October 2005


Hockey picksOctober 1, 2005

2005 NHL Hockey – It’s Back but Will it Survive?

NHL Back With a Bang, But Will it Survive?
By Mike Chen
Sports Central Columnist

1. Rink Dimensions
It was the stuff straight out of Gary Bettman's most wonderful dream. A salary-capped league with big-name stars spread throughout the league, new rules calling obstruction, a rich cable TV deal, and fans, lots of fans.

So many fans welcomed the NHL back with open arms that the league had 98% attendance on opening night with all 30 teams on the ice. Goals were up, chances were up, TV ratings were up, and — most importantly — fans were happy with the product afteryears of griping about the NHL's slow, painful death.

This was all part of Gary Bettman's master plan, right? Put a cap on the league, call the rules, and people will come. No glowing pucks, no dancing hockey robots, just parity throughout the league and fast action on the ice.

Of course, if this were part of Gary's master plan, then the countless obstruction crackdowns prior to 2005-2006 would have stuck. Regardless of the past, the "new" NHL faces a much brighter future than the one that shut its doors in September of 2004 in the middle of a bitter labor dispute. The question remains, though: will it last?

While everything was roses and rainbows on opening night, reality began to sink in over the next few days. Some markets have returned stronger than ever (Nashville, Tampa Bay), some were always guaranteed to be good (Toronto, Detroit), but some markets took a nosedive in attendance immediately after opening night. In almost every market, the core hockey fan was back. The casual fan, however, has yet to be convinced.

The long-term success of the National Hockey League depends solely on two things — continued calling of obstruction this week in an effort to speed up the product and a stronger marketing push in a united front by both the players and the league. For the latter, the two groups are bonded by a CBA linking player salary to revenue. As Tampa GM Jay Feaster explained to his team, if they want the cap to grow (and thus allow the Lightning to keep Brad Richards and Pavel Kubina), every single player — from Vincent Lecavalier to John Grahame — better be available for promotions and media when they come calling.

The NHL did a smart thing by creating a seemingly stupid ad featuring a random scantily-clad woman dressing an anonymous hockey player. Yes, the ad was flashy, but it had little to do with hockey. No matter — just the hint of sexuality was enough to stir up controversy from a generally conservative league. People who didn't care about hockey knew the NHL was returning with an ad that was upsetting to Martha Burk. The most important part about that fact wasn't that Martha Burk was upset, but that people who didn't care about hockey knew that the NHL was back.

General awareness of a product is one thing. The league must market its best-looking, most-skilled players outside of its hockey safe zone. Teenage girls know who Tom Brady is — why shouldn't they know about Jarome Iginla or Rick Nash or (obviously) Sidney Crosby? The league has started out on the right foot, commissioning more mainstream appearances and promotion in one month than the league probably did for Bettman's entire tenure. Even casual sports fans know who Sidney Crosby now — and it sure is helping that Mr. Crosby is living up to the hype.

On the ice, the gameplay has been terrific. Chances, flow, long passes, odd-man rushes — it's exciting and intense and it begins with the rule changes and it ends with the rules actually being called. The rule changes are there for the remainder of this season, but what about the officiating? In week two, there have already been some minor gripes about inconsistent officiating. However, this is probably more due to different officiating teams assigned to games rather than a relaxation of the rule standard immediately. The only way to judge this to take the season at 20-game intervals (at roughly 1/4 chunks of the season). If game one is the same as game 20 is the same as game 40 is the same as game 80, then the league has succeeded.

For now, the NHL is back in a big way with enough momentum to make every league consider self-destruction for a year. In the same way that any team can have a hot start, the NHL can fall back to earth quickly if it becomes complacent — or worse, lazy.

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Hockey picksOctober 1, 2005

2005 NHL Hockey Preview

A great day to be a hockey fans as the NHL season finally starts. Some MAJOR rules changes for the 05-06 season that fans and gamblers should be aware of. Here is a listing of rule changes that may affect your gambling decisions.

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1. Rink Dimensions
Goal lines will be pushed back two feet closer to the end boards, leaving just 11 feet behind the nets. The extra four feet will be added to attacking zones, as the blue lines will be 64 feet from the goal line. This reduces the neutral zone to 50 feet.

What this means to the gambler
Wider attack zones mean more offense, more offense means more goals and more goals mean bet the OVER! Especially in the beginning of the season the odd makers are going to under estimate the real impact of not only a bigger attack zone but a combination of two-line passes and a crack down on obstructions. There are going to be some high scoring games the first couple of weeks while the players adjust. The odd makers will be going through an adjustment period also.

