12/31 Previews

December 31, 2010

A few minutes late, but here are my predictions for today’s games. Hopefully better than yesterday’s catastrophe marred by SMU’s ridiculous game plan, two terrible calls by officials, and the Huskers missing their flight to San Diego and having to find last-minute replacement players to play Washington:

Meineke Car Care Bowl: Clemson vs. South Florida

My picks: Clemson 2 confidence points

A brutally bad matchup. Looking at my notes, I’m guessing this game won’t end up on ESPN Classic any time soon. I have “Both teams suck!!” and UNDER 40 underlined. Clemson’s marginally better, I think. I’ll go Clemson 20, South Florida 14.

Sun Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Miami

My picks: Notre Dame +3, Notre Dame 18 confidence points

This is strictly a momentum pick. Both of these teams are fairly evenly matched, but Notre Dame ended the season on a three game winning streak and Miami lost their last two. Notre Dame really hit their stride at the end of the season and Vegas still undervalued them – they were underdogs to both Utah and USC (both straight up wins) and only favored by 9 over Army (a 24-point win). The Irish’s offense has been competent all year and their defense really improved towards the end of the season. It feels like they’re undervalued again, especially with Miami’s Randy Shannon getting fired and Jacory Harris starting at QB instead of the far more dangerous Stephen Morris. I pick Notre Dame in the small upset, 24-17.

Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. Central Florida

My pick: Georgia -6.5, Georgia 30 confidence points

SEC team versus Conference USA. End of story. Prior to SMU’s crapfest yesterday, I’d pick Georgia to win 38-10. Now I’ll pick Georgia to win 45-10 out of bitterness.

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Florida State vs. South Carolina

My picks: Florida State +3.5, Florida State 14 confidence points

My thought on South Carolina has always been that they pull (or come close to pulling) one major upset a year and then they’re overrated for the entire season. We saw that this year – the Gamecocks hung around the top ten most of the season on the heels of their upset victory over Alabama. That win looks a lot less impressive after the Tide lost two more times, particularly after the Gamecocks’ second best performance – a narrow regular season loss to Auburn – was erased from memory after the same Auburn team pummeled them in the SEC Championship game 56-17.

Then I saw this stat: in the last two years, when the Gamecocks are favored by 3-10 points, they are 1-5 against the spread and 2-4 straight up. Theory confirmed. South Carolina performs way better as an underdog then as a small favorite. Florida State looked good towards the end of the season – beating bowl teams Clemson, Maryland, and Florida before losing a close game to a very good Virginia Tech team in the ACC Championship. I think Jimbo Fisher gets his team up for his first bowl game and the Seminoles take this game 34-27.


Big Ten referees and the letter of the law

December 31, 2010

Tough day for Big Ten referees yesterday. First the Pinstripe Bowl celebration penalty debacle that cost Kansas State a chance to send the game into overtime. Then there was the fiasco that was the end of regulation in the North Carolina/Tennessee game. Ironically, Kansas State lost a chance to tie the game when the refs followed “the letter of the law” too closely while North Carolina got an easier chance to tie the game when the refs didn’t follow “the letter of the law” at all.

Pinstripe Bowl

By now everyone’s seen Adrian Hilburn’s salute to the crowd that drew the 15-yard penalty flag on the extra point. Here’s the play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MG2elnucMPY Down 8 with 1:13 left, Hilburn scored on a 30-yard touchdown pass, dropped the ball and saluted the crowd military-style. Flag. 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.* Carson Coffman’s fade pattern from the 18 doesn’t come close, the ensuing onside kick fails and Syracuse hangs on to win 36-34.

* I find it odd that, despite all of our concern of player safety, the single most damaging penalty in college football is the excessive celebration penalty after a touchdown. The penalty is a dead-ball penalty, so assuming the offense celebrates after a first down, they’ll have 1st and 10 instead of 1st and 25. This means that if Hilburn stepped out on the 1 and saluted the crowd from there, the referee throws the flag and it’s Wildcat ball 1st and 10 from the 16. They still have four plays to get to the 6, probably end up scoring and have a chance for a two-point conversion. Instead, with this harsh penalty, they have one chance to score from 18 yards away.

The most common theme for analysts yesterday was some variation of the “By the letter of the law, that’s a penalty, but there’s a time and a place for calling that and this isn’t one of them” argument. Let’s start with the first part of the argument – that by the letter of the law, saluting the crowd Hilburn committed a penalty. The rule in question is Rule 9-2-1-a-1-(d) on unsportsmanlike conduct of players:

“a. Specifically prohibited acts and conduct include:…

(d) Any delayed, excessive, prolonged, or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves).”*

* Another ironic bit of this letter of the law talk: not a single one of those terms is in the definition section, so it’s all subjective. By this rule, there’s never a situation that HAS to be a 15-yard penalty because the referee can define this rule however he wants.

