Tuesday, Sep 28 at 10:34 PM
First, a book review.
If you have read the FMD blog in the past, you know that from time to time I will take a moment to comment on something outside the sports world, usually just before commenting on the sports world. That’s what is going to happen today.
I am about a one or two book a year guy. Some sort of promotional material or recommendation catches my eye and I try to read that book at my earliest convenience. The trailer for the movie The Road caught my attention last spring (2009). The story looked intriguing and the tagline “based on the best-seller by Cormac McCarthy” sealed it. Being a McCarthy fan I would not watch that movie till I read the book.
In the interim, I unwittingly read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, (a gift I read while on jury duty- can’t there be a better way to do jury duty?) which was worth my time if not completely life altering. My wonderful wife finally brought home the book I have been waiting to read early last week. I got home to find it and little love note dropped on the kitchen table (awww!).
I read it quickly and steadily. Like McCarthy’s A Country for Old Men, the writing style and macabre subject matter made for a tough read for the first quarter or third of the book. Once adjusted, I couldn’t put it down. It was completely life-changing and the best book I ever read (replacing The Count of Monte Cristo). I am convinced this book, despite its grim setting and graphic imaging, will be read in colleges for years to come.
I can’t review a book, I just don’t know how to write literary review. Let me just say, I was reading a narrative about a man and his son and survival in a post-apocalyptic world, following their perils and triumphs when all of a sudden I started contemplating such grand life themes of love and human nature and just what this life is all about; hope in a hopeless world and what of me will live on in my son. It was incredible how this story lead me to these thoughts and McCarthy did the same thing to me with No Country for Old Men. This time he did it even better.
It is graphic at times, but it is not overly grotesque and in my opinion, the extremes serve as a dark backdrop on which McCarthy can shine the light of the main characters against. So with that warning in mind: If you have a son- read it. If you are one-read it.
As for the movie, it was good not great. As often is the case, the book far outshines the film which was forced to condense and omit some important scenes from the book. The movie was good though.
OK, onto football.
In the novel, The Road is an inhospitable place filled with dangerous people and hardship. Not unlike the road in college football where opposing fans, often with the help of their good buddy wieser and pal Jim Beam, can make life miserable for even the best teams. The weather can be inhospitable (as in sweltering Florida heat and humidity or an Oregon rainstorm) and that’s not even taking into account the threat posed by the other team.
Kentucky got a taste of just how difficult life on the road can be in college football Saturday in Gainesville. Coming into the game UK and their fans thought that this could be the year they end their ridiculous drought against the Gators. Instead they were treated (?) to more of the same from their inhospitable SEC East rivals.
Kentucky looked completely unprepared for the Urban Meyer style offense. Maybe they thought QB John Brantley was too stiff? That actually may have been the case, but back-up freshman QB Trey Burton had plenty of pep in his step, scoring all six Florida offensive TDs, five of them rushing and one receiving. I thought Randall Cobb would be the games largest dual threat.
Maybe they just weren’t focused to stop what had previously been an unimpressive offense? Florida hit long plays in both the passing and running games consistently. After the Wildcats were able to slow Burton, The Florida Gator TD Machine, in the second quarter, the second half saw Florida (Burton) score TDs on all four of their possessions ( and all four of his second half carries) en route to taking UK behind the ole woodshed. Again.
Meanwhile, the offense actually put up decent numbers. Hartline threw for 242 yards, but his worst throw of the season was returned for a pivotal Florida score and he couldn’t make the big throw when needed.
Derrick Locke was able to surpass 100 yards rushing once again, but he often got caught moving laterally against the ultra-fast Florida defense. Cobb was completely neutralized in the running game, though he did catch 7 balls and threw for a TD on that fake FG.
(Can a kindly reader please tell me why the holder isn’t down on a fake kick? He has the ball and his knee is down, I can see an exception for a kick, but what is the rule that allows him to get up and make another football play? Couldn’t he just stay there on a knee feigning he is down until someone opens up when everyone lets up? Could he lie down on the ground entirely?)
The Cats will continue carrying the fire on down the road this weekend in Oxford Mississippi. Their opponent is 2-2, lost to an FCS team and has been Vanderbilt’s only win this season. Kentucky doesn’t need this one, a road win in the SEC is hardly something they count on in Lexington, but c’mon- they need this one.
U of L also has a road “should” win this weekend at Arkansas State. Coming off a fine performance at then ranked Oregon State (predicted in these blog pages btw); the Cards have their sites set on a road win this time. It is Arkansas State’s homecoming, a fact that appears to have mildly rankled the Cards.
The two biggest developments for U of L since they last played are Doug Beaumont’s injury and some more weak performances by big East favorites. Beaumon’t injury is costly; he is the team’s best receiver and kick returner. At a time when the offense was starting to show some promise, someone else will need to step up.
Meanwhile, the Big East has to look winnable to all eight programs. Pre-season favorite (not in this blog however) Pittsburgh was smacked around at home by the ‘Canes, defending champ Cincinnati took their third loss of the young season and every team in the conference has lost at least once. The Cards meanwhile look improved defensively through three games and the offense rolled up over 400 yards and 4 TDs (close to two others as well) against Oregon State. So they may be coming around as well. So why not them?
Indiana has completed the Hostess (not an actual sponsor) section of their schedule and started 3-0 for the 15th time in school history. They will attempt to go to 4-0 for the first time since 1990 this week, at home. One problem, that game is against the ranked Michigan Wolverines and Michigan says Heisman hopeful QB Denard Robinson is uninjured and ready for action this week against the Hoosiers. And if the Hoosiers defeat Michigan? Only #2 Ohio State and 110,000 screaming Bucknuts await following that. Ouch, the Big 10 schedule makers did the Hoosiers no favors.