2. Two-line passes
The center-ice red line no longer will be used to prevent teams from making two-line passes. A pass from the defensive zone to the attacking blue line now will be considered legal.

What this means to the gambler
Breakaway city! Look for trailing teams late in the third period to take advantage of this rule and have cherry pickers ready for long passes and one-on-one with the goalies. What do breakaways equal? Goals and again the odds makers will discount this fact and games will be higher scoring. Teams used to playing a trap like Minnesota will have a tough time keeping the neutral zone trap tight when skaters can legally receive a two line pass. In the past trapping teams ignored these skaters and let them roam behind the trap knowing the two-line pass was illegal. Trapping teams will soon learn after a couple of breakaway goals are scored that this no longer works.

3. Shootouts
Games no longer will end in a tie. If no winner is determined within 60 minutes, the game will go to a five-minute overtime with teams skating four-on-four. If the score is still tied after overtime, three players from each team will participate in a shootout. If the score remains even, the teams alternate with different shooters until one team has more goals.

What this means to the gambler
Goals, goals and more goals. I can't stress enough the difference this rule change will make. Did you know when the NHL went to a 4 on 4 overtime ties were reduced by 35%? Obviously the new shootout rule wipe out ties but the goals will increase. Great news for the over and great news for fans. This rule change should be exciting.

4. Obstruction crackdown
Officials have been instructed to take a "zero tolerance" stance at all times on all obstruction penalties, such as interference, holding and hooking.

What this means to the gambler
Get your sun tan lotion on goalies because the back of your neck is going be burned from that red light going off. Well maybe not, we've heard this one before. Two seasons ago the obstruction rule was supposed to be strictly enforced. Ref's started calling more obstruction penalties but by playoff time the whistled stayed in the pocket. I'm skeptical of this rule change and expect little to no change.

5. Tag-up rule
Players who enter the offensive zone before the puck will be allowed to return to the blue line and re-enter the zone, thus eliminating automatic offside. This rule previously was used from 1986 to 1996.

What this means to the gambler
I'm not totally sure this will have a huge impact on a gamblers decision; however it will decrease whistles and help keep the flow of the game. If a offensive rush can continue then shots on goals will increase. A slight increase in goal production may come from this rule.

6. Instigator rule
Any player who instigates a fight beyond the 55-minute mark of a game will receive minor and major penalties, a game misconduct and a one-game suspension. Suspensions will double for each additional occurrence. In addition, the player's coach will receive a $10,000 fine, which also doubles for additional incidents.

What this means to the gambler
Say goodbye to the goon fights after the game. Gambler affect? Little to none.

7. Icing
Although "touch" icing remains in practice, teams that ice the puck will not be permitted to make line changes for the ensuing face-off. Players on the ice once the puck leaves the stick of the teammate who ices the puck may not be replaced until play resumes.

What this means to the gambler
Maybe the most underestimated rule change of all! Players are going to be exhausted trying to defend their zone while a trailing teams will pull their goalie put six offensive minded players on the ice and pepper the goalie. Ever heard the players or fans at the end of the game begging for the puck to be iced while the offensive team is pressuring to tie the game? "Get it out! Get it OUT! Ice the PUCK!". Forget about it, won't help, infact it will hurt your team. Last minute ties are going to increase due to tired defensive teams and mistake by not clearing the puck deep into the neutral zone. What this means to you……………uh GOALS!

Summary
This will be the year of the goal scorer and gamblers can take advantage. Not only do I expect the over to cover early in the season but I think one goal wins will be down also. I'll be keeping my eye out for the trends and look forward to an exciting and profitable 05-06 season. Keep your head up and your stick on the ice.

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analysis for the 2005 season

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Hockey picksOctober 1, 2005

2005 NHL Hockey Preview

A great day to be a hockey fanas the NHL season finally starts. Some MAJOR rules changes for the 05-06 season that fans and gamblers should be aware of. Here is a listing of rule changes that may affect your gambling decisions.

1. Rink Dimensions
Goal lines will be pushed back two feet closer to the end boards, leaving just 11 feet behind the nets. The extra four feet will be added to attacking zones, as the blue lines will be 64 feet from the goal line. This reduces the neutral zone to 50 feet.

What this means to the gambler?

Wider attack zones mean more offense, more offense means more goals and more goals mean bet the OVER! Especially in the beginning of the season the odd makers are going to under estimate the real impact of not only a bigger attack zone but a combination of two-line passes and a crack down on obstructions. There are going to be some high scoring games the first couple of weeks while the players adjust. The odd makers will be going through an adjustment period also.

