Wednesday

Return of the Bag & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to you all. I hope you've got your feast and festivities all planned out. I know I do.

Yes, after work tonight I'm headed to the grocery store to pick up my traditional, non-traditional foods. See, I've never been a big turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy guy. So the past few years I've alternated between my personal favorites: my home-made spaghetti sauce, my favorite pizza, and lately, my dad's home-made meatloaf. That may not sound so appetizing to some of you, but don't knock it til you've tried it!

So I'm pretty sure I'll be going with the meatloaf, a big baked potatoe (copyright Dan Quayle) and my one nod to a traditional Thanksgiving, a slice of pumpkin pie.

So that's my feast, as for my festivities? I found out last night that the Sci Fi channel of all places is going to be running "Goldeneye", "The World is not Enough", and "Tomorrow Never Dies" back-to-back-to-back starting at 3pm central time. Add it a couple of my own DVD's and I'm pretty much covered for the day!

Yes, I'm odd. But I'm very happy in my oddness, so cut me some slack!

On to today's column. Today it's the return of the Sports Take Mailbag. It's a great question and even as I write this, I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to respond. Oooooh, what a tease! Then it's this week's version of the DFTU. So let's get to it!

"I have been through some terrible things in my life. Some of which actually happened."
- Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist


It's possible that I've embellished one or two stories in my life to make them just a touch more traumatic-sounding for comedic effect. But that's only because I live to entertain the people. And if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right!

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First up today, it's the return of the Sports Take Mailbag. Remember, if you've got a question that's been rattling around in your mind, send it to me at: dcook93@yahoo.com. I won't guarantee a factual answer, but I'll do my damnedest to keep you entertained!

Today's question comes to us from Josh in Shoreview, who writes:

I found an interesting little anomaly while I was looking at Notre Dame's record...

Looking at the records of the post Lou Holtz Notre Dame coaches:

Bob Davie: 35-25 .583
Tyrone Willingham: 21-15 .583
Charlie Weis: 28-20 .583

Obviously, the number of seasons coached aren't the same, but the numbers are eerily similar. Is there any reasonable justification that the administration can make for keeping Charlie Weis based on their past expectations of coaches?

Excellent question Josh. I guess it all hinges on how we're going to define "reasonable".

I was having a discussion with a fellow college football fan yesterday when the subject of hiring and firing coaches came up.

It's my contention that there's one great trap that schools with histories of strong football programs can fall into. When expectations are unreasonably high, coaches are under extreme pressure.

Win a measly 8 games? Clearly the coach has to go! We'll go hire another guy. And if that guy doesn't win a National Championship in 3 years, we'll fire him too!

The problem is, after a while, you're going through 4 coaches every 10-12 years and your program has lost any sense of stability. And if you don't think that has a direct impact on recruiting, you're kidding yourself. Make no mistake, when a coach talks to a recruit, they're talking just as much about why that kid shouldn't go to school X or Y as they are about why the kid should come to their school in the first place.

Now I'm not saying that you should retain an under-performing coach simply for stability's sake. But I do think that it's important to keep that factor in mind when you're looking at the big picture of where your football program is headed.

So let's take the specific case of Charlie Weis. Not only does he have the exact same winning percentage as Ty Willingham when Ty was fired, but he'll actually have a worse one by the end of this season, when they get done getting whacked by USC this weekend.

So if Weis has performed at a lower level than Willingham did, and you said upon firing Willingham that his performance was unacceptable for a coach at Notre Dame, then how can you justify keeping Weis?

On a purely fairness level, clearly you can't.

But when you take a pragmatic view of the situation, I think you can see how it's likely that Weis will retain his job.

Argument 1: Weis is still under the contract that's scheduled to pay him $30 million over 10 years. I'm sure there's a buy-out clause where the school can get out of that contract at a reduced rate. But I'm equally sure that the rate in question would not be cheap.

And...

Argument 2: As I mentioned previously, sooner or later you have to stick with a guy. I'm not saying that Weis is necessarily that guy, but Notre Dame is coming dangerously close to becoming a revolving door for coaches, and that would severely tarnish the reputation of their football program.

I'm not really a Notre Dame guy (though my father whom I respect and admire is), so this doesn't necessarily hit me where I live. But I think it's an interesting debate. How big should the "big picture" really be?

If you have any thoughts, please attach them in the comment box below!

Finally for today, it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers (football): The Badgers have finished the regular season 7-5 (3-5 in the Big Ten).

If you didn't catch Monday's column, I talked some about Wisconsin's overtime win against Cal Poly.

But permit me to expand on my feelings somewhat.

That game sucked.

Had Cal Poly pulled off the upset, it would've been only slightly less of an upset than Appalachian State's win at Michigan last year (sorry Hammer, but I needed a reference point). This is a team that a focused, well-coached Wisconsin team should've blown off the field. Instead the Badgers came out flat and lacking energy and never really got on track. That's evidenced by the fact that their only lead of the game came in overtime when they won it.

That's just embarrassing. But let's face it. This whole season has been something of a train-wreck. From the 0-4 start to the Big Ten season, to losing to a re-tooling Michigan team who did everything they could to give Wisconsin a win on the road. So I guess in the end, Badger fans just have to go with "a win's a win" and look forward to their bowl game.

It appears more and more likely that Bucky will be headed to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ on December 31st. No, it's not a January 1 Bowl. But it's a helluva lot better than going to Detroit on the day after Christmas (sorry Gopher fans)!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 12-6-1, good for 25 points and 2nd place in the Northwest Division.

Vancouver has been on fire lately. 8-0-2 in their last 10 has put them 5 points ahead of the Wild in the Northwest race.

Last week I bragged on the fact that the Wild were playing 7 of their next 8 at home, and how that should help them put together a solid streak.

Well, not so much.

After winning a solid game against Pittsburgh on the road, the Wild proceeded to drop their first two home games of this stretch against Vancouver (understandable) and St. Louis (inexplicable).

Monday night they defeated Washington to get off that schneid. Unfortunately, even that win was shaky. The Wild roared out to a 4-0 lead which they held until the final 10 minutes of the 3rd period where they gave up 3 goals in a 4 minute span to make the game far closer than it should've been.

So what's been the trouble? A big part of it has been a lack of offense. The Wild have had a disturbing history of disappearing offensively from time to time. And to make matters worse, when they do, they start pressing trying to make something happen which hurts their usually solid defense.

I'd like to say that things get a little easier for the Wild with the Brendan Morrow-less Stars and hapless Tampa Bay Lightning coming into town. But based on their recent struggles against lesser competition, obviously nothing's guaranteed.

After those two games tonight and Friday afternoon, the Wild take a short road-trip to Nashville on Saturday before returning home for three against Colorado, St Louis again and Vancouver again. I guess they'll at least have a chance for a couple of revenge wins!

That's all for today. Usually Thursday is my cornucopia of college football. But given the holiday, there's a strong chance that column will be delayed til Friday. We shall see. Until then, I hope you and yours have a very happy Thanksgiving! And thanks for reading!

Monday

Shame on Me & Week 13 Post-Mortem


Hello again everybody...

It's Monday, which sucks. But it's Thanksgiving Monday, which means for most of us, we're only at work for 3 days this week. And that can't possibly be a bad thing. I'm also feeling pretty good because I got to see Iron Man on DVD in 64-inches of goodness and full Dolby Digital surround sound last night (thanks Lon!). It's awfully hard to complain after that.

So today I have to admit to a shameful act. One which I've spent the last 48-hours regretting. So I've decided that confessing to you, my loyal readers, will perhaps purge my soul of this black mark. At least I hope it works! Then it's time for the Post-Mortem on my Week 13 college football picks. So no more dawdling, let's go!

"In the United States, there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is."
- Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), American author


Wouldn't that depend on what your definition of "is" is?

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Okay, time to step into the Sports Take confessional. I've got a confession to make, and this is the perfect forum in which to make it.

Okay (deep breath), here goes...

I turned the game off before the end.

(insert Dan cringing here)

That's right, I admit it. I gave up on the Badger game with about 6 minutes remaining, assumed they were going to lose, and missed them coming back to win.

Yes, I'm the same guy who forces my family to stay through the end of the 9th inning anytime we go to a baseball game regardless of the score. Hence, my shame in this case.

Allow me to paint a picture.

The Badgers were hosting that traditional FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA) football powerhouse Cal Poly (short for: California Polytechnic at San Luis-Obispo). This is a team that Wisconsin should beat by 40 at a minimum. But as has been the case throughout this season, the Badgers came out flat against inferior competition and got behind early.

