Friday

10-30-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Sorry this didn't get out at the usual time. I'd love to come up with some grandiose, dramatic excuse, but I've got nothing. I had (your) Friday (my Monday) off and meant to crank it out in the morning, but got distracted by Season 2 of Mad Men (still one of the 3 best shows on TV), and just plain spaced it.

Kudos to the Hammer for reminding me of it at the Wild game, or I'd probably have forgotten it all together!

Since it's late, I'll try to keep it short and sweet and hope you all have a good weekend.

Off we go...

”It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that.”
- G.H. Hardy (1877-1947), prominent English mathematician


Plus, it's just more interesting to go against the flow. If nothing else, it really annoys less intelligent people!

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All right folks. You've waited patiently all week. I'll make you wait no further.

It's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Wisconsin Badgers: After a bye week, the Badgers remain 5-2, 2-2 in the Big Ten. They're in a three-way tie for fifth place in the conference.

Consider this more of a preview than an update I guess. With the bye week, there's not much new going on.

But I will say this, this is a critical week for the 2009 Wisconsin campaign.

How can it be critical when they're facing a 3-5 team? I love it when you people ask questions that tee-up what I want to write about!

Wisconsin has lost their last two games straight. Starting with the Ohio State game, they've put forward two fairly poor offensive efforts. That needs to end tomorrow.

Last year after a tough loss against the Buckeyes, the team went on a death-spiral that you could argue they never game out of. That can't happen again.

Lessons should have been learned. Signals should have been identified. Progress should have been made.

They've had two weeks to prepare for a Purdue club that has looked threatening at times, yet downright pitiful most of the time. From poor play to questionable coaching, the Boilermakers are not a team that's demonstrated a consistent ability to compete with quality competition. Yes, they beat an Ohio State team that just whipped Wisconsin 3 weeks ago, but they also lost to a Minnesota team that Bucky beat on the road.

To put it simply, Wisconsin must win this game. And to inspire confidence in themselves, they need to do it in impressive fashion. If they just squeak by, or (God help them) if they lose, then they set themselves up for the spiral to continue, and we're looking at another seven-win season and a mediocre bowl game.

The biggest key in this game is turnovers. Wisconsin has been dreadful offensively the last two weeks, giving up the ball left and right. That has to stop. No fumbles. No interceptions. It just can't be tolerated against inferior competition.

Kickoff is at 11am. The game is on ESPN. Check your local listings...

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 4-9-0, which is good for 8 points and places them 5th in the Northwest Division.

Okay, it still hasn't been a good year for the Wild. They're still 0-for-8 on the road, and got their only regulation win of the year tonight against the Rangers.

(Aside: I attended the Ranger game courtesy of my friend Kelly and her season tickets. Amazing seats. Plus it was the night before Halloween, so there were plenty of costumes. My favorite of the night? The guy wearing a chicken costume with a Marian Gaborik jersey over it. Perfect!)

So why do I still have hope for this team? Is it craziness? Delusion? Alcohol? Did I get hit in the head by a stray puck perhaps?

Nope, none of the above. (Insert your own “delusion” joke here.)

It's just too early to freak out. There's still a long way to go before this team is going to be a playoff contender, but there are signs that they're headed in the right direction.

Peter Sykora picked up his play after being scratched by the coaching staff against Nashville on Wednesday. Anti Miettinen finally lit the lamp, getting the game-winner against the Rangers. Martin Havlat still disappears for stretches, but can create offense as suddenly as anyone on the team. And my goodness, even Derek Boogaard was coming up with offensive chances on Friday night. One of the beat writers was so surprised, he suggested the Wild might stop play and have a ceremony should Boogey actually bury one.

What was most encouraging, however, was to see the reduction in defensive mistakes. No, the game wasn't perfect. But only one of the Rangers two goals could really be blamed on a defensive mistake. I guarantee you that if you asked him, Niklas Backstrom would be the first to say that he should've stopped that second goal.

The Wild are somewhat limited in their forward talent, but their first line of Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen is solid, the second line of Havlat-Belanger-Sykora has potential and I really like what they're starting to develop in a third line of Clutterbuck-Brodziak-Kobasew (can I nominate “Kobe-Wan-Kenobi” for a nickname... anyone? Anyone?).

If the Wild can get a couple of those lines scoring consistently, while tightening up their transition game and reducing the turnovers in their own end, then maybe... just maybe... they can creep back into playoff contention.

We're 13 games into an 82 game season. And while I won't imply that there doesn't need to be some urgency, I'll be patient enough to let the transition work itself out. As long as they keep taking two steps forward for every step back, they'll get there eventually.

It's coming, Wild fans. It's coming.

Minnesota wraps up a busy stretch at Pittsburgh tomorrow night (not on WCCO thanks to Gopher Football... you can check it out on 107.5 FM, La Muera Buena... that's right, hockey on a Spanish Music station... what a concept?!). Then they're off til next Thursday when they return to the X to face the hated Vancouver Canucks. At this point, I plan on being in attendance. And if I see one of the Sedin twins in the press box, I'm dropping the gloves.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

So that'll do it for this week. I wish you all a Happy (and safe) Halloween. Remember, if the candy doesn't have a brand name, then that person's cheap - egg their house!

I'm kidding of course... mostly.

Until my triumphant Monday return (well, actually it'll be my Thursday... but I digress), thanks for reading!

Ed's Note: This blog was posted at 11:25pm, ergo, it still counts as being posted on Friday!

Wednesday

10-28-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 8 Post-Mortem and Week 9 Picks

Hello again everybody...

Happy Saturday... for me.

I'll admit that I put off writing today's column as long as I could. Last week's picks didn't go so well and I'm not terribly anxious to talk about them. Three straight poor-performing weeks has me in a bit of a college football funk.

But the way I've got it figured, the only way to get out of said slump is to keep battling my way through it. Give in? Never! More picks are headed your way.

Before we get to that however, there's the small issue of Game 1 of the World Series to address. CC Sabathia vs. Cliff Lee heads your way this evening (first pitch is scheduled for 6:57pm Central time, but with all the pregame festivities, I wouldn't count on it starting on time). If you've lost interest in baseball in recent years, or have just never been all that excited by it, I would encourage you to plop yourself down in front of the TV for a few innings tonight and give it a look. These two pitchers have both had outstanding post-seasons, and tonight's tilt has all the makings of a fantastic game.

Me? I'll be following as closely as I can from the Al Shaver Press Box at the Xcel Energy Center as the Minnesota Wild host the Nashville Predators.

What's that you say? If I think this is going to be such a great game, why am I going to see a seemingly meaningless hockey game over watching Game 1 of the World Series in all it's HD goodness from the comfort of my couch?!

I don't think I'll get much of an argument when I say: sports in person always outweighs sports on TV. And trust me, if you've never been in the Al Shaver Press Box, it's about as good a place to watch an event as you can be in.

Plus they've got big, flat-screen HDTV's in the press box, some of which, I'm sure, will be tuned to the baseball game. Between that and their complimentary WiFi connection, I'll be able to follow the game with no troubles. And meanwhile, I'll get to see a hockey game in person, compliments of the Wild media staff.

Trust me, I'll be just fine.

But as I promised, today's column is all college football from here on out. I don't want to do it... but here we go...

”About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.”
- Josh Billings (1818-1885), American humorist


I'll be the first to admit that many of my ideas are culled from writers whom I admire and enjoy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? I try to put my own spin on those ideas, but to claim much in the way of originality would be dishonest. And I never lie to my people!

Except when I'm making football picks apparently... oof.

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With that, it's time for...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 8 Post-Mortem

First, the games I looked at, but didn't pull the trigger on...

Arkansas +6 at Ole Miss: Final Score – Ole Miss 30, Arkansas 17
Good no-bet by me. I swear, the further the season goes along, the less predictable the SEC gets. Arkansas gave a great effort against Florida last week, but gets fairly well trounced by the Rebs this week. You go figure it... I sure can't.

And then...

Alabama -15 vs. Tennessee: Final Score: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10
This was actually a helluva game. And given Tennessee's defensive prowess as well as Alabama's good, but not great offense, this was probably a game where I should've pulled the trigger on the Volunteers. In fact, they had a shot to win it outright with a field goal in the closing seconds, but couldn't manage to block Terrance Cody, who blocked his second field goal of the day to save the victory for the Tide. On second thought, yeah, this was a good stay-away.

Unfortunately, the games I picked all should've been stay-aways too. Let's go ahead and look at them... *sigh*

First...

Minnesota +17.5 @ Ohio State: Final Score - Ohio state 38, Minnesota 7

Yet another blowout of the Gophers. You'd think after all these years, I'd stop enjoying that, but I just don't. I said it before, I really couldn't lose this game. And I didn't. Oh sure, it won't show up as a “win” when I tally my record. But to watch Minnesota stumble and bumble their way to another 30+ point loss? That's worth an “L” any day of the week!

What Dan Learned: Last year's habit of covering big spreads while still losing? Yeah, that's not working anymore. I'll give the Gophers enough credit to say that Penn State and Ohio State are tough teams to play, especially on the road. But wow, did Minnesota look pathetic. And now WR, Eric Decker is out for the season? Hmmm... I wonder if Minnesota might show up on the other end of the Week 9 picks?

0-1, but still determined to rally...

Next...

Nebraska -17.5 vs. Iowa State: Final Score - Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7

What the...?! But the “Good Luck Charm” bit was supposed to be in effect?! What the hell happened?! Sorry Cornhusker fans. I tried to hold up my end. I'd say it wasn't my fault, but the way my picks are going? Who knows what kind of reverse jinx I'm whammying teams with these days.

What Dan Learned: The “Official Nebraska Good Luck Charm” bit is dead... for 2009. Come on! You didn't think I was going to give up on it completely, did you?! Two straight weeks of Nebraska looking absolutely anemic offensively (including a reported 6 turnovers in this game... really? 6?!) has to have Husker fans in a tizzy. I gave you all the mojo I had folks. See you in 2010!

0-2, but I can still save this thing!

Thirdly...

Michigan +4.5 vs. Penn State: Final Score - Penn State 35, Michigan 10
* This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

So let me get this straight... Penn State can only muster 20 points against an increasingly awful Minnesota squad at home, but can drop 35 on Michigan on the road?!

