Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s early in October, it’s the Texas State Fair, and it’s College Football so it must be the Red River rivalry. The Red River rivalry is everything that makes College Football great. Two weeks ago my professor at the University of Texas was answering questions about an upcoming test. One of the questions asked was, “are we going to have off on Friday in two weeks?” This test was worth 30 percent of our entire grade but the Red River Rivalry was this fan’s true concern, and I can’t fault him.

First let’s go over the basics. It’s an annual game that is held at the Cotton bowl in Dallas—always between the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners. The first meeting between these two schools was in 1900, and 105 games later, Texas leads the series 59–41–5.  Many of these games have had both conference and national implications, since very often one or both teams are undefeated.  For all these reasons, the Red River Rivalry is one of the most anticipated and exciting games of the entire college football season.

This year’s game has just as much anticipation as any other year. Both teams are undefeated with Oklahoma ranked third in the nation and Texas ranked eleventh. It’s a statement game for both teams. Oklahoma is looking to show that they deserve the number one ranking that they had earlier in the season while Texas is looking to let the nation know that this isn't the Texas team from a year ago.

Texas is the underdog in the game, but being that it is a rivalry game means that any team can pull out a win. Here are my keys to the game that will allow Texas to pull off the big upset. If I were Mack Brown this is what I would tell my team all week, make sure that they game is close in the fourth quarter, because if it is we will make the plays to win it. To do this there are two things the Longhorns need to do. First off, Texas needs to stop the run. If Oklahoma can run the ball consistently, the play action will open up all of the Sooner’s playbook and also prevent the Longhorns from blitzing as much as they would like. Last year the Longhorns defense got winded by the Sooner’s hurry-up offense. The Longhorns must counter by managing the game speed while on offense. Let the game clock run down, and run the ball to shorten the length of the game. Managing the speed gives their defense plenty of rest and makes sure that the Sooners have the least amount of time with the ball.

The Red River Rivalry is truly one of the greatest games in all of sports. Every year two of the premier College Football programs meet at a neutral site to duke it out in 60 minutes of hard hitting action. I can’t think of a bone chilling site than the straight split between Crimson and Burnt Orange in the cotton bowl. In an atmosphere like this the cream rises to the top, and that is why this is one of the most exciting weekends of the year.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A New Passion

What is the most popular sport?  That depends on where you reside.  In the southern United States the answer is football, but what about around the world?  But worldwide, the answer is also... football, but not the type of football we usually talk about in the U.S. "Football" for the rest of the world is known as Soccer here in the States. Soccer is by far the most popular sport in the world.

I personally have not been much of a fan of the sport--except for every four years when the World Cup rolls around. This seems to be true for most Americans, but as soon as the World Cup is over, soccer slides back behind football, basketball and baseball. This cycle has been the pattern for my interest in soccer until now.

When I started college I knew I would have a new life, but I wasn’t expecting to become a fan of soccer. My suitemate, Eric Oesch, had a different idea. One of the first things I noticed when I walked into my dorm was a banner for the Liverpool Soccer team. I thought to myself, “he must be a soccer fan” and didn’t think much of it. I would soon realize that soccer is a big part of his life. Eric is a member of the Longhorn soccer team, and this is where Eric gets most of his soccer fix, but there is one other main way he satisfies his craving for the sport he loves, and that is through the video game FIFA.

I didn’t take Eric very seriously when he told me that he was going to get me into FIFA. I had played a few times before, but it never did much for me.  Something changed this time. In a short week and a half, Eric has gotten me hooked on the game, and I have begun to understand why this is the most beloved sport in the world.

For the average American sports fan, soccer is not a fast paced sport. It is two 45 minute halves of non-stop action, but there are very few critical moments that actually affect the score. I feel that this is a large reason for why soccer doesn’t have the popularity here that it does in the rest of the world--but after playing FIFA I have started to appreciate the moments where points aren’t scored.

The first thing I have learned is how difficult scoring really is. I have difficulty putting the ball in the net when I am sitting on a couch telling guys what to do with a controller. In a real game these players don’t get an overhead view of the field, they have to actually control the ball where I can assume that my player isn’t going to make a mistake and trip over the ball or something of that nature, and they are physically fatigued.

Understanding how difficult scoring is not only gives a better appreciation for the players, but it makes the moments where a goal could be scored that much more exciting. If every three minutes players are going one on one with the goalie or have a legitimate shot of scoring, it wouldn’t be that exciting. Because they are so rare, these moments bring out a flurry of emotion. When your team takes advantage of these situations you feel you could take on anyone, but when your team blows the opportunity, you feel like you have been sucker punched.  