At first I wasn't worried because in the past, they've come back and ended up putting the wood to these teams. But that wasn't the case this week.

Instead the Badgers kept firing round after pathetic round into their collective foot and couldn't ever really get on track. And yet, thanks to Cal Poly's pathetic kicking game (3 missed extra points?! 3?!), they were still in the game with 8 minutes left on the clock. What followed was one of the most pathetic 8 play 33 yard drives you've ever seen. By the time that the Badgers turned the ball over on downs with 5:45 remaining, I was so convinced that the Badgers weren't going to get the ball back with a chance to tie it up, that I turned the game off.

Not only did I turn it off, I sent a text message to a friend saying, "the Badgers are going to lose. why is there life on this planet?"

Okay, that was a little melodramatic I know. But that's just how down I was.

So what happened? The Badger defense finally developed a spine, and held Cal Poly to a 3 and out, which got the Badgers the ball back with 4 minutes remaining. Wisconsin took only 2:18 of that 4 minutes to travel 89 yards, punch the ball in for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game.

A missed field goal by Cal Poly sent the game into overtime. The teams traded touchdowns. The Badgers converted their extra point. Cal Poly didn't. And that was the game.

So yes, I'm ashamed of myself. I've preached over and over that you can't give up on a given sporting event - especially one involving a favorite team - because you just never know when a late comeback is going to happen. And yet, that's exactly what I did.

I hope you all can find it in your heart to forgive me.

My mea culpa here today is the first step along the path to forgiving myself.

*sigh*

Moving on...

Onto happier subjects, namely my Week 13 College Football Picks Post-Mortem! Some were predicting a let-up now that I've clinched a +.500 record for the season. Would that be the case? Or would I prove the nay-sayers wrong? Let's find out!

First...

Boise State -6.5 @ Nevada: Final Score - Boise State 41, Nevada 34.

Sometimes you curse the half-point. Sometimes you worship it. Put me in the latter category this week.

Admittedly the game was a lot closer than I thought it would be. Nevada's offense can definitely move the ball. But in the end, the Bronco's maintained their perfect record on their quest to bust up the BCS once again!

What Dan Learned: If anybody has the address to Wolfpack head coach Chris Ault's office, let me know. I'd like to send him a Christmas card. The Wolfpack had the ball deep in Boise territory late in the game, down by two scores, when Ault elected to kick a field goal rather than go for the touchdown. The field goal allowed me to cover. A touchdown wouldn't have. Don't get me wrong, it was the correct call for Ault to make. But I'd like to express my appreciation none the less!

1-0 and rollin baby, rollin!

Next...

Utah -7.5 vs. BYU: Final Score - Utah 48, BYU 24

Eaaaaaaasy cover.

Didn't see any of this game, so I can't describe what happened. But apparently the "Holy War" turned into a "Holy Can of Whoop-Ass" for the Utes.

So like Boise St., Utah remains undefeated. The difference? Utah's in the clubhouse at 12-0, while Boise still has a home-game against Fresno State to contend with. I still think Boise will win and we'll have two 12-0 non BCS-conference teams to deal with. I just think the wrong one's going to end up going to a BCS game.

What Dan Learned: Speaking of Mormons, I saw part of the move Orgazmo on cable this weekend. Brought to us by the creators of South Park, Orgazmo tells the tale of a Mormon missionary who stumbles into a job acting in an adult film. Naturally, hilarity ensues. Unintentional comedy also abounded since, in order to put it on a non-subscription cable channel, they had to blur-out and bleep so many things, you couldn't get through a scene without having to lip-read or mentally de-pixillate something. It was an experience, I tell you.

2-0. Yep, still rollin...

Thirdly...

Oregon State +2.5 at Arizona: Final Score - OSU 19, Arizona 17

I've discussed in the past, the wonder of the underdog winning outright. And it was just as sweet on Saturday as it's ever been.

I know it was a road game for the Beavers and all, but I still don't understand why they were getting points here.

Whatever. Thank you Vegas.

What Dan Learned: This has got to be near the end for Mike Stoops in Arizona doesn't it? Why can't the Arizona programs win on a regular basis? You'd think it'd be easy enough to recruit there.

"Here son, we're going to pay for you to go to school someplace that has highs of 65 and no humidity in the dead of winter."

Seems to sell itself, doesn't it? Weird.

3-0. Dare I dream of my first 4-0 week?!

Finally...

Texas Tech +7 @ Oklahoma: Final Score - OU 65, Texas Tech 21
*This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Oof. I have to admit, there was a moment where I was tempted to lay real money on this game. Then I remembered that getting into sports betting is one of those "black holes of life" that I may never get out of.

So I resisted.

Thank God.

Oklahoma came out swinging and Tech never really seemed to know what hit them. The Sooners scored the first 28 points of the game and quite literally stunned Tech's entire sideline. Yes, the Raiders managed to score 21, but 14 of those were after the game had essentially been decided.

A more thorough beat-down, you will not see.

What Dan Learned: Sure I thought OU could win this game. But in this fashion? Nope, didn't see that coming. The fun part is, with wins by all 3 next week (OU has the toughest test @ Oklahoma St.) we'll have a 3-way tie in the Big 12 South. And since each of the three holds a win against one of the others, the tie breaker is (drum roll please) the highest ranked team in the BCS! What a system! Right now Texas holds that distinction, but since they play lowly Texas A&M, while Oklahoma plays an above average Oklahoma State team, there's certainly an opportunity for Oklahoma to leap-frog a team that beat them head-to-head and play for the National Title over the Longhorns. Fun, huh?

Once again whiffing on the Flier Pick means no 4-0 this week. Oh well. Fortunately, due to the FP rules, I ended up 3-0. That makes me 30-17 (.638) for the season. As I mentioned in the preamble, life really isn't bad at all.

That's all for today. Enjoy the rest of your Monday. I'll be back on Wednesday with the DFTU and a special Thanksgiving surprise for you! Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

ST Top 10 Poll (9th Ed) & Week 13 Picks


Hello again everybody...

Once again, your Thursday is my Friday, so this is probably the last column of the week. No major movie opening this week, so I don't even have a review for you to look forward to. Maybe I'll just go catch a matinee of Quantum of Solace again. Who knows?

But today we turn our focus to college football. Leading off will be the 9th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Quite the statistical anomaly in this week's poll, so be sure to take a look. Then it's this week's picks. One of my pessimistic readers suggested that my naming a worst case scenario on Monday will result in my realization of that exact worse case scenario. Today I seek to prove the doubters wrong! So let's get to it...

"When you battle with your conscience and lose, you win."
-Henny Youngman (1906-1998), comedian and violinist

This is part of why I love doing this. Now I'm getting quotes submitted from readers! Thanks to Lon in Forest Lake for this little pearl of wisdom.

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First up today is the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll (9th Ed.). As I mentioned earlier, this week's data turned a little goofy. Thanks to ties in the points, there are actually 12 teams in this week's Top 10. Who are they? Glad you asked!

Rank - Team - First Place Votes - Points - Last Week's Ranking
*Comments in italics are randomly selected from pollsters.


#1) Alabama (7) - 93 - 1
Their "proof game" is fast approaching.

#2) Texas Tech (2) - 89 - 2
For the BCS-haters, you have to ask yourself, who's got a better shot at being upset by Missouri? Texas Tech? Or Oklahoma?

#3) Florida (1) - 76 - 4
I changed my mind. Florida's the best 1-loss team in the country. That might change again if Oklahoma beats Texas Tech, but for right now, the Gators are playing so well it's sick.

#4) Texas - 75 - 3
If you beat Kansas this year, does anybody know you even played a game?

#5) Oklahoma - 64 - 5
I've probably got them rated too low, particularly as I think they'll beat Texas Tech. But until they do I won't put them above. And I don't even know how to put them in my Top 3!

T#6) USC - 38 - 6
Should've beaten Stanford by more, but at least they didn't choke it away like they did last year.

T#6) Utah - 38 - 7
I'd rather both Utah and Boise State make it to BCS games, but if it has to be just one, personally I'd prefer to see Boise go.

#8) Penn State - 32 - 8
If you beat Indiana this year, does anybody know you even played a game?

#9) Boise State - 29 - 9
See comment for Utah.

T#10) Missouri - 4 - NR
I still want to vote the Detroit Lions in here because I find it amusing and because it mildly irritates Dan, but as a back-up, I'll vote for the Tigers.

T#10) Ohio State - 4 - 10
Has there ever been a Michigan/Ohio State game with less hype?

T#10) Oklahoma State - 4 - NR
Even if Oklahoma beats Tech, they have to get by the Cowboys next week to have a shot at the National Championship game.