The Wolverine defense is that bad? Really?

(You know I'm having a bad week, when my “really?” count is this high this early in the column.)

What Dan Learned: If the SEC has a number of mediocre teams, then the Big Ten is entirely populated by mediocre teams at this point. I have no clue what the hell is going on in this conference at this point. Naturally, this won't stop me from fake-wagering on it. But seriously... I've got nothing.

0-2 (thank you Flier Pick), and starting to doubt myself...

Finally...

Texas Tech -21.5 vs. Texas A&M: Final Score - A&M 52, Tech 30

Yep, that's about right.

When you're 0-for-the-day, and your last game has you giving 21.5 points, you know you're in trouble.

I had a feeling someone might score 50 in this game, but never in a million years did I think it was going to be A&M.

What Dan Learned: If you're going to give that many points, make sure it's either a mortal lock, or at least an early game. After whiffing three times, I KNEW this game was going to turn out poorly. It just puts a damper on your whole evening, you know?

Well, I promised you something other than 1-3, and boy did I ever deliver! Ugh. What can I say? 0-3 is definitely not 1-3. Though it wasn't exactly the change I had in mind!

But I take my whuppings like a man! 0-3 in Week 8 makes me 13-15 (.464) on the year. And I believe, puts me below .500 for the first time since 2007. Man, that blows.

There's nothing for it but to keep at it right! Maybe try to shake things up a little this week? Step outside the box, as it were?

We'll see as I bring you...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 9

First up, the games I looked at, but am passing on...

Wisconsin -7 vs. Purdue: Again, I want to believe. I really do. But I'm not going to put my fake money on the line just yet. Wisconsin has had two weeks to prepare for this game. I fully expect some trickeration involved in their offense. That being said, I don't trust them. And Purdue? They've beaten Ohio State and lost to Minnesota, so you go figure them out. I can't, ergo, I pass.

Florida -15 vs. Georgia (@ Jacksonville): They call it “The Worlds Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”. And with good reason. It's outdoors. And there are a lot of cocktails consumed prior to the game. Florida could really use a “breakout” game (who thought we'd be saying THAT about the #1 team in the country this late in the season) and Georgia's defense has been nothing short of awful this year. But 15 is a lot to give on a neutral field. And I'm going a different direction this week. I'll pass.

So what games am I picking?

Really? After the last three weeks you still want to know? God bless you people! Here you go then...

Were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on this week...

First...

Cincinnati -15 at Syracuse (11am, ESPNU): The Bearcats are 7-0 (3-0 in the Big East). The Orange are 3-4 (0-2 in the Big East).

Yep, I'm going to willfully start violating some of those 20 Maxims I threw at you at the beginning of the year. Hey, if you're going to change things up, then for heaven's sake, change them up!

Cincinnati is the odds-on favorite to represent the Big East in the BCS this season, and deservedly so. They haven't scored fewer than 28 points this season, including dropping 34 on the Bulls at South Florida and 47 on the Scarlet Knights at Rutgers.

The Orange have struggled this year. Their sole win of note came at home versus Northwestern, and they barely squeaked that one out. Against decent defenses, they've barely scratched their way into the teens.

I look for Cincy to drop the hammer early, and not let up. I'll give the 15 and see what the Big East can do for me this week.

Next...

TCU -35.5 vs. UNLV (3pm, Versus): The Horned Frogs are 7-0 (3-0 in the Mountain West). The Rebels are 3-5 (1-3 in the Mountain West).

Notice a pattern yet? I'm going with the lesser-known undefeateds so far.

Not only is TCU good, they're damned good. Remember Week 1 when BYU upset Oklahoma? Well TCU dropped a 38-7 shellacking on those same Cougars last week - on the road. Prior to that, they pounded Colorado State 44-6 at home.

Now they return to the friendly confines of Amon G. Carter Stadium to face a UNLV squad that can barely get out of it's own way. The same BYU team that TCU just walloped beat UNLV 59-21 three weeks ago.

That's enough for me. I know I bemoaned giving 21.5 earlier... but I made sure I had another two more games coming before I gave 35.5 this week!

Unconventionality? Thy name is moi!

Thirdly...

South Carolina +6 at Tennessee (6:45pm, ESPN): The Gamecocks are 6-2 (3-2 in the SEC). The Volunteers are 3-4 (1-3 in the SEC).
*- This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Back to my old ways again? Not exactly.

I'm keeping this one simple. This game pits two strong defenses against each other. If you're getting nearly a touchdown in a game like that, you take the points.

Done. Fin. The End.

(Sorry again, Jon. I do seem to keep picking against you. It's nothing personal, I swear.)

Finally...

Michigan State -3.5 at Minnesota (7pm, Big Ten Network): The Spartans are 4-4 (3-2 in the Big Ten). The Golden Gophers are 4-4 (2-3 in the Big Ten).

Michigan State is coming off a heartbreaking loss versus Iowa. Minnesota is coming off two crushing defeats on the road.

So what's the deciding factor here? Minnesota has averaged 3.5 points in their last two games. And now they've lost their All-Conference WR, Eric Decker. Michigan State was on a roll and nearly upset the #4 team in the nation.

And I only have to give the Gophers 3.5 in this game? Sounds good to me!

So there you have them ladies and gentlemen. Four more picks for you to bet heavily against. And the way I've been going lately, I'm not sure I'm kidding when I say that.

But I'm bound to break out of this slump sometime, right?! Please?! Good lord, I'm begging here!

So tune in Saturday (yours, not mine) and we'll see what happens!

That's all for today. I'll be back on Friday with the usual DFTU nonsense, as well as some World Series thoughts.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

10-26-09: Monday Notes

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another week. And what a special week it is. That's right, this week begins that annual Fall tradition, the most storied championship in professional sports history: the World Series.

The Phillies won the NL Pennant last week and the Yankees won the AL Pennant last night. The Fall Classic commences Wednesday night. I'll talk about it.

But that won't be the only note today, as one of my sports pet peeves was brought to the fore again yesterday, and I feel the need to vent. Prepare yourselves.

All that and whatever else I can think of between now and the end of my writing...

Let's do this!

”Always be nice to those younger than you, because they are the ones who will be writing about you.”
- Cyril Connolly (1903 – 1974), English intellectual, literary critic and writer.


No, I didn't pick this quote solely based on the fact that he died the same year that I was born (though that did catch my eye). Instead I chose it as a dedication to one of my co-workers who had a rough time yesterday with a certain nameless, octogenarian newspaper scribe who ought to know better at this point in his existence.

But I digress...

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Because it's time for...

Monday Notes

Yankees v. Phillies... and this one ought to be a doozy.

The last time these two clubs met for the title, Casey Stengel and Eddie Sawyer were the managers, Jackie Robinson had signed the largest contract in Dodger history ($35,000) and Joe McCarthy was chasing Communists (real or imagined) in the State Department.

The Yankees have been nothing short of brilliant in this post-season. They've had dominant starting pitching from CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite. They've had clutch hitting from Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon. And of course, looming as it seems he has for ages, there's Mariano Rivera, always ready to put the nail in the coffin.

The Phillies are the defending World Champions. And they seem focused and determined to do just that: defend their Championship. Cliff Lee has been outstanding on the mound for the Phills. Ryan Howard has matched or surpassed any clutchness (yes, that's a term... because I said so) that the Yankees have displayed. And though he's no Mo Rivera, Brad Lidge has shut the door enough times to have earned some confidence headed into the Series.

So who's going to win?

I honestly have no idea. And that's what's got me so excited. This has the potential to be one of those special Series that we'll still be talking about 10 years from now.

It's been a long time since we've had a classic battle in the World Series. You really have to go back to 2001 and 2002 when we had two seven-gamers back-to-back. In 2001 the Arizona Diamondbacks, behind Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, knocked off the Yankees in seven. In 2002 it was the Angels turn to win a Game 7 as they defeated the San Francisco Giants.

But in the last 6 Series, only once has it gone beyond five games, and three of them have been sweeps. So to put it mildly, we're due for something special.

And it's my earnest hope that these two clubs won't disappoint.

Game 1 is Wednesday night. CC Sabathia takes the hill for the Bombers. Cliff Lee is his opposite for the Phillies. Fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen, this ought to be fun!

Next, it's rant time...

Can we please stop blaming officials for Minnesota losses... please folks, this is getting embarrassing.

First I had to hear it from Twins fans...

”If that stupid ump had gotten the call right on what should've been a double for Mauer, the whole ALDS would've been different..."

And now I'm hearing it from Vikings fans...

”If the refs wouldn't have screwed up calling that tripping penalty, the Vikes would still be undefeated..."

Stop it... stop it... for the love of God, STOP IT! You're killing me people!

Unless your team played a perfect game, you can not blame officials for losses. You just can't.

Yes, the umpire got the call on Mauer's hit wrong. No question. No debate. He screwed the pooch. But that's not what cost the Twins the game.

That hit came in the top of the 11th. The Twins had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the 9th, but their All-Star closer couldn't hold it. If he does his job, Mauer's at-bat never happens.

More than that, even after that call got FUBAR'd, the Twins still managed to load the bases with nobody out and NOT score a single run. If any of three batters did their job, the call wouldn't have mattered.

When you have four situations where you have enormous influence and yet fail to execute each time, you can't pin the loss on one blown call by an umpire.

You just can't.

Yes, that tripping call on Jeff Dugan probably shouldn't have been flagged. Yes, there were other calls by the officials in the Vikings/Steelers game that were questionable at best. But no, the referees did not lose that game for the Vikings.

When you give up two separate fumble returns for touchdowns, you can't blame the officials for that loss. Even if one of those fumbles occurred after the phantom tripping penalty.

So what? So you got screwed by a call? The Vikings are the only team in football to have bad calls at critical points in games? I don't think so.

They still had the ball deep in Steeler territory. They still had a fantastic opportunity to put points on the board. And they failed. Not only did they fail, but they failed so spectacularly, that they gave the Steelers more points than they deserved.

That's not the officials fault. Just because the official created a situation where that could happen doesn't mean it was fated to happen. The Vikings still had control over what they did with the ball subsequent to the lousy call. And they blew it. They choked. They gacked it up.

Sorry folks, that's not on the Stripes, that's on the Vikes O-Line. If fans want to point fingers, they should start with the 5 beefy guys up front.

