USC Trojans Football: A Dynasty Like No Other

After Southern California’s 47-20 loss to Oregon last night, I read that it was USC’s biggest margin of defeat since 1997. It was also — and this is much more astounding — the first time the Trojans had lost by more than a touchdown since 2001.

That’s seven and a half consecutive seasons without losing by more than seven points. It’s beyond impressive, and it makes Oregon’s dominating performance even more unbelievable.

I wasn’t shocked that USC lost. It was clear even before last night that this Trojan team, on either side of the ball, is not on par with the USC teams of the past five or so years. But they were ranked No. 5, sitting at 6-1 with a win at Ohio State. Even in a “down” year USC is still very, very good.

But more than anything, the loss points out how good this program has been over the last seven years. That 2001 season, when Southern Cal lost to Notre Dame by 11, was Pete Carroll’s first as USC coach. Everyone who follows college football even just a little bit knows that USC has been a top program over the past several years. But the fact no team had handily defeated them — hadn’t even come close — in all these years is mind-blowing.

When you think of the great programs of the last seven years, you think of USC, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State. But only USC could claim that they were never dominated in a football game.

Until last night.

Even if you thought USC was overrated this season, it had to be weird to see last night’s result, whether you were watching the game, saw the score go across the ticker at the bottom of your screen, or read about it Sunday morning.

USC on the wrong side of a blowout? It just didn’t look right.

ESPN College GameDay: The Best Pregame Show on Television

Two seasons ago, ESPN’s college football pregame show, College GameDay, came to Ann Arbor for the Michigan-Ohio State game. I was a senior at Michigan and my parents were in town for the weekend. We stopped by the set on Friday afternoon and saw the host, Chris Fowler, as we were leaving the parking lot.

I rolled down my window and told him I was at the first GameDay.

Fowler smiled. “Really? What were you, seven?”

Yes, actually I was. It was 1993 and I was in South Bend with my family for the game of the year, #1 Florida State vs. #2 Notre Dame. It’s a given now that the ESPN crew travels to the college town hosting one of the better games of the week. But the ’93 FSU-ND game was the first on-site broadcast.

It took place indoors and there wasn’t even close to the number of people there compared to the throngs of fans who stand around the set now. I don’t remember all that much from that weekend, but I remember watching some of the broadcast. Thanks to the Internet and my dad, I can provide more information than I otherwise could have.

Fowler and Lee Corso were both part of the first travelling crew, but instead of current analyst Kirk Herbstreit, Craig James was the third member of the team. They may have made their picks for all the top-25 games, but Corso certainly didn’t dress up as a mascot back then.

The show is now as much a part of college football as bowl games. I watched GameDay this morning; it’s a great way to kick off your fall Saturdays. When I’ve watched the NFL pregame shows, or their halftime shows, or their postgame shows, I am reminded of how good College GameDay is. The college guys have fun, but they aren’t laughing at each other’s “jokes” for 90 percent of the show like the NFL guys seem to do.

It’s cool to say I was at the first on-location GameDay, even if some people I tell, like Fowler, seem to be incredulous at first.

New York Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies World Series: A Mets Fans Perspective

Several people have asked me which team I’d root for if it’s the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. As you probably know by now, I’m a huge Mets fan, so just the thought of having to choose between these two teams makes me a little nauseous.

Though I wouldn’t root for either team, I would prefer that the Phillies won. I know, I know, this is the hated division rival, the team with the somewhat dirty Chase Utley and Shane Victorino and the arrogant, big-mouthed Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins. I hate the Phillies, and over the last year and a half I’ve decided I hate them more than any other baseball team, including the Yankees.

So why would I prefer they win it all? As strange as this may sound, it’s because they won it all last year.

I hate to write these words, but the Phillies own the Mets. They have since those final weeks of the 2007 season. Regardless of what happens in the World Series, the Phillies will open next season as three-time defending National League East winners and two-time defending NL Champions. The way I see it, another World Series win wouldn’t make it any worse.

The Yankees, however, have not won the whole thing since 2000. They have not won since they brought in perhaps my least favorite player, Alex Rodriguez. I’d like to keep it that way. Yes, the Mets payroll is big, but the Yanks’ is far bigger and I want them and their reckless financial decisions to fail. (Plus, I know a lot more Yankee fans than Phillies fans and I don’t need to hear it from them.)

No doubt this is a lose-lose situation for me and most other Mets fans. But when the Yankees play the Phillies in the 2009 World Series*, I’ll take the Phillies. Just don’t expect me to root for them.

