Wednesday

12-30-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

And welcome to the final Sports Take of 2009. When I started writing these columns nearly two years ago, little did I know I'd be wishing you a happy New Year come the end of '09. But here we are!

Once again, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you all again so much for taking the time to read my rants and ramblings. It's an honor and a pleasure to keep trying to entertain you! Here's to hoping for even more success in 2010!

As I mentioned on Monday, this will be the last column for this week. Friday, of course, is New Year's Day and I fully intend on gorging myself on the NHL Winter Classic and plenty o' Bowl Games. The regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule will resume on Monday.

But before we get to a weekend of fun and relaxation, we've got some updating to do! A Champs Sports Bowl here. A West Coast swing there. Lots to get to, so let's do some Updating!

”I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him.”
- Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642), Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher


Clearly Galileo never answered phones at a radio station! (Yes, I'm glad I'm looking at a 3-day weekend!)

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With that, it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 20-17-3, giving them 43 points. They're 4th in the Northwest division and 11th in the Western Conference.

Okay, first the positives. The Wild are one win away from setting a new franchise record for most wins in a month. They've won 10 times in December and have one more game remaining on New Year's Eve. That night the Wild host a Kings team they just beat two nights ago on the road. So they certainly have a shot at setting a new mark.

Another positive... new players are stepping up to lead the way in scoring. It seems that Martin Havlat has finally found his stride. Sure, he's still a -12 on the year, but he's climbed up to tie Marek Zidlicky for third on the team in points with 22. Kim Johnsson has goals in his last three straight games. And Guillaume Lattendresse has 10 points since coming over in a trade from the Canadiens.

But for all the progress this team has made - and let's be honest Wild fans, even though they're not in the playoff position we'd all like to see, there HAS been a tremendous amount of progress since the start of the year - they're no closer to making the playoffs than they were last week, or the week before that, or... well, you get the idea.

Sure they're only 4 points behind Vancouver for that 8th spot. And for the glass-half-full crowd, the 6th, 7th and 8th teams are all tied at 47 points. So you could say the Wild are 4 points out of 6th! Sounds great, doesn't it?

Now for the reality. As I've reminded you in the past, it's not the point disparity that makes it difficult, it's the number of teams between you and a playoff spot that makes things a little hairy. As it stands, if you include the current 8th seed, there are three teams between the Wild and the playoffs. And Vancouver, Dallas and Detroit are not going to be easy to pass. Since the Canucks are a division opponent, the Wild have more chances to gain ground on them. But Dallas and Detroit? Those are good clubs whom the Wild have limited opportunities against.

I'm not saying they can't get it done. If the Wild keep playing like they have been, they have a great shot. But it's not going to be easy.

Especially if they lose some players. For those of you who didn't stay up to catch the game in Anaheim last night, there are some questions about fines and suspensions coming from that game.

The first incident came courtesy of Derek Boogaard who accidentally drilled a linesman in the ribs as he was engaged in a fight, which said linesman was trying to break up. The blow was devastating enough that the linesman was sent to the hospital for x-rays.

Checking the replay, it's pretty clear Boogey wasn't trying to deck the linesman, so I doubt he'll miss any games over the incident. But he does have a reputation in the NHL, so a fine isn't out of the question.

The second incident came moments later when John Scott tried to drop the gloves against a member of the Ducks. This time, the linesman jumped in before they could even get going. Or at least he tried to. After initially jumping between the players, the linesman was tossed aside by Scott, and had to re-insert himself between them in order to actually stop the fight.

In Scott's defense, it's an odd occurrence when a linesman jumps in before a fight can even get started. And in the adrenaline-fueled heat of the moment, he reacted and put his hands on an official. That's a no-no. The fact that he wasn't tossed from the game shows that the officials didn't think he meant any harm towards them. But the NHL may not be so forgiving.

There are some lines in sports that you just can't cross, even when it's an understandable lapse in judgment. And putting hands on an official is one of them. I fully expect a fine is headed Scott's way, and if he isn't suspended for a game or two, I'll be mildly surprised.

Admittedly, neither Boogaard or Scott is essential to the Wild's success. But when a team is as beset by injuries as the Wild has been, losing any players to disciplinary measures is a hassle they don't need.

The Wild finish off the 2009 portion of their schedule tomorrow night as they host the Kings in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. Then Saturday, it's the return of Jacques Lemaire to the X as the Devils come to St. Paul for their sole visit of the season. Then next week the Wild play back-to-back games at 1st place Chicago on Tuesday, then home to division-rival Calgary on Wednesday.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Champs Sports Bowl Champions finished the 2009 season 10-3 (5-3 in the Big Ten).

As you may have guessed if you didn't see the game last night, the Wisconsin Badger football squad won their bowl game with a 20-14 win over the Miami Hurricanes.

I'll admit, I was scared to death by Miami's athleticism. After watching the Badgers getting run off the field in last year's Champs Sports Bowl by Florida State, I was terrified of a similar result this year. And at the start of the game, it appeared that fear was well justified.

The 'Canes ran a reverse on the opening kick-off and housed it. Okay, technically it was called back on an illegal blocking penalty, but they scored on the next play anyway, so for all intents and purposes, the play stood.

But I have to give the coaching staff, and yes Bielema-haters that includes the head coach, credit. There was no panic. There was no “oh lord here we go again” looks on the sidelines. The offense went right out on the field and put together a solid, professional drive and John Clay punched it in for the tying touchdown.

And after that, it was all Wisconsin til the final two minutes of the game. This was perhaps the best effort I've seen out of the Badger defense all year. Senior DL O'Brien Schofield was his usual disruptive self. But you can't gloss over the effort of his counterpart, Freshman J.J. Watt who made a statement towards being the anchor of the defense next season. Their harassment of Miami QB Jacory Harris played a large role in his inaccuracy, and Miami's overall ineptitude on offense. Freshman LB's Chris Borland and Mike Taylor also made several big plays defensively.

On offense, Sophomore RB John Clay was a beast carrying the ball 22 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Junior QB Scott Tolzien was steady, though not spectacular, throwing for 260 yards and just one interception. And Junior TE Lance Kendricks had a break-out game with 7 catches for 128 yards.

Maybe that was what was most enjoyable about this game, aside from the win. The knowledge that most of the key pieces (besides Schofield and TE Garrett Graham) are coming back next year has to give Badger fans a lot of confidence for the club's chances in the future.

I did mention the last two minutes not being so great for the Badgers, so let me address that. I don't fault the defense much for that last touchdown drive from Miami. The game had been fairly well decided, and though you hate to see a let down with only a two-score lead, they're not the first club to suffer that kind of malaise.

Now the onside kick attempt? That was a debacle. I've said it before. I'm not one to bash Bret Bielema. But this nonsense about being the head coach and the special teams coach? That has to stop. You don't have to prove your credentials, Bret. And being the special teams coach isn't going to get that done even if you did. Hire a guy. Let him focus on the special teams, and clean that mess up. No Less than four different Badgers managed to get their hands on that onside attempt and somehow none of them came up with the ball. That's just ridiculous.

Fortunately, the defense bailed them out and forced Harris into several more incompletions (seriously Jacory?! 16-29?! I bragged you up at the beginning of the year. Just one more thing I got wrong this year) and forced Miami into a four and out to end the game.

So all in all, I feel pretty good about the 2009 version of the Badgers. Funny what a win over a ranked team can do for your perspective. But 10-3 is hard to criticize. No, the Badgers weren't really in contention for the Big 10 title late in the year - and I think that's a fair expectation for the program after the overall success of the last 15 years - but they were certainly in the upper tier. They won their Bowl game over a decent team and have a lot to look forward to in 2010.

Which brings me to another tangentially related subject... the Tim Brewster extension.

Are you serious Minnesota? You're going to extend this clown after back to back 6-6 seasons? Granted those look pretty decent after the 1-11 stinker he delivered in his first year. But “he's earned an extension” as athletic director Joel Maturi put it? Really?

I understand that you want to give the guy a fair shot at a recruiting class. And if you leave him dangling on the last year of his deal, other schools will hammer recruits with the possibility that Brewster won't be there for their full four years. So if you want to give the guy one more guaranteed year, and then tack on a few that you can easily get out of, that makes a certain amount of sense.

But what are you really expecting? He can sell it, no doubt. But there hasn't been any evidence whatsoever that he's a good coach. And after three years, I think it's fair to say he's had plenty of opportunities to show us.

Me? I'm thrilled. Extend him 5 years, Minnesota! It just means that Bucky's streak of winning the Axe will extend to 11 years in a row, and 18 of the last 20. Not that I'm counting!

I can't wait for September 4th, 2010 when Wisconsin kicks off next season at UNLV!


That's going to wrap things up for this week. I'll be back with you on Monday. I hope you all have a safe and Happy New Years. Enjoy some football. Check in for that NHL Winter Classic Friday at noon on NBC. And take it easy on the roads!

Until Monday, thanks for reading!

Monday

12-28-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

I seem to have to do this repeatedly on Mondays, but allow me to apologize for getting this post up late. Once again, I was preoccupied on a Sunday night, and didn't get it written ahead of time.

Did you know that you can fill an old PC's hard drive with iTunes files to the point where you literally can't download any more? I didn't. Until I got home yesterday and tried to download the free digital copy of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” that came with the Blu-ray copy I got (thanks Mark and Cade!). That's when iTunes told me, “Hey dummy! Your hard drive is almost full. There's not enough room to download this movie!”

Turns out that my iPod actually has more storage space (80 GB) than my PC does (70 GB). Who knew?!

Fortunately, I was able to head out this morning before work and use a Best Buy gift card (thanks Uncle Tim!) to help purchase a 250 GB external hard drive. When I left for work, I'd transferred about 1/6 of my iTunes files over. Hopefully it's finished by the time I get home tonight!

That was last night's drama. Work demands required my attention until the basketball game started, so that's why the column's late.

So mea culpa. But I still got the post up on Monday, so it counts!

Not a lot to talk about today, but I'm sure I'll find a few Notes for you.

So let's light this candle!

”Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.”
- Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963), English writer


Ain't that the truth? The best times you've ever had usually sneak up on you when you weren't looking for them.

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Which leads nicely into the first of this week's...

