worst team in the league.
Atlanta -- Again, no surprise. The Falcons won't win many games, but they will hang with most teams on most weeks.
Miami -- No quarterback, no offense. Haven't heard that before.

Watch out for:
49ers -- Solid defense, emerging offense equals success in NFL.
Houston? Nah. Only because of the division the Texans are in. But they are fun to watch.

Need to turn it around ASAP:
Saints -- offense must be No. 1 again to makeup for horrific defensive unit.
New York football Giants -- Bye bye Tom Coughlin.
Jacksonville -- where or where has Maurice Jones-Drew gone?
New York football Jets -- Well, the Yankees are still alive for another three weeks or so.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nobody's perfect

Well, at least we know the CenturyTel Center can be sold out.

I admit I wasted an hour of my life outside of the arena in hopes of making an 8-year-old happy with Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus concert tickets.

I had a plan. My brother in Mississippi was on the computer. I was at the arena armed with a cellphone to call in an order.

I thought I was in good shape when my number was called in the lottery to get in line.

Tickets went on sale at 10 and at 10:10 a.m. according to my cellphone, they announced a sellout.

It was tough seeing kids crying because the tickets were sold out in 10 minutes.

What does this have to do with sports -- it's proof that the area will support some things. We've had NBA preseason games and NHL preseason games that didn't come close to selling out.

Maybe the key is to have Disney marketing the product.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Early I-Bowl stabs

The PetroSun Independence Bowl is still more than three months away, but hey, it's never too early to guess which teams will be here.

On the SEC side, Auburn's loss to South Florida suddenly makes the Tigers look like I-Bowl material. Here's the thinking on that one, Auburn probably had that one penciled in as a win. To make up for that one, the Tigers will have to beat someone they weren't supposed to.

A lot of preseason publications pegged Kentucky for the I-Bowl.The Wildcats have a huge game with Louisville this week. Still, you've got to figure the 'Cats for about a fourth- or fifth-place finish in the East. That alone would put them in the I-Bowl mix.

If either Ole Miss or Mississippi State could get to six wins, they would be attractive to the I-Bowl. Two schools relatively close that haven't been to bowls in awhile is just what the I-Bowl is looking for in a team.

There's plenty of season left to be played. We'll have to see how things play out from here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This year’s surprise team will be ...

After the Detroit Lions whipped the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, some analysts were quick to anoint the Lions this year’s surprise team.

Not so fast.

The Lions’ 36-21 victory was impressive, but remember, they were playing the Oakland Raiders.

Last year’s 2-14 Oakland Raiders.

Somebody HAD to win that game. I want to see the Lions put away a few good teams before I hop on their Surprise-Team-of-the-Year bandwagon.

The Houston Texans WILL be this year’s surprise team. They opened the season impressively, knocking off the Kansas City Chiefs.

Last year’s 9-7 Kansas City Chiefs. The team that advanced to the AFC playoffs.

In terms of NFL victories last Sunday, few were more impressive than the Texans’. Against a playoff-caliber team, they thoroughly dominated every phase of the game. Dating back to last season, the victory was their third straight under head coach Gary Kubiak.

This isn’t last year’s team. Only 15 players remain from the Dom Capers’ era. The attitude in the locker room is totally different. After Sunday’s 20-3 win, players were happy, but clearly not satisfied with what they had just accomplished. As defensive tackle Travis Johnson said, “We were mad because we let them get a field goal. We really wanted the shutout.”

If these guys can stay healthy, they’ll be in the playoffs. And that would indeed come as a surprise to those who’ve watched the Texans since 2002.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Here we go again

I feel sorry for the folks at KMSS. I really do.

Every year they are in a can't win situation because of conflicts between the Saints and Cowboys games on Fox.

This year, the conflict comes up in Week 2. The station is showing the Cowboys-Dolphins instead of the Saints-Bucs and the howling has already begun.