Others Receiving Votes: Ball State 2, BYU 1, Georgia 1

So there are your Top 10 (12) teams in college football as voted on by a group of loyal ST readers. See anything that looks out of whack? Leave a comment and let us know what and why!

Next up it's my 2008 College Football Picks: Week 13! Lately I've been picking nearly exclusively favorites. This week an underdog or two sneaks into the picks. Let's take a look!

As always, were recreational gaming legal, and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on:

First...

Boise State -6.5 @ Nevada (3pm): The Broncos are 10-0 (6-0). The Wolf Pack are 6-4 (4-2).

The only game Nevada's lost at home was against Texas Tech. That's not exactly a sin given the way the Raiders are playing this year. But when you look at the competition the Wolf Pack has faced, I think the Broncos outpace them by a solid margin.

So I'm going with the chalk here and picking Boise state to win by 10 on the road.

Plus I really want to see them get a shot at upsetting one of the big-boys in a BCS game again this year. And the only way that can happen is if they remain undefeated.

Next...

Utah -7.5 vs. BYU (5pm): The Utes are 11-0 (7-0). The Cougars are 10-1 (6-1).

This line is probably a touch bigger than it should be, but I'm pretty confident that the Utes will win this one by 13 or more. When you look at common opponents, TCU jumps off the page. The Horned Frogs worked over BYU pretty good, while Utah beat them.

So even though I'd love to see Boise make it into a BCS game over Utah, the gambler in me has to take the Utes here.

Isn't this game nicknamed the "Holy War"? Isn't "war" a bit oxymoronic for a game played in Utah? I'm just sayin...

Thirdly...

Oregon State +2.5 @ Arizona (6pm): The Beavers are 7-3 (6-1). The Wildcats are 6-4 (4-3).

Yes, part of me wants to see a classic USC versus Penn State/Ohio State match-up in the Rose Bowl.

But another part of me wants to see USC really get screwed over for gacking up that game against Oregon State.

So in that vein, if the Beavers win out (this week versus Arizona, next week versus Oregon), they win the Pac 10 and go to the Rose Bowl over the Trojans.

Somehow they're an underdog at Arizona this week. If you assume that the home team gets 3-points automatically, then I suppose you could argue that Oregon State is really a half-point better than the wildcats. But I think the Beavers win outright in this game, so I'll gladly take the 2.5 points and cheer for the Orange and Black!

Finally...

Texas Tech +7 @ Oklahoma (7pm): The Red Raiders are 10-0 (6-0). The Sooners are 9-1 (5-1).
*This is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week!

Easily the biggest game of the year so far. It won't surprise me a bit if either team wins. But it would shock me if either team runs away with it.

That being said, favoring either team by a full touchdown seems a bit much.

Just think about how potent Tech's offense has been. Now consider that Oklahoma's defense has given up at least 28 points in their last 5 games. And you're going to give them 7 points? Really?

I'm hoping Oklahoma wins by 3 so the Big 12 South gets all crazy going into the championship game. But I'm picking Tech plus the seven points.

Either way, this one should be lots of fun to watch!

So there are your 4 picks this week. 2 underdogs? Why not? Come back on Monday for the post-mortem.

That's all for today ladies and gentlemen. And probably for the rest of the week. If something huge happens tomorrow and I feel compelled to post from the home offices, then so be it. But most likely I'll be back on Monday. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Baseball Awards, pt. 2 & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Happy Wednesday to you all. I hope you're somewhere warm, because I'm sure as hell not. Winter has hit the Twin Cities this week, and when you throw in the "wind tunnel" effect in downtown Minneapolis, well, let's just say it wasn't the most pleasant walk into work today!

But no worries, I made it in! Did a number on my hair though!

I'll let that one marinate for a second...

Okay, so today I'm running down the winners of the rest of the baseball awards and comment on one that I thought was a rather large surprise. Then it's this week's version of the DFTU. Off we go...

"The purpose of life is to fight maturity."
- Dick Werthimer, American author

That's right folks... Dan Cook... Fighting maturity for 34 years and still going strong!

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When I last talked about baseball, we were about two-thirds of the way through the major awards. Here are the rest, along with who I voted for:

AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians
Dan's Pick: Lee

This one qualified as one of several "no-brainers" in this years awards. Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA. That's sick enough on it's own, but when you consider how much Cleveland struggled this year, it's truly amazing.

Mildly surprising was the fact that it wasn't unanimous. Lee got 24 of a possible 28 first-place votes. Roy Halladay got the other 4. Halladay is a perennial contender for the award, so I'm not surprised he placed second. But with the kind of year Lee had, I'm not sure how a voter justifies voting Halladay first. But that's just me.

NL Most Valuable Player: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Dan's Pick: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

You can color me fairly well floored on this one. I know that Howard's average was low and strikeouts were high for your usual MVP candidate, but I was fairly well shocked that Pujols got this award.

Howard led the league in home runs and RBI, which means of the 3 triple-crown statistics, the only one Pujols beat Howard is was batting average. And let's not forget Howard helped get his team into the playoffs. Pujols didn't do that.

If the voting had been closer, I might not be grumbling about it so much. Pujols got 18 first-place votes to Howard's 12. And Pujols won by 60 points. Some chuckle-head out there actually voted Howard 10th. 10th?! Really? Carlos Delgado was more valuable than Ryan Howard? What was that dude smoking?! Wow.

Okay, I'm moving on...

AL Most Valuable Player: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate)
Dan's Pick: Pedroia

Thought you'd seen the last of the "(whom I hate)" for the year hadn't you! Well don't blame me, blame Pedroia for winning the MVP by default.

Pedroia's numbers (.326, 17, 83) don't bowl you over, but then again, neither did anybody elses. Justin Morneau of the Twins finished second in the balloting, which further proves that had he not disappeared over the last 2 weeks of the regular season, he likely would've won the award.

Oddly enough, the top 4 vote-getters came from just two teams. Pedroia and Kevin Youklis from the Red Sox (whom I hate) finished first and third respectively. Morneau and Joe Mauer from the Twins finished second and fourth. This further shows that the voters had a hard time making up their minds.

So that finishes off the awards. Looking through my ballot I ended up 5-3 for the 8 awards. Above .500 again! Who says 2008 is a bad year?!

Finally today it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 6-5 (3-5 in the Big 10).

I described my feelings on the Wisconsin/Minnesota game on Monday, so I won't belabor those points. *cough* 12 out of 15 *cough*

But more importantly for Wisconsin, they've come to the end of their Big 10 campaign and finished 3-5. Certainly not the result I was hoping for at the beginning of the season, but I'll give the club credit for not folding after their atrocious 0-4 start in the conference. Finishing 3-1 sounds better than 3-5, so I'll focus on that.

Beating Minnesota guaranteed that the Badgers will go to their 11 straight bowl game. It's not quite Michigan's streak of 33 that ended this year, but it's not bad!

And after the Badgers get done mopping up with Cal Poly this week, they'll be 7-5 on the year which I imagine will be good enough to get them to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ, on New Year's Eve. I actually thought about trying to get down there, but I can't get that day off. Maybe I can convince my folks to go root for Bucky for me, assuming that's where they end up!

As I said, the Badgers finish up the 2008 regular season on Saturday with a non-conference tilt against Cal Poly. So after next week, the football team will take a hiatus until the bowl game. Fortunately, the college hoops season is getting underway, so never fear, the Badgers will continue to be a DFTU staple!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 11-4-1, with 23 points and back in first place in the Northwest Division.

Slowly but surely the Wild are getting healthy. Marian Gaborik's still on the shelf with that balky groin. But Brent Burns and Owen Nolan have both made their way back into the lineup.

The Wild's top line of Mikko Koivu centering Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette leads the team in scoring, and have stepped up nicely in Gaborik's abscence.

But as usual, defense has been the Wild's calling card. And that starts with the man between the pipes. Nicklas Backstrom remains amongst the league leaders in wins, save percentage and goals against average.

And though the Wild defense-corps still inexplicably includes Martin Skoula, they've gotten faster and more skilled with the additions of Marek Zidlicky and Marc Andre Bergeron. Their ability to not only stand up in their own zone, but quickly transition the puck to the offensive zone has made a huge difference for the Wild this year.

I'm cautiously optimistic based on the results so far. I didn't like the team's chances coming into the season, but perhaps the losses of Rolston and Dimetria will turn out to be "addition by subtraction". I'm not saying they're bad guys, but it's pretty clear that they weren't happy with Jacques Lemaire's system. And no matter how talented you are, if you don't like the way you're being asked to play, there's no way you'll realize your full potential.