Notes...

And a Merry Christmas to all...

Obviously the biggest story from this past weekend was the holiday. Hopefully yours was fun!

For those of you not living here in the upper Midwest, be glad. Snownami '09 wasn't quite as bad as some feared, but it still made travel a pain in the ol' posterior as we tried to get over the river and through the woods as it were.

But we're a hearty breed up in these parts, and thankfully I was able to make it to all the family gatherings over the weekend. It's always fun to catch up with members of my extended family; aunts, uncles and cousins that I don't get to see as often as I might like. Plus I got an unexpected, and definitely kick-ass present as a direct result of a family-oriented Running Game Commentary I wrote earlier this year (you can read it here - Thanks Renee!).

But perhaps the most fun I had all weekend was the reaction I got when I gave my immediate family the gift of legacy.

That's right, this year, I purchased a spot on the Twins Tradition Wall. Most of my family are baseball fans, and now our names will join hundreds of others as a permanent part of the display at Target Field.

Plus we got this cool crystal piece as a keepsake:



I honestly didn't figure my family would be as excited by the idea as I was. But their reaction exceeded all my expectations and made my whole Christmas!

So thanks Dad, Mom, Mark and Cade! I can't wait til we can get out to the ballpark and see the Tradition Wall in person!


Make up your mind Urban...

The biggest sports story from the weekend came courtesy of the flip-flopping football coach at the University of Florida.

Urban Meyer has won two National Championships in his stint in Gainesville, and had his club two wins short of a 3rd this year.

On Friday, he announced that he was stepping down from his job due to health considerations. On Sunday, he announced that he wasn't resigning, he was just going to take a leave of absence.

The story goes that Meyer had to be taken to the hospital a few weeks back after the Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship game. At the time, we were told it was for dehydration.

What we've learned since then is that Meyer was having chest pains, and lost consciousness. We've also learned that it wasn't the first time he'd experienced similar symptoms.

So on the advice of his doctor and after consulting with family, friends and University officials, Meyer announced his resignation. Supposedly there was a tearful meeting with his players before the public statement came out. And then the news was that the Sugar Bowl would be Meyer's last as coach of the Gators.

Unfortunate, but understandable.

But on Sunday, everything changed. Suddenly, Florida was announcing that Meyer wasn't resigning. Rather he was taking an indefinite leave of absence and Offensive Coordinator Steve Addazio would be taking over the reigns of the Florida program until Meyer was ready to return.

Does that mean Meyer will still be consulted on recruiting matters? We don't know. What about game plans? We don't know. What about the personal appearances that college coaches put in on a regular basis? Nope, we don't know that either.

The truth is, this whole story is one giant question mark after another. After what seemed like a well thought-out and planned resignation, two days later it's all changed? And we're supposed to believe that a “spirited practice” on Sunday morning is what led to Meyer changing his mind?

When I first talked to my brother (a high school football coach) about this, his immediate response was “this is fishy... something's not right here”. And I'm beginning to think he was right.

Unfortunately, what makes elite college football coaches great, also leads them to these kinds of confusing situations. The passion to compete is something that you either have or you don't. It's not learned, it's just there. I'm sure it was agonizingly difficult for Meyer to make the decision to walk away from a job that's his all-consuming passion. But when you're stressed to the point that you lose consciousness, that's got to be a wake-up call.

Though, in this case, it apparently wasn't enough of one. I'm sure Urban means well. I'm sure he'll try to step away from his job to try and address whatever health issues he's experiencing. But when he decides on a “leave of absence” two days after he “resigned”, I have to wonder how committed he really is to taking care of his health as compared to taking care of his program.

I hope my suspicions are wrong. The guy's got three kids and obviously wants to be around to watch them grow and have their own kids. But this smells like a guy wanting to have his cake and eat it too. And I'm not sure that's going to work.


That's going to do it for today. Short and sweet, I know, but it's a hectic time of the year.

Remember to tune in for the Champs Sports Bowl tomorrow as the Badgers take on the Miami Hurricanes. Kick off is at 7pm, check your local listings!

I'll be back on Wednesday, most likely with another mid-week DFTU. Friday is New Year's Day after all, and I'll be plenty busy.

Until Wednesday, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

12-23-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Today's going to be the last column for the week. A little holiday I like to call Christmas will be preventing me from writing on Friday, so you get your DFTU a little early today.

And seeing as how the Badgers haven't really played since the last DFTU (they host Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight at Kohl Center), I won't be including them this week.

So you'll get a little Wild commentary and then a note on the Childress/Favre drama I wrote about on Monday, and a link to an interesting write up on it.

All that being said, you know what comes first...

Onward!

”Human beings, who are almost unique in the ability to learn from the experiences of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
- Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001), English writer, dramatist, and musician.


Oh, how I wish I had this quote when I wrote about Tiger... so silly.

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But that was then. Today, it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 17-16-3, which gives them 37 points. They're in fourth place in the Northwest Division and tied for 11th in the Western Conference.

On Monday I told you the story about the Wild's equipment truck fire. So far, my “vast Canadian conspiracy” theory has utterly failed to take root. I'm not surprised. People don't want to believe that our “seemingly” friendly neighbors to the north could be involved in something so nefarious.

But last night, I was afforded the opportunity to run it by a Wild player. Mike Max had defenseman Shane Hnidy on for an interview, so as I got him set to go on the air, I decided to float it by him.

He wasn't impressed. And frankly, he sounded slightly annoyed.

That's likely because he actually is Canadian. So I suppose on a certain level he might have taken it a touch personally. But I wasn't implying he was directly involved in the conspiracy, and hopefully he understood that.

Of course, since a full 68% of the roster hails from the great white north, I may have to re-evaluate this theory all together...

Ah, the hell with it. It's still fun, and I'll stick with it until someone proves me wrong!

As for the results since last Friday, they haven't been so good. Predictably, the Wild lost in Ottawa as they tried to adjust to their new/old equipment. Then they hosted Colorado Monday night and lost that game 4-3.

That game highlighted one of the struggles for the club this year. Minnesota got down 4-1 at one point, and fought back in the third period to make a game of it. And that's sort of representative of a lot of their games this season. It's not impossible to be successful as a “counter-puncher” in pro sports, but there's a fine line between being a “comeback” team and digging the initial hole too deep to get out of.

When the Wild can stay close, they tend to be great finishers. When they get down big early, you can't give up, because they'll likely make it close. But when the hole is that deep, they'll lose as many if not more than they win.

It's maddening to Wild fans, because they've gone from being a staunch defensive team to giving up goals in bunches. That's obviously a function of the new system, but it's still a striking difference from the way we've seen this team play in the past.

If they can tighten things up defensively (and I'm not nearly smart enough to suggest how Richards and company should do that) they'll be a dangerous club down the stretch.

If not, then we'd better get use to having to come from behind a bunch in the third period. Not always a fun way to watch hockey, but at least it gives you a reason to stay through the end of the game.

(Not that those of us here at The Sports Take need that kind of inspiration!)

The Wild host the Oilers tonight at the X before taking an NHL-mandated two days off for Christmas before getting back at it Saturday night versus St. Louis. Next week it's a brief jaunt to the west coast for games against Los Angeles and Anaheim. Time for the Wild to make some hay in the West. We'll see how they do!

Before I get to wishing you all a Happy Holidays, one last note about the Vikings latest drama.

I wrote about it on Monday as though it were, for the most part, an isolated incident. It turns out that was a mis-characterization.

Apparently there have been several disagreements between Childress and Favre over the course of the season. ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert does an excellent job of laying them out here.

The bottom line for me is that Childress needs to calm the heck down. You brought Favre in here to save your job. You got your extension. Now it's time to shut up and let the guy do his thing, Brad.

Guys like Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have earned the right to make calls on the field as they see fit.

You don't like his audibles? You want to try and pull him from games? Are you serious?

Do you really think you'd be better off with Tavaris at this point? He'd probably take your coaching a bit more seriously than Brett does. Of course you'd be more like 7-7 than 11-3, but hey, at least he'd listen better!

If you're going to bring in a gunslinger, then you've got to let him sling his guns, Brad. Just be quite and collect your brand-spanking-new paycheck, okay?

There, I think we solved that, don't you?

That's going to wrap things up for today folks. All of us here at The Sports Take wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy Holidays.

For those of you here in the Upper Midwest, be safe in your travels, and may we all survive Snownami 2009!

Until Monday, thanks for reading!

Monday

12-21-09: Notes

Hello again everybody...

First of all, my apologies for this getting out so late. I was so lost in the wonder of having a Sunday off after 7 straight days of working that I completely spaced writing it last night. And with all the fill-in hosts during the day, I couldn't put it on auto-pilot and write then.

So, you're getting it now, since the Wild pre-game is under way and I only have to hit one button for the next two and a half hours!

Apologies. I'll try to do better on Wednesday!

Hopefully your weekend wasn't too crazy. It was quite crazy for a few of the local sports franchises. I'll try to summarize and opinionate (spell-checker doesn't like that word, but I do dammit)!

Let's do this...

”The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.”
- John Kenneth Galbraith (1908 - 2006), Canadian-American economist.


I don't mean to be down on what's otherwise a good quote. But how far can we really trust a guy who can't decide if he's a Canadian or an American? I'm really not sure you can be both. Come on John, pick a side!!!

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There's a reason I'm not very trusting of Canadians at the moment, and that leads us to...

Monday Notes

Did anybody get a picture of that guy hanging around the Wild's equipment truck...

Okay, okay, so the Wild brass don't buy into my conspiracy theory. But I think it's awfully fishy that their equipment truck caught fire this past Friday.

I should probably back up and explain for those of you unfamiliar with the story.

Last Thursday, the Wild were in Montreal where they beat the Canadiens 3-1. Then they hopped a bus to drive to Ottawa for a game on Saturday. They reached Canada's capital without incident. But things got problematic after they got there.

After an off-day practice on Friday, the Wild's equipment staff went out to the trailer that they had packed with all the team's skates, pads, helmets, jerseys, etc. Normally when you open a trailer like that, you're overwhelmed with the odor that's unique to hockey equipment (if you've ever been in a hockey locker room, you know what I'm talking about). This time, however, the staff was nearly overwhelmed by smoke. Somehow, a fire had started in the equipment truck, and by the time the staff was able to get it under control, a majority of the Wild's equipment had either been damaged or outright destroyed.