Have you ever heard of the phrase “on any given Sunday, any team can win”? This is true in the NFL, but I believe it is even more true in Soccer. Because the window of opportunity to score is so small, even the great teams can miss out. When this happens it gives the underdog a chance to pull off the upset. When I first started playing Eric, he always beat me and it wasn’t uncommon for him to beat me by 3,4 even 5 goals. This was frustrating for me, but I will always remember the first time I beat him. He had a few great opportunities to score but he always seemed to miss by inches. As the game was winding down I found best player running free at the top of the field. When I got near the goal I crossed it in and a player headed it in. I believe it was my only shot on goal, but I made it count. Eric on the other hand had half a dozen, but none of them found the back of the net. It was then that I really understood the beauty of soccer.

Soccer still isn’t my favorite sport, but I have found a lot of value in it. It has brought out a level of emotions that I didn’t think were possible to experience from a video game. If a video game can do this to me, I can’t imagine what the real thing can do for those that live where soccer players are idolized into gods.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Every year there are players and teams that surprise people. Last year the Auburn Tigers ended the season as National Champions even though they started the season ranked 22nd in the AP poll. Tom Brady is now considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, but he was drafted in the 6th round of the draft. Players and teams like this are often called breakout players or teams. Every year, analysts try to find who will be the next breakouts. In the ensuing paragraphs I will reveal my picks for breakout team and player in College Football.
For me the team to watch this year is Wisconsin. They may be ranked number 10, but they are flying under the National Championship chatter. The Badgers are coming off a disappointing loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl and will be saying goodbye to some key components on offense and defense. On offense the main losses are in the backfield:  quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back John Clay both left for the NFL. On the defensive side, their main loss is defensive end J. J. Watt. These are very important positions they are losing quality players at, but after taking a closer look, you begin to see that they will have these holes filled.

Any time you lose an experienced quarterback it's tough, but there are two reasons that this won't be as difficult for the Badgers. First off, they are a run oriented team. This will relieve some of the pressure off the new quarterback. Secondly and more importantly, the Badgers acquired quarterback Russel Wilson from North Carolina State. Wilson is an experienced senior who threw for over 3500 yard and 28 touchdowns while rushing for another 9. Wilson will fill the void created by Tolzien's departure. As for John Clay, the Badgers had two other backs in the rotation who each rushed for over 900 yards. J.J Watt was the star on the defensive line and his presence will be missed. Although they are losing Watt, they will return the rest of their defensive line as well as key players from their secondary and linebacking core.

After addressing these losses the Badgers will be able to build off of their success from last year. Entering the Rose Bowl they were often referred to as the hottest team in football. They had a dominant offensive and defensive line that allowed them to enforce their will on their opponents. In the final 7 games of the season Wisconsin put up a monstrous 338 points and scored over 70 points in three individual games.

To aid them even more, the Badgers pulled a very favorable schedule. Their first difficult game comes in the 5th week when they host Nebraska. These four weeks prior will give Wilson plenty of time to adjust to the Badgers system. They do have two back to back road games at Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan State will be a very tough game, but with the recent troubles at Ohio State I feel that if the Badgers can best Michigan State they will be fine against Ohio State. The only other serious test they will face is Penn State. Joe Paterno will bring his Nittany Lions into Madison for the season closer. Other than these four games, I don't see the Badgers having much trouble. Don't be surprised to see the Badgers go undefeated through the season and find themselves playing for a National Championship bid in the first Big Ten championship game.

My breakout player this year is Arkansas Quarterback Tyler Wilson. He will be replacing quarterback star Ryan Mallett. Wilson really only played in one game, and that was against the future National Champion Auburn Tigers. When Mallett was taken out by a knee injury it was Wilson's time to shine. In two and a half quarters went 25 for 34 throwing for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. If this is any indication of what is to come, then 2011 will truly be a breakout season for Wilson.
Predicting who is going to break out of the ranks and do something special is nothing close to a science. There are too many uncertanties, but untill the seasons starts why not have some fun and make your own picks and maybe, just maybe you will be right.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Only Idiots Play it Safe

Reading the comments of a article can be more entertaining than reading the article itself. Not only are there people commenting that can't spell or "speak good", but every once in a while you come across a comment that makes you think you are dreaming. The other day I waited for the kick as I read that "Tulsa should consider benching the leading rusher, leading passer in Kinne. Take the 'L' and still have the rest of the season in front." That's right, this guy thinks a team should settle for a loss before the game even starts. You don't need to know the details to understand that this idea screams absurdity, but I will give the details so I can express how idiotic this statement truly is.

First off I'd like to say that no team should ever just settle for the "L". Sports are competitive games. If you don't want to compete every time you play, then quit. The sport doesn't want you. This principle is true even in Little League, none the less in top tier collegiate football. Coaches are being paid to do a job, and players have a responsibility to their team. To accept a loss in this fashion is synonymous to a resignation.

