Spanning the Nation: Paradise Lost Edition
With the taste of victory back for one week in the world of Irish football, things were on a bit of a pendulum swing elsewhere this week. How'd our teams do? We're off and running.
Angelo Suozzi - Hometown: Pittsford, NY
As Angelo gleefully related to me via text message once Saturday's tackle football game ended, "I can show my face in school on Monday!" Like so many other things in life, this was not a given. In the end though, Angelo is thankful Charlie Weis figured out how to beat Duke in football - make sure they're on the schedule (hat tip to Chicago Trib's Mike Downey for that one). In assessing the Herculean task lying in front of the Bills, who by the grace of being in the same division as Bill Belichick found themselves on primetime national TV for a second time this season, this was Mr. Suozzi's analysis, verbatim:
Thankfully the Buffaloes (as Leyhane dubbed them) have two weeks until the Pats...giving us (hopefully) another win over the hapless Dolphins (which would push us over .500)...and to think, we are two time-expired field goals from being a very respectable 6-2 right now. Not bad for a team led by quarterbacks from those always-eminent football factories, Tulane and Stanford.As usual, Angelo was depressingly accurate when it comes to Buffalo sports. The Bills were humiliated in a game that wasn't anywhere even close to what the final score (56-10) would have you believe. Meanwhile, the Sabres remain weak, toiling just one rung above Washington & Edmonton for the title of Worst Team in the NHL, though they did split their games this week, losing 3-2 to Ottawa before beating Montreal 4-1.Unfortunately, that two-week window means that the patriots will be coming off a bye week...and probably pissed that they only beat the previously-undefeated champions by 4, leading the pundits to question their invulnerability...and Belichick going up against the tactical genius that is Dick Jauron.
My prediction: Patriots by 136.
Thomas McCall - Hometown: Lake Charles, LA
The state of "LOUISIANA!!!" continues to exact vengeance on Nick Saban, this time by way of the Warhawks of The University of Louisiana at Monroe. Charlie Weatherbie, who never beat Notre Dame in six tries as Navy head coach, humbled Little Nicky in Bryant-Denny Stadium 21-14. The bloom is officially off the rose for Tide fans and their first-year coach. Take heart though Crimson faithful; Saban'll probably get snapped up by the next high profile job that comes available. I hear there's an opening back in Michigan, where Nick first made his bones as a coach. When asked to describe the scene down south, Thomas referred to a conversation with his mother:
This is my mom's reaction to the game, which I would associate with the most likely reaction of 80% of the state: "Oh - ULM won? I didn't know that. Wait, that means another Louisiana team beat Saban, right? (I answer yes). Oh, then I think I like it, shouldn't I? As long as Saban loses, that's good. We don't need him. We have Miles. He wants to stay at LSU."So there you have it. Down New Orleans way, despite Thomas' claims that this week they would most definitely be coming, the Saints failed to show up yet again, dropping to 4-6 with a loss to the Titans. (And while I'm mentioning the Saints, lemme say this: could Drew Brees possibly get the ball to Marques Colston...in the ENDZONE? He doesn't do me a lot of fantasy good by racking up 140 yards receiving if you're just gonna ignore him once you get inside the 20).
Pat Girouard/Joe Long - Hometown: Cretin Derham Hall, MN
Worlds collided for Girouard & Long this weekend...sort of. I mean, to the extent that they are both from Minnesota and the Gophers had their dream of a 2-10 season crushed by the Badgers 41-34. Paul Bunyan's Axe remains in the clutches of Mad-Town for yet another year. Even so, for about the sixth time this season, the Badgers were locked in a duel with a terrible team well into the 4th quarter. Bret Bielema better get moving on figuring out "the Notre Dame situation" before he has nobody left to blame but himself for Wisconsin's failure to make a BCS bowl. On the ice, the Wild were hot and cold for the week, beating Colorado and Edmonton but falling to Calgary and Vancouver. The Twins seemed resigned to their fate as losers in the Torii Hunter sweepstakes (he unofficially rejected a 3-yr, $45 million extension), and now can only pray he opts for Texas or Los Angeles instead of staying in the AL Central with the White Sox. The Vikings bounced back nicely from getting humiliated at Lambeau Field, but somehow managed to let the Oakland Raiders stay in the game until the end. All the more impressive was the fact that they lost three fumbles to a team that hadn't recovered one the entire season. But they still won - I'm gonna let Girouard enjoy it.
Brian Fallon - Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI
The Impossible Dream is starting to slip away from the Lions. Brian can only sigh, as he's seen this all before. Here was his take on Millen's kids before this season began:
I'll have the same thoughts I have every year, only using different reasons to justify them. Last year it was a new quarterback, a new coaching staff, and a guaranteed-to-put-points-on-the-board receiving core. This year it's a hot new draft pick (go figure, a receiver), the second year of the high-flying Mike Martz offense, and improved depth at running back. The only problem with the reasons this year is that with a few name changes in there, you'll realize that they're no different than last year's reasons. No matter what names, schemes, or years of experience you use to light that roaring fire of hope at the beginning of every season, it's all extinguished with the first snap when you realize one thing: you're still rooting for the Detroit Lions.For the record though, all things being equal in the Junior Varsity League known as the NFC, the 6-4 Lions remain in great shape. It's just got to be frustrating to see them piss away two straight games before the big showdown with Green Bay. At least Fallon has the Wings to fall back on: though they remain bumfuzzled by that team from Chicago, dropping a fourth game to the Blackhawks (Fallon's analysis: "There's always one team per season that the Wings just choose not to beat; they figure that opponent needs all the help it can get"), the boys from The Joe still lead the Western Conference in wins, points, and goals scored.