2. Two-line passes
The center-ice red line no longer will be used to prevent teams from making two-line passes. A pass from the defensive zone to the attacking blue line now will be considered legal.

What this means to the gambler?

Breakaway city! Look for trailing teams late in the third period to take advantage of this rule and have cherry pickers ready for long passes and one-on-one with the goalies. What do breakaways equal? Goals and again the odds makers will discount this fact and games will be higher scoring. Teams used to playing a trap like Minnesota will have a tough time keeping the neutral zone trap tight when skaters can legally receive a two line pass. In the past trapping teams ignored these skaters and let them roam behind the trap knowing the two-line pass was illegal. Trapping teams will soon learn after a couple of breakaway goals are scored that this no longer works.

3. Shootouts
Games no longer will end in a tie. If no winner is determined within 60 minutes, the game will go to a five-minute overtime with teams skating four-on-four. If the score is still tied after overtime, three players from each team will participate in a shootout. If the score remains even, the teams alternate with different shooters until one team has more goals.

What this means to the gambler?

Goals, goals and more goals. I can’t stress enough the difference this rule change will make. Did you know when the NHL went to a 4 on 4 overtime ties were reduced by 35%? Obviously the new shootout rule wipe out ties but the goals will increase. Great news for the over and great news for fans. This rule change should be exciting.

4. Obstruction crackdown
Officials have been instructed to take a “zero tolerance” stance at all times on all obstruction penalties, such as interference, holding and hooking.

What this means to the gambler?
Get your sun tan lotion on goalies because the back of your neck is going be burned from that red light going off. Well maybe not, we’ve heard this one before. Two seasons ago the obstruction rule was supposed to be strictly enforced. Ref’s started calling more obstruction penalties but by playoff time the whistled stayed in the pocket. I’m skeptical of this rule change and expect little to no change.

5. Tag-up rule
Players who enter the offensive zone before the puck will be allowed to return to the blue line and re-enter the zone, thus eliminating automatic offside. This rule previously was used from 1986 to 1996.

What this means to the gambler?
I’m not totally sure this will have a huge impact on a gamblers decision; however it will decrease whistles and help keep the flow of the game. If a offensive rush can continue then shots on goals will increase. A slight increase in goal production may come from this rule.

6. Instigator rule
Any player who instigates a fight beyond the 55-minute mark of a game will receive minor and major penalties, a game misconduct and a one-game suspension. Suspensions will double for each additional occurrence. In addition, the player’s coach will receive a $10,000 fine, which also doubles for additional incidents.

What this means to the gambler?
Say goodbye to the goon fights after the game. Gambler affect? Little to none.

7. Icing
Although “touch” icing remains in practice, teams that ice the puck will not be permitted to make line changes for the ensuing face-off. Players on the ice once the puck leaves the stick of the teammate who ices the puck may not be replaced until play resumes.

What this means to the gambler?
Maybe the most underestimated rule change of all! Players are going to be exhausted trying to defend their zone while a trailing teams will pull their goalie put six offensive minded players on the ice and pepper the goalie. Ever heard the players or fans at the end of the game begging for the puck to be iced while the offensive team is pressuring to tie the game? “Get it out! Get it OUT! Ice the PUCK!”. Forget about it, won’t help, infact it will hurt your team. Last minute ties are going to increase due to tired defensive teams and mistake by not clearing the puck deep into the neutral zone. What this means to you……………uh GOALS!

Summary
This will be the year of the goal scorer and gamblers can take advantage. Not only do I expect the over to cover early in the season but I think one goal wins will be down also. I’ll be keeping my eye out for the trends and look forward to an exciting and profitable 05-06 season. Keep your head up and your stick on the ice.

 



Football picksOctober 1, 2005

Wunderdog 2005 College Football Preview

 

Players report to campus this week, and another year of College Football is just around the corner. Parity seems to be setting in on the CFB scene recently, and while there are some dominant teams this season, we would not be shocked to see someone come out of nowhere to win it all in January. Instant Replay will be an interesting, and in our opinion, overdue change to the game and it will be interesting to see if the new poll helps to iron out any possible BCS problems.

The Wunderdog Top Five

USC – Nuff said, this team has been so dominant that they deserve this top billing. Leinhart is back again, as is Reggie Bush on offense. One problem could be along the OL, where they have had some injuries, but there is so much talent here, they should still win the PAC-10. Another question mark here is the loss of four assistant coaches, most notably Norm Chow. It will be interesting to see how this staff compares with the previous one, who may go down as one of the best staff’s in the history of the college game.