I guess it's a fundamental difference in personalities. When stuff goes wrong for me, the first thing I do is try to figure out if or how I eff'd up. Call me a control freak, that's just what I do.

People who want to blame officials for losses are, in essence, trying to find someone else to point the finger at when something goes wrong. "It can't have been my team's fault, it must be the poor officiating!"

I'm not saying that it makes me better than them, just more realistic. When I figure out how to be perfect, then I can start expecting other people to be. Until then, I'll worry about the stuff I screwed up and not try to blame others for my troubles.

But that's just me...

Finally...

I'm still not adjusted to the new schedule... and I'm still not sure I even like it.

But I did discover one small advantage.

All of my shifts are still 1-9pm, which for a night-owl such as myself, is nothing but a good thing. But the two weekend shifts are different enough from the weekday shifts, that it breaks up my work week in such a way that it seems to go by a little more quickly.

If you do 8 hours of the same thing, time seems to go more slowly than if you do a few hours of this and a few hours of that. This is much the same thing. The differences on Saturday and Sunday make those shifts feel something apart from Friday, Monday and Tuesday, hence the week seems to go by a little quicker.

I know that may be a stretch, but at this point, I'm trying to find any way I can to stay positive about this. Because if I don't, then I'll have to live with the reality of a crappy schedule, and I'm not ready to give in to that yet.

And you all thought I was a cynical so-and-so!

Well, you're still probably right about that. But I'm trying!

That's going to do it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with the usual slate of college football madness.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

10-23-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We made it through another week. I'm not fully adjusted to the new schedule yet, but I promised myself I wouldn't bitch about it again... at least not until next week!

Nope, today's going to be short, sweet and to the point. All the DFTU you can stomach as we head into another weekend.

So let's get to it shall we?

”Get the facts, or the facts will get you. And when you get them, get them right, or they will get you wrong.”
Dr. Thomas Fuller (1654 – 1734), British physician, preacher, and intellectual.


The other strategy would be to be as vague as possible. If you include few facts, it's far more difficult to get them wrong!

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Speaking of which, it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 5-2 (2-2 in the Big Ten) and in 5th place in the conference.

Oh what a difference a couple of weeks can make. The Badgers were 5-0 and riding high headed into Columbus, Ohio. After a debacle in the horseshoe they came home at 5-1 to face the undefeated Hawkeyes. One home-field melt-down later, they now stand at 5-2 and at .500 in conference play.

So did I over-estimate their talent after the first 5 weeks? Or has something changed? Perhaps it's a bit of both.

While the defense had clearly improved, it still has its “feast or famine” tendencies. They make a lot of big plays, but surrender nearly as many to opposing offenses.

As for Wisconsin's offense, just when they got the running game figured out, their passing game has fallen off the map. Junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, who was one of the offensive stars in the first five weeks, has turned into the biggest question mark on the team at this point.

In his first five weeks he threw nine touchdown passes to only three interceptions. In the past two weeks he's thrown zero touchdowns and five interceptions. Maybe opposing defensive coordinators have found a weakness. Maybe they've found ways to disguise coverages and confuse him. Either way, his confidence has to be close to being shot. And that's a problem.

It's a problem made all the more complicated by the fact that freshman Curt Phillips is waiting in the wings, ready for his shot. I've yet to see enough indications to lead me to believe it's coming soon. But another lousy game from Tolzien, and it will be coming. In fact, given that the Badgers have this weekend off, it won't surprise me a bit to see Phillips worked into the offense for the Indiana game on the 31st.

The Hoosiers are only a couple of wins away from bowl eligibility, and aren't their usual pushover selves (just ask Michigan). With the game being on the road, it'll be an even larger challenge for the Badgers.

Two weeks of preparation is a luxury in college football. Here's to hoping the Badgers are able to take full advantage of it.

This week, they take on that vaunted opponent “Bye”. The only weekend that results in neither a win, nor a loss. Rest up, boys. It's time to stop the slide!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 2-6-0, good for 4 points and in last place in the Northwest division.

Let's see... something good to say... the Wild are undefeated both at home and in their new 3rd jerseys! How about that?

By the way, if you haven't seen the new sweaters yet, you can do so here. I don't own one yet, but I'm a fan.

It was a disastrous road trip, no doubt. But it's over, and the Wild managed to defeat an up and coming Colorado squad at home in a shootout.

I went to the game Wednesday night, and I can tell you first hand that while the new system isn't “there” yet, there are signs that it's coming. I'd love to tell you that it'll be here soon enough to give the Wild a legitimate shot a the playoffs, but it's still too early to tell.

The first period had me asking cohorts where that energy had been all year. The boys came out skating hard and turned that into numerous power play chances. Unfortunately they were only able to convert on one of them. But even that one goal was a good sign because it came off the stick of one Brent Burns, who's confidence needs all the assistance it can get at the moment.

The second period was just the opposite. The Wild were on their heels, not skating with nearly the same intensity or urgency that they had in the first. And it showed on the scoreboard as Colorado out-shot them 18 to 4, and out-scored them 2 to 0.

The third period didn't start a whole lot better as Colorado came out buzzing again. But Wild goalie Nick Backstrom shut the door on several chances and the Wild finally made their comeback with about five minutes remaining in regulation.

It was remarkable to see that goal flip the switch on the crowd's energy. What had been a murmuring, docile X crowd, turned noisy and rambunctious with the mere lighting of a red lamp.

Thankfully, that energy never wavered after that, and the Wild were able to pull out the win in the shootout. It was quite the game for new captain Mikko Koivu who had a goal, and assist and the lone shootout marker to give the Wild only their second win.

Now the Wild face yet another challenge as they play three games in the span of four days, two of them on the road. Tonight, they're at St. Louis. Tomorrow it's back home to face the Carolina Hurricanes. Then on Monday, they head to Chicago to face the hated Blackhawks (sorry Dave... but they are hated).

I make no predictions when it comes to hockey, folks. This team can look fantastic one minute and downright lousy the next. Which, I guess is what you have to expect when you're making the transition that they are.

All I ask is to see more progress in the coming week. Even if there are the occasional steps back, as long as they keep taking more steps forward, eventually they'll get there.

That's all for today. Hope you all have a fantastic weekend. I'll be back on Monday with what should be a World Series preview (unless something more remarkable happens over the weekend).

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

10-21-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 7 Post-Mortem & Week 8 Picks

Hello again everybody...

It's your Wednesday... It's my Saturday... I'm sure you're all wonderfully tired of me whining about my new work schedule.

I'd love to stop. Really, I would. But every time I start writing, I have to pause and make sure I know what day it actually is versus what day my body clock thinks it is.

I'm adjusting... slowly, but I'm adjusting.

Today's column is about college football, but I wanted to say a quick word about baseball before we start. The Yankees are up 3-1. The Phillies are up 3-1. Can you say “over in 5”? I thought you could.

Unfortunately, the brain-wizards that run Major League Baseball refuse to start the World Series until a week from today. So if both LCS's are done by tomorrow, then we've still got to sit on our hands for six days until the Fall Classic starts.

Well done, MLB. Well done.

Speaking of sarcastic “well done's”, it's time for some college football picks.

Off we go!

"We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?”
- Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963), French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright, artist and filmmaker.


Boxing manager? Really? Which one of these is not like the other, eh?

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2009 College Football Picks: Week 7 Post Mortem

Last week I was a dismal 1-3. Time to pick myself up, dust myself off and get back on track!

But before we see how I did, how about those games I looked at, but didn't pick?

Wisconsin -2.5 vs. Iowa: Final Score – Iowa 20, Wisconsin 10
Yup, a good “stay away” by me. I wanted to believe that the Badgers would bounce back at home from the previous week's road debacle, but it was not to be. They survived their fumbling problems early in the year, but they haven't been able to get over quarterback Scott Tolzien's recent interception problems. Let the “play Curt Phillips” talk begin! Ugh.

Nebraska -11 vs. Texas Tech: Final Score – Texas Tech 31, Nebraska 10
Sorry Husker Nation, but I knew this one smelled funny when I saw it. Of course, I had no idea that giving you 11 points wouldn't be enough to cover. I think I'll make it up to you this week.

But that's later. First we have to break down the games I did pick!

First...

Texas -3.5 vs. Oklahoma: Final Score – Texas 16, Oklahoma 13

Oh that blasted half-point! It'll break your heart every time!

Okay, maybe not every time, but at times like these, you wish it wasn't a part of the recreational gaming menu. Alas, it is and it cost me here.

This game was ugly. Sam Bradford got hurt early and Colt McCoy could never sustain any offense for the Longhorns.

What Dan Learned: Just because two teams lit up a scoreboard last year, doesn't mean they'll repeat that this year. I liked the line because I thought this was going to be a game of touchdowns, not field goals. Obviously, I was mistaken. This is a recording.

0-1, but not inclined to give up!

Next...

Minnesota +16.5 @ Penn State: Final Score – Penn State 20, Minnesota 0

When the Gophers get shut-out, does anybody really lose? I say no.

I was actually 1 pesky yard away from covering in this game. Unfortunately, Minnesota's lost the art of rushing the football. That's okay Coach Brew, it's not like it's been around longer than the forward pass or anything! Just because you took a team that used to regularly rush for 300+ yards and now have them in a state where they barely rush for 30, that doesn't mean you have a problem!

Just keep on keepin' on Coach! The Axe will stay in Wisconsin for 60 more years at this rate.

What Dan Learned: The Big Ten sucks. It pains me to say it, but it just does. In the past few years the conference has taken a lot of heat, but at least they've had one or two great teams (Ohio State, Penn State, and if you go far enough back, Michigan). But this year? Not a one. Sure, Iowa is 7-0, but does anybody think they're really a Top 10 program? I've seen nearly every Big Ten team play this year, and they all have serious flaws. If USC ends up back in the Rose Bowl, then whichever Big Ten team backs into the conference title is in for a serious whipping.

0-2 and feeling my confidence wane.

Thirdly...

Indiana +2 vs. Illinois: Final Score – Indiana 27, Illinois 14
(*) This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

You want further evidence of how bad the Big Ten's become? I give you the Illinois Fighting Illini. (Pronounced by a former WCCO host as “ill-LEE-nee”... oof.)