(You can see a picture of the damage at the Wild's website here )

With a lot of last-minute effort and the re-routing of a charter flight, the Wild's staff was able to get enough replacement equipment up to Ottawa to allow the Wild to play their game Saturday night. It was clear, though, that the boys weren't comfortable and therefore not focused as they skated to a 4-1 loss to the Senators.

That's the story. There's no official cause for the fire that's been made public as of yet. I spoke to a member of the Wild's broadcast team off the record this weekend (I think that's the first time I've ever been able to legitimately use “off the record” in this blog... I feel all journalisty now!) and it was his theory that careless storage of a torch they use to bend stick blades was the likely cause.

Personally, I think that's a bit too convenient!

(Cue conspiratorial music)

Instead, I think there's a vast Canadian conspiracy at work here! Our neighbors to the north have never forgiven us for taking over their national sport, and moving two of their teams to American cities.

(And frankly, given the mess in Phoenix - formerly Winnipeg - it's kind of hard to blame them on that score. But maybe that's balanced by Colorado - ne Quebec - winning a cup after they moved? Maybe?)

Since Minnesota is often mistaken for Canada by much of the rest of the U.S., I think the Canadians decided to strike at us first. Especially since the Wild had just beaten their beloved Habitants on Thursday.

Vito Corleone started a nefarious plan with a severed horse head in a movie mogul's bed. Canada has begun theirs with a Molotov cocktail in the Wild's equipment wagon.

So I say listen here Canada! The South Park creators weren't joking when they created a plan to invade Canada. We can make it happen!

You want to mess with the Wild's equipment truck? Don't come crying to us when a thermo-nuclear device “accidentally” goes off in Edmonton's practice rink. (Edmonton's far enough away to prevent the fallout from reaching Montana, right? And if not... what the hell, it's just Montana...)

Of course, I'm only kidding... mostly... Unless we find out it really IS a vast Canadian conspiracy that led to the fire. Then the gloves come off, Canada. And you're going to have a lot more than just Derek Boogaard to worry about!


”Hey Brad... shut up and drive me to the airport.”

As if the loss to Carolina last night wasn't bad enough, now we've spent the better part of Monday dissecting: Favre v. Childress.

First, the story:

In the 3rd quarter of the game, with the Vikings leading 7-6, Childress had watched about enough of his meal ticket (Favre) getting pummeled by a pass-rush that the Vikes' O-line seemed incapable of stopping. So after the latest drive had been snuffed out, he pulled Favre aside and suggested that maybe it'd be best to send the back-up out there to get killed, rather than Favre.

Ever the competitor, Favre heard it as “you're benched” and objected rather vociferously. To the point where he felt compelled to comment on it after the game.

His comments, naturally, ignited a bit of a firestorm (copyright Canadian conspirators) in the local media over questions of whom exactly is running this team. If Childress tried to bench Favre and Brett said “no dice”, then maybe Brad really is just Favre's chauffeur.

Not to disorient you folks or anything, but I'm going to go completely anti-conspiracy on this one.

This was probably just a simple matter of mis-communication.

In his news conference today, Childress claimed that it was a thought that occurred to him as he was talking to Favre and was in no way inspired by poor performance.

Now, usually, I'm suspicious of anything Childress says in a press conference since we've heard him twist the truth in unique fashion before. This time, I think he's probably telling the truth.

I think that Brad spoke a thought as it came to him, and in the adrenaline-fueled chaos of an NFL game, Favre mis-understood Childress's intentions, and took umbrage at the mistaken suggestion that Brett was responsible for the team's poor performance.

What's interesting to me is how this situation highlights the potential pitfalls that come with bringing in a player like Favre. He's a unique talent, but with that comes a unique set of circumstances. According to reports today, this isn't the first time that Favre and Childress have had “creative differences” over game management.

In this past, those disagreements centered around play-calling and audibles. Winning was a salve to most of those wounds. But last night makes two poor performances during the last three games. And it seems nerves are becoming slightly frayed. I'm not going to sound the alarm over an 11-3 football team. But this certainly isn't the way you want to head into the playoffs.

Yes, the division title is secure. Yes, if they win out, they'll earn a first round bye. So at least they control their own destiny. Hopefully they'll beat Chicago and Philly will drop their game next weekend and the season finale versus the Giants won't matter.

Otherwise, things could get a bit tense as Childress tries to balance winning with keeping his money maker healthy for the playoffs.

Oh the drama!


That's going to wrap it up for today. Again, my apologies for the last posting. I'll be back on Wednesday with an early edition of the DFTU. With Christmas on Friday, The Sports Take will be on a well-deserved holiday hiatus. But I don't want to deny you your Update before we sit down to open presents. So tune in Wednesday!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

12-18-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the end of another week. Sort of. I seem to be writing that a lot, lately don't I?

Technically, my week doesn't end today. I don't have to work a full shift tomorrow, but I do have to put in an appearance. And unfortunately, I'm not going to be done with weekends for a bit yet.

Yes, technically, I'm back on a Monday to Friday schedule, but due to some serious foot-dragging on the part of the brain wizards who run my shop, we're nowhere near hiring someone to fill the hole that's got me and my co-workers working near-constant overtime.

Oh well. I'm still getting paid. Not everybody out there can say that. And I guess that should count enough for me to deal with promises and assurances which aren't lived up to, right?

Yeah. Something like that.

But it's the holiday season, and I should be in a good mood dammit!

So maybe a healthy dose of the DFTU will help cheer me up?

Let's give it a try and find out...

”When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion.”
- Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865), 16th President of the United States


Simple. Profound. Classic Lincoln.

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It's Friday. That means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 17-14-3, good for 37 points. They're in fourth place (hey, it's not last!!!) and are currently 11th in the Western Conference.

The boys have one more game on this epic road stretch (interrupted only briefly for a game at home). And so far it's been a pretty decent run for them. After last night's 3-1 win in Montreal, the Wild are 4-2 on the road in the last couple of weeks.

That may not knock you over at first blush, but considering how this club started the season, that's pretty damned good. And you could take that improvement in the team's road performance as analogous to the improvement in their overall performance as well.

When the season started, the Wild were dreadful defensively, and disorganized offensively. There are still more defensive lapses than you'd care to see, but their offense has begun gelling nicely.

As I discussed on Wednesday, Martin Havlat's offensive game has come on lately. And the more he scores, the more other teams have to scheme to stop him. That, of course creates opportunities for the rest of the club. Considering the fact that Havlat doesn't play on the first line, that's a big boost.

So at this point, I think it's fair to discuss what's a reasonable goal for this team is at this point.

Is it finishing above .500? Is it just making the playoffs? Or is it even making a significant playoff run?

Right now the Wild trail the Red Wings by only four points for the 8th playoff spot. Four points is two wins... no problem right?

Well, it's not quite that simple. There are two teams between the Wild and Detroit. That means the Wild would need to be four points better than all three of those clubs in order to claim that playoff spot. That's far from impossible. But claiming that 8th spot is more complicated than it would appear.

Plus, you have to consider the complications involved with the NHL's three-point system. Any game that goes to overtime awards three points (two to the winner, one to the loser) instead of the two points awarded in a regulation victory. So even if the Wild wins two more games than those other three teams, they may not pass them due to those clubs collecting points in overtime losses.

I know. You're going cross-eyed right now, right? It's a little complicated for the casual hockey fan.

My point is, as well as the boys are playing right now, fans have to temper their expectations. This team has come a long way already, and we're not even to the halfway point of the season yet. But after that hole that they dug for themselves over the first couple of months, the playoffs are going to be difficult to get to.

If they get there, and Nicklas Backstrom gets hot in the net, good things can happen. But getting there's going to be a tough road. Again, not impossible, but tough.

The Wild visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (the last game of this road excursion). Monday they return home to face the Colorado Avalanche (who they're thiiiiis close to absolutely owning). Wednesday brings the Oilers to town for the last game before Christmas.


Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers hoopsters are 8-2 (0-0 in the Big Ten). Theoretically they're in a four-way tie for third place in the Big Ten, although since they haven't played a league game yet, those standings are rather bogus.

I told you earlier in the year, that my following of the Badger basketball team would be kind of hit or miss. And that feeling hasn't changed.

As excited as I was when the Badgers beat Duke, that excitement was tempered by their loss at UW-Green Bay. Losing 88-84 to an in-state rival always stings. But even more so when it's not Marquette who at least belongs to a major conference.

Of course, Bucky turned around and beat Marquette 72-63 three days after dropping the Green Bay game, so maybe that was just a bump in the road. Speaking of the road, the Green Bay game was the first game away from home (not on a neutral floor) for the Badgers, so perhaps that played a role as well.

After a nice win against a solid Marquette club, the Badgers completely destroyed an out-manned Cal Poly squad, 90-42.

So after all that, what do I know about the Badgers that I didn't know before? Not much.

There's talent on this club. Bo Ryan is one of the top coaches in the conference. So Wisconsin will be dangerous on any given night. The question is whether they can string enough of those nights together to challenge for the conference title again.

The only other thing I know for sure is how pleased I am not to have a Badger recruit posting YouTube videos decrying the unfair treatment he's received at the hands of authorities over multiple allegations of theft. That would sure suck.

[That was this week's “Golden Gopher Cheap Shot” brought to you by fans of the Badgers everywhere... and Miller Lite.]

Wisconsin hosts UW-Milwaukee on Wednesday, then breaks for Christmas. Following the holidays there's one more non-league game against Illinois-Chicago before Big Ten play kicks off with a home game against Ohio State on New Years Eve.


That's going to wrap things up for this week. Have a fantastic weekend, and check back on Monday for more of the usual nonsense and skullduggery you've grown to love!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

12-16-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Fin, plus...

Hello again everybody...

Mid-week and things feel... weird. This is the first Wednesday I've worked in a couple of months, and while I'm happy to be back on a Monday through Friday schedule, it'll be another adjustment to get used to it again.

I trust it won't take as long as the last adjustment did!