Florida– Urban Meyer brings his gritty attitude to Gainesville, and it should be a huge help for a Gator team that was flat out soft under Zook. The talent level remains sky high at Florida, led by Chris Leak on offense. Early games against Tennessee and LSU will tell the tale. Should they get through those games unscathed, Meyer could have his squad in the Rose Bowl in January. The only real question about this team is in the secondary but opposing QB’s may not have time to throw the ball against this front seven.LSU– Speed to burn and depth that would make any college coach jealous. Les Miles has stepped into quite a situation in Baton Rouge, but the schedule is brutal. The only potential weakness on this team is along the OL and the LB’s. Pelini is a great defensive coach, and will the Tigers flying around the field in his attack defense. The only other question is whether or not there is an every down QB on this roster? Jamarcus Russell has all the tools to be the next Duante Culpepper, and he is surrounded by the top skill talent in the country. Should be another fun one in the Bayou. Big games against the Vols and Gators will determine just how far this Tiger team will charge.

Ohio State– No team comes into this season with the type of momentum that the Buckeyes bring. They beat Michigan in the last regular season game one year ago, forcing them to share the Big Ten title, and then trounced Oklahoma State in their bowl game. Sophomore sensation Ted Ginn Jr., is one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football, and we look for him to explode this season. A strong defense returns mostly in tact, and the OL is a great unit as well. This Buckeye’s team has the horses to contend for all of the marbles. A big early season test against our number five team should be a dandy.

Texas– Mack Brown has proven many things in his tenure at UT, but he still has not beaten Oklahoma and Stoops. UT returns loads of talent, especially along the offensive and defensive lines, but must cope with the loss of its soul in Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson. Those two players were among the best ever at UT and lead us to believe that while there will be another strong season in Austin, it may not go as well as is being planned right now. Colorado comes calling to Austin following the Red River shootout, which is dangerous timing for Texas. UT must also travel to the Horseshoe to face the Buckeyes. Those three games will go a long long way in determining how the Buckeyes fare this season.

Three Teams That Could Surprise

Purdue – Much ballyhooed QB, Brandon Kirsch, finally gets his chance to start this season for the Boilermakers. Sure, Purdue lost Stubblefield, and Orton, but they return just about the rest of the team. The defense, in particular has the chance to be specia, as does a stellar, experienced offensive line. They do not line up against Michigan or Ohio State in the regular season. Purdue could very well win the Big Ten this season.

Texas A&M– Franchione has brought some talent back to Aggie land, and this team will be ready to pounce should UT or OU slip up. Reggie McNeal is a big time playmaker at Quarteback and Courtney Lewis is a very good back. The OL should be better again this year, as should the defense. They still will not resemble the Wricking Crew’s of years past but they will be formidable.

Oregon State– This team has tremendous linebackers and a ton of playmakers in the secondary as well, thanks to the Red River transfers from McCullough and Miller. Star Wideout Mike Hass is back, but the Beavers need to find a QB. They have the horses at the QB position to get it done. Early games against Boise State and Louisville will be very interesting. If they can get to the Pac-10 with a 3-0 record, the sky could be the limit here.

Other Teams to Watch: Texas Tech, Boston College, Colorado, Colorado State, Iowa, Minnesota, Alabama

Three Teams That Will Disappoint

Iowa State– Big things are being predicted in Ames, Iowa this year, and while they have a nice squad, they will not have the convenience of an awful conference this season. Teams will not be overlooking this Cyclones team, and while not devoid of talent, they do not have the talent to compete week in week out in a Big 12 that is improved over last season.

Nebraska– This team will most likely be worse than the team Callahan had last fall. He recruited well in the off-season, but they are overly dependent on young men with little or no Division I experience. Callahan, has yet to prove he can coach the college game on the field as well, and several defensive studs are gone, from a terrible unit. Keep an eye on the Wake Forest game early. NU will destroy I-AA Maine, but may meet a buzz saw in the experienced Deamon Deacs on their home field. A loss there, and the season will begin to unravel in earnest….in the second week of the season. Other tough games include Pitt, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Colorado, and Missouri.

Tennessee– The Vols are getting mad props from many preseason pubs this season, and we’re kind of wondering why? The defense should be very good, but there are questions on the offensive side of the ball. Tennessee will need their offense to avoid turning it over, which has been easier said than done recently. UT always has a great defense but they also always o nthe field. If this is the case, the schedule is too tough to overcome that. Trips to LSU and Florida may be too tough for this bunch. They’re in the race right now, but we’ll see for how long.