Kevin Braun - Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Could that be a faint glimmer of hope appearing in the distance for the Eagles, or was it merely the mirage of AJ Feely, who's previous best accomplishment was being the boyfriend of Heather Mitts? Donovan McNabb continued to suffer further system failures, and in stepped Feely to rescue the Eagles from being the first team to lose to the Miami Dolphins this year. The 17-7 win put Philly back at 5-5 and very much in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt (and while we do give the NFC a lot of a crap, there are some definite kinks in the AFC armor too; an 8-8 team is probably going to win the AFC West). Feely heroics not withstanding, Kev could tell you - this is why you draft Kevin Kolb.
George Heidkamp - Hometown: Hinsdale, IL
Having now gotten the chance to see them in person, I can know say with confidence: the Bulls are bad. The Lakers girls? Pretty impressive. It was a quiet and successful week, nothing happening to upset the apple cart (Pack beat Carolina 31-17; Hawks picked up three points during the week), but then Monday morning came, Kenny Williams picked up his phone and all hell broke loose. I've never seen a trade usher in such quick and diffuse opinions as Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera. Some tell me the Sox just traded away another Josh Beckett; some tell me the Angels got hosed and gave up their most dependable bat and strongest glove. Others say neither will actually stay with those teams and become bait to land another Cabrera (Miguel, from Florida). While I can't be sure of what to make of Kenny's dealings just yet, I know this: the gambler side of him is back in force. It last showed itself in December of 2004 when he traded Carlos Lee for a speedy outfielder and a middle reliever. The chain reaction that trade sparked off ended in a World Series title.
Paul Jacobs - Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Paul has admitted he doesn't have much time for the Rams, and who could blame him for ignoring one of the worst teams in pro football, but you've got to admire their pluck. First they break into the win column over T-Mac's Saints, then they start off a little streak by squeaking past the equally inept 49ers. At 2-8, the Rams need only six more wins in a row to become a legitimate playoff contender. As for his one true love, it was a quiet week inside the Cardinals organization, though they did sign backup catcher Jason LaRue. A valuable bench player for the next game of table-top, beer-related baseball, methinks.
Mike Devitt - Hometown: Marion, IN
The Indianapolis Colts have temporarily left the building, replaced by Hawkeye, Radar, and the rest of the walking wounded supporting cast of M*A*S*H. The latest blow to the crew in Peyton's Place was delivered on the ankle of Dwight Freeney, their pass-rush specialist who will now miss the remainder of the season. Marvin Harrison still isn't back. In the midst of that head-scratching loss to San Diego, their top three options at tackle all went down. Key defensive players Anthony McFarland and Rob Morris were lost for the season. Forgive the media assistants if they go looking for Indy's injury report and find the team depth chart instead. But they still have Peyton Manning and enough grit to sneak by the Chiefs thanks to a Vinatieri field goal. But Mike, if you are a true fan, you'd see that Indy needs you to get out of medical school and into the trainer's room as fast as humanly possible.
Meanwhile, Back at Headquarters...
One of the refreshing changes made during the 2006-07 basketball season was that Mike Brey finally got a dramatic reduction in the number of games his team gave away due to late-game collapses (not a complete elimination of such games, that would be too much to ask). But just four games into this season, it looks like that same illness has infiltrated the Irish again.
Notre Dame held a lead in the closing minutes of all three games during the weekend's Paradise Jam Tournament in the US Virgin Islands and managed to lose two of them, following a script that's all too familiar - sit on a lead, waste possessions, fail to close easy scoring chances, fail to make free throws, then give up killer baskets right at the end of the game. Tonight's third place game against Georgia Tech was only available to a small portion of the country on Fox Sports Net, but I can offer a pretty good summation of how it went down even though I didn't see it: leading by six in the final two minutes, the Irish missed chances to ice the game at the free throw line, then let the opponent rain three-pointers (Tech went 8-of-11 beyond the arc in the second half). The result was a 70-69 loss that saddles the Irish with two losses already in a non-conference slate that leaves them with perilously little margin for error if they hope to impress the NCAA selection committee. The good news is the Irish have #18 Kansas State on the schedule early next month. The bad news: K-State features the country's best freshman in Michael Beasley (at least, the best not named OJ Mayo), and the Irish are getting very weak guard play right now. Ryan Ayers is a streak shooter and that's fine for the moment, but Kyle McAlarney hasn't played in 11 months and it shows. Tory Jackson isn't much improved as a scorer right now - he and McAlarney combined to shoot 9-of-38 during the two Paradise losses, and an abysmal 2-for-15 on three pointers. That completely negated the much improved play in the post from Luke Harangody (fighting double teams and that torn thumb ligament, still put up 22 points in each of the two defeats) and Zach Hillesland (had 12 points in the Tech game, but also missed a couple of big free throws down the stretch).
Of course, Brey's team had a similar rocky beginning in the NIT Season Tip-Off a year ago, getting dropped by AJ Graves and Butler 71-69. They responded by winning 11 straight, punctuated by beating a ranked team on the road (Maryland) and another at home (Alabama). They'll get just one chance to prove themselves before Big East play starts this time. Getting through non-conference play with only one loss was very doable for this team considering the schedule, and it probably would've meant that 8-8 with one Big East Tournament win would've gotten them into the NCAAs. Now the Irish by virtue of a pair of early losses will need to be at least 9-7 in conference to stay in the conversation. But that's getting too far ahead of ourselves. One game at a time, and the schedule reads Youngstown State up next.