The focus on that rule was on the second part yesterday, but there are two clauses that must BOTH be met for the ref to throw the flag.  A player must:

1. Commit a delayed, excessive, prolonged, or choreographed act, that

2. Draws attention upon himself.

The salute was clearly not prolonged or choreographed, so we can forget those. Referee Todd Geerlings said after the game that his crew threw flag because they determined that the act drew attention upon himself; either he isn’t aware of the first clause in the rule or just didn’t mention it in the press conference.* Perhaps the salute was delayed, but it doesn’t seem that way. Hilburn ran through the end zone with his own momentum and saluted when he came to a stop – not really what I would call delayed. So whether a penalty should have been called turns on whether the salute was excessive. Now as I mentioned, these terms are not defined, so each crew needs to come up with a philosophy on how they are going to enforce these calls. Because of that, a subjective call can not be wrong any more than someone could be wrong for liking vanilla ice cream more than chocolate ice cream. With that said, I’m not entirely sure how anyone seeing that salute could deem it excessive. Every football fan has a frame of reference when it comes to celebrations – we immediately compare this excessive celebration to other excessive celebrations. And I think that’s fair, especially considering excessive isn’t defined. I would say 99.9% of football fans agree that the call is not excessive.

* My favorite quote from Geerlings was that two of his referees threw the flag, trying to show that two of them saw the play and both saw the same thing. In the referreing business, we call that “topping the flag.” Whenever you see a fellow ref make a questionable call, you throw your own flag out there to help sell the call. Every referee that saw that quote immediately laughed at Geerlings for being full of bs.

The “drawing attention upon himself” is even more subjective, so there’s really no need to get into it. No, I don’t think he was drawing attention upon himself, but, unlike the “excessive” act, I could actually see how someone could think that. That’s probably why Geerlings focused on this part of the rule in his quote after the game. My point with this discussion is that a) there’s no such thing as “the letter of the law” in this case and b) the referee skipped past the first clause in the rule and moved right into the second clause. Not only does nothing in the rules require a flag here, I’d argue that the flag resulted from a mis-interpretation of the rule.

And here’s where I stand on the whole excessive celebration wrong time-wrong place argument: I’ve never thrown a celebration flag in two years and forty-some games of reffing. My line judge threw one once that I probably should have topped because the kid went on and on, but I didn’t get my flag out in enough time and probably wouldn’t have called it myself. So no, I can’t think of a single rational reason to throw that flag in any situation, let alone with the game on the line.

Music City Bowl

The end of the Music City Bowl was even stranger. North Carolina got the ball back on their own 20, down three with no timeouts and 32 seconds to go. On the first play, the Tar Heels hit a wide-open receiver at the 50 and a Tennessee player commits one of the most blatant launching with his helmet penalties I’ve ever seen. The hit nearly caused the UNC receiver to drop the ball before the pass was ruled complete after a lengthly review*

* Here’s what I mean on the strange penalty enforcement. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost KSU the game for a salute. In this game, had the review determined that the ball hit the ground, this extremely dangerous hit would have actually SAVED 15 yards for the Volunteers because the penalty would have been enforced from the Tar Heel 20, rather than the 50. Something seems off about that.

A few plays later, this catastrophe happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haA7OL2bDD0 The Tar Heels, for reasons that are completely unclear to me, attempt a draw play with 18 seconds left and no timeouts. For reasons that are even more unclear to me, six members of the field goal team run out on the field as the offense lines up for a spike. Panicked, quarterback T.J. Yates spikes the ball with no fewer than 17 players and 4 coaches on the field as time runs out. Game over…except it wasn’t. The booth called for a review and determined that, although the Tar Heels had almost two full teams on the field, the spike hit the ground with 1 second left. The referees penalize the Tar Heels five yards for having too many men on the field, but UNC hits the field goal anyway and goes on to win in double overtime.

The announcers treated the call as controversial, but probably the right call by the letter of the law. And they’d be wrong. The penalty should have been 15 yards, resulting in a much more difficult 49 yard field goal. Illegal substitution – e.g. breaking the huddle with 12 men – is a five-yard dead ball penalty. Illegal participation (rule 9-1-5-b) – having too many men participate in the play after the snap – is a 15-yard live ball penalty.

The 15-yard penalty is obviously a lot more strict, so often when we see too many men on the field and the team isn’t aware of it, we try to blow the whistle before the play starts. By doing this, we only penalize five yards for a dead-ball Rule 3-5 Illegal Substitution rather than a live-ball 15-yard illegal participation penalty.