A couple of years ago, Illinois was contending for a league title and playing in the Rose Bowl. Now? They're 1-5 and without a win over a FBS team. So what's the over/under on the length of time until they run Ron Zook out of town? 3 weeks? Or maybe the end of the season?

And don't look now, but two more wins make the Hoosiers bowl-eligible. The rest of their schedule isn't easy, but wins against Northwestern and the ever-volatile Purdue would do the trick.

What Dan Learned: I promised to purchase a Mellencamp album if I won this one. Any suggestions? I'll tell you right now, there's no way I'm buying anything with that damned “Our Country” song on it. I still haven't managed to scrub that tune from my brain, and don't think I haven't tried!

1-2 and on the comeback trail!

Finally...

Alabama -17 vs. South Carolina: Final Score – Alabama 20, South Carolina 6

A week of near misses I tell you! One lousy field goal gets me a push.

I said the only teams worth considering in the SEC anymore are the Gators and the Tide. Well, neither one of them managed to cover this week, so I guess that theory's out!

I underestimated the Gamecocks defense. Or perhaps I over-estimated Alabama's offense. Or maybe Nick Saban knew to do just enough to win.

At this point, I'm not sure I know anything about college football anymore!

What Dan Learned: Nothing. I have no clue what's going on. Honestly. Two weeks of 1-3?! That's just wrong.

*sigh*

Two straight weeks of 1-3 leaves me 13-12 (.520) on the year. Suddenly, I'm below the “making money” threshold. And I'm not the least bit happy about it. No-sir-ee.

So I can either throw in the towel, or keep grinding away. Which shall I choose?

Well it would make for a helluva boring blog if I just gave up! So grind away it is!

With that, I give you...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 8

First up, games I looked at, but decided to stay away from:

Arkansas +6 at Ole Miss : Let me get this straight. The Razorbacks put a scare into the defending National Champions, and they're 6-point dogs against a stumbling Rebel squad? This is certainly a “Why are these guys favored” game. I'm 0-for-2 in those games this year. So I pass.

Alabama -15 vs. Tennessee: If I knew which Volunteer team was going to show up, I could actually make a pick in this game. Unfortunately, Tennessee is WAY too volatile to pick for or against. I fully expect the Tide to win this game. I just can't afford to give 15. Good luck Jon!

So which games am I picking? You keep asking that!

Were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I 'd be betting on...

First...

Minnesota +17.5 @ Ohio State (11am, ESPN/ESPN2): The Golden Gophers are 4-3 (2-2 in the Big Ten). The Buckeyes are 5-2 (3-1 in the Big Ten).

Right theory. Wrong week. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Ohio State isn't that good. Their defense is tough, and they've got some speed on special teams. But that offense? Oof. If the Gopher defense staff sees the same tape I do, then they'll stack the line against the Buckeyes and force quarterback Terrelle Pryor to beat them passing.

Ohio State will win, but it'll be closer than the odds-makers think.

I know, I know. I said the same thing last week.

The hell with it! I'm giving the “I can't lose” theory one more week! I'll take the 17.5 and hope the Gopher defense is as improved as it seems to be.

Next...

Nebraska -17.5 vs. Iowa State (11:30am, Fox Sports Net Regional): The Cornhuskers are 4-2 (1-1 in the Big 12). The Cyclones are 4-3 (1-2 in the Big 12).

I know I left Husker Nation hanging last week. But I promised earlier in the column that I'd make it up to you. And here I am. Your personal “Good Luck Charm”. Back and better than ever!

Iowa State gives up points like the Heene family gives up balloons. (What, too soon?)

Nebraska's pissed after a poor showing against Texas Tech.

Add that up? I say blowout.

Come on Nebraska! Are you with me? I think you are!

We'll give the 17.5 and blow the Cyclones out of town!

Thirdly...

Michigan +4.5 vs. Penn State (2:30pm, ESPN): The Wolverines are 5-2 (1-2 in the Big Ten). The Nittany Lions are 6-1 (2-1 in the Big Ten).
*This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

I know this looks like a stretch, but I've got a feeling.

Anytime you give points to a home team, that's tempting. Especially when they can score the way Michigan can.

Penn State is coming off a shut-out win over Minnesota to be sure, but I'm telling you, I wasn't that impressed. This smells like a game that could sneak up and bite them.

Plus, you have to figure they're eying Ohio State in a couple of weeks as their next true test.

Hammer, this one's for you! We'll take the 4.5 and Hail the Victors!

(After typing that, I will now go paper cut each of my fingers and soak them in lemon juice.)

Finally...

Texas Tech -21.5 vs. Texas A&M (6pm, No TV): The Red Raiders are 5-2 (2-1 in the Big 12). The Aggies are 3-3 (0-2 in the big 12).

Will someone please end the Mike Sherman era in College Station already?! How much more evidence do you need that this is not working? Somewhere Bear Bryant is looking down and hoping that no one remembers he ever coached there.

Oof.

Texas Tech just rung Nebraska's bell for 31 points. They should be able to put up that and then some against a pathetic Aggie defense, right?

In fact if the wager was “Tech margin of victory” vs. “A&M total points”, you'd have to go with Tech, right?

21.5 is a lot to give, but if you can't give it in this game, I'm not sure what game you can give it in.

So there are your four selections for this week. I'm going to boldly predict... something other than a 1-3 week!

How's that for laying it on the line?!

As always, comments, questions, quibbles, queries and complaints are always appreciated!

That's it for today. I'm back on (your) Friday (my Monday) with your week-ending DFTU and quite possibly a World Series Preview? Or perhaps that would wait til Monday (my Thursday) since no matter what, Game 1 won't be til Wednesday (my Saturday). Clear enough? I thought so.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

10-19-09: Weekend Notes

Hello again everybody...

Time to crank up another week... sort of. I'm still trying to adjust to this new schedule. Working the weekend wasn't completely awful. But I can't exactly call it fun either. And now it's Monday, but for me it's Thursday, and that means there's still some serious discombobulation to deal with.

Is that even a word? “Discombobulation”?! Apparently it is since my spell checker isn't vomiting it back at me. Nice!

Personal struggles aside, there's plenty to talk about. NHL, ALCS and NLCS... oh my!

Let's get to it then, shall we?

Wait, first there's one more think I have to do...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARK!

That's right, today is my dear brother's 33rd birthday. But I swear, he doesn't look a day beyond 22 - well, okay, there's those gray patches on his temples... and that thinning patch in back that he doesn't admit is there... but other than that, 22 I say! 22! And, of course, I say that with love!

All the best to my brother on his special day!

”No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you'll see why.”
Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983), American journalist and author


I love a good snarky quote don't you? Especially since they all seem to contain a kernel of truth. Are you listening? Hello? Anybody?

Right... moving on.

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Weekend Notes...

It's way too early to panic... Wild fans, are you listening?

One of my favorite quotes from everybody's favorite Sports Take guest-columnist, the Hammer. And for Wild fans, it's quite timely.

No question, it was a disaster of a road trip as the Wild went 0-5 on their west coast swing.

0-5. Oof.

It hurts just to type it. Did they ever go 0-5 under Jacques Lemaire? I assume the did at some point, but it had to be a rarity.

And that's the whole problem. Wild fans have no other frame of reference than “under Jacques Lemaire”. Unfortunately, trying to compare what's happening now to what happened “under Jacques Lemaire” isn't fair.

New coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher are trying to completely overhaul what was done here under the previous regime. Not that what Wild fans were used to was “bad” per se. But the new owner wants a new system, and what the Wild are going through now is the process that has to take place to get there.

I admit. I'm not enjoying it. Seeing your favorite team make multiple defensive mistakes and hang an All-Star goaltender out to dry isn't fun. Seeing your first line combine for a -17 is unpleasant. And trying to stay positive through an 0-5 road trip is downright headache-inducing.

But, as the Hammer would point out, it's way too early to panic.

Anyone who expected this process to occur without some growing pains wasn't being sensible. This was going to take time. And if you're going to go through a stretch like this, better to get it out of the way early on when you still have time to get on a roll and compete for a playoff spot.

I'm not saying the Wild will make the playoffs. Given the transition they're trying to make, the odds are against them. But I'm not saying they won't either.

And it's not like the front office is throwing in the towel. Beset by injuries to some of their best players, last night GM Chuck Fletcher completed a trade with the Boston Bruins for RW Chuck Kobasew.

In exchange they sent Craig Weller, the rights to last year's 4th round pick and a 2nd round pick in 2011 to Boston. Weller was buried in Houston and a virtual non-factor, and with the 2nd round pick coming in '11, that gives Fletcher time to replace it via another trade.

Kobasew's signed through next year, so it's not like it was a move made only for the present, but he's not a work in progress either. A 20-goal scorer three of the last four years, he's a guy who's being brought in to help right now as well.

Yes, 1-5 sucks. But there are 76 games left to be played. We've got to maintain some perspective here.

Next...

The Yankees are going to win it all... I wish I was kidding.

Look, I hate the Yankees as much as anybody else. Especially since they knocked my favorite team out of the playoffs.

But I'm also a fan of baseball, which means I'm not blinded by my loyalty. And as a fan of the game, I recognize that when you're winning games the way the Yankees are winning games, you've got a better than average chance to take home the big hunk o' hardware.

The Yankees have intimidated their opponents into making all kinds of mistakes they don't regularly make.

Witness Nick Punto making a base-running error he rarely makes in the Twins series. Or any number of pitchers making mistakes to Alex Rodriguez when they're ahead in the count. In the past, they could get away with that. This year? A-Roid's been as clutch as Yankee fans have a right to expect.

And then Saturday night, the usually reliable Cesar Izturis tries to do too much with a routine ground ball and commits an error leading to the winning run for New York.

Perhaps that's a better way to put it. The Yankees are so good right now that their opponents feel like they have to do more than they regularly would to win a game. That's a trap though. It's when you try to do to much, when you fail to stay within yourself, that you start making mistakes. And as we've seen, if you make mistakes against the Yankees, you're dead.

The Angels had every opportunity to win Game 2 and head home tied at one win apiece. Instead, they suffered a soul-crushing loss, and are heading home down 0-2 with the weight of the world on their shoulders. They know as well as anybody that if New York gets a win in Anaheim, the series is all but over.