Me, I don't worry about it. About 10 years ago, I got DirecTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket and the baseball package. So I'll watch the Saints anyway.

I realize not everyone can afford that luxury. But then again, not everyone can afford cable.

It's just a no-win situation for KMSS and someone is always going to be mad.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tech/Hawaii game featured highlights

Here's some observations from the Louisiana Tech-Hawaii game last Saturday.

* An unusual sight was seeing the Tech faithful standing and cheering for their team moments after the final bell tolled on a 45-44 overtime loss. The fans were showing their appreciation for the team's 4-plus quarters of effort.

* Shreveport's Dennis Morris got in a couple of plays as a fullback. He cracked out a 20-plus yard run to the Hawaii 1-yard-line, then scored easily on the next play. There aren't many teams who'll be able to stop the manimal in short yardage.

* Quinn Harris took over on one defensive series in the fourth quarter. He slapped down Colt Brennan passes on successive plays, then sacked the Heisman Trophy candidate for a loss.

* Coach Derek Dooley and staff had a number of recruits in the house on Saturday and they had to come away impressed, despite the Bulldog loss. Seeing Dooley call for a two-point conversion and the win is a players' kind of call. A lot of guys want to play for a guy with those kinds of guts.

* While the crowd of 22,000 was loud and boisterous, it's a shame that there wasn't a full house to see what may have been the best college game played in the state this season. It's a slam on Shreveport-Bossier City and Monroe athletic-minded individuals that enough people wouldn't drive one hour pack the stadium and to see a Top 20 team play.

* Bossier City's Weldon Brown had the hit of the game on one of Hawaii's vaunted wide receivers. The former Bearkat hit the player full force on the sideline and knocked him about five feet through the air.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Tied in Texas

At the end of the first quarter, there's no score. Both teams failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities. ...Chiefs wide receiver and former LSU star Eddie Kennison left in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.... Kansas City's Eddie Drummund just fumbled a punt that the Texans recovered on KC's 29....Stay tuned for updates.

Greetings from Reliant Stadium

Greetings from Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans host the Kansas City Chiefs today in the season-opener for both teams.

The Chiefs hold a 2-1 series lead, but I think the Texans will even things up today. This team will definitely be better than last year's, and the improvement begins with the quarterback, Matt Schaub, who threw two TDs and finished the preseason with a 113.4 rating.

The Texans gave up a lot to pry Schaub away from the Atlanta Falcons, and they're confident he can take them where they'd like to go.

I'll post updates throughout the game.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

LSU ... wow

Seeing the Tigers up 24 points early in the second quarter is absolutely no surprise. They've done it against La. Tech, Fresno State and Miss. State.
Against Virginia Tech? Now that's the surprise.
The Hokies have a real defense ... one of the best in the country year in and year out.
LSU has answered so many questions regarding its rebuilt offense. I know the Tigers are No. 2, and many purple and gold fans were ultra-confident. However, LSU is no longer USC's stepchild.
This team is for real ... and they need it come the heart of conference play. This conference is stacked, as usual. And it looks as if that guy Nick has yet another SEC school ready to play spoiler.
It's a tough, tough task to ask an SEC team to go undefeated, but if the Tigers offense plays anywhere near what it is doing tonight, their incredible defense will make games look this easy all year.

College football thoughts

I didn't get to see the whole game, but I saw enough of Alabama to make a couple of observations.

1) Love him or hate him, Nick Saban is making a difference at Alabama. My theory: The Crimson Tide players never really had confidence in Mike Shula as head coach. Alabama players have confidence in Saban.

2) Terry Grant makes a lot of difference in Alabama. A freshman, Grant has gone over 100 yards rushing in his first two games. I realize its Western Carolina and Vanderbilt, but that's still one more playmaker in the backfield than they had in the Independence Bowl last year.

Observation II: Clemson is 2-0 but the Tigers have to be concerned about their run defense. Allowing 100 yards to Calvin Dawson is no shame since it was the former Airline star's seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game. But 102 yards to backup Frank Goodin?