In this game, the referees clearly did not do that. They ruled that the play was snapped – and they had to for the game to continue, because they surely didn’t blow the whistle before time expired – and the ball was spiked with one second left. If that’s the case, all six of the extra players participated in the play because they were on the field at the snap (and all the way through the play, for that matter). I had the volume of the Nebraska game turned up on my computer, so I didn’t catch the explanation from the referees, but by where the ball was snapped from on the next play, it was clear that they only penalized UNC 5 yards. The penalty, “by the letter of the law,” should have been 15 yards.* Perhaps UNC would have still made the 49-yard field goal and gone on to win, but still, pretty shocking incompetence from the refs.

* In the NFL, this would have also resulted in a 10-second runoff, so the game would have been over regardless of when the spike hit the ground. This rule makes infinitely more sense – I’d expect there’s somewhere around a 100% chance the NCAA looks at this rule in the offseason.

**********

So in the end, we have two Big Ten crews screwing up royally. We have one crew following the letter of the law too closely (and giving a skewed interpretation of the law at that) and another crew not even bothering to follow the letter of the law. Looks like Nebraska fans may get to continue to complain about the referees next year after all.

************

UPDATE: According to this AP article: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/bowls10/news/story?id=5976141, the NCAA coordinator of officials said that both calls were correct. There isn’t that much reporting in the article, so it’s hard to tell what he’s basing that on. I tried to do a Google search, but couldn’t find any more of his comments, so if anyone sees an article that gives the coordinators’ rationale for why the calls were correct, let me know. I can only note that the article says that “the rule book supports officials” in the KSU/Syracuse game – seems like one of those half-truths. As I write above, the rule book could support the official, but, reading it rationally, it probably doesn’t. No real comment on the 5-yard/15-yard penalty situation in the article, but he did say the NCAA will look at the NFL’s time runoff rule in the offseason.

 


The Flea Flicker

December 31, 2010

The flea flicker is one of the most perplexing plays in football. In its most common variation, the play begins as a simple halfback lead (or draw) before the halfback tosses it back to the quarterback, who then throws it downfield to a (hopefully) open wide receiver. In this form, it’s really not that tricky at all. Defenses are usually not fooled, causing a great deal of anxiety for fans of the offensive team when the quarterback forces it downfield into double coverage. Yet every now and then (20% of the time?, 25%?) the play inexplicably results in a completion. When it does, fans of both the offense and defense generally shake their hands in disbelief that it actually worked. The play should never work.

A quick Google search reveals that the flea flicker has lingered in playbooks for at least fifty years – a staggering amount of time for a trick play. The Fumblerooski had a five-year heyday in the 1980s and was on its way out even before the NCAA banned it in 1992. The fake spike worked once for Dan Marino in 1994 before failing for other quarterbacks 783 consecutive times after that (581 of those by Brett Favre). Entire gimmick offenses come and go. The run and shoot had a ten year run before going extinct (I’m told SMU still runs it; I can’t confirm this even though I watched them play today). The wing-T, wishbone, and power-I triple option all came and went. NFL teams have already rendered the Wildcat fairly useless, just three years after the Dolphins first started using it. The zone read option is currently run by virtually every college football team, but that too will die out eventually. That’s what tends to happen with any given gimmick play or offense – teams figure out how to stop it and everyone moves on. But the flea flicker endures, more or less unchanged.

The earliest usage of the flea flicker I could find was in Super Bowl III in 1969. Here’s the play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb9uS7OKECU. Notice something unusual about that play? It was INTERCEPTED. Now it’s getting a bit surreal. Here we have a trick play used in a big game in front of a national TV audience for the first time and it fails miserably. Not only that, but it indirectly led to the biggest upset in NFL history. At this point in the game, it was shortly before halftime with the 18-point underdog Jets leading 7-0. If the Colts drive down and score to tie the game at 7 before halftime, the Jets upset probably doesn’t happen.

Even in 1969, I assume that the average Colts fan reaction to that play was somewhere between “Are you shitting me?” and “I can’t believe this is happening. Why does God hate Baltimore so much?” Imagine telling that Colts fan that forty-two years later not only do teams still run that exactly same play, but that it would actually work sometimes? No way would that Colts fan believe you. Sure, you’d have to acknowledge that when the Raiders try to do it, they look stupid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJNd_x1h6xs, but other teams use the play to win PLAYOFF games: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0jPMqDbTME&feature=related.