It galls me to say it, but the Yankees are going to win this thing. I've spent the last two weeks trying to mollify myself with thoughts like, “David can't be David if Goliath doesn't win a few.”

It's not helping. Damned Yankees.

Finally...

Did you see the gem that Cliff Lee threw last night? I did. And if I could order up half-a-dozen more performances just like it between now and the end of the World Series, I'd be a happy baseball fan.

While I'm sure plenty of Phillies fans loved dropping 11 runs on the Dodgers and beating up their bullpen to take a 2-1 lead in the NLCS, baseball fans rejoiced to see as dominant a pitching performance as you're likely to see this post-season.

Lee threw 8 innings of 3-hit, shutout baseball, and if the bottom of the 8th hadn't gone so long, he'd have come back for the 9th to finish it off.

The term “chess match” has become all too much of a cliche in sports, but when you see the way a pitcher like Lee works over batters on a night like last night, it's apropos.

Each at-bat was a lesson in how the first pitch sets up the next, which sets up a third and so on and so forth. A pitcher approaching each hitter with a clear plan on how to attack him and executing it to near perfection.

When it works, it's a thing of beauty. When it doesn't, you get Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda's line: 1.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 1 SO. In case you were wondering, that computes to a 40.50 ERA.

Yikes.

I'm not as certain who'll win this series as I am the ALCS, but after the way Dodger skipper Joe Torre has had to use his bullpen in the first three games, I think the Phills are at a decided advantage.

That's as close as I'm willing to get to a call, because I don't want to put the whammy on them.

Why was I so willing to do it with the Yankees? Because they're the freaking Yankees. If they can't survive a Sports Take whammy, then they're not the juggernaut I think they are.

Plus, are any of you going to complain if I turn out to be wrong on that?

I didn't think so.

So that's going to do it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with all the college football you can stomach... and for those of you who kept track of my picks this past weekend, plenty you probably can't stomach as well.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

10-16-09: 2009 Baseball Awards & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

I'm all discombobulated today. For most of you, you're expecting a “welcome to the end of another week” type message. Only for me, this is technically my Monday. So I honestly have no idea what to say to you in that regard.

Thank the folks who crafted this wonderful new schedule...

(I'm trying to stay positive, honest. I didn't say I was going to be any good at it. But I'm trying.)

Moving on...

Since we've reached the LCS's, I figure it's time to bust out the Sports Take Baseball Awards. Who would I vote for if I got a say in the “Manager of the Year”, “Rookie of the Year”, “MVP” and “Cy Young” awards? Today you get to find out.

Plus, because it's Friday, you'll get your usual dosage of DFTU!

Let's get after it, shall we?

”I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't.”
W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), English playwright, novelist and short story writer


Words are a double-edged sword. Their intention can be perfectly clear to their author, and yet a reader can perceive an entirely different meaning.

Wait... did I just do a double-quote?!

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Time to hand out some hardware...

2009 Sports Take Baseball Awards

AL Rookie of the Year: Rick Porcello, P, Detroit Tigers
Honorable Mentions: Gordon Beckham, IF, Chicago White Sox; Ricky Romero, P, Toronto Blue Jays

Porcello (14-9, 3.96) was dominant out of the gate in 2009, but stumbled around the All-Star break. Not surprising for a rookie pitcher who has to get used to advance scouts preparing hitters for his stuff. What was uncommon about Porcello's campaign was his ability to adjust as a rookie and come back to pitch well down the stretch for a playoff contender.

Beckham (.270, 14, 63) had a good year on a mediocre ball club. Romero (13-9, 4.30) actually had more quality starts (15) than Porcello (11). But both of them played for mediocre ball clubs (and that might be generous). I like to reward the guys who put up numbers on contending teams, so Porcello gets the nod here.

NL Rookie of the Year: J.A. Happ, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Honorable Mentions: Tommy Hanson, P, Atlanta Braves; Chris Coghlan, OF, Florida Marlins

You can basically flip a coin between Happ (12-4, 2.93) and Hanson (11-4, 2.89) and not be wrong. Both put up outstanding numbers, and did so on clubs that were in contention for most of the season.

In the end, I give the nod to Happ because of the distractions he had to deal with in the form of the late-season addition of Pedro Martinez. A lot of rookies would've been rattled and seen a drop off in their performance after that drama. Not Happ. He hung in there and did everything manager Charlie Manuel asked and then some.

Coghlan was the best hitter in the NL after the All-Star break and looks like another fantastic young talent for the Marlins. Which basically means he'll be a Yankee in three or four years, right?

AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins
Honorable Mentions: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels; Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

I'm going against the grain on this one. I fully expect Scioscia to win the award. And there's certainly an argument to be made in his favor. When a team loses a player (Nick Adenhart) in a tragic accident early in its season, and responds with a 97-win season, that's evidence of some serious leadership.

But I'm giving my vote to Gardenhire. Because when you lose a former MVP (Morneau), your best pitcher in the first half (Slowey), and your biggest free-agent signing (Crede), and still go 17-for-21 down the stretch, win a Game 163 and make the playoffs? You deserve some recognition. Besides, Gardy's gotten screwed out of this award twice. In 2003, he should have beaten out Tony Pena. And in 2004, he got jobbed by Buck Showalter. But I guess when you guide a crappy team to a 3rd place finish, you get some hardware. Oh, and by the way, neither of those guys is still managing. Just thought I'd point that out.

NL Manager of the Year: Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies
Honorable Mentions: Tony LaRussa, St. Louis Cardinals; Joe Torre, Los Angeles Dodgers

Our first “no-brainer” award on the list.

When Tracy took over the Rockies they were 18-28. Under his guidance they won 74 games and won the NL Wildcard. Taking a team that's 10 games under .500 and finishing with them 22 games over .500? That's all I need to see to vote for the guy.

LaRussa gets a tip of the cap for guiding a team that looked awfully iffy on paper to a division title. Torre had his main power threat suspended for 50 games and still won his division going away. Nice job guys, but you can't match what Tracy did.

AL Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
Honorable Mentions: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners; Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Several pitchers had better Win/Loss records than Greinke. But nobody had a better ERA, a better WHIP, and only Verlander had more strikeouts.

Wins are a semi-misleading statistic for a pitcher. A lot of other things can influence a pitcher getting a win or a loss. But the pitcher's directly responsible for ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, so my vote goes to Greinke.

Hernandez will get a good number of votes. His name didn't get mentioned as often as Greinke, Verlander and Sabathia. Whether that's because he plays on the West Coast or not, I don't know. But he had just as many wins as Verlander and Sabathia, and bested them both in ERA and WHIP.

Verlander was the ace on a team that missed the playoffs by one game, and struggled mightily to score runs. That gives him the HM nod over Sabathia.

NL Cy Young: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Honorable Mention: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants; Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks

Even though it looks like Carpenter's a shoo-in to win the award, this was a pretty close call. Lincecum didn't have as many wins, but nearly equaled Carpenter's ERA, and bested him in strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In the end, I can't vote against a guy with the league's best ERA, second-best WHIP (he finished .004 behind Haren) and the second-best win total. Plus, his ability to do all that while missing time with an injury has to be factored in.

Haren gets an HM nod for leading the league in WHIP, and being one of the few bright-spots on an otherwise dismal Diamondback squad.

AL MVP: Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
Honorable Mention: Mark Teixeira, IF, NY Yankees; Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle Mariners

Another no-brainer here.

When you lead the league in hitting, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and runs created and manage to help lead your club to a 17 for 21 home-stretch and get into the playoffs via a dramatic Game 163 win? You win an MVP. Hands down. No doubt.

Why Derek Jeter was getting pub over Teixeira is beyond me. Jeter may be the unquestioned leader of the team with the best record in baseball, but Tex was a huge part of the difference between the 2008 Yankees that finished third in the East and the 2009 Yankees that won the division. He led the league in home runs, RBI and total bases.

Suzuki finished second in the batting race and led the league in hits.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, IF, St. Louis Cardinals
Honorable Mentions: Prince Fielder, IF, Milwaukee Brewers; Hanley Ramirez, IF, Florida Marlins

Perhaps the least difficult pick of all.

Where would you like to start? Led the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, runs scored, total bases, home runs, and intentional walks. Finished second in doubles. Finished third in hitting, RBI, and walks.

You want to vote against this guy? I sure don't.

Fielder led the league in RBI and finished second to Pujols in home runs. I don't much like the guy, but when you put up those numbers and are the only player in the league to go 162 games, I have to give you a tip of the cap.

Ramirez led the league in hitting and was Top 10 in RBI and OPS. He'll have a chance at his own MVP trophy one day. Maybe when he's a Yankee after Jeter retires. Oops, did I say that?

So there you have them. I didn't vary much from the conventional wisdom, but if you have any complaints, feel free to share them.

Finally, it's Friday. So we've got to get to everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

I pretty much put a bow on the Twins season on Monday, so we move on with the Fall/Winter favorites!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 5-1 (2-1 in the Big Ten). Currently they are 3rd in the conference standings.

I referenced it briefly on Wednesday, but last Saturday's game against Ohio State was pretty demoralizing. It can fairly be said that in most aspects, Wisconsin out-played Ohio State. But when you make the kinds of critical mistakes that the Badgers did, you can't argue it too vociferously.

Junior quarterback Scott Tolzien had been a pleasant surprise for the Badgers, but made at least two awful decisions that led directly to 14 points for the Buckeyes.

And while I'm decidedly not amongst the “Fire Bret Bielema” crowd, I do think that he needs to bring in some help coaching the special teams. I watched them kick 4 straight times to a Gopher kick returner who gashed them every time. Giving up that return for a touchdown at Ohio State was the last straw. Don't be stubborn Bret. Get some help.

This week, the Badgers host a dangerous Iowa Hawkeye club. After a shaky opening week win over Northern Iowa, they've beaten Arizona, Penn State and Michigan en route to a 6-0 (2-0) record.

Still, the Badgers are at home, with a chance to bounce back from that headache-inducing defeat. And somehow they're 2.5-point favorites.

Hopefully Camp Randall will be kind to Bucky. But I'm cringing at the thought of another post-Ohio State tailspin like we saw last year.