One other quick announcement before we get to today's proceedings. As I write today, I'm about 90% sure that I won't be doing “Bowl Mania II” this year. Barring a last-minute outcry by you folks, I've decided that there's too much else going on to fill 3+ weeks with nothing but college football picks. Once a week during the regular season was one thing. But 34 games in less than a month is more than I think I want to take on again.

On that note, let's get to today's column, shall we? I've got to put a final bow on the 2009 college football regular season, and then I've got a couple of other quick items to hit you with.

Off we go!

”I never think about the future - it comes soon enough.”
- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), theoretical physicist


“Never” is perhaps slightly stronger a term than I'd use personally, but “staying in the now” is usually pretty good advice.

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First up today, it's time to talk college football...

2009 College Football Picks: Fin

Only one game to talk about this week, so...

Navy -14 vs. Army: Final Score - Navy 17, Army 3

It's probably appropriate that my final pick of the year was a push. I mean why not? The whole season has pretty much been a dud. Ending on a push is probably better than I even deserve!

As for the game itself, it was a typical physical battle between two teams that perhaps don't have the most talent in the FBS, but have more heart than many teams combined.

Army came out strong defensively and never really lost their edge. Navy had all kinds of trouble getting on track offensively, and only some of that was due to Army's D.

Navy scored just enough to get me back to even, though there were a few moments towards the end when Army was threatening my push. Thankfully, Navy's defense made enough plays to hold on.

But all of that is sort of beside the point. After all, it's the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game that makes the atmosphere so special...

Only this year, a little of the shine was missing. That's because for reasons which still have me befuddled, the fine folks at Nike decided to throw their “creative” uniforms into the arena of the Army/Navy game.

If you've ever been watching a college football game and thought, “boy, those uniforms sure do look crappy”, 99.9% of the time, the uniform was made by Nike. It used to be that only Oregon was abused by the alternative-uniform folks at Nike. But recently, their insidious designs have wormed their way into locker rooms across the country.

I understand. It's a money thing. Nike gets it's logo splashed all over national television. Universities get tons of Nike gear. It's still evil to me, but it's understandable.

But not in the Army/Navy game. A line has to be drawn, and I think that's the place to do it. How the Naval Academy looked at these uniforms...



And thought they were a good idea was beyond me.

In fact, when I first saw them, I thought, “Gee, those are terrible. Wait, don't tell me Nike is screwing with this game too? [cut to close-up shot of Navy Uniform with the Nike Swoosh prominently displayed] Oh good lord, why is there life on this planet?!”

The more I looked at them, the more I decided they looked like something out of a Stallone movie...



I mean seriously, you can see the resemblance, right?!

Shame on you Nike. You want to ruin Oregon, Florida, Kansas and a host of other schools? Go ahead. Wisconsin has a deal with Addidas. You can't really hurt me.

But leave Navy alone. Please, I beg of you. Don't do this. Don't ever, ever, ever do this again.

So my final pick was a push, making me 22-26-1 (.458) on the year.

Certainly not the 33-17 (.660) mark I had last year. In fact, I'm not sure you can see my 2008 record from where I stand at the end of 2009.

I wish I had an explanation for you. I wish I had an easy answer. Unfortunately, I've got nothing. Looking back on my justifications, they make as much sense now as they did when I wrote them.

All I can do is promise you to be back after it next fall, working my tail off to get things going back in the right direction!

(Admit it though... it was still a fun season, no?)

Next...

Can't we just leave Tiger alone....

There are many, many things to be mystified about when it comes to the Tiger Woods story.

But the one that's got me scratching my head this week is the backlash that's starting to occur. The chorus of, “we should just leave this man alone so he can work on his family” has me a little stunned.

Some people were of that mind from the get-go, and I can respect that.

That being said, in my opinion, no, we can't “just leave the man alone”.

Look, I understand that this involves his family. And neither his wife, nor his children asked to be part of a scandal. I couldn't feel sorrier for Elin and the kids, and the last thing I want for them is to be hounded by the media.

Tiger, on the other hand? Look, when you accept hundreds of millions of dollars to try and convince the public to buy products based upon your endorsement, you don't get to scream “leave me alone” when it turns out that your carefully crafted image was a bunch of bunk.

“Buy a Buick, Tiger drives one...” “Buy a Tag Heuer watch, Tiger wears one...” “Use a Gillette razor to shave, Tiger uses one...” “Drink Gatorade, Tiger does...” “Buy Nike anything, Tiger uses their stuff...”

The list goes on and on. And that's fine. I don't disparage Tiger taking their money for the use of his image. But if you take that money, there's a price you have to pay. Your behavior will be monitored and scrutinized. And if it turns out that you conducted multiple affairs with women of questionable morality while married with two children, then you really pay a price.

The media has to stay on this story. I'm not talking about the paparazzi trying to get pictures of Tiger and Elin in the same location. That doesn't serve anyone's interest. I'm talking about the media who are trying to find out just what the final tally on Tiger's tote board is.

Why does the number matter? The specific number doesn't. But as you dig deeper in this story, more and more details come to light. And it's details like those, that lead to discoveries like this Canadian doctor who's facing drug charges and has connections to numerous professional athletes, including Tiger.

Don't get me wrong. There's no direct evidence that Tiger's used any illegal or banned substances. But if in the course of the investigation of this doctor, it turns out that he has, then that changes everything.

We have to remember, some of the biggest scandals in history have been unearthed by investigations which began as a result of completely unrelated issues.

Woodward and Bernstein made their careers on what began as an investigation of a simple burglary attempt.

I'm not saying we're going to find a Watergate cover-up at the end of this Tiger story. But that's just it, we don't know. And until we do know, journalists have a responsibility to follow the evidence wherever it might lead them.

But if we listened to the “leave Tiger alone” crowd, none of that would happen.

Yesterday, pro basketball player Kevin Durant posted the following on his Twitter account:

“Ok now leave Tiger Woods alone now...its been long enough, i cant believe its making people happy to see this man suffering...he will b back”

Or witness Lakers forward Ron Artest who wrote this open letter to Tiger.

If we went by what Ron said, you'd think Tiger had come forth of his own volition and tearfully admitted to his mistakes. Nothing of the sort happened. Tiger was essentially caught red-handed. And it took three vaguely-worded internet posts before he came close to brushing up against what might be considered an admission.

You'd also think that the attention that's being shown towards this story comes as a result of media members wanting to “attack” Tiger and “bring him down”. The only evidence of anyone attacking Tiger would point towards Mrs. Tiger. And the only person bringing Tiger down, is Tiger.

It's not a great surprise to see other pro athletes rushing to Tigers defense and pointing the finger at the media. Like somehow it's sports writers fault that Tiger chased skirts from coast to coast. After all, there but for the grace of God go a great many pro athletes. They want people to leave Tiger alone because if the same kind of spotlight was put on their personal lives, bad things would be likely to happen.

That doesn't concern me. People who believe these athletes motives are genuine deserve to be duped.

What concerns me is that the sentiment seems to be spreading. More and more, I'm hearing from sensible people that Tiger should be “left alone” so he can try to “heal his family”.

I'm all for calling off the dogs chasing him physically. But as for the story? No, that needs to be chased until we find out everything that might be lurking under that pristine persona that's now been tarnished.


Finally... one last note before I go.

If you'll recall back to Friday's column, I had a rather harsh assessment of Wild winger Martin Havlat's performance thus far this season.

In fact, I said it's been since the preseason since he'd made me say “wow”, which is tangentially one of the things he was brought to Minnesota to do.

Well that ended Friday night. Take a gander at this goal:



Remember, that's not some schlub goaltender. That's Mikka Kiprusoff. He doesn't get beat like that. Ever.

It was a remarkable goal by Havlat that earned the Wild a confidence-boosting road win in an arena that's traditionally been a house of horrors.

And Havlat's been absolutely on fire ever since.

Coincidence... probably.

But it's still nice to see Havlat stepping up and producing like Wild brass knew he could.


That's going to wrap things up for today. I'm back on Friday with your week-ending DFTU column.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

12-14-09: 2009 Heisman Award

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to a new week. And it really is a new week for me. Today I begin back on my Monday through Friday schedule, and I couldn't be happier about it. As though I needed more to be happy about during the holiday season (Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers out there), I finally get back to working what I like to call “almost a grown-up's schedule”.

I won't belabor the point too much, because I've discussed it often enough that regular readers are, I'm sure, quite sick of it. Suffice to say, I'm happy to be back full-time with Michele Tafoya, Mike Max, and whomever they hire to replace Don Shelby. (No, I don't have any clue who that'll be. And I doubt any of us will know before 2010.)

I'm going to start this week by peeking back at Saturday night. No, not the Army/Navy game from Saturday afternoon. I'll have plenty to say about that on Wednesday (especially about Nike sticking their big swooshy nose into it and violating Navy's uniforms). Today it's time to talk Heisman.

Well, actually, had I been on the ball, I'd have started talking Heisman last week, so I could assemble a Sports Take ballot for you all. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball on that, so you'll have to take my word that my picks were made prior to the actual announcement.

And if that's not good enough for some of you, I have witnesses!

So let's talk some trophy...

”Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910), American author and humorist


If you substitute the words “Heisman Award” for “world”, you'll get a saying that's very applicable to certain people in Texas and northern California after Saturday night's announcement.

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For those of you who didn't catch the news, Alabama running back Mark Ingram is your 2009 Heisman Award winner.

Had I published a Sports Take ballot for you to peruse prior to the announcement, it would've looked like this:

1.Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

2.Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

3.Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think voters can rank up to 5 players for the Heisman Trophy, but I think it gets murky after three, so I'll leave it at that.

To have those three players at the top of the heap after 15 weeks of college football is especially interesting, since none of the three would have made the top three of any pre-season Heisman projections. Ingram might have come close, but Gerhart and Suh wouldn't have been close.

Most pundits, myself included, assumed that the 2009 Heisman winner would be one of the three quarterbacks who were the finalists in 2008: Tim Tebow of Florida, Colt McCoy of Texas or the winner of the 2008 Heisman, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.

Bradford got hurt in the Sooners' opener against BYU. And though he made a game attempt at a comeback, he got hurt again later in the season and shut it down rather than risk ending his NFL career before it even began.