Now all this history is interesting, but the real issue most fans have with the flea flicker is that it’s a terrible trick play. Hilarious failures aside, the play should never work. Never. For the play to work, the defense has to break down at least two times, and usually three times:

1. The cornerback or safety has to bite on the run “fake.” I put fake in quotation marks because rarely does the play even look like a run. The throwback pass to the quarterback at least shows some effort to trick the defense. On the other hand, the hand-off/throwback move generally consists of the halfback taking two steps toward the line and pitching it back to the quarterback, who stands ready to receive the ball without bothering to sell the fake. This is the part of the play that most fans have issue with: how can anyone fall for such a poor fake? I’m not sure, but there’s usually two more chances for the defender to atone for his mistake.

2. Let’s say the safety bites on the fake. I feel like most of these guys passed fourth grade English, so I assume they’re aware of “context clues.” Context clues are those events you look for you to help you determine the situation. Here are the clues that, fairly or unfairly, a safety should process on this play:

a.) That receiver is really fast.

b.) He started sprinting when the ball was snapped.

c.) He didn’t stop sprinting when the running back took the ball.

d.) He usually stops on runs to either stand around (Randy Moss) or block someone (most other receivers)

If these four conditions are met, someone should probably put a body on said receiver and let those linebackers take care of the run up the middle. Is it that easy? Of course not, but it sure seems that way to the fans and coaches who sigh when the receiver finds himself wide open after the terrible fake.

3.) The obvious response to the second situation is that it’s too late to catch the receiver with 4.4 speed who just blew past you. Luckily, unless the quarterback on the other team is named Drew Brees or Tom Brady, the defender has a third chance to break up the play. As a general rule, every single flea flicker is underthrown. Every single one. And no wonder: by the time the quarterback receives the snap, hands-off to the running back, and catches the pitchback, that receiver is pretty far downfield. Unless you happen to be able to throw the ball to a receiver in stride from sixty yards away like me, Drew, or Tom, that defender should be able to break the pass up.

Three chances the defender has to break the flea flicker up and he must fail all three for the play to succeed. Not what I’d call a recipe for a trick play that would endure forty-plus years after its invention.

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Of course this post is related to today’s Pinstripe Bowl between Kansas State and Syracuse. If it didn’t, you’d have just wasted five minutes reading some idiot ramble on about the flea flicker.

Here’s the situation: Down 7-0 late in the first quarter and unable to get much offense going, Syracuse calls for a flea flicker. It works* and the Syracuse receiver catches the ball in stride for a 52-yard touchdown catch. Here’s the play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUYI878-rn0

* Good thing it worked, otherwise this would have been a much shorter post.

Syracuse scores to awaken their stagnant offense and tie up the game 7-7 en route to a 36-34 victory.* Now here’s the thing that really inspired this post. Not only did the flea flicker work perfectly, but BOTH receivers that went deep on the play were wide open. Kansas State had not one, but two, defenders failed on each of the two opportunities (I’ll be generous, since it was a beautifully thrown ball, although the flailing arm defense looked ridiculous) to stop the “trick play” that has been in every team’s playbook for fifty years.** I’m not a Kansas State fan, but since I picked them to win, I went through the stages of grief in a similar fashion. My first reaction was the “I can’t believe that just worked” sigh. My second was the “How do you let that happen?” anger towards both the coaches and players. Now I’m just bitter and probably will remain so until Nebraska wins tonight.

* Is there a more uplifting play for an offense or a more demoralizing play for a defense? Aside from special team plays, I’d argue no. The defender knows that he just looked like an idiot on TV and will be on the SportsCenter Top Ten that night receiving the football equivalent of the dunk facial. On the other side, no play gives the offense confidence like a flea flicker. The quarterback’s gotta be thinking: “I can’t believe that terrible play worked. I wonder what else will work? This defense is now my bitch.”  In this instance, that play set the tone for the game. I predicted Syracuse’s offense would struggle to score despite Kansas State’s suspect defense. The game began innocently enough – Syracuse failed to score on their first two drives. Then the flea flicker happens. Syracuse scores on five of their next seven drives to put up their highest point output against an FBS opponent since September of the 2009 season.

** I don’t have the video, but late in the fourth quarter Kansas State pulled a flea flicker of their own. Of course that too worked, because neither one of those teams had anything resembling a smart defense. This one was drastically underthrown by the KSU quarterback, so I’m double-counting step 3 to give the Syracuse defense four misses on that play. And kudos to KSU for pulling that one out of the bag so late in the game – not like you’d want to use it early in the game to gain any momentum or anything. Well done.


Oh SMU

December 30, 2010

Twenty minutes into the game, and SMU is moving the ball as easily as I thought – 193 yards on just 21 plays. The only tiny problem: Army has 101 return yards (and 1 TD) on three SMU turnovers. Fantastic.