The game kicks off at 11am central time on ESPN. Tune in and see what happens!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 1-4-0, good for 2 points and 5th place in the Northwest Division.

Growing pains or lack of talent? That's the question.

The Wild have clearly struggled in the first couple of weeks of the season. I certainly didn't expect the transition to Todd Richards' system to be an easy one, but I didn't expect it to be this bad either.

On the other hand, maybe their road-heavy schedule has played a role in the rough start? Their only win came in their only game at home so far. And they don't return til Wednesday.

I'd love to make excuses, but the truth is the Wild have looked downright sloppy, especially early in games. And if they don't find a way to fix that, this could be a VERY long season.

The Wild have their first back-to-back games of the season tonight and tomorrow. They're in Edmonton tonight and finish the road-trip in Vancouver tomorrow.

At 15th in the conference, they can't get much worse, right? Right?!

That's going to wrap things up for today. Have a great weekend (yours, not mine) and I'll be back with you on Monday with all sorts of news and notes from the weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

10-14-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 6 Post-Mortem & Week 7 Selections

Hello again everybody...

It's mid-week time... for most of you.

Me? I'm doing my best to enjoy the first of what I hope are not that many “Wednesday/Thursday” weekends.

Work schedules change, especially in a business like the one I'm employed in. So I'm trying to stay positive about it. We'll see how things work after a few weeks. Maybe it'll work out for the best. Who knows?

I'm doing my best, however, to not let a goofy work schedule mess up my writing schedule. Hopefully you all will think today's product is as good as my usual output!

Wow. No pressure on myself there, huh?!

Today it's time to step away from baseball for a bit and talk some college football. Don't get me wrong, I'll be watching plenty of LCS and World Series action. And I'm sure I'll feel compelled to talk about it at some point.

But that's later. Today's column looks back at last week's picks (ugh) and looks forward to this coming weekend's college football action.

Let's do this!

”There are some that only employ words for the purpose of disguising their thoughts.”
Voltaire (1694-1778), French Enlightenment writer, essayist, and philosopher


Let me assure you, I don't fall into this category. That's just too much work!

No, no disguising what I'm thinking. I lay it out in front of you and let you decide whether I'm right, or whether I'm wacky.

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After last week's results, I wouldn't blame you if you went with the latter.

With that, I bring you...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 6 Post-Mortem

Apparently there was a good reason that I could only find 4 games to look at. Let's see how I did!

First...

Nebraska -3 @ Missouri: Final Score – Nebraska 27, Missouri 12
(*) This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Talk about a tale of two halves!

First of all, if you didn't catch the game, it was played in near-monsoon conditions. But I never like to blame the weather for the outcome of a game because both teams have to deal with an equal amount of discomfort.

But Nebraska looked downright lost in the first half. They trailed 9-0 heading into the locker rooms.

I have no idea what Husker coach Bo Pelini said at halftime, but whatever it was, it worked. The Huskers outscored the Tigers 27-3 in the final two stanzas on their way to an easy cover.

What Dan Learned: The “Official Nebraska Good Luck Charm” bit continues! I can't explain it, but every time I pick Nebraska, they win! (I can feel certain eyeballs rolling as they read that – but it's true!) Outside of that though, I'm not sure how much we can read into this game. Yes, it was a nice Husker comeback, and that defense looks more and more Blackshirt-worthy as the weeks go by. But when a game's played in conditions like that, you thank the stars you covered and move on...

1-0 and liking my chances...

Next...

Georgia +1.5 at Tennessee: Final Score – Tennessee 45, Georgia 19

Ugh.

Next time I write “I have no idea how this team can be an underdog”, would someone please slap me? Two weeks in a row I've done it, and two weeks in a row I've lost that game.

I didn't see this game, but Tennessee got out in front early and eventually ran away with it. My guess? The Georgia kids caught some bad breaks and quit.

That's not to disparage the Volunteers. I'm sure they did a wonderful job. But if you'd been offered 25 points in picking Georgia before this game, would anybody have turned that down? I didn't think so.

What Dan Learned: Anytime you have a game with two teams that have had roller coaster seasons... stay away. I should've avoided this game like it had H1N1 (what? Too soon?). And speaking of that, is there anybody not named Alabama or Florida in the SEC who's not having a volatile season?! Wow. Talk about a league that's hard to pick!

1-1... okay, I thought I was good with that game, but I can still do this!

Wisconsin +16 at Ohio State: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 13

If you just talked offense vs. offense, it was Wisconsin 13, Ohio State 10. Unfortunately, that's not how football works.

I told lots of people that, “if Wisconsin doesn't turn the ball over, and catches a break or two, they can win this game.”

Well, QB Scott Tolzien threw two interceptions which were returned for touchdowns and the Badger kick coverage team gave up a kickoff return for a TD.

So both of those things went in exactly the opposite direction from what I hoped. Joy.

I threatened several times while watching this crap-fest to chug a bottle of Drain-O. It couldn't have been a less-enjoyable option. Oof.

What Dan Learned: Actually, I should title this paragraph “What Dan Un-learned”. I thought I had a good feel for this Wisconsin team. No, they weren't great, but they had the possibility of being pretty good. Now? I have no clue. This is a game that can really screw with a team's head. When you statistically out-play the other team and lose by 18, that's tough to get over. Fortunately, the Badgers host a woeful Purdue team next week, so they have a chance to get their heads right.

1-2, and suddenly in need of a hug...

Finally...

Stanford -1 at Oregon State: Final Score – Oregon State 38, Stanford 28

Another Pac 10 pick... another whiff. Didn't see a second of it, why should I spend more than that breaking it down?

What Dan Learned: Let's see... after beating USC, I picked Washington to beat Stanford, and they lost. After beating Washington, I picked Stanford to beat Oregon State, and they lost. Anyone else see the pattern? So who does Oregon State play next week? Oooh, that vaunted team called “bye”. Christ, even when I want to go against my own logic, it doesn't work!

1-3 and looking around for that bottle of Drain-O.

Okay, okay... not so much with the Drain-O. I don't want my Mom sending me the numbers of any therapists. I'm okay, Mom. Really.

1-3 on the week makes me12-9 (.571) on the year. Not good. Oh well. A couple more good weeks and I get right back on pace, right?

(Aside: Lon, that was not an invitation for you to provide me with the actual math involved. Let me have my delusions, please. Thank you.)

With that, it's on to this week's picks...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 7

First up, a couple of games I looked at and passed on...

Wisconsin -2.5 vs. Iowa: I really want to believe. I really want Wisconsin to get back up off the turf and come back with a solid effort at home. But I've seen this movie before. Last year a dreadful loss to Ohio State led to a tailspin that ended in a trouncing at the hands of Florida State in a bowl game. I want to believe things can change. I just need to see it before I can pick them again.

Nebraska -11 vs. Texas Tech: You think I'm going to put the “Good Luck Charm” bit on the line against a team that can score with the rapidity of the Red Raiders? Um, sorry... no. Look, I like the look of the Husker defense and all. But giving an offense like Tech's 11 points? Sorry, no can do. Best of luck Nebraska. I'll check in with you again next week.

So what games am I picking? I'm glad you asked.

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

First...

Texas -3.5 vs. Oklahoma (at Cotton Bowl, 11am, ABC): The Longhorns are 5-0 (2-0 in the Big 12). The Sooners are 3-2 (1-0 in the Big 12).

It's the Red River Rivalry.

Last year the Longhorns won 45-35, and that was against a healthy Sam Bradford and an experienced Oklahoma offensive line. This year, the Sooners are minus both of those things.

Texas has been quietly amassing an unblemished record, and while Florida and Alabama have been getting more respect in the polls, Texas might actually have the easier road to the National Championship.

But that's big picture. Focused specifically on this game? I just flat like what Texas brings to the table more than what Oklahoma does.

Throw in that the 'Horns have won 3 of the last 5, and I'll give the 3.5 and take my chances...

Next...

Minnesota +16.5 at Penn State (2:30pm, ABC/ESPN): The Golden Gophers are 4-2 (2-1 in the Big Ten). The Nittany Lions are 5-1 (1-1 in the Big Ten).

Time for a new strategy. I'll take the Gophers here, and if I lose, then I can take solace in the fact that my least-favorite Big Ten team got worked by 17+. Sounds sensible, right?

The truth is, the Gophers have made a bettor's career out of covering a line like this. Do I expect them to win? Certainly not. But will it surprise me if they manage to keep the loss under 14 points? Not a bit.

I'll take the 16.5, even on the road, and see what happens. Again, I can't really lose, even if this isn't the Flier Pick of the Week.

Speaking of which...

Thirdly...

Indiana +2 vs. Illinois (6pm, Big Ten Network): The Hoosiers are 3-3 (0-2 in the Big Ten). The Fighting Illini are 1-4 (0-3 in the Big Ten).
(*) This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

This strikes me as one of those lines that the odds makers set because it should work out that Illinois is the favorite. They want to make this a 5 or 6 point spread, but Illinois has looked so awful this year, that they reduce it to 2.

Neither of these teams are going to win any major awards this year, but the Hoosiers still have a chance to go bowling with 3 more wins. And I think they're going to get one of them in this game.

Anyone who saw the effort Indiana gave at Michigan knows that they can move the ball against mediocre to bad defenses. And to call Illinois' defense “mediocre” might be generous. Plus the Hoosiers are at home. Granted, Memorial Stadium is about as sterile an environment as any in college football (when it's best known for all the Mellencamp music you have to listen to in pre-game, that's not good), but still, it's home.

Illinois is in a free-fall. They've benched their senior quarterback, Juice Williams, and even that doesn't seem to be helping. Looks like it's time for www.fireronzook.com to get fired up again.

I'll take the 2 on a Flier and buy a John Mellencamp album off of iTunes if they win!

And finally...

Alabama -17 vs. South Carolina (6:45pm, ESPN): The Crimson Tide are 6-0 (3-0 in the SEC). The Gamecocks are 5-1 (2-1 in the SEC).

If we're avoiding match-ups of two volatile SEC teams, then we have to stick to picking Florida and Alabama games. They're about the only consistent teams in the league you can find.

This week, I'm sticking with the Tide. Mostly because I still haven't found enough reasons to believe that Florida is markedly better than Alabama. Tim Tebow made a solid comeback from that nasty hit he took versus Kentucky, but I'm not sure Alabama wasn't better to begin with.