So maybe the Wild have a chance to make a nice run in the playoffs after all. We'll see. There's still a lot of season to go.

The Wild start their stretch of 8 of 9 at home tomorrow night when they face the Vancouver Canucks at the Xcel Energy Center. They host St. Louis on Saturday and the Washington Capitals on Monday. Oh, and that little squad from Dallas pays a visit to the X one week from tonight!

That's it for today. I'll be back tomorrow with the usual smorgasbord of college football. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Fantasy Football & Wek 12 Post-Mortem


Hello again everybody...

I know you've been anxiously awaiting all weekend, asking yourself the same questions over and over: how many times did Dan see Quantum of Solace and what did he think? I won't make you wait any longer.

I only saw it once on Friday. I wouldn't say I was underwhelmed, but I certainly wasn't overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, it was good and if you liked Casino Royale then you'll like Quantum. But there was a new director this time around, and his imprint on the movie is fairly noticeable in my opinion.

The negative reviews that I've read claim that the movie is one big chase-scene. That's obviously an exaggeration, but I can see where that feeling comes from. There's no question that the director sacrificed fleshing out certain plot-threads in favor of keeping the movie going at a fast pace.

Daniel Craig turns in another solid performance, still bringing the "bad-ass" to the Bond character. Mathieu Almaric could've been one of the great Bond villains, but again, there wasn't enough time spent establishing his character. There was really only one scene where you felt like you could really despise the guy, and there needs to be more than that if you want to be a classic Bond villain. And Olga Kurylenko? Oh my.

So if you're on the fence about seeing it my advice is this: go see it. Don't expect it to be as good as Casino Royale was. Just sit back, relax, munch some popcorn and enjoy the thrill-ride.

Movie review, fin.

Today, I've got a football column to recommend including perhaps the greatest paragraph on fantasy football I've ever read. Then it's the Post-Mortem on my Week 12 college football picks. So off we go...

"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds."
- Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman and author.


Of course, a clever man will make you think he's found an opportunity and then duck out the back door with your wallet!

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I've mentioned him before, but if you're a sports fan and have any kind of appreciation for pop-culture and you're not reading Bill Simmons, then you're doing yourself a disservice.

The guy's a brilliant writer and I rip off his style as much as I can manage. Last week I was reading this article when I came across what has to be the greatest description of fantasy football that I've ever read:

My big epiphany: Really, the fantasy football season isn't fun. Winning is OK; losing is agonizing. You constantly feel awful about your choices and your bad luck; it's the only exercise that causes arguments with friends you normally never would argue with; and you spend roughly a kazillion hours managing your team for the 10 percent chance that you might win your league. There's just not a ton of upside. It's almost like smoking cigarettes -- it started out with good intentions, and it's something to do, and it can be fun in the right moments, but ultimately, there are an inordinate amount of moments when you find yourself leaning out a window in 20-degree weather to puff out a quick cig as your nose gets frostbitten, or bumming a cig from a group of horrible girls and then feeling obligated to talk to them, or waking up in the morning and coughing up your right lung. Really, it's more harm than fun. And yet, we continue to do it. And love it. This entire paragraph made me want to smoke.

No mom, I'm not starting to smoke. I just laughed uproariously because Simmons managed to describe exactly why I got out of fantasy football better than I ever could!

Really mom, I'm not smoking, I promise!

Finally for today, it's my Week 12 Picks Post-Mortem. I've been on a bit of roller coaster lately. Last week was up, so was this week down? Let's find out!

First...

Nebraska -6.5 @ Kansas State: Final Score - Nebraska 56, KSU 28.

And the streak lives on! Seriously Nebraska fans, I don't know why you're not emailing me every week begging me to pick your squad. All I do is get you wins!

Okay, this one wasn't that hard to call. Kansas State's coach is playing out the string, and the kids are pretty much mailing it in.

But Big Red got the job done and have set themselves up to go to a decent bowl game. I won't take all the credit... but I'll take some of it!

What Dan Learned: I actually am a glutton for punishment. I can hear the growls coming from Kelley households all over the metro already!

1-0 and feeling strong. Next...

Wisconsin -14 vs. Minnesota: Final Score - Wisconsin 35, Minnesota 32.
*This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

Mixed emotions? Sure. No, I didn't cover and that sucks. But considering that the Gophers held a 21-7 game at halftime, I'm certainly pleased that Wisconsin managed to (once again) maintain a hold on Paul Bunyan's Axe.

Make no mistake, this game was bowling-shoe ugly. Both teams made a myriad of mistakes, and really it came down to "whoever makes the last one loses". The Gophers simply made the last one.

What Dan Learned: Here's how this is going to play Minnesota fans... you're going to lose to Iowa this week and end up 7-5 (3-5). Wisconsin is going to beat Cal Poly this week and finish 7-5 (3-5). And by virtue of their heads-up win and better-traveling fan base, the Badgers will end up at a better bowl than Minnesota. Amazing how the world has a way of righting itself like that isn't it?

Still 1-0 (that's why I created the Flier Pick)... thirdly...

LSU -18.5 vs. Troy: Final Score - LSU 40, Troy 31.

I'd have had a shot in this one if LSU had bothered to show up in the first half. Troy led 24-3 at half, and 31-3 in the early goings of the third quarter.

But if you wondered why I thought this was such a lock, witness the last quarter and a half when LSU outscored the Trojans 37-0. 30 of which came in the 4th quarter alone.

Oof.

What Dan Learned: Les Miles isn't God, no matter how much he might try to convince you otherwise. The Tigers were flat out awful for over half the game, and were fortunate to pull out the win here. Losing this game at home would've been a huge embarrassment for the defending National Champions. Ugh. I hate this game more than I can possibly describe.

1-1 and more down on LSU than I thought possible. Finally...

UCLA -7 @ Washington: Final Score - UCLA 27, Washington 7

My ace in the hole! Thank you Washington for being so horrible.

I'm one of those people who refuses to stay up to try and catch West Coast college games on Fox Sports Whatever, so I didn't see any of this game.

What Dan Learned: I think we can pretty much bet against Washington no matter what the line and be correct. Too bad they only have two games left!

So I finished the week 2-1. That makes me 27-17 (.614) on the year. And that, ladies and gents, does it - for the regular season. With 3 weeks remaining and a worst-case record of 0-9, I just guaranteed us a +.500 record! I'd like to thank the academy, my parents and all of you loyal readers for being with me on this momentous occasion. The only goal left now is to make all the way through Bowl Season without surrendering the +.500 goodness!

That'll do it for today. I'll be back Wednesday with the DFTU-ness of it all. Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

Top 10 Poll (8th Ed.) & Week 12 Picks


Hello again everybody...

Today's my Friday (work-wise), so this will be the last column of the week. I know that puts a downer on your Friday, but try and mollify yourself with the knowledge that tomorrow I'll be in a cineplex somewhere enjoying the thrill-ride that I expect Quantum of Solace to be!

Not helping? Sorry 'bout that. But you'll make it through somehow!

Today it's time for this week's Poll results. There are a couple of interesting shifts to look at there. One I expected, the other? Not so much. Then I have my 2008 College Football Picks: Week 12. Hard to believe we're so close to the end. Like I said, I'm not a lock for a +.500 season yet, but we're getting close! So enough preambling, let's get to it!

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."
- Mark Twain (1835-1910), American humorist, satirist, lecturer and writer.

Dan's corollary: "Until they prove otherwise, assume that the person in front of you is half a nut-job. You'll be right about 70% of the time."

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First off today it's time for the 8th edition of The Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. 10 avid Sports Take readers have gathered to bring you their top 10 teams in the country. Comments in italics are from a random sampling of pollsters. Without further ado, the Poll:

Rank - Team (First Place Votes) - Points - Last Week's Ranking

#1) Alabama (8) - 96 - 1
Not pretty, but I won't drop them on style points alone. The real proof will come in a couple of weeks.

#2) Texas Tech (1) - 89 - 3
If they beat Oklahoma, they deserve to be #1 over Alabama.

#3) Texas - 75 - 4
If Texas Tech loses to Oklahoma, do the Longhorns sneak into the Big 12 Championship and National Championship? Can you "sneak in" when you're this good? Can we find a 3-sided coin?!

#4) Florida - 66 - 6
A new chant will find its way into the hearts of Gator fans: Stem the Tide!

#5) Oklahoma (1) - 65 - 5
Their match-up with Texas Tech on the 22nd will tell if I'm right about voting them #1.

#6) USC - 42 - 7
I hate ranking them this high, but they are 3-0 vs. ranked teams. No other team in the country is ranked so high nationally based on perceived talent rather than actually showing up for all their games.