UPDATE: What an embarrassment of a team SMU is. C-USA may just suck even more than I thought they did.  SMU runs a run-and-shoot offense and they held Army to less than 100 yards in the second half. How many second half possessions should SMU have? I would guess at least seven or eight. Correct answer: THREE. Three possessions. Incredible. That’s gotta be some sort of record for a run-and-shoot team.

Apparently June Jones thinks it’s a good idea to bring his quarterback to the sideline after every play. How many teams higher than the junior varsity high school level see any kind of success by bringing their quarterback to the sidelines after every play? And how can June Jones not recruit a decent QB in Texas to run the funnest offense in the country?

Yeah, I’m a little bitter. But SMU is a joke.


12/29 Wrapup; Armed Forces, Pinstripe, Music City, Holiday Bowl Previews

December 30, 2010

Three games, three blowouts, and now I’m rethinking my proclamation that bowl season is more exciting than any other sport season. Yesterday I predicted that Maryland would dominate East Carolina, so of course the Terrapins threw an interception into triple coverage on the first play of the game. Fortunately the Pirates’ offense was as incompetent as I thought, quickly going 4 and out and the rout was on.

Turns out the over/under on the Baylor/Illinois game was a trap. Both offenses moved the ball, but the inexperienced Bears team crapped their pants at the worst possible times. Somehow, the Bears were only able to muster 14 points, despite Robert Griffin going 30-41 passing for 306 yards and the team averaging 4.3 yards per rush. Illinois held up their end of the bargain with 38 points. Chalk another one up for the Big Ten against the Big 12 this calendar year. They’re really running up the score right now.

I predicted that Arizona would hang with Oklahoma State for a half before the Pokes pulled away. Turns out I gave the Wildcats too much credit – they hung around for about 18 minutes until Nick Foles hit Markelle Martin in stride for a 62-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately for Foles, Martin plays for Oklahoma State.* With the TAINT, the Cowboys jumped out 23-7 and I got to go to bed early, because Arizona could play eight quarters and still not score 23 points.

* How is it that quarterbacks still try to throw that quick 10-yard out pattern off their back foot? How many untouched TAINTs have to show up on the highlight film before QBs stop making that throw? At least when Carson Palmer – the Joe Montana of the out pattern TAINT – retires in three years, he can open up a quarterbacking school dedicated to the finer points of not making that throw.

On to today’s craptastic slate of games featuring 10-3 Nebraska and seven teams with a combined record of 46-39. By the way, it’s December 30th. Wow.

Armed Forces Bowl: SMU vs. Army

My picks: SMU – 7 1/2, over 52, SMU 20 confidence points

Did I just pick a 7-6 Conference USA team to win by 7 1/2 a day after I ripped the conference? Why yes, yes I did. Of course, this is more a pick against Army than a pick for SMU. I like the feel-good story of Army – qualifying for their first bowl since 1996 after 13 years of losing records. Plus unless you root for the military academies, you’re a terrorist. Plain and simple.

But Army’s just not very good. No wins against teams with a winning record. Their best win might be a 35-21 victory over Duke, which went 3-9 in the ACC. The game is in Dallas (why is the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas?), so I’d typically say SMU would have home field advantage. However, it’s not clear that SMU actually has any fans, other than the seven boosters who were interviewed for ESPN’s Pony Express. SMU’s quarterback seemed bummed out when he was interviewed this week because the team is playing so close to home. And yet I still think June Jones has his team ready to play. If SMU comes out flat, I think we have another Boise State/Utah or Oklahoma State/Arizona situation: Army simply isn’t good enough to make the Mustangs pay. I predict a low scoring first half followed by a high scoring second half. SMU rolls 42-17.

Pinstripe Bowl: Kansas State vs. Syracuse

My picks: Kansas State pick, Kansas State 28 confidence points

How this line is a pick ’em is beyond me, but I’ll gladly jump on the Wildcats. This game is being played outdoors in New York City, so I’m guessing the line is low because it’s a relative home game for Syracuse. I don’t buy it. The Orange’s offense was atrocious at the end of the season – they scored a combined 46 points in their last four games, three of which were played indoors at the Carrier Dome. Sure, KSU’s defense isn’t very good, but how exactly does Syracuse plan to score in this game? I feel like I could go grab 10 guys from the Y and we could still hold Syracuse below 20 points outside in the cold.

Kansas State ended the season only winning 2 of 6 and definitely relies on their offense to win them games, but I think the time off helps them. At Yankee Stadium, the Wildcats’ game plan will be handing off to Daniel Thomas 35 times, so I’m not concerned about the layoff affecting the timing of the offense. Thomas carries the Wildcats to the victory. KSU 21-13.