As for the Gamecocks? Steve Spurrier is quietly putting together a nice season for his program. But now they're hitting the meat of their schedule. In their last six games, you can only point to Vanderbilt as a easy win. Otherwise they face the likes of Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas on the road, and Florida and Clemson at home.

A lot of people are down on South Carolina on the pure principle that they don't like Spurrier. I'm down on them because they represent the only state in the Union that still isn't quite sure they lost the Civil War. But that's just me.

I'll lay the 17 and count on home field advantage getting the Tide out to an early lead, from which they can roll to an easy cover. Get it? “Tide”? “Roll”? “Roll Tide”? I know, I know. These things just come to me. I can't help it!

So there you have them, my four picks of the week: Texas -3.5 at a neutral site, Minnesota +16.5 on the road, Indiana +2 at home, and Alabama -17 at home. Think I learned my lesson from picking all those road games last week? I'd say so...

That's all for today ladies and gents. I'll be back on Friday with another version of everybody's favorite segment.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

10-12-09: Minnesota Twins - The Finale

Hello again everybody...

I'll be honest with you, I don't feel much like writing today. Yesterday's result wasn't much of a surprise, but it still stung. After a comeback like the Twins came up with to make the post-season, I hated to see their playoff run end so abruptly.

But that's baseball. And those were the Yankees. So what can you do?

I'll put a brief bow on the 2009 campaign today. Hopefully I'll be back in my regular flow on Wednesday.

Onward...

"That all men are equal is a proposition which, at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent."
- Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963), English writer


Created equal? Sure, I can dig that. "Are" equal? Not based on the evidence I've seen!

Two teams definitely not equal? Those would be the Twins and the Yankees.

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Yankees 10, Twins 0.

That's the outcome over 10 games between my favorite team and the Evil Empire.

So was the result of their ALDS surprising? Certainly not. But it was disappointing.

On paper, no sane person could pick the Twins. Especially given the names on their disabled list: Morneau, Crede, Slowey, Bonser, Neshek (and dare I say Tolbert?). No team missing that many pieces can be expected to survive while playing the elite of the league.

But they were on such a roll down the stretch, including that magical win in Game 163, that I hoped that momentum might be enough to at least compete with the Yankees.

And if I wanted to take an overly optimistic approach, I could argue that they were competitive. In all 3 games, the Twins scored first. And they never got beat by more than 3 runs. You can't say they were blown out by the Bombers.

But anyone who watched those three games understands what I mean when I say that even with those leads, it always felt like the Twins were holding on for dear life. You just knew that any mistake that Minnesota made (and they made several) was going to open the door for the Yankees to pounce. And pounce they did.

A lot of people are going to remember Phil Cuzzi's blown call on what should've been a Joe Mauer double in the 11th inning of Game 2.

What I'm going to remember is the Twins' All-Star closer being unable to lock down a Game 2 victory with a two run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

That's not to bag on Joe Nathan. I can count on one hand the number of closers I'd swap him for and have fingers left over. But when that happened, I knew the Twins' magic had run out.

In the end, the Yankees were just a better team. Let's not whine about umpires. Let's not bitch about payrolls. Let's just tip our caps and wish the Yankees well against the Angels.

Okay, the cap-tipping might be pushing it a bit. But you get my drift.

The Twins made an amazing charge to get into the playoffs. It's my goal to make that fact the epitaph of the 2009 Twins Campaign. The domination at the hands of the Yankees? Hopefully that can be reduced to a footnote.

So where does that leave the Twins going forward?

Well, the beauty of baseball is that there's always next spring to look forward to. And between now and then there are plenty of questions for Twins management to answer.

Priority number one has to be signing Joe Mauer to a contract extension. Earlier this summer I discussed what that contract might look like. You can read that column here. Whatever shape it takes, whatever the amount, the Twins have to get this done. If they go to camp in February without Mauer signed to a new deal, then the only questions that anyone will be asked will be related to Mauer's future. That's a distraction that no team can afford. Least of all a team that's not used to major national attention.

Once Mauer is taken care of, there are still other questions to be addressed. Will they bring back players brought in mid-season? Orlando Cabrera, Carl Pavano and John Rauch all made significant contributions down the stretch. But are they players that can play a role in the Twins' future? And what about Joe Crede? He was helpful when he was healthy, but is he really worth bringing back?

And then there's the roster as a whole. I think it fair to say, depending on what they do with their free agents, that they have holes at 2nd, shortstop and 3rd and certainly could afford to add some pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen.

That's a lot to work on. And there are only about 4 months to get it done. Baseball never really ends anymore. Some people might not like that, but personally, I love it.

Oh, and don't forget, there's a new ballpark to look forward to!

2010, you can't get here soon enough!

That's going to do it for today. All the college football wonder you could want will head your way Wednesday.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

10-9-09: Peek at the Picks - Fin & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the end of the week. And it's the end of my last Monday through Friday week for the foreseeable future.

They say the only true constant in life is change. Yet somehow it still manages to sneak up on us all once in a while. So my work schedule is changing. At this point, I don't see any reason that should affect my writing. If that changes, I'll let you all know.

Speaking of things that have come to an end, the baseball playoffs are under way. And that means the regular season standings need examining. So today I'll bring you the final results of my 2009 picks.

Of course, Friday means we've got some DFTU-ing to get to!

Let us away...

”If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.”
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, and author


There were a lot of doubts about some of my picks. Some of them were well founded. Would I improve on last year's numbers?

Let's find out!

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Peek at the Picks, Final

AL East

Final Standings: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox (whom I hate) -8, Tampa Bay Rays -19, Toronto Blue Jays -28, Baltimore Orioles -39

Dan's Picks: Boston (whom I hate), Tampa Bay, New York, Baltimore, Toronto

Kelley Formula Results: 13 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: One of only two division winners I got wrong. We've seen the Yankees spend big money in the off-season before, but apparently this year it had it's desired effect. Sabathia turned out to be a Cy Young candidate and Mark Teixeira is in the MVP discussion. After the Big Papi steroid revelation, Boston was revealed to be good, but not great. Tampa hung in til the final couple of months before internal strife killed their season. Baltimore was perhaps my biggest disappointment in the division. I really thought their young talent would start to gel. Maybe next year.

AL Central

Final Standings: Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers -1, Chicago White Sox -7.5, Cleveland Indians -21.5, Kansas City Royals -21.5

Dan's Picks: Minnesota, Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit

Kelley Formula Results: 12 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: It took an extra game to get it done, but the Twins came through for me. Obviously I was way off on the Tigers. Though they're not a great team, I think we can fairly say that 2008 was an aberration for them. Chicago was about what I figured. Cleveland was many people's pick to win the division and was so awful they got their manager fired. Kansas City? Yeah, they're still the Royals.

AL West

Final Standings: LAAAGOCRCUSPE, Texas Rangers -10, Seattle Mariners -12, Oakland Athletics -22

Dan's Picks: LAAAGOCRCUSPE, Texas, Seattle, Oakland

Kelley Formula Results: 16 of a possible 16 points

Analysis: As my buddy Drew would say, “Boo Yah”! I nailed it. I'd feel a lot better about that if it wasn't the only 4-team division in the league. But perfect is perfect, and I'll take it! LA overcame the death of a player to win the division, and I really don't think that can be overstated. Texas gave it a go, but injuries took their toll again. Seattle improved from last year, but never really contended. And Oakland was pretty much as bad as I predicted (and many others didn't).

NL East

Final Standings: Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins -6, Atlanta Braves -7, New York Mets -23, Washington Nationals -34

Dan's Picks: Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Florida, Washington

Kelley Formula Results: 16 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: Flip-flop the Marlins and the Mets and I would've nailed it. The Mets had one of those seasons where everything that could go wrong pretty much did. But kudos to the Fish for once again proving the doubters wrong. Now that their ballpark issue is settled, if they can add a free agent or two, they'll be dangerous. The Nationals continue to thank the Pirates for making Washington only the second-worst franchise in baseball.

NL Central

Final Standings: St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs -7.5, Milwaukee Brewers -11, Cincinnati Reds -13, Houston Astros -17, Pittsburgh Pirates -28.5

Dan's Picks: Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh

Kelley Formula Results: 16 of a possible 24 points

Analysis: Whiffed on this one pretty good. I just couldn't see St. Louis scoring enough runs to win the division. And I'm still not entirely sure how they managed it. Chicago fell apart and still managed to finish second. Which unfortunately says a little something about the performance of that team to my east. Sorry Brewer fans. I took a chance that Houston's veterans would make them contenders. I was dead-wrong. Thankfully Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh.

NL West

Final Standings: LA Dodgers, Colorado Rockies -3, San Francisco Giants -7, San Diego Padres -20, Arizona Diamondbacks -25

Dan's Picks: Los Angeles, Arizona, San Francisco, Colorado, San Diego

Kelley Formula Results: 14 of a possible 20 points

Analysis: I got the winner right. After that? Things got a little dicey. Obviously Arizona was the big disappointment here. I didn't expect them to make the playoffs, but I certainly expected them to contend. And boy did they suck! San Francisco hung in longer than I thought they would. And what can you say about the Rockies? They were dead and buried one-third of the way into the season. But then they fired Clint Hurdle, gave the reins to Jim Tracy and played their way into the Wild Card. Phenomenal.

Totals

Combined Kelley Formula Result: 87 of a possible 120 points (72.5%)

Volume 4's CKFR: 89 of a possible 120 points (74.1%)

2008's CKFR: 86 of a possible 120 points (71.7%)

Analysis: One point. 120 possible points, and I improved my results by one stinking point. I'm not even sure I can call that an improvement. I mean when you take a .8% step, isn't that as much a statistical anomaly as anything?

That being said, I guess I'd rather be better by a point than worse by a point. Plus I managed to nail 4 of 6 division winners. Whiffed on both Wild Cards though.

It was an interesting season. We had our third-straight Game 163. And thank heavens we did, or I probably would've been worse by a point!

So what does it all mean? Bottom line, I can't wait to get after it again in 2010 and improve by at least another point!


Dan's Favorite Teams Update

It's time once again for everybody's favorite segment...

Minnesota Twins: The Twins finished 87-76 and won the American League Central Division. They're currently down 0-1 to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.