*Yes, my intention was certainly to jinx the Yankees, who have not yet qualified for the World Series. At the time I started this post, the Yanks, up 3-1 in the ALCS, were losing Game Five 4-0. By the time I finished, they had taken a 6-4 lead. And right this very instant, the Angels have tied it at six. I think my jinx is working. I think.

2009 St. Louis Rams vs. 2008 Detroit Lions: Who is Worse?

Through five games, the St. Louis Rams are, like the Detroit Lions were a year ago, winless. They’ve averaged less than a touchdown (including the extra point) per game, have been blown out in all but one of their games so far, and, given their finish last season, (2-14) show no signs of improving. This chart helps compare these two horrendous teams.

2008 Detroit Lions 2009 St. Louis Rams
Record 0-5 0-5
Points For 76 34
Points Against 159 146
Yards Per Game 253 281
Avg. Margin of Defeat 16.6 22.2
Rushing TDs 2 0
Star Player Calvin Johnson, WR Steven Jackson, RB*
Primary QB, Week 1 Jon Kitna Marc Bulger
Primary QB, Week 5 Dan Orlovsky Kyle Boller
Primary QB, Week 10 Daunte Culpepper ?
Preseason Record 4-0 3-1
Final Record 0-16 ?

It’s your call. Are the ’09 Rams worse than the ’08 Lions? Will St. Louis win a game this season? Let me know in the comments section or send me an e-mail at andrewjkahn@gmail.com.

*Jackson is clearly the Rams’ star, but you can see in the stat right above his name that he’s yet to score on the ground, so he can’t be that great.

Iowa Beats Michigan 30-28 at Kinnick Stadium

The Comeback Kid could only watch from the bench this time as his team made another late-game rally.

Tate Forcier didn’t appear injured; rather, his coach decided his team was better off without him on the field. The results were mixed and in the end, Michigan came up short, losing to Iowa 30-28.

The freshman quarterback had only five college games under his belt, but had established himself as a comeback artist (see: Notre Dame, Indiana, and Michigan State). Rich Rodriguez obviously didn’t feel he’d be getting the same magic from Forcier last night in Kinnick Stadium.

With 7:42 left in the fourth quarter, Rodriguez inserted Denard Robinson, another freshman, into the game. It took 4:46 but Robinson led Michigan to a touchdown, rushing for over 40 yards on the drive, including a three-yard scoring run. The Wolverines had turned the ball over four times and had two egregious blown defensive assignments that directly resulted in Iowa touchdowns, yet they were only down two after the score.

Following a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes, Michigan got the ball back with 1:30 remaining, needing a field goal to win. Forcier acted as if he was taking the field, but Rodriguez held him back. This time, Robinson was getting the chance to be the hero.

Unfortunately for Michigan fans, Robinson is not yet the dual-threat QB they hope he can become. After a 14-yard completion and a seven-yard run, Robinson was intercepted. He has now thrown 15 passes and been picked off three times.

Should Forcier have been on the field for the final drive?

If I were the coach, he probably would have been. At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to question Rodriguez for his decision.

Look at it this way: If Robinson didn’t come in on Michigan’s previous drive, would their final possession have even been meaningful? You can point out that Robinson’s value comes in the form of running, something that Michigan didn’t have enough time to do. Therefore, Forcier — the much better passer — was the logical choice to lead the team down the field. Oh, and you might also reference Forcier’s three previous instances of late-game heroics.

But Forcier had also played pretty well in the early parts of those three games, particularly the Notre Dame and Indiana games. Last night, he was 8-of-19 with no touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble before being replaced. In his two fourth-quarter drives, Michigan  unnecessarily burned a timeout and was penalized for a delay of game (though the former may not have been Forcier’s fault).

These mistakes made Forcier a liability in Rodriguez’s eyes. Can you blame a coach for benching a guy he doesn’t trust?

Some are saying Rodriguez sat Forcier because he was “mad” at him. I must agree with that, but only because of the reason why he was so mad: Forcier was making too many costly mistakes. The odds of Robinson leading Michigan into field goal range weren’t great (which reminds me, if you want to argue a coaching decision, question Michigan’s onside kick) given that the clock was likely going to force him to do it through the air. But he’s shown high-level explosiveness this year, so who’s to say he couldn’t rip off a 40 yard run?

Like many of the people who are likely criticizing Rodriguez, I’ve watched all of Michigan’s games this year — including the first three and a half quarters of Saturday night’s game. Nothing from that chunk of time (and that should be the most important chunk when making in-game personnel decisions) suggested that Forcier would get the job done in that situation.

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Mets: A Fan Perspective

Tuesday night, in what could have been the last game in the Metrodome, the Minnesota Twins fell behind the Detroit Tigers 3-0. They came back. They fell behind in extra innings and came back again before scoring in the 12th to win.