Other teams to watch: Michigan, UCLA, Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Auburn, South Carolina

Top Out-of-Conference Games of 2005-2006

Florida State v. Florida
Michigan v. Notre Dame
Pittsburgh v. Nebraska
Clemson v. Texas A&M
Arizona State v. LSU
Oklahoma v. UCLA
Colorado v. Miami
Boise State v. Georgia

Potential Upsets of 2005-2006

Wake Forest over Nebraska
Oregon over USC
Alabama over Florida
Colorado over Texas A&M
NC State over Virginia Tech
Florida over Tennessee
Florida State over Miami
North Carolina over someone good in the ACC
Clemson over Miami
Boston College over Florida State
Pittsburgh over Nebraska
Baylor over someone good in the Big 12

Ranking the Elite Conferences

SEC– Lots of great rivalries and some of the top tier teams in the country make the SEC the best football conference in the country. The Southern women and parties do not hurt either.

ACC– With the arrival of Miami and Virginia Tech, this conference becomes very formidable. If someone gets out of here undefeated it is hello Pasadena.

Big 12– Parity here a bit. UT is still strong, but OU should come back a bit this season, and it remains to be seen how A&M will play week in and week out. The North remains a big question mark, but Colorado and Missouri look like the best teams on paper.

Big Ten– The Big Ten might surpass the Big 12 by the end of the season, with Michigan, Purdue, and Ohio State all poised for big seasons. Depth is better here this year as well with the reemergence of Penn State, and Minnesota and Wisconsin also looking for strong seasons.

Pac-10– This is a top heavy conference with USC and Cal ruling the world. The conference will benefit from the reemergence of the Oregon schools which will make it more difficult for the Trojans to run the table. Washington is likely two to three years away still, although Willingham is hammering the recruiting trail already this season.

And the winner is…

Reggie Bush, Matt Leinhart, Adrian Peterson, Vince Young and our darkhorse….Reggie McNeal will be among the finalists for the Heisman Trophy this season.

CONFERENCE
PREVIEWS

Big 10

Big 12

SEC

Pac-10

ACC

Big East

View my college football picks page for more information.

 



Football picksOctober 1, 2005

College Football Mid-Season Review 2005

 

Mid-Season NCAA Football thoughts by the Wunderdog

In week 8, Texas flexed its muscle, while SC barely scraped by. We are left with is pretty clear picture as the first BCS standings were released this week.  From where I sit, Texas is clearly the class of the country this season. Here I take a look at each conference and project BCS match-ups for January.

Big 12
Texas laid claim last week and gets another opportunity to do so this week with Texas Tech traveling to Austin. Vince Young is the best player in the conference and possibly the country. He was 25-29 two weeks ago against a Colorado defense that had shutdown just about everyone they had played prior and he had no trouble with Texas Tech. The difference with this Texas team this season is that they are firing on all cylinders, and should continue to do so.  Barring a huge slip-up in the Big 12 Championship game a la Oklahoma two years ago, I see no way they miss the Rose Bowl and BCS championship this season.

Surprise Team –I go with Nebraska. Despite their record, I am still not overly impressed with this bunch of Huskers. They have found ways to win, albeit against a rather easy schedule.  Their schedule is favorable down the home stretch and they could be 8-2 when they head to Boulder in November.  Of course, they have been squeaking by the skin of their teeth and could easily lose the rest of the games on their schedule.  Baylor has also been a surprise in the Big 12 this season and are probably one year away from a very solid season.

Disappointment –Tie between Iowa State and Oklahoma.  I thought OU might have a tough time living up to the high expectations that had been set due to their previous teams which have been loaded with older talented players. There is still a ton of talent in Norman, it is just very green talent. That being said, they could easily win out and get to a good bowl game. Even if they do, that loss at home to TCU was just plain bad. Iowa State were the media darling to win the Big 12 North this season and everyone assumed they were right when the Clones hammered Iowa 23-3 early in the season. A funny thing happened on the way to the Big 12 schedule. ISU’s running game and OL in general has disappeared, and their defense has had a tough time stopping opponents on third down.

SEC
Georgia looks like the most complete football team in this conference right now. Alabama, Auburn, and LSU all probably have something to say about that but all of those teams have holes, which could kill them anytime they take the field.

Surprise Team–  Right now it has to be Georgia. No one expected DJ Shockley to come out and play the way he has. His versatility has added another dimension that was not present when David Greene quarterbacked the Dawgs. The defense was expected to carry this team, and it has lived up to that billing, but the offense has continued to be stellar, even in absorbing the losses of Greene and standout wide-out Reggie Brown. I now see the Dawgs possibly losing a couple of games depending upon the health of Shockley but they certainly have had a tremendous season so far.