Music City Bowl: North Carolina vs. Tennessee

My picks: North Carolina 3 confidence points

Who knows? UNC’s probably better, but it’s been a trying season for them. It’s unclear how much anyone on the team even cares. On one hand, they were expected to contend for the ACC title before all their suspensions, so they may not care about this game. On the other, those players that remained went all-Band of Brothers on us and won 7 games when they had no business finishing with a winning record, so they might be pumped for the game. Tennessee cruised to four dominant wins over four losing teams to rally and finish 6-6 and earn the right to play in front of a pro-Volunteer crowd in Nashville. They should be motivated to play, but I’m not sure that they’re actually any good. When in doubt, I’ll go with what I think is the marginally more talented team: North Carolina 28, Tennessee 24.

Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. Washington

My picks: Nebraska 34 confidence points

Do I follow the path of every other analyst and make a corny joke about this being the rematch that no one wanted to see? Of course not. I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll make fun of the “analysts” that give us gems like “Jake Locker will have a better game” and “this game will be closer than the first game.” Really? You sure you want to step out on a limb and say that a future first-round draft pick won’t go 4 for 20 for 71 yards and two interceptions again? Way to step out on a limb there. Anyway, not much to think about here: we’ll dock Nebraska 7 points for having no motivation after narrowly misses out on a BCS bowl,* add Washington 7 points for the motivation of being in their first bowl game since 2002, give Washington 6 more points because Nebraska peaked too early and the Huskers still cover. Barely. Nebraska 35, Washington 20.

* I like that the Husker fans that were upset that the Big 12 screwed them one last time by sending them to this game. Well what’d they expect? Why would the Big 12 send them to a good game after they jumped ship? If Texas did the same thing, Nebraska fans would be in favor of creating an Alaska Bowl for 5-7 teams just to send Texas there. Which, by the way, should happen anyway.


Man Up!

December 29, 2010

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV and, in turn, I don’t see many commercials.  I do, however, watch a whole lot of sports so I consider myself an expert in that small subset of commercials that air during sporting events.  I tend to be really out-of-touch on things like the Snuggie and P90X, which were on sale for at least 15 years each before I had ever heard of them.  On the other hand, I saw the trailer for Grown Ups at least 284 times and learned what Beef O’Brady’s was by watching the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.  So there are pros and cons; in a perfect world, I would be naive to all this stuff, but I’m not, so I’ll complain instead.

Commercials during sporting events not called the “Super Bowl” are a little bit like offensive lineman.  No one really pays attention to offensive lineman or commercials unless they do something bad.  Let’s face it, I’m not going to go buy your product because your commercial is good.  However, you can annoy me and make me hate your product.  A commercial has never made me buy a certain brand of clothes, but I did boycott Old Navy for six years because their commercials were so dumb.

As a sort of public service announcement, here’s a list of really terrible commercials.  Good luck picking these apart next time you see them:

1. Miller Lite “Man Up”

Beer commercials are usually some of the better advertising on TV.  Not so with these travesties of commercials.*  If you haven’t seen these commercials, essentially they consist of various sissy and/or douchey and/or Afflicition shirt-wearing guys that don’t care how much flavor their beer has.  Given the option between more flavor or less flavor, these characters have the nerve to suggest that it doesn’t matter how much flavor their beer has. According to Miller, this is the wrong answer.  Clearly the right answer is more flavor, whatever the hell that means.  More flavor means Miller Lite, obviously, as any beer lover will tell you.

* The MGD 64 commercials where the guy is trying to work off his Michelob Ultra by doing calisthenics while drinking get honorable mention here as being ridiculously awful.  I like some semblance of reality in my commercials.  I’ll grant a little suspension of disbelief, but I need to be able to relate to a commercial.  I know of no person, man or woman, that is so concerned about calories that he/she would actually do squats while drinking a Michelob Ultra. The commercial would even be okay if I could make a joke like “how gay do you have to be to do that?” but I can’t, because I have a few gay friends that wouldn’t even think of doing something that idiotic.  What market segment are they trying to reach here?  I can’t even imagine what that test group consisted of.

I also find it ironic that this is the same company advising beer drinkers to “man up.” Apparently it’s plenty manly to drink your nearly clear pisswater so you don’t have to ride an exercise bike while you burn off your slightly less clear Michelob Ultra.