I watched the game on television, but I had already seen a different version of it in person. The Mets, needing a win on the final game of the regular season last year — the final at Shea Stadium — to force a one-game playoff, lost at home. It was the second straight year my beloved Mets were in that situation and lost.

So if I said I wish I were a Minnesota Twins fan, could you blame me?

The Mets, who, despite their 145 million-dollar payroll, the second-highest in baseball, haven’t made the playoffs the last three years and only once since 2000. The Twins are a playoff team this year, their fifth postseason trip this millennium, in spite of their 67 million-dollar payroll, the eighth lowest.

Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota’s manager, has held the position since 2002. I don’t watch Twins games regularly, but in my opinion, he’s one of the best, if not the best, skipper in baseball. He’s come in second in Manager of the Year voting four times and it would be hard to argue that anyone does more with less. I can’t speak personally on his in-game strategy, but to be as successful as his teams have, he’s got to be doing something right.

During Gardenhire’s tenure, the Mets have had four different managers. The only one who could hold a candle to Gardenhire is Bobby Valentine, who took an overachieving bunch to the World Series in 2000. Jerry Manuel, New York’s current skipper, showed promise taking over for Willie Randolph last season, but still couldn’t stop a late season slide. This year, he didn’t bother enforcing fundamentals.

The Twins and Mets differ on the field as well. David Wright, the face of the Mets franchise, is a great player and role model. I could mention some of his disappointing offensive numbers this year to try and expose him as overrated, but I can’t do it. He is an All-Star , no question about it, and has a great attitude.

Outside of him though, it’s hard to find a generally likeable everyday player. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes don’t fit the bill after they spent most of 2009 on the disabled list with mystery injuries. (Which reminds of yet another difference between the Mets and the Twins: the medical staff. From the clubhouse trainers all the way up to the surgeons, the Mets have a joke of a staff. I know nothing about the Twins staff but I still know it’s exponentially better than the Mets’.)

Along with Wright, the only player living up to the big expectations is Johan Santana. He’s tough, ultra-competitive, fearless — everything you could ask for in an ace. Of course, he pitched for Minnesota for the first eight years of his career before coming to New York in 2008.

The Twins, at least from an outsider’s perspective, have highly likeable stars — guys like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer is an in-state product and a front-runner for the MVP this year. Morneau has already won the award, but you’d never know it. Both have been with the Twins their entire careers.

Listen, I know some of these characteristics I’ve described are inherent differences between big market and small market teams; but not all of them. There is no reason why the Mets can’t have a competent medical staff, for example. There is no reason why their highest-paid players can’t perform like the stars they supposedly are. There is no reason why the Twins could overcome a seven-game September deficit while the Mets blew the same type of lead in 2007.

The fact remains, of course, that I don’t really wish I were a Twins fan; I’m just jealous. I will be a Mets fan for life, which is why I hope they can adopt some of the qualities — heart, fire, sensibility — that make the Twins such a success.

Michigan State Beats Michigan 26-20 in OT

Expectations.

They can be used to help you set goals. They can also lead to disappointment.

Over the summer, no Michigan fan could have expected much better than an 8-4 season. But after a 4-0 start, many were secretly having BCS dreams.

After losing 26-20 in overtime to Michigan State on Saturday, the undefeated season is out the window, and suddenly Michigan is a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, at least in the standings.

But where will the Wolverines end up?

Well, the pessimistic preseason prediction of 6-6 had to be altered after the Notre Dame win. Of Michigan’s remaining seven games, they’ll probably be underdogs in four of them, heavily favored in two of them, and a small favorite in the other.

Purdue and certainly 1-AA Delaware State should be easy wins at home. Michigan gets Penn State and Ohio State at the Big House but both teams are better than the Wolverines this year. I’m still not completely sold on Iowa, although a night game at Kinnick certainly favors the Hawkeyes. That leaves road games at Illinois and Wisconsin, both winnable.

Illinois looks terrible right now and Ron Zook seems to be panicking. Wisconsin is undefeated but faces arguably its two toughest opponents of the season in the upcoming weeks (at Ohio State, vs Iowa). The Illini and Badgers are two teams that we’ll all know a lot more about when it comes time for Michigan to face them.

The point is, although we’re still not at the halfway point of the season, it’s looking like Michigan, record-wise, will finish about where many fans thought they would. And that’s a good thing. The key for the fan base is not to be disappointed with an 8-4 or even 7-5 record.

Remember, it’s a long climb from 3-9. The 4-0 start was great, but it didn’t call for a complete adjustment of preseason expectations.

One man's writing in one place.