Last week the Hoosiers easily dusted the Akron Zips at home as QB Ben Chappell continued his hot start throwing for 342 yards and four TDs. Indiana has some nice pieces and I am interested in their development on down the road, the defense has to be a bit of a concern though allowing almost 20 points a game against a group of unimpressive opponents.
Road to the National Championship
Continuing the “road” theme, let’s take a look at the September national title picture through the words of the ultimate American road band, The Grateful Dead. (Clicks on Casey Jones MP3 on ole computer.)
#1. Alabama. The defending champ is still the team to beat in my opinion.
“Driving that train”: Mark Ingrahm. Pre-season I would have said he was a product of a great team, and any runner would be capable of huge numbers. While Trent Richardson’s numbers in the first two games may have suggested some validity to that argument, there is no doubt who leads this team. Ingram’s vision, patience and strength are as good as I’ve seen. He has excellent speed and hands to go with it, and Alabama has one heck of a talent to drive that train. Having the #1 scoring defense in the country doesn’t hurt either.
“Trouble ahead”: 4 of Alabama’s 8 remaining opponents are ranked starting with this weekend’s home game with Florida. While I think 'Bama is the better team in all of its remaining match-ups, that November 6th game in Baton Rouge could be a real tough one.
“Trouble behind”: Arkansas had them dead to rights and let em off the hook. In this game, some of the luster was taken off of Greg McElroy and that lack of a big time passing QB could haunt them in some future match-up.
#2 Ohio State Buckeyes. This Buckeye team is doing what many demanded of past Buckeye squads, that is squashing inferior opponents as they have covered the Vegas point spread in all four outings this far.
“Driving that train”: Terrelle Pryor. Finally rounding into shape as a throwing QB, Pryor is completing 66.4% of his passes on the season and upped his QB rating by 40 points over a season ago. He is still a major threat to run as well going over 100 yards rushing in wins over Miami, Fl and Eastern Michigan and scoring 3 TDs.
“Trouble ahead”: If the Buckeyes can get by #11 Wisconsin in mid-October, they finish the season with three straight against the Big Ten’s ranked squads Penn State, Iowa and Michigan.
“Trouble behind”: The Buckeyes gave up 2 special teams TDs to Miami of Fla. and have been weak in that area all season. If the defense or offense takes a night off, the special teams could cost the Buckeyes.
#3 Oregon. I would never have had them here to begin the season, but the offense has been dominating and a suddenly strengthened Pac-10 has Oregon looking mighty interesting as a national title contender. They lead the nation in points scored per game and are 3rd in points allowed.
“Driving that train”: Head Coach Chip Kelly. The team had a tumultuous off-season following their defeat to Ohio State in last year’s Rose bowl. Kelly has brought the team together after losing their starting QB and several key defenders from a year ago. Right now they are the most dominating team in the country.
“Trouble ahead”: This weekend’s game against suddenly hot Stanford should be a doozy. They end the season at rival Oregon State in a game which has brought heartbreak before.
“Trouble Behind”: Oregon needed a strong second half and 7 Arizona State turnovers to win last week in the desert. That lack of focus could prove costly with contests against Stanford, USC, Arizona and OSU remaining.
#4 Boise State. Call me the anti-Forde, but I don’t buy the hype. Boise’s got a nice squad, and now a couple of nice wins but I don’t think they have same caliber team as the quote “big boys” unquote. Win out however, and they are in prime position to hit the big time.
“Driving that train”: QB Kellen Moore. Moore has continued to be one of the most efficient college QBs in the country, tossing 8 TDs against just 1 Int. in the team’s first three games.
“Trouble ahead”: While Boise should cruise the rest of the way to another unbeaten regular season, a late season trip to the ranked Nevada Wolfpack could trip them up. Really Boise will be fighting the computers and perception the rest of the way.
“Trouble behind”: That win over Virginia Tech to start the season looked huge at the time, but opponent Virginia Tech followed it with a loss to FCS (albeit a good one) James Madison the following week. If Tech continues to flounder in ACC play, you can forget it for Boise as their top win will look unimpressive.
#5(tie) Nebraska and TCU. I couldn’t make a distinction between these two teams in my mind so I am copping out with a tie. Nebraska played beautifully until struggling with South Dakota State this past weekend. Meanwhile TCU looks good, but maybe not great.
“Driving that train”: The QBs Andy Dalton (TCU) and Taylor Martinez (Nebraska). Dalton willed his team to a strong second half in their defeat of SMU last Friday and was excellent in the season opening win against Oregon State. Meanwhile Martinez was an early season sensation before fizzling a bit this past weekend. He leads the Huskers in rushing as well as, of course, passing.
“Trouble ahead”: Not much for either team. Nebraska’s only ranked opponent remaining is #21 Texas, and if Texas falls to Oklahoma, then Nebraska could conceivably make the Big 12 title game without facing a ranked opponent. TCU’s only ranked foe is Utah. Utah is another potential hidden unbeaten contender, as they are 4-0 and only the TCU game looks troublesome for them.
“Trouble Behind”: We already discussed Nebraska’s almost inexplicable game against South Dakota State this past weekend. That game serves as a red flag, but of what? It may turn out to be an anomaly. TCU struggled in the first half with SMU this past week, and generally has not resembled a national title contender this season.
Others lurking on “The Road”: Florida, LSU and Auburn lurk as SEC unbeatens and anyone of them could potentially crash this party if SEC attrition favors them. The Big Ten has 5 remaining unbeatens, but aside from Ohio State, only Michigan has shown signs of being something special and even then- only on offense. Oklahoma has struggled, but has the record and the schedule to compete if they win out. Pac-10 unbeatens Stanford and Arizona could crash the party with unbeaten Pac-10 seasons and finally Utah (discussed above) could make things interesting.