Tebow and McCoy both made it to New York for the 2009 ceremony, but neither were considered true threats to win the award. McCoy ended up finishing third in the balloting, Tebow a distant 5th. In fact, Tebow finished so far back, that I honestly wonder if he wasn't invited as a “finalist” merely as a courtesy to a former winner.

That, naturally, show the fallacy of any kind of pre-season rankings at all. Be they Heisman votes, or Top 25's. Over a 12-game regular season and, for some teams, a conference championship game, so much can and usually does happen, that making any kind of pre-season pick is pure guess work.

But I've digressed. I should explain my rankings.

Mark Ingram rushed for 1542 yards and 15 touchdowns. He added another 322 yards receiving as well as 3 touchdowns through the air. Toby Gerhart rushed for 1736 yard and 26 touchdowns, adding 149 more yards via the pass, but no more touchdowns.

Even in aggregate, Gerhart's numbers are better, so why on earth did I vote Ingram first?

Because he didn't lose.

I know right now that there are several people screaming, “But football is a team game! How can you hold an individual player responsible for the failures of people around him?!”

That's certainly a fair point. But when it comes down to picking the best player in college football, I believe winning means something. I think that when you're a true Heisman winner, you help elevate your team in such a manner that they win games they probably shouldn't.

Look at the Alabama/Tennessee game. Ingram was the entirety of Alabama's offense in that game. Sure, Terrance Cody blocked two field goals that would've won the game for the Vols, but if it wasn't for Ingram, those blocks wouldn't have mattered.

Gerhart's team went 8-4. That's not a bad season, especially when you throw in two huge wins over USC and Oregon. But four losses aren't insignificant either. To me, an Heisman winner has to have more impact than that.

Obviously I think Gerhart's deserving of consideration. I voted him second. But Ingram's stats were similar enough, that his status as “the best player on the best team” was enough to push him to the top of my ballot.

That brings me to Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh (pronounced: en-DAH-muh-KAHN SOO - it took me a while too, but keep practicing, you'll get the hang of it). ESPN's Pat Forde said on Friday that he had voted Suh first on his ballot. And 160 voters agreed with him. Suh's performance in the Big 12 Championship game was nothing short of dominant. And I think that earned him a great deal of last-minute attention.

Unfortunately, defensive players don't often win the Heisman. I don't think that's because they're not as deserving as offensive players. It's just that it's far more difficult to quantify a defensive players impact over the course of a season. It's easy to count up yards passing, rushing and receiving. It's simple to compare touchdown totals. But how to do you compare those numbers to the value of sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles and interceptions? It's not easy.

That being said, when a guy's as clearly dominating as Suh was, he earns consideration. And like I said, when he has a game as good as Suh did in the Big 12 Championship, he becomes the late-season dark-horse to win the trophy.

But again, there's the matter of four losses. Granted, three of those four losses were by two points or less. And that speaks volumes about the quality of Nebraska's defense. But to me? Heisman winners don't lose four games. I'm sure you can go back through the list of winners and find some guys who have. But I was too young to fake-vote for those winners. Now that I've declared the right to assemble a fake ballot, I get to set my own priorities. And winning is high on the list.

The actual balloting turned out like this:

1.Ingram, RB, Alabama: 1304 points

2.Gerhart, RB, Stanford: 1276 points

3.McCoy, QB, Texas: 1145 points

4.Suh, DT, Nebraska: 815 points

5.Tebow, QB, Florida: 390 points

The 28 points separating Ingram and Gerhart made this race the closest in Heisman history. And looking deeper, only 5 first place votes separated the two backs. Ingram collected 227. Gerhart received 222. So clearly the voters saw the two as closely as I did.

I can't say that my criteria of being part of winning club tipped the scales, but it's not an unreasonable possibility.

It was one of those seasons where there really wasn't an obvious winner. And it wasn't even much like last year when you could've flipped a coin between three guys. Instead it was a mish-mash of a lot of above-average (if not necessarily excellent) players. When you get that situation, and one of the guys is on an undefeated squad who's set to play for the National Title? I think that will probably give him the nod more times than not.

All of the five finalists had outstanding seasons, and certainly deserved the honor of being considered for the most famous individual athletic award in all of sports.

Congratulations to Mark Ingram, your 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.


That's going to do it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday to wrap up my 2009 College Football Picks (thank God), and to perhaps preview Bowl Mania II? Tune in then to find out.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

12-11-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've done it again. We've made it to the end of another work week. And for me, it's significant because starting Monday, I'm back to my Monday through Friday schedule... mostly.

I still have to work this Sunday, and I'm picking up part of a shift the following Saturday. So there's still some weekend work involved. But for the most part it's back to normal.

Yeah, I can't wait either.

But before we get to all that, there's a Friday column to crank out. I know some of you are wondering why it's getting up so late. That's because today was the final day of the “Don Shelby Show” on WCCO Radio. Don's retiring from radio and beginning his final year on WCCO TV.

So needless to say, things were pretty hectic around the studio earlier today. And instead of being smart and cranking out the column last night as I initially intended, I'm trying to piece it together during the Michele Tafoya show. So if you're reading this and there's a feeling of “stop/start” to the flow of the column, that's why.

… and I'm picking back up again. Let's get to the DFTU-ing before this thing goes completely off the rails, shall we?

”Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”
- Bernard Berenson (1865 - 1959), American art historian


So “consistency” isn't always what it's cracked up to be, eh? Maybe writing this column piecemeal isn't the worst thing in the world?!

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With that, it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 14-13-3, which gives them 31 points. They're 5th in the Northwest Division and 14th in the Western Conference.

Okay, last place in the Northwest, and 14th in the West aren't good. But we're trying to be positive around here!

So I'll point out that the Wild are 11-4-3 in their last 18 games and 7-1-1 in their last 9 games. Anti Miettinen is on fire since he came back from injury, and Mikko Koivu has officially made the leap to becoming one of the league's dominant players.

Those are all great things.

The problem? 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points and a -17. If I told you that a forward had put up those numbers over 24 games, you'd either ask if he was a goon, or if he was on a plane headed to the team's AHL affiliate. Unfortunately, those numbers belong to Martin Havlat. And Havlat was signed to a six-year, $30 million deal. Obviously he's not a goon, and you can't pay a guy $6 million per season and have him down in Houston.

I don't know what the problem is. Maybe he's pressing. Maybe he's hurt and we don't know it. Maybe he's having trouble adjusting to Todd Richards' system. Or maybe it's a combination of all those things and more that we're not aware of.

All I know is that so far, Havlat's signing has been a complete bust. It's dangerous to say that after the 30-game mark of a season. But by now, I think we should've at least seen flashes from Havlat. Some dazzling plays here or there, just to show us his potential.

But the last time Havlat made me say “wow” was in a pre-season game against Chicago. And that was against a Blackhawk squad that brought along maybe 4 of their regulars. So it doesn't really count.

I'm hoping the Wild keeps on their current roll. I'd hate to see them go into full-on “Fire Sale” mode. In their history, we've never really seen that around here, and I'd really rather not start now. But even if they do, I'm not sure they could move Havlat's contract. That's a LOT of dough to take on for a guy who's not producing.

So if you can't demote him, and you can't trade him, what do you do? I think all the Wild can do is keep running him out there. Tweaking what line he plays on is difficult because other lines (Miettinen-Koivu-Brunette, Kobasew-Belanger-Latendresse and even Clutterbuck-Brodziak-Sheppard) are developing chemistry together, and you don't want to screw that up just to try and get Havlat minutes.

It's a tough spot for Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher. But then, that's why they're getting paid big bucks while I'm writing this blog for free!

The Wild continue their road trip tonight in Calgary before heading to Vancouver tomorrow night. Then they have a couple of days off before a home game Tuesday. After that, it's back on the road for an East Coast swing starting in Montreal on Thursday.

Arizona Diamondbacks: It's the off-season, duh! So there's no record to report.

But that doesn't mean there's not action to discuss.

The Winter Meetings have officially come to a close. There wasn't a ton of movement since a lot of teams are waiting until tomorrow when the deadline for tendering arbitration offers passes. Once teams decide who they will or won't offer arbitration to, that will increase the number of free agents available. Once that list is finalized, teams will have a much better idea of how they want to tweak their roster - whether by trade or free agent signing.

But there was one “mega-deal” that came off at those meetings, and the Diamondbacks were involved.

The biggest name involved was OF Curtis Granderson who's going from the expansive confines of Comerica Park to the monument-laden stretch of turf in centerfield at Yankee stadium. Granderson provides the Yankees with an upgrade defensively, speed on the base paths, and another lead-off option, allowing Derek Jeter to move back down to 2nd in the order. Clearly this was a win for the Bombers.

But what about the other two teams involved?

The Tigers get pitchers Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer from Arizona, and Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees.

Detroit gets a lot of young talent and payroll relief, but in the short term they took a small step backwards.

The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, got some immediate help. RHP Edwin Jackson comes over from Detroit and RHP Ian Kennedy comes from the Yankees.

It pains me to see the Snakes give up on Scherzer. I know you have to give something to get something, but that kid's got a ton of talent and should be a fixture in Detroit's rotation for years to come.

On the other hand, Jackson's a known commodity. In the first half of the 2009 season, Jackson was one of the league leaders in Wins and ERA. He stumbled slightly in the second half, but he should fit right in as the second or third starter for Arizona.

Kennedy is something of a question-mark. He appeared in only one game for the Yankees last year, and has been in only 14 games in his major league career. Once thought of as one of the Yankees' top pitching prospects, his stock has slipped some in recent years. Clearly the D'backs are hoping that a change of scenery will help spark a resurgence in his mojo.

I've seen some analysis that indicates that Arizona got the bad end of this deal. And I'll admit that there are a lot of “if's” involved. “If” Jackson is more consistent in the second half, and “if” Kennedy can hold down a spot in the rotation, then I think this could be a good deal for the Snakes.

Like I said, I hate to see Scherzer go. Schlereth I can live without. I know, I know, his dad's and ex-NFL'er and current analyst for ESPN. Blah, blah, blah. The kid's young, and maybe will grow into a big league reliever, but I didn't see much from him last year that the Diamondbacks can't live without.