Observation III: Michigan's defense is bad enough to make the Wolverines vulnerable in just about any game they play this year.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Last year is gone

OK, we can stop making comparisons to last year with the New Orleans Saints.

You know, the comparisons that said, "Last year the Saints opened on the road for their first two games and won them both.''

Not happening this year.

If there's any comparison for tonight, it might be the first preseason game against the Steelers when the Saints didn't show up.

As for me, I can't determine what is a bigger concern -- offense or defense.

The defense was gashed by Joe Addai and carved up by Peyton Manning. You expected Manning to get his numbers, you hoped they could stop Addai.

The offense, though, wasn't much of a factor all game.

Heck, it's midway through the fourth quarter and the Saints have scored 10 points -- seven on a defensive touchdown.

This happened at times last year -- the Saints being shut down despite all of those offensive weapons.

It's not the end of the world. And the Saints will surely be a good team at some point.

Tonight against the Colts was not that night.

Where he needs to be

Glancing at the inactives for tonight's game, it appears Saints coach Sean Payton has cornerback Fred Thomas right where he needs to be - on the inactive list.

Look, Thomas has had some good years -- last year wasn't one of them.

The though of Thomas matched up with the Colts' receivers against Peyton Manning would be too much for any Saints fan to stomach.

Welcome back, football

Driving in to the office and listening to Jim Henderson and Hokie Gajan is a good reminder that football is back.

How 'bout Jason David?

The former Colt gets burned for a touchdown and then picks up a Reggie Wayne fumble and returns it for a Saints score and tie game.

Pretty eventful start for David and the Saints.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tech transfer rumors

Tech Associate Athletic Director Mary Kay Hungate could be a very busy person at Louisiana Tech on Thursday, the first day of classes at the Ruston school.

Rumors have at least three student athletes transferring to the school to participate in football and men's basketball. School representatives refuse to confirm or deny any transfers until they are enrolled in class.

Former West Monroe quarterback Steve Emsminger is a well-known one of the three. But reports on Wednesday indicate that former Evangel lineman Zach Schreiber has left Alabama and could enroll at Tech.

There's also unsubstantiated talk that a 6-foot-10 center is transferring from Oklahoma State to join coach Kerry Rupp in a Bulldog uniform. Kenny Cooper from Monroe's Richwood High School center, is a 6-10 junior center on the Cowboys' roster.

Pro tennis not a popular sport?

Television ratings are the way we determine the popularity of sports in this country. And there is good reason for this. The ratings use statistical sampling to determine how many people watch events.

The NFL is far and away the highest-rated sport on TV in this country. Tennis is near the bottom, and the sport's ratings have been on the decline for years. There has been a bit of an uptick recently thanks to the growing rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the men's side, and the resurgent Williams sisters on the women's side.

But TV ratings are just one thing to consider. Baseball's ratings have dropped but the sport continues to set records for live attendance.

Last week, I attended an afternoon session of the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow in New York City. It was the second day of first-round matches and the place was packed.

After taking the No. 7 train from Times Square, I arrived just after 10 a.m. The ticket line was long but I thought it would be no problem to get a grounds pass. After about 30 minutes, an official shouted that there were no more grounds passes. A woman in line behind me seemed amazed by this, telling someone that she had never known them to run out of grounds passes.

My only hope was to get a ticket for Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong stadiums -- as good as grounds passes. When I was almost at the ticket booths, an official shouted that Ashe Stadium, which seats more than 20,000, was almost sold out. Thankfully, I got a ticket. As I was walking back past a line several hundreds yards long, they announced that both the day and night sessions had sold out.

Of course, most people who got stadium seats didn't use them for the stadium but just to get on the grounds. There were about 10 matches on the outer courts going on at the same time. You could try to get a seat in the bleachers or stand behind people and watch. The view wasn't that great but you could see good enough. It was fun just to go from match to match.