Disappointment – Hard to say here, but there sure were a lot of expectations heaped on Urban Meyer upon his arrival to Gainesville. He has been upset with his team, which looked poised to be a big story after beating Tennessee, only to be crushed by Alabama. They then dropped a game they should have won last week in Baton Rouge, causing Meyer to shed a few tears in his press conference.  is team is talented, but it will take time for Meyer to instill his will and dedication into this program. Overall, no one has been a major disappointment.

Big Ten
Stories abound over the first half of the Big Ten season. Iowa fell flat on its face out of the box, only to have a resurgence of sorts recently setting up a huge game with Michigan last weekend. They lost one that they could have (many say should have) won. Penn State stormed out of the box, making many fans forget about their calls for JoePa’s retirement only months ago. PSU should drop a few more games this season but they are well positioned for the future.

Surprise Team– Hands down Penn State. Two freshman, have stepped in and played like seniors, leading this team to a great start that has Happy Valley brewing with confidence. Last weekend’s loss was crushing but more crushing is the loss of star frosh to a broken arm. They dismantled the Illini this weekend, and probably could have scored 100 had Paterno not called off the troops.

Disappointment– I ’d have to say Iowa at this point but a lot of ball is left to be played in the Big Ten. Iowa was embarrassed by Iowa State which now looks like a horrible loss anyway you cut it. Iowa has every chance to rebound in this conference, but they have no hope anymore for the Big Ten title, which they were favored to win at the outset of the season.

PAC – 10
USC is the class of this conference, but I think they’ll lose a game this season, with Cal and UCLA yet to have played the Trojans. The Trojans defense is a shadow of its former self, and ranks only 45th in the country in total defense. Still, Leinhart and Bush are both one of a kind players and they make USC nearly unbeatable in college football. Charlie Weis compared Bush to Marshall Faulk the other night, and that seems like a pretty good one for Bush. SC’s defense will need to step it up if they expect to compete for their third National Championship in three years. I think they narrowly miss it this year.

Surprise Team –UCLA to date has been the surprise posting an undefeated record to date and looking like they should be 10-0 when they play SC later this fall. Maurice Drew has been spectacular this season as has QB Olsen. Things are interesting on the other side of the ball, however, as the UCLA run defense can be likened to swiss cheese. They could easily lose a game prior to the showdown looming with SC.

Disappointment –Arizona State was supposed to have a coming out party this season but have come crashing to the earth after close losses to LSU and USC. Their loss to Stanford last weekend was terrible, and this team has loads of talent. They still have a date with UCLA which should be a battle that the Devils could win. They’ll need to to erase any lingering pain from a tough season of missed opportunities.

ACC
I think this is the best conference in the country this season with Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech all top tier teams. Hard to say who is the best right now, but my bet is that the Canes are still the best in the conference at the end of the season. Kyle Wright is improving with each passing week, making the Canes only potential weakness, their offense, disappear.

Surprise Team– Boston College was supposed to be this good, but it still was a question mark heading in due to the jump from the Big Least to the ACC. They have played very well this season losing only to Florida State in a game where turnovers killed them. They have a huge game this Thursday in Blacksburg against the Hokies on national television. It is a monster opportunity for BC to announce its presence in the ACC with authority.

Disappointment –  Hard to say that anyone has really been a disappointment this season in the ACC, but you can make an argument for Georgia Tech, who at 4-2 was exceeding expectations this season. They, then, had a horrible loss to NC State, who has been exposed as a weaker team of late. Still, the Jackets are 4-2 and have a ton of talent, and will be bowling in December or January this season.

Big East
Again, why does the Big East still have an automatic bid into the BCS? Looks like West Virginia will be the benefactor this season, and will again be overmatched by a team more deserving of making one of the four games. WVU lucked out this weekend when their game against South Florida was postponed due to Wilma. Louisville has been a disappointment thus far and might continue to be.  Their defense is not playing like it did one year ago. This conference will undergo a facelift over the next couple of seasons and I see South Florida and Louisville as the two teams emerging and taking over supremacy.

Surprise Team –South Florida gained little to no recognition when they joined this conference but that all changed one fall night this season when they thumped Louisville 45-14. They have been playing good football, and are probably a couple of years away. They’ll start to lure some good talent from Florida which could spell trouble for the Big Least. They play West Virginia this weekend at home, and two home wins against the Mountaineers and Cardinals will go along ways towards establishing this football program.