The deal ultimately should be a boost to Arizona's starting rotation. Now if they can get themselves back on track offensively, maybe this off-season will be a memorable one.

Spring Training is only 3 months away! (Yep, I can't wait either.)


Okay, that's going to do it for today. Sorry if it was a little dis-jointed, but thems the breaks when I'm trying to piece it together around “Don Shelby Day” in the state of Minnesota. I'm not making that up. The Governor actually declared it. Oof.

I'll be back on Monday with more of... I don't know what. But I'll have something! Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

12-9-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 14 Post-Mortem & Week 15 Pick

Hello again everybody...

I'm writing to you today on what I hope will be the last Wednesday I spend at the home offices for a while. Without receiving strict promises, yesterday I was given the strongest indication yet that I'll start back on a Monday-Friday schedule next week.

It's been an interesting few months on an “alternative schedule”. Certainly, I can't say it's all been bad. But as I indicated to you on Monday, I'm more than happy to be getting back to what I'd grown to consider a “normal” schedule.

I don't think the change has affected my blogging much, but if any of you have noticed tweaks, hopefully they'll revert back to normal as well.

Thanks to all who were kind enough to bear with me while I worked these goofy hours. Hopefully I won't have to impose upon you again any time soon!

Lest you think that my schedule caused me to goof and forget a “s” at the end of the column title, there's only one more game to pick in this college football regular season, and it might be my favorite game of the whole year.

So let's get the bloody reviewing out of the way so we can get to the picking, okay?

”Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”
- Don Marquis (1878 - 1937), American humorist, journalist and author.


At this point, I'm not even keeping up with last year! At least not in my picks. Which brings me to...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 14 Post-Mortem

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Fewer games to pick from meant none that I passed on, so let's get to the real deal!

Cincinnati -2 @ Pittsburgh: Final Score - Cincinnati 45, Pittsburgh 44

Oof. I'd almost rather get crushed than lose by one point. Especially when the one point comes from a missed PAT.

Pittsburgh had ample opportunity to win this game, or at least ensure that the game would go to overtime (thereby giving me a chance at a cover), but failed to execute a simple play at a crucial moment and opened the door for the Bearcats to eke out a 1-point win.

I certainly didn't expect this game to be low-scoring, but a 99-point offensive orgy? That wasn't on my list of potential outcomes either. And it leads me to...

What Dan Learned: I still haven't decided about doing a second version of “Bowl Mania” yet. But as I look ahead to the Sugar Bowl (Florida vs. Cincinnati), the Bearcats' distinct lack of defensive presence in this game will be something to remember. It's not like Florida's defense really showed up against Alabama either. But the Gators seem to have more talent on defense than Cincy does, and that could be a crucial factor in deciding that game. Cincy will score on Florida for sure. But I'm liking the Gators more and more. Especially if Bearcat coach Brian Kelly ends up bolting for Notre Dame.

0-1... by thiiiiis much. But still determined to fight it out!

Next...

Alabama +5.5 vs. Florida: Final Score - Alabama 32, Florida 13

Wow.

As I spoke with people about this game throughout the week, I maintained that the only thing that would surprise me is a blow-out. And that's pretty much what we got.

Alabama jumped Florida early, and never let up off the gas. It had been a long time since the Gators had been popped in the mouth early and found themselves on the wrong side of a lopsided score late. And it was clear that Florida didn't have much of an idea of what to do about either situation.

Tide QB Greg McElroy had maybe his best game of the season, and RB Mark Ingram re-stated his case for the Heisman Trophy.

Strangely, what was supposed to be the best of the championship games, was actually the least entertaining.

What Dan Learned: Also looking ahead to a potential “Bowl Mania II”, Alabama's got to be close to a 10-point favorite in the Championship game. If it's any less than that, we bet the Tide with both hands. If it's too much more, then great care has to be taken. Texas has looked very vulnerable at times, but Mack Brown is a great head coach, and there's no way Colt McCoy's going to let his club be embarrassed in that game.

Back to 1-1 and hoping for good things the rest of the day...

Thirdly...

Clemson +1 vs. Georgia Tech: Final Score - Georgia Tech 39, Clemson 34

Okay, I flat whiffed on this one. I had it on in the studio on one of the TV's behind me so I could check the score, but I can't say that I watched much of it at all.

In the preview, I said I was going with Clemson because I was concerned about the health of Yellowjackets QB Josh Nesbitt.

Well, he went 9-of-16 for 136 yards passing and one TD. And he ran for 103 yards and another TD. So I guess that little theory wasn't worth much!

I should've known better than to go against the Triple Option!

What Dan Learned: Why not stick with the theme... Georgia Tech plays Iowa in the Orange Bowl. And I haven't the foggiest notion of how that game will go. Off the top of my head, I'd say you make Tech the favorite by 4 or 5 points and see what the betting public decides. But for all the decent feelings I have on the previous two games I've discussed, I've really got no clue here. And that's probably about what you'd expect!

1-2 and praying my Flier Pick can at least get me back to .500 for the week.

Finally...

Wisconsin -12.5 at Hawaii: Final Score - Wisconsin 51, Hawaii 10
*- This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

Now I'm really going to disappoint you. I didn't see a second of this game. Unfortunately, last Thursday, I came down with some form of the crud that's been going around, and by Saturday, it had grabbed hold of me pretty good.

This game didn't tick off until 10:30pm central time, so by the time I got home from work I could have watched a large part of it. But I was so zonked from the virus that I went straight to bed. I crashed so hard in fact, that the updates that I get texted to my phone didn't even wake me up.

Mea Culpa. I wasn't there for you Bucky. But thankfully, you came through anyway!

So that gets me to 2-2 for the week, which leaves me 22-26 (.458) on the year, and officially kills any chance I had of making it back to .500 for the season. Yes, I'm disappointed. No, I'm not sorry I tried.

But if you think that clinching a sub-.500 record is going to stop me from picking one last game, you're sorely mistaken!

2009 College Football Picks: Week 15

There's only one FCS game played this week, and dammit, I'm picking it!

Navy -14 vs. Army (1:30pm, CBS): The Midshipmen are 8-4. The Black Knights are 5-6.

I say this nearly every season, but it bears repeating: this may be my favorite game of the entire college football year.

It's everything that's right about college football, and nearly none of what's wrong with it. Throw in the fact that it's a 3+ hour celebration of those who nobly serve in our country's armed forces, and what's not to love about it?!

I also feel a twinge of regret each time I pick this game. My maternal grandfather served in the Navy, while my paternal grandfather served in the Army. I'm proud of both, so picking one team seems like picking against a grandfather, you know?

But I think that both would enjoy the idea of me paying attention to the game, and hopefully Grandpa Cook won't mind it too much when I point out that Army's been having their lunch handed to them in this annual contest for the last seven years.

Army hasn't won this game since 2001, and has only won it four times in their last 15 tries.

In the last seven losses, the closest Army's come to winning was in 2006 when they lost by only 12 points. Yes, Navy's been that dominant.

Combine those numbers with their records against common opponents - Navy beat Air Force 16-13, while Army lost 35-7; both teams lost to Temple, though Navy's was a 3-point deficit while Army's was by two touchdowns - and the only possible play here is to take Navy and give the points.

Sorry Grandpa Cook, I'm going with Grandpa Chet's Midshipmen this week. I'm sure the two of you can wager a good cigar over the game and have no hard feelings!


So that's it for this week. And really for the season. If any of you have any thoughts for or against “Bowl Mania II”, pass them along. Enough people saying “yeah, do it!” would probably convince me rather quickly.

That'll be all for today. I'm back on Friday to talk DFTU. Could there be another baseball discussion? Tune in Friday and find out!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

12-7-09: Mailbag

Hello again everybody...

Back at it once again. No confirmation yet, but (knock on wood), it looks like this might be my last week on my goofy schedule. I'm hoping to know for sure later in the week, but I'm hoping as of next week, I'll be back to a Monday through Friday schedule.

I'm not sure if I took it for granted necessarily, but I have a whole new appreciation for that schedule. Radio is one of those fields where you expect to work goofy hours early in the process. But once you advance to the point where you earn a Monday-Friday week, and then lose it? It's less than convenient... I'll just leave it at that.

Also, thanks to those of you who have been inquiring as to my health status. The crud is still here, but so far thanks to copious amounts of OJ and Airborne (seriously, if you haven't tried the stuff, at the first sniffle, or tickle, start taking it pronto... it helps), I've been able to mitigate the effects of it. So far...

Yeah, I think I'm going to throw another “knocking on wood” in there. Just in case.

Today, it's the return of the bag. Last night, they announced which college football teams would be going where for the wonder of all the bowl games. But one in particular has rankled some people... I've got an email asking about it, and I'll discuss.

Break out your letter openers and let's do this!

”You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
- Jack London (1876 - 1916), American author


So maybe Elin wasn't pissed at Tiger, she was just looking for some inspiration?

Sorry Tiger, but you teed it up. (That was unintentional, Lon.) We're all going to line up to take our hacks.

My favorite tweet from this weekend was regarding a discussion as to whether Michael Chiklis (lead actor from “The Shield”) could be taken seriously as an “asskicker” since he's only 5'7”... it read as follows:

“It's possible to be an asskicker at 5'7''. Pacquiao... Mayweather... Elin”

Priceless...

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Time for the...

Sports Take Mailbag

Remember, if you've got a burning sports questions that's been gnawing at you for weeks, or if you've just got something you're generally curious about, please drop me an email at: dcook93@yahoo.com. I can't promise a complete, thorough or unquestionably correct answer. But I'll be as entertaining as I can about it!

On to today's email which comes to us courtesy of David in Milwaukee...

I saw some mock BCS match-ups and saw that they put TCU against Boise State? Would that really happen? Seems odd to me that any of the BCS Bowls would accept both of these teams. And seems like they'd screw the non-BCS schools by not giving them a shot at the big boys. Thoughts?

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this email on Wednesday, prior to the actual bowl match-ups being announced.

So to answer one question, yes David, that did really happen. And it was the Fiesta Bowl that decided to accept the match-up of Boise State and TCU.

The spin from the BCS? “It's the first time that a BCS bowl other than the Championship Game has featured a match-up of two undefeated teams.”