There is a variety of people that Miller Lite suggests to “man up.”  Among these include:

A misguided American wearing a European man-thong

A Corey Hart fan that simply wants to wear his sunglasses in a club at night

A football fan that tries to look like a cougar but instead botches the makeup job, making him look more like a house cat

A middle-aged guy that inexplicably brings his mom (who calls him “Peanut”) to watch him drink at the bar with his buddies

An even-more middle-aged guy who even more inexplicably has a tramp stamp

A really middle-aged guy who really inexplicably flaunts social mores and welcomes potential legal repercussions by wearing a skirt to the bar

A guy that wears a lot of dragons which, I can only assume, is meant to symbolize Ed Hardy wearers

A guy that carries a purse which he swears is a carry-all

Eight commercials, eight swings and misses.  Seriously, who are these commercials trying to target?  Is there some skirt-wearing, purse-carrying young gentleman somewhere that thinks these commercials are hitting a little too close to home?  I can only imagine this poor un-self-aware guy: “You know what, these guys are right.  I do need to start caring about my light beer.  Never again will I order the nondescript light beer with far less flavor.  Nay, it’s Miller Lite for me!”  For that one guy, these commercials might be perfect.  For the rest of us, I say it’s time for Miller Lite to man up and get rid of these commercials.*

* It took me three and a half posts to get my first terribly corny joke.  Not bad.

2. Anything Buffalo Wild Wings related

You’ve seen these commercials.  A bunch of fans are sitting in Buffalo Wild Wings watching two nonexistent sports teams go at it in a tremendous game.  In a world where there’s apparently only one game on TV per day, these poor fans want the game to keep on going, lest they have to go home to their otherwise miserable lives.  Lucky for them, they’re at Buffalo Wild Wings, which has the power to force games to continue through a variety of strategically placed photographers, security officers, and groundskeepers.  I don’t want to hurt any of these individual commercial’s feelings, because they’re all terrible, but I’ll pick out the most egregious example here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYZwb3TFDTo*

* Look at those comments on there.  Who are these people that actually think this commercial is funny?  Talk about an argument for the pro-choicers out there.

First off, what fans from New York and Boston from any sport are getting chummy with each other while watching a close game together?  I seem to vaguely recall a rivalry between baseball teams in those two cities and a certain Super Bowl that ended poorly for Bostonians.  In basketball, apparently, they’re best friends though.

Second, what kind of d-bag fan gets excited when the other team scores to tie the game with five seconds left?  Seriously, look at that guy – he’s wearing a Boston jersey, jumps up to cheer when New York ties the game at 102, and proclaims that he wishes the game would never end.  Who would do that?  What’s so wrong with this guy that he wishes the game goes on for an indefinite period of time more than he wants his own team to win? We’re like 2 1/2 seconds into the commercial and I’m already annoyed.

At this point, Boston douche #2 steps up and wants the game sent into overtime.  This is even worse than the first guy.  The first guy just doesn’t want to go home to his verbally abusive wife and kids he doesn’t love.  Guy #2 says “No thanks to a dramatic last second shot for my team, let’s go into overtime.”  Well, if this guy wants it, it’s time to page the photographer.

Back from a timeout, Boston gets a wide open breakaway after New York decides to put on the full court press tied up with five seconds left.  Not sure who ends up winning the game, but the New York coach probably needs to be fired either way for this choice of defense. The photographer gets the big flash out and times it perfectly on the uncontested breakaway. Unfortunately for real Boston fans, the player is very sensitive to flashes; whereas most of us would have blinked uncomfortably a few times, this guy loses the ability to stand and crashes into the basket support as if someone just fired a cannon at him.  Cut back to the bar.  It’s overtime and everyone’s excited, even these so-called fans whose team just missed a wide-open layup to win the game.

Finally, we get the last scene, with five seconds left in overtime. The photographer takes a picture of the mascot, who is holding a t-shirt gun.  Clearly, the time to shoot t-shirts is with a few seconds left in overtime, hence the gun.  Poor mascot is stunned by the light. Instead of blinking like the rest of us, the tiger thinks the best course of action is to fire the gun out onto the court.  The t-shirt hits the Boston player in the post at the same time a pass is coming his way, leading to the rare nuts/head one-two punch.  At this point, it’s pretty clear both coaches are getting fired.  The ball hits the player with .7 seconds left on the clock.  What coach calls up a play to work the ball to the post that late in the game clock?  Maybe that’s why the Boston/New York fans were cheering together – they both know that their coaches’ poor clock management precludes them from advancing in the playoffs.

Long story short: BWW’s wings suck and so do their commercials.  Stay away.

#3. Strawman

Lately I’ve seen a marked increase in strawman commercials.*  These are the commercials where the advertising company simply makes up a different company to compete against.

For those that don’t know, courtesy of Wikipedia: “A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.”

For example, these Discover commercials that I’m forced to watch because Discover sponsors a BCS bowl:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZU94rLRcb8

To recap: Discover has better customer service (or rewards or transfer fees, depending on the commercial) then USA Prime Credit.  Well sign me up!  I wasn’t sure about Discover, but now I know that they’re better than the nonexistent company that they just make up two fucking seconds ago, I’m on board.