Disappointment –That sound you heard was all the big talk outta Louisville, Kentucky getting squashed by South Florida. For a program that really thought it had arrived, they have had a tough season. You have to wonder if Petrino will listen to offers this off-season from big time programs in big time conferences. Louisville will not leave the Big East because of basketball, and the Big East is a joke of a football conference. This may be Petrino’s last chance for the fat pay check from a Big Time BCS program. Pitt has also been a disappointment and will not go bowling this season for Dave Wannestadt. He’ll be on the hot seat for the next two seasons and the rest of this one as well.

Rose Bowl – USC vs. Texas –I think Texas is the best team in the country, and they have the clearest path to Pasedena. What a treat it will be to watch Vince Young and Reggie Bush on the same field.

Orange Bowl – Miami vs. Notre Dame –This match-up would be a blast to the past. No one has slowed Notre Dame’s offense this season, but I think Miami could here. Notre Dame’s defense, however, matches up well with the Canes offense. This would be a great game but the Irish have some tough remaining games which could end their BCS postseason hopes and dreams.

Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs. Virginia Tech –Another great match-up against two great defenses.  Alabama will have its hands full with LSU and Auburn down the stretch. If they are able to go 1-1, they should still land here. They’ll obviously need to beat LSU, but count me in the group that questions the greatness of this LSU bunch.

Fiesta Bowl – West Virginia vs. Penn State –Joe Pa returns to Sun Devil stadium, a place that has been good to him over the years. Penn State has played very well and really should win out this season. If they are able to accomplish that, this is where they land and they trounce WVU and the Big Least.

Outside but barely…..Georgia will miss Shockley but if they get by the Gators and he is able to return…look out. UCLA, if it can get to 10-0 prior to its date with SC, might have the most to say about the National title picture. Of course, LSU still controls its own destiny as well, but they have a ton of holes and it is clear that they miss Saban in the locker room and on the sideline as well.

 



Football picksOctober 1, 2005

2005 College Football Midseason BCS Rankings

 

Each year, there is a debate as to which conference is the toughest in the country. The SEC people think the Pac-10 teams play no defense. The Pac-10 people think that the Big 10 teams play an antiquated version of football where passing and improvisation are banned — and so on and so forth.

I thought it would be interesting to rank the conferences to determine which one was the best. I will primarily rank the six BCS conferences based upon the strength of the top third of their teams. No one really cares if Kentucky would beat Arizona until sometime in March, so that’s why I’m not looking at the conferences from top to bottom.

Nevertheless, parity will be considered, as well. A conference that has strong flagship teams, and is loaded from top to bottom will be ranked higher than one without. Now that the ground rules have been established, let’s get started.


Top four teams
: West Virginia, Rutgers, Louisville, South Florida6) Big East

Parity level: Medium

I don’t think that anyone would argue that the Big East is currently the worst BCS conference right now. Even West Virginia, the highest-ranked team in the Big East, doesn’t have a prayer at winning or even playing in the National Championship Game. The parity level in the conference is decent, as an argument could be made for both Pitt and Connecticut to be mentioned in the top four, but the high level of competition needed for a better ranking is sorely lacking.

5) Big 12

Top four teams: Texas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Texas A&M
Parity level: Medium

The Big 12 has a history of being one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Unfortunately, they are down this season with only two teams ranked in the top 25. Texas is the runaway leader, and the talent level drops off considerably after that. Texas Tech looked lost in Austin this Saturday, and Colorado, while playing above expectations, has failed to maintain a top-25 ranking. The parity level in this conference is tricky, because there are six teams (Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Iowa State) that are very close as far as talent level. However, since Texas is so much better than the rest, a “medium” ranking is deserved. I look for the Big 12 to be much stronger next year, but for now, they get no better than fifth in my book.

4) Big 10

Top four teams: Penn State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Parity level: Very high

This had to be one of the most difficult rankings I have ever made in my writing career. If I were judging purely on conference balance, the Big 10 would probably be number one. The parity in this league is amazing, as there are at least seven teams with very reasonable chances to win the crown. However, I feel that this parity also indicates a level of mediocrity within the conference, as well. There is no dominant team that can break from the pack and assert their will. Also, the conference has badly underperformed against other BCS divisions. Many of the top teams (Michigan, Northwestern, and Ohio State) have had costly losses against teams when they have played teams outside of the conference. Finally, since there are no true national championship contenders in the Big 10, I believe their ranking is justified.

3) SEC

Top four teams: Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Florida
Parity level: Medium-high

There can be a legitimate argument made to place this conference much higher, however, I have to stand by their current placement. I put the SEC third because of two factors. The first is the Georgia and Alabama’s viability to continue to contend for a national title with in their current situation. Georgia almost lost to a miserable Arkansas team without D.J. Shockley and Alabama should have lost at home to Tennessee. The second is that after the top six teams (the top four plus Auburn and Tennessee), the remainder of the conference has been deplorable.