#7) Utah - 38 - 9
Important win for the Utes over a solid TCU squad. Could we have 2 BCS busters this year? Dare we dream?!

#8) Penn State - 35 - 2
Retire Joe. (Ed's note - ouch!)

#9) Boise State - 28 - 10
They keep getting the job done every week.

#10) Ohio State - 5 - NR
Because somebody's got to be #10!

Others Receiving Votes: Ball State 4, Oklahoma State 4, Missouri 2, Georgia 1

I expected Penn State to take a tumble, but I was slightly surprised that Florida leap-frogged Oklahoma like that. Don't get me wrong, I voted it that way. I just didn't expect that many other pollsters to agree with me!

Also, a pollster who will remain unnamed attempted to rank the Detroit Lions #10 because, "I think they might be able to squeak by Missouri". Nice try, but we can't accept NFL teams as part of the College Football Poll. Though technically, you may be correct.

Next up it's time for the 2008 College Football Picks: Week 12! I had a good week last week, can I keep it going? Can I narrow that gap on the guaranteed +.500 season? Let's find out!

As always, were recreational gaming legal and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on:

Nebraska -6.5 @ Kansas State (2:30pm): The Cornhuskers are 6-4 (3-3). The Wildcats are 4-6 (1-5).

Oh, Husker fans? I'm baaaaaaaack! That's right, I'm reclaiming my title as your personal good-luck charm and am calling for a win this week!

Nebraska's won 3 of their last 4 including a fairly impressive effort against Kansas last week. Plus, Bo broke out the Blackshirts this week. That's got to mean a win, right?!

We're giving the 6.5 and calling for Nebraska to win 35-10!

Next...

Wisconsin -14 vs. Minnesota (2:30pm): The Badgers are 5-5 (2-5). The Gophers are 7-3 (3-3).
*This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week!

I said it yesterday. -14 is way too big of a line in this game. I'm not saying that I could bring myself to bet Minnesota +14. But I don't like Wisconsin -14 one bit.

So why the hell am I picking it then? Simple. This is my personal rivalry game. The Gophers still hold an honored position in the "Pantheon of Hate". The Badgers are my favorite college football team. Simply put, I can't not pick this game.

So if I have to pick it, then I have to go with Wisconsin. So I'll reluctantly give the 14 and hope that Eric Decker really is that important to Minnesota's offense!

Thirdly...

LSU -18.5 vs. Troy (7pm): The Tigers are 6-3 (3-3). The Trojans are 6-3 (4-1).

So LSU takes the #1 team in the country to overtime last week, and they're giving less than 20 points to a Sun Belt team at home this week?!

Yes please!

This game was originally supposed to have be played on September 6th, but a pesky hurricane got in the way.

I'm more confident in this pick than any other this week. So we give the 18.5 and hope nothing goofy happens to screw it up.

Finally...

UCLA -7 @ Washington (9:15pm): The Bruins are 3-6 (2-4). The Huskies are 0-9 (0-6).

Washington's just bad. Bad, bad, bad. Their head coach is a dead man walking. Their team has been beleaguered by injuries all year. Their fan base is collectively wearing the paper bag over their faces.

The Bruins aren't all that much better, but they're at least headed in the right direction. Seven points might be a touch high, but UCLA 30, Washington 14 wouldn't surprise me a bit either.

So what the hey, let's give the 7 and check the score in the morning!

All favorites this week. Hmmm, I wonder what that portends? Tune in Monday for the post-mortem to find out!

That's going to be it for this week. Unless I find Quantum of Solace to be so good, that I can't wait til Monday to give you my review I guess. Until then (whenever that is), thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Baseball Awards & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Happy Wednesday to you all. Things are hopping here at the Sports Take offices. It was announced yesterday that WCCO has a new grand pooh-bah (search "Mick Anselmo" at www.startribune.com and you'll see the story), so the speculation as to what other changes are going to be made is running rampant.

Fortunately for yours truly, that's all going on waaaaaaaaay up there. And I'm waaaaaaaaay down here. So the impact on me won't be significant. At least not right away. But if you're like me and you're less than enamored with the folks running the place, it's entertaining to speculate about how long they'll keep their jobs.

Evil? Perhaps. But that's just the space I'm in right now, so cut me some slack.

I know I said a couple of weeks ago that I'd issued my final word on the 2008 season. I lied. But it was an unintentional lie I assure you. This week the 2008 MLB awards have started to be announced. So I'll run down what we know so far and how they mesh with the picks I made after the end of the regular season. Then it's time for this week's DFTU. So let's get to it!

"A bore is a man who, when you ask him how he is, he tells you."
- Bert Leston Taylor (1866-1921), American columnist, humorist, poet, and author.


Think about it. How many times have you said, "how are you doing" only to be horrified when 15 minutes later you're still listening to the answer? Oof...

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So we've got some MLB Awards that have been announced. And you're going to be shocked, but I've only gotten about half of them right. Here's the breakdown:

NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs
Dan's Pick: Soto

This one wasn't even close. Soto received 31 of a possible 32 first-place votes. Someone named Joey Votto (Reds) got second place. I have no idea who this person is, and I followed the game pretty closely this year. Weird. Votto got less than half of the points that Soto received, which shows what kind of run-away this actually was.

AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Dan's Pick: Alexi Ramirez, 2B, Chicago White Sox

This one also wasn't close, which was mildly surprising to me. The fact that Longoria won it doesn't surprise me a bit. But the fact that he swept all 28 first-place votes was. Apparently the 5 weeks that Longoria missed didn't affect his status in the minds of the voters. That's odd to me considering that White Sox OF Carlos Quentin was all set to be the AL MVP until he got hurt near the end of the season. He was out longer than 5 weeks, but nobody really stepped up and grabbed hold of the award in his absence, so shouldn't he still get strong consideration?

NL Cy Young Award: Tim Lincecum, San Francicso Giants
Dan's Pick: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks

Again, not a surprise that Lincecum won, but the margin of victory was significant with this award as well. Tim got 24 of the 32 first place votes and had just shy of a 2-1 point margin over runner-up Brandon Webb. For you Brewer fans, CC Sabathia did get a first-place vote. Unfortunately he also got exactly one second-place vote and one third-place vote. Not the result I know you were hoping for. He finished fourth behind Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge.

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays
Dan's Pick: Maddon

This was also a no-brainer. Maddon got 27 of the 28 first-place votes, with Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire receiving the 1 straggler. I really hope this wasn't another case of a local Minnesota media member being a homer. As much as I think Gardy's been jobbed out of the award in the past, I don't see how there could be any doubt that Maddon was the clear winner this year. As for Gardy? Another second place finish. Oh well. If the rumors are true, he'll be getting comfy little contract extension soon.

NL Manager of the Year: Lou Pinella, Chicago Cubs
Dan's Pick: Pinella

Finally a vote that wasn't a runaway. Pinella finished first with 103 points. Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel finished second with 67 with Florida's Fredi Gonzalez (47) and L.A.'s Joe Torre (45) nipping at his heels. Even with their colossal choke-job in the playoffs, Pinella's team had a strong regular season, finishing with the best record in the NL. And in the absence of a "Maddon-like" story, that'll usually win you the MotY award.

So far I'm 3-2. Typical. The AL Cy Young and the 2 league MVP's are yet to be announced. I'll run those down probably next week.

Finally today, it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are now 5-5 (2-5 in the Big Ten).

It's hard to feel bad about your club after they bludgeon a team 55-20. But my feelings of elation are tempered by the fact that Indiana was down to their 4th-string quarterback late in the game. The Hoosiers are truly terrible this year and the thing that worries me is that the Badgers still gave up 20 points!

But when you're 5-5 on the year, you'll take a win any way you can get it. Now the Badgers need one more win to be bowl-eligible and two to earn themselves a decent bowl bid.

Next up? The Golden Gophers and the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe! If you'd asked me 3 months ago, I'd have said that this was a lock-win for Wisconsin. If you'd asked me 3 weeks ago, I'd have said it was a lock-win for the Gophers. Now? I have no earthly idea. The oddsmakers make Wisconsin a 14-point favorite.

14 points?! Are they serious?! Then again, if I think about taking Minnesota +14, I'm not so sure I want to go there either. So I'm totally confused about what to do with this game, other than to root my tail off for the Badgers!

After the Gopher game, the Badgers have one game left against Cal Poly. So even if the Gophers manage to grab the Axe for only the 5th time in the last 15 years, Bucky's still got a solid chance to make a bowl game. (You like how I got that reminder about Minnesota's futility in there? Thanks Lon, your advice has worked well.)