The whole experience was a treat. Flushing Meadow is a cool complex with restaurants and bars and nice places to just sit and relax. At a large fountain in front of Ashe Stadium you can watch a giant TV screen with action from Louis Armstrong Stadium and view the results of every match going on.

Yes, tennis' popularity isn't what it was. But you would never know that by attending the U.S. Open.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nation's best Colt visits Ruston

With no apologies to Colt McCoy, the best quarterback in the country, named Colt (Brennan), will bring his air show to Ruston on Saturday evening.

If you're gonna drop Michigan out of the Top 25 for the Appalachain State debacle, you have to drop the Longhorns out for the McCoy-led, lackluster 21-13 victory over juggernaut Arkansas State.

Brennan and his Hawaii Warriors disposed of lowly touted Northern Colorado 63-6 on Saturday night and appear unstoppable. Brennan has passed for at least 400 yards in seven consecutive games, dating to last season. He did it against Purdue, Oregon State and Arizona State and his Warriors won two of those three games.

With friends like these

College football coaches like to talk about how they understand the game and fans (and media) are just emotional bystanders to what happens on fall Saturdays.

Don't believe it.

In this week's overreaction, Michigan falls out of the coaches' top 25. Thirty-eight of the 60 coaches voting left the Wolverines off their ballot following Michigan's loss to Appalachian State on Saturday.

I realize it's a huge upset - maybe the biggest in college football history. But Appalachian State is a I-AA power and not some garbage bottom feeder of college football.

A more sane approach would have the Wolverines dropping into the 20s.

But I guess the coaches are just as emotional as fans/media, etc. when it comes polling time.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Center of NFL football?

So I'm looking at the NFL predictions in The Sporting News. And only two teams are picked among eight different groups to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

That would be the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys.

Does that make the Ark-La-Tex the center of the professional football world?

We're accustomed to Dallas Cowboys fans having high hopes for the season. But the Saints? This is the first time someone can say Saints and Super Bowl in the same sentence and no one laughs.

Actually, all of the hype makes for an interesting NFL season.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

U.S. dominance is alive -- in track

The U.S. men's basketball team won the FIBA Americas Tournament this weekend with rout after rout, but that wasn't the most dominant American outing.

Nope, the biggest reason for U.S. sports fans to thump their chests came in Japan as Team USA blew the world away on the track.

Tyson Gay. Jeremy Wariner. Allyson Felix.

Remember those names. They rolled through the competition in Japan and are all in their early to mid-20s.

So while the red, white and blue struggle in some sports, the runners, jumpers and throwers of U.S. Track and Field took care of business on the international stage to repair some of our country's broken sports image.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Biggest upset ever...

How else can you call No. 5 Michigan's loss to Appalachian State on Saturday? There's absolutely no excuse for that loss and only adds credence to the Big Ten's level of overrated play. And I'm a MICHIGAN grad writing this...

Lloyd Carr has been outcoached in his last three games - Ohio State, Southern Cal and now this. How embarrassing. I've been getting looks around town because of the Michigan sticker in the back window of my car and the Michigan Alumni license plate. Sitting at red lights, I see the people snickering at me in my rear-view mirror. Actually, it's a mixture of snickering and looks of sympathy. "Aw, honey. Look at the poor, misguided and disillusioned Michigan and Big Ten fan."

How can a Division I-A coach, supposedly coaching the No. 5 team in the nation, let this happen? Maybe there are some strands of Bo Schembechler's DNA locked away in a cabinet in the Michigan biology department, so the Wolverines can clone them a legitimate coach.

Michigan boosters are probably chartering a private jet to Baton Rouge right now to woo Les Miles back to his alma mater (and I'm sure there's some LSU fans ready to contribute to the airfare), but I don't think Miles is the answer. Sorry Tigers fans.

Like any college grad, I'm always proud of their alma mater, but this is the lowest moment for Michigan football in its storied history, and I'm thoroughly embarrassed.