With that said, let's take a look at what brought about this comment. The article was looking into the Oklahoma Sooner's first game. In this game they host the Tulsa Hurricane. Tulsa is definitely the underdog in this game, but does that mean they should bench their leading passer and rusher and admit defeat, of course not. Tulsa might not be part of a BCS conference, but that doesn't mean they are a bad team. Last year they finished at 10-3, and 10 wins in any conference is a quality season. Included in that were wins against Notre Dame in South Bend and in the Hawaii Bowl where the Hurricane put up 62 against a 24th ranked Hawaii team. The Hurricane return Senior Quarterback G.J. Kinne who last season threw for 3,650 yards and 31 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. Kinne will be leading an offense that returns 7 other starters. On the flip side the Hurricane defense has 8 returning starters. This means that on September 3rd Tulsa will field an experienced team that knows how to win.

Not only will Tulsa have talent, but it is also has the advantage of week one. The sloppiest football is always played during the first week, and this can only help the Hurricane. The Sooners won't have played a live game for over 8 months, and the transition from practice to games can be very rough at the start of the season. If Tulsa is properly prepared they could shock a Sooner team full of big heads from their preseason ranking.

These upsets are not very likely, but they do happen. I would like to take you back to Labor Day 1989. On this day the University of Memphis Tigers rolled into Southern California to take on the USC Trojans. I can imagine that USC fans thought their Trojans would steam roll the Tigers. It was the opening game and USC was hyped to have a very good season. When the final buzzer sounded the score was Memphis-24, USC-10.

Six years ago September 3 (ironically the date of the Tulsa-Oklahoma game) the TCU horned frogs entered Norman Oklahoma to take on the Sooners. The previous year TCU had a losing season (5-6), while Oklahoma went 12-0 during the regular season and played for the National Championship. At the end of the day the score rested TCU-17, Oklahoma-10. This win would boost TCU to go on to win 11 games that year and 3 Conference titles and a Rose bowl victory in the ensuing six years. Today TCU is considered an elite program, with an elite coach in Gary Patterson. Do you think they would have made it to where they are today by being scared of a tough opponent?

Tulsa may not win on September 3 and honestly I'm not expecting them to, but I wouldn't count them out. To my online friend, there is a reason why you are posting comments online, not coaching the team. Maybe next time you should think before you post.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August: Football is in the Air

August has come again and Football is in the air, and it couldn't have come any faster. I can't think of a worse feeling than flipping the TV on and seeing an endless stream of baseball, tennis and golf highlights. The NFL lockout was the icing on the cake of Summer sports hell. But with the lockout getting resolved, that is all in the past, and we are just getting started with over five months of hard hitting football action.

The NFL lockout left a void in Sportscenter time for football action (other than legal matters). With the lockout ending on the verge of the season, an entire off season of trades and free agent signings have been compressed into a short week and a half. In that short amount of time two teams in particular have made moves to catch the media's attention. These teams being the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots acquiring two players that are notorious for drama but are being taught the "Belichick way", while the Eagles are assembling "the dream team". The actions of these two teams has single handily put Football back into the spotlight.

Fans and analysts have had the summer to speculate about the upcoming season and in August, they get to see the players hit the practice field for the first time. It's when all the speculation starts to get put into action, but at the same time no one really knows whats going to happen when the games start. Because of this balance between action and speculation, all the fans are excited about how their team will perform. During the 2008 season the Detroit Lions had the first win less season in NFL history. That next August, fans of the Detroit lions were just as excited for the upcoming season as the fans of the defending champion New Orleans Saints. They were ready to see if their team could now start the turn around and put Detroit on track to a winning season. That's the beauty of sports, no matter how rough the last season was there is always hope for next year. This hope peaks during the month of August.

Because of their high hopes for the season, trash talk between fans is highest in August. This was highlighted for me last week. While I was reading through a Big 12 blog post, there was a certain comment that caught my eye. This man was lobbying for his Oklahoma Sooners. For the most part I agreed with the comment until I read that the Oklahoma quarterback, Landry Jones, was the clear favorite for the Heisman. This Sooner Fan boy would later say "[The]Only team I would even be worried about playing would be LSU because the the title game is in their backyard but even so, no one can touch the buzz saw this year" August is great because any fan can make a comment like this and beleive it, no matter how bizzare. Oklahoma may very well have a magical year and Landry Jones may win the Heisman, but during August no one really has much of a clue, and so the Sooner Fan boy can say whatever he wants.

August may not be the month were football games dominate the weekends, but it does bring something that no other month does. The excitement for football never reaches the same level that it does during the month of August, and this is something we can all smile about.