Ugh. That's what it's come down to? Please, just let us make a bowl? Not good. Not good at all.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 8-4-1 with 17 points which puts them 3rd in the Northwest division.

The Wild's drop from first to third has as much to do with having the last 4 days off as it does with their level of play. Other teams have just had more games.

That being said, the Wild have to be glad to be back in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for 7 of their next 8 games. And it's a stretch of beatable teams as well: Phoenix, Columbus, St. Louis, Washington and Tampa Bay are all visiting the X over that stretch. Included in there are a couple of Saturday games, which I really ought to get up off my tail and go see.

The Wild are still battling the injury bug though. Marian Gaborik's still having troubles with his oft-injured groin (insert punch-line here). Owen Nolan is still on the injured list as well. And now Brent Burns has joined them for an indeterminate amount of time.

As mentioned, the next 3 games are home against Phoenix, home against Columbus followed by a 1-game road trip to Pittsburgh.

That's all for today folks. I'm back tomorrow with all the college football goodness you can handle. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Alabama/Florida, who ya got? & Week 11 Picks Post-Mortem


Hello again everybody...

It's Monday again. Sucks how that keeps happening every week, doesn't it? But we persevere and get through it somehow. Especially those of us who have Friday off! (Insert Dan grinning devilishly here.)

But that's Friday and this is Monday, so let's get to the usual Monday slate. First off today I look at the race to the SEC Championship Game. The likeliest match-up has come into focus. I'll break it down. Then it's time for my Week 11 Picks Post-Mortem. Am I back to my winning ways? We shall see!

"The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised."

- George F. Will (1941- ), Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist, journalist and author.


It feels good when you share a theory with a guy who's exponentially smarter than you are.

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Now that Penn State has lost and the Big 10 has been effectively removed from National Title contention, the game with the biggest direct impact on the BCS Title Game is the SEC Championship.

(Aside: Even as a fan of a Big 10 team, I'm kind of glad that the league finally takes a year off from the big game. Let's be honest. Did Penn State really stand a chance against the Alabama's, Florida's, Texas Tech's or Texas' of the world? I don't think so.)

On December 6th, Florida and Alabama will square off for the SEC Championship. Alabama now has a 3-game lead in the SEC West, while Florida enjoys only a 1-game lead in the East. But the team they have that lead over is Georgia, and Florida just got done laying the wood to the Bulldogs in their head-to-head match-up. So, with only one SEC game left on the schedule, Florida has effectively clinched their spot.

So why is this game so important? Assuming both teams run the table (Alabama has Mississippi State and Auburn left; Florida has The Citadel and Florida State), the winner of the SEC Championship will play in the BCS Title game on January 8th.

What I find interesting is that even though Alabama is your consensus #1 team in the country, most of the pundits seem to think that Florida would be a 7-point favorite if the two teams were set to play this week. What does that say about our current system? I don't know about the rest of the Sports Take pollsters, but I'll be factoring that into my ballot this week.

So, Florida or Alabama? Who ya got?

Look at their common opponents. Tennessee - Alabama beat them 29-9, Florida beat them 30-6. Advantage? Push. Mississippi - Alabama beat them 24-20, Florida lost to them 31-30. Advantage? Alabama. Arkansas - Alabama beat them 49-14, Florida beat them 38-7. Advantage? Push. LSU - Alabama beat them 27-21 in OT, Florida beat them 51-21. Advantage? Florida. Kentucky - Alabama beat them 17-14, Florida beat them 63-5. Advantage? Florida. Georgia - Alabama beat them 41-30, Florida beat them 49-10. Advantage? Florida. Sensing a pattern?

So I'm taking the Gators and hoping neither team stumbles between now and then, so that the game has the importance that it ought to have.

Who do you think will win? Feel free to attach a comment and let us know!

Finally today it's time for my Week 11 Picks Post-Mortem. 1-2 last week. This week had to be better didn't it? Let's find out!

First...

Florida State -5.5 vs. Clemson: Final Score - FSU 41, Clemson 27

I saw a little bit of the beginning of this game. I'd have watched more, but once again Spike TV was showing several Bond movies, and though I know this will come as a shock to you, I got sucked in again.

(Did I mention that Quantum of Solace comes out on Friday? Yeah. I've got the day off. Not because of the film opening. But since the coincidence occurred, I'm going to see the movie at least once during the day, and it's quite possible I'll see it again that evening.)

But back to the game...

I saw some of the first half and it wasn't promising. Clemson got off to a good start while FSU started awfully slowly. By halftime, the Seminoles had gained the lead at 20-17. But I still hadn't covered. But the second half was a different story. FSU out-scored Clemson 21-10 and I covered easily.

What Dan Learned: I'm sick with the Bond movies. Really, I need help. Spike showed From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, and Never Say Never Again. Russia is a Bond classic, but the other two are definitely in the bottom half of the series if you rank them by quality. In fact, most Bond fans don't even consider Never Say Never Again as part of the official Bond series since it was produced by people outside the Broccoli family. But I still got sucked in. I tell myself I'm not going to and yet I always do. Really. It's a sickness.

1-0 and feeling pretty good about today's prospects.

Next...

Alabama -3 @ LSU: Final Score - Alabama 27, LSU 21 in OT.

The cover that was almost a push!

Again, the only parts of this game that I saw were during commercials in the Bond marathon, but I won't belabor that point.

What I know is that the Tide got out to an early lead, but lacked the offensive punch to really put LSU away. LSU, for it's part, could've won this game going away if they hadn't been so inept on offense.

As it was, it came down to the Tigers blocking a field goal at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. Had the Tide hit that field goal, I would've had my first push of the season. Not a win, not a loss. The "kissing your sister" of the recreational gaming world.

But instead the game went to overtime where Alabama scored a touchdown, failed on the conversion and then intercepted LSU on it's possession thereby winning the game and getting me the win!

What Dan Learned: I mentioned it earlier, but this game really woke me up to the belief that Florida is better than Alabama right now. Granted, Florida got LSU at home and Alabama had to play them on the road. But the disparity in margins of victory is still important. I'm already looking forward to Florida/Alabama more than any conference championship game I can remember!

2-0, but not getting cocky!

Thirdly...

West Virginia -6.5 vs. Cincinnati: Final Score - Cincinnati 26, WVU 23 in OT

I never had a shot in this one really. Cincy got out to a big lead. The Mountaineers came roaring back in the 4th quarter, scoring 13 points to send the game to overtime.

And while I guess WVU could've scored a touchdown, converted and stopped Cincy cold to get me the cover, when a team has to come from that far back to tie it, it's not a likely scenario.

And it wasn't the case here as the Moutaineers only managed a field goal, while Cincy punched it into the endzone to earn the win.

What Dan Learned: Stay the @#$! away from the Big East. I don't know what I was thinking dipping my toe into those mediocre waters. But I won't be doing it again this season!

2-1 and assured of a +.500 record since I only have the Flier Pick remaining.

Texas Tech -3.5 vs. Oklahoma State: Final Score - Tech 56, Oklahoma St 20

This was no contest right from the get-go. Tech scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions.

Let me repeat that: seven straight possessions.

That's just sick. Oklahoma State doesn't possess the greatest defense in the world, but they're not that bad either. And for Tech to score like that ought to scare the bejeezus out of everybody else in BCS contention.

What Dan Learned: Tech is for real. I was one of their chief doubters early in the year because they didn't play anybody. We've seen Tech beat up on also-rans before. But we hadn't seen them win the big one when it counted. Well they did that last week versus Texas and continued it this week against Oklahoma State. They get a bye this week before what could be their biggest test of the year: a trip to Oklahoma. Yes you could argue that Texas was a tougher opponent than Oklahoma, but Tech got the Longhorns in Lubbock. They have to travel to Norman to face the Sooners. And that will be a whole different animal.

So I finished the week 3-1. Feels good to be back on the winning track. Hopefully I can keep it rolling next week. That brings the season total to 25-16 (.610). I'm not at the point where I've clinched a winning season, but you can see it from here!

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Wednesday with the DFTU. Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

ST Top 10 (7th ed.) & Week 11 Picks


Hello again everybody...

It's "Recount-o-rama" here in Minnesota. And here we thought that Tuesday was the end of the election! Ha! No, instead the Coleman/Franken US Senate race will proceed with a recount which may not be finished until early December. Joy.

Fortunately, we have a balloting process here at The Sports Take that's free of any controversy! That's right, today we present the 7th edition of The Sports Take's Top Ten College Football Poll where all the ballots are hand-counted! Then it's time for my Week 11 College Football Picks. Off we go!