An even more bizarre example is this Subway fiasco: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WClGO-iWlJg

Again, they made up a company, but it appears they’re trying to take a shot at Burger King, whose slogan is “Have it Your Way.”  Apparently Subway feels that they can’t compete with that, because they bastardized the slogan to read “Made Only One Way.” That, my friends, Subway can top!


Military Bowl, Texas Bowl, Alamo Bowl Predictions

December 29, 2010

Military Bowl: East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-4)

My picks: Maryland -8, Maryland 35 confidence points

Biggest gift of the early bowl season.  Maryland destroys East Carolina here.  I picked Maryland for 35 confidence points (the highest) even before the school announced that this would be Ralph Fridgen’s final game.  Then the school came out with the Fridgen announcement.  Game over.  I wish I could pick Maryland for more than 35.  Maryland finished 8-4 and came a win away from the ACC Championship game, leading some to question their motivation coming into this bowl game.  Couldn’t disagree more.  A team that finished 2-10 last year playing close to home in their coach’s final game = enough motivation in my book.

Meanwhile, East Carolina finished 6-6 in Conference USA.  A quick rant about Conference USA: Conference USA sucks. Really, really sucks.  Every year the conference gets six automatic bowl bids, and I can’t fathom why.  They seem to get a pass, as everyone assumes it’s the second best non-BCS conference after the Mountain West.  This seems nonsensical to me. The only difference between C-USA and the Sun Belt (typically assumed to be the worst BCS conference) is the non-conference schedules.  The Sun Belt teams have minuscule athletic budgets, so they go on the road to get pummeled by Big 12 and SEC teams for a guaranteed payday.  At best, a Sun Belt team enters conference play at 1-3.  Meanwhile, UTEP finished 6-6 and qualified for a bowl after beating FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 1-11 New Mexico, and 2-10 New Mexico State in non-conference play. I give East Carolina some credit for playing 3 ACC teams (though NC State came to East Carolina…not sure NC State will be going to play at Florida International or Louisiana-Monroe anytime soon), but they’re an outlier.  They still are the beneficiary of a schedule in which they beat overrated C-USA teams.

This lack of competition and inflated records shows up in bowl season.  Guess how many bowl wins Conference USA has over BCS conference teams since Louisville, Cincy, and South Florida left in 2005? Zero. 0 and 10.  Sure, East Carolina took an overrated Arkansas game to overtime before losing in the Liberty Bowl last year.  I’m still liking my chances with that 0-10 record.  Until Conference USA proves they can actually win a bowl game against a decent team, I’ll keep going against them.

I’m not persuaded East Carolina can score as much as many think they will, so I’ll throw out a Maryland 38, East Carolina 20 final.

Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Illinois

My picks: Over 63, Baylor 4 confidence points

This could be a great game, albeit one that I just threw my hands up on trying to pick a winner.  Both teams can score, and neither is very good at stopping other teams from scoring.  If pressed, I’d take Baylor, but for me, this game is a no play on the spread. Although it’s amazing that two teams can each play 12 games without me being able to tell if either one is any good, that’s exactly the case here.

I’m sticking with the over at 63 here, despite the fact that this is one of those times that Vegas is trying to trick us into doing something.  It’s just hard to tell what.  Here’s the scores of Baylor’s last five games: 47-42, 30-22, 28-55, 30-42, 24-53.  And Illinois: 65-67, 34-38, 48-27, 23-25.  Seems too easy and it feels like the over is a trap…and I’m going over anyway.  I like Baylor 38-35.

Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Arizona

My picks: Oklahoma State – 5 1/2, Oklahoma State 22 confidence points

This takes the prize for most confusing line of the pre-New Years Day games.  Once again, I’m clearly missing something – Arizona limps to the finish line, losing their last four games and is only a 5 1/2 point underdog.  Like Iowa, they’ll probably find a way to cover, if for no other reason than to drive me crazy.  I just hope it’s not with a dagger Zac Robinson TAINT in the closing minutes.

The motivation factor concerns me somewhat, with Oklahoma State coming up just short against rival Oklahoma for a spot in the Big 12 Championship game.  But let’s not forget that this is a team picked to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason.  Of course they were disappointed at the end of the Oklahoma game, but they’ve now had a month to reflect and realize that they exceeded expectations.  I expect Mike Gundy to have the team ready. Furthermore, like Utah in the MAACO Bowl, I don’t think Arizona is good enough to jump out to a lead if the Cowboys come out flat.  This feels like a close first half game before OSU blows Arizona out in the second half.  My pick: OSU 38, Arizona 17.