2) Pac-10

Top four teams: USC, UCLA, Oregon, California
Parity level: Medium-high

The Pac-10 has two legitimate national title contenders with USC and UCLA. One of these teams will be in Pasadena this year playing for the national championship. The Pac-10 has also performed well against the other BCS conferences as mid-tier Arizona State lost a winnable game against LSU and demolished Northwestern, 52-21. ASU, Stanford, Washington State, and Oregon State are all difficult teams to handle for even the upper echelon, and only Washington and Arizona are true bottom-feeders. This conference holds a very slight edge over the SEC in my opinion, and will demonstrate its strength in the bowl games in December and January.

1) ACC

Top four teams: Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Boston College
Parity level: High

The ACC is the best conference in college football. Let’s start with their top teams. Virginia Tech has a good chance of heading to Pasadena, and Miami and Florida State cannot be counted out (remember Tennessee in 1998). Boston College is a legitimate top-15 team, and will spring an upset before this season is over. Speaking of upsets, Clemson and Georgia Tech, the ACC’s fifth and sixth teams, have delivered with wins over higher rated teams in other conferences. Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina have all impressed with quality wins during this season, and even Wake Forest has played well. The ACC has earned their number one ranking, and will have the most teams out of all of the BCS conferences in bowl games this year.

The HeisDAQ

The race for the Heisman Trophy fluctuates week by week. The HeisDAQ will let you know whose Heisman “stock” is rising and falling. Now that the race is winding down, I will highlight the five guys with the best chances of taking home the hardware.

1) Reggie Bush, RB/KR/PR USC (strong buy) — Bush has only enhanced his chances of winning the Heisman with a solid performance last week. His 86-yard punt return was something special and was shown over and over on SportsCenter. He has proven that he has the ability necessary to get the trophy.

2) Vince Young, QB Texas (strong buy)— V.Y. has overtaken Matt Leinart and is performing well week after week. His two interceptions against Texas Tech on Saturday were overshadowed by the absolute dominance of his team.

3) Matt Leinart, QB USC (buy)— Leinart is still very much in the Heisman race even though I’ve dropped him down to third. He had a nice rebound game against the Huskies and was back to his dominating self. However, I just don’t think he’s had the type of season that was needed to repeat as Heisman trophy winner. We will see.

4) Brady Quinn, QB Notre Dame (buy)— Quinn had an electrifying six-touchdown performance against BYU. He showed no signs of a hangover after the bitter defeat to USC and led his team to a convincing win over the Cougars. Unfortunately for Quinn, the gap between him and the top three is considerable and he will need a miracle in order to win.

5) Maurice Drew, RB/PR UCLA (speculative buy) — Drew has become the wildcard in the Heisman race. He is having a phenomenal year and has become the most feared punt-returner in the country (yes, including Reggie Bush). He will stay in the hunt as long as the Bruins stay undefeated and cracks the top three if they beat USC.

Games to Watch/Picks to Click

Season Record: 11-8 ATS; Last Week: 1-2 ATS

Georgia (+4) @ Florida

Most people believe that Florida will win this game handily, but I’m not ready to buy off on that yet. The loss of D.J. Shockley hurts Georgia, but the Bulldog defense has really been the key to their success and they are still in tact. Nevertheless, I do think that Florida will win, as they have had time to prepare and heal up due to their bye week. It will be close, but Florida pulls it out in a squeaker.

Fixed Leak 20, Bulldogged 14

Michigan @ Northwestern (+3)

This will be the game that proves that Northwestern is for real. They are underdogs on paper, due to Michigan’s reputation, but I believe they will win this game. Brett Basanez has been on fire lately, and has played as well as anyone in the Big 10. Michigan still has injury problems, but I believe they will make it a competitive game. The Wolverines must be able to run the ball effectively to have a chance.

Sons of Darnell Autry 31, Michiganders 27

UCLA @ Stanford (+7 ½)

The Cardinal have had a history of upsetting good UCLA teams. This will be on everyone’s mind as the Bruins march up to the farm on Saturday. Trent Edwards, Stanford’s quarterback, has looked as good as anyone in the Pac-10 recently and has the Cardinal on a three-game winning streak. However, the undefeated Bruins will prevail due to their better balance on offense, and the fact that Stanford’s running game is not where it needs to be.

Dorrell’s Bruins 42, Trees 3.

This article was reprinted with permission from Sports Central.