"The best way to keep one's word is not to give it."
- Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), French military and political leader


Management Manual, page 3? Perhaps page 5. I haven't seen the book lately.

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First off, it's time for the 7th edition of The Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Lots of upheaval this week with #5 Texas Tech's upset of #1 Texas. How high will Tech rise in the Poll? How far will Texas fall? Will Joe Paterno's leg ever heal?!

Okay, that last one has nothing to do with the Poll, but the guy's an octogenarian for crying out loud! Enquiring minds want to know!

Let's get to the poll. All comments in italics are from a random sampling of Sports Take pollsters.

Rank - Team (First Place Votes) - Points - Last Week's Ranking

#1) Alabama (7) - 95 - 2
A road win in Death Valley this Saturday would validate their #1 ranking, lucky for them it's an afternoon game.

#2) Penn State - 82 - 3
The Nittany Lions must be kicking themselves for having a bye week. A big win could've vaulted them to #1.

#3) Texas Tech (2) - 81 - 5
I see them losing at least one more game, and very possibly it starts this week.

#4) Texas - 66 - 1
Only 14 teams are undefeated or have 1-loss. Can't punish them much for a last-second road loss.

#5) Oklahoma (1) - 61 - 4
I'm probably going to be the only one to rank them #1, but they've impressed me more than any other team except Texas, and the Longhorns just lost.

#6) Florida - 57 - 6
Oh, how it pains me to rank them so high, but they deserve it after thrashing the Dawgs.

#7) USC - 32 - 7
I don't feel sorry for them, but USC can't catch a break. They drill Washington 56-0 and I have them dropping a spot. Okay, I'm over it.

#8) Oklahoma State - 25 - 9
Where the hell did this team come from? I'm more surprised at their success than I am at Texas Tech's (who they visit on Saturday).

#9) Utah - 23 - 10
They have a good chance of playing in a BCS game with two Top 25 teams in their conference, and playing both of them in the next 3 weeks.

#10) Boise State - 22 - NR
A big win over New Mexico State keeps their "BCS Buster" status alive and well.

Others Receiving Votes: Georgia 3, Ball State 1, Missouri 1, Ohio State 1

There you have it. A pretty clear delineation between the Top 10 and the rest of the teams. I like it when we all agree, don't you? If you see anything that you think is out of whack, add a comment and let us know what and why!

Finally today it's time for my 2008 College Football Picks: Week 11. It keeps getting more and more difficult to find lines that I feel give the bettor an advantage. Let's face it, Vegas knows what they're doing. But I think I've found 4 games I'm reasonably confident in, so allow me to lay out my arguments for you.

As always, were recreational gaming legal and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be wagering on:

Florida State -5.5 vs. Clemson (2:30pm): The Seminoles are 6-2 (3-2). The Tigers are 4-4 (2-3).

I'm going slightly against the grain here. Clemson upset Boston College last week 27-21, while Florida State was upset by Georgia Tech 31-28.

So why am I picking the Seminoles to win by close to a touchdown here? Simple. I don't think Clemson's as good as they showed last week, and I think Florida State's better than they showed last week.

Throw in the fact that the 'Noles are at home, and I'm picking Florida State. Bobby, if you don't bring this one home for me, I want some Free Shoes at least!

Next...

Alabama -3 @ LSU (2:30pm): The Crimson Tide are 9-0 (5-0). The Tigers are 6-2 (3-2).

This game will probably be 'Bama's toughest test prior to the SEC Championship game, where they'd likely play Florida.

LSU got back on track last week against Tulane after getting whipped by Georgia the week prior. But it's pretty clear that this isn't the same Tiger team that won last year's National Championship.

Alabama destroyed Arkansas State last week, failing to fall victim to the "look-ahead" trap. 'Bama's not putting up impressive totals against their better competition, but they just keep winning. And I don't think that changes here.

We'll give the 3 and keep picking the Tide!

Thirdly...

West Virginia -6.5 vs. Cincinnati (6pm): The Mountaineers are 6-2 (3-0). The Bearcats are 6-2 (2-1).

West Virginia might be the best BCS team that nobody's talking about. Winners of their last 5 in a row, they've rebounded nicely from a couple of tough losses to East Carolina and Colorado on the road.

Cincinnati isn't bad either. They've won 5 of their last 6.

So what do we say when two teams are fairly evenly matched? Take the home team!

I'm giving the touchdown-plus here and rooting for Bill Stewart who seems like a genuinely good guy.

Finally...

Texas Tech -3.5 vs. Oklahoma State (7pm): The Red Raiders are 9-0 (5-0). The Cowboys are 8-1 (4-1). *This is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

I've been wrong on Texas Tech all year. So perhaps you want to bet the house on Oklahoma St. +3.5. But I'm going with the Red Raiders here.

Don't get me wrong. I still contend that if last week's game was in Austin instead of Lubbock, the outcome very likely would've been different. And I'm with the voter who said that he thought that Tech would lose at least one game this year. But I think that loss comes next week at Oklahoma.

This week I think the Harrell-to-Crabtree connection gets it done again and they beat the Cowboys by a touchdown at least.

So we'll give the 3.5 and cheer for Tech for once!

There are my picks for this week. Agree? Disagree? Make yourself heard! Before Saturday's games preferably!

And I think that might wrap things up for the week actually. I've been wracking my brain trying to find something for tomorrow, and so far, nothing doing. So I'll bid you a fond farewell until Monday when I return to break down how the picks turned out. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Brewster to Tennessee?! & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Everybody take a breath. It's finally over. No more ads. No more stump speeches. No more debates. At least not until the 2012 cycles starts in about 6 months or so.

Setting the politics of it aside, last night was a truly remarkable moment in American history. 138 years ago, the legal barriers to federal voting rights for people of color were dismantled. Last night the promise of the 15th amendment to the Constitution was finally realized.

As someone who's read extensively on the Civil War and the myriad of ways in which it, as well as it's aftermath, shaped and molded the country we know today, it makes me wonder if 150 years from now, people will be reading and studying this election in similar ways.

Yes, I'm a history-geek. I can't help it.

That's all I'll say about the election here, however. Onto the wonderful world of sports. Today, I have to comment about a rumor that's surfaced with the opening that was created at the University of Tennessee after head football coach Phil Fulmer's resignation. Then it's this week's edition of the DFTU.

Onward!

"Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."
- E.B. White (1899-1985), American author


So yeah, I could explain how I make The Sports Take so damned entertaining, but all you'd really end up with is a handful of frog guts!

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First of all today, I need to address a rumor that's surfaced relative to the Tennessee football coaching vacancy.

Tim Brewster?! Are you freaking kidding me?!

I know the Gophers are having a tremendous (copyright Tim Brewster) season and all, but two years in the Big Ten with a combined record of 8-13? Somebody thinks that's a resume for a SEC head coaching job?! Really?!

I can almost understand the logic of it. Almost.

Phil Fulmer's calling card was his ability to recruit. So whomever Tennessee hires to replace him, had better be equally skilled at convincing young men to attend UT. Brewster clearly fills that mold. There's no question of Brewster's ability to sell it. Even as someone who's not a Gopher fan, I can't help but get a little fired up when I hear the man speak.

Fulmer's failing however, was his inability to coach-up the talent he recruited in recent years. And I can't possibly see how anyone could have come to a clear conclusion that Brewster is any better in that regard than Fulmer was.

The most common complaint about Brewster's hiring in Minnesota was his lack of experience. Not only had he never been a head coach, but he'd never even been a coordinator at any level. The jury is still firmly out on whether he really can succeed without having that kind of experience going in.

So please. For the sake of my friend Jon and Volunteer fans everywhere, let's just stop all this "Brewster to Tennessee" speculation before people actually start taking it seriously. Can we do that? Please?!

Finally today, it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 4-5 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten.

I discussed the "stomach-punch" loss to the Spartans on Monday. So I won't belabor that point here.

I will offer criticism of head coach Brett Bielema however. After RB John Clay had scored a touchdown on a 32-yard run, LB Jay Vilai was flagged for bumping into an official as Vilai ran onto the field.

It didn't appear to be an offense worth penalizing, but there could've been a back story that we're not aware of. It's possible the Badger sideline had been warned. It's possible that Vilai said something after bumping the official. There are any number of things that could've justified the flag.

What can't be justified was the head coach's reaction. Bielema sought an explanation from the official who threw the flag. There's nothing wrong with that. Coaches do that all the time. But after having been told by way of explanation that the official said his ability to do his job had been interfered with, Bielema lost his temper.

"I told him in my opinion, he wasn't really doing a good job."