Really? THAT'S the justification? Oof.

As for my thoughts? I'm actually of two minds on the subject. So I've decided to make my best arguments “for” and “against” this match-up. Then I'll let you decide.

First up...

This game is a good idea...

If you look at the all the BCS match-ups (Orange: Georgia Tech vs. Iowa, Rose: Ohio St. vs. Oregon, Sugar: Florida vs. Cincinnati, Fiesta: TCU vs. Boise St., and Championship: Alabama vs. Texas), the Fiesta Bowl has the potential to be the most exciting of the five.

There may be some fireworks in the Sugar Bowl, but that could just as easily be a beat down handed out by the Gators.

Outside of that game, the rest aren't too difficult to predict - I'm talking winners/losers, not necessarily spreads.

But the Fiesta Bowl? TCU will be your favorite, but darned near anything could happen.

TCU has averaged over 40 points per game in their 12 wins this year. In their last 4 games, they haven't scored less than 45. In their last 7 games, they've surrendered more than 12 points only once. And that was against a solid Utah squad.

Boise State averaged almost 48 points per game in their 12 wins. Their offense topped 60 in one game this year, something that TCU didn't manage. Defensively, they weren't as good as the Horned Frogs, surrendering 20+ points six times.

But given those numbers, this thing could be a track meet.

And if it's a close, high-scoring game, doesn't that bring more attention and garner more comments than a big win over an Iowa or Georgia Tech?

Ultimately, if you're TCU or Boise State you're trying to increase your visibility and improve your image with kids who wouldn't otherwise see your school play. And given the “Battle of the BCS Busters” byline to this game, it's more likely to get headlines than if they were playing the ACC Champ or a second-place Big Ten team.


Secondly...

This game is a bad idea...

Here we go again. The rich, old men that run the BCS have done everything they can to keep non-BCS conference schools out of the picture. But when two of them go undefeated and by virtue of their play demand to be allowed into the group, they find a way to stick them in the same bowl. That way the “Big Boys” don't have to take a chance at getting beat by a TCU or a Boise State.

The last four times a non-BCS school has taken on a member of the Big Six conferences? They've gone 3-1. And now two of them want to take their shots in the same year?

No, no, no. We can't have that!

If non-BCS conferences are every supposed to be legit contenders for the national title, they have to be allowed to demonstrate that even though their schedules are considered inferior, they can compete with the elite in college football.

That won't happen this year. Outside of Alabama and maybe Florida, there aren't any other teams making BCS appearances that I don't think TCU could beat. And quite frankly, I'd only make Florida a 3-point favorite. And against Boise? Now I think Oregon and Cincinnati become questions, but again, they'd be low single-digit favorites at the most.

The biggest disappointment is that 2009 could've been the season where we really found out. There are many who would refer to the three previous wins in BCS Bowls by non-BCS teams as flukes. But if two teams got in and beat BCS schools in the same season? You can't call that a fluke anymore. That would make the case for inclusion as well as anything could.

Sure, the game could be a track meet. But even if it is an exciting one, the winner will be dismissed as the most talented team at the little kid's table. And that's it. Not a legit national championship contender, which is certainly where TCU at least, belongs.


So there you have it. Good thing, or a bad thing? You make the call. Tack a comment on below and let us all know what you think. Especially if you feel like there's another angle that I haven't mentioned.

And thanks again to David in Milwaukee for the question. Remember, if you want your question answered, drop me an email at: dcook93@yahoo.com.

I'll be back on Wednesday with the final week of regular season college football picks.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

12-4-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

I'm going to be real honest with you. I don't feel much like writing today. Not sure if it's the real crud or not, but yesterday I started getting that tickle at the back of my throat that let me know something was up.

As the day went on, I started feeling more tired and run down. So I'm pounding “Airborne” and free-basing Vitamin C in an effort to ward off whatever bug it is that's invaded my system.

Yes mom, I know. Plenty of rest, plenty of fluids. I'm doing my best!

So I'm going to crank out a brief DFTU for you today and hope that you'll understand the need for brevity.

Onward!

”Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.”
- Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895), English biologist


Don't just believe what they tell you is true. Believe what your senses and intuition tell you is true. You'll probably be right more often than not.

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Speaking of what my intuition tells me is true... it's time, once again, for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 11-12-3, which gives them 25 points and places them last in the Northwest Division and 12th of 15 teams in the Western Conference.

Okay. None of that sounds terribly impressive. But how about this? The Wild are 4-0-1 in their last 5 games, 5-2-3 in their last 10 and have their first 3-game winning streak of the season. They're also 8-3-1 in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center.

Those numbers are a start anyway.

There are other reasons to feel good about the Wild's latest stretch as well. They've added two new players in the last couple of weeks, center Andrew Ebbett and winger Guillaume Latendresse.

Ebbett was signed after his second trip to the waiver wire this season. The Wild had actually considered signing Ebbett after the first time he was released, but passed because he didn't fit well within their salary cap. But the second time around, they had more room due to a rash of injuries. Listed at 5-10, 178 (both numbers are probably inflated), Ebbett doesn't take up a ton of room on the ice. But the Wild like the way he skates and the energy he can bring to a team. Ebbett is one of those guys who's limitations have often put him on checking lines where his skills don't fit well. The Wild have decided to try playing him on a line with more skilled guys - last night he centered Martin Havlat and Chuck Kobasew - and see if his quickness can help set those guys up. Since he got the overtime winner Wednesday night against Nashville, I'd say things have started well enough.

Guillaume Latendresse (yes, I've almost become used to typing that name) was acquired in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. In exchange for Latendresse, the Wild sent winger Benoit Pouliot to Montreal. Pouliot represented another in a series of disappointing first-round draft picks for a while. Hopefully the change of scenery will benefit Pouliot, though being from the Montreal area could also increase the pressure on him to perform.

Latendresse, however, has fit in nicely with the Wild so far. At 6-2, 229, Latendresse's game is the opposite of Ebbett's. Often criticized in Montreal for his lack of skating ability, Gui prefers to use his size and aggressiveness to excel on the ice. And so far, he's impressed. He has three points (2 goals, 1 assist) in his three games with the Wild. He was a monster Wednesday night, breaking up all kinds of Nashville rushes in the neutral zone, creating a turnover that led to the goal he scored and setting up Ebbett's winner in overtime. He didn't make one of the Three Stars of the game, but he should have.

After the game, head coach Todd Richards mentioned that he thought both Ebbett and Latendresse had not only brought their own energy - in an attempt to justify the Wild's faith in bringing them there, but had also inspired energy in the rest of the club since any time you bring in new talent, their ice time has to come with somewhere, and the guys already on the team don't want to have to sacrifice their minutes. Competition is a good thing, and the new blood has sparked a bit of it with the Wild.

So there are reasons to have some hope, Wild fans. The playoffs are still a long way off. But they're not entirely out of reach either. And there's a lot of hockey yet to be played.

The Wild play their last game at home for a bit tonight against the Anaheim Ducks. Then it's on the road for five games starting Saturday in Nashville (bet the over... trust me). Monday they're in Phoenix, and Wednesday in Colorado. All of those are winnable games. Back-to-back tonight and tomorrow won't be easy. Hopefully they start things out well tonight against a Duck squad who's struggled even more than the Wild have in the early goings.


Wisconsin Badgers: The Badger football team is 8-3 (5-3 in the Big Ten), in fourth place in the conference and looking at an Outback Bowl bid, should they perform up to expectations Saturday night in Hawaii.

The Badger basketball team is 5-1 (0-0 in the Big Ten), and in fourth place in the conference if you go strictly by non-conference records, since nobody's played a conference game yet.

Yes, it's a combo-platter this week. I'm not sure how much I'll be doing with the Basketball squad this year. Regular readers know I have less than no time for pro basketball. And unfortunately, I have to admit that even the college game has lost some of its appeal for me. But I mention them with good reason this week. More on that it a minute...

First up, football. As I mentioned Wednesday, Bucky's off on their annual visit to Hawaii. And I'm sure they couldn't be more pleased. Sun, surf and a 6-6 opponent. What more could a team trying to improve their bowl position ask for? The exotic locale hasn't hampered Wisconsin's efforts in the past, and there doesn't seem to be much reason to think it will this time. At last check Wisconsin was a 12.5-point favorite. And I'm still good with my pick of them minus said spread.

The Outback Bowl committee has already settled on Auburn as the SEC representative in the Outback Bowl. The Big Ten representative comes down to either Wisconsin or Northwestern. Both teams finished with 5-3 records in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats beat Wisconsin just two weeks ago. So why is Wisconsin still in the running? Because if they beat Hawaii they'll end up with a 9-3 record which would best Northwestern's 8-4 mark and justify taking Wisconsin ahead of them.

The other mark in Wisconsin's favor is history. The Badgers and Auburn Tigers met in 2005, that time in the Capital One Bowl. Bucky won that contest 24-10. So the 2009 Outback Bowl would set-up the re-match.

Even if Wisconsin doesn't get the Outback bid, they'll still likely end up in Florida, as the Champ's Sports Bowl would have the next pick after the Outback. So it should be a sunny winter trip for Wisconsin regardless of which game they end up in.

Moving on...

I mentioned the basketball squad earlier. Why, if I'm not sure I'll be Updating them on a regular basis? Glad you asked.

Bucky beat Duke! Bucky beat Duke! Bucky beat Duke!

That's why.

The Badgers knocked off the 5th-ranked Blue Devils 73-69 Wednesday night in Madison as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It was Duke's first loss on the season and avenged a brutal loss for Bucky in Durham two years ago.

I have to admit, I didn't give the Badgers any chance in this game prior to tip-off. In fact, I even wagered against them on Facebook's recreational-gaming app. But as I sat in the Al Shaver Press Box in the Xcel Energy Center, I kept an eye on the score. I saw Wisconsin up by five early on. Then I saw them up by six at the half. Then I saw them extend the lead to double-digits in the second half. Ah, but it was Duke they were playing. And that meant a late-second-half run was coming. And sure enough it did. Duke got as close as two in the late stages, but couldn't finish off the comeback. Wisconsin held on to win by four.