I mentioned it Wednesday, but if you didn't see Game 163, you missed out. It wasn't quite Game 7 in 1991, but it was about as close as you could get.

It was so dramatic a game, and the Twins' comeback as a whole was so improbable, that for me? Anything from here on out is gravy. That doesn't mean that I don't want to see the boys knock off the Bombers. But come on! Morneau, Slowey, Liriano, Bonser, Crede, Neshek. These were all guys the Twins were counting on at the beginning of the year, and all of them missed significant time with injuries.

There's no way I would've expected the Twins to win the division given those losses. But that's exactly what they did. That's a credit to the players who stepped up to fill the holes. And (though my Uncle will deny it) it's a credit to the manager. Somebody told me the other day that if Ron Gardenhire doesn't win Manager of the Year, they ought to stop giving the award out. Unfortunately, I think Gardy's going to miss out again. When you have a player die in the first month of a season, and your team comes together to win a division by 10 games, you're probably going to get the MotY award. I certainly can't argue with Mike Scioscia winning the award. But Gardenhire did a masterful job. Don't forget, this guy's won 5 division titles in the last 8 years. Can you name 5 other managers who've done that recently? I can't.

Game 2 of the ALDS comes your way tonight at 5pm central time on TBS. Burnett vs. Blackburn. I have no idea what'll happen. At this point, I'm just enjoying the ride.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 5-0 (2-0 in the Big Ten) and tied for the conference lead.

On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin, on to victory...

So begins the Badger Fight Song.

And so far, it's been the mantra of the 2009 Wisconsin season. Last week's win against the Gophers was a little tighter than I would have preferred, but I'll take it.

Quarterback Scott Tolzien's been a pleasant surprise and had another solid game. And finally John Clay broke out as the Badger running game woke up and gashed Goldy for nearly 300 yards.

But what made me happiest was the improvement that the defense showed. Yes, they still got beat for some big plays, but I'd argue that a team with Eric Decker at wide receiver is going to beat pretty much any defense for big plays.

Wisconsin's defense frustrated Minnesota for most of the day, and when they absolutely had to have a stop, they came up with a huge turnover.

This week, it's off to Columbus, Ohio, where Bucky is a 16-point dog against the Buckeyes. I said it Wednesday and I'll say it again: no way. I'll admit my bias. I'll admit that Ohio State may be a better team. But until they beat Wisconsin by 17+, you're not going to convince me that Bucky should be a 16-point dog.

I hope I'm not creating unrealistic expectations, but I really think Wisconsin has a shot at the upset here. And if they get this game, look out.

They get Iowa and Michigan at home, and the rest of their games are all against teams they should beat.

I'm not making predictions yet, but this is a huge game in determining the result of the 2009 campaign for the Badgers.

Kickoff is at 2:30pm on ABC.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 1-2-0, good for 2 points and a tie for fourth place in the Northwest Division.

You didn't think I forgot about my favorite NHL team did you?!

The Wild are going to be interesting to watch this year. They've got a new General Manager, a new Head Coach, a new system, and plenty of new talent.

Of course, their minus a future Hall of Fame coach and the franchise's leading scorer.

Needless to say, there are plenty of challenges. Made all the more challenging by the number of injuries they suffered in the pre-season. Most of those have sorted themselves out, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still suffering headaches that have kept him out of the first three games.

It's hard to say what to expect from the club this year. Yes, they could contend for the playoffs. But that's far from a given.

If new additions Martin Havlat and Peter Sykora can stay healthy, and if Shane Hnidy and Greg Zanon can free up Kim Johnsson and Nick Schultz to have bigger impacts on offense, then this team can absolutely contend.

But those are a lot of “if's”. Hang on Wild fans. 3 down, 78 to go.

The Wild's road-trip continues tomorrow night as they travel to San Jose, then it's three days off before they take on the Ducks at the Pond.

Feel sufficiently updated? I thought you might.

That's all for today. Have a happy and safe weekend and I'll return on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

10-7-09: Playoffs! & 2009 College Football Picks

Hello again everybody...

I'm not sure I've stopped shaking yet...

If that wasn't the greatest Game 163 ever, I'm not sure what tops it.

In case you were stuck under a rock last night, the Twins defeated the Tigers 6-5 in 12 innings to capture the 2009 American League Central Division. It was simply one of the best baseball games you'll ever see.

For those of you tuning in expecting to read a recap today, I'm sorry. I just don't have the words to describe it. You had to live through it to understand it.

The Twins are 2009 American League Central Division Champions... I just want to let that sink in for a bit...

Wow. What a come back.

So it's off to New York for a date with the dreaded Yankees. The Twins went 0-7 versus the Bombers this year. But that was then. And this is the AL Divisional Series. Best of 5.

Let's go!

I can't think of a way to segue gracefully to college football, so forgive me if it's jarring. But today's column will make good on the missed Post-Mortem from Monday, and will bring you a fresh slate of picks for Week 6.

I'm still shaking.

”The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand.”
Lewis Thomas (1913-1993), physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy adviser, and researcher.


I'm still shaking.

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Okay... Focus, Dan.

2009 College Football Picks: Week 5 Post-Mortem

Coming into Week 5 my record is 8-5 (.615). I went 2-1 last week. Could I improve on that? Let's find out!

First up, the game I didn't wager on...

LSU +3 at Georgia: Final Score – LSU 20, Georgia 13.

Guess I should've rolled with it. I didn't see the game, so I can't really comment on it. But the dog won outright... and that's all right with me!

In fact, I should make this disclaimer right now... I only saw one game this weekend, and that was the game I attended. Which I just so happened to have picked, so let's get on with it!

Wisconsin +2.5 at Minnesota: Final Score – Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 28
(*) - This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

For those of you who missed Monday's column, go back and take a look for a description of what happened in the game.

I'm still shaking.

What Dan Learned: I don't care if it's 6 in a row. I don't care if it's 13 of the last 15. It's always fun when the Badgers beat the Gophers. Always.

1-0 and feeling good! (Actually, I'm still shaking.)

Next...

Alabama -16.5 vs. Kentucky: Final Score – Alabama 38, Kentucky 20

I'll admit, this game was closer than I thought it'd be. But a cover's a cover and I'll take it!

What Dan Learned: It's tough to say for sure with Tebow's uncertain status, but we're sneaking up on having to declare Alabama the best team in the SEC, aren't we?

2-0... is 4-0 a possibility?! (I'm still shaking.)

Thirdly...

Michigan +2 at Michigan State: Final Score – Michigan State 26, Michigan 20, OT

I could only scoreboard watch on this one. But Sparty got out to an early lead and the highlights made it look like a herculean effort by Tate Forcier to get the Wolverines back in it. Alas, State made a play in OT and Michigan didn't.

What Dan Learned: Michigan's dangerous, but they have serious flaws as well. They'll be fun to watch, but Wolverine fans shouldn't buy in too hard just yet.

2-1... hmmm, that feels familiar (I'm still shaking.)

Finally...

Stanford -5 vs. UCLA: Final Score – Stanford 24, UCLA 16

I didn't see a second of this game, or even any highlights. So I can't tell you anything other than once again, I covered!

What Dan Learned: Stanford might be the sneaky pick in the Pac 10 this year? Or is it Oregon? Or is it...? Good lord, the Pac 10 is suddenly very average.

I end up 3-1 in Week 5. That makes me 11-6 (.647). Still behind last-year's pace, but I'm gaining on it!

Which leads me to...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 6

And wow are the picks getting tougher and tougher to come up with. I could only find four games to have an opinion on this weekend. So let's get to the picking!

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

First...

Nebraska -3 @ Missouri (Thursday, 8pm, ESPN): The Cornhuskers are 3-1 (0-0 in the Big 12). The Tigers are 4-0 (0-0 in the Big 12).
(*) - This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Like I said, the pickins were thin this week. So why not roll onward with the “Nebraska's Good Luck Charm” bit?!

Both teams are opening their Big 12 slate, and the odds-makers have them about even, with Nebraska getting the 3 point advantage after a coin-flip (okay, I made that up).

This is Nebraska's biggest defensive test so far this year. But Missouri has been just schizophrenic enough for me to think the Cornhuskers will be able to hold them down.

Should be a terrific game either way.

Go Big Red!

Next...

Georgia +1.5 @ Tennessee (11:21am, SEC Network): The Bulldogs are 3-2 (2-1 in the SEC). The Volunteers are 2-3 (0-2 in the SEC).

I feel the same way about this game as I did about Michigan/Michigan state last week (which is probably a good thing for Tennessee fans).

What I mean is, I have no clue why Tennessee is favored in this game. Georgia can score a ton. Tennessee's defense is pretty good. But the Volunteer offense still struggles. The only teams that Tennessee has topped 25 points against are Western Kentucky and Ohio.

It's hard to win in the SEC when you struggle to score. That's why I like Georgia here. And they're giving me points! I love fake recreational gaming sometimes!

Thirdly...

Wisconin +16 at Ohio State (2:30pm, ABC): The Badgers are 5-0 (2-0 in the Big Ten). The Buckeyes are 4-1 (2-0 in the Big Ten).

Are you kidding me? Look, I know I'm biased here, but are you seriously telling me that Ohio State's 16 points better?!

Sorry. The Badgers have a good running game and enough play-makers on defense that the game should be close at least.

And quite frankly, I think the Badgers have a shot here. Ohio State's good, but they've had moments where they've looked very vulnerable.

I'll take the 16 points and take my chances thank you.

Go Bucky!

Finally...

Stanford -1 at Oregon State (6pm, FSN-Bay Area): The Cardinal are 4-1 (3-0 in the Pac 10). The Beavers are 3-2 (1-1 in the Pac 10).

Can the Stanford magic continue? On the road? Corvallis isn't an easy place to play. USC lost there last year. But that was a different club. And this year's Beavers aren't quite as talented.

Hell... I have no clue what's going on in the Pac 10 this year. So why not take a shot?

We'll ride Stanford for now and hope for the best.

So there are your four games for this week.

Comments, questions, queries, quibbles and complaints can be registered below.

That's all for today. I've got a baseball game to focus on.

Game 1. 5pm in the Bronx. Win Twins!!!!

(Yes, I'm still shaking.)