That's Bielema's quote from the post-game press conference. I imagine the actual quote was slightly more colorful.

Now in the pantheon of college football coaching mistakes, this is hardly the most egregious. (Woody Hayes punching an opposing player was just a tad more offensive.) But it does demonstrate a potentially fatal flaw in Bielema's ability to coach his players.

All year long Badger fans have heard the coaching staff stress fundamentals, not making mistakes and accountability. Over and over, those terms have been used as both goals and explanations of failures.

But how can the coaching staff hold their players to a standard, when they fail at maintaining that standard themselves?

Bielema apologized to fans and to his team for his blunder. But in an otherwise lousy year, this sort of mistake is what kills a fan-base's confidence in a coach. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for Brett's head. I don't think we're anywhere near that point yet.

What I am saying is that if this kind of nonsense is part of a pattern, rather than an anomaly, the point where I start calling for his job will be drawing near.

The Badgers travel to face the Indiana Hoosiers at 11am central time on Saturday. This game's critical for Wisconsin's bowl chances. Wisconsin needs wins in two of their last three games to become bowl eligible. And to get to any kind of decent bowl game, they probably need to run the table. It's possible. I'm not sure it's probable. Can you tell I'm bummed about this season? Oof.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 7-3-1, with 15 points, and tied for first place in the Northwest division.

The Wild are 1-3 in the past week. The win came at Phoenix. The losses were at Dallas, versus Montreal and at San Jose. There's no shame in losing to the Sharks. They've been perennial Cup contenders over the last few years. And it pains me to say it, but Dallas is a pretty good club too. Being on the road for those to games doesn't help either.

But I am concerned that their injury status is starting to catch up with them. There's been a veritable parade of Wild players on and off the injury list during the first few weeks of this season. Marian Gaborik still isn't healthy enough to return. Not only does his injury rob the team of his skills on the ice, but it also prevents them from getting a decent return on the trading block. And now it looks like free agent acquisition Owan Nolan looks destined for a long stint in the press box.

If there's any good news for the Wild it's that after they wrap up this West Coast swing, they'll play 7 of their next 8 games in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center.

Yes, that's a reach, but I'm making it anyway!

The Wild travel to Denver to take on the Avalanche Thursday night at 8pm. That's followed by the final stop on their road trip in Vancouver Saturday night. Game time is 9pm central time. Those two games are followed by 4 days off before they host the Coyotes next Thursday night. Hopefully they can heal up a bit during that time off!

That's all for today folks. I'm back tomorrow with more college football goodness. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Week 10 Picks Post Mortem


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the start of the first full week without baseball. Yeah, I'm a little bummed about it, but I take heart in the fact that we're only three and a half months away from Spring Training!

Going into this past Saturday, there was a lot of talk about it being a rather mellow day in terms of Top 25 match-ups. Woops. It it was a crazy day in college football. So today I'll go over my picks from this past week and we'll see if I was crazy enough to pick them right! Off we go...

"The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously."
- Hubert H. Humphrey (1911-1978), 38th Vice President of the United States


Fortunately for me, my loyal readers take me completely seriously. Right? Right?!?!

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I've decided to refer to Week 10 of the college football season as "Stomach Punch Saturday". There were a number of punch-to-the-gut feeling losses this weekend. And unfortunately for me, I had a stake in 3 of them.

I didn't pick the Badger game this weekend, but as a Wisconsin fan, watching Michigan State drive down the field as Bucky's defense did it's best doormat impression was depressing. I really thought they had that game in hand, and then boom - defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Oof.

But the picks had a stomach-punch factor to them as well. Let's take a look!

Minnesota -7 vs. Northwestern: Final Score - Northwestern 24, Minnesota 17

It's not just that Minnesota lost a game that they really were supposed to win. It was how they lost it that provided the "stomach-punch" factor for this game.

Tied at 17 with time running out in the 4th quarter, the Gophers had the ball and were trying to put together a winning drive when out of nowhere, Gopher history rose up on their Homecoming day to bite them.

For those of you not familiar with Gopher football history, Minnesota has found more unique and ridiculous ways to lose games than any team in modern college football history.

Witness 2005 when all the Gophers had to do was execute a punt to beat Wisconsin at home. Instead the snap was dropped by the punter, who tried to get the kick off anyway, had it blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Badgers. (I was at that game. Nobody does "stunned silence" like a Gopher crowd.)

Or look at 2003 when an undefeated Gopher squad was dominating a solid Michigan team and managed to blow a 10 point lead with less than 3:30 remaining in the game.

And then there's the piece de resistance, the 2006 Insight Bowl, when the Gophers blew a 31-point 3rd quarter lead versus Texas Tech and lost in overtime 44-41, putting the final nail in head coach Glen Mason's coffin.

So with all that history, how did they try to top it on Saturday? On that final, fateful drive, Minnesota's All-Conference-worthy QB Adam Webber threw a pass to future NFL star (copyright Sid Hartman) WR Eric Decker. Decker's one of those guys who catches everything thrown his way. I mean everything. Except this particular pass. This time, the ball bounced off his hands, popped up in the air and was intercepted by Northwestern DB Brendan Smith, who then did his best "Steve Young running through the Viking defense" imitation as he returned the interception for a touchdown with less than :05 remaining in the game.

That ladies and gentleman, is a stomach-punch loss. Oof.

What Dan Learned: The Gophers are still the Gophers. Look, even though it was a crazy play that ended the game, the truth is if the Gophers were going to be a legitimate contender in the Big 10, this was a game they should've won. Yes, they're still 7-2, but with Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa still left on the schedule, a 10-win season seems far less likely than it did just a week ago. That being said, I'm still rooting for them whilst reminding Gopher fans that Wisconsin has won 11 out of the last 13 match-ups. Yes, Lon, it's still working!

Okay, so I started the day 0-1. But that's okay, God's team will come through for me right?

Notre Dame -4.5 vs. Pittsburgh: Final Score - Pittsburgh 36, ND 33, 4-OT

Dammit.

I have to admit, I didn't see much of this game. USA was running 3 Bond movies back-to-back ("Quantum of Solace" hits theaters November 14th!) followed by "The Bourne Identity", and I got sucked in. Couldn't be helped, honest!

I skimmed the recap and Notre Dame was covering with less than 3 minutes to go when they allowed Pitt to tie it up. The two teams then traded field goals through the first 3 overtimes until Pitt finally stopped the Irish in the 4th extra stanza.

Ugh... I'm glad I didn't watch it!

What Dan Learned: Pittsburgh's completely schizophrenic at this point. How you get worked by Rutgers at home and then go on the road and beat a decent Notre Dame team is beyond me. The Panthers are going on the list of teams that we're avoiding the rest of the year!

0-2 to start the day?! Not good. But I've got a stone-cold-lock and the #1 team in the nation left. I should get to .500 at least, right?

Alabama -23 vs. Arkansas State: Final Score - Alabama 35, Arkansas St. 0

This one had "Tide names their score" written all over it. And there was no way that Nick Saban was going to let his kids throw their helmets on the field and expect to win.

No, the Tide came to play and worked over Arkansas State, covering the spread by the 3rd quarter.

This wasn't on TV, but I think we can all imagine how it went.

What Dan Learned: Not much. Alabama's good. For some reason Vegas set this line too low. Sometimes they give us a gift. We're not above taking them!

Okay... 1-2, now all I need is Texas to come through!

Texas -4 @ Texas Tech: Final Score - Tech 39, Texas 33.
*This was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

Dammit.

This was probably the craziest game of the day. Tech got up early, but Texas QB Colt McCoy steadily brought his club back and scored a go-ahead touchdown with less than 2 minutes remaining in the ball game.

But unfortunately for me, this game turned out to be a "whoever has the ball last wins" game. And that turned out to be Tech.

Red Raider QB Graham Harrell had an incredible night. And he was never better than on that last drive as he expertly guided his club down the field, eventually connecting with all-world WR Michael Crabtree for the game-winning touchdown.

Yup, another "Stomach Punch" game if I've ever seen it!

Oh well, at least it was just the Flier Pick.

What Dan Learned: Texas is still really good. But I don't think there's a college team in America that could've survived the 4-game gauntlet that Texas just went through unscathed.

And okay, I was wrong about Tech. They're a damned good football team too. Though they're now in the midst of their own gauntlet as their reward for beating Texas is games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Have fun with that fellas!

So with the Flier Pick discount, I end up 1-2 on the week. Not cool, but it could've been worse. For the season, I'm now 22-15 (.595). Not shabby, but I want to break .650 for the year if possible. We shall see.

That's all I've got for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with a new DFTU for you! Until then, thanks for reading!