So what does this portend for Wisconsin's season? Probably not much. Minnesota knocked off Louisville in an early-season tournament last year, and didn't make the NCAA's by the time it was all said and done.

(Correction: Minnesota did make the NCAA tournament last year, but lost in the first round. I think the basic point still holds.)

I'm not saying that's Wisconsin's fate, just that you can't read too much into an early-season victory.

Up next for the Badgers is a game with Grambling on Saturday before heading up to Green Bay to take on the UWGB Phoenix next Wednesday. Both winnable games before what should be an exciting tilt a week from Saturday versus Marquette.

Maybe I'm not so down on college hoops after all!


Okay kids, that's going to do it for this week. I'm going to try and get some rest and hope that this bug doesn't take hold. Wish me luck!

I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

12-2-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 13 Post-Mortem & Week 14 Picks

Hello again everybody...

It's the middle of the week, and it's all downhill from here! Been a long time since I've typed a sentence like that. No, my schedule hasn't been righted just yet, but let's just say I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm pretty sure it's not a train.

(Ed.'s Note: Before we get to the rest of the column, a quick note. I received a lot of reaction from Monday's column, and couldn't have been more pleased. Thanks to all who responded. Tiger released an additional statement on his website today. You can read that here. Recognize some of the verbiage? Tiger's starting to come around on this. Though he's still trying to hide certain details and cloak himself in privacy more than he should. You're getting there Tiger. But you still need to stand in front of cameras and take it like a man. On with the rest of the column...)

Mid-week time means one thing this time of year at The Sports Take... the lousiest in college football prognostication! Okay, so maybe the year hasn't been that horrible. But it sure as heck hasn't been good.

But there's only a few weeks left. Then it's time to warm up for the slate of bowl games!

So let's review the weekend that was and preview the weekend upcoming!

”Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
- Albert Camus (1913 - 1960), French author, philosopher, and journalist


I gave up wasting that kind of energy years ago. Does my new phone have a light saber app? You better believe it does. Am I the least bit bothered by those who might think that a bit odd? You better believe I'm not!

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I am however a bit perturbed by the way my picks have been going. And unfortunately, this week wasn't any better. Let's take a look...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 13 Post-Mortem

First, the game I looked at, but passed on...

Pittsburgh -1 at West Virginia: Final Score - West Virginia 19, Pitt 16

And I'm glad I passed on it. Didn't see this game. It turned out that SyFy Channel (don't blame me, I didn't tell them to spell the name like that) was having a Bond Marathon the day after I'd created my own for Thanksgiving. And as you know by now, I can't watch too much Bond. Picking a close game on the road is a dicey proposition. Thankfully, I passed.

As for the games I did pick...

First...

North Carolina -6 at North Carolina State: Final Score - NC State 28, NC 27

North Carolina had two separate 10-point leads in this game, but choked it away down the stretch. I'll give the Wolfpack credit, they stepped up, adjusted and executed well in the second half.

But if the Tar Heels hadn't committed something on the order of 800 penalties (note: that statistic is not official), they would've at least won the game, if not covered. At least two NC State scoring drives were sustained by key Tar Heel penalties.

You can't win a rivalry game doing that, especially on the road.

What Dan Learned: I'm not sure if I've said this yet this year, but I honestly don't regret this pick. I watched most of the game and it was clear to me that North Carolina was the more talented team. Unfortunately, “more talented” teams lose when they commit too many mental errors. And how you're supposed to predict things like that is beyond me.

0-1 and rooting for TCU to get me back to .500 on the week...

Next...

TCU -44.5 vs. New Mexico: Final Score - TCU 51, New Mexico 10

Well the “take TCU til they fail to cover” was bound to end sometime. They certainly scored enough to make covering possible. But a 2nd Quarter let-down added to a 3rd Quarter shut-out meant I came up one score short.

The game wasn't on TV locally, so all I know is what I saw online, while watching the scoreboard. TCU allowed the Lobos to score their only points of the game in the second quarter. Unfortunately, those 10 meant the Horned Frogs had to put up 55.

That turned out to be within reach as they ended with 51, but a scoreless 3rd stanza kept them from covering for me. No idea what New Mexico did differently in the 3rd, since they gave up 21 in the 2nd and 4th quarters respectively. Whatever it was, it cost me a cover, and earned New Mexico my ire for some time to come!

What Dan Learned: I'd love to create a rule that says “never give 40+ points, just don't do it” or something like that. But TCU had already covered a 40+ point spread this year, so it wouldn't quite work. Strangely, I'm 0-2 on the day, and not regretting either pick. Big-picture realism? Or surrendering to this year's lousy showing in my picks? You decide...

0-2 and praying my Flier Pick comes through!

Thirdly...

Virginia Tech -16 at Virginia: Final Score - Va Tech 42, Virginia 13
*- This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

There we go! Sometimes it takes a Flier to turn things around.

I'll admit to having been close to writing this one off when it hit halftime and Tech led 14-13 and the Cavalier defense showed every sign of keeping Virginia close for the duration.

But there's a reason that Frank Beamer is one of the best coaches in college football. Tech adjusted at half, came out and got a big turnover in the 3rd quarter, and ripped off 28 unanswered in the second half to cruise to a big win.

Emotion can carry you a ways in a rivalry game, as we saw in the NC/NC State game. But it can only do so much. Virginia Tech rarely beat themselves, and eventually their talent overwhelmed Virginia.

What Dan Learned: Somebody's going to have the unfortunate reward of drawing Virginia Tech as their bowl opponent. Whoever it is, I wouldn't want to be them. Poor schmucks.

1-2 and counting on the Triple-Option to get me back to .500 on the day!

Finally...

Georgia Tech -7.5 vs. Georgia: Final Score - Georgia 30, Georgia Tech 24

Sigh...

I knew I was screwed on this one when Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt went out in the second quarter with a leg injury. He came back in the second half, but wasn't the mobile quarterback the Triple Option requires him to be.

Still, he was a better option than back-up Jaybo Shaw. (Really? Jaybo?!) And did a nice job making it a close game.

I should also give Georgia some credit. They came out with a power running game that the Yellowjackets were loathe to stop. Of course, that makes one wonder where the hell that's been all year? But either way, the important thing is I lost... again.

What Dan Learned: Nesbitt's injury puts the ACC Championship game very much in play for Clemson. If the odds-makers aren't paying attention and make Georgia Tech a sizable favorite (anything more than 3-points is too much), then Clemson's an easy play.

So that leaves me 1-3 on the week. Not exactly what I had in mind. I'm now 20-24 (.455) on the year. It's going to take a miracle in these last couple weeks to get back to .500.

But I will not be deterred!

With that, I give you...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 14

It's a reduced slate of games this week as most conferences have finished their regular schedules, and we move on to the Championship games.

So no games to pass on this week... we get right 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...

Cincinnati -2 @ Pittsburgh (11am, ABC): The Bearcats are 11-0 (6-0 in the Big East). The Panthers are 9-2 (5-1 in the Big East).

This one decides the Big East BCS representative. Should the Panthers win, they'd be tied for the best record in the conference and would own the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Bearcats.

But I don't think Cincy head coach Brian Kelly is going to allow that to happen. And I don't just say that because his name keeps coming up in regards to the new vacancy at Notre Dame.

Cincinnati's only shot at a BCS Championship appearance comes if they win this game and Nebraska somehow beats Texas. And the Bearcats get to try and take care of their own business first.

That should have them focused and ready. Pittsburgh's a good football team. Cincinnati's just better.

I'll give the two and roll with the Cats.

Next...

Alabama +5.5 vs. Florida (3pm, CBS): The Crimson Tide are 12-0 (8-0 in the SEC). The Gators are 12-0 (8-0 in the SEC).

The SEC Championship. The clash of the Titans. For all intents and purposes, a national semi-final game.

Someone asked me during the week what I thought the line on this game should be. I said if it's any more than three, take the points and thank somebody.

Turns out the odds-makers have Florida as a 5.5-point favorite.

I think Alabama can win this game outright, so I'm certainly pleased to see I'm getting nearly a touchdown's-worth of points to pad the score.

Of course this is a re-match of the game that Florida won last year. But the 2008 Gators had far more weapons at their disposal than the 2009 version. Plus, Alabama's defense has gotten better.

I won't be shocked if Florida wins, but I'll be mildly surprised if it's by more than a touchdown.

So I'll take the points and hope for new blood in the BCS Championship.

Thirdly...

Clemson +1 vs. Georgia Tech (7pm, ESPN): The Tigers are 8-4 (6-2 in the ACC). The Yellowjackets are 10-2 (7-1 in the ACC).

The ACC Championship. The winner goes to a BCS bowl. The loser? Not so much.

Call my pick an over-reaction to losing with the Jackets last week if you like, but here's a very important fact:

Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt is “probable” for this game, but not 100%. And without a healthy Nesbitt, Tech's offense just doesn't go like it should.

Yes, Clemson took a whipping from South Carolina last week. But teams from the ACC often get whipped by teams from the SEC. That's nothing new. Plus, the Tigers had won their 6 previous games, and all but one of those wins were by double-digit margins.

A dinged up Tech + a game Clemson team + a point? I'll take that, thank you.

Finally...

Wisconsin -12.5 at Hawaii (10:30pm, ESPN): The Badgers are 8-3 (5-3 in the Big Ten). The Warriors are 6-6 (3-5 in the Western Athletic Conference).
*- This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Ah, the Badgers annual pre-bowl trip to Hawaii. Say what you want about Barry Alvarez, but one of the smartest things he ever did was negotiate this deal with the University of Hawaii.

You want to play a Big Ten team to help your strength of schedule? Sure! We'll even come to you! What a deal? You don't mind if we tell recruits that part of the bonus of coming to Wisconsin is a free trip to Hawaii, do you? Of course not! Thanks!

What about the pick, you say?

Right, that's sort of the point, isn't it.

The Badgers have traditionally done well against Hawaii, and the coaches have had two weeks to game-plan against the Warriors.

I'll give the 12 points and take my chances!


So there you have it. Four picks to put in your pocket so you can mock and ridicule me next week!

Trust me, I'll likely deserve it.


That's going to wrap things up for today. I'll be back on Friday with the somewhat delayed, but never denied DFTU!

Until then, thanks for reading!